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By: Tarmotog, Naoto Watabe
Feb 04 2009 2:51am
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Welcome to One Double O #6!

With the Singleton 100 tournament dust cloud behind us, I return to talk about the basics of Singleton 100. This week I touch on the topic of card evaluation as I think that evaluating cards is something that happens very often in Singleton 100 because there are so many cards being played. Most formats don't see more than 10 different non-land cards while this format would almost certainly see 60 different non-lands being played.

Main Topic
Deck of the Week
Tech of the Week
New Section: Set of the Week

I was trying to make a Highlander deck one day using Magic Workstation and I found out how difficult it was to make a deck when you have absolutely no idea what the good cards in the format are. I believe that the less veteran players will find that same problem when they try to jump into the Singleton 100 format. Therefore, there will be a short segment in every instalment to showcase the good cards from a set as I don't think I can put it all in one or even three articles.


Main Topic: What is Card Evaluation?

When we make a deck, we choose which cards go into the deck. In most formats, you think of a few good cards, get 4 of each and throw in some lands and you have a playable deck. If you find that a card can be replaced by a better card, out goes the playset and in comes another. If you find that you don't need as much of a card as you thought you would, you can take away one or even two. These adjustments constitute to card evaluation, where you look at a card, think about its usefulness and decide whether or not it should stay in the deck.

Card Evaluation in Singleton 100

As we all know, Singleton 100 is a format of one-offs and has a card pool almost as large as Classic. Not many people think about cards at the  individual level and most people tend to think on the larger scale like the theme of the deck. While it is perfectly fine to look at the large scale, the small scale is where very minute details come into play.

The fundamental considerations should be:

- does this card fit the deck?
- does this card fit into the mana curve of the deck?
- what actually happens if I draw this card?
- would I likely be in the situation I expect to use the card?

garruk wildspeaker

Types of cards

Before we go on, we need to be able to classify cards for analytical purposes. Here are the different types of cards and their description:

Versatile cards
This class of cards give you options. These options usually come with some form of a drawback like being restrictive cost-wise or being slightly harder to cast than one of its options isolated. A fine example of this would be the charm cards. Let us look at one:

Bant Charm has 3 options, put target creature on the bottom of its owner's library, destroy target artifact and counter target instant.
You can spend G or 1G to destroy an artifact, you can pay 1U to counter an instant and maybe 2U/2W to put a creature on the bottom of its owner's library (guessing as there is nothing with this particular effect yet). You need 3 different colors of mana to cast this out on turn 3.

The drawbacks to playing Bant charm are that:
-you need to get its mana out first (which is not very easy without special effort).
-you will be paying more mana for 2 of the individual effects.
-it can only deal with 3 of the 7 possible card types that you might encounter. This means that it is potentially a dead card if you do not meet any of the 3 card types it is designed to deal with.
-it will almost always trade 1 for 1 unless you manage to catch the opponent at the wrong time.
-you need to think of which choice is the optimal one. Thinking is stressful. Such cards can wear a player more than other cards do.

Split cards are a different type of versatile cards. Their options have different mana commitments so they are slightly different. They do tend to have "weaker than normal cards" halves but it is not always true. To date, there are the Invasion block ones, the Ravnica block ones and those from Planar Chaos. Split cards have a larger variety of interactions as they have characteristics of both halves. Also interesting to note is that they also have interactions with isochron scepter, merchant scroll or even Transmute just to name a few.

Some "either or" cards can also be considered versatile cards. mortify destroys an enchantment or a creature so one has to ask himself whether or not the other option is going to be relevant enough to pay the mana for the more commonly used option. disenchant by itself tends to be disliked as both sides may not be relevant at all in a typical game so usually people want more before they actually choose something with the exact same effect to make it more desirable to have in the deck.

High quality cards

High quality cards are cards that are strictly superior to similar counterparts of the same casting cost. Lightning bolt when compared to a Shock benchmark makes it a high quality card. Likewise for obvious comparisms like Tarmogoyf vs Grizzly bears.
Some high quality cards have no drawbacks or obvious ones while others have restrictive ones mana-wise but if you look at cards like Keiga, the tide star, you are not going to find many visible drawbacks if any at all. Of course high quality cards are rare quantitively and they have a wide range of costs so they do not have many similar characteristics past the basic one: they are powerful.
Some classification can overlap but let's just say the cream of the crop will be here.

Cards that are worth more cards than themselves

In a normal game that we play, we draw a starting hand of 7 cards (or less post mulligan) and we use these cards to interact. Card advantage is a concept that believes that having more cards generally wins more games because of the simple reason that you have more cards to interact. When you start trading 1 card for multiple cards, you will slowly find yourself in a stronger and stronger position as your opponent runs out of gas to fight you with.

You want, if possible, to be able to play such cards to extend your staying power in the game.

Obvious cards are those that in this category are those that draw a card with along with some effect, has a creature attached to an effect, can take down multiple cards or can be used more than once. Of course, I am probably missing many more examples but these are the more common ones.

Average Cards and Weak Cards

Average cards are your benchmark cards or cards that are minimally better than the benchmark cards while weak cards are cards that are obviously worse than what is available but are played for the purpose of increasing the quantity of something specific like 2 mana bears or goblins for example.


Now that we have classified cards, let us look at more large scale concepts that one would consider during testing.

"All-Roundedness" of a Deck

Singleton 100 is a format where we don't use a sideboard which is usually there to let one exchange cards from the 15 cards prepared beforehand to give the deck an edge against its bad matchups. Without a sideboard, players are forced to either:

- play cards that may not be optimal but can improve win rates against bad matchups
- ignore bad matchups totally

On a smaller scale, there is the question of having to deal with specific problematic cards.

Problematic cards exist but tend to be the broader ones. You seldom find people with narrow hate cards like pyroblast or chill. Even if you actually do, in the long run, those players should find that there is no point playing such cards as they don't work against a good number of decks and should remove them. Problematic cards that one might encounter might come in forms like Moat/Worship of Magus of the moon which can be troublesome for a wider range of decks. Also, it is known that the normal encounter rate of a problematic card is not very high. For example, red decks can pack up to 4 serious non-basic hates in the form of double miners and double moons but 4/100 is about as high as the numbers get for hate as a high concentration of hate cards means that while the deck is stronger against the intended hate matchups, they will tend to suffer where the hate are irrelevant.

"All-roundedness" refers to ability of a deck to get you out of various bad situations. For example, viridian shaman is a card that improves the all-roundedness of a deck as it can destroy powerful artifacts that can ruin a game. If you do not get to destroy an artifact, viridian shaman is equivalent to a Scathe zombies. The choice is whether or not the ability to destroy an artifact is worth having a potential Scathe zombies in the deck.

I tend to be very paranoid against problematic cards as I find that even when the chances are low, encountering one and losing outright is not something I can stomach. Therefore, when creating decks, I tend to want to have at least one way out against something that is scarce and at least 2 cards against more common threats so that I can improve on the "all-roundedness" of the deck.

The key to building an "all-rounded" deck is to get data from various matchups and take notice of what are the cards that can make your games difficult and try to put in cards to weaken those effects. The point of making a deck "all-rounded" is that such a deck will be able to have outs against horrible situations that would otherwise rob the game entirely from you.

The Compounding Effect

The "compounding effect" refers to an accumulation of drawbacks in a deck that puts the deck at risk of being in a state of a certain drawback consistently. To better explain this, I will use an example of a Shards of Alara block constructed deck that I played which had 20, a playset of each of the tri-color come-into-play-tapped lands. It was disgusting to play despite it being very strong and all. The problem was that almost all the time, every land I play would come into play tapped which would also mean that I was permanently stuck at being 1 mana less than my opponent and if I ever ran out of lands to play, I was almost guaranteed to be at least 2 turns behind. This state of being permanently behind comes from the sheer quantity of the same type of drawback played in the deck. While this is an extreme case, a similar but smaller effect can be in the decks we create. To avoid the compounding effect, one should be careful not to play too many cards that present similar drawbacks but instead play a variety of cards so that there can be a balance between different drawbacks that can be made less impactful in a particular game.

Remember how I mentioned Bant Charm earlier on? Let's say that you like bant charm and you like the other tri-clor charms as well so you throw all 10 of them (5 from Shards of Alara and 5 from Planeshift) into your deck as you can support their mana cost. You start a game with Bant charm and grixis charm in your hand. In this case, the 2 charms have become very restrictive to play together because of their heavy taxation on the mana base and their inability to get past a 1 for 1 trade which does not let you be ahead but probably never behind despite having to work the mana base up.

Similar mana costs also have a compounding effect especially at the 3-4 mana level (or a higher one) where they would gum up the hand when you have multiples of them in your hand and you will take a significant amount of time before you can actually cast more than one spell a turn. This is something that is relevant as Singleton 100 is often played into the mid-game and people play spells at a higher casting cost range than the faster formats. Cheaper cards escape this effect as one does not need to build up mana very long before multiple copies can be played.

Versatile cards give choices that can compound as well. A wider range of choices can potentially be very useful but more taxing at the same time depending on the stress handling capacity of an individual. The problem is that an average person does not tend to play as many options in a usual format so adapting would become necessary. In Singleton 100, you don't have duplicates of the same card so every versatile card you use will tend to end up giving you different options which is ideally good but potentially highly taxing.

Gifts ungiven is a card that I believe heavily taxes a player unless the player intends to go "auto-pilot". One can make many bad combinations but good ones tend to be more situation based and would require a good amount of effort to work with especially in a format that lets you have 100 cards in your deck of which at least 60 tend to have different names. As much as I liked Gifts ungiven, I hated trying to optimize it so I preferred not to cast it unless I had to.

Strong vs Weak Combinations

When you design a deck, you will have some ideas about synergies or combinations for your deck. Testing will show you whether or not your synergies would work properly and identifying this is crucial as these synergies will stay in your deck for a good amount of time until you remove them.
Usually, I will test some odd combinations in my decks to find out whether or not they work.
Some combinations come from a set, some come from a block, and some come across sets and I can't say for sure whether or not some work until they are actually tested.

One card I managed to test successfully was spellstutter sprite. Faeries as a tribe are not numerous and I did not want to play a tribal deck. I somehow managed to play a good number of faeries to get Spellstutter sprite to work in a "skies" deck without compromising on deck quality.

A tough one I am trying out is earwig squad in a deck with some goblins (not many) and some rogues that are each individually worth playing. I find myself with earwig squad stuck in my hand a good number of times so it might not actually worth the space in my deck but I want to test it out longer before I remove it.

The main idea here is to find as many cross synergies that meld into the deck properly without the need to alter the deck to a weaker state than before.


How to Use These

Aggro decks would look for strong cards that fit into a mana curve and stuff the deck with average/weak cards to fill up the curve. They want to be more focused so "all-roundedness" is not something they should value too highly.
Control decks would want to put in as many "worth more than 1" cards, versatile cards and high quality cards. They also want to be more "all-rounded". The compounding effect is very relevant for them as they want to make their decks run more smoothly.

The small scale considerations will influence the big picture and the large scale considerations will determine whether or not a card should be played. The intention of a deck must be clear so that every card can be evaluated objectively.

Generally when you start making a deck, you want to find the high quality cards that suit the purpose of your deck. These cards are probably the cards that are going to win you the game more often than not. Next, you start to think about the direction you want to take the deck and you throw in cards that seem to fit the cause. After you finish the deck, you should check the mana base and see whether or not it looks like it can support the deck. Once done, go into the casual room and start a game with the new deck.

When you test a deck, you generally want to find out which combinations of cards are good, which cards need to be answered, where the compounding effect might be occuring and how to address these problems individually and together as a whole. Try to take notice of what are the problems you faced in your games and think about whether or not that particular problem was worth making a change in your deck.

You want to ignore natural problems, like mana-screw/land flood, until they happen at a very regular interval. When you have a narrow problem that seems to be played by many players, you might consider making your deck more "all-rounded" to have an edge against those. If you have a very bad matchup against a particular deck, you might want to add in cards to help against those matchups so that you don't give away games.


Deck of the Week: 4c Rock

This week, we have Neoshinji sharing his 4c rock deck. Rock has been a highly favored aggro-control archetype for quite a long period of time that did not primarily rely on blue cards (the most powerful cards) but still managed to be very strong.

I chose this list because I've seen it evolve from a really long time ago, when it was being played in 60 card Singleton. It was originally BGW but it adopted a minimal blue splash for Gifts Ungiven. It's port into 100 card Singleton was probably one of the more successful ones as it allowed the deck to maximize its options with an engine based on Zur the enchanter, one of the more powerful and difficult to answer creatures around. I think that having 100 cards instead of 60 cards actually allowed the deck to become stronger overall when compared to decks from the same format as it retains most of its original power (or might have a little boost) while most other decks generally lost power.

Without further ado, here is the decklist both text and a picture form:

Text version of the decklist: Wine Gone Very Bad

-by Neoshinji

1 Birds of Paradise
1 Doran, the Siege Tower
1 Eternal Witness
1 Exalted Angel
1 Hypnotic Specter
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Loxodon Hierarch
1 Man-o'-War
1 Mulldrifter
1 Qasali Ambusher
1 Rafiq of the Many
1 Rhox War Monk
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Shadowmage Infiltrator
1 Shriekmaw
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Tarmogoyf
1 Treefolk Harbinger
1 Trinket Mage
1 Vexing Shusher
1 Wood Elves
1 Zur the Enchanter
22 cards

1 Bant Charm
1 Brainstorm
1 Condescend
1 Counterspell
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Eladamri's Call
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Evolution Charm
1 Force of Will
1 Impulse
1 Mana Leak
1 Memory Lapse
1 Mortify
1 Nameless Inversion
1 Negate
1 Orim's Chant
1 Putrefy
1 Remand
1 Swords to Plowshares
19 cards

1 Ancestral Vision
1 Farseek
1 Nature's Lore
1 Profane Command
1 Vindicate
 5 cards

1 Adarkar Wastes
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Breeding Pool
1 Caves of Koilos
1 City of Brass
1 Faerie Conclave
1 Flooded Strand
1 Gemstone Mine
1 Gilt-Leaf Palace
1 Godless Shrine
1 Grand Coliseum
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Llanowar Wastes
1 Murmuring Bosk
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Polluted Delta
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Savannah
1 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Plains
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Temple Garden
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Treetop Village
1 Tundra
1 Underground River
1 Underground Sea
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Vivid Creek
1 Vivid Grove
1 Vivid Marsh
1 Vivid Meadow
1 Windswept Heath
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Yavimaya Coast
37 cards

Zur the Enchanter

1 Aether Vial
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Isochron Scepter
1 Phyrexian Furnace
1 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
6 cards

1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
2 cards

1 Armadillo Cloak
1 Bitterblossom
1 Necromancy
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Pernicious Deed
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Prison Term
1 Seal of Primordium
1 Sylvan Library
9 cards

Picture Version, arranged by casting costs (please ignore the "missing cards"):

As one might be able to see, this deck is one that has constantly grown with time. I see cards from many sets in the deck and I think that almost every block is represented. This shows how the deck has been tuned with many considerations made over many sets. The current build is a very defensive build as one can tell from the choice of counter magic over the more traditional rock tools like discard. Its playstyle would have a balance between instant and sorcery speed instead because of the higher instant count in the deck. The deck might suffer a little in the long run with a lack of card replenishment but that is if the deck actually gets stalled till the late game because the deck is packed with many strong cards.

You don't actually want to face this deck unless you have some sneaky cards that mess around with the mana base. Otherwise, facing this deck head on is not going to be easy at all.


I think that Fact or Fiction would be very strong in the deck as well as it provides lands and can get very far with Eternal witness and recursion (of eternal witness). I would play Daze over Mana leak so that important cards can be protected and non-basic hate, which this deck is really vulnerable to, can be stopped when tapped out. I also think that Arcane denial should be better than counterspell in the deck as it has less mana requirements since the deck has many strong cards which can potentially negate the double draw of the opponent. I think that the presence of Isochron scepter might have some degree of influence of the presence of Counterspell.

At the mana base level, I would put in Krosan verge as it is mana fixing that allows the deck to be naturally stronger against control decks.

Other than these, I think the deck is really solid and flexible to tune. It is a relatively straightforward deck to play with many solid interactions. I recommend it for anyone who wants to get beafy cards into play. It has solutions to a wide range of problems and you can almost aways draw answers when you need one.


Tech of the Week: Qasali Ambusher

qasali ambusher Qasali Ambusher is really useful card. At no mana cost, you can sneak it out into play against an aggro deck and it has a good 2/3 body and reach to ambush unsuspecting opponents. Free cards are sneaky and free cards that can kill creatures are really good. Worth trying in any deck with access to both a Forest and a Plains. Something to take note is that when your opponent is attacking your planeswalker, you would not be able to drop it down for free.


Set of the Week: Master's Edition I

In set of the week, I'll mention the playable cards from the set with a little introduction on the card. I might miss out some cards but I will try to point out as many as I can. This section is to highlight cards so that people who are newer can learn about what is in the set than to sift through thousands of cards before making a deck. I will only have a small comment on the card as many are already familiar with them.

I'll start with Master's Edition I which was the first online exclusive set. I would suggest getting what you can as early as possible as the prices of these cards should only go up in the future with more demand and a fixed supply. I think that the supply pool is rather small as MED was not a very popular set to draft. The most valuable card in the set was only Force of Will and if you did not get it, you have almost nothing to cover the cost of the draft. That said, the idea of drafting a foil FoW was probably what led to queues firing slowly. The set had almost 0 enchantment removal except the rare Nevinyrral's Disk so enchantments were really powerful.

Below are the playable cards which you would have to look through to see whether or not they are worth your time and beside their names are their prices on MTGO Traders which you will get to by clicking the name of the card. I think that buying singles via paypal is very convenient and can be cheaper than trying to buy online. Do read the site properly to find out what discounts are available.

Black Knight ($0.25) - Protection from white is getting more and more relevant as time goes by and first strike is also good.
Juzam Djinn ($3.50) - 4 mana 5/5 that can be useful in control decks to gum  the board.
Nether Shadow ($0.20) - A card that recurs itself from the yard easily.
Order of the Ebon Hand ($0.05) - Another protection from white black weenie.
Hymn to Tourach ($2.50)- Discard 2 cards at random.
Pox ($2.25) - A card that messes with people. Try to use good numbers to soften the blow. 3 or 6 are good numbers. 1 and 4 are horrible.
Contagion ($1) - Alternate casting cost removal.
Animate Dead ($1.25) - One of the best reanimation spells around. Combos with worldgorger dragon to create an infinite loop.
Chains of mephistopheles ($1.15) - A card that messes up card drawing. For control decks that don't use card drawing.

Sea Sprite ($0.02) - A very strong anti-red option not only against aggro decks but also control decks that rely on red.
Serendib Efreet ($2) - Big flying fatty.
Diminishing returns ($0.35) - Draw 7.
Arcane Denial ($0.08) - Counter magic that is slack on mana. Its drawback is highly debated over but I think that its mana cost makes it worth  playing.
Force of Will ($58) - The best counter magic.
High Tide ($0.20) - Potential combo piece but still difficult to make around.
Illusions of Grandeur ($1.15) - It is technically possible to give it away now with puca's mischief.

Fyndhorn Elves ($0.05) - Another llanowar elves.
Ghazban Ogre ($0.02) - 1 mana 2/2 for a mono-G beatdown deck.
Eureka ($.0.50) - Lets you drop your fatties down.
Ice Storm ($0.12) - Green stone rain.
Nature's Lore ($0.03) - A very strong mana fixing option if you have "forests" which include dual-lands and shocklands.
Berserk ($6) - Hardly used as a removal but it is possible. A very strong finisher.
Sylvan Library ($2.25) - I don't really like it compared to sensei's divining top but there are people who run it.

Ball Lightning ($6.50) - One of the best burn spells which let you have 3 (shocks) in a card.
Ydwen Efreet ($0.15) - 3/6 for RRR. Its big toughness makes it hard for red cards to kill it.
Goblin Grenade ($0.35) - 5 damage if you throw a goblin.
Jokulhaups ($1.30) - The cheapest "clear board" that hits artifacts, creatures and lands. Some people want to play around this effect.
Lightning Bolt ($2.50) - The best burn spell.
Mana Flare ($1.75) - The original heartbeat of spring.

Armageddon ($5.50) - Destroy all lands.
Exile ($0.05) - A possible defensive option as it gains life and kills an attacker.
Crusade ($2.50) - A very strong "pump" effect.
Moat ($4.50) - Stops non-flying creatures from attacking. A very powerful effect.

Lim-Dul's Vault ($0.20) - Lets you "tutor" if you have enough life. 19 life lets you look at 95 cards. You might not have enough life to see the whole deck and sometimes, you will go down to a very dangerous life count just to find something.

Ankh of Mishra ($0.90) - Think twice about laying that fetchland!
Ivory Tower ($4) - Life gain if you have a big hand. Not easy to use but can be annoying to see at the other side of the table.
Nevinyrral's Disk ($7.50)- Akroma's vengeance that everyone can use.
Shield sphere ($0.05) - 0 mana 0/6 that becomes smaller. Was once part of the Cocoa pebbles deck.
Urza's bauble ($0.08) - Turtle cantrip, or turtletrip for 0 mana. I used to use this with dredge in 60 card.
Winter Orb ($3.75) - Aggro + this = GG. When you have fatties in play and your opponent gets stalled on mana, you should win the game.
Zuran Orb ($0.15) - A way not to die when you have many lands.

Diamond Valley ($1.50) - A land that lets you sacrifice creatures (and those you steal).
Lake of the Dead ($3) - Gives you a jump of black mana if you need a large amount for any reason.
Mishra's Factory ($1.85) - The classic manland.
Thawing Glaciers ($4) - A good way to ensure you have a steady flow of lands.


Last Words

Hope that the chunk of words above have been useful in some way.
The next One Double O would be a deck tuning log where I make a deck and tune it over many games.
Until then, this is Tarmotog playing the 100 card format and bringing it closer to you.

Tarmotog on Mtgo


Lots of info! by hamtastic at Wed, 02/04/2009 - 14:39
hamtastic's picture

Very nice article with tons of good information.

I was wondering if you'd be able to cover things that break the rules of the format. For instance, tutoring/drawing/consistency cards that make a deck feel more consistent?

I think the format is interesting but I have a hard time wrapping my head around the inconsistency of the format and trying to build a cohesive deck. My previous attempts were very rudimentary burn/control/redundant decks, but I feel that there's a lot of room to experiment with this format...

ham: Ok.. I'm working on it by Tarmotog at Fri, 02/06/2009 - 07:47
Tarmotog's picture

ham: Ok.. I'm working on it so u'll probably see it in #9..

Thnx to both for the comments =)

Wow, just wow. by j (not verified) at Wed, 02/04/2009 - 16:00
j's picture

As a re-emergent player (stopped around Ice Ages, started back up about a month ago), I've found that when thrown into the trial by fire that is modern M:TG, card evaluation has become increasingly more important (and especially in tangent areas like the various limited structures), and also much more convoluted. I've stressed this concept to the few people I've managed to interest in the game since I started playing again, and now have a resource to point them to.

Solid deck design, in whatever format you're dealing with always comes down to cost-based trade-offs, almost as much as internal synergy within your card selection (it's like knowing why Plumeveil is a better card in a 5cc standard list than say, Kitchen Finks, in aggro/token heavy meta Finks gets you a double chump and 4 life for 3, for the same c. cost Plumeveil while being a defender is harder to kill, flying, and utilizes CIP tricks with flash, locks down the board, and usually gets you a one-for-none in the process(and doesn't die to a single pyroclasm, infest, nameless, jund charm or agony warp) many times forcing them into a 2 for 1 trade-off).

You've done an exceedingly good job of conveying the overall card selection process, and I believe this will become an invaluable resource to beginning and experienced players alike, as it speaks not only to deck creation, but to deck tuning; and not just within the scope of the Singleton format either. I believe the concepts you are talking about, as stated before, definitely transcend the scope you're using in example here. Kudos for, relevant, well thought out, cross-format advice. Can't wait to read future articles.