Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm a Sucker for a Good Maze

At first, I wanted to talk about Wall of Vines. Since 1993, Wizards has found occassion to introduce a Wall, similar to the "kinda-like-a-quarter" foreign coin you brought back from vacation, that returns with each season to become clogged in the vending machines of today's draft metagame. This year the menace is eliminated, and the howl of demented Wall of Wood collectors is heard throughout the realm.

A 0/3 with Reach is certainly a better solution for the green defender single mana wall drop. I would certainly play with this. And it was about time the relentless power creep of creatures made its way to the core set, wall edition. More fire for the prophesied red/green standard "wall" deck.

But then besides the visual spoiler, I was drawn to the wallpapers page. There are always a few cards first spoiled as art only, and this year is no exception. Behold Mystical Maze:

Yeah, I like the art. Any minotaur would. The damp, dreary exterior no doubt hides within a fine leather sofa, a refrigerator loaded with many variety of beverages and perhaps even an XBOX running Puzzle Quest.

Curse you Lord Bane, I'll have you yet!

What will Mystical Maze give us? Allow me to go on a spree of wild and groundless speculation.

My prediction: Mystical Maze is a fixed Maze of Ith. First released in The Dark and then never reprinted (except for the snazzy and nigh-unattainable Judge Reward Foil). A staple in the most well-endowed of casual decks, where it helps control things in formats from EDH to Emperor and beyond.

There are 2 problems with the Maze that have prevented it's reprinting in greater distribution.

1. Maze of Ith doesn't generate mana. In modern magic development the land which produces no mana is a very rare thing indeed. It just doesn't happen. With the exception of pure nostalgia…seen in the Time Spiral "time shifted" reprinting of Safe Haven and the Cold Snap card Dark Depths. Otherwise: it always generates mana. It's what land does.

2. Maze of Ith  helped perpetuate one of the most long-standing misunderstandings (that's a lot of standing) in the history of magic. Perhaps you never had this problem…but I assure you it was a FACT in many circles for a long time.

The myth, if you will, was this: if a creature becomes untapped, it is removed from combat.

Maze of Ith, along with its dark steed Ebony Horse, convinced many people they could get the same effect with Jandor's Saddlebags. When really it was a horse of a different color!

Part of the problem was that early Magic Cards didn't use any kind of templating. The cards just said whatever Richard Garfield, Skaff Elias and the rest of the demented crew wanted it to say (Aside: they have an awesome podcast about more general gaming currently running here). And very often rules "clarifications" were put in as a part of the actual rules. Contrast Alchor's Tomb with the modern Painter's Servant.

I suspect this new Maze will lend a chair to all the "standing" and simply take out the untapping language. This is already seen in another Maze-ish land…Kor Haven!

So my prediction (and I suspect we will find out one way or another in a manner of days)

Mystical Maze

Tap: Add one colorless mana to your mana pool
3, tap: Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to and by target attacking creature this turn.

I'm probably a little wrong and could be completely wrong.

The visual of a maze or labyrinth has seen use in other non-Ith cards. It could be something like Arena (or Magus of the Arena). Or something completely unrelated like Meishin, the Mind Cage.

Certainly it will help you keep "control" of any game, in one way or another. Even in the color Green!

More un-insightful observations to come!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Let My Elephant Grow Wings And Fly

Wizards dropped a pretty big bombshell on the Extended format today. I don't have any thoughts…although it is certainly a sad thing when you suddenly can't play with your cards in the manner your are accustomed. In that vein they also banned another card from legacy, but reinstated two others. Illusionary Mask is awesome…this is what it looks like when you try to design morph the first time and fail.

In other news, Sol Ring is still restricted in Isaac's Dining Room Table Format, but the banning has been lifted on Champ Edition Bloodstained Mire (thanks, Peer Kroger!)

Looking forward to the coming core set, there are plenty of spoilers coming to the fore. For today, I pick the unlikely candidate of Mighty Leap.

We've always had Leap (aka Jump) but now we finally have Mighty Leap. So mighty, in fact, that it changed colors. Making your creature stronger has always been a White thing…Daring Leap started the trend. Now its reached the inevitable conclusion.

One constant has remained. In the history of Wizards making "Jump" style temporary buffs, the card players on the receiving end have always been disappointed.

Well, I'm not going to be disappointed by Mighty Leap. It's only 2 mana, there has to be some interesting interactions in there somewhere.

The part most haters get hung up on is the flying. When gifting your creatures with the ability of flight people have historically preferred either a permanent modification or a temporary destructive "chucking" depending on your flavor. What gets the goat for cards like Leap is how combat works. You declare attackers, your opponent declares blockers, then you pull out your Giant Growth-style instant and laugh. When Mightly Leap is used in this way you don't really get the flying because blockers have already been declared…they still block. So the caster feels cheated then. If you cast Mighty Leap before your opponent declares blockers, they see your increased power/toughness and don't have to block…and they might not even be able to block since your creature now flies!

I've been encountering temporary flying buffs in Duels of the Planeswalkers quite a bit, butting heads with the Elspeth deck. In this case the card is Angelic Blessing. Wizards made the card a Sorcery to combat the "cheated" mentality but then you also lose any possible "tricksiness" you might have still had. Doesn't matter, computer Elspeth loves playing Angelic Blessing, sometimes 2 at a time.

In M11, Wizards gives the mature white user the power to be tricky all over again. And to illustrate the trickiness best, I'm going to look at a similar card from Magic's past:

Oh wait, Righteousness was just printed in M10…why didn't I get any of these?

Despite the flavor text, the best time to cast Mighty Leap is going to be on the defense. Your opponent declares attackers (preferably something like an Air Elemental) you do the Mighty Leap and knock that Elemental right out of the sky.

But unlike Righteousness, you don't HAVE to use it on blockers. Mighty Leap on offense either pumps your knight or lets in a little more damage. And if your opponent only has a few life left, Mighty Leap might even win you the game.

It could have been 1 white mana. But 2 isn't bad. And MUCH better than Angelic Blessing. Depending on what I get in my sealed pool…right now Mighty Leap still has a positive place in my planning processes. Can't wait to make my Elephants fly.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Deficiency of Win Conditions

Recently, things on the Magic front got bizarre indeed. The weirdest game I have played…ever, perhaps? The combatants were a mismatch in every way possible.

Left Corner: Niv-Mizzet EDH Deck, Minus Niv-Mizzet. This was a headless 99 card singleton deck in red/blue. Most every card was meant to by synergistic with the General, Niv-Mizzet, who I took pleasure in removing before the game started. Since the other deck wasn't an EDH deck, it would have been unfair to play with him! I think.

Right Corner: Blue/Black Emperor Deck, played solo with no commanders. Built from the ground up to control the game from behind 2 commanders in a 6-person Emperor Game. In this case instead of a six man game it was facing off against the previously mentioned 99 card Singleton Deck.

The Emperor Deck, as expected, was packed with counterspells, removal and not a whole lot else. Removal mostly took the form of Damnation and an old friend called Pestilence.

After about 10 turns, Greg made this illuminated remark: "your deck doesn't seem to do much."


I think the largest frustration for him was probably a few early hits I got in to bring his life total below mine. Without this bit of advantage, he would have just Pestilenced me out and the game would have been over in half the time.

Instead, it went for at least an hour while he looked for things to KILL me with, and I looked for creatures that could get through Pestilence and Dismal Failure.

What I ended up doing was Take Possession on his Liliana Vess.

I used Vess to make him discard, and this caused a slight miscalculation on his part. He played Avatar of Woe to get it out of his hand, and next turn I used Vess's ultimate power to pull all the creatures out of the graveyard.

This was pretty hasty on my part, as I really should have just used her tutoring abilities and discard a bit longer (I don't think he had anything to get rid of planeswalkers). But it forced him to use a Damnation to clear the board, which killed his Avatar as well.

I would find out later he had only 2 Avatars (and the only creatures) in his deck when I used Telemin Performance to pull the last one out.

What lesson did we learn from this exercise…NOTHING! Absolutely nothing.

Okay, maybe I have learned a little something. This, combined with the match up against the Slivers earlier might make me put a few more direct threats into my deck. Maybe a nice Banefire, as I was wishing for one of those most of this ill-fated game. Another tutor might be good as well.

The greatest lesson I learned however, its that I am able to enjoy a great many Magic games. Even the ones that stall out for any hour. The beer might have helped. Running purposefully inept decks against each other is an exercise I encourage others to try for themselves.

Hopefully I can make some changes in time for the next matchup.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Vision of the First Eldrazi Spawn

Thanks to Rodolfo for the lead on Diamond Kaleidoscope, a proto-Eldrazi Spawn generator from ages past. Another fine Resevered List selection, the Kaleidoscope keeps kicking out creature tokens for the low, low price of only 3 mana. People may not see the bargain now, but that's only because you haven't played with The Hive for a while.

While the Prisms aren't as good as Wasps on attack, they can still chump or sacrifice for extra mana. A bargain in any EDH game! Today's green player is spoiled rotten by the likes of Awakening Zone, but who plays green? (Note: I will probably make a mono-green EDH deck at some point…in which case I WILL play green)

In multiplayer games, you are always going to find uses for a repeatable source of creatures and/or mana. This type of effect thrives in an environment where everyone kicks back and castles-up instead of barreling into action from turn 1 like most tourney "duels". 

They may build more impressive fortifications, but extra mana ensures you'll always have bigger guns!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Gentle Glow of Mounting Frustration

Doesn't look like much, does it?

I never played a game of sealed Magic using Shadowmoor, but if I had, I bet I would have seen at least a  little Goldenglow Moth. With the revelation that this weird glowy bug is making an appearance in the new core set, I feel the need to reveal what few insights I have on this critter.

True, I never played with or against the moth in PAPER magic. But in the electronic realm, we are old enemies…picking up our weapons and charging against each other with a practiced, deeply in-grained ease. I have never had a Magic Online account, but I do play Duels of the Planeswalkers (now available via Steam!).

Within the odd corridors of the pre-made Duels of the Planeswakers decks, Goldenglow Moth is a vicious exercise in life-gaining frustration.

It may be only 0/1, but the darn thing flies…and there's the life gain to think about. The "Elspeth" opponent absolutely loves this guy and its easy to see why.

Absolute worst case scenario…you get 1 chump block and 4 life for 1 mana. That's not bad. Here's how it gets worse.

Elspeth uses Glorious Anthem. She has about 10 of them. With one Anthem, Goldenglow Moth turns into a real contender. Suddenly, you can't attack with any of your own 1/1's any more. If you have a 1/1 and a 1/1, Elspeth gains more life than you would take. If you have a 1/1 and a 3/3, you still can't attack with the 1/1 because she'll still come out ahead. And heaven help you if she gets Holy Strength (or…gulp…Serra's Embrace) on one of those antennae-decked suckers.

And she has plenty of the other "white weenie" style creatures attacking you at the same time, rest assured.

Goldenglow Moth slows the game down to a crawl, allowing the Elspeth character to eventually start dropping big fat angels and win the game. If I get any in my prerelease pool, you can be assured I will jump in that bus, instead of trying to fight it.

Let someone else bang their head against the wall.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Slivers Again

As always, I am caught off guard by how fast the Slivers ramp up their power. In an EDH-centric world were 95% of decks are slow-rolling control it really gets the heart pumping when you see:

1st turn

2nd turn

3rd turn

One shining light: I got to use both Vedalken Æthermage in her sliver-bouncing capacity, as well as the recursive powers of Riptide Laboratory. But neither really turned the tide, only slowing the inevitable. While I put up the good fight, eventually the Slivers prevailed.

The Premium Slivers Deck offers its pilot the rather controversial choice of Coat of Arms for the coup d' grace. Luckily, the EDH Sliver player has many similar goodies to beef up the threat level.

Like Door of Destinies and the always popular Silver Legion.

Who dies to Red Elemental Blast, BTW! Yet another reason to always come prepared…never a more useful one-mana red spell has been born.

In other news, the spoiler season for the M2011 core set has already started, with official prerelease still a month away. I am excited in the extreme, for some reason the core sets always effect me thus.

This time, however, there is something extra special, see if you can guess what I'm excited about.

The current spoiler list is here. Hint: it involves an inflatable toad.

That is all!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Top 5 Stealers

Today I set about revamping ye olde deck. Up for evaluation…the top 5 "stealy" blue cards in EDH history. In no particular order. As judged by ME.

Let the contest begin!!!!

Uno: Bribery

I've heard of people using a creatureless EDH deck, containing only a single Phage the Untouchable, as insurance against a Bribery attack. I don't think I'd go that far. But Bribery is certainly potent with powerful creatures running around like Emrakul and Progenitus

Dos: Take Possession

Sometimes I don't want to just take creatures. Take Possession also functions as stealy against Enchantments, Artifacts and even PLANESWALKERS. The best part, the Split Second ability keeps counterspells off your back, ensuring a trouble-free acquisition. 

Tres: Telemin Performance

Telemin Performance is similar to Bribery. Except you don't pick the creature (boo). But you also mill some cards (yay!). If your opponent successfully builds his creatureless control deck to combat against your Bribery, Telemin Performance comes at him from the other direction. Who is that guy?

Quatro: Sphinx Ambassador

I have not used this beauty, yet, but he(or she) is going in my deck pronto. This card is a big punchy 5/5 creature on top of a bribery-esque stealy power. The best of both worlds, you can pick the creature and also play an awesome mind game with your opponent. Every turn the Sphinx gets through. Which is a lot, since he flies!

Cinco: Fool's Demise

Bet you thought I was going to say Desertion. I kinda thought I was, too. But Fool's Demise is a very interesting card, and not many people really sit down and look at it. So as a "diamond in the rough" Fool's Demise makes number 5. Here are some observations:

1. Fool's Demise doesn't immediately steal a creature.
2. You can play it on your own creatures, if you want.
3. The enchantment just keeps coming back, unless someone counters or disenchants.

While Fool's Demise may not be as good as some of these other spells, it has a level of opponent interaction that is truly invigorating in an EDH game. Quite a bit of politicking can happen…especially since it just keeps on coming back for more fun.

Of all these, the one I am most interested to play is indeed Sphinx Ambassador. The dream of plowing through your opponent's deck, picking through his creatures like ripe corn, and daring him to guess which one you finally settled on…it warms the heart.

Anyway, may you dream of stealing your opponent's good stuff. It is one of the greater pleasures in casual magic. Until next time.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Enchantment Removal

Probably the universal truth in any Magic Deck is this…you never have enchantment removal when you need it.

Of course…you put it in your deck to begin with.

Because, hey, we all know you've been caught flat-footed by enchantments before. But then a little voice starts talking in your ear: "Why do you have that dog Tranquility in your deck?"

You'll pull it out and the brilliance of your original decision comes into question. You certainly haven't seen any enchantments come through in a while. Were they really that much of a problem? Couldn't you swap them out with some sort of spot removal?

For heaven sakes, look at Oblivion Ring! That card can get rid of an enchantment, along with just about anything else. Why don't you put those in instead of the Tranquility, then you won't have a couple of mostly dead cards in your hand…and you can STILL deal with the odd enchantment or two.

It makes total sense.

Except for one thing…it makes no sense whatsoever. Listen here, you put these Tranquilities in there for a reason. You know your kitchen table meta. You live it every time someone comes over to play. You sat there with Tranquility in your deck for 6 months straight, playing against Aggro and Mill and that terrible (as in good-terrible) Jhoira of the Ghitu deck. And then you take 'em out…of course the next game you play will be against Searing Meditation lock-down. It's one of the classic BLUNDERS!

(image from here)

The rule, made short, is that Enchantments are never a problem, until they are. So always be prepared!

Incidentally, I've started watching Deep Space Nine again, mostly for the first time since I think at its inception I was somewhat of a Babylon 5 fanboy.

Wallace Shawn's performace of Grand Nagus Zek gives me chills even now, after the disc 3 of Season 1 is long back to Netflix. "hee hee hee". "hee hee hee". A greater leader Ferenginar will never know.