Saturday, April 25, 2015
You know what I like the most about playing Magic?
Sure, drawing cards is cool. Summoning creatures is cool. Heck, even casting spells is cool.
But do you know what's even cooler?
Doing all that stuff... for free.
When you get to do stuff without any additional cost, that's what I like to call, "taking a ride to value town." Here, check this card out.
Lurking Predators is straight up value town. You pay a total of 6 mana up front and then watch the creatures fly for no additional cost. It's not uncommon to go from an empty board to a board full of monsters by the time it comes around to you with this out.
Do you know why?
Because, as it turns out, your opponents like to play Magic, too. So, against all better judgment, they will cast spells into the damn enchantment! And creatures pop out.
In other words, value town is about getting something extra for doing what you were going to do anyway. How about this gem?
Rampaging Baloths is all about value town. The creature is a decent deal by itself, but getting more and more creatures for doing what? Playing lands? I was planning to do that anyway, thankyouverymuch.
A quick way to find value town cards is to do a search over at MagicCards.info for "whenever."
"Whenever" is code for "value town." It's the best word is Magic. Cards will pop out that do something over and over for no additional cost. Whenever "this" happens, do "this."
Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor are the new breed of value town creatures, and they are so good they show up in Vintage decks. They spit out creatures for stuff you were going to do anyway. The "condition" to turn these cards into token-generating machine guns is to what? Play spells? Oh, lookie here. My deck just so happens to be full of spells.
Seriously, some of the best cards in Commander are cards like this. Take a look at Aura Shards and Mirari's Wake. Both of these are, "whevener" cards and therefore speed boats to value town. Buckle up.
If you aren't playing with jerks, the Commander format can create the types of games that give decks time develop. Value town cards really shine the longer the game goes on. That's why a card like Black Market is so powerful. It gets better and better for something that happens all the time: creatures dying.
It's also why Consecrated Sphinx is so good. The thing triggers whenever your opponents draw cards! You know what happens nearly every turn? Your opponent draws a card. People like drawing cards, so they often have ways of drawing more than one card per turn. And to make it really crazy, you don't just get to draw one card when it triggers. Oh no. Two cards. Two! It's a rocket to value town.
Cards that accumulate incremental value for you, just for sitting out there, are powerful engines. Take a look at the cards in your deck. Are they doing something "extra" for the stuff that is going to be happening anyway? If not, consider some alternatives. Paying a few extra mana up front for the gift that keeps on giving makes good sense. Unless, of course, the card is horribly undercosted. That's even better.
Welcome to Value Town
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The guy on the left? That was totally me the last two weeks, jamming cards into sleeves for hours on end.
My Deckbuilding Commander Cube is about 550 cards plus another 150 basic lands for a total of approximately 700 cards. That's a lot of double sleeving.
I'm careful with my cards. But, I have a trip coming up with some friends where we hope to actually, you know, draft the cube. The trip affords us a rare opportunity since we will be away from our normal lives for a couple of days. I don't want to miss this chance to draft commander until the break of dawn. I also don't want my cards to get... gross.
Don't get my wrong. My friends are generally careful, thoughtful people. But, as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To which, I'm pretty sure, the quote was from someone talking about double sleeving your cube, if I remember my history lessons right.
All told, it took me about an hour per 100 cards. You can do the math. If you decide to give this a try, play music and remember to take breaks.
Use a second card to keep the inside sleeve from sliding up as you go. Check out this guy's video to see what I mean. I found that you don't need to slide the second card all the way into the sleeve to make this happen. Halfway is enough. Use a card you don't care about since it may show some edge wear after 700 cards.
Saturday, April 18, 2015
Over the years, I've spent some serious money on Magic cards. I've been lucky enough to buy and hold cards that have gone way up in value, only to sell them later to buy other cards. I'm to the point where I usually don't spend money out of my pocket on cards. It's all just trading.
I'm also lucky enough to know a group of guys that get together once a year for a weekend of playing board games and card games. In preparation for the upcoming game weekend, I've been balancing the Deckbuilding Commander Cube so that we can actually draft the thing.
Here are the recent changes.
+Atarka, World Render - She's a legendary creature that can be used as a commander, and the combination of double strike and trample is a savage, savage beating.
+Xenagos, the Reveler - My primary consideration when evaluating a Planeswalker for the cube is if that 'walker can defend himself. Xenagos does that. He also ramps. And his ultimate can be exciting. All this for four mana.
+Drogskol Reaver - If you couldn't tell by now, I'm super into double strike. And drawing cards. This guy is great!
+Brago, King Eternal - I needed a legend for this color combination, and this guy brings shenanigans.
+Aurelia, the Warleader - Two combat phases! Angels are always popular.
+Assemble the Legion - Left unchecked, this enchantment can get out of hand. Flooding the board with dudes is almost always welcome.
+Brion Stoutarm - Another commander option. The idea of flinging dudes at people is too appealing to pass up.
+Steam Augury - I like these "mini-game" cards. And if they end up putting more cards in my hand, that's even better.
+Epic Experiment - Spin the wheel! Let's see what we get.
+Dack's Duplicate - A clone with haste, you say? Don't mind if I do.
+Melek, Izzet Paragon - Another legendary creature, but with a cool copy ability and the ability to play things off the top. Future Sight is one of my favorite cards, so anything close to it is worth a try.
+Rakdos Charm - Because if anything, the Rakdos are certainly charming. Lots of relevant modes on this spell, including one that wrecks token decks.
+Grenzo, Dungeon Warden - I'm a sucker for effects like this, where you spend some mana and hope for the best. One of my favorite cards is Temporal Aperture. Grenzo is like a more restrictive, but cheaper and repeatable, version of that card.
+Deathreap Ritual - This is relatively easy to bring online and draw a fistful of cards without any additional cost besides simply watching things die.
+Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord - With a double-color mana cost like this, it's all-in Jarad if you decide to go that way. But the abilities are amazing. He scales for beats, growing to epic proportions. You can also dump mana into this guy if the board is clogged with creatures to cause direct life loss.
+Prossh, Skyraider of Kher - Another three-color dragon to go with the others. Plus, he brings friends. And, has an unconditional sacrifice outlet with upside.
+Derevi, Empyrial Tactician - Can be absurdly powerful and avoids the Commander tax. None of the other Bant options jump out at me except for Rafiq of the Many because, hey, double strike.
+Myriad Landscape - I hate lands that come into play tapped. This one gets a pass because it ramps and color-fixes.
+Mind's Eye - When in doubt, draw more cards. This gives a strong card-drawing option to colors that don't normally get something like that.
+Suture Priest - I really like this card. Token decks can gain life for doing what they are doing anyway. And it can put pressure on opposing token decks.
+Mentor of the Meek - Borderline broken. Card drawing is white is not all that common, especially not cards like this where you can tack on whatever extra mana you have laying around.
+Stonecloaker - It was going to be this or Whitemane Lion, but Stonecloaker has more relevant modes. It's a tricky card that can be used to save a creature or mess with reanimation, but it also combos nicely with Karametra by bouncing itself. Do that a couple of times per turn and you're in business.
+Nahiri, the Lithomancer - There are a quite a few good white 'walkers to consider, but for my money, Nahiri makes the grade. I like all of her abilities. That sword is sexy. The ability to be your Commander is gravy.
+Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury - Another Commander 'walker. She also makes tokens and can defend herself.
+Hunter's Insight - Green needs to draw cards to keep the pressure on. This is a cool, in-theme way to do that. It also plays nicely with the double strike cards in other colors.
+Soul's Majesty - Another way for green to draw cards. Hey, in a color that plays big creatures, this is often like getting a new hand.
+Act on Impulse - This is one of the coolest cards printed in a long time. It is so perfectly red. And gives red a way to "draw" cards.
+Blasphemous Act - A surprising and often cheap sweeper. The flavor is amazing.
+Daretti, Scrap Savant - Another Commander 'walker. Although he can't defend himself directly by generating token creatures, there's a good chance that you can swap a big artifact creature into play with a little planning.
+Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath - I am sensing a pattern here, with yet another Commander 'walker. This one makes tokens, big time. Demon tokens.
+Tezzeret, the Seeker - It was about time this guy made an appearance. He tutors up artifacts. He untaps them. He turns them into beatdown. It's really quite silly.
Even with all these changes, there are still a few deficiencies in the cube. Notably, there are no legendary creatures in Orzhov. That's a problem. I am also missing a few Planeswalkers. Also a problem. But not a problem that makes this cube imbalanced or unplayable. Now, I need to make a few cuts to really bring this in line.
Saturday, April 4, 2015
Head on over to GatheringMagic.com to check out Carlos Gutierrez's article featuring his deck, "Apostles of Athreos." He has the full deck list posted there along with the reasoning that went into the build.
This deck is pretty damned cool. It pushes all of my buttons. There are lots of things to love here. Not the least of which, it breaks the rules.
Lots of Magic cards break the rules. I mean, look at Azusa, Lost but Seeking. It says right on the card that I get to play more than the usual one land per turn. See? Rule-breaking. But Shadowborn Apostle really gets me going.
In a format like Commander where you only get one card with a certain name, Shadowborn Apostle says "nu-uh" to that. Carlos' deck has 35 cards named Shadowborn Apostle.
And what can we do with all of these Shadowborn Apostles?
And I don't just mean in the "Magic" rules sense of "summoning" from our hands. I mean summon demons, directly out of the library and into play. More than that, it's flavorful summoning, too. We sacrifice not one, not three, but exactly six of our guys to do it. Hex, baby.
How cool is that?
And what demon can with get for our trouble?
Sure, we can get Shadowborn Demon. But the Apostles are a little more flexible than that. (I'm guessing it's all the yoga.) We can get any demon we want.
Carlos stacked his deck with some sweet demons, but the possibilities don't stop there. With so many creatures showing up to our party, I'd be tempted to drop in...
Scoophands! Er, no. Not him. Just checked. He's still banned. :(
Well, well. Look who gets bigger when creatures die.
Most of these guys require the "old school" demon upkeep of sacrificing a creature. Stabby-stabby. Sure, the new demons are a little easier to work with, but for that O.G. flavor, creatures gotta die. But it doesn't mean that we have to be entirely fair, you know.
As long as we are summoning and sacrificing guys left and right, we might as well get some extra mileage out of the deal. How about adding a few cards like this to sweeten the deal? Dictate of Erebos is particularly brutal since it will likely clear the board when you activate your Shadowborn Apostles.
The main problem with this deck - and this is the one that keeps me from building what would otherwise be an awesome deck - is that the deck can feel stale almost immediately. There are some things we can do to give it variety, but getting everything working means that game after game will end up feeling pretty much the same. Well, that, and with Shadowborn Apostle at about a buck each, you're looking at $35 - $40 just to start this madness.
God help you if you want to foil it out.
Which brings me to the choice of Commander for this monster of a deck. Carlos went with Athreos, God of Passage.
I like Athreos in this deck. At three mana, he shows up early enough to get into the first round of Apostle summoning and presents an interesting choice to all involved when the first stabby-stabby-slashy-slashy happens.
Out pops a demon! By the way, do you want to pay 6X3=18 life to keep me from doing this again real soon?
Another Commander choice that works here is Teysa, Orzhov Scion. True, you lose the indestructible nature of the Theros gods by going with her, but you get spirits-a-plenty and a machine gun creature killer on the table.
I'd say that running both in the deck to be able to swap is the way to go. I wouldn't be sorry to draw either Athreos or Teysa during a game.
If the backbone of the deck is Shadowborn Apostle, we are opening ourselves up to a wee bit of trouble. If someone is playing Meddling Mage, we could be in for a lot of boring turns unless we plan ahead.
I expect to see a lot more cards like Nevermore with tuck no longer an option to deal with problematic Commanders. Nevermore just so happens to accidentally be great against a deck that is more than 1/3 the same card.
If we are going to play a deck that depends on summoning Shadowborn Apostle with reckless abandon, we had better devote a chunk of the deck to making sure we can do that, no matter what they throw at us.
The good news is that when black and white get together, there is nothing that they can't handle. White nicely covers black's weaknesses when it comes to getting rid of troublesome enchantments, like Nevermore, Night of Soul's Betrayal, or Leyline of the Void. Incidentally, these are cards that accidentally cripple lots of deck, including this one.
Vindicate, Utter End, Oblation, Return to Dust, and others are just what the doctor ordered. I'd be shooting for 6 - 8 cards that handle problems like this. The Shadowborn Apostles and the demons they summon should be able to take care of just about anything else.
Except combo decks.
But if we were building a deck to handle combo, it wouldn't be some wacky Shadowborn Apostle build that tries to Timmy Summon Demon turn after turn, would it?
In a deck where you have 35 creatures with the same name and low casting cost, cards like Thrumming Stone and Immortal Servitude are explosive. So explosive. Again, it's kind of a one-trick-pony sort of deal once your friends see it happen, but it should make for a memorable game.
And isn't that what we're after? Memorable games.