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Spreading Cheese – Flashbacks and Restrictions

Hi again everyone, and happy new year. In case anyone hasn’t read my previous article, I had talked about my experience growing up in Turkey and playing Magic. I also promised a continuation of that story, and I will definitely continue it, but I also want to cover new ground, so I’ll follow a new format in my articles. Each week, I’ll tell a piece of my story from back in Turkey, and I’ll try to relate it to current happenings in the MtGverse.

Now, you might remember me saying it seemed like the Magic scene in my hometown was pretty much dead. I had gotten into college, and everybody had started to fall apart. For the record, I believe this was right before Ravnica came out, so people were also experiencing Kamigawa burnout. Most of us still stuck to Onslaught/Mirrodin, playing in our homes with each other. There were elf decks, goblin decks and artifact decks. But everyone got sick of playing each other pretty fast, because there was a clear hierarchy of decks, and people couldn’t afford to make their decks better/make better decks, because opening packs for rares was futile since packs were really expensive (with the current exchange rate, they would equate to costing $10) and we couldn’t order many cards online due to shipping prices and again, the steep exchange rate between the dollar and Turkish money. Of course, since we were a tightly knit community, we traded a lot with each other to complete decks, but that wasn’t enough. At times, we just gave each other cards for free, out of good will. This might seem alien to some of you guys, but ‘helping each other out without expecting something in return’ is a really big thing in Turkish culture, and those who know me might recognize this in me when I trade in your favor or just give away cards.

Anyway, this mentality of not having the cards to build any proper deck is actually a good mentality. If you’re not playing at some high level event but you’re just playing at FNM, especially depending on your meta, you might not have to have four Jaces and four Primeval Titans. Even more so, as BigHeadJoe always likes to point out in the podcast, restriction breeds creativity. I always try to envision this. It’s relatively easy to build an above average deck by throwing down on all the money cards (not something like RUG for example but maybe the UW control of last season), but it’s harder to see the subtler interactions between the smaller cards. Now, mind you, right now there isn’t much of that in Magic, since right now all interactions are pretty much tailor made for players by Wizards or there is no interaction but just heaps of power cards (a la Battlecruiser Magic, or as I’ve pointed out in earlier articles, a limited deckspace), but let’s look a few years back to RAV/TS/Coldsnap Standard. That, in my opinion, was one of the best standard environments in a long time. Anyone remember Martyr of Sands? No? Let me also remind you of Proclamation of Rebirth, especially the Forecast ability. That was a great deck in my opinion (I personally played it a lot during that season), and the interaction was great because it didn’t win you the game right away. Instead, it gave you leverage to not lose the game, and then you could win the game through whatever means you wanted to.

Let me give you another example. Remember Project X? Crypt Champion, Saffi Eriksdotter, and many other creatures that interacted well with that combo. Yes, I just mentioned two “combo” decks as an example of a good environment, but remember that the same Standard environment had decks like Pickles and Boros too.

Going back to my original point, restriction does breed creativity. Back in Turkey, due to everyone occasionally opening packs and everyone playing a set archetype (and no two people played the same deck), the trading scene worked in a supply-demand basis; ie., all elf cards got traded to the elf player, etc. A side effect of this was that no one ever got to build a different deck, since we barely had one deck together and we were trying to improve that deck desperately. Since coming here to America, I’ve found that I commit less to a single deck and just try every possible thing, due to the “abundance” of cards compared to Turkey. That’s something neat, especially if you’re like me coming from a place where cards were a commodity, but it’s also not good, because the longer you play with a single deck, the better you get at playing it and you see more ways to improve it. Especially if you’re playing in a specific metagame.

Anyway, let me get back to my story. After a year or two of playing less and less (I actually quit Magic for the first time back then, because playing wasn’t satisfying anymore, since the metagame was stagnant and nothing new ever happened), I suddenly stumbled upon something. There was a cafe downtown called Onaon (it means “ten by ten” in Turkish, and I have no idea why the place was called that), and there was a budding Magic scene there! I was extremely enthusiastic and I just threw together a Standard deck (I believe it was a UB mill deck) and just went there to play. It was a dark cafe where they played metal music (which is fine by me), everyone wore black (and so did I back then), and everybody smoked (not fine by me, but it was Magic, so I dealt with it). (Speaking of metal, here’s your weekly dose, First Fragment – Obsolete Ascendancy a new Canadian tech death band that does it right). But I was disappointed to discover that they didn’t play Constructed, they played Draft. Keep in mind that I had never even heard of something called draft before. I was really put off by the concept of drafting, because I really loved building a deck over time and honing it to perfection (ah, the days when I had free time on my hands), and draft was the exact opposite of that. Add to that the fact that I completely sucked at drafting, it wasn’t really enjoyable for me. Not only that, due to the price of packs, drafting cost around $30-35. That was really expensive, and they played Wednesday evenings late at night, which was inconvenient for my school life. But I still went there every week, because I actually got to play Magic. I didn’t get any better at drafting, I always sucked, but at least I got to play Magic. Why did they draft incessantly? It’s because no one could afford to build a constructed deck, because even the manabase of a deck cost a fortune (thanks to Ravnica shocklands and 2-3 colored decks). To finance their drafting habit, people usually played with the packs they won as prizes, and by trading rares they pulled from a draft to the owner of the place, a guy called Mehmet. He didn’t really know English very well, but he managed enough to barely understand cards. He was friendly, just like Tarik, and he ripped us off less, because he also made money from the Magic players eating at his cafe while they played (and the food was really good too).

Many times I tried to get people to play constructed, but everyone just loved drafting. I don’t know how it happened, but at some point after Time Spiral came out, everyone’s card pool reached a critical mass (and decks with less colors became more viable, i.e. less shocklands necessary, i.e. more affordable decks), and we started playing constructed again. The Magic scene at Onaon was cool, but it also had drawbacks, but that’s a story for another time.

Now, before I close, I want to say one last thing. Last FNM, I had no idea what to play. I had been out of the scene for a while, and didn’t have too many cards, and had no idea how to beat the big decks of the metagame. I didn’t even know what I could potentially play against. So I just took my favorite color combination (green/black, for those who were totally oblivious) and just threw together cards I deemed viable-ish. I didn’t have more than a few copies of certain cards that I wanted, so the deck ended up looking really awful. Here’s the list, from what I can remember:

4x Vengevine
2-3x Garruk Wildspeaker
3x Obstinate Baloth
1x Lotus Cobra
1x Mul Daya Channelers
4xBirds of Paradise
2-3x Wurmcoil Engine
1x Liliana Vess
2x Doom Blade
1x Assassinate
2x Bloodghast
2-3x Consuming Vapors
2-3x Vampire Hexmage
3x Duress
3x Inquisition of Kozilek
2x Verdant Catacombs
4x Tectonic Edge
Some random assortment of basic lands and a few other cards.

My sideboard had stuff like more Duress/Inquisition, more Vapors, a few Consume the Meeks, 4x Memoricide and some other stuff.

Yes, this deck is a complete mess. One Cobra? One Assassinate? Two fetchlands? No feasible way to bring back Vengevines? I just built this with stuff I pulled out of my binder. Here’s what I played against: Vampires, Some kind of UB Control, Mono Green Eldrazi. I lost only a single game to Eldrazi, but won the round anyway, and I placed first in the tournament. Now, does this say my deck was awesome? Definitely not. Normally, random posters online claim they made the best deck ever, even beating metagame giants like UB and Eldrazi, and even defeating tier 1.5 decks like vampires. Now here’s the truth: The vampires deck I played was a mono black deck that my opponent had just borrowed before the tournament, hadn’t looked at, and he wasn’t even really a regular Magic player. In addition to that, the deck didn’t really have any solid win condition, the largest creature in the deck was (according to my opponent) a Vampire Nighthawk. The UB control deck? It didn’t have Jace, and it wasn’t really the UB control lists you see anywhere, it was just some budget deck, and it also played mill, which enabled me to bring back 2 Vengevines and a Bloodghast the turn Garruk reached ultimate. The Eldrazi deck? Game 1 I lost legitimately, game 2 my opponent got flooded with lots of mana and no cards, Game 3 my opponent got mana screwed and I Memoricided Primeval Titan. So all of them were either luck/bad decks/inexperienced players/good matchups for me.

So here’s the PSA: When reading a deck’s results, keep things like luck, matchups, and opponent skill in mind. It’s basic statistics, really. If a deck does 6-0 at Worlds, does that mean it’s a great deck? Not necessarily. It might have been well equipped against the meta, and the pilot might have been lucky. Remember Conley Woods’ Magical Christmasland deck from last year? If I recall correctly, that deck had also gone 6-0 or something like that. If a deck consistently does well (5-1s, 6-0s and a few 4-2s) for a few tournaments, does that mean it’s a great deck? Not 100%, but much more likely than the other case. So dear readers, please, please test decks before you just brew them, think about how they would do in your metagame and how well you can play it.

Now that the PSA is out of my system, let me share something else. The deck I built was completely awful, yes, but I believe it would have done acceptably even if I wasn’t lucky. Why? Because it’s not as bad as it seems, I put some thought into it. I have control and ramp matchups in check with the discard, I have removal against big and small creatures, I have the recurring creatures against control, the Baloths against aggro, and the hasty creatures that can alpha strike against decks that tap out. I have some mana accelleration to cast multiple creatures to bring back the Vengevines, I have Garruk to aid alpha strikes, Liliana for some late game hand control and also tutoring, Assassinate was against Grave Titan. I have Hexmages against planeswalkers and small creatures and Ratchet Bomb, since my important permanents all cost four. I have Wurmcoil for some big creature action, and my sideboard was built to hate out major archetypes. Still not a great deck, but it was an OK deck. If I had a few more cards, I believe I could have built an above average deck. So here’s the second PSA: Don’t underestimate decks that look awful, and even if they do, some awful decks have the right idea and the wrong execution, so take from them what you can. I’m definitely not telling you that this deck was good or you should play it, but I’m saying it had a few punchlines and a few cool tricks. It was also a good exercise in building with restrictions, i.e. having only the cards that were in the trunk of my car and 15 minutes to build a deck.

So, what was today’s message? Don’t believe everything you read, try them out yourself. Try imposing restrictions on yourself to see where you can take cards, ignore the biggest flashiest cards and try to think of the little cards too. After all, even though the Titan wins the game, it wouldn’t have gotten there without that Mana Leak or that Overgrown Battlement.

P.S: I’m loving the new Mirrodin Besieged spoilers:



Maybe it’s more of the same “built-for-you-by-WOTC” synergies, but at least it seems like they’re trying to push small creatures, which I like.

P.P.S: Would you like to see me discuss spoilers and stuff like that? If so let me know.
P.P.P.S. For questions, comments, feedback, send an e-mail to me at Spreading.Cheese [at] gmail [dot] com or follow me on twitter @nayon7

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