First of all, my thanks to Scott Johns for giving me a vote in the Writer's Vote. There were a lot of excellent candidates to choose from, but in the end I, could only choose five people. What are our criteria, really? Well, the official guideline for this vote was “best combination of play skill and personality”. Each writer will handle that differently, but for me, within that broad guideline, I'm simply going to go with the people I think might make the event the most fun for everyone, competitors and spectators alike. With that in mind, here are my picks for this year's Magic Invitational:
#1: Osyp Lebedowicz
Yeah, yeah. Everyone and his brother is going to vote for this guy. And I'll tell you why. He's one of those rare people that can make everyone around him just have a blast. He showed everyone a taste of his zaniness at Grand Prix Seattle (now THAT is a hat!) and his hijinks out on the town will be sure to make for some fantastic stories once we start getting the various competitors' reports back (at least the stories that they'll be willing to share). Osyp's presence will be a gift to everyone who is there.
#2: Jeff Cunningham
I really only know Jeff as a personality from online circles, but one of the things that I expect to see from Jeff is a fun-filled, competitive spirit. Like many of the people on the ballot, he's got style, he's got grace, but he's also going to be one of those people that might really surprise us when we look at whatever new formats Wizards will throw at all of the competitors. Mike Flores might claim that Antonino was the man responsible for Deep Dog (and in this case, I really don't know, and I expect he's right), but ffeJ is the man that really blazed the trail in showing us what the deck was capable of, and really understood the heart of how everything ticked and tocked in that deck. I know he'll figure out the secrets of the Mark Rosewater clockworks and then some.
#3: Tim Aten
I've never gotten to know Tim very well, but of all of the people on the Writer's Ballot, I have to say I like his writing the most. He's constantly entertaining, and thoroughly interested in creating discussion about Limited. As a writer, I definitely want a writer on the ballot. Sure, sure, his team beat my team in the Top 4 of a recent PTQ, but I won't hold that against him. Aten is an up-and-comer, and I'd love to see him get his shot in such a huge venue as the Magic Invitational.
#4: Mark Zajdner
Okay, I'm not just naming Mark to fill up the Invitational with Canadians. Yes, Canada is great, but that's not why I'm naming my friend Mark. Mark is the one candidate who is most likely to cause a ruckus or stir up a bit of excitement. It would be unfair to label his verbal barbs “trash talk” - this guy uses words with a talent that approaches art. I can't repeat many of the best zingers that I've heard from Mark, but I know I'd be looking forward to what he'd write about after the event. Just on the strength of what I expect would be a most fantastic tournament report, I've got to give Mark his shot at having his own card.
#5: Neil Reeves
Many of you might not know Neil, but he's well worth knowing. Bob Maher first introduced me to Neil Reeves a few years ago at Worlds as “the best player no one knows about.” While not a secret any more, he's not as incredibly well known as most of the other people on the Ballot. That didn't stop him from quietly rising to the top of the game; Reeves played some great Magic in their team “Bottom Set” with his friends Maher and current Poker Pro David Williams. Neil has a lot of quiet charm and is, to quote Ken Krouner, an all around Good Man. With so many bold and brash personalities out there, a bit of gravitas will be nice to balance it all. Selfishly speaking, I just can't wait to see what he might design as his Invitational card.
Trying out something “new”
There was a bunch of big news on March 1st this year. I'm not just talking about the changes in the Banned and Restricted lists, I'm talking about all of the cards from all of the Portal and Starter sets. Until recently, I used Portal cards like Portal's Goblin Raider as cool alternate art for the decks that I took to the tournaments. Now all of the Starter-level card sets (Portal, Portal Second Age, Portal Three Kingdoms, Starter 1999 and Starter 2000) are going to be legal in two formats starting October 20th: Vintage and Legacy (the new Type 1.5). Scouring through the Portal cards, the following cool gem really caught my eye:
This card is both simple and really interesting. Draw four cards, and then discard three cards at random. You'll have the same number of cards in your hand before you cast the card and after you cast the card. With a little bit of good luck, you'll have a fantastic hand; a little bad luck, it will have gotten worse. Here is a simple example:
You started out strong in a game, but it is starting to fall apart as you've drawn a string of land. After finally amassing five land, you topdeck a Goblin Lore. With so much land out of your deck already, it wouldn't be surprising to draw three or four spells from the four that Goblin Lore gives you. Sure, your hand size might be the same after you cast that Lore, but you'd be pretty likely to have two spells in your hand now, and with a bit of luck, who knows, you might actually have four spells. The worst of luck won't put you in any worse shape. You already had a terrible hand.
Now let's see what can happen when we actually try to work with the card.
This way lies Madness
What it also accomplishes, though, is digging deeper into the deck. Certainly the cards might be discarded (great for madness), but that doesn't mean that madness is the only way you can get a use out of them. Buyback is another. Call of the Herd and Firebolt are powerful cards in their own right, but accidentally losing them to a Goblin Lore isn't such a huge loss, and in the case of a discarded Roar of the Wurm, it can actually be a huge boon. Threshold is another mechanic that Goblin Lore really empowers. A single Goblin Lore will toss four new cards into your graveyard, and with only needing seven cards to attain Threshold, it is incredibly easy to make that Werebear into a big monster.
Sometimes dead is better
Once a card gets in your graveyard, flashback is just one way to get it back. One of the first cards that really gets notice in the graveyard would have to be Nether Shadow. You only lose three cards to Goblin Lore, so a card like Nether Shadow (or his bigger, better brother Ashen Ghoul) can't possibly get activated just by being discarded to a Goblin Lore, but it can be close. One of the things that is very important to realize is that when it comes to graveyard order, it doesn't matter what order the cards are randomly chosen by the opponent; when you discard them you get to choose the order you place them there. My advice: put that Nether Spirit on the bottom of the three.
This graveyard order especially matters with one of my favorite cards, Death Spark. Death Spark became one of my favorite cards from the very, very first builds of Sligh way back in the day. Most people would prefer to run Hammer of Bogardan (also good in the graveyard), but I liked the way that you could get so much mileage in damage out of so little mana just by having the Spark fall in the grave underneath a creature. If you discard the Spark and a creature to Goblin Lore, you can choose to place it under that creature.
Speaking of Hammer of Bogardan, there are plenty of great “rise from the grave” burn effects. To name just a few of the options available, Shard Phoenix can be an incredibly powerful finisher, and it is very cheap to bring back from the yard. Dipping into Black, Pyre Zombie does the same thing. All of these cards do the same thing that Death Spark does: provide you with reusable creature- (and player-) kill.
The other kind of recycling that you can use is also Red, but it is limited as well. Goblin Welder has been making a huge splash in every format that he is legal. A turn one Goblin Welder can easily chuck out something truly scary on turn two thanks to Goblin Lore, and you don't even have to go into another color to do it! Black does this same trick a lot, but it is a bit limited too. Cards like Recurring Nightmare and Hell's Caretaker can only exchange creatures for creatures, but Goblin Lore can help give you more options here as well.
I initially wanted to talk about a Black/Red “When Sorceries Attack!” variant, but after I talked it over a little bit with my good friend Eric “Dinosaur” Taylor, he convinced me I should focus on a deck that played at least a few critters. At first, I thought I would go about building the really cool Green/Red Madness, deck, but then I started thinking about some of the other things I could play instead. I hope you enjoy it.
The deck uses the Goblin Lore to do a lot of different things. It can feed a Rotting Giant. It can power up an Ashen Ghoul. It can find you a Death Spark or Pyre Zombie. It can trigger a Violent Eruption when you have the mana for it. It can simply get you to more random aggressive cards. The thing that I love about this card is that it can not only find a home as an enabler in a deck like this, but it can also be used as a dedicated graveyard filler in a Reanimation deck, has a place in a control deck that recycles the graveyard, or can be used to help fuel a green/red aggressive deck.
Oh, what the heck. Here's that deck too.
The only the card with madness in the entire deck is the Arrogant Wurm, but it still makes use of the Odyssey Block. Werebear, Call of the Herd, and Reckless Charge all get a big boost from the Goblin Lore. Here, Thornscape Familiar brings a bit more speed to the Red elements in the deck as well as giving a solid bear to beat down with. In the end, if you find yourself running out of steam, the Goblin Lore can end up giving you a huge boost, easily tossing you a Wurm of some kind, a random threat if you're lucky enough not to discard it, or (even if you do discard it) a Reckless Charge to kill the opponent from the air with a Birds of Paradise.
I have to say, I love this card. I hope that you find it as interesting as I do. See you next week!