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By: AJ_Impy, AJ Richardson
Jul 08 2009 10:20am
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Welcome, discerning readers, as we throw off the shackles of oppressive land costs and stride forward in a cheap mana revolution. You don't need to spend an absolute fortune to power out your creations: It may help, but there are ways to turn almost any liability into an opponent-destroying asset. This week's column was inspired by one of last weeks' anonymous comments, admittedly for a more mana-intensive format, but pointing out that the lands for some of those decks racked up at over $100. I've been gradually accumulating lands over the years I've been playing MTGO, but still, it helps to sometimes stop and think about accessibility. Expensive lands are a good, reliable, safe and boring investment: They will rarely win you the game, manlands excepted, but they will make it possible to do so. On the other hand, when over a third of your deck is clocking in at 5-10 tickets apiece, that's a pretty significant barrier to entry. 

Welcome to Magic. Got a spare $350 for a playset of these? You can foil them for just $2,200!
Underground Sea Tundra Reflecting Pool

If we want new blood to come into the game, and to start taking up the interesting fringe formats that help showcase the edges of the possible, we need to show that there are games to be won without having to invest twice as much into the manabase as we do into the main deck. Today's decks will not be budget decks per se, but the mana will be: No rare lands, no lands that coat a ticket for a playset or more, and mostly the basics that everyone can easily obtain.

No, Tarmogoyf costs too much.

There's a creature type that has only shown up in five places over time: Its debut in Ice Age, the Core Set, a 5-card cycle in Odyssey block, a hoser in Planar Chaos and a one-off futureprint in Future Sight. They've proven surprisingly popular on the tournament circuit: The hasty red one that feeds off sorceries was an archetype, the cheap trampler that makes a point of surviving Wildfire effects was pretty big, and the 2-mana one that goes by all card types? Yeah, that one didn't do too badly. The original card was iconic, if only for its legendary flavor text, which launched a handful of tributes and shout outs, even an Un-set appearance.

Revenant Saffi Eriksdotter Cursed Monstrosity

Lhurgoyf tribal has one critical problem: You start the game with a handful of 3- and 4-mana 0/0s and 0/1s.  You need to get stuff into the graveyard, and lots of stuff at that. The next problem is that every Lhurgoyf except the one still making a big splash in Classic and Extended has two colored mana symbols in the top corner. Excluding the $60-a-playset allstar, we then need to hit 2 mana in at least 3 colors. Also, each 'Goyf has a different land preference. We can pair up to some extent: Mortivore and Lhurgoyf both live off creatures, which in Tribal we can guarantee at least a third of each deck. Terravore and its more discerning cousin Detritivore live off the fat of the land, although we can't guarantee our opponent has nonbasics for the latter. Still, aside from the occasional insane johnny trying to do landless tribal, we can usually say there will be quite a few of these on each side of the table. This leaves Magnivore, Cantivore and Cognivore. Sorceries and instants are easier to send to the graveyard than enchantments, as they go there with no effort on our part in the course of use, and Magnivore is half the CMC of Cognivore, and shares a color with one on those we paired off earlier.

Our opponents have the run of the early game as we set up our monsters for the mid-to-late game. We need to get those early creatures in the graveyard to feed our goyfs rather than eat our lifetotal, and so to that end we play a lot of cheap but powerful sweepers, namely Firespout and Devastating Dreams. With the former, we kill anything with less than 3 toughness, and get a sorcery in the 'yard. With the latter, we randomly dump a large chunk of our hand into the 'yard, sacrifice a lot of lands and kill anything that doesn't get more powerful as stuff is dumped and has less toughness than the number of cards we ditched. The problem then becomes rebuilding. How do we get from no lands, no creatures and no hand against no lands, no creatures and anything held back from overextending? We don't. We get that dumped in the graveyard as well and reload with a fresh 7 cards. Wheel of Fate sets us up nicely, and ditching our hand to a Devastating Dreams the turn before we'll lose it anyway has a certain neatness to it. But what about mana? How do we run something that requires land sacrifice and still hit double green, double red and double black?

Veinfire Borderpost Far Wanderings Firewild Borderpost

The Alara Reborn Borderposts require basics to fully exploit, and can effectively function in a manner akin to the Shivan Oasis cycle. On top of that, if you have the mana, you can pay retail for a small measure of acceleration. Using both red-based ones gives us the vital Devastating Dreams or Firespout mana more consistently, and we can effectively sub them in on a one for one basis with lands, giving us more room for the meat of the deck. Unleashing a Devastating Dreams scaled to wipe our opponent's lands whilst retaining borderpost mana on the board can be nasty, but the backbreaker is following it up with a Far Wanderings with threshold. With a variety of ways to fill our own grave in order to pump our Lhurgoyfs, going from 2 borderposts and a land to having 6 mana the turn after a Dreams can put our opponent in a position from which they can't recover. 6 mana is significant because between the two kinds of borderposts and selecting basics, that should enable us to cast our entire deck, and if our opponent is trying to rebuild with nonbasics, we can suspend Detritivore to put him under a Destructive Flow lock for a couple more turns. The ideal circumstance is dropping a fat, unstoppable and efficient beater or two and killing your opponent before he can recover.

Vore than meets the eye
Lhurgoyf Tribal deck on a budget manabse
4 Terravore
4 Mortivore
4 Lhurgoyf
4 Detritivore
4 Magnivore
20 cards

Other Spells
4 Wheel of Fate
4 Devastating Dreams
4 Firespout
4 Far Wanderings
4 Veinfire Borderpost
4 Firewild Borderpost
24 cards
4 Forest
4 Mountain
4 Swamp
4 Terramorphic Expanse
16 cards

Devastating Dreams

The deck is not without its flaws and drawbacks: Artifact hate, particularly repeatable, makes lunchmeat of your borderposts. Protection from red nullifies your sweepers. Any deck that kills you before you draw and/or play a sweeper is a bad matchup. There will be games where your opponent has just the right card to thwart you, although that card could be different each time. The counterbalance to that is being able to play multiple 10-power monsters up against an empty board: Shades of Ernhamgeddon if you can Devastating Dreams with lethal creatures on the battlefield. If you can afford Tarmogoyf, you can either sub out Mortivore for color consistency or Detritivore, which all too often is a dead card.

Warriors, come out to play-ay

Finest Hour helps to showcase the Exalted mechanic, one I've not yet really touched upon in the context of a Tribal article. It appears on soldiers, wizards and knights, archers, humans, rhino and an angel, but I'd like to take it in a different direction. Alara has been remerged, after all: let's shift the mechanic a few demiplanes to the left. There are quite a few 'trigger on attack' abilities in the Warrior tribe, which also has a couple of cheap and reliable double strikers to eke out every ounce of benefit from the attack bonus. A creature which gets bigger whenever it goes on the offensive is going to get extra value out of Finest Hour, so let's see what happens when we put these three stalwarts together:

Hungry Spriggan Lunk Errant Stonebrow, Krosan Hero

If you attack with a Hungry Spriggan under a Finest Hour, you start out with a 5/5 untapped trampler. If it survives, it can come crashing in again, this time as a 9/9 trampler. 14 points of trample damage in one turn, all from one 3-mana 1/1 and a 5 mana enchantment. Stonebrow, Krosan Hero is as unpleasant, a 7/7 on the first attack, a 9/9 on the second. Even the otherwise fairly middling Lunk Errant goes in as a 6/6 trampler on the first hit and an 8/8 on the second, and all three benefit from Stonebrow's ability. If we throw in a few Ardent Plea, we can up the damage still further, and have a decent chance of cascading into a double-striking Viashino Slaughtermaster.  Anyone who has seen Rafiq of the Many under a Finest Hour knows the value of an exalted double striker, and the slaughtermasters can also play a very convincing defence. We round out our tribe with another, Marisi's Twinclaws.

We're looking at four out of the five colors in the casting costs, and another in a nice-to-have activated ability. The main body of our tribe is red and green, with blue and white needed for Ardent Plea and Finest Hour. Sticking to our budget constraints, we'll fix our mana with Terramorphic Expanse, Fieldmist Borderpost, Rupture Spire and a set of Kodama's Reach, a single island and plains to tutor up. For removal, we'll go for Savage Twister: More than half our tribe has a native 4 toughness, the Spriggans have that post-attack, and the Slaughtermasters can be pumped once as well, with any of the fragile creatures made less so on an exalted attack. 

Lunchtime, Doubly So.
Warrior Tribal deck on a budget manabase
4 Viashino Slaughtermaster
4 Hungry Spriggan
4 Marisi's Twinclaws
4 Stonebrow, Krosan Hero
4 Lunk Errant
20 cards

Other Spells
4 Kodama's Reach
4 Fieldmist Borderpost
4 Ardent Plea
4 Finest Hour
4 Savage Twister
20 cards
5 Forest
5 Mountain
1 Island
1 Plains
4 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Rupture Spire
20 cards

Viashino Slaughtermaster

This is a fairly resilient deck, but aside from trampling over them with huge and ever-growing monstrosities, it can be weak against evasion, with Savage Twister the only out there. The best defence for this deck is a good offence, backed up by a line of double-striking monsters to kill the opposition before they get a hit in.

That's the spirit!

We finally turn our attentions to a tribe that was obscure and patchwork for many years before getting an entire block devoted to it. I refer to the Spirits, Kamigawa's premier tribe. One of the better ones to come out of that block was Tallowisp, an aura-friendly card advantage engine just perfect for a tribal deck. Recently, we got another Aura-loving spirit, this one a large, exalted wrecking ball. Sovereigns of Lost Alara gives us a nice curve-topper, able to stick an aura on a lone attacker the turn it comes into play. Like, say, Elder Mastery. Now, we need some resilient or lethal attacking spirits as pants targets: Either hard to kill or nasty when they hit. Phantom Nomad gives us a tough early drop that can be made immortal with Bolas' blessing, Guardian of the Guildpact is untouchable by monocolored tribes or monocolored removal, and Dimir Cutpurse generates a two-card swing every time it makes contact.

Guardian of the Guildpact Dimir Cutpurse Phantom Nomad

Now, while both the Wisp and the Sovereigns can tutor up auras, in the case of the Sovereigns they need to be ones you want on your own creatures. Given relatively limited deck space, this means we're less able to include cards such as Pillory of the Sleepless. Fortunately, there are beneficial enchantments that also allow us to do mean things to the opposition. A full set of Galvanic Arc gives us a nice amount of tutorable removal, as well as a nasty surprise for the defending player with the Sovereign in play. Both Flight of Fancy and Pentarch Ward give us card draw and evasion, with the Ward also shutting down monocolor strategies. In one game against Elves, setting it to white and sticking one on each of the Taunting Elf my opponent played was enough to render them useless and steal the win. Finally, a brace of Arcane Teachings and the aforementioned Elder Mastery can both make Phantom Nomad immune to damage, with the former useful if you want to start using the exalted bonuses of the Sovereigns on another creature, and the latter granting evasion.


Galvanic Arc Pentarch Ward Elder Mastery

The mana base is where things get interesting: We are heavy white, but also need blue and black early on for the cutpurses, and red for our removal suite. On the other hand, we don't need more than one mana of any one color. Red we can cheat on with the Sovereigns, but that won't see play early on. Terramorphic Expanse nets us any land and Grixis Panorama any of our support colors, with Rupture Spire as the cheapest multiland. We weight our basics: Two each of the support colors and the rest in plains, netting us 14 sources for any one color. You can easily obtain this manabase for under two tickets: It isn't one hundred per cent reliable but it does well enough for the deck to win with it.

Sovereigns of the phantom guildpact
Spirit Tribal deck on a budget manabase
4 Phantom Nomad
4 Tallowisp
4 Dimir Cutpurse
4 Guardian of the Guildpact
4 Sovereigns of Lost Alara
20 cards

Other Spells
4 Galvanic Arc
4 Pentarch Ward
2 Flight of Fancy
2 Arcane Teachings
4 Elder Mastery
16 cards
2 Island
2 Mountain
2 Swamp
6 Plains
4 Grixis Panorama
4 Rupture Spire
4 Terramorphic Expanse
24 cards

Sovereigns of Lost Alara

The deck could do with a sweeper, and I was tempted by Bloodfire Infusion, but Tallowisp can't tutor it, and it relies on high power creatures, which the deck is short on. Relying so much on auras puts the deck at a risk of card disadvantage, but this is mitigated by the Sovereigns. The resilient creatures the deck runs are well suited to holding the fort in the single combat style the Sovereigns invite, and swinging with a Guardian laden with multiple Elder Mastery against a monocolored deck is painful but mercifully brief for your opponent. The deck is vulnerable to sweepers, at least non-damage-dependent ones, and there have been games where I've tutored up most of the relevant Auras. This is a double edged sword: You won't get much further use out of your wisps, but you've drawn a large chunk of your deck.

That just about wraps it up for this week. Mana consistency is one of the most important and least interesting aspects of a deck when you're playing it: The in-game question of 'Do I have the mana to pay for these spells and abilities?' is one that starts being answered in deckbuilding. Reflecting Pool is less valuable than Rupture Spire when the latter is untapped on the battlefield in front of you and the former is buried in your library, despite the disparity of ticket costs. Lands are tools that do a simple job, and an expensive tool can make things easier for a novice, just as a master craftsman can get the best out of a mediocre one. Until next week, may you be able to play your spells, whatever your budget.


Fun article by Paul Leicht at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 11:45
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I have been looking for a way to make a good spirits tribal deck though I don't play Tribal format. I like running tribes in Extended just because of the fun factor. The spirit tribal deck seems to fit that bill. I don't own 4 of any of those cards except Elder Mastery and the lands of course but they seem pretty cheap. Thanks for the article. And if I didn't say it before, nice hat!

Spirit tribal has a number of by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 16:08
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Spirit tribal has a number of different paths you can take. You can go with the Judgement spirits and render them immortal by boosting power and toughness, Kamigawa soulshift shenanigans, building around the Legions muses, even just going by the Shadowmoor/Eventide Avatar Spirit cycles. I played against a build recently that used Sire of the Storm, Primordial Sage and the -Onna spirits to generate massive card advantage.

Spirit tribal by Scartore at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 20:56
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My Tribal Spirit deck is called Kami Tag team and in built around kami of the hunt and glitterfang.

I run a pretty strong by StealthBadger (not verified) at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 07:14
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I run a pretty strong spirit-tribal deck based around evershrike and tallowisp. The black and white kirin are also both very strong. Maybe I'll write an article about it one day, eh?

As for the picture, it's a bit creepy, I'd say. I think the idea that it's going to put anybody off playing magic is a bit daft though. With all due respect to puremtgo, this probably isn't a new player's first port of call..

Argh! Evershrike! I knew by AJ_Impy at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 21:13
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Argh! Evershrike! I knew there was something I was forgetting! I'm going to have to try that some day.I look forward to the article in question, as well. :)

I'd say that was a fair assessment of the site: New players would probably head for the community sites after they've established themselves in the game and want to know more.

Nice new pic by Scartore at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 12:08
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Excellent hat... and article.

wack picture by dude (not verified) at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 19:34
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i cant read this article as long as u leave that picture up. people like you are the reason magic is viewed as 'nerdy' and another reason why only .01 % of magic players are women. man up dude. stop making me ashamed to play this game. seriously. how are the normal people who you can actually go out and have fun with going to have any shot at making this a respected game? even the poker boom didn't help us, and magic players became millionaires.

really, i hope a lot of people read this.

newsflash by rukcus at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 19:50
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this game is nerdy and geeky.

At least AJ is proud to show a lighter side of it, and I commend him for it.

Kudos AJ!

Funny you should say that. by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 20:01
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Funny you should say that. The picture was edited from our wedding photos by my wife, a professional artist. Magic IS nerdy: I'm sorry, but you're calling up mana from the lands to cast spells, to defeat a rival planeswalker. It doesn't get more nerdy than that. You don't need to be ashamed of it: That's entirely your choice. I refuse, point-blank, to be ashamed of it in any way.

You're not going to get a game built around angels, demons, sphinxes and dragons, knights and goblins, elves and zombies, respected as something which isn't 'nerdy'. It just isn't going to happen, no matter how much anyone that considers themselves a 'normal person' deludes themselves. Money really doesn't matter in this equation: Even the people who have set themselves up for life on the back of the game can't change the fundamental nature of the game. Relax, unwind, and don't worry about it.

I altered the picture as a request last week, my previous illustration apparently making me 'look like a pervert/psycho/serial killer.' If you really are incapable of reading an article because of the profile picture of the author, that is a pity, but entirely your choice.

Hear hear by Scartore at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 21:00
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Hear Hear!! Richard Garfield invented this game as something to do between D&D games.

anonymous by mtgotraders at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 21:25
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Why say all that behind an anonymous screen name? Show your face!
Your shame... by Paul Leicht at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 22:17
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Your shame should be reserved for using "u" instead of "you" when you know damn well how to spell it. And perhaps you could feel a little ashamed at bullying someone who doesn't share your narrow point of view. Nerdy? Look in the mirror. The game of Magic: The Gathering is a game made by a "Nerd" for "Nerds". Your lack of understanding leads me to question how you could even consider the game your own. How could anyone who is supposedly intelligent enough to play game as complex as magic fail to grasp so simple a concept? Oh and while you are defining labels, please detail what you consider to be a "normal" and "respectable" person. I am betting it will be someone I would never hang out with much less respect.

Apologies by Paul Leicht at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 22:19
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For echoing what was previously said in response to this twit. I failed to read past the anonatroll's posting.

you all bring up a good point by dude (not verified) at Wed, 07/08/2009 - 23:54
dude's picture

but i'm no villain. think about this rationally for a second. if you are playing this game purely from the perspective of pretending to be something you are not, well then i can't relate to you and most likely neither can the average person. average person being 'normal'. not that being this type of person is a good thing, it's just that anyone who is willing to walk into their office and say that they play magic all the time and that it's so fun has serious issues. no one would do it. and the reason is because goof balls make this game look stupid. when someone says that they are going to go play gears of war on xbox live, or basketball, or go to their softball league, or go do a fantasy baseball draft, it is not something that is embarrassing because most people think "hey, i know a lot of people who do that, and i hang out with them and they are alright." when those same people think of magic, they think of kids who are so embarrassed of their own lives that they need to imagine themselves as someone else, and i'm sick of telling people that just isn't the case. i mean go out to a party and meet new people. have a few beers. then tell them you play magic. see how that goes for you.

the bottom line is that the fantasy of this game... the d & d part of it... is like a poison to what should be an extremely competitive near sport like game.

the pro tour right now is a joke. kai budde will go down as the best player of all time and he didn't even make half a million dollars winning almost a dozen major tournaments.

if it weren't for these people who just wish they could be some fantasy planeswalker, their could be actual millionaires from the game. nothing would be holding back millions from signing up for the dci and playing in a ptq.

i guess what i'm trying to say is if you want to compete, then you should play magic. if you want to pretend to be someone else and dress up weird like the guy who wrote this article and play abstract formats for no reason whatsoever, go play d & d. leave us alone. it's because of you that this game will always be some underground nerdy secret.

i'll end this by saying that if you aren't playing to compete and win, and make yourself a better player, and you just allow yourself to plateau to a certain skill point and just keep playing because it's 'awesome and you get to use monsters and dragons and stuff' well then you need to stop playing. the money you are spending is more than what most drug addicts would spend on their habit. and that's all it is, a money consuming addiction.

here's to all the people who have never played a game of d & d in their lives and have a 1800+ rating. keep trying, and keep making the game better, and more competitive. without you this game would truly be a big pile of nerdy suck.

If you continue to worry by Anonymous (not verified) at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 00:32
Anonymous's picture

If you continue to worry about people judging you for a game you play then you never be able to accept yourself. I have good friends that have never played a game of magic that know I've played this game for 15+ years and that I take it quite seriously, and never once have I had to be concerned that someone would think less of me for it.

By any chance are you still in high school? Adults should be ashamed of themselves if they act the way you describe them. I have told people where I work about the game and the tournaments I go to and I've even demo'd the game at request. Some come out to the local shop still, and some just didn't like it after giving it a shot but no one has given me any grief about it. If they have anything negative to say they are smart enough to keep it to themselves, because after all no one likes a jerk.

You seem to be prejudging an by AJ_Impy at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 06:45
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You seem to be prejudging an awful lot from a single photograph taken at a one-off party. I'm not pretending to be something I'm not, nor do I do so in my day to day life. Think about someone walking into their place of business and saying 'I play Magic all the time, it's great fun'. The problem is not people associating the game of Magic with geeky activities, it's the connotations of the name of the game itself. You are presuming your viewpoint and knowledge of what the game is to be shared by your co-workers, and presuming their response to be tempered solely by it being filed under 'geeky card game'. Indeed, someone with conservative religious views could well hear 'Magic' and start attaching extremely negative connotations to it and by extension the person mentioning it.

Magic can be reduced to a purely mathematical exercise. It's an interesting experiment: Go through the spoilers and proxy up a set of cards with all fantasy and flavor elements shorn from them. Remove all references to spells or casting, and just leave the abstract mathematical concepts themselves. If the fantasy element is poisonous to the game, experiment with playing without it with a few likeminded friends. Let us know how it goes.

If it weren't for those people who just wish they could be some fantasy planeswalker, no competitive player would ever have made a dime from this game. If it never appealed to the fantasy market, it would never have sold like hotcakes from the hobby shops, comic book stores and the like in which it was initially marketed. The pro tour was an afterthought once the game had proven itself an amazing commercial success, precisely because it catered to the demographic you so thoroughly denigrate. WOTC can afford to award hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes because they have made millions selling the product.

The game is now designed to cater to a range of demographics, which have been named accordingly. You, for example, would be categorized as a 'Spike': Myself, I lean heavily towards the 'Johnny'. Your motives are to make money out of this sport with unfortunate fantasy baggage. I do this because it's a stimulating intellectual challenge: Given an additional set of limitations, can a successful deck be built? I also enjoy finding out the result, as I imagine you do too. You presume I am entirely uncompetitive because I prefer to build for fringe formats. I have T8ed online events a fair few times over the years. My lifetime winnings from everything MTGO-related are probably in the four-digit range: I've gotten to the point where I don't need to spend money in order to obtain cards for decks.

I play this game for fun. I refuse to apologise for doing so. At its heart, it is a game. To use a sporting example, I used to play cricket recreationally at parish level. The fact I was able to do so had no impact on the 5-day internationals played at the highest level. Is it a waste of money to purchase a gridiron football and throw it around with a few mates if you're never going to make it to the Superbowl? Is it a waste of money to have a baseball and baseball bat if you're never going to secure a multimillion dollar contract with the Yankees? Is it pointless to play poker with your friends if you're never going to win the jackpot in the World Series of Poker? If you want Magic to be treated as a sport, I suggest you start with yourself. Sport has room both for the professionals and the amateurs, those who use it as a means to make a living and those who use it for casual recreation. The world is bigger than either of us.

Here by Scartore at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 12:22
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Here's to all those people who've proudly played D&D for 30 years. Who play for fun. Who play fringe formats for fun.
Without you, Magic would just be a big pile of this jerk.

lol by Paul Leicht at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 13:17
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I resemble that D&D remark. :) and very well put. It is a disappointment to know that I share air with people who are so poisonous they spew venom as they breath.

Some points. by Silkenray at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 22:25
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Chicks LOVE fantasy. Girls are brought up with stories of princes and princesses, evil witches and dragons. Look at the success of the Disney Princesses product line. Lord of the Rings drew huge female crowds. The most popular book series among women these days is about a teenage vampire, for chrissakes. Before that, books like Harry Potter drew at least as many female readers as male. We like fantastic escapism as much as the boys. Girls also love playing dress-up. Go to your average Renaissance Faire. 3/4 of the people in costume are female. Go to a comic or anime convention. An easy majority of the cosplayers are young women. A man in a funny hat is not going to drive women who might otherwise be interested in the hobby away from it.

So if MTG isn't as popular with the fairer sex, you have to look for other reasons. The reason I don't play is because there are thousands of cards, with thousands of different possible combinations of spells and artifacts and creatures and lands that do all sorts of strange things. It's not an easy game to get into at this stage because of how mindnumbingly complex it is. And with every release, it just gets more complex. I don't want to spend the time and effort needed to learn the game only to have to shift my expectations whenever a new set is put out. I also think it's a wee bit of a scam. The combination of collectible cards and actual gameplay is a diabolical money-making machine that serves primarily to provide Wizards with a steady source of income (with frequent releases to give established players even more stuff to buy). It's evil, I tell you. ;) *

And, no offense, but Magic will never be taken as seriously by outsiders as poker and chess. It's an entirely different creature. Yes, it's strategic, but it's also arcane to outsiders. It's easy to learn enough of chess and poker to follow along with it even if you don't play regularly. In Poker, there are only 13 different ranks of cards, of 4 different suits. In Chess, there are only 2 colors of 6 different types of chess piece (pawn, queen, king, knight, rook, bishop). In MTG, you have 5 colors with different properties, lands, creatures, different creature types, tokens, different abilities that the creates can use (such as attacks, or general traits such as flying), artifacts, different powers and affects those artifacts have, spells, the powers and effects those spells have. And each interacts with the others in ways that make no sense at all to an untrained eye. The thing that spells success for a game in the mainstream is the ability to be learned fairly easily, but mastered with only years or decades of dedication and practice. Magic, through its sheer complexity, has a very steep learning curve, and the vast majority of people just will not be willing to expend the time and effort and money to learn.

The money aspect is another one that makes a huge difference. Buy a chess set, or pack of cards, and you're (barring loss or wear and tear) pretty much set for life. There is no continued financial investment to play unless you're at the very highest ranks and need to pay tournament fees. With MTG, you buy packs and sets, all of which are pretty much random in terms of contents. To build the deck you want, you have to either get extremely lucky with what you open, or you have to enter a secondary market in used cards. There is no equivalent to this in chess or poker, or at least not one that is pretty much required to play competitively. Add to it that one company (Wizards of the Coast) has a monopoly on production, whereas practically anyone can publish a chess set or a pack of cards, and the difference becomes even more stark. There are financial implications that MTG players accept in order to play the game, that are not required of casual chess or poker players. Even forgetting the complexity issue, this alone will prevent the game from entering the mainstream to anything approaching the same level as poker or chess.

I think the vast majority of MTG players are sensible enough to realize that competitive MTG will never even begin to become nearly as accepted by the mainstream as competitive chess or poker. I also think the vast majority of MTG players who come to this realization acknowledge that the reason it won't be accepted to the same extent isn't because of the fantasy trappings (after all, Chess is a stylized war between two monarchies), but because as a game despite the strategic aspects it is almost entirely dissimilar from games that have made that leap successfully.

* But seriously, I have nothing against the hobby. My husband plays - he's the man in the silly hat at the head of this article. I'm happy to leave him to it, just as he's happy to leave me to my console Strategy RPGs. ;)

Wow by Paul Leicht at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 23:45
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For someone who doesn't play that was a very cogent and eloquent break down of why people sometimes fail to get the game. Kudos! I don't agree on all points but most of them are dead on. I have often thought many of the same things and I'm a veteran player (15+ years).

To be fair though, my girlfriend who could care less about most fantasy content (though she indulges me often enough) grasped magic quickly if not skillfully and can play it moderately well even after not playing for long periods of time. She is older and perhaps that helps but I guess what I am saying is that given a good teacher, some intelligence and willingness (a key component) anyone can learn the game despite its seemingly arcane (a magical word no less!) terms and oblique play. I appreciate reading your point of view as an outsider. (If only marginally outside as you do know a lot more than the average person would.) It gives a nice perspective on this wacky brewhaha.

I will only say this: Chess is 600+ years old in its current form and has only recently become socially accepted in the United States as a competitive game. It used to be that only certain kinds of people learned how to play the game. And while it is infinitely less complex than magic it does have many complexities that are not apparent to the casual (uninformed) observer. Watch advanced players play 2-5 minute blitz to see what I mean.

Give Magic a few more decades and it too may receive wider attention and public acknowledgement. But in the meantime we will just have to live with a few narrow minded people spewing garbage. Anyway look at how oddball D&D used to be when I started out playing it in 1979. Now it is a household game you can find at any bookstore chain. Magic has a lot more accessibility now than D&D did after 16 years of history.

Hey, even an abiding active by Silkenray at Fri, 07/10/2009 - 10:05
Silkenray's picture

Hey, even an abiding active disinterest in the game doesn't keep me from absorbing some of it via osmosis when my husband plays, builds decks or writes articles. ;)

I was writing primarily from the perspective of someone who most assuredly is not frightened off by geekery or by fantasy elements, but who still doesn't have any interest in the game. I am very glad I didn't come across as bashing the game or its players, because despite my aforementioned active disinterest in playing (and a little bit of irritation if my husband spends too much time playing MTGO ;)) I don't have any real dislike of Magic as a concept, or its players.

Heaven knows my hobbies are just as geeky, if not geekier. Hobbies, such as D&D and playing tactical video game RPGs. Because unlike Dude, I don't see 'nerdy' or 'geeky' as something to be ashamed of. I got over being ashamed of myself and my hobbies in middle school.

Great Article by Hamster4Sale at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 00:30
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Some fun ideas, got me thinking about what I'd do differently with a spirit deck with the aura tutors as cornerstones.

In summary: Good article, ignore this anonymous "dude" as he needs no more feeding or attention than he's already got, "nerds" rule, and keep up the excellent work.

regarding aj impy's picture by rainin6 at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 02:38
rainin6's picture

lol that picture is hilarious.
although i kinda agree with that anonymous posting person about magic/sports/competition and stuff
the truth is magic is good bc people from all levels of leisure/competition can play! =)
if he wants to wear funky hats and talk about mtg let him.

I have been attacked some by Lord Erman at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 03:08
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I have been attacked some time ago because of exactly the same reason, exactly the same way. Here's my hater wrote back then:

"i thought this game was based on strategy... fantasy is for d & d right? i mean, in ptq's, you don't see people imagining themselves as ajani or something do you?

the bottom line is that this game wouldn't be judged by the main stream so harshly if it weren't for dorks like you and the dude writing this article."

This game is is based on strategy AND fantasy. This isn't Chess or Poker which are games ONLY based on strategy. We have elves and dragons printed on the cards for crying out loud!! How can you ASSUME that this isn't a game of fantasy?!? How can you PRETEND that this isn't a game of fantasy when all the cards you turn sidewards are orcs or zombies or demons?!?! How can you ASSUME that you're not playing a game of fantasy when you CAST a SPELL called FIREBALL!?!?!

Are you ashemed of the fantasy part of this game? Do you think that it makes you look stupid? Do you think girls will mock you because of that Rhino Monk creature you keep talking about?

Then actually it is YOU who should stop playing the game. No matter how hard you try, you cannot make this game look like Poker or Chess.

Oh and by the way, got a spare Broodmate DRAGON and a Bloodbraid ELF for trade?



well by dude (not verified) at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 14:23
dude's picture

here's my response. i hate fantasy. lord of the rings sucked. elves are stupid. and i will own you any time in a 2 on 2 draft because i love this game to death.

in chess, you don't see chess players dressing up as queens or horses. you don't see people trying out their neat new 'win with only the pawns' strategy, because that would be stupid.

i compare that to people like you, if people played chess like that, it would have just as much stigma as this great game does.

really by Scartore at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 15:31
Scartore's picture

I don't get it... you love the game to death, yet seem to despise a huge majority of the people who play it. Sad...

Speaking as a Chess player by Paul Leicht at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 16:18
Paul Leicht's picture

I have played Chess since I was five, played against some of the best players in the world (thanks to having lived my life in NYC) and I have never met a single chess player who publicly eschewed fantasy or called people "nerds" for enjoying it. In fact some of the greatest chess masters (Nimzoviche, Alekhine, Capablanca,etc) were great sportsmen and would never spit in the face of the game they loved or the players who inhabited it, no matter how strange or absurd their opponents acted. If I faced an opponent who was excited about learning how to use pawns in the end game I surely would not make fun of their naivete for not understanding how to get there properly and why they lost to oppositional positioning and tempo when they had a passed pawn.

In the realm of M:TG it is not the narrow-minded bigots who win but those who are smartest and broadest of mind who in the end, prevail. Of the many pro Magic players I have known and enjoyed friendships with none have ever expressed any distaste for the "flavor" of the game nor disgust towards their fellow players other than those whose social habits leave much to be desired, in fact many enjoy RPGs and comics and other trappings of fantasy culture. The only stigma I see is the one you create for yourself, afraid to be who you are. You think you are being real but you hide behind your anonymity and spew nonsense hoping for attention. If that doesn't stigmatize you with those who know who you are I don't know what will. Only losers behave that way.

I understand not caring to engage in fantasy when you find it loathsome or scary (Devil worship? RocknRoll? Corruptive influences?) But why play at all if is merely a math game that you play for money. At it's top ranks M:TG will never support a person better than say computer programming or medicine. If you are so smart and serious-minded why not put that to some use instead of deriding those who gain enjoyment from their fantasy. The only conclusions I can come to are: a) You don't enjoy the game. b) You play because your few friends do. c) You aren't wise enough to live and let live. d) You feel invulnerable on the internet in an unidentified position, being a cyber-bully with impugnity. e) You have nothing better to do. f) You can't engage in activities that would make you less stygmatized because you don't understand that it is your personality that is causing people to shun you, not the game that you play. I could be wrong and I could be right but this is the impression you are making. Is this what you want us to think?

You're entitled to your by AJ_Impy at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 20:44
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You're entitled to your opinion on fantasy. You're entitled to your opinion of LotR (Book or Film? The former can be a real pain to wade through, and your view on elves does have some merit after about the third or fourth page of untranslated singing, and don't get me started on Tom Bombadil...) You're entitled to your opinion on ficticious species. You're also entitled to your view on your own playing ability, but I will own you any time at Tribal, Kaleidoscope, Commander, 2HG with random or prechosen partners and even as a flanker in old school 1/1/1 Emperor, because I, too, love this game to death.

I was a member of my school chess team. My Great-Great-Uncle was a chess grandmaster who created some of the variations that Kasparov used to beat Deep Blue. It is true that I never dressed up as a chess piece. I did try out a few maverick gambits, sometimes even successfully. Chess, however, has eight pieces, all preordained, and 64 spaces. However, you are mistaken in thinking that people don't try out variant chess formats for fun, or trying to solve interesting chess problems. Look at a quality newspaper and there will usually be a chess problem tucked away, at least there are in my country, to challenge the reader. It isn't a full conventional game but an extrapolated puzzle, a variation using the same rules as the competitive one. Despite this, people take chess seriously: A few centuries of existence will do that to a game. Some take it too seriously. Bobby Fischer, one of the finest chessplayers America ever produced, is regrettably not one of the sanest: Being excessively competitive and squeezing out the rest of the world can lead to becoming unbalanced.

The trouble for your main point is, people DO play chess like that. you DO see chess players dressing up as queens or horses. Proof is as follows:




People play chess like that. It does not have as much stigma as this game does. Your point is refuted through empirical evidence.

No. You won't own me. Not now, not ever. by xXWarIsPeaceXx (not verified) at Tue, 07/14/2009 - 20:27
xXWarIsPeaceXx's picture

You can't own me. Couldn't own me. Not if your deck was the *BEST* tech ever, and I build my deck from the left over cards they printed 4 of in Fallen Empires. Hand of Justice and Farrel's Mantle on a Sengir Vampire ftw. (That was Johhny Removal and Timmy Fat building all in a 2 card combo, in FFA it was mega fun).

Why can't you own me?

Because I am not for sale. Sure I play to win. Do it a lot. Quite enjoy winning. But I don't base my sense of personhood on the game. No more do I base it on the kind of hat I wear (though I wish I though of that, and do become quite the pirate after a keg full of beer, aaarrrghh my hearties). Nor do I base my sense of personhood on how many games I win. I base it on how much fun I have, and on good days, how much fun I help others have.

I built a Lurghoyf tribal deck, ftw, and played it in 2hg for a couple of weeks - it was mega fun. I used lots of cycling creatures/lands etc. to make sure my g/y was full by the time I dropped the relevant */* fat. Was it tier 1? no. Was it funny as all hell, and even my opponents enjoyed it win or lose? yes.

I have built Bear Tribal (inspired by MrTrashmatic's bear tribal) for the same reason. Because Magic is fun.

I don't expect you do understand this anonymous hater, but then the point really is, I don't need you to. You don't get the beauty of putting a photo of yourself wearing a hat that has no right to ever see the light of day, and broadcasting it to millions? Well that is okay. The hat doesn't get you.

What percentage of poker pros by ghweiss at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 07:39
ghweiss's picture

What percentage of poker pros are women? One percent? I'll stay out of the rest of the argument but you can't possibly claim that dragons have anything to do with that particular problem.

To those who feel bad about by Undeadgod (not verified) at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 07:58
Undeadgod's picture

To those who feel bad about the hobbies, or games they get into. Confidence is key bro, I have been into a lot of "nerdy" games, played some d&d when I was a kid. I skateboarded every day in the 80's and early 90's, which was about as unpopular as a human could get. I Played a hell of a lot of Contra, and Double Dragon in the arcades. Played a lot of late night marathon video game sessions with friends on consoles. I dig painting, both miniatures, and canvas. I also spent a lot of nights alone playing Madden, and GTA on consoles. All of the above hobbies are terribly "geeky" in the right light, however I have never let that stop me from talking to girls, or bringing a scrye to work with me for reading on lunch. Admittedly my playgroup of friends would be those more often found at a late nite spot, then the local comic store, and I do witness behavior at gaming spots that would be considered "geeky", but who cares? People need to be confident about the things you enjoy. First you will enjoy the things you like a lot more, and second letting a girl you date find you ashamed of the things you are into, and hiding them in the closet instead of on a shelf proudly... seems a bit "nerdy". Just my $.02

P.S. my friends and I now by Undeadgod (not verified) at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 08:03
Undeadgod's picture

P.S. my friends and I now have keggers and play Rock Band for pete's sake... ROCK BAND!!

20 people tanked in a room "pretending" to be rock stars.

That's way nerdy, but it's fun.

Again... do what you love.

If I can find a pirate hat.... by hamtastic at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 09:09
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If I can find a pirate hat I'm going to update my profile picture!

"Why so serious?"

Like it or not, this is a fantasy game. Sure, at the core it's a giant math problem, but wrapped around the algebra is a fantasy world of dragons, pirates, flying ships, goblins, angels, demons, birds wearing armor and wielding hammers, and so on.

And you know what? That draws in nerds. Like me. And you.

Albeit, I'm a rather mellow nerd. MTG and RPG's like Final Fantasy are about where I draw the line. But still I'm very proud of my nerdliness and have embraced it as a very important facet of my personality.

If you can't have fun being yourself you're probably taking yourself too seriously.

I shooped one for the time being! I got your back, AJ!

I'm offended! by Effovex at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 21:05
Effovex's picture

I'm offended by your ugly pseudo-hat which is just not on par with AJ's awesome chapeau. To claim solidarity with such a poor attempt at awesome headpieces is an insult to everything that hats stand for.


I'm just kidding, but please find an actual cool hat. Also AJ's picture is the greatest on Pure by a wide margin, and anybody claiming otherwise likely has self-confidence issues.

Really... Why so by Lord Erman at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 09:30
Lord Erman's picture

Really... Why so serious!


No comment.


PFFF DUDE...... by menace13 at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 14:37
menace13's picture

that guys comments are so absurd. i was drawn into it because of the fantasy flavor the artwork the abilities you sound like you want to play poker which this although is a card game it is not poker cards here have interactions that are too random it will never be poker or a sport of milionaires

now with that being said the nerd geeky part ..yeah okay well you know someone has to cut the checks for the non nerds/geeks out there dude

and another thing by menace13 at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 14:43
menace13's picture

really did you just say and compare chess to magic again it is not chess although we have strategy elements and pieces thats it..we have 10000s of pieces chess has what 6 it is not comparable

and yes there a tons of fantasy chess sets

why are there no bannings in tribal by menace13 at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 17:00
menace13's picture

there are a huge number of decks that are too powerfull in tribal being so limited / merfolk,goblin,slivers all established eternal archtypes all use the vial which should be banned ,necro is unrestricted but clamp banned..? and dont let me even get started on elfball

heh by Paul Leicht at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 17:05
Paul Leicht's picture

Vial does seem popular but banning it? Is it really breaking the format? I haven't a clue being an Extended Format player mostly but it seems like it could not be dominant when Aggro decks seem to be winning.

The banned lists for casual by AJ_Impy at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 20:48
AJ_Impy's picture

The banned lists for casual formats are reviewed on a monthly basis: Tribal should hopefully be up some time soon.

tribal bannings by menace13 at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 18:51
menace13's picture

not really sure ,but i do kno that in a format where its all 20/20/20 removal and spells are hard to balance for alot of decks . which leaves the field of goblins merfolk slivers elves dont see anything remotley close to those decks that will beat them. and demonic consultation is unrestricted too

I am a little late in saying by Lenney (not verified) at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 19:44
Lenney's picture

I am a little late in saying this, but I learned to play magic 15 years ago from a guy at work... Just thought that was funny.

Oh.. and there were quite a by Lenney (not verified) at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 19:45
Lenney's picture

Oh.. and there were quite a few of us, including the boss, who would get together during and after work to hang out and play. When it comes down to it, it's just a game. If some people want to make it a lifestyle, then so be it I say.

I'm confused by Anonymous (not verified) at Thu, 07/09/2009 - 23:34
Anonymous's picture

To our friend the Dude, I ask, how did you originally get into Magic in the first place? Your only concern seems to be competing at the highest levels for money, but you say yourself that there's not a lot of money in Magic. And you claim that you hate fantasy, yet you play a game entirely based in fantasy (like it or not). It just seems like you should be playing poker or chess or any other number of games that DO have a lot of money-winning potential at the highest levels without any of the "stigma" attached to Magic.

And yet, you play Magic. So what drew you to Magic originally, rather than any other game or sport?

It seems to me that no one originally begins a hobby with the intention of being highly competitive at it. There are naturally competitive people, yes, but usually they try something, find they enjoy it, eventually get good at it and realize they could win fabulous prizes with their skills. I do play competitive Magic from time to time, and enjoy that level of play, but was a casual gamer for many years before that. I started playing because my friend showed me this cool new card he got, Fireball (this was in 1994). And well, any game that lets me hurl a fireball at someone sounds like a fun thing to try. If Fireball were instead "Red + X To Subtract X Points from your Opponent's Total" printed on a piece of cardboard, well, I guarantee you I would not be playing at all. I also played poker competitively for a time, but it was only after playing a weekly $5-buy-in game for a few years in college that I became interested in competing.

The point I am trying to make is that without this "fun" fantasy hook, no one would have ever started playing. The game you claim to love would not exist. Surely a friend got you into the game. But what got them into it originally? Surely you played some purely casual games before you ever set foot into a draft or PTQ? And I would argue that it's these original, purely for fun games that got you interested in Magic. Let me know if I'm wrong.

Very nice article, just what by ShaunPaoletta at Sat, 04/08/2017 - 07:21
ShaunPaoletta's picture

Very nice article, just what I needed.