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Cramer’s Corner: Week 2

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern, Standard

Cramer’s Corner: Week 2

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Welcome back everyone! This week’s questions share a common thread of my experience or my opinion on several Magic topics. If I keep getting tons of questions for these mailbag sections I can really start grouping weeks to share commonalities and that prospect is very exciting to me. If you have a question or decklists or brew or anything Magic related, feel free to send them to mtgzach@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to put it on here.

Have you ever written about your Magic Origin Story?

No. Next Question!

Just kidding! I’d LOVE to indulge you all with some self-centered narrative storytelling. I learned Magic from my best friend Sam’s dad who taught me how to play in Middle School after I brought some cards I’d gotten from a 5th grade birthday party and brought them to a get together. My interest in any other format than casual Magic wasn’t spurred until the summer after high school and Innistrad was right on the horizon. I went to my Local Game Store and bought 4 copies of Birthing Pod and sleeved up a deck that, as I can remember, looked something like this:

The deck also contained the following:

1 Grave Titan (borrowed from a friend)
1 Wurmcoil Engine (borrowed from a friend)
2 Solemn Simulacrum (borrowed one from a friend)
3 Birds of Paradise (because I went over budget)

Or, at least that’s how I remember it. Let me tell you, I was HOOKED. I don’t think I did well at FNM but I had a ton of fun and tooled and toyed with Birthing Pod until it rotated. I got into RG Tron later that year (Karns and Wurmcoils were less than $15, Urza Lands are $1, Groves were $15 – those were the days). I worked on building Birthing Pod in Modern, eventually setting on Kiki Pod as I slowly built into legacy (Nic Fit with Shocklands, right as RTR came out). From there, I played FNM and 1/2Ks every summer and joined the local Magic club at my college. My senior year of College, I started grinding PTQs and later PPTQs and I’ve been a spike ever since.

What decks do you love sitting across the table from?

I’m going to treat this question as: “What are some of your favorite matchups to play?” For me, I loved UWR Control mirrors around RTR Modern. I also loved to play RUG Scapeshift versus Splinter Twin. I appreciated the intricacy of the ANT Storm versus Miracles matchup in Legacy; learning the grinding station style of multiple Tendrils provided such an interesting dynamic. Another matchup I always remembered enjoying was the 4C Saheeli versus Mardu matchup once the Avacyn tech took hold. All of these matchups featured dynamic games where players would sculpt and develop waiting for a critical turn to pull the trigger on their building advantage. That kind of gameplay is just chalked full of interesting decisions and discussions; it’s the little incremental advantages that build to the culminating turn. The parts of Magic that are most engaging for me is using prior information to dive deeper into lines that get progressively more complex but can be solved based on my knowledge from previous terms. Put differently, if I can go through several early turns with an inkling that someone has multiple counter or removal spells, those notions will only get more clear as the game progresses and I’ll be able to play around those things appropriately and maybe even win that critical turn because of my focus on planning for it from turn 1.

When playing competitive magic, be it FNM, SCG Open or your grind towards the Pro Tour, how do you mentally prepare before matches and between sideboarded games? How do you see these habits contribute to your success and your overall approach to the game? Where if at all could you improve on in this category? 

I constantly immerse myself in Magic content. Article, decklists, coverage and endless Facebook conversations about Magic. Because of this, a large part of my game comes from breaking down those thoughts and turning them into new sideboards, new decklists, and new brews. I also have spent the vast majority of my Magic career going it alone. Thankfully, Magic Online has offered me the ability to jam tons of games without the need for a surrounding community. This massive theory and testing has really refined my ideas on how to build decks and sideboard. Any deck I bring to a tournament is constructed from a netdeck into a 75 that produces a 60 that is comfortable for ME in every matchup I expect to see when I walk into that tournament. This testing process as well as deck construction built to my interests and aims produces a very smooth sideboarding process where I know exactly what I think my aims should be and how my deck will reflect those aims. This is a huge step that propelled me from an FNM player to what I playfully refer to as a “PPTQ endboss.” However, I believe the biggest hole in my game that has always existed is that all of that data, all of that theory, and all of that work is fact checked and performed by the same person. Meaning, I am the person who decides if I’m focusing on the right stuff, I am the person who decides if my approach is right and very rarely do I get a second opinion. This allows me to get tons of work done, but, sometimes I’m focusing on the wrong work and I don’t have someone to correct me or pull me out of whatever rabbit-hole I get stuck in. This is a glaring error in my process and in the last year, I’ve really tried to open my game up to outside input and put myself in a position to learn from others and have others help me just as much as I can help them. I’ll touch briefly on emotion as well. Emotionally, I try and keep a cool head. I’ve recently tried to stop thinking about my overall record whenever possible and focus in on playing each turn as optimally as possible. The preparation I detailed above is incredibly thorough and I believe that when I come to a tournament, my preparation sets me off well to have a strong finish. If you know me, you know I try to be friendly, positive, and try and crack jokes during games – even when I’m in the zone. However, you also know that sometimes I tilt. Hard. This immense preparation definitely gives me a sense of entitlement. Coming from the world of chess where winning a tournament was all about raw skill meeting strict memorization, I will always believe preparation met with implementation is what will win games. Because of that, the implicit variance in Magic has always been slightly jarring to me. Losing to someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on or is making provably incorrect lines and winning anyway drives me up a wall. This hubris is a huge negative in my game and I’ve made a real effort to acknowledge it and move away from it as much as possible in the coming year.

What was your initial reaction to Brian Demars’ article about “Modern Does Not Suck”? Do you think some of the backlash he received was justified? Are the people offended by the article the “frustrated spikes” the article is talking about?

At the risk of sounding like one of the people in the comments page, I think the hate that came out of this article isn’t about the point, but, how swarmily, and smugly the points are made. He says great, true, things about Modern: there’s lots of decks, it’s relatively cheap, there’s something for everyone etc etc but the way he makes his points are just so incredibly off-putting. I’d certainly describe myself as a Spike and on my worst days, I’m probably a frustrated Spike, but, I don’t think those are the people complaining about the article. I think at the core, the people who are upset about the article are people who don’t feel like Modern is the format they were promised. People who had a deck they liked to play in the past, people who had their deck banned, people who’ve had their deck pushed out of the metagame, and people who don’t have the same access to Modern as someone who calls RIW Hobbies his home base. I think Brian’s major failing as a writer is that is tone is very hit or miss for his audience. He complains about people being upset about variance and then writes 3 paragraphs on his negative variance. Pick a side, Brian! But, the article, if written less haughtily, really would have been wonderful and made some really great points. Cut out some hyperbole (“best format ever”), cut out your variance woes, and try to highlight the point you’re trying to make rather than clouding it in anecdotes and sarcasm and you have an incredible article that doesn’t rustle any jimmies.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on SCG promoting Modern and eliminating Standard as an Open event outside of the team constructed format.

A fellow Magic player named Joe Stempo made a great point that a huge part of SCG opting to move away from Standard has to do with the popularity of Standard. SCG Commentators have been much more critical of standard than your regular GP commentators. This is to be expected when the content isn’t under the banner of Wizards of the Coast. I think, as Joe had said, if Standard gets healthy, SCG will bring it back into regular rotation. In building on this point, though, Modern is and always will be incredibly popular so long as it retains the ability to let all players be relatively competitive with the decks they love. The opportunity to build a deck you love and be able to have it be legal and playable from now until the end of time is really enjoyable. Moreover, Wizards pushes this format to be affordable so you can jump ship if “till the end of time” sounds like too much commitment. Modern is fun, flexible, and carefully watched over and this fact is very drawing to the larger population and it makes marketing sense to shift towards a format like that as the SCG Tour becomes more known and more available to casually competitive players.

Do you think that bringing the Core Set idea back into standard rotation will be a good idea or bad idea and what reprint or new cards do you expect from the Core Set?

I think Core Sets are great for new players, but, not great for older players. I think that the value in Core Sets is offering a much more palatable set in a Wizards model that revolves around constantly putting out new sets. Core Sets allow for awesome reprints that help improve Standard: Negate, Naturalize, Duress, Disenchant, generic removal spells that can be evergreen staples. I’m sure we can all agree that having Negate as a constant standard card has greatly improved our Standard environments and Core Sets can only build on that model. I think Core Sets should be designed to get new players into Magic and I think the intro decks they made when Core Sets were a staple of formats were excellent and having the ability to bring back smatterings of old sets without Return to X Part 4 Billion becoming a regular occurrence offers a lot of unique design space to help make Standard exciting and unique without feeling like we’ve done all this before. As always, balancing is important but I think having a reasonable number of answers available in formats helps them stay relevant and healthy for longer and I’ll welcome that with open arms.

That concludes this week’s Mailbag segment. Remember, if you’d like to submit a question for next week, post a comment below or send your question to mtgzach@gmail.com

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