Spotlight on PDC & Survivor Magic

Posted in Feature on July 21, 2005

By Bennie Smith

Bennie Smith began playing Magic in 1994 and started writing about it shortly after. A Virginia State Champion, he enjoys few things better than winning at tournaments with home brews. Bennie has a weekly column on He also recently published The Complete Commander. Follow him on Twitter, on Facebook, and the occasional Commander games on Magic Online under the handle "blairwitchgreen."

First, Your Attention Please!

As if the Inshiftalypse (AKA, IPA/Invasion-Planeshift-Apocalypse) events weren't already cool enough, Scott Larabee recently announced “upgrades” to make it even easier to get your hands on the coveted online Old School packs. In case you hadn't seen the announcement, I wanted to make sure you all were aware of the changes for IPA III:

  • Top 8 from each qualifier will now get invited to final tournament instead of Top 4.
  • Final event will be 256 players instead of 128
  • Not all QTs will be 1x prizes. Some will be 2x prizes.
  • Final event will have 3x prizes instead of 2x
  • Final event will pay down to top 64 instead of top 32.

Yeah, that's a lot more prizes being given out! Get yer packs, get yer Red Hot Packs!!!

Spotlight: Pauper Deck Challenge

In several of his columns on the Magic design process, Mark Rosewater discusses how limitations spur creativity and innovation. This notion is readily apparent in the player-created format/event Pauper Deck Challenge, or "PDC." Into the Aether has covered this format before; in Poor IntoTheAether, JMS introduces the format and interviews tharionwind, one of the architects of the online tournaments. After covering the FFA last week, I thought it might be a good time to check back in on the PDC and see what's up.

Turns out I'm just in time for the last tournament for players to Qualify for PDC Worlds #3! I'm not able to play in this tournament, which is unfortunate because every few weeks they shake up the format with something different. This time the format is Pauper deck Tribal. I do get to check in once the Top 8 have been decided and paired up and it's fun watching how some of the games play out.

Eventual champion Frixco and his Goblin tribe is playing Calathan's Elf tribe deck. Frixco is playing a healthy amount of burn and I can really see it pay off here as he blows away each elf while it's still summoning sick.

Calathan was hampered a bit by his low green mana count, leaving him unable to get more than one elf on the table at a time. He never really recovers.

The next game, Calathan's red splash kicks in as he burns away Goblins as fast as Frixco can burn away the elves. Calathan's foily Spikeshot Goblin comes out to play after the heat has died down a bit. Eventually though Frixco takes the match.

At another table, MacKenzieIII's Human tribe appears to have the game well in hand, with tons of board control. Then you look at life totals, and see the Corrupts, Consume Spirits and Gempalm Polluters in TheOrangeMitten's graveyard. MacKenzieIII ends up able to take TheOrangeMitten down to 1 life with another lethal black burn spell on the stack, but goes down to the unholy fire.

TheOrangeMitten comes out rather slow, which is bad times against Frixco's fast Goblin assault. That turn 5 Twisted Abomination feels a little like too little too late and Frixco wins.

Game 2 goes a little differently, with TheOrangeMitten's early Wretched Anurid letting him go beatdown early, and a few clutch removal spells clearing the way to let the little zombie beast take Frixco's life total low enough that the inevitable black burn spell (in this case Corrupt) spells doom.

Game 3 Frixco is a little land shy, but has plenty of cheap goblins to keep up the pressure. TheOrangeMitten's removal and burn keep him alive long enough to dig another turn or two for a lethal black burn spell, but he turns over none and the match and championship goes to the Goblins.

YAY, GOBLINS!!!! Ahem, sorry... must be residual from last week's FFA! Once you get Goblin blood in your veins, it's hard to stop gnawing on bones and rooting for your brethren.

Anyway, the Pauper Deck Challenge looks like a lot of fun. I thought I'd share the top 4 decklists, along with some comments from the players, and an interview with this week's Champion.

MacKenzieIII: "Went undefeated in the Swiss, dropping just 1 game. In the end I lost to a bunch of direct damage dealing zombies (TheOrangeMitten's deck). And then lost to the Elf tribe in the 3rd/4th game."

The Human Tribe by MacKenzieIII

Download Arena Decklist

Calathan: "Here is my 3rd place deck. It is tribal elves, with some shamans to help out. I went undefeated in the Swiss (not losing a single game), but then lost to Frisxo's goblins in the semifinals. I had beaten Frisxo in the Swiss, but I had gotten lucky then, and wasn't quite as lucky in the rematch."

Tribal Elves by Calathan

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TheOrangeMitten: "Based off one of my regular MBC(mono black control) PDC decks, this version was changed many times while in testing due to metagame decisions. I ended up with a deck that was not to fast, nor to slow. It usually had enough to damage them enough, then stall them until I could top a DD(direct damage) spell to lock the win."

Corrupt Zombie Polititions by TheOrangeMitten

Download Arena Decklist

MTGO handle? Frisxo
Real name? Stan Biesiadecki
Age? I'm one of the over-the-hill crew on Magic Online. Let's just say I'm 30yrs+ (hey, come on—I'm 38! – Bennie)

Where do you live? San Rafael, California.

Maze of Ith
How long have you been playing Magic? I started playing when Revised came out. I dorked around with friends but we didn't really know what we were doing. We played these big multi-player games, everyone with 5 color decks and didn't realize you had to tap to attack. We played until The Dark was released and when a couple of guys opened Maze of Ith our games got even worse. We played for antes in those days (just like the rulebook said). So as our games got more degenerate our interest waned and we dropped the game cold turkey. I didn't play again until I started a new job years later and saw a few guys playing in the lunchroom. It was Mirage and I've been playing ever since.

How long have you been playing MTGO? I've been on MTGO since the beginning. I gorged on the beta...played a lot of IPA for free! Boy those were the days. I suffered through the 2.0 release (took a couple of months off there though so they could straighten things out) and been playing ever since. Sold off all my paper cards and am now 100% digital.

Percentage-wise, would you consider yourself more of a casual or competitive Magic player? Hard to answer because it depends on what you mean. I'm pretty much 100% competitive. I like playing in competitive formats because the play is better. I don't do constructed because I don't like chasing rares or playing against net decks (and of course it takes a lot of time and money).

What's your favorite online format(s)? I really like sealed, draft and league. I like building decks from a constrained set of cards because you get to play with all kinds of funky cards and experiment with all kinds of combos.

How did you get into PDC? I don't exactly remember how I found out about it. I think my friend 'Bipto' read about it on the boards and we checked it out. That was during season 2. I really liked it because it met my 'competitive' and 'constrained card set' criteria. I get the experience of constructed without all the cost/time downside. I also like the grassroots nature of the PDC community. I'm impressed that it has gone on for 3 seasons now and is pretty well organized. The decisions the PDC counsel have made to keep the format competitive and interesting have been well thought out so I keep showing up. It is a good bunch players.

How often do you play? I play PDC on tourney night (Saturday), when I get 'permission' from the missus. I'll toy with deck ideas in my spare time throughout the week.

Are you excited about playing in the PDC Worlds? Yes, I think PDC 3 Worlds will be a great challenge. There are many viable deck types out there so it'll be extremely competitive. Plus there are many really good players that are involved in PDC, so just because its all commons doesn't mean it's easy.

What do you think the metagame will be like? I think the #1 deck to look out for is Affinity. Although the PDC counsel has taken steps to put the brakes on affinity (restricting art lands to 1 each and banning Cranial Plating) I still think it is the most lethal deck out there. Many people aren't playing it (or preparing for it) because they think it has been hobbled but Caellwin plays it pretty much every week and he is #1 on the point standings.

How did you choose your deck today? The first 2 tribal deck types I worked on were zombies and goblins. I built both as tight and lethal as I could. I playtested both with my pal 'Bipto' and goblins beat zombies 7 out 10 times. So then I worked at building a different tribal deck that would beat goblins reliably. I tried rats, clerics, beasts, spirits, cats, elves, human...nothing beat it consistently without goblin/red hate main deck. I didn't figure players would go out of their way to specifically hate goblins so I went with it.

What do you think was instrumental in winning the tournament? Well, because I had experimented with a lot of other tribe deck types I knew how to play against them and what to look for. There were a couple of surprises, like Calathan's elf/burn deck, but I just relied on my experience with my Goblin playtesting.

Share with the readers some tips on running your deck? What are its strengths and weaknesses? The deck operates well on pretty much every level. It is wicked fast, goes up the middle, to the dome, efficient casting, has many 2 for 1 cards, operates on little mana, can use excess mana, and can decently survive sweeping removal (tremors/decays). It works well very well in tribal because there are no sideboards in tribal. So no CoP: Reds or other red hate. Though it seems easy to play it can be tricky. Depending on the opponent deck you need to know when to sac land to Avalanchers and dart, which creatures to bolt with which spells, how to best kill big stuff, when to go for creatures, when to swarm, and when to go to dome. But mainly when you are playing Red Goblins you are all-in. Don't play conservatively and don't get distracted or you will die. I've won games with 2 life left, zero land and 1 goblin.

Run and Gun Goblins by Frisxo

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Frisxo: "Calathan's Elf-burn deck was tricky for me. everything he played I had to kill. Vulshoks, Wellwishers, Timberwatch, just kept coming. If one of those things untapped, it would have caused serious havoc. I felt relatively confident if I got regular draws...if things started going unlucky I was doomed. He beat me in regular play 2-1 (I got mana flooded once and in other game I didn't have any creatures to get beats going). We faced each other again in playoffs, this time the deck drew smoothly.

"I played TheOrangeMitten in the finals. He had a zombie deck. Since I tested vs. zombies I felt pretty decent about the match up. Game one he got mana-flooded and I got a great draw, the game was over fast. Game 2 he drew Corrupt, which is a wrecker for me. It set me way back and then he followed with Consume Spirit...GG. Game 3 was tight. My deck was operating on all cylinders...creatures out fast, bolt his stuff, go go go. But he cycled Aboms and Baubles and got to 6 mana...which started to smell like game 2 - Corrupts. He went to my dome twice and took me down to 6 life (and of course his life rebounded). Meanwhile my little Gobs were banging away. I was sacking land to Avalanchers, doing everything I could to squeeze out as much damage as possible. On last turn if he drew a 3rd Corrupt he'd win. My luck held and he didn't. Tribal was fun. Enjoyed the no SB. Good turnout. Thank you very much to Lacutis for running such a smooth tourney and a big thanks to the prize donators."

Okay, I fibbed. I just had to show you two other nifty decks from the Top 8, Dacarnix's Shaman deck and especially CoolHandLuke's Mutant deck!

Shamanic Wisdomby Dacarnix

Download Arena Decklist

Dacarnix: "The plan is for the 16 removal spells and a couple of Vitality Charms to allow a Spellblade to swing in for a big hit. The Barrels help you fill up your hand at the end of an opponent's turn so that a single activation of the Spellblade can be quite potent. Plinking away with the weak creatures (or a Charm/Strong Spikeshot) or sending a Spiraling Embers (or 2) to the head can also work quite nicely."

Mutants by CoolHandLuke

Download Arena Decklist

CoolHandLuke: "Uses all of the green and black mutants which means there are essentially no midrange creatures, and the deck needs absurd mana to run; I think of it as pdc Tooth. The red or white invoker would have probably been better than green. The green and black invokers are kind of aggro which is totally out of place in the deck, and green's ability is weak. Worked surprisingly well though. I wish I included a way to give the large creatures trample though--it's obvious in retrospect."

Mutant tribal? How utterly cool! Props to CoolHandLuke for building it and playing it so well.

Outwit, Outdraw, Outplay! Spotlight: Survivor Magic IV

Two players involved in another player-created and player-run event also contacted me: Survivor Magic! A cool blending of Magic Online and the hit reality T.V. series Survivor, the next installment begins August 1st. I did a search of and only found two short references to it in Chad Ellis' predecessor column to Into The Aether, so I thought I'd shine the spotlight on this clever and fun event.

Here is the Premise of Survivor Magic from Survivor Magic official rules:

"Twelve to sixteen players will play a Survivor style Magic game over the course of twelve to sixteen weeks. In the beginning, players will form two different tribes, each consisting of randomly selected players. Every session, the players will have a chance at winning "reward" challenges in which they will receive a special bonus in the game. These reward challenges can consist of anything between trivia questions to word puzzles. After the reward challenge, an "immunity" challenge will take place. All immunity challenges will consist of Magic games. Different formats will be used for each immunity challenge, such as Emperor format or 3 Headed Giant or OLS only. After the immunity challenge, a Tribal Council will be held in which one of the survivors will be voted out of the game. The winning tribe or player from the immunity challenge cannot be voted out that session. Sessions will continue in this format until only two survivors are left. At that time, the final two will play a nine game tournament and the winner will be named the Survivor Magic sole survivor."

There are a couple of clever "Survivor" inspired game conditions I'd like to point out. Players have to function in a "harsh" environment by being given a random selection of commons and uncommons to build decks from. Players get to bring along a "luxury item" represented by a rare Magic card (though players have to submit a list of five candidate "luxuries" and one of them is chosen by the game moderator).

Here are some links to recaps for earlier events:

The players for Survivor Magic IV have already been chosen, based on people volunteering on the forum thread who could commit to playing at the set time. Even though the rest of us can't play this time, this event is very "audience friendly" and I intend on doing some small interviews with the players for the next Into The Aether so that we can get to know this crew of scheming backstabbers! How are alliances going to play out? Who's going to wield the political power? Who's got the skills to win the immunity challenges?

Here are the lucky 18 contestants:

  • Howitzer
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • Sfreign
  • Shinzui
  • superpriest
  • Firecrest
  • Lacutis
  • GyroGearloose
  • Ka Tet
  • Secret Santana
  • Lord of the Cherubs
  • Istanbul
  • Ununnilium
  • JimWolf2
  • alanzed
  • SaradinDR
  • Hooloovoo
  • fallenangeleyes

Survivor Magic IV will be held on Monday nights at 9 PM Eastern. August 1st will be tribe selection, and tribes are encouraged to create tribal rooms to facilitate a tribal atmosphere of community. The first 'real' game of Survival IV will begin August 8th and will run all the way to December 19th. 18 players, 20 boosters, 1 winner. Who will be the Survivor this time?


I thought I'd dip into Into The Aether's mailbag this week and answer some emails that some of you might also find interesting.

From: Andrew
Date: Jul 14, 2005 1:40 AM
Subject: Attempting to break MTGO
Dear Bennie Smith,
Just something I was thinking about recently: It's possible, using False Cure and Transcendence to force the game into a draw by going infinite, where neither player has any control over what happens.

If you don't see how, here's a quick rundown:

You are at 19 life. You play Transcendence. You play False Cure. You deal yourself one damage. This triggers Transcendence, which causes you to gain 2 life. During the resolution of the Ability, you now have 20 life, and gained life, causing Transcendences other ability to trigger, along with False Cure. Now, as they would both go on the stack at the same time, you get to choose the order, at least in paper Magic. So stack the *lose the game* trigger beneath the *lose life* trigger.

What you now have is an infinite loop that will keep going round and round, as the *lose the game* trigger will only trigger once.

Question I have, is what will that do to MTGO? Will it crash it? Or will your opponent have to concede? Or has special logic been programmed in, to make the game draw? Because if it doesn't crash it, then you could be really nasty and use that as a way to win, by forcing your opponent to concede. Of course, this is unlikely to work in timed games, but there we go. Just a thought.

False Cure

First off: don't try and break Magic Online. Do you really want to bring the Aether crashing down around everyone's head? That said, I thought this was an interesting question and passed it up the chain to see what the powers-that-exist-behind-the-curtain would say. Here's what I got back from Michael "elf" Feuel:

It goes into a loop of putting both on the stack. If you auto yield it loops itself out, you go up to about 100+ life before the game declares it a draw. It doesn't crash though, it gracefully exits, you can still draw a card/reveal your hand.

Here's another one I often get asked about:

Dear Bennie Smith,
I have a question that you can possibly turn into a minor subject for one of your articles. While playing I notice that some avatars are slightly different - FTK's with masks or bracers, Platinum Angels w/sword and shield, BOP's with a hat and treasure chest. What are the different add-ons for all the avatars and how do you get/earn them?
Thanks for the great writing!

Ed, and the many other people out there who're curious and have written in with the same question, I can tell you this: we're working on doing a feature on this and will hopefully be able to share the avatar "evolutions" soon. I'm not sure how long that's going to take, but it is on the radar and will be shared as soon as possible.

Bonus Insanity

The other day I was wandering the Aether and got a PM from Malkavian311 on my buddy list. "Wanna see something cool? Come check out my solitaire game." I meander over, click on Watch Game and this is what I see:

Yes, there are 190+ spirit tokens. I think he ends up creating somewhere in the area of 800 spirits before he quits. Why all the trouble? I guess he just wanted to see if the game could handle it. Again people: stop trying to break the game! But what can you expect from someone named after a tribe of insane vampires?

I asked Malk to send me the deck, so he sent me the 40 card "solitaire version" and a play deck based on the combos.

Infinite Spirits "Solitaire"

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Malkavian311: "In order to make tons of tokens simply attack with Sekki, and block with the Kodama. While Sekki is in your graveyard use Reito Lantern to put him back in you library, then fish him out with a Lifespinner, while eating three of the colorless spirits he made."

Infinite Spirits "Play deck"

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Malkavian311: "This one starts off by looking like a WG spirit Craft deck. However the real gem is the very nice interaction of Sekki, Seasons' Guide, and Lifespinner. When you have Reito Lantern in play it turns Sekki's ability into 3, sacrifice Three spirits: Return Sekki to play. To make this version more like the 40 card variant all you need is a Panoptic Mirror and Searing Wind. That will net you 7 1/1's each turn unless you have a Furnace of Rath in play."

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