Jason’s Archives: Magic: the Flattening

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Prerelease weekend isn't what it used to be. Normally, on Friday night of the prerelease the Godslayer and I would head over to his Dad's house on the east side of the state to crash there overnight. This would reduce our drive in the morning to about 45 minutes, first to Garden City then in later years to Taylor, Michigan. Roughly 400 players congregated to play in the prerelease main event -- a grueling eight round gauntlet that provided a box to everyone in the Top 8 and two boxes to first.

I always did OK at these events, but I really hit my stride during Lorwyn-Morningtide and Shadowmoor-Eventide, getting 7th, 2nd, 3rd and 5th at those events, respectively. Not bad for a guy who last week was reasonably certain Boros Reckoner cost four mana. If you scrubbed out of the main event, it was OK because there were smaller 32-mans and side drafts to keep everyone occupied while their friends were still battling for supremacy in the main event.

Besides, there was no reason to go home because Pandemonium games in Garden City usually had 2-Headed Giant Sealed on Sunday. During Time Spiral and Lorwyn blocks the Godslayer and I were on a bit of a 2HG tear as well.

A whole weekend of playing, boxes for the Top 8, tons of side events and trade binders are far as the eye could see. The good times seemed like they might last forever, but it was not to be. Wizards would soon announce that prerelease events were to take place in smaller, local gaming stores as opposed to as one monolithic event that only favored a major TO. Gone were the days of boxes for all of the Top 8.

Here's Where It Gets Surprising

I actually don't mind the switch toward favoring the LGS.

Until this set came out, I was still driving 90 minutes to Lansing because they have five stores, and therefore it was possible to play in up to seven events, if sleep and finishing every event weren't factors (they weren't, always). Even so, I still liked the LGS concept.

With attendance usually capped, you weren't playing eight or nine rounds but rather a more realistic five or six, maximum. Your LGS got to run a few tournaments, make some money in the actual local community and introduce newer players to the people they'd interact with if they came to more events (hint hint). And Wizards got to run cool promotions that only work in a smaller setting, like the Helvault and the Maze Run.

I currently play at a store five minutes from my house which offers generous prizes, but the payout is also incredibly "flat". No box for first place at the prerelease because payout went down past the halfway point for attendance. Even though I got second at the midnight event, you might be surprised to find I share another controversial opinion.

It's better for the store to flatten the prize payout.

I used to agree with Jay -- you want more prizes? Play better next time! That was a great scheme when there was one big event and the people who managed to top-eight after eight or nine grueling rounds (on top of getting up early for a twelve hour day where prizes weren't exactly GP-caliber) deserved a box at the least.

However, things are different now. Perhaps it's my identifying primarily as a financier and only secondarily as a player, but even when I'm winning or getting Top 4 at events at my LGS, I think a flatter prize payout is good. Whether you give me a box for second or 12 packs, I'll be back next event. It's my LGS, it's close, they're finally sanctioned to run bigger events (remember, Odyssey games just opened fewer than five months ago) and if the community thrives, I thrive.

If you think of new players as new binders and new customers for my eBay store, you can probably see the value in a flat prize payout right away. Some kid who went 2-3 and is proud as hell at his achievement getting a pack or three for his mediocre finish might come back next time. But if we take both strategies to their extreme conclusion, let's see which is worse and that will help us decide which way to lean.

Extrapolation Time

Two scenarios -- the store is in an area easily accessed by college students, easy for parents to drop off their younger kids, and can hold up to 50 players. The store makes one of the following announcements on its website regarding the prize structure of the prerelease.

  1. Prizes will be paid 100% to the player in first place -- if attendance hits 50, 100 packs to the winner, determined by tiebreakers.
  2. Two packs will go to each entrant, regardless of record as long as the entrant doesn't drop. Top 4 all get t-shirts and free entry to next prerelease.

Those are the two competing philosophies taken to their extremes -- completely top-heavy and completely flat. Which do you think would be more likely to generate 50 entrants? Granted, option one might bring out the more competitive players from a few towns over, but even the spikiest among us can probably agree that the second option will bring more players to your LGS.

Look, if people are sufficiently spikey, they'll play an event as long as there is upside. A totally flat prize payout may turn some away, but if you strike a decent balance, you can favor the flat side of the equation and it will serve your community well.

Besides, there is another factor to consider. Prize payout is a function of attendance. The minimum payout required per the DCI is two packs per entrant (my LGS went well above this, as always). If you pay 100% for the Top 4 players and there are 25 in attendance, those players may get the exact same prize payout as a flatter payout with upwards of 50 players.

Why not do what favors the LGS? Remember guys, it's a prerelease, not a GP. The point is to introduce the set to everyone. More players in the store means more people trading and selling what they opened, it means more packs in the prize pool and it means more potential regular customers, because a store cannot survive without those.

Decklist Time!

There aren't any; this weekend was the prerelease, dummy! I think I'll use this space to talk about a few cards about which my opinion has changed based on playing Limited, and which may warrant testing, picking up or discarding.

My initial opinion was that this guy was pretty terrible in Standard. After a few situations where both players were in top-deck mode and I had an active Scrivener, I like him in Limited (although I almost always drew Merciless Eviction right after, which was unfortunate). He makes you play like a terrible player in Standard, however. You'll either dump your hand and overextend trying to get advantage or you'll have a guy who can't attack or block because everything kills him and why play a very conditional Dark Confidant to use as a chump blocker? Still, the games where both players were topdecking he was a help. I don't know whether this matters in Standard, but he exceeded my expectations so it's possible his power level is higher than we initially thought.


If you're not listening to Brainstorm Brewery and following Corbin, Ryan, Marcel and me on twitter, you don't know our very public opinion about this card. You're a reader of my articles and I thank you for that, but I really think you're doing it wrong if you don't try to catch BSB every week. Four heads are better than one, and we all talked it out and came to the conclusion that this card could be a powerhouse in Standard.

It's a Phyrexian Arena that occasionally serves as a Debtor's Knell. Getting the same removal spell back two turns in a row may seem like a best-case scenario, but it was something I hadn't considered when I first saw the card. I was fixated on how it either drew you a card or reanimated a dude. I hadn't considered how you could control what was in your yard with Deathrite Shaman and keep using the same spells over and over. Seeing this in action made me like it even more, and if you didn't go deep at $2.50 when I said to, you may end up regretting it in the next few weeks.


You don't ever want this attacking you.


You don't ever want this attacking you.


I used to think five mana was too much to pay for Zealous Persecution. Seeing how good it is in this limited format makes me wonder whether Aristocrats decks, at the very least, want it. They're running Electrickery for the love of Garfield. You may actually want to test this -- five mana may not be too much to pay after all, and 2B for Loss may not be a turn too late like I always thought. At the very least, my opinion of this card for Limited makes me think it may be first-pickable, and anything that surprises you in Limited warrants testing in Constructed. A principle illustrated nicely by Izzet Staticaster.


Why did he have to cost four? How many good cards are we not considering because everything costs four mana and there's no room? This guy actually just exceeded the crap out of expectations and ruined lives at the prerelease. If no one is going to play Mutilate like I'd like them to, he may get there. His lack of evasion and terrible mana cost-to-power/toughness ratio will make him fly under the radar, but be ready to pick him up in case someone does something.

Make no mistake, I don't think he's good in any current constructed deck, but I am listing cards that overperformed this weekend and he qualifies. I expected little and saw him give people fits. I had three maindeck Ubul Sar Gatekeepers so I didn't sweat him, but other people got their domes caved in.


I don't hate building around [card Trostani, Selesnya's Voice]Trostani[/card] right now given how much I like Advent of the Wurm and how much life I saw her gain us in Séance, especially when we boarded in [card Rhox Faithmender]Faithmender[/card]. The speed of the format puts a lot of pressure on early guys like Loxodon Smiter and you may have to throw some elves under the bus, so the format may be too fast right now for a 7-drop even if it practically wins the game with Trostani herself out. Getting a Summoner with Seance, though, and therefore being able to populate the Summoner herself is absurd and could be worth testing. This card seemed like a great limited card to me and I was surprised when it exceeded lofty expectations and bordered on absurd. Cluestones make this a turn five or six play and you have to be really far behind for it not to be enough. Combine with Deputy of Acquitals for maximum value.


No one, not even the people like me who defended his combo potential, has talked much about scavenging regular dudes with decent mana cost-to-power/toughness ratios. It comes down early enough to matter, it's a nice followup to something like Grisly Salvage (Drown in Filth is another card I'm testing) and it got out of hand fast in Limited. He's not terrible with Deadbridge Chant -- taking smaller dudes out of your yard to guarantee any creatures you reanimate are big ones.

He also makes your dudes outclass opponents' later drops and keep the pressure on early. Is Naya dumping too many threats for you to get there with one bigger dude when what you need are smaller ones? Yes, but when creatures trade in combat and they're topdecking, you'll build your own Frankenstein's monster of a fatty and have inevitability. This guy warrants testing in a scenario I'd not really considered -- a non-combo deck that just makes the most of scavenging. I barely beat the guy who cast this against me and my deck had all of the removal.

Since I had very low expectations for most of this set, nothing really underperformed in my opinion. Standard is about to get a shot in the arm, and I'm all in favor of a change.

Meet me back here next week where we can talk about how the release weekend went.

23 thoughts on “Jason’s Archives: Magic: the Flattening

  1. Nice article, Jason.

    I disagree with the “Want better prizes, then play better!” mentality.

    You barely mention a big aspect, this was Sealed. A format whereby you’ve got to make the best of out of largely random cards you get dealt. It’s not a format whereby skill massively supersedes luck. Even the best player won’t claim consistent victories if the Gods have dealt them an absolute pile of crap.

    Perhaps I’m biased because I’m only a mediocre player, but I prefer the larger spread of prize structure. The more narrow the pyramid, the more it becomes more exclusively desirable to only the top demographic. The vast majority are young casual players at my store, who much appreciate even a single pack in winnings over nothing. It helps justify and mitigate the £25 we all pay to enter.

    1. I don\’t think mentioning that it was sealed is worth mentioning. While it\’s true you can\’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit, the best rare in my deck at the prerelease was Deadbridge Goliath. I did so well because I built optimally, knew what the cards did coming into the event so I didn\’t spend time reading instead of building, had experience with the old Ravnica block so I was prepared for a ton of gold cards and I didn\’t get greedy and splash when I didn\’t need to, favoring consistency over explosiveness. I outplayed my opponents and won that way. If the better players didn\’t win more often in sealed, no one would want to play it. If you don\’t think skill supercedes luck in limited you may be trying to rationalize underperforming. I\’ve had unbuildable pools, everyone has. But I would never claim it was a luck-based format when better players win consistently.

    2. Jason made some good points here. There is a lot of prep that can improve results in sealed. It is also incredibly important to quickly be able to identify the colors the pool is telling you to play, so that you can spend every minute possible finding the best build. Original Ravnica was a super complicated sealed format, and heavily rewarded players that could build very intricate yet resilient manabases, as an example.

      Put simply: yes, sometimes even Phil Ivey gets cold-decked; it even happens to John Finkel. They still do better than almost anyone over time. Because they are that good.

      I also agree with you both on the flatter payouts for more casual events. I still think at least the top 2-8 should get a good bit more than the 32nd, but that good bit more could still be 12 packs instead of 3-4. It is better for everyone over the long run to give incentive for PLAYING over winning with some level of regularity.

  2. I enjoyed the article and have fallen into the same camp as Lee (and yourself) with regards to prize structure. I actually play at the most competitive LGS in our area…but they are always trying to get new customers and a flatter structure invites the casuals..though I did stop attending another stores prereleases after I split 1st (in a 55 person event) and got 6 packs…so there’s definitely a catch 22 with regards to prize structure.

  3. I agree with Lee Bosley : Sealed is often a very swingy format as far as “bombs” and the luck of the draw are concerned, so in some cases you would really be rewarding people for the luck of their draw.

    Having a top-heavy price structure at prereleases would probably also mean more cheating, sadly.

    Speaking of cards that performed well during the weekend, I enjoyed Ready // Willing a great deal, it makes for some sweet blowouts in combat.

    1. I don\’t agree with him. Better players win more often in Sealed. It\’s not pack wars, you still have to evaluate and build in a short time, construct the mana base correctly and play well. Sure, a bad pool can screw a good player, but a good pool won\’t necessarily make a bad player do better than they should.

        1. Better than a lot of the paid articles which just re-iterate what the forum has been talking about for weeks. At least his articles are entertaining.

          1. I will say this- Alt’s articles are usually far superior to the ones on the pay side of things, even if this one wasn’t as good as most of his articles.

  4. Jason,

    Seriously, why are your articles free and we get lame shit on the other side.

    Also, I really like blood scrivener. That card is ridiculous and I’ve never played with it. I don’t know why everyone isn’t all bulging in their pants when they look at it.

    1. Well, Jose, lots of reasons.

      First of all, I don\’t agree with the premise that my premium side colleagues\’ articles are \”lame shit\”. Sometimes it\’s tough to come up with a slew of good stuff when the weekly article cycle moves faster than changes in finance and they tend to write shorter, pithier articles as a result. Since my articles are pulled out of my ass I can write 3,000 words if I want to. But I think Corbin writes pretty lengthy articles, for example, and he\’s one of the better Magic writers anywhere, not just on QS. I like a lot of the stuff on the Premium side, frankly. It\’s honestly unfair to compare the two sides- I don\’t see not being premium as being some sort of demotion for me because I would really resist being moved over there.

      I keep my articles on the free side because I like my articles being shared outside of QS. Anyone can read them without having to be an insider, and that lets me write for a wider audience which I really like. Being on the free side is really working for me and I hope QS agrees having me here is working.

      I think Blood Scrivener is awkward. He\’s potentially powerful, but there is better card draw in black not getting played (Underworld connections comes to mind). To do anything he has to live, you\’ll have to dump your hand, and if you don\’t he\’s a bad Highborn Ghoul (my friend Perry gave me that and I liked it). You either have a durdle or you dump into a wrath. If you draw two lands, he\’s turned off. If you draw a card you want to sandbag, he\’s turned off. He\’s less of a liability than was Bob, but he\’s way less powerful. Since I think Sire should see play, the combination of the two could get there, but that may or may not be too \”cute\”.

      1. I acknowledge your comments about the premium content. I don’t think it is all lame, There are just a few articles that should be switched

        That being said, Scrivener is not a replacement or additional Bob. Blood Scrivener is part of an abusive combo. His ability can happen anytime you have no cards in hand.

    1. I don\’t know. It does that every time I use an apostrophe \’\’\’\’

      I figured since it was just for me, I was the only one who could see that. It will be a pain in the ass if I cannot use contractions.

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