Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Catching Up ...

So I got a little lazy the last couple weeks about updating this blog. It's not that a whole lot hasn't happened, it's just that nothing terribly interesting and/or exciting has happened. I guess I'll give a brief rundown.

GW: Opponent discards a card named Pillar of Flame. If he or she doesn't, you win the game.
I've had fun playing Junk Rites in Standard, winning more than losing, which is pretty cool. I've adopted Voice of Resurgence for the maindeck (with another one in the 'board). I love the elemental deer dude, but a lot of times he seems to be a Duress for my opponents' Pillars of Flame, and he gets significantly worse when I get hit with Rest in Peace. Oh, and though I'm not playing a Jerk deck anymore, I still get to go into Jerk Mode sometimes when I get the Slime draw. You know ... Slime your land. Resto Slime. Reanimate Slime. Reanimate Resto, blink Slime. It's fun, but I know it's kinda mean, and I always apologize afterwards.

You sacrifice your own creature and I die? Hmmm...
Yeah, I'm still not sure I understand this Aristocrats deck, though. I try to kill his dude, and instead he kills his own dude and I die. Hmmm. I mean, I understand the card interactions and all that, but it's so weird to me that Cartel Aristocrat and Blood Artist are two of the scariest cards in Standard to me right now.
More like WIN Drake, amirite?
I played a couple of DGM/GTC/RTR drafts, and had a lot of fun with that. My archetype of choice has been "stall with big-butted creatures, and poke to death with little fliers." Sometimes Doorkeeper mills away their Assemble the Legion, and other times he doesn't, and I die to the Legion swarm. And I still hate Madcap Skills. Seriously, that card should be banned in RTR-block Limited formats. Okay, not seriously, but I still hate it. Overall, though, I'm pleased with how the format seems to be so far. It doesn't seem as cut & dried as 3xRTR and 3xGTC were (Aggro!).

I got to head-judge another event, which is pretty cool. :) We had something like 19 players for Game Day, and I had a great time running that show. There wasn't a whole lot to do--players have a pretty good handle on things by now--but it was good experience. It's possible I should have called a player on Slow Play, though. I also realized after the fact that running the Top 8 rounds timed at 50 minutes was technically a deviation from policy ... 90 minutes is recommended, and deviations from that need to be announced at the start of the event. Oops. Next time.

Oh yeah! Rules changes. Did ya know some rules are changing? Check the article on the Wizards website:

Here's a summary:

1. Legend Rule. Currently, if there are two or more of the same legendary permanent on the battlefield at the same time, they all go to the graveyard. Starting with M14, it only looks at permanents a player controls, not the whole battlefield. So, we can each have a Geist of Saint Traft. But if a player controls more than one Geist, he/she puts all but one into his/her graveyard.
2. Planeswalker Uniqueness Rule. Pretty much the same thing. If you control Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and I play Jace Beleren, they both go to the graveyard. Now, we can each control a Jace. So in the aforementioned scenario, we each get to keep a Jace. Hooray! But if one of us plays a second Jace, one of them will have to go to the graveyard.
3. Constructed Sideboards. Currently, your sideboard can be 0 or 15 cards. No more, no less, nothing in between. And if you swap cards between games, it has to be one-for-one, so that your sideboard remains at 15 cards. Starting with M14, your sideboard can be up to (and including) 15 cards. So if you only really need 5 sideboard cards and for whatever reason don't want to fill it out with basic lands or whatever, that's fine. Also, when you use your sideboard, you don't have to swap strictly one-for-one. The only caveat is that your sideboard cannot be over 15 cards, and your deck can't be under 60.
4. Indestructible. It's becoming a keyword ability! So if you Turn (and/or Burn) something that has become indestructible (say, via Boros Charm), then you can remove the ability to destroy it. Hooray! At least, that's the way it sounds like it'll be. They'll make it a keyword ability, and then errata cards to grant the ability.
5. Unblockable. Isn't a keyword, and still won't be. It sounds like they're going to issue errata to make that fact more clear. Instead of "creatures you control are unblockable until end of turn," it'll say "creatures you control can't be blocked until end of turn." It changes the rules of the game, doesn't grant an ability.
6. Additional Lands. Currently, when you have something that enables you to play an additional land for a turn (say, via Explore), and you play a land, you need to specify whether you're playing your "land for turn", or playing your "extra land for turn". This matters with permanents like Oracle of Mul Daya. Currently, you can play an additional land, flicker the Oracle, then play another additional land, and then play your "land for turn." Weird. Well, that's changing. With M14, you'll get a "pool" of land drops, which changes as you gain or lose effects that enable you to play extra lands. And when you play a land, that counts against that pool. So no matter how many times you flicker that Oracle, you'll only get one extra land drop. And, when you play a land, you won't specify whether it's "land for turn" or "extra land". The game will just keep track of how many you've played, then count up how many lands you're allowed to play, and allow you to play another one or not accordingly.

1UU: Destroy target Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
So, some pretty big changes, mostly in the Legend rules. What do I think of all of this? Well, I think that "Rumors of [Magic's] demise have been greatly exaggerated," a paraphrase often attributed to Mark Twain or Albert Einstein or Grumpy Cat or something. It's true that it removes a common line of play when dealing with such things--"Jace your Jace?", "Geist your Geist?", and "Clone your Thrun?" But it also adds other lines of play, like .. blocking Geist with Geist. Or my Chandra pinging your Chandra. Which, of course, makes little to no flavor sense, but whatever.

People have been complaining about Wizards "dumbing down the game" since .. probably forever, I don't know. But I don't see how this is dumbing down the game at all. In fact, if anything, it'll make players have to get smarter in dealing with some of these problematic permanents. We'll have to think harder about how we're going handle an opposing Geist or Sorin or whatever. (Hint: Supreme Verdict is a card!)

And then one of the more interesting things this brings to mind is speculation about the upcoming fall set, Theros. Ya think maybe it'll have a Legendary theme or subtheme? We shall see!

The other rules ... Well, I think they're great. Nothing earth-shattering, just cleaning up a few things that can stand to be cleaned up. I approve.

I still don't know what's going on in this illustration.
What's coming up ... hmmm ... Oh, Modern Masters, for one. I'm not 100% how much I'm going to "buy in" to the set, but I'll definitely play some of the release events. That should be pretty fun. I hope to crack a foil 'goyf or four. I may or may not bite the $280 bullet and buy a box. I probably won't though.

I hope to do some more judging, too. I'm really enjoying the whole thing, and I want to do more of it. I'm already starting to look forward to Level 2 at some point, so I'm going to try to get on staff for some Competitive events coming up. Fun!

Okay, well that's it for now. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Can't Think of a Cool Title

Hi everybody!

Yeah, I can't really think of a cool title for this post.

I played Standard last night! Isn't that awesome? Okay, it was pretty ordinary. I had fun though. I guess, here's a tournament report?

Round 1: vs. Mono-White Humans/Soldiers. Same dude I played last week. He cut the black splash, though, and I think the more consistent mana base helped him. I still ran over him pretty easily, though. He didn't have much in the way of removal, and once I Friend-Hunted his Champion of the Parish, it was just a matter of picking off his tokens one by one. Oh, and I Slime'd a few of his lands in one game too. I apologized for being a jerk, reiterating that it wasn't anything personal, it's competitive Magic. Win, 2-0. Record: 1-0.

Round 2: vs. Mono-Red. Yeah, isn't mono-red supposed to be super fast? I suspect maybe he just didn't get that great of draws. I stabilized pretty easily and ran away with both games once I hit an Angel of Serenity and/or multiple Thragtusks. Win, 2-0. Record: 2-0.

Round 3: vs. Boros. I played against him last week at FNM, and it was quite the strange match. One game we both mull'd to 5, and I got the nuts after that, and he got pretty much Pillars of Flame. I explained to him that Pillar'ing mana dorks is the way to go, and now I kinda regret telling him that. :) Because he Pillar'd my mana dorks and I stumbled pretty mightily before getting run over by Hellriders and/or Thundermaw Hellkites. Loss, 0-2. Record: 2-1.

Round 4: vs. Selesnya Tokens. Same guy and deck as last week. I got one game when he stumbled on mana and I Slime'd his lands. But the other two games, I stumbled again, whiffing on my Mulches and Salvages, and I couldn't find enough Angels to keep his Wurms in check. I did find one Angel, but he had a Selesnya Charm to exile her, and ... yeah. Another game, he Advent'd once or twice, then populated it with Rootborn Defenses or Druid's Deliverance .. and ... yeah, that was that. Loss, 1-2. Record: 2-2.

I'm not entire sure what the takeaway from all this is. I did notice that against Aggro decks, the I'm prone to punishing and being punished if either of us stumbles. It seemed to go like this:

I stumble and my opponent doesn't: I lose.
My opponent stumbles and I don't: I win.
Neither or both of us stumble: I win if I can Mulch/Salvage out of it.

I probably need to bring in more Sin Collectors against the Advent decks. Even if I don't get a token-maker, getting information still seems good.

It's interesting, though. I suspect the metagame is shifting again. There's more Aggro to punish the slower Midrange decks, and just about everyone has great tools to beat Control these days. I'm wondering if I should switch to playing the Gyre Sage Gruul Aggro deck competitively? I dunno ... We'll see. :)

Well that's it for now. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

So Much Magic ....

Hi everybody!

Yeah, so it's been a pretty busy last few days for me, Magic-wise. I played Standard at FNM on Friday, Judged at a PTQ on Sunday, played Sealed at a friend's house Monday, and I'm playing Standard again tonight. I was worried that I was going to start getting burned out, but I think having a diversity of sub-interests within the whole Magic "experience" is helping stave that off.

So! FNM. I played Junk Rites again, having tweaked it again somewhat. I splurged and bought a 3rd Voice of Resurgence for the sideboard, and I continue to be impressed with the card. It's looking like the overall metagame is shifting back toward aggro, so I'm thinking about putting them in the maindeck and relegating the Elephants to the sideboard (or maybe putting something else there altogether, like Paraselene).

I won't bother with a match-by-match report, since, well besides the fact that I don't really remember a lot of details, I don't think there's much to report. The deck performed very well, and I won every match. I beat a Selesnya Tokens deck in 3 games, a [budget-ish] black/white humans deck in 2, a mono-black Pack Rat deck (?) in 2, and a Boros Aggro deck in 2.

Hallelujah! Well, good for him anyway ...
The tokens match had a pretty cool sequence of craziness in the second game. I had beat him down somewhat, but was having a hard time positioning myself for the kill. I think he had RIP out against me, and I was in topdeck mode. He had developed a board with a few creatures, with an active Gavony Township. I was about ready to scoop it up, when I topdecked an Angel of Serenity and wrath'd his board. His next draw: Entreat the Angels. IT'S A MIRACLE. And crap, I guess we're going to game three. Then he drew badly and I crushed him.

Sure, I'll sac my Voice of Resurgence.
The mono-black deck was pretty interesting. It was a Pack Rat deck, but he never actually drew or played any Rats. He did play 4 Liliana of the Veils, though. That was awkward. I fought through it, though. I got him within striking distance with a couple of critters out, but he had a couple of Desecration Demons out. I forced him into a situation where he pretty much had to attack. I was holding Resto, and if he attacked with one or both Demons, I would win. If he attacks with one, I take the six, go to five, then flash in Resto and crack back. If he attacked with both (which he did), I chump one of them with Resto and crack back with the other two. If he'd held them both back, maybe a stalemate results. I'm not sure. But .. yeah, I got the win. Yayyyy ...

Oh! And I got one of these puppies for my efforts:

My L2 tried to get it off of me, but I think I'll hold onto it, thanks. :) If I get another one this week, I'll THINK about trading him another one. :)

Sunday I got to judge in the PTQ at Misty Mountain Games. That was quite the experience. For one thing, I was there for a LONG TIME. It basically took the entire day, from 8am to 9pm. But 13 hours of being around Magic and watching people play and helping out and answering questions and mingling with the players ... AND getting stipend for meals and getting booster packs for compensation ... Not a bad gig whatsoever.

Again, it was really cool being on "the other side" of the event. I've played in several Competitive-REL events before (PTQs, Opens, States), but it was interesting to be on the "admin" side of things. It was pretty funny, though, I started losing track of time after the 5th or 6th round. So, I'm aware of the moment-to-moment logistics of helping the tournament run, but I wasn't terribly aware of the big picture. I guess that's why there's a Head Judge at these things. :)

It was also cool working with the other judges and the Tournament Organizer as colleagues, rather than as a "customer." I've been around a lot of these folks before, but it was nice to "work" with them. The other, more experienced judges were really helpful in getting me up to speed in tournament operations ... numbering tables, doing deck checks, wrangling players, etc. Good stuff.

And honestly, it was pretty cool being in a position of prestige. I got to sit in and judge the matches in the top 8, including the Finals. It was interesting how, even though there was so much on the line, the actual match was pretty uneventful. Just two guys playing a match. One of them (Bant Auras) got color-screwed in game three and got run over by the Gruul rush. And just like that ... Pro Tour! I also made a note to myself that that was likely the closest I'll ever get to a PT invite. :)

The other interesting thing I noticed was the ebb and flow of the energy of the room during the day. It started with just the store employees and judge staff in a relatively dark and empty store, getting set up for the event. And then tons of people (150+, players and staff and onlookers) for hours, and then after the cut to top 8, a quick exit by most of the crowd. And during the finals, it was back to a big, quiet, empty, dark store. You'd think there'd be more excitement and energy for the finals of a competitive event, but it was surprisingly (to me) very low-key.

So how was my Judgment? I think I did pretty good. I didn't get a whole lot of calls--we were staffed more than what we needed, and most of the time, others beat me to the calls. But I got most of the ones right that I did get. Of course, I mostly remember the ones I got wrong though. :(

At/when/whenever ...
One game, a player had two Staffs of Nin out, and the players in the match at the next table saw him only draw two cards (should have been three). I ruled it a Game Rule Violation and had him draw his card for the turn. I was talking to the player and a L2 afterwards, and the L2 reminded me about the Missed Trigger thing, and I realized that I should have asked more follow-up to determine what was missed (Staff trigger or draw-for-turn). Also, a GRV is usually accompanied by a Failure to Maintain Game State for the opponent, so I should have done that, too. Not a huge thing.

The other call that I botched (unfortunately, it was the same player), he asked about whether Appetite for Brains could get Far // Away. I applied what I knew about Duskmantle Seer to the situation (you add the two CMCs and deduct that from life total), but I was completely wrong. It's doing a comparison, so you need to check each side separately, and then the comparison is positive if either side is a positive comparison on its own. So .. no brains on that one. Thankfully for the players, an L2 was right behind me backing me up, so the correct answer was given. But I still felt pretty dumb.

I think I did pretty good overall. I'm gonna debrief with the L2 that I've been working with tonight, and he'll give me a more comprehensive review. Either way, I hope I did well, and I hope to do this again. I had a lot of fun. :)

Last night (Monday), I got to play Dragon's Maze Sealed at a friend's house. While we were building our decks (there were around 8-10 of us), we realized that there was a common archetype emerging: Five-Color F***-It. It's when you look at your pool, see all these cool cards, but no combination of 2 or 3 colors is jumping out. But look at all those Guildgates and Cluestones. F*** it, five colors!

So yeah .. I looked at some of my bombs:

Progenitor Mimic
Hellkite Tyrant
Trostani's Summoner
Clan Defiance

And I had a some decent black-based removal and a bunch of guildgates and cluestones. F*** it, five colors!

I went into it with basically one goal: I was going to Progenitor Mimic the Trostani's Summoner. If I could pull that off *once*, the night will be a complete success. And I got it off twice. :) So I won that moral victory (okay, Timmy victory!).

But yeah, the Sealed format seemed pretty fun. It was nice and slow and easy going, with lots of room for top-end plays. We'll see how Draft plays out. I hope to do that this weekend (I know I said that last week, but this week I mean it!).

Okay, well I guess that's it for now. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

If you can't beat it, play it...

Hi everybody!

So .. . Tired of losing to Reanimator in Standard for the umpteenth time since it first became a thing last year, I figured it was time. If you can't beat it, play it. I realized that I had most of the cards of the winning list from the latest Star City Games Open, so I sleeved it up and gave it a whirl at last night's Win A Box at Mox Mania. Here's what I played, give or take a few cards:

Land (23):
4 Forest
4 Temple Garden
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Sunpetal Grove
2 Woodland Cemetery
2 Godless Shrine
3 Isolated Chapel
2 Gavony Township

Creatures (26):
4 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
3 Fiend Hunter
1 Sin Collector
1 Loxodon Smiter
4 Restoration Angel
3 Thragtusk
2 Acidic Slime
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
3 Angel of Serenity

Spells (11):
4 Grisly Salvage
3 Mulch
4 Unburial Rites

Sideboard (15):
1 Loxodon Smiter
2 Acidic Slime
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Voice of Resurgence
2 Sin Collector
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Sever the Bloodline
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Rhox Faithmender
1 Thragtusk
1 Deathrite Shaman (I think?)

I made a few tweaks from the winning list. I figured the meta at Tuesday Night was going to be a bit more skewed towards Aggro than Midrange/Control than the SCG field. I figured Cavern wasn't as necessary, so I figured some more late-game reach could be good--turning my mana dorks into actual threats. I wanted to have a little more game against Aggro, so I figured a beefy Elephant blocker (that doesn't die to Searing Spear) would be better than a frail Duress-on-a-stick. And I like Obzedat, so I figured I'd try him out maindeck. Anyway, here's how things went:

Am I dead?
Round 1: vs. Humanimator. I lost to this deck last week with my Esper Control deck. I was able to take take one game on the back of an unanswered Rest in Peace, but he was able to combo off quickly the other two games. Well this week was different only in that I didn't have Rest in Peace. So, I lost in two. I talked to some other players, and the consensus seems to be that Crypt Incursion could be a good black one-sided answer to Reanimator decks. I think I'm gonna try that next time. Loss 0-2. Record: 0-1.

They linger .. and linger ...
Round 2: vs. W/B/R Tokens. Okay, I didn't really know what he was doing at first. I saw W/B/R colors and a turn-two Cartel Aristocrat, so I figured Aristocrats. So I Fiend Hunted her as soon as I could and tried to brace myself for Skirsdag High Priests and other annoying things. But ... it was mostly just Spirit tokens. Then it dawned on me during game two: it's a tokens deck. Oh, okay. In that game, it got pretty hairy. He Stab Wound'd my Angel of Serenity (whatttt), and started chump blocking everything with tokens. Then making more tokens. Then Assembling the proverbial Legion. Then he Stab Wound'd my Angel *again*. D: I was probably one turn away from death, but I was able to toss out enough mana dorks and Township them to get in for lethal the turn before I bled to death. Scary. Kinda wish I hadn't sided out my Slimes, but .. hey, I didn't know what I was playing against. But either way I won, so I'm not really complaining. Win 2-0. Record: 1-1.

Round 3: vs. Jund. Okay, let's see how this goes! Game one was pretty sketchy. I had a slow start, and he was beating me down pretty steadily and growing his army. He had a couple of Huntmasters out, some Woof tokens, and I think Olivia. I was able to Salvage and/or Mulch into a Rites > Serenity, followed by a hard-cast Angel a turn or two later, and I was able to stabilize. He was still threatening lethal with a Wolf Run, though, so I couldn't really go on the offensive. I drew into an Acidic Slime and two Restoration Angels, so I went on the LD plan. I killed his two Wolf Runs, leaving him with just two shocklands and an Arbor Elf. He was able to kill one or both of my Angels to get a few of his creatures back, but by that point, I had developed a pretty decent army myself, and it was too late. I realized after I did it, I should have hit the shocklands with the Slimes, leaving him with an Arbor Elf and a Wolf Run and unable to cast anything. Jerkish, sure, but you gotta win, right? The other game was much less uneventful, with one of the keys being a Sire of Insanity (love this card!) putting us into stalemate/topdeck mode. I was the first one to break it. I got rid of his Sire somehow (Angel? Fiend Hunter? I forget), and I was able to win pretty quickly afterwards. Win 2-0. Record: 2-1.

Speed bump.
Round 4: vs. Esper Control. I went on the "slow and steady" plan, playing a turn-two Loxodon Smiter and bonking him for a few every turn. Eventually, he stabilized with a Verdict (or something), and started Sphinx'ing. Okay, let the grind begin! So I'd play out a threat, he'd deal with it, I'd reanimate a thingy, he'd deal with it, etc. In the meantime, my hand and graveyard were nice and full of threats and Rites, and he was blowing through answers. He stuck a Sorin, and his life total started creeping up and he started Drowning me, but eventually he ran out of answers, and I stuck an Obzedat. I had a Fiend Hunter for his chump blocker, and he failed to find an answer for an attacking Obzedat with him at 6 life and me with Township mana up. Game two, he mulled to 5, didn't like what he saw, and just scooped on the spot. He flashed me what he had, and it didn't look terrible to me, but I didn't see exactly everything he had. I looked at what my draws would have been, and it wouldn't have been that great. I would have liked to play it out, but apparently he didn't? I don't know. Well, it's a win! Win 2-0. Record: 3-1.

I had decent tiebreakers, so that was good enough for 4th place, and 7 prize packs. Not bad!

I like the deck. It's definitely different than what I'm used to, and it's good to shake things up. Turning d00dz sideways .. what a concept! It's pretty cool, though. The deck is one of those things that just feels smooth and powerful. I wonder if this is what driving a sports car is like? But I could feel the deck doing its thing, just by making plays here or there. It was like the deck becomes a whole greater than the sum of its parts, and takes on a life of its own. Even though I wasn't playing the deck optimally by any stretch of the imagination (e.g., I would unnecessarily goof up my sequence of land drops and mana dorks such that I was unable to cast Grisly Salvage until turn 3), it still ran very well.

Some of the tweaks I did I think were good, but I probably need to tighten it up. In control decks, when you're drawing a ton of cards, you can get away with having a few random 1- or 2-ofs that you don't expect to hit until late game, but in a deck that depends on doing more things earlier, I probably don't have this luxury. For example, if I want to hit Smiter  (and I do), he needs to be a 3- or 4-of.

Also, I don't really need to have too much hate in my 'board against Control. The deck already performs very well against them out of the box, so I don't really need to tweak it any more. Once I get Rites and/or Serenity shenanigans going, it's just a matter of keeping pressure on (and Drownyard/Jace off).

So yeah. Cool deck. A+++ would play again. I'll do some more tweaking of it, test it out, and see how it goes moving forward.

In other news, I'm Judging at the PTQ at Misty Mountain this weekend. I'm pretty excited, but also a little nervous. I'm a little sketchy on some of the details in the IPG .. like what exceptions there are to each item, and what some of the fixes are. I'll do some more cramming, and I think I'll be okay.

Talking to the L2 Head Judge of the event, he brought up something interesting that's likely to come up. Turn // Burn and Falkenrath Aristocrat. You have an Aristocrat and a dood. I cast Turn & Burn, fused, targeting your Aristocrat with both halves. In response, you sac a dood. What happens? Well, this is a textbook example indestructibility: It's not an ability, so Turn doesn't affect it. The Aristocrat lives. That's fine ... but ... what if players start trying to use this knowledge as a competitive advantage? So in the same scenario, if I know the rule, but you don't, and you put the Aristocrat in the graveyard assuming it's dead ... Well, then that's me knowingly allowing you to commit a Game Rule Violation, which then becomes a textbook example of Cheating. Then bad things happen. So ... Yeah, that was a heads-up given to me.

Well ... not much else to report at this time. As always, thanks for reading!