Sunday, August 14, 2016

Deck in Pictures: The Usual Suspects, Mono-Black Commander

Just because I mostly play Commander online through MTGO doesn't mean I stopped collecting physical cards. I've been collecting Magic cards for almost 20 years. I'm a sucker for foreign cards, signed cards, promos, and anything that just looks cool! There's something about shuffling, tapping, and drawing physical cards that is a unique and special part of the experience.

I thought it might be fun to start a series to show some of the cool cards I've collected over the years. Up first, take a look at my mono-black commander deck, The Usual Suspects.

Hold up for a note about the card sleeves before we get to the pictures. I am using the earlier version of the Ultra Pro textured sleeves, where the clear front of the card sleeve is also textured. This tends to make the foils look muted and reduces the reflection.

Behold! Sheoldred.

Foreign, foil, promo, with alternate art. All that, and she locks down games like a boss. Has trouble fitting through doorways.

Behold! The small creatures.

Lot's of foreign cards. Love 'em. The Titan is a foil promo, alternate art. The Sangromancer is foil. Don't be fooled. She is incredible.

Behold! The Demon squad.

More foreign cards. More foils. More promos! All foil except for the Rune-scarred and Lord of the Void.

Behold! The 'walkers.

A bunch of powerful planeswalkers. Vess is foreign. Explaining her abilities to the other people at the table is a fun mini-game!

Behold! Crazy enchantments.

Artist Mark Tedin signed the Necropotence for me with a white pen. Looks sweet.

Behold! Colorless creatures.

A couple promos. Foreign, foil, promo, alternate art Steel Hellkite. Don't be fooled. Steel Hellkite is a savage beating. It wins games.

Behold! Removal.

The closest I get to running spot removal is Ashes to Ashes. The difficult to read card (glare) is the full-art, foil, promo, textless, Damnation. This is a beautiful card. The full-art, promo, Black Sun's Zenith is a close second.

Behold! Tutoring and Card Drawing.

The foreign black-bordered (FBB) Demonic Tutor with original art is quite a looker. Ambition's Cost is the foil 8th edition with a black border. Yawgmoth's Will is signed in gold pen by artist Ron Spencer. I have a Pete Venters signed Demon Token for the Promise of Power.

Behold! Ramp and Utility artifacts.

More foreign cards. More signatures. Artist Mark Tedin signed FBB Sol Ring, original Mana Crypt, and Mana Vault. Foil, alternate art, promo Lightning Greaves look even faster. Foreign Memory Jar. Artist signed original Sensei's Divining Top.

Behold! Ramp and Utility lands.

Artist signed original art Maze of Ith, FBB Strip Mine, Foreign Volrath's Stronghold and Deserted Temple. Foreign Cabal Coffers. Lots of fun stuff here.

Behold! Basic Lands!?

Matching John Avon, full-art, Unhinged basic Swamps. When these were released in the Unhinged Set, I lost my mind. The art is amazing. The effect on the battlefield when I play Swamp after matching Swamp is so cool. It took me forever to collect enough of these to finish the deck! Second best Swamp in all of Magic, right behind the Japanese, MPS, foil promo. (I'll post a picture with my other deck, later.)

If you want to see larger versions of these pictures, click here for the album. Zoom!

I also have some cool tokens and lots of other cards that I sometimes put in the deck, other foreign cards, other promos. This isn't the best deck in the world, but I always feel amazing dropping huge demons onto the battlefield and drawing tons of cards. When it works, it works. And it looks good doing it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Two Years of Commander on MTGO

Isolation Cell

A couple of years ago, I stopped going to my friendly local gaming store to play Commander. Instead, I started playing more on magic online through MTGO. It was a time and money thing.

I will admit, up front, that playing commander on MTGO does not capture the feel of sitting down with a couple of other people and smashing creatures into one another across the table. There's something missing when you need to topdeck that one card to win the game - and you do! - and there's no one there to share the moment with.

Sad face.


A couple of guys from work play magic, so we've been able to get together every once in a while for a game in a bar that is dark as sin. At that point, it's playing magic by feel more than actually being able to see the cards. And a couple of guys that I game with regularly will do me a solid a throw a game or two my way once in a while, too. It's not that I never play paper commander anymore, I just don't actively develop my decks for it.

Online, though. Online, I make new decks all the time.

Frantic Search

It is so, so much faster to throw something together online than it is in paper. And once I have the new deck built, I'm just a few clicks away from testing it out live against an exciting, unknown opponent!

Another development over the past couple of years is that duel commander (1vs1) is way more forgiving, for me anyway, than sitting through the full multiplayer experience. I do feel like it's drifting further from what "commander" really is without the multiplayer dynamics, but the deck construction and play is similar. The games are also over alarmingly sooner.

Shorter games are good and bad.

There are many, many times in multiplayer commander where I am doing nothing just hoping to get back into the game. I'm not so bad off that I should concede, which no one likes anyway, but not well off enough in the game to make an impact. And the games takes hours! Hours of sitting there, effectively ineffective.

But, online there are clocks.

Sweet, sweet clocks.

Time Warp

And when the clock times out, the game is over. I've been on the losing side of this several times, but it's so worth it.

Time Stretch

The other thing about 1vs1 is that games that are going horribly for me are typically over soon enough to start another game or even two or three in the same amount of time that I would have been grinding out another ineffective multiplayer loss.

Strangely, the MTGO client does not have built-in rules for duel commander. So, I typically end up against someone that is following the multiplayer deck construction banlist. The multiplayer list is more permissive with allowed cards because it can fall back on the multiplayer dynamic to even things out. A card like Mana Crypt, for example, is incredibly strong in 1vs1 because it creates a massive advantage for the player that has one early. This is not unlike the Vintage format.

And here's where things get interesting.

Duel Commander (1vs1) with the multiplayer banlist reminds me a lot of Vintage. I call it Vintage Light, since many of the traditional "power" cards are banned, but other powerful cards like Mana Crypt and Sol Ring are totally legal.

Sol Ring

But unlike actual Vintage, the games are more random due to the larger deck size and more restrictive banlist.

And because many of the powerful cards, like Mana Crypt, are staggeringly expensive in paper but cheap online, it's not as financially unreasonable to get into Vintage Light.

Mana Crypt

For comparison, as of 8/3/2016, a Mana Crypt from Eternal Masters is about $70 at TCGPlayer, while a Mana Crypt online is about $2 from Eternal Masters online at MTGOTraders.

So, there you go, a $68 difference for that card.

Mishra's Workshop

For another comparison, as of 8/3/2016, a Mishra's Workshop is about $750 at TCGPlayer, while the same cards online is about $4 at MTGOTraders.

Many of the cards you would want to play to be competitive or to make your deck explosive are available online at reasonable prices. And they can be easily slotted into multiple decks at the same time because of the way that MTGO works. Let's see you do that in paper!

Don't get me wrong, though. Not every card is cheaper (or cheap) online.

Liliana of the Veil

Consider Liliana of the Veil. Paper price for a moderately played Lili? About $80 on TCGPlayer as of 8/3/2016. Online price? $106 at MTGOTraders.

Hey, they can't all be winners, folks.