Five IcyHot Takes

Feature Article from Brian Braun-Duin
Brian Braun-Duin
12/7/2017 11:01:00 AM
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“Right this way for hot cakes! Yes, you, over here. You looking for some hot cakes? No, no, these are not pancakes, they are normal cakes but with an extremely high base temperature. That's right. Hot cakes! Hottest cakes in the multiverse, get them right here! They'll destroy your mouth and make you sue McDonald's for third degree burns. They're so hot your mother will wish they weren't quite so hot. These cakes are forged in the fires of Mt. Doom. Hot cakes! Get your hell-hot lava-made cakes here! These cakes melt in your mouth and your hands. These cakes melt through your mouth and your hands. These cakes are burnt to a charcoal crisp and no longer resemble a cake they are so hot. Get them right here! These cakes are like Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister playing Temur Energy, they run so hot. These cakes burn with the righteous rage of a thousand generations of great gas giants exploding in unison...for a good cause. Hottest cakes, NA, right here, right now! Get some or never experience joy ever again in your sad, miserable existence. If you like your cakes Scalding Tarn hot, there is nowhere that does it hotter. Hot cakes! If you don't buy a hot cake right now, on the 13th day of this month your friends will all abandon you. Share with 10 people or you'll have bad luck for a year. Get your hooooohhh no...”

...Oh no...oh please no… It can't be. You have GOT to be kidding me! You know what I just realized? Wow, this is unreal. I am so dumb. Bear with me here. This is going to take a second to explain and you probably won't believe it, but here goes. So, I was looking for ideas and one of my friends said to me, verbatim: “Have you considered peddling out some hot takes?” but I misunderstood them and thought they said hot cakes. “Peddling out hot cakes” is what I thought I heard. I mean, those words are so close. There's barely any difference. Anyone could have made this mistake. I've been playing through that conversation for months now and I just now realized what was actually said. That is crazy. Easy mistake to make. Really, it could happen to anyone.

I got burned hard, and that's not even counting the numerous times I've suffered devastating burns from these hot cakes that have been baked far beyond legal serving temperatures.

What irks me here isn't just that I misheard my friend, but rather that I took those misunderstood words to heart. It's a little surreal to think that I broke the lease on my house, sold all my earthly possessions, quit my job, broke up with my girlfriend, ended all my friendships, and cut ties with my family to become a hot cake merchant on the streets all stemming from a simple misunderstanding. Not only is that going to cost me years in building my life back up, but my hot cake business is also going under, to rub hot cake salt in the wound. Somehow I'm losing ground to the normal temperature cake shop down the street. Turns out that people just like regular cakes instead of these 2hot2handle cakes I've been producing.

Nothing is going my way. One of these days things will start to look up for me. Variance. It must be life variance. I'm running bad. That's it. That's what it is. Luck. This is just a string of bad luck and it will all turn around.

Well, this might be my last article for a while. My life is completely in shambles and it will take me years to get my life sorted out, assuming that I ever actually do, but in the meantime, here are my lukehot takes on a variety of topics.

Standard is Good But I Don't Like It

Temur Energy or Energy variants are by far the best decks in Standard. There is a clear tier one enemy and it is Energy. When we drift down to tier two or below, though, there are a lot of really diverse, really interesting decks that are all at least semi-viable options. There are control decks like Blue-Black Control or White-Blue Approach. There are aggro decks like Ramunap Red, Mono-Black or Black-Red Aggro. There are even grindy engine/combo style decks like Esper or God Pharaoh's Gift or the many variants of Tokens. There are even other midrange decks like Medium Red or Oketra's Monument strategies.

Standard is definitely diverse and interesting if we're not looking at the format from a purely competitive tournament perspective, where playing Temur is almost assuredly correct.

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Diversity alone doesn't make a format, good, however. It's generally a combination of both diversity and enjoyable gameplay that makes a format worth playing. Enjoyable gameplay to me means that there are decisions to be made, those decisions matter, and that games don't always play out in the same patterns every time. I think two out of three are true in this format. There are plenty of decisions to be made, and those decisions definitely do matter. Every deck has a lot of options and it is very easy to get punished for mistakes.

I just think that Standard games play out the same way quite frequently, and we've been stuck playing with and against the same exact energy cards for a year now. Attune into Servant into Rogue Refiner has definitely lost its luster and novelty for me. I can't put down Temur Energy because I win a lot with it and it's just the best deck and best choice for me, but I don't enjoy it and it is just frankly boring by this point.

Objectively, Standard is both reasonably diverse and gameplay is good. It's just not enjoyable. Kaladesh was a mistake and its dominance on Standard has been ever-present since its release, and the bad news is that we have one more year of this. I don't even want new sets to Oust Kaladesh in terms of power level, because that just means that two years from now we will be complaining about how powerful those sets are and their negative impact on the format. I just want them to keep printing great sets like Amonkhet and ride out Kaladesh for another year until we can finally break free of its shackles.

Unfortunately, for me, this means I'm probably stuck playing another year with Temur Energy but growing more and more bored with the same cards, gameplay, and decisions as the year drags on.

Modern is the Best Format and Legacy is the Worst

I see people complaining all the time about how Modern is just a crapshoot format and that gameplay decisions and “skill” don't matter in Modern. You pick a deck and hope to get good pairings, and that is it. Have we been playing the same Modern format? I actually think Modern is very diverse, gameplay is great, and in-game decisions as well as sideboarding choices are more relevant in the format now than ever. People keep just regurgitating the same arguments from three years ago about how Modern sucks even though the format doesn't even resemble the same format that it did back then at all. There is an extremely high amount of gameplay skill in Modern right now for most of the top decks.

Things change. Modern changes. Modern might have been bad at various points in the past, but it's actually just great right now. I hope that people who are complaining about Modern are actually doing so with recent experience and not just blindly throwing out the same, tired viewpoints from years ago.

Weirdly enough, I think Death's Shadow is responsible for this. The card itself is in some ways a blight on the Modern format, but the impact it has is mostly positive. A lot of frustrating non-interactive decks that couldn't really compete with Death's Shadow have been getting pushed out of the format. This means that most decks right now are decks capable of interacting or being interacted with. The number of viable Modern decks is still easily in the double digits, keeping gameplay fresh and diverse, but now that interaction matters again in Modern, you get great gameplay along with your high level of diversity.

On the flip side, I think Legacy is the worst it has been for as long as I have been playing the format. I love Legacy. Legacy has been my favorite format for many years. I'm not coming at this from the perspective of someone who traditionally hates Legacy. But, having said that, it's bad now.

Deathrite Shaman might just be too good. I believe that Deathrite Shaman is warping the format just as much if not more than Miracles did. While Sensei's Divining Top was legal, Deathrite Shaman was still an insanely good card, but Miracle decks could easily compete with it or even outclass it. Now that top is gone, Deathrite Shaman doesn't really have an equal anymore.

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There are many games in Legacy where the opponent starts with fetch land into Underground Sea, cast Deathrite Shaman on the play. Frequently, it feels like the game is just over right then and there. That is not a fun format. Either you have to play some fringe deck that can ignore Deathrite Shaman or you just have to accept that you're going to very frequently just straight-up lose to turn one Deathrite Shaman when you're on the draw. Sometimes you can snap off Force of Will on it, but that puts you at a card disadvantage in a grindy matchup. Having the turn one removal spell for it doesn't always work, as there are so many ways to punish that, such as Daze plus Wasteland or even just untapping and playing another Shaman or a powerful two-mana play. Deathrite just demands immediate attention or else it will create too much of an advantage over the course of the game, and that kind of insane tempo advantage is just so hard to beat on the draw.

I still have a lot more of the format to explore, so I'm hoping that I'm wrong and I'll find out that Deathrite Shaman isn't as good as I think it is. In the meantime, I haven't been enjoying Legacy at all, so I truly hope that changes.

Lantern Control is the Best Deck in Modern

Yeah. I said it. Come at me. Not only do I think that Lantern Control is the best deck in the format, with only a few truly bad matchups in Jund, Burn, and traditional Tron, I think that gameplay with and against Lantern Control is actually really good. Yeah, sure, there are some games you just play an Ensnaring Bridge and your opponent is 0% to win, but most of the popular decks right now have a lot of interaction and multiple ways to beat Ensnaring Bridge. Those games are actually very interesting games with a lot of decisions on both sides to be made.

How your opponent chooses to sequence their cantrips to play around one or two lock pieces as well as how the Lantern player uses their discard and lock pieces to try to progress their game plan is often a super intricate song and dance that both players get to be involved in and that involves a lot of tough judgment calls on both sides. After sideboard, most decks also have plenty of ways to interact with the key Lantern Control pieces, which puts even more weight into the decisions made by both sides.

Call me crazy, but I think that Lantern actually involves a lot of fun, interactive, skill-intensive Magic for most decks in the format. I've even been impressed with the ingenuity a lot of my opponents have displayed in getting around my shenanigans. I was particularly impressed with an opponent who used Scavenging Ooze to removal all graveyards, then attacked me with some 0/1 Tarmogoyfs and then cracked a fetch land and cast a removal spell on another creature after attacks to punch in some damage through Ensnaring Bridge.

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I still won because Lantern Control is the best deck in Modern, but it was still a pretty nifty line.

There is clearly some hyperbole here. Lantern Control probably isn't actually the best deck in Modern, but it is actually very good right now and at least a top three or five deck in the format. Also, I think that Lantern is a deck that is easily attacked. I can't imagine that Lantern Control is a deck that could ever be oppressive, much like Affinity can't be. There are some cards, decks, or strategies that just obliterate it, and if it ever becomes too strong, those decks, cards, and strategies can just increase in prevalence to put this beautiful Abomination of a deck back where it belongs – solidly in the tier three camp.

For now, though, I'm thoroughly enjoying giving people some much needed...Insight...into playing against Magic: The Gathering's most fun deck, as voted on by a poll of 100 carefully selected, clearly objective players.

We Don't Give Judges Enough Respect

I've noticed that a lot of players have a very negative opinion of judges. We collectively like to complain about bad judge rulings we've gotten and we let one or two negative interactions or wrong judge calls skew our entire perspective of the judge community. We also sometimes have a negative opinion of judges because they are the bearer of bad news. They tell us that we will be receiving a game loss or swoop in and take our decks midway through the match to perform a deck check.

I don't think this is a fair shake. We don't think about all the times that judges have fairly adjudicated our disputes or given us great rulings. Much like how we complain about bad beats but forget the times we got insanely lucky ourselves, we tend to fixate on the times we had bad judge rulings but don't think about the myriad of times we've had good ones.

Recently, I've had a few judge calls where the judges involved gave great rulings, great explanations and appropriate time extensions. When I stop and think about it, most judges do a really good job, especially relative to what I would consider an average judge experience to be.

I think the average judge is better at judging and more passionate about doing a good job than the average Magic player is at playing Magic or improving at Magic. I think part of this is that the judge community is very supportive and helpful toward each other, from what I have seen. The Magic community is far less so, with people being more cutthroat and less willing to help others or give up their edges.

Wizards Is Too Conservative with the Modern Banlist

This may be weird to say after stating that Modern is the best format right now. I don't think anything needs to change in Modern and I think the format is currently great right now, so it doesn't actually bother me the way that they handle the banlist. I just think, in general, that WOTC is way too conservative with which cards remain banned in Modern. There are a handful of cards on the Modern banlist that I'd consider an acceptable power level for the format and frankly, probably not even that good.

Historically, there have been plenty of cards, like Wild Nacatl, Bitterblossom, Sword of the Meek, and Ancestral Vision that have come off the banlist to have a very mild or nonexistent impact on the format. It makes me wonder what other cards are banned that would similarly be able to bolster the format and provide tools for new and existing strategies without dominating it.

Consider a card like Stoneforge Mystic. It doesn't see much Legacy play anymore and I would consider it almost unplayably bad in Legacy relative to the rest of the format's power level. A lot of other two-drops that have traditionally been around the same power level as Stoneforge Mystic – such as Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, and Young Pyromancer – all see very little play in Modern right now. Hand disruption, cheap removal and cards like Kolaghan's Command are all over the place in Modern. Umezawa's Jitte isn't even legal. Is Stoneforge Mystic too good for Modern? It might not even be good enough.

- Brian Braun-Duin




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