Thursday, March 29, 2012

Oak God

I remember seeing Gilt-Leaf Archdruid back in the day and thinking: man, that's just so...lame. You play druids and steal lands and so what? Years pass and someone decides: you know what? Stealing everyone's lands is funny. It's so absurd that I decided I had to take my shot.
4x Gilt-Leaf Archdruid
2x Elvish Harbinger
4x Fyndhorn Elves
1x Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
2x Seton, Krosan Protector
3x Werebear
2x Yavimaya Elder
2x Kaysa
4x Citanul Druid
3x Regal Force
3x Mul Daya Channelers
3x Adaptive Automaton

3x Chord of Calling
3x Vitalize

22x Forest
Named after a song by the band Century, this deck is...terrible. I mean, sure I could go out of my way to try and build it better but I don't know that I should. Stealing people's lands is mean and yet, if I can get 7 druids out I feel like I ought to have won anyway. However, that's more the alternate win condition: The best thing to do is ramp up the mana, drop Regal Force or Kaysa or Kamahl early and swing. Another fun option: tap most lands with Kamahl out to turn them into creatures, Vitalize to untap everything and then dump a bunch of mana into the Overrun effect. It's so stupid it might work! Only thing to do now is give it a run and see how it does.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Skip day

I hate to do this but the truth is: I just don't have anything quite ready for today. I don't want to talk about a deck until Thursday, since that will give me more time to play and then talk about it next week. The gaming session last night was good but any grist for the mill it might've provided is still grinding away.

So instead of halfassing it, I'm taking a day to recover and I'll kick it up again Thursday.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"You can’t yell someone into submission if they aren’t playing the same game"

Taken from the really cool article on a newbie's experience with D&D posted at the Onion AV Club. It was just too good to pass up.

From what I've read, the Chicago school of economic theory generally goes thusly:

If you give people perfect information, they will behave in their most logical self interest.

This idea is used to justify all kinds of deregulatory bullshit because it wants to insist that corporations will do right by their customers because the customers will always-Wait, WAIT, come back! I swear this is going somewhere.

As I was saying: this idea is out there to support a whole lot of 'hands off' or 'free market' ideologies, because it suggests that people will always behave in their best informed self interest, thus punishing the bad and rewarding the good. All of which I personally find to be insanely flawed because they fail to consider how human beings actually behave and ignoring how people actually think. I offer this anecdote with the usual disclaimer that it isn't data so much as an illustration.

My personal philosophy when I play a game is simple: play the best game I can. I am not there to win, I am there to play my best game and there is a difference. It is this difference that compels me to help other people when I play: I want THEM to play the best game they can and I want to help them do it, until it becomes clear that they don't need my help anymore. This is, in the short term, a bad strategy if I want to win, because it means I am helping my opponents. It's a good idea in the long term, where I make friends and learn to play better but that is because of what I choose to value.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was playing Undisputed Attitude against mono-U Illusions, Elf ramp Eldrazi and B/W human/tokens. The elf deck was spitting up mana, the Illusions deck was creeping, I was slow rolling my deck, holding two Ashenmoor Lieges from my opening hand because I knew that when I played them, the table would turn on me, and the B/W tokens player who was developing a nice board with two Niblis of the Mist a nice selection of equipment and a Suture Priest in play.

The tokens player was missing their Suture Priest triggers so I leaned over and said: "Hey, you'll want to pay attention to your Priest." There was, I thought, a slight 'A-ah!' moment...and then she started making me lose life whenever my creatures. Now, I knew that was going to happen, so I wasn't too distraught about that but then she started swinging at me in the air for 4 a turn!

So, here's the board state: the elf player is up to over 40 life, with elf lords boosting his creatures so he has an army of 3/3 and 4/4s, along with Glissa and a Loxodon Warhammer but no way to block flyers, the Illusions player has a Lord of Illusions and a Phantasmal Image and is building things up but again, no way to block flyers, while I have a Rakados Guildmage, Lyzolda, a Goblin Deathraiders and a lot of land.

So mentally, I'm screaming, Why would you do that? I just helped you out, right? I am not a force in this game! I actually had to check myself because there's no point in whining and I didn't want to tilt out. I did, however, drop the Demigod of Revenge in order to stop the bleeding but not until I'd taken 8.

What this captures is a part of the game that I have the most trouble with, in multiplayer: Understanding what someone else is doing. In my brain, all the information is out there: The elf player is the biggest problem, followed by an Illusions/Tokens tie. So it's in the self-interest of all the non-elf players to take out the elf player, right?


But this isn't a situation of perfect information: I don't know what she has in hand, her Priest lets her keep a handle on the elf lifegain if she stays on top of the triggers and maybe nothing else is really a threat?

There's other stuff though. Perhaps she saw my hand and knows the Lieges are coming. Maybe she wasn't thrilled about the extra cards I'd drawn with Sign in Blood, because card draw is always a warning shot. Maybe she didn't like the way I nudged her about the Suture Priest. Maybe she was worried I was going to make Lyzolda into some kind of engine. Or perhaps she knows that I'm a good player and I need to be dealt with, and saw an opportunity because I was using my life to draw cards. Maybe she has no interest in winning whatsoever or winning as I understand it. 

My purpose in speculating on these motives isn't to judge them: one of my goals as a player is to try to not take the decisions that are out of my control, personally. There is no point and players always make the play they think is the right one. Additionally, I view all of these motives as being equally valid ones for her course of action. I may not agree with them but I recognize them as legit and any reason, short of cheating/being a dick, is a good one. On top of that, shaming someone into my point of view is antithetical to how I want to play a game.

My purpose is to point out that there is a gap between what my philosophy is whilst playing and anyone else's and it's a gap that cannot be completely bridged, because each of those reasons has a different perspective on what the best, most logical course of action is. It suggests that there is no such thing as perfect information and as a result it is impossible to always behave logically. On top of that, self-interest is a very, very wobbly thing which always depends on subjectivity: how the hell can anyone always predict how people will behave if they cannot even agree on the best thing, nor the motive for playing?

This is what I wrestle with.

I ended up winning that match at one life, because the pressure on me forced me to Lightning Bolt the Suture Priest, sacrifice a couple of blockers to Lyzolda for damage to creatures (Lord of Illusions and the elf lords) and cards; then play three Ashenmoor Lieges, which pretty much made my creatures impossible to deal with. Once I tripped into a second Demigod of Revenge and was attacking for 18 in the air, there wasn't much anyone could do about it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I took Undisputed Attitude out on Monday and won against three other players.

That's pretty wild, since I shouldn't have won this game; vs Elf mana ramp into Eldrazi (piloted by stonethorn), mono-U Illusions (piloted by someone I just met), and W/B tokens, piloted by Merrick. There's something very interesting to me about winning that game from a philosophy perspective which I'm going to talk about next time.

What I want to mention here is starts with this: I build every deck I talk about in meatspace. I occasionally put something into Cockatrice to test and then acquire the necessary cards to build it but everything I make actually exists. I don't have online decks that run cards I don't actually own. This is helpful for two reasons: first, it gives me double the opportunities to test my decks. Some of my friends don't live in town and playing online is the only way we can do it. Second-and directly related to the point-is that the Cockatrice decklists give me a way to store my data. I don't have to remember every little deck, I copy/paste my decklists from Cockatrice into this blog.

However, I also have to keep the changes I make to one consistent with the other and in this particular instance, I discovered that I was running a deck with only 21 lands (missing Urborg Volcano) and an additional Festering Goblin. This changes things a bit, because I have more room than I thought I did--and starts to explain why this deck may be having issues: I wasn't supporting it properly!

So first, I had to right that ship, adding back the Urborg Volcano to put me to 22 lands. Next, I got some kick ass suggestions in the comments of my last post that made me reevaluate this deck further.

Though I didn't have time to incorporate them all, Grixis Grimblade and Jund Hackblade definitely need to be tested and while Jund seems more aggressive, the Grixis seems more threatening. An Anathemancer or two might be cut to give them a run. I do like the Anathmancer: It's a wider metagame call. It won't always be good, but when it is...

I also discovered that I only had one Sign in Blood, not two and only one Manaforge Cinder. The upside is that I was able to incorporate Indigo.Righter's suggestion of Pyre Zombie quite easily. I only have one of those but what a great idea! Like Lyzolda, the Pyre Zombie could help give this deck a little reach when the ground game stalls out and though the mana requirements to get a loop going are rather steep, my hope is that with an aggressive deck like this, I don't have to recur the zombie many times; once will do the trick.

Plus, since Pyre Zombie is pretty cheap, it gets under the My Money > Less of My Money rule, so I'll probably pick up one more to replace an Anathemancer.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Undisputed Attitude

This is one of those decks that has constantly eluded me. It's strange because the Liege decks usually come together so well, with a Lego-like satisfaction but not here: something is just not quite on.
3 Festering Goblin
3 Rakdos Guildmage
3 Ashenmoor Gouger
2 Demigod of Revenge
2 Lyzolda, the Blood Witch
4 Ashenmoor Liege
3 Goblin Deathraiders
4 Anathemancer

2 Sign in Blood

4 Magma Jet
4 Terminate
4 Lightning Bolt

1 Urborg Volcano
1 Auntie's Hovel
9 Swamp
2 Shadowblood Ridge
9 Mountain
Named after the album by Slayer (because Slayer is awesome) I thought that this would be a savage aggro deck. And yet, it seems that it just doesn't want to come together and actually win, or at least bloody noses so people know they've played an aggro deck.

Yet despite the low mana curve, I never feel like I'm really overwhelming my opponents. It may seem suboptimal but I think I may try to take out the Festering Goblin and one Terminate for two more Sign in Blood and two Manaforge Cinder.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Zero At The Point Of It All

I got to test against Fuz's Wallfinity deck-a pretty interesting matchup because our two decks don't want to interact with each other much; some of my cards are dead in hand-like Aether Flash or Hull Breach, yet his creatures can't blank mine forever so he needs to get his combo set up as soon as he can.

In game one, not knowing what he was playing, I had my best setup: Forest, Tinder Wall, turn 2: land, Aether Flash.

Then the walls came out and 0/4 creatures don't care about taking two damage when they come into play. I was going to need another Aether Flash to really make a difference here but I wasn't going to get it, so I ramped into a Blastoderm and started attacking.

Fuz started taking damage and when I followed up with a Spellbreaker Behemoth, he started to search for walls as fast as he could. I had him at five life when he used Vent Sentinel to hit me for five, then tapped two Overgrown Battlements to cast Hurricane for 15, killing us both.

"I'm OK with the tie," he said.

He won game two, again on the back of a large Hurricane and I won the next game, casting a I cast an Aether Flash with a Hunted Dragon in hand. Then I dropped a Crater Hellion-and though unable to pay the echo, that wiped Fuz's entire board. The Dragon came out and he desperately tried to search for a Hurricane big enough to kill the Dragon but couldn't get there in time.

Our tiebreaker was a nail biter. I had to mulligan down to five cards and was short on mana. Despite getting an early Blastoderm out, I was unable to get any further pressure going and when a Wall of Tanglecord arrived, that was the end of my offense. The Vent Sentinel arrived and I was at 8 life when I finally got enough mana together to cast a Pyroclasm and a Firespout in the same turn, sweeping the board.

Fuz began to rebuild and I began to hope I could draw into something solid but alas, it wasn't meant to be. It was a hell of a comeback on my part but I ended up dying to Hurricane again.

Still, the fun of playing this deck is undiminished: Big creatures are awesome. I've made the following changes:

-2 Tuktuk
-1 Hull Breach
-1 Kavu Lair

+2 Ulvenwald Bear
+1 Indrik Stomphowler
+1 Garruk Packleader

Finally, there was one more round of Rid of You, this time against Zombies. I lost, miserably. Three games and I was unable to get anything going at all: no defense, no offense and in one game I managed to scry through more than 7 cards, but I couldn't get anything going.

I have to face it: Druidic Satchel is the Glory of Cool Things. It's come out, and Slagstorm has come in to replace it. I need every scrap I can to forestall my opponents in order to get the combo online and the Satchel doesn't do enough here-as much as I love the card!-for me to keep it.

Sometimes I just have to accept it and move on.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mobile Shooting Gallery

This deck named after a kick ass track on a Bill Ward record has always been a difficult one for me. It's also one of the first decks I ever built, so it's worth bringing up here to give it a refresher course.

When most players start the game, they all love attacking with huge creatures. It seems super cool because it appeals to the lover of Godzilla in all of us. "Rwargh, smash all the buildings!"

In reality, and especially when I first constructed this deck, it's a lot more difficult because the creatures mostly sucked and the spells and ways to get rid of creatures were a lot better. These were the dark days, in a way and at the same time, I miss them; having good spells shouldn't mean that creatures suck, just as having good creatures shouldn't mean that spells suck. But creatures are more fun--even though they still die to Doom Blade.

The problem was: how do I make sure that I can swing with the big creatures and not lose out to tiny swarms? This was my answer:
2 Relentless Assault
3 Firespout
2 Pyroclasm
3 Hull Breach

3 Kavu Lair
4 AEther Flash

2 Spellbreaker Behemoth
1 Iwamori of the Open Fist
4 Tinder Wall
3 Blastoderm
2 Shivan Wurm
3 Hunted Dragon
2 Crater Hellion
2 Tuktuk the Explorer

1 Skarrg, the Rage Pits
1 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Taiga
7 Mountain
9 Forest
1 Hickory Woodlot
1 Sandstone Needle
Aether Flash. It just solves so many problems that I am a little amazed nobody else seems to give it much love. Maybe that's just me though. Point being: this deck has an ideal line of play that usually goes: Turn 1: Forest/Taiga, Tinder Wall; Turn 2: land, sac Tinder Wall for RR, play Aether Flash.

All the little creatures are now dead cards in my opponent's hand and now I have time to play lands and get the big creatures going. The Kavu Lair is something I'm going to get more mileage out of than my opponents because my creatures are bigger, the Hunted Dragon's drawback disappears with the Aether Flahs (or Pycoclasm or Firespout) and Crater Hellion is there to clean things up when it gets really nasty. The Shivan Wurm can bounce Blastoderms, which is a nightmare for almost any deck; it all seems so perfect, right?

Well....not quite. First, it may be time for an update: creatures have gotten better. The two slots where Tuktuk is, for example; have always been in flux because I just don't know what to do there. Sure, it's a 5/5 for 3 mana, sometimes but if I draw the second, it's just lame.

In addition, options have opened up considerably since I first took a swing at this: cards like Ulvenwald Bear could be cast on turn 2 as a 4/4, Indrik Stomphowler could take the place of a Hull Breach and Garruk's Packleader installed as a replacement for the Kavu Lair.

The problem is that those creatures are an expensive upgrade to their counterparts. The upside is that they are threats--but they are also threats that will die to a board where I have two Aether Flashes on the table. Believe me: you drop two Aether Flashes and you've stalled out nearly everyone...including yourself, if you don't have big enough creatures. The mana curve on this deck is, I have to acknowledge, high so it become very important that every threat can be played and does a lot of harm because I this isn't the kind of deck that makes comebacks; it wants to set up and then go.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rid Of You

I stumbled on this great song title by a little known group called Monsterland and decided that it was perfect, given what this deck wants to do. This is the decklist I went with:
4 Crystal Ball
2 Druidic Satchel
4 Sundial of the Infinite 
4 Galvanoth
3 Charmbreaker Devils
4 Hunted Lammasu  
4 Dragon Fodder
3 Mystic Speculation
4 Sudden Disappearance 
2 Waylay
2 Midnight Haunting 
3 Island
4 Evolving Wilds
9 Mountain
8 Plains
So far, the manabase seems to be pretty awesome, which is amazing. The combination of Scry and Evolving Wilds really helps get the colors needed when they are needed. The other thing is that while I do have some mana flood, I can sort through it using Scry effects and it's all good. A final bonus is almost always having the mana needed; turn 6  has 6 lands.

With that list, I sent it out to the brain trust to see what they thought, as well as running it myself a few times. Many of the suggestions had to do with making Sundial work more or how would cards like Humble interact; the difficulty was that I felt many ideas would've diluted the already weird focus this deck has on a three card combo. Still, there was interest so maybe other people will have different designs.

In the meantime, I took this version on the road. Or to my dining room table. My girlfriend was kind enough to take on this deck with...faeries.

So yeah, I got beat down. That said: I felt the deck made a good showing, because the games were close. Everything seemed to work like it was supposed to so I couldn't complain there, faeries is just a better deck than a new creation like this is going to be able to defeat.

I had another matchup against W/B lifegain + spirits. I won one of three games, losing one game notably because I could cast Sudden Disappearance but I couldn't use the Sundial that turn. I may have jumped the gun, feeling too anxious in that moment.

Finally, I went against a mono-green deck and despite that deck having mana issues in the first and games, I couldn't dig fast enough and the cheap beats beat mine, so I lost. The second game: I got the combo, ta-da!

I continued with some goldfishing: there were hands where I would get multiple Hunted Lammasus and no Sundial. You really, really don't want that, so I cut a Lammasu but I couldn't find a card I wanted in that slot that I liked. I also cut a Plains because I need red more and with all the Scry effects, I kept seeing more lands than I needed.

I ended up going with-of all things-Spawning Breath. Truth be told, this is one of those moments when I wish I had more Magma Jets but I don't so I'm finding out what I can use. Spawing Breath dinks a small creature and gives me a potential mana boost. There's only one, though if it works out, maybe it should take the place of Druidic Satchel. I'm not sure, because in initial tests the Satchel was pretty awesome: Land boosting, scry-synergies, the occasional life boost or chump blocker. These things are pretty good.

So why not run a 3rd, right?

Because I want more spells I can cast for free with Galvanoth. It's really that simple-my desire to use Galvanoth trumps the cool things that the Satchel can do, at least for now. Another thought might be to remove Waylay, since Hunted Lammasu has the 'drawback but awesome with Sundial' bit cornered, and is a pretty awesome card in that role. This could give me space for more flying spirits, which, when needing to survive is pretty helpful because flyers can block more creatures.

There are a few solutions and they two come from the same place: cannibalize the decks I have Magma Jets or Pyroclasms in. I mean, I could dick about for eons trying to find the right card or I could just use the best one I have and revisit the deck I took it from. Rid Of You needs two things: Scry and a low-level sweeper effect that will give me time. I can't have both, so I'll have to pick one and go from there. Thematically, this would lead nicely into next week, so that's a compelling motive.

Another tactic might be to run Overmaster, which has some pretty interesting applications for this deck, to me. Even if it ends up getting cast off of a Galvanoth, I'm getting an extra draw--in addition to the extra draw that Galvanoth provides by letting me cast a spell off the top and dig into the next card of my deck. But being able to cast the lock spell I need without interference is so important that it might overrule the board wiping effect.

That idea is so interesting to me, I think I'm going to try it. Here's what it will look like:
4 Crystal Ball
2 Druidic Satchel
4 Sundial of the Infinite 
4 Galvanoth
3 Charmbreaker Devils
3 Hunted Lammasu  
3 Dragon Fodder
3 Mystic Speculation
4 Sudden Disappearance
3 Overmaster
2 Waylay
2 Midnight Haunting 
3 Island
4 Evolving Wilds
9 Mountain
7 Plains
To finish this off, a green version of Rid Of You might look like this:
4 Forest
4 Jungle Shrine
8 Mountain
8 Plains

4 Crystal Ball
4 Sundial of the Infinite

4 Galvanoth
3 Charmbreaker Devils
4 Hunted Lammasu (Could be Hunted Troll for extra terrible)

4 Dragon Fodder
3 Assault/Battery
4 Sudden Disappearance
2 Waylay
2 Midnight Haunting
3 Ferocious Charge
This could be an interesting start for someone; I just brewed it up as a mental exercise.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Help Each Other Out, That'll Be Our Motto

When struggling for a title, default to Simpson's jokes.

One interesting thing about Magic is that while you play against people, it is very possible and encouraged to brew up decks with them. I don't know that I've talked about this quality much on the blog but it's a critical aspect of the game: nearly everyone who plays Magic does so by making up decks with others. The pros do it, as can been seen in the preparation for Pro Tour: Dark Ascension, and an entire series at Starcity Games is set up around that premise for Commander.

As the old one in the playgroup (the player with the most experience...and also probably the oldest), I often get asked to do deck checks, to help people build stuff better. I like doing it: I'm a firm believer in the idea that any concept is viable, if one is willing to make the choices necessary to support it. Which is how I came to assist someone building a deck around Sudden Disappearance and Sundial of the Infinite. The idea is this: cast Sudden Disappearance to remove all your opponent's nonland stuff, then use the Sundial to end the turn, bypassing the part where the opponent's stuff comes back.

The deck was U/R/W: the goal to stall out until everything gets removed and then smash face. The problem was that 1) it wasn't quite focused enough in how it wanted to stall out and 2) the manabase was in improper ratios for the cards to cast.

And then I saw it: Galvanoth. I told him "Holy shit, man; This is your combo!" Using Galvanoth to cast the Sudden Disappearance for free, swing, then use the Sundial means you can save a lot of mana and actually have Sudden Disappearance happen at a time in the game when you could recover (or win) without having to break the bank.

What has been seen, cannot be unseen. And it's a pretty cool idea, so how should it get built?

4 Sudden Disappearance
4 Sundial of the Infinite
4 Galvanoth

Then there are cards in R/W that have Clash or Scry that might help stack the library: Judge Unworthy, Magma Jet and Stand Firm or Lash Out, Redeem the Lost or Pollen Lullaby. Not all of these cards will be great but some may help stall until the combo can be achieved.

Now: I could keep it R/W/U, which suggests cards like:
Mystic Speculation, Research the Deep, Whirlpool Whelm, Foresee, Serum Visions or Preordain.

The other possibility is to go R/W/G, in order to add a card like Sylvan Library or Cream of the Crop. A permanent that can perpetually restack your library is pretty powerful, coupled with some effects in green that have Clash or Scry could help make the deck more consistent. Best of all, because it's a three color bridge (Green connects Red and White, where Red is the opponent of Blue and White) there are more lands that support the combination, especially from the Planeshift set and the Shards of Alara block, whereas there is nothing that intrinsically supports a U/W/R color combo.

Drawbacks to Sylvan Library: it costs life to pull up more cards and I'm not sure this deck has room for that.

Drawbacks to Cream of the Crop: it needs creatures with power greater than 2 to really give me options. Most tokens have a power of 1.

Part of me wants to minimize the white in the deck but cards like Hunted Lammasu, Angelic Fervor, Order/Chaos and Return to Mist all play into the theme, in addition to having many cards that produce tokens in Innistrad and Dark Ascension which, if a Galvanoth is out, will be cast for free.

Red actually seems to offer the least to the deck, except one needs Galvanoth to really make this work and the opportunity to use a card like Charmbreaker Devils, along with spells that do damage in Red that can be potentially cast for free, may be too good to ignore.

Another possibility is to make this a R/W deck with artifacts. Crystal Ball, Druidic Satchel and possibly even Lantern of Insight could assist with this. The clear upside is that the mana base becomes a lot easier to deal with, even if the costs become a bit more expensive.

There are a lot of options but the danger, of course, is going for the Glory of Cool Things and getting screwed because of it.

Most likely, this is what I will do: "Hmm, what cards do I own that need using/can get for super cheap?" Then a small group of cards will hop up and say "Me, me, me!" And I'll say: Awesome. You're my deck! Currently, I'm inclined to try and go W/R/u (White-Red-touch Blue) to get this to work so that will probably be the first version of the deck. Which also needs a name, just so I have a way to file it, mentally.