TWR: Looking Forward to Core Set 2019

A few years back Wizards of the Coast decided to do away with Core sets. This was a change that some people didn’t care about, but others felt was taking away a main set that had come to be expected each year. I would fall into the latter camp, because Alpha, Beta, Unlimited and Revised were essentially core sets, and I got started with the game back in those days, but then came back to the game again with 7th edition which was essentially a core set as well. At some point they started calling them core sets, with a year affixed to the title, and then got rid of them altogether. But good news friends, core sets are back and standard players especially should be rejoicing. You’ll get cards in a core set that are reprints of big powerful older cards, along with some draft fodder just like all other sets. I wanted to take the time today to look at the set, as the full spoilers are now out and it’s a good time to do so. I’ll break things down by color and try to give my reasoning for highlighting these particular cards. Most of them are cards I’d like for my own EDH decks, but some are just plain good cards (reprints) that people should get in their collections.

Multi-color:

Most of the multi-colored cards represent the original Elder Dragons from the 1990’s. This new version of Nicol Bolas is actually quite nice, though I don’t really have a slot for him unless I plopped him into my Jodah deck. Arcades on the other hand, I have some awesome plans for him, which I’ll be writing about soon. There are other Elder Dragons and some middling multi-color stuff in the set but nothing worth pointing out in my opinion.

White:

I’m being fairly selective here, but there are some decent white cards here. I really like the way Wizards have given White a sort of Blue ability in the “look at the top X cards of your library and pick one to put in your hand” effects. Ajani’s Influence combines the Support keyword (without actually having it) and this card draw effect, while the Militia Bugler has the card draw as well. It’s been a weakness for white and they’ve been fixing it. Valiant Knight is another great lord for Knight tribal, and I’ll be slotting that into my Aryel deck. Finally, Cleansing Nova is another 5 mana board wipe for White, but it’s got the nice ability to either kill all creatures, or take out the enchantress or stax player in your pod. Good stuff.

Blue:

Blue has a wide mix of things going on and a chunk of it is pretty good. Omniscience getting a reprint is good as it was starting to creep up towards being too expensive. Nexus of Fate is a great card, but unfortunately is the buy-a-box promo and I don’t want a box of this set enough to get one. Patient Rebuilding is some nice jank, where you mill an opponent and draw cards as well. Metamporphic Alteration is a great removal spell or can copy you a big baddie. The Phantom is a good spirit lord if that’s your thing, and the new Tezzeret is actually pretty good if you’re running an artifact deck.

Black:

Black got some love too, with some interesting cards. Liliana’s Contract could be an alternate win-con in decks heavy with demons, so I’ll likely find a spot for it in my Kaalia deck. The new Liliana is good for Zombie decks, and I think I’ll put her in mine. Fraying Omnipotence would be good to cause chaos in a game that is stalling out, and finally Isareth the Awakener is a nice recursion engine on the cheap.

Red:

Red is typically a color I don’t really care too much about, but lately there have been some good red cards coming out. There are two Goblins here that I definitely want to slam into my Krenko deck, one being a lord that lets me sacrifice gobs to destroy artifacts, and the other let’s me sac them to potentially cast cards from the top of my library. Good stuff! Alpine Moon is sort of a Blood Moon effect, but not amazing. It will still deal with Gaea’s Cradles and other troublesome lands. Lathliss should be in Dragon tribal decks, giving you tokens and pumping your dragons across the board. Lastly, Apex of Power could be decent in spell slinger decks, as you’ll be casting a bunch of spells for free.

Green:

Green feels like one of the weaker colors this time around, but they have been buffing it for a few sets now so that makes sense. We get a new planeswalker in Vivien, and she seems alright. Her Invocation is more card draw for green, and one of the lone dinosaurs in the set is pretty good allowing you some card draw in a dino deck that doesn’t have a lot of it. Sort of meh.

Colorless and Lands:

Crucible of Worlds is a big money reprint, and getting another Reliquary Tower reprint is nice too because it was starting to creep up in price and is an EDH staple. I also like Isolation Tower which will let you get around hexproof. Dragon’s Hoard should be in a tribal deck as it will get you card draw for dragons. Chaos wand belongs in a chaos deck, but it allows you to steal spells from enemies. The Sword should be in a Knight deck, the Scepter is a long way from being fast but will get you extra turns if not dealt with. Lastly, the Bookcase is actually a decent wall, and I know where I’ll be putting that one.

Overall the core set is a great entry point for those new to the game, but is sort of a meh set for veterans. As I’ve shown here there are a good couple dozen cards that are worth having amongst 280 cards… so buying packs doesn’t seem like the way to go for me. I intend to buy singles of most of these cards and then prepare for Commander 2018 which is right around the corner.

The War Report: Atraxa Brew

Over the weekend I did a little shopping at the convention and picked up a copy of Atraxa, one of the commanders from the 2016 sets. Funny enough, when I got into commander was right around the same time that the 2016 sets were out, and I could have purchased this set, or Breya which is also super popular and as a result the commander deck is overpriced. Instead, I picked up Saskia because she sounded fun and kick myself every time I think about it. Turns out that the decklist is full of good cards but many of them I already own, so I decided to just get a single of the legend herself. Still pretty pricey, but getting my hands on her and Doubling Season made my day. The only conundrum at that point was deciding what to do with her. I’ve been scratching my head ever since, up until last night when I finally sat down to brew a deck centered around this lovely devil:

Atraxa is likely the #1 commander used in Superfriends decks. This style of deck revolves around abusing her proliferate ability to stack counters on your deck full of Planeswalkers in order to use their ultimate abilities as soon as possible and do some broken things. This often involves the use of Doubling Season along with cards like Oath of Teferi and The Chain Veil. However, a while back I made the snap decision to sell off most of the Planeswalkers I owned and gave up on getting a Doubling Season as it was priced around $75 at the time. It’s been reprinted in Battlebond though, so I managed to get my copy for $36. This brought me back around to the though of doing Superfriends, though using Atraxa means missing out on any Red Planeswalkers which is why my original Superfriends brew used Ramos, Dragon Engine instead so I could go 5-color, and later I was trying to do the same sort of thing with Jodah. Jodah ended up being a 5-color good stuff with big beaters that I could cheat into play, but still has a handful of Planeswalkers along with Oath of Teferi and The Chain Veil in the deck. I’m kind of over the idea of a Superfriends deck at this point too, so I’ve decided to go another route with Atraxa.

Infect:

One of the first EDH decks I built was centered around Temmet who was new at the time, and I eventually turned it into an infect deck. It worked, but still was not very competitive. Atraxa and infect go hand in hand, as her proliferate ability will allow you to ping someone for 1 poison counter (let’s say with Blighted Agent, who is unblockable) and then proliferate your way to 10 counters, killing off an opponent. Most of these creatures have infect innately, but for those in the deck that don’t, I’ve included Grafted Exoskeleton and Phyresis to seal the deal. Conversely, if someone plays a powerful creature I can steal it and give it Infect with Corrupted Conscience. Lovely.

Proliferate:

Proliferation isn’t just the duty of our commander though, I’ve included a handful of cards that also help with that detail. The artifacts here will allow you to do it on command, Inexorable Tide is basically a win-con in a card, Tezzeret’s Gamble will draw you some cards too, and Thrummingbird depends on doing combat damage to proliferate, but in a multiplayer game someone is bound to not have fliers.

Counter Shenanigans:

There’s a lot to take in with this last gallery, but generally speaking, we’re going to not only be aiming to put poison counters on our enemies so that we can proliferate them to death, but we’re also going to want to be adding +1/+1 counters to all of our creatures so that we can smash face. Bonus from cards like Abzan Falconer and Herald of Secret Streams who give evasion to creatures with counters on them. Each of these cards will help us to have the biggest creatures on the field and will also allow us to get poison counters spread around the table quickly.

That’s really all there is to it. I think this deck is going to be fun as hell for me to play but not so fun for those I’m playing against. It’s not going to hold up against a deck that wins on turn 3, but it should be able to hold its own against decks that are a little slower to get out their combo pieces. You can view the full decklist here.

The War Report: Grand Prix Las Vegas

Grand Prix Las Vegas ran from June 14th to the 17th this year, and though these sorts of events have been happening for years, I never saw myself going to one. I’ve known about Pro Tours and the competitive scene but I was always a kitchen table player so I always assumed these events were mainly for the pros or those aspiring to get into that scene. When it comes to the Grand Prix at least, there is more to do for the average Magic player than I would have first expected. It’s true, there is still a main event that the pros are participating in, but outside of that there are tons of events going on for everyone else, so my roommate and I decided that we should go a couple of months back. Part of this decision was made easier when a member of our pod moved out to Vegas, so we figured we could get the gang back together while simultaneously participating in one of the biggest Magic events of the year. This year is also the 25th anniversary of the game, so it was an extra special convention.

It really wasn’t a spontaneous decision to attend; we casually discussed it a while ago and though I thought it was a great idea it was unclear if we’d have the extra money to go. A few weeks ago he went ahead and secured a room at a hotel near the convention center, and let me know it was done so I scrambled to get my finances in order so that I would be able to make it. With the support of my lovely woman I was able to make the trip and I’m glad that I did. Though the convention started on Thursday, we decided that we could afford to take that Friday off in order to get a head start on the weekend. With Sunday being Father’s Day we needed to get back home as early as possible so we also headed to Vegas super early on Friday as well. I was in the car and on my way by 6:30 that morning and arrived shortly before 11 am. Our friend had work until 5 pm and check in at the hotel wasn’t until 3, but we managed to check in early and took advantage of the time to have a meal and enjoy the AC before heading over to the convention center.

As soon as we headed inside the main hall, we were greeted by an overwhelming amount of people and visuals. The place was packed when we arrived, and we spent a good couple of hours just walking around looking at everything on offer. Rows upon rows of tables were filled with people playing various forms of Magic. Vendors lined the rows and every card you could ever want was on sale — in multiple languages no less.

One of the coolest things on display was this humongous Serra Angel statue. Situated nearby were extremely over-sized cards showcasing all of the first printings of each artwork for the card. It was a shame that there wasn’t anything else like this on display, but you could get your own oversized cards from the “prize wall” nearby. There was also an “official” merch presumably run by Wizards of the Coast, and that’s where I got this beauty:

Before I left there were a few things on my bucketlist. I wanted a t-shirt commemorating the event, I wanted to do my first ever live draft and I wanted pick up some cards on my wishlist. There were a few shirts on sale at the shop, but this was the only one that mentioned anything about GP Vegas. The other shirts on sale were each of the individual mana colors, with some sort of slogan using the mana symbol as one of the letters. For example, the word “Nope” written across the front of the shirt with the O being the blue mana symbol. Funny yes, because blue is the counterspell color, but not really my thing. I liked the black one best, with the word “Doom” written across the front with one of the O’s being the black mana symbol. I still preferred the GP shirt, with the simple rendition of a black lotus on the front and the 25th anniversary logo and Grand Prix locations on the back.

I ended up participating in less events than I would have expected. The first few hours in the convention center were overwhelming… we had just driven for four and a half hours and were a bit jet lagged, and there was no real rhyme or reason for the event. It took some time to figure out where to go to sign up for events and whatnot, but once we did we decided to play some commander. There were sealed events, a beta draft qualifier and “on-demand” drafts. You could also play 4-player commander on demand, so that’s what we did. Each of these queues required payment and sign up and then you’re given a buzzer. You wait around til the buzzer goes off and then meet at a “gathering point” where a judge will verify names and then seat you. We had to wait about 30 minutes before we got a 4-player game, and it was over in about ten minutes or less. The guy who won literally pulled a turn 3 win con out of his ass and that was that. We went ahead and played a for fun game and I won that one at least. After this point it was time to meet up with our friend who was finally off of work, and we set off to do a Dominaria draft.

Later in the evening the on-demand drafts turned into “turbo drafts,” which are essentially the same thing but instead of playing three rounds you only play one. This was my first ever live draft, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I opened poorly, and though I made what I thought was a decent deck I got stomped pretty quickly. Unlike the pre-release events I’ve done at my LGS where you get packs of cards as reward for playing (and winning), at the convention you were rewarded with “Prize Tix” in various amounts. These were used on the aforementioned prize wall. I earned 20 tix for participating in the round of EDH, though the winner got an additional 40. For the draft format, you get 100 tix for winning and 10 for losing. Some people were cool and did a 60/50 split, but the guy I played against gave me the 10 and walked away. Dick. The second day I did one more paid event, a Battlebond draft with our friend while my roommate did his beta draft qualifier. That one didn’t go so well either, and unless the judge forgot to give them to us, I didn’t get any tix from that one. At the end of the day, I ended up with a total of 40 tix, and the prize wall was always so damn packed that I didn’t bother spending them. They’re an additional little souvenir from the weekend. The “Cake Tix” was for the 25th anniversary cake they were giving away but I didn’t have any of that either.

The two parts of the weekend that were my favorite were playing EDH with our original pod back in the hotel room, and the games of EDH we got going at the end of Saturday. I guess you could say I love EDH. Oh, and I met Josh Lee Kwai from The Command Zone podcast. He’s Internet famous, so that’s pretty cool. At one point I finally decided what cards I would like to get my hands on, limiting myself to spending $100 or less, but wanting to get some value. These were my spoils from the weekend:

The top row were purchased for said $100 or less. The bottom row were promo cards for participating in events. Teferi and Land Tax have a home in one deck that I’m building, while Atraxa has been on my mind as a commander I would like to build for a while now. Doubling season I’ve talked about quite a bit lately, and having been recently reprinted it’s dropped from $75 to $36, which is a steal at this point (and I doubt it will drop much more before slowly creeping back up to that high point). It will be included into whatever I do with Atraxa, be it Superfriends or +1/+1 counter shenanigans. The promo lands are more of a souvenir than anything, but that promo Death Baron is a sweet alternate art and will slot right into my Scarab God zombie tribal deck.

Overall it was a great weekend and a neat experience. I don’t know that I would do it again though, because I’ve discovered that I truly do not like drafting, so if I do anything like this in the future I’ll be focusing on EDH alone. Still, if you love the game like I do, I’d recommend checking out a big convention like this at least once for the experience!

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.