Thursday, September 30, 2010

Random Card of the Week (Give or Take a Week)


Yep. I remember the Howl as being the first "I just win" card to go around my playgroup. About 15 years ago. Even before Fireball

Not a lot of people played red, for some reason. But they sure played black!

I was recently reminded of all this at the Scars of Mirrodin prerelease. The card in this case was Exsanguinate. A pretty mean card in two headed giant, which I played.

But it got me back to thinking about Howl.

Poison is coming back in a big way. I saw plenty of it at the prerelease. Could anyone who grew up exposed to Crypt Cobra ever envision a simple common like Contagious Nim? Or equipment like Grafted Exoskeleton (equipment?).

In the EDH format, there are so many totals to keep track of. Regular life (starts at 40). General damage (goes to 21). Now, much more relevant, poison…which still kills you at the 10-mark. Very deadly.

I played a deck for a very long time with Howl from Beyond in it, but I don't think I ever actually drew it. Which is a perenial problem when testing a 100-card singleton deck. Experience is gained in tiny little chunks, one card at a time, and usually in bizarre scenarios you'll never run into again.

A unique blend of static effects are usually in play, with a unique balance of power between all the players at the table.

Howl from Beyond at one point came back out. My reasoning being…so what. You dump all your mana into a spell to eliminate one opponent. But then you have all the rest of your opponents staring back at you, now plotting your demise.

But now I think it's going back in. 21 points of general damage is easy with most generals. And it doesn't have to be my general (since it targets any creature).

I enjoyed "just winning" out of nowhere. I will hope someday I will do it again. With Howl from Beyond. Just one black mana, then like Mr. Fusion, any old garbage mana will do.

Maybe I'll stick it on my nice shiny new Wurmcoil Engine.

Some things are just hard to explain, son

So my kid is in kindergarten now. And he's meeting a lot of new kids, a lot of new teachers. He loves going to the computer lab and the library. He ultimately decided he didn't want to join chess club.

But things are going good for the most part. Except for the fateful day when he brought something home from the library.

I knew the day would come when I would have to explain something unsavory to him…something maybe I found offensive…in language a 5 year old can understand. That day is fast approaching, because he's started to ask some really tough questions.

Questions about Star Wars.

I've tried to shield him, and perhaps because of that this is ultimately my fault.

It would have been better if I just handed him the TV remote and let the world reveal itself naturally.

But I didn't.

So what he brought home was Star Wars: A New Hope, in story book form. Many of us remember reading a similar book in our childhood years, perhaps with a Viewmaster or micro-sized record to play included.

Unfortunately, George Lucas has gotten to the Star Wars story books. This one was the "Special Edition."

And so my son understood the story perfectly…R2-D2 and C-3PO out in the desert, the Jawas, the Sand People. Okay, he had a little trouble with Sand People because he understands they are aliens but doesn't get that they are native to Tatoine.

The humans came later, and now the Sand People don't like the humans messing with their stuff. See…easy to explain.

But then we get to Jabba. And he thinks we're in a whole different movie! He thinks we're in Return to Jedi, and he keeps turning the pages, looking for the skiff fight.

I tried to gloss over it, and divert his attention, until the brave adventurers find themselves trapped on the Death Star. We get through the Darth Vader/Obi Wan Kenobi lightsaber battle, the Death Star blowing up, the end.

I don't think he remembers Jabba right now. But he's going to want me to read it to him again tonight, I'm sure. And I can already see the wheels spinning in his head.

"Why's Jabba in the first movie, Dad?"

I don't know…I just don't…know. What do you say?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Too Big? Too Small? This Minion is "Just Right"

A while back, at the prerelease, I finally had a chance to get Phyrexian Processor into play. Entered into the battlefield. Whatever it is called.

The experience was, to say the least, amazing. The ability to make a huge token, every turn, maybe even twice a turn, cannot be overestimated.

At the time, with little experience under my belt, I had to make an important decision as to how much life to sacrifice. Time was ticking, so I tried to think of a reasonable number and it turns out that number was 8.

So for 8 life, my Processor made an 8/8 every turn.

But I got to wondering if this was a good choice or not. Depends, I suppose. It depends on how you're using the tokens.

If you are way ahead of your opponents, I say go all in. Dump as much life as you can. Pick 32. You can smash a lot of face with just a few 32/32 minions running around.

But I'm concerned about removal. About sweepers. All that sort of thing.

If you're playing and you get even a WHIFF of artifact removal, you are probably going to want to pick something smaller.


Going too big on your processor also opens you up to the EDH silent killer…direct damage. Usually you take a little at a time, until you're down to 10 or so and anything can kill you. Don't do the work FOR your opponents with a thoughtless processor life payment!

My ideal life payment should be for a potential long game. I want to get the most out of my tokens, without paying too much life I'll regret later.

So I picked 8.

An 8/8 seems pretty resilient to me. It dodges Mutilate, Inferno, Wildfire…just about any power/toughness reducers and damage-based sweepers. They can block, and be blocked, by a large percentage of creatures out there.

How many creatures have a greater than 8 toughness? About 40. And most of the playable ones here are Eldrazi, who are WAY more than 8. Plus Eldrazi all have annihilator, which is going to be rough on your Minions. Although, to be honest, way rougher on folks who don't have any 8/8 tokens in play.

This search doesn't take into account "miracle grow" creatures, like Kresh or Thraximundar, who you are mostly going to see as opposing generals. But in these cases, at least I have a chump blocker until I can draw my own sweepers.

What happens if I make the token a 7/7? The number of relevant creatures doubles.

What else happens at 7? Your damage per turn goes down a little. 8 damage a turn brings a life total of 40 down to zero in 5 easy turns. 7 makes it 6. You have to go up to 10 to get 4.

And 9 is way out. Unless you're facing down Artisan of Kozilek. Then 9 makes all the difference. No way he's going to pick you to attack if you can trade.

So I'll probably keep picking 8. Or 9.

Or 20, if I want to go big or go home. But 20 is pretty greedy, and EDH karma tends to punish the greedy with dogpiles. Big ugly ones. So "going home" is likely the result.

don't be greedy!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Another prerelease down the hatch!

I spent the majority of Saturday down at the prerelease.

It was pretty fun. What did I do? All kinds of stuff.

Started out the day waiting in line to face off against some serious pro players. Gunslinging. Champion Challenge. The Final Battle. No matter what you call it, this is where the big boys are. In my case, the pros were one Brian Kibler and one Brad Nelson, lately of PTQ Amsterdam fame. They are both really good people, and also seemed to both know something about playing Magic.

They quickly stomped me down to my proper place. But at least they brought (or Brad did, at least) some EDH decks!

Brad's deck, which I believed he said was actually constructed by someone else, did a lot of card drawing and mana acceleration. Then it punched you in the face with Volrath the Fallen.

I was reminded once again that there are casual and competitive decks, even in EDH. On the plus side, I can comfortably say that neither of my decks are competitive, and that any win I possibly eek out is both fair and square in all regards.

Things in particular I learned/were reminded of:

1) There is an official EDH mulligan system, which I still don't quite understand.

2) Leyline of the Void is really good and ruining graveyard shenanigans…and it only affects opponents!

3) Braids, Cabal Minion is perfectly playable as a non-general…and she is just as annoying when paired with Bitterblossom and Crucible of Worlds.

4) There is no "casual" game to a pro, no matter the situation or the format. As Patrick Chapin once explained to me at a similar event, "I like playing with counterspells."

Which brings me to the next question…where do the prize packs from the Champion Challenge come from? Because Brian Kibler was playing like each pack came right out of his appearance fee. If they get appearance fees. Maybe they just get what's left of the booster box. In which case, I understand completely.

Swing away, then, good sir!

After being smashed over the head, I faced off against another challenger…my friend Mike and his Scars of Mirrodin Intro Pack. He was playing store's choice, in this case a saucy green and black deck chock full of mean o' Phyrexians.

I have to say the new "Infect" keyword finally makes poison pretty competitive. I'm excited in one way, but in another I am somewhat sad that a long-forgotten favorite mechanic is now fully in the limelight. Sort of like if you were big into Soundgarden, before they got famous (which I wasn't).

I then played two people, Mike again as well as Dylan who I met at the event. They both had EDH decks along, and chose the rather nasty general in the form of Teysa, Orzhov Scion.

Again, I was reminded that I am a much better Magic player in a vacuum. My mind is the prefect battleground, where all deck building choices make perfect sense somewhere, whether its intellectually or morally. Elsewhere…things get icky.

Facing off against another human being is chocked full of surprises.

The basic Teysa deck manufactures a lot of creatures, preferably black tokens or black creatures. And you then have to kill each of these like nuisances several times before they revert to a non-threatening form. Welcome to a new world of chump blockers, population: 1/1 Spirit Tokens.

And the tokens get pumped up, as well.

Finally, the time came for Two-Headed Giant.

Two players. 120 cards. Not Enough Time.

At first I thought we had a bye. But then 2 Judges came racing over and informed us we had about 30 seconds to start playing before we got a game loss.

My deck wasn't down to 40 cards yet. Luckily, I did have the foresight to add land.

Our decks were okay, but unfortunately only posted a slightly better-than-average record of 1 Win, 2 Loses. The best part about it…playing. And the conversation.

Two Headed Giant, at least the version of the format I experienced, was far more social than the sweat-soaked single person sealed I was accustomed to. While there was one very "competitive" pairing we ran into, most of the pairs were playing fast and loose, more for the fun than anything else.

There was one card that surprised me, and I was very happy it managed to get into my deck.

Since I was running black, and most every other pair had at least one other member running black, Stata Scythe made things big. At one point I had a 12/12 Insect token with Infect. Unfortunately, it died to Turn to Slag.

I will hopefully be better prepared for my next 2HG match-up.

I had the most fun this prerelease, compared to any other prerelease event. Even counting the ROE prerelease, where I had a record of 3 wins, 1 draw.

Looking forward to the next one!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cards to Watch: Scars of Mirrodin Edition

My assessments and card evaluations can be fully expected to be as weak as a Federation engineering cadet. However, that won't stop me from forming them.

If I were to concentrate on my 2 EDH decks, here are the cards I would be looking for in the new set.

First…Niv-Mizzet's potential recruits:

Cerebral Erruption has the potential to do some serious damage. And I even get to take it back if it "whiffs". The fact that it also damages creatures is a great asset, beaming a 1-sided wrath into the ranks of the player farthest ahead. Plus I have a irrational urge to hurt people with their own cards…and if there's one place in the world you should act out your craven impulses, its in a game of Magic: The Gathering.

Niv-Mizzet carries within his retinue an assortment of cold-crazy (lead-farming, even) wizards and sycophantic yes-men. Many of them have awesome abilities or cool effects. Truly, truly, I can only dream that someday I imprint a Mimic Vat with Goblin Flectomancer. A joyous occasion, INDEED.


Only a little worse than Skullclamp, which makes Infiltrator Lens pretty awesome. Wizards are going to be Infiltrating, they will be Infilitrating all up in your battlefield. WAY UP. If somebody gets hurt, I'll probably just draw into something even better. Ideally, this is going to be worn by a big baddie, otherwise my opponent might just let them through. Perhaps someday I would be fortunate enough to equip Infiltator Lens to a Mimic Vat cloned Goblin Flectormancer, also equipped with a Quietus Spike. INDEED!

I'm telling you now, I usually have a lot of cards in my hand when playing blue/red. I may have to actually add a few artifacts to my deck to ensure this thing goes off. Cast it with Niv-Mizzet on the Board, and watch some serious stuff happen. Copy it with Sigil Tracer…haw haw haw haw! All my opponents will blow up, real good like.

Okay. Let's Move to Malfegor.

Malfegor is a special sort of general. He doesn't usually have a lot of cards in his hand. But he can still have fun.

First off, you can never have too much 2-color land. I would love to have a Blackcleave Cliffs to give me my choice of black or red, with NO PAIN whatsoever.

Again, I should probably make sure my artifact count is up to snuff. Because I'm always looking for more cards I can easily retrieve back out of my graveyard, and 4 mana of any color (or colorless) is the cat's pajamas.

I'm probably going to kill some creatures. And when I do, I'm going to want to bring them back. Malfegor only kills opposing creatures, while Geth only resurrects opposing creatures…looks like synergy to me.  Geth is like a big, mean version of Withered Wretch…he offers the expected graveyard hate, but then goes further, adding in card advantage and even just raw damage in one tidy package.

Here's another feverish dream I'm having. I have Malfegor on the board…my opponent shoots him down…I look down and see 4 land on my side, untapped…and the stupid monkey grin comes out.

It brings a creature back, makes them even bigger, and it gives them evasion. Just wow.

Finally, I think just about any EDH deck in existence will enjoy the use of Lux Cannon. That's right, every single one, even the good ones. I won't use a popular internet meme here, because it would be too easy. Suffice to say I will enjoy charging this puppy up. My inner Grand Moff is tingling at the destruction. Especially annoying enchantments and PLANESWALKERS. My prediction for Jace is pain.

Who knows if I will actually ever get any of these cards. Such is the nature of a collectible card game. But that hasn't stopped me before, nor will it stop me in the future. I will continue to evaluate until you pull this coffee-stained aluminum keyboard out from under my creaky old-man fingers.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sneaky King

MTG is a game, like anything else. And much like any game, interest level advances and retreats like the tide. I'll tell you no lies, right now things are pretty exciting what with the Scars of Mirrodin prerelease in 4 short days.

All of my growing deck-building hysteria was nipped in the bud (probably a good thing) the other day when my son unexpectedly voiced an interest in joining the school chess club.

He is 5 years old. Apparently, they go after them young nowadays. The Chess Masters, that is.

I got out the Chess set, spent some time cleaning the dust off the board and pieces, then dumped them on the dining room table. Like a Marksman assembling an M-16 rifle, he grabbed the pieces and lined them all up in order, 8 pawns in the front and the usual suspects in the rear.

I told him I always have a hard time remembering which side the king goes on and which side the queen goes on…he said you just make sure its always backwards from how the other guy does it. Duh, Dad!

So we played a couple games. And I found out a few things.

The first thing I found out, is my son has very little idea how play and/or win a game of chess. They must have started him on initial board setup, and not gone much farther than that.

So how do you explain how to win at Chess?

You have to knock out the opposing player's King, sort of. But you don't really take the piece…you have to "capture" it, which my son was a little shaky on.

Eventually he got my King checkmated, but only after I showed him he needed to cut off EVERY avenue of escape.

The King, we both agreed, was a very Sneaky sort of fellow.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hardball with Steve Jackson

Nope, not the Deathtrap Dungeon guy. The Illuminati guy!

Steve Jackson is one of my favorite game designers, responsible for Car Wars, GURPS and more. My copy of Illuminati is well worn, and I even have some NWO cards floating around somewhere (curse you, Nuclear Reactors!)

Anyway, here is the man, interviewed by Three Donkeys.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Demonic Themes in Magic Cards

People have always been just a little iffy about this. I remember when Wizards actually took out the "demon" creature type from the game in order to avoid negative stereotypes.

Luckily, that's all behind us now.

Is it?


The Mega64 people usually do (extremely funny) video game spoofs, but the guys at Monday Night Magic turned me on to their take on everyone's favorite 16 year old collectible card game.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Over the Top with Liege of the Tangle

I've been hearing (and reading) a lot of crap about Liege of the Tangle. About how it's worthless. About how it's yellow. About how it's a born loser.

Well I just think of another born loser…Lincoln Hawk.

In "Over the Top" we meet Michael Hawk, a spoiled military school cadet who thinks he knows everything about the world around him. Just like your average MTGSalvation poster.

But then we meet his estranged father, Licoln Hawk and we find out the world we've known is just a thin, polished veneer over the truth.

I have an Elemental Shaman Deck. Perhaps not the most scientifically efficient Elemental Shaman deck. But I'm no dummy. Like the truck-driving Hawk, under its rough and tumble exterior my deck has a world of spirit and can-do attitude.

It gains incremental advantage through weenie elemental shaman creatures like Elemental Harbinger, Smoke Braider and Sunflare Shaman. But sometimes the little guys just aren't good enough.

Sometimes "The Crusher" is playing at his very best…perhaps after downing a fresh quart of valvoline before settling in for the long haul. Animal growls, screams of rage and fury…according to him I'm "going down."

With my hand just inches away from defeat, I switch things up. A wise man once told me "the world is never going to meet you half way." You got to go it all the way. You have to go Over the Top.

Right now, going "Over the Top" is a Supreme Exemplar fired from my Incandescent Soulstoke…hopefully knocking my opponent out in one fell swoop.

But if I can pull a Liege of the Tangle, I think it will be better in almost every way. The Exemplar occasionally gets chumped by some ridiculous angel or bird. The Liege on the other hand will almost always get through, and will immediately generate as many 8/8 elementals as I need to finish off my opponent.

Much like Michael's incessant complaining regarding Hawk's chicken-fried chicken eating habits, the peanut gallery is quick to point out Day of Judgement. Or even All is Dust.


Day of Judgement is like the spiky-haired punk in the back of the arcade. If I was scared of him I never would have got to Vegas in the first place. At the stage of the game where the Liege might come out, I would hope any worries regarding All is Dust were left double-parked out on the street.

Take a look at Liege of the Tangle. See that little bump on his back? That's Kenny Loggins riding in style.

Meet me half way. Across the sky.

Oh, and Myr Battlesphere kicks ass. Nuff said.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mind Control Hats

If you've kept your ear pressed to the wall for Scars of Mirrodin previews, you've probably already visited Monty Ashley's blog.

I've read both good and bad reactions to the reprinting of Mindslaver. Me, I think its an exciting card. But I've also never been locked out of the game by one. Relatively balanced at first, people start to complain once someone figures out how to use the Mindslaver over and over again, preventing the unlucky opponent from ever getting a non-slaved turn again.

I don't know anyone who runs the card, to be perfectly honest.

Which is why, with its reprinting, I'm looking forward doing some serious turn stealing…or perhaps more likely having my turn stolen.

While others have found ways to win the game with Mindslaver, my encounters will more probably see Mindslaver in its originally-intended configuration…simply a source of advantage to put you ahead.

I'm reminded of Nevinyrral's Disk. Both at their most basic are simple artifacts sitting across the table from you. It's only when they're activated that the trouble starts.

Much like the Disk, in the more casual world I traverse Mindslaver is going to sit on the board until its power can be used most effectively.

And its going to take some thinking.

What are the ingredients to a good Mindslaver activation? Again, much like the Disk, the more "stuff" your opponent has, the more havok Mindslaver wrecks. If your opponent lacks any board position, there's very little you can do with that one precious turn. Perhaps cast a single spell aimed at nothing in particular, effectively Thoughtseizing your opponent. For the bargain price of 10 mana!

If you have a bunch of creatures, and your opponent has a bunch of creatures, you might also get a Master Warcraft out of it. Hopefully in a way where all his creatures die, or at least are tapped for you to deliver the coup de grace on your next regularly scheduled turn. For the bargain price of 10 mana!

Unfortunately, we are only up to 5 mana worth of effects. For me to be happy with my Mindslaver, I'm going to want to see an effect more in tune with 10 mana. I'm thinking something more on the lines of this:

That's right, a 10-for-1 effect. Unless that single "Thoughtsieze" wins you the game, my Mindslaver is going to sit on the board and act threateningly, hopefully making my opponent steer around it for the rest of the game.

Because if Mindslaver is anything like the infamous Disk, having to play around it for a while is way worse than just having the stupid thing blow up.

While in normal Magic you might want to sculpt your hand until you have the perfect assortment of cards to deal with any threat, in Mindslaver Magic the exact opposite is true. Woe be it to someone with a Memoricide in their hand!

I'm looking at the current spoilers, and I'm seeing a lot of "target player" instead of "target opponent".

I'm also reminded again of the specific wording of the Proliferate keyword.

You choose!

A Mindslaver on the board might just make an opponent feel uncomfortable in their own skin after a while, unhappy even when their hand is the best hand imaginable.

And finally, like the Disk, there's very little they can do to stop you…unless you get caught with less than 4 mana. Then it will almost assuredly be Shatter time. "Seconds of Smashing."

But woe be it to someone who has Shatter in their hand when you activate Mindslaver.

So much thinking!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Return of Nicol Bolas

Normally, I'm pretty un-excited when it comes to standard. Especially when I see 4 Lotus Cobras. Lotus Cobras have been the bread and butter of boring, boring Conscription decks lately, and I am weary.

My ultimate nightmare is the mirror match. A battlefield bogged down by Cobras and Heirachs. No one attacking. First person to get Sovereigns of Lost Alara on the board wins. A foul taste, indeed.


I just started watching the SCG Open matches from Denver, and my mind is refreshed by Chris Higashi's 4-Color Control Deck. It plays 1) Sedraxis Specter and 2) Nicol Bolas, Planseswalker!

I will watch these matches until my hard drive fails.

Thanks to Mr. Orange for the deck check in full color video!