Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Take The Crown: Online Review

Man, this is too much fun.

Goblin Racketeer: I went with a fair rating and that's because a 4/2 for 4 mana isn't bad and I don't know how to rate Goad as a mechanic yet. The art was decent but after that, nothing else stands out about this card.

Orchard Elemental: Green boarder + green art = that's boring. Plus, the damn thing looks like it's in a European palatial grounds, not an orchard. I did like the flavor text but the card itself is poor. Six mana for a benefit that your opponents control is not good. If you get a vanilla 8/8, that's bad. If you get a 2/2 and gain 12 life, that's marginally better but this is assuming that there are still 4 players in the game when the card enters the battlefield! The odds of you getting a much worse scenario is much higher.

Skyline Despot: Red skies in a red card. It's also pretty muddied, as things go: the foreground of the head is OK but it washes out rapidly and the background of the card is tinted red enough that you can't even make out the flame coming from the dragon! But I rated the card good, because a 5/5 flier goes a long way towards keeping you the Monarch and allowing you to get more dragons every turn.

Regicide: I don't see how this is anything but excellent. One mana to destroy 3/5ths of the creatures in the game as an instant? Yeah, that's going to be superb.

Palace Jailer: The artwork's kinda boring here, isn't it? It isn't bad but it's not telling much of a story, either. Unfortunately, this is just a bad card overall, too. It's a flavor win, to be sure: a creature being jailed until the political whims shift, oh that's marvelous. But it's that flavor win that makes it such a weak card, too, because you're never going to keep a creature you removed off the table.

Illusionary Informant: Blue art + Blue card.... I like the name though and I like the way the mechanic executes. The stats aren't bad, either so I gave it a fair rating. I'd take this card for sure.

Echoing Boon: What's going on in that scene? Rats riding goblins? It's goofy and I like it, even if I can't see how it relates to the name of the card, which is marginal. But it's a fair card, doing some potentially gamebreaking stuff...if you draw the card you name. Which knocks it down to marginal overall.

Menagerie Liberator: I mean...that dude has a green jacket on. Why? Because it's a green card? That's just nonsense. I do like the leading of the charge that's depicted, though: fair. Name is excellent though. In the end, I rated it fair: the potential to be a 6/5 trampler is cool, but even if it's just a 4/3, that doesn't suck for 4 mana.

Capital Punishment: I think this card is great all the way down. Six mana to eliminate at least 3 creatures or ensure at least 3 cards are discarded and it only improves from there? That's fantastic.

Leovold, Emissary of Trest: Another great card. I dinged the name to "good" because it's solid but rote, in the Magic naming scheme. Everything else about this card I love. I know other people are thinking "Commander" but as always I'm thinking "Sixty card deck...?"

Arcane Savant: Meh to the art again but...that ability has the potential to be game breaking. Yes, you need to get lucky and/or plan (or both). Or maybe you just want to cast Murder and get a 3/3 for five mana. That's just fine too. Excellent stuff.

Recruiter of the Guard: The art here feels dynamic and have some different color schemes so I like that. I'm downgrading the name because of the ability: Guardians should have high toughness, don't you think? Why recruit weaklings? Some solid flavor text though (which also plays nicely into the ability) and, well, the card itself is fantastic.

Assemble the Rank and Vile: Jesus, let's just go all goth on this one...if I wanted to look at Juggalo group photos I'd do that. I really like the name but...it's really only good if you can get multiple copies of a creature in your deck and in an 8 person draft, my experience has been that this is not very common. Or at least, not copies of creatures you want to put in the deck. Marginal rating.

Messenger Jays: I think this is a bit of a sleeper card. Getting a really big flier isn't anything to sniff at, and that's most likely what you'll get but if you don't, drawing cards never sucks. For 5 mana, I'm rating this excellent. It's entirely possible to hit 5 mana with 4 players in the game but even if there's only 2, 3/2 + a card or 4/3 fliers for 5 are totally reasonable.

Incendiary Dissent: Why is the background building pink? WHY? I really like the name but, as with Assemble the Rank and Vile, I don't see it being anything more than a marginal card.

All in all, I think this is a pretty good set. What I'm starting to notice is that I am having some serious objections to the monotony of the art, in regards to the color scheme. This objection is holding over from set to set, and I think I'm going to keep making it until things change. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

You Best Not Miss

So the new Conspiracy full spoiler is out, Take The Crown and you know what they say about comin' after the king...

First things first: I think this is the biggest risk that WotC has taken in years. The reprints of Show & Tell, Inquisition of Kozilek and Berserk alone show a genuine if tentative willingness to address the rising costs of popular cards in the Legacy and Modern formats. Add in Serum Visions, Burning Wish and even Birds of Paradise-which I've never heard anyone complain about-and the evidence points to Wizards being willing to introduce some necessary cards into the available pool.

While I can't agree with everything said by SaffronOlive, (notably, I think reprints in Standard are fine and people just like to complain) I am certainly on board with the notion that Take The Crown represents a genuine step forward. It is not be the step WotC ought to take, because there are still some big issues revolving around the reprint policy and the shunning of younger or more impoverished players, not to mention the flat out gouging of consumers that was Eternal Masters/Modern Masters 2. But Take the Crown is at least pointed in the right direction.

Now, looking at the rest of the set:

I think the Monarch idea is an interesting one and allows for some rapidly shifting power dynamics in multiplayer. That's a good thing and the implementation doesn't appear to be overpowered.

White is so clearly the bees knees in this set it's hard to overstate it. And this comes down to two cards: Recruiter of the Guard and Sanctum Prelate. Even reprints like Berserk and Show & Tell haven't gotten as much attention as those two cards and with good reason. Nothing I'm seeing in this set has the same level of impact on Legacy.

In draft? Well, that's a horse of a different color. It looks like a whole lot of OK.

Blue's cards seem overcosted to me-at least for draft. Making sure you hit 4+ mana is going to be important but even if you do, what's the payoff? Probably a solid support color and Desertion is always an interesting card for multiplayer. The shiny shiny that is Show & Tell doesn't really distract me from the fact that there doesn't seem to be a lot to do.

Black provides some interesting stuff: first, the Archdemon of Paliano, as difficult as it may be to use in draft, in Constructed offers a 5/4 flier for four with zero drawback in black. This is better than Mindwrack Demon. That could make it a contender for a finisher in a lot of decks. Even in draft, if it's a pack 1 pick, the drawback is really zero. After that, there is a lot of removal here; Murder and Death Wind are at common, Infest at uncommon; if you can get it to work, Black should go a long way for you.

Red gets a bit weird; I really like Grenzo but Subterranean Tremors feels out of place. It doesn't fit thematically (there are only 10 artifacts in the set) but as a solitary flavor win, I dig it. What remains to be seen is how mechanics like Goad work in practice. It's a weird political mechanic for multiplayer and I suppose that fits in with Red's general themes. I'm just not sure how strong it is. The removal isn't as awesome as Black's but it looks like there's enough to keep you in the game.

I don't have much in Green to get excited about. Sevala is the nuts and of course Berserk's reprinting is cool but it's just 'make more mana than you to win' and feels pretty linear.

The artifacts are a pretty sorry bunch, with only Spy Kit doing something unusual but even that oddity doesn't have much payoff. Sure, there's the bridge to the Conspiracies and "note" cards but the advantage seems so incremental for four mana. I can't get excited about Platinum Angel and would rather have seen Platinum Emperion. The lands do a little better, having more obvious functionality but it's a cold day before anyone is hyped about Dread Statuary.

The Conspiracy tactics have an interesting new slant to them, requiring colored mana to offer more variety. Nothing groundbreaking but at least there's some room in that mechanic to breathe which makes me hopeful for Conspiracy 3: Revolution (or whatever they call it).

Lastly, of the six new multicolored cards, only three really catch my eye: Leovold, Kaya, and Daretti II. The reprints aren't terribly exciting, if reasonably curated for multiplayer but I'm glad to see Dragonlair Spider, since that card was only really available in the Planechase set.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Sky Cracks Open

With my new Energy Field'd deck, I brought it to the table against Noah, playing a WB aggroish token thing. Not dissimilar to the RWB deck Lauriel was playing that smashed me, only this time Planeswalkers and angels were taking up the red slots.

I had to hustle out my Recycle/Spellbook combo and then I had to play the combo again to keep the cards coming.

"That's two cards," Noah says when I play the second Spellbook.

Huh. Why, so it is!

And that's how we began one of the silliest games we've played in a long while. Noah put out three different planeswalkers, generating tokens and buffing them while I drew an insane amount of cards per turn while hiding behind Energy Field.

Then the whole game swung of if I could finish the game before he could destroy Energy Field, somehow. I kept drawing cards-too many, it seemed-and although I was able to play and protect a Stormtide Leviathan, Noah had enough removal coming to him that he could force me to use Capsize on my creature instead of attacking with it.

One turn had me using eighteen mana in order to protect my creatures from his removal, drawing six cards, then replaying those creatures, drawing six more.

Eventually, I just ran out of cards and milled myself to death.

Hell of a way to lose. Wish you'd seen it.

Matt started watching the game about halfway through, suggesting Reliquary Tower while it was going on. While I'm balking at something that doesn't provide me colored mana, the extra ability is probably worth it.

By the end of the game, though, he suggested Wheel of Sun and Moon.

"How does that help?"

Noah explained: "It's a replacement effect so your cards never go to your graveyard."

The light went on. They saw a way for me to not sacrifice my Energy Field or deck myself. But with that combo, the drawback to playing Counterspell or Anticipate goes away which means I can look for ways to close the game and protect that without having to subject myself to pure grinding. And I own a couple Wheel of Sun and Moon, which means it's a great time to try that out.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

We Still Pretend

When in doubt, go for overpowered.

It's not a bad way to go, when looking for ways to improve a deck. Which is why when I saw a Garruk on my desk, I thought 'Well, maybe we just overpower them.'

But not with Garruk: that card doesn't exactly help me if I've got a Recycle out but no Spellbook. And Jace generally doesn't provide a win condition unto itself.

Enter Kiora, the Crashing Wave.

So with a deck tweaked to add KtCW, I went to play Jason online. I told him: I'm testing this but it's just not working out and I need some help.

He started throwing some decks at it, specifically looking at aggro decks because we know that's where things are bad.

They were still bad. But better bad!

Capsize-buyback is pretty good with Prophet of Kruphix. Elvish Fury however, isn't. In game after game, that card just didn't matter, even when I was in a position to use it.

So after a multiple games I finally put it to Jason: what do I do?

His first thought was a Fog effect. Lull was the first thing that came to mind, with Respite being a close second.

I can't say I'm entirely surprised about this: Saga block is one Jason frequently references because it's power level is just so off the charts. I thought that Respite might might be a better effect-Fog + lifegain = more time.

Our test of Respite didn't really impress us.

Kiora, however, showed some potential. Getting her ultimate off was something Jason was constantly trying to stop and that took pressure off of me and gave me more time to get things set up. An ultimate on her would, we agreed, be incredibly good for The Wretched.

"What about Energy Field?" Jason asked.

That's a pretty damn good idea. I mean, I had some small reservations but I know better than to dismiss Jason's out of the box ideas. So we tested it.

That test went incredibly well. I had to be careful about putting creatures into play, along with making some very deliberate decisions about when to use Counterspell but the pressure was immediately transferred to Jason to find an answer, once Energy Field came down.

Now we're getting somewhere.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Another Day, Some Other Way

As is becoming my habit, I ran The Wretched without changes so I could really get a feel for the glaring holes.

And boy, did I get that.

Aggro decks. Lauriel was playing a very nice BRW tokens deck and just killing it. While I had...well, you can see the picture. Nothing.

Granted, I had scooped my board at that point but the fact remains! I had nothing and did very, very little.

So I took out Brainstorm and Ancestral Vision for Anticipate and Gitaxian Probe (as suggested by Matt), removed a Stormtide Leviathan for Kruphix, God of Horizons, along with adding three Prophet of Kruphix while removing Fable of Wolf and Owl.

Games against Matt the next evening merely enforced the weakness, though: I can't stabilize the board fast enough. I don't have enough action to start forcing opponents to play the game on my terms. I need to try and brainstorm something for this deck that can't quite be a combo deck and isn't exactly a control deck.

So, what next?


Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Wretched

This deck has been sitting on my desk for months now, waiting for me to pay attention to it. Time to get that done. (Quick aside: I know this is a flavor fail deck, since it's blue/green and has no space for The Wretched. I have no defense against that, sorry!)
10 Island
10 Forest
3 Simic Growth Chamber
4 Spellbook

1 Simic Sky Swallower
4 Quirion Elves
3 Stormtide Leviathan

2 Fable of Wolf and Owl
4 Recycle

3 Capsize
2 Elvish Fury
4 Ancestral Vision
2 Rethink
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterspell
It's a Recycle-Spellbook deck. Step 1, play Recycle, step 2, drop Spellbook to negate the drawback and have the opportunity to draw the deck out. Step 3 is where I'm a little more concerned because the winning part is a bit less clear.

I added Fable of Wolf and Owl years ago because it seemed like a natural fit: play the enchantment, use the buyback ability of Capsize and Elvish Fury to create an army for free and then win. That's the theory, anyway. However, it's a six mana enchantment that doesn't win me the game on the spot and I already have one of those. The Fable is probably a story for another deck.

As you might imagine, this deck was built back when Tempest block was legal, which means I laid the groundwork for it in 1997. Some of the card choices certainly reflect that. However, 20 years is a long time and this is why I cannot remember why I named the deck after the Nine Inch Nails song. Then again, given how this deck may perform, calling it wretched might be more appropriate than I would like.

The most obvious thing to add would be Prophet of Kruphix to help boost my buyback spells. Spells with Rebound may be worth testing, if I can find something that's useful: The list is not encouraging. Ancestral Vision and Brainstorm may not be the best fit either, with Anticipate being a better choice because I'm not running fetchlands. Don't get me wrong: Ancestral Vision is powerful but I'm thinking I need to be more proactive.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Gigantor final list

So it's come to this:

6 Mountain
3 Jund Panorama
6 Forest
1 Crucible of the Spirit Dragon
3 Swamp
2 Jungle Hollow
2 Bloodfell Caves

4 Fertile Ground
3 Rampant Growth
3 Naturalize
3 Painful Truths
3 Crux of Fate
2 Radiant Flames

1 Ryusei, the Falling Star
4 Fierce Empath
1 Bladewing the Risen
1 Steel Hellkite
3 Kilnmouth Dragon
1 Harbinger of the Hunt
1 Destructor Dragon
1 Atarka, World Render
1 Swift Warkite
3 Thunderbreak Regent
1 Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund
1 Thundermaw Hellkite

I think this is a solid decklist for me. Perfect? No. Is it going to win even a Modern event? Not without heavy sideboarding. 

But after playing a few games against Jason last Sunday, I have to admit: I never felt out of it, never felt like the tools were out of reach, even as, in the picture, I saw my cards getting milled away. 

That feels pretty good. Is Gigantor brilliant? No. Should I be looking to slot Belbe's Portal? Absolutely. But for now, I think this deck is in a pretty good place. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Wheedly Guitar Solo

So it has come to this acknowledgement: creature based mana reduction is bad.

Dragonlord's Servant, as much as I wish was useful, isn't helping. Fierce Empath is still pretty cool and there's a neat little combo that can come up with Swift Warkite, helping to fill my hand with useful tools.

But while I was gone I played several games against Fuz and Noah against almost all aggressive decks and what it came down to was: those creatures aren't as good at mana ramping as the green suite of ramp is.

Now, while that's as it should be, it is a little silly that it took me so long to work it out. So I'm callin' Radiant Flames back in to add to the removal suite. I'm also keeping in Bloodfell Caves and Jungle Hollow because the lifegain, while very small, is enough to blunt the worst of Painful Truths.

I also feel like I could use a different dragon: three Kilnmouth Dragons, as perfectly fitting as they are for this deck, seem like overkill. But I'm not sure where to go; dragons tend to warp towards cool, not win and as a result it's been challenging to find a proper fit in a deck that already has enough cool.

Finally, I'm not sure I can convey how discouraging it is to play Grand Coliseum. It's not even that the card is bad-although it isn't good. So I'm cutting that and at the moment, likely candidates are Flameblast Dragon, Balefire Dragon and Utvara Hellkite. Although Stormbreath Dragon can't be overlooked either. It may just depend on what I have.

If I have the money, a single Thundermaw Hellkite is also a clear winner.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Edritch Moon Card Evaluations

I really like doing this; survey is here.

Ruthless Disposal-this is a good card. The cost is very, very high but on the other hand, there are only two creatures in the game of Magic with toughness over 13 (barring BFM, of course). And it's pretty easy to find a deck to fit this card in, I think.

Hanweir Battlements-any card that needs another card to realize it's best form has to be marginal at best. If the Battlements didn't have the third ability (which is how one should approach it) it would be a Flamekin Village and nobody's beating down the door for that.

Prey Upon, EM edition-I really like the art, especially in the way it evokes the last Innistrad set. After that, the card is fair. Green removal isn't great but it exists.

Identity Thief-while I still really love the art and the name, the card is just fair. It needs something else to be good and that something else that is good is a bit narrow.

Smoldering Werewolf/Erupting Werewolf-I dig on SW's art but not EWs to much, so I split the middle to good. I rated the play value poor though: I just don't see any reason to play this card, beyond Limited formats and even then, the stats are pretty weak, unless you invest 10 mana. Marginal because this does have a little use in Limited.

Ulrich of the Krallenhorde-This was the first time I felt the art was marginal. Gold card with gold border and a figure that's a bit wonky on proportion? I'm now starting to reevaluate every card art... In the end, I gave this a fair rating. It does do some powerful things but you can't control it.

Tattered Haunter-here we go again, blue art with blue border. Kinda looks like just a big tube with chains coming out of it, too. I didn't like the flavor text either; the Nebelgast was not only new data, it wasn't very helpful in worldbuilding since EM is about Emrakul wrecking things. That said, a 2/1 flier for 2 is not bad, so it got a fair rating.

Blessed Alliance-I think this card is excellent. Good at 2 mana, but amazing at 4, I really like this one. Except for the white on white art.

Graf Harvest-While I like the art and the name, I don't see any reason to play the card. Poor.

Sigarda's Aid-that aid looks like it's coming too late, doesn't it? But the flavor text makes up for a lot, and the ability on this card is outstanding for its cost. It will take a specific deck to house it but it will be a great support card when that deck is found. Rated good.

Eldritch Evolution-Really not enamored with this art. I'm also not in love with this card. It's good but it isn't amazing.

Extricator of Sin/Extricator of Flesh-Marginal. 3 mana for two creatures isn't bad but it isn't great and unless you a) hit Delirium and b) have it survive a turn, it's not very awesome.

Contingency Plan-Poor. Getting to dispose of any chaff on top of your deck, plus adding to certain strategies isn't bad but as a sorcery? I'd rather do something else.

Woodcutter's Grit-I finally get a green card that doesn't center around green colors and it looks like THIS? Ugh. It's like someone blew on all the ink as it dried. That complaint aside, +3/3 and hexproof for three mana is a solid deal. Fair card.

Field Creeper-yup, I still love this art. It's a maginal card at best but I think I'm giving it a bump because of the art and flavor text.