Tuesday, July 31, 2012

We Could Bring The Apocalypse

I feel like I've got a Zen koan at this point: If I build a Death Cloud deck and, every time I cast Death Cloud, I can't win, then is it really a Death Cloud deck?

Take a look at that boardstate. This is against a R/G/W Birthing Pod thing that stonethorn was playing. This is also after I have cast Death Cloud at least once.

Yet it's clear that he's got the advantage. Why?

Part of this does have to do with a bit of luck: I was unable to recover after casting the Death Cloud as fast as he was. However, this flaw was to be repeated at least twice over the course of the evening (the second time was against a U/R deck using Bonfire of the Damned) and again last Friday when I played pickup games between Sealed deck events.

Now I have to ask myself: what am I doing wrong here?

It seems to me that I'm playing this deck wrong: Death Cloud is my nuclear option, the thing that I do when all other hope is lost. However, that's not how I've been playing it: I've been using Death Cloud like one would Pox; cast it as often as you can, whenever you can.

I don't think it is supposed to work that way. Maybe I need to put pressure on and then save the Cloud for the time when I get in trouble.

New list:
9 Swamp
1 Thran Quarry
9 Forest
4 Woodland Cemetery
3 Penumbra Bobcat
3 Penumbra Spider
4 Bone Shredder
4 Tukatongue Thallid
3 Tilling Treefolk
3 Vorapede
2 Puppeteer Clique
2 Viridian Emissary

2 Golgari Signet

4 Search for Tomorrow 
4 Death Cloud
3 Unmask
I think I'm going to try replacing the Tukatongue Thallid with some discard and I may do the same with Bone Shredder. The idea will be to take this deck into a 'gouge away' direction, where I don't need the Death Cloud to win: I just get card advantage and pre-emptively rid my opponent of threats. Anything they do get, I can sweep away with the Death Cloud while still attacking with better green creatures than they have. The Golgari Signets will help me survive a big Death Cloud while giving me the chance to cast the Treefolk if needed and get back my lands.

That's one thought. The other is to put in some of the "Hidden" enchantments from Urza's block, like Hidden Stag. Rider's suggestion of Blood Artist is also worth considering, since it might help give this deck some reach, though it does leave my potential disruption package light.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Here Come The Butchers

I wanted this to be a brutal deck, so I picked a brutal song. I read about a Death Cloud deck back in the Mirrordin days but it never took off. Pox effects are always hyped because breaking them usually wins you the game but Death Cloud is expensive which conflicts with the Pox deck rule: Pox early, Pox often. So there are some barriers but what I figured I would do is work with the original Undying/Persist creatures: Penumbras.

I guess I ought to inform that I made this deck before those mechanics existed. Which is why it's a great time to revisit this:
9 Swamp
1 Thran Quarry
9 Forest
4 Woodland Cemetery
3 Penumbra Bobcat
3 Penumbra Spider
2 Body Snatcher
4 Bone Shredder
3 Walker of the Grove
4 Tukatongue Thallid
3 Tilling Treefolk
2 Viridian Zealot

4 Search for Tomorrow
4 Death Cloud
3 Unmask
2 Revive the Fallen
At 23 land, this may be playing the knife's edge of mana. Also, Body Snatcher is a card I can't figure out why I put in the deck. Sure, it has a great effect if it dies but I need to not be discarding cards in hand. Rationing out what to save and what to pitch is really important to a deck like this: the wrong decision can ruin you, even if you do get a Death Cloud off.

I dunno. Maybe I just had an attack of The Stupid.

So what needs to change? First, I think the Walker of the Grove is a clear weak spot, now that cards like Vorapede exist. It doesn't have any kind of evasion, is extremely expensive and provides a significantly smaller body once it dies; there's so much to improve upon!

Body Snatcher should certainly become something else; Puppeteer Clique might be a delicious substitute, given this deck's bent. After that? I guess I'll test and see.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Back To The Front

It didn't take me long to figure out that something as expensive as Crovax really shouldn't be in a deck with only 22 mana sources. I held that card in my hand in one game, even getting to five mana, and still couldn't cast it.

So I went searching for a card that could work in the deck and decided on Skyhunter Skirmisher. As a flyer it doesn't seem too impressive but with all the pump effects in this deck, it's pretty easy to imagine it attacking for four, six or more. Plus, it fits well on the mana curve, so in it went.

And every time it showed up, I was pleased. I managed to get many games in with Disposable Heroes, in part due to good timing and fortune and in part because I was pushing that deck to see if the mana was an issue. It was, in one game with stonethorn, which I ended up losing. On the upside, every other game went really smoothly in terms of mana.

The other good thing about DH is that it's really well positioned against nearly any B or R based deck, which happened to be what Fuz was playing much of the weekend. It also had some solid game against Jason, cleaning up with Light From Within faster than he could wipe me out.

Similarly, against a deck stonethorn was working on; a solid little bit of mono-b undying + board resets just waiting to be more awesome, I still had him up against the ropes rather quickly. Protection is a really strong ability and I wonder if people abuse it as much as they could.

Now, when I lost it was in three games to stonethorn's mono-G deck. He was able to accelerate out mana and ramp into big (and better) creatures faster than I was able to drop a creature booster. Don't get me wrong, my creatures are good but cards like Arrest don't work against Dungrove Elder (which is what I lost to in game 1.) Plus, the critical game three was when I was stuck on mana with two Light From Within and an Ajani Goldmane while I got to learn a lesson in exponential growth from Primordial Hydra.

Still, I like the way this has been shaped up and how it has come together. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on potential cards that can be used: Lifelink seems like it would be the kind of thing that would give this deck quite a bit of reach. Unfortuately I just can't justify a defensive posture like life gain when this deck is so needing to be aggressive.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Disposable Heroes

Last Monday I loaned this deck to a pal who needed one. He said that he kept finding himself short lands: three in play with a grip full of 4CC cards. I figured that was as good a reason as any to bring this deck to the spotlight and give it a shot. Maybe it needs some work. This is the list I pulled from my computer:
3 Ajani Goldmane
2 Samurai of the Pale Curtain
3 Devoted Retainer
2 Elite Vanguard
2 Soltari Foot Soldier
1 Soltari Priest
4 Celestial Crusader
1 Paladin en-Vec
3 Order of the White Shield
2 White Knight
3 Dawn Elemental
2 Crovax, Ascendant Hero
2 Mystic Crusader
4 Arrest
4 Light from Within
4 New Benalia
18 Plains
Except when I went to actually count the cards, this deck was short a Devoted Retainer and a Plains.

Which poses its own set of issues. This is the second deck in a month I've discovered is short cards and the cards have been too random in the 'missing' category for me to suspect theft. Negligence is much more likely so here is your warning; Pay attention to your cards, people! This deck is only missing commons: the last deck was missing a mythic rare.

I may have to quit carrying around so many cards. We shall see.

Now, to make it weird on top of everything else, when I goldfished Disposable Heroes, I rarely felt short on mana. This was before I realized I was two cards short. Despite that, most of the goldfish games I had, the mana was fine.

Since this is the case, I'm going to load the two missing cards up and give it a run as stands. White Weenie has been a solid strategy for a long, long time: This is pretty solidly in that tradition, I think, with the bonus of having a backup plan of making my creatures huge. Initial tests have been good but I'll be keeping the mana issue in mind as I move forward.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Into the truth, let myself burn

Changes made to 1000 Shards: Nature's End for the Naturalize effects and that's it. I don't know what I was talking about when I said I'd cut Simic Guildmage: there aren't any in the deck! I blame myself...which is going to be the theme in the games I describe.

Game one vs U/B zombies; I did bad math with a Blood Artist and Diregraf Captain out = I quit before I should have. I had made a proper comeback and could have possibly won but nope: my brain worked against me.

Game two I have to mulligan to 5 cards (bad sign) keeping 2 Islands, Spike Drone, Simic Growth Chamber and Vigor.

Sigh. I luck into a Forest and while that's good, I keep drawing more Forests while Fuz gets a Gravecrawler, Carrion Feeder and a Quest for the Gravelord online. All I can do is ramp up and hope that I can find something to do before he starts pounding me with huge zombies. Instead I draw another Vigor.

Sometimes I hate this fucking game. But what the hell; let's try a rematch.

The situation: I am stuck on three lands-two Island one Yavimaya Coast and because of this I cannot cast any of the three Spike Feeders in my hand which, if I can get a Forest, can keep me in the game.

Then Fuz casts Cabal Therapy.

I really hate this fucking game.

Let's move on. Up against a mono-W deck with an Angel theme and a lifegain/blink subtheme, I had some decent starts but I was held off one game by a Ghostly Prison, unable to draw a Natural End.

Sure, I made it through a Day of Judgement and two Phyrexian Rebirth, on top of casting Mirrorverse twice. But I couldn't force enough damage through and ended up dying when stonethorn swung for 32 in the air. While at over 60 life. And I had two 27/27's on the table.

It always stuns me how I create decks that prepare for situations where 'All I need is a Naturalize!' and I then can't get the damn Naturalize.

Game two I had a strong start but overreached on turn five, casting Gaea's Skyfolk when I shouldn't have. The Phyrexian Rebirth gave stonethorn a 4/4 and a way back into the game. In this instance, I can precisely identify the moment when things went wrong and that was it.

I also used my Llanowar Reborn counters too quickly. Once I knew the board resets were coming, holding back so I can cast a bigger creature in game two was the correct choice that I failed to make.

I seem to be on a streak of losses lately. Some bad decisions but also bad draws and nothing really going like I hope.

I've also finally noticed something: in a third set of games with Rider, I couldn't get enough green mana. Despite this deck providing 16 sources of green I don't seem to have enough to regularly hit two green by turn 3. I'm going to look for another Oran Rief and, failing that, just use a Forest. This deck has been amazing in the past: now it's telling me I need to tweak it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

1000 Shards

I'll just say it up front, I love, love this deck. I named it after the Isis song, because I use glass beads for tokens and I figured that I'd have a ton of them glittering on the table.
7 Island
7 Forest
4 Yavimaya Coast
2 Simic Growth Chamber
2 Llanowar Reborn
1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood

3 Gaea's Skyfolk
4 Simic Initiate
4 Cytoplast Root-Kin
4 Aquastrand Spider
2 Vigor
3 Spike Feeder
2 Spike Drone
3 Fungal Behemoth
3 Plaxcaster Frogling

2 Slice in Twain
1 Mystic Melting
3 Mirrorweave
3 Keep Watch
I came up with this deck at the end of the Ravnica block, after reading an article at Star City Games, where the author described a possible situation where, by turn 4 you've swung for 13 points of damage minimum, using the Graft mechanic from the Simic guild.That just seemed awesome to me and it was an idea that everyone was was (and continued to) ignore. So taking that skeleton (from one Ted Knutson, I believe) I went about building it.

Originally, there were Cytoshapes in there instead of Mirrorweave-the replacement done for what I hope are (or will become) obvious reasons. The Mirrorweave is a bit of an off beat for me: I prefer to have all the colors I need to cast a spell, so this would go into a U/W deck by my traditional thinking. However, it's too good to ignore what that card does for this deck and so I suck up the UU costs and go with it.

Here's how it works: because the counters are added on when the creature enters the battlefield and the official power/toughness is written as 0, when the game asks: What is this creature's P/T? the answer is: It is a 0/0 with X +1/+1 counters on it.

But when I Cytoshape a creature into a copy of mine, the game doesn't copy counters, it copies the base power and toughness of a creature so the game asks what P/T the copy is, the answer is: Zero (unless there are pre-existing counters on the creature.)

With that knowledge and a love of swinging for 20 on turn 5, I set to work

Now, the Simic guild existed a couple years before Mirrorweave and Vigor, so this deck has been evolving, of course. I don't recall what I had in place of Vigor or Fungal Behemoth but they gave me much better creatures, to be certain. The Spike Feeders have always existed in this deck: they've proven worthy in the past, Spike Drones were brought in when I realized I wanted to have more one-drops and worry less about what my opponent was doing. There were most likely Thrives in this deck at one point a card I really like but can't seem to make work and 1000 Shards was no exception.

I'm fairly certain that this week's updates will include axing Simic Guildmage for something more effective and finding a cheaper solution to Slice in Twain: I just wanted something that would draw me cards. Which leads me to my next subject.

Someone might be asking; why Keep Watch? I wanted to emphasize both what this deck does (attack with creatures) and blue does (instant speed card draw.) I can also use Keep Watch when opponents are attacking, including one memorable time when I cast it to draw into a Mirrorweave that I then cast to annihilate my opponent's army. The most important thing though is that Keep Watch rewards me for doing what I want to do here, refilling my hand and allowing me to keep quickly rebuild my offense if my opponent draws into a board wipe.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Eat a little dirt

Despite my best efforts (read: I wanted to play more Mass Effect 3) I was unable to muster the gumption or inspiration to swap out Bone Shards from Scavenger. Which meant I went into last night's games with a subpar deck.

Now, I'm not one to judge on one game but my instinct about Bone Shards was absolutely correct: That card is bad. It might be considerable if it was an instant but....who am I kidding?

That card is awful. I have just been lax about fixing this deck.

So in a Two-Headed Giant game I've brought a knife to a gunfight in terms of removal. Worse, my draws consist of two Hapless Researchers, a Wingcrafter and a Urborg Elf, eventually getting me a Fungal Shambler.

And eight lands: Five forests, two Islands, and a Swamp. Plus, I discarded a Forest and a Phyrexian Lens to the Researcher triggers. No Splinterfright, no Lhurgoyf and my sole Shambler was taken down by a combination of Inferno Titan triggers and Black Sun's Zenith. Now, shit happens but the game ended with me having zero creatures and a Bone Splinters, with enough land to choke a Vorosh.

I may be looking for something too permanent. My partner in the 2HG game was playing Zombies and used Skinrender pretty effectively. While Skinrender may not kill every creature, it or a creature like it, could be invaluable in giving me time. It also plays nice with reanimation, if I need it to do so. The more I consider that, the more I like it and I think I'll be looking for something along those lines to add.

It's not always easy to think outside the box like that but on the other hand: I lost every game I played last night so maybe it's time to shake the noggin up a little bit.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The trouble with Magic 2013 (the iPad version)

When something is free, that is a very good price, as they saying goes.

Then again, you also get what you pay for. What to do? So confusing!

Well, I spent some time with the iPad version of the new digital Magic game and it was only OK.

First, it took me awhile to figure out how to activate abilities. I still have issues with doing this and responding to spells/abilities the way I mean to do so. I shouldn't have this much difficulty working that out, after 18 years of playing this game.

Yes, yes, the interface is new but still: I should be able to do what I want to do without that steep of a learning curve.

There is a much bigger problem, however (and this is a pretty big however) because there have been two distinct times when something has gone Very Wrong, including a Planechase game where nobody had a starting hand.

{A longish aside on Planechase: this game is boring. Multiplayer against bots means that obviously poor plays are made and one spends 3/4ths of the time doing nothing. This isn't a problem in a true multiplayer situation because there are people to interact with. Conversations to be had, beers to drink, nibbles, 'oh wait I need to respond to that', 'hey, did you see how that works?' etc, etc. Even online, there is some kind of conversation that can be had. Here, you just sit there and wait.

Doing nothing in a game is pretty much the death of that game and I have no reason to go back to it. The glitched game was a huge indication of how awful it was: every player spent all their time rolling the Planar die, nobody had anything else to play except me and all I had were lands. For 10 turns. If I'd had an opening hand of 7 Mountains, I would have mulliganed.

Worse, Planechase suffers from the same problem that Archenemy did: the introduction of random elements that can just annihilate your strategy and reward a player who does not deserve it. Most of Magic is about reducing the random elements and it feels really unfair when you can't play the person, you have to rail against the gods, too.}

The problem with having glitches in a game like Magic is that once you know the system is broken, you have only two choices: quit, or game the system.

I'm going to quit. Someone else is going to game the system. Neither of these things are good outcomes.

Also: I just realized I had a life philosophy moment.

But the decks themselves are solidly built enough, show off the colors pretty well (Blue, Red and Green) and this really is a good product for people who aren't me: new or newly returning players who want to see what the hype is about. If it transitions more people into playing a game with me at the pub, then overall that's a positive.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

M13 impressions

So the full spoiler is out for M13 and it's...unusual.

In white, you have two interesting tensions happening: Exalted and mass attacking. Cards like Ajani, Attended Knight and Crusader of Odric want white to have a lot (a whole lot) of creatures, especially tiny ones with Odric himself being a keystone to a swarm strategy. But working against that are the exalted creatures, which, merely by the flashy presence of Sublime Archangel is meant to be a viable mechanic. Nevertheless,

This is a nice way to both highlight white's philosophies and strike a nice balance in the color, keeping it from overwhelming the others. I'm not sure about how successful that will be but it's neatly done. Odd moment: no board sweepers in that color.

Blue is...sigh.

OK, so first you have one of the better blue creatures I've seen; Arctic Aven can easily be a 3/2 flyer for 3, with an activated lifelink ability. This is just really good and the kind of thing that blue probably shouldn't have. Coupled with one of the most annoying blue creatures ever: Fog Bank.

Then it gets weird: there is little card draw and there is no hard counter. No Ponder, no scry effects; Divination is as close as you get and that's not awful but it's not great, either. And there's no Cancel. I can't think of a core set that ever went without a no-frills, straight up counterspell. I just don't know what to make of that.

Black gets exalted creatures which would be really out of place ordinarily but, coming off Avacyn Restored where Black 's theme of operating alone-having a single creature do your dirty work, if you will-I have a feeling that there may be some cool synergies between those two ideas.

The other subtheme is 'having more swamps'. This isn't entirely unheard of as the concept has been around since Nightmare but it's definitely unusual for black to search out lands and it's certainly one of the few times it's been a real focus for the color. Torment and Nemesis had some of those concepts (Mutilate is a Torment reprint) and I do like the 'swamps matter' idea, because I think basic lands need more love.

It's definitely scouting a different direction for the color, though.

Red. Oh red. First, Craterize is a shitty, shitty name and there's really no reason to print an even worse version of Stone Rain. Targeted land destruction has never, ever been a winning strategy. Let's just get that out of the way.

On the other hand, Smelt is a card a looooooooong time coming. I'd say it's at least ten years late but I am glad it's here. There's also a very quiet positioning against white, with cards like Magmaquake, Flames of the Firebrand and Chandra's Fury. From a philosophical angle, this makes sense.

After that, I can't say that there feels like a unifying theme or a cohesion in the color. It is doing everything red does: damage, big board resets, goblins, along with highlighting the new red method of drawing cards but I don't see anything that will help develop a new deck for red or assist the color in defeating current strategies. Of all the colors, it's the one that is being pushed the least in a different direction.

I think Cleaver Riot might be my favorite name in the set, though.

As the final color, Green seems to be running a bit of an 'all star' theme. As though WotC wants to demonstrate, 'Hey this color can be good!' Rancor has been reprinted and I swear I never thought that card would come back. Quirion Dryad, Farseek, Acidic Slime; these cards all form a really solid backbone.

Predatory Rampage is pretty meh though and WotC needs to just get over it and quit printing Bountiful Harvest. That card is bad and you should feel bad. Lifegain doesn't have to suck that much. And did we really need a worse version of Stampeding Serow in Roaring Primadox?

As with Red, I don't see Green really getting the kinds of tools to develop a new deck or wreck an existing strategy with the possible exception of Yeva, Nature's Herald. Flash is a pretty strong ability and Ravnica will probably bring many cool multicolored cards which might provide some flexibility outside of Green's normal color wheelhouse. Overall, it's solid, I'd say and with the splashy Elderscale Wurm, there's at least a marquee card to have fun with.

The Artifacts are...well, the Rings are all excellent and should find homes quickly. Trading Post has a great theme but after that, I don't know that there's too much to say about those cards.

Nicol Bolas is what he always was: Crazy good.

The lands don't make much of a splash but Hellion Crucible suggests a cool new cycle coming up and I hope that happens. Just don't make the blue one the best. Green, since it is tied into lands, really has to be the best one. 

Observation: There are some pretty wicked enchantments in this set and it has been a long, long time since there was an enchantment focus in Magic. I wouldn't be surprised if Return to Ravnica as a block gave the enchantments some attention.

Finally, I really like the way multiple universes are being represented in the core set; flavor from all over Magic's worlds are popping up and that makes for a richer experience I think.