Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Modern Era

I don't feel particularly ashamed about how terribly the deck in my last article wound up. The thought behind bringing Arcane Melee up yet again was that the Destroy All Monsters tactic might actually be possible with enough recursion.

"No, I don't really have lifegain. But as long as I kill EVERYTHING FOREVER, I won't even lose life in the first place!"


I don't think it can really be done. I wasn't convinced that it could when I wrote the article; I tried to make it pretty clear that it was more of an experiment and I didn't necessarily expect it to work out. But when it went as badly as it did I became pretty disenchanted with Standard. The kind of deck I like to play just isn't the kind of deck you can play. So I'm done with Standard for a while. In a moment, I'll talk to you about my new love. But first, story time!

I saw Jackie Lee at Grand Prix Indianapolis playing a Grixis Deck in a Standard side event. It looked spicy: Lone Revenants, Mizzium Mortars, Magmaquakes... I actually came up to her as she was sideboarding, so I got to watch her go through her entire deck. I had heard my friends talking about how she was playing Grixis, and I was really excited to see if she had done what I considered impossible. Then she flipped past the Hallowed Fountains.

When she walked up to a vendor's booth that I was at with a friend of mine, I tried to talk to her about it.

"I saw you were playing Lone Revenants in your Standard deck, why'd you go with him?" I asked. Or something like that.

"Uh... because he's good?"

The rest of the short conversation went similarly.

I'm sure she's a very nice person, as are most of the people that I met last weekend. Well, pretty sure. As you would expect with a Grand Prix, there were plenty of big names there. LSV, Sam Black, Matthias Hunt, Gerry Thompson, Adam Prosak (Reuben Bresler!)... The list goes on and on. It was pretty cool getting to meet a lot of those people whose work I've been following so closely. My buddy even got LSV to sign three Oblivion Rings.

The thing is, though, the big names in Magic that I interacted with very clearly don't think of themselves as "celebrities". They don't carry themselves as if they did, at least. They're down-to-earth people. They're just like you and I, except they're very good at Magic and they know it. The thing about that is, they don't really react quite so well to you approaching them out of nowhere.

I come from the the Starcraft community, where things are very different. When you go to an MLG and meet some big Starcraft player, you're not exactly going to have the same experience as meeting Jackie Lee at a booth while she's returning some cards that she borrowed.

First of all, you very well may have been standing in a line a few minutes ago. I think the Starcraft community as a whole has a lot more respect for professional players than the Magic community does. Maybe it's that people think the Magic guys are getting lucky. Maybe it's that Starcraft pros practice for 8-12 hours a day and people don't see Magic players putting in work like that. But when you go on the Starcraft Subreddit, you'll find that about 75 percent of the threads have some pro's name in the title. Whether somebody's streaming, or somebody just had a big win in a tournament, or there's just some funny picture of somebody, it's all about them. There are big sponsorships and teams fight over contracts. And you'll find that most of them act accordingly, making it a point to be as nice as possible to everybody and to act professionally.

It's funny that the guys who sit on a computer all day are much more comfortable and professional interacting with fans than the people who's job it is to have social interaction with people in order to play Magic with them. I really don't mean to call anybody out or say there's anything wrong with anybody. I just found the culture shock interesting.

Starcraft Caster Day[9], surrounded by fans, receiving Cheezits.


I'm done with Standard for a while. It's a very good format; a nice break from the usual "The Deck" and "Other Decks" layout. There's no Delver, no Caw-Blade, etc. etc. But here's my big problem: those decks were "The Deck" for a very good reason. People discovered synergies and strategies that were unique and powerful in the context of a single (arguably over-powered) deck.

In Standard right now, we're seeing nothing but Goodstuff. You'll notice that most of the decks in Standard are just named after the colors they use and whether they're Aggro, Midrange, or Control. That's because there isn't really a good deck that's "tight". Nobody has discovered a deck with a unique plan. The thing that I love about Standard is when somebody sifts really deep into the card pool and pulls out an entire deck shell in one piece.

Ironically, in the format I'm about to talk about, the deck to beat right now has basically zero synergy and exists entirely of Good Stuff thrown together into a deck.

In any case, the rest of Modern is a lot more interesting.

This is a format with two-card combos. There are aggro decks that can literally play their entire hand on turn one. There are control decks with 20 unique instants and sorceries.

This is a format where you can Top-8 a MODO Premier event with three maindeck Epic Experiments.

I've fallen in love. I've been hoping for Merfolk to become a deck come Gatecrash, and I bought a playset of Master of the Pearl Trident quite a while ago. But why not play it now, and with Aether Vials?

Fish isn't a deck people talk about a lot. Or at all, really. I've been trying for quite some time to find articles about it, but other than a few forum threads, there's isn't much about the deck. I intend to change that, but I'm going to need more time to really learn the ins and outs of the deck. I'm hoping this is something I can stick with long-term; that's an important aspect of Magic that I really struggle with. But the deck is fun as hell to play. You have access to as many as 24 copies of the various Lords and Pseudo-Lords (Coralhelm Commmander, Phantasmal Image), and you have very good justification to maindeck Spreading Seas, which is incredibly strong against decks with greedy manabases (like Jund!), manlands (Jund again), or are generally land-centric (Tron and less so Scapeshift).

My favorite bit of tech is Trickbind in the sideboard, which is insanely versatile. You can counter Fetchlands, the Storm trigger on Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens (enjoy your two Goblins!), cut off infinite Splinter Twin combos, and even stop Snapcaster's ability or Karn activations in a pinch. Notice that five of the seven rulings on Trickbind are some version of "yes, you can counter X".

Beating in with four 5/5 unblockable fish satisfies Timmy urges I never even knew I had. The deck may be missing a card or two to really bring it to the forefront of Modern, and maybe we'll get something spicy out of Gatecrash to do just that. But maybe it just needs the right person at the helm to bring in just the right mixture of totally badass cards to make it work. I'd really like to be that guy, and I'm gonna try my best to do so.

So for now, I'll leave you with the last two Fish decklists that have done well on MTGO. Here is the one I've been building. Notice Skaab Ruinator, who actually works out really well most of the time (and then sometimes sucks). This list actually got to the Top 8 in a Premier Event, and I'll be trying that one out as well in the near future. I would have just pasted them into this article, but I don't really have any way to format it in a way that doesn't look awful. So I'll probably just be uploading my lists to TCGPlayer and linking them from now on.

Can you say custom sleeves?

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