No article this week, guys, I have NorCal Regionals for Street Fighter 4 this weekend. I gotta practice in anticipation of SoCal and Justin Wong (A.K.A:: best player in the U.S.) showing up. Later!
That doesn’t work? FINE. Here’s my article for the week. Warning: contains mean things.
Yes, Jund is the dominant deck, yes we all heard you, please shut up about it now. We just got out of a format where the top deck was a blue-based control deck that had an absolute edge over everything else in the field. Somewhere deep in that heart of hearts all you absurd people have is the gnawing notion in the back of your head that this game really isn’t as based on skill as you’d led yourself to believe. Why? Because of what a deck like Jund represents, a deck that seemingly plays itself and involves blatantly stupid cards like Bloodbraid Elf which involve a chance effect.
I don’t think anyone can deny the current Standard format may be the “stupidest” we’ve had since Mercadian Masques times in regards to skill level. Wizards decided to push creatures really hard while cutting back on all of the “un-fun” elements we’ve had in Magic like land destruction, efficient counters and strong hoser effects in general. The problem with this is the format we now have, which is heavily creature-dominated and very difficult to get an edge on. Sadly, all the cards that are obvious to play like creatures or sorceries are now beyond strong, while instants, enchantments and artifacts took a bath. I’m not asking for Brainstorm, Oath of Druids or Cursed Scroll back, but some sort of powerful instant or artifact that required decision-making would be lovely.
Regardless of this though, Jund is the best deck, and yet what is the Internet largely filled with? A million articles telling you not to play Jund and how to supposedly beat it when no deck to date has been able to get better than a 60/40 match against it, let alone dominate Jund. Cedric Phillips’ article on why Jund sucks was interesting (even if I felt it was a bit flawed in places), because at least he was trying to explain why he thought Jund was awful and everyone was being scrubby in letting it win. I thought some of his complaints were pretty invalid, like not having a plan B and having a horrific mirror. To me, burn/discard /cascade counts as a pseudo-plan B and the mirror for just about every deck in the format is painful, because all of the cards are dumb. You can’t do anything tricky with your deck; you just kick the other guy in the shins and then let him kick you in the shins until one of you falls over.
However Ced at least had some valid observations about why Jund was currently dominating along with a few other worthwhile points of discussion. It got me to thinking though; as a player do you actually gain anything important from reading articles, past the obvious pattern recognition and tech updates? Honestly it seems to be harder to gleam anything useful from articles and I don’t think that’s anybody in particular’s fault. A large part of it falls on what medium’s articles are trying to cover and how people take in the information available to them. People tend to read Magic articles in a very passive way, rather than trying to actively process the information alongside the players. Few people think about concepts as the author conveys them or a deck through the eyes of the author to accomplish X or Y goal, rather they sit there and soak the information up and then try to apply the usual evaluations to it.
This is why I sometimes laugh when decks that I feel are obvious and I talk about get panned and then win large tournaments a week later. Or when I talk about a horrible design, but some key nuggets of knowledge from the failure and people are still stuck on the whole “you didn’t break the format” part. Match coverage is even worse, because the written word simply can’t do justice to how games play out in real time and can’t express body language in any meaningful way. Evaluations are already difficult to apply in a meaningful way, so when randoms insert themselves into the situation and throw something entirely out of context to wrap their brains around why so-and-so is definitely correct and you are awful!
Every time people try to talk about the level above the obvious in Magic, people immediately complain about stupid things you assumed they already knew. You know instead of asking the author why he didn’t include a certain choice in a deck, maybe instead of harassing him, you could ask yourself why he DOESN’T play that, why they DON’T do such and such in certain matches and so on. At some point when video coverage becomes even more common and Magic Online becomes more accessible, you’ll be doing this a whole lot more – ala Street Fighter or Smash Brothers tournament videos. Nobody enjoys explaining every reason they play a certain card or made a certain move; some things you should simply learn on your own.
There are only a few articles in a given time frame that if you study them and try out what you took away from them, you could actively become better as a result. Everything else requires inferring into what the author didn’t say or what. An exception to this rule would be whenever PV writes an article, because he lays it all out there on the table. He provides his thought processes, why he thinks decks / plays suck, how bad he is (it’s called humility: more of you can stand to have some) and so on. You can actively get better at Magic by attempting to take in and understand the knowledge he’s putting out there. Sadly he’s more of the exception than the rule.
I think readers lean too much on what they read and supposedly are understanding from articles. Back in the day when I’d read a quick play-by-play breakdown Flores or Feldman wrote, I’d wonder who the hell he was possibly testing against for some of these results. Errors abounded, along with, “Well these results said one thing, but I think it’s clearly favorable for me, blah blah,” and it was just a train wreck to read about. Yet in all honesty, that’s probably a more accurate portrayal of how testing goes in most groups compared to the idealized version we hear about.
The tl;dr version of the last couple of paragraphs is basically this: Reading good tech is no substitute for testing and making sure you understand decision trees.
Ultimately the thing articles succeed at the best, other than entertainment, is giving out deck tweaks, major tech, theory-craft updates and big overviews of metagames and formats. Most of the other things that you see in articles, tournament reports, minor tweaking, interviews, quick hit PTQ Top 8 / winner updates, etc. would be better suited to a blog format. Or a variation on the previously established model the Dojo used back when it existed, where you could easily jump subject to subject for all available information from pro to scrub alike. The big thing about those subjects is the same sensitive nature typically attached to them. Knowing a PTQ breakdown from the previous couple of weekends becomes much more relevant early in the week rather than a day or two before your own qualifier.
An interesting aspect is the route our information takes to get to you. For Magic there’s very little in the way of global information currently present. No main site where you can look up global tournament results, no easy way to read material that isn’t present on two or three big sites as far as supposed strategy content goes. There used to be larger link portals available, but for the most part those have all died or are woefully under-developed compared to how Meridian Magic was. Personally that boggles me, but so do a number of other aspects surrounding the dissemination of information.
How do I find many of the decks / results that you won’t normally see mentioned in articles or on the Mothership main lists? Well basically I searched a lot and relied on some of my friends to help find sites in the native language of the area I’m looking for. Thankfully many decklists are available in English even in other countries or with names similar enough that I can make out what they are. In a pinch you can even use some of the translation programs commercially available and get some decent views into certain countries tournaments. That’s what I’ve been doing with Italy and certain parts of Japan thanks to a few well-run foreign websites.
Even for relatively tight-knit communities like in the Vintage format, for a long time even something as simple as getting access to the Canadian results was a major pain in the butt. Let alone in the early days, where none of us had a clue that Europe actually knew what Magic cards were, let alone ran thriving Vintage tournaments. Personally this boggles my mind, the amount of information and shared information that simply isn’t there that can be found in other games. Nowadays the amount of cross-culture results is still at a minimum outside of a few people scouring foreign Magic: The Gathering sites. Thing is you can get a big edge if you see the initial idea for a techy idea even if it isn’t fleshed out yet and get to start working on it before anyone else. Of course you can’t really ask these people any questions, but you have the raw material to make something great.
People have said this is the information age and Magic secrets have all but died as a result; yet every single PT you hear about the insane decks people have brewed up. Some of these get spread a few days beforehand, but even then, all of these decks are developed by small groups or one unrelenting thinker. Not the Internet collective as a whole, rather they come after the party is over and attempt to “optimize” these types of decks, despite missing out on the work that went into them to begin with. This is why you see so many horrible decklists on Internet forums; people automatically assume the netdeck list is wrong and make their own changes based on assumptions that it’ll improve the final product.
Long story short, think for yourself and try to sit yourself behind the driver’s seat of why decisions are made instead of passively soaking it up and attempting to add your two cents later. Too many people toss out excuses and false contexts to justify their own terrible decisions and just want people to agree with whatever brilliance they supposedly came up with. People hate working for knowledge; they want it given to them in a magical elixir where they are as awesome as the professional players who have been battling for years and years without putting in the effort. Working on your execution when playing is far more important than the technical side of the game, but because that’s repetitive and requires tedious work and time, people want to ignore it.
That’s unfortunate. Next week I’ll be back to giving you fish, sorry if I scared you away with the huge amount of cynicism.
Email me at joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom
At some point you also have to stop and think, well if I’m not learning from this due to the mistakes, why am I not trying it for myself and going over those results? Oh right, that’s work. Can’t do that!
Yep someone still remembers that site and misses it.