"Life — in any aspect, in any field — is littered with the bodies of people who played perfectly and did not get rewarded."
The hardest part of getting better at Magic is examining a game as an unbiased observer. Let's say you're practicing the W/R Vehicles versus B/G Delirium matchup as W/R Vehicles and you're trying to figure out how to sideboard. Your instincts are that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar isn't very good, Harnessed Lightning is even worse, the delirium deck gums up the ground too much for Fleetwheel Cruiser to have any value, and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship is one of the only ways to break through their Ishkanah, Grafwidow. So you sideboard accordingly:
-2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
-2 Fleetwheel Cruiser
+2 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
+1 Declaration in Stone
+1 Skywhaler's Shot
You start out the practice games 0-6, cleanly losing three games on the draw and three games on the play. Is your sideboard plan bad?
The perils of being results-oriented are well-trodden, but the fact remains that your coworkers aren't taking expected value into effect when they see you sell Justin three Kaladesh packs for seven dollars and watch him open Sword of Fire and Ice. They just see the $80 card you sold for seven dollars, like an idiot. No one sees LSV's finishes from 2012-2015, they just see the three consecutive Pro Tour Top 8s in 2016.
Magic effectively teaches the tough lesson that our perceptions aren't reality. Sure, our perceptions are certainly based somewhere in reality, in varying degrees, but the narrative we derive are usually an oversimplification of what's going on. Simple things are easy to grok. You went 0-6, so your sideboard plan is bad. But were the games representative? That's tough to say. Trust the process, they say.
What process? You're right until you're not?
Former Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie was derided for his entire tenure at the helm of the 76ers, and for good reason. This is a man who, siring over one of the worst three-year stretches of basketball in NBA history, took his team to see a live TED talk — given by Angela Lee Duckworth, if you're interested — on grit. Duckworth defines grit as "passion and perseverance for very long-term goals;" you see, part of Sam Hinkie's "process" was to "tank" the Sixers in the hopes of getting high draft picks and eventually having a core of young, amazing players to contend for a title. This involved a lot of fiddling and gerrymandering on his part that yielded an on-court product that was best classified as "unwatchable."
The takeaway, from Duckworth's account of her own TED talk, and that Hinkie took his players to see it, is that Hinkie took a bus full of professionals on a field trip to watch Holy God I'm Bored On Netflix-tier content designed to make them all feel better about losing. Sam Hinkie was fired last year.
On the other side of the coin, one of Hinkie's heralded draft picks, Joel Embiid, played his first game for Philadelphia on Wednesday night. And he was pretty good! He invoked comparisons to Hakeem Ulajuwon, who, if you aren't aware, was a Very Good Basketball Man. This points to the idea that The Process worked!
The problem here is that hindsight is 20/20. Embiid's success isn't proof that the process succeeded or failed. This is a scary thought. Scott-Vargas summed up how to deal with the uncertainties that the variance of life brings: "All you can do is put yourself in the best position to succeed and hope that everything else lines up correctly; don't get frustrated when it doesn't, just look at how you can improve yourself." This can be a tough pill to swallow for someone looking for easily-followed Spark Notes-style Rules for Success or even a little certainty. Unfortunately, that's not the world we live in. You are not owed certainty.
So lets count down some Magic cards and speculate on why they sold so well!
There are a bunch of cards that, for whatever reason, fell short of our top 10. Galvanic Bombardment sees maindeck play in the blue/red-based control decks and is in the sideboard of everything else; it's a cool Kindle-type effect that plays even better than it looks, scaling upwards as the game progresses. Spirebluff Canal, the blue/red part of the Kaladesh cycle of dual-lands, will see play in Standard and Modern alike, forever and ever. Panharmonicon's a sweet combo enabler. Here's my latest Panharmonicon brew:
You have Spellshock and like Eidolon of the Great Revel and Pyrostatic Pillar and stuff
Also Panharmonicon, obv
So you take their turn with like Mindslaver or Emrakul, the Promised End of something
BUT you also refill their hand with Windfall or Wheel of Fortune-type nonsense
So you take their turn and cast a bunch of stuff for them
At this point you realize Spellshock and Eidolon of the Great Revel and Pyrostatic Pillar are all cast triggers and thus unaffected by Panharmonicon
You're bummed out now
How does this card work
Magic is hard
Spell Queller is the backbone of the W/U Flash deck that spiked in popularity last weekend, and as a result its market price has begun to creep upward, but that hasn't effected its sales at all; Spell Queller finished outside the top 10 on Monday, meaning this card's hitting the #mtgfinance super-sweet spot of both supply decreasing and demand increasing.
W/R Vehicles is already solid deck, but the mana's good enough that splashing for a Showstopper like Unlicensed Disintegration is not only possible, but appealing. And it's all made possible thanks to Concealed Courtyard.
I was excited for Scrapheap Scrounger during Kaladesh preview season, but I had no clue just how versatile a 3/2 for two mana could be. Scrapheap Scrounger brings back Prized Amalgam in zombie and emerge decks, serves as a recurring aggressive threat in any black aggressive deck, and even wakes up cards that get benefits from artifacts, like Steve Rubin's Inventor's Apprentices:
The appeal of spells like narrow spells like Ceremonious Rejection is that while they may be narrow, they're incredibly efficient; one mana to Dispatch a spell is no joke. Ceremonious Rejection remains one of the cleaner ways in Standard to take out a Smuggler's Copter before it starts filtering cards and taking over the game. Ceremonious Rejection is excellent, hence its appearances in Mardu Vehicles sideboards.
It's hard to get on board with Cancel when you grew up with Counterspell, Mana Leak, and, for a short while, Circular Logic, but Dissolve went a long way towards normalizing the three-mana Counterspell. Now that we're aware that three-mana countermagic is fine as long as it's got some upside, Void Shatter's doing a great job of filling the void Dissolve left behind, and exiling is very relevant in Kaladesh Standard, robbing the utility of cards like Kozilek's Return, Scrapheap Scrounger, and more.
Elvish Mystic was likely too good for Standard when it was in Magic 2015. It often drew comparisons to Mox Emerald, and assisted a lot of the splashy cards of M15 Standard: Polukranos, World Eater, Kalonian Hydra, Doomwake Giant, Hornet Queen... the list goes on and on. Servant of the Conduit is worse than Elvish Mystic, but much better than, say, Leaf Gilder, allowing decks to power out four-drops on turn three while synergizing with energy decks and supplying them with some energy redundancy with Grizzly Bear sprinkled on top.
Now that Languish isn't a thing anymore, all of Standard's card advantage lies firmly in blue cards. Glimmer of Genius, and, to a lesser extent, Torrential Gearhulk, do a fine job to refill control decks' hands once they've stabilized. Glimmer of Genius might not look great next to card-draw windmill slams of the past, but in the context of Kaladesh Standard, it's pretty damn good.
I don't know how good Blossoming Defense is, but I'll always be a sucker for both Gods Willing and Gather Courage, and Blossoming Defense is kinda both!
The more I play with Harnessed Lightning, the more impressed with it I get. It feels strange to keep it in in post-board games against decks chock-full of four- and five-toughness creatures, but... it might be right!
Lets revisit the W/R Vehicles/B/G Delirium matchup. If the first Harnessed Lightning takes out a non-delirious Grim Flayer — a reasonable expectation — that means the second Harnessed Lightning can take out Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet! In a deck where Harnessed Lightning is the only energy card, it's hard to know what to expect from it each time you cast it, but if you pair it with Aether Hub, it's pretty good...
Aether Hub enables every three-color and every energy deck there is, and naturally, the price is trending down as more and more Kaladesh gets opened every day; Aether Hub's been riding the #1 spot for a while now, but it's hard to see it going anywhere.