Thursday, June 21, 2018

There's Halos To Burst

Alright, so let's revamp this bad boy.

What says desperate? How about Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded. Often referred to as the worst Planeswalker, I am going to have Tibalt lead a gang of rag tag red legends into the maw of defeat!

And I'm going to bring a lot of fire with me. If I'm going to run just a few legends, then I want a bunch of fire to help them burn it all down. I don't have to have all the legends win. I just need one one left to bring it home.

Since I've been taking a hacksaw to the expensive stuff, Ruby Medallion got cut. I'd rather run lands and save the Medallions for a different deck that has some artifact synergies-something that's been played up quite a bit in red since I built this.

Hm. How about this?
1 Tenza, Godo's Maul

1 Kumano, Master Yamabushi
2 Tahngarth, Talruum Hero
3 Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
3 Urabrask the Hidden
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
1 Squee, the Immortal
1 Etali, Primal Storm
1 Grenzo, Havoc Raiser
1 Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh/ Chandra, Roaring Flame
1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider

3 War's Toll

3 Rift Bolt

4 Seething Song
4 Staggershock
4 Fated Conflagration

3 Ghitu Encampment
1 Hammerheim
1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
18 Mountain

3 Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded

So, here's a thing. A whole lot of weird legends, not a ton of consistency, but a solid 11 damage spells. I don't know if Grenzo is a good idea but I do know Etali is bonkers if it gets to attack. Even once can completely change the tenor of a game. Also, the goad trigger on Grenzo might have some synergies with War's Toll/Kazuul, Tyrant of Cliffs.

Kazuul also can work nicely with the God of the Forge. Giving me creatures to do damage could be a nice thing-and either way, trying to get an opponent to choose between attacks or main phase activities (assuming I have out a War's Toll) is a good thing.

Even when I don't plan on pieces working together, there's some stuff working together. That gives me some hope that I'm going in the right direction.

The card I'm most unsure of right now is Kari Zev. I really want a deck for that card-hell, I still think there's a R/B pirates deck nobody is exploiting right now-but I'm just not sure it's a good fit. If Grenzo appears late in the game, it's still useful, since the ability impacts all my creatures. Kari just sits there. So either she shows up early or it isn't worth seeing her at all.

Longshots is too loose of a deck to take that kind of chance. But maybe I'm wrong? Either way, I think it's time to test. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Process Part XX

Someone who was pretty good at Overwatch wanted to get better so she got a coach and this is what she learned.

If you want some of the TL:DR, then OK: it's about the process. This person got to work on their fundamentals and explore characters she'd shied away from.

It's a pretty nice read but the message, once again is; do the work and things will get better. Concentrate on the outcome and the relevant stuff gets overlooked.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

If You Scholar, Not A Toy

I started this the way I usually do; via analysis at deckstats.net.

Then I started pulling cards out: Smoke, Uphill Battle were first, then I wanted to eliminate some of the more expensive cards. Hateflayer is a awesome card yet at seven mana I wasn't sure I was ever going to get to use it. I cut two.

I kept goldfishing hands that just had too much cost, with no way to reliably, consistently get there. So I cut more. But that left me with vacancies to fill: You still can't register a deck under 60 cards...

That's when I noticed the real problem: Longshots has no binding theme. It's just a 'red neat-ish stuff' deck. Not even Red Good Stuff. Neatish stuff.

So this deck is a mess. It's causing a bit of depression in me, to be honest. What was I thinking when I built this? Why did I even get this sleeved up?

I've started looking back at my binders of cards-so many interesting cards that I'm not using; why did I not put my energy there?

There are times when Magic is discouraging. Bad beats are probably the most common tales but that, I believe, is really just a variant on the most common characteristic of discouragement: That you wasted your time. All the effort and what do you come away with?

In this instance, I have a pile of 60 cards representing time and money and when I come back to it, I see...nothing. It's just terrible. I even considered dismantling the deck, which is something I have never done. I genuinely believe that some decks just need enough time and they will become worth something, because a new card will be printed or a new mechanic explored that just ~clicks~.

Occasionally, though, you have to make your own value, and I think this might be one of those times. So; what is this deck about? It's about desperation, about getting lucky about last stands...

Hm. Maybe it can be a theme deck. Ragtag heroes of legend appearing to make their desperate stand against stronger, more focused enemies. Craziness ensues! 

Alright. That gives me a core concept to build around. Even if it isn't a 'here's how I win' endgame, I have a direction to go in, not unlike when I was tweaking Frost Hammer. I also stumbled on a nice little combo between Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs and War's Toll while doing some online research. So I've got a place to go from here. Time to play the deck.

Finally, I'm headed on vacation for a bit, so the next update will be Tuesday the 19th!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Longshots

This was supposed to be a "Hey, red legends, right?" deck. I'm pretty sure I can do better than this initial sketc. But I must've known I wasn't playing with a great concept, or something I had a bend for, because I called this deck Longshots after a song by Sole and the Skyrider band.
3 Ruby Medallion 
3 Kumano, Master Yamabushi
3 Hateflayer
2 Tahngarth, Talruum Hero
4 Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
3 Urabrask the Hidden
1 Thundermare
          4 Pillage
4 Smoke
1 Uphill Battle 
4 Seething Song
4 Staggershock 
4 Ghitu Encampment
1 Hammerheim
1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
18 Mountain
First things first: Smoke really belongs in a completely different deck. Probably one with creaturelands or artifacts that can become creatures temporarily, while tapping my opponent's creatures at will. Which isn't something Red does-although I'm pleased to see that I had recognized the usefulness of Ghitu Encampment already. I may have even tried to use Smoke to create a subtheme here, given the effects of Uphill Battle and Urabrask the Hidden, but I don't think it's working well.

That means a whole lot of things can change! And with Dominaria being out, there's bound to be some cool additions that can augment this deck to a better spot.

It also means that cards like Thundermare and Hateflayer aren't as thematically useful now. Still decent cards but I can't get as much out of them.

I feel like this deck presents me with an interesting challenge. Where can it go, since I can take it anywhere? What themes did past me try to create that I should work on? I'm going to find out.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Problem With Masters Sets

The Professor has a pretty solid overview of Masters sets vs Battlebond, outlining why the Battlebond set had so much more excitement generated than the past few Masters sets.

And while I think he's about 95% correct, the issue he doesn't address is one of the motivation for producing sets: Selling packs via draft.

Wizards focuses on this over other formats because it's the one that directly impacts their bottom line. Makes sense, right? The secondary market doesn't have a direct line to their profits, and from a corporate head view, selling packs has to be the justification.

So: once Modern Masters was successful, I'm betting that future Masters-level sets couldn't be justified just 'because'. WotC has said they cannot consider the secondary market when they make sets and at least publicly, that has to be true. So now they have to pitch the next set.

Which means one would have difficulty justifying said set-even a set that sells well-with statements like 'the cost of Liliana of the Veil is so high, we cannot retain players so we need to print more' and have to be worked into statements such as: 'we can sell more product via draft if we create this environment'.

And perhaps it only is when you get the really offbeat stuff like Conspiracy (which hasn't taken big chances in my opinion) or Battlebond (a deliberate call to the casual market) that they can take certain risks because the product is unproven.

While the Professor is correct to call out the weakness of those draft environments, there's still the business aspect and I don't see him take that into consideration. That is to say: He's right, these sets need to be better and cheaper but 1) they cannot make a power-Cube level set every time without repeating themselves, creating boring environments and 2) how do they justify these sets to the higher ups without making balanced draft environments? Because those higher ups understand "Sell more packs make more money" and draft does that.

What might also be the case and is never mentioned is the amount of time that is put into creating said environment. Battlebond was something that they worked on for two+ years, because this is a new environment with new product. I'd bet the time to create Conspiracy was similar, at least the first time around. The really great Commander decks? Same thinking.

Masters sets are all reprints and almost certainly have less people working on them for shorter periods of time. How can they possibly make a truly great environment without people to test them, while also including those high powered cards that don't make drafting that format a miserable 'I opened super broken rare and that was it' experiences?

Because those experiences sour people on draft and doing so means less people buy packs.

Then again, that's the problem they're having with the audience right now, so they'd better do something to fix the Masters product and on this count I'm with the Professor: turning them into 'theme' sets isn't it.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Battlebond Thoughts

This really is the year that WotC woo'd the Commander players, isn't it?

We have a spoiler here.

First, the reprints: these seem driven at least partially, by the Commander format. Sure, Battlebond is meant to be drafted for 2 Headed Giant-they have to pitch the draft format somehow, because that's how they sell packs-but Commander is still the multiplayer format of choice.

Dominaria provides more Legendary creatures and things to go with said creatures than any set since Kamigawa, and now this.

Makes me think that the fall Commander set is going to be 2 Headed Giant themed. And why not? Start people at 100 life and go from there. I wager games would go pretty quickly and provide players with a reason to buy ever more product-both Battlebond and Dominaria benefit.

Plus with the Guilds of Ravnica set this winter and Ravnica Alliance following, that means that you have hosts of multicolored cards (and lands) to support the format that Battlebond is trying to grow.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The point is: True-Name Nemesis and Diabolic Intent are selling for a little over $20, Seedborn Muse nearly $30 and Doubling Season for nearly $60 as of this writing. TNN is driven by Legacy, the others by Commander, really. Reprinting these cards should drive prices down, giving more players more access to these formats and it'll be done by encouraging players who don't draft much to draft.

These reprints seem to be a better thing-far better, honestly-than Masters 25's attempt. Perhaps the focus on multiplayer allowed for Battlebond to work more needed reprints?

Sure, they aren't all winners (looking at you, Goblin Razerunners and is Nyxathid really good in multiplayer?) but all in all, these look better than I've seen in awhile.

As for specific mechanics:

Assist
I think the base mechanic is OK. Where it gets interesting, for me, is in formats like Commander where political games can be played. I know I've found myself in situations where if I could work together with someone in a similarly disadvantaged position as myself, I would.

Friend or Foe
Like the voting mechanic of Conspiracy, this opens things up to some goofy situations that, again, I find more engaging in Commander where giving a boost to a player that has had a rough start might be worthwhile. In the Limited environment? I'm sure it'll be fine but it's not like it's interesting-you always benefit your partner, oppress your opponent, right?

Partner with...
This new take on Partner is pretty interesting. A nice way to expand options for Commander players while also giving Battlebond Limited players a cool way of feeling like they are working together. I really appreciate that design.

What's especially unusual is that the partners are all opposing color partners, U/G, W/B, etc. I'm not sure why that is: perhaps it plays better with the future Commander set? Guilds of Ravnica has more enemy colored pairs than friendly ones but that's a stretch on my part.

I've seen it suggested that having the colors be opposing partners meant that players wouldn't have to struggle to build decks-you get the white, I get the red, for example, and now the support colors aren't something we are trying to divvy up because while we both like green, blue and black support are still open.

Support

I wasn't excited about this mechanic in the Tarkir days and I'm still meh about it, but what I will say is that it plays well with the Limited environment of 2 Headed Giant.


For this portion, I'm just going to talk about the new cards.

White
Everyone welcome the new hotness, Arena Rector! Yike. That card will be terrifyingly expensive right out of the gate. If that card isn't reprinted rapidly, that's bad news. Academy Rector is over $50 and that just gets something that isn't the most powerful permanent type in the game so...

The printing of Brightling means we are one step closer to finally completing the cycle Morphling started in '94. One more color to go!

Blue
I sort of understand why Arcane Artisan is a mythic rare. Being able to get an Emrakul for three mana doesn't suck. Still: pretty fragile creature so I don't expect it to make huge waves.

Fumble, on the other hand, is the kind of effect I'm surprised we haven't seen before. That should make for some really cool and memorable plays. Sure, most of the time it's just a bounce spell, but when it turns the game around, it will REALLY turn things around and people won't ever forget it.

Black
Fan Favorite represents a mechanical card I am surprised we didn't see more of. Even if it's just one per color, it seems like that mechanic (a call back to Mercadian Masques!) would fit nicely in Battlebond's -ahem- arena. Looks like Green is the only other color to indulge though, with Feral Hydra reprinted.

I also dig Inner Demon and am glad to see Stunning Reversal find a home in black. It feels like it's in the right color, due to it's thematic execution.

Red
Azra Bladeseeker is going to do more work than people might think. That's a good body and a good enters the battlefield effect.

The card that I think is going to be a breakout, though, is Cheering Fanatic. Aside from a straight up combo deck, is there a deck that couldn't use this? Swings, maybe you hit for 2, maybe you don't, but your next spell costs 1 less no matter what. If you attack multiple times, or with multiple Fanatics, that could really add up!

I'm glad to see Najeela, the Blade-Blossom have the ability it does: she'll be a great commander for the Warrior tribe and Red could use the development.

Green
Sorry, did I say Arena Rector was going to be the crazy hotness? I meant Bramble Sovereign. That card + Doubling Season is going to be every player's dream.

After that, most of the hype in Green is in the reprints but I want to talk about Grothama, All Devouring. Because that card is weird. Dubious Challenge weird. I want four copies of it. First, it's the only Legendary Wurm ever. Second, it functions as a bizzaroland boardwipe, if the opponent wants to take that risk-is drawing more cards worth losing your board position? Can you play fun regeneration/indestructible tricks to bluff your opponent into nuking their team?

Artifacts and Multicolor
Eh. There really isn't anything here that jumps out as being odd. Last One Standing is cool, but they don't do a lot with what else they provide you. What makes the Azra creature type significant? The look like purple elves but so what? Victory Chimes is going to make for possible monkeyshines in Commander and Sentinel Tower is...kinda dumb. Because storm is dumb. OK? Storm is dumb. I said it. Still, I'd rather see Sentinel Tower over actual storm cards.

For me, there's lot to like here. Reprints to get people exited, new cards to mess with the most popular casual format, an interesting way to highlight a new casual format...although wouldn't it be cool to see a 2 Headed Giant pro tour? That would be wild. I'd watch it.

Point is, I am hopeful about this one, as I was with the Conspiracy drafts I did, and I think that WotC has once again done a solid job here, giving players of various interests something to have fun with.


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Cost of Colorless

I've been saying for years that Wizards has difficulties whenever it does an artifact heavy set: the card type is too easy to put into any deck and doesn't have enough hate, leading to a permanent type that becomes easy to abuse.

But I've been a bit overfocused, because the game has evolved to include mere colorless permanents and those have been causing their own issues, too. Ugin, Karn, the Eldrazi...and with new Karn making appearances in many decks and likely being the most fiscally expensive card from Dominaria by a large margin, the fine people at MTGgoldfish have taken the issue of colorless cards head on.

The proposed solution isn't bad but it presents a problem from a story perspective: Wastes-colorless mana producing lands-aren't present on other planes. I suppose they could be but that isn't how Wizards tends to operate. These aren't deserts, a land type that conceivably could be found in any mythological world, but something generated by the Eldrazi themselves draining colored mana from the plane. Since Eldrazi aren't everywhere, how do you reliably generate colorless mana now?

What I come back to is the need for proper answers. There isn't enough artifact hate or planeswalker responses-the colors tend to have ways to check against themselves-white's lifegain vs red's direct damage, for example. But there hasn't been a similar way to handle a card type. It's always been more about responding to a color's philosophy.

What is the countermeasure to a philosophy that doesn't exist?