Saturday, February 28, 2015
Green is one of the three colors I rarely play on its own. So, most of the green cards I've collected over the years have been outstanding support cards like Regrowth and Sylvan Library.
That's not going to cut it.
My objective is to build a representative cube for Commander deckbuilding, and that means I need enough green cards to build a good, mono-colored deck with a strong theme, but with enough range to play nicely with the other colors.
Let's take a look at the green cards I recently added to the cube:
A 7/7 with trample for 7 mana seems fine, but that's not why this guy is here. I'm going for green having a "play from the top of the library" theme in this cube, but I still need to pick up a few more cards. For now, Garuuk's Horde is bringing his buddies to the party. Playing creatures off the top is a great, green-theme way to get ahead on the board.
This land is here to complete the cycle, one for each color. Although I hate lands that come into play tapped, I like to think of the lands in this cycle as a card that replaces itself for one mana that can played as a land in a pinch. These lands are also great with Life from the Loam.
It's sorcery speed, but giving a 5 power and 5 toughness boost for 4 mana is fun. Plus, it gives the boost in the form of +1/+1 counters, so there are lots of ways to interact with that. The flashback is what makes this card worth running, though. It plays nicely with self-mill strategies or anything that cares about lots of power (double strike, Xenagos, Greater Good).
Soul of the Harvest
Harvester of Souls has a green brother. Green needs ways to draw cards that are in-theme. This guy does that, with a not-too-shabby 6/6 trample for 6 mana body to boot. Drawing cards for doing the thing I was going to do anyway? Don't mind if I do.
A 4/4 for 4 mana is fine and all, but check out the multikicker on this guy. In lots of games, this guy will show up to the party with at least 4 of his 2/2 wolf buddies in tow. There are lots of ways to pump creatures / tokens, especially with white. But even without that, putting this guy out there with a few wolf tokens can give you an army on demand.
Bow of Nylea
It's a toolbox. Lots of options with this work with lots of other strategies in the cube. It's also nice that it gives all of your creatures deathtouch. Tokens will like this, as will strategies that revolve around adding counters.
Flooding the board with tokens is what this creature is all about. This has nice synergy with any of the token strategies in the cube, or works just fine at pumping out blockers to mess with combat math.
Another 6/6 trampler for 6 mana, but this time with a token-producing landfall trigger. Getting free creatures for something I was going to do anyway is a great deal. Besides, green is pretty darn good at putting additional lands into play.
It's a huge creature with an in-theme green way to blow stuff up. I like it!
For 4 mana, you get a 3/3. Not great, but fine in a pinch. For an additional 2 mana, you can kick this guy to blow something up. I like the flexibility and it's a in-theme green way to handle pesky permanents.
I'm on the fence about this guy, but he's in for now because I want some spiders in green (check!) and he is an in-theme green way to destroy a flyer (check!). There seems to be no end of juicy targets for this guy to prey upon, but paying 6 mana to get there seems steep, even though it leaves a little spider behind.
This guy can be utterly out of control in the right situation. He has to be killed right away, or a couple of turns later the board will be swarmed. Hey, they don't always have spot removal or a sweeper in hand to take care of the problem. This guy punishes that situation. It's fun to watch them squirm as they try to topdeck removal.
Wall of Roots
What we have here is a defensive ramp creature near the bottom of the curve. Especially in the early game or after a board wipe, having a blocker may buy you some time. This one happens to bump your mana up, too.
Options. I do love options. This guy can block and gain you life. He can screw up combat math by moving counters around. If you have a way to put counters on him, there are all kinds of fun things you can do with that. He plays nicely with lots of strategies.
If you play this guy fair and square, you get to rip basic lands from your library for only one green mana. That's a good deal. But, that's not what this guy is here for. Milling yourself can set up all kinds of interesting plays, supporting almost every color. Using Replenish to put all your enchantments into play can be a nasty move. Spells with flashback create lots of options. Life from the Loam is a potent draw engine that can be turned on with this guy. The list goes on.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
There's Oloro and then there's Oloro.
You know what I mean. The Esper colors of White, Blue, and Black can combine to form an oppressive, board sweeping, soul crushing prison. I know. I've done it.
Guilty as charged.
It's kind of like how if you drop Sharuum into the Command zone, everyone assumes you are playing combo. The deck builds itself. But it doesn't have to be that way. Sharuum Sphinx tribal is a cool, casual deck full of neat effects and awesome flying sphinxes. But the temptation is there, to go all in on combo.
The temptation to build a prison combo deck with Oloro is strong. Doesn't matter that it's the right colors for a fun mill deck, or tokens, or superfriends. It doesn't matter because there are so many great cards that walk the deckbuilder down the path of locking people out of the game, sweeping the board over and over to reap massive card advantage, and winning on the back of a two-card (or even one-card!) combo.
I don't play Commander at my friendly local gaming store anymore. Now, I either play online or casually with friends. The games are less comborific and cutthroat. It feels like I'm playing Magic again. Fun stuff. But this means building a kinder, gentler Oloro. One that does some cool stuff, but still allows the game to play out.
I've found success with putting together the Deckbuilding Commander Cube, for one. It's a pool of good cards that can fit into multiple strategies. It means that I can build a mashed together token/mill/planeswalkers Oloro and let the cards fall where they may. It also means cutting down on the cards that push themes way too far.
One tutor? Sure. There are times when finding the exact card you need for the situation makes for a fun game. It's usually when you are using the tutor defensively, to get yourself out of a sticky situation. Using the tutor proactively, though? To get a combo piece? Less fun, for everyone.
One or two board wipes? Sure. Grabbing card advantage by wiping the board is sometimes the only way to move the game forward. Doing it every few turns until you've effectively used Mind Twist on everyone is overkill.
More creatures? Yes, more creatures. In a multiplayer format like Commander, more creatures is almost always more fun. It puts the action on the board where we can see it. Having that hidden gem of a card in your hand to tip the combat in your favor becomes exciting. Of course, if your opponent is running board wipe city (the deck), you will lose. But hey, playing against that kind of deck is like losing a little just for playing. Amirite?
Week after week, I played with a guy who ran a Black and Green deck. The deck was all board wipes, ramp, and spot removal. He would sit there, biding his time, until he had enough mana for an entwined Tooth and Nail for Mikaeus and Triskelion. Yes, this strategy can be beat, but he would wait for hands to be empty, for Blue players to tap out, and then boom. Combo. Every game.
Even knowing that it was coming didn't matter. There were other players with more immediate threats. He could afford to sit back and defend until the situation was perfect before going for the win. And it worked, most of the time. When he got beat, it was by faster combo decks that he couldn't interact with. But against a "normal" deck, it was a guaranteed victory.
I can't blame the guy. He was trying to win $5 of store credit, you know? <bleh> But, the games were linear and boring. I've seen that trick before. If you want to have fun, get some new tricks. That's all I'm saying.
Saturday, February 14, 2015
White is one of the three colors I rarely play on its own. So, most of the white cards I've collected over the years have been outstanding support cards like Sword to Plowshares and Land Tax.
That's not going to cut it.
My objective is to build a representative cube for Commander deckbuilding, and that means I need enough white cards to build a good, mono-colored deck with a strong theme, but with enough range to play nicely with the other colors.
Let's take a look at the white cards I recently added to the cube:
This guy is nutty. All the titans have a strong color-theme and make appearances in every other column of my cube, except in green where Primeval Titan is banned. As a 6/6 for 6 mana with vigilance, Sun Titan has decent board presence, but that's not the good stuff. The good stuff is his ability to return permanents from my graveyard to the battlefield. It's neat, on-theme, incremental card advantage that supports a lot of different strategies.
Soulbond is a spectacular ability. They really outdid themselves with this one. Not only do "creatures matter," which is an important part of keeping the game on the battlefield, but I can use creatures to give abilities to other creatures that wouldn't normally have those abilities. Silverblade Paladin bonds to give double strike, which can create interesting game states and combat outcomes. Getting double value out of combat damage triggers is a fun mini-game.
Entreat the Angels
I'm probably going overboard with cards like this in my cube, but for now Entreat the Angels joins White Sun's Zenith and Decree of Justice as X token producers. Let's build an army.
Wall of Omens
This card replaces itself for 2 mana (like cycling!), except it leaves behind a 0/4 wall. This can deter small attacks in the early game or come back from the graveyard in various ways to buy time and draw another card.
For 4 mana, this enchantment gives my creatures +1/+1. But the multikicker is what makes this card a good time. For each additional 2 mana I spend, I get to bring a creature back from my graveyard. Bringing creatures back is a good way to get additional value out of triggers or to re-buy my best guys. This card scales up with the amount of mana available, so it's reasonable to expect to pay 8 mana for the card and to get two creatures back for my trouble.
Spear of Heliod
The Spear is a nice, low-cost permanent that gives all of my creatures +1/+1. With a token swarm, a small boost like this can add up to a large amount of additional power. It can also be "thrown" to take out a creature that hits me. Leaving mana open means my opponent might think twice about attacking me instead of pointing his favorite creature at someone else.
Heliod, God of the Sun
Lookie here. It's the spear god himself. The newer gods are (almost) all perfect for representing on-theme colors by acting as quasi-creatures and giving flavorful abilities. This guy gives my army vigilance, which is a great way to get extra mileage out of my attack step, and can slowly build up a token army of 2-power guys. If I happen to have devotion, he steps in as a 5-power indestructible creature to layeth down the smack.
Coupled with the spells that generate token armies, this enchantment is a perfect way to end stalemates without combo. With this out, a cycled Decree of Justice for 6 makes for a surprising and sudden savage army. Each of my 6 new soldiers gets 6 +1/+1 counters for a total of 6, 7-power creatures. That should put a dent in just about anything.
Speaking of making armies big, this guy is leading the charge with the ability to turn an attacking army into an unstoppable force. As a 4/4 with first strike for 4 mana, Jazal is a capable cat, but his ability to rally the troops is something to behold. For 5 mana, an attacking token swarm gets a huge boost and crashes into whatever is in the way. Note that Jazal himself does not have to attack to activate his ability, so you can safely hold him back from harm and send the tokens in to get the job done.
The white column of the cube is far from complete, but it has a good start. I have my eye on a few other creatures, like Hero of Bladehold, and some of the angels, that can push the themes in the direction I'm looking to go.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
If you take a close look at my Commander Cube, you'll notice that the original dual lands are missing.
There's a reason for that.
I'm building the cube to be casual(ish). Yes, I see that Jace, the Mind Sculptor, is on the list. I'm light on Planeswalkers overall, so he's holding place for Tezzeret the Seeker. Plus, he's not bonkers in this format, in my experience.
But, the original dual lands are another story.
The are the best at what they do, but the game designers have clearly demonstrated that these lands are simply too good. The closest card(s) that have been printed in recent memory are the shock lands.
In a strange turn of events, I never bothered to collect every shock land because I have a play set of the original dual lands. There was no point. I don't play Standard or Modern. I figured I'd pick them up if I ever needed them. Well, it looks like that time is here.
Using prices on TCGPlayer.com (2/3/2015), Tropical Island is available for $130, lightly played. Breeding Pool is available for $9, lightly played. Is Tropical Island objectively better? Yes. Is it $121 better? Ignoring all other formats, I'd say no. In Commander format, the $9 Breeding Pool is similar enough that it isn't worth the extra money for Tropical Island.
Think of it this way: If I build a three-color deck for Nicol Bolas, I could include one copy each of Underground Sea, Volcanic Island, and Badlands. Along with fetch lands, these three cards pretty much solve all my color-fixing problems.
They also add $600 to the price of the deck.
But if I use, Watery Grave, Steam Vents, and Blood Crypt instead, I'd be adding about $25 to the price of the deck.
If the folks in your play group routinely run the original dual lands, then I say go for it. But otherwise, it's just not worth it.
Mark my words.
Only bad can come of it.