Tuesday, December 15, 2015

So Far, So Good, Kaseto

Noah has been making The Mimeoplasm work for him during 2015. It's a strong deck and I'm pleased to say that I did well against it! The biggest key: Sosuke's Summons. That card is just outstanding here and without it I don't know that this deck could perform as well.

I'm not the only one who's been tinkering with Kaseto; Jason Alt at Gathering Magic made a deck with more of a "I get benefits when my creatures are unblocked" theme. I don't really see anything too revelatory there: the goal is to generate a ton of mana for cards like...sigh...Orochi Hatchery. The use of Nature's Will is a good one but isn't exactly what I'm looking for-and I didn't see Bear Umbra, which would help the theme and help preserve the creatures.

Similarly, I don't see that use in Doctor MTG's take on the deck, although he clearly is going for an infinite mana combo in order to break cards like Hatchery or Snake Basket. In addition, I should seriously consider cards like Blight Mamba (which can kill in one swipe), Wasteland Viper and Mold Adder. I'm not so high on Snake Pit because if my opponent isn't running blue or black, the card is dead. Mold Adder still provides me with a snake to trigger Door of Destinies or Sosuke's Summons and if there are black or blue spells being cast by opponents: bonus!

What I do like in Doctor MTG's take is some of the blue additions, especially Leyline of Anticipation and Kruphix, God of Horizons. I don't know if there's room in the deck for them but I'm keeping those ideas on my radar for sure.

One suggestion I'm very excited about is Cryptic Gateway. This is Matt's idea and I am amazed I'd overlooked this card for so long. The combination, especially with Sosuke's Summons, is so good! 3 mana for 3 creatures and the ability to recast Sosuke's Summons? Oh yes.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Kaseto Revised

Most of the games of commander I played against Jason were against the GB Meren deck that he picked up. While this pic is of me playing the UR Mizzix of the Izmagnus---

Brief aside:  the Meren deck is full of a lot of synergies and very, very powerful. The Mizzix deck is explosive if you can get to the mid-to-late game and the Daxos deck can become relentlessly insurmountable if allowed to thrive. I took apart the UG one and nobody cares about the RW one so I can't speak to them but nice job WotC on at least 3 of those decks! Now let's get back.---

The pic is of me playing the Mizzix deck, I spent most of my time working on Kaseto going against the unchanged Meren deck. Here are a few things I learned:

1) Overrun effects win. There were no less than three games where one of us cast Overrun or one of it's children and flat out won the game.

2) U/G decks need creature removal. A 3/4 legend shouldn't pose a huge problem, yet without a way to kill it or force Jason to block with it, I didn't have any other options than: Try to find a way to win before recurring Shriekmaw does me in. Spoiler alert: That didn't happen.

3) I would like to find ways to make dealing damage to the opponent matter: being able to make unblockable creatures is good but in Commander, something that gives me a bonus when a creature does damage to a player would be nice. I don't know that it's possible to work in a subtheme like this, given the weakness of this tribe but as the deck evolves, it's something I'll try to keep an eye out for.

4) Orochi Hatchery is terrible. There's an old rule that says that if you pay 5+ mana for anything, it better impact the board. The Hatchery just doesn't. This is one of the easiest cuts to make.

Let's see what happens when I add in a Capsize ('Snakes, run!') and a Dominate (snake charming?) for the lousy Hatchery and the incredibly underperforming Matsu-Tribe Birdstalker.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Swaps for Snakes

I removed:
Sylvan Bounty
Grim Flowering
Lifeblood Hydra
Soul of Zendikar
Fangreen Pathcutter
Regal Force
Tornado Elemental
Wolfbriar Elemental
Titania's Chosen
Collective Unconscious
Song of the Dryads
Grave Sifter
Loreseeker's Stone
Emerald Medallion
Moss Diamond
Myriad Landscape
Jungle Basin
Gargoyle Castle
and about 9 Forests

Then added:
Kaseto, Orochi Archmage (because the deck isn't a deck without it)
Biomantic Mastery
Colossal Heroics
Wrap in Vigor
Patagia Viper
Broodbirth Viper
Ohran Viper
Mystic Snake
Lorescale Coatl
Coiling Oracle
Orochi Hatchery
Simic Keyrune
Simic Signet
Bident of Thassa
Mirror Match
8 Island
Reliquary Tower
Novijen, Heart of Progress
Thornwood Falls
Simic Growth Chamber
Simic Guildgate
Evolving Wilds
Command Tower
Vivid Grove
Vivid Creek

It doesn't seem like much: I continued going all in on the Snake thing, with blue giving me access to Mirror Match, Bident of Thassa and some of the better multicolor U/G snakes, like Mystic Snake or Lorescale Coatl. There are still questions for me: Orochi Hatchery being a big one. I know Commander is about big spells and dropping a bunch of snakes every turn is a big deal but XX spells are always terrible. Assuming I can get X to equal 4, that's 13 mana for 4 snakes.

I also feel like there are Blue cards I'm overlooking: not just Ophidian (which I don't really have space for) but something else that could be truly beneficial. I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised: I narrowed my focus to what was in the Paragon deck and what I could strip from the Kaseto deck. Some playtesting will help, so that's next.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Commander: Patron of the Orochi -> Kaseto, Orochi Archmage

We start off with one Patron of the Orochi:

1 Titania's Chosen
1 Wolfbriar Elemental
1 Silklash Spider
1 Grave Sifter
1 Tornado Elemental
1 Terastodon
1 Lifeblood Hydra
1 Kaysa
1 Mire Boa
1 Nemesis of Mortals
1 Nessian Asp
1 Death-Hood Cobra
1 Kashi-Tribe Elite
1 Kashi-Tribe Reaver
1 Kashi-Tribe Warriors
1 Orochi Eggwatcher
1 Orochi Leafcaller
1 Orochi Ranger
1 Orochi Sustainer
1 Shisato, Whispering Hunter
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Sakura-Tribe Scout
1 Sakura-Tribe Springcaller
1 Sakiko, Mother of Summer
1 Matsu-Tribe Birdstalker
1 Matsu-Tribe Sniper
1 Sosuke, Son of Seshiro
1 Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro
1 Seshiro the Anointed
1 Ambush Viper
1 Hooded Hydra
1 Soul of Zendikar
1 Regal Force
1 Fangren Pathcutter
1 Skullclamp
1 Sol Ring
1 Emerald Medallion
1 Moss Diamond
1 Swiftfoot Boots
1 Seer's Sundial
1 Predator, Flagship
1 Door of Destinies
1 Loreseeker's Stone
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Beastmaster Ascension
1 Song of the Dryads
1 Gaea's Anthem
1 Harrow
1 Fresh Meat
1 Sosuke's Summons
1 Fog
1 Naturalize
1 Whirlwind
1 Overwhelming Stampede
1 Overrun
1 Grim Flowering
1 Collective Unconscious
1 Desert Twister
1 Wave of Vitriol
1 Praetor's Counsel
1 Cultivate
1 Tranquility
1 Sylvan Bounty

1 Crystal Vein
1 Gargoyle Castle
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Haunted Fengraf
1 Havenwood Battleground
1 Jungle Basin
1 Myriad Landscape
1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
1 Slippery Karst
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Tranquil Thicket
25 Forest

This is a half assed spin on a mono green commander that I took from the skeleton of last year's Freyalise deck, figuring hey, snakes! There were a few tweaks but I'll just admit this was an attempt for me to make an underused tribe into a thing. I didn't tech it out heavily or playtest it, so now's the time to do that.

Except Wizards goes and prints Kaseto. OK. Fine: Let's add in blue and see what happens. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Wait...You Were Working On A Sliver Deck, Right?

This is true! I was. Am.

Well, what can I say. The holidays are a good time to play Magic, sometimes and sometimes I end up playing a lot of Commander instead.

I did get one final game in with Jason against a UW Miracles deck that wasn't using Counterbalance. Early beats combined with a few misplays using Sensei's Divining Top and the best reset Jason could find being Devastation Tide meant that I could put the hurt on before any kind of delay tactics could win him the game. I held on to Collected Company as a way to try and recover from Terminus, if I saw it but fortunately for me, games never got that far.

I made a few final tweaks to the deck: Frenzy Sliver came out for a second Leeching Sliver because the guaranteed life loss triggers are better than possible power increase triggers.

A second Necrotic Sliver was put in because it's one of those cards that opponents hate to see and I should run as many of those as I can. Similarly, I swapped a Manaweft Sliver for a Predatory because more pump is good and opponents hate to see that card. With the two Cavern of Souls, I think my mana issues will be fine.

In the end, I'm satisfied with this list-it's almost tournament worthy, I think. Here you go:

4 Sliver Hive
14 Forest
2 Cavern of Souls
2 Mana Confluence

1 Blade Sliver
1 Bonesplitter Sliver
1 Two-Headed Sliver
1 Striking Sliver
1 Shadow Sliver
1 Sidewinder Sliver
2 Sinew Sliver
1 Ward Sliver
1 Brood Sliver
1 Horned Sliver
2 Manaweft Sliver
2 Gemhide Sliver
2 Predatory Sliver
1 Harmonic Sliver
2 Necrotic Sliver
1 Sliver Hivelord
1 Sliver Overlord
1 Sliver Queen
3 Bone Harvest
1 Galerider Sliver
3 Collected Company
1 Venom Sliver
2 Leeching Sliver
1 Crystalline Sliver
1 Winged Sliver
1 Syphon Sliver

2 Vines of Vastwood

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Commander 2015 thoughts

Here's a link to look at just the new cards.

I've read some people who believe this is the most exciting Commander release ever but I'm not on board with that assessment. However, it does feel like the five decks are the most balanced of the releases they've had. No one deck or color looks like they have a significant edge over any of the others and they look like they will provide interesting games between those five decks. I like that. It difficult to design cards and build decks that match up so well!

Another thing that really sticks out for me is that there doesn't appear to be a Legacy or Vintage card, like True-Name Nemesis, Containment Priest or Toxic Deluge. As I said; the decks seem very balanced against one another. One possible exploit might be Seal of the Guildpact; anything that can make spells cheaper is always risky but at five mana, I doubt the card is going to make a huge splash.

Things I like: the Confluence cycle and execution. The use of Experience counters instead of a Command Zone reference, because Experience counters can be used in non-Commander formats. Myriad is a neat twist for multiplayer with cards costed at 1v1 prices. I'm told Two-Headed Giant is the format for the next pre-release; cards like Myriad could be really cool for people who like that style!

Thing I'm a bummed about: The 2014 product had some cool reprints from sets that didn't get a lot of traction and thus had cards that were difficult to find. Giving second chance to those cards and access for players who want them is a Good Thing. 2015 didn't really bring back anything unusual and I think that's unfortunate.

Thing I'm less enthusiastic about: The decks themselves don't seem to really monkey with the concepts of what the color pairings can do. U/G wants to talk counters (done twice now). B/G wants to talk graveyard (done forever). U/R is about spells, and that's been a thing since Zendikar. R/W wants to bring the aggro game into Commander-an archetype that's been around in Draft since Return to Ravnica at least. B/W is the most unusual one for me, with its enchantment theme. This was explored in the later part of Theros block and isn't something I've really seen in that color pairing much, so I think it's cool they gave it some room.

Still; my overall impression is good and I look forward to tinkering with these decks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Battle for Zendikar-Sealed

Noah came up with the idea of doing some BfZ limited. We'd both heard how great the draft environment was and I figured I have a little extra money right now, I can do this.

Except drafts usually start at 6 and that just isn't enough time for me to get home from work, eat, and then be ready. Agreeing that this was a problem, Noah suggested we just buy packs and do sealed. So I put the call out and next thing I know, we've got six people ready to go!

Here's the deck I put together:

Pilgrim's Eye
Kozilek's Channeler
Eldrazi Devastator

Radiant Flames
Makindi Sliderunner
2 Volcanic Upheaval
Boiling Earth
Valakut Invoker
Tunneling Geopede
2 Touch of the Void

Coralhelm Guide
Guardian of Tazeem
Salvage Drone
Halimar Tidecaller
Rush of Ice
Coastal Discovery
Exert Influence

Makindi Patrol
Sheer Drop
Shadow Glider
Hero of Goma Fada

Evolving Wilds
7 Mountain
6 Island
3 Plains

After my experience with the Origins pre-release, I really wanted to make sure I was playing my rares. I did this to the point of having Felidar Sovereign in the first build of the deck, through two matchups. I soon realized that the card was dead in hand too often, so it was replaced with Makindi Patrol.  I also opened a Kiora, Master of the Depths but it wasn't worth getting into green when I had good stuff in red and white. The mana fixing really isn't there so playing a third color has to be done with care and a fourth color is absolutely no.

My games went well: I believe I was 3-1 on the day. Win or lose though, everyone in the group had a similar feeling: these cards allowed us to put together something playable and stay in contention in our games. We were all pretty pleased by that outcome. Pleased enough that we'll be doing it again.

I've always liked Sealed as a format and I don't get enough opportunities to play it. There's so much focus on Draft that people tend to forget that Sealed is a thing, and you don't have to meet the requirements of having 8 people to do it.

Yeah, it's a little more expensive but it's still challenging and fun. Also, if someone opens an Expedition, they don't have to worry about whether or not they should keep it: it's theirs. With lottery tickets like that, Sealed allows for more of a 'feel good' environment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Critical Cards

Noah has a mono-blue Delver/Skulker deck that is quite good and frequently harassing me. It's a good barometer for whether or not I have a solid deck but it's also a neat throwback to a time when Blue decks played a lot of draw-go and often ran the metagame. I managed to win this matchup-largely on the back of Cavern of Souls, which reminds me how relevant it is for countermagic to be kept at an appropriate level.

I lost game one with a graveyard full of countered spells: nothing I had in my hand actually made it to the table except lands. Not the cheap creatures (starting turn two) not Collected Company (cast when he was tapped out, countered by Daze), nothing but lands in play. Game two: I had a turn one Cavern and now my spells can resolve and Noah and I have to make decisions based on what spells I need to use Cavern for and those I don't or can't, like Collected Company.

Game three had Noah keeping a subpar hand because it had Spreading Seas and casting it on my turn 1 Cavern cut me off of my ability to get through countermagic and restricted my color. It made for a pretty interesting game that I eventually won, however I doubt I would have if he'd had a good hand with Spreading Seas. You can see the late game boardstate to the right.

The dice represent a bunch of tokens with Islandwalk from a killed Chasm Skulker. A timely Harmonic Sliver took Spreading Seas off the table and allowed me to stay alive long enough to generate slivers via Sliver Hive, remove Standstill without giving Noah an advantage and eventually cast Sliver Overlord. That meant I had enough damage on board to end the stalemate.


But the game wouldn't've worked for me at all without Cavern of Souls and I don't know that games of Magic should come down to: Can I force all of my spells to resolve or not?

Magic becomes a very different game with Brainstorm and Counterspell in the format and I wonder how many people really understand that. Every so often, I see people wishing Counterspell or better card draw would come into Blue and I can only assume that they do not understand what kind of restrictions deckbuilders are under when Blue has access to cheap countermagic and instant speed card draw. There are reasons why Magic is a more dynamic game now: more efficient creatures is probably at the top of the list, but formats like Legacy become more interesting because there are ways to have spells resolve through countermagic.

Even with those more efficient creatures and uncounterable spells, Legacy and Vintage skew blue and while those formats have undergone seismic shifts in the past six plus years (there's a viable creature deck in Vintage now! Manaless dredge! Things are kinda bonkers!) I don't believe anyone could suggest that the formats are balanced in color representation.

My personal belief is that Magic is a better game when every color has a viable way to perform. That means that non-blue decks should have ways to win. Which means that instant speed card draw and cheap countermagic in Blue need to be kept at a power level that can allow for other colors to flourish. It's too late for this to be true in Legacy but in Standard and Modern? That's entirely possible.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Doomtown Event: 1-2 Eagle Wardens

Not so hot, I know. I don't think my matchups were very strong and I know I made a huge mistake with my starting posse. However, the Desolation Row deck just wasn't even close to being ready and to be honest, I didn't think people would be prepared for Eagle Wardens.

I was right: there were 3 Law Dogs, 3 Sloan Gang, one 4th Ring and me. So not a ton of variety but at least I got to play an outlier! But I was also wrong; playing the outlier didn't make the matches favorable.

Here you go:
Eagle Wardens (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)

Dude (12)
1x Mario Crane (Double Dealin')
1x Max Baine (Exp.1) (No Turning Back)
1x Jacqueline Isham* (No Turning Back)
1x John "Aces" Radcliffe* (Nightmare at Noon)
1x Mazatl* (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)
1x Lydia Bear-Hands (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)
1x Bloody Teeth (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)
1x Three-Eyed Hawk (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)
1x Sarah Meoquanee (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)
1x Smiling Frog* (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)
1x Laughing Crow (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)
1x Chief Stephen Seven-Eagles (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)

Deed (11)
1x The Union Casino (Base Set)
2x Telegraph Office (Base Set)
2x Baird's Build and Loan (Double Dealin')
2x California Tax Office (Faith and Fear)
2x St. Anthony's Chapel (Faith and Fear)
2x Huntsmen's Society (No Turning Back)

Spell (16)
3x Spirit Dance (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)
3x Many Speak as One (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)
4x The Pack Awakens (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)
2x Strength of the Ancestors (The Light Shineth)
2x Red Horse's Tail (The Light Shineth)
2x Fire of Nanahbozho (The Light Shineth)

Action (13)
3x Unprepared (Base Set)
4x It's Not What You Know... (Double Dealin')
2x Flight of the Lepus (Frontier Justice)
4x Nightmare at Noon (Nightmare at Noon)

I took this from a Doomtown site making a few small modifications, specifically Nightmare at Noon as an addition. The card is huge and certainly helped keep bad situations from becoming worse.

I faced down two Sloane decks running Desolation Row consecutively and both were very aggressive. As a result, I tried to keep up with them when I probably should've held back. The big problem: I wasn't running Lydia Bear-Hands in my opening set. This was an oversight: I meant to have her there but was distracted by a desire to have at least one stud in my opening posse so I had Smiling Frog there, until I realized my mistake. Then I had both.

And Lydia is important because she allows for the best use of the Eagle Wardens home, in addition to being a shaman.

Still, I think I let the aggressive decks set the tempo too often and coupled with a little bit of bad luck, it was a hard night.I had an opening draw hand of four Jacks, and every shootout hand I had didn't get better than two pair. I need more practice with this deck.

So I'm going to get it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mana, Mana, Mana

I lost five out of six games against Noah, often with way too many lands on the table and no threats.

"I don't understand," I said, "how can I keep getting flooded like this?"

"How many lands are you running?"


But the evidence was clear: Something was wrong. So I counted: 62 cards, 24 lands. Well, there's the problem right there, eh?

Not quite, but close.

Another four matches against Caitlin playing a Nic Fit variant, then Matt playing Sneak & Show and losing all of those matches made it clear that I need some more aggressive elements in this deck and maybe even less mana sources.

The first tweak I made was to add in two copies of Cavern of Souls, because that's all I own. This and Sliver Hive have some disadvantages insofar as Bone Harvest becomes difficult to cast but everything else seems to rock just fine. Plus, Cavern negates everything a Blue deck wants to stop me from doing.

I also added in Mortal's Resolve as a way to provide some counter/removal action in Green. Noah immediately countered with, "Why not Vines of Vastwood."

Indeed. Why not? (Why would be, because I am not very smart, sometimes).

A few more tweaks though and I might have something. Possible cards to consider may be Savage Summoning, Hunter's Insight or Wrap In Vigor,

I also may need to consider adding extra copies of cards that really did great work: Necrotic Sliver and Venom Sliver drew a lot of attention. What to cut might be problematic but the groundwork is there.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Genesis Device

Not only the name of the MacGuffin in Wrath of Khan, also a pretty good song by Cloudkicker!

This all started off with my desire to use Birthing Pod in a way I hadn't seen before: with Slivers. 
4 Sliver Hive
17 Forest
1 Mana Confluence

1 Magma Sliver
1 Blade Sliver
1 Bonesplitter Sliver
1 Two-Headed Sliver
1 Striking Sliver
1 Metallic Sliver
1 Mnemonic Sliver
1 Shadow Sliver
1 Shifting Sliver
1 Sidewinder Sliver
1 Sinew Sliver
1 Pulmonic Sliver
1 Ward Sliver
1 Essence Sliver
1 Frenzy Sliver
1 Mindwhip Sliver
1 Toxin Sliver
1 Vampiric Sliver
1 Brood Sliver
1 Horned Sliver
2 Manaweft Sliver
4 Gemhide Sliver
1 Predatory Sliver
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Necrotic Sliver
1 Sliver Hivelord
1 Sliver Overlord
1 Sliver Queen
1 Galerider Sliver

4 Birthing Pod
2 Bone Harvest
I thought that using Bone Harvest would be a neat way to reload the deck after Birthing Pod use, as well as being a nice defense against mass removal. Synergies are neat! A whole lot of mana fixing to enable the casting of every sliver ever and I'm good, right?

The biggest problem I was having was this: I couldn't use Birthing Pod the way I wanted to, which is as an instant. I want to surprise out the awesome creatures, bringing them into play at the end of turn instead of leaving them vulnerable to my opponent's removal.

So I thought: Why not add Collected Company?

I've tweaked the deck and come up with this list:
4 Sliver Hive
16 Forest
2 Mana Confluence

1 Magma Sliver
1 Blade Sliver
1 Bonesplitter Sliver
1 Two-Headed Sliver
1 Striking Sliver
1 Metallic Sliver
1 Mnemonic Sliver
1 Shadow Sliver
1 Sidewinder Sliver
2 Sinew Sliver
1 Ward Sliver
1 Essence Sliver
1 Frenzy Sliver
1 Vampiric Sliver
1 Brood Sliver
1 Horned Sliver
2 Manaweft Sliver
3 Gemhide Sliver
1 Predatory Sliver
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Necrotic Sliver
1 Sliver Hivelord
1 Sliver Overlord
1 Sliver Queen
1 Galerider Sliver
1 Venom Sliver
1 Leeching Sliver
1 Crystalline Sliver
1 Winged Sliver

3 Bone Harvest
3 Collected Company
I see now that I'm not alone in this. Although that deck is Modern I don't see why a Legacy version shouldn't be viable and I can even learn from it.

Initially I was going to ignore the newer slivers because "Old School Represent!" but that's silly. I can play the entire range so I'm going to do that. More importantly, I think this deck has some legs and I don't want to ignore this concept because I'm relentlessly adhering to an unnecessary restriction. With that said, there are probably a few creatures that could be subbed out in order to improve the deck, like Mnemonic Sliver for another Predatory, a Vampiric for...well, probably another Predatory.

Or, some disruption since nothing but lands and creatures probably isn't going to cut it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Graveyard II, It's STILL a bad idea

So there's this.

It's a long column by Rosewater and we don't have all day, so I'm going to cut to the meat & bones of it. From the article:
Erik then came back to me with another request. Having to keep track of an extra zone was logistically a pain. What if when you "ate" the exiled cards, instead of being super-exiled, they went back to the opponent's graveyard. My gut response was a strong dislike, because I've worked so hard to keep exiled cards from returning, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it wasn't affecting the issue I cared about most: the ability to get back your own exiled cards. The original version of what we now call Processors was you paying a cost to get an effect, a small part of which was returning exiled cards to your opponent.
 So, credit where due: Erik is right and another zone would be incredibly difficult to keep track of. As it is, there are six (library, hand, battlefield, graveyard, exile, and command) and while two of those zones don't get much use, adding a seventh serves no purpose.

But damnit, why doesn't Mark stick to his guns here? Since the graveyard is now functioning as a second library for so many decks, having cards put back into it from exile is just asking for trouble. Here's his reasoning:
The system could not easily be abused, because it was your opponent who chose whether or not to bring it back to the game, and even then, it was put back into the graveyard where it's not as easy to access
That's an error: the system is now it's now abusable, because it's a system that exists!

There is one thing that people do very, very well: Find ways to manipulate (or abuse) systems. We won't pay that price this year or next year but eventually someone is going to find a way to abuse this new exploit and it's going to happen because the door is now open. Mechanics can now be designed that interact with Exile and eventually someone is going to come up with a neat and seemingly innocuous idea that gets blown up.

Sigh. Yeah, the choice to interact with Delve is a good one but these doors are now open and they won't ever get shut. That they interact differently isn't the point: they now interact with active zones of the game, thus becoming an active zone. It's going to create the necessity of another zone where players cannot interact with cards.

That isn't a good thing.

I'm headed to Nevada tomorrow, so there won't be new content up until next week, but come Thursday let's take a new deck on. Plus I can tell you how badly I did with the Desolation Row deck!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Desolation Row

Double post because I forgot to finish up Tuesdays Latulla post!

This time though, I'm headed back to Doomtown with a new Sloane Gang deck. For reference, the Doomtown card database.

Allie Hensman
Maria Kingsford
Jose Morales
Angelica Espinosa
Jake Smiley
Jonah Essex
Lawrence Blackwood
Silas Aims
Milt Clemons

Outlaw Mask
2 Mirror Mirror
2 Faithful Hound
4 Corporeal Twist
2 Quickdraw Handgun
Doyle's Hoyle
Legendary Holster

2 Make 'em Sweat
2 Establishing Who's In Charge
4 Back Ways
2 Swinford Finds Trouble
Hiding in the Shadows
3 This'll Hurt in The Mornin'

2 The Town Hall
1st Baptist Church
4 Hustings
4 Shane & Graves Security
Pat's Perch
St Anthony's Chapel

The nice thing about entering this deck into a database is that it showed me I had too many 3 of Diamonds in the deck.(Hustings and 1st Baptist Church)

The goal is to try and use some of the lower values to create a solid draw structure between A-5, and use Hucksters to provide curses to tilt showdowns in my favor.

It's probably all wonky: the Dudes in this deck that aren't starters don't really fit the draw structure so a little tweaking is in order. Jonah Essex is coming out and in went Cookin' Up Trouble, a second Bunkhouse and a second 1st Baptist Church, removing two Hustings.

The nice thing is, I'll get a chance to play it tonight and see how that helps!

Back To Your Room, Latulla

Or: Card disadvantage is a thing.

I did run the deck through one last match against Fuz, who was sticking with Sedris as his commander. I won that match yet I never felt good or comfortable about it. In game two, Fuz never saw a source of red mana, and in game three I used Tectonic Rift to cut him off of blue long enough to establish my board presence and Chandra Ablaze.

I won, so that's good, right?

Except it really isn't. I'm having trouble putting my finger on it but even in victory, I felt like my deck was limping towards it, like an amputee zombie.
In the end, I have to recognize that Latulla is a deck that just doesn't come together as I've built it. Too slow to get going in 1v1 play, asking to eliminate cards in hand for fragile if useful board effects and just not quite enough oomph to be great.

That's OK. In a deck where I don't want to play Subterranean Spirit, Goblin Bomb, or Fiery Gambit, a stronger theme or greater focus on powerful effects might be worthwhile. But I like having weird cards in these decks and so I'm going to accept that this is what it is, with a few exceptions to help mitigate the card disadvantage.

Conquering Manticore seems awesome. Reiterate gives me some tactical opportunities that I didn't have before, especially late game when these spells may count. Finally, Blasphemous Act as another sweeper and a card I can play out of the graveyard with Chandra.

It's time to shelve this deck for now. It's been grinding me and when that happens, it's usually a good idea to take a break.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Latulla's Castle

I played some matches against Rider: he went with Erebos and Riku in his games and I am not going to lie to you:

I got blown the hell out. Nothing was effective at all, everything died and I definitely had to turn a corner mentally from: 'Man, losing sucks' to 'OK, what's wrong here?' Analysis is always better than wallowing but I still had to work through the discouragement of having everything suck.

The biggest issues was, again, mana and the mana required for a red deck to really take out large creatures. Game one vs Erebos had me taking massive beatings from Delraich. I mean. Yeesh.

I had a Flowstone Overseer out in a couple games and while he's very good at killing small creatures, the cost to do so pretty much ends everything else I do that turn.

There are two things that come to mind at this point.

First, maybe Latulla isn't a 1v1 deck. Maybe it's really geared to multiplayer scenarios and I should react accordingly, tweaking the deck for a more defensive posture.

Second; maybe I should just overhaul the entire thing. Walls, protection, get Latulla out and just fireball the heck out of 'em. It would be different, that's for sure.

Honestly, I don't know what to do and it's a little frustrating. I've taken some time to look at creatures with defender in red and that is is thoroughly underwhelming, not to mention lacking in density to make a worthwhile Commander deck.

What's a drag at the moment is that I feel as though the energy I'm putting towards this deck isn't being rewarded with knowledge or victory. Just: Oh, I'm not doing this right.

Well, that's not very awesome. Maybe I need to shelve this for a little bit? Hard to say a the moment but something isn't working out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Latulla + the Destroyers

I've practiced with enough decks to get a feel for them now. Sometimes I can tell when I'm on to something and sometimes I feel like it's just not coming together at all. This is what Latulla has felt like.

I played some games against Noah on Saturday; he was running the Mimeoplasm and it was readily evident that Latualla has no way to deal with massive creatures. Grimgrin arrived, a giant Mimeoplasm was created and I had very little to react to it and couldn't find a way to get into the game. Also, I had real problems dealing with Lightning Greaves.

That's right, playing mono-Red I was having trouble with artifacts. 

Goldfishing on Sunday I felt the same way: this deck just didn't do anything. I wasn't experiencing much in the way of mana issues, I just never felt like I was leading to something. I'm playing red and I am not blowing up as much shit as I would like. And let's face it: if you aren't blowing up enough shit in Red, something isn't right.

So I've tried to add more of that: first, Myriad Landscape, because if you have a mono-colored Commander deck why shouldn't I have that?

Next up: Oxidda Scrapmelter, because this will eat the triumvirate of artifacts that are found in nearly every Commander deck (Sol Ring, Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots), Seismic Mage, because when I played Dwarven Blastminer Noah said, "That's bad.(for me)", Perilous Vault because blowing things up is what we want to do and finally, Foriysian Totem.

When I did an analysis of Latulla at deckbuilders, the mana curve skewed fairly high. Having an artifact on turn 2 or 3 to play that ramps my mana up seemed more important than playing Chaos Warp and the creature density felt light so the Totem felt like a great fit. Good in every stage of the game, I've got a good feeling about this-and if it performs well, the other Totems from Time Spiral should be worth considering.

After a day of wrestling with these changes, the goldfishing aspect felt better. I don't know if the deck is better but at least I'll go into the next few tests feeling more confident. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Latulla + the Tweaks

I started off with the usual research at reddit and found...nothing. People just don't want to use Latulla as a commander. On the other hand, when I posted the deck, I got some nice responses and ideas!

Some of these I just need to do some digging around for: Dwarven Hold or Mercadian Bazaar, for example. Others I'm not quite sure how they'd fit into the scheme, like Reforge the Soul or Dictate of the Twin Gods but others, like Chaos Warp, I was eyeing already.

So it's good to know that I've got some overlap with the suggestions.

Unfortunately, I've only managed one match with Latulla and that was online against Fuz.

Game one, I got out Koth and Chandra. Fighting off two planeswalkers really isn't anyone's idea of a good time and I won that game pretty handily. Games two and three, I was mana screwed and this really doesn't teach me anything.

Hell, look at that pic: I don't even know how Joven got out there! Although I will say: Dominus of Fealty in games two and three was pretty boss.

If I experience many games over the next testing phase with mana screw then it's time to fix that. But two games in a match? That happens and I can't hold it up as serious data. 

I'm removing Koth for now, and the Rock Slide, for Inferno and Fissure. If I can get some more games in, that might tell me what I can cut for a Dragon Mage. Because, c'mon: Who doesn't want to run Dragon Mage if they can?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

League Day 2 or Mana Is Still Everything

I have no idea what my record was but I did OK, 4-2 on the day. This was the deck I ended up with, after opening M15, Fate Reforged, Khans of Tarkir and Dragons of Tarkir.

Veteran's Sidearm
Traveler's Amulet

Market Festival
Agent of Horizons
Explosive Vegetation
Map the Wastes
Nessian Courser
Woodland Bellower
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
Bassara Tower Archer
Nessian Asp
Setessan Oathsworn
Raised by Wolves
Pheres-Band Thunderhoof

Paragon of Fierce Defiance
Atarka Pummeler
Fall of the Hammer
Satyr Rambler
Collateral Damage
Crater's Claws
Inferno Fist
Arrow Storm
Shockmaw Dragon
Titan's Strength
Pharagax Giant
Fanatic of Mogis
Smash to Smithereens

Fetid Imp
Viper's Kiss
Weight of the Underworld
Hooded Assassin
Feast of Dreams
Aspect of Gorgon

Destructive Revelry

9 Forest
5 Swamp
7 Mountain
Mana Confluence
Bloodfell Caves

Looking back on it, I have to admit that the rare lands that I opened, forcing me to focus on the mana base and structure, was a blessing in disguise. By using the analysis from deckstats.net and keeping in everything that allowed me to generate mana, either by volume or color, the consistency of the deck helped keep me in games. I lost only one that I can think of due to color screw (hand full of white and black cards, mana of Forests and Mountains). I lost another due to flood but two games with this problem isn't a significant drawback.

In my final pack, my rare was Narset Transcendent. This was also fortunate for me: By then I was so deeply entrenched with R/G/B that going into W/U was out of the question. Caitlin opened up a Surrak Dragonclaw and ended up trying to force a four-color deck so she could play it and Liliana in the same deck. When I played her the second time, her deck didn't come together as well and I'm guessing it's because of the mana.

The other nice thing is that the initial reviews of Battle for Zendikar sealed were pretty positive. I'm still fairly dubious of the set myself in any Constructed manner but if the limited environment is good I don't begrudge people who like that their fun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Commander: Latulla, Keldon Overseer

That last run of Commander was fun: let's do another! This time, with a Commander listed among the worst.

1 Madblind Mountain
1 Temple of the False God
31 Mountain
1 Dormant Volcano
1 Forgotten Cave
1 Smoldering Crater
1 Shattering Pulse
1 False Orders
1 Rock Slide

1 Chandra Ablaze
1 Koth of the Hammer
1 Fervor
1 Goblin Bomb
1 Stranglehold
1 Vow of Lightning
1 Heat Wave
1 Dragon Roost
1 Gratuitous Violence
1 Warstorm Surge

1 Incendiary Command
1 War Cadence
1 Volcanic Wind
1 Flamebreak
1 Fiery Gambit
1 Destructive Force
1 Winds of Change
1 Tectonic Rift
1 Ruination
1 Pyrotechnics
1 Retribution
1 Balefire Dragon
1 Pyreheart Wolf
1 Moonveil Dragon
1 Gang of Devils
1 Dwarven Blastminer
1 Electryte
1 Viashino Heretic
1 Balduvian Horde
1 Karplusan Yeti
1 Taurean Mauler
1 Bloodmark Mentor
1 Hammer Mage
1 Blood Hound
1 Furnace Dragon
1 Rustmouth Ogre
1 Magma Phoenix
1 Subterranean Spirit
1 Wildfire Emissary
1 Mountain Yeti
1 Joven
1 Avatar of Fury
1 Laccolith Titan
1 Flowstone Overseer
1 Hellkite Charger
1 Shivan Phoenix
1 Lord of Shatterskull Pass
1 Iron Myr
1 Heart of Ramos
1 Phyrexian Splicer
1 Sol Ring
1 Jalum Tome
1 Dragon's Claw
1 Power Matrix
1 Farsight Mask
1 Fire Diamond
1 Krark's Thumb
1 Caged Sun
1 Ruby Medallion

In some ways, this deck is a decent articulation of what I think Commander decks should have: a whole bunch of weird cards that don't see the light of day otherwise. That doesn't mean I don't want to win: it just means that Subterranean Spirit deserves some love, man.

That said, I think it's pretty clear that Heat Wave belongs in a Tiny Leaders sideboard and Blood Hound is just bad unless you've got a way to manipulate +1 counters. I'm already running the more chaotic coin flip cards so I think trying to incorporate another theme, especially one so off of Red's path, is unwise.

I also feel like this deck is woefully shy of instants. There are not very many good instants for Red that are "commander sized" if you will. A search for instants costing five for more gave me what I felt were two options: Radiate and Savage Beating, with Runeflare Trap coming in at honorable mention. This does not bode well in my opinion and it may be worth adding more or adding cards like Defense Grid so I can execute my plans with less interference.

The Honorific

Thanks to Fuz and Jason, I was able to get in multiple Commander games and I made just a few final tweaks. The last tweaks are always the hardest: those razor thin shavings I'm trying to hone in order to give me the best possible chance.

It was the matchup I had against Jason's Kaalia deck that convinced me I needed a little more anti-air support. I don't know that this matchup is a winnable one for me, period: Kaalia is fast and is easily able to drop out overpowered creatures quickly. One of the cornerstones was Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, no question. Flying, one-sided Furnace of Rath is one way to close out games quickly.

So I made the decision to cut Sol Ring. That feels transgressive because every deck WotC has ever sold for the Commander format comes with Sol Ring. It's practically the Giant Spider of Commander.

But Soul of Zendikar can block fliers and create a whole lot of threats. That card won't be left unchecked, of course, but since it has Reach and feeds into the beast subtheme, I couldn't pass it up. Sol Ring isn't going to help me on turn 7. Soul of Zendikar will.

Finally, I cut the Rakeclaw Gargantuan. First strike is a really good ability if you have small creatures or ones with deathtouch. But I am going the trample and big creature route so Garruk, Primal Hunter makes more sense.

I managed to play against Caitlin and Matt last night and they were running Nahiri and Ob Nixilis, respectively. I was able to hang with these decks, winning one game and doing at least respectably in the second. Being able to take on decks with Planeswalkers as commanders feels like a good sign so I think I can leave Gahiji for now and take on someone else.

Final decklist:

1 War Cadence
1 Fires of Yavimaya
1 Where Ancients Tread
1 Warstorm Surge
1 Spawning Grounds
1 Primal Rage
1 Fervor
1 Mayael's Aria
1 Sight of the Scalelords
1 Hull Breach
1 Cultivate
1 Harmonize
1 Wrath of God
1 Rain of Thorns
1 Savage Twister
1 From the Ashes
1 Tempt with Discovery
1 Explosive Vegetation
1 Mob Rule
1 Rampant Growth
1 Shamanic Revelation
1 Boros Charm
1 Naya Charm
1 Slice in Twain
1 Street Spasm
1 Starstorm

1 Swiftfoot Boots
1 Druidic Satchel
1 Behemoth Sledge

1 Sarkhan Vol
1 Ajani Steadfast
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Boros Garrison
1 Boros Guildgate
1 Command Tower
1 Contested Cliffs
1 Drifting Meadow
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Gruul Guildgate
1 Homeward Path
1 Jungle Shrine
1 Khalni Garden
1 New Benalia
1 Secluded Steppe
1 Selesnya Guildgate
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
1 Slippery Karst
1 Smoldering Crater
1 Temple of the False God
1 Tranquil Thicket
1 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree
1 Vivid Crag
5 Mountain
8 Forest
4 Plains
1 Forgotten Cave
1 Mosswort Bridge
1 Naya Panorama
1 Opal Palace
1 Gruul Turf
1 Krosan Warchief
1Weathered Wayfarer
1 Blazing Archon
1 Wickerbough Elder
1 Tilling Treefold
1 Drumhunter
1 Mold Shambler
1 Ravenous Baloth
1 Spellbreaker Behemoth
1 Deadwood Treefolk
1 Crater Hellion
1 Rampaging Baloths
1 Valley Rannet
1 Avenger of Zendikar
1 Krosan Tusker
1 Eternal Dragon
1 Soul of Zendikar
1 Druid of the Anima
1 Archangel of Tithes
1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
1 Paleoloth
1 Vengeful Archon
1 Atarka Pummeler
1 Indirik Stomphowler
1 Enlisted Wurm
1 Laccolith Titan
1 Mossbridge Troll

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hand after Hand with Gahiji

Practice games are not always easy to come by and even with those, the nature of Commander games is that you won't see many of your cards. What to do? Goldfish the hell out of that deck during Sunday's football matchups.

Shuffle, shuffle, cut, deal. Over and over. You do this for six hours and some trends start to appear.

First: I tend to forget that I can cast a Commander on turn five. I kept Gahiji out of sight while I focused on the opening 7-10 cards I got. Sometimes that meant being a little frustrated.

Second: at twenty five creatures, the deck felt a little creature light. This felt especially notable when I had something like Sarkhan Vol or Behemoth Sledge out.

Third: Mana is still king.

Fourth: some cards are just difficult to evaluate in a vacuum. Tempt With Discovery is a pretty cool card but I considered cutting it until I remembered it could get Contested Cliffs for me but even then: how do I evaluate that against a deck that gets Maze of Ith, or chooses not to get a land at all? How long should I hold on to Oxidda Scrapmelter against an opponent who is doing nothing?

So, what to do?

One obvious thing was to replace Oxidda Scrapmelter with Indrik Stomphowler. The versatility and p/t boost is worth the extra mana. I also cut a couple cards to add in a Weathered Wayfarer and a Druid of the Anima. Despite not being beasts I feel like I can still benefit from their ramp potential and if they do attack they still get the Gahiji bonus. Plus they give me more targets for Sarkhan and the new addition of Ajani Steadfast. That helps shore up both the second and third issues.

Ajani is a choice I'm uncertain about. Planeswalkers are always a big deal and Ajani's ultimate could make me a huge target. But the effect fits well. Garruk, Primal Hunter might also be worth adding but I don't want to put the horse ahead of the cart.

As for the fourth point, well, there are some things you just cannot fix. I don't doubt there will be targets for cards like Slice in Twain but I can't just pretend 'em up when I'm goldfishing.

Still, I think these small tweaks have been good ones and the deck has felt like it flows better now. Just have to figure out how to get that Primal Hunter in...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

You Can't Argue With Another Person's Experience (pt 2)

So, let's talk a little about the "reasonable discussion that EDH (Commander) is bullshit"

I find Commander to be a particularly interesting format for Wizards to care about. I also think that it's pretty clear that they do care about it quite a bit. Not just because it's a fun format to play in but because it gives WotC a back door to tinker around with Eternal formats. Usually one but sometimes even two cards per Commander set get adopted by the Legacy and sometimes Vintage deckbuilding communities. I don't know Vintage as well so I can't speak to it with much authority but I believe cards like True-Name Nemesis have weaseled their way in. I know that Scavenging Ooze, Flusterstorm, Containment Priest and True-Name have worked in Legacy decks, with the Ooze getting reprinted for play in Standard. True-Name is just too strong for Standard formats but I believe the trend is clear.

This also gives WotC the opportunity to print weird cards like Comeuppance or Chaos Warp or reprint cool cycles like Tempest's Medallions, or difficult to find cards from sets like Portal: Three Kingdoms or cards that really only work in a multiplayer-focused setting and would raise a little outcry in a regular set.

The point is: Commander product gives Wizards a chance to take some risks that would otherwise be a disaster for regular product. If this format didn't exist, Wizards would probably have to make it because it allows for experimentation and the small twiddling of the knobs of older formats.

It's their place to get all punk rock with Magic.

The problem for the author is that 'Casual sucks' and the central reason why casual sucks from my reading is because players don't play to win. They play, by his reasoning, to show off the $10K decks they've built.

Now, understanding that you cannot argue with his experience, I have to wonder; why is he picking out Commander specifically? Cube, a format he goes on to reference in the article, Standard, hell, EVERY format I can think of has players in it who are out to gild the fuck out of their deck somehow. Often this is through foils but it can involve difficult to acquire cards from historically difficult to find sets. Or insanely powerful cards from years gone by, banned in other formats.

So why pick on Commander?

Because the world is complicated and often run by an economic engine, I find myself reading books on economics or listening to economists and one thing I often see them doing is making one really interesting mistake: They believe that because they know something, everyone else is motivated the exact same way and with that knowledge would and should behave accordingly: i.e. like them.

But people don't do that. People have never done that. We are strange beings and we are motivated by different things to behave in similar but sometimes very different ways.

It would seem to the author, if you aren't playing Magic to win, then you aren't really playing Magic. People aren't playing Commander to win (and he goes on to cite authors who talk about having a 75% good deck to demonstrate this, among other things), therefore they aren't really playing Magic.

That might be his experience but it isn't the truth. People play games for a lot of reasons and winning doesn't have to be on that list. However, people also play Commander to win and they can be just as cutthroat as any player in any format. I've been on the end of that, myself.

Or not. Because playing casually just means they aren't playing officially, like the Professor, says.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

You Can't Argue With Someone Else's Experience (pt 1)

There've been a couple of posts at Killing A Goldfish that have been taking a swing at Magic at large and one of the most popular formats, Commander. There has been discussion at his blog and on the Magic subreddit about it but I felt like some things needed to be said about these rather snarky and not very well substantiated articles.

1) He's right and there's nothing you can do about it. If someone eats a taco and they hate it, you don't get to tell them that they are wrong. Sure, you can but what's the point? Even if they are wrong you cannot change their experience of that wrongness. They hate the taco; they will always have that moment where they hated the taco and nothing you can do will amend that and arguing against it is a waste of everybody's time.

2) Context matters. The thing about that experience though is that it's filtered through whatever life a person brings to it. This is why people continue to love shitty things (nostalgia, say for anything Adam Sandler does) or revisit something and discover it was amazing when they couldn't understand it before (John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, which I still give a day to about once a year because I don't get it) or change, discovering that hey, not all dogs bite so maybe I don't have to be afraid of them.

Which is a long way of saying that the author isn't wrong, exactly, but his experiences have lead him to some conclusions that I find lack the proper context to understand. So let's talk about those points, starting with the 'Why Magic Sucks' article.

"mana variance isn’t fun"
This is correct. Losing because of mana or color screw isn't fun. What this notion fails to take into account are these four considerations:
A) This drawback has forced Magic's designers to work out ways to mitigate those problems, giving us mechanics that are interesting (cycling is the first one I can recall Wizards saying they were doing to help smooth decks out but they continue to work on this).
B) This drawback has forced players to make decks that are actually playable, instead of living in Magical Christmas land where they always get to do what they want.
C) This variance allows for someone with lesser experience to beat a more skilled opponent every so often and that's good for the game. That's partially why we play games. To see who is better. And sometimes, the best player doesn't win. Ask the 2007 Patriots. Then ask everyone else how exciting that game was. Generating excitement is good for a game, every game.
D) There is no human activity that lacks variance. There's just no getting around this fact. No matter how reliable something is, eventually there is going to be the Get Schwifty moment.

Essentially: What he's complaining about is impossible to completely fix and instead has lead to innovations in Magic's design.

"it’s horrifically expensive"
I've long argued this point and while some of the analogies break down (even if you spend $3K on a awesome gaming machine, you now have to spend money for the games for that machine), I think that the secondary market is going to burst. When, I can't say but historically this is true for everything. It's why people shouldn't look at Magic as an investment: it's going to break and they are going to be fucked.

There's a serious problem there, because WotC needs stores to sell their product but the stores need WotC to keep a reliable run of difficult-to-acquire cards flowing that those stores can harvest and sell. So WotC can't just reprint cards that people need to make solid decks, it'll destroy those shops that need Magic money. Buuuuut the current prices are unsustainable: you cannot get new and especially younger players with the secondary market charging so much. Eventually, it's going to collapse if it isn't addressed and nobody is going to come out well when the bottom drops out.

The only way to prevent this from completely cratering? Bring in new and especially younger people. Young folks don't have a lot of money though, so how do you keep them looped in? I'm not sure but they'd better work it out.

"it’s a collectable"
This is a poorly written section, leaping off the last section's point and considerably impacted by the author's experience as an employee for Card Kingdom. Anyone who has worked retail long enough can tell you: retail sucks because you have to deal with people. And even if 90% of the people you deal with are awesome, it only takes 2% of them to fuck up your day, your week, or even more. Because in retail, you have to be nice and you cannot take a stand for yourself when someone else treats you like a subhuman. 

But the point is isn't wrong, it just doesn't come explain itself very well. What I believe the real downer is this: the metagame of trying to find the best prices to buy or sell a card has created a stranglehold on the actual metagame of what the best deck to play is.

If you have ever done comparison shopping online, then you understand. Now imagine having to do that for 16K bits of paper. We have articles and websites dedicated to tracking the ups and downs of the prices of singles. So much of it driven by speculators that I don't even know where to begin.

God, it gets old and it isn't what the actual game is at all. It's a game for some people, absolutely, but it isn't Magic.

"it’s old" and "only wizards makes magic"

I'm grouping these points because they want to talk about the same thing but to get a full article's worth of drama out of it, you gotta break it up and these points either A) don't take into account the reality or B) get contradicted by comments in the Commander article.

The first part of the "it's old" argument is practically refuted by the author himself, reminding everyone that there are artistic endeavors where brilliance comes later. I'll come back to this point though because it holds water.

The second part of "it's old" essentially says "Magic no longer innovates" is true if we accept the final problem, that "only Wizards makes Magic".

Exhibit one is M15.

I know everyone is super high on Origins (which is actually a great set to illustrate exactly why the author is right and the sets are no longer innovating on gameplay) but to properly dispute this point we have to look at M15, a set that was far, far better in my opinion. Part of M15's strength was the presence of cards designed from people who were not part of the Wizard's hivemind. Aggressive Mining, Hot Soup, Chasm Skulker, on and on: a whole host of rares were designed by people who just play the game. Those cards pushed things in interesting directions, directions that players get to explore and Wizards may use sometime.

This means that there is innovation being done, even if it is on a smaller scale.

Exhibit two would be the comments about Cube near the end of the Commander article.
"To me, the ideal casual Magic format is cube. One person supplies all the cards; doesn’t matter if it includes every piece of power in its original Alpha printing, or if they just picked up the entire cube at Kinko’s yesterday. Everyone starts out at equal footing: you sit down with nothing but your knowledge of Magic, without spending anything. The cube designer gets to decide exactly what about Magic they find the most fun, and if everyone in the draft agrees with that perspective, they’ll have a great time.
Cube is also the most self-expressive way to play Magic..."
Cube is someone else making Magic. By the very process of creating an environment and self-selecting the cards that person wants, someone else has made "punk rock Magic", using the tools in ways that Wizards didn't intend, offering players a way to express themselves in a new way or at least one unique to that player. 

Why doesn't the author see that?

As I said before, you cannot argue with someone else's experience and there are reasons this experience exists. I think it's very easy to make the case that Wizards has been timid in its design, art, and willingness to fail since at least Shards block. That the shifts in the game of Magic have been incremental at best and often tilted towards a 'lowest common denominator' way of treating the audience, carried out by a bunch of people who want to protect their world, which means they are going to resist big change. Because, as noted earlier, Magic is an old game.

It isn't the whole story though.

We'll talk Commander next time.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Gahiji's Test

My first test with Gahiji was against Jason, playing a Lazav deck. This was the only deck I was able to test against, since Jason was trying to work out how his deck worked but I definitely had a couple things come up.

First; if I get mana, things are good. That's true of every deck and especially Commander decks but I was concerned about the triple White needed for the Archon Bros. This didn't seem to be an issue in the games I played and that is definitely a good sign. Mana fixing: solid so far.

Second; I don't think a deck can have enough artifact or enchantment destruction. Seriously, has anyone yet built a Commander deck where artifacts or enchantments aren't vital? Because jeeze, every, damn, deck. Hell, Jason was thinking about making a Zur deck but everything he looked at online was so cutthroat he didn't think it would be any fun!

Ah, I'm overreacting a little. The real problem is the Multiplayer issue which I believe can be illustrated by a conversation we had about game two of our series.

Jason Ciphers a Whispering Madness onto Lazav, who is currently copying Rampaging Baloths. Jason isn't being shy about attacking so the two of us are drawing an extra seven cards a turn.

After two hits (so I've drawn an additional 14 cards now) I draw into Wrath of God. This conveniently solves my Lazav problem. If I hadn't drawn those cards then Jason may have just won on the back of the Baloths. Sure, he was drawing cards too and in a 1v1 situation you get parity. This is why cards like Shatter work just fine in duels.*

In a three or four player game, Jason is being outdrawn. He will never come up with enough answers to the questions his opponents pose, instead he now has to hope that those opponents see each other as the bigger problem. They won't, because people don't like having to discard everything and redraw every turn. It's annoying. Annoying is how you get opponents to turn on you like rabid weasels.

Seriously: next time you play, try to notice how often people mention they are annoyed by something. If that annoyance is a player, that player is going down.

Back to the drawing cards problem: this is why cards like Tranquility or Shatterstorm take on more value because you know you're being out drawn every turn. If you can't 2 for 1 something minimum in Multiplayer, then you're in trouble. This is why Oxidda Scrapmelter might have a place in my deck instead of Terra Ravager (although I really like Terra Ravager...)

It's also why Spellbreaker Behemoth loses so much value. A 5/5 for 4 mana seems totally awesome, right? But it might as well have nothing in the text box in Commander because countermagic has practically no place there. A creature that can take care of difficult permanents and feed into the Beast subtheme is going to be much stronger.

So I'm for sure going to replace Spellbreaker soon. I like the card but recognize I need something more versatile in multiplayer.

Of course, this is also why so many Commander decks trend towards the same kind of list: if Tranquility is better than Naturalize then there isn't really a reason to shake it up. So just as with other established formats, we all move closer to the center.

*Although don't play that, play Smelt. Also, the fact that Smelt exists in one set when Demystify has been printed six times and Erase three times-including existence in current Standard is just more proof of WotC's pro-Blue bias. Because one color as more affinity (ha!) with artifacts than any other...

Thursday, September 3, 2015

First Look: Battle for Zendikar

We've got the mechanical overview from the Mothership here. The list of cards spoiled up to this point here. The official previews start Monday but thanks to the Penny Arcade Expo, we got a few juicy ones to Start The Speculation about!

So I was right about the obvious: one of the big mechanics in BfZ is going to center around exiling cards from people's library. Go me! Ingest is going to have a bunch people hoping that they can mill opponents out before realizing that they can't.

I see where there might be some interesting tension there, with cards like Blight Herder relying on putting those cards into the graveyard from exile, possibly allowing opponents to take advantage. I just wish they'd called the 'processor' mechanic what it should've been called, Excrete! Let's get icky! Still, anything that provides some tension is usually an Interesting Thing.

Buuuut not always.

Devoid is boring. We have colorless objects in the game already and there isn't anything about this quality (it can't really be called a mechanic) that truly contrasts it against objects in the game that have color. Devoid just hums along with other colorless creatures (and possibly spells) instead. On the upside, my Karn, Silver Golem Commander deck is about to become a bit more flexible!

Prediction: There will be a return to Mirrodin within two years to "synergize" with the artifacts.

The contrast to Devoid is supposed to be Converge; this would represent a tension within the block (no colors vs colors).

This mechanic wasn't exciting in Fifth Dawn. It wasn't exciting in the Shards of Alara block (where they tried to call it Domain and yes I'm aware that it isn't exactly the same), interesting in Invasion block because it was new and it isn't exciting now. This is because the mechanic has a hard limit on its scale: The MOST powerful it can be is 5 X, where X = damage or p/t or whatever value they hope to do with it. The places where it will be good (if it actually gets there) will be in Commander, Modern or Legacy where decks that can feasibly run 4 or 5 colors exist. 

Now, in those formats Converge can be something to talk about! And I play in them! So I'm keeping my eye on it, even if I don't think it'll be that good. And it still doesn't provide a mechanical or philosophical contrast to the Devoid mechanic and that's irritating. The contrast is all in the theme. Well who CARES? I can play the Devoid stuff alongside the Converge stuff and lose nothing and to me, that's problematic. The two mechanics should have some way of not getting along, instead of just being about themselves.

Something I don't like that probably isn't a big deal: the Eldrazi tokens are now 1/1s instead of 0/1s. Since tokens can be represented by anything and formats exist where Eldrazi tokens from both sets can be played, this inconsistency bothers me. There really isn't a good reason for those tokens to be different and I don't like the possible misrepresentation of board state.

Something I'm OK with that bugged someone else: Sean wasn't thrilled with the Rally ability because it
"Does absolutely nothing new, just the same old Ally stuff. Because all creatures with the Ally type all doing the same kind of thing wasn’t apparent enough."
I pointed out to him that the new Rally keyword was useful because the ability is different than the previous one. The Zendikar allies only affected other allies, where these new ones affect all your creatures. This makes for more flexible draft and sealed decks, in addition to useful constructed abilities. Having a different name helps distinguish these allies from RoE's allies! And it's a name on the card! That we can read all the time! That can't be just "represented" by any fucking noun we choose! See how that matters vs the Eldrazi tokens?

Sean came around (though he has other reservations).

The Land stuff.

Awaken is neat! I can see this ability being very useful for control decks that would rather ignore any of those pesky Creature spells. I'd like it a little more if you could target any land to make it a creature. The Awaken cost makes something like a land destruction strategy prohibitive but if I could use this in a Commander game to animate and then destroy an opponent's Maze of Ith? I'd dig that.

The downside: Land animation is in Green's color pie and they've cannibalized it for this set because "theme". Well shit: Why can't we cannibalize Blue's countermagic or Black's discard?

I'm sure there are reasons. It's just that it is things like this are why colors like Black and Blue always seem so strong and the other colors don't get to share in it--but only because of "color pie" reasons. You have an opportunity to carve up Green though? Let's have at it.

Still, I think the mechanic is solid and helps give control decks some needed tools.

Landfall is landfall. Players like getting something for nothing and Landfall is possibly the ultimate in that kind of reward. There seem to be some new twists on the mechanic and I'm all for that. How good those twists are, we'll have to see.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Gahiji's Encampment

I think I need to institute a new rule: count the cards in every deck. When I went through Gaiji, I found an Island. Then I made changes. Then I discovered I was short a Darksteel Mutation. What the hell?

I suppose this is just part of the risks of having so many decks; shit gets mixed up from time to time. So, new rule in place: Card Count, then everything else.

Now that I've established that, it's time to admit I did some research. Yes, I went to Reddit's r/EDH sub and did a search for Gahiji as a commander. Most of the decks wanted to produce tokens and that wasn't the direction I wanted to go in. I also posted this deck in the r/casualmagic sub and got some ideas like Bedlam and Avatar of Slaughter. I like those ideas but I'm not sure if I have the defensive cards to back them up.

So I went looking for them. No Ghostly Prison or Norn's Annex to be found, all at use in another deck. I did find the Archon Brothers though, Blazing and Vengeful, and thought those would make for excellent: look away (or rattlesnake) cards.

Auramancer, Mob Rule, Wickerbough Elder, Sight of the Scalelords, Vengeful Archon, Blazing Archon, Atarka Pummeler, Tilling Treefolk, Shamanic Revelation, Rampant Growth, Llanowar Reborn and Windstorm.

Out :
Witch Hunt, Mystic Barrier, One Dozen Eyes, Fireball, Druidic Satchel, Witchbane Orb, Archangel, Kabria Vindicator, Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree, Mayael the Anima, Khalni Garden.

One thing I noted was that there are a fair amount of solid enchantments in this deck. The creatures are the victory path, yes there are good enchantments here, so Auramancer became an easy solution.

The rest is not perfect but I think this is a step up, especially with more enchantment/artifact removal and the ability to selectively eliminate hordes of fliers.There are more card drawing effects and I'm hoping that Shamanic Revelation will be especially good. Tilling Treefolk seems like a strange card but I saw that six of my lands cycled and many more are subject to the destruction of From the Ashes. Being able to reclaim a couple lands should be very useful.

The card I'm most interested in is Sight of the Scalelords. Vigilance is always a strong ability but in multiplayer it gets even better. The +2/+2 is a nice bonus, I won't deny that but as with the Archon Bros, Sight gives me a way to warn people off of attacking me. If that card works well, I can definitely see using  Avatar of Slaughter to really make things aggressive.

Time to test it out.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Commander: Gahiji, Honored one

It's been awhile since I've done a Commander deck, so let's get to it!

1 War Cadence
1 Fires of Yavimaya
1 Where Ancients Tread
1 Warstorm Surge
1 Darksteel Mutation
1 Witch Hunt
1 Mystic Barrier
1 Spawning Grounds
1 Primal Rage
1 Fervor
1 Mayael's Aria
1 Trace of Abundance
1 Hull Breach
1 Cultivate
1 Harmonize
1 Wrath of God
1 One Dozen Eyes
1 Rain of Thorns
1 Fireball
1 Savage Twister
1 From the Ashes
1 Tempt with Discovery
1 Explosive Vegetation
1 Boros Charm
1 Naya Charm
1 Slice in Twain
1 Street Spasm
1 Starstorm

1 Sarkhan Vol
1 Sol Ring
1 Swiftfoot Boots
1 Druidic Satchel
1 Behemoth Sledge
1 Seer's Sundial
1 Witchbane Orb

1 Boros Garrison
1 Boros Guildgate
1 Command Tower
1 Contested Cliffs
1 Drifting Meadow
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Gruul Guildgate
1 Homeward Path
1 Jungle Shrine
1 Khalni Garden
1 New Benalia
1 Secluded Steppe
1 Selesnya Guildgate
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
1 Slippery Karst
1 Smoldering Crater
1 Temple of the False God
1 Tranquil Thicket
1 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree
1 Vivid Crag
5 Mountain
8 Forest
4 Plains
1 Forgotten Cave
1 Mosswort Bridge
1 Naya Panorama
1 Opal Palace
1 Gruul Turf
1 Krosan Warchief
1 Mayael the Anima
1 Drumhunter
1 Mold Shambler
1 Ravenous Baloth
1 Spellbreaker Behemoth
1 Rakeclaw Gargantuan
1 Deadwood Treefolk
1 Crater Hellion
1 Rampaging Baloths
1 Valley Rannet
1 Avenger of Zendikar
1 Krosan Tusker
1 Archangel
1 Eternal Dragon
1 Terra Ravager
1 Kabira Vindicator
1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
1 Paleoloth
1 Enlisted Wurm
1 Laccolith Titan
1 Mossbridge Troll

I was originally going to talk about my Karn, Silver Golem deck but with Battle for Zendikar having colorless...stuff, anyway, to add to the mix (but not yet available) and Tarkir's really terrible Formidable and Ferocious mechanics already available to add to what Gahiji wants to do, this seems like an opportune time to make this deck, ahem, beastly.

In the most recent "State of Design" article, Mark Rosewater says about the Tarkir block:
The mechanic that was least loved was ferocious, and I feel a lot of that was because it felt more like a repeat of Naya (the red-green-white shard from Shards of Alara) and thus not enough of a new thing.
And this is wrong. The mechanic was least loved (or in my case, hated, get this weak 'least loved' bullshit out of here) because it is a bad mechanic. Let's take a look at the cards with Ferocious.

It is a mechanic that cannot do one critically important thing: help you win under circumstances where you are losing. And it cannot do that because if you have a creature with 4 or greater power on the board, odds are you already have a commanding position.

This is also true of the younger (but larger) sibling of Ferocious, Formidable. In the subsequent paragraphs, just replace one word for another and the exact same problem exists.

If you look at most constructed decks today, they fall into two camps; control decks, which generally clean things up with one powerful creature, keeping everything else off the board, or aggro decks, which generally come at the opponent with a horde.

In the case of the former, it doesn't need anything Ferocious has to offer and in the case of the latter, the mechanic is inaccessible because most creatures with power 4 or more are outside the mana curve. This is even true in Draft or Sealed; creatures that are that big demand attention. So either you're winning with it already, or your opponent has removal and now you don't get the bonus. You essentially have to play as though Ferocious doesn't matter, which is the opposite of how a mechanic like Outlast works.

I'm hoping Commander might be a different story. Granted, I don't have access to the Blue cards but the possibility that I will have a creature of 4 or more power on the table is guaranteed by Gahiji. Plus, the games tend to go a little longer which means that getting to a board state where I have creatures with 8 or more on the board starts to seem more likely.

That's where I'm going to start, anyway, while trying to keep a soft Beast tribal theme. If the beasts don't work out though, the heck with 'em. Go with what works.