No longer Standard: Innistrad

Hey everybody!
There’s a distinctly horror-filled theme to game day blogs this month, as we approach ever-closer to Halloween and, today, I thought I’d share with you all a deck that I’ve built for Magic the Gathering that sees a lot of stuff I never thought I’d use in a deck! We’re headed to the plane of Innistrad, where vampires and werewolves prowl the night, and it’s all the people can do to invoke the angels to keep them from harm!

Innistrad

Innistrad block came out across 2011-12, and features the expansions Innistrad, Dark Ascension, and Avacyn Restored. As per usual, we had several new mechanics featured in the block, the most famous of which being the double-faced cards. These cards have no card back, but instead feature a day and night side, with text that describes the conditions under which the card turns from its day to its night side (and sometimes, night to day). The card never leaves the battlefield, so any auras or counters remain on that card after its transformation. The mechanic was predominantly used on human cards that transformed into werewolves, though there were a couple more instances (including a knife that turns into a demon).

This really serves to highlight the gothic horror theme of Innistrad, which is perhaps one of the most flavourful sets ever released for Magic the Gathering. There are predominantly five tribes explored over the cards in the set, each tribe belonging to an allied colour pair: the aforementioned werewolves in red and green; vampires in black and red; zombies in blue and black; spirits in white and blue, and humans in green and white.

Innistrad

Innistrad, as a horror-themed set, also featured graveyard mechanics such as Flashback (first seen back in Odyssey), as well as wider graveyard strategies in general. Morbid was a mechanic that granted creatures benefits if another creature died this turn. Dark Ascension continued the horror theme by giving us Undying cards, which triggers when a creature without +1/+1 counters on it dies, bringing the creature back with such a counter. Fateful Hour is an ability that triggers if your life total is 5 or less, often providing a last-minute boost for creatures in some way. Despite often being overlooked, I think this mechanic is one of my favourites purely for the theme!

Finally, Avacyn Restored brought more new mechanics, including Miracle, a card that could be cast for its Miracle cost if it is the first card drawn that turn – the card frame was changed slightly to show that the card was a Miracle card, and led to players doing that weird sliding the card across the playmat towards themselves to ensure the card didn’t hit their hand before they cast it. Soulbond allows you to pair a creature with another creature, and both of them get a specific ability as a result. Both mechanics featured across all colours except black, which saw a return of the Undying mechanic and an emphasis on controlling just one creature (as the opposite of Soulbond).

Innistrad block is widely said to be one of the best in Magic’s recent history, with many people praising the theme as well as the play environment. There are a lot of notable cards from the set, though perhaps overwhelmingly worth mentioning here is Liliana of the Veil, the second Liliana planeswalker card, and a card that is widely agreed to be the second most powerful planeswalker in the game.

MTG Liliana of the Veil

Sadly, I don’t have enough kidneys to sell to afford a Liliana of the Veil, so the deck I’ve been tinkering with for a while is centred instead on one of the Angel cards from Avacyn Restored: Bruna, Light of Alabaster.

Bruna, Light of Alabaster

Bruna is a blue/white angel who can draw all of the auras to herself from across the battlefield, graveyard and your hand whenever she attacks or blocks. It’s an interesting mechanic that I had originally given some thought to much earlier in the year – back when I was in my Commander phase, as it happens! I do like auras, despite the fact that you risk losing them all if the creature they’re stuck to dies, and have collected up quite a few across my collection. In addition to this, I wanted to try out making a deck that focuses on Humans, a tribe that I usually don’t bother with as I prefer the more fantastical creatures on offer! So, looking through my Magic collection at the Innistrad-block cards specifically, I came up with this deck as a sort of Angelic Humans blue-white aggro thing:

Creatures
Alabaster Mage
Bruna, Light of Alabaster
Captain of the Mists
Elgaud Shieldmate (2)
Goldnight Commander (2)
Goldnight Redeemer (2)
Gryff Vanguard (2)
Herald of War
Lunar Mystic
Nearheath Pilgrim (2)
Tandem Lookout
Thraben Valiant (2)
Veteran Armorsmith
War Priest of Thune

Enchantments & Artifacts
Angelic Accord
Call To Serve (2)
Divine Favor
Holy Strength (2)
Tricks of the Trade (2)
Scroll of Avacyn (2)

Instants & Sorceries
Break of Day (2)
Ghostform (2)
Glorious Charge (2)
Inspired Charge
Mass Appeal (2)
Skillful Lunge (2)

Land
Forbidding Watchtower
Glacial Fortress
Island (7)
Plains (8)
Seraph Sanctuary (2)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster

It’s nothing special, but there are some fun things going on there that make me happy, so I can’t complain too much! I do want to look at the mana base some more, and there are a few cards I’d like to include to further help the strategy (Champion of the Parish is top of that list!) But I thought I’d play with this thing first, and see where it takes me from there!

Innistrad is definitely one of those sets that has stood the test of time, with plenty of flavourful cards that I find myself coming back to time and again. Well, I do love me some vampires!!

Red-and-black for Standard!

Hey everybody!
Following my post a couple of weeks ago about getting back into Magic after a bit of a winter hiatus, I’ve been fiddling with building some decks for Standard, mainly because I found out my local store has a bit of a Standard thing going on on Sundays now. Of all the formats of Magic, I think I like Standard most because it feels so fresh and new – while people seem to pick a deck and just play that one all the time in Modern and/or Legacy, Standard forces you to re-evaluate your cards every so often that, while it can be both expensive and sometimes frustrating to see a combo you love rotate out, I think is nevertheless important to keep the game healthy and alive.

stensia_masquerade_mtg_soi_willmurai_910

I’ve talked about a number of decks on this blog since getting into Magic a few years ago, but I don’t think I’ve yet shared any of my favourite type of decks: red/black aggro! So let’s get to it now, with my first glorious return to red and black vampires!

Creatures
Olivia, Mobilized for War
Dusk Feaster
Markov Crusader (x2)
Dragonmaster Outcast
Markov Dreadknight (x2)
Ravenous Bloodseeker (x2)
Insolent Neonate (x2)
Spireside Infiltrator (x2)
Olivia’s Bloodsworn (x2)

Instants
Borrowed Malevolence (x3)
Fatal Push
Lightning Axe (x2)
Built to Smash
Shock (x2)
Grotesque Mutation (x2)
Essence Extraction
Rush of Adrenaline (x3)
Sure Strike
Uncaged Fury (x2)

Sorceries
Alms of the Vein (x2)

Enchantments
Stensia Masquerade (x2)
Pyromancer’s Assault (x2)

Land
Mountain (x8)
Swamp (x7)
Foreboding Ruins (x2)
Smoldering Marsh
Hanweir Battlements
Cinder Barrens (x2)

The deck tries to be very fast, with an abundance of instant-speed combat tricks that are the exact sort of thing I love to play. As per usual, I’d decided that I wanted to build a deck around a particular legendary creature, and as Olivia is the only red/black legend in Standard right now, she was the natural choice for me. Her ability to discard a card to give creatures a +1/+1 counter and haste when they enter the battlefield led me pretty easily down the route of making a Madness deck, however there aren’t that many cards with Madness that I wanted to include in the deck. All told, there are four cards with a Madness cost – two copies each of Stensia Masquerade and Alms of the Vein – but there are eight additional discard outlets all the same. However, these additional discard outlets aren’t just there to enable Madness; they work fine without ever triggering the ability, but if I can discard Alms of the Vein and get its effect for just one mana rather than three, the fact that this can also pump my Ravenous Bloodseeker and potentially cause a nine-point life swing isn’t going to be overlooked!

I said above that the deck mainly wants to work at instant-speed, and there are eighteen such cards in the deck – a full twenty if both copies of Alms of the Vein are cast via Madness. A lot of these cards are very cheap, as well, designed to work with Pyromancer’s Assault by causing two points of direct damage whenever my second spell is cast. If I can play out a Ravenous Bloodseeker for two, use the mana ability on Olivia’s Bloodsworn to give it haste, then pump the Bloodseeker by casting Alms of the Vein via Madness and get in there for a potential eleven-point life-swing on turn four or five, then that’s not half bad…

The majority of the instants are the usual direct damage or combat tricks, and in the main do very similar things. I try to go for as much redundancy as I can when building a Magic deck in general, due to the number of cards that can force me to discard/exile every copy of a named card throughout my deck. I’m not sure if there are a lot of those in Standard right now, though it’s just a habit that I’ve gotten into and, if there are two or three cards that do broadly the same thing, then I like the variety it gives to my deck, also!

I do want to mention some of the Eldritch Moon cards that are in here, in particular Borrowed Malevolence, which is not only a great name for a card, with wonderful artwork, but I like the fact that it can either be removal or a pump, or both. The versatility is really great, and the only real reason I haven’t included its red counterpart, Borrowed Hostility, is due to the fact there are plenty of other red spells that do the same thing already in the deck (plus the escalate cost seems much more expensive!) Borrowed Malevolence was in my pre-release pool, and I had been hoping to get some cool new mechanics to try there, but in the event drafted blue/white spirits, and it had no place. So I’m looking forward to trying that bad boy out once I get to playing with the deck!

Magic the Gathering red/black vampires

But wait, there’s more!

Remember my mono-black vampires deck, from back in the day? Well, I’ve been reworking that into something that I could also take down with me for these Standard Sundays! It’s a deck that I really love, with a focus on directly attacking the life total rather than combat, and while it lacks some components that a black/white deck could achieve, I’m still happy to keep it mono-black for the time being. Times may change there, of course!

Creatures
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Defiant Bloodlord (2)
Drana’s Chosen (2)
Nirkana Assassin (2)
Bloodbond Vampire (4)
Kalastria Healer (3)
Vampire Envoy (2)
Markov Crusader
Guul Draz Overseer
Vampire Cutthroat (2)
Stromkirk Condemned (3)

Instants 
Grotesque Mutation (3)

Sorceries
Alms of the Vein (4)
Dutiful Return
Macabre Waltz (3)

Artifacts 
Stoneforge Masterwork (3)

Enchantments 
Retreat to Hagra (2)

Land
Swamp (16)
Mortuary Mire (4)
Ally Encampment (2)

As I said, there are a couple of things I’d like to tweak to make it a black/white thing, as I think Cliffhaven Vampire and Drana’s Emissary could be really useful here. We’ll see where the fancy takes me, though!

Stromkirk Condemned is a really exciting card, to me. Giving other Vampires +1/+1 for discarding a card is really useful in an all-vampires deck, of course, and having a playset of Alms of the Vein gives me four cards that I would be more than happy to discard for the effect! You know when you’re flipping through your collection to see what cards you have that could be fun to build a deck around, then see the card that you just need to include? Well, that’s what happened when I saw this bad boy in my collection at the weekend! So we’ll see what good stuff he can do for me.

imag6397

Playing Magic: Commander

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today I want to talk about the multiplayer format for Magic: the Gathering – it’s time to talk about Commander! I had a game last week, after having built a deck up over the summer, and I have to say, it was pretty good! Let’s get into this…

Magic the Gathering Commander

Commander is a multiplayer format of Magic, where decks have 99 cards that work around a central Commander, which is any Legendary Creature from the long history of the game. Additionally, your Commander deck cannot have more than one copy of any card aside from basic land cards. The deck can only contain cards that are in your commander’s colour identity – that is to say, any colour that is referenced on your commander’s card, both in casting cost and the text box.

Magic the Gathering Commander

The commander starts the game in the Command Zone, and can be cast from that zone whenever you have the mana available. Whenever if would go into the graveyard, back into your hand/library or into exile, you can instead have it return to the Command Zone, whereupon you must pay 2 additional colourless mana to cast it again, and an additional 2 colourless mana each additional time you do so.

Finally, players start at 40 life, and in addition to the usual rules for decking out or being reduced to 0 life, you will be eliminated if your commander takes 21 total damage over the course of the game from any other single commander.

I actually managed to play a Commander variant called Duel Commander, which was 1v1 rather than the usual multiplayer buffet. For my game, I had constructed a black/white deck using Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim as my commander. She’s a cheap choice, and the deck doesn’t rely too much on her to function well. It’s very much a drain-and-gain deck that uses effects like Extort to work, rather than anything that I really wanted to have going on, such as the bigger spells for reducing my opponents’ life. But it worked well enough!

Magic the Gathering Commander

The deck has plenty of stuff to really bring the pain, such as Sanguine Bond or Defiant Bloodlord combined with things like Sunspring Expedition and Meditation Puzzle. Anything to really cause some serious lifeloss while also putting me ahead!

Ayli did make an appearance, but didn’t really set the world on fire. I did manage to sacrifice my Wall of Essence after a while, which did gain me some life so that I could later use her exile effect, but yeah, the deck mainly came together through Extort. Which is a shame, because that’s exactly what my Orzhov deck does! Should probably do a blog on my Orzhov deck at some point, that is one deck that I really enjoy playing…

Magic the Gathering Commander

So yeah, Commander was a fun game to try as something different, but I suppose it would have been more interesting if it was a full multi-player experience.

Anyway, here’s my Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim deck – enjoy!

Commander
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim (OGW)

Creatures
Suture Priest (NPH)
Defiant Bloodlord (BFZ)
Zulaport Cutthroat (BFZ)
Augur il-Vec (FUT)
Undercity Informer (GTC)
Zulaport Chainmage (OGW)
Scholar of Athreos (THS)
Treasury Thrull (GTC)
Wall of Essence (M15)
War Priest of Thune (M13)
Drana’s Emissary (BFZ)
Kingpin’s Pet (GTC)
Cliffhaven Vampire (OGW)
Pontiff of Blight (DGM)
Vampire Envoy (OGW)
Drana’s Chosen (OGW)
Alabaster Mage (M12)
Wakedancer (CNS)
Knight of Obligation (GTC)
Blood Host (M15)
Kalastria Healer (BFZ)
Paragon of New Dawns (M15)
Tithe Drinker (DGM)
Malakir Familiar (BFZ)
Shadow Alley Denizen (GTC)
Onyx Mage (M12)
Underworld Coinsmith (JOU)

Instants
Profit / Loss (DGM)
Executioner’s Swing (GTC)
Grisly Spectacle (GTC)
Rain of Blades (M13)
Congregate (M15)
Meditation Puzzle (M15)
Zealous Persecution (ARB)
Midnight Charm (PLC)
Sun’s Bounty (CSP)

Sorcery
Sign in Blood (M13)
Essence Drain (M13)
Shadow Slice (GTC)

Enchantments
Blind Obedience (GTC)
Feast on the Fallen (M15)
Eternal Thirst (M15)
Curse of Wizardry (ROE)
Lightmine Field (ROE)
Blood Reckoning (M13)
Divine Favor (M15)
Sunspring Expedition (ZEN)
Sanguine Bond (M14)
Campaign of Vengeance (EMN)

Artifacts
Phyrexian Totem (TSP)
Prism Ring (ORI)
Staff of the Death Magus (M15)
Dolmen Gate (LRW)
Thunder Totem (TSP)
Staff of the Sun Magus (M15)
Orzhov Cluestone (DGM)
Orzhov Keyrune (GTC)
Pristine Talisman (NPH)
Tainted Sigil (ARB)
Commander’s Sphere (C14)

Lands
Orzhov Guildgate (GTC)
Scoured Barrens (KTK)
Orzhov Basilica (GBT)
Temple of Silence (THS)
Forsaken Sanctuary (SOI)
Isolated Chapel (INN)
Caves of Koilos (M15)
Tainted Field (C15)
Piranha Marsh (ZEN)
Kabira Crossroads (ZEN)
Secluded Steppe (CMD)
Stalking Stones (MRD)
Shimmering Grotto (INN)
Unknown Shores (OGW)
Buried Ruin (M12)
Unstable Frontier (CON)
11 Plains
12 Swamps

I haven’t been playing a lot of Magic lately, so have been feeling kinda rusty with the whole thing. I also haven’t really been paying attention to a lot of the new cards released from Kaladesh onwards, if I’m honest! It might need a bit of a tune-up in light of some of the more recently-released cards, but I guess time will tell on that score. I’d also like to get down to some more Magic games and try this thing out in a full multi-player environment. So stay tuned for that in the new year!

Playing Magic: The Boros Legion

Hey everybody!
It’s another game day blog here at spalanz.com, and this week I wanted to return to looking at some of the weird and wonderful decks I’ve been building for Magic the Gathering. Earlier this year, I started to write some blogs about the decks I’ve been playing, starting with the blue/black delights of House Dimir, and this is very much a continuation of that theme as I look at another of the guilds of Ravnica: the Boros Legion!

Boros Legion

Boros is red/white, and is centred around the idea of lots of attacking creatures with lots of buffs. While I like both colours, I usually prefer to have them each paired with black (though I have also experimented with blue/red in more recent times).

Boros is a complicated entity on Ravnica, as it is an army led by angels. In the original Ravnica block, the Boros Legion was led by Razia, Archangel of the Boros Legion. There are distinct factions of the Boros and the Wojek, with complicated relationships and a power banding that stretches from the angels through to the general officers. As with all guilds from Ravnica, Boros have had two keywords in each block: Radiance in the original set, and Battalion in Return to Ravnica. We’ll get to Battalion shortly, but as I don’t have any cards from original Ravnica in this deck, I’ll just briefly mention Radiance now: it provides an effect on a target card and all cards that share a colour with it. There are a number of spells that buff your own chaps, but also spells that destroy cards. Not having played with any of these cards, I think I prefer the later keyword for the theme of the guild…

It feels almost deceptively simple to play red/white, however. The basic premise for the deck is to have a lot of creatures out attacking, and play spells to buff them during combat. That’s pretty much it. Playing specific Boros cards, however, grants even more buffs thanks to their keyword, Battalion. This is an ability word that provides an effect whenever the creature with Battalion attacks alongside two or more creatures. There aren’t actually that many creatures in this deck with Battalion – I wanted just a couple, with enough generic chaps to keep the deck interesting.

Boros Legion

Indeed, I think building this Boros deck really helped to demonstrate to myself some of my key tenets of deckbuilding. I don’t like to have a strategy that hinges on just a couple of cards, but rather have a fairly wide strategy for the deck overall. This Boros deck really demonstrates that insofar as pretty much everything does the same thing, so no card or cards are more crucial than the rest, the deck will still work no matter what is removed. There are some things I’d like to swap out, as I’d really like to give all my creatures Haste, but I think I’d be too concerned with relying on a small number of cards.

Boros Legion

There are also a number of cards from Theros block that feature the Inspired keyword, granting effects whenever the card is untapped. I really like these sorts of things, where the effect will trigger almost automatically (hence why I love Landfall so much!) God-Favored General is probably the best example of this, with the very Boros-like ability of creating soldier tokens whenever he becomes untapped. I’ve talked about this before of course, but I love to see how the colour combinations have consistency even when on different planes.

I have two god-cards in the deck, but the overall strategy doesn’t truly depend on them. Sure, if I can keep Iroas out and give my creatures menace as well as preventing all combat damage to them on my turn, then that’s pretty great, but it’s not going to end my day if Iroas is killed off or continually bounced, or whatever. As usual, the gods serve as a distraction while I try to overwhelm them with other dudes.

Boros Legion

While legendary creatures do most often serve as distractions in my deck, I do like Tajic, Blade of the Legion, and am most sad when he dies quickly. It’s something of a shame for me that I’ve not yet found a good way to consistently get Haste for all my creatures, because I want to attack with him the minute he hits the battlefield – obviously, when I’ve got two other guys attacking with him. 7/7 for four mana is just too good to pass up!

I’ve also tried to get a lot of anthem-effects, which I always think are important in creature-heavy decks – the type of decks I like to play the most! Paragon of New Dawns is perhaps my favourite to play here, giving other white creatures +1/+1. There are more white than red creatures in the deck, and the muticoloured creatures count for this effect as well. Righteous Charge and Spear of Heliod are good for all creatures, though, and the combination has been quite effective when I’ve got a big board going all-in!

Creatures (23)
Heliod, God of the Sun
Daring Skyjek
God-Favored General (x2)
Paragon of New Dawns (x2)
Akroan Phalanx
Akroan Skyguard (x2)
Precinct Captain
Soldier of the Pantheon
Priest of Iroas (x2)
Towering Thunderfist
Akroan Hoplite (x2)
Iroas’s Champion (x2)
Tajic, Blade of the Legion
Iroas, God of Victory
Truefire Paladin (x2)
Wojek Halberdiers

Instants & Sorceries (8)
Martial Glory (x2)
Mortal’s Ardor (x2)
Boros Charm
Crowd’s Favor
Righteous Charge
Bolt of Keranos

Enchantments & Artifacts (6)
Spear of Heliod
Assemble the Legion
Gleam of Battle
Armory of Iroas
Boros Keyrune (x2)

Land (23)
Plains (x9)
Mountains (x9)
Temple of Triumph
Ancient Amphitheater
Boros Guildgate (x2)
Cathedral of War

This is a fairly basic red/white attack deck, with a fairly hefty landbase to accommodate those enchantments. It still needs a little bit of playing around with, to be sure, but it has been a lot of fun to play, especially when the board is just right and I can swing for 23 in a single turn!

Rotation 2016

Hey everybody!
Time for another game day at spalanz.com, and today I wanted to take some time to mourn two of my favourite Standard decks from this past season. Rotation doesn’t actually happen until Friday of course, when Kaladesh hits for real, but I’ve spent the last couple of days going through my current stable of decks to weed out those with cards from both Dragons of Tarkir and Origins. One deck emerged unscathed, my W/B vampires deck, and another retained the majority of its cards, mono-black vampires. While a couple had never really gotten off the ground anyway, I’ve nevertheless had two that will suffer significantly for the loss of Magic: Origins from Standard. Let’s take a look!

Magic the Gathering Rotation

So first of all, I’m sure plenty of seasoned veterans of the game will be thinking, why would my decks suffer from the loss of Origins? A lot of folks have a bit of a snobby reaction to the core sets, and almost rejoiced when they were cancelled, but I really like both the variety of cards you get in them, and also don’t build decks with which to destroy people. I like a variety in a lot of what I do, and this is certainly clear in the decks that I’m gonna be talking about today!

Magic the Gathering Rotation

First up, it’s my treasured blue/red land prowess thing. I’m not great at coming up with names for my decks, in case it wasn’t abundantly clear already. This deck was a departure for me, because I built it when I made the decision I wanted to see what blue could do. My favourite colour-pair is black/red, and I knew I didn’t want to go down the avenue of blue/black, so veered instead into the toolbox that is Izzet. And as it turned out, I had a lot of fun with this!

The deck involves prowess, obviously, but is still quite creature-heavy, because that’s where I’m most comfortable (though not as bad as my attempt at building a Jeskai deck!) There is also a lot of Awaken shenanigans with the lands, including two copies of Wandering Fumarole, a card that I really enjoy having out on the table more to mess with my opponent than anything else.

The main goal is to use the counter-magic and buff the smaller dudes until I can get the big Djinn characters out; they’re both Flying for the evasion, so they should act as finishers. It has performed really well, but now that rotation will kick a lot of the useful cards out of here, it’s almost a case of back to the drawing board. I don’t want to merely draft more cards into the deck, as it might end up a bit too much of a monster, but I have previously earmarked one or two from Eldritch Moon that could be useful. While there seems to be more of an emphasis on artifacts for blue/red in the set, I suppose we’ll see what Kaladesh can do for me…

Creatures:
Mahamoti Djinn
Soulblade Djinn
Stormchaser Mage (2)
Jhessian Thief (2)
Mizzium Meddler (2)
Acolyte of the Inferno (2)
Umara Entangler (2)
Halimar Tidecaller
Mercurial Geists
Harbinger of the Tides

Instants:
Negate (2)
Dispel (2)
Scatter to the Winds (2)
Titan’s Strength (2)
Brute Strength (2)
Sure Strike (2)

Sorcery:
Rush of Ice (2)
Clutch of Currents (2)

Artifacts:
Prism Ring (2)
Orbs of Warding

Land:
Highland Lake (4)
Looming Spires (3)
Skyline Cascade (4)
Wandering Fumarole (2)
Mountain (6)
Island (7)

My second Standard deck that I’m going to miss is something else that is pretty much outside of my comfort zone when it comes to playing the game: red/green landfall elementals!

Magic the Gathering Rotation

This deck was a bit of an experimentation as well, as I very rarely play green (I think I play blue more, in fact!) I was enamoured of the landfall mechanic when Battle for Zendikar arrived, however, so had wanted to do something with that. I like the idea of lands coming into play – which should happen a lot, you know? – actually doing more than just providing mana. So with that, I set about building up this thing:

Creatures:
Omnath, Locus of Rage (2)
Grove Rumbler (2)
Fierfiend Elemental
Zendikar Incarnate (2)
Cobblebrute
Valakut Predator (3)
Cinder Hellion
Embermaw Hellion
Oran-Rief Hydra (2)
Akoum Stonewaker (2)
Jaddi Offshoot (2)

Instants:
Titanic Growth (4)
Swell of Growth (4)
Titan’s Strength (2)

Enchantments:
Retreat to Kazandu (2)
Zendikar’s Roil (4)
Flameshadow Conjuring
Zendikar Resurgent (2)

Artifact:
Sword of the Animist

Land:
Cinder Glade
Timber Gorge
Looming Spires (2)
Forest (8)
Mountain (9)

It’s basically a deck that makes huge dudes bigger, and bash everyone in the face. I suppose it’s kind of an aggro deck insofar as it doesn’t really care about defense, but more about presenting a lot of threats from the off, and isn’t very subtle all told. There are a few bits in there about making tokens and stuff, though that’s not super overpowering. Hopefully things like Akoum Stonewalker will draw enough attention that the big Hellions and other Elementals will go unmolested! But not very sneaky at all – the one concession to anything other than face-punching is the Jaddi Offshoot, which is a good chump-blocker that can help gain a bit of life if I’m struggling from not putting up any kind of defense.

I’m not a big fan of green at all, but I did enjoy playing this one, as it failed very rarely. Sometimes it could be overpowering with the right draws, which made some matches too one-sided for me, but a decent deck that will be sorely missed. There may well be some cards in BFZ block that I’ve missed, which could plug some holes once Origins goes for good, but I’m thinking that this deck might actually be retired for the time being.

Of course, rotation isn’t only a time to be sad, as it does also mean that a whole raft of new cards are incoming, which forces a re-evaluation of the previous two sets that will hopefully allow for more cool decks to emerge. I sadly didn’t make it to the prerelease at the weekend, and haven’t spent a tremendous amount of time studying the cards from the new set yet, so I’m kinda excited to see what’s going to be new when I get my hands on those new packs for the first time!

Eldritch Moon Prerelease!

Hey everybody!
I went to my very first Magic the Gathering pre-release event on Saturday, and it was pretty dang awesome, let me tell you! It was also my first ever competitive Magic event, so I was more than a little wary going in, but I managed to get through the day…

Eldritch Moon pre-release

First of all, for the uninitiated, Wizards of the Coast holds pre-release events across the world the weekend before a new set goes on sale. It’s a very casual Sealed-Deck tournament, where you get six packs and a foil rare, and basically get to build a deck from the cards you pull from those packs, then play a number of games. Before the set goes on sale, this is the only way you can get your hands on the new packs, but given that the packs aren’t actually legal in any deck until the set is released, I think the main draw here is getting to play with the cards a week early. I’d been telling myself I wanted to try this format since getting into Magic a year ago, but for whatever reason kept missing out. In fact, my first proper experience with the game was walking into my local store on Origins pre-release day, so I suppose there’s a nice kind of synergy there!

So anyway. Prior to the event, I’d done quite a bit of extensive research on trying to find out what cards are in the new set, and I’d tried to commit some of the main archetypes and rules to memory, though I was a bit nervous about the competitive aspect, and the fact that all these people were somewhat veterans, and most of that research went out of my mind when I arrived! At least my usual gaming buddy Tony showed up – he’d been vacillating over coming, but since he’s now got weekends off, he came along, and so it was fun to have at least someone I knew there (besides the store manager!)

Anyway. Got my pre-release pack, and I’d made sure to bring sleeves, a playmat and dice, so I was ready to go from 10.30. I opened up all of my packs and sorted them by colour without really paying attention to anything I was getting, but had hoped prior to the event to draft black/red vampires, as I think it would be the archetype I would be most comfortable with. I also had an idea of what I didn’t want to play – blue/white spirits. Well, whaddaya know happened… urgh! I’d thought I might have enough to get black and red going, which would let me use my promo Stromkirk Occultist, but none of the cards I’d pulled would really work together, and I thought it would be a risk to try to force it. Looking through the rest of it, I didn’t have enough blue to get blue/black zombies, and in desperation it came to me: I had enough good cards that would work together in blue and white to get a mostly-flying deck going on. Urgh!

After that trauma was dealt with, and the deck was sleeved, I tried a couple of first-turn-hands and I thought it looked reliable enough. But the first round went awfully. I was up against a black-green horrible thing that kept getting The Gitrog Monster out. I managed to play a Spontaneous Mutation on it that reduced its power by 8, but still lost due to the amount of zombies and stuff that were coming at me. Second game was a similar story, so it wasn’t the best of starts, but I’d now seen a lot of my deck and, while I knew what it wanted to do when I put it together, I think I understood it much better having played it twice, so it was a useful start, even though I was down 0-1.

Second game was against a white/green monster of a deck. There were humans and werewolves, but the reason it was monstrous was because it must have had at least 60 cards in there. Anyway, my second opponent was much more chatty and, in talking with him over the game, I relaxed into the whole thing, which I think made me feel much better about being there. The first game was over pretty quickly as I was attacking with my fliers while he had nothing to block; Stitchwing Skaab and Niblis of Dusk for 5 damage each turn, which was good but I kinda wish I’d been able to play with more of the new Eldritch Moon cards. There were a couple of mis-plays, but I managed to win, which totally surprised me! The second game of this match was going really well for me, as he was mana-screwed for most of the game, so I kept attacking unopposed, but then everything came crashing down with one of the green werewolves that transformed – I don’t remember which one, but it was something horrible that was equipped with stuff that made it pretty scary! However, by the time this thing came up, my opponent was at one life, so I blocked the wolf with Geist of the Lonely Vigil (equipped with a Cathar’s Shield), and buffed it with Strength of Arms, which allowed me to create a 1/1 Human Soldier token that I used to attack on my next turn to defeat him. It was pretty epic in those final moments! I felt curiously guilty for winning, but at least things were going in my favour at last! 1-1, time for round three.

Third match was against another of these veteran-types, another green/white deck with humans that I was kinda nervous going up against, if I’m honest! I mean, my opponent just knew what he was doing, and it really put me off balance! I lost the first game really quickly, so was thinking my time was over and I was about to just get stomped. However, game two saw him mana-screwed, I think he only drew three lands all game. It felt pretty dirty, but I won! So we were drawn, and went into game three again with me feeling like I was about to be wrecked, but again, he got mana-screwed and I won! I couldn’t quite believe it! The worrying thing for me, however, is that he was getting really angry with his deck and I didn’t quite know how to handle it. I mean, it’s only a game, right? So I just played and hoped to be as graceful as I could. Luckily, Tony was sat behind me, so we could kinda talk after the game and compare notes etc, but I was really uncomfortably aware of the fact that this guy was still sat there, chundering away to himself and shuffling and re-shuffling increasingly angry, drawing practice hands and then shaking his head again. Urgh!

At this point, I’d played seven games of Magic with a deck that I wasn’t exactly happy with – I mean, blue/white spirits is not my ideal deck. So I was actually thinking I might just toddle off at that point, leaving with my record at 2-1 and thinking that the experience was much more important than actually winning anything, but there was only one more round, so I just went back into the fray!

My last opponent was someone I’d met earlier after he had played Tony, and he was another fairly chatty guy, so it was a good way to end the day. Unfortunately, I also knew him to be really good, so I wasn’t expecting to win. He was playing a very fast red/white deck, with a mix of humans and werewolves, though I thought it interesting that his white creatures were similar to mine, so it sometimes felt like a mirror match situation, when each of our Steadfast Cathars were attacking, equipped with Cathar’s Shields. I was more interested in his deck, however, because I think he was the only person in the tournament who had pulled both parts of a meld pair and was playing them! Unfortunately, both games we played did not see either half – and also unfortunately, I lost both games! However, I was so excited to see some new cards, I convinced him to play a third, more casual game with the deck, just in the hope of seeing the two cards come together! Unfortunately, neither Hanweir Battlements nor Hanweir Garrison came into play in all of the three games, so that was disappointing!

Eldritch Moon pre-release

Overall, it was really fun. I think the experience of making a Sealed Deck and then playing with it was good, though more than a little daunting, especially the thought of playing all those folks who knew what they were doing! I missed a few things, but I felt pretty good about being able to help other folks, especially with the new rules! Definitely had a community vibe to the whole thing. I wasn’t entirely happy with the deck I had, as I was playing colours that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. My actual pool was pretty bad, as I said, but I’ve heard a lot of folks around the store saying similar things – not sure whether they’re trying to save face, but yeah, I felt somewhat better knowing I wasn’t the only one!

So yeah, I went 2-2 all told, and placed 11th out of the 20 competitors at the game. Which was just so amazing, because I’d thought I was going to come dead last! Tony placed 18th, only winning the last of his four matches, but we both got to come away with two boosters each! I opened them later, and they also had nothing of interest in there, but I plan to go over all of the cards in the coming days so that I can try to make more sense of them now that they’re in hand!

It was also really cool to get to talk with some folks who play Magic with a lot more regularity than myself. The second guy I played is very casual like me, and we got to talking about the types of decks etc, and he told me people actually play paper Pauper at the store! I was so excited for that, I’ve since built a Pauper Mardu deck in the hope of trying it out sometime! Commander is also really popular there, and I spent the best part of Sunday putting together a black-white Ayli lifegain deck that I really hope I can try out soon.

Anyway – the moment you’ve all been waiting for: it’s my deck!

Creatures (17)
Stitchwing Skaab
Niblis of Dusk
Tattered Haunter
Lamplighter of Selhoff
Exultant Cultist
Laboratory Brute
Geist of the Lonely Vigil
Selfless Spirit
Thraben Inspector
Guardian of Pilgrims
Sigardian Priest
Thraben Standard Bearer
Nearheath Chaplain
Faithbearer Paladin
Steadfast Cathar
Drogskol Shieldmate
Unruly Mob

Sorcery (2)
Drag Under
Spectral Reserves

Instant
Strength of Arms

Enchantment
Spontaneous Mutation

Equipment
Cathar’s Shield (2)

Land (17)
Islands (7)
Plains (10)

So there you have it! The thought I had with this deck was to have lots of little people out to run interference, and basically wear my opponent down. I’m not used to playing these kinds of decks, as I tend to have better little people in my black/red decks, but these things can’t be helped I guess! I had a few of the new cards as well, which was fun, though time and again it was the Shadows over Innistrad zombies who were providing a good deal of the action for me.

I’m pretty pleased with how the day went, anyway, so let’s see if I get down to the Kaladesh pre-release coming in September!

Eldritch Moon pre-release

No longer Standard: Magic 2012

I’ve been doing a few game day blogs on Magic the Gathering over the last few months, but today I thought I’d do something a little different, and take a look at some of the older cards. While I really enjoy playing Standard decks, and even like that rotation keeps things fresh and stuff, I also like investigating some of the older things that are still hanging around, and have built up a small collection of cards from previous sets of the last ten or so years. Today, I thought I’d have a bit of a ramble about one of those I’ve recently been investigating: the Magic 2012 core set!

Magic 2012

Some of you might think this choice a little odd – why start with a core set? There’s so much theme from the various sets over the years, yet core sets are, by design, fairly bland and easy to get into. Well, I actually like the idea of the core sets, as it seems like they provided a lot of the staple cards for that Standard season, provided a really cool way to get into the game with fairly minimal confusion, and also provided a good amount of reprinted cards for players who don’t have a lot of cards. I’m not exactly cut up to see them go, either, and the new Planeswalker decks do sound cool, but still!

M12 has especially fired my imagination, however, as having a lot of really awesome-looking cards: the staples are there, but there are also a couple of interesting new things along the way, and the art! Oh my, the art. I think this is the first set I’ve encountered where I’ve felt genuine regret for not having investigated this game sooner. I can’t quite explain it, I just feel like it’s a really great set to make a start with.

Magic 2012

Like all sets, you get a couple of cycles of cards that have some kind of theme to them, to help provide some kind of theme in an otherwise generic set. Here, my stand-out favourite is the Mage cycle of 2-cost 2/1 cards that have some flavourful theme for their colour. This is one of the things that attracted me to this set in particular – look at the art on these things! They each look absolutely stunning! While these cards aren’t going to set the world on fire, I still love these sorts of things!

The set also has a cycle of themed artifacts that gain you life if anyone casts a certain colour of spell, similar to the Magus Staffs of later core sets; a cycle of Titan cards that cost 6 mana and have a powerful enter the battlefield effect – and five Planeswalkers.

Core sets have minimal confusing mechanics, though do feature a couple to get players into the game. For M12, the returning mechanic was Bloodthirst, which returned from the original Ravnica block in 2005. If you play a creature with the Bloodthirst keyword after an opponent was dealt damage on your turn, that creature comes into play with a number of +1/+1 counters on it. The core set also introduced Hexproof as an evergreen ability, which I thought interesting!

Magic 2012

As I said, one of the main draws to this set for me was the art – it’s just so beautiful! I’ve been struggling to get a deck together, as I’ve bought a bunch of packs online in a sale, along with a couple of singles just for the art, but have managed to put this thing together that has yet to see play:

Creatures:
Alabaster Mage (x3)
Onyx Mage (x3)
Benalish Veteran (x2)
Serra Angel (x2)
Bloodrage Vampire (x2)
Vampire Outcasts
Elite Vanguard (x2)
Blood Seeker (x2)
Arbalest Elite (x2)
Duskhunter Bat (x2)
Stonehorn Dignitary
Pride Guardian

Enchantments:
Personal Sanctuary
Divine Favor
Lifelink

Instants/Sorceries:
Taste of Blood (x2)
Timely Reinforcements
Sorin’s Thirst (x3)
Consume Spirit
Doom Blade

Artifacts:
Angel’s Feather (x2)
Demon’s Horn (x2)
Elixir of Immortality

Lands:
11 Plains
10 Swamps

Like most of my decks, it’s creature-heavy, as I like having guys out on the field to do things with. There isn’t really a theme to the deck, though it does have a bit of a lifelink thing going on, notably with the ‘lucky charms’ artifact cards. It primarily sprung out of a desire to use the mages, however, and while I don’t really hold out much hope for it – particularly seeing as how I’ve really limited myself in only using M12 cards – I think it’ll be fun to at least try!

I’ve been enjoying quite a few of these old-style block decks of late, so stay tuned for more “no longer Standard” rambling blogs soon!