Monday, June 6, 2011

here i return, hero's and villans

Two-format events always pose the question of how much time and energy to put into each. It's tempting to focus all the time on Legacy, a format that is allegedly more fun to play and to build decks for compared to current Caw-Blade—I mean, Standard. However, both formats are going to be crucial. Add to this the fact that Standard is actually really, really awesome if you enjoy playing Caw-Blade (which I do).

Caw-Blade mirrors used to be a lot more draw-dependent, but fortunately New Phyrexia is full of great cards that help fix this! The really cool part is that over half of the ten best cards in the set go in Caw-Blade! (Batterskull, Dismember, Mental Misstep, Sword of War and Peace, Spellskite, Phyrexian Metamorph.) This doesn't even count cards like Despise or Deceiver Exarch that go in three-color variants of Caw-Blade.

Yeah, I know. It sounds like I am trolling, but in all seriousness, why not look for the silver lining? It's no secret that this format is a one-deck format, and I know that is not what people want to hear, but I'm just keeping it real with you. The interesting thing about New Phyrexia's impact on Caw-Blade is that it has made the mirror match an exceptionally skill-testing chess match. There are so many subtle nuances, varied and complex lines of play, and tiny edges to be gained. It's great if you like chess, though I concede it is not the best for the game, since most Magic players are not playing Magic for a pure chess match.

The way I see it, though, this format won't be around forever. I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't make it through the month. However, while it is here, I aim to make the most of it. It's very rare indeed for a format to go the direction that this one has. Was the Academy era completely busted? Yeah, but while it was around, you might as well get your turn 1 kills in and laugh about it. Everything changes, and this too shall pass, so why not just enjoy it while it is here? Why not find the beauty? We may never get to see something like this again.

The SCG Invitational and the Standard Grand Prix in Singapore were basically the last two events for challengers to step up and prove that nothing needs to be banned. As I write this, there is still one more day of competition in both, but I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Caw-Blade utterly dominates both (probably even the Legacy portion of the Invitational!).
Caw-Blade's completely unrivaled success since its very inception is without dispute, but recently, it has been becoming more and more clear that Caw-Blade is the most dominant Standard deck of all time.

Have there been other broken decks? Absolutely, but you always have to look at decks in context. Faeries? Jund? Valakut? None of these decks come even remotely close to the level of dominance enjoyed by Caw-Blade. To find a worthy candidate to consider for the all-time title, we have to look at Full-On Affinity and Full-On Academy. The thing is, as broken as those decks were, they both could be targeted by hate. Oxidize? Meltdown? These hateful cards didn't stop those decks from dominating at completely unheard of levels, but they did help keep them from getting to the numbers that Caw-Blade (and only Caw-Blade) has been at for months.

Have there been Top 8s of all Affinity? Yeah, but that's not the question. Neither Affinity nor Academy was able to dominate for nearly as long because both were the target of multiple bans—Skullclamp, Arcbound Ravager, Disciple of the Vault, the artifact lands, as well as Tolarian Academy, Windfall, Time Spiral, and Lotus Petal. Both formats were broken down due to the rise of degenerate strategies with so much power that no single ban could solve the format's problems.

For instance, just look what happened to Affinity when Skullclamp alone was banned. Did it hurt Affinity? Well, sort of. In reality, Affinity lived on and no longer had to compete with other Skullclamp decks. Elf and Nail and Goblins were no longer realistic deck choices.
The last thing we want is for cards to get banned that actually push out Caw-Blade's competition.
There are some outspoken critics that claim Standard is fine or, comically enough, actually the "best format ever." If your metric is "skill-testing," then sure, this is definitely a very skill-testing format (as long as you understand that the primary skill being tested is how good you are at the Caw-Blade mirror).

Those who say that SCG Open players are just not incentivized to innovate are deluded. The incentive is winning. I'll concede that the skill involved in Caw-Blade mirrors is more pronounced at the amateur level, but the amateur level is where the vast majority of Magic takes place.
Besides, it isn't as if Caw-Blade didn't crush at the Pro Tour and the GPs. Those who say that other strategies are good or even better, please go ahead and look at the scoreboard. Those who say that Splinter Twin beats Caw-Blade have to remember two things.

1) Maybe there should be 70% Caw-Blade, 20% Twin, 10% everything else, but the format is never really going to look like that. There are just too many players who will never play Caw-Blade out of contrarian desires or card availability or personal style. As a result, Caw-Blade will always be underplayed, so trying to hate it out is a generally losing proposition.

2) I agree with you completely that two weeks ago Twin beat Caw-Blade. How do you suppose the Twin of tomorrow does against the Caw-Blade of tomorrow?

Let's say that your Twin deck beats a random Caw-Blade opponent 65% of the time (which I suspect is pretty generous). What do you think an expert Caw-Blade player's win percentage in the mirror is? Caw-Blade mirror matches are actually so skill-testing that an expert Caw-Blade player is definitely going to post a record that is miles better, even in the stone mirror.
Caw-Blade is much different from Affinity and Academy in that it is inherently interactive, while those two were almost completely not. Additionally, Caw-Blade is not linear at all, attacking on so many levels that no "hosers" exist. If you would argue that Affinity or Academy (or Necro) was more dominate, I would point to the win percentages. Neither Affinity nor Academy nor Necro ever put up the kind of prolonged success that Caw-Blade has.

Is it possible that this is a function of players being worse back then; information spreading more slowly; bannings; more big events; or any number of other "excuses?" Sure, but whatever the excuse, there is no denying that no deck has ever taken such a high percentage of Top 8 slots, especially wins, for an extended period of time (let alone four months).

We are long past deciding if we are heroes or villains. Didn't you get the memo about New Phyrexia? The set's theme is "the bad guys win!" It breaks my heart to imagine Aaron Forsythe's look of sadness when he witnessed the Caw-Blade Phyrexian oil strip me of my love for Tezzeret, Mono-B, U/B, Fauna Shaman, and Splinter Twin. If the Phyrexians are a metaphor for Caw-Blade, Forsythe is Jor Kadeen.

A hero would love to tune a deck to beat the "best" deck and step up to the challenge. A hero would find underappreciated synergies, clever angles of attack, ways of playing nothing but good anti-Caw-Blade cards main, and trumps for defeating those Caw-Blade villians who just keep using the same netdeck. A hero knows he is going to have to face over half-a-dozen Caw-Blade players (and that is just in the Standard portion...) if he wants to win the event, but he is also (probably) going to have to face enough non-Caw-Blade players that only realistic and intrinsically powerful strategies will suffice. A true hero is fearless and will not back down from the enemy but knows that pure hate won't pay off without enough power to back it up. A hero would fight to the death to prove that no bans are needed to stop the best deck from two weeks ago.

A villian would play the best deck, Caw-Blade. A villain would just practice with Caw-Blade, know the sideboarding in-and-out and know which Equipment to get when. A villain knows that Caw-Blade is the best by a mile and will give him the best chances, so he uses it to extract wins from those foolish enough to not Caw-Blade themselves and uses expertise, discipline, and tactics to overcome the variance inherent in the mirror as a result of the die roll (which is so very important in Caw-Blade mirrors). A true villain is fearless and will not back down from a field comprised purely of hate and opponents who have tested against him incessantly. A villain would fight to the death to prove that bans are the only way anyone is going to stop the deck from two weeks ago.

im sorry to all the people who look forward to here from me, i'll be more active with posts, starting with tomorrow, i'll give a run down on how my draft went