Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Bottleneck

Devastator vs GB
First thing's first: I made some changes.

Caustic Caterpillar came in to replace Druid Lyrist and Scavenger Folk. It's a more efficient card on both sides: It does more by itself and it doesn't tap to do what it does. That was an easy include.

Because I wanted to have turn one plays, I put in copies of Hexdrinker for both an early threat and a mana sink. Protean Hulk was removed to add in God-Eternal Rhonas, and one Gurzigost and the Brooding Saurians came out for three copies of Fangren Firstborn. (I have an admitted weakness for the Firstborn: it's big, it makes the whole team bigger, what else can someone ask for?)

Finally, I got to the three mana spot and this is where I have gotten stuck. Having read Emma Handy's recent article on Modern, I really want to make sure I have some power coming early, to give me time to get to the late game.

The Leatherback Baloths were taken out for Steel Leaf Champion. A gimmie, right? There's a form of evasion and if sacrificed to Greater Good, I get an extra card over the Leatherbacks.

But...It just doesn't feel like my strongest play. I've been poking around at the planeswalkers because they always create problems, however nothing is screaming out at me. Maybe I'm just being stubborn and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds would be perfect?

The card that really would solve a lot of my problems is Thragtusk, but the five mana spot is already crowded, so I'm reluctant to go down that road. Plus, it is expensive and Devastator already skews high on the mana costs. I'm looking into creatures that gain me life but it's a thin list of help.

Still, the initial tests are getting positive reviews from opponents, who are digging on how it interacts. That's always a good sign.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Devastator

Sometimes, inspiration hits you.

I had purchased copies of God-Eternal Rhonas, and they were sitting on my desk waiting for me to take some time to put them away. Then it struck me: if I had a way to play that card, then play a second copy, I could attack for a lot of damage. But getting two copies of a card in your hand is hard enough; having ten mana to play them? Just not going to happen. I'd need a way to cheat them in.

However, I have a deck that wants to cheat creatures in, don't I? 

I present Devastator v 1.0.
4 Verdant Succession
4 Greater Good
3 Leatherback Baloth
2 Protean Hulk
2 Brooding Saurian
4 Werebear
3 Gigapede
3 Druid Lyrist
3 Blastoderm
3 Scavenger Folk
2 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
3 Gurzigost

24 Forest
Named after the gestalt Constructicon, (and I am going to have to start finding new naming conventions with the Transformers TCG I'm playing...), the premise behind this deck is: Use Greater Good to get whatever card you want, and Verdant Succession to replace the creatures you sacrificed to Greater Good and keep the pressure on.

The priorities then become: creatures with 4 or more power, so I can keep at least one card, and ramp to ensure that I can play both Verdant Succession and those large creatures. Werebears have the opportunity to do both, so they were an auto-include. Scavenger Folk and Druid Lyricist take care of some non-creature permanents while replacing themselves under the Succession, and also give this deck one drops. Gigapede allows me to both sacrifice it for a bunch of cards, then re-cast it for a continual threat!

So into this mix that I want to put in God-Eternal Rhonas. If I sacrifice Rhonas to Greater Good, then it comes back, right? Which should allow me to stack the trigger to find the very Rhonas I sacrificed.

And when Rhonas enters play, everything I control gets vigilance and has their power doubled. Even better, I can stack the triggers, putting Rhonas back into my library and retrieving the same one via the Succession, then drawing cards with Greater Good. It sounds bonkers just writing it out, which is a good sign.

So: there's going to be some updates to this list and then I'm taking it on the road!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Mercs

There's a lot of cool news coming around about the next Transformers TCG set: Siege 2, but by my reckoning, the biggest surprise so far is the introduction of a new faction: The Mercenaries.

There is a lot to get into here, so let's start talking.

First: the keyword for these characters in this set is Bounty, a triggered ability that goes off when one of the Mercenaries KOs another character. That means this group wants to be aggressive. The star counts are still fair but it's pretty easy to see this faction pairing up with Weaponizers and orange pips to really get the most out of their abilities.

Second: there's the shakeup to the metagame. There are three new battle cards (so far) that specifically mention the Bounty keyword, so it looks like WotC really wants to give this faction some legs to stand on against their Autobot and Decepticon counterparts. That's a good thing: players need a reason to engage in the mechanics they are given and support for that helps give us that reason.

However, the new faction means that there's one more deckbuilding consideration to take, because cards like Soldier's Blaster could be huge...or they could be meaningless, depending on that meta. The Mercenaries are strong enough to earn a place in a deck, and so far they appear to be more helpful to the Decepticon faction than the Autobot one, based on the comparison between Opportune Offense and Opportune Repairs alone. Can they be their own faction? I don't think so, yet but they've gotten more support than the Firecons did so the groundwork is there.

The flipside of this is that there seems to be a push for blue/black decks: tanky, defense oriented decks that want to chip away at their opponent's team. I've already seen a rise in build that do this, pushing cards with double black pips especially. The aggressive quality of the Mercs suggests there's a counterweight to this, which, again, keeps things interesting.

Third: none of the revealed battle cards here have any star cost to them, even Wedge Formation, which is a 3 color pip card, and none relating to the Mercenary faction specifically. The message I take from this is: WotC wants to push this group. The opportunity cost of adding in strong Merc cards is zero, so they can get the benefit of some very strong cards. This all suggests to me that they will be able to hold their own without support from the original factions very, very soon.

It's a strong showing of characters and cards, so I'm hopeful that this will provide more depth to the game without overcomplicating things. I like what I'm seeing so far, so bring on the Siege!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Throne of Eldraine Overview

Here we go, the new set is on display! Let's talk about it.

The mechanics:

Adventure: I think this one is a win. It's a spell you can bank into a creature later; it's auto value, unless the spell is countered. Some of them are exceptionally well tied together from a mechanic/thematic perspective, too, and I like to appreciate that when I can.

Adamant: I'm not sure how to evaluate this one. In Limited, when you pull it off it'll feel amazing...sort of. Silverflame Ritual? Yes, that's really cool. It might even be a constructed worthy card for a heavy or mono white deck. Turn Into A Pumpkin? Not so much.

Maybe this is one of those mechanics that is a test, especially in Limited. The Adamant is just a bonus, the card has to be accepted at it's baseline value. This doesn't read so well for me, but I'm also used to a conventional wisdom that says that limited decks are usually 2 colors, not monochrome.

Food: So is Wizards telling us that 3 life = 1 card? Because these aren't Investigate tokens. That mechanic was incredibly well received, since it helped smooth out draws in limited formats, and even had use in constructed formats.

But this isn't that. Investigate gave you a resource you always needed: a card. By default, that gives you more of everything be it time, mana, or spells, because card games run on cards. Food wants to give you time but historically lifegain just doesn't give players the boost that they need or want. 

Worse, it feels like they didn't do anything interesting with this mechanic. Giant Opportunity seems to be as unusual as it gets. Now; one possibility is that lifegain or a lifegain mechanic becomes something in the next block: Theros: Beyond Death. In which case, we have a foundation and some possible cross-pollination. But for now: meh.

Knights vs Non-Human tribes: here's something that might be a bit more dynamic for the larger Constructed format, since there are plenty of non-humans in Standard and 62 knights...at least some of which won't rotate out in two weeks!

Colored Artifacts: this isn't a mechanic so much as a thing that is now officially happening, as opposed to the "cool" thing they did in Kaladesh. Which was, of course, a riff off the "cool" thing they did in Mirrodin.

Sarcasm aside; artifacts have always been problematic, blue and to a lesser extent, white, have always had a strong alliance with them and that's shored up or in some cases overpowered the color, and having a way to rein in the card type is a good thing.

One thing I really like: Obvious cycles. I just do.

Let's get into the colors!

White
So what is up with Flutterfox? The flavor text says white. That fox is clearly not white.

What...is going on with the art for Hushbringer? Heck, give us more weirdness like it, I say. Very cool card, too.

People are down on the legendary white noble, Linden, the Steadfast Queen but I think she's pretty good! 3/3, vigilant, gains life for three mana? What, exactly, is the problem?

Blue
People seem to be really high on Brazen Borrower and while it's good is it THAT good?

Charmed Sleep is winning my award for favorite art so far.

I see that WotC is making a push in Blue/Red again for 'second card drawn each turn' triggers. These always seem like wish fulfillment-the payoff isn't that great for the work you have to do, and drawing a card is already its own reward. There's an 'insult to injury' element (you're just drawing a card AND getting to punch me for four damage?) that feels awful if you're on one side, and excessive on the other. However, this is the second time that they've promoted this mechanic, so perhaps there are enough cards to build around it. (Note to self, check that out).

The blue legendary knight is oddly weak, but maybe I'm not counting the card draw effects enough. Vantress Gargoyle, though: That's a weird card with cool art.

Black

Blacklance Paragon seems like the weakest rare I have seen in a long time. I am not sure what's to be excited about.

I appreciate the mechanical and thematic tie in of Cauldron Familiar, as someone who lives with a black cat. At the same time, they missed a lot of opportunities to add more warlocks to the game. I know knights are one of the tribes Black needs to support in this set, but witches are referenced more than seen here and that's a disappointment, especially considering how central to lore they are.

Maybe it's just me, but Malevolent Nobel is a missed opportunity, or maybe just misnamed. Why is he malevolent, if he's killing witches-who clearly want children's bones? That doesn't seem so bad.

I could've used a little more of Ayara's weirdness; I don't recall seeing "black widow" style characters in Magic often-and as an elf, that makes her very unusual. I like that.

Red
I feel as if Red is where they're starting to throw a lot of experimental and weird mechanical ideas in. I'm not objecting but I don't see Irencrag Feat in any other color, even though there's no reason why one couldn't put it in Black or Green, even White, with a little color pie hoodoo.The color needs some weirdness though, to give it more dimension so I'm not unhappy.

The Burning-Yard Trainer and Redcap Melee storyline seems odd, but maybe it just means that BYT isn't as awesome as he thinks he is.

I wish Robber of the Rich had some kind of evasion. Shouldn't thieves be stealthy? It might be overpowered with evasion and I'm not sure if there's a way to represent evasion that is thematically fitting. Still, looks like a fun card as is.

Thrill of Possibility might be one of the more powerful draw spells Red has seen since Faithless Looting. Previous effects (Wild Guess and Tormenting Voice) have been sorceries: being an instant is an important add on.

Green
Where the food (mechanic) mostly is, has been covered.

The Great Henge is probably the oddest of the legendary artifact cycle, mostly because the others do what I would expect them to do. The cost is crazy, but the benefits? Probably not worth it. Sigh.

Rosethorn Halberd seemed good on first glance, but the equip cost is (understandably) too high. It's a bad Giant Growth for Constructed but may be a Limited all star.

Once Upon A Time seemed exciting when I thought it read "first spell this turn". That said the cycle of Chancellors in New Phyrexia had something going on and I think this effect is stronger overall. Maybe not hype worthy but still useful.

Multi
Doom Foretold! That's a neat card, even though it is totally a 'glory of cool things'.

The rest are OK: which makes sense, this isn't the set for flashy multicolored cards, buuuuuuut then why include ten hybrid mana cards? All of which are the OK-est? Limited, I suppose but I'm not seeing much that is exciting or odd. Even if those cards are there to buttress a theme in Theros, why are they so weak?

Artifact/Land
I don't see much in the way of interesting artifacts, though the artwork for Sorcerer's Broom is pretty sweet.

The Castles have expensive abilities that will be fine in Commander, and the "lower houses" have weaksauce abilities that will be OK in Commander. Not really much to get exited about, except that the "lower houses" all have their respective basic land type. I haven't seen that since Shadowmoor and while that may not be powerful, it IS interesting.

Now, all in all I think there's some really solid design. I don't think this set is full of deep cuts, but I do believe that it'll be plenty of fun!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Suffer More

Wasting Away vs GW beasts
It was in the last few games that I recognized that Wasting Away is a control deck and control decks need control cards.

To that end, Kitesail Freebooter has been great! I was a little surprised by how useful it's been, and even midway through the game, it has been a handy card to have.

And although Gideon, Champion of Justice had done some work for me, it was never a card that I felt my opponents hated to see. When you're operating on the power margins, you definitely want to play cards your opponents wish you hadn't.

Enter, Utter End.

This card is really solid: on the curve, an instant, and takes care of things that the soft lock won't or can't. I don't need a second win condition: I just need to make sure the first one survives and Utter End helps with that.

So, I'm happy with this!
3 Basilisk Collar

2 Order of Leitbur
1 Order of the White Shield
4 Plague Spitter
3 Thrashing Wumpus
4 Kitesail Freebooter

3 Death Pits of Rath
3 Soul Link
4 Lashknife Barrier
1 Noxious Field

2 Utter End

11 Swamp
9 Plains
4 Shambling Vent

3 The Wanderer

3 Command the Dreadhorde

Thursday, September 26, 2019

0-7

I participated in a Soundwave v Blaster tournament at Red Castle Games last Saturday.

The concept was simple: everyone gets the Soundwave v Blaster product, and then players randomly determine which deck they use, one person playing Soundwave's deck the other Blaster's and then in the next round, you'd switch decks. You play the decks right out of the box, so it's a level playing field.

If your opponent played the same deck as you did last round, you randomly determine who gets which deck, again. Simple enough right?

I got Blaster's deck the first round, lost and then randomly got Blaster the second round and lost.

Bad beats, right? Nope!

Everyone who played Blaster lost that day. Not a single game was won by a player navigating the Blaster deck amounting to a total of 7 game losses. So I don't feel that bad about losing, since everyone at the event rapidly came to the same conclusion: the Soundwave deck is clearly overpowered.

Now according to the internet, Blaster decks, once modified to heavy orange, have been making the top tables as one of the better aggro decks in the format. Meanwhile, Soundwave has been languishing competitively, probably in need of a boost from Siege II cards.

That isn't the point, however. Because WotC blew a huge opportunity here.

Soundwave is one of the biggest characters in the franchise so it makes sense to give Soundwave its own deck and matching it up against an iconic nemesis is perfect-every kid worth their salt knew that Blaster was supposed to fight Soundwave.
Why does that fight suck so bad? Let's look at the deck lists. The way I see it, there are a three reasons:

First: Card quality. Soundwave gets the very first double black pip card, Intercept Communications, guaranteeing at least two damage every time an attacking character reveals it.  Scoundrel's Blaster is a fantastic card and the Blaster deck has no way to fairly deal with it. Every game I played or saw, Scoundrel's Blaster was equipped to an opposing character. In my first game, I cast Vaporize three times to destroy Blasters, only to see them come back within a shuffle, because the green pips allowed my opponent to reduce randomness and re-acquire those cards easily.

There is not a similar effect for the opposing deck-Backup Beam doesn't even come close, given the mechanical themes. The card that should've been in there: Enforcement Batons, or even better, Press the Advantage.

Second: Card draw. Buzzsaw, Ravage, Frenzy, Attack!, Pep Talk and Intercept Communications do not have a comparable cards in Blaster's deck. Yes, Pep Talk is in Blaster's deck-and that's exactly the problem. Blue cards in Blaster's deck do not help, because Soundwave's deck and characters concentrate on pierce damage. In the meantime, Soundwave's pilot gets to draw more cards and recur Scoundrel's Blaster-or any other card they need. Something that might've given Blaster a chance: Point-Defense System.

Third and most importantly: poor focus. Handheld Blaster is awful, because it doesn't have an impact against what the Soundwave deck does and there isn't enough orange in the Blaster deck to make the bold worthwhile, where Blast Shield is great in Soundwave's deck because it effectively nullifies an attack, since the Blaster deck is so scattershot. Look at Obstructive Rhythm providing Tough, a mechanic that doesn't help against pierce at all!

You can see how the first and second points arise because of this, and it makes cards that could've been interesting or created dynamic play decisions, such as Interpret the Airwaves, bad, or Daring Counterattack feel desperate and pointless instead of daring and hopeful.

On the other side, there isn't an orange pip to be found in the Soundwave deck! It knows exactly what it wants to do: create defense and chip away at opponents via pierce damage.

This is a set that should have been a gateway to new players, with opportunities for epic plays, close victories and narrow defeats. Instead that gateway is so skewed that nobody can actually walk through it. You either completely dominate or feel as if nothing you did mattered.

That is poor execution on Wizards' part.

I hope that gets fixed with the next vs product, because it's a pretty neat idea that bellyflopped on execution.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Small Suite Of Things

Danny West has been doing an interesting series at CoolStuff and I think this article is a fine example of that.


And, I've notice I've been going 0-X in a lot of my limited formats, so I really appreciated what this article had to offer.