This entry is part 36 of 41 in the series In General

Grandpa (Eric)


By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth


Welcome to “In General.” I have been writing “Decksplanations” for several months here on CommanderCast now, but it’s over for now. It was a limited-run series, albeit a long one, and now I’m back to my regular old tricks. “In General” is a column about everything. I do my best to keep the topics related to Magic, but sometimes that connection is…loose. I am going to ease into things here though. Here goes…


Throughout the course of the initial “Decksplanations” run, I referenced dozens of ideas, theories, and technical Magic jargon. At the time I didn’t, and still don’t, have time to get into full explanations of all that information. If it was too specific or not enough, I’m sorry. I know that the rule on the internet is to cite your dang sources, and I tried to do so where appropriate, but there were just a bunch of spots where I couldn’t. I didn’t make any of that stuff up and I don’t take even one iota of credit for creating it. The people who did are great at Magic and at life and I am going to mention a few of their names in this article, but before I go off half-cocked here I want to say something loud and clear: This is not the complete annotated bibliography for “Decksplanations”.


This is something completely different. This is about my library. My thoughts on deckbuilding and playing Magic developed over almost two decades of playing and studying the game. Reading about Magic is just as much fun for me as playing it… actually way more so. I have a list of articles that I have saved over the years. Like newspaper clippings, except from the internet.



My library is a big heap of old Magic strategy articles that have proven to be influential in the time since they were originally penned (most assuredly typed). Influential to me, my play style, and my critical thinking, but also influential on the Magic community at large. Some of these articles represent major contributions to the study and theorycraft of the game. I want to share my collection of articles with you, because it has been important to me and I think that everyone should have their own library.


For each article, I’ll link to the original, give you a brief summary of what the article is, and share a main takeaway that has shaped how I play. Note that some of these articles are a bit out of date and may reference cards and strategies from formats that don’t even exist anymore. Comments on how to get an edge at FNM during Invasion-era Standard notwithstanding, these pieces still have a lot to offer. If you can use your imagination, just substitute in newer card archetype iterations where appropriate.


“Introduction to Card Advantage” by Ted Knutson

Did you think “Decksplanations” was dumb because it was too heavy on theory? Are you about to click away from this article because you are scared it’s going to be all about theory? Well, you would be right if you thought that, but don’t leave yet! Ted is going to answer why you should care and a whole lot more in this article that talks all about what is important in Magic: the cards.


“Fundamentals of Limited” by Steve Sadin

Are you sort of new to limited? Do you think it is hard and have been hesitant to really dive into the deep end? This article is essentially ‘Limited for Dummies’. It has hard and fast rules that you can apply immediately to improve your limited game. Once you have gotten your feet wet you can savor the intricacies of the DOZEN OR SO OTHER TOPICS that Sadin treats in this masterpiece. He is clear and concise, covering essentially everything you need to know and nothing you don’t.


The best limited players in the world happen to also be some of the best Magic players in general. This is not a coincidence. You can try substituting other formats like Commander and seeing if the statement is still true (hint: it isn’t). Limited is the most fundamental form of Magic. It tests and trains every single possible skill you could need in other formats. The lesson here is that if you want to be better at Magic, get better at limited.


“Quadrant Theory” by Marshall Sutcliffe

Quadrant Theory is a system for evaluating cards. This is particularly useful when you are approaching a new format full of unknown cards or when you have to make a tough choice in booster draft. In this article Marshall Sutcliffe, of “Limited Resources” fame teaches you how to use the titular concept. Once you understand the theory and how to apply it, you will notice that the true beauty of quadrant theory is that it can be used to evaluate anything in life. Ex: How does this decision look if things go well, how does it look if things go poorly, how will it look if nothing changes/everyone else does the same thing? See all things in light of the context in which they actually exist, not in comparison to an abstract ideal.


“Frank Analysis – Play First” by Frank Karsten

Frank Karsten is Dutch, which is awesome because the Netherlands is an awesome place (although it should be a places, Netherlands is plural after all). His math skills however, are straight up Korean.




The verdict is pretty simply: play first…usually. In longer games or slower formats there is an advantage to being on the draw. Some people might find that Commander is a place where games can go on for many turns. Perhaps those people should reexamine their thinking on the very first choice you make in a game of Magic.


“The Philosophy of Fire” by Mike Flores

You will see a couple of Flores’ works in this article. He is the grandmaster of my dojo. This is an article about rethinking what it means to exchange resources in Magic. What are cards? What are they worth? What can you do with them? This is a critical look at the mechanics of the game. Not keyword mechanics, the figurative nuts and bolts. If you were a little hazy on what I was talking about during “Decksplanations: Value” article, then you should start here to get the basics. I always come back to this deck when I am flung too far afield by the slow controlling decks of Commander. If you want a more aggressive deck, you have to think aggressively. This article will let the hate flow through you.


“The Grand Unified Theory” by Zvi Mowshowitz

This is spiritual successor to “The Philosophy of Fire.” Zvi takes the torch and runs with it for page after page of delicious theoretical strategy content. This isn’t one article, it’s a strategy library unto itself, but if you are serious about playing Magic, thinking about Magic, or talking about Magic, then you simply have to read the entire set. Consider this your bachelor’s degree in Magic strategy. This is the price of entry to the elite levels of theory craft.


There are a near-infinite amount of good ideas contained in these pages, but if I had to share one thing it would be this: The Rule of Reflection. Everything in Magic has value equal to the amount it increases your chance to win the game. You must – MUST – start thinking about every card in this manner if you are serious about winning more games.


“High Water Fire Mark” by Mike Flores

What system do you use to select which threats go into your deck? Is it logical? Do you even have one? Hopefully after reading “Decksplanations: Durability” you have at least considered the idea of selecting threats that match up well against your expected removal. Well, guess where I got that idea from…


The ‘high fire mark’ is a value for creature toughness where it will live through a hit by the format’s premier burn spells. You can generalize this thinking for different types of removal and then generalize even more to think about cards types that aren’t creatures. This was a real mind-blow for me when I was shorter in the tooth.


“Innovations” by Patrick Chapin

This is an extension of the fundamental theory work laid out by Flores, Zvi, Adrian Sullivan, and others. If “Theory of Everything” was your bachelor’s degree, this was your continuing education class. In this article, ‘The Innovator’ reviews and updates essential Magic theory points and presents them in a more modern context. The points that I want to make about this article are tucked away near the end of this text monster.


  • ‘The object of a game of Magic’ section, which sets out the idea that all the cards and plays that we make with them are just pieces of the game like pawns in chess. They are part of a greater whole and they serve no purpose on their own, they are only  ever identified with how they affect the game and your pursuit of victory.
  • The ‘card advantage vs. card economy’ section. This is extremely important stuff that should go without saying, but doesn’t. This article is worth reading for this section alone. Even if you didn’t do any of the homework so far, you can still get something from this article just by reading this section.


“Systematic Thought” by Zvi…again.

You know, if he had written less incredible articles about Magic, I wouldn’t have to talk about him so much. It is really not my fault. Systematic thought is a guide to what you should be thinking about during games. It will shape you into a better player by teaching you to focus on the most important decision points and ignore distractions. If you can master the techniques presented in this text, you can be a pro-Magic player. It is that simple.


“Pondering Brainstorm” by AJ Sacher

This is a guide to playing one of Magic’s most iconic and complex cards. If you are not a big fan of Legacy, you may not like this one, but I am naturally drawn to the challenge of mastering skill-testing cards, maybe you can see the appeal here as well.


“Therapy Session” by Caleb Durward

Now that you know how to play Brainstorm you can learn to play another awesome card that is essentially only used in Legacy: Cabal Therapy! Again, the format specific nature of the card’s playability doesn’t restrict us from drawing useful information from its examination. There is a lot to learn about reading your opponent, considering what cards they have in their hand and deck, interesting rules situations brought on by what really is a kind of problematic card, and of course the learning to love the satisfaction of totally cold-calling your opponent’s card and giving them the feel bads.


“The Theory of Stock Mana” by AJ Sacher

Now let’s talk about mana theories! Starting with one that is admittedly underdeveloped. We have to know where to the road starts if we want to walk to to the finish. Nonetheless, this article is great and sets up a good foundation for the material presented in…


“Building Better Decks With Mana Sum Theory” by Travis Woo

This article is about Mana Sum Theory; what it is and how to apply it. I hold the belief that if you have two decks that are evenly matched (ignoring how you came to that conclusion) the best indicator of who will win a game is who spends the most mana. There are obvious flaws with this theory, but there are also useful truths. Both of which Travis covers in what I consider to be the seminal article on this subject.


“Frank Analysis – Manabases” by Frank Karsten

He is going to teach you how to make all your mana base belong to you.



This is an intensely mathematical approach to manabase construction and clearly sets the world record for most uses of sigma in a Magic article. The math(s) in this piece are not for the faint of heart, but he skillfully distills this complexity down to elegant conclusions that you can use to improve your deckbuilding. The main reason I haven’t written a “Decksplanations” about how to improve mana bases is that it would never be as good as this article that Karsten already wrote several years ago.


That is all for today, but don’t despair! There is more to come next week in part two. Obviously, these are just a few of my personal favorites and by no means the complete authority. There are thousands of fantastic articles about Magic out there. If you have some favorite articles that you like to go back to time and again, share them with us in the comments.




In General is the place where I share my ideas on unconventional topics that are often only tangentially related to Magic. This column is a mixed bag where I collect and present ideas that don’t have a home anywhere else. If you want a column about strategy, psychology, design, economics, philosophy, internet culture, and referential humor, you have come to the right place.



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