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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Dec 13 2007 11:20am
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If you have read my articles in the past, you know I am the PDC guy. I play, pioneer, and compete in PDC. I am more than that tough; long before PDC I was a PTQ regular and had aspirations of one day making the Pro Tour. College, and subsequentially graduate school intervened. I was far and away from any place holding PTQs (I did not remain in NYC for my schooling) and was without a car (from growing up in NYC), so my dreams took a hiatus. Life has changed, however. I am getting my Master's degree in May (if everything goes as planned) and have a car (finally). This means I now have access to PTQs in driving distance. Combine this with my love of all things Magical and my latent dream to make the Tour, and the proverbial fire has been lit.

These articles we be an amalgam of stories from my past as an aspiring Magician, and also a chronicle of my desire to improve myself as a Magic player. I am decent, but rarely have the discipline to be great. Perhaps documenting my rises and falls will force me to examine my play and make those leaps necessary to become a better player.

I will be starting my journey with both limited events (because there's a local PTQ upcoming within driving distance) and Lorwyn Block Constructed (due to it's relatively low entrance cost). I have already contacted our eminent editor, and he is helping me with Block Constructed. I am going to do what I can on my budget to participate and do better in the Limited events. I have put out the feelers for a local play group, which I find vital to doing well and improving my game

Far Wanderings

Let me take an aside here and talk about play groups. There are a number of ways to get better at Magic. One is reading and observing all that you can. Reading the articles will give you different points of view, and can sometimes expose you to thought paradigms that might have otherwise escaped your notice or may have never occurred to you. These articles can expose you to tech the likes of which you may have never thought of in different circumstances. Watching replays can show you games in real time, and help you see the execution of text that may be lacking from simply reading about games. Being able to see what a decision looks like can go a long way in understanding why it was made. However, for all of these benefits, the communication is one way.

I make references to people and players all the time in my articles. Tom and Rich, jaknife and Kingrtiz. These are players, often times with radically different ideas than my own. If I did not talk with them about our differing views of the game, I do not think any of us would be as successful at PDC. Being able to talk about Magic is a great thing because it allows you to hear what you are saying, and sometimes we can say really stupid things and run with them unless we have friends to tell us “you're an idiot” and keep the focus where it should be. A play group can also provide those very important different points of view that can foster growth and change the way you play for the better. Having two way communication can also enable you to talk through a game. Much of my best testing was done in the MTGO client with Tom while talking openly about the content of my hand and his. The goal was not to win, but rather to learn how to play optimally. More recently, Rich and I took turns playing the MUC-Stompy pairing, switching off decks in order to better understand how the game works. During these sessions, we were constantly talking about what was the best play, and the testing has paid off. The ability to communicate allows you to learn in a different way that simply reading or observing would leave untapped. Consider this series of articles a form of communication.

This article is called tales from the sidelines, because that is that nature of the content. I am an observer, much better at viewing than playing (currently). I stand outside and watch, cheer, laugh and cry as a fan and as a participant. Yet I have never been the center of attention, but rather on the periphery, the sidelines. These will be my stories, past and present, and thoughts about getting better at this game we all love.

That being said, I will not dive in head first to Standard and Extended. These formats are time intensive, as well as expensive to get into, especially now with IPA still legal in the latter and Garruk Wildspeaker and Tarmogoyf dominating the former. I simply do not currently have the funds to be even remotely competitive in these formats. Block, on the other hand, is largely untested waters and is a comparatively simpler game. Perusing the prices on MTGOtraders.com, we can see that the average rare price for Lorwyn is under four dollars, with only a handful exceeding the five dollar mark. This makes it an enticing prospect for me as an aspiring tournament player.

But why Block, especially with the next PTQ season being Extended?

Simply put, I am not good enough yet to play Extended competitively. The format is fast and full of power, and playing PDC for the past few years has left me with dulled senses for some tricks that would otherwise be considered obvious. Look back to Antoine Ruel's PT: LA. In Ruel's match with Kenji, he laid a Watery Grave tapped and then on the second turn did not challenge a Force Spike on his Duress from Kenji with the mana up. Kenji then ran his own Duress into Ruel's Force Spike. The mastery of this play is seen in extended,`and as I have said, I am not that forward thinking yet. Block, on the other hand, is simpler. In a block based on Tribal, the format will most likely tend towards creatures rather than control as was the case in Time Spiral block. This should be the case for the early stages of Lorwyn Block Constructed as the format strikes me as very linear. Additionally, the format is relatively untouched with two decks (as I understand) really doing well: UB Faeries and Mannequin.dec, both of which are Standard ports.

Looking at these decks, they share Islands, which is important because it leaves them vulnerable to Merfolk. I have an unhealthy attachment to the fishy tribe for some reason (really, I have no idea why). They might be viable as a metagame deck aimed at taking down a field full of control. They are fragile and lose a lord in the transfer from Standard to Block, meaning the beat down plan would take significantly longer. The mill strategy is not strong enough to be competitive, as it hinges on Forced Fruition, which while a beating is quite slow. The ability to overwhelm with Summon the School pales in comparison to the token generating ability of the Elf tribe.


Since the two decks that I have observed that do well are Standard ports, it makes sense that other Tribal strategies should translate almost as well. It makes sense that Elves, Goblins, and Kithkin, both decently represented in Standard, should make the initial transfer to Block. Similar, I can expect certain builds of Mono-Blue Guile control. This makes sense due to the strength of countermagic available in Lorwyn and the fact that Blue, as usual, is strong.

One deck I see as doing well that does not have a direct Standard counterpart is Greedy Elementals. This deck takes advantage of the Vivid lands and Smokebraider to power out powerful elementals such as Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw while beating down with Flamekin Bladewhirl and using the Changeling aspect of Nameless Inversion to some sick advantage. Also, I would not be entirely surprised to see some sort of Doran, the Siege Tower deck sprout up.

There is another aspect of Lorwyn Block that I must consider before starting my foray into tournament play, and it is the fact of Planeswalkers. This is the first Block to ever have such cards, and in order to do well, my decks need to have a way to deal with them. Thankfully, every color has a way in addition to outright damage from combat, so this is a secondary concern.

So what will my path be? I have toyed around with an underpowered Merfolk build, mostly because I lack all the rares as of now (the joys of being a PDC freak). I see true potential in the deck, but until I can get my hands on a set of (Cryptic Commands), this deck will be a pipe dream. However, if you have a set and want to give the deck a whirl, here is my current list.

16 Island
2 Plains
4 Aquitect's Will
4 Broken Ambitions
4 Deeptread Merrow
4 Familiar's Ruse
2 Merrow Harbinger
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Mulldrifter
1 Paperfin Rascal
2 Silvergill Adept
2 Sygg, River Guide
3 Vivid Creek
2 Vivid Meadow
2 Wanderer's Twig
4 Whirlpool Whelm

Silvergill Adept

The Rascal should be a fourth Harbinger, and the Plains and two Islands should be replaced with Wanderwine Hubs. The Whelms should probably be Oblivion Rings and Ruse should be Cryptic Command. On top of that, it would be great to fit another Sygg in somewhere.

If you asked me what deck I would be excited about, however, I would have to say Goblins. Squeaking Pie Sneak is a deceptively good card, as the ability of Black creatures to block is seemingly low. Fear strikes me as a good ability to have in this format, so of course Shriekmaw is a must. Sprinkle in Wort, Mad Auntie and Knucklebone Witch combined with Tarfire and Inversion, and therein lies the core of a Goblin deck. I have yet to do any serious testing with this build, but think that it can do similar things to the Merfolk deck: evade and curve out. However, this may be a bias from my PDC life, as curve and evasion are keys to victory in that format. These principles are also key in Limited, which is the other format in which I have experienced some success. Block, however, seems like a balance between PDC and other formats, simply because the power level is comparatively low in relation to Standard and Extended, and seems like a good place for me to start for these reasons. About a week after you read this, I should have the cards I need for at least one Lorwyn Block deck so why not send me a challenge?

Since I have no stories from my journey to improve, I might as well look back to a time almost ten years ago when I was just a wide eyed child, looking to game. Urza's Saga had just come out and I had cracked packs like no one else. I put together a fun Standard (Tempest-Urza) UR deck that “abused” that sets eternal enchantments. I thought I was so smart, using Goblin War Buggy alongside Fiery Mantle alongside Wayward Soul. Yeah, I used to be much worse than I am now. I take my creation to Neutral Ground for their “New Standard” event and get paired against a nice man and proceed to beat his finely tuned Stroke of Genius/Priest of Titania deck with my pile. He was less than thrilled to say the least. After finding out that the tournament was held close to my 14th birthday, he announced, with lethal damage on the Stack (or rather, lethal damage facing him in combat as the Stack had yet to be invented), very loudly, “Happy Birthday Alex Ullman!” and scooped his cards. Brian David-Marshall overheard this and to this day will refer to me as Happy Birthday Alex Ullman whenever he sees me for the first time in a long time. This came to light again on the recent Top8magic podcasts where lo and behold, BDM goes through the ritual of calling me Happy Birthday. I break out laughing, and realize I truly am a member of the Magic sidelines.

Until next time, may your stories be great and your memories greater,



by walkerdog at Thu, 12/13/2007 - 11:53
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I thought it was his Tog that Kenji got  Force Spiked.

by SpikeBoyM at Thu, 12/13/2007 - 13:15
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You're correct.  I have to work on my comprehension skills.


Good luck! by eotinb (Unregistered) (not verified) at Fri, 12/14/2007 - 10:39
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I'm eager to  read about your forays into Lorwyn Block Constructed. My experience in the queues and the Tourney practice room have demonstrated to me that aggro is most definitely not dominating the format. In fact, aggro seems pretty weak.

Like you, I figured goblins was the best aggro build since almost all of the creatures are immune to Shriekmaw, one of the key anti-aggro cards in most control builds. Maybe I just haven't found the right build, but I've only had moderate success with my various iterations. One of my problems is that there are a lot of counters in the format and I'm finding that I'm not that good at playing around counters. Also, the fog+draw effect on Cryptic Command is great for stalling.

Other control builds to keep in mind, in addition to those you listed, are 1) Sonic Boom port from Standard (mono-blue with counters and Guile), 2) GB aggro-control (Fertile Ground is very good with both Doran and Garruk, also contains Masked Admirers and Profane Command), and 3) RB aggro-control (Chandra, Liliana, and Wort; Profane Command again). Fear does come in handy quite a bit, but there are lots of black creatures showing up in control or aggro-control decks (all of the one's already mentioned plus Oona's Prowler and Wynden for faeries and Shriekmaw can just block for the Mannequin deck even if the CiP trigger is useless against goblins).

A lot would want to have by lenyrose2013 at Sat, 09/24/2016 - 00:14
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A lot would want to have business for it. As it is something that give income. - Marla Ahlgrimm