Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Howdy, folks! Yes, I'm still alive, and yes, Magic is still a big deal to me. I just haven't had the time or the motivation to write much lately. I used to be able to do most of my writing at work, in between various tasks, but that's no longer the case. Partly, because I'm busier with more and more responsibilities these days, and partly because the new leadership is not as lax as the old, when it comes to enforcement. In the old days, even if I got caught blogging at work, no one would really care or say anything. As long as I got my work done, they just really didn't give a damn. Sadly that just isn't the case anymore, but I can't complain really. I'm on their time, so if they want to be merciless overseers, well, honestly, that's their right.

(And for the record, I'm writing THIS post on my lunch break, off the clock, so it’s all legit.)

The problem there is, I don't really want to write at home, because I have a lot less time to kill at home than I do at work, and a lot more things pulling my attention in different directions. I'm watching The Wire on Amazon Prime (seriously GREAT show; a must-watch if you haven't seen it!), and Minecraft takes up a LOT of my time these days. And, of course, I'm still pretty busy playing Magic, but lately Magic hasn't been the most... inspirational of topics.

I also haven't been doing much building because our house is a total wreck and has been for the last two months, thanks to an ongoing, massive remodelling project. At any given time, basically everything my wife an I own is crammed into roughly 50% of the house, while the other 50% gets worked on by the contractors. I have no room to work, and much of my collection is scattered about the house in remote, hard-to-reach corners behind walls of boxes and furniture.

And most nights, I come home from work and have to spend my evening moving all our junk from one end of the house to the next so the workers can start on some new project the next day!

But there is good news! The end is nigh! The remodel is expected to wrap up by the end of this week, and while I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few trivial tasks that carry over into the next week, it is more or less guaranteed that we'll be able to finally move back into our own house properly and start settling in for good at the end of this week. My mother-in-law is even coming into town to help us put our house back together this weekend.

So what does that mean for this blog? Hopefully, it means I'll have room - both physically and mentally - for writing again. Hopefully it means I'll have a quite corner of the house where I can spread out my cards and deck build without having to move half a dozen boxes to get to my red uncommons box to just find a Spitebellows. Hopefully, it means I'll be able to give a shit and not feel like this is yet another chore. I started this blog solely because I enjoyed writing about Magic - hopefully, I'll rediscover that enjoyment.

Oh, yeah... I think the article title mentioned something about a new project? This is something I just spontaneously came up with, so there is a chance it might not go anywhere.

Anyway, I’ve seen other prominent EDH authors attempt the good ol’ Standard-legal EDH deck to mixed results. Most of the time, these things produce middling-to-decent decks at best. One of the issues is that, in most Standard environments don’t have quite enough Legendary creatures for a diverse range of decks, or enough mana fixing to make anything but mono-color or two-colors-with-one-color-being-green viable. At least, that’s been my impression from reading of other’s adventures into the sub-format.

On paper, at least, I feel like the Theros/Khans Standard environment might just be the most able to overcome or at least address those issues. I won’t really know for sure until I start building, but I really think you can make a three-color deck work in this environment, and you don’t even have to require Green as one of those colors (though it seems likely that decks including Green will have some advantages).

So, here’s the goal of my new project: Make 5 new decks, each built around the five new Legendary creatures in Khans of Tarkir – Surrak Dragonclaw, et al. Each deck will be Standard legal, and will be balanced to play well against each other, to the best of my abilities. I still don’t really expect to come up with decks that can really compete with a more typical EDH deck, but I think I can make the fun and powerful enough to play against each other. Now here’s the real kicker – it is my intent to keep these decks alive and continue updating them all through Khans block… and through the rotation into the next block! That means whenever the block after Khans is released, I’ll have to strip out all the Theros block cards, and overhaul all five decks with whatever the next block brings us. If the decks are fun and successful enough after that, we’ll see what happens then, but once we go to the new two-set block structure I don’t think it’ll really be workable to keep this going in that new world order.

So, that’s my plan, but there are some very real challenges I can already see myself facing. First off, there’s the obvious matter of mana-fixing and ramp. Even though I feel like mana is good enough overall to make three color decks work even within the pool of Standard cards, I am not quite as sure that green decks won’t totally trump the non-green decks. I might have to intentionally weaken and restrict the green decks’ ramp packages to keep them in check. I hope not, as I’d rather make decks stronger, not weaker. But balance will be important, so I’ll take whatever measures become necessary to keep things fairly even.

There are many other issues very similar to the ramp issue that arise from a shallow card pool – some colors will have a hard time drawing cards, for instances, and may run out of gas far too easily. Again, Mardu comes to mind – with a legacy card pool, WRB can come up with plenty of card draw options, but in Standard, will Mardu have more than a couple of Phyrexian Arena knockoffs to choose from?

Looking down the road some, will these decks still be fun and worth updating post-Theros? The rotaion update angle is one of the reasons I am excited to try this out, but a year from now, I may feel differently. Not to mention the fact that we have no clue what the block after Khans is going to be like, so who knows what effect that will have? Our mana bases might go from awkward-yet-workable to outright ugly overnight. The point is, this could be a disaster, or it could be awesome. Only time will tell.

So why do I want to do all this work and effort, if it might produce nothing more than a loud fart? One reason is just to shake things up, try something different. My playgroup’s meta has gotten a little stale, and not even my having 16 whole friggin’ decks to choose from has made that much difference. The rest of my group probably don’t have a total of 16 decks between them all, so even if I’m playing something different every time, they still play with and against a very limited selection of decks. I want these 5 decks to be something everyone can pick up and play for a break from the routine, and for them to feel like regardless of which deck they play, they are more or less on equal footing (which is why balancing them against each other is important).

One of the problems in my group is that, well, some of us have the luxury of being able to build 16 different decks at one time and still make all of them pretty much as optimal as they’d be if they were our only deck. Others only have two or three decks and still have to use mediocre cards as filler to make count. I count myself lucky to be in the former camp, but the plight of the latter still affects me directly – feeling like you simply can’t throw enough money at your opponent to win is extremely discouraging. For my part, I try very hard not to simply beat my opponents with my wallet. But on the flip side, if I’m going to buy the cards I want, I’m also going to play them, right?

To be fair, I did just come off a very long losing streak that only Maelstrom Wanderer, my most absurd deck, could end. So I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of finding a balance between making my decks as good as I can while still keeping them at a level where my opponents have a real chance at beating me. But, regardless of my recent run of loss after loss after loss, my group still seems to feel as if the monetary issue is making a significant impact in our games. I don’t think that’s 100% of the reason behind it, but I can definitely agree that our games are, on the whole, not as fun as they used to be.

Well, the great thing about Limited formats is, you can’t win just by throwing money at your deck. Everybody is playing from the same card pool. There are no haves and have-nots. However, the downside is, you can still get lucky and open a bomb-ass Mythic and run the table because everyone else opened junk rares. So you still end up with the “I only lost because my opponent had that $30 Mythic and I had this $0.50 rare” complaint once in a while.

So, this experiment is a way for my group to see what it might be like if we’re all playing from the exact same pool of cards, with no one player having an advantage just by having more cards than anyone else. Limiting it to Standard is both a way to make it easier for me to keep the power balanced between decks, and to keep me from having to cannibalize my existing decks for cards. In theory, at least, everyone will be playing at the same level, so both skill and luck will matter more, and who has the most $$$ to spend on the game doesn’t matter at all.

Another big motivator for me is, I really like Khans of Tarkir so far. The flavor, the setting, the art style. It’s a very exciting set, to me, and I really want to explore all that this set has to offer. But power-level-wise, a massive chunk of this set is just a bit under the curve. Theros had a bit of that same feeling – there were a ton of cards I genuinely liked, but just couldn’t justify playing because I knew beyond a doubt they just weren’t good enough. Reducing the card pool limits your options, which in turn means you’ll be more willing to play cards that are under the curve – because you’re totally changing where the curve is. What rates as “good enough” totally changes, and you find yourself playing a lot of cards that otherwise might not get played, and doing well with them.
Basically, this will - hopefully - provide all of us an opportunity to use cards that we might not otherwise use, or at least to do better with those cards than we might otherwise do.

I’m getting enough product this Friday to get me started. I should be able to have all 5 decks sleeved up within a week or so, but they might still be missing some critical components. My goal is to have all 5 decks fully functioning, ready to play, and lists published by mid-to-late October. If I get lucky, it could be sooner. I will wait until I have all five lists ready before I publish anything, because I don’t want whichever goes up first to have the advantage of getting more feedback or something like that.

This will likely be fairly difficult to do it well and make it succeed on all my stated goals. But I think it will be fun to try no matter how it turns out.

Oh, I’m also working on a 4-man Conspiracy Cube for drafting, but that’s a story for a later article. That one’s been in the works a while, but I have zero previous experience with Cube design, so it’s slow-going as I work through some problems. Look for an update on that in the next couple of weeks.
And I am about 50% through writing my Khans EDH set review, so I’ll try to have that published within the week, but finding time to finish it up among the chaos and debris that is my home life will be tough, so it may be next week before I can manage that.


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