Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cardhoarder's Pauper Challenge

Tonight Cardhoarder is starting its Pauper Challenge. Sixteen different streamers will battle in two separate groups of 8 in Round Robin style. After these rounds, the top two from each group will advance to a Top 4 single elimination playoff. This is the first streamed Pauper competition of note so I thought I would take some time to break down the different pools and potential matchups. Decks, players, and schedule can be found here.

Group A

Robert Stan, UB Control: I have this as the seventh best deck in the pool. Dimir Control tends to be Teachings based and while this deck has traded that package for more answers it seems poorly positioned against its field. I have a hard time seeing Echoing Decay doing work and while Soul Manipulation is a great card, having four on top of four Exclude is overkill especially against quicker decks. With no other Gurmag Angler decks, Doom Blade is well positioned in this pool.

Max Longitude, Stompy: I rank Max as the fourth best deck in the group. The two Izzet Blitz decks could prove problematic but at the same time he could get the jump on Murasa Tron and UB Control. Stompy has an edge over Freed Combo thanks to maindeck Vines of the Vastwood and its ability to win with Groundswell. Jeskai is a toss up.

Jeff Hoogland, Murasa Tron: I may be biased but I have Hoogland’s deck as number one in this field (and possibly the competition). Murasa Tron has a decent matchup with all the decks in the pool with Blitz and Stompy being on the tougher end. Hoogland has moved to include copies of Chainer’s Edict which goes a long way in keeping Nivix Cyclops and friends in check.

Paul Pires and Tim Sussino, Izzet Blitz: I have these as the second and third best decks in Group A. I give Paul and edge due to the extra Pyroblast in his sideboard (but I like Tim’s mana a bit more). These decks are fast enough to win before Freed, Dimir, and Tron can come online and have consistently given the removal light Stompy deck fits. Jeskai is again, a toss up, but if Blitz can survive the first few turns with a threat it can often punch through.

Romario Neto. Jeskai Midrange: So it is no secret I dislike Jeskai and I have it as the fifth best deck in this group. I just do not see a ton of good matchups in this pool - it has no MBC to try and out-value and only one random creature deck to try and beat with removal. Maybe it swaps places with Freed Combo but even then I can see that match coming down to who draws the better openers two out of three games.

Ben Petrino, WB Rebels: Sorry Ben, you have my pick for the eighth best deck. Rebels are at their best against a field that is slow and grindy where it can stick a threat. While Jeskai is slow, it has removal for your threats. Murasa Tron may be grindy but it has a better end game. I have a hard time seeing a scenario where this deck makes it to the elimination rounds. The saving grace is four copies of Circle of Protection: Red against Blitz, but with Flaring Pain it may simply be too slow.

Jay Capone, Freed Combo: Freed is one of those decks that is great when it’s unexpected, but given the field it has to fight through I am less than hopeful. Jay cut a lot of redundancy from the deck (like Wind Zendikon) and is not running Valakut Invoker, tutorable by Drift of Phantasms, as an elegant win condition. Freed is fragile and with zero copies of Moment’s Peace may simply not have enough time against the aggressive strategies.

Group B

Dave Sea, Dimir Delver: A fairly stock list I have Dave’s deck as the fourth best in this group. This pool is soft to a resolved threat and Gurmag Angler with countermagic backup is a strong game plan. The deck may struggle with Mono-Black Control, Elves, and Teachings but at the same time could easily ignore these problems. I have it ahead of Elves thanks the presence of two MBC decks with maindeck board wipes, but think Dave will struggle against Elves.

Kevin Gomez, Elves: Speaking of Elves, Kevin’s deck is missing its natural prey in Delver. Elves normally struggles against MBC and I don’t expect this trend to stop in the Challenge. Teachings may be problematic with it’s copies of Evincar’s Justice but Elves can produce a lot of power quickly. I do wish he had a way to “go big” in the sideboard but I can’t really complain with the deck presented.

MTGBlogger and Andrew Parnell, Mono-Black Control: I have these as the first and second best decks in the group (the lists are identical) and the group is rather vulnerable to a deck that can just attempt card advantage every turn. A paucity of blue decks means that the disruption from MBC may be good enough in those matchups and chaining together copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel is a great way to win. Three Anglers is greedy, but I doubt it will hurt these two much.

EDIT: I inadvertently left this entry out
Kevin Poncelet, Acid Trip: I am not a fan of Acid Trip in abstract. To me it is a slow plodding deck that really takes until turn four to start doing anything. However it is uniquely well positioned in this field. While Dave and Ian have the tools to stop Kevin from getting his ball rolling, I'd only classify Kevin Gomez's Elves as being able to produce too many threats to handle. The MBC matchups look like coinflips with only two copies of Reality Acid.

Scott Gerhardt, Rebel Tron: The sixth best deck in Group B, Scott’s deck has the same problems as Ben’s except it is in a field with three decks with maindeck board wipes. I’m not sure this deck will be able to get the jump on opponents if it only has five untapped white sources for turn one. I see a lot of awkward draws for Scott in this tournament.

Pay the Toll, GB Sac: If you know me you know how much I love Carrion Feeder. My feelings for the card make what I am about to say that much harder: I have this as the worst deck in Group B. With only four sacrifice outlets this deck incredibly soft to Edict effects, of which there are many in this pool. Nine untapped lands is far too few for a deck with so many one drops and I worry that this deck will get run over before it can even generate its first bit of value.

Ian, UB Teachings: I do not love how Teachings decks are built these days. Ian does not skimp on finishers and that is one reason I have this list as the third best in Group B (behind the two MBC builds). Instead of relying on Accumulated Knowledge for card advantage Ian has Mulldrifter and Deep Analysis so he can actually draw cards. His copies of Doom Blade are worse than Robert’s but Wretched Banquet could be great against Dave. Kevin may prove problematic but I think that comes down to the die roll. The fact that Ian has tons of card draw main makes his matchups against MBC easier but I am concerned with the lack of creature specific counters to leverage against Gray Merchant.

There you have it, my take on the 16 decks in Cardhoarder’s Pauper Challenge. My only question is - where’s the Delver? It’s not as if that deck would dominate the field, but did no one want to play Spellstutter Sprite? Really?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Activate The Falcon

The Falcon is your cool uncle. You know the one - young enough to be your older cousin but old enough to buy you that first can of Milwaukee's Best. He's the guy who is always holding at a family function, all too eager to share the experience with his younger relations. The hair goes gray and the gut grows but those gnarled fingers clutch tightly to the youth you represent. He's the best guy to hang out with at the holidays but the twilight of happy drunk and overdoing it shrinks every year.

The Falcon is a punk supergroup of musicians who are intimately aware of their own mortality and it makes for an intense musical experience.

It's odd that I the band struck a chord with me when it did. When I found their music, I wanted to think of anything other than the end. I was trapped in a situation and sought refuge in the culture I so desperately wanted to embrace me. A deep dive into the catalog of the Lawrence Arms and scrounging of the internet for anything related to their unique take on the wide world of punk led me to The Falcon. Brendan Kelly's vocals help carry both bands and fell into the kind of love you only hear about in high school dramas. 

The chugging bass at the start of this song combined with the "woah ohs" in the chorus spoke to the ska part of my soul. The rasp and gang vocals pulled me in; I was hopelessly hooked. 

The structure of a song pulls me in. I can't get enough of a simple major scale progression punctuated with gang vocals. You scroll through my favorite songs and the word "anthem" should come to mind. So I was blissfully unaware of the dark recesses of The Falcon's soul. And then I heard "Unicorn Odyssey."

The same ska rhythms are there - the focus on the 2nd and 4th beat of a measure as opposed to the 1st and 3rd. We also have the woahs I love so much. But there's something else in this song - pain. The song goes on and the characters grow older. 

But punk and ska aren't about growing old - the genre is about rebellion and the fire of youth in many respects. Here, though, at the end of the song we are transported to that moment when childhood and adolescence dies. The second when we get Old. At that time in my life, I didn't want to hear about this moment. I wanted to hear about unbridled hope and the possibility of something better. Yet the anthems of the end were what I fell for and somehow it made it everything better. 

The fact that in the end it didn't matter that we aged but rather how we got there, that's what I took away from The Falcon's first record almost ten years ago. A few weeks back they released a second album, Gather Up the Chaps, with a lineup consisting of Kelly, Dave Hause (The Loved Ones), Dan Adriano (Alkaline Trio), and Neil Hennesy (The Lawrence Arms). The Falcon takes every ounce of their age and squeezes it into 30 minutes.

The record is less optimistic than some of the artist's work on a similar subject matter. "Player Hater Anthem", the closing track from Keep Your Heart stares the progression of time in the eye and raises a blistered middle finger to the entire concept of getting old. 

The Lawrence Arms' "Seventeener" off of Metropole is distilled reflection on the realities of a body physically succumbing to the tick of the clock and trying to find solace in the actions of youth.

Gather Up the Chaps is raising that same middle finger but it is gnarled like birch. Every song on the record is played full bore as if the speaker's vibrations are going to ward off the Reaper for a few minutes longer. 

"War of Colossus" expounds on this point. "But you hate that boy in the mirror/You hate that boy in your clothes/I'm kinda starting to hate that boy too and I don't give a shit if he knows." This reluctant acceptance of change goes hand in hand with getting older. The song progresses and we find that the character is defiant in the lurch forward "Let's get some liquor and set it off right/I bet that we could get higher/I bet that we could get higher/They say dying's for cowards and liars/But I wanna try." Defiant, sure, but in the end the song continues and no one dies. 

The Hause led "If Dave Did It" is a substance fueled rampage in a bar where the enemy is one's own demons - "Whatever he's got that I ain't got/It's only in my head." Again, we have the confrontation between someone and a male other, a potential younger self. 

"You Dumb Dildos" is a full band vocal masterpiece where Adriano implores the world "Punched me in the gut/Now I'm bleeding inside/Put a needle in my arm/And pinned open my eyes/Are you ever gonna let me die?" Kelly ends his verse with "This world was so beautiful/But I stopped at the bar." The haunting final bridge sounds like every internal monologue after three too many beers as you try to blink back the oncoming nausea. 

"Black Teeth" ends the romp of an album with the invocation:

When we all fall out, the crowd will be shouting 
When we all fall out, the blood will be pounding 
When we all fall out, you'll be crying about it
What you crying about?

That's the thing, of course - there's nothing to cry about it getting old. The Uncle knew it, and so does The Falcon. 

A funny thing happened as I was working on this piece - I got old fast. I'm 32 years old and thought I was in good health. Some tests revealed I actually have Crohn's Disease and I'll be starting treatment in a few weeks. Very little in my day to day life is going to change, but as I digested the news I kept listening to this record. Nothing was the same - the body of my youth had started to betray me. In The Falcon I found solace. Yes, we all get older, but that does not mean we have to let time go unchallenged. You raise up the birch branch and plow headlong into the future. 

That's the ultimate message here: there's always tomorrow. 

Until there isn't.