Monday, December 31, 2012

What the heck? A Modern deck?

Sorry for being all rhyming in the title, but I felt like I had to share this with the world, especially now that Modern is an FNM-legal format.

I play much more EDH than any other format, with Draft a close second. Generally, I have to have something very fun AND reasonably good for me to play a Constructed format.This deck is both of those things: a cascade deck that ends the chain in one of three spells.

This deck is a ridiculously fun time. You're spinning a roulette wheel, but you know where it's going to stop. This was Standard legal for a little while, but now, with Modern, it's getting the best mana base ever.

Here is the 5-color cascade deck, in three pieces.

Part 1: The stopping points

4 Esper Charm
4 Blightning
4 Supreme Verdict
1 Elixir of Immortality

Your deck will always cast one of these spells. ALWAYS. Your goal is to empty their hand and put them in topdeck mode. The real gem is Esper Charm--once they are out of cards in hand, you get to draw two. The 'destroy target enchantment' mode is also handy with the Splinter Twin and Leyline of Sanctity decks running around.

Supreme Verdict replaces Day of Judgment, since the mana is no big deal and 'can't be countered' is super-relevant with all the Spell Pierce running around.

It's important to note a couple of things with cascade. The first spell you cast resolves last. So if you spin Enlisted Wurm into Verdict, the Verdict hits first and then the Wurm comes into play. Same with Deny Reality--if you bounce a permanent, and hit Blightning, then your Blightning resolves first and they won't have the card you originally targeted in their hand yet. For real fun, you can cast an instant with Cascade and hit Verdict, wiping the board at instant speed.

Elixir is there because you don't want to end up with no three-costs left in the deck, and that has happened.

Part 2: Getting there with Value
4 Captured Sunlight
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Bituminous Blast
3 Deny Reality
4 Enlisted Wurm
2 Enigma Sphinx
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

Oh yes, it's a monstrosity but it has a plan. Cascade and cascade again. If you get to 8 mana, cast Big Nick and wreck some boards.

Captured Sunlight does so much work it's silly.

Part 3: The Mana

This was a big problem when it was Standard-legal. It was tri-lands and Vivid lands. Everything came into play tapped.

Now, we are golden.

4 Pillar of the Paruns
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Rupture Spire
2 Vesuva
2 Plains
2 Overgrown Tomb
2 Steam Vents
2 Blood Crypt
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Alchemist's Refuge

There is no better feeling than Reflecting Pool into Rupture Spire. From there, you can cast anything. Pillar is really the star, though, as you can cast anything but the Elixir with it. (another reason why Verdict is an upgrade over Day)

There's 25 land, and that is so you can hit your first 5 lands. It is mandatory.

The Plains are a concession to Path to Exile--but that may be a mistake since it isn't as common in Modern as it was in Standard.


4 Duress
4 Wall of Omens
4 Rakdos Charm
3 Grafdigger's Cage

Sideboarding with this deck is tricky. You have to be careful adding spells, because it messes with your cascade chains. Duress is helpful for very early disruption of combo, Wall for super-aggro decks, and the Charm is helpful against graveyard decks and is a really great trick for Splinter Twin decks.

I hope you enjoyed this deck. I'm not suggesting you try it at a PTQ, but it'll do a lot of work--and be incredibly fun!--at an FNM or other event. Cascade!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Wish list for 2013

What would I like in 2013?

#1 - A new Un set

There's little that I have enjoyed as much as the Unhinged and Unglued sets, and Wizards is way overdue on giving us another dose of silver-bordered goodness. I don't expect this Un-set to be universally accepted as EDH-legal by the Rules Committee, because the variation in decks, groups, and fun is so high.

By the way: if you've never played in a group where Un cards are legal, try it tomorrow. It's pretty outstanding. Tell your friends and give them a week to build decks with the cards.

The RC encourages local variations, and this is one of the best. Just make sure that the Un-decks don't get used with strangers. That can get awkward.

#2- Lands in Modern Masters

Have you seen what fetch lands and filter lands are going for? Filter lands are outstanding for three-or-more color decks. I've seen them in some cubes, but they were designed to enable many-colored decks. Cryptic Command could have cost UUUU, and with the filters, plus the Vivid lands and Reflecting Pool, it would not have been a problem.

The Zendikar fetch lands would be nice too. They are super unlikely to be printed in a set in the next two years, because Standard can't ever have fetches and shocks available together. Too good.

As it is, the shocks plus the Sunpetal Grove/Woodland Cemetery lands is a pretty outstanding mana base, especially once we get the Gatecrash lands.

We could use an infusion of City of Brass and Reflecting Pool too.

#3 - Websites/Forums to calm down about proxies

I've gotten in trouble with moderators on multiple sites because of the legal issues they percieve with my "How to Make Custom Generals" post. Some don't like the digital part, others don't like the physical part.

I've had some judges tell me that they want me to make them a custom general of their own. I've had some raise eyebrows at the presence of 'counterfeit' cards in my binder.

This is a gray area, but I've never tried to pass mine off as real cards. The theory is that others can use the process to make counterfeits, but that always seems flimsy to me.

Nonetheless, it remains a topic I get a lot of mail about, and it's something I will continue to do. If I ever make a cube, this will be how I do it.

#4 - Four-color legends worth building around

I have to be inspired to build a deck. The times where I've built a deck that didn't sing to me, it's just not as fun to play. My Cleric deck was an example of that. I really loved playing Clerics in 60-card casual, but the concept didn't translate to EDH at all.

The problem with this is that I can't define what will inspire me. It's tragic, I know, but again, something needs to sing to me. I feel the same way about Standard and Modern and such. When I have a deck that I like to play, and has even a chance of winning, I'll be all over that. So we will see what legends show up this year.

Between the rest of the RtR block, and the next Commander release, I'm optimistic about getting some four-color legends. Hopefully, they are amazing.

#5 - iPad

I just want one. No real justification. :D

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Naughty or nice?

It's the end of the year, and that means Christmas! That also means one of the major writing tropes is back: The Naughty or Nice list!

Let's list some EDH-related topics of the past year and see if they have been good for the game or bad.

Naughty: Commander's Arsenal
   This had the potential to be something truly amazing.  Wizards is self-handcuffed by the Reserved List, a document that is inviolable and was a mistake at the time, because Wizards made a huge mistake with Chronicles.  (That was an expensive summer.  Fourth Edition, Chronicles, Ice Age, all in the same few months!)
   Wizards is pushing the oversized cards on us pretty hard, and that's sort of okay.  In my experience, not many are using them, but they are a cool piece nonetheless.  I've made large versions of my custom foils, and they look SWEET.  The people who like them, really like them, and that's all you can ask for.
    The card choices in Arsenal were reflective of what Wizards' policy has been for some time on these special reprints: some amazing, some cool, some not terribly relevant.  Choices like Vela the Night-Clad or The Mimeoplasm reflect that Wizards understands the completionist nature of many players, and wanted to get foil versions out there of things that weren't foil.  I know Legacy reanimator players are excited to have more Loyal Retainers floating around.
   My biggest issue is the 'extras' we get in the box.  The life counter, the battle marks, and the sleeves all feel cheap to the touch.  My battle marks are already having some of the metallic paint chip off, my life counter is hard to use effectively, and in using the sleeves for drafts, a couple have already busted.  I can handle that this is an ultra-premium set, with the MSRP and limited distribution to match, but to put these shoddy products into this package was Naughty indeed. 

Nice: The EDH rules committee
   In 2012, there were two major updates.  In June, Griselbrand and Sundering Titan got the axe.  In September, Kokusho, the Evening Star could join the 99, and Worldfire and Primeval Titan were kicked out.
   These are welcome and effective changes, in my opinion.  Griselbrand and the two titans were so very abusable that they warped the game.  Primeval caused a bit of a stir, because to a casual player, his effect is awesome and enables awesome things, but the fundamental problem was that the first one to cast him, or Bribery him out of someone else's deck, meant that person usually won.  PT was so good that I've cut Mwonvuli Beast Tracker from most decks, simply because PT was the only one putting right on top.  Green Sun's Zenith had the same problem for me--I'd cast it for 2 to get Sakura-Tribe Elder, or 6 to get Primeval.
   I played in a couple of games right after Griselbrand came out, and that guy was far, far too good in a deck that just got to 8 and cast him.  I only saw the silly, combo-centric decks online, but my experience was that he was usually the best thing you could hope to be doing.  Sundering Titan was oppressive.  Worldfire, you're just boring.
   Kokusho being unbanned was a called shot of mine that I'm still pleased about.  I jumped the gun by three months on buying some, but it was a valid choice and I wouldn't do it differently.  It's a powerful effect, but something that can be stopped by the graveyard hate that you should be playing.

Naughty: The Miracle mechanic
   I rarely play Standard.  I have to find a deck that is both good and fun, and that doesn't come along too often.  I learned, quickly, in Avacyn drafts to do 'the miracle draw', where you draw the card and look at it for a moment before proceeding to put it in your hand.  Even though there aren't that many Miracle spells, it's infiltrated most aspects of Magic, especially due to Bonfire of the Damned and Entreat the Angels.  There is nothing worse than not hitting your Miracle cost, and in EDH isn't the same with the sheer number of cards you can draw per turn, but it's still something that has become a habit.  I wish it were not so.

Nice: CrazyPierre of the MTGCommander forums
   This year, I participated in the Secret Santa program on the official forums.  I'd never done this and was curious.  What did I get?  A foil Masticore and a foil Eternity Vessel.  I didn't even know my Nin deck needed a Masticore, and now it's got a foil.  Thanks again, CrazyPierre!
   (What did I send to another user? I'm too modest to brag, but if you insist, go here.)

Naughty: From the Vault: Realms
   The FTV sets have become a tradition.  Every year there's going to be a chase card, a few staples, and some chaff.  This was no exception.  Maze of Ith is the chase, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Grove of the Burnwillows, Vesuva and Ancient Tomb are nice, and then blah.  I realize Wizards' goal is to not immediately reprint every awesome card (like they did in Chronicles) but people, stop getting sucked into paying a super-markup on cards.  Have a little patience and you can get what you want in the singles market.

Nice: No $5 Commander games fired this past Saturday at the SCG Invitational
   Look, I love playing EDH.  LOVE IT.  It's the best format and I treasure each game I get to play.  But the 4-player pods, where the last man standing gets $20 in dealer credit, are a bad idea.  People tend to sign up for those to win the $20 as fast as they can, which means combo decks.  I saw one guy at the signup table, asking if others had joined, and the judge just shook his head.  I asked him what legend he was playing, and he said, "Teferi, of course."  Made me glad I was there for the $10 drafts.
   There is an exception to this rule, one I found while at Worlds 2011.  If you walk up with three friends, you can fire a pod right away, with your pals.  That was a lot of fun, and if you're at a big event, with time to kill, good people, and fun decks, then why not do this?

Naughty and Nice: rk post's alters at the SCG Invitational
   These are NSFW links via Twitter.  There are multiple instances of genitalia as you go through his timeline, especially for December 15.  rk post went on sort of a penis spree, (even on a collector's edition Force of Will!)and I didn't help by getting a well-endowed Kaervek the Merciless alter.  I did get 'something normalish' as he put it on Twitter, with a Predator on my foil Lurking Predators.  As I've said before, card alters are fun and an inexpensive way to have something unique and valued to you, and this is one I'm supremely happy about.

Hope you enjoyed this one, and since it's the end of the year, it's time for a wishlist and some New Year's Resolutions--coming soon!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sign your cards?

Should you get your cards signed by the artist?

I feel like there's a couple of points to consider, things I've dealt with.

Point #1: Value/Worth

This is undoubtedly the big question when it comes to cards being signed.  In most cases, you are lowering the value of a card.  Stores and sites will take your card but lower its value, usually from Near Mint to Slightly Played.  I've had this happen, and I've even had stores refuse to buy a signed card, because some people won't buy them.

Some people won't trade for them, either.  I've offered to throw in a signed version of a card, and the guy reacted like I'd offered him a colonoscopy.

However...there's also a lot of people who go crazy for signed cards.  It's a unique thing to do to a card--there's thousands of a card out there, but only perhaps a few hundred that are signed.  (In some cases, there might be more signed--we'll get to that.)

I am one of those people.  I feel like it's a connection I make, especially with cards I play or use a lot.  For instance, I've pretty much always had a Zombie deck.  60-card casual goodness, and when Soulless One was printed, I felt complete.  One of the first artists who I had sign things was Thomas Baxa, and now I have a foil signed playset of my happy little Zombies.

By the same token, I don't feel right about trading for signed cards, most of the time.  I really do value that connection, and secondhand, it doesn't feel quite the same to me. 

But that's the difference between value and worth. You are decreasing its value most of the time, but to some people, including yourself, you're vastly increasing its worth.

Point #2: Rarity

Some artists sign lots and lots of cards at lots and lots of events.  Some artists attend one or two events a year.  I haven't yet had the chance to find out why each does what, but I can tell you that two of the more prolific attendees and signers are rk post and Daarken.  I've seen those two at several events, and they never really had too long of a line.  Why?  Because they were at a different major event not too long ago.

This is not to denigrate or belittle those artists who make a lot of appearances.  I've bought prints and proofs, had sketches made on cards, and taken the time when I could for a chitchat.  These people make money off these appearances, and I would surely show up anytime someone wanted to tell me how awesome I was.

But by the same token, I've seen Terese Nielsen in person once, and her line was never less than an hour long.  She has the double whammy of having created some of the best art in the game, and her schedule doesn't allow for lots of trips.  (Full disclosure: I stood in line three times at GP: Anaheim for signings, and don't regret it at all.)

I'd say that one of the more frequent signatures I've seen is of Rob Alexander.  He painted a lot of original lands and Ravnica shocklands, and I've seen cards with his signature several times for sale or trade.

Keep in mind that some artists will have a limit as to how many they will sign at once.  This is usually to keep the line going, and may result in you having to stand in line several times.  Don't be that guy with a stack of 80 cards for one artist to sign, unless you're the only one in line and you're willing to tip--and all artists take tips.

Point #3: Appearance

This is something that I didn't know about when I started getting things signed.  Some artists have fantastic signatures, miniature works of art.  Others have scribbles.

I would advise you to do a little research before you go to an event, stack of cards in hand.  Google image search is a fantastic resource in this regard.  I've gotten cards signed, then looked down at them, and said to myself, "Oh man, that was a mistake."

I'm not going to single out anyone for a messy signature here.  I leave you to make your own decisions, but I'm always pleased to look at rk post's sig and Terese Nielsen's.

On the topic of appearances, let me add this nugget of information: Some artists at an event will have time/energy to draw on a card for you.  Frequently, this will be done to your specifications.  (For instance, I have a couple of Fatespinners who are holding small "STOP" signs courtesy of rk post.  He also wrote "First foil signed!" on a pal's foil Tajuru Preserver, since rk post was at the store at the Rise of the Eldrazi prerelease.)

Ask the artist if they have time, and what they would charge.  This isn't inappropriate.  If an artist is sitting around doing nothing, they aren't making money.  Pay them to do something awesome.  (hate to keep bringing him up, but rk post tweets some of his alters, and be careful, some are NSFW.)

I have seen people ask for very specific things and get them.  I have a friend who got a playset of Everflowing Chalice altered by Steve Argyle for $10 apiece, and got things like the face vases, an alien ship, gumball machines, etc.

There is a huge difference between the alters an artist will do on the spot or perhaps overnight with a Sharpie set and what they can do on commission.  Terese Nielsen has a gallery of her Force of Will alters, and these might be among the priciest of alters you can have done.  Not everyone plays Vintage and uses a Mox, but a lot more people use FoW (as a 4-of) in Legacy and it's suprisingly common in EDH.

Again, ask the artist (or better yet, research them and email ahead of time) if they have time to do the work you want done.  If they don't, ask for contact info and be prepared for the waiting game of shipping and receiving. 

Point #4: Prints

To me, this is one of the best part of being at an event with an artist.  Some artists bring their original artwork to sites, hoping to sell the piece without having to set up an online store or deal with eBay's percentages.  If you can afford to collect original Magic art, I'd say go for it.  Get it framed up, don't skimp on that, perhaps add a copy of the card.  You'll be the envy of others.

For the rest of us, there's prints.  These come in a range of sizes, and you're free to choose what appeals to you.  I really like that I can look at a wall in my home and see the Magic-related timeline.  I have prints from artists that were at stores, from the last World Championship, from Grands Prix...and it's fantastic.  I would suggest that you buy the print and then return that art to your car/hotel room, because carrying it around all day can get pretty annoying.

Prints are going to come in a range of sizes, and framing them is what you want to do, so be prepared for that expense.  We've found that the best solution is getting our own mat cutter, and buying frames secondhand.  There's usually a spot in garage sales that has a stack of frames, good wood ones, and buying glass at the right size is surprisingly cheap at big home improvement stores.

Another suggestion that has worked for me is to get the artist to sign the print (For a second time, as their signature is on the art itself) and put the place/time on it too.  It makes for a nice extra touch.

This turned into a much longer piece than I anticipated, but I love to talk about this topic.  I've gotten to the point where I have a special binder for signed cards, and it's one of the things that can make me happy just by flipping through it.

Final note: My fiancee and I hopefully going to be at the SCG Invitational event in Los Angeles on the 15th of December.  (Four artists there, including Terese Nielsen and rk post!) My goal is to draft, draft, and draft again, and have some EDH games in the meantime.  If you are there, and want to get me into a game, tweet me @WordOfCommander and I'll be happy to play.

See you soon!

Friday, December 7, 2012

What decks did I get rid of?

In reference to the fact that I recently had to take apart and sell pieces from six decks, I felt I needed to come clean and say that I'm down to 9.

Basically, look at the old post from six months ago, and cross out:

Darien, King of Kjeldor - I hadn't played this deck in more than a year, and while the tribe was fun, it tended to play the same sorts of games over and over.  "Oh, you have a Wrath?  And someone else does two turns later?  Ah well."  I did keep my set of the Swords, though.

Hanna, Ship's Navigator - This deck had just about every planeswalker, lots of proliferate, an artifact theme...and it just tried too hard to be too many things.  Plus, there was good money in that deck. ;)

Lady Evangela - Ah, Clerics.  They are exceptional at preventing damage, but when most effects are 'destroy' in nature, it doesn't work so well.  This is the deck I was happiest to see go.

Mangara of Corondor - This was the hardest deck to take apart, but also one of the easiest decks to say goodbye to.  I liked the idea of the 'problem solver' deck, but the issue was that it was 97% reactive.  Just wasn't fun, and also had some pricey cards.

Multani, Maro-Sorcerer/Yeva, Nature's Herald - A big green deck that did one thing and did it well, but wasn't interactive in the least.

Vish Kal, Blood Artist - The lifegain deck, it just never played out as well as I wanted.  The cards were good, the mana was good, but still, just played like a 'good stuff' deck and never felt put together.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Don't want to adhere to the Banned List?

This situation has happened to me once or twice, and perhaps it's happened to you too.

You sit down with people outside your normal playgroup, and someone says, "I have [banned card X] in my deck.  I don't think it needed banning, I don't abuse it."  Perhaps not these exact words, but something along those lines.

Before I offer my opinion on what to do, I want to talk for a moment about "I don't think it needed banning/I disagree with the ban/etc."  I've disagreed with the bans, until I did something 'normal' with them.  Griselbrand is a great example of this: You don't need to force him out turn 4 to win.  Play him turn 8 and you should be able to take care of that game.  Same with Primeval Titan--just fetching a Ravnica bounceland and a Temple of the False God is bad enough, but when you get crafty and fetch Cabal Coffers/Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth or Maze of Ith/Deserted Temple, then the bans start to make a lot of sense.

Without trying to be too universal, here's the banlist criteria from the official site.  The short form: A powerful card, that even used fairly, tends to lead to winning, but when used to its fullest potential, is nigh-unstoppable. I found that Griselbrand was terrifyingly amazing in any deck playing black, and that was before I did things to maximize what he offered.

The Rules Committee doesn't want to ban cards.  I realize that to some people, police/moderators/teachers are symbols of authority who only want to take joy from making other people do as they wish...but that's unrealistic.  The RC is a group of guys who like to have fun.  They tested and developed this format, and indeed, it's an amazingly successful effort.

The banlist for EDH is the smallest of any format, except Vintage, which restricts most cards and only bans ante or 'dexterity' cards.  Legacy doesn't allow 60 cards, EDH bans 56.  You're free to play almost anything, except for cards which take the game from 'battlecruiser Magic' to 'is it over yet?'

It's also worth mentioning that the RC is a big fan of 'house rules' (click 'philosophy') or 'local banlists.'  To them, this is a format where you're free to do the things you consider fun, and they don't want to step on that.  I totally agree--if you and your pals want to play a different way, go for it.  I've been part of groups that tried starting with two basic land in play, and games where you were only allowed to tutor for basic land.  Interesting experiments, ultimately not worth doing.  (Might end up trying the second again sometime.)

So back to person who wants to play card X.  Before the game, this is just fine to bring up and ask the table for opinions.  If the majority, or even a vocal minority of a table express that you should take out card X, yank that puppy out like a rotten tooth.  This is a game, and should be fun.  If people don't want you to play a certain card--especially if they already took that card out of their own decks--then you should absolutely abide by the group's decision.

If someone ignores what the table decrees, then you are free to decline further games with that person.  I know this seems harsh, but again, you want to have fun.  The RC wants you to have fun.  It is perfectly acceptable for you to decline games with someone whose presence/playstyle/deck is not enjoyable to you.  It is not harsh or mean, though it can feel very elementary-school.  "I don't want to play with you" is quite the claim, even when worded as politically as "This is no longer fun for me."

Sheldon has become fond of pointing out that this is a social format, not a casual one.  This can be a little hard to grok, but the goal of EDH is a fun social interaction, with a game involved.  The game provides the context for the social interaction.

I know, and have known for a while, that EDH was the stated reason to gather friends, but the point of such an evening was not who won or lost a set of games--it was that they were played with good people, and a good time was had by all.

Cube drafting is, in my experience, much the same way.  The delight is in the people you're playing with, and the sounds they make as they are forced to choose between two amazing cards.  The games are fun too, but again, that's the excuse, the context for the interaction.

How out-of-place would it be if after a 4-person EDH game, someone was incredibly bitter about losing, and demanded a rematch?  A rematch request is nothing new, but I can count on one hand the times where someone was so upset that they had to play again.

We've all had games where we just lose.  I had two games in a row a couple weeks ago where someone landed a card that I never drew an answer to (Aura Shards game 1, Umezawa's Jitte game 2) and those were decidedly not fun for me or anyone else at the table.  I had answers in the deck, and even tutors for those answers, but none of them came up and I died.  This happens and this is not fun.

That situation is different from someone wanting to play by a different set of rules.

I do not encourage anyone to say "Griselbrand is unbanned in our store?  Excellent!" and then build a broken deck around said demon just for the purposes of illustrating why he should be banned.  That makes YOU the bad guy, being all passive-aggressive and annoying.  If you don't agree to a certain rule, don't play.

Likewise, if your group or store has a local rule, be accomodating to those who don't follow it.  Have one or two for that set of rules, but also have decks that adhere to the RC's rules.  It's fne if some folks have a Thursday night 150-card EDH deck night, but have a couple of 100-card decks, for people who haven't gone that route.  Same thing if Pauper EDH is your bag, or the French 1v1 decks. (Topics I promise to cover soon, I swear!)

As for me and the most recent time this happened, I told the guy that I had taken that recently banned card out of my deck, and I felt it was unfair for him to have one.  The rest of the table was noncommittal, the card stayed in, we played, and we all lost to a Kaalia deck that went unchecked.  Again, these things happen.  It was a good time nonetheless.