Value is overrated.
Everything in stores is a "great value." The package deal I get for cable, internet and a home phone (yes, I still have a home phone) is "great value." My grocery store is called Super Valu. When the utility company puts me on hold, they tell me (and everyone else on hold) that I'm a "valued customer." When survey companies call, they are quick to tell me that they "value my opinion." I hear about people going to Valuetown, which I suspect is just up the highway from Flavortown. Value City is supposed to be amazing, but I have no idea.
Value has been a part of Magic for a long time now, but lately it seems to have reached a fever pitch to the point that value has become the most important thing. While I recognize the importance of value, I see it as a way to get to the epic play, which is truly the most important thing in Magic.
Too often I see players discussing this type of topic, but they aren't getting anywhere because their terms are undefined. I'm going to lay out what I mean by "value" and "epic," then explain my point. I'm sure you'll all see the wisdom of my words and a new sense of optimism and cooperation will be seen amongst all Magic players on the internet.
The Magic community has been focused on "value" for a long time. First it was value trading. I was never really sure what that meant, but I think it had something to do with people checking card prices on their phone while trading at their LGS. People who know far more about Magic finance than I do would know better. I do know it involved a lot of internet rage so I decided the best EV move was to just ignore the whole thing.
Then it was all about "EV," a term that likely meant something originally but has so lost its relevance that I had to look up what EV actually stands for. When you realize it stands for Expected Value, suddenly the term, "good EV" doesn't make sense. Luckily, EV can now be used interchangeably with "Good ThingTM."
"Using removal on a creature with an aura attached is good EV."
"Using removal on a creature with an aura attached is a Good ThingTM."
"Taking a dump on company time is good EV."
"Taking a dump on company time is a Good ThingTM."
All of which brings us to, "value," the current nomenclature. Value is the term used when players do something that is believed to help win games. No, value isn't playing Emrakul, the Promised End or another monster bomb that comes crashing onto the table. Value is playing Cloudblazer to gain two life and draw two cards. Value is sacrificing a Sakura-Tribe Elder to get another land on the battlefield. Value can be used when gaining life, but it is predominantly seen when talking about adding land to your battlefield or adding cards to your hand.
Epic is a word that I'm going to use to describe some huge, amazing play or series of plays that produced a result that people will remember. Attacking an opponent at 52 life with Brago, King Eternal then using his ability to flicker enough of your creatures that your Pious Evangel's ability brings you to 50 life — letting you activate your Aetherflux Reservoir and kill that opponent — is an epic play.
While in this example the epic play killed an opponent, winning the game is not part of what defines an epic play. Think back to those spectacular moments in your games and you begin to see that the moment didn't always produce a win. This one sticks out for me:
Sometimes Magic is so awesome it doesn't fit in a tweet. Check out my fun turn in a 60-card casual 3-player game! pic.twitter.com/lR4Bj3F5DA— Bruce Richard (@manaburned) August 5, 2016
The epic plays are the moments you remember from the game the next day. I used to golf regularly in college, but in spite of weekly rounds, I never got better. I don't tend to remember my decent putting game, but I do remember hitting a chip shot that clanged off the flag and dropped in the hole. I remember the epic plays, especially because they were so few.
Epic plays are the plays that make your highlight reel. Tombstone Stairwell with 10 creatures in all graveyards when you play Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble, is an epic play. They are the reason you play the game.
Many years ago, a friend of mine built a casual spirits deck, using spirits primarily from the Kamigawa block. The deck basically involved creating creature recursion loops to add +1/+1 counters on a creature or to gain a couple of life. These loops tended to involve four or five different actions, slowing the game down. Unbeknownst to us at the time, these loops were value. We simply referred to it as monologue Magic: A stream of actions that strung together to produce a minimal gain seemed almost a waste of time. While we never actually defined it, it was essentially a value play that led nowhere.
Now, I understand that this is unfair. Value plays are important in Magic. Small ways to draw cards, get extra land drops, and gain life are important to staying alive in Magic. People tend to get really excited when you can find a way to loop value plays. Flickering a Cloudblazer with an effect like Restoration Angel or getting the Sakura-Tribe Elder out of your graveyard and back onto the battlefield are considered high value. I, in fact, do all of these things. My issue lies in the reason, as opposed to the act itself.
Value has become the Holy Grail for far too many players. Getting that value play looping repeatedly has become the high point of the game. "See all this value I'm making!" they say as they plop one land after another onto the battlefield. "Look at all the cards I have in hand!" they proclaim as they recast Rampant Growth for the third time while writhing uncontrollably on the floor, barely able to contain their giggling.
There are many players who try to go epic alone. I used to be one. It seemed somehow noble; pulling off that epic play without the value play. When the marathon runner sees what the Ironman triathlete does before starting the marathon portion of the race. Getting to the epic play is just so much more difficult without help.
I used to believe that this was real Magic. I barely understood the value of extra cards or land. You started with the hand you drew and you would draw a card every turn and that was supposed to be enough. Those were the rules of Magic. Adding cards that brought your lands out faster than one per turn was evil. Drawing extra cards was the work of Satan, and I wasn't going to be doing his work (never mind that blue, not black, was where most of the card draw was found). I was the righteous player and with Karma (not the card) on my side, I would achieve the epic plays and win my share of games!
While I did win my share of games, those wins weren't necessarily due to epic plays, they were due to waiting until the last possible second and sliding the knife into the back of the unsuspecting opponent. While this can be an epic play, too often it was just the final play. It was something that ended the game after someone else had already made the epic play.
Epic alone is nice, but by just adding a little value play, you can get the chance to make that epic play far more often. I play a lot of Mulldrifters and Sakura Tribe-Elders to get value. In last week's article I was running those cards in decks because they were providing me with ever-growing value to set up for the epic monster-sized creature crashing through the defenses of helpless opponents! I could have skipped those cards and loaded up with the cards that immediately produce the epic play. Hoping for the right land or the right spell can give you the card you need, but you're probably better off packing the cards in the deck that will help you get there more often.
The key? While you want your deck to produce value, don't be doing it for the sake of value. Appreciate what the value play brings you, but remember why it is there in the first place. You want value plays to enable the epic plays! Magic exists to show off the moments you are going to retell in a week, or a month, or next year. Players don't care that you had 15 lands on the battlefield, we care that you cast Sylvan Offering for 14! We don't care that you had 15 cards in hand, we care that drawing all those cards found you the Sylvan Offering in the first place! Value makes your games better. Epic makes your games legendary!