Back to Basics

I was listening to the Limited Resources podcast and they had an episode with LSV where he spoke on using “Intuition” while playing Magic. I came to realize that what I had previously thought the word intuition meant, wasn’t really a realistic, or all that useful definition. LSV’s definition basically broke down to being able to use previous experience to quickly and subconsciously make decisions that “feel” right even if you can only explain them if you really thought about it.

This really made me think about things because I realized that his definition of “Intuition” is much closer to “muscle memory” or “pattern recognition”. I’ve noticed that I do this in many different things, and hadn’t been able to explain what this phenomenon is.  For example, in Magic, I can often parse out exactly what cards my opponent has in his hand by things like, cards in hand, mana left untapped, things they played on the previous turn, what creatures I have in play. I can do all this without actually examining things piece by piece, I just immediately can recognize what is happening.

Another example is in MLG Halo gameplay. When I’d play, I’d often give my teammates instructions based on different things like, where I last died, how close weapons were to respawning, what side of the map I assumed our opponents were on, where on the map my teammates are etc. I could notice the lack of opponents in a few key areas, and just turn around, and throw a grenade, and perfectly hit someone sneaking up on me despite not having ever seen him. All these things I could do without thinking from a lot of repetition.

You see the same thing with great sports players. A great wide receiver can recognize a blitz, and break off their route. A great Basketball player can anticipate his teammate and throw a perfect alley-oop. They can do this with experience and without having to think about every step of the way.

To contrast this here is something I haven’t been experienced in enough to be able to do intuitively, cooking. When people cook they can often “eyeball” measurements, intuitively know when something has been cooked long enough. I personally have to check the middle of my meat every 20 seconds, and bust out the measuring cup for every measurement no matter what.

I think that getting to a spot to where you can do things without having to break every decision or action into its constituent parts is a valuable skill to be able to learn.

Top 10 most influential Magic the Gathering Cards

These are the 10 cards I feel has had the most impact on Magic the Gathering’s history, theory, design, tournaments, and culture.

10. Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Jace the Mind Sculptor represents a lot of things in Magic the Gathering. It represents the new era of design, with its mythic rarity, and its Planeswalker status. It also represents sort of the “poster boy” of modern Magic. Additionally, it was a part of what some believe to be the best Standard deck of all time, Caw Blade, one of the most skill intensive, yet stagnate metagames of all time. Additionally Jace boasts the highest price of any card in a standard format, and is (along with Stoneforge Mystic) the most recently banned card in a Standard format. All of these put it squarely in the top 10.


Tarmogoyf is by many accounts, the best creature ever printed (ok, maybe Dark Confidant would like a word). Additionally, it was one of the most underrated cards of all time, going from dollar junk rare, to 25$ rare, to 100$ Juggernaut over time. Tarmogoyf is representative of the more recent shift from spells, to creatures, and has become a cross format star, being a must answer threat in every format from standard, to legacy.

8. Force of Will

If a card has an alternate casting cost that costs no mana, you probably want to give that card pause for thought. Force of Will is the best counterspell ever printed because it turns out, being free is worth 2 cards. It is known as the “Glue that holds legacy together” a tall order for 1 card in such a wide open format. But being able to stop unfair things on the draw is one of the most powerful things you can do it turns out.

7. Necropotence

When Magic players realized how important cards were, and how relatively unimportant life is, it didn’t take long before Necropotence became the engine for some of the most powerful combo decks of all time. Black summer was one of the first times where a meta was so warped around one card, and you were either playing Necro, or playing to beat Necro, or you weren’t going to be successful. With its influence on modern Magic Theory, Necro definitely deserves a spot on this list.

6. Golgari Grave-Troll

This is obviously more about the Dredge Mechanic as a whole, but ol’ GGT was the poster boy for this powerful mechanic. A Turbo Dredge deck didn’t truly exist in Standard, though some waves were made once Bridge from Below and Narcomeba were printed in Future Sight at the end of that standard format. However Dredge terrorized Old Extended, Legacy, and Modern alike. Fighting on an axis like this had never been done to this extent, and the deck is so ubiquitous among formats its practically a benchmark for sideboards to respect it. Its often said that Dredge will win if people forget about it, because without hate, it is a difficult and efficient enemy.

5. Jackal Pup

Jackal Pup represents a lot of Magic Philosophy. It is the poster child of aggressive “Sligh” decks of the day putting on MASSIVE pressure with its aggressive cost. It represents the knowledge that drawbacks are often not as bad as it seems. Additionally, the Pup was one of the cornerstone examples in one of the most famous pieces of Magic theory, “Who’s the Beatdown”. While it has since been usurped by cards such as Isamaru, Wild Nacatl, and Goblin Guide. It represents a shift in thinking from the creature light draw go decks of Magic’s early days.

4. Skullclamp

Skullclamp was a huge down point in Magic’s history. It was a card that warped the metagame so badly, literally every playable deck in the Meta included it. It also was the poster-boy for the Mass Standard bannings of the time, with nearly all of the relevant cards in the Affinity deck being banned. The reason I put Skullclamp on the list rather than older broken cards like say, Academy, is because I believe Skullclamp influenced the quality control of the modern game like no card ever has, and considering there has only been 1 (2 card) banning in standard since it, I think it did its job.

3. Serra Angel

When you are the lone creature in the deck simply known as “The Deck” you know you have influence. The Deck was the classic UW control deck that would control its opponents hand via amnesia and Disrupting Scepter, and then ride the back of a Serra Angel all the way to victory. Additionally, when it was reintroduced into the coreset in 7th edition after previously being deemed too powerful to be reprinted, it marked a big change in the philosophy of Modern Magic, much like Tarmogoyf cemented, from Spells, to Creatures. Despite having been surpassed by Baneslayer, it still had a big influence on Magic.

2. Tendrils of Agony

Tendrils, much like the Grave Troll, represents a type mechanic, in this case Storm, much more than itself. So many combo decks have looked to Tendrils as the kill condition of choice, from TPS, to TEPS, to ANT, to many different variations among different formats, whenever there is a combo deck, chances are it will look to win via the storm mechanic. Storm has since been called by MaRo one of the least likely mechanics to ever return, because no matter how much you think you can make it fair, you can’t. While it has shown R&D what not to do, it has also shown them with mechanics like Cascade, Replicate, and Overload, how to make similar, yet fun mechanics.

1. Black Lotus

When I’m asked by newer players, or even non-players “What is the best card in Magic?” This is the answer that is most often given. Black Lotus represents many things, it shows that not even Richard Garfield, the creator of the game, realized how big a phenomenon Magic would become, because he left it in the game, not realizing that people would have enough copies of it, or enough other cards to abuse it. It is the stuff of legend, just look at cards like Lotus Petal, and Gilded Lotus for its impact on Magic’s culture. Black Lotus is the card I believe has had the most influence on Magic of any card, as it helped propagate the game as it is today.


In general, I don’t like excess things on my body. I get uncomfortable if wearing more than one shirt. I’ve never been one to wear sunglasses, or a hat, as I constantly fidget with them on my head and face. And I also have never been one for any kind of Jewelry or other apparel. There is however one exception to this, and that are 2 of those rubber bracelets. I got them a long time ago with a friend when we were hanging out, and I’ve forgotten what was even originally written on them, as it has long since faded. However, I started wearing them again while I was recovering from depression. Ever since then, I’ve worn them and they have become symbolic to me, representing how my close friends, even without realizing, helped me recover. I’ve worn them for so long I can barely tell I’m wearing them, but when I take one off, I can immediately feel its absence. Its amazing how something so innocuous has come to represent something so important to me, despite it seemingly clashing with my normal preferences. But they now serve to remind me of where I’ve come from when I worry about “feeling behind” in life, and understand that, life is about living it to the fullest and its happiest.

8 Things I’ve learned from Magic the Gathering

Its always boggled my mind that a society that celebrates sports, movies, and music can look down upon games and see them as wastes of time or actively detrimental. Games are for me, an integral medium for social interaction, and intellectual stimulation. Games make me think more than any music, movie, or sport ever has. In turn I believe I’ve formed many of my problem solving skills and methods of thinking about different things from different games I’ve played, and none more than Magic the Gathering. Here is what MtG has taught me.

1. Always Stay Open

In Magic, especially in the draft format its important to keep an open mind or decision tree. If you hold your preconceived notions to be truth you miss things that become more apparent as more information is available. Your first pick doesn’t lock you into your colors, the rankings you have when the set comes out aren’t necessarily going to be representative of how good the card is in context etc.

The same can be said for life. Keeping an open mind is imperative to being a successful human being, sticking in traditional ideas as more new ideas come to the forefront will only hold you back. Your first love is probably not your last, your first impressions of someone aren’t always representative of them, and your parents values shouldn’t be the only things yours are based off of.

2. Mistakes Happen

In Magic, there is a saying that even the best players in the world make at least 1 mistake a game, and often many more. While you’d like to minimize the mistakes you make in a game, you often times give up some amount of value every game. Did you tap your mana the wrong way? Should you have attacked with a different creature there? Should you have taken a mulligan? But you can learn from these mistakes and apply them to later games you play

In life most people don’t think about it in such black and white terms. Its obvious for things that affect us directly. I dropped this Jar of Pickles, so now I have to clean it up. But we don’t often think of things on a macro level that can be mistakes. Could I have eaten something that was better for me? Could I have saved more of my last paycheck? Should I have used a different tone of voice when I last talked to my significant other to avoid that fight? The people who succeed in life have best figured out how to learn from them, and apply them later on in life.

3. Play to your outs

Magic players have a tenancy to take plays they see as “objectively good” and apply them when the context doesn’t call for it. Sometimes you have to make a realization that you can’t win making “normal” plays you have to only make plays that will let you win if everything goes perfectly, even if they seem unorthodox. Assume the exact thing you need will happen because if not, you lose anyways, so why not try?

In life this usually manifests in decisions that take us out of our comfort zone, yet in reality have a little to no impact if it doesn’t work out perfectly. Want to get to know someone new? Introduce yourself. You’ll never get to meet them otherwise, so while you might not get along with them, or they may blow you off, you’re guaranteed to never speak with them if you don’t try. Want to learn to play an instrument? Do it, find the resources out there and try learning. Maybe you musical ear isn’t that good, but you certainly can’t succeed by never trying. This is something I personally have trouble applying to life, but I’m learning to get better.

4. You can only play the cards you’re dealt

This is an easy to relate to concept for anyone who’s played any card game, but you can only use the resources your dealt. In magic, you can’t complain that you would’ve won had you drawn this, or not gotten mana screwed, or just had opened X card. If you waste mental energy on what you don’t have, you miss playing the things you do have as well as possible.

In life, people always want what they don’t have, but they’d just hope they stumble upon them rather than earn them. Why don’t I have a great job? Why do I live in a shitty apartment? You have to have the resources to succeed and if you don’t its because you aren’t actively setting yourself up to get them. Additionally, maybe things would improve if you looked to use what you do have in better ways, like getting a raise or promotion at work by working harder, or saving money to get a new car.

5. Use your life as a resource

The number 1 mistake I see amateur Magic players make is that they guard their life total and will preserve it at all costs. Better Magic players know that they should use their life as a resource, just like cards, and mana, and creatures. Its a balance, but sometimes you have to take 2 on turn 2 rather than block with your bear because you know what, you need the bear later, and 2 damage, isn’t that much when you start with 20.

I think the same is true for life. People spend so much of their life trying to preserve it that they effectively waste life trying to gain life. Enjoy people, experiences, and things in life, even if you have to “waste time” doing it. Because at the end of the day, its not who lived the longest, its about who lived life to the fullest.

6. Find the thing you want to be doing, and find the best way to do it.

Deckbuilding in Magic can pretty much be summed up by the above sentence. How do I want to win? Is my plan to kill you with a Grave Titan? Well find the best way you can to stop yourself from losing before you win with it. Is your plan to win with this 2 card combo? Find all the ways you can draw it faster, and protect it cheaply? Is your plan to throw burn at your opponents dome until you’ve dealt 20 points of damage? Find the most damage for the least mana, and put them in. Its really that simple.

In life I think people look for the best way, without really knowing what they want to do. Do you want a career that requires a degree? Then you should probably go to college. Do you want to be your own boss? You should look into opening a small business. Don’t worry about what other people think is right, just find something you want to do, and then worry about how to do it then, don’t take an arbitrary “correct” path in life if it doesn’t lead somewhere you want to be.

7. Everything has a cost, even if its not readily apparent.

People look at cards like Spellbook in Magic and assume they’re awesome. “Look at this Ornithoptor,” they say “why wouldn’t I play it, its free!”. Of course that card has a cost. Its cost is the fact that you have 1 less card in hand, 4 less impacting cards in your deck etc. The trick is evaluating these in this context, then figuring out what is truly worth it.

Man why do we even have half galleons of milk anyways? I could get 1 galleon for way less than 2 half galleons. Ah yes, but the reason this is is that you’re paying a premium on half galleons because you don’t have as much milk to consume before it goes bad, it doesn’t matter that the second half galleon of the galleon cost less than half of your second half galleon jug of milk if you just decide to throw it away after you buy it. You need to look at the relative costs of things whether it be time, effort, money and figure things out from this context.

8. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to stabilize.

The prevailing wisdom in Magic is that you should never throw resources, especially cards away. But the truth is sometimes you need to 2 for 1 yourself in order to set yourself up to succeed later. Your best laid plans won’t matter if you’re at 0 life before you can put them into actions.

This point means a lot to me in life. I’ve had to give up many things I valued in life in order to just get my life turned around. Sometimes you have to realize that yes while it would be nice if you could go by the script, sometimes you need to take a step back and look out for yourself before you move further in this great game of life. Would I like it if I had been able to stay in the University I went to? Would I have liked to have a better job than I do now? Sure, but I had to look after my own happiness and well being first because if I didn’t I would have squandered those opportunities anyways. Its hard to do well in College if you’re in a constant state of depression, its hard to meet people, maintain existing relationships, and keep a good job if you’re in a state of mental flux. But sacrificing those things was the most important thing I’ve done in my life, even if it looks bad on paper, it was integral to me succeeding in life, and I stand by how my life has played out.

After all. Life is just a big game anyways.