Tuesday, October 30, 2018

King Of The Rotten

Another Liege deck-and if you don't know, then I'll gleefully remind you that I love the two color lieges. All ten of them: I just think they're great. 
3 Llanowar Dead
3 Ebony Treefolk
4 Woodlurker Mimic
3 Creakwood Liege
2 Gleancrawler
4 Golgari Guildmage
3 Slitherhead
2 Spiritmonger

4 Putrefy
2 Golgari Charm

9 Forest
4 Twilight Mire
7 Swamp
3 Hissing Quagmire

4 Drain the Well
3 Rolling Spoil
While I took this deck name from a Corrosion of Conformity song, it looks like I built this deck around the glories of Woodlurker Mimic, not Creakwood Liege. There's something great about attacking with a 6/7 wither dork (spell + Liege boost), but I can see a couple problems already, not the least of which that I'm only running three Lieges.

Green and black have insanely efficient three drops, perhaps the most efficient of any color pairing. Just starting at base power/toughness, it's got some pretty strong stats, with only G/W doing better and I'd put G/R at close. There ought to be something to work with at that level.

The other notable theme is land destruction: Drain the Well and Rolling Spoil are as cheap as land destruction gets in the modern era...which is fine, except that what, exactly, have I done do accelerate this so I can reliably cast one of these two spells on turn three? Hell, the bonus of Rolling Spoil means that my Mimic dies if I use it! King of the Rotten just isn't built to develop a board of advantages via land destruction.

So it's time to look at this deck differently. Of the lieges, Creakwood is the cheapest enemy-paired one and is the only one that generates its owns swarm. Leaning into that idea might be worth exploring. With Assassin's Trophy being a shoo-in as the hot removal spell, there's a lot of space for this deck to breathe or make a statement. 

Of course, there is a lack of one-drops here-there are a total of four in the game and one has been banned. That means I will need to plan accordingly for the two mana spot because Slitherhead is bad and should be removed as soon as possible.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Still Coming After You

I have to admit I'm a little bummed that the core concept of Rats (using No Rest For The Wicked) has been cut but the deck has advanced considerably! Which is good because I'm not sure I can advance it any further.

I don't have any available Terminates to swap in for Fatal Push. I know, I'm more shocked than you are about it. I had a ton of those cards once upon a time but go me for recognizing efficient awesome removal and using it in my decks.

This deck is in a pretty good place though. Sure, it dies to the enemy of every aggro deck: lifegain but I can't hold that against it. It's been pretty effective and I've learned to play better on top of that.

Here's the final list:

3 Ogre Battledriver
8 Relentless Rats
8 Rat Colony
3 Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
3 Ogre Slumlord

4 Kolaghan's Command
3 Fatal Push
2 Weapon Surge
3 Fatal Frenzy

5 Mountain
4 Graven Cairns
8 Swamp
2 Mortuary Mire
2 Cinder Barrens
1 Rocky Tar Pit
1 Bojuka Bog

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

This Wretched Mischief

Rats vs mill
The nice thing about aggro decks is that they still surprise people. Attacking on turn 2 for three damage, turn 3 for five for six damage? That can throw a lot of people off their game. Even in multiplayer you can make a big impact, if you're willing to take advantage of an opponent missing land drops or having no defenses up while trying to get to the long game.

Which I am.

I tested copies of Fatal Push and Lightning Strike, even though I really wanted to play Spark Jolt instead. Initially, I had split four Fatal Push with two Murder but I know how Murder behaves and I wanted to see how Fatal Push might work in a deck this light on controllable death effects.

The temptation to play Spark Jolt was high, though. One damage isn't much but one mana to do a damage to any target and then scry seemed (and still seems) like a a great tempo option. Midgame when I don't need any more lands, having the option to clear an unwanted card away seems good.

Then I remember that when Rats hits the midgame, I want my position to be nearly won anyway and three damage > one damage. It's just math.

Rats vs monoW lifegain
The games I played against Matt and Noah all seemed to suggest that this was a really strong build. Perfect, no but it had the ability to make a stance.I mentioned the removal suite and that's when Matt suggested Kolaghan's Command.

Wwwwwooooooah that's as nice idea. It's such a versatile card that not running it seems foolhardy.

The drawback: it costs 3, a slot in Rats that is already stuffed with Relentless Rats.

However, when I tested the card, that wasn't a problem. Damage and discard are fantastic upsides and I've got enough mana (and enough one and two mana plays) that having the Command in doesn't hurt at all.

"I like Fatal Push more," Jason told me. So I cut Lightning Strike-when you're right, you're right. He also suggested Stensia Masquerade. While I still wish that there was a first strike cantrip in Red, I hadn't even considered a global enchantment. I added it in but it just didn't make a meaningful contribution to the combat math. You'd think it would, right? A first striking 2/1 is still more problematic than a regular 2/1. What's better than that?

A first striking 3/1, which is what Weapon Surge offers me. Not just messing with combat math, but more combat. Heck, I've won at least two games in testing because I hit the Overload on Weapon Surge and was able to get in two or three more points of unblocked damage.

So Weapon Surge stays.The other thing I learned came from Critical Card Theory: I do better with hands that have Rat Colony in the opening grip than I do without. I've started to actively look for them and, if I don't have one, understand exactly why I'm keeping it-usually turn three plays and removal is in hand.

The only other question is how many Fatal Push should be in the deck. There have been games when Murder would have been a great thing but I'm wondering if this is due to inexperience or if I just need that hard removal spell.

And if I do...why isn't that Terminate. Seriously. Sometimes I wonder what I'm thinking.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Beliefs Contagious

Multiple games against Fuz allowed me to morph Rats on the fly, changing between matches to get a sense of what worked.

Eliminate the Competition, as neat as that card is, just doesn't help me enough. It's expensive and slow: as a board sweeper in a deck full of cards like Doomed Traveler, Doomed Dissenter, Penumbra Bobcat and the like, this would be great. Those cards already replace themselves.

But I only gain an advantage here if Ogre Slumlord is in play.

Rats vs a Demon deck
So why not just run something straight up like Murder? Fatal Push is also a consideration but I don't really want to put that in a deck where I have almost no control over maximizing it.

That might not matter though, since, as I've noted before, Rat Colony has a glass jaw. Just swing for the fences, see what they block and kill the best creature I can, Fatal Push trigger or no.

That said, some removal has been helpful, shining in matchups where my opponent has creatures that either overpower or evade mine.

I've also found that Alesha is a house. It's a must answer card for this deck, with even one activation being really beneficial, since bringing back any rat boosts at least some, if not all, of the rat tribe. If an Ogre Battledriver is out, that's even better.

I'd cut down to two Ogre Slumlord: it's expensive and without Eliminate the Competition, was it really worth it?

Every time Slumlord came down though, it turned my glassjaw rats into combat problems. Deathtouch is a real pain and extra tokens no matter what dies boosts my deck in ways opponents do not like. It's another reason to add in some targeted removal, too: kill their best creature, get a rat. Again, if a Battledriver is out, that's even better since it'll be a 3/1 rat for a turn.

I'll need to figure out a way to up Slumlord to three: now that Eliminate has been cut, three copies of the highest end card shouldn't break the deck.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The (Unlikely) Hypothesis

We know that the next three blocks are all going to be about Ravnica and play out the storyline there, with many believing that this will mark the end of Nicol Bolas as one of the Big Bads of the Magic storyline and who knows what happens to the current crop of Planeswalkers.

Since Guilds has come out, we know what the color pairings are for Ravnica Alliance: GU, WB, UW, RB, and RG.

Here's where it gets interesting for me: RW (Boros) has a counter-based mechanic in Mentor. It's the first time that RW has had one of those that I'm aware of. There is one other guild that has always had counter based mechanics: GU (Simic). Curiously, in a block about the ten color pairings, this leaves Black out.

What if the mechanics in Guilds of Ravnica are somehow connected to the ones in Ravnica Allegiance in such a way that they help break down the "sides" that the guilds take, leaving us with four color pairings in the final Ravnica block?

In Guilds we have the following mechanical ideas:
RW counters/attacking
GB graveyard "awareness" (Golgari doesn't actually do much with the graveyard here)
UB top of library + graveyard awareness/ filtering
GW mass creatures/tokens
UR spells with a hint of graveyard awareness

That could lead to the following mechanical setups in Ravnica Allegiance:

GU counters
WB spells
UW ...
RB mass creature
GR card filter/top of library

WB caring about spells wouldn't be the first time: extort was a very popular mechanic that, while I understand won't get used again (it scales brutally in multiplayer), a variant could be used that would align it with the UR (Izzet) guild. Philosophically, it's weird but so is the mad scientist and soldier pairing of UG and WR. Besides, war makes for strange bedfellows.

So let's set aside the philosophy for a moment. With that pairing, Green is absent.

This suggests that RB (Rakdos) might align with GW for a "mob rules" effect. GW wants to overwhelm with bunches of creatures and RB is, at least on Ravnica, all about a chaotic party. This also cuts out Blue, which at its core wouldn't want anything to do with either of those guilds.

GR (Gruul) could then mesh with UB (Dimir). Philosophically, it would probably be more 'Dimir manipulates the Gruul' but if Gruul-who has never had a solid identity mechanic in my opinion-cared about what was on top of the library or top of the graveyard (library is more likely, given Red's randomness but Green does care about the graveyard so both is possible!) along the lines of Clash, that would align nicely with what Dimir is doing and leave White in the cold.

That leaves UW (Azorius) to pair with GB (Golgari) and this is the difficult one. I just don't see that guild caring about the graveyard for any reason, mechanically. Now, philosophy might be different? Azorius cares about order and the natural order of things is to die. The Golgari do not subvert the order, they are enforcers of that order.

There's one other cue and that is that Jace, a member (and possibly the leader of, now) the Azorius guild, partnered with Vraska in the Ixalan block. That is a storyline reason to match up, albeit a tenuous one on my part. I just don't know how you make it work mechanically.

But if this is accomplished, then it leaves out Red.

Here's where I'm going with all of this: I don't believe Wizards has ever done a 4 color block or set. They've done a Commander set with this-but that's it!

Woudn't this be a perfect time to do it? The mana is there, the guilds are there to support the color theme, the novelty would be epic. They haven't told us the name of the third set yet: why not? Could it give away key story or mechanical points? Maybe! It would be a good reason to hide that name.

Is this going to happen?

Oh, hell no.

But it's an interesting notion.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Transformers TCG

If you've been reading Swing for 20 for a bit, you may have noticed that I name some of my decks after old school Transformers. I'm a fan from back in the day, so when the Transformers TCG was announced, I was hopeful!

I've purchased some cards and there seems to be an interesting game there. I don't know that I'll go as hard into it as I do Magic (my budget can only take so much damage) but I hope to find people to play with. The game is lighter than Magic and plays a bit faster but is still enjoyable and strategic.

Which I bring up because of a recent Drive To Work podcast by Mark Rosewater, where he and co-designer Scott Van Essen talk about the process they went through to make the game. It's pretty neat!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Critical Card Theory

Here's an interesting essay on the Opening Hand dilemma. I think about a riff on this whenever I'm building a deck: what cards do I need to see in order to accomplish my goal?

To take a recent example: I need Caldera Hellion and a creature to help me clear the board if I want to maintain any advantage in the Rats deck. To help accomplish this, I need a Rat Colony in hand, so hands with a Rat Colony would be better.

If Caldera Hellion was reliably castable and did what I'd hoped.

The point I'm going for here is: this essay might be helpful for evaluating those opening hands and making better mulliganing decisions. Check it out. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Times Of Turmoil

Let's start with how a rat deck tech ought to go before getting into the nitty-gritty. You like? Great.

This starts with a LOT of upheaval.

First, running through the deckstats analysis, WHOA is the color ratio off. So much more black is needed than red. I have to up the Swamp count significantly.

Second: none of this went like I was hoping. Goldfishing sucked and the things I thought would help, didn't. Caldera Hellion and Ogre Slumlord sat in my hand.

This means a more drastic retooling is needed. More lands, more emphasis on theme.

After some thinking, I realized I would like would be a way for chump-blocking to be a negative for my opponents. Red's best combat trick is probably first strike, so I went looking for a first strike instant cantrip effect...

There isn't one. That's weird, right? White has Guided Strike and Lightning Blow. Why doesn't red have a similar effect?

Red does have Weapon Surge though, which I'm going with. The initial cost is cheap and the overload cost should be doable. With many of my rats having glass jaws, a surprise spear to the face of an opponent's creature should be just the thing to give my rats a little longevity.

As a byproduct of my search, Alesha, Who Smiles At Death was brought to my attention.

This card should fit perfectly: since creatures in my graveyard don't get the bonuses of the creatures in play, I can bring back a Rat Colony or Relentless Rats with ease and pump the rest of the squad! Alesha isn't a slouch either, being difficult to remove in combat and with a low casting cost.

To help ease the pressure on my three-drop spot, I've added in a few lands, too. That should make casting the Ogre Slumlord easier, too. The Slumlord may not always appear, but I want to cast him when he does.

Now that I've got some revisions made, let's take it for a spin!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Guilds of Ravnica Pre-Release

I'll spare you some suspense: I went 1-4. That is a day of some bad beats. I had a pretty good time, though; my opponents were at least pleasant and occasionally engaging. I enjoyed the experience, even if my games were less than optimal. 

Round 1 vs Geoff, paying G/B with splash U
While he had all the mana he needed and I was short -peaking at five mana in both games- I was able to keep the pressure on. He didn't have enough deathtouch creatures to make my attacks unprofitable & the tap dude was great. I felt as though I had made some good decisions with my build at this point.

Round 2 vs Joey, playing U/B
These were rough games. Game one I got beat down from Dimir Spybug, buffed by the Surveil cards. In game two I came out of the gate fast and got him to two, was still at twenty life, aaaaaaand he used Disinformation Campaign and Enhanced Surveillance to see his entire library twice. I hadn't boarded in any enchantment removal, since I didn't see any in game one. What this means? Eventually he was able to grind me out, using his removal and draw over and over. A great game but a bad beat on the loss.

Round 3 vs Andy, R/U splash B
Although I went 1-2 here, I feel like the games were just not balanced well. Surveil once again made a huge difference. I made the mistake in game 2 of keeping a hand that didn't have a lot of action until turn 4, which game him a chance to build up faster than me. I've been under the impression that 2/3 fliers are turn 4 are solid but maybe not. Or, maybe running 3 Parhelion Patrol isn't helpful? I swapped one out for a Wild Ceratok after this in order to put a little more beef in the deck but I was disappointed to give up the consistency.

Round 4 vs Nicolas, W/G
I made two mistakes that cost me the round. In game one, instead of keeping my Conclave Guildmage back to block his Blade Instructor, I attacked and had no defenses. He made 3/3s and I couldn't stop the bleeding. In game three, I had the opportunity to cast a second Locket, break the first and draw two cards, which might've helped me get the Collar the Culprit I needed to get rid of Trostani Discordant.  Eventually I drew BOTH of my Collars but by then the damage was done and I didn't have enough mana to cast both of them in one turn, which would have been necessary to stay alive.

Rebound 5 vs Chris, W/R
I went 1-2 again and in the second game, it was because I kept a hand that didn't have enough action early, and Boros gonna Boros. In game three I kept a solid opening hand but hit a land puddle in my deck that the activation of TWO Seleysna Lockets could not dig me out of (my 5th and 6th draws were also lands). I got overrun after that.

Since when in 17 lands and two mana rocks too many, in a deck that is running 9 drops?

So it was a fairly frustrating day. Sometimes I could tell I'd made a mistake. Other times I just felt like I'd been put in an inevitable loss situation, especially against U/B centered decks.

I may have gotten fixated on W/G, since that was my guild: I had a lot of options and, I thought, consistency there is better than wild power fluxes.

Looking back at the pool, it might have been possible to go W/U/R-there wasn't a LOT of support for it, but there was some. There wasn't enough to go Blue/Red, the blue was especially shallow. But the mana support was there, and I also had opened a Niv-Mizzet, Parun and a Quasiduplicate, so maybe I just got sucked into something that wasn't there.

However, as a way to get back into the public scene, I feel good about the experience.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Final Four Rd 4

I missed round three, but Wrath of God won over Ancestral Recall so we are on to round four!

Counterspell vs Lightning Bolt.

I'm in for Lightning Bolt. Counterspell's impact on a format cannot be overstated-an impact that is only overshadowed by Force of Will.

Lightning Bolt is just so elegant, and pushed but not crazy on the power spectrum. Run it.