“You can't teach anybody anything. All you can do is make them laugh.”
In my spare and not-so-spare time, I tweet a bit about content. Not a ton, but definitely enough to be safely considered strange. The tone is generally facetious; they're light jabs at the all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into brand-building and self-marketing. There's a line between Good Content and Bad Content that is easier (and more fun) to explain with satire than by attempting to quantify a lot of what amounts to outward-facing copy.
Trying to suss out the substance of a performative Twitter exchange between two Extremely Online Influencers communicated exclusively in gifs is much less depressing than making fun of it.
Part of my issue with “content” is the term itself. No one really referred to “content” before 2012, because the word content brushes with such a broad stroke that it renders itself superfluous. Broad terms don't serve anyone, but what the term “content” accomplishes is that it removes the merit from everything, as an “all else equal” term. The Great Gatsby, The Shawshank Redemption, and this week's SCG Tour grinder du jour's version of an article about tilt or sideboarding or what have you — are all content, because content doesn't distinguish. Content is pretense, and therein lies the joke. All else equal, it's all just content, but come on. I work hard on this column (my handy excuse for filing it a day late this week), but I'm not publishing anything on par with, say, the Manti Teo scoop. Calling what I do content — tacitly putting it up against literally everything else that's ever been created — feels a bit dishonest. The truth is, I write about Wizard Squares. I'm comfortable with less pretense, not more.
Which is not to say that those who disagree are in the wrong. Quite the opposite. Self-marketing isn't a bad thing. But! When you put more time into it than your content, that's a problem. When self-marketing is your content, that's when you're a hack. It's easier than it should be to forget this, especially when you're making Magic content. Magic is hard. Talking about Magic is much easier by comparison. And more fun! You get to be present! There's no fiddly game mechanics anywhere in the way! It's just you and your audience. Certainly, there is a tension between playing Magic and creating content about it — doing one takes time away from doing the other (This is a common issue in writing about any trade). It's up to each Content Creator (guh) to figure out the right balance for them, but it's important to keep in mind that there's nothing that can be done that's so noble that it's above criticism. This includes creative work about Magic cards.
Last week, I took a vacation where I didn't touch a single Magic card other than this bookmark for a week. I got home Friday night hungry to game, which brought me to the Hour of Devastation pre-release.
The store I chose was doing a promotion for those intrepid souls that chose to play in all five of their events, so there were a lot of tired people there. I'm not sure how smart a “grind” incentive is for a pre-release — creating an incentive to stay up for 24+ hours in a row will inevitably lead to some, ahem, grumpiness. I spent my time hanging out with a friend and three coworkers who weren't Iron-Manning it up. All of my opponents were pleasant, but my coworkers had different experiences. Prereleases are definitely weird in that they attract players of all skill-levels by virtue of being the only way to play with new cards. I don't really know if that's a good thing. A stringent commitment to the rules — announcing triggers, maintaining clear board states — can be easy to interpret as unnecessarily severe, especially to someone unfamiliar with tournament Magic. For example, something I see a lot among more casual players (and sometimes, if I'm really lucky, someone playing a fringe deck on camera in the late rounds of a Modern GP) is that they'll stack their lands directly on top of each other. That's not a clear boardstate. I can't look across the table and determine how many lands my opponent has or what colors they can make if all their lands in one neat pile. This isn't necessarily a big deal, but to someone showing up at their local prerelease to Just Win, Baby, a stack of lands or a missed trigger is an excuse to Chastise and thus rattle a more casually-inclined opponent. It's clear to me that this tournament organizer wasn't trying to create that kind of environment, but at the end of the day, human beings still respond to incentives, and it's on them to Anticipate how players will respond to the incentives they put forth.
Predicting behavior is hard, and a TO can't realistically police its playerbase, maintain the store, and run a prerelease all at once, but what they can do is try and put value elsewhere instead of on prerelease weekend. Or maybe funnel into door prizes? I don't know. What I do know is that encouraging people to play sealed deck for ~30 consecutive hours is going to result in some salt.
Here's what I opened:
To be clear: this is one of the best sealed pools I've ever had. I don't think any of my rares classify as bombs other than maybe Crested Sunmare, but the deck is so aggressive and consistent and the creatures so large that none of my games felt close.
And none of them were! I didn't drop a game all morning, easily sweeping all my opponents, even the ones that got out in front of me in the early game with small creatures. My creatures were too plentiful, too big, and I had too many cheap tricks to stabilize with. Here's what I ended up playing:
At this point I should mention that I played Luxa River Shrine purely as a joke to see if I could “get there” (read: make a 5/5) with Crested Sunmare and Luxa River Shrine. I originally wanted to play both copies of Life Goes On in order to try and trigger Crested Sunmare, so I figured playing the one Luxa River Shrine instead was a fine compromise.
Luckily (or unluckily for my opponents) I only drew Luxa River Shrine once and otherwise curved out to beat my opponents a lot. None of the games were interesting — I was very fortunate to draw well every game while my opponents' draws never really matched up. My games were pretty lopsided that it was tough to have any real takeaways on the Limited format, but I'll give it a shot anyway.
Hour of Devastation Limited is aggressive, just like Amonkhet before it. The aggressive desert synergies are real, even if their mana curves are slightly higher than the aggressive decks of Amonkhet. The combat tricks are fine when you're ahead but look really bad when you're behind.
There's a synergy-based blue-red tempo deck that's built around Firebrand Archer and Unsummon, two cards likely to be undervalued in early drafts. It's hard to say if the deck's real or not, but draws with the right mix of Unsummon and Firebrand Archer are a nightmare to get any footing against.
The blue decks are generally going to need lots of uncommons to work, but trust me on this one: Proven Combatant is better than it looks. The eternalize cards as a whole do a fine job of filling the role of Amonkhet's cycle of expensive creatures with cycling. Where the cycling fatties made you choose between the cycle or the creature, the eternalize creatures of Hour of Devastation allow you to double-dip. This has the added bonus of allowing you to safely ignore anything that costs five or more mana during drafts — if you've got enough eternalize creatures, you'll usually have something good enough to throw your mana at in the late game.
I'm looking forward to drafting more of the set. On the other hand, I have a full slate of Modern PPTQs coming up with no meaningful Hour of Devastation Limited events to practice for. That's just how it goes most of the time, though. Luckily, you can mostly play whatever archetype you want in Modern. Sure, my odds to win would be slightly higher if I just practiced a lot with a Death's Shadow deck, but these are PPTQs, and caring about a PPTQ sounds awful. So I don't! I think trying to figure out how many consecutive events I can play Lantern Control in till my brain turns to mush will be fun. Be sure to tune in for that spicy piece of content.