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Dakra Mystic + Spirit of the Labyrinth: Combo and Controversy

The Players:


Dakra Mystic


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…

“3

“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.”
-Conley Woods

“3.5

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.”
-Luis Scott-Vargas

[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.

But…

Beast Mode!


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.

But…

Judge!


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.

  1. You are under no obligation to stop the opponent from drawing.
  2. 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 :)

Objection!

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.

Plausible Deniability

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.)

The Game:

Respond to this question in the comments below!

I.

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).

II.

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 :)

LOVE
MIKE

P.S. Deadline for responses / guesses / tallies is Thursday midnight EST!

Harness by Force is my Favorite Journey into Nyx Card

HarnessByForce
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.

LOVE
MIKE

Post Script

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.

G/R Draft Mini-Report

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:

Round One:

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
  • -Mountain
  • -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.

1-0

Round Two:

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.

2-0

Round Three:

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.

3-0

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?

LOVE
MIKE

Ten True Facts About My Prognostic Sphinx Deck

  1. I “picked” “literally” the worst time to make a sweet new rogue deck. There isn’t even an open Open! (this weekend is the Journey into Nyx prerelease, etc. etc.)
  2. This is a Tapout Blue Control deck in the tradition of Jushi Blue; a much different kind of deck than most Standard Control decks. The goal is to scare off attackers with Prognostic Sphinx, then get in with Prognostic Sphinx. Patrick Chapin talks about Semi-Soft Locks in books like Next Level Deck Building; an unchecked Prognostic Sphinx is like a Sensei’s Divining Top with fists… Grinding the opponent out while punching him for three.
  3. I know Master of Waves looks weird in this deck, but it’s a much better than Prognostic Sphinx’s original sidekick (the Keiga to Prognostic Sphinx’s Meloku if you grok)… Arbiter of the Ideal. There are relatively few ways to kill a Prognostic Sphinx, but Edict effects don’t care about Hexproof. Master of Waves gives you bodies (plural) to help defend Prognostic Sphinx against Devour Flesh et al for a turn. Then once you start attacking with Prognostic Sphinx… You grok. Anyway, Master of Waves will randomly beat a Red Deck in Game One a fair amount.
  4. Even with four Master of Waves, four Tidebinder Mage, and two Staff of the Mind Magus, you can lose to a Red Deck. It’s true :(
  5. That said, this deck is superb against Red Decks.
  6. It’s even better against black control decks like Mono-Black Devotion or the polychromatic black variants. Those decks started off as tough opponents (especially in the Arbiter of the Ideal days). Nullify is quite good against lots of their threats, including Underworld Connections. Don’t get cocky and lose to Gray Merchant of Asphodel, though.
  7. Speaking of Nullify, it is not good against U/W Control variants. This was a little counterintuitive for me (I assumed an advantage) but we actually have fewer interactive spells / Counterspells than U/W or Esper in Game One. U/W actually has a decent number of trumps over us (Supreme Verdict > Prognostic Sphinx, Sphinx’s Revelation > Opportunity, more in-matchup relevant permission + Thoughtseize) though it is winnable in Game One. Pithing Needle became a late sideboard edition to fight Planeswalkers.
  8. I generally dislike Pithing Needle but this is actually the perfect deck for it; Pithing Needle sometimes does nothing but it is pretty mana efficient in decks that have bulk card advantage spells like Divination or Opportunity.
  9. Voyage’s End is generally better than Cyclonic Rift, but when Cyclonic Rift is good (say against multiple Planeswalkers or Assemble the Legion, where you have time to set up) it’s backbreaking.
  10. The deck was originally soft to opposing Mutavaults; Encroaching Wastes made for acceptable Mutavault defense but now also makes for good disruption. This is especially the case against non-blue mid-range control decks. And hitting an Underworld Connections? Whew.

Here’s the deck, en total:

Prognostic Sphinx Tapout

4 Ratchet Bomb

1 Aetherling
2 Cyclonic Rift
4 Dissolve
4 Divination
3 Master of Waves
4 Nullify
3 Opportunity
4 Prognostic Sphinx
1 Syncopate
3 Voyage’s End

sb:
2 Encroaching Wastes
13 Island
4 Mutavault
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Enlightenment

sb:
1 Pithing Needle
2 Staff of the Mind Magus
4 Jace, Memyory of Thought1 Master of Waves
4 Negate
4 Tidebinder Mage

LOVE
MIKE

nldb

What Exactly Makes Flame-Wreathed Phoenix a Casual Card?

You don’t click into Serious Fun during a preview week with the expectation of seeing the next Thundermaw Hellkite.

But this week on Bruce Richard’s column over on the Mother Ship, that’s exactly what you get (kinda sorta half the time).


Flame-Wreathed Phoenix

Flame-Wreathed Phoenix is kinda sorta a split card.

With the punisher Tribute in full force you have a card that half the time is a Rathi Dragon with no drawback and half the time a Talruum Minotaur (-Phoenix!) with wings.

Rathi Dragon was a powerful card for some versions of the Red Deck (in particular in mirror matches in its day); and as I noted in my original review of Bloodbraid Elf there was a time when Talruum Minotaur was capable of contributing to a Pro Tour Top 8 Constructed deck.

And now… More flying!

So… What’s the damage on this card? Why so casual?

I think I can imagine Flame-Wreathed Phoenix being played in serious Constructed decks. Even just as a 3/3 flying creature it gains a re-buy ability reminiscent of most of Magic’s many Phoenixes. This is powerful the same way that Chandra’s Phoenix is powerful. It’s kinda sorta built-in card advantage. For one more mana, you get a slightly bigger hasty flyer. As someone who has enjoyed smiting opponents with Chandra’s Phoenix, I can appreciate a flying, resilient, Talruum Minotaur-Phoenix.

The rest of the time it is just a 5/5 flyer for four mana. It’s like you took Juzam Djinn and erased the awful Nettletooth Djinn-ness and replaced it with the universal sign for not being blocked.

One side of this card I can see getting behind; the other side is just a mana less than Thundermaw Hellkite, which is an insane proposition.

Is the punisher Tribute dilemma really that big a deal?

Browbeat is a similar card that seems to have good value on both sides. For 2R you either get to draw three cards (better than most blue equivalents about the same cost) or you brain your opponent for five (better than most red equivalents at the same cost). Good and also good. But Browbeat, despite being legal in multiple Standard Constructed formats over the years, never really made its mark on history.

(Though Philosophy of Fire innovator Adrian Sullivan did at one point Day Two a Pro Tour with Browbeat in his Red Deck.)

browbeat
Hollywood

What was the problem with Browbeat?

Could this same problem limit the love given to poor Flame-Wreathed Phoenix?

Mere efficiency is a limitation. Yes, five damage for 2R is a good deal and three cards for 2R is a great deal. But you don’t generally want your opponent dictating to you which good / great deal you are getting. Think about the sheer number of times you have probably beaten a Vexing Devil. Am I vexed? I’ve been Vexed, sure. I think I generally have a good win percentage over Vexing Devil decks. Which is weird because I would gladly pay R for a 4/3 creature and I would generally love to pay R to deal four damage.

Sadly, my guess is the flexibility afforded the opponent will make Flame-Wreathed Phoenix even less successful over time than Vexing Devil.

Is 2RR a good deal for a 5/5 flying creature? I think so.

Is 2RR a good deal for a 3/3 flying creature with haste and a built-in re-buy? I think you are on rougher ground there. I did say I could appreciate it, but it is another matter committing to the card. At four mana, it’s not good enough to win the game on its own consistently, and you might just be stuck with a lot of land committed to doing very little against an able opponent.

On a punisher — SORRY. TRIBUTE. — scale, where would you put this card?

Vexing Devil > Browbeat > Flame-Wreathed Phoexix

That is my guesstimate.

This is the kind of card that I really want to be good because it looks cool; but I am not really sold on.

By the way last week Patrick Chapin reminded me that I gave basically the same preview rating to Rakdos Pit Dragon that I gave to Jace, the Mind Sculptor at snap judgment time.

In my meager defense, they made Rakdos Pit Dragon a Top Decks preview card; I assumed it was as good as, say, Lightning Helix (okay, this is a lie).

I think I see this as a role player; it has some attrition applications and could also, ahem, punish players who can’t easily deal five damage to a creature. Though it is kind of atrocious against Anger of the Gods.

Love,
Mike

(just kidding)

LOVE
MIKE

Mitigating the Pain on Pain Seer

This just spoiled:


Pain Seer

Second toughness.

Sometimes — but not all the time — a Dark Confidant.

Better or worse than Bob?

My first impulse was that Pain Seer is worse, generally, than Dark Confidant. For example, presuming you have made your Pain Seer-including deck correctly, you don’t get a freebie on the first fresh turn you’ve got Pain Seer on the battlefield. I mean, unless the opponent has Blind Obedience down or some such.

So… Card down.

Beyond missing the extra card on the first / next turn, you have a general requirement with this card to attack. I mean of course there are other reasons why your Dark Confidant / Pain Seer / Dark Confidant wannabe might be tapped / ergo need to untap; you could be on the wrong side of an Icy Manipulator, or Master Decoy… But generally speaking, your creature will be tapped because you just swung.

So: You swing; presuming Pain Seer survives, you get to untap it and net a free card. If you don’t swing, you are far less likely to [have to] untap, and ergo won’t get the free card.

So generally speaking… Worse.

Worse than Dark Confidant, right?

Especially given the fact that you won’t generally get the first card, I’d put Pain Seer < Dark Confidant; but I don't think it is 100% cut-and-dried.

Longtime listeners of the Top 8 Magic podcast (BTW BDM and I posted a new one just last week!) know that I think Dark Confidant is probably the most overrated creature of all time. I’ve always conceded that it is playable (fine… “quite good”) but just not the unconditional bee’s knees that everyone else seems to think. For example, I was once in the finals of a team PTQ where I instructed Paul Jordan to not attack with his Keiga, the Tide Star for lethal. We read the opponent for Shining Shoal (would have been lethal going the other way) and we could just watch the opponent die to his own Bob.

He did.

Moreover, I have been playing a lot of Modern lately. One thing I have noticed over and over is my opponents attempting to suicide their Dark Confidants into my various Elves and Merfolk. There’s a reason for that: You can’t very well control whether or not Bob kills you. His greatness comes at a cost… And that cost is sometimes your life.

Conversely — and a little perversely — you can leave your Pain Seer back (you know, the opposite of attempting to suicide your Dark Confidant) to avoid any chance of an accidental death.

Verdict?

Pain Seer isn’t objectively as strong as Dark Confidant… But to be fair Dark Confidant is widely considered one of the strongest two drops in the history of a game defined by great two drops. Given its inheritance of Dark Confidant’s attention to casting costs, you can’t just jam Pain Seer into any deck (limiting its efficacy somewhat). I do think that it might go in some sideboards for matchups where is it unlikely to be blocked (or where potential blockers are cards like Omenspeaker that will not prevent it from untapping and attacking to untap again).

Snap Judgment Rating: Role Player (likely upper mid-tier sideboard card)

LOVE
MIKE

Pick One, Pack One

Last night I put out a Tweet that got a surprising amount of feedback.

(In case you missed it, this references my new tumblr account, which to date has basically just been screen shots from Holiday Cube 2013.)

My good friend Tom Martell snarked my Cube skillz:

(A tweet that was favorite’d by the normally very nice Thea Steele… Probably Josh Ravitz is rubbing off on her.)

It was great because of all the feedback from…

Noted TCGPlayer and StarCityGames writer Anthony Lowry:

Grand Prix Champion Matt Sperling:

And Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas:

But what I wanted to start a conversation on was the strategic psychology around the pack’s first pick.

For me, I took Lightning Bolt.

Had I not taken Lightning Bolt, I would probably have taken Stoneforge Mystic; my reason there is just that I want to experiment with playing beatdown decks other than RDW [in Cube]. My drivers in taking Lightning Bolt was probably obvious to serious students of Cube archetypes (or anyone who, at least, follows the Top 8 Magic podcast).

Red Deck Wins is my favorite deck to draft in Cube; my reason for this is that, lifetime, I have a sum total of one one-win drafts, and the vast majority of my Cube 3-0s are Red Deck Wins. Simply (at least for me), Red Deck Wins has produced the best results, Cube after Cube.

What I love about this pack is that there are no other red cards. Taking Lightning Bolt here cuts off red to the left, in theory discouraging players from cutting my precious Red Deck cards off from the other direction.

Everything came together in this draft. I successfully cut off the red cards, and ended up with a near-masterpiece:


(I could have probably built my deck a little bit better, but I really liked how the draft went.)

But my original question wasn’t just about what I took. It was about what whoever was reading might have taken.

Given that I was dead-set on Lightning Bolt (and would have taken Stoneforge Mystic second) I was pretty surprised at some of the responses I got.

Limited Resources front-man (and frequent Top 8 Magic guest) Marshall Sutcliffe would have taken Necromancy:

He was joined by Open Series standout Drew Levin:

… Oh, and Jon Finkel:

Is Necromancy THE pick then? It’s hard to argue with Jon… But I know where I want to go in Cube. Usually I force only RDW or Storm… And while Necromancy typically smacks of a “broken” B/U deck, it isn’t Storm.

Further, from Drew:

Tangle Wire is an interesting card that some folks suggested. I am not a huge Tangle Wire guy in Cube, and have cut it from my Red Decks in the past.

How about Mishra’s Workshop?

Mishra’s Workshop and Necromancy have something in common; and kind of common with [my] Lightning Bolt (if not strictly). Lightning Bolt can go in any kind of deck that can cast it. It can go in Red Deck Wins, some kind of control, or as just whatever removal. Lightning Bolt is flexible like that, just as it has contributed to everything from Pyromancer Ascension (combo) to Red Deck Wins (beatdown) to Jund (mid-range) to various blue-based control decks (obv). Caleb Durward once told me he thought Lightning Bolt might be the best red card, ever.

But Mishra’s Workshop and Necromancy go into particular decks. Mishra’s Workhop is not valuable unless you have lots and lots of artifacts. I know I’ve screwed up with various Signets and Time Spiral with Mishra’s Workshop on the battlefield.

Necromancy’s job is to get out the big bigs; Drew’s sevens and eights if you grok. Necromancy can play as an efficiency / value spell… But excels when you get to use cards like Survival of the Fittest or Entomb to put specific powerful creatures in the graveyard. When you take Necromancy, you are going down a certain path. You want to take big guys; you want to pick up resources that will help you dump the big guys into the bin.

And hey! Jon would have taken it.

(But, just so you know, when I take a Lightning Bolt, I am every bit as focused on an archetype as a Mishra’s Workshop- or Necromancy-taker.)

Most interesting to me was that some other notable players would have considered Counterspell:

The aforementioned Open Champion Caleb Durward:

And many-times Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Chris Pikula:

Counterspell?

A few weeks ago Tom Martell gave me an interview for the Mother Ship. One of the things we talked a lot about is what it means to be a good drafter. For my part, I have had runs at GP and Nationals stages that put me in the Top 25 rated drafters in the world (you probably didn’t know that). I did it by forcing U/W and Black decks only. When I qualified for US Nationals a few years ago, I needed to learn to draft… And forced blue decks over and over. I put on 200 points of MTGO rating and won every 8-4 I played for weeks going into Nationals. Needless to say, I didn’t really back up the ratings at Pro Tour or that more recent Nationals.

Interestingly, Tom says that those kinds of results don’t make a good drafter, but a flawed one.

I think my completely discounting Counterspell (and to a lesser degree not understanding some of Drew’s initial arguments around Necromancy) expose maybe a source of success for me in Cube… But also a flaw in my drafting ceiling, at least according to Tom’s model. I just don’t know how to draft a deck that wants Counterspell! What archetype does Counterspell go in?

Counterspell is, of course, Lightning Bolt’s Blue opposite number. But, Lightning Bolt in the abstract; NOT just “my” Lightning Bolt, that is a conceptual stand-in for “Red Deck Wins.”

Just something to think about.

But man, do I love Holiday Cube 2013!

LOVE
MIKE

Bogbrew Witch &c. | Bogbrew Beatdown!

This is bar none my favorite deck in Standard right now:

orzhov2

Bogbrew Beatdown

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
6 Plains
8 Swamp
2 Vault of the Archangel

Sideboard
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.”
-YT

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.

LOVE
MIKE

Angelic Accord, Podcast, etc.

angelicaccord2

Angelic Accord, version 1.0

2 Bubbling Cauldron
1 Elixir of Immortality
3 Trading Post

3 Bogbrew Witch
4 Festering Newt
4 Sign in Blood
3 Tragic Slip
4 Vampire Nighthawk

3 Angelic Accord
2 Fiendslayer Paladin
4 Lingering Souls
2 Terminus

4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Orzhov Guildgate
5 Plains
7 Swamp
1 Vault of the Archangel

Sideboard
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
2 Fiendslayer Paladin
2 Orzhov Charm
1 Tragic Slip
4 Duress
2 Terminus
1 Liliana of the Dark Realms

For anyone wondering about the deck BDM and I were talking about in the most recent podcast the above is it.

I don’t want to spend a huge amount of time talking about the strategies, plans, and angles various on this deck as it ended up being a bit less than super awesome; but as BDM raved in the podcast it is fun to play, [presumably] fun to watch, and capable of some pretty exciting comebacks.

If you brave yourself up to give Angelic Accord a swing, keep these things in mind:

  • Trading Post + Angelic Accord is the basic combo. Once you have both of these in play, it is rare that you will do anything but discard to Trading Post every turn. But be careful! You have to discard before the opponent’s end step if you want to crash with a new 4/4 on your turn.
  • Bubbling Cauldron + Angelic Accord is basically a Batterskull. Almost anything can catalyze the first 4/4 Angel. You can crash on your turn, sacrifice the Angel, gain four, and net a fresh (untapped) Angel to block on your opponent’s turn. Okay, I’ll bite… It is probably a bit better than a Batterskull. Ya got me.
  • Elixir of Immortality allows you to loop your Festering Newts. The limit on the Bogbrew Witch combo is that you can only search up four Festering Newts. But if you can put your Festering Newts back into your deck, you break the normal limit on Bogbrew Witch. I don’t know if you’ve played much Bogbrew Witch in Standard, but the other two halves of the combo win a lot of games for me. Somehow… A real thing.
  • You can activate life gain abilities on both your turn and your opponent’s turn in order to trigger a single Angelic Accord twice per cycle. Truth.

Did I mention there is a new Top8Magic podcast up on ManaDeprived? Well there is! And BDM is back!

If you are somehow too lazy to click one of the several links to ManaDeprived on this page / in this post, I suppose you can listen to the cast here:

(I suppose.)

Hope you <3 it!

LOVE
MIKE

Five Banners Better Than Kalonian Hydra

MichaelJ:

Well BDM was off at the World Championships last weekend so I did a fill-in podcast with the incomparable Innovator Patrick Chapin over on ManaDeprived.

The only problem is… For the second consecutive week, we got Kalonian Hydra for our banner! Boo-urns!

On the bright side, KYT and company replaced the Top 8 Magic entrance music with a piece pilfered from the princess of pottymouthed chick rockers, Liz Phair. Yay! As such, here might have been a possible awesome banner:

liz

Okay, maybe that doesn’t scream “Magic: The Gathering” or even [accurately] that Brian David-Marshall is on this podcast.

How about this one, thematic of NLDB and Patrick’s guest appearance?

NLDB

Yeah, yeah… Not quite as beautiful as the cover design on NLDB… But I tried! (not very hard) Fine. You want to see “didn’t try very hard”?

top8mohawk

So… No. Gotcha.

How about the classics then?

tokens

Or bringing back to NLDB (stole this image from NLDB in part, in fact), and the whole “me and Patrick talking on the phone” aspect?

Phones

Reader / Listener / Beloved Customer:


Hold up, did you just say you did a new podcast, and that it was guest-starring Patrick Chapin?

MichaelJ:

Yes!

Reader / Listener / Beloved Customer:

Whatever dude. Carry on. No one cares about Kalonian Hydra re-run banners or intro music. I’ll be over on ManaDeprived listening to Deck Building and Life with Patrick Chapin thank you very much.

MichaelJ:

Um… Sweet?

Subscribe to the Top8Magic Podcast (usually starring Brian David-Marshall)

LOVE
MIKE

nldb