The War Report: Thoughts on Commander 2017

I know, I know, I’m obsessed. This used to be a gaming blog, and though I know that Magic: The Gathering could still be considered gaming, it’s definitely not “video gaming” despite having some titles in the digital space. Regardless, there is more news that interests me coming out of the Wizards of the Coast space than there is the gaming sphere, so here we are with another column of The War Report!

It’s spoiler season, which happens multiple times a year when it comes to MTG — each time a new set or collection comes out there are spoilers for it, as people want to know what they can expect before buying in, and I must say that having the spoilers is nice because you can tell if something you are going to buy is going to be worth your while. Given the spoilers of the last couple of main sets, Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, I knew right away that I wouldn’t be buying too many packs, that most of the “power” cards that I wanted would be easier to just buy singles of and be done with. At this point I have done that for most of the cards I’d like to own from that block. Then once a year a new commander set comes out and we all get to take a peek into the minds of the creative teams at Wizards, and are rewarded with new cards in each set as well.

At this point, we know the exact color make ups, tribes and commanders for the new pre-constructed 2017 sets. Here they are:

5-color Dragons, Green/White Cats, Mardu Vampires and Grixis Wizards. Interesting color combinations, and an interesting new mechanic called “Eminence” which gives each new commander a bonus effect that triggers even when it is in the command zone. Well, this isn’t entirely new, as Oloro, The Ageless Acetic released with the 2013 commander sets and had what is now called Eminence. However, it’s a cool and powerful utility and I think we will see some awesome creative uses for the commanders outside of the precons. Out of these sets, as I mentioned in my last post I’m most interested in Vampires, but I was unsure how things would go having a mardu color-theme. Having seen Edgar Markov however, I’m sold. His Eminence ability is amazing and fits the aggro theme I wanted to use in the mono-black vampire deck I had been planning. I feel like sacrifice outlets and recursion are going to work out great in the deck, and I’m sure there will be some weaker cards that can easily be pulled out. I feel like there are some amazing dual colored vampires (orzhov and rakdos) that will slot right in, and if it ends up that I’m just splashing red, that’s fine — it’s what ended up happening with Kaalia as well.

I feel like the other Eminence abilities are less useful, but some of those commanders are more powerful in their own ways. Time will tell how the decks themselves play out, but I’m excited to get my hands on Markov and to build out the deck in my own way. The guys in my play group are excited as well, one for Dragons and the other for Wizards — no one is too thrilled with Cat tribal, but I’m sure someone will pick it up anyway.

There are some other great cards that are making their way into the decks as well, with some old school mechanics like phasing making their way back to the game. It’s been a great spoiler season thus far, and soon we’ll be looking forward to Ixalan as well. I will report back once I have the deck in hand and can start to modify it!

The War Report: HoD and EDH Updates

The Pre-release weekend for the newest Magic: The Gathering set, Hour of Devastation, just passed. Due to some financial difficulties I was unable to attend, though I did see what my friends procured from the event, and it was a bit underwhelming. We’re all members of a Facebook group dedicated to EDH, and I saw all sorts of people posting pictures of their awesome promo cards from the weekend — we’re talking foil Scarab Gods here, while my buds got a couple of crappy artifacts. Well, they are okay cards but I’d prefer some of the others I saw posted. Still, I was bummed that I didn’t get to go, and hope to go to the next. I’ve been reading articles about the set all over and the consensus is that it’s not a very “good” set. The expected value is lower than any set in years, and most are pointing to a handful of chase cards though I think that’s the case for most sets to be honest. Despite these facts, there are some great cards that I’m excited to add to my EDH decks, and for that I’ll buy at least a handful of packs and then probably buy the singles I’m not lucky enough to pull. The set officially releases on Friday, so I’ll probably pick up a Fat Pack and call it a day. For now though, I’d like to go over the cards I’m excited for and then touch upon some updates to decks that I’ve already talked about (and some that I have not).

These are the three cards I’m most excited for. The Locust God is going to be made into an EDH deck and Izzet is a color combination I have yet to build. I’ve actually already put the thing together, and have many of the pieces, just have to wait for the release so I can get my hands on this guy and finish it off with some singles. The Scarab God is also begging to be used in my Dimir Zombie deck, though I was torn whether or not to use him or just add him to the 99. Gisa and Geralf is my current commander, and though I love the graveyard recursion per turn especially when paired with Rooftop Storm, it seems that the X scry + damage per turn along with being able to make 4/4 zombies while removing cards from any graveyard seems to be stronger. Lastly, Razaketh is going straight into my Mardu Angels & Demons deck, which actually just saw a couple of recent upgrades that I’ll discuss in a bit. He’s a beast that can be cheated into play and also tutors for extra goodies. So good!

   

My B-tier list features a couple of cards that look awesome but haven’t yet found a home. I am planning an Oloro led lifegain deck that I feel the Crested Sunmare is a shoo-in for. Overwhelming splendor will also likely end up in that deck, because it slows the game down allowing me to build up life for various win conditions. Hell, even Torment of Hellfire could be useful, but I feel like that belongs in a different deck, but which one I don’t know. There were a few other cards I thought about mentioning here, but they are maybes and only if I decided they were going to fit into an existing deck or could be a build around.

Next up, I’d like to talk about some of the decks I’ve just mentioned, and maybe shed some light on other decks that I’ve built and have been playing. I try to share all of my decks because I know people who build decks find joy in dissecting others’ work, but also to keep a reminder around of what I thought was good and how I’ve grown as a deckbuilder. So like I said, that Razaketh is going into my Mardu Angels and Demons deck, and it’s actually just been upgraded. A while back I mentioned my playgroup picking up the Commander Anthology, and that we were going to pick up another, and that has happened. Just yesterday I paid for my second deck, and now I’m the proud owner of Kaalia of the Vast!

Honestly, when I built the deck I built it with her as the commander in mind, but she was $35 by herself and the deck was selling for around $100. That’s ridiculous. Instead, I got a better deal by splitting up this reprint and she’s actually worth more money than before because this reprint is a foil. Regardless, she makes the deck work even better, as you can cheat in the ridiculously expensive Angels and Demons in the deck. It turns out though that I bought nearly all of the same angels and a couple of the same demons, though I have many that are better includes for the deck than the precon. However, the precon came with a bunch of Dragons and some useful spells and mana rocks that will be used in other decks, so it’s not a complete wash. I did add these cards to my existing deck as well:

Anger is great in a graveyard to hastily use Kaalia, or anything that I play, most of which doesn’t have hast. I like the kicker on this otherwise normal artifact removal spell, and Reiver Demon is a nice board clear especially if you cheat him in. I dropped a couple cards that I felt weren’t bringing a lot of value in my time using the deck, and also dropped Tariel (the former commander) into the 99. I will have to make room for Razaketh, but I’m sure that will be easy enough.

The first deck I bought from the Anthology was Freyalise, and I have since removed her and a couple of cards to add to my Molimo Ramp deck. I think there is one HoD card that I want to add to that as well, but it’s not really imperative. With her remaining deck pieces I added a couple of other Elves and made Ezuri the new commander. I think it will still work well enough, but I’m not a huge fan of Elves in this game (or any game for that matter) so it’s likely I won’t play that deck much.

My Zombies deck has seen some revisions, and will receive another once HoD releases when I swap in The Scarab God as a new commander. Otherwise I think it’s done. My Orzhov Enchantments deck has been done for a while, and I think Molimo and the elves are good to go as well. My Temmet deck has also seen some revisions, most recently by adding in a couple of Populate options, and I think it’s finished as well. Reaper King which I don’t believe I’ve mentioned seems pretty well rounded out of the gate, people in my play group have even said it’s the best one I’ve made. Lastly, I just put together “Sramtron” which I mentioned recently, so I’m hoping that one works out well. All in all I’ve come to love the deckbuilding aspects, it just sucks that it can be such a money pit.

Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough for one post. Toodles.

The War Report: Commander Anthology

A recent release, the Commander Anthology is part of a series of products designed to relive the past of the game. A bundled experience that is playable out of the box for four players, it reprints four previously available Commander pre-constructed sets, that are in some cases pretty rare, and pretty expensive. Having a four player group meant that we could pick this up and everyone would get a deck, but the MSRP is $160, and the decks themselves are worth varying prices. As such, the argument persisted past the release date, as to how it would be fair to pick who gets what, and what each deck is actually worth. You can see the full product list here along with the going rates for each, and see what I’m talking about. Not only is Kaalia worth more as a card, her deck has more expensive cards in it than the others. Freyalise ends up being the second most valuable though Meren isn’t far off. Derevi however, doesn’t even hit $50 worth of card value. It was a difficult thing to divy up, but then something magical (pun intended) happened.

When we were discussing our meet time for the past week, it turns out that one of our members said that he had a surprise for us, so he was really pushing for our fourth to make it. Everyone showed up and it was revealed that he had in fact picked up the Anthology. It turned out though, that he only had to pay $120 for it, as someone at a shop was willing to sell it cheaper for cash money. Score! Access to the product for less cost seemed to put everyone in a good mood, and we were able to amicably decide how to split up the box.

There are the four decks that come in their own thematic boxes, 4 spinner life counters that could come in handy, though we typically use an app on one of the guy’s iPad. Of the decks that are in the box, I was most interested in Kaalia, followed by Freyalise. Two other players also wanted Kaalia, and one other wanted Freyalise and Meren. The last guy didn’t care at all, and we ended up giving him first pick. Due to the price cut, it was agreed upon that Kaalia would be worth $60, and the others worth $30 each. I only brought $30 with me, and that seemed to be all anyone else wanted to spend, so the guy who picked the box up stuck with Kaalia, and our less picky player picked out Darevi. Myself and the last remaining player both wanted Freyalise, but I convinced him that he should pick Meren because he actually wanted the deck and to let me have Freyalise and that’s how it ended up.

We broke into the decks and played one very long game (that was interrupted plenty) that I ended up winning with the Elvish tribal deck. It was fun, and I’m looking forward to taking some of its pieces to put into my other mono-green deck, where I can already see a better commander and some other additions for a straight up elvish tribal deck. We all agreed again before the end of the night that it would be cool to pick up another box for the same price and let everyone get another deck, and I agreed to be the larger purchase this time around, so soon I will have a Kaalia that will be taken apart to use in other ways, but just having her in my Angel/Demon deck will be sweet. I feel that most of her pieces will be well used.

Overall I think the product is great if you either want an instant collection of four decks for yourself, or if you have a dedicated group that wants to get into Commander. Even at $160 it’s a pretty good value, but if you can find a deal it’s even sweeter!

The War Report: Metamorphosis 2.0

The title of this week’s War Report is brought to you by this article over on “the mothership” as it’s been affectionately called. It’s a look at the future of Magic, along with some of the observations made by the design team. Very insightful, and a good read for those of you who happen to be interested in the game. The main focal points of this article point to changes in the way the release schedule works, but doesn’t rock the boat too much:

  • There will be 4 releases per year, but 2 block sets are gone. We’ll get three big releases per year. The additional set will be a revised core set (50/50 reprints/new cards).
  • Planeswalker appearances will be toned down.
  • Less Masterpiece series — the next set will not have them.

I’ve also borrowed this title because there has been a shifting of the sands within my own playgroup, and a wider net has been cast in our hopes to keep things fresh. Magic has been around for a long time, and the 25th anniversary is here bringing with it the promise of a return to a familiar schedule, re-visitation of old worlds and several interesting products. The full announcement can be viewed here, but the main gist of things I will attempt to abbreviate cut and paste here:

September 20, 2017 Ixalan releases September 29 and features Pirate Vraska battling Dinosaurs?!
November 10, 2017 Duel Decks: Merfolk vs. Goblins releases Novemeber 10, 2017.
November 10, 2017 The Art of Magic: the GatheringIxalan releases November 10, 2017.
November 17, 2017 Iconic Masters releases. Exclusive preview at HASCON.
November 24, 2017 Explorers of Ixalan is an out-of-the-box multiplayer experience that releases November 24, 2017.
November 24, 2017 From the Vault: Transform releases November 24, 2017 featuring fifteen transforming cards.
December 8, 2017 Unstable releases, a new silver-bordered set release on December 8, 2017.
January 19, 2018 Rivals of Ixalan, the second set of the Ixalan block releases.
March 16, 2018 Masters 25 releases, a 25th anniversary–edition Masters set.
April 28, 2018 (Return to) Dominaria releases April 28, 2018.
June 20, 2018 Core Sets return on June 20, 2018.

Honestly, there are some cool things going on here. We just recently saw the release of the Commander Anthology that brought back some of the strong commanders from past years, and there have already been leaks for the upcoming Commander 2017 sets. There’s a tribal theme going on as well, because the forthcoming Duel Deck release features two of the most iconic tribes that haven’t really been represented in the official WotC commander decks — it’s likely there will be some cards worth looting from that pack. We don’t know a bunch about Ixalan, but there’s dinosaurs n’ stuff… should be interesting to say the least.

So my playgroup has had a shifting 4th member for the past few weeks, and it seems that he is a pretty good player and being everyone else’s prior friend means he melded right in. The only draw back is that he apparently has plenty of cards in his collection, but hasn’t had the time to put together an EDH deck so he’s been playing ours. This is fine, but typically one wants to know the ins and outs of a deck before playing it competitively. I say competitively loosely, because we probably aren’t rocking tournament ready decks but we love kicking the shit out of each other nonetheless. Despite that lone drawback, it has been fun playing 4-player games, and we have all found additional weaknesses to our decks, particularly in the mana curve department. It seems we have all been playing rather slow, but it has worked out in 3 player games. That extra person makes a big difference with how you play the game, so we have all gone back to the drawing board a bit. We’ve also been discussing going to the next pre-release night at the local card store, but also in pitching in on things like the Anthology where we all get something cool but don’t have to buy the whole thing outright. Our group is expanding its horizons a bit and it’s been something I spend a lot of time thinking about. More so than video games most of the time, which is an odd thing. But I digress.

Recently I put together a “fuck you” deck, which is basically built around exploiting the commander’s ability to lock down the board. In practice (only took it for a spin once) I was doing okay, but then got eliminated. I think a few more games will help me determine what help it needs. The problem is that once I play a deck for a couple of weeks I want to build a new one, and the ideas are coming in faster than the money is to pay for this shit. I’m being budget minded and attempting to keep the spending to a minimum but holy shit this is cardboard crack. I’ve already built a deck that I just have to purchase the loose ends for, but also have a couple of other commanders in mind to build towards.

After our last play session, my friend and I were talking about cards that would fit well within my Reaper King deck and he suggested dropping a Sram, Senior Edificer into it. I agreed with him at the time and when I was at home I dug out my copy. It turns out I had two, so I thought to myself that he would make a pretty damn good commander himself. I started doing the research and built out an entire deck centered around artifacts — which also happens to be a great way to play some of the vehicles I have lying around like Heart of Kiran (which I’ve owned for 6 months without finding a use for). The card draw engine is incredible and it’s perfect for a “Voltron” style deck. After putting that one together (on paper) I felt like going mono-colored has some advantages, after having found great success with my Molimo ramp deck and feeling like “Sramtron” looks like so much fun (again, on paper).

I don’t really have much going on with red. Despite using it in both my Angel deck and 5-color Reaper King deck, I’ve stuck with minimal amounts of red. I want to rectify that, because there are some fun looking cards that I have lying around and others that I’d like to own. I thought about going Goblin tribal, but I’m going to wait for the Duel Deck and Commander 2017 releases because I feel like there might be more love thrown their way — even the 25th anniversary masters set is likely to contain some gems. Plus, Gobs are pretty played out from way back when, so I’d like to do something a little more unique with more cards available to me. Dragons are definitely just as played out, and though I’d prefer to play a 2 or 3 colored deck, we already have one of those in the playgroup. Mono-red dragons though, now that could be different. Granted, most of the dragons will be the same most of the time, but knowing the way he plays I should be able to find some different cards to shake things up. I’m thinking a burn sub-theme, but perhaps I’ll find some other tricks as I put it together.

Lastly, I started thinking about mono-black. I don’t know what it is about black, but I want it in all of my decks (and almost have that). Unfortunately many of the more obscure or recently black legendary creatures didn’t really excite me. I also don’t really care about vampires, but it was the next biggest theme in the color outside of zombies and demons. I already have plenty of demons in my angel deck and I have a zombie deck, so those were a no-go. So vampires it is. I think I’m going to go fairly aggro in this deck mainly because you can find various ways to beef up vampires so cheap ones will help out. Black is good at ramping as well, and big finishers like Nightmare can be fun.

Anyway, the state of the game is always changing, but it seems that we are all in it for a long haul. I’m hoping some of our journeys to game shops will expand our group and perhaps create other options for playing, because I tell ya once a week is not enough!

The War Report: Theorycrafting: Molimo Ramp EDH

If you’ve been following this column, I’m sure you’ve noticed that Commander has kind of become my thing. I’m up to 5 decks that are all pretty good in my humble opinion (6 if you count the other pre-made deck I bought but subsequently broke up). From here on out, I’m going to use its less official but easier to write out acronym EDH, as that’s what me and my friends (plus countless online resources refer to it as). EDH stands for Elder Dragon, Highlander — which definitely sucks to spell out but is nice and tidy when you us the shortened version. Wizards coined the Commander moniker, and though it suits the format just as well, EDH sort of rolls off the tongue. As I was saying, EDH has become my thing, and I’ve shared a bit about some of my older decks though this time around I want to highlight the one that performed so well out of the gate that it nearly went undefeated last week when I debuted it. The real treat was that this past weekend my gaming group got together and instead of our usual 3 player free for all matches we had another person join us. Apparently he used to be their 3rd and they were always looking for a 4th… well I just so happen to now be the 3rd and he became the 4th. Or however you want to look at it. Playing a 4 person multiplayer match was very entertaining, and provided all new insights into our decks and how they were tuned. I noticed that the other two decks I put together most recently didn’t perform as well with the added player, but my latest creation happens to be balanced enough for either. I’d venture to say it would hold its own in 1v1 EDH matches as well.

I started with a dual color EDH deck, and then picked up a four color. I made a couple of dual color and one tri color deck as well, and then I started thinking I should probably try a mono color deck for shits and giggles. Green seemed like the natural choice because none of my other decks were using it, so I knew I had unused rares lying around. Upon doing some further research I figured I’d pick up some cards that would help with ramp as green does it best, and then just throw out huge beaters to win the game. It turns out that this thought process would be further refined but the end result was amazing — better than I could have hoped for. So without futher ado, let’s dig into my Mono Green Ramp EDH Deck:

There were a few good options for Legendary Mono-Green Commanders, but Molimo felt to fit the purpose of what I was going for. I want ramp, and I’m talking super ramp… to the point where I have like 10 forests on turn 5 and am swinging for 10 trample due to Molimo’s passive. He does have a steep cost but in EDH you don’t have the same limitations on your mana pool, nor do you have to worry with the amount of ramp I’ve put into the deck.

Spells

Ramp:

Ramp, ramp and more ramp. These are mostly sorceries but there are a couple of enchantments that serve the same purpose — get as many lands onto the battlefield as possible as fast as possible. It just so happens that the two best ways to do that are with spells that allow you to pull out lands, and by drawing cards, that can either result in more land in hand, or more spells in hand to get more land. You see where this is going. I stuck with cards that either put the land directly onto the battlefield (as there are many options where they end up in your hand) or where you get multiple lands at once. This increases the speed of the deck and there is so much synergy with the concept throughout the years of Magic sets available for EDH. Having the land to cast the X cost creatures or those other powerful spells is the whole point of this deck, because if you do it faster than them, you’ll always have the advantage. Plus Molimo benefits from the number of Forests you control, and it only takes 21 points of commander damage to beat an opponent. With 40 forests in the deck, you can potentially one shot everyone if you manage to keep him alive.

Card Draw:

As I’ve said, card draw is equally important. Though Blue is known more for its card draw prowess than the other colors, Green is no slouch, it just typically requires powerful creatures (also at home in the color) or for other conditions to occur. I’ve tried to run the gamut here, in that there are different options that can potentially result in large card draws. In one test game, I ended up using Rishkar’s Expertise on a Hydra that was a 26/26, and nearly milled myself to death. I still won that game though, drawing my last card on my last turn and winning shortly thereafter. Good times.

Removal/Utility:

Another important aspect to any EDH deck is removal. Green is sort of lacking when it comes to reliable board wipes, but we’re hoping that speed and evasion will win the day. Having cards like Bower Passage and Sandwurm Convergence means flyers can attack or block, so that takes care of another weakness. Making sure all of your creatures have trample is a necessity, and being able to destroy some artifacts or enchantments is equally nice.

Artifacts

 

Not too many artifacts in this deck, but they suit their purpose and go with the themes of the deck. Each is designed to either provide more ramp or card draw.

Creatures

The themes of the deck are present throughout my creature selection as well. There are some that will allow for lands to be fished out, some that provide trample and other bonuses, others that benefit from the number of lands I control, and a couple more card draw options. All in all they tend to be beefy creatures that are hard to deal with, and if I get enough out on the board it’s good night.

For an easier to glance at decklist, you can see my post on MTG Goldfish. It’s a fairly budget-friendly deck to put together as well, being priced at ~$77. Compared to that angel deck I put together a while back that was floating around $150 that is. If you try this deck out, let me know how it performs for you!