Topical Blend #3

Posted in Reconstructed on December 7, 2015

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

This article was the result of my third Topical Blend poll, where I take a Magic topic and a non-Magic topic and combine them to create an article. We voted, and the results were revealed last week . The two winning topics used to create this article were "Magic Deck-Building Myths" and "Friends I've Met in Unusual Ways." Enjoy!

Hellooooo everybody, and welcome back to Magicbusters: the show where my friends and I look over a list of Magic topics and decide if they're legit...or just myths! I'm your host, Gavin Verhey, and—shout it with me now—LET'S! GET! BUSTING!

[Thunderous studio audience applause]

On each episode of Magicbusters, we talk through three different questions. But what will they be? Well, it's time to decide our fate with the barrel of busting! Printed on this barrel are a variety of Magic categories—and whichever one lands facing the audience will be the one we look at today. Tabak, roll that barrel!

[Off to the side, Matt Tabak gives the thumbs-up and rolls the barrel down stage center. It spins over and over, a blur of white lettering. As the roll slows down, you can barely start to make out the words in various categories: "Former Dragonlord Names"; "Working with Mark Rosewater"; "Good Uses for Goblin Game"; "Modern Cards That Could Be Unbanned"; and then finally, as it slows to a crawl...]

Looks like it's going to be...Magic Deck Building! Prepare yourself, folks—it's time to look over some deck-building topics today! We'll find out how many of them hit, and how many of them...myth.

[Studio audience groans]

So place your bets with your friends and family on how many will survive this week—and let's get started!

But of course, no episode of Magicbusters would be complete without a wild host of friends from around the Multiverse. Let me snap my fingers and bring out a guest to start us off!

[As Gavin snaps his fingers, smoke pours out from the floor, and then, as if by magic, a tall, 20-something woman with brown hair, a green dress, and a copy of the John Green book The Fault in Our Stars in her hands appears sitting in the chair opposite Gavin.]

Telling Time | Art by Scott M. Fischer

Everybody, welcome Taffeta to the show!

[Thunderous studio audience applause]

Um, gosh. Hello?

So good to see you here! Thanks for coming, Taffeta.

Okay, well, first of all, I just seem to have appeared here. Second of all, what is this show? Third of all, can we go back to how did I even get here?! I mean I was just reading, then I was here. Was it like magic?

Well, in a way, everything here is...Magic.

[One guy in the studio audience chuckles.]

But really, let's get down to the important details: You're on Magicbusters, the show where we address Magic: The Gathering myths. And you're going to tackle one of these myths with me.

But...I don't play Magic.

I agree, that is strange. But my summoning never lies!

Well y'all, I'm always up for learning about something new!

Plus, I'm sure you can be creative about this. You were a published book author at nineteen, you're an inspirational teacher and generally someone with endless creative energy, so I'm sure we can make something work out.

Well...gosh. I froke out a little bit, but okay, I'm feeling up for this.

You should probably explain "froke" to the audience.

Oh, froke out. Y'all know—a past-tense version of "freaking out" that sounds cooler than "freaked out." It's sort of something me and Gavin came up with one night online.

Ah, good times. You know, we have one of the oddest meeting stories of anybody I know.

You're telling me! I'm not sure anything else good ever came out of Chatroulette.

I think there may have been some good cat videos.

Oh yeah! I think someone posted one to my Facebook wall. But if you had told me that I would make a lifelong friend on Chatroulette despite neither of us having webcams, and that we would connect as writers, talk for hours and hours, and eventually become good friends in person...Well, you could call me a monkey's uncle.

The world is a weird place. Which, speaking of, you're up here on this stage right now to talk about Magic. So, are you ready to begin?

Let's do this!

All right. Television Monitor of Mysteries, give us our first statement!

[A screen onstage flashes, and displays a sentence: "If you keep losing to a specific deck, the one way to start beating it is by sideboarding a lot of cards for the matchup."]

"Television Monitor of Mysteries?" Is everything here alliterative?

Well, as you once told me, alliteration is—

"Alliteration is the most powerful force in the universe." I can't believe you remember that!

So much so that I had it written in my quilt of quotes that I keep on my bed. Anyway, the statement!

Right. The statement. Well, my dad taught me how to build a sideboard. First, you need to go down to the hardware store and buy some planks. And then you—

Oh, no, we're talking about a Magic sideboard here.

A...Magic sideboard?

Yeah. Those are extra cards you get to use to modify your deck between games.

So let me get this straight. The thing you play with in Magic is a deck?


Now, a deck as an object generally has two meanings: it can be a deck of cards, or a deck on a house.

Yeah, I follow.

Okay. So, how many times have you heard someone say "deck" and thought "Magic" when they actually meant "porch"?

Only all the time. But what are you getting at?

Well, I'm just saying, out of all the thousands of words you guys could have possibly chosen for these deck-modifying cards, y'all chose another wooden object: a sideboard?

Well, I...actually never thought about that. Huh.

Are you sure Magic isn't a game about wizardly woodworking?

I'm actually not so sure anymore. Especially considering how good rhinos tend to be at smashing things up. But anyway, back to the question.

Okay, so try and break this one down for me.

Well, a sideboard is the sort of "side deck" you keep with you. Between games, you can use it to switch up your deck and make it better at fighting your opponents.

So the answer to this question is clearly yes, right?

Well, not so fast. In general, yes, bringing cards in is good. But it also has its risks. Namely: over-sideboarding.

Explain it to me in terms I might understand.

Okay, look at it this way. Imagine you're writing a fantasy novel. You need to rewrite one of your characters so that it makes sense that she wins the fight against the villain at the end, but you're writing against a word-count maximum and don't have a lot of space left. So, you decide to write in some scenes where it shows her finding ways to defeat the villain, but you put in so many that it begins to seem disjointed and over the top. To make matters more problematic, the scenes you have to cut out to make room are exposition scenes. What happens?

What kind of author has a word maximum?

Look, it's not a perfect metaphor.

Okay, okay. Anyway, the most likely result is that the foundation for the story would stop working. Even if you have a lot of great scenes that are individually strong, without a cohesive package that is built on the core of the exposition, your story is going to start falling apart.

Exactly! And in Magic, the same is true.

Right! Wait, what?

If you sideboard in too many cards, that means you have to take out cards. And at some point, that means you're over-sideboarding and removing either integral pieces of the deck or cards that are already good in the matchup to replace them with other cards. By the time you have to start swapping in Doom Blades for Deathmarks, the value you're getting out of making that sideboard swap is little to none. In short, you start moving sideways instead of doing things that actually help your deck improve. Instead of just sideboarding a lot of cards, it can be better to look at your strategy against that deck as a whole to try and find ways to tweak how you are playing, or small ways your main deck is constructed to make due with fewer sideboarded cards.

Aha! So what you're saying is that, at that point, you should rewrite the exposition—the core structure—to make sense rather than just shoehorning scenes in.

Yeah, something like that. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that there are many ways to tackle this problem, and there certainly isn't just "one way." Over-sideboarding is one of the most common mistakes I see people make. In fact, rather than have "hateful" sideboards, filled with a bunch of cards for specific matchups, I often prefer to have more "flexible" sideboards, which are just full of strong cards that let me reposition myself between games.

I couldn't have said it better myself. No, really. I couldn't have.

So, Taffeta, do you think we have a verdict on this one?


Thank you so much for joining us—and this deck-building myth has been busted!

[Screens all around the stage read "BUSTED!" The audience cheers, Gavin snaps his fingers, and Taffeta disappears in another blast of smoke.]

Well, thank you for coming out, Taffeta. One down, two to go. Right after this commercial break, that is.

Are you all ready for the next one? Because it's time for guest—and question—number two. Say it with me: LET'S! GET! BUSTING!

[The audience cheers as Gavin snaps his fingers, and in a similar blast of white smoke suddenly a woman about Gavin's age appears. Long brunette hair conceals most of a coloring pencil behind her ear, as her blue shirt and jeans blend in with the blue drawing notebook she is gripping closely.]

Say hello to Adrienne, everybody!

[Audience yells "Hello Adrienne!"]

Okay, Gavin. Now, I know you throw crazy parties, but this is getting a little ridiculous. A game show party where you take your guests and teleport them here out of nowhere?

No, no, no, don't be ridiculous. This is an actual show. And I prefer the phrase "impromptu invitation."

Well, I guess if anybody is going to teleport me onto a show, I'm glad it's you.

[Studio audience says, "Awww"]

Thanks! Speaking of teleporting people here, you didn't find that part, you know, unusual at all?

Honestly? Doesn't surprise me. If I had to guess one person I knew was actually magic, I would probably pick you. Though that's not saying you aren't actually secretly an evil warlock or something. I've got my eye on you, Verhey. But anyway, what are we up to here?

We're on Magicbusters! The show where we discuss whether statements about Magic are truths or myths.

Well, I've only been playing Magic for a few months. But I'll give it my best try!

Let's do this! Television Monitor of Mysteries, you're up!

[A screen onstage flashes and displays a sentence: "You don't always need to include format-staple cards in your deck for the colors you're playing."]

Okay Adrienne! What do you think?

What does the "format staple" mechanic do? It must be older—I don't know that one.

Oh! What "format staple" means is a card that is usually played in a format if you're that color. Like Tarmogoyf for green in Modern.

Or Siege Rhino in Standard if you happen to be white, black, and green?

You got it!

Well, nobody is ever forced to do anything. We're free creatures! We have the ability to do whatever we want! I don't need to play Siege Rhino! Rhinos belong in the wild, not in decks!


I have strong feelings about Rhinos.

I can see that. But I think what the question means is more, "Would it be advisable to do so?"

Oh. Ahem. Well, there are advantages to going off the beaten path. Sometimes you get advantages you wouldn't otherwise. You know, this "going off the beaten path" thing sort of reminds me of how we met.

Well, we can thank your mom for that—

—which actually isn't a "your mom" joke, Studio Audience.

Oh yes, you're absolutely right. I met Adrienne's mom on a train in Seattle when she was in town to visit her daughter. When we got off the train, I ended up helping her navigate all the way from the airport to her hotel. Then, at the end, she said thank you and that I should meet her daughter because we'd get along well.

So we went out for breakfast a few days later!

And now we're good friends. I suppose your mom was right!

Mother does know best.

Indeed. So, what do you think about the question, Adrienne?

My instinct is to say the statement is right. Sure, there are usually good cards you want to play—but there are also reasons why you might not want to play it. And, as you taught me, "Automatically making decisions in Magic can get you into trouble." But I'm going to guess that since this is Magicbusters, you're going to bust this one?

No, actually, you're spot on!

Wait. Really?

Yep. For example, let's take Tarmogoyf. A great card, to be sure, which should be considered if your deck has green mana in Modern—but it doesn't belong in, say, a Scapeshift deck. It doesn't build toward what the deck is trying to do at all. The deck will perform worse if you just stick them in over other cards. Always think about why you want to play a card and what it will do in your deck. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is great, but he likely doesn't belong in a deck that's only creatures, since he won't be able to flash anything back.

So that means...

Yeah, do you want to go ahead and say it?


Well. Yes. But also, how about for the show?

Oh, right. This statement has been...verified!

[Studio audience gasps and cheers]

Good work, Adrienne!

You're welcome! Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to working on my web comic.

Absolutely! It's time to bring in our final guest and question. We'll be right back with the end of the show—after this commercial break.

Aaaand we're back on Magicbusters! It's the show where everything is matched up and the points do matter.

Now, in the first part of the show we had one myth and one fact. So that means this will be the tiebreaker to see if we had more myths or facts this time around. Are you ready to continue onward? Well, shout it with me: LET'S! GET! BUSTING!

[The audience cheers once more as Gavin snaps his fingers, and a huge blast of white smoke cloaks the floor. A tall, lanky man in his mid-30s is sitting in the chair behind the smoke wearing a purple T-shirt. He's shuffling cards in his hand.]

Welcome to Magicbusters, Richard!

Uh, where did my opponent go?

Never mind that.

But I was in the finals of my local store's Monday Night Modern tournament!

I'll get you back. Hopefully before you get a game loss for...slow play?

You know, I'm not sure where teleportation falls in the penalty guidelines.

In any case, welcome to the show!

Thanks! I love Magicbusters. Thanks for having me on. And, well well, isn't this a turning of the tables? Me on your show?

That's right! Richard and I met because about ten years ago I listened to his gaming podcast. I kept leaving comments on the threads for the podcasts—

Incessantly, I might add.

Hey, I was excited! Then I called in live one episode, and the rest is history. We've been friends ever since.

So, what can I do for you, Gavin? I really do need to get back to my match.

All right, Richard. Having seen the show before, you know how this works. You ready for the question?

I was born ready! Television Monitor of Mystery, hit me up!

[A screen onstage flashes and displays a sentence: "Beatdown decks, such as red aggressive decks, are easy to play and should be avoided by experienced players."]

Richard, you look absolutely repulsed!

Well, it's probably because I made a bit of a career playing aggressive decks. In fact, let me show you my hand.

[The studio audience gasps as Richard reveals his hand of cards, showing off a Wild Nacatl and a Lightning Bolt.]

Wow, Wild Nacatl! Looks like a fun deck you have built there.

You know, there's actually a reasonable amount of deck-building innovation you can have in beatdown decks these days. A lot is in how you build them, after all. Although you have less card drawing to control what you draw, you absolutely do control what goes into the deck in the first place.

I can definitely agree with that! But as to the statement, I'm going to guess you disagree?

Absolutely! In fact, I often find aggressive decks take more skill than control decks! In control, you have big splashy effects that provide some breathing room. In an aggressive deck, every single play matters. If you make an error that loses you 1 point of damage, that can be the margin between winning and losing. You have to cast your spells in the right order or you can easily lose.

Right on. I take great joy in watching Patrick Sullivan squeak out 2 extra damage I would have never found, and that's usually the reason he wins the match. I'd say both beatdown and control decks test skill in different ways. Even mono-red.

Yes, even mono-red. It's easy to play those sort of decks at 80% capacity—but finding that extra fifteen or so percent takes skill and practice.

So, you think it's safe to draw a verdict here?

Yeah, absolutely. Plus, I need to get back and burn my opponent out!

Go ahead and say it then.

This deck-building myth has been BUSTED!

[The audience goes wild as screens all around the room display the word "BUSTED!" and the score of "2 myths, 1 truth."]

Well, there you have it! Thanks for joining us all on another episode of Magicbusters!

If you have any thoughts or comments on this episode, you can always send me a tweet or ask me a question on my Tumblr. I'd love to know what you thought!

As Magicbusters heads into holiday break for the next two weeks, expect reruns of some of your favorite episodes! I'll see you on the other side. Have a great week, and if anyone mentions these myths to you, you know what to do: GET BUSTING!




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