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.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

And the crowd goes wild!

I managed to get a 2-Headed Giant game in with Hexagram and things worked out very nicely in the w/l column but left me with more questions. I was mana flooded, despite getting extra card draws off Spreading Seas and our opponents used some enchantments, which made the creature I could stick-a Veiled Sentry with Ancestral Mask-a real beating. Even when my creature finally died, the damage had been done and my partner could take up the slack with his B/G deck using Desecration Demon.

My next matchup was against a U/B mill deck Fuz was piloting. In game 1, he milled me down to nothing but I had a Words of Wind out, which lead to the mildly amusing scenario where I was able to ignore any draws I had to make and my creatures had juuuust enough that the whittling down would have won.

But in games 2 and 3, a Jace's Phantasm showed up early (or worse, multiple Phantasms) and I couldn't solve those problems. The mill effects easily defeated my Energy Field and I lost pretty rapidly.

Fuz suggested that I remove the Energy Field and put in something that could give my creature Hexproof or Shroud. The problem at the moment is layered: First, there really are only two cards worth it: Alpha Authority or Zephid's Embrace. The former because I could still cast Rancor or Ancestral Mask on my creature, the latter because the Embrace turns that creature into a threat. This kind of problem is exactly the thing that Theros might solve, once the block is complete.

However, I am reluctant to follow this advice because Second, I really don't have enough data on Energy Field to say if it's good or bad. Four games just isn't enough experience and the matchup against a mill deck is almost irrelevant because so few decks take that route.

Finally, I just don't have enough creatures. 10 creatures, including Veiled Sentry, doesn't give me enough targets for the 5 Auras I have. I feel as though I would be frequently confronted with situations where I have Auras but no creatures.

This may change, should Theros give me some creatures with Bestow that are cheap enough to cast and worth casting. The potential interactions are interesting here, so I'm keeping my eyes open for such a card. It may not appear for another couple sets, though so this might be a deck to revisit.

But I'm not done yet!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Theros, or: When is a Mechanic Not A Mechanic

A healthy portion of Theros has been previewed at this point so I feel like it's OK to talk about it. The usual caveats of: I still haven't played with these cards, apply, so things are still subject to change.

To begin: it appears to be a very slow set. I would be OK with this if it brought some interesting mechanics out, things that might change the way the game is thought of but I'm just not seeing that, so far. So let's talk about the mechanics.

Devotion isn't a mechanic. It is a condition. If you meet the condition, you get the prize and the way Magic is currently structured, you get something even if you don't meet that condition. However, Devotion will exist regardless of you having a card that cares about it. It is very much like Landfall in this respect, as people play lands with or without Landfall except that Landfall feels more active: you play a land and something happens.

Whereas a mechanic, to me, only exists if you have the card. Take the untap mechanic from Eventide. You get a specific effect from a particular branch of cards. If you don't have the card, you don't get the effect. But Devotion? You probably have met the Devotion conditions already, there just was a very narrow list of cards that cared about it.

What's boring about Devotion is that you don't activate it. I referenced Landfall's similarity for a reason: there was a small subset of cards in Zendikar block that cared about how many lands you had in play, like Scute Mob or Dragonmaster Outcast. But they didn't have Landfall and they weren't lynchpins of that block, they were an extra. Devotion feels like this: you just have a bonus where you didn't before, whereas with Landfall you play a land then you get cool things.

It feels better, more active. Devotion feels boring, as though I could win without it and getting it won't keep me from losing in a critical situation.

Monstrous is like...the worst Kicker I ever met. I really don't like the execution of this mechanic. Everything is expensive and the effects have been awful for the cost. A 6/8 that can block 100 creatures for a 10 mana investment (Hundred-Handed One), an 8/8 that turns a land into an Island for a 12 mana investment (Sealock Monster.) For 11 you get to sacrifice 3 lands and get a 7/8 in return that has no other abilities (Ember Swallower.)

Ugh. But to make sure that you are able to get to your 10+ mana investments, there isn't much removal, so no problem right?

I disagree. I find this mechanic to be one that provides me with stuff I don't need. Getting a 5/5 for 4 mana is already a pretty good deal! Paying 3 mana to do 1 damage to another creature and making it a 6/6 is not a good deal. Why should I do this when I could swing for 5, bait out any removal they have, and then put that 3 mana towards another 5/5? Yay, Polukranos, World Eater.

No, this slowdown is all done to keep Limited formats from being crazy and that. is. boring. We need some crazy Limited formats.

What I really don't like is: how do you tell when a creature is Monstrous? The game doesn't want to give you an indication, as the +1 counters that a creature has on it could come from so many places that it could get confusing. Worse, if you remove the +1 counters, is the creature still Monstrous? I presume it is but how do you tell, now? What's to keep someone from reactivating that ability? This ability is apparently meant to be used once per game and it doesn't keep track of itself very well. It probably isn't a big deal in block and there will certainly be clarifications as the set further revealed, but combined with even Return to Ravnica's mechanics? It's incredibly easy to imagine complicated board states due to muddied information.

The lack of clarity Monstrous has extends into Theros's final new mechanic, Bestow. I feel it is an inelegantly structured but at least practical way to solve the 2 for 1 problem that happens with most creature enchantments. (In brief: if you kill the creature that an Aura is targeting while the Aura is on the stack, they both go to the graveyard.) When this ability first appeared, there were multiple questions about what happens when the card is on the stack as an Aura and the creature it's targeting is destroyed.

This is because Bestow does something that, as far as I know, has never been done before in Magic: the card changes 'midstream' and becomes a creature on the stack, should its target as a Aura spell go away. It is a creature on the stack anyway, because of its type but this is still weird.

Got that? Maybe not? Essentially: this is a creature unless you cast it as an Aura. And if for any reason the creature that this now-Aura would/does enchant goes away, the Aura becomes a creature. Ah, the heck with it: the rules have been posted here.

It is, again, extremely expensive. Why should I ever use this enchantment that costs 7 to give a creature +4 when I can just cast the 4/4 creature for 5? Because getting from 5 to 7 mana is very, very challenging, even in Limited formats.

On the upside Theros is slow. The removal is apparently weak (black is the least-revealed color at the time of this writing) and it's looking like Onslaught block Limited, where you hang on tight for your bomb and ride that pony to victory. Scry is there to help people hit their land drops so they can build to that 7+ mana zone but I'm not seeing a lot of mana production spells just yet. I am wondering how grindy games will become because when you have grindy formats, Blue tends to be the color that does the best, and Magic really doesn't need more awesome Blue formats.

As it stands, U/W control decks are poised to make a huge comeback, U/B is going to be shored up by the reprint of Thoughtsieze and the best card draw spell in years is going to be printed in U/R with Steam Augury. I cannot understate how relevant I think Steam Augury is going to be. Fact or Fiction was an absolute monster of a card for years in the formats it could be cast in and if it existed in Modern, every Blue deck would run it. Steam Augury alone could account for U/B/r or U/W/r decks taking center stage or it could even officially kick off the U/R Young Pyromancer deck as being 'legit'. (I think it's legit already but I'm not a professional.)

The return of Blue wouldn't bother me so much if there was a proper counterbalance: A way for other colors to have stack interactions that gave players options. But I don't see that: I just see ginormous creatures (which can now be turned into pigs), wordy and expensive abilities (which can be nullified with Blue) and flavor overriding function, without interesting interactions that would suggest a deeper format for Standard-or contributions to a larger format elsewhere.

Finally, and this is just a personal thing, I utterly despise the Enchantment Artifacts, something every god apparently has. Here is a case where, for flavor reasons, they are erasing the line between two card types that has been eroding for years. As a matter of fact, flavor is the thing that did the most to separate them, as artifacts would show players how machines worked on a plane and enchantments how magic could manifest. The melding of this strongly suggests that there's no reason for one of those card types to exist and I would rather have had an emphasis on enchantments doing something that artifacts just couldn't, or the acceptance that gods -gasp- use tools! Hell, how about a storyline where the tools of the gods are being destroyed and thus transmuted into enchantments run amuck? This is the enchantment block, right?

On the upside, there are only going to be 15 of them so perhaps it won't be the flavor wrecking ball I feel they are.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

3 Bits Post PAX

First: I played a very small Legacy event at PAX; 6 players. When we were told that the prize for that event-an uncut foil common sheet from M14-wouldn't be given to us for such a small pool, we'd be given packs instead, OH THE WHINING.

It wasn't many people-two, really-but holy shit were they upset. One person didn't finish his match, simply dropping to get his entry fee ($10) back. There were a couple guys who came in late and tried to register but were denied and again OH THE WHINING. The people who wanted in made it sound like we were suckers for wanting to play. I'm glad they didn't get in, now: they didn't seem like fun people to play against.

The hell with that, man. I just wanted to play some games. I didn't prepare though and it cost me. I was playing an unmodified version of All Nightmare Long, which means it was underpowered and not nearly powered up enough for what I was going to deal with.

My first match was against a Glimpse/Kobolds deck that the pilot admitted was janky. However, I lost the critical game 2 when he stalled out in his combo and had to attack with Signal Pest....and 16 other creatures.Which was fine, except that on my turn, instead of killing Signal Pest, I went for an Ornithopter, so I could get in...4 more damage.

In my defense, the Signal Pest was buried under many kobolds and I could not easily make out what my possible targets were. However, that's the only excuse: I wasn't paying enough attention to the life totals, (I thought his was lower) and I certainly could have paused to really take stock of the board before making my decision. This might have given me time to see what the best play was. 

My final matchup (I got a bye round 2) was against a mono-U wizard tribal deck that existed to counter everything and then watch you commit suicide from sheer frustration. In the 3rd game, I thought I had a decent start with my opening hand having a turn 2 and turn 3 Tidehollow Sculler to play...and his turn 2 went: Island, Chrome Mox removing blue card, Patron Wizard.

And that was that.

Next year, remember cards with Split Second.

Second: remember those two guys who bailed on the Legacy event? Well, with just four of us left and in our final round, the judge said that the prize could be split evenly amongst the four of us, if we agreed to it. We did and I pulled this. So that doesn't suck!

Third: the Theros previews. I am not a fan, so far. Man, every time they decide to emphasize flavor over function, I seem to have issues. Kamigawa, Innistrad, and now Theros. But I'll talk about that next time.

Oh yes: I decided to replace the Still Life in Hexagram for Energy Field. I don't know that it's a good idea, but it certainly seems like a not bad one!