Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Retired: I Hold Grudges

A new series!

I have a LOT of Magic decks. Too many, to be honest, because I cannot dismantle a deck.

That changes today. I own too many decks that are trying to fill niche mechanical ideas instead of being interesting or fun or good. Does the world need a G/W vigilance deck? Maybe not, but I've built one.

Is that deck interesting? No, it's pretty linear. Is it good? Maybe. Is it fun? Sure: I get to use older cards and mess with opponent's combat math.

So 1.5 out of 3 isn't bad. But failing that fun factor or engagement is a good reason to leave an idea behind. Plus, I have spread so many good cards out into bad decks, I barely have good decks now.

The point is: here's a deck I don't need around anymore. I'm going to talk about it a little and hold a tiny memorial for it here, then I'll dismantle it for parts, like building a new gun in a videogame.

I Hold Grudges:
4 Cerodon Yearling
3 Bull Cerodon
4 Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Suq'Ata Lancer
4 Duergar Hedge-Mage
4 Flickerwisp

4 Seal of Fire

4 Heal
1 Death Spark

10 Mountain
9 Plains
4 Arid Mesa
1 Drifting Meadow

2 Ajani Vengeant

2 Austere Command
There's the hint of a theme here; hasty creatures with goodstuff but...what exactly was I thinking? How does Flickerwisp assist this deck? What does Death Spark do for me? Why play Heal at all? (For the card draw but...) And this deck has Arid Mesa! A good card.

So, I'm going to put Arid Mesa in a deck that needs it: Flickerwisp, Ajani Vengeant and Austere Command can all find places-Austere Command alone is a rockstar in Commander. Seal of Fire has always been a card I like, since it can just stay out there as a potential threat, so there's bound to be a better deck for that card too. Death Spark is weird and that's interesting to me-but I didn't do anything with Death Spark aside from toss it in the deck.

Others cards just need to spend time in the binder, waiting for an opportunity to shine. Or are draft cards that I just need to let be draft cards.

No central theme, not nearly powered high enough: time to let it go.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

When In Doubt

Devastator vs Mono G
So I went with the Planeswalker. Why not? Giving my creatures spells flash could be really good against any control deck, and it does allow me to dig into my deck. Card draw is something that I know is important, and in Devastator is especially useful since I have a lot of lands and can hit those 2 land-1 creature or even 3-lands-in-a-row blocks.

Hexdrinker, I'm happy to say, has been doing exactly what I want it to: early turn play, mana sink, card that opponents swing their resources towards dealing with. When one opponent says "fuck that card" I notice. When three oponents say that, I'm allllll in. Nobody likes Hexdrinker but me and that's a good thing.

I have to say, this deck has felt strong when I've been playing it, and one exceptionally useful thing is how it can come from out of nowhere to combo out a win. That win can be done at instant speed if Vivien is out, because I can cast God-Eternal Rhonas in response to blocks.

That's a spicy way to victory, I'll tell you that.

I've also learned a few lessons about where Devastator has issues. Would you believe that green creatures that my opponents control creates problems for a deck that uses Verdant Succession? I bet you would!

So I'm going to add in a sideboard to Devastator. I've been wanting to start doing sideboards for awhile now, both as a good thought exercise and a way to improve my skills as a player and deckbuilder.

The issues I've had with Devastator are: other green creatures, fliers, and Humility.

Gah. Humility sucks but Naturalize exists. Second: Fliers are a problem, which makes Cloudthresher a great target-it can be evoked in for four mana, then sacrificed to Greater Good! If Verdant Succession is out, I can even get another to do four damage to all fliers and have a 7/7 creature with reach. Obstinate Baloth is there to gain life against red-based decks and maybe it's a reach but I'm hoping it'll be enough.

Against the green decks, Nylea, God of the Hunt can work in combination with God-Eternal Rhonas: Trample/Deathtouch should be enough to take out my opponent in the case of ground stalls. This might be good enough to try running maindeck. Finally, Hunt the Hunter. I'm proud of this idea: even with Verdant Succession out, if I'm taking out one of their creatures while keeping mine on the board, then attacking and forcing them to maybe lose another creature, I can still come out ahead.

4 Werebear
3 Blastoderm
2 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
2 Gurzigost
2 God-Eternal Rhonas
3 Fangren Firstborn
3 Caustic Caterpillar
3 Steel Leaf Champion
3 Hexdrinker
1 Rhonas the Indomitable

 4 Greater Good
4 Verdant Succession

 24 Forest

2 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds

3 Nylea, God of the Hunt
3 Obstinate Baloth
2 Cloudthresher
3 Naturalize
4 Hunt the Hunter

Thursday, October 24, 2019

How Many Pips

I've found this really cool (but definitely math-heavy) series on how many white pips one might need for a Transformers battle deck, but also the affect of double-icon or blank cards.

Part one is here, part two, and finally part three. These can be some helpful guidelines for building decks! Battle Cards play such a critical role in deckbuilding, having a better notion of what kind of holes to fill in is going to be important to understanding how to make a better deck.

This is especially true with Siege II coming out soon: new cards tend to open new strategies, so having a grip on the baseline is a great way to know what concepts you want to explore!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Format, Variance, And Rarity

The design lead for the Transformers TCG posted this article on what the job is for common rarity cards.

No surprise; they're there to make limited (Turbo and Draft) environments work. That's just how TCGs are.

There is good content there, and I really do appreciate the lengths to which Wizards is going to to try and be transparent about how they build the game. Heck, I think there's interesting data there for anyone who plays a trading card game and is fascinated by the process.

However-and you had to know this was coming, right?-there is one big, big questionmark for me. From the article:
We feel Turbo is a strong selling point for our game that we’re starting to build sets towards it. If we can make the Turbo format more varied and fun without sacrificing the Constructed format (I think we can), it gives Transformers TCG an advantage over its competitors on the market. The common slot impacts Turbo the most so any innovations for that format go there.
So, there's just one problem.

Turbo isn't fun. I played two-and-a-half boxes of Turbo from Siege 1 and it wasn't fun. It wasn't fun in Rise of the Combiners, either-it was actually impossible to play, due to the Engima cards.

What was fun? Opening three packs, count stars only for characters, build the decks, go.

The reason Turbo isn't fun is because your battle deck is twelve cards. (Note: the link describing Turbo is incorrect, because the 7th battle card has been replaced by a second character card).

That just is not enough cards! Before your first turn even ends, you will have seen one third of your deck, at minimum, possibly half! That is in a set that has only 64 battle cards to begin with, so it's unlikely that you've got 12 unique cards, and the rarity is dispersed between both the battle cards AND the character cards, so the power levels are going to be wildly off. A rare character is far, far more powerful than a rare battle card and the rare battle card, if you get one, is unlikely to make it to your hand. Instead, it's far more likely you'll see the same common rarity cards flipped over and over.

If those common cards aren't helping you, that's incredibly discouraging, because you're going to see all of them, repeatedly.

By way of contrast, Draft has you making decks of 25 cards, and Constructed 40. Your first turns have you seeing just under 1/6th or 1/10th of your deck, which means there are a lot of surprises and choices left.

There isn't enough variance in your cards in Turbo to make play decisions matter. The power levels have been too flat, and with so few choices to make, games don't feel engaging. It is quite possible to have a bunch of cards in your hand that you cannot play, making your battle deck more and more consistent, meaning players already know the outcomes of the battle. That takes away from the most dynamic element of sealed!

However, at three booster packs, my experience was that games developed tension and my decisions mattered. I couldn't auto-play every character I got, which is good because it meant I was making choices about my game. Plus, the likelihood of my battle deck being blue-dominant and thus useless to me in a game that emphasizes attacking, is mitigated by the presence of those extra 6 cards, or by matching the best characters I could to the cards available to me!

That said, when I read Nagle's statement it's worth nothing he says, "If we can make the Turbo format more varied and fun without sacrificing the Constructed format (I think we can)".

So one of two things could be meant here: Either he knows that the format needs improvement and believes that they are making those improvements with Siege II, or he believes Turbo is fine as a format and they will continue to keep it 'varied and fun' as he groks those concepts.

I am really, really hoping for the former, not the latter. The Transformers TCG is a great deal of fun and I really do appreciate their attempt to keep the "on ramp" format as cheap as they can. As someone who is acutely aware of the costs of TCGs, I think they'd just do themselves a solid by recommending three packs to build the sealed deck instead of two. If I pay $8 and am miserable, or $12 and am entertained, then it's worth the four bucks to be happier. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Planeswalker Problem

I have been saying it for years, but Planeswalkers are a problem for Magic. One of the things I've been clamoring for is common rarity removal for the card type. There is common rarity removal for every other card type in Magic.

The argument against has always boiled down to two points:

1) Planeswalkers are mythic and cool and common removal would spoil that!


2) Common removal for Planeswalkers would mess up draft environments since they're mythic rarity means that common removal gives drafters useless cards!

Well, since point two isn't true anymore and point one wants to sacrifice good gameplay for "coolness", I think we should disregard both of them. Because Planeswalkers are a problem.

Finally, people are catching on to that. Oko is just the latest in a line of problematic cards that have had people unhappy with Standard and had an impact on formats with much deeper card pools that shouldn't (but do) have severe difficulties with Planeswalkers. The thing that those cards have in common? They're cheap.

I don't think that Planeswalkers shouldn't be good! I just believe that players are not given enough tools to deal with them, which leads me back to the article I linked to and some of the solutions at the end.

While I like some of the concepts at the end of the article, of the ten sketches nine of them are creatures. I feel as though they missed opportunities to make enchantments, instants, sorceries, or even lands that would help deal with the problem. Note, however, that most of those solutions cost 2, in order to come down soon enough to make an impact.

The fact that people can come up with that variety of ideas just for an article suggests that the people at WotC can do something to help balance the game again, too. I hope they decide to do that.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Bottleneck

Devastator vs GB
First thing's first: I made some changes.

Caustic Caterpillar came in to replace Druid Lyrist and Scavenger Folk. It's a more efficient card on both sides: It does more by itself and it doesn't tap to do what it does. That was an easy include.

Because I wanted to have turn one plays, I put in copies of Hexdrinker for both an early threat and a mana sink. Protean Hulk was removed to add in God-Eternal Rhonas, and one Gurzigost and the Brooding Saurians came out for three copies of Fangren Firstborn. (I have an admitted weakness for the Firstborn: it's big, it makes the whole team bigger, what else can someone ask for?)

Finally, I got to the three mana spot and this is where I have gotten stuck. Having read Emma Handy's recent article on Modern, I really want to make sure I have some power coming early, to give me time to get to the late game.

The Leatherback Baloths were taken out for Steel Leaf Champion. A gimmie, right? There's a form of evasion and if sacrificed to Greater Good, I get an extra card over the Leatherbacks.

But...It just doesn't feel like my strongest play. I've been poking around at the planeswalkers because they always create problems, however nothing is screaming out at me. Maybe I'm just being stubborn and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds would be perfect?

The card that really would solve a lot of my problems is Thragtusk, but the five mana spot is already crowded, so I'm reluctant to go down that road. Plus, it is expensive and Devastator already skews high on the mana costs. I'm looking into creatures that gain me life but it's a thin list of help.

Still, the initial tests are getting positive reviews from opponents, who are digging on how it interacts. That's always a good sign.

Thursday, October 10, 2019


Sometimes, inspiration hits you.

I had purchased copies of God-Eternal Rhonas, and they were sitting on my desk waiting for me to take some time to put them away. Then it struck me: if I had a way to play that card, then play a second copy, I could attack for a lot of damage. But getting two copies of a card in your hand is hard enough; having ten mana to play them? Just not going to happen. I'd need a way to cheat them in.

However, I have a deck that wants to cheat creatures in, don't I? 

I present Devastator v 1.0.
4 Verdant Succession
4 Greater Good
3 Leatherback Baloth
2 Protean Hulk
2 Brooding Saurian
4 Werebear
3 Gigapede
3 Druid Lyrist
3 Blastoderm
3 Scavenger Folk
2 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
3 Gurzigost

24 Forest
Named after the gestalt Constructicon, (and I am going to have to start finding new naming conventions with the Transformers TCG I'm playing...), the premise behind this deck is: Use Greater Good to get whatever card you want, and Verdant Succession to replace the creatures you sacrificed to Greater Good and keep the pressure on.

The priorities then become: creatures with 4 or more power, so I can keep at least one card, and ramp to ensure that I can play both Verdant Succession and those large creatures. Werebears have the opportunity to do both, so they were an auto-include. Scavenger Folk and Druid Lyricist take care of some non-creature permanents while replacing themselves under the Succession, and also give this deck one drops. Gigapede allows me to both sacrifice it for a bunch of cards, then re-cast it for a continual threat!

So into this mix that I want to put in God-Eternal Rhonas. If I sacrifice Rhonas to Greater Good, then it comes back, right? Which should allow me to stack the trigger to find the very Rhonas I sacrificed.

And when Rhonas enters play, everything I control gets vigilance and has their power doubled. Even better, I can stack the triggers, putting Rhonas back into my library and retrieving the same one via the Succession, then drawing cards with Greater Good. It sounds bonkers just writing it out, which is a good sign.

So: there's going to be some updates to this list and then I'm taking it on the road!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Mercs

There's a lot of cool news coming around about the next Transformers TCG set: Siege 2, but by my reckoning, the biggest surprise so far is the introduction of a new faction: The Mercenaries.

There is a lot to get into here, so let's start talking.

First: the keyword for these characters in this set is Bounty, a triggered ability that goes off when one of the Mercenaries KOs another character. That means this group wants to be aggressive. The star counts are still fair but it's pretty easy to see this faction pairing up with Weaponizers and orange pips to really get the most out of their abilities.

Second: there's the shakeup to the metagame. There are three new battle cards (so far) that specifically mention the Bounty keyword, so it looks like WotC really wants to give this faction some legs to stand on against their Autobot and Decepticon counterparts. That's a good thing: players need a reason to engage in the mechanics they are given and support for that helps give us that reason.

However, the new faction means that there's one more deckbuilding consideration to take, because cards like Soldier's Blaster could be huge...or they could be meaningless, depending on that meta. The Mercenaries are strong enough to earn a place in a deck, and so far they appear to be more helpful to the Decepticon faction than the Autobot one, based on the comparison between Opportune Offense and Opportune Repairs alone. Can they be their own faction? I don't think so, yet but they've gotten more support than the Firecons did so the groundwork is there.

The flipside of this is that there seems to be a push for blue/black decks: tanky, defense oriented decks that want to chip away at their opponent's team. I've already seen a rise in build that do this, pushing cards with double black pips especially. The aggressive quality of the Mercs suggests there's a counterweight to this, which, again, keeps things interesting.

Third: none of the revealed battle cards here have any star cost to them, even Wedge Formation, which is a 3 color pip card, and none relating to the Mercenary faction specifically. The message I take from this is: WotC wants to push this group. The opportunity cost of adding in strong Merc cards is zero, so they can get the benefit of some very strong cards. This all suggests to me that they will be able to hold their own without support from the original factions very, very soon.

It's a strong showing of characters and cards, so I'm hopeful that this will provide more depth to the game without overcomplicating things. I like what I'm seeing so far, so bring on the Siege!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Throne of Eldraine Overview

Here we go, the new set is on display! Let's talk about it.

The mechanics:

Adventure: I think this one is a win. It's a spell you can bank into a creature later; it's auto value, unless the spell is countered. Some of them are exceptionally well tied together from a mechanic/thematic perspective, too, and I like to appreciate that when I can.

Adamant: I'm not sure how to evaluate this one. In Limited, when you pull it off it'll feel amazing...sort of. Silverflame Ritual? Yes, that's really cool. It might even be a constructed worthy card for a heavy or mono white deck. Turn Into A Pumpkin? Not so much.

Maybe this is one of those mechanics that is a test, especially in Limited. The Adamant is just a bonus, the card has to be accepted at it's baseline value. This doesn't read so well for me, but I'm also used to a conventional wisdom that says that limited decks are usually 2 colors, not monochrome.

Food: So is Wizards telling us that 3 life = 1 card? Because these aren't Investigate tokens. That mechanic was incredibly well received, since it helped smooth out draws in limited formats, and even had use in constructed formats.

But this isn't that. Investigate gave you a resource you always needed: a card. By default, that gives you more of everything be it time, mana, or spells, because card games run on cards. Food wants to give you time but historically lifegain just doesn't give players the boost that they need or want. 

Worse, it feels like they didn't do anything interesting with this mechanic. Giant Opportunity seems to be as unusual as it gets. Now; one possibility is that lifegain or a lifegain mechanic becomes something in the next block: Theros: Beyond Death. In which case, we have a foundation and some possible cross-pollination. But for now: meh.

Knights vs Non-Human tribes: here's something that might be a bit more dynamic for the larger Constructed format, since there are plenty of non-humans in Standard and 62 least some of which won't rotate out in two weeks!

Colored Artifacts: this isn't a mechanic so much as a thing that is now officially happening, as opposed to the "cool" thing they did in Kaladesh. Which was, of course, a riff off the "cool" thing they did in Mirrodin.

Sarcasm aside; artifacts have always been problematic, blue and to a lesser extent, white, have always had a strong alliance with them and that's shored up or in some cases overpowered the color, and having a way to rein in the card type is a good thing.

One thing I really like: Obvious cycles. I just do.

Let's get into the colors!

So what is up with Flutterfox? The flavor text says white. That fox is clearly not white. going on with the art for Hushbringer? Heck, give us more weirdness like it, I say. Very cool card, too.

People are down on the legendary white noble, Linden, the Steadfast Queen but I think she's pretty good! 3/3, vigilant, gains life for three mana? What, exactly, is the problem?

People seem to be really high on Brazen Borrower and while it's good is it THAT good?

Charmed Sleep is winning my award for favorite art so far.

I see that WotC is making a push in Blue/Red again for 'second card drawn each turn' triggers. These always seem like wish fulfillment-the payoff isn't that great for the work you have to do, and drawing a card is already its own reward. There's an 'insult to injury' element (you're just drawing a card AND getting to punch me for four damage?) that feels awful if you're on one side, and excessive on the other. However, this is the second time that they've promoted this mechanic, so perhaps there are enough cards to build around it. (Note to self, check that out).

The blue legendary knight is oddly weak, but maybe I'm not counting the card draw effects enough. Vantress Gargoyle, though: That's a weird card with cool art.


Blacklance Paragon seems like the weakest rare I have seen in a long time. I am not sure what's to be excited about.

I appreciate the mechanical and thematic tie in of Cauldron Familiar, as someone who lives with a black cat. At the same time, they missed a lot of opportunities to add more warlocks to the game. I know knights are one of the tribes Black needs to support in this set, but witches are referenced more than seen here and that's a disappointment, especially considering how central to lore they are.

Maybe it's just me, but Malevolent Nobel is a missed opportunity, or maybe just misnamed. Why is he malevolent, if he's killing witches-who clearly want children's bones? That doesn't seem so bad.

I could've used a little more of Ayara's weirdness; I don't recall seeing "black widow" style characters in Magic often-and as an elf, that makes her very unusual. I like that.

I feel as if Red is where they're starting to throw a lot of experimental and weird mechanical ideas in. I'm not objecting but I don't see Irencrag Feat in any other color, even though there's no reason why one couldn't put it in Black or Green, even White, with a little color pie hoodoo.The color needs some weirdness though, to give it more dimension so I'm not unhappy.

The Burning-Yard Trainer and Redcap Melee storyline seems odd, but maybe it just means that BYT isn't as awesome as he thinks he is.

I wish Robber of the Rich had some kind of evasion. Shouldn't thieves be stealthy? It might be overpowered with evasion and I'm not sure if there's a way to represent evasion that is thematically fitting. Still, looks like a fun card as is.

Thrill of Possibility might be one of the more powerful draw spells Red has seen since Faithless Looting. Previous effects (Wild Guess and Tormenting Voice) have been sorceries: being an instant is an important add on.

Where the food (mechanic) mostly is, has been covered.

The Great Henge is probably the oddest of the legendary artifact cycle, mostly because the others do what I would expect them to do. The cost is crazy, but the benefits? Probably not worth it. Sigh.

Rosethorn Halberd seemed good on first glance, but the equip cost is (understandably) too high. It's a bad Giant Growth for Constructed but may be a Limited all star.

Once Upon A Time seemed exciting when I thought it read "first spell this turn". That said the cycle of Chancellors in New Phyrexia had something going on and I think this effect is stronger overall. Maybe not hype worthy but still useful.

Doom Foretold! That's a neat card, even though it is totally a 'glory of cool things'.

The rest are OK: which makes sense, this isn't the set for flashy multicolored cards, buuuuuuut then why include ten hybrid mana cards? All of which are the OK-est? Limited, I suppose but I'm not seeing much that is exciting or odd. Even if those cards are there to buttress a theme in Theros, why are they so weak?

I don't see much in the way of interesting artifacts, though the artwork for Sorcerer's Broom is pretty sweet.

The Castles have expensive abilities that will be fine in Commander, and the "lower houses" have weaksauce abilities that will be OK in Commander. Not really much to get exited about, except that the "lower houses" all have their respective basic land type. I haven't seen that since Shadowmoor and while that may not be powerful, it IS interesting.

Now, all in all I think there's some really solid design. I don't think this set is full of deep cuts, but I do believe that it'll be plenty of fun!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Suffer More

Wasting Away vs GW beasts
It was in the last few games that I recognized that Wasting Away is a control deck and control decks need control cards.

To that end, Kitesail Freebooter has been great! I was a little surprised by how useful it's been, and even midway through the game, it has been a handy card to have.

And although Gideon, Champion of Justice had done some work for me, it was never a card that I felt my opponents hated to see. When you're operating on the power margins, you definitely want to play cards your opponents wish you hadn't.

Enter, Utter End.

This card is really solid: on the curve, an instant, and takes care of things that the soft lock won't or can't. I don't need a second win condition: I just need to make sure the first one survives and Utter End helps with that.

So, I'm happy with this!
3 Basilisk Collar

2 Order of Leitbur
1 Order of the White Shield
4 Plague Spitter
3 Thrashing Wumpus
4 Kitesail Freebooter

3 Death Pits of Rath
3 Soul Link
4 Lashknife Barrier
1 Noxious Field

2 Utter End

11 Swamp
9 Plains
4 Shambling Vent

3 The Wanderer

3 Command the Dreadhorde