Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Modern Love: Part 2

Well that was unexpected. 

There's a good chance you read my blog post from yesterday where I shared my opinion about the issues I felt where facing the folks who make Magic. I believe those issues still exist. However I wanted to take some time and thank Wizards of the Coast.

It would have been really easy for the team to sit back and go with yesterday's announcement. They could have bided their time and made sure everything was rock solid before the new April 19th date.

Instead this happened:

The team found a fix and we get what we were initially promised. 

Now I won't sit here and say that this is ideal. In a perfect world this post and the other one would not have been needed as there would not have been a problem. But the world isn't perfect and, pardon my language, shit happens.

Credit where credit is due so thank you to the people on the Card Set Team. You made my day.

Thank you to Lee for being open and honest about this.

And thank you all for playing, and more importantly, caring about Pauper.

Now, let's join a league and get our teeth kicked in by Burning-Tree Emissary!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Modern Love

I'm not going to try and paint a rosy picture about this development. Yesterday the Magic community was  told that tomorrow the commons from Modern Masters 2017 would be legal to play in Pauper. Today we found out that was no longer the case and they would be delayed a month.

The announcement has left me frustrated.

I am not going to try and put a shine on this - it sucks. Wizards had a deadline and they missed it. They came out and told us but that does not change the fact that they are not delivering on expectations. 

I'm not happy about the situation. I reached out to Lee Sharpe for a statement and he sent me this (which I am sharing with his permission):

Unfortunately, an issue has resulted in the cards that are newly common in Modern Masters 2017 not legal in Pauper. This also applies to the commons that will be added to Magic Online Treasure Chests starting March 22.
This issue will be addressed with the April 19 build.  Until that date, these new commons will not be legal in the Pauper format.  Players will be able to play them in Pauper beginning April 19.
This wasn’t the experience we wanted to create for Pauper players with this release, and our apologies to those of you who were excited to begin brewing with the new cards right away.

I did not expect to get a reason - I've dealt with Wizards enough to know better. 

So what does this mean for Pauper?

First I cannot in good conscience call for a boycott. For me, Magic and Pauper provides a much needed release and escape. In my case it's from a chronic illness and taking away the opportunity for me to find respite in an attempt to prove a point would be doing myself more harm than good. And if this is true for me it is possible it is the case for other Pauper players as well.

At the same time I cannot tell people that they should continue to hand over money to play in Pauper leagues. If you choose to stop playing please be sure to make sure your reason for doing so is known. 

Pauper, in all likelihood, will chug along as normal. Which is a shame.

Modern Masters 2017 presented the opportunity to reshape the format. Burning-Tree Emissary looks to be a card that can transform the metagame. Delver, the Blue aggro-tempo deck, has been at the apex of Pauper for years (excluding when Peregrine Drake was legal). Burning-Tree Emissary was poised to make a run up the standings. And that says nothing about the other extremely powerful cards coming to common like Augur of Bolas, Falkenrath Noble, and Thunderous Wrath.

Modern Masters 2017 was supposed to change everything. It may still do that, but we'll just have to wait a month.

What upsets me most about this is that it seems to be happening more often across all of Magic. From issues with the power level of Standard to the inability of Magic Online to host special events to the size and prize payouts at Grand Prix the quality assurance of the product has taken a dip. 

To be clear it's still great, but it definitely is not where it has been or should be.

I have one major thought on this phenomena: Magic has outgrown its current structure. 

The move from two year rotation to 18 month rotation (and back to two years) would have logically put pressure on Design and Development. Crafting the game for one system, then the other, then back, can create the kind of undue stress on the process that may have fostered the current state of Standard. The number of people playing Magic, both digital and analog, as well as the rate of new things, could make it harder to keep the program up to date. Grand Prix are massive events that ten times the size of their original incarnation.

In my opinion Magic needs more people working on the product. Lessen the burden of those making the cards and let them adjust to the new structure and hopefully mistakes decline. Give Magic Online more staff so that deadlines are hit as expected. Figure out how to make Grand Prix serve as a pro event and a mini-festival. 

We love Magic. The people who make Magic love Magic. We put our money into the game and I think it's fair to ask Wizards to put a little more of theirs into the pot to make sure this perceived quality dip is just a blip. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Some Enchanted Board State

Let me tell you why I love Enchantments in Commander: they’re underappreciated. Because of this they tend to be undervalued and under targeted and as a consequence it gives me an edge.

How did I get here? For as long as I can remember I have had a preoccupation with using the Graveyard as a resource. My flagship Golgari deck, no matter who is at the helm (currently Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest) has a strong graveyard theme, usually based around sacrificing for profit. I love Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble and any chance I have to turn them into machine guns is a chance I’ll take. This usually involves a healthy dose of Bloodghast and Reassembling Skeleton to make sure the hordes keep flowing. So when I sit down to play with one of my regular playgroups early copies of Bojuka Bog and Agent of Erebos will often get pointed at me.

Rightfully so.

In these I situations I would often find myself unable to claw back into the game. As regular Rob says, “No on runs enough graveyard removal.” Because of this our playgroup runs an overabundance of hate which makes my straight-graveyard decks start behind the 8 ball. When Conspiracy was printed and I was gifted Deathreap Ritual. Now I could draw cards while not taking time off from my regular game plan.

My exploration of Deathreap Ritual led me to have a greater appreciation of Enchantments. Sure, I had been running Grave Pact and Dictate of Erebos for as long as I could remember but they would draw heat. Deathreap Ritual would just sit there and draw me cards. As I built more and more Commander decks I made an effort to use these permanents where I could. I found that Enchantments would often go unmolested and allow me to accrue incremental advantages. I’ve followed in Rob’s footsteps and often say now that people don’t run enough Enchantment removal.

Now this is somewhat misleading. Cards like Reclamation Sage and Acidic Slime see heavy play while Austere Command and Merciless Eviction are common sights. Enchantress decks - entire strategies built around Enchantments - exist and are powerhouses. So how can Enchantments be underappreciated if there is an entire strategy based around them? How can they fly under the radar if their answers are everywhere?

The goal with leveraging Enchantments is not to have them be the threats but rather have them enhance your game plan. In an Enchantress deck these permanents are usually everything - threats, answers, card advantage, combo pieces - and as such they can place a firm target on their ephemeral bodies making powerful cards like Replenish, Starfield of Nyx,and Bruna, Light of Alabaster a must. The way I use Enchantments is different and as such I often do not mind if one gets removed.

Now a deck like Mazirek, which makes heavy use of Grave Pact effects, does not enjoy when someone tampers with its engines. But that isn’t a deck I am going to talk about today. Instead I want to highlight two decks I feel that use the forgotten card type as force multipliers.

Avatar of Slaughter
Bogardan Hellkite
Conquering Manticore
Crater Hellion
Crimson Hellkite
Hellkite Charger
Hellkite Tyrant
Hoard-Smelter Dragon
Hoarding Dragon
Humble Defector
Ire Shaman
Mindclaw Shaman
Molten Primordial
Scourge of the Throne
Skyline Despot
Utvara Hellkite
Warmonger Hellkite
Zealous Conscripts
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Burnished Hart
Pilgrim’s Eye
Solemn Simulacrum
Steel Hellkite

Chandra, Pyromaster
Koth of the Hammer

Comet Storm
Into the Core

Blasphemous Act
Jaws of Stone
Slice and Dice
Volcanic Vision

Barrage of Expendables
Dictate of the Twin Gods
Dragon Tempest
Flameshadow Conjuring
Goblin Bombardment
Outpost Siege
Shivan Harvest
Vicious Shadows
Warstorm Surge

Altar of Dementia
Angel’s Trumpet
Armillary Sphere
Carnage Altar
Conjurer’s Closet
Fire Diamond
Hedron Archive
Magewight’s Stone
Magnifying Glass
Mimic Vat
Nevinyrral’s Disk
Sol Ring
Sundial of the Infinite
Thousand-Year Elixir
Wayfarer’s Bauble
Illusionist’s Bracers
Lightning Greaves
Swiftfoot Boots

20 Mountain
Blasted Landscape
Dormant Volcano
Evolving Wilds
Flamekin Village
Forgotten Cave
Ghitu Encampment
High Market
Keldon Necropolis
Myriad Landscape
Mystifying Maze
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Opal Palace
Shivan Gorge
Smoldering Crater
Temple of the False God
Terramorphic Expanse

Zirilan is my Mono-Red Commander deck. It wants to cheat giant dragons into play with Zirilan of the Claw and make sure they stick around past the exile trigger with things like Conjurer’s Closet and Sundial of the Infinite. If that does not work, I want to keep the Dragons around in my graveyard (for when I finally up and get another copy of Feldon of the Third Path for this deck). Zirilan wins via damage, the kind dealt by a scaly sky force. As a Red deck it can sometimes have trouble keeping up with the card advantage other decks bring to the table so it needs to get creative. Eleven Enchantments aide Zirilan without being core to actually winning the game.

Barrage of Expendables, Goblin Bombardment, and Shivan Harvest all help keep my Dragons out of exile. The single point of damage or destruction of a Non-Basic Land, while nice, are hardly integral to the plan. These cards are also replicated in High Market, Keldon Necropolis, and Altar of Dementia. Those cards, however, are far more vulnerable than the trio of Enchantments so they stick around.
Bedlam and Dictate of the Twin Gods play into Zirilan’s subtheme of setting the rules of combat. If I am going to be winning via damage then I need to do a whole bunch of attacking. These cards are dangerous and tend to be deployed to help accelerate games to an end state.
Dragon Tempest, Vicious Shadows, and Warstorm Surge don’t set combat but they play along the same axis of damage. To that end so does Pyrohemia which has the added advantage of containing token armies.
Flameshadow Conjuring and Outpost Siege are both attempts at card advantage. Conjuring can put out additional token copies of a summoned Dragon which can be saved with Sundial of the Infinite. Outpost Siege can use its Khans mode to keep the cards flowing. Again, neither of these are integral to the victory - there are Dragons to worry about - but they help to support the deck.

I built Zirilan without Enchantments in mind. I knew I wanted some permanent way to keep up with decks that had more traditional forms of card advantage and these cards made sense. A few weeks ago I rebuilt my Red-Green deck from the ground up and decided to lean a bit harder on Enchantments. Before the rebuild the deck revolved around Killer Instinct and Impromptu Raid. In order to keep these key components around I included Dowsing Shaman. Moving from “living off the top” to a Tokens build, I decided to see exactly how much mileage I could get out of the Shaman.

Acidic Slime
Avenger of Zendikar
Bloodspore Thrinax
Centaur Rootcaster
Dragon Broodmother
Dowsing Shaman
Emrakul’s Evangel
Eternal Witness
Furystoke Giant
Genesis Hydra
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Hellkite Charger
Hornet Queen
Kessig Cagebreakers
Ogre Battledriver
Oracle of Mul Daya
Orochi Eggwatcher
Rage Thrower
Savageborn Hydra
Skarrg Guildmage
Sporeback Troll
Thunderfoot Baloth
Ulvenwald Hydra
Wood Elves
Woodland Bellower
Courser of Kruphix
Eidolon of Blossoms
Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter
Dragonlord Atarka
Mina and Denn, Wildborn
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Xenagos, God of Revels

Domri Rade
Xenagos, the Reveler

Growth Spasm
Journey of Discovery
Kodama’s Reach
Nissa’s Expedition
Reviving Melody
Shamanic Revelation
Volcanic Wind

Beastmaster Ascension
Doubling Season
Druids’ Repository
Fires of Yavimaya
Goblin Bombardment
Hardened Scales
Outpost Siege
Saproling Burst
Seal of Primordium
Vicious Shadows
Bear Umbra
Squirrel Nest

Lightning Greaves
Mage Slayer
Swiftfoot Boots

8 Forest
8 Mountain
Cinder Glade
Command Tower
Forgotten Cave
Fungal Reaches
Gruul Guildgate
Gruul Turf
Kazandu Refuge
Mountain Valley
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Raging Ravine
Rogue’s Passage
Rootbound Crag
Rugged Highlands
Shivan Oasis
Slippery Karst
Smoldering Crater
Stomping Ground
Temple of Abandon
Temple of the False God
Timber Gorge
Tranquil Thicket

Borborygmos is an intensely personal deck these days. One of the side effects of my treatment for Crohn’s are some very loud stomach growls aka borborygmi. Good news is the treatment is working. The bad news is it’s costing us some sleep.

Borborygmos is a go-wide deck that wants to leverage the Commander’s ability to add counters to make the token army that much more impressive. Beastmaster Ascension, Doubling Season, Hardened Scales help to act as true force multipliers while Goblin Bombardment is an outlet for once the board is jam packed. But a key to this deck is Eidolon of Blossoms.
This deck is not jam packed with Enchantments. Counting the creatures it only has 16 of the type which is enough to draw a card off of the Eidolon a few times a game. That is, unless, Dowsing Shaman is on the table. Now Seal of Primordium and Fires of Yavimaya are recurring sources of velocity. Reviving Melody can “draw” quite a few cards out of the graveyard (old habits die hard) and with Eidolon on the table it looks closer to a Divination than a Restock.
Enchantments play a more prominent role in Borborygmos than they do it Zirilan. That being said the same principle applies - you can only focus on so many threats at once. The fact is it won’t be the Hardened Scales that kills you so dealing with the Tokens from Avenger of Zendikar is the right call. Fires of Yavimaya is scary but is it going to deal the final points of damage or will that be the horde of Wolves from Kessig Cagebreakers?

Enchantments are great in Commander. They do a ton of heavy lifting without being the biggest threat on the field. Part of the reason they are attractive is because removal that can hit them often can hit other threats as well, which can lower their threat profile. Figuring out how to walk that fine line is one reason I love building Commander decks and pitting them against my friends’ creations.

Just don’t pack Tranquility, kay?