Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tsabo's Web In Every Thing (Commander)

One of the cool things about playing for a long, long time, having a relatively extensive collection of Magic and perpetually updating decks is that occasionally I'll have something snap together in my brain. In this case, I saw something while I was putting away some cards in Invasion block and thought: that never really did work out, did it?

Two days later, I'm playing a Commander game with stonethorn and Merrick and getting my ass kicked by a Vault of the Archangel, wondering why land destruction isn't in every color. Then today, it hit me.

Why is this not the go-to solution for all the crap that we put up with in Commander?

Tsabo's Web never really found a home back in the day, despite doing exactly what it was supposed to as an effective hoser. It is cheap, it cantrips (replaces itself), and it can fit into any deck because it's an artifact. At the time, though, most of the cards that the Web had an impact on weren't in Standard and the cards the Web has an impact on now didn't exist, as lands weren't as well understood as card type as they are now. On top of all that, since the effect was symmetrical you could find yourself hamstrung by your own hoser.

None of those things matter in Commander. It's not difficult to make a deck that doesn't need or has minimal use of those kinds of lands, special effects are all over the format so the Web is always going to be relevant, even if it seemingly isn't the draw effect will replace it, and because of Commander's stronger multiplayer focus the impact on the board is going to be much bigger than the two mana investment. Since it's a symmetrical but largely not-gamebreaking effect and still allows people to tap lands for mana, the possibility that you will draw aggro from playing Tsabo's Web ought to be pretty minimal.

Yet I don't see anyone talk about how useful this card is and the price is only $.49 at Starcity. This suggests to me that there is an opportunity to get some pretty big bang for the buck.

On top of all of that, this provides me with a truly useful answer to the question: what else do I add here? Sometimes, decks just don't want to build themselves and it can be hard to see what goes in next. A card like Tsabo's Web interacts with so many cards in the format, there's hardly a reason to exclude the it. It's just less mental work that needs to be done on my part.

I've got close to twenty Commander decks and four copies of Tsabo's Web. Time to make some tiny adjustments.

I doubt there will be much Magic playing this week or next, as much as I might want to. Sporadic updates (if any) until Jan 7th, but I'll get rolling again after that. Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I'll Try To Break Your Back

Finally, I can get back to improving the new deck!

I brought My Curse to a Monday night session of beer and cards with Noah and played two matches with it. The first was against a mono-blue control deck and it went about as well as I would have expected. My Curse has some good things going for it but, as with so many decks, it pretty much folds against one that can simply say "No, you don't get to do that." Blue is still setting the benchmark to answer the question: Is this deck viable?

That doesn't mean it wasn't worthwhile, though. I had issues with getting the right color of mana that I hadn't noticed when playing with Fuz, which is always worrisome. 

The second matchup was against a mono-black deck and I had mana issues here, too. In this instance-pictured, with me having a bear of a time getting out of the way of my camera- I found myself losing game 2 because of a timely Ghost Quarter, a card I never expected to have to concern myself with.

But Noah two-for-one'd me, hitting my only land with a Fertile Growth and that hamstrung my deck. I spent the rest of the games struggling to find the colors or the acceleration I needed to keep myself in the game. Fortunately, land destruction isn't very common but Ghost Quarter is an often used answer to popular decks and may keep My Curse in check from being feared.

So I'm cutting Mesa Enchantress: as the only creature in the deck it will simply draw all the removal and I cannot protect it. There's no point in spending a turn trying to play the Enchantress and then hoping to draw cards off that, when what I need to be doing is building the fortress. Opponents will just kill the Enchantress and I will have wasted a turn.

Noah suggested Sigil of the Empty Throne, which I like quite a bit. Since it triggers whether or not my spells resolve, it becomes, like some of my curses, a must-counter spell. However, when I went to check the binder, no Sigils were awaiting me. That's surprising and annoying but it's also probably a blessing in disguise.

I had mana issues in both matchups with Noah and I ought to address that first. No matter how cool your deck is, it still sucks if it doesn't work. So I've added in another Copy Enchantment and Verdant Haven, along with two Mana Cylix. Cylix can double as a source of green in opening hands where I don't have any, along with providing me with colors I need to fix in a pinch. Plus, it's cheap and that's definitely a boon in a deck where so much costs five mana. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hearthstone With Others

I tried to spend a good chunk of my weekend playing in the online arena of Hearthstone to get a sense of how that worked but was only partially successful.

Since the game will occasionally give you different quests to fulfill in order to earn gold for packs, I ended up going back to the practice arena to play the AI and earn enough basic cards so I could play against people online and not be horribly outmatched. This is a good way to encourage players to understand the different strategic strengths of each character but it's a drag if, after putting all my time into Mage and Warrior characters, I suddenly have to fulfill a quest using a Priest. There are enough generic quests that this probably isn't an issue for most people, and it's only my quirk of OCD that pushes such tasks on me but that doesn't subtract from the drag that it represents.

The online game plays a great deal like the AI one: one where attrition against creatures is the surest path to victory, so the more removal or creatures that tie into removal you have then the better off you are. Drawing cards is good, so anything that does that is good. I have had the wonderful surprise of having players lay down cards that I didn't know existed, such as the 12/12 beast that destroyed all other creatures in play. That was very, very bad for me but I had removal so I killed it on my turn and lay down the creature I'd been holding back. Still, the sense of being surprised was a good one and not horribly losing because of it felt fair.

Another game had me playing from behind the whole time and I lost. As with many collectable games, the person who has the bigger collection has an advantage over the newer player and it was very clear that I was up against someone who had paid their dues.

There were some neat online only quirks though: my opponent played an effect that allowed them to copy a card from my hand--but I had no idea which one they got. There was also a creature that gave us both spells to put in our hand and these kinds of effects just cannot be reproduced in a real world TCG without some serious consequences.These tricks suggest that they really have put some effort into making their game work.

As a short, kind of throwaway game, I get Hearthstone. The ability to change characters helps broaden the options and change things up without giving the game too much depth-something positive or negative, depending on how you feel about that. I'm certainly pleased that they are trying to engage in mechanics that are media-specific; if all they did was replicate what a regular card game would do then there's a legitimate "What's the point?" question to be asked.

Still, at the moment Hearthstone feels a bit like a 'burner game', like Peggle, Plants vs Zombies or Bejeweled, where I'll play the hell out of it for a week and then not touch it for a year. Perhaps when it moves out of Beta and there are more players it will feel different and if I can get it on my iPad, I certainly will. It's a solid game, I just don't know that it's a great one, yet.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hearthstone Beta Impressions

A buddy had an extra beta key to the Hearthstone online card game, and you know how it is: free is a very good price. So I spent a couple days going through the training section of the game and while I haven't knuckled up and gone online to play real people yet, here's what I think so far:

First, it looks very slick. The board is very clear but there are still different 'settings' to play on. They don't affect the game in any way that I'm aware of but the change of scenery is nice. Plus, you can click on the scenery and produce some kind of change in it; windows break, squash shatter and then are regrown by opening a water spigot, a kite is blown away in the wind, and so on.

There are actually a great many little details like this that help give it a very strong first impression: loading screens usually have different taglines like, "polishing the stones" or "placing the scenery", "wiping off the table" etc, etc. Sometimes they're clever, sometimes just filler and occasionally mildly amusing, so at on the load screens there is reason to pay attention.

As a player, you can choose from one of nine classes (Warrior, Druid, Hunter, Mage...), each with their own special power and their own deck to start with. Those classes act as their own character during the match and can, under the right conditions, attack or be targeted by spells. You start with 3-4 cards, depending on who is going first, and you get one 'mana' crystal. One you use the crystal, its gone but every turn you draw a new card, then replenish your crystals and get an additional one, up to ten, so once you've hit ten crystals, that's it, you are maxed out, ten crystals per turn.

As I defeated AI minions, I won cards that could give me more powerful and varied abilities which would allow me to go in and tweak my deck of cards. Certain cards are marked "neutral", meaning they can go in any deck, others are class specific and only available to that class. There are also quests to fulfill or online games to play, which provide 'gold' to purchase extra packs of cards, or I could put real money into the game to buy packs and expand my deck. As with most of these games, there are two major types of cards; creature cards, who go onto the battlefield to crush enemies. and spell cards, which have a single effect and are done. Eventually, I could craft my own deck that I'd take out into the world to play against other online people.

The goal is to reduce your opponent's character from 30 to 0, via damage from those creatures or spells.

It's a pretty easy game to get into and the games play at a very brisk pace. A CCG for the iPad era, if you will; something you can kill time with while waiting in line and be done.

But it's also pretty strategy-light, especially if you're familiar with these kinds of games. I lost very few games against the AI-one because I mis-clicked a spell's target on my last turn- but others because I just stopped paying attention.

The strategy seems to be: kill all the other creatures until your victory is inevitable. Every time I did this, I won. Every time I tried not doing that, or stopped paying attention, I lost. You kill all those other creatures by maxing out your crystal usage every early turn and targeting opposing creatures over the opponent.

This may change when facing real players and I'm interested enough in Hearthstone to see if that is the case.

Another potential issue is the sound cues. In AI matches, every time you've spent all your crystals, a voice says 'Job's done,' to signal the end of your turn. Every. Time. There are other little touches like this: characters will threaten each other with their declarations of power, taking something from a Street Fighter matchup at the beginning of each game but after I hear the tagline three times, I don't need to hear it anymore. While these cues can be a very useful thing for new or visually impaired players, I didn't see something in the settings that let me turn it off.

So it's engaging but it isn't amazing. I'll check it out online to see how that goes. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Problems Have Solutions or Blue Still Has The Best Everything

Carsten Kotter had a pretty great read on True-Name Nemesis, which is a card that I would have 100% expected to see ten years ago and never expected now.

Exxxxxxxxxxcept when Wizards is able to make cards without having to consider the Standard format and the modern design philosophies that have guided the past few years, which, as much as I criticize those sets, have often lead to some interesting, diverse formats.*

*Except when blue is involved. Hmm....

The color problem Carsten points out is the big issue: why is TNN blue? The argument that TNN should be white is dead on and rock solid.

He's blue because WotC, in the absence of other rules about balancing a format, will gleefully handwave away their own guidelines in order to make blue the best color. The place where they can let those guidelines slide? Legacy, which is a format that all the cards from the Commander sets are legal and blue is already insane. WotC has even suggested that Commander is an area where they can release cards that might be interesting in the Eternal formats, without mucking up the much more carefully balanced Standard and now Modern arenas.

So: all True-Name Nemesis is, is a throwback to the days of yore when they could throw all kinds of awesome at blue and nobody could really do anything about it. That's worrisome. And yes, I am aware that in the 2011 Commander product, the "best" card was a green one (also used in Legacy) but it's clear to me that the 2011 product was one where they used modern design principles in order to try and get a grip on a format they didn't entirely understand yet. The proof: Scavenging Ooze was printed in M14 and nobody batted an eye about design issues. Instead we were excited that a very expensive and difficult to acquire card would be widely available!

There is no way in hell TNN is printed in a Standard legal format. While I appreciate that the game isn't just about me, I do wish that colors that were not blue got the kind of boost to their repertoire that TNN gives to blue decks. White would have gotten a huge boost out of that card, helping to push Hatebears and White Weenie decks in a huge way.

On the other hand, when you have a deck that needs help and blue is even close to being in reach, then why not use blue?

In my games with Fuz, one thing I noticed was that on many occasions I wanted multiple copies of my enchantments. Duplicates under many circumstances could be helpful: more Fertile Ground to keep the mana production going, an extra Sphere of Safety to keep creatures off my back or even another Curse of Thirst. Sphere of Safety seemed especially useful to duplicate, because I cannot search it up with a Curse of Misfortune.

So I found a duplication device. It's perfect for this deck because it's splashable, cheap and has a swiss-army knife level of utility. It may even be worth cutting the Mesa Enchantress for multiple copies, because I don't know that I need the card draw in this style of deck, and having no creatures blanks so many opposing strategies, that it's possibly worth making that choice.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Curse

I've been involved in a flurry of deckbuilding but have had trouble getting time to test the new ideas. I may have to become a bit more active in the Reddit Cockatrice forum, so I can find more people to play with. Timing is hard though: I have a life too--all that beer won't drink itself.

Still, I have three new decks to talk about, only one of which I've played so far. Which means I really only have one deck to talk about.

4 Sphere of Safety
3 Curse of Misfortunes
4 Curse of Thirst
3 Curse of Inertia
4 Curse of Death's Hold
3 Opalescence
4 Fertile Ground
3 Verdant Haven
3 Curse of Bloodletting
3 Curse of Exhaustion

4 Mesa Enchantress

5 Swamp
6 Plains
2 Island
3 Mountain
7 Forest

Named after the awesome Afghan Whigs song for, I hope, obvious reasons. My initial plan was to use Sphere of Safety to hold everyone off, Curse of Exhaustion and Death's Hold to slow them down, Fertile Ground and Verdant Haven to ramp the mana up (and buff Sphere) then drop Opalescence and swing with suddenly appearing 5/5s, using Curse of Inertia to tap my opponent's best stuff. Worst case, I could hide and let damage from Curse of Thirst win the game.

This is not how it played out. This is a 'fortress' deck, hiding behind the Sphere and the Curses in order to get down a Curse of Thirst and Curse of Bloodletting to do massive damage. Opalescence is actually my backup plan. This means some tweaking is in order.

The mana still needs to be adjusted, swapping a Mountain for a Swamp because I needed to play a Death's Hold more than I needed to play Bloodletting, a card that is only key in the endgame. A Curse of Bloodletting and an Opalescence can also be cut; a backup plan only needs to show up in the late game, and a Curse of Misfortunes meas that I can just shortcut a Bloodletting into play, instead of hardcasting it. Mesa Enchantress is one of those weird cards that I feel ought to work in this deck but I'm not sure matters. I'm keeping an eye on you and disruption may be more important than card draw.

I have an idea for some replacements of those cuts but I need some time to break this deck down a little, and I need to buy a few cards (I'm sort a Sphere of Safety if you can believe it) so this can be sleeved up and played in meatspace.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Theros Problem

After the Theros draft experience, I ended up talking with Sean a bit about the Theros set. You may recall Sean from his work on the Soradyne set, a fan made MtG set that I helped out a little on.

Sean hates Theros. Hates it. I had my own views on the set which were also not that positive and the draft experience didn't really bring me around. Talking to Sean though has brought up a few ugly points about Theros that I think are worth talking about.

First: it's bland. They've turned Elspeth into Gordon Freeman, essentially. She's referred to by her name only sometimes in card flavor text, more frequently called the Hero and I believe they did it to have players project themselves onto her. The use of Archenemy-like challenges in the pre-release supports this theory, in my opinion: we can take the same actions she does and thus pretend, in some manner, to be her.

Except that by removing personality from one of the major Planeswalkers, they sacrifice the very thing that makes her interesting. Elspeth isn't interesting because she's a Planeswalker, she's interesting because she's a character. Worse, Elspeth is the lens that they want to shine Theros through! But if the lens is boring then what does that do to the plane?

This 'blandening' is what is behind Sean's biggest issues with Theros: According to him (and WotC, so he's not out on a limb), it's about heroes, gods and monsters. Yet those things aren't arranged in a compelling narrative so we don't have the political dynamics of Ravnica, the horror movie conflict of Innistrad or the war on Mirrodin.

We have heroes, who don't get to act very heroic and are frequently ill-defined. See Fabled Hero as a great example: we don't know who the hero is, nor the poet, yet apparently there's a story written about him. He's not the only issue though. When I take a look at the legendary permanents of Theros, I am unable to see who is in opposition to one another. What does Daxos want that conflicts with Tymaret? Forget the mechanics for a moment, just push this into what we know about Theros. Who is in conflict, and why? Theros does a very poor job of setting that up.

From a mechanical perspective, heroes cause another problem: Why do they only get bonuses when you target them? Why not any player? Heroes are defined by actions taken under dire circumstances in opposition to overwhelming odds. Let's just use that as a loose definition. Since the heroes don't trigger off the spells of opponents (or teammates!) you have a lost opportunity to have those creatures demonstrate some kind of heroic activity. They just do what every creature in Magic does which is get better when you do things to buff them.

Since we don't know what the central conflict of Theros is and why those heroes need to be arranged in opposition to it, why is it important that they get better, beyond this being the most bland expression of the Hero's Journey?

The monsters in Greek myth usually spawned from the naughty actions of the gods themselves and were sometimes sent to destroy or punish the citizens. Think of it like Batman's Rogue's Gallery: he has one of the best because the great villains are often reflections of him (and, as a result, his audience.)

Where does Polukranos come from? Hythonia? Does anyone know? I'm sure WotC does but I don't. These are the legendary threats and we as players don't know why we need to defeat them. Now, on a mechanical level, I've already gone into the issue of how I feel this mechanic is often unclear but from a story perspective, I don't know why these monsters are there, beyond; Because the audience expects them and I don't understand how monstrosity sets these creatures apart except that WotC didn't want to use Kicker. These are awful reasons. Hythonia is way less interesting than Visara the Dreadful, and Visara's only reason to be in Onslaught was as a pit fighter in the Cabal's fighting tournament. However, there were pit fighters! And a tournament! She was also one of two gorgons on the entire plane, so where did she come from?

There are questions that have answers and they are set inside a conflict that players understood. Elspeth is being pushed into a conflict of what or with whom, exactly?

The gods would seem to be the answer there but they don't seem to be fighting with each other. They don't speak at all in flavor text so there's very little way for players to understand why these gods need Elspeth at all and mechanically they don't clearly oppose one another, despite being very strong representations of their color.  

Which brings us to the issue with top-down design. A failure of flavor becomes, to me, a failure of design and even mechanics. If one doesn't properly express the world and its conflict in recognizable ways when standing atop the top-down mountain, then clearly there is an issue there. The heroes aren't heroic, the monsters aren't distinctive and the gods are just there. If that conflict was expressed mechanically or via flavor text, then there would be a basis for a story that is truly keyed into Theros's as a place. Instead, this conflict could be anywhere and that weakens the block as a whole.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Perspectives (Again)

What we have here is a Commander game with me playing Jeleva at the top, Noah with Horde of Notions at the bottom, and stonethorn with Experiment Kraj on the right.

I made two mistakes in this game, the second one being irrelevant to my story and probably stemming from the first. However, I'd like to start with the upside.

Jeleva: still fun. I managed to get her out twice and although I didn't really hit any spells worth playing either time what I was able to do was remove cards from the game that might have been troublesome otherwise. There's always the psychological battle in Magic and seeing your stuff disappear tends to be a downer. I actually was starting to wish for ways to kill Jeleva at will, so I could have more opportunities to pilfer through my opponent's spells.

However, I made a very big mistake on turn seven. Noah was getting a nice combo set up using Sword of Light and Shadow, Eternal Witness and Phyrexian Altar to reuse anything he felt necessary. One notation from that game is that I have a lack of artifact removal with Jeleva and artifacts have been problematic in nearly every Commander game I have ever played. stonethorn, however, has green which means he's got that kind of removal. All I have to do is hope he'll draw into it: I can even copy that spell with Wild Ricochet.

I have a Spiteful Visions on the table (which I played to help kick the game into gear) and draw into Price of Knowledge. My thought it simply: this is a powerful card and I should play it. It's not like I'm taking over Noah's position as the actual threat here.

stonethorn promptly Krosan Grip'd my enchantment before the end of my turn and I no longer had mana available to play Wild Ricochet or anything else.

I couldn't understand why: it seemed like a play against me personally and that doesn't jibe with how Multiplayer should work-or how I thought stonethorn plays. I have a very important rule in Multiplayer games: play the board, not the person.

I have this rule because it's very easy to get wrapped up in vengeance. Too easy, frankly: the sting of a loss last game-or last week, or last month-is the kind of thing that humans get invested in payback.

And payback is a bitch. But that bitch goes both ways and I have seen players willfully ignore opportunities to win, screwing themselves over, in order to feed some kind of payback monster. I've done it myself, which, of course, is why I created the rule. Don't make it personal, play the best game you can and play that board.

The board said that Noah's position was a problem because he had an actual engine going on. I had some synergies but nothing that could really establish myself. So what happened?

I forgot to put myself in someone else's shoes. Just because you play the board not the person doesn't mean you should forget that people are in the game! From stonethorn's perspective, he was looking at taking 9 damage next turn and perhaps the turn after that, with no way to establish a foothold in the game and live long enough to knock Noah off his trajectory. Why should he allow that to happen?

Essentially, I forced stonethorn into a lose-lose situation, which compounded my poor board position and reinforced Noah's and I did this because I thought of doing cool things myself, rather than considering the position of other players. In a way, I played myself, not the board.

And that's all for this week. Thanksgiving means a break from writing. See you in a week!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


How to do more with less?

The My Money philosophy has served me well: namely, it's prevented me from spending so much cash on Magic cards that I neglect to do things like purchase food or new underwear. You know how it is.

However: it cannot be denied that a key component to doing well at Magic is about money. The person who can purchase four Wurmcoil Engine, Deathrite Shaman and/or Jace, Architect of Thought has a much better chance of winning the match than someone who has only been able to acquire one or two of those through trade or luck. Hell, even someone who has the money to play draft and sealed often (something that can cost anywhere from $15-30 a pop) is going to have an understandable advantage over other players.

So I've spent a great deal of time trying to get decks to work with the expensive cards I happen to own (usually through random pack openings) or have purchased while they were cheap, because I like to gather up cheap rares and bend them into weird decks.

In the film Moneyball, a fiscally strapped baseball team uses mathematical metrics to get players who in aggregate, will hit the statistics that a team that makes the playoffs or wins the World Series would have. Similarly, I am trying to use cards that are undervalued or overlooked in order to create a deck with synergies that will produce wins. My hope is that with a deep cardpool (from a chronological perspective) and a willingness to experiment, I can pick up things that will pay off later, both in skills and cards. Lately, it hasn't quite been working out.

I don't mind losing but I seem to be doing it an awful lot, which suggests that I am not applying the lessons of my losses very well. I've also been ignoring some of my best (and expensive) cards in order to look at everything else in the name of innovating.

There isn't much point in letting a perfectly good Vraska sit in the binder though, when I have a deck that could use the power. I can still spend my money wisely and use overlooked cards while investing in some of the more expensive ones to help make my weird ideas work. I've been thinking about ways to make this happen, including changing some of my buying habits. Hopefully this will give me opportunities to pick up a few of the more expensive cards, while still absorbing copies of underused or overlooked cards and making them work for me.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Slim Margins or: My Games with Cruel Ultimatum

Jeleva vs Sedris
It doesn't matter how good the deck is if you don't read the cards.

The good news is: Jeleva is a fun Commander; one that creates interesting problems to solve, both for me and for my opponent. Of course this can also represent a huge challenge too: I found myself approaching new situations with the confidence of someone facing an old problem and it cost me in the matchup I had against Fuz playing his Sedris deck. One particularly epic game-pictured-was lost after I cast Decree of Pain, then Jeleva'd out a Cruel Ultimatum. Before I could cast it though, Jeleva was killed and Cauldron Dance hit me with a Nemesis of Reason AND Nicol Bolas. It was like being Ultimatumed: Take 10, discard your hand, mill 10.

All was not lost, though! With an empty board, Fuz gets Sedris in play and I draw Thraximundar! Except what I read was: Sedris has Unearth 2B. This is not what the card says.

So I didn't attack and lost.

In game 3, the Epic Moment came on the last play: Jeleva was facing Nicol Bolas and I had a slew of options to consider casting from Jeleva's ability, including Demonic Tutor and Crosis's Charm. I knew I had a Cruel Ultimatum in my deck, so I felt that a Demonic Tutor for that would be my best play. I would lose Jeleva but win the war.

I attack, Demonic Tutor the Ultimatum into my hand and put Jeleva in the Command zone, as she was blocked by Bolas. Then I look at my mana and slump. I don't have RRRBBBUUU. I can't cast Cruel Ultimatum. I have the right number of mana but I don't have the right colors. So I concede and explain the situation to Fuz.

"You have the right mana to cast that," he says.

Which was a very, very discouraging moment. I had the right play. I did the right thing. Then I sabotaged myself by giving in my the "Oh god you screwed up" voice in my head instead of taking a moment and double checking everything.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jeleva Overhauled

All of the Commander 2013 decks need an overhaul. It's just what I do--what everyone will do, eventually. I'm going to start with Jeleva because of all the decks, this is the one that had the obvious pull: True-Name Nemesis. That's a card which is brilliant in 1v1 matches but in multiplayer, not so much. Plus, I have a merfolk deck to plug it into.

So: let's start with the roster:

Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge
1 Sol Ring
1 Armillary Sphere
1 Swiftfoot Boots
1 Obelisk of Grixis
1 Temple Bell
1 Mirari
1 Wayfarer's Bauble
1 Eye of Doom
1 Akoum Refuge
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Command Tower
1 Crumbling Necropolis
1 Dimir Guildgate
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Grixis Panorama
1 Izzet Boilerworks
1 Izzet Guildgate
1 Molten Slagheap
1 Rakdos Carnarium
1 Rakdos Guildgate
1 Rupture Spire
1 Temple of the False God
1 Vivid Creek
1 Vivid Marsh
9 Island
8 Swamp
5 Mountain
1 Opal Palace
1 Urza's Factory
1 Augur of Bolas
1 Fog Bank
1 Nightscape Familiar
1 Moroii
1 Nivix Guildmage
1 Guard Gomazoa
1 Guttersnipe
1 Echo Mage
1 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Viseling
1 Mnemonic Wall
1 Charmbreaker Devils
1 Uyo, Silent Prophet
1 Thraximundar
1 Jace's Archivist
1 True-Name Nemesis
1 Terra Ravager
1 Diviner Spirit
1 Hooded Horror
1 Nekusar, the Mindrazer
1 Baleful Force
1 Tempt with Reflections
1 Infest
1 Fissure Vent
1 Incendiary Command
1 Phthisis
1 Cruel Ultimatum
1 Decree of Pain
1 Army of the Damned
1 Prosperity
1 Skyscribing
1 Molten Disaster
1 Vision Skeins
1 Soul Manipulation
1 Grixis Charm
1 Sudden Spoiling
1 Dismiss
1 Wild Ricochet
1 Annihilate
1 Opportunity
1 Starstorm
1 Strategic Planning
1 Crosis's Charm
1 Illusionist's Gambit

1 Propaganda
1 Spiteful Visions
1 Arcane Melee
1 Curse of Inertia
1 Curse of Shallow Graves
1 Curse of Chaos
1 Price of Knowledge

I am going to keep Thraximundar and Nekusar, the Mindrazer in there. Nekusar because it's good to have a substitute general and Thraximundar because it's good to have a 'Bite me,' card. Of the two, Thrax is most likely to come out when I need a 'Bite me' card in a different deck.

Removing; True-Name Nemesis and all the Curses.

I've come around a little bit on the Curses (I'll have a deck to show off why in a few weeks), because I think their place is mostly going to be in 60 card duel decks; in multiples I believe they will be outstanding. In multiplayer, I'm faced with giving my opponents things that I'm going to have to deal with later: cards, creatures, better creatures, or life. If I curse Noah to encourage stonethorn, I still have to deal with stonethorn eventually, only now he'll have more zombies than he did before. Who needs that?

So no. Curse of Inertia is probably the most innocuous because the effect is temporary and Curse of Chaos has the benefit of meshing with Nekusar's ability but again: better in multiples against a single opponent.

As replacements, I put in Cognivore, Magnivore and Trench Gorger. Of these, Trench Gorger requires the most justification but the theory is: removing lands gives me a higher density of spells, which then increases the likelihood of hitting Jeleva's ability. All of them are good monsters though with effects that I think will make this deck more fearsome.

And if Trench Gorger doesn't work out, Trench Wurm is in the wings. Nobody ever likes to see Trench Wurm, which I say is a good thing. 

I took out the Baleful Strix because I recently acquired 3 more, so they're going into a deck with Lieges in them. I put in a Moroii in its place: the life loss isn't much and the efficiency of a 4/4 flier outweighs it easily. 

Finally, the fishy elephant in the room, True-Name Nemesis. Now on the one side, I do like to see Wizards take these chances. Commander offers them an opportunity to inject new ideas into high powered formats like Legacy, where all of these cards are legal to play.

Buuuut TNN is also a very expensive card. I'm not sure how much good it does to inject powerful cards that can shake up a format in such a way that very few people are allowed to play that format. I suppose the exposure might help and, if enough Commander product ships that the cost of those decks are kept in check that might be OK, however current trends are not encouraging; the Mind Seize deck was selling for $60 at the time of this writing-and sold out at StarCity Games. That can only mean that the price will likely go up, when SCG gets more. (The 'suggested' price at Amazon? $150. With a 'discount' to put it down to $60....what the hell?)

Still, TNN is a card that is terrible in multiplayer. That's just the fact of it; it wants to be in duel decks, specifically a merfolk one, which, of course, I have. Swapped for Radiate which feels more in sync with what this deck wants to do, in addition to having cool potential interactions with the Commander format. I look forward to taking this for a spin.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Theros Draft

A buddy of mine had never drafted, yet has spent a great deal of time learning about drafting as a format. He'd always wanted to try it, so I took it upon myself to set up a draft for him. I usually get people together after every new set to play, I just usually do Sealed. Changing to Draft wasn't a problem. I read a bunch of information on and linked from the reddit forum and found it to be pretty interesting so I was hopeful that this would be a fun set to draft.

And now that I've gotten one whole draft done...I don't really care. I managed to make a U/B deck that I thought had enough cheap flyers to make an interesting aggro deck but it never panned out. I had opened Curse of the Swine in pack one so I figured; hey why not? I also included in my build a Triton Fortune Hunter that probably shouldn't have been there. I probably should have played more black, as I had some discard and decided not to play it thinking that a 1/3 creature for 4 really wasn't worth my time. My error was not realizing that discard was a form of removal. On further reflection, I was seeing a lot of green early on and probably should have gone into that color over black.

Other things I've learned: Bestow is a pain in the ass. It made all the games go long and felt very grindy and uninteresting. I have a dude. Three turns later I have a much bigger dude. You're killing my dude so now I have a smaller one that isn't all that awesome. Great.

Big effects are ugly; Noah drafted a deck that essentially got to 6 mana and then blew opponents out of the water. It worked (it certainly helped that he had an Elspeth), and kudos to him for taking that strategy but it didn't really feel very engaging when I played him to make decisions that didn't matter for 5+ turns and then lose.

I guess this would be a drawback for most of my games: I would play weaker creatures, try to get a toehold in and then wait and wait until I could Bestow bad creatures in order to try and Voltron a decent creature. Sometimes that worked but mostly it just wasn't much fun, even when it did. Waiting too long means the opponent has time to get their board set up and I didn't have effects that could really recover from that, despite having more Griptides and Voyage's Ends than I knew what to do with. The scry never felt like it mattered and Griptiding a creature that has been Bestowed means that yes, they have weaker creatures now...but they also have more.

Maybe I should try it again but I don't really feel encouraged to do so: this format didn't scratch an itch in my brain. Perhaps the Theros-Born of the Gods run will be different and I'll take a swing at it then.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Different Goals

It's an uncommon occurrence but every so often, my girlfriend will play Magic with me. It's nice when she does but she often finds the game to be more frustrating than fun. Here's an example of what can happen:

When the new Commander decks came out, I busted two open to play: Prossh and Nekusar and she took on Prossh. I thought it would be a reasonable fit, because Prossh leads a deck that wants to attack people to win and she understands that concept pretty well. But it had been a few months since she'd played Magic, maybe a few more since she had played Commander and I was handing her a brand new deck with a whole bunch of cards that were going to be unfamiliar to her.

As a result she spent a great deal of the game reading instead of playing, a position that could frustrate anyone, and didn't really have much fun.

It's always a bad thing when a game fails to be fun. This was my fault for giving her a new deck, instead of suggesting she play her own: even though some time had passed, at least there was the likelihood of memory kicking in and a familiarity coming to her so she could enjoy the game, instead of having the worst text-based adventure ever.

The biggest bummer about it all is that she doesn't enjoy too many games and the ones she does like, for example, Scrabble, I hate. (I hate Scrabble for a variety of reasons, including "I suck at this," so I understand her reluctance to play other games.)

What this story illustrates, though, is the different things that people are trying to get out of a game and how challenging it can be to get those things to align. I am looking to solve a problem and move to the next thing and Magic presents a near infinite amount of problems to solve, along with chances to collaborate on new ideas and be social. She wants to master a set of rules so that the chaos of a game becomes a directed, orderly experience. I'm not sure if she enjoys larger social interactions (say via party games) so there are probably a few priorities for her that I'm overlooking, too.  

This sounds a bit like our relationship writ large, actually...and it also addresses a little slice of that greater problem: Playing games with other people. That is a subject to expand on at a later time, though.

In the meanwhile, I'm hopeful that a middle ground can be found, so she can have fun and I get to include her in something I like to do. I'm wondering if a cooperative game might be more engaging, or perhaps one with less moving parts than Magic has, or perhaps just keeping it to smaller formats like Mini-Masters, might be more entertaining for her.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Old Ways Are Sometimes The Best Ways

After a few days of pounding my head against the wall for a proper reset button (including attempting to remember what Decree of Pain was named and which set it was in-I was originally thinking of Plague Wind) and playing a few more games, including ones where Fuz stole my embiggened Purraj, I finally remembered Noah's advice: Nevinyrral's Disk. Because last time, the biggest problem I had was Primeval Bounty--all the Decrees of Plague Pain in the Multiverse couldn't solve that, so it was time to put in something that would. The only question was: did I have one?

And I did. There it was, hanging out in the binder, like a lost tool hoping the Master Builder will request its service one last time. Excellent. In it goes. The old school reset would certainly be the missing link to elevate Purraj in the difficult games.

But sometimes the best ways aren't good enough.
What you see there is a four-way game, the other commanders are Nin, Kaalia, and Jeleva. I'm in the lower right hand corner, a Disk residing in my hand since the opening 7 and I'm thinking it's time to get it out soon--but not too soon, or else the Jeleva (Noah) and Kaalia (stonethorn) players are going to bring the beatdown before I'm ready. The Nin player, unfortunately, wasn't able to build up much momentum.

What happened next was stonethorn cheating Avacyn into play via Kaalia, putting the boots on her, then casting Akroma's Vengeance. We were pretty much dead men walking at that point, though we put up a good fight. Noah and I attempted to collaborate to use the Disk and a Sudden Spoiling to re-clear the board but between a hardcast Elesh Norn and a cheated Blossom...well, we just ran out of time.

Even the Old Ways understand that.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Commander 2013

Allllright, the new commander set is out tomorrow! so here are some brief thoughts on the new cards, which you can find a list of here. The older cards I'm not going to concern myself with, because WotC seems to be very good at picking solid cards with this format in mind and making good decks for it. They are providing some cool reprints and taking advantage of this practice, I hope, to bring down some prices in the secondary market.

In White:
Cards that interest me: Serene Master, Unexpectedly Absent and Darksteel Mutation. Serene Master especially is a magnificent execution on flavor and function.

Cards that the Spikes will go for: Angel of Finality. A 3/4 flyer that eliminates graveyards is good. It's that simple. There is also possibility of Act of Authority being included as a sideboard card, as I can imagine many scenarios where I exile two difficult permanents and then hand it over to my opponent, leaving them with nothing of mine to target. That's a pretty good deal for three mana.

Card that is interesting: Mystic Barrier. I like the move towards political choices like this, even if the card isn't as cool as others.

Cards that are likely bad: Tempt with Glory, because opponents will never agree to double your support. Let's just say that about every Tempt card and move on. Also, Curse of the Forsaken, which also falls under the 'interesting' category. The lifegain process is minimal in many situations but the potential dynamic of reward could be cool. I just don't think enough players evaluate board states properly enough for this to be good.

In Blue:
Cards that interest me: Diviner Spirit, Djinn of Infinite Deceits, Tidal Force.

Cards the Spikes will go for: True-Name Nemesis is already causing the deck it's in to be sold for over $40 in places. Honorable Mention might go to Order of Succession, since it doesn't target and can force opponents to give up the one huge creature they have invested in.

Card that is interesting: Illusionist's Gambit. This is a bad Fog in 1v1 but a cool trick in Multiplayer.

Weaksauce: Curse of Intertia, Tempt with Reflections.
I have to admit that I hadn't thought about the Curses in aggregate. In Commander they may not mean much but in 60 card decks when I can run 4 of them, they could be outstanding, especially the Blue one, as you can tap your opponent's creatures to get through, while untapping yours for defense.

In Black:
I'm raising my eyebrow to: Fell Shepherd, Hooded Horror

Card the Spikes will go for: Toxic Deluge (which I also like quite a bit.)

Cards that are interesting: Baleful Force, Price of Knowledge (which is very weird but definitely interesting) Ophiomancer

Cards that are likely bad: Curse of Shallow Graves (if the zombie didn't ETB tapped...) Tempt with Immortality.

In Red:
Card that I like: Widespread Panic. It's weird.

Possible Probait: From the Ashes, Sudden Demise

Cards that are interesting:...

Cards that are likely bad: Curse of Chaos (except in multiples, then it moves up to interesting and something I like,) Tempt with Vengeance, Terra Ravager, and Witch Hunt. Witch Hunt is an especially grievous card, because it forces control away from players and has a downside.

In Green:
Cards I like: Bane of Progress, Curse of Predation in multiples, downgrade if singleton. I know Bane is expensive but this is a Jason-deck answer and win condition all in one. I'll take that.

Cards the Spikes will go for: Restore.

Cards that are interesting: Primal Vigor isn't as good as it's older sister but it's at least worth considering.

Signs point to No: Naya Souldbeast, Spawning Grounds, Tempt with Discovery. Two of those are just too damn expensive. Yeah, yeah, 'but my Magical Christmasland combo'--I don't care. I want to know what works that doesn't a) degenerate the game or b) rely on insane luck.

Artifacts & Land:
These are OK. Nothing brilliant, nothing awful.

Neat: Jeleva, Roon, Shattergang Bros, Syrdi

Spikes: Syrdi: artifacts are huge in most Eternal formats and this card plays too well with them for it to be ignored.

Hmmm...: Nekusar, Marath, Prossh. Marath and Prossh have potential because they can interact with other facets of Magic but I'm not entirely convinced about them yet. Marath has the most potential to me, while Nekusar feels more like a hoser card. 

Why?: Deveri, Oloro, Gahiji. Deveri avoids the Commander Tax and can do it at instant speed. That is a rule I understand they had to break but really shouldn't be. Oloro is ONLY useful as a commander and I really don't like that kind of restriction. Gahiji is flat out boring, despite doing what it does well, because in Multiplayer you've just painted a target on your head and it's quite expensive for 1v1. Other cards could do accomplish these tasks without those drawbacks.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Black Sunshine

In this photo, I'm facing a Doran Commander deck piloted by Noah. He's clearly got the upper hand on me and that isn't going to change.

The game before, which I was so involved in I forgot to get a photo of, had me losing because I couldn't do anything about Primeval Bounty. I certainly tried, casting Geth after getting the ultimate on Liliana.

You can take a whole lot of goodies with that amount of mana, and I did. Going from 14 life to 66 life after stealing a Rhox Faithmender was pretty good times. 

But Geth died and I couldn't get him back to take Noah's Qasali Pridemage, so eventually I was just overrun by beast tokens.

However, this matchup taught me a few important things:

While my love for playing weird and underused cards is part of my Commander philosophy, I need to know when too many of those ideas have piled up in a deck, causing it to break down. In this case, it was the presence of Bad Moon and Gallowbraid and the ideas the represent.

Gallowbraid is a challenging card to play. Solid back in the days of Weatherlight, he was even part of a winning deck called the Brothers Grimm...which quickly faded from view. With the improved creature base of modern Magic, Gallowbraid just doesn't have a home. So naturally I need to play him. The upside though is that his drawback isn't so bad in a format where I start at 40 life, and trample is good almost anytime.

The problem with Bad Moon is a bigger one: it is actually a good card in the right deck and what better than a Mono-B one, right? However, most of the commanders people play with are multicolor ones and people especially love three-color generals. The popularity of the Commander decks Wizards makes helps promote three color decks too and impact of those decks means there is a very narrow group of commanders who don't have black in them. This means that I'm much more likely to give my opponents an advantage off of Bad Moon than I might be in other formats.

So something has to give: I can keep in the neat flavor but bad cards of things like Gallowbraid and Morinfen or I can keep in Bad Moon and Nocturnal Raid and try to shore up my weaknesses there. At this point, I'm going to keep the Brothers Grimm in and take out the cards that enable other people's decks, because the latter challenge is far beyond what I am willing to dedicate resources to.This means:

-Bad Moon, Nocturnal Raid and Cabal Ritual
+ Rune-Scarred Demon, Abhorrent Overlord and Baleful Eidolon. Which is going to come out for some graveyard recursion (getting Geth back would have saved me the game) or mass removal (ditto Infest or Nivenyarrl's Disk.)

Finally, this seems neat. It's a little too late for me to get involved but perhaps someone else can--and for next year, ,maybe I can work something out.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Commander: Purraj of Urborg

I suppose that given my desire to use older cards, the use of a commander like Purraj was something that one could see coming.

Purraj of Urborg
Amber Prison
Powder Keg
Charcoal Diamond
Skull of Ramos
Nihil Spellbomb
Loxodon Warhammer
Nightmare Lash
32 Swamp
Spawning Pool
Cabal Coffers
Cabal Pit
Bojuka Bog
Do or Die
Consume Spirit
Sadistic Sacrament
Festering March
Bad Moon
Evil Presence
Phyrexian Boon
Vow of Malice
Phyrexian Arena
Nocturnal Raid
Ebony Charm
Bone Harvest
Chill to the Bone
Dark Banishing
Funeral March
Cabal Ritual
Shriveling Rot
Urborg Stalker
Spirit of the Night
Bone Dancer
The Fallen
Dread Cacodemon
Chainer, Dementia Master
Ascendant Evincar
Vault Skirge
 Phyrexian Obliterator
 Geth, Lord of the Vault
 Liliana of the Dark Realms
 Dross Golem
Royal Assassin
Sorin's Vengeance
Void Maw
Herald of Leshrac
Order of Yawgmoth
Carrion Beetles
Plague Dogs
Avatar of Woe
Leaden Myr
Pestilence Demon
 Hand of Cruelty
 Rag Dealer

The goal is pretty simple: get out Purraj, cast black spells to make her huge, work the synergies that Black has within itself (cards like Nightmare and...uh, Nightmare Lash) in order to win the game. I did what I could to get around the most common restriction of Black removal (it can't get rid of creatures in its color) with cards like Pestilence and Chill to the Bone and I tried to make sure I could attack graveyard strategies with Rag Dealer, Nihil Spellbomb and Carrion Beetles.

I even got all crazy and used the only copy of Liliana of the Dark Realms that I own, because why not?

There's also some fun dick move cards, like Herald of Leshrac, Royal Assassin or Phyrexian Obliterator, along with weird (or bad) cards like The Fallen, Hecatomb or Do or Die.

There are definite questionmarks, of course. Sadistic Sacrament is one of those awesome cards that can really brutalize a combo deck but it's very difficult to pull off. In addition, it is a pinpoint strike; is it worth cutting off two legs when I have to deal with six? Amber Prison has a similar drawback. Gallowbraid and Morinfen in the same deck may represent life sinks that are too much to take but because they're related (in Magic lore, they are brothers) I have difficulty cutting them.

Still, I think that Purraj is one of those commanders that has potential, simply because she can become a very strong threat doing what any deck wants to do; cast spells. That kind of innate power shouldn't be ignored.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why is that, do you think?

I enjoy playing Commander in multiplayer but only when the group is small; five people at maximum. More than that and it takes too long to get (and sometimes take) your turn; why not just split up and play two games?

But this weekend I faced off against Fuz alone, and multiplayer games are not quite the same as 1v1. Most of those games were against his Sedris deck but there were a few against some of the pre-made Commander decks from 2011.

Things I learned:

Frantic Search is still evil. I should start putting that card in every Commander deck I own. Even if they don't run blue.

I think the hole I spoke of last time, that there aren't a lot of global effects in this deck, may be something that has to be addressed, whether I tilt this deck to 1v1 or multiplayer. Getting outnumbered early is something that can easily happen and a chance to start over is helpful. Conversely, I could add in more card drawing or search effects in order to push combos like Triskelion and Mephidross Vampire, or other tribal synergies. Dark Ritual is the card most likely to come out, as is False Demise if I don't upgrade the creature removal suite. 

On the flipside, cards like Vampire Lacerator give me an opportunity for an early rush and have earned their stay in the deck. Forcing an opponent to use their removal on tiny creatures is always helpful when I'm hoping to cast Blood Tyrant later. Plus, with the Bloodlord of Vaasgoth, the opportunity for cheap huge creatures is there. The drawback that the small creatures provide isn't outweighed by the synergy, yet.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

League, final

Well, I did much better this time, posting a winning record in what were absolute streetfight matches. There was the matchup I lost after my opponent did 40 damage to me. There was the one I won with only 16 cards left in my deck. It was that kind of day. The games were exceedingly challenging and well played by everyone.

I went with this deck:
Sin Collector
Purge the Profane
Heavy Mattock
Bladed Bracers
Angelic Armaments
Ring of Xathrid
Cathedral Sanctifier
Haazda Snare Squad
Voiceless Spirit
Maze Sentinel
Palisade Giant
Boros Elite
Oblivion Ring
Guardian Lions
Smite the Monstrous
Ray of Revelation
Angelic Wall
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Basilica Guards
Farbog Explorer
Doom Blade
Victim of Night
Fatal Fumes
Mark of the Vampire
Liliana's Shade
Syndicate Enforcer
Ubul Sar Gatekeepers
Unburial Rites
Harrowing Journey
Daggerdrome Imp
Morkut Banshee
Harvester of Souls
Wring Flesh
Walking Corpse
Child of Night
Evolving Wilds
11 Swamp
12 Plains
My strategy was to play the mana game. I figured (correctly, as it turned out) that my opponents were going to try and make 3 color decks work, using their best cards. I was going to make my mana work and hope that my deck would function at a higher level because of this, despite having less powerful cards (I'm looking at you, Liliana's Shade. I hate you.)

It worked, for the most part. There was only one game where I suffered from mana issues, and that was game 1 vs Noah, when I had a hand full of cards requiring white, and drew 4 Swamps. My opening hand was reasonable but not great so I kept it because I was afraid to go to five.

I should have gone to five. Go big or stay home.

The rest of the time, cunning play, solid mana, lifegain and the occasional topdeck carried me through. I didn't win League, though: I was 12-9 throughout and that wasn't even close to the 19-2 record of the winner. Still, these kinds of formats help sharpen my skills so I am looking forward to doing this again.

In about a year.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pros and Cons

The thing about doing a tribal deck, especially in Commander, is that some questions don't even need to be asked. There are various synergies that come with a tribe and as a result, certain things don't come under consideration because cards like Urge to Feed trump the addition of other removal spells.

I bring this up because what it means is that between the tribal theme and my own philosophy, I tend to eschew mass removal spells like Meltdown over cards like Sunder from Within and Sinkhole. In multiplayer, this can be problematic. On the upside, my evaluation process is tested further, so I get better at that but on the downside, I can easily find myself in a bad situation because I haven't picked the right tools for the job.

In this case: against Noah's Niv-Mizzet deck, he was able to use some artifacts in order to set up a situation where he drew 37 cards 4 times in a row, and killed Seth and I.

But I'm in Canada now, so I can test decks with Fuz and I am certain something good will come of it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Commander: Garza Zol, Plague Queen

I generally don't name my Commander decks, because they already have unique titles: the Commander leads the deck, thus bestows the name. But in this case, I have a little subtitle for this one,  Everybody I Know Has Fangs.

Garza Zol, Plague Queen
Blade of the Bloodchief
 Obelisk of Grixis
False Demise
 Control Magic
Blood Tithe
Blood Tribute
Dream Cache
Rush of Knowledge
Slave of Bolas
Feast of Blood
Consume Spirit
Soul Burn
Sunder from Within
Crypt of Agadeem
 Dreadship Reef
 Urborg Volcano
 Crosis's Catacombs
 Lake of the Dead
 Barren Moor
 Izzet Boilerworks
 Dimir Aqueduct
 Rakdos Carnarium
9 Mountain
9 Island
11 Swamp
Dark Ritual
Lim-Dûl's Vault
Murmurs from Beyond
Yamabushi's Flame
Glacial Ray
Sulfurous Blast
Think Twice
Urge to Feed
Vampiric Fury
Vampiric Tutor
Lord of Lineage/Bloodline Keeper
 Blood Tyrant
 Vampiric Dragon
 Vampire Nighthawk
 Vampire Lacerator
 Izzet Chronarch
 Skeletal Vampire
 Sengir Nosferatu
 Sengir Vampire
 Baron Sengir
 Irini Sengir
 Child of Night
 Blood Seeker
 Rakish Heir
 Falkenrath Marauders
Krovikan Vampire
 Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet
 Malakir Bloodwitch
 Guul Draz Vampire
 Gatekeeper of Malakir
 Butcher of Malakir
 Pulse Tracker
 Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
 Mephidross Vampire
 Mirri the Cursed
 Guul Draz Assassin
 Captivating Vampire
 Bloodlord of Vaasgoth
 Olivia Voldaren

I suppose that the first thing I ought to do is repeat my general Commander philosophy. This format is where I get to shove in all the weird, unused cards or singletons that I wouldn't get to play otherwise. In Commander, I try a little harder to consider theme and the glory of cool things, than I do the success of a plan in relationship to victory.

I realize that making a vampire tribal deck may not seem like something out of the ordinary but I dislike making decks that I know work. Vampires have been pushed steadily since Zendikar block and while I don't know that a winning vampire deck has been mapped out, making a traditional 60 card deck is just too easy. Unless I can put a slant on it that is unique (read: probably bad) then I find it difficult to be interested.

I frontload all this because I have had people tell me, in a slightly pitying tone, "Vampire Lacerator really doesn't work in Commander."

Trust me: I know how this format works. It works any way you want it to and I want to make a vampire tribal deck. It's OK if some of the cards are bad; that's partly why I'm writing, to properly look at these decks and swap bad cards for better ones.

But in Commander I'm more willing to accept my choices because they are cool. Telling me that something doesn't work when it's clearly part of the theme is ignoring what my goals are and is unhelpful advice. That doesn't mean I'm going to keep the Lacerator in forever but it's good for the time being.

Let's roll it out!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Dig Out The Metal

Leave it to Jason to hit the weak spot in my deck.

Two matches: one versus a mono-green deck with Predator Ooze and Dungrove Elder, conveniently Rancor'd, which are stubbornly resistant to my removal suite, and another against a mono-black (mostly) zombie deck, including the greatest hits of Gravecrawler, Geralf's Messenger and Nether Traitor.

In the mono-G matchup, I couldn't race him; even with Soul Feast, there is a point where Necrologia is a dead card for me, usually when I'm at 5 or less, because I don't have sweeper cards. All my damage was directed at Jason but I couldn't get enough to win the games.

Against zombies, I lost 1-2 and the game I won was where my removal mattered juuuust enough (special props to Scorching Lava), and then I was able to Necrologia for 6 and throw 4 lands away to do 8 damage and come from behind. But the games I lost were ones where I had to remove undying creatures twice, using up resources that needed to be directed elsewhere, so I couldn't carve out enough time to arrive at a board state that let me win.

They were close games though, so nothing is dissuading me from my current design. Yes, the Vampire Nighthawks would have been useful in the mono-G matchup, but so would Damnation, Scar, Thoughtseize or a hundred other combinations. This is where a sideboard would be useful and certainly the Nighthawks and more discard would probably be where I'd look to shore up difficult matchups.

So let's call it good with this list:
3 Dark Ritual
3 Incinerate
3 Seismic Assault
3 Rakdos Carnarium
3 Necrologia
3 Scorching Lava
2 Rocky Tar Pit
5 Swamp
2 Shadowblood Ridge
3 Terminate
3 Manaforge Cinder
3 Mogg Fanatic
2 Grim Lavamancer
3 Organ Grinder
10 Mountain
4 Blightning
2 Dragonskull Summit
3 Soul Feast
Now, some people may have heard about the next Commander set which is coming out in a month, so let's talk about Commander stuff for 30 days!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

20 or 18 Year Old Whiskey?

I know that last time, I said I would be dabbling with Vampire Nighthawk in the Lose Hope slot.

I didn't.

I know, I know: Vampire Nighthawk is good. I should run good cards.

But as I was cleaning up my desk, I ended up finding the Any Colour You Like deck (which instead of dismantling I twisted into a Painters Servant/Grindstone deck) and while taking it apart I found the four Soul Feasts that were in there.

The drawback to Soul Feast is that it costs more than the Nighthawk but the upside is that it dodges removal, which is a big deal these days, and doesn't take a turn to get going: I cast Soul Feast, I gain 4 life, no waiting.

When I asked Fuz about these options, he said "It's like asking if you want to fuck a 20 or 18 year old whiskey."

I did not know I could fuck whiskey, so it may be time to expand my horizons.

I ended up taking the Soul Feast configuration against Fuz's White Weenie deck in two nailbiting games. Manaforge Cinder did some critical mana fixing in both games and Blightning was fantastic. It hit a Wrath of God and a Disenchant in game 2 (pictures), which was critical because I was on the end of a beatdown of epic proportions, going down to one life due to an early Student of Warfare, rapidly leveled up to deal me 8 a turn.

I cast Seismic Assault, then used everything up in order to stabilize the board; discard Swamp + Grim Lavamancer to kill the Student. Then discard another land to kill a Knight of Meadowgrain. Lavamancer activation to kill Knight Exemplar (two of them!) and Incinerate for Knight of the Holy Nimbus.

In a last ditch effort, I Necrologia'd for five, going to one life, then next turn was able to cast Blightning and Incinerate off a Dark Ritual run through the Manaforge Cinder in order to give me more time. I used that time to cast Soul Feast to go up to 5. At 8 life, with a Hero of Bladehold and a Crusade on the board Fuz swung at me for 10.

I blocked the Hero with an Organ Grinder, then activated the Grinder to bring Fuz down to 5. Blocked a token with a Grim Lavamancer, then took 3 from the unblocked token. Fuz says "Go," and I untap, pitch a land for 2 damage an cast a second Soul Feast to win.

Whew. Now, did I get lucky, or have I chosen wisely? It's hard to say, but the fact that I pulled out close matches against an aggro deck (a matchup I know to be difficult) makes me think that I've got this deck on the right track, at least for now.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Blightning Rod

I thought I had this posted on Thursday. Sorry everyone! We now join our story in progress...

Although I won games against Fuz with my original configuration of Shrapnel, I knew it was just luck. I needed to win games more decisively, which meant either a) speed or b) disruption.

Theros still isn't out (when I wrote this last Thursday), but the best 'faster' card that I thought would be helpful was Read the Bones. Lacking that, I've been using Lose Hope (over Festering March and Flame Javelin) as a way to provide disruption. I like Lose Hope, actually. The filtering is nice and I'm having to make some choices that I think I'm getting incorrect. Which is good, because that means I'm learning.

However, Lose Hope is also another creature killer and I have quite a bit of that, as I've seen in games against Noah and stonethorn. Too much of a good thing, perhaps, leaving me unable to finish the game.

And replacing Lose Hope with Read the Bones is risky, because I already want to go all-in on cards like Necrologia. I'm not sure I can take the life loss.

That's the questionable card, though. I had an 'Aha!' moment and removed Dread and Murderous Redcap for Blightning and that was an excellent decision. In all my games, whenever I cast Blightning, my opponents were unhappy with it. Always a good sign.

The other 'Aha!' moment I had was with the mana base. It's challenging to make a deck that has, as two of its key spells, RRR and BB in them. If I had more lands that could produce red or black, I would be in better shape (of course, right?)

So I went to ye olde binders and found two Dragonskull Summit which should make everything better. Not as good as Badlands but it's best to use the tools available, since purchase of a Badlands invokes the My Money rule. (My Money > less of My Money.)

However, I want to return to the Lose Hope conundrum. The redundancy they provide may not be reason enough to keep them but I do like the brainteaser of which cards to scry. Still, if I could add in something that created problems and contributed to speeding up my win condition, this might be a better thing. I'll have to keep my eye out. A card like Vampire Nighthawk could be exceptionally good for this deck, giving me time to set up my combo through lifegain against more aggressive decks, or be a win condition on its own against slower ones if I look for the turn 1 Swamp, Dark Ritual, Nighthawk play.

We'll put the Nighthawk on deck, if Lose Hope doesn't cut it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

League Day 4: 50-50

I had a vastly improved deck, going G/B/R but I still only broke even, going 2-2. Why? Because I had to mulligan down to 5 in multiple games.

Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes it gets you. I don't think I made an significant mistakes and of the two times I had to keep a 5 card hand, I was dubious about one, and confident about the other. It didn't work out but at least I was doing the evaluations to properly justify my choice.

M14 (in italics) is the last pack to add, so here's what I'm looking at:

Eaten by Spiders
Wandering Wolf
Geist Trappers
Strangleroot Geist
Somberwald Dryad
Hollowhenge Beast
Grizzled Outcasts
Spidery Grasp
Ambush Viper
Bountiful Harvest
Druid's Deliverance
Axebane Guardian
Savage Surge
Burst of Strength
Disciple of the Old Ways
Manaweft Sliver
Predatory Sliver
Harvester of Souls
Essence Harvest
Harrowing Journey
Sightless Ghoul
Morkrut Banshee
Unburial Rites
Walking Corpse
Victim of Night
Liliana's Shade
Daggerdrome Imp
Syndicate Enforcer
Fatal Fumes
Doom Blade
Mark of the Vampire
Wring Flesh
Child of Night
Leap of Faith
Farbog Explorer
Cathedral Sanctifier
Ray of Revelation
Smite the Monstrous
Voiceless Spirit
Oblivion Ring
Guardian Lions
Palisade Giant
Murder Investigation
Basillica Guards
Boros Elite
Maze Sentinel
Haazda Snare Squad
Ajani Caller of the Pride
Angelic Wall
Afflicted Deserter
Pyreheart Wolf
Russet Wolves
Somberwald Vigilante
Uncanny Speed
Searing Spear
Traitorous Instinct
Massive Raid
Blur Sliver
Chandra's Outrage
Favorable Winds
Beguiler of Wills
Nephalia Seakite
Artful Dodge
Runic Repetition
Rooftop Storm
Jace's Phantasm
Faerie Invaders
Merfolk of the Pearl Trident
Vedalken Entrancer
Spell Rupture
Hidden Strings
Murmuring Phantasm
Merfolk Spy
Bladed Bracers
Angelic Armaments
Heavy Mattock
Ghoulcaller's Bell
Ring of Xathrid
Gruul Cluestone
Azorius Cluestone
Accorder's Shield

Izzet Staticaster
Spawn of Rix Maadi
Sluiceway Scorpion
Simic Charm
Purge the Profane
Ruination Wurm
Assemble the Legion
Pilfered Plans
Sin Collector
Species Gorger
Warleaders helix
Armored wolf rider

Shimmering Grotto
Evolving Wilds
Rootbound Crag
Rakdos Guildgate
Simic Guildgate
Boros Guildgate

I am pretty sure that a GBW deck is possible now; the white has always been solid but not great, however Ajani is too good to ignore. That said, the Red has always done well for me and I have solid R/B and R/W cards to add. I also think that the removal that Red brings might be more important, especially if it stays on the cheap side. I'm going to build a few configurations with B/W as the core and see where it takes me. At the moment, splashing Red for removal seems like it would be more helpful. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Although my games with Hexagram are not finished, it's time to move on. Soon, I will do a 'roundup' post and talk about a few decks that I've tweaked since Close of Business (if you will). For now: I'm still testing Energy Field, I just need more games to do it in.

Next up, a deck that is an awful mess.
3 Dark Ritual
3 Incinerate
3 Necrologia
3 Terminate
3 Scorching Lava
1 Flame Javelin

3 Seismic Assault

2 Festering March

2 Dread
3 Manaforge Cinder
2 Murderous Redcap
3 Mogg Fanatic
2 Grim Lavamancer
3 Organ Grinder

3 Rakdos Carnarium
11 Mountain
2 Rocky Tar Pit
6 Swamp
2 Shadowblood Ridge
I named this deck Shrapnel, because I imagined the act of discarding lands to do damage to have a tie in with the word. Also: it's a cool Decepticon name.

Shrapnel's premise was this: get down a Seismic Assault, play Necrologia with a relative disregard for life total, and discard every land you could to do damage to kill the opponent. If I couldn't kill the opponent, then kill everything else and keep going. Organ Grinder and Grim Lavamancer could take everything I spit into the graveyard and extend the win condition, if needed.

This deck was built in the days before the Life from the Loam/Seismic Assault combo hit and I just never bothered to change the deck to that, because this is my idea, damnit. But somewhere in there, I lost the storyline. Dread? Murderous Redcap? These cards aren't helping me win. Festering March just...ugh. No.

Decks are too fast, these days and this deck isn't built to slow them down enough. So it's time to give this an overhaul!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Study as a Virtue

I've been looking over Theros since it's been spoiled, trying to dig up the positives in a set I'm not seeing much value in. Oh sure, the obvious values are there; Planeswalkers are good, gods are good, multicolored stuff will be helpful etc. Everybody knows this. But the part that intrigues me is always the unsolved problem one: what is good that people underestimate or insist is bad?

I don't think there's much to underestimate in Theros and all the stuff that is bad is...bad. Aggro as an archetype is non-existent, which is fine because removal doesn't kick in until turn 4 at best. Everyone is predicting 7+ turn games and assuming Scry will let them hit the lands they need. With Scry being on about 20 of 229 cards, 13 at common, I think they might be overestimating how useful Scry will be. That doesn't mean it won't be helpful but to really make consistent decks I believe it would need to be available in higher numbers. So once again: slower format, grindy games.

It's disappointing to see so many plain-jane cards here. Thematically they're wonderful but mechanically they don't add anything to the game or explore the space in an interesting or dynamic way. 

That doesn't mean there isn't any fun to be had. One neat little theme I've noticed are the cycle of spells that target up to two creatures-Dauntless Onslaught, Triton Tactics, etc. They did this in Urza's Saga too, with Rack and Ruin, Symbiosis, etc. They also had cycles of 'growing' enchantments, similar to the Boons of Theros but as global enchantments, such as Recantation or Discordant Dirge.

I hope that these callbacks were on purpose. I realize they may not mean much to newer players but to me it demonstrates that WotC still values its history. Urza's block was a pretty dark time for the game because of the insane Blue combo decks that were powered by broken artifacts, despite being the enchantment block. What that means is that there is a whole host of overlooked ideas from that block that can be given legs again with modern design knowledge. When I see connections like Cutthroat Maneuver and Symbiosis, I feel a bit more confident about the future. I may not like this set but it's possbile that there will be cool things to uncover in block. 

It's also possible that this set starts things off very slowly, with an improving draft and sealed format coming up as we go. I hadn't considered that until recently but one way to generate some excitement for the third set in a block (one that historically WotC has generally seen decreased sales numbers on) might be to really add in more balance in the form of removal, aggressive creatures, and spell or permanent interactions in those sets, creating something more dynamic as time goes on.

Let's call me cautiously optimistic.