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By: Splendid Belt, Splendid Belt
Aug 23 2010 1:58am
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Hello and welcome back once again to Out of the Blue, the column cunningly written to subliminally subvert your mind and gradually bring you under my nefarious control.

This week I’ve mostly been getting very very annoyed at mana screw.  Intriguingly, I’ve been encountering every possible type of this dreaded form of shuffler hell over a short space of time.  To give an example, in my last game before I gave up on the shuffler and went to do something less frustrating like bash my head repeatedly on a cupboard door, I opened a random seven with one land.

I’d already switched to my Jund deck, since I was bored of duff draws and wanted some consistency and a decent game.  This deck is probably the most consistent one I have, certainly the closest to tournament worthy.  Anyway, I exchanged my opener for a two land hand (but both mountains), three Putrid Leeches and Siege-Gang Commander.  Not great.  I mulliganed again, and never saw another land.



   Mind Control

 And that’s been the story of my week.  Not just terrible draws, but a complete failure ever to start with a decent opener, mulligan or not.  And it’s not just in Standard where my luck has plunged through a hole in the floor and accelerated towards the Earth’s core like some sort of artificial singularity hell-bent on global destruction.  Again seeking some form of consistency I’ve been trying my MBC pauper deck too.  Surely if I can’t draw the colours I need, then switching to mono is the way to go?


Nope.  No matter how long the games go, I’ll draw three, perhaps four lands tops.  Mono black control doesn’t like missing its land drops, it turns out.  And I wasn’t even seeing my landcyclers.  My deck must have like twenty lands stacked at the bottom of the pile.  I feel like I might qualify for some sort of record.  Perhaps ‘closest someone otherwise sane has ever got to biting a hole clean through their laptop’.


The point I’m gradually shambling towards like one of Grave Titan’s minions is a well-worn one, but I’m going to make it anyway.


Mana screw sucks.  Or blows.  Or whatever, I’m English, I don’t really get the expression.  It does something significant to the local airflow, let’s put it that way.  Colour screw too.  Here are some potential solutions, which will almost certainly never see implementation, and almost all of you will hate.



The Scrabble Solution

Back when I was single and flat-sharing, my friend and I used to play a lot of Scrabble.  We were (and still are) incredibly evenly matched, so generally whoever lucked in to the best letters won the game.  Our solution?  We split the vowels and consonants into separate piles, so when you chose your letters, you could at least have a fighting chance of getting something word-worthy.


Can you see where I’m headed?  Split out lands from spells, and have in effect two libraries.  You draw from the one you feel you need the most.  You still don’t know which spells or lands you’ll draw, but at least you’ll get the ratio you’re looking for.  How does it work against mill?  Cards are milled evenly from both piles, as far as possible.



  Redraw for Victory

If you thought that idea was bad, just wait for this one.  Every non-land card in your hand effectively landcycles for free (except perhaps you'd have to exile the card rather than discard it, to prevent broken graveyard interactions).  But it can only pull a basic land from your library relating to one of the colours in its casting cost.  So ditch Mana Leak for an island.  Yes, it's a bit like Simian Spirit Guide


And basic lands cycle for one colour of their mana.  So all islands can potentially do a Lonely Sandbar.


It’s a potent change, but as long as we can all do it, it’s a level playing field.


Potentially you'd have to limit it to once per turn to prevent something like Pelakka Wurm coming down on turn one.  Although perhaps not.  If someone's prepared to exile practically their entire hand to play one card on turn one, and you can Terminate it next turn, or exile a mere two of your own cards to play Day of Judgment, then it might be balanced after all.


Realistically though, I'd restrict it to once per turn, I'm sure otherwise all sorts of broken things would happen.


The Unworkably Terrible Idea 

And if you didn’t like either of those, then here’s a real doozy.  We get one free colourless mana per turn, cumulatively.  So one free mana on turn one, two on turn two, etc.  So we at least have a chance of casting something, even if mana shy.  So you’re guaranteed five mana by turn five, but it’ll all be colourless unless you draw some lands of your own.


Okay, possibly more of an advantage for Eldrazi ramp decks than anything else, and would require a lot of re-balancing.  Also it doesn't solve colour screw which was one of my problems initially, but that's why we have things like Prophetic Prism.


On the plus side, it'd make my continued efforts to get Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play a whole lot simpler.  But I can understand if that doesn't appear to be such a noble goal to the wider community.


For those who are interested, that rather wonky chap on the right is Ivan the Terrible.  So there is some sort of method here.




The ‘It’s a different game then’ Solution

This one’s quite simple.  I’m sure you’ll hate it too.  We get to order our libraries however we like before the game begins. 


So you draw your preferred opening seven, and you should know exactly what your subsequent draws will be too.  Shuffle effects would be dropped, at least in terms of effects which are designed to be beneficial (so Evolving Wilds won’t require you to shuffle after selecting your land).  But opponent spells could still cause you to shuffle up, it would be an intriguing new form of attack. 


And overall, it would add a new layer of strategy, the necessity to order your decklist.

You'd have the option to reorder your 60 when boarding, but still only have two minutes in which to do it.  So more options, but potentially more time pressure too.  And trying to second guess how your opponent might order his deck will add even more complexity.


In Summary...


I realise that these represent fundamental changes to the game and would no doubt result in dozens of terrible knock-on effects with the potential to bring down civilization as we know it, but they would at least lower my dental bill.  And my IT bill; I’ve no idea on the correct procedure to remove the pre-molar currently embedded in my keyboard.

But really, we all hate mana screw.  And I know what you’re thinking.  ‘Build your deck properly you [insert preferred expletive here]’.  I know how to make a decklist.  I have at least a fair grasp of how to construct a landbase.  But we can all still suffer from bad luck, and that’s what I’d like to minimise.

And I’m not saying remove luck entirely from the game.  All right, I am a bit with the last suggestion.  Overall I’m trying to think of ways to make the game more fun.  Or at least, less ‘unfun’.  Losing a delicately poised tactical battle of wits is fun.  Almost as much fun as winning the same game. 

Losing a total one-sided whitewash because you were unable to do anything useful at any point is just a waste of your time, and your opponent’s.


I lost the final match of a recent M11 draft thanks to shuffler hell too.  Okay, it could equally have been down to terrible draft choices and naïve play, but I’d like to think it was the shuffler.  I’d scouted my opponent prior to the match, and noticed that he was playing a fairly average looking G/R mid-range deck with no special bombs.  I had a fair deck, perhaps without genuine bombs either, but with a decent mix of removal, creatures and combat tricks.  I’d seen off my first two opponents fairly well, and was confident the final would be the easiest game.  Best of all, I’d seen a few play mistakes from my finals opponent in my scouting, so I wasn’t expecting a real contest.

And in the end, I was right.  It wasn’t a real contest.  He trounced me in two straight games because I never saw a single piece of removal, nor any of my better creatures.  I don’t mind losing at all, but I mind losing to a (possibly) weaker opponent with a (probably) weaker deck because I (infuriatingly) suffered from worse luck.

I want to say: 'I'm not whining but...', except I think it might sound whiny.  Okay, perhaps I am whining a bit.  But generally I don't feel like somebody for whom the dice never roll.  I once managed to get the word 'quagmire' over a triple word score in Scrabble.  People still approach me in the street and say: "Hey, aren't you that guy who... Hey Doris!  Get over here, it's the quagmire guy!"  Yes I'm truly blessed.  Only not recently, and not in Magic


Would you like some cheese with that...?

Okay well that's enough wittering from me for another week.  Thanks for making it this far through my ranting.  Or at least, thanks for taking the trouble to read the first couple of paragraphs then skipping down here to see if it gets any better.

For those of you who read the entire thing, including the cunningly inserted mind altering coding, be patient my children.  Our time has not yet come. When I give the signal, you shall rise up and together we shall rule! [breaks off into evil cackling]


Splendid Belt



There is an easy way by KoRnZYSIEK at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 05:01
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Make draws with 0,1 and 6,7 land mulligan for free (without drawing a card less) and it should be ok....

You're right by Splendid Belt at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 05:13
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Yes, we'll call that the 'Finally, something workable' solution then. That would be a great change to the game.

Sorry, but that wouldn't by Theobill at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 06:11
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Sorry, but that wouldn't work, in older formats you could run combo decks with 1 land (belcher would certainly benefit) and just mulligan until you get a turn 1 win with protection. Perhaps if there was a limit of 1 free mulligan it would be okay, but i think this would just delay the problem slightly as people would expect a higher quality hand due to the potential increased card selection.

I feel your pain. Deeply. For by Paul Leicht at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 05:54
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I feel your pain. Deeply. For 16+ years I've played this game and for 16+ years Ive dealt with the frustration of bad shuffles, horrendous cuts, amazing opponent top decks and just general where the heck did that come from? draws. On the other hand, now that modo shuffles for me I don't have to worry whether I am sufficiently randomized or if my opponent is a sleight of hand artist. (I've faced no less than 3 such individuals in tourney in the past offline.) On a more serious note, as one of your suggestions mentions, dramatically changing the structure of the game to remove mana flood/screw would make it an entirely different game. So not enthusiastic about the ideas except maybe in a Friday Night Kitchen (tm pending) game.

I am fairly certain, mana woes are 70% building issues 30% luck issues. My luck is almost always negative or at 0 so if I build the deck even a little wrong I can be sure to see problems. Hence, the question of how good your fixing is, really is very important. You mentioned Simian Spirit Guides and that is a perfect fixer (If you are in solid red.) It is paramount to dedicate enough of the deck to making sure you can cast ALL your important spells (and why are there unimportant ones in the deck? I may ask.) Some deck designs make this easier than others. 4 color combo is tougher to pull together than mono green elves for example. Play, adjust, play, adjust, play, adjust. Do that 1,000x and call the doctor in the morning.

Facing sleight of hand in by Splendid Belt at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 06:43
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Facing sleight of hand in Magic? Ouch, that's just not cricket (a phrase which I'm sure doesn't translate across the pond. It's just not baseball?).

You're right Paul, building your deck and manabase correctly certainly helps. I know some of my decks function better than others in terms of actually allowing me to play. The last straw recently though was when I turned to my best built, most consistent deck, and still had exactly the same problem. I have a limited amount of gaming time (and with a second child due any day now, that time is set to reduce further), and having just had an entire week's gaming time effectively lost to mana screw, I felt like something needed to change. Or I need to stop playing altogether, one of the two.

In reality it was just an exceptionally bad run of luck. This week my decks have been delivering pretty much what I need. But the knowledge that luck is temporary and is bound to change didn't help last week when I could barely play a spell. When your hobby is capable of being consistently unfun, something's wrong.

My most consistent deck at present isn't actually my Jund deck, it's my Dark Tutelage / Phylactery Lich deck from last week. Probably has something to do with building a decent curve for once, and the fact that the only two cards in the entire deck cost more than 3cc, and that's Consuming Vapors at 4cc. Means I can almost always cast what I want, even when I don't get much land. I can still flood, but not often, and that just makes Consume Spirit more potent. And Tutelage / Crystal Ball help too.

Anyway, 70% deck building, 30% luck sounds about right.

It seems to me, any Hobby by Paul Leicht at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 06:45
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It seems to me, any Hobby with any serious amount of work in it has the potential to be unfun. There are lots of things in life that create tension for us. Figuring out how to alleviate it without being upset is something even oldsters have trouble with. Congrats on your 2nd child's pending arrival and hope it is healthy and happy.

I know that this article by Odindusk at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 10:34
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I know that this article isn't entirely based on land screw, but I wanted to say something about that.

I predominantly play limited formats, and always have in my 10 years of slinging cards. At some point a while back, I made the decision to ALWAYS play 18 land. I used to subscribe to "almost always" playing 17 lands and once in a blue moon running 16 if my curve was super low. But the pain from loss after loss due to stalling out on 2 or 3 land sent me into an aggravated spiral that caused me to realize that I'd rather rip a land late in the game, than rip another spell early on that I don't have the mana to cast. All I wanted was a chance to cast my spells. That's paramount to my desire to try squeezing just one more spell into the deck.

Now granted... statistically, the difference between 17 and 18 land in a 40-card deck is almost trivial. But somehow it's helped to right my mental state and I've definitely been a better player since I've made that change.

Thanks for the comment by Splendid Belt at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 10:58
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Thanks for the comment Odindusk. I usually go 17 or 18 lands with my draft decks. Do you not find you sometimes lose to flood though with 18 lands? Last week I was alternately flooding / being screwed with the same decks in different games.

It's mostly a luck issue, the problem comes when you encounter an unreasonable run of bad luck all at once. A way to minimise this without ruining the game is the holy grail.

kill a playerbase by rayjinn at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 13:01
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these changes would be the end of the newer player.
Magic isn't about fair, it's about luck vs skill. Without luck there would only be skilled players. And believe me this would leave little players enthusiastic enough to play the game.

Hmm... by Splendid Belt at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 13:39
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I don't know, I remember being a new player back when the Kamigawa block was released. I understood that as a new player I'd lose a lot, but the newbie room is a good place to face other newbies. After a while I built my first deck, taken straight from a Building on a Budget article from the mothership, took it into the casual room and won a few games.

That process made sense to me as a new player, and introduced me gradually and simply to the game. Losing because of bad luck has never taught me anything, except that Magic is a potentially hugely frustrating game. And that's far more likely to put players off, old or new I'd have thought.

I stopped playing Magic twice by Lord Erman at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 14:30
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I stopped playing Magic twice in my life but I never ever stopped playing trading card games. There were (and still are) always some other good card games around and I always found peace and calm and serenity playing those games with other gamers who never ever heard of "mana screw" and/or "mana flood" in their entire life.

Magic is the first trading card game but being the first one has also some problems. Which can't even be solved. Other game companies look at you and copy your best parts and avoid your worst ones. And the whole mana idea and lands as a card type, don't exist in other games. Yes, there are resources to play your cards but they work in a very different way. You never blame the shuffler, you never get mana screwed etc... You either have a good deck or a bad one. You either play good or bad. That simple.

If someone asked me what part of Magic I dislike the most, then my answer would be (without even thinking) lands. Lands are horrible. Really. We always think that we build decks with 60 cards. In reality this isn't true. We build decks with only 34-38 cards and the rest are just cards that allow us to play our "real" cards. This whole idea is really dumb.

But of course there is a difference between mana screw and color screw. Your example with your Jund deck consists both for example. You say you got two lands after you mulliganed but they were both wrong colors. Well, that can be avoided. I don't know how many and which lands you play, but a three color deck should always play TONS of nonbasics to avoid such badluck and misfortune.

I once had an opener with zero lands while playing a deck with 27 lands. I mulliganed and again no lands. I mulliganed to five and again no lands. I mulliganed to four and again no lands. I mulliganed to three and guess what? All three cards were freakin' lands!!! And sadly this kind of nonsense only happens in Magic.

Anyway, thanks for reminding me of the one thing I dislike the most about Magic. Lands!


simlar ... but different by mootown2 at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 17:19
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I've also quit MtG only to return twice (so far) and played on and off a total of something like 15 years. I only played one other tcg/ccg much and tried several others. It was called ChronX "the original online ccg" - like MtG's lands and mana this futuristic post-apocalyptic game used bases to generate resources.

The similarities ... sometimes you lost from not having enough or the right type of resources (three kinds - Military, Covert, Cyber) ... basehunting or "land destruction" was a strategy

The difference ... unused resources accumulated from turn to turn so you could save up over a couple turns to play something ... most bases only produced resources for a few turns after 5 or 10 or however many turns the base stopped providing resources

so I guess no more emptying mana pools but every land has depletion counters is another "house rules" approach to add to the list

I liked some of the Vs. by Drbenwayy at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 14:35
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I liked some of the Vs. System card game rules. I'm not completely sure of all of them since I played the game long ago but you were allowed one mulligan and you started out with the same amount of cards in hand. I don't believe you shuffled after a mulligan and I think you showed the cards to your opponent and put them on the bottom of the library. But the most important was that instead of land, you used resources to cast equipment, and superheroes. These cards were played face down and ANY card could be used as a resource but when it was used as a resource it had to stay there. The best cards to put in the resource row were locations since they were built for that space and couldn't be placed elsewhere and would provide bonuses and game changing states. But you basically couldn't be resource screwed because you could play one card in your resource row each turn. So if you were mana screwed it would be like converting a Grave Titan into a land and being able to add 1 Black mana to your pool but not being able to use the Grave Titan for any other purpose for the rest of the game.

Could play some Momir basic! by BradWoj at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 15:03
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Could play some Momir basic! Never had mana problems in that format.

I'm in the same boat at the by Flippers_Giraffe at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 15:38
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I'm in the same boat at the moment I get frustrated every time I try to play latley and feel like giving the game a rest for a bit, although my addiction always gets the better of me so we shall see how things turn out.

I'm really looking forward to the Coalition League but playing in the casual room is a big turn off at the moment.

I gave Magic up for around 9 by Splendid Belt at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 16:48
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I gave Magic up for around 9 months (correponding to the large gap in my writing for this site) last time I got totally fed up with consistent bad luck. Another part of the annoyance is during these runs, it seems that the few times you draw a good opening seven, your opponent will be one of the types who quits every time they see anything less than a perfect opener. But that's a different article.

I gave up paper mtg when I by Doomhed at Mon, 08/23/2010 - 19:03
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I gave up paper mtg when I realized I was driving hundreds of miles a year to pay large sums of money to play vintage against people I didn't like, and that I was drafting with assholes that would automatically assume that they lost to me because of luck, even though I had a 1906 limited rating when I quit (2nd/3rd/2nd/4th place, mostly by choice, in 4 limited PTQ's).

I sold my paper collection for just under 4 grand, got a new car, apartment, and a mtgo account full of cards. I have played some paper magic against my friends, but I dont do paper tourneys anymore.

Real Randomization by Lythand at Tue, 08/24/2010 - 17:12
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The thing with the Shuffler is you get actual randomization (A real word?). In paper, tehre isnt 100% true randomization. It all depends on the amount of times you shuffle your deck and how your deck ended up before you started playing. Take for example a player who mana weaves his deck and then shuffles a bunch of times. The chances of him getting a large pocket of mana or spells is still unlikely compared to the guy who just finished a game, piled all his lands up, stuck them on the bottom, and started to shuffle. The shuffler sucks but I see it happen to my opponent as well so I know it's not just me.