by Bruce Gray -Casual encounters
Magic is an amazing game. I can think of very few games that allow you to do the sort of things Magic can do. No, I don’t mean cast spells and have minotaurs and dragons do battle. What I have in mind is that you can play a large number of different games, all with the same bunch of cards, and still have it be called Magic. That’s very unique. Think about it…how many different games can you play with Monopoly? Clue? Stratego? These games have 1 way of playing the game…but Magic has a number. In addition, the way to play Magic and what each player is seeking from the game experience differs greatly making the way for countless reasons and ways to play. That is what I love about Magic…every game is fresh, fun, and with a new outcome based on how and why you decide to play.
So, when someone says they play Casual Magic it can be very tricky to pin down how and why people play and this is why there can be a certain amount of disagreement over the cards that are acceptable to play. Recently I had a discussion with a friend of mine who was complaining that he didn’t feel that there was any place in our Casual Magic environment for Planeswalkers. I had heard a similar argument raised a couple of weeks ago on a podcast and paused. I looked at my friend and was really interested in hearing about his thoughts on Planeswalkers.
My friend started making the argument that initially, when Magic was created, there was no need for additional Planeswalkers because the players themselves were serving that role. In fact, he argued, there really isn’t any place for MORE Planeswalkers than the players themselves because they represent something that is not “created” by the player in terms of spells in his library. How can you cast a spell and summon an entirely different person? It doesn’t make sense and it spoils Magic. He continued on in his diatribe by saying that Planeswalkers represent the creep of competitive Magic into the Casual community because everyone wants to play to most powerful cards and many of the Planeswalkers are exactly that. They spoil the fun of the game because they are such powerful cards that they drain the fun from the game and warp the board state for all the other players. You need to either immediately eliminate the Planeswalker or cast one of your own…so fight it…or join it. Needless to say, my friend was clearly the sort of person who was not overly interested in seeing Planeswalkers in our decks.
Now, I admit, I paraphrased somewhat on behalf of my friend…in part for expediencies sake, and partly because he used some rather “colourful” language is his complain, but the crux of the matter is that he clearly feels that Casual Magic is not the place for Planeswalkers. Now, on my end, I feel slightly differently about the state of Planeswalkers and I wanted to share my thoughts with you today.
Fundamentally, I have no issue with playing Planeswalkers in Casual decks or in Casual games in general and I have a number of reasons why. My friend started his argument with the inception of the game back in 1993 to justify why there was no place for Planeswalkers. They didn’t start the game with Planeswalkers…so we don’t need them now. This is an argument founded on the reluctance to change. Human being don’t like change and the older we get the more reticent we are to changing. Think about it…why do you do certain things the way you do? Why do you follow a certain path when you’re out walking the dog? Why do have a “favorite” when you order pizza? Why do you buy the same model of shoes when you need a new pair? Your brain craves things that don’t change and change scares it…so when you change a game like Magic by adding Planeswalkers there are some players who are unwilling to accept this change. So, when I heard this argument from my friend it was clear to me that he didn’t like the change.
Now, some of you will say “Ummm…Planeswalkers have been around for ages…what gives?” but the truth is that they were released in 2007 in Lorwyn which is only 7 years ago. That means for 13 years there were exactly zero Planeswalker cards, so for the bulk of the existence of Magic Planeswalkers just weren’t cards to play with. That makes them, on the whole, relatively new to the scene. Also, add in the idea that many players leave the game and then return to it (much like myself). Now, these returning players, who may not be familiar with Planeswalkers because they didn’t exist when they last played, are suddenly facing this new card type that is a major force to be dealt with in the game. No, I get the argument and understand the feelings of my friend.
However, there is also a part of the brain that craves new experiences and craves to learn. Why do we travel to new places? Why do we try bungee jumping or para-gliding? Why do we try new foods? Our brain, which is scared of too much change craves a certain amount of change and innovation or else it goes stale. My feeling is that Planeswalkers are one of those changes to Casual magic which is healthy for the game and the players involved. Now, like anything, moderation is the key, so integrating some Planeswalkers into your Casual games can be fun and refreshing. Of course, you can always go back to playing games without them…that isn’t a issue…but trying something kind of new and different for you is positive, so I feel like Planeswalkers can survive that ordeal and still be played.
The second half of his argument is essentially that Planeswalkers are too powerful. Essentially in Casual Magic there is a “Social Contract” and that Planeswalkers violate this contract. Now, by “social contract” I mean there are a number of nebulous rules about how to play the game in order to make the game experience fun for everyone. You hear about this most often with EDH, but the same sort of thing applies to Casual Magic. In essence, you don’t want to play cards that are so powerful that they spoil the experience for others, or play in such a way as to spoil the game for others. This means no rough combos, no “broken” cards, and no Planeswalkers.
Ok, so that can work depending on your playgroup, but I always respond to this sort of argument like this: What’s fundamentally wrong with letting someone play with a busted combo once in a while? So long as he swaps the deck out after he Painter’s Servant/Grindstones you to death what’s the harm? I agree, it is no fun to play the same grossly over powered deck time and again, but once in a while there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, I WANT to see that combo…it’s how I learn! It is highly unlikely I will ever piece that combo together myself, so if I can see it once in a while that’s COOL. Sure, we all groan and scoop, but the fact is we just watched a premier combo slice and dice. That’s pretty neat to see…and it’s even MORE fun if you can beat it. So, in your playgroup, there is no reason you can’t play some busted combos, or absolutely degenerate cards, or Planeswalkers, so long as you are prepared to mix it up and play some different decks that give everyone the chance to play and have fun.
Which brings me to learning…part of the interesting part of playing Magic is learning. You learn by watching other people play. The decks they build. The cards they value over others. How they decide to play and the interactions they create. To rob yourself of the chance to learn something just because you don’t like it or you feel it spoils the fun seems a little short sighted to me. Sure, you don’t want to play against the things you don’t like or the overpowered cards every game, and so moderation and variety needs to be mixed in, but there is nothing wrong with players running Planeswalkers in a Casual game. Just be sure you learn from the experience so you know how to interact with that situation in the future.
My last point in terms of allowing Planeswalkers into Casual play is much more “nuts and bolts” way in the sense that increasingly Wizards is printing cards that specifically target Planeswalkers so that you have more tools to manage them. Think about it, in the last 2 years they have printed things like Dreadbore, Abrupt Decay, Hero’s Downfall, Fated Retribution, and Fated Conflagration all of which can target Planeswalkers giving you a number of options to deal with Planeswalkers. So, if you don’t like them you at least now have an option with which to fight them.
No, I see no good reason to NOT allow Planeswalkers in Casual games of Magic, but they do require a little more careful consideration. You and the people in your playgroup need to have a discussion if there are players who are genuinely upset by Planeswalkers. Perhaps you can work out some sort of a compromise to allow everyone to play the decks they build. This is the beauty of the “social contract”…it can be amended and changed. However, maybe your playgroup is 100% okay with Planeswalkers, in which case keep calm and carry on.
At the end of the day the criticism of Planeswalkers in Casual Magic probably has far less to do with the actual cards and more to do with the fact that some players have stronger decks and win more frequently. If that is the case, limiting Planeswalkers is one potential way to even the playing field, but the more important factor is building decks that match the overall skill and power level in your playgroup. The complaints against Planeswalkers are likely more symptomatic of a problem than the actual cause. So, there is nothing wrong with having decks that emulate tier 1 decks in various constructed formats, but there is also a time and place for other fun and less powerful decks to keep you playgroup fun and fresh.
Thanks very much for reading guys and if you have any ideas or thoughts on Planeswalkers or Casual Magic in general, I’m all ears. Just shoot me off a tweet at @bgray8791 because I’d love to hear what you think.
Until next time, Keep it fun, Keep it safe…keep it Casual.
By rights this is the deck that should have won in Minneapolis last weekend and would have if that Scapeshift had not been peeled off the top. Jund has long been a bogeyman of the format, but the recent ban on Deathrite Shaman did a lot to suck the wind out of its sails. But it continues to compete as a tier 1 strategy because it has so many powerful pieces of disruption and removal, backed by a team of beatdown creatures.
The main strategy to victory revolves around two key monsters crashing the red zone with longtime all star Tarmogoyf widely accepted as the best two drop beater ever printed as it continues to scale up as the grave fills with different card types, and also manland Raging Ravine which continues to grow with each attack and as a land is able to dodge any sorcery speed removal. There is also Scavenging Ooze which has the ability to grow to epic proportions as well but is most useful as a way to control the opponents graveyard if they are operating with any recursion now that Deathrite is no more. There is also Dark Confidant which is the decks main source of grinding card advantage and newcomer Courser of Kruphix which is largely a brick wall with its four toughness but also acts as a form of ramp and those life points will often be very relevant in the end. The next key element of this deck is the disruption package and that is found with three trios of discard with Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize as amazing turn one pinpoint extraction also enabling you to see the opponents current plans, and also Liliana of the Veil which is a symmetrical discard but you are able to prepare properly in advance and often force early misplays from the enemy. Liliana also double as removal with her sacrifice ability and is able to rid the board of troublesome creatures especially Hexproof or Indestructible ones that you normally would not be able to destroy. The remainder of the deck is basically more removal of varied flavors including Abrupt Decay and Maelstrom Pulse able to hit many different problem permanents, Slaughter Pact and Terminate as pinpoint removal for creature threats, and Anger of the Gods which provides the deck a sweeper capable of exiling the many recursive creatures especially from Melira Pod decks. There is also the requisite set of Lightning Bolt, almost a given for any deck in the format running Red, which doubles both as removal but also as additional reach to close out games quickly. The final card is a one of Chandra, Pyromaster which with her ability to negate blockers will be a road to victory in many games that she hits the table and her second ability help provide additional draw to the deck which is one element that is not a strength.
The Bazaar of Moxen is a four day Eternal Magic event in Europe featuring Vintage, Legacy and Modern tournaments. Every year a devoted crowd makes a pilgrimage to compete for amazing prizes and have a great time. We’ve already featured the Modern Main Event winners decklist for you and here we present the Legacy. It is based around the interaction of Life from the Loam with the toolbox of lands and the creatures which interact favorably with that design. At its core we have a Junk deck, the combination of White, Black and Green, with a splash of Red to gain a little extra reach. It has heavy elements of disruption but also a formidable creature package capable of finishing the match in short order.
The title of the deck comes from the decks engine card Life from the Loam which is able to return lands from your graveyard to your hand and has the added benefit of Dredge to pull itself back from the grave to continue the cycle. This is invaluable to the deck as you have a lot of interaction involving sacrificing or discarding lands to advance your plan starting right with the decks fast mana source in Mox Diamond. There is also a slew of lands in your manabase which will naturally find their way to the grave starting with the disruption staple Wasteland which is an absolute blowout when recured every turn to shut down the opponents mana, the decks fetchland Verdant Catacombs, and the trio of card draw in Horizon Canopy, Barren Moor and Tranquil Thicket. There is also the creature land Dryad Arbor which can find itself used turn after turn as a chump blocker if the need so arises. Speaking of creatures we then get to those beatdown creatures which will lock down the game for you with Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze which also does double duty to brutalize opponents graveyards if they are using it as a resources, and the Knight of the Reliquary which can balloon to epic proportions while searching up the decks toolbox of lands. And in the Knights toolbox we find Maze of Ith to nullify large creature based aggro strategy, Karakas which is absolutely necessary to fight against decks like Sneak and Show cheating legendary fatties into play way ahead of curve, and also Grove of the Burnwillows which combos with Punishing Fire to pick off pesky creatures at a very reasonable price. Adding to the draw from the land package there is also Dark Confidant which with an average converted mana cost over the sixty cards at less then one will pay off in spades and the powerful card selection tool Sylvan Library. There is pseudo-card draw from Green Sun’s Zenith which will search up your most relevant Green creature including the Arbor if that’s what you need. For the disruption we have some extremely powerful tools starting with Chalice of the Void to work against specific decks strongest cards at that cost, there is Gaddock Teeg to nullify high cost non-creature spells especially Force of Will, and Liliana of the Veil where you’ll be able to swing the discard disadvantage back towards your favor while working to control the battlefield. The final piece of our puzzle comes with pinpoint destruction from Abrupt Decay which in Legacy is such a power piece of removal and is able to hit such a variety of targets.
So while this is not a new strategy for Legacy it is a very strong deck that in the right metagame makeup is able to find its way to success. We certainly will see this strategy continue to thrive and grow as it gets stronger every time a new utility land is printed that it can find use for. We will see if it continues to show itself at the top tables or if players find answers to hedge against its power.
1st place Grand Prix Paris 2014 Legacy
Here we have what is one of my favorite decks in Legacy. BUG Delver is a powerful and complete control package of threats, permission, discard and removal. A similar deck piloted by Laurence Moo Young at SCG Orlando last month was also able to win that tournament.
Your beatdown strategy revolves around Delver of Secrets and Tarmogoyf, two creature which can pop out early and then backed by countermagic be ridden all the way to victory. There is also the versatile Deathrite Shaman which can either control the grave against reanimate strategies or be your source of mana acceleration, and can double as a Shock every turn when it has instant/sorcery targets in the grave. As we are playing blue the deck run the standard Brainstorm and Ponder draw package which also double as ways to get your Delver flips, but we also see two Dark Confidant to ensure a constant flow of cards and a target to pull removal away from your beaters. For countermagic we see Force of Will and Daze which help to establish control over the opponent for whatever spells he’s allowed to keep. Speaking of which there is a heavy discard package starting with Thoughtseize into Hymn to Tourach and there is also Liliana of the Veil to suppress them from holding too many cards in hand. And finally we get to the removal which Liliana is also great at destroying opposing creatures and Abrupt Decay is amazing at obliterating the plethora of cheap permanents in Legacy.