Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Welcome back to Untap Target Player!
If you read my post from a few weeks ago, you’ll already know that I’ve been trying to make a deck where Tibalt can live. After a lackluster performance as an Izzet-colored pile, I explored another color.
Tibbles and Bits
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Blood Artist
2 Vexing Devil
3 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Reassembling Skeleton
1 Falkenrath Aristocrat
3 Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
3 Runechanter’s Pike
4 Pillar of Flame
3 Reforge the Soul
2 Sign in Blood
3 Arc Trail
2 Krenko’s Command
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Dragonskull Summit
3 Vile Rebirth
3 Bonfire of the Damned
3 Appetite for Brains*
*The Appetite for Brains were supposed to be Despise, but I had left them at home.
Round 1 – Ben? (G/W Humans)
My first round was against Ben (?), a confident and ready-to-go dude with a lot of little guys to chuck my way. Although I was on the draw, my first hand held a beautiful, castable Arc Trail. He widdled me down a bit with his Champions of the Parish and his Elite Vanguards, but the Arc Trail severly impacted the board and, a little stuck on land, I began to Command some Goblins and get on the offense. I didn’t have to play defense again that game. In game two, he was having some trouble with creatures being able to stick, as Arc Trail reprised its role in game two, keeping the board empty for him as he struggled to draw an answer. Interesting enough, in a casual game three, he rofl-stomped me with a buffed Hero of Bladehold, where he hit me for a million.
Round 2 – Charles (U/B Zombies)
Charles, a knowledgeable and extroverted player, sat across from me for round 2. Jesting about his “mono-red” deck, I was surprised to see a Gravecrawler first turn. It wasn’t long before a perfectly-timed squad of zombies ate my braialjfnkalsdjfn…..
Game two was much better for me, and Vile Rebirth came crawling in from the sideboard. I knew I needed to preserve my soft, appetizing life total, and this seemed like the perfect way to deny him his Gravecrawlers. He assembled a pair of Gravecrawlers, but my start was much more aggressive. Tibalt came out to play, but was quickly eaten by Gravecrawler. He flooded, though, and before long, his Gravecrawler’s inability to block became a liability.
The final game was very close and grindy. Although I put the hurt on him early with Phoenixes and burn spells, I gave him a bit more fuel when I Reforged our Souls. He Surgically Extracted my Phoenix and my Blood Artists. My board and hand severely diminished, he stabilized at 4 and resolved a Phyrexian Obliterator, the first one I’d seen in months. On my side, a pair of Diregraf Ghouls and a Reassembling Skeleton stood ready to hold the Pike I had. After some careful calculation, I put the Pike on the Skeleton and swung with everything. He informed me he was just waiting for me to make the right decision; I was worried about permanent sacrificing, so I picked the Skeleton, the lowest power creature for minimum sacrifice. I had completely forgotten he was just at 4, handless, and just dead on board to 4 attacking, unblocked power; a Piked Skeleton would be more than enough to kill him, as he couldn’t then block my Diregraf Ghouls.
Round 3 – Bobby (Battle of Wits)
Bobby, our resident State Champion, wanted to try the elusive Battle of Wits deck; basically 250 of the best cards in Standard jammed together, Bobby shuffled up a foot-tall sleeved stack with surprising efficiency, taking chunks and shuffling it together. Cutting was a dangerous affair as cards cascaded off like filling out of an overstuffed taco.
In game one, he played draw spells, mana guys and ramp spells, eventually resolving Silklash Spider, utterly stopping my otherwise impressive Phoenix offense. He never used its ability, but he cast Thragtusks galore, moved out of burn range, and smashed me to a pulp. In game two, I got a more aggressive start, killing him with a hard hitting Piker. Game three was very close. My sideboard card Appetite for Brains played a crucial role here, exiling a Tamiyo from another wise land-heavy grip. This was the only time I cast it, and it turned out it was functionally identical to Despise in this case. He resolved a Solemn Simulacrum and, when nearing death, he was able to get a Thragtusk via Green Sun’s Zenith, giving him a big body and a double-digit life total. My Phoenix got binned by some manner of kill spell, but I was finally able to get Bobby back to 3. With 7 mana on my side, I cast my long-overdue Bonfire of the Damned for just 1. This got him to two and, as I reached for my dead Chandra’s Phoenix, he scooped. As a reward for beating the otherwise undefeated Battle of Wits deck, he gave me a pack of M13, my first, which contained a Cathedral of War.
The final in the four-round FNM was between Korey and myself, the only two undefeated players. Kevin recorded us, and you can find the videos below, as they become available.
My major mistake was in game 1. I should have popped Tibalt immediately, hitting him for 7 before casting the Blood Artist, which gave him an opportunity to spend a spell and shrink his hand. Even if he had something else to do, he would have to cast it suboptimally; Thought Scour, for example, wouldn’t do much. If I'd swung with the Phoenix, he would have been at 1 life. Instead, he killed me, and I could have gone 2-0 against him instead of 2-1.
Regardless, I was pleased – packs and cash in hand, I unsleeved the borrowed lands and departed, excited and confident in the conquering deck of the evening.
MVPs: Reassembling Skeleton and Arc Trail
Originally, I was on the fence about the Skeleton, but his “survives-anything-but-Pillar-of-Flame” is amazing, and he holds a Pike like a pro. In a couple games, even his measly one power over and over was enough to seal up a game. He was very difficult to deal with, and rarely did his “tapped” clause mean much of anything. This is an aggressive deck, after all, and discouraging attacks with built in reanimation is mighty fine.
Sideboard MVP: Vile. Rebirth.
Against creature heavy decks (or even if you have to use your own, as I had to), this card is very powerful; a 2/2 for B at instant speed is amazingly relevant. I had a lot of fun casting what amounted to a combat trick at the top table of a tournament. Eat your heart out, Giant Growth. Watch out for this card.
LVPs: Sign in Blood and Bonfire of the Damned
What I assumed would be an efficient card engine or an impromptu burn spell turned out to be mostly dead weight. I hoped I could force them to draw, they’d lose 2 life and then I could make Tibalt’s second ability even more insane. It never did, and I didn’t miss it when I didn’t draw it. It’s possible Vile Rebirth just replaces it directly. For Bonfire, most of the games I played it was awkward board sweep; the times it was helpful, it was mostly based on good fortune; this is very had to cast for value with as few lands as this deck contains.
This deck’s variance is a little too great to make it consistently mighty, but 4-0’ing is pretty good with me. My goal in Constructed Magic is to make and pilot an unusual deck effectively in a format-typical environment.
I’m all about Limited in a general rule, and I’d stepped away from it for a while for my Standard pursuits, but I was ready to get back in. Having missed the Prerelease, I decided to attend the Release Sealed Event at Something2Do the following day. When the time came to crack our packs, I eagerly awaited my pool.
Well, it was pretty sour. Three rares were Limited bricks (Battle of Wits, Fervor and Wit’s End), and I lacked depth in any one or even two colors. After going to time in deckbuilding, I hurriedly threw together this pigeon-toed Jund concoction.
1 Elvish Visionary
1 Deadly Recluse
1 Ravenous Rats
1 Walking Corpse
1 Centaur Courser
1 Bloodhunter Bat
1 Spiked Baloth
1 Bladetusk Boar
1 Acidic Slime
1 Sentinel Spider
1 Duskdale Wurm
1 Duty-Bound Dead
1 Yeva’s Forcemage
1 Liliana’s Shade
1 Liliana of the Dark Realms
2 Sign in Blood
1 Krenko’s Command
1 Public Execution
1 Crippling Blight
1 Mind Rot
1 Prey Upon
2 Evolving Wilds
1 Cathedral of War
1 Elixir of Immortality
1 Mindclaw Shaman
1 Zombie Goliath
1 Turn to Slag
1 Volcanic Geyser
This was an awkward mess of a deck. I felt confident about the red splash for two non-removal commons, though, which felt weird, and I didn’t main deck the Geyser as it would be uncastable without the only two Mountains in my deck. If I’d done it again, I’d probably play it and change one Mountain in for one Swamp.
Round 1 – Will (W/G)
Will, a player against whom I’d tested Standard in the past, admitted he was uncertain how coherent his deck was; frankly, as it played out, it was actually a pretty solid plan.
In game one, he made two Ajani Sunstrikers and started rising to a towering life total. I stabilized and resolved creatures that, while not normally impressive, were larger than his biggest creatures. I overwhelmed him with power, and Crippling Blight on his sole blocker ended up sealing up both games. A great removal spell in its flexibility.
Round 2 – Shower (U/R)
Shower was my second round opponent, and I’ve seen him play before; his impressive U/B Tezzeret Control has seen the top tables at Something2Do more than once, and so I knew I’d be in for a good match. In game one, he was on the mill plan, hitting double Mind Sculpts and making a large Jace’s Phantasm. He tapped down my squad a time or two with Sleep and Downpour, and I never mounted much defense. In game two, I was able to crash in with a strong start. I even side-boarded in Mindclaw Shaman against his spell-centric deck. When I cast it, it only hit a Downpour (I was looking for Sleep), but it was a discard spell either way. In game three, he had me against the ropes until I drew my miracle, Elixir of Immortality, to double my life total and library size. I eked out a close one against him, complimenting his unique deck construction.
Round 3 – Chris (U/G)
Chris, a player with whom I was not familiar, sat down, anxious to get underway and nervous about his draw. He had no reason to be. The first game saw a great start for both of us. His Wind Drake plugged me several times, and after Sleeping my field, he bashed me to 1; without a flying blocker (or another three or four blockers, for that matter), I was dead on board. Game two saw me mulligan to five on the play and cast a lone Bladetusk Boar before getting crushed by Yeva, Nature’s Herald into a turn 5 flashing Thragtusk. I had no chance.
Round 4 – Kevin (W/B)
Kevin and I scrimmage together and are friends with each other outside of Something2Do, so we knew it was going to be a good match, as tournament-breaking matches between compatriots usually are. In game one, his impressively awesome Exalted team assembled, complete with a Sublime Archangel, and he smashed me in the face for a million. In game two, he had a much worse draw, missing his second color of lands, but even with that, my win was merely a win, not a blowout. Game three was one of the best Limited games I’ve played in a long, long time. A carefully calculated board position put each of us at very low life, him at 1 and me at 7. His Intrepid Hero made attacks and blocks challenging, and his squad of flyers made me terribly nervous. He had lethal on board once and missed it, and I’m sure I did too. By the time we finished, a crowd had gathered. My otherwise lethal attack was thwarted by Divine Verdict, and I didn’t have a way to play around it. He scraped out a win, pushing him into Top 8 and me into obscurity.
Outside of the Top 8 by a couple places now, I deconstructed my deck. My pool was very poor in the rare department, but I feel like I’d built the deck about as well as I could. Bladetusk Boar and Krenko’s Command turned out to be great splashes. Bladetusk Boar was unblockable in 3 out of 4 of my matches, and his three power was…intimidating. Krenko’s Command turned out to be every bit as good as Dragon Fodder, even without Devour. A pair of blockers and/or attackers on a cheap, easy-to-cast card is good news for any red deck.
My consolation pack contained a Stuffy Doll, harkening back to my early days in Magic. Seems like a good place to end up.
Also, one small movement in Pack to Power; Shower, my opponent for Round 2 of Sealed, was looking for a Dungeon Geists. I knew I had one, so and I painlessly traded him flat for a Drowned Catacomb.
Dungeon Geists - $1.99
Drowned Catacomb (M13) - $2.99
Net Change - +$1.00
Sure, Dungeon Geists is rarer, but a Catacomb is infinitely more liquid.
Total Pack Value - $20.44
Broke the $20 mark!
This weekend, I’m headed off to test Tibbles against another field of Standard decks to see if Friday was a fluke or if this is something a little more real. Thanks again for reading, and don’t forget to untap!
- Matt H
Thursday, July 19, 2012
A Renaissance of Deckbuilding – Two Post-M13 Standard Decks
I love my cats. I always had a cat when I was younger, so they’re a permanent fixture throughout my life; I don’t remember the name of my first cat, to be honest with you, but the affection I felt for him when he died (due to a bite from a rabid neighborhood cat, if you wanted to know) is still within reach inside my emotional filing cabinet.
In many ways, Magic decks are like pets. You have to care for them by getting them what they need, making sure they’re safe and secure in the environment in which they live, and as you do that, you become attached. It doesn’t matter what format the deck is used in; maybe your “pet” is a specific deck you play with just your friends that’s been unchanged since 8th grade. Perhaps your deck is special to you because you won a tournament with it or you met a long-time friend or even a romantic partner while playing with it. It doesn’t matter what it is, if a deck is special to you, it’s special to you.
If you haven’t guessed, I’m a pretty sentimental person. I keep a lot of small mementos from my life that physically connect me with a momentous and/or happy memory. At my parent’s house, a bulletin board in my old room is filled with concert and event tickets, photos, notes from friends and even food wrappers that connect me with times before college and moving out. Whenever I go home to visit, I’ll take a moment when I’m in my room to remember some of these events. Even if at the time they weren’t that special, nostalgia and reminiscence colors them in a youthful, untainted way. I’ll never be there again, so who will prove me wrong on how I’ve recalled it?
I feel that way about some of my Magic cards, too. Although about 99% of the cards in my binders and boxes are up for trade, there are a few special cards that hold special significance. For example, I will never trade Circu, Dimir Lobotomist, as this was in the first deck of Magic I ever owned that I purchased in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2006. I’ll never trade my foil black-bordered 9th Edition Japanese Serra Angel because I bought it at a card shop in Tokyo the following year. A college friend signed a Birds of Paradise and gave it to my as a wedding gift and as a memento of our great Magic games in college. I have a Dragon Broodmother from Alara Reborn that I’ll never trade because I got it on our honeymoon. Even recently, I’ll never trade my stamped Olivia Voldaren I obtained in the Top 8 of the SCG Cincinnati Draft Open earlier this year.
Have you ever thought about the cards you’ve gained and lost over the years? Maybe it was that first rare you pulled, or the first planeswalker you got? Everyone likes to own a piece of history; it’s part of our own stories, and for many people, that is a worthwhile pursuit.
OK, now that I’ve gushed about my past, let’s look at the present. Out with the old, and in with the new, right?
A lot of people in Standard tournaments in which I have played have been looking for something interesting and new to play; the metagame is fairly biased towards blue for Delver and for Naya colors for Naya Pod, R/G Aggro and Mono Green Aggro. Black’s not getting much love these days at the top tables on a national or on a local level. Mono-black may be viable now that M13 is out, and my previous forays into MBC were less than successful, so I’d like to look at two decks that hinge on black while utilizing a complementary color in this format.
The deck came to me while I was flipping through my Innistrad binder in search of something fun and interesting to do in Standard. I was looking to improve/change my Dungrove Mono-Green deck as it had gotten pretty stale for me. I never used it in a tournament, and I hadn’t had a lot of fun playing with it on the sidelines, either. It rarely had the blowout plays and lost to a lot of matchups, so I felt like it was time to shelf it. It didn’t take long before I came across a card that I’d really wanted to see play. The potential was impressive and in the presence of ebbing graveyard hate, it looked awesome. Folks, it was time for a Renaissance.
|The da Vinci Mold.|
The flavor! And the card advantage!
OK, so to make this interesting sorcery work, we’d need three things. First, we’d need a way to get things into the graveyard without much loss or, if possible, for profit. Second, we’d need them to be mostly permanents, so the permanents would need to do things that instant and sorcery spell slots would normally fill; that way, once spent, they could be recovered en masse. Finally, we’d need something that benefits from having other cards in the graveyard in the first place.
For both flavor reasons and practical reasons, black seemed to be the best color to pair with this effect. I’d need to limit nonpermanent spells, so I’d be limited to creatures, enchantments, planeswalkers, lands and artifacts. Planeswalkers always seemed like a strong mode for Creeping Renaissance, and I wanted to make sure they were present too, as much as I could financially afford, anyway.
Creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities along with solid bodies bolstered by planeswalkers and the occasional nonpermanent spell seemed to be the best route.
I built this deck in its first draft about two weeks ago and took it to a casual Wednesday tournament at Bluegrass Magic on the 4th of July. Here’s what I shuffled up for this event.
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Blood Artist
4 Strangleroot Geist
3 Wolfir Avenger
2 Briarpack Alpha
3 Acidic Slime
2 Barter in Blood
2 Creeping Renaissance
2 Garruk Relentless
2 Liliana of the Veil (borrowed)
1 Spider Spawning
4 Woodland Cemetery
1 Grim Backwoods
3 Dead Weight
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Spider Spawning
2 Gnaw to the Bone
4 Beast Within
Round 1 – Chad (W/U Delver)
Chad is a genial, talented player who’s at the shop on as many days as I am, and it didn’t take long before I figured out what he was playing. In game one, I got off to a nice start with some Strangleroot Geists, his Delvers had trouble flipping, and my Blood Artists finished him off, the last nail being a Grim Backwoods sacrifice after he took combat damage to 1. In game two, he was able to assemble a much better force, and my sideboarded Dead Weights eluded me. They did the same in game three, which was much less close.
Round 2 – Matt (B/R Vampire Aggro)
Matt, a gentleman I had played in the past at Bluegrass, was playing a different stack this time, as opposed to the W/U Delver I’d played before. He had land trouble pretty early in game one, and I put him down without seeing much of his deck. In game two, he got a jump on me, and I buckled quickly against an aggressive squad of vampires. In game three, I saw our old friend Tibalt, but he seemed to hurt Matt’s deck more than help it, as he often discarded survival spells and his Reforge the Soul combo piece. Most of the time, I ignored Tibalt and bashed against Matt himself. An awkward mana situation for him sealed the deal.
Round 3 – Lyle (USA Miracle Delver)
In a battle with a deck similar to my MiRUcle deck, I started off a bit shaky. A squad of Delvers got me pretty hard and his card advantage won out in the end. In game two, I hammered back with Strangleroot Geists and cleverly placed Wolfir Avengers and Briarpack Alphas. In game three, I assembled a massive army of Spiders to block his Delvers and Restoration Angels. With me sitting at a precarious 6, he luck-sacked and topdecked the Bonfire for exactsies.
This was a pretty small tournament with only three rounds. I won at least one game in each match, and with a pinch better luck, maybe I’d even win two games per match.
Out of this list, there were some underperformers, Acidic Slime being one of them. I sideboarded him out in every match and after some tweaking, that’s where it lives now. Briarpack Alpha was merely average, being a high price for what amounts to a possible-blowout combat trick. Wolfir Avenger did the job much more efficiently, and the mana price point was perfect. I added an Avenger and removed the Alphas.
On the other hand, Blood Artist and Strangleroot Geist proved to be very powerful, especially in concert. A late game Blood Artist made combat difficult or impossible for my opponents, especially with a resolved Spider Spawning. The fact that he couldn’t hit my opponent for anything in combat was a bit of a downer, but my original consideration (Falkenrath Noble) would have been much too clunky, in my opinion. Barter in Blood was also an extremely welcome inclusion and I always drew it in the nick of time. Plus, with a Blood Artist out, that’s an 8 life swing AND kill two of his (probably not undying) dudes. One time, I had two Artists working and this went off for a 16 life swing. The game was almost immediately over.
Spider Spawning was also just a straight win condition against decks when it resolved (and combat remained relevant). Creeping Renaissance, believe it or not, only went off once, but it helped me stabilize and win over the course of the following turn or two. Mulch was a nervous inclusion based on the fact that the card itself, not its effect, is a sorcery and not a permanent. Still, I happily cast it every time I drew it and gained either card advantage or a graveyard full of Spider targets or Renaissance targets. What it showed me, though, is that I didn’t need as much mana. Flooding was surprisingly common for a 22-lander.
After a little tooling, I made these changes.
-3 Acidic Slime
-2 Briarpack Alpha
+1 Wolfir Silverheart
+2 Druid’s Familiar
+1 Wolfir Avenger
+1 Spider Spawning
+3 Acidic Slime
-1 Spider Spawning
-2 Beast Within
I liked the interaction with Druid’s Familiar better, as it provided a permanent pump in exchange for flash, which seems fair to me. So far, I’ve been very pleased with him in playtesting.
Now with M13 out, there are tons of excellent options for this deck, mainly in the form of a green creature that rhymes with “Shragmusk.”
|He is a sir.|
Until I obtain the Lilianas I need, I have replaced the proxies with the newly-reprinted Vampire Nighthawk. So far, I’ve been pleased. It feels pretty good to go turn 1 Bird, turn 2 Nighthawk, turn 3 Druid’s Familiar, hit you for four evasive lifelinking damage. Liliana is still better in that slot, in my opinion, but Darkwing Duck will do for now.
This was a fun deck to try out, and I still enjoy it – it playtests well against a lot of niche decks and it’s still a ball to play. Give it a shot if you’d like to try something new!
This post was written alongside my next post, so you will see the other one within just a few days. See you then, and until then, don’t forget to untap!
- Matt H
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Everyone likes an underdog.
No matter what we’re doing, we always have a soft spot for the little guy. When we watch movies, we like when the hero rises from unlikely circumstances. When we watch a sports game, if we are otherwise uncommitted, don’t you get a little excited to see an upset? Remember a couple of years ago when Butler University, a college of a few thousand, went up against venerated basketball titan Duke for the NCAA title?
|That guy's face...either way, the winner is irrelevant. (coughbigbluenationcough)|
We like to cheer for the overwhelmed. It gives us hope in ourselves; when we encounter challenging events in our lives, we want to believe we have what it takes to excel against the odds.
OK, digressing analogies aside, let’s get to Magic. Today, I wanted to take a look at ten cards from M13 that might have slid under the radar. Sure, everyone’s hyped about Sublime Archangel, Rancor, and the suite of cards that support mono-black’s return to both aggro and control builds for months to come. If you want to read an article about those cards, there are plenty of websites/blogs/Youtube channels that will discuss their impact.
The fact that you’re here, though, suggests that you like a little more offbeat fare. You enjoy putting your brewing cap on and looking at a set from every angle; Limited, Constructed, Commander…you’re not afraid to try. Maybe a unique interaction or effect can drive a fun and flexible deck for you.
Let’s look at ten cards in M13 that deserve a second thought; from niche cards to sideboards to pivotal engines, these cards might rot in a binder or in a shoebox if we’re not careful. Let’s give them the due attention they deserve and help make your deck better.
I’ve never done a Constructed list like this before, but we’ll try to keep it fun…here’s the Top 10 Cunderstructed cards of M13! Get it? Like underused + Constructed…OK, never mind.
As with my Limited lists, I’ll tack on an 11th card here that deserves an honorable mention.
|Card advantage in red? What a sham.|
This guy is sweet. Well, actually, he’s not. He’s a vicious discard-on-a-lizard that gives you a lot of value. Value is this guy’s middle name, in fact, as you’ll just about always get it when you cast him. His body is underwhelming, sure, and his disproportionate cost could be restrictive, BUT I think it is an exceptionally strong card against a large portion of decks. It begs a counterspell very easily, both due to its cost and its effect. Ramping into this guy seems to be the best way to use him for sure. Lots of green decks ramp into Acidic Slime or Primeval Titan, but a red deck could ramp into this, right?
I understand the risk he presents; at worst, he is an underpowered Wanderguard Sentry, and that’s a card no one wants to play. At his best, though, he’s a Coercion on a stick that gives you the possibility of a 3-for-1 while also disrupting your opponent’s hand and possibly their board, too. Also, if you’re looking for an answer, what better way than to take your opponents'? Casting your opponent’s Day of Judgment while they maintain a full board seems like the most awesome play in Standard. In the real world though, even if you just hit an X spell like Bonfire of the Damned or Entreat the Angels, that’s one less thing you have to deal with. This guy may be orphaned for his entire Standard career, but maybe there’s hope. The level of variance is all the keeps him at just an honorable mention.
Now, here’s the full list, starting with...
10. Quirion Dryad
|She took the red and the blue pill.|
Good to see a reprint given new life! In this current environment, the ability to cast colored spells is easier than ever, and the ability to pump her at instant speed means she makes combat difficult if you’re representing any kind of spell, so she just demands hard removal. In this current environment, she reminds me most of Dungrove Elder, and here’s why. Dungrove gets buffed just by playing a land, a natural part of playing Magic. Likewise, the Dryad also grows by just casting spells. She’s an inexpensive and relevant threat that will be neat both before rotation (thanks to Phyrexian mana spells) and after rotation (thanks to whatever multicolor goodies we get from Return to Ravnica). Although she may never see play at the top tables, she rewards you for just playing the game and slides into a lot of three-color-plus decks; on top of that, she herself is easy to cast, making her a very appealing two-drop.
|We're under fire!|
This little number has coasted under the radar, but it bears a striking mechanical and aesthetic resemblance to a perfectly decent removal spell from Standard a few years ago; Volcanic Fallout.
Instant sweepers are no joke, as they can defensively foil plans while gaining you card advantage; I foresee this being useful in hexproof matchups where Rancor is cast targeting a Geist of Saint Traft or some such. The additional planeswalker-hate clause is great, too, as it generates card advantage over life advantage in the right decks. This card can be a creature or a ‘walker sweeper, making it a very flexible sideboard or maindeck card, depending on the metagame; I know there is a strong Esper Walker deck floating around that uses Tamiyo and Gideon Jura, and this clobbers both as well as any pesky tokens or utility creatures. This inherent dependence on the style of the opponent’s deck makes it a little too narrow for everyday use, but I know we'll see it nonetheless.
8. Cower in Fear
|Moo-er in fear.|
This is also a card that is highly dependent on the metagame. There’s plenty of little 1/1’s out there making mana or getting pumped from various effects. Cower is a nice combat trick, sweeper, or mini-Fog, in a pinch. Mono-black control, purported to be making a comeback thanks to all the other M13 love, might find this fellow a welcome sideboard buddy. I doubt this card will ever be maindecked unless token swarms become a thing. A one-turn Curse of Death’s Hold seems a little bad, but its aggressive mana cost is perfectly acceptable. I’d probably rather have Infest or even Nausea, but the instant speed on this is a nice touch, and I have a feeling this will be some kind of anti-aggro card in the future.
7. Silklash Spider
Alright! What a great reprint! This is something that green desperately needs; he’ll probably never see a main deck, but resolving this Spider post-sideboard is a one-way ticket to a no-fly zone against the large amount of flyers that play in Standard. Sideboarding him in can be an effective anti-aggro or anti-control strategy; all that matters is that they have flyers. Being on 5 mana puts him in powerful competition with other staples and soon-to-be staples like Wolfir Silverheart and Thragtusk. Still, the control that he is allowed to exert is not to be taken lightly. One of the most rewarding experiences one could have with this card is watching your Delver opponent NOT want their Delver to flip. Embrace the control niche of green, for it is good!
6. Hellion Crucible
I’m pretty excited about this card for a couple reasons. First, it’s a land, meaning it’s a creature/spell that doesn’t take up a spell slot. Secondly, your opponent will constantly have to play around a potentially lethal two-counter Hellion Crucible in the archetype where he shines best; mono-red.
Red Deck Wins is a straightforward 20 – 0 in 3.6 turns kind of deck, incorporating red burn and powerful, efficiently fast creatures in any number of combinations. However, in recent months, RDW has all but disappeared from tournament tables and casual tables alike. I don’t believe this land will change that; Vexing Devil didn’t do it either. But, the Crucible adds a great tool to an archetype just waiting to be revived. The colorless mana requirement is irrelevant in a mono-colored deck, and getting a 4/4 creature attached to it is really nice. Putting mana into this is a great investment for a red deck that’s run out of gas, a common occurrence against most any kind of controlling deck. This gives red a little more reach without sacrificing much of anything at all. It’s possibly it could see play in other kinds of red decks, and I look forward to seeing 4/4 hasty Hellions come crashing in without sacrificing precious deck real estate. Keep an eye on this one.
5. Disciple of Bolas
|Killing your buddies for profit takes a lot of bolas.|
A Momentous Fall on a stick? Alright, seems good.
What’s that? It’s in black?
Jiminy Cricket! This fellow does a lot of work for a color that loves to kill and draw. Black decks built around creatures will love this guy; and undying guys get even better. Turn 3 Geralf’s Messenger, Turn 4 attack with the Messenger, then this guy. Help keep you ahead in the race will giving yourself card advantage and a body! Multiples can kill each other! So much murder!
Seriously, though, the card advantage that he provides to you can make a world of difference. Using him in concert with undying creatures or creatures that like to die (Thragtusk) seems to be the best plan of attack here. He’ll be fun whenever you cast him, that’s for sure. Even if your opponent kills whatever you’d sacrifice in response, the Disciple won't hurt you when he comes in. At worst, he’s just an expensive Goblin Piker with a relevant creature type.
4. Arctic Aven
|Ceiling Bird is watching you sleeve your deck.|
If you read my previous article about the best cards in M13 Limited, you know how much I like this guy and the rest of his cycle. For Standard, though, I think the Aven is a perfectly respectable choice for W/U when Blade Splicer rotates. Sure, Blade Splicer gave you four power for three mana and semi-evasion, but this guy gives you lifelink and real evasion, making it hard for your opponent to make any amount of damage stick. Its colors synergize well with it, providing protection and support to make sure you’re always getting through and always gaining life. It’s possible I’m overvaluing this guy, I just know that he’s a great budget option on three for that deck, and he answers Geist of Saint Traft’s evasion problem while providing you more life while it’s at it.
Right now, lifelink is such a solid ability that I can’t believe this guy is bad. I’d feel more comfortable if it already had lifelink, though. It would also feel pretty good to outrace Vampire Nighthawk.
3. War Falcon
|Squawk you, Suntail Hawk!|
That is the sound of white mages around the world putting four War Falcons in their sideboards to combat the Delver monster.
It’s clearer now why Wizards didn’t ban Delver. They knew that answers would abound! War Falcon is an awesome card and one deserving of the excitement that swirls around it. White Aggro is a much loved archetype by pros and casual players alike, and War Falcon is a great addition to that; the tribal element is a a fun and easy-to-meet condition. Two evasive power is crucial on this fellow, and the Flyin’ Lion, as I’ve heard him called, is a great 1-drop to complement any non-Human white aggro deck (where you’d otherwise use Champion of the Parish). A very maindeckable card, it perfectly answers Delver for a variety of white decks that were basically limited to Righteous Blow against the Insect before. I know I hate on Delver a lot, but as a brewer, I love killing the big deck, and I hope you do, too. This Bird will help you get there!
2. Staff of Nin
Ok, so listen. I know that there are better options in Standard. For the same mana, you can cast a Wurmcoil Engine, for heaven's sake. I am aware of this. But what will replace it after rotation? A one-sided Howling Mine that pings?
Frankly, the effect on this card is unique in Standard; the ability to draw two cards a turn with no cost or strings attached and a ping means this card is a win condition by itself in a lot of control decks that have absent or unreliable win conditions (Entreat the Angels, for example). A great anti-aggro card, this subtle artifact will just seal games after a turn or two and it’s much harder to deal with than a creature or some such. You continually generate an extra card to help lock the game up for you. Ping your opponent’s tokens or your opponent directly without losing anything. A very strong singleton or two-of, this card will surely find its home in some control list or another, and it only gets better if you cheat or ramp it in. Six mana is a lot, but after only a turn or two, it will be so worth it.
1. Augur of Bolas
Sea Gate Oracle on crack! For those of you who played Rise of the Eldrazi standard, Sea Gate Oracle was an underrated common that provided a selective cantripping effect on an acceptable body. This is a mana cheaper, just as tough, and with an analogous effect! Awesome! The fact that he’s a Merfolk is not irrelevant, as other strong Merfolks were printed in this set. A 1/3 for 1U is also amazingly relevant in a format where Strangleroot Geists bash in unopposed on a lot of Turn Twos. It’s also a great play after Ponder (while it’s still legal), so you can grab another card you need, even if you shuffled!
I think he’s going to see a lot of play in Snapcaster/Delver decks, and he makes mono-blue control a lot more appealing. He blocks cheap stuff very well and will eat a hit from a powerful creature or a removal spell from something at least as expensive as itself. Not an auto-4, I don’t think, but he’ll definitely see top play, and he’s a great answer for green, white, red and black decks alike. Memorize his text, because you’ll see him a lot.
I can’t wait to see how M13 will mix up Standard, and I hope these cards don’t get missed while you look to create a powerful, unique and enjoyable deck to play for the next couple months.
Next time, I’m going to talk about a deck idea I’ve been tossing around for a while; now that’s it’s almost built and with M13 offering a couple helpers, it’s time to take it to the shop and try it out. See you soon!
Also, on a side note, thank you so much to my regular readers and guests alike for helping my last post become the most successful post I’ve ever had. I hope that the time you spend reading this blog is helpful for your gaming spirit and your non-gaming heart, too. Thank you again for stopping by, and make sure you’re a follower so you can stay on top of the offbeat side of Magic!
Leave me a comment if you agree or disagree with my choices of “cunderstructed” cards. Have you broken a bulk common? Been disappointed with a mythic rare? Let us all know!
Until next time, don’t forget to untap!
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Hello, Magic players! Thanks for visiting again! It’s time for one of my favorite times in the Magic year; Prerelease time! I’ve been watching the previews closely in anticipation of July 7th, and now that day is nearly upon us.
I’ve always enjoyed drafting Core sets. They’re usually a nice “back-to-basics” kind of set with the addition of some specific mechanic to mix it up; before M10 or so, most core sets were just ho-hum reprint packs, and so it was hard to have that different an experience from, say, 8th Edition to 9th Edition. Moreover, many of the cards from middle core sets have had trouble seeing play (unless they were printed somewhere else), while the new core sets are full of playables for the four “C’s”: Casual, Cube, Commander and Constructed!
M12 was the first core set I’d drafted since Tenth Edition, and I was able to perform very well in the Sealed portion of our LGS’ Release tournament (2nd place in the final!), so I have high hopes for the 10 weeks of M13 Limited ahead.
With all my Constructed play over the last few weeks bolstered by my negative opinion of AVR draft, I feel a little rusty tackling the spoilers with a Limited-only eye. We’ll give it a shot though; I’m excited to step back into drafting for this set!
Below, I’ve chosen ten cards that, within the environment of M13 Draft and Sealed, I believe to be the strongest commons and uncommons in the set. Rares are usually more powerful and splashier, and it’s usually pretty obvious which ones are great in Limited and bad in Constructed and so forth. I only choose commons and uncommons because, in general, this will be the vast majority of cards you will play with and against, the “meat and potatoes,” if you will. In a draft, there are only 24 rares (a couple extra with foil rares), but you’re bound to come in contact with each common and uncommon in a given draft, and the chances are high you’ll run into them in Sealed, too. In my opinion, there are three criteria that make a card a powerful card in Limited.
The first criterion is an overall power level. Efficient, flexible and/or aggressive, these cards will find their home in many decks and will affect the game in a powerful way when they’re cast. Secondly, a card is strong in Limited if it has a presence even outside of the game. That is, you want to play around it or remind yourself of it; you are less likely to let yourself sink to 5, say, in a format with Lava Axe. Finally, a card is powerful if it plays well with others. This goes along with the power level, but it is subtler. Some cards are good in the abstract, but some, perhaps “worse” at first glance, are crucially powerful in a specific archetype or perhaps even central to it (say, Spider Spawning or Ichorclaw Myr, in recent years).
With that, let’s take at our Meat and Potatoes, M13 Edition, starting with an honorable mention that didn’t quite make the cut.
|And the piercing blue eyes of Siberian Husky.|
Woah, what a neat card, and the casting cost is just right! Sporting great flavor and mechanical design, this has potential in a variety of Limited, Constructed and Tribal formats. In Draft, this serves a narrow, but unique purpose. Reactively denying your opponent’s reanimation is usually fairly weak, but this is a perfectly legitimate combat trick. I like to think of it as a Walking Corpse with flash for B. Most of the time, this will be the case even after just a few turns. It’s a great blocker for that huge exalted creature in a pinch, or it’s a great aggressive play after your opponent trades creatures in combat. Its inexpensive cost also facilitates its inclusion in your spell casting schedule for any turn. It didn’t make the Top 10 because it does require a dead creature, but its versatility once that condition is met is pretty strong. I also love the flavor; considering the flavor text, it’s possible this was slated for Innistrad (or another set within the block) but didn’t make it into the final set.
10. Chandra’s Fury
|She's Chandra-ing her lazerz!|
|Bairn, baby, bairn!|
Scorch the Fields was a narrow (read: bad) card from Dark Ascension that rotted in plenty of sideboards, only seeing use against the Gather the Townfolk deck or as sideboarding against a must-answer land. So, pretty bad.
Chandra’s Fury combines both abilities, amps up the one-sided Seismic Shudder to include anything and it’s an instant. It can be used for either half of its effects for great effect. Any opponent should always tarry above 4 against a red deck and think twice about playing unbuffed 1/1 tokens into 5 untapped Mountains. It can be used to shut down an offense or even to finish off an anemic defense. The fact that this card is common means two things: first, you will see this card, likely in multiples, and second, watch out for red decks post-board if you’re playing wee critters.
9. Griffin Protector
Ahh, nice Griffin. A 2/3 flyer for 3W? Fairly average, right? What’s that, Mr. Griffin? You like tokens? Good boy!
I love free pumps, and they add up quick. If you’ve never played with Exalted or Landfall before, you will quickly find out how powerful free pumps are, especially ones you can build around! Griffin Protector supports your token generation, and on a hard-to-block stick! A good topdeck and a great finisher, he can hit hard, even if you just cast a creature every turn. Bringing in a creature at instant speed (see Vile Rebirth) also acts like a little combat trick! This common, while acceptable filler in any deck, is viciously powerful in token decks and flash creature decks. Don’t underestimate him, or you might be Griffin food.
8. Knight of Glory/Knight of Infamy
|"It don't matter if you're Black or White!"|
7. Flames of the Firebrand
|Eenie, meenie, miney, FRSHSHHHHSHH|
Chandra is not a subtle woman. Nevertheless, she hones her goggles-guided aim for this spell. Flames of the Firebrand lumps three great cards together and gives you the option of whatever you need; Lava Spike your opponent, Arc Trail two targets, or just squash three little creatures like bugs. The flexibility and fair cost of this spell garner something else that Red desparately needs; card advantage. On three, you can smash a 1/1, a 2/2 and then swing with your own 1/1 and 2/2. Now that’s comedy! This is what red wants to be doing with their mana, and its broad appeal will make it an auto-slam for any red deck in the first few picks of a pack and provide great utility and flexibility for a Sealed Pool, even as a splash.
6. Vampire Nighthawk
|I am the terror of the night!|
5. Talrand’s Invocation
|Fly, my pretties!|
Token production can be great in Limited and Constructed. Making two tokens is better. Making two evasive, non-1/1 tokens is great. Putting four evasive power on the board in blue is awesome, not to mention synergetic with myriad different strategies in the format; token, instant matters (Talrand himself, Archaeomancer, etc.) A strong turn four attack plus these two blue blokes is just what a blue deck needs; it fits in most any deck and can count as a creature and a spell, depending on what you need more of when crafting your deck. Think of it as a flying Moan of the Unhallowed, a great Limited card in its own right, where flight is gained in exchange for flashback. Not too bad, and it’ll just about always be a strong play either on turn 4 or off the top to save you from an otherwise lethal combat or to land those final points of evasive damage. Keep your eye on the skies…
|Great Sword, Watson!|
The very name echoes the simple and vicious nature of this spell. Wizards had been beating around the bush for a long time on this one; an all-inclusive instnat kill spell in black. We’ve had Terminate, or perhaps Death’s Caress in recent history, but this one is beautiful in its three little words. The fact that nothing except the occasional Hexproof creature will dodge this removal is very powerful; unlike Chandra’s Fury, where you could play around it to an extent, there is no way to play around Murder. If your opponent has two Swamps and another land up, he could be tried for Murder. The only tough part about Murder is making sure you use this precious card against the right target…
3. Primal Huntbeast
|Geez, at beast he could have hunted for something more interesting.|
Yes, a French Vanilla probably doesn’t belong this deep on the list, but hexproof is a very relevant ability in this game of tapping, killing, and bouncing. Primal Huntbeast in itself is a fairly bland card, but it is strong in this format because of everything that doesn’t kill it. In a vacuum, Primal Huntbeast dies to Wrath effects, sacrifice abilities, and just normal old combat. However, in this format, very few non-rares can kill Primal Huntbeast outside of combat. Pumping him up even a little bit is a secure investment, and he holds any number of enchantments and Equipments well. He also combos sublimely with a particular one…
Suffice it to say that Hexproof has proven its usefulness in Standard, whether it’s on a white/blue legendary Spirit or a Forest-loving Treefolk. That format has access to plenty of board wipers that can hit them; think of how much better an augmented creature your opponent can’t target is! Miles better than previous offerings like Gladecover Scout and Sacred Wolf, this can fight well in its own right; it just helps that you can’t burn it to death.
2. Arctic Aven
|Ceiling Bird is watching you die.|
Let me make you a deal. How about I give you a Turn 3 Insectile Aberration that, in exchange for two turns, can guarantee you the flip? Oh, and I’ll throw in Lifelink? In Limited?
Arctic Aven is one of a cycle of “multi-colored” creatures that benefit from controlling a basic land type other than the one required to cast it. The others are very strong, too, offering trample, regeneration, haste and unblockability in their respective allied color combinations. However Arctic Aven is wings and claws above the rest for three main reasons.
First, Arctic Aven is good even if you don’t have a Plains. A 2/1 flyer for 2U is perfectly acceptable, albeit unexciting. A non-Plains white source (like a Glacial Fortress) can still help you gain its ability, though. The others are subpar filler without basic land support and, as such, rarely should be included as anything else if you don’t have the matching basic land type already in your deck.
Secondly, Arctic Aven is naturally evasive, an essential piece of a good creature. Sure, so is Harbor Bandit (the blue/black one), but you gotta pay for his…the Aven’s got a deal with Pain Train Airlines, because he flies for free, y’all.
Thirdly, he is the most efficient of them; a 3/2 flyer for 1WU (effectively) is way above curve and is nearing Constructed efficiency (see Talon Trooper). Its lifelinking ability helps dampen your opponent’s attacks and its three power puts an intimidating clock on your opponent to find that answer. Besides, this is a great addition to white/blue, a proven archetype in draft settings across history.
On a broader note, this cycle thrills me because of its natural reward for good deckbuilding and drafting. Worldwake had a cycle like this, too (though I don’t believe nearly as good) and they were still very fun to play. They make great inclusions in casual deck thanks to their simple, innate synergy and that little pinch of fun we get from casting an undercosted creature with an often relevant activated ability. They will slide directly into my Cube the moment I get my hands on them, and they will reward good deck building and play throughout their entire Limited career.
|"I've got a bad feeling about this."|
Me too, Luke. Me too.
Reprint of the set right here. Many have long opined that Rancor is the best enchantment ever printed, and few out there will be able to argue that once it returns to Standard. In Constructed, this thing is an unstoppable force, turning any creature you have into a reasonable threat. In Limited? Well…
Rancor is a cheap, powerful and constant threat to any deck, creating unprofitable trades for your opponent, pumping your evasive creatures or protected creature (like the aforementioned Primal Huntbeast) and just about always guaranteeing you profit, all for G. Rancor does so much work, and every single deck that can cast it can benefit from it in Limited. It’s so powerful that several cards in this set were printed specifically with Rancor in mind, namely its single, undeniable answer: another reprint from Urza’s Block, Erase.
|You will never be able to draw it fast enough.|
There’s my Meat and Potatoes List, M13 edition! I feel fairly confident about these picks and hope you find it helpful as you suit up for your Prerelease this weekend. I will not be attending a Prerelease, as this Saturday is a milestone birthday for my father and I’d like to spend that time with him on his special day. However, I will be participating in the fun the following weekend, looking to put this list to the test.
On a final note, I advanced my Pack to Power this weekend in a somewhat silly way. Ben, a like-minded trader from BluegrassMagic, had a pack-to-power of his own. He understood the trials of it and assisted me with what he could. Here was Trade #4.
Restoration Angel - $11.99
Plains # 232 Full Art (Zendikar) - $0.75
*Foil* Geralf’s Messenger - $9.99
Dungeon Geists - $1.99
FNM *Foil* Slave of Bolas – $0.99
Net Change - +$0.73
Little did I know that Restoration Angel had increased in price; Ben threw in the Slave of Bolas at the end, but if he hadn’t, I would have lost on this trade.
I knew I wanted to trade the Foil Geralf’s Messenger flat for another Restoration Angel, which is climbing higher and higher. Right after Trade #4, George, a frequent patron of our LGS, obliged with a straightforward trade.
*Foil* Geralf’s Messenger - $9.99
FNM *Foil* Slave of Bolas – $0.99
Restoration Angel - $11.99
Net Change - +$1.01
Whew! I know that Restoration Angel is going to only go up, so having him ready to trade is a good deal. Otherwise, trading a Zendikar Plains (effectively) for a Dungeon Geists seems like profit to me! Can’t wait to keep working on it…
Total Pack Value - $19.44
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Until next time, don’t forget to untap!