Saturday, June 30, 2012

Who Watches the Watchwolf?

"I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it." - George Bernard Shaw.

Hello everyone out there on the "intar-nets", my name is Nina Illingworth and welcome back to another edition of my blog; The Cardboard Witch. Recently I had the good fortune/opportunity to get one of my articles published on what I consider one of the up and coming MtG websites in the industry; Jon Medina's own For those of you who haven't checked it out, you can find the article here; it's an in-depth review of M13's Rancor and unlike my blog it was professionally edited! I mention this now for two reasons: 
  1. Shameless self promotion. Writers generally prefer it when people read their work afterall. *grin*
  2. As the Rancor article mentions; I'm quite old by MtG standards and have been playing this game for a very long time. I began playing Magic casually in Fallen Empires and started entering local Magic tournaments just a little while after the release of Ice Age.
Of course there have been a few interruptions along the way but working in a store that sells Magic and Magic singles always kept me closely connected to the game whether I was playing or not. Over the years I have been truly blessed to experience so much of Magic's rich history on a first hand basis and I find myself fascinated by the way our game simultaneously repeats itself while still finding room to constantly change and evolve. In this way Magic can be likened to a great, never-ending symphony; each new block/set functions as a variation on the themes and concepts presented before it while still retaining that "old familiar beat" to unify the work as a whole. To bring this tortured analogy to a close; if you've been listening to the "song" for long enough you'll know when the good parts are coming up because you've heard previous versions of that motif. This brings us to the upcoming release of M13 and the return of one of my favorite monsters in Magical history; the 3/3 for 2 mana "Watchwolf". Without further delay then, please allow me to introduce Flinthoof Boar, the latest (and arguably greatest) incarnation of my beloved wolf and the reason I'm waxing nostalgic about undercosted beaters here on my blog. Before we break down this wolf in pig's clothing however, I'd like to talk more about my personal history of "chasing the Watchwolf" in constructed Magic. You see folks, I literally have some kind of obsession with casting 3/3's on turn 2. While others fawn over utility "Bears" I've always been a sucker for virtually any 2-drop critter that fights above it's weight class on the basis of raw numbers alone. In fact, looking back on my Magic experience I've discovered that I can mark much of my personal history entirely by which version of Watchwolf I was playing at the time!  

To be fair, Watchwolf itself was hardly the first time I fell madly in love with a 2 drop 3/3 critter in my life. Some of my fondest memories of my first go around with tournament Magic revolve around beating my opponents to a fine paste with Mogg Flunkies in Dead Guy Sligh style decks for example. Back then I wasn't a very good player but even I could tell that a 3/3 would beat 2/2's in combat all day; while Cursed Scroll probably won me a *lot* more games, I personally thought the Flunkies were the best card in my deck at the time. In reality the Flunkies were the ultimate boom/bust card and their drawback made them very awkward in a Sligh deck. In fact they weren't even included in the best versions of the Sligh deck itself. Pro Tour Los Angeles (98) was won by a build with 4 copies of Ironclaw Orc and zero copies of Mogg Flunkies; presumably because the last thing an aggressive Red deck would want to do is skip an attack phase for any reason. I was however blind to these faults because I wasn't strong enough as a player to understand anything more than "bigger is better", drawbacks be damned. I really can't tell you how many games I lost to "Flunkie lock" back then but I am willing to bet it was more than just a couple. What I can say with absolute certainty is that there were many, many more games I won at least in part because my Mogg Flunkies were simply bigger than the creatures my opponents were casting in the early game. Despite my overall lack of skill as a player it was pretty hard to actually lose games with openings like:

Turn 1 Jackal Pup
Turn 2 Mogg Flunkies
Turn 3 Ball Lightning
Turn 4 Some combination of Incinerate, Shock, Fireblast

I even remember times when better, more established players in my environment would scowl when I cast a turn 2 Flunkie before openly criticizing my use of such an all or nothing card. Unfortunately their admonitions fell on deaf ears; at that point I was simply locked into the idea that 3/3 is "strictly better" than 2/2 and since I was willfully ignoring the times when my Flunkie couldn't attack or block my play experiences appeared to support that conclusion. Virtually nothing could convince me to give up my Mogg Flunkies; that is of course until Urza's Saga introduced me to Albino Troll. I snap dropped my Mountains for Forests in about 5 seconds flat after seeing what this block had to offer; Pouncing Jaguar was an improved Jackal Pup and Albino Troll was basically a Mogg Flunkie on steroids. Looking back I can safely say that I fell into the same trap with Mono-Green Stompy as I had with Mono-Red Sligh.  In my obsession with "numbers" I was completely blind to the fact that Echo was a serious drawback; fortunately I also had Gaea's Cradle and Rancor to hide behind this time in the same way I'd hid behind Cursed Scroll and Fireblast before. Once again I won a lot of games on the back of these better cards all the while believing that my kitties and trolls had carried me to victory. Naturally, this relationship too would pass eventually; Albino Troll rotated out of Type 2 and after a brief but ultimately unfulfilling relationship with Rotting Giant I drifted away from aggro strategies and learned how to play control/tempo decks for a while.  

Months passed and as the cycle of Magic ground ever forward I found myself getting "off the ride" so to speak when Darksteel was finally spoiled. I won't get into it here but it's fair to say I was not a huge fan of Disciple of the Vault, Arcbound Ravager or the Affinity mechanic in a format full of quite literally free artifacts. Sadly my self imposed exile would actually cause me to miss the release of Watchwolf itself and it was by sheer chance that another 3/3 for 2 happened to bring me back to Magic again; at least casually.

I had recently acquired a playset of Umezawa's Jitte for a very reasonable price from a friend getting out of Standard. I wasn't playing at the time but just reading Jitte made me want to build a deck around this obviously broken card, so I bought them anyways. The next day at work I was pretty pleased with myself and more than willing to show off my new purchase to anyone who showed the slightest interest in Magic whatsoever. My memory is a little hazy but as I recall, that day I got into one of those silly, raging nerd arguments with a customer at my shop. He maintained that I had wasted my money; the card was not that powerful and even if it was, the environment had warped to include maindeck artifact hate specifically to neutralize Jitte. We argued in circles for at least an hour before frustration and my need to get back to "real work" lead me to boldly declare that "Jitte is so broken I can throw it into a Ravnica block deck with no rares and still beat your crappy Standard decks that don't run Jitte!" To my complete and utter shock he accepted my challenge and after informing me that he would be back tomorrow to "settle this once and for all" marched directly out the door. As I stared at the empty doorway in horror it dawned on me that I probably should have kept my big mouth shut; of course I was far too young, proud and arrogant to accept that at the time. I was absolutely determined to prove the customer wrong and as soon as traffic died down I grabbed the Guildpact Binder and went to work. Luckily for me, the Magic gods were smiling that day because nestled in the back of the binder I found my newest love: Scab-Clan Mauler. I may not have been an expert on "current" Magic but I certainly knew an improved Flunkies/Albino Troll when I saw one and I immediately decided to build my entire deck around the Mauler. I quickly threw together a fast and dirty R/G aggro deck with cards like Tin Street HooliganScorched Rusalka and Skarrgan Pit-Skulk. To be honest with you the deck was pretty terrible but both Scab-Clan Mauler and Jitte performed admirably and I managed to eke out a 6-4 victory in the "battle of the know-it-alls" the next day at work. More importantly I was hooked on Magic again; before long I was building multiple casual and semi-competitive Magic decks almost entirely out of cards I found lying around the shop. I did eventually discover Watchwolf itself and I'm not ashamed to admit I had a wonderful time combining it with Armadillo Cloak in near endless games of casual Magic.

Unfortunately a lack of general funds would push me back out of even casual Magic just before the release of Time Spiral. At the time I was spending a great deal of time/money playing Legend of the Five Rings competitively and due to a change in my work hours I simply couldn't afford to keep updating my Magic decks anymore. I missed virtually all of Time Spiral block and it was once again only random chance that brought me back to Magic. One night I happened to be working in the shop when our Tournament Organizer was holding a draft with the brand new Lorwyn set and desperately searching for an 8th player. While I wasn't exactly thrilled about the prospect I agreed to sit in for at least the first round and legitimately surprised myself by finishing 2nd overall in the tournament while learning the cards as I went. I ended up rolling through the early rounds with a mono-U Merfolk tribal deck built around 4 copies of Silvergill Douser but I lost a tough 3 game set in the finals to an absolutely wicked G/B Elf deck. The first two games were pretty back and fourth affairs but in game 3 my opponent cast a turn 2 Wren's Run Vanquisher and I immediately lost on two levels; first I lost the match but I also lost another battle with my Magic addiction. Within 48 hours I'd already purchased 4 Vanquishers, 4 Imperious Perfects and a full set of Gilt-Leaf Palaces so I could build a variety of awesome block Elf decks. By this point in my Magic journey however I'd become a seasoned veteran of competitive card gaming and even the "best Albino Troll ever" couldn't keep me from seeing how powerful Faeries were. Within a couple of weeks I'd built a "Lorwyn-only" Faeries deck around ridiculous cards like Thoughtseize, Mistbind Clique and Spellstutter Sprite. Naturally there were still a tremendous number of "janky" cards in the deck; I was using Pestermite, MB Clique and Familiar's Ruse as a soft control engine for example. I also had to make do with cards like Nightshade Stinger, Peppersmoke and Scion of Oona simply due to tribal/set requirements but overall this deck would turn out to be frightfully similar to the Fae decks that would define Standard after the release of Morningtide. This was all lost on me at the time though; I just knew I had two tribal decks and while the Faeries deck was good enough to beat many Type 2 decks (using only Lorwyn cards) the Elf deck was way more fun to play. In fact to this day I still have a completely foiled out "no rares" casual Elf Warriors deck made entirely out of Shadowmoor/Lorwyn cards (and 4 Lawnmower Elves obviously) while the Faeries deck was torn apart for resale roughly 30 seconds after Bitterblossom was released.

This time however my return to Magic was more than just fleeting; I kept drafting Lorwyn block as often as 3-4 times a week and as my collection grew I built several casual "no-rares" block decks out of the cards I'd drafted. I guess in retrospect that it was really only a matter of time before I found my way back to tournament Magic; after drafting religiously through all of Zendikar block I finally took the plunge back into constructed  with the release of M11. I was older this time, wiser and more prepared to accept the advice of others when building my decks; for a while my obsession with Watchwolves was completely forgotten as I immersed myself in a world of Jace the Mind Sculptors, Primeval Titans and Lotus Cobras. Over time the weeks became months and eventually a year passed while I played primarily control and ramp decks with a little bit of Red Deck Wins thrown in for good measure.  Actually, it was while updating my then-current build of RDW that I stumbled across an M12 spoiler featuring Stormblood Berserker and my love affair with the "Watchwolf" began anew. Suddenly I was 21 years old all over again and staring at probably the single best 3/3 for 2 in the history of Magic; I was immediately overcome by the urge to turn creatures sideways with reckless abandon once more. Unfortunately no matter how hard I tried I was never able to work more than two copies of the Berserker into that version of the deck but when Goblin Guide and Plated Geopede finally rotated I was ready to spring into action. I showed up to the very first Innistrad legal FNM at my store with a deck built around the Berserkers, Stromkirk Noble, Chandra's Phoenix and Shrine of Burning Rage. To say this deck was successful would be a mild understatement; I very easily went 4-0 while gleefully casting "Watchwolves" all day.  What's more, the deck kept winning for a little over a month; through a little bit of skill and likely a whole lot of luck I managed to amass a 31-1 record in sanctioned tournaments with it before my environment finally caught up. Eventually the combination of Snapcaster Mages and Timely Reinforcements reached a critical mass at my local FNM and I was forced to mothball the design if I wanted to keep winning tournaments. Although I would go on to play U/W Tempo decks based around Geist of Saint Traft for the better part of the next year, I didn't forget how much I loved slamming a 3/3 Berserker on turn 2; I was merely biding my time, waiting for the next "Watchwolf".

Fast forward to today and the end of the narrative portion of this article; it's 5 AM here in Toronto and I'm wide awake staring at what may well be the new best "Watchwolf" in the history of Magic. Frankly I'm having a hard time deciding if I'm more excited about this or the reprint of Rancor. Honestly it probably doesn't matter since both cards likely go into the same deck together; I'm just thrilled to have my wolf back! Oh sure, this time he's a pig and that's going to take some getting used to; after all I don't think we'll be seeing any "boar" based tribal strategies in the new Standard. I can also state with reasonable confidence that this will lead to numerous, groan-worthy "bacon" puns by world renowned Channel Fireball author and Pro Tour master Luis Scott-Vargas in his M13 set review. You could even say that I'm counting on him to "ham" it up when he reviews Flinthoof Boar (sorry, I could not resist!). Aside from a bad tribal trait and some pretty crummy art however all the trademark signs of the elusive "Watchwolf" are there:
  • He costs 2 mana
  • He can reasonably be cast as a 3/3 on turn 2
  • He has some sort of drawback: in this case you'll need a Mountain in play for him to evolve from "bear" to "wolf".

Let's talk about that drawback for a moment shall we? The boar itself costs G1 for a natural 2/2 but if you want to buff it up to 3/3 you'll have to play a Mountain of some kind. Are you kidding me? I'm no prophet but something tells me this isn't going to be a real problem; G/R is already one of the better color combinations in Magic and the presence of Rootbound Crag in M13 implies that this isn't going to change anytime soon.  As far as "drawbacks"go this one is almost negligible; Flinthoof Boar will certainly be more forgiving than than Mogg Flunkies, Albino Troll or Wren's Run Vanquisher ever were.  He's also more resilient against early disruption than either of the Bloodthirsty options on our list.  Ask yourself a simple question; what's easier to do in Magic:
  • Cast a 1 drop and have it survive to deal damage on your second turn; alternately draw Gutshot in your first 7-8 cards?
  • Play a Mountain?

Flinthoof Boar even manages to out-wolf the Watchwolf itself; after all you can play the pig if you don't have a Mountain in play but absolutely nothing is going to help you cast a Watchwolf if you can't make both W and G mana.  In other words; there simply has never been a 3/3 for 2 mana that's as easy to both cast and use as Flinthoof Boar.

While it's hard to argue that the pig isn't the most painless Watchwolf in Magic's history things get a little bit murkier when you start comparing printed abilities. Obviously Haste is pretty awesome when it's on an undercosted, overpowered beatstick. Unfortunately "the Boar" doesn't work cheap and you'll have to spend a Red mana to give him the ability, thereby significantly reducing his value as an early damage platform. In my mind this probably isn't worth it early; I expect most of the time Flinthoof Boar will come down as a blank 3/3 on turn 2 and you'll only use his haste ability when you topdeck additional copies as the game wears on.  This late game versatility is certainly better than Mogg Flunkies' drawback and a blank textbox on Watchwolf but it's probably worse than all of the other "wolves" mentioned in this article. Personally I think the lack of a real drawback and the ability to consistently deploy a 3/3 on turn 2 will easily make up for the fact that a certain percentage of the time Flinthoof Boar is going to be blank; sometimes this really is just a game of numbers after all.     

Now that we've talked a little bit about how this card stacks up historically against other "Watchwolves" let's shift gears and look at how Flinthoof Boar fits into the upcoming Standard environment. As of this moment I'd have to say that his prospects of seeing regular constructed play immediately upon release are mixed. Don't get me wrong; even in a maxed out (8 set) Standard a simple 3/3 for two has significant value in the right kind of deck so I'm not saying he absolutely won't see play until rotation.  Sheer numbers aside however, the fact is that the current builds of G/R aggro are forest heavy/mountain light and this is unlikely to change in the pig's favor as long as Rancor and Dungrove Elder are both legal at the same time.  What's more the current G/R aggro strategy revolves around casting Birds/Elves on turn 1 and will often involve skipping directly past 2 drops to cast a 3CC card on the second turn. Finally despite not really needing or wanting a 2 drop on it's nuttier draws, G/R aggro already has a strong 2 mana play in the form of Strangelroot Geist. While the raging spirit isn't 3/3 he does come with Haste for free and essentially has a "second life" because of Undying in most game situations. He's also GG so running him and the Boar together becomes a somewhat tricky proposition with the current manabase available to us in Standard. Of course, this assumes that neither of the two major Green aggro strategies (Dungrove, G/R Swords) changes in response to M13; if for example these decks adapt to include cards like Thundermaw Hellkite then the Boar actually becomes easier on the manabase and is therefore a much better fit. Additionally the reprinting of Rancor in the upcoming Core set could spawn entirely different base Green aggro strategies than the ones we already see in Standard; no matter how you slice it, turn 2 Flinthoof Boar into turn 3 Rancor is a legitimate threat to clock your opponent out of the game incredibly quickly.     

By now I would imagine that you're asking yourself "if the card is going to be a marginal player that has to fight for deck slots on release, why is she so damn excited?" Fair question and frankly I'm half-tempted to say "because Watchwolves are awesome dummy" but that isn't the answer. The real reason I'm so excited about Flinthoof Boar is because I fully expect WotC to reprint the Ravnica block "shocklands" in Return to Ravnica; particularly Stomping Grounds. This belief is based on an absolutely huge amount of supporting evidence and detailing it fully would be another article in and of itself so I won't bother here. I will say that when the base set replaces Rampant Growth with Farseek you don't need to be Nostradamus to see the writing on the wall.  Besides, how can you print a set called "Return to Ravnica" with completely new dual lands? Isn't Ravnica one giant, massively overdeveloped city?  You'd think that if there were other vortexes of mixed mana available we'd have already discovered them in that case wouldn't you? I'm only joking of course but I think it's certainly fair to suggest that if WotC doesn't reprint Ravnica shocklands the customer base as a whole will be both shocked and disappointed. To be fair reprinting Stomping Grounds won't solve all of the mana problems in aggressive G/R decks post-rotation but it will certainly do a long way towards improving them. Combined with the rotation of stalwarts like Sword of War & Peace and Dungrove Elder it's not hard to imagine a format where Flinthoof Boar is a vital lynchpin in G/R aggro strategies; serving alongside cards like Strangleroot Geist and Wolfir Avenger rather than attempting to replace them. The downside to this of course is that if history does repeat itself exactly the Gruul dual wasn't released until Guildpact came out and that means we might have to wait as long as 6 months to unlock the pig's true potential in Standard. 

Well folks, if you can believe it "that's about all I have to say about Watchwolves." I'd like to thank anyone still reading this far for humoring a crazy old woman on a mad romp down memory lane for the first half of this article. Sometimes it's just fun to share our stories and looking back I'd have to say my irrational love affair with these cards has significantly shaped who I am as a Magic player. My "time with the wolves" is at once an epic love story and a squalid tale of self delusion based on my slavish devotion to numbers; thank you for letting me share it. As you can clearly see I have impulse control problems when the subject matter is Watchwolves and the guys at WotC aren't helping by printing me a card like Flinthoof Boar. I have very high hopes indeed for the pig as Standard evolves but the truth of the matter is that I'll probably play him even if he turns out to be just a marginal card; after all these years I'm still helplessly addicted to 3/3 creatures you can slam down on turn 2. As always thank you for reading folks, keep it weird and always remember "never, ever bring a bear to a wolf fight."



Thursday, June 28, 2012

Snap Judgements #7 - "Stop Dragon My Heart Around"

Hello everyone and welcome back to a special "quicky" edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Way back when I first started this blog I used to do a regular feature during card previews time called "Snap Judgments".  The basic idea was to look at a recently previewed card and without any playtesting whatsoever talk about it's pros, cons and potential applications in a "new" Standard format that doesn't exist yet.  To keep the discussion interesting I tried to focus on cards that I personally would be excited to try out in Standard; it wouldn't be much fun to write "I highly doubt this card will ever be played outside of Limited, thank-you and good night" ad nauseum.  Over time I've had some hits and some misses but I've enjoyed writing the feature regardless because it allows me to share some of the brainstorming process I go through whenever I consider a new card in constructed Magic.  I also found that it was a great way to keep writing about Magic even when I was too busy or sick to attend regular tournaments; you see where I'm going with this don't you?  Yes gang, it's previews season; my foot is still a mess and aside from a few practice games here and there with my fellow Dickwolves, I'm simply not playing much Magic right now.  With virtually no other outlets to sate my desperate Magic addiction I am spending an inordinate amount of time staring at the M13 spoiler on MtG Salvation, and like any other good citizen of the internet I feel this qualifies me to pontificate at length on the quality of the cards therein.  Naturally this type of discussion is purely speculative; I am after all attempting to predict the future here and I can assure you that I have no special powers of precognition whatsoever folks! *grin*  Keeping these caveats in mind, let's take a look at a brand new creature from M13 that I have really high hopes for in the world of 75 cards; Thundermaw Hellkite.

Let's be 100% honest here guys; the good people who design Magic do not exactly have long history of printing awesome Dragons in the mythic rare slot.  In fact you could fairly say that it's been one epic failure after another with at best a few interesting but ultimately uninspiring cards in between.  In fact, the only really good mythic rare Dragon I can think of is Bogardan Hellkite and he was simply upgraded to mythic from regular rare status in M10.  Given this somewhat terrible batting average I wouldn't blame most players for snap disregarding anything WotC prints that has a mythic rare symbol and the creature type Dragon; smart money plays the percentages after all.  In the case of Thundermaw Hellkite however I think that might turn out to be a serious mistake.

Pros:  When you look at a card like TMHK the first thing that really stands out is the sheer amount of "value" you can potentially milk him for.  You start with the numbers; 5/5 for 5 mana is basically right in line with what we expect in modern Magic where the P/T to CMC ratio is fixed at 1:1 as a minimum baseline.  Tack on Flying and you get the kind of body that can easily dominate air-to-air combat in a Standard populated by Delvers, Spirit Tokens and 4/4 Angels.  Most importantly, this guy mows through flashed-in Restoration Angels like a kid eating an ice cream cone; as previously mentioned I'm no soothsayer but I have a funny feeling this interaction might come up in the new Standard once in a while. 

Even despite this natural environmental relevance however I wouldn't play a stone blank 5/5 flyer for 5 if you paid me; thankfully Thundermaw is well aware of this and he also finds time to bring a serving of Haste to the supper table for our enjoyment.  Let's face it, Magic has evolved to a point where mid-sized creatures *have* to provide either immediate or lasting value in the face of removal effects to justify a deck slot.  Haste isn't as strong as making a 2/2 Wolf Token (Huntmaster of the Fells) or fishing out a couple of lands (Primeval Titan) but it does allow a patient player to guarantee extra "unexpected" damage against a tapped out opponent.  What's more, by tapping out (or killing) my opponent's flying blockers the 'Kite really goes that extra mile one to ensure I will get at least 5 damage out of dropping my fat Dragon onto the table. 

At this point even if the rest of the card were blank I'd be prepared to wager on THMK seeing at least some play; worst case scenario it's a souped up Thundermare for Birthing Pod decks and it's upside is actually quite a bit higher than that.  The rest of the card isn't blank however and what really excites me about Thundermaw Hellkite is the one-sided mini-Hurricane he unleashes on your opponent's flying critters.  I won't lie; even just the potential of creating a 2 for 1 (or better!) exchange while simultaneously throwing down a flying Lava Axe has me licking my chops to get my hands on this card. Now before you call me loopy for getting excited about a "sideboard card" please allow me to remind you that we're heading into a Standard format where Lingering Souls and Moorland Haunt will be legal but Ratchet Bomb will almost certainly not exist.  Both of these cards are extremely powerful and very popular right now and somehow I doubt rotating to a smaller format is going to make them any less so.  In light of this the upcoming Standard wouldn't be the first format where main-decking an otherwise useful creature against a ubiquitous strategy was a good idea.   Of course one can argue that Thundermaw Hellkite isn't Cloudthresher but it's not like Lingering Souls is Bitterblossom either; I feel like the "answer" has reasonably been scaled in power towards the "threats" this time around.

Cons:  Despite the sheer multitude of things going for it, TMHK isn't without its flaws.  For starters it's a 5 mana creature entering a format that's basically front-loaded towards the first 4 turns.  To illustrate what I mean let's take a look at some common opening lines from a variety of decks already here in Standard:

U/W Delver:
  • Turn 1 - Delver of Secrets
  • Turn 2 - Mana Leak,Vapor Snag + Ponder/Thought Scour, Snapcaster Mage
  • Turn 3 - Geist of Saint Traft
  • Turn 4 - Restoration Angel, Runechanter's Pike + Equip
G/R Aggro:
  • Turn 1 - Llanowar Elf, Bird of Paradise, Avacyn's Pilgrim
  • Turn 2 - Strangelroot Geist, Wolfir Avenger, Borderland Ranger, Sword of W&P
  • Turn 3 - Huntmaster of the Fells
  • Turn 4 - Wolfir Silverheart, Zealous Conscripts
W/x Humans:
  • Turn 1 - Champion of the Parish
  • Turn 2 - Thalia Guardian of Thraben, Gather the Townsfolk
  • Turn 3 - Mirran Crusader, Silverblade Paladin, Geist of St Traft (if blue)
  • Turn 4 - Hero of Bladehold 
G/x Infect:
  • Turn 1 - Glistener Elf
  • Turn 2 - Ichorclaw Myr, Blighted Agent (if blue), Plague Stinger (if black)
  • Turn 3 - Wild Defiance, Phyrexian Cruasder (if black), Livewire Lash
  • Turn 4 - Infinite Giant Growths, Revenge of the Hunted (if you're lucky)
Wolf's Run Ramp:
  • Turn 1 - Nothing
  • Turn 2 - Rampant Growth, Sphere of the Suns
  • Turn 3 - Solemn Simulacrum, Huntmaster, another Rampant Growth
  • Turn 4 - Primeval Titan, Wolfir Silverheart (if Huntmaster on 3)
Naya Pod:
  • Turn 1 - Bird, Elf, Pilgrim
  • Turn 2 - Thalia, Birthing Pod, Blade Splicer, Strangleroot Geist
  • Turn 3 - Huntmaster, Blade Splicer + Pod into Huntmaster
  • Turn 4 - Umm, use Pod AND cast something good already on the list?

To be completely honest with you this list is by no means exhaustive but it certainly exemplifies the point at hand; Standard is a pretty fast format right now and waiting around to cast 5 drops all day is a pretty good way to wind up dead in the face of all this aggression.  Surviving and thriving in this Standard all but requires that you curve out properly and it's almost at the point where any hand that features multiple 5/6 drops is probably a mulligan unless you're playing some sort of Ramp deck.  In other words; this environment is naturally resistant to "slow" cards and simply "costing 5 mana" is a legitimate drawback even for something as potentially game wrecking as Thundermaw Hellkite.

This ties in neatly to my second point; assuming that space in your deck for 5 drops is in fact limited, running a full 4 pack of the 'Kite is a pretty risky proposition.  What's more this simultaneously forces TMHK to compete with other, more established 5 drops already in the format; namely Zealous Conscripts and Acidic Slime/Wolfir Avenger.  While I don't feel that the Dragon fares poorly in these comparisons he's not "strictly better" either.  Sure, TMHK is arguably more powerful than Conscripts but it's certainly less splashable at RR3 and unless the entire format switches to mono-Spirit tokens.deck it's hard to imagine the 'Kite will ever approach the kind of game 1 versatility the 'Scripts bring to the table.  Assuming you're working with a G/R shell you end up with the same problems; Wolfir Silverheart provides more raw power, Acidic Slime destroys artifacts/support lands and usually trades way up the turn after in combat.  More importantly both of them work with Green Sun's Zenith and the Dragon simply doesn't.  Ultimately I believe that Thundermaw Hellkite is too powerful not to find a home in these decks but the simple truth is that he'll be competing with some very good cards for deck space and there is no obvious "best choice". 

The most obvious problem with the 'Kite however is that unless your opponent controls some flying creatures he's just a 5/5 Flyer with Haste.  As I previously mentioned I believe he'd still see some play in those situations but the question really becomes, how much play?  Are you ever going to be happy to draw this card against someone who leads with a turn 1 Copperline Gorge?  Haste is certainly pretty cool on a flying Lava Axe but it's not a true "187 effect" and even if you do freely connect for 5 damage the turn you cast Thundermaw Hellkite what then?  If your opponent untaps and snap kills the Dragon how much further are you really ahead at that point?  Obviously you did get some value out of your TMHK but I highly doubt anyone is going to write home about 5 damage/discard a kill spell for 5 mana.

Finally I should mention that I have a minor quibbling point with how Thundermaw Hellkite interacts with some of the better cards in the format.  I don't like that the timing on his 187 effect doesn't work particularly well against Moorland Haunt or Restoration Angel; it's not bad per se because the Dragon will devour both creatures in combat but the fact that you simply can't stop them from blocking is not ideal.  I also question the overall value of doing 1 damage to every flyer in a format with Insectile Aberration, Restoration Angel and most important Intangible Virtue; I'm pretty sure it's basically impossible to outrun 2CC Crusade effects with a 5CC Dragon folks.

Final Destination:  Overall I'd have to say that Thundermaw Hellkite is a pretty tricky card to evaluate in the upcoming Standard format.  If U/W flying decks remain incredibly popular in the format then I think you'll see a number of decks slide 2-3 copies into the maindeck quite happily.  However if the format begins to diversify to the point that you can't guarantee 4 rounds against Lingering Souls/Delver decks in an 8 round PTQ he starts to look like strictly sideboard material.  Ultimately I feel like TMHK will find a home quickly in G/R builds; probably 2 main and another 1-2 in the sideboard.  Whether or not the Hellkite finds a home in other decktypes (RDW, Mid Range Jund, etc) will depend a great deal on the metagame as a whole, but I can legitimately see him sliding into the board of virtually any deck that can make RR3 pretty quickly.  Probably the nicest thing I cay say about Thundermaw Hellkite is: I'll be snap buying 4 when M13 comes out and I suggest that if you're interested in tapping Rootbound Crags in the new Standard you do the same.



Sunday, June 17, 2012

"What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" - Why a Ban on Snapcaster Mage Would Insult My Intelligence

As those of you who aren't living under a rock may be aware, we are rapidly approaching June 20th and with it a potential update to the various Banned & Restricted lists that govern Magic's myriad formats.  Normally these dates will come and then pass with very little changing about Magic as a result; this time however there seems to be a growing sense (at least on my Twitter feed) that WotC will finally "do something" about the menace that is Delver in Standard.  In particular there's been a lot of chatter about Ponder, Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage being potentially on the chopping block in an attempt to "fix" Standard.  Now before we get started I want to be clear about a couple of things; right now these potential bans are only a rumor, nothing has been announced officially and I am in no way privy to any sort of inside knowledge.  I shall also at various times in this discussion refer to anecdotal evidence in the form of discussions I participated in, tweets I read and comments I remember from that time period.  Like most non-Lawyers I experience the world through my own senses and make rational deductions based on those perceptions; if you're looking for a definitive legal argument that WotC knew exactly how powerful Snapcaster Mage was, you may be disappointed.  Additionally, whether or not I believe banning any of these cards is a good idea is somewhat irrelevant to the subject but just to get it out of the way I'll tell you anyway:

No, I don't think banning these cards is a good idea because as a general rule I am against the banning of any cards in Standard.  While I'm fairly certain people will get over a ban on Ponder or Delver of Secrets I am particularly opposed to banning Snapcaster Mage a mere 9 months after it's release.  I also genuinely believe that the short term (2 years at most) cycle of the format functions as a self correction mechanism for the most part and that unless design/playtesters truly believe they have made a grievous error it's better to just leave Standard alone and let time take it's course.  A good example of this in my opinion was resisting the urge to ban Bloodbraid Elf in the post-Fae Standard of it's heyday.  Anyone who's ever played against Bloodbraid Elf can tell you the card is overpowered, idiot proof and ultimately absolutely no fun to play against; it's the very definition of a "negative play experience".  Despite this however Bloodbraid Elf was allowed to pass through it's time in Standard unhindered; Jund Summer came and went and by the time Bloodbraid was rotating out of the format he'd become just one of a number of ridiculously overpowered cards you could build your deck around in Standard.  Time and the mental efforts of a million monkeys out there designing decks have a way of curing all wounds in Magic and if WotC snap-caved to every public outcry about the need to ban specific cards I suspect we'd never have any good cards to play with at all.

It's important to note that I only feel this way about Standard; for obvious reasons Eternal formats require a more liberal use of the "banhammer" to ensure their long term health and stability.  Additionally I'm willing to accept that sometimes cards just slip through the cracks and end up impacting Standard in a way that design neither intended nor could have easily predicted; Mirrodin-era Artifact Lands, Disciple of the Vault and Skullclamp all come to mind here.  In these cases we were talking about a legitimate, honest to God mistake that lead to the banning of a number of common and uncommon cards that literally everyone was happy to see go.  Finally I should mention that while I was a little upset at the time I eventually came to understand the Jace/Stoneforge Mystic ban as a one time only effort to boost increasingly flagging tournament attendance with the understanding that both of these cards would only be legal for another 3-4 months in Standard anyway.  In short; I am against banning cards in Standard but I'm willing to make an exception in the case of obvious mistakes or overt consumer reactions that directly affect tournament attendance numbers in a negative way.  Unfortunately in this case I have an extremely hard time believing that any of these cards were a legitimate "mistake" and I near as I can tell tournament Magic is as or more popular than it's been in years.  Just a few weeks ago I attended a 181 person PTQ that was so overcrowded the organizer was openly offering 12 packs to any player who dropped after rounds 1 or 2; clearly Delver is not keeping grinders away in droves the way Caw Blade did last summer.           

Okay so now that you know where I'm coming from, let's go back down the rabbit hole to the absolute first moment you saw a preview for Snapcaster Mage.  For those of you who somehow smoke more herb than I do, it was September 2nd, 2011.  Unless you worked for WotC, were Tiago Chen, or somehow had access to the Innistrad Godbook (jokes) this was the absolute first time you laid eyes on one of the most powerful cards in the history of Magic.  Do you remember your reaction to this moment?  I do, I literally spent at least 5 minutes staring at and zooming in on a grainy cellphone image of a slide projection just trying to make sure the card was real.  Once I ascertained that the card was in fact real I would estimate it took me all of 5 seconds to think "that's too powerful" and ask "why would you print a card like that, ever?"  I also remember that I was not alone in feeling this way; within moments of the preview the "Magical Internets" as it were exploded with people rushing to praise the "new Dark Confidant" and to talk about all of the amazing cards you could flash back in Standard with him.  I distinctly remember both Mana Leak and Ponder (we'll get back to this later) coming up in multiple conversations on Twitter no more than an hour after the Mage was revealed for example.  As you can see from forum discussions like this the response was overwhelmingly positive and only the stubborn or contrary had any question about how powerful this card was.  It's also not as if this opinion was confined to beginners, whiners and "durdles" either folks; some of the best players in the world were openly singing the praises of this format defining monstrosity long before "Snappy" was even available for purchase.  You may be tempted to pass all of this off as hyperbole or exaggeration but when some of the greatest minds in Magic (snicker) are absolutely salivating to get their hands on a card you can rest assured that it's the real deal folks.  Finally, even if you were one of the few that doubted "Snappy's" power, it's hard to argue that the market as a whole wasn't very excited about Snapcaster Mage.  I know for example that at the shop I personally manage we had to keep a waiting list of customers who wanted to buy both foil and regular Mages before the set was even released; I honestly can't remember having to do that with another unreleased card before or since. 

In light of the somewhat mountainous pile of evidence above I feel fairly comfortable in saying that any reasonable person had a pretty good idea of both Snapcaster's power level and overall value.  There is absolutely no question in my mind that this card was one of the key selling points for Innistrad as a set and that WotC knew that; likely long before he was actually previewed but if not most certainly immediately afterwards.  What's more I also have a hard time believing that anyone operating in a design or playtest capacity somehow failed to understand how this card would interact with preexisting options in the format like Mana Leak (M11 and M12) and Ponder (M12).  I don't want to keep stealing from Luis here but the second paragraph of his review sums it up nicely in the very first line:

"The first place I want to go with Snapcaster is a deck with Mana Leak and Ponder, since right away that’s some nice value."

Oddly enough this was also the very first place my playgroup and I went with Snapcaster Mage and frankly if these card interactions weren't the first place the various Playtest teams working on this went, I think WotC should probably hire a new team.  The phrase "obvious card interaction is, um, obvious" comes to mind here and I pretty much refuse to believe nobody at the company read Snapcaster Mage before he went to print.  It's literally that simple folks; there is no ambiguity whatsoever about this card and simply reading the text makes it pretty obvious that this card is designed to "re-buy" cheap instants and sorceries.  In other words I believe that just by printing Snapcaster Mage the company was openly stating that they had no problem whatsoever with decks that featured up to 8 Mana Leaks/Ponders/Doom Blades/etc in the current Standard format.  Was this arrogant?  Yes.  Was Snapcaster Mage an incredibly dangerous card to actually print?  Yes.  Were we as players supposed to realize this in advance and avoid buying the card because doubling the number of counters/cantrips/kill spells in your deck is ridiculously broken?  I'm pretty sure that's a "no".  Would Innistrad have sold nearly as well without Snapcaster Mage?  I don't have a crystal ball folks but I would also have to assume that's a no; I know I kept drafting long after I'd lost interest in the format just trying to open more Snapcasters (and Trafts to be fair).  Therefore, in light of what we know and what we can obviously infer from both WotC marketing efforts and the text of Snapcaster Mage itself, is it fair in any way, shape or form to say that Snapcaster Mage was somehow a mistake?  I'm not asking if he's broken folks because I honestly already know he's broken; the question is can any reasonable argument be made to suggest that WotC didn't also know that Snappy was broken and just printed him anyways?  Even if you could find such an argument wouldn't it be so convoluted and so fundamentally based on gross incompetence as to paint the company in an extremely poor light anyway?

So now let's close our eyes and imagine that somehow this ban does happen; we wake up Wednesday morning and find out that Snapcaster Mage will no longer be legal in Standard as of July 1st.  How does this make you feel?  Are you happy that an obviously overpowered and fundamentally dangerous card is now barred from Standard?  Do you find yourself asking "what took so long?"  Does it bother you that WotC used this card to hype up/sell millions of packs of Innistrad only to turn around and ban it 9 months later after you'd paid all your money and opened up all your packs?  Would you regret the decision to buy or trade for Snapcasters as single cards?  Would you feel used?  Wouldn't it feel to you like the penalty for printing an obviously overpowered/dangerous card has been shifted towards you, the consumer when it really should be on whomever decided to print such a ridiculous card in the first place?  Would you ask for a refund and if you did ask would you actually expect to get one?  One last question folks; would your answers depend on how many Snapcasters you owned, what formats you played and how much you actually paid for the card in the first place?

Of course, we're only dealing in the realm of hypothetical questions here; I personally don't think WotC is incompetent and I doubt they actively think I'm stupid.  I suspect that there are many people involved in the "making of Magic" who wish Snapcaster Mage hadn't been printed but ultimately I trust that they know that banning Snapcaster now would only punish the customer for this design "mistake".  I also suspect that WotC keeps a careful eye on tournament attendance and therefore they know that if people really are upset about Delver being the best deck in Standard they certainly aren't saying so with their time and wallets.  Finally I believe the people who make Magic are fine geeks; men and women of honor who understand that for the time being the only fair solution is to lie in the bed they've made for themselves until such a time as normal Standard rotations remove the "problem" as a whole.    

In summation folks I would advise against holding your breath while waiting for a ban in Standard to solve the Delver "problem".  Frankly I'm not even entirely sure there is a problem; something has to be "the best deck in Standard" and at least so far the dreaded Delver hordes aren't keeping people away from tournament Magic.  If there is a ban however don't bet on it being against Snapcaster Mage even though he is obviously the most powerful card in Standard's best deck.  To take such an action would force WotC to either admit gross negligence/incompetence or risk insulting my intelligence and somehow I doubt they're trying to do either.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Trials and Confessions of a PWP Whore

 “She had learned some of the things that every woman must find out for herself, and she had found out about them as one has to find out--through error and through trial, through fantasy and illusion, through falsehood and her own damn foolishness, through being mistaken and wrong and an idiot and egotistical and aspiring and hopeful and believing and confused. - Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again (sorta)

So, umm, hello there your Honor.  My name is Nina Illingworth and I'm a delinquent parent; I created a beautiful Magic blog and just when it was becoming really special I abandoned it to leave more time for my addiction to Planeswalker Points.  I stand before this court and a jury of my peers in full admittance of my neglect and am prepared to account my crimes one by one before you today.  To be completely honest I wasn't even sure this blog would still be here when I tried to log in; it's been roughly 9 months since I've posted anything after all.  Naturally I never intended to confine my blog to the dustbin of outdated cyberspace; if I had know I wouldn't be posting for 9 months or so I'd like to believe I would have at least managed a half-assed goodbye.  Like most things in life, it just sort of happened and the next time I blinked it was January 2012 and I clearly wasn't a Magic writer anymore.  Oh sure, I thought about the blog from time to time; mostly with an ever increasing sense of guilt and longing.  The simple truth however is that I ran your Honor.  I ran from my blog, my responsibilities as a writer, even from my own need to continue putting words to digital paper and towards a life of grinding infinite meaningless rounds in the hope of earning a "Golden Ticket" to a Pro Tour I probably couldn't attend anyways.  There is no question whatsoever of my guilt and my only request is that you and the members of the Jury indulge me long enough to hear my side of the story before rendering final judgement.

First and foremost around about the time I stopped writing for this blog Wizards of the Coast introduced a radical update of it's Organized Play system, forever changing the very face of competitive Magic.  Amusingly enough this new system was entitled "Planeswalker Points" and worked sort of like character levels in role-playing games; as players won matches they would acquire points which in turn would progress them through a series of arbitrarily named levels to help quantify their progress as "Planeswalkers".  The picture on the left of this paragraph is actually my "player card" in graphic form, complete with both a meaningless title and an irrelevant "level".  The funny thing is that your actual lifetime level really didn't affect a whole lot; the number of Planeswalker Points you could accumulate over a given 4 month season however suddenly became extremely important. While initially this system was heralded by most of the Magic playing community as a massive improvement over the Elo ratings system two major problems quickly became apparent as tournament results started coming in; one I had predicted and one I had not. 

The predictable/obvious problem with that first version of Planeswalker Points revolved around Multiplier Points; I'll spare you the math but basically since all events were not ranked equally anyone who attended a significant number of Grand Prix events (with 8x multiplier in effect) was at a significant advantage over someone who merely attended their local Grand Prix and Pro Tour Qualifiers.  For the first time in Magic's history there was now a direct way to "buy" your way onto the Pro Tour; although you'd still have to be going 6-3 or so at these various Grand Prix to pay off.  This naturally offended sensibilities on both sides of the issue; the Pro Tour veterans were upset that the only way to stay on the tour involved grinding infinite GPs and the grinders were upset because most of them couldn't afford to fly to infinite GP level events.  Probably the most tragic problem of all however is that under the current rules it basically became impossible to maintain a job and still have a shot of qualifying for a Pro Tour on the back of Planeswalker Points. 

The second problem took a little while longer to surface and while I can't speak to the minds of the big-wigs at WotC or Organized Play I highly doubt anyone at the company anticipated this development.  For reasons that are not entirely clear the multiplier for Friday Night Magic events was set at 3x.  The idea was probably to keep attendance high at the "casual" weekly events and to entice new players to take their FNM points and try to improve on them at PTQ and GP level events.  WotC has naturally spent a great deal of money promoting these events and I'm sure nobody wanted to see FNM attendance suddenly decline as more players chased after Planeswalker Points in higher level events.  Unfortunately FNM events are held all over the world every Friday evening and are extremely hard to regulate; we're literally talking about how many players, judges, tournament organizers and shop owners here?  What's more the latitude for what types of events can be run at an FNM and under what format is extremely wide; it was basically only a matter of time before people started gaming the system.  I'm not here to level any accusations but near as I can tell a great number of Tournament Organizers worldwide began to run FNM events with the goal of providing as many rounds as possible during which their players could early 3x multiplier points.  100 point weeks amongst the ranks of non-established tournament grinders who had participated in only local FNMs or even smaller weekly events became somewhat commonplace.  I won't lie, I was one of these grinders; although in my defense I absolutely did play and win those matches.  Additionally I attended Grand Prix Montreal and at least 3 PTQs over the course of that first season, doing well but never quite enough to make the cut to top 8/Day 2.  Unfortunately once it became clear that grinding FNM events actually *was* a legitimate source of PWP the entire system came crashing down; hardcore Grand Prix/PTQ grinders began attending FNMs in droves and slowly they drove out the casual customers WotC was trying to protect with the 3x multiplier in the first place.  Probably the most obvious sign to me that something was wrong was the weekly Thursday ritual of various known Grand Prix grinders asking on Twitter where they could find a "large FNM" to grind the Friday before the GP; just to make sure they didn't miss out on a potential opportunity to bag some easy Planeswalker Points.

Despite the somewhat obvious nature of these problems it was impossible for WotC to change the PWP system mid-season; this left the whole glorious mess to play out until Christmas Day 2011.  Frankly I can't be bothered to look up the statistics but I found myself playing a tremendous amount of Magic over the course of those months; in addition to the aforementioned GP and PTQs I also found myself hitting up 2-3 weekly drafts (1x) and 2 FNM events a week, which I eventually increased to 3 because I just needed the PWP that badly.  My normal ritual on Friday became to travel for an hour to play in an FNM at 3PM, a second FNM at 7-8PM and finally a late night draft FNM that would start before midnight and usually end sometime around 2:30-3:30 in the morning.  I was literally playing a Grand Prix worth of events once a week and frankly I was doing it damn well; I won something ridiculous like 85% of my matches during this time.  Naturally I had some help along the way; on a few occasions a friend or teammate would scoop to me rather than play out the match because they knew I needed the points and was closing in on a Pro Tour invite.  I would like to be clear however that this probably only happened 8-10 times over the course of literally hundreds of matches and I never once asked my opponent to do this.  Typically I was left with the option of refusing their concession and forcing them to play a match I desperately needed to win or graciously accepting their gifts.  What would you do?  Regardless the heart is it's own judge and it was during these moments that I first started to feel "dirty".  Until now I had always played Magic to satisfy competitive urges that aren't acceptable in other societal interactions and yet here I was accepting even a single "win" without the joy of actually beating my opponent? 

As the season wore on and time to earn more PWP began to run out somehow every match became even more tense for me than normal; quite an accomplishment when those who know me will tell you that sometimes 8 man drafts will cause me to throw up if I have to wait around too long to start actually playing Magic.  Worse still I began a terrible habit of counting the 3, 9, 15 or 24 PWP I could earn each round depending on the event as "mine already"; which turned each loss into a horrifying moment of shock and introspection as I stumbled to understand how I could have given away a portion of "my" Pro Tour shot like that.   Every 3 days I was doing the math on how many PWP it would take to qualify for PT Dark Ascension fully aware that everyone else on the planet who was within even a sniff of the top 100 on either qualifying list was doing the exact same thing.  The really funny thing about all of this is that even if I did qualify for the Pro Tour I would need a passport to actually attend the event; I didn't notice at the time but sometime in November and then again in early December I missed important deadlines to file official documents and as it turns out I would *not* have a passport in time even if I did qualify.  My life had literally become about accumulating Planeswalker Points and qualifying for the Pro Tour; what happened during or after that was very much completely off my radar as I focused all of my efforts into this singular goal.

For ascetic reasons I would love to tell you that I finally burned out on the morning of Boxing Day when I discovered that I had fallen just short of a Pro Tour invitation but the truth is the breaking point actually came a couple of weeks before.   I was incredibly ill the morning of the last possible PTQ I could attend and after fighting furiously with my Boyfriend for an hour about whether or not it was okay to attend a Magic tournament with yellow skin while throwing up every 25 minutes I had finally relented and agreed to stay home.  What followed was perhaps the most sad, pathetic and worthless 3 days of my entire life.  I literally found myself laying around my apartment moping, eating horrible junk food and on several occasions openly crying... because I'd missed a Magic tournament.  I guess it's a good thing my boyfriend loves me because I was a depressed, petulant wreck that entire weekend and a less committed man probably would have shown me the door after the 3rd time I accused him of "sabotaging my dream".  No folks, I'd done the math and by the time the 26th of December rolled around I was completely prepared to discover that my name was not on either invite list for the event.  Probably the only thing that really shocked me is how close I'd ultimately come; as it turns out I was the 2nd last name left off the "Non-World Championship" invite list and I'd finished a ridiculous 13 or so points behind the final person who did get invited.  This triggered another disgraceful round of introspective self-loathing as I spent a week or so mentally reviewing every single loss I'd incurred over the course of the season with the full knowledge that I'd missed the cut by 2 FNM wins, 1 GP/PTQ win or 5 random weekly event wins in total.  Additionally by this time the nature of the upcoming changes to the PWP system had been revealed and in the end the more popular professional players had won; the system would change all right but this mostly revolved around closing FNM as a legitimate path to the Pro Tour and increasing the number players who'd qualify for the next PT event based on performance on the Pro Tour itself.  What's more any semblance of Nationals had been destroyed and replaced by something called The World Cup of Magic; an event that on the surface appeared extremely hard to actually qualify for in my opinion.  In short after mainlining the Pro Tour dream for 4 straight months and devoting every single spare moment to grinding sanctioned Magic tournaments I was essentially locked out of a ratings based invite permanently.  Fair or not this sudden change served only to further my feelings of depression; nobody likes to feel unwanted and with the changes to PWP it felt abundantly clear that neither WotC or the Professional Magic community wanted "people like me" to ever walk the hallowed halls of the Pro Tour after the singular mockery that was PT Dark Ascension. 

As you can see your Honor, over the course of this time I simply did not have time to write; I lost 4 months playing 25 some odd matches of Magic a week and then another month trying to recover from the realization that it had all been in vain.  Naturally there were benefits to this situation; for starters I became a significantly better Magic player than I had been before the PWP race began.  There's nothing like fighting for your metaphorical life over and over again to sharpen your skills as warrior, competitor, card player and yes even gambler.  I also managed to diversify my talents as a player, albeit through no choice of my own.  For most of my time in Magic I have always preferred Limited formats, with Booster Draft in particular ranking as my absolute favorite way to play this card game.  Unfortunately due to sheer availability of events where I could earn Planeswalker Points I was forced kicking and screaming to play an ever increasing number of Standard matches just to remain in contention for the Pro Tour invite. As time went buy I learned that constructed Magic was about more than topdecks, broken interactions and ridiculous first-pick type cards exploding across tables turn after turn.  Forced to compete on equal footing in terms of deck composition and card quality for the first time in years I became significantly better at the mental side of the game.  I learned to control my interactions with opponents, my ability to make correct reads based on known information increased and I quickly mastered predicting the ever changing meta-game that modern Standard provides.  I also became very good at selling my opponent a story that would ultimately lead him to make plays that caused me to win the game.  To be honest with you I learned these wonderful things almost entirely by accident; over the course of trying to find a way to earn as many PWP as possible losing was simply not an option and each of these skills were necessary to keep winning matches in the context of Constructed Magic.  There is absolutely no question in my mind folks that these 4 months improved me as a player tremendously; the problem is of course that they did nothing to improve me as a person and ultimately the experience left me feeling numb.  Magic had become utterly joyless and the loss of something as precious to me as my love for competition affected me on so many levels that I doubt I could have written anything relevant even if I had wanted to.

When the clouds finally broke and I stopped feeling sorry for myself, January had turned into early February and suddenly I was already out of the race for a season 2 PWP invite; this was of course entirely predictable but it helped clarify where my priorities should have been at the time and forced me to go about picking up the pieces of my neglected life.  I spent some time at work doing manager things, hanging out with Leon to do relationship things and diligently ensuring that my involvement with Magic didn't consume the rest of my life.  To be completely honest it was incredibly liberating when I willfully skipped that first FNM simply because I'd rather stay home and have dinner with my boyfriend.  However if I'm still being honest I can't say it was all gum drops and lollipops; the decision to partition my Magic life away from my "real" life was an active one and it was a constant struggle to bury my competitive urges and desire to battle with cards just below the surface of my thoughts.  I was playing the role of friend, store manager and dutiful girlfriend but deep inside I knew the monster I'd created during the PWP race hand never truly been defeated.  Slowly, almost subconsciously I began to let Magic creep back into my life; I began attending FNM regularly again, I helped to organize my friends/playgroup into a legitimate Magic team (Team Dickwolf) and I resumed reading every scrap of available information about competitive Magic on the internet.  Since Planeswalker Points were no longer a viable means of acquiring a Pro Tour invite I turned towards attempting to win a PTQ; drilling and training with my teammates so that we would grow stronger in preparation for these events.  Like all good teams each of us had joined the group for selfish reasons and we all knew it; winning a PTQ was the goal for everyone involved and if a teammate happened to be the one to break through first we would be happy for him but ultimately it would not change our personal objectives.  Naturally preparing for mental/cardboard warfare is a time consuming process; we began practicing together in person on Tuesday evenings, playing together at FNM on Fridays and slowly, gradually playing more and more games online until they became an almost nightly occurrence.  Throwing various Trials, Qualifiers, cash tournaments and the PTQ's themselves into the equation Magic had once again become both an obsession and a job for me; albeit a part-time job as opposed to the yeoman's hours I'd devoted during the PWP race.

Of course this isn't to say that during all of this time I didn't think about writing or the blog; quite the contrary to be honest.  I was haunted by the idea that deep down inside I literally *needed* to write just to maintain my sanity and that I sincerely missed blogging about Magic on a fundamental level.  I felt a profound sadness for the way I let my readers down with my sudden disappearance from the blogsphere and I knew I'd wronged those dear to me by not leaving so much as a goodbye note in doing so.  Roughly once a week or so I would get the sudden urge to "give writing another go" but there was always another article to read, another video to watch, another practice to attend and another PTQ to prepare for.  What's more, I knew that any sort of explanation for my behavior was going to be long, complicated and ultimately involve putting some truths about myself down to paper that I wasn't necessarily prepared to share with the world at large yet.  It was simply much easier to remain immersed in the world of Magic, constantly learning and improving myself as a player in preparation for the next PTQ, GP or even random Trial where I could fully unleash the monster my need to compete had grown to be.  To be perfectly honest ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm not sure that any of this would have changed at all if I had not broken my foot.  I am probably only writing this confession because I am literally unable to compete at PTQs, Trials or the other high level events I crave until such a time as my foot heals.  The simple truth is that I can't even attend FNM unless I can hitch a car ride too and from the event right now and I think I started writing this yesterday evening to stop thinking about the tournament I was missing at the same time.  In short your Honor, I've lost control.  I'm a competition junkie, a mainline cardboard addict, an unrepentant abuser of Magic the Gathering and if it pleases both you and the jury I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.

I pray that you will judge me not for the creature I have become but instead remember kindly the person that I was and one day hope to be again.  You see folks, it's not me, it's the drug and though I am here writing to you now I cannot promise that once my foot heals I won't immediately run back to grinding tournament Magic as often as I possibly can.  Until such a time I promise to cooperate fully with the authority of this court and provide freelance content as ideas worth putting to paper strike me.  This is hereby my full confession and I'm prepared to accept whatever final judgment this court renders; may Richard Garfield have mercy on my soul.