This week I have a few things I would like to do. First I would like to suggest M14 updates to some of the more common Standard decks, focusing on the aggro decks. Then we have the results from the fifth and final week of the Magic Pop Quiz Challenge (and instructions for how to claim your prize). Finally, I would like to spend some time discussing my 2013 Magic Hall of Fame ballot, an annual election process for one of the most prestigious honors in the game. Questions or comments on any of the topics are welcome in the comment section at the bottom of the article, including questions about decks not mentioned in the article. Next week will be my M14 predictions article.
The biggest weakness with Bant Hexproof was not drawing enough Hexproof creatures. You only had eight total (four Invisible Stalker and four Geist of Saint Traft). Now you have twice as many (16 total). This means you can always load up all the eggs into one basket without having to worry about the opponent removing your basket with targeted removal.
I think this is the deck that gets the most obvious and significant upgrades. The problem is that the deck's reliability makes it predictably more linear. Thus opposing hate cards such as Ray of Revelation are even more potent, much like Kataki's stock increase when Affinity gets to play all the artifact lands from Mirrodin.
This one is a little less straightforward than Bant Hexproof, but I think the deck is better served by taking out the Reckoner-Act-Artist combo (plus the one Obzedat) and replacing it with another card advantage engine and a huge tempo-enabler.
Now the deck can curve out as a beatdown deck while slowing down the opponent and also becoming more resilient to mass removal. Replacing the Vampire and Minotaur Wizard with humans also allows us to play Cavern of Souls. Give that the deck is three colors, I feel that Mutavault is a bit greedy, so I would not recommend trying to make that happen.
To make room for the four Cavern of Souls, I would cut the two Clifftop Retreats and two Dragonskull Summits. This will give the deck more game against decks running counter-magic, which seems to be an increasingly popular strategy recently. The Necromancer seems really powerful in conjunction with the Aristocrats (and Doomed Traveler), and is a fairly powerful creature just on its own. It's basically a human Rotlung Reanimator in a context filled with better support cards.
Ash Zealot has been a decent card for RDW, but it's always the backup plan for when you fail to draw Burning-Tree Emissary. Since you can't cast it off the Emissary, it often leads to awkward draws where you're holding both two drops and can't even cast your Emissary on the second turn.
Pyromancer gives us another very strong two-drop that can be cast off the Emissary. It combines well with Hellrider and has enough fuel with ten burn spells since you really only need to draw a couple spells to get the appropriate amount of value out of her.
This one is not an update as much as it is a new direction to go with Domri Rade. The Naya midrange deck has been putting up good numbers recently and the sliver tribe looks pretty power if you can get it going. If the format proves to be filled to the brim with removal, then Slivers might not be the optimal choice. If, however, the format is filled with creature decks or decks that allow your creatures to live for a few turns, sliver voltron is quite difficult to engage in combat with.
I already discussed some white weenie strategies using M14 last week. So let's turn our attention to the Magic Pop Quiz.
Magic Pop Quiz Challenge
Last week was the final week of the contest and I asked:
This player dominated a Japanese Pro Tour with an artifact-based white weenie deck containing twenty-two white creatures. Despite not casting a single white creature in the finals, he somehow 3-0'd his opponent to win the tournament! (Hint: This is a bit of a trick question)
Answer: David Sharfman won Pro Tour Nagoya 2011 with a Puresteel Paladin deck. The reason he did not play a white creature in the finals is because the Top 8 was draft and he drafted a blue/red deck.
If you answered any of the five questions correctly, send an email to magicpopquiz[at]mail[dot]com with how many of the five questions you answered correctly, along with your mailing address so I can send you your mystery prize(s).
My Hall of Fame Ballot
Earlier this week I submitted the following 2013 Magic Hall of Fame ballot:
The primary two categories most voters (myself included) seem to prioritize are accomplishments and integrity. Luis Scott-Vargas is a clear frontrunner in both categories and William Jensen and Makihito Mihara are not far behind. Tomoharu Saito has unquestionably HoF-worthy accomplishments, enough to have gotten him voted into the Hall of Fame a few years ago, only to later become ineligible after getting suspended for a lapse in integrity. Hence for the time being he fails to satisfy the minimum integrity requirement. This leaves two spots on my ballot and approximately a dozen players with (in my opinion) Hall of Fame worthy resumes: Justin Gary, Mark Herberholz, Osyp Lebedowicz, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Eric Froehlich, Gerard Fabiano, Shoota Yasooka, Marijn Lybaert, Paul Rietzl, Willy Edel, Martin Juza, Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Ben Stark, and Chris Pikula). After much Contemplation and discussion with other voters, I decided on Ben Stark and Chris Pikula and I would like to briefly share with you what put them over the top for me.
I've known Ben for probably fifteen years. We were rookies on the Pro Tour around the same time, in our teenage years. We would each routinely get beat on the Pro Tour, win another PTQ, then get crushed again at the next Pro Tour. Despite his lack of early success, I was always impressed with his studious and methodical approach to the game. He always had a logical explanation ready at the helm for anyone who would ever question any play he ever made in a game of Magic. And despite the ‘egotistic' title some people have recently attributed to him, I have always had the opposite impression. Ben will confidently defend his line of play until someone offers a different line, at which point he would either counter with why the suggested line is inferior, or he would readily agree that he was wrong and that the suggested line was actually better than his. To me this shows Humility.
Ben's logical approach to Magic carried over to his early writing where, to my knowledge, he was the first (or at least one of the first) to incorporate a sideboard guide into a deck analysis article (in the days of the Magic Dojo). This article-writing strategy was novel at the time and it has since caught on and become a staple blueprint for many articles today. He has written a dozen or so articles for TCGplayer (found here) and about twice that many for Channel-Fireball. He never just writes to produce content. He writes when he has something worth sharing. This is actually quite a significant body of contributions for someone who considers Magic a hobby and not a job.
Aside from Ben's deep understanding of the game and his written contributions to the game, Ben has always been approachable and willing to share everything he knows about any Magic topic if asked. One time after team Rochester drafting Odyssey extensively with his friends in anticipation of an upcoming Grand Prix, he willingly shared everything he knew about the format with me and a group of people he had never met. His strategy was genius: to wait for the opponents to commit to their colors and to then match up his R/G deck against their U/B deck, his U/B deck against their U/W deck, and his U/W deck against their R/G deck. The opponents' decks would be slightly stronger in the abstract but his would have the matchups he wanted and therefore be favored to win each time. It was this outside-the-box thinking, combined with his openness to being wrong when confronted with a better idea, that, in my opinion, enabled him to have such an accomplished career.
Ben plays Magic because he loves the intellectual challenge of being able to Outmaneuver the opponent. I remember his favorite Limited interaction was blocking the opponent's creature with his own creature of the same size, inducing the Aggressive Urge so he could Repulse the creature in response, thus netting both card advantage and tempo. Those are the non-flashy games of Magic Ben lives for, where commons are used to gain small incremental advantages that over time result in a win.
I have also always known him to be an honest player. Despite growing up in a region that was not exactly known for clean play, Ben always avoided partaking in it. He would not necessarily go out of his way to encourage others to play fairly, leaving that decision up to them, but he demonstrated through his own conduct and excellence that he held himself to a high standard of integrity. All things considered, I believe Ben Stark stands out in nearly every category and my ballot would be amiss if it did not include him, though I acknowledge that my own familiarity with him might make me biased in his favor.
Chris Pikula missed getting into the Hall of Fame in the first year by one vote. Had I been on the committee at that time, he would already be in the Hall of Fame (but I was not because I did not yet have 100 lifetime pro points at the time). Sadly, instead of getting in the very next year, or the year after that, newer players kept becoming eligible and he kept getting edged out. Today we find ourselves in a precarious position where so much time has elapsed that the majority of present voters have no real frame of reference by which to determine whether he should be in the Hall of Fame. It's like trying to convince a newer player just how good Masticore was in its original context when their only experience with the card is getting it last pick in Cube Draft and leaving it in their sideboard. But if we look at some of the most credible judges of talent that were around back then and are around today (Jon Finkel and Brian Kibler come most readily to mind), we find that Chris Pikula is included on their ballots. But why? Holding to the analogy, it's because they know better than to pass Masticore.
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As someone who was a rookie on the Pro Tour back in Chris Pikula's glory days, the Pro Tour (and the game itself) was still in its infant stages of development. I remember there being a handful of “super teams”. Team YMG (Your Move Games) was the Team Channel-Fireball of All-Stars that would consistently put multiple players in the Top 8. Team CMU was their closest rival, jockeying with them for the title of “best team in the world,” much like Team SCG does today. Team Deadguy was not far behind and Chris Pikula was the face of Team Deadguy, placing in the Top 8 in back-to-back Pro Tours (PT Atlanta and Dallas '96) at the height of his dominance. This was before Finkel or Kai were dominant, so Magic didn't have a single best player – it had a handful, and Chris was widely regarded as one of them.
While Team Deadguy was easily considered one of the best teams in the world (winning PTLA '98 and Top 8'ing numerous other PTs), they were even better known for their staunch position regarding fair and clean play. By today's standard, this position does not seem noteworthy. Cheating is heavily frowned upon and there is a robust judge program that is highly skilled at spotting and penalizing unclean play. But back then judges were inexperienced, many players saw cheating as just another way to outsmart their opponent, and some (even within WOTC) viewed instances of cheating as a cops-and-robbers-like spectacle with the possibility to generate interest in the Pro Tour: “What will the Pro Tour villain do next time?” Hence older players often refer to those days as the “Wild Wild West” of the Pro Tour, the days when the majority of players believed the Pro Tour was a short-term endeavor that would soon go bankrupt and thus felt incentivized to cash out sooner rather than later. This made the prospect of cheating even more appealing.
Despite this appeal, Team Deadguy was adamant about their commitment to fair play. They did so out of genuine love for the game. They helped pioneer an approach to competitive Magic that was different from the way many other top players approached the game. They believed Magic is a much better game when it is all about in-game decisions and free from having to constantly watch the opponent to make sure they're not cheating. The team was very outspoken about their beliefs (and they embodied them). The Magic Pro Tour didn't have to be the Wild Wild West. Instead it could be… essentially what it is today.
For those who weren't around the Pro Tour in its early days, it's easy to trivialize a player's commitment to integrity. Integrity is something we mostly take for granted today. And in light of so many qualified candidates on the ballot this year, it's understandable to want to grade ‘integrity' as a pass-fail proposition and to then reduce the voting process to a comparison of accomplishments. To me, however, this feels like a suboptimal approach. To me playing with integrity is analogous to the “three Pro Tour Top 8's” minimum that many voters employ for their first round cut, and checking ‘pass' for integrity would be akin to simply checking ‘pass' in the accomplishments category whenever someone has at least three Top 8's, regardless of how much they exceeded the minimum. Sure, Team CMU and some of the other teams also played with integrity back then, but they were not nearly as outspoken in their vision for the Pro Tour and their commitment to making it a better environment for today's generation of players, at least not to the extent that Team Deadguy was.
To me Pikula earned a Pro Tour win worth of integrity, or at least a fourth Top 8 worth. It is reasonable to place what I'm describing into the ‘community contributions' category, but I'm hesitant to describe it as such because most voters seem to view that category as essentially a second tiebreaker for when accomplishments between two candidates are at a deadlock. Either way, I believe the Hall of Fame is falling short of the institution it could be as long as Chris Pikula is excluded, and we have an opportunity as voters to build it into the best institution it can be. If players of the same era with questionable integrity and slightly better resumes have been included and yet Pikula is left out, what sort of values does our Hall of Fame then reflect? What kind of message does that send to the next generation of players? I hope that if you're still undecided about your fifth spot on the ballot that you give Careful Consideration to Chris Pikula. I believe he belongs in the Hall of Fame and I also believe the Pro Tour would be much better served, even today, with him on it (and yes, he said he would definitely attend Pro Tours if qualified).
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