PV’s Playhouse – PV’s Nonplussed at It


Since I don’t particularly want to talk about Standard or Limited because of the PT, I’ve decided to write today’s article without a specific topic—it’s more of a collection of thoughts that I have on certain topics and would like to spark a discussion about. Think of it as “PV’s Sick of It” except with less humor because I’m not as funny.

Magic and Being Healthy

One of the most widespread thoughts out there is that Magic and fitness go hand in hand. There are multiple articles on the subject, telling you that “a healthy mind is a reflection of a healthy body” and that, if you want to improve, one of the best things you can do is start exercising, having a diet, and so on.

I think those articles are wrong and very misleading. They are not wrong to tell you that it’s important to be healthy—of course it’s important to be healthy. They are not wrong to say it helps with Magic; if you’re healthy, it’ll help a little with everything you do. But they are drastically wrong regarding the degree to which it helps.

If someone asked me “how do I become a good Magic player?” I wouldn’t even think of answering “diet and exercise.” That would be so far down my list as to be almost irrelevant. You know what I would answer? Practice a lot. You can’t get good if you don’t practice. Learn your deck, learn other decks, learn the metagame. Study sideboard plans and understand why you’re doing the things you’re doing. Read articles, watch videos. Compete in tournaments even if you don’t think you’re ready, because they’ll expose you to an environment that will extract the most from you, that will teach you the most, and one that will make lessons stick. Find a team, a group of like-minded people with whom you can share ideas.

This is how you get better. It’s not by doing push-ups. It’s not by eating fruit, it’s not by running miles. People who say those things make it sound like Magic is Karate Kid, where the guy hangs coats for months and then suddenly finds himself a Kung Fu master without actually ever practicing Kung Fu.

Again, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t exercise, eat well or be overall healthy—you really should. But it’s not because of Magic. The impact in your Magic results is probably going to be negligible, and if you want to become better at Magic or have better results, there are a lot of other things you should be doing first.

Winning and Offering Handshakes

The number of times I’ve seen this topic raised is only less surprising than some of the responses it’s gotten. In my mind, this shouldn’t be a topic at all, since I can’t for the life of me figure out why someone would be mad that someone else offered a handshake, regardless of who won the game. Everywhere around the world, in any sport, everyone shake hands, all the time. To get angry because someone beat you and offered a handshake is particularly absurd to me, yet you see a lot of Magic players expressing incredible dislike of the practice, and even more players agreeing with them.

I feel like the U.S. Magic player base, particularly the one that is more vocal on Facebook/Twitter, has the widespread notion that the “victim” is always right, and it’s always the victim’s prerogative to decide what is OK and what is not. For many things, this is a very fine notion to have, and one I wish more people had—even if I don’t understand why a certain behavior is threatening to someone, I should still abide by it a lot of the time because they are the ones who are being affected by it, so how I think doesn’t really matter.

For some things, though, this notion doesn’t really apply. Handshakes are one of them. “Handshakes are the prerogative of the loser” is just foolish, and it treats the loser like the victim of a horrible crime. You’re not a victim—you just lost a game of Magic, big deal, grow up. You can be mad about it, of course. I get mad about losing all the time. But it doesn’t give you the right to decide what’s OK and what’s not, it doesn’t give you the right to dictate how other people should behave.

I’ll always offer handshakes, win or lose, and I’ll always accept them, unless something particularly gruesome happened in the match (e.g. I think my opponent was trying to cheat me). A handshake is a gesture of sportsmanship, a way to show that we are part of the same thing and that we have respect for each other; I will offer a handshake because I want to show you that I respect you, not because I think “we had awesome games and the best player won” when you mulliganed to four and didn’t play a second land. You can, of course, not accept it—that is your prerogative—but you’re going to look childish and impolite.

Faeries and Polluted Delta

I’ve had several people ask me whether Polluted Delta is what Faeries needs to make a comeback in Modern. Unfortunately, I don’t think it helps at all. The problem with Modern Faeries was never the mana; the mana was actually quite excellent, with River of Tears, Secluded Glen, and your choice of Underground River, Watery Grave, and other fetchlands. The problem with Faeries was that its cards are just underpowered compared to what else you can be doing.

When Faeries was in Standard, its cards weren’t necessarily the most powerful either, but they were synergistic. Spellstutter Sprite and Mistbind Clique aren’t necessarily better than other options you can have at two and four mana, but they become better when you create a shell that supports them.

Nowadays, cards are individually more powerful. Instead of Spellstutter Sprite, you could be playing Snapcaster Mage. Snapcaster Mage is as good as Spellstutter Sprite when you have synergy, and much better when you don’t, so it follows logically that you want to play Snapcaster Mage instead. If you don’t play Spellstutter Sprite, however, then your Mistbinds become weaker. If you can’t play many of those, then suddenly four Bitterblossoms might be a liability. You need, therefore, to play many sub-optimal cards, just so that you get the required “Faeries” synergy, and you don’t have room for cards that are actually good—such as Snapcaster. Thus, your deck becomes underpowered. Polluted Delta does nothing to change that.

Deck Difficulty and How That Relates to What You Should be Playing

There are two misconceptions at work here—the first is that control is harder to play than aggro, and the second is that better players should play more complicated decks, so as to make better use of their skill level.

The first one I think is, for the most part, false. Sure, some aggro decks are super easy to play or have games that are super easy to play. You just play your creatures and attack and they’re dead—but control decks have those games too. Sometimes, with control, you just play whatever the most expensive card you can play at the time is, and then you win the game; you’re a reactive deck, but you usually only have one or two possible reactions for each threat, and, if you err on the side of always using those reactions, you’ll win a lot of games.

The difference, the way I see it, is that control decks have more decisions, because games go longer. Aggro decks, on the other hand, have more meaningful decisions. In aggro, you’re going to play a game and then be faced with “do I burn them or their creature now?” or “do I commit another guy to the board or not?” and this decision will be extremely complicated and end up being the key difference between winning or losing. In control, the fate of the game is spread over smaller decisions, so you have to make a decision more often but, if you get one wrong, it’s not always so devastating.

The second misconception is that you should play a more complicated deck to make use of your superior skill. It is true that good people can play more decks and will have more choices, including some complex decks that other people can’t play, but it’s not because you can play something that other people can’t that you should; sometimes a simple deck will win more than a complicated deck, and it’s not because other people will win as much with it as you will that it’s not the better choice. Basically, if you are an 8 with a deck that everyone is a 5 with, or an 8.5 with a deck everyone is an 8 with, well, 8.5 is still the better choice for you.

People also seem to think that a deck being more complicated is a quality. They think it sets them apart as an elite class of players who can play it and they use the fact that they chose that deck for bragging rights. This is silly; being more complicated is not a quality, it’s a downside. A deck like Doomsday is worse to play because it’s complicated, not better. Being complicated to play against is the quality you’re looking for here, and, though that overlaps with being complicated to play sometimes, that’s not always the case.

Magic Coverage

After following a little more League of Legends and Hearthstone, I noticed a big difference in the way the coverage for those three tournaments operate. LoL and Hearthstone focus a lot on the events, the players, whereas Magic focuses a lot on cards. In LoL, you’ll see player interviews, you’ll see the location of the tournament, the public, key moments… in Magic, you’ll see Elspeth fighting Xenagos and whatnot. The way the other two games do it, I feel connected to the players. I find myself cheering for a specific LoL team or player because I know their story, how they got there, I know what they think about a lot of topics. Magic has a lot of personalities, and, though they’ve started to do it more, they still don’t explore them nearly as much as they could.

Now, I’m not saying one approach is necessarily better than the other—I understand Magic is a business that sells cards, whereas for things like LoL viewership is a much bigger part of what they do. Still, personally, I get much more excited about watching—and playing!—tournaments with coverage like this:

In Magic, on the other hand, we see a lot more focus on the cards themselves. Instead of the video taking place in the Singapore Expo Center, it takes place in Theros. Instead of players, we have planeswalkers. This is not always the case—the last PT Promo video, for example, does showcase the players:

I think this is a step in the right direction, but not a complete step. It doesn’t fully commit to showing Magic as a true “sport” of sorts—it doesn’t completely embrace Magic’s status as a game that is played by people, for people. There is separation from fantasy and reality, but not a complete separation. This is made clear by certain word choices, such as “hunt bigger game,” and “your autopilot isn’t going to be enough to stay alive.”

In the end, the LoL and Hearthstone videos are just much more epic and evoke much more emotion than the MTG one. A lot of this is the choice of music over narration, but also the speed in which things happen, the camera focus, the big picture of the event and the public—it makes it seem like something you’d be a fool to not want to be a part of. I wish the Magic videos did that.

Fetchlands in Mono-Colored decks

With the reprinting of fetchlands, we’ve again started seeing lists that play only one color but still play fetchlands, for the most varied reasons. If your reason is simply “deck-thinning,” then I don’t think you should do it. In the long run, you’re way more likely to lose games because of that 1 life than you are to win because you removed a land from your deck. There are some exceptions, however; in decks that draw a ton of cards (e.g. Elves), I could see the benefits of a little bit of thinning outweighing the cons of losing a couple life points in some particularly non-aggressive metagames.

If you have another use for fetchlands, though (such as delve cards, Grim Lavamancer, and Courser of Kruphix), I feel like it’s already worth playing them. 1 or 2 life is not that relevant, and the effect you get from those cards is more likely than not going to be worth it. I’d easily play fetches in a mono-green deck with four Coursers, for example, because it lets me control my draws a lot more and it even lets me gain extra life if I have two of them.

Deck Names

About a week ago, I clicked on this link. If you go there, two things should immediately catch your attention. The first is “LOL, COGNIVORE.” Yeah, people used to play that and it even used to be good. The second (and you really needed to try very hard to miss this, considering the name of the section), is that the deck is called Sultai Delver.

From what I’ve seen, there’s some sort of campaign to adopt clan names in lieu of color combinations, the way it happened with, say, Jund. Much like there was a campaign to rename Affinity to Robots, I think this is doomed to fail, and I wish they would stop trying to force it on us when there are perfectly fine alternatives that already work. I also wish people would stop using those names in their articles because they just don’t read/sound well.

Picture 1 article

I think that, for Jeskai, you’re actually OK using it. Jeskai is a cool name and the alternative—UWR—is too long. Mardu is a bad name—like, really bad—but it may also be adopted because BWR doesn’t have another name. With those two decks, I think we’ll see the Khans name adopted eventually (or immediately). The reason we adopted Jund, after all, wasn’t that Jund is a fantastic name (though it is good), it was because the alternative—RGB—is not a pronounceable word.

Temur, Abzan, and Sultai, however, have perfect names already working in the forms of RUG, Junk, and BUG respectively. Those names not only sound better and have been there for ages, but two of them are easily recognizable even if you have no idea what I’m talking about. All you need to know is to read the color acronym. My mother doesn’t know what Temur is, but she does know what R, G, and U are in Magic context, so she gets RUG. Given that RUG is a word and flows very well when you’re saying it, why change it?

It gets even worse when you take the name of decks that already existed and then change them. BUG Delver is the most egregious offender, because delve is the Sultai mechanic, so when you say Sultai Delver, I’d really expect you to be playing some sort of Standard Sultai deck based around it, and not a deck that has existed for years and now suddenly changed names.

Another issue I’ve been having with deck names lately is the emergence of an archetype called “Jeskai Tempo.” I’d like for someone to explain it to me why it’s called Jeskai Tempo given that it has basically no tempo components (OK, it has a third of a card that has something that could be considered tempo in a mode from Jeskai Charm). Adding the word tempo to the deck makes me think it’s about, well, tempo, when it really isn’t. You might as well be calling it Jeskai Monstrous, Jeskai Devotion, Jeskai Discard, Jeskai Elves—they are equally as descriptive as Jeskai Tempo. There is no way this deck shouldn’t be called either Jeskai Aggro or Jeskai Burn, depending on how exactly you build it, and I think most people who are calling it Jeskai Tempo don’t actually know what tempo means.

Well, that’s what I have for today! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and see you next week!



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