Thursday, September 27, 2012

Look Up

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

2 Faith's Fetters

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yo, We Down For Survival

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

New World Disorder

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

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

2 Garruk Wildspeaker

4 Natural Order

3 Cursed Scroll
4 Tangle Wire

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Higher learning's just begun

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

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

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

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

Repeatable fight effects are savage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Golden Blunders

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

4 Abundant Growth

1 Evolution Charm
4 Cytoshape
4 Manamorphose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Return to Ravnica Impressions

I'm operating from the Return to Ravnica spoiler on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 6, 2012

This one is late

Continuing the revisiting of decks to see where they're going, I have this post, which I meant to get up sooner, but then PAX happened and now we're here.

The setting: NWIPA, where my girlfriend and I have come out to have a beer.

Though my girlfriend meant to bring a bears deck to hammer me with, she forgot it and thus was stuck with my creations. For a player like her who is still pretty inexperienced in the game I figured Hard Time Killing Floor Blues would suit pretty well. I took up the Scavenger deck to see how it would withstand a blue rush.

It didn't stand so much as feebly rise and then collapse. Though I was able to get out a bunch of flying creatures what you see in the photo is her hammering at me for 7: 5 in the air and 2 via the shadow. The shadow creature was Curiosity'd up and she had been drawing cards every turn to keep the pressure on.

So even though she only drew 3 lands during the entire game, it was enough to pull out the match win, 2-0.

However, what I picked up in those games is that while Ghastly Demise is good, I have a manabase that can support Skinrender. I was concerned that coming up with double black would be difficult but I don't think it's as big a worry as I made it up in my head and Skinrender fits a bit better with the overall theme.

The second thing is: Shadow > Flying and I should probably have more Drifters in the deck than Spindrift Drakes. Unblockability is huge and nearly everything else I have already flies, so having a way to get around an opponent's fliers is critical, because my creatures won't be bigger than my opponent's.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lesson From PAX

I arrived at PAX early on Friday and started to browse the schedule of events. Games, panels, tournaments, hey...WotC has a whole section dedicated to Magic events throughout the day. So let's look at that.

As it turns out, there were Legacy events, both Friday and Saturday, entry cost only $10. I have Legacy decks. AND I have ten dollars! But I wasn't ready to do anything Friday so I figured I'd do something Saturday.

Saturday morning I wake up and Jason comes in from work and I tell him about the event and that I'm thinking I'll give it a go. I don't have a sideboard though, so I'm just planning on winging it.

"So what deck are you going to play?" he asked. I batted around a couple ideas: I'd brought some strong decks to play and I felt pretty good about a few of them, despite having no sideboard.

"Well, dude, you need a sideboard? I can loan you one," he said.

And so we talked about some matchups and made up a sideboard. He looked at my deck suggested a few changes, pulled cards from various decks he had while I made some adjustments to the maindeck. It was great and I felt like I had some good ideas going into the event. No idea how big it was going to be but I had a deck I liked, solid plans for certain matchups and most importantly, the thumbs up from a friend with the chance to try something new.

The event started at 2. At noon, I went to meet another friend for lunch figuring I had plenty of time, right?

Well...we ended up talking a bunch and having a lot of fun. Some little tickle in the back of my brain said: this might be going a little long but I didn't want to feel rushed. I was having a good time.

When I left the pub, it was 2:04. I missed the event.

As I strode back to PAX, determined to at least look in on things and see what was what, I heard my girlfriend's voice in my head, saying, "The thing about you is that you don't care about winning as much as you do about connecting with people when you play."

Though I might try to deny it and I have to admit: if put in a situation where winning matters, I care very much about winning, I really just want to play the best game I can. And I would rather interact with people.

I like games; board games, video games, I even played a little D&D for the first time last weekend and dug that. I like how they can give me an experience to have with other people, one that is usually very positive, gives me insight into the human condition creates opportunities to learn, teach and laugh. Not much in life does this.

I felt good about my chances in the Legacy event because I got to work with a friend and hone an idea that gave me a chance. I felt OK (after a moment of bummer) about missing that event because I got to hang out with a friend. I was a touch conflicted when I got to the event, saw what people were running and thought: I could have totally done this. Such is life.

Victory comes in many forms. Winning is secondary.

This is what I would've run:

10 Swamp
4 Fetid Heath
9 Plains

4 Unmake
4 Dark Ritual
2 Mortify

3 Gerrard's Verdict

4 Edge of the Divinity

4 Deathbringer Liege
4 Nightsky Mimic
4 Nip Gwyllion
3 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Dark Confidant

4 Hymn To Tourach
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Planar Void
3 Ghostly Prison

PS: Next year, I'm comin' loaded for bear, goddamnit.