Entries Tagged 'Games' ↓

What Awesome Shenanigans Did Star City Pull Off? :)

Following is an unedited screen capture from a well-known (in online marketing and measurement circles, anyway) service called COMPETE. Patrick Chapin* pointed it out to me and (last week) I passed it along to some of our overlords such as Steve Sadin and Mister Orange [guy] with the same question I am, asking you:

Now some of you might not quite grok what is going on in this screen capture, so I will put it another way; that is, “edited”:

(I greyed out last month on account of the data is not mature yet, so it would be worthless to talk about.)

This is a measurement of unique visitors to the beloved Star City Games site; NOT how often existing users use it, nor how much they “like it”, nor how long they sit there watching SCGLive videos of the charming Joey Pasco… It attempts to measure the actual, individual, humans… (and hopefully, ultimately paying customers of either Magic: The Gathering singles, Premium memberships, or like Squirrel-backed sleeves).

mise squirrel amiright?

Something happened.

Or, probably (and more likely), the clever marketing machine that is Star City Games proactively did something to dramatically reverse the declining course of their number of visitors.

“J-Curve” or “hockey stick” changes in performance don’t happen all by themselves. In theory we can attribute some amount of performance seasonally (there are many online retailers that do 50% of their sales, or more, in November and December). But we don’t see that here, and if we equate visitors and buyers (which we honestly can’t), the numbers are going the wrong way, anyway. These kinds of sharp and sustained directional improvements typically result from internal, that is organizationally-driven, process changes. For example, here is a directional Analytics screen shot of the day-by-day traffic of this here website, up to these past few days:

What internal process change did FiveWithFlores make in the last few days?

That something Star City did occurred / was done in January of 2011 that added (or perhaps encouraged the return of) literally tens of thousands of unique visitors to their our user base, and catapulted them Millionaire Playboy Pete Hoefling into an amazingly positive direction.

So… What do you think that was?


A couple of possibly useful observations:

My first [let’s be honest] second gut reaction was to credit SCGLive. However this different COMPETE shot seems to indicate that 1) the timing is off, and 2) the magnitude of SCGLive unique users cannot wholly account for the improvements (check the y-axis).

Certainly SCGLive is a super sticky service that keeps people on Star City there, and engaged (not to mention happy)… But at least according to COMPETE’s numbers, not enough new, different people to account for the hockey stick, and subsequent re-up. Anyway, I would guess that SCGLive aficionados cross over quite a bit with Star City’s “regular” user base… It’s not like if you took 10,000 from mommy and 5,000 from kiddo you would have 15,0000 uniques.


Like the title asks: What awesome shenanigans did Stat City pull off?


* Yes, yes, we have our suspicions already 🙂

** Please leave a comment via the old or brand spanking new methods, please.

Never Apologize for Your Writing

Most of the time generalizations that start with “always” or “never” are to be avoided. There are very few true always and never situations in the real world.

As a general rule, though, I would suggest to aspiring Magic: The Gathering writers to never apologize for their work.

This comes as a reaction to the forums from World of Wefald – Kibler’s Extended Darling. Some forums denizens are complaining about Wefald’s latest article (a Frank Karsten-esque review of MTGO Extended performance). Personally, I quite liked it.

In particular I loved this quote, Wefald musing around the performance of certain tribal themed strategies:

“Really…? Elves and Faeries…? What’s this game coming to? Back in my time, we killed our opponents with Chuck Norris-caliber win conditions like Psychatog, Sutured Ghoul, and Bosh, Iron Golem. If the good people at Wizards continue along this path, I’m pretty sure that by 2014, I’ll be writing articles on Mono-Pink Control and Unicorn-Go, while being cuddled to death by Care Bear counters.”

In related news: “Death by Monkeys!” (from Toy Story 3 obv)

How evocative!


Good writing, Wefald!

But per usual, certain forums denizens are all “I paid for this” one click in.

Obviously Star City Premium customers are allowed to voice their concerns over perceived article quality. They are, barring the occasional contest winner (including future Flores Rewards winners, once I am done with the cryptic but superlative OMG) paying customers. I am pretty sure the right to bitch and moan about the contrast on high definition television sets is the fourteenth point afforded by the Bill of Rights, just after the rarely-enforced freedom from long lines at the DMV lucky number thirteen.

Of course they should be allowed to voice concerns!

In fact, it is sometimes the case that a Premium article is not — gasp — very good!

However, my suggestion…

And this is one of those rare not-wrong always / never situations…

Is never, ever apologize for your writing.

Let me tell you. I have been doing this for over sixteen years now. A good number of my articles have been stinkers. Not good. On more than one occasion I have been wrong (believe it!) … Even some of the ones that I put a ton of effort into have things like “Compulsive Research is Constructed Unplayable” in them. For months I railed against Tooth and Nail being a good card to play! It’s okay to be wrong. When you put out a high volume of articles, they can’t all be great.

Kevin Love is one of the best players in the NBA. He is the greatest rebounder on the planet, even better than Orlando’s Mr. Howard this season. He can throw up the long ball and score from three. He does nothing but score 20 points and pull down 15 rebounds game atfer game.

Love misses over 50% of his field goal attempts.

Over the course of his career, Michael Jordan, not just the greatest basketball player ever, but arguably the greatest sportsman of all, missed 12,345 shots and 1,445 free throw attempts (Michael, the most unstoppable scorer in the history of the game, was a career sub-50% shooter). Shaquille O’Neal, iconic center of numerous contending NBA teams, finalist with Orlando, LA, and Miami, has missed over 5,000 free throw attempts!

At a high level of usage, you simply don’t hit them all.

It is possible that some articles should never have been published, never have been accepted, never have been turned in… Maybe never have been attempted. But the fact is, once they are out there in the universe, there is no point in apologizing for them. No point at all.

At this moment in my writing career I have no idea which articles are going to turn out to be favorites. There is little correlation between what I think is good and what the audience thinks is good. I still can’t get over the time when I revealed the U/G Genesis Wave deck (which turned out to be a pretty significant deck)… To mono-horrible reviews at TCGPlayer.

An even more stark contrast may have been my first article [back] at TCGPlayer. It would be hard to find a more poorly reviewed article. What I said was perceived to be so controversial / wrong that TCGPlayer.com readers doubted I wrote it at all!

But do you know how many of my predictions ended up being dead on? Like 80%.

Nobody picked up Goblin Outlander, and Liliana Vess + Emrakul, the Aeons Torn didn’t suddenly become the go-to combo in Standard, but everything from the fall of Path to Exile to the adoption of Oust to people hard-casting Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre all turned out to be dead-on.

Did I kind of get mixed up over which Eldrazi had which ability? Yeah, whatever. But the the real thrust of the article was right, the people who spent so much effort trying to tear down my ideas those months ago are all wrong (unsurprisingly)… But who cares? They don’t even use their real names or whatever.

Do you see my point?

There is just no engaging with this brand of criticism.

I wrote an update to the article because Chedy asked me to, but I would have been fine doing nothing. There is no point in apologizing.

That said, I am lucky in that every single week I get messages like this on Facebook, Twitter, and so on:

… I get them on the same articles where I have negative comments from other areas.

Master McLeer a-liked this one so much he wishes he could have “Liked” it… But on the Twitters, on the forums, in ye olde inbox people are all up in my disk drive terminology or criticizing the fact that I like nice things. Am I supposed to apologize to one reader for something that another reader, commenting in another area loves?

I do, honestly, appreciate constructive feedback, but for reasons I have described elsewhere and often, try to distance myself from forum discussions for the exact reason that I am producing this suggestion today: There isn’t any point. The article doesn’t suddenly get better when I post in the forum. Players who can’t wrap their heads around a concept don’t suddenly agree with you when you try to explain the same thing a second time. In the cases you are wrong (and again, I have been, and more than once), that doesn’t suddenly flip like pre-game quarter because some faceless someone complained about it.

Wefald shouldn’t have to apologize for his article. Like I said, I thought it was fine. Better than fine, it had some useful information bundled together with memorable writing. But even if it didn’t, he isn’t doing anyone any favors by engaging in this way.

… That’s my opinion, anyway.



PS (not a suggestion)
PPS Be a pal and buy Deckade!

The Best Thing I Ever Owned

It’s hard to explain how much I love my Nintendo Wii.

My parents actually won it in a raffle last year, but (unsurprisingly) did nothing with it but let it collect dust in the box, so for Christmas this past year, they shipped it to us (well, ostensibly Bella and Clark). So there you have it, for the past two months or so I am (that is, we Floreses are) the proud owner[s] of a Nintendo Wii.

“Blah blah, just another video game system, blah blah.”

Despite being a hardcore gamer, as “definitions” go, I have not been much for video games since maybe the early 1990s. I mean in 1992 I was a fierce Street Fighter II competitor (albeit my Dragon Punch was inconsistent from the right), but since I got into Magic seriously in the mid-1990s, I have focused most of my gaming energies in that direction… Almost no video games for the past… can it really be 17 years?


I mean I will still game LEGO Batman with Bella or help Clark with his StoryLand adventures or whatever, but not for myself, for my own focus. To wit, I was the worst Kart player in our group in the 1990s, whereas before Magic, I was one of the best Street Fighters.

So a decade and more later… Enter the Nintendo Wii.

When these things first came out a couple of years ago, my friend Drew Nolasco (newest member of WotC R&D, but then working full time at Top 8 Magic) was telling me that the Wii was changing the face of video gaming. It was a platform not to reinforce the addictions of hardcore gamers like ourselves, but “would get grandmas playing Nintendo” … at least that’s what Drew predicted.

And true to form, since seeing how I and my family have been using her Christmas present, my mommy (herself a grandma and former owner of an essentially unused one) has elected to re-Wii.

So from the one hand, she shipped something she wasn’t using, and now has to go buy a new one; from the other, I am the owner of a used video game system… that I have declared to be the best thing I have ever owned.

Okay, so why is the Wii so awesome?

Though I am a great lover of Mario Kart from my college days (YT, TunaHwa, and altran would play Mario Kart Wii and Goldeneye on altran’s N64 when we needed a break between playlets sessions… I was playing maybe 50 hours of Magic a week back in 1997 or 1998). So yes, I Kart with the kids, which is made fun by these wheels that they let you plug your controller into.

A Kart controller.

But that’s not why the Wii is so awesome for me.

First of all, we get a lot of mileage out of our Netflix subscription.

I am toying with the idea of just canceling our cable. For what we spend on cable tv per year, we can basically buy another Mac Air (ever think about it that way?), or an iPad… Which based on our Netflix subscription (a paltry $5 a month), plus Hulu (free), we would be getting a better ROI. The down side is that much of our tv consumption is premium (Dexter, Entourage, upcoming Game of Thrones and so forth), so @craftyK is currently putting on the objections.

That said, I have mentioned how much I like Spartacus a couple of times, and since I don’t actually subscribe to the premium channel Starz, I only get to watch Spartacus thanks to my Netflix subscription… which I run through the Wii, onto my tv. Yes, it is kind of strange using a video game system as a proxy Internet interface for an online streaming service that approximates television, which is then piped back through the television as the UI… But long story short, I like me some Spartacus: Gods of the Arena; and I like being able to watch it from the couch rather than the desk.

The Wii lets you watch tv like Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, through the Internet, using your tv. Confusing, I know.

The other reason I like the Wii is the Wii Fit. Right before I started writing this blog post I did an hour of yoga on the Wii and feel great! (Actually, it inspired me to post this post.)

And unlike using a yoga video or phoning it in at the gym, the Wii Fit can actually critique your form! The Wii Fit knows when you drop your other leg for stability on a difficult pose, and cautions you for being too jittery. It can even track your pace in free run mode (running while you change the channel and watch something else), which keys into our drive as gamers to get a better score and battle past our personal bests. When Bella first started studying karate seriously about a year ago, she impressed her instructor and everyone else with how long and confidently she can hold a bridge (the bridge is basically the perfect exercise, challenging every part of your body simultaneously… look it up); I tried to match what my five- or six-year-old daughter could do for 90 seconds or more and just ended up giving myself back spasms. Today I can effortlessly move from a Wii modified “bridge pose” into a “real” wrestler’s bridge and hold it for 30+ seconds. My personal goal is to eventually be able to beat Bella, who can hold a full bridge for over 3:30.

A bridge, sometimes called a “wheel pose” (obviously not Bella doing it)… This is harder, much harder, than it looks.

Modified “bridge pose” you do on the Wii. By practicing this, I have trained myself into being able to transition into a “real” bridge.

When I first got together with Katherine — going on ten years now, most of them joyous — I was almost 25 pounds lighter. In full dating mode, I was running maybe eight miles a day, and very mindful of my weight, diet, and ability to trick beautiful women into thinking I was cool, interesting, a decent prospect, whatever. But after successfully roping the optimal wife into my long-term clutches with a tiny band of platinum and what I can only assume is a magic shiny stone… Honestly, there aren’t any excuses. Even when I was awesome at running endurance with a sub-60 beats per minute resting heart rate, I was never flexible and was always hurting myself by pushing too hard at the gym without warming up. It’s amazing to me that basically a video game is putting me into a position of being more flexible than I was when I was ostensibly in much better shape.

And as far as new year’s blah blah blah goes, I’ve already dropped about six pounds while still hitting BonChon, Hill Country, etc. with my friends every week. Just from doing yoga, free running, and other fun exercises on the Wii. It’s actually amazing to me.

Really and truly the best thing I’ve ever owned.

I love mine.

Here’s a blatant affiliate ad for one:


PS – Deckade!

Almost Missed Bonehoard


Bonehoard :: Lhurgoyf :: Inevitability
TDC Heat :: Sword of Feast and Famine :: … and Bonehoard


I can’t believe I missed this one when initially, especially given my history.

Bonehoard is almost strictly better than a card that I considered a bomb in previous years, Lhurgoyf.

I played Lhurgoyf in my 1998 Northeast Regionals deck, TDC Heat (you may remember this deck from the pre-Psylum version of The Dojo, or perhaps from my writeup of Lord of Extinction two years ago). I think I testedmore for that Regionals than almost any other tournament I’ve ever played. The big decks at the time were Deadguy Red, Tradewind Rider decks, and Mono-Blue Control. TDC Heat, with its islandwalking River Boas, was extraordinarily effective against the Blue decks. Against the Red ones,  your creatures were simply better than theirs, you had Uktabi Orangutan to smash Cursed Scroll, and would trade one-for-one with everything else. Then, as the dust cleared, you would untap with a gigantic Lhurgoyf. Rawr.

TDC Heat

4 Giant Growth
4 Granger Guildmage
4 Jolrael’s Centaur
3 Lhurgoyf
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Muscle Sliver
4 Quirion Ranger
4 River Boa
3 Uktabi Orangutan

2 Fireball
4 Incinerate

9 Forest
2 Karplusan Forest
3 Mountain
4 Mountain Valley
2 Undiscovered Paradise

2 Simoon
4 Tranquil Domain
1 Uktabi Orangutan
2 Boil
3 Dwarven Miner
3 Pyroblast

Bonehoard, as I said, is almost strictly better than Lhurgoyf. For four mana, you tap for a [potentially] huge X/X… just one tiny toughness off of Lhurgoyf. The differences are:

  • Bonehoard’s Living Weapon is Black, not Green. Black creatures don’t die to Doom Blade, and therefore are more resilient than Green creatures, all other things held equal.
  • You don’t stop at just one.

I honestly don’t know how I missed this one. Not only is Bonehoard the stones by itself, but you can move it onto an evasion creature for a mere two mana. You can not just play — but continue to play — the attrition game. One problem with Lhurgoyf was that as big and powerful as it could be — including after a Wrath of God against a control player — it was still just one creature. Someone might kill it. You might be able to kill the Living Weapon, but the next guy, and the Next guy, and the NEXT guy after that would all be able to hit as hard.

Also, you might kill in one with Inkmoth Nexus 🙂

So… Bonehoard or Sword of Feast and Famine?

I am pretty sure — especially given Sword of Feast and Famine’s performance in Paris this week — that the latest Sword is the higher ranking piece of Mirrodin Besieged equipment, but there will probably be decks that want to play lots of Bonehoards. I can envision some future incarnation of Green or White creatures tapping and trading and playing Bonehoard after Bonehoard. “Just” creature elimination is not going to be able to deal with these beyond the Living Weapon. Even a puny Birds of Paradise will go lethal very quickly, given the right conditions.




Currently Reading: The Fires of Heaven (The Wheel of Time, Book 5)
Even Better Book: Michael J. Flores Deckade: 10 Years of Magic: The Gathering Strategy and Commentary (no shipping!)

Cautiously Whelmed by Thrun, the Last Troll


Thrun, the Last Troll :: Sun Titan :: The Rock
Young Justice :: Tom Martell :: … and Thrun, the Last Troll

If you watched the first couple of episodes of the new “Young Justice” cartoon, you know that Dick Grayson is wondering why no one is just whelmed. First Mr. Freeze is underwhelmed at Robin coming after him; then the future Young Justice kiddies are overwhelmed at the majesty of entering the Hall of Justice and seeing the gigantic statues of the League founders. Underwhelmed… overwhelmed… surely you grok at this point.

But as for Thrun, the Last Troll… I think I may fulfill Robin’s requested measure of whelmed-ness.

Thrun, the Last Troll

First, let me tell you a story.

Pro Tour LA (Antoine’s)… I am 1-0 after a haymaker-after-haymaker-exchanging brawl with Dragonstorm.

Second round Feature Match against Hall of Famer-to-be Raphael Levy. Raph was on B/G beatdown and I was playing B/W cycling. Sadly, the format was Extended. I felt like I had a heavy absolute advantage in the matchup with lots of creatures elimination and sweepers, but Raph had the edge in speed and skill, so I had relatively little margin for error. We split the first two games and were deep in the third.

Unsurprisingly, Levy has the early lead but I battle back with a lot of cycling… Undead Gladiator helping me hit my land drops and relevant removal spells; Eternal Dragon fueling Undead Gladiator (and obviously helping me hit my land drops). I get Raph to no cards in hand and tap for an Eternal Dragon to hold off his squad (headlined by a Troll Ascetic).

He topdecks Putrefy and smashes.

Raph’s mid-game topdecks are pretty lame, as he can basically draw Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves… and does.

I manage my life total and figure out how I am going to win. I need to get a little bit up in cards (Eternal Dragon for that), then use the bonus to bring back Undead Gladiator (cheaper to play), and chump his Troll for a couple of turns until I can play two Eternal Dragons and start attacking with one of them. Three turn clock, max, once those paps are online.

My plan is to just cycle up lands and pitch them into Gladiators. I have 10+ lands in play but I still need a couple more to be able to re-buy, chump, other re-buy, and hit double Dragons; I should have just enough cards to keep chumping, provided Levy doesn’t play another relevant threats (that is, something big enough to knock over a Dragon) in the next couple of turns. Over the course, Raph draws another Putrefy to get damage in through a Dragon, but I think I am okay (if armed with relatively little margin for error).

Then tragedy strikes.

I draw Haunting Echoes.

“Ooh,” I think. “New plan!”

I mean “maybe” new plan, right? New-ish. I can pitch a Haunting Echoes for an Undead Gladiator as easily as I can discard a Plains. Plus, if I topdeck a Wrath of God I can just go for the throat and win on the spot. So I hold Haunting Echoes as my card for the turn upon starting to set up my game plan.

Remember how Raph was topdecking irrelevant Birds of Paradise? Amazingly you can convert one of those into the Flashback on a Cabal Therapy. Sure, Raph missed the front side (I mean who else in this tournament was playing Eternal Dragon, Undead Gladiator, and Skeletal Scrying)… But the second time around?

Goodbye Haunting Echoes.

So now I no longer have the card I need for next turn’s Gladiator re-buy as I set up another Eternal Dragon. Had I held a Plains instead, he wouldn’t have been able to strip me of the required Gladiator re-buy. Plus, Raph has a Sword of Fire and Ice on his Troll Ascetic, so when I have to block with my Eternal Dragon, he flaps his wings sloppily into ye olde graveyard.

Uh-oh about that new plan.

Now I really have to mise up a new plan.

I vigorously cycle on my upkeep, needing Wrath of God. Then, with six maan remaining, Undead Gladiator answers my call.

Akroma’s Vengeance!

I have just enough to take out Levy’s Sword, plus sweep all his irrelevant little dudes alongside his Troll Ascetic.

I sit back in my chair, thanking God and library manipulation for my luck.

“Um… Regenerate?”


No! Stupid Troll Ascetic!

Raph swings in for the kill.

The real story here is how I should have played with focus and follow through, but the immediate issue for the present case is that Trolls regenerate.

Thrun, the Last Troll is Troll Ascetic, ostensibly improved.

If the match were taking place in the present, I wouldn’t even have been able to cycle into Wrath of God for the win; because now Wrath of God — that is Day of Judgment — lets Trolls regenerate out.

The fact is, there are relatively few answers given our current Standard framework for Thrun. You can’t point a Mana Leak at it, and — at least the turn after the turn it hits — Thrun is difficult to remove with spells. Earlier this week I expressed underwhelmed-ness to some friends RE: Thrun… Sure, you can’t target him — but I kept forgetting that on top of all that other text, on top of the pretty resilient body, the last Troll also regenerates.

Thrun, the Last Troll is reminiscent of Troll Ascetic, with an additional layer of defense against Blue permission spells. It costs one additional mana but gains hugely in power and toughness; a 4/4 for four mana considered highly efficient given the presence of three relevant abilities. The second one is in particular worth a mention given that Thrun should be a heck of a swordsman. If you improve it just a little bit via equipment, Thrun jumps the power curve more than most any other creature in Standard, combining superior size with essentially extraordinary resilience. Answering Thrun will often be a test balancing patience and timing.

I think Thrun is exactly as good as a creature has to be to be seriously considered at four. Its perceived over-the-top-ness in terms of power level relative to curve point is essentially necessary considering it is actually competing with cards like Oracle of Mul Daya or Garruk Wildspeaker, rather than combat creatures for space (given the marketplace).

My question, though, aesthetically… What is Tom Martell going to do in a world with no more Trolls?

Where can I see Thrun, the Last Troll fitting in?
I think that Thrun, the Last Troll will be very Tarmogoyf-ish… Played heavily by decks that capable of casting it, but not played everywhere. For example, Tarmogoyf was often passed over in more controlling versions of The Rock; it was more desirable for them to play Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kokusho the Evening Star, rather than the uber-two. Great card, cross-deck Staple… But not everywhere-played.

Now obviously the decks that can — or are willing to — pay 2GG for a creature are far less common than those that can pay 1G for probably a larger creature. That will cut into Thrun’s market share, but it will still probably be everywhere-played. I don’t know that Eldrazi Ramp decks would play Thrun, even though they can; same reason Death Cloud The Rock didn’t play Tarmogoyf. Eldrazi Green, though? Probably. Aggressive two-color decks with GG capabilities will likely make room in the curve, though it is unclear whether Thun gets played over, say, a Vengevine. My intuition is that decks that want a Vengevine will still want a Vengevine, but that there can be decks that want both; say… six fours.

The biggest question mark around Thrun (I mean other than what Tom is going to do with his time) is around its cost. It’s a bit of a sell, especially given its initial non-invulnerability. Is Thrun better than Vengevine? Do you play more fours? How does it intersect relative to Baneslayer Angel? A Titan? The answers are not obvious and I don’t know that the right deck yet exists.

Snap Judgment Rating – Staple (low, Standard; Role Player – low elsewhere)


Currently Reading: What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People

PS For more somewhat conflicted thoughts on mid-range-ness, consider Terrified of Sun Titan

Some Thoughts on Consecrated Sphinx

Consecrated Sphinx

My general dislike of certain Sphinxes (Sphinx of Jwar Isle) and approval of other Sphinxes (Sphinx of Lost Truths) is fairly well known to readers of this blog.

With Consecrated Sphinx we have yet another Sphinx that I like better than Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

What is so cool about Consecrated Sphinx?

Its size isn’t remarkable for a modern Magical creature / fantastic beast / &c. A 4/6 is about as good as a 5/5… A turn off in terms of racing, but 5/5s and 4/6s bounce off of each other like superballs… We certainly can’t say that a 5/5 is strictly better than a 4/6 or vice versa. Mahamoti Djinn — once a premiere Big Blue flyer — was 5/6 for six, a bit better than Consecrated Sphinx’s 4/6… but then against Mahamoti Djinn lacked Consecrated Sphinx’s text box.

So how about that text box?

You tap out for Consecrated Sphinx; ka-boom… you draw two cards. (Pretty much.) You play a high toughness creature that probably isn’t going anywhere; your opponent untaps and draws the next turn: there are your two.

I mean if your opponent gets another draw, that’s going to be fantastic!

The first super cool thing I thought of when considering this card was Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I was like “how cool will it be to draw six cards?” Then I realized no one in his right mind would ever Brainstorm with Consecrated Sphinx in play. One card for six? That only happens in the movies.

Where can I see Consecrated Sphinx fitting in?

Obviously some kind of Blue control in Standard… Pretty much the only option. The issue here is that the six is extraordinarily competitive right now; there are Titans aplenty depending on whether the deck in question wants Frost Titan or one of the other Titans. Plus, there is Wurmcoil Engine, which seems like it will pick up in Standard popularity on the coattails of Treasure Mage. Drawing cards is super cool and all… I just don’t know if it will be good enough given the level of competition at the six.

The question is ultimately going to be about cards in hand v. battlefield, based on the metagame. When we were innovating tap-out in 2005, our desire was 100% driven by battlefield considerations. Keiga was a nightmare to get through, Meloku impregnable. Meloku in particular could close out games like lightning. I don’t get that read from Consecrated Sphinx… Even its 4/6 stats (already addressed) speak to a bit of a disconnect RE: this value.

However, it is possible that, given the grinding Planeswalkers and two-for-one-tastic cards, from Lead the Stampede to Treasure Mage, we are going to find ourselves in a Standard dominated by card advantage. If that is the case, by all means Consecrated Sphinx might be a hell of a grinder.

But it’s like Tsuyoshi used to say – “Depends on the metagame.”

Snap judgment rating – Role Player


This came in via beloved Unstoppable Twitter Army:

Great idea from Nico! Jace Beleren actually makes Consecrated Sphinx a good deal better than I originally thought. Provided you have battlefield control for the creatures that are too big for it to battle straight up, I think this may end up a premiere six.

Still sub-Staple IMO, but we’ll see.


Five With Five With Flores Friday – TeeVee [and] Everything

Ironic note: Yes, I know this is actually being published on a Saturday 🙁


Star City Games Questions :: Top Chef Draft :: The Cape
Young Justice, episode 2 :: P!nk’s new video :: … you know, “everything”

ONE – Star City Games Questions

Most of you probably know that I started writing for Star City Premium [again] last week. Now I am going to answer all the questions you asked around this possibly (?) surprising (?) return.

yes, i have a question: why did you take so long to come back? 🙂

Unfortunately, I am not sure how to answer this question. I mean, what is “so long” in this context? If you want to submit a follow up question, I will try harder?

Err… I do everything my wife says.

Though I understand your motivations, but this marks the end of Michael J Free-ness! 🙁

It absolutely does not mark the end of Michael J Free-ness. I still write Top Decks every week on DailyMTG; and I think I’ve updated this blog more this week than I have in certain months!

They better have backed up a truck.

Can you give us an idea of how long the contract lasts so that we can know which subscription to sign up for.

I left premium with you and now will sign up as they got you back.

There is no specific termination date to my writing at Star City, so I can’t tell you to only buy such-and-such package if your interest in Premium tracks only to my being there. I can tell you that I have planned about 20 pieces over the next two months, as well as another as-yet unannounced large-scale project (um… oops?) 🙂

Damn, does this mean I have to start getting SCG Premium again? Also, what does this mean about TCGPlayer? Are you writing 2-3 articles per week plus making videos?

I am doing about 10 total pieces on Star City this month and next (articles and videos), plus Top Decks. I am not currently writing at TCGPlayer. We haven’t plotted out what I will be doing in March yet, but I would expect to still be at SCG then 🙂

It’s all a trick. Really it’s BELLA under contract to SCG now, not Mike

This isn’t a question. Think “Jeopardy”.

I have a question, when are you sending me Blightning? :p

Um, you have my phone number.

[From Twitter] I have a question. Why did you make me spend money again?! Damn yooou! Should @SteveSadin share some blame?

[Separately, here on the blog]I think I have a real question. In your explanation article, you talk about How to mashup. My question is – Why mashup (in the abstract)?

Also (there’s always more <_<) specific to the decks involved with the UW Mashup – What does mashing up the two decks in question gain rather than porting them to current extended? Did you prior/have you since tried extended versions of those decks, and if not do you have any gut feelings as to how they would go?

[Twitter question] – Yes, you have to. It is required. On the check you send, write “Michael J. Flores” on the “memo” line.

[Regular questions] – A couple of reasons… 1) Opponents are more likely to make mistakes when playing against mashups because they don’t anticipate the other awesome thing you are going to do when they put resources towards the first awesome thing, 2) different decks have different matchup advantages in the context of a metagame and mashup decks can often take advantage of multiple predator positions, and 3) the cost is relatively low in many cases, certainly in this one.

TWO – Top Chef Draft

Sick week for the home team on the Top Chef front. For those of you following at home, this is how the draft went:

This week my horse Carla took down the elimination challenge for (-2) points and I got an extra (-1) from Tre’s appearance in the winners’ circle.

It was a double elimination week, so double dagger for Luis (Tiffani) and Megan (Jamie… who was more than due to go).

Current standings:

  1. YT: 2
  2. Phil: 3
  3. Luis: 20
  4. Megan: 23

I am once again in the lead, but the long odds have to be on Phil right now… He has Angelo (one of the two favorites) and Filipino Dale (a surprise monster this season). Many pundits probably have Megan more likely to win than YT (she has Marcel, who can win) when I lost my first pick last week… But for now, I’ll enjoy my lead 🙂

THREE – The Cape

From BDM’s Twitter feed / Facebook:

The Cape was not good.

I don’t think it’s as bad as BDM apparently does, but I think his 140-character analysis is pretty hilarious.

The Cape is full of ludicrous comic book cliches. I would tell you some of them but you would never believe me. Okay, you twisted my arm / pulled my leg. The hero is an ex-cop on the run after being framed for being — you guessed it — a supervillain mastermind… by the actual supervillain mastermind (because, you know… cops are fierce fighters adjacent to hand-to-hand vigilantes on the metagame clock of “what to do on a Saturday night”).

He is recruited by a carnival of crime (btw there is such a thing in the Marvel universe as the Circus of Crime), who taps him (as a former police officer) to pull of some, you know crimes [I didn’t really understand this part, but I was playing MTGO at the time]. Then, inexplicably they turn good, start risking their lives for his quest to redeem himself and unseat the supervillain mastermind, and, you know, train him to be a superhero.

Two paragraphs ago I said The Cape is full of comic book cliches; what I mean was just cliches. The supervillain mastermind is the boss of a security firm that is privatizing the police force. So it is also a diatribe against privatization.  Because, you know, companies are bad. Or something.

Did I mention the show isn’t good?

Yeah, I’ll probably watch the show until it gets canceled around ep four or whatever; but don’t expect me to like it.

FOUR – Young Justice, episode 2

I liked it!

The first episode ended with our heroes being decked by a then-enslaved Superboy. Predictably (if only from the promo art), Superboy turns face, frees Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad, and the four go on to found the as-yet-unnamed [on-screen] squad of Young Justice.

At the end of the episode they are joined by the uber-cute Miss Martian, shape-shifting “niece” of the Justice League’s Oreo-addicted JJ. So at this point they are  just missing the female archer shown in much of the promo art. I don’t consider any of this spoiler-iffic as the first two eps are just a “gathering of eagles” and that you could imagine into place by watching a commercial.

Dissatisfying plot points:

  • Speaking of archers… I would have liked to see some on-screen attention to getting Speedy / Red Arrow [back]. What? Does Robin not have his cell phone number?
  • Annoying – Cadmus has Robin, Aqualad, and Kid Flash tied up. I am not sure Kid Flash even has a secret identity, but Dick Grayson’s real name would be at a premium… But Robin still has his domino mask on while shackled. Not only that, but they leave him his utility belt, lock picks, holographic iPads or whatever… Everything he would need to bust out (which he does).

What I loved: My favorite character is Aqualad. I talked about him in the last post, and I like him even more now. They haven’t explained his water manipulation or electric eel powers on-screen yet, but I like how he uses them in the battles!

Old buddy Marc Aquino pointed out that there is an all-new Aqualad in the DC Universe that was recently introduced in Brightest Day (I obviously wasn’t aware). The Young Justice Aqualad seems to be based on that cat, instead of the original:

The new DC Universe Aqualad character.

Overall, loved Young Justice and plan on watching every ep ever… With Clark and Bella of course.

FIVE – P!nk’s New Video

A lot of you cats know who Bella Flores is. For example you have seen this video:

Now because Bella loves Batman more than some of her own family members, wants to major in “fighting badguys” in school, and has deep interests that include karate, chess, and Sorin Markov, lots of peeps on the outside think that I have exerted some kind of undue influence on her young opinions.

The truth is, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Bella has a strong affinity with… understanding things. About three years ago, we let her use the computer to look at like Mickey Mouse Club videos on a Disney website. Despite being three and (at least as far as we knew) incapable of reading, Bella successfully navigated to the [more interesting] Batman- and Power Rangers-themed action video games that were also present on Disney properties.

Power Rangers was her gateway drug, but now Bella likes heroes the max.

So in terms of my being an undue influence on her… not true. In fact, she is more of an influence on me than you might expect. P!nk is Bella’s favorite artist (primarily due to hit “So What”), and because she tends to like stuff I like, I decided to try stuff she likes…

… which is how we are concluding with P!nk’s new vid. It is my early pick for video of the year (last year’s nod would have gone to “Telephone” by Lada Gaga + Beyonce). Enjoy!

“Raise Your Glass” by P!nk

This is a video of memorable, somewhat shocking, and generally effed-up visual images; my personal fave (I don’t know if the word “fave” actually applies here) is at about 1:11.

That’s it!


Wargate Various


Wargate :: Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle :: Scapeshift
Masashi Oiso :: Clarion Ultimatum :: … and of course Wargate

I played in a few 1 v. 1 Extended queues with Masashi Oiso’s Wargate deck and filmed (x-1) of them; obviously the HyperCam exploded during the one match I lost (a mirror where I was savagely out-drawn)… So I am just going to add to this same blog post over the course of the day as the videos finish exporting and uploading to YouTube.

In case you haven’t seen it, Oiso’s Wargate deck goes a little something like this:


4 Cryptic Command
4 Mana Leak
1 Negate
4 Preordain

4 Wargate

4 Cultivate
3 Explore
4 Prismatic Omen
4 Rampant Growth
3 Scapeshift

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Flooded Grove
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Murmuring Bosk
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Verdant Catacombs
4 Island
4 Forest
1 Plains
1 Mountain

4 Great Sable Stag
3 Kitchen Finks
3 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Firespout
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Qasali Pridemage

… A much more detailed article RE: the deck and the matches will be going up at TCGPlayer circa tomorrow morning.

Wargate One:

So check back over the course of the day or so (or wait until tomorrow at TCGPlayer). Quote of the week (so far), from YouTube side:

“… I use Clarion Ultimatum instead in this deck. it’s pretty much the same except it costs 3 more mana and can get easily countered.”

Love it!

Wargate Two – Vivid Control:

Wargate Three – Destiny:

On the one hand, this one is guest starring Bella Flores; on the other hand, the YouTube army pointed out one millisecond after I posted it that I missed an on-table kill. Doh!


blah Blah BLAH Phyrexian Crusader


Phyrexian Crusader :: Phyrexian Crusader? :: Um… that’s about it

This is a follow up  from the Mirran Crusader post earlier this week. If you have seen that card, you’ve probably also seen the bad guy opposite number, Phyrexian Crusader:

Phyrexian Crusader

What can we say about this cat Zombie Knight?


Just as with Mirran Crusader, Phyrexian Crusader seems very close to a strict upgrade to onetime staple Paladin en-Vec. It is not a true strict upgrade because Paladin en-Vec is a different color (it would be like comparing Fresh Volunteers with Wild Mongrel or something)… But for practical purposes, Phyrexian Crusader is just better.

They have very parallel if not identical mana costs (1BB to the original’s 1WW), and both have the same “Protection from Lightning Bolt ” to go along with “Protection from Doom Blade Guy” … But in addition to first strike, Phyrexian Crusader also dodges Oust and has Infect.

Infect is neither better nor worse than not-Infect in the abstract, but for the most part creatures with Infect have been smaller than regular creatures for the same cost. It’s really not better. Wither is better, but Infect is just different. While Infect kind of deals double damage to players, it can be less effective against creatures. For example take Infect creature Cystbearer. Against a player it is kind of a 4/3 but it doesn’t even really trade with a comparably costed Silt Crawler (which you would never play in Standard). Keep in mind in the heads up race, Mirran Crusader also does double damage 🙂

My main concern about the size (specifically power) of Infect creatures is that they are much less effective — given comparable costs — against Planeswalkers. Mirran Crusader will whack the average Jace, the Mind Sculptor with one swing; not so Phyrexian Crusader.

… Just something to think about when evaluating the abilities on a creature like this one.

That said, as was pointed out by Propagandist in the previous blog post comments, Phyrexian Crusader is basically un-killable. Not only does this creature dodge all the same removal as Paladin en-Vec did (and make for more practical protection from Journey to Nowhere than Mirran Crusader’s “Protection from Aspect of Wolf (or whatever)” Phyrexian Crusader might be a fine combattler. Context will determine much of this as the format unfolds, but I can see him first striking down the power of larger animals, and walking away even when he doesn’t win.

Where Can I See This Fitting In?

Right now I would guess Phyrexian Crusader will be limited to an Infect linear deck. The problem with this creature relative to Mirran Crusader is that he doesn’t add much to “regular” strategies. I mean you can throw him in next to Black Knight and the opponent will just let Phyrexian Crusader hit four times before thinking about dealing with the new guy. The damage [plus Poison Counters] just don’t add up. Maybe he will get some good teammates, or maybe he will make for some kind of a stop sign / sideboard switcheroo (say holding back an entire White army or buying 100 turns against a Red Deck), but I don’t see the same potentially widespread adoption that the opposite number might have.

Even on the Infect team he isn’t the All-Star, but it is certainly the case that he helps upgrade the team (and with some help, potentially to Constructed legitimacy) by providing a much more legitimate option at a lower point in the curve.

Snap Judgment Rating: Role Player


Blah Blah Mirran Crusader


Mirran Crusader :: Paladin en-Vec :: … In comparison to Mirran Crusader

I savagely stole this from the Star City Games Facebook page:

Mirran Crusader

So on the stats, this guy is pretty nutso. I mean compare him with Paladin en-Vec:

Paladin en-Vec

I have been hot and cold over Paladin en-Vec over the years. Generally I am not on the same side as the little White creatures, and I am basically never on the side of playing two power combat creatures for three mana… But back when Paladin en-Vec + Umezawa’s Jitte was “the best combo in Standard” (credit: Tsuyoshi Fujita) I did make Budget Boros, which was an influential and successful deck in its day.

Anyway, enough about me…

Mirran Crusader is almost a strict upgrade to Paladin en-Vec.

Both creatures have the same mana costs (1WW), the same brawlin’ stats (2/2), and Protection from Black. Paladin en-Vec has Protection from Red and Mirran Crusader replaces that with Protection from Green. Let’s table the color difference on those abilities for a moment and move onto the First Strike line.

The original has First Strike; Mirran Crusader matches with Double Strike… Which is like First Strike stapled onto regular-strike… Making Mirran Crusader a highly efficient four power attacker, especially when left unblocked.

Mirran Crusader may very well make for the most aggressive Double Strike creature ever (or at least since Boros Swiftblade)… If Paladin en-Vec + Umezawa’s Jitte was supposed to be the best combo in Standard back a few years ago, what does that mean for Mirran Crusader? This is a cat (err… Human Knight) who can tussle with a Primeval Titan and walk away. What happens when you slap Adventuring Gear on it? Does Mirran Crusader singlehandedly blank the entire Vampires deck?

I mean probably.

I think we can all agree that Mirran Crusader is a near-strict upgrade to an old favorite, and is even more wicked once you start making him bigger, especially up front.

Now let’s get back to the issue of Protection from Red versus Protection from Green. Protection from Green is not as good as Protection from Red. As in part of what made Paladin en-Vec so super duper is that you could put Umezawa’s Jitte on him and no one was going to Doom Blade or Lightning Bolt (or shall we say Terror or Shock) in response. When it comes to instant speed Red removal, Mirran Crusader is so wide open he might as well be that new Mel Gibson movie.

Don’t get me wrong; this should still be an excellent drop… It is just not a strict upgrade, and Red Decks will actually be happy to face it a lot of the time, despite the absurd number of high quality abilities.

Did you see what that guy did with three mana? Shock you! … I mean it. I MEANT THE MIRRAN CRUSADER. Die, Knight, die!

Snap Judgment Rating – Staple