Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Culling the Herd

In my last update I mentioned that I had ranked my decks. Not, like, individually; that would be an impossible task, because the specific order from “favorite” to “least favorite” would change from day to day, based on my mood. But, after having a fairly stable, um… stable… of 24 concurrent decks, I definitely realized that some decks got played a lot whereas others got played much less. So I decided to categorize (a more appropriate word that “rank”) each deck into one of three categories, roughly: “awesome”, “serviceable”, and “meh”.

The first category is for decks that I just flat out love to play. In many cases, they are among my more powerful decks, but some are really fun even if they don’t win a ton of games. These are decks that I could see myself playing at least once every week for the foreseeable future and not getting too bored of them.

The second category is for decks that are on a sort of probation, or are just generally among my weaker decks, but yet I still enjoy having them around. Many of my newer decks fall in this category as they are still too new to know for sure how good they are, or how fun they are, in a long-term sense. Many of my decks tend to do well initially, because my playgroup hasn’t really learned how to fight against the deck yet. But over time the performance rate of most decks falls off somewhat as my group comes to understand the strengths and weaknesses through repeated play. And then there are decks like Stonebrow, which is always going to be one of the weaker decks in my roster, but is still a deck I absolutely adore. I don’t play it all that often, but when I do it’s almost always a blast. I just have to be in the right mood for it. But at this point I have no real desire to try any different R/G commanders or strategies – Gruul should be about smashing, and that’s what this deck does. And, finally I also put a couple of decks in this category because I play them infrequently almost solely due to social contract considerations. It’s an awkward situation where my group has a particularly strong dislike of a deck, but I like it too much to fully cave to pressure and rather than scrapping it, I just play it very infrequently. But because it’s not a deck I can just whip out all the time, if the mood strikes, I still can’t list it  in the first category, no matter how much I myself might like it.

The third and final category are the decks that are those I only reach for when I realize, “Oh, I haven’t played this in a while!” and even then only when I don’t have a particular craving to play a specific other deck. Mostly, they are decks that I have just built  and re-built a number of times and feel like I’ve just kinda gotten out of them what I wanted. I might still really like the deck themes and concepts in general, but for whatever reason, those decks just feel kinda played out, at least for now. And, to some extent, some of these decks have suffered at least slightly from the fact that they were among the last of my 24 decks to have been put together, so card availability and deckbuilding fatigue may have had some small but adverse effects on these decks.

Now that I have outlined the process/idea behind all this, I shall reveal what decks fall into which categories.

The “awesome” decks are:  Teferi, Karametra, Queen Marchesa, Karlov, Maelstrom Wanderer, Sidisi, Geth, Marath, Narset, Prossh, Feldon, and Gitrog.

I don’t have much to say about this category except that all of these decks are awesome. They are fun, generally perform well, and I’m almost always happy reaching for any one of them. Some have some slight issues – Feldon for example is very inconsistent and despite stellar early results, lately it’s been underperforming in the “winning “ department, but it remains a very fun and interesting deck to play, and I have no desire to retire it. Rather I’d rather keep working to fine-tune it. Gitrog has the downside of being a bit too combo-y and non-interactive, while Prossh is occasionally just too overpowered. I occasionally have games with Prossh where I just win, near-effortlessly. Those are sort of god-hand, magical christmasland games, and they don’t happen all that often, but they do happen more often with that particular deck than any other I have in the roster.

The “on probation” decks are: Selvala, Grand Arbiter, Olivia, Stonebrow, Jori En, Rashmi, Sen Triplets, and Rafiq

Rashmi and Selvala are the new kids on the block, and as such are only in this category because I just haven’t had them long enough to know where they’ll ultimately belong. Early results are promising – Selvala was meant to be a more fair version of Yisan which turned out to be stupidly overpowered even though I went out of my way to avoid the more competitive things Yisan is known for, and so far she seems to be “a bit broken and OP, but still far less so than Yisan”. Rashmi came about because I had just grown bored (much to my own surprise) of Edric. Plus she’s just really cool.

Grand Arbiter and Sen Triplets are (probably very obviously) the two decks that are in this category strictly because my playgroup dislikes them. I’m a big fan of both, but refrain from playing them more often simply to avoid annoying my friends. Also, I am in the process of rebuilding Sen Triplets. It previously had a very prominent Artifact them, but I’m scrapping that aspect and focusing more on Enchantments, as well as just improving the control elements. I think this will make the deck a bit stronger, but also, hopefully, a bit less annoying to play against. Mainly, though, I’m hoping it will make the deck a bit more playable without relying on my Commander, because in this case it’s pretty much just the Triplets that annoy people – the rest of the deck is fine-ish.

Olivia and Stonebrow are in this category due to their low power level. Neither is terrible, and I enjoy them, but the fact that I don’t expect to win many games does keep me from reaching for these decks more often. Of the two, the only one that is in any real danger of being scrapped is Olivia. I love Vampire tribal as a theme, and the deck is capable of some scarily fast starts, but just doesn’t have a lot of reach. I have done what I can in this regard, but it’s not enough. At this point, though I’d have to start cutting Vampires to do any more work on solving this problem, but I don’t want to cut any more vampires. I’ve already cut all the iffy ones, and what’s left are the cream of the crop. That said, when stuff like Falkenrath Gorger and Markov Dreadknight would be painful to cut, you’re probably just polishing brass on the Titanic. Stonebrow is about as good as it can be, but again, when your main (and only) plan is to just “Trample; just… Trample” there’s only so much optimization you can do. But I have long had a huge amount of affection for Stoney B so even if it’s one of the weaker decks in my line up, I don’t see him going anywhere.

Jori En is bit of an odd one, in that I really like the deck, it performed really well at the start, but still has some fundamental “not quite there-ness” that I have not been able to put my finger on. It’s not that the deck isn’t powerful; while it’s certainly not one of the best decks I have, it’s still likely one of the best decks in this category, at least. Yet on some abstract level, it just feels more like an impression of the deck I was going for, rather than the actual expected result. But since I can’t define what irks me about it on any concrete level, I can’t begin to fix it. It certainly has some very concrete issues, namely a lack of removal/interaction, but I’m relatively sure these obvious flaws aren’t the main issue with the deck. I played it a TON when I first built it, but I have noticed I am increasingly reluctant to pull it out these days, but what really bugs me is that I have no idea why!

And finally Rafiq. Rafiq was, and still is, one of my all-time favorites. But for now, this deck suffers from some of the same issues as many of the decks in the next category. Namely, I have built and rebuilt the deck so many damn times that this latest version was just thrown together mainly off of memory/instinct, with very little actual thought put into it. In fact, the first couple of games I played I actually lost because I wasn’t drawing any removal… come to find out, I just completely neglected to put any interaction in the deck. I basically had Return to Dust and a Day of Judgement as my only two removal spells, period. No Swords/Path, no Beast Within or Krosan Grip. Nothing! Oops! Obviously I fixed those issues right away, but the deck still feels off to me. Previous builds of Rafiq have felt like well-oiled machines with near-perfect synergy - no such thing as a dead draw. The current list feels far short of that level of fine-tuning and synergy, and instead feels rather more like a pile of rando good stuff. Which is odd because it is very nearly the same list as my last however-many builds, just updated with some new shit. But somehow I just got the formula off kilter. It doesn’t draw as well as it should, doesn’t play as smoothly, and doesn’t FEEL like a Rafiq deck should feel. Simple as that. But it’s only on probation and not up for disassembly because I am pretty well certain I can fix it, and only slightly less certain I’ll find the motivation to do so in the near future. Rafiq is, admittedly, a bit played-out, but I think I can breathe new life into him just the same.

Last, but not least but totally least, we have the losers who are getting voted off the island: Aurelia, Thraximundar, Wrexial, and Karador*

Aurelia and Wrexial are in the same boat: I’ve built both decks (though in Aurelia’s case it wasn’t always an Aurelia deck) many, many times and over the course of multiple variations and redesigns, the decks have somehow gotten progressively worse. Not necessarily in power (though to some extent, power is affected), but just in that the “balance” feels off. Whether it be a wonky mana curve, too much theme, not enough theme… whatever the issue, something about these decks is off. And, part of the issue may be card selection. Both were built very late in the quest for 25 (I stopped at 24 though just because I have no clue what to do with mono-White). And in some respects I just sorta checked off those boxes by going with tried-and-true options that were, in retrospect, low-hangning fruit. Add to that a stretched-thin card base to build from and a general laziness in the approach I took to building these lists, and voila! I got a couple of decks that SHOULD be among my favorites but are instead the very last ones I ever reach for when choosing a deck.

Thraximundar KINDA fits in with the two above, but is different in that I tried to bridge my old, dearly-loved Traximundar “Good Stuff” list with something at least approaching a theme. Ultimately I just wanted to play Dack Fayden and Notion Thief in the same list, I think. Anyway, I threw in Marchea (the first one, obv) and then tried to find ways to cross-synergize between Marchesa and Thraxi. I also stuck with the Bolas sub-theme, running random cards that were flavored around Nicol Bolas. Then I just rounded out the rest of the list with good cards, of both utility and bomb variety. The results were… alright. It was capable of throwing out some realy haymakers and setting up some cool plays, and I really liked that it was a deck that legitimately wanted Grave Betrayal. But ultimately a lot of the ideas I threw in fell flat. So it mostly came down to whether or not I could throw more haymakers then my opponents could defend against.  Trying to get cute in a goodstuff list just didn’t pan out. The theme/synergy stuff diluted the good stuff too much, whereas the good stuff got in the way of the synergy/theme stuff. I realized I needed to either firmly commit to making it a pure Good Stuff build and literally run only the best of the best, or I needed to fully embrace some sort of theme or synergy. Each of the deck’s two halves was weakening the other, so one half needs to go. Problem is, going pure good stuff bores me, but I can’t really figure out what to do in Grixis.

To be honest, I think I’d like to at least try out Marchesa, but her foil price is re-DONK-ulous. No way I’m shelling out for that one, and I am pretty commited to foiling out all the commanders I have, where possible. And, to me, not possible means no foil exists, not that the foil is just too expensive. Knowing it’s there but out of reach would annoy the crap out of me, so I just don’t even want to go down that road. Probably a lame reason not to play a commander that might otherwise interest me, but hey, you do you.

Moving on to Karador, who you probably noticed has an asterisk next to his name. So, the previous three decks I scrapped just because I knew I had minimal interested in playing those exact decks, but I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to be doing instead, for those colors. Karador was a bit of an exception in that, it was still kinda toward the bottom of the list in terms of how often I played it, but that was also more of an annoyance factor, same as with GAAIV and Sen Triplets, but unlike those two, Karador wasn’t new and had been around long enough that I knew what it could do, and how it played, etc. It was a known quantity, and so of all my “annoying” decks it was the one I was least sad about retiring. But, also unlike Aurelia and the other two, I actually did have an idea I wanted to try instead. I wanted to give Anafenza another shot, since Kaladesh printed so many cards that seemed right at home in an Abzan +1/+1 counters deck.

So even though it was the one I liked most, of the four chosen to be replaced, it was also the one I could immediately build a replacement for. I de-sleeved it and sorted out all the cards for re-binder-ing Sunday night. Then, on Monday, Atraxa was spoiled. I already talked about why this immediately caused me to abandon the idea of rebuilding Anafenza, so I won’t reiterate all that here. Suffice it to say I feel like Atraxa is probably going to be better at what I want to do with this deck than Anafenza, so Karador got re-sleeved and promoted back up into the middle category of “on probation”.

I also have a list of improvements/changes to make as well, about 10 cards or so need to be added in, though I’ve only identified a few that I want to cut. So, stay tuned for some small updates on the Karador list. In the mean time I now only have 3 decks I have to replace, and of those 3, I only have an idea on one. I have had an idea for a U/B deck I want to build in my back pocket for a while, but there are some cards I need that are simply non-negotiable. It’ll make sense if and when I actually get to enact this idea, but there is just no suitable replacement or stand-in for these exact cards. They aren’t super expensive, but in total they will cost me a bit of change, which I just don’t have at the moment.

It’s going to be a real stretch for me to afford the C16 precons, at this point. Even buying the $30 or so worth of cards I need for my U/B idea is far, far out of reach just now.

Anything I can think of for Boros is just another flavor of R/W Equipment/Attack tribal.

And as I mentioned, I just don’t really know what to do with Grixis. I’m hoping that the C16 decks will provide inspiration for some of these conundrums. Like, I might do a tandem thing with both of the W/R Partner guys – it’s still ultimately R/W facepunch, but maybe having two commanders is enough of a novel gimmick to make the deck feel somewhat fresh?

I also have to answer the question: If I’m keeping Karador after all, do I want to find another deck from the middle group to replace him on the chopping block? The reason this question is problematic is because, if the answer is “yes”, then I already know which deck it’d be – Olivia. I really want an excuse to keep her around, maybe try to fix her up, but I just don’t think there’s real hope that the deck will ever get much better than it is. Maybe it gets a little better, but probably not enough of a difference to really matter. But, dang it, I like vampires! I just know that, at this point, it’s almost certainly to be my least-played deck now that those other three have been disassembled.

I guess I should keep Olivia around a little while longer, especially since the upcoming C16 decks are going to be taking up all of my attention for the next several weeks. Even if I de-sleeve her today, it’s likely to be a month or more, at minimum, before I get around to doing something else in those colors.

So that’s where I’m at with all my decks! 3 down, 21 left standing, and a handful on a “wait and see” basis. I’m excited to get the chance to brew a few new builds, but that is tempered by the fact that I have little or no idea what I’m going to be brewing. Bugs me that I got THAT close to having the full 25-deck spectrum built, but now I’m just that much further away. The idea, though, isn’t just to have 25 decks, but to have 25 decks that I enjoy playing! There will always be decks that are more powerful than others, decks that are more fun than others, but even the worst deck in my collection should be something that I actively enjoy playing, right? Otherwise, what’s the point?

I still owe you that Rashmi deck list. I have just a few more minor tweaks to make (for now) – just a couple of cards that have been meant to go in since I built it originally but I just keep putting off finding room for. I will try to do that tonight and post the list, but even if I can’t find the gumption to make a couple of difficult cuts, I’ll post the list anyway.

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