Captain’s Log #4 – Material Advantage
The feedback to my series has been tremendous so far. Hopefully, I can keep it up.
So what’s on the docket? Well, with Modern season wrapped up, it’s time to take a look at Standard, but before I do, I did mention in my first article of Captain’s Log that this column is meant to keep track of my progress as a Magic player.
For the next few weeks, I am planning a re-examination of my fundamentals. Most of you are going to know all of this stuff already, but I have never sat down to analyze why I play Magic the way that I do and I think this journey is going to benefit me greatly.
Today, I decided to pick up Next Level Magic off my bookshelf. As it has been mentioned on the Eh Team, I’m Asian, so I don’t own novels or short stories. If a book’s purpose is not to functionally improve its reader, then it has no place being anywhere near my house.
In Next Level Magic, Patrick Chapin mentions that there are three fundamental building blocks of Magic theory: Card Advantage, Tempo, and the Philosophy of Fire. Because Card Advantage plays a part in Tempo and in the Philosophy of Fire, it is considered to be the most useful building block out of the three.
Back to Chess
The concept of Card Advantage brings me back to my chess roots. Now, I have yet to consider myself a great player, but I think my chess background has given me a significant edge over the regular local FNM grinder.
One of the very concepts you learn in chess is Material, which is essentially the chess equivalent of Card Advantage. In any beginner’s book, you will be taught the value of the various pieces.
Queen = 9 points
Rook = 5 points
Bishop = 3 points
Knight = 3 points
Pawn = 1 point
One of the best ways to win a game of chess is to gain a material advantage. If you capture all of your opponents’ pieces, their king will eventually be left defenseless and free for you to checkmate.
At lower-level play, you can easily get ahead in material advantage by either capturing undefended pieces or by making favourable exchanges. For example, by trading away one of your Bishops for an opponent’s Rook, you get ahead in material by 2 points.
When I first began taking Magic more seriously, I translated this concept of material advantage into my card-slinging game. I viewed every card as being worth 1 point and just tried to get ahead in cards as much as possible. It was a very elementary approach to the game, but I was able to grasp the concept of two-for-ones faster than my friends and it effectively allowed me to beat them most of the time. Little did I know that I was applying the basics of Card Advantage.
Force of Will
When I was first introduced to Legacy, I learnt that Force of Will was one of the cornerstones of the format. It actually took me a long time to understand why the card was good. Remember, my knowledge was telling me that having more cards than my opponent was generally a good thing. Why am I considering playing a card that 2-for-1s myself? More importantly, why is everyone else playing this card?
It got a whole lot more confusing to me when I was asking my friends what I should be using Force of Will on. Stoneforge Mystic? Dark Confidant? If that’s the case, then how the heck am I supposed to beat a deck with both those cards? It was a puzzle that I just couldn’t solve while being new to the format.
Nowadays, I have a better idea. I now know that Force of Will is at its best against decks that rely on a single powerful spell to win the game. A deck like Sneak & Show would be a good example. You don’t care about the card you have to pitch to Force because there’s a small number of spells you need to deal with and if the Sneak & Show player can’t resolve a Sneak Attack or a Show and Tell, then they probably have Griselbrand or Emrakul stranded in their hand, which means you are not exactly losing out on the Card Advantage war even after resolving a Force of Will.
As someone who is still very much an amateur in Legacy, it was pretty surreal to watch a player beat Huey Jensen playing Sneak & Show on SCG coverage keeping a no-land hand that contained 2 or 3 Force of Wills. I have no idea if keeping that hand was correct, but seeing him win even after missing land drops has left a lasting impression on me.
You often hear pros use the line “focus on the cards that matter” and now I know what they are talking about. I grew out of the concept that every card was merely worth 1 point. In fact, sometimes cards can have infinite value.
If you have followed my series since the beginning, you would know that the Bogle deck I played in Modern contained 0 Nature’s Claim. If an opponent is able to stick a Blood Moon or, God forbid, an Ensnaring Bridge on the board against me, the value of those cards is close to infinite because I don’t think I have won games past the resolution of these spells.
Magic is Beautiful
Magic is beautiful in so many ways and its complexity is one of the most attractive aspects of the game. I have talked about how every card has a different value, but the values are not static. They constantly change depending on the board state. There’s no hard set rule. I can’t tell you that a Thragtusk is generally worth 10 points, but I think it’s important to understand how card values can change.
I am bringing up this way of viewing the game for one reason. In Jim Davis’s well-received article at Star City Games, Jim encourages all of us to use the word “Why” more often. I think in order to be able to answer my own questions, I at least need some sort of guiding principle, and looking at the board as a bunch of relative numbers has been my backbone for some time now.
I am at the early stages of a Limited game. I have a 2/2 and my opponent, Jay Boosh, has a 2/2. I have three lands. Let’s say my options for this turn are either Giant Growth or Centaur Courser. Jay is tapped out. What’s my move?
The old me would just attack. If Jay blocks, I pump my guy and pass. If Jay doesn’t block, he takes two damage, I play Centaur Courser and pass. For the longest time, I didn’t really think. I would just blindly use my pump spells whenever the opportunity presented itself, because that’s what they are used for right? They’re called combat tricks after all.
The more recent me looks at board and considers how the value of each card is going to change over time. As long as both players’ boards develop, the value of the 2/2s will degrade as they get trumped by superior creatures. The Giant Growth in my hand also has variable value. It’s worth whatever I trade it for. The question I should be asking myself is if it is likely that I use it to kill a far superior creature. If yes, then I should hold onto it.
I don’t want to give off the impression that I sit at a game contemplating every single one of my decisions in this manner. Eventually, with enough repetition, everything becomes a habit.
I will be talking about how this approach of mine has allowed me to have a gameplan against the Junk Reanimator deck in Standard, but let’s first introduce the deck I have been messing around with first.
Roughly a month ago, I played at Grand Prix Quebec City, finishing 40th with a record of 10-3-2 (8-3-2 if you discount the byes). The deck I decided to pilot was the list Owen Turtenwald and Reid Duke played at Pro Tour Montreal the weekend before.
Both of them had an amazing record with the deck, and a few members of their testing team, Team SCG, remarked that it may have very well been the best deck to come out of that tournament.
I selected the deck mainly because it’s fairly straightforward to play and it has game against most everything. For easy reference, here’s the 75 I sleeved up:
Jund by Owen Turtenwald
This past weekend, the 2013 Magic Online Championships took place in Boston. I was watching part of the stream to cheer on two of my friends, David Caplan and Reid Duke. Reid ended up having a déjà vu of his performance at the Players’ Championship, falling into last place at the end of Day 1.
He contemplated just quitting the tournament and driving to Grand Prix Pittsburgh to chase Platinum status, but he ultimately chose to stay. In his words, he wanted to go down fighting like a man, and fight he did, being the only one to win each of his Standard matches with a tweaked version of Jund.
Jund by Reid Duke
If you compare this list to the previous one, it definitely looks like Reid was preparing himself to throw down with Junk Reanimator by including two copies of Ground Seal. Standard has been fairly diverse for a good period of time, but Junk Reanimator has made itself the deck to beat in the last few weeks. For more information on the deck, be sure to check my friend Bryan Gottlieb’s article. He is keeping a diary on the deck. Here’s the list of a recent SCG winner:
Junk Reanimator by Will Craddock
In Patrick Chapin’s latest article, he mentions Junk Reanimator being Jund’s worst matchup and I can’t say I disagree. As the Jund player, Junk just attacks me from too many angles. I need graveyard hate for their Unburial Rites plan. I need Bonfire of the Damned to slow down their surge to 7 mana to hardcast Angel of Serenity. I need Olivia to deal with opposing Thragtusks. It’s just a nightmare because I need the right card at the right time.
After playing against the deck multiple times online, I have to say that my results have not been awful but this is mainly due to pilot error on the Junk player’s part. If you have a good target to remove in your yard with Angel of Serenity, you should not be removing my insignificant Arbor Elf instead.
With that said, as awful as the matchup is, I still need a plan for it and by scanning the decklists, I recognized that Olivia Voldaren is a very high value card in the matchup due to the low amount of removal in Junk’s deck. They have Angel of Serenity and we are starting to see lists include a small number of Orzhov Charms, but Angel is their main weapon against Olivia, so I center my plan around these two cards.
It’s the understanding of the key cards in the matchup that allows me to decide which card I should be naming with my Slaughter Games post-sideboard. In one of my games against Kenji Tsumura, I made a big mistake naming Unburial Rites with Salughter Games when I had an Olivia in play while not being in range of dying to Craterhoof Behemoth anytime soon.
I’m going to have to test this matchup extensively, but overall, I love this deck against most of the field. The only other problematic deck has been a Naya Blitz deck that my friend Justin Richardson has been tuning. I beat most versions, but his list has been given me trouble. Hopefully, he will write an article about it soon.
To wrap up Standard, I managed to discover a very interesting PTQ-winning list. Joseph Pinkley was successful in his quest for the blue envelope by piloting UG Delver to victory. His post-PTQ list is shown below:
UG Delver by Joseph Pinkley
The deck is very similar to the one Lucas Siow and Alexander Hayne piloted at the World Magic Cup last year. Can Delver make a return? I’m looking forward to give UG Delver a whirl. Let me know if you do too!
UG Delver by Lucas Siow
Outside of finishing Next Level Magic, I am interested to read Flores articles on the Grand Unified Theory of Magic as well as AJ Sacher’s pieces on his Theory of Stock Mana. What’s the best theory article you have ever read?
See you next week,