Saturday, July 28, 2012

Point of view: Spike

In my very first post a couple of months ago, I wrote about how I view two aspects of those who play EDH.

In borrowing from the player psychographics that Wizards' official site wrote about, and then other writers have picked up on, I am simply doing the same.

There's ample evidence to suggest that it's very very fun to be a Spike, and we've all had those moments.  Someone tries to do something that would mess with your plan, but you have the right card at the right time with the right mana open, deal with their play, and take the game.

It seems that an awful lot of people will commend you for running a niche card like Wrap in Vigor but if you counterspell their card, then you're much more of a tool.

Be warned: You may see yourself or someone you know in my scenarios.  Please don't think I'm picking on you.  While I like to use game situations I've been part of, or seen, I'm trying to generalize it to illustrate what can happen and how we see things.

Let's start by looking at two things that appeal to someone who is focused on winning the game: Land destruction (LD) and counterspells.  Why are these so appealing?  They are universally useful.  LD allows you to choke off the spells someone else might be playing, and counterspells stop their shenanigans before they start.

Let's get something out of the way: LD is going to get you targeted, killed, and your car egged.  I realize that when some jerk goes Turn 2 Farseek, Turn 3 Skyshround Claim, Turn 4 Primeval Titan, BLARGH you want to Armageddon them and set them back to earth.

There's two problems with this approach:
1) You're punishing EVERYONE for this.  And not just punishing them, you're messing up their whole plan.  If someone throws 'Geddon turn 6, then that's all the lands that were in opening hands, plus any extra lands found via ramp spells, and lands that were drawn. Now everyone is in topdeck mode for a few draws...and the ramp player is more likely to recover fast because he's got things that go find him land!

2) Everyone is pissed at you now.  They will express their displeasure in ways that lower your life total.

LD also offers the benefit of locking out the big-mana, big-effect plays that we all love to do.  You're preventing someone from casting that big Genesis Wave or Primal Surge that they were ramping into, and for that service, saving the table from losing, you're quickly targeted and killed.  If you view Magic as a game of questions and answers (Example: Can you stop me from killing you with this huge creature?) then ramping is a question that's hard to answer without incurring the wrath of the table.

I don't want to turn this post into "Hating Mega-Land-Guy", so I'll leave it at this: Play Stranglehold if you're red.  Amazing card, turns off a lot of annoying things.

Let's talk about one of the other banes of the format, and something I ran into when testing out my Talrand, Sky Summoner deck: Counterspells.

If you have a counter ready when it's needed, then you're a hero.  You've saved the game from someone's huge spell/creature.  You've also made one enemy for the rest of the game.  As an added level of annoyance, now everyone at the table will be asking your permission when they cast something.  This is generally not fun for them, and they will seek to punish you for that.

A traditional 'control' deck seeks to maintain control of what is on the board, through judicious use of board-wiping spells, targeted removal spells, and counterspells.  This is possible in one-on-one games, where the control player can let someone play their first few creatures, lose some life, then Day of Judgment their board away, and counterspell the remaining relevant threats.  Classic strategy.

It's possible in EDH, but very unlikely, out of pure numbers.  Three other players means that while your Day gets triple value (as in it kills three times as many creatures) you also have to counter three times as many spells and that's just not going to happen. You'll get to counter a few things, but not everything, and eventually you'll run out of counterspells.  Then, you get removed from the game.

Some decks, like my Talrand build, just stuff counterspells in and don't have a specific purpose.  They are there to stop other players from doing the big-time amazing things they want to do--whatever those things may be.  And get a 2/2 Drake.

Therefore, in many Commander games, counterspells have changed purpose somewhat.  In most decks that have a counterspell suite (meaning they are blue-based) they are trying to protect one thing: their game-winning combo.  It's not necessary to counter every spell your opponents play.  If they play some creatures, who cares?  Did they just put together an awesome combination of Propaganda and Ghostly Prison?  You're just digging for the Temple Bell and Mind Over Matter.  (I love MOM's mana cost.  Might as well say UUUUUU.)

Now, instead of counterspells being something that are occasionally annoying, they are focused on a goal.  If your Acidic Slime interferes with the goal, it gets countered.  There's really only one class of card that can get on the same level with counterspells.

You guessed it! Counterspells!

This is why playing a certain number of counters is so appealing to a Spike's perspective.  Those counters serve a dual purpose: They protect the game-winning condition AND can disrupt the opponent's condition.

As I noted in with the Generals That Get You Killed:  Most of the feared generals are blue, because they likely have counters to preserve their win condition.  If Zur the Enchanter gets to attack a few times, he'll be unblockable and killing in one hit. For example: Four attacks gets him the new Tricks of the Trade, Phyresis, Daybreak Coronet, and Battle Mastery--and that's only one combination to deal ten poison in one attack. (there's likely others, for three enchantments perhaps.) The really scary part is that the Zur player only had to tap their mana for the initial Zur--the enchantments are free, leaving counterspell mana open.

My goal with this post is to let a little light into the thought process of how someone thinks when they are building a deck that is focused on winning.  That may sound like an odd sentence--doesn't everyone build a deck focused on winning?  To which I have to reply, no.  A large portion of EDH decks are built to do something a little different, whether it's build up an insane Experiment Kraj, or deal damage with Norin the Wary, or some other odd thing that we want to do.

But the 'serious' decks, the 'cutthroat' decks...this is how the game is viewed, and that is something we've all done too.  We build decks that will answer what the other players do while building into our win.  Maybe that involves casting Armageddon while you're the only one with a creature out.  Maybe you want to assemble Darksteel Forge and Nevinyrral's Disk and grind everyone out with your artifact creatures. 

This is just one way to play.  I hope you enjoy the game, no matter your outlook.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

From the Ground Up: Talrand's Spells

On my favorite forum board the other day, there was a post about the all-permanent deck.  My Adun deck is nearly there, but someone else brought up the all-spell deck and I found this to be an intriguing idea.  If I've done one end of the spectrum, why not the other?

This is the process I usually go through when I'm building a deck.  I get an idea, find some cards I like, then build a first draft, which is usually far too big. I cut it down, but I keep the stack of things I cut handy, because it takes me quite a few plays to finalize a list.

We have choices of a build-around general, with 40-odd lands and 60-odd non-creature, non-artifact spells.

Riku of Two Reflections
Pros - Three colors, offering ramp spells, kill spells, control spells, and copying those spells.  Pretty sweet!
Cons - Three colors means a more difficult mana base, it costs an extra RU to copy said spells, and Riku is a general that gets you killed.

Dralnu, Lich Lord
Pros - Two colors of card draw and deadly spells, and a built-in way to re-use those spells for maximum value.
Cons - A tap ability without any way to give him haste means he spends a turn sitting around doing nothing before I get value.  Dralnu's damage drawback (yay alliteration!) means that any random pinger or Lightning Bolt effect will get my lands killed (since I have no other permanents).

Talrand, Sky Summoner
Pros - Only one color, so an easy manabase.  The bonus 2/2 is free, no mana required.  Can be used right away, depending on open mana.
Cons - Only one color, so everything has to be blue.  Challenge Accepted!

I think that Talrand will be more fun to build around, too.  Riku is tempting, but he's far too intimidating to other players, so he will get killed often. (I had a Riku deck and that's what happens!)  Talrand, meanwhile, is just going to build up a stack of 2/2 flyers and go after anyone and everyone.

I think the deck will benefit from a few more counterspells than usual, a sprinkling of stealing, and maximum value from cantrips (spells that have 'draw a card' in the text).  Some things to note:

Copying a spell doesn't give you Drakes, unless you're casting the copies (e.g. Spelltwine).  Rebound works well, as does Flashback, but Buyback is the real prizewinner.  The buyback spells allow you to churn out Drake tokens.  You're not on the pace of a green mage with Sprout Swarm, but you can still do some work, as we will see.

I sat down in Gatherer and looked--briefly--at every blue instant or sorcery, and came up with an initial deck of 150 cards, plus Talrand.  Let's look at the lands first.  39 of them, including Maze of Ith, seems right to me.  There's a good amount of card draw in this deck, so I'm not too worried about the number of lands, even without mana acceleration.

25 Island
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea - Card draw is good.  You have flexibility on when to use this, at a very low cost, so if you don't need the card, cast an instant instead.
Reliquary Tower - There's a chance you'll need this, and again, it costs you very little.
High Market - Cash in a drake token for a life, or sacrifice something after it's been stolen!
Lonely Sandbar - Cycling lands are good if you over-draw land.
Magosi, the Waterveil - I've been searching for the right deck to play this in, and with the reactive nature of this deck, I think it's here.  There's no way to abuse this, you'll play it fairly.  If a turn cycle passes while you've got Talrand and a couple of fun instants, skip your turn and stay at the ready.  Then take two turns!  
Maze of Ith - Pure utility, so that you can prevent the damage of their big trampler and chump block the non-trample with the Drake tokens.
Mystifying Maze - Maze effect #2, and for some creatures, a huge stay-away.  Animar really hates this card.
Remote Isle - Cycling effect #2. Sometimes you just need one more spell!
Riptide Laboratory - I didn't know this had gotten so expensive, but this effect can save Talrand from being shuffled into your deck, which is often called a 'tuck'.
Terrain Generator - This is the opposite of the cycling lands, but if you end up with lots in hand, get them into play faster!
Temple of the False God - An extra mana for no downside.
Thawing Glaciers - This is clunky, but it finds you a basic land every other turn.  It's really hard to have mana fixing without permanents, but this does the job.
Tolaria West - Find what you need, but most of the time, you'll look for Thawing Glaciers.
Vesuva - Then make another Glaciers!

Remember that with Talrand out, every one of the following spells comes with a 2/2 Drake.  There's no greater value out there!

First, let's talk counterspells. 
Cancel - Basic and effective.
Commandeer - This can be a total blowout when someone tries to cast a gamewinning spell.  Exsanguinate for 50?  Thank you, drive through.  Blue Sun's Zenith to make you draw your deck?  You first!
Counterspell - Even more basic and just as effective!
Cryptic Command - You can do so much with this card, it's just obscene.  This card helped define Standard for two years, and would have even if it cost UUUU. Four choices, all relevant, being exactly what you need.
Desertion - Not just a counterspell, but potential creature/artifact steal! 
Dismiss - This is what Cryptic Command's modes usually are.
Dissipate - And stay out!
Foil - I'm never going to advocate Force of Will in EDH.  I know some swear by it, but not me.  This is the Force's ugly cousin, requiring a precious Island to be discarded when your deck wants every land.  This may be a weak choice.
Forbid - This may be overkill, but the buyback has real potential if you start drawing lots of cards.
Exclude - Counter the huge creature and I get a card?  Done.
Hinder - To tuck an annoying general will give you such a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Overwhelming Intellect - Double the cost of Exclude, but with a far greater number of cards drawn.
Rewind - So glad to see the reprint!
Spell Burst - Buyback counterspell capability.  Do not trifle with this card.
Spell Crumple - Counter-tuck card #2.  There's not enough shuffle in this deck to reliably see the spell again, though.
Spelljack - This is expensive, but you get the spell.  Planeswalkers watch out!

Bone to Ash
Faerie Trickery
Fervent Denial
Flash Counter
Last Word
Summoner's Bane

These are a bit too narrow for my taste, and in many cases they are second copies of a spell that I don't need seconds on.  I like Controvert, but Recover is such an expensive mechanic that I don't think it would fit well here.

Some instant card draw spells:
Blue Sun's Zenith - Instant new hand if you need it.
Brainstorm -  Classic, effective, and cheap.  This could be Ponder or Preordain, but I wanted at least one single-mana instant card.
Impulse - This card is full-time amazing.  Instant speed to get the card you want!  
Oona's Grace - 2U to draw a card is ok, being an instant helps, and being a way to pitch the 13th land and re-use it puts this over the top for me.
Think Twice - Our first flashback card.  With Talrand out it reads: "1U: Put a 2/2 Drake into play. Draw a card." Repeat for 2U.
Whispers of the Muse - You might not have played with a deck that likes to leave mana open like this.  Whispers is a card that makes people cry if you have enough counterspells in your deck.  It's always sad to leave mana open for a counterspell and then people do nothing from you draw a card!  And get a Drake!

Jace's Ingenuity
Telling Time
Visions of Beyond

These are all good cards, but not good enough or too expensive compared to our options.  I dearly love Telling Time, but it's just not going to get there, I think.

Some instant utility:
Capsize - A classic buyback spell, and a blue staple.  With a 2/2 flyer.
Dominate - I've used this before and had good results, but without any mana acceleration, you're stuck stealing things that have been on the board for a couple of turns.
Echoing Truth - A cheap instant and a great answer to lots of problems, especially 'token swarm' problems.
Gather Specimens - I have an irrational love for this card.  It can steal any creature, and you'll even get to control any 'enters the battlefield' effects it has!  If you have this and Whispers in hand, you're just waiting for the right time.
High Tide - Our only source of mana advantage, it's good for one turn.  I thought this was a sorcery! 
Into the Roil - Bounce a problem, get a token, draw a card.  Triple win. 
Mnemonic Nexus - I chose this over some other spells as a way to reload the deck, but Nexus offers the chance to mess with others' graveyards too.
Mind Games - Another buyback spell that doesn't see the play it perhaps should.  At worst, you're tapping land that was already tapped, just to get another Drake.
Pongify - I'm surprised at the blue decks that don't run this card. (Even mine!) This deck is woefully short of permanent answers, and this will take care of a lot of things.
Ray of Command - This is extraordinarily powerful when someone has a pair of overwhelming creatures.  Take one, block the other, they both go away.  Really great if someone is cloning Blightsteel Colossus.
Reins of Power - Did someone make a token swarm? Punish them for their insolence.
Repeal - Great utility, kills tokens, draws a card.
Spin into Myth - A classic 'tuck' effect.  Put their general on top, then make sure that card goes to the bottom.
Turn to Frog - This is a fun interaction if they are attacking you with one big creature.  Turn it to a Frog, then block with the Drake you just made.  Ribbit! 

Crippling Chill
Frost Breath
Defy Gravity
Mental Note
Veil of Secrecy

Veil was the only effect that could save Talrand, but that's what the counterspells are for.  Twincast and Reverberation could be good, but they are too situational for my taste.  Evacuation is pretty weak in this deck, as it bounces all of your Drakes to oblivion.  I like the cheap flashback spells, as well as a spell you can buy back (Clockspinning) but they are too niche.

Finally, the sorceries:
Stealing effects:
Acquire - Classic.  Steal and don't feel bad.
Blatant Thievery - More theft!
Bribery - Stealing spree! 
Govern the Guildless - It's a crime wave!
Knowledge Exploitation - What's really fun here is that you get a drake for casting this spell, and then another for casting the spell you took from their deck!
Legerdemain - Worth noting that you cannot use the drake token that you make with this spell as one of the things to switch.  You choose targets when you cast the spell, not when it resolves.
Rite of Replication - Another blue staple.  Sometimes you'll kick this on someone's Malakir Bloodwitch and just win. 
Spelltwine - This is amazing with Talrand.  You'll get THREE drakes when it is over with!
Stolen Goods - I have a soft spot for these random effects.
Switcheroo - See note on Legerdemain.
Telemin Performance - A random creature!  Yay!  Pro tip: Choose the Kaalia deck.  Or the green deck.


Political Trickery
Switching land just isn't worth it.  The Stolen Goods and the Telemin could probably come out for something more consistent, but I really enjoy the random effects.  If you happen to win with them, so much the better!

Sorcery-speed card draw spells:
Deep Analysis - Flashback card draw? Sold.
Recurring Insight - Rebound is important, because you're casting the spell the second time around. 
Treasure Hunt - You're getting multiple cards for very little mana.  At worst, it's 1U:  Draw a card.

Amass the Components
Covenant of Minds 
Compulsive Research
Counsel of the Soratami
Distant Memories
Ghastly Discovery
Flow of Ideas
Train of Thought

It's not that any of these cards are bad, they just don't do enough.  There may be something to the idea of stuffing this deck full of card draw spells and just blazing through them all.

Finally, some useful sorceries:
Distorting Wake - It's both targeted and mass.  Expensive, though.
Inundate - Six mana but it saves your Drakes! 
Merchant Scroll - This is the only tutor in the deck.  I don't have any Mystical Tutor or Personal Tutor, so I didn't consider those.  Plus, I really don't enjoy tutoring to the top of my deck.
Mystic Speculation - I've been dying for a deck that can take advantage of this effect, and here it is.  The scry is not as important as 2U: put a 2/2 Flyer into play.  Repeat.
Silent Departure - This may be a weak card, but it's cheap the first time, ok the second, and getting Drakes each time.
Talrand's Invocation - Got to be here.
Grasp of Phantoms - Pure Flashback value.
Wash Out - This might be overkill with the Inundate, but it's two mana less.

Distortion Strike
Artful Dodge
Time Reversal

I really want Artful Dodge here, as it's UU for 2 tokens, but unblockable will hardly ever matter.  Dematerialize is just too expensive, even with the Drake bonus.

Spells that get back spells!
Call to Mind - Can you loop these together indefinitely?
Relearn - You certainly can!  Repeat until you're bored, run out of tokens, or no more mana.
Déjà Vu - The third spell is an option too, but I couldn't play all three. 

A special section of cards:
Beacon of Tomorrows
Temporal Mastery
Time Warp
Time Stretch

I'm not playing these.  This deck is not an infinite-turn combo machine, and can't effectively take advantage of extra turns.  Any of these cards would pretty much be an extra attack step, and that is useful, but not worth the table full of hatred that I would receive after taking the extra turn.  Should you wish to add these, go for it.  I'm presenting my ideas and my philosophy--your mileage may vary.

After a few sample hands, and a couple of games online, I have to say that this deck requires a very different style of play.  I don't think I've ever built such a reactive deck.  Usually I like to play lots of creatures, attack as often as possible, and mentally prepare for the Day of Judgment that will make me start the process again. With this deck, I always have something to do, and it's got the counterspell power to stop others' evil plans!

I don't think this is the final list, as I mentioned above.  There's a lot more games to be played, more games where a card sits in my hand and I hate it, or maybe 39 mana isn't enough in this deck.  But I think it's 90% or so there.

If you don't want to play without permanents, there's a lot of options for you.  Some equipment to give Talrand more longevity would be useful, a Mirari might be too amazing, a Bösium Strip, an obscure yet awesome card for a deck like this.  Omniscience is probably a winner here, as is Arcane Melee.  

As always, I hope you enjoyed this.  I haven't built this deck in person yet, I'm still working on getting all my M13 changes in.  I might not build this in person, because I don't have spares of a lot of the more amazing blue spells that have a home in my Azami deck (Bribery, Acquire, etc.)  We'll see.  My new local meta has a lot of blue mages fighting for turns and board control.

Friday, July 20, 2012

My decks #1: Experiment Kraj

It's high time that I give you, the loyal reader, a breakdown of one of my decks.  This deck is not my most powerful, nor my most consistent.  It is completely dependent on the Experiment Kraj staying in play, and there will be games where that doesn't happen.

I've deliberately left out infinite combos from this deck.  Notably, any creature that taps for mana can be used to power an infinite-mana loop with an untap effect, so I've cut the mana creatures.  This is a personal choice to lower the deck's capabilities.  I find infinite combos unfun, and frankly, this deck is capable of taking lots of time.

I've chosen to focus this deck around some of the most powerful tap effects in Magic.  In green and blue, anyway.  Kraj can also borrow abilities from other colors, and using Quicksilver Elemental, you can even get around pesky colored mana activations.

I left some creatures out of this deck because their abilities were good, but not tap abilities.  It doesn't do me any good to have a counter on Silklash Spider, for instance, because I can use the Spider's ability as much as I want.

Also, I am going to test a new way to add card links, using instead of the official Gatherer page.  If someone more script-savvy than myself would care to enlighten me on the process of making the handy popups that the big sites have (I should say mouse-over, not pop-up) I'd appreciate an email.

Kraj's Chosen Path

"Of course it will grow beyond control—it was designed to choose its own evolution."
—Momir Vig

First, some enabling artifacts:

1 Contagion Engine
1 Cauldron of Souls
1 Rings of Brighthearth
1 Swiftfoot Boots
1 Thousand-Year Elixir
1 Darksteel Plate
1 Lightning Greaves

These are a combination of protective pieces and force-multiplying effects.  The Rings get abused in most decks with planeswalkers, but with some of the creatures I'm playing, getting a second copy of an effect for just two mana is ridiculous.  Engine is very strong in this deck, as a one-sided board wipe and as a double proliferate effect for me.  Finally, Cauldron is just silly with the number of counters this deck can put out--the negative counters from the Persist effect can be wiped out with a positive counter from Kraj, resetting things so the Cauldron can be used again!

Next, some fun sorceries:
1 Praetor’s Counsel
1 Spitting Image
1 Cultivate
1 Green Sun’s Zenith

It's a miser's Cultivate, and might become Boundless Realms out of simple land-greed.  Spittting Image is just too good in a blue-green deck, even though I have very little that works directly with the Retrace.  Counsel is there because my board tends to get blown up, and GSZ is pure value, finding whatever I need.

Only three instants:
1 Voidslime
1 Snakeform
1 CytoShape

Pure utility.  Voidslime counters anything.  ANYTHING.  Snakeform is removal during combat and cantrips too!  Cytoshape is slightly hindered by the 'nonlegendary' clause but it is still very helpful in a lot of cases.

Now, some powerful enchantments:
1 Asceticism
1 Ley Line
1 Inexorable Tide
1 Doubling Season
1 Lurking Predators

LP is not at its best here, with only 38 creatures.  That means 1 in 3 flips will get you a creature (roughly).  It's still free creatures, though, and with your desire to use mana for untap shenanigans, the freebies help.  Tide might be an overkill card, as my creatures with counters are already good.  Asceticism is two layers of protection for my creatures that desperately need it!  Doubling Season is super-good here, giving me two counters instead of one.  I've only got one token-producer in the deck, though.  Ley Line is a secret star in the deck, letting me add counters to things for free and making it so that others hesitate to power up their own awesome creatures.

Here it is, the real fun.  The 38 awesome creatures!

1 Courtly Provocateur - I'm looking forward to messing with other players' attacks. That creature has to attack, untap Kraj, that creature has to block.  Good times!
1 Morphling - 5 good abilities, but mainly the untap and the shroud.
1 Silvos, Rogue Elemental - Beefy, trample, regeneration. Done.
1 Glissa Sunseeker - Totally free artifact removal!
1 Blockade Runner - A fun way to kill someone once Kraj is huge.
1 Scarwood Bandits - Why kill an artifact when I can steal it?
1 Horseshoe Crab - Cheap untap is cheap.
1 Arashi, the Sky Asunder - I've got a lack of flyers, and this helps keep others grounded.
1 Triskelion - Just a ridiculously great card for the deck, with one untapper on the field I have "U/G: ping something for 1 damage"
1 Mindless Automaton - A way to turn the counters into cards.
1 Fauna Shaman - What's better than tutoring once?  Doing it again!
1 Yavimaya Elder - Probably not needed, but it's a habit for green decks.
1 Murkfiend Liege - Broken doesn't begin to describe what this guy enables.
1 Reveka, Wizard Savant - I'm most proud of this addition, because every game where I play it, people have to read it...and then they groan.  I think this card interaction sort of exemplifies EDH.
1 Patron of the Orochi - Mega-untap, and during each player's turn!  Twice!
1 Thornling - Like his blue cousin, gives some great abilities for very little investment.
1 Gilder Bairn - Observe the cycle when this and Kraj are in play.  Counter on Kraj. 2U, double to 2. Add a 3rd.  2U, double to 6.  Add a 7th.  2G, double to 14.
1 Spike Feeder - If I need to gain some life fast, this does the trick.
1 Tradewind Rider - With the three mega-untappers in the deck, this card gets out of hand fast.
1 Beguiler of Wills - It's just so unabashedly overpowered with the Kraj, I get killed within a turn or two of playing it.
1 Kazandu Tuskcaller - It's so fragile, but it churns out so many creatures!
1 Willow Satyr - I had no idea that it was so pricey now, but considering that I can tap to steal a legend, then respond by untapping the Kraj, repeat as I wish, to steal several legends all at once...or so I thought.  As it turns out, if the creature becomes untapped, even before the ability resolves, nothing happens. Alas!  It is also a non-combo with Seedborn/Liege, because while I can choose not to untap it on MY untap, the Liege and Muse untap during other players' turns, which I can't avoid.
1 Genesis - Utility recursion, since things get killed very quickly.
1 Seedborn Muse - This deck, above all others, proves to me that Bennie Smith is right and that Seedborn needs to be banned.
1 Empress Galina - Another way to steal Generals.  Too much fun!
1 Cytoplast Manipulator - Or steal any creature, whatever floats your boat.
1 Forgotten Ancient - Super effective here at adding counters to creatures with great abilities without needing to spend mana.
1 Arcanis the Omnipotent - Good grief, this lets you draw your whole deck very quickly.  One of the best abilities to steal, and as a bonus, you get to return him and Kraj to your hand in an emergency!
1 Fungal Behemoth - Has the potential to be a huge beater, and a free way to add counters to creatures.  Might be too slow/clunky, though.
1 Quicksilver Elemental - Once I've got Kraj powered up, I can have a second?  Why the heck not?
1 Vigor - All due to EDH, this is now one of the pricier rares from Lorwyn.  There's no better use for him than this deck.
1 Locust Swarm - Regeneration AND untapping!
1 Frontier Guide - This is the ability I start abusing first, if I'm given a choice.
1 Suncrusher - Destroy!!!
1 Pili-Pala - In execution, this is an untap effect for one mana, just walk it through slowly.  Tap to add a counter, two mana untap, one floating, tap for a counter, use the leftover mana and one other...
1 Steel Hellkite - Two good activated abilities that can be necessary at times.
1 Knacksaw Clique - Just too much fun to steal cards from other players!
1 Nullmage Shepherd - I put so many untap effects here that I wanted the free Disenchant/Naturalize!

Finally, the lands:

14 Island
16 Forest
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Alchemist’s Refuge
1 Novijen, Heart of Progress
1 Mosswort Bridge
1 Hinterland Harbor
1 Flooded Grove
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Terminal Moraine
1 Yavimaya Coast
1 Reliquary Tower

With a general that costs 6 on the first casting, I'm playing a lot of lands.  This is a very mana-hungry deck, since I don't have any 'free' untap effects.  Nothing too unusual in the choices here, though Minamo is outstanding and the Refuge + Seedborn Muse means that I get to take a turn every time someone has an untap step.  Gets me killed!  Novijen isn't that amazing, but it's a signed foil and it will stay.  End of Discussion.

Here are some cards I've taken out of the deck:

Immaculate Magistrate - It's an easy way to add counters to creatures without needing the general, but it just wasn't doing enough in the deck.
Decree of Savagery - This seemed like an easy choice in the abstract, as it puts counters on everything.
Fable of Wolf and Owl - Fun for decks that are more focused on the two colors, but that is not this deck.
Temporal Adept - A very powerful effect, but unfortunately, just too much mana.
Omnibian - This was a poster child of a card, but ultimately, it didn't do enough for me in the games I played with it.
Anthroplasm - While I really like the idea of putting X counters on Kraj, it just never worked out.
Callous Oppressor - Surprisingly, this is a total non-bo. (Non-combo)  Since the Kraj didn't come into play with this ability, the choice for creature type wasn't made, and therefore, the ability can't be activated.
Drumhunter - I was looking for card draw, and this was just weak.
Gaea's Liege - Awesome yet ultimately not active enough for my tastes.  Very useful to turn their annoying overpowered lands into basic Forests, though.
King Crab - An evil card, but too color-specific.
Magus of the Library - I thought that managing my hand to have exactly seven would not be hard, but it turned out to be more difficult than expected.
Razorfin Abolisher - This might have been good, but when you're trying to leave just the harmless creatures in play, someone tends to throw a Wrath effect and now you're sad, because you saved good creatures for the other team.
Thriss, Nantuko Primus - This might go back in, as +5/+5 is a lot, especially if I can have an untap effect.
Tidewater Minion - Too much for an untap effect that I can't even re-use.
Time Elemental - Too expensive to use multiple times.
Vedalken Anatomist - I wanted this to be a sweet effect to do over and over again, but it was just too expensive to use.
Venomspout Brackus - Being able to shoot down fliers is important, but Arashi is just better at it, if more expensive.
Eldrazi Monument - Making Kraj indestructible is important, but that creature a turn is a big deal.  If the deck stole creatures more consistently (with Beguiler it just might) then this goes back in. 
Akroma's Memorial - Haste is a big deal, and this adds a layer of protection and aggression on top of that.   
Training Grounds - Surprisingly, not many cards benefit from this effect, but it can be handy with others' activated abilities.
Rhystic Study - No one likes the tax man, and I wanted a card that did something in this spot. 
Momir Vig, Simic Visionary - Very powerful, but just too much work, and his presence tends to get a player killed for fear of combo foolishness.
Hermit Druid - Super-powerful, and in a deck that has Genesis, a way to add consistency.  The downside is that this is another classic combo-enabler, and gets me killed. (More than usual.)
Increasing Savagery - A card that dumps all the counters onto Kraj, instead of the distribution I need.  Blessings of Nature would be better, but I don't like the one-shot effects.
Jugan, the Rising Star - I had this in there, and felt like it was awesome tech.  The problem is this: if Jugan is in play, he does nothing to help Kraj.  If Jugan and Kraj are in play, it's very rare for Jugan to die while Kraj lives.  Boardwipe is far more common...which means the Jugan counters are worthless.
Thrive - This didn't seem like it was worth a card.  If I have an untap effect for Kraj, it's basically the same thing.

A couple of cards I should probably be playing:
Magewright Stone - I didn't even know about this card until Sheldon Menery pointed it out on a forum.  I'm not sure if it's better than just playing Soliton.
Leech Bonder - Or this, because there don't have to be counters on your first target, basically making this another untap effect for a blue mana.
Eternal Witness - This is a staple, very useful, but I have to have creatures that do more for Kraj.

I hope you've enjoyed this peek into one of my decks.  14 to go!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Spoilers from Comic-Con (including FTV: Realms)

In case you haven't heard, there were some goings-on at the MTG panel at Comic-Con this past weekend.

I don't think Wizards is terribly worried about its products competing for the spotlight--it'll make huge announcements while a main event is going on, and annouce multiple things all at once.  That leaves it to us to settle out what the heck got said.

They announced that there will be product every year to support Commander, but that includes things like Planechase.  Wizards has figured out that as long as they print enough of the Planechase/Commander/Archenemy decks to keep the Legacy crowd happy, creating brand-new cards is possible.  This is exciting!  I'd guess that the summer of 2013 will have the second coming of the five Commander decks, only with four-color legends, something that we are currently lacking.  (Some of you play Nephilim decks, for which I salute your dedication.)  That's a bit of pure speculation, but you heard it here first!

I think that the Return to Ravnica information is relevant.  There will be ten mythic rare legends, which will likely be fun to build around and amazing, since they are now deliberately designing for the EDH crowd.  Since it will be big set-big set, with five guilds (each guild is a combination of two colors) that means that each of those sets will have five of the shocklands.

A shockland is the shorthand term for the Ravnica duals such as Sacred Foundry, which has two land types and taps for those two colors of mana.  It comes into play tapped unless you pay 2 life.  These are super-handy in Commander decks, especially at three or five colors.  There's one shockland for each two-color combination, for a total of ten.  Five will be rares in Return to Ravnica, and five will be rares in the following set, named Gatecrash.

Before Modern was announced, you could get shocklands for $5-$10.  I remember not wanting to buy some at a card show for $7.  Now they are at the $20 range, give or take depending on the color combinations.  Let me give you this financial tip ahead of time: KEEP THE SHOCKLANDS.  They aren't totally necessary in two-color decks, but keep your lands, especially the green/X lands because cards like Wood Elves can go find them.

Finally, six cards from the upcoming From the Vaults: Realms were spoiled.  The FTV series has been a fun one for EDH, because it's got new art, a different look to the foil and it's a reprint of some terribly awesome cards.  When we know the whole list (we know that one of the cards will be from Return to Ravnica) I'll go over this in more detail, but the highlights for Commander are:

Dryad Arbor - I've never seen this played in EDH.  Being a creature means it's extra vulnerable.  Fun to play, but count it as a creature, not a land.

Forbidden Orchard - This is an awesome card for the three-to-five color decks.  A 1/1 flyer probably isn't a big deal if you need the mana.  I've seen some decks that combine this card with other effects to hurt creatureless decks. (Blasphemous Act & Repercussion, perhaps)

Glacial Chasm - Someone's going to drop this down and start feeling safe.  Acidic Slime this thing away and teach them the folly of material things. This land is really no fun to hide behind, costing you a land, not tapping for mana, and requiring more and more life.

Grove of the Burnwillows - Again, there are decks that can abuse this effect (Kavu Predator comes to mind) and it's pretty easy color fixing.  Run it and make some friends!

Murmuring Bosk - (new art) If you want to see what odd things Wizards can do when they push a tribe, look no further.  This is a Forest that taps for three different colors of mana, so it's only good in five-color or the Doran colors (which is who this card was meant to enable).  If you're in those colors, this is worth playing.

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth - (new art) I'm excited about this, because I need a foil one of these for my Vampires deck and the foil is currently far more costly than I want to deal with.  This is a classic combo with Cabal Coffers, works amazingly if you have Swampwalk creatures, and adds a layer of mana fixing to multicolor decks.

With six slots spoiled, and one from RtR coming, that leaves us eight more reprints.  Here's my guesses: (keep in mind that I've been proven to be a terrible guesser)

Arcane Sanctum, Savage Lands, Seaside Citadel, Crumbling Necropolis, Jungle Shrine - This is the safest bet, to me.  The Shards of Alara set was 2008, and these uncommons are up to a couple bucks each.  They are elegant and supremely good in the colors that need them.

Riptide Laboratory - I think this is a good candidate because the supply is not what the community needs and it also has some Legacy applications.  I have a couple of these and they are outstanding for re-using any Wizard, but especially for Venser, Shaper Savant.

Shivan Gorge - This is my guess for "sigh, really?" of the set.  It is not powerful, but it is an effect you don't often see on lands.  A great way to gain utility at a small cost.  Runner-up: Keldon Necropolis

Wasteland - This seems to be what everyone is sure will be printed, and if it does, expect the sell price of the set to go through the roof.  The FTV sets are marked at $34.99 but stores are allowed to sell them at higher.  I've been told that they are an easy way for a store to make money.  I as at a store after FTV:Legends came out, and they wanted $70.  If Wasteland is in here, it will be the most-sought-after card, as it's currently at $50.  It's got Legacy and Vintage appeal, and it's also an excellent EDH card, because nonbasic lands are often the most troublesome permanents to get rid of.

We are probably three weeks away from the fully spoiled list, so if you disagree about my speculation, I encourage you to comment below and tell me what will be there.  This is a fun discussion to have, so fire away!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

M13: Replacements/Upgrades in my decks

Every time a new set comes out, there's a time when we go over our decks and see what goes into assorted EDH decks and what will come out for those cards.

There's no right answer.  There is only what you want to be playing.  Some people can't imagine a blue deck without Bribery, for example.  Or others abhor the notion of playing with Iona, Shield of Emeria.  Results and tastes may vary, and as the person who plays these decks, I'm the final word on what I want to be playing.  I expect some will disagree, and I look forward to that discussion.

I'm going to go through each of my decks and review what cards I'm putting in, what I'm taking out, and what I'm tempted to play. This last status could also be called "If I open a foil, I'll find a spot for it." I reserve the right to make changes in the decks, I'm going off of my first blush.

It's easy to say "Yeah, that should be a good fit for this deck" but it's more difficult when something else has to come out.

Some things to say ahead of time: 
  • Acidic Slime is in every green deck of mine already.
  • Reliquary Tower should be in every EDH deck--it costs you nothing and can be a very handy effect.
  • As I said in my M13 Review, there aren't many decks that can't make use of Akroma's Memorial, so I don't know if I'll actually put it in every deck, some decks, or no decks.  
  • All of my black decks have Increasing Ambition, and I'm not sure if Diabolic Revelation is an upgrade or a downgrade.  I'm probably going to stick with Increasing Ambition, because with Diabolic Revelation, I'll always want to wait and get one card more.  Tutoring for just two cards seems underpowered with this.

For simplicity's sake, I'll go in the same order as my list of generals.  

Adun Oakenshield (BRG Creature-based)
In: Disciple of Bolas, Mindclaw Shaman, Thundermaw Hellkite, Elderscale Wurm, Thragtusk
Already there: Garruk's Packleader, Hamletback Goliath
Nearly there: Xathrid Gorgon, Primordial Hydra, Silklash Spider, Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis, Mwonvuli Beast Tracker, Yeva, Nature's Herald
Out: Oracle of Mul Daya, Sylvan Ranger, Phyrexian Plaguelord, Dread Cacodemon, Hoard-Smelter Dragon
Notes: This being a 60% creature deck, and the deck I've had the longest, some of the new cards are just outclassed by what's already there.  The Gorgon is not as good as Visara the Dreadful and Avatar of Woe.  Hydra doesn't do enough for me in this deck, I had it in there the last time it was printed and it was never good for me.  (It is a sad reveal on Lurking Predators, let me tell you!) Yeva is only for my green creatures, and that's only 1/3 of the creatures in the deck. I'm super stoked about Disciple + Hamletback, and recurring Mindclaw Shaman is going to be a good time.  I've got 35 land and 8 creatures that help with land, and the creatures I'm adding are better than the backup artifact/boardwipe/targeted kill creatures that I took out.

Animar, Soul of Elements (URG chaining creatures)
In: Courtly Provocateur, Mindclaw Shaman, Thundermaw Hellkite, Slumbering Dragon, Thragtusk
Already There: Clone, Sphinx of Uthuun, Garruk's Packleader
Nearly there: Hamletback Goliath, Elderscale Wurm, Primordial Hydra, Ring of Evos Isle, Ring of Kalonia, Ring of Valkas, Void Stalker, Yeva, Nature's Herald
Out: Creeping Renaissance, Conjurer's Closet, Wild Pair, Oracle of Mul Daya, Asceticism
Notes:  The deck focuses on putting counters on Animar, then playing things with high colorless requirements on the cheap.   That makes the rings a great inclusion, giving counters and haste/trample/hexproof to go with Animar's built in protection, but I already have five equipment that give some level of protection (Lightning Greaves, Darksteel Plate, Champion's Helm, Swiftfoot Boots, and Whispersilk Cloak).  Yeva, yet again, is awesomeness for a color that's only on 18 of my creatures.  Mindclaw and Thragtusk will be fun, and I'm excited to play Courtly Provocateur, making things attack into my huge Animar.  Hamletback will likely go into this deck soon.  I took out accessory cards for more creatures, a choice I may revise after a few games.

Azami, Lady of Scrolls (Mono-blue Wizard Tribal)
In: Talrand, Sky Summoner, Archaeomancer
Already there: Elixir of Immortality
Nearly There: Omniscience, Switcheroo, Spelltwine
Out: Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Temporal Adept
Notes: As a deck focused on stealing creatures, Talrand might be weak.  Most of my theft spells are enchantments, but if I can add 2/2 creatures to those effects, it'll be a winner.  Archaeomancer gets back those spells (again, might be weak) and Switcheroo is not worth the change from Legerdemain.  Meloku and Adept were just not doing enough to earn their keep.  In a deck that devours mana like this, Meloku's ability was not worth the land bouncing, and Adept was good but pricey.

Balthor The Defiled (Monoblack Zombies)
In: Liliana of the Dark Realms
Already There: Mutilate, Rise from the Grave
Nearly There: None
Out: Corpse Harvester
Notes: This deck has Liliana Vess already, but this is an extremely mana-hungry deck, so Liliana of the Dark Realms's +1 ability is exactly what it wants.  There were no amazing Zombies in this set, sad to say.  I'm taking out the Zombie who is supposed to help with land-finding, but is a lot slower.

Darien, King of Kjeldor (Soldiers and Swords)
In: Odric, Master Tactician
Already There: Captain of the Watch, Intrepid Hero
Nearly There: Crusader of Odric
Out: Cenn's Enlistment
Notes: Crusader might be overkill, because if I have a swarm of Solider tokens then I'm likely winning anyway.  Odric is the stone nuts in a white weenie deck, allowing you to attack through just about anything, and making kills along the way.  I've never used the Retrace on Enlistment, so out it comes.

Garza Zol, Plague Queen (Vampires)
In: Gem of Becoming
Already There: Gilded Lotus, Vampire Nocturnus, Vampire Nighthawk
Nearly There: Spelltwine, Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, Ring of Evos Isle, Ring of Valkas, Ring of Xathrid
Out: Belbe's Portal
Notes: This is another mana-hungry deck, so the Gem will help in that regard.  I feel better playing Gem than Journeyer's Kite--6 mana will get me three land, and I had at least three to start, so I'm fairly set.  I have a foil Cruel Ultimatum, and that might come out for Nicol Bolas, who is just ridiculously good, yet isn't really in on the Vampire theme.  The on-color rings will be good, but I'm not sure if Vampires need more accessories.  I've been unimpressed with Belbe's Portal--for that same 8 mana, I could play any vampire in the deck.

Hanna, Ship's Navigator (WU artifacts/proliferate)
In: Ajani, Caller of the Pride, Staff of Nin
Already There: Planar Cleansing, Gilded Lotus
Nearly There: Clock of Omens, Sands of Delirium, Ring of Evos Isle, Ring of Thune, Trading Post
Out:  Eye of Ugin, Serum Tank
Notes: Ajani is a good planeswalker for the proliferate cards I already have in the deck, and the rings would help with that too.  Trading Post does several useful things in the deck, recurring artifacts, drawing cards, gaining life.  I'm not sure if Clock is worth it in this deck, I need to re-evaluate the abilities that tap.  I'm semi-certain that Sands will go into every deck that has Grand Architect, but that's still a lot of mana to invest. In recent games, Eye just isn't worth the mana, and Staff will draw as many cards per turn as Tank, without the continuous mana investment.

Kaalia of the Vast (BWR Aggro)
In: Thundermaw Hellkite
Already There: None
Nearly There: Ring of Valkas, Ring of Xathrid, Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis, Sublime Archangel, Fervor
Out: Backlash
Notes: If I only get one Thundermaw, it'll go in this deck.  The Hellkite is such an amazing card for what Kaalia wants to do, especially as it can come down the turn after Kaalia, clearing the path for both Kaalia's attack and whatever she drops into play.  I think the red and black rings help with what Kaalia wants to do, but I already have a few accessories for her and the deck is feeling tight.  I'm very likely to try Fervor in this deck soon.  Nefarox is only good attacking solo, as is the Archangel, so those two aren't going in.  I had both Backlash and Delirium as part of this deck's Sunforger package, but I doubt I'll need to do this effect twice.

Experiment Kraj (UG tap abilities)
In: Courtly Provocateur
Already There: None
Nearly There: Void Stalker, Silklash Spider, Yeva, Nature's Herald 
Out: Spike Soldier
Notes: New tap abilities have to be pretty outstanding to crack this list, and I think that Courtly is there.  Messing with everyone else's combat steps (in this deck with Kraj, I'll get to use it more than once a turn) sounds like lots of fun!  Void Stalker is just excellent general control, but Silklash Spider isn't as cool as Arashi, the Sky Asunder in this deck.  Spike Soldier was only good if I'd put Blockade Runner into play as well, so out he goes.

Lady Evangela (UWB Clerics)
In: War Priest of Thune, Healer of the Pride, Faith's Reward
Already There: None
Nearly There: Rhox Faithmender
Out: Loxodon Mystic, Soltari Visionary, Second Sunrise
Notes: I'm so annoyed that the Rhox is a Monk!  I might dent the tribal nature of this deck for him anyway.  Faith's Reward is a strict upgrade for Second Sunrise, while the Mystic hasn't been good enough for me and the War Priest kills an enchantment immediately, instead of needing an attack as Visionary does.

Mangara of Corondor (Mono-white problem solver)
In: None
Already There: Oblivion Ring, Intrepid Hero, Planar Cleansing, Tormod's Crypt
Nearly There: Ring of Thune, Erase
Out: None
Notes:  Everything good for permanently solving problems has been printed before, so there's nothing I have to add.  Erase isn't as good as Revoke Existence, and vigilance via a Ring isn't really worth considering.

Multani, Maro-Sorcerer (Mono-green big creatures)
In: Ring of Kalonia, Elderscale Wurm, Boundless Realms, Primordial Hydra, Thragtusk, Yeva, Nature's Herald
Already There: Garruk's Packleader, Garruk, Primal Hunter, Silklash Spider
Nearly There: Mwonvuli Beast Tracker
Out: Feed the Pack, Ohran Viper, Strata Scythe, Gutter Grime, Desert Twister, Artisan of Kozilek
Notes: I have made Yeva the new general of this deck, just to give a green deck an element of trickiness that required Winding Canyons before.  Multani is now in the 99.  I'm pretty sure that the rest of these cards will be excellent as beefy face-beaters.  I took out some unnecessary utility, a nongreen creature, and an enchantment that never gave me the value I wanted.

Nin, the Pain Artist (UR pinging)
In: Staff of Nin, Ring of Valkas, Fervor
Already There: Stuffy Doll
Nearly There: Thundermaw Hellkite
Out: Koth of the Hammer, Crimson Hellkite, Shattering Pulse, Vithian Stinger
Notes: Since Nin is the general, then her Staff is sort of a given.  Two more ways to give my creatures haste will be winners!  If I re-add Charisma to the deck, then I think Thundermaw goes well with that enchantment. (Steal all of target player's flying creatures? Don't mind if I do!)  However, that triple blue is a big sticking point in this deck--everything else is single blue to cast.  Koth was rarely more than a mana boost, and Crimson Helkite was just too much mana to be useful.

Sliver Queen (5-color token madness)
In: Healer of the Pride, Odric, Master Tactician, Boundless Realms
Already There: Garruk, Primal Hunter
Nearly There: Ajani, Caller of the Pride, Captain of the Watch, Crusader of Odric, Sublime Archangel, Augur of Bolas, Fungal Sprouting, Hellion Crucible
Out: Krosan Tusker, Armillary Sphere, Wurmcalling
Notes:  Healer is an extra Soul Warden.  Odric, again, is there to ensure that the tokens get through and do work.  Boundless Realms is there to power up the token spells.  Upon reviewing the mana of the deck, Sphere and Tusker were just overkill, and Wurmcalling is not going to help me make a swarm.

Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
In: Rhox Faithmender, Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Already There: Vampire Nighthawk, Serra Avatar, Elixir of Immortality
Nearly There: Ring of Thune, Ring of Xathrid, Mutilate, Healer of the Pride
Out: Pristine Talisman, Tower of Eons
Notes:  Ajani's abilities work well with the general and having a big life total makes the ultimate that much better.   Rhox Faithmender is a backup to Boon Reflection, or the key to quad lifegain if both are out!  The rings may be exactly what Vish Kal wants, but I doubt Healer is a good card in a deck that doesn't have a lot of creature production going on. The two artifacts I'm taking out have just been underwhelming.

Hope you enjoyed a peek into the decks I have and the changes I'm making!

It's been pointed out to me that I don't have a set schedule for new posts here, and that's valid.  I suggest you follow me on Twitter @WordOfCommander and that'll tell you when I have a new post.

Talk to you soon!