Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Can't > Can

That's one of the baseline rules in Magic when it comes to figuring out how cards interact with one another.

It's also one of the most powerful strategies in the game and Blue has the lion's share of that mechanic. Testing Eraser this week has been an exercise in butting up against this problem, the problem that Blue represents as a whole as a matter of fact, and failing. It finally came together for me last weekend, playing against stonethorn's U-Tron-Karn deck. Cards like Wildfire didn't matter, because they would be countered. Even Obliterate didn't matter! Because Gifts Ungiven would be played in response and he could recover faster than I could do anything about that.

And so many of the decks I've been testing against are running some Blue; Remand is an especially popular spell and Snapcaster Mage is still the best 2/1 creature ever. In a format like Modern, Snapcaster virtually guarantees the extra use of cards like Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt-a card that should be 'difficult' for Blue to access but because mana bases are so powerful, a lot more is within reach. On top of all of that, the card draw in Blue allows it to reduce randomness and boost the timetable of it's win, while finding answers to any problem.

Seriously: there is not a permanent in Magic that Blue cannot handle, which coupled with the stack tricks-specifically countermagic which is all but exclusively Blue- and the affinity for artifacts Blue has, all but doubling the possibilities for the color, presenting a very steep hill to climb.

Eventually, the whole exercise became moot last night while testing with Fuz because I could not beat Affinity. In the image on the left, I knew the game was over on turn 2, when my Sudden Shock was Thoughtsiezed. If I can't win versus blue and I can't beat the best aggro deck in the format, it's time to change.

So where does this leave me? The first possibility is to go back to aggro-either RG or Affinity or anything that can get set up before turn 2, cast multiple spells in a turn, or cast creatures as instants so I can force my opponent to do things on my terms instead of theirs.

The second is to tweak Eraser into cards that always present problems, that can never be allowed to resolve, because I can win off them. That is: cut Wildfire for Gaea's Revenge, Great Sable Stag or something similar. Use them to force over committing to the board then Obliterate and enjoy anything I have left over that they do not.

Finally, I can run discard. Discard has two benefits: it is cheap enough that I can cast a discard spell and then another spell in the same turn and it trumps not just countermagic but anything that isn't an instant. I'm running out of time and I need to pick something soon.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Break You

I tested Eraser against strangers in Cockatrice, which felt like a bold move because of how mentally challenging it is for me. It also wasn't quite as productive as I would have liked, with most players quitting after one game. I like to do best of 3, even if there isn't a sideboard, because that starts to show some data. One win or loss just doesn't tell me enough.

Still, I went 1-1 against a UR storm deck, and man, does playing vs Storm decks suck. The game I won, my opponent did nothing for 5 turns until I cast Obliterate and won off Garruk. The game I lost I was a turn away from casting Obliterate and then had to sit through a very long turn where my opponent had an active Pyromancer's Ascension until they dug up their win condition. I went to the bathroom, got a beer and came back, because I had no way to interact with that board.

Fuz piloted a BW tokens deck which I had a rough time with, and Jund, which I was able to post a winning record (3-2) against. That felt good, because Jund is really popular. I still need to work on that matchup but at least it's something I can power through. I need a way to work around Planeswakers though, because they were problematic in the Jund and later in a Naya matchup where I was starting down a fully powered Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Domri Rade along with an Ajani Vengeant. As you might expect, I lost that one.

I am not terribly worried about this: there are cards, especially in green, to help shore up that problem.

I'm much more concerned about the aggro matchup. After the BW tokens deck, Fuz played a souped-up version of his B/W aggro deck and I found myself unable to win that match, pre- and post-sideboard. His deck was not Modern legal but still, it concerns me. Aggro is often a default choice for new players who aren't sure what they want to do and with the potential to see more than 1,200 people at the Grand Prix, I think it's fair to say that there will be a solid selection of aggro decks.

The cards that might be best in giving me a better aggro matchup are probably Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap but I just don't know if they will do enough. Redcap is especially problematic because it costs 4 and most aggro decks have you dead by then. I need a way to beat Affinity at least and waiting until turn 4 to do anything isn't going to work. This means sweepers and the best sweepers effect me, too. Losing Birds of Paradise is OK if I can still win but if not, then I've made a big mistake.

PS: I will be traveling this week, so no Thursday post. If I haven't had a chance to keep testing, then I'll talk about Dragon's Maze on Tuesday!

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I've been attending Modern events at the local level because there is a Grand Prix coming to Portland in early May and I'm going to take a crack at it. I don't expect I'll win but I wanted to practice so that I didn't go in and embarrass myself with bad play and an 0-6 record. I want to play well for that 0-6 record!

To that ends, I've been trying some stuff out in an attempt to approach things from a different direction. This is the current build I want to test:
2 Koth of the Hammer
3 Garruk Wildspeaker

4 Obliterate
4 Wildfire

8 Forest
8 Mountain
2 Fire-Lit Thicket
4 Stomping Ground

4 Birds of Paradise
3 Hound of Griselbrand
4 Strangleroot Geist
3 Vorapede
3 Predator Ooze

4 Gruul Signet

3 Blood Moon

SB: 4 Electrickery
SB: 4 Burning-Tree Shaman
SB: 4 Torpor Orb
SB: 3 Lignify
This deck is named after the Nine Inch Nails song, and because part of it's gameplan is to ramp up mana, cast Wildfire or Obliterate as a board wipe, then mop up with any Undying (or Persist, which I'm investigating) creatures that are left over. Blood Moon will help give me time, and the resilient creatures will do this too. When everything is gone, I could use Garruk for a beast, or to help boost my mana quickly back up, Koth for mana, a creature (if I have a Mountain) or even the emblem to have all my lands simply tap for damage.

The sideboard is there for mostly aggressive decks-damage, extra creatures, creature control-with a Torpor Orb thrown in for good measure. I don't think the sideboard is correct but there is time to work on it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Modern Nightmare

I mentioned attending a Modern tournament last time so I thought that for the final look at this deck, it might be neat to see how I changed it to make it Modern legal. For reference, here is what the original deck looks like now:
10 Swamp
9 Plains
4 Fetid Heath

4 Dark Ritual
2 Mortify
4 Unmake
2 Zealous Persecution

3 Kingpin's Pet
4 Deathbringer Liege
4 Nightsky Mimic
4 Nip Gwyllion
3 Tidehollow Sculler

4 Edge of the Divinity

3 Gerrard's Verdict
And it's still a good deck. Granted, my testing last weekend was against Fuz's GW Aura deck again, which wasn't as informative as I would have liked but I know from previous tests, this is at least a solid build. It's just not Modern legal, so here's what I did:
8 Swamp
7 Plains
4 Fetid Heath
4 Godless Shrine

3 Mortify
3 Unmake
4 Zealous Persecution

2 Kingpin's Pet
4 Deathbringer Liege
4 Nightsky Mimic
4 Nip Gwyllion
4 Tidehollow Sculler

4 Edge of the Divinity

3 Duress
And, for the first time, a Sideboard:

4 Torpor Orb-for the Splinter Twin/Birthing Pod matchups
4 Castigate-vs RUW Control, or any situation where my creature kill wasn't useful
3 Sudden Spoiling-vs Affinity or other creature rush decks
4 Oblivion Ring-vs Planeswalkers or anything else that my regular removal would miss.

I wanted to push the discard elements a little more and Zealous Persecution has the benefit of killing a whole of of X/1 creatures, including Snapcaster Mage and Dark Confidant, along with a pretty good chunk of Affinity's team, so I tweaked the numbers to give me more creature removal, even though that meant taking out some of the neat stuff. Having to cast Deathbringer Liege on turn five is a little less 'In Your Face' than casting it turn two but you do what you can.

Friday, April 12, 2013


I took a modified version of All Nightmare Long to a Modern event at Red Castle games yesterday. I was doing pretty well, 2-0-1 going into the last round of the night. The tie had come against a RUW control deck and I don't feel too bad about that, though I probably should have played more aggressively.

I'm up against Kiki-Jiki/Splinter Twin combo and, in game two, I had dropped a Torpor Orb, which helped me lock the game up. I also had kept in my Tidehollow Scullers which meant that of the three I played, two did nothing but be 2/2 bodies to be swept away by Pyroclasm while the third arrived just in time to be boosted by Deathbringer Liege.

I had learned this lesson with Noah: Do not keep creatures that merely become bears in your deck when bringing in Torpor Orb. Since I had four Castigate in my sideboard, I realized those were the better choice and between games 2 and 3, put them in. We have under ten minutes to finish our match at that point.

It wasn't the best opening hand but it would do: lands, Nip Gwyllion, Nightsky Mimic, a Deathbringer and Duress. I open with Swamp, Duress, remove the copy of Splinter Twin from his hand, leaving lands, Spellskite and Deceiver Exarch and pass. He plays his land, passes, I draw something, play a land, then Nightsky Mimic, and pass...

And at turn 3, I draw my card and my eyes go wide. Tidehollow Sculler, which I was supposed to side out for Castigate and did not.

It all goes through my head at once. Nobody knows what I'm playing, there are no decklists, nobody here--hell nobody anywhere--really understands what I'm doing so I could just roll on. We have about five minutes and my deck is the aggressive one.

But I can't. I know it means a game loss but I can't. 

I ask my opponent to hold up a moment, tell him what's wrong. I do a quick count of my sideboard: 11 cards. Should be 15. He gets a judge, I explain and am given the game loss. Which is the match loss. Which has me dropping from a chance for second place down to 6th.

The advice I got, which I will pass on, was: always count your sideboard after making changes. If I had done that, I would have been able to Castigate the Spellskite (a card I am rapidly learning to despise) attack for 4 and may have been well on my way. At the very least, I wouldn't have lost without making my opponent work for it.

There are two takeaways for me here as I'm still bitter about that loss. I did not play the best game I could play. That's why I'm bitter but the bitterness will fade.

The second thing is this: It was still the right thing to do. There is no getting around the fact that I would have been cheating if I had continued and I just can't screw someone over like that. I could go into all the reasons why I shouldn't but I hopefully don't have to. I was in the wrong and the only thing to do was take responsibility for that.

Things will go better next time and in the meantime, my integrity and reputation stay in tact. That's more important than booster packs.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

I approve of 8 out of 10 Guild Champion Runners

Interestingly, that's how many we've seen so far.

I hear complaints about cost, mostly and all I can think of is: but they do awesome things! The have to cost that much in order to not break the game in two.

Exava gives the Rakdos cards the real boost they need to be a considerable threat, in addition to being a good one herself.

Lavinia is going to be a house and a very annoying one at that. She will be flickered and, in the style of the old Prison decks of yore, leave opponents wishing that the game would just END already.

Melek looks insane. It is free spells plus extra cards. If it didn't cost six mana, no one would run anything but blue/red.

People were complaining about Mirko because 'it's weak and overcosted.' These people have never cast Mind Funeral. My average when I cast Mind Funeral is about eleven cards. Casting Mind Funeral every turn for free? The only reason it doesn't look good is because Blue can't protect it well in Standard. But I don't care about Standard and in nearly every other format, Mirko has potential.

Ruric Thar has already been covered on The Magic Show. Essentially: I agree with this. (TAKE 6 TO THE FACE!)

The complaint about Teysa is the same one people have of Mirko and I just have to wonder: what is wrong with these people? She's a vigilant No Mercy that can generate tokens. How could she cost less? And doesn't Teysa just take over combat, once she's on board? That's pretty amazing for seven mana.

Varolz is the most boring of the Runners. He doesn't interact meaningfully with the previous mechanics of his guild, he just provides all creatures with the guild's ability. Meh. That said; he's cheap, he's difficult to get rid of and it's not hard to imagine a deck using him which may provide the BG guild the attention it needs.

Last is Vorel and I'm just thankful that the uber-proliferate card didn't come out in Scars of Mirrodin block. That would've been very bad. As it is: that card is going to be a lot of fun for people and (thankfully) he doesn't interact with Planeswalkers because then he'd just be broken.

I'm less enthusiastic about is the Fuse mechanic. I appreciate the elegant way it connects back to the last Ravnica set and solves problems like: how do we show the guilds are linked or how to we make sure there are enough cards representing each guild? However, as a mechanic it's simply Splice from Kamigawa block and it doesn't even allow you to mix and match to the same degree so it's more restrictive. Finally, the flashy cards that might make people want to play it are expensive, without providing justification for the expense. Eight mana to put four fliers and draw four cards (on Beck/Call for example) is quite good but it doesn't break the game.

Also, as with the Apocalypse split cards, so far: the blue/red one is clearly the best. That is probably only objectionable to someone who has been playing for 18 years, though.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Crawl From The Wreckage

Yes, Dragon's Maze previews are happening! Which is awesome but I don't know enough about the set to really comment, so that will have to wait for a few weeks. Instead, I'm going to talk about what I do know.

First, I made changes. Orzohv did bring some goodies in Gatecrash that I feel could make this deck stronger, so adaptation then testing.

I really like Divinity of Pride but as a one-of that costs five, I just felt I couldn't afford it. This card wants a dedicated deck or a Commander one. Next up was the Blind Hunter, which was difficult to axe. Four mana for a four point life swing, a body and the potential for another four point life swing is a really good deal! However, with all of the cheap spells that I can cast I felt this would be an opportunity to give the new Extort mechanic a whirl.

Three Kingpin's Pet came in to test the mechanic and two Zealous Persecution were added because of how they can swing a combat step in my favor, kill tiny creatures (tokens especially) and it's low casting cost means that it's easy to pay the Extort if that's available.

I had a couple games against Fuz who was playing a prototyped GW Auratog deck. Essentially, Rancor + Auratog = some bad times.

However, the trouble with the aura based deck is that it didn't have a lot of resilience and when I cast Unmake on the Auratog in response to the casting of Rancor, there wasn't much left for him to do. I put Edge of Divinity on a Gwyllion and rode that pony.

I was reminded how cool the 'Hidden' enchantments in green were; the biggest drawback to them is that they are generally 'sideboard' cards--things that become creatures based on something the opponent has or does (artifacts, nonbasic lands, etc.) But there's still a deck there and I look forward to helping Fuz make it a better one.

It was in the multiplayer game I had last weekend that Extort really had an opportunity to shine. It was a simple three player chaos match, yet I managed to land a midgame Kingpin's Pet that allowed me to Extort twice, giving me an eight point life swing (four for me, two from each opponent) before the Pet was killed. Eventually, I lost the game but the bleeding mechanic was effective.

My issue at the moment is that it feels like something is missing from this deck. A piece that should be there but isn't. When I played against this deck I would just die to 4/4 fliers hitting for 8 on turn 4 so I'm a little concerned that this deck isn't giving me as consistent results.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

All Nightmare Long

Because I have so many decks, I tend to focus on 'how does this improve something I have' rather than 'what can I make with this new thing.' Which is why it's good to have friends who don't do this, so they can expose me to new ideas. And once upon a time, I faced a deck that had an 8 point life swing on turn 2. On turn 3, that could be 12, including a 4/4 creature that is difficult to block. That is a hell of a start and it's the deck that Fuz introduced me to, which he called Nip/Tuck.

I called my version All Nightmare Long because I didn't have any decks named after Metallica songs and I should. I'd mentioned a few weeks ago that I built Jetfire in response to a B/W build Fuz had made. This is that B/W deck-or at least my version, after it had been tumble dried through my cranium.
10 Swamp
9 Plains
4 Fetid Heath

4 Dark Ritual
2 Mortify
4 Unmake

4 Blind Hunter
4 Deathbringer Liege
1 Divinity of Pride
4 Nightsky Mimic
4 Nip Gwyllion
3 Tidehollow Sculler

4 Edge of the Divinity

3 Gerrard's Verdict
This deck is very, very aggressive and it seems to be anchored by the Deathbringer Liege. I made that mistake initially, loving this deck so much that I went on to build nine other liege decks. However, this is a Nightsky Mimic deck, which means that any spell that can be black and white should be.

That doesn't mean the Lieges are useless: I kept them in because they double as buffs for my creatures and control of the opponent's. They are the redundancy for both Edge of the Divinity and Unmake/Mortify and have sealed many a matchup that went longer than expected.

Gerrard's Verdict and Tidehollow Sculler was where I branched away from Fuz's design. Discard is too useful to ignore when it can be integrated into an aggro deck, because it provides me the opportunity to short opponents on another front of resources: cards.

With the arrival of Gatecrash, new contributions from the Orzohv guild give me an opportunity to revisit this deck and see how it can be improved.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Don't Know When To Quit

I brought Any Colour up against a Modern Scapeshift deck and it was a bit like going into the time machine of Magic and playing in 1998. Two decks that are willing to completely ignore each other until one of them gets the victory condition on board. 

In this scene, my spell has been countered, the previous one Remanded and I am sitting there doing nothing, hoping that I can pull some kind of victory condition out before the other deck gets Scapeshift and kills me.

I don't. 

Sometimes I get close but it's very difficult to come back from 30 damage in a single turn. If, as I suspect, control is making a pretty big comeback into Modern (despite what everyone says about midrange decks being a thing) then a combo deck like this is pretty well positioned since it can defy aggro decks and generate enough mana to stall control decks when it wants to win the game. 

But my deck, oh no. I swapped Mind Spring for the Phyrexian Totem under the impression that with 24 lands, I could generate enough mana without issues; getting my combo set up and wining the game. However, it just wasn't doing enough and I think it's time that I face the simple facts: this deck is too narrow to be interesting or set up fun lines of play. Losing would be OK if there was a way to ensure that I would have a shot but as stands, the deck needs cards that they don't really make any more: color hosers. 

Still: I am not one to quit easily and looking at the list, I can see there is room for improvement. I have 4 Shifting Skies and 4 Dream Tides but I only need one of each to make the deck work. If I cut one of each for spells that draw me cards or disrupt my opponent, perhaps this will provide me with more time.

Thematically, one of the most fun cards to play here might be Persecute, however if I go that route I should cut the Mind Spring or Foresee for something that can be done on turns 1 and 2. I am too inactive in the early game and my late game relies on too many things going right; the only way to reliably get those late game scenarios is to bump up my early game. 

On the other hand, I am wondering if I'm just refusing to give up on this deck because I hate passing up on ideas. Should I continue to struggle with a deck I am not having fun with, just to prove a point? It seems like a real waste of energy, unless I can pick a reason for this deck to exist--for example: this is a multiplayer deck, or this deck is meant for two-headed giant formats, or this is the crappy build I show to new players to demonstrate what a bad deck looks like. 

I don't like those directions very much. Keeping something for the sake of keeping it doesn't feel like a positive thing but I hate throwing out ideas that almost work.

I think I'll keep the decklist saved in Cockatrice and dismantle the rest. There may not be many useful spells here but I'm sure I can find a better use for some of them.