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...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Excited Again

Hi everybody!

So, I haven't been posting much lately. Mostly because I haven't been having a lot of fun with Magic, and I didn't want this to be a dump of negativity. After all, I'm supposed to be Professor Shine, not Professor Dump. The Krakens deck wasn't doing very well, even after tweaking it, and Elephants weren't faring any better. The problem with them seem to be that they struggle against the top decks in the metagame. They are both capable of sneaking under the radar and stealing wins when they critical windows, but I'm not good enough a player to be able to do so consistently. So ... Sorry. Back to the drawing board.

Thankfully, we have a new set, and it's chock full of shiny goodness. I was particular drawn to this pretty little eidolon:

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned here that I've been really wanting to try a deck with Chromanticore for a while, and with all the green land-auras in Standard right now, the time was right. So I brewed up this pile:

Land (25):
4 Temple Garden
4 Temple of Plenty
3 Temple of Mystery
3 Breeding Pool
3 Temple of Enlightenment
3 Hallowed Fountain
4 Forest
1 Mutavault

Spells (35):
1 Mana Bloom
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Nylea's Presence
4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Verdant Haven
3 Detention Sphere
1 Banishing Light
4 Eidolon of Blossoms
3 Sphere of Safety
2 Chromanticore
1 Karametra, God of Harvests

Sideboard (15):
2 Pacifism
2 Oppressive Rays
1 Bow of Nylea
1 Spear of Heliod
1 Heliod, God of the Sun
1 Banishing Light
1 Sphere of Safety
1 Elixir of Immortality
2 Plummet
2 Unflinching Courage
1 other card (I don't remember)

The plan is basically this:
1. Play some early ramp and disruption.
2. Stick an Eidolon.
3. Draw a bunch of cards, stick a Sphere of Safety.
4. Draw more cards, stick a Chromanticore.

How did it play out? In my typical tedious style, here's the tournament report:

More or less.
Round 1: vs. Izzet.
This reminded me of the current Event Deck, with Guttersnipes and Nivix Cyclops and Spellheart Chimera and the like. It wasn't huge on countermagic, but it had enough blue-based disruption to protect the various Kiln Fiend-analogs. The main combo of the deck seemed to be Crypsis and Armed (as in, the red half of Armed // Dangerous). Guttersnipe was kind of a backup plan, but it's also capable of being Armed and Crypsis'd.
Anyway, the match seemed to be a race to combo out. He won game one with a 14-point or so attack, I won game two with a Chromanticore bestow'd on a Courser, and he won game three after I flooded out HARD. I think I ended the game with something like 8 lands in hand. And this was after scrying away a bunch of other lands. Crazy. I guess that's Magic, though, eh?
Loss, 1-2. Record: 0-1.

Fear the Sphere!
Round 2: vs. Mono-Black Aggro.
Okay, this is the kinda deck I was hoping to take down, and it worked like a charm. Even pre-board, I was able to stall *just* long enough to get a Sphere of Safety out and keep him from one-shotting me with a giant Bestow'd guy. Game two I ALMOST achieved the dream of bestowing a Chromanticore on a Chromanticore ("Yo dawg..."), but after already getting locked down by a Sphere, he conceded before I could live that particular dream.
Win, 2-0. Record: 1-1.

Round 3: vs. B/G Dredge.
I was able to get my engine going both games, but I had some awkward draws, and he had some good draws, and I wasn't able to land enough combinations of Sphere of Safety and D-Sphere to keep him from one-shotting me with a giant bestow'd Lifebane Zombie. This is a potentially problematic matchup, but I have ideas.
Loss, 0-2. Record: 1-2.

If only ...
Round 4: vs. G/R Monsters.
A matchup I was dreading. If Stormbreath didn't have protection from white, this wouldn't be much of a problem. But .... Yeah. So I had to rely on the Sphere of Safety plan to keep it at bay. Unfortunately, I realized another weakness of the deck: I need to close out games. Turns out just stalling out and drawing 10 cards a turn isn't quite enough by itself to ensure victory.
Loss, 0-2. Record: 1-3.

So, not a great performance, but considering it was a relatively competitive tournament, and it was my own brew, and it was the first LIVE ACTION for the deck, not bad. But most importantly: I HAD FUN. And the matches I lost felt like they could have been winnable with (1) some deck tweaks, and (2) more practice. On that note, here are some thoughts about the deck:

  • First and foremost, I need to make sure I have a safety valve at all time. Chromanticore is awesome, but it alone won't finish games. I need to be able to hit a proverbial reset button. I'm thinking a Bow of Nylea in the maindeck, Elixir out of the 'board should help.
  • Nyx-Fleece Ram is adorable (and the Terese Nielsen artwork is amazing as always), but I'm not sure it's where I want to be.
  • I'm probably going to add black. Along the lines of the first point, I feel like I should have a secondary win condition. Underworld Coinsmith seems like he could do the job. It's also another source of lifegain. Doomwake Giant seems worth exploring, too, and I could bring in better removal. There's also the Agent of Erebos for the Dredge deck.
  • I thought about maybe adding Pharika, but if I'm relying on being able Bow and/or Elixir myself, I don't want to be exiling my own creatures.
  • Sideboarding is difficult. The deck has a strong "engine" component to it, and taking out parts of the engine will make it run less efficiently.
I'm looking forward to making some tweaks, and running it out again next week. Good times!

Well I guess that's it for now. Thanks for reading! Until next time ...