Friday, December 14, 2012

This Post is Tier 3

In my roster of EDH decks, I try to keep a broad range of deck types and power levels. I don’t want to be the guy that only builds grindy, value-oriented control decks, or what have you. I also like to be able to, if I just completely steamrolled a table, to switch to another deck that is more in line, power level-wise, with what everyone else is doing.

When playing new people, I usually default to playing one of my better decks, because I don’t want to wind up getting shut out of the game early and having to sit and watch. I’d rather win the first game, and then scale down if needed. So, when I played at the new LGS that isn’t all that local the first time, I went for Thraximundar and Maelstrom Wanderer – two of my more competitive and powerful decks. Now, neither of them are cutthroat, or meant to be tournament-caliber competitive. They’re just naturally strong for a casual-oriented deck.

I didn’t win the game I played with Thraxi, but to be bluntly honest, I punted that game by making more than a couple of misplays. The deck was still fairly new and untested with a whole lot of Return to Ravnica cards I’d never used at all, so I was more focused on just doing cool shit with Mercurial Chemister and stuff like that, rather than winning. And, frankly, it was worth it – the game was fun and I made big, splashy plays that scared my opponents and made them scramble to react. Eventually, though I just got sloppy and overconfident and handed the game to someone else. I’m not complaining – if I’d truly been focused on winning I’m reasonably sure I would have, but the game might have been less fun overall, even for me.

The Maelstrom Wanderer game I won, and I’ve already talked about that here, but suffice it to say, MW is a Tier 1 general hands-down. It almost doesn’t matter what you put in the deck. If you have: a) ways to get to 7 mana, and b)spells that cost 7 or less that do things, you should be in great shape. My list is far from tuned “optimally” if such a concept even applies to EDH, but it is still one of the most dominant EDH decks I have. It makes huge, epic plays that are hard to stop, and killing Maelstrom Wanderer is like reloading my shotgun for me. I actually swing MW into Acidic Slimes and Vampire Nighthawks all the time, daring my opponent to block. You’d be surprised how often they choose to take 7 to the face! Anyway, the decks I chose that day seemed a bit above the curve for that group of players – not that they were totally outclassed, just lagging a little behind. I could most likely have played any of my weaker decks and still had a good chance of winning.

At the other end of the spectrum is Stonebrow. My Stonebrow deck is one of my go-to decks for those times when I feel slightly like a dick for the game I just played. When I realize I accidentally brought a gun to a knife fight, Stonebrow is one of my “knife” decks. It has gotten a bit sharper over time, but it’s still basically just a big, dumb aggro deck. I’ve tuned it over time to be able to handle a Wrath or two, but beyond that, it’s unlikely to recover from a sweeper-heavy game. If sweepers are getting cast every other turn, I have little chance of winning. But, at its core, all the deck really wants to do is turn guys sideways, so it’s easy to interact with and keep in check. So, the next time we went to that store to play, I played Stonebrow and Edric, two of my lower-powered. Those decks are still about as good as I can make them while still adhering to their theme and purpose, but pound for pound, they just aren’t capable of the same powerful things Thrax and MW are. In the end, to my own surprise, I managed to win both of those games, but unlike when I played MW I never felt like I was clearly the dominant player in either game. Stonebrow had an amazing run, but it was only because two other players made themselves bigger targets early on that I was able to survive long enough to get momentum. Stonebrow has a very weak early game, unless I get really lucky on the opening draws.

In between is stuff like Vish Kal. White tends to have cheap aggressive creatures, and black has removal out the wazoo, so mid-range aggro/control is just a natural, organic place for a White/Black deck to be. And power-wise that is also where the deck sits: right in the middle. Keep in mind this spectrum is based solely on my own current decks, not the format as a whole. Even my best decks would be at most middle-tier decks – true “Tier 1” decks would eviscerate mine easily.

Anyway, within my own roster and among my own local play group, I’d rank my decks as follows:

Tier 1: Maelstrom Wanderer, Thraximundar, Ghave

These are my most dominant decks. I tend to go for these when I need to break a losing streak or the group I’m playing with is a bit more powered up. Ghave is probably the single strongest token deck in the format (not saying MY list, just the Ghave archetype in general). Even though I went out of my way to avoid infinite combos, it is just a big synergistic value machine. BAD Ghave decks can usually wreck other decks, and mine isn’t bad. MW is just disgustingly overpowered as a general. I almost have to be trying to lose a game with this. Not ramping fast enough, or horrible cascades are basically the only weaknesses. My current Thraxi list is not the strongest Thraxi list I’ve played. It’s a bit too focused on playing cards that are new and cool, but not necessarily the most powerful. That said, so much of the decks strength resides in its general that it’s still a very strong performer. It’s good at controlling the board and keeping the red zone clear for Thraxi to get in there and do his thang.

My usual Rafiq lists would qualify as Tier 1, but I’m working on a whole new paradigm for Rafiq that will be noticeably less powerful than what I usually do.

Tier 2: Wrexial, Savra, Vish Kal

Among my most-played decks, these are quite competitive within my playgroup, but not overly dominating. Wrexial can have some very Tier 1-esque games but not consistently at all, and while it does lots of insanely powerful things, I usually have a hard time actually winning a game with it. Vish Kal, as already noted, is firmly Tier 2. It’s honestly not as strong as it looks on paper, and how I built it, it comes with some key weaknesses. It overly relies on tutors to smooth out its rather shaky draws. Some games I either draw all my card-drawing effects  or none of them. Some draws are all creatures, no removal, while other draws are all removal, no threats. Kal himself is a fantastic general in a vacuum, but I have games where he’s basically a blank. I’ve also had games where I have like a million life, and then just die to general damage. Overall, though, I’m happy with where the deck is at, and don’t have any real desire to increase its power level, but I would like to find a way to make it more smooth and consistent, without pushing the power envelope. Savra is making a strong case as of late for being promoted to Tier 1. I’m actually looking at ways to scale back a tiny bit to keep her Tier 2, but my natural inclination is to push power up not down, so we’ll see.

She’s also, currently, my favorite deck to play – the Golgari are more fun than you’d expect. Here’s a bit of irony: Prime Time being banned made the deck better. Okay, that statement clearly deserves qualification. The very first incarnation of the deck was actually really weak. It’s one strong game plan centered on Griselbrand. He was so damned powerful that he alone made the deck viable. His banning hamstrung the deck pretty badly and it had to undergo a pretty big paradigm shift to compensate. Afterwards, the deck was firmly a Tier 3 deck, occasionally powerful but horribly inconsistent and fragile. Then Prime Time got banned as well, and I really thought that would all but kill this deck. Fortunately, Kokusho reentered the format at the same time Primeval Titan exited, so I tried using Kokusho to patch the hole. This led to subtle but important changes in the deck, which when combined with the Golgari’s presence in RtR, the deck is now actually better than it ever was with either Griselbrand or Prime Time in it. Those two cards just overshadowed whatever else the deck might want to do, to the point that they suffocated the deck. I guess that’s why the both got banned. While I still mostly disagree with Prime Time’s ban (Griselbrand, as much as it saddened me ABSOLUTELY deserved his ban), I can see the argument for it a bit better now. Unfortunately, other decks like Maelstrom Wanderer are actually worse off without Prime Time.

Tier 3: Gisela, Edric, Stonebrow and Rith

This tier has a lot of room for argument, but I feel these 4 decks are my weakest at the moment. Gisela has an insanely strong game plan, but between clunky, awkward draws in many games, and an inherent weakness to Artifact hate, it’s almost unheard for me to win with this deck. It tends to come out of the gate faster and harder than any deck in my groups metagame, but the early aggression draws too much hate and I wind up trying to win long games with 2/2 doublestrikers. Rith is a neat deck, but Ghave just does tokens so much better, and honestly I just haven’t played Rith enough to know how to tune it correctly. I really want this deck to be more reliable, but right now Tokens are just all over my group’s meta, so I don’t play this or Ghave much. Edric is built firmly with the intent to look harmless and non-threatening. As such, it has very few reliable ways to win games, and is almost impossible to play proactively. It’s a sit back, wait and react kind of deck. Finally, Stonebrow seems to be performing much better than average as of late, but it still needs a lot of work to rise above its janky, uber-casual status, and I’m not all that interested in putting in that effort. It’s a deck that is actually more fun for being kinda bad. Focusing so single-mindedly on casting and swinging with dudes that Trample is fun, even when it loses.

Ideally, I’d like to have the majority of my decks in the Tier 2 category, with a couple of 1’s and 3’s for times when more power or less power are called for. I think I need to focus on scaling Rith up a notch and keeping Savra more in check. I love having powerful decks and I like occasionally winning a game that I was in control of right from the start, but that’s not the default experience I’m looking to have in this format. Usually, I don’t much care if I win or lose as long as I got to make some cool plays and be part of the cool stuff other players do. So, it’s valuable to me to have a broad selection of decks to choose from, as I begin to player more EDH outside my normally insular play group.

I also like to have a variety of decks ranging from aggro to mid-range to control, and a variety of different themes. Having multiple EDH decks lets me tailor each deck to provide a different play experience for me, and hopefully, for my opponents as well.

Shiny and New

Quick and rather pointless updates seem to be a reoccurring theme here lately. Sorry for that, but I actually have a rather sizeable stable of decks that I thoroughly enjoy playing. The two new brews I promise like a month ago are still cooking. Well, simmering more like. Progress slow, but it is progress nonetheless.

For example, last night I received a nifty little envelope in the mail from Star City Games. The contents included:

For my big Highlander – Foil Treasured Find, Foil Snow-Covered Plains, Foil Snow-Covered Mountain.
The Treasured Find is to replace Regrowth… yeah, Regrowth is strictly better, but Treasured Find has strictly better art, AND is available in foil.
The Snow lands are to complete the cycle, because I already had Swamp, Island and Forest, and it bugged the hell out of me not having the full cycle in foil.

For the Nin, the Pain Artist deck – Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius and Epic Experiment.
I’m going to try the new Niv as the general in place of Nin. Kinda makes me sad, but I think it’ll help steer the deck back onto the right course.
Epic was always necessary, and it only occurred to me after sleeving the deck up that I hadn’t actually pulled an EE yet. Oops.

Stonehorn Dignitary – This one is for the other brew I’m working on by haven’t talked about here yet. Soon…

The Rakdos die from the RtR prerelease packs – I’d already collected the other four RtR guild D20’s so it was of paramount importance that I complete this cycle as well.

Stairs to Infinity – This is the promo plane for Plancechase 2012. Hadn’t picked one up and it’s one of the more hilariously zany planes. We don’t play with them planes all that often, but when we do it’s usually fun. Getting the mix right is tricky – you tend to only want planes that help out, but that’s like having a “ghost” player playing Group Hug. But you don’t want the planes that slow the game down to a crawl, like Eon Hub, making the game drag on in unfun ways.

Foil Savra and Foil Stonebrow – These two generals have cemented their place in my permanent roster of decks. I might at various times take either of them apart, but I love the decks enough that I know I’ll always go back and rebuild them later. So, it makes sense to keep foil copies on hand. I’ll talk a bit more about why both decks have earned their spots later.

Utvara  Hellkite – Basically this is just an awesome Mythic dragon that I didn’t already have, and wanted a copy. I already know with about 90% certainty that when it comes time to build a Jund-colored deck, I’m using Karrthus as the general. It might not be full bore on the Dragon theme, but it will absolutely contain enough of them to make Utvara Hellkite awesome. It was cheap now, so I picked it up for later.

I wanted to get a foil Thraximundar, because I know that Thraxi will basically always be a general I’m happy to be playing. The deck around him might change a bit, but Thraxi is by far my favorite general in those colors. I liked Garza Zol Vampire tribal, and Sedris Zombie tribal, but I always come back to Thraximundar. He just rocks. The only reason I didn’t pick him up this time was cost. I needed most of the other stuff more and needed to keep the total price tag low. He’s an investment I’ll be more than happy to make when I can, but now wasn’t that time.

I also wanted a foil Gisela, but I’m less committed to keeping her. When Gatecrash comes out, I really think I’ll be playing Aurelia instead. Gisela will be in the deck, but I think Aurelia will be a better general. The thing is, Gisela is totally awesome and when she’s out the deck is supercharge – but she’s too damned expensive, and more importantly she’s too scary to the rest of the table. Playing the deck with her in charge, I either get hated out before I get to 7 mana, or she just gets killed so many times that eventually I just can’t be bothered to cast her any more.

The sad thing is, I think this deck peaked with Jor Kadeen as the general. 5 mana is quite a bit different from 7 mana, honestly, and while the Metalcraft theme was janky and occasionally led to my getting dicked over hard by Austere Command, that iteration just felt like the most aggressive and resilient version to date. Gisela is just one of those relationships where I know she’s wrong for me, but I’m too madly in love to care.

So between the fact that a foil Gisela is still pretty darn expensive, and the fact that I’m not at all sure she’s going to remain the general, I couldn’t justify picking up this foil now. We’ll see how it goes in the future.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Color Identity Crisis

So, I’m half-heartedly trying to come up with a deck for each two-color and three-color combination. It’s a popular challenge among EDH tryhards (using this term lovingly here, not as a putdown) to try and have one deck for every possible color or color combination. Taken to its logical extreme, that means having 5 mono-color decks, 10 two-color decks, 10 three-color decks, a five-color deck and a “mono-brown” or Colorless deck. That’s 27 total decks for those mathematically-challenged readers.

Frankly, I just have no interest in any mono-colored decks, so I can skip those. Similarly, I have zero interest in attempting the colorless deck, and I’ve got my Big Highlander to satisfy my 5C Good Stuff cravings. So mostly I’m just looking at two and three color decks, leaving me with an even 20 possible decks. I’ve got some colors covered: there is absolutely nothing in Magic that would compel me to play anything other than Wrexial for my U/B deck. But, while Savra is currently my favorite deck to play right now, I have been getting a strong urge to scrap it for a more aggressive Skullbriar deck.

Now, I am just Spike-ish enough that I don’t want to build a bad or janky theme deck just to have a deck in some color scheme. It is a prerequisite of fun, for me, that all my decks have the capacity to win. They don’t need to be unstoppable juggernauts, but a realistic shot at winning is absolutely required. If I don’t feel a deck can win a fair share of games I am not going to have a good time playing with it.

The reverse is also true, though – I am positive that I could very easily build a Grand Arbiter deck that would dominate the table in most matchups, but I probably wouldn’t have much fun playing that style of deck, regardless of power level. More to the point, my opponents would definitely not have any fun. So I’m not going to build a deck just to satisfy some OCD completionist urge. If I’m going to put time and effort into it, I need to actually want to use the deck.

So, this is where I’m at right now: I have this pile of cards that looks an awful lot like a Nin the Pain Artist deck. It’s 100 cards exactly, sleeved up in Purple sleeves, and has a Nin sitting at the top of the pile. There are cards like Plagiarize and Stuffy Doll in this stack – cards you’d definitely expect to see in a Nin build.

But it’s not a deck. Not by my standards anyway.

Just from goldfishing a few hands I can already tell this deck will never win a game, unless my opponents simply hand me an undeserved victory through mana-screw, bad threat assessment or just ‘cause they suck at Magic. I haven’t played a single actual game with it, because I don’t need to watch this pile of cards serve my ass up on a silver platter to my opponents for me to know that will be the outcome. I’ve been doing this long enough to know when I have a lemon of a deck.

So this fetid pile of cardboard disguised as a Nin the Pain Artist deck… what is to become of it? Honestly? I don’t know. I had high hopes the Izzet stuff from RtR would miraculously make the deck viable. And while the Izzet did provide a number of relevant and useful cards for the deck, it’s still a dud. And it’s not just about power level and competitiveness. The very identity of the deck feels wrong somehow. I am really trying to push the Instants and Sorceries matter theme that is usually pretty common in Red/Blue but very prevelant in the Izzet in particular. Stuff like Goblin Electromancer, Talrand the Sky Summoner, Snapcaster Mage, or Sphinx Bone Wand – all things that form the core of “play lots of instants and sorceries”, but are not instants and sorceries themselves compete for space with the things they encourage you to play! Then there’s the Nin-specific tech like Stuffy Doll, Constipated Sphinx or Cerebral Vortex that you just really need to play in order to make Nin herself relevant. Cramming all this into one deck means every category gets shafted and falls short.

The most obvious solution is to switch generals. The instant/sorcery theme strongly suggests Jhoira but Jhoira has baggage. Even if I build her to be fair, and avoid the obvious Jhoira stuff, I’m still probably going to get hated out of games right and left.

Tibor and Lumia just kinda suck, but they actually have the closest thing to synergy with the deck. I just don’t see them being relevant, though, and I hate playing generals “just for the colors” these days.

Then there are the two Niv-Mizzet versions. Firemind is a card I love dearly, but he has almost as dirty a reputation as Jhoira and while I wouldn’t play Curiosity and the like, I couldn’t stop myself from adding tons of “Draw 7” effects to get maximum synergy. That deck has been done to death, though, so I don’t want to go there. Meanwhile Dracogenius is rather more generic, in that he doesn’t actually suggest much of a theme to build around, so I could easily just focus on the Instant/Sorcery stuff, which would give me more room to make that central theme work. But… he’s just kinda  generic and I can’t get interested in him. I like generals that have some mechanic that says “Oh, hey, if you’re playing me, you know what else would be really good?” They don’t need to be full-on “Build around me” but at least have a hint of synergy at their core.

You know, like how Niv, the Firemind says “Oh, hey, play Wheel of Fortune and Consecrated Sphinx!” or Nin the Pain artist says “Play Repercussion with me!” Dracogenius doesn’t really suggest anything at all. And that just kinda bores me.

So what’s a girl to do?

Option #1 – Scrap the whole Instants and Sorceries Matter theme in favor of an Artifacts Matter theme. Goblin Welder, Master Transmuter, Bosh the Iron Golem, and the Mages Trinket and Treasure all suggest the possibility of a stronger, more cohesive theme. The downside is, it might be just as crappy as the existing pile, or it might be just good enough to make everyone in my group start playing Vandalblast. Worse still, to build this deck, I’d have to cannibalize a LOT of key Artifacts from other decks to make it work, and I’m not thrilled by that prospect.

Option #2 – Keep trying (and failing) to make the idea work until I get frustrated enough that I completely fall out of love with the idea and no longer even WANT to make the deck. I’ve already unwittingly started down this road. The failure of this deck to come together is one of the main reasons I’ve been so quiet on here lately. I have just been very discouraged by this failure. It seriously got to me badly enough that I was convinced for a couple of weeks that I had completely lost my deckbuilding mojo and somehow became sucky at Magic. Writing this article is actually self-proscribed therapy. I need to get my mojo back.

Option #3 – Wait for Dragon’s Maze and hope the new Guild Champion is a better, more playable Tibor and Lumia – an actual Legendary Creature that has a strong Instants and Sorceries matter ability that doesn’t suck. This is an option that doesn’t really require a commitment. I can just pursue one of the other options actively in the mean time, and later on this one could just sort of “happen”. Not worth counting on though.

Option #4 – Convince my playgroup to let me use Epic Expirement as my “General” for the deck. Yeah, okay, this one isn’t exactly feasible. But it is a funny, Izzet-minded idea, right? Maybe I could get them to go for Hypersonic Dragon instead. No that probably won’t go over any better. Then they’ll all start wanting to use non-Legendary generals. Where does it end? When someone has Command Tower as their general, things will have gone way too far.

Option #5 – Don’t build a R/U deck. Basically, if I can’t find any other solution, this becomes the default. As I said before I’m not about to build a shitty deck just to have one in the colors, and I am not going to force myself to build a deck that just isn’t fun to play regardless of power. Hopefully I can get this sorted out. Strictly from a personality standpoint, I’m definitely an Izzet-alligned person. I enjoy other color combinations in Magic more than R/U, but it would seem a real shame for me not to have an Izzet deck that was well-suited to my playstyle and personality.

Alrgiht enough ranting already. Basically, I have just hit a dead end with this project and so I’m turning to the interwebs for guidance and advice. I’m not asking you to build the deck for me – that would be very much against the flavor of the Izzet League after all! But perhaps I’m just too close to the problem, and I need someone with no investment to offer a dispassionate, reasonable argument for one solution or another. Cause I’m starting to feel a little like a mad scientist here – grand ideas and schemes whirling around in my mind, promising untold power, if only I could get the damned thing to work right!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Odds // Ends

So, a lot has happened since my Return to Ravnica review went up, yet, The Command Zone has remained eerily silent. What gives? Same ol’ batch of lame excuses as ever. I’m busy, mostly. But here we are, so let’s just jump in.

Commander’s Arsenal

I had rather a lot to say about the Commander’s Arsenal. I get that WotC wasn’t actively trying to piss people off, but that’s mostly what they accomplished. Anyway, I might have ranted and raved about it, but most of the rest of the internet was already doing that, and I didn’t have much of anything unique or different to say.

Then, I ended up getting a full Commander’s Arsenal at MSRP, and my angst dissolved rather quickly. You see, one of the LGS’s in my city had told me that they weren’t getting any Arsenals. Zero. But they wrote my name down anyway, I guess, because the night before the Arsenal was to go on sale, they called me and said they got in two of them, and one had my name on it if I was still interested. Of course I was! Once they told me they were charging the actual sticker price, no mark-up, I was in like Flint.

So yeah, that was a tale of woe and misery and angst, but I can skip all that stuff and tell you it had a happy ending after all!

Pricing and Distribution issues aside, what do I think about the actual product itself? Well, here’s a rundown:

1.       The Sleeves – As a value-added item, they’re fine, but I wouldn’t have paid a dime extra for them. These Ultra Pro sleeves with art or designs on the backs tend to be shitty as all hell. I am using them on my Wrexial deck now, just to see if they hold up any better. I’ll let you know after I’ve been playing with them a while.

2.       The + and – Chits – Stupid, worthless garbage. Bah. I so could have done without this chaff.

3.       The Life Counter – Pretty boss. It does tend to be a pain when you first start using it – the wheels do NOT spin smoothly at all. But I sat and spun mine for like 20 minutes and it started to loosen up nicely. That aside, it’s a nice throw-in. It’s cool that it goes from 0 to 99, and it is “bump proof” so no more trying to remember what your life total is after your opponent throws his deck across the table at you.

4.       The Oversized Foils – I have no use for these whatsoever. I really don’t. That said, I think the inclusion of Sliver Queen was pretty awesome, for what it’s worth. Also, I am pretty happy to have the oversized Mayael the Anima, as that is one of my favorite illustrations in the game. It’s quite lovely. Beyond that, this section of the Arsenal is useless to me, but I do think they did a great job on the spread of Legends they selected. There should be something here for everyone (everyone who cares about big, unplayable cards, at least).

5.       The 18 Foils – Ah, the REAL reason anyone gives two shits about Commander’s Arsenal. This portion was pretty excellent. I’m already using 10 of the 18 cards in decks, so that’s a pretty darn good ratio. Meanwhile the stuff I’m not using should get plenty of heat in the trade binder. I’ve probably got another $100 or so in potential trade fodder sitting on a single 3 x 3 binder page. (By the way, updating the trade page here on the blog real soon!)

One quibble I do have is that whatever foiling process they used this time is a bit dull and lackluster. I’m glad they didn’t use the From The Vaults process – those are way too glossy, but the Arsenal foils look considerably more flat compared to regular pack foils. It’s a minor, MINOR issue, though, considering that a dull Foil Scroll Rack is still sexier than a non-foil Scroll Rack.

Overall, I absolutely feel like I got my money’s worth and then some.

Deck Updates

Over the next few days I am updating the deck lists in my Active Decks Roster. I’ve already updated a couple, and the rest should follow shortly. Some got more love than others, of course, but everything got at least one new toy.

New LGS, New Friends

The big news, for me, is the opening of a brand new LGS. Unfortunately this new store is an hour away. Some folks might not blink at such a commute, but there are usually 4 or 5 stores within half an hour or less, so driving that far out of the way when it isn’t actually necessary is not a wise financial move, considering gas prices these days.

But, oh the things we do for love and Magic. Frankly, the Magic scene in my town is a bit played out, and I wanted something new and fresh. So, never mind the impracticality of it – when a couple of friends announced they were going, I was more than happy to join them on the voyage. I just pitched in for gas and went along for the ride.

We had a blast. 

We met a bunch of new people and played a buttload of Magic. It’s a shame the place is so far away, or it would easily become my main LGS hangout. As it stands, we intend to travel as a group at least once a month to hang out there for some all-day Magic marathons.

We played EDH mostly, of course, but we did bust out sixty-card decks of various formats for a big, stupid 7-player free for all game. Since then I’ve gotten the urge to build a couple multiplayer-oriented 60-card decks, just in case that happens again. I was the first player out, which I didn’t really mind because I knew my only 60 card deck (the mono-red Vampires deck) was not going to cut it with 6 opponents.

There was also a big, epic, six-player EDH game, wherein I played Maelstrom Wanderer to an extraordinary victory. On turn 5, a Jor Kadeen player took me down to 19 life, and probably could have killed me a turn or so later. But, in the spirit of fun, he allowed me to live – which I greatly appreciate. Watching everyone else play EDH for 3 hours while you sit on the sidelines is not fun – but in retrospect it might have been a bad move on his part.

Maelstrom Wanderer is just such an awesome general, but he’s also terribly overpowered. I was extremely vulnerable early on in the game, and could not have saved myself if everyone were truly gunning for me. But from the moment I hit 8 mana, to the end of the game 3 hours later, I never once felt like I was anything but safe, in complete control of the game.

Other games didn’t go so well for me. I played Thraximundar one game, and it seemed like I had that game in the bag too, until a timely Insurrection from the innocent-looking Zedruu deck took me out.

Later, I played a three-way game with my Vish Kal deck, where I pretty much had the table on lock-down right off the bat. SO much removal in that deck! By the end, I had my life total way up into the 90’s while both my opponents were at 6 life. I had an amazing board position, with nothing but a Niv Mizzet, Dracogenius equipped with like 3 or 4 pieces of equipment posing any real threat. Unfortunately I scrubbed out completely and failed to remember that A) 21 general damage is a loss, and B) I’d already taken 17 damage from the Dracogenius. I could have tutored up some removal for the dragon, but instead I got greedy and dropped Kokusho, then tried to Disciple of Bolas to put both opponents at 1 and draw me some cards. A Path to Exile stopped that play cold, and then I died to a really pissed-off and heavily armed Dracogenius.

One horrible misplay was not enough to ruin my fun. I did make them kill the same Wurmcoil Engine 3 times. They had to deal with the 3/3 tokens three times as well. I can’t begrudge anyone such a hard-fought victory!

The store was cool, the people were great, and the games were fun. I could not have asked for more!

On the Horizon

As I’ve previously mentioned, updates for all my current decks are underway, and an update of my Trade Binder page is coming shortly as well.

On the deckbuilding front, I’ve been kicking around two EDH ideas for a while now, and I am finally ready to start building on them, as soon as I get five spare minutes. They’re going to be Izzet and Bant colors, but that’s all I’ll say for now. I hope to have at least one of them sleeved up and ready this weekend.

I also really want to get some 60-card decks together, but my last two attempts have resulted in a big stack of cards that might have looked like a deck, but was in reality JUST a big stack of cards. I’m so stuck in the EDH deckbuilding mindset that it’s confusing to me to try and build regular decks now. I keep finding little sparks of inspiration, only to realize that I have no idea what else to put in the deck besides the initial few cards that inspired me.

One thing is for sure: If I’m playing multiplayer I want something with reach. Mono-Red Vampires just doesn’t cut it, even after I made a few changes specifically to try and give it reach. Back to the drawing board on that one.

One card from Return to Ravnica that really makes me salivate is Ethereal Armor. I’ve long been a huge fan of Enchantress decks, and my recent attempt at porting the archetype over to EDH was… less than successful by my standards. When it worked, it was fun and really damned powerful, but when it didn’t work it was frustrating and boring to play. Like, really frustrating.

So, porting the archetype BACK to sixty card sounds like a solid plan. The only problem is I’m not sure if I want to go W/U, W/G or G/W/U. Too many other cards pulling me in different directions, but one thing is for certain: there will be Rancors.

I also have a very strong urge to build a Golgari-colored deck, but beyond wanting to play those colors I don’t have a clear deckbuilding goal. That’s always a problem, as you usually wind up with a pile of good cards that don’t really do much. That’s fine for EDH sometimes, but it’s terrible in sixty-card Magic. Also, I don’t have any extra Pernicious Deeds lying around, which is pretty much the absolute best multiplayer card in G/B.

My third idea is to revisit the R/B Liliana’s Caress deck I built way back when. It’s a bit combo-ish but it is really fun to play.

In Closing...

Well that’s it for today. As you can see, I am still very much thinking about Magic, and playing it too, even if I haven’t been writing all that much. I hope to rectify this situation soon.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Return To Ravnica EDH Set Review Portal

As is the custom here at The Command Zone, I've set up this post as a convenient page of links to all seven parts of my Return to Ravnica EDH set review. The links below are broken up by color.

Please leave a comment if I missed a card, if you think I assessed a card wrongly, or if you just have some cool uses for a card in the set.


Return to Ravnica EDH Set Review, Part 7: R, G, A/L

Finally! It's been far, far too long this time around. But we are now at the final installment of my Return to Ravnica EDH Set Review. Red, Green, Artifacts and Lands are all that is left, so let's dive in.


I can't see this being worth the investment of card and mana in even a token-based Red deck. Krenko Mob Boss and Ib Halfheart might be the two exceptions, but even in those decks this will often be a mediocre-to-okay card.
Very hard to utilize in EDH. It's got potential, as recurring source of targeted damage, but the enchantment itself is a bit too expensive, the damage is in too-small increments, and the trigger is too narrow.

By the way, is there some sort of law now that Red has to get an enchantment like this in every set? "Whenever you do {insert block mechanic here}, deal X damage (usually 2) to target creature or player" is a phrase we see in pretty much every damn block now.

Oh well, at least the Flashback-triggered one was sorta playable.
Such an amazing, exceptionally great card. However, this is clearly a Constructed card, designed for a very specific metagame - one in which Snapcaster Mage gets cast multiple times in nearly every game. Narrow, meta-game-y sideboard cards like this are almost always worthless in EDH (unless they're graveyard hate).
 I think this will get poo-pooed by most players for being a "do-nothing" for six. However, in any R/X/Y "Giant Monster" build, this is actually highly appealing. I'm thinking Kaalia and Mayael for starters - both are all about cheating large, expensive battlecrusiers into play, and those decks contain them in high enough numbers to make this fairly reliable.

It's free monsters, AND you'll often kill whatever your opponent flips over. Best of all, in Multiplayer, you get to pick your opponent in the Guild Fight, so you can always harrass the Edric deck or the Mono-White Soldier deck - their guys will never be big enough to kill whatever you're flipping.

'Nuff said.

Now, see, THIS is the effect I wish was on the dumb Red enchantment. Casting instants or sorceries is a broad enough trigger that it would be EDH viable, and the 2 damage to each opponent is a much more multiplayer-oriented  ability.

Sticking this on a fragile 2/2 creature is the surest way to ensure this guy is virtually worthless in EDH. Creatures just die way easier and way more often in EDH.

That said, the ability is desirable enough I can see him getting some play, especially in Blue/Red decks loaded with spells and countermagic. Counterspelling a removal spell or sweeper to protect this guy actually triggers him. Delicious.


There are easier ways to get a good, blanket overrun effect. The value in this card, though, is that, if you're already casting an Overrun spell, she effectively doubles it. Case in point: You have her, some other dudes, and you cast Overrun. Everything gets +3/+3 including her. Declare attackers. She's a 4/4 so she gives all your other guys an addition +4/+4.

I guess that's okay, but it seems kinda win-more to me.

Oh, and I really think it's a crime that she isn't an Elf. Elves and Overrun effects have been like Peanut Butter and Jelly since the early days of Magic.
 The new Guild Gates are sure to be staples of the format, helping budget-minded players fix their mana bases. The key to making them relevant to players who are already packing ABUR duals and Shocklands out the wazoo is to make the Gate type relevant. So far this is the closest thing in print to making us care about the "Gate" type, and I'm not sure even this cuts the mustard. Hopefully by the time "Sinker" hits, there will be some more powerful incentives to care about "gates".
Maze of Ith, Gaea's Cradle, Cabal Coffers. Anything that taps for lots of mana or has a powerful, cheap utility effect is worth enchanting with this. That said, I can't say it's going to be reliable enough that you'll want to play this. Getting the right land in play, AND having this in hand at the same time is tricky to pull off. And if you're using tutors to do it, well, there are probably just far better things you could be doing with your tutors and mana.

Still, sticking this on Maze of Ith in an Edric deck seems like really good times.
I'm sure this has a legit use, but I can't see what it is. Slow-rolling that mana advantage is not usually the way to get ahead in EDH, especially in Green.
Big, fat "duh". Obviously this gets played in the format. Not ever deck with green will automatically want a CMC 11 fatty, and those that do will often just run Ulamog instead. But if you're sick of playing with Elrdazi funwreckers, give this shit a try. I've seen it in live play already and it is disturbing how good this guy actually is.
Ghave decks, obv. However, Ghave already has like a million good enchantments that work great with him and this one is on average 1 more mana than most of them. Plus it's a bit less explosive than, say, Doubling Season or even Cathar's Crusade. I spent over 30 minutes trying to squeeze this into my Ghave deck and it just wouldn't fit.

Savra seems like an okay fit, but the average creature is too small to really make this shine in that deck.

No, I really think Skullbriar decks are where this is most at home. Oh, and of course Animar decks.
I'm not sure if this has an EDH home, or where that would be, but I love this card. The concept and flavor are excellent, as is the art. I think it might have a place in Edric as a sort of budget Kira, Great Glass-spinner. Other than that I'm not so sure.
Green so rarely gets "destroy target creature" cards, and when it does, they usually say "with flying" right afterward. That's okay, though because most threats to a Green deck are flying creatures. There was a time, back in the day, when every Green deck ran Wing Shards as a way to deal with Akroma, Angel of Wrath, who was, for a very long time, THE best game-ending creature in the format.

They've been printing strictly-better versions of Wing Shards for a while now, and while I still prefer Plummet over this (the 2 life isn't really worth the additional mana) I'll still happily play this in any Green deck that simply NEEDS more removal.


I usually hate it when people declare a brand-new card a "staple". By the very definition, calling something a staple precludes it being brand new to the format.

That said, if there's one card in this set I'm willing to make an exception for, it's this. Sure, it's worthless in mono-colored and only worth running in some two-color decks. But at three or more colors, this is pure, undiluted auto-include.

This WILL be a true staple of the format. Get 'em while you can - remember what happened to Coalition Relic back in the day?
EDH players have been longing for a colorless Eternal Witness for a very long time. Well, here it is. Time will tell if we're willing to pay six mana for something Green can do for 2 or 3 mana, but a colorless Regrowth is bound to make a few players happy to pay double for it.
Hilarious, inventive design, but utterly terrible nonetheless.

This represents the whole cycle of Keyrunes for RtR. This is my favorite of them, because the "looting" ability is the only one among them likely to be relevant at all points at the game.

I dislike the green-producing ones because Green has access to near-inifinite amounts of better ramp. The Rakdos one is playable, as that's a color pair that usually needs more ramp badly, but the creature is likely to be irrelevant after turn 4 which would be the earliest it could attack! And the Azorius one is just uninspiring with a 2/2 flyer (but again playable if you just need more mana rocks).

So for now, Izzet Keyrune remains the most compelling of the bunch.


The Gate Cycle
All of the Gates are certainly playable. The Invasion tap lands were always fine, and these are basically the exact same thing, save that there are (after Gatecrash) enemy pair versions too, not just friendly pairs. Also the Gate subtype might end up proving mildly relevant.

All in all, these are fantastic budget options, and while I still prefer the original Ravnica bouncelands in most decks, I can definitely see playing these in most two-color builds.

Unlikely to find the ubiquity of, say, Reliquary Tower, this is nonetheless a near-universally playable land. For virtually any deck that has a reasonable chance at General Damage wins, this is a sure bet. For many other decks, this will just be good at letting that one critical attack through.

It is a bit expensive, though, which is why I'm not touting it as playable in "every single deck in existence". Some decks simply won't have the mana available at the right time, or the right creature to push through.

But it will definitely see some play in EDH, rest assured.

Okay, folks, that's a wrap. Sorry it took so damn long to finish, but hopefully life will settle down soon, and I'll be able to get back to brewing, playing and writing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Return to Ravnica EDH Set Review, Part 6: W, U, B

Sorry for the delay, folks. It's been an insanely busy couple of weeks, and I am pretty much tapped out, but here goes an attempt to keep some kind of juice flowing. Picking up where we left off, here's the next piece of the RtR set review.


This is one of those hype cards that I just don't buy into. I'm sure it's good. It just doesn't do much for me. I'm sure it'll be popular in the EDH format regardless.

If it cost six, I might give more of a damn. I dunno.

Can any of you tell me why I should be more interested in this card?
 To hell with this card. I hate it.

But, objectively, I must say it's very playable, and certainly stands a good chance of being played in any EDH group where Graveyard decks are a thing (and that's pretty much ALL of them).

White has two of the best removal spells ever printed: Swords and Path. Even if you have an Enchantment-themed deck and would rather play Auras over Instants, White has better options there, too.

Basically, what I'm getting at is: this sucks.
 Pillow fort!!!!

 This is crap. Playable in a Doran the Siege Tower deck? Maybe, but it's still pretty janky even there. Mad props if you at least try it out - just don't get your expectations up too high.
My early draft pretty much shat on this card. However, that was before I played against it in the Prerelease. It's still not going to be universally playable in EDH, nor will it even be exceptionally powerful in the decks where it does make sense... but it definitely does not completely suck ass.
Generally speaking, this little guy is going to be badly outclassed and outmatched in battle cruiser EDH. However, I have found Boros Swiftblade to be extremely playable in a deck that runs 10 to 12 pieces of very powerful Equipment cards. This guys is basically just Boros Swiftblade x2 in my Gisela deck.
 Marginally playable in a deck that has a Soldier tribal theme AND cares about making Soldier tokens. It's still to small and lacks evasion to be a reliable threat in most decks, so it's playability should be considered extremely narrow at best.

Meh. If if could continuously poop out Soliders it'd be awesome, but as a one-shot effect it sucks. And "tap to prevent 1 damage" is one of the most pathetically laughable mechanics ever, for EDH purposes. No one swings with 1/1's unless they have a million of them.
A lot of token-deck players will love this. Personally, I think Intangible Virtue is so drastically better that I'd feel bad playing this even along side that Enchantment.

Mostly, I just don't like token-buffers to die to the same Wrath that just killed my token army itself.

Virtue is half the mana cost, doesn't die to Wrath, and has the Vigilance thing going for it as well (which makes a surprisingly huge difference in multi-player!). Meh.


Maybe my inner-Johnny is just tired, but this seems like a great fit for Zedruu decks, and pretty much junk anywhere else.
This seemed like a sure thing for Wrexial... but ultimately it just wasn't good enough to warrant a slot. I see this as a tool for decks that are dedicated to winning via decking your opponents, but pretty mediocre for decks that just want to plunder overstuffed graveyards and win along some other axis.

I expect many folks to disagree with me here, but I just see it as being too circumstantial. Also you might accidentally set up someone else's game-breaking Living Death for them.
 LOL. Another card were I am WAY less impressed than the overall reaction would indicate. I just don't see this guy being all that special in EDH.
Bah. Obviously WotC is saying "Hey, look guys! Here's a Consecrated Sphinx that doesn't do shit in EDH!"

I get that not every card should or can pass the "EDH playable?" test, but this kinda thing just bugs me. Cause I can't fathom a 60 card deck wanting this. It practically screams "only playable in EDH" yet it very specifically is NOT playable in a singleton format.
 And, the second Blue rare that is literally useless in any kind of Singleton format. What the hell, WotC? I know these kinds of cards deserve to exist, and should exist, but two in one set, in the same color, at Rare? Ugh.
 Clearly, WotC has been infiltrated by the Bronies.
Face it. If you're playing this in EDH, it's not because it's a Shrieking Drake with an extra point of Power.  It's because you're going to somehow go infinite with it. Boring combo piece for those who are into that sort of thing, but useless for the rest of us.

Let's all just be thankful this didn't see print in Lorwyn, when Faeries were the terror of Standard.


How "strictly better" does a strictly better Grizzly Bears need to be before it sees EDH play? Well, it'd have to be better, still, than this chick.

That art is strictly better, though, if you know what I mean. Mrrowwwr!
While I haven't quite figured out a place for this - I know it goes somewhere, I just don't know where. It's sexy, powerful and very swingy in the right deck... if only I knew what the deck was.
In groups with a lot of mono-colored Generals, I can see this being absolutely playable, but in my experience, Go For the Throat or Murder will almost always be far more reliable than this.
Very awesome design, and potentially quite powerful. Most groups simply see too many board-sweepers in the average game for this to be a good fit for EDH, but there are dedicated Rat fans out there who won't care enough to let that stop them!

A welcome addition to Rat tribal, either way.
There it is! The spiritual successor to Debtors' Knell arrives at long last. Ironically, you no longer need to have access to White, except you still WANT access to White because of Acdemy Rector.

The problem is, Debtors' Knell is one of those cards that always gets answered. It's literally been years since I've successfully reanimated a single creature with Knell. I hope to have better luck with this...
Seems alright, but obviously it's gonna be terrible against tokens. Personally, I'm not a fan but I can see it making cameos in Thraxi or Savra decks.
This card is in esteemed company: Phyrexian Arena, Graveborn Muse, Bloodgift Demon and now this. All of them are highly playable, and while some players might shy away from this, fearing to offer an LD player a juicy 2-for-1 opportunity, I think most decks that are starved enough for card draw to play Arena will happily play this as well.

Factor in that this can never accidentally kill you like Arena can - if you don't NEED the card, don't use it! Also, it has more tech-y uses with stuff like Deserted Temple, that untap lands. Overall, I think this is extremely good, and very playable.
Fleshbag Marauder grew up a little bit. Fleshbag is one of the most underrated multiplayer creatures ever, virtually always offering a 3-for-1 trade or better, and if you have a spare Token to sac, it's more like a 3-for-0.

At the same time, the 4/2 stats and 4 mana price point remind me an awful lot of Flametongue Kavu, another underrated piece of utility.

The thing is, I'm not 100% sure most EDH decks really need two cards worth of Fleshbag Marauder. Certainly I do have a few decks that might play both - Savra, for sure. But the difference between 3 and 4 mana is surprisingly relevant, especially considering Barter in Blood is out there.

Playable? Absolutely. But not the auto-include you might assume, given how badass Fleshbag Marauder is.
 Friggin' awful. There is no way I would EVER want to pay twice as much for a Murder just to get a lousy discard rider.
I've yet to see this kind of Black Vise strategy successfully implemented in EDH. Definitely more of a 60-card format build-around card. But, the more cards of this type get printed over time, eventually a Discard Vise deck could emerge.