Analyzing Addictions and Evaluating Brews!

It’s 2016, and I feel like brewing. I’m not sure why, as usually I leave that business to the Sam Blacks of the world. Regardless, an overabundance of creativity resulting from the potent combination of Christmastime and copious amounts of free time off from architecture has put me in an interesting mood, and I just can’t stop designing. Introspection towards this quirky trait of mine often draws comparisons to “brewing” in Magic, so I thought it’d be a good idea to sit down and explore the two together. Maybe somewhere along the way I’ll discover why my mind does the things it does. Maybe I’ll unlock my inner mutant. Today, we’ll briefly dive into the disturbed mind of one Trevor Holmes and his creative process, and then somewhere along the way we’ll apply it to Magic. Welcome to my column. You knew what this was.

Part 1 – The Architecture of an Addictive Personality

Sea Gate Oracle art

I’ve known for almost my entire semi-adult life that I have an addictive personality. While this phrase often carries with it a negative connotation (due to its association with alcohol, drugs, and country music) for me it’s always been associated with semi-innocent activities. I’m talking Oreos for dessert every night from ages 5-12. I’m talking playing the same 12 songs over and over again, in order, until I can recite them from memory and putting them on shuffle just feels wrong.

Naturally, this behavior applies to life interests (otherwise known as hobbies) as well. I’ll go through phases where I get OBSESSED with solving a Rubik’s Cube, to the point where I spend every waking moment researching solving strategies, filling composition books with complicated algorithm diagrams, and carrying the damn thing around with me everywhere I go. The remnants of my chess phase lie on my bookshelf, where actual dozens of chess strategy books and opening dictionaries solemnly gather dust. My videogame phase is more of a long con, as I continually dump money into a growing Steam backlog, contemplate upgrading my perfectly capable custom-built PC and devour reviews of games that I’ll never even play.

Currently, I’m in a designing phase. For Christmas, I combined a few talents (Adobe Photoshop, model-building, and a 3D modeling program called Rhino) into a laser-cut world map for my girlfriend (she loves maps). 20 hours of work later and the result sits on our living room wall, and I’m currently completing a map of Middle-Earth for one client and a throwback 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl season plaque for myself.


When I say “I’m in a designing phase”, it doesn’t really describe what is currently happening. I planned on streaming this morning. It’s 4:00 PM and I haven’t eaten. Instead, I’ve been at my computer all day, drawing lines in Illustrator and painting pixels in Photoshop, and I know from experience I won’t stop until certain bodily functions force my muscles into action. I’ve been furiously sketching out ideas for pieces I can cover my wall with, and have been scheming on how to capitalize on the prevalence of bandwagon Panthers fans in my social circle and exactly how much trouble I’d get in if I started selling unlicensed NFL team designs. (Editors Note:  All of the trouble. Seriously. Just don’t.)

Curse of ThirstI say all that to say this: I can attribute every single success in my life to this aspect of who I am. Looking back on 2015, my successes were many: winning an invite to, and going 8-8 at, a Pro Tour, growing a successful Twitch stream from nothing into something moderately successful, completion of my first year of my Architecture program, and a growing repertoire of digital design skills. All of that can be attributed to this equal-part blessing and curse. Even my very presence on this site can be attributed to my unwillingness to give up on my ArchitectGaming blog and relentless streaming to an oftentimes empty room (and of course, Modern Nexus’ gracious hospitality).

Recently, I’ve been trying to focus this unstable energy into something tangible. Instead of bouncing around from interest to interest, I hope to focus on something long enough to see it grow. Whether that’s my Twitch stream, my tournament success, my writing career, or some enterprise completely unrelated to Magic (laser cut designs maybe?) is unclear at this point.

Part 2 – Brews: Distinguishing Between Good and Bad

As an outsider looking in on this topic for almost the entirety of my Magic career, I feel like my perspective regarding brews is semi-interesting. So I’m going to share it with you. There exists a divide in the Magic community, between two distinct groups of players. On one hand, behold the soulless individuals that hold no allegiance to any card/deck/strategy, caring only for success and the glory that it can bring. Across the burning chasm of defeated planeswalkers and removal spells lie the Disobedient Mob, brave soldiers who include Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded in every deck because they have seen his unrealized potential. Some know of these soldiers and call them Johnny.

Johnny Combo PlayerTo the uninitiated, Johnnys’ ways seem taboo, bordering on alien. Influenced by misinformation and propaganda, innocent Johnnys interested only in a better world for all are looked down on, mocked, even called Tea Partiers. While Johnnys can often get carried away in their quest for self-expression, the Spikes among us should recognize the value in exploring their creations, and beware the danger of ignoring their machinations. Otherwise known as the Summer Bloom/Zur the Enchanter Spectrum, knowing the perils in the wild can only serve to increase knowledge and preparation, and could even save you the next time some psychopath casts Heartless Summoning.

I catch myself falling into a cycle time and again, where the limited time I’m able to apply to Magic over some time period ends up focused on top performing decks and updates to existing archetypes. Part of this has to do with my philosophy regarding context; I’m more interested than most when it comes to deck evolution and manipulations responding to metagame factors than I am to “the hot new thing”. Unfortunately, this has the negative side effect of a “surface-level analysis” that can miss gems hiding out outside of the Top 16 of events. New technology almost always appears first in the wilderness, before eventually emerging into the spotlight of the winner’s circle. It’s time I dug a little deeper and started taking a serious look at the Wild West of Brews.

The Tested and True

Behold, the hall of fame:

  • Lantern Control
  • Amulet Bloom
  • B/W Eldrazi

These decks are, at this point, classic examples of what a brew “can” become, given the right conditions. While the jury is still out on whether Eldrazi decks can compete in Modern under dedicated hate, the other decks have all shown an ability to win/go deep in large events and beat top decks in the format consistently, even after their “breakout week”. The next time you dismiss a brew because of its identity as a brew, think back to this list.

The Unknown

R/G Ramp, by Heiring (3-1 MTGO Daily, 1/3/16)

Creatures (17)
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Courser of Kruphix
Huntmaster of the Fells
Obstinate Baloth
Primeval Titan
Sakura-Tribe Elder

Instants (10)
Summoning Trap
Through the Breach

Sorceries (8)
Anger of the Gods
Search for Tomorrow

Land (25)
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Cinder Glade
Smoldering Marsh
Stomping Ground
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Anger of the Gods
Ancient Grudge
Crumble to Dust
Nature’s Claim
Rending Volley
Slaughter Games
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

Before getting into Heiring’s list, I want to reiterate my hatred for ramp decks. An illogical artifact that exists as a remnant from my control-biased past, I can’t remove my dislike for these archetypes no matter how hard I try. Their reliance on a delicate balance of mana sources, ramp enablers, and payoff cards is in the end no different from a control deck’s reliance on mana sources, reactive spells, and card advantage. But it just feels different. Regardless, this deck has been popping up here and there with increased regularity, and players would do well to become familiar with it.

Through the BreachUsing Through the Breach and Primeval Titan as an avenue for victory, rather than Scapeshift or Urza’s Tower, results in a natural resistance to widely accepted “land hate” cards like Fulminator Mage and Blood Moon. Summoning Trap as control hate is still excellent, and even the “fail-mode” of hitting only an Obstinate Baloth is not bad. Thirteen creatures is a lot of solid flips, and even if we’re casting this for six mana at instant speed, that’s still fine if we’re following up with another must-answer on our own turn. I count a full sixteen threats that count as “payoff” cards, and excluding Primeval Titan and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn all of our creatures either block early or gain life, helping us stay alive.

The only thing I wonder about this deck is how it matches up against the Eldrazi deck. Oblivion Sower and Blight Herder to set up Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger seems slow for Modern, until you actually play against it and realize how ineffective Fulminator Mage and Terminate are against this type of strategy. Eldrazi Temple just ramps so fast, and one Oblivion Sower undoes all attempts at mana-denial. RG Ramp’s natural weakness seems to be combo-oriented decks and decks that go over the top, but it has the tools to beat up on both aggro, control, and normal midrange.

Jeskai Ascendancy Gifts, by Scott Kirkwood (23rd, SCG Cincinatti 1/3/2016)

Enchantments (4)
Jeskai Ascendancy

Creatures (13)
Birds of Paradise
Snapcaster Mage
Sylvan Caryatid
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Iona, Shield of Emeria

Instants (13)
Gifts Ungiven
Izzet Charm
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Sphinx’s Revelation

Sorceries (9)
Faithless Looting
Flame Jab
Life from the Loam
Serum Visions
Unburial Rites

Lands (21)
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Plains
Breeding Pool
Copperline Gorge
Flooded Strand
Hallowed Fountain
Lumbering Falls
Misty Rainforest
Sacred Foundry
Simic Growth Chamber
Steam Vents
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Obstinate Baloth
Leyline of Sanctity
Celestial Purge
Nature’s Claim
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Ghost Quarter
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

On the other hand, I’m in love with this deck. I dunno, Scott’s just speaking to me I guess. There’s something about the graceful unity of two individual entities, that shouldn’t go together but somehow fit so well, that just entices me. I could get into why this possibly has to do with my preoccupation with dating individuals that are my exact opposite, but we’re in Part Two now, so consider yourselves spared. Where Gifts Ungiven decks would often sputter out, or draw an awkward collection of value cards and attempt to cobble up a defense, Scott has instead married the Gifts strategy with the Jeskai Ascendancy combo. In doing so, he has somehow increased the consistency of both!

FatestitcherHere, Jeskai Ascendancy can be used for value, discarding Fatestitchers to be returned later as normal. With the Gifts package addition, however, we can even discard fatties in hand for Unburial Rites, or Rites itself to flashback later! Alongside Flame Jab and Life From the Loam, we’ve got a strong graveyard package going, but we’re far from one-dimensional. Most Gifts decks fall apart under dedicated graveyard hate, but Fatestitcher sure doesn’t care about that when we’re chaining through cantrips and attacking for significant damage with Ascendancy triggers. Often “dual-angle” decks like Living Twin and the like can be clunky, with combo pieces just getting in each other’s way. Not this deck, which functions more like a symbiote and less like a parasite, with both entities benefiting from each other’s presence.


It might seem strange that in my article about brews, I don’t introduce a brew of my own. I thought about it for a few days, and I found myself “forcing” a decklist onto paper. While I might not be the most experienced when it comes to the brewing process, I know that’s not the way to go. To me, the perfect brew can’t exist without a healthy dose of individuality. Some players love Training Grounds. I know a guy that owns a literal hundred Mindshriekers. For me, I’ve always been a sucker for value, and one of my favorite decklists of all time always jumps to mind when I’m looking for something to play. What initially caught my eye in Scott’s Ascendancy list wasn’t the double combo, but rather the one-of Faithless Looting and Sphinx’s Revelation. Sure, those two cards together seem to be going in different directions. I don’t care. I have a list in front of me with four of each, and blank space below. It’s almost assuredly bad, but it will absolutely be fun.

This year, I’m resolving to push myself further. While I’m at risk of sounding cliché, I’ve realized that I tend to take the safe path in life, and leave the exploration to others. It was a big step out of my comfort zone to start streaming, and again to start writing, and again to start placing some confidence in my own creative work to the point where I could comfortably start selling my design work to others. 2015 was an incredible journey for me, as I dove headfirst from my stable position as an observer of other’s work into the vast ocean of creative content and self-expression.

For those that have been following my stream since the start (a few of you) and those of you that remember my first articles on this site (more of you) I think you can see a shift in the content I’m producing. For those that have asked about my Video Series, I’m taking some time to revisit the content and bring it up to where it needs to be quality-wise. I’ll make some mistakes, I can guarantee nothing will be perfect, but I strive to push myself farther and I hope you guys will join me on this ride. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!

Trevor Holmes
The_Architect on MTGO

4 thoughts on “Analyzing Addictions and Evaluating Brews!

  1. These things speak to me for some extent. I find myself getting hugely invested in some thing over and over again, for year or so most of the time. I research, I dive in, I try and in the end I get enough from it to step back. Some of these things stay with me. For example, it’s going to be fourth year of me making some sort of fan community management stuff and writing my blog and I see no reason to stop. It’s nice to see all this “dives” in the end have their continious value which you carry with you, be it some skills, knowledge or just good memories and people around you. Looks like Magic will stay with me for a while though, and not like I am afraid of it: my experience with that game has been wonderful so far.

  2. I’m so happy to see people still playing RG Breach! I took second at modern states with the deck. It preys on blue decks, but it can have a hard time with aggro, early tasigurs, and decks packing a lot of hand disruption. The best part about breach is that you can play it on your opponent’s end step and keep the creature through your attack step. Some versions run a scapeshift or two as an alternate win-con. Nothing costs CMC 1, so chalice of the void becomes a potent sideboard threat.

    My favorite moments were (1) T3 Primeval Titan through a summoning trap, (2) T3 emrakul breach after opponent T3 blood mooned in game ONE, (3) topdecking a lethal through the breach after my original through the breach was bottomed in the draw step with a vendillion clique.

  3. Been following this site since it was posted at r/modernmagic, must say you’ve been a great addition to the crew as I enjoy most of your articles. So, keep up the good work – I appreciate it!

    I’m a designer myself, and I must say I can relate to some of the things you’re talking about. However, my obsession has been to always look for the “different approach”. No matter what I do I love to find my own way of doing or communicating things.

    So, with Magic, the thing that reeled me in was the theory crafting aspect of the game, and the possibility of doing something unique. I’ve pretty much been brewing since the get go, and I still tinker with the same deck – three years later.. I’ve just recently been able to play at an LGS, so I’m looking forward to test the list more thoroughly in 2016.

  4. Bah earlier post didnt get through. Just wanted to point out that the gifts deck does still pretty much fold like a house of cards to graveyard hate. The ascendancy engine relies on flame jab and life from the loam to deal big/lethal dmg. If you’re stuck just casting spells for +1+1 you’re going to be hard pressed to chain much when your only cantrips are 4x serum visions.

    It still looks awesome (I just bought ascendancies and fatestitchers to play it myself) but resilient to graveyard hate it is not.

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