fredag 3 augusti 2018

Hammers and nails

When I started playing, the perceived power level of a card was directly correlated to the size of the numbers in the lower right corner. Eventually we got a little better at evaluating cards and building decks, and at some point it became clear that Mahamothi Djinn was in fact better than Leviathan. The months kept passing, and as we progressed we found ourselves caring about mana cost, tempo and consistency in a way we didn’t see when we first picked up the cards.
"Top3 creatures in Magic" - Me, some time ago
Erhnam Djinn was better than Craw Wurm. I should play four Hypnotic Specters. Cards should be playable on their own, but if they also had synergy that could turn them greater than the sum of the parts we were golden.

I remember reading in a magazine, probably around the time of Mirage, that understanding that Shivan Dragon wasn’t really a good card was a big step towards becoming a good player. Wildfire Emissary was better after all. And smart people played control; big creatures were for kids that didn’t understand tempo.
No longer worth eleven duals in trade
I guess that stuck with me. On the spectrum of player psychographics, I would put myself somewhere around the Johnny/Timmy. I like big spells, but if they didin’t have any synergy going for them I would rarely bother. Project M was an exception to that rule. I put in Juzam, Mahamothi and Sol’Kanar without any regard for synergy. They were just big dumb creatures I thought looked awesome as a kid.
Still look awesome
I took me many, many games before I realized that these guys were in fact really good in the deck. Sure, they would die to a Blast or Swords or whatever, and my tempo would suffer if they did. But if the opponent didn’t have it, they would just win. They would enter an empty board and demand an answer. Playing four Guardian Beast rather than three Guardian Beast and one Sol’Kanar is better for the synergy, clearly so. But Guardian Beast need a Disk or an Orb to win. Sol’Kanar is the elephant in the room that can’t be ignored.
In a format with deck manipulation - like cantrips, Brainstorm or more abundant tutors - the synergistic choice would almost always be correct. Odds are that you could reliably assemble that 1+1=3 combo; like the Disk and Guardian Beast or Sylvan Library and Sindbad. But without the ability to manipulate your draws consistently, often you are stuck with 1+0=1. A card that by itself is a '1.3' or something doesn’t look too bad in that context.

I began to wonder if Shivan Dragon perhaps was a pretty good card after all. At least as a miser. After all, it is a great late game topdeck almost regardless of what the board look like. Rounding some sort of circle.

Force of Nature has long passed its glory days. Twenty-odd years ago, opening a Force of Nature would mean that you were now a green player. It demanded a spot in any deck the owner would assemble. These days a Force of Nature wouldn't even register on most players' bulk radars.
"Six mana for that? Oh jeez. Let me just walk in my complicated shoes to my velcro binder and sleeve up this mythical Gearhulk instead."
The relative ineffectiveness of the heavy hitters in 93/94 make it easy to dismiss them. But many times I might have overlooked their context. Jayemdae Tome is nigh unplayable in every format except 93/94, where it instead is one of the top contenders for "cards that should be restricted". Force of Nature is a bag of soup in pretty much every other format it is legal, but here? It is more of a question at the very least. Basically opponent needs to have Moat, Swords to Plowshares, Maze of Ith or The Abyss; or just roll over and die. I have won a surprising number of games of Craw Wurm with my monogreen deck. And Craw Wurm also folds to things like Erhnam, Juzam, Psionic Blast and Control Magic in addition to the ones that bag the Force. I mean, Force of Nature (or Shivan Dragon, or Mahamothi Djinn, or [insert big spell]) will rarely be the synergistic or the elegant choice, but they do pose a serious question. Have you ever faced a Force of Nature on the battlefield? It is huge man.

After my virgin journey with Adventure Island at Oslo Ascension I realized that I might have put too much focus on the synergies. If they were disrupted it was down to dumb luck if I could turn the game around. I lost a game in the swiss to Chains of Mephistopheles and in the Top4 against Underworld Dreams. Master of the Hunt helped the combat step, sure, but I needed to untap with him quite a few times to put on a proper offense. And once again, he was only really good if I already had some synergies in place; namely the ones that would generate a bunch of mana. During those matches I didn't have any proper pressure unless I naturally drew into the Rube Goldberg Machine that is Power Monolith.

It was time re-evaluate the big dumb dudes here. A miser's Force of Nature actually appeared better than having a playset of the far more synergistic Sindbad. Also it is fun as hell.
Adventure Island, v2. 7
It is interesting to see how we today, 25 years later, are able to question a lot of conventional wisdom in our small pond of cards. Adventure Island is surely not a tier1 deck, but I think it may be crawling towards tier2. Forcing the opponent to have answers to a raw sledgehammer they may not prepare for could be worth giving up some synergy for. It may look random, or even uninformed, but few things beat the joy of summoning a Shivan Dragon in Troll Disco or Nicol Bolas in The Deck. Depending on your meta, it might even be the correct play.


There have been a lot of great posts in our blogosphere in the last weeks. Five I would recommend in particular is Born on a Bayou over at The Wizard's Tower, Old School Brawl – 93/94 Commander at Ready to Role, The Wind in Your Sails at Music City Oldschool, A Time-Traveling Tournament Report at Hipsters of the Coast, and Anachronisms in Old School Part II at Brothers of Fire. So much sweet content these days. Hard to know where to go from here, so I think I'll go a little off-script and write an Arabian Nights story next week. Seems like an amusing thing to try.

4 kommentarer:

  1. This post really resonates for me back to my earliest days. I opened the Force of Nature within our playgroup and became the de facto green player as a result. Got crushed regularly by my friends' black and white decks, but I was also running cards like Wanderlust and Living Artifact, so surely there was blame to go around.

    I definitely agree with the fun and even correctness of running miser's copies of iconic beaters, for all the reasons stated in the post. Really lets you appreciate the brilliance of Garfield's original design, back well before Magic ever hit a critical mass of efficiency.

  2. Ill have you know I played 2 force of nature in my mono green build in the summer derby. One game I got to sacrifice force of nature (and a cockatrice) to my sword of the ages for 10 damage and picked up the win. It was the highlight of my summer derby :).

  3. @Matt: I surely enjoyed reading your story about that Force :) (For those of you who might have missed Matt's foray with his early monsters, check out

    @Ryan: Those are the Magic moments :) Haven't tried sword of the ages yet myself, that should be on the bucketlist somewhere down the line.

  4. @Mg thanks for the shoutout! -Andrew from Ready to Role