Monday, December 20, 2010

Weekend Update

Ugh, so Time Spiral is now a $40 card, I guess. It was unbanned in Legacy and now pretty much every online store on the 'net is sold out. Last week you could by one for about $4.00, now it's 10 times that. I'm not sure how I feel about this... I mean, I already have my playset, thank God, but it's a really fun card that I like to play a lot, so I was always interested in acquiring more.

Hopefully the initial hype will wear off and it won't be as heavily played as people are expecting, and the price will drop. Or, it might be more broken that Wizards anticipates and they'll just re-ban it.

Here's what I don't understand: At the same time, they BANNED Survival of the Fittest, but the prices haven't dropped a dime yet. What the hell is that all about? I need a SoF for EDH, but there's no way I'm shelling out $40 for one, now that it's banned. I'm still hoping the price will drop in a few weeks...

By the way, if you haven't seen the Judge Promo for SoF, check this shit out:

I desperately want one of these for my big Highlander. (Christmas idea! Christmas idea!)

So, anyway, I spent a good portion of my weekend building two new EDH decks. The catch is that I couldn't use my own cards. You see, I was building decks for two of my friends in my regular playgroup. They were getting tired of 60-card multiplayer, so they asked me to help them assemble a pair of playable EDH decks. I wasn't too sure I was up to the task. Or rather, I wasn't sure they had quite the card pool to support two decks.

In the end, I was able to assemble feasible working models for Intet, the Dreamer and Teneb, the Harvester. I didn't necessarily plan to use Planar Chaos Dragons for both generals, but we had to compromise between what they wanted to play and what their card pool could realistically support.

The decks turned out better than I expected, though they still certainly need some work. The real challenge was working with a card selection of about 10% the size of what I'm used to having at my disposal. That made it a bit more fun, though, because I wasn't able to just throw in dozens of pet cards and must-runs. Especially in the Intet deck, I had to get really creative with my removal. (Thanks to the boys at CommanderCast for the tip on Lignify. That ended up being one of my go-to spells for Intet)

Last night we took the decks out for a test-drive in a three-for-all game that lasted for several hours before we just declared Teneb the winner due to exhaustion. The Intet deck performed rather admirably, having the advantage for most of the game. The main weakness of that deck is the lack of suitable board sweepers. The next biggest weakness is the general herself. Intet is fun and cool, but ultimately underpowered. Hopefully the two new options in the forthcoming Commander precons will provide something more powerful than Mrs Dreamer.

So two new EDH players have joined the fold and seem to be happy with their new decks. I'll have to pick them up some goodies next time I can hit up the dollar binders around town. I'll try to get decklists later, as I built the decks at their place. Hopefully I can have them up by next weekend or so.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Deckbuilding Aesthetics

There was a post recently over at Commandercast that touched on a topic I was planning to write about. The author, Astray Penguin, beat me to the punch (curse you, Penguin!). In the second half of his post, he discussed how he chooses specific basic lands for his decks, selecting lands with art that matches the colors and themes of his deck.

 It's a pretty interesting topic, to me at least, because I do the same thing. I always cherry-pick my lands to suit the deck, but I also am particular about making my sleeve color match as well. Astray Penguin makes some great suggestions, such as using old-border lands if you are using an old-border General.

My interest in this comes from my background in art and design. I have a bit of training in both fine art and graphic design, although I’ll be the first to admit I’ve largely squandered my modicum of talent. But the fact is, I am a tad more concerned with aesthetics and appearance than most random Magic players. It’s not about “blinging out” my deck. I love foils as much as the next guy, but I’m not overly concerned with showing off my bottomless Magic budget. I just want my deck to look good, and to be aesthetically pleasing.

Also, I am a touch Obsessive/Compulsive and coordinating things appeals to that part of my psyche.

Astray Penguin's article is a great starting point, and I suggest reading it as well. I'll try not to overlap too much with his post, but I want to expound on this topic a little more in-depth that he did. Also, as mentioned I will be talking about sleeves as well. To me, sleeves are even more important to aesthetic coordination than the lands you choose. 

But we'll discuss lands first, and then move on to sleeves.

1. The basics of Basic Land

First off, let's address why this is important. Short answer: it isn't important. Running one basic Plains over another will not in any way make your deck perform differently. It's just about appearance and art. But, given my background in art, art is very important to me.

There are a huge number of artists working on the Magic game that I highly respect and admire. One of the ways I like to show that appreciation for the talent and skill of some of my favorite artists is by making their art stand out as much as possible. Coordinating your basic lands and selecting the right sleeves are the two main ways to accomplish this. Making your deck look good is really all about making the artists' illustrations look good. 

In fine art, selecting the right frame for a piece of art is almost as important as selecting the art itself. You can have a masterwork Degas hanging on a wall, but if it's in a cheap Wal-Mart frame it will negatively affect how the art looks. But before we pick out a frame, naturally we must pick out our art first!

Usually, the easiest decks to choose lands for are mono-color decks. Most Basic Forest illustrations have green in them and most Mountians have red. If your deck is mono-green, you'll obviously want basic Forests. Beyond that, you have some options. I usually try to run only one art per basic land type, but in a mono-color deck I will run at most two types of a given land. 

So. Let's say my deck is mono-Green Elves. Obviously, I want Forests, and I want green in them. I will further refine my search to those that strike me as an elvish Forest. Some good examples of Forests that DON'T exactly make one think "Elf":

This one is from Kamigawa block, where the predominant green tribe was Snakes, not Elves. It even depicts the hatcheries the Orochi used in the setting. Too setting-specific for an Elf deck.

This one is from Shadowmoor, which did feature elves, but the art here is a bit too spooky for most Elf decks. If you're using mostly Shadowmoor and Eventide Elf cards, or it's a Black/Green Elf deck, then this might work but for a generic Elf deck it's a poor choice.

Like Shadowmoor, Mirrodin also featured elves, but this art is equally as distinctive to it's native plain. Not a good choice for most Elf decks.

Rise of Eldrazi lands are pretty unique to their set as well, and don't really look like the sort of environment an Elf would happily call home.

With the "don'ts" out of the way, let's see what might fall in the "do" category:

Both of these make great examples, because they show signs of civilized life among the trees. These literally depict where an Elf would live - a hollowed out tree trunk, or a home built among the branches. It helps that both lands have exceptionally well-executed art. John Avon has long been known as one of the best Land artists in the history of Magic, while Quinton Hoover's Forest is just phenomenal.

For an Elf deck, or most any generic Green stompy deck, you really can go with just about any Forest that shows rich, lush greenery and has good art. That's the wonderful thing about mono-color decks: you have more freedom to just pick your favorite Forest or Swamp or whatever. There are likely to only be a handful of "wrong" choices.

The more colors you include, the harder it becomes to find just the right art for your basic lands. You want to try to find a basic that includes touches of the other colors in your deck contained in the art. For examples, in a Blue/Red deck, I would try to find Islands with some red or purple in the art, and Mountains with blue in the art.

That said, I can already tell you that it's tough to find an Island with red in it, so I usually find one with some lightning in it, as a ton of Red cards feature lightning in their art. Here are the three Islands I most often end up using in a U/R deck:

These are all fantastic illustrations by themselves, but really look great in a deck with Lightning Bolts.

For my Mountains, it's easy enough to find a Mountain with blue in the art - several have a blue sky. For example:

Both definitely have some blue in the art, but it's also important that the Mountain and Island coordinate. This is a bit subjective, but even though I really love this Ice Age Mountain, it's not really a good fit to go with my stormy-looking Islands.

One thing that helps is to pull lands from the same set or block where possible. For instance one of my three Islands up there is from Rise of the Eldrazi. A quick scan of the Eldrazi Mountains turns up this:

While it's not the most interesting image, or particularly attractive on it's own, it has two key features that make it a good fit. One is that both illustrations depict the same basic visual cue: the Hedrons of Zendikar. The other is that little splash of blue in the top corner that helps tie the pallets together. And they look okay next to one another:

Once the deck is built and sleeved, we can make them mesh a little better by selecting the right color of sleeves. 

One important guideline, which Penguin also touches on, is that you should never mix different frames in one deck. There are currently 5 different Basic Land frames: the old frame (pre-Mirrodin), the new frame (post-Mirrodin) and three "full-art" frames appearing in Unglued, Unhinged and Zendikar. When selecting lands, ALWAYS stick to one frame style. mixing full art and regular is quite ugly and even the various full-art frames don't mesh well together. 

It shouldn't even need saying, but Penguin said it anyway, and I will echo him: avoid white-bordered lands like the plague. They are ugly as fuck, and you should stay away from them. 

Three color decks get tricky. Here it really starts to help to draw from one block to keep some unity amongst the land choice. If I'm playing an Esper deck (specifically, a WUB deck with an artifact theme), I'll use the Esper lands from Alara Block:

However, if my deck is just a WUB without any thematic ties to the Esper Shard, I might try to find a different trio of basics. The Esper lands are too distinctive to just throw into a Zur the Enchanter deck.

Four and five color decks are nearly impossible to stick to these guidelines. I might simply choose lands from all the same block and that will have to suffice. Or I just pick out one of my all-time favorites from each land type and ignore color coordination or theme. But even with such an eclectic selection of lands, I still try not to have any one basic "stick out" too much.

Allow me to reiterate here that this really only applies to Basic Land selection, and shouldn't really be used as a criteria for choosing non-basics or anything else in your deck. If a card has multiple art versions due to reprinting, fine, but choosing which Elves to run in your Elf deck based on art alone is a foolish way to build a deck. But basic lands all function the same regardless of art, and there is a HUGE variety to choose from, so why not customize to show off your artistic tastes?

 2. The essentials of Sleeves

So, we've covered land selection. Now we move on to sleeves. This is a crucial aspect of the aesthetic appeal of your deck. Remember my art frame analogy from earlier? This is where it comes into play. When you sleeve a deck of Magic cards, each of those cards has an illustration. This illustration is a little work or art, and deserves to be framed accordingly. 

Selecting the right frame for your art is an important part of making the art "pop" or look good, and it is a gesture of respect to the artist. Haphazardly framing a piece of art in a poorly-chosen frame is disrespectful to the artist. Given my background, I cannot abide such disrespect. As I said, I have a high amount of respect for a good number of Magic artists (even if I don't actually like an artists work, I usually respect that artist). And while it's nearly impossible to build a deck that contains only cards with art I particularly like, I still want every single card to look as good as possible. 

This also has a practical application as well. I am the sort of player that usually has a large number of decks built at any one time, and the color of sleeves also helps to identify and locate a given deck when I want it. It sounds simple and obvious, but I can't tell you how many times I've seen a player sleeve his Red-Green deck in Blue sleeves and his mono-Blue deck in pink, and his White Weenie deck in sleeves with a Dragon on the back. WHAT. THE. FUCK?

My friend Chad has a mono-Red Dragon deck sleeved up in light-blue sleeves. Ugh! It's atrocious, and I can't begin tell you how awful it makes all that bad-ass dragon art look.

Again, mono-color decks tend to be the easiest. For that mono-Green Elf deck, we're obviously going to want some green sleeves. Mono-Black Vampires go in black sleeves, and Stupid Red Burn goes in red sleeves. Duh. 

It can sometimes pay to know your complementary colors, though. For example if you have two mono-Green decks built, and want to be able to tell them apart at a glance, you might not want to use green for both decks. Using a color's complimentary color works well most of the time. Green's complimentary colors are red and purple. I wouldn't use red personally because red/green is too "christmas-y" to me. Plus I just think the green/purple duality is a nice contrast and looks more pleasing to the eye than the harsher contrast of red/green.

Just Google "complementary colors" and you'll get plenty of color-charts and info to help you pick the right complementary color or your deck.

Sometimes a specific card will pull you in a less obvious direction. A card with highly-distinctive art that really stands out might warrant special consideration. A good example of this is Liliana Vess. She looks just fine in a black sleeve, but a purple sleeve really makes her art pop. If I am running a mono-black deck with 3 or 4 copies of her card in the deck, I might consider using purple for the deck, especially if there are any other cards in the deck that also pull me in that direction, like perhaps Seal of Doom or Ravenous Rats.

So if my deck contains even a few of these cards, I might consider a matching sleeve color. A good trick is to take your assembled deck, before sleeving it up, and sift through the cards fairly quickly. Don't focus on the details just kinda let the illustrations shift past your eyes in a blur, and see if any particular colors jump out at you. In a mono-black deck you'll see a lot of blacks, browns and grays mostly, but if something like purple or yellow stands out on multiple cards, then that color might just be what the deck really wants. 

This won't always be the case, as I think yellow would be horrendous on any Black deck, no matter how many cards might have yellow in the art. But you get the point, just the same. Illustrations with a color palette that doesn't follow the norm for the color of card it's on tend to stand out more prominently. You just have to decide if that color touch is worth highlighting or accentuating.

For two color decks, the obvious choice is to try whatever color your two colors combine to make. For instance, Red and Blue combine to make purple, so my first choice here is to go with purple sleeves. Green and Red make brown, though and brown is rather ugly, but more relevantly it is hard to find brown sleeves. I know Dragon Shield makes them but I rarely see them in stores, and I don't know of any other manufacturer that produces brown. Regardless, I think brown would be ugly on any deck, save one that runs a high number of old-frame artifacts. Brown might work there, but that's about it. 

So another trick is to look at color balance. If your Red/Green deck is mostly Green, go with green sleeves and if it's mostly Red, use the red sleeves. 

For Black-White decks, Black or White sleeves could work depending on the balance of the two colors, but if it's fairly even, I'd go with Silver or Grey. Dragon Shield makes a fantastic silver sleeve that looks great on an Orzhov deck.

A weird combination is Red/White. For this pair, I'd use Gold or Orange. Despite the fact that I hate Orange above almost any other color, the Red/White combination looks pretty darn good in an orange sleeve. I used orange sleeves on a R/W doublestrike deck with these cards in it:

Despite my reservations, the orange sleeves looked fantastic. Lightning Helix in particular really wants either orange or gold to look sharp as possible.

Once you get into three or more colors, it's harder to pick just the right color. Going back to my Esper example from earier, if I'm running a true Esper deck with lots of artifacts, I might use a silver sleeve, but if it's just a non-Esper WUB deck, I might use a dark blue. 

Usually, for a three color deck, it's just looking at the assembled deck and aligning with whatever the most distinctive color is. My recent Bant deck had a very high number of gold-framed multicolor cards, and most of the art was fairly brightly colored with lots of white, yellow, gold. So for this deck a gold sleeve is ideal, but yellow was a fine choice as well. 

One thing you should keep in mind is that black goes with everything and everything goes with black. It's hard to find a card in magic that looks bad in a black sleeve. Some cards will look better in something else, but short of white-bordered cards none will ever look bad in black. So if you have a deck that you just can't seem to find an ideal match for, black is your best stand-by option. 

For EDH, you can also use your General as a good starting point. Rafiq or Numot might warant gold sleeves, but the art of Numot also pulls me strongly towards red. Savra wants black or green, most likely, but a dark shade of green would be perfect. Zur wants blue, most likely - the darker the better, but Sharuum probably wants silver to compliment the many artifacts you'll likely run.

It's a lot of work, but I will re-sleeve a deck if I determine that the chosen sleeves weren't actually the correct choice. I recently sleeved my vampire deck in silver, just because I wanted to be a little more creative than going with black. But it didn't work out like I hoped, and I ended up re-doing the deck in black. Sometimes the most obvious choice really is the best choice.

Much like with lands, above 3 colors, it's nearly impossible to make an ideal match. For my 5-color Horde of Notions EDH deck, I initially went with yellow, but that ended up looking horrible, so I switched to green. It's hard to say why green was the right color, but it worked pretty well. Black was certainly a viable option, but I didn't have enough available and I really didn't want black anyway. Gold might have been a better choice, but I was leery of it after the yellow disaster. So I went with green and was satisfied, even if it wasn't perfect. 

My big highlander deck (250-card, 5-color), I just re-sleeved in brand-new purple Dragon Shield sleeves a few days ago, and it looks sharp. I'm happy with the choice even though some cards in the deck don't particularly want a purple sleeve. You may have picked up on this but I fucking love purple, and it helps that the purple Dragon Shield sleeves are exceptionally good sleeves anyways.

Again, it's really up to you to decide what looks good - taste is subjective. But there are cases where something just plain looks disgusting, regardless of subjectivity.

3. Budgetary restrictions

The astute reader might realize by now that following all my advise here will require a significant investment in sleeves.  Also, you might be the type of person that only has one or two decks built at any given time. You might change them out often, but you rarely need more than 120 sleeves on hand for your decks. 

If this is the case it might not be fiscally viable to have 5000 sleeves of every color of the rainbow on hand. I can understand this. I build decks like a mo-fo, so I can justify having a vast array of sleeves, because I've often had as many as 20 decks built at one time.

So if you aren't wanting to go broke buying sleeves by the truck-load, I recommend investing in two or three colors. One color you'll want for sure is black. Like I said, black goes with everything, and while it's not always the best choice, it will never be a bad choice. White is pretty versatile, and silver and gold also work on a wide variety of decks. Finally, most players tend to play one or two colors more often than the others, and if you know what your main color is, you can't go wrong getting some sleeves in that color. If 75% of your decks contain green, buy some green sleeves. 

Thus I'd recommend going with Black, your favorite Magic color, and one of the following: White, Silver, Gold. Having 100-120 of each of these three colors will allow you to sleeve nearly any deck in something that at least doesn't look terrible, and you don't have to over-invest in too many sleeves.

4. Closing thoughts

Again, this isn't exactly important. One basic Plains is the same as another, and your deck won't play better in blue sleeves vs red ones. But it is important to me, because I think appearance is important. I wouldn't show up to a Magic tournament in dirty sweatpants and a stained t-shirt, with unwashed greasy hair. My opponents will have a hard time taking me seriously if my appearance looks lazy and gross. I feel the same way about my decks. If my deck looks like shit, my opponents will assume it is shit and that I'm not serious about the game. 

Therefore I choose my sleeves just as I would choose my clothing. I want to reflect a sharp, clean appearance, with a good eye for aesthetic. Not every one cares so much for their appearance, though, and Magic tournaments are notorious for their odorous, unwashed player, so not everyone is going to give a shit if they have some white-bordered lands mixed in with their full-art and regular-frame lands.

That's fine, if that's you, but I tend to respect people who take at least a little pride in their appearance, and this principle extends to your Magic cards as well. If you don't take good care of your cards, I won't want to trade with you because who wants a junked-up Day of Judgement that looks 10 years old? And I'll take your decks a little bit more seriously if I can tell you put some effort and thought into every facet of the deck, not just the key rares.

And furthermore, it shows that you have some respect for art and the great talents that create the wonderful art of Magic: the Gathering. These artists helped make Magic the greatest, longest-lasting CCG ever printed, and we all owe them our gratitude, so please show the proper respect by treating their art as something worthy of appreciation. Frame their art and showcase it in your decks - that is, after all, what it's there for.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Future of EDH

So, by now I'm sure you've all heard the big news. I won't regurgitate here what you can read for yourself, but I thought I would share my two cents. Frankly, I am quite thrilled by the announcement WotC made Thursday. I am super excited to learn more about their MtG: Commander decks and especially the new "wedge" generals. I'm less excited about the name-change to "Commander" but we can all still call it EDH if we like, so it's not a big deal. Further, I can understand why WotC had to do it that way. Putting "Highlander" on their products might have gotten them in trouble with Adrian Paul and Christopher Lambert.

The best news, though, is Wizard's clear statement that they will be leaving the format in the hands of those who know it best: the fans. I'm very surprised that they took this stance, and very pleased. They clearly want to provide support without meddlesome interference, and that's awesome. I've been less than thrilled by a vast number of decisions to come out of WotC the last few years, but this time I think they really hit a home run.

I just don't know if I'll ever stop referring to EDH as EDH. It's way less generic and lame sounding, and it's just an old habit now anyway.

Okay, so my soapbox is now put way. Let's talk EDH. Specifically, decklists. More specifically, Sek'Kuar Deathkeeper. I recently built this deck as an attempt to rejuvenate my interest in the format, after realizing that all of my EDH decks were too similar and were getting kinda boring. I wanted to cut as many of the "pet cards" that I was seeing crop up in all of my decks over and over, and try out some new stuff.

There are some staples, of course, but I definitely went outside my comfort zone on this one. I really like the deck so far, but it's a work in progress. I expect it to evolve a bit, at least until the new Commander product is released, as by then I'll want to experiment with the new hotness. But enough chatter, here's the list.

General: Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper


Fleshbag Marauder
Bone Shredder
Dimir House Guard
Phyrexian Plaguelord
Grave Titan
Geth, Lord of the Vault

Dragonmaster Outcast
Flametongue Kavu
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Conquering Manticore
Homura, Human Ascendant
Crater Hellion

Fauna Shaman
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Eternal Witness
Yavimaya Elder
Indrik Stomphowler
Mitotic Slime
Ant Queen
Acidic Slime
Rampaging Baloths
Verdeloth the Ancient
Avenger of Zendikar

Savra, Queen of the Golgari
Creekwood Liege
Nath of the Gilt-Leaf
Dragon Broodmother

Wurmcoil Engine


Diabolic Intent
Dread Return
Barter in Blood
Grave Pact
Decree of Pain
Hellion Eruption
Vicious Shadows
Kodama's Reach
Beastmaster Ascension
Skyshroud Claim
Momentous Fall
Garruk Wildspeaker
Doubling Season

Hull Breach
Fires of Yavimaya
Sarkhan Vol
Torrent of Souls
Sarkhan the Mad
Bituminous Blast

Sol Ring
Obelisk of Jund
Coalition Relic
Lightning Greaves
Eldrazi Monument

Swamp x2
Mountain x2
Forest x2
Bojuka Bog
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Khalni Garden
Gaea's Cradle
Treetop Village
Llanowar Reborn
Temple of the False God
Yavimaya Hollow
Evolving Wilds
City of Brass
Reflecting Pool
Darigaaz's Caldera
Savage Lands
Bloodstained Mire
Verdant Catacombs
Rakdos Carnarium
Gruul Turf
Golgari Rot Farm
Blood Crypt
Stomping Ground
Overgrown Tomb
Sulfurous Springs
Karplusan Forest
Llanowar Wastes
Graven Cairns
 Fire-Lit Thicket
Twilight Mire
Dragonskull Summit
Rootbound Crag
Raging Ravine

That's the list as it stands now. It's a tad short on mana. I'd like to increase the land count by two or add in the three Signets.

It has a strong token theme, with sac effects as the main sub-theme. Those two work well together, as I often have tokens to sac to Barter in Blood, while my opponent has to sac actual creatures. Grave Pact is the MVP of the deck, but I think Vicious Shadows will steal a lot of games.

Anyway, I'm still tinkering with it, so I'll update if I make any major changes.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Esper Aggro

Well folks, I promised you a non-Combo Sharuum beatdown deck. It's up to you to decide weather or not I delivered, but for what it's worth, here is the list.

General: Sharuum the Hegemon (WUB)


Leonin Abunas
Indomitable Archangel
Sun Titan

Vedalken Engineer
Etherium Sculptor
Master of Etherium
Trinket Mage

Grand Architect
Thada Adel, Acquisitor
Arcum Dagsson
Master Transmuter
Vedalken Archmage
Ethersworn Adjudicator
Sharding Sphinx
Inkwell Leviathan

Dimir House Guard
Geth, Lord of the Vault

Shadowmage Infiltrator
Sphinx Summoner
Glassdust Hulk
Angel of Despair
Filigree Angel
Sphinx of the Steel Wind

Myr Retriever
Etched Champion
Solemn Simulacrum
Kuldotha Forgemaster * (was Wurmcoil Engine, but I needed the Wurm for another deck)
Steel Hellkite
Darksteel Colossus

Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Dispeller's Capsule
Open the Vaults

Courier's Capsule
Thirst for Knowledge
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Tezzeret the Seeker

Executioner's Capsule
Beacon of Unrest

Thopter Foundry

All is Dust

Sol Ring
Voltaic Key
Pithing Needle
Azorius Signet
Dimir Signet
Orzhov Signet
Cranial Plating
Lightning Greaves
Grim Monolith
Sculpting Steel
Mimic Vat
Sword of Light and Shadow
Sword of Fire and Ice
Lux Cannon
Chimeric Mass

Plains x2
Island x 2
Swamp x2
Ancient Den

Seat of Synod
Vault of Whispers
New Benalia
Tolaria West
Bojuka Bog
Mystifying Maze
Kor Haven
High Market
Academy Ruins
Arcane Sanctum
Dromar's Caverns
Azorius Chancery
Dimir Aqueduct
Orzhov Basilica
Hallowed Fountain
Watery Grave
Godless Shrine
Adarkar Wastes
Underground River
Caves of Koilos
Flooded Strand
Marsh Flats
Sunken Ruins
Glacial Fortress
Drowned Catacomb
Celestial Colonnade
Creeping Tar Pit

I don't have a lot of time to discuss right now, and really there isn't too much to explain. It's a straightforward WUB/Esper deck with good solid threats, some utility and acceleration and relevant tutors/support.

The mana base isn't interesting, except that it only plays 35 lands. I'd like to get the number up, but I'm having a hell of a time cutting stuff as it is. Here's a sample of what is missing from the deck that I'd like to fit in somehow:

Ethersworn Cannonist
Sanctum Gargoyle
Tempered Steel
Wrath of God
Faerie Mechanist
March of the Machines
Argivian Restoration
Junk Diver
Scroll Rack

Crystal Ball
Cloud Key
Prototype Portal
Citanul Flute

And of course, Wurmcoil Engine needs to go back in, if I can acquire another copy. Tempered Steel is also pretty crucial, but I needed those for a Myr Tribal deck. I should have an extra copy for the Sharuum deck in a couple of weeks though.

Anyway, playing the deck is pretty simple. There are no intricate combos (as far as I know, at least) to assemble, just dump your hand and swing, basically. It's light on removal and utility, so use that stuff sparingly. Try to gain an advantage first, then use the removal to hold on to it. Draw cards as often as possible too.

The one issue I've had is that almost half the creatures are non-Artifact creatures. I need to replace some of those with Artifact guys, but the ones I am running are so damn useful and relevant, it's hard to know what I can live without. Indomitable Archangel is a good candidate for replacement, though. I don't like not being able to equip my Artifact guys. Arcum is good, but since I'm not setting up dumb combos with him, he might not be good enough either. Shadowmage infiltrator is SO damn good, but he's one of the few guys that isn't directly on theme.

Oh, and in case you all haven't learned this lesson yet: Mimic Vat is a fuckin' Rock Star! I'm rapidly starting to consider it the single best overall EDH Rare in Scars. I knew it was going to be good, but it is rapidly starting to exceed my wildest dreams.

Anyway, with all the stuff I had to cut when building this, I'm absolutely sure it'll change somewhat, so I'll update you on any significant changes. In the mean time, I've got a Jund deck up and running, but I have a few kinks to work out with it first. Decklist soon.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Molten Psyche

The last decklist I posted was a deck built around the new Scars of Mirrodin card, Genesis Wave. Today we’re going to take a look at another Scars of Mirrodin rare that is also a very Johnny-friendly, build-around-me card: Molten Psyche.

Much like Genesis Wave, Molten Psyche is a card that has an effect we’ve seen variations on before, but still does its thing in a rather unique way. Underworld Dreams, Cerebral Vortex and Spiteful Visions all fill the same sort of niche as Molten Psyche, but the Psyche stands out at both more difficult to utilize, and more powerful than other options if so utilized. Underworld Dreams and Wheel of Fortune have long been the best of friends, but Molten Psyche is basically Wheel + Dreams all rolled into one card, with a half-price discount to boot. The catch is that it needs Metalcraft (having three artifacts on the board) to work at full power.

The appeal of building a deck around Molten Psyche is that it imposes certain restrictions or requirements that must be met in the deckbuilding process to ensure you get any real value out of playing the card. In short, it’s a “build-around-me” card. This is a card that requires a bit of creativity and problem solving to use effectively, which makes it an appealing choice to me, because I love solving puzzles and doing things a bit outside the box. The appeal of playing Molten Psyche comes from the fact that it can potentially kill any number of players at once, making it a great Multiplayer card, which is the #1 format I’ve been playing recently.

And with that, let’s get started building. The first step in building around this particular card is to look at the drawback, in this case Metalcraft. It’s not exactly a drawback per se, but we obviously want to have 3 artifacts on the board when we cast this card as consistently as possible. Occasionally we might cast this without having Metalcraft in a dire strait, but this should have very infrequently. We also don’t want this to be a dead card in our hand while we wait several turns to draw another artifact.

So this tells us we need plenty of artifacts in our deck to consistently and reliably get Metalcraft online. Now, I ask myself: Since we are already striving to achieve Metalcraft, will there be other Metalcraft cards we’d want to run? In short, the answer is: No. I already know my colors are Red and Blue (we’ll get there, hang on) so I’ll just say that the only other Metalcraft card that might be worth considering is Argent Sphinx, but it doesn’t really tie into our strategy in any meaningful way. Having ruled out pushing a Metalcraft strategy, lets move on to selecting those artifacts that we need to satisfy our Metalcraft requirements.

To get help with this step, we’ll skip ahead just a bit and glance at our VIP’s main purpose: To force opponents to draw extra cards, while punishing them for doing so at the same time. Since we’re obviously going that route, we should start by looking at Artifacts that force our opponents to draw extra cards. These artifacts will satisfy both goals at once, activating Metalcraft for us, whilst ensuring our opponents have full hands to punish.

Off the top of my head, Howling Mine, Temple Bell and Font of Mythos are prime examples. Looking at the Psyche again, we see that it’s a Sorcery, meaning we will be casting it on OUR turn. Howling Mine and Font of Mythos cause our opponents to draw on THEIR turns, so these have some value, but Temple Bell is the ideal card here, because we can force everyone to draw on OUR turn, right before we cast the Psyche. Howling Mine still has value, though, I think. It’s cheap and fast, and will also help you draw into key card faster, while making it more difficult for opponents to dump their hands too quickly.

So lets throw in 4 of each, along with our Molten Psyches, of course:

4 Molten Psyche
4 Howling Mine
4 Temple Bell

Another artifact that seems ideal here is Ebony Owl Netsuke. It basically functions in a similar fashion to the Psyche as it punishes opponents for keeping a full grip. Conveniently, it’s also cheap to cast, making it a perfect fit. It’s synergetic and redundant to our core strategy, so 4x these go in.

4 Ebony Owl Netsuke

Speaking of redundancy, I want to combine Molten Psyche with another card that is very similar: Cerebral Vortex. Cerebral Vortex also forces a player (can be you in a pinch) to draw extra cards and then punished them for every card they’ve drawn that turn. It’s a fun card I’ve always wanted to use, and it seems perfect here, so let’s throw them in. Another U/R card that likes to punish card drawers is Niv-Mizzet himself. As a creature, in a multiplayer-oriented deck, he’s pretty fragile, and most players are smart enough to kill the Firemind on sight, if possible. But it won’t always be possible, so occasionally the Firemind mind win a game for me. He’s worth having 1x at least.

1x Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
4 Cerebral Vortex

Now we need some defense. Blue/Red can defend itself against creatures in two ways: Burn and Bounce. Burn is usually better, but here I think we want bounce. Why? Well, it returns stuff to our opponents hands, and we want our opponents to have full hands, right? So after considering a wide range of available options, I settled on this modest package:

4x Aether Adept
3x Evacuation

We’re almost there, but we have a few more slots to fill. I’d like to squeeze in a few more artifacts, and I want to ensure we have plenty of mana, so I’m throwing in some Izzet Signets. Since we’re drawing so heavily on the Izzet well, and our deck is VERY Instant/Sorcery dependant, let’s add a dash of Izzet Chronarch - in case we have to blow a key spell early, we can get it back later. Windfall is great after Niv-Mizzet or before Molten Psyche.

2 Izzet Chronarch
3 Izzet Signet
3 Windfall

Finally, we add the lands. I want to run the U and R artifact lands from Mirrodin to really enable Metalcraft as easily as possible. We have very few creatures, making them a precious commodity. And they all happen to be Wizards. And all but 1 have EtBF abilities we might like to recur. So, Riptide Laboratory seems like a good fit – just as a one-of since this isn’t our main goal here. The rest of the lands will be whatever U/R duals we have access to, rounded out with good ol’ Basics.


4 Aether Adept
2 Izzet Chronarch
1 Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind

4 Cerebral Vortex
4 Molten Psyche
4 Ebony Owl Netsuke
4 Temple Bell
4 Howling Mine
3 Izzet Signet
3 Windfall
3 Evacuation

3 Shivan Reef
3 Steam Vents
3 Cascade Bluffs
4 Great Furnace
4 Seat of the Synod
1 Riptide Laboratory
3 Island
3 Mountain

There we have our deck. Ideally, you’ll spend the early game developing with your artifacts while using Aether Adepts and Evacuations to keep creature pressure off you and keep your opponents hands full. Then once you hit 6 mana or so, unleash a flurry of stuff culminating in a Molten Psyche that should kill just about everyone.
If anyone is left, use Izzet Chronarch to set up another whirlwind of card drawing and damage. Ebony Owl Netsuke and Niv-Mizzet can help out with damage-dealing. Niv-Mizzet is also a good feint, as you will often not need him, but your opponents will probably think he’s more important than he is and waste time and resources dealing with him, while you calmly set up the Molten Psyche kill instead. Occasionally, he will be more useful, though, so Riptide Laboratory can help protect him in that case.

One thing I’m iffy about is Windfall. While I do think the card is a good fit here, I wonder if something like Twincast/Reverberate might be better here. I’ll try out the Windfalls first, but if they aren’t as good as I hope, I’ll swap them out for Twincast and see which works better. If you try this out and find you need a bit more bounce for early game defense, I’d suggest Aether Spellbomb as it is an Artifact as well as a bounce spell.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ubiquity in EDH, or A Format Gone Stale

So I currently have no EDH decks built. As previously mentioned, I took apart all of my decks, so that I could get some reorganization done on my collection, and also so that I could rebuild my Big Highlander. I have several legends in my Highlander deck, so I can convert it to an EDH in about 10 minutes time, if I want to. For instance, I could choose Teneb the Harverster for a General, and remove all Blue and Red spells and lands, then remove anything banned in EDH such as Kokusho and Recurring Nightmare. I should be left with a little over 100 cards, so I can just cut cards until I have 100, shuffle up and I’m good to go.

The idea here was to have one big highlander deck that contained within it multiple possible EDH builds. That way, instead of having all my good cards tied up in 4 or 5 EDH decks, I’d have a maximum of 1 copy tied up in the highlander, but I’d still have access to a variety of builds. This idea was born out of a realization that among the 4 most recent EDH builds, there was a LOT of overlap. For example every deck that ran Islands had Mulldrifter and Rite of Replication. Every green deck had Indrik Stomphowler and Sakura-Tribe Elder. It was really a huge strain on my collection, as I was also trying to build a multitude of 60-card decks.

Thus I thought that if I could just build one BIG deck that contained within itself a number of possible EDH builds, that would alleviate this problem somewhat. It hasn’t worked out quite as well as I thought. For it to really succeed as I hoped, I would probably need to expand the big Highlander to 300 cards, at least. Which is doable, but I prefer not to. So, I consider the experiment a partial failure for now. The big deck can be converted to a passable Teneb or Thraximundar deck, or possible a Kaarthus deck even.

The problem, though, is that any of those decks would be considerably different than what I would build if I just set out to build an EDH in those colors. For instance, a Kaarthus EDH deck would probably run a good deal more Dragons and Dragon-related cards. Teneb might consider running Buried Alive. Furthermore it all but precludes something like a Zur build. I might run Zur himself in this big deck, as he can help me find such gems as Survival of the Fittest or Recurring Nightmare. But in EDH, Nightmare is banned all together and Survival wouldn’t be legal in a Zur-colored EDH. Then the reverse of this problem is also true – in a Zur deck I’d want to run things like Battle Mastery and Steel of the Godhead, but in a 250-card 5-color deck, neither of those auras is worth a slot.

Now having highlighted the issues around my idea and why it’s not working out as I’d hoped, let me switch gears and talk about something that I learned from this experiment. In looking at the decklists for several of my EDH decks, I realized that all of my EDH decks tend to be 3-color “good stuff” decks. They might be loosely based around a theme, but more often than not, my “theme” is simply to analyze what that particular color combinations strengths are and play to those strengths by running the most powerful effects I can find. I tend to keep my General in mind and play to his strengths. My Thraxi deck had a very high number of removal spells and Barter in Blood type effects. Mostly the deck just wanted to keep the ground clear for Thraxi to smash face. Rafiq ran quick evasive creatures and combat-damage abilities, as well as buffs to make Rafiq himself more lethal. But overall, I frequently ran the same bloc of utility spells. Mulldrifter, Forsee and Harmonize were my go-to spells for drawing cards. Indrik Stomphowler and Acidic Slime were just as ubiquitous in green decks, and Flame-Tongue Kavu, Anger and Spitebellows are pretty much the only 3 red creatures I would ALWAYS run no matter what.

There were so many cards like that – cards that I considered auto-includes regardless of strategy or theme – that I came to realize that there was a certain homogeneity to my EDH decks that contributed to them all feeling very similar to play. Perhaps that is indicative of my play stile and card preferences. In fact, I’m certain it is. But, it also reveals to me that as different as I thought my Rafiq and Thraximundar decks were, they really offered up similar play experiences. This was in large part due to the fact among all my decks, there were more duplicates of cards than there were unique cards. Only Thraxi could play Slave to Bolas, for example, but most mono-colored cards tended to be the same from deck to deck. The blue cards I was playing in Rafiq were nearly identical to the blue cards in my Vorosh deck, and the blue cards in my Thraxi deck.

It was really only in the multicolor cards that there was a great deal of variance from deck to deck. This, to me, defeats the purpose of having multiple decks built. If I play a few games with Rafiq and get tired of playing that, I could switch to… say, Vorosh maybe. Vorosh was certainly a good deal more controlling than Rafiq, with much more removal AND more graveyard recursion as well. However, both decks contained Green and Blue, and so many of the G and U cards in each deck were the same. It really felt pointless to have two decks with completely different themes and strategies but still containing nearly half the same cards.

It is my understanding that the format of EDH was invented and designed specifically to reward players with many varied game experiences. First off, you have a 100-card deck that also happens to be singleton. The intent behind these deck-building requirements is plainly obvious: to allow you to play one deck over and over again and have a new experience with each game. The problem is that I was playing FOUR decks and STILL managed to get bored. Obviously I’m doing something quite wrong. This is what led me to build the Horde of Notions / Tooth and Nail deck. It was a deck that felt quite unlike most of my other EDH decks. For one thing, it was 5-color which meant that more and more of my “pet cards” and “must runs” had to be cut – if I’d run them all, I wouldn’t have had room for all those wacky Tooth and Nail combos, which made the deck play much more like a themed deck with a specific strategy and purpose. Sure, I included what utility I could, but overall, it had a MUCH higher number of slots dedicated to doing one specific thing than any other EDH I’ve previously built.

But this approach had it’s own problems. My previous 4 decks all had variety within themselves, but ubiquity amongst them all led to a very repetitive feeling in playing them all. This one was far less homogenous than those decks, but at the same time was just as redundant because it was TOO focused on it’s core strategy. Basically, the deck wanted to do one thing, and one thing only: Cast Tooth and Nail for a devastatingly synergetic pair of creatures. It could go on the offensive early with Horde but that WASN’T what the deck wanted to do, and every time I won with Horde before getting to cast T&N, it felt more like a defeat than a victory.

Then there was the fact that, while I had a vast enough array of creature pairs that I could tailor my T&N targets to best fit whatever the board state was at the time of casting, 90% of the time the best possible pair was Emrakul + Madrush Cyclops, with Avenger of Zendikar + Flamekin Zealot being a very close second. There was almost never a situation where any other pair of dudes was better than either of those pairs. I occasionally went ahead and got something else just for the sake of variety, but ultimately I came to understand that the deck was less of a “cast T&N” deck than it was a “get Emrakul out” deck. I could have taken Emmy out, of course, but then Avenger of Zendikar would have just become the go-to guy and only slightly more often would some other creature pair be more appropriate. I still would have the kind of variety I’d hoped for. So even though I could customize my Tooth targets in a vast number of ways, I still wound up getting bored with it rather quickly, because no matter what the situation a select few pairings just kept cropping up as the best possible answer to the board.

So now we finally come to my point. EDH is about variety. You get to play a whole bunch of cards from all over the game, many of which you would be ruthlessly mocked for playing in any other format. You have a big deck full of random stuff, so you can play a whole bunch of games with this one deck, and if you’re doing it right, you’ll win all of those games in a different manner, or at least with a different huge creature. In a Rafiq deck, you’ll probably win with Rafiq most often and that’s fine, but if you ALWAYS win with Rafiq + Might of Oaks, then it just gets boring too quickly. Sometimes you want to win with Rafiq + Finest Hour, or Sheild of the Oversoul or Eldrazi Conscription, or maybe just Rafiq by himself gets the job done in three hits. Then occasionally you’ll win with Simic Sky Swallower + Sovereigns of Lost Alara getting Conscription on your big Shroud guy, and you didn’t even CAST Rafiq this game.

Again, the point is: Variety. Tutors a fine. Important even. But if you’re 100-card singleton deck plays out the exact same threats and answers nearly every game, then you’re missing the point. Less obvious, though, is that if you have 4 or 5 EDH decks built at the same time and your most Control-ish deck and your most Aggro deck have nearly 40 cards between them that are the same – you’re missing the point. That was my mistake. I just had TOO many cards that I felt I HAD to run in any deck of the appropriate colors.

Why is this a problem? Well, it’s not variety. The decks became too similar, despite there strategies and some unique cards among them, Uril, Rafiq, Thraxi and Vorosh all just really offered up the same play experiences as one another. Switching from one deck to another didn’t give me enough variety. Too many pet cards. Too many games won by casting Rite of Replication with Kicker on something awesome. Too many games won by accelerating out a fast Thraximundar and wining in three hits. I like winning. And I don’t mind winning the same way over and over again with a 60-card deck that is designed to do just that. But in EDH it seems like the point is to win in as many different ways as possible with the same deck.

Now, this is just my interpretation of the format – you’re certainly entitled to take EDH in a different light, if that’s your preference. However, I feel like my view is more in line with the original intent of the creators of the format. Perhaps I’m wrong, but why would they have designed the format the way they did, unless they were actively trying to encourage diversity and creativity?

That all said, what’s next? I got bored with EDH, but now I already miss playing it. How do I go about getting back into the spirit and fun of EDH, while avoiding the ubiquity and narrowness that made it boring in the first place?

The first step is that I have to avoid the trap of “must run” cards. Pet cards are fine, as they tend to be more fun to play regardless of power level. Unfortunately many of my pet cards are also in the must run category; things like Bribery and Treachery. I really don’t know how to go about this step. I’m terrified of building a green deck without Greater Good. How do I draw cards?! I don’t know if I can really successfully avoid doing this sort of thing.

However, another approach is to emphasize building to my General’s themes. My Vorosh deck only played Vorosh for the colors – I rarely cast him in-game, and usually when I did it was for an emergency blocker, or I just wanted to sac him to Greater Good for cards. I rarely cast him, and NEVER won with him. I could try to build a Vorosh deck that actually wants to cast him and tries to win with him.

My Rafiq deck did an excellent job of playing to the General’s strengths and still managed to be fun and offered a decent variety of experiences. In contrast, Generals like Uril, are harder to work with. My first Uril build was really just a Naya “good-stuff” deck, but it had some issues. Once I started tailoring the deck to suit Uril better, it played better and won more often, but it also started playing very repetitively, and consequently got boring quickly. It’s a fine line between “playing to your General’s strengths” and simply having a linear strategy. A linear strategy, if I understand it correctly, is where you deck seeks to play out each game similarly, and often sets up the same win condition each time.

In Rafiq’s case I could win with Rafiq buffed by something else, OR Rafiq could act as the buff instead, boosting another creature to lethality. This was a slightly linear strategy in that I primarily won by attacking and combat damage, but the specifics really could vary quite a bit.

Uril, on the other hand, almost always won through General Damage caused by an Aura-laden Uril. And while I had a variety of Auras to put on him, the end result was simply that he was made bigger and harder to block. It was a very linear strategy, and for it to work properly I had to have Uril, the Auras and ways to find them/cheat them out. The deck became all about doing that one thing – Enchanting Uril all to hell. I started cutting alternate win conditions like Big Fat Guys and adding things like Three Dreams and Enlightened Tutor.

Sadly, I think this is the only way to properly build a Uril deck. So I either suck it up and play a deck with a very linear strategy, or choose a new general. I could play Rith. “Tokens” can be a pretty wide-open strategy with plenty of room for variance and experimenting. There are some must-run cards, sure – Doubling Season, anyone? – but ultimately it’s a clear theme but with more room for variety than Uril allowed.

Another idea floating around in my brain has been to attempt that mythical Aggro Sharuum build I lamented over in my Scars set review. I really want to play a Sharuum deck that wins 99% of its games through combat damage. Things like Tempered Steel and Etched Champion make me think this can be accomplished. I want to try it.
Overall, I need to learn to dedicate more slots to what the deck is about, rather than cramming it full of ubiquitous good stuff. Some of that HAS to be in each deck, yeah. I don’t think any deck can reasonably expect to win without a solid utility package and a few good alternate win-conditions. But to make EDH fun, and more importantly to sustain the fun indefinitely, I need to avoid the trap of ubiquity. My decks need more individuality, more room to do their own thing and shine or fail based on their uniqueness, rather than to rely on a bunch of proven spells to prop up a handful of unique ones. Less unanimity and more variety between decks, coupled with less linear strategies, will result in a wider and more open-ended game experience, which in turn will keep the format fresh and interesting, rather than stale and boring.

I must begin to collect these thoughts and internalize them – then I start building!