(Editor’s Note: I challenge you to find a Magic card that is more fun to say out loud than “Tarmogoyf”.)
StarCityGames.com held their first Modern Open Tournament this past weekend in Baltimore. I watched nearly every (maybe every) featured match on their Twitch stream. I kept chat open. For the most part, I’m glad that I did. The Magic audience seems to be closer to my demographic than the normal Twitch chat.
That’s not to say that chat was a completely positive experience. This is still Twitch, after all. Some players generated intense hate from viewers because of slights (perceived or real), board states (angled graveyards and land in the front as illustrated in the comic), and seemingly no reason once or twice. That has to be the single thing about competitive gaming that bothers me most. It is the same thing about other sports that I don’t like.
Instead of just being able to enjoy the games, there is so much baggage. We attach all of these perceived offenses to “our” team perpetrated by the “other” team. Very seldom are fans able to congratulate that “other” team on a well fought victory. Adding to their ability to suck any and all fun from the games, every minor detail of the game gets analyze, overanalyzed, and then criticized. Due to the mostly younger demographic, the video games community skips right to the criticism. There is no resolution or nuance in the conversations. Just a constant drone back and forth. What ever happened to simply watching and enjoying the games.
Okay, rant over, now to the event itself. Part of the reason for the outrage in chat is that like many competitive card game tournaments, players brought decks that were a variation on a theme. Maybe part of the reason that it didn’t bother me as much is because I don’t play modern, so I wasn’t as familiar wit the decks and haven’t experienced the frustration of playing against them. Still, I came into this event with no baggage or expectations.
I learned quickly about the intense hatred for the so called “Twins” decks and the card Blood Moon. Many are calling for it to be banned while others defend it to their last breath. It’s the typical conversation that surrounds controversial cards or combos. I made my usual joke on the topic.
“x needs to be banned.” –Every player who ever lost a single game to x.
“x is fine.” –Every payer who has ever abused x‘s broken mechanic to their benefit.
Honestly, though, as a completely neutral party, I didn’t see a problem with Blood Moon. Sure, it can be frustrating to encounter, but it also seems easy to deal with. By my understanding, the decks that run it do so because of an abundance of nonbasic lands being played in Modern. Seems to me that modern players just need to adjust. I don’t know much about the competitive Magic scene as a participant, but isn’t that a part o it? Players adjust to one another, decks, cards, and combos. While one of the blood moon decks was in the final round, they didn’t dominate to a point where it felt unfair. Let’s take a look at the standings to see if this is on the level of Treasure Cruise or Pod.
Two of the top four decks of the open used Blood Moon either in their main deck or sideboard. Four of the top 8 represented a “Twin” deck, the archetype mentioned that led to this discussion of Blood Moon. Only three of them ran the card, but people were calling for the heads of these players all the same. Those calling for a ban are just full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. While the decks might be mostly unoriginal and a pain to face, that is just the nature of competitive card games from what I can tell. All of the tournaments that I watch feature the same decks. If you want innovation, then you need to innovate.
Witness the the other decks played at the tournament. Twenty seven different archetypes were identified in day two of play from Abzan to good old zoo. Even if we look only at the four other top eight decks, we get a Jund with Chandra and Liliana, White/Black tokens with Soren and Liliana, and four color control built around Snapcaster Mage as the only creature. I have simulated a few games with each of these decks and they are fun to play for a player like me who enjoys the control aspect of Magic. So far, I have watched Vintage and Modern and both formats heavily favor control, making me wonder why I haven’t followed these formats more closely before. My main reason, as is usually the case in these types of situations, was ignorance. I heard, and believed without evidence, that the games were dominated by the same decks and boring to watch. While that might be true in Standard, which is a format limited to the last few sets for its card pool, both Modern and Vintage have proven to be interesting and fun to watch.
Though certain decks are favored, as I discussed, the formats are not stagnant. Different types of the same deck play differently. With 60 cards, instead of 30 like Hearthstone, to use to build decks, even the same deck will look different from game to game. The same cannot be said for Hearthstone. Most games can be predicted by even the most novice viewer after only a few games. I admit that I was wrong. Competitive Magic is great to watch and I’m going to follow more closely.
You may have noticed that I’ve only focused on 7 of the top 8 decks at the event. The reason for this is that the deck that took the top spot in Baltimore deserves more than a mere mention. During the event, I jokingly called the deck “Sultai cards that I found in my couch cushions” since SCG only could only identify it as “Sultai”. The decks creator, Gerard Fabiano, ensured that they would not be able to be more specific in their classification. The story behind the deck is that he held an internet pull to choose his deck and “Sultai cards I own” won. I immediately fell in love with the idea, watched all of his matches closely, coined my own pet name for the deck, and kept writing Chris with updates that I’m sure he didn’t care all that much about.
The deck (found here and an absolute blast to play and watch) inspired me to make plans to go to Star City Games events in Providence and Worcester, so look for my in person reports from them in April and May. It has also helped to contribute (along with my discovery of Vintage Super League) to my renewed interest in Magic. I felt underwhelmed by Fate Reforged, but I’m back in and looking forward to Dragons. I might even sign up for a prerelease again.
You may sat that is quite a lot to attribute to one deck. I tend to agree and it might not be completely because of the deck, but have you seen that deck? I’ll give you time to click the link. Back? Not only does it have many Modern staples, but it has cards like Feed the Clan, too. It has everything; counter spells, creature removal, forced discard, peeks at the opponents hand, graveyard manipulation, life gain, the ability to steal creatures that you don’t remove/have already removed, and Tarmogoyf. The entire deck list is like something snatched right out of my fevered Magic dreams after passing out from too many whiskey shots. It is an absolute work of art from top to bottom and Mr. Fabiano has a new fan boy for life.
If you haven’t had a chance to watch the finals match of him playing the deck, you can find it here. It is a thing of beauty. You can actually watch all of the matches on the playlist there, but the finals match was some of the most fun I’ve had with Magic. Hell, I even found myself searching prices for Tarmogoyf and coming away disappointed that I will never own one. Nevertheless, this event looking forward to checking out the events in person in April and May.