In a recurring series, I’m going to sit down with some of the most prominent players in each format and pick their brain on a range of topics. In this episode, I sat down with Todd Stevens, a prominent Modern player and SCG tour rockstar. Visit and support him here: @ToddStevensMTG on Twitter, Todd Stevens on Facebook, ToddStevensMTG on Twitch and you can look for his articles on Star City Games!
Jeremy: Hi, I'm here with Todd Stevens, #1 on the SCG tour. Can you give us a brief introduction?
Todd: I'm from Denton, TX. I started playing in middle school a little. I didn't go to FNM's or anything, I just had some cards. Then around Worldwake/Zendikar I started getting into MTGO (Magic the Gathering Online official client.) I just hang out with some friends that liked the game, so I thought it was cool. I lived by myself, so I downloaded the client and went from there. I've been playing MTGO since Worldwake, but I didn't start paper tournaments until the summer of 2015, so almost 2 years.
Jeremy: So how did you transition from MTGO to paper?
Todd: Well I was a tennis coach, and when I stopped being a tennis coach I suddenly had weekends free. During that summer I decided to give it a shot. I booked a couple flights and had a ton of fun going to the tournaments. I realized I was pretty good since I had been playing MTGO so much.
Jeremy: The thing I noticed about Magic Online is that it teaches you about rules and different interactions.
Todd: Yeah, there was definitely a learning curve. I spent a decent amount of money the first couple of years. I remember my first draft. I didn't know what I was doing, but it sounded fun. I got a first pick Vampire Nighthawk, so I got really excited. Towards the end of the pack I was building a cool R/B deck, but I started thinking that I really needed lands, so I started taking every swamp and mountain that was passed to me. I remember 2nd picking a swamp over a rare because I thought I needed lands. Obviously at the end of the draft there was a "add lands" button and I was like "are you kidding me?!"
Jeremy: So how do you support your Magic habit?
Todd: Basically teaching (math teacher.) I don't have any other bills. I paid my car off a long time ago and I was really lucky that my parents paid for college, so I don't have those kind of bills. I have my house payment and I live out in the middle of no where, so most of my disposable income goes to Magic and traveling. The good part about teaching is that even though it doesn't pay very much, you do get a lot of free time. You don't have to worry about getting called in on nights or weekends. Last June I started streaming to support the Magic part of my career and I stream 2-3 nights a week, usually Tuesday and Thursday.
Jeremy: There's so much behind the scenes. I watch you stream, then that weekend you might have an event, then you're streaming again on Tuesday, but we don't see all the time you have to give up to make that happen.
Todd: Oh yeah, I basically don't have any free time anymore. With a full time job and trying to become a Magic professional, I don't really have free time for anything else. The traveling is exhausting and I could make it less exhausting, but I like to have fun. Monday nights after an event I sleep, so that's basically my free time there.
Jeremy: Magic can be as consuming as you want it to be. When you have a career or family, you have to make a lot of compromises and sacrifices.
Todd: Right. I'm single on my own, and I don't think I could make this happen with a family. It's such a time consuming game. To be one of the best players it takes so much time. You have to play so many games to learn everything, and there's no better practice that just playing games. Tons and tons of games, and that takes time.
Jeremy: One thing I've wanted to know about people like yourself that are prominent in the scene is, do you monitor card prices? Do they affect you at all?
Todd: Oh yeah! I buy all my own cards online and in paper, so I definitely pay pretty close attention to the market, especially the online market. Now I have an extensive online collection, so I don't pay as much attention to the market there, but I did that before. Also I used Magic online to redeem sets for paper copies, and that's how I used to acquire Standard cards to continue to play Standard. I haven't really done that recently as I haven't been playing Standard. There's been so much Modern over the past year. That and with me playing tournaments week 1, I have to buy cards right away. I have to pay the prices for week 1 cards, regardless of price. I try to preorder and spec on cards I might play or can flip.
Jeremy: There's a lot of money to be had if you can spec right!
Todd: It's a lot more convenient to do online, so I do it more online than in paper. I don't really have the time to be selling in paper, so if I do it's usually selling back to Star City Games. Paper buy prices aren't the best, so a card really has to spike to make money. Like I got 8 Walking Ballista at $4, then sold 4 of them back for $8, even though they were $15 retail. I doubled up my money even though the card quadrupled in price.
Jeremy: I actually wrote about Walking Ballista as a card to buy now, because I don't think that card will go down too much in the future.
Todd: No, there wasn't as much Aether Revolt opened as people may think. It is the Spring small sets, so there aren't many of the cards opened. I do think right now is a great time to get Aether Revolt cards, especially cards that are going to be good in Modern. Eldrazi Tron is a great Modern deck and Walking Ballista is all over that. It's also possible it might pop up with Hardned Scales. If Frontier becomes a thing, and I do hope it does, Walking Ballista will be all over that as well. When it rotates it will go down, but as far as the next two years in Standard, it's definitely a good time now.
Jeremy: That was another topic I wanted to talk about. It sounds like you're a fan of Frontier?
Todd: Yeah, I really like how cards have been designed recently. I think Wizards has done an amazing job designing cards. I know people have been bagging on Standard for awhile, and honestly the last couple years of Standard hasn't been that good. I don't know if that's just a problem we're going to have with so much information being out there and so few cards. Frontier puts all these cards together where there isn't anything too overly oppressive. Khans block was a ton of fun, but it's unclear what they might do. It's possible they start Frontier at Origins, which is a nice name. The problem is there are so many great cards in Khans block and it was a ton of fun.
Jeremy: The thing about Frontier is, if they take the fetches out of it, there would be this clear dividing line between Modern, Frontier and Standard. Basically Standard 2.0.
Todd: Yeah fetchlands are pretty bad for coverage, so I could see them getting rid of that.
Jeremy: Do you speculate on cards during spoiler season, or do you wait to see them in action?
Todd: I try to preorder cards I think I might play or I think are underpriced. For example I have this little list of cards I speced on in Aether Revolt: Baral's Expertise, Inspiring Statuary, Lifecrafter's Bestiary, Metallic Mimic and Scrap Trawler. Basically cards that I think are good value.
Jeremy: Have you had a chance to check out the new Gideon?
Todd: Yeah. It's preselling for $50, which is an absurd price. I honestly don't think it's that great. The best thing it has going for it is that it's 3 mana, which is amazing. It's similar to Kytheon's flipside. I don't think the emblem should be on the Magic card. I feel like if you're going to be killing your opponent, you're going to be killing their planeswalker. It stops Saheeli combo, but they need to ban that combo anyway. It seems ok verses things like Death Shadow in Modern.
Jeremy: What about As Foretold?
Todd: I plan on buying at least 4 or more of them and it's easily the best card previewed so far. I think it's really, really good. I plan on playing it first week of Standard paired with things like Anticipates, Negates, Glimmers (Glimmer of Genius), Gearhulks and Tireless Trackers. You basically don't want to run out cards.
Todd: Do you think 1v1 Commander leagues will be good for MTGO?
Jeremy: I do. I think it helps bridge the gap between Commander and Vintage/Legacy.
Todd: Because it basically plays like Tiny Leaders, right? People will play pretty much the same cards? I mean it is 100 cards instead of 50 though.
Jeremy: Yeah, I mean we'll see. I play Vial Smasher and like to do things like Gush on my opponents turn and hit them for 5.
Todd: I wish they didn't call it Commander, because this isn't what people imagine when they think of Commander. I hope this doesn't ruin it for some people. I wish they would have just given it a different name.
Jeremy: Do you like or collect foils?
Todd: Yeah, I like foils. I used to foil out decks, but now I only have one foiled out deck: Bant Eldrazi. It's my baby. That's with expeditions and everything. I do really like the invocations, but unfortunately none of them go in Bant Eldrazi. I don't even mind the border that much, I think they look amazing. The text is the worst part, but besides that everything else is amazing.
Jeremy: So wrapping up with a few questions, what is your favorite Magic color, the one that defines you?
Todd: I guess it would be green? I play green and white the most, but it would probably be green.
Jeremy: Do you have a favorite Legendary creature?
Todd: Brimaz is awesome. It's a cat, so it's cool.
Jeremy: Lastly, is there anything in Modern that you want to see banned or unbanned?
Todd: Defintely not unbanned, and I would have said no to banning a month ago, but it's starting to look like Death's Shadow should probably go. They are just so incredibly good with discard spells and it's not very good Magic that no matter what you want to play, your hand keeps getting ripped apart all the time. I'd guess the online meta is probably over 20% with all the Death's Shadow variants, which for Modern it's getting really high up there. If there was a Modern GP or Modern open right now, you're probably looking at 30%-35% of the meta being Death's Shadow, especially day two. If you could imagine a Modern Pro Tour right now, I would think the meta would be over 50% playing Death's shadow and everyone else would be playing something they thought could beat it. I think it has to be shadow. It's not Mishra's Bauble, it's not Street Wraith...if they banned those cards, people would just play a different version of Death's Shadow. I wouldn't have said it two weeks ago, but I actually think Death's Shadow needs to be banned. I thought people would have been able to adjust to it, but a 1 mana 13/13 might have been a little messed up.
Jeremy: I appreciate your time Todd, if people want to get ahold you or support you, how do they do that?