Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I was ill this weekend so I only got one game in but it was a good run. My notes might be a little sketchy as there were some computer issues causing game resets but all in all everything worked out.

I am up against a R/B Bloodthirst deck. He leads with a turn 1 Seal of Fire and I'm on the clock on turn 2, with a Duskhunter Bat coming and me getting minimal discard. Very soon I am facing the Bat, a Vampire Outcast and a Blood Ogre (all with counters) down with a lowly Lavaborn Muse.

I cast Sudden Spoiling and block the Outcast, then cast it again next turn to get rid if the Bat but that's when my Muse meets the Seal of Fire. Then I am Cursed with a Pierced Heart and at three life, he Gambles for and gets another Seal of Fire, casts it and says Go. Move to the next game.

Game 2: I lead with Urborg Volcano and follow that up with a Hymn. I am able to block a Bloodscale Prowler with a morph and Hypnotic Specter becomes my offense. Eventually a Seal does the Hyppie in but at that point I had two Lavaborn Muses out and he had no cards in hand. Six damage a turn means game over, man. The final matchup comes...

Game 3: he leads with an Aether Vial, I lead with a Duress and remove Curse of the Pierced Heart over a Pyrohemia. He didn't have enough Mountains to cast the Pyro and I figured I could tilt the game in my favor far enough that by the time he did, it wouldn't matter.

Though plans never quite work out how you think.

Board setup comes to me facing down a Bloodscale Prowler without coutners and a Stormblood Berserker with them versus two Lavaborn Muses. He has one card left in hand so he's taking 6 a turn but I don't want to attack into burn so I am also taking 6 a turn. My secret is that I am able to draw into Sudden Spoiling and when I kill off the two creatures aggressive creatures, that's game.

A few thoughts: first, R/B aggro Bloodthirst is a thing. Holy crap. Why isn't someone trying to make that work? It's fast and with a little work (work I know is coming, because the deck I was facing was brand new) it could be a terrifying, cheap deck. One could even splash green and go the Jund (RGB) route.

Second: Skywarp seems to have the balance I need for this kind of deck. It's not aggro control but I don't know that it's a straight up control deck either because I can do controlled boardwipes and then attack. I do feel that I've got a pretty good setup to get to the midgame,which is where I want to be and this is entirely due to not only hand destruction but being willing to kill all the creatures on the board in order to buy enough time to set myself up again. I'll have to try this against some more controlling builds: anything with countermagic is going to be a different game as I'll be the aggressor. But that I held off an aggro deck suggests to me that I'm on the right path with this one.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I named this after the teleporting Decepticon but I have no reason why. Colors, maybe? Although red and black are pretty distinct from purple and black. What I do know is that this deck came about because I saw Lavaborn Muse and thought I needed to build a deck around it.
4 Duress
2 Rekindled Flame
4 Hymn to Tourach
2 Skullscorch
4 Steam Blast

2 Shock
4 Incinerate
4 Sudden Spoiling

1 Blazing Specter
1 Hypnotic Specter
4 Lavaborn Muse
3 Bane of the Living
1 Greel, Mind Raker
1 Lightning Dragon

8 Swamp
8 Mountain
3 Urborg Volcano
4 Bloodstained Mire
And there it is, in all it's gnarly glory. It's pretty straightforward: make the opponent discard and make them suffer for it. If the opponent is able to draw enough cards to get out of Lavaborn Muse's ability, she can still swing for 3 a turn. Plus, the ability of the Muse means that in multiplayer, this deck can have a little bit of reach where discard decks frequently don't.

Note: I still do not advise this deck for multiplayer. You will be crushed like snu-snu. Still, the options are nice and in a team game, this deck can be helpful, hacking at the control/goodstuff opponent's hand while your teammate mops up.

Cards that may stick out: Lightning Dragon. Just a fast beater that can start working the opponent over. Damage is just as important as discard in this deck because Skywarp isn't playing for the long game.
Greel, Mind Raker: fun and a way to use extra lands, should the match go long. The opponent might be waiting/saving up cards for an opportune moment: Greel can force the hand or at least draw some removal.

Plus, that card needs some love.

Steam Blast and Sudden Spoiling: these cards are beatsticks because they give this deck a bit of time and the capability to extend it's chance to win. Plus, if they can be played in response to the other or Bane of the Living's activation, they ought to clear the board or cripple a player.

Everything else really fits along the deck's themelines: damage and discard. Some cards, like Blazing Specter and Hypnotic Specter, I only have one copy of. I figure these are supplemental to the other discard spells more than creatures but the fact is; they fly, do two damage and fit in theme. We'll see what happens: discard can be an incredibly powerful strategy against many control decks and this may give me an edge vs the mill deck I face but the games will tell me more.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Soldiers of Attrition

In a strange flash of inspiration, I decided to run Reclaim instead of other tools. What could be better than using a card again? Plus, it could partner with Gravedigger for a small recursion theme. With that, I played two quick games last night with War Ensemble and while the points I learned are minor, I think they're good ones.

Match One: vs stonethorn's mono-U Illusions. I had a strong start with two Sarcomancys but couldn't get another source of green to play Troll Ascetic or Bramble Elemental. In the meantime, the Illusions deck rolls out Lord of the Unreal, drops a Spellskite, which throws the whole 'cast enchantments on my dudes' plan out and proceeds to pummel me with a Phantasmal Dragon. I don't get a Bone Shredder or a Pernicious Deed and that's that.

I was stuck because I didn't have double green-there were plenty of Swamps in play-and yet my more expensive cards want more green. At the moment it's a 50/50 split for green to black mana and clearly, that has to change.

Match Two: I was up against a janky Counterbalance deck. I ought to know it was janky: I built it. My color issues don't come up and my deck rolls like it's supposed to. The best card in the two games I played: Nantuko Vigilante, because it's ability couldn't be stopped by Counterbalance.

So here's where I start to rethink things: if this is an aggro-control deck, do I want to involve myself in recursion or control? A card like Reclaim is really good if I've already drawn and used Pernicious Deed, the Vigilante or Bone Shredder but if I can't reliably have any of those things in my graveyard to recur, then it's pretty bad.

On the flipside, a card like Bramblecrush is going to be good or useful whenever I draw it, once the mana is available. Something will need destroying that's either causing or will cause a problem. So I think this deck is going to be shifted by -1 Swamp, -2 Reclaim and +1 Forest, 2 Bramblecrush.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

War Ensemble

Named after the song by Slayer, I originally thought of this deck as a aggro B/G thing. War Ensemble was one of the first decks I ever built and B/G has been a favorite color combination ever since. It's never really quite come together, though and I'll talk a little bit about that after the decklist.
2 Aspect of Mongoose
3 Pernicious Deed
3 Sarcomancy
4 Rancor

3 Consume Strength

3 Odious Trow
2 Nantuko Vigilante
3 Gravedigger
3 Bramble Elemental
3 Bone Shredder
3 Albino Troll
2 Endless Wurm
3 Troll Ascetic

3 Pine Barrens
10 Swamp
10 Forest
There's a subtheme of enchantment use, with Endless Wurm there to let me recast Rancor or Aspect of Mongoose, to cast again on Bramble Elemental or to get rid of Sarcomancy, should I have no zombies. However, there's a slightly bigger issue here. If one is to take a look at the casting costs of the deck, the focus is at 1 and 3 CMC.

That isn't true though. There is a huge bottleneck at 2 and 3, with the Albino Troll and Boneshredder, due to the echo costs. This puts me back a bit and can be considered a hidden cost, bumping things up just a little bit and reducing this deck's aggro plan. In addition, the reliance on cards like Rancor, which cannot be played on turn 1, pushes the aggro element back again.

I mention this because these hidden costs are on all kinds of cards, depending on the mechanic and I think that deckbuilders tend to overlook or neglect these costs, thinking that once you've paid for the spell, it's all over! Equipment would be the simplest example of what I'm talking about, which is why the Living Equipment mechanic in New Phyrexia and Mirrodin Besieged were such a big deal.

Really, this is more of an aggro control deck, using recursive/regenerative elements to bring back creatures, weather Pernicious Deeds and eventually win the game.

So now that I've got the actual theme worked out, what's next?

Well, consistency. Unless I have an Endless Wurm, I can't reliably sacrifice enchantments. That doesn't have to be problematic but it does mean that I need to ensure I can engage in this deck's strategic theme if I have a wurm or not.

Also, less strain on the 3 CMC slot. I like Consume Strength a lot but it's not in theme and it's eating up space. The question is: What does this deck need then, after one more Endless Wurm?

Something that a) regenerates (to survive Deed activations), b) is more expensive to create a swingy-effect, c) is less expensive but can possibly be cast for free since the 2 and 3 slots are eaten, d) is disruptive in a way consistent with this deck's ideas or e) I don't know, I'll just know it when I see it.

It's times like this that having collaborators is a good thing. A braintrust to bounce ideas off of is usually more efficient and fun than just grinding through pages of cards. Sometimes, though, that's what you gotta do.

Befoul seems like a decent idea, since it's modality means I could go after a variety of troublesome permanents. Deity of Scars looks like a scary, cheap beater that I can both target with an enchantment and will create an impact on the board when it arrives. More relevant: I have those cards already.

However, that doesn't mean that they are auto includes. If I want to continue to mine an aggro-control element, something like Acidic Slime might be preferable but keeping the costs low is also relevant and I think there's space in the four slot. As of now, I'm not sure where to go but I'll make some decisions before testing (hopefully!) later this week/weekend.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Three quick lessons

If this is your board state, in a 3 way chaos game, what do you do? (Difficulty: there is no Wrath effect coming.)

There are roughly 30 creatures on the board and I'm playing The Thing That Should Not Be against a G/W token deck and a B/W deck that isn't doing much.

Eventually, the GW player swings with 8 3/3 flyers for 24 and I block three of them, which means I take 15 and lose.

Except. See down there, in the lower right hand corner. Those two white cards with the green wave in the middle. Those are two flying tokens I could have used to block another 6 damage, keeping me in the game. I had thought something was wrong but I couldn't place it and in all the madness I'd forgotten/not seen those two tokens.

Lesson 1: if you aren't sure, slow down. Be 100%.

Next: Playing Freedom or Fire against Push the Fader. I know he needs to get 6 mana to Wildfire, I know that I either need to have lands in hand to recover or enough lands in play to make Wildfire not matter.

I go for the not matter strategy. My opponent hits two Wildfires within three turns but it's a little too late-I begin recovering and the Fader deck is drawing lands and Parallax Tide. I need to get Batterskull active again, my opponent needs me to not get that.

He plays more Tides but then doesn't do anything with them so I get my manabase up and running again. It isn't until the game is over that I suggest keeping my land count down by removing them from the game, in order to give himself time might have been a solid strategy.

Lesson 2: consider your options. Decks are often more flexible than their initial impressions.

Finally: I've been getting into a bit of a debate on the Transform mechanic at the WotC boards. Here's what I've discovered:

The people who like the Transform mechanic, like it because of how it feels. Any problems with this mechanic, from a physical perspective, involving potential cheats, hiding information, losing extra pieces etc: do not matter, because, and this is what they say, It feels good to transform.

It doesn't matter to them how difficult that mechanic is for anyone else, nor the myriad of issues that come up, nor the poor implementation of the G/R tribe--all these mechanical things that are issues for me are irrelevant. It feels good, so the conversation ends.

Lesson 3: know when to let people enjoy what makes them happy but be thankful that you won't/don't have to put up with that shit for long-or hopefully, ever again.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One card can matter

My first matchup was against a U/R/W walls deck, with Gideon Jura and Frost Titan as the terrifying cleanup crew.

The first game I was facing two Wall of Omens and a Gideon Jura and broke it open by getting a Furnace of Rath to stick, casting Cave In for free and then redirecting 4 damage to Gideon Jura for 8, clearing the board. That reset let me get a Batterskull down and, although there was a rebound when Consecrated Sphinx hit, not quite enough pressure was applied and Batterskull kept me in the game. This allowed me to land a Purity to stop any Vent Sentinel action and then I was swinging for 20 in the air every turn.

Game two I mulliganed to 6 and had a Plateau, Mountain and other stuff. It wasn't a great hand but passable. Unfortunately, it was also all I got. Gideon Jura arrived and beat me like a child in a mosh pit, with Vent Sentinel riding cleanup. Those losses are always a little weird because it's like losing because you forgot to bring a ball to the game.

So game three! By now I knew what to expect: Negate not Cancel, no artifact removal, just stalling until win conditions arrived. The key moment, in my mind, was trying to bait countermagic out: I had both a Chandra and a Batterskull in hand, with Browbeat to follow and what I needed to do was draw enough countermagic out that I could earn enough time to get the sixth land to cast Crater Hellion.

I chose to lead with Chandra, not Batterskull. I wish I could say that there was a plan there but really I just thought Batterskull would be scarier. Chandra took a Negate and the next turn I dropped the Batterskull, then Cho-Manno, the lamest named Legend ever, cast Browbeat and finally dropped a Crater Hellion that landed because Negate doesn't handle creatures.

At this point it looks pretty good, until a Frost Titan arrives to prevent me from paying the Hellion's echo. I can swing with The Lamest Name so I do. Here's where I think things went wrong for my opponent: he got the fear. So instead of taking the hit, then using the Titan's attacking trigger to lock down the Cho in the future, he holds out hoping for time to do something else. But this allows me to land a Chandra and now the gap between his and my life total is spreading far too quickly. The game ends soon after, because he has to spend time killing Chandra while I'm gaining six life a turn with a undamagable defender in my corner.

I didn't get a chance to play more games with Freedom or Fire but what I've learned is this: Batterskull is an exceptional card and is one of the keys that makes the lock turn for this deck. It gives me both a threat and time, so that cards like Purity or Crater Hellion can come online, or help turn my smaller threats into bigger problems.

That lesson learned, I thought that a creature with protection from red and lifelink might be perfect: Alas, there is no such beast. There are some creatures that have lifegain triggers, such as Kor Firewalker or Auriok Champion but space is tight in a deck like this, so I think I'll stay with the redirection spells and protection from red, until something appropriate comes along. Or I open another Batterskull. That card is insane.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dark Ascension mechanics

Just a quick set of thoughts on the mechanics of the upcoming set. You can see what I'm talking about here.

Undying: I like it. Not quite as awesome as Persist but still really cool. The lack of awesome is because there are more ways to deal with a -1 counter than a +1 counter, which made elements of Persist easier to combo with. However, Persist didn't give you a bigger creature and that benefit is a big deal. Taking 1 a turn instead of 2 a turn can make killing that creature worth it, because now you have more time. Taking 3 instead of 2 is a bigger problem. With Undying, you have less time by killing a creature and as a bonus this mechanic combines easily with Morbid and Devour, too.(Persist did that as well but I want to live in the now.)

It took me about 9 hours to figure out that Strangleroot Geist should go in my mono G stompy deck. (Granted, most of that time was spent asleep.)

Fateful Hour: sad. I want to like it and certainly Form of the Dragon has a new potential friend but the problem is simply this: if you're at 5 life and this mechanic doesn't help you come back from the brink then what good is it? Now, I have seen only one of the cards with the mechanic but that card is not impressive. If I'm losing, especially in Limited formats, I'm probably losing because I've lost the creature battle and dropping the Thraben Doomsayer isn't going to help me. If I'm winning, the Thraben Doomsayer is merely 'win more'. If this is a multiplayer game, I've suddenly become a huge target because all my creatures have a pretty significant boost now.

There is an interesting subgame that exists with this mechanic, because if I can give someone using Fateful Hour life, their bonus disappears but I've extended their game life. That's a good complexity but not the kind of thing I see coming up very often: the 'crazy story' that happens will last a lot longer than the usefulness of the mechanic will.

So this means that Fateful Hour is a good mechanic when you've achieved parity/stalemates in the game, AND are at 5 life for less. Too narrow to really enjoy, I think but the one time it works Fateful Hour will seem So Cool. Unless they do print a card that breaks the game open, which they won't, because WotC doesn't do that too much anymore.

Double Faced cards: sigh
Fun anecdote from last night: I'm playing stonethorn's werewolf deck, I'm at 18 life facing Kruin Outlaw and Instigator Gang with a Spectral Lynx and a Meekstone in play. I can't read the back of the cards because, as WotC suggested: stonethorn is using opaque sleeves. I know that I'll be facing a 5/5 and a 3/3 if I don't play any spells and I remember that the Gang will give bonuses to attackers, but I think can block, regenerate, take the other damage and his creatures will be tapped down. All I can see about the Outlaw is that it will become a 3/3.

So I do nothing, the werewolves flip and stonethorn swings for 20. I can't block anything.

I lost because of imperfect information, that was the direct result of poor design.

So fuck you, WotC.

The checklist: hey, there's going to be 7 more werewolves! No, wait; that sucks. My prediction; Huntmaster of the Fells and Wolfbitten Captive will be the cards that push people into giving the werewolves deck the old college try. Two one drops a solid curve to four and what is sure to be a hell of a lord in the Huntmaster means that as an aggro deck, Innistrad/Ascension is posed to make people try that deck.

It'll work when they have one drops and it'll be shit when they don't.

Morbid, Flashback and Curses; all OK but not too special: Flashback will continue to be the avenue people trying to break cards will follow, Curses will continue to be their weird subset of Enchantments and Morbid will probably continue to be solid. They don't push mechanics like they used to and so there will be space for Morbid to do things that nobody will bother with. This is both good, because it means they can revisit the mechanic later and do interesting things, and bad because it means there's interesting things they could've done and didn't, thus steering players towards a situation where they ignore the mechanics produced.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Freedom or Fire

This deck is an old one, which I titled after the Fear Factory song. Hell, that album is one of my favorites.

Back in the day, I played this against Jason and blew his mind: He'd been stomping me with Urza's block cards all night and when I dropped a Furnace of Rath and pants him, he got that look in his eyes, the kind every new player gets when they see a card that does something amazing: I want that.
3 Enlightened Tutor
2 Orim's Thunder
2 Captain's Maneuver

3 Yamabushi's Flame
3 Invulnerability
4 Browbeat
3 Cave-In
3 Chandra Nalaar

1 Batterskull

2 Silver Knight
2 Purity
1 Cho-Manno, Revolutionary
2 Soltari Priest
2 Crater Hellion
4 Plateau
10 Plains
10 Mountain

3 Furnace of Rath
This deck, unfortunately, has never really gelled for me. Once upon a time, there were Urza's Blueprints and Mana Flares in this deck. I think I even tried a Gratuitous Violence, once. I don't want this to be a white weenie with red damage deck, I don't want it to be a protection from all, cast mega burn spells deck. I want to cast pain in the ass creatures, use red to clear out all the problems and win because I'm doing 4+ damage a turn.

That said, I've been considering Blasphemous Act as a sweeper; with the exception of protection from red or regeneration, every other creature I can think of will die to 26 damage.

I just don't know why this deck hasn't ever come together though. It may be a victim of the Glory of Cool Things or maybe I never really committed to the idea properly. Hopefully, I'll find out more soon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Tar Pits

Game 1 is vs a G/W deck that has us doing nothing for four turns and then...I get out five lands, he lays as Herd Gnarr(!?) and while I'm able to block with a Farhaven Elf and Lash Out to kill it, I don't draw any other action. A Bellowing Tanglewurm and a Obstinate Baloth come down before I'm able to constrict his lands and I am stomped by ugly beasties.

Game 2, I mulligan to 6 and have not much in hand but two Mountains. I keep because going to five is worse and worse goes to awful when my opponent leads with Forest, Skyshroud Ridgeback. I have an unkicked Emissary to staunch the bleeding, then a Farhaven Elf to help fix my mana and enable the casting of a kicked Emissary next turn. It doesn't stop much; an Obstinate Baloth comes out next turn, then another the turn after.

This is bad.

My Emissaries die fast-one is redshirted, the other Path to Exile'd and while I manage to cut off Green for him for a little while, I know I'm in trouble.

I manage to get a swing in with a Pangosaur and then I do something very, very dumb; I play Benalish Emissary using all my white. So because I have a Graceful Reprieve I want to make sure I can play, I drop a Plains.

Back comes the Pangosaur. I lose two full turns this way and that's just terrible. I'm blaming beer at this point. Sweet, sweet Black Butte Porter...

Although I stabilize for a bit, an Adakar Valkerie comes out and that is game. I cannot keep killing Baloth, let him have 4 life a turn and take 4 in the air for long.

The next matchup was a three player game; one player with Myr, the other werewolves. I won the die roll and on turn 4 when I dropped the 10th land for the entire table and played Limited Resources, the game was close to done.

The dilemma was this: the Myr player could continue to function due to mana myr, thus didn't want to take me out of the game because I was keeping the werewolf player down. The werewolf player didn't want to commit too many resources to killing me because that would leave him open to the myr player.

Which meant neither of them really got rolling and as I destroyed their lands one at a time, then played one of my own, their decks ceased to function and mine began to pick up steam. I stood on the edge of one life for a third of the matchup and managed to slowly suffocate the opponents out while building a tiny array of creatures to block for me. I won at one life, proving that you don't have to win big, you just have to win.

My final match was a 1v1 game against a G/W splicer/tokens deck. These games were close but the G/W deck wasn't quite tuned up, so despite flying spirit tokens, I was able to pull out the wins, thanks especially to the frequent appearance of Lash Out, which helped keep golems off my back when I needed that.

It did, however, reveal something about Sludge: My deck doesn't really do anything until turn 3, which is why it's better in multiplayer games.

But if nothing happens in the early turns for either deck, which was the case in this match, from turn 3 on I am able to do really punishing things to my opponents. In the third game, I had enough mana to evoke a Faultgrinder and then cast Graceful Reprieve on it, wrecking two Forests and getting a 4/4 out of the deal. That's the kind of thing that breaks a lot of decks and it represented a turning point in this game as well.

I don't think I'll take this deck apart because it functions really well but I also don't see myself playing it a lot because it wants to do something unfun. I'm OK with doing something unfun against opponents who are either a) prepared for it-thus making the deck fun now or b) in need of a beating. And sometimes everybody is.