Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lyzolda, the Blood Witch

The more I play with my various Commander decks, the more their identities develop. I have four current decks based around generals with sacrifice focused abilities: Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord; Marrow-Gnawer; Teysa, Orzhov Scion; and Lyzolda, the Blood Witch.
Lyzolda is my "big play" deck. It is chock full of cards that make for interesting decisions and explosive blowouts. Playing into the ethos of Rakdos, this deck is all about having a great time on the way to (and back from) the graveyard. When Lyzolda's in charge of the party, no one rests for long.

General Lyzolda, the Blood Witch
Avatar of Woe
Big Game Hunter
Blood Artist
Bloodgift Demon
Bone Shredder
Cemetary Reaper
Coffin Queen
Corpse Connoisseur
Disciple of Griselbrand
Falkenrath Noble
Golgari Thug
Harvester of Souls
Havoc Demon
Massacre Wurm
Mephidross Vampire
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Nether Traitor
Pawn of Ulamog
Reaper from the Abyss
Reassembling Skeleton
Rune-Scarred Demon
Scavenger Drake
Sepulchral Primordial
Skirsdag High Priest
Black Sun's Zenith
Buried Alive
Grim Harvest
Rescue from the Underworld
Grave Pact
Oversold Cemetary
Phyrexian Reclamation
Animate Dead
Tombestone Stairwell
Underworld Connections
Avalanche Riders
Conquering Manticore
Crater Hellion
Flayer of the Hatebound
Magma Phoenix
Mindclaw Shaman
Molten Primordial
Rage Thrower
Viashino Heretic
Zealous Conscripts
Warstorm Surge
Deathbringer Thoctar
Murderous Redcap
Cauldron Dance
Darksteel Ingot
Mimic Vat
Rakdos Cluestone
Rakdos Keyrune
Sol Ring
Talisman of Indulgence
Solemn Simulacrum
Nim Deathmantle
Akoum Refuge
Auntie's Hovel
Barren Moor
Blood Crypt
Bojuka Bog
Command Tower
Dragonskull Summit
Evolving Wilds
Forgotten Cave
Polluted Mire
Molten Slagheap
Mystifying Maze
Rakdos Carnarium
Rakdos Guildgate
Rocky Tar Pit
Smoldering Crater
Spawning Pool
Tainted Peak
Temple of the False God
Terramorphic Expanse
Tresserhorn Sinks
Urborg Volcano
Winding Canyons
8 Swamp
5 Mountain

This deck is all about things not staying dead. With Lyzolda on the table everything gets crazy. Cauldron Dance has been the source of many awesome memories.
This deck used to be loaded with "kill on sight"cards like Bloodchief Ascension and Vicious Shadows. While Lyzolda still commanders the board clearing combos of Mephidross Vampire/Mikaeus and Deathbringer Thoctar/Triskelion, I try to only use those to keep the peace and not dominate. But hey, I have to win occasionally.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Theros, Part 2

Last week was just the tip of the iceberg. After my first foray into Theros I was eager to play with the set again. I learned a lot from my mediocre showing in the prerelease and felt that I had a better understanding of the format going into this morning's release event.
Of course traffic was conspiring against me. Bridge and exit closures meant I was one of the last players to arrive for the 11am event. I make small talk and enjoy my coffee before receiving my six packs. This is what I opened:

Dauntless Onslaught
Decorated Griffin
Fabled Hero
Hopeful Eidolon
Last Breath
Leonin Snarecaster (2)
Ordeal of Heliod
Phalanx Leader (2)
Scholar of Athreos
Setessan Griffin
Silent Artisan
Traveling Philsopher

Benthic Giant
Crackling Triton
Lost in a Labyrinth
Thassa's Bounty
Triton Tactics
Stymied Hopes

Baleful Eidolon
Blood-Toll Harpy
Dark Betrayal
Disciple of Phenax
Felhide Minotaur (2)
Lash of the Whip (2)
Loathsome Catoblepas
March of the Returned
Morgis's Marauder
Pharika's Cure
Read the Bones (2)
Returned Centaur

Borderland Minotaur
Boulderfall (2)
Ember Swallower
Lightning Strike
Ill-Tempered Cyclops
Messenger's Speed (2)
Minotaur Skullcleaver (2)
Ordeal of Purphoros (2)
Priest of Iroas
Rage of Purphoros (2)
Rageblood Shaman
Satyr Rambler
Wild Celebrants

Artisan's Sorrow
Centaur Battlemaster
Defend the Hearth
Feral Invocation (2)
Nessian Courser
Nylea's Presence
Pheres-Band Centaurs
Satyr Hedonist (2)
Satyr Piper
Savage Surge
Sedge Scorpion (2)
Shredding Winds (2)
Time to Feed
Warriors Lesson

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Akroan Hoplite
Destructive Revelry
Pharika's Mender
Psychic Intrusion
Sentry of the Underworld

Artifact & Land
Bronze Sable
Guardians of Meletis
Unknown Shores

This was quite a pool. Unlike my last event there was an abundance of awesome cards. I knew I wanted to play red or black and I immediately tried the pseudo-Minotaur tribal deck. It looked awesome but the curve was just not something I loved. I wanted to have something to do at all points of the game as I am a firm believer that tempo matters in Theros limited. Trading off early drops with their bestowed monsters can be a huge swing.
After looking at Rakdos I examined Golgari. While I liked the deck, I wanted to make sure I didn't like it just because it was my favorite color combination. I put together multiple decks: Orzhov grind, Selesnya Heroic, Gruul monsters, and Boros aggro. My blue did not have enough cards and even though Ashiok's draw was strong I wanted to be two colors.
As time dwindled down I went back to the beginning, laying out the Rakdos and the the Golgari decks. One just looked better to me:

9 Swamp
8 Forest
1 Baleful Eidolon
1 Blood-Toll Harpy
1 Disciple of Phenax
2 Felhide Minotaur
2 Lash of the Whip
1 March of the Returned
1 Morgis's Marauder
1 Nighthowler
1 Pharika's Cure
2 Read the Bones
1 Returned Centaur
1 Artisan's Sorrow
1 Centaur Battlemaster
1 Feral Invocation
1 Pheres-Band Centaurs
1 Savage Surge
2 Sedge Scorpion
1 Time to Feed
1 Pharika's Mender

I went with the Golgari deck because I felt it was the best at playing the mid and long game. I had plenty of removal and ways to clog the ground. March of the Returned and Pharika's Mender meant I would be able to get back my multiple deathtouch blockers to help keep monsters at bay. The triple deathtouch crew combined well with Time to Feed. Double Read the Bones was a huge draw. After underestimating Nighthowler last week I wanted to give it a shot and this seemed like a perfect deck for a pseudo-Lhurgoyf.
My plan was to block early threats and eventually win on the back of a Nighthowler bestowed creature (or the Nighthowler itself  or crack through for a ton with Morgis's Marauder. I ended up running the second Felhide Minotaur over the Nessian Courser purely for devotion to black.
Last week I played against all new faces; this week I would be dealing with the familiar.
Round one I was up against Brendan with his Gruul splash black deck. Game one we both mulliganed and discarded early. I laid the beats with a Sedge Scorpion but eventually he wiped my board with Anger of the Gods. He managed to draw out of early woes and started sticking large monsters (and made them bigger). He played the Hammer of Purphoros and I decided to play a Disciple of Phenax just to see more cards before scooping. I swapped a Savage Surge for the second Invocation between games.
Game two I elect to play and start with a Sedge Scorpion. We both developed out boards and Bredan got to the point where his creatures with monstrosity will overwhelm my smaller forces. So of course I ripped the Morgis's Marauder and attacked for exactly lethal.
Brendan elected to draw game three and we traded early beats. I stuck a Blood-Toll Harpy that he was not able to block. However by this time my adversary had played out multiple large beaters and had me on the ropes at two life while he stood at seven. My hand yielded a Nighthowler for the Harpy, which made it large enough to swing in for victory.
These games were all fantastic. I felt as if every decision mattered and were full of good back and forth. This is what I had hoped for and the first round delivered.
Round two saw me paired with a friend and regular Commander opponent Jess with a pretty sweet Grixis deck. Game one I was on the play and started applying early pressure. Jess was able to set up her defenses and cast an Ashiok of her own. I took it out after one activation thanks to a Harpy that was wearing an Eidolon and an Invocation. Jess wiped out two of my creatures with Curse of the Swine but she was not able to punch through. Two of my threats were Dissolved but Jess tapped low for a threat. On my turn I Morgis's Mauraudered in for the victory.
Game two was far less interesting. Jess mulliganed to six and stuttered on her development. Even with an Underworld Cereberus on her side of the table my consistent draw overran her poor one.
My partner from the Return to Ravnica 2-Headed Giant Prerelease, Michael, was my opponent in the third round. Michael had a strong Izzet deck that pulled all sorts of tricks to keep my board empty in the first game.
Game two we were at parity until I was able to bestow my Harpy with the Nighthowler. Michael did not have an answer for my ever growing attacker and had to Steam Aurury to try and find something. Unfortunately, this made the Nighthowler even better and he lost shortly thereafter.
Game three was more of the same with Nighthowler doing all of the heavy lifting. The horror got up to a 12/12 this match and did a very good impression of The Abyss. If The Abyss could deal damage that is.
Round four I got paired against Seth and we decided to draw. Good for me because we played for fun and is Oros deck smashed me in two quick ones.
I was very pleased with my deck. Not only is Theros a format where tempo and attrition matter, but it is one where you can play to your strengths. I know I am at my strongest playing grindy black green decks. If I was more comfortable playing green-white smash or red-green monsters I could have built one of those. As it stood, I got six packs for my efforts.
And of course now I can't wait to draft.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My trip to Theros

My Saturday began far too early. You see, my significant other and I have been planning on moving in together for quite a while and Friday night I was frantically trying to gather all the materials for the application process. After that my brain decided it did not want to wind down. Late to bed and early to rise does nothing good for Magic players.
I sloughed out of bed and went through the motions of getting ready. I had put my bag together in the half-slumber daze of Friday so once I got dressed I was out the door to pick up coffee, bagel, and jalapeno cheddar biscuit.
Let me tell you, that last one is a delight.
I get in the car and pump some Millencolin as I drive to the Twenty Sided Store. I had signed up for the 9am prerelease and had selected the red box. I did this because I felt the format was going to be of average speed and I liked the promo- I felt it would be the one I would be able to cast most often. I also preferred red's removal to black. Going in I felt that tempo would matter and was very excited at the prospect of casting Lightning Strike in response to Monstrosity or Heroic.
I arrive  to the site and start chatting with other regulars Kadar, Hugh, Alex, Charles, and Micah. I offer everyone a bite of my biscuit and Charles accepts. Before I offer Micah, he gives me a look so I ask "Are you a vegan?"
The next five minutes were devoted to discussing Micah's soy induced rash.
We queue up and slowly file into the store. Our table for deck building has all of the same faces. Luis goes through the spiel and we eagerly tear into our packs.
I took apart my pool on Sunday so I cannot replicate it here. Looking back I had a fairly powerful pool with solid rares: Ember Swallower, Titan of Eternal Fire, Nighthowler, Mistcutter Hydra, Hundred-Handed One, Fleecemane Lion, and Temple of Victory. I had good removal in double Lightning Strike, Rage of Purphoros, Lash of the Whip, Pharika's Cure, Divine Verdict, Last Breath, and Griptide. I got distracted by trying to trigger Heroic on my father few creatures with the ability an initially went GW splash red for the aforementioned removal. This was a mistake. In hindsight I should have been either Izzet or Rakdos. Izzet provided tons of sweet fliers including Prescient Chimera, Horzion Scholar, and Spellheart Chimera, as well as Mnemonic Wall to get back my awesome spells. Rakdos was light no creatures but had double Gray Merchant of Asphodel and a March of the Returned to get them back. 
This is why we practice.
My matches were largely awesome. In round one I played against Jarad and his Boros deck. I win in three games, although in the third he did not draw enough land. This match was a ton of fun because Jarad and I discussed life in Western New York and reminisced  about Wegman's.
Aside: Wegman's is the greatest grocery store of all time. Not only do they sell everything, their house brands are better than most name brands. On top of that, they are a huge economic driver in Western New York and I have multiple friends who went to college on Wegman's Scholarships. 
After the match I look at Jarad's pool and see some strong green. I urge him to try Gruul out since it looks slightly better than his Boros.
I get smashed in the second round by Leo. Leo looks young- I'd put him at 14 or 15 and he can flat out play. In game one, agaisnt Leo's GW deck,  I brain fart and try to Lightning Strike a Centaur Battlemaster while Leo has an Opaline Unicorn untapped. What happened? Gods Willing happened. 
In game two Leo sides into an entirely different deck. I am facing down a huge Sealock Monster but have stabilized with a vigilant monsterized Fleecemane Lion and two other creatures. Leo turns my two other creatures into swine and I decide to attack with the team. Leo untaps, casts Purphoros's Emissary on the Monster then attacks through for the win thanks to Titan's Strength. I was outplayed and felt down as Leo offered the hand. I shook it and said good games. 
Nothing like getting trounced. I didn't deserve to win either of those games and Leo played well - they were good games. I was just being a sore loser in my mind at the moment. 
Something else I have to practice I suppose.
Between rounds I switch into a Simic deck and just get destroyed by Richard's sweet Orzhov deck. While I was able to deal with most of his threats Cavern Lampad just did me in from 16 life. Game two Agent of Fates made my life miserable.
In the fourth round I went Izzet for my match with Ivan. I won in three close games with game three hinging on when he cast Nylea's Emissary on Crackling Triton. I used my Portent of Betrayal to steal the Triton and then sacrificed it, finishing off the Emissary with a removal spell. The hit was too much and Ivan fell to my flyers.
I close out the day with two packs and a haul of cards for my collection. As I leave I see Jarad and ask him how he finished. He went 2-2 and thanked me for the help. 
That made the entire day worth it.
Theros limited does seem to be of average speed and tempo definitely matters. I am looking forward to playing more events and drafting the hell out of the set. I'm also excited for what it means for my cube.

Quotes from the day:
Outside the venue between rounds, I'm eating a snack
Me: Let me show you my deck...can you hold my bana..
Micah: Come on, you have to finish saying it.
Me: Can you hold my banana? 

Inside the venue, before good man Andrew leaves for the day
Andrew: Wanna be jealous? :shows Micah and me a set of limited edition dice from GenCon:
Micah: That was the greatest pun of all time.
Me: I made a pun? 
Andrew: Just go with it, it was amazing!

Friday, September 13, 2013


Many of you reading this read my blog for the first time this morning. I posted my interaction with someone who had different opinions than I did. I posted it because I was angry.
In hindsight, I posted it for the wrong reasons and I am not sure I should have put it up for mass consumption at all.

I am Jewish - I do not hide this fact. I barely go to Shul. I was Bar Mitzvahed. I have family dinners on the holidays where there's butter next to the brisket. I try to fast on Yom Kippur and I pray occasionally, even though I scientifically doubt the existence of a supreme being.

The Holocaust is very real to me. I am lucky - none of my immediate family was lost in the genocide. I have friends who lost great uncles and aunts. The person I hope to marry recently visited a cousin in France whose parents reunited after escaping concentration camps. The cousin should have had a sibling. He doesn't anymore.

I posted because I was angry that this person compared anything about my stances to the Nazis. 

I should have had a cup of coffee, walked around, and kibbutzed about it with my friends. I will not take down the post because I believe it is important, but I will admit - me posting it the way I did was a mistake.

There is some good that came out of this morning - I saw the greatness of humanity in the Magic Community. The masses came out and sent notes of empathy and support, of criticism, and with stories of their own. 

When I see people upset about the community it is because there are awful people. The great people don't get recognized enough.

Thank you to everyone who listened. 
Thank you to everyone who sent notes my way.
Thank you to everyone who made me think about my actions.

Thank you.

Encountering Privilege

I am sorry for the formatting issues- copying from Facebook does some weird things

A few months ago I got involved in a discussion on Twitter (oh no) about sexism (yes folks, he really is intelligent). It got heated and I disagreed with someone. I don't remember how the conversation ended but it did.
This morning on my walk to work my phone gives me the note that I got a message on Facebook. After some time of this man yelling at me, I remember this conversation. I'm going to paste it here for you all to see.
I don't know what I did to offend him so much, but apparently my belief that all humans, regardless of gender, are equal, was too much for him to handle. I'm kind of shocked that he took months to track me down and send this all to me. 
Also, I am posting it verbatim, so I want to warn readers that this guy's language is rather offensive.
At end of the posted conversation. I blocked him. I don't expect him to change and nothing I can say will alter his thought process. For the first time in a long time though, I actually felt violated. My family, thankfully, got out of Europe before Hitler. But for someone who claims to know me, he knows very little.
As if that wasn't obvious.

Him: hey ... fuck yourself..... i forgot to tell you how much you make me ill a few months ago...

Me: im sorry do i know you?

H: Ya exactley.... you dont know me but you were so quick a few months ago to say how much i made you ill cause i had an opinion that wasnt as liberal as you wanted it to be
fking retarded moron
M: yeah. i think youre mistaken. sorry man
H: like i said, you can go fuck yourself.
tell your star athlete mother that she should have raised a child that had the good sense to form his own opinions, not just the liberal band wagon of the day
M: dude. I don't know who you were talking to but I'm pretty sure you're mistaken.
not at all you dumb fking retarded... you are proving my point entirley.
you saw someone on twitter saying someone was sexist and you just jumped the band wagon.... you even admit now that you dont know anything about me or what i was saying.
try to be unbias before you jump into a discussion.
the worst thing about liberal cunts like you is that you think thats your different from the retarded conservatist...
extremism is any form is a vice.
you talked about how the women in your family were star athletes and you were a pussy... and how that proves women are just the same as men
you are a moron follower
M: I remember this vaguely. Thanks for reminding me.
This was around something Jackie Lee posted. Thank you.
H:Fucking retard
liberalism is nazism for vaginas
get the facts straight before you open your ignorant mouth... just cause its liberal doesnt make it right.
and just cause someone has a penis doesnt make them sexist...
ppl like you are fascist with with better record collections. 
tell your mom that she raised a ignorant follower. in 1930's germany youd have raised your hand as far into the air as you could reach.
M: I highly doubt that.
H: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH... for sure... you are a follower... you will do whatever the crowd is doing. ive seen you do it. you were one of the most vocal and you dont know a thing about me. YOU ARE THE PUREST KIND OF FOLLOWER
M: You also clearly know nothing about me. I'm Jewish. My family had to escape Europe.
H: Fuck you.
you are a follower... learn to get the facts before you open your ignorant mouth in the future.
everything i said was true but you saw someone getting called a sexist so you jumped on the band wagon.
and yes youd have stood in line and saluted Hitler.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My Decade with Millencolin

I have been on a serious Millencolin kick lately. For a while I barely listened to the Swedish powerhouse but recently I feel like I'm hearing them for the first time and it feels like warm blankets, a fire place, and hot chocolate.
The first song of theirs I ever heard was "No Cigar" off of a Punk-O-Rama Comp, but the first song of theirs I loved was "Fingers Crossed." I was in high school, hanging out in the stage crew room with the stage crew girls. This song (and those girls) help start my love of punk rock. Of course years later, my time in stage crew would lead me to a career, but that's a different story. 
It was the energy and urgency in this song that sparked the attraction. Back then I was always looking for faster, louder music. "Fingers Crossed" piqued my interest with the hard to decipher lyrics, background harmonies, and chugging progression. It was love at first power chord.

My favorite Millencolin song to date is "Penguins and Polarbears." While not as fast paced as the previous song, it has similar sense of importance conveyed by Nikola's (aka the lead singer) inflection. The band sings in English but it is not their native language which influences the relatively simple vocabulary used in their songs. Yet this just adds to the punk rock ambiance of their music- you can do it too.

When their album Kingwood came out, I didn't understand it. It wasn't until this year after coming back to the record that I appreciated it. My favorite track here is "Ray" which sounds incredibly similar to "Fingers Crossed." But the message in "Ray" is much more personal, attacking critics of the band who are upset over the change their sound over time. Basically this song is one giant middle finger to forum trolls and it is done so artfully that as a writer I envy their ability to say this.

My current Millencolin jam of choice is "Right About Now." My original copy of Pennybridge Pinoeers was a copy and had a different song subbed into this one's spot. Once I heard the album on Spotify I decided to remedy the situation and get the album all proper like. "Right About Now" is under two minutes long and bristles with energy. No deep message, just good times.

I've only seen this band once at a Warped Tour too many years ago. I hope they come back to the States soon.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why I'm Stoked For Theros

I have been playing Magic for over 19 years and I do not think I have ever been as excited for a new set as I am for Theros. I have been excited for just abut every release in some base capacity ("Oh sweet, new cards") but Theros, man, it hits me on an entirely different level. The reaction from my friends and the Magic community as a whole seems to be overwhelmingly positive. And this got me thinking.
When I was younger, I was fascinated by mythologies. I started, like many American youth's educated in a culture that values European history above the history of other parts of the world, with Greek and Roman myth. After learning the very basics, I sought out the library and found the big book of Greek myth by D'Aulaires.
I devoured that book. Then Egyptian mythology. Then Norse. 
I can't even fully explain why I like these stories. It could be because I love stories or it could be because I adore the fantastic. However my love of myth was the seeding for my love of fantasy. The books and worlds I love the most are those that have a well thought out structure of faith and a developed mythos. Zelazny's Amber, Sanderson's Mistborn, Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, and Gaiman's American Gods are some of my favorite worlds because they weave mythology and the history of the worlds in which they exist into the narrative. Even my favorite comic books have deep rooted pantheons and surrounding myths, books like Moon Knight and Iron Fist speak to me on a primal level.
But it all started with the stories from the Greeks and Romans.And I think that is why Theros resonates so deeply for me.
It is Magic going back to my roots in the fantastic. It is a love letter that someone else wrote for me. It is a warm hug saying "we read those books too."
And that is awesome.