Thursday, June 27, 2013


With all the hullabaloo about Slivers lately, I felt like it would be a good time to break out my own Sliver decks. I'm not going to make a claim like: this is what a REAL Sliver deck is, because that feels nonsensical. What I can tell you is that this is a deck that I made in reaction to the rise of Crystalline Sliver decks, in an attempt to demonstrate that the other colors could be good. I called it Menasor because like the gestalt Transformers, this one is the sum of its parts.
3 Umezawa's Jitte
3 Chromatic Sphere

2 Toxin Sliver
3 Blade Sliver
2 Acidic Sliver
2 Heart Sliver
3 Clot Sliver
4 Metallic Sliver
4 Muscle Sliver
3 Might Sliver
3 Sedge Sliver
2 Spined Sliver
2 Vampiric Sliver
1 Darkheart Sliver

2 Mossfire Valley
7 Swamp
6 Mountain
6 Forest
2 Jund Panorama

There hasn't been much to update since the days when I first built it, so now is a good time to give this a makeover. Mensaor is an aggressive deck that I tried to curve into nastiness, with some very rough mana fixing in the form of Chromatic Sphere because that was what I had back in the day. I've kept them in to this day because the Spheres help provide card draw in a deck type that frequently has to eschew it.

The card that really makes this deck brutal? Umezawa's Jitte. Brought forth in the desolate Kamigawa block, created during a time when WotC still didn't know how to balance equipment, this was the Sai to Rule Them All and I gave it a home in my Sliver deck as soon as I was able. It's the creature removal, game accelerant and second chance that an aggo Sliver deck needs, and it's time that the group learned how nasty this is.

If they didn't already know. They might, in which case it will merely be a matter of me enjoying what is best in life.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

League Day 1 Results

mirror board
This was the most amusing part of league for me: in my round 4, game 1 against Scott, our first four turns were identical: Swamp, Swamp, Mountain: cast Heavy Mattock, Plains. At some point I think Scott, who played second, was copying my plays just because he could.

I eventually chose the G/B/w/r configuration after a great deal of thought. The Blue just wasn't strong enough to justify inclusion.

My record was 3-2 for the day and while I feel pretty good about that I also know that there were at least two games where I looked at my opening hand and thought; I could do better, but let's keep this. This is a strange form of overconfidence: I don't take what is but actually project what could be and then assume I will be able to make it work from there.

Sealed doesn't work like that. I have to be confident in my opening hand. When I was, or even better, my opponents weren't confident, I won and when I wasn't, games were a struggle. Nonetheless, with that record I should be well positioned to stay in the race to win League. I don't want to get ahead of myself, though since confidence will take me farther than ego.

Also, I may have to find time to take short walks between rounds, because that will help keep my head in the game!

Finally, look at this shit, from my Return to Ravnica pack:

Palisade Giant
Daggerdrome Imp
Druid's Deliverance
Axebane Guardian
Savage Surge
Traitorous Instinct
Sluceway Scorpion
Izzet Staticaster
Spawn of Rix Maadi
Rakdow Guildgate

Man. 3 Blue cards and only Downsize is good. The rare (Palisade Giant) is awful coupled with my other White cards. One black card and while I am glad to have something replace Sightless Ghoul, I really wish I had more options. The Green...I just don't know what to make out of. Lastly, of the gold cards, only Sluceway Scorpion and Slitherhead really want to bridge colors I feel are strong.

What I do know, though, is that I have to start all over, as if I was building a brand new deck. Only that mentality will help me build the best deck with the cards I have.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

League Begins

For the next few weeks, I'm going to have posts on league matches, which I've started with some friends.

The setup is pretty simple; take one pack from each set legal in standard. Use M13 and Innistrad block to build a 60 card deck. Then add one pack per league event until M14 is out. 4 events, 4 packs, the deck evolves as we play. The winner will get beers the losers will get to keep the Magic cards.

Here's what I opened:

Eaten by Spiders
Wandering Wolf
Geist Trappers
Strangleroot Geist
Somberwald Dryad
Hollowhenge Beast
Grizzled Outcasts
Spidery Grasp
Ambush Viper
Bountiful Harvest
Harvester of Souls
Essence Harvest
Harrowing Journey
Sightless Ghoul
Morkrut Banshee
Unburial Rites
Walking Corpse
Victim of Night
Liliana's Shade

Leap of Faith
Farbog Explorer
Cathedral Sanctifier
Ray of Revelation
Smite the Monstrous
Voiceless Spirit
Oblivion Ring
Guardian Lions

Afflicted Deserter
Pyreheart Wolf
Russet Wolves
Somberwald Vigilante
Uncanny Speed
Searing Spear

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
Bladed Bracers
Angelic Armaments
Heavy Mattock
Ghoulcaller's Bell
Ring of Xathrid

Shimmering Grotto
Evolving Wilds
Rootbound Crag

Really, everything was fine until I opened my pack of M13, which had 6! fucking blue cards, all of which suddenly made me consider the color. Prior to that moment, GWBr was looking pretty positive.

The unplayables are clearly: Ghoulcaller's Bell, Moonmist, Favorable Winds, Rooftop Storm and Runic Repetition. Sideboard cards include Ray of Revelation, Grounded and Leap of Faith. Bad but possible cards are Artful Dodge, Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, and Liliana's Shade.

So here's how it breaks down: Green gives the the most creatures and has some decent cards. White has both solid creatures and good removal, while keeping the color requirements low. Red has some removal and an "I win" card in Pyreheart Wolf.

Which leaves Blue and Black and that's where I'm torn. I can't use both, because the best cards in each color cost UU or BB, which would be a huge strain on this deck. Traditionally, I avoid Blue because the creatures are weak, the removal is nonexistent and the things Blue tends to do well: draw cards and counter spells, don't happen consistently in sealed games.

But Beguiler of Wills, man. Faerie Invaders is a pretty solid body for the cost. Encrust could handle a lot of problems and Index could help dig in critical situations. The problem is; it doesn't synergize with anything else and Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, Vedalken Entrancer and Jace's Phantasm are all horrible, yet I would have to play them to get to 60 cards.

Black presents as different problem. It probably has my best creature in Harvester of Souls and some support from Ring of Xathrid with synergy with white in Unburial Rites. Unfortunately, there is little removal or card draw; things I would hope to find in that color, and to hit 60 I would be compelled to play Liliana's Shade, which is awful under these circumstances. Morkut Banshee is situational and Sightless Ghoul can't block and doesn't blend well with the Ring initially.

My inclination is to go black and try to run 27 lands, using the sheer volume of land to overcome the potential color screw that may be showing up. Hopefully I'll get some test runs in before we start on Sunday.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

No Need To Waste Your Prayers On Me

stonethorn looked at my Isochron's Scepter and nodded, meaning the spell resolved. I put a Diabolic Edict on it and he said, "I scoop. Got nothing to beat that."

The rest of the table agreed that this was not a ragequit, so much as it was a stoicquit. I certainly don't blame him for saying 'fuck this'. If you don't have artifact removal and I get a turn 2 Edict on a stick, you're in for a long game. Playing something you know you will lose generally doesn't hold a lot of entertainment for anyone.

But that picture above? That's what happens when I don't get anything on a stick and am overrun by tiny creatures. That was vs Noah's pauper Faeries deck.

I had five outs in that game-three Damnation and two Hideous Laughter-and could not draw them. On top of that, Noah was able to out wait me with countermagic while I had to take damage. So something needs to change. Creature decks are everywhere and I need as many outs as I can get.

In the Faerie's matchup, my dead card was Twincast. I like Twincast, I think this is an appropriate deck for Twincast but; when people want to call the game off when I can cast a turn 2 Isochron's Scepter with a Diabolic Edict on it, then I think it behooves me to cut the Twincast and add more Edict and a second Enervate. More Edicts mean that I'm more likely to get the Scepter-Edict combo. More Enervate means that I'm buying twice the time as a delay tactic for my opponents and a draw step for myself. When I need a Hideous Laughter, I REALLY have to have one. So those are the changes I'll make and now, it's time to move on to another deck.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Casual Sighs

We'll just start with this, which I am glad R&D found amusing. Yes, that's my tweet. (Should tweet be capitalized? Damn.) In a moment of irony I have to note that following the #mtg7 thread on Twitter I have realized; 90% of suggestions are not made with the long term survivability of the game in mind, or are just terrible because they are self-centered (I want X, instead of the game needs Z.) So here I am with just that... Anyway; Onward!

I use the Legacy banned list to dictate what is acceptable for me to build. Even though I wasn't breaking Survival of the Fittest when that card was banned, I started playing it in Commander decks, replacing it with Fauna Shaman. So while I am not competitive in Legacy, I keep up with it because it innovates with a card pool that is reflective of what I own.

However, Legacy has it's drawbacks; the synergies are so high that every deck might as well be a combo deck. The upside is that every decision becomes critical but the down is that every game moves either really fast or mind crushingly slow, with the game frequently decided by turn 2. Playing casually means my games move slower but still include aspects of innovation that Legacy brings up.

The other part of Legacy is the critical component that Blue has in the format. So when I see an interesting article like this on cards that the Legacy format could use that focus on Red and White with very little for Green...I think, um, wait!

It's not that the ideas are bad in colors that don't fit. Planeswalkers, stack interactions and library manipulation are all ones I agree with. I dislike the execution of 'Better early game defenses' but I can see the point. I even appreciate that there is a push to make Red and White matter more, as those colors are ones that are frequently less relevant to the format. But only one Green card in the lot suggests that something bigger is wrong, something that goes back to the earliest days of the game, when Green was the worst color and Blue was the best.

This isn't new: part of Magic's problem has always been that Blue is a powerhouse. This is for three reasons:
  1. Card draw
  2. Stack interactions
  3. Affinity for artifacts 
Card draw is the most powerful mechanic in the game. Not to take away from the strategic element of Magic but many, many games can be boiled down to; the person who draws the most cards will win. This is because card draw does two things; a) decreases randomization and b) increases resources. The more cards you see, the more likely it is that you will find the cards you want (decreased randomization) while ensuring you have the mana to pay for it (increased resources).

Black was second in this but Green in recent years has been catching up to Blue in Standard environments. I think it can be fair to suggest that Green even surpasses Blue occasionally-but it is hard to make that case for Legacy. Spreading card draw to every color is only part of the solution, though.

WotC doesn't like to do 'punishing' mechanics, like Underworld Dreams, but I think these kinds of cards can fill vital roles and are important-in addition to being a space to explore in design, even if a limited one. There must be more space to explore there, if on a limited basis.

Stack interactions is probably the most difficult arena to deal with, because WotC (rightly) considers naming the stack on the cards to be inelegant. Nevertheless, it is a place where Blue has near to total dominance and to balance the game out, the other colors are going to have to have ways to strut their stuff a bit. Bind is a great example-that nobody cared about until it was printed in Blue and made better. Yet it was great and in line with Green's color philosophies, as activated abilities tend to come from permanents, not spells. It expanded that color's role, while defining Blue as well-a color that should have trouble with permanents. Alas, it did not seem to to stick.

On the positive front, Red now is getting more 'copy' effects, giving it access to stack interactions, White has been dabbling in soft countermagic for years now but never really given a toehold and Black...doesn't really have anything. However, Black has access to hand destruction, which is probably the second most powerful mechanic in the game so an argument for Black needing stack interactions is difficult to make. Still; Green is left in the cold here.

Finally comes the stuff that nobody seems to talk about; Blue's affinity for artifacts. Going way, WAY back, Blue has been the color that has been best able to access Artifacts to 'shore up' places where the color would naturally fail. This strength becomes more apparent in artifact heavy blocks (Urza's, Mirrodin, Scars) but never really goes away and is, I believe, one of the reasons for continued success in Blue. The color essentially has easier access to an extra color-one that up until Mirrodin, the others couldn't match and post Mirrodin, when White starts to have a thing for Equipment, Blue finds an easy partner to work with.

However, I see time and again when Blue is given access to powerful artifacts, card drawing, and powerful stack interactions, it dominates formats. Over and over.

Now, maybe you don't play Legacy. But if you play long enough, you will probably play Modern. And what Legacy is, Modern will become, unless WotC addresses the Blue problem. Not necessarily by simply nerfing Blue, because the game needs Blue, in order to keep combo decks from running over the whole format, ending games on turn 2. However, I think by rounding out what the other colors do in order to keep decks from strangling everyone from turn 2 on.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

You Can't Be King Of The World

Finally, I have had some time to play.

The issue with Slave To The Grind may be ones of consistency; when I have creature removal, I tend to win and when I don't games tend to go badly for me. That doesn't mean I can't win but it means the matches are tenser and the odds of losing go up.

I played two matchups against Fuz; the first against his rat deck. I lost that match because in game 3 I couldn't find more removal, which was my fault for keeping a bad hand. I knew there would be lots of creatures; ignoring that fact was just foolish. Conversely, game 1 was a real slog because after sticking an Isochron Scepter with a Diabolic Edict, I couldn't find any mill cards to finish the game. Fuz couldn't stick a creature but I couldn't end the game soon enough and it felt like a drag.

The second matchup was against a deck using Sanguine Bond, Blood Artist and Exquisite Blood as a combo with Academy Rector to help him find the pieces. We went 1-1 and I didn't have time to try for a victory. The story was the same though: I cast Hideous Laughter, then proceed to mill like crazy and win. Or: I don't get any removal and die rapidly. I had to be careful with my removal though because if he got a Blood Artist on the board (there were two in game 1!) even my removal took my life total down a notch.

stonethorn presented a slightly different problem, with an America Allies build. But again: I had a turn two Scepter with Diabolic Edict and that pretty much broke that deck's back. In game 2, I had to play a bit cagier, as I didn't have that kind of removal but because stonethorn didn't know that, he was playing it safe.

Eventually, he started playing walls, which neither of us cared about and I was able to stick a Scepter with Dampen Thought on it. His response? Inferno Titan. Nothing says 'Hustle' like Inferno Titan. I cast Boomerang and then Enervate on a land to stall for time and draw cards.

Eventually, facing down both Inferno and Sun Titan who were going to end the game next turn, I cast Hideous Laughter, splicing a Dampen Thought in my hand, then used the Scepter to cast and splice Dampen Thought a second time, then hardcast it a final time, to mill stonethorn for 16 and win.

So it's looking pretty good, so far. Games are tense but I'm often pulling them out or feeling like I could pull them off.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

No Time For Love, Dr. Jones

I've had family in town since last Thursday, and there just hasn't been space to play Magic. Hopefully, regular updates to resume on Tuesday.

Or we can talk about how awesome it is to have Giant Spider in M14. Wooo!

Although I think Giant Spider might be going on a run for the most reprinted card in a core set ever. Seriously, that thing is such a standard I don't know it will ever leave.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Modern Masters is out. It is, essentially, immune to criticism.

"They put weak cards in there!"

They have said it's a set that is meant to be drafted. Weak cards have to be put in draft sets because it is the only way to create the tension and balance required for good draft sets. Essentially, this is why you'll open up Feudkiller's Verdict instead of Flickewisp, Scion of Oona instead of Cryptic Command or Jugan the Rising Star instead of Tarmogoyf.

Insisting that there 'were better cards' is simply met with: Of course there are but we cannot balance the sealed environment with 100% better cards. Also; draft is where WotC makes the most money on product.

I should say that I don't resent them making a draftable environment here; I want them to make money. What I'm pointing out is that doing so means that they cannot be critiqued for including a host of weaker cards because the reply is simply 'imbalance' and customers pretty much have to accept that.

"They didn't print enough!"

They've said that they needed to do a limited print run in order to keep from flooding the secondary market. You still want local stores to play in, right? Then be quiet, citizen.

"The prices are all crazy!"

Yes, it's certainly not WotC's fault that boxes of MM contain less product yet cost over twice what a regular box does AT MSRP, nor that individual packs are suggested at $6.99-double the MSRP of a regular pack. Of course, the cost per pack will go up once the boxes arrive in stores; I've seen $10 for a pack-but I doubt it will stay there. Because every card is a good one! Culled from years of sets only to provide solid cards to help new players get into an Eternal format.

No, it's those filthy filthy retailers, and you, you horrible people ordering boxes for $300 a pop.

All in all I find this to be a pretty disgusting money grab, from WotC (who will make bank with Magic Online, on top of real world product) and the retailers, whom I can't entirely blame. The market has been deliberately shortened and the result is some Wild West bullshit, as far as I'm concerned. The limited print run seems to exacerbate the problem. Though the next month or so should clarify the picture, I am not hopeful.

What's worse is that I'd say about 90% of the hype for Modern Masters is about Tarmogoyf, a card that is apparently worth more than its weight in gold. And to make things ever darker for people on a budget, I don't think the prices are going to go down-or if they do, I don't think they will be reduced enough to create a reasonable price point for what is glorified cardboard. My money > less of my money rule invoked.

But you can't say anything bad about it that sticks. WotC is being gracious enough to reprint cards you love. Now go play the Tarmogoyf lottery.