Tuesday, March 31, 2015
In part 1, we looked at lands that produce colored mana. In part 2, let's look at utility lands.
Producing colored mana is the main job of your manabase. Unless, of course, your commander is Kozilek. Then, all bets are off.
But, there are a lot of lands in Magic that we can use for reasons other than producing mana. These utility lands can often play the role of producing mana when you need it, but also do something extra to spice things up a bit.
In general, utility lands fall into three main groups. The first group is lands that produce a certain color of mana. The second group is lands that produce colorless mana. And the third group is lands that don't even bother to produce mana.
Let's check out a few examples.
Up first, lands that produce a certain color of mana.
Tranquil Thicket is part of a cycle of lands, one for each color, that produce mana of a specific color but come into play tapped. Why would I want to run these lands? Because they cycle. Early game, I can drop this land into play without worrying too much about it coming into play tapped. Mid-to-late game, I can spend one measly mana to trade it in for a new card. This kind of thing will make your deck more consistent.
Cabal Coffers produces mana of a specific color, under the right conditions. When those conditions are met, the amount of mana you can generate off this utility land is game-changing. As long as you are playing mono-black or have a lot of swamps (thanks, Urborg), you will easily meet the condition of this card.
Halimar Depths is another utility land that makes your deck more consistent. It comes into play tapped, but lets you manipulate the top three cards of your library. Knowing what you are going to draw, and stacking your library, can lead to all kinds of wondrous benefits.
Up next, lands that produce colorless mana.
Reliquary Tower is a simple example of a land that produces colorless mana without coming into play tapped, but gives you a little bump. In this case, climbing the tower means that you get to ignore the maximum hand size rule. Fun stuff.
Rogue's Passage let's just about any creature break on through to the other side, but still taps for colorless mana when you need it. Isn't that nice?
Myriad Landscape is a relative newcomer to the scene, but does a pretty good job of tapping for mana when you need it and ramping when you don't. There are plenty of decks that can benefit disproportionately by dropping a couple of lands directly into play.
And finally, lands that don't even bother to produce mana.
The Tabernacle and Pendrell Vale is a ridiculous card, with a ridiculous price-tag to go along with it. Like a lot of the utility lands printed back in the day, this land doesn't even bother with tapping for mana. In the right deck, the utility it provides is tough to beat.
Thawing Glaciers is another card from back in the day that didn't bother with tapping for mana. Instead, the utility it provides is the ability to search up (and put into play!) basic lands. In a slower format, like Commander, it's entirely possible to work this thing pretty hard and get some serious value over the course of a game.
Maze of Ith is a land only by definition. Again, it's old school, and doesn't bother tapping for mana. But the utility it provides is oh-so-sweet. I like to drop this land out front just to make sure that everyone can see it clearly. I don't know how many times I've heard, "I'll attack you... oh, wait, Maze of Ith... no, I'll attack someone else."
Most of my decks support somewhere between 5-8 utility lands depending on how many colors I'm packing. Utility lands that tap for colored mana are easier to include. From there, it all depends on what abilities I am looking for in that particular deck.
It's entirely too easy to get needlessly fancy with utility lands, though. Start cramming too many in your deck and you'll end up with something unworkable. As an experiment, try taking a deck you've been using for a while and swap out the utility lands for plain ol' basic lands in your colors. Making your lands drops with lands that tap for the color you need the turn they come into play is a beautiful thing.
I also see a lot of decks running utility lands that don't really work, just because they are "on color" or "in theme." A good example is Nephalia Drownyard. It does come into play untapped and produces colorless mana, so it's not horrible. But, the utility it provides is fairly narrow in this format. Dumping the equivalent of four mana into the card just to mill someone for three isn't that exciting. Using it on yourself might be more useful, but you can't count on it. The artwork is beautiful, though.
Compare this to a similar utility land for blue/red, Desolate Lighthouse. It comes into play untapped and taps for a colorless mana, so we've got those bases covered. But the utility it provides is actually pretty darn useful. For the equivalent of four mana, you can replace the worst card in your hand with something else. This is doubly handy if for some reason you actually want to put said card in your graveyard, since you get to choose the card that gets shipped off to the lighthouse.
Monday, March 23, 2015
That's right. It's official. No more tuck.
From the rules post, here are the four reasons why:
1) We want to engender as positive an experience as we can for players. Nothing runs the feel-bads worse than having your commander unavailable to you for the whole game.
Yeah, alright. That makes sense. I feel like we are losing the "tradeoff" for focusing too much on our Commanders, but this format is called "Commander" for a reason. I will miss tucking Uril and then dragging the game out while they desperately try to dig for him again only to eat a Hinder when they do.
I'm evil like that.
2) The presence of tuck encourages players to play more tutors so that in case their commander gets sent to the library, they can get it back—exactly the opposite of what we want (namely, discouraging the over-representation of tutors).
Yeah, alright. That makes sense, too. I find myself dialing back the tutors just to keep things interesting. I never considered running a bunch of tutors just to get my Commander, though. Maybe I don't run the kind of deck that heavily relied on my Commander.
3) While we are keenly aware that tuck is a great weapon against problematic commanders, the tools to do so are available only in blue and white, potentially forcing players into feeling like they need to play those colors in order to survive. We prefer as diverse a field as possible.
Yeah, alright. I am guilty of jamming white specifically for running sweepers that tuck Commanders. There's nothing quite like cartwheeling down a miracle Terminus and tucking all the Commanders in one go.
4) It clears up some corner case rules awkwardness, mostly dealing with knowing the commander’s location in the library (since highly unlikely to actually end up there).
Yeah, alright. I would see guys show up with Commanders in custom card cases and sleeves, only to get totally confused when Spin into Myth gets dropped on them. "Are you sure I have to put my Commander into my library?" Oh yes, my friend. I'm sure.
All things considered, I never liked the inconsistency for handling Commanders leaving the battlefield. This rule change helps to bring the expected behavior more in line. Sadly, Hinder and Spell Crumple lose some of what makes them unique as counters.
In the end, we'll all adjust. But, I'll miss it. There are a few powerful Commanders out there that I felt were balanced by the fact that they could be dealt with semi-permanently by shuffling them into the library. The people who ran those Commanders had to play it safe to protect them, and had to run more tutors to stay in the game when the inevitable tuck happened. Now, the rest of us have to run more removal or more oppressive cards to slow them down.
Is it worth the tradeoff?
Friday, March 20, 2015
The full spoiler for Dragons of Tarkir is out now. Check it out at MythicSpoiler.com or at Magiccards.info.
If my collection got up and walked away, I'd be totally bummed. But if I had to start over with the Tarkir block, it would be alright. The designers have been doing an outstanding job of putting together blocks that feel like Magic, but that also have a strong internal theme and a unique feel. Theros feels different than Innistrad. They both feel different than Tarkir. Yet, they all feel like Magic.
That's a difficult trick to pull off.
The gist of the story for Tarkir block is that some stuff happens that leads to non-dragons being in charge of the clans (Khans of Tarkir), some other stuff happens that leads to time-travel and all the wackiness that goes along with that (Fate Reforged), and then time moves forward and dragons are in charge (Dragons of Tarkir).
Oh, you want more details than that? Check out this entry at the MTGSalvation Wiki.
So, if I was just getting into Magic today and only buying packs from Tarkir block, what would I end up with?
Dragons. Lots of dragons.
Enough dragons to play the hell out of them as commanders and creatures in lots of different kinds of commander decks. I mean, look at these guys!
Legendary creatures. Good ones, too.
Enough legendary creatures to mix it up and play them as commanders and creatures in lots of different kinds of commander decks.
You know what else we got with this block that we haven't gotten in a long time? Truly broken stuff. It's been a while since cards were printed that required banning and restriction the way these did. If I started playing with this block, these are the cards that nostalgia is made of.
The block has a good mix of ramp, creatures, control, aggro, and everything else you know and love, all wrapped up in a time-traveling, dragon theme.
And let's not forget the planeswalkers. This block gave us lots to love there. I can only imagine cracking Ugin at a prerelease or draft as a new player. It's a spirit dragon for crying out loud. I would so run that card is every commander deck I built from there on out, with a ray of sunshine joy every time I ripped it off the top.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be new to the game with the sets that are being produced today?
Saturday, March 14, 2015
I recently picked up the Elspeth vs. Kiora duel deck. I love this deck series, the planeswalker decks especially. There are lots of great uses for pre-built decks, but the best thing about them is that they come with cards to try out in the Commander Cube.
The Elspeth deck is a white deck that just so happens to support the token theme that I am going for in my cube for that color. Elspeth, Sun's Champion is a powerhouse.
Since white is already at the card count I want for this cube, I made some substitutions to fit in the new cards.
I already have War Priest of Thune in the cube, which is a strictly better. I don't need two of this effect. Easy swap.
Although this does produce tokens, it does it at Sorcery speed and only sometimes. There are times when it doesn't do anything. A dead draw is no fun.
There are too many times where using this guy is cumbersome. You have to tap down guys before attackers are declared, which creates a timing issue that drives people crazy when all you are trying to do is play a casual game of Magic. (It's the reason that I rarely play with Rhystic Study.)
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Good news, this planeswalker will walk away with games if you protect her. Better news, she protects herself. Generating three soldiers at a pop can get out of hand quickly. Her middle ability is often a one-sided sweeper. Her ultimate can close out games, but pumping out tokens and sweeping the board is usually enough.
Captain of the Watch
Makes soldiers. Buffs soldiers. Gets nutty with bounce, flicker, or reanimation shenanigans. Producing an instant army with one card is how white gets ahead on the board, and the Captain brings an army with her. 9 power on the board for 6 mana, all with Vigilance.
Dictate of Heliod
This enchantment joins several others that make my creatures bigger, but the fact that Dictate of Heliod has Flash really make it stand out. It's relatively easy to set up attacks that go unblocked only to flash this in and triple the damage.
The Kiora deck is a blue and green monsters and ramp deck. I purposefully left my Simic blue/green section of the cube open because I knew this duel deck was coming out. Since I had room for Simic cards in the cube, I didn't have to make any swaps for these cards.
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Under the right conditions, she can protect herself. If you bounce between her +1 and -1 abilities, you can get some serious value. If you do manage to build up to the ultimate, it creates a flavorful "crashing wave" of massive Krakens. It's nice that they come in at your end step.
I'm not super pumped about this guy, but he flies and scales with the available mana. Not bad.
The "fixed" Mana Drain is still pretty good. Capturing the right spell at the right time can swing the game.
Simic Sky Swallower
Another flying beater, but this one protects itself. 7 mana is a lot, even for this format. We'll see how this guy does.
This is a pretty sweet two drop. There are a number of artifacts that get nutty when you can unconditionally untap them. He also messes with combat math by creating a sudden, and often massive, blocker.
Speaking of sweet two drops, it doesn't get much better than this. When you reveal a land, it ramps into play untapped. Your consolation prize for not revealing a land is getting to draw a card. That's my kind of prize.
For 5 mana, you get three new cards and a good possibility of ramp.
No evasion, and it doesn't protect itself, but it can come down early and grow quickly. Blue wants to draw cards anyway, so with some support this guy can turn into a monster. It is sadly outclassed by Chasm Skulker, though.
I also have a blue swap.
Adding a small creature near the bottom of the curve that gives me Scry 2 for my trouble.
Into the Roil
I have plenty of bounce in this cube and this card often falls to the bottom of my list.
And a green swap.
It grabs two basic lands and drops them into play for 4 mana. Fun with landfall triggers. Does a decent job of color-fixing.
I'm not currently playing with the old dual lands in this cube, so getting "Forests" isn't as useful as it might be otherwise.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Red is one of the three colors I rarely play on its own. So, most of the red cards I've collected over the years have been outstanding support cards like Wheel of Fortune and Stranglehold.
That's not going to cut it.
My objective is to build a representative cube for Commander deckbuilding, and that means I need enough red 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 red cards I recently added to the cube:
Ah, the Titans. With a green brother so good he got himself banned, Inferno Titan is no slouch either. As a 6/6 for 6 mana with firebreathing this guy comes to town and does some work. He also has a handy lightning bolt effect when he shows up and it's reusable (and free) for something I want to do anyway: attack!
This completes the cycle of one-mana cycling lands for my cube. See what I did there?
Dictate of the Twin Gods
I want red to have a double-up flavor in this cube. Attack twice, double damage, double strike, double trouble. That sort of thing. Since you can flash this thing into play after your opponents declare blockers and simply wreck people, it makes for a surprisingly powerful surprise for only 5 mana.
You know what's better than attacking with my best creature? Attacking with two of them. It's two measly mana to cast at a minimum and has the flexibility to make two, three, four, or even more copies with enough mana. The icing on the cake is that it puts the copy onto the battlefield, so it will trigger "enters the battlefield" effects.
Hammer of Purphoros
It gives all my creatures haste. This can be pretty scary after a board wipe when you can smash into open players with almost no resistance. It can also be used to create an army of golems if you have extra lands to throw around, or to make a chump blocker on demand.
Like with green, it took the designers a while to figure out how red is supposed to get access to more cards without drawing them the way blue does. This card is a great support enchantment that has two modes for extra flexibility. The first mode, Khans, gives you access to an additional card each turn, but with a flavorful restriction. Red wants to do stuff right now! Use it or lose it.
Urabrask the Hidden
This guy can swing a creature battle into your favor pretty quick. Giving your own creatures haste means you can get a turn of use out of them often before anyone can react to it. But tapping down your opponents' creatures? Oh yeah. He's so fast that it's like he has superhaste.
He has double strike. Which is awesome. Put some equipment on this guy and good lord you better hope you have a blocker or he will wreck you. His bloodrush ability can also be used strategically to turn the tide of combat or even after he is unblocked to really push the damage through.
These guys also have double strike. Prowess is good for a few extra damage here or there. You could build around it and really push the numbers up, but in my cube it's all about the double strike.
Speaking of double strike, check this guy out. With a little planning and a lot of luck, this guy can quickly grow to epic proportions. Double strike means that the creature deals first strike damage and regular damage, so the first unblocked attack is for 1+2 damage, leaving the blademaster with two +1/+1 counters. The next unblocked attack is for 3+4 damage, leaving the blademaster with four +1/+1 counters. Do you see where this is going?
Hound of Griselbrand
If I can't play with Griselbrand, at least I can play with his dog. More double strike. Plus, you get this guy back bigger and better after a board wipe. God help them if you have something out that gives him haste.
He dishes out an extra two power and haste to your creatures. If you are building a deck that attacks for the win, this guy is a great addition to the team. If you are building a token deck, this can get out of hand quickly. Throwing down a small handful of tokens results in a sudden and massive attack.