So, I’m currently experiencing some pretty heinous writer’s block so the article idea that I was hoping to produce is going to have to come at a later date. In the meantime, I figured a mailbag article could provide an interesting change of pace
Why are you or are you not interested in Pauper, and maybe just some of your overall thoughts on the format.
I don’t have feelings one way or another towards Pauper. I’ve played a bit of it casually but I’ve never had a reason to dive in past that. The play experience of is pretty comparable to Legacy and Vintage so if I wanted to engage in those in game dynamics
Are you looking forward to playing paper Magic again, or has the last year transformed that for you?
I’m pretty much a hermit so pre-pandemic, when I wanted to play Magic, I’d do so online. Honestly, my relationship with the game hasn’t changed in the slightest in the age of ‘rona.
Do you play Commander? And if so, what’s your favorite Commander and/or some pet cards for the format?
I used to play Commander way back in the day but have since stopped. The ongoing conversations regarding the the variable levels of decks became increasingly grating and I found myself gravitating towards Modern around that time. Most Constructed formats have a baseline level of power that a deck has to clear in order to be competitively viable. So when you sign up for, say, a Vintage tournament and get paired against a Bazaar of Baghdad deck, then there isn’t really anything to complain about since it was a known quantity.
The “issue” with EDH is that it’s a format predicate on the idea that you should build your deck to be “fun,” which in theory is a fine idea but the pitfall is that “fun” is a completely subjective concept. So, jumping into random EDH pods ends up being a dubious proposition because you don’t know what you’re really walking into. You might end up playing a game where nobody does anything of relevance for 50 minutes and then dorky eight drops hit the stack and sometimes you might sit down and have people try to combo off on turn one.
I’ve noticed that there’s been some effort to segregate EDH pods by using a number scale to sort decks by power level but that seemingly hasn’t ended the animosity towards people who find having more competitively slanted decks. On top of that, I find playing the format with the same group of people gets boring because each game starts to feel super samey and blur together.
For me, the actual outcome of games doesn’t matter and back when I played, it was common for my friends and I to play 45 or 50 minute games that would end in someone firing off some game-ending infinite and we’d shuffle up for the next game. These games themselves were just set pieces for interaction; nothing more than an interesting coffee table book or painting that stimulated interaction amongst friends. It’s the lowest stakes. At this point though, I find time spent with friends that hasn’t been filtered through the lens of Magic much more enjoyable and meaningful.
Commander selection wise, I’ve played Oona, Queen of the Fae, Sharuum the Hegemon, Teneb, the Harvester, Maelstrom Wanderer and maybe there’s something I’m forgetting there. At this point, if I was do pick up the format again, I’d probably toy around with an Aminatou, the Fateshifter shell of some sort. Or just rebuild the Maelstrom Wanderer deck which was a win condition-less pile of cards that just kinda made the game wonky to play by having cards like Eye of the Storm, Possibility Storm, Warp World and things of that nature.
How would you save Legacy, Modern and Pioneer?
Eh, as a format’s card pool expands, they trend towards increasing in degeneracy. In addition to that, players tend to become nostalgic for certain periods of the formats and start longing for yesteryear.
So, from a management perspective, you’re left in the undesirable position of trying to find a way of cultivating a relatively healthy gameplay experience that’s able to integrate new cards to good effect while trying to appeal to a million players’ subjective ideals of what a healthy format is. Which, ultimately these opinions often boil down to “pls do the thing to make my pet deck viable again because I’ve spent the last six years of my life playing Jund and its become such an integral part of my identity that I once replied to a work email with my screen name xxTurn2DarkConfidantxx.”
However, you’re never going to make anyone happy so the best you can realistically do is use the ban list to try and cultivate a reasonably healthy play experience that maintains some sense of the formats identity.
P.S. Force of Negation is great for Modern
What do you think is the biggest pitfall when it comes to deck building, and how do you personally get around it?
People aren’t honest with themselves around pet cards. Whether that be some random card they like to play or some “hot tech” they found and are trying to force to be good. I’ve found that this is one of the things that brings deck construction conversations to a stall.
My preferred way to circumvent this is to try and remove yourself from the from the situation as much as possible. I’ve found that it’s much easier for me to approach deckbuilding with a more objective methodology if I pretend I’m composing a list for someone else to play. When building a deck for yourself, it’s easy to justify suboptimal card choices by saying “well at least I’ll have fun” but when handing someone a 75 to someone, I don’t want them to lose because they’re playing a pile, so I tend to tighten up and play better options.
Another way around this is to just test everything. A while ago, a friend came to me to get a second opinion on a deck list and, after we had a discussion about his options, the only advice I had for him was to keep iterating. When I’m actively playing, I tend to get to a point where I have a “stock” 75 that’s ready to go but from there, I begin challenging my own card choices and deckbuilding logic to force myself to try new things. This doesn’t always result in me changing my “stock” list. This gives me a more holistic understanding of the deck shell that makes subsequent tuning for various metagames much easier because I’ve tested so many cards that I have a concrete understanding of when those tools are most effective.
What are five things you’d wish you’d known about the game when you started?
I can only think of one thing. That I’d be in a committed relationship with Wizards of the Coast for the rest of my life.
What’s your pet card/deck?
Pet decks: I used to play Modern Loam Pox and UW Gifts Tron at FNM for fun back in the day. They weren’t good decks but they were entertaining.
Would you rather win the game or draw a bunch of cards?
Jessica… I played Landstill in Vintage, willingly, for months. I still own a playset of Japanese Standstills that I’ve only played once.
Vintage Landstill by Lawrence Harmon
What’s one planeswalker (character) you’d like to see more of in the future?
Aminatou interests me but I hate the characterization of “this person is sooooo powerful that we can’t incorporate them into more stories” thing they have going on with her.
The whole motivation behind the Time Spiral story arc happening and the subsequent depowering of planeswalkers was that WOTC wanted to make Magic’s stories to centered around recurring characters and planeswalkers were the obvious choice. However, the original concept of planeswalkers doesn’t lend itself to engaging storytelling.
She’s somewhat of a step backwards narrative-wise, especially when two central characters, Nicol Bolas and Liliana, both have, at one point or another, been defined by the character motivation of “get back to the power level of an old-school planeswalker.” For me at least, it subverts a lot of the dramatic tension of their prior actions to find out that there’s some interdimensional, reality-warping child who has functionally obtained what Bolas and Lili have spent the last 13 years of the Magic story trying to do.
Yeah, Shards of Alara was 13 years ago. Yes, it’s taken that long for the Jacetice League to wrap up that plot thread. Can we get new villains who are actually kinda interesting now? “Borderline Omnipotent Evil Guy” is a played out trope.
What plane would you like to return to?
I’m sick of returning to old planes. It’s not interesting to me at this point. Every time we return to Ravnica, my eyes roll so far back into my skull that my retinas start scraping on bone.
For me the interesting aspect of Magic story was dropping into these isolated worlds and meeting new characters with interesting and unique desires. The push to centralize the story around Jace and company has caused me to go from voraciously consuming Magic stories to consuming lore through less direct means. It’s hard to care about new legends from a narrative perspective because, at this point, they’re basically set dressing in the larger Gatewatch storyline.
For me, previous Magic story arcs were engaging because it was like “oh wow, how is Kamahl, Fist of Krosa going to address both Akroma, Angel of Wrath and the Cabal Patriarch as threats? He’s just a dude with a sword!” However, since planeswalkers are demonstrably more powerful than the average legend, in order to keep some sense of narrative tension, you have to have more powerful antagonists and thus, 13 years of Nicol Bolas with random Eldrazi shenanigans have sprinkled in.
If that doesn’t make sense, then think of it like this. Most people have consumed Marvel’s movies and they follow a structure of self-contained stories that lead into larger scale crossover events that culminated in Endgame. That’s great right? You get to learn about each character, assess their strengths and then slowly see them deal with increasingly greater stakes.
Imagine if every movie was Infinity War/Endgame though. That sounds boring, right? A little bit of Thanos is cool but when every story involves the same interdimensional threat, things get repetitive and stale. It’s hard to keep driving the narrative forwards this way without getting into Dragon Ball Z-style power escalations which don’t work well for every IP, Magic included. Once you get past beating the intergalactic 25,000 year old Elder Dragon and the unkillable universe-eating tentacle monsters, where do you go narratively? Tibalt? I’m supposed to believe that Tibalt is a relevant threat?
It’s good to have an array of localized villains, whether that be on a plane as a whole or just a segment of a plane. When you establish a through line that every major villain is an intergalactic, world-ending threat though, at a certain point they all just blur together because there’s nothing really that distinguishes them, especially when their motivations are so base. Nicol Bolas wants power cause he’s *twirls moustache* EVIL. Emrakul wants to eat the universe and I get that, in cannon, the Eldrazi are supposed to be super complex and their brains work in a way that’s incomprehensible to the human mind . However, as a reader, that comes off as “yeah, we didn’t put effort into character building so you just gotta accept that these guys are scary because we say so.” Sorry, I hate Lovecraft ripoffs; that whole schtick became significantly less interesting after it got ripped off a million times but worse. There’s more to the Cthulhu mythos than just inexplicably evil Eldrich horrors.
As an aside, is it anti-black to mention HP Lovecraft in an article set to be published during Black History Month?
Also, as another tangent, how did Black History Month end up in a winter month? It’s brick outside and we’re tropical people. SMH.
I used to go to this guy who did good work at a great rate. Sadly, I can’t remember his name right now.
As someone with literally no understanding of Legacy, where are good places to start to learn about the format?
Talk to Legacy people. Watch streams. The legacy player base is super welcoming to new players and people are eager to share knowledge and help newcomers. Never hesitate to ask question and people are welcome to hit me up on Twitter if there’s something they’re curious about.
I’ve been mulling over the idea of doing an article on how to break into Legacy and *maybe* Vintage but I’m not sure if/when that will be so here’s a little something to hold you over.
I recommend checking out the following people and you’ll be caught up in no time. In the following, there are a number of Legacy GP and Eternal Weekend Champions and top 8 regulars.
Community Legacy League
Based God Trap Lord Marvelous Jarvelous
Noah doesn’t produce much content these days but pound for pound he’s easily one of the top 10 Legacy players in the world
Unfortunately, there aren’t many women creating content in Legacy at the moment.
Sahar used to produce a stellar series that was tailor-made for newer players.
If there are any women who are producing or interested in producing eternal content that I’m not aware of, please contact me. I’d love to give you a signal boost or provide assistance if wanted.
Also if Vintage is your flavor I can’t give higher praise to Justin Gennari.
This is just a select few people. If I do a follow up article, I’ll flesh out this list a bit more but in the meantime, here’s a thread of a number of folks you can check out. Legacy content creators are welcome to add themselves to the thread.
I need Legacy content creators and mainstays to comment on this tweet. I’m trying to see something
— Lawrence Harmon (@LawrHarmon) February 5, 2021
P.S. Once you get to know people, card availability is a non-issue. I’ve never owned a full Legacy deck in paper or on MTGO because I’ve never had to.
Crop Top Dashiki King (@Mochabeezy)
What do you think WOTC could do to reinvigorate/draw more attention to formats like Pioneer and Pauper without making a push to get them on Arena?
The way people pick up formats in Magic is either by personal interest or because there’s a competitive event coming up. Given that we’re still in a panny, Arena is perfect for exposing the player base who doesn’t use MTGO to them while also making it easy to facilitate larger stakes events. Past that, the only other option I can think of that would do the same is having Pauper and Pioneer GPs.
The next two questions are a bit of a two parter because they’re somewhat related.
Just because its the biggest barrier to entry, what do you think the Legacy format would look like without the OG Duals?
So I initially answered this question on Twitter but I’ll reiterate the answer here.
“Terrible. Shock lands would shift the dynamics of fair decks so you’d likely see more two color control decks and combo shells that can mitigate the opportunity cost of shocks. This is the Price of Progress, Wasteland, Back to Basics, Tendrils of Agony format, so the extra two life per land drop is not even remotely close to free. Shells like three color Delver would become significantly weaker while like Eldrazi is rolling them with Smasher.”
You once told me to play UR Delver with shocklands over UB Shadow and it was so very on point. What deck/decks do you think suffer the least from losing duals? Which would you recommend for people trying to start in the format?
So, to add a bit of context, the reason I suggested UR Delver at the time is that, while the Shadow decks do play Shock Lands, they still need OG dual lands to properly manage it’s life total. UR Delver, by comparison, plays three basic lands and, while a lot of stock lists do play three copies of Volcanic Island, playing an additional fetchland and two Steam Vents is serviceable because, play pattern-wise, the deck can function fine leaning in heavily on it’s basic lands. It’s not a perfect solution but it gives a reasonable starting point that allows someone to start playing the format while accumulating format staples.
Moving forward, I still stand by UR Delver as an option for newer players and, other than that, I’d recommend any linear one or two color deck. Black-Red Reanimator, Burn, Eldrazi Aggro, Mono Red Prison etc.
What I don’t recommend is Death and Taxes. The deck is often recommended to people because its a mono color creature deck but the shell requires a lot of format knowledge and tight play.
So, I asked members of the black Magic Discord if they had any questions and here’s what they came up with.
(If you’re a black player and you want access to the Discord, DM me on Twitter)
There has been more discussion about mechanical flexibility in the color pie lately, but I feel like there’s still not enough discussion on how little the color pie has grown when thinking about aesthetic, lore and ideals representing those colors. What is your opinion on the color pie today from that perspective? What would you change or modify?
I’d actually argue that the color pie has simplified in it’s expression, lore-wise. Outside of the Gatewatch, it seems like we’re experiencing a higher saturation of white and green-aligned heroes butting heads with the black and blue villains while the red characters cause chaos.
How could WotC release a cube product?
If it was up to me, I’d print gold bordered versions of the Legacy and Vintage cubes. This would provide people looking to build cubes an easy short cut to get started that isn’t utilizing proxies (playtest cards?). I’d also make gold bordered cards legal to use in EDH events such as CommandFests to help address card availability issues.
Should digital Magic splinter from paper and adopt erratas instead of bannings?
That sounds like a hot mess but if Magic ever wants to become a true eSport having the ability to errata broken cards as opposed to having to outright ban them is an appealing idea. However, the logistics of managing multiple ban lists or potential situations where the physical and digital copies of a card do different things seems like a logistics nightmare.
Which Magic characters have the best and worst hairlines?
I’m not gonna do all that but I will give you my thoughts on random characters hairlines.
This is the worst “I grew up in the suburbs and don’t have black friends” hairline I’ve ever seen in my life.
This is what happens when you cheat on your barber.
“Hey bro, have you listened to that new MGK album? It’s like really good. Halsey’s vocals on ‘Forget Me Too’ are amazing.”
Mandem been splashing and dipping on the opp block before linking with this peng tings innit bruv? Chillin inna bando stacking his gwop getting the streets mad gassed for the mixtape coming soon. You dun know Garruk keeps it grubby, never moist.
*Killmonger Voice* “Hey Auntie”
This man Teferi has been bald since child birth and every depiction of him got the ol’ chrome dome, but Dominaria drops and homeboy pops up with the wild Idris Elba hairline? I know a lacefront when I see one. Mans was in the War of the Spark trying to stop Nicol Bolas with wild wig glue running down his forehead.
Anyway, to cap off this article, since it’s Black History Month, I figured I’d provide you with a list of black content creators/players that y’all should check out and, if you’re feeling the vibes, show them some support. So, in no particular order.
P.S. We still doing that cookout when the panny ends?
The Mana Squad
John Roberts II
Fresh King Brandon Miller
Once again, the list goes on, heres another thread that people can comb through and add onto
ISO black mtg content creators
— Lawrence Harmon (@LawrHarmon) February 5, 2021
A’ight y’all, peace and blessings.