Thursday, December 29, 2011


Named after the fearsome Dinobot, Sludge is a deck that wants to muck up the most precious part of any deck: mana.
4 Limited Resources

2 Monstrous Hound
4 Benalish Emissary
2 Firebrand Ranger
3 Faultgrinder
3 Pangosaur
2 Thornscape Battlemage
3 Farhaven Elf\
3 Lash Out
3 Graceful Reprieve
3 Rith's Charm
2 Naya Charm

1 Decimate
2 Implode

6 Plains
5 Mountain
3 Jungle Shrine
3 Naya Panorama
7 Forest

A deck that tends to be crushing in multiplayer and a bit too weak for 1v1, I don't play Sludge that often. Sure, it has my usual selection of questionable creatures choices (looking at you, Pangosaur!) but the use of Limited Resources and land destruction in multiplayer wreaks havoc on most any deck. Conversely, it doesn't have as great an impact on 1v1 because most decks can function very well on only five mana.

The problem is that in 1v1, its functionality is questionable and in multiplayer it can rapidly become unfun. Nonetheless, this is about science! We must study it!

Or not; I really just want to know if maybe, just maybe, it's time to dismantle this deck. It's got a solid game to it, why shouldn't I play it? Every so often, opponents can deal with the unfun, right? So let's roll the bones here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Is There A Ghost? still has some issues.

In my first matchup, vs a U/W/r wall deck, I probably played a bit too slowly; I was getting greedy and though I had two Chameleon Colossus on the table and the mana to boost them both, along with a Kodama of the South Tree, I didn't have the mana to cast a spell, making them 5/5s and then boost them.

In short, I should've been playing to win, instead of playing to win overwhelmingly. I got worried because my opponent (stonethorn) had 4/4 and 5/5 walls but I should have been more concerned about how much time I was giving him to set up and win. He didn't but he could have and the point is: I should've made the best play.

The Angel of Flight White did its job very well though, returning to me many a spirit and keeping this deck going when other tricks were failing to arrive. Eventually, that was the key to winning: the fact that I just kept getting creatures back.

My next game was against against a G/B birthing pod deck. We played two games; both of which had me getting out a Chameleon Colossus and riding it's protection from black ability to victory. I think there was a slight miss by everyone with Primordial Hydra, as I seem to recall it being cast for 1 and staying at that power/toughness until I ran over it with Colossus beats.

That said: I managed to cast Enshrined Memories once and it got countered, so at least I know that it was important enough to counter. I had plenty of mana thanks to the Elder Pines and as a method to refill my hand with creatures, stonethorn felt it was a big enough problem to stop. Plus, the manlands were effective as a consistent threat I could bring out if everything else went awry and I could easily activate them without feeling a mana pinch.

Still, this deck feels like it's lacking a big push, the element that makes it scary. Perhaps it doesn't need that but with spirits being one of the tribes in Innistrad block, I am going to keep my eyes open for other spirits that may help this deck. As it stands, the Changeling Titan might come out for more Flight Whites because of the evasion and durability they bring to the deck.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ghost Tweak

After the last tweak to Ghost, the stage was set for further improvements.

-1 Mosswort Bridge. This card made sense when I could dig up an Avenger or Molimo and reliably get creatures with 10+ power on the board. Now, who knows?

-1 Elfhame Palace. Removed to make room.

-1 Forest. Removed to increase threat density.

The additions were as follows:
+1 Gavony Township. This was added because the engine that lays lands in this deck are two small creatures. The opportunity to make them large should not be avoided.

+1 Stirring Wildwood. If I had two Wildwoods I would have removed both Palaces for them. I do not and while they are cheap, the My Money rule kicks in because I have a:

+1 Treetop Village. O.G. manland baby!

With these three cards, the manabase becomes part of my threat count and having to overlook creatures because I'm drawing lots of lands becomes less of a drawback.

I still need creatures though and now I need them in multiples, since I ditched the big guns.

Enter Enshrined Memories. This is one of those cards that I look at and think: How did I not know about/use this card before? It's scalable, it gets me what I want in a green deck: more creatures and I have five copies of this card. Five!

That's why I love the weird cheap rares that nobody cares about, pulled from the .50 bin. Suddenly I find the perfect fit for the card and anyone who plays me has to read it twice to remember what the hell I'm doing.

That feeling is sometimes more satisfying than winning.

So, -2 Worldly Tutor and +2 Enshrined Memories. Now to test it out!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is There A Ghost

This should be an interesting bit of fun. First, the deck, title taken from Band of Horses (the video is something I also dig on.)

2 Shining Shoal
2 Unchecked Growth
4 Crib Swap
2 Worldly Tutor

3 Forked-Branch Garami
4 Loam Dweller
3 Kodama of the South Tree
2 Suture Spirit
3 Changeling Titan
4 Chameleon Colossus
4 Elder Pine of Jukai
2 Kataki, War's Wage
1 Oversoul of Dusk

3 Sungrass Prairie
7 Plains
9 Forest
 2 Elfhame Palace
1 Mosswort Bridge

2 Terashi's Grasp

A deck wanting to use the Soulshift mechanic, this original list went from that, to -1 Oversoul of Dusk, -1 Changeling Titan +1 Avenger of Zendikar and +1 Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer. Here's why: the combo between Loam Dweller and Elder Pine of Jukai meant that I always had more lands than I knew what to do with. Avenger and Molimo meant that I could cast some real problems for my opponents.

This lead to the addition of the Worldly Tutors, because as great as this deck can be at getting lands out, it tends to overlook creatures and I don't win the game with lands, I win with creatures. Since there are two very frightening creatures, the Tutors allow me to bring them up when I want them.

But then Innistrad happened and in the spoiler at mtgsalvation there was the worst-named card in the set. In the comments, someone even wrote 'Isn't this just soulshift?'

It still took me two months to get around to this deck. What can I say? I've been busy. 

However, now there's an opportunity for the whole deck to change. So now there's - Avenger and Molimo and +2 Angel of Flight Alabaster. The question is; now that I've opened the box up to change it, what else needs to be fixed? Are cards like Worldly Tutor still useful, now that the most terrifying creatures in the deck are gone? Are manlands an appropriate threat for this deck? We shall soon see.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Missing a trigger

Travelling, so I'll be away. Hope to post next Tuesday but it might be Thursday before I can get stuff in.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Defeat by Dragons

I managed to play Push The Fader in three different matches, two multiplayer and one 1v1. The 1v1 matchup was against a newly built deck, a GW beast thing that was still in the testing stages. I blew that one out but on the plus side, was able to give some advice on how to restructure that deck for the better.

The two multiplayer games were interesting, however. In one case, I was up against a GW Knight of the Reliquary deck and Groove.

Here's where I made my mistake: the Groove player had a morph creature in play, the GW deck hadn't really gotten going yet, and I have a Parallax Tide, Spellbound Dragon and a Wildfire in hand. So I decide to play the Dragon, then I can Tide, then Wildfire and it's all good!

No, it isn't. The Groove player morphs his Chromeshell Crab--which I know is the only morph creature in the deck because I built that deck--and steals my Dragon.

Now I'm getting desperate, because a Zedruu comes out and the Reliquary deck is starting to drop creatures. But instead of slow-rolling this until I had options by say, stunting my opponent's mana with Tide, I just stuck to my game plan, cast Wildfire clearing the board...except for the Dragon. Which isn't mine anymore. And I lost to.

In the back of my mind, I'm figuring that I will draw into another Wildfire and a Shock; there's plenty of time, I have eight draw spell cards, I've blunted my opponents in a pretty severe way, I can do this.

No, I can't; I'm relying on drawing into a two card combination AND having 7 mana to make it work. Fader can do a lot of things, to stay in the game but once I Wildfire with that deck, I really need to have an advantage at that moment.

The game swings a little bit, with the GW player loving being able to cast an 8/8 Knight of the Reliquary, but it's too little, too late. The Dragon does us in.

Last night, I was up against a mono-U Illusions and UB deck that wanted to mill itself for neat effects. I didn't get to see it in action much because, with six mana up and a Spellbound Dragon out, I cast Wildfire. Now, with the only other problems on the board being a Phantasmal Image, copying my dragon and a Phyrexian Metamorph doing the same, this seemed like a good idea. Kill everyone's lands, wipe out the Illusion player's advantages, and with the rest of my hand consisting of two Shock, lands, a mana artifact and a second Wildfire, I could re-establish board position, the Image is easy to kill now, ditto the Metamorph. I knew the Illusions player had a Wurmcoil Engine in hand so keeping him off six mana was critical. I also knew that the UB player had a Cancel-but everyone was tapped out, so now was the time.

No plan survives contact with the enemy. The Metamorph player, while not getting much else, had a Khalni Gem out, and this meant that he would recover faster than I would like. Still, I wasn't worried until he topdecked Into the Roil, bounced my Dragon and started swinging at me for 8, then 6. I managed to get my Dragon back out quickly, but then the waiting game began. The UB player didn't press an advantage with an unblockable illusion, so I didn't mention anything and the Illusions player was stone cold dead in the water, not drawing anything to help him out.

The board went into stalemate for a little while, until use of Prophetic Bolt brought me a Parallax Tide. I decided I should press my advantage and cast it; I had enough mana to cast Wildfire and Shock, killing the Metamorph (Dragon), the Illusions player would be out of lands and out of creatures and I could wrap things up.

But when I go to cast Wildfire a funny thing happened: the UB player's Cancel-which I let him have, oh so long ago on turn 4-reminded me that I'd let him have countermagic.

Drat. Still, I dropped two Burning-Eye Zuberas, a Covetous Dragon and figured I could make a game of it, killing the Illusions player off. Then Phyrexian Ingester came out, nomed my Dragon and that was that.

In both losses, my inability to draw into something else seemed to be part of my downfall. I could establish board position but I couldn't press it forward hard enough. Inattentiveness factored into both losses for certain and maybe a little touch of panic in the first case, where I just got worried about what I wasn't drawing instead of focusing on what I had. I may make this deck a bit more consistent but I'll probably go for underpowering it it than amping it up (Shock over Incinerate, for example) in order to enable spellcasting post Wildfire. For now though, I like it, even if the deck is causing my own death.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Push the Fader

 Born from the sexysex Girls Against Boys song.
3x Burning-Eye Zubera
2x Covetous Dragon
3x Rushing-Tide Zubera
2x Spellbound Dragon
3x Surveilling Sprite

3x Shock
1x Incinerate
1x Magma Jet
2x Opt
3x Prophetic Bolt

4x Seat of the Synod
5x Island
4x Cascade Bluffs
2x Izzet Boilerworks
8x Mountain

2x Mind Stone
3x Izzet Signet

4x Parallax Tide

1x Ponder
4x Wildfire
The premise here is to build up mana rapidly, then lay down a cheap big creature and cast Wildfire, to clear out the tiny ones/cripple everyone's mana and win. Based roughly on Kai's World Championship, I messed with it because I couldn't afford the cards everyone wanted for Kai's deck and Parallax Nexus came along.

I thought: why not just remove my lands from the game, Wildfire, and get them back next turn? Brilliant! So the deck morphed into a drawing, Nexus-ing, Wildfire thing. And years passed, with changes small and large, tweaks here and there until Saviors of Kamigawa game out with the two big Zuberas.

Four damage to make them trigger. And Wildfire does four damage so...

(insert your personal image of awesome)

And in they went. Since then, the deck has remained more or less in it's current form, with me trying to pull solid R or U creatures that have a toughness greater than 4, or pulling them out when the ideas didn't mesh too well. As a result, there are a few strange choices, like Ponder or Shock, which fit in just fine but are left over from other ideas and thus the original motive for including them may seem obscured.

Nonetheless, I don't think that one has to have all the same cards to make a good deck; just stick to the themes and all should be well.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Data incomplete

Last night I went up against a U/B Illusions deck (the aggro one with Phantasmal Bears, Dragons and evil, Oh my!) with 0+2=1 and though I was subject to early pressure, I was able to get five lands out by turn 3 and drop a Dirtcowl Wurm, followed next turn by a Sunder.

After the Sunder, my Wurm became a 5/6 and the Illusions player started to get a lot more timid, not playing lands: I don't blame her, because despite getting me down to 8, I was able to cast Meloku and start pumping out 1/1 flyers next turn. The options were difficult: Does she press on trying to get me down or does she have the tools to take me out and so holding back is the best option?

Unfortunately,  her unfamiliarity with the deck (she was borrowing it) meant that she didn't press her advantages as much as she could have and I was able to swing for 17 in a turn, including 11 in the air.

The evening was getting late, so we didn't get another game in and that's too bad. Testing out this particular deck hasn't given me enough data to figure out what's working or not, merely: I either stop or die to The Big Spell. There's got to be more to it than that, so I think I'll be keeping this deck in reserve to get more info from.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Decisions, decisions, decisions

I'm playing 0+2=1 against Zx at Baileys, a favorite haunt for beers and gaming. Admittedly, it's more for beer geeks than gaming nerds but it all works out, I promise.

There's all kinds of plays being made but here's all you need to know:

He cast Teferi and I lose. Sure, I cast Sunder (thrice!) but it didn't matter, because in a control v. control matchup like this one, the one who cannot cast Counterspell loses.

Now there's two issues here: First, I know how Zx works and I know you have to keep Teferi off the table. Second: I had two counterspells in hand (Counterspell and Divert) and I failed to use them. Why the hell did I do that?

I've been thinking about that situation a lot and there are two reasons for it: First, I am hasty. I'm not used to playing blue, whose reactionary nature requires a slightly more measured play or consideration. It's a different mentality than the 'I'm doing it; can you stop me?' one that I tend to use and that requires me to Pay Attention (one of the big rules of the game.) Second, I'm very, very hard on myself.

I could have said: 'Wait, I have a response for that,' once my mammoth brain kicked in and realized I had a response to that because the game hadn't advance beyond my opponent thinking Teferi resolved...but I didn't. And I didn't do that because I believe that there's no way to get better at this game unless I live with the mistakes I make.

But I need to cut myself a little more slack, I think, because the people I play with tend to perform like countermagic doesn't exist, which can be a hard mindset to break free of. If I can do it, though, I think my play will improve. On top of that, I don't have to crush myself every time I make a mistake, especially when that mistake is so easily correctable.

Speaking of decisions, I've decided that the appropriate card draw spell for Thingy should be Visions of Beyond. I look forward to testing this since I have a feeling it'll net me three cards instead of one more often than not. The other card I was considering was Flux but this card is subject to one of the Rules: Only use symmetrical effects if you can break them. In the case of Flux, I think bad players will make bad decisions but good players will make ones that will cause problems for me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


This deck's name is taken from the fantastic NoMeansNo song, mostly 'cause I can.
4x Counterspell
4x Deprive
4x Sunder

12x Forest
11x Island
1x Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
4x Serum Visions
3x Summer Bloom
4x Explore

2x Meloku the Clouded Mirror
4x Skyshroud Ranger
3x Dirtcowl Wurm
4x Vinelasher Kudzu
So what does this do? Pump out a bunch of land, drop Dirtcowl Wurm or Vinelasher Kudzu and then cast Sunder. Meloku is there as a backup device, generating 1/1 flyers and providing the air attack should the big dumb monsters on the ground prove to be less than adequate.

For the longest time, this deck was all about getting to the mid-late game; the addition of Vinelasher Kudzu helped give this deck some early gas but this is one of those decks that, despite its synergies, wants to cast one big spell and win. If it doesn't get it's big spell, it is possible to win on the back of a large Vinelasher backed up by countermagic, but it's more difficult. Still, better to have a plan than no plan.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In madness you dwell

OK, it's been a little while so a link back to the Thing That Should Not Be, as a refresher for readers.

I'm playing against B/W humans again. It's not going well. Thingy is getting overrun by Champion of the Parish. Aggro decks; is there a plan here?

There is; Play Mimeoplasm, remove two Dearly Departed and have a 10/10. That should make things interesting. And then the program crashes. OK, that happens.

Do over: I have Chancellor and Tome Scour, with an Island in my opening hand and yeah, I mill for 12. But no love comes my way afterward and I die to large humans swinging.

Sigh. This deck needs some more disruption, specifically creaturekill.

So new changes:

-4 Jace Archivist: removing because of the UU in the casting cost, truthfully. In a three color deck, especially ones with out a 'bridge' color and lands that support it (such as the Lairs of Planeshift) or very expensive lands, double color requirements can be backbreaking. Chancellor is UUU and that tweaks the entire manabase but I feel it's worth it as a Mimeoplasm target or, if hardcast, a swinging effect using the opponent's deck against them.

-2 Gravedigger; I just don't have as many targets as I'd like for this.

+3 Tolarian Winds for the draw, +3 Doom Blade for creaturekill. Let's move on!

My next matchup is against a U/R Equilbriium deck with Kobolds and Storm Entity/Grapeshot to try and win. I get out three Looters and despite going through over a third of my deck, get a whole lot of nothing in terms of action. The milling effects are working though: if I can survive 10 more turns I can pull this out.

Stonewood Invocation arrives though and I don't have to. Still, an ugly, drag out way to win.

Game two has the glory of a revealed Chancellor of the Spires in my opener and a difficult choice on turn two: Do I cast Tolarian Winds and draw a fresh set of 6, or do I keep the hand and go with the glory that is a Mind Funeral and Mimeoplasm in hand? I decide to stick it out with the Mind Funeral and hold back. The deck I'm facing hasn't shown to be speedy or disruptive enough so ditching a good hand doesn't seem wise.

I end up eating 3 on turn 4 from a Storm Entity and I still have a full hand and my opponent's graveyard is full of terrible things to copy so I cast Winds, draw 5 and on my next turn, cast Tome Scour to mill another five cards (getting a Kobold!) and casting Gravedigger to get back The Mimeoplasm.

After taking another 3, I play the Mimeoplasm to get myself a 8/10 flying Chancellor, cast Ponder from my opponent's graveyard and draw a Doom Blade. At this point I feel like I've got the game wrapped up...and then he throws down 4 Kobolds, Grapeshot, Grapeshot, I eat 11 and die.

Eh, it happens. But fuck, if Storm isn't the worst card mechanic they've ever done. (Transform taking a close second.)

The second matchup highlights one of the problems I've been having with Thingy: It's very reliant on my opponent's stuff: if I mill Kolbolds or Disenchants, these are not spells or creatures that are worth removing/recasting. They don't make for scary Mimeoplasms or solid Chancellor effects. My own efforts to ensure that my Mimeoplasms are badass may not be enough.

So it's on to the final match! I take the play and lead with a Looter and start drawing, discarding and seeing what I can get. A second Looter comes while my opponent has T1 Ponder, T2 Ponder, Ponder. So I may need to hurry this up.

I can't hurry it up fast enough and the Storm combo takes me. The details escape me, though I do remembering thinking: I need a Doom Blade, because a 20/20 Storm Entity is coming soon.

Sometimes, I hate being right.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Briefly out

I'm moving and don't know when my internet/life will return. I figure about a week, then I'll be able to resume Tues-Thurs posting again!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Crystalized Thought

Sometimes reading through articles on Magic is good brainfood. The competitive edges that players try and work through don't exactly apply to my metagame but they do help solve mental problems. For example, this article at Channel Fireball contains this gold nugget:
Now, when I come to Jon with a list, the first thing he asks me is, “What do you want to beat?”
Dead on. No deck or strategy can beat everything and I don't use sideboards, so the question is: What strategy is this deck meant to beat. 

It is why I have created a mental subcategory of decks called "Jason decks"; ones that are meant to defeat his strategies (frequently milling or thievery ones.) When I don't play a Jason deck against him and I lose, I take what I can and learn from that. When I win and I do so because of a well executed strategy, not because of bad/good luck, then maybe I'm onto something.

However, I need to view all my decks this way: What is this meant to beat? The answer to that question takes a bit of the sting out of a loss when I'm playing a strategy that is just flat out unworkable given my opponent's strategy. That doesn't excuse bad play or poor decisions but it might allow me to remove a bit of ego from the equation and see situations for what they are, instead of just feeling bad because I lost.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Game situation: Sensei's Top telling me Plains, Plains, Swamp is in my future, while I'm facing double Ankh of Mishra. So things are bad.

I have a Seal of Cleansing on the board to take care of something, only question is what, of course.

Then the worst happens; I shuffle my deck when I meant to draw. This fucks the whole game really. There's no way for me to properly reset things-you can't un-shuffle a deck (although it wouldn't be a problem if the Shuffle and the Draw commands weren't right next to each fail!)

I'm given a forgiveness token and we just keep going.

It's good to play with friends.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Thing That Should Not Be

Brought to you by HP Lovecraft and Metallica. A new deck, even, born from the insanity of the Commander runs.
4x Chancellor of the Spires
2x Dimir Aqueduct
4x Forest
4x Gravedigger
10x Island
4x Jace's Archivist
2x Krosan Cloudscraper
4x Looter il-Kor
4x Mind Funeral
2x Simic Growth Chamber
4x Stonewood Invocation
6x Swamp
4x The Mimeoplasm
4x Tome Scour
2x Trickbind
Whenever I build a new deck-especially one as weird as this, where the goal is to mill the opponent out as much as possible but NOT to win, instead to steal their best creatures via Mimeoplasm and combine to make a flying or shadow creature of my own, if necessary, or just a huge body if not, to win.

But yeah, it can mill out too, though that's harder to accomplish. I don't know why I tend to shy away from milling strategies but I do. Frequently these strategies don't feel proactive enough for me and that may be part of the reason; another is that good control cards frequently cost a bit of money and thus are more difficult to get to work.

Anyway; this is the new trick! We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I'll see you in Hell

I started off vs a Cloudpost variant, wishing to cast Eldrazi in a hurry and rapidly found myself facing a Ulamog's Crusher, with an It That Betrays coming soon. I cast Faith's Fetters on the Crusher to stall for time and begin dredging Nightmare Void in order to keep the opponent's hand empty.

Artisan of Kozilek swings at me and I sacrifice Academy Rector and a Swamp. Using the Rector's ability, I get Confiscate to attach to the Artisan and then....

We don't know what. Do I take 10 or do I just get the giant creature?

Eventually we decide that I don't have to take damage, I get the Artizan and swing until my opponent's dead. Turns out, that's the right play both from a gameplay and a rules standpoint. So go us.

Game 2: I cast Cabal Therapy blind, with a board of Urza's Mine and Power Plant, naming Ulamog's Crusher. I get lucky (sorta) and hit on that, but I fuck up the use of my Sensei's Top through inappropriate mouseclicks and die to Spawnsire and Ulamog. The drawback to playing online is that it can be easier to fuck things up electronically than it is when physically handling the cards. I could've had it, but it was not meant to be.

Game 3: Lots of Top for me...but now what? He's got Cloudpost and Urza's Tower, I get a Phyrexian Ghoul on all I have to do is somehow win without seeing a Rector (yoink!) and hope he doesn't accelerate into death.

I use Nightmare Void to keep the worst things off my back for a couple turns but in the meantime, the Urzatron gets assembled and I just have a 2/2 in play. It see-saws for a bit while I hold off then control It That Betrays with Confiscate but once Eye of Ugin comes out, the searching for Eldrazi spells comes and though I'm able to force the discard of an Ulamog, the search happens and I can't prevent the second.

The deck didn't fail me so much as my play did. Still, maybe there's some tightening up to do. There's always work to do on playskill...

Next up, I was in a three player game, against a G/W beast deck that I'd built and loaned to someone, and a mono-B nasty that runs Phyrexian Obliterator.

My hand had a Confiscate in it but it also had a Sensei's Divining Top, so I kept. Unfortunately, I think I blew the plays again. I managed to use/sacrifice three (three!) Academy Rectors to put a Faith's Fetters on a couple nasties and Confiscate another. But I didn't dredge correctly to get rid of the cards I didn't need, so while I managed to hold out for a bit, eventually the G/W player landed a Rampaging Baloth and that was it.

This deck needs me to practice with it more. Also, I don't like having cards I cannot ever cast in my hand, mocking me like a high school girl. I may like Mythic Proportions but I like having castable spells more.

Next game:
Vs. B/W humans-with the Entomb, Dearly Departed start. Knowing this, I cast Cabal Therapy mostly blind. Next turn, I'm able to cast Academy Rector and take Mother of Runes.

The problem comes when I use Top and find 'land, Confiscate, Mythic Proportions'. This happened in nearly every recent game I've played online. I've been having to dredge or attempt to shuffle away these cards and it's making this deck do things it doesn't want to. I may have to sub out the Caves of Kolios for Marsh Flats.

It's the little things but they add up and being able to use the tools I put in a deck is one of those helpful things that I need to keep in mind when I build/re-build them.

I end up being unable to remove enough creatures and I can't get the combo going, so I find myself overrun by humans eventually. The end comes when the 2nd Dark Confidant comes down.

Next match: BW Humans via Fuz
At this point, I've subbed the Mythic Proportions out for Eldrazi Conscription.

Slow start again, with Swamp, Basilica as my opening plays, vs Champion of the Parish and Tireless Tribe. A Dearly Departed gets discarded to the Tribe and the game ends soon.

Game two, despite having a brilliant turn 1 of Ritual, Buried, and a turn 2 of two humans at 4/4, I'm able to hold out until a Phyrexian Ghoul arrives on turn 3, I suck up 8 damage then cast Rector turn 4, wait, and at the ends step search for Conscription, giving me turn 5 swing for 12 with 2 Annihilator. I pull it out afterward.

Game three: Champion leads, I have nothing again, except a Persecute and a Nightmare Void--but these cards are excellent later in the game; they aren't helping me set stuff up. After a Tireless Tribe and a Blood Celebrant comes in, I've got nothing, still and my draw is a Confiscate after taking 3. So things are looking rough.

When Mom shows up turn 3 I know I'm in trouble, especially since my response is to play a Nantuko Husk. I'm facing an absurd army and nothing to do. It's...troublesome. Putting out a Phyrexian Ghoul next does nothing for me, and when the next human drops has protection from black (Death Speakers!), that's game.

Lesson #1: enable your enablers. Sac-lands and Top have been a combo for years; I should've been on that bandwagon long ago. Change made.

Lesson #2: when something clearly better comes along to help you, take it. I don't run strict enough decks to use cards that don't help me. Conscription is the better choice and I should just take it. Mythic Proportions will find its way into something else.

Lesson #3: Bad matchups are bad. Die, Die was built to handle the slower combo decks/control ones, with the discard and activated abilities. Games that want to beat me by turn 4 will frequently have the upper edge. That's OK; there's always another deck.

Lesson #4: Casting Cabal Therapy blind is...suboptimal. However, no choice remains when the decks that I end up playing are so diverse. I generally think this adds to the fun but I'll acknowledge that for someone taking the game seriously, this play is absurd.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Die, Die My Darling

The name taken from the classic Misfits love song.
2 Confiscate
2 Faith's Fetters
1 Seal of Cleansing
1 Aura of Silence
2 Seal of Doom
2 Mythic Proportions
3 Persecute
3 Conjurer's Ban
3 Cabal Therapy
2 Nightmare Void
1 Tithe

2 Nantuko Husk
4 Academy Rector
4 Phyrexian Ghoul

2 Orzhov Basilica
8 Swamp
4 Caves of Koilos
8 Plains
1 Salt Flats
1 Enlightened Tutor
4 Sensei's Divining Top
I bet you're looking at this and thinking: What a goddamn mess. That's probably not an inaccurate assessment.

Nevertheless, this deck is fun as hell to play. Sensei's Divining Top keeps the off-color cards out of my hand, the Ghouls and the Cabal Therapys let me kill off Academy Rector and swing for up to 12 with trample, or tutor for a card I need, Tithe lets me shuffle, Aura of Silence can be put to work vs heavy artifact/enchantment decks and to top it all off, cards like Persecute help keep the opponent from disrupting things, or slow them down enough that I can assemble the combo and in the case of Nightmare Void, let's me mill the top two cards, if they are unnecessary, so I can dig deeper with the Top.

Until recently there probably wasn't much I could do to make this deck a lot better but looking at it now, two cards stand out and being something I should keep in mind: Eldrazi Conscription and Debtor's Knell.

Eldrazi Conscription is better for two reasons; Colorless, so if I get the mana I can just cast the creature and board impact, which is just bigger than Mythic Proportions.

Debtor's Knell is interesting because it creates a larger problem for my opponents in the long game but it's also probably best in multiplayer. A deck like this one wants to combo out pretty quickly and while swinging for 12 in a turn is frequently the beginning of a quick end for most, assembling that combo isn't always doable. But with the discard, Debtor's Knell takes on some interesting roles and could help give this deck some steel in the spine.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


With a new deck there's just no idea what the results will be.

Draw has a Mountain and a Plains--have to keep, because red is hard to get. It's a weird deck to try and play and I'm certain I don't have the mana right.

I'm up against a B/G Birthing Pod deck and neither one of us do much, but I'm stuck on mana and when my Plains gets hit by Acidic Slime, I know I'm in trouble. Eventually, a Sylvan Ranger gets eaten by the Pod, into a Bone Shredder, which gets eaten and turned into Savara. Platnium Emperion makes an arrival and I know that time is short.

I draw an Island. Sigh. Despite putting the land a little higher than usual I'm mana hosed. I eventually get a Plains to send the Emperion on a Journey to Nowhere, which allows me to survive for one turn.


Game two: I have Island, Glacial Fortress, and a mess of stuff that I don't think is going to help me much. But here we go.

On turn 3 I don't get another land and Birthing Pod appears, next turn I'm facing a Myr Superion and my play is a Howling Mine.


The Mine gets destroyed to be replaced by Seizan, Perverter of Truth and at this point it's not even worth it.

Next game.
Humans with Dearly Departed. I managed to Journey to Nowhere the first two creatures...after that, I have two Chromeshell Crabs and nothing else. Knights start to pop out at obscene sizes and though I'm able to trade a Vedalken Plotter for a White Knight, things generally look bad. I'm stalling, but there's no way to win yet.

I land a Zedruu and start giving away my Journey to Nowheres so I can draw cards and gain life. At this point, the Human deck just poops out and gives him lands. I use Chromeshell to donate a Bronze Bombshell for a huge knight, swing for 12 and win.

Who knew?

Final game
This was as multiplayer epic against mono-B nasty sub-vampire theme and R/B allies. Whoa.

The game went for two and a half hours. So that's the first thing you need to know. Second thing is: I was not on my best play, due to a very long (but kick ass) weekend. Third is that out of the 23 lands in the deck, I drew 19 of them.

I lost all 4 of my Zedruus to the Allies deck, but not before the game had taken both my opponents to under 10 life and I'd managed to donate Delusions of Grandeur to them. Despite gaining 20 life over the course of the game, I'd taken some pretty ferocious hits from the Allies deck, and hovered around 12 life myself.

Everyone was drawing cards but because I couldn't keep Zedruu alive I was unable to take advantage of the permanents I'd donated. On the plus side, nobody liked having a Delusions on their board and I had two Oblations around, I just needed the time/mana to use them. With six mana up to cast Oblation on whichever player was going to kill me and a Dead/Gone to bounce the worst attacking creature of the surviving player I figured I was doing alright.

What I missed was the Hagra Diabolist and how it let the Allies player gain life. So he'd cast an Ally and gained 6 and then suddenly I realized: Oh crap, he's out of Grandeur range and I didn't kill him!

What I'm going to do here is pause and let everyone realize what Hagra Diabolist actually says, as opposed to what we all thought it said.
An aside: talking to the other players the next day, it's possible that I misread the Ally opponent's life total, that a dice rolled to make it different than it was, or any number of simple misunderstandings/errors happened. For the most part, I blame myself for not clarifying everything I needed to before taking actions.
OK, so that huge fucking mistake aside (which all three of us made), there's just the simple: I should've just killed the Allies player. Which is mistake #2.

Allies is one of those decks that is insidious no matter what the color pairing; it can quickly get out of hand and stage huge comebacks even when checked. This is the fourth time I've played against an Allies deck and every single time, the tribal synergies are such that one-sided Wrath of God level effects are practically needed in order to overcome their relentlessness.

It's almost zombies level bad and zombies are likely the most resilient tribe going, made worse (better) now because of Innistrad goodies.


I turned to stonethorn and said:
"I will never. Loose. To Allies. Again."


He gave a short laugh and gave me a tiny 'Aw, c'mon' look.

And I smiled, because I wanted to let him know I wasn't actually angry.

But I was serious. Anyone playing Allies against me is the player to beat. The deck has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat too many times for me to think any less of it and I will consider it the foremost threat, all other things being equal on a board.

Now there are two things that can happen here: 1) Through variance, the player of the Allies deck (could be anyone-you play the deck first, then the player) suffers beatdown until new decks are built or 2) the Allies player builds a better and better deck, with the mentality being: Fine, you're coming after me, then bring it.

So long as this is done with a healthy sense of fun, I don't see a problem with either scenario and truthfully, I'd prefer to see both happen from time to time, deck to deck. People should be on both ends of the beatdown and it's always good to have a reason to improve a deck.

But sometimes, you just gotta say; You do that again, I'm gunnin' for ya.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Decklist! (I feel a little like the author of QC, announcing 'Comic!' when he doesn't have anything else to say.)
4x Bronze Bombshell
4x Chromeshell Crab

3x Vedalken Plotter
4x Zedruu the Greathearted

4x Dead/Gone
4x Dismantling Blow
4x Oblation

4x Delusions of Mediocrity
4x Journey to Nowhere
1x Temple Bell
1x Howling Mine

8x Island
5x Mountain
8x Plains

2x Glacial Fortress
Ah, the Zedruu deck. Named Groove after the mellow Transformer Protectobot...I actually recommend this link instead, as it explains the OG personality of Groove without descending into 'dirty hippy' bullshit. 
/I loved the Transformers as a kid.

Anyway, I took that name because this deck wants to give things away. Sure, those things aren't very helpful but as a path to victory it's pretty different and feels less dirty than filthy Confusion In The Ranks decks.
/I'll get you someday....

The goal is to a) use cards like Journey to Nowhere, Vedalken Plotter, Delusions of Mediocrity and Howling Mine to use as ways to accelerate and stall until Zedruu gets going b) draw cards off Zedruu and donate useless things like Journey or Mine while pushing cards like Delusions or Bombshell on my opponents c) win via Bombshell donated detonations, Delusion donate-then-destroy interactions (as the controller of the permanent, my opponent will lose 10 life if it leaves play under their control) or beat down with their best creature by using Chromeshell Crab to take it from them. It's not perfect but there's some options there that make things crazy for opponents and give me multiple options to win.

felt like a missing link when I saw it. Something that allows me to kill a small annoying creature and bounce one of my own that I've donated? Sign me up! I'm not opposed to just bouncing a large attacking creature, too, if I haven't had a chance to get things going.

That's the start; let's see how it does!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Never Satisfied

This one was weird but: as an experiment I NO'd into Vorinclex with a Tangle Wire in hand. The game went quickly which is good but I'm not sure if that's a testament to the power of Tangle Wire or Vorinclex.

Game two, I mulliganed to 5 but Karsa's deck was taking too long to set up. It's a 5 color monster if it gets going but nothing is happening and even though I start off with only Elf, Rofellos, once I get a Fangren Firstborn followed by a Tangle Wire, it's over fast.

Still, I think I'm going to cut down to one Vorinclex, to add in some some more juice: one Natural Order, one...I don't know what, yet. The slot is currently inhabited by Symbiotic Wurm and that's not bad but it's also not scary. I just haven't seen the 'oh crap' monster yet that doesn't have 'protection from everything'. But one Vorinclex should work, since in the games when he's useful, he's super useful.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Your order can't plan for everything

Playing NWD against a mono-B infect deck and a U/B Tezzeret deck. The game goes long and the board gets messy; poison counters, Planeswalkers, and me with ten Saproling tokens before my Verdant Force gets killed.

The questionable Wickerbough Elder comes up a card I've been questionable about but can use at the moment through a Torpor Orb to destroy the U/B player's artifacts. I wreck a Wurmcoil Engine to make the creatures more manageable.

The Infect player drops a Fume Spitter which at this point in the game does nothing for him, but he announces the ability anyway.

I tell him: hey, if you give my Elder a -1 counter, I can destroy another artifact, which he does, and I do.

I still lost that game but this story demonstrates why it's so hard to take cards out of my decks; crazy situations come up and I need them! Which is awesome and why I play the game: there really is no way to predict what you're going to deal with and no matter how good my deck is, there's situations where it's terrible and I have to figure out how to get out of a bad scene.

Of course, I may remember this story long after I've been repeatedly burned by being unable to use the Elder because I was attacking with Fengren Firstborn, so it's important for me to not take this as Evidence that Elder is excellent.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No, no, no.

Sometimes, I have to see it with my own eyes to understand it. Yes, I was told that the Checklist card was going to take a common slot-replacing the land in boosters, so less land was going to be printed (three instead of the traditional five) but I didn't exactly get what that meant.

Now that I've opened two boxes of Innistrad, I do:

The pile on the far left is nothing but checklist cards. I need these under one and only one circumstance: to replace a double-faced card, specifically one in the Innistrad set. There is nothing else in Magic that requires use of these cards and will probably never (if ever) be used or referenced again.

The barely smaller pile to the right of that is advertisements. I don't ever need these. I have bought your product, WotC; advertising to me at this point is meaningless and wasteful. It's like finding a tiny can of Coke inside a two-liter bottle of Coke. There isn't more cola goodness inside, just a can where cola exists while the aluminum takes up space.

The second-to-last pile is tokens. These have all kinds of uses! Many players find them enjoyable, the art is pretty, they do come in handy from time to time. I don't use them often myself but that doesn't change the fact that if, for example, a card makes a zombie token instead of a creature, (and at last count there were 25 cards that mention this) then those cards can fill that role. Forever, most likely, because token creatures tend to be the same--in the case of zombies, 2/2s. Not 100% of the time but enough that players can make the token cards work across multiple environments.

And do you know what's on the back of the token card? Advertisements. Just like the ones in the pile before. Fine, whatever; Bill in Marketing is insisting that we do branding shit and now instead of adding value to the players in a booster pack, we have to holler at them to make sure that they know the product they bought has product to buy.


But that last pile, the one on the right? The smallest one. That contains basic land. The stuff you need to play a game of Magic. Seriously: You cannot play a game without lands: it would be like removing dice from a game of Yahtzee.

Now, I have to say that "the sample size is clearly a small one" and "My experience isn't equal to everyone's" because if I don't, someone's going to call me out on it, rightly or wrongly. But if I was a new player and I needed lands, I would be really angry that I just spent $200 on Magic cards and didn't get enough land to BUILD A DECK. As it is, I'm still pretty irritated that I didn't get enough basic lands (lands that are very pretty and a critical part of evoking the world they're building, you know, flavor stuff) and here's why:

See that stack of advertisements above? Those ads that are also put on the back of token cards?

Those ads should have been lands. Took me five seconds to think of a great solution, while my displeasure at not getting the building blocks for the game I love will last for months.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

New World Disorder

A combination of the old Secret Force decklists and a Biohazard song. I give you a mono-G monstrosity:
3x Cursed Scroll
4x Tangle Wire

2x Garruk Wildspeaker

3x Natural Order

3x Eternal Witness
3x Fangren Firstborn
3x Fyndhorn Elves
3x Llanowar Elves
3x Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
2x Silklash Spider
2x Wickerbough Elder
2x Verdant Force
3x Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger

4x Wasteland
16x Forest
2x Gaea's Cradle
The plan: get a Verdant Force out early, make with the Overrun effects (Garruk, Fangren Firstborn) and overwhelm. Gaea's Cradle gives me a ton of mana if I need it, Wasteland and Tangle Wire keep the opponent tied up and Cursed Scroll is there to give a green deck some creature removal coupled with a bit of reach if the battlefield gets locked up.

Vorinclex seemed like SUCH an awesome idea when that card was revealed. It's certainly something that feels like it goes with a card like Tangle Wire but when casting Natural Order, it's never been the card I felt I needed. So time will tell if it's worth it but honestly there are so many big green nasties that Vorinclex might be better elsewhere.

The other twist is the Wickerbough Elder and the Firstborn clash. (I was trying to think of a word that was the antonym of 'synergy' and it just wasn't coming to mind. English fail!)

The Elder gets bigger if I use it on something (good) and it's fairly inexpensive (also good.) But if it has the minus counter and attacks with a Firstborn, that ability goes away (bad). I don't know if it matters yet but I'm keeping my eye on things.

I suppose that if I have a problem with this deck it's that I never feel done with it. When it wins, it wins convincingly, like Morgan Freeman as God convincing. But when it loses, it's 'Emperor being tossed into the reactor core' losses and I wonder what the hell is wrong with this deck. It's just so swingy! Consistency is what I need when I play these kinds of decks; the ones that are meant to stand up to the crazy milling evil ones.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

So Innistrad. That's a thing, right?

It is indeed. Visual list here and we'll talk about it.

I've decided that this set just isn't for me. Talking to Fuz about it, the issue has been distilled down to this:
They're letting common mythology trump Magic mythology and using flavor as their excuse for doing so.
Zombies eat brains, so it doesn't matter if the zombie is blue, it still eats creatures. Which flies in the face of what blue cares about: thoughts and will. So many cards in blue are related to the library and instants-even in this set, you see cards that want to interact with the library and blue's interaction with instants and sorceries can be shown throughout the game's history. The zombies of blue should eat instants, sorceries or even the library. Instead they are cliche and run roughshod into what black does. So flavor-a common flavor at that > blue's philosophy as a color.

Trample in White at common with Thraben Sentry. There hasn't been a white common trampler in Magic that didn't include green since 1996. With good reason: trample as an ability doesn't synch with white's philosophy very often. But instead of mining the rich history of the game, they're just brushing it away.

It is, of course, the Glory of Cool Things. Flipping over humans to reveal werewolves is cool. Changing an egg into an abominable lizard is cool. Sentries that alert the townfolk into a mob: cool. If I didn't admit that, then I really have no business playing this game. But it doesn't change the fact that it's a terrible idea, from any viewpoint of the game that doesn't think Flavor trumps Play.

It also comes at the expense of losing the elements that make Magic, Magic, instead of the never ending run of werewolf, vampire, zombie cliches that are now thrust at us in ways that break with the general philosophies set up by the colors throughout the years.

The bummer is that when I look at the set, the flavor really does stand out in good ways. The art and flavor text both frequently break with long traditions of Magic's generic fantasy world that tends to be overrepresented and it's done with the kind of skill that one could expect from people who have been working on this game for a decade or more. (Although dragons? In a goth scene? I mean, maybe not unheard of but...)

It's fearless enough to bring back the devil creature type, one that hasn't been used with any regularity since Arabian Nights. That's over fifteen years. The set wants to make enemy-color pairings matter: perfect for a set that is supposed to be about the unnatural. 

When it goes wrong, it goes REALLY wrong, such as with Angel of Flight Alabaster (what does this even mean?) Or the flavor text on Furor of the Bitten (the name suggests someone has been bitten, the text suggests no.)

But the risks, from a flavor point of view, generally are outshined by the pluses. Mechanically however, the reverse it true, at least for me. Except for one: Tree of Redemption. That, I like.

But this set--and perhaps this block--is probably not for me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Frenzy muted

So here we go again: me, Frenzy, him using a Magistrate's Scepter, infinite turn deck. My opening hand had 3 Island so I mulligan; my second hand had 3 Mountain and two Glacial Ray.

I don't draw any Islands in 4 turns, while he sets up the combo (Energy Chamber, Power Conduit, etc) and I don't have any disruption for it so...I wait while he takes an extra turn after extra turn and that's it.

So, onto game 2. Two lands, two Tezzeret's Gambit, not much else but I've got blue and red so I keep.

Six turns later, the board is stalled out and I finally stick a Wee Dragonaut--meaning, I have enough lands to play it. Fortunately for me, he's stalled out too, with three Coretappers an Energy Chamber and a Sensei's Divining Top.

I hit for 8 in one turn but I know things are getting dire so I need to pull it out as soon as I can because one Magistrate's Scepter and he's got the lock.

So: Seething Anger, Dragonauts is a 6/3. Then Glacial Ray: 8/3, hit for two damage, then I cast Psychic Puppetry to untap the Dragonauts; to make it a 10/3 and win.

Onto game 3. Hoboy.

I get out two Dragonauts to his two Sun Droplets. I hold back on the early swing because he's going to regain 2 life a turn and I have to make it big.

But Magistrate's Scepter reveals itself and counters start to build up on it-I may have one more swing...

I don't. Copy Artifact comes out, replicating Power Conduit and he can put 3 counters on the Scepter for free every upkeep. Game is over.

Sigh. Explosive, but I couldn't get the draws to be active enough. Tezzeret's Gambit might be too expensive for the deck or maybe I need an effect like Boomerang to give me more time. Clearly this deck is capable of doing amazing things but doing them consistently is the goal.

Next matchup: I have a opening hand of two Pyromancer Ascension and two Volt Charge, Mountain, Island, Gelectrode. I figure: This is as good as it's going to get to see how the Ascension works, so let's go.

Unfortunately, I stall out at three lands and am overrun by Varchild's War Riders. Suck.

Now I know I'm playing against a deck that uses the War Riders to give me creatures, cards like Fire Ants and Simoon to take them away and Dingus Staff to kill me.

Game 2: My opening hand has five lands, Reach Through Mists and Consuming Vortex. Jesus. So I play Steam Vents, go and it's land-go for the first three turns.

In this game, I draw three more lands and now I have to use the tokens he's giving me to try and kill him off. Mentally, it's hard to get around how to use these creatures, since I both need them and don't want them. But I attack where I can and then I have a turn where I cast Reach through Mists splicing Glacial Ray, then Lava Spike splicing Glacial Ray, getting him down to 3, while I sit at 15, preparing for up to 10 damage coming at me next turn.

But the 10 damage doesn't come: apparently being at 3 isn't good for him and I pull it out. Whew.

Game 3: two Mountains, two Lava Spikes, one Glacial Ray, one Dragonauts is the hand I mulligan into. What the hell; I can do something, maybe. But at the end of my second turn, he Worldly Tutors into a War Rider and I draw into a Volt Charge.

Eventually, with a War-Riders and a Fire Ants in play, I block, Volt the Riders, then Glacial Ray the Fire Ants, next turn use Tezz Gambit to draw...Mountain. I can't get an Island to save my life and it's probably going to kill me. Again.

Soon, I'm facing a War-Riders and a Woodripper with only a Glacial Ray in my hand that can be played; everything else requires blue. I'm using Survivor tokens to chump block and swing where I can with a five Mountains out and a hand full of Wee Dragonauts, Reach Through Mists, Consuming Vortex and Gelectrode.

I'm going to fucking die because I cannot get an Island. Again.

But here's the thing: I'm not dead yet. I remember staring at the computer screen, looking at the board and thinking: Play like you can win this. You just need an Island, so you can splice Glacial Ray and then cast Glacial Ray. The mana is there, except for blue. Just play like you can win.

I keep chump blocking and at 4 life, I finally draw a Steam Vents. Play it, cast Consume into Vortex, splicing Ray, play Ray, win.

Ye gods. Better lucky than good.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bad PR

stonethorn let me know about this video with Aaron Forsythe, who's the head of Magic R&D. You can watch the whole thing if you want but the relevant moment, for me, comes about 7:50-8:04 when Forsythe says, "If they don't like drafting double faced cards, you know what? They're still going to show up and draft. I betcha they learn to like it."

Sigh. Look; he's talking more about pro players, if I recall right, but still, this feels like a nasty fait accompli moment. It doesn't matter if we like it or not, because not only is it done--You're gonna come and play anyway. And you're going to like it.

And when I hear that, I think: no. I am not.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Unfun vs The Glory of Cool Things

At Red Castle I saw this situation:

Guy playing Kaalia of the Vast, another playing Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund, the third Damia, Sage of Stone.

It doesn't matter what the other two players were doing, honestly, because the Damia player got out a Dream Halls and once that happened everything else was going to be a wash. This is precisely what happened as the Damia player bounced or killed everyone's creatures and forced opponents to discard their hands in one fell swoop. Short of countermagic, there was no way to interact with the Damia player.

Now, it should be noted that the Damia player also had: Leyline of Anticipation, Geth's Grimoire, Library of Leng, Megrim and another three artifacts or enchantments that I can't remember. The Damia player should not have been allowed to get as far he did and so in every important way, the other two players are to blame for their loss.

That said; Commander is supposed to be a more casual, fun format. Is Dream Halls really a fun card? Is this deck, geared to set its combo up, really about the glory of cool things or is it about doing something that people hate?

I don't think that question needs to be answered definitively, it's just one that I think ought to be taken into consideration. Yeah, yeah, you can't predict what will happen when you play with strangers because sometimes the soul crushing unfun decks are precisely what ought to be played. The environment rules the choices of the player.

But I've had people tell me that the most fun they've had playing at RC was against me with a deck that really wanted to do neat things. Set your priorities accordingly, I suppose.

Now, that all said, what can we learn from this situation about the Commander format?

Mass removal > spot removal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

So far, so frenetic

First run with the new, improved Frenzy deck was vs a 'Wallfinity' deck.

Essentially, the Wallfinity deck is a R/G set that wants to play a bunch of very, very cheap walls to stave off the creature rush, then use creatures with defender to either generate a ton of mana with Overgrown Battlment in order to cast Ghitu Fire or use Vent Sentinel's ability to kill the opponent (me, in this case) off. The trick is to keep drawing cards fast enough to have the walls you need to accomplish the win.

It can be very frustrating to play against, because walls are cheap and generally nullify my cheaper creatures and by the time I get the larger ones out, smashing through the wall line is frequently too little, too late.

Fortunately, for reasons I still don't understand, those piloting the Wallfinity decks haven't addressed the weaknesses: 1) creatures with evasion (especially flying) 2) global resets and 3) non-interaction with the opponent.

They can't do much about #2: That's the price you pay when playing this deck. The third problem is difficult to manage because by its nature, Wallfinity is as non-interactive as possible. Their goal is to combo out before the opponent, anything that gets in the way of that-such as interactive cards-slows them down and makes the deck weaker. But as for the first...

In game one I had two Gelectrodes out confronted by three or four walls. I'm pinging away as best I can, one or two at a time hoping I can get things going faster than I can get Ghitu Fired.

Then the Wee Dragonauts came and who saved my opponent from the Wee Dragonauts? Nobody: I was doing 7 and then 10 damage per turn and that was game.

In game two, I was slowly working towards victory but in the middle of it all, had my army hit with Lavaball Trap. That is precisely the kind of problem Frenzy has; without the creatures, how do I do enough damage to win?

Then I drew Pyromancer Ascension. My hand consisted of the Ascenstion, Glacial Ray, Glacial Ray, Volt Charge, Volt Charge.

So: play Volt Charge, play second Volt Charge and first put a counter on the Ascension, then Proliferate that counter. Next turn cast two Glacial Rays for 8 damage, win.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to get more games in so I'll be keeping this in the hopper for another week to see if my changes hold up.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Destined to lose

I'm playing a U/W/B deck with a Sword of the Meek/Thopter Foundry combo vs Hypergenesis.

My deck wants to use Thopter Foundry to generate a lot of flying tokens and win, his wants to cascade on turn 3 or sooner into Hypergenesis put down huge creatures and win.

It's game 3 and on turn three the Hypergenesis goes off. My hand has a couple lands but also a Sharding Sphinx, a Sphinx Sovereign, a Sword of the Meek and a Thirst for Knowledge so I think: hey, I'm OK. I didn't have the mana to play the Thirst; perhaps waiting for the Hypergenesis and casting that would've been wise. I don't know what I would've drawn but it probably wouldn't have mattered.

Him: Angel of Despair, target a land: I'm down to two lands now.

Me: Sphinx Sovereign.

Him: Angel of Despair, target the Sovereign

Me: Sharding Sphinx

Him: Angel of Despair, target the-

Me: Fuck that, I concede. Jesus.

Him: I also had a Bogardan Hellkite.


Because now it's bothering me: What could I have done in that situation?

Nothing. He could've just kept going and the best play was to keep going, until all three Angels and the Hellkite were in play, leaving me at 15 life with 20 coming in the air next turn. If I decide not to respond, he can stop adding things via Hypergenesis, keep the 5/5 Angel in play and kill me in 4 turns.

Sometimes, I just have to accept I'm going to lose.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I give you, the evolution of a deck.
3 Sleight of Hand
3 Lava Spike
1 Seething Anger
3 Reckless Charge

3 Psychic Puppetry
4 Reach Through Mists
3 Consuming Vortex
4 Glacial Ray
3 Unnerving Assault
3 Lava Dart 

4 Wee Dragonauts
4 Gelectrode

4 Steam Vents
9 Mountain
9 Island
To keep you from having to look up all the cards, here's a quick overview:

Wee Dragonauts get +2/0 when I play a sorcery or instant, the Gelectrode untaps every time I play an instant or sorcery. So the idea is to swing with a flying insane-o-creature while having pinged with the Gelectrode three times, do it again and my opponent is dead.

The deck can be explosive as hell which is good and it can also sputter and die like last night's Taco Bell, which is less good. Still, I always think of  Groundskeeper Willie and the wee turtles when I play this deck so even if I lose, I get a laugh. There may even be some unwritten rule that says when you play with the Wee Dragonauts, the wee turtles must be referenced. Maybe a judge could look into that for me.

Whenever I build a deck like this, there's the core of fisty awesome that I'm trying to pad around with spikey goodness and sometimes I get that and sometimes I just run out of steam, which is what happened here. Damage; good, drawing; good, being able to reuse spells with Arcane; good but then there's that last section of cards that I don't know what to do with.

Unnerving Assault, I'm looking at you. In theory, this seems great, of course; blunt the opponent's creatures while sharpening your own but there are only eight creatures in this deck and four of them don't want to attack. The Assault really is there to help the Dragonauts or maybe blunt an opposing attack just a little. But spells have to do a lot of the dirty work here and somehow I understood that, which is why the Arcane mechanic matters in this deck. Being able to graft a spell onto another spell and then play the grafted spell means that it's possible to kill someone very, very quickly, if Gelectrode is out to tap thrice, Dragonauts is swinging for seven and the grafted spell is Glacial Ray, that's four more damage. So why bother with the Assault?

The question is, how can I get more mileage out of my spells?

This question has plagued the deck for awhile and even though the card came out two years ago, the answer finally struck me: Pyromancer Ascension. I've been bouncing that card around in my head since it came out because it's just the kind of card nobody cares about-which nobody did for nearly two years. I think that this deck might be a good match for Pyromancer Ascension though and is worth testing.

Aside: this is why players ought to look for cards that seem interesting to them. A year ago, Pyromancer Ascension was the kind of card you could pick up for fifty cents, now it's two dollars. My Money rule. Sure, we can't always have our foresight caps on and certainly not every card-most, as a matter of fact-don't have price jumps like that. When they do, however, and you've been playing with the card for awhile already, it's pretty gratifying to have the experience of using that card/strategy under your belt. /Aside

So I'm replacing Unnerving Assault with the Ascension; how do I make sure I can put counters on it? With the Proliferate mechanic and a lot of duplication. So here's the new list:
4 Wee Dragonauts
4 Gelectrode

4 Steam Vents
9 Mountain
9 Island

3 Psychic Puppetry
4 Reach Through Mists
3 Consuming Vortex
4 Glacial Ray
3 Lava Spike

New cards:
3 Seething Anger
3 Pyromancer Ascension
4 Volt Charge
3 Tezzeret's Gambit
The main plain is still the same: Wee Dragonauts and Gelectrode get bonuses when I play sorceries and instants, so play those spells and use the bonuses to win. Re-use those bonuses by using the Arcane mechanic to help give the deck both speed and reach.

But now, in order to focus on the reach aspect of this deck, I've added in Pyromancer Ascension so I can double my spells for free. To get the Pyromancer online, I've tried to use more of the same kind of spell and I've enlisted the Proliferate mechanic so that I don't have to work as hard in order to get my enchantment active.

The one spell that sticks out is Seething Anger because, like Unnerving Assault it affects creatures. I kept that in there for two reasons: first, it's cheap to cast. I can let it go without buyback and get a huge bonus on the Dragonauts or worst case, even the Gelectrodes. I can cast it with buyback and if I've got an active Ascension then help set up an even bigger bonus. If I don't have an active Ascension, the buyback means that the spell is reusable until I can get an active Ascension. Maybe that's the Glory of Cool Things but what the hell, I accept that TGoCT is a good reason to add a card to a deck.

So now it's time to test it out and see how it works.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Garruk problem

So, now that we've seen the way Innistrad handles werewolves, how about how they deal with Garruk, undoubtedly a card that WotC wants to be one of the highlights of the set. Start here for the introduction to Garruk and then I'll give you my two bits.

Now if you'll just refer back to what I said about the Transform mechanic regarding the werewolves of Innistrad for just a moment--actually, I'll quote myself because it's not fair to make people wade through 4,000 words--

Players cannot force opponents to cast or not cast spells so this mechanic gives opponents control over or at least a say in how you use your cards and how you execute your strategy....The werewolf player has to gamble on what their opponent will do, instead of being able to control their own fate.....While it might take a little time I think that people are going to find out that they don't like having someone else take control of their stuff. 
OK. So that's me. Now, from the article at the Mothership:
...we also don't want Garruk's transformation to depend on the opponent doing something from a very narrow category of actions. Players like to feel that they have control over what's going on with their cards.
So if players like to feel like they have control, and you make a mechanic that takes away from their control, why are you hoping that mechanic will be successful? I realize that this critique isn't speaking to Garruk directly but rather Transform as a whole; nonetheless, I feel that it's extremely relevant to what I was saying since it echoes my thoughts but also comes from official sources.

Now let's move to the card itself.

I have to say: there's some really cool things about this card. The fight ability on it is...pushing things a little but it's an ability that should have been in green for over a decade. That it's on a Planeswalker pretty much cements that ability's place in the color pie, so now, after a long, long time, green finally has a way to deal with creatures that is in theme with the color's philosophy. That's a good thing.

The justification for this, that Garruk has been shown doing more of the dirty work himself in the comics is something I'm a little less eager on because that explanation feels like nobody is in charge. Garruk is a main character, a Planeswalker and one of the company's mascots, so to be even remotely interesting, of course he's going to take actions for himself. In the comic, before he's even corrupted, he's smashing and bashing and generally wreaking havoc all by his lonesome. Characters who do nothing are not good characters--and green cannot have a character who does nothing. It's against the nature of the color.

It's just that when the justification is put the way it was: hey, I saw it in the comic, it strongly hints that nobody's really thinking these things through. That may not be the case, it just feels rather weak, which I'd have to say is what my problem with Innistrad is as a set, so far. The flavor justifications for doing what they're doing sound unconvincing and half-assed, as though they aren't sure that this is the right thing. If you're going to break the rules like this, you'd better be 100% certain. They don't sound like that, hence I don't have much confidence in the mechanic and I certainly don't see it being a desirable one to play.

Still; the fight ability IS green. That the method used to justify Transform is all out of whack is problematic but it's also something I'd accept more if things like: Look, we know we're on the fringe here but making a playable, fun game is still paramount and this is the way to do it, instead of 'hey, I saw it happen in the comic.'

Making creatures: also green. Because they are zero cost actions, both abilities exist to do one thing: Transform the card so let's look at that, because there's were things get weird.

The flipped Garruk is meant to represent a Garruk corrupted by black magic. He's not himself anymore and should have some hint of black to the abilities, right? He's sick but he's still a Planeswalker so he should bring the kick ass, somehow.

Garruk summons creatures and that makes sense: All previous versions of Garruk do this. However, Garruk summons wolves with deathtouch.

There isn't a single wolf in Magic previous to now that innately came with deathtouch. If you do a search for deathtouch, there is one and only one creature that provides deathtouch to wolves, Wren's Run Packmaster. The wolves themselves are just 2/2s: it's only the Packmaster that gives them an ability.

Garruk summons creatures and there are many in green-oozes, spiders, archers, basilisks and black-vampires, scorpions, humans-who all have deathtouch. Spiders, vampires and humans all have a place in Innistrad so could have been used, though spiders make the most sense in this case.

How does a wolf get deathtouch? This is about the flavor of the card: why isn't Garruk summoning something that is sickly, even mythical, something that demonstrates his corrupted nature instead of a wolf that happens to have deathtouch? They certainly don't suggest it on the card's art: Garruk transformed looks frenzied but there's nobody else in the picture. Oh sure, I could make the case that maybe the wolves have rabies and are ill...but why should I have to? Isn't the whole point to the Transform mechanic to show both the before AND after in slick new ways?

They're the professionals; why does it feel like they haven't they done their job?

Moving on, the next ability, searching for a creature and putting it into hand is totally in line with a Green/Black card. The third ability, ties in set themes of the graveyard, as well as Green's Overrun and Green and Black's attachment to the graveyard. I'm good with that, even if it is a little wonky.

What someone might notice at this point is that there's no way for Garruk to transform back. It's a one way event. From a flavor view that's pretty cool but from a functionality view, it violates something. Let me remind you what:
...we also don't want Garruk's transformation to depend on the opponent doing something from a very narrow category of actions. Players like to feel that they have control over what's going on with their cards.
You don't have control over your cards. If you want to just make wolves or use the fight ability, or go back to that, tough noogies. For some cards, of course that's fine because who's going to want Ludevic's Test Subject back after doing all the work to get Ludveic's Abomination? But my point is still there: do you, as a player, have the most control over your cards? If the answer is no then the mechanic is crude and needs to be fixed.

All of that said; I do think that this is a pretty well executed card. If it was just a one-sided card, I'd totally dig it. The abilities are interesting and they push the Planeswalker card type out in new ways. It just grates on me that clearly jarring elements exist on this card and that the justifications are feel so undercooked.

I get that not everything can be brilliant but so far, Innistrad is not impressing me much.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Addendum to the Transforming problem

I have been told that in the finals of booster drafts, judges actually do open the packs and check them before the players get the cards, in order to prevent cheating.

So that ludicrous scenario I was pitching? That the very end in a tournament. So my concerns about cheating at the top levels is much abated.

It's still hard to imagine doing this before every booster draft, impossible to set up in casual settings and doesn't take away from my other comments about how the checklist card presents memory issues, etc, etc. But with new information, I feel that I'd best pass it along because my credibility rests on acknowledging new data and accepting where it takes care of the problems I bring up.

The Honor of Assassins

My first set of tests with Killed By Killers... had me playing a W/B deck that wants to fill my graveyard up in order to kill with Guiltfeeder.

Game one, I had three Propagandas in hand but I only cast one, discarding the others to Oppression, thinking they would give me time to get things going. And while I had Megrim and the Tyranny, no kill condition arrived and he had the mana to swing with both the Guiltfeeder and a Chimeric Orb.

Game two, I had two Tyrannys out and cast Wheel and Deal. "So that's 14?"
"No, 28," I told him.
"Oh, well I'm dead then."
When it works, Tyranny + Wheel is just a monster.

Game three I let a Wheel and Deal go to Oppression instead of a Demolish. My reasoning was: my opponent had just Dark Ritualed out the Oppression, I can use Demolish on his only source of White if he doesn't draw a land or on a Chimeric Sphere if he does. 

But...instead the lands get drawn, I don't use Demolish and then when casting the Tyranny, I let Disintegrate go to the bin instead of the Demolish because I wasn't sure I'd get the mana to cast Disintegrate if Guiltfeeder got up anyway.

But Guiltfeeder did come up and I did get to five mana. I died with Tyranny, Propaganda and Megrim on the board, having let go of the two cards that could have saved me or won the game.

Practice. Also; play like you're going to win. I know the Guiltfeeder is the primary win condition and know my opponent wants to play the feeder so keeping Disintegrate is going to be the better choice, most of the time. There's a difference between playing in the now and being confident my deck will give me the cards I need and trying to project future plays without that confidence.

Another game had me against a mill strategy; both of us dumped our Propagandas pretty early because neither of us had creatures that were going to attack. However, my 'you lose life' strategy trumped his 'I prevent damage' strategy. This had to do with two factors: first, Megrim vs Anvil of Bogardan and Crumbling Sanctuary. When I'm removing 4 or more cards per turn, including the stuff that might let him shuffle his graveyard back into his library, it starts to add up, fast.

Second: Crumbling Sanctuary vs Phyrexian Tyranny. There's a weird logic here so bear with me: Damage causes loss of life, but loss of life is not necessarily damage. So I'm getting damage through with the Tyranny despite the Sanctuary.

Still, I won that matchup 2-0 as well, because my deck worked faster than his, in a situation where neither deck wanted to interact with each other.

Finally, I played a match that I didn't take much notes on but remember seeing Propaganda and a Powder Keg but not getting any action after that. My opponent simply paid the 2 mana a turn and swung and I couldn't do anything about it.

So the changes to Killed By Killers is going to involve -2 Powder Keg and +1 Well of Discovery (for consistency) and +1 Kaervek's Torch, for the same reason as the Well. Knowing what you're going to get and that you're going to get it is a big deal in Magic, so upping the odds is always a positive.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Innistrad's transforming problem

If you haven't seen this article on the Transform mechanic, you'll need to read it before this post, so you'll have context for what I'm talking about. This is a long post about how I believe Transform, as Wizards of the Coast have executed it, is a failure of design because it increases the fiscal costs to both players and WotC, increases the opportunities for mistakes or cheating and is an impediment to play in general and good design should never do these things.

This mechanic, the one they're making the attention grabber for Innistrad, is a big, big deal and in my opinion a huge mistake because it breaks one of the fundamental rules of every card game I know of: having unmarked cards. I cannot think of a single card game, either played with the standard 52 card decks nor a TCG, that breaks this rule. Spite and Malice might come close because you mix three decks together but even then, opposing players cannot tell what the face value of the card is, just that it's from a different deck. Professionals might be able to make some deductions and given the evaluations pro card players make in a game like Poker, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if they could narrow the face value down to a few options but they still wouldn't know.

Transform throws that whole concept under the bus and it introduces some serious problems as a result. Mostly I will talk about constructed issues but draft will be touched on too. I won't talk about the power level of the cards in great detail, as power is about context but I will discuss it briefly because power level is what encourages players to pick up and stick with cards with unusual mechanics like Madness or Dredge.

I'll start off with booster drafting, which you can find a definition of here and is frequently part of Pro Tour finals. Booster drafts are usually about signals; you may start picking White but then the White dries up. Someone else is getting the cards before you are, so now you have to make a decision: What color do I move into?

With the Transform mechanic, everyone will see what you've chosen and this will tell people not only what card(s) you've chosen but what color(s) you're focusing on. This is a huge advantage for someone who really knows the format to have against you, just as knowing the suits or even a specific card you have in hand would be a huge advantage for a professional poker player. They will know you've gone green and they will know you have a Gatstaff Shepherd. The savvy player will be able to anticipate and play around your cards. They'll have information that they wouldn't ordinarily and that can easily be an impediment to your strategy.

Of course, you could just use the 'checklist card' they've printed, right? Well, yes but now you have to go through the effort of hiding a card-and everyone will likely see you do that so what's the point- and then marking the checklist card correctly. In the WotC article linked above, they go to awkward lengths to make sure people know that you can now re-arrange your draft pile to hide cards but these Transform cards are still public information so you can't be penalized if other players know what's in your deck! You can't have your cake and eat it too; either cards are public information or they aren't. Splitting the middle is generally bad news because now things are unclear and the gap between what's OK and isn't has just gotten larger.

If you make a mistake, you've got an illegal decklist and will be penalized. If you don't want the card, mark it on the list and someone else takes that card, now everyone knows who has the card you'd marked on the checklist because you have to give it to that player somehow, right? At the very least YOU know. It's already said in the article that Transform cards are considered 'open information' but why should they be and not the rest of your picks? There isn't any physical difference between cards, right? One just has information that gives data away, so why not make all your picks this way. (Note, they do have a draft format that does this: Rochester but its setup is very different. Note #2: this issue doesn't really impact online drafts-which I think is where the format will be more viable. But the online world isn't the only one and Magic is not strictly an online game; there are frequently huge differences between the online game and the paper one.)

Another option would be to have packs opened prior to the draft and then replace the Transform card in a booster with a correctly marked checklist card before anyone gets to look at the cards at all. The first problem here is: Who replaces the card? The only solution that would be ethically OK here would be to have a judge do it (and even that's potentially problematic), which adds a lot of time to drafting; time that is really wasteful to add. The second problem is one of content. There are twenty cards in Innistrad that you have to know by name and converted mana cost. All the other triggers that might help players remember like picture, stats, card type, game text, aren't on the list. The number of Transform cards is bound to at least double by the time Innistrad block is complete and keeping forty plus cards in your head is not easy, especially when I consider the pressure a drafter is under to pick a card; they usually have thirty seconds. The third problem is that logistically, opening up that many packs and keeping them all in order and distributed to the correct player is a nightmare.

If that last paragraph sounds ludicrous, good. That's the kind of scenario that people are having to imagine in order to keep information secret that ought to be secret.

On top of all of this, there's the problem of cheating. These checklist cards open up a huge window for cheaters to claim a card was mistakenly marked either including it in a deck that it shouldn't be in or insisting that the Transform card they have is THIS one and not THAT and I fail to see the upside to giving people an increased opportunity to cheat. I'm not saying they will, merely that the chances for screw ups or cheating has just gone up.

In constructed, there's a new kettle of fish to deal with and much of it has to do with proxies.

I didn't realize it at first but stonethorn picked right up on it: The execution of this mechanic is an endorsement of proxies in Magic.

I understand that proxies do have a place in certain formats, such as Vintage where card availability is such that it would be impossible to play that format without proxies. Related to that last point: very few people actually play Vintage in part because the cards are very expensive to get and Wizards has frowned upon proxies. Outside of Vintage, I see people adding in proxies into many Commander decks, a format that is far more casual and I don't like that, either.

In fact, I hate proxies. Either get the cards you want or find alternatives. This is a personal thing with me but it does speak to a larger issue; Magic is a game that is based in part on scarcity. You play the cards you have, not the ones you wish were there. If everybody had the best cards, what would be the point of playing anything else, ever?

Proxies are problematic for me for two reasons both based on the method used to make the proxy: either the person has taken a card with a different name and Sharpied out the old and written in the new name on it or the person has used a color printer to print the picture and paste it over the old card.

The first solution means that I can't read the card text. I have to take on faith, memory or look online to figure out what that card does, how much it costs and what its stats are. More delays, more intrusion into the game. The second solution means that the card has taken on weight. It is now thicker and will feel different, even in sleeves, which means that it's possible for a player to know which cards are which in their deck, a deck that is supposed to be randomized.

These methods are different than repainting a card, although that can be problematic too, at least in official formats. Even casually, I'd occasionally wonder; is that card completely untraceable? Does the addition of paint after the fact change the card to the point where someone can detect it without seeing its face? Because it's not like people think to repaint terrible cards; it's always iconic ones that get a makeover.

There is another objection I have to proxies in formats where cards are plentiful and it is that I believe that proxies curb creativity. As I said; if everybody had the best cards, why play anything else? It's not having access to the best things that inspires people to innovate and try new things.

But now we can have official proxied checklist cards! So it has all the weight and feel of a regular Magic card and even has official text so who needs the actual card! A checklist card still won't tell me what the marked card does though and if I'm playing someone who feels untrustworthy or is just unfamiliar with the original card, I'll find myself at a disadvantage when someone claims that this card is actually meant to represent A when it's marked B. Could be an honest mistake, or it could be someone trying to monkey with the works to win and either situation calls for arbitration or if at an event, a judge. Neither cheating or mistaken play is a good scene and in a gaming system as difficult as Magic is, making things more complicated instead of less without increasing the fun is a no no, for me.

Coupled with this is how the checklist cards open the door for any card to be proxied up. Previously, if I wanted to run four Primeval Titans, I had to get four Primeval Titans either through trade or purchase or I had to just find another way. With the official endorsement of proxies, why can't I just mock them up? WotC's already done it for other cards, right? Clearly, they're OK with it and trying to insist that "It's only good when we do it" is, once again, like trying to eat your cake and have it. Either proxies are bad or they aren't but you don't get to say both.

If I want to get four Garruk Relentless (a mythic rare that is going to be $30 per card minimum when it's revealed and will likely go through the roof, financially) I don't have to buy any at all, I can just use the checklist. If you use enough checklist cards in a deck, a less scrupulous person could 'mistakenly' play a card from the list that isn't what it is supposed to represent. Then you swap out the real one and no one is the wiser. 

Or a player could just flat out be in error and make a mistake. Happens all the time and I don't like to punish people for honest mistakes but it doesn't make that mistake any more excusable, nor the poor design of this mechanic that encouraged this mistake forgivable. Good design is supposed to minimize user error, not increase it.

A short aside: what happens to the secondary market when people just start using proxies? What happens to those game stores? I'm not sure and I don't want to speculate but I think they are valid questions to ask.

In an alternate scenario, let's say that I never use proxies, I want to use actual cards. Now I only have to get one Garruk Relentless because My Money > less of My Money and the other three Garruk's can be stand-ins. Just reveal the actual card when the checklist card comes up so everyone can see what it does and voila! Problem solved and I no longer have to get four Garruks. I'll take it a bit further though and create an imaginary world where people are all as crazy as I am and get four of each card, refusing to use checklist cards as proxies; where does this leave us? Well...

Adding on to the list of issues I have with this design goes back to the hidden information problem. When I shuffle a deck of magic cards, the only thing opponents see is the back of the cards, which I have in clear plastic sleeves because this protects the cards from the wear and tear of handling, beer spillage and general mayhem. The cost of opaque sleeves runs from about $7-12 for 60-80 sleeves so I use very cheap, transparent sleeves because the cards are expensive enough. Why spend another $10+ on sleeves when I can get 100 for $1.25 and have them work just as well, spending that extra 6-11 bucks on beer or cards? (See again, My Money > less of My Money)

Except now those sleeves don't work. The back is revealed and adding to an already expensive hobby is the expense of getting sleeves that are opaque on one side. As a result, I have to purchase opaque sleeves if I want to use this cool mechanic-something WotC just casually tells us we have to do now. Opaque sleeves are not only more expensive but using them would also be a huge variance to all my other decks, so now I'm giving away information I don't want to give away: My regular opponents who I face most often will now know what line of play my deck wants to take before we even draw 7!

Then once I draw and play the card, I have to use both sides of a card I can't see. Neither can my opponents, which is especially unfair to them: as the player of the deck, I know or ought to know what my cards do but I can't expect that of my opponents. That is why the cards come with text: So everyone comprehends what everything does!

So to solve the visibility problem I have to take the card out of the sleeve. But the whole POINT of sleeves is that I put cards in them to protect them from the handling that happens when I play with my cards! Because of this foolishly implemented mechanic, I have to increase the wear and tear on something I bought and that sucks. I take care of my things for a reason: they last longer that way and I don't have money to waste on things I don't take care of.

And if that wasn't enough to get under my skin, WotC's attitude on me having to make more expensive choices seems to be: who cares? People play with opaque cards-you can too.

Whew. That's a lot of ranting, isn't it? But wait, there's more!

This neat tidbit from Mark Rosewater's column yesterday;
The checklist, by the way, comes in roughly three out of every four Innistrad booster packs.
Wizards doesn't make randomized decks with lands anymore and so now many players get their lands from booster packs. Basic lands from Innistrad have just become scarcer and thus more costly to get, if you happen to like those lands. Add that to the cost of everything else for players who may need lands, the most basic currency in the game and something that should be all but given away to players.

There's also the print cost. WotC has brought about this change in cards that makes the game less functional for players of all stripes through a design that increases the costs of production of the cards. Printing something double-sided is not cheap and from what friends who work in design tell me, executing a mechanic like Transform the way WotC has is very, very expensive. On top of it all, if there are any errors, it's a big deal since the card is unusable. A player can't just have a Howlpack Alpha and not a Mayor of Avabruck. Any errors means that the card isn't playable. That's pricey and those expenses get passed on to players like me one way or another so again I evoke the My Money rule.

The crazy part is that WotC already had mechanics that would replicate this one. Morph and the flip cards, to name examples from older sets, Level Up from the recent Rise of the Eldrazi set as seen in Transcendent Master or even printing the cards using a portrait perspective as they do with the split cards, like Fire/Ice, (and the split cards have always been very popular) could have been a solution.

Instead, they institute this clunky, inelegant design in order to make the 'flavor' of the cards work, flavor that could just as easily been conveyed with the previous mechanics and with art, flavor text and names, as they've been doing for the last sixteen years. Hell, art alone has been used to illustrate transformations like this throughout Magic's history: Reincarnation is from Legends, Horned Kavu from Planeshift and Ancestral Vision is from Time Spiral and even Chaos Warp from the Commander set, published just three months ago, use art to show this change so there's no reason it couldn't have been handled this way.

The justification for not doing werewolves as split cards is that:

First, the flip cards proved to not be as popular as we hoped.
Again from Rosewater's column. This reason essentially ignores the history of the game, because Kamigawa as a block wasn't popular. The mechanics were overcosted, legends were overproduced, a single card, Umezawa's Jitte, became so dominant that games sucked fun out of the universe and the set came right after one of the biggest screw-ups in Magic's history: Mirrodin block, which gave us the Affinity mechanic. WotC was all set up for a huge letdown and that is what happened. Flip cards were the least of Kamigawa's issues and were generally pretty popular at the time, just blown out by all this other negativity.

On top of that, flavor was something that was hugely emphasized in the Kamigawa block-just as with Innistrad. I've even heard complaints that certain mechanics, like bushido, are deemed bad because they can't exist outside of a set that doesn't have an asian-influence to it! The entire Innistrad block has been designed from the perspective of flavor giving rise to the mechanics, instead of the other way around. I have to wonder how much was really learned from Kamigawa block, which would have been a fantastic set if it hadn't been so underpowered and in the shadow of an incredibly overpowered block leaving players wary and unhappy.

The second reason the article gives to not do flip cards, that the text length for the mechanic was too much, I'll concede is a problem for Transform cards. Occasionally, I think one has to bite the bullet and accept that some ideas just aren't functional for the situation. I say this because in Rosewater's column, he shows off a CCG that does have double-sided cards that is apparently big in Japan, especially amongst the younger set.

So there at least one successful game out of the thousands that exist has used double sided cards in a genre that's existed since roughly the 9th Century. I'm pretty sure that trend argues vehemently against making double sided cards in card games, not for them and it certainly doesn't mean that Magic should use this design.

Flavor is the reason they've broken what is the essential form of every card game I can think of and that's a bad reason to do it. The glory of cool things has superceded everything else and I'm fairly certain the players are poorer for it, even the players for whom this mechanic is designed for, the casual crowd.

And make no mistake, Transform -particularly as it's been implemented for werewolves- is for the casual Magic players. What they're going to realize, eventually, is that mechanics that you cannot control aren't very much fun and I'd bet that most pro players have pretty much dismissed werewolves as a group to focus their energies on. Sure, they'll use them if they have to but that's like saying you'd use a butter knife as a screwdriver: it's entirely suboptimal.

That leaves the casual crowd, specifically the ones that think that it will be so cool to change a human to a wolf and back. There's even a physicality to the transformation that can't be overlooked when it comes to making this mechanic seem cool-and I will admit, that part does help even if I think it's a disaster for the game and terribly implemented. But the causes of lycanthropy, the sun and the moon, rise and set regularly. You can even explain it!

Players cannot force opponents to cast or not cast spells so this mechanic gives opponents control over or at least a say in how you use your cards and how you execute your strategy. Let me demonstrate: If you want your werewolf to Transform, you have to wait until someone hasn't cast a spell for a turn. Well, when you cast the werewolf, that's a spell. Your opponent can just cast a spell on his/her turn and you don't get a cool werewolf. So what do you do? Spend an entire turn doing nothing. You lay a land, say go. Your werewolf transforms on their turn!

Then your opponent plays two spells during their turn and on your turn, when you need the big bad you have...a human. Well, yay. Not everything will play out like that of course but the long and short of it is that it will happen and happen when you wish it wouldn't. The werewolf player has to gamble on what their opponent will do, instead of being able to control their own fate.

To turn the screw (with a butter knife) even further, add in multiplayer. WotC can't possibly ignore multiplayer anymore (not that they were) because the success of Commander decks means that there's a huge number of players out there playing Magic of all formats in groups. Well crap. So if there are 4 other people at the table aside from me, and I say go after werewolf, then player B doesn't play a spell: flip. Player C plays two spells. Flip. Player D plays no spells, flip. Player E plays a spell, that spell gets countered by C, then player D had  responses and player B has responses and then player E plays another spell.

Flip. Yay, I get a...human? After turning a card 4 times. Now if I want that card to be a big bad, I have to do nothing. Again. What a pain in the ass for so little payoff!

While it might take a little time I think that people are going to find out that they don't like having someone else take control of their stuff. It's why the Punishment mechanic wasn't hugely popular in Odyssey, despite giving players big undercosted effects (see Breaking Point or Browbeat) nor cards like Confusion in the Ranks-though that card does have its supporters- and I have a feeling that it's going to be a problem with Innistrad's werewolves too.

All in all, I think this is a spectacular failure on the part of design. It increases the potential rate of failure of players, increases the costs of the game both for Wizards and for the players and does it for a mechanic that is very flavorful but isn't executed very well, plus due to it's physicality carries more problems than solution and so I have serious doubts about being fun. Good design should never increase fail and Transform has these faults in spades.