Playing Magic: Cult of Rakdos

Hey everybody,
It’s been a long time since I have talked about Magic on my blog, but it’s been something that I’ve been drifting back towards in recent days, so I’ve been looking over some of the decks that I’ve had built over the years. I’ve written quite a few of these “playing Magic” blogs, focusing on a few of the Ravnica guilds such as Dimir and Orzhov, but not yet on the colour combination that I perhaps enjoy more than any other: red and black! So it’s finally time to get to “my roots”, as it were, and talk about the Cult of Rakdos!

Rakdos Lord of Riots

Rakdos is unlike any of the other Guilds on the plane of Ravnica, in that they’re a sort of madcap band of circus-folk who are all bound by their hedonistic worship of the demon, Rakdos. The black and red cult has appeared now in three different sets, starting with Dissension in original Ravnica back in 2006. The guild mechanic here was Hellbent, an ability word that gave additional or enhanced effects to a card if you have no cards in hand.

Return to Ravnica gave us Unleash, a mechanic that allows you to choose when casting a creature to place a +1/+1 counter on it. If you do, it then cannot block, but is obviously buffed for as long as it remains in play. (Indeed, a counter placed from any source will prevent the creature from blocking). As far as the link to Rakdos goes, it’s fairly thematic, given the fact that the creature will only be concerned with attacking.

Finally, Ravnica Allegiance has given us Spectacle, which is a sort of re-imagined version of the ability originally chosen for Rakdos – if an opponent lost life this turn, you can cast the spell for its Spectacle cost rather than its casting cost. It’s also thematic for being so similar to the ability of the guildmaster himself, Rakdos Lord of Riots.

Rakdos

So let’s get down to my deck!

Creatures
Rakdos, Lord of Riots
Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
Spike Jester (2)
Goblin Deathraiders (2)
Rakka Mar
Kiln Fiend
Hellrider
Rakdos Cackler (2)
Rakdos Shred-Freak (2)
Gore-House Chainwalker (2)
Rakdos Drake (2)
Exuberant Firestoker

Instants
Staggershock (2)
Shock (2)
Showstopper (2)
Virulent Swipe (2)
Rally the Forces

Enchantments
Lightning Talons (2)
Deviant Glee (2)
Madcap Skills
Anthem of Rakdos

Artifacts
Rakdos Keyrune (2)
Rakdos Signet
Rakdos Cluestone
Veinfire Borderpost

Land
Rakdos Guildgate (4)
Rakdos Carnarium (2)
Blood Crypt
Swamp (7)
Mountain (8)

There are a couple of things that I’ve considered changing about this deck, but I’ve had pretty decent luck with it so far that I’ve not really done anything about it just yet.

The bulk of the deck is of course Rakdos-centric, which is a lot of attacking power and Haste creatures. A lot of people don’t value Enchantments much, because of the fact that they die with the creature they’re attached to, but I do like to have some in my decks for the abilities they can grant. And I do recall one particularly memorable game where I had the Hellrider deal just one point of damage to my opponent, which let me bring Rakdos himself out, and the pair of them consequently won me the game while equipped with Deviant Glee and Lightning Talons, respectively! By contrast, the only artifacts included in the deck are concerned with mana-fixing, which is probably something that isn’t going to be a problem with the majority of the cards included, but they’re also really on-theme, so I find it hard to argue with that!

I mentioned Hellrider being a useful way to ensure Rakdos comes out, but there are a couple of direct-damage spells (of course!) that can help to ensure I’m able to deal damage to my opponent if need be, as well as the Exuberant Firestoker who, for quite a while, was almost cut from the team. However, even with creatures that have Trample or Flying, I need to make sure I can get the big guy out as much as possible. There are plenty of ways to pump him throughout the deck, which can win me the game if need be – Rakdos with Lightning Talons was a 9/6 Flying & Trample demon badass, but with Virulent Swipe he can be an 11/6 Flying/Trample/Deathtouch nightmare! Add in a Rally the Forces and he’s giving out 12 points of damage in the air – Trample ensures at least some of it gets through, and First Strike will kill off any chumps before they get a chance to kill him as well. If Anthem of Rakdos is added into the mix, there is the potential to one-shot a player! He can be such an incredible threat, it’s worth adding in the additional insurances to make sure he can be cast!

Exava Rakdos Blood Witch

Of course, the deck isn’t entirely about the Lord of Riots. He’s not an expensive card to buy, normally, but his availability has decreased significantly since I first got into the game, it has to be said. So the deck was never going to be a showcase for my favourite cult leader. We’ve got Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch, who acts almost as a focal point for the Unleash mechanic, allowing me to play those creatures on the turn they come out as she gives anything with a +1/+1 counter Haste. There are plenty of creatures and plenty of direct-damage spells that I can still stand a very good chance here, even if the Lord of Riots is stuck at the bottom of my deck. I don’t need him to win, but he’s really great when he hits the table!

I’ve talked before about encouraging the aesthetics of the deck in having cards in the same frame, and so on, and here I wanted to keep that sort of look of the deck as having the pre-M15 frame. I should probably try to make another deck from the new Rakdos cards in the new block, as I’ve got quite a few that I think might go together to make a decent re-imagining of the classic combo of black and red. Might be a blog for another day soon!

Rakdos

Outside of the Ravnica cards, I’ve gone pretty wide this time in the deck, including stuff from original Zendikar block, and even Shards of Alara. I feel it’s worth mentioning here the Borderposts that I’ve included in the deck – I’ve come across a lot of hate for these cards online, as people seem to condemn anything that isn’t a fetchland as worthless. However, it’s worth noting that you can pay 1 generic mana and return a land to your hand to play the card, rather than paying the three-mana casting cost. Turn one, then, being able to play the post provides some immediate fixing on the same speed as a Guildgate. Again, I’m aware that Guildgates are hardly the go-to lands but, playing against a lot of land removal allows me to keep my colour fixing in artifacts like these and the Keyrune etc.

Of course, it’s basically an aggro deck, so there are a lot of creatures involved, with a lot of combat tricks to buff them (and keeping the Kiln Fiend happy!) I’ve been thinking of more stuff like this going into the deck, to have more value coming from casting spells – Guttersnipe springs to mind, of course, but as I’d said before, I’ve had decent success so I’m not in too much of a rush to change things for now. I also have only 9 instant cards in the deck, which I don’t think is enough to consider building a spells-matter strategy into it at this point.

Rakdos

It’s a lot of fun playing these sorts of decks, I find, as you usually don’t find yourself playing for very long, so can get in multiple games and, thus, get to see a lot more of the deck.

There are a lot of great cards that can find a home in a deck like this, although they do tend to lend themselves to a certain type of card as time goes on. I’ve found myself having collected a large number of Magic cards over the years, and so find it a lot of fun to physically go through the collection and build decks that include all manner of weird and wonderful cards and effects. It’s also one of the reasons that I think this game is always going to be around for me – I might not play it anywhere near as often as I used to, but it’s something that has been a big part of my life for quite some time, and will doubtless always remain there, ready for me to come back to it when life allows! I suppose that’s the beauty of the game, in that a deck like Return to Ravnica-era Rakdos (and we’re talking 2012 here) will always be fun to play, no matter what has happened in the game. There’s another reason why I keep coming back to Magic – that timeless quality of it just being a really good game!

Playing Magic: The Orzhov Syndicate

Hey everybody!
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these “playing Magic” blogs, but in light of the fact that I’ve started to collect some cards again, and seeing as how we’ve just experienced another return to the plane of Ravnica, I thought it’s about time I wrote up a blog showcasing the Orzhov deck that I’ve been talking about in a number of my previous blogs! So without further ado, let’s get to it!

Orzhov Syndicate

The Orzhov Syndicate is a bit like the idea of a corrupt Church organisation, not all that far removed from real life, where the leaders are more businessmen than clerics, and who have a very temporal power through their control of all manner of deals. Indeed, one of the Guild-specific land cards in the original Ravnica block is Orzhova, the Church of Deals. There is a strong theme whereby even in death, a person’s debt is rarely paid, and so the Guild features a lot of ghosts and shades, with a few keywords that have come in over the years that play on that idea.

The original keyword mechanic for the Orzhov Syndicate was Haunt. Widely considered to be a terrible mechanic (head designer Mark Rosewater himself considers it “a mistake”), a card with Haunt will be exiled rather than placed in the graveyard, “haunting” another permanent on the battlefield. When the card it is haunting is itself then put into the graveyard, that action will trigger the Haunt effect of the original card, basically getting a second use out of it before both die.

During Return to Ravnica block, Orzhov had the mechanic Extort, which allows you to pay an additional white or black mana whenever you cast a spell, whereupon each opponent loses 1 life and you gain life equal to the total lost. Commonly referred to as “drain and gain”, it’s a great way to ensure cards have impact for you the whole game, and it’s the mechanic around which I’ve built my deck that I’ll talk about shortly!

During the latest Guilds of Ravnica block, the new Orzhov mechanic is Afterlife X, which creates X 1/1 Spirit creature tokens when the card with Afterlife X dies. I suppose you can think of this as a cleaner Haunt, or at least, a cleaner implementation of the idea of Haunt! It’s also extremely on-point for the idea of never quite paying off your debts to the Syndicate!

Unlike my Dimir deck, my Orzhov deck is all about the Guild, and goes heavily into the theme of Orzhov, using cards only from Ravnica and Return to Ravnica blocks.

Orzhov Syndicate

I’ll be the first to admit, this deck can be clunky as hell. Because of the fact that I’ve got the self-imposed limit of only including Guild-specific cards in the deck, it’s really difficult to reliably make the deck win. I’ve also included some cards in there for the sheer theme alone, and ordinarily wouldn’t consider using if I were trying to make the deck more playable. But it’s a lot of fun to build decks that are dripping with theme like this, so there is definitely that in its favour!

Creatures (25):
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Kingpin’s Pet
Treasury Thrull
Syndic of Tithes
Syndicate Enforcer
Souls of the Faultless
Maze Sentinel
Basilica Guards
Sin Collector
High Priest of Penance (2)
Tithe Drinker (2)
Orzhov Guildmage
Vizkopa Confessor
Thrull Parasite (2)
Crypt Ghast
Pontiff of Blight
Vizkopa Guildmage
Dutiful Thrull (2)
Basilica Screecher (2)

Instants & Sorceries (5):
Purge the Profane
Executioner’s Swing (2)
Obzedat’s Aid (2)

Artifacts (4):
Orzhov Signet
Orzhov Cluestone
Orzhov Keyrune (2)

Enchantments (4):
Gift of Orzhova (2)
Shadow Lance
Blind Obedience

Land (22):
Orzhov Guildgate (3)
Orzhov Basilica (3)
Orzhova, the Church of Deals
Plains (8)
Swamp (7)

Orzhov Syndicate

There are 15 instances of Extort as a keyword in the deck, though thanks to the Pontiff of Blight, every single spell being cast has the potential to gain Extort – and in case you were wondering, multiple instances of Extort on a card do indeed stack, so there is definitely the potential for some serious drain and gain shenanigans going on there!

Of course, Extort isn’t the only thing going on with the deck. There is a certain element of Control, thanks to stuff like Blind Obedience (a card I normally dislike playing due to the amount of hate it can attract) and the High Priest of Penance forcing some difficult choices to be made by any would-be attacker. The lifegain potential in the deck is high, due to the multiple instances of Lifelink outside of Extort, though one of the big areas this deck falls down is a failing to weaponize that. I’ve talked more in-depth on weaponizing lifegain in my Ayli Commander deck blog, though, and I think if I were to travel outside of the Ravnica block cards, it wouldn’t be too difficult to create a really punishing version of this deck.

Ultimately, this is meant to be just a fun deck that is really dripping with theme, and one that brings back fond memories for me when I was first getting into Magic the Gathering, watching Spellslingers and enjoying the interactions of the cards, as well as seeing just how much fun you can have playing this game!!

Getting Back into Magic!

Hey everybody!
So it’s been a while, but I’ve started to get myself back into Magic the Gathering, having been thinking a lot about what I’ve been missing since I was last looking at it back when Guilds of Ravnica came out last year.

To begin with, it seems like there’s been a lot happening! War of the Spark is out, and all hell seems to have broken loose on Ravnica, as the Planeswalkers of the Gatewatch face off against Nicol Bolas. I think I need to really get to grips with what on earth has been going on overall, though there is that novel coming out that, I presume, will deal with all of that! In the meantime, though, I’ve been taking a look through a lot of my collection, adding a few bits here and there, and have already been building up a couple of decks – one of which, I’m sharing with you all here today!

Jund

Jund is one of the five Shards of Alara, primarily aligned with Red mana, spilling over into both Black and Green. The Shards were introduced in Shards of Alara, unsurprisingly, and gave names to the allied three-colour groupings. The flavour of the Shard is very much something I like, using the vibrancy of Red as a base to build upon. I’m not hugely into Green, but I do enjoy the pair of Red and Green, so that’s all fine. Red and Black however…

There is a strong theme of wildness and passion that comes out from looking at the actual Jund-themed cards from Shards of Alara block, where the theme of predator/prey comes out through the Devour mechanic:

Devour N (As this enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice any number of creatures. This creature enters the battlefield with N +1/+1 counters on it.)

Jund Savage Lands

For my deck, I’ve got quite a few things going on, which should hopefully make it interesting to play. There is a theme of Enchantments matter, spells matter, and a counters sub-theme, along with more of a meta-theme of shamans playing about with magic. This latter might take some explaining, so bear with me!

Creatures (14):
Radha, Heir to Keld
Deeproot Chamption
Dragonmaster Outcast
Blightcaster
Savage Ventmaw
Boltwing Marauder
Hellkite Hatchling
Paragon of Eternal Wilds
Poison-Tip Archer
Guttersnipe (2)
Kiln Fiend (2)
Winding Constrictor

Instants & Sorceries (9):
Blood Divination
Doublecast
Grim Affliction (2)
Virulent Swipe
Firebolt
Ground Assault
Enter the Unknown
Death Frenzy

Enchantments (8):
Sight of the Scalelords
See Red
Gruul War Chant
Untamed Hunger
Pyromancer’s Assault
Retreat to Valakut
Bonds of Mortality
Infernal Scarring

Artifacts (4):
Primal Amulet
Thunderstaff
Worn Powerstone
Dowsing Dagger

Land (25):
Mountain (4)
Swamp (4)
Forest (2)
Bloodfell Caves
Jungle Hollow
Rugged Highlands
Timber Gorge
Hissing Quagmire
Cinder Barrens
Rootbound Crag
Cinder Glade
Savage Lands (2)
Akoum Refuge 
Molten Slagheap
Kazandu Refuge
Dragonskull Summit
Evolving Wilds

So we’ve got a lot going on, but the thought process here is stuff like the Blightcaster killing creatures whenever Enchantments enter the battlefield; the Primal Amulet, Deeproot Champion, Guttersnipe and Kiln Fiend doing things whenever instant and sorcery cards are cast; and the Winding Constrictor increasing the number of counters that get put on cards through effects like the Deeproot Champion and Enter the Unknown. Hellkite Hatchling is the only card with Jund’s Devour mechanic, which is nice to have for flavour purposes, and will also benefit from the Winding Constrictor.

The land base is a little bit janky, I’m currently thinking about swapping out a few things, and can’t decide if I want to get rid of the manland or the storage land. It’s always a question of cost as far as lands are concerned though!

I mentioned earlier the theme of shamans going crazy casting spells. I want the deck to have a fairly strong theme of magic coming through in the artwork, with spells that have a strong feeling of casting (Blood Divination, Doublecast, Firebolt), artifacts of power (Worn Powerstone), and even powerful spellcasters themselves (Blightcaster, Dragonmaster Outcast).

Artwork on cards is something that I’m often very sensitive to, wanting a deck to feel like it’s coherent as well as looking it. Another theme I wanted here was for the cards to all share the post-M15 border, and for any colourless mana symbols to have the “diamond” symbol, and not just a number in a grey circle. All very unimportant to most players, I know, but it’s something that I’m becoming increasingly concerned with.

As a side note, Firebolt’s appearance in the upcoming Modern Horizons means that it’s only Worn Powerstone that is keeping this deck Modern-legal. Ah well!

This deck should be interesting enough to play, in theory, so I’m looking forward to trying it out in the near future, along with some of the others that I’ve been putting together! If you’re interested in seeing another Jund deck that I’ve built previously, then why not head here to see last year’s Cat Dragon madness!

Three-colour Magic deck!

Hey everybody!
I’m feeling on a bit of a Magic kick at the minute, so thought I’d come along here and showcase something that I’ve been recently attempting to build: a three-colour Magic deck! Of course, it’s not like I’ve never done this before, but whereas for the Jeskai deck that I featured some time ago, I’ve gone much wider than simply sticking to the single block. I always feel a bit nervous trying this, because generally speaking a multi-coloured block will contain a lot of support and fixing, which helps the deck play better. Going wider as I have done here, though, I’m forever tempted to throw in all sorts of stuff which runs the risk of diluting the mana base. I’m no expert, as we all know, but nevertheless, I thought I’d share this deck as the first iteration of one of my favourite three-colour combos!

Today, we’re going Mardu!

Mardu is the three-colour wedge of red, black and white. I enjoy playing black and red, and I enjoy black and white, so the idea for this started out as throwing both ideas together to see what happens! I am also a huge fan of Tarkir block, as it was the one I remember the most as being “around” when I first got into the game. The theme of it is also really nice, and I think I’ve probably got more decks that feature cards from this block than from any other!! I did open a lot of Tarkir packs though…

In choosing to build this deck, though, I was at a bit of a loss for how I wanted it to turn out. For example, I know that red and black tends to be very aggro, and I know that black and white tends to be quite controlling. How to smash those two effects together and build a cohesive deck? Well, I’ve ended up with a fair number of creatures, and there are a number of combat-trick elements from the other slant on this combo – red and white. I’m not a huge Boros player, of course, but I do like the constant attack and the way Boros lends itself to combat tricks. So I’ve tried to create a deck that has some interesting tricks up its sleeve while also being fast and obvious!

Creatures
Night Market Lookout (2)
Sunscorch Regent
Honored Crop-Captain (2)
Serene Steward
Angel of Despair
Ankle Shanker
Boltwing Marauder
Strongarm Monk
Ruthless Ripper (2)
Paragon of Fierce Defiance
Zurgo Helmsmasher

Planeswalkers
Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Instants
Coat with Venom
War Flare (2)
Supernatural Stamina
Double Cleave (2)
Built to Last (2)
Foul-Tongue Shriek
Built to Smash (2)
Ride Down

Enchantments
Mardu Runemark (2)
Citadel Siege
Battle Mastery

Artifacts
Talisman of Hierarchy
Prism Ring

Land
Evolving Wilds
Nomad Outpost (4)
Foreboding Ruins
Smoldering Marsh
Clifftop Retreat
Inspiring Vantage
Needle Spires
Lavaclaw Reaches
Shambing Vent
Scoured Barrens
Akoum Refuge
Wind-Scarred Crag
Bloodfell Caves
Stone Quarry
Forsaken Sanctuary
Cinder Barrens
Swamp (4)
Plains (2)
Mountain

Overall, I think this is the kind of deck that really speaks to me, as the kind of Magic deck that I like to play. It’s not overly-competitive, it’s not overly-complex in terms of effects or whatever, it’s got enough interest to be fun and stuff, so it should just be a really nice deck to play!

There isn’t really any kind of “plan” to the deck, which might seem a little odd at first, and would certainly fly in the face of a lot of MTG strategy out there. However, I’ve found that the best way to build a deck to succeed is through a lot of redundancy. If I were to build this deck around, say, Zurgo Helmsmasher as the main protagonist, then his removal would potentially cripple the deck. He will benefit from a lot of the effects that I’ve included through anthem-effects on instants and other creatures, and he’ll get to do a lot of damage that way, for sure. But he isn’t the key piece.

All of those instant speed combat tricks can affect pretty much any creature, and most of them will have a devastating effect. Getting first strike or double strike, pumping them up to ridiculous power/toughness, it’s all good! Unless you’re playing some of the more esoteric meta-game win conditions, the object here is to reduce your opponent from 20 to 0 life. If I can do that by just throwing jacked-up creatures at my opponent, then why not, right?!

The deck does need a bit of tinkering, though. The land base in particular is a bit off! Whenever I build decks like this, I try to include as much mana-fixing as possible, for obvious reasons, and I usually find myself wanting to have the complete relevant cycle for a three-colour deck. For example, the “refuge lands” from Tarkir block are all present for my relevant colours, and the generic taplands from OGW and SOI are also here. However, I’m working with what I have, so I’m not buying more cards just for the sake of it – as such, there are some cards that I could benefit from, if only I had them!

I think, if I were to look at the deck again, potentially thinking about buying cards as “missing pieces” for the deck, I’d probably want to swap out the two artifacts, and the Paragon. I’ve been guilty before of wanting to force in all the Paragons that I can into my decks, but really they’re not always that necessary. I also find myself thinking the Angel of Despair is a bit too expensive, though it is nice to have removal in a deck.

Definitely need to do some more thinking on this one, I think…!

The Merfolk of Ixalan

Hey everybody,
I’m writing about one of my favourite Magic decks in recent months today – following on from the Ixalan set at the start of the year, I’ve been wanting to talk about my Ixalan Merfolk deck for quite some time. Let’s get to it!

Ixalan was the 76th expansion for Magic the Gathering, and is something of a meso-American theme, with exploration and pirates being a main theme and tribal being the main focus. When the set initially released in September last year, I was all for making a Vampire deck, as I do love the tribe, although in Ixalan the vampires come in black and, oddly, white. However, as I opened up some packs, I began to realise that I had a lot of Merfolk creatures, and opportunities began to present themselves.

I think it wasn’t really until this Spring when I finally built the deck, and I have been quite surprised with just how powerful it can be. There is a lot of synergy within the tribe in this block to make the Merfolk really quite powerful, from buffing them with +1/+1 tokens, to making them unblockable and giving flying, etc. Let’s take a look!

Creatures
Merfolk Mistbinder (4)
Deeproot Elite (4)
Seafloor Oracle (2)
Sworn Guardian (2)
Mist-Cloaked Herald (2)
Herald of Secret Streams (2)
Vineshaper Mystic (2)
Deeproot Champion
Kumena’s Speaker
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
Kopala, Warden of Waves
Tatyova, Benthic Druid (2)

Instants
Negate (2)
Spell Pierce
Dive Down (2)
River Herald’s Boon (4)

Enchantments
Deeproot Waters (2)

Land
Woodland Stream (4)
Hinterland Harbour (2)
Botanical Sanctum (2)
Island (9)
Forest (8)


So there we are!

The idea, I guess, is that you place as many +1/+1 counters onto the creatures as possible, and the Herald of Secret Streams makes them all unblockable. The ability to have an army of unblockable Merfolk is actually quite easy here, because the deck is so tightly-constructed. So often in my decks, I find myself wanting to incorporate a number of different effects through using a breadth of different cards, but here it’s almost totally different, and I just want to double-down on the idea of these Merfolk creatures doing their thing.

The great thing about building a deck like this – indeed, any tribal deck, really – is that you’ll always be able to do something with your cards. I mean, a lot of decks that are built around something happening usually need to assemble that combo, and will need to spend a lot of time searching through the library to do so. Here, though, there isn’t a great need for sequencing of cards – obviously, it’s better to have actual Merfolk creatures out before you then play something like Vineshaper Mystic or River Herald’s Boon, but there is no need to assemble the combo because the entire deck just works with itself – it’s almost like it’s all one big combo! It’s not so much the idea of redundancy in a deck, just that the deck has been built so that it doesn’t matter if a specific legendary creature isn’t yet out, or whatever. In fact, the legendary creatures included in the deck are almost there for flashy distractions, and it doesn’t matter if they are removed etc, because the heavy lifting is going to be done by the mass of unblockable, hexproof Merfolk themselves!

It’s been quite something to see this deck in action, I must say, and I do think of it as one of my favourite decks that I’ve managed to build!

Vampire thoughts

Hey everybody!
It’s game day once again here at spalanz.com, and today I have something that I think is fairly interesting to share with you all: I’ve been thinking once more about Magic the Gathering, and have made some tentative steps into getting back into the game!

Remember at the back end of last year, when I tried my hand at a B/W Vampires sealed deck? Well I’ve been trying to do something more with that, making it more interesting while keeping it just within the Ixalan block rather than trying to be a full Standard experience. Well, I’ve been shuffling about with things, and while it might not be the best of decks out there, I thought it was cool enough that I wanted to share it here for game day!

Creatures
Bloodcrazed Paladin (2)
Anointed Deacon
Sanctum Seeker
Vicious Conquistador (2)
Skyblade of the Legion
Duskborne Skymarcher (2)
Legion Lieutenant (2)
Bishop of the Bloodstained (2)
Inspiring Cleric
Paladin of the Bloodstained
Skymarch Bloodletter
Elenda, the Dusk Rose
Vona, Butcher of Magan

Instants & Sorceries
Pride of Conquerors
Rallying Roar
Vampire’s Zeal (2)
Costly Plunder (2)
Call to the Feast (4)
Arterial Flow (2)
Queen’s Commission (2)

Enchantments
Raiders’ Wake
Mark of the Vampire

Artifacts
Pillar of Origins (3)

Lands
Unclaimed Territory
Forsaken Sanctuary (4)
Swamp (9)
Plains (9)

One of the things I really wanted to try with this build is making a ton of Vampire tokens, getting really aggressive with them, and if they die, then they just make Elenda bigger – or the Bloodcrazed Paladin, of course, if I can flash him in for a few +1/+1 counters. Having a lot of pump spells in there also should help to make those tokens more than just meh, and I particularly like things like the Sanctum Seeker and Bishop of the Bloodstained for causing direct life loss rather than having combat as the only way to win with an aggro deck.

I’ve built a lot of Vampire decks along the way, of course, and while I think I’ll always prefer B/R Vampires such as this deck from Shadows of Innistrad, I do like the way that Black and White plays in general, which is why so many of my decks over the years have been in these colours. I should also look into building a Mardu Vampires deck – along with building up this deck to a full 60 cards, I’ve had a number of thoughts on tinkering with the Edgar Markov Commander deck from last summer, too.

I think there is plenty that can still be done to this deck to improve it, and to that end I’ve got a few singles on order to help refine the play somewhat, including a second copy of Elenda. My first build of any deck tends to be a little bit wild as I try to jam in as many copies of interesting cards as I can, before finally trimming things down to more efficient methods. I mean, the aforementioned B/R Vampires deck ran like a dream, and I’d like to see if I could do the same thing with this build in B/W.

Crucially, I’ve had no opportunity to test this deck yet, so I’m hoping that I’ll have some further insights once I’ve managed to get in a few games. My time for Magic-playing has been almost non-existent for the past year, so I think I need to re-evaluate things and see if I can get back into game nights and whatnot!

Anyway, I think the fresh new look of Dominaria has gotten me intrigued enough that I’m once more buying Magic products and seeing what’s occurring in the multiverse, and I’m excited to see what’s coming up next in my deckbuilding adventures!

Ixalan!

Hey everybody!
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and today I’m taking a look at the new expansion set for Magic the Gathering – hitch up your dinosaur, as we head to Ixalan!

The 76th expansion for the game, Ixalan is a plane of dinosaurs and pirates, merfolk and pseudo-Mesoamerican exploration. We’ve known the name since at least April, when some leaked alternative packaging did the rounds, and the theft of an uncut sheet of cards not long after spoiled a lot of preview season for this set, but despite these leaks, I’ve been looking forward quite a great deal to this one. Amonkhet block was really nice, and I enjoyed a lot of those cards, but somehow I didn’t feel the theme really grabbed me as much as I expected. Ixalan, however, just seems to be speaking to me on a whole new level…

The story depicts the search for the fabled city of gold, El Dorado Orazca, and its legendary artifact, the Immortal Sun. There are four distinct tribes on the plane, with a lot of tribal cards for each that make this set feel like it slots nicely into this year’s Commander products! We have the dinosaur riding warriors of the Sun Empire (Naya), fighting against the Merfolk of the River Heralds (Simic), the Vampire conquistadores of the Legion of Dusk (Orzhov), and the pirates of the Brazen Coalition (Grixis). In the middle of all of this, we have the return of Vraska, posing as a treasure hunting pirate while she attempts to recover the Immortal Sun for Nicol Bolas (in return for Guild leadership of the Golgari on Ravnica). Jace is also here, naturally, although he’s once more lost all of his memories, and so is used by Vraska and the pirates as they fight against the Legion of Dusk.

The whole notion of this pirate/vampire/dinosaur-warrior/merfolk war has really gotten me intrigued, and of course I do have a soft spot for Mesoamerican history, so the whole package just appeals to me no end. Because the art… man, the art…

Tribal is obviously a thing on Ixalan, but let’s take a look at the new (and returning) mechanics. First up is Explore, which allows you to reveal the top card from your library, and draw it if it is a land. If it isn’t, you can put a +1/+1 counter on the Exploring Creature, then put the card drawn either back on top, or into your graveyard. Enrage is a dinosaur ability that has consequences whenever the creature is dealt damage. Raid is back from Tarkir block, but with some slight differences (including as an ongoing effect), and Vehicles are back from Kaladesh. Wasn’t really expecting to see either of these so soon, especially Vehicles, though it’s always cool to see old stuff brought back. We also have double-faced cards that transform into lands, which have card frames that look like old maps. While I do like this, part of me still gets a bit annoyed when Wizards messes with the frames too much. But not enough that I’d want to quit the game or go onto an extended rant about it, of course!!

Ixalan

Dinosaurs are obviously a marquee creature type for the set, and several older Lizards are being retconned as the Dinosaur creature type, which is nice. Ixalan has also given us our first and, so far, only Trilobite, and has brought about the rules change that makes Planeswalkers Legendary now, removing the Planeswalker Uniqueness rule in favour of keeping things a little more sleek.

I’ve been planning to use the vampire cards in my Edgar Markov deck should any decent ones present themselves, anyway, but when I learnt that Merfolk were moving into blue-green for this set, it made me want to make a Merfolk deck as well! I’ve never really been as keen on Merfolk as some, but I love the Simic combination (it’s one of only two places I enjoy playing green), so it’s natural I’d be drawn there this time!

I didn’t make it down to my store for prerelease, unfortunately, but instead had a sort of mini-prerelease of my own at home. I’d decided to go into this set pretty much blind, not paying attention to anything beyond the major spoilers when they hit. However, knowing the tribal theme, I had vaguely wanted to try out that Merfolk idea if I had enough cards for it. When I discovered Deeproot Champion as my promo, I had high hopes, but in the end it was B/W Vampires that leapt out at me, and so that was the deck I built:

Creatures
Vicious Conquistador (2)
Skymarch Bloodletter
Bloodcrazed Paladin
Queen’s Bay Soldier
Bishop of the Bloodstained
Anointed Deacon
Skyblade of the Legion
Bishop’s Soldier
Inspiring Cleric
Paladin of the Bloodstained
Glorifier of Dusk

Instants & Sorceries
Costly Plunder (2)
Skulduggery (2)
Vampire’s Zeal
Rallying Roar
Queen’s Commission
Call to the Feast

Enchantments
Mark of the Vampire
Revel in Riches
Raiders’ Wake

Land
Unclaimed Territory
Swamp (8)
Plains (8)

I was going for a bit of an aggro deck, which would be bolstered by having a lot of Vampires out when Bishop of the Bloodstained arrives. However, I think I had been going for theme more than anything, and only managed to win one game with them out of the three. My regular gaming buddy made a bit of a janky red/green dinosaur thing that ended up just smashing my face, when all I could do is get out vampire tokens. Hm!

Ixalan

There are some really cool cards in Ixalan, however, and more than many recent Magic sets, this one has got me desperate to be playing more of it once again! I’ve already been looking at upgrading this to a better, 60-card deck for Standard (stay tuned for that) as well as getting some more of the better Vampire cards for my Edgar Markov Commander deck (stay tuned for that, as well!)

Overall, then, I really like this new set!

Vampires!

Hey everybody!
So this weekend, I had one of the Commander 2017 decks delivered, Vampiric Bloodlust, and have spent a couple of days thinking about mixing it up a little with some of my favourite Vampire cards from recent memory!

Commander 2017 is the tribal-themed set, and while previous years have seen five preconstructed decks released around November time, this year we’ve got just four decks, and they’re out three months early! Colour isn’t a thing, so we have two-colour Cats, three-colour Vampires, three-colour Wizards, and five-colour Dragons! I kinda wanted them all, of course, but settled just on the Vampires right now.

Vampires is probably the tribe I feel most at home with out of all of them, having made a couple of decks that I’ve featured on this very blog with the bloodsucking brutes (you can see those decks here and here!)

Vampiric Bloodlust

There are five Legendary Creatures in the deck, two of whom aren’t actually Mardu-coloured so don’t really lend themselves to the deck as it stands. I wanted to use the front-man of the deck, Edgar Markov, as my Commander. The vampire theme is really strong with him, after all, and as I knew I wanted to go really into that here, I think he’s the best man for the job. His abilities, anyway, are rather marvellous:

Eminence – Whenever you cast another Vampire spell, if Edgar Markov is in the command zone or on the battlefield, create a 1/1 black Vampire creature token.

First strike, haste

Whenever Edgar Markov attacks, put a +1/+1 counter on each Vampire you control.

So not only do you get to create tokens, you also get to buff your entire team! Wonderful stuff. I say “entire team”, of course, because pretty much the whole damn deck is made up of Vampires! I’ve got a couple of cards in there from Tarkir block that will help to keep the theme going. So let’s take a look at the cards I’ve been fiddling about with!

Vampiric Bloodlust

First of all, I wanted to go with my old favourite of lifegain-and-drain, along with some of my favourite Vampiric buffs around right now. Stoneforge Masterwork is a particular favourite from Oath of the Gatewatch, which gives the equipped creature +1/+1 for each Creature type you control that shares a Creature type with it.

Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief is included in the deck, though for this particular deck really bounces with her latest incarnation from Battle for Zendikar, Drana, Liberator of Malakir. Suited up with Stoneforge Masterwork at the head of an army of Vampires, she could be doing some pretty decent damage! At least, I hope so!

Vampiric Bloodlust

Battle for Zendikar block, and Shadows over Innistrad block have both got some really terrific cards to use in a Vampire deck, of course, so I’ve been plumbing some of those depths! I mentioned it in a previous Vampires deck blog of course, but Stensia Masquerade is a really great card for this. The deck also comes with Rakish Heir, another favourite of mine for this kind of deck. Putting the counters on these cards is good and all, but then what, right? Well, that’s where Mer-Ek Nightblade comes in, making the counters count. Heh.

Edgar Markov is, of course, Sorin’s grandfather, so it’s pretty flavourful to get one of the Sorin Planeswalkers in there. I quite like Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, though Sorin, Grim Nemesis could be useful, and his -X should work well with the included Sanguine Bond. It’s quite annoying that we have Sanguine Bond but not Exquisite Blood, which would perhaps have been the more appropriate card to include. Not to mention, that card needs a reprint!

So anyway, I’m going to be taking a bit more time to go through the deck and sort it out so that it plays a bit more how I’d like. Stay tuned folks, it should be glorious!

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!