Entries Tagged 'Magic' ↓

Gatecrash: Bad Habits and Urban Evolution

Earlier this week my old Apprentice Will Price aka WillPop aka SloppyStack lobbed this tweet at YT:

This is the Gatecrash card to which beloved WillPop was referring:

Urban Evolution

I must admit my snap judgment on the card is favorable. Is it really “bad” of me though? I thought I’d compare Urban Evolution to some other cards and think about how it stacks up.

Jace’s Ingenuity
When Jace’s Ingenuity first came out, I called it overrated. My system doesn’t really care if you are an instant or a sorcery in terms of CMC, and Jace’s Ingenuity was therefore just one more than Concentrate. Of course the first time I played Jace’s Ingenuity I ended up spiking a $5K. Jace’s Ingenuity was great!

Now had Jace’s Ingenuity been Concentrate, it probably wouldn’t have single-handedly crushed my combo-Exarch Twin opponent, so perhaps I was wrong on my orignal assessment of that card. From a pure effect standpoint, Urban Evolution is more effective than Jace’s Ingenuity. You get to draw the same three cards, but seeing as you will often draw an incremental land, you get a solid option tacked on. Of course, if you don’t draw another land (but you already had one), Urban Evolution is still fine with that.

Three cards against four. Four is bigger than three… But putting a permanent mana source into play is worth something. Lay of the Land and Rampant Growth have both been playable cards, and there is a reason that the extra mana is justifiable on a Rampant Growth.

One mana is about the value of a card… The two cards are therefore relatively equal in power.

Cosmetically, the first difference we see is 3UU versus 3GU; 3GU = 1G + 2U. Urban Evolution is actually exactly Explore + Counsel of the Soratami. Explore and Counsel of the Soratami (or Divination) are both / all playable cards. Putting them together like this, compacting multiple reasonable effects into a single card, actually increases its economy.


My guess is that the Explore-ness of Urban Evolution will be an incidental source of additional utility, rather than being particularly strategic to a deck’s focus. I do think it is a potentially strong basket of effects, so the real question is where Urban Evolution might see play.

Urban Evolution just seems like a better card than Amass the Components to me. The sole known Amass the Components deck already plays Farseek… The existing Bant shell can certainly accomodate Urban Evolution already.

It is probably also the kind of card we might see in a potential Enter the Infinite deck. Such a deck would have a strong interest in not just digging to Omniscience but to have lands in play to cast it. Again, I can see some hand-in-hand there.

Bad habits? I don’t know.

But sure, I’ll buy that R&D is doing all kinds of stuff to tug at ye olde heartstrings.


Gatecrash: Nothing Else Matters When You ENTER THE INFINITE

Last week I wanted to give my friend Patrick Sullivan’s RDW strategy in Legacy a whirl. I made my deck with main-deck Searing Blaze, as Patrick had suggested when I hung out with him in Las Vegas recently.

Testing was brief and miserable.

It wasn’t Patrick’s fault.

I was playing two-man Legacy queues on MTGO and — as is sometimes the case in the wee hours — you keep trying to get reps in on a two-man queue, and you just end up playing the same guy over and over. In this case, the guy was playing a Show and Tell / Omniscience deck. He got very fast draws and beat me badly a couple of times. I made a mental note that if I were to try Patrick’s deck in a real / big Legacy tournament (like the upcoming Star City Invitational in NJ in a couple of months) I would play Red Elemental Blast or thereabouts. I didn’t like having no access to meaningful interaction.

The first time we fought I sided in Ensnaring Bridge. I even drew one for his turn two or turn three Show and Tell! The opponent had beaten me in Game One with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. I decided that even if he was “legitimately” casting Emrakul (i.e. getting the free Time Walk) that I could keep him from actually attacking me.

Unfortunately instead of Emrakul, he dropped Omniscience; his next play — upon seeing my Ensnaring Bridge — was to play a free Burning Wish. He found the seldom-seen Petals of Insight and drew through his deck until he could find a non-attacking way to win. He ended up just racking up tons of reps with his Petals of Insight (all free, thanks to Omniscience), found another Burning Wish, played it (for free) and got a Grapeshot (again for free, and more than big enough to kill me).

Like I said, I dropped out of the Legacy queues and eventually worked on my Liliana of the Dark Realms deck, which turned out brilliantly, as you know. I stopped playing Legacy RDW (at least for a little while) but really admired the ingenuity of including a card like Petals of Insight, really taking advantage of the radically altered game state afforded by an on-line Omniscience.

Luckily, this is a reality limited to big formats.

Or is it?

Enter, ahem, Enter the Infinite:

Enter the Infinite
Enter the Infinite

Travis Woo has recently returned to the forefront of rogue deck design with his OmniDoor deck. A Standard Omniscience deck, Travis’s plays Omniscience and then sets up a couple of copies of Temporal Mastery. It can win all different ways including getting in multiple shots from Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker (with two extra turns it isn’t hard to get Bolas Ultimate) or just attacking you with a Thragtusk powered up by Kessig Wolf Run.

With Enter the Infinite, once you have Omniscience down, you can just draw your deck and win with whatever you want to win with. You kind of really do need Omniscience first, because even if you can cast Enter the Infinite to draw your deck, that doesn’t mean you can cast everything. “All your cards” doesn’t equal “all necessary mana” … But when you have Omniscience down that’s not a problem.

My current favorite way to close out an “infinite” game is by getting all the copies of another new card, Biovisionary:


Obviously you can just get all four and put them into play; or you can get all four, Clone and Evil Twin them, and then pass. Interacting with you at this point is probably pointless, because you can have a Counterspell (and the “mana” to use it). You probably have access to more good answers in hand (and can cast them) than the opponent has spells, total.

BDM mentioned tonight you can get circa one Laboratory Maniac [as well] and win with card draw if something happens to your Biovisionaries.

But hey!

Just spitballing.

Not much else matters when you Enter the Infinite, after all.


What Liliana of the Dark Realms Says About Grand Prix Atlantic City


A few months ago then-R&D member Zac Hill previewed Liliana of the Dark Realms over on ye olde Mother Ship. Today Zac is in NYC, so we chat, have had a coffee, etc. One thing that has come up between us is the general under-appreciation of Liliana of the Dark Realms by the Magic community at large.

Probs they’ve just never played with her.

Liliana of the Dark Realms is an unambiguously powerful Magic card. For close to twenty years man has yearned for nothing more than a one-way Howling Mine. If nothing else, Liliana is that; she’s really good at her job. Black control decks are often mana hungry. Liliana helps make sure you hit your fifth land drop (or fourth, with a Rakdos Keyrune), and is generally big enough to get a second [+1] activation. I can’t say I use Liliana of the Dark Realms to kill a lot of creatures (maybe one murdering out of three matches), but especially in Game One situations (when you don’t have Rakdos’s Return in your deck) she goes baby Ultimate by giving Vampire Nighthawk +10/+10 or thereabouts.

Oh, and game on?

I just hit submit over at the home of The Official Miser’s Guide.

Rakdos Receipt
“Click to make me big.”

So it looks like I’m pretty pot committed to Liliana of the Dark Realms at next weekend’s Grand Prix Atlantic City.

Thanks to Liliana of the Dark Realms for drawing me so many extra cards.

And thanks to Zac for reminding me that Liliana of the Dark Realms draws so many extra cards 🙂

More on this next Flores Friday (probs).


Words Mean Things by Patrick Chapin

One of the most compelling voices in the Magic community, Patrick Chapin “The Innovator” is a member of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame and the author of Next Level Magic.

This article contains profanity, including gay and racial slurs.

“Don’t be a faggot.”

When we communicate, it is not just some trivial exercise. It is not about repeating words in familiar patterns, like a machine.

Real communication is about conveying meaning.

I generally don’t use the word “nigga” (or its various analogues)—not because it is taboo, but because it tends to obscure meaning, rather than convey it.

I spent a number of years in prison. During my time there, I dwelt in an awful lot of circles that used the term very freely. In public settings, it would have been inappropriate to use this language. However, it is a term that has taken on many ironic reversals and additional meanings over the past thirty years, and when it was just me and people I knew, it was generally acceptable for Caucasians, such as myself, to use the term and be referred to by this term.

However, just because the group had accepted this language doesn’t mean it promoted healthy thought patterns. If I can say it another way, a way that is clearer and contains more real meaning, why would I cling to a word that can cause misunderstanding and confusion?

“Don’t be a faggot.”

We can go on about how that word doesn’t mean what it used to, so people shouldn’t be offended by it, but in the real world, that hurts people, particularly ourselves. It influences how we think, and not necessarily for the better.

Words mean things.

Many boys grow up in environments where they are pushed around or otherwise made to feel inferior. Sometimes they are bullied. Often, fathers, brothers, or other older boys will assert themselves as “the dominant males” over the younger ones.

These older males provide the models that the younger ones use to formulate their worldviews and their strategies for interacting in life. If a boy’s role models use bullying and abusive behavior to try to control the people around them, this provides a blueprint for the boy to follow, often long before they are even aware of it.

The Magic community contains quite a few adolescent boys. A common phenomenon in adolescent boy cultures is the use of rape slang, which reveals a lot about the nature of rape.

Rape is about power.

Some men treat or see other people, usually women, as objects rather than as human beings: trophies to be fought over and won; dogs to be commanded and punished for misbehaving. At its core, rape is about power over an individual, making someone submit to one’s will and transforming that person into an object or an obedient animal.

Part of it is an attempt to release anger and frustration, but the release is only temporary. Because of this, the rape mentality generally leads to repeated behavior.

What does this have to do with using the word “rape” as slang for “won by a large margin?”

When someone uses the expression, “He got raped,” they are generally just repeating something they’ve heard someone else say. After all, if you or a loved one has been raped, the expression is a lot less funny.

“He got raped.”

I used to do commentary for the Top 8 of Pro Tours sometimes, way back about ten years ago. Back then, there was a rotating cast that included Chris Pikula, Brian Weissman, Brian Hacker, Brian Kibler, Randy Buehler, Michael Flores, Matt Place, myself, and more.

During the Top 8 of a Pro Tour, I was in the booth, in a role not unlike the one I adopt from time to time for SCG Opens. Between rounds, a WotC employee pulled me aside and asked me to watch my language. I was taken aback. What had I said? I wasn’t swearing.

“It’s not cool to describe one player as raping the other.”

I hadn’t even been thinking and obviously didn’t mean anything by it, but here I was, a dumb kid who didn’t know anything about anything, and I was using rape slang in the official WotC commentary.

Now here is the part that makes me look back and cringe.

My response was to try to explain to this person—who was only representing the interests of a company that sells games to people of all ages—that “rape” doesn’t always mean forcing someone to have sex. It is also “slang” for beating someone badly.

It’s amazing how much you know when you are 18.

“Words mean things. If that is how you talk when you are with your kid friends, that is your business, but if you want to interact with the adults, you are going to have to face the reality that words mean things. You aren’t talking to hear yourself speak. Whenever you talk, whoever can hear you is your audience. Remember what it is you are doing.”

I felt like an idiot. Despite knowing everything (I was 18, so kind of a given), I realized that just as chronic swearing is a symptom of a shortage of intelligence, so too is the inability to adjust one’s language to the situation at hand. Looking back, I didn’t even consider at the time just how inappropriate that kind of language was in an official capacity, let alone in any kind of public forum.

However, it is not just being mindful of the language we use in public. The language we use behind closed doors influences our thought process.

“Don’t be a faggot.”

The expression is said to have nothing to do with sexuality, a way of saying, “That’s not cool.”

At its core, this expression means “Homosexuality is so not cool, the most powerful way I can condemn your action is by suggesting that it is as bad as being homosexual.” That may not be one’s conscious thought process, but that is what they are saying.

The use of “faggot” as a derogatory term stems from hateful origins towards both women and homosexual men. Eventually this led to its popularity as a term boys say to each other in an attempt to assert their own masculinity by challenging the masculinity of other boys (following the example of those around them). In this context, “faggot” is not a permanent identity, such as one’s ethnicity or name. Rather, it is fluid, an identity that one seeks to avoid, such as being “it” in a game of tag. Many boys play this game of tag for years, back and forth with other boys.

“You are a fag!”

“No, you are!”

That’s adorable, but words mean things. If that is how you talk when you are with your kid friends, that is your business, but if you want to interact with the adults, you are going to have to face the reality that words mean things. You aren’t talking to hear yourself speak. Whenever you talk, whoever can hear you is your audience. Remember what it is you are doing.

When we are at a Magic tournament, we are confronted with a whole lot of people, many of whom we don’t know all that well. It can be very tempting to try to assert our masculinity by challenging the masculinity of others.

Want to know a secret?

If you are actually secure in your masculinity, you have no need for such petty tools.

What’s more, use of this language speaks volumes about a person, and the people around them pick up on the message between the lines.

Do you think Brian Kibler uses those words? What about Luis Scott-Vargas?

The words we use shape who we are. They influence our thought patterns and steer how we approach things.

The reasons to avoid such language in public settings, such as a Magic tournament or Facebook, are obvious. After all, when you are talking, everyone who can hear you is your audience. We did not come to this game accidentally. We are intelligent. We have more effective ways of communicating.

However, reconsidering hateful speech publically is only part of the equation. It’s not about the word itself; it is about the thought process. This thought process is toxic, and if you indulge in it in private, it will influence you in public.

You know why rape and hate slang continues? The same reason all slang does — because of people repeating it. From experience, I can tell you, it is relatively easy to clean up a circle’s language. If you resolve that something isn’t cool, it doesn’t take long for it to impact the circles you run in. That circle reflects who you are but also leaves impressions on you. If you do not impress on it, it will impress on you.

I am blessed with a number of close gay friends who have greatly enriched my life. Each of my experiences leads me to believe that potentially shutting out a percentage of people from my life by using hateful language is a huge mistake.

We all have our own path to walk.

There is room for an awful lot of people to live lives that are not identical to our own. What is right for someone else is not necessarily right for us, and what is right for us is not necessarily right for them. Why not give them the benefit of the doubt, especially if they are not hurting someone else?

No matter how tempting to try, we can’t make everyone else do what we want. What we can do is decide who we are, right now. It might not be the same as who we were yesterday, and that is okay.

When we see someone making fun of someone else at a Magic tournament for being different, we have lots of options. Are we someone who joins in, attempting to assert our masculinity? Are we someone who just tries to fit in with the crowd? Are we someone willing to stand up for someone who is outnumbered? Are we someone who is just afraid to say something, fearing becoming the next target? Are we someone who believes it is wrong to treat someone badly because of their race, sexuality, or gender?

Obviously none of this is to say that censorship is the answer. Words mean things, and if a given word is what you really want to say, more power to you. Rather, I’m trying to dispel the naïve notion that just because you might not be offended by a word, it doesn’t mean it’s not harmful and needless. Look, I am always touched when a straight, white American male is not offended by something, but maybe we are forgetting what it is we are doing.

There is a real temptation to defend slurs by arguing that the burden is on the other person to not be offended. After all, can’t anyone just say they are offended by anything? The thing is, asking someone if they are offended by something isn’t particularly fruitful. You don’t think it just puts all the pressure on them and risk being hated more? Likewise, a single person saying they are offended by something doesn’t make it offensive. It is a piece of evidence that helps build a case, but declaring something offensive does mean other people are offended by it.

Using slurs is harmful, not just because of the possibility of offending someone. It is harmful because of the implications. It makes people uncomfortable; it’s disrespectful; it’s bullying; and sadly, it leads to influencing the victims to go out and find victims of their own.

Words mean things.

Whenever people do something differently, someone is going to lash out against them. Maybe they’ll laugh at them, ridicule them, or hate them. People are scared of change, and they fear what is different from them.

Recently, I heard a young man, who considers racism obviously stupid, verbally attack a transgender individual he had never met.


What had this individual done to earn scathing slurs in front of countless people?

They had succeeded at something the boy wished he could succeed at.

Here we have a boy who considers himself a moral authority, who realizes the foolishness of racism; and yet when confronted with someone different from him, he didn’t even realize what he was doing.

Just as any woman who Top 8s a major event is greeted by some percentage of boys who hurl degrading remarks about her gender, someone transgender and successful is greeted with hateful slurs. Why?

It’s hard enough to live a transgender life. What do we gain by making their life harder, more painful? You don’t have to agree with all of someone’s choices or even understand them. However, if they aren’t hurting someone else, why attack them? Why be cruel?

In my experience, an awful lot of young men playing Magic have had some experience with racism. They’ve come to realize that it is not useful and not who they are; not as many Magic players have interacted with transgender individuals, so perhaps looking to broaden our perspective is worthwhile.

Imagine what it is like, everyone telling you that you are wrong about who and what you are. It can be a pretty tough spot to be. Imagine a bunch of people telling you what you should or should not be, say, or feel, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s going on inside of you.

Being transgender can be like that.

You may disagree with the actions someone is taking, and it may not be something that meshes with your worldview, but are they are hurting anybody? There is no question the life they are living is potentially fraught with hardships and pain, and you are certainly not obligated to do anyone any favors. However, do you really need to torment them and make their life harder? What does that accomplish?

Maybe they will eventually evolve their views. Maybe you will eventually evolve yours. Still, if neither of you changes your views, so what? No one needs to be hurt.

Picking on people in a position of weakness (such as being different from everyone else and having to deal with a world that is not built for them) is an act of cowardice. Whether using slurs because of anger or hate or using them out of ignorance of the implications of slang that carries with it pain and negativity, you have the choice to decide for yourself if that is who you are, or if you are better than that.

You also have the choice to act when you see someone else repeating this noise, without even thinking. I know I am so thankful for that individual who talked some sense into me all those years ago. People may push back, as confronting the truth can be scary, but they may thank you someday.

The signals you send to the world dictate what the world brings you. Make a statement to the world that you are full of kindness, courage, or love, and the world will bring you experiences to match. Make a statement that you are a coward, insecure, or full of hate, and the world will bring you experiences to match.

You want to win more at Magic?

You want to succeed more at anything you do in life?

Be strong. Be open-minded. Be courageous. Be a force for positivity. Be the greatest version of yourself you can envision.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

Everywhere: Another Pass on Rakdos’s Return

As I have been saying everywhere anyone will listen to me for the past couple of weeks I am thoroughly excited by Return to Ravnica [Mythic] rare Rakdos’s Return.

Examples of such places:

My current opinion is that the format is going to evolve — within a few weeks — where Rakdos’s Return becomes a major strategic tool in Standard. The tools we see right now seem like they will encourage a vector “up” in order to counteract a Level One vector “forward” (going bigger, eventually going over-the-top)… And I feel like Rakdos’s Return will make for a twofold potential over-the-top (regular decks do a bad job of interacting with big X-spells to the face) and a parity-breaker. If both players are just dumping dudes on the table or trading removal spells even a small amount of card advantage putting one into topdeck mode can help you into a great position of advantage (in particular if your deck is all two-for-one advantage cards to begin with).

Strategically, I think a critical mass of two-for-ones will be strong against blue control, give an edge against other creature decks by blunting beatdown, and in this case, Rakdos’s Return (the card at hand) can serve as a Mind Shatter or a finishing Blaze even when the opponent is empty.

I posted an earlier version of this deck on Flores Friday last week but once I saw the card Centaur Healer I knew I wanted to go in another direction. In particular, the curve of Centaur Healer into Huntmaster of the Fells into Thragtusk seemed like the dream disaster for attackers. And once you have white for Centaur Healer? Restoration Angel just seems like the most obvious tool in the world when you are playing a critical mass of 187 creatures.

The biggest shift I eventually resigned myself to was to cut Lotleth Troll — the most obvious card in the world for a creature deck that can make both black and green — to go mono-land-searching thug.

Here is my current build (which presumes a certain set of mana tools, and can therefore be impaired or improved depending on the reality of the format):

3 Abrupt Decay
3 Dreadbore
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Rakdos’s Return

4 Borderland Ranger
4 Farseek
4 Gatecreeper Vine
3 Thragtusk

4 Bonfire of the Damned

4 Restoration Angel

4 Blood Crypt
7 Forest
2 Gavony Township
1 Mountain
4 Overgrown Tomb
1 Plains
1 Rakdos Guildgate
1 Selesnya Guildgate
1 Swamp
1 Temple Garden

2 Duress
4 Centaur Healer
2 Slaughter Games
1 Acidic Slime
1 Thragtusk
4 Pillar of Flame
1 Ray of Revelation

Gavony Township was Osyp Lebedowicz’s idea. I tried one, then two; and I kept cutting total lands… Turns out with all these Gatecreeper Vines and Borderland Rangers and Farseeks you don’t need to have a billion lands to act like you do. 23 is actually just fine, and the deck obviously mulligans well seeing as it has 8 cards main that go +1 card and actually fix your mana.

The sideboard is designed to either resolve Rakdos’s Return against blue control (soften them up with Duress or Slaughter Games) or go mono-beatown destroyer with 4 Pillar of Flame, 4 Centaur Healer, 4 Huntmaster of the Fells, and 4 Thragtusk. With Pillar of Flame containing Lotleth Troll, Gravecrawler, Geralf’s Messenger, and Strangleroot Geist; plus a chain of unending life gain (backed up by Restoration Angel) I feel like this deck should have some great beatdown defense tools.

I have been screwing around on MTGO with similar substitute cards (Sylvan Scrying for Gatecreeper Vine grabbing Elfhame Palace for instance) and the mana seems like it should work.

Just the first-ish pass 🙂


Don’t forget to buy TheOMG at Star City Games!

Hard-working Huntmaster of the Fells

So, bad news first…

Today’s videos are also out-of-step in terms of audio and visuals.

Oh well, I assume you will forgive me.

Speaking of forgiveness, Huntmaster of the Fells really undoes a lot of goofball play. That is a good Magic: The Gathering Card.

In these videos you will see (but not really love the narration of) the battle between ye olde Huntmaster of the Fells and new kid on the block, Blood Artist. Blood Artist tries his best, but let’s be honest, one of these cards costs twice as much mana as the other one and won its debut PT with a mirror match finals.

Huntmaster of the Fells

Cool Blood Artist play:
At one point I smash my opponent with Bonfire of the Damned when he has Blood Artist equipped with Mortarpod. I mentally figure myself as taking four damage (one from the Mortarpod sacrifice, then three from the triggers on Blood Artist when his dudes die)… My opponent correctly (!) does not sacrifice the Blood Artist to Mortarpod. Why?

He wouldn’t have a Blood Artist in play to cash in the three one stack later!

So, I was wrong about taking four (took three instead). A more impulsive, greed motivated (but ultimately incorrect) opponent might accidentally just do one.

Cool Huntmaster of the Fells play:
It is pretty easy to leave back spells to flip over Huntmaster of the Fells. Even mana-tapping-greedy folk like me can do it! You can use your mana to sacrifice creatures to Birthing Pod, or just cast a Restoration Angel on the opponent’s turn (ideally locking fingers with your Ravager of the Fells to set up more Huntmaster of the Fells triggers).

Sorry again for some sub-optimal video content. New computer / haven’t done this for a year / whatever assorted excuses.

Game One: Naya Pod v. B/W Tokens

Game Two: Naya Pod v. B/W Tokens


What is #DesperateRavings?

Zealous Conscripts in… Naya Pod!

So over the weekend I [presumably] melted yet another iMac hard drive by playing MTGO on Parallels.

This is possibly meaningless to you if you don’t own a Mac. Basically I slowed down / stopped making Magic videos about a year ago on account of it being cumbersome from a hardware standpoint. My wife, irate at the steaming slag heap that was once a glorious centerpiece of computing entertainment, instructed that I “get a PC and only play the Magic on it” … We are essentially a Mac household but I think it is no stretch at this point to say MTGO plays better on a PC than a Mac.

So I got this new laptop that I am reasonably happy with, and I decided to start taping MTGO videos again!


My Star City fans will be so happy!


Long story short, I was a bit out of step in terms of audio and video on these vids, and didn’t realize until after I had “produced” like eight of them. Totally unsuitable for professional distribution, and way too much work for me to fix on the Mac (or force on Jesse Snyder or Jeremy Noell). So… In a fight between “sending the videos to the graveyard” or “throwing them up on YouTube so at least some of my good people will enjoy them” the latter prevailed.

So please take the next four or so blog posts in that light. In some wise these would have been good enough, I hope, but I am certainly not presenting them as such here and now, today.

Fair warning, a fair amount of these vids is just going to be out-of-sync voice-over of YT and a disembodied Hypercam dialog. To wit:

Big takeaways:

  1. There will be at least four uncharacteristically content-rich blog updates here on FiveWithFlores and the FiveWithFlores YouTube page this week.
  2. They will all be about Naya Pod.
  3. I actually made an even clever-er deck that I am going to do an article on for Flores Friday.
  4. There will be videos on the aforementioned deck-I-like-more-than-Naya-Pod circa Flores Friday or next Monday (Lauren’s pick / I guess it depends how fast I get them to her)

Today’s videos have this fellow featured quite prominently:

Hold on a sec… Is Zealous Conscripts a chick?

Game One, versus U/W Control
In which Zealous Conscripts struts her shenanigans all over Consecrated Sphinx.

Game Two, versus U/W Control
In which we encounter the hardest working Cavern of Souls in the history of Dominaria; and a U/W Venser, the Sojourner player learns who exactly has inevitability. Spoilers!

Hope you enjoyed these, again, for what they are.


First Pass on Champion of the Parish

At least before we have a lot of tangible tournament results, I am thinking there are two main interesting cards to think about for Standard with Avacyn Restored:

  1. Delver of Secrets (surprise surprise), and
  2. Cavern of Souls

Specifically, Cavern of Souls gives you another dual land to play first turn Delver of Secrets (and through a Mental Misstep, if that matters)… Plus you get to play Champion of the Parish for double the possible aggressive starts!

Now if you are trying to buff a Champion of the Parish you need to configure your deck list a little bit differently. The Delver deck is already chock full of Humans (Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage, for instance, are both Humans)… But Geist of Saint Traft isn’t. I decided to go a little bit of a different direction and swap Geist of Saint Traft with Blade Splicer. Blade Splicer is a little bit weaker on offense (2 + 4, with the 4 evasive being a bit more damage than 1 + 3 and the 3 not evasive); but the 3 [Golem] striking first (and potentially generating a fine synergy with Intangible Virtue) makes for an elite defense.

Please keep in mind this is just a first pass:

Champion Delver with Avacyn Restored v.1

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Gitaxian Probe
2 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Vapor Snag

2 Gut Shot

4 Blade Splicer
3 Gather the Townsfolk
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Champion of the Parish

4 Cavern of Souls
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Island
2 Moorland Haunt
1 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast

1 Batterskull
1 Consecrated Sphinx 
2 Dissipate
2 Mental Misstep
2 Negate
1 Gut Shot
2 Celestial Purge
1 Revoke Existence
3 Timely Reinforcements

Whether Intangible Virtue or Honor of the Pure is the right buffing enchantment is up for grabs, I think. It is a question of how much you care about Vigilance versus buffing Champion of the Parish; I have Honor of the Pure right now because this seems to be a bit of a “Champion” deck. I am sure you can see the hyper-aggressive starts like…

  • Champion of the Parish –> Gather the Townsfolk…

Or better yet:

  • Champion of the Parish –> Champion of the Parish + Delver of Secrets

I am not super satisfied with this pass right now. For one, I don’t even know which is the right two drop enchantment! Other things kind of up in the air…

2 Mana Leak + 2 Gut Shot… I am neither elite against G/R Ramp nor against other Delver decks in the main; when I was playing 2 Gut Shots in Baltimore I felt like a smart guy, but right now many Delver players are main decking three Gut Shots! I felt like Mana Leak was a compromise-able card based on my previous Cavern of Souls blog post (i.e. players like G3rryT and Jonny Magic are playing only two).

3 Blade Splicer or 3 Gather the Townsfolk? This one is pretty debatable. I went with 3 Gathers because we have shifted Cavern of Souls to a primary source of White mana… but it doesn’t actually cast a Gather the Townsfolk… Same reason I dropped the Moorland Haunt count by one (it doesn’t contribute to the Moorland Haunt activation). I guess you can cut a Gitaxian Probe… But that’s like my favorite card in Standard, so please don’t do that.

Obviously this version doesn’t have the “race you with an Invisible Stalker” functionality of the straight Delver deck; that said, I found Invisible Stalker to be the weakest card in straight Delver, worse than a Champion of the Parish, certainly, if you don’t have a Sword of War and Peace or a Pike.

The sideboard is medium-straightforward. The only weird card is Consecrated Sphinx. I actually kind of fell in love with that card in Delver playing a variation of Caleb Durward’s Delver list, whereas I give Jace, Memory Adept a rating of “uh… I guess it’s a card” in most situations.

I do think Mental Misstep is an absolute must for Delver, even though it is a bit weaker now that Cavern of Souls will be entering the Standard Arena… But if you watched Chi Hoi Yim work over Robbie Cordell in the finals of the Birmingham Open (and how could you not, with the attractive and charismatic Joey Pasco YT on the mic?) … You know what kind of havoc Mental Misstep can levy in the Delver mirror… Especially on the draw and when setting up Timely Reinforcements.

Speaking of which, a month or so ago I felt like the Delver mirror was my best matchup in Standard due to my figuring out Mental Misstep (and I know that is ironic as I finally lost the Delver mirror playing for Top 8, on camera)… and the truth is, my Invitational deck was nowhere near as prepared for other Delver decks as this one.

I think the tensions in Standard are going to be interesting. This version — whether you stay with Honor of the Pure or move [back] to Intangible Virtue — is pretty on-par with the “tokens” Delver decks in terms of tokens production + buffing (they are going to have some mix of Midnight Haunting and Lingering Souls instead of Gather the Townsfolk and Blade Splicer), but one Golem can rumble pretty adequately with multiple regular tokens, and you can use your Phyrexian mana to set up a favorable Gather, don’t forget. On balance you have much faster and more explosive mana, and you have literally twice the aggressive draws with Champion of the Parish to get in early damage and put the opponent (or any opponent) on his heels.

Again, just a first pass, but certainly adequate for… say… the first week’s FNM.

I am pretty sure if I were playing in the Rhode Island Open this weekend I would be playing four copies of each of Delver of Secrets, Champion of the Parish, and Cavern of Souls though… Those cards are too good and too fast to ignore, plus they are great together and make for wild synergies with token producers and everything else you want to do with the best deck since Caw-Blade Exarch Twin.



New Respect for Restoration Angel

By now you have probably seen Restoration Angel.

If not, I will remind you by pasting it here:

Restoration Angel

My friends Hall of Famer Brian Kibler and future Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin had some interesting things to say about Restoration Angel last week. Patrick pointed out that Restoration Angel, at 3/4, is perfectly suited to mug a Delver of Secrets or Strangleroot Geist with its flash ability; moreover, its “Momentary Blink” will often be worth a card.

Patrick was surprised at how little hoopla and hype were surrounding Restoration Angel (at the time). I mean what if it said…

When Restoration Angel enters the battlefield, draw a card.


That would be un-ignore-ably bonkers, no?

Well, she kinda sorta says that now… And if you think back to how much I liked Simian Grunts back in the day (sadly I played Simian Grunts to a PT Day Two… in Extended… #BlameAdrianSullivan)… Restoration Angel has a lot of Simian Grunts to it, only without the echo (but with, you know, flying).

Kibler said Restoration Angel is his favorite card in the new set, and not to expect Daybreak Ranger prices.

So yeah Yeah YEAH Restoration Angel is a good card.

… None of that is what I want to talk about today. During my stint in the SCGLive booth this past weekend, Joey Pasco had Restoration Angel blown up on the big screen.

It was an eye-opening experience for YT, and one that catapulted Restoration Angel to new heights of something in my mind.

I actually stumbled on Johannes Voss’s DeviantArt page and found a great graphic that shows the artist’s process from start to finish. You should check it out. (BTW Voss’s Commander’s Authority is probably my favorite art in the set).

But for our purposes I am just going to excerpt from one of the early stage pre-pics:

I want to emphasize that I really like Voss’s stroke. You can see some mad light source skills in this earlier stage, and I feel like I can actually see the speed used to produce the strings holding together that blue bustier. Technique, I like. Here is a rare commentary from YT about the content of the piece.

So… As far as I can tell, this is a pic of a dude looking up the skirt of a winged blonde in full battle armor a Southern Belle nighty.



Catching Up on Cavern of Souls

Hey everybody!

Sorry if I am a bit late to the game on this topic but I was busy all weekend doing this:

… So I hope y’all liked the ceiling-shattering commentary at SCGLive; so, point being, “I was busy.”

The card in question is Cavern of Souls:

Cavern of Souls

But what is interesting-interesting (or at least the subject of this here blog post) is Zac Hill’s preview article for it at the Mother Ship. And while it might seem a bit apropos in reaction to an article entitled “Gonna Hate” I want to make sure you know I hold Zac in pretty high regard. He made sure to jam a PT Top 8 before taking his gig in R&D, he has a super awesome educational background, and while the most mainstream-mainstream thing I’ve ever written for is a Cosmopolitan article entitled “Stupid Things Guys Do for Fashion” mighty Zac is a contributor to HuffPo (/jelly!).

… But I still disagree with lots of the stuff he wrote in the Cavern of Souls preview.

By the by, unlike certain other commentators (like heartthrob game designer Brian Kibler) I don’t really care about the “… can’t be countered” bit on Cavern of Souls feeling tacked-on. I come from a place of fundamental disagreement with the presuppositions that drove a perceived need around the card.

Here is a summary of the points I am going to hit with this post:

  • [R&D] messed up with Snapcaster Mage.
  • Mana Leak was almost as savage a culprit as good ol’ Tiago himself // Mana Leak is simply a much more powerful card than [R&D] would be comfortable printing under modern development rules.
  • [R&D] would never print Signets nowadays.
  • … creatures were too weak for most of Magic’s history

[R&D] messed up with Snapcaster Mage

Personally, as a fan of the game as well as ONE OF THE TOP 10 DECK DESIGNERS OF ALL TIME * my basic belief is that there is always a best card. Sometimes that best card — say in a Tier Two metagame — is a card like Loxodon Hierarch, Remand, or Skred. Loxodon Hierarch — which my team (which included PT Champions like Osyp Lebedowicz, Jon Finkel, and Steve OMS; plus off-team consultant Patrick Chapin) considered the runaway best card in Ravnica Block — was not even played by the winning squad at PT Charleston; I guess their own Top 10 deck designer Saito disagreed. Loxodon Hierarch and Remand — two cards from Ravnica — were at different points considered the best card in Standard… I didn’t even play Remand when I won States with This Girl and no one on any of our Charleston teams played it in Block. When I declared Skred to be the best card in Standard… I was right.

… Yet many players thought this was ludicrous (and probably believably so).

PT Champion Chris Lachmann eventually agreed… on the way to his X-0 performance at Worlds with G/R Snow ramp.

But these are the Best Cards of a Tier Two metagame.

What is the best card in modern Legacy? Force of Will? Brainstorm? Narcomoeba? I don’t know either.

There is always a best card, even in relatively flat metagames.

Today’s Standard is not a flat metagame. This is a metagame of battleships, haymakers, and star destroyers.

… And Snapcaster Mage isn’t even the best card in it.

I have Snapcaster Mage as probably the #2 card in Standard (after Delver of Secrets). I saw a recent rundown of the format’s best cards on ChannelFireball… that did not include Snapcaster Mage at all. (LOL)

Ultimately, I don’t think the presence of a best card is indicative of a mistake. I don’t mind the Titans. I think it’s cool that we have cards like Primeval Titan that have enabled so many interesting land combinations from Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle; to Kessig Wolf-Run; to motherlovin’ Glimmervoid or Cloudpost. How is that a bad thing? How can it be anything but awesome to build scenarios where Copper Myr is the right choice for a particular style of deck?

By the way, I don’t think it was the Titans that killed beloved Baneslayer Angel, rather it really was Mana Leak.


Mana Leak was almost as savage a culprit as good ol’ Tiago himself // Mana Leak is simply a much more powerful card than [R&D] would be comfortable printing under modern development rules.

Zac’s assertions seem to be twofold:

  1. Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage are both issues; Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage together are greater than the sum of their problematic parts.
  2. Mana Leak is overpowered.

The points are related; I will deal with them separately and together.

Again, I don’t think that the existence of Snapcaster Mage is a big problem. I would actually rather have a card like Snapcaster Mage be the best than lots of other possible kinds of cards; again, even flat Tier Two formats have best cards (and finding out which they are — and at times ignoring them — is part of the charm of Tier Two metagames).

Here’s the problem: If Snapcaster Mage is indeed bringing down creatures with his card advantageous snappiness… Removing Mana Leak isn’t necessarily a very good solution.

Check out the above deck list from master format crusher and Sponsors Invite topdecker Caleb Durward.

Caleb’s stated goal? To make Snapcaster Mage the best Bloodbraid Elf ever; to dominate creature decks. His number of Mana Leaks? Two.


I thought Mana Leaks were keeping creatures down?

I learned a lot from Caleb’s deck list and from talking to him during that Top 8 weekend (the last time I was in the SCGLive booth incidentally). I ran with some of his ideas elsewhere, and paid attention to the efforts of other mighty mages like Brian Kibler, Ben Stark, and Gerry Thompson.

And you know what?

Mana Leak is not what you want if you want to keep creatures down.

Caw-Blade went from a U/W control deck to a u/W board control deck when facing beatdown. Why? Because having Mana Leak as your first line of defense when you are the control is awful when you are going second. I think Zac’s assertion that “[s]pells can only be interacted with for the moment they are on the stack, whereas creatures can be interacted with at sorcery speed” is almost willfully reductive. Creatures are about equally dangerous to spells if and when your defense is a Counterspell; and are more dangerous in general (in that case) as fast creatures have much more offensive impact than fast spells. I can’t even think of comparably costed “spell” threats that put the fear into me like Geist of Saint Traft or the one-two punch of Stromkirk Noble into Stormblood Berserker. Shock you, Incinerate you? Yeah… Maybe if I’ve already been hammered by, you know, Stromkirk Noble into Stormblood Berserker!

If you want to talk about the impact of Mana Leak against creatures… Sure, Mana Leak may be flexible, but it is at its best against something like a Primeval Titan… but in reality you can stand in Karn Liberated or some other comparably costed “I win” Stage Three slaughterhouse. A large Stage Three-enabling creature is really no different than a Cruel Ultimatum. Are you really scared of the 6/6 body, or is is the implication of an on-board Valakut kill or the inevitability of the Inkmoth Nexus offense that is frightening?

Isn’t this kind of obvious?

Mana Leak is good against expensive stuff, whether that is creature, Planeswalker, or sorcery.

Now similarly, if Mana Leak is so overpowered… Why is it getting cut so often?

Jon Finkel played two at PTDKA.

Gerry Thompson is cutting them.

In his B/U Control… Caleb Durward never even had four.

This is a card that is consistently out-paced in popularity by any number of other cards. In the Delver mirror (where Snapcaster Mage is one of your core breakers)… you side Mana Leak out!

The evidence just doesn’t support the idea that Mana Leak is overpowered. Mana Leak is a minority four-of (and was maybe a two-of or three-of in Caw-Blade last year, remember). It sees very little play outside Standard, whereas Standard-legal cards like Delver of Secrets, Ponder, and Lingering Souls are mopping up huge Legacy events. If we are looking to point the finger at someone, I really don’t know that it is Leak.

[R&D] would never print Signets nowadays.

I just found this odd because in terms of a mana fixing kind of card, to me there is an enormous gulf between, say, Boros Signet and Arid Mesa.

… creatures were too weak for most of Magic’s history

I actually think this is ludicrous.

The creatures people are willing to play have always been good, good enough. I mean maybe we boost the power level of chase Mythics (which did not exist way back when), but the creatures we were and continue to be willing to play have changed almost not at all over the eighteen years I have been playing Magic.

Today, we continue to see Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves in decks across all formats.

Kird Ape was available in Revised (my first set); and many players would be happy to play that in Standard today.

Black Knight and White Knight variants — whether we want them to be called Hand of Cruelty or Silver Knight — have been highly playable and important contributors to every format where they have been legal. Legends of the Pro Tour from PV to Bob Maher, Jr. have used these cards to command some of their most memorable tournament performances.

Lord of Atlantis continues to be an archetype driver in a wide format like Legacy!

I would agree that both the top of the creature mountain is higher and the average creature is better than it was eighteen years ago; however, successful tournament players do not select from the average part of the card pool. We select — and ideally have always selected from — the best cards. And I really don’t think there was ever a time when the best cards in this area were so substandard that we couldn’t find enough options to build successful strategies around them.

By the way: I think the fact that one of the most important archetypes ever was built on the back of Ironclaw Orcs is awesome.


Zac’s article (and please remember all my stuff above about respecting Zac… Part of what I love about living in a non-totalitarian environment is that reasonable people can disagree) was brought to me by my broadcast partner and blue-o-phile Joey Pasco.

Joey’s concern with the attitude that I have been combatting in this blog post (rather than any objection to Cavern of Souls) was that “R&D wanted to kill permission-based control” (which is Joey’s favorite).

I take another position.

The ONLY reason any of us loves Magic in any kind of a lasting sense is that it is a dynamic, ever-changing, game. My favorite format all time is probably Masques Block Constructed. I was at my absolute best during Masques Block, and always felt I was two steps ahead of every other deck designer in the world. I consistently put up results, both personally and through bullets and strategic partners.

… And if I had been forced to play nothing but Masques Block Constructed for the ensuing 12 years, I would have quit a long time ago.

Magic is wonderful because sometimes we have permission based control and other times we have tapout control. Sometimes we have a Red Deck with terrible creatures and high quality burn, and other times we have a streamlined Goblins shell that takes a Fujita or Paskins to improve upon… and yet they can! Which is awesome! We have formats where The Rock is the best deck, and we have longer stretches of sanity. We have formats defined by singular challenges of Bitterblossom or Survival of the Fittest, which reward great play for long stretches… and allow the best gap designers to build even more exciting decks that can only be uncovered via the fires of seemingly oppressive strife. We would have had no Cruel Control or Blightning Beatdown if not for Faeries, no Exarch Twin without the pall of Caw-Blade.

There is one constant when it comes to the long-term enjoyment of Magic: The Gathering; and that is change.

blah, Blah, BLAH… Cavern of Souls 🙂


* The 10 Best Deckbuilders of All Time: Herberholz and Flores 🙂