Woo Brews – From the Mailbag and Negative Life Combo

Today I’m drawing from the mailbag. I’ll take a look at general Magic questions ya’ll sent in with the idea of writing something non-technical that would make sense to your moms and pops. And that leads us to our first question!

“Why is Magic a good thing?” -Drew

I know this is a relevant question to some of you, as some families questions the value of a hobby that is expensive, inside, and sedentary. How is this a good use of time?

Well, you could answer this however you want. Or not answer it. Personally I’m not into qualifying myself to people that are close-minded about how I spend my time.

For me, the value of Magic is self-evident in my life… it is my business, my main source of income. It has given me a flexible lifestyle that lets me travel, do interesting things, meet interesting people. Before all this, it gave me the tools to succeed in schools and tests to help me get into University, and helped me pay for University through scholarships.

I don’t think that what I’m doing is fluff, or that it’s “just a game,” because this game is my life. We could choose any number of arbitrary platforms to impact the world, and this happens to be mine.

Magic has been especially good for me. The answer might not be as obvious for you, and it might not be as good for you as it is for me, but I think you can really answer this question however you want. Or not. It’s your life and you can live it how you see fit.

“How do you tie in your lifestyle of personal fitness in with your profession of Magic: The Gathering?” -Qullish

For those of you guys who don’t know too much about me, outside of Magic I am an athlete, a trainer, an adventurer, a sportsman, an outdoorsman. It seems like this might conflict with my career as an MTG content producer. So how does it all work?

First, Magic is unique in that you don’t have to play much at all to get better. Unlike other popular games there isn’t really a muscle memory component. It’s all in our heads so we can practice and advance in our heads. This is how we see guys with full-time careers like Paul Reitzl dominate the Pro Tour. We just don’t see this in other games.

I have always done the majority of my work for the game outside of playing. I’ve found that living an active lifestyle leads to the greatest innovation. Then, in the evenings I can spend an hour or two putting ideas into motion. I don’t have to spend all day in front of the computer or at the card table to do my job. It’s great.

I’ve found that these two parts of my life are very synergistic as well. Perhaps the greatest boon to my fitness has been through innovation success from Magic.

In the “real world” we think that almost everything has already been figured out. There is a convention and there is a convention for a reason. There is a “right” way of doing this.

This is not the case in Magic. When we copy and follow convention we put a big target on our heads and come to battle with outdated technology.

My first big innovative breakthrough in Magic came through Living End. These cards had been legal together for a year… why was no one playing with them? It turns out, there was no good reason. Everyone else missed it or was unwilling to stray from convention. This was my first experience with innovation success.

Now, back in the “real world,” we can see that everything hasn’t been figured out. There may be a convention but there isn’t necessarily a “right” way of doing things. My mind was opened to these ideas through Magic when otherwise it may have never happened.

So now when I train I look for new ways of doing things. I’m willing to experiment with the expectation that it’s possible there are uncovered ideas hiding in plain sight that could change everything. I have Magic to thank for this.

“How did you get started writing articles/recording videos and what tips can you give aspiring streamers?” -Andrew

I got started writing articles and recording videos by writing articles and recording videos. A lot of people want to jump start to writing for some major site but it really helps to have a body of work to show. If your craft isn’t honed, it’s tough to shop around your product.

I started with my own Facebook page and YouTube channel and I think that’s a good way to do it. I wrote and recorded a lot for free for a very long time before eventually making the connections with major sites. At that point I had honed my work into something attractive and had a body of work to show for it.

Streaming is something altogether different and my main advice would be to have a clear goal or you might have a really negative experience.

We all know how bad YouTube and article comments can be, and streaming can be even worse. It’s a platform for people who are having bad days to direct their hate at you in real time. It’s easy to say have “thick skin” or “toughen up,” but when someone tells you to kill yourself over the internet, it hurts.

So, my advice is to have something specific you want to get out of it—you are doing a service and making yourself vulnerable and I think you have all the right in the world to ask for cards or tickets in return. If you want to give, I encourage you to make a goal to get something out of it.

If this doesn’t sound like your thing, that’s okay, because streaming isn’t for everyone. Magic is a fun enough game without streaming.

“Is Magic getting dumbed down?” – various

Every year for the past 10+ years people have said that Magic is getting “dumbed down.” I think this is a pretty dumbed down criticism. We see the same names at the top of tournaments year in and year out. Yes there’s variance, but welcome to competitive anything.

Now, Magic has been made much more intuitive. Creatures and creature combat is a bigger part of the game. It’s more fun for new players and makes sense for them to play a basic game. It’s easier for them. It’s not necessarily easier for them to win though. The game just makes more sense, now.

There were times in the past where creatures were basically unplayable and the game was all about other things that aren’t easy to explain. I don’t think this was good. I don’t think it was better. I don’t think “better” players had more of an edge then.

So no, I don’t think the game has been dumbed down. But I do think it’s been made more intuitive and I think that’s a great thing.

“Is synergy more important in deckbuilding than raw power?” -Mark

It really depends what you want to do, but for me I’m much more interested in a deck that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

You could have plenty of success with a no synergy, all raw power Jund deck. Go for it. But that’s not appealing for me.

I want “aha” moments in play and deckbuilding. I want to beat raw power with “weak” cards, and the only way that’s possible is through synergy. So that’s how I build.

“It would be cool to understand a bit more about where you get your ideas from and how you develop them into a potentially tournament level deck” -Ben

The specifics of my process change over the years, but it’s really all about thinking about cards. While looking through Gatherer and deck lists are good for inspiration, most of my ideas actually happen while going for a walk or doing some kind of light exercise.

I specifically remember Ninja Bear Delver came to me while going for a walk on the beach. I was thinking about cards before, but they didn’t come together in my head until I was out moving. This is generally the way it works for me.

As for developing an idea into a tournament level deck, I think it all has to do with mana curve. A deck is not competitive unless it has a mana curve that is competitive with the format. We need to know what others are doing, what others are doing on turn 1, what others are doing on turn 2, and so on.

So we need to look at lists but more importantly we need to COST SORT. We need to have a plan for how our turn 1, turn 2, and turn 3, are going to go.

I get tons of deck lists in my inbox and the majority of them are not cost sorted. These decks are totally illlegible to me. I need to hunt from start to finish to figure out our turn 1 plays, then start from the top to find the turn 2 plays? Honestly I just don’t look at these decks.

If you want your deck to be tournament competitive, the biggest thing you can do is labor over the curve. I don’t think anything else will give nearly as great a return.

“Talk about the level of practice you do to get ready for a high level [tournament]? Also how to find a good test group?” -Tony

I don’t think you actually need to “practice” that much to be well prepared to succeed in tournaments. I think more important is taking care of most of the thought work ahead of time.

What this means is thinking through your game and sideboarding plans for every major matchup. You don’t actually have to play much or at all to do this. You just have to think about it and formulate some kind of plan.

This will save all kinds of time and mental energy in tournaments. There will be no panic mode where you don’t know what to do, because you thought about it in advance. This will open up time to make specific adjustments. Instead of thinking about the general matchup you can think about adjustments for specific opponents.

For instance, the last tournament I played was Grand Prix Manchester, in which I had a cash finish with a rogue BW Control deck. I actually didn’t play any games at all with the deck until I played a few the night before the tournament.

I made a competitive curve, played competitive cards, and had a clear strategy and sideboard plan for the major matchups I expected. I ended up playing a relatively stress-free tournament with few unexpected moments. On the other hand, I was playing my own new deck so opponents were totally unprepared.

As for testing group, I don’t have one and have never had one except for a few Pro Tours. I’ve never been one to depend on other people. Logistics are a hassle and you can always answer ideas for yourself quickly. However, if you’re into the social aspect of testing, your best bet is to go to local tournaments and talk to people.

“How do you explain Magic to someone who has no idea what CCGs are?” -RLWolfe

My life has been full of explaining MTG to people who have no idea what it is. My explanation has changed over the years as my relationship with the game has changed.

Currently, the question comes to me all the time like “what do you do for a living?” or “how do you make a living off of game blogging?”

I tell people that there is a card game with collectible cards and huge player demand. There are so many valuable cards, so many cards in circulation, that there is a huge secondary market of major card stores that do well. These cards stores fork out to hire a stable of content producers to drive traffic to the site and move cardboard. So that’s why I’m here. Make sense?

“Why do you not like Storm?” -James

I’ve written before that I think Storm combo should be banned. Storm combo is basically a solitaire deck, and Magic is a social, interactive, two-player game.

I don’t think there’s room for one-player decks in this two-player game. It makes for bad play experiences.

I can’t count how many times I’ve paid money to play a competitive match online thinking I’m going to get some kind of mentally stimulating match, only to get matched up against a one-player deck. It makes me want to concede and start another match.

It’s not even a matter of losing. I’d say my lifetime win percentage is very high against Storm because I stack my sideboard to get these matches over with quickly. That doesn’t make these matches fun though. They’re always a drag.

All that said, I’ve built storm decks, I’ve played Storm combo in tournaments, and I’ve put out budget Storm combo lists for y’all to play with. I’ll do that if it’s legal, but I don’t think it should be.

Dragonshift is one of my favorite recent cards, but I’ve never been able to make a passable deck with it. Should I stop trying?” -Ronney

I’m not going to tell you how to build the best Dragonshift deck. I haven’t thought about it myself. But I do think you should keep trying as long as you’re having fun. There are times to quit, but if all you want to do is play with your favorite card, go for it.

There are times when I get attached to cards that aren’t the most competitive. At that point it just becomes about building the best possible deck around that card. The hell with tournaments. Take the ideas as far as possible.

So no, I don’t think you should quit. I think you should build the best possible Dragonshift deck and play with the idea as long as it’s fun to you.

“Living End aside, what is your most favorite brew?” -Dustin

Historically, yeah Living End is probably my favorite deck. I’ve played it in tournaments in 2010, 2011, 2012, 213, 2014, all up and down the west coast of the USA, in Spain, in the Netherlands. I’m burnt out and I’ve been burnt out. I want new experiences.

The truth is that every brew I put out is my favorite brew. I am a flavor-of-the-week type of guy. I like to do new things. Some decks hang along for longer though—Omnidoor and Ninja Bear Delver come to mind.

But right now, my most favorite brew by a mile is Negative Life Combo. This deck is so radically out there, so fast, so competitive, so dripping with the flavor of black sacrifice, that I’m just in love with.

To the end the article I’m going to share my most recent deck list. Several innovations came about since the last video.

First we have Scout’s Warning that allows us to kill at instant speed after drawing our deck with Ad Nauseam.

I’m reluctant to play a card like Lightning Storm that can be such a useless draw, but Scout’s Warning is just perfect. The effect is nice but if we don’t need it we can cycle it off for a single mana.

I’ve also added a Slaughter Pact to the main. I want to have a way to remove problematic creatures in the main. Slaughter Pact could kill ‘Goyf, or even bombs like Platinum Angel or Eidolon of Rhetoric.

The other major change to the main deck is to cut Dark Confidant. This card is just so bad in this deck. It’s a lightning rod in a deck devoid of lightning rods.

The final change I’m excited to share is the inclusion of Ranger of Eos. I’ve been looking for a gassy card that can boost our beatdown game against particularly interactive decks. I’ve tried Grave Titan and Wurmcoil Engine but Ranger of Eos is much easier on the mana for a similarly powerful effect.

Here’s the deck as I have it now:

Negative Life Combo




That’s it for today folks. I hope enjoyed the Q&A session and the update to Negative Life Combo.

If you’ve got an interesting question for me on your mind, hang on to it. I’m bound to write another of these articles in the coming months, so look out for me on Twitter and Facebook.

Much love,

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