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Monday, August 31, 2009

Grim Tidings #12 - Nice Places to Visit

(Contributed by John Kozlowski)

Planechase is a week away, and I have to say I’m pretty excited about this new Magic variant. If you don’t know what PC is yet, go to http://www.wizards.com/ this week to read all about it.

Although I struggle with the idea of spending $80, (or even $0.01 for that matter) on a non-tournament legal Magic supplement, the overall game concept sounds neat. It adds a new dimension to your magic game, as effects are automatically generated by entering//staying-in//leaving the Plane itself, and even more alternate affects are generated by the Chaos roll. There is a good deal of strategy to consider to decide whether you are going to stay in or walk away from a plane, and how you maneuver the effect around your opponent.

I think a well-tuned planar deck with a matching Magic deck has the tendency to be very unfair to play against, especially in a casual setting. It’s a good thing I intend to play Planechase mostly in multiplayer games, using the communal 41-card planar deck. I think this PC variant is better, because everyone will experience the same effects, and have the opportunity to walk away from Planes if they don’t like it. At least the swingy-game-breaking-insane-and-crazy-brokenness will be random for everyone in this case.

What does this mean for 5C? Well, nothing, competitively speaking.

Casually though, it will be a lot of fun. There are many interesting places to visit that are especially helpful to a 300-card big deck. Here are my favorites so far:



Lethe Lake
Plane – Arkhos
At the beginning of your upkeep, put the top ten cards of your library into your graveyard.
Chaos: Whenever you roll chaos, target player puts the top ten cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard.

First stop, the milling plane. Lethe Lake has been accused of being trash, but I think that might come from someone in a 60-card deck paradigm. In a 300-card deck, losing ten cards is negligible. In fact, it helps, as cards in your graveyard are far easier to access than those still locked away in your library. Raise Dead & Regrowth spells are far more plentiful than tutor effects, so being milled is actually a good thing. Don’t be surprised if I mill myself when I roll Chaos at Lethe Lake.


Panopticon
Plane – Mirrodin
When you planeswalk to Panopticon draw a card. At the beginning of each player's Draw step, that player draws a card.
Chaos: Whenever you roll Chaos, you may draw a card.


Wow this is a simple plane, but it sure has a great effect. I could see many 5C players hanging out at the Panopticon for quite a while. Any time you can draw free cards in a 300-card deck, it has to be good. It will be interesting to see how greedy players get when they want to keep rolling the Chaos dice to draw even more and accidentally walk away from this (howling) gold mine.


Otaria
Plane – Dominaria
Instant and sorcery cards in graveyards have flashback. The flashback cost is equal to the card's mana cost.
Chaos: Whenever you roll Chaos, take an extra turn after this one.


While Lethe Lake is the enabler, Otaria may be the killing blow. After you put 20-30 cards in my graveyard, it sure would be nice if you could just cast them all. Enter Otaria, which is sort of like the planar version of Yawgmoth’s Will. You can play all of your instant and sorceries out of your graveyard for the same cost you would have from your hand. Nice Chaos effect too. Otaria may be my favorite planar destination of the 41.


The Maelstrom
Plane – Alara
When you planeswalk to The Maelstrom or at the beginning of your upkeep, you may reveal the top card of your library. If it's a permanent card, you may put it onto the battlefield. Otherwise, put that card on the bottom of your library.
Chaos: Whenever you roll Chaos, return target permanent card from your graveyard to the battlefield.


In 5C decks with a weak manabase, the Maelstrom can be a life saver. Having trouble getting WUBRG? Visit the Maelstrom. Unfortunately, unless you have a Timmy-deck that solely relies on getting big splashy permanents into play (like Akroma,) you’re just as likely to get overwhelmed by The Maelstrom as gain advantage from it. My advice, after your upkeep, start rolling to leave ASAP. If you luck into the Chaos effect, all the more power to you. But after you get your free permanent, don’t share the wealth with your opponents.


Pools of Becoming
Plane - Bolas's Meditation Realm
At the beginning of your end step, put the cards in your hand on the bottom of your library in any order, then draw that many cards.
Chaos: Whenever you Roll Chaos, Reveal the top three cards from your Planar Deck. Each of the revealed card's Chaos Ability Triggers. Then put the revealed cards on the bottom of your planar deck in any order.


Just like the The Panopticon, Pools of Becoming is another card drawing machine. Windfall is restricted in 5C for a reason, so a plane that generate this effect every turn is going to be decent. Interestingly, the effect occurs at the beginning of your end step, so if you want to use the effect, you will have to share. I recommend counting the cards in your opponents hand and then decide if you want to go another round at the Pool. If you have 7 cards in hand, and your opponents all have 2-3, by all means, stick around. If the tables are reversed, head somewhere else.

Well, that’s all I have for this week. I think I need to play some actual games with Planechase to come up with any more in depth strategy than these meager comments, but perhaps I will see you sitting lakeside at Lethe sometime soon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jedi Mind Tricks #2: The Rise and Fail of Uril, the Miststalker

(Contributed by Jed Humphries)

Choosing the General
When I first heard that there were going to be pick-up events for EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander) at Gencon 2009, I decided I wanted to step into the EDHpool. Pastime Games (the company running all the Wizards events at Gencon) announced this around the time Conflux came out, so I immediately starting looking for generals around Alara block. Two generals immediately stood out: Sharuum, the Hegemon and Uril the Miststalker. I discovered early on with my Sharuum deck research that I didn’t have all the artifact shenanigans cards to run this deck, and I didn’t want to drop a lot of money on them, so I abandoned Sharuum.

Building the Deck
I started by research for the Uril deck. I thought that Uril was one of the best generals out there, since he had good shroud, got bigger for each aura attached to him and was a 5/5, all for 5. I saw a few different builds going on the internet. One of there had made a Saproling subtheme to their deck. I didn’t like the deck because I though it was straying away from the main point of the deck which should be to smash face with Uril as quick as possible. Another deck concept had an enchantress subtheme to key off play enchantments. I took that idea and started looking for Auras. The first three that come to mind were Shield of the Oversoul, Runes of the Deus, and Scourge of the Nobilis. I added some more big enchantments (Epic Proportions, Ancestral Mask etc.), and creatures that keyed off playing and having enchantments (Argothian Enchantress, Enchantress’ Presence etc.). After some playtesting, I discovered that the enchantress cards were not very powerful, and were not helping the deck win. I was only drawing a card or two extra per game from them, which didn’t really cut it, so they were cut for cheaper, better cards. Once I was solid in the fact that this was the way I needed to go I started tweaking the deck with more mana accelerators and more enchantment tutors to speed up the deck. I started trying to remove high cost enchants in favor for lower costed enchantments, and enchantments that bounce back to your hand if destroyed. My biggest challenge in playtesting Mike’s Zur deck because it was just about like mine deck except with the cool blue enchants, which most of the time were way better than mine. I added Krosan Grip and Lingify to try and deal with Zur. It only worked about half the time, just because WUB enchantments were just better than RWG enchantments. I have learned to try and play around them as best as possible. I came across deck in playtesting, Bert’s Reaper King deck. I didn’t really have an answer to his cards after he had stopped Uril the first time he hit the table. After playing against him, I increased my enchantment removal and added Rule of Law. I figured out a few things from playtesting. One, I could get Uril out before turn 5 about 50% of the time. Two, if I got Uril out fast enough, I could win a 1 vs 1 most of the time and sometimes win a three player multiplayer. Three, if I got mana screwed, someone started destroying my lands early on, or I was playing against a taxing deck, I was probably going to lose.

Battling at Gencon
I played in three EDH games while at Gencon.

Game One
Generals: Uril the Miststalker, Arcum Dagsson, Wort Raidmother and Oona
When we sat down the blue general players seemed to be intimidated by Uril’s initial sheer power and targeted me for all of there hate (I don’t think they intentionally ganged up on me, but all hate was directed at me). After the first couple of turns, the Arcum Dagsson player had Meekstone and Akroma’s memorial out. He played the Meekstone the turn after Uril attacked so, Uril was out of commission for a while. I didn’t even see it coming since I had never played against Arcum Dagsson. The guy playing Oona was playing an Oona Mill deck, so he was just milling everyone with an assortment of cards. The guy playing Wort Raidmother just basically kept playing cards to let him get tokens, and everyone basically left him alone. I was concerned about the blue players and they were concerned about me, so this ended up being the three of us ignoring the Wort player. The problem I had in this game was I couldn’t get a trample enchantment out or a vigilance enchantment out. The guy playing Arcum Dagsson lost because he forgot to pay for Pact of Negation. After he died (and meekstone was gone), I was really on the offensive because both the other players has a lot more creatures that me and I was still digging for a trample enchantment to kill one of them off. It wasn’t long before Wort Raidmother got out of control and killed both of us both in 1 turn (lots of tokens + Sarkan’s +1/+1 + Garruk’s Overrun = 200+ damage divided by two players).

Game Two
Generals: Uril the Miststalker, Arcum Dagsson, and Wort Raidmother.
I don’t remember much about game two, except that it was a little closer (or closer to me killing both of them). It got to the point where they were all at very low life, and either the Arcsum Daggson guy killed the Wort Raidmother player or I did, I don’t remember. All I know is that I knew I was going up against the Arcum Daggson player. I had no idea what was coming. I played some card and he countered with the card that puts it on the bottom of your deck. He plays Tunnel Vision and wins.

Game Three
Generals: Uril the Miststalker, Numot, the Devastator, Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Sliver Overlord, and some other general I can’t remember.
I didn’t have an awesome start and I got a few attacks in at 10+ damage on a few generals. My problem was that I didn’t know which general was capable of “going off” the fasted” or killing me quickly. Once more creatures started getting out, I started playing more defensively, because I had no blocking creatures. Eventually the guy playing Azami basically went infinite drawing cards and taking turns, and we all scooped.

Reflections of a Jedi
Here are some things I learned at Gencon:

People Have Different Play Styles
People have different play styles than what I was use to playing. I am use to playing with a group that is all about killing opponents a quickly and efficiently as possible. Many of the guys I played against played with cards that I would have dismissed as “good” in an competitive environment. When I saw Wort ands Sliver Overlord, I kind knew what was coming, but Arcum Dagsson, Oona, and Azami, Lady of Scrolls, I was thinking, what is going on and how can they win? Even talking to Azumi player afterwards, he was saying that some of his decks don’t really have a win conditions, he just plays until opponents scoop. He said for his Azami deck that the semi-win con is making everyone else draw out by taking lots of turns (not infinite, but pretty close to it). I guess that may be a blue player’s win condition.

Not Enough Exposure to Generals
Even though I had done a lot of playtesting and tweaking to this deck, I found that many of the generals I faced, I was in the dark about since I was playing against them for the first or second time. I think this lead to me not playing quite as aggressively as I should have. I think at least, in Game Three, I could have taken out 1 or two players before I may have died, but I felt like I didn’t know what others were capable of if I started attacking too much.

No Enough Creatures
Most of the time, I found myself saying, “If I a had a creature or two to play, then I could attack”, so if I were to rebuild this deck again, I would need to find a better balance between enchantments and creatures.


The Decklist
This is the approximate decklist that I used (and I have already dismantled it in utter shame), and functionality of each card

Uril the Miststalker (General)

White
Academy Rector (Enchantment Tutor)
Asha's Favor (Enchantment –First Strike, Flying, Vigilance)
Austere Command (Mass Removal – Creatures, Artifacts, Enchantments)
Aven Mindcensor ( Tutor Hoser)
Baneslayer Angel (Beater)
Battle Mastery (Enchantment – Double Strike)
Condemn (Removal)
Daybreak Coronet (Enchantment – First Strike, Vigilance, Lifelink)
Enlightened Tutor (Tutor – Artifact, Enchantment)
Idyllic Tutor (Tutor –Enchantment)
Oblivion Ring (Enchantment – Creature Removal)
Path to Exile (Removal – Creature)
Replenish (Recursion – Enchantments)
Retether (Recursion – Enchantments)
Rule of Law (Anti-Combo)
Spirit Link (Enchantment – Lifelink, bounces back to hand)
Swords to Plowshares Removal – Creature)
Unquestioned Authority (Enchantment – Protection from creatures)
Wrath of God (Mass Removal – Creatures)

Red
Anger (Gives Haste)
Bogardan Hellkite (Beater and Direct Damage)
Flame Javelin (Direct Damage)
Flametongue Kavu (Direct Damage)
Lightning Bolt (Direct Damage)
Molten Disaster (X Damage)

Green
Birds of Paradise (Mana Acceleration)
Brawn (Gives Trample)
Lignify (Creature Removal)
Eternal Witness Recursion)
Garruk Wildspeaker (Utility)
Harmonize (Card Draw)
Krosan Grip (Artifact, Enchantment Removal)
Primal Command (Utility)
Rampant Growth (Mana Acceleration)
Rancor (Enchantment – Gives Trample, bounces back to hand)
Recollect (Recursion)
Regrowth (Recursion)
Saku-tribe Elder (Mana Acceleration)
Soul's Majesty (Card Draw)
Spearbreaker Behemoth (Gives indestructible)
Sylvan Library (Library Manipulation)
Wall of Blossoms (Blocker, Card Draw)
Wood Elves (Mana Acceleration)

Multi
Armadillo Cloak (Enchantment – Trample, Lifelink)
Mageslayer (Artifact – Direct Damage)
Mirari's Wake (Mana Acceleration)
Mystic Enforcer (Decent Creature)
Privileged Position (Enchantment – Good Shroud)
Runes of the Deus (Enchantment – Trample, Double Strike)
Scourge of the Nobilis (Enchantment – Lifelink, R/W Firebreathing)
Shield of the Oversoul (Enchantment – Indestructible, flying)
Sterling Grove (Enchantment – Good Shroud, Enchantment Tutor)

Artifacts
Darksteel Ingot (Mana Acceleration)
Duplicant (Removal – Creature)
Fellwar Stone (Mana Acceleration)
Relic of Progenitus (Graveyard Removal)
Shield of Kaldra (Indestructible)
Sol Ring (Mana Acceleration)
Tawnos' Coffin (Removal – Creature)

Land
Taiga
Plateau
Savannah
Stomping Ground
Sacred Foundry
Temple Garden
Jungle Shrine
Karpulsian Forest
Battlefield Forge
Brushlands
Rugged Praire
Wooded Bastion
Firelit Thicket
Reflecting Pool
City of Brass
Grand Colloseum
Maze of Ith
Kor Haven
Strip Mine
Wasteland
Vivid Meadow
Vivid Crag
Vivid Grove
Vesuva
Terramorphic Expanse
Contested Cliffs
Krosan Verge
Sungrass Prairie
Mossfire Valley
Trreetop Village
Plains x3
Mountian x2
Forest x5

So maybe next year, I may have a better version of this deck to take with me or Wizards may come out with another ridiculous general that I can take, but hopefully I have learned some things to keep in mind for future version of this deck or other deck. Any comments about this deck are welcomed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Plane Truth: Slivers are Coming

The wind says recently that the word "slivers" is heard most recently in the Pit. It will be several years before the next Sliver heavy block, but word is that the Planechase product will reveal the Sliver home plane. Some say this will be a plane never before seen, others that it is a certain plane hinted at in certain green cards from Futuresite. It is also rumored that this is the home plane of the relentless rats, featured in Mirrodin, and core sets since.

Grim Tidings #11 - 5C Green Basics

(Contributed by John Kozlowski)

I have a lot of fun writing Grim Tidings articles. Some have been pretty entertaining to write, such as my highly detailed “How to Flip a Chaos Orb” dissertation. Sometimes, though I fear that I’m jumping in with an incredibly complicated subject without enough basic information to back it up. I have a tendency to reference old obscure cards that only a few people are familiar with

I thought it may be valuable to do a simplified color-by-color study of the value each brings to the format. What you can/should expect as you fill out your minimum 25 card selections, and consideration of when and why you might choose them. I’ll mention the obvious ones and then try to expand deeper into some of the hidden gems you may not be aware of.

Green’s Role
The color pie has bled a little in the last few years, and allowed colors to dabble in things they traditional shouldn't. But while every color contributes to the depth of the game, some obviously do better at particular apsects than others. If you want targeted creature removal or counterspells, don't look to Green. When we are talking about 5-Color decks, we assume the other colors will pick up the slack where Green falls off.

When l typically look at Green for a 5-Color deck, I look to fill the basic needs for Mana Fixing, Recursion. Of course it does a lot of other things too, such as card drawing, providing enormous trampling creatures or artifact/enchantment destruction, but those aspects are not generally my primary focus.

With this in mind, here are a selection of my favorite mono-Green cards, in no particular order.

Mana Fixers & Acceleration
There is a reason why Green is seldomly minimized in 5C decks: It has the best solutions to smooth your manabase than any other color, which is the critical element of every five color deck. If you cannot reliably obtain a source of all five colors by turn three, you are likely going to struggle. You’ll want to obtain at least two of your primary colors soon after to ensure your deck runs smoothly for the remainder of the game.


Green fufills this role better than any other color, so you will want to make sure you load up on mana-fixers in these slots. It has the only one-drop accelerants (outside of Sol Ring & Moxes.) I recommend at least 6-8 sustained mana-fixing sources in Green, (but you'll want to still pickup an additional 6-8 more in Artifact sources later on as you fill out your deck)

Birds of Paradise is the prototypical turn-1 drop. For one G, you get immediate access to all five colors on turn-1, as well as acceleration. With a measley 0/1 body, the Birds are certainly fragile, but it is not a mistake that the game designers have included it in every basic set since the game’s inception. I personally own eight copies of this card, due to its value and necessity.

Continuing Green’s mana fixing theme, I’ll mention Wood Elves. There are quite a few 187 creatures that fetch lands when they enter the battlefield, but Wood Elves is the best. The land actually comes into play (not just to your hand) and enters untapped. It also searches for a land with the Forest subtype, which includes Tropical Islands and Breeding Pools.

Avenging Druid is an obscure card from Exodus, that most people are unfamiliar with. It combines land acceleration with a nifty graveyard filling mechanic at the same time. Note the land comes right into play, so there is no delay in tempo. It also looks for any land, so you won’t accidentally lose your Maze of Ith upon resolution. Don’t be too upset about filling your graveyard with spells from your deck too, as it’s typically easier to access to cards in your graveyard than tutor them out of your deck. Best part of all? Avenging Druid is cheap! Only $0.10 at most online card sellers!

Even more obscure is Hunting Cheetah, from Portal: Three Kingoms. Hardly anyone even know this exists! Get an attack through, and then tutor your Forest to your hand. Note again, it the land only has to have the Forest subtype, not necessarily be basic (Hello Murmuring Bosk!)

Recursion
Green is packed with all kinds of variants of Regrowth, and All Sun’s Dawn is the biggest of them all, as it recurs up to five cards in one single spell. In a 5-Color deck, you should reliably maximize it every time. The only downside of ASD is that it can’t recur lands or artifacts, but the plus is still very good.

I believe the best recursion spell out there Eternal Witness. As another 187 creature, you get two-for-one with this card. Easily recurable with many effects, the Witness sets up a lot of game ending combinations. If you don’t have an Eternal witness for your 5C deck, you really need to get this essential piece ASAP.

Genesis is another valuable Green recursion engine, that powers out dead creatures turn after turn. After Genesis’s beefy 4/4 body is killed off, it allows you to Raise Dead every turn for the low-low cost of G2. Its remarkable safer for your recursion engine to be safely hidden in your graveyard than in play, as opponents generally do not overload their deck with cards that can exile it. Good news for you and your newly sustained creature base, eh?

Green Card Drawing & Tutoring
Though it may not be readily apparent, the color pie has shifted over the years, and Green is actually quite strong at drawing cards. Simple spells like Harmonize or Wall of Blossoms are quite abundant through the color. They may not be as potent on the whole as those found in Blue, but Green is the arguably the second best drawing source out there.

I’m a big fan of this Ohran Viper. Not only does it psychologically divert my opponents from attacking me with its Deathtouch ability, it has card draw when I want to go on the offensive. Because of Deathtouch, most opponents will allow it through to save their defender, (so as long as long as they don’t have a power 3 or more), so your pretty much guaranteed to draw your extra card every turn.

Protean Hulk is the centerpiece of a very abusive combo (Flash), but even by itself, its decent. A 6/6 is pretty tough, but what you really want is for it to die. That way you can trigger the tutor effect for as many creatures with CMC six or less out of your library and put them directly into play.
§ Need quick mana? Fetch out a selection of six Birds of Paradise and/or Llanowar Elves.
§ Need creature kill? Fetch out a pair of Ohran Vipers.
§ Need Land Destruction? Fetch out Acidic Slime.
Combine the Hulk with recursion effects like Genesis or Eternal Witness, and you have the beginnings of a very nice recursion loop.

The best Green card of the entire lot, in my opinion, is Survival of the Fittest. I’ve mentioned it three or four times so far in Grim Tidings, but never really explained why. For a mere one G, you get a recurable tutor to get exactly whatever creature you need when you need it. For the exact same versatility you get out of Protean Hulk, Survival does the same for about 1/3 of the casting cost. If you have never played it, I highly recommend it.



Other Great Cards for Green
Berserk is a card you will find more frequently in the next few weeks. It is being reprinted in the FTV: Exiled set, and will certainly see play in 5C now that it is far more accessible. Berserk is a player-killing card, as it doubles the power of a creature, and gives it trample. It can be used defensively to boost your blocker’s power, or as a kill spell when you cast it upon your opponent’s attacking critters. Combine it with your indestructibles or regenerators, and its win-win for you.

Silklash Spider and Acidic Slime and are both excellent defensive deterrents. I find that multi-player 5C games tend to be long, and you need versatility and sustained defense to survive in them. Silklash Spider is strong enough to hold off one of the most offensive beaters in game, Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Likewise, Acidic Slime has Deathtouch, which combined with a strong targeted removal ability makes it incredibly useful to end prolonged stalemates.

Oath of Druids and Hermit Druid are playable, but a little narrow. If your deck isn’t Timmy-rific or greaveyard oriented, you may find these two cards a little underwhelming.

Panglacial Wurm is literally a hidden gem. Whenever you search your library, you may play the Wurm for its casting cost. Sounds pretty good, if you have an extra GG5 left lying around after your EOT Worldy Tutor.

Putting it All Together
So there’s my All-Star tour of the color Green. The next step is to apply this raw data and build actual deck. This may prove to be an interesting task actually, especially if I limit the cards to the familiar and commonly available Standard card pool. I've had this in mind for a few months, so what better time to start fleshing out the deck, color by color. For now, lets treat this as a brainstorming session, and get the ideas on paper. Once Lorwyn & Shadowmoor blocks rotate out, we'll have to reevaluate with Zendikar anyways.


Standard 5-Color Ideas - Green (32)

4x Birds of Paradise

4x Noble Heirarch

4x Great Sable Stag

4x Acidic Slime

4x Masked Admirers

2x Chamleon Colossus

2x Thornling


4x Primal Command

2x Garruk Wildspeaker

2x Shard Convergence


You never know, I may show up at next week's FNM with this new 300-card Standard 5-Color deck!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

This Just In - A Star on the Rise

The Planeswalker's Stronghold has opted to push back the announcement previously scheduled for today, in order to put the spot light on one of our own.

Chapel Hill resident Daniel Schoenbach (aka Shoebox) finished in first place at Saturday's Pro Tour Austin Qualifier with a huge 10-1-1 record at the end of the day (7-1-1 before the cut).

Ever since his humble beginnings in that log cabin in the back woods of Arkansas, Daniel has been destined for great things. Since his record setting graduation from MIT at the age of 14, Daniel has used his keen intelligence in order to make the world a better place. Daniel plans to go full time into the Magic Life, quiting his nearly 20 year career as head of the CIA's satellite communications division. Sure everyone thought he worked for PBS, but nobody really works for PBS.

Unfortunately, due to the unexpected nature of this bulletin, not all the information presented have been confirmed at this time. Perhaps Daniels will find time between his Pro Tour plans, CIA responsibilities, and PBS cover story to give us some of the details of this event.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Oracle's Tales: What the Future *May* Hold

You may have noticed from the title, but for now (for reason beyond my control), we are going to call this fiction.

Zendekar: Discovery of the portal system.

For the history of Magic: the Gathering to date, only two groups of people have been able to planes walk. Of course, the Planeswalkers have been able to shift through the blind eternities, their sparks protecting them from the chaos of the place beyond space. Another group though, has been able to accomplish this goal, bypassing the blind eternities all together for many millennium now. These would be the Phyrexians, which most have forgotten because they have not been seen in any force for nearly a century, when the invasion was pushed back through the efforts of the Legacy. but their influence has been most recently seen on Mirrodin.

Phyrexians have used portals since Yawgmoth and Glacian learned the technology of the fixed portal linking the Caves of Koilos to the artificial plane of Phyrexia, from the planeswalker Dyfed. Since then, they have used varied portal technologies to reach varied portions of the multiverse with the goal of conquest. Some believe that they have flung their resources across the multiverse, not just Phyrexia, Dominaria, and Rath. The force of Phyrexia is believed to exist into the present, even beyond teh death of their demigod leader Yawgmoth. In fact some question if Yawgmoth is truly dead at all.

The Phrexians are now known to be returning in the recently filed Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. the Coalition.

Word Mark DUEL DECKS : PHYREXIA VS. THE COALITION
Goods and Services IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: interactive entertainment software, namely, interactive video game programs, interactive multimedia computer game programs, computer game software, computer game cartridges, computer game discs, interactive video games of virtual reality comprised of computer hardware and software; downloadable software for use in connection with computer games; computer game software for use with communication devices and mobile telephones; computer and video game apparatus, namely, video game machines for use with televisions; pre-recorded audio and video tapes featuring music; laser discs, video discs, phonograph records, compact discs, cd-roms featuring games, films, and music; gaming machines

IC 016. US 002 005 022 023 029 037 038 050. G & S: paper goods and printed matter, namely, address books; comic books; notebooks; picture books; interactive mystery story books; fantasy adventure story books; books containing puzzles and games; instructional manuals and printed strategy guides for games; book covers; photograph albums; invitations; trading cards; writing pads; posters; book marks; non-electronic personal planners and organizers; artist materials, namely, pencils, pens, gift wrap paper; paper gift tags; paper gift bags; paper gift boxes; correspondence note paper; greeting cards; paper party decorations; paper bags; plastic bags; postcards; stickers; sticker books; calendars; temporary tattoos; school and office supplies, namely, pens, markers, notepads; binders; stationery; notepads; pencil cases; desk pads and stationery sets comprised of paper, envelope, seals, notepads; stencils; patterns for making costumes; rubber stampers, ink pad, colored pencils, stamper holder; series of fiction books in the field of entertainment and science fiction; bi-monthly and monthly magazines dealing with role-playing adventure games; fantasy art posters; fantasy adventure novels

IC 025. US 022 039. G & S: clothing, footwear and headwear, namely, underwear, rainwear, sleepwear, coats, shirts, jackets, jogging suits, pajamas, scarves, socks, sweaters, swimwear, tank tops, ties, vests, masquerade costumes and masks, boxer shorts, warm-up suits, wind-resistance jackets, parkas, jumpsuits, fitness tops, sweatshirts, sweatpants, T-shirts, boots, shoes, sneakers, and athletic shoes, caps, knit caps, hats, visors and slippers

IC 028. US 022 023 038 050. G & S: toys, games, and playthings, namely, board games, card games, trading card games, playing cards, parlor games, fantasy role-playing games, miniature figurines used in role-playing game scenarios, jigsaw puzzles, toy action figures and accessories for use therewith

IC 041. US 100 101 107. G & S: entertainment services, namely, providing online computer games and interactive multiplayer online computer games via a global network; organizing and conducting online game tournaments and exhibitions in the field of fantasy role-playing games; providing industry information online via a global network, namely, online publications in the nature of articles and magazines on games and gaming; production and distribution of motion pictures and an ongoing television game show

Standard Characters Claimed
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Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

This confirms that the concept of Phyrexia will be returning, and we know that this plane is represented by at least one of the Plane cards in the new planechase product. Neither of these are expected to represent a great deal of new card product related to Phyrexia, nor a progression of the story line related to the Phyrexian threat. One has to ask, with Wizards taking so many steps recently to tie up loose ends in the pre-mending story line, and create a new frontier for development, why this sudden nod to the past?

Phyrexians may be the best known users of portal technology that most mages are familiar with, but it certainly is not the only time we have seen portals. The canon reveals that a fixed portal once existed between the Talon Gate of Dominaria, and some portion of Kamigawa, as touched on in my history of Nicol Bolas.

Another portal has been revealed to us in Magic's canon, one which I have reason to believe is more relevant in the short term. The plane of Ulgrotha (as explored in the Homelands expansion) brought to our attention the the Dwarven Gate, a portal located in the ruins of New Freedom, below Castle Sengir.

So why all the talk about portals anyway? The answer is many fold, but one thing all these gates are known to have in common (as desribed in varied canon sources), is that they are anchored, at least on one side by either a fixed or mobile "doorway" structure. An interesting pair of doorway structures have begun to appear in the artwork for lands recently, spurring discussion of their use as portal anchors.

It is believed that the soon to be explored plane of Zendikar, may be a hub for portal technology, linking it to many points in the multiverse. Vampires are a creature type which has been touched on with several occasions, but we have yet to see an origin point for vampires as a creature type. Zendikar, is known to have a strong tie to the Vampire creature type, and may well be the origin we have been waiting for. Zendikars portal sightings, and Vampires draw clear correlations to the long forgotten plane of Ulgrotha.

So what does this all have to do with the upcoming Duel Decks box set. The answer may be more simple, then you expect. Both the Phyrexians and the Consortium are organization, which like most groups in the multiverse, are made up primarily of non-walkers. The key difference to these two groups is they both are aware of the multiverse, nearly at it's highest levels, with an eye to exploit the multiverse to their own ends. In other words they both need ways to mobilize the majority of their personnel and assets around the multiverse, with out the constant assistance of planeswalkers. In suddenly becomes clear that these two groups are competing for portal technologies, either pre-existing, or the physical sites which allow them to be constructed.

Ladies and Gentleman, Magic the Gathering has entered the age of the Stargate.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jedi Mind Tricks #1 - GenCon 2009

(Contributed by Jed Humphries)

Day 0

We checked into the hotel and walked over to the convention center and we were greeted by a huge Serra Angel statue. It was very nice looking and detailed. The Serra Angel statue also doubled as the start of the line for the From the Vault: Exiled.

Day 1

I went with Ashley to the Steve Jackson Games booth so she could get the new Munchkin products (Fairy Dust and Waiting for Santa) and the special Pink Handbag of Holding (only available at GenCon). I wandered around the exhibit hall and kept checking the lines for generic tickets, waiting for them to get shorter, but it never really did. I learned to play Dominion from one of the developers. Dominion is an awesome game and I definitely want to get that game and play it again! Finally I broke down and waited for a hour for generic tickets. Two people taking money for tickets and 1 printer is not a good idea for efficiency. The draft events at GenCon were single elimination with the prize payout was 6 packs for 3 wins, 4 packs for 2 wins and 1 pack for 1 win. I drafted twice, once by myself and once in a pod with Ashley. Ashley beat me (Wispersilk cloak + Bramble Creeper = bad for me) and split at the final table for 5 packs. We drafted with some guys and had a lot of fun in this draft because they were more about having fun while playing rather than not saying a word and being serious while playing. I wish everyone we drafted with last weekend was like them. One of them got a Baneslayer and didn’t really know or care how much it was worth, and proceeded to riffle shuffle. It sent a shiver up my spine.

Day 2

I decided to get up early to make stand in line for the From the Vault: Exiled. I got there about 7:20 AM and I was 145, so I left. Aside about the way From the Vault: Exiled was handled. Wizards posted a little sheet that talked about how they were handling this, basically it said, “We are giving 100 of these away a day. Please form a line at 9AM. At 9 AM we are giving the first 100 people cards to buy the From the Vault: Exiled.” Wizards took no responsibility for any line that happened before 9AM, which caused lots of line cutting problems, because people didn’t care as long as they were getting one. I think some of the Gencon people got involved in days 3 and 4 and I think less of this was happening. Later I met up with my college roommate and played EDH with him and 2 other guys. Generals were Uril the Mistalker, Arcum Dagsson, Wort Raidmother and Oona. First game the guy playing Arcum Dagsson lost because he forgot to pay for Pact of Negation. The Oona and Arcum Dagsson player really controlled me between getting Meekstone out and Akroma’s Memorial and milling (and exile milling) me. Wort Raidmother got out of control really fast and killed the rest of us both in 1 turn (lots of tokens + Sarkan’s +1/+1 + Garruk’s Overrun = 200+ damage divided by 2 players). We played again later with Uril the Mistalker, Arcum Dagsson, and Wort Raidmother. I lost this time to a put a card on the bottom of your deck + Tunnel Vision. Ashley and I played in a Super FNM Limited. Everyone got a FNM Lightning Greaves. I opened a Baneslayer and when 2-2, and got a pack plus Wren’s Run Vanquisher FNM foil, so I can’t complain. I played a GWR deck and just lost to better cards. Most of the time when Baneslayer hit the table, she was gone within 2 turns. One loss was to a guy that got 3 Air Elementals. I don’t remember what the second loss was to.

Day 3

I got up and in line about 5:30 AM. I was around number 70-80ish. While I was in line, I was introduced to Type 4 Magic. Type 4 is in a nutshell unlimited mana, unlimited hand size, play from the same deck/discards, and one spell per turn. The guys I was playing with had changed some of the cards a little to fit with it, but it was pretty fun. I would like to try it sometime when I was more awake, because I made some terrible play mistakes. After that, we play a big game of EDH. The generals were Uril the Mistalker, Numot, the Devastator, Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Sliver Overlord, and some other general I can’t remember. I didn’t have an awesome start and I got a few attacks in at 10+ damage on a few generals but because I wasn’t sure what the biggest threat was I was being equal and cautious about what I did. Then the guy playing Azami basically went infinite drawing cards and taking turns, and we all scooped. After I finally got my card that said I can buy the Exiled cards, The cards they gave away to be redeemed for the From the Vault: Exiled were very interesting. I got a Niv-Mizzet. After I got the card, I went to go draft, but they were only doing Alara block. I was mad but signed up anyway. First I heard the rumor that they were running out of product, but then I found out later that it was because they were running out of table space and waiting for some M10 drafts to finish before starting others. At one point they were starting 2 pods at a time. It was crazy and it’s not like they didn’t have a lot of tables. They had about 1/3 of the space in the TCG Hall and probably half of that was for these pickup events and the other half was for the big scheduled events. In the Alara block draft, I got a ton of mana fixing (Savage Lands, Jungle Shrine, Crumbling Necropolis, Armillo Sphere), the Reborn blades, the Obelisk of Alara and got second place. I should have split but I was greedy and thought I could have beaten the other guy, but he was playing an Exalted Esper complete with a foil Tezzeret. After the defeat, I went and bought my From the Vault: Exiled and immediately flipped it for $80. I would have gone to SCG for $100 but the vendor I sold it too (Mr. Nice Guy – a Steelers fan) had unbeatable prices and selection that was far worth more than the $20 extra dollars from SCG (revised Bayou for $25 when everyone else was selling them for $29-35). I traded him another $90 for stuff and got a bunch of stuff I needed for my sets and my five color deck. I read that they were going to run a 5-color event on this day so I was going to go check out the format to see what was going on with it. I really wish I could have gotten a copy of the rules, because it floored me. I am going to try and remember exactly what it said: “You can play either with the 250 deck list rules or the 300 deck list rules with these exceptions, no proxies, no ante’s, Contract is restricted, no promo cards (mox crystal), and Abe’s Banned list. I just laughed and though they should have called it “Pick and Choose Five Color”. We played in 3 more M10 drafts, one of which Ashley got a third pick foil Honor of the Pure. During the one of them the fire alarm went off and the entire convention center had to be evacuated. It was a good thing that I hadn’t started a game. We basically had to go outside the back of the convention center and walk around to the front, and by that time, we could enter and walk all the way back to the TCG hall. It was less chaotic than I expected. We got through about 3:30 AM with Ashley splitting for the finals yet again. It’s fun playing magic late at night. So as we are leaving we look to see if anyone is in line for the From the Vault: Exiled for Sunday and I counted 60 people in line! Magic players are crazy to wait 6 plus hours for some cards.

Day 4

I replenished my trade binder with some stuff from my type 2 decks and went to SCG. They found about $100 of crap in my binder (yay for them wanting lots of uncommons) and I got my set of fetch lands plus some more stuff. I then went to Cool Stuff Inc. and they found another $15 of crap that no one else wanted. I was quite amazed. That money turned into some really good crap rares that were 12 for $10. Ashley and I then went to play some Big Magic. Big Magic is a game of Magic with 4 foot tall cards with audience participation. There is nothing like seeing a four foot tall Lighting Bolt or Fireball kill something. We were on Team Ragtag (all players and the players made the decisions and played the cards) against Team R&D (Nagle and Gottlieb made the decisions, but they got people from the audience to hold and play the cards). It was fun and we both got a little pack (the packs that may or may not have rares), I got crap and Ashley got a Master of the Wild Hunt. I tried out a new game called PK cards. It looks really interesting because it plays a little differently than any other CCG I’ve played, and the art is pretty good too. I’d like to demo it sometime to see what some local people think of it. We wondered around the exhibit hall until it closed and then we went to play Munchkin with some other Steve Jackson Games people and had good steak and some great chocolate pie from Shula’s Stake house and that was it.

Five GenCons down, many more to go.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Grim Tidings #10: Fifty More Cards

(Contributed by John Kozlowski)

I’ve purposefully skipped a week in writing Grim Tidings since I revolted playing 5-Color Magic and started playing Calvinball. I have to say, it has actually been a pretty good two weeks. I managed to play my revamped First Reminder deck on four separate occasions, and I think I worked out the major kinks. I don’t think I’m done, but I think I will ultimately switch to the new 300 card version of the format as my preference.

What?!? Say that again?
Despite all of my vocal criticism of both sides (i.e., bitching), I discovered I actually like the Reborn 300-card version of the format. Even with my aversion to ante, my distaste for proxies, and my refusal to accept that Contract from Below is a fair card when the real cost is errataed out of it, I’ve discovered that the expanded deck requirements and new B&R is actually pretty fair and fun… at least how we play it in North Carolina. I admit I have not played in any 5C tournaments in the last two week (um, let’s make that three years) but for the Calvinball style our group has adopted, it’s just fine.

Yes, I know, my 5C playgroup is a non-ante, non-proxy, mostly highlander variant. thats probably why I'm not seeing many problems with the Reborn rules so far. We all participate in a friendly balanced environment for everyone to enjoy. This may change in a few weeks once I transform my second non-highlander 5C Enchantress deck into the Reborn format, but for now, casting Yawgmoth’s Will just to recur a land and Wheel of Fortune doesn’t really appear to be too broken in our private La-la Land.

First Reminder Transformation
In the meantime, I thought it may be interesting to those who follow the format to see the mathematics I used to convert from the old 250 to new 5C. (I promise to just stick to the highlights.) Per the new rules, I needed to add a total of new 50 cards to the deck, and meet a new minimum of 25 cards of each color.

First off, we’ll need to review my decklist. It has changed slightly since I last posted it in June, but it can be found here. As you can see, I had already minimized red and blue, so of my 50 new cards, 10 of them would have to be dedicated to meeting those color requirements. Since minimization is an important element of good 5C deck building, I started here to get this requirement out of the way. More importantly though, the manabase needed to be accounted for first.

22 New Mana Sources
Upon analyzing my land/mana ratio of the current build, I found that I run approximately 43% sustained mana sources. That was comprised of 90 lands, 6, creature sources, and 11 artifact sources. Since the 250-card version worked so seamlessly, I thought it might be a good idea to maintain that ratio, so I added 20 new lands and 3 creature/artifact sources. This actually exceeds the 43% goal, but with an expanded deck size, this is a good idea.

The real challenge was to determine what the next best cycle(s) of dual lands were that weren’t already included in my highlander manabase. I learned quickly that for my deck, the 5 M-10 Dual Lands released in the 2010 Core Set really aren’t as bad as I thought. I run plenty of basic lands to begin with, combined with the 10 original duals and 10 Ravnica Shocklands, I do not have any trouble hitting the correct land type to bring these in untapped every time. That said, there are plenty of decks in my playgroup that scarcely use ANY basic lands, so for them they might not be the best choice, but for me, no problem.

I also included the 5 Odyssey Filter Lands. I really had to debate these over using the Dual Storage Lands from Time Spiral or the complete cycle of Painlands from Ice Age/Apocalypse. In the end, I decided a tempo-oriented, pain-free solution was better.

Other Land Choices: 3 Vivid Lands (Meadow, Marsh, Forest), 3 Basic Lands (Plains, Swamp, Forest), Academy Ruins, Dustbowl, Riftstone Portal, Rupture Spire.

Other Creature/Artifact Mana Sources: Wood Elves, Mind Stone, Grim Monolith.

5 New Red Cards
Now on to the color requirements. As a general rule Red stinks in 5-Color. The color pie defines it very capriciously, so it is difficult to find selections that generate the card advantage that I so covet. That said, I do keep track of cards that I’ve experimented with in the past but have rotated out due to boredom of replaced by a new card with functional superiority.

Seige Gang Commander has always been on the cusp of making it into my First Reminder. It has great card advantage (4 for 1), control elements, and direct damage. Unfortunately the double RR in its casting cost has always kept it on the outside looking in. Well, no more. SGC is in.

Avalanche Riders is another 187 creature that I’ve always like but not included to avoid the DBAD rule. With the plethora of lands out there that always clog up the game (See: Maze of Ith, Kor Haven, Academy Ruins, etc.) I think a responsibly judicious use of Mr. Darwin Kastle is acceptable.

Manamorphose is the real hidden gem of my Reborn decklist. It’s not great because what it does; rather because it is invisible! Not only does it replace its mana cost in its effect, it cantrips to replace the lost card too! Plus since its hybrid, I essentially only have 24 red cards in my deck. Yay!

Other new Red cards: Firespout, Wild Research.

I made another slight adjustment too, as I slid Fire/Ice over to blue to make room for Wheel of Fortune ion Red. I didn’t really have a good excuse for not using WoF in First Reminder, other than I netted -1 in card advantage upon its resolution.

5 New Blue Cards

Blue is a much better color for 5C, and the loosening of the B&R really made my five new choices very easy. The three most obvious cards are Time Walk, Tinker, and Mystical Tutor. They contain sheer power and are good in almost every situation for a good-stuff control deck like First Reminder.

Meanwhile Gifts Ungiven and Inutition were unbanned too. I chose not to include them at this time, due to their high degree of broken power, and I needed to maintain my creature percentage. Instead I opted for Trinket Mage, which compliments a few of my new artifact choices later on.

9 Other New Creatures
Now that I met my color requirements, and had my mana ratio smoothed out, you would think I could just pick whatever the hell I wanted and the deck would still work perfectly, right?

Wrong. I think the actually biggest problem with doing massive a deck retrofit like this into a different format. If you ignore the ratio of actual threats to enabling cards, your deck will tend to stall out when you are in topdeck mode. In the 250-card format, I thought I had the ratio optimized at 30% creature equivalents(30% gross = 50% net, not counting mana sources). Of course some of those creatures are measly 1/1s, but even a 1/1 can chump block or swing for that lethal last point of damage in a pinch.

With 50 new cards, if I maintain 30% creatures, I should be adding 15 new critters to First Reminder. I already mentioned four creatures in my mana, red & blue choices, but due to the allure of the new B&R list, I didn’t find the remaining 11. I’m trying to justify it with a higher concentration of tutors and card drawing, but in the end, my 30% goal was simply not met. I did choose nine though.

Baneslayer Angel was a really easy choice. If I could revise my M-10 rankings I published a month ago, I would move Baneslayer up to #1. Its fairly obvious that a 5/5 for 5 with five abilities is incredible.

Acidic Slime and Cemetery Reaper are two other M-10 winners that I hyped, but didn’t find a spot for until now. I’ve already extolled their value, so I won’t bore you with rehashing them. They’re good.

Although she’s a Planeswalker, I count Elspeth, Knight Errant as a creature-equivalent. She provides a fantastic board control element that makes Soldiers the first turn it comes into play. The other two abilities are gravy. Plus when people attack her and not me, its like having 5 extra life.

Other New Creatures: Gravedigger, Stillmoon Cavalier, Dauntless Escort, Quasali Pridemage, Razormane Masticore,

I’m a little scared that because I didn’t meet my 30% ratio my deck is somewhat weaker. What used to be a concentrated library of threat after threat is slightly diluted now with enabling cards that search for the threats. It may seem innocuous, but that little in-between step of versatility could be difference in winning and losing. I will monitor this closely, and add more creatures as soon as it makes sense to do so.

8 Other Powerful Spells
This leaves me with nine remaining slots of the 300 for my 5C Reborn deck. The revisions to the Banned & Restricted list left me some juicy choices to round this out.

The most apparent card is Yawgmoth’s Will. This card is so fantastic, most people call it Yawgmoth’s Win. It should go in every 5C deck, no questions asked. By far, this is the best card that was brought back in the Reborn format, (excluding the errataed Contract from Below of course. Blegh!)

I’ve been drooling over Survival of the Fittest since I built my first 5C deck. I’m so happy.

I added a trio of equipment to First Reminder: Behemoth Sledge, Skullclamp, Loxodon Warhammer. I always prefer equipment rather than Auras to boost up my creatures. When the creature in inevitably killed off, the equipment will remain to be used by my next minion. Plus the Clamp is searchable by Trinket Mage.

Other Powerful Spells: Return to Dust, Vampiric Tutor, Sensei’s Divining Top.

Curve
What I didn’t analyze is what effect all of these additions have on my Curve. It looks like I only added three spells that cost 5 or more, so I think I’m probably on track.

No Wrath Effects
I’m unsettled that I didn’t include any new wrath effects to my 50. Perhaps Zendikar will have a decent new wrath alternate for my use, but for now Planar Cleansing is still too “w-w-white” for my liking.

So there’s my revisions. I’m working through my Enchantress additions in the next week, so after I playtest it a bit, I may share the new deck list at that time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

First Level Magic: The Community



It's been some time now since Patrick Chapin released his e-Book, Next Level Magic, which inspired this series of articles. It really struck me how much information (good, and bad) there is for people looking to "up their game". This plethora exist in stark contrast to just how little information, of any kind exist for the player just starting out, and wanting to get off on the right foot. I've taken the liberty of linking the other articles on this subject below. While they can be read in any order, I would suggest going back and reading them in the order written. They will probably make (slightly) more sense this way.








Okay, now that you are all caught up, I have saved what I think to be the most important topic of a newly budding magic career for last. Today, I would like to talk about community. I think Abe Sargent said it best with "Magic is about Community, without it we are nothing". If you really stop and think about it, this really rings true at a fairly deep level. If we didn't have a community to tie into, this game would never really evolve in any manner. Ideas wouldn't grow, advanced decks wouldn't happen, all because we would simply be goldfishing our decks alone in the dark some place.


So what is it that makes up a community. Not surprisingly it is the group of people you interact with in regards to the game. It's the people you play the game with around you kitchen table, it's the folks down at your local game store with binders full of super secret tech. It's the folks at major events, be it a Pre/release, FNM, or Gencon. It is also the folks you pall around with at 3am down at Waffle House on Saturday morning, after the store "OPEN" sign has faded from view, or that come to the house on Thursday night, to test the monstrosity that they will grace the weekend tournaments with. It is also the folks, on the forums, email list, and chat rooms, with which you interact. For some people it's playing online, and if that works for you great, but I don't.


It's also the folks, behind the scenes, that makes or allows all this stuff to happen. This starts with Wizards, and flows down through the wholesale distributors. It's the folks at the local game store, that put up with our silly crap, often at all hours, to allow us a place to play, resources to purchase, outlets often to sell/trade what we don't need.


Next time you are in your local store, smile and say thanks to the person behind the counter. I'd bet they make minimum wage, and probably couldn't care less about "your" game, but they are there helping you make it all happen. It's the owners of these local stores, that do so much to make it all happen. For heaven sake, buy something. The owners (who may or may not be the person behind the counter), have to keep the place in the black. That space, tables, chairs, man power, lights, and A/C (when your lucky), aren't free, and if you want it to be there next time, crack open the pockets from time to time, and make a purchase. Yes, the latest XYZ-dot-com, sells the exact same thing for a nickle less, but they aren't likely to open a shop in your neighborhood, and give you a place to play. What ever it is, you can find some way to support the stores financial interests, because if you don't, one day there may not be a store any more.*


Okay, sorry, that turned into a soapbox for a minute there, and I didn't even warn you. I now return to your regularly scheduled educational/entertainment experience.


The community is also made up of another special group of people, who really do contribute so much to the events, and education side of things. These of course are the judges, that often run events, and educate the players, basically for "the love of the game"! That's right folks, aside from the generosity of Wizards, and Tournament Organizers, these folks don't get paid. So don't whine, do not complain, and certainly don't do something to make an @$$ of yourself. These people are there strictly for the good of the community.


So now that we have defined who and what make up a good community, they next question is why is it important. Magic really is a near perfect definition of community. Not only is the whole, often more then the sum of it's parts, but we grow more, the more we grow.


Yes, go back and read that last part again, because that is the whole thing. My next First Level Magic will begin to build on our "who" is the community, and begin to expound on the "why". I will begin to attempt to define why community is important, how it benefits you, and why you should try to benefit it. If I may blatantly steal from some one of my least favorite Presidents, "Don't ask what your Community can do for you, ask what you can do for your Community!"

----------------------

* PS: I'm not saying don't buy things from XYZ-dot-com. They are a part of the broader community too, and need to stay in business also. All I'm saying is, you need to find a way to support your local store too. Look around the shop, I am certain you will find something, some way to help keep them in the black.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why I play 5-color (or what ever it's called these days)

I've had a lot of question recently regarding why I choose to play 5-color(or the format that was recently 5-color), and really this is better answered as why I don't play other formats. This question has been spurred lately by the changes to the 5-color format, and the very recent announcements regarding From the Vault: Exiled last week. So I had spent the last couple of weeks piecing together on the subject, when I stumbled across a very good article on the subject. While it does not match my opinions exactly, it does do a very good job of mirroring them.

So without further pomp and circumstance, please visit SCG, and give it a read. The article also mentions Chris as it's inspiration. Many people may not like this article, or the one which inspired it because frankly it's making fun of you. If you manage taking them to heart, they really does have a lot of incite.

http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/misc/17862_The_Long_Winding_Road_Your_Format_Sucks.html

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Budget Building: The Last Deck You Ever Need.

The recent changes with in the 5-color world have brought the issue of proxies to the surface in a most disturbing manner, and I have spent much of my time of late bashing on this issue. I've talked about how it cheapens the game for everyone, and in it's final stages, becomes a black sharpie free for all where there is no need to buy real cards.

Today, I'm going to talk to do something that many of you may not be expecting, I'm going to talk about why/when proxies are good, and what may be the best proxied deck for testing of all time.

In my mind proxies need to be the exception, rather then the rule. Proxing a card to allow you to test it, or it's place in a deck, is a good thing. It will often make you realize that it's not the best choice, before going to the time and expense to get the real card. That is a good thing, especially from the budget perspective. Next up is proxies of cards you simply can't afford to get. In both these cases proxies should be used for a limited period of time, or total uses. People who buy real cards won't appreciate you plains with "MoxP" dashed on it nearly as much as you due. Sure, it's fun to break out your Sharpied Nine from time to time, but if you are playing thte deck to often, you are just going to drive folks away.

The most interesting use of proxies I have everseen was a test deck used by som eon the tour, and refered to as the last deck you will ever build. The reason for this is simple. It's 60 basic lands with enumber 1-60 written on them. These number s corispond with a deck list maintained in a spreedsheet of some sort, which can be adjusted and retested, without he ned to really adjust the cards. I find this to be a great way to test decks out of the gate, mulligan options, land base, etc can all be tweaked and tested with a very small investment of time, since you don't have to pull the cards, until you feel you have it right.

So in the end proxy isn't all bad, but it is very easy to over use it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Magi's Guide to Repack Drafting pt2: Removal

Morning folks, and welcome back to our discussion on repack drafting. In our last installment, we discussed the creature aspect of the draft in some details. I promised to next discuss the concepts of interacting with your opponent, and in this format that means removal. I briefly touched on the fact that this format tends to be very removal lite. The reasons for this tend to become clear, when you examine the common level removal across popular formats. The simple fact is there is not a lot of removal at the common level, and what there is tends to be very good, and often "chase" level cards. To illustrate this point lets take a look at the common removal in M10. Red and black tend to be the best options for removal, and here we find the following.

Assassinate- conditional, spot
Doom Blade- conditional, spot, chase
Tendrils of Corruption- spot, dedicated
Lightning Bolt- spot, chase
Seismic Strike- spot, dedicated

So these five, good removal options account for about 5% of all the commons in M10. When you factor in that 2 of these are chase cards, and unlikely to be found in repack pools, this drops to 3%. One conditional, and two that require real dedication to the color. Now you expand these sorts of percentages across the Magic history card pool (which is generous, since many older sets were not built with limited in mind, and had even less common level removal), and you can statistically estimate how much removal should be opened. In an 8 man pod, that comes down to roughly 7 potential removal spells, or put another way, less then per player. In short don't pass good removal, either take it for you own use, or grab it as a defensive pick. It also means that the only good removal you are likely to see, is in the packs you open. It would be very unexpected to see removal passed to you, particularly after say picks three. These few instances would really have to be attributed to poor draft choices up stream.

Just like with our creature discussion, it becomes critical to recognize the potential of cards which are coming around. Seeing what others didn't is what will make a winning deck. This will never be more true then in the case of removal. What you really have to be on the look out for is what many people call semi-removal. Again lets look at M10 for examples of common cards that can be removal options. One of my favorite white cards in this group is Excommunicate. Technically a tempo card, this sorcery allows you a virtual free turn, to build you forces, while rewinding your opponents development, and denying them a fresh card draw. Another often seen card, this time from blue, is Unsummon. Not only is this spell cheaper to cast, but is also instant speed, and can be timed correctly to provide a 2 turn advantage in some cases. On the down side, it returns the card simply to the hand, which could be recast asap, and does not deny card draw in the same way excommunicate does. Green by contrast tends to pick up it's removal through common combat tricks like Giant Growth, but recently has been getting more Pacifism type removal in the form of Entangling Vines. These cards may not be true removal, but by keeping your eyes and options open, you can easily double the amount of effective removal in your deck, and since these are harder to spot, they will be passed more often an later then main stream removal.

Now in the same vein, let me caution you from over reaching for removal, because a lot of things may start to look like removal, that in most cases are just bad. Cards like black's Weakness, and red's Sparkmage Apprentice are really very situation. We have already uncovered that only about 1/3 of all the common creatures will have a toughness of one, making these more combo peaces then removal. I won't say these will never serve the purpose, but the odds are against you. Are these really the best card in the pack? I'm not saying that cards like these don't serve their purpose, just that it's not removal. How many X/1 creatures really have to eliminated? They certainly don't serve much of a combat threat unless in large quantities, in those case taking out one isn't likely to help. In fact only 65 common creatures exist with a relevant power, and a toughness on one, that is less then .65% of all printed cards. Of those 65, 13 have evasion, 7 Haste, 6 Trample, and 4 Firststrike. If you have not passed one of these down stream, I wouldn't be too worried about removal this narrow.

Now that we have talked at length about common level removal, allow me to touch on higher level removal. Once you get into the world of uncommons and rares, two things happens. First these are exponentially less likely to be seen for all the same reason we talked about when it come to commons. Secondly, and most importantly, removal tends to go from simply spot removal, to mass removal. The difference is critical, instead of using one or more cards to deal with a single card, now the tables turn. Now your one mass removal card, deals with multiple cards at one.

Now please allow me to talk about he repack deck I drafted on 08/08/2009, that illustrates many of the points I've talked about thus far. This deck was unique, in that I was passed a rare level mass removal spell, Solar Tide. I literally rode this card to victory, casting it not only every match, but nearly every game. This deck ended up being GWr, in addition to the 17 lands, and 19 creatures will a relevant power and/or toughness (10 had both), I ran only 4 non-creature cards.

Excommunicate (see above)
Solar Tide- mass removal
Moral- mass combat trick
Recollect (I have a weakness for graveyard recursion)

Creatures were equally impressive. Wall of Spears (pack 2, pick one) held the ground once again, if you don't get this card, go back and read my July 2009 Repack Draft article. Of the remaining creatures, the following can be said Trample x2, Flying/Reach x5, Wither, First Strike, Regeneration, Card Draw x2, Card Advantage x2, Vigilance. Only four of the creatures, aside from being relevantly large in one way or another, were otherwise vanilla. I really could not have been more pleased with this deck, and I think it illustrates the concepts of a creature centric format, along with quality removal.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The New Face of Land

These will continue to come with the Intro Packs;


These will be featured in the Booster Packs, and Fat Packs;

Seems like another incentive not to buy the Intro Packs. Wizards will continue to preview each of the basic land types each day this week.

There is also new information regarding Planechase, but nothing really exciting. I'm afraid this product is going to live up to my expectations.

Friday, August 7, 2009

From the Vault:Exiled

OMG, this set is pretty rocking despite some fairly limited card choices. While they could have done so much more with this, what they did far exceedes the MSRP for the set, and makes this a must have for any collector. Nine of these fifteen cards will go into my DoMT right off the bat.

The Official List is below, and the cards in bold have new art.

Balance, Berserk, Channel Gifts Ungiven, Goblin Lackey, Kird Ape, Lotus Petal, Mystical Tutor, Necropetance, Sensei's Devining Top, Serendib Efreet, Skullclamp, Stripmine, Tinker, and Trinisphere.