Thursday, February 28, 2013

Winnowing the Weak

The short version: 61 cards didn't matter.

It's a big deal, mentally, to go beyond 60 cards because all the math, all the research, is all based around having only 60 cards in a constructed deck that isn't using Battle of Wits. Cards are put in/duplicated based on this math, with the idea that we can gain a level of predictability to our randomized decks. New players are constantly hammered with this information, as they frequently build decks that are 70 or more cards, trying to cram as many good ideas as they can into play.

However, adding one single card? It didn't have a meaningful impact on my games. One was a multiplayer matchup, where I felt I had to add Lifeline to a board with Guttersnipe and Talrand. It was not my best idea but I was going for broke. Yes, I lost that one though I was able to use Fabricate to get a Lifeline so my idiot plan could happen. I'll chalk that one in the 'doing what I hoped' column.

In a R/G matchup, I got beat in game one--which isn't easy to tell by this crappy picture. Sorry: I'll try to do better next time. I won game two and then the pub closed.

But the extra card didn't do anything to make my chances better or worse.

What I did feel though, in both matches, was that I was paying too much for a pretty weak effect in Arcbound Reclaimer.

When I look at the mana curve for this deck, there's a huge glut of things at the two spot; a total of fifteen cards. There are two cards in the three spot and five at the four spot.

But of those cards at the four spot, Arcbound Crusher is able to grow big enough to become a problematic threat, as seen in the previous matchups. Arcbound Reclaimer is a tutor for a graveyard that I am not planning on filling and doesn't really help me after that. So I'm back down to 60 cards, cutting the Reclaimers and adding a third Fabricate. This means I essentially have access to six Darksteel Reactors, six Arcbound Overseers and five Lifelines. I'm comfortable with this level of consistency.

What I'm concerned about now is the Arcbound Sliths at the two spot. You can see it languishing there on the lower right corner in the photo. Again, the power/toughness for the cost isn't doing  much for me, at a spot that already has one of the most notorious creatures in the game and flyers that can be critical to defense (or attack) until I get to the end game.The logical thing: add in something at the 1 or 3 spot.

Unfortunately, there are no modular creatures at those casting costs to add which means it's time to do some research. Ideally, the replacements will be artifacts. I can hear Fuz now, telling me to add in Steel Wall...

Cockatrice is Down


I get some of this. I also am unhappy about it because it cuts me off from people I like to play the game with. We already put our money into paper Magic. Online Magic essentially doubles our expense. And it's unfortunate because Magic is very expensive, so really we have to choose one.

Card sales will be lost, as many people who used this program to test decks won't want to risk spending money on ideas that don't work. Relationships will suffer with people who used to play frequently not being allowed to participate in the game. (Which also translates into money not going to WotC for this game, just in a roundabout fashion.)

I understand why Hasbro/WotC took this action. But the unfortunate consequence of this action is that they are taking away a game that is ours too and acts as a way to get and keep people into a hobby that isn't getting any cheaper.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Megatron's first test run was against a mono-B deck Jason was playing using Abyssal Demon and Hellcarver Demon! Oof. It did not go well; even when I was able to Darksteel Forge to keep a blocker up, taking 5 a turn just isn't going to save me. That said: I was very interested in the Hellcarver/Abyssal interaction. Sometimes I think that all the time I spend revising blinds me to exploring new interactions.

The demon deck was a new build for Jason, so we talked shop for a bit: turns out his plan A for the deck was Hellcarver Demon into Barren Glory, not 'Destroy you with Abyssal Demon and win' which is what I thought his plan A should be. As for me, I had a rough game 2 where I had to mulligan down to five cards. It wasn't a good test, but I still like where he's going with it.

So he moved on to his Aether Rift deck, which is always a little batty. But what happened next is what gives me hope for this deck. Check out this image from game two.

After hammered by Flametongues with Lifeline out (which, HOLY CRAP, creates a painful situation) I get a Darksteel Forge into play. Now it's a waiting game. I'm sacrificing creatures to make a larger Ravager and Crushers while trying to avoid taking 16 damage, 8 of it trample. I can't kill his creatures and the Eldrazi are starting to arrive, forcing me to sacrifice the creatures I've been using to build up my alpha-strike team. If I have to let go of my Arcbound Crushers or Ravager, then they come back as tiny 1/1s instead of Eldrazi-withstanding behemoths. I also have to not kill the Eldrazi because they will come back untapped which means I have to trample through more damage and I can tell, I'm running out of time.

Eventually, I've built up gigantic robots and I do a quick bit of math because I have to attack for the win when I do. An 18/18 trampler can be handled by 3 creatures but that still leaves a 17/17 trampler and a 15/15 Ravager.

All in all, I swung for 60 in that picture and I still only barely made it happen. But I made it happen!

Jason's advice: run more Fabricate to make sure you get Lifeline because that card is insane. I'm inclined to agree but I'm not sure what to cut. Also, I have a nagging suspicion that Lifeline and Darksteel Foundry together is overkill.

I'm just not sure that I should care. So I'm going to do something that people just don't do in this game.

I'm going to 61 cards.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I know that it's Simic week back at the Mothership but after the past two weeks, I just can't muster the effort to grind through a U/G deck right now. Plus, I already did 1000 Shards early on and that's got to be the most Simicky Simic deck ever.

I will say that with the arrival of Gatecrash, I've made a few tweaks to make Shards even more about the counters (Cloudfin Raptor for Gaea's Skyfolk, notably) and I'm considering Experiment One instead of Simic Initiate, because the Experiment can get bigger than the Initiate. But I am reluctant to replace anything with 0 toughness because of the 0 + Mirrorweave = everything else dies combo. Still, I may put this in the 'light testing' rotation to see what happens.

Since the Simic deck is mostly done (Noah asked me yesterday if a deck was 'finished' and I had to laugh. Nothing is ever finished.) let's go with a distinctly Simic-like deck.
5 Forest
4 Island
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Seat of the Synod
3 Tree of Tales
3 Simic Growth Chamber 
3 Arcbound Crusher
3 Arcbound Overseer
3 Arcbound Ravager
2 Arcbound Reclaimer
2 Arcbound Slith
4 Arcbound Stinger
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Copper Gnomes
2 Etherium Sculptor
1 Triskelion
          3 Darksteel Forge
          2 Lifeline
1 Fabricate 
3 Naturalize 
I called this deck Megatron because of artwork on Arcbound Overseer. It's probably just me but I see a resemblance. The basic idea was to use the synergy between Arcbound creatures, Lifeline and Darksteel forge to create an overwhelming advantage.

Man, did I hate Lifeline back in the day. I would actively campaign against anyone playing that card, regardless of the board state. It was such a discouraging card to play against, and I have Jason to thank for brutalizing me with it. Cards like Lifeline are why I continue to run effects like Naturalize in nearly every deck I build. Between that and the use of Evolution Vat in the early build (I think there was even a Novijen, Heart of Progress) these were the only roles for green to play.

But, like I said, a good idea is a good idea and using Lifeline's ability to take Arcbound Ravager and repeatedly sacrifice creatures to make it huge, while not actually losing a creature falls under that. Darksteel Forge is an incredibly disheartening card to see from an opponent's point of view and Copper Gnomes allows me to cheat it, the Overseer, or Lifeline into play.

It's been a little while since I've played this deck so the tests should be interesting. The curve on this deck feels high, with plays coming in at 4+ mana that have a broad variance in strength. Arcbound creatures didn't get a boost from the Scars of Mirrodin block, but +1 counters certainly have become a thing in the past few years, especially in Green, so I look forward to seeing what happens!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

The next eight games were an exercise in despair.

Here's a fine example of what happened: In Match 3 against Fuz playing a (very clever) U/G combo:
Turn 2 Battlement, against...Amoeboid Changeling? I have no idea what I'm in for.

Then the Ludvec's Test Subject appears. I cast the Lodestone Myr and wait. Changeling gives the Test Subject all creature types, Moonmist is cast and I take 13.


The dumbest board state ever.
In game 2, I end up with all three Tanglecords in hand. A good sign, right? I should be able to create time. The Amoeboid shows up, I drop the other two walls and have this thought; Seriously, this is the dumbest board state I may have ever seen. EOT Brainstorm from Fuz.

This leads to a Test Subject, Moonmist in the same turn.

Double Fuck.

I bring the deck to Jason to test. He's taken to riffing on my idea, playing W/G Exalted and games go a little like this:

Game 2: I have a Overgrown Battlement, no Forests, in my opening, so I keep, hoping Turn 2 Howling Mine will help. It doesn't: Aven Squire vs Furnace Celebration is the board. I get a Myr, he has a Sigiled Paladin to my Wall of Tanglecord (without G!) Then he has a Battlegrace Angel and I'm looking at 8 a turn in the air.

Match 2: vs Bloodchief discard, with U for special 'suck it, bitches.' A highlight:
Game 2: I get a Myr, which does some early work but soon the Recoils and Jace's Phantasms arrive and I get a solid kicking and die.

My frustration level is very, very high with this deck. Jason wants me to cut Slobad and put in Crawlspace, whack the Heretics so I can move up to four Hellkite Tyrants. I want to like his idea but I just don't see how it's going to help me. Am I being blind to new ideas because I'm that depressed?

It strikes me, after days of dwelling on it, that Bulletproof's redundancies don't help me. It's necessary to run four Mycosynth Lattices because I need them to show up. After the first one, though, they don't do anything. I am frustrated by drawing extra Krark-Clan Ironworks, because I only need one to win, whereas I would not be frustrated by drawing multiple Squires because they, at least, have a greater impact in multiples. My opening hands all suck: I haven't had one that I felt good about since I started this series.

What does adding more Crawlspace do for me? Adding in another Tyrant wouldn't suck of course but again: if I don't get enough time to win with one, how does adding a third or fourth help?

Is it time to give up and call this one a failure? There is a point of 'why bother'.

After pouring through cards for a few hours, I think I'm going to remove 2 Slobad, 2 Heretic, up the Shattering Spree by one and add in 3 Mizzium Mortars. If time is what I need and mana is something I have in abundance, then the Mortars may be my best shot at getting there. Useful in the early and late games and my creatures don't die to it, I am hard pressed to think of a better solution.

For the time being, I'm going to set this aside. It'll stay in the box for me to play against the crew but I'm going to let it go as far as the blog is concerned, at least for now. Current decklist:

Furnace Celebration
Krark-Clan Ironworks
Mycosynth Lattice
Howling Mine

Lodestone Myr
Hellkite Tyrant
Wall of Tanglecord
Overgrown Battlement
Viashino Heretic
Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer

Shattering Spree
Mizzium Mortars

10 Mountain
Great Furnace
Tree of Tales

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Good Idea Is A Good Idea

Let me get it out of the way: I lost the two matches I played against stonethorn. In the first game, against a Birthing Pod deck, the Wall of Tanglecords did exactly what they were supposed to do: stall out.

What they couldn't do is fix the game so I could win. I played a late Howling Mine in a desperate hope to get some cards to play with all the mana I could generate but it was not meant to be.

I did win the second game, via Lattice/Tryant combo, and this win got the seal of approval from stonethorn. He and Jason have similar deckbuilding mindsets so I take this as a good sign overall. 

The third game had an overwhelming Primeval Titan presence. You can imagine how that went.

My second match was against stonethorn's B/W tokens deck. Again: the Walls proved to be solid, blocking fliers and giving me time. But once again I found myself overwhelmed and unable to get anything going. My Fyndhorn Elder was Unmade, stunting my mana which left me unable to go further.

What I realized in these two matches is that I always had a lot of mana. The Elder is generating mana but that's it: I might as well run Moss Diamond.  The obvious choice here is...Overgrown Battlement. It makes perfect sense: turn 2 defense and it can produce as much if not more mana than the Elder with ease. Plus it's more resilient to red damage spells. I'll give it a test run and see if this can help stall long enough to assemble a combo.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Kevlar Central

My first tests did not go well. Against a R/G Aether Rift deck (which works better than you might think) that Jason was piloting, I just got spanked in game 1, paying life to keep cards like Pathrazer off the table, I lose to Gamekeeper and Arrogant Wurm.

Game 2, I kept a not so awesome hand, playing a turn 2 Howling Mine which was responded to with an Aether Rift. I was able to build up mana and drop a Mycoslynth Lattice: the question is can I race to the finish? 

My first step was to destroy Aether Rift with Echoing Ruin. My next turn involves Hellkite Tyrant and Slobad. He concedes next turn.

Game 3: An opening hand of 2 Mountain, Tree of Tails, Furnace, Heretic, Lattice. It's potentially workable so I keep it. He discards an Aether Rift on turn 1 so I know he's got a second. But despite two Faithless Lootings, his 3rd land isn't coming. This means I get the Lattice online before he has Aether Rift functioning. His Ulamog's Crusher comes out for free and I hit it with Echoing Ruin, then cast Furnace Celebration and then use Heretic to eat his Aether Rift. At this point, I am able to cast a Krark-Clan Ironworks and combo out, sacrificing everything for 12 damage. (It was a little overkill.)

That game I got lucky at: if there had been pressure, I don't know that I would have gotten the win. Wins because they got mana screwed are still wins but they don't generally provide meaningful data about my deck working. Jason likes the overall idea, which is always a good sign but we don't talk about what to do to make this better. Fortunately, my next matches with Fuz, playing a G/R/W humans aggro deck would give me that.

Game 1: turn 2 Skarrg Guildmage. I respond with the turn 3 Elder, ready for turn 4 Lattice but I'm taking beats...and then a Truefire Paladin appears. More beats and then I get the Lattice down.

Fuz's response to Lattice: "Things...are gonna get kinky, right?"

I'm down to 7 life when I drop the Hellkite. And it would've been OK if I had read what Truefire Paladin did. Sigh. But I died to the Guildmage at the prerelease, so I'm worried about and chose to block that...then die to a pumped Paladin. A perfect case of not living in the now and recognizing the board.

Game 2 I mulligan to 5 and die to the creature rush, including Madcap Skills on a Wasteland Viper. Fuz asks if I'd like to try the matchup again and I would.

Game 1.2 I have an open of 5 lands, Slobad, Lattice. Oof. I keep this because I can do things. Slobad turn 2, turn 3 has and Elder and then....

Truefire Paladin, which swings for 2 and a Boros Elite follows, with a Viper

I take 9 next turn and Slobad gets Pathed.

I cast a Growth Spasm and once again, feel a level of hate for that card. It is not helping me and has not helped me in any game I've managed to cast it.

I draw a 3rd Lattice and wither beneath the beats.

Game 2.2: 3 lands, Lodestone Myr, Ironworks. I see another turn 2 Viper, turn 3 Paladin. For the first time, I do not have a turn 3 Elder, instead casting Growth Spasm for another Mountain: I can now cast the Ironworks. I shove the Token in front of the Paladin, desperate for time.

I put the Ironworks out, hoping that the Furnace Celebration can take out enough creatures to make my life better. I have to jump the gun a little early, when a Naturalize hits my Ironworks. I take out the Paladin in response but die to another Madcap'd Viper.

Things did not go well so it was clearly time to move to the next step. It's always best to collaborate on decks and this is why:

I show my lumbering build to Fuz who instantly suggests Shattering Sphere instead of Echoing Ruin. The light goes off in my head and I make that change. I tell him the Growth Spurts are maddening and he says: "Wall of Blossoms? Because you need more time and walls can give them to you. I know that I love walls and all..."

And I hate walls. But a good idea is a good idea and I seem to hate Growth Spurt more. Wall of Tanglecord is an artifact, has a great ass, and can block flying creatures for a mere green. Plus, it comes out a turn sooner so I have a blocker that can extend my time, as well as feed into my combo with both Lodestone Myr or Furnace Celebration, should the Lattice not appear. That's the next change, and we're off to testing again.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bulletproof Heart or A Tale of Two Decklists

Jason sends this to me with a note saying (more or less): Hellkite Tyrant is insane, man!
Lodestone Myr x4
Viashino Heretic x4
Voltaic Construct x3
Clockwork Dragon x3
Copper Gnomes x4
Metalworker x1

Fireball x1

Howling Mine x4
Mana Vault x1
Grim Monolith x1
Sol Ring x1
Blinkmoth Urn x3
Sun Droplet x4
Mycosynth Lattice x4

Tolarian Academy x1
Mountain x2
Great Furnace x4
City of Traitors x4
Cloudpost x4
Darksteel Citadel x4
Ancient Tomb x4 
He wants to replace Clockwork Dragon with the Tyrant and the Ancient Tombs for Cloudposts. Makes sense though I am loath to encourage Vintage decks or anything that involves Tolarian Academy. That card is banned for a reason, unless you want to deal with environments that go: 4x Wasteland, Strip Mine.

I sent Bulletproof Heart (I have no idea where this name came from) back to him:
4 Fyndhorn Elder
3 Viashino Heretic
3 Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
4 Lodestone Myr

4 Furnace Celebration

2 Echoing Ruin
2 Journey of Discovery

2 Shattering Pulse

4 Mycosynth Lattice
4 Krark-Clan Ironworks
4 Howling Mine

4 Great Furnace
4 Tree of Tales
8 Mountain
8 Forest
Two Mycosynth Lattice decks. Mine is meant to ramp mana up and then combo out with a Krark-Clan Ironworks feeding Furnace Celebration and his wants to dump mana into Clockwork Dragon for a large flying creature or use that mana to feed Voltaic Construct in combination with Lodestone Myr. That combo lets him build a large, trampling creature. Basically, I'm saying he's compensating.

One thing we both agree on is the little known and very tiny print on Lodestone Myr that says "Play me with Howling Mine!" Seriously, it's there. You're just overlooking it. The other thing we agree on is the Viashino Heretic solution to problems.

The Tyrant has a natural fit for his deck even though certain cards become less desirable because he has fewer cards to pump extra mana into now. Just swing with Tryant and win the game--and if that doesn't work, certainly hitting for 5 in the air each turn will. Worst case, extra mana can go into a winning Fireball. That doesn't mean he shouldn't replace them, just that it's pretty clear that Hellkite Tyrant is better than Clockwork dragon.

My deck has a bigger problem: combo or die. There is no obvious choice to cut since I win in a very different manner but as Jason said, Hellkite Tyrant is insane. Passing up that kind of victory condition would need a Very Good Reason and I don't currently have one. The two cards that seem like they could go are Echoing Ruin and Shattering Pulse. I don't think I want to cut both but one of them could go and I think the deck would hold up pretty well. Testing begins today!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Swing for 2(6)?

In a game 3 of a matchup against Noah last night, piloting a U/R deck, I used Dark Ritual to cast Buried Alive on turn one. He played an Evolving Wilds searched for an Island and said go. I played a Swamp, cast Shallow Grave and attacked for 26. On turn two, against a tapped Island, just to be clear.

This is why I keep this deck active. The trick this time has been to make it as consistent as possible. I don't expect to do this every time on turn two...more like turn four.

What? Turn four is plenty of time. Sometimes. When I want to be mean.

Faithless Looting has been working out well though; enabling dig and discard has been a learning experience. It's very difficult to choose to get rid of resources, especially in a deck like this. I went all in on Last Rites three times and had it work out twice but every time, I had to take an extra few seconds to make sure that these were the cards I wanted to discard and I should get rid of that many. In the second game against Noah I slipped up, letting a Corpse Dance go when I'd meant to let the second Buried Alive go. That was all that was needed and I couldn't draw a win condition after that.

Similarly, with Faithless Looting, especially as a turn one play I have to decide: do I choose to let go of lands? Is there anything redundant that I won't need for a future Firestorm?

This is why Magic is difficult: One mistake and your game is over. It may not seem like the Faithless Looting caused the loss but in order to improve, I have to take responsibility for my choices or mistakes. For example:

Last night against Lauriel, I was taught again the importance of paying attention. She had a W/B deck with Deathbringer Liege and of course hideously nasty cheap creatures. When I cast a Night's Whisper with an Underworld Dreams on the board at 8 life, I appropriately went down to 4. I drew a Faith's Looting and knowing I had to win this turn, I cast it. It was a long shot but you take 'em if you got 'em.

Except I had my overbrain say: that's a terrible idea because you take 4! Which I did, conceding the game...instead of 2 because I was doing Night's Whisper math instead of Faith's Looting math. I swore and looked at the next card: the Shallow Grave I needed to swing for 26.

I won the other two games in that match though, Firestorming away thrulls, in one memorable instance casting Steam Blast then Firestorm for 2, discarding a Death's Shadow, so I could kill a Deathbringer Liege, until I could finally bring up the Sutured Ghoul. The extra card draw has improved my consistency and given me time to get the combo online. Even Brain Pry feels like it's doing more, letting me see things like Izzet Charm or Mortify in crucial games, giving me extra information even as I miss the discard, so I can fortify my combo with Fling at the ready.

The record for Children of the Grave has improved to a winning one. I'll take that.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Gut Instinct

Faithless Looting is my choice for card draw for two reasons: they won't print anything like it again (WotC has said that Red card draw will be more random-i.e., you discard before drawing- post Dark Ascension) and I can discard it to Firestorm, then use the Flashback to continue to dig. Other cards didn't give me that sort of flexibility. My next set of tests was late last night, against Jason (Karsa in the screenshots.) Yay, Friday post!

First deck...U/G wall mill. Again!
I lost game one, despite Firestorming most of his walls away, because when facing a board of 4 Doorkeepers, a Ludevic's Test Subject, and an Overgrown Battlement, I killed everything BUT the mana source and a Carven Caryaid. I thought I had a shot if I could draw a fling because he'd absorb most of the damage with the walls. Well, he proceeded to Genesis Wave for 5, drop a bunch of Axebane Guardians and lands, then mill me for 56. The lesson is: Kill the mana producers. Always. Lacking that, swing for 26 and see if you can get the damage to finish the game.

Game 2: I made a mistake, discarding Dark Ritual instead of Corpse Dance to an all-in Last Rites, but I won anyway on turn 4 by drawing the fourth land I needed to swing for 26. 

Game 3: walls didn't matter when I can Fling for 26. Seriously. I love beating through walls. I am going to just bring this deck out every time someone has bunches of walls. 

My second matchup was against a mono-green build, using Dungrove Elder, Nightshade Peddler, Ulvenwald Tracker and Predator Ooze. Game 1: the trees kill me, despite 2x Nights Whisper, a Faithless Looting I cast and flashed back, yet there was no Disturbed Burial. I checked: another 10 cards down, the first Disturbed Burial appears.

Game 2: I went all in with a Last Rites for 3 which killed my hand but savaged his too, snagging a Green Sun's Zenith amongst other things and leaving him with Forests while I used my Swamp to feed a Lake of the Dead, and we then play mana for 6 turns. But eventually, I get juice and he's got nothing to stop the 26/26.

Game 3: He gets lands and Elder, snagging a second Elder with a GSZ. This was a trick of timing: I had cast Last Rites the turn before and he topdecked the GSZ. When someone is attacking for 12 a turn, you're gonna have a bad time.

Last matchup was vs. W lifegain using Martyr of Sands. I lost game 1 to Spirit tokens flying to victory with a Buried Alive stuck 13 cards down at game's end. In game 2 I stall, hitting my Buried Alive but nothing else, not even card draw, while he Spectral Processions and Ranger of Eos ups creatures. I Steam Blast everything away, perhaps a turn too soon. The Martyr of Sands comes down next, he reveals 7 cards gaining 21 and after that came two Serra Ascendants.

Sigh. Still a rough aggro matchup. On the upside, I feel like Faithless Looting really helped me dig into the deck. On the downside, I don't know that it's giving me more juice against aggro decks. Jason suggested Tainted Pact as a search and I have to admit, that card had been tickling my brain for a bit. I'm wary of it though: I don't want cards to be removed from the game, I want them in my hand or graveyard. Still, this is a combo deck and setting that up should be paramount.

It may also be that I just don't have enough creature removal. Brain Pry has started to prove its worth, helping me knock out cards that I don't want to deal with or just replace itself when it whiffs, so I'm feeling less inclined to remove it. Steam Blast has seemed unnecessary in many matchups but I need to keep in some form of board sweep so I don't get overwhelmed. More testing!