Monday, June 25, 2012

DotP Decks: Peacekeepers

Having hit 30 unlocks for the Chandra deck, I have moved on to my next deck. This time I have chosen Odric’s hilariously-titled “Peacekeepers” deck, which is basically a Soldier-themed White Weenie deck.  Here’s the starting list, with unlocks:

Main Deck

2  Attended Knight
2  Crusader of Odric
2  Accorder Paladin
1  Captain of the Watch
2  Doomed Traveler
1  Elgaud Inquisitor
2  Elite Vanguard
2  Fiend Hunter
1  Geist-Honored Monk
2  Master Decoy
2  Nightguard Patrol
2  Squadron Hawk

2  Ring of Thune
3  Captain's Call
1  Glorious Anthem
2  Oblivion Ring
3  Pacifism
2  Raise the Alarm
1  Safe Passage

25 Plains


Archon of Justice x2
Captain of the Watch
Captain’s Call
Crusader of Odric
Dawn Elemental
Elgaud Inquisitor
Elite Vanguard
Geist-Honored Monk
Glorious Anthem
Guardians' Pledge
Honor of the Pure
Intrepid Hero
Journey to Nowhere x2
Loyal Sentry
Mass Calcify
Master Decoy
Mausoleum Guard
Midnight Guard
Odric, Master Tactician
Pennon Blade x2
Spectral Rider
Spirit of the Hearth
Turn the Tables
Windborne Charge x2

Well, there you go. As an aggro White Weenie deck, it’s passable. The deck is frustratingly uneven though. Compared to the Red burn deck, I find myself getting mana flooded or mana screwed far more often, and I mulligan a TON more with this deck than I did with Chandra’s. I get so many terrible, terrible openers that I often start each mach my having to completely restart the duel over two or three times because I get hands that look like:

Ring of Thune

… way too damn often. My decklist is like 62% creatures, and I get hands like the above all the friggin’ time. That never happened with Chandra’s deck.

Anyway, randomization issues aside, I think it’s absurd that the deck has a default start of 25 lands. That’s stupid. The overall curve of the deck is pretty darn low, and I find I draw too many lands in about 66% of my games. Given the limits of the deckbuilding system, you can’t really significantly change the mana ratio. I’ve simply taken to running the deck at 61 cards, because you can add one non-land card without the system adding any more lands. It’s not a huge impact, but it helps slightly.

That said, when the deck wants to work as designed, it’s pretty damn powerful and fun. It’s always fun to just beat down with lots of cheap, efficient guys and a couple of anthem effects. It’s just that getting this deck to run smoothly on a consistent basis is impossible, at least in my experience.

Another failng of the deck is that it is much less fluid than Chandra’s deck. It is harder to adapt it to various match-ups and if you find it is weak against a particular deck and you are having trouble beating an opponent’s deck, it will probably be much harder to re-tune to account for those weaknesses. The best bet is to sideboard as best you can, but restart he duel until you get a really bomb-ass opening draw. That’s kinda lame, but it’s the only really reliable way I can beat the tougher matchups.

But with that all out of the way, mono-White Soldier tribal is an incredibly deep archetype with about an infinite number of potential inclusions. I could proably make 5 different decks that are all mono-White Soldier decks with virtually no overlap between them. But, because there is such a huge potential for making a vastly different deck than the one presented above, I want to stress that I’m going out of my way to make my take on the deck look and function very similarly to the deck in DotP 2013. I want my deck to be better than this list, but I want it to be recognizable as having come from the game’s deck.

So, on to the creative process.

My favorite card in the deck, and one of the most successful, is Crusader of Odric. This three-drop has proven to be explosive with the right draws, and merely “good” even with awkward draws. Supporting this card, via tokens and such should remain a thing in the deck, though we don’t want to over-emphasize this one card’s importance. She does tend to leave you open to blowouts by things like Pyroclasm. Even if she’s an 11/11, if all your other creatures are wiped out by the Pyroclasm, she’ll wind up just as dead.

On the flip side, Captain’s Call has proven disappointingly slow and awkward. It seems an ideal fit in the curve, coming down the turn after you make a Crusader of Odric, but in over 20 games, I’ve never managed to make that play work out as you’d hope. It’s almost always a choice between spending Turn 4 casting the Call to pump my Crusader (what I want to do) and something entirely different, like casting O-Ring on a significant threat (what I need to do). Almost every single time this choice comes up, casing the Call is the wrong choice.

I really think I’d just rather have Raise the Alarm almost every single time. That way, on Turn 4, I can drop Pacifism on something, swing with the Crusader, then Raise at Instant-speed as a sort of White variant of Giant Growth. Pumping my Crusader at Instant speed is one of the best combat tricks a deck like this could pull. I’ve also thwarted Red mages more than once, aiming a Lighning Bolt at my 3/3 Crusader… oops, make that a 5/5!

Ring of Thune, too, became very awkward and cumbersome. It was actually a key roleplayer in the game early on, allowing me to break stalled board states after a few turns of growing a creature. But as I unlocked cards and improved the deck, the Ring started to become increasingly cumbersome and eventually wound up a dead draw in the vast majority of games. I’d just flat out rather have an Anthem effect in these slots. Why the Ring is in this deck, and not the Exalted deck is confusing to me. It would make way more sense in a deck that actually wants to attack with just one big guy at a time.

It’s also incredibly annoying that the deck has only two Squadron Hawks. I can’t fathom what the point is of including any number of Squadron Hawks other than 0x or 4x. In the game, I am happy running the two I can, just because this deck is very prone to running out it’s hand and winding up in topdeck mode quickly. It needs all the card advantage it can get. That the Hawk isn’t a Soldier is somewhat saddening, it never really mattered all that much in the DotP games, so I’m content to run them here, just as long as they’re the only non-Soldier creatures we run. The card advantage is just too good to pass up.

One of the other problem cards in the deck is Accorder Paladin – a fine card in its own right, but I found that I could almost never safely attack with him, unless I was just going for an alpha strike. And then he’s like a mini-Overrun that you have to cast a turn early and might not even survive long enough to have an impact. It’s hard to cut a 3/1 for two with a potentially powerful ability like Battle Cry, but he’s just kinda “meh” in this deck. Again, I’d generally rather have a persistent Anthem effect, or an immediate Sorcery/Instant based effect. Or, best of all, a “Lord” whose pump effect is always active.

Attended Knight has been pretty fantastic for me in DotP, but in the Kitchen Table arena, I’d expect her to fall a bit short, especially being a Knight herself, not a Soldier. If I’m adding two more Squadron Hawks, I gotta cut the Knight as I don’t want to dilute the tribal theme any further. I’m sure we can do better here, though I do think the Knight is a pretty okay card.

A lot of the unlockable cards seem oddly out of place here, too. I’m not sure why, for example, Archangel is the final unlock. Seems a pretty poor reward for winning 30 games with this deck, no? Pennon Blade is just fucking terrible. Mass Calcify seems good for Multiplayer though. This is an aggro deck, so it’s almost guaranteed to have some late-game reach issues. Mass Calcify might help with getting an alpha strike through a clogged board state.

Elite Vanguard is obviously fantastic in 1v1 matches, but I’m not so sure he’d hold up in a Multiplayer environment. Then again, many multiplayer decks are a bit slower, so dropping him early on should almost always lead to at least 4 to 6 early damage, if not a bit more.

On the flip side, Captain of the Watch is just a hair to slow/expensive to be relevant in most duels. By the time you can cast her, you’ve probably already won, or you’re so far behind she’s just going to wind up falling short. Yet in the Multiplayer arena, she seems solid. Her vigilance-granting ability becomes vastly more valuable, not to mention the tendency of Multiplayer games being longer, therefore making her much more likely to be castable and relevant.

Geist-Honored Monk is kind of like a cross between Captain of the Watch and Crusader of Odric, and is about as solid a 5-drop as a deck like this could want. She compares favorably, I think, to cards like Cloudgoat Ranger and other “army in a can” cards. Don’t want to overdo her, as this is a deck that definitely thrives on a low, fast mana curve, but having a couple of high-end bomb is important too.

Here’s how it all shakes down, for me at least:

3x Elite Vanguard
2x Veteran Armorsmith
2x Veteran Swordsmith
1x Field Marshal
4x Squadron Hawk
4x Crusader of Odric
1x Intrepid Hero
1x Odric, Master Tactitian
1x Hero of Bladehold
2x Geist-Honored Monk
2x Captain of the Watch

4x Raise the Alarm
2x Honor the Pure
2x Journey to Nowhere
2x Oblivion Ring
1x Marshall’s Anthem
1x Martial Coup
1x Captain’s Call
1x Mass Calcify

1x  Emeria, the Sky Ruin
22x Plains

Much like Valakut in the previous mono-Red deck, Emeria is here to serve as a way to extend this deck’s reach a bit, and give it a fighting chance to come back in a long game after a Wrath or two. In general, I’d usually try to save my “army in a can” creatures until after the first board sweeper, but blow your Raise the Alarms early as you need to, in order to push through early damage. Especially if you have a Crusader online.

This is a deck that could obviously make good use of Skullclamp, as it’s just about as desperate for card draw as any deck you’ll see, but I tried to build in what card advantage I could without going to such an obvious and played-out card like Skullclamp. If you find the deck falling short in the late game reach/card advantage and you just can’t seem to win a long game, the clamp is the logical place to start.

Another good option is to try out Ghostway as a way to dodge sweepers (it also works wonders with stuff like Geist-Honored Monk and Captain of the Watch).

The traditional staple of Tribal decks everywhere – Coat of Arms – could certainly power the deck up a lot, if you aren’t too worried about inadvertently powering up opposing tribal decks.

That’s about all I have. The deck is, as I said, incredibly fun and powerful when it wants to be, but is frustratingly inconsistent. I can’t say whether my list fully fixes that issue or not, but it looks to me like it’d play a little smoother and more effectively. Chime in with further suggestions if you like – there is a massive amount of leeway for taking this deck in different directions. I just tried to keep it very similar in style and purpose to the DotP list.



Surprise, surprise, another Planar deck!

Agyrem – The best possible answer you could hope for to Wrath effects.
Fields of Summer – Yeah, you don’t really want opponents gaining life, but you don’t want them killing you either…
Gavony – One of the more “boring” planes, Gavony is actually really good at incentivizing creature combat.
Glen Elendra – You’ll frequently be able to throw more guys at an opponent than they can block. Even one token getting through can make a huge impact.
Kharasha Foothills – Attack with a Geist-Honored Monk while on this Plane. Go on, it’s fun!
Onakke Catacomb – Small effect, but powerful with all the tokens and little guys.
Murasa – With all your little guys, you should be way ahead in mana in no time. (Could also be Orochi Colony.)
Sokenzan – Was going to be Bloodhall Bastion, but Doublestrike is less valuabe with all the little guys in the deck.
Undercity Reaches – Attack, draw cards, play more attackers. Easy!
Velis Veil – Only if you aren’t worried about other Tribal decks getting out of hand.

I’d also consider the Phenomena:
Morphic Tide – You typically make a lot more permanents than everyone else, and have few non-permanents in the deck.
Spatial Merging – Being on Kharasha Foothills and Velis Veil, for example, seems incredibly broken.

Friday, June 22, 2012

DotP Decks: Born of Flame

In my review I mentioned that the DotP 2013 decklists were starting to look like halfway decent decks a player might actually build and play in cardboard Magic. So, what I want to do is test that statements validity, by exploring what a real life DotP deck might look like. My caveats are simple:

First, the deck must retain the same overall feel. For instance, a mono-red burn deck will stay focused on burn, while the mono-blue mill deck remains mono-blue and dedicated to mill, even if adding black for Glimpse the Unthinkable and Mind Funeral would be a boon to the deck.

Second, the deck should include at least one copy of the Planeswalker or Legend the deck is inspired by. In the case of Planeswalkers, it doesn’t matter which version of Jace, or whoever, just that it includes at least one copy of one of the options.

Third, while I won’t shy away from using powerful cards in general, I want to retain the “kitchen table” casualness of the decks. They aren’t going to be decks you’d want to take to FNMs or anything like that. I want them to be good enough to be fun, but also still very much in the spirit of “casual” Magic. So don’t expect to see lists with “4x Jace the Mind Sculptor” or anything like that.


First up, I’m going to look at Chandra’s deck, “Born of Flame”. It’s the one I currently have the most experience with, as I’ve logged over 30 games with it, and unlocked almost all of the cards (I didn’t win ALL the games I played, obviously, or I’d have all the unlocks). Here’s the decklist as it appears in the game, with the unlocks listed after:

Main deck:

1  Dragon Hatchling
2  Firewing Phoenix
1  Chandra's Phoenix
2  Fiery Hellhound
2  Fire Elemental
2  Furnace Whelp
1  Hostility
1  Magma Phoenix
1  Prodigal Pyromancer
2  Pyre Charger
1  Skarrgan Firebird
2  Torch Fiend

4  Searing Spear
2  Chandra's Fury
2  Flames of the Firebrand
3  Chandra's Outrage
2  Flame Slash
1  Flame Wave
1  Flamebreak
1  Rain of Embers
2  Ruby Medallion

24 Mountain


2x Cone of Flame
2x Fire Servant
2x Obsidian Fireheart
2x Red Sun's Zenith
2x Swiftfoot Boots
3x Flames of the Blood Hand
3x Searing Blaze
Beacon of Destruction
Chandra’s Fury
Chandra's Outrage
Chandra's Phoenix
Chandra's Spitfire
Disaster Radius
Dragon Hatchling
Firewing Phoenix
Inferno Titan
Magma Phoenix

A smattering of solid cards, this is not a bad place to start for a mono Red burn deck. The various Phoenixes give the deck some longevity often missing in Red decks, while there is a fair balance between targeted burn and mass burn. Red decks often run out of gas, especially in Multiplayer games, so keeping the Phoenix theme intact will be very important, but we’ll also try to do more to add some reach to the deck.

In the meantime, there are cards in the deck that are okay, but strictly better options exist (I’m looking at you, Searing Spear). Searing Spear is strictly worse than both Lightening Bolt and Incinerate, but is a perfectly playable card nonetheless. Just like how Shock is strictly worse than Lightning Bolt, yet still saw tons of competitive play whenever it was printed. That all said, while we would be happy playing Searing Spear if we had too, I’d still rather just have the better card. Building Stupid Red Burn without Lightning Bolt, even for casual play, just feels heretical to me, so the first thing to go in is 4x Lightning Bolt.

I’ve already dictated the need to add Planeswalkers where appropriate, so let’s address that. We have three options: Chandra Nalaar, Chandra Ablaze and Chandra, Firebrand. The original, Nalaar, is pretty darn weaksauce, so we’ll skip it for sure. Ablaza saw virtually no play and was never worth much money, so it’s easy to dismiss that incarnation as also weak. However, if we actually stop to think about WHY no one played Chandra Ablaze, it’s really just because she’s rather narrow and specific in function. The planeswalkers that get the most love are the ones that are generically useful, open-ended toolboxes like Garruk Wildspeaker, OR the ones that just happen to fit into an archetype that is already powerful. Gideon Jura was HUGE at one point, because he had a couple of good decks to go into, but he’s so “niche” that when his particular deck fell out of favor, he didn’t have a new home to go to. His second coming in M12 was virtually a non-event despite being widely played the first time around.

So, in Chandra Ablaze’s case, she simply failed to make waves because she pretty much demands to be played in mono Red decks, and the only mono Red deck that was popular at the time basically revolved around casting first turn Goblin Guides and nothing in the deck ever cost more than three mana. She was just a bit too slow and expensive for competitive play, plus the sort of deck she needs to go into to function at full power simply didn’t exist. Where does that leave her for this deck, though? Honestly, I think she could be playable here.

The one really cool thing about Chandra Ablaze is that with all the Phoenixes in the deck, her +1 ability gets a lot more compelling. Especially with Chandra’s Phoenix in particular. Her -2 ability futher helps patch up Red’s biggest weakness – running out of gas. Much of the time, you’ll be activating this ability to get a mini-Wheel of Fortune when your hand is empty, or simply has a couple of Phoenixes you don’t mind pitching anyway.

Chandra Firebrand is certainly good enough, too, but this is a rare chance to get to use Ablaze, so I want to go that route for now.

I won’t dwell much on the rest of the changes, as I covered the main points above. The rest is pretty much obvious stuff – increasing the best cards to 3x or 4x, cutting the chaff, and bolstering what the deck already does best with more of the same.

2x Dragon Hatchling
4x Chandra’s Phoenix
2x Firewing Phoenix
2x Magma Phoenix
1x Hostility
1x Inferno Titan
2x Chandra’s Spitfire
2x Cinder Pyromancer
1x Fire Servant

4x Lightning Bolt
3x Seering Blaze
2x Red Sun’s Zenith
2x Flames of the Firebrand
2x Chandra’s Outrage
2x Flamebreak
1x Chandra’s Fury
2x Ruby Medallion
1x Chandra Ablaze

2x Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
22x Mountain

My main goal was to avoid burn spells that only hit creatures, or only hit players. Versatility is important. For multiplayer use, a bit more mass burn might be needed, but a couple of Flamebreaks and Magma Phoenixes should do the trick okay. I’d consider Shard Phoenix to be a possible contender here too.

Another cool feature is that we have stuff like Seering Blaze and Chandra’s Outrage that don’t force us to choose between burning opponents or their creatures – we get to do both! Adding more of these could be useful – Arc Trail, for example is another card that can hit a player and kill a creature all at once.

Valakut was added as another way to improve late-game effectiveness, buy turning useless land draws into more Lightning Bolts. Burn spells with Buyback, Flashback or Retrace are also worth looking at if you find you have trouble closing out games that run long.


A Planechase planar deck to go along with the above list:

Aretopolis – Life gain and card draw both help with the whole “late game” issue.
Glimmervoid Basin – Just imagine casting a single Lightning Bolt and hitting every single creature and player for 3…Okay, that's basically what Flamebreak does, but for only one mana!
Izzet Steam Maze – Same idea as above, but more surgical.
Kilnspire District – Red mana. Duh.
Naar Isle – MOAR FIRE!
Panopticon – Draw cards for fun and profit!

Stronghold Furnace – Could backfire, yes, but Planechase is all about living on the edge.
Trail of the Mage-Rings – Yet another way to get more burn for our buck.
Planewide Disaster – Many of your creatures can come back later. Hopefully, theirs’ can’t.
Mutual Epiphany – No Red mage would every turn down the chance to draw 4 for free.


Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Review

This is a first for me in that I’m reviewing what is basically a video game about Magic. Duels of the Planeswalkers is an electronic game version of Magic playable on PS3, Xbox or PC. It is a simplified, stripped-down version of the cardboard game we all know and love, and long-time veterans of the game may very well find themselves turned off by the simplifications and lack of depth in the gameplay mechanics.

On the other hand, it’s nice to be able to play uber-casual games of Magic at the drop of a hat without having to have another willing participant handy. For someone like me who loves Magic to death, but doesn’t get to play nearly enough to sate my appetite, the Duels line of games offers up a lot of gameplay for a very affordable price, and is a fine way to hold me over until Magic night with my friends.

Here’s the basic gist. You have an assortment of pre-assembled 60-card decks. Each deck has a number of ulockable cards that you can use to tune/improve/personalize those decks. What you don’t get is access to the whole universe of cards. Deck customization is also annoyingly simplified to the point that you can add and subtract non-land cards while the system adds lands on your behalf. That means that if you play a given deck a bunch an notice you draw too many lands most games, there’s no real way to change the land ratio of the decks.

There are a lot of other restrictions, simplifications and shortcuts taken to streamline gameplay as well. I’ve experienced a fair amount of frustration at not being able to hold priority to perform a sequence of intricate stack tricks that I know for a fact are legal in the cardboard game, but the DotP game messes up my plays because it doesn’t do priority right. However each iteration of the game seems to improve slightly on these issues, while still maintaining that streamlined, beginner-friendly mode of play.

And really, that’s what us old fogey’s have to remember. WotC sees the Duels franchise as an entry point for new players, so the game isn’t really made with us in mind. Of course, they still manage to make the game FUN to play even if it’s annoying sometimes that you can’t do the expert-level plays you want to make. Duels 2012 added Archenemy as a playable game mode, and Duels 2013 goes one better by adding Planechase to the game. Playing Planechase with a bunch of computer opponents isn’t quite the same experience, but it’s nonetheless a buttload of fun. Sometimes the AI will make inexplicable decisions and display the same horrendously bad threat assessment that real opponents will often display, so that adds to the realism/frustration a bit, but it’s also kind of hilarious when the AI-controlled Bolas deck wastes a Terminate your Firewing Phoenix when the Ajani “player” has a 5/5 Ajani’s Pridemate and is 1 life point away from his Serra Ascendant becoming a 6/6…

It’s also annoying but funny that certain Planes seem to make the computer afraid to roll. Whenever we’re on Akoum, for some reason, ALL of the AI opponents just stop rolling the Planar die. Period. Even if they have ZERO enchantments in their deck. Meanwhile I played a game where it was down to me vs. Ajani, and we were on Zehpyr Maze. Ajani had about 100 life and a 40/40 Ajani’s Pridemate. I had ground blockers, but was swinging for all I could with my flyers. Meanwhile, on his turn all Ajani had to do was roll Chaos once to give his Pridemate flying, and I was dead. Yet turn after turn he refused to roll. Even with 12 mana in play and no cards in hand, he wouldn’t roll.

I haven’t played through the game 100%, but I’ve completed the Planechase mode and played through the main campain, including all “Encounters”. Encounters are a new thing in this iteration – you play a normal game of Magic, but your opponent has a “stacked” deck, meaning they draw and play the exact same cards in the exact same order every single time. The trick is that they are getting “god draws” for whatever it is they’re trying to do. For example, one Encounter features your opponent playing a Forest and dropping Helix Pinnacle. Then every turn after than he drops a Cloudpost and a Wall of Vines and starts powering up his Helix Pinnacle with absurd amounts of Cloudpost mana. At a glance, it seems easy enough, but with all those Cloudposts, that Helix Pinnacle will hit 100 counters in no time at all. You have to figure out how to get past those 0/3 blockers and deal 20 before the Helix Pinnacle does you in. Encounters are cool, and they start out ridiculously easy and build to a challenging yet fun level of difficulty as you progress.

Nicol Bolas is the “Boss” of the game, and his deck basically does one thing: accelerate to a back breaking sequence of Cruel Ultimatums. It’s a tough battle, at least for the deck I was playing (Chandra’s Mono-red burn deck). You basically have to keep playing him until you either get a “god draw” that can win before he hits 7 mana, or you have to hope he wastes a couple extra turns digging for his first Ultimatum. But once he casts the first Ultimatum, there’s a ridiculously high chance he’ll follow it up with a second on the next turn – which means your chances of winning at that point are ridiculously low! It was somewhat frustrating and it was probably the least fun matchup I played throughout the whole game.

That said, what the game gets right, or at least does way better than the first two versions, is the deckbuilding system. For starters, the basic deck design is VASTLY improved over the previous versions. The lists are tighter, more focused and more powerful than ever, yet still have the janky-but-fun casual feel to them.

Even more importantly, they greatly increased the number of unlockable cards, allowing for greater customization and diversity.

And even more importantly that that, they made customization matter. In previous games, unlocking cards usually just mean you got more of the same, or more powerful but still similar options. In other words, you could make the deck better at doing what it does, but you couldn’t really change what the deck did. In 2013, you have a higher number of unlockables, plus the decks were designed with more than one idea in mind, so that by the time you unlock everything you can significantly alter a given deck’s core strategy.

Take the Chandra deck for example (Since it’s the only one I’ve invested a lot of time with so far). It has four basic types of cards:  cheap, aggressive creatures with Haste and/or pump abilities, Phoenixes (creatures with Flying and the ability to come back from the dead), pinpoint burn and mass burn. Almost every card in the deck or the unlockables fits one of those four criteria – yet they all play a different role, so the deck is vastly more fluid than any previous iteration would allow for. You can take out most of the burn and focus on aggro-ing out creatures with just a smattering of burn to clear out blockers. Or you can remove all but the Pheonixes and just burn EVERYTHING all the time.

Best of all, most of those cards matter in different ways. Some of the matchups seem like they’d have been impossible for a mono-Red deck to win if it weren’t for the fact that the Pheonixes gave you a lot more late-game reach than most Red decks are capable of. Sometimes Dragon Hatchlings and Pyre Chargers will be solid gold MVPs of the deck, and other times you want to side them all out in favor of MOAR BURN! In the previous iterations of the DotP games, with most decks, you could unlock everything and just build a “Best deck” version of the deck and just steamroll past any opponent with little or no alterations to the deck. In 2013, though, constantly tweaking your deck for the next matchup is a real part of the game, and it’s not ucommon at all to win one match, and then for the very next match you have to DRASTICALLY overhaul your deck in order to win. To me, that’s a HUGE plus, as it keeps the game fresh, keeps the decks from getting boring, and it adds more depth to the fairly simplistic gameplay.

The fact that I was able to complete the entire campaign mode with a mono-red burn deck is, frankly, awesome. Mono Red Burn is one of the hardest archetypes to make flexible enough to be playable against a wide array of other archetypes. But, while it took a fair bit of effort and was an uphill battle all the way, I managed to even beat the mono-white lifegain deck! With mono red! At one point my opponent was at around 70 life and I had less than 30 cards left in my deck. But I got there. Impressive, that they were able to design even a burn deck so that it could at least stand a chance against anything the other decks could throw at it.

Anyway, the deck design and added depth of customization are about the biggest boons you could ask for in the DotP line, and 2013 delivers on that quite well. The decks are still very much “casual” in feel and design, but actually resemble something you might actually chose to build and play, rather than looking like horrible Sealed decks with extra rares thrown in. The best part is that all these improvements come at no extra charge – the game retains its $9.99 price point, which is phenomenal considering that it actually offers as many, or more, game play hours as most $60.00 disc-based games. It’s not Skyrim, obviously, but logging even 40 or 50 hours on a ten dollar game? That’s actually pretty rare in videogames.

To sum up, DotP 2013 still suffers from many of the issues that plagued the earlier releases, but has improved more than enough to compensate for those shortcomings and brings enough to the table to be very much a pleasant diversion for even the longtime Magic player. I am already looking forward to the DLC for this one, though that’s not to imply I’m getting bored with the core game already. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust



Friday, June 15, 2012

All Hail the Queen

A couple weeks ago, I decided to make a Savra, Queen of the Golgari deck. That’s a bit random, for me, but there were a few reasons why I chose to go this route. First off, I just really wanted a deck that could play both Soul of the Harvest and Harvester of Souls. I believe I already demonstrated my odd love of dichotomy with the Vish Kal life/death deck, but the mirror-image pair of these two creatures just really appeals to me – partly because I love the aforementioned dichotomy of being opposite, yet the same. Also, they both draw me cards, which you all know by now I am powerless to resist! Playing creatures and killing creatures and drawing cards for both! What’s not to love.

Another bit of tech I had in mind that also drew me further into the B/G pair was this little trio:

Necrotic Ooze + Griselbrand + Sophic Centaur.

Okay, you probably see the first two and think, “yawn…” but then Sophic Centaur? What the hell even IS a Sophic Centaur? Well, folks, it’s a Spellshaper that gains us two life for each card in our hand… so now you see where I’m going with this, right? Dump both into the graveyard, drop Necrotic Ooze, and proceed to draw a  buttload of cards off the Ooze while then also using the same Ooze to gain twice that in life!

Say we still have 40 life when we pull off this play. We can pay 35 life to draw 35 cards, leaving us at 5 life. Then we pay four, tap the Ooze and gain somewhere in the ballpark of 70 life. At this point we can easily draw the entire rest of our library and still have some life left over. Of course, we’d deck ourselves in the process. I considered going with Damia to include a Laboratory Maniac combo win, but someone in my group already has a Lab Maniac/Damia deck, and it’s pretty cool but I didn’t want to steal his thunder by doing the same thing only way more broken (and probably, to be fair, kinda boring).

Now, we don’t actually need to draw 35 cards most of the time. Usually drawing 7 or 14, then gaining 20 to 30 life, or thereabouts, will be more than enough – but the potential for that kind of absurdity is still pretty compelling, no?

Anyway, I already have a prototype of the deck put together, but it was mostly just strung together from a bunch of different thought-processes, and has some problems with its various themes meshing well together. It does pretty much everything I want it to, just not well enough for my liking and has a bit of difficulty in establishing  a clear game plan early on.

I turned to the interwebs for help, as most of us do when stumped. The EDH forums were my first stop, as usual, but after doing a forum search for Savra decklists, none that I found really inspired me. Most looked solid enough, but didn’t really have room for the themes and tech I had in mind. The, while searching the Dear Azami archives at, I came across this list.

This was a list I could really get behind. I liked that it was designed to be as mean and competitive as possible - that meant I could start with a really strong, powerful list, and just scale back on the “douchebaggery” until I felt it was acceptable for my particular playgroup. I admired what the deck was built to achieve even if some of the specific cards and tactics were a bit too underhanded. Contagion locks? Not cool. I appreciate the effectiveness, but it’s not conducive to a fun time with friends. Still the framework of the deck, overall, looked far more powerful than most lists I’d looked at, and more importantly, seemed much more readily adapatable to what I had in mind. To put it simply, I’d have to change less about this list to get it where I wanted it than other lists I’d seen.

It was a bit outdated, in that it was designed and published well before Griselbrand was a thing, but it had much of the other “tech” I’d envisioned, such as the Bloodghast/Perilous Forays combo and a central Birthing Pod chain substrategy. These were just a couple of things I’d already considered when trying to assemble a list on my own, so to see all this stuff in one list? Perfect!

Except it wasn’t perfect, of course. I definitely had to put my own spin on things. Tune down the more dickish stuff, pump up the card drawing power a bit, and of course squeeze in the stupid Griselbrand stuff. First, let’s trim the deck back a bit, shall we?

From creatures, I made the following cuts:

Reassembling Skeleton: Redundancy with Bloodghast is cool, but since I’m not going for Contamination lock, I feel I only really need ‘ghast.

Withered Wretch: Not so much cut, just swapped out for Scavenging Ooze (I have the $40 card, might as well play it, right?)

Phyrexian Plaguelord: There was a time when cutting this guy from a B/G deck seemed downright heretical. But, I don’t think he’s actually critical here. Still probably good, but not critical. Right now that’s all that matters.

Skeletal Vampire: Fits the theme along both axis –tokens AND sacrificing. Just a bit too expensive to be reliable, in my opinion.

Sheoldred, Whispering One: A great card, and a great fit, but something has to become Griselbrand, and I want to cut from the high-end of the curve for him. Once Griselbrand gets the banhammer (seems likely to me), Sheoldred has a good chance of coming back in.

Hermit Druid: Again, not really cut, but replaced by similarly-functioning Fauna Shaman. Tutoring for creatures seems more important to me, plus Druid is a bit too “easy mode” for my tastes. Starts to feel too much like a dirty combo deck with him in it.

Mitotic Slime: Another fine card, I’d be happy to play this if I had room… but I don’t.

Mycoloth: I dislike putting all my eggs in one basket. This “basket” always ends up getting Path to Exiled or something.

Skullmulcher: Subpar inclusion is subpar. This is a straight swap-out for Soul of the Harvest.

Rampaging Baloths: Another terrific card, but one I can live without.

Kamahl, Fist of Krosa: His main function here is to wipe out opponents’ lands in response to sweepers or Massacre Wurms. Not fun.

Grave-shell Scarab: Always tried to make this guy work, but he usually just underperformed by a significant margin.

From the non-creature sections, I cut the following:

Contamination: Dick move.

Attrition: Good, but probably overkill, plus I see a lot of Black in my metagame.

Phyrexian Arena: A great card, but I wonder why you’d ever include this in a Savra deck over, say, Graveborn Muse or Bloodgift Demon? In my case, though, I’m making this into Harvester of Souls.

Syphon Mind: Card draw is NOT going to be an issue, I think. Plus I don’t want people discarding fatties to this when I have Living Death in the deck…

Diabolic Tutor: Swapped out for Vampiric Tutor – it’s just miles better.

Liliana Vess: Fine choice, but I have other plans for this slot…

Exsanguinate: My group is already just sick of this card, especially in conjunction with Coffers/Urborg.

Death Cloud: I’ve been thinking a long time about trying this card out, but I don’t think this is the deck to do it in.

Explore: becomes Sakura-Tribe Elder. I’m convinced STE is just better anyway, but when our deck has a Sacrifice theme? One of these cards is synergistic with Grave Pact, the other isn’t… you do the math.

Life from the Loam: I think we probably want lands going into the graveyard, not coming out of it.

Natural Affinity: I love the idea of following this spell with Massacre Wurm. My friends might not love it nearly as much….

Explosive Vegetation: Meh, ramp is important, but I’d rather have something else… maybe Realms Uncharted?

Garruk Wildspeaker: I’m going with the G/B Garruk just because this is the only deck I have that can run him at the moment.

Lurking Predators: Great card, but… Spoiler: I’m also cutting Top.

Necrogenesis: Meh. If I think I need more GY hate, I’ll throw Withered Wretch back in. The tokens are nice, but, unimportant.

Grim Feast: Cute card, but not super important. I have better plans in mind for the life gain…

Sensei’s Divining Top: Meh.

Helm of Possesion: Cut only because I don’t have one, plus I needed a slot for Mimic Vat. So this is now Mimic Vat.

So, after cutting all of these cards, then adding in the things I already said were direct swaps, I have 17 slots available. I want to bump the land count up to 37 (36 is cutting it close, even with the ramp). And I want the appropriate Signet. That’s 15 slots to go.

I already know I need to add Sophic Centaur as part of the “combo” with Grizzelbees. The other life-gainer I wanted to add is Sword of War and Peace. Once we have our huge hands, this gains us tons of life too, but it’s a good enough card to stand on its own merits. Since we’re on the theme of equipment, Sword of Feast and Famine is also more than good enough to justify its inclusion as a “good stuff” card.

We’ve already got Fauna Shaman and Birthing Pod, but I’m gonna say f--- it and throw Survival of the Fittest in the mix. Sure, some of you might cry foul that I dissed Hermit Druid for being too combo-y and “easy mode” but, where Hermit Druid it a blunt hammer, Survival is a surgical knife.

Since I mentioned it earlier, I’ll go ahead and try Realms Uncharted, see if it works out okay. Seems good with Worm Harvest.

I also want to err on the side of caution for now, so I’m gonna add a bit more spot removal. Beast Within and Putrefy are great Instant-speed answers that don’t rely on trickery like having Grave Pact in play, etc. Meanwhile Shriekmaw is too good and potentially synergistic to pass up. All three go in.

For some early defense, I find Vampire Nighthawk do be vastly underrated. In.

Another good defensive card is Sudden Spoiling, which is fine on it's own (just because no one ever really sees it coming) but also combos nicely with Massacre Wurm to be a Plague Wind with life loss thrown in for kicks.

I cut some of our “army in a can” token-makers, so I need to restore that segment of the deck with some choice I just happen to prefer over the initial inclusions. Bloodline Keeper is a bit slow, but very powerful once he gets going. Plus he’s just a badass vampire. Also, Nath of the Gilt-leaf can be decent on his own, or combo with Sadistic Hypnotist to nuke all of my opponents’ hands at once.

I simply cannot build an EDH deck without Duplicant, so he’s in.

Finally, we have just 4 slots left. Two of them automatically go to Beacon of Unrest and Profane Command – they’re two of my favorite Black spells and I never leave home without them! Both happen to actually matter in this deck, as Beacon is always good when our Plan A involves killing every single creature that hits the table (except our own, of course). Profane Command is both a generally versatile and powerful spell, but also a key replacement for Exsanguinate as a mana dump.

Just because I want another big, stupid game-ending bomb, I’m going to try out It That Betrays. He just fits too well with the Sacrifcing theme going on in the deck, plus there’s a narrow chance we can reanimate him into play early game.

Finally, to add some more reliability, I’m going to add Dimir House Guard. We already have a number of tutors, but DHG gets a number of very important spells, most notably Grave Pact, Necro Ooze and Creekwood Liege, just for starters. If that isn’t needed, he’s just a good sac outlet. The number of times in my Magic history that I’ve gone: “Play House Guard, sac everything, Living Death” is just absurd, so he’s another card I almost never exclude from any deck that can play him.

That leaves us room for 37 lands. I pretty much ignored the mana base in the list above, and rebuilt it from scratch, though I expect there will be significant overlap between his list and mine.  The tough part, for me, was reigning in my love of non-Basic lands. We need plenty of Basics for the Bloodghast+Perilous Forays engine to be worth running, so I wanted to make sure not to hamstring that key pieces of tech. Here’s what I came up with along with the full decklist:
That’s pretty much the deck. I expect I will need to tweak things here and there. I don’t know if I have too little removal, or too much. The number of tutors might make it “consistent” or they might make it “repetitive”. Consistent is fine, but repetitive is boring and predictable, and become easier to beat the more my group plays against it. It That Betrays might be an awesome game-ender or it might just be overcosted chaff. Sadistic Hypnotist will almost certainly break backs and win games, but might make someone flip the table in rage (it has that effect on me, so...).

Also, I wanted to find room for Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble to supplement the whole “killing you while I kill your creatures” angle. I will playtest and tweak accordingly, but those a just a few of the things I really want to try and add at some point. It just involves getting some games in to see what works and what doesn’t.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Maelstrom Wanderer

Planechase II is out now, and of course the very first thing I did once I bought the decks was to sleeve up a Maelstrom Wanderer deck. Well, actually, I put the deck together last week, and just used placeholders for the new cards I wanted to add, like MW himself and Etherium-Horn Sorcerer.

I've already played the list quite a bit this weekend, and I have made a few changes based off those games. There are still a few more I'd like to make, but for now, this is the list I'm running.

Maelstrom Wanderer

Phyrexian Metamorph
Djinn of Wishes
Consecrated Sphinx
Deadeye Navigator
Frost Titan

Flametongue Kavu
Kik-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Charmbreaker Devils
Inferno Titan
Tyrant of Discord

Sakura-Tribe Elder
Wood Elves
Eternal Witness
Acidic Slime
Primeval Titan
Avenger of Zendikar

Coiling Oracle
Winged Coatl
Bloodbraid Elf
Izzet Chronarch
Riku of Two Reflections
Intet the Dreamer
Etherium-Horn Sorcerer

Solem Simulacrum

Mystical Tutor
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Rite of Replication
Devastation Tide
Time Spiral
Temporal Mastery

Chandra, the Firebrand
Mass Mutiny
Reforge the Soul
Warstorm Surge
Blasphemous Act
Bonfire of the Damned

Worldly Tutor
Beast Within
Kodama's Reach
Skyshroud Claim
Garruk Wildspeaker
Greater Good
Lurking Predators
Tooth and Nail

Hull Breach
Prophetic Bolt
Vengeful Rebirth

Sol Ring
Coalition Relic
Sensei's Divining Top
Scroll Rack
Crystal Ball
Crystal Shard
Proteus Staff
Temporal Aperture

Command Tower
Reflecting Pool
Evolving Wilds
Scalding Tarn
Misty Rainforest
Stomping Ground
Steam Vents
Breeding Pool
Fire-Lit Thicket
Cascade Bluffs
Flooded Grove
Rootbound Crest
Sulfer Falls
Hinterland Harbor
Gruul Turf
Izzet Boilerworks
Simic Growth Chamber
Halimar Depths
High Market
Desolate Lighthouse
Alchemist's Refuge
Temple of the False God
Forest x5
Island x4
Mountain x4

The deck is remarkably fun, powerful and easy to play. Basically, your default strategy is going to be:
1. Ramp to eight
2. Cast Maelstrom Wanderer

In a nutshell, that's all you need to do most of the time. Fortunately the deck can easily play a more intricate game, if need be. I have loaded up on ways to manipulate the top few cards of the library, to set up our Cascade to our liking. Since I was going down that road, I figured I'd also double up on ways to take advantage of that top-deck manipulation. Stuff like Lurking Predators, Djinn of Wishes and the Miracle spells are all additional ways to cheat stuff into play or cast spells for less mana.

The rest of the deck is mostly made up of Ramp (very important!), a little Draw power, some big splashy spells, and a dash of utility stuff. A deck like this usually wins by making bigger, splashier plays than it's opponents, but sometimes an opponent will be able to trump us, so it's important to keep some cheap removal and other essential utility effects in the deck.

I haven't quite found the ideal balance yet - I feel like a need more cheap, early-game cards for when I don't draw lots of ramp, but I also don't want to include too many of these cheap spells because paying 8 mana for MW and hitting a coulple of do-nothing, two-mana spells is a bummer.

Based on how often I have to mulligan with this deck, I know I need to up the land count a bit. Ideally I think the deck really needs 2 more lands and probably a Darksteel Ingot or something, to be more reliable and stable, but at this point I don't know what to cut.

There are a number of things I'd really love to add, as well, such as:

Snapcaster Mage
Sphinx of Uthuun
Seedborn Muse
Keiga, the Tide Star
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Knowledge Exploitation

I've debated and gone back and forth on whether to put Momir Vig, Simic Visionary in the deck. At this point, I think it might make the deck a little too repetative and less fun. I enjoy using Scroll Rack to set up epic Cascade chains, but I also like just casting MW blind and seeing what random goodies my deck gives me!

Anyway, Maelstrom Wander is a powerhouse, and if you like really big, swingy, game-breaking plays then you'll likely enjoy this deck. I'm already very happy with this deck - it's one of the best decks I've assembled in a while, and I can't wait to play it some more.