Thursday, February 25, 2016

Don't Try To Tell Me My Business

Back when I was talking about my Oath of the Gatewatch impressions, I mentioned how the story just seemed to cut off and lack consequence.

Turns out, I was right. The enemy they've been building up since 2009? They're gone now and all the Planeswalkers who rallied to fight them seem to be just fine.

So I did what you do: Took to Reddit to say that was weak. And someone tried to tell me I was wrong.

It didn't work out well, because of the point of comparison. If the response had been about Age of Ultron, then...well, actually, that point couldn't be made because Age of Ultron felt inconsequential. The characters involved didn't undergo a significant change. It doesn't have to be death but for a story to really be good, consequences must exist and trouble the characters within.

That isn't true for all stories but most of them, certainly. And stories that Magic is telling certainly fall into the 'most of them' camp--they aren't pushing the realm of narrative complexity, here.

What can I say? It's been a slow week.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Karona, Come Back

It wasn't until I started playing with Fuz this weekend that I really noticed the trend I've been having with this deck. Namely: If I can get Karona on the board, even with a minimal presence, I go a tremendous way towards advancing my boardstate to victory.

Or, put simply: Karona = Winning.

I've often been reluctant to bring Karona out unless my board presence is stable, and what my games with Fuz illustrated for me last weekend was I'd forgotten what I'd designed the deck to do: get Karona's instability to work for me.

That doesn't mean I should be casting Karona willy-nilly, of course but I can think of a few games where I didn't make getting her on the table the kind of priority I should have. But I've said it before: Overrun wins games. Unless the matchup dictates otherwise, (say if I'm playing against Slivers) there's no reason why I shouldn't be pushing what my deck does do as hard as I can.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bad Relationships

Oh, Karona, I thought you were perfect. Those games when you'd come blazing out of the saddle and produce victories from seemingly nowhere. The synergies.

But the honeymoon phase is over.

Sure, some of that is on me-but I tried. I took away those terrible cards, I put in the answers you'd need to get better. The tools were there!

OK, OK, I'll admit, sometimes I didn't use those tools correctly. I learned the hard way: Destroy Doubling Season at the first opportunity. Munda deprives me of tools. I changed, baby. I changed.

Why do you gotta treat me so bad?


So, last night I'm playing against Noah's Mimeoplasm deck which is always a difficult challenge. However, I had tools in hand: Merciless Eviction, along with a nice start to my creature base, one that was eaten by Sapling of Colfenor enchanted by Gift of the Diety.

I'm at 42ish life and I can afford to take four damage a turn for a bit but I panic instead, casting the Eviction to get rid of one creature. One. I have no other ways to get rid of it and I figure I'll draw into creatures and other good stuff.

So when Golgari Grave Troll shows up shortly after as a 13/13 I don't have any answers. And I don't get creatures and other good stuff. I get Purify. I get some lands. What I need is Patriarch's Bidding, although Wave of Vitriol would help stop the bleeding. Eventually, Noah mills both the Bidding and my Rout and that's game.

This is how I ended up losing the match: tools just not appearing as needed and some panic misplays, likely due to past experience.

Sigh. The tools are there, it seems. Am I just in need of practice or having a run of bad luck? I don't know. Practice, for sure.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


In a best of three match against stoneforge last night, Karona failed against a Planeswalker superfriends deck in a very, very grindy third game. It was an incredible drag: he couldn't find a win condition that would really bring the game to a close, despite drawing three and then seven cards a turn and every answer I had in my deck  (Purity, Wave of Vitriol, Patriarch's Bidding, March from the Tomb) that might have been answers to his enchantment and artifact enhancers, notably Phyrexian Arena and Rings of Brighthearth, refused to appear.

You know what did show up? Bala Ged Thief.

As a matter of fact, it was the critical game two play that had me losing that game. With a Mortify and Bala in hand, against a board with one Planeswalker and a Doubling Season, I chose to cast Bala. I got a card that meant nothing, stonethorn cast Kiora, the Crashing Wave, +1'd my Bala and from then on was getting 9/9 creatures.

Sigh. What a stupid mistake and it was one I never recovered from.

I don't need to make opponents discard a single card though. I need something else and my first thought? Swap Rout for Merciless Eviction.

Waking up this morning, I recognized how silly that was. There are quite a few Planeswalkers running around Commander but not too many all-Planeswalker decks. And I can run them over if I play smartly.

It's not a bad choice but I certainly don't want to have to use it in place of Rout: exiling my creatures is a horrible idea, since one of my late game win conditions is to recur those creatures.

What's really bothering me is that aside from Mystical Tutor, there isn't a card that will let me get any sorcery that I want. Why is that? There are tutors but they are either in black, to get anything, or have restrictions like Bring to Light or Clutch of the Undercity.

Well, heck with it then. Let's just add in Merciless Eviction!
(Instead of Bala Ged Thief, of course.)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Karona, You Still Need Some Work

So, Oath of the Gatewatch's Allies are available. What, beyond General Tazri is going to help me? What hasn't been working so far?

We'll start with what the problems have been: creature removal.

In a game against Lauriel, she had a turn three Aven Mindcensor and that pretty much crippled me for the rest of the game. Mana fixing requires library search and five color decks need that. I managed to make a reasonable go in that game but I couldn't quite get there.

The next two games though, no Aven so Karona did what she does.

Against stonethorn, I had a similar issue, although it manifested in a very different way:

What we have here is a point in the game where I have no land because of World Queller. I also have a hand full-and a deck stacked-with Allies, thanks to Munda, Ambush Leader. My very first hit on Munda? Two Allies a land and a Rout.

Now, it's also possible I misplayed this deck, not casting Karona when I had the opportunity and then just trying to swing with everything. I held back because I needed to get out TukTuk Scrapper in order to nullify the Godsend in play and the abilities of Stonehewer Giant.

Essentially, this means that Munda is effective when I'm in a position where I'm winning already and can stack my next few draws with 'win more'.

Two matchups where creatures were a problem means that I need to address that gap. Even if I performed well overall, and make no mistake, I'm having a blast with this one, creatures are too ubiquitous to ignore.

The other concern I have involves Zur the Enchanter. If there's one thing Allies can't seem to deal with at all, it's enchantments. That's both a bit surprising and makes sense. If Allies could manhandle every permanent type with ease, they'd become too powerful. Zur decks are often brutal though and have been known to dominate tables.

I have attempted to handle these problems, of course. I may not be a professional but I'm not blind: Rout, Purify and Wave of Vitriol are in there for a reason. Same with Hagra Sharpshooter (which is expensive but can take care of pesky small things) and Murasa Pyromancer.

But with Oath of the Gatewatch, I'll have an opportunity to fill some holes, right? ....Right?

No. Zero Allies with the word "enchantment" in the text and the new Cohort ability for Allies is flat out terrible in any Constructed format, with the exception of Munda Vanguard. The Vanguard is good, especially when combined with vigilance effects, but it doesn't provide me with an effect I really need. 

On the upside, the need to cut Munda means that there's a slot in the deck where I can add a card like Mortify.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Collaboration and why I dislike General Tazri

My initial workup for Karona, False God was done before Oath of the Gatewatch game out. As such, it was packed with virtually every Ally that had an ETB effect and anything I felt could be cheap. Back in December, I was playtesting this deck with Jason a little bit and while I liked it, I couldn't always find my tools and there wasn't an Ally that let you search for another Ally.

"But you can search for a creature, dude," Jason said.

"Not with Allies."

"Eladamri's Call!"

Oh. Well yes, of course.

I like this story because it shows how important outside viewpoints are to improving. I was so focused on having another Ally in the deck and holding to 'theme' that I just didn't even consider using what I consider to be one of the best tutors in the game. I get to have these moments a lot, especially from Fuz, Jason and Noah but to a lesser extent, everyone I play with (or who comments here) helps out. Which is a pretty cool aspect of the bigger Magic playing community.

But let's talk about General Tazri.

Building a five color Commander deck has a great many challenges, not the least of which is choosing your Commander. There are thirteen five color legendary creatures out there and of those, four of them are Slivers. Four others reference specific creature types-scarecrows (which I hope they bring back in Innistrad. C'mon, it's a creepy goth set. Gimme scarecrows!), atogs, dragons, and elementals. Genju of the Realm is only a creature by technicality.

That leaves four possible creatures as Commanders.

It also provided an opportunity for Wizards to make a new five color Commander, in Oath of the Gatewatch, as this creature type is one of the few that runs across all colors, right? And yeah, this Commander would be Ally-centric, but we'd have a new one!

Instead, WotC went with a white legend that has a five color ability.

Now, part of me thinks this is an elegant way out of this problem. It's a clever solution and it shows that WotC is paying attention to the Magic scene (as much as we like to complain that they don't). Of course someone wanted to play 5C Allies in Commander and of course it would be cool if we got one. As a way of getting around Commander's color requirements, having a 5C activated ability is smart.


Man is this creature boring. Even though when I saw it, I thought; Hey, cool, this is just what I need! It functions as a second copy of the best tutor in my deck!

And I think this is because of the Planeswalkers, but I also think it's because WotC has difficulty with understanding their colors philosophies from positive and negative views.

There are no less than five 'heroic' legends in this block that are white. Of the three black legends, one is a traitor, the other is mixed with white, leaving only Drana to represent the heroic side of black's philosophies. There isn't a single mono-blue or green legend. And why do that? Probably because Nissa and Jace are there.

If the Planeswalker can represent the color, why bother with a character from that plane? This isn't always a bad thing; design space is finite, even in storytelling, and having characters you can spotlight and reuse is good. Nonetheless, I still feel like this is a missed opportunity. As though they could've given us an actual 5C Ally and just decided it was too much difficulty.

Secondly, that hero is in white and as a result, it's activated ability is probably the dullest one you could ask for. Yes, mechanically it does show the "all for one, one for all" idea, it just shows it in a very white manner (creature pump) that just happens to require five colors. You could just as easily have made this creature green without changing a single line of text. Look at Might of the Nephilim or Infuse with Vigor as places where green easily overlaps.

Why not give us a blue or red one? Why not show us how black unites the colors? Why does this card feel so timid?

The other thing I dislike here is that the General makes Ally Commander selection easy. I know, I know, I just said they could have made a 5C one and it would've fallen into the same trap as most of the other 5C legends but because this is a white-centric card with a really pedestrian ability there are few challenges to think about. A deckbuilder using Cromat or Progenitus has to work with something different!

Hell, I swear by Karona now. Its ability is so strong that using anything else just seems incorrect.

Mostly, though, I wish they'd taken a bigger chance with General Tazri.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Commander-Karona, False God

Brothers and Sisters, I have asked you here today because I have news to share with you! Great news! I bring word of a False God that will take us to the Land of Victory!

Oh, some may try to claim that there are other Gods, who could lead your five color armies to victory. LET THEM HAVE THOSE, I say. Still more will insist upon Slivers, and their pantheon quartet.

Do they have allies? They. Do. Not.

1 Eladamri's Call

1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Vow of Duty
1 Vow of Lightning

1 Purify
1 Patriarch's Bidding
1 Rout
1 Wave of Vitriol
1 Far Wanderings
1 March from the Tomb
1 Lead the Stampede
1 Assault Suit
1 Traveler's Amulet
1 Commander's Sphere
1 Pilgrim's Eye
1 Wayfarer's Bauble
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Fellwar Stone
1 Chromatic Lantern
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Angelic Captain
1 Munda, Ambush Leader
1 Ondu Champion
1 Chasm Guide
1 Tajuru Warcaller
1 Beastcaller Savant
1 Lantern Scout
1 Hero of Goma Fada
1 Makindi Patrol
1 Kor Entanglers
1 Kor Bladewhirl
1 Cliffside Lookout
1 Coralhelm Guide
1 Kalastria Healer
1 Zulaport Cutthroat
1 Bojuka Brigand
1 Agadeem Occultist
1 Bala Ged Thief
1 Hagra Diabolist
1 Ondu Cleric
1 Kazandu Blademaster
1 Talus Paladin
1 Hada Freeblade
1 Oran-Rief Survivalist
1 Harabaz Druid
1 Turntimber Ranger
1 Joraga Bard
1 Tuktuk Scrapper
1 Murasa Pyromancer
1 Highland Berserker
1 Jwari Shapeshifter
1 Sea Gate Loremaster
1 Umara Raptor
1 Seascape Aerialist
1 Tajuru Beastmaster
1 Hagra Sharpshooter
1 Firemantle Mage
1 Kazuul Warlord
1 General Tazri
1 Homeward Path
6 Forest
4 Island
4 Swamp
4 Plains
4 Mountain
1 Thornwood Falls
1 Command Tower
1 Rugged Highlands
1 Jungle Hollow
1 Dismal Backwater
1 Blossoming Sands
1 Bloodfell Caves
1 Wind-Scarred Crag
1 Tranquil Cove
1 Swiftwater Cliffs
1 Scoured Barrens
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Ally Encampment
1 Command Beacon
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Ancient Ziggurat

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

It Takes As Long As It Takes

I just finished playing Infamous: Second Son and what struck me was how short it was. That doesn't mean it lacked things to do, just that unlike some open-world games, getting 100% completion in each section wasn't a requirement in order to progress.

The ending did seem to come a little suddenly but at the same time, there wasn't a lot of padding to this game: things were very stripped down and after each story beat, the game was open to the next one. Players could design their own story to an extent-how liberated would the city of Seattle become? How much dirt could you dig up on the DUP (the bureaucratic enemy in the game)? Did you want to dig up the hidden informants? And so on.

What I liked about this was that it felt really forgiving: not all players can master all skills well and some people just don't have the time to dedicate to that mastery. So being able to pick and choose missions I enjoyed over ones I didn't, while still allowing for progression was really nice. The last experience I had like that was with Prototype, many years ago.

But in an open world game, the option to proceed and add to my own story, instead of running around doing whatever grindy shit was required of me (looking at you, Grand Theft Auto 4) that didn't involve running a criminal enterprise (send email!) felt like a rather welcome relief.

It occurs to me to contrast this experience with Batman: Arkham Knight. This is a game that kept the ending from you until you completed all 250-ish Riddler 'tasks'. These ranged from interesting mental puzzles to (for me) grueling timing tests to race tracks with death traps on them, to breaking random, unrelated containers for no storyline reason.

I never got the ending to that game because fuck that shit. While I enjoyed most of Arkham Knight, gating the ending behind such penny-ante tasks is really, really dumb.