Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Strange Beasts

The very last card to be spoiled for Mirrodin Besieged:

A nice, chaotic effect that may occasionally help you. Attached to a plain old 3/3 body. Galvanoth is not the first weird beast to come out of Mirrodin, there was of course the original Arc-Slogger. This time around we get the Galvanoth, who has a less-dependable ability but maybe a more powerful one.

It all depends, I suppose, on the instants and sorceries you keep around.

One of the nice things I like about this card is that it doesn't reveal your top card unless you decide to cast the spell. So many other similar effects start out with a reveal to all parties.

Another thing I like is that the cost of the ability is free. While Djinn of Wishes gives you a bigger, more evasive body attached to a similar ability, you have to pay an astounding 4 mana for the privilege.

So there are two possible outcomes to an upkeep with Galvanoth on the board.

1. Nothing happens, you get to see your top card and can proceed with your turn as normal.
2. You get a free spell.

I would guestimate that this ability will fire off about 25% of the time, with the rest of the draws filled up by useless land and those tricky creatures and enchantments. And when I do show an instant or sorcery it could be many things. And of course I don't have to cast any of it if I don't want to.

Are there cards I would love casting with Galvanoth?

Yes. In no particular order:

1. Disaster Radius - A classic example of a huge explosion that blows up all of my problems in one big ka-boom! The huge mana cost is averted by my Galvanoth, very simple and to the point.

2. Rite of Replication - Here things get a little trickier. Galvanoth allows me to cast the main part of this spell for free. However, I am allowed to pay "additional" costs, which in this case would be the kicker. So my copies of other creatures cost me a grand total of about 1 mana per creature. Sounds like a pretty good deal!

3. Demonic Tutor - Why would I want to offset a paltry 2 mana with Galvanoth? That's the beauty of this situation…free spells are free spells. In this case, I can work on spending my mana for the spell I find with my tutor. Every advantage gained doesn't necessarily have to blow people out of the water, its advantage all the same!

4. Fumarole - Because I was around during Ice Age, I have quite a few of these cards. No one else seems to think they are any good. But I've always been happy to pay 5 mana and 3 life to destroy both a creature and land of my choosing. Now I only have to pay the 3 life!

5. Evincar's Justice - In this case, I can still pay the "buyback" cost. The rest of the spell is free. So not only do I get to cast it off the top of my deck, but then I get to put it back into my hand!

Galvanoth seems to be expanding my mind, always a good sign for a potential deck addition. We'll have to see if I stumble across it in my many wanderings.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jesper Myfors Spotlight: Pestilence

Jesper Myfors. Genius? Madman? Wizards of the Coast Art Director?

I have heard all these claims and more. Suffice to say he is responsible for some of the most iconic cards in the primordial Magic: the Gathering soup.

If you have played Magic during the Revised period, even up through Urza's Saga, you probably have about 100 copies of this wonderful card. This was a common.

Imagine if Wrath of God had been a common. I'll tell you right now, It would have gotten no respect, no respect whatsoever. The same was true for Pestilence, at least at first.

In EDH, there is definitely something to be said for showing someone the stick you plan on hitting them with.

While a carefully hidden hand might mean something in Constructed Land, EDH especially in a multiplayer setting requires the rattlesnake to make a little noise. That way they know you're serious.

I love enchantments such as Seal of Fire and Seal of Doom. The way to look at Pestilence is taking these same spell effects to the next level.

What spell effect do you get with Pestilence? Worst case scenario, its a simple Earthquake you can use to clear the board.

But here's the best case scenario…if you have a large creature already on the board, Pestilence is more like a repeatable Pyroclasm. You can blow up utility creatures again and again almost effortlessly.

Sure, you lose a little life…but you start with 40!

Pestilence has long been a black control staple, and a common sight in the first prototypes of the dreaded blue/black deck. What better way to control the board than with a Pestilence waiting patiently on the board until you chose to wipe things up and start over with your opponent at the disadvantage!

A must for EDH, and certainly for my EDH decks. My version is the first, best one. The one we have Jesper Myfors to thank for. He didn't design it, but he did give us the weird shriveled gammy-eyed freak I know and love in the art box.

More about Jesper Myfors, Master of the "Horrific Gauche" here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sweeping Up: Cerebral Eruption

Today's Card: Cerebral Eruption.

I covered this card back when Scars of Mirrodin was coming out. At the time, I gave the card about 10 thumbs up.

Why? Because on the surface it has the appearance of a board-sweeping bomb like Wrath of God or Mutilate, only confined to your poor opponent's board. Your stuff stays in-tact, ready to lead the slaughtering that very same turn.

A very mana efficient card when compared against, say, Flame Wave at 7 mana (4 of it colored!).

But the efficiency is obviously a result of its unpredictability. At first glance I thought it would be the perfect EDH card, just because the mana curve is so high. But there are not just high cards.

There are some very low-cost cards in those decks as well. They are the glue that holds everything else together. As necessary as say a Sol Ring is, the card is anathema to my precious Cerebral Eruption.

What are the chances this spell is going to do good things?

Let's look at the down n' dirty numbers. I can't quiz any of my friends, because their decks are all top secret. But I do have access to my decks, so let's say I'm playing against a clone of myself. Evil Isaac. Created in a one-in-a-million transporter accident. None of the mercy or compassion, but all of the magic cards. Terrifying.

Evil Isaac's Deck X

7 cards at 1 mana cost
15 cards at 2 mana cost
14 cards at 3 mana cost
14 cards at 4 mana cost
6 cards at 5 mana cost
7 cards at 6 mana cost
1 each at 7, 8 and 10 cost
33 land (0 mana cost, gives you a "redo" for Cerebral Eruption)

33.3% chance that I'll find a land and put Cerebral Eruption back in my hand
30.3% chance I'll find a card with a mana cost 4 or greater (which I would be pleased with)
36.4% chance I'll get a card with mana cost 3 or below (which I would be merely "satisfied" with)

Evil Isaac's Deck Y

1 card at 0 mana cost (yikes!)
12 cards at 1 mana cost
10 cards at 2 mana cost
16 cards at 2 mana cost
4 cards at 4 mana cost
12 cards at 5 mana cost
3 cards at 6 mana cost
4 cards at 7 mana cost
37 land (redo!)

37.4% chance that I'll find a land and put Cerebral Eruption back in my hand

23.2% chance I'll find a card with a mana cost 4 or greater (pleased)
38.4% chance I'll get a card with mana cost 3 or below (satisfied)
1% chance I'll find a zero mana cost card, in which case Cerebral Eruption will go the graveyard while I weep salty tears into my shirtsleeve. Because while Evil Isaac has none of my compassion, he does possess ALL my leadership and courage…that's just the way transporter accidents work.

So after laying it all out, the numbers don't look that good. I mean…how happy would you be if you cast a spell and 33% percent of time your opponent got a free Remand?

I wouldn't be happy. But let's look at it from a "glass half full" perspective.

If you were on the RECEIVING end of card that 33% percent of the time gave you a free Remand, would you still use a Counterspell in your hand?

Honestly? Probably. No one likes to hear the noise when its coming for their own critters, especially with something as asymmetrical as Cerebral Eruption. They are going to do everything in their power to get rid of it.

Okay, that didn't work.

What else might skew the results in your favor?

How about tutors that put cards on the top of your deck, like Vampiric Tutor? You could burn them with the card they tutored. Same goes for recursion like Volrath's Stronghold. Unfortunately, Cerebral Eruption is Sorcery speed, making it easy for them to dodge by using these abilities at the time they were going to use them anyway…during your end step.

I think with Cerebral Eruption you just have to hope for the best. 

The one thing it has going is one-sidedness. You don't need an army of creatures waiting in your hand like with a Damnation. You don't piss off the entire board by killing their creatures as well. Cerebral Eruption is budget dynamite, aimed squarely at the threat or group of threats bothering you the most. You just have to hope it goes off.

It's sticking in my deck for now, but it better behave. And there are definitely some things to consider before you make the plunge.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Card Drawing Gets Weird

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I am a red mana junky. As the old man loves his turkey, so do I love blowing up other people's carefully created paths to victory.

It took me quite a few years to figure it out. When I first started, Red seemed like a bad choice, especially mono-red. All the cool kids were playing mono black, or mono white, or white/blue.

The only deck I remember seeing that really stood up to these other chumps was the legendary "counter burn"…a deck completely devoid of creatures or even other permanents (except maybe Mana Flare).

Today, you can find a straight "Burn" option in most formats. If it's not a top-tier choice, then chances are it's at least a second-tier choice. Of course I quickly climb out of my league as soon as I start talking about tiers. I don't know exactly where my "tier" is, but its probably very close to the bottom. There are probably tire tracks from the forklift driving over it.

So the latest Premium Deck is out. Fire and Lightning. Lightning and Fire. And beacuse its been out for a while and has almost limitless supply, a copy came up for grabs for yours truly.

Strangely enough, a traditional burn deck doesn't interest me, I have my Elemental Shaman deck for the few constructed games I find myself mired in.

But perhaps some of these cards can be bent to a task more enjoyable to my interests…perhaps an EDH deck or two? Of course a few cards are completely ill-fitting to the task. But some walk the line, just like Johnny Cash.

Here's a good example:


Depending on who you are, you probably think Browbeat is the best thing since sliced bread. The other option is that you think it sucks eggs. Like a vermin.

Let's try to stay objective either way.

1. Part of the issue with Browbeat is that it leaves the decision in the hands of the opponent. Or in this case, opponents. 5 damage is 12.5% of a player's life total, so its more than a drop in the bucket. But its not exactly a deluge either. Certainly there will probably be someone who can afford to pay the life to prevent your card draw.

But then you have to ask: will they?

Multiplayer games bring out both the diplomat and the small-minded despot.

You want to be the despot, ideally. But you don't want anyone to know that. A card like Browbeat takes the control…the responsiblity…out of your hands and puts it in the hands of your opponents. You don't know what will happen, but you can be sure of one thing. You're coming out ahead.

In the case of card draw, you get some more cards to rain destruction on your enemies. In the case of damage, you slug an opponent for 5.

But here's the deal either way: it's not your fault! You got to draw cards because no one wanted to take a measly 5 damage. You did damage because no one wanted you to draw cards. You're the least involved person in this transaction!

Very likely, someone will bite the bullet and take 5 damage. Very likely, this person will not be rewarded for his actions.

I was thinking about odd sorts of card draw when I came across one of the cards spoiled today. No, it's not any of the good cards.

Does Distant Memories have the same sort of effect? You get to tutor the card of your choice if ONE of your many opponents decides to let you have it. And if none of them will…you get to draw three cards instead.

Detractors are already framing this card as a really bad Concentrate. But unlike Concentrate, Distant Memories takes away YOUR choice, and puts it in the hands of your enemies. You might get one card, you might get 3 cards. But you're just a passive watcher, and your opponents are the ones who have to deal with the end result.

We just have to do the best with what we are given!

Plus Distant Memories has a cool picture of corrupted Karn on it. Urza on one side, Venser on the other.

What do you suppose Urza is whispering?

Sure, you can eat one more mallow bar. No one's watching. And you're king of Phyrexia, for pete's sake!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cherry Caustic Rain

I have stacks of interesting new material to go over. One particularly exciting card came wrapped in a bunch of Christmas cookies, mingling a rush of sugar with the standard collectible urges and impulses.

Strangely enough, what I have chosen to talk about first is strictly a freebie. A throw-in with some other cards I ordered, and a fairly worthless card at that.

Caustic Rain. Guildpact. Sorcery. Remove target land from the game.

Not the kind of card you would go on the lookout for. Mostly because it's too much mana.

4 mana to take 1 land out of the game is not a very good tradeoff. Stone Rain does almost the same thing for 1 red and 2 colorless. And if you absolutely need your spell to be black, there's also the near-equivalent Rain of Tears. Way back in the day, in the prehistoric times when even I wasn't playing Magic the world even had Sinkhole, which I probably have no hope of ever laying my hands on now. Unless it ends up in some sort of Duel Deck or Premium Deck (hint, hint, Wizards!).

There are a few lands powerful enough to be worth spending the big mana.

1. Academy Ruins
2. Volrath's Stronghold
3. Gaea's Cradle

Honorable mention also goes to Tolarian Academy, even though it's officially banned by the Highlander Rules Committee, now the more generic Commander Rules Committee (I guess?).

I've never seen a pre-banned card in its out-of-control state, so my sympathy still lies somewhat on the side of the user. Even though the Rules Committee puts forth very few actual bannings (and even tries to un-ban cards as the format matures) I have been on the receiving end of two of them. Tinker. And now apparently Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. And I was just learning how to spell it.

So you can play with your Tolarian Academy if you want. But I'm going to say its worth blowing up with Caustic Rain.

And naturally, these are also the lands most desired when it comes time for reanimation shenanigans. While I would pay 4 for the Rain, surely my opponent would pay 2 mana for Grim Discovery. The graveyard is a terrible place to put your opponent's more powerful cards, so the "removed from game" portion of our spell is actually very, very relevant.

And this, of course, brings us to graveyard triggers. The real meat of the issue.

A lot of people have discovered the wonderful world of graveyard triggers…these cards usually give you some benefit as soon as they go to the graveyard. Off the top of my head I can think of one Trigger McNasty I can use as an example.

Genju of the Fields

Have you ever been at the receiving end of this one? It's pretty uncomfortable. This is a one mana enchantment that turns into a creature essentially with lifelink. And I say "essentially" because unlike lifelink, your opponent can stack the ability until they run out of mana. Until they gain 10 or 20 life from a single hit.

And normally when it dies, your opponent gets the enchantment back. And then pays 1 white mana to stick on another plains. Which they probably have. Since they're playing white in the first place. And Land Tax is in play.

Okay, I'm making up that last part, but it could very well happen.

So there are a few minor uses for Caustic Rain.

Finally, it has the right color. Black has access to all the awesome tutors. So I'll probably be able to hunt around for this particular tool when the Genju and other similar threats. Note it would still get 1 attack in, since the stupid 2/5 spirit land has effective immunity from summoning sickness.

Long Story Short: Caustic Rain. My copy just showed up one day. And its foil. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, and never argue with a foil singleton's mana-efficiency. Or something like that.

In the top stories section, I see that evil is getting an upgrade in the new Mirrodin Set. Suckers like me have been casting Phyrexian Ragers that look like this:

Now I find out all the kids are going to be slinging Ragers that look like this:

Go Magic Artists! There is no doubt the brilliant imagery is one reason these environments and settings never get stale. If there is one thing you can always be sure of, the next new Magic set will bring with it some fresh new fleshy wastoids to blast your foes with.

As always, I hope to post again soon!

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Return of WUBRG, the Magic-playing Muppet

There are a few ingredients that make any culinary dish better. Likewise, there is a creative "salt" that, added to just about any production, immediately moves things from B- up to A++.

One of those things, I believe, are Muppets. And by Muppets, I probably mean puppets.

The last time Wizards of the Coast pulled out WUBRG to help explain Friday Night Magic, the reaction he received was almost completely negative. At least according to the Internet bad-things-storm surrounding his passage.

That's okay, though, because these people lack a sense of humor.

I, on the other hand, can see a Muppet for a Muppet.

Like any form of art, you have to pause and devote your full attention, let every nuance sink down through your skin and penetrate your very soul.

I've think that WUBRG might be on the move again in the Wizards of the Coast marketing department, and this video I was tipped off to on Youtube is the proof. In the flesh. Or in the fur.

Is WUBRG a little immature? Of course. But you know, so probably is playing a game like Magic. If I can't look back on myself when I see this puppet, what good am I?

At least he isn't proclaiming HERE I RULE, because that stuff, my friends, makes me feel very old indeed.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Your Ideas are Your Babies

And your baby is UGLY!

At the recent Worlds 2010, Mark Rosewater gave a rather lengthy interview on the past, present and future of Magic: The Gathering.

One of the best parts of course was the above description of how Development treats all of the designers' cool magic card ideas.

The expansion of the poison mechanic makes me smile as well.

More interesting, I love hearing Mark talk about the evolution of the Collectible Card Game. It bears some testament to the skill of its designers and developers that here and now in 2011 paying 1 red mana to do 3 damage to a creature (Lightning Bolt) is still a really, really good deal.

The "pendulum swing" he talks about can be easily shown in Lightning Bolt. Instead of publishing "Super Lightning Bolt" that does 4 damage, Wizards spent TEN YEARS or so printing and re-printing (and then printing again!) the slightly underwhelming Shock, forcing all the Standard format players of the time to adapt to a new 1-mana-for-2-damage world. How they must have groaned at the time.

On the other hand, the mighty monsters we love conjuring to bring damage to our foes, these have undoubtedly continued to grow in power. I used to use Black Knight as an example of how a slightly overpowered card from back in the day could still see some action now. Mirrodin Besieged offers a pretty awesome twist on ye olde fallen Knight with the amazing Phyrexian Crusader.

One more colorless mana seems like a good trade-off for the addition of protection from red. Or course White has been getting the same deal for some time with Paladin il-Vec. I note that this is the absolutely first time a black card has EVER been given "Protection from Red" in the history of Magic. Not counting the ludicrous Progenitus, of course.

Finally, Mark talks a little about the eventual and somewhat mysterious THIRD BLOCK of the new Mirrodin cycle. We know it will be either "Mirrodin Pure" or "New Phyrexia," depending on who will "Win the War."

The adult-minded of us must quickly realize these cards are going to the printer soon...there's not a lot of fudge room for creative inspiriation at this point. Certainly, the outcome of this war must have already been determined.

My prediction: New Phyrexia. New Phyrexia all the way.

The dark den over at WOTC inhabited by the world builders and background writers of Magic: The Gathering would certainly settle for nothing else. The Phyrexians are the Borg of the multiverse, awesome villains I love to see show up in any story arc. Ever since the Urza's block, when the meddling planeswalker of the same name bored his way into the depths of Phyrexia and put the boot to Yawgmoth...the pencil wavers have been looking for a way to bring the Monster Mind back into the action.

If "Mirrodin Pure" comes about, they will be forced to find some way to pass along the infection, creating a fairly repetitive line of action. The Phyrexians eventually need an HQ. A place to hang out and scheme. Mirrodin, a weird metal-infested world designed by Urza's golem servant Karn, is the perfect place.

On the gripping hand, I've never been right about any of these predictions, ever. So I should probably prepare my weasel essay backing out of this assertion now, before things develop any further. Only time will tell.

I post this at a public terminal at the local library. The content I had hoped to upload over lunch had to be carried (in the poorly-secured container of my mind) over here after I found out that during my regrettable absence my work had decided to black list "Social Networking" websites, which seem to encompass just about every single thing in cyberspace these days. Even the work-related blogs I used to visit occasionally are almost completely shut out.

So, along with non-magic-related games, I'll probably expand the scope of this Blog to study the weird world of public library terminals...I actually feel a bit like a Borg plugged into his alcove at the moment.

Have a great rest of the day, more content to come tomorrow.

P.S. I forgot to mention that the above video was a result of the efforts of the determined Evin Erwin, and you should probably check out "The Magic Show" as seen at Star City Games. The man asks great questions, and always finds a way to worm some hilarious comedy into each show.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mander and Commaster: the Far Side of EDH

It feels as if I have awoken from the sleep of aeons.

If there was one thing which should have got my creative juices flowing, it was the recent announcement that the format known as Elder Dragon Highlander would henceforth be known as MTG: Commander.

I guess I can see why the name change happened. While a flashy, almost absurdist name might be good for getting people interested, it seldom has produced a viable long-term strategy. That's why we aren't sitting around playing Egyptian Ratscrew. Instead, people like things short and sweet.

Type 1.

Plus if Wizards of the Coast ever actually adopted the term "Highlander," they'd have to then explain the long, convoluted political history of the planet Zeist to their shareholders, which wouldn't make anyone very happy. You'd think Sean Connery would've learned after Zardoz…but nope!

Instead we have Commander. And apparently a bunch of preconstructed decks, but I'm not getting super excited about those until I see 'em. Probably pretty good for someone just starting a deck…but unless they make a 5-color Atogatog deck, I'm probably not going to be interested.

Anyway, I've got a lot of catching up to do.

There have been countless time-stealing activities that have fought with Magic to dominate my fragile attention span. I'll probably use some of these diversions as material here, since I have to talk about something.

Of course there are a few Magic-related irons in the fire, too. As long as its not DARK IRON! You know, the stuff they make Darksteel out of.