Thursday, March 27, 2014


Once upon a time, Heartwood Storyteller came out. I tried it in a treefolk deck but just wasn't working, as the deck demanded actual evil cards that weren't creatures. Storyteller pretty much demands an unequal deck: I need to be able to draw card for anything they do and I have to give nothing back. This is because as creature-centric as Magic has become, it just cannot compete with a solid spell suite-especially after the introduction of planeswalkers.

So the card and the idea stayed shelved until Ruric Thar. I call the deck Viceroy, from the Cloudkicker song because Ruric Thar and Heartwood Storyteller are leaders of the deck. Here we go:
9 Forest
7 Mountain
4 Temple of Abandon
2 Skarrg, the Rage Pits

4 Mwonvuli Beast Tracker
3 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
4 Pyrewild Shaman
3 Ghor-Clan Rampager
3 Wasteland Viper
4 Heartwood Storyteller
3 Hammer Mage
4 Scryb Ranger
4 Zhur-Taa Druid
1 Deadwood Treefolk
2 Cinder Elemental
3 Spitebellows

This deck comes with some unique challenges. The limitation of creature spells only means that many of the tools that might be available to deal with problems have to come in a less-than-ideal package. I can't do the straight up aggro game because Ruric costs 6 but the deck still wants to be one that attacks.

Skarrg is in there to help Ruric get through. Vigilance and reach are powerful abilities but they conflict with Ruric's need to attack every turn, so making him a scarier threat is important.

Scryb Ranger is a card Noah called me out on (in a manner of speaking) and I wasn't entirely sure of at first but I feel like in preliminary testing, it's really proved its worth. Because the Ranger is difficult to block, it's really easy to get into a situation where recurring Pyrewild Shaman every other turn is feasible. Pyrewild Shaman also comes in handy with Hammer Mage, effectively negating the discard drawback.

Wasteland Viper and Ghor-Clan Rampager are solid, scary beasts that are cheap. The attack bonus is particularly effective with each other, because blocking becomes a '1 and done' affair, with the rest of the damage going to the opponent.

But I didn't have enough mana, something else Noah called me out on (again, in a manner of speaking) so I went for the Zhur-Taa Druids. They get annoying very quickly because they can just ping for 1 every turn-but do you really want to waste removal on it?

There are other cards that are flat out concessions to necessity: Spitebellows and Cinder Elemental are there to do damage that I would need spells for, otherwise. They are slow and need watching but I cannot rely on absolute creature superiority so the situation calls for some creative thinking.

This is also why the Temples are in the deck; not exactly card draw but it's a free effect that I can't afford to ignore. Viceroy has to be leaner because of its constraints. Going to hope it pays off.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Two Mouths Are Hard To Feed

I finally got some games in last night with Hun-Gurr; enough that I can start making some conclusions!

Not many, though. One thing that last night reminded me is how challenging it is to get proper data about your Magic games. Unless I'm doing this for a living, playing every day, it's nearly impossible to actually accumulate enough information to make a legitimate conclusion about the tiny choices that can make or break a deck.

It's easy to notice when a single card just vomits all over you, because it will do that repeatedly and consistently. But when you've replaced that card and 'improved' the much have you improved it by?

I'm getting a little distracted. Here's the problem: I played 3 matches last night; one against a legacy Merfolk deck, one against a Stasis deck and one against a Pod deck, which is pictured.

Against the Merfolk deck, I felt like I was doing OK but I couldn't get enough nasty stuff online. I won the game where I had two Smothers but in the other games all of my low-CMC stuff, the things I want to play in the early game, deserted me and so did my removal. Is my deck at fault? Am I for not mulliganing more aggressively?

In the Stasis game, I had 8 removal cards that were totally useless to me. This happens in casual matchups and it's why so many of my decks have an 'unfocused' feel: you need to be ready for anything. I won the first game in this match because they didn't draw Stasis and I had flying Spirit tokens that effectively made Island Sanctuary useless. The second two games: Balance + Zuran Orb (and me allowing some sloppy play) skewered me. Is the deck bad or do I just need a sideboard? Or was I just outclassed by sheer power? Balance isn't legal in Legacy, the limit I set my decks to.

Against Pod, I flooded out in the first and third games. The second one, in the photo? I had a whole lot of fliers attacking for 2-9 a turn, as the game went on and a Repentance for the Grave Titan. But in game 3 I had no less than 13 lands out. Bad luck? Bad beats?

Which brings me back to 'how much have I improved the deck'? One of the pieces of advice given to many serious Legacy players is to pick a deck they love and play it and only it. I think it's probably best to pick two different decks, because the tides of Legacy are such that sometimes the deck you love is just a bad metagame decision. This advice isn't as useful in Standard because the format is either a) extremely volatile or b) dangerously stagnant.

But what is a good decision is to play a deck enough so information shows up to make some proper conclusions about it. This process also helps to better inform game decisions so I know what to do in situations that might be otherwise daunting. Mana flood happens; two games is not a metric to make a proper decision about the mana on, especially when the other games haven't had that issue. But 10? That would tell me a lot.

It's been a slow week of games though. I'll keep this one in rotation but I think it's time to move on.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Found this via Reddit.

For those who don't want to click the link, it's a graphic comparing the cost of Jace the Mind Sculptor with Scalding Tarn, which apparently are about the same cost now in American Dollars: $106-ish.

Holy cow, right? To make a proper deck using Scalding Tarn, you'd need to spend over $420.This is completely unreasonable and WotC needs to be a bit more proactive in helping keep costs for basic materials like manabases within the reach of players. Jace being expensive is more acceptable, as it is a mythic rare and is for a specific class of decks. (Usually winning blue ones but I don't want to get diverted).

Scalding Tarn is required for any solid manabase that uses blue that a player wants to take to any serious event. Even a Friday Night Magic where they don't want to be laughed at requires the best manabase one can provide.

It's just that simple; you need it to get the deck functioning at its highest capacity. And if Wizards doesn't provide a reprint of the fetchlands (as they are known) either from Onslaught or Zendikar, not only will I be amazed, I'll be incredibly disappointed. Providing players with the tools they need to play is their job. And $400 for four lands is absolutely stupid.

So don't fuck it up, guys.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Feed One Head...

With two matches under my belt against Fuz, one told me that the deck worked fine and the other told me I needed more removal. It's the latter matchup, against aggro B/W humans that is more interesting. I lost 2-1 because I couldn't get enough removal going. When I could force a creature sacrifice every turn, thanks to an equipped Ashling in game 2, I did OK.

But as you can see, there was too much coming in from the weenie deck for me to win by putting out a Harvester and attacking for 5. He had 4 creatures of his own and plenty of land to give up so why bother?

I am considering adding just a little more removal at this point: in the games I lost, a grand total of one removal spell came up throughout both games.

So; what to pull, what to insert? 

I like Butcher Ghoul but it's clearly a pretty weak card so I'm going to pull two of those for some more removal. After dancing through a few cards-I even thought about Arrest at one point but then I realized that an enchantment that neutralizes a permanent is first on the list for sacrifice to Greater Harvester-I have decided to go with Wing Shards.

Wing Shards isn't awesome but it feels like a very strong anti-aggro card. Many aggro decks use creature type synergies to create an overwhelming advantage. In rare situations they might even use pump spells: most of the time, these will be cast before damage is dealt or even attackers are declared.

Wing Shards provides an opportunity to get 2 creatures for 1 spell which can be just enough of a roadblock that I could survive long enough to get the Harvester plan going and with eight removal spells now, I'm more likely to find what I need. At least, I hope so.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


A long while ago-or at least it feels like a long while ago, certainly it was before the blog-I attempted to make something happen with Greater Harvester. This is, admittedly, a 'win more' card because if you can do 5 damage a turn then winning will happen in short order but what the heck: there's nothing like overkill! The original idea was centered around blue to bounce and stall the opponent and it just didn't work, so I took the original deck in a different direction and set Harvester aside. Until now.

I call this Hun-Gurrr after the insatiable Decepticon leader of the Horrorcons, because Harvester needs to be fed. So, yeah: no arrested development there.
3 Whispersilk Cloak
1 Helm of Kaldra
4 Greater Harvester
4 Welkin Hawk
4 Butcher Ghoul4 Doomed Traveler
3 Ashling, the Extinguisher

2 Repentance
2 Steelshaper's Gift
4 Lingering Souls

4 Smother

10 Swamp
9 Plains
2 Salt Flats
2 Orzhov Guildgate
2 Vault of the Archangel
There were two things I needed to add to this deck: I wanted to use creatures I could sacrifice to not feel the pain of Harvester's drawback and I needed a way to ensure that once Harvester hit the table, it got through. Being chumped by 1/1 tokens is a fast way to waste a lot of time and mana and lose the game.

So I added white in order to 1) give me creatures that replaced themselves upon death and 2) help find equipment that will ensure that my Harvester gets through. It was Noah who suggested using equipment in addition to Whispersilk Cloak, so that the Steelshaper's Gifts wouldn't be dead cards in my hand, should I already have a Cloak. I thought the Helm had nice effects and might be fun: it's not Whispersilk but Trample, Haste and First Strike don't suck. Trample was the most important ability: if Harvester doesn't his a player, then there's no point.

The good news is that cards like Lingering Souls and Doomed Traveler lend themselves to flat out aggro play and I can just punch through with small creatures or, if need be, stall the game. Vault of the Archangel allows me turn all my tiny creatures into deadly ones while adding a little life. What it all adds up to, I hope is that if Harvester doesn't show up, I can still make a game out of it.

Ashling is there to shore up the theme a bit, without evoking Harvester's drawback. She's also a little easier to cast, which is nice because I've had to tilt the mana base to try and ensure that I can produce BBB fairly reliably.

Repentance is in there to help shore up the removal suite: Smother is good but it can't be the be all, end all. Let's see what happens!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Data Gap

One match. Sigh. Would you believe I've been trying to find more people to play with? It's a slow process, I guess.

Now, in this case Who Can It Be Now? did exactly what it was supposed to. The first game had my opponent stuck on two land and the second, pictured, also ended badly for her when I was able to swing with two Pathrazers and a Pelakka Wurm on the same turn.

But I still kept wondering about all those tiny creatures. Any disruption, be it in discard or instant removal from my opponent and it probably would have been a very different game. I should expect this kind of disruption and adjust accordingly.

The card that has felt the deadest throughout has been Through the Breach. I never want it, I never Gamble for it and it is just a stopgap before I land a Sneak Attack because I cannot Breach and win. I have to Sneak and win. So it is time to cease stopgap measures. Pyroclasm kills enough creatures that running two is just a smart idea and will hopefully extend the turns I have to get the board set up.

Finished listing:

4 Seething Song

2 Pyroclasm
3 Gamble
3 Reforge the Soul

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

4 Lotus Petal
3 Defense Grid

4 Sneak Attack

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Two Mana

There seems to be a magic mana number in the game and I'm starting to think that number is 2. Anything that is one or zero mana is clearly a) underpowered (Healing Salve) or b) crazy (Force of Will) or c) crazy in the right deck but otherwise meh (Invigorate in infect decks). Very, very few cards hit the 1 mana 'playable and solid' line-Duress comes to mind with Lightning Bolt being at the high end of the power spectrum.

At two mana though, this is where the rubber starts to meet the road. Nearly every deck gets to two mana in nearly every game so what you can do with it matters and Magic is packed with cards that are truly useful at that converted mana cost. You can even see it in Standard, where at the last Born of the Gods event, the highest concentration of cards was at the 2 CMC slot. One of the most powerful spells, Counterspell, is at two mana and it choked so much design space out of the game WotC had to push hard counters back to three mana-although it took them years to do so.

I think it's also why so many limited environments are designed with cards to hit 2.x on the curve. A deck that can reliably do something on turn two, every time, means fast, demanding games that are more luck oriented but if you push the curve to three, deckbuilding skill and card evaluation start to come into play and as you see more of your deck, variance is decreased.

In constructed this is a different animal, of course because you can develop decks that can turn things around on turns 3 or 4 to give you a chance to win. Nevertheless, after my experience against the Painter's Servant deck where I would have had an opening to win, if I had kept Pyroclasm in, I've been thinking about it more.

This motif repeats: The Prismatic Prism in My Curse, Black Sun's Zenith in Slave to the Grind and Wall of Omens in Perpetual Motion.

All these decks had problems with solutions coming at the 2 CMC slot. I discovered these solutions after I was finished talking about them on the blog; that frequently happens. Decks I write about stay in playing rotation for a little while to work out any kinks, longer if I have an identifiable problem or question that I can work on. If it's just a 'blarh, this isn't working and I don't get it' then I let it rest. Eventually, a solution comes to mind or a new card is printed to solve problems. 

None of these solutions are what I'd call gamebreakers; they don't have the power of something like Snapcaster Mage or Tarmogoyf but they end up being the glue that helps hold the decks together. This is a good thing to keep in mind when looking at where to go with a deck that has hit a stumbling block.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I'll Be Trapped

I don't want to take this one datapoint as gospel but...still a pretty fun story.

The drawback of having a job is that I only got to play one game and it was against a Painter's Servant deck running Goblin Welder to keep the win conditions on the table.

My turn 1: Mountain, Gamble for Sneak Attack, discard Sneak Attack. So that's sad.

His turn 1: Mountain, Goblin Welder

My turn 2: Mountain, cycle Forgotten Cave.

His turn 2: Ancient Tomb, tap to play Grindstone.

My turn 3: draw Sneak Attack, play Mountain, say go.

At this point that I know what I'm up against. He's going to find a Painter's Servant, and then mill my entire deck. I know it's trouble unless I can find a Seething Song to cast Sneak Attack and the drop Pathrazer (which I have, along with Nicol Bolas, Dragon Tyrant and Penumbra Wurm).

His turn 3 is spent casting Gamble, discarding something irrelevant and then casting Painter's Servant.

And I draw a Gamble. There is nothing in my deck that can kill anything he has and I concede the game.

On my drive home, I realized that if I'd kept the Pyroclasms in the deck, I could have Gambled for that and maybe given myself a chance to win.

And I laugh, because what the hell. Sometimes it just doesn't work out.