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Great Magic Writing of the Week, April 13

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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 Kindness

A little kindness can go a long way. Games, particularly competitive ones like Magic, can lead to a high-stress and unforgiving mindset. In and of itself, this doesn't have to be a bad thing - competition and stress help us better ourselves and step up our game at mistake at a time. This week Natasha focuses on some of the negative consequences of this critical mindset and discusses how to build better habits.

GatheringMagic.com: Natasha Lewis Harrington (@natasha_lh") - Playing with Kindness

Now for a trickier question: Who here is kind to yourself? Again, I’ll let you set your own standards, but if you’re like a lot of people, it’s something you haven’t even really thought about. I think about it on a regular basis and still find it much more difficult than being kind to others.

This was starkly illuminated for me during my first year of graduate school. We were reviewing Second Step, the curriculum we would be using to teach social and emotional skills to elementary school children. Explain to the children that everyone makes mistakes, it instructed us. Share with them some things that you say to yourself when you make a mistake.

Well, several things came to mind for me, and they were certainly not appropriate for second-graders in either language or attitude. So many of us talk to ourselves in a way we would never, ever talk to someone else—certainly not someone we care about. Many of us could use emotional skill-building lessons ourselves.


On Golgari

Sometimes the pieces just fall into place during a draft. You find exactly the right mix of creatures and disruption. You pick up the fillers you need at the right spots in your curve. You wheel that Armored Skaab you really needed to power your Gnaw to the Bone. What is lenticular design? It's making sure that all the right pieces are there before the draft begins. This week Alex Ullman talks about the importance of cards that can play multiple roles in creating an awesome cube environment.

GatheringMagic.com: Alex Ullman (@nerdtothecore)- Golgari and Lenticular Design

Magic is a perpetual-motion machine. If scientists were able to harvest the energy generated by the progress of design, development, and knowledge of the game . . . well, one could say that cars really could run on Magic. One of the great leaps forward for design as it relates to Cube is the concept of lenticular cards. The potential unleashed by this discovery could launch a small object into space.

Mark Rosewater does a fantastic job explaining what a lenticular card is in the above-linked article. Named for the collectible cards that appear as different images when viewed from different angles, they are cards that fill multiple roles for different members of the player base. Rosewater uses Black Cat as an example: To a neophyte, it is simple a creature, but as a player’s skill increases, she or he will notice new things and new ways to use it (Zombie creature type, death trigger) that influences how the card is played. This is valuable because it allows cards to appeal to a wide variety of players while condensing the utility of multiple cards. Lenticular cards are the ultimate space-savers, packing more awesome into new sets.

Cube designers can make great use of this concept. While those who build Cubes may or may not be crafting their own cards, they are trying to create Draft environments in which each card has to matter. At the same time, they can be limited by some factor (all-commons Cubes, single copies of each card, or in some cases flavor), which means packing as much punch as possible into a limited card set. Applying the lenticular eye to the inclusions in any draftable stack can only increase the quality of Drafts.


On Fun-Ofs

There are few things that are as misunderstood as the seemingly random one-ofs in deck lists. Sure, miscellaneous baubles are fine to go with Trinket Mage and silver bullets are great with Birthing Pod or Gifts Ungiven. Adrian Sullivan's most recent article explores the value and utility of singleton effects - when they are most effective, what they can accomplish, and when they don't do much at all. Let Adrian help you expand your deck building horizons and get in on the fun-of action.

StarCityGames.com: Adrian Sullivan (@AdrianLSullivan) - Learn to Love the Fun-Of One-Of

The idea of a single copy of a card in a deck as potentially a problem has been in the game for a very, very long time. If you think about it, it makes sense, on a basic level of analysis: if a card is good enough, why not run more?

Here was their argument, as I discussed it many years ago:

The basic rationale for this is pretty simple. The best cards in your deck are very clearly cards that you should have four copies of, in general. Single copies of cards generally serve one of two purposes. Either they are cards there to be tutored, or they are cards that you'll eventually run into if you go into an especially long game.

For a long while in Magic, an idea had emerged that good decks were decks that looked like this. Four copies or one copy was the norm, with a few exceptions that were explained away. This idea became advocated pretty heavily by very influential people. A big part of why I wrote "Overcoming the 4-1 Dogma in Numbers" is that this idea was taking hold as a kind of orthodoxy, despite the fact that it wasn't a useful way to build decks, in my opinion, so much as a shortcut to something that was often correct. To me, plateaus of thinking like this aren't useful in creating greatness, only in creating "good"-ness.


On Deconstructing Decks

How do you figure out what a deck does? In formats like Modern and Legacy, you begin to run into decks that are just weird and it becomes hugely advantageous to have the ability to figure out what's going on. Karsten Cotter's article this week focuses on how to break down a deck list into meaningful pieces of information. Where do you look to identify critical interactions? Which kinds of cards tell you the most about what a deck is trying to do? Karsten breaks down his process:

StarCityGames.com: Karsten Cotter - Mental Deck Deconstruction

Have you ever sat in a Top 8 match and been given your opponent's decklist, only to stare in disbelief at something utterly weird? Weird as in say something like this:

I mean, really, what the heck is even going on here? You're paired against this monstrosity, and you don't even get what he's trying to do on first sight. How the heck are you supposed to develop a meaningful plan to beat it? Or maybe you just realized this weird collection of cards won an 81-player event in Chicago and want to give it a whirl. To get any kind of helpful test results, you really need to understand what's going on before you can meaningfully play a game with this deck.


On Delver

Delver of Secrets is taking over the Legacy format. The problem is that it's not just one type of Delver deck. We've got Deathrite Shaman Delver decks, Stoneforge Mystic Delver decks, Young Pyromancer Delver decks, and everything in between. Where are Delver players to find their edges in a format this polarized and dynamic? Caleb Durward breaks down the differences between successful Delver builds and discusses how those small changes shift the way the deck interacts with the metagame. If you want to keep your Delver deck ahead of the curve, this is one article you don't want to miss.

ChannelFireball.com: Caleb Durward (@CalebDMTG)- Delver Tech

Delver of Secrets is so good that it's almost boring. Flip Delver and attack while Wasteing, killing, and countering everything the opponent does. It's the easy-bake recipe for Legacy success, and the skill behind the tempo decks, aside from knowing how to sequence and correctly value the importance of individual cards, lies mostly in tuning for specific tournaments.

When you see a stock RUG list, sometimes it's because the field is completely unknown and a stock list is absolutely correct. Other times, it's because the pilots lack the experience, confidence, or motivation to tune. However, with the omnipresence of True-Name Nemesis, the Delver adepts have started to adapt.


On Conventions

How have the roles of Grand Prix changed as Magic continues to grow? A few years ago, events that broke 1,000 players were a big deal; now they happen almost every weekend. How do the demands of the player-base change as the audience for these events keeps increasing? Brian Kibler's most recent blog posts focus on his experiences and incentives as both a professional player and game designer. What are you looking for out of your Grand Prix experience?

BMKgaming.com: Brian Kibler (@bmkibler)- Grand Prix - Magic's Conventions

I’m currently writing from about 30,000 feet in the air, probably somewhere over Nevada. I’m on my way to the PAX East gaming convention in Boston, where I’ll be working at the Stone Blade Entertainment booth promoting SolForge and Ascension. I’ve been going to gaming conventions for a long time. I even was first exposed to Magic over twenty years ago at a convention (a story about which I have a blog post largely written, but not yet complete). Despite the fact that I’m working rather than playing at conventions these days, I still really enjoy them, as they’re a great chance to be around and interact with smart people who are passionate about gaming – people like me.

Magic Grand Prix have been progressively becoming more and more like gaming conventions, from the wide array of available activities to their size. In addition to the main tournament and side events, many Grand Prix these days run events like judge seminars, artist signings, pro player seminars and meet-and-greets, and more.

I think this transition is great for Magic. One of Magic’s biggest selling points is the community that surrounds it (which, incidentally, is why I feel so strongly about protecting that community). These huge Grand Prix give players who might otherwise only play at their local store an incentive to travel and experience a real event in Magic culture – a chance to feel like they’s a part of something bigger than themselves, and to be around like-minded people who share the same passion. Even for players who have no real expectation of doing well in the main event, there are all kinds of things for them to do and see.

I think this is the real reason that events like Grand Prix Las Vegas and Grand Prix Richmond grew to the size that they did. Once they got so big via preregistration that people kept talking on social media about how big they were going to be, their enormity was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. People wanted to be a part of a real community event – something truly large within their culture – and the attendance spiraled out of control. Grand Prix aren’t getting so huge because the same people are playing in more events, but because the number of people playing in them is growing – and the convention and festival atmosphere draws in a crowd bigger than that which cares about the tournament itself.


 

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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