Thursday, May 31, 2018

Battlebond Thoughts

This really is the year that WotC woo'd the Commander players, isn't it?

We have a spoiler here.

First, the reprints: these seem driven at least partially, by the Commander format. Sure, Battlebond is meant to be drafted for 2 Headed Giant-they have to pitch the draft format somehow, because that's how they sell packs-but Commander is still the multiplayer format of choice.

Dominaria provides more Legendary creatures and things to go with said creatures than any set since Kamigawa, and now this.

Makes me think that the fall Commander set is going to be 2 Headed Giant themed. And why not? Start people at 100 life and go from there. I wager games would go pretty quickly and provide players with a reason to buy ever more product-both Battlebond and Dominaria benefit.

Plus with the Guilds of Ravnica set this winter and Ravnica Alliance following, that means that you have hosts of multicolored cards (and lands) to support the format that Battlebond is trying to grow.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The point is: True-Name Nemesis and Diabolic Intent are selling for a little over $20, Seedborn Muse nearly $30 and Doubling Season for nearly $60 as of this writing. TNN is driven by Legacy, the others by Commander, really. Reprinting these cards should drive prices down, giving more players more access to these formats and it'll be done by encouraging players who don't draft much to draft.

These reprints seem to be a better thing-far better, honestly-than Masters 25's attempt. Perhaps the focus on multiplayer allowed for Battlebond to work more needed reprints?

Sure, they aren't all winners (looking at you, Goblin Razerunners and is Nyxathid really good in multiplayer?) but all in all, these look better than I've seen in awhile.

As for specific mechanics:

I think the base mechanic is OK. Where it gets interesting, for me, is in formats like Commander where political games can be played. I know I've found myself in situations where if I could work together with someone in a similarly disadvantaged position as myself, I would.

Friend or Foe
Like the voting mechanic of Conspiracy, this opens things up to some goofy situations that, again, I find more engaging in Commander where giving a boost to a player that has had a rough start might be worthwhile. In the Limited environment? I'm sure it'll be fine but it's not like it's interesting-you always benefit your partner, oppress your opponent, right?

Partner with...
This new take on Partner is pretty interesting. A nice way to expand options for Commander players while also giving Battlebond Limited players a cool way of feeling like they are working together. I really appreciate that design.

What's especially unusual is that the partners are all opposing color partners, U/G, W/B, etc. I'm not sure why that is: perhaps it plays better with the future Commander set? Guilds of Ravnica has more enemy colored pairs than friendly ones but that's a stretch on my part.

I've seen it suggested that having the colors be opposing partners meant that players wouldn't have to struggle to build decks-you get the white, I get the red, for example, and now the support colors aren't something we are trying to divvy up because while we both like green, blue and black support are still open.


I wasn't excited about this mechanic in the Tarkir days and I'm still meh about it, but what I will say is that it plays well with the Limited environment of 2 Headed Giant.

For this portion, I'm just going to talk about the new cards.

Everyone welcome the new hotness, Arena Rector! Yike. That card will be terrifyingly expensive right out of the gate. If that card isn't reprinted rapidly, that's bad news. Academy Rector is over $50 and that just gets something that isn't the most powerful permanent type in the game so...

The printing of Brightling means we are one step closer to finally completing the cycle Morphling started in '94. One more color to go!

I sort of understand why Arcane Artisan is a mythic rare. Being able to get an Emrakul for three mana doesn't suck. Still: pretty fragile creature so I don't expect it to make huge waves.

Fumble, on the other hand, is the kind of effect I'm surprised we haven't seen before. That should make for some really cool and memorable plays. Sure, most of the time it's just a bounce spell, but when it turns the game around, it will REALLY turn things around and people won't ever forget it.

Fan Favorite represents a mechanical card I am surprised we didn't see more of. Even if it's just one per color, it seems like that mechanic (a call back to Mercadian Masques!) would fit nicely in Battlebond's -ahem- arena. Looks like Green is the only other color to indulge though, with Feral Hydra reprinted.

I also dig Inner Demon and am glad to see Stunning Reversal find a home in black. It feels like it's in the right color, due to it's thematic execution.

Azra Bladeseeker is going to do more work than people might think. That's a good body and a good enters the battlefield effect.

The card that I think is going to be a breakout, though, is Cheering Fanatic. Aside from a straight up combo deck, is there a deck that couldn't use this? Swings, maybe you hit for 2, maybe you don't, but your next spell costs 1 less no matter what. If you attack multiple times, or with multiple Fanatics, that could really add up!

I'm glad to see Najeela, the Blade-Blossom have the ability it does: she'll be a great commander for the Warrior tribe and Red could use the development.

Sorry, did I say Arena Rector was going to be the crazy hotness? I meant Bramble Sovereign. That card + Doubling Season is going to be every player's dream.

After that, most of the hype in Green is in the reprints but I want to talk about Grothama, All Devouring. Because that card is weird. Dubious Challenge weird. I want four copies of it. First, it's the only Legendary Wurm ever. Second, it functions as a bizzaroland boardwipe, if the opponent wants to take that risk-is drawing more cards worth losing your board position? Can you play fun regeneration/indestructible tricks to bluff your opponent into nuking their team?

Artifacts and Multicolor
Eh. There really isn't anything here that jumps out as being odd. Last One Standing is cool, but they don't do a lot with what else they provide you. What makes the Azra creature type significant? The look like purple elves but so what? Victory Chimes is going to make for possible monkeyshines in Commander and Sentinel Tower is...kinda dumb. Because storm is dumb. OK? Storm is dumb. I said it. Still, I'd rather see Sentinel Tower over actual storm cards.

For me, there's lot to like here. Reprints to get people exited, new cards to mess with the most popular casual format, an interesting way to highlight a new casual format...although wouldn't it be cool to see a 2 Headed Giant pro tour? That would be wild. I'd watch it.

Point is, I am hopeful about this one, as I was with the Conspiracy drafts I did, and I think that WotC has once again done a solid job here, giving players of various interests something to have fun with.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Cost of Colorless

I've been saying for years that Wizards has difficulties whenever it does an artifact heavy set: the card type is too easy to put into any deck and doesn't have enough hate, leading to a permanent type that becomes easy to abuse.

But I've been a bit overfocused, because the game has evolved to include mere colorless permanents and those have been causing their own issues, too. Ugin, Karn, the Eldrazi...and with new Karn making appearances in many decks and likely being the most fiscally expensive card from Dominaria by a large margin, the fine people at MTGgoldfish have taken the issue of colorless cards head on.

The proposed solution isn't bad but it presents a problem from a story perspective: Wastes-colorless mana producing lands-aren't present on other planes. I suppose they could be but that isn't how Wizards tends to operate. These aren't deserts, a land type that conceivably could be found in any mythological world, but something generated by the Eldrazi themselves draining colored mana from the plane. Since Eldrazi aren't everywhere, how do you reliably generate colorless mana now?

What I come back to is the need for proper answers. There isn't enough artifact hate or planeswalker responses-the colors tend to have ways to check against themselves-white's lifegain vs red's direct damage, for example. But there hasn't been a similar way to handle a card type. It's always been more about responding to a color's philosophy.

What is the countermeasure to a philosophy that doesn't exist?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Everyday It's The Same

"I like what you're doing here," Jason told me.

So I got that going for me! I was able to stall out two of his combo decks in unexpected ways for him and Faith of the Devoted fit its role as a win condition accelerant. My favorite moment was when I cycled a Nimble Obstructionist to counter the trigger on Barren Glory. He then drew a card and I was able to mop up after that.

After some games against Noah last weekend that stopped his Stifle/Dreadnought deck, he was also impressed by how Everything Ends has come along. All signs I'm headed in the right direction.

On the other hand, it's slow. I don't know that I can fix that. But it's fun and the Diabolic Intents have had a positive effect, both in accelerating and making the deck more consistent. In two different games with Noah, I sacrificed my Stinkweed Imp for the Intent's cost and was then able to dredge to help forward my game plan, while fortifying my defenses on the next turn.

This interaction is almost better than I could ask for, but it isn't consistent enough for me to rely on.

Jason asked me to send him the decklist so I did; maybe something will come from that, maybe not. If it does, then I'll probably shuffle this up for a little longer. If not, then I'm ready to move on. Everything Ends is a fun deck and tilts towards some decent multiplayer action but it's slow and suffers tremendously from graveyard hate splash damage.

Even with mana upgrades, I'm not certain this could improve, so it might be time to set it down.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Designing Cards Is Hard

There's always a lot of armchair quarterbacking when it comes to things we love, right? A way that we think we could do it better.

But it doesn't take long to figure out how much more challenging the work we admire is to do.

In a Reddit Legacy thread, someone said, "I swear to god if they printed a goblin that was red Thalia it would be instantly playable."

So I asked: What could that look like, though and be thematically in red? Because obviously that card would be pretty crazy, right?

And the responses were all so banal. Riffs on what we already have (Eidolon effects, Harsh Mentor-which isn't a bad place to go but it isn't a red Thalia, either-, Magus of the Moon [which we have? And would be horribly degenerate at two mana], or Dire Fleet Daredevil, which again, we have...). Now, I don't want to say these are terrible ideas! They aren't. They just are a) easy, b) repeats of what we already have and c) don't answer my question at all.

Someone tried to come up with a Trinisphere knock off concept: a goblin that makes so much noise mages can't concentrate, but didn't actually elaborate on it, just said 'goblin that makes everything cost 3'.

And then there was the person who came up with
Spells cost 1 more to cast.
C'mon, man. That isn't even TRYING. That's just adding white and a tax effect. When I asked how this was thematically red, the poster replied: "It's a goblin", editing in the text 'Goblin Soldier' after I had asked.

There are black goblins. There are artifact goblins. There are green goblins. Being a goblin is not automatically thematically red. This isn't thematically red. Or even mechanically red. It's just lazy. 

You know what happens when you search for multicolored goblins? This. What makes these designs interesting? Hybrid mana cards (Hobgoblin Dragoon) live in the mechanical overlap of those colors. This is also true of many of the multicolored cards (Goblin Deathraiders, Goblin Electromancer).

Cards that has an activated ability stapled onto the card, a la Shattergang Bros? That's not required to be a goblin. Could've been a human or a giant. It works because of the thematic space goblins have carved out but it's not required by any means-but again, thematically because of the destructive nature of goblins and the activated abilities, it works.

Even weird cards like Razorfin Hunter make sense, seen through the lens of time, when blue had pingers. Hell, as weird as Goblin Legionnaire is, the sacrifice notion fits both colors but it's pretty clearly 'we stapled this on'. The ones that stick out the most as being the least well executed are the 'wedge' goblins like Ponyback Brigade (black's token making abilities are pretty narrow) and Ankle Shanker which is just borrowing two abilities from the opposing colors.

But they aren't lazy. You can see the argument for making them what they are. Even if you have to dig into the overall world design to get there, as with the wedge goblins.

Of the things I read, the Trinisphere direction seemed interesting. Two mana land destruction is wrong-or would have to come with such a severe drawback that attaching it to a creature seems pointless. Making a 3 mana goblin with Trinisphere's ability seems like it could work-a 3/3 for 3 that makes everything cost at least 3 could be a bonkers rare card.

However, WotC has said that they're looking for ways to expand Red's themes and land destruction is one of those themes. But land destruction is terrible from a gameplay perspective, so they've been trying to rejigger the theme to one that is more conducive to good Magic. Chandra's Revolution would be the latest spin on that theme, though I see this idea starting with Solfatara and Turf Wound.

I can envision something along the lines of:

Mickey, Noisy Goblin 1R
At the beginning of each opponent's upkeep, tap target land they control.

Making the goblin legendary means that you can't just lock your opponent out of the game by playing two of them by turn three. It puts a tax on their spells but not a crazy one. Menace seems more thematically appropriate than other red abilities-if the concept is that the goblin is just so loud that it disrupts the opponent's ability to concentrate, then it isn't a far reach to say that noise is scaring creatures away from blocking it solo.

But I had a WEEK to think about this design. For a rare. That might not even work!

This kind of thing is difficult and I always want to remember that.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Stock & Glue

There are some things I always find really interesting and one of them is 'how it's made' themed articles and videos.

Today at the Mothership, WotC has an article on the physical characteristics that make up Magic cards and I thought that was really cool. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Gamer

The source for my 'clever' play on words can be found here. What can I tell you? It seemed like a fun title when I woke up this morning...

7th Continent
This is a boardstate of 7th Continent, a boardgame I recently picked up. I backed this on Kickstarter last year because it came highly recommended from a friend and it had a solo mode. I don't have a regular board gaming group so it was important that I be able to just play this game. Otherwise, I'd've just blown $250 on...nothing.

So here I am, playing the game alone. Actually, I want to be clear about this: I am teaching myself to play. This picture is from my very first game!

And on the upside, learning how to play by myself means that I can make teaching this game an easier experience for other people. Someone has to be the first person to grind through and as a player of Magic, I should just admit that I can appreciate dense rulesets and looking into those rules by myself to figure out how something works.

The downside is that it can feel really lonely. I've realized that I don't mind doing new things if I can do them with someone. It was the upside of learning how to partner dance: even if I screwed up, I didn't have to do it all by myself. The upper upside was that when it went well, there was someone to share it with.

If I wanted to play games all by myself, then I'd just become a championship solitaire player.

So it's challenging for me to do anything by myself-I have plenty of activities that allow me this privilege-and that's in no small part because of the lonely quality. The shame spotlight that comes if/when I find out I've been doing it wrong, well, that's just a bonus.

Ain't brains weird? Even if nobody is around to see me make the mistake, it still feels bad. Instead of 'oh, well that's no big deal because it's easy to fix!'.

As a final note: I lost my first game of 7th Continent. Which was OK! Next time I'll do better. I hope to be able to teach someone else soon!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Where The Hell Am I Going

Matt emailed me: 'Faith of the Devoted would go well in your deck.'


Unlike Drake Haven, FotD represents a win condition separate from creatures attacking. This could be huge in regards to helping push Everything Ends forward. However, even when FotD isn't a win condition by itself, it does offer me the opportunity to gain something this deck has needed: time. Two life every turn or so can be huge, allowing me extra draws I wouldn't get, while pressuring opponents, allowing me to eventually assemble my pieces. Plus, the ability affects opponents, plural, like Archfind of Ifnir, so this gives Everything Ends reach in multiplayer games.

And it's possible that Everything Ends is stronger as a multiplayer deck, not a 1v1 deck. But before I pull the trigger on that, I'm going to go all in with one final change: cutting the 4 Spiketail Hatchlings.

I don't particularly want to, because they're a cheap threat with the OK upside of potentially stalling the game just a little, but this isn't a Mortal Combat deck anymore. And Nimble Obstructionist is doing a fine job of mucking up plans at unexpected moments.

Time to start digging into the archives and seeing what I get.

Cadaver Imp catches my eye first, and not just because it's and alphabetical list. I'd been thinking about a flying Gravedigger and this is definitely that, although the mana requirements make it a little tricky. Ravos, Soultender though...that could be very cool. The drawback: It's five mana. The impact on the board isn't insignificant, but Everything Ends already has a slower start. It's probably not viable but it's damned interesting.

I did (re)discover another tutor though, one that fits very, very well in this deck: Diabolic Intent. Likely better than Gravedigger, the Intent can really help me bring the deck together while also having synergy with my Oversold Cemetery. Plus, at two mana, it's cheap enough that I can continue to make plays in the early game, or do more in a single turn during the midgame than I would with more expensive tutors. And with over twenty five creatures, I shouldn't have too much trouble finding targets...I hope.

Diabolic Intent is where I'm going to start: of the other options, this one is the most straightforward answer.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Wrong And Overrated

Nothing is working.

Razaketh's Rite is too slow to really get me where I need to go. Turn five is a bit late to be digging for something.

Nimble Obstructionist though, has been great. Better than I thought it would be. There are plenty of targets in Magic for the Obstructionist but when there aren't, it can just swing for three in the air.

Both Matt and Caitlin pushed me towards something I'd been resisting: Adding in cycling lands. They recognized that my mana seemed fine-and it was, even occasionally finding myself flooded. I was always surprised at this, since I had so much card draw.

"So why not Polluted Mire. Why not cut a land?" Matt said.

This made me really nervous: 23 lands is low for a controlling deck, 22 lands seems like an invitation to mana screw. But sitting there with three lands in hand and no responses feels worse.

OK. Let's do this. Cut a land. Add in a Gravedigger, because it helps reinforce the themes of the deck. Polluted Mire, Drifting Meadow, Remote Isle swap for a Swamp, Plains, Island, respectively. Matt pointed out that if I don't cycle these lands initially, the opportunity to do so later with a Dromar's Cavern is available and that's some wise gameplay to remember.

Get rid of the Rites: Turn five is too late for me. I'm already running four copies of the cards I want to show up so the card draw should give me what I want. Or, I have to find a cheaper tutor effect. Something has to give.

Because it's not the losing that is getting to me. It's the lack of data about where to go next. "I'm drawing a lot of cards but still losing. MORE CARD DRAW."

Doesn't that sound crazy?

The other problem I've been having with Everything Ends is one of splash damage.

Since the soft lock for Everything Ends exists as a function of graveyard recursion, cards that squash such an interaction make things difficult. Fortunately, there aren't many of those that people use!

Oh. Right.

Now, that doesn't mean I need to give up on this deck; just because Humility or Moat or Terminus exist that doesn't mean creature strategies are completely invalid now. It just means playing smarter. It's not easy-one of the grindier games I played was against Matt playing a control mono-W deck and Rest In Peace shut me out of the first game.

I won the second on the back of Nimble Obstructionist and lost the third. Graveyard hate is a thing and in the sideboard I'd have to look for a way to address it.

How radical will I have to get to get this deck to work consistently?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Fix My Problems

"It's good, it just isn't coming together," Caitlin tells me after an evening of games.

So I have come to one of the most frustrating parts of the tweaking process: I have a solid idea, it works...sometimes. People agree that I'm on to something but nobody knows what to do next.

It's frustrating because I keep losing right on the edge of doing something good. I'm almost there, I just can't quite stitch it up.

I played an untuned Planeswalker deck last week and lost, despite being able to draw cards and make the game go long. Both of these things should work in my favor but I never had the combo.

So perhaps I need to look at that. Cast Out was the obvious card to set aside. While I like what it does, it's probably better as a sideboard card here, because what I need are ways to get the card that the board state is demanding, sometimes Oversold Cemetery, sometimes Oriss, or Linessa.

It's daunting because as a general rule, I'm drawing more cards than my opponent(s). I just can't seem to turn that into an advantage. Which is just insane, right? Drawing more cards is precisely the kind of thing that should lead to advantages that overwhelm my opponent. But I seem to have too many moving parts to just rely on card draw, so that leaves outright search.

Well, Hour of Devastation has me covered: Razaketh's Rite. Let's see what we got.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Eyes Turn From Blue To Gray

I got to put Everything Ends through a few games against Matt and Caitlin.

The downside; there are a lot of moving pieces that need to come together for this deck to work.

The upside: when those parts click, this deck can get mean. Oriss can stall out whomever seems to be the biggest threat, Linessa can make the other player slow down and the Archfiend hits everyone. Even if I'm busy locking one person down, I can have an impact on the entire board with Archfiend of Ifnir.

These were multiplayer games though so I had a little time-and, looking back at the games, a little luck getting some of the cards I needed.

I may have also been too interested in cycling my cards rather than using them for what was needed. By this I mean: Sometimes I need to cycle but sometimes I need to offer the speed bump. That might be part of the learning curve of this deck. Occasionally it's going to be better to make my opponents kill off my creatures rather than cycle them and learning when that's the case is something I'll need to look for.

Their recommendation was that I get rid of Felidar Cub and try to find something else. With the sheer number of cycling cards available there must be something that can remove problems for me.

There is: Cast Out. So I'm going to start with that as a replacement. I doubt I'll be cycling it often but when the game has hit that late state and I need a card, that second ability is pretty useful.