Entries Tagged 'Games' ↓

You Make the Play – Phantasmal Image is Hero’s Demise

OF COURSE I figured out Phantasmal Image by myself.

But I hadn’t figured it out at the point that I sent in my article, which went up on Tuesday on Star City. I in fact figured out Phantasmal Image before New York States, but ultimately decided against it because “I wasn’t a Sun Titan deck” … I was thinking more on the amount of value you get from having a Phantasmal Image in your deck, rather than the fact that you can Hero’s Demise someone with it (TM Brian Kibler)… Phantasmal Image kills Thrun, the Last Troll and Geist of St. Traft dead as doorknobs.

Obviously I would have loved to have a Phantasmal Image while losing to a U/W Humans deck to miss Top 8, in a matchup where almost everything but Geist of St. Traft was dead to my innumerable Shocks!

Anyway — You Make the Play!

… something fun with Phantasmal Image.

Phantasmal Image kills Legendary Creatures, dead.

  • Opponent’s Life Total: 10
  • Opponent’s Board: Two Honor the Pure, two 1/1 Spirits from Moorland Haunt (now 3/3)… six untapped mana including two Moorland Haunts and the ability to activate them.
  • Opponent’s Hand: Nil
  • Opponent’s Graveyard: Enough.

  • Your Life Total: 26
  • Your Board: Eight lands that can produce whatever you want, Druidic Satchel, Batterskull (with Living Weapon).
  • Your Hand: Brimstone Volley, Brimstone Volley, Snapcaster Mage, Phantasmal Image.
  • Your Graveyard: All of it; you can go crazy with that Snapcaster Mage for what you wish. Funny thing about this game, you have milled, Satchel’d, and drawn your way to your last card. You have this card Phantasmal Image to kill his Geists but one never showed up.

Can you win before he does?

Comments below, etc.


P.S. Still looks like a diaper…


The Card is Druidic Satchel

Do you remember a few weeks ago when Evan Erwin said to get your Kessig Wolf Runs?

Your old buddy michaelj is going to do you twice that solid right now: Buy Druidic Satchel while it is less than a dollar. I myself bought 20 last night for about $.44 each!

You can get a Druidic Satchel on Amazon.com for as low as $.29!

This card is going to be one of THE top cards in the format for the next year or so, mark my words.

I got Druidic Satchel tech from Sean McKeown literally five minutes before New York States started, and I was super glad that I swapped my three main deck Frost Titans out for them (full deck list, report, and so on will be up on Star City tomorrow). Remember what Drew Levin asked about Frost Titan, and how much removal a Solar Flare opponent might have when we play our Titan?

When you swap for Druidic Satchel it is a non-issue.

Also, you can tap for Druidic Satchel on turn three in a lot of matchups and there is little-to-no risk. In fact, I played around in between rounds and most opponents — at least before they saw me play — just let it resolve even if they had a Mana Leak.

(not correct, BTW)

Druidic Satchel does so many things; and it does them well.

Sometimes it is a little bit Elspeth, Kight-Errant, and other times it is a little Ajani Goldmane. Much of the time it is kind of a cross between Jace Beleren and Garruk Wildspeaker… But most importantly, it is a “Planeswalker” that the opponent can’t actually attack.

The way the Thawing out land ability works, Druidic Satchel starts to pay for its own activations fairly quickly (which is awesome). It helps you against Control, and it helps you even more against Beatdown.

I tried to optimize for Druidic Satchel in my imagination over the past day or two… But I think I already had it right going U/R. Obviously you want to be playing Snapcaster Mage and Druidic Satchel (that much is obvious)… But Red not only has Brimstone Volley (another Top 10 if not Top 5 card in Standard), but is the only Control color that can legitimately / consistently mise an Ancient Grudge (you know, to win the Satchel fights).

Trust me, this is going to be important.

Some Druidic Satchel basics:

  1. Hitting a spell is great… Not only do you get two life (good in some matchups), but you know not only that you are drawing a spell (great mid-game!), but which spell it is.
  2. Hitting a land is great… Because now you are going to topdeck a spell (probably). Also you get some card advantage this way.
  3. Making a 1/1 sap is the best of all… Because you are going to mise a Snapcaster Mage in all likelihood. When I mise a little 1/1 guy, I will typically use Druidic Satchel again on my upkeep so as to make more and more 1/1 guys. These guys not only give you another way to win, but bodies to hassle or sacrifice in combat (which can help turn on Brimstone Volley).

Anyway… The “secret card” is Druidic Satchel.

On Saturday at New York States, I inquired about some at the end of the day, and they had been long sold out.

The next day at Comicon… The Troll and Toad booth didn’t have any, either.

Mark my words: The Internet may just not have caught up yet. Even if Druidic Satchel “only” goes to $1-2, since you can get them for less than a dollar now, you can make a nice ROI on the investment, if you choose to buy more than four.

[still] Coming Soon: The Now-Famous Supermodel NipSlip Incident of 1995
Coming Sooner: My Sunday at Comicon


Post Script:

As a kindergartener I recall being put in the thinking chair / corner / whatever and sitting quietly. Some boys were squirmy when put in the corner, made lots of noise, complained even worse than whatever they did to get there in the first place.

Not me — I sat quietly.

A year later, I hid from my mommy and daddy.

We “only” had two television sets, one of which was black and white. The grownups wanted to watch the Sunday afternoon football game, so I could “only” watch my television program on the little black and white set. This caused me to, you know, go apespit, and I hid under a bed, but did so with great discipline.

This is one of the clearest memories of my childhood: I had to summon up tremendous restraint in order to stay hidden, even as my mommy stressed and called the police station. Eventually I fell asleep, but my resolve eventually broke when it was supper time and my mom had made steaks for the company.

What was I thinking about when I was so quiet in the kindergarten thinking chair? My teacher assumed it was “about what I had done” but it wasn’t.

What show was it that had me so incensed that the thought of having to consume it in black and white fashion pushed me to the razor edge of six-year-old asshole-dom?

Wonder Woman.

I am pretty sure Lynda Carter was my first real celebrity crush.


I found some old photos of Lynda in her Wonder Woman getup and swiped them for some daily sketches.

Man, she was hot… for a chick who looks like she’s wearing a diaper.


Five With Flores Friday: 5.5 Burning Questions at the 11th Hour

Today we will answer five-and-a-half burning questions that burn like, you know (um, never mind):

Free Preview:

  1. Can You Send Me That Blog Post You Took Down?
  2. What Are You Playing At States and can I have the list?
  3. What is The Unofficial Michael J. Flores Soundboard and how do I get one?
  4. Strange, is that a Shock or three in your sideboard? I thought that you were ‘Doubtful that the card Shock is good enough to play as a sideboard card in 2011.”
  5. Also, how many removal spells do we think they’re holding when we cast our Frost Titan?

Let’s go!

Can You Send Me That Blog Post You Took Down?

Well… Probably not.

I already let @famouspj and @grousehaus read it; plus there were approximately DI of you who read it before I took it down.

Like I said before, pending approval from @chicgrit I might do an audio-only version and put that up. But we are watching “Horrible Bosses” tonight and I haven’t gotten around to reading the now-disappeared blog post to her.

Updates when I have them (if I have them) of course.

What Are You Playing At States and can I have the list?

I posted the list to my Star City Games column Flores Friday earlier today, you can read all about it here.

Because the column this week was basically just my deck list, I wouldn’t feel right posting it here at this point; however there are some changes I am probably going to put into place for tomorrow. Per some head-scratching (and lots of people in the forums picked up on this separately even though I had decided to do it myself previously), I am going to move around some of the removal spells.

This is what to do:

  • From the main deck, move all the Arc Trails to the sideboard.
  • From the sideboard, move one Ancient Grudge to the main deck; in addition, move all the Shocks from the sideboard into the main deck. We are not changing around any numbers… Just where the cards are.
  • Additionally, add one more, each of the M10 dual lands; remove one each of the basic lands. Thanks @G3rryT!

Wait a minute, did you just say Brimstone Volley is the second-best card in Standard?

I didn’t say that here, but I did sort of imply that in the column… Like so:

I certainly think Brimstone Volley is a Top 10 card in Standard (probably Top 5), but I would sooner see Dismember at Number Two (but maybe that’s just me).

What is The Unofficial Michael J. Flores Soundboard and how do I get one?

Enterprising superfan @hamiltonianurst put together some funny Flores-isms from my various podcast appearances. If you check out The Unofficial Michael J. Flores Soundboard you will be able to hear me say such-and-such is a bad card, my deck was awesome, other people are buffoons, or that I will play Blue.

Lots of fun.

The Unofficial Michael J. Flores Soundboard

And yes, this made its way around the office last week…

Strange, is that a Shock or three in your sideboard? I thought that you were ‘Doubtful that the card Shock is good enough to play as a sideboard card in 2011.”

Larry Swasey is bringing into the open something that I shared to him — presumably just between the two of us — in a personal Facebook communique. I am typing out this paragraph as I wipe a tear from my right eye, so wounded and betrayed to I feel by Larry bringing our brewing out into the forums like a common G/W deck idea.

Oh well, as above, I actually don’t have any Shocks in my sideboard any more. Ting!

Also, how many removal spells do we think they’re holding when we cast our Frost Titan?

Drew Levin’s question really is something to think about. I am going to be bringing my extra Burning Vengeances and Desperate Ravings to States; but I really like Frost Titan in the Primeval Titan matchups more than I dislike it, you know, elsewhere.

Wish me luck tomorrow,



The Pros and ConMen of Building Your Own Mulldrifter

So sorry for the bait-and-switch recently of mad updates followed by the lull the last couple of days (for anyone reading this, that is — which means you, if you are reading this)… Especially the short-lived / zoink! of the hilarious-but-tragic tale of How I Missed My Flight to the Star City Open (no, no don’t bother — it’s still gone).

One of my all-time favorite songs, originally recommended by Joshua Ravitz, and previously embedded on this here blog(sphere):

[He’s Gone]

Originally I wanted to post How I Missed My Flight to the Star City Open on Friday night, ideally from the airport, in order to create a furor and fever across the Internet… Only to triumphantly appear on camera on Saturday morning, next to my man Joey Pasco.

For no reason whatsoever:

Just putting it out there.

No, Evan didn’t *ahem* bite when I asked if SCG would reimburse my $50 change fee for, you know, missing the original flight that they had booked for me.

It is actually possible that I will release some audio-only version of the events, as Joey could not contain himself [so great was the hilarity] when I read it out loud, and even attempted to immortalize the above by photo-stalking YT from our hotel room as I read the tearful tale into… the iPad mic which I had my hand over.

Listening to @fivewithflores record an audio version of his n... on Twitpic
Pics or it didn’t happen. Happened.

The objections from @chicgrit (previously @craftyK) and @famousPJ got me to pull it down; the story — as written — seemed too negative (keep in mind these are nicer people than I am)… But it is possible that with different vocal inflection everything would fall into place like Dominoes. Written and spoken words can be quite different. The anger and violence that you might imagine reading my telling you to…

“Shut up.”

Can be quite different from Elaine from Seinfeld’s trademark ejaculation, even as she shoves a larger man in the chest.

We’ll see.

None of that has anything to do with today’s actual topic, though; which is the politic delta between Think Twice in Standard versus Caleb Durward’s re-adoption of vanilla Counsel of the Soratami, Divination.

U/B Control, by Caleb Durward

2 Grave Titan
8 Island
9 Swamp
1 Spellskite
1 Karn Liberated
3 Dismember
2 Victim of Night
1 Tribute to Hunger
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Doom Blade
2 Divination
4 Drowned Catacomb
1 Dissipate
2 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Go for the Throat
3 Black Sun’s Zenith
1 Solemn Simulacrum
3 Nihil Spellbomb
4 Darkslick Shores
1 Twisted Image
1 Skinrender
2 Mana Leak

SB: 2 Sorin’s Thirst
SB: 3 Azure Mage
SB: 2 Spellskite
SB: 2 Surgical Extraction
SB: 2 Flashfreeze
SB: 1 Dissipate
SB: 1 Black Sun’s Zenith
SB: 1 Negate
SB: 1 Volition Reins

Divination is a comically-low penny on Amazon.

Anywho, the default in the format is Think Twice; and for the most part, Think Twice + Forbidden Alchemy. You will sometimes even see three copies of Think Twice / four copies of Forbidden Alchemy; this can happen. Caleb Durward, with his brilliant B/U anti-creatures control deck opted to develop his board (or stunt his opponent’s board) with his first couple of mana, rather than “merely” sculpting his hand. He played neither.

Caleb is quick to make the point that you get an actual two cards for three mana with Divination, rather than two cards for five mana with Think Twice. And of course you can “build your own Mulldrifter” with Snapcaster Mage + Divination, which is great (though this Mulldrifter requires a preexisting Divination, is only 2/1, and doesn’t fly). His arguments are strong and probably fit for his deck style; perhaps most compellingly, Caleb only spent two slots on Divinations where most B/U or Solar Flare-style decks gobble up 6-8 slots on hand-sculpting Flashback card draw.

Obviously there are potential arguments for either card.

Just a couple of points to make from the Devil’s Advocate side (BTW I qualified for US Nationals the last time I played with Divination [Cougar Town], but this Saturday I intend to play with the full eight Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy):

  1. There is no loss of mana when you are playing against another control deck. That is, you can do nothing with two mana in a Divination deck (you have no play), or you can play the front half of a Think Twice; there isn’t much difference. At the point you pay the back half of the Think Twice or you tap out for Divination on your third turn (which you probably wouldn’t do in a world of Liliana of the Veil), you haven’t actually been forced to back up the three-versus-five difference on the two spells.
  2. This is a not-irrelevant point, and one of the things that has always made Think Twice so compelling for me, personally: It is a legitimate Xerox cantrip. Think Twice is a one- or two- (in this case two mana) mana cantrip that can help you hit your land drops. Whatever other virtues Divination has as a self-contained spell, it lacks this one. There are lots of reasonable two-land hands you can keep with removal spells and a Think Twice, etc. Divination doesn’t always get you there.

So… All mad respect to Caleb for producing another out-of-the-box implementation of available cards (and of course a happy high five for Top 8 on Saturday).

Further thoughts on Think Twice and Divination? Comment below (if you dare).



Spitballin’ Twisted Image

I have been getting a fair amount of negative feedback around my inclusion of a particular card in recent deck lists. Such feedback ranges from “does nothing” to “pretty bad” to the more open minded “it will never be ‘dead’ but you really want to be doing something else with your mana” variety.

Per the title of this blog post, that card is none other than Twisted Image:

Twisted Image

To be clear, I don’t know that I would play Twisted Image (at least not main deck) in a polychromatic Blue deck. That is, if I were U/R, U/W, &c. As playing with another color typically brings with it a greater variety of options, I would probably find something better to do with a slot.

However my explorations so far in the Snapcaster Mage format are all straight Blue, and when you are only one color your card choices are necessarily more restrictive. That isn’t to say they are “bad” so much as to say that if you have one color instead of two colors, you have more-or-less only half the available number of cards for a given Standard.

Now in a Mono-Blue deck we have an additional consideration, which is that we can play the Comer-Xerox strategy, which means we can cut two lands for every 1-2 mana cantrip in our deck. Along with Gitaxian Probe and Ponder, Twisted Image would help us shave some lands (not something I would necessarily be comfortable doing in a two-color deck, though the success of low land count / two-color Pyromancer Ascension decks in Standard and elsewhere is something to consider).

Aside: Why Would We Want to Cut Lands?

Interesting question!

Some very good players (e.g. Erik Lauer or Jon Finkel) want to do nothing but play lands… Err… counter spells and play lands, that is.

The answer is simple: Cutting lands allows us to play more spells.

Um… (you ask); don’t we just replace those lands with 1-2 mana cantrips?

While the short answer is “yes”, it is actually a great deal more complicated than that. When we play a Comer-Xerox strategy, we can fill otherwise un-used mana holes (i.e. we play a cantrip on turn one instead of playing nothing). In addition, we have more long run flexibility. You know when some players topdeck another land and extend the hand? That is less likely to happen for a Comer-Xerox / cantrip deck.

Per Alan’s original doctrine: We use the cantrips early to draw lands, and late to draw spells.

End aside.

I would humbly make the following argument based on the actual performance of other decks in the Top 8 of the most recent Star City Games Open event…

There were between the two Tempered Steel decks in the elimination rounds eight Signal Pests and three Spellskites (any of those 0/x creatures can be considered “problematic” in the wrong spot). Respectfully, Twisted Image against these artifact creatures can be considered “a motherloving blowout.”

Additionally you have the entirety of Todd Anderson’s Illusions deck (16+ “Phantasmal” creatures), plus a smattering of Phantasmal Images in decks like Solar Flare (as many as two copies in some lists). In the case of fighting a Phantasmal creature, we move from motherloving blowout to “merely” “better than Swords to Plowshares” zone; that is, trading one mana for, say, a 5/5 flyer (pretty comparable to the return that once inspired me to declare Skred “the best card in Standard”).

Once you leave the Top 8 you can start talking about Birds of Paradise in Birthing Pod, the Birds of Paradise in Michael Pozsgay’s deck, more Birds in the G/W Humans, more Spellskites, and of course Tree of Redemption (nice four mana, there). In addition, Twisted Image can play semi-Time Walk against the card Kessig Wolf Run… It doesn’t completely undo the attack, but it can really take the teeth out of the mana investment (while drawing up an extra card).

Is Twisted Image always a blowout?

No one is saying that is the case… But for a one-color deck, I think that it is more than good enough to consider main deck, as a four-of, et cetera.

(That’s how I think about it, anyway.)


A twisted image of a completely different kind:

Bruce sketch, etc.

Xerox’ing Snapcaster Mage

Snap-keep Snapcaster Mage?

I actually just bought my Snapcaster Mages from Amazon, partly due to the prices being better than any of the usual sites I have bought from in the past, partly because it looks like the prices elsewhere are going up elsewhere.

Anyway, I was surprised at how few comments there were RE: the two Snapcaster Mage / Twisted Image deck I posted last week.

From 10/22/2011:

2 Batterskull
2 Spellskite
4 Sword of Feast and Famine

3 Dismember

2 Consecrated Sphinx
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Mana Leak
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Twisted Image

23 Island

My thinking around this kind of deck was that Mono-Blue Illusions was pretty good at last season, and it lost only Spell Pierce. Spell Pierce is kind of fungible. Okay, it also lost Renegade Doppelganger, but adding in Snapcaster Mage (snap-keep him) makes for a +EV swap.

Mono-Blue Illusions was already good enough for Top 16 at the TCGPlayer $75,000 Championship (and a Star City Game Open Series event at the same time)… To me it stood to reason that with everyone else losing cards like Squadron Hawk, Lighting Bolt, and Goblin Guide, we could just slide right in with same-sies (but snap-keeping the upgrade).

I think the people who have had erratic results with Illusions may be suffering from the “no Phantasmal Dragon” syndrome; that is, their deck lists have no Phantasmal Dragons. Phantasmal Dragon seems pretty great to me. I mean, sure, it dies to Dismember… But if it is dying to Dismember there isn’t even any Phantasmal drawback going on.

I wanted to try a non-Illusions route myself, but I can honestly see playing at Phantasmal Dragon even if I don’t have Lord of the Unreal in my deck (let alone the various Bears and so on). I think a 5/5 flyer is just pretty good (though it might be bad against the current crop of Green three- and four-drop Transform permanents); that said, as you can see I didn’t play any kind of Illusions in the above deck.

At this point, if people are going to insist on playing Werewolves, I think I am actually going to play Ponder. We can go very Comer-Xerox and cut a lot of lands if we don’t stray from basic Island, for instance…

3 Sword of War and Peace

3 Dismember

4 Delver of Secrets
2 Dissipate
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ponder
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Mana Leak
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Stitched Drake
4 Twisted Image

21 Island

Instead of going Phantasmal-linear I decided to pick all good evasions guys; in theory good Swordsmen. Snapcaster Mage doesn’t fly or sneak on by, but he provides the deck a mite of card advantage.

I am thinking about switching to Sword of War and Peace for a couple of reasons… 1) Todd Anderson played a deck about the same route this past weekend, and I can see being murdered by 1/1 White flyers on defense; and 2) this kind of a deck doesn’t really want to play for very long. Sword of Feast and Famine might be disheartening, but Sword of War and Peace actually kills the opponent much faster. Especially considering the Red Deck finals of the last Star City Open, I think a healthy respect for the Red is in order.

To that end… Stitched Drake. This card seems so good. I can see trading my Delver of Secrets for a Stromkirk Noble just so I have fodder to play Stitched Drake. Seems like a great topdeck after an attrition fight. It is like a Dragon where you can leave up Mana Leak mana.

What’s not to love?


I have been making an effort to draw every day, and I am going to be posting my sketches and (hopefully someday) some finished stuff here on my blog. Guess what? It’s my blog and I can do whatever I want!

Even when I thought I was going to become a famous comic book artist, I never really played with colors. This one-two is one of my first attempts, ever.

The subject is an old lady doing yoga… You know, to mix it up from babes in evening dresses and / or essentially half-naked male superheroes with giant fish-packages.




Napster and Namor

Marshall Sutcliffe (@Marshall_LR of Limited Resources and one of the nicest people you will ever meet in the Magic podcasting community) has been asking me about… Believe it or not… Napster!

Marshall makes the reasonable point that Napster is a deck that we talk about a lot (myself, BDM, and so on)… But only really longtime readers know what the hell a Napster is. So… Here is the rundown, only eleven years after the fact. Briefly, we will go over:

  • The Deck
  • The Name
  • The Tournaments
  • The Pedigree
  • The Plan(s)
  • … and Namor

The Deck
… As Jon Finkel played it (to the 2000 US National Championships win):

The Name

At the time, Napster (the “real” Napster) was the industry leader in music sharing; instead of legally downloading music via iTunes or Amazon.com, less scrupulous young people would login to Napster and download the songs they wanted that had been uploaded by different less scrupulous young people. You could pretty much get whatever you wanted without having to pay for it, therefore.

Brian Kibler came up with the deck name.

The deck that would eventually [also] be called Napster could go and get whatever it wanted thanks to playing Vampiric Tutor (we’ll get into more on how that worked in a future section).

The Tournaments
In the Spring of 2000 The Magic Dojo was pretty much a sinking ship. However they were still paying me (and a couple of other people) so we would still show up for work. We would do some work, but the onetime dreams of dotcom IPO millions were a thing of the past.

So while updating our resumes, one of the things we did was play lots and lots of Standard.

The Magic Invitational that year gave us a great set of gauntlet decks; and because I am forbidden from looking things up, I won’t… But I think our gauntlet was a Blue deck played by Zvi Mowshowitz some kind of Rebels deck played by maybe Chris Pikula or Darwin Kastle, and a StOmPy deck played by Patrick Chapin. There were also some combo decks (for example Sabre Bargain).

We played lots and lots of Standard and had quite a few good decks we could play.

At the time, BDM was innovating the tournament scene with the Grudge Match (which he resurrected just this past weekend), and we had weekly Standard at Neutral Ground, therefore. Awesome decks like Replenish were coming out at the same time, and the Grudge Match gave rise to ZevAtog the next year (for those of you who don’t know about ten year old decks these were the CawBlade and so on of the age).

I decided to play what Napster was in a Grudge Match qualifier and won it, beating Ben “Manascrew” Murray in the finals. US Regionals was soon after and I played it there, too.

In Regionals I qualified, losing a total of three games (two of them in the Top 4, and one in the Swiss). Both my losses were based on errors. In the Swiss one I had my opponent completely locked down with Agonizing Memories and no creatures in play; I made him put a land and Lin-Sivvi on top of his deck, and the turn he played her out, I ran Vampiric Tutor to get my Eradicate… Which wasn’t in the deck. I had no way to directly kill Lin-Sivvi with the amount of mana I had in play and he got a Protection from Black creature and killed me with it.

Obviously I won the next one.

Eventual Champion Sayan Bhattacharyya beat me in the Top 4 at a point when we didn’t yet have Stromgald Cabal. Stromgald Cabal (main deck) put our Replenish matchup to about 75% (it was about 45/55 in favor of Replenish at Regionals)… I messed up on an Unmask and Sayan beat me after 100 turns of do-nothing (hiding behind Circle of Protection: Black).

After qualifying at Regionals, I hooked up with Jon Finkel and the OMS brothers for US Naitonals testing, and we did exactly one session of Standard. I brought my Black deck and Jon and Chris Pikula played 3-4 different decks against me. We were a slight dog to Blue but beat every other deck by a margin of 70% or greater; as he does, Jon said it would be pointless to play any other decks and thus elected to prepare exclusively for Limited.

Jon won the Limited portion of Nationals that year, famously beating Mageta, the Lion with a “mere” Wandering Eye.

Pro Tip: If you give Jon Finkel perfect information, he will beat you, even if you have an unlimited number of Wrath of Gods.

The Pedigree
Jon used Napster to win the 2000 US National Championship, including one of the most lopsided finals matches of all time (versus Chris Benafel). Benafel was thought to have the dominant matchup with Mono-Red land destruction, but Jon beat him 3-0, after beating him badly in the Swiss as well.

Here was a typical Finkel opening draw against the Mono-Red deck:

Dark Ritual,
Dark Ritual,
Dark Ritual,
Skittering Horror

Things to keep in mind:

  1. Red had no Lightning Bolt at the time.
  2. Jon’s play on turn two was a Rishadan Port

This leads us reasonably-ish into…

The Plans
Napster did lots of different things well, but the main awesome sauce was its twofold dominance as a Vampiric Tutor deck and a Yawgmoth’s Will deck. Unless the opponent was playing a Morphling deck, you could pretty much just play Vampiric Tutor and win the next turn. The game might not be over, but the opponent would be more-or-less incapable of winning.

For example, you could play Vampiric Tutor for Engineered Plague against Elves. Could they win? Maybe. But not before you killed them with Thrashing Wumpus and Skittering-something.

You could get Stromgald Cabal (tap to counter a White spell), and a Replenish deck would need eight mana before it could do anything productive. Zvi, Sayan, and Don Lim eventually figured out to play Ring of Gix to tap Stromgald Cabal, but up until that point, it was a pretty firm soft lock.

All the decks in the format would fold to some kind of Vampiric Tutor. Frank Hernandez (Jon’s Top 8 opponent at Nationals) complained that his StOmPy deck was up against “nine Perishes” in Game One… As above, Jon had more Perish action in his sideboard.

Yawgmoth’s Will is maybe the most powerful Magic card of all time… and they let us play four. No, I don’t know why more people didn’t play it. In Napster the routes to card advantage should be pretty obvious (smash guys, re-buy creature removal), but when you start doing stuff like using your Dust Bowl so you can re-buy a land, plus popping Vampiric Tutor from the graveyard to get your next Yawgmoth’s Will… The deck was easy to win with at 25% efficiency (again, Vampiric Tutor auto-beat almost every deck)… But there was significant room for mastery.

Subtly, Unmask (a Black pitch spell) was there to help you get rid of cards like Perish when off-matchup.

… And that’s about it.

I could write about Napster, um, forever, but I’ll leave it at that. Basically a deck with potentially fast threats (turn one 5/5), more card advantage than anyone else (Yawgmoth’s Will), and the ability to beat almost any deck with one spell.

I leave you with some sketches I did of the King of Atlantis yesterday:




Coming Soon:
“The Now-Famous Supermodel NipSlip Incident of 1995” (and associated shenanigans)

You Make the Play: pobody’s nerfect

Previously on Five With Flores:
You Make the Play: That Time MJ Made Me 🙁” was a fun blast from the past, wasn’t it?

I actually wrote most of this follow up before I read any of the responses here on the blog or on Twitter, but I inevitably had to re-write based on the collective wisdom of the overall Five With Flores community of comments.

Speaking of comments, I don’t know what is up with the Facebook Social Plugin. It seems to split in two for every set of posts; I see different sets of comments depending on if I am logged in as myself (i.e. the moderator of the blog) or not. So… No idea why this is splitting at present but I appreciate your comments and hope you bear with me while we figure out how to get it on the optimal track.

Now speaking of ye olde optimal track, how do we approach the problem of the Demigod of Revenge, or to be more proximally useful Demigod[s] plural (maybe):

To recap:

  • We have a Bituminous Blast and a Cryptic Command, and the mana to play either.
  • The opponent (with a Demigod of Revenge in his graveyard) puts Demigod of Revenge on the stack.

What play do we make?

I am going to break down the approach thusly:

  1. Cryptic Command and Demigod of Revenge Basics
  2. Bituminous Blast and pobody’s nerfect
  3. Next Level Cryptic Command
  4. Fortitude and “What’s Next?”

Cryptic Command and Demigod of Revenge Basics

For those of you who either weren’t playing when Demigod of Revenge was legal in Standard (or who didn’t quite understand why you consistently lost with your Blue decks during the same time frame) Demigod of Revenge is a bit of an ock-kay when it comes to playing against Blue. If you are not careful, you are pretty much doomed.

Like this:

Demigod of Revenge [1] (the spell) goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge [2] (the trigger) goes on the stack.

If you approach it like some responders did, automatic-style, like this…

Demigod of Revenge [1] (the spell goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge [2] (the trigger) goes on the stack.
Cryptic Command (Counterspell Demigod of Revenge [1])
Cryptic Command resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [1] goes to the graveyard.
Demigod of Revenge’ [2]s trigger resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [1] AND Demigod of Revenge [2] enter the battlefield!

Now presumably you are dead.

If you are going to use the Counterspell and some other modality of Cryptic Command (Dismiss or whatnot), you will want to do it more like this UNLESS you are going to do Next Level Cryptic Command (section three):

Demigod of Revenge [1] (the spell goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge [2] (the trigger) goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge’s trigger resolves.
Cryptic Command (Counterspell Demigod of Revenge [1])
Cryptic Command resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [1] goes to the graveyard.
Demigod of Revenge [2] enters the battlefield.

In this case you may or may not get attacked by the solo Demigod of Revenge. I think most players in this situation will attack, put you to one life, and pass the turn with fingers crossed. Presumably even if you have an answer to the Demigod of Revenge, such Magicians will have the Ghitu Encampment to lean on.

Now these Demigod players might not even get past the next turn. The hypothetical from the previous You Make the Play indicated that both players had six life. You have a Bloodbraid Elf, and several topdecks that will win the game on the spot. Another Bloodbraid Elf or a Boggart Ram-Gang for a certainty; likely Anathemancer, and so on.

One thing to keep in mind is that, as Sam Stoddard indicated on Twitter, you are likely to win no matter what route you take. But there is nothing that puts a middling Mage on tilt like being “likely” to win… and then not winning (especially if he had the tools to do so).

Case in point, if you went with most variations on the first Cryptic Command “Dismiss” scenarios (as posited by many commenters), you’re dead. Classic “just stole defeat from the jaws of victory” dead.

Seems pretty clear that of the two non-Next Level Cryptic Command possibilities, above, the one that leaves you with one life is better than the one that leaves you dead.

Even if you live, some things to remember:

  • You are now on one. You might kill him next turn, and you still have a Bituminous Blast to defend yourself (Blasting Demigod into a creature can keep the Encampment off you long enough to live, if he hasn’t drawn a burn spell). Volcanic Fallout is not great in any scenario, but cascading into it might lose you the game the next turn.
  • Being on one, unless you draw or Blast into a Cryptic Command, you are pretty much dead to a topdecked burn spell.

Bituminous Blast and pobody’s nerfect

Full disclosure time: I’m not Perfect

I know!

I was shocked to discover that, too!

But no… Not only am I not a perfect player (plenty of beats around that), nor columnist (Inquisition of Kozilek in my Standard-With-Innistrad deck lists this week, COME ON)… But I am not even a perfect blogger!

I really should have laid out what creatures were in our graveyard, and put some time into what lands were in play.

For example, can we answer the question, “can we survive a topdecked Anathemancer”? The assumption is “probably not” but I didn’t explicitly say that we had a certain number of basics in play (or didn’t).

Similarly, what lands does the opponent have in play? It actually changes our math for here in the Bituminous Blast section.

What I was really trying to get at with the two Jund Charms in the graveyard (the Chapin / MJ deck has a sum total of two Jund Charms) was to make life a little easier on you. At the time I brainstormed this hypothetical, I had already decided in my imagination that Cryptic Command was a red herring (turns out it’s not, by the way, on account of nobody being nerfect), and I was really trying to lay out the question of:

  1. Bituminous Blast-into-Cryptic Command, versus
  2. Bituminous Blast-into-Removal

That is, if you look at it like that, there are four Maelstrom Pulses in the deck (plus Bloodbraid Elves that might miss one), and only three Cryptic Commands (because you have one in grip).

When you look at it like this, it is really a question of whether you let the Demigod of Revenge [1] resolve or not. Let’s say you are some em effer who should play the lottery and (with your Cryptic Command in grip), you make the following play:

Demigod of Revenge [1] (the spell goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge [2] (the trigger) goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge’s trigger resolves; Demigod of Revenge [2] now in.
Bituminous Blast Demigod of Revenge [2].
Cascade on the stack.
Cascade into Cryptic Command!
Cryptic Command / Counterspell Demigod of Revenge [1]
Cryptic Command resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [1] goes to the graveyard.
Bitumuinous Blast resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [2] goes to the graveyard.

The opponent is almost certainly kold. We still have Cryptic Command! We can Counterspell Anathemancer, even! If he rips Demigod of Revenge, we can let him have three 5/4 bad guys and just tap them all down.

Well it’s pretty gosh darn spectacular if you run that good.

However if you flip, say, a Maelstrom Pulse (which you have a greater chance of doing than flipping a Cryptic Command both because of Bloodbraid Elf and because you already have a Cryptic Command), then you are in the “getting knocked down to one” scenario.

Lots of players will just shrug their shoulders at this point and be like “I didn’t run good” when, in fact, the math says otherwise.

That said, all other things held equal, I would probably rather have a Cryptic Command in my hand has my only card than a Bituminous Blast, if I am stuck on one life. For instance, one Cryptic Command can tap a Demigod and bounce the Ghitu Encampment if he doesn’t activate it pre combats; and if he does something like leading off on a Blightning or Anathemancer, you can Counterspell that and tap or bounce his potential attackers; whereas you need to actually draw a Cryptic Command or win the lottery (as the immediately above) on your Bituminous Blast in order to survive against an appropriate spell with reach.

Interesting thing is that what I was trying to steer the readership towards was to letting Demigod of Revenge [1] resolve, so that we can have more things we can do. We have already established that you have a greater chance of hitting Maelstrom Pulse than Cryptic Command, so trying to get a Counterspell out of Bituminous Blast errs on the wrong side of greedy (probably). Consider this slightly different Bituminous Blast scenario:

Demigod of Revenge [1] (the spell goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge [2] (the trigger) goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge’s trigger resolves; Demigod of Revenge [2] now in.
Demigod of Revenge [1] resolves; Demigod of Revenge [1] now in.

Bituminous Blast Demigod of Revenge [1].
Cascade on the stack.
Cascade into Maelstrom Pulse.
Maelstrom Pulse Demigod of Revenge [2].
Maelstrom Pulse resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [1] and Demigod of Revenge [2] go to the graveyard. Bitumuinous Blast is countered.

Now note that even if you Cascade into Cryptic Command in this scenario you can do something interesting, like tapping or bouncing the other Demigod of Revenge and / or bouncing Ghitu Encampment.

Note that in either of the lottery-winning scenarios described here, you are at six life still with a Cryptic Command in hand; ergo it is very likely you can get in for wins.

I think that the Maelstrom Pulse argument alone makes allowing the spell-Demigod resolve, but we have a different question… Now that we are no longer in the “playing around with the stack” mode, when exactly is the right time to play Bituminous Blast?

I would argue that combat is the best time, but an interesting question is whether we allow the Demigod(s) to attack or not. I would presume, with lethal represented, that most players will attempt to attack with both Demigods (if we let them).

Knowing we are 100% likely to kill at least one Demigod of Revenge (leaving us with one life) will leave the opponent with no blockers. If we Bituminous Blast before he declares one or more attackers, he may change his strategy; for instance, if we flip a Putrid Leech, we don’t have the life necessary to pump the Leech for lethal, which might encourage him to play the “cross my fingers” game and attack with the other. In that case, we are presumably dead to a Lightning Bolt even if we have the Cryptic Command in hand (play Lightning Bolt; we Counterspell + tap Demigod of Revenge; he animates Ghitu Encampment and kills us). However if we flip an Anathemancer, Boggart Ram-Gang, or for goodness sakes Bloodbraid Elf (which in turn would lead to some lottery winning), he has no choice but to leave back at least one Demigod of Revenge… We’ll still win, by the way, but he still has to make that play.

If we wait for him to attack, we are in largely the same situation, but with one life. Consider:

  • Anathemancer: Lethal whether or not he attacks.
  • Bloodbraid Elf: Lethal whether or not he attacks.
  • Boggart Ram-Gang: Lethal whether or not he attacks.
  • Putrid Leech: Non-lethal if he attacks; lethal if we have six life instead of one… therefore better pre-attacks if only because he can make a mistake.
  • Sygg, River Cutthroat: Non-lethal by itself.
  • Cryptic Command: Not necessarily lethal but very likely so (as discussed above).
  • Maelstrom Pulse: Non-lethal but quite good (as discussed above).
  • Volcanic Fallout: Generally bad

The situation would change if we didn’t have a Cryptic Command to force Anathemancer, Bloodbraid Elf, or Boggart Ram-Gang in… But we do. I think we get slightly better results by using Bituminous Blast pre-attacks.

An interesting quandary comes up if the opponent chooses to attack with only one Demigod of Revenge… What do we do now? Do we shoot at the incoming Demigod (as we have Cryptic Command to deal with the other, if luck is with us), or the potential blocker?

Fancy option you might not have seen:
As we have eight life we can actually tap a defensive Demigod of Revenge on our own turn plus our own Bloodbraid Elf in order to try to win the lottery on a Boggart Ram-Gang or potentially Anathemancer. Additionally, because Sygg has three toughness, we can actually flip Volcanic Fallout (which will resolve before Bloodbraid Elf does) in order to deal exactly six damage (1 from Sygg, 2 from Volcanic Fallout, and 3 from Bloodbraid Elf). You probably don’t want to try this; but again, you might not have seen it at all.

Next Level Cryptic Command

I was pretty sure that Bituminous Blast was the best route… But again, pobody’s nerfect and the way I had the hypothetical set up, we don’t know mathematically what the tightest play is…

But it might not matter.

A couple of people including Pro Tour semifinalist Chris McDaniel and podcaster extraordinaire Sam Stoddard suggested what I am calling “Next Level Cryptic Command” … I didn’t see this possibility and it is kind of awesome.

If you Counterspell the incoming Demigod of Revenge (after the re-buy trigger is no longer a threat, of course) and bounce the other Demigod of Revenge, you have a 100% chance of staying on six life for the turn. You get in for three and the opponent has to basically take the same turn over again… and you still have the Bituminous Blast to defend yourself (whatever we discussed about using Bituminous Blast this turn stays more-or-less the same, but the opponent is now on three life instead of six).

I originally rejected any option that involved bouncing a Demigod of Revenge because of the re-buy on the other, but this is actually pretty good.

He almost has to draw a Lightning Bolt (or some proxy thereof) to kill your Bloodbraid Elf now (he doesn’t even get to cast his Demigods), and if he moves to attack you with his Ghitu Encampment (which most Mages will), you can spike the Bituminous Blast and maybe kill him anyway.

Alternately he can play Demigod of Revenge and leave both back (if he only leaves one back you get in with the Bituminous Blast) and hope that you don’t flip into one of the lethal creatures or Maelstrom Pulse / Cryptic Command.

Fortitude and “What’s Next?”

As you can see, a good part of the outcome has to do with what the Demigod player is going to do. Will he have the fortitude to leave back two 5/4 flyers? That is a lot to ask of most aggressive Red Mages (I pointed out to Sam on Twitter that I made semi-defensive plays like this on more than one occasion the year I played DI Demigods). And even if he has the willpower… He might still just die to your Bituminous Blast and the top of your deck.

I don’t know that we can figure on what is 100% the best play with the guidelines as I laid hem out, but there are certainly some clearly better and worse options.

  1. Lazy Cryptic Command players: Y’all are dead.
  2. Bituminous Blast with Demigod of Revenge on the stack: You might mise, you might not, you will end the turn with either 1 or 6 life, but still have the Cryptic Command. You might win next turn.
  3. Bituminous Blast during combat, after attackers have been declared: You will have slightly better results than the previous group because there are more Maelstrom Pulses in your deck than Cryptic Commands. Again, you are possible to end the turn with either 1 or 6 life depending on what the opponent does. You probably don’t want to take it, but you also have the “Cryptic Command my own Bloodbraid Elf” option on your next turn.
  4. Bituminous Blast prior to attackers being declared: You will have slightly better results than the post-attackers group because you get Putrid Leech as an additional lethal attacker if you don’t take a Demigod hit (you can tap the remaining blocker on your turn).
  5. Next Level Cryptic Command: Big incentive here is that you are 100% likely to have 6 life instead of 1, with no luck component from that standpoint. It is inferior insofar that you don’t have a Cryptic Command the next turn so you can’t capitalize on an opponent mistake if he gets lucky [most scenarios where the opponent gets another turn will end badly if he both draws Anathemancer and plays correctly, provided you don’t topdeck another Cryptic Command. If he plays Anathemancer pre-combat, allowing you to Counterspell it and tap his Demigod(s) that is another story entirely (thanks, b)]. That said, any of the Bituminous Blast options are potentially better than Next Level Cryptic Command because if you have six life you can withstand a post-combat Anathemancer and you have 0% chance of winning on the spot.

As such, I think a Bituminous Blast line that allows both Demigods into play but gets fired off before the opponent attacks has the best combination of lucksack potential maximization and Cryptic Command preservation.



Innistrad – Bitterheart Witch and Curse of Death’s Hold

I don’t even remember what I was originally going to write about today, but I just got home from an epic podcasting run with BDM. And by “epic” I mean epic. Like the great game that is life put Enduring Podcast on the stack, turn after turn, hour after hour, for like five hours.

We actually did five separate podcasts, one for each color of Innistrad, reviewing almost every card! We spend an hour each on White, Blue (news flash, Blue is gas), Black, Red + the goofball stuff… and about twenty minutes on Green. Poor Green. By then it was kind of late, but Green is the worst of the bunch and there are only so many ways one can say “Another Werewolf? Next.”

BDM is going to put up the podcasts later today, and I will update this blog post to link to them when those go up.

Anyway, what was interesting to me, more than anything else, was BDM’s attitude towards Bitterheart Witch.

Bitterheart Witch

“I think the card is good,” he claimed. “Well… pretend it doesn’t cost five. There are some pretty good Curses.”

I thought about it for a second and agreed that the card might be good.

“Well, what does it matter if it costs five if we aren’t going to pay for it? Wouldn’t this be great in a Birthing Pod deck?”

I then went on to envision the soul-crushing sequence of Solemn Simulacrum into Bitterheart Witch (drawing a card), into [whatever] (probably Inferno Titan). “In fact,” I concluded: “It’s almost a compliment that it costs five, so you can go and get a six!”

I don’t know that you would play Bitterheart Witch straight up very often; but it is kind of like an Academy Rector. The plan proposed here is to try it as a two-pack out of your Birthing Pod sideboard to deal with particular kinds of cases.

Curse of Death’s Hold… Courtesy of Bitterheart Witch by way of Birthing Pod

Curse of Death’s Hold is a very special spell. While it costs one more mana than the highly influential Night of Soul’s Betrayal, it is 1) not Legendary, and 2) only affects one player. Bringing one in from the Birthing Pod sideboard allows you to search and ramp into the Bitterheart Witch, sacrifice that, and potentially lock down the opponent… all for the price of just two sideboard slots. You can do this even if you aren’t actually Black, utilizing Birthing Pod to get where you need to go, or leaning on Birds of Paradise in a pinch.

When might Curse of Death’s Hold be most effective?

There are certain decks that just can’t beat this card. One unanswered copy fells every Glistener Elf, Blighted Agent, most of the Infectious artifact creatures, and even “turns off” Inkmoth Nexus. No, this isn’t a combo that you will typically want to play in the main… but that’s why we are proposing it from the side.

In another context, Curse of Death’s Hold might just be a card you want to play in multiples. One takes out his Birds of Paradise, but by stacking multiple copies of this non-Legendary creature-hating enchantment, you can grow up to eliminate bigger or more dangerous threats.

A Note About Bullets:

Some players look at one-ofs — including bullets out of a Birthing Pod deck — at least somewhat reactively. That is, they wait for the opponent to play an artifact, almost so they can have permission to go and get an Acidic Slime to can kill it. These players wait for the opponent to put down something and get the specific thing to deal with that thing, and use their selection engine contextually opportunistically.

There is nothing expressly “wrong” with that operating system, but you might be cutting a large portion of your potential advantage out by tutoring that way. Think back to Michael Jacobs’s quote about Urabrask, Inferno Titan, and 20 damage as a combination from Facebook / yesterday. Theoretically a card like Urabrask can function as a bullet (go and get it in play and the opponent has to deal with it before trying to go off with Deceiver Exarch); Inferno Titan is the top of the curve, and can either be the summit of Birthing Pod tutoring in the abstract, or a tool for cutting down lots of small guys… And you do win lots of games with Value RUG-Pod just on value. The admiring way I talked about Patrick’s Hero of Oxid Ridge play in last week’s Flores Friday comes from another place: These guys are not playing their bullets reactively… They are trying to find the fastest, least predictable, way to stick them and win.

Same deal here.

If Bitterheart Witch is in your deck, chances are, if you can try to search her up, you should. She isn’t “just good” but rather, has a job to do. Grok?



I originally had an idea to combine Invisible Stalker with Strata Scythe. I don’t know if it is still productive to be Mono-Blue [with this sketch] if I have moved away from Strata Scythe (rather than to the low CMCs and high synergies of Black or Red with Snapcaster Mage), but this is where I am right now.


2 Batterskull
2 Spellskite
4 Sword of Feast and Famine

3 Dismember

2 Consecrated Sphinx
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Mana Leak
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Twisted Image

23 Island

Nobody but nobody just has 23-24 Islands as his mana base. It is possible I am too in love with that. Invisible Stalker + Sword of Feast and Famine just seems so unbeatable though!

You Make the Play: That Time MJ Made Me :(

Michael Jacob.

What can you say about him?

How about: “The real MJ.”

-Lan D. Ho

Master deck designer. Thought-provoking narrator of MTGO videos. Pro Tour Top 8 competitor. Star City Games Premium Columnist. National Champion.

And killjoy.

Before we integrated the Facebook comments on the blog itself, old MJ smothered our collective enthusiasm RE: Falkenrath Marauders with his stoic, Value RUG-Pod driven pragmatism on FB proper…

One might say that the man has a point.

Now on the subject of MJ — and even the echo of Demigod of Revenge dredged up during the Falkenrath Marauders discussion — I got to thinking about a bit of an older(er) school situation. Consider this deck, which Jacob used to make Top 8 of Grand Prix Seattle/Tacoma a couple of years back:

Now everyone knows that Michael won the 2008 US National Championships with a Demigod of Revenge deck, but today’s backwards-winking You Make the Play posits playing his Five-color Blood deck against the hellacious Spirit Avatars.

The Situation:
Your opponent is playing a B/R Blightning Beatdown deck. The action has been brutal, but you stabilized by blowing up all his guys with Jund Charm, up until he got in there with a Demigod of Revenge.

Lucky ducky, you had your Cruel Ultimatum to take care of it, and are now sitting pretty pretty.

Life Totals:

  • You – six
  • Him – six



  • You – Eight assorted lands (you can cast whatever you want), and a lone Bloodbraid Elf
  • Him – Ghitu Encampment and four assorted Black- and Red-producing lands.


  • You – Cruel Ultimatum, Jund Charm, Jund Charm; some guys you used to trade earlier.
  • Him – Demigod of Revenge and some assorted other lands and spells

Your opponent draws his card for the turn, smiles, and plays it:

Demigod of Revenge!

So… How do you approach this turn?

You Make the Play!


P.S. Got some kind of weird results with the Facebook Social Plugin yesterday. Please excuse our clutter while we continue to upgrade Five (and by “we” I mean YT).