Treasure Hunt

Posted in The Week That Was on January 22, 2010

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Players of blue the world over have bemoaned the lack of cheap card drawing in their trademark color over the past couple of sets. Divination has made the leap to Standard, but nobody seems very happy about two cards for three mana at sorcery speed. Courier's Capsule lets you make a sorcery speed down payment and then pay your balance at whatever speed you like, but in the end it is still two cards for four mana. Ior Ruin Expedition has been anxiously waiting in the wings for the call-up to 60-card decks but with the arrival of a hot new rookie from Worldwake it may never get its chance. Let's take a look at Treasure Hunt.

Treasure Hunt

While all three of the previously mentioned cards guarantee you two cards none of them give you any immediate return for two mana. At its very worst Treasure Hunt "cycles" for two mana, and at its best it will stock your hand up with a couple of turns of landfall fodder and a real live spell. In fact, one of the upsides of this card is that you are assured of hitting a spell every time you cast it .... Well, almost every time. Let's take a quick look at the FAQ entries for this card.

* The cards you put into your hand this way include one nonland card, plus all the land cards on top of it in your library (if any). If the top card of your library is a nonland card, you just get that one.
* If all the cards left in your library are lands, you'll reveal all of them and put them all into your hand.

When you are playing 18 and even 19 lands in your draft decks a card like this is perfectly positioned to take advantage of that land density and is probably worth closer to two cards in Limited than it is in Constructed, where you tend to play 24 lands out of 60. I have been known to draft a Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede over giant winged things with gold rare symbols and have already been scripting turns in my mind where I play Treasure Hunt and hit two lands and an Adventuring Gear.

We have seen players—I am looking at you, Michael J. Flores—try to make Gift of the Gargantuan work in Constructed without a lot of success, but I expect much better from the likes of Treasure Hunt, which will smooth out your mana draws, always replace itself with an actual nonland card, and fit nicely into the mana curve where most decks that want this type of card have no real plays. While it is normally worth only 1.67 cards in a modern Standard deck that sports 24 lands, that does not take into account hedging. The new Jace lets you "Brainstorm" cards from your hand to the top of your deck at a cost of 0 loyalty, and his +2 ability that lets you peek also lets you know when the time is right to dig for your treasure. Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Oracle of Mul Daya also give you information about the best times to go digging.

The best of the bunch is Ponder, which seems like a natural pairing with Treasure Hunt. I expect that control players' graveyards stocked with Ponder and Treasure Hunt will become a common sight in the new Standard. In formats where players are running around with 40+ land decks, this card has the chance to shine as one of the great draw spells of all time. Cast your Swans of Bryn Argoll and Seismic Assault and then hit 8 lands with your Treasure Hunt in Extended. I can only imagine what kinds of trouble you can come up with in Legacy, but it seems like a fine draw spell in a format that Sensei's Divining Top is still legal in.

I believe there is a card on the preview horizon that will make a mean combo with Treasure Hunt, but you will have to puzzle that one out on your own in the coming week.

Sofa, So Good

The Qualifier season for Pro Tour–San Juan has kicked into full gear and here in the New York area the blue envelopes have been piling up. You already know that Jacob Van Lunen earned a berth at San Juan with his updated Elves deck (and if you don't know that, you can read about it in his column here), but East Coast players doing well in East Coast PTQs seems pretty predictable. What has been surprising is the geographic proximity of several of the online PTQ winners. Grizzled New York–area PTQ veteran Christian Calcano earned his first ever Pro Tour invite playing in a Magic Online PTQ, and he was recently joined by fellow former Neutral Grounders Ben Hayes and Yoni Skolnik in receiving virtual blue envelopes. The qualification of the latter two is especially remarkable due to the fact that they qualified in back to back events, playing on the same laptop, and sitting on the very same couch in Ben Hayes' New York apartment.

Ben is a 19-year-old game designer who will be playing in his first Pro Tour in San Juan (unless he manages to win a Last-Chance Qualifier for San Diego). Yoni is also 19 and a student in Boston who is visiting his friend in New York over the winter break. This will be the third time that he has qualified for the Pro Tour. The two players have both been playing the game for well more than half their lives.

"I've been playing Magic for a really long time. I have memories of watching a VHS that featured Linde, Long, Price, Finkel, and others, and thinking that they were just the coolest," recalled Ben. "I guess I started sometime around Tempest. A friend of mine found a bunch of random cards along with a rulebook in the bottom of a box of LEGOs that his uncle gave him and we used it to play against each other in a sandbox in Union Square Park. We had a Takklemaggot, but we banned it because neither of us could figure out what it did."

"I started playing Magic with my older brother around the time Visions came out," said Yoni of his beginnings with Magic. "I was seven years old at the time and didn't know how to read very well, but my brother would read the cards to me and I picked the game up pretty quickly. Soon enough I essentially learned how to read from playing Magic; I remember reading a Nekrataal to my Mom and her being extremely impressed."

Ben began devouring articles about the game and playing seriously around Odyssey block, when he had a lot of success playing with Mirari's Wake and continued on through the era of Affinity when he took a break from the game before resuming with almost exclusively Limited play around Guildpact.

Ben Hayes harnesses the power of The Couch.

"I eventually built up a collection again and played in my first Regionals in 2007, finishing one point out of Top 8," said Ben, who has gone on to play in five GPs, close to ten PTQs, a couple of Regionals, and even Nationals since then. "I played in Regionals against the next near and started out 4-0 before losing to a huge misplay and then going on major tilt. I went to 2009 Regionals determined to close for once and managed to go undefeated into the Top 8 where my opponent scooped. I managed a disappointing 2-4 drop at Nats, but I definitely learned a lot."

"Me and my brother started going to the free tournaments that Neutral Ground had on Wednesdays after Exodus came out," said Yoni, who has played the game competively on and off over the years. "I started out running a random Goblin deck which I'm pretty sure featured Goblin Artisans. Eventually I managed to get my hands on enough Cursed Scrolls for a Sligh deck and started having some success, Top 4ing a tournament as the youngest player at NG—until some bastard named Ben started coming around."

When it came time for Ben to play in his most recent—and most successful—PTQ, he looked to none other than Luis Scott-Vargas for inspiration.

Ben Hayes's TezzerThopter

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After tracking down the neccessary Engineered Explosives, Ben was able to audible away from Zoo to LSV's list from Worlds. He did not have much time to prepare with the deck, which has led to some of the rumors of mystical powers lurking in the cushions of the couch.

"The extent of my playtesting with Tezzeret before the PTQ included one game against Matt Ferrando's land destruction deck at Jim Hanley's Universe (a local FNM location) and 11 matches against Yoni—playing Dredge—between the hours of 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. before the PTQ," admitted Ben, although the lack of prep did not hurt him in the main event. "I remember beating Scapeshift in Round 1 and Faeries in Round 2, at which point I was thinking the deck choice was awkward and also that I was running pretty well. I also beat Dark Depths twice, Domain Zoo, Red-Green Scapeshift, and the mirror. I picked up my first loss in Round 6 to Burn, and my second in Round 9 to Scapeshift. I made Top 8 on tiebreakers and proceeded to beat Red-Green Scapeshift, Dredge, and Burn—same guy. Revenge!"

The Couch was still referred to with lower-case letters at that point, but Ben quickly awarded it proper noun status.

"Oh, The Couch! I didn't know about the powers of The Couch until I was at work two days after my PTQ win," said Ben with a wink. "Yoni texted me from my apartment telling me that he made Top 8, winning Rounds 7 and 8 to Ghost Quartering his Scapeshift opponents with the triggers on the stack. I knew that he was sitting on The Couch, because it was the only comfortable surface he had access to, and then it just kind of hit me and all at once I realized that The Couch must have some sort of mystical properties."

(The Ghost Quarter trick works if the Scapeshift player doesn’t have enough basic Mountains left in his or her deck to satisfy the "five other Mountains" clause on Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.)

"I played the same Big Zoo list with which I had made Top 8 at a Boston PTQ the previous Saturday. The tournament was memorable for me because I won the match for Top 8 off of a Ghost Quarter to beat a Scapeshift, and because I played a lot of Baneslayer Angels," said Yoni of his tournament from The Couch.

"Oh, The Couch," he replied, when asked about the prestigious furniture. "What can I say about The Couch that hasn't already been said about Abraham Lincoln, Penicillin, or Dumbledore? The Couch is the light at the end of the tunnel, it is the shining beacon which makes all your Meddling Mage calls be the perfect read, it turns fools into sages, and heals lepers—or so I theorize. As far as I know no lepers have ever sat on The Couch."

Yoni Skolnik's SaitoZoo

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It was unclear if either player would be able to get a jump on their Pro Tour season in San Diego.

"Neither of us are qualified for San Diego, although I'm seriously considering making the trip to LCQ," said Ben, who at the very least should take one of the seat cushions with him.

"We're currently getting quotes from private airlines to ship The Couch," joked Yoni. "It's a bit difficult since we need to find a climate-controlled cargo hold. Look for news soon about 'Couch-Aid,' the benefit concert dedicated to making sure The Couch is at each Magic event worldwide."

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