Thursday, December 27, 2012

I'll admit it

The holidays have been too challenging to post during. Will get back on the horse in a week, promise!

Plus, there will be previews for Gatecrash to talk about, so that's something to look forward to. Have a happy new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Less and Less

I didn't get any games in with Starve: instead I was in a very long four-player Commander game, vs Momir Vig, Rubinia Soulsinger and a UBR commander I didn't catch with me using Dakkon Blackblade in order to fuel a Living Death theme.

It was a pretty good game and it made me think two competing issues exemplified by multiplayer: you have to play the board and you have to play the player.

There's some good thoughts on multiplayer here; I imagine I will be saying something similar but the thoughts help provide context. In addition, playing the player enters the equation more when you play with a regular group of people, like I do, who don't play a lot of multiplayer.

For me, any game of Magic breaks down two to central pillars: First, threat assessment. This cannot be emphasized enough. Knowing which brick to pull to make the stack collapse (and that brick might be a different one, depending on the deck I'm playing) is one of the most difficult skills to learn and it gets exponentially more difficult in multiplayer games. Nevertheless, I have seen and still make the mistake of misidentifying what was going to kill me/stall my plan and thus, lose a game. I've also made the right decision and won as a result.

The mistake I see made most often in multiplayer, hands down, is Delayed Vengeance; namely, carrying the loss in game one into game two. This is a failure of threat assessment and leads me into the second point.

The second pillar is: who is this person and what do they like? This question is less relevant against strangers because the answer is always: To win and there are few ways for me to know more about them than that under the circumstances.

With people I know, however, the question becomes far more interesting. Matt likes to play hordes of green dudes. stonethorn likes building massive resources and controlling games. Jason wants to hit you from a direction you can't see. Fuz likes extremely redundant and resilient decks. The girlfriend likes creature themes and synergies. Merrick likes honing a theme that seems to have little use into a sharp point that kills you.

And so on. 

Because building decks in Magic can be a very personal act, it can be easy to invest more emotionally, than you ought to. I've certainly done it and I still do: if I wasn't emotionally interested in the deck then I wouldn't bother to build it, nor write about it.

HOWEVER, you have to know who you are playing against. Always. A bunch of new players is not an appropriate group to bring Starve out against. Because that deck does horrible things. And not just because I'm all that concerned about 'ruining their good time,' although that is a consideration.

It's because in subsequent games they will abandon the first pillar and come after me whether I am the appropriate target or not, even if I have changed decks. This was one of the most difficult things for me to do: remember that game two is a brand new game and it was now time to re-evaluate everyone. Is Jason's deck working? Can I stop it from working at a future date to apply pressure? If the answers are No and Yes, then I can continue doing what I'm doing. These questions are equally relevant in single or multiplayer games.

Now, what I may decide is to apply pressure to Jason (who in this example is helpless) in order to a] make him a more appealing target (in multiplayer) and/or b] force him into plays that he would not like to make. Or as they call them in normal speak: mistakes. But I should never be applying that pressure on Jason simply because he won the last game.

Why? Because doing so will cause me to violate the first pillar and worse, ignore the second pillar. I will stop doing appropriate threat assessment and I will forget what I know about that player and their playstyle in order to make my point.

There is no point to make: you win or you do not win. You are having fun or you are not having fun. Making a point leads to bad play and that never works out for anyone, long term. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Go Without

I didn't really talk about it last time but there are a few really cool synergies with Starve that I have been developing over the years. It really did start out as merely a Pox deck with efficient black creatures, developing into something that has more resilience and thus (hopefully) a better ability to close the deal.

First, there's  Bloodghast and Dakmoor Salvage, which allows me to repeatedly landfall those vampires back. Dakmore Salvage also works nicely with the Tombstalkers, because super cheap beaters are very scary in this deck.

Next is the usefulness between Pox/Smallpox and Haakon: whenever I see Haakon in my hand, it's never a dead card. It's purpose is to be discarded to the Pox effects, then return to play from the graveyard. This is also why cards like Black Knight and Order of the Ebon hand have remained in the deck: because with Haakon out, they can be recast and continue beating.

Now that I've explained a few of the cooler workings behind the curtain, I can talk about how the first round of games went.

My first matchup was against a mostly Black Birthing Pod deck, going 2-1. There was some concern on Jason's part: his deck was using ETB effects and Undying and he figured he would outmatch me on a deck that I'm testing. I proceeded on, unafraid.

The rule of a Pox deck is: Pox early and Pox often. This is because the deck wins when you Pox and loses when you don't; if the opponent is allowed to recover from a Pox, then usually I'm in trouble. My plan to overcome this is with a weenie rush.

On the other side; the opponent is almost always trying to play out their resources as fast as they are able: in my wins in this matchup, I would cast Pox with only three lands and Jason would have four out. While this would feel like we would start over from the same point, both with two lands, my recovery to three and rolling on would happen faster than his recovery to four.

In a second match against a mono-Green deck, ramping up for deathtouch creatures and fight effects, I once again went 2-1. In the first game, I was a little fortunate: I didn't draw a Pox but Jason just drew mana ramp.

In this game I went with the alternate gameplan: weenie rush deck and it worked well. In this matchup the Guul Draz Vampire came in extremely handy. Although a weak turn one play, in the midgame when life totals are certainly below 10, the intimidate and power boost are pretty big deals. I was able to attack past a Predator Ooze to win.

Game two, as you might see, I attacked past a Predator Ooze with Guul Draz Vampire at two life...and forgot that when the Ooze attacks, it gets a +1/+1 counter. So that was bad. If I'd held back a single creature, I may have been able to hold out. I won the match though so I'm not going to be too bitter about it.

Still, I started this series with the idea that the GDV would be replaced, most likely with discard. I'm currently testing Blackmail in that slot on Cockatrice. I don't know if that will work but I have Blackmail so I'm going with it. However, if that doesn't work, the Vampires may go back in. There aren't any Knights at that converted mana cost and I don't know if any other creature in Black could give me that kind of power/toughness ratio so there aren't any other synergies I think I can exploit and extra damage is extra damage.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I feel  proud with the name I picked for this deck. Pox is a deck that has had a long history in Magic and I find that playing resource denial decks is something I really enjoy when I'm confronted with weird combo Jason decks.

But that's neither here nor there. A great deal of my original design deck is still in tact but after years of working with it, Smallpox was printed and I had to tweak this deck into it's current configuration.

3 Black Knight
2 Knight of Stromgald
2 Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
3 Carnophage
2 Order of the Ebon Hand
3 Tombstalker
2 Dauthi Slayer
3 Bloodghast
3 Gatekeeper of Malakir
3 Guul Draz Vampire

3 Lurking Jackals

4 Pox
2 Smallpox
2 Innocent Blood

3 Dakmor Salvage
20 Swamp

I'm fairly pleased with this configuration, with the exception of the Guul Draz Vampire which seemed like such a good idea! Life totals often dip below 10 pretty swiftly so a 3/2 with Intimidate seems like a really good idea. Still, I have to admit, it's the weak link in the deck. I'm thinking that a discard spell might be a better, neutering the possible cards (countermagic) that might make executing my plan difficult. Those cards were Bad Moon once upon a time but I realized I just didn't need to boost my creatures like that and a greater threat count was a better idea.

The card I'm really proud of is Lurking Jackals. Nobody ever expects it but it's a card that in its initial state, isn't affected by Pox effects which means that I'm more likely to have a threat on the board than my opponent once I've whittled away every other resource on the board. It's that kind of odd choice that really makes me happy.

The tests begin tonight. I'll see what happens.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gotta Get Out Of Its Way

I was unable to get any games in over the weekend, unfortunately. This happens but it doesn't prevent me from tinkering, trying to see what happens. I've been forced to acknowledge that Sunspots needs time and I need to add cards in that can give it to me. Golem Foundry isn't a bad start but I also need more ways to interact with my opponent: adding Tolaria West as a tutor was my attempt to improve that aspect of the deck.

I also have this habit of leaving cards in my binder, obviously good ones, as though they cannot help me solve a problem they are clearly meant to solve. This is partly a focus issue: I am looking for X, this is not X, therefore no. There is also a touch of hoarding, too: But I might need this someday for a deck! Don't use it!

We live in the now, however and these cards ain't helping me in the binder.

Enter Lux Cannon. It's a charge counter using artifact so it hits all the major themes of Sunspots, while also providing me with a long-term problem for my opponents that isn't easy to destroy. I have two, so I cut two Foundries and added in the Cannons. Will this work out? I can't be certain but I feel it's a step in the right direction. I'm keeping this deck in rotation to continue testing, even though I'm going to start focusing on another deck on Thursday.

Next up: you may have heard about some of the issues that the new trigger rules are creating at pro-level events. 

I'll just sum up if you don't want to read it all: the new rules say that you must announce all triggers and if you don't, the opponent can assume that the trigger did not occur, even if that trigger was mandatory.

This has led to players feeling like assholes when the call their opponents on this. It's legal but it doesn't feel right.

My personal feeling is: if the trigger is mandatory, it happens and if WotC would just use the language at their disposal, they could have, and have used in the past, 'may' triggers (ones you choose) and that would work fine. If it says 'may' then there is a choice. However, apparently that creates problems too and let's just please everyone because blbahblahbalbh. I realize Magic is a complicated game but sometimes, I feel like they're trying to serve the people at the expense of the players. Reading and comprehending the cards is how the game works: if you put people in situations where reading and comprehending the cards isn't how the game works, that is a huge kink in the game.

All that aside, there are two really good explanations of triggered abilities on Reddit, and I suggest you check them out, starting with part one.

A Glare In My Eyes

Note: I meant to get this up last Thursday! Thought I had. Sorry, everyone.

The grand plan did not go as well as I'd hoped.

Don't get me wrong, I still like Golem Foundry but I'm not sure it's the right key for this deck.

On Monday I was involved in a multiplayer game against a mono-w deck and another deck piloted by Merrick, using G/W soulbound and maybe a hint of blue. The details are a little sketchy because I was too busy getting pounded like the daily special. My permanents included a Foundry and a Pentad Prism which was, apparently, enough for the table to believe that I should be exterminated and since the cards weren't giving me anything else to do, I died.

Yeah, yeah I was able to muster up a couple Golems and a Manta with four counters the turn before I died but this was no match for soulbound armies of double strikers.

Next up, I went against stonethorn's new elf deck. A matchup that I knew would be awful for me but when I'm in this stage of testing, losing is practically the point. If I don't lose with this deck, how will I understand how to make it win?

No worries, of course; I got smooshed like a grape.

So I lost to more aggressive decks, unable to find the lifegain or board reset needed to make the game go longer.The relevant part here is that having Channel the Suns would not have changed the outcome and I was able to generate a few golems near the end, even if it wasn't nearly enough.

On the upside, I also won a game, playing against Fuz, who was rocking a GB undying deck. The pic represents the precise moment when I realized I had a chance at winning.

There was a critical mistake that Fuz made: playing his deck.

Which sounds crazy but hear me out. He wants to sacrifice creatures to make bigger creatures and then use Undying and Morbid in order to have his small creatures overrun the game. Which is what he was doing, with Altar's Reap and Strangleborn Geist and the like.

Unfortunately, (and in his defense he was very tired) he was doing this while I had an Engineered Explosives out, which I was able to set to two after he'd put +1 counters on all his creatures and I simply blew the board up, started gaining 6 life a turn and eventually wore him out. If he'd just kept pounding at me and forced me to use the Explosives before I wanted to, I think the game might have gone a little differently.

So if I can get to the midgame with some action-and it doesn't have to be much, because I only had Clearwater Goblet set to 4 originally, in addition to missing some triggers due to sloppiness, I can potentially win out.

I just don't know that the Foundries are the cards I need.

One thing I've been strongly considering is Tolaria West, since that would allow me to find both the Engineered Explosives and the Academy Ruins that could give this deck some resilience. I don't want to give up on the Foundries yet but I've been unable to really get them rolling in the games that mattered.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

More Spotty Than Sunny

I ran Sunspots through a couple rounds against Fuz on Saturday. Warning: beer was involved.

The first matchup was like watching two asthmatics have a breathing contest. He was playing a Bant mill deck and neither one of us could get a win condition rolling. At one point in the first game, I had a Chalice set to twelve which I stopped bothering to gain life with once I hit 70, because it didn't matter.

The second game went much faster, thankfully and showed off the issue I was concerned about with this deck: not having enough win conditions. Eventually, I just kept checking my graveyard and once the win conditions were all gone, I conceded.

Match two was up against Bant humans. Fuz apparently has a thing for UWG. GUW? WUG? WUG is better. Sounds like a drunk Ewok talking.

Game one (to the left) went long when I dropped Engineered Explosives, then recurred them, once.

Only once.

After that, it was cheap creatures, cheap enchantments and me taking 18 in a turn. That is no bueno. I made a mistake by not using Clockspinning to keep the Champion of the Parish at reasonable levels when I had the chance. It's hard to believe that this might have made a difference but Magic is frequently a game of inches and it's best to save every inch you can until the game is lost, because you just never know.

Game two went much, much faster and I never got anything going.

I talked to Fuz about the deck for a little while and he agreed: the mana was fine, maybe overkill. I mentioned the Golem Foundry and he got very enthusiastic about the idea. So out come Channel the Suns, in go the Foundries.