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Star Wars Photoshoot…Part 1 (via Robin Cook Photography)

Check out this amazing photoshoot by Robin Cook. this has nothing to do with magic, but it has everything to do with star wars!!!

Star Wars Photoshoot...Part 1 This was way EPIC! Some folks might think the idea of hanging out with a bunch of Star Wars geeks may be odd but for me it was just amazing! I think the idea that geeks are just that-  is finally a thing of the past. I proudly wave my Geek flag.  I'm a Star Wars fangirl and love it! I was never been the popular girl and never fit in with the "in" crowd and it took me most of my life to realize that it was ok to be completely different.  One thing … Read More

via Robin Cook Photography

The Rules Nazi – Emrakul Nights, Leyline Da(ze)

Whether or not you be a Johnny, Spike, or Timmy we all know at least one person, maybe yourself included who is the rules Nazi. Or perhaps you are the guy in your playgroup (excluding certified judges) who everyone asks what are the rules for this card. And trust me, as much as, some situations may call for some tough love there is nothing more irritating than hearing a player spout bullshit to you regarding rulings on a card that you know are false, and can prove and they still say its true because they read some secret tech or some other insane brain vomit from someplace that benefits them.

I wish to relate a story to you.

The other day I was sitting outside with a very good friend of mine, we were talking about some recent Legacy matches we had and I was telling him about my upcoming manadeprived article. He was relating a story about going against a Grindstone/43 land deck who had sideboarded Leyline of The Void against his elves because he runs Emrakul, The Aeons Torn. I had simply replied to him, well that sucks that totally bones your deck. To which my friend reply well not really, I get to choose whether or not Emrakul gets exiled with Leyline of the Void. and I just looked at him with a dumbfounded grimace and asked for his explanation.

While I can’t quote word for word of his statement I can paraphrase it. Basically what it boiled down too was if Emrakul is in your library, or even discarded to your graveyard while Leyline of the Void is in play, you have the choice to shuffle him before he even hits the graveyard because he never hits. He then used an explanation that the Judge at the event agreed with him.

At this point in time, I asked who Judged the event, Once I got my answer I rolled my eyes, as I myself have had arguments with this judge both on and off of events. Even his interpretation of clearly written oracle wording, or rulings is grossly misconducted. In fact I honestly think he is the worst judge I have ever come across. Just because you are judge doesn’t mean you actually know what the hell you’re talking about. (sorry judges, I respect you as much as I need too, and some of you are damn good, but there are just as many who suck and need to get their heads examined)

moving on, so I said to my friend well that’s impossible, because Emrakul, has to hit the graveyard for his ability to shuffle back to trigger, and with Leyline of the Void in play, the Graveyard is essentially replaced to the exiled zone as when a card is lost or discard due to whatever reason, it doesn’t see the graveyard it just is exiled. In fact the rulings on Leyline are clear here:

Leyline of the Void’s second ability prevents cards from ever reaching your opponents’ graveyards. Abilities that would trigger when those cards are put into an opponent’s graveyard (such as Hoarding Dragon’s last ability) won’t trigger.

The card never hits the graveyard, so you can’t simply choose to ignore the effects of a card because you would be milled out. And my friend just shook his head well you’re wrong the judge said it was fine and worked, the judge made the call and I won.

this is also the same judge who told me that wrath effects don’t work on Progenitus because he has protection from everything.

Personally I would totally call bullshit on this entire scenario especially during a match? I don’t know I just didn’t bother getting into a heated debate about it. I know personally that both my Friend and that Judge are completely wrong. but I guess that is the gambit we play when we play games, someone always wants to bend the rules to their advantage.

Card of the week

If there was a card that defined the word staple in the Legacy format, other than Force of Will, it would be Wasteland. In a format that thrives using duel lands to their fullest advantage, Wasteland is a card you want to run to cripple your opponents landbase.

Locking up your opponents land gives you a distinct edge to do what you need to do, while they attempt to recover. With cards like exploration, crucible of worlds, and wasteland can give you a jump on the game while others stumble around.

Loaming Around – Breakfast of Champions.

If you have played Legacy for a long time then chances are you have come across this deck in your gaming experience, perhaps even to the point of playing it. This past weekend Micah Greenbaum lead the legacy stampede by claiming victory at the StarCityGames Legacy Open (Sunday) by dominating the event with a 4 colour aggro loam deck.

This deck has some serious hate for everything, it’s responsive, aggressive, and controlling, but how does it work?

The answer isn’t as quiet obscure as what people might think, in fact it is probably one of the easyist answers ever.

Mana + Bombs = Winning.

4-Color Loam by Micah Greenbaum

Artifacts
4 Mox Diamond

Creatures
3 Countryside Crusher
4 Dark Confidant
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Tarmogoyf

Enchantments
1 Sylvan Library

Instants
2 Punishing Fire
2 Swords to Plowshares

Sorceries
3 Burning Wish
2 Devastating Dreams
3 Life from the Loam
2 Vindicate
1 Worm Harvest

Basic Lands
1 Forest

Lands
1 Badlands
1 Bayou
1 Dust Bowl
3 Forgotten Cave
3 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Maze of Ith
1 Plateau
1 Riftstone Portal
1 Savannah
1 Taiga
2 Tranquil Thicket
1 Verdant Catacombs
2 Wasteland
1 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills

Legendary Lands
1 Karakas

Sideboard:
1 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Choke
3 Leyline of the Void
3 Red Elemental Blast
1 Devastating Dreams
1 Life from the Loam
1 Perish
1 Pulverize
1 Retribution of the Meek
1 Nomad Stadium

Aggro Loam also blends elements of midrange control decks such as the Rock and Jund lists in terms of redundancy, card advantage, and power. The final product of all of this is an aggro-control deck capable of both destructive board control and beating you in the face.

The deck has been around for a long time, but it really reached it’s height in 2008, this changed in 2009 when counterbalance decks were the deck of choice, and aggro loam lost its appeal to many players. In fact if you go back and examine the games from 2008-2009 seasons, you will see a huge shift, in the meta, CounterTop decks became the deck of choice, for a while. However, if you look at the 2010 season one deck swamped and dominated the format that CT once had claimed and that was Survival of the Fittest. When Survival got banned last year the 2010 meta took a huge dive and shift.

Many players went into this frenzy of what to play, it is no doubt that if Survival of the Fittest was still legal, we would still see survival decks with high win percentages, and dominance in the game. Currently there is no dominant deck, with countertop decks being practically useless at the moment because of the meta chaos – their predicative nature of what to expect is no longer the case. So, where does leave a deck like Aggro-Loam?

Well, let me put it this way, Aggro-loam was killed to countertop decks, since there are no or very few countertop decks being played – this gives aggro-loam the birth it needs to play competitively again. However! if numbers swamp to that kind of strategy, than it is possible that CT Decks could emerge, again as possible threats.

Moving forward to the events of yesterday in Baltimore, and Micah Greenbaum winning performance is there a possibility for this mid-range control aggro deck to return? in short, I am going to say no for now, but do not leave the possibility of chance to not sway my reasoning at some later point. Now you may be asking yourself this. Why is it the feel that Aggro-Loam is both a threat and yet not a threat? Well right now the numbers don’t back it up as being an overly established deck type, granted, it is an established deck with a rich history in the game, but right now it is just a drop in the water. As well as the numbers currently don’t support it.

If we look at previous events over the last few weeks (with the exception of this weeks events) we can pretty much see the nature of our beast. Lets look at the numbers for the SCG Invitational, and Denver, the two previous events prior to Baltimore.

First the Invitational – out of the 128 participants the bigger numbers broke down like this:

Merfolk held it’s own with 11.72% (15) playing monoblue merfolk, with an additional 10.94% (14) playing with other colours in their decks and .78% (1) playing with white. So that is a total of 30 players playing Merfolk. 35 players were playing varients of landstill. but here is the kicker, almost 18 percent of the players there were playing Stoneblade with 23 players playing it. Stoneblade has just kind of appeared on the map recently, with sudden surges.

If you are unfamiler with stoneblade check out this article on Manadeprived.com as KYT describes his choice for stoneblade at Providence.

This is a fairly large percentage for playing one specific archetype of 18% of the field wielding the same deck, take into consideration this was just the invitational. So what did the Open look like that weekend?

Well the numbers again breakdown like this: Merfolk/variants held 25.15% (83 players) of the field – a little over 7 percent played U/W Landstill (25 players) and then a shockingly 14.97% (50 Players) were playing Stoneblade. that is a huge gain in numbers when prior to these two events, stone played had less than 10 players play the deck in legacy. So why the upswing? One possible reason is that in Standard (prior to July 1st) Caw-blade was dominant deck to beat, and Stoneblade in legacy could be considered it’s counterpart, and people will often play decks they are familiar with in formats by switching into archetypes they are comfortable with but not so outwardly foreign too.

So where does this leave the current state for older decks to emerge into a healthy playing field, such as Aggro-loam? well it puts them in a very healthy spot. With Control decks being less dominant field percentage wise, aggro, combo and combi-decks are quiet resilient at holding its own. With a lack of super strong control in the format, variant decks can take the lead over other archetypes, by having answers to questions you didn’t want answers too. Prime examples of this are rock, team america, etc – all these decks dominate in some form or another with their builds and quasi-control-aggro tactics.

But we shall see, the format is really still developing, but with strong decks in contention, and weaker meta decks seeing less contention the swing in Legacy could really be just beginning. either way the format is healthy and is as diverse as it ever was. So here are to good games and good times.

3 (6) Mafia – 3 Sick Decks

Good evening my lovelies. As I write this, the Baltimore Legacy event is still underway with round 8 of 9. I have been watching the coverage on and off all day and I have to say right now I am thoroughly impressed with this Baltimore event.

Yesterday we say only 4 Caw-blade decks make it through the Top 8, with one being in the top 8, and Ali Aintrazi coming out on top with Twineblade this morning sealing the deal for 1st place. But we will have more on Ali Aintrazi later. Right now I want to talk about this rather interesting, but not really unknown deck called MaskNaught.

Right now it is being wielded by 13 year old AJ Kerrigan – the deck was designed to run around the card engine Torpor Orb (nph) and Illusionary Mask (A/B/U) – which allows you to either replace the effects of a card when its on the battlefield or to by pass the triggered effects of a card when it enters into play. this small engine allows for quick access to drop huge threats at a low cost – it theoretically works on the same principals as the stiflenaught deck. However this Black/Green deck is how this badboy runs. but I think it work more effectively as a black/blue deck to be quiet honest, at least in my opinion but that could mean jack and shit to you right now.

So here is the deck list:

MaskNaught by AJ Kerrigan

Maindeck:

Artifacts
4 Illusionary Mask
4 Torpor Orb

Artifact Creatures
4 Phyrexian Dreadnought

Creatures
4 Dark Confidant
4 Hunted Horror
4 Tarmogoyf

Instants
4 Dark Ritual
1 Go for the Throat

Sorceries
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Thoughtseize

Basic Lands
7 Swamp

Lands
3 Bayou
4 Rishadan Port
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wasteland

Legendary Lands
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Sideboard:

2 Pithing Needle
3 Extirpate
3 Krosan Grip
4 Mental Misstep
3 Perish

Another deck that has made an impact this weekend is the new survival deck, without survival created by Ken Adams, the deck is called Zombie Vine and runs Fauna shaman, vengevine, bloodghast to work the engine that gets combo pieces and swings big. pretty much like every other survival deck, but this one is just nasty to see play out.

Zombie-Vine by Ken Adams

Maindeck:

Artifact Creatures
1 Phyrexian Devourer
1 Triskelion

Creatures
1 Basking Rootwalla
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Bloodghast
4 Fauna Shaman
1 Necrotic Ooze
3 Noble Hierarch
1 Quirion Ranger
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Vengevine

Sorceries
4 Buried Alive
3 Cabal Therapy
4 Reanimate
4 Thoughtseize

Basic Lands
3 Forest
1 Swamp

Lands
4 Bayou
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Wooded Foothills

Land Creatures
1 Dryad Arbor

Legendary Lands
1 Gaea’s Cradle
Sideboard:

1 Big Game Hunter
4 Dark Confidant
1 Terastodon
3 Surgical Extraction
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Progenitus
4 Natural Order

and this brings us back full circle with/to Ali Aintrazi the Standard winner who is playing legacy Turboland, he calls his deck Walk Hard, because once you see this deck you will want to walk all over peoples faces. it is fast, aggressive, can go short or long and just really messes with your mind. Plus, you can take infinite turns once your land lock is in place. Alot of people love this deck already and really there isn’t much you can’t love, you take a huge mana advantage, and work your way with favour on JTMS and win because they will never another turn.

so check out this deck

Maindeck:

Artifacts
3 Crucible Of Worlds
1 Elixir of Immortality
4 Horn of Greed

Enchantments
4 Exploration

Instants
4 Brainstorm
2 Constant Mists
2 Counterspell
4 Force of Will
3 Mental Misstep

Legendary Creatures
1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror

Planeswalkers
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Sorceries
3 Time Warp
1 Walk the Aeons

Basic Lands
1 Forest
6 Island

Lands
1 Ghost Quarter
3 Mishra’s Factory
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Tropical Island
4 Wasteland

Legendary Lands
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds

Sideboard:

2 Null Rod
3 Zuran Orb
1 Constant Mists
2 Nix
2 Llawan, Cephalid Empress
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
3 Bojuka Bog

but thats all for now, these are some really interesting decks, to take a look at for sure.

The Spilt – Dealing With Fact or Fiction.

Recently I have noticed many discussions concerning Fact or Fiction, and how to effectively make the split. I found an article on SCG archives from Mike Flores. the article which can be found here, was originally published on Christmas Day in 2006. Mike Flores offers a unique insight to the situation of Fact or Fiction. Which can be very relevant in today’s Legacy meta’s.

I have taken the opportunity to copy pasta the article here as well, as I feel it is important contact wise. please be advise that all rights do belone starcitygames.com and its publishers.

My friend Josh Ravitz likes to make fun of me for “testing” on Magic Online. I spend hours on MTGO most nights, just playing in the Tournament Practice room. This is a barometer for very little, but it is extremely fun, and I go many weeks logging double-digit hours into the wee numbers of the morning. I justify this process to Josh as twofold 1) getting a “feel” for how my prospective deck plays out, and 2) figuring out what other people are playing (I got very early reads on Solar Flare, for instance, and there is an awful lot of Goblins and TEPS for pre-PTQ temperature-taking). Usually I’d say the Tournament Practice room is less useful for quality trial than other venues (Sundays at Casa Flores and late nights at Jon’s), but over the last two or three weeks I learned something special that I could never have learned poring over Apprentice windows or trash talking my friends with Vs. System cards with “Breeding Pool” Sharpie’d on the back:

I have have HAVE to play Fact or Fiction in the upcoming Extended PTQs.

I don’t know if this is some massive revelation because Fact or Fiction is so good, has always been so good, and won the last Extended Pro Tour, but I don’t know if it was ever as apparent to me as it is now, right this second that it is imperative that I play Fact or Fiction. I mean when the card first came out, you had Zvi saying things like “Fact: This card is broken,” and “Fiction: This card is balanced,” and BDM’s circle coining “End of turn Fact or Fiction, you lose” anagrams. We had G/R decks that just got thrown in piles of detritus because Josh would conclude “Either you play Fact or Fiction, or you lose to some deck with Fact or Fiction,” but it seems like people have forgotten.

We get bogged down with Gifts Ungiven and Life from the Loam and re-work our manabases so that we can show Thirst for Knowledge at the end of turn… but there is a special something that Fact or Fiction gives us (other than more raw and power than any one of those cards, that is): the ability to piggyback your opponent’s flaws in strategy and tactics, misassignment of game priorities, and fear.

People can split Gifts Ungiven badly but let’s be honest, unless you are using Gifts as some kind of mislaid Inspiration, you are going to get what you want anyway. Why else do we have threads about adding Snow-Covered Island to a deck so that we can run the Island, Minamo, Oboro, Snow-Covered Island package (has anyone ever done this?)? There are probably better and worse ways to split up Barren Moor, Cephalid Coliseum, Life from the Loam, and Lonely Sandbar, but at the end of the day, the guy is going to get what the guy is going to get (assuming you don’t have a Tormod’s Crypt or some such), which is a recurring Ancestral Recall. Gifts is highly strategic long term (or in setting up an end game), and while there are varying short term incentives, the divergent paths all tend to go the same way, with the express purpose of making games play out to consistent finales. Not so, at least not necessarily so, with Fact or Fiction. Fact or Fiction gives a player short-term card advantage (which I suppose Gifts does, too), better card selection than Impulse (it’s like a really really good Careful Consideration), and the ability to either get out of a horrible spot (or at least the chance), or crush the opponent under the oppressive weight of the dreaded five spell FoF; yes, yes, there are few if any cards better at killing someone immediately with Psychatog. Because of its powerful selection capabilities, digging through 10-100 percent of your deck for a single [copy of an] out or chess piece, Fact or Fiction can play strategically (and certainly inform the strategic long game of a “fair” deck), but almost never so strategic as Gifts Ungiven in setting up a game. Conversely, how the opponent deals with Fact or Fiction splits is highly strategic, and making good piles will not only go a long way in mitigating the oppressive power of one of the strongest card draw spells available, but can force the opponent in a direction he doesn’t want to go, or even win the game on the spot (where a wrong decision would lead down the opposite path).

For the most part, though, Fact or Fiction is about short-term tactical resource advancement. Both players will have knowledge of the cards that get flipped, and can make decisions accordingly. Those cards will show both players the likely path for the FoF’s master, but will not tend to prove conclusive themselves. Imagine a five-spell FoF of Illusions of Grandeur, Illusions of Grandeur, Illusions of Grandeur, Donate, Donate. A bad player (or maybe a player with some potential who doesn’t have StarCityGames Premium) might make the worst possible decision, or just pack ’em up right now. In the alternative, a cagey mage who understands how to manage Fact or Fiction can look his opponent in the eye with a “you had better have the fourth Illusions [or third Donate], or you ain’t winning” and make the appropriate split, probably winning the game himself. For that player to split Illusions versus Donates is a strategic decision on the part of the opponent that will put the game on a certain path and help control information (i.e. “he better rip”).

One plan that I developed fairly early on was to make really uncomfortable Upheaval splits. You could make a 1-4 Upheaval split against ZevAtog, or lay tons of gas in the opposite pile and win even though it seemed you were conceding a great deal of card advantage. ZevAtog played two, but usually three, copies of Upheaval, and that card was pretty essential to its winning (the nine mana combo kill). Too many juicy FoF splits might give the opponent sufficient gas to win expressly with Psychatog, but without the big Ups, most Atogs found it impossible to cross an Opposition, Yavimaya Barbarian, or humble Squirrel token.

When you play Fact or Fiction, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. The first one, as FoF’s actual player, is that you can always get a three-card pile. If all you want is card advantage, you can even get a four- card pile a fair amount of the time (especially against better and better opponents). This is the baseline: Fact or Fiction is almost always better than Concentrate, and not just gauged by the obvious metrics (colored mana density, Instant versus Sorcery): You want any three? You get them. Sometimes you get four. Nevertheless, you have the option to take the one- or two-pile, and more options means the opportunity to both Hee-Haw! and outplay your opponent.

The reasons I want to play Fact or Fiction are various. One is that my more mid-range FoF decks are doing better than my Psychatog decks with Gifts Ungiven… and I like to win. The more direct reason (i.e. the answer to “why not just play Fact or Fiction in Psychatog?” which is itself a fine question) is that Fact or Fiction gives you free cards and game wins that you don’t even deserve above and beyond the games you should be winning and the cards that are by rights yours. My friend Bill Macey used to say that he had to play with card advantage because if he drew a card a turn and his opponent drew a card a turn his lucksack opponent would always out-draw him, so he had to draw more cards; Fact or Fiction gives you even more cards than Bill was talking about.

Splitting When You’re Winning:

Correctly splitting Fact or Fiction matters most when you are winning. By “winning” I mean you control tempo, or you have guys in play, and you are a legitimate threat to reduce the opponent’s life total to zero in the foreseeable future. When this is the case, one of two things is already true: 1) your opponent can deal with your threats, or 2) your opponent is using Fact or Fiction to dig to a way to deal with your threats.

To some degree, this requires an accurate read, but if your opponent is operating under (1) you may already be in trouble depending on how much time you have / how much time you need to win, and if you have a workable backup. A good read here will mitigate the potential disaster of a “bad” FoF split (by making a “wrong” split, ironically), but a bad read will just give your opponent one or more free cards. As such, let’s assume for now that your opponent is operating under (2), little or no relevant board control… He needs the FoF net to halt your tempo, or regain tempo, or just not to lose to your beaters.

The Hall of Fame’s Darwin Kastle innovated a style of Fact or Fiction that makes a juicy pile of card draw and permission and lands… but no creature defense. Obviously if the top five is rife with Wraths you have other things to worry about, but when you’re winning – when you don’t need to make a play to win (and something as seemingly insignificant as a Stone Rain when you have the Lions kill on board actually lets the opponent back in) – then there is little damage in handing the opponent additional permission. Lands might be irrelevant. What you don’t want to do is give him something like a Wrath of God or Loxodon Hierarch here.

As such, you will want to give your opponent 1-4 splits most of the time when winning. Weak players will take four-piles of no relevant cards and need to get lucky to get back in the game, where tight players will shrug and take a single pile, deal short term, and hopefully let you back into your previous position given what is left in your hand (it’s not like you handed him a Memory Lapse to deal with your next man alongside that Wrath, did you?).

Splitting When You’re Losing

If you’re already losing, a Fact or Fiction will usually ensure that you will lose. Often you will be put in a position where you have to draw a particular card or sequence of cards to get back into the game, and a Fact or Fiction will give the opponent an extra permission spell at least. You will only win when he has no clock and you have plenty of time to either sculpt a hand to win or naturally draw sufficient cards to keep pace given fairly equal mana development.

When you’re losing, it is imperative to use the Fact or Fiction as an opportunity for the opponent to make a mistake, cede some percentage. It’s possible you can get him to cede a ton of percentage, though it’s unclear whether it is percentage enough for you to actually win.

Look back at the triple Illusions, double Donate example from a few paragraphs ago. The correct split here 80% of the time or more is Illusions versus Donate. If the opponent has the fourth Illusions or the third Donate, he will be able to complete his combination. If he doesn’t, he will be down to one copy of each combination piece, anywhere. There may be times when you can make the argument for Illusions, Donate, Donate versus Illusions, Illusions (he’ll probably take the three-pile), but even if your grip is a fist full of Wax / Wane, your opponent probably has to make a mistake for one of these minority splits to prove profitable. You will never typically split Illusions, Illusions, Donate versus Illusions, Donate under any normal circumstances; one pile is strictly better than the other, meaning that no reasonable opponent will ever take the second pile. Not only have you just made a bad set of piles (which will in all likelihood prove lethal), you have taken his potential for making a mistake out of the equation.

You are most likely to make a 2-3 split when you are losing than when you are winning. Ultimately if you are losing, both two and three extra cards are probably bad for you, but if you (competently) make a 1-4 split, it is because the singleton is exactly what the opponent wanted, and even then, four extra cards when he’s already ahead will most likely prove an insurmountable hurdle. Maybe you can out-rip two cards and it will be a great story (and a heartbreaker when the opponent tells it), but four is asking a lot for even the sackiest lucksacks of the community.

Things to Watch

Here are two things that I think are important to watch:

1) Watch the Mana: Did he miss a land drop last turn? If he is playing Fact or Fiction on his own turn, did he play a land yet? Is he missing a color?

If he missed a land drop, I will almost automatically split land versus spells. If he is playing Fact or Fiction on his own turn, it usually means he either doesn’t respect my board or he is digging for land (or something specific); again I will split land versus spells (or land versus X, whatever I read “X” to be). He is ceding the time because he wants something now… If I have to give it to him, I’m not going to be kind about it.

The exception here is something like one spell (especially a very weak or very strong spell) and four lands. The goal is to avoid giving him what he wants by making the alternative juicy, or forcing him to screw up (or both). If you split lands versus single spell and he wants lands, he is obviously going to take the four-pile; this is bad for you on many levels. In this case you also have the option of giving him spell, land, land versus just land, land; he is obviously going to take the three-pile with spell (almost strictly better). So in this case I’d give him spell, land versus land, land, land and he will probably take the three-pile, but who knows? If the spell is especially strong, he might take it when what he needs is lands. Powerful or key spells tend to have hefty price tags, so that means he may have essentially taken land instead of land, land, land in a virtual short-term count.

2) Watch his demeanor: Will he have to discard? Can you run a swindle?

Having to discard because you are teeming with card advantage is about the best reason to have to discard in all the realms of Dominia, but something inside us screams No! I don’t wanna discard! over and over. Back in the Nineties, many wouldn’t discard to Land Tax and would take fewer than three lands if the math didn’t work out. People, especially the weak-willed, don’t want to discard. If you can make piles where the opponent may have to discard, he may snap for a moment and make some sort of rash, limbic, and wrong decision (which he may or will immediately regret), and take the opposite pile due to a weak moment of auto-pilot.

This may be a heavy gamble, though, because the “will” discard pile is going to necessarily be juicier. However, there is precedent that players will take a not juicier pile that doesn’t even have the card they need when outplayed. There is precedent that swindles and psychology pay off even against the dreaded Five-Spell FoF.

I am actually re-using an example from Interaction 101 because it so clearly illustrates the play skill of Fact or Fiction, and the importance of reading and psychology to top-level Magic play. Remember, every Pro is capable of winning the games he is supposed to win, but the best of the best deceive and steal like heartbreaking femme fatales and luscious double agents with stilettos secreted in their stilettos (you know, you know… a shiv in the shoe).

On the way to his Top 8 at Fact or Fiction’s inaugural Pro Tour, Zvi Mowshowitz made one of the best splits in history. He was ahead in play with a Blastoderm, and his opponent was at five. He had two or three fall back finishers, including a Jade Leech. The opponent was a bit tight on mana, flipped:

Counterspell
Fact or Fiction
Absorb
Story Circle
Wrath of God

What a disaster!

No normal application of Magic strategy would save him. How do you split five spells (you can: see below)? Could he go permission versus? And give the opponent two board control cards and another FoF? No way!

Zvi decided to go:

Absorb
Counterspell
Story Circle

Versus

Fact or Fiction
Wrath of God

This is interesting because it operates, psychologically, on multiple levels. The knee-jerk card a control player on five fighting a Blastoderm wants to see is Wrath of God. Why not put it next to ostensibly the scariest card of the bunch – the one that set up the five spell FoF to begin with – Fact or Fiction? If Zvi was right, and the tendency of Blue mages is to over-value card draw, and to try to chain FoF into devastating FoF, this would ensure he would take the two-pile.

That opponent Wrathed with FoF in hand, lost two turns after.

Zvi, with another 5/5 in hand, knew he could weather just a Wrath of God as long as he could stick the next threat. The Fact or Fiction, valued so highly by his opponent, was a non-issue: he’d be dead before he could net a card with it that would save the last few points. What Zvi couldn’t beat was a Story Circle. The Circle would halt the Blastoderm in play as well as the Wrath, and have something left to show for later. What he did to ensure just that was to put it in a three-pile like he wanted the opponent to take it, laying it next to two problematic cards (one being very problematic in Absorb), playing like he didn’t care about those. He might have gone so far as to split 1-4 against (if the opponent were on four or five mana, it would have been essentially the same)… he just didn’t have to risk that. The strategy – and it is true strategy – worked, and the opponent lost because of a tricky set of piles.

I’ll clue you in on something: all five spell FoFs are scary. Zvi was lucky in that he was a turn off of winning and his opponent didn’t have much. If he had been losing, there probably wouldn’t have been any splits he could have made to stay in the game. Board control against permission and card drawing would have just ensured that he would have lost to the board control; board control and FoF against permission would be the same… except the opponent would have had a Fact or Fiction, too. He may have taken a risk, but his alternatives were essentially automatic losses.

Making a 1-4 Split
Most 3-2 Fact or Fiction splits are sub-optimal because they give the opponent a clear path. When I test online, I am constantly given the choice between essentially identical piles, but where one has an extra land. This isn’t what you want to do. Putting Fact or Fiction on the stack is a short-term play; what you do with the piles elevates the powerful – but not intrinsically smart or sophisticated card – to the level of interactive strategy. It sucks when the opponent draws extra cards. It sucks a lot when he gets four. However, when you manage those cards as best you can, you can potentially minimize the worst of it.

If most 3-2 splits are wrong, you have essentially three other options: a different (better) 3-2 split, a 1-4 split, and a 0-5 split. A different 3-2 split might be correct, depending on how you split the cards. The 0-5 split will only be good if you can hit him with some sort of Sudden Impact (which you might be able to do), but generally only worth it, even then, if you can kill him. That leaves the 1-4 split by process of elimination. Don’t be afraid to make the 1-4 split, but don’t be a slave to it, either. Both 3-2 and 1-4 splits have the same goal: You want the opponent to screw up.

1) Figure out what he wants or needs. Make taking that painful.

2) Figure out what he wants or needs. Trick him into taking things he doesn’t need (but look pretty), and won’t help him to win the game.

3) Always, always think about mitigating the downside to his playing this powerful card. It is rare that a deck can keep pace with an opponent’s deck once the FoFs start resolving. Don’t fight a game based on cards in hand. Try to go for tempo or try to blank what cards you are giving him, that you know he has. Write them down and cross them off on your life sheet.

4) Never, never make the decision easy if you can help it, or make the decision for him. You’ll not win a lot of games from behind if you get good at this.

You might not be able to stop the opponent from getting 10% with every FoF… but maybe you can trick him out of a free 25%.

Practicals

One thing I decided to do was log most or all of the Fact or Fictions I played last night to see how my opponents dealt with them. I was playing a new U/G/W control deck with counters, lots of card drawing, Wrath of God, and light life gain.

I got my friend Mark Herberholz, noted destroyer of control opponents, Pro Tour Champion, and underrated genius of Constructed nuance to stand over my virtual shoulder and give his opinion on the same Fact or Fiction splits. Heezy wants to make sure everyone knows, though, that it is impossible to correctly split these FoFs without knowledge of the opponent’s hand; as with the message of the first section, his thesis is that we should be splitting to get the opponent to do something and play into our game. As such, he’s just gauging on power levels here.

1. B/R Goblins

When I played the FoF, he had no cards in hand. His board had been wiped of multiple Goblins, including two War Marshals the previous turn, so he had five land, a Mox, and two 1/1s, and was on twenty.

I had two cards (Wrath of God and Gaea’s Blessing), and my board was two Hallowed Fountains, two Islands, a Forest, Loxodon Hierarch, and Sensei’s Divining Top, and was near twenty thanks to the Stupid Elephant.

I revealed:

Echoing Truth
Eternal Dragon
Island
Memory Lapse
Sensei’s Divining Top

He split:

Echoing Truth
Island

Eternal Dragon
Memory Lapse
Sensei’s Divining Top

I probably would have taken the second pile because I already had a Wrath. It seems to me that he was trying to isolate the Echoing Truth to protect his Goblin token theme, but I didn’t want it, so I just got a fair three-pile. The card I wanted was Memory Lapse, anyway.

I think a flaw in this split is that he figured he wanted to control something that he valued (tokens) but he was already so far behind, I didn’t care about his two 1/1s versus my 4/4 (this is a symptom of players over-valuing their own plans, which we’ve talked about in the past). One thing he probably wasn’t thinking about was that with the Top, I was two turns off of hard-casting the Dragon, too.

I never got to take the second pile because he ended up scooping the game before I could finish writing down my notes.

Heezy: “This is an irrelevant split. The right one is Dragon and Lapse against, but you lose either way unless you topdeck Siege-Gang Commander.”

2. TEPS

TEPS #1

All TEPS games are the same, even when you’re Blue. You are a mile ahead and inches from losing as long as they aren’t completely manascrewed.

First FoF:

Eternal Dragon
Remand
Temple Garden
Whispers of the Muse
Windswept Heath

He split:

Eternal Dragon
Whispers of the Muse

Remand
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath

If he lets me get to Whispers plus buyback, he can’t likely win. He can’t logically group Eternal Dragon with Whispers of the Muse on an axis (I assume that’s what he was doing here)… They function the same way in attrition matchups, but there is no way I am going to tap five on upkeep if he has so many as three or four cards. That makes Eternal Dragon a flashy-but-crappy Plains.

Obviously I’m taking the second pile. I want the counter! I want to hit land drops! He’s giving me both.

Heezy: We actually discussed this one at length. Mark came to the conclusion that the split was Dragon and Remand against. I want counters and I want land drops and he can’t give me both. Dragon is a bit dangerous because it can give me Blue-producing mana and thins my deck for more FoFs and counters, but it’s better than giving me another card (I won’t be rebuying the Dragon any time soon).

Second FoF (same game):

Breeding Pool
Hallowed Fountain
Gaea’s Blessing
Memory Lapse
Renewed Faith

He split:

Memory Lapse

Breeding Pool
Hallowed Fountain
Gaea’s Blessing
Renewed Faith

This is actually a fair split; he was isolating the counter. I took the four-pile (which he probably predicted would force me to either discard or start playing stuff on my own turn to my detriment), which had some reasonable low-mana action. I discarded two Wraths the first time around and a Loxodon Hierarch a few turns later. He eventually went for it when he decided he couldn’t keep letting me draw cards, but I won easily.

Heezy: “His split is bad because both of the non-Lapse cards cycle. I’d put Lapse and Blessing against.”

3. Affinity

He’s got a flying fellow on the stack, three cards in hand, and his board is Seat of the Synod, Seat of the Synod, Vault of Whispers, Great Furnace, Arcbound Worker, Frogmite, Frogmite; he is tapping to one.

I have four cards (Gaea’s Blessing, Memory Lapse, Hallowed Fountain, and Fact or Fiction), six assorted lands in play, and Loxodon Hierarch holding off his currently non-flying team.

I have two up and run the classic juke: Fact or Fiction with a spell on the stack. Rich Frangiosa taught this to me more than five years ago… the goal is to get the opponent to make a bad split isolating a permission spell, but you’ve already got one!

I turned over:

Echoing Truth
Eternal Dragon
Remand
Remand
Temple Garden

He split:

Remand
Remand
Temple Garden

Echoing Truth
Eternal Dragon

I guess the theory here is that Remand is not a hard counter, and he has to make the Remand pile spicy even if it stalls him for a bit. I guess he didn’t think he could beat the board control cards, and, truth be told, I was one off a 5/5 flyer that would have ruled the skies. I guess he can’t give me Eternal Dragon plus Temple Garden if he’s scared of that.

Under the assumption that I was getting the 5/5 back anyway, I took the first pile.

Heezy: “I’d make the same split, but he’s just screwed. If you play Dragon he can basically never attack and can’t win without drawing Plating.”

Later in the same game:

Eternal Dragon
Renewed Faith
Sensei’s Divining Top
Wrath of God
Wrath of God

He split:

Eternal Dragon
Renewed Faith
Sensei’s Divining Top

Wrath of God
Wrath of God

There is no decision at all to this split. Of course I take the double Wrath pile! He already gave me multiple counters to cover my butt. One thing that he might not realize is that Eternal Dragon is essentially in both piles, one pile is just more convenient. Therefore there is no inducement to taking the other pile. I think he has to split Wrath of God, Sensei’s Divining Top versus Wrath of God, Eternal Dragon, Renewed Faith. If he did that, I might have taken the second pile, even though the first one is better! The proposition of Wrath of God followed by Eternal Dragon isn’t exactly cupcakes and roses, but he had some gas left in the tank. Giving me two Wraths with the same option to play a 5/5 is almost sure defeat. Yep, I got that game.

Heezy: “Scoop.”

I ended the night with a particularly long and drawn out match against Madness, where many FoFs were fired.

He had turn 2 Jitte, but no follow up. He hard cast Wonder, then I Lapsed Arrogant Wurm and played FoF on my own turn.

Madness #1:

Breeding Pool
Eternal Dragon
Memory Lapse
Sensei’s Divining Top
Temple Garden

He was hard-casting Arrogant Wurms in the mid game when this came up, and I was managing him with my Blue.

Split:

Breeding Pool
Memory Lapse

Eternal Dragon
Sensei’s Divining Top
Temple Garden

This split is like light petting with a conservative girl. It’s nice but doesn’t really know where it’s going and doesn’t commit enough to be satisfactory; it is sub-optimal. The second pile is juicy enough that I’ll take it 100% of the time that I don’t need the Lapse. If I need the Lapse I’m going to take the Lapse; if I need the Lapse, why give me a free card?

He is obviously trying to isolate the Lapse, just not hard enough… It’s already isolated if I’ve got another permission spell. If he thinks I need it, he should present the Lapse alone because with a Top and Dragon and Temple Garden, the Breeding Pool isn’t that much more, but next to the Lapse, it is a huge boon (should I take that pile).

Heezy: “This split is Lapse and Dragon against Top and Land(s). Top is the best card, so you can’t put it with Lapse, which is the second best. If your opponent is good, you move a second land to Lapse and Dragon, just so they don’t take Top.”

Madness #2:

This was the same game and I was still ahead on tempo and card advantage.

Echoing Truth
Gaea’s Blessing
Hallowed Fountain
Hallowed Fountain
Renewed Faith

Split:

Echoing Truth
Hallowed Fountain
Renewed Faith

Gaea’s Blessing
Hallowed Fountain

These piles are a no-brainer. We try to avoid no-brainers. Renewed Faith and Gaea’s Blessing are pretty comparable (and Renewed Faith is actually more versatile)… These piles give me a free Echoing Truth. I took the first pile (obviously) and got to watch the library shuffle. I lost the Eternal Dragon from #1, but didn’t feel too bad about it given that I had two more FoFs in my deck along with that Dragon.

I don’t know if he was thinking about anything with these piles. Echoing Truth is the only board control card, but he wasn’t trying to isolate it; he put it in a highly attractive three-pile. Isolating Gaea’s Blessing is pointless given that card’s mechanics (unless he tricked me into losing the Eternal Dragon, which is possible but pointless). I don’t think he can ignore Echoing Truth, but even if he doesn’t respect it, he can’t put it in a three-pile because it is the most relevant card, so I will take any three-pile with it included.

2a) As such, I think one of these would be better:

Echoing Truth
Gaea’s Blessing
Renewed Faith

Hallowed Fountain
Hallowed Fountain

I probably take the three-pile, but at least he slows down my mana development and I can’t work all the card advantage I’m getting.

2b)

Echoing Truth
Hallowed Fountain
Hallowed Fountain

Gaea’s Blessing
Renewed Faith

I actually like this one much better. It’s not clear what I take. I probably take the three-pile, but I lose the Eternal Dragon, and access to two cantrips that might dig me to more action.

Heezy: “He actually made the worst possible split. Faith and lands against is better, and I agree with [Mike] that Truth and lands is better than that. You want both the lands with Truth so they take that pile.”

Madness #3:

Still the same game:

Fact or Fiction
Renewed Faith
Renewed Faith
Temple Garden
Wrath of God

Split:

Fact or Fiction
Renewed Faith
Renewed Faith

Temple Garden
Wrath of God

That Fact or Fiction pile is clearly designed to keep me off of Wrath. Why not put the Temple Garden into a four-pile? If he can’t beat Wrath, he can’t beat Wrath; Temple Garden is irrelevant. If he can’t beat Fact or Fiction and two awesome cyclers – and I think he was in dire times – an extra Temple Garden is irrelevant.

Heezy: “This one is impossible to do without knowledge of his hand. I’d probably just scoop, though.”

Madness #4:

I played four copies of Fact or Fiction this game.

Flooded Strand
Renewed Faith
Sensei’s Divining Top
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath

Split:

Flooded Strand
Sensei’s Divining Top

Renewed Faith
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath

I already had a Top at this point (but it was in my hand) and had played four Fact or Fictions. Library manipulation was clearly not a place he could push me. Given that, I’m never taking the first pile, which is a land and no real additional value (there is basically the same land in the other pile, along with a bonus land and a better manipulation card in-context).

4a)

How do you read this one? I am not showing a Top, but I flipped a Top into the FoF. What does that tell you about my demeanor? Will I risk my Top for an Impulse? If you put me on no Top, I think it has to be Top against (the other four cards are not that great). However only a buffoon is going to put himself in a Top against when he can control it for a second (wait one turn and draw). Am I bad enough to waste a Fact or Fiction and five mana for no reason whatsoever?

I think he had to pick an axis on this. What about:

4b)

Flooded Strand
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath

Renewed Faith
Sensei’s Divining Top

… Land against?

This is actually not great because I will always take the three-pile. What if he does this instead?

4c)

Flooded Strand
Windswept Heath

Renewed Faith
Sensei’s Divining Top
Temple Garden

… Onslaught lands against?

This one is better because I won’t always take the first pile. In fact, I would probably take the two-pile here, because with a Top in play, the Onslaught duals are the most relevant cards available. He doesn’t have to give me a free card. Also, he can try to leverage the two points of life I’ll have to spend.

Heezy: “Sac lands against is correct if you have Top.”

Madness #5

I eventually got that one (shocking, I know). The second game was much harder because he played double Rootwalla on turn 1, and had Gigapede access from turn 5 (earliest possible) with all the toys. I let him work me with the Rootwallas and got him to tap for the pumps where I could Echoing Truth them both during combat (he had no Green left), which put me in position for my first FoF, where he has Gigapede in play:

Condemn
Fact or Fiction
Island
Renewed Faith
Wrath of God

Split:

Condemn
Fact or Fiction
Island
Renewed Faith

Wrath of God

This is a bold split, and seems like the right split if you think of Wrath as a legitimate solution to Gigapede, and clearly U/G is in command with Gigapede in play. I happily took the four-pile and played Loxodon Hierarch with Akroma’s Vengeance backup. It took a while but I just Memory Lapsed and Remanded Gigapede six times over the course of the game, managing the board with Wrath and Vengeance while drawing a million cards. A Hierarch, Dragon, and some Saproling tokens eventually got it.

Heezy: “This one is easy. It’s FoF and Faith against Wrath of God, Island and Condemn. What does Wrath do about Giggles? What you don’t want is for him to draw into a real way of getting back into the game.”

One thing we concluded is that a lot of players are not splitting Fact or Fiction strategically. Rather than using the information to formulate a long-game strategy or guide the opponent’s road, they are playing “for the moment,” and just trying to minimize the amount of damage this mighty card will deal right now. They aren’t getting the most out of the interactive aspect of the card, which means that as great as it is to get two, or even three or four, cards for one… It’s even better to get better cards along with that bulk card advantage. Unless some unsung strategist like Kowal or Heezy presents me with a clearly better option that no one else has ever heard of, I’m definitely starting out the upcoming season with Fact or Fiction in my stack!

LOVE
MIKE

Card Of The Week

Whenever I see Natural Order, or have it played against me, I always think of the classic latin line Veni, Vidi, Vici in english which you may be aware of means: I came, I saw, I conquered. And let’s face facts, a NO resolved can mean serious trouble.

Usually when a NO hits, and chances are that Dryad Arbor land is the one thing sac’d then it is pretty safe to say a progenitus is hitting the field. How many times have you been on that end of the beat stick? I know for myself more than a few times and every time I just think to myself, why don’t I play a deck with progenitus and natural order?

This card is seriously underestimated and can have your name written all over it once the hammer drops, that is this week it the card of the week.