Entries Tagged 'Games' ↓
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 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?
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.
July 25th, 2013 — Games, Magic
So… This actually happened yesterday:
Eep! Can this possibly be right?
I guess when you need a card you need a card; and when supply is low (but hype is not) you can’t really control your price; and honestly, what’s the point of having a little store credit if you aren’t going to spend it? Exactly.
I bought my Baneslayer Angels the week after Naya Lightsaber at $55.
You’re welcome, Luis Scott-Vargas!
(Baneslayer Angel currently lists from $12-$15 on Star City, but went as low as $5 at some point).
I guess this is as good an excuse as any to talk about hot new M14 Mythic Rare, Kalonian Hydra.
Strengths are positive attributes that are internal or intrinsic.
Interestingly (at least for a card with this level of hype), Kalonian Hydra is non-exceptional on its own, by itself, when you tap out for it. However if you can untap successfully with this creature in play, it can hammer pretty hard. Eight damage for five mana is generally speaking a big game for a creature. To be very fair it has built-in trample (an evasion ability). One limiting factor of other big — especially five-drop — creatures competing for a limited number of slots is a lack of evasion. The last thing you want is to bounce your huge guy off of an Augur of Bolas that just found a Supreme Verdict. Kalonian Hydra is nigh-guaranteed to get in for some damage due to that trample.
Weaknesses are negative attributes that are internal or intrinsic.
Kalonian Hydra has the core weakness of a five drop: It costs five mana. Five mana is one more mana than the Mowshowitz threshold for a card that needs to be able to win the game by itself. It very clearly does not win the game unconditionally immediately (at least not without some hasty help).
Opportunities are positive attributes that are external / outsite your immediate control.
Kalonian Hydra is almost the quintessence of a big creature that plays well with others. It is awesome with little guys that can power it out (Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Elvish Mystic, et al); especially if they are all best buddies with Gavony Township. Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch has few follow-up playmates with greater synergy and upside. Silverblade Paladin and Ajani, Caller of the Pride make Kalonian Hydra shine (you know, provided you can untap with it on the battlefield).
Threats are negative attributes that are external / outsite your immediate control.
Just dies to Doom Blade.
You know what just got reprinted? Doom Blade.
I more-or-less buy cards I need for whatever tournament I am about to play in, which generally includes a bunch of small purchases (note the play sets of Quicken and Planar Cleansing in the above screen cap); but I’ve made two bigger current-card purchases in the last few months that may or may not have been linked to immediate tournament needs. To be fair, I eventually played with my Reckoners; also to be fair, I made back in tournament winnings more than 100% of my Voice of Resurgence outlay the day I made the purchase. Regardless, just thought I’d throw out the current states of my personal Paying the Naya Price:
- Boros Reckoner: $5-$10; current price on Star City Games: $15
- Voice of Resurgence: $25; current price: $50
July 16th, 2013 — Games, Magic, What's Wrong With...
I decided to invent a new blog category called “What’s Wrong With…” (WWW) which will examine cards that are almost there but for one (or so) fatal flaw(s). I mean it isn’t so hard to identify a card like Kalonian Hydra and be like “Yo, Kalonian Hydra is a big giant monster — RAH!” or Young Pyromancer and be like “Yo, I have a feeling mages might be summoning a Young Pyromancer in beatdown decks, burn decks, and even blue decks” but what is more interesting are the cards that you really want to play… But won’t.
You know the cards?
Feudkiller’s Verdict and so on? I was at one point sure Feudkiller’s Verdict was going to be the bee’s knees. It was more like
Andrew Bynum Greg Oden’s knees.
The reason I think this kind of exploration can be interesting is that from a critical thinking standpoint it can force us to think about a little bit of a different universe, a tweak here, a pull there, to try to figure out what would have to be different for a card to see lots of (or any) play.
Today’s victim is Seraph of the Sword.
I had actually been meaning to write about Seraph of the Sword since my first perusal of M14 for last week’s Flores Friday (which ended up being about the aforementioned Kalonian Hydra and Young Pyromancer, primarily).
But it turns out that Seraph of the Sword was also yesterday’s Card of the Day at ye olde Mother Ship DailyMTG.com.
At first I was pretty excited about Seraph of the Sword. I mean It looked like the 3W cousin of Dawn Elemental.
Seraph of the Sword and Dawn Elemental
Dawn Elemental was a pretty exciting Onslaught Block card… The best Phantom Monster there ever was. For Limited a 2/2 flyer for white is pretty standard for 3W (four mana) but Dawn Elemental gave us a 3/3 with a hell of an ability for four mana. Now of course WWWW is quite a few mana symbols off of 3W, but on the other hand the trade-off was substantial. Dawn Elemental would brook no Silver Knight. It would gobble up any and all Elvish Warriors. Sorry, Goblin Piledriver (or almost any other Goblin). Y’all dead.
Of course it took a particular kind of deck to play with Dawn Elemental due to the prohibitive number of white mana symbols in the upper-right corner. So it was primarily played in MWC. That said, it didn’t take long for such a Mono-White Control deck to make a splash on the second-biggest stage:
Derek Starleaf and his Dawn Elementals fought their way into one of the most stacked Top 8s in Grand Prix history. You couldn’t swing a drunken Tyrion Lannister in that Top 8 without hitting US National Champion Eugene Harvey; or notable Pros Morgan Douglass or Alex Shvartsman; or four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor (and Pro Tour Champion) (and THE PRICE IS RIGHT superstar) Mark Herberholz; or Hall of Famer / Dark Confidant / Superman Bob Maher; or beloved former Number One Apprentice Joshua P. Ravitz.
Starleaf didn’t win that Grand Prix, but he did a great job showcasing the angles on and impact of Dawn Elemental. Despite playing four main-deck copies of Temple of the False God, Starleaf put his faith in the WWWW Dawn Elemental, which was an undersized-but-effective carrier of Dragon Scales. Dawn Elemental might not have triggered the re-buy on Dragon Scales, but it wasn’t inviting a one-for-two either, being so hard to kill with damage.
So… Seraph of the Sword is Dawn Elemental 2K13, right? Right? Sadly, no.
What’s Wrong with Seraph of the Sword?
As you can probably guess, as soon as I read that one word (which, by the way, took a couple of reads) I realized that Seraph of the Sword is close to unplayable in Standard, at least main deck. This is going to eat a Searing Spear, Mizzium Mortars, or Warleader’s Helix too often to justify the mana. Remember: Per Mowshowitz, four mana is the threshold where a card has to be able to win the game for you by itself… And Seraph of the Sword, on average… I don’t think it is going to get there.
That said, I think there might be some angle on this card, perhaps out of the sideboard. If you are playing against a deck — probably a creature deck — that doesn’t play damage based removal (or any removal, even better), Seraph of the Sword can be a heck of a stop sign that also gives you a way to win. Unlikely, but probably not impossible.
Oh, go buy some OMGs!
July 7th, 2013 — Games, Magic
Last week I was perusing the M14 Card Image Gallery over at the Mother Ship and happened upon this spicy three drop:
What did you think when you first saw Lifebane Zombie? Pretty good hoser card? Playable main deck! (if barely) The power-to-casting cost isn’t too far off; the built-in evasion packes a little extra value into Lifebane Zombie as a combat creature, at least against non-black; and when you are up against green and / or white it is actually a potential murderer. Is that what you thought?
I thought about my man Slithery Stalker:
Slithery Stalker saw relatively little play outside of Odyssey Block Constructed, but it was a main deck 187 in the Block Pirates! deck. Pirates! wanted any potential self-contained card advantage that could be packed into a body, and Slithery Stalker fit the bill, especially given the popularity of U/G (and to a lesser extent G/W) creature decks in the format.
So… Why bring it up? How does shiny new Lifebane Zombie remind us of that rusty old 1/1?
Slithery Stalker featured prominently in my second Star City column, Realizing How Bad You Are, which was at that point maybe the most controversial strategy column ever:
I was playing in the last qualifier (not counting the Last Chance Qualifier) for last year’s PT Houston. The format was Odyssey Block Constructed, and, not surprisingly, I was running a U/G Threshold developed with Brian David-Marshall. I didn’t like having to play in this PTQ at all because I was technically qualified on rating, except that there was a reporting mistake on the K value of a tournament I had won earlier in the summer, meaning that I needed some small number of points in order to make the ratings qualification cutoff. But I wanted to be qualified, so there I was gaming in the PTQ.
U/G was not actually my first choice. I really liked the mono-black Pirates! deck, but due to horrible things on Day Two of the Pro Tour, Stalking Tiger, Hidden Gibbons somehow dropped from their first place position to a nowhere land of non-qualification, meaning that Paul Jordan, the owner of my planned Pirates! deck, would be making Top 8 with it himself, and I was stuck with my previous week’s weapon of choice.
So with Pirates! on my mind, there I was, three rounds deep.
My third round opponent won the Game One roll and played first. On his turn, he played Swamp.
On my first turn, I played Island (I had Mental Note in hand), and passed the turn back.
My opponent followed up with another Swamp, and played Mesmeric Fiend. With the following hand, I chose to let the Fiend resolve:
I could have played Mental Note in response, but I didn’t think that would be a particularly good play. My opponent may have taken the Mental Note rather than one of the potentially more relevant cards, or I could have randomly put a more juicy card into my hand (say, Phantom Centaur), that I would rather not have hiding under my opponent’s Fiend.
To my thinking, Swamp, Swamp, Mesmeric Fiend could represent for the opponent one of three known deck archetypes: a B/u Braids/tempo deck, the mono-Black Pirates! deck, or a hybridized mono-Black control/Pirates! blend. The obvious choice would be for the opponent to take Werebear (my best enabler), and the other possible choice would be to take Breakthrough (card advantage, and synergistic with Aquamoeba, Werebear, and Wild Mongrel all).
So you can imagine my surprise when the opponent instead chose Aquamoeba.
Why would he do that? I even had another Aquamoeba!
I decided that he wanted me to play Werebear. The only reason he would want me to play Werebear, potentially a 4/4 attacker in short order given the Blue cards in my hand, as well as a powerful mana accelerator, would be because he had an answer in his hand that could tackle Werebear, but would not be good against Aquamoeba.
That smelled like Slithery Stalker to me.
So on my second turn (after a Mental Note at the end of his turn, of course), I decided to say”Screw you, opponent,” and play Forest, Aquamoeba.
My opponent untapped, tapped three lands, and…
Sent my Forest to the graveyard with Rancid Earth.
I untapped, played an Island (putting me back to two lands) and sent Aquamoeba for three. Luckily for me, somewhere between my Mental Note and the ensuing draws, I had plucked Basking Rootwalla and Wonder. Obviously I used Wonder for the Aquamoeba pump.
Down to seventeen.
On his turn, my opponent decided to respond to my aggression by counterstriking with his Mesmeric Fiend. The Basking Rootwalla jumped out of my hand and met his Mesmeric Fiend. I would have preferred to pump and save it, but alas, that was impossible with UU open. Nevertheless, I was able to recover my Aquamoeba.
Unfortunately for me, the opponent followed up his attack with one of the worst possible cards for me at this point: Braids, Cabal Minion.
I untapped and lost one of my Islands. I ripped a land, but unfortunately it was yet another Island, rather than the Forest that would have allowed me to play Werebear. With Wonder in the ‘yard, I sent Aquamoeba for another three and played the other Aquamoeba, leaving me with two Islands and two Aquamoebas in play.
Got him to fourteen.
My opponent did something, but it didn’t involve killing an Aquamoeba or an Island, so on my turn, I lost an Island, and then tossed two cards from my hand to put my opponent to 8.
On my sixth turn, I had a really tough decision. I was down to just an Island and my Aquamoebas. I could either lose an Aquamoeba and send the other with Wonder, or I could lose my Island. If I didn’t draw land (specifically Island), I would end up losing Wonder potential next turn even if I saved the Island this turn, and if I kept both Aquamoebas, my opponent would have to block with Braids or take six, meaning that I could win the game the next turn any number of different ways.
So I made a hard choice and lost the Island. Of course I didn’t draw a land.
I send the Aquamoebas. Both had cards pitched to them. One put my opponent to five, and the other traded yet another card to get rid of Braids. If I had been able to save it, I would, but out of cards, I was at least able to get that dangerous permanent off the board.
As it happens, my opponent didn’t draw anything to block an Aquamoeba or any of the zillions of ways he must have had in his deck to kill a creature in time, and my little Blue Beast did him in, winning me the game with no cards in hand and no non-Aquamoeba cards in play.
He revealed his top card, which was, of course, Chainer’s Edict.
That was some good Magic. I won the game with no cards in hand and no non-Aquamoeba permanents in play, while my opponent had both cards in hand and lots of lands. In fact, if I had played any less precisely, sacrificed a man instead of an Island, been less all-in with my attacking, I would almost certainly have ended up on the wrong end of that Chainer’s Edict. I played so fast and hard that I denied my opponent the opportunity to draw his out. This was probably the best game of Magic I had ever played.
I liked this game so much that I immediately told my friends the Pro Tour Champions.
“And to think, you used to be good at telling stories.” – Bob Maher
I of course didn’t understand why Bob was shaking his head. This was the best game I had ever played! I had my back against the wall the entire time. I had no cards in hand and only an Aquamoeba when my opponent lost. I never broke out of Braids lock, but I never gave up, either.
Dave Price pointed out something very obvious (which was why Bob was so disappointed). Even assuming my opponent had the Slithery Stalker (which he didn’t), and it was right to hold the Werebear on the second turn (which it wasn’t), I should have played the first Aquamoeba with double Island.
Imagine how different that game would have been if I had just held the Forest. I would not have lost it on the third turn to his Rancid Earth. When I played the Basking Rootwalla to get back my second Aquamoeba, I would have been able to pump it rather than just trading with the Mesmeric Fiend. Turns later (especially given the fact that he didn’t have the Slithery Stalker) I would have been able to play a sizable Werebear, rather than just tossing it to Aquamoeba for an ephemeral two damage.
It might be reasonable to say that I played really good Magic from turn 3 forward, that I played out of one or more mistakes made in the first turns, but the fact of the matter is that I was a little lucky, just lucky enough, and at the right moments, to counteract all the horrible luck I had that game. This wasn’t the beautiful game of Magic that I thought it was, and the fact that I thought that I played so well punctuates the idea that players who win tend not to see their own mistakes, however horrible.
The next time your lucksack opponent top-decks the one crappy card that he needs to in order to win the game on the last turn, you know, the turn that you were about to win, deserved to win, but ultimately didn’t, damn that lucky lucksack top-decker, think for a moment. You might have made a crucial error in the first couple of turns of the game whereby your opponent was gifted with the two life that postponed the end of the game by a turn or more. You may have given him the opportunity to stabilize the board, make a crucial chump-block, or top-deck the card that beat you when the opponent should never have had the chance.
Just the idea of Slithery Stalker was enough to send me into a tailspin of playing-the-wrong-land followed by narrowly considered, arguably perfect, execution (given a sub-optimal start). Lifebane Zombie is approximately three times as powerful as Slithery Stalker… It has three times the power; its evasion is effective something like four times as often (non-black versus black); it’s anti-Selesnya card advantage, though hitting the hand and not the battlefield, doesn’t come undone when it dies.
Then again, if I had [incorrectly] guessed Lifebane Zombie, I would have just played the Werebear and avoided much of that situation’s stress.
Nevertheless, pretty substantial creep without actually hitting the level of a Perish for three mana.
But even further than the power creep on three drop anti-Selesnya creatures is the strategic leap players have made. Like I said, Realizing How Bad You Are was pretty controversial in 2003. Jon had been talking about there being only one right play in smaller circles, but it was not a commonly held tenet by the majority of the Magic universe yet. Today, most players understand the difference between optimal play and everything else; only by striving to make the best plays can we give ourselves the best chances for victory. In 2003 players were more broad minded about plays in a philosophical sense, aligning themselves more with what seemed to feel right at the time without considering the structure of repeated actions and the production of predictable results over time.
Count yourself lucky that you know better.
July 7th, 2013 — Games, Magic
This post is inspired by the Guerilla Tactics I found digging around my parents’ basement last week; you may have read about this expedition here.
Among other things, Guerilla Tactics.
And in case you were wondering, I sadly found only four regular Gaea’s Cradles upon returning to New York 🙁
Guerrilla Tactics returned to the playable conversation when Patrick Sullivan publicly bought a playset from Star City Games prior to Grand Prix Denver. He got to showcase them against the many Liliana of the Veil decks in matches like his successful feature against Former #1 Apprentice (and GP Denver Top 8 competitor) Joshua P. Ravitz.
This tale of Guerilla Tactics is a story, a lesson really, from my first Pro Tour. You may have read here, here, or elsewhere that I won an Ice Age/Alliances PTQ with a B/R Necropotence deck. In college in Philadelphia I had a great group of friends with whom I played as many as fifty hours of Magic with per week. We played draft, Standard, PTQ formats, and ground dozens of matches of Arena League. We played local Philadelphia tournaments together (though I was the only serious-serious one) and adventured to reasonably close PTQs within ~2 states, usually via public transportation. The most talented player in our group as Albert Tran (the only player other than myself to win multiple Blue Envelopes when we were in college) but unlike most of the rest of us, altran was wasting his college years on a string of cute Asian girls so was very off and on in terms of how seriously he took Magic at any given time. Ergo the effective best player in the group was, unfortunately, YT.
Being the best player in your community is mostly terrible. You play for more hours than most people have jobs, and consistently win no matter how badly you execute. If your only goal is to be king of the kitchen table this can make you the local Alpha Nerd; if you actually want to become a World Class Magic player you have little opportunity to tear up bad habits and build up myelin. When I was competing hard with The ‘Pile o’ Bitches the next year — my first standout deck design and when I first got serious about writing tournament reports — we were concurrently grinding Mirage/Visions Constructed in the store Arena League. The best deck at the Mirage/Visions Pro Tour was the proto-Storm Combo deck Prosperous Bloom; I was dominating our local league with my Teremko Griffin deck:
Like you, my 1997 opponents didn’t understand how Banding works.
Not only was a turn three combo deck available, Nekrataal was probably the most played creature… and, again, I won the Arena season with 2/2 Banding Weapon of Choice 🙁
Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to have contacts in a wider world. Worth Wollpert came down to Philadelphia from Penn State to test for the Pro Tour with me; Worth was training up to become a member of Team Deadguy after impressing Chris Pikula et al in the East Coast cash tournament series of that era with his “Demonic Consultation for Channel” gambles to set up the lethal Fireball.
I am sure that to Chris — who, among his immeasurable contributions to the game even then was a Top 8 coverage commentator and one of the faces on ESPN — I was at best a barnacle wannabe hanger-on at the time, but luckily Worth took care of me like his annoying kid brother. We came up from the same store in Ohio, and helped each other Q early on. As such, I got to play essentially the same Necropotence deck as Chris (Top 4) and Worth (Top 16) at Pro Tour V (139th if memory serves).
Our conception of sideboarding strategy was not then what it is now. Of the three of us, Chris was the only one to have Anarchy for Circle of Protection: Black, Circle of Protection: Red, or Karma (Matt Place destroyed me with the Place/Weissman U/W Control deck); Worth and I played a single Final Fortune; and of the three of us, only I had Demonic Consultation (tested with Erik Lauer the night before).
What sucks when you hit your second-turn Hymn to Tourach?
So I am up in the Necropotence mirror in maybe my first ever match as a Pro; my opponent hits a fast Hypnotic Specter. I look at my hand gleefully… My sided-in Guerilla Tactics!
Cool things were dangerous even then.
Now I can make a pretty clean play on my turn: Just play my land and Guerilla Tactics the Hypnotic Specter, right?
However by drawing my sideboard card in the proscribed spot (against my opponent’s discard mechanism) I found myself in a serious The Danger of Cool Things moment. Do you see it? You probably don’t, thank God.
I am probably one of the top 100 players in the world at this point and this is what is going through my head:
If I let him hit me with that Hypnotic Specter, I might [randomly] discard it and hit the Specter for 4.
Can you even imagine fathoming this in 2013?
This was the first few turns of the game; There wasn’t even a positive likelihood he was going to randomly hit the Guerilla Tactics! Still, I passed.
Worse: I didn’t even make a turn two play! I mean it would be one thing if I stuck a Black Knight or something and lucked into the Tactics while tapped, right? Nope.
It wasn’t over. Maybe he was going to draw Hymn to Tourach or Stupor me prior to attacks. Maybe I would get to discard Guerilla Tactics and punish him as a freebie! Now that would be both cool and validating! Nope.
It still wasn’t over! I could have thrown banana peels at his Specter* prior to damage and saved myself two points. Still… Still nope.
This is what happened:
I discard [not Guerilla Tactics] — literally throw a card into the garbage can and give up two points.
He does something and / or passes.
I Guerilla Tactics the Hypnotic Specter.
Can you even imagine fathoming this in 2013?
So whenever I see a Guerilla Tactics; this is what I think about. Cool things; a game poorly played… And my first Pro Tour 🙂
But I can also see, in a world with a resurgent Guerilla Tactics, how far we’ve come. I think about myself, then such a strong player [relatively speaking]… with such a poor systematic understanding of the game; versus the baseline level that competitive players are all at today. The glory of this story is that few (if any) of you would have made the same kind of fumble, or even seen it as a possibility. Let’s list just a few of the reasons why:
- Classical v. Romantic approaches to common situations… Perfection versus subjective or personal criteria in evaluating a play.
- Appropriate pricing – How much does this effect cost? How much does this cost me? What is scarce here? Life / mana / cards / what? What do I actually need in this game?
- Tight play – What play will give me the best result, on average, if I do it each and every time?
- Philosophy of Fire – Would I ever give up a free Shock (let alone a Shock and a card) after 1999?
- Removal on your own turn / when your opponent’s mana is tapped – Because the last thing you want is to eat a Giant Growth
To sum it all up, the idea of springing a Guerilla Tactics on the attacking Hypnotic Specter was exciting. I was excited, emotionally, by drawing the card I wanted to see against my opponent’s aggressive discard deck. I saw the possibilities in the card, perhaps remembered being spanked by its anti-discard ability to smack for four in my own testing. Perhaps that excitement confused me for a moment… Did I really want to hit the Specter, or did I just want to hit the opponent, punish him for his arrogance, his devotion to The Skull? Likely I had this combination of excitement, the exhilaration of playing on my first Pro Tour, and the stress of playing against my opponent’s best hand all at once. Certainly I didn’t have the modern ideas of focus yet; nor had Jon delivered either of his two famous edicts (nor did he have the reputation yet, that anyone would listen).
A Hypnotic Specter is just a 2/2. We only need two damage to deal with it. If we don’t deal with it, it is going to generate a ton of card advantage for the opponent while whittling away at our life points. This is really super bad for us! There is a reason that first turn Hypnotic Specter is the scariest play in the format!
How did I forget that, myself?
It can be tough comparing Magic in 2013, with all the things you already know, and the vast canon of Patrick Chapin, Zvi Mowshowitz, and Frank Karsten that has come before to draw upon… And try to imagine a world almost 20 years ago, when USENET was the pinnacle of the strategic universe, perhaps THE DUELIST, which came out once per month. Succeeding back then was easier in the sense that the “haves” had a lot more than the “have-nots”… But in another sense, getting to be a “have” took a heck of a lot more work.
* Sorry, wrong kind of “gorilla” [guerilla]. Very pun-ny.
June 25th, 2013 — Games, Magic
Yesterday I saw Garruk, Caller of Beasts spoiled on MTV.
I meant to write something at the time but I was distracted / delayed / apprehensive for a couple of reasons. Was this a real Planeswalker? A real Magic: The Gathering magical spell (that spits out DI fantastic creatures) or some kind of hoax? Was a well-meaning editor hoodwinked by a 5th Dimensional Imp? I mean it was on MTV. And in fact Tweeted about by an MTV Verified Account. Real? Real World?
Also I had to go to a dinner party.
So in the last couple of months I have been feeling somewhat inordinately good about myself.
I wrote down a sort of foreseeable future not-bucket list in 2008 (a variation of a technique I wrote about in the last chapters of The Official Miser’s Guide actually). I liked this song The Hudson by my favorite songwriter; I wanted to live by the Hudson. Actually this is the view outside my new apartment:
I wanted to live by shenanigans. Pulling shenanigans. More shenanigans in the hopper. I wanted to eat better, work out more, spend more time with my family and play more Magic tournaments. I’m running close to a marathon a week; not at fighting weight yet but my resting heart rate is below 60. My kids are in love with me and I can’t remember a better time with my wife. I’m not back-to-back Legacy Open Top 8 grinder Chris Pikula or anything but I’ve played a nice run of Magic tournaments this year with several cash finishes.
So I have been [virtually] patting myself on the back. Yeah life! Yeah MichaelJ! I have been crossing off good stuff left and right off of my life-list. I have arr…
I have not arrived quite yet.
I walk into this apartment (which has its own elevator). It is one continuous hallway that is the city block long. You look out the window from one side and there is the Angelika theater. On the other side… Whatever is on the other block (I never made it that far actually, de-railed by the wall-installed temperature regulated wine rack and Next Level 3D art on the walls. An entire city block. The idea of this is just baffling to me; but I was there. The space was like nothing you have ever seen in a Manhattan apartment (there were rooms attached to the hallway on either side but I didn’t go into any of them).
Gotta sell lots of The Official Miser’s Guide still!
So anyway I go to this dinner party, come back for a short run, work on Top Decks, zzzzz eventually re-watching the season finale of Mad Men.
More distractions than your average iPhone.
So: Garruk, Caller of Beasts.
Well the alternate art is pretty cool I think you will agree!
[+1] This will put Garruk to five and possibly out of range of the first swing in. Possibly. The card advantage is obviously potentially bonzer. Frank Karsten is 4-0’ing tournaments left and right playing nothing but creatures.
If you play nothing but creatures you might actually hit three cards on this (but then again you would probably have to re-work more than a little to accommodate the cost). A sub-Frank (but still reasonable) number of creatures for a Ramp deck — say 20 — is still going to net you 1-2 creatures on average. The down side is that a lot of times those creatures are going to be like Arbor Elf. At the point that you are rolling sixes I don’t know that this is what you want to be doing in a game under pressure. Then again there is probably nothing you would rather be doing in a grind situation. That said, I am not convinced this is all that much more powerful than either of the first two abilities on Garruk, Primal Hunter, especially given the extra mana investment; six over five being like ten over five under pressure.
Now speaking of the mana, six is a lot for a Planeswalker that may or may not be doing anything proactive on the battlefield. Six is in fact only one under Karn Liberated. Karn Liberated not only can directly and immediately affect the battlefield, but he is essentially the end game of an actual Modern deck. Cautiously optimistic on this one to start.
[-3] Now we’re talking!
I actually love this [-3] (leaving Garruk at 1 loyalty). You get to keep Garruk and you can use the ability to net mana. I am a big fan of tapping six to play Angel of Serenity* or Griselbrand** at a discount. Why think so small? In Modern you might be able to run Garruk, Caller of Beasts as a six mana redundancy on Primeval Titan and cheat out Emrakul, the Aeons Torn***. Could be a thing. Thanks
Obama Lotus Cobra.
Taken another way Garruk, Caller of Beasts is only one more than Through the Breach but you don’t run out of it after one use. I am a buyer here, even if you don’t necessarily net mana. For instance I am not above playing Garruk, Caller of Beasts [back in Standard] to drop a Thragtusk (who can now double-defend Garruk). I can deploy multiple cards, not waste my mana, and use the [+1] to re-up the next turn. Like I said: Buyer.
[-7] Just want to throw it out there that I have played a lot of Garruk, Primal Hunter and have never in my life made Wurm tokens. Not even one time in the MTGO Tournament Practice Room. I think that if Garruk, Caller of Beasts starts calling up the beats it is going to be riding the incremental card and mana advantages from the first two abilities, not necessarily winning via the Ultimate.
Some interesting personal anecdotes about Planeswalker Ultimates:
- I have beaten Jace, the Mind Sculptor‘s ultimate in tournament play.
- I have beaten Domri Rade’s ultimate in MTGO play.
- I have both lost after activating Ajani Vengeant’s Ultimate and beaten Ajani Vengeant’s Ultimate in MTGO play.
- I have not only lost after activating Liliana of the Dark Realms‘s Ultimate, I have had enough loyalty to activate it more than once and still lost in both Grand Prix [paper] and MTGO play.
- I have tried really, really hard to beat Tamiyo, the Moon Sage’s Ultimate through means various; but apparently infinite card advantage > cleverness.
Going to go out on a limb and say I am unlikely to activate Garruk, Caller of Beasts’s Ultimate in paper.
* EDIT: Can’t do that.
** Or that.
*** Or that, either! “Green” — my archenemy. It is known Khaleesi. Imagine I got it right the first time and said “Progenitus” or something. Obviously missing that particular chromatic adjective lowers my rating of this a bit will have to think on it more. What is there awesome in Standard for 7+? Can’t see Sylvan Primordial being good enough.
February 2nd, 2013 — Games, Magic
So would you have made this play?
Standard operating procedure for this kind of deck would obviously be Farseek (chain into Garruk Relentless with a Borderland Ranger + Rest in Peace follow-up, possibly via Cavern of Souls)… But I couldn’t resist the sweet, sweet justice of Rest in Peace against Moorland Haunt + Runechanter’s Pike on the second.
Very likely I am going to play a G/W-based Selesnya Ramp deck a la Caleb Durward at next week’s Standard Open in Edison, NJ… But Caleb says there is no reason not to play a third color… Figure I go with this
guy girl fish:
Prime Speaker Zegana is a perfect follow-up to Thragtusk, a la Garruk, Primal Hunter… But potentially even more powerful. Also sweet with a Restoration Angel!
So… Would you have run out the Rest in Peace or played the usual Farseek? BTW easy 2-0 is easy.
September 16th, 2012 — Games, Magic, Reviews
As I have been saying everywhere anyone will listen to me for the past couple of weeks I am thoroughly excited by Return to Ravnica [Mythic] rare Rakdos’s Return.
Examples of such places:
My current opinion is that the format is going to evolve — within a few weeks — where Rakdos’s Return becomes a major strategic tool in Standard. The tools we see right now seem like they will encourage a vector “up” in order to counteract a Level One vector “forward” (going bigger, eventually going over-the-top)… And I feel like Rakdos’s Return will make for a twofold potential over-the-top (regular decks do a bad job of interacting with big X-spells to the face) and a parity-breaker. If both players are just dumping dudes on the table or trading removal spells even a small amount of card advantage putting one into topdeck mode can help you into a great position of advantage (in particular if your deck is all two-for-one advantage cards to begin with).
Strategically, I think a critical mass of two-for-ones will be strong against blue control, give an edge against other creature decks by blunting beatdown, and in this case, Rakdos’s Return (the card at hand) can serve as a Mind Shatter or a finishing Blaze even when the opponent is empty.
I posted an earlier version of this deck on Flores Friday last week but once I saw the card Centaur Healer I knew I wanted to go in another direction. In particular, the curve of Centaur Healer into Huntmaster of the Fells into Thragtusk seemed like the dream disaster for attackers. And once you have white for Centaur Healer? Restoration Angel just seems like the most obvious tool in the world when you are playing a critical mass of 187 creatures.
The biggest shift I eventually resigned myself to was to cut Lotleth Troll — the most obvious card in the world for a creature deck that can make both black and green — to go mono-land-searching thug.
Here is my current build (which presumes a certain set of mana tools, and can therefore be impaired or improved depending on the reality of the format):
3 Abrupt Decay
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Rakdos’s Return
4 Borderland Ranger
4 Gatecreeper Vine
4 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Restoration Angel
4 Blood Crypt
2 Gavony Township
4 Overgrown Tomb
1 Rakdos Guildgate
1 Selesnya Guildgate
1 Temple Garden
4 Centaur Healer
2 Slaughter Games
1 Acidic Slime
4 Pillar of Flame
1 Ray of Revelation
Gavony Township was Osyp Lebedowicz’s idea. I tried one, then two; and I kept cutting total lands… Turns out with all these Gatecreeper Vines and Borderland Rangers and Farseeks you don’t need to have a billion lands to act like you do. 23 is actually just fine, and the deck obviously mulligans well seeing as it has 8 cards main that go +1 card and actually fix your mana.
The sideboard is designed to either resolve Rakdos’s Return against blue control (soften them up with Duress or Slaughter Games) or go mono-beatown destroyer with 4 Pillar of Flame, 4 Centaur Healer, 4 Huntmaster of the Fells, and 4 Thragtusk. With Pillar of Flame containing Lotleth Troll, Gravecrawler, Geralf’s Messenger, and Strangleroot Geist; plus a chain of unending life gain (backed up by Restoration Angel) I feel like this deck should have some great beatdown defense tools.
I have been screwing around on MTGO with similar substitute cards (Sylvan Scrying for Gatecreeper Vine grabbing Elfhame Palace for instance) and the mana seems like it should work.
Just the first-ish pass 🙂
Don’t forget to buy TheOMG at Star City Games!