Hi everyone! This week, I sent out a Tweet from my Twitter account, @HueyJensen, asking for some questions for a mailbag article. I really enjoy this type of article, as it allows me to interact with you guys, and answer anything you might have on your mind. If I didn’t get to your question this time, my apologies, I can’t fit everyone, but keep your eyes peeled in the future, as I’m sure I’ll write another at some point.

Let’s get to the questions:

— Charley Murdock (@Charleym_) June 3, 2014

The easy choice here is Josh Utter-Leyton. If I’m not mistaken, he is the only player not yet eligible with five Pro Tour Top 8s. He also has a Player of the Year title to his credit. I’m not exactly sure what his year of eligibility is, but to me, he is a mortal lock even if he somehow never wins another match of Magic until then.

While we were testing for Pro Tour: Journey into Nyx, Sam Black actually built a version of the deck that was tested by some of the team for several days. Like a lot of Sam’s decks, it was based around filling up your graveyards with creatures and using Strength from the Fallen to substantially pump your creatures. A lot of the creatures in the deck are also enchantments, which help to power the Strength from the FallenNyx Weaver, Nighthowler, Herald of Torment, Pharika, and even Pharika’s Snakes.

The deck definitely has some strengths. Both Strength from the Fallen and Pharika are particularly good against the control decks that have very little or no enchantment removal. We would often play long games in testing in which the Dredge deck would go out of its way to make sure not to allow Pharika to become a creature, so that it couldn’t be the target of Silence the Believers, and try to ride packs of 1/1 deathtouch snakes to victory.
The deck is fun and competitive, although a little inconsistent, but it would definitely be something I’d consider if I was going to play any more Theros Block Constructed events.

It seems like the Theros block metagame is Sylvan Caryatid/Courser of Kruphix paired with two of Prognostic Sphinx, Elspeth, black removal, or Dragon/Xenagos. From there, everything seems to go downhill pretty quickly. I like the BUG deck we played a the Pro Tour quite a bit, but have done no work on the format since then. Unfortunately, that’s how it tends to go for Block Constructed these days—it has one or two days in the sun and then it’s never heard from again. For that reason, Block Constructed is the one Magic format where I could be convinced that tier one archetypes go undiscovered. Simply because there is often only one major Magic tournament that features Block Constructed (although Theros block had two) the metagame often never gets past level one. In Standard, for example, there are tournaments weekend after weekend and this leads to continually evolving metagames and attempted innovation.

Of the three of us, Reid is probably the best when it comes to deck selection and innovation. Another of Reid’s strengths is his ability to prepare with a deck and learn it inside it out. He is very good at predicting the metagame and making decisions about deck selection or composition based on his predictions. When Reid has spent an extended period time learning about or preparing for a specific format with a specific deck, I think there is close to nobody better. For those reasons, Reid would choose the deck for and play Constructed.

I’d take charge of the drafting, as it’s my greatest strength is as a Magic player, and also I don’t want to feel left out.
After I draft the deck, I’d pick Owen to play it. Owen is probably the best Magic player in the world currently, and despite winning back-to-back Constructed Grand Prix recently, he continually impresses me with his Limited play. Owen is exceptional at analyzing Limited situations, and determining the reasons for various plays made by his opponents. He always tries to play around every card that his opponent can possibly have, and does so extremely well.

I have two different decks that I’d consider to be my favorite decks of all time for different reasons. The first is the Survival of the Fittest/Tradewind Rider-based control deck designed by Ben Rubin that I used to win the first Masters Series event in 2000. That deck will always have a lot of sentimental value to me. After winning the tournament I was interviewed for ESPN, which aired on national television, and it was the first time I felt like I accomplished something monumental in Magic. You can see the deck list here. My other favorite deck is the Battle of Wits deck that I played at Grand Prix: Milwuakee in 2002. I remember so many fun matches, plays, games, and simply the look on people’s faces as I pulled the 244-card monster out of the giant deck box. What people didn’t realize, and still don’t realize, is that the deck wasn’t only a Battle of Wits deck. I actually never even worried about getting under 200 cards in my library. The Battle of Wits deck was really just a very large control deck that would sometimes win by putting Battle of Wits into play. I won a very large percentage of my games (I’d estimate half) by using Wild Research to search up multiple copies of Urza’s Rage with kicker. The Battle of Wits deck was certainly not the most powerful deck I’ve ever played, but to this day remains the most fun. The best deck I ever played for a specific tournament was without a doubt Necro-Donate in Grand Prix Philadelphia 2000. The power level of that deck was completely unreasonable. I don’t remember the exact deck list, but it was an Extended tournament in which I was able to play with four copies of Mana Vault, Force of Will, Necropotence, Demonic Consultation, and Dark Ritual. Illusions of Grandeur and Donate were added as the combo engine, and it was really hard to beat. I ended up losing in Top 8 to a Sligh (mono-red hyper aggro deck) because of a mistake I made, but the deck was easily the most powerful Magic deck I’ve ever played.

Absolutely I would play Battle of Wits at a Grand Prix, again. The deck would have to be somewhat competitive, though. I wouldn’t necessarily mind if it wasn’t a tier one deck depending on the situation, but I would be unlikely to travel to a Grand Prix and play a deck that I thought had little or no chance to win.

This is a good and important question to ask as an up-and-coming Magic player. Unfortunately, it’s also very hard to answer. Self reflection can be among the most difficult habits to develop. The most important thing to do is to try to be honest with yourself when you are evaluating why things aren’t going as well for you in tournaments as you’d like them to. Be careful not to chalk things up to bad luck and always ask yourself why things are happening (I go into detail on this concept in an article I wrote a few weeks ago which you can read here). If you’re having trouble evaluating issues you might have yourself, ask a friend, but be open to constructive criticism.


There are a lot of things that make a great Magic player: hard work, determination, poise, competitiveness, and natural talent, just to name a few. I think in the case of a good Magic player who just hasn’t seemed to reach the level of great yet for one reason or another can likely be attributed to lacking in one or more of those areas. It’s certainly not easy to hone such a wide skill set. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort. I think very good Magic players can get frustrated because they can’t get over that last little bit of the hump, but in reality, it takes a LOT of time. The last bit of improvement is significantly harder than the first bit. It requires exponentially more effort, time, work, etc. When a player first starts playing, they improve practically every game, and after several years, a player might not be able to pinpoint noticeable self-improvement for even a year at a time. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, it’s just much more subtle. Also, to improve early on in one’s Magic career, it only really takes playing games of Magic to improve. After a player has played for a very long time, and developed a better understanding of situations and learned to play better and better, it requires much more self-evaluation, more theoretical discussion, and more peer to peer analysis to improve.

I will definitely be rooting for Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. Naturally, Tim Duncan is one of the greatest players of all time, and I have a lot of respect for the way he conducts himself as well as the way he puts tremendous value on fundamentals, hard work, and team play. Also, I tend to root for aging superstars past their primes (like you, Luis). I have a ton of admiration for Greg Popovich, who I think is most likely the best coach in the NBA, and I’d be happy to see Pop and Duncan win one last championship together before Duncan retires.

For me, a large part of what makes a format great is how much fun I have playing it. Diversity is also often a good indicator of a good format. I’ve always enjoyed playing control decks and combo decks. Any format that incorporates a fair amount of those kind of decks is going to appeal to me. Old Extended, for example, had High Tide, Turbo Browse, Survival/Recur combo decks, Necro-Donate, Academy (although it was quickly banned), Tinker, Draw-Go among many others. I really enjoyed playing that format as I felt there were a ton of decks that appealed to me.

I remember playing Standard back when I was very, very young and people were playing decks like Counterpost, Necro, Ernham Geddon, and Garglehaups (Ivory Gargoyle and Jokulhaups). Naturally, I played mostly Counterpost myself, but I really enjoyed those games as well. The Necro matchup was always tough, but a lot of games against all the decks were very slow, long, grindfests, which are the type of games that I’ve always really enjoyed playing.
Thanks again to everyone who submitted questions, and everyone else for reading!

Before I end the article for this week I’d like to talk about something that has been on my mind, as well as the minds of a lot of us in the Magic community recently. Last week, my friend Mariah Pagliocco, daughter of my long time friend, Tony Pagliocco, was struck by a car while walking home from school. I’ve known Tony since I was a kid, and he and Mariah are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Because of injuries sustained in the accident, Mariah will never be able to walk again. Something like this happening to anyone is truly tragic, but it is made especially hard to take when that person is such a sweet and loving young girl. Tony has set up a fund to help with Mariah’s medical expenses which is linked to below. If anyone is able to help, I know that Mariah, Tony, and family will greatly appreciate it. Thank you very much.

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