Thursday, December 27, 2012

I'll admit it

The holidays have been too challenging to post during. Will get back on the horse in a week, promise!

Plus, there will be previews for Gatecrash to talk about, so that's something to look forward to. Have a happy new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Less and Less

I didn't get any games in with Starve: instead I was in a very long four-player Commander game, vs Momir Vig, Rubinia Soulsinger and a UBR commander I didn't catch with me using Dakkon Blackblade in order to fuel a Living Death theme.

It was a pretty good game and it made me think two competing issues exemplified by multiplayer: you have to play the board and you have to play the player.

There's some good thoughts on multiplayer here; I imagine I will be saying something similar but the thoughts help provide context. In addition, playing the player enters the equation more when you play with a regular group of people, like I do, who don't play a lot of multiplayer.

For me, any game of Magic breaks down two to central pillars: First, threat assessment. This cannot be emphasized enough. Knowing which brick to pull to make the stack collapse (and that brick might be a different one, depending on the deck I'm playing) is one of the most difficult skills to learn and it gets exponentially more difficult in multiplayer games. Nevertheless, I have seen and still make the mistake of misidentifying what was going to kill me/stall my plan and thus, lose a game. I've also made the right decision and won as a result.

The mistake I see made most often in multiplayer, hands down, is Delayed Vengeance; namely, carrying the loss in game one into game two. This is a failure of threat assessment and leads me into the second point.

The second pillar is: who is this person and what do they like? This question is less relevant against strangers because the answer is always: To win and there are few ways for me to know more about them than that under the circumstances.

With people I know, however, the question becomes far more interesting. Matt likes to play hordes of green dudes. stonethorn likes building massive resources and controlling games. Jason wants to hit you from a direction you can't see. Fuz likes extremely redundant and resilient decks. The girlfriend likes creature themes and synergies. Merrick likes honing a theme that seems to have little use into a sharp point that kills you.

And so on. 

Because building decks in Magic can be a very personal act, it can be easy to invest more emotionally, than you ought to. I've certainly done it and I still do: if I wasn't emotionally interested in the deck then I wouldn't bother to build it, nor write about it.

HOWEVER, you have to know who you are playing against. Always. A bunch of new players is not an appropriate group to bring Starve out against. Because that deck does horrible things. And not just because I'm all that concerned about 'ruining their good time,' although that is a consideration.

It's because in subsequent games they will abandon the first pillar and come after me whether I am the appropriate target or not, even if I have changed decks. This was one of the most difficult things for me to do: remember that game two is a brand new game and it was now time to re-evaluate everyone. Is Jason's deck working? Can I stop it from working at a future date to apply pressure? If the answers are No and Yes, then I can continue doing what I'm doing. These questions are equally relevant in single or multiplayer games.

Now, what I may decide is to apply pressure to Jason (who in this example is helpless) in order to a] make him a more appealing target (in multiplayer) and/or b] force him into plays that he would not like to make. Or as they call them in normal speak: mistakes. But I should never be applying that pressure on Jason simply because he won the last game.

Why? Because doing so will cause me to violate the first pillar and worse, ignore the second pillar. I will stop doing appropriate threat assessment and I will forget what I know about that player and their playstyle in order to make my point.

There is no point to make: you win or you do not win. You are having fun or you are not having fun. Making a point leads to bad play and that never works out for anyone, long term. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Go Without

I didn't really talk about it last time but there are a few really cool synergies with Starve that I have been developing over the years. It really did start out as merely a Pox deck with efficient black creatures, developing into something that has more resilience and thus (hopefully) a better ability to close the deal.

First, there's  Bloodghast and Dakmoor Salvage, which allows me to repeatedly landfall those vampires back. Dakmore Salvage also works nicely with the Tombstalkers, because super cheap beaters are very scary in this deck.

Next is the usefulness between Pox/Smallpox and Haakon: whenever I see Haakon in my hand, it's never a dead card. It's purpose is to be discarded to the Pox effects, then return to play from the graveyard. This is also why cards like Black Knight and Order of the Ebon hand have remained in the deck: because with Haakon out, they can be recast and continue beating.

Now that I've explained a few of the cooler workings behind the curtain, I can talk about how the first round of games went.

My first matchup was against a mostly Black Birthing Pod deck, going 2-1. There was some concern on Jason's part: his deck was using ETB effects and Undying and he figured he would outmatch me on a deck that I'm testing. I proceeded on, unafraid.

The rule of a Pox deck is: Pox early and Pox often. This is because the deck wins when you Pox and loses when you don't; if the opponent is allowed to recover from a Pox, then usually I'm in trouble. My plan to overcome this is with a weenie rush.

On the other side; the opponent is almost always trying to play out their resources as fast as they are able: in my wins in this matchup, I would cast Pox with only three lands and Jason would have four out. While this would feel like we would start over from the same point, both with two lands, my recovery to three and rolling on would happen faster than his recovery to four.

In a second match against a mono-Green deck, ramping up for deathtouch creatures and fight effects, I once again went 2-1. In the first game, I was a little fortunate: I didn't draw a Pox but Jason just drew mana ramp.

In this game I went with the alternate gameplan: weenie rush deck and it worked well. In this matchup the Guul Draz Vampire came in extremely handy. Although a weak turn one play, in the midgame when life totals are certainly below 10, the intimidate and power boost are pretty big deals. I was able to attack past a Predator Ooze to win.

Game two, as you might see, I attacked past a Predator Ooze with Guul Draz Vampire at two life...and forgot that when the Ooze attacks, it gets a +1/+1 counter. So that was bad. If I'd held back a single creature, I may have been able to hold out. I won the match though so I'm not going to be too bitter about it.

Still, I started this series with the idea that the GDV would be replaced, most likely with discard. I'm currently testing Blackmail in that slot on Cockatrice. I don't know if that will work but I have Blackmail so I'm going with it. However, if that doesn't work, the Vampires may go back in. There aren't any Knights at that converted mana cost and I don't know if any other creature in Black could give me that kind of power/toughness ratio so there aren't any other synergies I think I can exploit and extra damage is extra damage.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I feel  proud with the name I picked for this deck. Pox is a deck that has had a long history in Magic and I find that playing resource denial decks is something I really enjoy when I'm confronted with weird combo Jason decks.

But that's neither here nor there. A great deal of my original design deck is still in tact but after years of working with it, Smallpox was printed and I had to tweak this deck into it's current configuration.

3 Black Knight
2 Knight of Stromgald
2 Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
3 Carnophage
2 Order of the Ebon Hand
3 Tombstalker
2 Dauthi Slayer
3 Bloodghast
3 Gatekeeper of Malakir
3 Guul Draz Vampire

3 Lurking Jackals

4 Pox
2 Smallpox
2 Innocent Blood

3 Dakmor Salvage
20 Swamp

I'm fairly pleased with this configuration, with the exception of the Guul Draz Vampire which seemed like such a good idea! Life totals often dip below 10 pretty swiftly so a 3/2 with Intimidate seems like a really good idea. Still, I have to admit, it's the weak link in the deck. I'm thinking that a discard spell might be a better, neutering the possible cards (countermagic) that might make executing my plan difficult. Those cards were Bad Moon once upon a time but I realized I just didn't need to boost my creatures like that and a greater threat count was a better idea.

The card I'm really proud of is Lurking Jackals. Nobody ever expects it but it's a card that in its initial state, isn't affected by Pox effects which means that I'm more likely to have a threat on the board than my opponent once I've whittled away every other resource on the board. It's that kind of odd choice that really makes me happy.

The tests begin tonight. I'll see what happens.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gotta Get Out Of Its Way

I was unable to get any games in over the weekend, unfortunately. This happens but it doesn't prevent me from tinkering, trying to see what happens. I've been forced to acknowledge that Sunspots needs time and I need to add cards in that can give it to me. Golem Foundry isn't a bad start but I also need more ways to interact with my opponent: adding Tolaria West as a tutor was my attempt to improve that aspect of the deck.

I also have this habit of leaving cards in my binder, obviously good ones, as though they cannot help me solve a problem they are clearly meant to solve. This is partly a focus issue: I am looking for X, this is not X, therefore no. There is also a touch of hoarding, too: But I might need this someday for a deck! Don't use it!

We live in the now, however and these cards ain't helping me in the binder.

Enter Lux Cannon. It's a charge counter using artifact so it hits all the major themes of Sunspots, while also providing me with a long-term problem for my opponents that isn't easy to destroy. I have two, so I cut two Foundries and added in the Cannons. Will this work out? I can't be certain but I feel it's a step in the right direction. I'm keeping this deck in rotation to continue testing, even though I'm going to start focusing on another deck on Thursday.

Next up: you may have heard about some of the issues that the new trigger rules are creating at pro-level events. 

I'll just sum up if you don't want to read it all: the new rules say that you must announce all triggers and if you don't, the opponent can assume that the trigger did not occur, even if that trigger was mandatory.

This has led to players feeling like assholes when the call their opponents on this. It's legal but it doesn't feel right.

My personal feeling is: if the trigger is mandatory, it happens and if WotC would just use the language at their disposal, they could have, and have used in the past, 'may' triggers (ones you choose) and that would work fine. If it says 'may' then there is a choice. However, apparently that creates problems too and let's just please everyone because blbahblahbalbh. I realize Magic is a complicated game but sometimes, I feel like they're trying to serve the people at the expense of the players. Reading and comprehending the cards is how the game works: if you put people in situations where reading and comprehending the cards isn't how the game works, that is a huge kink in the game.

All that aside, there are two really good explanations of triggered abilities on Reddit, and I suggest you check them out, starting with part one.

A Glare In My Eyes

Note: I meant to get this up last Thursday! Thought I had. Sorry, everyone.

The grand plan did not go as well as I'd hoped.

Don't get me wrong, I still like Golem Foundry but I'm not sure it's the right key for this deck.

On Monday I was involved in a multiplayer game against a mono-w deck and another deck piloted by Merrick, using G/W soulbound and maybe a hint of blue. The details are a little sketchy because I was too busy getting pounded like the daily special. My permanents included a Foundry and a Pentad Prism which was, apparently, enough for the table to believe that I should be exterminated and since the cards weren't giving me anything else to do, I died.

Yeah, yeah I was able to muster up a couple Golems and a Manta with four counters the turn before I died but this was no match for soulbound armies of double strikers.

Next up, I went against stonethorn's new elf deck. A matchup that I knew would be awful for me but when I'm in this stage of testing, losing is practically the point. If I don't lose with this deck, how will I understand how to make it win?

No worries, of course; I got smooshed like a grape.

So I lost to more aggressive decks, unable to find the lifegain or board reset needed to make the game go longer.The relevant part here is that having Channel the Suns would not have changed the outcome and I was able to generate a few golems near the end, even if it wasn't nearly enough.

On the upside, I also won a game, playing against Fuz, who was rocking a GB undying deck. The pic represents the precise moment when I realized I had a chance at winning.

There was a critical mistake that Fuz made: playing his deck.

Which sounds crazy but hear me out. He wants to sacrifice creatures to make bigger creatures and then use Undying and Morbid in order to have his small creatures overrun the game. Which is what he was doing, with Altar's Reap and Strangleborn Geist and the like.

Unfortunately, (and in his defense he was very tired) he was doing this while I had an Engineered Explosives out, which I was able to set to two after he'd put +1 counters on all his creatures and I simply blew the board up, started gaining 6 life a turn and eventually wore him out. If he'd just kept pounding at me and forced me to use the Explosives before I wanted to, I think the game might have gone a little differently.

So if I can get to the midgame with some action-and it doesn't have to be much, because I only had Clearwater Goblet set to 4 originally, in addition to missing some triggers due to sloppiness, I can potentially win out.

I just don't know that the Foundries are the cards I need.

One thing I've been strongly considering is Tolaria West, since that would allow me to find both the Engineered Explosives and the Academy Ruins that could give this deck some resilience. I don't want to give up on the Foundries yet but I've been unable to really get them rolling in the games that mattered.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

More Spotty Than Sunny

I ran Sunspots through a couple rounds against Fuz on Saturday. Warning: beer was involved.

The first matchup was like watching two asthmatics have a breathing contest. He was playing a Bant mill deck and neither one of us could get a win condition rolling. At one point in the first game, I had a Chalice set to twelve which I stopped bothering to gain life with once I hit 70, because it didn't matter.

The second game went much faster, thankfully and showed off the issue I was concerned about with this deck: not having enough win conditions. Eventually, I just kept checking my graveyard and once the win conditions were all gone, I conceded.

Match two was up against Bant humans. Fuz apparently has a thing for UWG. GUW? WUG? WUG is better. Sounds like a drunk Ewok talking.

Game one (to the left) went long when I dropped Engineered Explosives, then recurred them, once.

Only once.

After that, it was cheap creatures, cheap enchantments and me taking 18 in a turn. That is no bueno. I made a mistake by not using Clockspinning to keep the Champion of the Parish at reasonable levels when I had the chance. It's hard to believe that this might have made a difference but Magic is frequently a game of inches and it's best to save every inch you can until the game is lost, because you just never know.

Game two went much, much faster and I never got anything going.

I talked to Fuz about the deck for a little while and he agreed: the mana was fine, maybe overkill. I mentioned the Golem Foundry and he got very enthusiastic about the idea. So out come Channel the Suns, in go the Foundries.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


I know it isn't too clever to call this deck Sunspots but there you go. Between the Sunburst mechanic and my tendency to use glass beads on the cards as counters, it just made sense. Thematic connections, man! Or something like that. Let's decklist:
2 Treasure Hunter
4 Skyreach Manta
4 Etched Oracle

4 Energy Chamber
3 Engineered Explosives
4 Pentad Prism
3 Clearwater Goblet

3 Inexorable Tide

4 Rampant Growth
2 Clockspinning
4 Channel the Suns

8 Forest
1 Vivid Crag
1 Vivid Creek
2 Vivid Grove
1 Vivid Marsh
1 Vivid Meadow
1 Academy Ruins
2 Mountain
2 Swamp
2 Plains
2 Island
Now that is an interesting pile, when I look at it as text. There are only ten ways for me to win and of those, four are viable: Skyreach Manta. Everything else is there to generate mana or counters, or reset board states to ones more advantageous to me through a recurred Engineered Explosives. Recurring board sweeps are good of course, if you can get to them.

Which is why Clearwater Goblet is in there: gaining 4-5 life a turn is generally enough to mitigate what an aggressive deck can do and give me time to set up the flying beasts.

This deck evolved: originally an exploration of the Sunburst mechanic, Clockspinning was added in later as a way to counteract the scalable limit of  the Sunburst mechanic. Once Populate became a mechanic, I thought that Inexorable Tide would be a great way to reinforce Clockspinning's leapfrogging of Sunburst.

Nonetheless, looking at this deck now, I can't help but wonder if I have too much mana fixing. Channel the Suns is a good card; Is it necessary? Or perhaps I should be directing that question towards Rampant Growth, since I already have mana fixing at the two spot, as well as a way to repeat that mana fixing with Energy Chamber. According to the deck stats, there's a pretty big glut at two mana and a hole in the three mana spot, so it may be worth my while to find some juice at the three mana spot, the only question is; What does this need?

Time to play this and find out.

Bonus time: I dug this article by Dan Nelson on the probability of playing high casting cost cards in limited. Definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Well, I'm getting a better handle on what kind of decks Prisoner can handle now. Only two matches last night but they still gave me some perspective on what kind of key this deck will unlock.

First I went against a UW spirits deck. It was working a midrange aggro thing, with creatures that left flying tokens when they died, along with Favorable Winds to keep the pressure on. The 'aha!' moment for me was in game 2 when I got a Martial Law down, allowing my opponent swing for 4, then casting Supreme Verdict and being able to use a Mistfolk enhanced Flagbearer and Somnophore followup to lock down my opponent forever.

In this instance, the few counterspells I had were fine, because I could use the global reset to start things over and then ensure an edge with the Mana Leak in my hand. Since Martial Law isn't affected by creature control, opponents had to find another way to get around my stalling tactics and even though I was only doing two damage at a time, I was doing it with creatures that locked down victory conditions.

The opposite problem bit me in my games against a UR Guttersnipe deck. My Mana Leaks were not enough to stop my opponent's strategy, my locks were meaningless and he had a fuckton more removal. It's very difficult to land a Frost Raptor/Coalition Flag combo though countermagic and burnination. That was my only viable plan though and having to waste Supreme Verdict on Guttersnipes left me open to other creatures coming through, as you can see.

I was able to Faith's Fetters the Consecrated Sphinx but that didn't prevent the card draw and I was forced to use my mass removal before Talrand took over the game. Both times I cast Supreme Verdict it was in the face of countermagic, which was awesome. Unfortunately, it put me in the same position: having Guttersnipes combine with instants do 4-5 points of damage per spell cast and I couldn't come back from that.

Most of the time, Blinding Angel and Somnophore are good enough to lock down creature decks, with Faith's Fetters running support but things with triggered abilities necessitate the big guns of removal. I was overwhelmed by them and I'm not sure how I could tweak this deck to take down that angle. Could just be a bad matchup.

All in all however, I feel that this deck is still a bit of a work in progress. It's in a good place for now and it's certainly time to move on.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's not data but I'll take it

I only got to play one matchup since making changes, last night against a B/W deck that wanted to use Sanguine Bond and cards like Mourning Thrull, Pillory of the Sleepless, Chalice of Life and Leechridden Swamp to whittle the opponent down.

And that deck worked. I played three games against it and I could handle the creatures easily enough but the combination of artifacts and enchantments I had to manage kept me from getting a proper toehold in the game and finishing it off. Prisoner just isn't fast enough to execute its game plan before a combo deck like this one. The Coalition Flag/Mistfolk combo created problems but because the angle of my opponent's deck was so different than what I was geared up to handle, I found myself losing again.

However, I felt much better about those losses. I'm still learning how to manage this deck; how long I need to hold out before using Supreme Verdict, for example or using the Coalition Flag lock as long as I can to create disruptions for my opponents before tapping out to do something. Playing a waiting game like that can make one a little panicky.

Nevertheless, it seemed as though I was in the game, each time. My deck was creating problems that had to be answered and answers to problems were available. I just need more practice and preferably a matchup that isn't inherently bad for me.

Which I'm going to get, because I'll be traveling during the holiday and won't have a new deck to talk about Thursday. One more week of this deck to see if I can get it into better shape!

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone; I'll be back Tuesday.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What I Did

I have made changes to Prisoner and am left with a slight dilemma. Here's the  new list:
4 Coalition Flag
3 Martial Law

4 Frost Raptor
4 Mistfolk
3 Blinding Angel
2 New Prahv Guildmage
4 Somnophore

3 Ponder
3 Supreme Verdict
4 Mana Leak
3 Dismantling Blow

9 Snow-Covered Island
9 Snow-Covered Plains
2 Flood Plain
3 Boreal Shelf
I am currently most dubious about New Prahv Guildmage. This is because I'm dubious about everything in this deck right now.

I went snooping through the Coldsnap block to see if there was anything that could help me. With 21 'Snow' lands, it seemed like it may be possible to find something beyond Frost Raptor to improve this deck. Rimefeather Owl was the closest I came. As much as I like a 7/7 flyer that can get bigger, I don't see it contributing to the deck enough to make it valuable. When you cast something for 7 mana, it should make a statement or cause your opponents to make one.

I took a long hard look at Kismet and it's blue brother, Frozen Aether, to see if they would fit but I'm just not feeling it. In conjunction with Detain, maybe but this deck has already demonstrated that one-time Detain effects are not helpful.

Having permanents ETB tapped and then Detaining for a turn? That could work out very nicely but it's a different deck--one I'm keeping on the back burner of my brain. Anything that annoying should be awesome.

So I'm thinking about something that might be a little more helpful: Faith's Fetters. It's expensive but it affects any permanent, including Planeswalkers and lands (I'm looking at you, Maze of Ith) and extends my game by at least one card, using Magic math that says: 2 life = 1 card. This could allow me to continue my soft lock and finish the game off; or at least, I hope so.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

There's Nothing You Can Really Do

I lost every game I played with Prisoner. Worse: I didn't even feel hopeful when I was playing the deck. The games all felt like I was starting from a disadvantage and nothing I could do was going to even those odds nor give me an edge and the games against Fuz and stonethorn were pretty definitive in the experience they handed out to me.

That is a bad trial run.

I was talking about this run of losses to stonethorn who expressed some sympathy but I shrugged it off. I told him the following:
I think that decks have a personality of their own. If you do something to them they don't like, they'll tell you. 
And the changes I made to Prisoner? Oh, those were not liked at all.

Now, underlying cosmic forces imbuing decks with a persona of their own aside, I think that it's worth taking a look at the other mechanics here.

The core of the deck: I force all spells onto a creature that can counter the ones I don't like, doesn't mesh with the Detain mechanic.

It just doesn't. There's nothing there to get along with, aside from color. I have a soft lock that I need to maintain into a win. With the exception of Martial Law, none of the detain cards I have are repeatable. That doesn't give me enough juice to win over any deck that is even working to half strength.

It's back to the drawing board. I'm starting to think that a card like Somnophore might have a place here. With the removal spells being directed elsewhere, Blinding Angel and Somnophore can keep decks on lockdown and Martial Law can catch whatever they miss. Add in some Supreme Verdict and perhaps even Kismet to allow me to recover and I may just have what I need to win the long game.

It certainly can't be any worse than what I've been doing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


This time, I'm going to work something out a little different. Named after the song by Rust, this deck was a bizarre takeoff on the UW control builds.

4 Coalition Flag
2 Serra's Embrace

4 Frost Raptor
4 Mistfolk
4 Willbender
3 Blinding Angel
3 Beloved Chaplain
1 Quicksilver Dragon

3 Ponder

2 Inspiration
4 Mana Leak
3 Dismantling Blow

9 Snow-Covered Island
9 Snow-Covered Plains
2 Flood Plain
3 Boreal Shelf

The basic plan was to combine cards like Mistfolk and Coalition Flag in order to nullify anyone's creature removal or enhancement by insisting it target my creatures and countering the kill spells while stealing the enhancements. Willbender allows me to retarget spells I need to while Blinding Angel shuts down attack steps.

Now the Azorus have returned with the Detain mechanic though, I have something that fits the deck's title a little better and perhaps ups my lock down elements a little more. It's time to take a hard look on this one and reshape it a bit.

The core of the deck: Blinding Angel, Willbender, Mistfolk, Coalition Flag, these are going to stay. Quicksilver Dragon, as much as I like it and it fits the theme, is a one-of and Beloved Chaplain-so good!- may be cut because it's not as thematic and because of the other cuts made to the deck.

Serra's Embrace, Dismantling Blow, Inspiration: these cards aren't bad but they could be cut for Martial Law, Inaction Junction and New Prahv Guildmage. Without Serra's Embrace, Beloved Chaplain isn't amazing so it may also need to be cut for something more versatile or helpful like Azorus Charm. Or, perhaps the Chaplains go and I keep Dismantling Blow because man are there a lot of artifacts and enchantments to destroy.

Either way, that's the direction I'm going to head in and we'll see what the testing brings.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Post Op (pt 2)

I started the next set of tests with Late for the Kill, feeling especially positive about it. After some playtests with Jason, I told him I just wasn't quite thrilled with it yet, specifically the Sovereigns of Lost Alara. He liked the concept, mixing Exalted with the controlling Dueling Grounds elements.

He suggested the obvious fix: Add in more Battlegrace Angel and another Rhox Charger. It was so simple I was a bit dumbstruck. It's always this kind of thing that I overlook. Jason also suggested Finest Hour, which, after a little rules verification, I discovered that you could attack twice in a turn with a single creature. I was surprised but apparently it's kosher.

I didn't like it for my deck but I think I'll see something Jason is using in the near future with Finest Hour.

After the changes, I took this up against a Blood Artist deck built by Fuz. Exquisite Blood, Sanguine Bond and zombies were involved, including Shepard of Rot.

I lost the first game due to mana issues but in game two I hit my creature drops, blew up the Exquisite Blood with a Qasali Pridemage and the Battlegrace Angel's lifelink kept me in the game and mopped up. Game three started a little rougher but I had Aven Squires on turns 2 and 3 so though my mana wasn't cooperating, I still had some action. Fuz wasn't as lucky, stalling out at two lands and not having much else. Eventually I found a Forest, brought a Rhox Charger up and I thought I had this wrapped up pretty nicely, until the Vampiric Tutor happened at the end of my turn. Turns out, it was just for a Doom Blade, which wasn't enough to stall my win.

He changed decks to a R/U deck with Cloudstone Curio and I got stormed out with him playing Kobolds until Grapeshot could kill me. This is also what happened in the second game.
Oh, Storm. You suck so bad. Despite what people say about the deck being interesting, like baseball or soccer, it really isn't unless you're playing it.

The problem is, while it's great at seeing the thought process of the combo player (illustrating the decisions needing to be made on his part) from the point of "Untap. Draw Grim Tutor. That's how we do it!" there are roughly 809 words and only two points of interaction: Cabal Therapy and Daze. Everything else is the storm player's internal monologue. There is no consideration of what's on the board, nor is there in the entire DECK an acknowledgement that one has to consider the other player's permanents.

You know what the other player is thinking: I'm watching you do mental gymnastics, which is boring and even worse; any spell I cast helps to pave your avenue to victory. All I can do is hope you whiff. 

Why? Because neither deck is attempting to interact with the other, they're merely racing. And you can have two decks working the spells angle, or two decks working the permanents angle but you can't have them ignore each other and still have a compelling experience for both players.That's just not how to build a fun game and I have yet to be convinced that watching someone go through this process is interesting.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Post Op (part 1)

My games with Ratchet have been similar to my games with Golden Blunders, interestingly.

Against a UB deck with milling and Jace's Phantasm, I just got wiped out. I was milled, but that wasn't the problem. The problem was Killing Wave. In both games, I chose to lose a significant amount of life (10 in game one, 6 in game 2) and yet still found myself taking 5 in the air, my opponent easily able to afford the Norn's Annex payment.

At this point I'm pretty concerned because I've only won a game when my opponent was color screwed. That is not a successful sign. We keep going, just to see how bad it is,

In game 4 I won because I was able to generate enough cat tokens and pressure; Killing Wave for 4 didn't do enough to keep me from attacking for 8 each turn.

Game 5 I was under early pressure from the Phantasm then casting an Annex put me down to 3 life. I managed to Scourglass but a Glimpse the Unthinkable put me down to 6 cards left in my library. I was able to use two Shrines to generate Myr tokens and increase the pressure. In the end, he was blocking with Glacial Wall while I was attacking with 6 Myr a turn and I pull out the matchup, 3 games to 2.

In another set of games, one versus a goblins deck which was fast but not super fast, and another green/black zombies, I kept finding myself with Soulscour in hand. Two of them, unable to cast either. I lost both matchups. Badly.

Similarly, with Golden Blunders, I would find Jin-Gitaxis in hand--two of them--and be unable to use either in my early builds.  (That still happens, just not as often.)

It rains and it pours, I suppose but it's not just weird to find circumstances repeating, (two of the same uncastable card) it's frustrating. 

Now, on the other side, I was playing Golden Blunders against a mono-white construction stonethorn had. He was using Mycosynth Wellspring to boost his mana. (I lost the games with Golden Blunders; repeated resets are bad, even for creatures with protection from White. Once again: two Jin in hand because my mana ramp had been neutered.)

But I had a similar problem: I needed mana for Ratchet and I wasn't getting enough to cast Soulscour if needed.

Then the light bulb went off. Out came the Razor Golems, which was a hard choice to make because I really liked the way they fit in the deck, and in went three Mycosynth Wellspring and one Spine of Ish Sah. My reasoning went like this: If my opponent doesn't have any artifacts, then my Divine Offerings aren't useless. For four mana I could get two lands and gain two life: this is a pretty good deal!

But in the later game, I could destroy someone's best permanent, gain seven life, then destroy their next best permanent!

Sure, this is probably Magic Christmas but I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

With New World Disorder, I had a Eureka moment. The kind that makes me feel like I'm on my mojo. That moment was Hornet Queen. I'm not upset that I overlooked that card, trying to horn Avenger of Zendikar in there because it's just such a rare card (ha-ha!) to see in Green. It fits perfectly though: it ramps up the Gaea's Cradle, it creates difficult to block attackers and creates a huge problem as blockers for opponents. Even better, with a Fangren Firstborn these creatures become expedient paths to victory.

People, if you play Legacy or Casual Magic, pay a lot of attention to the non-Standard sets. Commander and Planeshift 2012 have a great deal to offer.

I pulled off a Hornet Queen against a GB deck, after destroying a Golgari Rot Farm, and pulled ahead with a Wildspeaker/Tangle Wire combo in game one. Great Sable Stag was immune to the removal and I rode it to the win. Unfortunately I didn't get any further games.

But against stonethorn's aforementioned mono-W angels deck, I went 2-0. The Hornet Queen never came out, instead the team of Silklash Spider and Woodfall Primus, coupled with Wastelands, were there to suppress mana and when Judgement was rendered, the Primuses (Primi? Primusseses? Primus 2 the Primining?) stomped on a couple more Plains and swung for 5 until the angels were no more.

stonethorn seemed worried after that matchup: "I've never had it go so badly before!"

Don't worry about it, I said, I've been working on this deck for 15 years. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Few Observations

Well, Return to Ravnica has come out, Populate still sucks and Unleash has actually made for a decent aggro mechanic in Limited.

So I was kinda wrong, at least in the short term.

What's been interesting has been the rise of Zombies as a deck (frequently R/B but with RtR, now G/B seems to be a flavor) and R/G/B decks (often on the back of Rancor) and I see that as a general positive. The negative? The U/W Delver decks have just switched to U/W/G-this lineup has been all over the internet- or U/R Delver.

So Blue is still a prominent force in the game. I didn't expect it to go away but I had hoped that other colors would get a chance to shine. It's early still: I don't think the season has established its decks yet and Gatecrash has plenty to offer but I'm not hoping for much yet.

On a separate note: I've been feeling like I'm rushed with my decks. Picking a new one each week isn't giving me enough time to actually play the deck and make changes, then road test those changes. I just don't get to play enough Magic to properly evaluate things (everyone I play with has lives...crazy people.) So I need more time.

As an example, when I built the 1000 Shards deck, I played that non-stop for three weeks and it showed. I got very good with the deck and made some great changes to make it what it was, before I brought it to this blog. So I'm going to move to a deck every two weeks, so I can get more games under my belt with that deck. It may make for some shorter posts but hopefully it will make for some more interesting, more evolved decks.

There might be something else but I can't recall what it is, right now.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Away and Home again

I'll be on the road starting this weekend through Wednesday, which means I won't have an opportunity to play much Magic. Since that's the case, I'll take the next week to re-play the decks from the past few weeks, including more work on Ratchet, the acquisition of cards to change Late For The Kill, further tests with Look Up, the exploration of a Eureka! moment I had for New World Disorder, and the cultivation of hydras in Golden Blunders.

I may not have much to talk about even next Thursday but hopefully there will be some Magic news to discuss, perhaps even the necessity to eat humble pie on my evaluation of Rakdos. Possibly G/W decks too because everyone seems to be all funny in the pants about Populate but...I still don't see it and the data from last week's States event convince me to change my mind. While I did see quite a few RBG and mono-Red decks I didn't see many people trying to push a mechanic.

What I know now, that I didn't when I wrote about Return to Ravnica, is that all of the guilds will have their mechanic extended in the third set. This could be the 'missing piece' to help boost those mechanics into a more heavyweight position and I look forward to it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blow Up All The Things?

I had two games against a G/W Opalescence deck and this matchup was a challenge because both of us were working similar lines of play: do what we can to extend the game, then overwhelm the opponent. In the case of the Enchantress deck, the hope is to stall out using Solitary Confinement then use Opalescence to swing with a bunch of enchantments to win.

In both matchups, Scourglass was incredibly important to help extend things for me, as was Norn's Annex.

Unfortunately, in both matchups, the Enchantress deck was able to rebuild faster and I could not draw another reset for the board. My Annex is awesome against a deck that cannot tap a Serra's Sanctum to generate as much white as it needs to win but if that deck can...well, I seemed to have a bit more trouble.

It is entirely likely that I rushed the games, setting Scourglass off when I didn't need to and before I could just sweep in and win. Having a limitation on when I could activate Scourglass probably made me twitchy and since the Annex, as good as it was, didn't help me as much as I'd like in those games, I can look back and judge that yes, I probably needed to hold off for a turn.

Ethersworn Canonist was the bee's knees though and a problem for Enchantress--when it arrived. Alas, despite running four copies it only came up once and was promptly wrecked by a Seal of Cleansing.

That was the only match I got to play though and Ratchet needs a lot more testing. There's lenty of time to work it out though and I look forward to solving this puzzle.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


It's a mono-white, artifact based deck that wants to blow everything up often.

So I guess I misnamed this one.
4 Ethersworn Canonist
4 Court Homunculus
4 Gold Myr
4 Razor Golem
3 Soulscour
4 White Sun's Zenith
3 Shrine of Loyal Legions
3 Scourglass
3 Pearl Medallion
4 Norn's Annex
23 Plains
1 Ancient Den
This is the deck's first draft and I have to say: it covers a lot of bases. The White Sun's Zenith helps ensure I'll be able to have some defense in the early game but provide some offense in the late game. Shrine of Loyal Legions does much the same. 

Soulscour and Scourglass give me a lot of resets that don't really touch my permanents and Pearl Medallion helps accelerate those big white spells that need to be cast. Norn's Annex can come out as soon as turn 3 to keep creatures from doing vast amounts of damage until I can get set up.

What this deck can't do, as I look at it, is deal with troublesome artifacts. For some people that wouldn't be a big deal but everyone I know seems to be running troublesome artifacts, from Birthing Pod to Mesmeric Orb, so to that end I think that I should take out the Court Homunculus, which really belongs in a more aggressive deck, and add in 4 Divine Offerings. This may not be the case, considering some of those artifacts are Wurmcoil Engine. Still, you can't prepare for everything and Divine Offering can give me life for opponent's artifacts as well as my own, should I need it. 

Let's give it a go!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I Don't Care How It Bleeds

I didn't get too much testing in with Late For The Kill--everyone has 'lives' all of a sudden--but I was still able to get some games in yesterday against a mono-B goblins deck and a U/W flicker/detain deck and those matchups taught me a few things I wasn't expecting at all.

The goblin games were quick: mana flood on his part and no removal meant that when I dropped the Dueling Grounds, he had no recourse. My creatures rapidly became bigger and harder to block than his and it went pretty fast after that.

The UW games were more complex, including one mistake for me that worked out. I was attacking with a 6/6 Aven Squire when it was hit with Azorus Charm, putting it on top of my library. I sighed, put it on top and passed the turn. That's when I noticed Bant Charm in my hand, which could have countered that spell.

But on his turn he tapped out to cast Archon of the Triumvirate. I was able to use Bant Charm to hide that gnarly beast and my Squire came out next turn to add to a mighty swing from a second Aven Squire.

Better lucky than good, I suppose and I went on to win that matchup.

Here's what I learned:

First: Sovereigns of Lost Alara don't fly. I know it looks like they ought to, with the clouds and the wispy art but they don't. So there was a tactical mistake that I made in the goblins game that I won't make again.

Second: Covenant of Minds will draw three cards. I was able to play this spell three times and each time my opponent said: Take 'em. There was never even a question of allowing me to draw five unknowns. This may change, the more matchups I play but I have a feeling it won't. Still, 5 mana for 3 cards isn't a bad deal, with Concentrate and Inspiration as counterpoints. But one isn't splashable and the other isn't that great of a deal. So I'll stick with it for now.

Third: I never wanted Sovereigns of Lost Alara. Whenever I drew it, I just felt like: What is the point of this? I need something else to help me overwhelm people and the Sovereigns, who were there to help fetch Eel Penumbras can be something equally useful and less expensive, I'm sure of it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Late For The Kill, Early For The Slaughter

With Return to Ravnica getting the official release tomorrow, I don't know that there will be much gaming, so much as the thrill of opening packs and, for me, a chance to revisit my Commander Rhys deck to see if Populate doesn't suck as much as I think it does. (Spoiler: It's bad. Spoiler spoiler: maybe not as bad as I think.)

In the meantime, with M13 being out for awhile it's a good time to update a fairly recent deck, Late for the Kill, Early for the Slaughter.

7 Plains
6 Island
8 Forest
3 Bant Panorama
3 Sovereigns of Lost Alara
3 Ethercaste Knight
4 Qasali Pridemage
1 Giltspire Avenger
4 Aven Squire
1 Noble Hierarch
1 Battlegrace Angel
2 Rhox Charger
3 Hero of Bladehold
1 Birds of Paradise

2 Silent Arbiter

3 Covenant of Minds
3 Dueling Grounds
3 Eel Umbra
2 Bant Charm
The basic idea: run Exalted creatures to help create very large attackers and use Dueling Grounds and Silent Arbiter to ensure that my creatures are bigger than my opponent's. Eel Umbra is there as both a source of protection for my creatures and a something that gives Sovereigns of Lost Alara a reason to live.

This deck presents some challenges in the mana base which I've tried to get around by confining myself mostly to cards with a single color in the mana cost along with the addition of a Bird of Paradise and a Noble Hierarch and Bant Panorama to help dig up the proper colors. The exceptions are the Battlegrace Angel and the three Hero of Bladehold. Because these creatures have such positive effects on combat (lifelink and extra damage, respectively) I feel like they are the 'I win' cards once a Dueling Grounds shows up.

My real secret though is Rhox Charger. Trample is usually a good thing but on a 3/3, it's less impressive. Make it a 5/5 or more? Now it's a problem and it's an easy problem to create in this deck.

The biggest question is probably Covenant of Minds. However, I like cards like this which create opportunities for my opponents to make difficult choices. I have a feeling that opponents will be more afraid of what they see than what is coming but no matter what, it digs 3 cards into my library and sets me ahead. The expense is problematic but this deck has a nice curve to it so I think it should work out most of the time.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Stop the world and listen in, something great is happening

After some pondering on Look Up, I decided against Favorable Winds and here's why: I had to make a choice between a more aggressively leaning deck or a more controlling one and the cards in there tilted toward control. Putting in Favorable Winds would have just diluted the controlling elements.

My adjustments were: +1 Vendilion Clique, +2 Guardian Seraph. Here's why: Vendilion Clique is more disruptive to most control strategies (and I own one more) and Guardian Seraph is a pain in the butt for aggro ones. It's a kind of reverse lifegain but with a better effect; all of your damage, gets -1 and that impacts any creatures, plus red and black. Plus: attacking for 3.

After these changes I was paired up against the same U/W deck I lost to last week. This time: it wasn't even questionable. I went 2-0 on the strength of well timed Humbles and my opponent's inability to deal with Thieving Magpie.

Thieving Magpie is possibly the secret weapon of Look Up. Ding for 1, draw a card. Doesn't seem like much but keeping a hand full of threats and never worrying about running out of answers was a big deal.

My second opponent, Merrick, identified that this would be a problem. Playing a mono-R dragon-themed build, she set fire to those Magpies whenever possible.

I drew Sea Sprites in all three games against her; the first game had her land flooded and unable to deal with the protection from red creature.

Game 2 was not to work the same, as you can see in the photo. That green glass bead represents my one creature; a U/W 1/1 flying bird. Everything else I'd cast either died to Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers or were sacrificed to block Balefire Dragon.

I had creatures but not any form of disruption and my Magpies were Bolted. The game went long and her creatures were better than mine.

Game 3 came down to a critical turn four, I believe, when she cast Dragonspeaker Shaman. I had a Condescend in hand. Do I counter this spell or do I counter the next spell that comes along, one that will likely be a dragon that can block my creatures and are likely better than mine?

I decided to counter the Shaman on the grounds that with the turns she would need to continue to develop her mana, I could develop my threat count and maybe get enough pressure on to win the game. Plus, using Condescend's Scry ability I could get closer to the second Plains I needed to drop a Guardian Seraph, which could present problems later.

My decision turned out correct and lead me to win that game, going 2-1 vs the dragons. I think I got a little lucky but it worked out so I'm not going to complain.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Look Up

This is one of the very first decks, if not the first deck I ever built using the very simple theme of 'flyers are good'. So I called it Look Up.
2 Zephyr Falcon
2 Sea Sprite
1 Mahamoti Djinn
2 Pride of the Clouds
1 Commander Eesha
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Stonecloaker
2 Serra Angel
4 Thieving Magpie
1 Radiant, Archangel
2 Duskrider Falcon
3 Condescend
3 Disenchant
3 Counterspell
4 Humble

2 Faith's Fetters

10 Plains
10 Island
4 Adarkar Wastes
It's undergone a few changes over the years: Wrath of God was in there once and cards like Vendilion Clique have been newer additions but I've always tried to keep odd older cards like Zephyr Falcon in there to stay true to my own ideals of keeping those older cards alive and fun.

I broke this deck out the other day against another U/W deck and lost.

And I kept thinking to myself: Why am I losing to this shit? Nothing against the player but I'm pretty sure the deck was over sixty cards and lacked the kind of focus I thought this one had so was it just bad beats or is this a bad deck?

Maybe it just needs some serious lovin'. So it's time for an update!

Obvious removal: Mahmoti Djinn, because there are better flyers for the cost. Pride of the Clouds might be better as more Duskrider Falcons and Sea Sprites, for consistency's sake but Favorable Winds might be a hard to deal with accelerant to winning. Either way, it's time to break out this one and clean it up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yo, We Down For Survival

This deck is making me angry: It should work but the cards that let the deck work don't show.

For example, versus Fuz's mono-white not-exactly-weenie deck:

Game 1 was brutal: my anti-Wrath tech in hand, wrath turn 4, I was left with nothing and scrubbed three times on a Scroll effect vs Student of Warfare with only two cards in hand. He cast Hero of Bladehold, swung at me for 11 and that was that.


In game 2, things were looking grim vs 2 Students, but with a Tangle Wire and a Firstborn, I brought the house. My mini overrun had me attacking for 8 then 11 and I got a concession.

Neither of these games were even close so I was hoping for more data in the final game. It wasn't meant to be.

 I had a turn four Tangle Wire but with no way to follow it up. There was a Disenchant at the beginning of his turn, which I hoped would be good for me but instead I found myself with no further mana development and two Woodfall Primus in hand.

Turn 4 saw the Wrath, after he swung at me for 23, connecting with 11 of that. This was a huge mistake on my part, because I had enough blockers to kill almost all his creatures and still mount an offense but I chose not to block.

The only reason to bring the house is because he either had Wrath of God or was bluffing Wrath of God. If he has it, then why give up the life? If he doesn't have it, I've just decimated his side of the board and I still have a way to keep the pressure on, so again: why give up the life?

Instead, I saw two Calvary Masters and that led to my quick demise.

Maybe nobody ever blocks but double flanking ensures nobody will even try.

Last night against what appeared to be a mostly-black, hint blue zombie deck stonethorn made and game one I got to see every mana elf I played executed in fine style. With a Tangle Wire out, I used two Wastelands to cut off his blue and didn't see another land the rest of the game. Worse, I had five cards in hand while trying to activate Cursed Scroll to get a Blood Artist off the table. That...didn't work out.

The Tangle Wire went away, I couldn't keep a creature on the board nor get to 4 mana and down I went.

Games two and three went a bit differently though: game two had me working the Tangle Wire lockout and attacking with tiny creatures + Fangren Firstborn. Game three had a critical error when I Natural Ordered up a Woodfall Primus against his Diregraf Captain, destroying a Darkslick Shores.

His response? Give Captain super deathtouch and force me to block, which gave me a 5/5 creature and him one less land.

My next turn had a Tangle Wire; stonethorn's grip included Phyrexian Obliterators. Plural. That...would have been bad for me.

Instead, the Wire kept his lands tapped down and I kept after him with a 5/5 until I won. Why am I so unhappy, then?

Because between the first game and my goldfishing with this deck, I never feel like I'm getting the card I need. I felt I lacked enough creatures for Gaea's Cradle so I added two Khalni Garden. I didn't like how Silklash Spider was so situational so one got cut for an Avenger of Zendikar. The interaction between Wickerbough Elder and Fangren Firstborn wasn't good so I cut one for an Acidic Slime. Finally, I added an Overrun, removing a Fangren Firstborn because sometimes: trample and 3/3 is more difficult to handle than a creature that can be killed.

Yet I still draw my 7 and feel like, oh crap I am not going to pull this off. I don't get enough lands or I don't get enough creatures or I can't get an I win spell!

There's a tickle in the back of my head that says Cursed Scroll is to blame. Something at the two or three mana spot that other decks will hate. I just don't know what it is yet.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

New World Disorder

For some reason, when I name my monochrome decks I try to get the color of them in the title, except when I have green ones. I don't know why that is but it's an interesting trend I've noted, starting with this deck, named from the fun but hokey Biohazard song. Favorite line: I'm high tech, sent you a bomb in the mail so if you die today, I'll see you in hell.

So overdone!
3 Llanowar Elves
2 Verdant Force
3 Fangren Firstborn
2 Wickerbough Elder
3 Eternal Witness
3 Fyndhorn Elves
2 Silklash Spider
2 Woodfall Primus
3 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
1 Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
1 Symbiotic Wurm

2 Garruk Wildspeaker

4 Natural Order

3 Cursed Scroll
4 Tangle Wire

4 Wasteland
16 Forest
2 Gaea's Cradle
If you've been playing for a very long time, you might recognize this deck's base: Jamie Wakefield's Secret Force. That base is very, very loose: I don't think I really took anything from him beyond; Verdant Force + Natural Order = awesome!

The deck has evolved since in the pro circles, the most recent version using Progenitus as a win condition because Progenitus is a hell of a lot better than Verdant Force. I don't own a Progenitus so my improvements have gone in a different direction, trying to engage in more control elements using Cursed Scroll, Tangle Wire and Wasteland to suppress my opponent's activities while being able to advance the mana and then either Order up or just hardcast large creatures to win.

There are still issues. The original deck used Overrun as an 'I win' card. I kept finding myself in situations where that just didn't do the trick, so I went with a mini-Overrun effect: Fangren Firstborn. I don't get trample but I do get permanent bonuses every time I attack, which can come in handy when the board is mostly clear but all I have are mana dorks, in addition to being an actual threat, instead of something I have to hold in my hand.

This is also what prompted the Garruks (aside from me owning two): I can make beasts or I can just ramp up through Tangle Wires and eventually cast a difficult-to-counter Overrun effect.

This is one of the decks I own that people tend to not like to play against, so I don't get to break it out very often but it's also one of the older ones I have. Time to put it through some paces and see how it can be improved.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Higher learning's just begun

Despite not having a decent substitute for Protean Hydra and feeling that I really do need one, I took Golden Blunders off to Rider's place to test it out. I didn't have Utopia Trees but I did have Harvester Druid and as it turns out, the budget version will work just fine.

Things went much differently and this is partly because I was in a multiplayer game. This meant a little more time than the 1v1 matchups which I think this deck benefits from. In addition, though facing blue on one side, I had white on the other and this meant that any time Animar landed-which it did in both games-that was going to present problems.

In game one, the deck functioned like I'd hope: mana boosters, fighting Hydropons, and a gently swelling Animar, reaching 6/6, allowing me to cast Primeval Hydras for 5 and swing for 10, then 20.

In game two, my opening play was Ulvenwald Tracker. It didn't meet an untimely death and after that, despite Rider milling at least half my deck, I was able to continually pick off creatures at will with a Vigean Hydropon and then Animar and a Primeval Hydra, whist holding off a Serra Avatar that was at 20/20 with Animar.

Repeatable fight effects are savage.

While Hydras were scary, the element that helped me seal it was Jin-Gitaxis. The addition of Harvester Druid meant that if I played one with an Animar on the table, I was actually gaining two mana instead of one, on top of helping to put Animar outside of easy burn reach.

What this meant was that I was able to make it to the midgame and play Jin, which in both matches, meant that the endgame begun.

Essentially, Jin is going to be better than nearly anything else if it survives a single turn, because it means that if I've made it to the midgame and I can make you play off the top of your deck whilst I draw into an extra 7, I've got the game won. If I just get Jin out, it lets me win by itself but if I have a Hydra out, this ensures a victory because unless they have the board sweep, I'm going to come in for lots of damage.

Even if they do get the board sweep, I've just refilled my hand and can immediately reapply pressure.

Of course, just having a Primeval Hydra is a problem so being able to increase my threat density is even better.

Now all I have to fix is Protean Hydra...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Golden Blunders

Man, I hated this deck. Named after the song by the Posies, maybe because subconsciously, I just knew it would not work out like I was hoping.
1 Apocalypse Hydra
4 Vigean Hydropon
2 Simic Guildmage
4 Animar, Soul of Elements
4 Fertilid
2 Protean Hydra
4 Primordial Hydra
3 Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur

4 Abundant Growth

1 Evolution Charm
4 Cytoshape
4 Manamorphose

11 Forest
7 Island
5 Mountain
So what's wrong with this? The idea which captured me seemed to be a good one: cast Animar, build up, then drop massive Hydras or Jin-Gitaxias (which is frequently a game ender by itself) and go. Versus Black or White decks, just wreak havoc with Animar. To the testing!

Now, the good news: Jason liked the concept. Fuz even gave it a bit of a head-nod but both of them pointed out that there were some pretty big flaws here.

The up side: opposing creatures have rarely been a problem in testing. Vigean Hydropon and Cytoshape generally mean dead creatures. This wasn't quite enough and it was Fuz who suggested adding Prey Upon. Turns out Hydropons can be very useful with the Fight mechanic too.

Unfortunately, that was about the only bright spot. I kept going up against blue or green decks that didn't care about Animar's abilities and, without much in the way of acceleration or disruption, I found myself quickly outclassed.

So I changed the deck. Out went the Evolution Charm, 2 Manamorphose, Apocalypse Hydra and the Fertilid. In went three Prey Upon, one Ulvenwald Tracker and three Viridian Acolyte to help ensure the color fixing.

More testing. More blue decks. More failures. In one game I drew three Jin and zero Animar. That situation is terrible for this deck. Speaking of terrible: so is having your creature stolen, which happened to me three times and there was nothing I could do about it.

Here's the crux of the problem: There isn't enough disruption to make it to the long game, not enough acceleration to force the short game and the midgame is just kind of there.

This deck needs some help and I'm not sure where that help needs to come from. Protean Hydra could become something else and it's becoming pretty apparent that between Abundant Growth and Manamorphose I have the color fixing and draw to get enough mana to cast the usual suspects. A Utopia Tree, should I have them, might be better than Viridian Acolyte because that may give me the boost to cast Jin or a very large Primordial Hydra without Animar assistance.

What is certain at this point is this deck needs more than just a clever idea.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Return to Ravnica Impressions

I'm operating from the Return to Ravnica spoiler on

The original Ravnica was known for a brilliant Limited environment and the mechanics are generally geared toward this. The result of which were nine barely memorable abilities and one that was so strong that it impacted Magic's oldest format, Vintage. This, to me, is not an excellent block, long term. It did a great many things for the game however and got players back in after the debacle of Mirrodin and boredom of Kamigawa.

Nevertheless; when was the last time you saw a deck using any other mechanic from Ravnica aside from Dredge?

No, Ravnica got most of its mileage from a series of really strong or useful cards, ranging from the common at Lightning Helix, to the rare, like Loxodon Hierarch. It also benefited from a series of strong 'personality' cards: namely the guild leaders and their head monsters. Not all of them were what I'd call good (I'm looking at you, Ulasht, the Hate Seed) but they were at least interesting and give the block character! Players could feel like they were interacting with a new world.

Which is one reason I'm worried about the use of Planeswalkers in the latest block.

I understand that Planeswalkers are part of a branding thing and need to be present in each block but I think they're doing a disservice to the community at large by shoehorning them into every storyline. Innistrad was a mess from a story perspective and Planeswalkers were a big chunk of the reason why: they were a distraction from the main action and had no impact on the actual storyline, despite being injected into the scene.

Things would just be better if the Planeswalkers just visited. Sure, from time to time let them participate but otherwise, they ought to stay out of things. On top of that, does anyone really need Jace 4.0 (or Jace Zero as Fuz and I are calling him. So that's Jace, Jace II the FU, Cinnamon Jace and now Jace Zero for those of you keeping track at home.)

Now all that said, the upside does seem to be that characters old and new do seem to be a focus in the new set and hopefully that will help give Return to Ravnica some of the same zing.

As far as the abilities go, the Izzet one, Overload, seems like it's the most versatile. Solid in early game, a blowout in late game and extremely one-sided so it could be very ugly. I like it and so far it feels appropriately costed--which means, challenging for a player like me to work with.

Detain, which belongs to Azorus, seems like the most powerful. Turning off a card for a turn can be a pretty crippling maneuver, especially in colors that have answers to everything: it just gives them more time, which is what they can use best. What I like about it: quiet, powerful, very representative of the guild. What I don't like about it: It's extremely good in a color combination that doesn't need it.

I've heard that Unleash, the Rakdos mechanic, was the hardest one to balance. I can see that: making the R/B tribe aggressive but allowing for situations where defense is called for seems like it would be hard. Out of the five, it's the most workmanlike though: Put counter on dude, swing. Don't put counter on dude, hold off.

Of course the problem is that the right answer, at least so far, is always: put counter on dude, swing.

Next is the Salvage mechanic, or: We are really, really sorry about Dredge. This mechanic is difficult to get excited about, because like the Soulshift mechanic of Kamigawa, it's frequently overcosted. For example: Sluceway Scorpion costs 4 to cast for a 2/2 deathtouch creature. Even at common, that's expensive. Then, if it dies, you can pay 3 more to put two 1/1 counters on a creature. Total: 7 mana for a +2 on one creature. Dreg Mangler seems a bit better: a 3/3 with haste for 3--but to put 3 counters on a creature you now pay 5 mana. One can't even really make the argument for flat out discarding or milling your own creatures to use this ability because Salvage is so expensive to use.

From the ability casting costs, it would appear that Wizards is trying to nudge G/B into a midgame style deck but the cards themselves don't feel to exciting yet. There's still over 100 cards to reveal though, so I'm not too concerned and I have to admit, it does reflect the life/death cycle the Golgari are supposed to be about.

Finally, we have the Populate mechanic. Oh, Selesnya, why don't you ever get any love? The previous mechanic was Convoke and it was bad because (among other reasons) creatures aren't free and they need to do more than make your overcosted-but-not-impactful spells cheaper. So here was a chance for redemption!

There will be no redemption. Populate will rely on token creation, meaning that unlike the other 4 mechanics, it's not good on it's own, it requires enablers. It's now tacked on to whatever 'good' spell you had except your good spell is more expensive, making it less good, in order to give you a token to make the spell worth playing, as you see with Eyes in the Skies.

In addition, tokens are frequently tiny creatures without abilities. In the instances where they aren't, Populate, by itself, is a meaningless add on. If I have 5, 4/4 flying angel tokens, getting a 6th isn't meaningful. I've either won or lost by then.

So instead you have a great card like Rootborn Defenses, which you're using to make creatures indestructible but can't (or have no need) to Populate with. Or worse, you have one token and in response the opponent kills it, rendering your Populate meaningless again.

Which means that it is a mechanic that doesn't matter; and if the guild is focused on growth, then, while spiritually true to the guild, the mechanic isn't what people will choose the Selsenyan guild for. They'll pick it for all the awesome things that make tokens without requiring a Populate, like Precinct Captain, and ignore the rest.

Still, over 100 cards to reveal. I could be wrong.