Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Playing EDH/Commander Online

For some people, playing Magic with the same group of people on a regular basis isn't possible.  Perhaps schedules conflict, or life throws a monkey wrench into your plans, or you don't have people to play with locally.

(Seriously, it happens.  Elizabeth and I went to Maui last year, and we couldn't find a card shop on the island, something which has recently changed.)

So for such occasions, we have options online.

A full confession: I don't like using Magic Online.  I did for a couple of years, between times when I didn't play in person or there wasn't a shop I wanted to go to.  Every time I paid full price for nonexistent cards, I died a little inside.  As of 6/27/12, I have 27,000+ cards that I paid for and will never have in person.  It's true that my drafting skills got better, which I'm grateful for, but I paid dearly for that improvement.

I know that some people will advocate certain events as a way to 'go infinite', where you make a certain amount in winnings and trading (sometimes using bots) to allow you to have that drafting for free, but I've never had the patience or time to manage such endeavors.

That being said, playing Magic online has other advantages.  You gain a far better understanding of the turn order, interactions using the stack, when abilities trigger all at once, and the intricacies of certain mechanics. For example, when casting a spell with kicker, the game always gives you the option, even if you don't have the mana.

I know there are several options for playing Magic online, but I'm going to talk about just two.

First, the official program.  Magic: The Gathering Online.  A program that despite several major rebuilds has a terrible UI and very non-intutitive controls.  This is partly due to the complexity of the game, and partly due to the serveral different companies that Wizards hired in the past to program this game.  For playing commander...I haven't used this program. I've sat in and watched some games, and that's it.

Second, I've used's program to build first drafts of EDH decks, because I like their deck editor.  If you connect with other players, you can play a game.  Everything is free, but it's very utlilitarian.  Nothing is automatic.  It plays more like an in-person game, in that you can skip things without thinking about it, and you have to communicate clearly with the table about what is happening and when.

Let's talk about the good points first.

MTGO: If you're a token player, the game automatically makes a token of the right name, color, p/t, special abilities, everything.  Even if you make a token copy of something!  It also automatically tracks counters, and changes to power and toughness.  I have a token deck with Cathar's Crusade, and the array of dice and stones can be intimidating.  The official program takes all that stress away.

Also automatic: changes in life total, shuffling your deck, and every trigger from every ability.  This is both good and bad.  Here's an example screenshot:

On the left side is the stack--the collection of triggers that is happening because of Blood Artist, Pawn of Ulamog, and some other effects.  Every EDH game will have these moments, where one person tries to do something and a bunch of other things happen in response, and the game tracks it all for you.

In Cockatrice, the big advantage is that you don't need to own anything, everything is free!  You want a $700 Imperial Seal?  Done.  Every card is available to you, free of charge.

This leads to the downsides of the two programs, and frankly, these are massive.

Though everything is free in Cockatrice, this means people are free to build the silliest decks around.  I wish I meant silly in a fun sense, but my experience has been that the goal is to assemble as fast a set of combo wins as possible.  Temple Bell/Mind Over Matter?  Done.  Black cards and rituals to build a huge storm count?  Blah. 

In the official MTGO, you have to do everything in order, without any of the shortcuts we use in live play.  I have BA out as in the screenshot.  Let's say three creatures of mine die--I have to choose which player each time for Blood Artist, instead of "You lose three, I gain three."

Plus, in the official game, you have to buy/open/trade for the cards in your deck.  Since most of an EDH deck will not be from a current set, there's no hope that you'd ever be able to redeem your online cards for real ones.

Both programs have two major flaws:

1) Screen space.  It's hard enough to keep track of the bazillion things that are going on in a Commander game in person, with a decent-sized table.  If you don't have a huge monitor and great resolution, the cards get shrunk/you can only see part of the table.  Neither solution is a winner. 

2) Lack of personal interaction.  If you have listened to the podcasts at CommanderCast then you've heard the idea of the 'social contract' that is present in EDH.  I agree that the heart of a good Commander game is the interaction of the people playing the game--that's how a game lasts a couple of hours and yet everyone has a good time.

When you're playing online, there is only a small window of chatting, which is usually dominated by the running log of what is happening.  At the least, I like to chime in with "Oh no" or "That's amazing" but a winkyface is the maximum of interaction for some people.  That's just not fun for me.

Perhaps you'll enjoy these interactions more than I did.  Maybe you'll try this and then treasure the games you play with your friends, or with other people at a big event.  My goal is to make you aware of the options available to you.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Make your own deck box!

When I first got into EDH, I found, like many others, that deck boxes for 100-card decks were not easy to find.  Considering how long it took for Ultra Pro to make 'black shield' protectors when Magic first started taking off, I suppose it isn't a surprise.

I found this article on MTGSalvation detailing how to turn an old booster box into an EDH box, and I immediately jumped on board.

I was proud of these, they worked and were fun.

My friend Robert M. looked at these boxes, read the article, and came back to me a couple of weeks later having improved the method tremendously.  I can't take credit for his engineering, but I know I made a lot more of these than he did.

One caveat: earlier boxes are not good for this method.  They have a bottom that folds up, where this method requires that the booster box have a solid bottom.  I believe Champions of Kamigawa is the earliest where it has a solid bottom to the box.

And if you're viewing this in the mobile version, switch to the desktop. :D

1. Get Booster Box (if you bought a box, then celebrate first!)

2. Disassemble carefully, pulling apart at the glued sections.

3. Remove the top part, also known as the fold-up display portion. Keep this for later.

4. Measure 2 5/8" from the short sides.  I made a lot of these at one point, and so I taped an arrow onto my ruler at 2 5/8".

5.  Make sure which end has the set's logo.  In our finished box, one of the booster box's sides will make the outer flap, and the other will be an inner wall.  It's more elegant to have the logo be on the outside, so I marked the set name on the underside too.

6.  Draw your lines at the 2 5/8" marks, they should be parallel and 2 5/8" apart.  If it's not perfect, don't panic.  Mine weren't. :D

7.  You're going to make two sets of cuts.  One set is on your drawn lines, the other is perpendicular to those lines.  I've marked them in red.

8.  After cutting, fold the whole thing along your 2 5/8" lines.  Use the ruler for an even, straight fold.

Both lines!

9.  Time to make the first corner of the box.  Take the FNM side and hold it up, and then put the two side flaps one over the other.  Make sure the FNM's flap is on top.  Use a piece of tape to hold it together.

10.  Repeat on the other side.

11.  Now fold the back upwards.  The sides should have a lot of excess, and that's about to be used.  In the picture I'm just holding it together.

12.  Take the parts sticking up on the sides and fold them down into the box.  It should fit rather well.  You can put a piece of tape at the bottom of each inward fold to hold it there, but it's not vital, as we'll be doing something else that holds it down.

13.  For now, flip the box over and put tape on the bottom seam--just the bottom.

14.  Your box is nearly done.  You just need to trim the top flaps so they match and can slide into the slots you've created on the sides.

15.  Test it out!  Fold the top flap over and tuck in the two sides, and Presto!  It's done.  Admire your handiwork.

16.  Now we can add a bit more stability and rigidity and even some art.  Take the display portion and remove the extra outline.

17.  We're going to cut and fold this so it fits into our box.  We need a rectangle that is 2 5/8" tall and 4 3/4" wide.  You can fiddle with the placement of this rectangle depending on your art preference, and even draw it on the front once you're adept at this.

After I measure my rectangle, I cut off the bottom piece before I start folding.

18.  Fold along the edges of your rectangle, again using the ruler.

19.  Make just two cuts--we're folding the rest.  I like to keep the Magic logo intact, so I made a cut beneath that part, and then I folded it upwards, using a piece of tape to hold the corner.

20.  Repeat on the other side, making a delightful tray.

21.  This is going to be a very snug fit, but push the tray into your box.  It shouldn't tear, but it will be a lot stiffer and heavier with this piece added.  (Fair warning--the first time I did this, I sort of smashed it.  If you do that, I've been there.  Practice makes perfect!)

22.  Since I have 15 decks, I use Fat Pack boxes with a divider on the inside.  I like to tape a sleeve on the top to tell me what decks are in there.  In this case, I am using a foil Jund Charm to represent my Adun Oakenshield deck.

23.  Tape the sleeved card to the top of your new deck box.  You're done!  Look how well it fits!

I tried adding an inner divider for dice and such, but I found that to be unnecessary.  There's not a lot of room for a deck to go sliding around, and adding dice was a little more destructive than I would have liked.

If you're more artistic than I am, you can make the deck box so that the black white side is facing out, and cover with artwork as you see fit.  Draw, color, glue on other art, it's all up to you.

I had ten of these for more than a year and had no problems with breakage or damage, though the corners start looking a little rough.  I eventually found that I had too many decks to use these effectively, but I hope you enjoy this.

If you have questions, please, add them in the comments so that I can make sure everyone understands how to do this.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Your Playgroup and Inbreeding

I imagine that the people you play EDH with are a good time.  There's likely some jokes, obvious ones, inside jokes, stories about games of weeks past, all the usual fun.

Sometimes I think that everyone wins in a well-aligned group, regardless of the game's outcome.  My friends would come over after FNM and we'd play until the wee hours.  Saturday, my neighbor would ask me who won, and I honestly don't remember who won, unless it had been something noteworthy (Delirium cast on a Blightsteel Colossus sort of thing.)  In self-reference to my first post, we were mostly TJs.

However, that's my experience and my friends.  I know that everyone has a different goal, and perhaps someone else looks back with a fond memory and says, "I killed everyone six straight games with the same deck and the same combo-kill."

I do know that in my group, we were evolving decks almost like we were revising essays in high school English class.  We would refer to the 'first draft' of a deck, how it would still be 'under construction' for a while.  Sometimes a deck performs wonderfully right off the bat, other times it just feels like a collection of cards that only share mana costs and have no synergy.

I moved away from those guys a few months back, and have since had the chance to play with different Commander players, both in large events and at local game stores.  I've learned that while my friends were a lot of fun to play with and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything, I (and they) built decks formulated to deal with one group of people and one style of play.

We didn't play any land destruction.  We rarely bothered with counterspells or ways to slow down combo decks.  Graveyard hate was sporadic, but improving. 

This would seem like a grevious fault, an oversight, in a vacuum.  You might hink that we were overloaded with blue deck taking lots of turns, or repetitive loops, but you would be wrong.  We didn't hate those strategies away.

We hated those players away from us, or at the least, we made those decks get put away, never to be within our sightlines again.

When you play over and over with the same people in the same styles, you begin to close off from the greather realm of experience.  In my first post, I referenced Elizabeth's and my experience playing in a Commander event at Worlds.  Three of us had decks that were tuned to a more drawn-out game, with lots of wraths and sweeps, while one guy had a deck tuned to aggro and killing.

This affects your outlook on the game, the amount of fun you have, and even the specific cards you choose to play.  For instance, my token deck has Crescendo of War in it.  This is a terrible buff spell because it takes too long and gives a bonus to my opponents.  There are likely better choices for a way to boost my armies, but because I'm used to my group, this seems like an awesome card, because now everyone gets to attack!  Serra's Blessing would be a more strategic choice, because then I can attack or defend.  Or Masako the Humorless, for the surprise value and the fun that is blocking with tapped creatures.

The style of play I'm used to dictates things a little differently.  It took me a while to see that, because when I was only playing with the same folks over and over, I didn't (or perhaps couldn't) gain the perspective needed.

So my recommendation to you is: Try something different.  Build a new deck.  Play with strangers.  Take a suggestion for an addition to your deck, even if it seems like it won't be good.  Add unexpected answers.  Use a Willbender or Wild Ricochet.

Also, venture out into the land of the Internet.  I can recommend the forums at MTGSalvation, and at the official Commander site.  There is no shortage of other talented people writing about Commander and helping others with decklists, in ways that don't occur to me and might not have occurred to you, either. (My specific favorite writers and links will come in another post.)

Just don't have your decks play other of the same kind of deck, over and over, getting more inwardly-focused until you're an isolated hill family, where everyone has eleven fingers and nine toes and the ten/ten people look strange, different, and unfun to you.

You know, inbred. ;)

Take it easy!


P.S.  I posted it to Twitter a couple of days ago but I'll say it here too:  I've spent $45 on three Kokusho, The Evening Star cards in the last few days.  Regular, FTV:Dragons, and Italian Foil.  I know what decks they are going in and what's coming out.

What I'm saying is, I'm super certain that I will be right about the unbanning. :D

P.P.S. I was totally wrong. :(

Friday, June 15, 2012

Wearing The Target Hat (aka The Generals That Get You Killed)

I don't recall who it was in my playgroup that coined the phrase 'target hat' but happily enough, a crafts store near my place had a white fishing hat and a small bottle of red paint, and voila! the target hat was born:

Says "KILL ME" so that the purpose is clear.
We used this hat as a way of drawing attention to someone who needed to be attacked for any reason at all, even if it was in the previous game. (Example: "Oh, you attacked for 2048 damage with 128 tokens last game?  Time to wear the hat, sir!")

This concept can be carried over to total strangers: If you sat down with three strangers for an EDH game, what commanders would make you draw a target on their head, someone to focus all your attacks and resources on?

I started this thread on a couple of days ago to find out if other peoples' experiences had been like mine when it came to the idea of 'presumptive degeneracy'.  Maybe you know just one person who built a broken-ass deck with that general, or you'd seen several ridiculous combos based on that legendary creature...but your target is set as soon as they announce their commander.

This is by no means the comprehensive list, nor is it meant to be a 'Don't use these!' article.  If you disagree or have a different view on why these generals make you get hit first, then please, feel free to comment at the bottom.  I have two of these myself, and I'm fully aware of the target I put on my head when strangers see it.

Honorable Mentions:

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

He's a combo enabler and causes a player to search their library multiple times in a turn.  Takes too long and is ridiculously powerful in a well-tuned deck.  Thankfully there aren't too many amazing  creatures that are both blue and green.

 Uril, the Miststalker

He's non-interactive, but at least he kills via attacking and costs five to play the first time.  I'm pretty sure that he's not six mana because of Dragon Fangs, Dragon Breath, and Dragon Scales.  Do you have a way to kill enchantments?  Yay you live a couple of turns longer!

Captain Sisay

This lady would be 50% less irritating to play against if it wasn't for Akroma's Memorial being a Legendary Artifact.  That's the enabler of shenanigans. and generally speaking, the first thing the Sisay player tutors for.

Next tends to be the Kaldra pieces, and then the real eyeball-gouging begins!

Oh, and Jitte.  Keep forgetting that's a legendary equipment.

Now, on to the main list!  These are presented in no particular order, though the last four are probably the most hated.

Azami, Lady Of Scrolls/Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

I lumped these two together because they are the king and queen of blue decks.

Let's face it, blue decks are often annoying to play against, with their "You can't do this" counterspells and "Watch me have fun" extra turns, which we will get to.  Azami exists to grab lots and lots of extra cards, which is better or worse than her boyfriend that actually makes the game far more boring.  It's a rare blue deck that doesn't run one of these as the general with the other being somewhere in the 99. (except for another entrant on this list)

The only thing worse than a Teferi deck is a Teferi deck with Leyline of Anticipation out.  This tends to lead to 5-minute end steps, frequently with tutoring, followed immediately with another 5-minute turn where the blue player does lots of things, yet seems to do nothing, and then you're dead.  Or at least it seems that way to the other players at the table.

Both of these embody an aspect of blue.  Azami is pure card advantage.  Teferi has the "You're not allowed to do things that bother me" clause that so many people love to hate.

Teferi having flash is just the silliest part of all, if you ask me.

Riku of Two Reflections

There are very few generals that scream out "I'M GOING OFF" more than Two-Face here.  It seems reasonable enough at first glance, a creature that costs five, has low power and toughness, requires not just another spell to be cast but a specific color cost added onto that spell...where's the harm, right?

Well, having had a Riku deck, and having seen others' decks that use him, he is nothing but harm.  Should he live after being cast on five (which people won't allow now, generally speaking) then on six you're looking at a ramp spell, copied.  All hell breaks loose after that point.  Copied Time Warp, counterspells, card name it.  Every EDH deck is crammed to the gills with gleefully, selfishly amazing spells to cast, and Riku doubles up on your joy and the other players' misery.

Kaalia of the Vast

I thought that Riku would be the most amazing general out of the preconstructed decks of last summer, but I was wrong.  Kaalia will get you evil looks and the target squarely on your chest because of the way she cheats big fat flyers into play, and not just into play, but on the field and hitting hard.  Avacyn Restored made these decks even better, with two on-color angels and the most amazing demon ever printed.

The sheer variety of Angels, Demons, and Dragons means that no two builds will be the same, yet all will be overpowered and entering play far too early for their ridiculously good abilities.  Kaalia is not only a general that is fixated on the attack step, she's able to end the game quickly.

Thank god Kaalia isn't blue, else she'd be able to have counterspell backup to her madness.

Rafiq of the Many

Another overpowered attacker, Rafiq seems to be favored in lots of 1v1 EDH decks. That's a flavor of play I haven't gotten into, but I've seen too many Rafiq decks that are ridiculously fast when it comes to dealing damage.  These decks often take a "Voltron" angle, trying to build one creature up into instant-kill proportions.  Rafiq is a general who you have to kill fast because his whole deck is based around killing you faster.

It doesn't help that Rafiq's colors help the madness of his early attacks.  Blue can give unblockability, green gifts him with Berserk and the like, and white, worst of all, finds the bleeping equipment that makes people gnaw their fingernails off.

Ghave, Guru of Spores

What makes Ghave players so targetable is not just that the general is so darn hard to kill, it's the synergies and repeatable effects that the general enables.  Oh, and Ghave turns seem to take forever, one of the least fun experiences EDH players can go through.

Because of the recursive nature of BWG, there's a lot of coming and going from the graveyard, and if there's a Blood Artist or Grave Pact out, suddenly no one can do anything.  The general feeling is that you're waiting to die.

Arcum Dagsson

While a lot of legends bring about combos just by existing, this guy needs not much to cheat stupidly powerful and board-warping artifacts into play.  Wizards knew that allowing you to sacrifice an artifact to find an artifact was too good. (See Tinker.)  So they attempted to make it more narrow, requiring the sacrifice of an artifact creature to find a noncreature artifact.

Given the busted, ridiculous and silly number of artifacts that exist, this was an oopsie for the casual crowd.  My experience has been that step 1 is to find the Darksteel Forge, step 2 is to find the Disk, and step three is to rejoice in the lamentations of your enemy.  And since Arcum is blue, you get all the artifact enablers like Neurok Transmuter.  Goody.

Jhoira of the Ghitu

This little lady was an important character in the Magic novels, and I was happy to see her get a card.  Fast-forward a few years to playing EDH and she is heavily despised because of her ability and the decks that get cast around her.

You don't see Searing Wind or Time Warp suspended often.  If unopposed, the Jhoira player will cast their general turn three, play a land turn four, then wait until the last possible end step before suspending Obliterate and some big annoying creature (Inkwell Leviathan being a favorite.)  Then, they will take a suspend counter off and you'll have three turn cycles to kill them before the game is effectively over.

The Jhoira player knows this, the other players know it, and now you have a game within the game. 

I think that if her ability could only be done as a sorcery, she'd be a bit less irritating, because the Jhoira player would have to suspend on their turn, giving the table an extra turn cycle with intentions declared.

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind

Niv-Mizzet is amazingly good and enormously powerful.  He's got single-card combos (Curiosity, Mind Over Matter) and he's got innate card and board advantage.  His colors dovetail perfectly with his abilities, which speaks to the power of elegant design.  Red and Blue have the most card drawing spells and abilities, and even if red doesn't always get to keep the cards drawn, adding a damage per card is amazingly good.

Added on is that because he's blue, the Niv-Mizzet player will have access to all of blue's counterspells and trickery. If you see a Niv sitting down in your game, be prepared to take him/her out quickly.  They are ready for it too.

Sharuum the Hegemon

Ah, recursion.  It's both a staple and a curse of EDH.  This is card advantage at its finest, and with the number of loops and tricks that this card is capable of, there's really no hiding from the beatdown you're about to get.  Her colors allow for tutoring and drawing, for counterspells and extra turns, targeted removal and universal answers.

Oh, and clones.  Let's not forget cloning the legend, then bringing her back, setting up Reveillark, or whatever your combination of choice is.  Add Disciple of the Vault or Blood Artist, and go on about your day. 

Even with the sighs of resignation that other people have when Sharuum is shown as a general, she is not as bad as our #1 contender...

Zur The Enchanter

In terms of what all the legends on this list do, Zur combines them all into one groan-worthy package.  Searching the library? Check.  Casting things free? Check. Difficult to interact with? Check.  Capable of ending games quickly? Check.

There's little doubt that Lightning Greaves is one of the best equipment around, but shroud can mean that it's hard to boost the creature it's equipping...unless you're Zur.  His ability goes around shroud, because of a ruling about how Auras are targeted as they come into play.  (Short version: the targeting happens when you cast the Aura, but not when the Aura is put directly into play as part of a spell or effect.)  So an early greaves into Zur means that now he can go find whatever he needs, and the toolbox available to Zur is second to none.

Oblivion Ring, Phyresis, Battle Mastery, Rhystic's not just Auras (enchant creatures) he can find, it's anything with the type 'enchantment'.  In the Eye of Chaos is a fine example.  But the 'fine, I concede' trump is Contamination.  For self-defense, there's Vanishing or Diplomatic Immunity, or Spirit Mantle...and on and on.

I've got a couple of these decks, and perhaps you do too.  I know how big a target I am when I play one of these with strangers, and I'm prepared to be eliminated early.  It's hard to argue with "Well, I played Kaalia turn three, but they killed it, and I kept trying to get her into play, but they never let up and I died."

I can't fault someone for doing that to me, and you shouldn't feel bad about taking me out like that.  These generals are very frequently on the overpowered/unfair side, and consequently, they bring the Target Hat.

See you next time!