Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Destruction Is Never Enough

Although I was able to hit the ground running, what games I got in didn't tell me much. That really isn't my fault: I don't think that I need to actually demonstrate why a turn three Emrakul via Show and Tell is a victory condition.

It happened twice. Now, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth but damnit, how am I supposed to get data if I can't...get data?

I did have an interesting experience with Emrakul, the Promised End that made me wonder if it was the right card for the deck.

In a game three against Lauriel, who was piloting an aggressive RBW deck and she'd gotten me down to seven life, when I was able to cast Emrakul, the Promised End via Fist of Suns.

One the one hand, that felt really cool to do. On the other... so many of her resources had already been used that there wasn't much of a turn for me to take over. I had one giant creature and while it was invulnerable, I certainly wasn't. She ended up swarming me on her next controlled turn and that was that.

Now, one bad experience does not define everything but on the other hand, I'm fairly confident that if I had had Emrakul 1.0, the annihilator ability-but more importantly the opportunity to draw another card- might've put me in a position to win that game. I don't want to cut that, though; it's an interesting mental puzzle to work out when Emrakul 2 comes out.

That said, I may have to try and find a way to stay alive long enough to get to turn five, or make turn five happen earlier.

I'm headed to Seattle this week so I'm not sure that I'll have a post set up for Thursday but by next Tuesday, I hope to have some cool stories.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Alright, time to have a little fun. After the oppressive grind of Ironhide I feel like doing something a little more all-in. Named after the song by Motorhead, Overkill is a deck I built after looking at Fist of Suns and thinking: but why isn't anyone using THAT?
2 Island
14 Forest
2 Mountain
2 Plains
2 Swamp 
4 Maelstrom Archangel
1 It That Betrays
2 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
2 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
2 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
1 Blightsteel Colossus
1 Emrakul, the Promised End 
4 Harrow 
4 Prismatic Omen 
4 Ancient Stirrings
2 Seek the Wilds
2 Show and Tell
4 Insist 
4 Fist of Suns
1 Chromatic Lantern

Maelstrom Archangel is my redundancy card, along with the only copies of Show and Tell that I own. It doesn't happen often but when it does, Show and Tell ends games swiftly.

I'll just come clean though: I didn't name this deck Overkill (which also has the rare distinction of being a Transformer, too) so I could drop Colossus of Akros, Jokulmorder, or Krosan Cloudscraper. This deck might be good with dicking around but there's a point where I don't want to be dicking around anymore. It's cute to cast Etched Monstrosity but it's also laughable.

No. If I'm spending five turns trying to get set up so I can cast any spell I want for the rainbow, crush 'em.

Early versions of this deck ran copies of Joiner Adept as a way to provide redundancy on Prismatic Omen, but the creature was just too fragile. The mana base is still tricky, since it has to be heavy green in order to produce all the desired colors but without acceleration, I'm still looking at a turn five giant monster and often that just isn't enough.

So it will be good to take this to the table and see what comes of that experience. If I lose, I can say the monsters were capricious. Hell, I can say that if I win, too.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Razor Margins

So it is now that I have been testing Ironhide with 2 copies of Azorious Cluestone or none for a week now.

I don't know that it matters. The games I played against Matt and Caitlin had four Compulsions and I needed one to crank through my deck fast enough to win, once I had the combo set up.

In my online games with Fuz and Lauriel, I have been using two Cluestones and they've been helpful when they arrived but there have been games where neither the Cluestone nor the Compulsion showed up and I have won (or lost). It's all about the aggro decks and whether or not I can get set up in time. If I can, Ironhide is very difficult to beat.

Lauriel had a neat trick, with her RWB aggro deck using Impact Tremors to seal up wins. I could blunt any attack she made but then I needed to find a Seal of Cleansing to stay alive and couldn't. All she had to do was cast her spells.

It was a good matchup, one I think about sideboards for.

Similarly, Fuz's aggro zombies deck-the man must have five goddamn zombie decks because I swear I'm seeing different things each time-is just so flat out aggressive that I found myself carefully considering mulligans and using Brainstorm and Truth or Tale aggressively myself, trying to speed up Ironhide's resilience. It worked in this matchup but I wouldn't count on it; he was inches from beating me in this picture and it took everything I had to grind this game out.

So I'm not sure that the Cluestones matter.

What is interesting is that every time I've considered removing some tech-be it Daru Encampment or Compulson-that card inevitably does some important work for me. On the one hand, I'm glad that the choices I made to put these cards in to start off with are paying off but on the other, I'm faced with situations where I could be spinning my wheels on a deck like this forever and never getting any closer to actually improving it.

So for now, I'm going to let this one lie. Current decklist:

1 Coastal Tower
1 Kjeldoran Outpost
8 Plains
8 Island
1 Adarkar Wastes
4 Flooded Strand
1 Daru Encampment

2 Martial Coup
2 Condescend

2 Gempalm Avenger

2 Seal of Cleansing
2 Mobilization
4 Humility
4 Orim's Prayer
4 Compulsion

1 Dismantling Blow
3 Truth or Tale
3 Circular Logic
3 Miscalculation
4 Brainstorm

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Aether Revolt Impressions (2) [Or, I mean it this time]

So let's get to it.

We've got two "new" mechanics and of them I think only one really has the potential to be a pain in the ass for a long time.

So I'll start with the balanced one: Improvise. We all know this is just Convoke but for artifacts, right? Right.

But there's nothing wrong with that. While it's not my favorite mechanic, Convoke is useful and has at least one card that sees play fairly often across a variety of formats. And I believe Improvise is better, because you can use any artifact-the mechanic doesn't care if it's a creature or mana rock or just a Clue token. Any artifact that doesn't use the tap symbol to activate now has 'T: add 1 colorless to your mana pool' with this mechanic and that's a pretty strong place to be. Because creatures have value if untapped-but artifacts? You could go either way!

The fact that it's in Blue (which it should be but c'mon WotC, Artifacts are already Blue's color) helps; the splashes in Black and Red mean that they're at least trying to spread the power around.

The other mechanic, Revolt, has the potential to be one of the most annoying Standard mechanics in a long time. I don't know that it will be but I remember Thragtusk and people were really, really sick of that card by the time it left Standard.

Now we have a whole set that wants to engage in "leaves play" shenanigans. It's not quite on the same power level as Thragtusk, of course, but it does mean that Blue and White forms of removal have dropped down a notch. In addition, there are more cards overall that engage in the "flicker" mechanic since Thragtusk's printing.

So I think this has the potential to be really interesting and/or really bothersome and the broader the format, the greater the impact. Of those, Solemn Recruit, Fatal Push, Hidden Herbalists, Hidden Stockpile, and Renegade Rallier have some interest but the first three are clear winners.

Also: How do you have a mechanic called Revolt and not include it in Red? This is a massive flavor fail for WotC. Sorry folks; if they're going to demand that mechanics and flavor mesh then I don't see how you get around excluding the most chaotic color from a revolution.

Moving on to some more specific cards:

In White, let's talk about Sram and his Expertise. Sram is great, there's just no getting around it: he wants to play nice with a few of White's themes, giving him a broad base to work from. He won't make Bestow awesome but he at least brings an interesting dimension to what White likes to do. While the initial effect of his Expertise isn't great, a free spell is a free spell and I am hard pressed to think of a time in Magic's history where a free spell couldn't be broken or didn't tilt things unfun. At four mana, it's likely to see play, too. I expect good things here.

Blue has two cards I want to talk about too: Baral and Mechanized Production. The former because its second ability sucks. Decks that play this play it for the cost reduction of spells. Mechanized Production though, is a fascinating win condition that I hope people get to have fun with. I can definitely see this in a grindy deck that uses hexproof artifacts to pull out the win and I dig it.

Black gets interesting for a few reasons. Herald of Anguish feels like a card that was thrown together. Improvise and the sac ability have some synergy at least and flying is pretty standard for a demon but why is there a discard ability in the middle? There isn't anything about that ability that plays into the rest of the card, so it feels like an ability tacked on so they can make it a mythic. Renegade's Getaway's clause of "target permanent" feels weird too, because it can protect anything, including lands, enchantments and planeswalkers which I'm not sure Black should be able to protect. Yahenni's Expertise should become an excellent sweeper, too: unlike Baral's Expertise, Yahenni's is useful and cheap.

Red is notable for the shitty, shitty artifact destruction that is there and jeeze that's dumb. C'mon. Also, why isn't Chandra's Revolution an enchantment like her mom's? This feels...weird. Plus, they have zero thematic cohesion. Make up your mind's, WotC! Either this is something we're supposed to notice or it isn't!

As I get to Green, only Monstrous Onslaught really seems interesting because it's a potential low-level Wrath for Green. But it's incredibly situational and needs a massive creature: It seems like the kind of card that's good after you've lost the game. There's also a cat monkey (Scrounging Bandar), so hey, there's that.

Actually, I take it back: Unbridled Growth is probably really good. Color fixing until you don't need it, then it replaces itself. That's actually really good.

Gold cards are, aside from the planeswalkers, kinda 'eh' until Winding Constrictor comes up. This is the kind of card that makes me think it will have interactions with the next set, because of the "whenever you get a counter, you get an extra counter" clause.

Finally, the artifacts just..don't inspire me. They aren't awful but they don't do anything that unusual either, in my opinion. Spire of Industry has some pretty cool uses as a land but I'm a little discouraged to see it at rare, since it's fairly conditional as a five color mana generator and punishing when it turns on.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Aether Revolt Impressions (1)

The spoiler list is here, for reference or if you haven't seen it yet.

My first thought...is actually that it feels really early for the spoiler to be out! The set isn't out until Jan 27th, which means the pre-release is a solid 14 days away (as of this writing). That's a long, long time for people to take a crack at testing this set. WotC doesn't usually show the goods off this soon, right?

That suggests to me one of two things:

First; they had it on pretty good authority that the set was going to be leaked. And if that's the case then they might as well get ahead of it, ruin the credibility of any leaker and show off what they have on their terms. It's a good PR move, if that's the case.

Second: the displeasure players have expressed with the current Standard format has put a bug in WotC's ear and they want to show players that there are some powerful, interesting tools to shake up that format and keep people interested and invested in playing. That's still a good move but it's definitely worrisome, that Kaladesh-intially wildly hailed as a very interesting format-has fallen into the patterns of...well, Mirrodin, actually.

Historical note: every time WotC decides to get cute with Artifacts, something like this happens. See also: Mirrodin and Urza's blocks. Mirrodin especially had so much untapped potential-and none of it mattered because of affinity. Kaladesh is a little different, as the oppression is also coming from Emrakul but how is Emrakul arriving so quickly? Aetherworks Marvel.

I rest my case.

Or, I did before Monday's Banned and Restricted announcement.

They say that they wanted to allow players to test an environment that would actually exist; meaning, since they knew that the B&R announcement was coming, they wanted to give players as long as reasonably possible to test for a format that was coming, not the one everyone expected.

This is another good PR move, it just arrived in a way I had not seen coming.

Interesting--but that's a lot of non-review stuff for one day, so I'll get to an actual overview on Thursday.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Blend

I thought about cutting all of the Compulsions for Azorius Cluestones but the more I thought about it, the less sense that made. I want to ramp the mana up but I still am running redundant copies of Orim's Prayer and Humility. I need ways to churn through the deck to get to win conditions, or else the game goes too long.

This becomes especially relevant with Mobilization as one of my win conditions. Generating token(s) every turn is important to keep the pressure on, so mana matters. But if I can't draw one, or get a Martial Coup then I'm really struggling to close things out.

So I split the difference: two Cluestones for two Complusions.

Fortunately, things seem to be working well. Fuz was playing a B/W deck using Exquisite Blood as a win condition-and I handled it just fine. (As a small rules note: cards like Academy Rector do not trigger under a Humility, because the game checks to see what the card was when it left play. )

This was also the case against a pretty interesting G/W Beasts deck. His deck was using some lifegain elements to help give him some reach against more aggressive decks and because his creatures are so big, once it gets rolling it's very difficult to put up a proper defense.

Thankfully, Humility solves those problems.

However until Humility shows up, sometimes Orim's Prayer has to step in and take care of things, as you can see in the picture. 4/4s that only do one point of damage to me are not as effective at closing out the game as they would be otherwise.

(As a second rules note: Humility before Mobilization means my tokens have vigilance. The other way around and they don't).

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


The best solutions are almost always the simplest ones.

After plowing through set after set to try and figure out what card should replace Aether Storm, I finally realized that the answer was staring me in the face. Almost literally, to be truthful, because there has been a stack of four Brainstorms sitting on my desk waiting for me to find a home for them for over a month.

Brainstorm and fetch lands have been the chocolate and peanut butter of Magic for a long time now. Why am I trying to argue?

So, into the breach we go with Brainstorms!

...it's harder than it looks. The urge to hold on to Brainstorm until I have a Flooded Strand, simply for value is really strong. And, with a deck like Ironhide, which works from a different avenue of attack and defense than most other decks, the unique power of it can help cover a lot of potential mistakes as I find my way to the best play.

My multiplayer games against Matt and Caitlin really demonstrated this: once I got the soft lock, there wasn't anything they could do about my position in the game anymore. But I always felt that I was one misplay away from the whole thing slipping from my fingers-despite winning those games.

On the other hand, you can't prepare for everything, as I learned in my matchup against Fuz while he was playing a U/R deck designed to punish you for drawing cards. Brainstorm plays right into that and I lost my matchup in spectacular fashion.

After these matches, I felt I needed to make a few changes. Compulsion is solid, because it helps me move from the "lock phase" of the game to the "win phase" and that can't be overlooked. However, one of the consistent issues I've noticed is that I always felt hungry for mana. I'd thought having 24 lands would make it work but I may have overrated what Flooded Strand counts for, so I'll be making a few more tweaks, I think.