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.