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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Waiting Game

On September 30th  the next standalone set for Magic comes out; Innistrad,. Very little is known at this time, of course, since previews are always kept under wraps in order to generate as much hype as possible. The first big sightings of cards will probably be at PAX. Which I'm going to!

But I probably won't bother with much. Here's why: you have to play a game to get a ticket to the event where the new cards will be on display. That's cool, right? A fun way to generate some excitement, since everyone is at a gaming convention anyway and yeah, I tend to like this.

What I don't like is being packed into a tiny, labyrinthine club designed by the architects from Hell and Florence, with sweating, hyper excited people trying to vie for space to see cards and being told I have to play another game. Just give me my free drink, let me see the cards and talk to people and relax. If you want another game, have a lottery! Something where I don't have to pay attention to win, I can just look around and enjoy. There isn't space to play a game of the nature WotC wants to run and I wish they'd just stop it.

That tiny rant aside, what I do know about Innistrad are two things: First, that the set will have a lot of classic horror themes: vampires, werewolves, zombies and ghosts. Humans are included but humans are always horrible and boring to boot. Going to magical planes where fantastical creatures exist to find white guys is not what I'd call rating high on the excite-o-meter.

Second; the set will have a graveyard-based mechanics, including the return of a classic, Flashback. Which is just fine, since I have decks that use the graveyard as a resource. I can solidify decks that were shaky or modify concepts that were good but needed help.

It also means that suddenly, decks that I might want to talk about or have had inspirations on, have to be put into a holding pattern around my brain. In some cases, as with my Children of the Grave deck (coming soon to this blog!) I want to wait to see if any of the new cards help me with the strategy of that deck (in this case a reanimation deck) or if the mechanics help other decks, including one I have that uses Flashback specifically. At the same time, there are other decks, such as Frenzy-also soon to appear at this blog-where I'm waiting for a card to rotate out, to see if I can pick it up for cheaper. Though with the creation of the Modern format, that day may not come so I'll just have to suck it up. Maybe.

Through all that, of course, I wait. There's nothing for me to get excited or despair about so it's better to just focus on what matters; the now.

No post on Thursday though, as I'll be in Seattle preparing for the insanity that is PAX.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bad play #1

Commander game, here's the situation:

Me; Szadek, Lord of Secrets vs. Scion of the Ur-Dragon and Korlash, Heir to Blackblade.

The Korlash player has been hit hard: has mana but one card in hand and only Korlash on the board. I know the bottom card on his deck is Horrifying End, so I can mill him out with Tunnel Vision if I can get to that stage of the game.

The Scion player has been having some trouble but, despite having an empty board, has Greater Good and Survival of the Fittest in play. He does some shenanigans and ends up with Keiga, the Tide Star and Hellkite Overlord. So he's rolling now.

In my hand is Vampiric Tutor, Traumatize and something that doesn't matter.

I Vampiric Tutor for Control Magic.

Now, I don't know what Korlash is doing but I've clearly seen the goal of Scion; he wants to dump dragons in his graveyard and recur them making everybody miserable.

My thought process? Steal Keiga, keep him off my back, Traumatize the Scion player, grind him down, win with Tunnel Vision on Korlash.

So I Tutor right past Leyline of the Void. The one card that nixes the whole strategy of the Scion player.

I cast Control Magic, the Keiga is sacrificed to Greater Good and he steals the only other creature on the board, Korlash.

Next turn, I cast Traumatize anyway, blindly following a strategy that I'd laid out, despite my initial plans not working out so well.

Later,later being the next turn, when the Scion player drew and cast Twilight's Call and swung at everyone for lethal damage, we laughed and I shrugged and that was that. I left, a nagging feeling that I'd blown it and not played my best at all, just unsure why.

Until I was driving home and realized; I had a chance to get Leyline of the Void, which means I totally fucked that game up. I lost because I was inflexible and didn't give myself enough time to work out what I needed. I had the tools, I just refused to use them.

One good thing that came from this is that I remembered that Twilight's Call exists, which is just the kind of thing that I want to remember.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Killed By Killers Who Kill Each Other

That's a mouthful of a title. You can thank the now defunct Planes Mistaken For Stars.
5 Swamp
5 Mountain
2 Cephalid Coliseum
4 Grixis Panorama
8 Island

2 Powder Keg
4 Thran Turbine
2 Well of Discovery

3 Fact or Fiction
3 Wheel and Deal

4 Phyrexian Tyranny
4 Megrim
4 Propaganda

2 Disintegrate
3 Rhystic Tutor
1 Kaervek's Torch
4 Demolish
I built this deck well before Liliana's Caress came out and now...I don't feel the need to purchase the cards to replace it. Sure, if some fall into my lap, Caress > Megrim because it's got a cheaper converted mana cost (CMC) but My Money > less of My Money so there.

The premise behind this deck is to combo the opponent out, using Phyrexian Tyranny to make drawing cards hurt, Megrim to make discarding suck and Wheel and Deal to have the opponent(s) take it from both ends.

One of the critical points for making this deck was that it is creatureless. I don't have too many decks like that and while some very good creatures have been suggested by friends, I always stay away from those because having a creatureless deck does something really crucial to most decks out there:

It blanks all the opponent's cards that exist to deal with creatures. Most decks run a suite of Doom Blade or Wrath of God or more and I don't care about that.

On the other hand, I do have to make some concessions to what most decks do run, hence the Propaganda and the Powder Keg. Powder Keg may not look like much but I had a couple so I went with it. Back in the day, that card was critical in control matchups.

The upside of this deck is that is can win in one turn and getting the components out isn't hard. It's also difficult to defend against because both Megrim and the Tyranny can win games for me and most opponents can only take out one.

What could this deck use?

Probably red damage spells, especially sweepers. The ones in there are in there to help me finish off games where Wheel and Deal just didn't do enough, or to take out the individual creatures that need to go. But those spells aren't the most efficient choices. That said; they hurt and that's what I really want from them.

Being a blue deck, draw spells are always nice but since Tyranny works on both players, I need spells that put cards in my hand, instead of drawing them. Fact or Fiction neatly gets around this, along with being a huge skill tester for my opponents. They have to give me something-what are they going to do? And even if I get five lands (which happens) I've also just moved five cards closer to something better in my deck.

Since there is a 'taxation' element to the deck with Propaganda and Phyrexian Tyranny, Demolish and Rhystic Tutor get the nods over Pillage (which requires RR to cast and in a three-color deck that's just insane, unless I want to spend thousands on lands. And My Money > less of My  Money.) or Diabolic Tutor (has BB in the CMC.)

There's also a bit of misdirection in the form of Well of Knowledge. Should you pay for more cards? That seems really good, right? In my case, I'm using Thran Turbine as a workaround in addition to being a way to pay for the Tyranny's costs but hopefully my opponents are having to make choices between drawing cards and attacking. The more time they give me, the better.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I double posted on Tuesday.

Fortunately, there's a kick ass retro article at SCG by the legend John Rizzo. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Who holds the hand of doom today?

The problem with considering changes to a long-standing deck is finding out if the new ideas are worth a damn.

Dilemma 1: Hull Breach vs. Indrik Stomphower.

Pros; Stomphowler is a large body that can win the game. Cons; it has to destroy something so if there are no other targets on the board, I lose an Aether Flash.

Dilemma 2: Kavu Lair vs. Garruk's Packleader.

I pretty much discussed this last time but it bears considering that both these 4/4 creatures are expensive and become difficult to evaluate in this deck's context; do I increase the threat density to just over 30% or do I keep the costs down?

For testing, it's probably not worth it to split the difference but I am anyway, trying on one Packleader and one Stomphowler, just to see.

Of course one change has already been made: while at Portal games yesterday, I found a Spellbreaker Behemoth for .50. 

Two things here; 1) every store should have a .50 rare box. Seriously. 2) Spellbreaker Behemoth is going to be better in my deck than Rumbling Slum because having those creatures resolve is more important than doing 1 damage during my upkeep.

On to the matchups:

Mobile Shooting Gallery preformed as I expected it would; awesome against people who are playing little creatures and less awesome against cheap creatures with high toughness values.

But what creatures are cheap that have high toughness values?

Walls. That's right; part of my matchups was against Fuz's Wall-finity deck. His deck is pretty interesting because it skews the normal method of using creatures-attacking-in order to create a defensive zone long enough to blow his opponents out.

The games that I won vs the Wall-finity, I won because I had either a) a 5/5 on turn two or I hit six mana and was able to cast Crater Hellion.

But most games I noticed I was sitting at three or five mana. I could make four temporarily but doing so wouldn't move my board position so it was better to sit on the mana until I could hit six. Six mana was what I needed to clear the board and get going but I just couldn't do it.

So I'm not sure where to go from here; do I accept my good matchups and bad ones? That might be the best choice, in order to keep from going insane.

One bad thing; neither the Stomphowler or Packleader came up in any of the games, so I have no idea if they're effective, yet.


For $300, I went with Radiant's Blessing. Killing a large creature if needed or getting rid of the Blessing for another card was too valuable than playing a more reactionary card like Smite. The testing was imperfect; Fuz was working out a new deck and Jason was playing something non-interactive and slower-much slower-than I was, so games would end when I'd hit turn four and swing for 11, with more on the way for turn five.

Still, so far, so good.

Slamdance worked well with the Inferno Titans. While they don't mesh with the theme in the same way that Frost Titan would, Inferno Titans did something very similar; made the resources that my opponent played go away, boosting the tempo that I had, giving me more time to find cards/win out/make my conditions inevitable. While they may not mesh as well as other win conditions I can't argue the effectiveness they had when they appeared.

Fun times with this deck: on turn three Jason cast a Show & Tell dropping Darksteel Colossus. My drop: Avalanche Riders. I lost that game. However, in that matchup, once I realized I needed to keep him off white mana so he couldn't cast Cataclysm, games 2 and 3 were about putting Inferno Titan out, getting it bounced, and recasting it until the game was won.

So I guess the changes stand. Until I get sick of them...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Patience, practice and patientpractice

Or something clever like that.
Anyway, new changes to Zx means that Oona's Grace is now the card drawing engine and so far I like it but what it means is that using Life from the Loam is now more important than ever and that patience is critical to this deck.

I need to stall until I can absolutely, 100%, no questions asked, go off and get as many turns as I want in a row.

I was playing Fuz and sadly, I don't remember his deck, only that I was holding out fairly well but I was also starting to get panicky. I had drawn over half my deck and blown two Walk the Aeons to buy time and I still didn't have the cards required to combo out.

So I started dumping all my mana into drawing cards via Oona's Blessing and doing it on my turn.

The first problem is that I got worried about something I shouldn't have. The board state was bad but it wasn't dire; I had a turn, likely more if I played it right, to get what I needed.

The second problem is that I violated the advice I give nearly every new player to Magic; only play the spell you need to, at the last possible moment you can play it. Since Oona's Blessing is an instant, the time to play and replay that spell was on Fuz's turn and keep mana up in the meanwhile to threaten a counterspell or Venser, which he knew I had because Oracle of Mul Daya was in play allowing him to see my draws.

Having to play around countermagic does things to the mental state of players and even I haven't gotten the hang of it. Of course, having to play countermagic is a pretty tricky beast too, so I suppose it works out, it's just that saying No in Magic is a lot more powerful than most other effects.

Because I rushed things, I ended up using all my resources and having no way to stop Fuz when he monkeywrenched my board and swung.

Zx is a deck that is going to take some practice to play with; twice now I have found myself in situations where the right play was to be patient and wait, read the cards, take in all the data and execute my masterstroke when it would actually BE a masterstroke.

Instead, I've ended up a Bond villain.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mobile Shooting Gallery

        1 Spellbreaker Behemoth
        1 Iwamori of the Open Fist
        1 Rumbling Slum
        4 Tinder Wall
        3 Blastoderm
        2 Shivan Wurm
        3 Hunted Dragon
        2 Argothian Wurm
        2 Crater Hellion
        4 AEther Flash
        2 Relentless Assault
        3 Kavu Lair 
        3 Hull Breach
        3 Firespout
        2 Pyroclasm

        4 Taiga
        1 Hickory Woodlot
        1 Sandstone Needle
        1 Grove of the Burnwillows
        1 Skarrg, the Rage Pits
        7 Mountain
        9 Forest
A very early deck whose origins are a little unclear to my memory but was inspired by the card Aether Flash and my love of big green creatures.

Mobile Shooting Gallery (named after the brilliant opening song from Bill Ward's album) wants to win the game by killing everything that's small and mopping up with a really big 5/5 that can come down on turn 4.

So I have Tinder Walls in so I can get to turn 4 without being beat up by tiny creatures, either by dropping a Flash on turn 2 (which is the best play) or by putting out a large creature that has to be dealt with (suboptimal but sometimes you do what you gotta do.) There are 24 lands-more than I usually go for in a deck-because if the Tinder Walls don't appear, I want to be able to use my other tools and cast nasty creatures on turn 4.  

With it's low threat density, an important question for this deck is; how do I keep the beats rolling? My answer was Kavu Lair. When every creature I cast, aside from Tinder Walls, can draw me a card and essentially 'replace' itself, having that creature get Doom Blade'd isn't so bad, although the creatures I had to work with initially were not fun. Funny thing happened through the years though; the 5/5s got a lot better. The initial creature selection included cards like Emperor Crocodile, Hunted Wumpus, Endangered Armadoon-an inspired choice if I do say so- and Jackalope Herd, which I really liked but...

Over many, many depressing games demonstrating that I had to have a way to get to the midgame where I could drop 5/5s and win, certain things became necessary. The other funny thing about taking a card and saying: this is key to the deck: my choices become a lot more focused, by necessity. If it can't survive coming out with at least one Aether Flash in play, potentially two, that creature is pretty much useless to me. If I can't survive to actually get an Aether Flash out, why am I playing that card?

Since this deck plays a bit more like a control deck: the opponent does stuff, I wipe the board with Pyroclasm or Firespout or best of all, Crater Hellion, then mop up, play Aether Flash to make small creatures dead draws and win on the back of one or two of my creatures, cards like Blastoderm or Hunted Dragon, the number of board resets, the aforementioned Pyroclasm and Firespout, had to go up. The always fun Relentless Assault is there to snatch victories from the jaws of defeat, which it does pretty well. You don't always need it but when you do, it's awesome.

Now, this deck is going have fun against a few matchups but is really there to stop weenie hordes. Decks that don't want to interact on the battlefield are going to give me a lot of trouble with and my thin layer of threats it may very well be time for a makeover, putting in Garruk's Packleader as a Kavu Lair with legs. The pros: the Packleader can win games. The cons: everyone has ways to kill creatures; enchantments, less so and the Packleader costs 5. I want to cast the nasty creature on turn 4 and draw something off that, so I'm reluctant to add them in.

Which leads me to the next problem; generally, a big creature that is undercosted will come with some sort of drawback (see Hunted Wumpus or Shah of Naar Isle) which leaves the obvious difficulty of how I get around that drawback and still push MSG's theme. In addition, because there are so many ways to kill creatures, the ones I run have to be pretty good-and not leave me in an unwinnable situation if I use them and they die.

So we'll see how things go.