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My Top Four "Top Threes"

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Hello everyone!

As the Christmas holidays are underway and the year 2016 is slowly but surely coming to its end, many people use the opportunity to write about other topics than Standard or Modern, often looking back at the past year to see how it was. Since this is my last Level Up article of this year and not much drama is going on in the „regular“ formats (Vintage Holiday Cube seems to be what the majority of Magic players talk about), I’m also going to discuss something else today. I’ve always liked various articles that sort all kinds of stuff into „top 10s“ or „top5s“, so that’s going to be the form that I’ll be using today. But because I want to cover a lot of different topics and there’s not all that much space in one article, I’ll go for „top three“ things in various Magic-related areas.

Let's start with something relatively simple: the three best Standard-legal cards that are currently seeing close to zero play in this format.

1) Duskwatch Recruiter / Sylvan Advocate

2) Sorin, Grim Nemesis

3) Drana, Liberator of Malakir

(honorable mention: Woodland Wanderer)

Although at first glance, this short list shows what's not in Standard, I think that it actually says a lot also about what Standard is like right now. Only several months ago, Duskwatch Recruiter and Sylvan Advocate were the pillars of Standard and facing one of them on turn two was so common that you could almost predict it every time the opponent played a green source on turn one or two. These days, almost all decks that play green have Iskhanah, Grafwidow as their most important green spell and ramp into Emrakul or aim for accumulating Energy - either for Aetherworks Marvel or Electrostatic Pummeler. In both of these cases, Servant of Conduit is much better than any of the aforementioned green two-drops. In short, Standard right now is about doing big things or stopping the opponent from doing big things. The Recruiter and Advocate give you value, but since this sort of value doesn't help at all with advancing one of the above mentioned plans, there's no space for it anywhere in the format.

Sorin, a planeswalker so powerful that it sometimes sees play in Legacy NicFit decks, is close to unplayable in Standard for two reasons - first, he's severely outclassed as a finisher by more powerful engines (Marvel or Emrakul) and second, he stacks really poorly against a resolved Emrakul on the other side of the board: basically, he tends to commit suicide every time he sees Emrakul. As for Drana, she's here to represent the long-lasting disappointment that the Vampire tribe has been ever since its introduction in the previous block. Before every set, Vampire fans have been hoping to see the tribe being playable in Standard and while the material was always there in terms of numbers, Vampires could never compete with other, more powerful strategies in the format.

Lets skip to something completely different: three best "holiday formats" that you can play with your friends:

1) Vanguard Draft

2) Rejected Rares draft

3) Real life Momir Vig

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary
Versions:
Dissension (Foil)

With Vintage Holiday Cube now being such a popular format on MTGO, I didn't include any form of Cube, since you don't need to organize anything in order to play it. Instead, I went for several unusual formats which are a lot of fun nevertheless and if you haven't played them before, I recommend giving them a try.

The first one - Vanguard draft - could be a difficult one to carry out, since you need the original set of 1997 - 1999 oversized Vanguard Arena characters, but I guarantee it's a blast. From time to time, we play regular drafts with this "improvement", especially once the formats get well known and people lose interest in drafting and are looking forward to the new set. Playing the draft with Vanguards is a way how to spice things up and make them more interesting again. The way it works is that everybody gets a Vanguard at random before the draft and then drafts with the knowledge of their Vanguard - all of them change the starting hand size and life totals, but they also add special "static" abilities to all your games, abilities that change the value of the cards you play, so cards that are normally bad suddenly become good and vice versa. It's always really entertaining to look at all the well known draft commons through completely different eyes.

Rejected Rares draft is one that I've only got to know relatively recently and I've learnt that it's actually fairly popular in certain areas. The rules are simple: instead of booster packs, you draft with randomized piles of crap rares - every drafter brings 45 rares they don't want (in English, decent condition and only one copy of each rare), then everything that people bring is shuffled up and randomly split into 15-card "booster packs". From there, the draft proceeds as normal, except for it's anything but normal - because all the cards are rares, presumably of a rather bad quality, the average casting cost is somewhere around 4-5, there are all kinds of crazy combos possible to build and the games are pretty epic. In order to make the games a bit easier to actually finish with one player winning, we added a rule that the 45 cards you bring have to contain at least 15 creatures, since many of the bad rares are weird instants or enchantments. But with this new rule in place, I must say that Rejected Rares draft is slowly becoming one of my favorite formats.

The last one - Real life Momir Vig - is a special thing I've started a long time ago and I keep adding to it. If you know the MTGO format "Momir Vig", this one is pretty similar. I have a huge box with creature cards sorted out by casting cost to which I add cards whenever I have some interesting "leftovers" from drafts, sealed decks or even random older cards I don't need. Apart from this box (which - if you want to play this format - you can customize to your likings), the only thing you need is basic lands for two players. They shuffle the basics up and then play one a turn. Every time someone wants, they can spend any amount of mana, discard a land card from their hand and choose a random creature of that cost and put it into play. The amount of randomness in this is obviously enormous - for three, you can hit a Serendib Efreet (which, for some reason, I even have in the box) or a 1/1 with no relevant abilities. As always in casual formats, randomness creates a lot of fun situations and it can be amusing to see creatures fighting each other that would otherwise have a very small chance to meet.

Let's skip to a completely different topic yet again. Here are my top three measures that could - in my opinion - improve Modern, a format which is tremendously popular, but which also has some deep issues.

1) Unban Bloodbraid Elf, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Green Sun's Zenith, Splinter Twin and Mental Misstep

2) Allow 20-card sideboards

3) Make more high-profile Modern tournaments again

Modern is by far the most diverse competitive format right now and quite possibly also one of the most prosperous formats in Magic history. And while that is definitely great for a format, Modern also has some pretty significant shortcomings. Because of the size of the cardpool, there are many proactive strategies which are so powerful that it is very hard to stop them with "generic" cards - you often need to either have a faster engine or to pack some very specific silver bullets. Because of this, games in Modern are often decided by turn three or four, the dice roll has a big impact on who wins the game and there's not much space for decisions in games that last such a short time. Sure, many games in Modern are interesting and skill-intensive, but the share of those that don't involve many decisions is arguably higher than in Standard or limited and that's never a good thing.

In order to make Modern better, I think two issues need to be addressed: the speed and the power of various proactive engines. My first point tries to address the "speed" issue. Unbanning several cards that pack a lot of mid-/late-game power could give players incentives to slow down and focus more on turns 4+, rather than 1-3. Bloodbraid Elf, Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Green Sun's Zenith aim exactly at this: getting value and flexibility in the midgame. Splinter Twin is a card that should never have been banned in the first place in my opinion - it is a combo card, but a fairly slow one in the Modern context and because the deck played a lot of control elements, it actually kept a lot of the faster combo decks in check and incentivized an approach focused more on interaction: creature removal, card advantage, etc. Unbanning Mental Misstep might sound like a crazy thing, but I think that it would serve as a more elegant measure than banning several combo-enablers. In addition, I don't think that Modern is a format dominated by 1-drops anymore, so playing Missteps maindeck would not be something obvious that everybody would do - only decks that would need a bit of help against the faster decks could use it as a tool to combat the "unfair" lightning-fast openings and also mitigate the huge disadvantage of losing the dice roll.

The second measure is a bit of a long shot, since it involves changing one of the most basic rules of Magic, but as weird as it might seem, I think it could actually help Modern a lot. The number might need some tweaking - perhaps 25 is right, perhaps 22 - but I think that the number of sideboard slots that we have right now is nowhere close to being able to cover all the must-answer cards in the format. Again, if interaction is our goal, then I think increasing the number of sideboard cards people are allowed to play is the way to go. And as a bonus, it would incentivize transformational sideboards (who doesn't like turning their combo deck into a control deck post-board?).

The third point would only be possible if the first two succeed - if Modern is enjoyable to watch again and the number of non-interactive games is reduced significantly, we could again have a Modern Pro Tour, as long as Wizards abandon their strategy that all four PTs have to serve as an advertisement for the new set (since it's much harder to show the new cards in action in Modern than in Standard).

Alright, here comes my last "top three": the three best reasons why to play Magic:

1) To have fun at kitchen tables or collect cards with cool pictures

2) To participate in organized play events and compete with other players

3) To try to push your boundaries, figuring out whether you can succeed with the „pro player“ lifestyle (and whether you like it)

There’s one big reason why I wanted to make this particular „top three“ and that’s to make it clear that all three of these are equal. It’s a shame that there are many people who think that if someone chooses not to be competitive at Magic (presumably saving their ambitions for a different part of their life), they become a „lower form“ of Magic player, or that they are not as smart as those who succeed at tournaments. It’s true that the players who play for fun are likely going to lose when playing against grinders who invest a lot of their time and effort into Magic (although it’s not all that likely that players from these two categories are even going to play each other, since they typically prefer different kinds of tournaments), but that doesn’t mean anything in terms of what people these players are. Fortunately, the „organized play“ structure is built in such a way that it mostly throws people with a similar level of Magic-related ambitions against each other, but it’s still fairly common for me to see a lack of respect by the competitive group towards the more „relaxed“ group of players and I think it could be useful for some of the grinders to realize what’s going on. Especially at PPTQs, where some people go just to casually play sealed deck on a Saturday afternoon while others come to win and they’re not interested in anything else, this kind of scoffing can be seen from time to time and I’d be really happy if it changed. Magic is a game for all kinds of different people with different life goals and understanding, and respecting each other goes a long way towards making everybody enjoying the game more.

Well, that's it from me for today. Thank you for being with me in 2016, I wish you all the best for 2017 and I'll see you with another article next year!

Adam

Adam

Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 64 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8
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