Thursday, February 27, 2014

I've Done No Harm, At Least To Myself

The thing about Who Can It Be Now is that it goes all in. You don't get to make a comeback.

I was playing a game against Jason's Mesmeric Orb deck and on turn 2 I had Sneak Attack out, swinging for 7 with Pelakka Wurm. He went to 13 and on the next turn, dropped Maze of Ith.

No problem: I have Gamble and 3 other cards in hand, so on my turn I dig for a Pathrazer, because once I swing with that, he'll have no permanents which is a state that most decks cannot recover from, even though it's early in the game. However, the discard part of Gamble had me losing Pathrazer and Jason goes on to set up his board lock and win.

So while that sucked it was a whimsical suck. I pick any other card from my hand and I win the game. Randomness is fickle; whatcha gonna do? I don't feel the urge to replace all my creatures with Eldrazi, that's for certain.

I had a more interesting matchup against Fuz, who was playing a Second Sunrise/Atog deck. Essentially, he wants to cast a bunch of artifacts, then swing with an Atog, eat the artifacts to make it huge, Second Sunrise brings them all back for a second helping and, if the Atog is big enough but somehow doesn't kill me, use Fling and finish the game.

It's a pretty good plan and it beat me solidly in game 2 but the match was mine.

One thing that I am finding interesting to play with is Reforge the Soul. As with the rest of WCIBN?, it's either huge or it's a massive mistake. 

I bring it up because the one card in the deck that isn't there to make mana/kill opponents is Pyroclasm. It's difficult to argue against Pyroclasm because it is so good. It's been a staple red sweeper for years with nothing really coming close to matching it until Anger of the Gods came out, mostly because Anger can take care of persist and undying creatures.

Still, the increase of consistency that a 3rd (maybe a 4th?) Reforge brings is hard to resist. Add in a third Defense Grid, and then add another nastybad to win with and the ratio of wins might go up.

The drawback: a turn 3 Pyroclasm kills so many bad things. Gaddok Teeg, Bob, every mana dork ever printed, Kor Spiritdancer (sometimes), most anything with Hexproof. It really slows down a lot of good decks. I may not be a big enough gambler to risk it...but I suppose I ought to give it a try. Worst that happens, I put the Pyroclasm back in. Let's see, eh?

BotG Draft 4-0

Sorry, everyone; I meant to get this out on Tuesday but I was sick as a dog. I'll try and get two posts up today so I'm back on schedule.

Built this in an all Born of the Gods draft:

4x Excoriate
Bolt of Keranos
Pinnacle of Rage

Glimpse the Sun God
Fated Retribution
Acolyte's Reward
2x Fall of the Hammer

2x Loyal Pegasus
2x Impetuous Sunchaser
Great Hart
God-Favored General
Hero of Iroas
Akroan Skyguard
Akroan Phalanx
Reckless Reveler
Thunder Brute
Pharagax Giant
Eidolon of Countless Battles
Brimaz, King of Oreskos

9 Plains
7 Mountains

And, uh, it was pretty insane. Now, I was a little lucky because in a 10 person event, we were split into two five-person pods. That means that normally, 4x Excoriate is not going to come my way. In addition, with no Theros to break it up, the consistency levels were off the scale. Still, this was as good a setup as I could ever ask for and it paid off because not only did I go 4-0, I won all my matches straight out, 2-0.

My sideboard consisted of Dawn to Dusk and Scouring Sands. It wasn't much but it was enough to get me there.

What was surprising to me was how often Impetuous Sunchaser did great work. It was annoying how little damage was being dealt but opponents kept having issues with it. Combined with the occasional awesomeness of Akroan Phalanx, I was able to get a lot of pressure put on people who played against me.

RW aggro seems to be way, way better right now than RB or RG aggro, which is...a little weird but OK, we can run with that.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Who Can It Be Now

When I met Jason, Sneak Attack was the cornerstone of the first deck he played against me. Eventually, I just had to try and make it for myself and this is what I came up with.

3 Through the Breach

4 Seething Song
3 Flamebreak
3 Pyroclasm
3 Gamble

3 Pathrazer of Ulamog
2 Pelakka Wurm
3 Dragon Tyrant
1 Nicol Bolas
1 Bloodfire Colossus
4 Penumbra Wurm

4 Lotus Petal

4 Sneak Attack

4 Smoldering Crater
14 Mountain
1 Dwarven Ruins
2 Sandstone Needle
1 Forgotten Cave

I named the song after the awesome Men At Work ditty, because the creature suite was always going to surprise. The core started with Penumbra Wurm because it would help give the deck some reach. With only 14 creatures, having some that would stick around to provide more pressure seemed like a good idea. Over the course of years, I updated the creatures list as Sneak Attack decks occasionally appeared and now that Sneak and Show is an official, nasty Legacy deck, I thought it might be time to revamp this a little.

In a Reddit Legacy Magic forum, I saw a thread on Sneak and Show, so I looked into it. I don't have any interest in changing this from a mono-red deck but that doesn't mean there aren't some good ideas.

Out: Flamebreak, because if I need to use it, something had gone wrong. Also, one Through the Breach, because I feel that six Sneak Attack effects are enough redundancy. And three Smoldering Crater.

In: two Defense Grid. This is a concession to my current metagame. My opponents run less Jason-type decks with combos that ignore the opponent, opting for more disruptive elements, from creature removal to countermagic, and taxing elements are stronger than people give them credit for. I've always liked this card and I'm glad to have a reason to use it.

Two Reforge the Soul go in as well. This I took from the Reddit suggestions, and there's enough mana production in here that I can pay the mana to draw a new set of seven cards if I have to. With only 14 creatures, digging up an extra seven cards can be a huge boon, and means I don't have to rely as much on Gamble to get what I need.

Finally, the Smoldering Crater were replaced with three Forgotten Cave. This was done strictly because if I cycle this on an opponent's turn, it's cheaper than cycling Smoldering Crater and I'm hoping that will provide more opportunity to miracle the Reforge the Soul.


So I left Laserbeak with the intention of revising it from an aggro deck to a utility deck with the ability to boost those weaker creatures. I like this concept and the aggro black cards will find a home elsewhere, I know it. Before I move on to the next deck, I want to show off what it looks like now.
3 Spectral Lynx
3 Wildfire Emissary
2 Boros Guildmage
4 Yixlid Jailer
3 Cloudchaser Eagle
3 Viashino Heretic
4 Imposing Sovereign
          4 Fervent Charge
4 Meekstone

4 Terramorphic Expanse
6 Swamp
7 Plains
6 Mountain
So; why these changes? When I had the deck analyzed at, it appeared I needed more white than black, so I increased the Plains by one--but no more, because I want to be able to regenerate Spectral Lynx at will. Spectral Lynx, Boros Guildmage and Wildfire Emissary are the only creatures to survive Laserbeak's initial draft, actually and it's because of their rare protection values. Moving to the rest (sans Imposing Sovereign because we know why that's there).

Yiklid Jailer can handle multiple graveyard issues, forcing removal to target it before cards like Snapcaster Mage or any dredge card or, yes, Gaea's Blessing, become useful.

Viashino Heretic: it was either this or something that destroyed non-basic lands. Both can be problematic but the Heretic had two advantages: first, it does damage if the ability gets activated. This means there is a potential non-combat way to win, or at least a way to chew through problems and whittle opponents down. The second advantage was the 3 toughness. Most creatures destroying lands in red have 1, or echo, or are too big. With Fervent Charge, a 3/5 creature is tougher to kill than a 3/3. I also chose this over a one-shot effect like Hearth Kami because I don't want to lose my creatures; they're the best chance I have to win.

Finally, Cloudchaser Eagle. Once I cut the Fledgling Djinns, I wanted to have at least one difficult-to-block creature in here and white is the only way I have to deal with enchantments, so it seems like the best choice. I have to play carefully with it, because it will destroy a Fevered Charge if there are no other targets but with Theros block bringing so many new enchantments to the game, hopefully I won't lack for targets-potentially even creatures, too.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Different Axises

Laserbeak is not a Jason deck, unfortunately.

Now, a Jason deck is one I identify as one that can win through his weird win conditions/setups-frequently milling. In this case, I tested Laserbeak against a Mesmeric Orb deck. You can see about how well that worked out. This was the end of game two:
That's 3 Mesmeric Orbs. Coupled with a Propaganda, I would attack for all of 4, and mill 18 the next turn, losing the game, so I just conceded.

The reason Laserbeak has no game in this matchup is because it is working the Creature Axis to Victory and that axis is completely obliterated by the elements that work the Non-Creature Axis to Victory. My deck is meant to control the creatures I run up against...and so is his. And in this match, his wins because he has more of those elements. Throughout Magic's history, this is been the dominant case.

How do you use creatures to defeat Tabernacle of Pendrell Vale? Propaganda? Maze of Ith?

You do it through a sideboard. And I don't bother with sideboards because I have 180 decks. But there is another way: You do it by Dudebro II'ing them and changing the deck you have.

Because my mistake was thinking Laserbeak is an aggressive deck and the fixes for my problems-hand destruction, artifact destruction, enchantment destruction, land destruction and graveyard removal- are attached to creatures that are not aggressive. 1/x's for 3 or cards that have double colors in their casting cost-BB/WW/RR-which are just about impossible to cast.

Laserbeak is not an aggressive deck. There are no 2/2's for one mana, no free pump spells, no abusive damage spells. It's a utility deck that uses small creatures with good abilities to create winning situations, pumped up by Fervent Charge. That means that creatures like Erg Raiders, as much as I like them, don't fit in.Yixid Jailer does.

See, Jason's deck relies on the recurring magic of Gaea's Blessing to renew his library when he mills himself due to Mesmeric Orb. Jailer ends that, and it's a 2/1 for 2 which isn't really aggressive, but it's aggressive enough. Without cards like Erg Raiders, Radiant's Dragoons suddenly become pointless, and Cloudchaser Eagle makes a lot more sense. Tunnel Ignus or Magus of the Moon become a lot more interesting and Viashino Heretic make sense.

These creatures won't always be relevant in every matchup but that's the price I pay for running a utility deck. But they will have impacts on many matchups and I think those impacts will be huge. The best I can do after that is try and keep those creatures cheap so that I can keep producing them when I need to and hope that the Fervent Charge shows up in time to make the magic happen. Looks like changes are afoot!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Herding Cats

Last week's snowstorm lockdown brought little Magic for me, but a whole lot of Metro: Last Light (which I liked!) But it leaves me with a slightly different topic to talk about, instead of more Laserbeak.

Awhile ago, I spent my last evening of Magic losing every game and usually losing by a pretty solid margin. Sometimes I was overpowered, sometimes I was playing a deck that I just refuse to give up on but needs more work but there was also the least excusable disruption. Plays were made that I didn't understand-which frequently produces a little tilt in my brain, usually some kind of weird martyr moment "why me?"-and that lead to mistakes on my part. Tilt is a stupid, stupid way to lose.

So I lost and it felt like there was nothing I could do to change those outcomes. Nights like that, I ask: why am I doing this?

That question kicks up every so often. When League was in progress, I was the primary person to organize the event and let me tell you: doing it is a pain in the ass. There are so many people-things to take into consideration, including schedules, budgets, and personalities. I don't resent it and I include myself in the 'issues to take into consideration' file, but it is a great deal of effort, especially from a mental perspective, to get the gang together to play. So the next time you go to an event, be nice to the staff. (That's good policy no matter what but since I'm fairly certain that most of us have no idea how many little things need to go right in order for these things to go off, a little extra nicety couldn't hurt).

stonethorn and I often have this conversation. There are roughly seven people who are interested in getting together regularly and the list can expand to twelve or more pretty easily. There are issues of personality, format and often most challenging, place to go play. That is a whole lot of crazy to handle, when you consider that getting people together to do something involves a pressure on their free time. Free time is free: they don't owe you shit and there's no reason for them to give it to you so making demands upon a group under such conditions is unwise, to say the least.

Which is how it goes, sometimes but it speaks to a larger issue: how do you navigate that social sphere?

I often find myself troubled because I want everyone to enjoy themselves but everyone has different motivations when it comes to playing games. Perhaps I would be better off clarifying what I want out of something. I've found that being clear about what you want is always the first step towards actually getting it. It wouldn't help the availability issue, since I'm frequently unplanned, especially on weekends and most people make plans for those times.

I could probably be a bit more adventurous on Cockatrice and ask strangers to play but that presents problems, mostly because I'd prefer people know what they're getting into. Most people are there to try and practice a format and I am there to mess with decks that I build. I won't break Legacy wide open-I won't even provide new insights into Sealed! But when people are trying to practice for a format, telling them that I just want to play to play really doesn't encourage them. They have goals that don't align well with mine (which often involve beer).

It leads me to an uncomfortable situation where I need to broaden my social circle in order to play more, but doing so leads to all these logistical problems that confound my ability to play, which means I have to broaden my social circle...

And, I wouldn't say that I know enough people already. It's always nice to make friends. However, there IS a limit to what I can take on in life and I'd rather have a few people I get to hang out with than a whole bunch of people I only see every blue moon.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


I only had two Outmaneuvers in my binder, so I began to look for other tricks. When in doubt, go for removal. Rend Flesh was taking up a couple slots in the binder so in they went but I was still hoping to find something to play in against the 'I generate bunches of tokens' matchup. Enter Chandra's Fury. It's expensive but it's also does a lot of work, whittling down my opponent's life total in addition to dinking all their creatures and as an instant, I can use it at any stage of the game. There may be a better choice for that slot but I wanted to get some games in, so I decided to test Chandra's Fury out.

There was only one match this weekend, as Portland was brought to a standstill by the weather. I tweaked a whole lot of decks but getting out to play them was highly discouraged by ice falling from wires and branches. Cockatrice once again came to the rescue.

Fuz was playing a G/W enchantments deck which was unfortunate for him, as Spectral Lynx and Wildfire Emissary hit his deck where it hurts.

It did lead to a very clever play on Fuz's part in game two, where he sacrificed his Lignify (enchanting my Imposing Sovereign) to pump his Auratog, cast Auramancer to bring the Lignify back and then cast it on Wildfire Emissary. Smart stuff!

Along a similar lines, I had to use two Rend Flesh to destroy the Fledgling Djinns I had in game one, because they were slowly killing me due to being Pacified. It's not the kind of play I wanted to make but it was certainly the right one. In the end, I had a strong enough combination of creatures with Protection and Meekstone/Fervent Charge to win both games. Chandra's Fury even came in handy, taking a huge bite out of Fuz's life total (as you can see in the screencap from game 2.)

Now, that's good news but it's good news against a deck that had a significant disadvantage to begin with. Certainly, it's encouraging to have success but there's no way I have enough data yet.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


When Invasion came out, Juntu Stakes was printed and I thought: yeah, that's cool. Then Apocalypse arrived with Fervent Charge and I thought: you know, if I combine this with Meekstone, the deck practically builds itself! Bunch of 2/x creatures and I know mine will always be bigger than theirs. Anything that isn't can only attack once! It's foolproof!

I thought it was pretty clever and I think that this was my first 'soft lock' deck. I still think this is a decent idea but times have changed quite a bit. It's time to give Laserbeak (named because I thought the color scheme fit, in a "I don't really understand fashion" way) a retooling.

Also, while searching for a Laserbeak image, I came across a whoooole lot of Laserbeaks from Michael Bay's Transformers movies.

Fuck those things. They are accelerating the downfall of humanity. Fuck them hard.
2 Dusk Imp
3 Spectral Lynx
2 Erg Raiders
2 Orzhov Guildmage
3 Wildfire Emissary
2 Boros Guildmage
3 Outrider en-Kor
3 Radiant's Dragoons
2 Fallen Askari
3 Fledgling Djinn
          4 Fervent Charge
4 Juntu Stakes
4 Meekstone

4 Terramorphic Expanse
7 Swamp
6 Plains
6 Mountain
So there we have it. And all this remained unchanged until very recently, when, after looking at Imposing Sovereign for the fifth time, the light bulb went off.

Those are more useful than Orzhov Guildmage or Dusk Imp, so in they went. But now what?

I've been goldfishing this deck a little bit and while I like it, it's still missing something. The theme has kept the focus of this deck but now I feel it's too narrow. If I don't get both Juntu Stakes and Meekstone, the deck doesn't work out so well. But if I just get Meekstone, I've got a chance.

Which means Juntu Stakes is holding the deck back. The thing is, there are a whole lot more cards that decrease the power of a creature than there were before. Juntu Stakes belongs in a different deck (perhaps one called Smaller and Smaller) and this means I can open up not only my creature selection to useful creatures with only 1 power, but also include spells that might help push this deck forward.

The first thing that comes to mind is a spell like Smother, but Glimpse the Sun God might be a consideration too. And while I wanted to keep 1 power creatures tapped in order to stunt token making decks, Outmaneuver might be the surprise that lulls opponents into playing more recklessly than they should. Only thing to do is start testing. To the test booth, Robin!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Born of the Gods pre-release

I used to do a little better at the pre-releases and I seem to be in a bit of a slump. I went 1-2 last weekend (same as at Gatecrash)and while I had a nice enough time, I just couldn't get the games to fall my way. Yet I don't really feel that concerned. While writing this post, I saw this video on the Knight's Tour, a chess problem that mathematicians have been working on for years. What's interesting about that video, for me, is how people took an already complex problem (how can we use the knight to touch every square on the board) to make an even more complicated problem (let's make a perfect square!)

For me this idea explains a great deal. I am interested in revamping my decks until they work and then my interest tends to fall away. Solving a problem means I don't have to work on it anymore. I think this is why I keep generating decks: they are new problems so solve. But Theros doesn't seem to give me a problem to solve. None of my losses felt as though they were due to player error or a misunderstanding of the environment, or a revelation about how the cards in BotG interacted with Theros. I either had creatures or I didn't, or worse, I just had creatures outclassed by theirs, and that feels more like a luck-based loss than a skilled one.

I started off with a B/W build that I thought had a very solid curve-lots of plays turns 1-3-but it didn't pay off for me in the first match. I was up against an aggressive RW build and couldn't find a fourth land in either game. It's all well and good to have a curve but at some point I still need mana to play the bigger creatures that come along. Never happened. The match was over before match slips had been delivered!

So I decided to use my extra time to look over my deck and change it up. Green had been my original choice over white, but the curve in white was better so that concept won me over. I swapped the white out for green and thought I had a much better gameplan (cast big creatures and hope for the best).

It worked out better in round 2; I went 2-1 against a U/R deck using scry and fliers to pave the way to victory. I was able to mount an offense as well as use Fate Unraveler for the slow burn to keep myself in it. My final play of game 3 involved Bestowing an Setessan Oathsworn with Nylea's Emissary and then attacking for 10.

Unfortunately, my third matchup was not going to be as kind. Playing opposite a BW deck that had Brimaz and played it in games 1 and 2, I was in for an uphill battle. I lost to Brimaz in game one; game two when he showed up on turn 3, I managed to stalemate the board and eventually use Fleetfeather Sandals on Fate Unraveler to fly over for the win.

But game three had me mulligan down to 5 cards. In a limited environment, this is almost akin to conceding. Despite that, I still made a pretty good stance, keeping my opponent off WW by milling at least 3 Plains via two Returned Centaurs but in the end I was just overwhelmed by lifelink and fliers and lifelinked flilers.

What's discouraging is that not only did I not have an answer, I was never going to have an answer. There was not a deck configuration that was going to help me in that game: I could either splash a third color for some removal, and look at losses due to mana screw, or I could do what I did. Mana is so important that I prioritized it over running one copy of Magma Jet, and I think rightly so.

Lesson from the games: Enchantment removal can be used as creature removal, but it is unwise to consider it actual removal.