Magic Lessons

Hey everybody!
In celebration of the return of Spellslingers to Geek & Sundry, I thought I’d publish this quick blog about a couple of decks that I’ve been using to teach the game of Magic to my girlfriend Jemma. We’ve been playing a few co-op games already, but I was keen to get this to the table as one of my favourite card games, although wasn’t entirely sure how. The results of these lessons are still a bit sketchy for the time being, but hopefully things will prevail!

I’d initially thought about introducing the game with Standard decks that are based around one of the tribes of Ixalan – I’ve already got a Vampires deck built, and have since built up Merfolk (really fun – watch out for that to be featured here soon!), Dinosaurs (both Dino Soldiers in R/W, and the big beasts themselves in R/G), and Pirates (just B/U), along with two further tribal decks; Wizards (from Dominaria) and flying birds of doom (U/W from the current Standard).

However, some of those things are potentially too confusing, so at the weekend I put together two 40-card decks that used cards from across the period when I was really getting into the game: Tarkir block, and both M15 and Origins core sets. The first deck closely replicates one of my all-time favourite decks to play, B/W Warriors!

Creatures:
Mardu Hateblade (2)
Dromoka Warrior (2)
Herald of Dromoka (2)
Arashin Foremost
Mardu Hordechief
Sunscorch Regent
Hand of Silumgar (2)
Chief of the Scale
Chief of the Edge

Enchantments:
Infernal Scarring
Raiders’ Spoils
Abzan Runemark (2)

Instants & Sorceries:
Coat with Venom (2)
Rush of Battle

Artifacts:
War Horn
Prism Ring
Hewed Stone Retainers

Lands:
Plains (8)
Swamp (6)
Scoured Barrens (2)
Evolving Wilds

MTG Scoured Barrens

The Warriors deck is fairly inexpensive – of course, it’s made up from cards that I already had in my collection, but it costs under $7 to construct via Card Kingdom, according to tappedout.net – and synergises well with itself overall. I’ve included the Sunscorch Regent as I wanted a big finisher type of card, but more than anything I wanted to show a variety of cards and, overall, the variety that is inherent throughout the game!

I’ve steered clear of a few of the more complex Warrior cards, as I was trying to be mindful of the keywords and rules concepts within the deck. As it stands, Vigilance and Deathtouch are quite key here, but then they were key to the deck anyway. Double Strike also features through Arashin Foremost, which in retrospect could be quite tricky to grasp. Rush of Battle was another key card for the deck, and introduced Lifelink – fortunately, that isn’t too difficult to deal with. Finally, Raid is on a couple of cards, but as the effect is printed on the card, it doesn’t really matter too much.

But what about the second deck? For this one, I chose Blue-Green, one of my favourite colour combinations that doesn’t involve Black, and went with a much broader theme of making creatures huge. Prowess was a natural include as far as rules goes, so the card pool was widened somewhat to include enough cards with this effect.

Creatures:
Druid of the Cowl (2)
Beastcaller Savant
Umara Entangler
Saddleback Lagac
Soulblade Djinn
Paragon of Eternal Wilds
Paragon of Gathering Mists
Jhessian Thief
Vedalken Blademaster
Armorcraft Judge
Lotus Path Djinn
Ridgescale Tusker

Enchantments:
Temur Runemark
Elemental Bond
Military Intelligence

Instants & Sorceries:
Lifecrafter’s Gift
Awaken the Bear
Dragonscale Boon
Gather Courage
Anticipate
Titanic Growth

Lands:
Forest (8)
Island (7)
Thornwood Falls (2)
Evolving Wilds

MTG Soulblade Djinn
I was looking to create a sense of balance within the decks at first, and had included the green dragon from Fate Reforged, Destructor Dragon, but as it turned out I think that was one creature too many – I’m not that great at building Prowess decks, as I invariably want to include too many creatures! Having already got the Ridgescale Tusker in the deck, I think that’s as big a creature as I need. This is another deck you can put together for under $7 via Card Kingdom according to tappedout.net, so the whole experience should be pretty cheap and straightforward if you fancy recreating any of these decks!

The deck does take a little more work than the Warriors deck, however, as there is some element of timing for when to play certain cards. We’re not talking combat tricks here per se, just the sequencing between cards that place +1/+1 counters, and cards that interact with those counters. For example, the sequence of Ridgescale Tusker putting counters on each creature, followed by Lifecrafter’s Gift that puts counters on each creature already with a counter on it, before Armorcraft Judge drawing you cards for each creature with a counter on it.

As it happens, Jemma took the Warriors deck – “lots of little men who support each other to fight” – while I was left with “a handful of creatures that want to be made huge”. It was a good choice, on reflection, as the U/G deck definitely had the tougher time of things.


Magic Lessons

A lot of people on the internets will tell you, when introducing somebody to the game, to stick with just vanilla creatures, and even to avoid Instants and Sorceries for the first few games, instead just duking it out between the creatures you’ve summoned. Stick with mono-colour, avoid all the complicated stuff, and just get the basics down.

I disagree with that approach to some extent, as part of the joy of playing Magic comes from that variety that I mentioned at the start, and the combination of cards working together to produce the deck. If you scale these things back, you lose some important parts of what makes the game so much fun, and I think you risk introducing the game as being quite boring.

“So it’s just, my creature kills your creature, until somehow we manage to kill each other?”

“No no, it’s actually a lot more fun than this! We can play other cards to influence the game, and create combos between creatures and keywords and effects!”

So why don’t you just include some of those cards from the outset?

I do agree, though, that you should absolutely stay away from Counter magic when teaching the game. If you’ve got a player trying to figure things out, and all you’re doing is cancelling their stuff, that is just a recipe for disaster. Similarly if they have the Control deck – at even the more basic level, it requires some skill at the game to know what to allow and what to counter. I think you should try to ignore the Stack as much as you can – of course, explain when cards can be played, but try to avoid talking about “in response” and the like. The few Instants that I managed to cast, I played effectively as Sorcery cards, and not as combat tricks in response to blockers being declared – that can be confusing and feel almost like the person doing it is cheating.

(However, I often use pump spells and other combat tricks almost as deterrents, and will pump the team with an Instant in the pre-combat main phase. It works particularly nicely with Boros decks, I’ve found!)

Something I think that can be quite subtle, and that a lot of people seem to overlook, is to make sure you play correctly when teaching, almost as a demonstration. Sure, let the other person order their lands above their creatures or whatever (Jemma actually had her lands on the left, and creatures on the right, which made me itch a little). But make sure your own board is clear, the lands are organised, the enchantments and artifacts are together, the creatures are together, etc. Tap and untap correctly (I’m terrible for just “slightly turning” a card when I tap it…) and generally be a good example of how to actually play!

Keywords
Okay, so sure, keywords can be tricky, especially if you don’t know what they mean. For the B/W deck, there was Deathtouch and Vigilance, and while I took care to ensure Deathtouch instances always included the explanation of that keyword, Vigilance unfortunately was not explained on the card. Similarly with the U/G deck, Prowess was always explained wherever it appeared, but there were instances of Flying and Trample that were not explained, so could cause problems when trying to remember. However, with perhaps the exception of Prowess, all of these keywords feature across a very wide range of Magic cards, so I think it’s really important that you get used to them from the start.

These keywords are also really quite symbolic of the colours they appear in – Vigilance in White, Trample in Green, etc. It’s important to see that these flying creatures can’t be blocked by non-flyers, so you need to come up with another plan. It makes the game much more interesting than just a case of throwing generic 2/2s against generic 3/3s. Magic isn’t about that, so why give that impression?

A note about Double Strike though – if I’d thought some more, I would probably have left that card out, so instead chose to explain it as basically doubling the damage dealt, and was careful not to block when doing so. You don’t need to be explaining the finer points of First Strike damage to somebody on their first ever game.

MTG Druid of the Cowl

Interactions
A lot of the joy and excitement that I get from this game comes from the interactions between cards, and colours, and I especially enjoy seeing those interactions work across block sets, as well. By only including basic creatures and basic lands in a starter deck, you remove so much of that from the game, and run the risk of making the game seem incredibly bland and unimpressive. At the very basic level, even a simple pump spell can make things seem more interesting.

I think the most complicated these introductory games became was when Jemma had a Hand of Silumgar with an Abzan Runemark attached, along with Chief of the Scale and Raiders’ Spoils out. That simple 2/1 Deathtouching Warrior was now a 5/4 Deathtouching Warrior – and then she played Rush of Battle to make it a 7/5 Deathtouch Lifelink Warrior! In contrast, I managed to draw 14 lands almost consecutively, and only had a Vedalken Blademaster out.

Needless to say, I lost both of our games…

Should you throw games when introducing somebody new to that particular world? A lot of the advice Warhammer players dish out is that yes, you should. By all means try, and deal out some damage, but don’t play at your normal level and smash face. Well, I think the same thing is true for introducing Magic to people. Don’t try to win too hard – not difficult for me with the U/G deck I was playing, but if I’d been playing the Warriors, I would perhaps have kept back some of the pump spells to make sure I didn’t overwhelm the board and demolish her.

I think it’s important to give a new person a good overview of the game, and allow them to play some cards, but it’s equally important to show them that it isn’t going to be a walk in the park. You don’t want someone to think, “Oh, that game’s really easy!” after a couple of games. So by all means, I’ll attack with that massive beast creature that I’ve just dumped some +1/+1 counters onto and pumped with a Titanic Growth. I might even throw some trample in there. But I’ll also make sure to block with my mana dorks, and put myself behind sometimes. I’m not trying to win a GP, I’m trying to get another human being into playing this game with me!

MTG Sunscorch Regent

Did it work?
On reflection, the Warriors deck is perhaps a little over-powered, in that it works extremely well. In theory, the Blue/Green Prowess deck should allow you to make creatures enormous, and could be really strong as well, but I think it needs more refinement if that were to happen.

For the first game, we played with open hands, and I was providing perhaps too much advice and guidance, such as who to target with certain cards, which creature to play at which point. I was doing so as fairly as possible, as I wanted to impart some of the strategy and stuff. It also helped that I was land-flooded and she could see that I wasn’t being nice, but that I couldn’t actually play anything to respond. For the second game, we went with the standard approach, although Jemma did still ask questions about if a certain play was possible. Warriors are fun, and the deck is very tight-knit, but it did become quite confusing for her when trying to remember who was buffing who, and how they were doing it.

However, for someone who freely admits she is no good at the strategy, she made some really strong plays during that second match, which I think vindicated my choice of not using just generic decks to play the game. When we’ve been playing Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror before now, she has made very good calls on what we, as a team, should be doing, but I think the fact that she was suddenly playing against me in this game made her feel like she couldn’t deal with it. Persistence showed she can, though, and so I hope we’ll get to play some more soon!

Have you tried to teach someone Magic? How did it go? I’d be interested to read your comments below!!

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)