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Great Magic Writing of the Week, January 19

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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 Magic Arists

What skills are critical for playing good Limited Magic? In his first article for Gathering Magic, Jacob van Lunen explores the fundamentals of Sealed and Draft. Whether you're looking to improve on card evaluation and deck construction, or tightening up your play during games, Jacob is here to help you improve your game from the ground up.

GatheringMagic.com: Jacob van Lunen (@jvltms) - Very Limited


On Cosplay and Narrative

MJ Scott's ongoing Ultimate Cosplay series is nearing the end of the voting phase. In this article, MJ reveals the final four contestants, as well as some thoughts from the Twitterverse about the remaining competitors: Jeska, Warrior Adept, Basandra, Battle Seraph, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobyte, and Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief. In addition, MJ is beginning to share some of her thoughts on the design and photography of cosplay. How can your costume and photos tell a better story?

GatheringMagic.com: MJ Scott (@moxymtg) - MJ's Ultimate Cosplay: Final Four

Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I find this Jester’s Cap by Dariocosplay sexier than mostly everything I’ve seen that is trying for overt sexiness. I mean, I admit that historically I like the jester type in general, starting with Danny Kaye in 1955’s The Court Jester and recently Jester in the children’s program Jane and the Dragon, but from an artistic perspective, I think Dariocosplay’s interpretation of Jester's Cap has a lot going for it. It’s much less sneering than Dan Frazier’s painting, but the twinkle in the eye is present. He got the volume of the hat right, which is important in making the cosplay recognizable as this particular Magic card. The deep red background hints at a dark side to our jester, just as Frazier’s night-hued backdrop in the original does.

But what I love most about this Jester's Cap cosplay is that the cosplay photo shows us something we didn’t know about the character. Frazier’s jester is cocky, confident, and nearly assassinlike in aspect. In the cosplay version, we see a softer side. Perhaps he turned to look at you in a quiet moment in the great hall, between cracking jokes and dropping poison into goblets. He is reflective, almost melancholy, yet there’s a coldness in the eyes that tells you he’s definitely our Magic jester, unafraid to destroy the delicate workings of your deck and have a good laugh about it afterward. While deceptively simple, this cosplay photo has a lot going on between the lines. From what I’ve seen, there’s a lot of room in the cosplay world for growth in photo quality as well as pushing the boundaries of photo narratives.


On Complexity

Standard. Modern. Legacy. Vintage. Each of these formats are fundamentally different in scale, speed, scope, and strategy. More fundamentally, these formats are different in complexity. This week, Carsten Kotter explores the differences in complexity from format to format, and discusses why this dynamic of changing and increasing complexity is good for the game. Which format fits you best? Which rung of the complexity ladder are you on?

StarCityGames.com: Carsten Kotter - The Complexity Climb

It would be a terrible thing if Legacy were Magic's largest supported tournament format. There, I said it. And yet I also believe Legacy and Vintage are the coolest and most fun formats in existence. That is, after all, why I play Eternal formats almost exclusively. So what gives?

Well, the thing is that I have a past with this game—with time, each and every one of us does. The longer you play and the more experience you gather, the more interactions and decisions become second nature. I understand that holding back lands in RUG once you hit two or three in play to set up Brainstorm is important. I know that City of Brass followed by Ponder means I might just die next turn if I don't keep open disruption.

These things and the million other little plays, from fetching on your turn to play around Stifle to having an understanding of your opponent's Storm deck to know what to take with your Thoughtseize—all the tiny details that might just end up killing you if you get them wrong—are what makes Legacy as fun as it is. They're also what make the format so incredibly hard to get into, and these plays are only scratching the surface of Legacy's complexity.

Now imagine Legacy is Magic's major format. How many players would you honestly expect to be dedicated enough after a little casual play to actually graduate to full-scale tournament Magic if it required that much learning effort? If they get killed by Storm and Show and Tell on turn 2 a couple of times as the main course and then lose to never having mana while a Delver beats down as dessert?

Throwing a new player into Legacy would be like teaching math by starting with differential equations, like teaching someone martial arts by giving them a brick and telling them to break it with their fist. And that's why—not even counting WotC's bottom line—we need Standard and Modern and why the most supported and most widely played tournament format has to be something along the lines of Standard. Without new players entering the game, the player population stagnates and over time dies off because of real-life commitments, and ultimately there is nobody to sell cards to and Magic as we know it comes to an end.

By providing a growing ladder of areas of play mattering, of single decisions gaining importance as formats grow larger, players have the chance to slowly assimilate and get used to everything you need to keep track of. That's what I will be taking a look at today—the step-by-step climb up the complexity ladder from format to format and the role each of the three major Constructed formats plays in it.


On Best Plays

We've seen an ongoing argument about what it means to make the right play. Sam Black believes that you can guide a game in a direction that favors your strengths, like complex combat math or planning over multiple turns. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa believes that there is exactly one correct play that maximizes your chances of winning from a given board state. This week Adrian Sullivan steps in to share his thoughts on what makes the best play. So which is it? Is there a single mathematically correct play or is your best play different than Paulo's or Sam's? Read Adrian's article and make your own decision:

StarCityGames.com: Adrian Sullivan (@AdrianLSullivan)- Making Your Best Play: Resolving the Sam/PV Dispute

To start out the year, Sam Black made a huge splash with his article Make The Right Play For You, basically making the claim "arguing against trying to find the perfect play." This is a very controversial claim mostly because of the current conventional wisdom of "there is the right play, and then there is every other play." It took a week, but Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa jumped into the argument with his own retort defending the idea of the "right play."

There is a reason that this has largely become conventional wisdom. Magic is a complicated game, but at its heart we can think of "good" Magic as something that we can identify. In some ways, it's comforting to go over the play or plays that were made and try to find the right "one." A few years ago, I wrote this:

Good Magic is this: play (or thought or preparation) that increases the chances of our victory. Good Magic has nothing to do with guaranteeing victory—we call that cheating. Good Magic has everything to do with making that chance as big as it possibly can be.

The concept of EV—Expected Value—is one that is so often bandied about in tournament Magic circles that most of us know it. Getting the highest possible EV is generally regarded as the most correct way to discover the "right" play. If you don't know what EV is, in simple terms, imagine this. With all known information available to you (cards you hold, cards you've seen, current metagame), if you made a decision a million times, the EV is the "average" result of that decision. A play with a more successful average result has a higher EV—if you were to make that decision, you'd get a better result most of the time. It doesn't matter if you don't end up getting that better result or not in any specific moment but that on average you would have.

In essence, the right play is considered the highest EV play because that play is the one most likely to create the best result. Whether or not you get that result (say, a win) is not important. What is important is that you maximized your chance at the win given all the information at hand.


On Top Decks

There was exciting news from DailyMTG this week: Luis Scott-Vargas will be taking over the Top Decks column. In this column, Luis will help you stay on top of the Standard and Modern metagames by taking a  look back at the top-performing and interesting decks of the week. In his debut column, Luis takes a look at a spoiler from Born of the Gods that is very similar to a card that dominated Standards of previous years. We may not know what to expect from Brimaz, King of Orsekos, but we can certainly expect awesome things from Luis's new column.

DailyMTG.com: Luis Scott-Vargas (@lsv)- Introducing Top Decks

elcome to my first article as the author of Top Decks! Every week, I'll be delving into the world of Constructed, making my picks for the best decks of the week, and highlighting anything awesome that stands out. If I've played with or against anything off the radar, you'll also be able to find that here, and given how much Magic I find myself playing these days, that seems pretty likely as well.

Of course, today isn't a normal article, either, as I get to kick things off with a preview card from Born of the Gods! I find it fitting that the card I'm previewing is just brimming with value (or is that Brimaz with value?), providing a king's ransom worth of power for a meager three mana:

When the first card you think of is Hero of Bladehold, you know you are in a good spot. Brimaz offers the same 3/4 body at 3/4 of the cost, which is an incredible upgrade, even if he happens to come with one attacking Soldier instead of two. I've attacked with Hero of Bladehold many times, and I can imagine how great it would be to be doing so a full turn sooner. If you take a look at the Pro Tour Nagoya Top 8, there are a lot of Heroes of Bladehold, with half the Top 8 playing Hero. I wouldn't say Hero singlehandedly was responsible for David Sharfman, Pat Cox, Elie Pichon, and me making Top 8, but that's mostly because Hero always brings along reinforcements. For reference, Sharfman and Pat Cox had what I think was the best deck in the tournament, and Hero had a lot to do with that


On Modern

Another week, another killer article from Frank Karsten. If you're looking for an introduction to Modern, look no further. Frank's article runs down the most popular decks in the format, and looks at some of the opening hands, plays, and archetypes that define Modern. Frank brings his expertise and incredible analysis to everything from sequencing to what the hand can afford to play around. Get ready for your next Modern event with Frank's crash course on Modern strategy and execution.

ChannelFireball.com: Frank Karsten (@karsten_frank)- Opening Hands in Modern

Last weekend, I was in Prague to cover the Grand Prix, providing commentary together with Marijn Lybaert and Simon Goertzen (plus, not to forget, Rich Hagon in the director's chair and Steven Leeming behind the cameras.) Although I had done text coverage and the occasional round on video before, this marked my first time as a full-weekend video commentator. Though I made some mistakes and still have some areas to improve, I enjoyed doing it and was happy to share my analysis of many exciting games of Modern over the course of the weekend.

In between rounds, we had interesting features instead of match replays. Simon Goertzen went into the trenches and did player interviews, competitors explained the workings of their decks in deck techs, and I had prepared several pieces on opening hands. There was much more going on behind the scenes as well, but almost all of the feature matches on Sunday went to the extra turns, leaving little time in between rounds for the prepared content. In particular, we only managed to cover a fraction of the opening hands I had prepared. I didn't want to let that content go to waste, so in this article, I'll show them all. I divided the format into midrange decks, aggro decks, and combo decks.

The goal of this article is twofold. First, opening hands provide a concrete way to see a deck in action and to highlight basic game plans. By looking at typical opening hands for all of the top deck archetypes in Modern, you can get a quick overview or introduction to the entire format. Second, opening hands can feature interesting mulligan or sequencing decisions. For various hands, I'll assume that I'm on the play against an unknown deck and explain which lands and cards I'd play over the course of the first couple of turns for maximum effect.


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


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