Thursday, June 30, 2016

I Question This Design

Sorry for the continuing deviation from Rize of the Fenix but:

Emrakul's Influence.

When I talk about "top-down" design being a problem (top-down design is where the world and story provide the impetus for the mechanics, not the other way around), cards like Emrakul's Influence are what I want to highlight.

What is the point of having this card provide card draw only for Eldrazi spells?

Flavor. It's all because of flavor and making you "feel" like the Eldrazi are powerful. We aren't going to find a run on 7+ CMC Eldrazi creature spells that suddenly make this playable--because 7+ CMC Eldrazi creature spells are already doing what you want them to do: change the landscape of the game.

But you know what? This card is still damn near unplayable. It's not going in any constructed deck, because a) they have better things to do with their time and b) it's too narrow. It's not going in any sealed deck for the exact same reasons. Magic isn't like Star Realms, where one turn where you get to draw two extra cards can be backbreaking, so it's worth taking Embassy Yacht-a card that's good on its own. (Don't get me wrong, two extra cards is still good. It's just usually not 'turn the corner to game over' good).

So instead, this card is all about "reinforcing the world" that you're in. As opposed to using the art, flavor text and name to do that.

Why not provide card draw for any creature spell with converted mana cost over 7? You'd still have the Eldrazi influence-reflected in the high casting cost of their creatures, the name, the art and the flavor text-but you'd also have a spell that people who just like to cast big monsters can use! You have a card that could find a nice home in a Commander deck, where people who like to cast big monsters often find themselves running out of resources. Hell, I like casting big monsters sometimes and run out of resources...

Does Emrakul's Influence suddenly become a must-include if this change is made? No. Does it even become a good card? No. But it becomes one that could play a role in some fun decks and at least has a place in Commander, or even my "bad Cube".

Instead we have this incredibly narrow card that is going to do nothing but collect dust in binders, because of top-down design. 

That bums me out.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Magic Dev Blog

The post on Reddit arrived quite late in the evening but it appears that Development has a Tumblr. This seems like a pretty neat way to get insight into how things are done and I thought I'd highlight it.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Waitaminute Kage

I have to admit, I'm starting to get a little bummed out on this deck. The concept seemed like such a solid one but so few of my games have supported it. And it hasn't, for the most part, been the weakness that was initially scoped out: the need for mass creature removal.

No, it's just been a frustrating lack of 'getting there', as though recurring unblocked 2/2s and 4/4s just aren't enough. They should be. My direct damage is cheap enough and mana issues are rare. I've out drawn opponents and still not been able to get enough damage to win.

I should be able to outrun a Pyrexian Processor, damnit.

Jason suggested something that let my red stuff do more damage. Hey, let's take a look at underwhelming: Akki Lavarunner. Sulfuric Vapors. Embermaw Hellion.

Of those, Akki is fragile as hell, Vortex only works for my spells and Hellion costs 5.

On the other side, cards that just double all damage, like Dictate of the Twin Gods, have a downside that is far too great for me. Rize isn't fast enough to close out like that, nor does it have any way to mitigate that downside.

I'm considering running Omen of Fire or Anarchy. That's how bad things have felt against white decks. Those cards might be useless vs non-white decks but I can always just pitch them to Wild Guess, right?

Sigh. That idea is terrible but it's reflective of how discouraged I've been feeling. Against Lauriel's B/W spirits deck, my creatures were removed by Path to Exile (to be expected) and Oblivion Ring. Those are good removal cards, so I'm not upset about that but when three copies of Intangible Virtue arrive I have no way to interact with them at all.

In game three, I could not find a direct damage spell, despite drawing an extra ten cards, (10 freakin' cards!) I could not find a removal spell for Twilight Drover.

It's things like this that make me feel like decks are pets. Once you get it tuned right, it behaves like a good pet but until you do, it's more than happy to pee all over the floor and your hopes and dreams.

Lauriel suggested adding sacrifice effects. I like this idea-Goblin Bombardment, Barrage of Expendables, these are good ways to get around effects like Pacifism or even Oblivion Ring.

But they wouldn't stop Ghostly Prison, Sigil of the Empty Throne or Intangible Virtue. I really don't want to add in something like Nevinyrral's Disk because it blows any attempt I have at metalcraft out of the water. At the same time I am frustrated by my inability to handle the problem I'm confronted with given the tools I have.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What Will We Do?

I seem to have a problem with G/W Enchantment decks.

This particular game was especially silly, where I couldn't find any land and Fuz had nothing but land.

Eventually though, he got rolling with the Enchantress draws and I couldn't keep up. Turns out, targeted removal has a problem with creatures that have shroud.

I know, who'da thunk?

In this matchup, the key card was Pacifism. Killing my creatures is fine: I can bring them back. But immobilizing them means I need to try tricks like 'Lightning Bolt my own creature so I can bring it back' (something I did in game 3, I'm proud to say). Still, that's some different thinking to wrap around.

To be fair, I would have a similar issue against a card like Terminus but so would most decks. I don't feel too bad about that, especially since I can load up my graveyard with creatures and go long.

I will say, Prism Ring did do what  hoped it would: gave me time. I was able to withstand a 21 point swing from Fuz and draw another card to try and win. I didn't but the fact is, I was at 28 and he couldn't kill me in one shot.

Chandra has also been doing some good work too, although I'm not as well versed in her utility yet. Still, the damage dealing and card draw effect are enhancements. I'm almost considering adding Outpost Siege as a result.

The biggest challenge, actually, has been remembering all of my triggers. In a multiplayer game with Matt and Caitlin that I lost, I forgot multiple Prism Ring triggers that might've made the difference. For some reason, playing online has been easier in this respect; I seemed to catch my triggers more often.

I wonder if that's because of the different interface: keyboard and mouse requires a different brainset of moves than twenty years of practice I've had just placing a card down and saying what I'm going to do. Rize is also a new deck, with interactions that I'm working out the best path on. Discarding Flamewake Phoenix over Kuldotha to Wild Guess? It all depends on what I think is most likely to happen!

The matchups I had with Fuz also, finally, gave me the "you need mass removal" blow to the noggin. The second game we played he brought his zombies deck, a resilient, difficult to handle thing and my ability to keep cards like Undead Warchief off the table was hampered by his Unholy Grotto. As a matter of fact, I think the game I won, he didn't have Unholy Grotto. If I had been able to sweep his side of the table all at once, Grotto becomes a lot more difficult to use.

So it seems like there is one last tweak: Shard Phoenix. Firewing Phoenix, as much as I like you, just isn't efficient enough and Magma Phoenix, my original alternative, belongs in a deck where I don't get 8 creatures killed because I used the ability.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

More Little Things

I liked this article by Saffron Olive because it points out something that I don't think we acknowledge enough: tiny percentages over time add up.

This is why in the recent discussion at CFB about loot or don't loot was so contentious. Because Magic is such a complicated game, it's pretty easy to brush off the math for how it feels or insist that the math is the only thing that matters.

But: in the situation described, there is a nonzero chance of having to keep your best card but lose your second best card in a situation where you are already winning.

And the opponent is going to have another threat. This is something LSV doesn't address in the objections and I feel like that is key to understanding things.

Because the situation described plays out like this:

How many turns do you have left? If you are able to take the angel, then the game lasts 4 more turns assuming nothing else happens. If anything else happens, then the game continues and you still have the best answer in your deck, along with the opportunity to draw into win conditions.

It's a tiny, tiny percentage but tiny percentages add up. And since I'm already winning, I go conservative.

That doesn't mean it's right. Most of the time, the looting will have a positive impact and if I was in a losing situation then looting is always right. But if I'm winning, then I look for the small percentage that causes me to lose and avoid it.

Because the small percentages add up over time. And as this article by Neil Oliver points out, cumulative growth is the goal.

With this in mind, I need to remember when I make good plays, too. If all I can do is catalog my mistakes, that's going to take a lot of the fun out of this game-hell out of life-for me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

So What If It's True?

This was a slice of my thought process:
Start over.
What if the choices are wrong? Should I remove Lightning Bolt? Chandra's Phoenix isn't coming back as easily as I want, because my direct damage is going towards their creatures: should they get replaced? Maybe I break down and just add a red Planeswalker.

Which one? Ugh, Chandra is so cliche but there's 6 of her and what are my other choices? Tibalt? Hell no. Koth doesn't fit and Sarkhan isn't a planeswalker when he does damage.

Less Kuldotha Phoenix. The numbers don't lie; you can't reliably cast it from the graveyard anyway. Cut one, add in another card.

Gah. Cut the Spirit Guides, add in land? Maybe more direct damage? Avacyn's Judgement? It can hit creatures and players and it can scale up....
No no.

Watch this match, hey, burn! Maybe I should add in Grim Great one drop, but I don't want to exile my graveyard.
And so on.

Eventually, I decided was that Simian Spirit Guide wasn't helping me. Yes, a turn one Fire Diamond or Wild Guess was going to be good but I never felt like that really set the edge of the game for me, providing an advantage my opponent couldn't ignore.

So how do I address the issue of time? Jason thought the deck needed to be sped up and that's usually how we think of time. I kept looking at ways to add more direct damage that would fit. Most direct damage isn't damaging enough and Kindle really adds in a "missed opportunity" effect, for me.

When nothing seems right, it's hard to change my thought process up. Still, I found inspiration in the durdlely blue deck LSV is playing. What if I extend the amount of time I have, instead of shortening my opponent's?

What do Phoenixes represent? Life.

So what if I lean into the Kuldotha Phoenix needs?

I present to you, Rize 2.0:
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Chandra's Phoenix
2 Firewing Phoenix
4 Demigod of Revenge

2 Chandra, Pyromancer

3 Prism Ring
4 Fire Diamond
3 Wild Guess
4 Tormenting Voice 
4 Fiery Temper
4 Lightning Bolt

4 Braid of Fire 
 3 Great Furnace
16 Mountain
That's right everybody: Prism Ring secret tech.

I thought about Dragon's Claw, because that card shores up the Burn match and can help against other decks, too. But Prism Ring doesn't conflict with all the spells at my 2CC spot: I can play it turn one and gain life off the next spot in the curve.

If I was to sideboard, cards like Overmaster and Young Pyromancer seem to be good options, along with Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon. However, old school cards like Earthquake should be on my radar, along with artifact destruction, because artifacts are pesky.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sun Shines and It's A Hell of A Day

"If you could get it a little faster," Jason said.

Here we have Jason blowing up against me with his Opalesence deck, generating more angels than I can deal with and stalling me out with Ghostly Prison.

This is a pretty clear circumstance where I had zero way to interact with his lines of play: Red can do a lot, but it can't take out enchantments. I got Jason down to 8 before being overrun by angels and was still hoping that I might draw into just enough burn to make it work. I couldn't quite get there.

It's not all bad, though.

This is a game vs his GR Dragons deck. I was able to use my burn spells to keep his mana production at reasonable (read: fair) levels and the hastey creatures did their job.

Rize of the Fenix was at least somewhat impressive to Jason: He saw me cast a Demigod, bringing another Demigod into play and then attack for 10.

"That's scary," he said.

Yup. However, what it wasn't was reliable. I'm not sure if this is because of variance due to a small sample size or because I've got a flaw in the deck. There would be times when the draw spells would just whiff and I'd end up with phoenixes I couldn't recur or no pressure on board.

Sometimes decks don't work-sometimes they do. How do I figure out where or if it's broken?

I also ran into a problem I didn't expect: Jason had maindeck artifact removal in the Opalesence match so I couldn't get Kuldotha Phoenix to recur. I could cast it, but I couldn't bring it back. Granted, this was only versus Opalesence but usually I'm the one who has the maindeck artifact or enchantment removal. An interesting role reversal for us, if nothing else.

I often felt in those games like I was on the cusp of something. Sure, there were a couple times when Rize came out of seemingly nowhere to win but it always seemed like I was hanging on with my fingernails. Close but not quite.

On the plus side: I never felt short on mana. I'd transitioned the deck to running Simian Spirit Guide and didn't feel like I missed a thing. On the down side: I just couldn't close out. Chandra's Phoenix wasn't recurring the way I'd hoped and I would get so close, as I did in my burn matchup with Noah, and then the deck couldn't quite complete the game.

So now what?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

It Was A Bomb

In my first test, I went up against Matt's Sneak and Show deck and won after an Emrakul attack. I'd sacrificed everything but a Mountain and a Firewing Phoenix but on my turn I was able to recur Flamewake Phoenix to the battlefield, attack for 6 and win.

So that felt pretty good.

Then there was the response I got both here and at the Reddit at the Casual Magic forum: lots of ideas coming from people, which is always pretty gratifying.

One person commented that I didn't have much mass removal and that is a concern going forward. They were very emphatic on that point, so I'll be keeping that in mind as I play. That same commenter pointed out that I wasn't going to get Kuldotha Phoenix online very reliably with only seven artifacts. Or at least, not by turn 4 or 5; the math just doesn't allow for it.

That's true but I've realized my goal isn't to have Kuldotha Phoenix online by turn 4: The goal is to be able to bring it back as my other threats get neutralized. With this in mind, it's not an unacceptable ratio.

One other commenter suggested Simian Spirit Guide, once Demigod was added to the deck, because the mana acceleration could be very useful.

Finally, Pyrewild Shaman was suggested and man, I have to admit that idea seems pretty cool. I'm not sure if there's room for the card though, as much as I like the idea.

I went into testing with Noah with what I thought were reasonable hopes: those hopes hit some rocks.

Burn is a brutal matchup. Once I figured out how to play it, that got better but still, the closest I took Noah to was 4 and he untapped and brought me from 20 to 0. On the upside, it's easily fixable with Dragon's Claw, though, which also contributes to metalcraft!

White weenie: I took care of that pretty handily. Control? Coming back from Supreme Verdict isn't that difficult. Green devotion? That is the one matchup where I felt like mass removal could've helped.

By then, however, I'd took out Magma Phoenix and reconfigured the deck to run Kuldotha Phoenix, Demigod of Revenge and Simian Spirit Guide. Noah didn't disagree with this but he did acknowledge; "That's really aggressive."

It is but maybe it's correct?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Rize of the Fenix

This is what happens when I am looking at Magic cards late at night.

"Hey, I bet there are enough phoenixes in the game to make a phoenix deck. I could even name it after that Tenacious D song..." (Note, album cover artwork considered work-questionable).

And 48 hours later, here we are. I had planned to talk about a dragon deck but instead I have this:
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Chandra's Phoenix
3 Firewing Phoenix
4 Demigod of Revenge
2 Akoum Firebird
2 Magma Phoenix 
3 Wild Guess
4 Tormenting Voice 
3 Fiery Temper
4 Lightning Bolt

4 Braid of Fire 
23 Mountain
Except I don't. While building the deck I discovered that I didn't have any Braid of Fire and only two Demigod of Revenge. I'll order the Demigods but Braid of Fire is $7 for damaged copies. The heck with that. My money > less of my money.

I'll test this deck on Cockatrice as is and perhaps Braid of Fire will prove itself to be invaluable. Until then, I'm running the paper version with the following changes:

-3 Mountain
-4 Demigod of Revenge
-4 Braid of Fire
+3 Great Furnace
+4 Fire Diamond

Which isn't quite as awesome. Still, I own these cards, they have synergies or advance what the deck wants to do so I'm giving this a run until the other two Demigods can be acquired.
Seven artifacts-four to boost the mana production-is, I hope, enough to get Kuldotha Phoenix going reliably. The seven draw spells I'm running should keep things smooth and with the abilities of my creatures, I shouldn't have to worry about discarding them.

As a side note, this is one of the things I feel Magic should do: allow the drawbacks of certain powerful strategies be turned into strengths, given the right deck. Discarding a card before you've even drawn one? That's risky, even though it's often the correct thing to do, because card draw is so powerful. But which card?

With the avenue existing for me to turn that drawback around, with an array of phoenixes and Demigod of Revenge, I feel I have a really strong core idea. Card draw in Red that, coupled with other things, provides actual card advantage-as opposed to Blue which just has raw card advantage.

Contrast this with a card like Delver of Secrets which reinforces a strategy that Blue already wants to do (run a lot of instants and sorceries) and maybe you'll see why I find Rize of the Fenix so exciting.