Entries from May 2014 ↓
May 13th, 2014 — Games, Magic
Spirit of the Labyrinth
Dakra Mystic was a preview card given to Yours Truly on DailyMTG. When they get set aside for YT, even the cards that don’t seem so busto on first blush (e.g. Heartbeat of Spring, a Swimming With Sharks preview) have a surprising tendency to define tournament formats. And it’s not just Top Decks! Long before Top Decks I was lucky enough to ahem top deck preview opportunities for Fledgling Dragon and Ravenous Baloth; and most recently (aka just yesterday) for the greatest tournament card drawing spell of all time, Necropotence; again not a Top Decks preview, going the other way in time.
Tipping our collective hats to Rakdos Pit-Dragon (which nevertheless found a home in Legacy), let’s assume for the moment that Dakra Mystic might be a legitimate spell to play in Constructed Magic. How about Spirit of the Labyrinth?
This was a card that commanded some initial hubbub but hasn’t set the Standard metagame on fire just yet. For sake of argument lets look at what some of Magic’s reviewing luminaries have had to say so far…
“This is one heck of a hate bear. I actually don’t think the disruption ability is that absurd as it does not protect itself in the way that Gaddock Teeg might, for example. That said, it has a definite purpose and there are decks that will not be able to function with this in play. The most important aspect of this, however, is its size. This guy puts a ton of pressure on the opponent’s life total while they are struggling to find card advantage. That increases his chances of play by quite a bit. Remember that cards like Think Twice do get around this when used on an opponent’s turn.”
This is a Vintage/Legacy staple more than anything else, and it’s a beating in those formats. Not only does it horribly embarrass Brainstorm, it turns off a ton of cards in Delver decks, and Aether Vial means it’s ready to ambush card draw at any point. Death and Taxes finally became one of the best decks in the format a few months ago, and this amazing card will only help solidify that.”
[LSV also rated Spirit of the Labyrinth as his #2 BotG card in white]
Brian David-Marshall and I liked it quite a bit on our Top 8 Magic podcast, too, if I recall.
Pretty decent first blushes, and on a decently combat efficient body, to boot.
Remember at this point I am less trying to convince you of ANYTHING and just want to establish a baseline that these might be some playable creatures.
The Basic Combo —
The basic combo is to just get the two creatures in play and start exploiting their text boxes. You use Dakra Mystic on the opponent’s turn and it’s half a Howling Mine (the good half!) and the opponent will not get an extra draw.
What happens when you use Dakra Mystic in the opponent’s upkeep? The formula here is to choose “we both draw” and pass out of the opponent’s upkeep.
Sure, there will be some times you want to “Millstone” both cards (the opponent will draw a card to break up your combo) but you generally want to choose Howling Mine mode; why? That’s how YOU [alone] get the card advantage. You draw one card on both turns whereas on his turn he still has the Spirit of the Labyrinth limitation to contend with.
Unlike a lot of my friends who have already departed their various and far flung homes to start gathering in anticipation of the upcoming PT, I haven’t played a single game of Theros Block Constructed. However — assuming these two drops are reasonable cards to play in the format — there is a little something extra to this combo that would have me giving it a second look.
Untap — Upkeep — Draw…
The early part of the turn sequence is tattooed on most competitive players’ spines. We do these things automatically!
That means if you force both players to draw on the opponents’ upkeep…
… The vast majority will draw on their draw steps, too.
This could be a problem.
The ruling that went around the PTQ I played I last weekend was this.
- You are under no obligation to stop the opponent from drawing.
- Game loss (drawing extra cards).
Again, I don’t know if there is a whiz-bang better option in Block, but I do know that if I have two choices of comparable “MTGO” EV but one of them gets me X number of free wins in IRL Magic, that might very well put it over the edge at deck selection time.
Mystery Friend: This sounds very Mike Flores angle-shooty, yes.
Me: Can you remove either “Mike Flores” or “angle-shooty”? They’re redundant here 🙂
So you get “one free win a round” … Is that good enough? Once anyone hears about this, your combo is over!
I don’t buy it.
We all have a limited amount of willpower. Each decision we make over the course of a day taps into that limited pool. When we’re out… We start making poor decisions, missing things, turning green and tearing up helicarriers. In the round I picked up my second loss in the aforementioned PTQ to go 4-2 (I finished 6-2 and therefore out of Top 8) I missed two Ephara, God of the Polis triggers + one Nyx-Fleece Ram trigger in the deciding Game Three. The match was excruciating, with my opponent getting an early Heroic flyer and pansting it up DI for ~10 lifelink per turn with Anjani, Mentor of Heroes distributing defense to keep me off of fighting back. Even if I had figured a way to stabilize the board with his forces getting bigger and more plentiful every turn… I might have had to deal 200 damage, which would have been a feat.
So on the turn I missed my Nyx-Fleece Ram trigger, got flustered with myself for a second and tore up a basic Forest to mark the top of my library… Which distracted me from drawing a card from Ephara, God of the Polis [that I might have, otherwise]. The other Ephara trigger was a little tricky. I used a Triton Tactics on my Tethmos High Priest to re-buy a creature I desperately needed mid-combat, ran all kinds of Heroics, enchantment bouncing, and Retraction Helixes mid-combat to gum up The Red Zone while trying to trade in combat… And just forgot to draw with everything else going on given a difficult blocking decision.
BDM said I held on really admirably… And pleaded with the top of my deck that the two extra cards I missed wouldn’t have gotten me there (they were thankfully a pair of Plains). My point being I had been playing with these cards all day and did a pretty good job of staying focused most of the rest of the rounds. I was generally unfamiliar with Journey into Nyx Limited but pulled off a 6-2 in my first PTQ in something like five years. And yet, with Top 8 in sight… I missed three separate triggers, any of which might have made or broke me in other circumstances.
Do you REALLY think that you get only ONE win out of this combo?
Our willpower runs thin over the course of a day.
If you, as the conditioned combo player, force this combo, over and over, opponent’s upkeep after opponent’s upkeep… You are simply going to catch players. If a fully informed player is only 1% likely to brain fart and accidentally draw on his turn, a team of say ten players playing Dakra Mystic + Spirit of the Labyrinth combo over the course of multiple upkeeps each on an eight-round day will rack up an embarassing number of free wins from players who actually know better (above and beyond players who have already received “ignorance” game losses), just from sheer volume of repetitions grating up against ingrained untap-upkeep-draw routines. It’s like hitting ctrl+x on a Mac, or frustratedly jamming alt+z staccato on the MTGO Wide Beta. We’re just used to what we’re used to… And here that is poison. Poison that will in all likelihood get worse in the later rounds, when folks are jet lagged and tired.
Those three Ephara and sheep triggers I talked about missing? Those are just the ones I caught in the loss I actually played spells (I’m sure you can guess how the other one went). In matches I won I missed several other sheep triggers, and I gave two different opponents in complete lock down free turns with one life (one when I was in extra turns). But hey! Complete lock down.
People make countless mistakes they don’t know about or see… And forcing them to play differently than the way they are conditioned to play “automatically” is a surefire route to mental chafing… And in this case, potential game losses.
I once took down a PTQ where no fewer than four of my opponents received game losses for mechanical errors (shuffling their graveyards into their libraries by picking up the wrong pile on Natural Order, over- or under-drawing with Urza’s Bauble in Pox or Yawgmoth’s Will) or lost to on-table mind tricks by YT (priority passing, tapping the wrong mana, or using the wrong ability on a multiple-mode spell like Funeral Charm). Why? Because when you are playing your 36th game of Magic in a day — with a Blue Envelope on the line in another state if not country — even a two-time GP champion can brain fart. It happens. We are playing the game “in the real world” and not in an ideal place where no one misses anything, or MTGO simply doesn’t let you.
Nobody wants to be “that guy”.
The question is, 1) if Dakra Mystic + Spirit of the Labyrinth is a thing in Block Constructed (bet to begin with), 2) is there any other way to play THAN the “use Dakra Mystic on the opponent’s upkeep” strategy? You can let him draw per normal and then activate later on… But, assuming you don’t need your U for something else, aren’t you just giving away value by NOT playing with edge?
So… What do you all think?
Because I think this is actually an interesting line of discussion, I wanted to tap into my Flores Rewards budget to incentivize folks to chime in.
(If you don’t know what Flores Rewards is, there used to be a site called http://FloresRewards.com sponsored by TCGPlayer that has been resurrected as a twice-weekly feature… This week’s is here.)
Respond to this question in the comments below!
Assuming you don’t need your U for something else, aren’t you just giving away value by NOT playing with edge (i.e. activating Dakra Mystic on upkeep [with the possibility of the opponent receiving a Game Loss for drawing extra cards])? <-- Whatever you want to say about this.
One lucky responder will get a $25 TCGPlayer Gift Certificate (rando).
Who was my Mystery Friend? <-- A name, pls tks.
Yet another lucky responder will get a $25 TCGPlayer Gift Certificate (you have to guess right for this one, but otherwise rando).
In the off chance that we get 100 Likes and / or Google Plusses on this entry, a third responder will also get a $25 TCGPlayer Gift Certificate (rando again)!
Get to it beloved readers!
Big thanks to TCGPlayer.com for the free prizes 🙂
P.S. Deadline for responses / guesses / tallies is Thursday midnight EST!
May 11th, 2014 — Comics, Superficial Satudays
Comic: THE MIGHTY THOR #337 Artist: Walt Simonson
I was hanging out with Matt Wang today [okay yesterday now] and told him I wanted to do something old school for Superficial Saturdays; he suggested this high impact cover from Walt Simonson.
Forget for a moment the look and execution of this cover and instead just look at what is being depicted.
This is a monster swinging Thor’s magic hammer!
Do you remember this scene from Joss Whedon’s blockbuster movie?
The Hulk — the strongest one there is — can’t budge Mjolnir.
A defining piece of the Thor mythos, Mjolnir can only be lifted by those of particular strength and especial moral worth. Captain America has been able to pick it up on occasion (and most recently led an Odin-powered Avengers team with Mjolnir when Thor was down during Fear Itself)… But almost no one else.
This guy, sure; good AND strong.
So seeing a monster not just swinging Mjolnir — but busting the Thor logo — was a big, big game. This was, if memory serves, the first issue of Walt Simonson’s defining run on THE MIGHTY THOR. Simonson wanted to do something different, really put hit stake in the ground, and the idea of someone else picking up the magic hammer to challenge Thor was the way he went.
The cover was shocking… And memorable enough that we are talking about it three decades later!
Plus, I think it’s pretty cool looking!
Simonson can be an acquired taste; his art isn’t for everyone (in particular comics dilettantes), but there is no mistaking him for anyone else, or anyone else for him. The cartoon lightning bolt. The flat color. The exaggerated motion. The audacity around the logo. So many things to love.
May 9th, 2014 — Magic, Podcasts, Reviews
Harness by Force
If you’ve listened to the Top 8 Magic podcast review of Journey into Nyx, you know I am a fan of Harness by Force.
Oh wait, you haven’t listened to the Top 8 Magic podcast review of Journey into Nyx? And you’re too lazy to actually navigate to ManaDeprived to listen over there (you know, in Canada)?
I suppose I can help you out there:
Nyx or Ixnay: White, Lands, and Artifacts
Nyx or Ixnay: Blue
Nyx or Ixnay: Black and Gold
Nyx or Ixnay: Red
Nyx or Ixnay: Green
Well, there you go! Five podcasts about Journy into Nyx! In the red chapter I talk about why I like Harness by Force.
The simple story is that I’ve always liked cards like Threaten and Act of Treason, which have been tournament staples in almost every format that they’ve been legal. Threaten, for instance, made it to the Top 8 of its debut Pro Tour in the hands of Gabriel Nassif as a three-of main deck (his only non-creature spell).
In G/R decks various Threaten (and the like) have proven great sideboard cards against players trying to stabilize with big creatures. Planning to hold off my little army with your one sizable six drop? Threaten has something to say about that! (and while we’re at it, let’s go to Game Three)
I’m sure at one time or other you’ve handled a Threaten, Act of Treason, Mark of Mutiny… or even one of the four mana versions to successful effect.
Harness by Force is just the “card advantage” version of these cards. “Card advantage” in quotes because it isn’t actually card advantage in all likelihood… But because you can get off two of them with a little extra mana. Two giant defenders holding your team down? Well how about we hold them down; you know, forcefully? I like that this card can be a mana dump. Sometimes a low curve aggro deck draws into six lands and is wondering how it can ever come back to win… But with Harness by Force it at least has something to do with excess Mountains other than to soak up the tears of the flooded.
My predicted status for this card will be sideboard Staple.
In between my starting this blog post and publishing it, Kerrydan actually posted yet another podcast! You can go over to ManaDeprived.com to give it a listen (and a like!) or just play it here. Lazybones.
May 2nd, 2014 — Comics, Superficial Satudays
Comic: DAREDEVIL #12 Artist: Paolo Rivera
Mark Waid’s 2011 reboot of DAREDEVIL (DAREDEVIL volume three) has had no shortage of acclaim… Or acclaimed artists. The book itself was unapologetic old-school fun, and well-written without approaching some of Waid’s more epic superhero work (say KINGDOM COME, or even FLASH)… But that didn’t stop it from being basically the best mainstream superhero book in the spinner racks for the past three years.
A big part of that was that aforementioned succession of superior artists… Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, and of course Chris Samnee working in similar, stylized, and high-velocity styles. Samnee is the most associated with the book, eventually pocketing an Eisner Award, but it launched with Rivera, who put up quite a few covers even after he quit internals… including this #12 (which featured Samnee interiors). And in case you were wondering, I buy basically everything that Marcos Martin or Chris Samnee draw.
What’s great about this cover?
It’s super stylized. Marvelously minimal. Flat color; bold design decsions; essentially the anti-1990s.
Despite being defined by big chunks of black or negative space, Rivera does a masterful job with the figure’s hands. They are elegant in execution and telling a story of their own that is almost set apart from the other 75% of the piece.
And speaking of telling a story… ?
What’s with all those lines?
This cover shot is from Daredevil’s POV. Daredevil is blind, and “sees” with a superhuman radar sense. He can “see” the bounce and curve of DA Kirsten McDuffie’s breasts… And the uneven rendering in fact tells us that they are where Daredevil is putting his focus. We even get that radar-esque lines-styling across the top one-third of the image (and with some color contrast) to make sure that we share Daredevil’s focus.
Rivera makes a masterful number of choices here. Daredevil can’t see color, so everything cloth is just black. Kirsten’s shirt is black. Her — is it a skirt? — is all black. We can’t tell, color-wise, where a top ends and another piece of clothing begins. But Daredevil can observe texture, so we get some detail around both her buttons, and some varying design and direction making up her bra… In part because Daredevil himself is “staring” at at.
And yet Rivera draws Kirsten’s hands same-old same-old. No radar styling… They even get some different color treatment. Movement; slightly nuanced color treatment [instead of flat color]. We already said they tell a story of their own. Why?
It looks cool?
That isn’t where Daredevil is putting his focus [so the artist is making it simpler for readers]?
Ah, “why” questions.
For me, it’s cool enough that all this, all together looks cool. It’s sexy without being ridiculous; and harnesses a fair number of storytelling limitations and turns them into unique design elements.
Which is all-and-all masterful; at least in this writer’s opinion.
May 1st, 2014 — Games, Magic
Okay, here’s the deck:
My first picks were:
- Courser of Kruphix
- Nylea, God of the Hunt
- something I can’t remember… Probably one of the Voyaging Satyrs :/
So if you’ve been following the Top 8 Magic podcast lately you know there is a New York City PTQ on May 10 and that BDM has been pressuring me to play in it.
The problem: It’s Limited!
Prior to this week I had literally never played a Theros card in a forty card deck; I mean I could be Cube drafting right now (and taking beats from Andrew Cuneo).
Anyway when Rashad Miller and Marshall Sutcliffe recently visited the podcast they told me about trying to draft a slow B/W deck. My first swing at draft was a complete failure. I managed to go [essentially] 0-3 in a Swiss draft (gotta get those reps in), basically getting torched by fast decks.
My next attempt was a R/W deck (my slow guys got beat up by Portent of Betrayal, so I decided to be the Portent of Betrayal deck), where I was able to go 2-1. The second win was in the final round (I lost the second round to stuff like sending my Impetuous Sunchaser into a Nessian Asp), which was kind of a painful grind… But getting better.
This G/R draft was much more successful. Huzzah!
I probably did a lot of stuff wrong, and probably built my deck wrong (one or more of those Satyr Wayfinders came in in two of the three rounds, for instance), but it’s tough to lose when you drop a fast Courser of Kruphix and draw DI extra the entire duel. #EasyGame
Anyway, a mini-report:
My opponent was a blue heroic deck. I got raced early by Triton Fortune Hunter that couldn’t be blocked due to Aqueous Form. Is this good?
Whatever, my guys are much bigger; and Courser of Kruphix kept me in the game due to its card advantage. Eventually I was just pressing with too many big bodies.
I sided in a ton…
- +Voyaging Satyr
- +Voyaging Satyr
- +Setessan Starbreaker
- +Setessan Starbreaker
- -Oracle of Bones
- -Wild Celebrants
- -Wild Celebrants
Game Two I had what I thought was an absurd draw with Turn Two Voyaging Satyr into either Peregrination (into Titan of Eternal Flame), or Satyr Wayfinder and another Voyaging Satyr. But my opponent played Loyal Pegasus into Retraction Helix and basically Time Walked me. It was enough. I really didn’t get it (my hand had so much acceleration and velocity). But he won by a mile.
Game Three I had a better, faster, start and my guys were just much bigger than his. I sided out Wild Celebrants for Setessan Starbreaker because he had a lot of auras. I had both those guys in play at the end of the game, and basically just waited for him to tap out for some five drop and Threatened him to death.
This opponent was a G/U deck; but super deeply green. Like a heavy Nylea’s Disciple deck. The Disciples kept him in it in Game One… He did a great job stalling this one with multiple Disciples and multiple Time to Feed, but we eventually stalled the ground. I got a little Monstrous and annoyed him a bit with my two-card combo of Titan of Eternal Flame + Akroan Crusader (only playmate). He kept playing huge guys including a 10/10 Nemesis of Mortals. Eventually I just got a huge turn where I played double Portant of Betrayal and double Savage Surge to deal 25 in a single turn.
That was pretty fun.
Last round I was pretty sure I would play a legit White deck. My opponent was the durdle B/W deck I originally wanted to draft. Be basically had a bunch of 2/2 and 1/X Inspired and Heroic guys. I got a fast 4/4 Fanatic of Xenagos and Nessian Asp and just attacked with one guy per turn while holding back the other guy. He never really attacked me.
All in all I feel way better than I did just two drafts ago. I didn’t think I did anything outstanding in the draft. Courser of Kruphix was the obvious pick, and my second pack had Bolt of Keranos. Third pick I had the choice between gambling that Fanatic of Xenagos would come back (taking a Time to Feed) but I elected not to gamble.
Can’t say I was too happy about having only one Human; but I felt like it was worth playing the Titan anyway; they came up together a bunch. Interestingly, I never triggered Heroic on any creature I owned the whole draft.
What do you mean there will be a third set to learn before May 10?