Friday, November 27, 2015

Not Giving Up on Commander Cube

Path to Exile

I spent all that time sleeving up the Commander Cube and then I gave up.

Of course, I can still use the Commander Cube to easily build myself new Commander decks. Nothing lost there. But when we actually tried to draft the thing, it was disheartening. The reasons it didn't work are obvious in retrospect.

Oh hindsight, thou art twenty twenty.

Here's what I learned:

Up first, unless your friends and drafting partners are very familiar with Magic, passing foreign and textless cards around the table will ruin your experience.


I'm that guy that can recognize thousands of cards by sight. I like this game. I play it a lot. Not everyone is like this. In fact, most people are not like this. So, while a textless Disenchant looks cool and is an iconic card that "everyone knows," remembering if it is an Instant or Sorcery off the top of your head when it gets passed to you in a draft is not a reasonable expectation for all players.

It may be tough to accept, but some of the people you play with might not have ever cast Disenchant. It last appeared in cardboard in Time Spiral, circa 2006. That's almost 10 years ago.

Oh God, I'm old.

Up next, there are lots of ways to tweak the drafting rules to make them quicker and more friendly. Not everyone wants to dedicate 3+ hours to drafting and playing. We have fun using a "pack war" or mini-master format, where cards are dealt out from the cube and the game starts. More cards are added between rounds.

This makes it easier for newer players to get started since they don't have to make deckbuilding decisions until they get a chance to see at least some of the cards in action in a real game first. It also means that the time you would have spent drafting, you spend playing.

For a more Commander experience, deal out 30 face-down cards to each player. Then, give out 4 of each basic land for a total of 20 lands. That makes a 50 card deck with at least 20 lands. Next, deal out a couple of legendary creatures to each player and let them pick one to act as their Commander. It's a half-size deck, so cut the life total in half, too.

After the first game, deal out another 30 cards to each player and rebuild decks. This time, enforce the color-identity rule. Now, players will know at least some of the cards to expect, but with some surprises from the newly dealt out cards.

Quicksilver Amulet


Another thing I learned is that is it much easier to evaluate cards for the cube if you pick a strict number of total cards and stick to it. After I chopped out all of the foreign and textless cards, I was able to stick to a 360 card total. The most people I would play this format with is 4, so 360 cards is enough for everyone to get 6 "packs" of 15 cards if we wanted to play a traditional sealed deck format.

If you have a well-tuned Commander deck, don't make cards from that deck part of your cube. There's a good chance that you are running cards that work really well in the context of that particular deck, but that don't play nice with the cube's card pool. Again, this seems obvious in retrospect, but there are cards that we consider "good" in Commander that are only good in combination with one particular card or strategy.

NecropotenceRead the Bones

For example, compare Necropotence to Read the Bones. Necropotence is a very powerful Magic card. It ruined an entire tournament cycle for a lot of players because it was so good that you either played it or played against it. But, it requires a heavy commitment to black to even cast, which is not always easy to achieve in a limited environment. Read the Bones doesn't have the raw power level of Necropotence, but it is much easier to cast in combination with colors besides black, draws cards, and even gives you some library manipulation in the process.

PonderJace, Vryn's Prodigy

Speaking of drawing cards and library manipulation, you want to run a lot of these effects. Drawing cards covers a multitude of sins, and library manipulation has a similar effect of fixing terrible draw sequences that knock players out of a game. Because of the singleton nature of the format Commander is random. That's cool. Not drawing lands is not cool, though. If you can give players more ways to draw cards, loot cards, or rearrange cards, it lessens the randomness.

Demonic TutorMystical Tutor

With that said, take the tutors out of your cube. Tutors require a shuffle, which is time-consuming. They also severely lessen the randomness, to the point that the game becomes about getting to and casting the tutor. Look at it this way, the guy who gets his tutor first gets to find the best card in a limited card pool. Because the card pool is limited, and there is a high degree of randomness to the decks already, one tutored card can entirely dominate the rest of the game.

Finally, find editions of cards where the wording has been corrected. Newer players may not understand that the printing of the card is different from the official Oracle text. This can be confusing and may take time away from actually playing the game while you have to look stuff up. Take a look at the original printing for the Impulse vs. the corrected version of Impulse.


See that last line, "Shuffle your library afterwards."? That's not supposed to be there. This is clear in the reprinted version on the right, but the original printing contains the error.

Another example of this is when the older wording on the card didn't make much sense. They are much better at designing cards now, but we still have access to old cards that do cool things. Try to find a reprint. Take a look at Animate Dead old vs. new.

Animate DeadAnimate Dead

Oh geez. That card still doesn't make any sense!

Maybe just use Reanimate instead. :)


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Losing Big at GP Seattle-Tacoma

Delver of Secrets

After years of playing Magic, Commander is my go-to format. I play a couple of games per month, so a more casual-friendly format still gives me the chance to play without getting rolled over. Or, at least, when I do get rolled over, it's on turn 10 and it's epic.

But! Once every couple of years, I get the chance to play some big time Magic. This weekend, I was at GP Seattle-Tacoma with Ben and Drew.

Road trip!

As I type this, they are finishing up round 15 on day 2, looking to see who will make it to the top 8. As you may have guessed, I'm not in that group. I spent day 2 getting some cards signed for my Commander deck. Thanks Christopher Rush and Brian Snoddy!

I had a couple of months to plan for this GP, but played maybe 15 games of Legacy, total. The deck I should have played was Delver, but since I had limited time to practice, I went with Reanimator. At it's heart, it is a combo deck that sometimes just wins. Plus, it gave me a chance to play Griselbrand, which is something that I can't do in Commander anymore.



Oh, and the promo card for the GP was alternate art, foil Griselbrand. If he ever comes back to Commander, I'm ready.

We drove up on Friday. It was a couple of hours from where I live, so we got started early and made it in time to play in the mini-master tournament. Three free packs later, I had opened a Bring to Light and not much else.

Bring to Light

But hey, free cards, amiright?

After that, we ate at a vegan place up the hill that Drew had been to before. Then, we went back to the hotel to get some rest.

Our room was next to the elevators, so we got to keep tabs on the comings and goings - all night.

Saturday rolled around and we walked over to the convention hall for the players meeting and to listen carefully to the judges. We joined 2000 other Legacy players, hoping to play our way to victory, as we opened a cool double-sided Delver of Secrets playmat to get started.

My rounds went like this:

Knight of the ReliquaryChalice of the Void

Round 1
Opponent: Aaron
Deck: Maverick(?)

Aaron beat me 2 games in a row. Game 1, I kept a hand with 2 Brainstorms, 1 Ponder, and 1 Exhume. He played Chalice of the Void on 1 off a land and a Mox Diamond. This is terrible for me as a large portion of my deck has a converted mana cost of 1.

Take note here, people. If your deck can support an Chailce for 1, it's tough for a lot of decks in the format to play against.

Anyway, I couldn't do much of anything with the Chalice shutting down a big chunk of my deck, so I discarded Inkwell Leviathan to hand size and eventually cast Exhume to get it out.

Things were looking okay until he turned his Knight of the Reliquary into a huge beater and took over the game. He was able to block the Inkwell one turn, attack into it the next turn, and then kill me the turn after.

In game 2, I kept a no land hand with a Lotus Petal, Duress, Force of Will, and a blue card to pitch. I ended up Forcing an early Chalice on 1 again, but didn't draw land to capitalize on the opening.

Not a good start.

Glistener ElfInvigorate

Round 2
Opponent: Carter
Deck: Infect

I lost two games against this guy, too. In game 1, he cast Glistener Elf on turn 1, double Invigorate on turn 2 to put me at 9 poison counters, then finished me off on turn 3. In game 2, he Forced my Exhume for Blazing Archon and poisoned me to death with a couple of Inkwell Nexus, Vines of the Vastwood, and Berserk.

At least it was quick.

Rest in PeaceKarakas

Round 3
Opponent: Sean
Deck: Enchantress

I won two games against this deck, but it was total luck. He had main deck Karakas and Rest in Peace! I had a lucky Force for a turn 2 Rest in Peace in game 1. Inkwell Leviathan did it's thing.

In game 2, I kept an Inkwell on the draw to discard to handsize, then landed a turn 2 Exhume off a land and a Lotus Petal. This was risky because I was totally exposed to a turn 2 Rest in Peace on his turn, but he didn't have it.

Better lucky than good.

Ensnaring BridgeChalice of the Void

Round 4
Opponent: Conner
Deck: Grixis Tezzerator

I lost two games against this guy, but they were long back and forth fights. This was the best Magic I played all day. In game 1, he landed a turn 1 Chalice for 1 off a land and a Mox Diamond (sound familiar?), then had a Force for my turn 2 Exhume, and a Force for my turn 3 Animate Dead. I was out of cards and ended up drawing into and hard-casting a Grave Titan into his Ensnaring Bridge. He played his hand out as much as possible, but I got a few turns of attacking with zombie tokens in before he killed the zombies and locked me out of the game.

In game 2, he landed another early Chalice for 1 and an Ensnaring Bridge. I drew a Force the turn after he cast the Bridge.

Insectile AberrationSpell Snare

Round 5
Opponent: Ed
Deck: RUG Delver

He flipped 2x Delvers early and had enough countermagic to stop me from reanimating Elesh Norn. This happened two games in a row, with him catching an Exhume for Elesh Norn with a Spell Snare of all things.

AlurenImperial Recruiter

Round 6
Opponent: Michael
Deck: Aluren Combo w/ Imperial Recruiter

In won both of these games. This was the only match all day where my deck did what it was supposed to do. I had all the pieces I needed for a quick Griselbrand in both games and was able to overwhelm my opponent with the flying, card-drawing, demon.

At this point, I was hungry so I dropped.

Pizza time.

Traditionally, this is the part of the report where I offer up some "props and slops." Here we go.

*Drew and Ben for rounding out the totally-appropriately-named "Team Tiger."
*Hotel Murano for having a William Morris original on the 25th floor.
*My opponent Sean for driving down from Canada with an Enchantress deck that he clearly loved playing.

*Hotel Murano for building a hotel with rooms next to the elevators.
*My Round 6 opponent, Michael, for being salty. Sometimes, you gotta just let people have their own bad day, I guess.

What I Learned
*Bring ear plugs
*Bring good food, like vegetables, as snacks
*Look at the list of artists that are going to be there, so that you don't miss out on the chance to get nearly half of your Commander deck signed all at once!

If you get a chance to go to a GP or any other large Magic event, do it!