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!

The War Report: Deckbuilding

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In my last War Report entry, I spoke about how I had haphazardly thrown together a deck and went up against a friend who not only had played the game in the more recent past, but also had a head start in coming back to the game. As such, my decks were no match for his, though they did put up a bit of a fight and a general theme started to emerge. I was centering around life-gain, with a mix of control spells and creatures. However, the main weakness became clear: not enough creatures, and not enough power to end a game despite at one point having a massive life total lead.

I have since spent about $20 on singles and have revamped the deck. I was just using what seemed best out of the cards I had at the time, and now I’ve focused on shoring up the weaknesses. This deck is still not 100% where I’d like it to be, and I’ve already found another card that I need to get in this deck called the Felidar Sovereign, which gives a win condition if you have 40 or more life during your upkeep. It’s another win condition outside of the Aetherflux Reservoir.

I would also like to get more copies of a few cards, and whittle down the amount of singles, but I have several legendaries and cards that play off of one another that it feels like having all of them there is a win/win. Here’s the deck list for my current White/Black set up:

Lands:
x2 Forsaken Sanctuary
x1 Unknown Shores
x1 Crumbling Vestige
x1 Blighted Steppe
x1 Warped Landscape
x8 Plains
x7 Swamp

Creatures:
x3 Aerial Responder
x3 Fairgrounds Warden
x2 Zulaport Cutthroat
x2 Restoration Gearsmith
x2 Lone Rider
x1 Demon of Dark Schemes
x1 Sengir Vampire
x1 Night Market Lookout
x1 Gonti, Lord of Luxury
x1 Kambal, Consul of Allocation
x1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
x1 Thalia’s Lancers
x1 Sujugator Angel
x1 Angel of Invention
x1 Aegis Angel
x1 Serra Angel

Artifacts:
x1 Aetherflux Reservoir
x2 Scrapheap Scrounger

Spells:
x2 Diabolic Tutor
x2 Shamble Back
x2 Fumigate
x2 Skywhaler’s Shot
x2 Authority of the Consuls
x1 Fortuitous Find
x1 Campaign of Vengeance
x1 Collective Effort
x1 Gideon’s Reproach

For lands I have a couple of the dual lands (give white/black mana of your choice), a couple of lands that give colorless but can be used to create other colors, along with some that allow you to search for a basic land. This means I’m always covered no matter how bad the top decking is.

Creature wise, I’ve focused on shoring up the size and utility. Adding 3 Aerial responders is a nice touch, as they have flying vigilance and lifelink for a cheap casting cost. I’ve also found some legendary creatures that have various effects including being able to search for other legendaries. My big dogs are the angels, and they feel like a great fit. Mainly, most of the creatures have some way to help me gain life, and in some cases also cause damage to my opponent. This helps with the theme of the deck, and goes hand in hand with the main artifact, Aetherflux Reservoir. The other two artifacts are the Scrapheap Scrounger, which can come back from the dead over and over again. Speaking of which…

My spells are mostly for board control, but I have a few others that allow me to search for any card (Diabolic Tutor), or give life and bring things back from the dead. The combination of white and black has allowed me to find these sorts of spells and creatures in each color, so theoretically unless they have a super aggro deck, I should be able to out sustain just about anything. And I have a few fumigates for board clear if necessary, along with spells to bring my own creatures back from death. I can’t wait to try this out, and am supposed to meet up to play this weekend. Will be back with that report next week. Until then, happy gaming everyone!

The War Report

mtg

It’s been a long while since I introduced a new column to the blog, and with my recent return to Magic, it seems fitting to chronicle the things I’m doing with the game. Some of the columns I’ve written in the past or continue to write tend to focus on a single topic, so this was an opportunity to open up a new one and talk about another of my nerdy passions. As I don’t play Magic as often as I would like, this column won’t have a schedule of any kind, and will only be touched upon when I have something new to report. This should be fairly regular though, as I intend to continue playing with my friend, and also look forward to attending a Friday Night Magic tournament soon. The above linked post will give you a primer on my history with the game, along with what I’ve got in the works currently (also some handy links for those of you playing the game).

As I mentioned in that post, I managed to pull together a pretty significant amount of cards for a relatively inexpensive sum, but that doesn’t mean having a killer deck right away. I purchased starter kits, boosters and then some singles and threw together two decks that I thought would be halfway decent. It turns out, one of them actually was. My friend and I finally got together to do some play testing, and I put forth the stronger of my two decks, a Black/White life building set. In it, I packed white cards that provided life gain, black cards that benefit from life gain (adding special effects to creatures when I would gain life), and a powerful artifact called the “Aetherflux Reservoir.” The latter card would allow me to gain life quickly via the use of spells, and hopefully go for a kill shot. My friend brought a Green/Blue deck to the table that was actually pretty good, but my half-assed deck still gave him a run for his money.

He told me that we should play a best of three to get our bearings around these decks. I needed some playtesting done to find weaknesses with the deck, and I surely did. Game one went fairly smooth. I managed just the right balance of board control, hand control and whittled him down until I could go for a kill shot. It seemed that the weakness of my deck was not exposed. Not yet, at least.

In game two, we saw a repeat of game one for quite some time. At one point I managed to get to 36 life, and had him down to 6. However, I found the failing of the deck. I didn’t have enough powerful creatures coming out often enough to win. He mana starved me by destroying a few of my swamps, and slowly started to gain board control. I stayed alive for a long time, but eventually he had enough creatures on the table to overrun my defenses. I conceded, but the match was not over.

Game three was for all the marbles. I managed a decent start, had plenty of mana, but was then starting to get flooded without enough creatures to help. I wasted my one board clear option early on, so by the mid game he simply killed me. There wasn’t a point where I wasn’t staying in it though, so I can tell that the sustain is working. I just have to find the combination that will get me kills.

I also tried out my Red/Blue deck against his Green/Blue, and my Black/White against his other deck, which was Red/Blue. His Red/Blue definitely trumps mine, but I have really been focusing on the Black/White so that would explain it. He’s also been back playing the game for a while, and the last time he played was more recently than I, and he still has cards from both eras. It’s only a matter of time before I catch up and build some killer decks, but for the time being, he has a distinct advantage. I still had a blast playing though!

Once I came home after our matches, I knew where to focus my efforts. It seemed that I created too high of a mana curve in this particular deck, so I know I need to remove at least a couple of lands. I also need to remove some of the cards that I thought would work better than they did, and find extra copies of the cards that were really killer. I scrounged Toad and Troll the other night and notice that plenty of the cards that I wanted extra copies of were available for mere cents, so I dropped a $20 on singles, and will have some additional power for the deck. Once I get those and really get things honed in, we’ll have to do some more playtesting. I’m hoping to receive the package before the weekend and do just that.

I’m impressed at how the game has changed but has also stayed the same. Much like series such as Civilization, each new entry adds and subtracts from the base formula, but the addictive qualities are ever-present. I’m very happy to have rekindled this lost hobby. I will be back with another report soon, probably after I revamp my deck. I’ll provide a decklist and strategy as well, especially if the playtesting goes well. Until then.

A Return To Magic

kaladesh-prerelease

I have a long and varied history with Magic: The Gathering. Having mistakenly (or perhaps just out of curiosity) purchased packs back in the early 90’s during my Comic Book/Card collecting days, I hadn’t heard of collectible card games just yet. I was probably ten or eleven years old when the game was first released, and I know during that time I was probably buying Beta or Unlimited cards (which could potentially be worth some money at this point). Having no knowledge of this game, these cards were fairly useless. Eventually I would buy something other than a booster pack (probably some sort of starter deck) and find the tiny rule book enclosed within. Learning the game wasn’t something I was all that interested in doing though, so I remember playing the game with a few friends using our own rules, and then the cards were tucked away for a few years.

boosterbox_iceageFast forward to high school, where by chance I happened upon other nerds who were playing the game, and actually following the rules. I watched in awe as some pretty amazing things happened on those lunch breaks. It reminded me that I had cards lurking in a box somewhere, patiently awaiting my return to the game. Those cards were promptly found, and after much pleading with the parents I made special trips to a nearby hobby shop to purchase more on the rare occasions that I had money to spend. Many moons later, after pulling the boosters and singles together along with making trades with my cohorts, I had some pretty respectable decks, during the Ice Age and Mirage blocks. Towards the end of high school though, I cared less about the game, fell out of touch with people I played with and my interests shifted in other directions. Most of my cards were sold off. I didn’t think I’d play it anymore.

96343Jumping ahead once more, to a year or two outside of high school. A few friends of mine expressed some interest in the game. I mentioned my past knowledge and experience and offered to take them to that same hobby store I visited years earlier. Watching them buy up cards in a frenzy was too much of a temptation, and I found myself buying cards again as well. There had been several different sets that had released in the interim years, and a recently released 7th edition saw reprints of many cards I was familiar with. The boosters from recent blocks helped me flesh out several new decks and my collection swelled past its prior limits, mainly due to having more disposable income. I played rather casually for another couple of years, during the Odyssey and Onslaught blocks. But again, the time came when friends were less interested in playing, and perhaps we didn’t know that the game would continue to thrive for years. We didn’t know about various rule sets that could have potentially shaken things up and though it would have been wise to just hold onto these cards for my eventual return, I once again sold them off and wiped the game from my mind.

the_current_magic_online_logoI was aware of the existence of Magic Online around that timeframe, but it felt silly to me to purchase virtual cards. Of course I hadn’t fully moved over into the digital world, due to things being quite a bit different 15 years ago. Magic Online and the thought of “owning” virtual cards doesn’t seem quite so silly anymore, but I wasn’t willing to do it back in the day. It would have been a nice way to play the game with new people but my shortsightedness got the best of me once again.

In the early 2010’s there were several iterations of a Magic video game version released on the PS3 (and probably elsewhere). I almost bought a copy a few times, and then finally pulled the trigger on Magic 2013. These Duels of the Planeswalkers games had some shining moments, but I found that the AI was annoying to play against, and I never felt like I had total control over my decks. The loss of tactile sensation was also a problem. There’s nothing like opening up booster packs to find a super rare and awesome card. There’s nothing like sitting across from your opponent and beating them face to face. The video game couldn’t replicate these feelings in such a way that I found it enjoyable. Despite the fact that I played Hearthstone rather voraciously just a couple of years later and enjoyed my time with it, I just couldn’t play digital Magic. Perhaps my prior feelings about Magic Online weren’t unfounded after all.

magic_duels_logo
A competitor to Hearthstone emerged most recently from the granddaddy of CCGs. Magic Duels was Wizard’s answer to the F2P digital CCG model, and in some respects it was a fine game. It felt much like the earlier Duels games, but was essentially played just like Hearthstone. It failed to hold my attention, despite knowing that Magic is a better game than Hearthstone in many ways, I just need to hold those cards for it to have the same appeal.

Present day. I met a girl. We committed. She has a roommate who plays the game. He has a similar checkered past with it as I do. He hadn’t played in years, and was sucked back in by a friend. He’s already rebuilt his collection. Pouring over his cards brought back so many memories but also reminded me that I hadn’t touched it in nigh 15 years and so much had changed. It was much to take in, but in doing so I felt the urge to rebuild my own collection again. Thankfully he had already done so, because he was able to provide some insight to things that had changed. My first instinct would be to attempt to rebuild my collection from memory, as in trying to gather up all of those long gone cards that would probably cost me some money, but might also be impossible. Reprints happen, but I’m sure many of those cards are hard to find. Well, it turns out that there are different types of rules that apply to the game that I was unaware of, though they were probably implemented after my tenure so long ago.

You can read about Formats here, but I’ll give an abridged version. Basically the main types are Standard, Modern, Legacy and Vintage. Standard includes the last two blocks and the standard set. However, the core sets of the past — Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised, and 4th-2015 editions — are no longer made. Some of the cards from those sets are reprinted each block though, so familiar faces still make their way into the format. Modern goes back quite a ways, I think ten years or something. Legacy is all the old stuff from my high school days, and Vintage allows most of the broken cards from the original version of the game. Each set of rules limits which card sets you can pull from, and gives a sort of focus that we didn’t have back in the day. I had old cards mixed with newer cards all of the time, and that probably would have been considered Modern at the time. It’s actually probably better to have a more limited pool just to have a meta of sorts, and as new mechanics are added it’s nice to have a couple of blocks to choose from for interesting interactions.

20161017_122917

I’ve already purchased a nice chunk of cards to start a new collection. My older and wiser self has also decided that I’ll never sell them off again. This time I’m going to hold onto them for that inevitable return. Anyhow, this time around there were several options to start off a collection. I chose to pick up a “Deck Builders Toolkit” from the prior block, which provided a bunch of lands, some randomized cards from the set and a couple of boosters. I also grabbed a starter box for the newest set Kaladesh, which came with 10 boosters and more land, plus a health counter. I grabbed a couple other boosters, and most recently picked up Planeswalker deck that also came with boosters. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-600 cards at my best guess, all for under $100. So yeah, it’s a pretty manageable hobby if you don’t go crazy like that all of the time. My new found nerdy friend also pointed me in the direction of Troll and Toad, which is an online marketplace where you can buy singles, and they’re actually pretty reasonable. My package of singles just arrived and that’s where I picked up this bad boy:

qelvp1h

I also picked up some Ultra Pro Matte sleeves for protecting the cards while playing, which isn’t something I had done in the past. Might as well protect the investment. Deck building is definitely still one of the more rewarding parts of the hobby, and I am very much looking forward to honing a few decks into winners. I have yet to actually play, as this is all fairly recent, but I will report back with how things go when I get to that point. Do any of you guys play Magic? Thoughts and suggestions are welcome!