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Constructive Criticism

Hey everyone!

I’m back from SCG Cincinnati and it could have gone better. It was not without lessons as I got to watch many matches and get a chance to interact in a team environment. I made plenty of mistakes in the event. These things happen, but I don’t want to repeat them. Brian Demars also had some interesting perspectives on the state of Constructed Magic I will explore.

Let’s get to it!

SCG Cincinnati

I stuck to my guns and played the best deck in the Legacy format — Grixis Delver.


Delver of Secrets
Stifle, Spell Pierce, and Cabal Therapy are all great so it’s only a question of which spell to play in the maindeck. Bob Huang popularized the version with Spell Pierce and many great pilots have signed off on his card choice.

At the last minute, I cut the maindeck Stifles for more traditional Spell Pierces. This is because I expected teams with newer Legacy players to default to Blood Moon Prison decks to hate on Grixis Delver. I can maindeck Stifle, Spell Pierce, or Cabal Therapy, but Pierce is the only good card against Prison. Winning the first game against Prison decks is important because a turn one Chalice of the Void on the draw will kill me most of the time. It’s not enough to just have a good sideboard against them to win.

Our final record as a team was 1-2-1 which would not be good enough to make it to day two, even with a win streak, so we dropped and drove home. My individual record was 2-2. Surprisingly I defeated Blood Moon Prison and Goblins with Chalice of the Void and Blood Moon. My losses were also surprising: Grixis Delver and 4-Color Stoneblade. The games were close in the Brainstorm mirrors, but they didn’t break my way. My opponents were also strong and gave me a run for my money.

Despite my mediocre record, I was very happy with my deck and would not change a card. Stifles in the board for the Blue decks played out well and I was always looking to draw them. The maindeck Spell Pierces were fine in the mirror and excellent against Blood Moon and Chalice of the Void.

Mistakes Were Made

Brainstorm
I put in plenty of hours tuning each deck we played, so I was naturally displeased with failing to make the second day. There were times where I let the losses get the best of me. There was very little grace on my end, and I consider that to be a bigger failure than losing the games themselves. I took the fun away from my opponents with my sour attitude and made some horrible first impressions on players I may call friends in the future.

These negative emotions carried into future rounds as well. Looking back, I was doomed from the start because I had so much invested in the tournament. All of the hours of preparation must directly translate into wins right?

Team events have even more variance within the rounds despite strong teams often finishing at the top of the standings. Each round has a maximum of nine games which provides plenty of opportunities to mulligan, get land screwed, and flooded. This can also happen to your opponents, too. Magic is a crazy game and I would be happier playing if I just accepted there is very little I can control.

The losses were harder on me because it was happening as a team. If I get beat and am the last match playing in the round it’s like losing three times. This is flawed logic because another teammate must have already lost and they didn’t have such pressures being the first one to complete the match. I also don’t hold it against my teammates when they lose because we are a single unit. It’s easier to brush off someone else’s losses compared to my own, but I must.

I should have trusted my teammates more than I did. It’s no surprise I beat the non-Blue decks given my scattered attention. A Brainstorm mirror takes a lot of concentration and I was thinking about Standard, Modern, and Legacy simultaneously. The team aspect of Magic plays out better in sealed because knowing the cards in the opponent’s deck means your teammates can deduce what they may face.

If I could do it all again I would downplay the team aspect. The team member synergies we know and love in Limited are less pronounced in Constructed. It is best to play your games to avoid confusion of other formats. I play a lot of Constructed and it was hard for me to switch gears quickly so I would imagine anyone would have that problem.

The Top 4 of most team Limited events have at least nine players you would expect. It’s rare to see a dark horse team crack the elimination rounds. This is not the case for team Constructed. I haven’t come to expect such star-studded Top 4s and this weekend showed me why.

Constructed in the Modern Era

The Scarab God
When I got into the car to drive to Cincinnati, Brian Demars was talking about how he doesn’t like current Constructed Magic anymore. Naturally, this is very concerning as I was about to drive four hours to team with him doing exactly that. He has been focusing on less popular Constructed Magic such as Pauper and Old School. I was at first very skeptical, but he made some great points. I still love Constructed and I will continue to play it, but I could use the trends he observed to my advantage in the future.

Brian’s primary complaint is how each threat is capable of winning the game on their own. Stu, Brian, and I all had a creature in our team Constructed decks that basically won if we untapped with it in play. Devoted Druid, Deathrite Shaman, and The Scarab God are no joke. Kill or be killed. I don’t need to ask myself if my opponent has a removal spell in hand if they pass the turn and I begin using their abilities.

Magic is an old game; I first began playing in 1994 when I was five. I recently became a level 50 archmage which means I have more planeswalker points than any sane person should have accumulated in one lifetime. Many of these changes I’ve experienced firsthand. Magic has morphed throughout the years due to changes in the rules and design philosophy.

Some of you may remember a time when control was often considered the best strategy. This is rarely the case today. It ties back to the threats being so individually powerful. Brain reminded me of a time I had forgotten declining to counter a spell that was cast. It’s rare the opponent casts a threat these days that won’t generate an insurmountable advantage in as little as a few turns.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Back in the day, the good control players would allow threats to sneak into play and let them attack for a couple turns while setting up defenses. Life totals could be used as a resource, but the threats now generate more card advantage than draw spells. Can I really let a Chandra resolve to cast a Glimmer of Genius? Sure there are occasions it’s ok, but I need to have an answer ready shortly. The answer likely must be in hand already and needs to be killed next turn. Since threats are on hyperdrive, it creates a scenario where control needs to answer every threat immediately. If the answers don’t line up with the threats, there are only a couple turns to recover or the game is done.

The primary incentive to play control these days is to invalidate removal. This advantage is short lived as they must win one of the post board games, too. It’s fairly common to see control decks board in threats because when the opponent’s cards all do something it’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Card advantage is also less pronounced since a single threat is able to win in a few turns if left unchecked. Mulligans have never been more important. Wizards gave us the scry rule to account for this, but it also increased the consistency of these powerful combos simultaneously. In the old days, combo decks didn’t typically have a plan B of casting an absurd threat like Jace. They would mulligan often in a time where being down an entire card could be crippling. Today, Tron mulligans to five and it isn’t unheard of to still be facing Karn on turn three.

Friends come up to me between rounds and ask if I would keep a mediocre hand “in the dark.” The answer is typically mulligan. Every deck is doing something ridiculous and they will kill you quickly if the plan is to topdeck the missing element. Mulligan sketchy opening hands. The key question that matters for borderline hands is “if my answers don’t line up with their threats what do I do?”

Chalice of the Void
I still enjoy Constructed Magic, but it’s important to accept it for what it is. Despite my success in Magic in the modern era I’m actually a weak strategist compared to my friends. I’m horrible at Chess, but I’m good at seeing trends in a world of chaos. The latter skill is what Magic currently rewards.

Constructed Magic is about knowing your script in each matchup. It’s like you’re playing a video game and need to know what obstacles come next. I’ve died so many times in Mario and Zelda where something comes out of nowhere to kill me. It might even trick me again later in the level. The time I beat the level is when I’m already aware of those surprises.

If I hand a Legacy deck to a new player, they won’t be playing much Magic. A lot of dying will take place until they figure out the traps.

They wouldn’t know Force of Will on the draw versus Chalice is the only way to react Game 1. How about passing on turn one with Ponder in hand to hold up Spell Pierce for Blood Moon? Probably not going to happen. The Moon will resolve and the game ends on turn two.

They might have heard Blood Moon is good against Lands so they feel safe with it in play. This isn’t the case post board because Dark Depths enters the battlefield without ice counters. It taps for a Red mana to help cast Krosan Grip. Now they have a 20/20 with flying and indestructible on turn two and nothing can be done.

Is it skill to dodge these traps or something else entirely like repetition? Know your script.

Pauper

I now miss the days of a single threat not killing me within one or two turns. Thinking two turns in advance meaning something other than being familiar with how the script flips would be a nice change of pace.

Pauper has the consistency of Legacy, but they essentially banned the ridiculous threats and the lock pieces. Diet Legacy if you will.

The barrier to entry for me playing Pauper was time. Since it is primarily a casual format, I can’t win much for being knowledgeable of the format. RIW Hobbies, my sponsor, ran a Pauper 1K that attracted more than 100 players. The turnout was so impressive the prize support was bumped. This will cause other stores in the area to follow suit. I have some incentive to learn the format and so will other skilled players. Things are getting interesting.

It also paves the way for Team Constructed with Pauper replacing Standard or Legacy. How cool would that be?

Aggro, control, and combo are all playable. I can cast Brainstorm without it being oppressive. The format isn’t yet efficient, so playing a brew won’t immediately send you to the loser’s bracket either.

I played Mono-Blue Delver in the past and was delighted to see it continuing strong in Pauper leagues on Magic Online.

Here’s the list I’m going to use to get my foot back in the door:


Augur of Bolas
The point of this deck is to land early threats and disrupt your opponent with Counterspell, Daze, and Snap. It’s a very focused deck as the only creature disruption is Snap which can be used to save your own cheap creatures from removal or get another trigger from Spellstutter Sprite. If you enjoy crafty Blue decks, this may be the most fun you will have in Constructed.

This list is fairly stock. Even if you decide on a different deck to play this will be well represented in the tournament.

The numbers you can change are Augur of Bolas, Spire Golem, Mutagenic Growth, and Island. Some versions play 18 Island, but I’ve been happy with 17 island with as many as four Spire Golem in the past.

Mutagenic Growth is a relatively new addition to the deck to take down big flying threats such as Kor Skyfisher. It also allows Ninja of the Deep Hours to kill blockers in combat. Blue Delver is a tempo deck which means it wants an early threat and then disrupt the opponent. Mutagenic Growth protects your fragile 1/1s from cheap removal like Electrickery and Gut Shot.

Augur of Bolas was recently printed as common in Modern Masters 2017. It’s a great card advantage engine as a ? can hold the fort and get bounced with ninjitsu. Once it was legal in Pauper it quickly became a staple in most Blue decks.

Curse of Chains is not a stock sideboard card, but answers large creatures like Gurmag Angler, Tireless Tribe, and Myr Enforcer. It is multicolored which means it also taps annoying creatures like Guardian of the Guildpact that can be combined with Pestilence.

I recommend giving Pauper a try as it represents a unique play experience. Many of you haven’t been playing for over a decade so this will help simulate an older style of Magic with modern card design.

Conclusion

Magic is changing. It always has and will continue to do so. It can be jarring to think of how things used to be done fifteen or twenty years ago because the change has been incremental. Wizards has good intentions for change, to draw new players, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t yearn for the game I played as a kid.

Current Constructed formats are still fun and I will continue to innovate. They are not without their faults and I can use them to my advantage in games. There is a shockingly large amount of elements outside of my control and I need to do my best to accept it. Winning doesn’t make you smart and losing doesn’t make you dumb.

I encourage you all to try Pauper. Generate some buzz in your community and get some events fired. There’s a deck for everyone and it’s cheap, too. It’ll be a breath of fresh air to not die to The Scarab God or Chalice of the Void in a turn.

Thanks for reading!

—Kyle


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