Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kraken's Out of the Bag

Hi everybody!

Well I haven't gotten a chance to play much lately. After being gone for a weekend to test for Level 2, I've placed more priority on my home life. Then, I was asked at the last minute to sub for another local L2 at a TCGplayer event in Chicago, so I wasn't able to try out the Pauper Dredge list I've been excited to try out. But this last Tuesday, I finally got a chance to play some Standard. And I couldn't resist trying something different/new/exciting, so I sleeved up this:

Lands (25):
3 Overgrown Tomb
3 Watery Grave
3 Breeding Pool
3 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Mystery
4 Forest
2 Swamp
3 Island

Creatures (9):
4 Sylvan Caryatid
2 Courser of Kruphix
1 AEtherling
2 Sepulchral Primordial

Planeswalkers (7):
4 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
2 Vraska, the Unseen
1 Jace, Memory Adept

Spells (19):
1 Mana Bloom
3 Abrupt Decay
1 Ultimate Price
2 Cyclonic Rift
3 Read the Bones
2 Dissolve
2 Hero's Downfall
1 Inspiration
1 Urban Evolution
1 Gaze of Granite
2 Reap Intellect

Sideboard (15):
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Unravel the AEther
2 Golgari Charm
2 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Drown in Sorrow
1 Bile Blight
1 Doom Blade
1 Dark Betrayal
2 Gainsay
1 Elixir of Immortality
1 (I forget?)

Yup, this is the "Makin' Krakens" (pronounced "kray-kins") list that Frank Lapore and Melissa DeTora have written about on (which in turn they got from someone on Magic Online). I tweaked it somewhat to match what I felt like playing, but the core is pretty much the same.

Basically, I want to control/survive the early game, hit a bunch of land drops, and then start landing haymakers with 7 mana in play. AEtherling, Primordial, planeswalkers, and/or the Timmah! combo of overloaded Cyclonic Rift followed up with Reap Intellect for a million.

Well, how'd it go? Read on ...

F- this Kiora in particular.
Round 1: vs. Rakdos Midrange. He had some early aggression with Young Pyromancer, but also lots of burn and removal. I made plenty of play mistakes during this match, usually involving getting greedy with Kiora. Basically, I wanted to splash a random dooder and tick her up, but then she'd just die to Lightning Strike or Dreadbore. I needed to user her -1 ability more, to ramp and to get some card advantage. I did land a turn-6 AEtherling (with a blue mana open to blink it), so that was pretty sweet. I also should have brought in Jace AOT to deal with the Pyro token storm and/or to dig for some answers. Loss, 1-2. Record: 0-1.

Great roadblock vs. aggro.
Round 2: vs. RDW. So many 1- and 2-drops. I got ran over pretty badly in game one, but games two and three I had all kinds of removal and sweepers (Golgari Charm, Drown in Sorrow), and my planeswalkers took over the game. Courser of Kruphix was an all-star in this one, stabilizing the board, and gaining a non-trivial amount of life. Win, 2-1. Record: 1-1.

Apparently all those spells are blue vapors?
Round 3: vs. Esper Control. Hard match. Game one was a lot of draw-go, and he had counters for my threats. Game two, he ripped apart my game plan with Thoughtseize and counters, but got greedy with running out win conditions. I bounced his Elspeth and topdeck'd a Reap Intellect, which resolved. I took his Elspeths, Sphinx's Revelations, and Detention Spheres. Unfortunately, he won the topdeck war, drawing into counters for my threats, and eventually an AEtherling that I couldn't deal with. Loss, 0-2. Record: 1-2.

Not new-player-friendly.
Round 4: vs. Boros Midrange? Control? Very new player here. Her boyfriend/friends told her, "you're coming with us to play tonight." So all of her opponents had to show her how to play. I don't mind that aspect of it, but they gave her a hard deck to try to learn how to play. Lots of stuff like planeswalkers, gods, enchantments, scrying, triggers .... So much vocabulary. Anyway, the actual games went in my favor, though they took a long time. Win, 2-0. Record: 2-2.

So yeah, some rough going. Some tweaks are definitely needed, some of which I've already made. I moved Jace AOT into the maindeck, to give me some better game-one action against Control and Aggro. I'm thinking about moving Jace MA into the 'board for similar reasons. I don't really want to see him in game one against Aggro. I think the singleton Inspiration is really cute, but it's better suited to a more hardcore draw-go style of play, which I'm not really doing. I love Read the Bones, but that life loss can really add up, especially if I don't have Courser out. I'm not sure how I feel about Mana Bloom. Again, I suspect it's better suited for a draw-go style of play where you can take better advantage of the whole mana-on-both-turns thing.

So .. do I want to play draw-go? I don't think I do. At least not right now. I want to spend my early turns setting up. Caryatid, temple-scrying, spot removal (and sweepers post-board). And once I do get set up, I tap out a lot for planeswalkers and other threats. It's hard trying to establish a threat presence and leave countermagic up when need a million mana in order to do so.

But overall, I love the deck. It can be frustrating when I can't get much going, but it's a blast once the engine gets fired up. I really like how a lot of the key pieces pull doubple duty as disruption/control and potential win conditions. I'm gonna make a few tweaks, hopefully learn how to play the deck better, and see if I can release some Krakens. :)

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Hi everybody!

I'm told that "Ding!" is the WOW shorthand for "Level up!", and it is also occasionally used in the Magic Judge community. So ... Ding!

Yup, I took my Level 2 test this last weekend, and I passed "with flying colors" (quote from the L3 who tested me). I got two questions (out of 50) wrong, which of course I'm disappointed about, but I'm pretty stoked that I passed. :)

So now what? I hope to keep doing what I've been doing: working events, and mentoring new judges and judge candidates. But now I get to do so in a more formalistic way, including the process of actual certification. I do have a few more intermediate goals in mind though: participate more in education, and get into team leading and eventually head-judging more Competitive events. I'm not really sure how to make this happen, but that sounds like a good opportunity for me to touch base with my Regional Captain. :)

I also wanted to reflect a minute on something that's making the rounds in social media, both within and without the Magic community: the photo series of a guy posing in front of accidentally-exposed butt cracks. I have a few thoughts about this whole thing.

1. Nobody wants to see butt cracks. Magic players have a reputation for being "gross" anyway, and having ill-fitting pants/belts/shirts that expose butt cracks is only helping to propagate the stereotype. Maybe make it a part of your pre-tournament preparation to ask your friends to do a "crack check" before going to the event.

2. Posting this kind thing is inappropriate. If I find somebody doing this at my event, I will ask that person to stop. It's not as bad as the person who posted pictures at another event last year with rather rude commentary, but it's still a public disparaging.

3. It seems like a lot of this conversation has already gotten blown way out of proportion, by both sides of the issue. Personally, though I got a chuckle out of the photo series, I side with the idea that players should expect to attend an event without being publicly disparaged.

4. Butt seriously: Cover up your crack.

Yup, that's all I got for now. I haven't done much in the way of playing recently, since I've been studying for (and taking!) my L2 test. Tonight I'm gonna go to Standard and see how the Herd fares. And then we'll see about where to go next with Judging.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Battle the HERD

Nevermind the Minotaurs, here's the Elephants!

So yeah, here's my Born of the Gods Game Day report. I tweaked my Elephants deck once again, and I brought this:

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

Elephants (25):
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Voice of Resurgence
1 Scavenging Ooze
4 Fanatic of Xenagos
2 Loxodon Smiter
3 Polukranos, World Eater
3 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Xenagos, God of Elephants
2 Aurelia, the Elephant Leader

Spells (10):
2 Chained to the Rocks
1 Selesnya Charm
3 Mizzium Mortars
3 Domri Rade
1 Clan Defiance

Sideboard (15):
2 Shock
1 Lightning Strike
3 Unflinching Courage
2 Wear // Tear
3 Mistcutter Hydra
1 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Boon Satyr
1 Selesnya Charm

Sure, go ahead and start the game at 47 life.
Round 1: vs. Selesnya. Both games he came out of the gate pretty strong, and I was able to slow him down with early removal and timely fatties. The MVP of this matchup is Stormbreath Dragon, who single-wingedly shut down his offense, and stalled him long enough for me to stabilize and build a board after I finally killed his Unflinchingly Courageous Fleecemane Lion after he gained about 30 life (no exaggeration). Two epic grindy games. If he'd had an answer to my Stormbreath, though, or drawn another Brave the Elephants... Win, 2-0. Record: 1-0.

Sometimes you just need a fireball.
Round 2: vs. G/R Monsters. I suspect she didn't get the greatest draw. I let her have random dorks while I attacked with my on-curve elephants. She landed a Polukranos, and I 2-for-1'd myself to get rid of it (swinging a Smiter into it, and following up with Mortars). But I figured I needed to keep getting damage in. And that plan worked like a charm. When she'd start getting a board presence together, I'd finish her off with something. It was a Clan Defiance one game, and I think a Stormbreath another. Win, 2-0. Record: 2-0.

Sure, go ahead and draw two. I'll attack for 9. :)
Round 3: vs. U/B Control. This is an interesting-looking deck, and I was curious to see how it would play out. However, I soon realized, he doesn't have sweepers, so I didn't have anything like a Supreme Verdict to play around. I ran out all my dorks and elephants, and quickly stomped him down. I suspect if he had a better draw it would have been a better game. Thoughtseize and Doom Blade are good cards against me. Win, 2-0. Record: 3-0.

And this was good enough for the second seed going into the Top 8. Woo hoo!

Those two points add up quickly. Especially when the follow-up Elephantals are lethal.
Quarterfinals: vs. U/W Control. Game one I got a good draw, keeping lots of pressure on him early, and landing a couple of my better maindeck threats against him (though I now forget exactly what .. maybe Xenagos and/or Domri?). Second game, I couldn't quite get ahead of him in tempo, and he followed up a Fated Retribution with an Elspeth and counterspell backup. Game three I landed two Voices early and quickly attacked him down to a range where two Elephantal tokens and hasty Mistcutter hit him for exactly lethal. He admitted that he could have stopped those Voices a turn earlier, saving him four damage, which might have been just enough to stabilize. I acknowledged that I was out of gas with the Mistcutter, and a Sphinx's probably would have won the game for him. Coulda shoulda woulda? Win, 2-1.

Ugh, this card.
Semifinals: vs. G/R Devotion. I played against him like he was Monsters, but he was really Devotion. So the tempo-him-out plan worked great, until he landed a Polukranos and Monstrous'd for a million. And the next game he Clan Defiance'd for 13 to kill me. Also, I kept a bad hand in that first game, and I failed to draw enough land to curve into my larger elephants. But that second game, he had the nuts Nykthos draw, and there was little (if anything) I could do about it. Loss, 0-2.

So I finished 3rd/4th, which was good enough for 4 packs (plus the promo cards for participation and Top 8). Not bad for $5.

Some thoughts:
  • With that devotion match, and the other "swarms of critters" decks floating around out there, I wonder if it's time to think about Anger of the Gods. I don't have that much ramp anymore, so Mortars isn't a reliable sweeper. It's just unfortunate that it's such a bad combination with all my two-drops. Against white, though, maybe I just take out the Voices for Angers.
  • Yeah, I'm gonna complain about Devotion now. I understand that it's a great showcase for the whole Theros thing, both flavor and mechanics. But I don't think this kind of thing is really that fun. They dump their hand, and get some huge ridiculous devotion effect. I know I'm probably tilting, but I also think I'm not the only one who feels this way.
  • And in general, it seems like Standard has stagnated. Last year, although the format was mostly Shades of Aggro/Midrange, there were at least lots of different configurations available, and some fringe strategies were viable. Now there are about five archetypes that are viable, with a pretty clear Best Deck in Mono-Black Devotion. I was hoping that Born of the Gods would mix things up, but it doesn't seem to have done so. Mono-Black and G/R got better, U/W got a scryland, and not much else changed.
  • As for my deck, I think two Aurelias are too many. I love the card, but too often she sat dead in my hand, or I had to scry her away. I'd much rather have some earlier action. Maybe a third Smiter?
  • I decided to keep in that singleton Sc'Ooze. It's not a great turn-one play, but it's great on turn eight after a bunch of elephants and other random dorks have died. It gains me life and becomes a serious threat.
  • As much as I love it, I'm not sure I really need Hammer of Purphoros anymore. With Xenagos and his Fanatic, Stormbreath, and Aurelia in the deck, and Mistcutters out of the 'board, I have plenty of hasty threats as it is. I usually don't need to use the "Hammer my own land" ability. Against Control, if the game gets to that point, odds are that they've cleared my board multiple times and probably landed a Sphinx's or two. A 3/3 haste dork every turn isn't really going get through an Elspeth.
So I have a few things I can tweak. We'll see what happens.

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