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By: Tribal Apocalypse, Tribal Apocalypse
Apr 03 2017 11:00am
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 In the last Invitational, Bazaar of Baghdad ended up second after Kasparadi (who will be the subject of an upcoming article). In the seasonal leaderboard, he was third, following the top placement of mihahitlor (who was already featured. Twice). Therefore, let's hear it from the man who still hasn't grabbed a major tribal title for himself, but is definitely getting there.

 Let's start with you telling us who you really are when you log off.
 My name is Běn Běntrʉp (trying to defeat the search engines here). I’m a lawyer practicing municipal law in Fort Wayne, Indiana, though I used to be a probably-not-very-good Spanish teacher for over a decade.

Downtown Fort Wayne.

 You're a lawyer? Oh, so that's why you always try to object to my rulings in Tribal Apocalypse! All jokes aside, do you ever detect some overlap between lawyering and playing Magic? Or some way in which your profession influences your approach to the game?

It keeps my mind sharp for which I am grateful; I would definitely recommend it (although chess slightly more) for anyone thinking about attending law school. Sorry, I have nothing more explicit than that. Unfortunately, MTGO is not good physical exercise, and if I let it dominate my time, that could be bad for me and family. So sometimes I have to scale back.

 Where does your screen name come from? Just the card or is there some other meaning?

Back in the early 2000s, before bots existed on MTGO, and when stores were run by humans, I wanted a good shop name, so I came up with this.

 Aside from playing Magic, do you have any other intensive hobby?

I’m an avid but horrible chess player with a 2100+ ELO. I also love classic and family movies. I like poetry (Frost, Poe), pre-1800 literature, wordsmithing, classical and choral music, and NFL football, but not enough to fanaticize over any of these. I love spending time with my wife and five kids and sharing and learning about my Catholic faith.

 I'm very much into cinema and classic cinema as well. Do you happen to love classic courtroom films like, say, 12 Angry Men, Anatomy of a Murder, To Kill a Mockingbird?

Those are all great. Of my top ten list, the ones that most people will have heard of would be: My Fair Lady, Singin' in the Rain, Casablanca, Fiddler on the Roof, Dial M for Murder (Hitchcock), Groundhog Day, Searching for Bobby Fischer. My favorite courtroom flick is more modern, however: My Cousin Vinny.

 When and how do you started playing MTG and MTGO?

I started playing in 1995 after deciding the game was a fascinating exercise in puzzle-solving and not a gateway into the occult. I had always loved the depth of chess – the infinity held within 64 little squares was so amazingly beautiful. But the inverse is true of Magic: its beauty in its infinite interactions never ceases to amaze me. Early on, I bought the Shandalar Microprose game trying to build decks that could beat the gauntlet or even just the best variation of any deck concept. I basically played only that until MTGO was released. I played mostly limited on MTGO until around 10th edition, and switched afterwards to Constructed Standard. During one of the more monotonous Standard environments, I switched to Classic, and my latest love has been trying to solve the ideal Paradoxical Outcome build in Vintage.

This April marks the 20th anniversary of the last time Sid Meier cared about Magic.

 I realize that "gateway into the occult" remark was probably a joke, but MTG really was shunned in certain milieus for its alleged satanic subtext. Did you witness that part of its history from the side of the shunners?

Sorry, it wasn't really a joke. If I believe in God, given the problem of evil in the world, it's logical to believe in the Devil's power here on earth. So when I was first briefly avoiding Magic, I thought that even if such play could be innocent and without consequences, it's just not worth taking the risk. There's biblical examples like the Witch of Endor to show the dangers, but the tales that modern exorcists could tell are scary enough. So I try to give any such activity a wide berth. Anyway, fortunately, I was able to discover that, at least for my purposes, there either wasn't any such elements in Magic, or I could safely pay them no heed and focus on the mathematical aspects of the game. As to your question, yes, I witnessed a few people at my (at the time, Protestant) church shun the game, but I also came to know some great Christian apologist gamers who embraced D&D, Magic, etc., reinforcing my own conclusions.

 I think MTG is pretty family-friendly right now, and cards can be seen as just a collection of numbers and mechanics (because they are), but since you seem really in touch with your faith, do you ever feel uncomfortable doing things like rooting for a demon? Or is it just a decorative aspect of the game you don't ever pay attention to?

Since I see it as a mechanic more than flavor, it doesn't bother me. Go Griselbrand, if he happens to be in my deck! I used to have more of a hang up with cards like Auriok Champion's bikini-clad artwork. While I don't know the artist's and distributor's (WotC's) intentions, the actual art doesn't bother me anymore, and judging them isn't worth the waste of time. I was way too puritanical about modesty earlier in life, and now I admire the beauty of God's creation in the human form – male or female – with such awe.


 What would you say is your Timmy/Johnny/Spike percentage?

0%/30%/70%.

 Are you satisfied by your current MTGO collection? How do you feel about spending money on MTGO to better one's collection? 

I used to own 4x of every card online, but my family expanded, I left MTGO during some of its various debacles, and Mythic rares happened, so now I only have a respectable collection. Capitalism is evil, but it’s a lesser evil than any other economic system, so I won’t fault WotC for milking their brainchild. I probably haven’t spent a dime on MTGO, however, in ten years.

 How do you acquire the new cards, then? Trading, selling old surplus, or going infinite in drafts, maybe?

I've won some events, stayed away from most sanctioned events from around 2008 until recently (thanks in large part to the generosity of you and Heath [Newton, Tribal Apocalypse's sponsor through MTGO Traders – Kuma's note] over the years), and sold off cards at propitious times (before Masters' releases usually) only to buy them back later.

 What's the Tribal Wars format for you? How did you end up playing it? And how did you find Tribal Apocalypse in the first place?

I played Tribal for a long time when it first started, fared rather poorly, but served as the de facto archivist in the defunct MTGO message board for the first couple of years. Deckbuilding is, by far, my most favorite activity in Magic, and I like how Tribal adheres to the restrictions-breeds-creativity aspect. With a smaller community and prizes, netdecking is less of a real deal, so the puzzle aspect is very fresh.

 You won 7 events in 2016. Would you review those winning decks for us?

 

 Perhaps my favorite, since it got a favorable reaction for winning (puny Skeletons!), had the most original deck construction of this list (i.e. of my 4-0 lists), and many different paths to victory (HelmLine, infect, Contagion lock, and even once the 2/3 Fear Skeleton beatdown) to create a different challenge each round.

 

 I think this is the most powerful deck I've played in Tribal. PainterStone is fairly potent, and if there is a case for being nice to Swords to Plowshares, this is the poster child. This deck also enjoys a reliable Dark Depths combo, with Worship lock to spoil red deck fun. Because of Expedition Map, Enlightened Tutor fetches pieces of all three combos for amazing consistency.

Whipping Boy
Human and Wizard. 1st place in Tribal Apocalypse 271 and 277 (Regular)
Creatures
4 Alchemist's Apprentice
4 Architects of Will
4 Laboratory Maniac
3 Meddling Mage
2 Stormscape Apprentice
2 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Containment Priest
20 cards

Other Spells
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
4 Intuition
4 Lim-Dul's Vault
4 Thought Lash
2 Chrome Mox
1 Gitaxian Probe
23 cards
Lands
4 Ancient Tomb
3 Tundra
3 Underground Sea
2 Flooded Strand
2 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Island
1 Misty Rainforest
18 cards
 
Laboratory Maniac

 

 Two explorations of the same combo (the Wizard version mostly replaces Alchemist's Apprentice with Dakra Mystic and the singleton Containment Priest with Mizzium Meddler), showcasing Chrome Mox power. Intuition is another fun card for me with some interesting design constraints.

Garden of Paradise (that's what Aluren means)
Human. 1st place in Tribal Apocalypse 282 (Regular)
Creatures
4 Dragon's Eye Savants
4 Imperial Recruiter
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Sage of Epityr
3 Wall of Roots
1 Cavern Harpy
1 Dosan the Falling Leaf
1 Dream Stalker
1 Eternal Witness
1 Omenspeaker
1 Parasitic Strix
1 Voidmage Prodigy
26 cards

Other Spells
4 Aluren
4 Intuition
2 Brainstorm
2 Dispel
12 cards
Lands
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Tropical Island
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Ancient Tomb
2 Havenwood Battleground
2 Wooded Foothills
1 Bayou
1 Forest
1 Island
1 Taiga
22 cards
 
Aluren

 

I like to break out Aluren once a year to keep invitational opponents guessing (if I'm able to 4-0). Winning with Birds the previous year was more fun since it was more unexpected.

The Wrong Colossus
Construct. 1st place in Tribal Apocalypse 288 (Regular)
Creatures
4 Cathodion
4 Kuldotha Forgemaster
4 Metalworker
4 Triskelion
3 Su-Chi
1 Silent Arbiter
2 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Darksteel Colossus
1 Platinum Emperion
1 Steel Hellkite
1 Sundering Titan
26 cards

Other Spells
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Grim Monolith
1 Batterskull
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Staff of Domination
11 cards
Lands
4 Ancient Tomb
4 Cloudpost
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Glimmerpost
4 Vesuva
2 City of Traitors
1 Wastes
23 cards
 
Darksteel Colossus

 

 Another deck from last year of which I was very proud since I was able to win with a different archetype than Combo. Darksteel Colossus being in the list by mistake (in place of Blightsteel Colossus) is still funny.

Twin Fish
Fish. 1st place in Tribal Apocalypse 300 (Underdog)
Creatures
4 Bounding Krasis
4 Breaching Hippocamp
4 Elusive Krasis
4 Gurmag Angler
4 Shambleshark
20 cards

Other Spells
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
4 Ponder
4 Splinter Twin
3 Chrome Mox
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Negate
23 cards
Lands
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island
2 Underground Sea
1 Polluted Delta
17 cards
 
Bounding Krasis

 

 Obvious combo is obvious. I had tried Splinter Twin in Soldiers a couple of times (again, Swords to Plowshares admittedly is perhaps necessary in order to fight it, though I'd rather increase the diversity of the format and ban both cards). I was just having fun. I got to win via Fish beatdown twice over Reanimator, without even getting to the combo, just on tempo.

 Looking back at your results, do you think you have a strategy or archetype you like playing the most or are better at piloting? You certainly seem to favor combo tactics.

Six of those are combo decks. In Legacy Tribal, especially in Underdog, the spells are so much stronger than the creatures. I just tried to avoid the outcome where two similar Aggro strategies bash heads until one is dead. Even though I’m an Aggro player at heart myself, mutual bashing always felt too random to me, plus I suspect I’m just not very good at building midrange Aggro. So I wanted to play Control or Combo for its fresh game play. I haven’t been able to get Control to work, mostly since I’m too old and slow. (Aside: I’m 40. I once won a national high school blitz chess championship with 5 minutes per side, but now my brain synapses fire too slowly for these 25 minute games. In chess, I rarely play games these days with less than 90 minutes per side, so playing Magic feels so odd with its fast pace when really there is often so much to calculate with regard to probability. /End Aside.) It’s hard to properly build Control when people are too married to their pet decks instead of what should succeed, and as a result, you can and do run into too much randomness. Control doesn’t thrive in ill-defined metagames, especially when, as in Tribal, you can’t lean on your sideboard.
 When deckbuilding the Combo decks, I’d usually start with the combo pieces, then match it to various candidate tribes with various color and mana cost demands. Then I’d look for synergies among the tribe to see if I could get anything where the whole is better than the sum of some of the more-powerful-in-a-vacuum individual parts. I’d certainly keep in mind ways to avoid the more common foils in the format. Then fine tune from there.
 I apologize to those who refuse in principle to metagame against Combo strategies in Tribal, and have taken losses against some of my combo decks accordingly. I honestly feel your annoyance. For me at least, my excuse is that I’m mostly not good enough to do anything else to be competitive (and other formats aren’t as cool).

 Any favorite tribe or color?

Not really, whatever feels fresh. Again, I just play this game for the mathematical problem-solving aspect. I want the best deck within my chosen constraint, not necessarily the best deck overall.

 Is there a deck or tribe you played but never won an event with that you wish you had? Or feel you should have?

I went 0-4 once with a Control Cleric deck that I suspect was the best in the event. I’ve also done very subpar with an erratic Spirits combo deck (erratic, since it didn't do a great job following the percentages for me, even when the coast was clear. C'est la vie. My kids like to goldfish with that deck). Most of these losses are my own fault for being too slow or missing a 100% foreseeable interaction. But that’s ok, I’m happy for other players. One advantage about Combo is that, USUALLY, the games end fast enough so that I don’t time out.

 How often do you feel compelled to try something new vs. the times you just go with what you've already tried and tested?

I always prefer to try new ideas over rehashing the old ones. Sometimes life intervenes and I don’t get enough time in the week to sketch out an idea, so I’m forced to rerun a deck, but that’s ok too. Magic is just a game.

 Is there a deck that didn't perform as well as expected? Or one that in the end made you go, "What was I thinking?"

I attribute a lot of my duds to just being a bad player. Magic is a tough game! Sometimes I overestimate an idea, but I think it was roughly fine at the time. In Tribal, there’s not much opportunity for practice, so since I play lots of decks, it’s basically all theory until the first round. So I can’t mentally beat myself up too much as I account for design error.

 In these cases, are you more likely to try and fix these experiments until they perform acceptably, or just abandon them and switch to something else?

There’s a definite tension. I hate shoddy work, especially my own, so I definitely want to fix it. Still, we only meet at maximum once a week, and I have other ideas that I want to try out too. If I don’t have the full time to deckbuild, I’m more likely to innovate off of a prior idea.

 Let's talk about the 2016 Invitational. What do you recall of that event? And in particular of the last round vs. Kasparadi?

I thought the first round, Underdog, would be the most dangerous one by far. Last year, I had done a lot of scouting with all the possible permutations and antidotes to likely opposing strategies, but this year, work was too busy for me to gain any edge. It’s hard to say in Underdog that you have the best strategy when anyone can netdeck a known list. Especially, like in my case, you spend all your deckbuilding time on a tribe that you find out at the 11th hour is illegal (Monks)! In the end it didn’t matter, I just wanted to play a combo with a piece that could either beat Reanimator or Natural Order. So that meant Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void with Helm of Obedience since other combos with random Containment Priests didn’t feel consistent enough. It was easy enough to ditch Monks for another shell (Vedalken) I had already considered for the same idea. I had already successfully implemented that idea with Skeletons, but I thought they were too hit-or-miss, since, if my opponent were on black, one of the combos (Contamination) would be useless. Plus my list was known so I would have been losing an edge.

In round 2, I was 99.9% sure that I had the strongest Regular deck since I was the only one who could legally play the Grindstone combo. It’s a strong testament to Deonmag’s deck and play that I had to get a very lucky topdeck to survive what probably should have been a blowout on paper deck-wise.
 For the Pure round, I just scanned my decks from 2015 (I had a terrible losing record in Pure in 2016, I knew my 2015 decks were still good ideas, so I ran with one of them). I knew the Knight one was well-rounded and had a combo finish so I felt like I could have good game against anything.

Scepter-Chant took game one, and Knight of the Reliquary with Retreat to Coralhelm took out game three. ML_Berlin's Goblins savaged me pretty well on the play in game two. It’s quite possible that was a die roll victory. In the end, the deck showcased the power of Enlightened Tutor in this format which is a point I had been trying to make.

Ben warned you many times about this card. Will you ever listen?

 The finals was fun. Kasparadi simply outwitted me. I tried to give him a whole bunch of wimpy-creature tribes [Players were asked to call out a pool of three tribes the opponent would choose from – Kuma's note], but I forgot Nightmare had some over-the-top monsters like Hypnox, and that blunder gave Kasparadi a well-deserved victory with his reanimator strategy. He’s a great competitor so I can’t be too upset, as even despite the blunder I could have easily lost to a more fair deck.

 Which other players from the Tribal Apocalypse crowd do you like, both for their skills in building and playing or just as a guys you get along with?

I regret that I don’t know anyone else really. I certainly respect several players and have found almost everyone to be friendly. Usually I’m a speak-when-spoken-to kind of guy who’s happy to lead, but who prefers to follow. I admit, though, that sometimes I let my pride and rash anger get the best of me and speak out when I should not get worked up over a batrachomyomachy (look up that tribalesque word!). Anyway, although I love being friendly, reticence doesn’t make for many Internet chat friends (or real life friends). So, I have no friends online and few in real life, but that’s ok, as I’m well-content with silence and spending time with God (for several years, I thought I was going to be a monk), and anyway, my son and daughter often love to watch and cheer me on during tribal events.

 As a zealous pro-life Catholic who tends to be very conservative to boot, I realize that tends to put me in the opposite camp of most MTGO players (and society at large), but if there’s anyone else out there with similar views, please say hi! I do love how games and sports allow us to fellowship with and respect each other as human beings without getting bogged down in our differences.

 I suspect AJ_Impy and I have a lot more in common in deckbuilding than anyone else. In his decks, he strikes me as more willing to find the best iterations of ideas in their pure form regardless of power level (definitely like my Shandalar days), where I have more of a tendency now to reject the idea or lean on more Spike-oriented cards.

 You've been around since a few years. Your first recorded win is with this Dwarf Charbelcher deck from August 2013: What do you recall of this deck? You never played it again since then, I believe.

 It showcased what for me is still the most underplayed card in Tribal – Chrome Mox. Mox gets even better with Ensnaring Bridge, which was also featured in that deck, but as I alluded to earlier: creatures suck compared to the power level of spells in Legacy. So many deck ideas fall to the wayside since they fail the Swords to Plowshares test (one of the reasons I love Pure more than most). But anyways, Chrome Mox, especially in Underdog, gets rid of your worst tribal card in exchange for a decent boost in tempo. Because of artifact hate, it’s not very playable in other formats, but with no sideboards, it’s often a powerhouse in Tribal. I’ll get back around to the deck some time – I’ve definitely looked it over with all the white Dwarves in Kaladesh, but nothing struck me as being overly strong with the old deck’s game plan.

Chrome Mox: you're not playing it, Ben says you should.

 Is there someone else from the old era who's not around anymore and you particularly miss and wish was back?

 Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar was our tribal author on the mothership site. I miss his articles and enthusiasm.

 What are your thoughts about the current status of Tribal Apocalypse? Something you would change, some opinions on endless debates like "the true spirit of tribal"?

 I like the debates. My opinion is that spells in Tribal Wars outclass the tribes by orders of magnitude. I wish that weren’t the case. I’d like to see more limits that make the tribal synergies more prevalent. But what good is synergy when the cards offering the synergy fail the Swords to Plowshares test (especially in Underdog)? It’s hard to justify the four-mana spell that loses to the one-mana counter. Burn is another annoying limiting factor. You can make a conscious decision that Burn won’t be played on a given week, but usually that’s naïve. But Burn beats a lot of tribes (especially in Black) that just don’t have access to the sufficiently-powerful lifegain spells they need, but would otherwise be interesting. I’m not even saying Burn is good, but rather that, good or not, people will play it, so your deckbuilding options are limited if you want to seriously try to 4-0. I’m more than ok with neutering Combo if that is the specter that people are afraid of, should Burn and Swords to Plowshares be limited (Path to Exile as well, but Swords is so much more powerful. You will splash for one, not the other. White mages will play Path, though).

Should this go away from Tribal Wars for good?

 Which other formats do you play other than Tribal, and which PREs other than TribAp?

 I’ve played Vintage dailies a couple of times a month since last summer. I’ve won 5-6 dailies outright (some on another account) with several more 3-1 results. I only played Hatebears (tribal!) until Paradoxical Outcome was invented. Now I’m just trying to break that card. I somehow won the 2016 Vintage PRE championship with it.

 Where do you think Magic and MTGO are going? Where do you see Magic in the next 5 or 10 years?

 I don’t understand the dynamics of marketing to the Standard audience well enough to comment. MTGO will probably try to approximate the successes of Hearthstone somewhat, while keeping its unique brand.

Ben and his 15-year-old daughter Heidi, his biggest MTGO fan who also loves Tribal Wars.

 Is there something you never tried before that you're going to try this season?

 I have tons of unplayed Underdog decks to pawn off on the format sometime. They’re not great, but the fun of deckbuilding is to find the best iteration of that tribe. I may try to find a Combo Elves deck or a Goblin Sharpshooter deck that I like (one of my favorite cards). If I can find a fast enough finisher for a Control shell, I may try my hand at that a bit more. Otherwise, because of my personal limitations (old age), I’ll probably have to stick to decks that I can finish a round on time with.

Expect to be the bearded guy in the picture at some point!

2 Comments

2100 ELO in chess is not by Paul Leicht at Mon, 04/03/2017 - 12:45
Paul Leicht's picture
5

2100 ELO in chess is not horrible lol. I think I might have gotten to about 1900 if I played chess tourneys at my peak of that game. It isn't great if you aim to be a grandmaster but for the average chess player that's still in the top 1% I think.

Good interview. :D

A lot more in common besides by AJ_Impy at Mon, 04/03/2017 - 17:03
AJ_Impy's picture
5

A lot more in common besides deckbuilding as well, given that one of the first oblique references I ever got on the mothership site was when I submitted Handel's Messiah to Mark Gottlieb's acrostic deckbuilding challenge back in '03.
( http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/feature/how-dare-you-2-2003... for reference.)

Good interview!