Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Catching Up 2


It's been a while. I've been pretty busy with Judging stuff, so I haven't been able to update this blog a whole lot. It's been great, though. I got my first two Grand Prix knocked out, including the third-largest GP ever (Jersey).

Jersey was interesting. Ultimately, I felt like I did a decent job, but I felt kind of lost for much of the weekend. I should have been touching base more with my various team leads each day, rather than just assuming I knew what I was doing. I mean, I took calls and gave decent rulings. Just, I was kinda lost much of the time. Also, I definitely need different judge shoes.

San Antonio was a little more like what I'm used to at SCG events. 1100 players instead of 4000. And a carpeted room! (Still need new shoes though.) Smaller teams, and much easier to find a particular person. Plus, San Antonio was a great little town. Okay, it's something like the 6th largest city in the country, but it didn't feel like it. Kinda like a Milwaukee-sized San Diego. (Huh?) And the Riverwalk was amazing. It's like there's this second city underground along a canal. I heard you can drink along it too. I didn't take advantage of that, but it's good to know that it's there. :) I'd like to get back there again someday.

I've also had a couple of Competitive Head Judge gigs. Mox Mania ran it's first SCG IQ thingy, but we fell a little short of the number of players we were hoping for. But it was still a good event. There's a local new-ish L1 that I've kinda taken under my wing, chatting with him during/after events and over email, and I was impressed with how he's been progressing, and I wasn't disappointed with how he did at the IQ. Then this last weekend I ran a PPTQ in Lake Geneva (birthplace of D&D!), which was uneventful, but lots of fun. Good little store down there.

With all that judge stuff going on, I haven't been able to play a whole lot, which is disappointing. But I did finally brew up a Standard deck--Naya Superfriends. Okay, it's pretty much the same deck I played last year, but with Sarkhan, and with Banishing Lights instead of Keening Apparitions. I ran it for the first time last night at Mox's win-a-box Standard event. Briefly, this is how the matches went:

Round 1: vs U/W Heroic. I won a very long, very grindy game 1, he won a quick game 2, and he won a quick game 3 (after I kept a very loose 7--six lands and Sarkhan). I think this matchup is generally okay for me, but I probably misplayed Banishing Light at one point (banishing the aura instead of the creature--playing around Gods Willing a bit too much). I suspect I need to bring in more removal, including enchantment removal.

Round 2: vs. Abzan Midrange. No Hornet Queens, no Whip of Erebos. So, just nice long good old fashioned grindy midrange Magic. Love it. :) I came out on top, but he did take me to three games (mostly because the quality of our draws was pretty lopsided in one game, and I misplayed around Abzan Charms I knew he had). Ajani was an all-star in this matchup. So many heroes.

Round 3: Bye. Blarg.

Round 4: vs. Mardu Midrange. Another nice grindy matchup. Unfortunately, he had too much hand disruption in the two games I lost, and I couldn't get much of anything going before Wingmate Roc took over the games.

I like the way the deck played out. Planeswalkers are pretty much the greatest thing ever. And there's nothing quite like getting some synergy going between them. I especially like going from Elspeth's +1 into Xenagos's +1 into some big-mana play. Sometimes Monstrous'ing some doodz, sometimes a giant Crater's Claws, sometimes just casting a bunch of bodies. Fun times.

The thing I didn't like about it was the lack of interaction at times. I'm running four Lightning Strikes, three Banishing Lights, and a Suspension Field as my main removal spells (plus Elspeth and Sarkhan, if you count those). And I sided out the Lightning Strikes against the midrange decks. So I need to find some other way to interact with those decks. I'm thinking maybe Hushwing Gryff to turn off Hornet Queen, Wingmate Roc, Siege Rhino, and Constellation in general. And maybe another Burn Away and/or End Hostilities out of the board.

I'm also very close to being able to play something in Legacy now. With the very generous compensation package I got from Jersey, I was able to get a bunch of store credit at Mox to get some dual lands and fetchlands to build some kind of BUG deck. I've been going back and forth between Nic Fit and Food Chain, and I'm not sure where I'm gonna land. I kinda want to do a hybrid/transformational list, but that might just be too cute. I'm leaning toward Nic Fit, because I love the idea of playing Midrange in Legacy.

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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A New Season


Well, a new Standard season is upon us. Goodbye to the powerful Control staples and Devotion enablers of RTR block, and welcome to our new Midrange overlords of Tarkir.

I've been thinking about what to play ever since Khans started getting spoiled, and as much as I loved the idea of punching bears, it seemed like Temur wasn't quite as strong as some of the other potential archetypes Jeskai aggro/tempo or Abzan midrange or even Sultai control.

At first, I wanted to test out the old adage about aggro dominating new metagames (using speed to prey on sub-optimal decks), but then I started thinking about cards like Courser of Kruphix, Sylvan Caryatid, Anger of the Gods, Drown in Sorrow, and Siege Rhino. Seemed grim. The the first week or so of actual tournament results came in ... and oddly enough, Midrange does seem to be the overall theme so far. Then Frank Lepore (currently one of my favorite Magic personalities) posted an article about a sweet-looking Temur Superfriends deck, and I was sold.

Get in the sleeve, my new dragon-speaking friend. ^_^

So I sleeved up the following, and gave it a whirl at the latest Tuesday win-a-box at Mox Mania:

Land (25):
3 Forest
2 Mountain
3 Wooded Fooothills
4 Temple of Mystery
4 Temple of Abandon
4 Frontier Bivouac
4 Yavimaya Coast
1 Mana Confluence

Doodz (20):
4 Sylvan Caryatid
3 Rattleclaw Mystic
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Savage Knuckleblade
3 Polukranos, World Eater
1 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Surrak Dragonclaw

Superfriends (9):
3 Xenagos, the Reveler
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
1 Nissa, Worldwaker

Spells (6):
4 Lightning Strike
1 Temur Charm
1 Crater's Claws

Sideboard (15):
3 Anger of the Gods
1 Clever Impersonator

1 Temur Ascendancy
3 Nylea's Disciple
1 Arc Lightning
1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Disdainful Stroke
2 Reclamation Sage
1 Temur Charm

And here's how the matches went:

Round 1: vs. Abzan Midrange.
Game one was a super long grindy affair of Coursers and Caryatids staring each other down. I got in a few hits with Knuckles, Sarkhan, and/or a Nissa-animated land, but he was able to monstrous a couple of Fleecemane Lions, and they put a stop to everything. My Xenagos was pumping out Satyr tokens, when it occured to me that maybe I should start ticking him up. Then I looked at my board of almost a dozen creatures and asked my opponent, "What's your life at?" "I'm at 2." "Oh...." So I attacked with all my guys and killed him. "Sorry, I wasn't slow rolling you, I'm just not used to paying that close attention to my opponents' life totals!" Game two was pretty uneventful. He got stuck on two lands, and I think I curved out with Knuckles and Sarkhan. Win, 2-0. Record: 1-0.

Round 2: vs. Sultai Midrange.
First game, he was able to match me threat-for-threat very effectively, and was able to tick up Kiora in the meantime. I felt like I had a shot at maybe sneaking past the Krakens to finish him off, but then had three kill spells in one turn. I don't remember how games two and three played out, but I'm pretty sure Knuckles was involved. Win, 2-1. Record: 2-0.

Round 3: vs. Jeskai Aggro/Tempo.
First game he landed a turn-two Seeker of the Way, which beat me down pretty hard. He Jeskai Charm'd my Courser blocker, and, well, tempo'd me out. Second game I landed a turn-three hasty Knuckles, which he had to blow a Sarkhan on. Then I played a second hasty Knuckles, finished off Sarkhan, and made him use two Lightning Strikes. Third game, I was match him threat-for-threat while beating down with Knuckles. Win, 2-1. Record: 3-0.

Round 4: vs. Mardu Midrange/Superfriends?
So I got to play against my friend who started his own blog/website last year (Red Deck Winning). He said he had never actually won the box before, so he wanted to go for it this time. Cool, I wouldn't mind doing it myself either. I'm not sure if I've actually won the box either .. I usually split.
Game one was the good one. The first few turns were spent matching threat-for-threat, which him killing my creatures and planeswalkers, and disrupting my otherwise excellent opening hand. I was able to get him down to about 10 life or so, when I ran out of threats. I went on the burn plan at that point, holding two Lightning Strikes and a Crater's Claws. However, he made me discard one of them. I fired off a Strike, but he took my Claws. I don't remember the exact sequence, but I think I got another threat in there and got him down to 3 life. He knew about the Strike, and couldn't do anything about it
Second game, I don't remember much about, just that he drew a lot of land, and I draw a lot of threats. A friendly handshake, and that was that. Win, 2-0. Record: 4-0.

Yeah! So I won the box. I felt kinda bad for my red friend, but he was very gracious about it. I would not have been disappointed at all had he won. Overall, I'm pretty sure he's actually a better player than I am. I think most of the time we get matched up, whatever I'm playing is better suited to match up with whatever he's playing. I tend towards grindy/midrange decks, and he tends toward aggro/burn decks. So it was pretty ironic this time that I won by aiming burn to his dome, after he kept answering my proactive threats.

Anyway, two major shoutouts:

/// !!! K N U C K L E S !!! \\\

  • Knuckles! Holy crap this card is good. It's like some kind of awesomely delicious combination of every card I loved in my Elephants deck from last year. Like Fanatic of Xenagos, but better. He's a huge body and a serious threat at a very manageable cost. Love him!
  • Sarkhan! What a great card. I haven't played with a planeswalker with this much utility in a long time. He's an immediate threat and an immediate answer in one card. Like a beautiful mashup of Mizzium Mortars and Stormbreath Dragon. Love it. The third one is definitely going into the maindeck.
And onto the more mundane, less-exciting analysis:

Is "bivouac" even a real word?

  • Mana base was all right for the most part, but can stand to be tweaked. First, I love scry-lands, but having 12 lands that always ETB tapped was a bit much. I wasn't really hurting for green sources, so maybe I can sub in a Shivan Reef for one of the Bivouacs. And 25 lands might be a bit much. I have lots of scry effects, seven mana dorks, and four Coursers. I should be able to hit 5+ mana pretty easily most games. I can probably cut one of the Temples.
  • Xenagos did a lot of work for me in my other Superfriends decks, but this one .. I felt like I wanted to be a little more proactive at four mana. Most of the time, crapping out a 2/2 dork every turn wasn't terribly exciting, and getting a bunch mana wasn't much better. I found myself siding him out a lot.
  • Chandra and Kiora, on the other hand, did a lot of work for me. I used Kiora's "two Explores" ability almost exclusively, and let Sarkhan and Knuckles be the actual threats. But having the option to let her play defense if I need to isn't the worst. Chandra fulfilled a similar role, except she was the more proactive one--helping me dig for gas to help win games. The two of them play similar roles, and I'm happy to have them. I might move the second Chandra into the maindeck, too.
  • Nissa wasn't too shabby either. She provided another way of generating threats in the grindy games. And she's an easy sideboard-out against faster decks. I'm not sure I'd want to add a second one, though. She's good, but if I had the option to play her or Sarkhan, Sarkhan will get the nod every time.
  • I'm not entirely sure what to do about the sideboard. I thought, "eh, some good cards against control, some good cards against aggro, some naturalize effects, and that random clone card." The 3x Angers are definitely staying in. I might consider going up to 4 if I start seeing more Aggro around. I never really wanted to bring the Reclamation Sages in against anything, so those might get cut. I like the idea of having Magma Spray, because sometimes you just need to kill an annoying varmint before it deals 8 points of damage to you over the first four turns. I never actually got to use Clever Impersonator, but I suspect that it's sweet enough to justify having two to bring in post-board.
  • Other cards to consider: Sagu Mauler as another top-end threat. Maybe something more proactive in the 4-cc slot.
All-in-all, I love the deck. Lots of fun to play, and with a new metagame, lots of room to grow and evolve over time. Hooray, Standard is fun again! :)

Well, I could go on and on about other stuff, but I think that's enough for now. I have a lot to write about regarding Judge stuff, but I'll save that for another entry.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Catching Up


Well, lots to catch up on here. Should I talk about judge stuff first, or player stuff first? Well, the player stuff is fresh[-ish] in my mind, so I guess I'll start there.


Because of work busy-ness, I was unable to commit to judging the local PTQ next weekend, so I'm considering playing instead. I attended the weekly Modern tournament at Mox (which is now being run as a win-a-box event) to see how I fared.

Oh, first I guess I should talk about my deck. It's basically The list I played with yesterday looks kinda like this:

Land (24):
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Marsh Flats
1 Stomping Ground
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Blood Crypt
4 Raging Ravine
1 Lavaclaw Reaches
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Twilight Mire
2 Swamp
1 Forest
1 Llwanowar Wastes
1 Dragonskull Summit
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Creature (14):
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Dark Confidant
3 Scavenging Ooze
2 Courser of Kruphix
1 Kitchen Finks

Spells (23):
1 Slaughter Pact
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Thoughtseize 
3 Abrupt Decay
1 Terminate
3 Liliana of the Veil
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Blightning
1 Maelstrom Pulse
 Sideboard (15):
3 Fulminator Mage
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Batterskull
1 Thoughtseize
1 Liliana of the Veil
2 Rakdos Charm
1 Golgari Charm
1 Jund Charm
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Engineered Explosives

Okay, I have an extra card listed in there somewhere. Not sure what's in there that's not supposed to be. Anyway .... Not much too unusual. Blightning is a card I had played against me in random testing in the past, and I didn't much care for it. I figured it'd be good as a lol-of. So here's how the rounds went:

Round 1: vs. Goryo's Vengeance
I had a tough time against this deck when I was playing U/W/R Midrange. They can combo out really fast, and U/W disruption isn't that great. Playing Jund, however, with its bevy of discard spells, I had no problem dismantling his combo and his ability to recover from having his combo dismantled. Having him discard an Izzet Charm to pave the way for Scavenging Ooze for redundancy was pretty satisfying. Win, 2-0. Record: 1-0.

Round 2: vs. Robots
As much as I roll my eyes at this cliche'd deck (though what's the saying about pointing your finger and three fingers pointing back at you?), I always enjoy the actual matches against it. Sure, they can come out super fast and tromple all over you, but the times they don't, it's a super fun, interactive, back & forth, grindy match. The kinda match that makes this game so much fun. Anyway, I lost in three tough games. In the third game, I failed to find my Ancient Grudges before his burn spells Galvanically Blasted away the clocks I had on him. Loss, 1-2. Record: 1-1.

Round 3: vs. W/B hate bears
I'm not entirely sure what this guy was playing, but it seemed to have a bunch of random W/B hate creatures. Thalia, Leonin Arbiter, Aven Mindcensor, Lifebane Zombie. I saw a Thought of Brimaz at one point too, but I 'Seized that one before it became a problem. This matchup wasn't terribly difficult. Aven Mindcensor was kind of a pain in the butt with his Paths and Ghost Quarters, but thankfully, my deck operates pretty well on 2-3 mana, so I didn't have much of a problem whittling his hand and board down to nothing. Win, 2-0. Record: 2-1.

Round 4: vs. RUG Twin
He had a Breeding Pool at one point, and seemed to be leaning on a Clique and Snapper to put a clock on me, so I had him on Tarmo-Twin, but I never saw the Tarmo. He admitted afterwards that he doesn't own them (I guess not everybody has $800 cash or store credit to spend ... that was sarcasm), otherwise they'd be in there. Anyway, the games ... they were pretty fun and interactive and back and forth. Kinda like the Robots matchup, I guess. But this time I guess I'm the beatdown? Anyway, this matchup wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it might be. Sure, some of my stuff got countered and/or Clique'd. But he was tapped out often enough where I was able to sneak in a Thoughtseize and/or Inquisition to strip away his combo pieces and stick a threat or two. Game two ended in pretty sweet sequence of events. I passed the turn with three lands up. He flashed in Exarch to tap one of them down. He topdecked the fourth land he needed. This is roughly what transpired:
"Splinter Twin?"
"Um .. tap?"
"Uh .. untap?"
*wiggles Exarch/Twin back & forth*
"How many times?"
"Um .. three hundred .. and .. eighty-seven?"
"Okay. ... Rakdos Charm?"
(lolz all around, followed by a good-natured handshake)
Win, 2-0. Record: 3-1.

So yeah. That was me playing a net.dec. It was a lot of fun. The deck is super sweet. Very interactive, and versatile enough that no matchup feels unwinnable. As the afternoon went on, I had some thoughts about a few things:

  • The manabase feels kinda shaky in a classic Jund way. I'm kinda afraid of running into a Blood Moon or Spreading Seas deck at some point and it just wrecking me. Since my deck is topping out at 3 (pre-board anyway), I'm thinking about cutting a land. But I'd hate to be missing that one land I need to cast that one spell at that one critical time. I dunno. I do feel like the deck needs more green. Maybe a Rootbound Crap instead of Dragonskull Summit? Or maybe that's what Grove of the Burnwillows is for?
  • I liked Lavaclaw Reaches as a random one-of. Sometimes I didn't quite have enough mana to activate Raging Ravine, so might as well swing for 2. It's nice to be able to have something to sink mana into as well. But having 5 ETB-tapped lands can be kinda rough.
  • Tarmogoyf. Yeah, card's good! I kept finding the games playing out with me and my opponent trading a few cards one-for-one for the first couple-three turns, and then I'd play a Tarmogoyf that happened to be 4/5 or 5/6 just from all the crap that ends up dead. Then a couple turns later it's like, oh you're dead? Dang. Sorta reminds me of Geist in U/W/R, but much less fragile, and much easier to cast. Seriously.
  • Blightning. For a random fun-of, I sure saw this card a lot. And I was *never* disappointed to see it or to cast it. It's about a pure a 2-for-1 as you can get, but being able to finish the job that Inquisition and Thoughtseize start .. it's good. Sometimes the three damage is relevant too.
  • I feel like the deck wants one more random Naturalize effect. I'm not sure it wants actual Naturalize, but maybe something like Nature's Claim? Or Unravel the AEther? Or Destructive Revelry?
  • I kept wanting to bring Batterskull in, but I'm honestly kinda afraid of Bobbing it. :/ Any cost, I guess.
  • I should probably have another midrange thingy in there somewhere. Maybe Chandra? Huntmaster? Olivia?
So yeah, I like the deck. It's good, it's fun, it's interactive, and I'm doing well with it. I think I'll give the PTQ a shot. :)


I started running Mono-Blue devotion in Standard, for three primary reasons:
  1. I had the cards for it.
  2. It's doing well in the metagame.
  3. "If you can't beat it, play it."
I've only played it once so far, but I 4-0'd with it. That was 2 weeks ago, however, so I don't remember much about the matches. I remember getting kinda lucky against Sligh and G/x Devotion, but having fun with the deck. Master of Waves is serious business. It's nice to play with my pimp Judge's Familiars, too.


It's been pretty interesting in the Judge community for these last few weeks. For those who may not know exactly what's been going on, here's a summary of the recent changes:
  1. Clarification of bullying & harassment as Unsporting Conduct -- Major
  2. Re-definition of Level 2 requirements.
  3. Changes to PTQ and GPT structure.
  4. Re-purposing of Judge Foils.
A lot of this has been covered and explained elsewhere, so I'll just summarize and offer my brief thoughts.

1. Don't harass or bully people. This includes posting unauthorized photos of butt cracks and/or insulting comments on social media. I'm very happy about this clarification. It's showing that we're serious about making Magic tournaments safe environments for anybody to come play. It's also sparking a lot of great dialogue amongst the judge community about these issues, which is having the effect of increasing awareness and sensitivity. This might all sound like PC bullshit to some people, but it's absolutely necessary if we want to broaden the tournament player base to include people other than 20-something male geeks (and we do!).

2. L2 candidates now need to write three reviews, and head-judge two Competitive-REL events with another judge. This is also now an annual requirement. At first I was kind of skeptical, worrying that there were going to be a dozen L2s fighting for head-judge jobs at random 10-player GPTs or IQs. The reviews part is totally okay with me.

3. Ah! So this is what the L2 requirement is all about. PTQs are going to be a two-tiered thing now. Local stores are going to host Preliminary PTQs, the winners of which can play in a Regional PTQ, the top 4 or 8 of which (depending on number of players) qualify for the Pro Tour. Since there are going to be more store events, there are going to be more L2s needed. But we need to make sure the quality of these L2s is up to snuff.

4. Judge foils are no longer going to be given as compensation for Judges working Grand Prix events. Instead there is an "Exemplar" program, where Judges can nominate each other for recognition. I'm a little skeptical about this one, but I'm trying to maintain a "wait and see" attitude. How this works out will depend on (1) how Grand Prix compensation adjusts, (2) how the Exemplar program can keep from becoming a mere popularity contest, and (3) whether or not I can get my hands on one of those sweet sweet sexy Phyrexian-language Elesh Norn cards. <3

One thing I've noticed is that they seem to be working hard to accommodate the growth of the game to make it a fun experience for everyone. It's weird that these announcements have all come out piecemeal, but looking at the big picture, it makes sense. I suspect there are going to be some growing pains, especially with Judge compensation and the new PTQ structure. But it was the same way when they rolled out Planeswalker Points, and they were able to tweak that into something that people seem to enjoy. I'm confident that these changes (and subsequent tweaks) are going to be a net positive for the game. I'm happy to be part of the community, and I look forward to the future.

On that note, I guess that's it for now. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Slogging Along

Hi everybody!

Well, as the title indicates, I feel like I've just been kinda "slogging along" in my Magic life lately. There has been a lot of "real life" things going on--work, other hobbies. And I haven't focused too much on Magic lately. I'm still playing Naya Superfriends in Standard, and I've been playing Jund in Modern. I've built a mono-blue deck for Legacy, but I keep going back and forth about which direction I want to go in (Countertop or Delver?). I've got 2.5 Commander decks built, but for whatever reason, never get around to playing with them. I've got a few casual decks, but can't get myself to drive across town to play with my casual friends.

Anyway, I did want to share some thoughts about the decks I've been playing. The Naya deck is quite a bit of fun to play, but it's somewhat frustrating that it seems to "just lose" to most tier-1/1.5 strategies. It's possible/probable that I'm not playing things right, however. I don't know. I seem to struggle most against aggro strategies, and Thoughtseize decks. Seriously, enough with the Thoughtseizes. :( Can't a planeswalker just be at peace with his thoughts (of bashing your face in)? Sometimes life just isn't fair.

The Modern Jund deck is a lot of fun to play as well. I feel like just about every matchup is winnable with good play and not-terrible draws. I'm learning how to play against certain matchups (like how important discard is against combo decks). And honestly, it feels good playing with powerful cards like Tarmogoyf and Bob. Kinda wish I could have played with the glory days version of this deck with Bloodbraid Elf and Deathrite Shaman.

I haven't been super active judging since SCG Indy. I've done a couple of events at Mox, but that's about it. Work is getting in the way from doing any significant traveling to events. I'm hoping that changes soon.

Sorry to my readers (probably just searchbots, but still) about the rather bland/vanilla update. I hope to have more detailed reports eventually.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Back to Winning


Spoiler alert: 4-0 tournament report ahead. :)

Okay, so I had a really good time with the Naya Midrange/Superfriends deck I picked up last week, so I did some tweaking to it and ran it at the Tuesday Win-a-Box at Mox. Here's what I brought:

Land (25):
2 Forest
3 Mountain
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple Garden
4 Temple of Plenty
3 Temple of Abandon
1 Temple of Triumph

Doodz (22):
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Voyaging Satyr
3 Keening Apparition
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Polukranos, World-Eater
4 Stormbreath Dragon

Spells (5):
2 Selesnya Charm
3 Mizzium Mortars

Superfriends! (8):
3 Xenagos, the Reveler
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Sideboard (15):
3 Magma Spray
2 Unflinching Courage
1 Flames of the Firebrand
1 Heliod, God of the Sun
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
3 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Fiendslayer Paladin
1 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Deicide

I figured the Anger of the Gods was too strong a non-bo for this deck. I rely pretty strongly on my mana dorks to fix my mana, and the three-toughness body on Caryatid is too good to just sweep away. So I tried Flames as a substitute. I also decided that the mana dorks plan is crucial enough to warrant the full playset of each. Here's how the matches went:

Nemesis of Nemesis of Mortals?
Round 1: vs. B/G/r Dredge/Midrange
He didn't really get the greatest draws, and I was able to stall with token-chumps long enough to let my planeswalkers and monsters take over.
Win, 2-0. Record: 1-0.

Chained to the Rocks? Nope. Banishing Light? Nope. Block with Boros Reckoner? Sorry....
Round 2: vs. W/R Midrange
Nice person, but a relatively inexperienced player. I had to tell her bad news repeatedly about how her deck doesn't really interact with Stormbreath Dragon.
Win, 2-0. Record: 2-0.

This is important. This means something.
Round 3: vs. G/R Monsters
Okay, this was a "real test." Game one, I lost to an onslaught of Stormbreath Dragons. I was able to Mortars one, but the second one and an overloaded Mortars of his own did me in. Second game, I slammed a turn-three Polukranos and a turn-five Stormbreath and he was conceded pretty soon after. Third game was the best actual game, a somewhat grindy affair that involved both of us getting our "engines" set up (mana dorks, Coursers, planeswalkers). However, my setup was much more resilient to an overloaded Mortars than his was, and I rode an Elspeth emblem to victory.
Win, 2-1. Record: 3-0.

Mentor of Dragons?
Round 4: vs. G/B Constellation
Also known around the store as "Rock Stars." This was another interesting matchup. Pretty grindy with some back and forth. I was a little nervous one game when he took out my Ajani with a Boon Satyr'd Doomwake Giant, but a Keening Apparition and a Mortars (overloaded, I think) evened it out. We traded satyr tokens for enchantment snake tokens for a while, but eventually he ran out of gas. In one game, I was able to flip all four Stormbreaths with Ajani's help, and threatening multiple Monstrous activations with Xenagos's help (fueled, flavor-wise-oddly enough, by Elspeth tokens).
Win, 2-0. Record: 4-0.

So .. yeah! 4-0. Feels pretty good, I'm not gonna lie. But I'm also not gonna lie and claim that I won through superior play skill against a difficult gauntlet of top-notch competition. I only played against one "real deck," and I suspect that that one could have gone either way if my draws in one of the second two games had been worse than his. Nonetheless, I feel good about the deck, and I'm having a lot of fun with it.

But of course I have some post-mortem follow-up thoughts:
  • This time, Xenagos was my MVP. I didn't like him much in my Elephants deck, because 2/2 bodies are pretty mediocre, and he didn't really do much to synergize with the rest of the deck. In this deck, he fuels some great, explosive plays. If I don't have anything "big" to do, I'm fine just letting him poop out satyr tokens. But I'm also fine letting him fuel an overloaded Mortars, or summon forth a Dragon. Good stuff.
  • The synergy between Xenagos and Elspeth is pretty cool, too. Again, the mana ability combined with Elspeth's tokens makes for some awesome explosiveness. And even if they kill the Monster, they gotta deal with Elspeth and Xenagos eventually. Or if I have Ajani out, he'll just dial up another Dragon. Or just make Xenagos's tokens into 5/5s. It's all good.
  • I'm really curious to see how this deck plays out against mono-blue and mono-black. I didn't do that great Friday, but I suspect turn-two Pack Rats are difficult for just about anybody. I read Justin Crandall's article on Star City, and it seems like the way to beat it is to try to keep the rats at bay, and deal with them via Elspeth. And then grind them out with card advantage. I've also been told that Underworld Connections is another key to this matchup. Because of these things, I'm thinking I probably should have the third Ajani and/or third Elspeth in there somewhere.
  • In the aforementioned article, Crandall mentions Setessan Tactics as a candidate for inclusion. I like it as a fun-of to bring in against creature decks. I'm also thinking a singleton Wear // Tear might be warranted to deal with potential opposing Pithing Needles.
  • One game, I wanted to play a turn-three Courser, but I lacked the requisite GG to cast her. That Temple of Triumph should probably be a Temple of Abandon per Crandall's winning list (I was lazy and didn't want to pull it out of my Commander deck).
  • So the latest tech for Control: No D-Spheres or B-Lights. This makes the Keening plan much worse. I just hope it doesn't catch on. :) Otherwise, that's what Heliod and Purphoros are for.
Oddly enough, as much as I love judging, part of me is excited to bring this to an actual tournament and see how it does. Stay tuned!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Adventures in Netdecking


As much fun as I was having with my Chromantenchant deck, I may or may not be playing in a Standard $5K this weekend, so I figured I should have a somewhat competitive deck. This lead me to scouring the latest Standard-winning decks. I looked squarely at the winning deck from SCG Indy, saw it was Naya Midrange, and was pretty much immediately sold. I purchased the handful of cards I needed to finish it up (1x Ajani, 1x Stormbreath), subbed Aurelia for one of the Ajanis (because .. Aurelia), seasoned the sideboard to taste, and sleeved it up:

25 Lands

4 Sylvan Caryatid
3 Voyaging Satyr
3 Keening Apparition
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Polukranos, World-Eater
4 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Aurelia, the Warleader

3 Xenagos, the Reveler
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion

3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Selesnya Charm

3 Magma Spray
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Unflinching Courage
2 Deicide
1 Fiendslayer Paladin
1 Wear // Tear? (I forget what my 15th sideboard card was)

So, without playing any real matches, I took it to F and/or M. Here's how it went:

Still really good against Blue.
Round 1: vs. Mono-Blue Mill/Control
Nice guy, cool idea, but mono-blue control is just not something that works in Standard right now. There just aren't enough good ways to deal with resolved permanents. Especially a Mistcutter Hydra .. or two.
Win, 2-0. Record: 1-0.

Ajani sez: Help, get me out of Detention!
Round 2: vs. Bant Midrange/Superfriends
Which is better, blue or red? That was the question posed by my worthy opponent after the first game. Turns out ... I dunno. Probably too close to call. I had Stormbreath, but he had Sphinx's Revelation. I had Xenagos, but he had Kiora. It was a pretty cool match, though. Tons of back & forth, lots of building up and tearing down, and big swings of momentum. Classic midrange matchup. I think it really came down to who drew better. It seemed like the key moment in game three was when he Sphinx'd for some number and drew a bunch of lands. The two all-stars of this matchup were Keening Apparition and Ajani. Apparition was great at freeing up my powerful cards, and Ajani was great at digging for more and more gas.
Win, 2-1. Record: 2-0.

The first one says, Do you have a removal spell? The second one says, Can you kill me this turn? The third one says, Where's my win condition?
Round 3: vs. Mono-Black Aggro
I got run over pretty badly in the first game. I had a really slow draw, and he had all the 1-drops, and just enough disruption to keep me from gaining any traction. The second and third games, I brought in all my removal, had much better draws, and ground him out with ease. Once I stuck a doubple-Courser, it was just a matter of digging for a win condition.
Win, 2-1. Record: 3-0.

Still pretty much game over if cast on turn two and left unchecked.
Round 4: vs. Mono-Black Devotion
I offered the split, but the match next to us had a third 3-0 player, so we had to play it out. Oh well. It was a pretty rough match, mostly because I had such a difficult time with Pack Rat. Two games he landed it on turn two, and I had no answer for it. The one game I did win, I honestly got pretty lucky. He had a turn three or four Pack Rat, and was going off with it. I was facing down lethal Rat beats when I tapped the top of my deck and flipped a Mizzium Mortars. And I had just enough mana to overload it to wipe his board. Xenagos and Elspeth played mop-up.
Loss, 1-2. Record: 3-1.

Sadly, I didn't have the greatest breakers, so I fell to 5th place. But still, not bad for the first time playing a deck.

And now, for the obligatory post-mortem bullet-pointed list of random musings:
  • Keening Apparition. What a card. It's a Seal of Cleansing that can attack for two. Or with some mentoring, five.
  • Speaking of which, Ajani played the Mentor role very well. He was always a great play on turn four on a relatively empty board, as he always immediately replaced himself. Okay, most of the time. I think I whiffed once, and several other times, the Hero he found was a Caryatid. But still. Tons of value. And the 3-counters ability had great utility. One time I was able to use it on a Satyr and a Courser to gum up the board against a threatened ground assault. I never bothered with the ultimate, because that's just silly.
  • Aurelia. You know, as much as I love what she did in my Elephants deck, I don't know if she's quite the right fit here. She does combo great with Ajani, but I found that most of my non-Monstrous creatures weren't really interested in attacking at all, let alone twice in one turn.
  • Similarly, I don't think Xenagos, God of Elephants is quite right for this deck. Giving an already-hasty Satyr +2/+2 and haste isn't that exciting.
  • Similarly, Domri is awesome, but as you can see above, I'm just not running that many creatures.
  • The deck seems to rely on the upper half of the curve to stabilize and win games. For this reason, it's probably that Aurelia should be a fourth Voyaging Satyr, Mortars, or maybe something else. I'm leaning towards a fourth Satyr, because dropping a 4-drop on turn three is awesome, as is dropping a Courser and flipping a land.
  • Magma Spray out of the board was pretty sweet, just like the 2x Shocks were when I played my Elephants deck. Not being able to go to the dome is a non-issue since I really only need to clear out creatures.
  • Watching the SCG Open this weekend, it looks like U/W Control without D-Spheres or B-Lights might be a "thing" now. This could make things awkward if the deck relies too heavily on Keening Apparition to beat Control. Similarly, if Planar Cleansing sees more play, the Planeswalkers plan might need to be tweaked. I'm thinking maybe a singleton Heliod and/or Purphoros out of the board might be good.
But yeah, I like the deck. Anything that leans heavily on Planeswalkers, and succeeds in doing so, is pretty alright in my book. I've got some room for tweaking, and I hope to get a few more reps in before the $5K this weekend. It's possible that I may end up Judging at it, though. I know at least one judge had to pull out. We'll see.

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gain Life, Draw Cards

Hi everybody!

So yeah, I ran my new and/or improved Chromantichant deck at Mox Mania's Win-a-Box event last night. I updated it to look something like this:

Land (24):
4 Forest
4 Temple Garden
4 Temple of Plenty
3 Overgrown Tomb
3 Temple of Malady
1 Breeding Pool
1 Temple of Enlightenment
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Temple of Mystery
1 Godless Shrine
1 Temple of Silence

Creatures ():
4 Sylvan Caryatid
3 Underworld Coinsmith
1 Athreos, God of Passage
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Eidolon of Blossoms
2 Chromanticore
1 Doomwake Giant

Enchantments ():
1 Mana Bloom
2 Pacifism
3 Nylea's Presence
3 Verdant Haven
1 Bow of Nylea
3 Banishing Light
1 Detention Sphere
3 Sphere of Safety

Sideboard (15):
3 Brain Maggot
2 Oppressive Rays
1 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
1 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
1 Sphere of Safety
2 Nyx-Fleece Ram
1 Elixir of Immortality
1 Doom Blade
1 Ultimate Price
1 Heliod, God of the Sun
1 ? (something else, I forget)

Yeah, I went with the heavier black splash, which I'm pretty sure is correct. I kept the light blue splash for the singleton D-Sphere, because why not.

Well, let's see how it went!

That'll get through the Sphere.
Round 1: vs. Naya Midrange.
Pretty epic match here. Three very long, grindy games. Well, mostly it was about him trying to find a way around my Spheres of Safety. He eventually found one: Purphoros. With Assemble the Legion. Owch.
Loss, 1-2. Record: 0-1.

No scry for you! You come back when you have 8 mana!
Round 2: vs. Izzet Control.
She was playing a brew that she and/or her boyfriend concocted, which was also out of her comfort zone. Game one I landed a Sphere of Safety and she didn't have any kind of answer for it except to try to burn me out. I kept my life total right around 10 with incidental lifegain, and eventually Bow of Nylea helped me pull away well into safe range before I drew into Chromanticore. Game two, I stuck a Heliod, a Bow, and used Elspeth to kill her Stormbreath Dragon to clear the way for my handful of incidental doodz to finish her off in additional turns.
Win, 2-0. Record: 1-1.

10/10 for 4? Seems good.
Round 3: vs. Jund Dredge.
Similar to the G/B Dredge deck, but with a light red splash for Underworld Cerberus and Flesh // Blood and maybe a couple other cards. Maybe Mizzium Mortars? Anyway, this matchup seems to be about disrupting him long enough to keep him from making a giant dork that can attack through a Sphere. I failed.
Loss, 1-2. Record: 1-2.

Sacrifice this creature, discard a card named Altar's Reap: draw two cards.
Round 4: vs. Rakdos Minotaurs.
Another homebrew. He admitted that his brew was pretty janky, with some awkward synergies. Most of the time, the 1-drop minotaur just acted as fodder for Altar's Reap. But yeah, this matchup is a cakewalk. I have plenty of early game, and he has no answer for my Sphere.
Win, 2-0. Record: 2-2.

So, getting better. But still not more better enough. Here are some post-mortem thoughts:
  • I like the Underworld Coinsmith quite a bit, but I'm wondering if it might be too cute. I like getting more value out of Constellation triggers, but I'm wondering how much lifegain I really need maindeck. I think in the current meta, I'd rather be more prepared for aggro than not. And event against Midrange, if they don't shut it off right away, it can add up fast, making it difficult to close the game quickly. I think it stays in for now. I kinda want to go up to 4, but that's probably too cute.
  • Athreos was cute, but not terribly useful. I didn't really get to turn him into a creature much, and my opponents were almost always happy to pay the three life to keep my creatures dead--I almost never have enough of a clock on them for the three life to matter. I'm thinking I might put Karametra back in this slot. Or maybe Heliod maindeck.
  • I'm pretty sure my new favorite opening right now is: 1. Land, 2. Land, Caryatid, 3. Courser, reveal Land, play Land, gain a life. But I'm usually happy running out Coinsmith on turn two as well. The lifegain does help ameliorate shockland damage.
  • I probably need more Banishing Light/D-Sphere. Maybe one more B-Light maindeck, and another D-Sphere in the board. I need to be able to interact more beyond just preventing them from attacking.
  • I'm not sure about the Doomwake Giant. Granted, I only saw him once or twice all night, but most of the time, he wasn't going to do much for me. At 5 mana, I wanna hide behind a Sphere, not kill a bunch of weenies that should have already killed me by now. Seems like a case of win-more.
  • I'm wondering if I should add a third Chromanticore. If for no other reason, I need to have a way to finish games quickly once I lock them down with Sphere. With only two in the deck, if I don't have my Eidolon draw engine going, it can take quite a few turns before I find one.
  • I still don't really know how this deck does against Control. Probably not wonderfully. I need to get a Primeval Bounty in there. Maybe two.
  • Brain Maggots are pretty sweet. That's another card that can come in post-board against Control.
  • Against the Dredge decks, I should play that Constellation guy that empties graveyards. Agent of Erebos. That'll go a long way toward slowing them down.

All in all, I'm still having a lot of fun playing the deck. And other players have fun watching it in action. It creates rather ridiculous spammy board states, which of course I love. And there's nothing quite like winning with Chromanticore. I have a few tweaks in mind, which I think will take care of a few corner-case weaknesses.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

An Exercise in Net.Decking

Hi everybody!

So what happens when you take a random winning deck off the internet, sleeve it up, and take it to the local store to crush the competition? Free wins, right? Not so much ...

I decided to play something different for Modern this week: Jund. I had most of the cards in the list that took second place at GP Minneapolis, and the deck looks like fun, so I figured I'd give it a whirl. Plus, it gave me a chance to finally play with all those sweet Bobs and Goyfs I'd picked up recently.

Round 1: vs. Pod. Melira Pod? Not so sure. It's pretty well-known by now that Melira Pod often doesn't even run Melira. But anyway. Yeah, this was a fun match. Grindy, back & forth, and close down to the end. I'm sure I misplayed all over the place, sideboarded wrong, and I know I forgot a non-zero number of Bob triggers. But it was a close match, and I had fun. A+, would play again. 0-1.

Round 2: vs. Storm. Game one I had a pretty good draw, curving two discard spells into Liliana into Blightning (my own addition). Game two I lost to Empty the Warrens tokens. Game three I mull'd to four, and actually had a decent start until he storm'd out on turn four to kill me with tokens and Grapeshot. 0-2.

Round 3: vs. Merfolk. He turned my lands into Islands and overwhelmed me with fish. I got mana screwed in game two. Frustrating. 0-3.

By this point, I was pretty annoyed, and I just dropped. I had fun with the deck for the first couple of rounds, anyway. I probably just need to practice more.

In the meantime, I continue to tweak the Chromantenchant deck. I went 1-3 at FNM, losing to R/W Heroic deck, a mono-black aggro/heroic deck, and Maze's End. I beat Naya Aggro when they got a slow start (i.e., not that aggro).

I'm making a change I suspected I'd need/want to: shifting the color focus from Bant to Junk. I love Detention Sphere, but Banishing Light is the same thing most of the time, and black gives me some more powerful Constellation cards, like Underworld Coinsmith and Doomwake Giant. I'm gonna try Athreos instead of Karametra, too. And maindeck Pacifism to have a bit more early game against the aggro decks. We'll see how that goes tonight.

Sorry this is brief. I just wanted to brain dump while it's still kind of fresh in my mind.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Solforge

Hi everybody!

Well, I'm going to do something a little different today: talk about something non-Magic-related. But I'm sure there is a non-zero percentage of people reading this who would be interested. So here's my review of Solforge.

For those of you who don't know, Solforge is a Digital Collectible Card Game published by Stoneblade Entertainment. It's known for being designed and developed by a bunch of well-known Magic personalities, like Richard Garfield and Brian Kibler.

The game is played not completely dissimilar to M:TG, in that there are cards that represent creatures and spells, and the object of the game is to reduce your opponent's health to zero. (For an overview of the game and how it's played, visit their website: There are a couple of unique features that make it stand out from other CCGs: The concept of Lanes, and the Level Up mechanic.

Creatures are deployed into Lanes. Each player has five Lanes, which oppose each other. In combat, if my opponent and I each have a creature in the same Lane, they'll battle each other. Otherwise, they'll attack the opponent's health. Lanes are also relevant in some cards' mechanics, such as moving between lanes, affecting creatures in adjacent lanes, etc.

The Level Up mechanic is how cards evolve as the game goes on. Both players and cards level up. Whenever a card is played, it levels up (if it's not already at the maximum level), and the next time it is drawn, it'll be the next level up. Players level up at the end of every fourth turn they take. Player level determines which level cards may be played. For example, if I play a Level 2 card the turn after I hit Player Level 2, I won't draw the Level 3 version of the card until I reach Player Level 3. This mechanic is functionally similar to the mana mechanic in M:TG, in that it governs the overall power level of the game as a function of time.

The game is "free to play," which means that you can download the game for free and get some very basic stuff to play with, but if you want to grow your card collection quickly, you gotta spend real money. Gold is the in-game currency that can be purchased with real-world money, and is used to purchase single cards, booster packs, event tickets, pre-constructed decks, etc. Silver is another in-game currency that can be acquired through playing the game, but the player is limited in what he or she can purchase with it (basic booster packs, singles, event tickets, space for additional Constructed decks). There are daily rewards for playing. Usually some silver, and a random card or basic booster pack.

I started playing the game last year sometime (maybe summer/fall?). I had fun with it at first. It was like Magic, but different. I purchased the pre-constructed decks, and made some decent decks out of those. But I quickly got to the point where I was whooping the computer easily, and losing to online players who had lots of powerful cards.

I splurged and spent about $50 acquiring a few Legendary cards (analogous to Mythics in M:TG) to bolster my Constructed decks. I fared better, but then they started releasing more powerful cards, and even decked out with a ton of Heroics (analagous to Rares in M:TG) and Legendaries, I was getting outclassed.

They introduced Drafting earlier this year, and I thought that was a great idea. Until I started actually playing it. I would fare well in the first couple of Player Levels (PLs), until PL3, when I suddenly had to deal with ridiculous bomby threats. I learned how to draft and play somewhat better, and I started winning more. Until I went on a streak of 3 drafts in a row finishing 1-3 or worse.

So after 9 months or so of daily playing the game, I'm finding myself getting very frustrated with the game. It sucks to lose all the time, and it sucks to feel powerless to do anything about it.

Part of the problem is that Constructed is most definitely a Pay To Win kinda thing. This is somewhat understandable, since it is a CCG, after all. But even if M:TG, it's possible to build decent decks on a budget, and there's more granularity between different "tiers" of decks. In Solforge, if you don't have a bunch of Legendaries, you will not fare well in online play.

So, isn't Drafting supposed to help level the playing field? It does. But then there is frustration that sets in there from a different level: variance. Again, I understand that it's a card game, and there's gonna be variance. But there's a pretty big difference in variance in Solforge games vs. M:TG games. In M:TG, you can keep a two-land hand if you have enough threats and/or removal to get pressure on or stall early, and then draw into what you need. In Solforge, if your opponent has a few Level 3 threats and you don't have an answer, it's very difficult (if not impossible) to recover. There's also the variance involved in the actual draft. Some cards are just ridiculously powerful in draft, and are virtually impossible to beat (I'm looking at you, Chrogias), even with good draws.

And I think that's the underlying theme of my Solforge experience. Games are highly subject to variance. If I get a bad draw and my opponent doesn't, I lose. If my opponent gets a bad draw and I don't, I win. Even in Constructed, if I have a bunch of powerful cards, if I get a bad draw and my opponent doesn't, I will lose.

So I've decided I'm not spending any more money on this game, and I probably won't be playing it a whole lot anymore in general.

But people who are invested in this game seem to enjoy it, despite the heavy luck element. They "weather the storm" and wait for things to statistically even out. I wonder if there's an overlap between these types of players and experienced Poker players (moreso than M:TG, for which I know there's a fair amount of overlap).

In the meantime, in Magic stuff, I've not been doing a whole lot since last I updated. I've got a new iteration of the Chromantenchant deck ready to go, which I'm gonna give a whirl at FNM tonight.

I did a casual sealed deck with some friends earlier this week, and I went 0-4 with a bad stall/Constellation deck. Like I've been telling people, I like Theros for Limited, but I just don't get to play it much. I'm hoping that once I get a judge rotation going at Mox, I'll have more FNMs freed up to go draft somewhere.

Cool. Well, thanks for reading! Until next time...