Friday, July 29, 2011


Or, why paying attention matters, part 7.

One of these days I should just outline the basic rules any Magic player ought to keep in mind but one of them, perhaps the most important one, is going to be: Read (and comprehend) The Fucking Card.

Here's the situation:

I'm playing the updated version of Zx-no Jin-Gitaxis, Teferi back in, Venser for extra bounce, no Oona's Grace yet. C is playing W/B weenie/lifegain with Ajani Goldmage to back them up, and stonethorn who's got a U/B Tezzerit deck. They've been gaining life while picking on each other, so I'm still at 20 but they're in the 40s.

I'm doing a whole lot of nothing except preparing to go off, C is stuck on two lands and stonethorn has three Wurmcoil Engines in play (an OG one and two Phyrexian Metamorphs copying it), Tezzerit, Tumble Magnet and Torpor Orb.

But I've got everything in hand. Teferi on board, Venser in hand, Walk the Aeons, Life From the Loam; everything is ready to go.

So I start to go off. I think I've got it. I can take infinite turns, create more creatures, use Venser to bounce what I don't like and Loaming Shaman to keep from decking myself.

Gleefully ignoring Torpor Orb.

So I begin to show the combo, it can't be stopped and yeah my library is dwindling down but I can basically swing through C's defenses and yeah I'll lose a creature a turn when I hit stonethorn but since I can Loam my stuff back I'll never get-


And it's at this point that C points out to me that my enter the battlefield triggers don't happen.

Just like that, it's over. My brain melts down and instead of even trying to play kingmaker or mess with someone or find a way out, I decide to deck myself in order to deprive my opponents from killing me.

Now my disappointment comes not from not being able to answer Torpor Orb. My issue is that 1) I didn't comprehend the situation correctly and 2) I mentally bailed when I understood what was happening.

I read Torpor Orb. It was read aloud to the group. But what it did just wouldn't sink in until it was too late, so instead of trying to plan for an inevitable win against the card that was keeping me down, or trying to even make a plan I just blithely went with plan A because 'Hey, I've got it, and that's cooooool.'

No. Not so much.

I could have taken a few extra turns to work out my position, I could have given some of those turns to C to make stonethorn's boardstate untenable, or at least vulnerable enough that Torpor Orb didn't matter. I could have worked my way out of it.

But I didn't, because I didn't read the card.

Read-and comprehend-the fucking card.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


It didn't take long for me to figure out what the holes in Zx were.

Jin-Gitaxis doesn't make sense in this deck because I can't use it effectively; sure I get to draw seven cards (which is rich like candy from a stripper) but the goal of Zx is to prevent my opponent from taking another turn.

So the opponent's hand doesn't get emptied and in the meantime I've got a vanilla 5/4.

Two Venser, Shaper Savant and another Teferi were added to replace Jin-Gitaxis. Jin will have its day, somehow. I just don't know how yet.

No, wait. I do. We'll keep it between us for now. And by between us I mean; for such time that I can play it in a deck and write about it.

Back to Zx: I really like Preordain because it's cheap but I'm wondering if the instant Oona's Grace wouldn't be better. Since I can get lands back, discarding them isn't an issue and until the Horn of Greeds come online being able to draw cards repeatedly is a good thing. I'll likely be making that change soon, just to try it out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


A new deck that I built very, very recently, named after the song by Dukatalon. This series of posts should be interesting because unlike most of the decks I'll write about, this deck hasn't been around very long and will undergo several changes as I learn more about what works and what doesn't. It was inspired by this build that Ali Aintrazi wrote about at Starcity.

I take a look at decks like that and I think; yeah, taking infinite turns is awesome and all but how can I make that cooler?

Enter Jin-Gitaxis, Core Auger. Because drawing 7 at the end of each turn is awesome.
4 Undiscovered Paradise
2 Ghost Quarter
8 Forest
9 Island

4 Oracle of Mul Daya
2 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
2 Lotus Cobra
3 Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur
2 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
2 Loaming Shaman

4 Counterspell

3 Walk the Aeons
4 Life from the Loam
3 Preordain

4 Horn of Greed

2 Exploration
2 Rites of Flourishing
The gist of the deck works like this: Walk the Aeons with buyback, Life from the Loam the sacrificed lands back, play the lands, draw more cards and when my library gets too low, Loaming Shaman everything back in and create an advantage that eventually allows me to swing for the win.

Changes will be made because that's the nature of things.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bad cards

A few weeks ago in a Commander game, (Me playing Garza Vol, opponents Zedruu and Karador) the Karador player wipes the board with a Hex.

"That," I say, "is a bad card and you should get rid of it."

"Why? It just wiped you two out."

"And you," I reply noting his empty board. "The card is bad and you should put in something else when you tweak it."

"Have you played it?"

"Yes," I say, "In Commander-and it came up twice and neither time did it help me."

"You can't judge a card based on it only coming up twice," I'm told--which begs the question; how many times does a card have to be bad before it's bad? But moving on:

"I'm going to look at Gatherer because I love it," my opponent says, as though Gatherer's approval somehow invalidates me.

"It's bad and it will be bad," I say, as he shows me the smartphone with the card: 4 of 5 stars. Seriously. (That was when the vote was 12 people-it's down to 3.5 now with 17 voting.)

"So that's just your opinion, that doesn't mean anything,"  I'm told.

See, now here's the problem, one that works on a societal level I think; my opinion is just my opinion backed up by nearly 16 years of playing Magic. A lot of Magic. More than if you combined my opponents time spent playing and then tripled that number. The people voting on how good Hex is are voting on what as their criteria? Nobody knows; they may like the art or the theme or any number of things--nothing tells you if that card is good or not, just that it's approved.

So, just like a scientist's opinion is just his/her opinion on something they've spent nearly two decades working with, it may be just 'opinion' but that doesn't mean it's invalid or somehow incorrect and shouldn't carry some weight.

However, the crux of the issue is: What is a bad card?

I used to think I knew answer to that question but years of playing, being wrong, right or coming around to a new way of thinking has given me a pretty solid answer on this question.

A bad card is a card that cannot help you effectively deal with the situations your deck will be confronted with.

The important thing about this definition is that under it, every card can suck, and many cards can shine. Island can be a bad card, if what you need is a Counterspell.

However, the better the card, the more situations you will be able to deal with. Or, the more focused the deck, the better a card can become because it will provide via design, situations that the card can become useful in. In that case, many cards can become better, because they've been given synergies to work with.

Let's take the Hex example: Hex destroys creatures. Six, to be precise. No more, no less, so it cannot be cast if there are five targets and if for any reason there are seven or more creatures that need to be killed, you can't scale the destruction up to match.

So let's compare this to Day of Judgment, which destroys all creatures.

Day of Judgment does what Hex did for two less mana in the situation above. So in any situation where you have six mana (minimum two white and two black) and need to destroy six creatures, Day is better. It's cheaper and more effective.

Or look at it this way:
If the gray box represents all the times you need to destroy multiple creatures, yes, there are situations where Hex is useful and even better than Day of Judgment. Unfortunately, everything else in that gray space represents places where Day is good and only those two narrow elements demonstrate Hex's usefulness.

Even if you come up with a deck such as Karador where Hex gets to show off (and make no mistake, Karador is precisely the kind of deck Hex is there for) Day of Judgment is still a better card most of the time-it is only in the narrowest element where the green line is, that Hex is actually better.

That green line represents situations where you are able to destroy your opponent's creatures and leave yourself in a beneficial board position-usually with creatures on the table but there might be the occasional other. Making Hex be the key removal card in your deck means that now you have to build entirely around this card-which you can do! 

I want to be clear about that because I used to hold to the idea that certain cards sucked and can't be put into decks. That idea is wrong.

It's one of the great things about Magic; you can build a deck around anything. But now you've got another limitation entirely being imposed on you; can this deck work with Hex as my main source of removal? How many cards can I use that will be useable with Hex and give me an advantage? What do I have that will up the creature count to six if I need that and what do I do if there are more creatures than I can destroy?

This is what I mean whenever I talk about a bad card vs a good one; in the situations that I deal with, how much of that box will it fill with 'good' situations instead of 'bad' ones.You can replace the box with any situation you'd like (enchantments needed to destroy, cards needed to discard, creatures needed to win the game, blockers required to hold people off, enhancements to creatures to make them threats, etc, etc, etc.) but the question is; how much of that box does this card fill up for me?

I don't care how many people vote against me or insist that my opinion is just my opinion, man; my experience has shown that I want fewer cards that fall into the Hex ribbon and more cards that fill the box.

Which is why it's the first card that should be replaced in the Karador deck.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Get slammed

The first matchup I played w/Slamdance was against a U/B milling deck. Fair warning; I will have to endure a lot of milling decks because one of my metagame people has as hard-on for them and other weird win conditions that are frequently non-interactive. See my reference to Confusion in the Ranks below.

Ensuring I can win through that kind of combo and weird interaction is one of my bigger challenges as a deckbuilder and occasionally as a player. At some point-there's bound to be a slow week eventually- I'll write something on metagames and formats, just to give readers an idea of what I'm dealing with, and an upcoming post has a tale of my brain locking up.

Returning to the problem at hand: the milling deck and the LD deck do not want to interact with each other and as a result, the match is about who can enact their weird vector to victory more effectively than the other.

Spoiler alert: Mine did not want to interact very effectively. The milling deck was far quicker and I was never able to gain a proper foothold and establish an advantage.

The question when faced with an 0-2 loss is; what could have been in my deck that wasn't, that might have helped me make this match one I had a possibility of winning?

There are two likely answers here; first, to speed up the deck so that I'm destroying lands faster than the game wants to allow this (turn 4 for the most part but in the early days, turn 3) or stall things out further so that my win conditions become inevitable.

The thing about Land Destruction as a strategy is that making your win condition inevitable via stall is really difficult because eventually, players will have enough land to overcome your roadblock and win, so the win condition needs to be really, really good. The edge that LD gives me as as strategy is a small one so once I decide to turn the game around, it has to be an absolute event.

This means that cards like Veteran Brawlers, as noted earlier, completely suck.

However, what might not be as apparent is that cards like Inferno actually put me in a pretty awkward position too. The game goes on until someone is defeated and Slamdance wants to use the resources available-life, really- as much as it can so eking out every last point of life matters. Because the game doesn't care if I'm at 1 point when I win, just so long as I win.

Cards like Inferno, while seemingly cool, insist on doing six points of damage to everything so if, for any reason, I'm not able to stabilize before I get to six life, Inferno no longer helps me. In comparison, Earthquake is scalable, so if I'm at 5 I can do 4 points of damage and still remain in the game. Choices are generally better than non-choices.

This happened against a Confusion in the Ranks deck; I held onto Inferno because it would kill me to play it.

So what's going to help? Because once that question has been resolved, the next one is; if I replace X card with Y card, does this improve my overall matchups, or just my efforts against one deck? Win conditions that are difficult to handle were good in both the CitR match and the Milling one. The Glasskite makes sense because it's hard to target and hard to block. What else will help me?

In a brief brainstorm with Jason, it came to me; Frost Titan-a card he was playing in a different deck that actually didn't want it. It's the kind of Aha! moment I really love in Magic, when I can see pieces come together in a near-savant manner.

Except I'm using those in another (bad) deck.

And here's the thing about me: despite a deck being bad, I hate taking apart any deck that's got a strong theme and potential and the current Frost Titan deck, named Frost Hammer has a theme (and in part because of the Titan, potential) in spades.

This brings me to the basic dilemma that I always face when constructing decks: What else do I have that will work, so I don't have to spend more money or break down a deck? Or do I just say; screw it, the Frost Hammer deck is cute but we've got a winner on our hands! Let go of that old crap and get after it!

This is the part that always gets me into trouble; I have three Inferno Titans that need a home. And lookie there, I have three slots (2 Veteran Brawlers, 1 Inferno) that need to be removed. It's just so perfect, right?

Lesson number 456: everybody must behave in accordance with their nature. So because it is my nature, I have to at least test the Inferno Titans.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Named for a Transformer, this deck takes a strange slant on one of the least enjoyed paths to victory; Land Destruction.

Players don't like land destruction because it inhibits them from playing their deck. Personally, I'm OK with non-basic land destruction. Non-basic lands always cost a lot and tend to allow players to do c-c-crazy things that a less expensive (dollar-wise) mana base wouldn't make room for. The extra functionality of those non-basic lands means that the game becomes boring; if you can play anything without any kind of reprisal for that risk then where's the tension in the game coming from?

Not that non-basic lands shouldn't ever be good (I've got plenty) or formats shouldn't allow for the bonuses that playing 3 or 4 colors in a deck can give but the occasional barrier needs to be there, for a lot of reasons not the least of which being establishing color identity. Especially when dealing with a casual Legacy format like I am and color identity is more like a watercolor painting smeared by kindergarteners than a distinct philosophical view of how the game should be won.

That said; Slamdance is partly a LD deck, partly a taxing/denial deck, inspired by my friend Jason's love of the card Mana Web.

7 Mountain
4 Rhystic Cave
4 Shivan Reef
8 Island

2 Jetting Glasskite
2 Veteran Brawlers
3 Avalanche Riders

3 Oona's Grace
3 Hoodwink
3 Mana Short

3 Demolish
1 Inferno
4 Stone Rain
3 Exhaustion
1 Earthquake

3 Slow Motion
2 Psychic Venom

4 Mana Web

So, right away; Veteran Brawlers. Terrible, right? Yeah. But it fits the theme, man. So I have to have it.

Neat combos; Mana Web + Slow Motion means that my opponent is likely tapped out or losing that creature. Rhystic Cave is a mana fixer that helps force bad decisions on my opponents and if they're playing a mono-color deck, is almost always going to work in my favor.

Because the goal is to tax what lands my opponents do have and destroy what they don't tap, certain decisions have to be made early on; do I cut off a color or just go for everything? Is bouncing that land more important than waiting to bounce the artifact/enchantment? (Usually the answer here is yes) What land is best to target with Psychic Venom?

But in general, Slamdance is using stalling combos like Exhaustion and Mana Short to stall, Avalanche Riders to chip away, until spells like Earthquake or creatures like the Glasskite can come in and mop up.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I need for you to be reasonable

So in my second matchup with $300 I got pounded. Why?

The matchup was white weenie/equipment, using Stoneforge Mystic on a Soltari Visionary. The claim is that it's a milling deck but when you win via damage it really can't be a mill deck. Milling is just extra. I am making big creatures really fast-faster than the mill deck could run me out of cards, so once again: why did I lose?

However the answer to the question is: because I could not bring enough pressure to bear against a deck that was using unblockable creatures to win--and I didn't have enough ways to interact with that unblockable creature. I needed ways to kill creatures and I didn't have them. The WW deck had tutoring to ensure a steadily increasing threat count and I did not.

Fun moment via loss: I cast Bind on a Stoneforge activation, preventing a Sword of Body and Mind from coming into play. My draw; Forest, which is a small indication of how the whole thing went. I do something cool and my reward is mundane.

So here's where I have to decide what kind of situations I want to accept losing with this deck. If I keep $300 as is, what are the good matchups? Where is it weak and what can I do to push through those weaknesses?

Looking at the decklist, the card that I'm most suspicious of now is Sigil Blessing and here's why: I already have five cards in there that give permanent bonuses to my creatures. Giving that bonus as an instant isn't what I care about; I care about making sure I can send the troops over faster/better than my opponent. With the use of Afterlife, I've already stretched the deck into a slightly longer game and I don't think that Sigil Blessing is making it shorter.

So it's coming out. Three cards may not seem like much but people agonize over every selection (and I'm no different) because what I've been taught after fifteen plus years of playing is that every card matters.

-3 Sigil Blessing
+3 ????

That's the question. Possible replacements:
Radiant's Blessing-something to take care of creatures bigger than mine, cycles if I don't need it.
Pacifism: cheap, means the best creature my opponent has can't attack or block, classic answer.
Cage of Hands: Pacifism but can be bounced to use on another creature
Prison Term: Arrest only switchable.
Shackles: A more interesting trick.

Of these, the one I'm looking at the most is Radiant's Blessing.

More interesting replacements: Last Breath (I don't know that I care if they get 4 life but limited by it's targeting requirements) and Reciprocate (have to take a hit but only one.)

I've got a soft spot for Reciprocate so it's down to this and the Blessing to see what might work best.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

You turn me up like a garage door

I got a few games in with $300 last night and they weren't terribly instructive. I don't blame anyone for this; Fuz was testing a new deck and in the first matchup, I just rolled him as nothing came up for him to play.

The second matchup was more interesting; he was playing a G/B deck based around Darkest Hour, making all creatures black while playing creatures with protection from black and I was playing a deck that needs its creatures to be green and white.

I didn't even realize what was going on because I had a creature advantage at the time, until I put down a Knight of New Alara and attacked with two Pridemages, saying "Swing for 8," and was corrected "4."

Yup. That's going to be a problem, especially if I'm not paying attention.

Except that it wasn't. I played another Pridemage next turn, destroyed the enchantment and attacked for 12. (So I got lucky, really. Paying attention is crucial all the time, Magic just tends to magnify the need for that skill.)

This is the hallmark of really good builds, I think. Redundancy is certainly part of it but the quality I'm really thinking of is reliability. Can I as a player, depend on this deck/card to do what I want it to do when I want it done-usually, when I draw the card.

The Darkest Hour matchup also showcased why Pridemage really isn't the questionable choice I thought it might be.

Advantages of Qasali Pridemage: Green and white, creature, cheap, has extra ability, has board-impacting ability.

Disadvantages; standard power toughness, doesn't contribute to the masses.

The synergies outweigh the disadvantages and I may have been evaluating the card entirely wrong. It's not like I don't know the card is good, my question was always; Is this good enough? Which it totally is.

Bind is probably the card that most rational people would question. There's just no way for me to know that I'll need that card, right? And in a focused deck, cards I don't have use for 100% of the time just don't belong.

However, the saying goes; No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. Bind is my neat concession to this idea and it's why I don't question that card. Nobody expects it, it's useful against many, many abilities and it draws a card. Why not? It's something that if I was in a tournament environment I might axe it but in a deck that is overwhelmingly about aggro force, having a cheap, cool trick to pull on someone is a good thing, especially since I haven't really let that cool thing run away with my deck's overall theme.

Or put another way; I don't always need Bind, but when I do, I giggle.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Let's just get into it, shall we?
First, a link to Gatherer in case people want to look up cards. Eventually I'll probably be incorporating links into decks but for now I'm going with the easy solution.

Next, a link to the source for the deck's title. Decks I build are usually titled after songs or G1 Transformers.
9 Forest
9 Plains
4 Temple Garden
4 Afterlife
4 Bind
3 Sigil Blessing

4 Shield of the Oversoul


2 Knight of New Alara
4 Qasali Ambusher
4 Qasali Pridemage
4 Seedcradle Witch
4 Valeron Outlander
2 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers
3 Wilt-Leaf Liege
When the Lieges came out in the Shadowmoor/Eventide block (one of my favorite blocks) I felt I had to build decks using each of them. Because I've been playing for so long, finding the appropriate creatures to fill in wasn't too hard-one of the benefits of having an old collection of cards is you always have ways to fill in those gaps..

This deck isn't too complicated, really; get out creatures, land a Liege or a Knight of New Alara (or both) to make them huge and swing as constantly as you can. Most of the Liege decks work around this principle, with the enemy colors being a bit more challenging/restrictive than the allied colored Lieges but I still want to swing with men for damage.

Sigil Blessing is the kind of cool trick that can really surprise people and Afterlife takes care of troublesome creatures your opponents may play.

Bind is the weird card here and has long been a favorite of mine. It draws cards, counters things nobody is expecting and it's cheap.

Cheap is a watchword for this deck; aggressive starts are what I'm shooting for and so a card that can be played on turn 3, even if it doesn't help me win, is going to be better than one will win and can only be played on turn 5.

Brief moment of aha!; I had to pull the Temple Gardens from another deck but when coupled with Qasali Ambusher, the choice was easy to make. I think that this is one of those subtle things that happen more often than players might realize but also show how finely crafted the game is.

Knights of New Alara were also left out of the original build because I want to try and maximize my card choices and Knights wants cards that have multiple colors. But when I think 'multiple colors' I'm thinking three or more--some way to just really make it awesome!

I don't have to really make it awesome all the time, I just have to win. Giving every creature I have +2/+2 and running Lieges four and five is probably more than enough.

Questionable choices: Sigil Blessing. While I like the card it's also hard to justify. Because it's a card that wants multiple creatures available, it encourages overextension and using it with two or more creatures, specifically creatures that are attacking.
But. There's always that nagging thing in the back of my head that says; 'this is just the glory of cool things.'

And while there are many rules to Magic, one of the unwritten ones is 'the glory of cool things will not win you games'.

Exceptions abound but it's a pretty good truism.

Second questionable choice: Qasali Pridemage. While it's true that the Pridemage is very, very good and fits this deck far better than I could ask it to, the long and short of it is that the Pridemage isn't a creature that  supports a massive attacking deck. However, it shores up so many other weaknesses that not playing the Pridemage would be a bad idea.

Finally, the one drop of Seedcradle Witch is...well, it is what it is. But aggressive decks need one drops and that's the only G/W one I could find.

About this blog

This is your standard 'Hello World' post but introductions matter so we do them.

I've been playing Magic the Gathering for a very long time now and have about 150 decks built, including Commander decks. I am hoping that by writing about one deck a week and then playing that deck, given the opportunity, then reporting back on those games, I can learn more and improve those decks, as well as give people who know me a chance to see what I've built and why, and provide them with a chance to comment on those decks. Either to give ideas or just stare quizzically at them, that's up to them.

I'll be reviewing/analyzing one deck a week, that's content for nearly three years and that assumes I talk about nothing BUT my decks. Which I won't because people do not start blogs so they can just be narcissistic dickmonkeys.

Hm. Nevermind, that's exactly why they do that and I am not immune. That said, while there will be comments on events, cards, situations and plays, and even people as relevant, my goal is not to peel back a layer of skin on anyone. I believe good games end with people happier than they were before, so I doubt there will be exposes of any sort, though I do hope this will provide a window into how I think, build decks and play.

There will be occasional nsfw language but for the most part that should be all you'll have to deal with and the comments will be either about Magic or related to i.e. games played, situations dealt with, etc. Decks will be brought up either as new ideas punch through, new revelations pop up, massive failures ensue or just because. I want to talk about them all but sometimes a new deck that is failing will provide more to discuss than a sword I've readied for battle.

When I play online, I use Cockatrice and my username is Smokescreen. Otherwise, I tend to play in pubs, because as a buddy once said: "This just goes better with beer."

Finally, I have another blog where I talk about brewing and you can find that over yonder.