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Great Magic Writing of the Week, March 31


A staggering amount of Magic content is published each day each day on a plethora of content sites, blogs, podcasts, and discussion forums. No matter how honest an effort you make, it's easy to fall behind and miss incredible articles because there just isn't enough time to read everything.

To that end, we've collected some of the best articles of the week covering a broad range of topics. If you're looking for articles, these are the ones you don't want to miss!

On The Development of Orzhov

What kind of thought goes into developing Limited formats? R&D has been giving us a peek into how the ten guilds of Ravnica were designed and developed over the last few weeks, and this article by Billy Moreno wraps the the series up. From Kingpin's Pet to Vizkopia Guildmage to Merciless Eviction, take a look at how the Church of Deals came to be.

DailyMTG.com: Billy Moreno (@billy_moreno) - Developing Orzhov

In the typical Magic set, the development team works to make sure there is coherent strategy for each of the ten color pairs, as well as a few "weird" Limited archetypes that revolve around specific card groupings. While we often refer to the natural congruity of allied pairs (white-blue, blue-black, black-red, red-green, and green-white) and the unnatural incongruity of enemy pairs (white-black, black-green, green-blue, blue-red, and red-white), it is actually just as easy to put Plains and Mountains in a deck together as it is Islands and Swamps, so long as we provide you with cards in each pairing that work well together. If you think back on your time playing Magic 2013 or Innistrad Limited, there's a good chance you played all of the possible combinations roughly the same amount.

Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash are unique environments in that regard. In each set, we actually want you playing five of the ten color pairs most of the time. When your Gatecrash Limited games predominantly feature Gatecrash guilds, it goes a long way to reinforcing how important the guilds are and how much they define work and play on Ravnica. But we generally seed all ten color pairs because we've learned that successfully fleshing out that many archetypes leads to deeper and more rewarding drafting experiences.

On Fun

In his three-year tenure at Serious Fun Adam Styborski has talked about a lot of Magic. From wacky ways to spice up your Commander games to sweet Two-Headed Giant Draft formats, if you're looking for new ways to play, Adam is the guy you want to talk to.

Adam is moving on from Serious Fun to the Command Tower, a column about the Commander format. However, he's leaving behind an awesome recap of all things seriously fun. If you're looking for a great reference source for great formats, awesome decks, and quality writing, this recap is a great place to start.

DailyMTG.com: Adam Styborski (@the_stybs) - What We Leave Behind

Having the good sense to come prepared, looking for ways to invite new players, are obvious concepts. Actually creating new ways to play is another level beyond. As Mark Rosewater has said, Magic is really several games all under the same umbrella. No one would argue that Commander and Standard are really the same way to play just as Modern and Limited are obvious worlds apart.

Throughout the years, there have been far too many ways to play than can be documented. Through "The Compendium of Casual Magic" (Part 1 and Part 2) I had begun to detail a fraction of these ways. It isn't easy to create something new within a fairly confined structure like Magic. Inventing new rules requires forethought, experimentation, and testing, and that's daunting. Creating something like The Planar Wars or Respawn Magic takes effort that is somewhat elusive to many of us.

But that process calls to what Magic truly is.

On Extorting in Multiplayer

Who better to take over Serious Fun than GatheringMagic's own Bruce Richard! Bruce has been producing consistently awesome content for GatheringMagic focusing on enhancing your casual experience. From Junior Prereleases to game night food, Bruce is about more than just wacky decks and formats.

This week, he's got an awesome multiplayer brew that tries to push the extort mechanic as far as it can go. Incidentally, it's also a great article for learning to build around a mechanic. This follow-up to his previous article shows how Bruce built his deck, identified shortcomings, and iterated the deck to try to improve it. If you're looking to improve your deckbuilding process, this is a great place to start.

GatheringMagic.com: Bruce Richard (@manaburned) - The Lion, the Ghast, and the Deathmantle

The real question is still whether an extort deck can win multiplayer games or whether the mechanic is just a sideshow benefit. Should extort creatures be forced to be solid creatures in and of themselves or does printing extort in their text box mean that an average or sub-par creature can make the cut?

On The Value of Life

In a game of Magic, what is a point of life worth? The value changes dramatically over the course of a game, and knowing what life is worth under different circumstances is very important. Fundamentally, a game of Magic is made of small exchanges, trading cards for cards, and life for information and resources. This week, Caleb's article is focused on recognizing when you're trading life for a different resource, and making sure you get the best rate when you make the exchange.

ChannelFireball.com: Caleb Durward (@CalebDMTG) - The Depth of Brainstorm

We have a large groundwork of Magic theory. Writers use terms like tempo, card advantage, or velocity in an article with the expectation that readers will know what they’re talking about, and that’s awesome.

One resource that hasn’t been covered as much is the life total. People say “life is a resource” a lot, and yet it has far fewer articles devoted to it than say, mana base development, or even gimmicks like bluffs and mind games. This is largely because life is such a tricky idea to conceptualize. Beginners will often chump in Limited while they’re still at a high life total, not realizing that the creature they have in play is worth more than a few life points, and they will probably get the chance to chump next turn as well.

Players put themselves dead on board occasionally, but life total mismanagement starts much earlier, and I can’t imagine the number of games that slip through our fingers because we made the wrong block, killed the wrong threat, or even did the right things but at the wrong times.

Paying life for various effects is important because it teaches how valuable that effect is. Just as playing with Cabal Therapy will make you better at reading your opponent’s hand, playing with life loss effects will give you a greater appreciation for life as a resource.

On Recalling Our Roots

Once you've been involved in something for a long time, it's easy to forget why you started in the first place, and what it was like when you were first introduced. This is especially true for Magic. The rules are very dense, there are thousands of cards, and that's a lot to absorb when you're first getting involved in the community. This week, Owen Turtenwald wrote an introspective sort of article that encourages us to remember what it's like when you crack your first pack.

ChannelFireball.com: Owen Turtenwald (@OwenTweetenwald)- Memory's Journey

Two weeks ago, at GP San Diego, William Jensen and I went out to lunch before our flights home that day from the tournament. I managed to make Top 32 despite losing my last two rounds—wasting a great opportunity to Top 8 another Grand Prix. In reality, it’s a good result overall and sometimes things just don’t work out. As we wait for food, we are looking at a Sealed deck Huey had built for a side event, and just messing around with the cards. We were not taking it very seriously.

At the end of the meal, we waited for a Taxi to take us to the airport, just leaving the stack of worthless commons and uncommons on the table. The manager sees a stack of cards at the table, and quickly grabs them and runs outside to return them as if we had forgotten some valuables. We honestly probably would have just turned around and thrown them in the trash, except he felt like he was helping us out so we thanked him. He asked if we were in town for the tournament, then he mentioned that he had just gotten back into the game and had been enjoying it.

We asked him if he wanted to just have the stack of cards, and he honestly didn’t believe us. We explained that they had very little financial value and that we had no need for them—he could just take them. He rifled through the stack of cards excitedly and started to tell us about his Izzet deck and his Golgari deck and how he plays with his girlfriend sometimes. He went on to tell us how happy he was and that this completely made his day.

On Complexity

What is complexity as it regards to playing and designing Magic? Magic is a game of many competing themes, near infinite decisions, and small exchanges in resources, all of this on top of already complex rules. Is this a bad thing?

This week Natasha takes a look at the different types of complexity that make Magic the game that it is. Why are some people awesome at some parts of the game and not as good at others? What parts of your game can you step up? Natasha covers all of this and more.

GatheringMagic.com: Natasha Lewis Harrington (@natasha_lh) - Understanding Complexity

Magic is very rich ground for looking at neuropsychology because it calls on so many different areas of ability. You have to learn the rules and be able to apply them. You have to understand the cards. You have to not forget crucial pieces of information. (Slice in Twain my opponent’s Molten-Tail Masticore when his lands are fully untapped? Why yes, I think I will.)

Once you’ve learned the basics, strategizing adds new layers of challenge. Is it better to cut your powerful splash or destabilize your mana base by adding a third color? Should you trade your evolve creature for one of the opponent’s in the early game or should you save it so it can bulk up?

And while each of these skills involves understanding complexity, they are not the same at all. Just as in the rest of life, everyone has his or her own pockets of strength and weakness in Magic. In his article “New World Order,” Mark Rosewater looks at some of the ways that R&D conceptualizes complexity in Magic: surface complexity, board complexity, and strategic complexity. While many different areas of processing overlap on most tasks, some types of complexity call on a particular area of processing.

On Utility Creatures

Abe Sergeant knows a thing or two about casual Magic. He's written hundreds of articles on all kinds of casual decks and variants and has plenty of wisdom to throw around about how to build decks and play in multiplayer environments. As such, he's had plenty of time to recognize the power of the utility creatures. From the not-so-subtle Hermit Druid to the innocuous Merfolk Looter and Soul Warden, these are the enablers that can steal games out from under you without you noticing.

Abe's article this week focuses on how to prepare for these utility creatures as well as how to know when you have to pull the trigger on removal. You've got to be prepared for the decks that are trying to break Fauna Shaman in half, but you also have to know when it's just going to be a Grizzly Bear. If you're looking to give your multiplayer decks a tune-up, this is a article has some great advice.

StarCityGames.com: Abe Sergeant - How To Handle A Soul Warden In Six Easy Steps

Every deck has something that is the lynchpin of its strategy. For some, it's a simple combo. The key cards in the Pandemonium + Saproling Burst combo deck that deals 21 damage to someone are the two enchantments that win. Sometimes, a deck is built around one card, such as Sneak Attack; Aluren; and Omniscience. This is obviously the key card. Other times, a deck is built around a strategy, but it still has some key cards. An Elf deck may have a bunch of annoying Elves, but something like Priest of Titania is what pushes it. A Sliver deck has Sliver Queen, a Zombie deck has Lord of the Undead bringing dead Zombies back, and more. Every deck has these keystone cards, without which the deck is seriously weakened.

Sometimes, a cheap creature is that foundational card. There is no question that a Goblin Welder; Goblin Lackey; or Hermit Druid can run a deck into a dominating position at the kitchen table in style and alacrity. You have to watch out for these sorts of creatures because they come online before a lot of answers can be dialed up. How much damage can a first-turn Goblin Welder do before your five mana Rout is ready to be played?

If you have suggestions for next week's recap you can send them through to us on Twitter, or share throughout the week in the comments below.

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