Explorations #50 - The First Fifty
So this is article number fifty, and I wanted to take this opportunity to do a bit of a retrospective on the articles that I've written so far. I always like when other authors do this type of thing, and decided to give it a shot myself. I guess I like these retrospectives for the same reason that I like greatest hits albums. It lowers the barrier to entry on a tough-to-crack amount of words/music/whatever. If someone is reading the words in this article and finds them interesting, but hasn't read much of my past work, then here's their opportunity to skim back and hopefully find something else fun to read.
My method today is going to be pretty simple. I'm going to go down the line of fifty articles and give a quick synopsis of each one with updated impressions and a letter grade based on how good of a job I think I did. My favorite author (by a wide margin) is Kurt Vonnegut, and in one of his later books he takes some time aside to grade each of his previous novels. I figure that if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me. I'm going to be grading my stuff A through F. I consider a B article to be an interesting idea executed well, and a D article to be a crappy idea executed poorly. A and F articles need to be exceptionally good or bad, C is somewhere in between. This obviously isn't an exact science.
Let's get started!
Explorations #1 - Twin Milling
This is the first article that I published about Magic for PureMTGO, and the first that I really published anywhere with the exception of some old tournament reports and stuff back in the stone ages when I was just a small child with absolutely no clue what I was doing. For some real entertaining reading, I should try to dig up some old usenet posts or something - maybe I'll do that for a future article.
Anyway, I worked super hard on my first effort for PureMTGO - I can still remember staying up all night checking and double-checking for any small mistake I may have made. Twin Milling covered a deck based on the Sanity Grinding and Twincast combo, and paved the way for most of the concepts that I've used since then. This one has a history lesson on the Pro Tour 1 winning deck, a math lesson about how many cards you can expect to mill with Sanity Grinding based on your deck makeup, a bunch of game reports, discussion of other directions to take the deck, and talk of how to create a version on a budget.
I feel like kind of a dick starting off by giving the first article an A, but I really think this is a good one.
Explorations #2 - So Long Time Spiral
I had more fun playing Magic during Time Spiral block than I have since I first started with Legends. Not only was Time Spiral a nostalgic block for me, but I really love weak linears. Here's how you know I loved the set/block: I actually played limited! I never play limited! TSP-TSP-TSP draft every Tuesday, had a blast.
This article was my attempt to say goodbye to Time Spiral with a look at a few decks that were about to rotate out of Standard. I covered decks based on Gibbering Descent, Walk the Aeons, Dash Hopes, Phyrexian Etchings, and Tamanoa. These are some great Johnny decks, but would have been better with game reports.
Explorations #3 - Shards of Alara Deck Sketches (Jund, Bant)
My third article covered two shards worth of deck ideas for the then-upcoming Shards of Alara set. I made a fun devour deck, a super-linear Bant/exalted deck, and then turned an LSV-created red-green Snow Big Mana deck into a Jund deck that aims to ramp into Broodmate Dragon. Jund ramp actually turned out to be a decent archetype in Standard for a while.
Explorations #4 - Shards of Alara Deck Sketches (Esper, Grixis)
Here come the next two shards, but I think a did a crappy job on this article. I made a bland Esper deck and a bland Grixis deck. The only decent material in this one was a calculation of how many cards are packed into Cruel Ultimatum and some thoughts about new Affinity.
Explorations #5 - Shards of Alara Deck Sketches (Naya, Misc)
This article was better than the last one, but still kind of lame. I wrote about a Realm Razer deck, a bunch of various Naya/Zoo builds, and some misc combos. These three Shards of Alara articles were just spread too thin.
Explorations #6 - All About Elfball
I wrote this article while watching the webcast of Pro Tour: Berlin and watching LSV clean house with the 'surprise' Extended Elf combo deck. I wanted to learn about this new deck, so my goal was to get an article together by the end of the night. I did, and got some decent information about this new deck out there quickly.
Explorations #7 - Supper's Ready
Supper's Ready fully details my experiences with the devour deck that I first mentioned in article number three. I used Sarkhan Vol, Caldera Hellion, Mycoloth, and Skullmulcher along with some token generators like Goblin Assault to create powerful threats. I made a second version that used Torrent of Souls and Threaten with Nantuko Husk on a budget that turned out to be a lot of fun.
Explorations #8 - Quirion Dryad Grows Up
I made two different Quirion Dryad decks in this article - one based on the green-white 'little kid' strategy, and one that used red burn spells to grow the Dryad. Both of these decks were a lot of fun to play, and turned into a great budget deck. Quirion Dryad is one of my all time favorite cards, and I still play variations of these decks in Extended.
I always wanted to make a third Dryad deck based on Stoic Angel, but never got around to it. Maybe someday.
Explorations #9 - The Zombie Whisperer
I've always loved black decks, and The Zombie Whisperer was a bit of an homage to the black cards. I covered the 7th Edition/Invasion/Planeshift/Apocalypse/Judgement/Odyssey/Torment/Judgement Extended rotation and what it meant for black decks. I also threw together a deck based on the hilarious combo of Endless Whispers and Phage the Untouchable.
Explorations #10 - Going Green
I was pretty irritated that Magic's "color matters" block was in full swing, and no one seemed to care about colors much at all. My goal was to assemble a mono color deck (green) that actually cared about colors. This article includes images of Cloudthresher, Cryptic Command, and Cruel Ultimatum with the caption: 'Obviously these all go in the same deck'.
If you like the idea of attacking with Primalcrux, then check out the deck in this one.
Explorations #11 - See the Mage in his Tower
See the Mage in his Tower talks about the Project X combo deck and its relationship with Magic Online, and then builds up a deck with an infinite mana combo fueled by Bloom Tender, Doubling Cube, Umbral Mantle, and Filigree Sages with Helix Pinnacle as a win condition.
Explorations #12 - King Sedris and the Traitors
I start off this article with tales from my first ever Classic tournament with the mighty NecroSpike deck, which I endorsed as the best deck in Classic. I recommended swapping out Chrome Mox for Lotus Petal in this deck, which wasn't accepted at the time. That came directly from my experience playing combo decks in Legacy, and eventually became the default zero-mana artifact accelerator for NecroSpike in Classic.
There's also a casual Johnny deck in this article based on Sedris, the Traitor King and unearth/evoke creatures: Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, Sedraxis Specter. A wacky deck that's the perfect complement to some hardcore Classic discussion.
Explorations #13 - Fishing for Tempest Packs
So even though I was convinced that NecroSpike was the best deck in Classic, I decided to put together a UWB Fish deck and take it into my first ever Classic Premiere Event. I was pretty psyched to make top 8 in my first full Classic tournament with a deck that I built myself. I loved forcing my opponent to Swords to Plowshares a Bitterblossom token with Umezawa's Jitte! I still love this deck, and reading this tournament report really makes me want to rebuild this one for modern day Classic.
Explorations #14 - Manaplasm and Big Spells
Manaplasm is a crazy card from Shards of Alara, a creature that grows whenever you cast a spell (based on the casting cost). I built a deck based on the utilization of free spells like Fireblast, Pyrokinesis, and Blazing Shoal in order to create a gigantic Manaplasm. People seemed to really like this one.
Explorations #15 - 100 Red Cards
I'm of the opinion that pretty much every tournament report is a good tournament report - but this one is really bad. I didn't really know much about 100 Card Singleton (still don't), and just threw together a deck at the last minute to play with. There are only two good things about this article. The first is that not many 100 Card Singleton tournament reports are out there, and this gives people something to read if they're interested in the format. The second good thing about this article is that I made top 16 and won some packs.
Explorations #16 - BaleFireMane Control
This article contains one of my personal favorite decks that I've ever built. BaleFireMane Control revolves around Firemane Angel and Balefire Liege. I still shuffle this one up every once in a while.
Explorations #17 - Trix 2009
This article revisited the old Trix combo with some new cards: Immortal Coil, Puca's Mischief, and Relic of Progenitus. This is a totally janky combo, but a lot of fun to play. I also included a quick Classic tournament report with NecroSpike - this time I lost in the finals. In the semifinals I won my match 2-0 in only TWO turns between both games combined. That's the first time I've ever done that.
One thing I thought was interesting is that someone in the comments accused me of stealing this deck, which seems ridiculous to me. I never really thought I was passing anything in these articles off as unique concepts that no one else has EVER thought about before, but apparently some people thought so. Sure I try to be unique, but all of these ideas are out there - and I just try to write interesting articles about them. I'm not trying to claim ownership of anything. Here's what I wrote back then:
"If you're looking for the first person to come up with a combo, then you should spend your time scouring internet forums (for the VERY first mention anywhere). If you enjoy the full package of the articles that I write (somewhat unique deck, card evaluations, game reports, evolutions, budget options, etc) then you should tune in for my articles. It's pretty simple."
Explorations #18 - -1/-1 Counter Control
Here's a deck based on Necroskitter and -1/-1 counters. On the positive side this deck was a lot of fun and this article featured my first ever video segment. On the negative side, the deck was pretty linear. The video in this one took me FOREVER to make.
Explorations #19 - Next Level Momir Basic Primer
My nineteenth article was an introduction to with basic lands with the Jhoira, Stonehewer Giant, and Momir Vig avatars. I called this 'Next Level Momir Basic', but I was told this format is more well known as MOJOS. This one has three video segments and two example games. If you want a brief intro to this format (I'm a HUGE fan), then this article should get you started.
Explorations #20 - Conflux Deck Sketches
Check out this article for five different deck ideas based on cards from Conflux. We've got decks based on Esperzoa/Master Transmuter, Sigil of the Empty Throne, Banefire/Apocalypse Hydra/Martial Coup, Bloodhall Ooze, and Nyxathid. That pretty much covers it.
Explorations #21 - Three Articles in One
As the title suggests, this one actually contains three different articles. There's a section on a NAYA/jund ramp list, a section on a deck based on X casting costs, and then a Classic Merfolk tournament report where I show a novel Merfolk list. If I could score these sections independently, then I would give them a B, F, and A respectively.
The coolest bit of info in this article is the Merfolk list that I played, which included the Stifle/Phyrexian Dreadnought combo. I knew I wanted to play four copies of Stifle (since NecroSpike was still the deck to beat), so why not add in Dreadnought? I ended up scooping in the top eight to go hiking.
Explorations #22 - Simple Land Calculator
I really like this article. I made a little Silverlight app where you enter the casting costs of the cards in your deck, and it provides a starting point land breakdown for your deck. It's not perfect, but it will get you started.
Explorations #23 - Importance vs Urgency
This is probably the best Magic article that I've written, and definitely the most helpful when it comes to improving your general thought processes in gaming or in life.
Explorations #24 - Fighting Counterbalance/Top
At the time, I think this article contained information that was crucial to survival in competitive Classic. Counterbalance/Top has fallen out of favor lately, but it's still useful info. I especially like how one of my ways to defeat an active Counterbalance/Top is to "just win anyway". Talk about some solid advice.
I love breaking down complicated issues into abstract lists in this style. I should write more articles like Fighting Counterbalance/Top.
Explorations #25 - Fighting Storm Combo in Classic
This article is similar to the previous one, except instead of tackling a control combo we're attacking more direct game winning combos (Goblin Charbelcher, Tendrils of Agony, Brain Freeze, etc). The information in here is useful for any serious Classic player.
Explorations #26 - Alara Reborn Sketches
Alara Reborn did not offer a lot of cards that spoke to me in a really unique way. The decks I talked about in this article were being talked about by everyone. I wasn't really able to find a unique angle at all here. Bummer. It wasn't for lack of trying!
Explorations #27 - Mayael's Song
Here's one based on a card that I overlooked from Alara Reborn: Mayael's Aria. I ended up with a casual deck that's a lot of fun to play, and often wins via alternate win condition. Everyone loves alternate win conditions, right?
Explorations #28 - The Untouchables
The basic idea here was to create a deck based on creatures with 'troll shroud' and powerful equipment in a metagame filled with creature removal. The dream was to win via Epic Proportions/Uril, the Miststalker, which I actually managed to pull off a few times. The budget, mono-green version turned out pretty solid, maybe even better than the original version - certainly WAY better bang for the buck.
Explorations #29 - Welcome to 1997
I've been playing Magic for a very long time, and I often try to supplement my articles with history lessons that I remember from way back in the day. Welcome to 1997 takes a look at Sandsipose, the deck that Randy Beuhler used to make it onto the Pro Tour for the first time. This one relies on Sands of Time, Equipoise, and some wacky phasing rules. I tried this deck out in the modern day Classic casual room, updated the list into the year 2009, and produced a budget version.
I also addressed the big M10 rule changes in this article. I still agree with pretty much everything I said on this topic.
Explorations #30 - Casual Deck Doctor: K-Dead
I ran an experiment where readers sent in decks and I ran them through their paces, hit up some practice games, and evolved the deck idea over time. This one turned out ok, but I spent too much time working on a lame version of this deck. The second half is a lot better.
I definitely screwed up by not including enough budget versions here. I should definitely do more casual deck doctor articles in the future.
Explorations #31 - Nine Different Things
I had a whole bunch of different ideas kicking around at the time (nine to be exact), and none of them were enough material for a full article - so I stuck them all together into one big article. This one contains a review of Duels of the Planeswalkers, the three cards I wanted in MED3 (Bazaar of Baghdad, Mana Drain, and Mishra's Workshop), an M10 mono red deck, a new look at Manaplasm, updated thoughts on stacking damage, five casual cards to build around, my favorite lands, and a discussion of the new player's reward program. If any of that sounds interesting, then check out this article.
The Duels of the Planeswalkers review I wrote for this one was written from the point of view of a longtime player testing out the game with his casual girlfriend - which is a technique that I would utilize more later down the line.
Explorations #32 - M10 Sketches
I felt that my M10 review article was pretty solid, containing a few different deck ideas and thoughts on individual cards. I spent too much time talking about a generic-ish white weenie deck, but the Prison Guards deck here still looks like a blast to me.
Explorations #33 - Borrowing a Deck
I decided to make a deck around the Shards of Alara junk rare Skill Borrower. I ended up creating a deck that was a hybrid of Skill Borrower and reanimator, which felt like a cop out to many people. At the time I thought this deck was pretty solid, but thinking back I can definitely see where these people were coming from. I still think this deck is a lot of fun, but it's only halfway a Skill Borrower deck.
Explorations #34 - Casual Deck Doctor: Barbed Wire Fence
For my second Casual Deck Doctor article, I worked with a deck built around old-school favorite Manabarbs and the new cycle of Borderposts from Alara Reborn. This was a much better effort than my first attempt at Casual Deck Doctor, and I think the resulting deck is a lot of fun to play. The dude who made the original deck did an awesome job though, and he gets most of the credit for this one.
Explorations #35 - Pain-Free Fire
With the M10 rule changes, mana burn became a thing of the past. I decided to embrace this fact by building a deck around Braid of Fire. There were two problems I found with this idea: there are a limited number of cards that want a ton of red mana during your upkeep, and there were already a bunch of mana sinks to remove the mana burn issue. This deck turned out ok, but it wasn't that much different post M10 than it would have been pre-M10.
Explorations #36 - Exploring Exiled
I think I usually do a good job with the old cards, and this is problem my best set review yet. I cover my thoughts on every card chosen for From the Vault: Exiled, working in plenty of old school stories, casual decks, tournament decks, and miscellaneous commentary.
Exploring Exiled also featured the tale of my first every Magic 'challenge match' in middle school, which I find a really interesting read... but that may just be because I lived it.
Explorations #37 - Big Green M10
Big Green M10 uses Dramatic Entrance, Impromptu Raid, Mosswort Bridge, Elvish Piper, and Lurking Predators to cheat giant monsters into play. We're talking Woodfall Primus, Progenitus, Kalonian Behemoth, and Cloudthresher. It's pretty straightforward, but a lot of fun if you're into smashing with gigantic monsters.
There's also a pretty cool discussion (in the abstract) of how to get a gigantic monster into play. Like I mentioned earlier, I need to write more stuff like that.
Explorations #38 - MED3 Sketches
This one is a bit light on the deck ideas for my usual set reviews - but I did a really good job with individual card commentary on this one. I just reread the whole article right now, which I never do, so it must be pretty good. MED3 sketches is the best 'trip down memory' lane article that I've written.
Explorations #39 - On Junk Rares
If you're into building decks around cheap cards, or cards that don't cost as much as they probably should... then check out this article. I've done a lot of this in my Magic career, and On Junk Rares contains a useful breakdown of which attributes to look for when scouring trade binders for cards on the cheap.
Explorations #40 - So Long Lorwyn/Shadowmoor
Just like with Time Spiral, I decided to write an article saying goodbye to Lorwyn/Shadowmoor in Standard - and here it is. Check out this one for a deck based on Mirrorweave, a Kithkin deck that relies on Quill-Slinger Boggart, and one that's just 56 Mountains and 4 Countryside Crushers.
Three solid decks, I just wish that I had included more game reports. I'll have to do that when I write So Long Zendikar.
Explorations #41 - On Focus
This one is a lot like Importance vs Urgency. I break down the subject of focus and concentration, which is something I use a lot in my daily life, and apply these concepts to Magic. On Focus contains useful information for pretty much everyone, in most walks of life. I try every day to get better at improving my focus, it's a lifelong pursuit. This article contains tips on everything from meditation to rest and exercise, from admitting your mistakes to improving your breathing.
Finally, who doesn't love a Magic article that features Eddie Van Halen?
Guitar World: "So how did you go from playing your first open A chord to playing Eruption?"
EVH: "Practice. I used to sit on the edge of my bed with a six-pack of Schlitz Malt talls. My brother would go out at 7 P.M. to party and get laid, and when he'd come back at 3 AM, I would still be sitting in the same place, playing guitar. I did that for years - I still do that."
Explorations #42 - Two Old Decks
While hiking the Long Trail, I ran this article based on two decks that I built in the past but never worked into a full article. I think both of these are funky and cool. One is a combination Affinity/Storm deck, and the other runs a combo of Lava Spike/Desperate Ritual/Izzet Guildmage. This article would be a solid B, but the decks were outdated at the time I published this one so I'm downgrading it to a C.
Explorations #43 - A Walk in the Woods
Earlier this fall, my fiance and I went on a two-week long hiking trip on the Long Trail in Vermont. This article is a bit light on the Magic content, but was a really emotional one for me and really hits the ball out of the park when it comes to what I'm capable of when it comes to musings about life. I'm not saying it's fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it's pretty much the best I can do.
Also in this one I announced my engagement!
Explorations #44 - Embracing Confusion
I've wanted to build a deck based on Confusion in the Ranks for a long time, and here it is. I feel it turned out a bit too straightforward, which is kind of a bummer, but it's a functional Johnny deck. I presented a few more interesting versions, but didn't really follow up on them.
Explorations #45 - Exploring Zendikar
My Zendikar set review was not nearly as good as the ones I wrote for From the Vault: Exiled or Master's Edition III. I had a hard time coming up with unique angles on Zendikar, and the Blue Burn deck is the only one that seems really interesting and not covered elsewhere.
There's some decent material on Cosi's Trickster in Merfolk for Classic, and thoughts on the rare cycle of lands - but the decks presented feel very 'been there, read about that'. I also got this article out a bit late, which didn't really help.
Explorations #46 - How to Get Your Girlfriend to Play Magic
My fiance wrote most of this article, and she did a fantastic job. It's fun to read, interesting, cute, and gives readers a look into a whole realm of Magic that is normally not covered in online articles - or anywhere else for that matter. I'd recommend this article to anyone, and hope that she writes more in the future!
Explorations #47 - The Greatest Quest
Check out this article for history of Time Vault, and a combo deck based on the updated variant Magosi, the Waterveil. I loved how this one played out, and I made a solid budget version. The Greatest Quest turned out to be pretty controversial, and launched a whole discussion over what exactly qualifies as a casual deck, which I addressed in my next article.
Explorations #48 - The Casual Debate, World Queller, and More
Not only did I address the casual debate in this one (brief summary: play whatever you want), but I also built a deck around World Queller that turned out to be a total blast to play. I took down all sorts of powerful cards with World Queller including (Sorin Markhov) and Jace Beleren, and had a lot of fun!
I also addressed Zendikar's status as a 'land matters' set, and a bunch of ideas that I hope work their way into the rest of the block.
Explorations #49 - Budget Alternatives
In many ways this is a continuation of the article On Junk Rares discussed above, but there is a fundamental difference. Instead of dealing with cheap cards in the abstract, this one calls out somewhere around sixty expensive cards and discusses a bunch of different alternatives for players on a budget. In many cases the alternatives aren't QUITE as good, but do a decent job of approximating the function of their more expensive buddies.
If you're a budget player, then this article is probably decent reference material for you.
Explorations #50 - The First Fifty
This is the article you just finished reading. I think I did a pretty solid job, and had a lot of fun putting it together. Hopefully you guys enjoy reading this one.
There it is - fifty summaries, and fifty grades. You'll notice that my GPA does not place me anywhere near the top tier of Magic writers, but I'm always working hard to improve!
So as you may know by now, I'm not going to be writing a weekly Explorations article moving forward. I AM still going to be writing plenty, just not on a strictly weekly schedule. I have a million ideas in my head for decks to write about, and the next article from me could be coming up very soon. I've already written the intro. I knew I wouldn't be able to stay away for long.
Thanks for reading!