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.