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Great Magic Writing of the Week, June 1

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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 Terese Nielson

Terese Nielson is one of the most iconic and beloved Magic artists in the business having produced such hits as Force of Will and Eternal Witness. This week, MJ Scott was able to ask seven questions about her process, imaginative characters, and her work in the industry. Take a few minutes to get to know one of the most iconic artists still in the business.

GatheringMagic.com: MJ Scott (@moxymtg") - 7 Questions: Terese Nielson

When I first started Magic, there were a few cards and a few images that stood out to me and helped shape my opinion of the game. Slave of Bolas. Deathmark. Abbey Gargoyles. Nightmare. Blightning. Eternal Witness.

Terese Nielsen is one of the defining figures in the Magic pantheon of artists. With her signature mixed-media style and interesting, sensual portrayals of everything from the expansive paths of the mind to women who gon’ beat your face, Nielsen has created a brand for herself that is both successful in-game and artistically unique.

My favorite aspect of Nielsen’s art is the humongous personality that her characters wield. It makes me more intrigued by the card, curious about the game’s storyline, and proud when it’s a female whom I identify with. Have you seen her Leia Solo?! I think I broke into a sweat. Seriously.

No surprise, then, that my favorite Liliana is Nielsen’s. The calm confidence. The athleticism. This is the Lily that hangs in my living room and reminds me daily to be fearlessly badass.


On #MTGOVM

Vintage Masters is coming to Magic Online on June 13th. Will you be ready to play a Limited format that highlights the power of some of the most busted cards from twenty years of Magic? In this article, Jacob Van Lunen breaks down the format into fundamental principles and archetypes so that you can be ready to crush a few drafts.

GatheringMagic.com: Jacob Van Lunen (@JVLTMS) - Preparing for Vintage Masters

Vintage Masters is coming, and we’re all eager for an opportunity to draft cards like Black Lotus or Ancestral Recall. Today, we’ll be discussing big-picture Limited strategy in an effort to sharpen our skills before we start drafting what looks to be one of the most high-powered formats of all time.


On Combo Kills

There's power in combo kills. Free wins because your opponent didn't see it coming. Free wins because they had to answer the board instead of playing around the combo. In this article, Carsten Kotter looks at the advantages and opportunity cost of combo finishes in Legacy and breaks down what those combos look like in the format today.

StarCityGames.com: Carsten Kotter - Finish Him!

I've been playing some Hearthstone lately and one interesting thing to observe in that game was the evolution of late-game strategies. The game has extremely powerful, expensive cards called Legendaries that threaten to overwhelm your opponent on their own. Early on in the game, these cards were the backbone of most decks' late game; however, as the game has evolved and been better understood, more and more decks have started to drop these cards only to instead rely on card combinations that provide huge bursts of damage during a single turn to (hopefully) finish the opponent off on the spot.

I quite enjoyed watching this trend develop as it allowed me to feel good about myself – I'd been favoring combo kills over big guys from the start. I had an unfair advantage, however: my Legacy and Vintage background. One of the most important lessons I ever learned playing the most high-powered formats came in the snarky tones of jpmeyer on TheManaDrain back in the day. The lesson? The best answer to any threat is a dead opponent. When asked how to answer difficult scenarios with his Psychatog Control deck (yep, this was quite some time ago) with his very limited Cunning Wish sideboard, his answer inevitably was "just kill them," at the time generally referring to casting Berserk targeting an attacking Psychatog.

However, this type of play isn't limited to Vintage. In fact, I believe that most great decks have access to some variation of it, even though it doesn't necessarily involve actually killing your opponent on the spot (though that certainly is the preferred option if reasonably feasible). It could just as well mean taking the game completely out of the opponent's reach or ensuring their inevitable demise. Today we'll be taking a close look at these "finishing moves" and their strategic implications.


On Comedy

Theros had a lot of Greek flavor, but much of it was focused on the traditions of mythology and Greek tragedy. The story of Elspeth and her travels from Alara to Mirrodin and back to Theros certainly mirrors classic Greek epics and none of those were especially happy tales. This week John Dale Beety looks into the places that Theros does touch on the themes of Greek comedy, and expounds on why he thinks the set focused so much on more serious topics.

StarCityGames.com: John Dale Beety (@jdbeety) - Greek Comedy

This article has been kicking around in the back of my head for a while. An acquaintance of mine lamented that in Theros block, there just isn't much "funny." All in all, I have to agree. When cards like Bolt of Keranos and Gorgon's Head are the most obvious representatives of humor in a set, as my acquaintance suggested for Born of the Gods, something's gone wrong with the balance of funny and heavy.

Lorwyn/Shadowmoor is my benchmark for "too far" in either direction; Lorwyn was unrelentingly twee, Shadowmoor just as grimdark. The world of Theros doesn't go to Shadowmoor's extremes, but it does lean heavily on the tragedy. While tragedy is an integral part of ancient Greek literature as they knew it and we perceive it, it is far from the whole of classical drama. The actors' masks that hang in high school auditoriums do not both weep. Comedy and laughter as Western audiences know it got their start in Greek theater, from the broad "Old Comedy" of Aristophanes that inspired so much later Eurpoean stage buffoonery to the " New Comedy" that is the direct ancestor of today's sitcoms.

"Ah," my straw opponent says, "but Theros is themed around Greek myth, not Greek theater!" Well, straw opponent, I'll counter with Zeus and Hera, the prototypes for the straying husband and the jealous wife in so many stories. Granted, the stories weren't particularly funny to the many women who were subjected to Zeus's advances (when an immortal pursues a mortal, consent is dubious at best) and then the retribution of the divine harridan Hera, but such foibles were part-and-parcel of the body of the region's collected myths.

At the intersection of Magic and Greek myth, there were plenty of chances to bring the funny, but most were left untaken. What were the decisions that made Theros block so serious, and what might have been?


On Theros Limited

Looking to step up your game and crush a draft this weekend? Frank Karsten has all the advice you could possibly need to get you through your packs of Journey into Nyx. In this article, Frank outlines the texture of the set. What are the most powerful cards and archetypes? How should you be looking to set yourself up for the packs that follow?

ChannelFireball.com: Frank Karsten (@karsten_frank) - A Pick Order List for Journey into Nyx Draft

In this list, all cards are ranked from high to low as a guide for the first-pick-first-pack decision in a regular Journey/Born/Theros draft. The list does not take the monetary value of a card into account, and multicolored cards are ranked relatively low because of the loss of flexibility and the danger of committing to two colors right from the start.

Although the list is influenced by discussions with many others (including members of Team ChannelFireball), it is based on my own preferences, experiences, and ideas. Specifically, it is influenced by my strong preference for drafting blue/green. This color combination had an impressive 70% match win percentage in our practice drafts, despite the decks never looking super impressive, which spurred the saying that “'Blue/green crap' never loses”.

And it makes sense: There is synergy between big green monsters and blue bounce spells, as well as green acceleration and big blue flyers, so you often end up with a nice deck. Moreover, both colors are very deep in every pack in the block, which means that you'll receive reasonable picks even if someone is drafting the same colors next to you. This is especially true for green, which I consider to be the best color in JBT draft. I would not recommend forcing a color outright, but you'll see the blue and green cards ranked more highly than you might expect, as it is the color combination I feel most comfortable with.

Another relevant factor that influenced my list is my belief that you have to take early drops (i.e., creatures with mana cost four or less) very highly. You can only play so many combat tricks, bounce spells, and 5+ drops, especially if you want to tempo out. Moreover, in Journey into Nyx, there are strive combat tricks instead of bestow creatures at common, which places an extra premium on having enough creatures. I generally try to have at least 5 creatures after the first booster, 10 creatures after the second, and 15 after the third. If I have a shortage of creatures and already have a bunch of instant-speed spells, then I'll happily take Swordwise Centaur over Retraction Helix in Born of the Gods, for example. In the end, a deck without creatures will have a hard time getting anywhere.


On Clocks and Conspiracy

Conspiracy may just be one of the most exciting Magic products in recent years, but it also has a very interesting flavor to it. This creative piece by Matt Knicl delves into some of the goings on in Paliano. Professor Muzzio is the character who has built all of the clockwork constructs we've seen throughout the Conspiracy spoilers. Who is this character? What is his plan with these constructs? Why do all of his political opponents keep disappearing?

DailyMTG.com: Matt Knicl - Like Cogwork

"Do you think he was angry?" the ancient professor asked his colleague as they walked into the academy's antechamber.

"No, Tulando, of course not," the chancellor replied. "Muzzio is a practical man. He showed no emotion when we rendered the vote. I swear he is no better than a machine."

"You fail to give him credit, Chancellor. His inventions have revolutionized our society. We now rely on his work in one form or another."

"Oh, of course," the chancellor replied. "But that's why we need him in a workshop and not behind a desk."

The professor looked around the empty marble antechamber. It was night, and none were around, but still the professor found it best to lower his voice.

"You've heard the rumors about him, I take it?"

The chancellor scoffed.

"Spare me. That he is an agent of the Black Rose? Or the one that he is still the patron of the dropout, Sydri?"

"He most certainly killed Daretti."

"If he did, he did us a favor," the chancellor said. He instantly regretted the statement, the night's meeting and late hours raising his temper. "I'll hear no more of this sort of talk. The matter is resolved."

The professor nodded to the chancellor and they both parted ways.


 

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