Thursday, February 28, 2013

Marvelous Modern – Lead up to the PTQ

By Dale Pon

So I was going to continue with more Modern staples this week, but the Modern PTQ is right around the corner so I decided to write something concerning that.  Don’t worry though, I will continue with the staples of the other colours after the PTQ.

The PTQ (or Pro Tour Qualifier) is the chance for every Magic player to chase the dream of making it big on the competitive scene.  The winner of the PTQ gets an invitation and flight to PTQ Dragon’s Maze in San Diego where they have the opportunity to battle with all the big names.  Naturally, one wants to try their best in winning the PTQ and the last thing you want to do is lose the final or miss out on the Top 8 by forgetting something silly or making a really bad play mistake.

Today’s article will provide some tips, particularly aimed at those new to Modern, but can serve as reminders to veterans as well.  Obviously the longer one has played Modern, the greater that player’s knowledge of the card pool and its interactions should be.  This helps greatly in deciding the best strategies and cards to use for particular scenarios, as well as what to be mindful of.  For example, if your opponent plays his/her second land on Turn 2 (one of which is an island) and passes the turn; you can predict with a fair amount of accuracy that he/she is holding either a Mana Leak, Remand or Snapcaster Mage.  Thus, one should play around this, e.g. by playing a spell that you don’t mind getting countered, or attacking with a creature you don’t mind trading off with a Snappie.  Similarly, facing an opponent with one untapped island could mean a Spell Pierce, an untapped plains could mean a Path to Exile, while an untapped mountain could mean a Lightning Bolt.  Two untapped lands, one of which is a swamp, could indicate your opponent holding one of the removal spells black is known for, such as Doom Blade, Go for the Throat, Smother or Ultimate Price.  These are just some simple examples of ensuring you don’t fall for a really cheap trick.

In a similar vein, one also needs to be aware of the various expected cards that are likely to be side boarded in vs you and how to sideboard appropriately.  If in Game 1 your opponent saw your artifacts such as Aether Vial or Isochron Scepter be consciously aware that chances are they’ve sided in their 2-4 anti-artifact cards in the sideboard.  A little trick I used when I used to play American Scepter Delver, was when my opponent saw my Isochron Scepter with an imprinted Lightning Helix on it in Game 1 I would side out all my Scepters for Game 2, thus rendering most of their sideboard hate useless and forcing my opponent to have 2-4 completely dead cards in their deck.  If your deck’s idea is based on the graveyard, e.g. Eggs, Reanimator, etc, then you should be anticipating cards such as Relic of Progenitus, Tormod’s Crypt, Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void or similar cards to be sided in and thus you should probably be countering this with cards such as Echoing Truth (for the Enchantments) or Pithing Needle for the artifacts.  However, Pithing Needle has more applications than just that, it can be side boarded in against Planeswalkers, Aether Vial’s or even Swords.  As one plays at a more competitive level more often one learns which cards are standard sideboard material.  As much as learning to sideboard in is important, taking the right cards out is also crucial.  There’s no real purpose in having 8 removal spells in your deck if your opponent is running a Combo deck.

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Marvelous Modern – Getting into it – Blue Staples: Part 2

By: Dale Pon

This is Part 2 of Modern Blue staples, for Part 1 go Here.

Blue is the colour of control and one way of doing this is by having more cards than the opponent (i.e. card advantage). Thus, aside from counterspells, Blue is also known for its card drawing capabilities. There are different kinds of card draw in Modern; you get a variety of cantrips which let you draw a card and do something useful, e.g. Gitaxian Probe, Twisted Image, Thought Scour, and even Spreading Seas; then you get the kind of draw spells which modify the order of your library to a degree (unfortunately the best spells of this sort, i.e. Ponder and Preordain, are banned in Modern because they’re too good), e.g. Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, and Telling Time; you also get the spells which just dig deeper into your library for a card, such as Forbidden Alchemy and Peer Through Depths; and lastly the kind that generates card advantage such as Think Twice and Visions of Beyond (if your graveyard is rather full).

Another thing Blue is known for is its ability to stall the game in an effort to control the game. This can be achieved by bouncing the opponent’s creatures (using a card like Vapor Snag), or by tapping them (using a card like Gigadrowse). Creatures such as Kira, Great Glass-Spinner and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir also serve to stall the opponent, the former by forcing the opponent to use two removal spells/abilities to get rid of one creature, the latter by only letting the opponent cast spells whenever they can cast sorceries. This slows down the opponent and buys time for you to draw the right answer. Naturally, if you’re like me you don’t always draw the right answer, thus it becomes necessary to search your library for an answer, which Blue allows in the form of ‘tutor’ cards such as Mystical Teachings and Gifts Ungiven. Mystical Teachings allows you to search for a specific instant card, while Gifts Ungiven forces you to search for 4 cards with different names which doesn’t initially sound very useful, but choosing your cards carefully can still result in you getting the desired result.

There are several other Blue staples in Modern that don’t quite fall in any of the aforementioned “categories”; such as my friend Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, Sower of Temptation, and Threads of Disloyalty.

I don’t think Delver of Secrets needs much explanation, although you could always ask anyone who has faced the one mana 3/2 flier on Turn 2. Snapcaster Mage is an example of a card which creates “virtual card advantage” since you aren’t actually getting more cards than the opponent, you’re merely reusing an instant or sorcery in your graveyard, i.e. you’re getting two cards worth of effect for one card. Vendilion Clique is a very useful flier which also serves as hand disruption, while Sower of Temptation and Threads of Disloyalty allow you to take control of an opponent’s troublesome creature.

There are also several Blue cards, e.g. Merrow Reejerey, Pestermite, and Master of Etherium that are only staples for specific decks, i.e. Merfolk, Splinter-Twin and Affinity respectively. I won’t really explain them here since they each have synergy in their respective decks.

That about wraps up an overview of Blue staples in Modern, although chances are I’ve missed a few, so feel free to add any in the comments.

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Marvelous Modern – Getting into it – Blue Staples: Part 1

By: Dale Pon

So now you’re really excited about Modern and have invested or traded for the lands of your favourite colours… That’s great but you actually need creatures and spells to win. 

In the following articles I will be talking about the staples of Modern.  So, “what are staples?” you might ask; well simply put staples are the cards that are most frequently played and are regarded as the best and most efficient at what they do (examples include Lightning Bolt, Mana Leak, Path to Exile) and contrary to what one might expect not all staples are ridiculously expensive.

In today’s article I will talk a little about Modern Blue staples, what makes them “staples” and provide a list of some of them.

Blue has always been the colour associated with control and knowledge, thus it is only fitting that the basis of Blue staples are counterspells, stalling spells and card-drawing spells.  Unfortunately, in Modern we don’t have the ‘free’ counters in the form of Force of Will and Daze, and thus all counters in Modern require untapped blue mana.  The most important and prevalent blue counterspells range from 1 to 4 mana in cost. 

Important blue counterspells costing 1 blue mana are:

Spell Pierce

As you can see, they each have rather restrictive conditions, and Dispel is used in the Sideboard vs Combo, while Spell Pierce and Spell Snare are both used Mainboard.  Spell Pierce has the ability to stop an early Liliana of the Veil or even just counter another counter; while Spell Snare stops numerous valuable creatures such as Snapcaster Mage, Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant.

Coming in at a converted mana cost (CMC) of 2 are:

There are several less popular counterspells with a CMC of 2, such as Delay, Rune Snag, Deprive, Unified Will, Muddle the Mixture and the current Standard familiars Negate and Essence Scatter.

Mana Leak is the classic counterspell from Standard not so long ago, and in the early game it’s as good as a Counterspell, while later on it forces your opponent to always leave 3 extra mana open.  However late-game it’s pretty terrible, merely adding a premium to your opponent’s spell cost.  Remand is my personal favourite and for newer Modern players it may come as a surprise, since it counters the opponent’s spell, but then it returns the spell to their hand instead of going to the graveyard.  That’s right, your opponent gets to cast that same spell again the following turn if they so wish, and all you get in return is a single card.  So why is it so good?  The reason is that when you “Remand” your opponent’s spell, a fair amount of the time they’re tapped out and have to pass the turn, while you get to draw an additional turn; in a way you have “Time Walk”ed them, and in the your turn following the Remand you can generally cast a spell or creature without fear of disruption.  Since Remand doesn’t actually stop the spell overall, it just slows the opponent down and is regarded as a strong Tempo-play (tempo is basically the rate at which you are playing your threats, in a way it’s your momentum; you want to have a tempo advantage since it essentially means your opponent is on the back foot).

Counters with CMC 3 aren’t very popular in Modern, since the difference between a cost of 2 and 3 mana is huge is Modern; counters like Dissipate see fringe play due to the exile clause, while Cancel is horrifically bad (even in Standard) and you never want to be running any number of them in your 75.

If the difference between a CMC of 2 and 3 is so huge, one can only imagine the jump to a CMC of 4.  However in Modern there is one counterspell with a CMC of 4 that sees regular play, and that is Cryptic Command.  The reason for this is its amazing versatility; it firstly counters (its main use), it can replace itself, it can tap out your opponent’s creatures to prepare an alpha strike or it can bounce that troublesome permanent.  It is used predominantly in Scapeshift (to protect the combo), as well as in control decks.

In my next article I will continue with Blue staples, more specifically with card-drawing staples as well as stalling spells (such as bounce and tap effects).

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

Magic Theory 101 - Is it a good or bad idea to stick with one deck through a Constructed Season?

By: Enrico Agostino Guarneri

I asked a couple of top local players, and international professional players whether it is a good or bad idea to keep playing the same deck throughout a constructed season.  These were their replies:

Adam Katz:
“When playing a big event it’s really important to have lots of experience with the deck you are playing. From that end its helpful to have played the deck in many tournaments however testing in a home setting can give you the same edge. So if you do not do enough home testing I would say it’s important to stick to the same deck, if you do enough testing then I think it’s fairly irrelevant, so if you like the deck keep playing it, if you think there is something better then switch.”

Russell Tanchel:
“I prefer to play all sorts of different decks. Playing one deck all the time is boring. I enjoy exploring all the different colours, speed, and strategies of the different decks. I will play a deck from around 1 to 3 times, changing some cards every new tournament. If I find a deck I really really like I will occasionally play it more often. But I prefer switching between aggro, control and midrange.”

Jarcque Henning:
“It is an advantage to play different decks. Learning the ins and outs of different decks will give you a feel of how to play against it and even how to beat it. But also a disadvantage by not knowing one deck good enough. I think it all comes down to personal preference, and how versatile your play skills are.”

Michael Strauss:
“Personally I prefer mixing up decks as it keeps things interesting and avoids games becoming monotonous, but obviously I have my favourite deck, or style of decks in the season that I would stick to in bigger events.”

Saturday, February 9, 2013


By: Mark Young

Greetings all.

I hope that everyone had a good holiday and a great new year.

I thought that I would start 2013 with something a little lighter than what happens at Comp events.
Also, I would like some feedback from everyone as to what they would like to see me write about as
coming up with topics from the top of my head is a little difficult some times.

Any way, I thought we could look at a few areas where I know I made mistakes in my rules
interpretations in the past or areas that I regularly see players struggle with.

The first has to do with first strike.
When a creature with first strike is involved in combat, and additional step is created in which any
creatures with first strike will deal their combat damage before creatures that do not have first
Once this combat damage step happens, giving a creature first strike will do nothing as the first
strike damage phase is now over.
If a creature had double strike it will then get to deal damage in the normal combat damage step,
otherwise its’ part in combat is now done.
Secondly, if a creature with double strike kills its blocker in the first strike damage step, the creature
is still blocked and will deal no combat damage to the defending player unless said creature has

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Marvelous Modern - The Great Transition From Standard

By: Dale Pon

Most of the Magic players reading this article are going to be Standard players, and thus it makes sense to write about how one would go about getting into Modern from a Standard player’s point of view.  I’ve already talked about the lands so I won’t talk any more about them.  In this article, instead of just listing which current Standard cards are staples in Modern and which aren’t, I will explain a little about how one should go about evaluating a card’s potential in Modern, as well as providing some examples.

 A good illustrative example in current Standard is Searing Spear.  In Standard, Searing Spear is the backbone of nearly any deck with red in it, and it’s usually a 4-of as well.  However take a look at any Modern deck with red and there’s not a single Searing Spear to be seen; why is this?  Well, if you only started playing from M12 onwards the answer might not be clear, but anyone playing longer than that will know of the infamous Lightning Bolt, which is strictly better than Searing Spear (for those unaware, the term “strictly better” is used to describe a particular card which is better than another card in almost every conceivable situation, which means it is usually cheaper for the same effect, or the same cost, but additional effects).

Thus, from the above example, a useful question to first ask about a Standard card is, “Is there a Modern-legal card that is strictly better than this card?”

Another point to consider is the speed and efficiency of a particular card and if it is fast enough for Modern.  Spells having a CMC of 4 or more need to be particularly powerful to be included in a Modern deck, and as a general rule of thumb, one never wants to have any Vanilla creatures (i.e. creatures with no abilities) in a deck.Standard staples such as Geist of Saint Traft, Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel, and more recently Thundermaw Hellkite have all found their way into Modern due their efficiency, (Geist of Saint Traft is one of the best 3 drops out there; Snappie is a 2/1 Flash for 2 mana and a relevant ability; Restoration Angel is an efficient and effective 4 drop, being a 3/4 flier with flash and the ability to flicker; and Thundermaw Hellkite, because, well he’s a giant 5 CMC 5/5 flying facebasher).  Deathrite Shaman is also now a well-entrenched Modern staple due to its incredible versatility and low mana cost; for 1 mana you get a 1/2 with 3 very relevant abilities

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Getting to Know: Clint van Alten

On this edition of Getting to Know, I have the privilege of interviewing arguably the best limited mind in South Africa. Clint van Alten may not be a name that is familiar with some of our newer players but in my opinion he is easily the best drafter this country has ever seen. Let's see what the Limited Master has to say...

Tell us a bit about yourself (Occupation, hobbies anything of interest)?

Hi Keraan, thanks for the interview. I lecture at Wits University in the computer science department. I started playing Magic in Durban in 1996 and haven't stopped since. I lived in Chicago for two years and learned a lot from playing in some of the massive tournaments there. Since coming to Joburg I've drafted almost every week at Russel's Draft. I used to play lots of Standard at Outer Limits and all major events until I had kids - now I really only have time to Draft. So most of my favourite formats and favourite decks are a bit dated.

How long ago did you start playing magic the gathering and why?

I started just before Mirage came out - Fourth Edition and The Dark and Homelands were out. Some friends introduced me to the game. Initially, I played lots of multiplayer until I realised that was stupid and started playing at competitive events around Durban.