Thursday, April 20, 2017

On Planeswalkers

I think this article at MTG Goldfish presents an interesting take on the problem Planeswalkers represent for Magic.

Because I typically ignore the throughline of Magic's story. I know a bit about how stories work and I have really, really gotten bored with Planeswalkers as primary plot-drivers because those characters haven't, in my awareness anyway, undergone any changes.

Each plane used to have its own stars and own narrative. They still do but now that narrative is, somehow, tied into what the Planeswalker does, and it's been this way since Return to Ravnica. That's five years of these characters doing not a whole lot, while the planes they are on tend to undergo some significant changes!

However, I usually tackle the issue of Planeswalkers from a gameplay perspective, so seeing a very specific angle on what Planeswalkers do to Magic from that gameplay view and why is cool.

I also think it's going to become a bigger problem as Magic moves forward, if cards like Desiccated Naga and Companion of the Trials are any indication.

I really, really do not like where those cards indicate Magic is going. Having a card only be good-a 3/2 for 3 isn't terrible so WotC is totally padding the stats there to make this medicine go down-but having a card that is only good if you have a Mythic rarity out there-Liliana of the Veil and Liliana, the Last Hope being sold for $80 and $30 each, respectively, the most recent Gideon, considered to be one of the best cards in standard right now, $17 and the new Gideon will likely go higher-suggests that they are tying to move players away from a sense of place and more into character.

Now, from what I understand, those two cards are tied into the Planeswalker deck boxes, making this a little more palatable but...I don't like it. Having cards be so parasitic is bad, having them be parasitic with mythic rarities is really distasteful to me. It helps increase the reliance on luck (will you or won't you get the Planeswalker you need) in a game that already has plenty of variance.

But that's a very big aside.

When I talk about Planeswalkers I usually talk about how players don't have enough tools to deal with them, so they're positioned to take over any game (or format) where they are pushed.

What I hadn't thought of is how Planeswalkers are pushed in order to be the face of the story, and how that push will exclude other deckbuilding options due to their power.

And people might say, 'so what? Good cards always push out bad cards.' and they would be right.

Except: WotC has said that printing Lightning Bolt in the Modern era was a mistake because it removes deckbuilding decisions. If you can, you run Lightning Bolt because it is better than any other red removal card in the format. It's one of the reasons they don't want to reprint Counterspell.

I think the article makes a very good argument for how Planeswalkers make for a worse Standard by decreasing the decision tree for deckbuilding-just throw a Planeswalker in there, that solves problems.

I've done it myself-most recently with Knives (as you will soon see). So I think this trend bears a lot of consideration and watchfulness.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Amonkhet Overview

The spoiler is out! So, you know...spoilers ahead.

Mechanics:

Embalm is a pretty interesting thing to me, from a flavor perspective. White zombies just don't happen unless Black is involved. From a plane where death is considered a positive though, this makes sense. Aside from that, however, it's just Flashback for creatures. Nothing wrong with that but nothing super exciting either.

Although I will say that having a way to get a creature despite countermagic is a positive. It could mean some better countermagic is coming (a positive for control players who have been complaining for a decade now), as well as an opportunity for older formats, too. We shall see.

Cycling is an old classic making it's 4th appearance. Cycling is always a good thing. It's well balanced and offers a lot of options to players at every stage of the game. Now that WotC has given us reminders that cycling triggers discard effects, I wonder if some novel or previously overlooked interactions will bubble up?

-1/-1 counters I am excited about! I've always liked this mechanic and believe that there's more room to develop or play with than one might think. Partly because of the interaction between +1 counters (a + and a - will, just like in math, cancel each other out) so there's some fun to be had with mechanics from other sets, partly because there is an opportunity to do some powerful cards with a drawback players have to be clever to work around.

I liked it in Shadowmoor/Eventide and I like it here.

Aftermath is an excellent marriage of split cards and flashback. Nothing too fancy, mind you but definitely something I hope continues in Hour of Devastation* (which is the next Magic set, just in case you hadn't heard). Solid ideas don't have to be flashy, they can just be solid.

Exert...is...meh. It just is. There isn't anything clever about working around the drawback (untap your critturs or give them vigilance) and the only time to really use the ability is when you're already winning. There isn't going to be some kind of trap set up by your opponents causing you to say "oh, if only I hadn't exerted!"

Smaller themes I noticed:

Enchantments matter again. Seems like the gods of Amonhket manifest their powers through enchantments and I am digging it.

Tapped creatures matter. Yeah, yeah, this is there to make exert more interesting but it's also a fallow area of the game that I'm surprised WotC hasn't looked into before. Creatures tap to do almost everything, why not explore themes that reward us for using them?

The graveyard matters. Again. I'm very, very dubious about this, even though it isn't a big theme, because of what Shadows Over Innistrad had. On the upside, this could bring in some new decks, or revive old ones. On the downside, too much focus on the graveyard without any legitimate hate cards raises a red flag for me.

Cards in hand matter. Blue wants cards in hand. Red/Black don't.

You know what would thrill me? If there was a legit excellent R/B deck that came out of this. What's also interesting? This is a spot where Blue/Black don't get along.

Zombie tribal is getting a big push. I'm OK with that...up until Fuz realizes how much he can upgrade his zombie deck.

Minotaur tribal might finally become a thing, too.

Specific cards of interest:

They're going to do something with Oracle's Vault/Pyramid of the Pantheon and the brick counters. Just a matter of time. I suspect Hour of Reckoning will have some fun cards for it.

Approach of the Second Sun + Fork is a neat win condition.

I suspect Cryptic Serpent might be the new Gurmag Angler. But Slither Blade is better than it has any right to be.

Bone Picker is going to make a friend with Blood Pet. If I can create a 3/2 flying deathtouch creature on turn 1, that's cool.

Shadow of the Grave is going to create a combo deck of SOME kind.

I think Harsh Mentor might be one of the best red cards I've seen in awhile.

Manglehorn is very interesting and I wonder if it might have some impact on Vintage. I don't know Vintage very well but if it's possible to drop that on turn one, you could put a real hurt on a lot of Vintage manabases.

I think Sandstorm Convergence is going to make a splash in Commander: it's great protection and a creature generator is never a bad thing.

And that's about it. It'll be interesting to see what comes of Amonkhet. I can't say I'm thrilled by it, but I'm definitely interested by the possibilities and the interactions that might arise with older sets.

*Edited because I thought the next set was "Hour of Reckoning". My bad.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

That I'm Confused

Let's get to it, yes?

Ajani, Mentor of Heroes took over the spot from Tamiyo. I only had one but it showed up in two different matches, against both Matt and Caitlin and it did a LOT better than I had hoped and while it might seem obvious to anyone-duh, making creatures bigger is a better thing-it works specifically in Knives because 1) my global removal still doesn't hurt me, no matter how big my creatures get, and 2) my inability to take out a problematic creature sometimes matters a lot less if I'm able to attack for four or more a turn.

Essentially, Ajani allows me to put the pressure on my opponent, whereas before that I was playing defense and hoping I could turn the tide.

In the pictured matchup, Ajani eventually appeared and helped me take down a Soul Sisters variant that I made and Matt was piloting.

Because Ajani shoves that tide back and it does so without creating more of a strain on my blue mana. Which brings me to another point-one I'm really happy about.

While I'm actually very pleased with the way the mana has worked out for me, especially since I tweaked a Botanical Sanctum for a Forest, Tamiyo was pushing a little hard on the availability of Islands that I might have. However, considering I am not running really expensive dual lands or fetches, my ability to get the colors I need has been consistent! I'm pleased with this result.

Unfortunately I only have one Ajani so for now, I need to stall. One more would be pretty helpful, although I have two slots. The Mentor of Heroes is around $14 a piece though and that's a little high. One more I can justify but two is a lot harder, so the third slot is going to be claimed by Matt's suggestion of Arachnogenesis

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I'd Be Better Off Dead

So I'm just going to throw us right into it:

Rite of Passage isn't good in this deck. I spent a chunk of games trying to see if it would work and the issue comes down to this: the only card that interacts with Rite is Wave of Reckoning. I'm better off trying to find another way.

I also incorporated Bant Charm in lieu of Dismantling Blow. Between Bant and Treva's charms, I have artifact and enchantment destruction, as well as a way to deal with creatures that survive a Wave.

But it didn't matter. Because as it turns out, there are a LOT of creatures that are really problematic and can survive a Wave of Reckoning. In this picture alone, we have Deathrite Shaman, Felidar Guardian and Juniper Order Ranger. Rite of Passage doesn't help me enough to deal with situations like this so it's time for me to let it go.

My first thought: Tamiyo, Field Researcher. I've liked this card for a long time and think it's a sleeper, one that hasn't been exploited yet.

Unfortunately, things didn't play out that way and I'm not sure if I'm to blame because I don't know how to use TFR yet, or because she's just not right for this deck. I'm thinking the latter, at the moment. It's even possible Planeswalkers might not be right for the deck, which is weird to say.

Which means I may need more creatures, or more inventive ways to push my agenda forward.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Here's how you make a bunch of Magic players angry

In response to the question, "Is it OK at a competitive REL event to riffle shuffle an opponent's deck?", tell them the truth.

It's legal and is one of, if not the most efficient way to sufficiently randomize a deck.

Because man do people get really upset by the notion that you might shuffle their deck.

But you can and I personally believe that at competitive events, you should.

I also believe that people should shuffle those decks with care, being considerate of other people's property.

Finally, I think that if you're at a competitive event and you don't have your deck in really good sleeves to prevent wear and tear and to help them stand up to shuffling, then you are the one who is being a fool, not your opponent.

I realize that this notion isn't popular. However, WotC has already agreed that riffle shuffling is legal and the math has been done on the riffle shuffle proving it's the one of -most likely the- best ways to randomize a deck. If you have an issue with that, take it up with WotC and the laws of mathematics. It isn't my problem.

Now all that said: three things.

First, a perfect mash shuffle can replicate a riffle shuffle. However, you have to perform it more times in order to get the deck randomized because odds are you aren't doing a perfect mash shuffle, and in a timed match that's important. It also means more wear and tear on those cards, just from a different angle. Again: good sleeves, people.

Second, it was pointed out to me that most of the studies and research I found used the riffle shuffle because it is the most common way to shuffle cards, at least in America. I will admit that there might be a space for research into mash shuffling to see exactly how many mashes it would take to get the same kind of randomization that seven riffle shuffles do. From what I understand, it's definitely more but how many more, I couldn't find.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that randomization is the goal here but it must be done with consideration of the investment that players put into their decks. Do I want my opponent's deck randomized? Absolutely. You should too. Do I want to put a crease in their Gaea's Cradle to do it? Hell no. I don't even want to put a crease in their Island.

So: respect people's property and their desire for an honest game. Sleeve up your cards, shuffle them properly but gently.

Seems pretty reasonable.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I Need Help

(As with most deck-related posts, that's a line from the song, not a direct plea. Although help is always good).

I got a few games in with Knives and, though it grates on my weirdo sensibilities, I have to admit that it's pretty likely that Rite of Passage will have to come out.

This makes me sad. Making creatures bigger via what I want to do with Wave of Reckoning really seemed like the way to go. However, I'm not doing anything else with +1 counters so there is very much a "cool" factor happening. I'm not going to give up on it just yet but it's on the chopping block.

In contrast, I knew I wanted to cut Acridian because there's no need for the echo cost and I figured 2/4 creatures come in better flavors. I did a search though and it's hard to find a replacement. Most creatures have Defender or zero power or both, or just don't quite fit. Two mana isn't much and I suppose I'm asking for a lot.

I ended up with Druid of the Cowl as my replacement, because I kept seeing a logjam of cards at the 3 mana spot. Making sure I can cast those 3 drops seems like a solid idea, as well as potentially making Wev of Reckoning castable on turn four. Yes, I am aware that Noble Hierarch would be a perfect card for this deck but that card costs $65 despite being reprinted and I'm invoking the "my money > less of my money" rule.

The next thing I did was run this through deckstats.net and that's when I noticed the mana color problems. There just isn't enough blue. But at 42% lands I don't think I need to add more, just adjust the lands I do have to represent the colors I need. Fortunately that's an easy tweak, as I can adjust both my green and white mana without much impact on their availability.

Time to see if Rite of Passage really, truly sucks here...