January 14th, 2014 — Magic, Reviews
You don’t click into Serious Fun during a preview week with the expectation of seeing the next Thundermaw Hellkite.
But this week on Bruce Richard’s column over on the Mother Ship, that’s exactly what you get (kinda sorta half the time).
Flame-Wreathed Phoenix is kinda sorta a split card.
punisher Tribute in full force you have a card that half the time is a Rathi Dragon with no drawback and half the time a Talruum Minotaur (-Phoenix!) with wings.
Rathi Dragon was a powerful card for some versions of the Red Deck (in particular in mirror matches in its day); and as I noted in my original review of Bloodbraid Elf there was a time when Talruum Minotaur was capable of contributing to a Pro Tour Top 8 Constructed deck.
And now… More flying!
So… What’s the damage on this card? Why so casual?
I think I can imagine Flame-Wreathed Phoenix being played in serious Constructed decks. Even just as a 3/3 flying creature it gains a re-buy ability reminiscent of most of Magic’s many Phoenixes. This is powerful the same way that Chandra’s Phoenix is powerful. It’s kinda sorta built-in card advantage. For one more mana, you get a slightly bigger hasty flyer. As someone who has enjoyed smiting opponents with Chandra’s Phoenix, I can appreciate a flying, resilient, Talruum Minotaur-Phoenix.
The rest of the time it is just a 5/5 flyer for four mana. It’s like you took Juzam Djinn and erased the awful Nettletooth Djinn-ness and replaced it with the universal sign for not being blocked.
One side of this card I can see getting behind; the other side is just a mana less than Thundermaw Hellkite, which is an insane proposition.
punisher Tribute dilemma really that big a deal?
Browbeat is a similar card that seems to have good value on both sides. For 2R you either get to draw three cards (better than most blue equivalents about the same cost) or you brain your opponent for five (better than most red equivalents at the same cost). Good and also good. But Browbeat, despite being legal in multiple Standard Constructed formats over the years, never really made its mark on history.
(Though Philosophy of Fire innovator Adrian Sullivan did at one point Day Two a Pro Tour with Browbeat in his Red Deck.)
What was the problem with Browbeat?
Could this same problem limit the love given to poor Flame-Wreathed Phoenix?
Mere efficiency is a limitation. Yes, five damage for 2R is a good deal and three cards for 2R is a great deal. But you don’t generally want your opponent dictating to you which good / great deal you are getting. Think about the sheer number of times you have probably beaten a Vexing Devil. Am I vexed? I’ve been Vexed, sure. I think I generally have a good win percentage over Vexing Devil decks. Which is weird because I would gladly pay R for a 4/3 creature and I would generally love to pay R to deal four damage.
Sadly, my guess is the flexibility afforded the opponent will make Flame-Wreathed Phoenix even less successful over time than Vexing Devil.
Is 2RR a good deal for a 5/5 flying creature? I think so.
Is 2RR a good deal for a 3/3 flying creature with haste and a built-in re-buy? I think you are on rougher ground there. I did say I could appreciate it, but it is another matter committing to the card. At four mana, it’s not good enough to win the game on its own consistently, and you might just be stuck with a lot of land committed to doing very little against an able opponent.
On a punisher — SORRY. TRIBUTE. — scale, where would you put this card?
Vexing Devil > Browbeat > Flame-Wreathed Phoexix
That is my guesstimate.
This is the kind of card that I really want to be good because it looks cool; but I am not really sold on.
By the way last week Patrick Chapin reminded me that I gave basically the same preview rating to Rakdos Pit Dragon that I gave to Jace, the Mind Sculptor at snap judgment time.
In my meager defense, they made Rakdos Pit Dragon a Top Decks preview card; I assumed it was as good as, say, Lightning Helix (okay, this is a lie).
I think I see this as a role player; it has some attrition applications and could also, ahem, punish players who can’t easily deal five damage to a creature. Though it is kind of atrocious against Anger of the Gods.
January 13th, 2014 — Magic, Reviews
This just spoiled:
Sometimes — but not all the time — a Dark Confidant.
Better or worse than Bob?
My first impulse was that Pain Seer is worse, generally, than Dark Confidant. For example, presuming you have made your Pain Seer-including deck correctly, you don’t get a freebie on the first fresh turn you’ve got Pain Seer on the battlefield. I mean, unless the opponent has Blind Obedience down or some such.
So… Card down.
Beyond missing the extra card on the first / next turn, you have a general requirement with this card to attack. I mean of course there are other reasons why your Dark Confidant / Pain Seer / Dark Confidant wannabe might be tapped / ergo need to untap; you could be on the wrong side of an Icy Manipulator, or Master Decoy… But generally speaking, your creature will be tapped because you just swung.
So: You swing; presuming Pain Seer survives, you get to untap it and net a free card. If you don’t swing, you are far less likely to [have to] untap, and ergo won’t get the free card.
So generally speaking… Worse.
Worse than Dark Confidant, right?
Especially given the fact that you won’t generally get the first card, I’d put Pain Seer < Dark Confidant; but I don't think it is 100% cut-and-dried.
Longtime listeners of the Top 8 Magic podcast (BTW BDM and I posted a new one just last week!) know that I think Dark Confidant is probably the most overrated creature of all time. I’ve always conceded that it is playable (fine… “quite good”) but just not the unconditional bee’s knees that everyone else seems to think. For example, I was once in the finals of a team PTQ where I instructed Paul Jordan to not attack with his Keiga, the Tide Star for lethal. We read the opponent for Shining Shoal (would have been lethal going the other way) and we could just watch the opponent die to his own Bob.
Moreover, I have been playing a lot of Modern lately. One thing I have noticed over and over is my opponents attempting to suicide their Dark Confidants into my various Elves and Merfolk. There’s a reason for that: You can’t very well control whether or not Bob kills you. His greatness comes at a cost… And that cost is sometimes your life.
Conversely — and a little perversely — you can leave your Pain Seer back (you know, the opposite of attempting to suicide your Dark Confidant) to avoid any chance of an accidental death.
Pain Seer isn’t objectively as strong as Dark Confidant… But to be fair Dark Confidant is widely considered one of the strongest two drops in the history of a game defined by great two drops. Given its inheritance of Dark Confidant’s attention to casting costs, you can’t just jam Pain Seer into any deck (limiting its efficacy somewhat). I do think that it might go in some sideboards for matchups where is it unlikely to be blocked (or where potential blockers are cards like Omenspeaker that will not prevent it from untapping and attacking to untap again).
Snap Judgment Rating: Role Player (likely upper mid-tier sideboard card)
January 5th, 2014 — Cube, Drafting, Magic
Last night I put out a Tweet that got a surprising amount of feedback.
(In case you missed it, this references my new tumblr account, which to date has basically just been screen shots from Holiday Cube 2013.)
My good friend Tom Martell snarked my Cube skillz:
(A tweet that was favorite’d by the normally very nice Thea Steele… Probably Josh Ravitz is rubbing off on her.)
It was great because of all the feedback from…
Noted TCGPlayer and StarCityGames writer Anthony Lowry:
Grand Prix Champion Matt Sperling:
And Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas:
But what I wanted to start a conversation on was the strategic psychology around the pack’s first pick.
For me, I took Lightning Bolt.
Had I not taken Lightning Bolt, I would probably have taken Stoneforge Mystic; my reason there is just that I want to experiment with playing beatdown decks other than RDW [in Cube]. My drivers in taking Lightning Bolt was probably obvious to serious students of Cube archetypes (or anyone who, at least, follows the Top 8 Magic podcast).
Red Deck Wins is my favorite deck to draft in Cube; my reason for this is that, lifetime, I have a sum total of one one-win drafts, and the vast majority of my Cube 3-0s are Red Deck Wins. Simply (at least for me), Red Deck Wins has produced the best results, Cube after Cube.
What I love about this pack is that there are no other red cards. Taking Lightning Bolt here cuts off red to the left, in theory discouraging players from cutting my precious Red Deck cards off from the other direction.
Everything came together in this draft. I successfully cut off the red cards, and ended up with a near-masterpiece:
(I could have probably built my deck a little bit better, but I really liked how the draft went.)
But my original question wasn’t just about what I took. It was about what whoever was reading might have taken.
Given that I was dead-set on Lightning Bolt (and would have taken Stoneforge Mystic second) I was pretty surprised at some of the responses I got.
Limited Resources front-man (and frequent Top 8 Magic guest) Marshall Sutcliffe would have taken Necromancy:
He was joined by Open Series standout Drew Levin:
… Oh, and Jon Finkel:
Is Necromancy THE pick then? It’s hard to argue with Jon… But I know where I want to go in Cube. Usually I force only RDW or Storm… And while Necromancy typically smacks of a “broken” B/U deck, it isn’t Storm.
Further, from Drew:
Tangle Wire is an interesting card that some folks suggested. I am not a huge Tangle Wire guy in Cube, and have cut it from my Red Decks in the past.
How about Mishra’s Workshop?
Mishra’s Workshop and Necromancy have something in common; and kind of common with [my] Lightning Bolt (if not strictly). Lightning Bolt can go in any kind of deck that can cast it. It can go in Red Deck Wins, some kind of control, or as just whatever removal. Lightning Bolt is flexible like that, just as it has contributed to everything from Pyromancer Ascension (combo) to Red Deck Wins (beatdown) to Jund (mid-range) to various blue-based control decks (obv). Caleb Durward once told me he thought Lightning Bolt might be the best red card, ever.
But Mishra’s Workshop and Necromancy go into particular decks. Mishra’s Workhop is not valuable unless you have lots and lots of artifacts. I know I’ve screwed up with various Signets and Time Spiral with Mishra’s Workshop on the battlefield.
Necromancy’s job is to get out the big bigs; Drew’s sevens and eights if you grok. Necromancy can play as an efficiency / value spell… But excels when you get to use cards like Survival of the Fittest or Entomb to put specific powerful creatures in the graveyard. When you take Necromancy, you are going down a certain path. You want to take big guys; you want to pick up resources that will help you dump the big guys into the bin.
And hey! Jon would have taken it.
(But, just so you know, when I take a Lightning Bolt, I am every bit as focused on an archetype as a Mishra’s Workshop- or Necromancy-taker.)
Most interesting to me was that some other notable players would have considered Counterspell:
The aforementioned Open Champion Caleb Durward:
And many-times Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Chris Pikula:
A few weeks ago Tom Martell gave me an interview for the Mother Ship. One of the things we talked a lot about is what it means to be a good drafter. For my part, I have had runs at GP and Nationals stages that put me in the Top 25 rated drafters in the world (you probably didn’t know that). I did it by forcing U/W and Black decks only. When I qualified for US Nationals a few years ago, I needed to learn to draft… And forced blue decks over and over. I put on 200 points of MTGO rating and won every 8-4 I played for weeks going into Nationals. Needless to say, I didn’t really back up the ratings at Pro Tour or that more recent Nationals.
Interestingly, Tom says that those kinds of results don’t make a good drafter, but a flawed one.
I think my completely discounting Counterspell (and to a lesser degree not understanding some of Drew’s initial arguments around Necromancy) expose maybe a source of success for me in Cube… But also a flaw in my drafting ceiling, at least according to Tom’s model. I just don’t know how to draft a deck that wants Counterspell! What archetype does Counterspell go in?
Counterspell is, of course, Lightning Bolt’s Blue opposite number. But, Lightning Bolt in the abstract; NOT just “my” Lightning Bolt, that is a conceptual stand-in for “Red Deck Wins.”
Just something to think about.
But man, do I love Holiday Cube 2013!
January 4th, 2014 — Comics, Superficial Satudays
Comic: SECRET AVENGERS #18 Artist: John Cassaday
One of the thing a good cover does — especially when you hire a separate artist to do them (rather than just paying say a perfectly great interior artist) — is to really catch the eye.
Does this not catch the eye?
Are you not entertained?
I was not 100% sure what I was looking at but it looked like some ka-raz-ay em effer was karate chopping a dude’s head in half. Is that what it looks like to you? Do you not want to check out what’s going on inside?
For those of you not “in the know” this cover was one of many John Cassaday covers reuniting the award-winning artist with the writer who helped make him huge: Warren Ellis (on SECRET AVENGERS).
For his part, Ellis was in the midst of a SECRET AVENGERS that was kind of like the realization of everything Ellis presumably dreamed of as a kid. They were like one-of single stories a la PLANETARY (the book that first brought Ellis and Cassaday together), but he ran a rotating harem of big-name artists, one whiz-bang single at a time. Ellis tapped Jamie McKelvie from PHONOGRAM and Magic fan favorite Kev Walker; broke off a clever Alex Maleev time travel story starring Black Widow, and more. My favorite was this one, which featured David Aja from HAWKEYE and THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST for some Master of Kung-Fu martial arts action.
I know this feature is supposed to be about covers, but the internals were a treat, too.
Wouldn’t that karate chop have made you want to look inside?
September 28th, 2013 — Comics, Superficial Satudays
Comic: ADVENTURE TIME #16 (cover d)
Artist: Meredith McClaren
First of all this picture is just beautiful. So subtle. It would be cute and tender pic even if we didn’t know who the characters were.
But what makes this an interesting cover to me is the un-stylized finished product. ADVENTURE TIME is known for its frankly crude illustrations. You know that giant bat the little boy and his dog are snuggling into? This is how she might look in an ep of ADVENTURE TIME:
ADVENTURE TIME goes so far out of its way to make the little boy Finn to look awkward and snaggle-toothed; his Mr. Fantastic-like dog Jake implausibly proportioned. But in McClaren’s cover, they are just a really cute kid and his dog.
August 24th, 2013 — Comics, Superficial Satudays
My friend and podcast partner Brian David-Marshall (once “Brian Marshall”) suggested this classic CONAN THE BARBARIAN cover by the similarly-hyphenated Barry Windsor-Smith (credited at the time as “Barry Smith”):
Comic: CONAN THE BARBARIAN ANNUAL VOL 1 #1
Artist: Barry Smith / Barry Windsor-Smith
Barry Windsor-Smith is one of my 2-5 all-time favorite comic artists. I would read his ARCHER & ARMSTRONG all day if he were still writing and drawing it. At his max level of focus, BWS’s attention to detail and line work are simply second-to-none. Keeping in mind the more limited coloring capabilities of comics in 1973 (relative to 2013), let’s run down five [with Flores] or so details that BWS could have ignored but chose to include / spend time on here…
- Conan is standing in water. He bothered to draw the little puddle effects around Conan’s ankles (and the bodies around him), triggering some slight coloring / light / shading differences above and below the wet.
- Conan’s feet / toes / toenails: BDM loves to point out certain flashy / big name artists who either don’t draw feet, mysteriously have smoke coming up around characters’ feet (so they don’t have to draw them), crop frames so they don’t have to draw the feet, or just draw feet badly. BWS? Here’s a foot — not a boot — and here’s some toenail ink while I’m at it. Eff you.
- Conan’s hair versus whatever is on his left shoulder (animal fur?)… Point being one of them you get the sense of not just length / texture / even oil… The fur or whatever is on his left shoulder is ostensibly a similar substance but using the same inks can convey this wiry or bristly texture. Most artists wouldn’t even ink individual hair details on the featured foreground figure.
- Blood – The sense of wetness he conveys with black ink on Conan’s sword and axe is basically perfect.
- The grass / wheat / fauna directly behind the characters – as in he bothered to draw in these details. In fact, the work on his long grass better than most artists’ inking of foreground characters / anything at all.
… But that’s just five or so things out of this 1973 cover.
Here’s the kicker. In big, bold, letters this annual proclaims itself full of “two of the greatest Conan sagas ever told” … which means it is a reprint issue.
Back when he was critiquing my work on a regular basis BDM — a longtime comics editor in a previous life — would talk about a step that good artists took X pages into their careers. They would start good enough to get work and then at some point — bam! — they were at some crazy next level. BWS — “Barry Smith” back then — was the artists of the original story as well. This was what that cover looked like:
What a difference
a day three years make s.
August 23rd, 2013 — Decks, Games, Magic
This is bar none my favorite deck in Standard right now:
3 Bubbling Cauldron
4 Festering Newt
4 Bogbrew Witch
4 Lifebane Zombie
4 Tragic Slip
1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
4 Cartel Aristocrat
1 Sin Collector
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
4 Lingering Souls
4 Restoration Angel
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
1 Orzhov Guildgate
2 Vault of the Archangel
2 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
4 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
3 Sin Collector
2 Fiendslayer Paladin
You may have seen a previous version of the deck on Twitter, which featured only three Bogbrew Witches main, but Skirsdag High Priest. I actually have great respect for making 5/5 Demons… But I made exactly zero, total, the whole time I was playing High Priests; I also attacked with one maybe once, though I don’t know what I was waiting for. Sin Collector has been largely better but hasn’t produced fireworks exactly; though the synergy with Restoration Angel has been pretty exciting in some matches.
I tested BDM’s more white-based Extort / Archangel of Thune deck more than any other decks of this class… But I think this one is the best of the B/W lot from a win expectation standpoint, though it of course has no Angelic Accord, which is what sent all of us down this road to begin with. You know…
“Bubbling Cauldron + Angelic Accord is basically a Batterskull.”
Brian’s deck doesn’t play the Bogbrew Witch combo, but I have grown to love those 9-12 cards tremendously over the past week or so. Though these decks can win on various dimensions I find myself becoming excited every time I can start chaining a Bogbrew With; and have had meaningful internal debates about whether I should try to stick a Witch, bait with a Restoration Angel at the end of the opponent’s turn, and the relative impact of a Witch on four versus Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. To tell you the truth, killing the opponent with just Festering Newts ain’t no joke. Sixteen you.
Festering Newt is one of the most surprising little cards you can drop on the first turn. Stromkirk Noble on the first turn has been one of the most bedeviling drops to play against for the past year and more for me; especially because my intended blockers have usually been Snapcaster Mage and Borderland Ranger… But Festering Newt is such a great answer! You can block and trade. They can remove it with Pillar of Flame, sure, but that is true for most everything; and essentially all other interaction will result in a dead Stromkirk Noble. Given the propensity of a Stromkirk Noble to get out of hand, I’m generally fine just blocking and trading one-for-one.
Lifebane Zombie is great in this deck; and overall great in the metagame. I have been stealing Boros Reckoners or Ghor-Clan Rampagers and then trading with Flinthoof Boars or Hellriders quite often. Lifebane Zombie is of course just as great with Restoration Angel as Sin Collector… Maybe better because Lifebane Zombie > Sin Collector.
The deck has a good amount of life gain, which buys a lot of time against aggro. It does not have a huge amount of lasting power against control, though; if you don’t keep your Bogbrew Witch around for a couple of untaps you are liable to run out. That is the struggle with this version, which has o Sign in Blood and no Angelic Accord. Sam Black suggested Dark Prophecy, rather said he didn’t think 0 in 75 was possibly right. Possibly he is right! Dark Prophecy would surely give the deck some lasting power against control, or in attrition matchups.
Anyway, just wanted to share this.
Like a lot of pleasantly surprised bogBrewers, I didn’t expect I would be playing many Bubbling Cauldrons in Standard but the combo has been very effective. It is just fantastic against aggro decks that want to race you as well as removal-poor midrange creature decks. Though this strategy can very likely be improved, it is going to be my jumping off point come the impending Theros rotation.
August 20th, 2013 — Decks, Magic, Podcasts
Angelic Accord, version 1.0
2 Bubbling Cauldron
1 Elixir of Immortality
3 Trading Post
3 Bogbrew Witch
4 Festering Newt
4 Sign in Blood
3 Tragic Slip
4 Vampire Nighthawk
3 Angelic Accord
2 Fiendslayer Paladin
4 Lingering Souls
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Orzhov Guildgate
1 Vault of the Archangel
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
2 Fiendslayer Paladin
2 Orzhov Charm
1 Tragic Slip
1 Liliana of the Dark Realms
For anyone wondering about the deck BDM and I were talking about in the most recent podcast the above is it.
I don’t want to spend a huge amount of time talking about the strategies, plans, and angles various on this deck as it ended up being a bit less than super awesome; but as BDM raved in the podcast it is fun to play, [presumably] fun to watch, and capable of some pretty exciting comebacks.
If you brave yourself up to give Angelic Accord a swing, keep these things in mind:
- Trading Post + Angelic Accord is the basic combo. Once you have both of these in play, it is rare that you will do anything but discard to Trading Post every turn. But be careful! You have to discard before the opponent’s end step if you want to crash with a new 4/4 on your turn.
- Bubbling Cauldron + Angelic Accord is basically a Batterskull. Almost anything can catalyze the first 4/4 Angel. You can crash on your turn, sacrifice the Angel, gain four, and net a fresh (untapped) Angel to block on your opponent’s turn. Okay, I’ll bite… It is probably a bit better than a Batterskull. Ya got me.
- Elixir of Immortality allows you to loop your Festering Newts. The limit on the Bogbrew Witch combo is that you can only search up four Festering Newts. But if you can put your Festering Newts back into your deck, you break the normal limit on Bogbrew Witch. I don’t know if you’ve played much Bogbrew Witch in Standard, but the other two halves of the combo win a lot of games for me. Somehow… A real thing.
- You can activate life gain abilities on both your turn and your opponent’s turn in order to trigger a single Angelic Accord twice per cycle. Truth.
Did I mention there is a new Top8Magic podcast up on ManaDeprived? Well there is! And BDM is back!
If you are somehow too lazy to click one of the several links to ManaDeprived on this page / in this post, I suppose you can listen to the cast here:
Hope you <3 it!
August 17th, 2013 — Comics, Superficial Satudays
Just got back from watching KICK-ASS 2 at the movies.
In honor of this weekend’s soon-to-be blockbuster sequel, maybe the most arresting cover from the original KICK-ASS:
Comic: KICK-ASS #6
Artists: John Romita, Jr. (pencils) and Tom Palmer (inks)
What have we got here?
I figure most of us — at least those even passingly familiar with KICK-ASS as a property — are desensitized to the ultra-violence of it. But probably at some point in our pasts an image like the cover to KICK-ASS #6 would have demanded a double-take.
A little girl, drenched in blood, a sword in either hand; standing over the bodies of fallen men. Can you say “juxtaposition”?
The girl is Hit-Girl (as the cover indicates); possibly the most important unique element of the KICK-ASS franchise; a little girl who is a deadly killer. Foul-mouthed as she is lethal, Hit-Girl is actually what made me fall in love with the original movie. And here we have her origin story! (or at least the lower-right-hand-corner claims)
KICK-ASS isn’t for everyone, certainly. I “get” what Millar and Romita (and later Vaughn) were getting at with this. If you understand where they were trying to go, I think there is really only one reading: whiz-bang smashing success. KICK-ASS is the PULP FICTION of superheroes. It is a straight story; not a satire… But it constantly forces you to look twice and think twice, even challenge your suspension of disbelief.
But yeah, even someone who gets it — and buys in — has to think a second over Hit-Girl’s smile in this one… Especially as the titular ass-kicker looks on horrified from behind.
August 10th, 2013 — Comics, Superficial Satudays
For the 50th anniversary of [arguably] Marvel Comics’s favorite character the House of Ideas commissioned superduperstar artist Marcos Martin to scribble up a number of variant covers, and man were they gorgeous. Jonathan Becker of “Tomfidence” fame brought these to my attention for Superficial Saturdays. Here is my favorite of the set “the 1970s variant”:
Comic: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #692
Artist: Marcos Martin
Anyone familiar with Spider-Man’s history knows about the Death of Gwen Stacy; Peter’s true love was murdered by his archenemy the Green Goblin in one of the most famous no-win situations in comics. Martin’s homage is just perfect in my estimation. Despite the dominance of negative space, I think this is a very well-composed image.
The use of color in this image is just… brave. I love flat color but this is just extreme. The red of the background is the same as the red of Spidey’s suit is the same as the red of Gwen’s outfit [and if memory serves she was wearing a green coat in the original]. I love how he uses the limited color palette to imply Gwen’s death. She is all white and gray… Like a ghost.
Goes without saying that the line work on this one is just outstanding. And versatile. You can tell that both images are Marcos Martin but he uses a completely different line than we saw in GREEN ARROW #40. Thanks to Becker; just love this one.