Entries Tagged 'Games' ↓

Post Script on Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

Earlier tonight I had the privilege of writing the preview for Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, a new blue Planeswalker in Avacyn Restored. You can read that at the Mother Ship here.

Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
At first I didn’t understand how good she might be, especially the inevitability represented by her [-8] Ultimate ability.

Tamiyo is well poised to defend herself, and gets along well with card drawing, in particular 0-1 mana cantrips.

Here is a post script I originally wrote for the article, but I don’t think it made it under deadline:

Post Script

It has been a few hours since I turned in my column and upon further reflection, ultimate Tamiyo is even more powerful and ridiculous than I originally thought. Here are some parting things you can do with her emblem:

Mulch – Draw five. Draw five again if you want (etc.)

Tracker‘s Instint – Draw five (as above). You can also play this one from the graveyard, so it has a more friendly initial catalyst.

Dream Twist – Remember how this is is stuff we all like / old school, etc.? What is more old school awesome than Ancestral Recall?

… And for those of you who want your cards to actually do something: Thought Scour.

Thought Scour, already a very playable cantrip can become a deadly four-of when combined with an ultimate Tamiyo. Being both useful early and an instant late makes for quite the combination. Like Dream Twist, Thought Scour is essentially an Ancestral Recall… Or, you can wait for the opponent to pass the turn, Millstone him for ~16 cards, and draw eight. Why play a legitimate way to win? That is pretty cool, too.


Try beating one Thought Scour.

What do you think?


FNM Hero Report with Aether Adept (if you can believe it)

Unbelievably, this is the second Five With Flores post devoted to Aether Adept.
… I can’t believe it either!

Jon Medina invented this thing called FNM Hero where he has to start from scratch with a budget of only $100.

For some reason Medina has chosen to try to “go infinite” at Magic with a bunch of garbage (though given the budget constraints, non-garbage might be hard to come by).

You can actually build a semi-reasonable deck in Standard for under $100 (emphasis on “semi-“).

I decided to try this:

4 Aether Adept
1 Consecrated Sphinx
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Gut Shot
4 Mana Leak
3 Mental Misstep
4 Ponder
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Thought Scour
4 Vapor Snag

21 Island

4 Corrosive Gale
2 Dissipate
3 Flashfreeze
1 Gut Shot
1 Mental Misstep
4 Stitched Drake

Obviously the Snapcaster Mages and one Consecrated Sphinx are going to be the most expensive cards; I don’t recall Jon’s exact pricing strictures, but you can get Snapcaster Mage for about $17 on Amazon.com so I assume that using resources other than the most high profile sites you can get the rares for under $100. Everything else is pretty negligible in terms of cost.

I tested a lot of Delver last month and I knew going in that this deck would be even weaker to tokens than regular Delver of Secrets decks. Oh well. Obviously I played against 50% tokens.

The beauty of this is that even though I was playing a super budget deck with literally 21 Islands and 4 Aether Adepts, people still complained about Delver of Secrets. I mean the card is a penny and also the best card in Standard. What do you expect me to play? Maybe a mid-range Green creature for four times the cost and half the power?

Anyway I played four rounds in the Tournament Practice Room. It’s not like I made the next Naya Lightsaber or anything, but the results were pretty promising. I didn’t play real tournament queues because… Well, it should be obvious. But I figured that FNM (Jon’s forum for his project) is less competitive than a PTQ / SCG Open (which is what I would prepare for in queues). Here is what happened:


His deck was a fully loaded Pod deck.

If he is reading this he probably wants to jump off of the top of Birthing Pod, maybe into the mythical river Lethe to forget.

Anyway, I kept a triple Delver, one land hand in Game One. He was defeated. Yes, he got one of my Delvers with a Fiend Hunter. The next turn I flipped Mana Leak, turned the other two over, and it was never really close.

In Game Two he got three Birds of Paradise; conveniently I got three Gut Shots, using a combination of “drawing them off the top of my [budget] deck” and Snapcaster Mage[s]. I also Mage’d up double Flashfreeze, which was excellent.




I got the first game with “Mental Misstep your Champion” / Snapcaster Mage Mental Misstep, and then getting my one Sphinx online.

Game Two was a heartbreaker if we can consider fake budget decks “tested” in the Tournament Practice room heartbreaker-eligible games. I basically got him to three with scotch tape, spit, torn fingernails, and desperation. He had one card, and it was a Doomed Traveler I had bounced. He had two Crusades but I had basically never allowed him to get the pounce with creatures. I had an Aether Adept and an Insective Aberration in play.

What can he rip?

Obviously the Tom Martell commemorative Lingering Souls is the only card that saves him there, so that is what he got. I looked at the shiny Vapor Snag in my hand and frowned. I guess he could have played Day of Judgment there, but the outs were thin. I had one mana open at the end of his turn, so Mise Thought Scour.

… Flipping over what would have been the game-winning Corrosive Gale.



(If in fact we can consider this a hearbreaker-eligible game, again).

Sadly he had Vault of the Archangel in play so I didn’t really think it was worth playing out given his army of 3/3 flyers.

Game Three I got frustrated at having such substandard cards and threw it in too early. I guess if you are going to do an experiment like this you shouldn’t really take that attitude. I guess none of my cards are godawful (except Aether Adept, maybe); but not having basic defensive stuff like Ratchet Bomb or a way to get back in a game that starts to fall out of your hands is pretty annoying.


BW TOKENS (again)

G1 – I was actually pretty worried because my hand wasn’t aggressive and he got a one-two guy-Gather draw… And then conceded turn three when I Mana Leaked his Intangible Virtue. Um, okay. I’ll take it?

G2 – I got a fast double Delver draw, Leaked him once, and then got him to death on a Vapor Snag. Ho hum. The Vapor Snag turn was pretty interesting. He had four lands in play and a Sword of Body and Mind; he had two tokens from previous token generation. I was kind of weighing my options and decided I was going to Snag his Sword attempt, and at least make him tap all four lands to get the Sword online (plus take one less, I guess). But then he played pre-combat Honor of the Pure. Well that’s two mana down! He equipped one of the tokens, I bounced, he right-clicked, etc.



G1 – I kept a one-land double-Delver draw. I Probed him to see Merfolk Looter and flipped my first Delver with Gut Shot. I was so rich I did not even Gut Shot the Looter until the second time it came down.

G2 – This was a weird game where I countered everything and he didn’t have a second White for Sun Titan for several turns despite drawing lots of extra cards. He sat on a Nihil Spellbomb for a long time, which wasn’t actually that annoying, but was kind of a Greater Gargadon ticking down its time counters if you know what I mean. I wasn’t going to get out of the game with Snapcaster Mage is what it meant. Anyway, I countered everything but my deck doesn’t actually have that many counters and he eventually got the Titan and I conceded.

G3 – Probably the most improbable game I have played in months. I have a not-very-aggressive hand, but eventually get Consecrated Sphinx in play. I have previously Probed him and it seemed safe. Well of course he picks that turn to rip Sun Titan and naturally had Phantasmal Image. The next two turns we play cat-and-mouse with him getting the Image but me having Vapor Snag and Gut Shot. He then gets an Oblivion Ring and I can’t defend the Consecrated Sphinx. Now at this point he has a fake-Sphinx in play and I had a line where I could have played Thought Scour to start the “we both draw as much as we like” phase of the game. I could have drawn tons, gotten the tools necessary to deal with both his Titan and Image, or maybe even double-Leaked the Ring, but I didn’t see it at the time. Instead I just bounced his Sphinx so I wouldn’t have to deal with a Sphinx and tried to play the tempo game. Incidentally I had drawn 4-6 cards with my Sphinx and they were all g-d Islands.

I got some Delver beats in and put him to a bad spot. I drew Ponder and found Vapor Snag and two Islands. I probably should have shuffled. I kept the Snag, bounced his Titan and got in with an Adept and Insectile Aberration, putting him to one. Now there are lots of problems with this play. For one, I put myself in a spot where I knew I had lands on top and I would end up having to chump block. My implementation was also bad, but then again, it was 1:30 and I was playing a pretty Baxterized deck so maybe I can be forgiven? I could have waited a half-turn and bounced better even if I kept the Snag / Island / Island tops. The way I did it, he could re-play Sun Titan, get Phantasmal Image, and copy Insectile Aberration, locking me pretty badly down.

Now the game wasn’t over!

I of course had the Islands on top and had to chump his Titan after one attack.

Now it gets really weird.

He rips Trinket Mage (!?!) and gets the Nihil Spellbomb from last game. Now he has Spellbomb + Titan for a draw engine. The other half of the Spellbomb is also annoying as I pick that turn to draw Snapcaster Mage (or rather, Thought Scour into Snapcaster Mage). There is both a Vapor Snag and a Gut Shot in my bin and he is at one life.

The Snapcaster has to chump. Predictable.

In the ensuing turn he casts Forbidden Alchemy, binning Spellskite, and brings that back.

I draw not Vapor Snag but Gut Shot. Will he F6? No.




Like I said, “improbable.”



Both my second and fourth rounds were winnable. This is remarkable as I figured Tokens was an awful matchup, plus my deck lacked such basic functionality as “non-Island lands” or the plenty of white, viz. Geist of Saint Traft and Moorland Haunt. Think a Moorland Haunt might have won some of those one-point games? In particular I really wish I saw the Thought Scour catalyst “we both have Sphinxes” play in real time. That would have made for a story, wouldn’t it?

Now as bad as the structure of this deck is for FNM Hero purposes, I actually like some of the stuff. I was all ready to credit Caleb Durward with Consecrated Sphinx in Delver, but it turns out that way back in September my first Innistrad deck list had not just Delver of Secrets when the rest of the world was still playing Phantasmal Bear, but Batterskull and Consecrated Sphinx as two ofs, each. Man, I am smart at this! In any case, I found Consecrated Sphinx outstanding in this deck, and I think I would actually play 1-2 in “real” Delver.

Anyway, I got tired of not having Geist of Saint Traft in my deck and packed it in. That said, I think with a bit more focus you can probably 4-0 FNM even with a Baxterized Delver deck, and I know I would much rather be on Delvers than mid-range green stuff, especially if I can’t afford dual lands.

What do you think Jon?


What Did WE Say About Delver of Secrets?


Delver of Secrets :: Top 8 Magic :: BDM
Writing Elsewhere :: Insectile Aberration (I guess) :: … and Delver of Secrets

Delver of Secrets

So last week in my Mother Ship column I briefly discussed how some other noted Magic writers and websites talked about Standard (actually cross-format) All-Star It! Girl! Delver of Secrets was perceived when Innistrad first broke. Today it is no stretch at all to call Delver of Secrets the #1 overall card in Standard, but when it first came out, many writers had a hard time even putting it in the playable pile.

Quiet Speculation saw it as marginal.

LSV at ChannelFireball thought it might be sweet (but loved the flavor).

Our boy Conley Woods, rogue deck design favorite of the modern age, rated it best among the elsewhere media… But Conley is quite proudly one of Magic’s broadest thinkers. Who else plays Sorin Markov in Extended Martyr or Vindicating Hippos in any format, anyway?

Now keeping in mind I once rated Compulsive Research as Constructed Unplayable in a set review, I do know that — at least this time — BDM and I got this one right on the Top 8 Magic podcast, in our Innistrad Set Review over there.

I said “This is just a Constructed Playable card, isn’t it?”

What is really exciting is that at first blush, BDM and I even jimmy-jammed Delver of Secrets into our first pass at a new deck. These are the cards we wanted to play:

Credit where credit is due, BDM is the one who Snap figured out Ponder would be a snap-in to help manipulate the top of your deck for Delver of Secrets maximization.

The amazing thing is… The rest of the deck, at first pass, closely resembles elements that would grow to be the realized Standard Delver deck. Yeah, we had Dismember instead of Gut Shot, but as recently as Matt Costa’s win in Baltimore just a little over a month ago, he had Dismember over Gut Shot (I — and most other Delver players — re-added Gut Shot mostly as a reaction to other Delver Players, not based on overall power and efficacy).

Mental Misstep hasn’t taken off, but based on my playtesting for the Star City Invitational, I think Mental Misstep is one of the best cards in Delver, both for the Delver mirror match and as a foil to a G/R opponent’s Galvanic Blasts and Birds of Paradise openings.

Yeah, yeah… We overrated Twisted Image, but the Delver archetype has room for ~10 one mana cantrips, and most folks are running Thought Scour as a 2-of if not a 4-of over the once ubiquitous Gitaxian Probe.

… Plus, we had no Thought Scour to compare against when Innistrad first came out.

Just thought I’d throw this out there.

Blue beatdown / aggro-control decks at the dawn of Innistrad were typically Illusions-centered. Maybe it was because we just liked certain “pet cards” but greedy and I were already spitballing Invisible Stalkers.

Now if only we played more tournaments instead of covering them… 🙂

(Speaking of which, I will be in the booth in a couple of weeks in for a Star City Open weekend with Joey Pasco. Lots of people seemed to like our one-two last time… So please tune in! Don’t worry, I’ll remind you again then!)


Drafto with Bella

At age seven, my daughter Bella (“future girl Iron-Man”) is already a strategic genius. I know most parents generally overrate their children, but I came to this conclusion today after being lectured as to why she whooped me in chess (as a seven-year-old she pronounced her opening “The Italy-an Game” and criticized my early game bishop v. pawn sequencing. I was the president of my high school chess club.

As you can see she already has a fair bluff, and if she ever decides to play competitive Magic, would be the kind of awful person who always chooses Affinity / CawBlade / Delver / etc. You know the type.

Following is a transcript of one-and-a-half superhero drafts I did with her recently.

“Legend” sections borrow liberally from each characters’ Wikipedia entries, with some obvious cropping and commentary by YT.

Daddy: Okay let’s draft great fighters. Do you want to go first or second?

Bella: You can go first.

Daddy: You sure?

Bella: Sure.

Daddy: I take Bruce Wayne.

Bella: Lady Shiva and Captain America.

Daddy: Wow, great picks! I guess I’ll take Iron Fist and… Karate Kid.

Bella: Okay. Super Boy Prime and Anti-Monitor!

Daddy: We’re done.

Bella: What do you mean?

Daddy: I mean we’re done. There is no indication either or those characters is even good at fighting!

Bella: You don’t really have to be that good at “fighting” if you can burn a planet down just by looking at it.


Superboy-Prime has all the basic abilities of a Kryptonian except at a much higher level, exposed to yellow sunlight: superhuman strength, speed, senses, agility, healing, endurance, superbreath, flight, x-ray vision, heat vision, and invulnerability. His power is close to that of the Silver Age “Earth-One” Superman’s, which makes him one of the most powerful characters in the universe. Superboy-Prime’s future self has complete control over time itself.

At the end of Infinite Crisis, it took the Supermans of two universes flying Superboy-Prime through a red sun to stop him. This defeat cost the life of the elder Superman as well as 32 Green Lanterns, where one copy of the Green Lantern ring is “the most powerful weapon in the universe”.

Anti-Monitor was one of the most formidable foes ever faced by the heroes of the DC Universe (or “Multiverse”, as it was then and now). He is directly responsible for more deaths than any other known DC supervillain, having destroyed nearly all of an infinite number of universes.

… May not be as tough as Superboy-Prime.

(different draft)

Daddy: Okay we’re going to draft super scientists (which is something I think you will be more respectful of).

Bella: Okay.

Daddy: Ground rules — and even if someone can say grow or stretch (no hints here) no giants. No celestial beings.

Bella: So they at least started off at regular size?

Daddy: Sure. Okay do you want first pick or second pick?

Bella: Not sure.

Daddy: You’re trying to game me. I know you want Azmuth first but last time you took first pick Azmuth I took Valeria.

Bella: I want Valeria.

Daddy: I am not taking Valeria first pick.

Bella: I’ll take first pick.

Daddy: Do you want Valeria?

Bella: Yes.

Daddy: Okay, you can have Valeria. Go ahead.

Bella: Promise?

Daddy: I said so, didn’t I?

Bella: Okay… Azmuth.

Daddy: What!?! Well played.

Bella: For a seven-year-old. I assume because I am seven and you don’t want to set me up for a lifetime of not trusting men, you won’t go back on your word and take Valeria just because I tricked you and took Azmuth anyway *.

Daddy: Well, Valeria is only three, so you’re not that smart. I guess I’ll take Reed Richards and Brainiac Five.

Bella: Valeria Richards — or should I say VALERIA VON DOOM — and Victor Von Doom.

Daddy: I will wheel Lex Luthor and the SCIENTIST SUPREME Hank Pym.

Bella: Five man teams?

Daddy: Yeah. This is your last pick.

Bella: Iron Man and Nathaniel Richards.

Daddy: Remember the time you had all the Richards?

Bella: Make your last pick.

Daddy: I take Amadeus Cho.

Who do you think won the draft of the super scientists? Answer in the comments below!

Team MichaelJ:

  • Reed Richards
  • Brainiac Five
  • Lex Luthor
  • Henry Pym
  • Amadeus Cho

Team Bella:

  • Azmuth of Galvan
  • Valeria Richards
  • Victor Von Doom
  • Anthony Stark
  • Nathaniel Richards


(Ben 10 Universe) Creator of the three greatest scientific achievements of the Ben 10 universe, including both the greatest weapon and the greatest instrument of peace. Called the smartest being in [his] universe, Azmuth disagrees, saying he is merely the smartest being in three, arguably five, galaxies.

Reed Richards
(Marvel Universe) Generally depicted as the most intelligent being in the Marvel universe.

Brainiac 5
(DC Universe, 31st Century) Brainiac 5 possesses a Twelfth Level Intellect, which grants him superhuman calculation skills, amazing memory and exceptional technical knowledge. By comparison, 20th century Earth as a whole constitutes a Sixth Level Intellect, and most of his fellow Coluans have an Eighth Level Intellect. 31st century Earth as a whole is a Ninth Level Intellect. His incredible memory allows him to retain knowledge of events that all other characters forget[.]

Valeria Richards
(Marvel Universe) Daughter to Reed and Sue Richards. At age three, Valeria claims to be her father’s intellectual superior. [whether or not this is true you can probably see why a seven-year-old girl would want to draft her high]

Victor Von Doom
(Marvel Universe) Doctor Doom is a polymath scientific genius. Throughout most of his publication history, he has been depicted as one of the most intelligent humans in the Marvel Universe — comparable to arch rival Reed Richards.

Lex Luthor
(DC Universe) The most intelligent human in the DC Universe, and as one of the most intelligent beings of any planet or species. He has mastered seemingly every known form of science, and considers Brainiac his only intellectual rival.

Henry Pym
(Marvel Universe) Scientist Supreme of the Marvel Universe (basically the opposite number to deus ex machina Dr. Strange).

Anthony Stark
(Marvel Universe) Inventive genius whose expertise in the fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and computer science almost rivals that of Reed Richards, Hank Pym, and Bruce Banner, and his expertise in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering surpasses even theirs. He is regarded as one of the most intelligent characters in the Marvel Universe. Also Bella’s hero and the reason she (too) wants to attend MIT.

Nathaniel Richards
(Marvel Universe) Time traveler, scientific genius; father to Reed Richards and grandfather to Valeria Richards (also in this list).

Amadeus Cho
(Marvel Universe) Rated 7th smartest person in the world by Reed Richards, eighth by Hank Pym, and 10th by Bruce Banner. Likely smarter than Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom. Regardless, a brilliant teenager.


Who won?


* Okay, the (emphasized) second part of that only took place in my head. But you can see where either of us was going on this 🙂

The End of Justice


I just started to play Draw Some on my iPhone.

Apparently Draw Some is the new Words With Friends.

I was going to write a version of this story anyway, as the spoken-word version had Josh Ravitz about peeing in his pants on the way home from Baltimore *

The very first round of Draw Some I played was with Shark (an important character in the story), and this was the picture I guessed:

/ end interlude

So this is a story from my first year of marriage, about 10 Block Constructed PTQ seasons ago. Shark and I were (supposedly) both Q’d for the PT on rating (something that would never happen today) with me having beaten him in the finals of a big cash tournament at Neutral Ground.

No idea WTF we were doing in the car. Maybe Shark was going to trade; I guess I was just going to deny my newlywed 10 wife the company of my pleasure ** for the day.

BDM had just discovered his love of U/G Werebears (rather than Arrogant Wurms), and our chauffer for the day, Justin, was coming off back-to-back losses in PTQ finals (with BDM’s U/G deck if I recall).

Fast forward a million hours.

BDM loses the win-and-in round to a Circular Logic, apparently forgetting (and apparently like his opponent) that Werebears tap for mana.

Justin loses in the finals, again.

I lose literally all my [ADJECTIVE REDACTED] drafts, prompting then-GP superstar (and YMG scum) Danny “MonkeyPants” Mandell to puzzle over the swingy-ness of my brilliant-or-brainfart in-game play.

So basically we are all of us tired and tilted, except maybe Shark… Still no idea what he was doing there.

It’s getting late and we are some hours still from NYC.

Justin decides he is too tired to go on.

BDM and I call our wives; one is cooler than the other about it (not naming any names).

In a stark reversal, Shark is now the one who starts going on tilt. Shark, in those years, lived in Connecticut rather than Manhattan, and we were like one highway stop from his apartment.

“No…” stutters Justin. “… too tired to go on… ”

We take an immediate exit that has a hotel icon and venture into what can only be described as “the setting of every low budget horror movie, ever.”

The woods, the smell, the seemingly innumerable miles between the exit and the supposed hotel in the middle of the Connecticut night… All of us have the exact same reaction:


(-all of us)

We eventually make it to some “hotel”, which is basically a series of barns. I spit you not, light-blue barns. At this point I am weighing the certainty of a regular-old Michael Myers-esque machete maniac [bumpkin] killing me versus my heretofore reasonable skepticism around the existence of men turning into slavering canine murderers under the light of the full moon. Justin is a member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, and I am pretty sure Shark and BDM are atheists, but not one of us isn’t terrified of a spontaneous werewolf attack. WEREWOLVES, I tell you. You can shake your head all you want but if you were there you would definitely have been clamoring for silver I am not really interested in dissenting opinions.

So we park. In a barn. Again, literally “a barn” … As in “there is straw on the ground”.

Our hotel room is a converted barn also. I mean obviously it is a barn. It smells funny (I can only assume this is the scent of ammonia being used to cover up the entrails-ridden stench of previous werewolf massacres), and the air conditioning is weird we all agree… Stuffy even as it is supposed to be freshening us.

So we were all dying of exhaustion fifteen seconds earlier but you know how it goes: sharp enough to Drafto as soon as we found carpet to lay cardboard to (I am sure Shark was overjoyed at this) . We gamble on Beds v. Floor (and possibly more? … it’s been ten years). I assume I was on Shark’s team on account of I remember winning.

So BDM grabbed a biology class-stained comforter and burrowed himself a little rat’s nest in the corner. Justin, having gimped had no warmth to look forward to except maybe cozying into the blood-soaked fur of his yellow-eyed soon-to-be killer.


If only for a moment in this victorious draft I can forget my troubles and the impending doom by lycanthrope lips.


I wake up first to find Justin (expectedly) lying on the floor by the door.

And unexpectedly…


Or what should be his head!

Justin is such a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy fathead that his big nogs was enough to sate any murderous werewolf attackers… with brains enough to sate the inevitable wandering Zombie Apocalypse.

… Or that’s what I would have seen… You know, if there was such a thing as justice in the world. But because there is no justice, Justin was still alive, just with his head halfway out the door, out into barn-land. The dumb motherfucker literally spent the night half-in and half-out of our room!

I go from being restfully sedate to (I think, understandably) monkey tilted in one nanosecond.

“Justin WTF!?! We are in the middle of werewolf country!”

Everyone wakes.

I mean forget about the safety concern of LEAVING YOUR RURAL HOTEL ROOM DOOR OPEN ALL NIGHT… Justin did so, dangling himself out deliciously… IN THR MIDDLE OF AN IMPENDING WEREWOLF ATTACK.

“Sorry Michaelj,” said my sometimes writing partner. “The air conditioning was kind of weird and I had trouble breathing.”


I guess on the bright side, we were not torn to shreds by werewolves (or even just robbed or whatever).


Because this is The End of Justice, the cash tournament Shark and I split was downgraded from 36K to 24K based on attendance after the fact, and I lost my ratings Q with just one PTQ weekend and one PT (which I was thankfully qualified for) left.

I didn’t get there.

* In case you missed it, Josh and I podcasted on that trip. You can check that at MTGCast and the follow-up with BDM here

** Katherine and I both caught the reversal in diction; we decided to let it stand 🙂

Three Ways to Bluff With Sword of War and Peace

Tom Champheng is the original Magical lemonade stand salesman.

In the 1996 World Championships, Champheng, playing a White Weenie deck, misregistered his deck, forgetting to add Adarkar Wastes to the list.

… stranded

That stranded the card Sleight of Mind — Tom had one copy in his main deck and one copy in his sideboard — as being un-cast-able.

So life gave him lemons… Tom Champheng decided to make lemonade!

He played with his Sleight of Mind face-up on his sideboard, so that any and all possible Necropotence players could see it. He couldn’t avoid sometimes drawing the one in his main deck, but he could always side it out.

Why was this a useful ploy?

Let me segue into a very different story before wheeling back to Champheng…

[TIMEFRAME REDACTED], at the [TOURNAMENT NAME REDACTED] [SOMEONE YOU MIGHT KNOW] was privy to a great conversation between two PT greats (one would eventually become a PT champion… and get banned and stuff; the other was also a PT Top 8 competitor, who had previously run afoul of a top WotC executive).

They agreed that Magic was just about who could cheat better.

They were playing each other in the quarterfinals of [TOURNAMENT NAME REDACTED].

The two friends — filthy cheaters both — spat into their palms and agreed that the best cheater should win. Their Top 8 match would be a battle not of superior deck design, technology, technique, or knowledge of the force.

Their battle of white-against-black would instead be one of black-against-black (as it were).

The banned-PT-Champion-to-be gave himself an aggro nut draw. All his fast drops were waiting to spring on his opponent.

His opponent?

… Just gave himself a first-turn Gloom.

Try beating this piece on the first turn.

So, essentially, the white mage maybe got a Savannah Lions out of his draw… and then never cast anything ever again.

Do you see what Tom Champheng did to gain an advantage here? His opponents, if they were black mages, might be scared of putting in Gloom (for fear of having their hateful sideboard cards turned against them with Sleight of Mind). And everyone else? It’s not like Tom could actually play Sleight of Mind… The drop of information was no information at all.

Okay, now we are in 2012.

If you are following anything (Twitter, podcasts, Star City Games Premium, the Invitational coverage) you know that my live / physical play… could use some rust knocked off. However once upon a time I was a deft practitioner of the mental game.

How can we intersect a little bit of that with some actual good deck technology?

Consider this card:

Sword of War and Peace

I did reasonably well in Standard (lost playing for Top 8 of the Standard Open), playing a straightforward U/W Delver of Secrets deck.

I can tell you that the least impressive aspect of my deck (actually basically Matt Costa’s deck) was the Invisible Stalker + equipment aspect.

However the card Sword of War and Peace is very strong, in particular against beatdown strategies.

Here’s the problem: Beatdown strategies can often pack an Ancient Grudge.

I was able to beat back-to-back-to-back G/R decks, in part, by stranding their Ancient Grudges. I had enough sideboard cards to side in a respectable fashion, and upon winning each of these matchups, my opponents showed me Ancient Grudge in their hands (when I had no Invisible Stalkers or equipment).

Just a thought… What about playing with Sword of War and Peace as your bottom card, but “accidentally” revealing it when you pull out your deck?

What kind of information are you giving away with a Sword of War and Peace?

You could literally be anything!

Delver plays it, sure… But so does G/R Aggro. So does Mono-Green Aggro, and some Humans, and some Zombies… Lots of folks play Sword of War and Peace. So your sloppy reveal of the card (as with Tom Champheng’s Sleight of Mind back in 1996) reveals very little.

… But if the opponent is a G/R deck?

You better believe those Ancient Grudges are going to be in!

Like I said before, I liked the Invisible Stalker part of my deck least. You can cut like three of those guys, and the other three equipment, in order to make room for awesome stuff that you actually want / like.

If your opponent is not G/R? If you want to leave your one Sword in… That’s up to you.

As promised, three ways to bluff:

  1. Revealing a Sword of War and Peace implies you are playing more equipment (where there is none). I mean, who plays just one piece of equipment?
  2. Revealing the Sword actually reveals very little, as so many different decks can play it. That said, even though its 1/75 presence is intended as a bluff, it is still a pretty good card, especially when teaming up with Geist of Saint Traft.
  3. The goal of the reveal is to, of course, get potential G/R opponents to side in Ancient Grudge (which will suck against you). Typically that means you should be siding out your one Sword of War and Peace!



P.S. Oh, and lemonade salesman Tom Champheng? The reason we remember him is that he became the 1996 World Champion! Those two Sleights didn’t stop Tom and his White Weenie deck from running roughshod over the swarm of Black Summer Necropotence decks… Even if he couldn’t actually burn them on Gloom

Is Inquisition of Kozilek Broken?

Inquisition of Kozilek

So on the way back from the Star City Games Invitational in Baltimore, MD last week, I had an interesting conversation* with Top 8 competitor Joshua Ravitz.

Josh asked… Is Inquisition of Kozilek broken?

Well, maybe he didn’t say “broken” but “too good” or some similar (you get it).

After all, Josh had just smashed many a Legacy face with his update to Tom Martell’s Esper StoneBlade / Lingering Souls deck… Which included Inquisition of Kozilek.

Once upon a time, Duress — then Cabal Therapy — was the front line of Black disruption. Once Thoughtseize was printed, it saw mass adoption across the many formats (and up until quite recently, was a favorite in Extended for Faeries and most decks of that stripe).

… But today?

Inquisition of Kozilek.

Legacy has Inquisition of Kozilek in its leading U/W deck.

Modern Jund has Inquisition of Kozilek.

The mighty Raven’s Crime engine of the darling Seismic Assault deck? Inquisition of Kozilek.

Now obviously long ago I was a big fan of Duress, and at one point, was a fine mechanic with a Cabal Therapy** (“you name what beats you”). That said, I never at any point liked a Thoughtseize; you can read a little bit of a window why in my treatise on equivalencies at SCG.

Here’s the cool thing about Inquisition of Kozilek:

Imagine everyone only plays cheap cards… Inquisition of Kozilek is like a Duress / Cabal Therapy that never misses. It is like a Thoughtseize that never costs you two points.

That certainly seems like a good deal!

… Now all you have to do is get everyone to play exclusively cheap cards.

Here is my take:

Inquisition of Kozilek was always pretty good, but it has recently gained value because of the popularity of Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage. Tournament Magic has always been about cheap instants and sorceries, but these two cards, in recent months (and across multiple formats up to and including Legacy) encourage players to do so at unprecedented levels. Ergo, a good card is more good than it ever has been before; in fact, Inquisition of Kozilek is actually a fine teammate to either Delver or Snapcaster (and, of course, they are so often played in concert together). Ergo, Inquisition of Kozilek (already good) looks better than ever.

While it rarely misses, Inquisition of Kozilek certainly isn’t a perfect Magical spell. Unlike with the typically less accurate Cabal Therapy, you can never take a breaker like Bloodbraid Elf or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It might hit, but it doesn’t necessarily take the card that beats you…

… Unless, of course, your opponent plays all cheapies (like he is supposed to).


* A bit more than an hour of which will soon be up in podcast form for Top 8 Magic.

** I once won a game with my B/G Quirion Dryad deck missing with both Duress and Cabal Therapy in the same turn.

#WorldsDraft2011 Recap Mania!

So the 2011 World Championships — the last “real” World Championships — is going to be upon us in just a few hours.

As is typical behavior, a bunch of us misers got together on Twitter for #WorldsDraft2011

The Drafters:

  1. Paul Rietzl – Pro Tour Champion, writer of the bestest tournament report in 10 years
  2. Tom Martell – TrollSlayer
  3. Osyp Lebedowicz – Pro Tour Champion emeritus, Latin Dance Champion, and creator of the television show Seinfeld; noted liar
  4. Phil Napoli – finalist in last weekend’s PTQ; basically the only adult I know who can spike a PTQ regularly, actually. All around good man.
  5. Yours Truly – Champion of many a PT Draft (no other credentials)

Being in fifth position is kind of horrible in this draft. Paul has a huge leg up as we were not playing the “LSV is banned” rule; so of course he was going to take first pick LSV.

Tom took the predictable second-pick PVDDR pick; I took Juza over PVDDR in a similar position in last year’s Worlds Draft, and despite PV making Top 4 (and Juza not making Top 8 ) I was able to win that one. In the same spot I would have probably taken Jon Finkel way out of position [more on that later].

Osyp took PoY leader Owen Turtenwald, Phil took the aforementioned Juza, and left me with the wheel.

In wheel position I was planning to take Jon Finkel and Martin Juza, but of course Phil had just taken Juza.

Round One:

  1. Luis Scott-Vargas
  2. PVDDR
  3. Owen Turtenwald
  4. Martin Juza
  5. Jon Finkel

I went with Shouta Yasooka for my wheel pick. In hindsight this was only an okay pick; I could see taking Neeman, Watanabe, or Wrapter in that spot easily (I took Wrapter second pick in last year’s draft and he was a pivotal Top 16).

Phil took Shuuhei Nakamura, Osyp took a mighty Jeremy Neeman, Tom got Watanabe, and Paul finished out the second round with CawBlade PT Champion Ben Stark (a fine choice).

Round Two:

  1. Shouta Yasooka
  2. Shuuhei Nakamura
  3. Jeremy Neeman
  4. Yuya Watanabe
  5. Ben Stark

Paul wheeled Brian Kibler, Tom went with the first fellow drafter by taking Paul, Osyp took Wrapter (probably the second- or third-best pick of the draft), Phil took Patrick Chapin (completing the New Jersey one-two punch of taking my next two intended picks), and I finished off with Anton Jonsson.

Here is the secret of PT Draft. Well, the second part of the secret, anyway. The first part is to never take a player you are not willing to cheer for (same as in real life). The other one is to take the players you want to take, even if you are seemingly out of position. Like last time I took second-pick Wrapter and some people were like WTF was that pick… If I hadn’t taken him there, I would certainly have lost him to Chapin. While I wanted Wrapter, Chapin, and Juza, the only two players I absolutely unconditionally wanted for my draft were Finkel and Anton (I intended to take Anton last). So I just took him third there, whatever.

Round Three:

  1. Brian Kibler
  2. Paul Rietzl
  3. Josh Utter-Leyton
  4. Patrick Chapin
  5. Anton Jonsson

For the second half of my wheel pick, I went with David Ochoa. Ocho is the US National Finalist, giving him a little extra skin in the game; plus he is on the right team, etc.

Phil followed up with Gau (superb pick… a force auto-pick I made for the Nagoya draft, helping me lock that one up); Osyp went with PT Philadelphia poisoner Sam Black, Tom picked himself, and Paul stole a late-pick Gabriel Nassif. I think you can see the superb value that many of my competitors bogarted on this round. Tom picking Tom ensured he would lead all #WorldsDraft2011 participants in number of drafters drafted… and Tom is a great pick regardless!

Round Four:

  1. David Ochoa
  2. Gudenis Vidugiris
  3. Sam Black
  4. Tom Martell
  5. Gabriel Nassif

Paul thought he had the wheel, and took Lukas Jaklovsky; I tried to stop the draft at this point, but Tom said “did you really want Kenny Oberg” and left to go pick up Gabriel Nassif at the train station. Osyp said to just continue the draft and took Lucas Blohon. Phil took last year’s overall first pick Brad Nelson, and I got who I wanted for last pick, anyway: MTGO superstud Reid Duke. I playtested a little with Reid for this one and he beat me like a drum. He was also one of the most impressive players I have sat across the table from this year. I was very happy to nab Reid with my last pick.

Round Five:

  1. Lukas Jaklovsky
  2. Kenny Oberg
  3. Lucas Blohon
  4. Brad Nelson
  5. Reid Duke

Final Teams:

  • Paul Rietzl: Luis Scott-Vargas, Ben Stark, Brian Kibler, Gabriel Nassif, Lukas Jaklovsky
  • Tom Martell: PVDDR, Yuya Watanabe, Paul Rietzl, Tom Martell, Kenny Oberg
  • Osyp Lebedowicz: Owen Turtenwald, Jeremy Neeman, Josh Utter-Leyton, Sam Black, Lucas Blohon
  • Phil Napoli: Martin Juza, Shuuhei Nakamura, Patrick Chapin, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Brad Nelson
  • Michael J Flores: Jon Finkel, Shouta Yasooka, Anton Jonsson, David Ochoa, Reid Duke

Paul made great use of his first pick, and has an overall superb team of LSV headlining a squad of 80% past and future HoF’ers.

Tom’s team is just gross. He could easily blow this one out of the water; probably has three guys in the Top 16 or better.

Osyp’s team is pretty good; originally I thought he had the worst team, but now I think Phil does. Sorry bros!

I am obv going to win (as usual). [actually, I think tonight’s draft went rough for YT]

What do you guys at home think?

Original Spreadsheet at http://bit.ly/worldsdraft2011
Follow it on Twitter: #WorldsDraft


Post Script

Forgot to attach a sketch to the rasslin’ post :/

Here is a re-draw (brush style) of the Iron Man action figure one I posted a few weeks back:

Five Reasons Batterskull > Wurmcoil Engine

A few weeks ago in Nashville, my old buddy Brian Kibler and I were discussing Brian Sondag’s now format-making Wolf Run Ramp deck. One of the things I wanted to discuss was Sondag’s 3/3 split on Primeval Titan and Wurmcoil Engine. Overall I said that I wanted to play (at the very least) the fourth Primeval Titan [probably at the cost of a Wurmcoil Engine] — I mean if I played Green and stuff, which I don’t.

I don’t really like Wurmcoil Engine that much in Standard, and if you have looked at some of the deck lists I have put out in recent weeks, they all have things like one Batterskull in the main deck, maybe one or more in the sideboard and no Wurmcoil Engines anywhere. I made a suggestion to Kibs in the booth that I would consider Batterskull in the Wolf Run main but he stood in Solidarity with the other Brian on that one.

Sondag later stepped into the booth and talked about initially playing with four Primeval Titans but rolling it back to three, especially given how effective a four-pack of Green Sun’s Zeniths were / are in his deck list.

Now if you look at the most recent Open winner by Ben Friedman you will see many of the changes that I suggested put into reality (Batterskull‘s inclusion, fourth Primeval Titan, blah blah blah):

Wolf Run Green – Ben Friedman

4 Dungrove Elder
4 Garruk, Primal Hunter
4 Primeval Titan
19 Forest
4 Rampant Growth
4 Birds of Paradise
2 Llanowar Elves
2 Mountain
3 Beast Within
2 Batterskull
2 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Acidic Slime
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
2 Inkmoth Nexus
3 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Wurmcoil Engine

1 Beast Within
1 Karn Liberated
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Acidic Slime
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Viridian Corrupter
2 Ancient Grudge
3 Gut Shot

Of course, the enemy has shifted. When Sondag won, Red Decks were still making Open Top 8s. Today, the enemy is… Wolf Run (and Primeval Titan is one of the best men in the mirror).

Maybe you think you know where I am going with this blog post. Maybe you read the title and actually do know. Regardless of being in Wolf Run or control or wherever I just want to talk about some of the reasons why I favor Batterskull (in general) over Wurmcoil Engine in Standard.


  1. Speaking of “Five,” it costs five, not six.
  2. The card Mana Leak exists.
  3. It’s way better against bad Solar Flare decks.
  4. It looks like a robot, but is actually a Black man.
  5. Mise!

Speaking of “Five,” it costs five, not six.

As it costs five mana rather than six mana, I would generally want a Batterskull more than a Wurmcoil Engine in most matchup situations (saving one, which we will get to at the end).

Against beatdown, I just want to tap for it as soon as possible. I am going to have to take a stand at some point and I would rather do that one turn earlier. Everything the opponent can do to me the turn I tap out for Batterskull, he can do the turn I tap out for Wurmcoil Engine (Koth of the Hammer or whatnot). Against [another] control deck (or six deck), most of what the opponent can do to me (especially if I am on the play) is less significant. For instance, six against six, I can just tap out for Batterskull on turn five and what is he going to do to me? If I tap for Wurmcoil Engine he can do something terrible, like play a real Titan and trump me (Frost Titan and Primeval Titan are especially atrocious, though there are many Sun Titan situations that are also going to make me want to quit for tapping out for a stupid Wurmcoil Engine, e.g. a Phantasmal Image to deuce or double).

At seven mana I can tap with the ability to Mana Leak back; with a Wurmcoil Engine I would have to wait until eight (and this all gets so much more nebulous as the mana climbs).

Mostly, you want this kind of card against a Red beatdown deck and I really just want my Batterskull more often there, because of its speed.

The card Mana Leak exists.

Now even though “eight” is nebulous, think about how much better Batterskull is when you and your opponent are basically spent, and you hit eight. You go “Ho hum, I guess I am going to play this stupid Batterskull” and your opponent is like “Mana… Oh never mind. Resolves.”

You can just Attrition him forever with a Batterskull here. Even if he has something big, you can block, gain four, and re-play over and over until he has a legitimate answer.

I was actually inspired to start playing Batterskull over Wurmcoil Engine watching Medina v. Bertoncini in Nashville. Bertoncini’s Wurmcoil Engine came down on that narrow fifth turn and seemed to take over the game… Until Alex just up and decided to quit for whatever reason :/

It’s way better against bad Solar Flare decks.

As above.

It looks like a robot, but is actually a Black man.

This is a bit of a tricky one.

A few months ago Wurmcoil Engine might get some points because people were playing Go for the Throat to dodge Spellskite (so they could kill Deceiver Exarch), and Dismember was a four-of in almost every deck. Dismember is pretty bad against Wurmcoil Engine as well.

Doesn’t matter though: Most people play a Doom Blade now, and there are almost no Dismembers to be seen.

It is not “wrong” to play a Doom Blade, especially when people are killing each other with an Inkmoth Nexus every other table. However if they aren’t going to play Go for the Throat and / or Dismember (i.e. cards that can hit a Batterskull), you might as well take advantage of that.

The reality is that none of Doom Blade, Go for the Throat, or Dismember are great long term against either of these cards, but sometimes you are going to be on the wrong end of the opponent’s tempo play, and some of the time that is going to kill you. So you might as well pick the kind of card that is going to be on the wrong end much less often… and that is the one that can’t be hit by the more commonly played one (i.e. doesn’t die to Doom Blade).


Batterskull is an equipment.

That means you have all kinds of mise-tacular plays available that Wurmcoil Engine just doesn’t have.

Like, even if your opponent answers the Living Weapon, you can just move it onto your Inkmoth Nexus and make your opponent take 100 poison while you gain DI life (or your Snapcaster Mage or whatever).

Another cool thing is when your Red Deck opponent thinks he is all clever against six decks / Titans and has some kind of Threaten. Congratulations on not dealing me any damage… You might have stolen my Germ Token, but I still control the equipment.

On the other hand, he is just going to kill you to death with your own Wurmcoil Engine.

For all of these reasons and more, I favor Batterskull over Wurmcoil Engine, in general, in Standard.

Now there is one card that I can think of where Batterskull might be much worse, and that is against Keldon Vandals. Your opponent doesn’t really want to 187 the big 6/6 only to yield two 3/3 Yo! MTG Taps tokens. I mean he will do that sometimes, but he doesn’t want to, ever. On the other hand he is going to be rocking in his seat all foaming at the mouth to do the same to your poor Batterskull the turn you tap out for it. Yes, that is kind of ooh sucky sucky, but no one said one card was strictly better than the other in all situations or anything.

On the other hand, look at how much better Batterskull is in most other cases against point removal, especially Revoke Existence.

Just think about that one!


A while back BDM suggested I start drawing action figures. You can pose them and do cool stuff and get better at drawing figures via, you know, action figures. Here is my first attempt:

[Speaking of robots, equipment, etc.] – Tony

You Make the Play – Easy Game is Easy


You probably figured out an possible solution to the conundrum presented in You Make the Play – Phantasmal Image is Hero’s Demise.

Before we continue, Easy Game may be Easy, but michaelj… err… um…

What I wanted people to see — and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t necessarily see it immediate-like — was that you could spend two of your eight mana to play a Phantasmal Image on the Batterskull, have that piece go to the graveyard, set up ye olde Morbid mechanic, and then have at it with Brimstone Volley.

Now it turns out that based on the way I set up the hypothetical that is maybe the third most efficient thing you can do. For example — and many of you beloved readers pointed this out — you can just attack with the Batterskull. If the opponent doesn’t block, he is dead to double Brimstone Volley regardless. If he does, you set up Morbid (and without actually having to spend your Phantasmal Image).

I was very fixated on the notion of using the Living Weapon on the Batterskull to set up a sexy Phantasmal Image play that I didn’t notice that I gave you all an incredibly straightforward (and probably “just better”) way of solving the problem.

Now here comes the interesting part (isn’t it interesting how interesting stuff can come up even when michaelj screws up?)…

For the sake of this “solution” I am going to ignore all the (presumably good-natured) solutions involving Dismember, Gut Shot, and other cards that we don’t actually play in the U/R deck. To be fair, I never put a list on this site, and not every reader has StarCityGames.com Premium 🙂

Resource Management 101

Line 3 (intended line)

  • Use 2/8 to play Phantasmal Image, copying Living Weapon on Batterskull; Phantasmal Image goes to the graveyard (setting up Morbid).
  • Use 3/6 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 5.
  • Use 3/3 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 0

Total resources used: eight mana and three cards

Line 2 (generally accepted line)

Attack with Batterskull.

  • If opponent blocks, some Spirit enables Morbid.
  • Use 3/8 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 5.
  • Use 3/5 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 0.

Total resources used: six mana and two cards.

  • If the opponent DOESN’T block, opponent falls to 6.
  • Use 3/8 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 3.
  • Use 3/5 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 0.

Total resources used: six mana and two cards.

Line 1 (the line nobody mentioned)

You can do the exact same thing as in Line 2 (with the decision on the opponent as to whether or not he should block)… But instead of “double Brimstone Volley” you can do this:

  • Use 3/8 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent (for 3 or 5).
  • Use 2/5 to play Snapcaster Mage, giving Brimstone Volley flashback.
  • Use 3/3 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent (for lethal).

Total resources used: eight mana and one card.

Obviously any of the three lines will — at least based on the presumed reality of this hypothetical — kill the opponent to death. Sorry about that. I will try to do better next time..

As any of the three lines will end the poor other guy, it is difficult to say which is better between the last two (though I think either of them is better than the one I intended, because we don’t throw away a Phantasmal Image, so we don’t give up that piece of information if we are going into another game, and we don’t use a third card). You really have to ask yourself whether it is better long-run to use two Brimstone Volleys or only one, but giving up the potential flexibility of a later Snapcaster Mage. I would tend to think Line 1 is the best, but, again, all three get us to the same “B” in this case.

Thanks for reading. You guys all warm my heart.


PS Speaking of warmed hearts, check out Gavin Verhey’s final article at Star City today. Gavin alludes to a dinner at US Nationals last year that was incredibly memorable for a bunch of us. So memorable that I included it as the last chapter of my upcoming book, The Official Miser’s Guide; up to, and including the question Gavin credits to me. I am 80% sure this dinner also produced the birth of Flores Rewards (which will come back at some point).


PPS – Dick

a sketch