Simon Says #23: The Axis of Aggression and M13 Draft

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It’s core set summer, the perfect time to revisit some of Magic‘s fundamental strategic concepts! Today’s opening discussion premieres a short slideshow which covers the Axis of Aggression with its fundamental conflict between beatdown and control. This episode marks the first anniversary of Simon Says, and I hope that you continue to enjoy the show as much as I do working on it.

Follow me on Twitter @simongoertzen.

  1. Congratulations on one year with The Academy! I really enjoyed your opening discussion, and I’m looking forward to the draft videos. Do you feel that control escalation and aggro escalation can occur in Constructed formats as well?

  2. I really liked the visualization of your thoughts in the intro. The use of Comic Sans MS made me cringe a little, but other than that it was great stuff!

  3. usually I’m a huge fan of these vids, but I have to say you played the second game of the second match with much less skill than usually.

    in turn three, you were presented with the option of countering his 3/3 or keeping the soul scatter in hand. in such situations, it is 100% of the time better to counter his creature. NOT countering it means that the counterspell will either rot in your hand while you play out your own creatures and spells, or that you run the serious risk of giving your opponent a lot of tempo by sitting back and keeping your mana up instead of casting spells.

    That’s exactly the case in this match – you took 6 damage from the 3/3 which could have been avoided, didn’t do anything in your fifth turn, and eventualy counterd the arms dealer, which (had you simply counterd the 3/3 earlier) you could have sould drained.

    I mean, what if he becomes suspicious of you leaving all your mana up in your fifth turn and decides not to run his ceatures into your counterspell? what happens if he just bashes you turn after turn with the centaur while you are unable to cast spells without tapping your counterspell mana? eventualy, probably after going down to 8 life or somethin. you would have been forced to cast soul drain on the 3/3… leaving you with only 11 life, and enabling him to cast all of his creatures without being able to counterspell.

    That’s a very serious misplay, to which I have lost many Limited games, and have seen others lose too. Soul Scatter is not Doom Blade – it has severe limitations that you have to respect when playing it in your deck.

  4. Absolutely fantastic intro, but this is probably the worst draft I have yet to see you do. The deck felt underpowered, it did not have the power to be control deck and it could not play agro well either.

    The problem, I think, is blue. Blue is just to shallow unless it is truly open. The second best blue card you have in a vacuum (welkin tern) is in your sideboard and while essence scatter is fine and the vedalken are great role-players in the truly durdly defense decks, the only blue card you end up playing I’d be surprised to WHEEL is switcheroo.

    Red turned out to be much more open and white, even if cut pretty hard, would probaby also have worked better since it already has a bomb. Getting a few cards of similar or better quality then divination, serpent, encrust and the like to fill out your mostly black deck would have been superior.

    I guess that is to be expected with the earlier drafts though, not all your drafts can’t be winners and I fully expect you to figure out the m13 format and give us some great insights in later episodes.

    Congrats on the anniversary!

  5. As has been said, your deck missed some of the key cards to be a good enough controle deck.

    Not that you drafted preticulary bad, the right cards just don’t came arround and you ended up with a deck that was neither aggressive or good enough at control.

    A couple of murders, some fog banks, some harbor bandits would have made the deck a lot better.

  6. Yeah, I agree with Nuegun here. I appreciate the content, but the use of comic sans was incorrect. Yech.

  7. the title of the video should definitely have some reference to what format you’re playing. or at least mention in somewhere on the page??
    congrats on the anniversary

  8. @Jason Moore: I know you were asking Simon, but I would like to say that control and aggro escalation seem real in certain metas, such as when Caw Blade dominated and the decks warped around beating the mirror, or for aggro, where you try to go over the top of opposing aggro decks in the mirror with bigger threats.

    Simon, great introduction. Loved the Comic Sans (to the chagrin of others, for sure). I feel that this is one of the most timeless introductions you have made.

  9. Hi guys!

    @JasonMoore: Control escalation happens in Constructed as well, even though the metagame is much less linear than in Limited. Examples would include a group of strong decks trying to beat (metagame against) each other, leaving them exposed to the weaker decks of the format. When metagaming yourself, however, you should generally not rely on such effects too much. You also see the concepts of the Axis in effect when a player drops a turn 2 Snapcaster Mage in an UX-Control mirrormatch after sideboarding. This would be a case of shifting your position.

    @Nuegun & Duckie: I was wondering if I would get comments on Comic Sans. This was my first time in ages to use powerpoint-like software (professionally, I use LaTeX typesetting almost exclusively), and I decided to be a little provocative with my font choice. I want to add that the CERN announced the discovery of the Higgs-Boson in Comic Sans (see and there is actual research claiming that fonts like Comic Sans might facility learning experiences (see and the link to the paper, if you are interested).

    @Carrotus: Thank you for your thoughts. I agree that holding back on an early Essence Scatter is a mistake that can easily cost you games. It is especially dangerous to overthink things, underestimating the immediate threat and overestimating your control over the future course of the game. Furthermore, I certainly have to admit that there were a lot of things I could have done better during both the drafting and gameplay.
    However, after rewatching the scene and game in question, I am absolutely convinced that not countering his Centaur Courser was the correct play. At 13 minutes into Round 2, I am holding Essence Scatter, Essence Drain, Switcheroo and two more lands in hand. My Zombie is facing his Goblin Arsonist and he drops the Courser off RRG. At this point I have no risk of the Scatter “rotting” in my hand as I have at least two more landdrops and, more importantly, no play for the upcoming turn. Furthermore, almost all of the creatures in my deck are capable of trading with or holding off a 3/3. Combined with the 2/2 body of my Zombie, there is in fact not a single creature that doesn’t stop it. If, as you suggest, my opponent has good creatures in hand but decides to not play them, I trade the three damage a turn for additional time to draw one of these abundant solutions. Given that most of them cost 3 mana or less, it is highly likely that I can even cast them and keep the Scatter up. My opponent deliberately not casting anything only for me to draw something minor like a Kraken Hatchling would give me a lot of valuable time. If things don’t work out as expected, I can still decide to Drain the Courser on turn 5 or 7, gaining back some of the life I lost.
    What you are advocating is using an Essence Scatter on the Courser because it is no Doom Blade. That’s correct, but Essence Drain is no Doom Blade either. In fact, I know from game 1 that my opponent has at least an Acidic Slime, a Beast-Tracker and a Duskdale Wurm — all cards that I would much rather Essence Scatter than Essence Drain, and the same goes for Arm’s Dealer which my opponent should really only cast with 1R up. And playing against a red-green deck, I have to expect even more of the common creatures with 4 or more toughness. Furthermore, I have to respect that I am facing a challenging matchup in which I will need every single card to be as effective as possible.
    Given that you believe this decision point to be a 100% situation, I am not sure if all of the above convinces you that it’s not, but that’s my take on the matter.

    @Comments & TVDB: You are both correct regarding my deck’s power level. I just have a couple of things to add: I like to make my first experiences with a format drafting control, and my first pick was a good reason to do so. The fact that my record wasn’t great was partly due to some unfortunate circumstances, but my deck was also quite subpar. As you have correctly identified, this was a failed experiment at drafting control — not where you want to be on the Axis of Aggression! While a beatdown deck can get away with subpar cards, a controlling decks needs a higher overall powerlevel than the deck of this episode. In addition, I couldn’t easily handle the stronger (and less common) cards my opponents presented, and it showed (this ties in to the Essence Scatter discussion, by the way). The deck I managed to beat would have lost to basically any deck, so that doesn’t really count. My conclusion is that my UB control approach was not very promising, and I probably underestimated the negative impact my signaling would have on the quality of my deck.
    I have been quite fortunate to show you a lot of three-round drafts in the last months. This won’t always be the case. Of course I am not happy with the performance of this deck, but losses are inevitable and suffering them during a Swiss draft at the beginning of the format is probably the least painful option. Core set draft is often quite different from expert level Limited, and that takes some time to get used to. You probably wouldn’t believe how many M12-Drafts I lost in a row before getting a better understanding of the format.

    @Cock Horse: You are right, and I usually try to include the format in the description. Maybe A.J. can do something about that.

    @MMogg: Thank you! I am planning to keep up this opening style at least for M13. It takes more time and effort, but that’s fine as long as there are people appreciating it.

    To those that do watch my opening discussions, feel free to tell me if you like the slideshows better than the previous introductions. Do you prefer short (3 min) strategic thoughts without anything happening on the screen (barring Notepad), or longer (10 min) discussions with either a slideshow or aided by card images from MTGO or WizardsFamiliar?

  10. I was wondering if you were going to pull the whole ‘CERN did it’ argument. However, from a design perspective, they were incorrect to do so.

    Here are some good examples of correct usage of Comic Sans MS in logos . I hope we can come to an agreement about you not using Comic Sans in future vids.

    (P.S. I would also strongly recommend against using Papyrus, just in case you’re feeling cheeky for your next video.)

  11. @simon, thanks for your detailed and attentive response! I’m not entirely convinced by what you had to say but certainly have some thoughts to go over now, since you do make some very valid points in your argument for your play.

    Since I watch these videos not only for entetinment values but also to become a better player, your pespective on this play is very useful, giving me a new way to think about some assumptions I make when playing.

    Bottom line is, big thanks, and keep up the good work!

  12. Great videos! I loved the slide show discussion of a focused MtG topic and think that the visuals support your commentary well. Personally I would like to see more of those.
    It’s great to have you around here and we all appreciate your dedication. Hard to believe that it is already one year since your first video!
    Oh, and as a closing comment I would like to say…..

    Long live the Higgs-Boson! Where have you been hiding so long? Is it really you?

  13. I feel that the decision to talk about the axis of aggression was highly appropriate given the draft and play videos teaching me why it is so important. So even though this week’s vids weren’t the best magic draft and play I have seen, you have accomplished your goal of teaching me more about magic.

    Good job. =)

  14. Hi Simon,
    I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your excellent series! I love your fine commentary as you play the game, but what really sets your series apart from the rest is, of course, your excellent introductions. Make them as long as you like! I’ll be here to watch them and to learn from you every time. :) This week’s intro is a nice theoretical analysis that is a great complement to the Sullivan/PV/Chang debate over the last month or two. I also loved your comparison of the various DKA lords. So great work on your brilliant contributions to the MTG community. Your videos are consistently the most thoughtful and informative of any that I’ve seen. Thank you!

  15. I haven’t yet watched the draft videos, but the introduction is a masterpiece. I love how you were able to abstract and reduce a complex concept to such simple elegance. It reminded me of a statement I read long ago: “In Magic, you win if your spells cost 1 mana more than those of your opponent, but you lose if they cost 2 mana more.”

  16. Start of round 2 “This hand has quite a lot of potential to develop” = “My good cards are in my deck not my hand.”