Paul Leicht's picture
By: Paul Leicht, Paul Emerson Leicht
Nov 05 2010 1:44am
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logo by Winter.Wolf -- approach me in game if you want one.

On Modo I am known as Winter.Wolf (or Telir if you encounter my beta account.) I go by Telir on the community forums because when I created the account there I was still torn on which account I would be most active on. As it turns out Winter.Wolf ended up being my main.

The very first time I came to (mid May of 2009) I was drawn here because of a Kaleidoscope contest. A contest I had sent several entries in for but had no real hope of winning. The ultimate winner of that contest was a fellow known simply by the moniker: AJ_Impy. So came my introduction to this illustrious figure. Well some of you are quite aware of AJ_Impy as he has long been the scourge of EDH and tribal wars and other fringe formats and also an active icon in the community at large.

He has also done a weekly podcast 'Freed from the Real' with's very own Hamtastic and company for quite a while now. In this article I was fortunate enough to get AJ_Impy to agree to an interview which I conducted via email with him. I will refer to him by his MODO moniker and myself by mine.

Background: Some basic facts about AJ_Impy are that he is married, around 30 years old, from Hertfordshire just north of London in England. He has always been an online only magic player since Shandalar (By Microprose) came out in the mid '90s. He was quite active in Magic Encyclopedia online for quite awhile and then in 2003 he jumped onto Magic Online and quickly became enmeshed in the doings there.

Here are the questions I asked him and his replies:

Winter.Wolf: What is your favorite format?
AJ_Impy: I've long sought to make Tribal Wars my own, and have written about it at length. I've built every possible tribe except Dreadnought. It probably qualifies.


Winter.Wolf: What is it you love about playing online?
AJ_Impy: You have access to any format you like, at any time. All my cards are just a click away. As such, I'd say convenience was the main thing.


Winter.Wolf: What is it you love about playing Tribal Wars?
AJ_Impy: My format. I love the unique constraint it has.


Winter.Wolf: Your format?
AJ_Impy: Yes, my format. You can count on the fingers of one hand those who have written more about it, and most of them have mentioned me. I've had a substantial impact on the B&R list on more than one occasion, and I've built decks for every possible tribe but one. So yes, 'my format'.

View AJ's White Elementals

White Elementals
A Tribal Wars deck By AJ_Impy
4 Shinewend
4 Squall Drifter
4 Flickerwisp
4 Dawn Elemental
4 Celestial Ancient
20 cards

Other Spells
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Ghostly Prison
4 Oblivion Ring
2 Story Circle
4 Moat
16 cards
2 Emeria, the Sky Ruin
22 Plains
24 cards
Celestial Ancient


Winter.Wolf: OK, fair enough :) What is it you love about playing Commander?
AJ_Impy: Politics and manipulation. Having the time to do massive awesome things. Unto others. Rule Zero. Exploiting changes in card value in a multiplayer format.


Winter.Wolf: You are known in some circles as the guy who inspired rule 0. What is that?
AJ_Impy: Rule Zero, As spelt out by Lee Sharpe here basically 'Always kill AJ_Impy first. Always'. It originated offline, with a dear friend now sadly passed on, over a few friendly games of 'Lunch Money'.




Winter.Wolf: What does it mean?
AJ_Impy: Basically, what it says on the tin. If you're in a multiplayer game with me, kill me, and kill me fast, or lose.


Winter.Wolf: I guess what I was getting at about the Rule Zero clause is what did you do to deserve such a double edged warning/honorific?
AJ_Impy: By being very, very good at Commander, basically. Manipulating the game state from positions of apparent weakness to dominate, making surprise comebacks, pulling off incredibly stylish plays. Some of them are documented in this thread:



Winter.Wolf: What is it you love about playing Two Headed Giant?
AJ_Impy: Cooperation and working together to crush our enemies. Exploiting changes in card value in a multiplayer format.


Winter.Wolf: What is it you dislike most about each of these formats?
AJ_Impy: Dislike is too strong a word. If I disliked much about them, I'd play less. Sure, Tribal is broken in a competitive environment, certain commanders aren't enjoyable to face and some people resign to leave their partner in the lurch, but these are minor in the grand scheme of things.

View AJ's Vorthos Planeswalkers

View AJ's Eldrazi Smash


One of the things I have learned about AJ_Impy over the past year and a half or so is that AJ_Impy is a premier deck builder. He has a very well justified reputation for building not only winning decks but decks that are evil, grandiose and in a word, Awesome. He builds for the Awesome Effect (tm pending). So I posed him some deck tech questions given the opportunity:


Winter.Wolf: Let's assume I am new to the format of Tribal Wars Classic (Soon to be Legacy.) I want to play a strong tribe like Elves. What do you recommend?
AJ_Impy: Ah, Elves. Resist the temptation to go over 60 cards. They're good enough to win despite that, but consistency is a valuable lesson. Review Onslaught block, Lorwyn block, Invasion Block, Elves Versus Goblins and other places where the tribe was prominent, and see what appeals to you.


Winter.Wolf: Why is it not good to play less than 4 of a particular tribal entity?
AJ_Impy: Leading question. Sometimes less than 4 is the right choice for a high-cost game ender, for example, or a toolbox deck where you can tutor up the right card for a given job. The counterpoint is consistency: If you want to maximize your chances of drawing a given card, run four.


Winter.Wolf: What's the deal with Changelings?
AJ_Impy: The changelings and their grandfather Mistform Ultimus count as all tribes. As such, they can be used to fill holes in tribes which would not normally qualify for the 33% threshold in a 60-card deck.


Winter.Wolf: Tell me some of your most innovative moments/decks in Tribal Wars.
AJ_Impy: A lot of these are in my article archive on Puremtgo. I'm still very fond of the landless avatar deck (link) that was capable of hardcasting Progenitus. The kobold deck that used Rohgaah of Kher Keep, Kobolds of Kher Keep and Mirrorweave to steal every creature on the board was also fun.

View AJ's Core deck

A Tribal Wars deck By AJ_Impy
4 Skeletal Changeling
4 Masticore
4 Molten-Tail Masticore
4 Razormane Masticore
4 Cairn Wanderer
4 Gorgon Recluse
24 cards

Other Spells
4 Basilisk Collar
4 Gibbering Descent
4 Decree of Pain
12 cards
4 Cabal Coffers
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
19 Swamp
24 cards
Gibbering Descent


Winter.Wolf: How bout in Commander?
AJ_Impy: I had a fun little monoblack ramp deck using Maga, Traitor to Mortals as its commander and primary kill. There was also a fun little red/white rattlesnake deck designed to punish anyone who dared to attack me. When you have the other players nervous when your board is empty, you're tapped out and you only have a couple of cards in hand, it's a good day.


Winter.Wolf: What is your favorite format outside of Tribal Wars?
AJ_Impy: I was fond of Kaleidoscope while it lasted. Probably Commander.


Winter.Wolf: Kaleidoscope? Why isn't it still your favorite?
AJ_Impy: Kaleidoscope is such a dead format that they didn't even bother to update it to the new extended.


Winter.Wolf: Least Favorite?
AJ_Impy: Probably block or standard. It gets old fast.


Winter.Wolf: What do you think of Standard?
AJ_Impy: Not a lot.


Winter.Wolf: Fair enough I can't say I have much to add to that. So how about Limited Sealed?
AJ_Impy: My preferred limited event at releases, at least until leagues eventually return.


Winter.Wolf: And Limited Draft?
AJ_Impy: I occasionally dabble but not often.


Winter.Wolf: Are there any formats you wish would be implemented online?
AJ_Impy: Archenemy and Planechase. (add links from mothership)


Winter.Wolf: We can always hope. :D (But first bring back leagues dammit!)

Some thoughts on community:

Winter.Wolf: What have you done in the community besides your weekly show with Hamtastic ("Freed from the Real") and write articles for Puremtgo?
AJ_Impy: There's also the custom card creation contest on Pure, where I'm either competing or judging. I tend to enter contests like that, or budget deckbuilding contests, or trivia contests, whenever I get the opportunity to do so. I've also run occasional message board deck clinics for Tribal, and advised people on deckbuilding and card creation, including for the recent great designer search 2.


Winter.Wolf: Were you involved in the old forums much (pre-gleemax)?
AJ_Impy: Yes, more so than I am now. the BBS community was close-knit, friendly, and had a lot of great characters.


Winter.Wolf: Who are your favorite players online? Why?
AJ_Impy: The old /join BBS crew top the bill for the above reasons, and many of them, such as Bubba and Hamtastic, continue to do a lot for the community even now. I have a lot of old sparring partners I've played Tribal with over the years, and there are some I can always trust for a fun 2HG partnership. Also, people who take time out to say they like my columns, the podcast or whatever deck I'm playing make my day.


Winter.Wolf: Why doesn't the current post gleemax forums set up appeal to more people?
AJ_Impy: It's badly designed, too busy, and puts too many clicks between logging in and posting. It tries to be too many things at once, which are done better elsewhere by more dedicated setups.


Winter.Wolf: Seems very ridden with OTHER games but not too many magic players (considering our numbers.) Any changes you'd like to see?
AJ_Impy: Let a professional UI team take a look and see if the vision for the community site is practical.


Winter.Wolf: You mentioned the Great Designer Search that WoTC is currently hosting. What do are your thoughts on this very strange (imho) event?
AJ_Impy: It's an interesting and innovative recruitment tool. It also rather cleverly gets around the legal restrictions on viewing player-submitted content, through the wiki.


Winter.Wolf: Is there anyone you are rooting for?
AJ_Impy: Sadly, we didn't make the cut.


Winter.Wolf: Any design spaces you'd like to see explored more?
AJ_Impy: Definitely. As to which ones, I'd like to be surprised.

And moving on to philosophical matters of Tribal etc...

Winter.Wolf: You often bring unusual tribes and attempt to do insanely evil things with them. Tell me a bit about the philosophy behind this approach.
AJ_Impy: To borrow from the late, great Danny Blanchflower, 'The great fallacy is the game is all about winning. It's not: It's about glory, going out there and beating the other lot, not wait for them to die of boredom'.

Anyone can bring a usual tribe and do the regular things that tribe does. Getting your opponent from 20 to 0 is a win, but after a while the wins blend together, nothing sticks in the mind or brings a smile to your face later on.

If you do something someone's never seen before, never imagined before, never thought was possible before, if you open their eyes to new possibilities, aspects of the game they hadn't even thought to investigate, if you leave a mark that they remember, or better yet inspire them to go out and do the same, that stays with you.

Every 'Wow, cool deck' is a vindication of the work put in. Every time I see someone who played me previously trying something they saw at my hands, it is a pleasure. To me, that's the heart and soul of the game; introducing wonder, inspiring innovation, and looking amazingly cool doing it.


Winter.Wolf: Do you ever build a deck along these lines and then wish you hadn't?
AJ_Impy: Life is too short for regrets. In any case, decks can be tweaked, rebuilt or just put aside for the next idea.


Winter.Wolf: Have you ever crushed an opponent and then felt bad about it?
AJ_Impy: Life is still too short for regrets. If the shuffler stops someone from playing at all, then by all means offer a rematch.


Winter.Wolf: What about the failures?
AJ_Impy: Each one is a step on the road to the next success.


Winter.Wolf: What do they signify?
AJ_Impy: Absolutely nothing. 'If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same', as Rudyard Kipling put it.


Winter.Wolf: If you were allowed to build decks in conjunction with any other magic player in the world who would it be and why?
AJ_Impy: I have no great love for the pro tour, but I do like what Conley Woods tries to do. Innovation keeps it interesting.


Winter.Wolf: Are there any cards online you think should be banned/unbanned in any formats?
AJ_Impy: I'm fortunate in having had a chance to write about the bannings in Tribal Classic, and having those concerns subsequently addressed. Inconsistencies surrounding cards like Extinction have been dealt with, and Unnatural Selection is back available for everyone.


Winter.Wolf: If the lists are all well balanced/chosen why is it people complain so much about them?
AJ_Impy: Because they're people. Complaints, justified or otherwise, are a vital part of the human experience. Grievances can be a catalyst for change, if put forward intelligently and cogently.


Winter.Wolf: (Haha! I am totally in agreement with this. If I wasn't allowed to vent regularly I think I would explode.)


Winter.Wolf: You have often said Tribal Wars Classic is busted as formats go. Yet you continue to build twc decks and play in the weekly Apocalypse and in casual casual. Why is that? What keeps the format interesting to you?
AJ_Impy: The dark secret of Tribal classic is it is indeed exceedingly breakable. You can easily port in any number of classic decks and dominate competitive scenes with them, from legacy goblins or elves! decks cribbed wholesale, to potent archetypes such as RDW, Zoo or Fish.

I keep playing largely because I'm stubborn, because I lay claim to the format and need to back up that claim, and because I still find it fun. There are near limitless avenues to explore, and many trends in deckbuilding can be metagamed against. The decks have a strong central theme, which also appeals.


Winter.Wolf: Are there any tribes you feel need more love? Which ones if so and why?
AJ_Impy: The red/blue multicolor ones. Seriously, look at Weirds and Noggles. There are three of one, four of the other, necessitating changeling intervention if you ever want to play them. This happens to this color pairing all too often. Yes, they're known as the spell colors with good reason, but is it seriously too much to ask to give their occasional unusual tribes five members, or to revisit them?


Winter.Wolf: Ok so I mentioned the average new to the format player loving Elves and that goes for Goblins too. 'Easy button' decks right?
AJ_Impy: Leading question. However, the cheap iconics have been shown a lot of love over the years, and have a critical mass of good cards which make building a successful deck less than challenging.


Winter.Wolf: So what would you recommend in those tribes that isn't so easy button?
AJ_Impy: Look at what everyone else is doing with them. Do something else.


Winter.Wolf: What other tribes strike you as "too easy" or over-the-top?
AJ_Impy: Look down Magic's history and see the tribes that have had themes built around them over the years. Look at the ones that have been centre stage repeatedly: A good rule of thumb is three or more blocks or cores with cards naming that tribe throughout.


Winter.Wolf: What tribes are underplayed for their power level?
AJ_Impy: That's a question I aim to answer each week in the Tribal PREs. ;)

And so ends our interview. To summarize I think this tells us a lot about one of the most influentual players on MODO who has not ever been involved in a MOCS tourney or a PTQ for that matter. I am honored to be acquainted with the infamous AJ_Impy and now I hope you are as well. I do believe AJ enjoys being approached online (as he has said in the above comments) so if you see him in Cas Cas say "Hello!" Tell him Winter.Wolf sent you. Maybe he will show you some of his latest innovations.

Until Next time,
Paul Emerson Leicht aka Winter.Wolf on Modo.
Email me at gandoDOTthebardATgmailDOTcom, where you remove the ALL caps and replace them with the appropriate symbols.


Apparently I missed a few of by Paul Leicht at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 02:13
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Apparently I missed a few of my own cues to add links to the article. My apologies.

Ah much appreciated. I by Paul Leicht at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 02:37
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Ah much appreciated. I completely lost track of where those were.

Normally I consider myself as by Lord Erman at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 04:17
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Normally I consider myself as a good deck builder but I have to admit that I asked AJ's opinion more than just a few times for decks. Like "Do you think this is good?", "Should I run this?", "I'm not sure about that one, do you have any other card in mind?". And his responses always helped me.

Oh and AJ, is that a Spurs sweater you're wearing :)?


Well spotted. :D by AJ_Impy at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 04:39
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Well spotted. :D This picture was taken at White Hart Lane.

Yeah that is basically how I by Paul Leicht at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 05:23
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Yeah that is basically how I became acquainted with AJ. I kept pestering him for advice and deck testing that we ended up testing a lot together and I got to know his quirks and building style fairly well. AJ is the TW guru and has enabled me to enjoy the format more thoroughly through his expertise.

Nice one Paul, I really like by Xaoslegend at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 05:16
Xaoslegend's picture

Nice one Paul,

I really like these community spotlight type articles, reminds us the game is about people and not just little dancing digital denominations.

AJ certianly carries a lot of weight in the PRE world, it's nice to hear the perspective of the entrenched gladiator. I was a little discouraged in regards to his early misgivings about Heirloom, in the end he was still balanced in his dealings with it, nice enough to give me a game or a few when prompted and joining an event to be the PRE participator we all know him to be. It's rare to find people these days that can find personal dislikes with aspects of something but still be willing to try it out.

I used to know a guy that I had marked with rule zero. Everyone liked him but he always managed to politic himself into being treated more or less like other members of the group game, and more often than not he'd go off with an infinite combo at some point and kill everyone. I tried to get people to adopt the rule zero and it worked for awhile until that just wound up letting me win most of the group games since after he was dispatched I usually had the next most devious deck at the table lol.

I look forward to more of these sorts of articles. I'm a little tired of hearing from the pro-tour guys all the time in other venues, I'd rather hear about people like AJ personally.


Haha thanks Xaos. Well the by Paul Leicht at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 05:20
Paul Leicht's picture

Haha thanks Xaos. Well the idea here is all about the community. By the way I introduced some players tonight to Rule Zero in a 4 player commander game and was able with their help to keep AJ from winning by knocking him out of contention as he started in with a 15/15 Maga commander. (I took the life loss there.) Thankfully I was positioned as his vanquisher to handily take out my 2 opponents soon there after so I totally get that bit about your friend. :P

I look forward to doing more articles like this in the future... Just need to stalk another find another subject to write about and interview. :) Any suggestions will be considered.

I smiled and literally by MMogg at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 07:10
MMogg's picture

I smiled and literally laughed out loud when I witnessed AJ recently pull off an amazing combo with Constructs (discussed in the latest podcast). That was really a work of art. I couldn't fathom the amount of card knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge to come up with the combo pieces. It was impressive to say the least. Although it may be difficult to articulate something that's ostensibly innate, I think AJ should write an article about the processes he uses to deck build.

I've (briefly) talked to AJ by Westane at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 10:35
Westane's picture

I've (briefly) talked to AJ online and saw him in the casual room, but never got to actually play him. Since I'm actually dragging my ass out of bed at 9 tomorrow morning, I look forward to getting it sufficiently kicked in Tribal Apocalypse XD.

Very nice! I spend a good by hamtastic at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 10:38
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Very nice! I spend a good amount of time with this AJ character, and even I learned some stuff. Well done Paul!
Very interesting article, I by Flippers_Giraffe at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 14:45
Flippers_Giraffe's picture

Very interesting article, I look forward to see who you have lined up next.

AJ's articles started me down the tribal lane when I was looking for something different to play along time ago.

Thanks for the comments guys by Paul Leicht at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 16:27
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Thanks for the comments guys :)

@Westane: Seeya there I hope. @Hammy lol I should hope so, and I bet he's learned a thing or two from you. @Flippers me too, any suggestions?

I think an interview with by Flippers_Giraffe at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 17:46
Flippers_Giraffe's picture

I think an interview with Heath would be very interesting, if it wasn't for him there would be no PureMTGO and half of the PRE's would no longer have sponsors.

Yeah I agree with by Drbenwayy at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 18:53
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Yeah I agree with Flippers_Giraffe here that Heath would be an interesting interview.

It could happen. Though by Paul Leicht at Sat, 11/06/2010 - 15:17
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It could happen. Though finding time for that could be difficult. Heath is a busy man.

I've actually been playing by Scartore at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 16:40
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I've actually been playing Tribal Casual against AJ for quite some time before I found PureMTGO. He's always a fun and gracious opponent. Nice to hear more of his views (especially since its been forever since he's written an article it seems).

Spurs by Bauchelain at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 18:22
Bauchelain's picture

Awesome! AJ is a spurs fan! What a game on wednesday huh, great to see we're going somewhere after so many false dawns. Been a great fan of Freed from the Real since it began, keep up the good work!

First let's get out of the by AJ_Impy at Fri, 11/05/2010 - 20:14
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First let's get out of the group stages. :D