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Compulsive Research: Next Level Review

Next Level Magic

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I was looking forward to Patrick Chapin’s upcoming e-book, Next Level Magic, which was going to attempt to tackle a large array of topics, geared towards newer players (presumably), but supposed to have something for all. The $27 price tag seemed a little steep, but it was 211 pages of Magic writing, so I bit the bullet, pulled out the credit card, and a day later I received an e-mail in my inbox with a link to the PDF which I could then download to my computer and read.

His book is broken down into five sections: Shortcuts, The Four Perspectives, In-Game Magic Strategy, The Mental Game, and The Basic Archetypes in Magic. There is also a nine page introduction. Each section is definitely its own section, and the books strengths and weaknesses depend strongly on which section you’re reading.

But first, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

When I first started to play Magic, I wanted to get my hands on as much information as possible. I read all the websites, subscribed to all the premium subscriptions for all the various major Magic websites on the Internet, and I even purchased access to Mike Long’s video series.

Yes, I gave Mike Long my credit card number. No, I’m not proud of it. Mike Long’s video series, as advertised in eBay auctions and spam emails like the following:

Yo,

Have we met?

My name is Mike Long.

We may be old friends or this may be the first time you’ve ever heard directly from me.

Because you may be a new friend or an old friend I’m going to offer you an agreement.

I’m writing to you because I wonder if you have something in common nearly every Magic player I’ve ever met, worldwide.

I’d like to tell you what that one thing is that you might share in common with every other Magic player in the world, even if you just play for fun, or if you’re very advanced, or if you’re just getting started or if you’re an old hand at Magic”¦

Less than 6 months ago I asked my former Magic teammate and two time Magic Pro Tour Finalist David Mills to help me create a very special set of tools for Magic players.

I wanted Magic players all over the world to have 24-hour access to the same ‘tools’ that helped me become world class professional Magic player and have a blast doing it

Heck, who wouldn’t want:

Constantly updated and PROVEN tier 1 top secret decks (not the same decks everyone else talks about) across as many formats

A comprehensive and CLEAR set of strategies and lessons updated daily to help any Magic player (no matter how old or new to the game) begin to master Magic.

Real community working in harmony creating friendships and growing in Magic mastery where EVERYONE gets back MORE than they put in.

How could David Mills and I possibly make all of these promises come true for hundreds of ‘insiders’ around the globe?

Well, rather than tell you anything more, I thought it would be better if I just showed you

What do you mean, “Show?”’ You might ask?

If you click on the links below, then I’ll share the same experience that Samuel Tan and hundreds of other Insiders experience every single day

As you start to watch the movies below you’ll enter into the world of ‘Insider.’ For just a little bit you’ll be transformed into a valued member of a high-powered, edgy, smart and above all fun Magic super-team.

You’ll ‘listen in’ on our conversations and soak in 10 years of Magic experience, high-octane decks, strategies and more

Including the little ‘secret’ that we discussed earlier

note: if you don’t have high speed internet this you may have to wait a bit for your movies to load:

I’d like you to enjoy these movies as a gift from me and David.

Some time soon I’ll check back with you and see what you thought, but for now,
enjoy!

[LINKS DELETED]

I hoped those movies helped you start to ‘connect the dots’ for yourself.

(and if you didn’t watch yet, don’t worry I’ll wait. There’s no faster or better way for you to ‘get’ what I’m talking about than for you to experience what insiders experience)

If you want to learn the ‘maximum amount’ from these particular movies, watch them twice and take notes with a notebook–you may find yourself absorbing a lot more than you think.

Ok, that’s all for now. Like I promised, I’ll check back with you soon.

Regards,

Mike Long
3-time Magic World Champ

[MORE LINKS DELETED]

Friend, how did it feel to read the above? Did you feel sleazy? Did you laugh? [This section was actually twice as long before I did some merciful editing. Whether it was twice as sleazy is open to debate. -Riki]

By reading the rest of this article I’m going to let you in on REAL WORLD channelfireball.com secrets. You will learn:

 What I thought of Chapin’s book.
Where it could use improvement.
Where its strengths are.
Whether or not I think it’s worth buying.

But wait! There’s more!

For the low low price of scrolling down with your mouse wheel, you will also get a FREE EXCLUSIVE LINK to the forums of channelfireball.com!

ABSOLUTELY FREE!!!!

Are you interested yet???! I know I am!!!!

“But Zaiem,” you might ask, “what does Mike Long have to do with Chapin’s book? And why have you suddenly adopted this overly casual narrative style that makes me feel like you’re trying to sell me something?”

What if I told you that by simply reading this article, you will unlock all the secrets to the questions you just asked? Friend, I’ll let you in on a bombshell:

Patrick Chapin used Mike Long’s video series and writing as a partial basis for his book.
Are you scared yet? Do you feel a little sleazy reading this article so far? Do you feel like maybe you want to take a shower? Are you wondering why I’m RANDOMLY capitalizing some WORDS in my SENTENCES? I know I do!

(For added realism, I took a shower after writing the above sentence. Because I go the extra mile for my readers.)

Oh yeah, the review

The book goes through several different tones and personalities. The first section is largely a reprint of one of Chapin’s articles. I don’t really mind the reprint idea; he’s written some gems over the years and it makes sense to take the best of those and put them in the book if those articles address what he’s already trying to write about. If you haven’t read that particular article, then it’s a good read. After that, there’s a bit of talk about how to prepare for a format, but there is little substance there beyond some vague Zen-like statements about achieving the Zero Mind, where he writes things like, “the Zero Mind is about removing all of these thoughts so as to just be.” [Could be related to the Aura. –Riki, never misses an opportunity for an Aura joke]

Now this may all be true, and there’s certainly something to be said about being able to mentally get yourself into a state of “flow,” where the brain is fully immersed in whatever activity is in, but Next Level Magic does not give any real useful ways to get to the Zero Mind, or in a state of flow, or to get in the zone other than to say that focusing on the task at hand is of utmost importance. Then the section abruptly ends and we embark on section two, which I call “the Mike Long section.”

I might be biased against this portion because I have such a distaste for Mike Long (developed after I gave him my money all those years ago, sadly), and this portion of the book is obviously derived from Long’s work. The theory might be solid, but the tone and narrative changes to be a little more Longian, a little more self-promoting, the writing style more casual and used-car-salesmany, and suddenly I find myself looking around to see if my wallet is still there. But once you cut through the writing style, there are some useful ideas about deckbuilding, albeit somewhat abstract. The section is somewhat drawn out, which I cynically wonder is also influenced by Mr. Long. If you’ve got an hour to fill with your MAGIC VIDEO SECRETS, you need a lot of filler because the concepts can be described in six or seven paragraphs, but he goes on for a good forty pages or so, which I think could have been condensed without loss of quality.

The Longian section ends and Chapin goes into some largely useless anecdotes with a million name drops about improving as a Magic player, but again, there’s not a lot to learn. It’s one thing to say, “I became a good Magic player by playing with Jon Finkel and Mark Herberholz and Eric Taylor and Richard Garfield and Barack Obama and [card]Paladin en-Vec[/card],” and it’s another to say what you learned from playing with those guys. There’s a little bit there, but again, it’s very wordy and not particularly useful, with pseudo-formulas like “Focused Time x (Desire/Expectation x Ability-Resources/Strategy) =Results.“

After a reprint of his “Information Cascades” article (which is one of the finest Magic articles I’ve ever read and is a must-include for Chapin’s book), section two ends with another dozen pages or so about how you have to decide to win if you want to win. Again, there’s a lot of talk about having The Fire but nothing really about how to harness or do something with it. In short, it’s moderately interesting, but not particularly useful. It closes with the following paragraph, which made me throw my hands up in frustration:

“The Fire can come and go in some people, but you can harness it within yourself. When Mark Herberholz, Kai Budde, or Tomoharu Saito has The Fire, they are literally unstoppable. Luis Scott-Vargas has the Fire like few others have before. That fire fuels his burning passion to succeed. He has decided to win.”

That’s entirely useless to me. This writes as if all it takes to be a top-level player is to simply will it to be, which is not true. If there’s some other message implied and I’m missing the point, he does a poor job of getting that message across. It’s a lot of fluff and a lot of ra-ra hippy-dippy don’t stop believing oogy-boogy happy fuzzy bunny stuff that is ultimately of little use.

Section two ends on 97 of 211, and being nearly halfway done with the book, there’s very little strategic content in the book (the article reprints excepted) and I definitely didn’t feel like I’d gotten my money’s worth (pro-rated to $12.41). So the book had better darn well pick up.

If I ever became so wealthy that money was no object to me, I would consider opening a “Magic Academy,” where people could essentially major in Magic. Pay hall-of-famers to be professors, teach theory, drafting, deckbuilding, and so on. In my imaginary college, Chapin’s section on in-game-strategy would be required reading for all students and would be its own textbook. Distanced from the taint of Mike Long, Chapin expands on Mike Flores’s “three stages” concept brilliantly, explaining the concept with relevant examples. This feels like a different person wrote this section, and it’s Chapin at his finest, giving valuable theory and illustrating them with relevant, easy-to-follow examples. The section is filled with spot-on tutorials of the fundamentals of Magic theory, addressing some of the nuances of card advantage, tempo, “who’s the beatdown,” mulliganing, sideboarding, and mana bases, while being easy to follow. It is absolute gold, and there’s almost zero fluff or wasted words here.

Section four is on the mental game, mostly Jedi Mind Tricks and the like. He talks about Mike Long’s famous bluff against Mark Justice, as well as his own famous “Profane Command bluff.” Chapin’s known for having one of the best mental games in Magic, and he uses a lot of examples to get an edge while correctly emphasizing that technical play is far more important than any Jedi Mind Trick you can run on your opponent. Certainly one can argue that it’s only a small part of the game, but however important the mental game is, this portion of the book does a very good job of describing situations where the player can get an edge.

Finally, the last section is a primer on deck archetypes and talks about what is a combo deck, a control deck, an aggro deck, etc. which is a solid explanation for players new to the game. The book concludes with a lengthy and well-written section on drafting, although again, it is geared towards more inexperienced players and would be a great fit for my mythical Magic Academy.

Would I buy it again?

The problem with Next Level Magic is that it attempts to cater to many audiences. Newer players can gain a lot from the sections on how to build mana bases, what card advantage is, and how combo decks are built, but gain nothing from the Jedi Mind Trick section, which is far above anything a new player should be focused on. Similarly, those who are in a position to take advantage of the mental game stuff get little out of learning what an aggro-control deck is. And some large swaths of the book seem largely useless no matter who you are, or at least filled with fluff that could easy be edited out.

But when you do come across a portion of the book that you can learn from, the book is not good; it’s great. The problem is that no matter who you are, probably half the book is not particularly useful to you.

The book does do a pretty good job of having card images throughout the book, which should help the fact that Magic writing doesn’t age particularly well, as players who come along don’t understand the nuances of the format that the article references, or aren’t familiar with the cards. Although not every card reference has an image embedded (doing so would make the book overloaded with card images and would be cumbersome), there are enough that it should be easy to find. Still, you probably need an active Internet connection while reading this to look up some card names if you haven’t played a lot, so it’s not the best reading for your outdoor picnic.

If you’re having difficulty dominating the FNM level, I would say there’s enough here that the book is worth the $27 purchase. Beyond that, you’re probably better off using your money on something else. If the book were $15 or less, I’d say it’s a windmill slam, but $27 is pretty steep for what you get.

One thing I do want to emphasize: Whether or not I think the book is worth the price, Chapin did spend a lot of time on the book and I discourage just sharing it around with your friends. He is a fine writer and I support his effort, and I’m not a fan of “loaning out” the book to my friends, because if everyone just shares the same electronic copy of the book, Chapin doesn’t get compensated for his efforts, and I feel that’s wrong. If you want to read it, then buy the book.

Yours reviewingly,
-Zaiem

zaiemb at gmail dot com

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