Thanksgiving has passed, leaving us here to question our humanity on one of the most bizarre days of the year. Likely stuffed to the maximum full of delicious turkey, coming out of a tryptophan-induced deep sleep to face the madness that is Black Friday can be a jarring experience.
Whether you're out fist fighting other human beings to make sure you get that doorbuster 60 inch TV, home relaxing avoiding the madness, or - god bless you - out working the most chaotic day of the year, please put aside your part in the rampant pre-Christmas consumerism and back up a day with me.
While often lost in the mix, the real point of Thanksgiving is just that: giving thanks for the things we appreciate. This thanks is often reserved for our family, friends, and the ability to live in a part of the world where we don't have to worry about where our next meal is going to come from (and have the time and income to play the world's greatest game), but of course I'm paid to write about Magic: the Gathering, so that's exactly what I'm going to do.
The Five Magic Cards I'm Most Thankful For
...a look back at the five cards that have had the greatest impact on my 15+ years playing Magic.
I've done a look back at my favorite cards before, but "favorite" and "most thankful for" is a very different thing. All of these cards have had a very serious impact on my development as a Magic player and my Magic playing career and without them I would not be the person I am today.
5. Tireless Tracker
Ah yes... we start with The Best Card Ever Printed (TM).
I have a confession to make: I wasn't always on board with The Best Card Ever Printed (TM). When Team MGG first came together before SCG Tour Baltimore in 2015, the Bant Company deck we worked on tirelessly for the two days before the tournament in our hotel room was our introduction to the world. We would come in 1st, 11th, and 12th place in that event with the deck, putting it on the map as the deck to beat in the format and setting the stage for our announcement as a team mere weeks later.
But while Kevin Jones had brought the Bant Company shell to us that we all worked on, we hadn't fully decided on what 3-drop to play yet. It was late into Friday evening when we were looking for a good card advantage creature from the new set to play alongside Duskwatch Recruiter and while the rest of the team was interested in Tireless Tracker, I for some unknown reason thought Bygone Bishop was better. Thankfully they talked some sense into me and the rest is history:
I have never felt more powerful in a tournament.
Bant Company | Standard | Jim Davis, 1st place SCG Baltimore 4/9/2016
- Creatures (27)
- 1 Den Protector
- 1 Hidden Dragonslayer
- 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 2 Archangel Avacyn
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Bounding Krasis
- 4 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- Lands (25)
- 2 Island
- 3 Forest
- 3 Plains
- 1 Fortified Village
- 1 Port Town
- 3 Canopy Vista
- 4 Evolving Wilds
- 4 Lumbering Falls
- 4 Prairie Stream
Our deck was so good, it felt like we were playing a Modern deck and everyone else was playing Standard. While some unfortunate pairings saw myself, Dan, and Kevin matched up multiple times in the waning rounds of day two, with different pairings I would not have been surprised if we all made top 8; the deck was that good.
And at its core was Tireless Tracker, The Best Card Ever Printed (TM).
Tireless Tracker has it all: it's a solid size creature, card advantage engine, fairly cheap, and helps to do the two things in Magic I love best - playing lands and drawing cards. Seriously... have you ever had a Tireless Tracker in play before? It is nice.
The story of how I started playing Magic is very amusing.
I was an awkward 15 year old (as opposed to an awkward 34 year old) when my also awkward best bud Matt came into my room with a 7th Edition starter kit and demanded that I play with him. I resisted at first, citing "that sounds stupid" as my defense (as I sat in my room on AIM and listening to Korn), but eventually relented.
Matt and I at Tidewater Comic Con a few years back; Matt cosplays on weekends as Captain America and often volunteers for sick kids at children's hospitals.
Matt took the deck (likely because of the foil promo Thorn Elemental that came with the starter kit) and gave me the deck... and the rest is history. Soon enough Matt was complaining that I was "cheap" because I kept countering his spells and attacking with seemingly unstoppable flying creatures.
Counterspell was a card that really stood out to me as a new player, as it was the only card in the game that could beat any other card... even itself! Cards like Volcanic Hammer and Disenchant could kill certain things, but no card had the versatility of good old Counterspell. However it did require precise timing, which gave me a window into the deep complexity that the game had.
There's nothing like the original gangster!
3. Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Elspeth, Sun's Champion is one of the best Standard control cards of all time. One of the principle fundamentals of a control deck is that you never want to devote many cards to actually winning the game. For each Aetherling or Crackling Drake you draw, you aren't drawing a card that helps you survive and gain control of the game. This is why control decks will often turn to cards like Stalking Stones, Nephalia Drownyard, or Expansion // Explosion to win games; these cards are win conditions that are incidental to play. They either just sit in play at little to no cost or also have utility as a control element that also has the ability to win the game later.
There was no better card at this than Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Once Elspeth, Sun's Champion came down, either slammed on turn six or carefully cast on turn nine with counterspell backup, the game became incredibly difficult for your opponent to win. They had to battle through the army of creature tokens, which would usually force them to overextend into an End Hostilities. The fact that Elspeth, Sun's Champion would also end the game in short order was just a nice bonus on top of its power as a control card.
While I was never able to secure a tournament win with Elspeth, Sun's Champion, I made a name for myself as the Control player on the SCG Tour with the deck.
U/W Control | Standard | Jim Davis, 4th Place SCG Open Providence 6/7/2014
- Creatures (1)
- 1 Aetherling
- Lands (27)
- 6 Island
- 6 Plains
- 3 Azorius Guildgate
- 4 Hallowed Fountain
- 4 Mutavault
- 4 Temple of Enlightenment
Sphinx's Revelation was obviously a busted Magic card, with a version of my deck playing Planar Cleansing eventually winning the Standard Pro Tour of that format, but the fun part was once the Azorius guild rotated out of Standard.
The deck ceased to be a part of the metagame, until I brought it back with an unlikely cast of characters:
U/W Control | Standard | Jim Davis, 4th Place SCG Open Columbus 1/3/2015
- Creatures (1)
- 1 Pearl Lake Ancient
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
- Instants (20)
- 1 Devouring Light
- 1 Negate
- 2 Last Breath
- 3 Dig Through Time
- 3 Disdainful Stroke
- 3 Jace's Ingenuity
- 3 Nullify
- 4 Dissolve
- Lands (27)
- 2 Plains
- 5 Island
- 2 Evolving Wilds
- 2 Polluted Delta
- 4 Flooded Strand
- 4 Radiant Fountain
- 4 Temple of Enlightenment
- 4 Tranquil Cove
People thought I was crazy for playing the deck without all the busted Azorius cards like Sphinx's Revelation and Supreme Verdict, but I would play this deck all season to repeated success. Even better was the fact that nobody else could really replicate the success, making it my signature deck. turn nine Elspeth, Sun's Champion with Dissolve backup became my signature play, and I honestly can say I don't think I've never known a deck better.
These decks defining me as a control player have been a big part of my Magic career, which in turn is in large part due to how great Elspeth, Sun's Champion was.
2. Goblin Ringleader
It's almost odd having Goblin Ringleader not in the #1 slot, but we'll get to that in a little bit.
Goblin Ringleader... where to start.
Fling Affinity | Extended | Jim Davis, 3rd Place PTQ 2/13/2005
- Creatures (22)
- 3 Atog
- 4 Disciple of the Vault
- 3 Myr Enforcer
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Arcbound Worker
- 4 Frogmite
- Lands (20)
- 1 City of Brass
- 1 Darksteel Citadel
- 2 Glimmervoid
- 4 Ancient Den
- 4 Great Furnace
- 4 Seat of the Synod
- 4 Vault of Whispers
I spent an entire Extended PTQ season playing a really cool Fling-Affinity deck based around Atog and Fling, but just couldn't really get across the finish line. Meanwhile, my friend Charles was playing Goblins, making Top 8 of almost every single PTQ we played it (Mind you, this was ~200 person PTQs in the northeast, one of the most difficult places to qualify at the time). Charles couldn't attend the last PTQ of the season in Pennsylvania, and was kind enough to loan me the Goblin deck he had been playing all season.
It was love at first sight.
I would end up losing in top 4 of the PTQ to double Engineered Plague in games two and three against a Rock deck, but I was enamored. There was only one problem... Extended was about to rotate! Extended was Modern before Modern was Modern, and it was about to rotate to the point of Wasteland, Goblin Lackey, and Rishadan Port leaving the format. Furthermore, Aether Vial was to be banned in this new iteration of the format.
This left me at the first Extended PTQ of the season with no idea what to play, which was happening on the same day as the first ever Pro Tour in the new format. Suffice to say, there was zero information on decklists going into the event. So what did I do? Try to make Goblins work:
Goblins | Extended | Jim Davis, 1st place PTQ 10/30/2005
- Creatures (36)
- 1 Goblin King
- 1 Goblin Pyromancer
- 1 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 1 Siege-Gang Commander
- 1 Sparksmith
- 3 Goblin Legionnaire
- 4 Gempalm Incinerator
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 4 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Goblin Ringleader
- 4 Goblin Sledder
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 4 Skirk Prospector
- Artifacts (3)
- 3 Chrome Mox
The format was so young that we didn't even know that fetchlands + Ravnica dual lands were better than painlands!
Regardless, I ran the tables that day in a hotel basement in West Chester, PA, qualifying me for my first ever Pro Tour, a goal I had chased for years battling in PTQs up and down the east coast. Goblin Ringleader, at the heart of every Goblin deck, was the main tool that got me there.
I've been called "the Goblin King," and while I've never won an event with the deck, I have 2nd and 9th place finishes at Grand Prix with it in Extended and Legacy respectively, as well as a second place finish at the 2011 SCG Invitational and numerous SCG Tour Open Top 8s with the deck. There's no deck I've played more often at major events, as well as no deck I've enjoyed more.
Goblin Ringleader took me to my first Pro Tour, as well as numerous other highs in my Magic career, and for that I'm forever thankful.
1. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Jim Davis, the "Goblin King" and known Standard control player, is citing Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as the card he is most thankful for ever? What is going on here?
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon changed the fate of my entire Magic career.
Going into the 2015 SCG Tour Player's Championship, I had resigned myself to taking a step back from the game. I had just graduated from Stony Brook University, after years of delaying school due to Magic, and was looking to enter the teaching field and/or start working on getting my Masters degree. It had been a good run, but the real world was calling and it was time to answer.
...or so I thought.
After a disastrous first Player's Championship in 2014, I took some big risks in 2015, bringing a Standard deck that was completely off the radar but offered me excellent matchups against the main decks I expected everyone to bring. The deck featured four copies of both Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as well as Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and other huge threats, having a superb matchup against the Jeskai Black deck I expected most players to bring. I also registered Tron in Modern, expecting it to do well against the projected field.
Naya Ramp | Standard | Jim Davis, 2015 SCG Player's Championship
- Creatures (18)
- 2 Den Protector
- 2 Dragonlord Atarka
- 2 Oblivion Sower
- 4 Jaddi Offshoot
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- Planeswalkers (4)
- 4 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
- Lands (25)
- 1 Mountain
- 1 Plains
- 10 Forest
- 1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
- 4 Sanctum of Ugin
- 4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
- 4 Wooded Foothills
Here I was, consummate control player, playing essentially Ramp in two of the three major formats!
But luckily enough it paid off, and with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon sealing up my win it launched me into an entirely new path. I began streaming on Twitch.tv, Team MGG was formed, and I decided to give myself one year to see if I could make it as a full time Magic: the Gathering player.
After years of living week to week on part time jobs and tournament winnings, I knew that something was going to have to change. I was going to need to be able to support myself regardless of my results in events and the huge windfall of money from winning the Player's Championship (as well as the support of my now fiancÚ Nicole) gave me the buffer I needed to get started. This laid the groundwork for where I am now, playing Magic full time by producing content for the awesome CoolStuffInc.com, streaming, making YouTube videos, traveling to events with Team BCW, and occasionally coaching as well.
All of this thanks to a well timed Ugin, the Spirit Dragon (or two).
It's amazing to think how one card could have such an impact on the course of my life. "Thankful" is certainly the right word (and perhaps an understatement), as I couldn't be more so for the life I lead now and how it is allowed me to build for my family and my future.
So to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon... thank you!
How about you?
What Magic cards are you most thankful for?