Thursday, July 30, 2015

Oblivion Sower

So the first card for Battle for Zendikar has arrived: Oblivion Sower.

There are a few interesting things about this card for me and most of them aren't very exciting.

First, I think the ability on Oblivion Sower is likely the new Eldrazi ability. Of Return of the Eldrazi's colorless Eldrazi creatures, all of them had Annihilator. Which means that the ability of 'exile the top X of an opponent's library and then get Y', where Y = creatures, lands, spells, whatever, is probably the ability of all the new colorless Eldrazi.

I'll just use Eldrazi as short for the colorless creatures from here out. Nobody cares that Rapacious One is an Eldrazi.

I don't think this ability is very exciting, myself and I think it's got a similar problem to Annihilator, which has been nixed as a mechanic for being too 'feel bad'. In the same vein, I think that the free theft of people's decks also feels bad. I think of a card like Shared Fate, which denies people the ability to play their own decks and I see a cousin to this new Eldrazi mechanic.

They don't print cards like Shared Fate often and for a good reason: it's complicated and it cuts a player off from their own creation.

There's also a feel bad if Oblivion Sower misses. Sure, you're likely to get at least one land out of the deal, and just dicking around with the top four cards of various decks I own suggests that two lands is going to be average--and that doesn't suck! But. You're going to miss, too, leaving you with a 5/8 that has no other abilities.

It could be even more one-dimensional; the Eldrazi could only steal lands. That would avoid the 'feel bad' of cutting someone's deck off, but my goodness is that boring as hell. Plus, it would mean that WotC is avoiding a big chunk of design space and I'm not certain why they'd do that. I may not like this ability but the variance of stealing spells or permanents makes sense, provides an actual threat and still allows for the ability to miss. Leaving players with giant vanilla creatures.

Avoiding these feel bad moments means that my next point is pretty likely.

Since the ability on Oblivion Sower reads 'put any number of land cards that player owns in exile' suggests two things: a) that this block will put things into Exile more than Magic has before and b) that this block will interact with that Exile zone more than the game has before.

Making the Exile zone Graveyard 2: Electric Boogaloo. I've talked about this before and stonethorn rightly pointed out that the Exile zone has had a steady stream of cards interacting with that zone for a long time. They are always limited in their interactions but they do exist. My problem is that Exile zone interactions adds complication to the game and I don't think the game needs to be more complicated.

Now, on the other hand I recognize that while it may've been more interesting to have those cards go to the graveyard instead, it presents other problems, because if the Eldrazi milled decks and then stole, players would have more challenging decisions to make playing decks that are using the Delve (in Standard) and feed the graveyard at large (in all other formats). That seems a lot cooler however, I do see that there's an inherent risk powering up your opponent's strategies and leaving you with a vanilla 5/8. That kind of risk makes for an interesting game--or it might, if you didn't pay 6 mana for a 5/8 that has no other value if it misses.

This takes away from the coolness and the threat that the Eldrazi represent, bringing me to the last point.

I just don't get the same feeling from this mechanic as I did from Annihilator. Annihilator felt scary and new, alien and different from the other colors. This just seems Blue, attached to a body that dies to Terror.

That doesn't mean that I think that every Eldrazi should be Emrakul. That would be awful for the game and I don't believe that Oblivion Sower has zero impact. It almost certainly needs more context to be properly evaluated. But it doesn't bring that same sense of dread, either and that's too bad.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Revisiting: DDMD, Let's Do This

I brought out Die Die My Darling during every game of Magic I could. The interesting news: Omniscience is good but it isn't brilliant. It wasn't a win more effect though, as playing spells for free was very useful when I didn't have the mana.

Die, Die has a few issues. One is trying to get the combo set up quickly enough. Another is making sure the combo lasts long enough to win. On a couple of occasions, Path to Exile was a problem for me (although I started naming that card with Cabal Therapy as soon as I understood it was there to take).

There were multiple games where I got stuck with a Sensei's Divining Top out and my top two cards were Confiscate and Omniscience and I couldn't find a card to shuffle them away. I was also a little frustrated with my mana base and then, boom, it hit me.

Temple of Silence. Here's a way to let the Top work better!

Next up, was finding a replacement for Nightmare Void.

With Path being an issue, and Theros...well, existing, I have a chance to think outside the box. After pawing through every card in the binder, I have come to a conclusion:

Theros really didn't develop enchantments in an interesting or meaningful way.

That doesn't mean that there isn't anything at all, though. First, we have Archetype of Endurance, which is a pretty flashy way to solve that Path to Exile solution my opponents could run. Next, Chromanticore is an option I'm testing. Partly because, who doesn't want to try Chromanticore? But also because of the lifelink. If my combo takes too long to get going, lifelink could extend the game long enough for me to win.

Finally, I went for the obvious card: Starfield of Nyx. While I don't expect the living enchantment aspect of Starfield to ever trigger, getting back a binned Eldrazi Conscription or reusing Seal of Doom seems like a good idea.

I just need to acquire a Starfield in non-Cockatrice formats and I can test it in real life. For now I'll sub in a Primeval Bounty, just for the hell of it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Revisiting: Die Die My Darling

You may remember this, if you've been reading for a long time. Thanks for that! If not, well I had an idea so I'd like to take a brief visit to an old deck.

Let me give you the updated decklist for good measure:
2 Confiscate
3 Persecute
2 Nantuko Husk
3 Conjurer's Ban
1 Enlightened Tutor
4 Academy Rector
4 Phyrexian Ghoul
3 Cabal Therapy
2 Faith's Fetters
1 Seal of Cleansing
1 Aura of Silence
2 Nightmare Void
8 Plains
1 Salt Flats
2 Orzhov Basilica
8 Swamp
4 Marsh Flats
4 Sensei's Divining Top
2 Seal of Doom
2 Eldrazi Conscription
1 Debtors' Knell
Since then, there has been one enormous change to the Magic landscape: Omniscience. I haven't paid much attention to that card since it rapidly found its way into the Omni-Tell combo deck. It's a solved problem and it's an expensive friggin' card.

The gears turn slowly though and after seeing this deck in multiple articles I thought; why is everyone insisting on using Show and Tell as the default way to get Omniscience into play? Isn't there any other way to get this card into play cheaply?

Yes. Yes there is.

Now, will Omniscience help me? I don't know. But casting my spells for free sounds pretty good, so I think I'm going to give it a shot. Plus, with Theros available to provide some raw enchantment support a touch up might make this deck really interesting.

I am only purchasing one Omniscience: that card breaks the "my money" rule like Bruce Lee going against balsa wood. For now, the decklist will have the following change:

-1 Nightmare Void
+1 Omniscience

and I'll start the testing today!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


I had originally thought about titling all of my updates to Frost Hammer with the above title the end, common sense won out and I decided not to be so confusing.

I tested the deck with Theft of Dreams and with Dungeon Geist against a few of Noah's decks. It was pretty clear the Dungeon Geist was the better choice, even when I was losing (which against the R/w burn deck, I was).  But those wins came at greater strain to Noah's deck when I had the Geist in.

There was, however, a very interesting moment of revelation. We were talking while he was playing a Standard RUW control deck with Outpost Siege. He'd been getting free cards and ended up using a Valorous Stance revealed via Outpost Siege on my Frost Titan-tapping out to do so- when it hit me; the blue siege.

Monastery Siege. I am surprised it took me this long to come up with that. I've even said that blue got the best Siege! I was initially thinking Monastery Siege would just be for card drawing purposes-something I needed to enhance so I could keep the pressure on when my Frost Titan dies-but then I looked it up.

Three mana. AND it can give me and all my permanents the Frost Titan's tax-on-spells ability.

Well holy crap. That fits in mechanically with what I'm doing and as a bonus thematically, too, because of the ice breathing dragon in the picture!

So now I'm excited.

-4 Twitch
+4 Monastery Siege

Monastery Siege forces me to play the deck a little differently and I spent a series of games with Fuz, testing out the Khans mode instead of just naming Dragons every time. Against a straightforward aggro deck, I did pretty well, the Early Frost buying me turns against a deck that was lean on mana, the Dragons mode of Siege making removal nearly impossible for him.

But against his zombies deck, I failed to find removal and found myself mana pinched. I hope that was the problem because his zombies deck is aggressive like the RW one but I was swept in that match.

Ditto against a BW aggro deck, although in that matchup I made a critical mistake in game two. With a Siege out set to Khans so I could draw extra cards, I played the last card in my hand.

I learned through flawed play that I shouldn't do that. I thought that without any cards in hand, Monastery Siege reads: At the beginning of your draw step, mill one, because you can't keep this card that you drew.

Except that it doesn't. The Khans ability triggers after you've drawn your normal draw, so I would have always had an option as to what to discard. Because I didn't understand that, I lost access to cards that might have saved me.

Another problem was against Fuz's quirky Darkest Hour/Elephant Grass deck. Because I don't have any actual removal in Frost Hammer, there was nothing I could do once his combo was set up. You can see in the picture how I was stymied by the soft lock. I had more than enough creatures do kill Fuz but no way to get past the Elephant Grass/Darkest Hour lock. You can see in the picture: I'm ready to sweep in and kill him...if only Elephant Grass is gone.

I feel as though I have to accept this, because Frost Hammer is a theme deck and since I managed to equip a Hammer to a Frost thing on multiple occasions, that is a success. I don't know of a thematic way to handle troublesome non-creature permanents that don't tap (Frost Titan can tap any permanent) which puts enchantments, especially, as being very difficult to handle. I'll have to keep my eyes open but I'm not extremely hopeful for now.

Still, the Icefall Regent and the Monastery Siege have been really good so far so I'm really happy with the way these changes have helped the deck. It's a solid place to rest.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

From The Icy Sky

Gap where Icefall Regent OUGHT to be.....
I haven't had an opportunity to test Frost Hammer in any meaningful way but, I did a search (after a few refinements) on creatures that want to do something that Frost Hammer wants to do.There were a few creatures but clearly Icefall Reagent is the one that fits best both mechanically and thematically.

So the only thing to do is go to the mighty binder of awesome and...I don't have any Icefall Reagents.

When that happened I did a tiny doubletake, thinking maybe I was in the wrong section of the binder, looking at Fate Reforged just to make sure. I thought about looking at Khans of Tarkir but then I remembered how silly that would be. I'll have to order a few but in the meantime I still want to test this deck out.

So, it's back to the list and the list includes hits like Somnophore (which is insanely good and I think I'm running in another deck), Dungeon Geists, who are the most likely option, and Frost Lynx, which is even more thematically appropriate than Icefall Reagent and amuses me greatly to run.

But I won't do that because it's the Glory of Cool Things. I already have Martyr of Frost; there's no point in making a martyr of myself while I play this deck.

I still want to test Theft of Dreams but increasing my threat density seems like a good choice too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Origins Pre-Release: 1-2

It was a difficult evening of Magic, from a gameplay level. I lost most games and while I had some decent cards the deck did not come together the way I hoped.

Here's what I built, choosing Black as my starter:

Valor in Akros
3x Topan Freeblade
Kytheon's Tactics
Ampryn Tactician
Cleric of the Forward Order
Charging Griffin
Knight of the Pilgrim's Road
Consul's Lieutenant
Celestial Flare

Graveblade Marauder
2x Cruel Revival
Malakir Cullblade
Reave Soul
Fetid Imp
Unholy Hunger
2x Weight of the Underworld
Necromantic Summons

Throwing Knife

The premise was: get out early beaters, use the removal to clear the way in the midgame.

I got out a lot of early beaters...only to have them removed and then find nothing else to continue the pressure or remove other creatures. I spent a lot of games drawing land.

Match 1 vs mono-white. Orb of Warding and Hixus blew me out both games. Both! Sigh. In a pickup game after the match, Hixus almost had me again but I was able to use Cruel Revival to get my creatures back and win. Not that it mattered much but those games suggested I was mana flooded so I tweaked the land down a Plains.

Match 2 vs G/W. Game one I overran him. Game 2 though, he had a renowed 1/3 flyer and got me to 5 life. I had the removal for it and a Valor of Akros out so I figured I could keep the pressure up to win. I thought I had a turn but I should've killed the flyer, then played two creatures next turn and swung through. Not being aggressive enough killed me, as he attacked and then cast Titanic Growth. Game 3 I won by default, as he had to leave. So huzza, default victory? Sure, huzza.

Match 3 was against another BW deck ran over me. What I was hoping to do with enchantment recursion, this deck was actually doing, killing multiple creatures of mine with Weight of the Underworld and Auramancer. Sigh. My biggest mistake(s): Casting Unholy Hunger on my opponent's turn, while he had a Nantuko Husk out. Both times, he was able to use the Husk's ability to deny me life--and usually thwack me for an extra 2 damage. It was not my finest game.

This is in addition to my opponent saying that I was mana flooded in game one. I don't exactly recall, so much as I remember being thrashed like wheat.

I took the extra time I had to review my cards and upon reflection, I should've gone U/B. This lead to asking some questions about my tendency to shy away form Blue in sealed or draft formats. I always see the color as lacking what it does best in constructed: consistency. That ability to reliably draw cards and always have the denial you want is what is prized in constructed.

But looking over what I had, there were some decent combat tricks and creatures with evasion. I needed to set my notions aside and actually evaluate what was there. Sigh.

Here's the Blue I should've run:
Aspiring Aeronaut
Faerie Miscreant
2x Harbinger of the Tides
Psychic Rebuttal
Deep-Sea Terror
Ringwarden Owl
Turn to Frog

This would've given me a bit of early game and some really good tempo tricks, along with more evasive creatures, to help my game along. I chose poorly and I paid for it.

I always get so anxious playing against strangers. I can feel a stitch in my side, as though I've been running. And it's all just stress, the tension that comes from knowing I didn't so something correctly. But on the up side, the foil Chandra I opened recoups a big chunk of my play costs. Doesn't suck!

Still, as a Magic playing was just there. I didn't feel like this set brought me a different or interesting experience than other games and sets I've played. It didn't suggest new or strange ideas or worlds to play it. It just seemed pretty high on the ordinary.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Sons of the North Abide

The advice I got from the reddit thread I posted this deck at was pretty simple: I was going to have to cut away the weaker cards with, at best, semi-flavorful ones while focusing on the major theme.

Wall of Frost, you gotta go.

The other card that had to be cut was Rimefeather Owl. In a matchup against Fuz, I had the seven mana to cast it and only three snow-covered lands. The stats just don't hold up. They could, sure, but decks like these really can't dick about. So: out with those and in with...I don't know what.

Because my matchups against Fuz went well, probably better than they should have. He ran an WUB/artifact deck against me that he hadn't updated in awhile and I was able to hold off against the tiny creatures and win before he could assemble any kind of combo. After the match, we agreed that his deck needed Trinket Mage, because the ability to dial up some of his utility creatures and cheap blockers would've put a crimp in my plans.

There was a match against a U/Artifact deck too and similarly, Fuz couldn't quite get it going. Even so, I made a few changes:

-2 Rimefeather Owl
-1 Wall of Frost
+1 Frost Breath (total 3)
+2 Theft of Dreams

There are very, very few creatures in the deck now and I'm starting to worry. Ten creatures isn't many and two of those are potential control cards to be sacrificed.

I ended up running Frost Hammer against a mono-B build; I was playing a stranger and for awhile I thought her deck would do me in. There was a nice balance of removal and some creatures and I was juuuust able to keep up with it.

Still; in the end I had enough Snow-Covered Islands to keep a Frost Raptor alive and the Hammers go a long way towards accelerating the end of a game. I don't think I can keep the deck in this configuration for long-the cracks will show-but it's a start.

There is a "tap permanents" theme running in this deck and it's likely that some creatures will be included to buttress that theme.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Magic: Origins thoughts


That's the short form. People may talk about draft but nobody really knows how draft is until they start doing it and now that Wizards is outlining what your draft pairs should be and your archetypes, I think they're giving up a lot of the thrill of discovery. One of the joys that people described about Innistrad's draft format was discovering new possibilities; that's been taken away and I think it's to the detriment of the set.

For multiple reasons, I am having difficulty getting excited about this set. I really, really liked M15 too, so while the bar was set high, I felt like they could meet it. For multiple reasons, I don't think they met it.

First, this set was originally going to be about Magic's villains, which sounds awesome! But because this set became the last core set, they decided to shift the focus to five Planeswalker origin stories. I get that, because those stories can be self-contained but I am sad to see this opportunity missed.

And origin stories are, frequently, dull. The shine was taken off of this set early for me, as a result.

The five Planeswalkers they chose to focus on continue to take that shine away. While I still don't like double-faced cards, I do appreciate the way these illustrate the change in the character. It's a solid use of the mechanic and this iteration does away with the 'flip-reflip' shenannigans of the werewolves of Innistrad.

What I don't like is that I'm seeing the sixth incarnation of Jace, fifth of Chandra, and fourth of Liliana. Gideon and Nissa are making their third appearance so I'm giving them a pass.

Let Jace go, Wizards. Chandra and Liliana, too. They have dominated cards-and their respective colors- for far, far too long (eight years!) and it's time to retire their number for awhile.

Moving on to the other mechanics:

Renown, like Monstrous, is a mechanic that I wish was worded differently. Putting +1 counters on creatures is a fine mechanic; just word the damn thing like Persist or Undying. "If ~this~ deals combat damage to a player and does not have a +1 counter on it, put one on it. If ~this~ has a +1 counter on it, then it is Renown and gets ~ability~." Or even "when ~this~ has a +1 counter put on it then ~ability~"

There. Now it's a lot more useful-and in some cases breakable but not easily. As it is, if someone just puts a +1 counter on a creature with Renown, there's no way to identify if that creature has Renown or not! That is a terrible execution of the mechanic.

With that out of the way: Renown has allowed for some very aggressive creatures to be printed, especially in White. It's not a terrible mechanic but it should've been executed cleaner.

Spell Mastery is pretty solid and I suspect will surprise some people. As the number of graveyard-reliant mechanics increase I wonder if we won't see more and more decks that attempt to mill themselves into victory.

Prowess and Scry are coming back too soon. While they are both good and Prowess gives Blue a mechanic it really needed and plays nice with what Blue wants to do anyway, they just return too soon.. These mechanics didn't have to go evergreen in this set: Theros hasn't rotated out and we are still hip deep in Khans block. Considering the 20 year history of Magic, I feel like they should've brought back some other mechanics for this set and given us a break from them.

The "cycle of multiples" (Timberpack Wolf, Infectious Bloodlust, Undead Servant, Faerie Miscreant, and Cleric of the Forward Order) aren't bad. They effect is decent enough for a common cycle though clearly Faerie Miscreant is a step above the others with card draw and flying and Undead Servant is probably the most difficult to pull off.

The tribal theme: meh. Tribal themes are often boring, especially when the focus on the "main" tribes because the power level always needs to be nerfed, due to the long history of the game. Hopefully, Zendikar's tribal theme (because if Origins isn't a big tell for Zendikar I'll be amazed) will provide more oomph.

The big reprint: Goblin Piledriver is a big deal to see again. That's pretty cool.

The enchantment theme: Theros was cool, remember guys? Remember??? No? (Too little, too late, I think. Also, Theros wasn't cool).

The artifact subtheme: Hey everyone blue is going to be cool again! But this time, with red! This would be remotely exciting if blue had ever truly fallen out of favor.

So that's it, that's my general impression. Everything else will have to wait until I can get cracking on the cards.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Frost Hammer

I want to talk about Magic: Origins but since the full spoiler is supposed to be out tomorrow, I think I can wait a few days.

I remember when I thought up this deck: I was in my basement doing brewing related stuff and High On Fire's Frost Hammer song came on. It's not the best song on Snakes for the Divine (that would be the title track) but it's still pretty solid. At the time, the Titans of M13 had been released and everyone was ga-ga over Primeval Titan, with Frost Titan generally considered to be the worst Titan of the cycle. Spoiler; it isn't and someone made a winning deck with it, because blue. Still, before that deck existed, I had an idea:
13 Island
10 Snow-Covered Island
2 Ice Floe

4 Loxodon Warhammer
2 Hammer of Ruin

3 Frozen Solid
3 Ice Cage

4 Early Frost
4 Twitch
2 Frost Breath

4 Frost Raptor
2 Martyr of Frost
4 Frost Titan
2 Rimefeather Owl
1 Wall of Frost

The only goal of this deck is to equip a Frost Titan to a hammer: Loxodon or Ruin, I don't care. I can also accept the Frost Raptor getting a hammer but let's just all admit that it isn't as cool.

There is a subtheme of frost and winter there as well; Twitch being my only concession to a card that is out of theme from a naming point of view but right there with the mechanical effects of Frost Breath and Frozen Solid.

This deck is conceptually very different from most of the decks I've built, because winning isn't the goal so much as executing a thematic concept is. The shift in perspective will, I hope, shake things up in a good way. The past few decks have been more punishing in their attempt to win the game so this should be a welcome change!