New Guy in Town: Origins of an Eternal Player, by Leo MacWilliam [MTG Blog]

Temporal Mastery

Origins of an Eternal Player

Summertime in Kansas City can be hot but as a child I don’t remember caring. At 12 years old, I was honestly a lot more interested in riding bikes or exploring the train yard at the bottom of the hill of my cousin’s street than sitting inside. When my cousin declared that it was too hot and we should head inside to play some games I had assumed he meant Nintendo. My father had of course taught me Chess and I was learning Cribbage, so I was not ignorant to card games requiring rules outside of the casino types and I understood how to bluff. Despite all of this I was unprepared for the depth of the game he was to introduce to me that fate-filled summer afternoon.

Having just purchased a few starter decks of a game he had been playing, he wanted to open them up and teach me the game. The decks said ‘Unlimited Edition’ and were cleverly designed to look like a spellbook, complete with a fake bookmark sticking between the ages on the bottom next to the barcode. He ripped off the cellophane and we were greeted with that familiar new card smell. I watched as he Starterbox highlighting bookmarkriffled through the stack of cards, discarded the player’s guide, then pulled out a card called Shivan Dragon and shows it to me. “This is Magic.” he says. I was hooked immediately.

After learning the basics from my cousin, I started trying to find other players to play against. He had given my 2 decks so that I could have a deck to share if I found someone who wanted to learn to play. He had given me a mono-red Goblin deck (that was easily the better of the 2) and a mono-black Zombie deck. I memorised each deck and eventually found a friend that was willing to learn. We played the 2 decks against each other over and over. Eventually we tired of the interactions and decided that we needed more cards.

From the beginning of my Magic experience, I have enjoyed the deck building process. We picked up random packs of Unlimited and Beta as they were available with our meagre allowances and soon we had a sizeable collection between the 2 of us. Enough to build several decks of each colour. With the dual lands we found we could combine colours and started to experiment with different strategies. My friend made me swear that I wouldn’t play with Counterspell and I forbade him from playing Tsunami. We honestly had no idea what we were doing but it was still a lot of fun. For Christmas that year my friend received 4 starter decks of Revised Edition and I received several packs of Arabian Nights. We greedily tore into the boxes and packs with reckless abandon.

My first deck was Reanimator

Eventually the in next year we found more players and the collection was separated. We learned more about building decks and I created my first original creation. Legends had come out and I pulled a few Sol’kanar the Swamp King and some other random horrible Legends. I built a Black-Blue deck with BraingeyserRecall, lots of random Legends and Animate Dead. The plan was to always go second and discard a creature and then on Turn 2, play Swamp, Dark Ritual, and then Animate Dead targeting a Legend. I have been a Reanimator player ever since.

A close friend and I broadcast our own ‘Magic Superbowl’ over the internet to friends in 2002

These early years shaped me into a proud Johnny-Spike (read about player archetypes), with a love of innovation coupled with the desire to prove my builds in the real world. In the early days of the Internet I shunned ‘Netdeckers’ as people without creativity, but I have come to understand that without players to play the decks innovators build there wouldn’t be a meta to solve. Once I made my peace with players who only play the deck with the best record, I started offering help to other players in my local group. Because I would usually place higher than them in tournaments they listened to me.

I was part of the Guru program

Some of my friends did well enough to make it to higher levels of tournaments and I found that my passion for innovation worked well as a gauntlet operator. I
studied the playstyles of various pros and learned their decks inside and out, so that I could help to hone my friend’s deck into the best version we could make it given the known meta. We made tweaks to mainboard and sideboard choices to fit the tournament’s environment so that they could have the best version of the deck they had. Being an older player I have excelled at understanding and breaking down the Legacy meta. Now that I have finally understood what it is about deck building that I enjoy, I have attempted to use my knowledge and understanding of meta-breakdown and analysis for other formats as well.

Was once ejected from a tournament for intentionally playing Faceless Butcher loops

These days I am very much into Standard again (or Type 2 for all the other fogies out there), but I play virtually all formats. Legacy and Vintage are still my favourite formats, but most decks that I build are in Modern or Standard as those formats have the most flexibility. In my online groups we talk theory, discuss sideboard decisions, analyse the Pro Tour and other metas, and most importantly we share deck designs. My group members have convinced me that I should start writing my analyses in a public forum and has been kind enough to afford me this opportunity.

24 years later, I am married with a kiddo, and I still find time to play at least once a week. Throughout my life, I have made friends through the MTG community, learned to overcome seemingly impossible odds by thinking long and hard about a problem to find a creative solution, and I have found an outlet for some of my creativity that keeps me up at night. I feel that I owe most if not all of this to Magic: the Gathering and its players. Ever since that steamy lazy afternoon in Kansas City in the summer of 1993 I have been in love with the infinitely evolving puzzle known as Magic: the Gathering.

I hope to share some of the knowledge and experience I have attained in my 24 years of playing the greatest game on Earth. If you like what you read, please subscribe to my column.


Analysis and Forecast

It wouldn’t be much of a MTG article if I didn’t mention something that was current.  Everything that follows is about Standard.  If you want stuff about Legacy, Modern, Vintage, or Mono-Coloured Kamigawa Block Tiny Leaders then see my future posts.  Cheers!

Where are we now?

The last 2 years have seen some pretty interesting things in the world of Magic. I have never been more excited to be a part of Standard as I am right now.  Despite the normal moaning and groaning about how the meta is too narrow, there is quite a variety of Tier 1 and 1.5 decks to choose from.  Even amongst those builds there is quite a bit of variation in personal builds and some very distinct card choices.  Compare that the Combo Winter of 1999.  After the banning of 4 cards in Standard the deck variety is rising somewhat.  I can’t remember the last time that Mono-Black Zombies was a legitimate strategy, but that is a thing now.  I predicted on my old blog that Control would rise up to defeat the synergy decks like Temur Marvel (at the time it was 4 Colour Saheeli), and now we have a resurgence of Dynavolt Control.

With the release of Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation on the not too distant horizon, change is coming.  Aetherworks Marvel (should itBanhammer MTG Memes FB survive the banhammer) will likely be relevant for casting whatever monstrosity that Nicol Bolas turns out to be.  I really like alternate Win-Con’s so Approach of the Second Sun is pretty neat for me despite it’s 7 mana pricetag, isn’t that what Inspiring Statuary is for?  Aggro-wise Zombies and Embalm (the new Unearth) seem pretty sweet.  Aftermath (the new Flashback) seems underwhelming to me on most cards, although Cut To Ribbons seems legitimate.

How I see the Standard meta

In the wake of Combo, Control rises to the top.

Combo was king (4 Colour Saheeli) and I was waiting for a Control deck to rise up to beat it in the meta.  DCI (Wizards of the Coast) decided to try to change the meta manually and banned the card that made it work.  In the power vacuum we were left with the old aggro deck that everyone had the pieces to, and the new Mono-black Zombie hotness.  The natural enemy of Aggro is Combo, so Temur Marvel now is kicking some butt.  If Marvel stays on top, then I believe that a Control deck (not necessarily Dynavolt based) will rise up to kill it.  This is the natural ebb and flow of the meta so it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to many of you.

My money is split between 4 Colour Control and Blue-Red Control.

If some of this information does come as a surprise to you, and you want to learn more about meta decisions and the flow of what decks to play there is a fantastic article here.

Now not many staples are from Amonkhet so far, so I don’t think we’ve seen the really neat stuff take off just yet.  I have been brewing with the Trials and various control and combo schemes, but nothing promising has come out of testing yet.  Once the meta settles down a bit, then the innovators will know what decisions to make and we will see what comes.  Unless of course Future-Future-League has let another accident through the cracks of their R&D testing.

As always time will tell.

Aetherworks Marvel despite being +30% of the field, has been in a downward trend in online pricing. This is likely because people think it will be banned soon, due to recent Standard modifications made by DCI.  The slump also means that the card is easier to pick up for players that haven’t yet jumped on the Marvel hype-train.  Conversely Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger (the Temur Aetherworks kill card) and Chandra, Flamecaller (the backup kill card) have both seen price spikes.  There has been much debate over what, if anything, DCI should ban.

In my opinion, nothing should be done.  The normal meta pattern should be allowed to play out.  If the meta stagnates, then and only then should the DCI intervene. All of this meddling in the natural course of events needs to stop.

If you are tired of getting beat by Marvel then engineer a sideboard to defeat it.  Design and build something that can overcome.  Lost Legacy is a card that can eliminate Ulamog as a threat well before Marvel is ready.   Gideon’s Intervention lets you name a card before being cast (Marvel casts the card), name Ulamog or even Marvel if you get there first.

Creeping Mold, Release the Gremlins, and I am sure there are a lot more Dispossess is like Legacy but only for Marvel.

Sideboards exist for a reason.  If there is a deck you have a hard time with, make up the difference with some slots.

Thanks for reading,

Leo MacWilliam

New Guy in Town: Origins of an Eternal Player, by Leo MacWilliam [MTG Blog]
New blogger who wants you to know who he is and what he's about. An Eternal Player with a penchant for writing and a new found interest in Standard.

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