Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Who hears it knows it

There are remarkably limited choices for a Vulturous Zombie replacement. This makes me sad.

There is Hellkite Overlord but that's really expensive, and Broodmate Dragon which isn't bad but I only have one of. However, looking at the Alara block did reveal one really interesting goody: Charnelhoard Wurm. What I like about the Wurm is that it offers me some resilience, a way to re-establish my board after the opponent has done bad things and I've used Pernicious Deed. Nobody wants a recurable Deed, except me.

It's expensive, though and probably won't last in this deck. I mean, it worked, no question. The Wurm was cast with two Thunderscape Familiars on board and there just wasn't any permanent removal for him by then. Bouncing a 6/6 trampler while fending off a 4/5 is not a solid combination.

In my next matchup, I was going against a UG deck that wanted to alpha strike with a creature with a massive amount of +1 counters on it. Alpha strikes with only one creature are bad against Terminate.

Back to the Primitive is uniquely well positioned against blue decks, it seems. Not just because of the Sword, although that certainly helps, but because of the exceptionally cheap removal spells: even Hull Breach has served me well.

Nevertheless, I don't want to keep weak links in the deck. This will take more testing but I think I have time for it. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How It Used To Be

The questionable card for this deck right now is Vulturous Zombie. At five mana, it's expensive and it needs other cards in order to get going. However, it's the deck's only flier and it has the potential to get really big but now it's hugely matchup dependent. The creature has to survive and something has to go to an opponent's graveyard and I can't always make that happen rapidly.

For example, in this matchup against a Pox deck, there was just too much removal for me to get anything going. Did I get a VZ out? Yes. Did it die almost immediately? Also yes. With +1 counters on it.

I did win the match, though: my opponent had mana issues, flooding out at inopportune times and in game 3 choosing to discard a Pox to his cast Pox, giving me a chance to recover.

In another mono black matchup, this one focused on heavy discard and flying creatures, Hurricane was my best friend, as was trying to play the deck out as fast as I could. I think I lost the matchup but it was a close one. Pernicious Deed was, as always, a rockstar.

I also got some games against a mono-blue deck and was fortunate enough to see Sword of Fire and Ice in those games and I'm pretty sure you can imagine how those went.|

Finally, I had an interesting match against Birthing Pod, piloted by Noah. A pretty solid series of games, (despite me losing) where VZ was good, a card that he didn't want to see, and even won me a game because it couldn't be blocked, it was also just a 3/3 for 5 that I had to do things to in order for it to be great.

So I can't say that the Zombie has been great. Something else may be required and I'll have to dig into what, though I'm lacking ideas right now.

On the upside, the Reaper of the Wilds has been wonderful: a great threat with useful abilities, so that's been a good change.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Journey Into Nyx (trailer)

Man...look at this.

So, my first issue is that it takes way too long know who is speaking. The god of death, Erebos is strongly hinted at but confusion is no place for a hype trailer. I've watched it 4 times now so yeah, it's most certainly erebos but this breaks with the previous two trailers, which highlighted NEW gods (Helios and Xenagos, respectively).

Second, why is this talking about a "Hero's journey beginning"? This is the last block in the set and if Erebos is the narrator of this scheme, shouldn't it be about the ending? Look at this as an issue that compounds the first problem.

Next, why is the line "A champion risks everything for the greater good" accompanied by images of people bonding? There's no reason for this schism.

Nor for the next scene at :58, where we are supposed to take comfort at what looks like a child in terror. What?

Finally, this trailer is disconnected from the other two, which were about the plane of Theros and its problems, to be solved by a champion, but this trailer is all about the champion alone. We have no idea what's become or to come of the plane, the war, the conflict!


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Something Is Wrong

I've been wondering about it for a little while but Theros puts the problem front and center: the game of Magic is going in a worrisome direction. I used to think it was because they wanted to emphasize form over function and other people probably think that it is because Wizards of the Coast is 'dumbing down' the game in order to gain more players.

I think it's worse than that but I cannot say precisely what. What I can say is this: Theros block is one of the worst mechanical blocks I've ever seen. It has issues from mechanical clarity to flavor execution and more and these issues are being overshadowed by flavor. It makes me feel that players are being duped by the emphasis on flavor in order to obscure the problems with the function that Magic has been de-emphasizing. I'm going to go through these points as seen through Theros in an attempt to illustrate my issues with this block.

Mechanical clarity: I have less issues with Bestow than I thought I would. It has the potential to create some rules headaches but that's true of nearly anything in Magic. For the most part, it's pretty easy to get a grip on but it still has some stickiness when it comes to being on the stack as an aura. This is a rules issue more than it is anything else, I feel, and the kind of thing that players have to accept if they want the game to continue.

The real problem is Monstrous. Because of the way the mechanic was written, there's no way to know if the creature is monstrous, because the +1 counters don't mean that the creature is monstrous. The ability apparently should only be activated once but...why can't you do it again? And again and again? Isn't this a flavor problem, if they aren't going to solve it mechanically; monsters SHOULD get bigger and bigger, after all. Why didn't they just say: you can only activate (ability) if this creature has no +1 counters on it?

Why is this troublesome? Of the issues facing the game, I believe this is the least problematic because it's inherent to the game. Sometimes, mechanics just don't gel and you take the good with the bad, learn from it and do it better next time. However, it's a problem bundled in with all these other problems and if these trends continue then we're left with some real damage being done to Magic as a whole.

Flavor Execution; Heroic is just an atrocious failure of execution. Becoming heroic is, by definition, doing something in the face of great odds. If I (as a wizard) am helping my creatures, nothing heroic is happening. Not a single thing. To make sense, Heroic needed to be a mechanic that responded to what the opponent does.

While I may have hated the Double-Faced mechanic of werewolves, I've always admitted that from a flavor perspective, it was very effective.

Why is this troublesome? Because it shows a willingness to ignore the very thing that WotC is insisting they emphasize and we are left with flavor that is "cool" even if it doesn't make a lick of sense. This is the kind of move that reeks of marketing, of assuming that you've figured out what players think is 'cool' and giving it to them, instead of working on what YOU think is cool and seeing what sticks. 

You know what would've worked? Persist. Because heroes are persistent. Or Undying, because it shows heroes coming back stronger than before! You think you've killed them, but no! Happens all the time in stories, right? Why wasn't either of these used? Undying has an excuse; it's a very fresh mechanic but Persist would have worked just fine and been a very cool contrast not only to the previous block where +1 counters were all over, but provided a strong tie into Greek mythical themes, where heroes were ruined all the time, and even illustrating the costs of the war: the strong become weak.

Reskinning: I don't exactly mind that Chroma was reskinned to Devotion, or Strive (which is a terrible name because it has zero to do with what the mechanic does) was renamed from Multikicker, Inspire keyworded instead of using the untap symbol but I believe doing so creates problems for Magic. That problem is simply this; once you've pushed flavor over function, the words you link a function to now become inextricably tied to that flavor.

Why is this troublesome? The biggest reason is that this kind of practice means we can't have Devotion in a non-Theros block. If we do, it will be named something new. This is creating clutter! Clutter that they had to deal with at the very beginning of the game, when cards would use 'bury' or 'destroy', and they meant two different things! They had to create a plan for cohesive language use and they did so, to the betterment of teh game.

But with this mechanical reskinning, they're stepping backwards. It's utterly unnecessary to create clutter in a game that has over 15,000 cards printed and it's incredibly bad decision making. Wizards has already admitted that there is a finite amount of design space: why are they using reskinning in order to make it seem infinite?

Second: why link the mechanics to a plane this way? They've admitted that using Bushido in Kamigawa block was a mistake, because now they cannot use Bushido as a keyword in non-Japanese themed blocks. With the doubling down on flavor, isn't it logical to assume the reverse is true and also a mistake?

Don't get me wrong; I don't have an issue with older mechanics which didn't pan out getting tweaked, refined and then renamed. Magic is a game about evolution.

But if the tweak isn't big enough, just reuse it, like Echo in Time Spiral block. If it's legitimately different then WotC should stop trying to tie it so strongly into the flavor of a set that they cannot break it out and put it into another one. We have an insane number of words in English but that doesn't mean that new words should be attached to every little thing.

In addition, we know the advantage that mechanical reuse has: Cycling has been in no less than three different blocks and has always served extremely well, Kicker in at least two. I don't recall Cycling being integrated into the flavor of Shards block. Was Kicker integrated into the flavor of Zendikar? WHO CARES? People don't remember that, they remember if the block as fun. And no block can be fun if the mechanics don't take priority. Which brings us to:

Mechanics that are not mechanics.This is the one that really, really irritates me.
When Zendikar came out, calling Landfall a mechanic made a certain level of sense. WotC really hadn't explored this idea before and the permanents that were connected to not only other, unlike permanents but something as ubiquetous as land drops? Whoa. That was a big deal. On top of that; Landfall was a mechanic that ran through two sets so calling it out made sense, since players wouldn't see it in Rise of Eldrazi and have that repetition.

However, it wasn't as though players had zero experience with Enter the Battlefield effects and it certainly isn't as if Magic hasn't used ETB effects throughout its history. That isn't new!

So using a keyword for something that doesn't need it, in this case Constellation, does a whole host of things that are bad.

Why is this troublesome? First it just feels insulting. Players don't need their hands held for every little thing. Lands don't need text on them that say: Play only one of these per turn. Magic should be able to rely on certain pillars like; reading. 

Second; you have the issue of clutter, again. More things to remember, more keywords and it is for stuff that truly doesn't matter! The subpart of this clutter, talked about under the Reskinning part, is also there: now you have linked an atmosphere with a mechanic and WotC doesn't get to use it anywhere else, even in places where it would be outstanding!

Third: it's a step towards dumbing down mechanics. Turing the Untap symbol from Shadowmoor/Eventide into Inspire is a perfect example. Instead of a mechanic that looks like it is doing something, now you just have a triggered ability, so you're rewarded with candy for just breathing, instead of actively searching for interesting lines of play.

The reason all this stuff bothers me. Quite simply, it's that I get the sense that people at Wizards know and some other force is pushing the dominance of flavor over function.

When reintroducing Chroma as Devotion, Mark Rosewater went through a whole host of reasons why Chroma didn't work, including player dissatisfaction. And he says, at one point:
When preparing this article I was talking with Erik Lauer, Theros's lead developer and Magic's head developer, about why chroma did so poorly. He had a simple answer: "The cards with it sucked."
Right. You know what players like? Cards that don't suck. We will figure everything else out!

So maybe instead of letting flavor get in the way of the game, let the game get in the way of the flavor. The game is your priority, the image of the game comes after that.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Back To The Primitive

Once upon a time, I tried to make a deck that was Standard legal. How long ago?

Invasion block, which is 14 years ago. You can see the skeleton of the block in Back To The Primitive, no question, and the sonics of the early '00s in the name from Soulfly's debut album. Because times were like that, yo.
3 Pernicious Deed

4 Sword of Fire and Ice

2 Hellhole Rats
3 Gravedigger
2 Thunderscape Battlemage
2 Spiritmonger
1 Darigaaz, the Igniter
2 Darigaaz's Charm
2 Flametongue Kavu
4 Thunderscape Familiar
3 Vulturous Zombie

3 Hurricane
2 Hull Breach

4 Terminate

3 Darigaaz's Caldera
3 Jund Panorama
5 Swamp
5 Forest
7 Mountain
I've clearly changed the deck since then and it's often been OK, at least but it's also been awhile since I've picked it up. Perhaps I've just burnt out on Primitive, after playing it for so long. But, when Viceroy needed Flametongue Kavus, I yanked those from this deck so I feel like now's the time to revise.

In many ways, this deck is emblematic of what I had to do to win when I played all day sessions of Magic; prepare for everything. Hull Breach for the artifact/enchantment destruction, Pernicious Deed as a catchall, Sword of Fire and Ice because Jason didn't play decks that would react to that, and blue and red were often colors I faced.

One thing I'm less than enamored with is the focus on red; why use mono-red cards like Flametongue Kavu when Thunderscape Familiar is there to reduce the costs of green and black spells? In addition, there are a ton of new multicolored spells to pick from so now is a good time to pick something else up. And as it happens, I have two Reaper of the Wilds in the binder that need something to do! If all goes well, I could drop Familiar on turn 2, Reaper turn 3. Not bad.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Repeated Lessons

I pulled a few games against Fuz over the weekend and unconsciously, he played two different decks that had the exact same theme: White Weenie with Wrath of God and Zombies with Damnation. Essentially: get out small dudes, buff them and when in doubt, wipe the board.

I can't beat this style of deck. I don't have the removal nor do I have the tools to recover from Damnation. The tools I do have: creatures with protection from blue, the ability to recur damage resources, destruction of artifacts, punishment for playing non-creature spells, they attack very different decks and so here's my weak spot.

Fuz and I talked a little bit and we agreed: as powerful as Spitebellows is, Flametongue Kavu is a necessary upgrade. Spitebellows can kill so much but it goes away: it's a Combust I can cast under Ruric Thar. Flametongue sticks around and forces opponents to use removal on it.

So I cannibalized a couple decks and pulled three Flametongues out to replace the Spitebellows.

Of course, my next matchup was against Noah playing a Scapeshift deck, and he dropped Primeval Titan on me.

Fuck it, I can't win here. Maybe the Cinder Elementals come out for Spitebellows now? I don't know.

However, Viceroy is a pretty neat deck that is just a hint shy of what it needs. It's definitely one I need to keep in my pocket because it's almost there and if they print the right card, can make it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

One Card

It seems like all the gaming I got in over last weekend was...(almost) all the gaming I was going to get in at all!

Well. Lame. And that's on top of some personal lameness, too. Bah.

Which is to say that I didn't really come to the realization that I hadn't looked for Rootbound Craigs until late last night. Found none.

The alternatives aren't very appealing because they involve lots of money but I did crack open the Guildpact binder and find a solitary Gruul Turf that looked awfully lonely. And I know that I said that this deck really couldn't use more ETB tapped cards BUT the Turf has the potential to interact with the Temples of Abandon, while at the same time providing me with the mana to cast damn near anything I need to (or bloodrush it), once I untap.

So I dropped one in for a Forest and managed to get a game in with Noah, who was playing a Legacy-legal version of Birthing Pod.

And you know what? That matchup didn't go as badly as you might think. Hammer Mage and Scryb Rangers give this problems by attacking the base card (Birthing Pod) and being problematic for many of the important creatures like Baleful Strix. The games were entertaining and had enough challenge that I didn't feel like I was just durdling around while Noah found awesome creatures and beat the crap out of me.

He did win though, 2-1. I was outpowered, regardless of everything else but when I have a good matchup like that, I think that I should keep this deck in rotation because it's probably one tweak away from being really good.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Since Flickr is borked and I cannot get URL's for pics I've taken now....fuck them. (Update, I got something worked out. Whew!)

Anyway! The good news is, I got in quite a few games with Viceroy. And the better news is: the Spitebellows and Cinder Elemental were both useful in the games I got them out in. They did their jobs well.

However, what I've been noticing is that I need more red than it appears. The stats say that I have a 55/45% split, green/red generation and that the deck has a 61/39% split between green and red mana costs.

Yet every time I got stuck, it was almost always because I couldn't get a red source of mana. In one game, I started off solid with a couple Forests and a Skaarg, the Rage Pits but saw no sources of red, along with a hand that started to include Zhur-Taa, Ghor-Clans, and Ruric. And boy howdy, did I lose. The problem is, I don't want to ditch any sources of green: it's just as critical and I don't want to cut any creatures; this deck needs to be as packed with goodies as I can get it.

One thought is to cut the Zhur-Taa Druids for Quirion Elves. This could go a long way to helping my mana problems. However what it eats away at now is my ability to do damage! Time and time again the Druids would come online and eat away at life totals that would help put the game in a winnable position.

Another is to trade some Forests for some dual lands: Rootbound Craig being the most obvious and probably cheapest solution. Again: how many is too many? Too many and those lands will enter the battlefield tapped too often and the 4 Temples are about as slow as Viceroy can afford to get.

Lands are going to be my first option, if I have them. Let's get after it.