Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Grim Tidings #30 - 5C Proliferate Decklist

No more waiting. Here’s my decklist at last:

91 Creature/Equivalents
1 Academy Rector
1 Avenger en-Dal
1 Kazandu Blademaster
1 Meadowboon
1 Mother of Runes
1 Phantom Flock
1 Shinewend
1 Sun Titan
1 Transcendent Master
1 Wall of Omens

4 Enclave Cryptologist
4 Sphinx of the Magosi
4 Thrumming Bird
1 Bribery
1 Bringer of the Blue Dawn
1 Helium Squirter
1 Lighthouse Chronologist
1 Master Transmuter
1 Mulldrifter
1 Myojin of the Seeing Wind
1 Sage of Fables
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths

1 Animate Dead
1 Carnifex Demon
1 Dusk Urchins
1 Guul Draz Assassin
1 Mirri, the Cursed
1 Necroskitter
1 Skeleton Ship
1 Skinrender
1 Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
1 Spirit Monger
1 Vorosh the Hunter
1 Vulturous Zombie
1 Witch Maw Nephilim

1 Apocalypse Hydra
1 Kulrath Knight
1 Lightning Reaver
1 Lord of Shatterskull Pass
1 Rakavolver
1 Spitting Hydra
1 Stigma Lasher
1 Taurean Mauler

1 Avenger of Zendikar
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Bloom Tender
1 Cytoplast Root-kin
1 Eternal Witness
1 Fangren Firstborn
1 Fauna Shaman
1 Fertilid
1 Forgotten Ancient
1 Gemhide Sliver
1 Harabaz Druid
1 Joraga Treespeaker
1 Noble Heirarch
1 Ohran Viper
1 Phantom Centaur
1 Protean Hydra
1 Quirion Dryad
1 Spike Weaver
1 Sylvok Explorer
1 Troll Ascetic
1 Utopia Tree
1 Vigor
1 Wall of Blossoms
1 Wall of Roots
1 Wickerbough Elder

1 Cold-Eyed Selkie
1 Experimental Kraj
1 Gilder Bairn
1 Jenara, Asura of War
1 Juniper Order Ranger
1 Phantom Nishoba
1 Plaxcaster Frogling

4 Etched Oracle
1 Pentavus
1 Scuttlemutt
1 Triskelion

99 Spells
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Wrath of God
1 Ajani Goldmane
1 Balance
1 Elspeth, Knight Errant
1 Enlightented Tutor
1 Idyllic Tutor
1 Luminarch Ascension
1 Pursuit of Knowledge
1 Serra's Liturgy

4 Jace Berelan
4 Inexorable Tide
1 Ancestral Visions
1 Brainstorm
1 Future Sight
1 Ponder
1 Steady Progress
1 Tezzeret the Seeker
1 Tinker
1 Transmute Artifact

3 Damnation
1 Beseech the Queen
1 Bloodchief Ascension
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Diabolic Tutor
1 Grim Reminder
1 Liliana Vess
1 Night Dealings
1 Sorin Markhov
1 Vile Requiem

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Terminate
1 Ajani Vengeant
1 Chandra Nalaar
1 Everlasting Torment
1 Jund Charm
1 Naya Charm
1 Pure/Simple
1 Sarkan Vol
1 Sarkhan the Mad
1 Shattering Pulse

3 Krosan Grip
1 Beastmaster Ascension
1 Doubling Season
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
1 Regrowth
1 Rite of Passage

1 Mirari's Wake
1 Sterling Grove

4 Contagion Clasp
4 Contagion Engine

1 Crystal Ball
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Eveflowing Chalice
1 Evolution Vat
1 Fellwar Stone
1 Forcefield
1 Lux Cannon
1 Magistrate's Scepter
1 Maze of Ith
1 Orochi Hatchery
1 Pentad Prism
1 Rings of Brighthearth
1 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Skullclamp
1 Sol Ring
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Trigon of Corruption
1 Trigon of Thought

110 Lands
14 Lorwyn Vivid Lands

10 Ravnica Shock Lands
10 Original Dual Lands
10 Shadow/Even Filter Lands
10 Onslaught/Zend. Fetch lands
5 M-11 Dual Lands

4 Mirrodin's Core
4 Gemstone Mine

1 Evolving Wilds
1 Exotic Orchard
1 Llanowar Reborn
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Rupture Spire
1 Tendo Ice Bridge
1 Terramorphic Expanse

1 Academy Ruins
1 City of Shadows
1 Dustbowl
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Mystifying Maze
1 Novigen, the Heart of Progress
1 Strip Mine
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Wasteland

7 Island
7 Forest
5 Plains
5 Swamp
3 Mountain

Holy hell, that’s a long list. Like I said before, I tried to keep it as much highlander as possible, so that my games would hopefully be varied and exciting. I think I’ve achieved that for the most part - other than the (absolutely critical) bolded cards above, everything is singleton. There’s lots and lots to look at here…

Primary Theme: Counters
Obviously with Proliferate, the goal is to have as many permanents in play as possible with counters. I dug deep in my research to find as many variations on counters to flesh this out. Some themes were edited out as I needed to make room for the removal and card draw elements, but here’s what endured:

Sub-theme: Planeswalkers
Obviously, planeswalkers by their nature are counter driven. They enter play with loyalty counters, and gain and use them naturally over the course of your turns. I’m running a wide selection (14 total), including 4x of the ever-critical Jace Berelan. I suppose there is room for more, such as Jace the Mind Sculptor, but since my only one is in another deck, I’m happy with what I have.

Not every planeswalker is represented, but I considered it. I think Ajani Goldmane synergizes with Proliferate quite well, as he places additional +1/+1 counters on all of your creatures to maximize the proliferation. Ajani combos well with Sage of Fables too.

Sub-theme: Level up
Level-up creatures were streamlined in the tuning process, but its still prevelant (9). It would be a shame not to include an assortment of Level-up creatures, even if they are generally too slow to avoid that immediate Lightning Bolt. I tried to keep at least one level-upper from each color, with the most “bomb-tastic” ability. Lighthouse Chronologist poses a severe problem in multiplayer games if you get him to his ultimate ability. Where else other than a deck like this could you reasonably play janky cards like this anyways?

Sub-theme: Graft
Its not a major presence, but its in there 4 times. At one point I featured it quite a bit more, but something had to go, and Graft is somewhat conditional. I do really like Plaxcaster Frogling as a silver bullet type creature. Instant speed shroud is always good.

Sub-theme: Ascensions
At one pint I ran all five, but after study, only the three best remain. In all honesty, its quicker to just get you counters normally for Luminarch and Bloodchief, but proliferate helps you ascend to Beastmaster status.

Sub-theme: Hydras
One thing I found difficult was representing the color Red in the Proliferate concept. Red just doesn’t seem to have a lot of impressive counter-oriented cards. Except for the Hydra creature type, that is. I found quite a few Hydras, including Spitting Hydra that made the final cut. Protean is still my favorite though, even if it is just “win-more.”

Sub-theme: Phantoms
The other creature theme I
am quite proud to have discovered for this deck are the Judgment “Phantoms”. I run the three best Phantoms (Centaur, Nishoba, and Flock). I find their ability to be very clever, and quite a defensive deterrent in group game play.

Other Cards I am Fond Of
There is so many weird one-ofs in this 300-card deck, you may have to reference Oracle to see what the do. I am quite happy with a few clever ones though: Necroskitter, Orochi Hatchery, Gilder Bairn, Witch Maw Nephilim, Vigor, and Novigen, just to name a few.

So there it is. I’m happy to conclude this series for now, until I find a new interest in deckbuilding in 2011. Have a Happy New Year, and I’ll be back soon.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fetchlands: From a Budget Tool Perspective

Most everyone understands that when it comes to eternal formats the original Dual Lands are about the best investment you can make. Which ones you get first, and how many repeaters you want really is a function of what decks you want to play. I really feel that you can't go wrong with having at least one copy of each. The Ravnica Shocklands play an acceptable role as cheap substitutes, while you are filling in your collection of originals.

At some point in your collecting days, you will need to turn your attention to the power of fetchlands, and here is why. Lets say you luck up and find a Bayou on the street, so you decide to begin turning your Legacy Mono Black Control list into Eva Green. That Bayou is a great start, but is only going to show up in your opening hand about 12% of the time. Not Bad, but not very consistent to say the least, so you want more. Naturally you decide to bust your hump on you paper route and in no time you have saved up the $50 needed to get a Bayou at this time. But wait, is putting all of those resources into a single card really your best option?

Turns out, it may not be. If you get the second Bayou, your odds of having one in your opening hand expectantly double to roughly 24%. On the other hand, if you take those same funds, and buy say the four least expensive fetchlands for which Bayou is a valid target, you end up with five cards options, rather then two. That's right, now you can expect to have/or be able to get your Bayou about 61% of the time from your opening hand. Wow, that is a huge difference! Okay, sure in the end you are still only running one copy of Bayou, and in a world of wasteland, there is some risk in that, but I think you see my point. We are talking about a budget solution here, and we can all agree if money was no object more then one Bayou would be great for a deck like this.

So fetchlands can be better in any given deck, then a second copy of a dual, but what about a world where you play multiple decks? Bayou, and in fact most dual lands, are most often played as one of copies in decks which have fetchland support. Outside of Eva Green, I can't think of a single Tier1 deck that runs more then one. Your fetchlands on the other hand, can be run in nearly every deck in which the color is used. I really believe that in most cases fetchlands are a better investment then multiple copies of duals. Of course that is after you have at least one copy of the dual in question.

So now that we have established what a great choice fetchlands can be, the question becomes what else can they do for you? They aren't just ways to get at expensive dual lands, and reduce the number of basics are they? Nope, turns out fetches can get a small group of cards no one ever thinks about.

Dryad Arbor- it's a forest, it's a creature. It turns into Progenitus with alarming regularity.
Leechridden Swamp- Die bitches!
Madblind Mountain- oh yeah, shuffle that library.
Mistveil Plains- Need something from the yard, they will never see this coming.
Moonring Island- Peek? Don't mind if I do.
Murmuring Bosk- that's right three colors of mana!
Sapseep Forest- gain some life.

So it's not a a huge list, but there just may be some tech in there to allow your next budget deck monstrosity to steal some wins from those "better" decks, all thanks to a little added push from a fetchland.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Grim Tidings #29 - Deck Diagnostic Part III

5C Proliferate, Part III – Mana Fixing
Fixing the mana problems for my 5-Color Proliferate should be pretty easy.

Minor Problems
The best way with any deck to figure out what adjustments you need to make is to just play it and see how it does. I’ve done that a lot over the past month, and I’ve thankfully taken notes of what types of problems I’ve had as the deck evolved.

My current decklist is predominantly Blue and Green. Through my tuning process, I’ve whittled down the White, Black and Red components so they are minimized (for the most part). I’ve had some problems though in the last few weeks having enough (any) red and black mana online, as well as getting enough acceleration to start casting spells a turn or two earlier.

As I normally do, I started off with a standard 110 land manabase, with a bunch of additional artifacts/creatures. Why 110? I don’t know. I’ve played this game for a long time and that is what it seems to take.

I dumped in a bunch of the dual lands, shock lands, fetch lands, etc. to get me half-way there. What’s nice about the “core” is that these lands don’t enter the battlefield tapped so I’m never hurting tempo. Then I started adding in the five color lands like the Lorwyn Vivids, Gemstone Mine, and Mirrodin’s Core. Since these lands and counter driven, I opted to not go highlander with them to maximize the chances I could put additional charge counters on them when I proliferate.

The Basics
What was left were my basic lands. I tend to include about 25% basic lands in all of my 5-Color decks. It offers me a little protection against Wasteland, and reduces the massive damage from Anathemancer.

Honestly though, there is nothing wrong with using basic lands. They really are pretty great. They produce colored mana, they are immune to Blood Moon effects, they are fetchable with the majority of the land search spells, and you have a wide assortment of artwork to choose from. Although no one does it, you really could build a 5-Color deck with ALL basic lands and probably do alright.

What’s tricky is figuring out the proper ratios. Fortunately I’m an engineer, so I can build a crafty spreadsheet to figure it out for me. (I'm such a nerd!)

Math Is Not Your Enemy
Can you count? Great! You’re already half way there.

That’s really all you need to do for part one. Count the number cards for each color, including all mono-colored, multi-colored, and hybrid cards. (The Multi-color and Hybrid cards will get counted multiple times depending on how many colors they are.) Artifacts and colorless spells don’t matter.

Write these numbers down. By default, you will have at least 25 cards of each color if you are abiding by the standard 5-Color deck building rules.

(Mono + Multi + Hybrid = Subtotal)
Red: 11 + 12 + 2 = 25
Black: 20 + 11 + 3 = 34
White: 25 + 7 + 0 = 32
Green: 33 + 12 + 2 = 47
Blue: 39 + 6 +2 = 47
Total: 185

Ah! Remember before when I said I thought I had Red/Black/White minimized in this deck? Apparently I don’t. There are quite a few multi-color Red cards that require black and/or white which are driving the subtotals above the 25 card threshold. That’s not a problem, but its good to know.

Now, just calculate the percentage of each color’s subtotal divided by the total:

Red: 25/185 = 13.5%
Black: 34/185 = 18.4%
White: 32/185 = 17.3%
Green: 47/185 = 25.4%
Blue: 47/185 = 25.4%

By itself, this data might be enough to establish a decent ratio of color distribution for you manabase. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really reflect the density of color requirements from spells that require two or more of the same type mana in their casting cost (like the triple UUU found in Sphinx of Magosi).

More Math
For part two, go back and count the actual mana symbols in each casting cost.

Sphinx of Magosi (UUU3) counts as three Blue.
Jace Berelan (UU1) counts as two Blue.
Ponder (U) would be one Blue.
Ancestral Vision (n/a) still counts as one Blue for its Suspend cost.
Plaxcaster Frogling (UG1) counts as one Blue and one Green.
Gilder Bairn (u/g u/g 1) would count as one Blue, since there are two half-hybrid mana symbols.

If something doesn’t exactly fit a category, don’t worry. Use your best judgment. (We round up at the end anyways.) Then do you data as we did before:

Mana Symbols
Red: 27.5
Black: 48
White: 44
Green: 64
Blue: 74

Total: 257.5

Note, it is possible for a color to fall below the 25 card threshold when counting mana symbols, since hybrids only count for 0.5 of each symbol. Then run the percentages as before.

Red 27.5/257.5= 10.7%
Black 48/257.5 = 18.6%
White 44/257.5 = 17.1%
Green 64/257.5 = 24.9%
Blue 74/257.5 = 28.7%

It’s tough to say which methodology is strictly better. I think method one (raw card counting) indicates your immediate needs for starting your opening hand, but method two (symbol density) is more reflective of the long term need.

Since they both contribute value, I prefer to weight them equally, and just take the average between both methods to get my suggested ratios:
Red (13.5% + 10.7%)/2 = 12.1%
Black (18.4% + 18.6%)/2 = 18.5%
White (17.3% + 17.1%)/2 = 17.2%
Green (25.4% + 24.9%)/2 = 25.1%
Blue (25.4% + 28.7%)/2 = 27.1%

I want to apply these ratios to my basic land strategy, so I’ll multiply the average percentages to the number of available slots I have left for my basic lands. Regardless whether I choose to have 25 basic land slots or 100, the ratios of each land type should still fall into these same proportions:

Red 12.1% x25 slots = 3.0 Mountains
Black 18.5% x25 slots = 4.6 Swamps
White 17.2% x25 slots = 4.3 Plains
Green 24.9% x25 slots = 6.3 Forests
Blue 28.7% x25 slots = 6.8 Islands

Obviously you cant have a fraction of a card, so round off your final calculation. I like to round up, since it gives me a little flexibility if I change a few cards every so often without having to recalculate this all over again. Looks like like I need 27 basic lands. I can live with that.

3.0 --> 3 Mountains
4.6 --> 5 Swamps
4.3 --> 5 Plains
6.3 --> 7 Forests
6.8 --> 7 Islands

A Note on Colorless…
Be careful with how many colorless lands you include in any 5-Color deck. You should always include the “Strip Mine Package” (See Grim Tidings #17), but try not to over do it unless the colorless land has an absolutely amazing ability. I thought Novigen and City of Shadows fit the proliferating-counter theme nicely for this particular deck, but I tried not to have many other colorless lands to accidentally screw up my evil plans.

So on to playtesting with these minor tweaks…

Week 4 Results
Yay! There are enough players for Group Games tonight… just what my casual theme deck needs to flourish! And how!

I was quite pleased as my mana fixing proved to work out. I had an ample flow of lands in all of my games, and I rarely waited to get the right color for any particular casting cost.

Overall, I was so impressed that I declared my playtesting efforts were officially over. I have plenty of defensive posture, I am drawing a lot of cards, and my mannose is set. I’m quite glad I spent the time analyzing each of these facets of the decklist.

This series has helped me a lot to think through the basic problems of deckbuilding. I hope you enjoyed reading my ramblings as I thought this through step by step. Next week, I promise I’ll post the actual decklist so you can finally see what the heck my 5C Proliferate deck looks like. Until then...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Grim Tidings Bonus - Altered Swords to Plowshares

Check out my newest card for First Reminder:
Not bad for my first piece of altered artwork. I like it at least.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grim Tidings #28 - Deck Diagnostic Part II

5C Proliferate, Part II - Draw

Everything seems to be progressing well with my 5C Proliferate deck, as my major overhauls are complete for the most part. Over the last three weeks, I’ve injected the deck with a substantial amount of removal and drawing capability to help build a strong skeleton that can be fleshed out with a 'proliferating counter’ theme.

One of the biggest problems from the initial games I played with 5C Proliferate was that I had no sustainability after my opening seven-card hand. I consistently went into top-deck mode after a few turns, and had to rely solely on luck to mount any sort of offense. In short, there was no sustainability at all.

Now, I did include some elements of card draw, but as I revealed last week, my initial intent was to have a highlander decklist, with a wide variety of spells to chose form. What I ended up with in result was a diluted deck that always petered out around turn 5.

Starting Point
What nice about the card drawing aspect is that I have more opportunity to incorporate the proliferate counter theme into the card selections. I immediately tagged a few notable spells that fit this description:

Jace Berelan
Enclave Cryptologist
Sphinx of Magosi
Etched Oracle

Sadly with just 1-ofs, these gems were the equivalent of a whisper at a Lamb of God concert. (Speaking of which, when are these guys going to release a new album?) It became evident that I needed to concentrate the ability to draw extra cards to keep the pressure on.

Card Advantage Basics
There are a few basic “laws” that govern Magic games, one of which is that the standard rules only allow you to draw card per turn. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get that card each Draw Step, but normally, that’s the only new spell you’re going to see. until your next turn. I find this “law” to be the biggest limiting factor to each magic game. It is the step I look forward to most each turn, as it presents me with the ultimate decision of whether to attack, activate, destroy or pass depending on what I draw.

So what if you draw an extra card? Well, now I get two choices. I am not forced to make a linear decision, as I have multiple variables which I can leverage to my advantage.

Additionally, you have broken a basic Magic “law” that you can only draw one card per turn. In some ways you have taken two turns. Granted, you don’t get a second untap or attack phase, but if cards in hand are the most important resource you have, you are essentially getting an extra turn when you draw that second card.

Besides, these are 300 card 5-Color decks. Not every spell is going to be applicable (or even castable!) at the precise time you draw it. If you are really desperate for creature removal, you’re going to need to dig as deep as possible to get that Swords to Plowshares in your hand quickly.

So How Many Jaces are Too Many?
After week #2, I had increased the card drawing density substantially, but as always, its never enough for me. I ordered additional cards online to help this critical elements, and here is the final suite I assembled:

4x Jace Berelan
1x Tezzeret the Seeker

4x Enclave Cryptologist
4x Sphinx of Magosi
4x Etched Oracle
1x Bringer of the Blue Dawn
1x Mulldrifter
1x Sphinx of Lost Truths
1x Sage of Fables
1x Myojin of the Seeing Wind
1x Dusk Urchins
1x Wall of Omens
1x Wall of Blossoms
1x Orhan Viper
1x Eternal Witness
1x Cold Eyed Selkie

1x Pursuit of Knowledge
1x Ancestral Visions
1x Ponder
1x Brainstorm
1x Cryptic Command
1x Future Sight
1x Steady Progress
1x Trigon of Thought
1x Crystal Ball
1x Sensei’s Divining Top
1x Skullclamp

I tried to maintain my highlander notion if I felt the card was somewhat conditional or out of theme, but overall, this is a lot of card draw. In addition, I started piling on the tutor effects as well, to reduce any topdeck mode and just go get you what I want when I needed it:

1x Tinker
1x Transmute Artifact
1x Academy Rector
1x Enlightened Tutor
1x Idyliic Tutor
1x Liliana Vess
1x Demonic Tutor
1x Beseech the Queen
1x Diabolic Tutor
1x Night Dealings

Alright, time to shuffle up!

Week 3 Results
Unfortunately, it was just Jedi Jed and myself this week, so I was forced back into one-on-one duels. (I’m certain 5C Proliferate is much better suited to a multiplayer setting to help divert attention away from my wicked machinations.) To make matters worse, Jed’s deck is absolutely fantastic too. I’m not going to put weight on going 2-8 against him that night. Rather, I’ll use the data I gathered it as a teaching tool to help me understand the tendencies of my current decklist.

Overall, I was impressed. I rarely ever had less than 5 cards in hand, and I was setting up my proliferate tricks quite frequently. Most games came down to being just a micro-second too slow to deal the killing blow, but I was drawing enough threats and answers to “do” what the deck is supposed to “do”.

I would love to play 4x Jace the Mindsculptor in addition to the 4x Jace Berelans, but I’m not dumping any more money into this casual theme deck.

I still have some smoothing of the mana base to work out, especially with my minimized red/black sources, but I am on the right track to success. Next week I’ll address those issues before I get to discussion of the final decklist and the weird proliferate synergies I’ve discovered in this diagnostic effort. Ciao!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grim Tidings #27: Deck Diagnostic Part I

5C Proliferate, Part I- Defense

In Grim Tidings #26, I revealed some serious problems with my 300 card 5-Color Proliferate deck. I’m dedicating the next few weeks to perform diagnostic checks on the concept to see if I can make it work.

Lets dive right in with my first task at hand: Staying alive long enough to even attempt a proliferate strategy.

Most theme decks run the risk that a player might spend too much time “setting up” if the strategy is non-linear. Proliferate falls into this category, in my opinion. In order for the proliferate mechanic to work, it relies on having other permanents already in play with counters on them. By itself, proliferate doesn’t do anything. It requires permanents on either side with counters already on them. Otherwise there is no incentive to activate the mechanic.

This puts the player at a disadvantage right off the bat, as there is a time-delay between getting the counters started before the engine starts manufacturing more. This could be a turn or two, or even more, considering that the marquee proliferate cards have cmc of 5 or 6.

An Ugly Starting Point
When I first assembled my deck, I didn’t really take this cold hard truth into account. I simply assumed if I packed as many proliferate cards into the decklist as possible, accompanied with as many cards with counters on them, it was inevitable that I would be ready to go as soon as Contagion Engine (or whatever) hit the table. After the first few games, I realized my folly.

From my memory, I think I included:
1x Swords to Plowshares
1x Path to Exile
1x Austere Command
1x Wrath of God
1x Serra’s Liturgy
1x Vile Requiem
1x Royal Assassin
1x Damnation
1x Puncture Blast
1x Puncture Bolt
1x Jund Charm
1x Pure//Simple
1x Shattering Pulse
1x Virdian Shaman

…And not much else. There were (and still are) an assortment of creatures with come-into-play removal effects, but they were generally too hard to cast in a timely manner to make a difference.

That’s only 14 cards, out of 300 (4.6%). In an average game, you’re opening hand will have 7 cards. Assuming the game lasts 10-15 turns, you may likely see 8.0% of your entire deck (barring tutors or additional card draw). That’s a pretty narrow window to align to have the proper removal when needed.

Modification On-the-Fly
After a few defeats, I quickly started realizing my problem. I scurried back to my card boxes and started pulling more support to aid my cause. I added 1x Unmake, 1x Condemn, 1x Oblivion Ring among others to help plug the leaks in my dam.

Sidenote: You’ll notice that I kept pulling 1-ofs. Why? Well at the time, I opted to keep the deck highlander, with the exception of the core Proliferate cards. In my arrogance, I was confident my list could support itself, and there was no reason to concede that I may need multiples of the most basic cards. Not until the next day did I decide that in order for this to work, I was going to have to abandon this highlander notion.

Plows to the Rescue!
So after much consternation, I began rebuilding in my defense earnest. Knowing that some of the best removal spell are featured in White, Black, and Red, I started there, pretty much from scratch. (This decision was two fold, as I was finding the best spells with counters (for proliferate) seem to be Blue and Green. This way, I’m not cluttering up the UG” theme” spots with boring utility.) So what were my choices?

4x Swords to Plowshares
3x Wrath of God
1x Balance
1x Serra’s Liturgy
3x Damnation
1x Vile Requiem
4x Lightning Bolt
3x Krosan Grip
1x Jund Charm
1x Naya Charm
1x Pure//Simple
1x Maze of Ith
1x Kor Haven
1x Forcefield

I opted out of the -1/-1 slow-kill strategy in order for efficient streamline removal. In most cases, I picked the spell that only cost 1 colored mana, or was the most aggressively costed mass removal, without condition.

Next, for some conventional defense, I looked at the creature base, and how many blockers I could drop early. All-time great defenders like Wall of Blossoms/Omens were already in my list to help draw a few extra cards. My choice was to expand the wall base, and add 4x Wall of Roots, which doubles as mana acceleration as well. These changes brought my defensive quota up to around 30 cards, doubling my previous count.

There are still some outliers in the defense category sprinkled amongst the creature base (Skinrender, Carnifex Demon, Guul Draz Assassin) but because ethey are conditional or high-costed, I’ll pass on discussing them until I get the ratios down. For now they will just add conditional versatility.

I am starting to feel a little more comfortable with this, especially since I simultaneously upped the card drawing aspect in the deck. I am hoping that by seeing cards each game I will have access to the proper removal when needed.

On to Monday Night playtesting….

Week 2 Results
Overall, I felt the deck had a significantly better performance. There are still definitely places for improvement, but I certainly was executing my proliferating agenda.

Tonight’s format was multiplayer free-for-all, which is more favorable than the one-on-one duels I faced off with last week. The added presence of other player’s threats diverts attention away from my permanents, while also pooling removal amongst all players to address a problem collectively.

It seemed my availability of spot removal was sufficient. I managed to deal with a turn three Baneslayer with a Swords to Plowshares, as well as regrowing it a few turns later to exile a fully-leveled Figure of Destiny. I was also pleased with the timeliness of my Krosan Grips, which prevented an activation of Contagion Engine against me in a clutch late game moment.

My density of mass-removal was adequate as well. I became the target of an early Skithiryx, but I only suffered 4 points of poison before I “Wrathed” it and the rest of the table away.

I was a little disappointed in my flying defense though. On one occasion, I was pinched between two Angels of Despairs vs. another Angel of Despair and Reya Dawnbringer. There was little I could do to stabilize both sides, and I ended up losing that match. I’m happy with the Walls of Roots, but I need to shore up the air a little better to steer my enemies elsewhere. I’ll look into Wall of Reverence or Denial perhaps if I can fit them in.

Next Step
My mail-order should arrive this week with more reinforcements on the card drawing front. I think the draw aspect allows for more synergy between counters/proliferate than removal, so hopefully the deck will continue to flesh out with these additions. More next week as I explore this area in depth.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Life and Times of a Magic Player: Looking Towards 2011

The last few months have brought about a lot of changes for the Magic Community, both on the personal, local, and global level.

Wizards continues to make, what I can only describe as poor decisions regarding it's player community. Restricting TO affiliations, decreasing professional level events, dogmatic enforcement of the Reserved List, elimination of the Player Rewards program, universally hated changes to the B/R list, and an ever increasing barrage of narrow products, seem to do little but add to player frustrations. I hear from an wide swath of players, who truly wish the simple things could be simple. If Wizards is going to continually fight TO efforts to promote their product, and build their community, then honestly why bother? This is forcing me to reevaluate many of my own community driven efforts. It has become clear to me that my status as "simply" a TO is not effective, and not really desired by Wizards. I feel that I must either forgo being a TO, or expand my efforts and work on my L1 Judge status. This is a decision I have yet to make, and will remain in a holding pattern for the time being.

On a personal level, I find myself increasingly frustrated by this game which I normally enjoy so much. The Fall rotation brought about a lot of changes in details, but the broad strokes remain the same. It become increasingly clear to me that Standard will remain a Mythic Rare driven format. It's going to be an all or nothing proposition. Players must be willing to invest big dollars into decks and cards, despite limited shelf life, or resign themselves to being uncompetitive. There is little to no room for a budget player in the format, and thus there is no place in it for me. I have accepted this as fact, and while I doubt I could buy less packs then I already do, new set releases hold very little interest to me moving forward. I will only play in release events, if the promo card is something I specifically want for my collection. I will assemble a common set, but only for applications in Pauper Extended. Cards above the common level, will only be assembled for specific uses.

This acceptance of what Standard has become, and is likely to remain, lends itself to another breakthrough on the Magic front. For many years now, I have embraced  a nearly Buddhist desire to have "less stuff", really only wanting what I really need. My Magic collection has flown in the face of that for years. When I'm pressed to a number, I would guess that I have something like 40,000 cards at any given time. My guess would be that I only actually use about 1,000 of them. The next couple of months will be used to identify those 1,000 or so cards, and getting rid of the rest. I should be able to steam roll my excess into a hand full of cards which will hold more personal value for me.

Now the question becomes, what to do with that value? As counter intuitive as it seems, Eternal has become the best budget format in my mind. Not because the cards are cheap, but because of their nearly limitless period of use. Short of a change to the B/R list, major dynamic shift, or obsolescence by a new card, today's relevant cards will remain so. I have very recently taken the plunge, and finished my play set of Force of Will, enabling a lot more choices in Eternal formats. Now my land base will tend to be the biggest obstacle to virtually any deck. My recent experiment into Vintage reaffirms my conviction. Not only was the deck cheaper to build then my first Legacy deck, but it was more successful. I was able to build a 9 Proxy Belcher, with no cash outlay. Granted, this was in large part due to additions to my collection made during my Legacy expansion, but zero is zero in my book. This deck also did better for me, then my first Legacy event. I went 3-3 on Sunday, breaking even. My first attempts at Legacy left me 0-4. Seems better, if not yet good.

In any case, my role as a Magic Player is in the process of shifting significantly. Who knows where i may end up...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Grim Tidings #26: Flip-Flop

I think the majority of magic articles I write aren't very helpful.

For the most part are a stream of self-congratulatory praise of how great my proven decks are. Sure, my cutting sarcasm and wit occasionally generate a chuckle (I still love the Chaos Orb piece) but for the most part, I they all smoosh together into a long wordy rant of why I think this-or-that card is so great and why you should play it too.

It’s my own fault. I pretend that everyone who reads my ramblings knows who I am, and has the same preference in play style. I assume everyone plays Casual-Competitive Magic, that they all play 300 card 5-Color decks, highlander style, and they have access to all 10,000+ cards to randomly insert in Deck XYZ at any moment’s notice. Obviously this is untrue.

The root of the problem may lie in my core deck: “First Reminder”. I gush on and on about this deck, partly to brag on my collection, and partly to show-off my self-proclaimed cleverness. The deck has gained notoriety (for whatever that’s worth) at my casual table, as opponent’s groan when they see me pull out the customized black-and-purple deck box adorned with a mosaic of Grim Reminder snippets.

No one who has played against it can deny its strength. It’s a really good deck. Plus the fact that I’ve played it for several years makes me fairly competent in piloting it. As time passes, I tweak it to address the meta-game, but overall, it remains essentially intact.

I get bored. Each year it seems I reassemble Second Reminder gain to inject some new life into my Magic games. I try to test out some of the new mechanics, or give my friends a break from the menace First Reminder has become.

Then I get bored again. Either I’m addicted to power, or I’m addicted to deckbuilding, but for some reason I can’t keep Second Reminder put together. Two years ago, I dismantled it and built 5-Color Enchantress. Last year I dismantled it and built 5-Color Kiki. In both cases it was a welcome diversion, as it gave me something new to think about, discuss, and waste my time/money on.

But now I need a new project. A few weeks ago, I traded for a bunch of the new Proliferate cards in an attempt to build a new theme deck.

4x Inexorable Tide
4x Contagion Engine
3x Contagion Clasp
4x Steady Progress
4x Thrumming Birds
2x Throne of Geth

Boy was I excited! I researched a plethora of synergistic cards, and then rummaged through my binders to assemble what I thought would be an unstoppable flow of counters and headaches for my opponents to deal with. Last Tuesday, I finally got my chance to test it out against a live opponent: Jedi Jed.

Epic Fail
Oops. After shuffling up for a few games, it became apparent I had forgotten three of the basic principles of deck-building at the casual table: Mana-fixing, Sustainability and Defense.

I had too many comes-into-play-tapped lands.

I missed land drops.

I didn’t have enough card draw.

I didn’t have any early blockers.

I didn’t have enough removal.

I didn’t have finishers.

It was pretty much just a stack of crap.

What made things worse for me, is that simultaneously, Dark Jedi ran his course through his own artifact-themed deck. He rebuilt to his own “Best-of” deck, prepared to kick my ass. (He really needs to come up with a catchy-nickname for his deck, so I can refer to it easier. Aegis has the “Deck of Many Things”, I have “First Reminder”, Jed has nothing yet. Gotta work on that.)

So now he sits in a dominant position, with a Tier-1 deck, while I languish with an obviously untuned pile of junk.

Deck-Building 101
Well, at least I have a project to work on now. There were brief moments when 5C Proliferate did what it was supposed to. And I was able to clearly see where it needed the most help. It gives me hope that the proliferate concept is not a total loss. Perhaps I can still make this work.

So back to my starting comments. Up until now, Grim Tidings has been a dissertation of proven and sucessful decks and cards. I'd like to start a new series within Tidings to help document this poor deck's evolution to hopefully become what I imagined it would be.

I’m not going to post the preliminary deck-list. It doesn’t work. I think what I have to do is break it down into functional problems, and address them over the next few weeks or months.

What I built was a proliferate deck that I thought would be good. What I really want instead is a good deck, that features proliferate.

Hopefully this exercise will be enjoyable to follow along with. I’ll start with the most immediate problem first: Defense. I have to find a way to stay alive long enough if I want to pull this off. Then I'll address card draw and mana, and see what develops.

I’d like to keep the individual articles in the series short, so I can focus on specific topics individually rather than tackling the whole mess all at once. Stay tuned, my friends. I'll let you know how it works out piece by piece. In the end, hopefully I can compile a solid decklist, and together, we can learn something along the way.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tezzeret 2.0 in Mirrodin Beseiged?

I don't normally post rumor threads, but check this out:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Grim Tidings #25 - Kiki Jiki, the Elder Dragon?

I hinted a few weeks ago I added some new Scars of Mirrodin cards to my EDH decks, one of which being Kiki Jiki, the Mirror Breaker.

Kiki is a lovely card, but he has an incredibly R-R-Red casting cost, making him somewhat difficult to cast both in EDH and other casual “Big Deck" formats. Additionally, he’s mono-red, meaning that for EDH, he forces your entire deck to be mono-red. I’ve found that mono-red is generally pretty weak in terms of card drawing, enchantment removal, and sustainability (All of which are fairly important at any casual table).

That didn’t stop me though. Instead of steering elsewhere, I decided to focus on Red’s strengths, rather than weaknesses, and jam pack them into a powerhouse EDH deck designed to execute a very aggressive agenda based come-into-play abilities and mana denial. First off, let’s review my decklist:

Kiki Jiki, EDH

Red Creatures(24)
1 Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1 Anger
1 Arc-Slogger
1 Avalanche Riders
1 Bogardan Hellkite
1 Changeling Berserker
1 Conquering Manticore
1 Ember Hauler
1 Faultgrinder
1 Flametongue Kavu
1 Goblin Matron
1 Goblin Settler
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
1 Goblin Welder
1 Hoarding Dragon
1 Inferno Titan
1 Kazul Warlord
1 Lightning Crafter
1 Magus of the Moon
1 Mudbutton Torchrunner
1 Ravenous Baboons
1 Seige Gang Commander
1 Stingscourger
1 Tuktuk Scrapper

Artifact/Colorless Creatures (7)
1 Bottle Gnomes
1 Duplicant
1 Iron Myr
1 Myr Battlesphere
1 Pentavus
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Sundering Titan

Red Spells (17)
1 Blood Moon
1 Jokulhaups
1 Price of Progress
1 Ruination

1 Koth of the Hammer
1 Chandra Ablaze

1 Gamble
1 Wheel of Fate
1 Wheel of Fortune

1 Chain Lightning
1 Comet Storm
1 Flame Javelin
1 Goblin Bombardment
1 Incendiary Command
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Molten Disaster
1 Starstorm

Artifact Spells (16)
1 Foryisan Totem
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Mind Stone
1 Sol Ring

1 Gauntlet of Might
1 Gauntlet of Power
1 Memory Jar
1 Mindslaver
1 Nevinyrral's Disk
1 Rings of Brighthearth

1 Lightning Greaves
1 Quietus Spike
1 Skullclamp
1 Sword of Fire & Ice
1 Sword of Light & Shadow

Land (36)
28 Mountain
1 Spinerock Knoll
1 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
1 Keldon Necropolis

1 Dustbowl
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Strip Mine
1 Wasteland

Whew! That’s a lot to digest at first pass. I’ll break it down into functional categories for my dissertation.

Kiki, The Format Breaker
The General is important for most EDH decks, as the rules allow you to auto-tutor him from the command zone, and repeatedly auto-regrow him when he dies. These special rules are the reason why I frequently accuse EDH of being the most degenerate format all. However, that said, as long as you can abuse it more than your opponent, you’re probably winning.

Kiki is the cornerstone of everything that my decks does, and it “does” a lot... He is a self-contained engine that generates card advantage and an endless supply of disposable threats. Both he and his duplicated token have haste, making the engine very explosive to the unwary. He can only copy non-legendary creatures you control, so he needs an explosive supporting cast to accompany him.

Creature Selection
I’ve hand picked 31 non-legendary creatures in this deck, most of which have an “enter the battlefield” effect (aka “ETB”, or “comes-into-play”, or “CIP”, or “187”). Why is this important? Well, primarily is because it generates card advantage. Playing Shatter is OK, but when you combine it with a */* body that stays on the battlefield to attack and/or block turns later, you’ve gained an advantage.

Conversely, playing a vanilla */* creature is fairly unimpressive. Playing a dude that deals 3 when it CIP is infinitely better. Being able to repeatedly copy that same creature and effect with Kiki is even better, as you are essentially getting 4 effects for the price of one (original creature, original CIP effect, copied haste creature, copied CIP effect.) Of course, the copied creature token is exiled at end of turn, but that only encourages you to attack with wreckless abandon with it to utilize it before it dies. Not really a bad predicament to be in, eh?

My creature selection is packed both with low casting cost utility creatures, and solid beaters on the high-end of the curve. Huge 187 Creatures such as Inferno Titan, Crimson Manticore, Bogardan Hellkite and Hoarding Dragon present many challenges for your opponent as they pound out lots of damage in a very short time.

Besides Kiki, the second best creature in the deck is Goblin Matron. There is a surprising number if good goblins out there that trigger CIP abilities, or other synergies, the ability to tutor any of them is amazing. Combined with Kiki, the Goblin Matron solves a major weakness of mono-red, library manipulation. Copied Matrons can fetch an assortment of answers when needed: Shatter (Tuktuk Scrapper), Bounce (Stingscourger), Shock (Ember Hauler), Blockers (Seige Gang Commander), Recursion (Goblin Welder), Etc.

Myr Battlesphere
It truly insane how good the Battlesphere is in this deck. Its on the high end of the curve at 7 mana, but when it hits the table, watch out. It enters as a 4/7, with four additional 1/1 Myrs. Combine it with Kiki, and now you have two 4/7s, and eight 1/1 Myr. The copied Battlesphere has haste, so don’t hesitate to attack right away with it, tapping all eight of the newly created 1/1 Mrs, and the original Battlesphere to deal 9 damage directly to your opponent before he has to deal with the now 13/7 rolling ball of death in the attack phase. Whoa. Make sure to do it again next turn too.

Land Destruction Package
Red is the best there is when it comes to LD. It certainly crosses the line of being a dick, but no one can deny its effectiveness, en masse. I include a full compliment of CIP creatures that destroy land (Goblin Settler, Avalanche Riders, Faultgrinder, Ravenous baboons, Sundering Titan), the full complement of Strip Mine lands, as well as non-basic hosers such as Ruination, Blood Moon, Magus of the Moon, and Price of Progress. The multi-color EDH’ers hate when use this tactic, but I justify it by being at such a disadvantage for playing mono-red, I ignore their complaints. (Insert maniacal laughter here.)

Disadvantages of mono-red?!? Pfft! While there are inherent weaknesses, I find it rewarding to turn them into strengths. Take land selection as an example: There’s not much you can play in a mono-red deck other than mountains, so I try to make the most of it. The two Gauntlets (of Might & Power) reward me for having lots of basic mountains. Likewise, it makes me generally immune to Ruination as well. But perhaps the best new addition to my Kiki EDH is Koth.

Koth appears all over the place in the new Scars Standard environment. Its an obvious addition for this deck as well. There are plenty of mountains to animate, so if one dies its not a real penalty. His second ability is amplified by the mountain density as well. Finally, once you go ultimate, your mountain-machine-guns are already loaded to shoot down your opponents defenses one after another. Pretty deadly with a whopping 28 mountains.

It’s hard not to accidentally fall into some infinite combos when you play Kiki. Although it’s not my preference to execute them, I can’t deny their effectiveness in a pinch. Combine Kiki with any Goblin, Lightning Crafter and Sharpshooter and its pretty much over. Does a four card combo sounds difficult? Perhaps, but when you have Goblin Matron it comes up more often than you think.

Meanwhile, the classic Goblin Welder/Mindslaver lock is present as well. Many have accused this combo of being against the casual principles of EDH, as it is highly non-interactive and un-fun for your opponent. I agree it’s a buzz-kill, but if I’ve gone as far as I have with my land destruction package, what’s one more slap in the face? Does it help any if I apologize in advance?

Wrap up
So there you have it: an expression of exactly what EDH is not supposed to be. Abusive, unfriendly, mean, and single-sided. I’m sure Sheldon Menery would shake his head in disgust if he knew what an abomination of a decklist I assembled. Oh well. It seems I only play EDH a few months each year, anyways. (Thank goodness! I don’t think I could handle playing this deck more often than that!) But for the truly despicable players out there, enjoy!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grim Tidings #24 - Scars & 5-Color

I skipped a set review (actually two) over the summer as I took a break from Grim Tidings. Now that I’m thinking about Magic again, I’ll insert my thoughts on the latest big expansion, Scars of Mirrodin, and its impact on Casual 5-Color.

What is 5-Color Again?

For those who have forgotten, 5-color Magic is a format that requires you to build a deck of at least 300 cards, with a minimum of 25 cards from each color. I encourage everyone to go to the actual link, but basically All cards are legal, except for the Unglued/Unhinged expansions, and there is a special Banned/Restricted list specific to this format. Highlander is optional, but extremely fun.

When I consider a card in this discussion, it’s in terms of a “big-deck” format. There will be a lot of cards out there that are better for Standard or Legacy or whatever 60-card format, but for this review, I’m really just looking at the best cards and their impact for 5-Color (and to a lesser extent EDH).

Also remember, I generally play highlander (meaning everything is restricted to one-of). This is important to realize, as clunky combos and interactions and far more difficult to execute in decks this size.

No Rankings!
Finally, there will be no countdown this time around. I’m only going to discuss cards that will make it into my personal decks, and tell you why I like them. There is no particular order whatsoever, other than rarity.

First Reminder
It seems that in every article I write I drone on-and-on about my primary deck, First Reminder. I treat it as a collection of the best-of-the-best, so to make that list, the card really has to be special, or be strictly better than its predecessor. In Scars, I find two cards that earn my highest honor to join its ranks: Venser, the Sojourner, and Skithiryx the Blight Dragon!

First Reminder is predicated on card advantage, so it is no surprise that I have a high density of 1-8-7 creatures with enter/leave-the-battlefield abilities. Look at the plethora of come-into-play abilities it features:

• Duplicant, Nekrataal, etc. – Kill Creatures
• Gravedigger, etc. – Raise Dead
• Karmic Guide - Resurrection
• Avalanche Riders – Destroy Land
• Acidic Slime/Angel of Despair – Destroy Permanents
• Stonecloaker – Exile Graveyard
• Mulldrifter, Wall of Blossoms – Draw Cards
• Bogardan Hellkite, Anathemancer, etc. – Direct Damage
• Wood Elves – Fetch (Dual) Lands

Venser’s strongest ability is his first one. As a repeatable blink effect, he generates enormous card advantage with all of these creatures. In addition, he can reset Planeswalker counters, and negate ugly -1/-1 Persist counters (Hooray for Glen Elandra Archmage!) He doubles the activated abilities of all of my Haste Creatures (Kiki, Bonded Fetch), as well as granting Vigilance to a creature that needs to attacks. Finally, Venser provides a clever method to dodge your own Wrath Effects, a you can blink out that your best creature just prior to resetting the board with Final Judgment!

If that wasn’t enough, Venser packs a second incredible ability: Alpha Strike. A late game Venser will allow you to muscle through defensive stalemates immediately. I see this as a game ender.

What? There’s more? Yes its true, there is a third ability as well. As incredible as it is, I find it higly unlikely I will ever get his “ultimate” off. But if I do, I will almost feel sorry my opponents. How completely unfair it is. GG!

I’m gushing all over this card, and rightfully so. Venser the Sojourner does it all in 5-Color. He is a marquee card, and by far the best the set has to offer, in my opinion. A+!

Venser the Sojourner IN, Catastrophe OUT
(Reasoning: Catastrophe is essentially an overcosted Wrath #12 for me. I hardly ever use it to destroy lands, so I will exchange Venser's versatility and card advantage over redundancy in a heartbeat.)

Meanwhile, there is Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. Awesome! A big bad-ass black dragon with 4 abilities: Flying, Infect, Haste, and Regeneration! My inner Timmy rejoices! "Skitter" is right on the curve as a 4/4 flyer for BB3, but his additional abilities are fantastic!

I think Poison, by itself, is fairly underwhelming. Most of the creatures that possess the poison ability in the past were small, and required many turns to deal 10 poison counters. Not so with an Infectious Skithiryx. He’s huge, so it only takes three turns (one of which can be negated by granting him haste!) Since you only have to deal ten posion counters, think of Skitter as an 8/4, which combined with a few pieces of Equipment, puts your opponent is put on a very short clock.

In addition, he makes a great defender. People generally tended to shy away from blockers with wither that permanently damaged the attackers. This dragon is a 4/4 blocker, so it has a lasting effect on the game-state any time he is played. The fact that he regenerates is even more of a incentive to turn away attacks, as opponents have nothing to gain from slamming into your big bad dracolich defender. A+ as well!

Skithiryx, The Blight Dragon IN, Divinity of Pride OUT
(Reasoning: Divinity has the same spot on the mana curve, but with more difficult color requirements. In addition, two additional abilities puts Skitter over the top. I'm really excited to see how often I can poison my way to victory with this card. I can't wait!)

Thus concludes my in depth review of all of the cards for the Scars of Mirrodin Expansion. Thank you for your interest in reading my article…

Second Reminder
What do you mean there’s 247 more cards? Really? Good thing I have a second 5-Color deck primed and ready to put the other cards through their paces. (Well, at lest the good ones!) Where to begin?

Geth, Lord of the Vault - He certainly has a unique way to generate card advantage. The milling aspect is irrelevant, but at least it keeps feeding his built-in Beacon of Unrest. Needless to say, Geth could become a headache to deal with if left alone. He’s deserving of a immediate Swords to Plowshares.

Sword of Body and Mind - Its already in Second Reminder, as it was pre-released with FtV: Relics. What’s not to like about it? You have to be an idiot not to appreciate an Equipment that provides 4 abilities, even if the milling ability is mostly irrelevant against another 300-card deck. I look forward to the two remaining swords, hopefully to be released next year.

Argent Sphinx - This card is very good. It will replace Sphinx of Jwar Isle as my pesky blue flyer of choice in Second Reminder. It is entirely reminiscent of Rainbow Efreet, another long time favorite “PBF” of mine. Consider it a flying, blinking, vigilant, 4/3 for four mana.

Hoard-Smelter Dragon - Shivan Dragon really isn’t that bad of a card. It has an above average 5/5 body with evasion and a nice aggressive ability. Sadly you need to be much better than that in today’s modern cardpool. Enter Hoard-Smelter: He’s a living Shatter that doubles up as firebreathing. Of course, if there is nothing to shatter, he can’t be pumped, but in that case, you’ll probably be casting other spells anyways. Even with conditions, it’s hard to be disappointed with this dragon.

Steel Hellkite - Like Hoard Smelter above, this is great too. He’s bigger (6/6) and destroys more stuff. I honestly would consider Steel Hellkite over Oros in First Reminder, if I didn’t need that last red slot filled. It’s definitely on my watch list for promotion.

Blackcleave Cliffs, et al. – These lands generally suck, but at least they are good on turns one, two, and three. They will be played in Second Reminder because I need alternative dual lands, but no where else. As soon as another dual land variation comes out, these 5 cards are “Adios, muchachos!”

Skinrender - Decent Nekrataal knock-off, but since it doesn’t always guarantee a kill, its on the second team. The art is super cool though. He looks like a Alien!

Trigon of Infestation - I find myself quite eager to try this card out. Most artifacts that generate creatures only make vanilla 1/1’s. However, these insects have an ability: Infest. Like Skithiryx above, the Insects provide an alternate win condition. This is the best of the Trigons for 5-Color.

Infiltration Lens - I like cards that reward clever play. Infiltration Lens creates great card advantage as long as you can equip it to a big creature to make the opponent fearful. However, it’s useless when equipped to a 1/1, as the opponent will just let it through (which in that case, you are dealing them damage.) Most people will toss this card aside as trash, but I will try to break it. Put it on a Trigon Insect token for better results.

Blight Mamba - Quickly summarized as “An efficient 2 drop, with two abilities. Makes for a great defender.” Not much to say about Infect that hasn’t been said previously. I only wish the Mamba had Islandwalk too.

Moriok Replica - Last, but not least, I recognize 2/2 that sacs for Nights Whisper. This is pretty decent, really. You get a chump creature if your desperate, or two extra cards (net +1 CA) if you are top decking.

Out of Contention
Despite maintaining two 300-card decks, not every card can make it into circulation. There are lots of cool cards out there, but rather than whine why I dont like them, I'll be quick and just list the also-rans: Elspeth Tirel, Molten-tail Masticore, Platinum Emperion, Genesis Wave, Necrotic Ooze, Revoke Existence , Nihil Spellbomb. All of these cards are decent, but for whatever reason, I dont want to waste time talking about them. Give them a shot, and let me know how they do.

Kiki EDH
Believe it or not, I do play other formats than just 5-Color. Along with Legacy, I currently have three EDH decks: Intet the Dreamer, Kiki Jiki Mirror Breaker, and Child of Alara. Scars offers a few cards for these decks, but so as not spoil my next article, I’ll just say Kiki is getting both Koth of the Hammer and Myr Battlesphere. In fact, I would say I’m more excited to play the Battlesphere than any other card in the entire expansion. (Seriously!)

Until next time…

Friday, September 24, 2010

No Money Magic: A Success Story

At the beginning of the year, I drew what I felt at the time was a bold new line in the sand, setting a $0 budget for my Magic activities for the year. I am very proud to say that so far so good. Not only have I not spent a dime on my Magic collection this year, but I am still projected to be at zero for the end of the year.

Now that doesn't mean I have not been able to expand my Magic collection, grow my deck options, and have a lot of fun in the doing. In addition to a play set of all the released un/commons this year, I've managed to collect a number of meaningful cards for my collection.

3 Arid Mesa +1 foil
4 other enemy fetches
one of each of the M11 titan
16 other rare/mythic cards for my casual deck
7 foils for my casual deck
4 signed rare/mythics for my casual decl
2 signed foils for my casual deck
1 each of the aligned fetchlands +a second Wooded Foothills
2 Taiga
3 Plateau
Underground Sea
2 other Dual-lands, but I can't remember which ones
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
3 Goyfs
4 Grim Lavamancers
4 Wasteland
Foil Promo Jitte
3 Aether Vial
upgraded my Lightning Bolts to foil textless promos
Elspeth vs. Tezzert box set
FtV: Relics box set

Now I really don't mind saying, that is hundreds of dollars which I have been able to trade into. I don't believe I'll miss any of the cards I gave up for them, even for a moment. My Zoo deck now has 13 foil cards, and 8 signed cards. I've also been able to build "10 proxy Belcher" for Vintage, although I did have to scrap my efforts to build Belcher for Legacy. I've refocused my Legacy efforts in building Merfolk, but I'm still several critical cards short. I hope that I can finish the deck in the coming year, but FoW's can be hard to trade into.

I also manged to build two similar budget Standard decks, Warp World and Mass Polymorph, with no financial outlay. I'll really be watching Standards shift over the next few weeks to see if it's something I want continue being a part of or simply give it up all together.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grim Tidings #23: The Curious Case of Eight-and-a-Half Tails

With the rebirth of Second Reminder (See GT #21), I am brought back to a long-standing debate of a very specific card selection. It was reinforced again during my last Cube draft, when I selected none other than my old buddy, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails.

To give you a brief history, "8.5" has been on my internal “watch list” for quite some time. 8.5 appeared in the original Grim Reminder 750, and then in both incarnations of Second Reminder as well. It has been a favorite pet-card of mine since Kamigawa block, due to both its flavorful name, and clever game-warping abilities.

Last night was no exception. I drafted a WG weenie deck, packed with a plethora of great cards, including Academy Rector, Mirari’s Wake, and Debtor’s Knell. Eight-and-a-Half was a third or fourth pick for me, perhaps based on his relative obscurity in the common Magic vernacular. What transpired next drove me to write this article.

We played two group games with our decks. (8.5 fortunately is the lightest card in my deck, as he floated to the top in both games.) Of course I cast him, followed with a slew of other mid-range creatures to set myself into a solid defense. As the game evolved, it seemed apparent I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. 8.5 provided both offensive and defensive flexibility, allowing me to “bleach” all of my opponents’ permanents and muscle through with a single pro-white attacker. I became an immediate threat as people quickly realized that there was little they could do, and I was attacked en-masse. Although I lost game 1, I was amazed with the dominance 8.5 exhibited. Game 2 was much of the same, and resulted in a decisive victory. Eight-and-a-Half was again, the obvious MVP.

So why hasn’t this little fox been promoted to First Reminder yet? The simplest answer is color: Its too white. Its abilities require an extensive dedication to W fully support it. Hence, Mother of Runes has always been mycreature of choice for this role in First Reminder. She's cheaper and essentially fulfills the same role: a quirky protection trick that causes headaches for my opopnets. Since they are both great cards, let’s breakdown the Pros and Cons between the two to see their benefits.***

Eight-and-a-Half Pros & Cons:
1.) Con: Its double WW two-drop. Normally this isn’t a problem to color-fix late game, but on your second turn in a 5-Color deck, it is a little harder to consistently guarantee you will have two of the same color.

2.) Pro: Eight-and-Half-Tails is a 2/2, rather than 1 wimpy 1/1 like Mother. Well, its something…

3.) Con: It requires up to three mana (1 + 1W) to activate. Mother only needs to Tap. In addition, the more you want to use it, the more W you need. In a 5-Color deck, where colors are more-or-less distributed evenly, you mana sources may not be able to support this as much as you would like them to.

4.) Pro: Eight and-a Half can do its business the turn it comes into play, while Mommy still has summoning sickness.

5.) Pro: Eight-and-a-Half can protect multiple targets at the same time. There is amazing defense flexibility that exists when you can white-wash Firespout while its on the stack and give all of your creatures pro-white to survive, rather than just one.

6.) Pro: Mother can only protect creatures, while Eight can protect anything. Bleach your opponent’s Strip Mine, Maze of Ith, Naturalize, as well as Terror.

7.) Con: It can require a holding back a lot of mana so you can react with it. This really alters the pace the deck will play at, as using it in a reactionary state will limit the amount of other spells you will cast on your turn. (Note, made better by Terefi, Orrery, and Leyline of Anticipation).

8.) Pro: Its both defensive and offensive. While you can try to nullify your opponent’s removal, you can switch it into high gear when you are in a winning position. Your opponent will have to helplessly watch as your army slips right on through the defenders for the alpha strike.

8.5) Con: Eight-and-a-Half Tails is pretty obscure. Hardly anyone plays with it (compared to Mother of Runes) so its an unlikely card to name with Grim Reminder.

Reading through all of this, its not hard to support the inclusion of Eight-and-a-Half over Mother of Runes. However, I cant discount the impact I think Con #3 has. I need to look at the specific scenario it would be used though in MY deck, rather than out-of-context.

First Reminder Composition
Admittedly, First Reminder is more white than any other color. There are 34 mono-white spells, and 20 additional multi-color cards that include white. As a result, my manabase has significantly more basic Plains and white sources than the other four colors. 52/110 of my lands can produce W, as well as 5 artifacts and 6 creatures. Is that enough? For the regular every-day application of the deck, yes, I’m certain it is. However, I do not know if there is an exact “formula” to follow for Eight-and-a-Half-Tails though.

That said, I can look at the ratios of the mana distribution and come up with a plausible scenario. By my count, of the 132 mana sources in the deck, a total of 63 of them produce white. That’s 47%. Lets assume an average game state with ten lands in play. By this ratio, I could reasonably assume at least 4 (or more) of them could produce white.

In this example, I could offensively spend 3 colorless mana to bleach three of my opponent’s permanents, and easily have W1 available for three more activations of the 8.5’s pro-white effect. That sounds great! Or I could defensively just set aside (1 + W1) for use during my opponents turn without severely hampering my ability to cast other white spells on my turn.

Seriously, how many times would anyone really want to activate Eight-and-a-Half in a single turn? Once? Thrice? Any more than that seems very unlikely.

So I don’t think I need much more convincing. I’ll promote 8.5 to First Reminder and see how it does in practice. By this rationale, it seems as if I will be pleasantly satisfied.

*** Before anyone gets cute and replies with some snarky comment like “Why don’t you just play both cards?” I’ll remind you that even though my 5-Color deck is 300 cards, each and every card serves a specific purpose. I don’t need to be diluting First Reminder’s effectiveness with redundant effects that can be tutored for if absolutely needed. From experience, there can be only one slot for this protection-trick !