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!

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!

Shadows Over Innistrad

Magic the Gathering Shadows Over Innistrad

Had a couple of games of Magic last week, using my usual small collection of decks against a few that used new Shadows Over Innistrad cards. Despite being really intrigued by the set back when it was announced, I’d actually not really paid much attention through spoiler season or (pre)release, though did pick up a fat pack when they came out so that I could at least have some of the cards to look at. But I didn’t look at them, either! It was all quite weirdly detached!

Since those games, where I mostly got my ass handed to me by werewolves, I’ve been looking to put together a mono-black Vampires deck for Standard, in the hope that I can also use it to play at FNM.

But let’s take a look at this set, because it’s shiny and I’ve been doing some research!

Magic the Gathering Shadows Over Innistrad

Shadows Over Innistrad is the 70th set for Magic: the Gathering, which kinda blows my mind to think about just how many cards that means are in this game, but anyway! Like Battle for Zendikar, it returns to a plane that has previously been explored (Innistrad block, from 2011), and features mechanics from that set along with some new stuff to keep the game fresh.

Transform is a fairly straightforward mechanic that involves double-faced cards: when a specific condition is met, you can flip the card over, usually into something much more frightening. This is like the flip-Planeswalkers from Magic: Origins, though the card stays on the battlefield rather than being exiled, so any counters or equipment on it stay on it.

Delirium is kinda nice, thematically, and reminds me of the Spell Mastery of Origins, though obviously not so specific. Basically, if you have four or more different card types in your graveyard, you can trigger a card’s Delirium effect. These vary wildly, usually exaggerating an effect already on a card (such as replacing or with and, you know the sort of thing).

Madness is, well, mad. It’s an alternative casting cost, that allows you to discard the card into exile, from where you can cast it by paying its Madness cost or discard it to the graveyard. I find the most interesting thing about this is that it allows you to play any card with Madness on anyone’s turn – so you can play Sorceries and Creatures on your opponent’s turn if forced to discard and you discard it with Madness. Yep, mad.

Skulk is a nice evade ability that prevents creatures with a greater power from blocking your skulking creatures. Skulking creatures are usually 1-power creatures with higher toughness, from what I’ve seen, meaning they can potentially peck away at you if you have high-power creatures out, though there are some interesting ways around it such as double- or triple-blocking, or using pump spells after you declare blockers – either way, you can potentially force your opponents to two-for-one (or worse) to deal with it.

Finally, there’s Investigate, which allows you to place Clue token cards onto the battlefield, which can be discarded to draw cards if you pay 2 mana.

Magic the Gathering Shadows Over Innistrad

So what about my Vampires?

Of all the tribal themes in Magic, Vampires is the one I’ve wanted to do something with the longest, partly because I have a black/red Vampires deck on the app and enjoy getting the combos together there. I’ve even gone so far as to buy a load of singles from the original Zendikar and Innistrad blocks to try and put something together for casual games. Given the plethora of Vampires in Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch, I started to put something together a couple of months ago, right before I lost interest in Shadows Over Innistrad really.

The main focus of this deck is to deal direct damage rather than relying on combat, and revolves around three cards that are pretty expensive to bring out, if I’m honest! The main guy is my Defiant Bloodlord. Seven mana is hardly a good card to hang a combo off, but I want this to work so badly, I’m willing to keep trying! The Defiant Bloodlord makes my opponent lose life equal to any amount of life I gain, and as soon as I saw how cool that card could be, given all of the lifegain shenanigans in black, I knew I wanted to build a deck around him!

The most reliable part of the combo, for me, is Drana’s Chosen and Vampire Envoy – use the Chosen to tap the Envoy, and gain one life, forcing my opponent to lose one life. If there was a way to untap creatures in mono black Standard, I’d love to get that in there, as I have three Envoys in the deck right now. But anyway, it’s still a work in progress!

Additional pieces for the Bloodlord come from Retreat to Hagra (I run 20 lands in order that, should I have actually managed a perfect draw for a turn-7 Bloodlord, I have a potential 13 more triggers for this), and two new cards from Shadows Over Innistrad: Alms of the Vein (causing 6 life loss for my opponent), and Indulgent Aristocrat. That last is essentially a filler card that is being used more for early-play Vampires that will allow for an anytime Stoneforge Masterwork to have more to count, though in the late game, I want my opponent to block my big threats, meaning he can potentially get in for 1 damage, and the lifelink will cause that to double. Additionally, Grotesque Mutation is a nice Instant to help buff another creature, the lifelink meaning damage will still occur to my opponent even if everything is blocked.

Magic the Gathering Shadows Over Innistrad

I’ve only tried the deck in two games, and didn’t have any of the Shadows cards in it at the time, but I was impressed at how powerfully it performed against my buddy Tony’s werewolves decks. Now that I have these additional cards in it, I’m excited to try it out again, and see how it can be improved upon during this Standard season!

As always, here’s a look at the deck for anyone curious as to what it involves:

Creatures (21):
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Defiant Bloodlord (2)
Drana’s Chosen
Malakir Soothsayer
Kalastria Nightwatch
Stromkirk Mentor
Nirkana Assassin (2)
Malakir Cullblade
Bloodbond Vampire (2)
Kalastria Healer (3)
Vampire Envoy (3)
Indulgent Aristocrat (2)
Heir of Falkenrath

Instants (5):
Grotesque Mutation
Unholy Hunger (2)
Touch of Moonglove (2)

Sorceries (5):
Alms of the Vein
Dutiful Return (2)
Bone Splinters (2)

Artifacts (2):
Stoneforge Masterwork (2)

Enchantments (7):
Shadows of the Past (2)
Retreat to Hagra (2)
Call the Bloodline
Tainted Remedy
Vampiric Rites

Land (20):
Swamp (16)
Mortuary Mire (4)

So there we are! Like I said, it’s still something of a work in progress, and I need to make sure I can deal with some of the other Standard shenanigans going on right now. Some cards will certainly bear to be cut out of this – I particularly feel like I may need more Grotesque Mutations, you know? – but I have a lot of cards that pull creatures out of my graveyard to ensure, if something forces me to discard cards from my library, I can always pull back at least one Defiant Bloodlord if needed.

Anyway, that’s all for now, I’ll probably be back once I’ve tried it out some more with a status report or something, anyway!

Playing Magic: The Jeskai Way

Hey everybody!
I had so much fun writing about my House Dimir deck for Magic the Gathering a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d do a similar thing with another deck I’ve been trying to refine for a while now, my three-colour Jeskai deck from Tarkir block! Like last time, this will no doubt be very rambling, but I find those are the best kinds of blogs!

Tarkir block was the current block when I eventually made a serious effort to get into the game, so will forever hold a special place in my heart. The theme of the set was three-coloured clans, harkening back to the three-coloured shards from Alara block. Let’s take a look at this for a minute.

In Magic, there’s the concept of the colour-pie, which I’d never really much paid attention to beyond thinking it a way to organise the colours of the game. However, the theory runs that each colour has a specific personality, and they are each arranged in the pie according to how these personalities ally with each other. For instance, my go-to colour of black is situated between red and blue, which emphasises the direct-damage abilities of black (shared with red) along with the evasion-type abilities (shared with blue). In Alara, there were five shards that focused on one colour along with its two allies – the colours to either side of it in the pie. So my black example is named Grixis, for instance (the others being Bant, Esper, Jund and Naya, focusing on white, blue, red and green, respectively). Tarkir block takes this on a bit of a twist by focusing on two allied colours along with the colour opposite them in the pie which, if you connected them with straight lines, would form a wedge. Returning to black for a moment, one of its allies is blue, and the colour opposite them in the pie is green (the Sultai brood).

Jeskai

Tarkir block was produced between September 2014 and March 2015, and its theme was rooted in middle and far eastern culture and mythology. Central to this is the idea of dragons,  and the block focused on five clans (the colour pairings), each of which reveres a specific aspect of the dragon, which was brought out in keywords for each clan. This brings us to the subject of today’s blog, the Jeskai. Formed of the allied colours of white and blue, with their enemy red, the Jeskai are a cunning bunch, which is perhaps what you would expect out of white and blue, along with the martial prowess of red – indeed, their keyword for the block was Prowess, which allowed you to buff certain creatures with counters when you play non-creature spells. The storyline of Tarkir block was also pretty fascinating, though I want to devote a separate post to that. For now, suffice it to say that time-travel was a theme, where we got to see the clans and their leaders in different situations. To show this, the clans got new keywords with later releases, and for Jeskai (who became the Ojutai brood, named for the dragon they revered), this became Rebound, which allows you to exile a sorcery or instant card upon resolving it, then cast it for free from exile next turn. Powerful stuff, in the right situations!

Tri-coloured decks scared me. I was so nervous going into building this deck at first that I actually put it off for a long time – I basically didn’t know if I was getting the land base right. Khans of Tarkir thankfully printed taplands that made the process somewhat easier – playsets of all three types to ensure I had the colours I’d need, along with the triple tapland Mystic Monastery that was essentially the Jeskai home land.

The deck is actually super fun for a theme person such as myself, because it has a lot of emphasis on warrior-monks that I really adore. Of course, this meant that my first iteration of the deck featured a whole host of awesome creature cards that made Prowess almost impossible to benefit from, as I was casting creatures and not non-creatures (Prowess doesn’t count land unfortunately!) So that needed some alterations, right there! Another problem with the abundance of creatures was the fact I also included Narset Transcendant in the deck.

Narset Transcendant

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Planeswalkers. I know a lot of people like them, and I’ve heard of people hinging a collection around them, but I dislike the over-complication they bring. I’ve mentioned before that I like Magic because it’s such a clear-cut game, where you’re summoning creatures and casting spells to beat down your opponent – with Planeswalkers in the mix, it’s almost like they’re a special character in this mix, and it just feels like an interloper rather than anything else (to me, at least). However, I’m also a huge fan of theme, so I simply had to include Narset in the deck for that reason alone. Her ultimate ability is also pretty amazing when it goes off. To get it off, of course, you have to reveal the top card of your deck and, if it’s a land or creature, you discard it. Given my concern over the mana base in a three-colour deck, this is often too much hassle for me to risk!

Monastery Siege

For the longest time, I didn’t see fit to include the Jeskai dragon, Ojutai, in the deck, not really wanting to have a lot of high-cost creatures in there. This, I feel, speaks to my inexperience with playing blue, where I guess you want to delay the game until you can win, so why not put a few in, right? The dragons from the Tarkir block come in two types, so each one has two cards. The Dragonlord version of Ojutai has a much better ability than his earlier incarnation, so I’ve recently changed things up a little so that I can include him, along with a couple of the other thematic cards that go along with him. I’ve been thinking of taking Planeswalker Narset out too, but so far haven’t pulled the trigger on her yet. The problem I’m having, though, is that I like the thematic cards too much to remove them, but maybe soon I will. I’m kinda lacking the imperative to do anything with the deck right now because so much of it will rotate out next week, so it’s hardly going to be Standard-playable. But as it stands, here’s my deck!

Creatures (19):
Narset, Enlightened Master
Dragonlord Ojutai
Elusive Spellfist
Student of Ojutai
Monastery Swiftspear
Jeskai Student (2)
Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest
Leaping Master
Mystic of the Hidden Way
Strongarm Monk
Dragon-Style Twins
Lotus Path Djinn
Ojutai Exemplars
Jeskai Barricade
Jeskai Sage
Master of Pearls
Soulfire Grand Master
Dragon’s Eye Sentry

Planeswalkers (1):
Narset, Transcendant

Spells (14):
Taigam’s Strike
Defiant Strike
Jeskai Charm (3)
Center Soul
Ojutai’s Command
Winterflame
Deflecting Palm (2)
Flying Crane Technique
Cunning Strike (3)

Artifacts (3):
Ojutai Monument
Jeskai Banner (2)

Enchantments (4):
Jeskai Ascendancy
Monastery Siege
Jeskai Runemark (2)

Land (19):
Mountain
Island
Plains
Mystic Monastery (4)
Wind-Scarred Crag (4)
Tranquil Cove (4)
Swiftwater Cliffs (4)