Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tug on a thread the whole thing starts to come undone

The problem with removing cards in a deck like Wildrider is that parts are meant to be reliant with other parts: Mindstorm Crown is there to help draw, Wild Mongrel is there to facilitate those draws. Remove the Crown and Wild Mongrel is...what? It's still good, but is it actively contributing to my wins anymore?

Because that's the dilemma in a deck like this, which is so linear and direct that any card that isn't contributing to the goal has to be eliminated. Sure, cards like River Boa or Whirling Dervish may seem like they don't belong but they directly confront two of the biggest problems for a Stompy deck; blue and black. I've won so many games on the back of a resolved Dervish, I'm surprised that card doesn't hold more value.

As an example, I was playing a R/B vampire deck last night and in game one, he had a creature that could've traded with my Dervish and chose not to make that trade. The Dervish became a 3/3 and on the next and final turn, when I had five creatures out to his two, the only creature that he had that could kill the Dervish was black.

Not that long ago, a card like Wild Mongrel avoided a great deal of black removal because the restriction on black removal was that it could only take out non-black creatures. The synergy with the Crown meant that I could make it to the long game.

But the reality has been that the pieces have not shown up in time. Against a faeries deck I hurriedly put out two Mindstorm Crowns in an attempt to draw into what I needed to win. Unfortunately, I couldn't play my hand fast enough and never saw a Wild Mongrel: the Crowns did more damage to me than my opponent! Ever since I've added in the Geists and the extra Groundbreaker, the deck has been better. That's a good thing but it also means that there are four cards in the deck now that could be underperforming. Since the philosophies behind Stompy decks have been shifted to White, it might be a long, long time before I find a proper substitute.

Most Stompy decks have more pump in them and while I'm not big on replacing four threats like that, cards like Vines of Vastwood or Mutagenic Growth can be very useful. The former can act as countermagic, the latter can be used in conjunction with Talaria's Battalion in order to play that card sooner. Unfortunately, I don't have another Battalion so for the moment, the My Money rule kicks in.

I do have Jungle Lions and Garruk's Beasts, though...but this assumes that I need to replace the Mongrels at all! Sometimes I have extra lands in hand: Once Wildrider has three mana on the table it doesn't need anything else, so why not pitch them to the Mongrel to boost its stats?

Why not, indeed.

What I hope is that one can see how one seemingly simple change can result in having to make a dozen more decisions about what is best, so many of which could have merit that it's easy to get caught up in the minutiae.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Sometimes, the old ways are the best.

4 Scryb Sprites
3 Whirling Dervish
3 River Boa
3 Elvish Spirit Guide
2 Talara's Battalion
2 Skyshroud Elite
4 Land Grant
2 Vine Dryad
2 Skyshroud Ridgeback
4 Wild Mongrel
2 Groundbreaker

3 Mindstorm Crown

3 Might of Old Krosa

3 Hidden Gibbons
4 Rancor

2 Heart of Yavimaya
14 Forest

This is pretty pure, as ideas go-which is: Run Them DOWN. And it's why I chose this particular name. The deck itself is modeled after the Stompy decks of yore, when men were men, green sucked ass, and the only way to beat blue was to be faster than anyone. It worked for about a week and now Stompy decks live on mostly in the minds of people like me, who've been playing for a long time and have cards to support this kind of weird aggro deck that, for the most part, has been shifted to White, philosophically.

The Mindstorm Crown is a weird addition but I put it in there to help me recover after dumping my hand and then having the army wiped out. However, the card is expensive an just isn't in the theme for the deck, which is to Run Them DOWN. So let's axe that. Since it's been a long time since this deck had any help now is a great time to revise this deck a little, because of the awesomeness that is Strangleroot Geist.

-2 Skyshroud Ridgeback
-3 Mindstorm Crown

+4 Strangleroot Geist
+1 Groundbreaker

Let's see how she does.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Making a Statement

Not long ago, I started a three player game with the play, Forest, Ancient Stirrings, find Emrakul, go. I didn't have to pull Emrakul but I chose to because I everything else looked good and I figured I'd get what I needed.

Know what else I did that game? Died horribly. I didn't draw any action and my opponents turned on me as one and destroyed me without hesitation.

Similarly, the person I had the 1v1 experience with Rhys also played Elesh in a 4 player chaos Commander game later that night. Since I had changed my Commander to Karn, my experience wasn't so bad but his: well, everyone turned on him and when he didn't hit his seventh plains on turn 7, blood was in the water.

When he did finally get Elesh cast, it was all but too little, too late and he didn't get to play the game from that point, yet he was still scary enough that one player went so far as to cast Iona naming white. Twice.

In both situations, we (the Elesh player and I) suffered from making a Statement: We are going to bring the ruckus. Ready?

Now, I have no problems with bringing the ruckus. Everyone should do it from time to time. Doing it all the time is another story, of course but every so often one should set out to kick ass. What you need to remember though is that when you bring it, you'd best be able to follow up on your threat because otherwise, opponents are going to do what people throughout time have done: Decided that the enemy of my enemy is my friend (at least for now) and gang up on you.

In the case of the Elesh player, he knew the commander was awesome, he just misjudged how people would react. As a new player, mistakes like that get made and if you don't plan for the early game you can't make it to the late one. In my case, a tablespoon of overconfidence was the culprit-well, that and a touch of the Danger of Cool Things (note, that article should be required reading for anyone who is starting off brewing decks.)

In both cases, we failed to load for bear and the results were less than awesome. Sometimes that happens because that's the nature of the game but good decks are built to help people recover from just this thing. But when you make a statement, you'd better be ready, one way or another..

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Math is cool

A couple of interesting articles using math:

First, one on the number of lands you could or should run in Limited.

Next, an article on the fallacy of running only and ever only 61 cards. Some good brainfood--but don't get wrapped around the axle either. Some of the rules in Magic exist so we don't go insane.

Still, if you're not already reading Mr Chang's articles, you are missing out. He's doing some of the best strategy theory I've seen in years.

I don't agree with everything he comes up with, for example, his recent article on why blue is the best color (because it gives you more choices!) should also be read with the comments, as they come out and say: not so much. Blue is frequently the best color because it is given the two strongest abilities in the game at higher regularities and for cheaper costs than other colors, namely card draw and stack interactions but having more choices overlooks the mechanical elements that unbalance the game.

Still, it's worth reading. I don't suggest that everyone start building pro-caliber decks: I merely want to know what choices I am making and why and these articles can help with that. Any reason is valid, so long as I'm willing to accept the consequences.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fool and fool again

After the updates, I was feeling pretty hopeful going into my games, until I saw stonethorn drop a Vault of Whispers. Affinity. Oy. A giant red flag went up in my head: I don't have any defense. A pure aggro deck is going to destroy me.

But sometimes, you get lucky: game 1 he seemed to be light on threats and my plan of Gohei, Drogskol Captain, swing with pumped creatures seemed to work fine. Game 2 was the opposite: I kept an opening hand with a Plains and a Gemstone Mine, because a) most of my cards are very cheap and b) I'm bound to draw enough land to keep going. But no: I didn't draw a second land and within three turns I was facing down an Etched Champion with a Cranial Plating on the table. Time didn't permit a third game so I'm just not certain how things might've turned out.

Unfortunately, I had a chance to see how my deck worked against another aggressive deck, when I played against a W/B kitties deck.

Sometimes, my girlfriend plays.

Anyway, in game one I was doing OK with a couple creatures and a Drogskol Captain until a dying Black Cat randomly stole a Gohei from my hand. Then my Captain was enchanted with a Recumbent Bliss and the small amount of lifegain was just enough to keep me from outracing the flying kitties.

Game two took a bit longer: I actually had a great start, Gohei, Captain buffing my creatures and I managed to get the kitties' player down to one life. One.

Then a Sword of Light and Shadow appeared and I had no answer, nor could I draw a Hearth Kami. Soon a second Sword arrived and I was losing 5 a turn while she gained six life and reclaimed two blockers.

I find myself with a difficult question: do I have enough data to really start making changes? I don't think so and I really like this concept so I'm sticking with it a little longer. Nonetheless, I'm still having difficulty with my endgame and I'll have to keep that in mind going forward. Adding the captains seemed like a perfect way to give me some push and while it has made Born Again Idiot more problematic it hasn't quite been amazing, yet.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Born Again Idiot

So we'll start with: what's wrong with this? (Aside from the name, which I think implies that I knew something was askew here.)
3 Kami of Ancient Law
4 Ember-Fist Zubera
4 Floating-Dream Zubera
4 Silent-Chant Zubera
2 Hearth Kami

4 Reach Through Mists
3 Candles' Glow
4 Glacial Ray
4 Order / Chaos

4 Long-Forgotten Gohei
2 Wayfarer's Bauble

2 Gemstone Mine
3 Coastal Tower
4 Island
5 Plains
8 Mountain
I'll save you some time: it's difficult to close the deal. This deck has small, utility creatures with little way to win the game once it gets to turn four, and no way to win the game before turn four. It's possible I could get the boost from the Gohei and/or make my Arcane spells cheap enough to finish the game but...

I started this deck as a Zuberi deck, hoping that there would be ways to extend the concept; creatures that give you bonuses when they (and others of their kind) die. There was but only in blue and red, and the creatures' color cost was too difficult for a deck like this to pull off. So other spirits got added in, because they work with the Gohei and once the Gohei went in, adding Arcane spells were just the obvious choice.

I built this deck in 2004 and that is a long, long time to hold on to a deck that isn't exactly tearing up the raceway. Still, that's what I do if the concept seems interesting to me, because someday things work out.

Enter Drogskol Captain. It flies, it's in the right colors and it gives +1 and hexproof to my creatures. This is the jackpot, as far as I can tell; I've just doubled up my Goheis, increased my threat count, made targeted removal problematic and put in a creature that's difficult to block.

So -4 Order/Chaos and +4 Drogskol Captain. Let's see what happens.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bad matchup

"Hey, I want to test this new Commander deck I built," and I thought: great! I can play Rhys and get something to write about!

His Commander? Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.

So. That's a problem. I want to produce a whole bunch of 1/1 creatures. He wants to get to 7 mana and kill them.

Now to my credit, I removed a Ferocious Charge for a Mask of Avacyn because my Commander is fragile and everyone knows it has to die. Nevertheless, each game I played can be summed up as: I got some swings in then Elesh Norn appeared and everything I had died.

So what do I need?

1) Enchantment search. I have three different enchantments that can help me and I need a way to find them.

2) Better control elements. What is this deck: aggressive or defensive? It's not a control deck (beyond the control elements every Commander deck needs) so what's the point of Pacifism or Entangled Vines? Given this deck's style I ought to be able to have bigger and badder sweeping elements because I can recover from them faster than my opponents.

Checking the Commander forums to see if I can get any ideas from other players I see that there are some cards I've overlooked, like Fresh Meat, Spawnwrithe, Ant Queen, Seed Spark, Emeria Angel and Cloudgoat Ranger.

Whoa. Seems like I've overlooked some pretty key cards that could help make this deck much better. Time to get cracking on that.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Commander-Rhys the Redeemed

I don't give names to my Commander decks, mostly because they are pretty easy to identify by the Commander him/her self. I did think, though, that it might be a nice time to try some newish formatting to make a decklist of this size easier to deal with. If it sucks, let me know and I see what I can do to make it better.

Commander: Rhys the Redeemed

1 Doubling Season
1 Elephant Guide
1 Intangible Virtue
1 Muraganda Petroglyphs
1 Beastmaster Ascension
1 Soul Echo
1 Leyline of the Meek
1 Overwhelming Instinct
1 Parallel Lives
1 Pacifism
1 Entangling Vines
1 Squirrel Nest
1 Spidersilk Armor
1 Asceticism
1 Sigil Blessing
1 Seeds of Strength
1 Aura Mutation
1 Gallantry
1 Debt of Loyalty
1 To Arms!
1 Judge Unworthy
1 Sundering Vitae
1 Naturalize
1 Ferocious Charge
1 Acorn Harvest
1 Kirtar's Wrath
1 Parallel Evolution
1 Hour of Reckoning
1 Superior Numbers
1 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
1 Collective Unconscious
1 Storm Herd
1 Creeping Mold
1 Overrun
1 Alliance of Arms
1 Cleansing Meditation
1 Purify
1 Nomads' Assembly
1 Search for Tomorrow
1 Squall Line
1 Chatter of the Squirrel
1 Bestial Menace
1 Grizzly Fate
1 New Frontiers

1 Blinding Angel
1 Twilight Drover
1 Blazing Archon
1 Quirion Elves
1 Nut Collector
1 Genesis
1 Penumbra Spider
1 Symbiotic Wurm
1 Stag Beetle
1 Jedit Ojanen of Efrava
1 Glissa Sunseeker
1 Mongrel Pack
1 Caller of the Claw
1 Essence Warden
1 Caustic Wasps
1 Verdant Force
1 Nantuko Vigilante
1 Sigil Captain

1 Elfhame Palace
1 Saltcrusted Steppe
1 Hickory Woodlot
1 Remote Farm
1 Dust Bowl
1 Krosan Verge
16 Plains
15 Forest
1 Sol Ring

So what we have here is a token generating deck. I can't say that I did anything particularly genre defining as a deckbuilder in this situation but I suppose I ought to explain some of my philosophy behind building Commander decks, in order to answer some possible questions about why I make the choices I do.

Because I've been playing for so long, Commander is a chance to bring out cards I only got one copy of because they were so expensive/not interesting/didn't fit into anything else. I wanted to play them but I just couldn't find a slot and then time moved on. Commander, because it's so crazy, because there really is an 'anything goes as long as it's fun' attitude which overrides the 'cool and win' attitude or just 'win' vibe, means I can make weird or suboptimal choices because why not?

That said, with Dark Ascension coming out and white tokens clearly being a theme run on from Innistrad, it's a good time to revisit this deck and see if I can tweak it for the better while still keeping my 'fuck it, why not?' philosophy going.