Entries from April 2012 ↓
April 30th, 2012 — Decks, Games, Magic
At least before we have a lot of tangible tournament results, I am thinking there are two main interesting cards to think about for Standard with Avacyn Restored:
- Delver of Secrets (surprise surprise), and
- Cavern of Souls
Specifically, Cavern of Souls gives you another dual land to play first turn Delver of Secrets (and through a Mental Misstep, if that matters)… Plus you get to play Champion of the Parish for double the possible aggressive starts!
Now if you are trying to buff a Champion of the Parish you need to configure your deck list a little bit differently. The Delver deck is already chock full of Humans (Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage, for instance, are both Humans)… But Geist of Saint Traft isn’t. I decided to go a little bit of a different direction and swap Geist of Saint Traft with Blade Splicer. Blade Splicer is a little bit weaker on offense (2 + 4, with the 4 evasive being a bit more damage than 1 + 3 and the 3 not evasive); but the 3 [Golem] striking first (and potentially generating a fine synergy with Intangible Virtue) makes for an elite defense.
Please keep in mind this is just a first pass:
Champion Delver with Avacyn Restored v.1
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Gitaxian Probe
2 Mana Leak
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Vapor Snag
2 Gut Shot
4 Blade Splicer
3 Gather the Townsfolk
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Moorland Haunt
4 Seachrome Coast
1 Consecrated Sphinx
2 Mental Misstep
1 Gut Shot
2 Celestial Purge
1 Revoke Existence
3 Timely Reinforcements
Whether Intangible Virtue or Honor of the Pure is the right buffing enchantment is up for grabs, I think. It is a question of how much you care about Vigilance versus buffing Champion of the Parish; I have Honor of the Pure right now because this seems to be a bit of a “Champion” deck. I am sure you can see the hyper-aggressive starts like…
- Champion of the Parish –> Gather the Townsfolk…
Or better yet:
- Champion of the Parish –> Champion of the Parish + Delver of Secrets
I am not super satisfied with this pass right now. For one, I don’t even know which is the right two drop enchantment! Other things kind of up in the air…
2 Mana Leak + 2 Gut Shot… I am neither elite against G/R Ramp nor against other Delver decks in the main; when I was playing 2 Gut Shots in Baltimore I felt like a smart guy, but right now many Delver players are main decking three Gut Shots! I felt like Mana Leak was a compromise-able card based on my previous Cavern of Souls blog post (i.e. players like G3rryT and Jonny Magic are playing only two).
3 Blade Splicer or 3 Gather the Townsfolk? This one is pretty debatable. I went with 3 Gathers because we have shifted Cavern of Souls to a primary source of White mana… but it doesn’t actually cast a Gather the Townsfolk… Same reason I dropped the Moorland Haunt count by one (it doesn’t contribute to the Moorland Haunt activation). I guess you can cut a Gitaxian Probe… But that’s like my favorite card in Standard, so please don’t do that.
Obviously this version doesn’t have the “race you with an Invisible Stalker” functionality of the straight Delver deck; that said, I found Invisible Stalker to be the weakest card in straight Delver, worse than a Champion of the Parish, certainly, if you don’t have a Sword of War and Peace or a Pike.
The sideboard is medium-straightforward. The only weird card is Consecrated Sphinx. I actually kind of fell in love with that card in Delver playing a variation of Caleb Durward’s Delver list, whereas I give Jace, Memory Adept a rating of “uh… I guess it’s a card” in most situations.
I do think Mental Misstep is an absolute must for Delver, even though it is a bit weaker now that Cavern of Souls will be entering the Standard Arena… But if you watched Chi Hoi Yim work over Robbie Cordell in the finals of the Birmingham Open (and how could you not, with the attractive and charismatic
Joey Pasco YT on the mic?) … You know what kind of havoc Mental Misstep can levy in the Delver mirror… Especially on the draw and when setting up Timely Reinforcements.
Speaking of which, a month or so ago I felt like the Delver mirror was my best matchup in Standard due to my figuring out Mental Misstep (and I know that is ironic as I finally lost the Delver mirror playing for Top 8, on camera)… and the truth is, my Invitational deck was nowhere near as prepared for other Delver decks as this one.
I think the tensions in Standard are going to be interesting. This version — whether you stay with Honor of the Pure or move [back] to Intangible Virtue — is pretty on-par with the “tokens” Delver decks in terms of tokens production + buffing (they are going to have some mix of Midnight Haunting and Lingering Souls instead of Gather the Townsfolk and Blade Splicer), but one Golem can rumble pretty adequately with multiple regular tokens, and you can use your Phyrexian mana to set up a favorable Gather, don’t forget. On balance you have much faster and more explosive mana, and you have literally twice the aggressive draws with Champion of the Parish to get in early damage and put the opponent (or any opponent) on his heels.
Again, just a first pass, but certainly adequate for… say… the first week’s FNM.
I am pretty sure if I were playing in the Rhode Island Open this weekend I would be playing four copies of each of Delver of Secrets, Champion of the Parish, and Cavern of Souls though… Those cards are too good and too fast to ignore, plus they are great together and make for wild synergies with token producers and everything else you want to do with the best deck since
Caw-Blade Exarch Twin.
April 23rd, 2012 — Games, Magic
By now you have probably seen Restoration Angel.
If not, I will remind you by pasting it here:
My friends Hall of Famer Brian Kibler and future Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin had some interesting things to say about Restoration Angel last week. Patrick pointed out that Restoration Angel, at 3/4, is perfectly suited to mug a Delver of Secrets or Strangleroot Geist with its flash ability; moreover, its “Momentary Blink” will often be worth a card.
Patrick was surprised at how little hoopla and hype were surrounding Restoration Angel (at the time). I mean what if it said…
When Restoration Angel enters the battlefield, draw a card.
That would be un-ignore-ably bonkers, no?
Well, she kinda sorta says that now… And if you think back to how much I liked Simian Grunts back in the day (sadly I played Simian Grunts to a PT Day Two… in Extended… #BlameAdrianSullivan)… Restoration Angel has a lot of Simian Grunts to it, only without the echo (but with, you know, flying).
Kibler said Restoration Angel is his favorite card in the new set, and not to expect Daybreak Ranger prices.
So yeah Yeah YEAH Restoration Angel is a good card.
… None of that is what I want to talk about today. During my stint in the SCGLive booth this past weekend, Joey Pasco had Restoration Angel blown up on the big screen.
It was an eye-opening experience for YT, and one that catapulted Restoration Angel to new heights of something in my mind.
I actually stumbled on Johannes Voss’s DeviantArt page and found a great graphic that shows the artist’s process from start to finish. You should check it out. (BTW Voss’s Commander’s Authority is probably my favorite art in the set).
But for our purposes I am just going to excerpt from one of the early stage pre-pics:
I want to emphasize that I really like Voss’s stroke. You can see some mad light source skills in this earlier stage, and I feel like I can actually see the speed used to produce the strings holding together that blue bustier. Technique, I like. Here is a rare commentary from YT about the content of the piece.
So… As far as I can tell, this is a pic of a dude looking up the skirt of a winged blonde in
full battle armor a Southern Belle nighty.
April 23rd, 2012 — Games, Magic
Sorry if I am a bit late to the game on this topic but I was busy all weekend doing this:
… So I hope y’all liked the ceiling-shattering commentary at SCGLive; so, point being, “I was busy.”
The card in question is Cavern of Souls:
Cavern of Souls
But what is interesting-interesting (or at least the subject of this here blog post) is Zac Hill’s preview article for it at the Mother Ship. And while it might seem a bit apropos in reaction to an article entitled “Gonna Hate” I want to make sure you know I hold Zac in pretty high regard. He made sure to jam a PT Top 8 before taking his gig in R&D, he has a super awesome educational background, and while the most mainstream-mainstream thing I’ve ever written for is a Cosmopolitan article entitled “Stupid Things Guys Do for Fashion” mighty Zac is a contributor to HuffPo (/jelly!).
… But I still disagree with lots of the stuff he wrote in the Cavern of Souls preview.
By the by, unlike certain other commentators (like heartthrob game designer Brian Kibler) I don’t really care about the “… can’t be countered” bit on Cavern of Souls feeling tacked-on. I come from a place of fundamental disagreement with the presuppositions that drove a perceived need around the card.
Here is a summary of the points I am going to hit with this post:
- [R&D] messed up with Snapcaster Mage.
- Mana Leak was almost as savage a culprit as good ol’ Tiago himself // Mana Leak is simply a much more powerful card than [R&D] would be comfortable printing under modern development rules.
- [R&D] would never print Signets nowadays.
- … creatures were too weak for most of Magic’s history
[R&D] messed up with Snapcaster Mage
Personally, as a fan of the game as well as ONE OF THE TOP 10 DECK DESIGNERS OF ALL TIME * my basic belief is that there is always a best card. Sometimes that best card — say in a Tier Two metagame — is a card like Loxodon Hierarch, Remand, or Skred. Loxodon Hierarch — which my team (which included PT Champions like Osyp Lebedowicz, Jon Finkel, and Steve OMS; plus off-team consultant Patrick Chapin) considered the runaway best card in Ravnica Block — was not even played by the winning squad at PT Charleston; I guess their own Top 10 deck designer Saito disagreed. Loxodon Hierarch and Remand — two cards from Ravnica — were at different points considered the best card in Standard… I didn’t even play Remand when I won States with This Girl and no one on any of our Charleston teams played it in Block. When I declared Skred to be the best card in Standard… I was right.
… Yet many players thought this was ludicrous (and probably believably so).
PT Champion Chris Lachmann eventually agreed… on the way to his X-0 performance at Worlds with G/R Snow ramp.
But these are the Best Cards of a Tier Two metagame.
What is the best card in modern Legacy? Force of Will? Brainstorm? Narcomoeba? I don’t know either.
There is always a best card, even in relatively flat metagames.
Today’s Standard is not a flat metagame. This is a metagame of battleships, haymakers, and star destroyers.
… And Snapcaster Mage isn’t even the best card in it.
I have Snapcaster Mage as probably the #2 card in Standard (after Delver of Secrets). I saw a recent rundown of the format’s best cards on ChannelFireball… that did not include Snapcaster Mage at all. (LOL)
Ultimately, I don’t think the presence of a best card is indicative of a mistake. I don’t mind the Titans. I think it’s cool that we have cards like Primeval Titan that have enabled so many interesting land combinations from Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle; to Kessig Wolf-Run; to motherlovin’ Glimmervoid or Cloudpost. How is that a bad thing? How can it be anything but awesome to build scenarios where Copper Myr is the right choice for a particular style of deck?
By the way, I don’t think it was the Titans that killed beloved Baneslayer Angel, rather it really was Mana Leak.
Mana Leak was almost as savage a culprit as good ol’ Tiago himself // Mana Leak is simply a much more powerful card than [R&D] would be comfortable printing under modern development rules.
Zac’s assertions seem to be twofold:
- Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage are both issues; Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage together are greater than the sum of their problematic parts.
- Mana Leak is overpowered.
The points are related; I will deal with them separately and together.
Again, I don’t think that the existence of Snapcaster Mage is a big problem. I would actually rather have a card like Snapcaster Mage be the best than lots of other possible kinds of cards; again, even flat Tier Two formats have best cards (and finding out which they are — and at times ignoring them — is part of the charm of Tier Two metagames).
Here’s the problem: If Snapcaster Mage is indeed bringing down creatures with his card advantageous snappiness… Removing Mana Leak isn’t necessarily a very good solution.
Check out the above deck list from master format crusher and Sponsors Invite topdecker Caleb Durward.
Caleb’s stated goal? To make Snapcaster Mage the best Bloodbraid Elf ever; to dominate creature decks. His number of Mana Leaks? Two.
I thought Mana Leaks were keeping creatures down?
I learned a lot from Caleb’s deck list and from talking to him during that Top 8 weekend (the last time I was in the SCGLive booth incidentally). I ran with some of his ideas elsewhere, and paid attention to the efforts of other mighty mages like Brian Kibler, Ben Stark, and Gerry Thompson.
And you know what?
Mana Leak is not what you want if you want to keep creatures down.
Caw-Blade went from a U/W control deck to a u/W board control deck when facing beatdown. Why? Because having Mana Leak as your first line of defense when you are the control is awful when you are going second. I think Zac’s assertion that “[s]pells can only be interacted with for the moment they are on the stack, whereas creatures can be interacted with at sorcery speed” is almost willfully reductive. Creatures are about equally dangerous to spells if and when your defense is a Counterspell; and are more dangerous in general (in that case) as fast creatures have much more offensive impact than fast spells. I can’t even think of comparably costed “spell” threats that put the fear into me like Geist of Saint Traft or the one-two punch of Stromkirk Noble into Stormblood Berserker. Shock you, Incinerate you? Yeah… Maybe if I’ve already been hammered by, you know, Stromkirk Noble into Stormblood Berserker!
If you want to talk about the impact of Mana Leak against creatures… Sure, Mana Leak may be flexible, but it is at its best against something like a Primeval Titan… but in reality you can stand in Karn Liberated or some other comparably costed “I win” Stage Three slaughterhouse. A large Stage Three-enabling creature is really no different than a Cruel Ultimatum. Are you really scared of the 6/6 body, or is is the implication of an on-board Valakut kill or the inevitability of the Inkmoth Nexus offense that is frightening?
Isn’t this kind of obvious?
Mana Leak is good against expensive stuff, whether that is creature, Planeswalker, or sorcery.
Now similarly, if Mana Leak is so overpowered… Why is it getting cut so often?
Jon Finkel played two at PTDKA.
Gerry Thompson is cutting them.
In his B/U Control… Caleb Durward never even had four.
This is a card that is consistently out-paced in popularity by any number of other cards. In the Delver mirror (where Snapcaster Mage is one of your core breakers)… you side Mana Leak out!
The evidence just doesn’t support the idea that Mana Leak is overpowered. Mana Leak is a minority four-of (and was maybe a two-of or three-of in Caw-Blade last year, remember). It sees very little play outside Standard, whereas Standard-legal cards like Delver of Secrets, Ponder, and Lingering Souls are mopping up huge Legacy events. If we are looking to point the finger at someone, I really don’t know that it is Leak.
[R&D] would never print Signets nowadays.
I just found this odd because in terms of a mana fixing kind of card, to me there is an enormous gulf between, say, Boros Signet and Arid Mesa.
… creatures were too weak for most of Magic’s history
I actually think this is ludicrous.
The creatures people are willing to play have always been good, good enough. I mean maybe we boost the power level of chase Mythics (which did not exist way back when), but the creatures we were and continue to be willing to play have changed almost not at all over the eighteen years I have been playing Magic.
Today, we continue to see Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves in decks across all formats.
Kird Ape was available in Revised (my first set); and many players would be happy to play that in Standard today.
Black Knight and White Knight variants — whether we want them to be called Hand of Cruelty or Silver Knight — have been highly playable and important contributors to every format where they have been legal. Legends of the Pro Tour from PV to Bob Maher, Jr. have used these cards to command some of their most memorable tournament performances.
Lord of Atlantis continues to be an archetype driver in a wide format like Legacy!
I would agree that both the top of the creature mountain is higher and the average creature is better than it was eighteen years ago; however, successful tournament players do not select from the average part of the card pool. We select — and ideally have always selected from — the best cards. And I really don’t think there was ever a time when the best cards in this area were so substandard that we couldn’t find enough options to build successful strategies around them.
By the way: I think the fact that one of the most important archetypes ever was built on the back of Ironclaw Orcs is awesome.
Zac’s article (and please remember all my stuff above about respecting Zac… Part of what I love about living in a non-totalitarian environment is that reasonable people can disagree) was brought to me by my broadcast partner and blue-o-phile Joey Pasco.
Joey’s concern with the attitude that I have been combatting in this blog post (rather than any objection to Cavern of Souls) was that “R&D wanted to kill permission-based control” (which is Joey’s favorite).
I take another position.
The ONLY reason any of us loves Magic in any kind of a lasting sense is that it is a dynamic, ever-changing, game. My favorite format all time is probably Masques Block Constructed. I was at my absolute best during Masques Block, and always felt I was two steps ahead of every other deck designer in the world. I consistently put up results, both personally and through bullets and strategic partners.
… And if I had been forced to play nothing but Masques Block Constructed for the ensuing 12 years, I would have quit a long time ago.
Magic is wonderful because sometimes we have permission based control and other times we have tapout control. Sometimes we have a Red Deck with terrible creatures and high quality burn, and other times we have a streamlined Goblins shell that takes a Fujita or Paskins to improve upon… and yet they can! Which is awesome! We have formats where The Rock is the best deck, and we have longer stretches of sanity. We have formats defined by singular challenges of Bitterblossom or Survival of the Fittest, which reward great play for long stretches… and allow the best gap designers to build even more exciting decks that can only be uncovered via the fires of seemingly oppressive strife. We would have had no Cruel Control or Blightning Beatdown if not for Faeries, no Exarch Twin without the pall of Caw-Blade.
There is one constant when it comes to the long-term enjoyment of Magic: The Gathering; and that is change.
blah, Blah, BLAH… Cavern of Souls 🙂
* The 10 Best Deckbuilders of All Time: Herberholz and Flores 🙂
April 17th, 2012 — Games, Magic
Please don’t assume that there will be more “cards of the day” entries every day, even if there are going to be (sometimes).
Portent, from Ice Age
Out of print for circa 15 years?
Why oh why are we talking about Portent today?
Let me dial you back those fifteen years to a tournament; a Standard tournament. A hard-fought tournament contested by some of the best players, ever; victoriously taken down by Our Hero, michaelj.
Yes, this was a side Standard tournament back at Pro Tour New York 1997. Yes, I scrubbed out of the main event PT; no, you probably weren’t qualified (unless you are Patrick, who was in fact qualified and also made Top 8). Don’t you dare raise an eyebrow! If you had taken down PT Finalist Tomi Walamies and Hall of Famer Alan Comer — even in a lowly side event — such a Standard triumph would be etched forever in your Magic memory, too.
This tournament was the first time — and one of the only times — I encountered / would encounter Portent being played as a Constructed card. Alan was coming off his historic, archetype-making Regionals with Turbo Xerox, the exemplification of his theory whereby you can Remove two lands for every two one- or two-mana cantrips you play. He ran only 17 lands and used his Portents, Foreshadows (combo!), and Impulses to get land early… but get spells later. Cha-ching!
He beat up my Frenetic Efreet in Game One with Suq’Ata Firewalker (I had rarely felt so out-classed). I got the second in a nail-biter where he didn’t have Force of Will, and kept 17-land deck manascrewed in the last one with Time Elemental and a tremendous amount of patience.
Ah, those were the days.
Okay, Portent: What’s up with Portent? It was a fringe card in 1997… Why care at all in 2012?
Most of you probably look at Portent and see a bad Ponder. Some of you probably recognize that you can Portent your opponent, and that keeping him in lockdown is probably nice. And of course there was the 1997 super combo twin set of Portent + Foreshadow and Memory Lapse + Foreshadow (and anyway, Foreshadow was just a highly playable cantrip in a format with Mystical Tutor, Enlightened Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, and so on); Magicians from Jon Finkel to Andrew Cuneo were enamored of that interaction as well.
So again, bad Ponder in 2012… What gives?
This is a SLOW-trip, right?
There is a lot of speculation today about miracle cards in Legacy. Brainstorm; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; the return of Sensei’s Divining Top… All these cards, especially played all together and interlaced with miracle spells like Temporal Mastery can make for an absolute symphony of under-costed fireworks. The [potential] down-side of miracles is that they are expensive when they are non-miraculous (but that is why we might play cards like Desolate Lighthouse or Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded to get rid of them), or in Legacy, cards like Brainstorm or Jace, the Mind Sculptor to put them back on top, where they can grow up to be miraculous in a turn or so.
Chase miracle Temporal Mastery is generating more conversations than the rumored pregnancy, fat-ness, or skinny-ness of Snooki from Jersey Shore. Which I don’t watch. Ever.
Focus, michaelj, focus. Portent
Oh yeah, Portent. Slow-trip Portent. Crappy Ponder, we decided, right?
I am just spitballing here (but what is any of this stuff at this stage of the new set but spitballing?)… Can we make the slow-trip-ness of Portent an advantage rather than a disadvantage? A feature rather than a bug? Ponder is generally favored over Preordain in Legacy, even though Preordain was massively favored over Ponder in Standard. Digging for three for U is considered better than what Preordain offers for the same mana… At least when you can combo in a Scalding Tarn or Polluted Delta.
Portent does essentially what Ponder does (digs for three), plus gives you a whole different modality! Now in most decks that want to draw a card now Now NOW (as with when you are digging for land on turns 1-2, or playing a combo deck that wants to win immediately), the slow-trip Liability on Portent may be prohibitive… But what about if you are super concerned with top-decking miracles? Playing a progressive advantage deck? Setting up a draw on your opponent’s turn, and making that a miracle (as often as possible, if not every time)?
Portent can Ponder for you, but give you a shot at going off (small-g / small-o) on the other guy’s turn. Here here for information!
No, I don’t know if this is actually going to be good enough for Legacy, which can be a notoriously extreme and superlative format; but I do know that I can’t stop thinking about Portent, and triggering miracles on the opponent’s turn without 1) wasting an extra mana, or 2) misplacing my beloved Sensei’s Divining Top (which actually intersects with the first point).
Presumably… just some weirdo thoughts that you didn’t have yourself [yet].
April 15th, 2012 — Games, Magic
One definition of “desolate” is “solitary or lonely” … and I really don’t see that with Desolate Lighthouse.
In fact, I think this new land from Avacyn Restored is going to get along well with others.
Getting extra utility out of your lands is a long-standing opportunity for freebie value in deck design. Most decks at least start with a “36 spell / 24 land” breakdown… So when you use a Preordain or Ponder to get a land, that might be awesome in the early game (you will lose lots of potential mana if you miss your drop) but generally poop-tacular otherwise (you only have so many spells, and you are using a spell slot to get a land).
By the same token, getting spell-like value out of your lands can be exciting because you are using one of the “24” to get a little bit of “36” without having to actually use one of them.
Now what kind of thirty-sixes are we talking about joining up with?
How about miracles?
People are all crazy about Temporal Mastery, but as super exciting as that potential Time Walk is, there are lots of miracles you might want to play. In particular, we have seen a handful of red miracle cards that seem highly playable. LSV got Bonfire of the Damned as a preview card over at ChannelFireball.com (and the reality is, U/R decks are always clamoring for a Wrath of God of some sort, and Bonfire of the Damned has lots of potential up-side). Reforge the Soul has the words “draws seven cards” on it; we have seen from decks like Innovator Dragonstorm that some decks don’t care what the opponent is drawing as long as they get to draw up a seven of their own (and for two?) … But given the relatively short space of what we have seen from Avacyn Restored so far? Thunderous Wrath seems like it should be one of the best cards in the set!
Thunderous Wrath is probably one of the best cards in Avacyn Restored.
Even a crappy, regular, Thunderous Wrath is an instant speed Fireball for five. Like more-or-less exactly a [harder to splash] Fireball for five. Six mana, five mana to man or Beast… But you can run it on the opponent’s turn. And for its miraculous R? It is the best Lightning Bolt ever! (and how many miracle cards are actually awesome when you rip one on your second turn?)
So what does this say about Desolate Lighthouse?
I think Desolate Lighthouse — and I think maybe our buddy Tibalt, the Find-Blooded might fit in here, too — could make for a fine enabler in a miracles-linear deck. The first thing I thought when I started seeing all these potentially playable miracle cards was “why not play all miracles?”
I mean really?
Any miracles in your opening hand might be over-costed, but if you play enough Miracles, you can set up all your rips to be under-costed miracle Mises. Mise!
So how does Doesolate Lighthouse make itself seem less desolate? Two ways:
- You can discard expensive miracles. Nobody wants to be caught with some of these clunkers in grip. I mean Banishing Stroke is an A+ for W, but you wouldn’t be caught dead running it for 5W seeing as you will probably already be dead.
- You get to draw cards on your opponent’s turn. Drawing cards — on your opponent’s turn or otherwise — is pretty awesome. How about a miracle on the other guy’s turn + discarding an unwanted clunky miracle? And yeah… you don’t use a spell slot for the extra option.
I am not sure this is a Snap four-of, but the success of the other lands in this cycle, I can certainly imagine some up side. Watch out Wolf-Run and Moorland Haunt!
April 14th, 2012 — Everywhere, Games, Magic, Podcasts, Reading, Reviews
No, I don’t like Avacyn, Angel of Hope. More on this later.
Yesterday was an absolutely epic day here in Five With Flores land.
243 Facebook Likes? Are you m-f’ing kidding me?
We crushed any and all all-time records with well over 10,000 visits. And why?
No effin’ clue.
I literally saw Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded circa 6am when my toddling monsters awoke me from my Thursday evening slumber, and decided to comment based on — if you read yesterday’s blog post — what I saw as some unnecessarily reductive forum posts.
Was I a little too harsh?
But it’s not like this is the New York Times or something; if one can’t be self-indulgent on one’s own blog, where can one?
Over 300,000 people have visited Five With Flores over the past four years or so, but we have never welcomed 10,000 of them in a single day before, not even when being linked to by ye olde Mother Ship. Was the universe just trolling me on account of it being Friday the 13th?
Thank you any and all for validating me, per usual.
At this point, I would like to thank my Twitter friend Scott MacCallum, better known as @MrScottyMac. A short time ago I appeared on — to be frank — a surprisingly unpopular episode of Scott’s podcast The Eh Team.
I am a “what’s great about this problem?” kind of person, and took something really compelling out of that appearance, which is that all The Eh Team guys talked about loving this blog, and lamented that I had let updating it slip since, you know, December of last year… Scott in particular.
So if Scott (and KYT, Medina, and Jay) didn’t give me a little push, I might not have ever had a day like yesterday.
Quid Pro Quo, Scott recently did an interview at Medina’s site LegitMTG (“what is LegitMTG?”) that he asked me to look at. I actually enjoyed this interview. I think you should visit LegitMTG and read it.
Summon Legend: Scott MacCallum
Things I really liked:
- Scott taught his son to read via Magic: The Gathering cards (he saw how much fun they were having and wanted to join in)
Actually the whole thing was heartfelt; I learned lots of stuff about Scott I didn’t know, despite chatting with him regularly and listening to quite a few episodes of his cast for the past handful of years… Well worth the read.
Things that could have been better:
On the subject of fellow Twitter folk / podcasters / personalities elsewhere, Chris Lansdell of Horde of Notions recently did a nice write-up of deck design principles he learned from me (and some other guys but I don’t remember who any of them are).
One thing I find to be super ingenious and super useful is anything that is both blatantly obvious and true being said in plain language. I absolutely love stuff that has some people saying “well, duh…” You know why? Because even if something is obvious to you, that doesn’t mean that it is obvious to everyone, and especially in a game as fast-growing as Magic, we have new players who are eager to learn joining our ranks every day.
This is what I am talking about in Chris’s post:
“It’s a fundamental truth that the power of your spells increases with the mana cost, at least when it comes to tournament-quality cards.”
I was talking about a very similar concept in the most recent Top 8 Magic podcast *, specifically why I don’t like Avacyn, Angel of Hope.
Most of my compatriots were talking about how she has a lot of board presence. Yeah. Congratulations. She costs eight. If I am spending eight, I don’t want an “indestructible” creature that dies to Tragic Slip. My God, Vapor Snag is probably the most common creature control card being played in Magic: The Gathering right now.
“Well you probably aren’t paying full retail for it.”
Well if I am reanimating… Or I am paying eight, and I am allowed to play Avacyn Restored cards, why do I have dumb Avacyn, Angel of Hope in my deck rather than Griselbrand?
“Pick me! Pick me!” -Griselbrand
Even the most Spreading Santorum-leaning conservative player can, you know, gain seven to pad HIS life total a bit before paying the seven to, you know, completely take over the game.
“One of these things is not like the others.”
(when the DailyMTG fans were voting on Crucible of Worlds versus other, less card advantageous, options)
Anyway, Chris’s plainly spoken statement pretty much echoed what I was thinking about last week, and as you know, that gives you like +1 points in my book.
Check out Chris’s blog post and see where you can agree, disagree, or just pick out michaelj name-drops (also an admirable way to spend a Saturday evening).
Last “everywhere” in this roundup: AJ Sacher put up a blog post on EV and how to deal with girls, possibly “for whom you care deeply” (AJ’s terminology).
A Tale of Expected Value
I would recommend clicking the above and checking out AJ’s story before reading this next bit.
I have been in similar spots, especially early on in my dating / married life to / with Katherine. One thing that women I dated found odd about me — and I don’t know if this is the same with you or what — but they often didn’t understand the adversarial / competitive relationships I had with some of my best friends. Think about how you deal with some of your best buds… Many of mine are duels of oneupsmanship, or running beats, shenanigans, or dirty tricks on each other. Who’s the barn? Who’s the hull? Different question: Who’s winning? How do we keep score?
In AJ’s spot I hope I would have recognized the communication disconnect and just acceded to her. It is just simpler to let her thank the other guy than inadvertently step on feelings. If there is one thing marriage has taught me, it is that avoiding conflict is generally more desirable than “being right” (or perceived as right).
Anyway, summary of everywheres:
* Oh, and one more thing… New Top 8 Magic Podcast is up at MTGCast!
Part 1 :: Part 2
Thanks for reading, etc.
April 13th, 2012 — Games, Magic
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded :: Jace Beleren :: The Top 10 Cards in Standard (once upon a time)
Planeswalker Theory :: Why Some Players Don’t Understand Card Valuation :: … and Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
“You’re overwhelmed, Freeze was underwhelmed; why isn’t anyone ever just ‘whelmed’?”
-Dick Grayson / Robin, Young Justice
In the circles I run in — and by “run” I actually mean “sitting around eating Shake Shack after watching a movie” — we often talk about things like how we would make a super cheap Planeswalker.
Previous to Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded, the cheapest Planeswalker was Jace Beleren [<– CLICK ME, ooh, CLICK ME!].
If you click back to that blog post from November of 2010, I had Jace Beleren as the number two card in all of Standard! Why? Because Planeswalkers are awesome, Magic is a game that is ultimately tied together by mana costs, and being the cheapest Planeswalker allows you to get a massive advantage on mana. More-or-less every Planeswalker ability is worth something. Even abilities that have you scratching your noggin a little bit like Baby Jace’s symmetrical draw are worth something. Think back to format-defining cards like Howling Mine or even corner case Extended kill cards like Words of Wisdom… There are reasonable mana costs attached to making both players draw a card. If you stop thinking about things purely in terms of a paradigm that has lasted essentially unchanged in the minds of most players for the last 17 years, you can see why getting to do something like this is actually advantageous — if not card advantageous — with a 0 mana price tag attached.
Then, of course, you can just use Jace Beleren as a card drawing machine; you can draw draw, level up to keep him alive, etc. You can literally never Ultimate, but generate so much regular card advantage along the way Jace Beleren is doing you just solid, just fine.
Jace Beleren — way back when the cheapest Planeswalker ever — rose to a position in the Top 10 just below Jace, the Mind Sculptor (aka the most beloved / reviled Planeswalker ever)… Primarily because it was just the cheapest Planeswalker (that mightiest of card types). Sure, you can say it was because you could Legend Rule the bigger Jace dead or pre-empt the opposing four with your three, but Liliana of the Veil is a pretty respectable Planeswalker on three. Even in the age of Lingering Souls and Strangleroot Geist, Liliana has been able to continue to thrive in some decks. She gets played all the way back up to Legacy!
… Which brings us to the titular Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded:
Zac Hill put more thought into this week’s Latest Developments than I likely will at 7am the next day (when I am first seeing Tibalt); so I am just going to talk about the things Zac couldn’t have seen beforehand… the forums comments.
… I’ve never had a Planeswalker make me MAD before…
… interesting character / mediocre Planeswalker…
I could go on for a while, but these are from the first page only (five and counting at 7:24AM).
There are two truisms of Magic cards I want to go over right now, as they relate to Tibalt and to one another:
- Planeswalkers are all awesome
- Most people who comment in any forums don’t understand Magic
I mean you can look at any deck I ever post and know from the comments that the second is generally true 🙂
The first is that Planeswalkers are all awesome. All of them are g-d awesome. They are all awesome to somebody. They might not be awesome to tournament Spikes… But most of them are, even if the Spikes don’t know it yet. Almost every single four mana Planeswalker has been highly playable in Standard. More than half of the five mana Planeswalkers have taken down big tournaments. My man Brian Kibler cackled gleefully a few weekends ago in Baltimore that he had taken down a Legacy match with Gideon Jura in play.
By the same token, not every Planeswalker is immediately appealing to casual players. Liliana of the Veil — as she makes both players discard — gives some players the heebie-jeebies. Casual players don’t like bad stuff happening to them. They don’t like lands that make them take damage. They don’t like all the creatures (or lands) being destroyed, because that means their lands or their creatures might be destroyed.
Let’s go back to Planeswalkers being awesome.
What is awesome about Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded?
It costs two mana.
Both the three mana Planeswalkers have been highly playable in multiple formats. They have taken down big tournaments, challenged Pro Tours, all kinds of awesome.
What is awesome about Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded?
As far as I care, Tibalt could have had two abilities [+1] (no text) and [-something] (ultimate) and I would have at least thought about how to break him. In reality, he actually has a playable [+1]!
Are players really so not-creative that they can’t see ever wanting to do Tibalt’s first ability? No, it isn’t exactly the same thing as a Merfolk Looter, but Merfolk Looter has been an almost universal Lightning Bolt-rod since the moment it was printed, and almost continually playable. Did you know Merfolk Looter is legal in Standard right now? Adam Prosak did, and used it in his Star City Invitational Championship deck a few months back.
Tibalt isn’t quite a Merfolk looter, but it is harder to kill in a world of Tragic Slips and Gut Shots (and every other format).
Patrick Chapin’s rule of Magic card valuation is that sometimes Wizards makes library manipulation that is too good, and it is our job to play it. He cited Preordain (a card that some decent deck designers apparently still refuse to play despite it being basically one tick under Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Standard impact) “then” and Desperate Ravings “now”. He thinks very highly of Desperate Ravings. I am certain he has thought of it as at least a Top 10 card sometime in all those times he played it… You know like when he went X-1 in Standard or came in second at that Grand Prix with Desperate Ravings proudly headlining his Grixis decks.
Is Tibalt a Desperate Ravings machine?
Here’s the thing about Tibalt: He costs you so little, then he costs you nothing at all. Do you know how unbelievably awesome a two mana Planeswalker can be? NEITHER DO I. Because we’ve never had one. Some players might be underwhelmed by this one, but the last thing WotC wants is a casual player (or Spike) Affinity disaster.
Is Tibalt quite a Desperate Ravings? No. But you also don’t have to spend either a card or two mana to activate his [+1] ability.
Is his ability productive?
Often, I think it will be.
We live in times when some Red Deck players are willing to splash for the back end of Desperate Ravings and card advantage-destroying Faithless Looting is considered playable across Standard all the way to Legacy. Red players are finding good reasons to discard cards.
What if you have six cards in hand and need to draw a third land? Say you have 24 lands in your deck. Say you hit the 24/X that you need to rip a land… You are now only 1/7 to have to discard it! I don’t hate those odds, especially if I REALLY REALLY NEED TO DRAW A LAND.
… Again, for no mana.
You know when you don’t use Tibalt’s [+1] ability? When your hand is perfect. How do you think the game is going when your hand is perfect?
How about his [-4] ability? I mean you are just going to kill some people with this; it’s easy to level into and it is potentially lethal. It’s like Shrine of Burning Rage … You know … “I’m coming”. Except they can’t Divine Offering this.
Oh, and there is a whole school of Red-inclusive decks designed to discard something so they can bring it back with Unburial Rites (which you also don’t mind discarding).
But yeah, sure, be as underwhelmed as you want. My guess? (and it’s just a guess right now) Tibalt gonna get ya.
Just some initial thoughts.
April 11th, 2012 — Games, Magic
Earlier tonight I had the privilege of writing the preview for Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, a new blue Planeswalker in Avacyn Restored. You can read that at the Mother Ship here.
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
At first I didn’t understand how good she might be, especially the inevitability represented by her [-8] Ultimate ability.
Tamiyo is well poised to defend herself, and gets along well with card drawing, in particular 0-1 mana cantrips.
Here is a post script I originally wrote for the article, but I don’t think it made it under deadline:
It has been a few hours since I turned in my column and upon further reflection, ultimate Tamiyo is even more powerful and ridiculous than I originally thought. Here are some parting things you can do with her emblem:
Mulch – Draw five. Draw five again if you want (etc.)
Tracker‘s Instint – Draw five (as above). You can also play this one from the graveyard, so it has a more friendly initial catalyst.
Dream Twist – Remember how this is is stuff we all like / old school, etc.? What is more old school awesome than Ancestral Recall?
… And for those of you who want your cards to actually do something: Thought Scour.
Thought Scour, already a very playable cantrip can become a deadly four-of when combined with an ultimate Tamiyo. Being both useful early and an instant late makes for quite the combination. Like Dream Twist, Thought Scour is essentially an Ancestral Recall… Or, you can wait for the opponent to pass the turn, Millstone him for ~16 cards, and draw eight. Why play a legitimate way to win? That is pretty cool, too.
Try beating one Thought Scour.
What do you think?
April 10th, 2012 — Decks, Games, Magic
Unbelievably, this is the second Five With Flores post devoted to Aether Adept.
… I can’t believe it either!
Jon Medina invented this thing called FNM Hero where he has to start from scratch with a budget of only $100.
For some reason Medina has chosen to try to “go infinite” at Magic with a bunch of garbage (though given the budget constraints, non-garbage might be hard to come by).
You can actually build a semi-reasonable deck in Standard for under $100 (emphasis on “semi-“).
I decided to try this:
4 Aether Adept
1 Consecrated Sphinx
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Gut Shot
4 Mana Leak
3 Mental Misstep
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Thought Scour
4 Vapor Snag
4 Corrosive Gale
1 Gut Shot
1 Mental Misstep
4 Stitched Drake
Obviously the Snapcaster Mages and one Consecrated Sphinx are going to be the most expensive cards; I don’t recall Jon’s exact pricing strictures, but you can get Snapcaster Mage for about $17 on Amazon.com so I assume that using resources other than the most high profile sites you can get the rares for under $100. Everything else is pretty negligible in terms of cost.
I tested a lot of Delver last month and I knew going in that this deck would be even weaker to tokens than regular Delver of Secrets decks. Oh well. Obviously I played against 50% tokens.
The beauty of this is that even though I was playing a super budget deck with literally 21 Islands and 4 Aether Adepts, people still complained about Delver of Secrets. I mean the card is a penny and also the best card in Standard. What do you expect me to play? Maybe a mid-range Green creature for four times the cost and half the power?
Anyway I played four rounds in the Tournament Practice Room. It’s not like I made the next Naya Lightsaber or anything, but the results were pretty promising. I didn’t play real tournament queues because… Well, it should be obvious. But I figured that FNM (Jon’s forum for his project) is less competitive than a PTQ / SCG Open (which is what I would prepare for in queues). Here is what happened:
His deck was a fully loaded Pod deck.
If he is reading this he probably wants to jump off of the top of Birthing Pod, maybe into the mythical river Lethe to forget.
Anyway, I kept a triple Delver, one land hand in Game One. He was defeated. Yes, he got one of my Delvers with a Fiend Hunter. The next turn I flipped Mana Leak, turned the other two over, and it was never really close.
In Game Two he got three Birds of Paradise; conveniently I got three Gut Shots, using a combination of “drawing them off the top of my [budget] deck” and Snapcaster Mage[s]. I also Mage’d up double Flashfreeze, which was excellent.
I got the first game with “Mental Misstep your Champion” / Snapcaster Mage Mental Misstep, and then getting my one Sphinx online.
Game Two was a heartbreaker if we can consider fake budget decks “tested” in the Tournament Practice room heartbreaker-eligible games. I basically got him to three with scotch tape, spit, torn fingernails, and desperation. He had one card, and it was a Doomed Traveler I had bounced. He had two Crusades but I had basically never allowed him to get the pounce with creatures. I had an Aether Adept and an Insective Aberration in play.
What can he rip?
Obviously the Tom Martell commemorative Lingering Souls is the only card that saves him there, so that is what he got. I looked at the shiny Vapor Snag in my hand and frowned. I guess he could have played Day of Judgment there, but the outs were thin. I had one mana open at the end of his turn, so Mise Thought Scour.
… Flipping over what would have been the game-winning Corrosive Gale.
(If in fact we can consider this a hearbreaker-eligible game, again).
Sadly he had Vault of the Archangel in play so I didn’t really think it was worth playing out given his army of 3/3 flyers.
Game Three I got frustrated at having such substandard cards and threw it in too early. I guess if you are going to do an experiment like this you shouldn’t really take that attitude. I guess none of my cards are godawful (except Aether Adept, maybe); but not having basic defensive stuff like Ratchet Bomb or a way to get back in a game that starts to fall out of your hands is pretty annoying.
BW TOKENS (again)
G1 – I was actually pretty worried because my hand wasn’t aggressive and he got a one-two guy-Gather draw… And then conceded turn three when I Mana Leaked his Intangible Virtue. Um, okay. I’ll take it?
G2 – I got a fast double Delver draw, Leaked him once, and then got him to death on a Vapor Snag. Ho hum. The Vapor Snag turn was pretty interesting. He had four lands in play and a Sword of Body and Mind; he had two tokens from previous token generation. I was kind of weighing my options and decided I was going to Snag his Sword attempt, and at least make him tap all four lands to get the Sword online (plus take one less, I guess). But then he played pre-combat Honor of the Pure. Well that’s two mana down! He equipped one of the tokens, I bounced, he right-clicked, etc.
G1 – I kept a one-land double-Delver draw. I Probed him to see Merfolk Looter and flipped my first Delver with Gut Shot. I was so rich I did not even Gut Shot the Looter until the second time it came down.
G2 – This was a weird game where I countered everything and he didn’t have a second White for Sun Titan for several turns despite drawing lots of extra cards. He sat on a Nihil Spellbomb for a long time, which wasn’t actually that annoying, but was kind of a Greater Gargadon ticking down its time counters if you know what I mean. I wasn’t going to get out of the game with Snapcaster Mage is what it meant. Anyway, I countered everything but my deck doesn’t actually have that many counters and he eventually got the Titan and I conceded.
G3 – Probably the most improbable game I have played in months. I have a not-very-aggressive hand, but eventually get Consecrated Sphinx in play. I have previously Probed him and it seemed safe. Well of course he picks that turn to rip Sun Titan and naturally had Phantasmal Image. The next two turns we play cat-and-mouse with him getting the Image but me having Vapor Snag and Gut Shot. He then gets an Oblivion Ring and I can’t defend the Consecrated Sphinx. Now at this point he has a fake-Sphinx in play and I had a line where I could have played Thought Scour to start the “we both draw as much as we like” phase of the game. I could have drawn tons, gotten the tools necessary to deal with both his Titan and Image, or maybe even double-Leaked the Ring, but I didn’t see it at the time. Instead I just bounced his Sphinx so I wouldn’t have to deal with a Sphinx and tried to play the tempo game. Incidentally I had drawn 4-6 cards with my Sphinx and they were all g-d Islands.
I got some Delver beats in and put him to a bad spot. I drew Ponder and found Vapor Snag and two Islands. I probably should have shuffled. I kept the Snag, bounced his Titan and got in with an Adept and Insectile Aberration, putting him to one. Now there are lots of problems with this play. For one, I put myself in a spot where I knew I had lands on top and I would end up having to chump block. My implementation was also bad, but then again, it was 1:30 and I was playing a pretty Baxterized deck so maybe I can be forgiven? I could have waited a half-turn and bounced better even if I kept the Snag / Island / Island tops. The way I did it, he could re-play Sun Titan, get Phantasmal Image, and copy Insectile Aberration, locking me pretty badly down.
Now the game wasn’t over!
I of course had the Islands on top and had to chump his Titan after one attack.
Now it gets really weird.
He rips Trinket Mage (!?!) and gets the Nihil Spellbomb from last game. Now he has Spellbomb + Titan for a draw engine. The other half of the Spellbomb is also annoying as I pick that turn to draw Snapcaster Mage (or rather, Thought Scour into Snapcaster Mage). There is both a Vapor Snag and a Gut Shot in my bin and he is at one life.
The Snapcaster has to chump. Predictable.
In the ensuing turn he casts Forbidden Alchemy, binning Spellskite, and brings that back.
I draw not Vapor Snag but Gut Shot. Will he F6? No.
Like I said, “improbable.”
Both my second and fourth rounds were winnable. This is remarkable as I figured Tokens was an awful matchup, plus my deck lacked such basic functionality as “non-Island lands” or the plenty of white, viz. Geist of Saint Traft and Moorland Haunt. Think a Moorland Haunt might have won some of those one-point games? In particular I really wish I saw the Thought Scour catalyst “we both have Sphinxes” play in real time. That would have made for a story, wouldn’t it?
Now as bad as the structure of this deck is for FNM Hero purposes, I actually like some of the stuff. I was all ready to credit Caleb Durward with Consecrated Sphinx in Delver, but it turns out that way back in September my first Innistrad deck list had not just Delver of Secrets when the rest of the world was still playing Phantasmal Bear, but Batterskull and Consecrated Sphinx as two ofs, each. Man, I am smart at this! In any case, I found Consecrated Sphinx outstanding in this deck, and I think I would actually play 1-2 in “real” Delver.
Anyway, I got tired of not having Geist of Saint Traft in my deck and packed it in. That said, I think with a bit more focus you can probably 4-0 FNM even with a Baxterized Delver deck, and I know I would much rather be on Delvers than mid-range green stuff, especially if I can’t afford dual lands.
What do you think Jon?
April 8th, 2012 — Games, Magic
Delver of Secrets :: Top 8 Magic :: BDM
Writing Elsewhere :: Insectile Aberration (I guess) :: … and Delver of Secrets
Delver of Secrets
So last week in my Mother Ship column I briefly discussed how some other noted Magic writers and websites talked about Standard (actually cross-format) All-Star It! Girl! Delver of Secrets was perceived when Innistrad first broke. Today it is no stretch at all to call Delver of Secrets the #1 overall card in Standard, but when it first came out, many writers had a hard time even putting it in the playable pile.
Quiet Speculation saw it as marginal.
LSV at ChannelFireball thought it might be sweet (but loved the flavor).
Our boy Conley Woods, rogue deck design favorite of the modern age, rated it best among the elsewhere media… But Conley is quite proudly one of Magic’s broadest thinkers. Who else plays Sorin Markov in Extended Martyr or Vindicating Hippos in any format, anyway?
Now keeping in mind I once rated Compulsive Research as Constructed Unplayable in a set review, I do know that — at least this time — BDM and I got this one right on the Top 8 Magic podcast, in our Innistrad Set Review over there.
I said “This is just a Constructed Playable card, isn’t it?”
What is really exciting is that at first blush, BDM and I even jimmy-jammed Delver of Secrets into our first pass at a new deck. These are the cards we wanted to play:
Credit where credit is due, BDM is the one who Snap figured out Ponder would be a snap-in to help manipulate the top of your deck for Delver of Secrets maximization.
The amazing thing is… The rest of the deck, at first pass, closely resembles elements that would grow to be the realized Standard Delver deck. Yeah, we had Dismember instead of Gut Shot, but as recently as Matt Costa’s win in Baltimore just a little over a month ago, he had Dismember over Gut Shot (I — and most other Delver players — re-added Gut Shot mostly as a reaction to other Delver Players, not based on overall power and efficacy).
Mental Misstep hasn’t taken off, but based on my playtesting for the Star City Invitational, I think Mental Misstep is one of the best cards in Delver, both for the Delver mirror match and as a foil to a G/R opponent’s Galvanic Blasts and Birds of Paradise openings.
Yeah, yeah… We overrated Twisted Image, but the Delver archetype has room for ~10 one mana cantrips, and most folks are running Thought Scour as a 2-of if not a 4-of over the once ubiquitous Gitaxian Probe.
… Plus, we had no Thought Scour to compare against when Innistrad first came out.
Just thought I’d throw this out there.
Blue beatdown / aggro-control decks at the dawn of Innistrad were typically Illusions-centered. Maybe it was because we just liked certain “pet cards” but greedy and I were already spitballing Invisible Stalkers.
Now if only we played more tournaments instead of covering them… 🙂
(Speaking of which, I will be in the booth in a couple of weeks in for a Star City Open weekend with Joey Pasco. Lots of people seemed to like our one-two last time… So please tune in! Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again then!)