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By: spg, spg
Oct 01 2009 1:46am
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Explorations #43 - A Walk in the Woods

Author's Note:  There is more non-Magic content in this article than usual.  If this makes you uncomfortable, then tune in next week for a more traditional article.  For the brave ones continuing on, I think there will be plenty of stuff in this one to interest you.  It's good I think, so give it a shot.

Hey everybody, it's good to be back!

I've been in the woods for a while and obviously haven't been plugged into information in the way that I usually am.  I queued up two articles to run while I was gone (one On Focus, and one about Two Old Decks) and I hope you guys enjoyed them.  I usually try to be vigilant about responding to comments in my articles, but I wasn't able to respond to any comments in those two until recently - so if you're interested in that at all then click back and check them out again.

In addition to not keeping up with the comments to my articles, I also haven't been able to play a lot of games of Magic lately (they don't have Magic Online in the forest) - although I DID have plenty of time to think about the game while stumbling through the woods.  This has given me plenty of different topics to cover today, and since there was decent feedback to the last time I wrote a "mixed bag" article (check it out here) I've decided to give it another shot!

This one starts off with some hiking talk, but then goes into Magic content - don't worry there IS some buried in here somewhere.  Time to get started!

The Woods

Magic players are often not the type of person who enjoys being in the outdoors.  Mike Flores has written, "If God wanted us to be inside, why did he create the indoors?"  I do not subscribe to this theory.  Of course I don't, I just took two weeks off of work to go hiking in the woods with my girlfriend.  Here's where we went:

That's the Long Trail.  It stretches the entire length of Vermont, about 300 miles from start to finish.  We didn't do the whole thing, it takes a lot longer than two weeks to complete the trail, but we put in a solid effort.  If it sounds crazy that someone would hike 300 miles while carrying everything they need on their back, then you should know that is NOTHING.  The section of the Long Trail we hiked overlaps with the Appalachian Trail (the AT) for about 150 miles.

The full Appalachian Trail looks like this:

That map is at a weird perspective, but you get the idea.  The AT is a serious trail, and is not to be messed around with.  It stretches about 2200 miles from Georgia all the way through northern Maine.  It takes about six months or so to hike, and a few hundred people do so each year.  Hiking distances can range from ten miles or so through the mountains up to twenty-five miles or so through flat ground.

You may hear eight miles and think, "I do a few miles in the gym twice per week, I've run a 5k, that doesn't sound so bad."  And you'd be very wrong.  While that type of exercise is certainly admirable, and is very tough, it doesn't match up in any way to what you experience on the trail.  It's just a very different type of exercise.  In order to survive out in the woods for prolonged periods of time, it's not uncommon for a hiker to carry forty or fifty pounds of equipment on their back.  Next time you're at the gym, try doing your workout with a few hundred Magic decks in your backpack.  It's a lot harder, trust me!

Another main difficulty factor is the terrain.  Hiking the Long Trail or AT doesn't resemble a jog on the treadmill or down the street in any way.  First of all there are mountains, and they are far more unforgiving than the "uphill" setting on any treadmill I've ever been on.  The walking surface is also a huge problem, much of your time will be spent walking from twisted root to giant stone or from sharp rock to another sharp rock.  I'm making this sound really wonderful, I know.

Obviously it's not ALL miserable or no one would ever go hiking - but it is definitely not for everyone.  Hiking may be difficult and rough on your body, but it's also serene, idyllic, and provides many experiences that can't really be achieved in any other way.  Just being out there in a small open corridor hauling your pack through endless forests, hills, and mountains can have a strange and beautiful centering effect on a human being.  Every minute out there on the trail I can pretty much feel my spirit/energy/chakra/whatever realigning.  It's really awesome.

What Yak Said

Most people undergoing a big long term hike spend most of their time in shelters.  These are primitive wooden buildings spaced somewhere around a day's hike along the trail.  Here's what they look like:

Not exactly the Hilton, is it?  And this is one of the NICER ones!  These shelters are almost always three sided wooden deals, and no I have no idea why they don't build them with a fourth wall.  When you arrive at a shelter for the night, there are generally other hikers there with the same idea - and they become your temporary roommates.  This is a pretty cool social interaction, giving you a chance to spend some downtime with other people who like walking in the woods.  Discussion topics usually include: the weather, where you're headed, where you came from, what you do for a living, etc.

One night towards the end of our hike we shared a shelter with a guy named Yak.  Yep, he just went by Yak.  Lots of people doing thru hikes choose trail names for themselves.  In addition to Yak, we met hotsauce, Hannah Montana, Bookworm, Java, and others.

Java was probably the dumbest person on the AT that week.  At each shelter there's a notebook where each hiker coming through signs in and writes a quick little note.  An example might be, "Hotsauce passing though.  Did 8 miles today, have 5 more to go before I'm done.  Weather is beautiful."

Some hikers are a bit more gimmicky.  Hannah Montana carried around colored pens and Hannah Montana stickers, writing little notes that look like they are straight out of an eight year old girl's diary.  The only weird thing is that "Hannah Montana" is apparently a four hundred pound dude with a gigantic beard!  I didn't meet him, but that's what I heard.

So why was Java the dumbest person on the AT that week?  Here's what he wrote one day in the shelter register:

"Should have gone home with her.  Can't believe I didn't go.  Doesn't matter where she lives, why did I even ask?  Here's a tip for everyone: if you're in town resupplying and a hottie in a Lexus SUV asks if you want to go home with her - say YES!!!!!!"

This is a lesson everyone should learn.  Don't say I never taught you anything!

Ok so back to Yak.  Yak was hiking the entire AT (all 2200 miles) in celebration of his fiftieth birthday.  He had lost sixty-five pounds up to this point on the trail.  Yak began the trail in Georgia in March and hiked all the way to Massachusetts, where he somehow managed to contract both giardia and hepatitis A at the same time.  This put him on the shelf for a few weeks, obviously.  When he restarted the trail, he began at the northernmost point hiking back towards Massachusetts.  We spent the night with him when he was only about 80 miles from the end of his trip.

His name wasn't Yak for no reason, this dude liked to talk.  He told us a bunch of stories, but I want to focus on one in particular.  This one actually loops back to Magic - I did remember this is supposed to be a Magic article after all!

Yak told us a story about how he personally knew a bunch of hikers who quit the AT in Vermont.  They had hiked all the way from Georgia to Vermont and then quit just one state shy of Maine.  Doesn't that seem crazy?  Here's what happened.  These hikers start off fighting for their lives in Georgia, make it through the Smokies, and then hit easy going in the Blue Mountains of Virginia.  Hikers regularly knock off twenty miles or so per day, and extrapolate this figure up to the end of their hike - using this inflated number to figure out how many days they have left.

The hardest part of the AT is in Vermont and up through Maine.  When these hikers hit this difficult terrain, they suddenly have a day of ten miles or maybe twelve.  This is a far cry from twenty or twenty-five!  Instead of long walks on flat ground they are struggling up rocks and mountains.  Suddenly all of their mental calculations are thrown out of whack, and their projected time on the trail is suddenly doubled.  Instead of having a month or two left on the trail, based on their new distances they may have three or four remaining.

This is an amazing psychological blow to people who are already sort of close to the edge.  Yak knew a few people personally who just couldn't handle this and ended up dropping out of the hike.  So close to the finish!

Keldon Marauders Mogg Fanatic Lightning Bolt

To me, this reminded me a ton of the classic aggro vs control matchup.  I'm sure that most of you know what I'm talking about.  You come out quick with triple Frogmite or maybe Lightning Bolt and Keldon Marauders or Wild Nacatl and Tarmogoyf and your opponent's life total is just falling through the floor.  Let's say you get him down to two or even just one life.  You're out there aiming burn and sending creatures through the red zone, hiking twenty-five miles per day.  Life is good.

Then all of a sudden Wall of Reverence, Plumeveil, Wrath of God, or Counterbalance/Sensei's Divining Top hits the table and things grind to a halt.  It seems you can't do anything at all without your opponent countering or using a bunch of defensive abilities in response.  Your opponent's life total isn't going down nearly as quickly anymore.  In fact, it seems like a complete struggle to make ANY progress at all.  Suddenly your twenty-five paradise days are over and you're busting your ass to climb over the next mountain in your path.  Life is not good.

Getting over the psychological blow here is something that's unbelievably difficult to do.  Hiking may seem like a physical endeavor, but it is as psychological as anything.  It's true that you need to keep putting on foot in front of the other, but this has just as much to do with your mindset as it does your physical conditioning.

On the same note, playing correct Magic may seem like a totally mechanical endeavor.  Make all of the right plays and you give yourself the best chance to win, right?  Well sure, but your ability to make the right plays is made up of more than just your knowledge of the format, playskill, and deck matchup.  Just like summoning up the ability to put one foot in front of another comes largely from your mental toughness, your ability to think clearly and make the correct plays under fire when the going gets rough flows from your ability to focus, your mental toughness, and your overall psychology.

There have been plenty of articles written by myself and others (much better) about how to control the psychological aspects of your Magic game in order to improve play.  I understand that this is not ground breaking technology, but I always love when I'm able to draw parallels between two (or more) of my personal interests.  I encourage everyone to look for these connections aggressively, and use the information to build up your different mental models of the world.  The more you have to work from in this department, the better your ability will be to deal with new and different situations.

Dark Ritual, Duress, and Hymn to Tourach

Dark Ritual Hymn to Tourach Duress

Since returning from this hike, I haven't had much time - but the time I've had has been spent trying to recover physically.  MTGO is absolutely fantastic for this purpose.  I love to find a daily/premiere event and just watch match after match of replays.  If there's no interesting tournaments to check out, I plop myself down in the Tournament Practice room and just watch games as they happen.

While watching some Classic matches in the Tournament Practice room, I noticed the same play twice (by two different people) that really confused me.  The cards involved are Dark Ritual, Hymn to Tourach, and Duress:

We're talking about three of the most beloved black cards of all time here.  The original ritual, the successor to Mind Twist as the most brutal discard spell printed at the time, and a skill-testing precision discard spell that remains popular in Vintage even today.  These three cards are also played in Classic, here's an example of a strong tournament deck from bigshow2569 - a powerful mono black control deck:

So what's the issue here?

In two separate situations, I saw a player (not bigshow2569) open up turn one of game one like this:  Land, Dark Ritual, Hymn to Tourach, Duress.  In that order.  In one of the two cases, everything went fine and the player caused his opponent to discard a couple of lands and a Standstill.  Nothing wrong with that at all, right?

In the second case I saw, however, mono black happened to be up against Zoo.  Hymn to Tourach resolved and the Zoo player discarded Lightning Bolt and Taiga.  So far so good, right?  Well then Duress went off and there were no more spells in the Zoo player's hand - just creatures and land.  It sure is a real bummer to case Duress and miss completely, especially on turn one off of Dark Ritual.  The mono black player in this case fired off three spells and only managed to make his opponent discard two cards.  This is very bad.

Thinking about this situation now, I'm having a hard time thinking of a situation where casting the spells in the order above is correct.  I think that going Dark Ritual -> Duress -> Hymn to Tourach is just about always the superior line of play.  First of all, assuming that your opponent has at least a single spell in hand, this line of play guarantees that you will always yank three of their cards.  This is extremely important, as we all know card advantage wins games.

The other reason that this line of play is superior, is that is maximizes your chances of removing a problematic non-Duress-able card from your opponent's hand.  Let's say your opponent is holding Tarmogoyf in his opening seven and you really want to get rid of it.  If you lead with Duress and pull a card successfully, then your opponent will have six cards in hand when Hymn resolves.  If you decline to Duress first, then your two random discards will be coming from a full grip of seven.  This doesn't give you as good of a chance to take out that Tarmogoyf.

What do you guys think?  Are there other advantages to this line of play that I didn't call out here?  Are there advantages to the alternate line of play (Dark Ritual -> Hymn to Tourach -> Duress)?  Let me know in the comments!

When is Mogg War Marshal Not Equal to Mogg War Marshal?

Imagine the following game state:  Player A has Island, Mountain, and Mogg War Marshal in play.  Player B has Island, Mountain, and Mogg War Marshal in play.  Without knowing who went first, wouldn't you say this is a pretty much equal board position?  Certainly as equal as it gets right?

Mountain Island Mogg War Marshal
Mountain Island Mogg War Marshal

I haven't played paper Magic for a pretty long time.  The last time I played regularly was during Time Spiral.  I used to play a lot of drafts at Your Move Games, which you probably recognize from Pro Tour standouts like Darwin Kastle, Rob Dougherty, and Dave Humphries.  While those three weren't filling out every weekly draft, the skill level of players there was very high.  Certainly over my head!

When I did make it out to draft during Time Spiral block, I tried to get in as many drafts as possible.  During one of these drafts I sat down against a player whom I greatly feared.  Let's call him Andy.  Andy seemed to always go 3-0, and even though I had drafted (what I thought was) an awesome blue-red deck I pretty much immediately assumed that Andy would have something better.

We sat down to play and I had the pleasure of going first.  I played a Mountain and passed, he played a Mountain and passed, I played an Island and Mogg War Marshal, he played an Island and Mogg War Marshal.  This is the situation I described at the start of this section.  Seems pretty even, right?

Well I didn't think so.  I remember thinking to myself, "Mogg War Marshal?  How I am EVER going to deal with THAT?  I'm so far behind here, how do I work out of this?"  Of course that seems pretty ridiculous considering I had the same exact thing in play, as well as the first play, but that's what was going through my head at the time.  Doesn't it seem really weird for two identical board positions to seem so very different in practice?

While at first glance this concept may seem ridiculous, I think that it's actually really valid.  If Andy is a better player than I am (and he is), then chances are he's going to find more utility for his Mogg War Marshal than I find for mine.  I think this is true for pretty much every card and spell that Andy plays, which is what makes him a better player than me.  In the situation described above, I think it's pretty clear that Andy's Mogg War Marshal represents more value than mine does.  Even though we're in the same board state, I am justified in feel like I am behind.

This may seem a little discouraging, but it really shouldn't be.  Sure Andy is better than me, but it doesn't mean that I can't win - it just means it's going to be a struggle.  This should be nothing new to competitive Magic players.  Just because his Mogg War Marshal is probably more valuable than yours, doesn't mean you can't work hard to outplay him or win on another angle such as deck strength.

There are two ways that you can deal with this fact as a player - you can either crumble under the pressure of this weird incremental equality advantage or come out swinging with your back against the wall looking for a way to win.  This depends largely on your overall psychology, different players perform differently depending on if they are ahead or behind.

For a long time I had used this concept as a barometer for how strong I felt my opponent was.  I'd sit there and imagine that we both have exactly the same cards in play, and the same number of cards in hand.  Did I feel ahead or behind?  Players like Jon Finkel probably always feel as if they are ahead in this situation, and rightfully so.

Just another metric to use to help figure out where you stand.

Quick Zendikar Thoughts

At some point in the near future I'm going to be writing a full article on Zendikar, but for now I just want to throw out a few quick impressions.

The full art basic lands are AWESOME, and I wish they would do these for every set.  I know that would make them lose a bit of their "specialness", but who cares?  When I make decks I always play with the Unhinged lands, and would only really consider swapping them out for other full-art lands.  These new Zendikar lands fit the bill perfectly.

It's pretty cool that soon players will be able to load their deck with full-art lands for (hopefully) less than $2.75 or so per card.  When you're filling out your deck with twenty-four or so lands, this price adds up quick.

It always drives me crazy when partial cycles that I really love are left uncompleted (I'm talking to you River of Tears, Horizon Canopy, Grove of the Burnwillows, and Nimbus Maze) - and completing the enemy fetchland cycle certainly fits the bill.  I'm definitely psyched to see these cards released.

The largest impact of the fetchlands should be felt in Extended, where Ranvica+fetch manabases will now live on for some time.  This can be either good or bad depending on your point of view.  How much do you like playing or playing against blue control decks that run a bunch of other colors?

In Classic I don't feel that the impact of the enemy fetchlands will be too great now that we've got all of the dual lands online.  They'll improve the manabase of some decks, and slightly improve the manabase of a few other decks.  These are improvements sure, but more of the across-the-board variety than the make-a-new-deck-viable variety.

In Standard these lands will obviously be awesome, enabling all sorts of different landfall tricks.

Speaking of landfall, here's my current favorite landfall card (other than the Cobra, of course).  I love how his ability is basically "Whenever a land enters the battlefield, bust up your opponent".

Halo Hunter is one of my least favorite pieces of art in recent memory.  It's like the art direction was, "Draw something that a four year old would think is scary!"  The other major bummer with this guy is that HE DOESN'T KILL BANESLAYER ANGEL!!  You know, the main Angel that you actually want to kill.

On the other hand, I think the art on these are absolutely fantastic.  Eternity Vessel seems like a total pain though, doesn't it?

Is it just me, or should this one be black?  I guess it's a throwback to Amnesia or Venarian Glimmer, but it just seems weird to me in blue.

The hype on this dude is huge for Legacy/Classic, so it'll be fun to see how it ends up working out. This card seems inferior to Goblin Lackey, which is a card that we have access to in Classic thanks to From the Vault: Exiled - but that doesn't mean the Instigator isn't good!  Goblin Lackey is a format-defining card, and one that's going to be tough to match on the power scale.  Lackey comes down a turn earlier, gets in there a turn earlier, and provides a comparable effect.  To me the main factors here are that it's MUCH easier to resolve a spell on turn one than it is on turn two, and it's a MUCH easier to get a creature through on turn two than it is on turn three.  Sure it's a lot better to have two Siege-Gang Commanders than one, but even just one should put you in a position of immanent victory.  Warren Instigator runs well as Goblin Lackey #5 - #8 though.

I think Warren Instigator could also be really good in Standard, where it isn't outclassed by many Goblins.  Not only does it have a crazy ability, but it's a double strike creature that only costs two - which isn't terrible all by itself.  Put some kind of equipment on this guy and he's getting through for a whole ton of damage.  Even if you're not dropping Goblins into play for free, this guy brings some serious aggression to the game.

To close, I'm not a big fan of the art here.  It just looks so little and insignificant.  The flavor text is also less than inspired.  Weird mythic.

Speaking of format-defining cards (and weird mythics)... here it is.  There are a bunch of articles by other writers about how great or awesome this one is, so I'll just refer you to a few of those here and here.  It's easy to resort to hyperbole when it comes to exciting new cards, so I'll keep things simple.  Lotus Cobra is an absolutely amazing card in every way except for one: the rarity.  WHY is this a mythic rare?  It seems to be EXACTLY the type of card that Mark Rosewater said would NOT be printed at mythic rare.  That's a lot of capital words!

Serious bummer here since Lotus Cobra appeals to Timmy, Johnny, and Spike - which means that lots of different players are going to want playsets.  I guess this is good for pack sales, but I think it'd be good for pack sales at rare also.  Bummer that people are going to have such a hard time getting Lotus Cobras to play with.

Love the art.

Scute Mob is DEFINITELY not Tarmogoyf, but it seems like an awesome and fun card.  It should be a great finisher for some control decks since it only costs a single mana, but unfortunately it has very little value early on in the game.  While Tarmogoyf can come down on turn two and already be a 2/3 or 3/4 and growing, Scute Mob is going to be a 1/1 for a very long time.

It would be great for this guy to see play in Classic, but it doesn't block Tarmogoyf, which I think will class it out of the format.  He also doesn't run at all in Zoo decks, which often need to game on with just two lands.

I have a tough time figuring out how cards like this end up getting made.  It's just really confusing to me how something like this ends up in a set.  Also what's going on in that art?  Is that a pterodactyl?

This card is really pretty and shiny, and I'd really love to get it to work...  but man I didn't realize it doesn't give evasion.  I thought for sure one gave the creature flying.  Oh well, I'll probably still try.

Timmy/Johnny/Spike on the Trail

If you aren't familiar with the Magic player demographics Timmy, Johnny, and Spike then this article is a prerequisite for the following section.


One night of our hike, Kathryn and I were relaxing after dinner when a group of three huge, jacked guys rumbled out of the woods.  After exchanging greetings, I realized that they were from Worcester, MA - which is right near where I grew up.  Turns out that these guys are Worcester police officers out on the Long Trail to do about one hundred miles as quickly as possible.

Since Kathryn and I had already eaten, we were just relaxing in camp watching these three cops do their thing before bed.  Each of these three guys ate a truly impressive amount of food, easily over triple what I consume on an average night on the trail.  Turns out they had hiked between fifteen and twenty miles that day, so it's no surprise they had big appetites.

Their dinner conversation started off with a discussion of who has the lightest gear, comparing values and boasting over the difference of even just an ounce.  One guy went on about how crazy his wife thought he was for buying a $30 titanium cup in order to cut down on weight.  From here the conversation moved to nutrition.  Not only did each of these guys give a full report of how many calories they consumed, but also how it compared to how much they consume on a given day.  As far as I could tell, the majority of these guys' diets consists of hard boiled eggs.  I listened to, literally, a forty-five minute conversation about the best way to produce mass quantities of hard boiled eggs.

I remember lying in my sleeping bag, drifting off to sleep as these guys continued on with their conversation.  I remember thinking as I drifted off to sleep, "These guys are the Spikes of hiking."

Out on the trail you run into all different types of hikers, just like in Magic - and I think the Timmy/Johnny/Spike designation is pretty valid.  Those three cops were certainly Spikes.  They treated hiking as purely an endurance sport.  There's no actual competition of course, but they did their best to turn the Long Trail into one.  The more miles they did, the more they enjoyed their time out in the woods.  Everything was all about miles, time, calories, and ounces to these three.  Spikes.

The next day Kathryn and I got an early start and hiked for a couple of hours.  Around lunchtime we took a break to sit for a while on a beautiful and idyllic mountain outlook.  We ate and relaxed, enjoyed the view.  Minutes later the three cops came hiking by, nodded a hello without stopping or even slowing, and continued on down the path.  They didn't even glance towards the idyllic mountain outlook that captivated Kathryn and I.  Sure we're out there to make it to the next shelter before dark, but if there's something awesome to stop and look at - then we're definitely stopping to look.  This is what makes us the Johnny's of hiking.
Spike Feeder

It's a little harder to figure out the Timmy of hiking, but I think I know who it is.  On day three of our hike we stumbled up to our shelter destination to find a brother and sister combination already setup for the night.  It's hard to even know where to start with these two, so I'll just throw a bunch of information out there.

They were wearing jeans and hoodies, not exactly approved trail clothing.  The woman later lightened up to just a tank top that was way too small for her and no bra - she was very well endowed.  Each of them was wearing a $5 pair of tennis shoes, which is a horrible idea with a gigantic pack on your back and rough terrain.  They asked how much just about every piece of equipment we owned cost.  They smoked more cigarettes than pretty much anyone I've ever seen, on the trail or off.  Each was wearing what must have been pounds of jewelry.

These people were both nice enough, but just way out there.  I've spent a ton of time out on the trail, and these are the two most unique individuals I've personally run into.  Oh, before going to bed one night the sister gave me a tip that I would be irresponsible to not share with my readers:

"If you're ever in Vegas and need some money, here's what you do.  Go into a casino, find the help desk and tell them that the cigarette machine ate your money.  If you complain enough, the manager will give you $7 or whatever it is.  Yell and scream, make a scene.  Do this at every casino in Vegas and you can pull in like $500."

What a big surprise that her key to making money involved cigarettes.  I do not condone this strategy in any way, but once again don't tell anyone I never taught you anything!

So why are these guys the Timmies of hiking?  Well they LOVED to talk about numbers, and how far they make it.  Apparently they had hiked from Pennsylvania all the way up to Canada and were now on their way back down, which doesn't make a lot of sense but they loved to total up how many miles it had been.  We heard about how they never missed church on Wednesday or Saturday, and how many miles this added to their trip.  They told me that they hiked 34 miles the previous day, which was completely unbelievable (even the spike hikers generally do a maximum of twenty miles per day in that area) - until I figured out that they probably included hitchhike miles in this total.  These two were all about hitting huge numbers in really degenerate ways, and I guess that's what Timmy is all about?

I'm a big fan of personality models in general, and it was kind of cool to stumble into this type of application - I've always thought of the whole Timmy/Johnny/Spike thing as just totally Magic specific.  The more I've thought about it, the more aspects of my life seem to be explicable within this framework.  I've personally found knowledge of personality frameworks/models to be really useful in daily life.  It's one of the better ways I've found to understand and coexist with people who are very different from you. If this type of thing interests you at all, then I recommend reading about some of these more generic personality models:

Myers-Briggs Personality
The Wisdom of the Enneagram - The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types

Who Doesn't Love Promos?

I am a gigantic fan of promo cards, I love filling my decks with alternate versions of anything.  I'm going to call out a few different promo cards here and give my thoughts on them.  Any personal favorites that I forgot?  Leave them in the comments!

On the day that The Dark first came out, I rode my bike down to the local card store and bought two booster packs.  The rare in my first pack was Leviathan.  The rare in my second pack was Maze of Ith.  That Maze found its way into just about every single deck I made forever, being generally useful in so many different crappy early Magic decks.  The only thing not to like about it was the artwork, which is really weird and looks like a brain.  Earlier this year Maze of Ith came out as a DCI Judge promo, and I think the artwork is amazing - it actually looks like a maze!

Did you know that Maze of Ith was restricted for a long time?  Way back then, you could only play with one of these guys.  I was really hoping that this would find its way into FTV: Exiled, but no such luck.  I really want to get my hands on one of these on MTGO.

Everyone flipped out when Wizards turned Chris Pikula into a woman during Alara Block, but not as many people know that earlier on Wizards turned him into a badass wizard looking old man.  I've always loved this artwork, and would love for it to be available on MTGO.

 Vindicate is one of my all time favorite cards, and I've never really liked the original artwork.  I don't really understand what's going on in the artwork, is that a spaceship blowing something up?  I don't really understand what's in the foreground or in the background.  Can anyone fill me in?  Is that a TIE Fighter with goofy wings?  The promo version on the other hand is totally badass and identifiable, some total butt kicker breaking the very land with a sword and a cool eruption.  This one should be on MTGO sooner rather than later.

I have absolutely no idea what that promo version is supposed to be, it confuses the hell out of me.  I really wish we could get the original Dark Ritual art on MTGO.  I want it so bad, I can't believe they haven't found some excuse to print it yet.

This one has always looked really bizarre to me.  The promo version looks like one of those card alternations that you can buy on eBay where people turn Sol Ring into the Death Star or the Eye of Sauron or whatever.  You know the kind I mean:

I don't know about you, but the art on the promo (prerelease) version of Demigod of Revenge seems absolutely terrible to me.  The dude on the left screams badass monsters rising from the muck to come to destroy you, and the one on the left is some weird goofy phallic thing.

Psionic Blast is a fantastic and iconic card, but the art has always seemed like more of a nagging, psionic headache to me.  I love the promo art on the right - now that looks like a true psionic blast.

I don't completely understand this style of promo.  I LOVE the full art style, but don't really get why on some of them they leave the text.  It basically clutters up the card as much as having the actual text box there, and I don't really like the style of having text right on top of the artwork.  Now here's the way to do a full art card:

Totally badass, alternate and full artwork, no text.  If you're running with these in your deck, then you don't need the text - you just gotta know.  Of course on Magic Online, you can always just cursor over and see what's up...

Out of the Woods

So that wraps it up for this one.  I know it was pretty unconventional, and had a lot of material about hiking and the woods and not quite as much about Magic - but hey I've been in the woods for a while!  I still think it's a strong article, and hopefully you got something out of it.  If the trail or hiking stuff interests you at all, read this book.  I stole the title of the article from it, and it's one of my top ten favorite books.

Join me next week for a really confusing, casual deck.  The week after that will be my Zendikar Sketches article...

But before I go, I have one more thing to share that I learned from my time out on the trail:  It's really fun to be engaged!

... especially when it's to an awesome, beautiful girl who loves to play Magic AND head into the woods for long term hiking trips.  If and when you find someone like this, do your best to not let him or her get away.  Grab on really hard, and don't let go for anything.  There's my final piece of advice for the day.

Thanks for reading!

Steve Gargolinski
article archive
th1ckasabr1ck on MTGO


i think vindicate is the by ShardFenix at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 01:57
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i think vindicate is the weatherlight blasting through the null moon in an attempt to destroy yawgmoth...im a nerd but thats the closest i can get. And yes the ugly little tie fighter thing is the weatherlight of that im sure.

it is the preadtor, greven by whiffy at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 02:33
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it is the preadtor, greven il-vecs flagship beating the snot out of the weatherlight. it is the 2nd dance they had and it is vindicate because the weatherlight won rd1 in tempest block. i belive. its been a long while since i read the novels

grats on getting? engaged. otherwise grats on being all moon eyed for someone :)

given whiffy's explanantion i by ShardFenix at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 03:02
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given whiffy's explanantion i think we are both half right. it is the predator...but it isnt beating the snot out of weatherlight. actually it just got "blowed up" bigtime by the weatherlight. weatherlight didnt win the first round as much as got away though. im saying its this way because the set is apocalypse and they destroy predator near the end of the story.

Which after this occurs weatherlight goes through its final metamorphosis into the 'legacy weapon' which only needs the eyes of urza along with gerrard and karn to sacrifice themselves.

Hull Breach by Katastrophe at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 04:12
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The Apocalypse version of Vindicate is what happens immediately after Hull Breach: "Volrath knows we're coming now! ... I just sent the Predator crashing into his stronghold!" The thing in the background is Volrath's Stronghold and a piece of the Predator. The thing in the foreground is the Weatherlight.

So Urza's turn 9 consisted of (Hull Breach) on (Predator, Flagship) and (Vindicate) targetting (Volrath's Stronghold).

I know this because I love Hull Breach.

Space by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 08:12
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One of the major confusing things about this card is the background - whatever happens to be going on it looks like it's happening in space. Also they definitely could have done a better job at making the thing in that art look more like the art on Skyship Weatherlight.

Thanks by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 08:10
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Yep, engaged - thanks for the congrats man!

Congrats on getting engaged. by Lord Erman at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 03:29
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Congrats on getting engaged. When I was engaged to my wife, we were also playing a lot of kitchen table Magic together (we were also playing Starwars CCG, Lord of the Rings TCG, Wars TCG etc...). She had a Green-Red Magic deck with Shivan Wurm and Fires of Yavimaya, an Ewok Starwars deck which was beating the hell out of my Imperial AT-AT's and a Hobbit LotR deck which was kicking the butt of my Ringwraiths. Then we got married and she stopped playing (not all of a sudden but slowly).

A few years later I asked her why she's not playing cards with me anymore. She confessed that she was playing cards back then only to impress me and after we got married, there was no need to impress me anymore! We don't play cards these days but at least she understands when I say "I have a tournament tonight".

So you make sure that this isn't your case as well!! And congrats again.


i wish more girls would learn by ShardFenix at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 03:44
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i wish my girl would learn magic in an attempt to impress me that would be pretty sweet and it couldnt be any worse than her trying to pretend to like Florida Gators Football

Bummer by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 08:09
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The major bummer is that her favorite way to play was with the precons for each set, and the intro packs do not cut it. Precon vs Precon is pretty much the only paper Magic that I still play, and it's a bummer that no new ones are being released.

I still have my fingers crossed that they'll bring the paper precons back, but thankfully we still have a closet full of the old ones.

Do you have by JXClaytor at Fri, 10/02/2009 - 00:44
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Any of the old reprinted world championship decks to play with?

Those things are a blast

Random by Katastrophe at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 03:56
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During CQ's In or Out contest, Maze of Ith might have been the second most "YES" card, probably behind only Blood Lust. It's still surprising that it's not in. And yes, everyone agrees with you about Lotus Cobra. I've read a lot of "Why is this mythic?" recently.

Halo Hunter is very dumb. It's basically 6/3 intimidate, french vanilla, at rare. Although I did play it at a pre-release for that reason. But the ability plays so badly.

GAME 1: Your opponent plays Baneslayer Angel. You covered this case.

GAME 2: Your opponent plays Iona, Shield of Emeria and names black because you have 3 swamps in play. You can't play Halo Hunter.

GAME 3: Your opponent plays Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Suck it. (Maybe you put this guy in Divine vs Demonic, where he belongs.)

GAME 4: Your opponent plays Broodmate Dragon. You lose the race.

GAME 5: Your opponent activates Luminarch Ascension. You destroy an angel token, then lose the race.

GAME 6: You play Halo Hunter and get in for 12. Then your opponent plays a lowly Platinum Angel and attacks you to death with it.

Halo Hunter should've been something like "Comes into play with a Terror. Whenever an angel dies, grow +2/+2." He just doesn't work.

Congrats on the engagement! Flores' quote can be turned around, too: "If God wanted us to be inside, why did he create the outdoors?"

In a draft a the prerelease, by StealthBadger at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 06:46
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In a draft a the prerelease, I played B/W and thought that there was a "may" clause in the Halo Hunter ability. there is not... 1 dead Shepherd of the Lost later, I scooped them up...

I don't like his art, and I think he should be:

When HH comes into play, target player sacrifices an angel. That way, he could at least offer a vague niche-role in constructed.

Yeah that is pretty terrible, by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 08:15
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Yeah that is pretty terrible, and I think your wording is much, much better. If they wanted to make a card that seeped through the flavor of wanting Angels dead, it's almost a joke that Halo Hunter is what they ended up with.

I guess maybe the upcoming Zendikar MBC deck would have had a tool that's too powerful against Baneslayer Angel? Who knows..

Halo Hunter by laughinman at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 08:11
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Don't stomp on the poor halo hunter.
he is just bad at magic, like any bigfoot.

Hilarious! by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 08:13
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I really enjoyed this by anonymous (not verified) at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 08:57
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I really enjoyed this article, good job :-)

My girlfriend of 4 and a half years still can't stand magic, and won't bother with it, so you're a lucky man! Congrats on getting engaged!

Maybe I should write an by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 23:46
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Maybe I should write an article about how to get your girlfriend to play Magic? =)

Best article on Pure by Who me ?> (not verified) at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 08:59
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Best article on Pure Mtgo.
Congratulations on the getting engaged thing... :)

Thanks! by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 09:15
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Thanks man, appreciate it!

ugh, my gf will not give by whiffy at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 12:26
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ugh, my gf will not give magic a chance. she loves stratgie games on the computer and x box and she will even diligently listen to me wax about tournament structures, prize payouts, and my articles. but she has repeatedly refused to let me teach her the game. sigh.

as steve said hold on tight to your s.o. especially if they play. otherwise just hold tight and hope that magic wont be a bad thing for the long hual.

Strong Article indeed. Very by Paul Leicht at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 13:05
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Strong Article indeed. Very enjoyable. Some of my earliest memories were of hiking with my Dad along the "Danger" trail in upstate NY which is a small 30mile section of the Apalachian trail running from (don't quote me) Peekskill to Fonstock state park. I only carried 30lbs or so but thats a lot for an 8 year old. (My dad is somewhere between a Johnny and Spike of hiking. He knows pretty much everything there is to know about flora/fauna in the NY/Conn/Mass areas. Particularly about mushrooms.

I sometimes miss being more active, hiking certainly is not for the sedentary. This almost inspires me to get out there again.

Yeah I know what you mean by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 23:45
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Yeah I know what you mean about the sedentary. I used to go backpacking all the time, and still go hiking a lot - but haven't carried a full pack in quite some time. Let's just say that when your job involves sitting in front of a computer for 10 hours or so per day... you lose some of your physical abilities.

I know everything I need to know about mushrooms - stay away from mushrooms in the wild =)

Unless you are my dad. I have by Paul Leicht at Fri, 10/02/2009 - 02:34
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Unless you are my dad. I have even gotten to the point that I will eat his cooked mushrooms where at one point I was totally paranoid. (He is very careful, and he did educate me fairly thoroughly on the really nasty ones.)

Amen about the sitting. If only we could do the job while walking at a serene yet hard pounding pace. :)

Congrats! Nice article, by Godot at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 15:07
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Congrats! Nice article, welcome back from the trail.

Thanks Godot, appreciate the by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 23:46
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Thanks Godot, appreciate the congrats!

congrats!!!! by mtgotraders at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 15:10
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Very excited for you!!! Congrats on finding a wife that plays magic.
I have also hiked parts of the app. trail and remember staying in those little makeshift cabins. I saw one guy doing the whole trail that was running the whole thing and had half a sleeping bag, a tarp and a fishing pole. The day after I saw him it was -10 degrees and snowed 2 feet.
Thanks man appreciate it! by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 23:46
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Thanks man appreciate it!

I would probably Hymn first by AverageDrafter (not verified) at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 16:59
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I would probably Hymn first against an opponent as a Force of Will test. Either he Forces the Hymn or hope that the Hymn will get the Force or make it uncastable. This would be against an opponent I think will have something I really want to Duress.

I think also against something like Belcher I'd go with the Hymn first as he doesn't run that many creatures (8 Spirit Guides total I think right) and the Duress will be more effective since you will already know what the Hymn is taking out. Like for instance you see Belcher/Mox/Mox/LED you probably Duress the Belcher, but if you Hymn two of the mana producers then you probably Duress the third.

I agree that against a creature based deck its almost alway correct to Duress first.

Force is a really good point by spg at Thu, 10/01/2009 - 17:34
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Force is a really good point and a definite factor in this play, can't believe I didn't think of that one. Solid analysis man, enjoyed reading your post.

AT by Amar at Fri, 10/02/2009 - 01:50
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Congrats! The post brings back memories for me of a couple years ago.

I did 500 continuous miles on the AT from Harpers Ferry up through CT, as well as other parts in the Whites and the Smokies. Never had a sufficient stretch of time for a thru-hike (nor likely the patience to do it all at once) but I'd like to get up to the Maine wilderness at one point.

500 miles is a serious by spg at Fri, 10/02/2009 - 07:58
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500 miles is a serious achievement man, good for you. I'm trying to figure out how in my life I can find time to do the entire trail when I can barely find time to get out there for a few days...