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Great Magic Writing of the Week, September 15

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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 Xenagos

Theros has been spoiled, and players have started brewing, but no one brews quite like Andrew Wilson. Sure, there are plenty of aggressive, midrange, and controlling possibilities, but Andrew is more interested in going big. Thus far, his brews are focused on tokens, specifically from Young Pyromancer and Akroan Crusader. Just how big is Andrew planning on going? He's looking at splashing Beck in his Red deck just to get his combo on. Check out Andrew's Theros Brews:

GatheringMagic.com: Andrew Wilson (@Silent7Seven) - Xenagos in Akros

As I look back and forth through the Theros previews, I’m starting to shape more ideas about potential combos in various formats. For this week, I decided to start with the innocuous common Akroan Crusader for its synergy with the recently-popular Young Pyromancer.

The Crusader generates a token every time you cast a spell that targets it, and if that spell was an instant or sorcery, the Pyromancer will generate a token as well. My impulse from there was to build a mono-red aggressive deck full of cheap creatures and pump spells to create an early army. Like last week, I decided to stick with Standard, both as a deck-building challenge and to potentially inspire Friday Night Magic lists. Let’s take a look.


On Comboing

Combo is an important pillar o eternal formats. The more cards there are, the more consistent and powerful combo decks become. Until recently, Brian Braun-Duin had always played fair decks in Legacy, but it was time for that to change. In this article, Brian talks about why he's made the change and shares some of his experiences with Tendrils of Agony and Show and Tell:

StarCityGames.com: Brian Braun-Duin (@BraunDuinIt) - Nothin' Beats Surprise

"Nothin' beat surprise—'cept rock." — Flavor text, Sneak Attack

"Nothin' beat rock—'cept paper . . . And actually, you know what? I'm not sure I buy it. I think this 'paper covers rock' assumption is a little sketchy. I need supporting evidence. I need scientific proof. Because frankly, I find a little hard to swallow that people can't see the enormous rock under that tiny, flimsy piece of paper. Really? You can't see that giant, powerful rock bulging out from underneath? You don't think that this massive rock is going to maybe break through the sheet of paper? I feel like you're going to go to grab that paper and hurt yourself on the rock underneath. **** rock. I hate rock. Rock sucks." — Diary of a Scissors Lizard

Combo. One simple five-letter word has struck fear in the hearts of Magic players around the world. Any time my opponent led with IslandPonder, a Sinking Feeling would well up in my stomach.

"I hope they don't have it. Please shuffle that Ponder. What if they have it? What if I lose this game and there's nothing I can do? Please shuffle that Ponder. I have all these dead cards in hand. Shuffle. That. Ponder. PLEASE! CAN I GET A SHUFFLE ON THAT PONDER ONE TIME?!"

They keep the top three cards with Ponder. They look up with a smirk on their face and pass the turn to me. I go through the motions, but I basically know I'm dead. The next turn, they cast Show and Tell, and my pet goldfish and bag of string can't quite match up to their flying lifelink Demon. Oops. Guess I lose. Again.


On Gods

Theros has brought with it some really awesome cards, including the Legendary Enchantment Gods as well as their Legendary Enchantment gear. Bennie Smith is taking some time to look more closely at the gods and their Artifacts, hoping to find out just what these cards are capable of in casual formats. Which pairs are most powerful? Which ones have Commander potential? Bennie answers these questions and more.

StarCityGames.com: Bennie Smith (@blairwitchgreen) - Of Gods and Their Toys

How about the Gods from Theros! The fully spoiled cycle has justifiably gotten the Magic community salivating over the prospects of playing them across multiple formats and deck sizes, and quite a few writers have thrown in their opinions on how good they are. One thing that seems to be missing from the discussions that I've read though is how well the Gods play with their toys. I mean, each of the legendary enchantment creatures has a signature legendary enchantment artifact that goes with it and presumably is meant to be played alongside it for reasons outside of just flavor, right? There are some patterns I've been noticing about the cycle of weapons and how they pair up with the deities that I think warrants some additional thought and discussion.


On Getting Commander

Commander can be a difficult format to get into. The goals are vague, the rules are convoluted, and social contracts have all kinds of hidden subtext that complicate the matter further. In this article, Jon Corpora looks at what it is that makes Commander as popular as it has become. Why does this format appeal so much to the casual crowd, and how do you know if it's the format for you?

ChannelFireball.com: Jon Corpora (@feb31st) - Randomly Manipulating Cardboard - What is Commander?

Where did Commander come from?

I stopped playing Magic competitively in about late 2007, when Sol Rings were a dollar and foil Karmic Guides were throw-ins in trades. There was no real reason for me to stop, I just got caught up in stuff and Magic took a backseat. It happens.

Back then, the “casual format” of choice was Type 4. You might know it as DC10, but the gist of it was that someone would bring a stack of cards with them to a tournament with the intent of playing off that stack with multiple people. Each player can play one spell per turn, but you have unlimited mana. This allowed people to design their DC10 stacks with fun, splashy cards that were otherwise terrible—Decree of Silence, for instance, was an unreal bomb and bordered on impossible to beat. Lots of people played it, and the cards for their stacks were generally pretty cheap.

My real entrée back into the game was in 2010, starting with GP DC and then the Scars of Mirrodin prerelease. A lot had changed in two years, chief among them being:

1) Playmats. I have vivid memories of being 17 and deriding people that chose to use playmats, calling them pointless (“You already have sleeves! Pick one or the other!”) and operating under the general assumption that those who chose to use playmats were lesser players and I couldn’t ever conceivably lose to them (I was a bit more, ahem, confident when I was a teenager than I am now). Now, they’re practically a given at any tournament.

2) EDH. Instead of killing time between rounds in local events with Type 4, players instead bust out these massive singleton stacks of cards and fight them against each other. Immediate observation of these games yielded more mana ramping and politicking (my two least favorite things) than actual game play. The decks would often be completely foil, and full of terrible cards I had vague memories of. Imagine my surprise when I learned that my old foil Skyshroud Claims and Rhystic Studys both topped the double-digit price mark! I tried a couple games and was thoroughly unimpressed with the gameplay. Even among friends, the format felt like more of a slow, smoldering disaster than anything else. Since then, I’ve seen people travel to GPs just to play Commander, eschewing the main event altogether.

I don’t get it.


On Simulating Magic

As technology becomes more sophisticated, computer models and simulation are increasingly replacing tedious experimentation in various fields of science and engineering. Frank Karsten wonders why this can't be applied to Magic and spends this article building a framework for simple Magical analysis. Frank defines some simple parameters that define the "best" aggro deck in a very limited format, and sets about using simulation to optimize simple aggressive decks. This is a very innovative way to approach Magic, and I can't wait to see what other analyses are possible once an appropriate framework has been built.

ChannelFireball.com: Frank Karsten (@karsten_frank) - Finding the Optimal Aggro Deck via Computer Simulation

Suppose that there would be a format in which only the following five cards were legal:

 

Savannah LionsPutrid LeechGeist of Saint TraftLightning BoltCity of Brass

 

There is no four-card maximum, so you can play any number of copies of these cards, and the goal is to deal 20 damage as quickly as possible. For this format, I want to answer the following question:

What Is the Optimal Deck?

In other words, what is the fastest 60-card aggro deck when you can pick any number of:

• A 2-power creature for one mana (representative of iconic one-drops such as Kird Ape, Gravecrawler, and Savannah Lions)

• A 4-power creature for two mana (representative of efficient two-drops such as Putrid Leech, Dandân, and Joetun Grunt)

• A 6-power creature for three mana (representative of Geist of Saint Traft, arguably the hardest-hitting three-drop of all time, as well as Knight of the Reliquary and Countryside Crusher when they’re having a good day)

• A spell that deals 3 damage to the opponent for one mana (obviously inspired by Lightning Bolt, though Lava Spike and Bump in the Night" href="/p/Magic%3A+The+Gathering/%3Ca+name%3D%22Bump+in+the+Night%22+href%3D%22http%3A%2F%2Fstore.channelfireball.com%2Fproducts%2Fsearch%3Fquery%3DBump%2520in%2520the%2520Night%22+target%3D%22_blank%22%3E%3C%2Fa%3EBump+in+the+Night">Bump in the Night are similarly efficient)

• A generic land that taps for one mana (of any color, so just imagine a City of Brass)

This question is intended to offer intellectual entertainment, but may also unlock new insights for deckbuilding. Frankly, I like analysis, so I set out to answer it.


On Brewing Theros

What will Standard look like after rotation? What are the obvious starting points and constraints on the format? These are the questions that Jackie Lee looks to answer, now that we have the full Theros spoiler. Jackie starts by looking at the baseline red aggressive decks, as well as the midrangey foils to them. Get ready for the new Standard with Jackie Lee!

TCGPlayer.com: Jackie Lee (@JackieL33) - Peeking Into Post-Theros Standard

Theros is on the horizon, and most Standard players are excited to see Unburial Rites finally go. I, too, am eager to see the powerful reanimation spell rotate out, along with Thragtusk, the Beast Who Only Wants One Thing: To Make Other Beasts and to Gain You Five Life. Unfortunately, I suspect that even without Unburial Rites, I'll still be woken up on a biweekly basis by people loudly rooting through a dumpster.

I probably have more reason to be optimistic about Theros than I do my new apartment, so here are some initial starting points for approaching the format:

Wait, that's not Theros Standard.

But… it is beautiful, isn't it? A deck that kills you with Ironclaw Orcs. I'm pretty sure this is what I daydreamed about in middle school, my young heart aflutter.

It would actually be fitting if Theros brought back Sligh, because that deck is what amounts to ancient mythology for us Magic players.

Firedrinker Satyr now begs the question: Do we still live in this world?


On Fate

One of the most awesome things about Commander is that there's always room for more awesome cards; you can build around almost anything and still end up with an incredible deck. This week, Adam Styborski has a Theros preview that lets you put fate into your own hands. The Triad of Fates has unbelievable flavor, and the deck Adam builds around it pushes a sweet card as far as it can go. If you love powerful, flavorful Commander decks, this is the article for you.

DailyMTG.com: Adam Styborski (@the_Stybs)- Your Destiny Has Been Chosen

I don't believe in fate.

The idea that all choices are merely illusory is unsettling. That everything—from birth through death—is predetermined by the Moirai flies in the face of what many of us perceive. Not that it'd be inconvenient to lay blame for all our Magic losses at the feet of the Fates, but it's much more likely that we're the ones making all the mistakes, not a pseudo-godlike triumvirate.

However, we don't live on Theros.

Theros is packed with plenty from Greek mythology, including its own riff on the ancient three that even the gods were beholden to. These are the Fates that look upon Theros:

Being in Theros was clearly destiny.


On Elspeth and Ajani

Elspeth has always been one of the most iconic and beloved Planeswalkers ever since her appearance on Alara. However, she fled from both Alara and Mirrodin when faced with overhwelming adversity, and we've never really been told why. Jenna Helland gives us our first real look into how Elspeth ended up on Theros and how she feels about her previous experiences. This is all revealed in an incredible letter Elspeth writes to Ajani that you just can't miss if you're a fan of Planeswalker flavor.

DailyMTG.com: Jenna Helland - The Lost Confession

Ajani,

I'm writing you this letter knowing that you'll never read it. When I'm finished with these words, I'm going to roll the parchment up, slide it into a ceramic vial, and sink it in a swamp. That's what you do with prayers here, or at least prayers to Pharika, who seems to be the god of potions. She's also the god of poison, so maybe these words will just make things worse for me. I don't understand this plane yet—I've been too busy trying not to die. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


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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