TWR: Battlebond Preview Weekend

Battlebond releases this Friday, but this past weekend there was a “preview weekend” event at my LGS; my roommate and I took the opportunity to check out the new set early. Being a Two-Headed Giant format makes the sealed experience a bit different than what I’ve experienced in the past. Rather than getting a pre-release kit for $30 and building a deck from the packs included, then running through a few 1v1 rounds and possibly winning some extra packs, we were both awarded with 4 packs for $20 each. Technically that sounds like a sham, but the two of you build two decks from the pool, and in our case we just took pictures of the packs we opened so we could pull our cards back out after the event. Similar to pre-release events, you’ll run through rounds against rotating opponents, but 2v2 this time around. We also received promo cards at the beginning of the event, and I started the day off pretty good:

It seems that everyone got one of the new “partner with” pairs, my pull being one of the better options. This also helped steer us in a particular direction when it came to deck building. Unfortunately I didn’t end up with many other cards I wanted from the set, and none of the big money reprints or new additions. My roommate pulled a foil Greater Good, and the Najeela that I’d love to trade for but not much else. We ended up doing really well in the tournament though, and that made me proud. Our deck ended up centering around those two Planeswalkers above, along with a suite of removal in Black and Red, some good ramp in Green, and a splash of White. He ran RGW and I built UB. Though we were running the Kenriths and Najeela, we never played any of them. We primarily played Warriors though as we had good synergy in those colors, so I most slung the removal spells and he mostly made the creatures. We won the first two rounds, and only lost the third round due to a well timed Archon of Valor’s Reach, naming Sorcery. Our trump card ended up being Thrilling Encore, working exactly as planned in game 2, where we cast some removal spells, swung out with our board and killed/lost creatures, then played Encore to return all of the killed creatures to our side of the field. Game Over.

Besides the aforementioned Planeswalkers that I’m thinking of throwing into either a Superfriends deck or my Jodah deck, these were the cards I pulled that I can see places for in my existing EDH decks. In some cases I’m not too sure where they will end up but I’d like to use them nonetheless. The Blaring Captain/Recruiter pair are good in a Najeela deck, as is the Mindblade Render, and I’m considering where I might put them. Sylvia and Khorvath are screaming to go into Kaalia, considering I added a handful of dragons to that deck recently and they’d love to have doublestrike. Khorvath’s Fury is a nice wheel that I’m going to put into Locust God. The Goblins will find a place in Krenko. The Wumpus and Searchlight are great for my group hug deck, and Seer’s Lantern will work for Grenzo. That leaves Gorm and Virtus, which really want to be in some sort of unblockable type deck. Not sure where to use Spellseeker either, though I’m sure she could go into Kess or Taigam, something that wants to grab a particular spell. It’s a tutor at least, and that will find a home.

Overall I’m happy with the outcome of the event. I wish I would have pulled a Doubling Season or a Land Tax… hell I would have loved a Diabolic Intent, but I can still grab a few more packs after Friday and pick up some singles. I’m not missing out on a cheaper Doubling Season, I’ll guarantee that. I’m hoping that Wizards can keep this sort of thing going, I really liked playing 2v2. I’ll definitely participate in some more Battlebond action in a couple of weeks at GP Vegas!

The War Report: WUBRG Warriors

Battlebond has been fully spoiled at this point, and there was one clear winner in my mind when it came to new legendary creatures to build a deck around: Najeela, the Blade-Blossom.

Najeela appears to be a mono red creature at first glance, and were that the case she wouldn’t be nearly as exciting of a prospective general. She, like General Tazri before her, is a mono-colored commander that has a 5-color activated ability, and it’s a good one. Being a WUBRG commander means we have access to all of the strengths of each color, along with the best warriors in each color. We want this to be a warriors matter deck, mainly because of her abilities. When Najeela is on the battlefield, any time a warrior attacks (including herself) you get to create a 1/1 warrior token that’s tapped and attacking. So basically you get an additional creature for each creature that attacks. To top this off, for WUBRG you get an additional combat phase with each creature getting trample, lifelink and haste. Even more busted, this activated ability doesn’t cause Najeela to tap, meaning it can be use more than once per turn as long as you have the mana. If you can swing with 5 warriors, you’ll actually be swinging with 10, then you pay WUBRG and swing with those 10 to get 20 and well, you get the picture. Being a 5-color deck, we’ll need to work on ramping and mana fixing, so here’s some tools to do that with:

Ramp:

Besides mana rocks and the usual green ramp spells, we have some other support here. Radha in both of her forms will provide green or red mana depending on some circumstances, but can be valuable mana for post combat main phases. Ditto Neheb, though you’ll want to keep some of the other colors open so that you can cast additional spells. Chromatic Lantern gives all of your lands all colors of mana, and Cryptolith Rite gives the same to your creatures (think about using the tokens you’re producing for additional mana). Lastly, Mirari’s Wake and Zendikar Resurgent will make your lands produce double mana, while also buffing creatures and drawing you cards. There are other great Warriors that do different things so let’s take a look at those now:

Warriors:

It seems that every color represents the warrior tribe fairly well, except for blue which is only present in multi-colored warriors and the lone Nimbus Champion. Still, there is a lot of good stuff here, most of these warriors being rare or mythic rarity means they tend to have pretty good effects on them. Some are better than others, but you can see the synergy. We’ll be creating tokens left and right, and we can use those tokens in various ways. Like I mentioned earlier, with Cryptolith Rite you’ll be able to tap those little 1/1’s for mana and that’s a boon for any 5-color deck. You can also sacrifice warriors to Brion Stoutarm (fling them at targets) or Blood-Chin Fanatic (extort effect), and as a bonus if you have Butcher of Malakir out at the same time enemies will have to do some sacrificing as well. There are far too mana effects to go over here, but you should look over the cards. There are many options out there that I didn’t use, but I found that these to be some of the best effects on Warrior bodies out there. The only two that I added from Battlebond are the Decorated Champion and Nimbus Champion, both who have warriors-matter effects. One of the main themes of the deck besides being tribal is extra combat steps, so let’s look at the support section of the deck:

Support:

From being able to take extra combat steps (Relentless Assault, Savage Beating, World at War), to buffing your creatures (Overwhelming Stampede, True Conviction, Cathars’ Crusade) to Warriors matter (Raiders’ Spoils, Secure the Wastes), to standard tribal includes (Kindred Discovery, Coat of Arms, Vanquisher’s Banner), you’ll find a ton of synergy and should be making a ton of tokens and buffing your creatures quickly — then take as many combats as you need in order to smash you opponents. I’m not sure where Najeela will fit on the tier list (probably around tier 3) but I think this deck will be fun to pilot nonetheless. You could also go a completely different route and still make use of her extra combat ability, but I think tribal warriors is the way to go! You can see the full deck list here.

TWR: Looking Forward to Battlebond

Battlebond is the newest product from Wizards to be a sort of filler set between blocks of standard sets. Think of sets like Conspiracy (and it’s sequel Conspiracy: Take the Crown), where the set is sort of stand alone, introduces some different mechanics, and is meant to be drafted. Where this set stands alone is that it’s the first (to my knowledge) set to embrace the Two-Headed Giant format. This means four players make up teams of two and go head to head to head to head. You get the idea.

I like the 2HG format. It’s fun to have a teammate and multiplayer formats are definitely more engaging than the traditional 1v1 style. What’s great about this set is that not only is it embracing 2HG, but it’s also providing some excellent Commander format cards. Also, many expensive cards are receiving a reprint, and that’s probably the most exciting part. A little disappointing too though, as I just bought a Seedborn Muse for $25 about a month ago and that’s now being reprinted, but I’ve said too much. This week is spoilers week for the set which releases on June 8th. It hasn’t been fully spoiled yet, but I’ll point you in the direction of the spoilers. There are a few cards that I’d like to talk about anyway, so let’s get to that.

Big Money Reprints:

I recently sold off nearly all of my Planeswalkers recently because I decided against a “Superfriends” build as the cornerstone of the deck is Doubling Season, a card that spiked to upwards of $75. This reprint should bring the price down a bit, or I might get lucky and open one. Some other noteables are Diabolic Intent (an equally expensive Diabolic Tutor), Land Tax (great ramp for white and about $25), Nirkana Revenant (cabal coffers on legs and also $25), True-Name Nemesis (a nice tool for merfolk decks, but kinda busted 1v1), and the aforementioned Seedborn Muse. These are staples for EDH, and I’ll be aiming for getting my hands on copies of each.

New Mechanics:

Partner itself isn’t a new keyword. There were partner commanders introduced in the Commander 2016 sets. Planeswalkers as commanders aren’t a new thing either, as that was done in 2014 I believe. However, Planeswalkers that can be your commander and have partner are a new thing. We’ve only seen the one pair so far, but I’m interested to see more of these. We also know that Commander 2018 sets will be led by Planeswalkers as well, so its likely there will be some good additions coming. “Partner with” is also something new, where the two legendary creatures will tutor the other out when one is played, which means they do double duty. There are several examples of these in the set, but I only wanted to highlight a couple. Another new keyword is Assist, which allows another player to pay a portion of a spell’s CMC, while the Support keyword has been revisited (this one distributes +1/+1 counters based on the number following the keyword).

Notables:

Archfiend of Despair is a reprint and is a nice card (might throw that one into Kaalia). Archon of Valor’s Reach is an interesting concept for a Commander. Arena Rector is great for superfriends or any deck playing a handful of Planeswalkers as PW specific tutors aren’t really out there. The new land cycle should be auto includes for EDH decks as you’ll always have more than one opponent. Najeela looks like a busted new general, and screams to be made into a Warrior tribal deck — best part is it’s 5-color, so you can pick the very best warriors and spells to support them. This will likely be a fresh brew for me coming soon! Lastly, Sentinel Tower feels like it can be busted, especially in spellslinger decks. Might have to try it out in Kess.

That’s all for now. I may revisit the topic when the set is fully spoiled, or once I get a new brew done. Until then, happy gaming!

TWR: Thoughts on MTG Arena

A few months ago I was invited to the Magic: The Gathering Arena alpha test. There was an NDA and all at the time, but I found it a pleasant enough experience, with what little I tried. At that time, they launched with only the cards from Ixalan, and because at the time I had already played with and bought a bunch of packs of Ixalan in real life, I wasn’t too excited to play. Fast forward a few months and the NDA is dropped. They’ve finished the Ixalan block along with adding the Amonkhet block. Recently they added Dominaria, and I assume they will add the Kaladesh block before it rotates out to give the full standard experience. Or maybe they won’t. I have other thoughts as well.

I’ve played most of the digital versions of Magic in existence. The yearly Duels of the Planeswalkers series was interesting, but such a restrictive package. Magic Duels that was out a couple of years ago seemed like Wizards of the Coast’s answer to Hearthstone, but they didn’t get too far in before they stopped supporting it. Magic Online seems to be the only place where people get a near table top experience and it’s the only version I haven’t used. I’ve seen it in action though, and though it looks a bit archaic it still seems to be the best version of the game available in digital form. I think that with Arena, Wizards of the Coast are trying to revitalize their aging OG platform by bringing the graphics and gameplay up a notch.

I would be sharing screenshots but there is no built in screen shot button, and I was too lazy to use a work around. At the end of the day, Arena looks great and plays smoothly. The animations are well done, the sound effects are immersive and the cards look great. At this time it doesn’t support ultra wide 2k resolutions so my monitor has a lot of wasted real estate, but I’m sure that sort of support will be added in the future (along with a screen shot button). This is one of the first digital versions of Magic that I’ve played that actually feels intuitive. Some cards in this game require you to search your library or draw a set amount of cards and then put cards on the top or bottom of your library, etc. The interface with which these actions are completed is fast and makes sense. I feel like new players and old veterans who haven’t played in years will be able to pick up and go.

Now for the bad stuff. You’re given a few packs to get started with, and this means you’ll have random chances to either get something worthwhile or get a bunch of crap. The preconstructed decks work okay, but none seem competitive enough — particularly when playing against someone who has been playing for quite some time and is dropping Teferi’s on the board. Packs can sometimes come with a “wildcard” which will allow you to essentially craft a card of your choosing of the wildcard’s rarity. That’s a nice way to pick up a  Teferi of your own, but it isn’t necessarily going to win you the game. Getting packs takes forever. You’ll have to complete 2 quests a day to get a pack. At that rate, getting a decent deck together means grinding out with a bunch of draft chaff doing the daily quests for gold, and hey if you manage to get 5 wins you’ll get a pack, but if you just keep on losing, well you get the idea. There’s a missed opportunity here to be more like Magic Online, where there is a marketplace for singles and you can just create a deck and buy it outright. I’m a firm believer that it’s not the cards but the pilot who chooses their own destiny, but at the same time I’d much prefer to be able to throw down some cash to make a decent deck and be done with it. When I play the game in real life, I build decks using a combination of existing cards and singles purchased online. I want that same sort of experience. I’ll take the rewards slowly as they come, but I’d like to build a decent deck outright.

Some things I can see happening with the platform: I could see the above store option working well. The problem there is that it still won’t compete with Magic Online, because there’s still not the whole 25 years worth of cards available in Arena. One option I do see them having the ability to promote is Brawl — the new EDH variant that works with Standard-only cards. The problem there though is that like standard it is a rotating format, so how do they justify removing part of the cards from the program as they add new sets? What do people get for credit for the cards they already purchased? Unless they do go ahead and program this game to be the new version of Magic Online I think that I won’t be putting money into it. It’s an okay time waster, but I just don’t care about Standard enough to want to play this that often. I’d rather go to a store and play EDH with strangers face to face. If Brawl is added that might at least give me a reason to both play Brawl at all, and to play Arena as my go-to for Brawling.

TWR: $100 Budget Grenzo

A while back I challenged myself to build a budget deck with a dollar limit of $50. It ended up being a janky wall deck that wasn’t competitive in any sense of the word. I’m a fan of making decks of differing power levels, so it was fun to try and build something that at least had a win condition but wasn’t super competitive so that I could play it against folks who might have sub par decks. Having the option to play lower power decks with your playgroup is also nice so you can sort of relax and play EDH how it was initially meant to be played — casually. This doesn’t mean that playing a low cost deck requires it to be trash. There are some surprising budget builds out there that can actually work at multiplayer tables, and some commanders are better suited to these budget builds. You’re probably not going to compete very well with a $50 deck against a bunch of $500+ decks, but everyone has a pet project deck that isn’t high tier but is still fun to play. One of the other Legendary creatures I pulled in Masters 25 was Grenzo, Dungeon Warden and I knew that I’d like to build him at some point. I’ve finally brewed up a deck giving myself the limitation of $100, and have tried to make it as competitive as possible despite the low price tag. I didn’t limit myself on money spent per card, and of course market fluctuations could cause this number to be a little +/- $100, but current pricing shows it sitting at $98.72 which is close enough to the mark. Let’s take a look at the man, or goblin himself:

Grenzo is one of a small number of generals with an X in their CMC. The good news here is that X can equal 0, so he’s actually a 2 CMC commander so he’s quick to hit the board. Of course, you can choose to pay whatever you like for X,  and Grenzo will come into play with X +1/+1 counters on him. His activated ability costs 2 colorless mana, and you’ll throw the bottom card of your library into your graveyard at which point the creature’s power is compared to Grenzo’s — If the creature’s power is less than or equal to our leader’s then the creature is put into play. This means that you could actually build him in a way that you can cheat out large creatures without paying their mana costs. I see the value in that, but the down side there is that you’ll eventually get commander tax added on and X can start to get a bit out of hand. Alternatively you could use pump spells and auras or equipment to buff his power before using his ability, but I felt that these strategies were less effective than simply throwing in plenty of creatures with power 2 or less. It’s a hatebear style of package, but you can also exploit cards that are 0/0 and enter the battlefield with a number of +1/+1 counters. Let’s take a look parts of the creature package:

The majority of creatures are represented here, each having a specific reason for its inclusion (also most of them being on the cheap side to keep us under budget). Creatures have power 2 or less but also have a great upside and most of them cost more than 2 CMC, so cheating them into play makes them that much better. Utilizing cards like Ravenous Chupacabra and Fleshbag Marauder eliminate threats on the opponent’s board. You’ll create tokens with Siege-Gang Commander, Pentavus and Noosegraf Mob. Tree of Perdition is a great tool to slow down lifegain decks, while the Priests of Gix and Urabrask along with Palladium Myr will help speed us up. There are some combo pieces too, with Triskelion and Workhorse being able to go infinite by giving them Undying (and no, you don’t need Mikaeus to do it — he’d break the budget). You’ll be cheating in creatures for 2 mana a pop very quickly with Grenzo, so we’ll want the rest of our supporting cards to help manipulate our libraries. This means ways to put cards on the bottom of our library from our graveyard, or from the top to bottom with heavy use of the Scry keyword.

As you can see, we’re going to be manipulating our deck quite a bit. This is done by using artifacts and creatures that allow us to move cards from our graveyard to the bottom of our library. Example: Cast your Nekrataal, killing an opponent’s creature, then sacrifice it to Viscera Seer putting it into your graveyard, then use any of our cards that has the ability to put Nekrataal back on the bottom of the library, then put him back onto the battlefield with Grenzo’s ability. You can exploit cards over and over again in this manner. You’ll also be able to use cards like Faithless Looting or Tormenting Voice to draw cards and discard cards you’ll want to put onto the bottom of your library with the above method. You can scry at will with many of the artifacts I’ve included, so use this ability often to set up Grenzo in the best way possible. Another way we can churn through our libraries is with cards like Teferi’s Puzzlebox and Mindmoil, drawing a ton of cards and being able to set up your Grenzo uses in the process. The biggest benefit is that Grenzo doesn’t need to be tapped to use his ability, and this also means you can respond at instant speed. For example, if it’s an opponent’s turn and your Crystal Ball is untapped (you’ll need 3 untapped mana as well, so you should probably leave mana up each turn if possible) and they cast a big bad creature that is going to hit you you can tap a land for mana, tap Crystal Ball to scry 2, putting a response on the bottom of your library (say a Chupacabra) and then activating Grenzo to put that creature onto the battlefield and killing the enemy’s threat. Of course Scrying doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get what you need, but having a response is better than not, and you could also use your ability to move cards from graveyard to bottom of library to get the answers you need. You can literally move cards from zone to zone at will, so you might as well take advantage of it!

With that said, there really isn’t a baked in win-con here. You’ll have a sort of toolbox style game plan, wanting to manipulate Grenzo and the abilities I’ve described to lock down the board and get your chip damage in. Of course this won’t be a high tier build of Grenzo, but still looks like a fun deck to pilot for a small investment! You can see the full decklist here.