Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Perspectives (Again)

What we have here is a Commander game with me playing Jeleva at the top, Noah with Horde of Notions at the bottom, and stonethorn with Experiment Kraj on the right.

I made two mistakes in this game, the second one being irrelevant to my story and probably stemming from the first. However, I'd like to start with the upside.

Jeleva: still fun. I managed to get her out twice and although I didn't really hit any spells worth playing either time what I was able to do was remove cards from the game that might have been troublesome otherwise. There's always the psychological battle in Magic and seeing your stuff disappear tends to be a downer. I actually was starting to wish for ways to kill Jeleva at will, so I could have more opportunities to pilfer through my opponent's spells.

However, I made a very big mistake on turn seven. Noah was getting a nice combo set up using Sword of Light and Shadow, Eternal Witness and Phyrexian Altar to reuse anything he felt necessary. One notation from that game is that I have a lack of artifact removal with Jeleva and artifacts have been problematic in nearly every Commander game I have ever played. stonethorn, however, has green which means he's got that kind of removal. All I have to do is hope he'll draw into it: I can even copy that spell with Wild Ricochet.

I have a Spiteful Visions on the table (which I played to help kick the game into gear) and draw into Price of Knowledge. My thought it simply: this is a powerful card and I should play it. It's not like I'm taking over Noah's position as the actual threat here.

stonethorn promptly Krosan Grip'd my enchantment before the end of my turn and I no longer had mana available to play Wild Ricochet or anything else.

I couldn't understand why: it seemed like a play against me personally and that doesn't jibe with how Multiplayer should work-or how I thought stonethorn plays. I have a very important rule in Multiplayer games: play the board, not the person.

I have this rule because it's very easy to get wrapped up in vengeance. Too easy, frankly: the sting of a loss last game-or last week, or last month-is the kind of thing that humans get invested in payback.

And payback is a bitch. But that bitch goes both ways and I have seen players willfully ignore opportunities to win, screwing themselves over, in order to feed some kind of payback monster. I've done it myself, which, of course, is why I created the rule. Don't make it personal, play the best game you can and play that board.

The board said that Noah's position was a problem because he had an actual engine going on. I had some synergies but nothing that could really establish myself. So what happened?

I forgot to put myself in someone else's shoes. Just because you play the board not the person doesn't mean you should forget that people are in the game! From stonethorn's perspective, he was looking at taking 9 damage next turn and perhaps the turn after that, with no way to establish a foothold in the game and live long enough to knock Noah off his trajectory. Why should he allow that to happen?

Essentially, I forced stonethorn into a lose-lose situation, which compounded my poor board position and reinforced Noah's and I did this because I thought of doing cool things myself, rather than considering the position of other players. In a way, I played myself, not the board.

And that's all for this week. Thanksgiving means a break from writing. See you in a week!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


How to do more with less?

The My Money philosophy has served me well: namely, it's prevented me from spending so much cash on Magic cards that I neglect to do things like purchase food or new underwear. You know how it is.

However: it cannot be denied that a key component to doing well at Magic is about money. The person who can purchase four Wurmcoil Engine, Deathrite Shaman and/or Jace, Architect of Thought has a much better chance of winning the match than someone who has only been able to acquire one or two of those through trade or luck. Hell, even someone who has the money to play draft and sealed often (something that can cost anywhere from $15-30 a pop) is going to have an understandable advantage over other players.

So I've spent a great deal of time trying to get decks to work with the expensive cards I happen to own (usually through random pack openings) or have purchased while they were cheap, because I like to gather up cheap rares and bend them into weird decks.

In the film Moneyball, a fiscally strapped baseball team uses mathematical metrics to get players who in aggregate, will hit the statistics that a team that makes the playoffs or wins the World Series would have. Similarly, I am trying to use cards that are undervalued or overlooked in order to create a deck with synergies that will produce wins. My hope is that with a deep cardpool (from a chronological perspective) and a willingness to experiment, I can pick up things that will pay off later, both in skills and cards. Lately, it hasn't quite been working out.

I don't mind losing but I seem to be doing it an awful lot, which suggests that I am not applying the lessons of my losses very well. I've also been ignoring some of my best (and expensive) cards in order to look at everything else in the name of innovating.

There isn't much point in letting a perfectly good Vraska sit in the binder though, when I have a deck that could use the power. I can still spend my money wisely and use overlooked cards while investing in some of the more expensive ones to help make my weird ideas work. I've been thinking about ways to make this happen, including changing some of my buying habits. Hopefully this will give me opportunities to pick up a few of the more expensive cards, while still absorbing copies of underused or overlooked cards and making them work for me.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Slim Margins or: My Games with Cruel Ultimatum

Jeleva vs Sedris
It doesn't matter how good the deck is if you don't read the cards.

The good news is: Jeleva is a fun Commander; one that creates interesting problems to solve, both for me and for my opponent. Of course this can also represent a huge challenge too: I found myself approaching new situations with the confidence of someone facing an old problem and it cost me in the matchup I had against Fuz playing his Sedris deck. One particularly epic game-pictured-was lost after I cast Decree of Pain, then Jeleva'd out a Cruel Ultimatum. Before I could cast it though, Jeleva was killed and Cauldron Dance hit me with a Nemesis of Reason AND Nicol Bolas. It was like being Ultimatumed: Take 10, discard your hand, mill 10.

All was not lost, though! With an empty board, Fuz gets Sedris in play and I draw Thraximundar! Except what I read was: Sedris has Unearth 2B. This is not what the card says.

So I didn't attack and lost.

In game 3, the Epic Moment came on the last play: Jeleva was facing Nicol Bolas and I had a slew of options to consider casting from Jeleva's ability, including Demonic Tutor and Crosis's Charm. I knew I had a Cruel Ultimatum in my deck, so I felt that a Demonic Tutor for that would be my best play. I would lose Jeleva but win the war.

I attack, Demonic Tutor the Ultimatum into my hand and put Jeleva in the Command zone, as she was blocked by Bolas. Then I look at my mana and slump. I don't have RRRBBBUUU. I can't cast Cruel Ultimatum. I have the right number of mana but I don't have the right colors. So I concede and explain the situation to Fuz.

"You have the right mana to cast that," he says.

Which was a very, very discouraging moment. I had the right play. I did the right thing. Then I sabotaged myself by giving in my the "Oh god you screwed up" voice in my head instead of taking a moment and double checking everything.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jeleva Overhauled

All of the Commander 2013 decks need an overhaul. It's just what I do--what everyone will do, eventually. I'm going to start with Jeleva because of all the decks, this is the one that had the obvious pull: True-Name Nemesis. That's a card which is brilliant in 1v1 matches but in multiplayer, not so much. Plus, I have a merfolk deck to plug it into.

So: let's start with the roster:

Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge
1 Sol Ring
1 Armillary Sphere
1 Swiftfoot Boots
1 Obelisk of Grixis
1 Temple Bell
1 Mirari
1 Wayfarer's Bauble
1 Eye of Doom
1 Akoum Refuge
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Command Tower
1 Crumbling Necropolis
1 Dimir Guildgate
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Grixis Panorama
1 Izzet Boilerworks
1 Izzet Guildgate
1 Molten Slagheap
1 Rakdos Carnarium
1 Rakdos Guildgate
1 Rupture Spire
1 Temple of the False God
1 Vivid Creek
1 Vivid Marsh
9 Island
8 Swamp
5 Mountain
1 Opal Palace
1 Urza's Factory
1 Augur of Bolas
1 Fog Bank
1 Nightscape Familiar
1 Moroii
1 Nivix Guildmage
1 Guard Gomazoa
1 Guttersnipe
1 Echo Mage
1 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Viseling
1 Mnemonic Wall
1 Charmbreaker Devils
1 Uyo, Silent Prophet
1 Thraximundar
1 Jace's Archivist
1 True-Name Nemesis
1 Terra Ravager
1 Diviner Spirit
1 Hooded Horror
1 Nekusar, the Mindrazer
1 Baleful Force
1 Tempt with Reflections
1 Infest
1 Fissure Vent
1 Incendiary Command
1 Phthisis
1 Cruel Ultimatum
1 Decree of Pain
1 Army of the Damned
1 Prosperity
1 Skyscribing
1 Molten Disaster
1 Vision Skeins
1 Soul Manipulation
1 Grixis Charm
1 Sudden Spoiling
1 Dismiss
1 Wild Ricochet
1 Annihilate
1 Opportunity
1 Starstorm
1 Strategic Planning
1 Crosis's Charm
1 Illusionist's Gambit

1 Propaganda
1 Spiteful Visions
1 Arcane Melee
1 Curse of Inertia
1 Curse of Shallow Graves
1 Curse of Chaos
1 Price of Knowledge

I am going to keep Thraximundar and Nekusar, the Mindrazer in there. Nekusar because it's good to have a substitute general and Thraximundar because it's good to have a 'Bite me,' card. Of the two, Thrax is most likely to come out when I need a 'Bite me' card in a different deck.

Removing; True-Name Nemesis and all the Curses.

I've come around a little bit on the Curses (I'll have a deck to show off why in a few weeks), because I think their place is mostly going to be in 60 card duel decks; in multiples I believe they will be outstanding. In multiplayer, I'm faced with giving my opponents things that I'm going to have to deal with later: cards, creatures, better creatures, or life. If I curse Noah to encourage stonethorn, I still have to deal with stonethorn eventually, only now he'll have more zombies than he did before. Who needs that?

So no. Curse of Inertia is probably the most innocuous because the effect is temporary and Curse of Chaos has the benefit of meshing with Nekusar's ability but again: better in multiples against a single opponent.

As replacements, I put in Cognivore, Magnivore and Trench Gorger. Of these, Trench Gorger requires the most justification but the theory is: removing lands gives me a higher density of spells, which then increases the likelihood of hitting Jeleva's ability. All of them are good monsters though with effects that I think will make this deck more fearsome.

And if Trench Gorger doesn't work out, Trench Wurm is in the wings. Nobody ever likes to see Trench Wurm, which I say is a good thing. 

I took out the Baleful Strix because I recently acquired 3 more, so they're going into a deck with Lieges in them. I put in a Moroii in its place: the life loss isn't much and the efficiency of a 4/4 flier outweighs it easily. 

Finally, the fishy elephant in the room, True-Name Nemesis. Now on the one side, I do like to see Wizards take these chances. Commander offers them an opportunity to inject new ideas into high powered formats like Legacy, where all of these cards are legal to play.

Buuuut TNN is also a very expensive card. I'm not sure how much good it does to inject powerful cards that can shake up a format in such a way that very few people are allowed to play that format. I suppose the exposure might help and, if enough Commander product ships that the cost of those decks are kept in check that might be OK, however current trends are not encouraging; the Mind Seize deck was selling for $60 at the time of this writing-and sold out at StarCity Games. That can only mean that the price will likely go up, when SCG gets more. (The 'suggested' price at Amazon? $150. With a 'discount' to put it down to $60....what the hell?)

Still, TNN is a card that is terrible in multiplayer. That's just the fact of it; it wants to be in duel decks, specifically a merfolk one, which, of course, I have. Swapped for Radiate which feels more in sync with what this deck wants to do, in addition to having cool potential interactions with the Commander format. I look forward to taking this for a spin.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Theros Draft

A buddy of mine had never drafted, yet has spent a great deal of time learning about drafting as a format. He'd always wanted to try it, so I took it upon myself to set up a draft for him. I usually get people together after every new set to play, I just usually do Sealed. Changing to Draft wasn't a problem. I read a bunch of information on and linked from the reddit forum and found it to be pretty interesting so I was hopeful that this would be a fun set to draft.

And now that I've gotten one whole draft done...I don't really care. I managed to make a U/B deck that I thought had enough cheap flyers to make an interesting aggro deck but it never panned out. I had opened Curse of the Swine in pack one so I figured; hey why not? I also included in my build a Triton Fortune Hunter that probably shouldn't have been there. I probably should have played more black, as I had some discard and decided not to play it thinking that a 1/3 creature for 4 really wasn't worth my time. My error was not realizing that discard was a form of removal. On further reflection, I was seeing a lot of green early on and probably should have gone into that color over black.

Other things I've learned: Bestow is a pain in the ass. It made all the games go long and felt very grindy and uninteresting. I have a dude. Three turns later I have a much bigger dude. You're killing my dude so now I have a smaller one that isn't all that awesome. Great.

Big effects are ugly; Noah drafted a deck that essentially got to 6 mana and then blew opponents out of the water. It worked (it certainly helped that he had an Elspeth), and kudos to him for taking that strategy but it didn't really feel very engaging when I played him to make decisions that didn't matter for 5+ turns and then lose.

I guess this would be a drawback for most of my games: I would play weaker creatures, try to get a toehold in and then wait and wait until I could Bestow bad creatures in order to try and Voltron a decent creature. Sometimes that worked but mostly it just wasn't much fun, even when it did. Waiting too long means the opponent has time to get their board set up and I didn't have effects that could really recover from that, despite having more Griptides and Voyage's Ends than I knew what to do with. The scry never felt like it mattered and Griptiding a creature that has been Bestowed means that yes, they have weaker creatures now...but they also have more.

Maybe I should try it again but I don't really feel encouraged to do so: this format didn't scratch an itch in my brain. Perhaps the Theros-Born of the Gods run will be different and I'll take a swing at it then.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Different Goals

It's an uncommon occurrence but every so often, my girlfriend will play Magic with me. It's nice when she does but she often finds the game to be more frustrating than fun. Here's an example of what can happen:

When the new Commander decks came out, I busted two open to play: Prossh and Nekusar and she took on Prossh. I thought it would be a reasonable fit, because Prossh leads a deck that wants to attack people to win and she understands that concept pretty well. But it had been a few months since she'd played Magic, maybe a few more since she had played Commander and I was handing her a brand new deck with a whole bunch of cards that were going to be unfamiliar to her.

As a result she spent a great deal of the game reading instead of playing, a position that could frustrate anyone, and didn't really have much fun.

It's always a bad thing when a game fails to be fun. This was my fault for giving her a new deck, instead of suggesting she play her own: even though some time had passed, at least there was the likelihood of memory kicking in and a familiarity coming to her so she could enjoy the game, instead of having the worst text-based adventure ever.

The biggest bummer about it all is that she doesn't enjoy too many games and the ones she does like, for example, Scrabble, I hate. (I hate Scrabble for a variety of reasons, including "I suck at this," so I understand her reluctance to play other games.)

What this story illustrates, though, is the different things that people are trying to get out of a game and how challenging it can be to get those things to align. I am looking to solve a problem and move to the next thing and Magic presents a near infinite amount of problems to solve, along with chances to collaborate on new ideas and be social. She wants to master a set of rules so that the chaos of a game becomes a directed, orderly experience. I'm not sure if she enjoys larger social interactions (say via party games) so there are probably a few priorities for her that I'm overlooking, too.  

This sounds a bit like our relationship writ large, actually...and it also addresses a little slice of that greater problem: Playing games with other people. That is a subject to expand on at a later time, though.

In the meanwhile, I'm hopeful that a middle ground can be found, so she can have fun and I get to include her in something I like to do. I'm wondering if a cooperative game might be more engaging, or perhaps one with less moving parts than Magic has, or perhaps just keeping it to smaller formats like Mini-Masters, might be more entertaining for her.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Old Ways Are Sometimes The Best Ways

After a few days of pounding my head against the wall for a proper reset button (including attempting to remember what Decree of Pain was named and which set it was in-I was originally thinking of Plague Wind) and playing a few more games, including ones where Fuz stole my embiggened Purraj, I finally remembered Noah's advice: Nevinyrral's Disk. Because last time, the biggest problem I had was Primeval Bounty--all the Decrees of Plague Pain in the Multiverse couldn't solve that, so it was time to put in something that would. The only question was: did I have one?

And I did. There it was, hanging out in the binder, like a lost tool hoping the Master Builder will request its service one last time. Excellent. In it goes. The old school reset would certainly be the missing link to elevate Purraj in the difficult games.

But sometimes the best ways aren't good enough.
What you see there is a four-way game, the other commanders are Nin, Kaalia, and Jeleva. I'm in the lower right hand corner, a Disk residing in my hand since the opening 7 and I'm thinking it's time to get it out soon--but not too soon, or else the Jeleva (Noah) and Kaalia (stonethorn) players are going to bring the beatdown before I'm ready. The Nin player, unfortunately, wasn't able to build up much momentum.

What happened next was stonethorn cheating Avacyn into play via Kaalia, putting the boots on her, then casting Akroma's Vengeance. We were pretty much dead men walking at that point, though we put up a good fight. Noah and I attempted to collaborate to use the Disk and a Sudden Spoiling to re-clear the board but between a hardcast Elesh Norn and a cheated Blossom...well, we just ran out of time.

Even the Old Ways understand that.