Thursday, January 28, 2016

Unified Theory of Commander

I haven't finished reading this series yet-and if you check it out, it's obvious why-but so far, I think I can recommend it.

Commander may be a unique format but the principles that Jason is trying to elaborate on are good concepts for any deck. The might not be applicable all the time-not every Constructed or Sealed deck has access to things like tutors or raw card draw-but the ideas are still good and you never know when you'll be able to apply the lessons from one deck to another. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Keep Your Head Down

I had more games and more games in and that was good.

Fuz did well with his illusions deck, so long as I didn't have Scryb Rangers out. Which wasn't enough to win the match but still! Not bad.

However, I felt an undercurrent of a problem in those games.

I had the same feeling of unease playing stonethorn and Noah. I had hands that felt like they could almost get there, but just weren't quite.

Talking about it with Noah, he confirmed what had been creeping up on me: I felt tight on mana every game.

The problem was: I like the selection of cards in my deck. Yeah, people don't think much about Suntail Hawk but the card has been pretty useful. I didn't want to cut anything in the 2CC slot and while the 6CC slot has five cards, I don't want to replace the Oathsworn Giant because it contributes to the vigilance aspect while not being a dead card if Brave the Sands is out, and removing the potential mass removal of Sunblast Angel was also a direction I didn't like. Rarely is excess removal punished.

So fuck it: Let's go to 61 cards. I know, I know, it's a form of constructed Magic heresy but I'd rather play the cards I like and run 24 lands than try to axe a card I know is good just to get mana. The statistical difference is nothing and truth be told, sometimes I'm just tired of adhering to rules just because.

The 60 card rule is good. It forces streamlining and decision making. I've been at this long enough to know when to let go of it though and this is one of those times. +1 Plains.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Teeming Millions

I accept suboptimal card choices because of this:

That's a Barren Glory deck I'm trying to defeat. It's as hell of a deck because it has the really workable backup plan of just beating the crap out of opponents with Abyssal Persecutor and Hellcarver Demon.

No Eden did fine against this deck for two reasons: 1) I could chump block Hellcarver Demon with cheap fliers and 2) Sundering Vitae.

Jason is piloting the Barren Glory deck and this is exactly the kind of thing he loves to play. He wants decks that execute some weird combo and he figures you can't stop him. His lines of attack in Magic can get so weird that it becomes very difficult to win, unless your plan is to flat out overwhelm him every time and not every deck works that way. Endless Whispers, Shared Fate, Confusion in the Ranks, Merrow Commerce, Mesmeric Orb: these cards allow Jason to build decks that don't want to play the same game you do. 

Yet all of those decks have one critical flaw: they all are ruined by Disenchant. Or Naturalize, if we're being modern about it.

For five years, I lived with Jason and we would play Magic nearly ever weekend, often until impossible hours of the morning. It would take until I started playing with an entirely different group of people for me to break my "Disenchant in every deck" rule and even now, I'm reluctant to let it go.

When I play Jason, I remember why.

I also got to test the Devouring Light vs Gideon Jura debate but without much resolution. It's possible both cards are useful in different matchups or it's possible more testing will show one card to have a clear edge.

On the other hand, I was able to spend some time with Jason making his deck better. He was running Brilliant Ultimatums on the premise that he could cast that for free off the Hellfire Demon and keep digging. But there wasn't enough removal in his deck: the Diabolic Edict effects allowed me choices he didn't want to provide me with and he already had twelve cards to dig for what he wanted. I recommended Mutilate at first but also suggested Languish. After testing, Languish became the obvious winner because it would allow his demons to survive no matter how many Swamps he had in play.

I'm going to regret helping him...but not really.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sacrifical Man, Keep Your Head Down

The first revision to No Eden was the easiest and was suggested from multiple sources, first at Reddit and next here: replace Serra's Blessing with Brave the Sands. That change is so obvious it would've bit me if it had been a snake.

Goldfishing the deck, the benefits of this exchange were obvious: Voice of All becomes nearly impossible to get around. Suntail Hawk drawn in the mid or late game has value. Oathsworn Giant becomes a Very Big Deal.

The other choice to make is far more problematic. Doing some basic Gatherer research for cards for this deck I came across Gideon Jura-I was looking for more ways to destroy tapped creatures. Planeswalkers always have a massive impact on games so it seems like it would be a shoe-in decision.

Well, Devouring Light has some advantages, too. Cheaper, especially with Convoke in the mix and I already own copies of it so the My Money rule kicks in. The instant speed aspect is important and the other two abilities on Gideon aren't terrible but they aren't great, either.

The only thing to do is test them out. Fortunately, Cockatrice offers me an easy way to swap cards out, so that's my next stop!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Oath of the Gatewatch thoughts

The new set is spoiled here!

I have to say; the goal of setting up an Allies vs Eldrazi format is coming along nicely.

Small joke aside, the set is...a little troubling to me. The focus on Planeswalkers is understandable, given the story that this set is trying to tell, but I'm concerned about what the costs will be once this set hits the market. Planeswalkers are already the most expensive cards out of the gate from any set and Oath is about making Planeswalkers even more profitable than they already are. I suspect many of those rares will become quite valuable very soon and it's hard to get excited about spending more money when the current Standard format is one of the most expensive ever.

That said, the attempt to give colorless mana an identity of its own is a solid one: it seems to be clearly attempting the standalone thing, instead of supportive of other colors, especially blue and white.

One thing that's a big of a drag is how there is only one White Eldrazi and it took until Oath to get there. It'sindicative (for me) of how difficult it is for WotC to really understand the color pie philosophies and how they can be twisted. The Eldrazi eat all the other colors except the "good" one? Really? 

The Surge mechanic should get a strong evaluation in Modern and Legacy, because those formats allow for spells that can be cast without mana payments. Crush of Tentacles for five mana is incredibly good and with a card like Gitaxian Probe to ensure you won't hit countermagic, I think there's something pretty cool there.

So it's a real shame that they kept it to just red and blue: I feel like they should've expanded this to the other colors because the concept is just so interesting. Not just because of the applications in eternal formats, but also because of the possibilities for team formats.

In comparison, Cohort is really just Outlast with a terrible twist.

Support is the way that they're attempting to get Oathwatch and themes from Khans block to mesh, and that's fine. Nothing special yet but worth keeping in mind when looking at interactions in Standard or with other counters. (I want my -1 counters to come back, damnit! Let's gooooo, Shadowmoor!)

Other things I'm noting:

Small equipment subtheme: Weapons Trainer, Bone Saw, Stone Haven Outfitter, Kazuul's Toll Collector (as examples) suggest to me that there might be an equipment theme in the next block, which would make sense as the first Innistrad block had an equipment subtheme too.

Really solid uncommons: Warping Wail is the standout but believe me, there are some really good cards in this slot that I think will be workhorses for deckbuilders.

Colorless matters: reinforced in this set, naturally but suggesting that color matters might be relevant in the next block. I haven't seen that as a strong theme in a little while (there was an undercurrent in Khans) so it's certainly due.

Story truncation: I can tell that they were still planning on a third block because the storyline just feels shortened. Also, the story boring because it doesn't appear to have a consequence. The planeswalkers all seem to be alive and the biggest bad, Emrakul, makes no appearance. Well la-dee-da, man. Jace has been searching for help to fight the Eldrazi since Zendikar came out in 2009. What was all the buildup for, unless something is going to legitimately change?

That's it. I look forward to more Sealed matches with this block but I'm not seeing a lot of awesome Constructed possibilities here, just extensions, really. That's OK, I suppose but if Oath finally shook up the Standard format so it became a bit cheaper, that would really be good.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Addendum to the BfZ Sealed

I took another look at my cards yesterday as I was dismantling my deck. In the blue-the color I still believe I correctly evaluated as deepest and strongest-I found two cards I wasn't running: Coralhelm Guide and Halimar Tidecaller.

Sigh. Here are two cards that would've been perfect substitutes for Benthic Infliltrator and would've helped me out just as much, if not more. I had at least four cards with Awaken and in nearly every game I played, at least one of my lands became a creature as a result.

But I was too mired in what I thought should be my starting cards to see what cards ought to be. Just goes to show I have more work to do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Battle for Zendikar sealed, the Sequel

A second round of sealed! The biggest difference is that we got to set up our decks before arrival, so we could spend our time playing instead of building.

Six packs and my rares are:

Prism Array
Shambling Vent
Smoldering Marsh
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Ruinous Path
Ugin's Insight


The white also includes three goddamn copies of Tandem Tactics.

Interestingly enough, my blue is pretty solid, with some Roilmage Tricks and Benthic Infiltrators. The rares might suck but the middle stuff is solid. The black has some removal and Swarm Surge, which isn't awful (although I got two copies of that and three Grave Birthing. Yeesh.)

My green was...weird. There were two copies of Eyeless Watcher and I considered a ramp-into-Eldrazi deck. Ruin Processor, two Eldrazi Devastator, Bane of Bala Ged, and Breaker of Armies is a pretty strong argument for ramping into crazy stuff! But there wasn't enough to do on turns 1-3 and that's where you win or lose the game.

Still, that's what the other colors are for, right?

The question is: What to cut? If I ditch white, I lose the most powerful card I opened. If I cut black, I lose the removal I have. I'm uncomfortable with both of those options and would rather have a decent curve leading into late game bombs than try and rush bombs onto the board. So U/B/W it is.

It didn't work out.

Exhibit A:

What we have here is a grip full of cards that require white (or 8 mana) and a table of two Swamps and an Island. Granted, I had to mulligan down to five in this game, so I kept a hand with an Island, Swamp and a smattering of other stuff, figuring I could draw into a third land (I did) play Benthic Inflitrator (yup) and stall for time (NOPE).

I lost to a R/G/W landfall deck and a B/R/G ramp deck.


Maybe I should've gone green? Maybe I should've cut white? It's hard to say beyond: what I did, did not work.

Decklist for posterity:

Sandstone Bridge
Skyline Cascade
Spawning Bed
Shambling Vent
5 Swamp
6 Island
3 Plains

Incubator Drone
2 Benthic Infiltrator
Spell Shrivel
2 Roilmage's Trick
 Salvage Drone
Rush of Ice

Roil Spout

Serene Steward
Encircling Fissure
Stone Haven Medic
Tandem Tactics
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

Complete Disregard
Grip of Isolation (which I played twice as a sorcery. Read the card!)
Ruinous Path
Nirkana Assassin
Culling Drone

Hedron Archive
Bane of Bala Ged
Breaker of Armies
Eldrazi Devastator

Thursday, January 7, 2016

No Eden

I've had this deck sitting on my desk for three months, waiting for me to post about it so it can be turned into the true thing of beauty that it is.

7 Forest
3 Elfhame Palace
9 Plains
4 Canopy Vista

4 Serra's Blessing

3 Sundering Vitae

1 Isao, Enlightened Bushi
2 Samurai of the Pale Curtain
1 Pristine Angel
3 Suntail Hawk
2 Voice of All
3 Loxodon Hierarch
2 Oathsworn Giant
3 Sunblast Angel
3 Scryb Ranger
2 Spectral Bears
2 Spectral Force
2 River Boa
2 Knotvine Paladin
2 Tolsimir Wolfblood

No Eden is what happens when I take the idea of a single advantageous mechanic and decide that my entire deck should just revolve around that notion. In this case, vigilance. When I originally made this deck, Serra's Blessing was really all I had (the date of origin for this deck probably goes back to 1997) and so it's long overdue for a refresher.

The nice thing about vigilance is that it messes with people's combat math. At this point, there are probably enough vigilant creatures that I could just make a deck with nothing but those, but what's the fun in that? Getting a 3/3 creature for two mana is a pretty good deal if there's no drawback, right Spectral Bears? Right? (Don't argue. The Bears are staying in.)

There have also been more cards with Convoke printed since I added Sundering Vitae. As any blue deck will tell you; free is a very good price and vigilance offers me the chance to cast Convoke spells for free, or at least at Discount Bob prices.

But there are some drawbacks. Tolsimir Wolfblood costs six and is not the best choice I think. Isao, Enlightened Bushi is a weird one-of to have. There is almost zero creature control in this deck and that's a massive problem. The only time one can ignore opponent's creatures is if you're playing a go for broke aggro deck and that is not what No Eden is. (Although the mana curve is pretty nice and fairly aggressive! Not bad for someone who didn't know what he was doing.)

Sure, sometimes I can just play a Voice of All and win but indulge me anyway: let's update this bad boy!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Kaseto Stampede

I was able to cast Overwhelming Stampede giving all my creatures +10 because my board looked like this:
That is a whooooole lot of snakes, including a Patron of the Orochi that was at 10/10, thanks to Oran-Reif counters and Seshiro the Anointed.

I couldn't win that turn, because Caitlin had a Sphere of Safety out, preventing me from attacking her with too many creatures, and Matt had enough tokens that taking him out wasn't possible either. I'm not complaining because they both took around 20 damage each and this set me up to eventually win the game. 

A few more tweaks happened because I can't stop myself. I didn't have a Leyline of Anticipation but I did have Kruphix and testing was quick to show me that Kruphix is not what I want. In a game against Noah, he brought out a Stormtide Leviathan and I said, "Welp, that's probably game," and 3 turns later it was.

"Don't you have anything for that?" he asked. I do, but I couldn't find my answers and Kruphix wouldn't have been one anyway. I split the matchup but I realized that this was not what I wanted.

Similarly, against stonethorn I found myself in a position where I wanted more answers and didn't have them. I also had a Shisato, Whispering Hunter in hand but didn't have a Sosuke's Summons. Sacrificing a creature every turn is not very valuable.

By now, I'm starting to get a little weary of this deck. It's been weeks and although I haven't written much over the holiday (happy holiday everyone!) I did play this Commander deck whenever the opportunity allowed. I even got some games in with Fuz a few nights ago. Turns out, having effects that tap all my creatures down and then bounce all my nonland permanents is bad for me. (Picture is of my board post Ensnare and Cyclonic Rift).

Still, that was only game two and for the first five turns of that game, all I really did was generate mana. Decks are easier to beat when they don't function well. I won the match, so things are still looking good for Kaseto. 

But Kruphix had to go. Paging through my mighty binders of cards, I came across a simple little card that let me fill that slot: Divination

It's cheap, especially for the Commander format, it allows me to dig further into the deck and it doesn't rely on any other numbers like Biomantic Mastery. Finally, it's easy. After such a long time letting this deck run through my brain, having an option that may not be great, but is certainly good enough, is nice to have.