Saturday, December 29, 2018

Old School MTG: Deckbuilding Madness

Magic is a resource management game.

Magic is a lot of things. It's for collectors, and innovators, and grinders, and players, and families, and friends, and casuals, and thinkers, and everyone in between. But, once you have your deck and you sit down across from your opponent, Magic is about managing limited resources.

I've been playing Magic for a very long time. And no matter what format I'm playing, I fall into the same pattern. I collect a bunch of cards because I think they look cool or because I imagine using them in a deck someday. I build a ton of different decks. I take apart every deck I build, usually after only a few games with it. And then I get frustrated and sell off most of my cards, but keep the cards I know I will want later.

I'm doing the same thing with Old School.

I am fortunate in that I held on to a lot of Old School cards from back in the day simply because I thought they looked cool. Dual lands and power cards have been sitting in my collection for years. Old School gives me a way to use all of those cards and I'm grateful for the opportunity.

So, what did I do?

You guessed it. I started drafting up dozens of decks and trading for cards to fill them out. I even built some decks, played with them a few times, and then took them apart. The same old pattern emerging again.

I thought I might cut to the chase this time. Which is why it's important to understand that Magic is a resource management game.

In all of those games with the random decks I put together, there are some cards that consistently stand out. Why?

Magic is built on a set of rules, a set of limitations that are fundamental to the game and control how it works and flows. For example, you can play one and only one land per turn. Cards that bend or break that fundamental rule will put you ahead of your opponent. Those cards create a resource advantage for you when you use them. Let's take a look at some famous examples.

Fast Mana
The 5 Moxen, Black Lotus, Sol Ring, and Mana Vault all give you access to more mana than you should have at the point where you play them. For example, playing an Island on turn 1 along with a Mox Sapphire is similar to playing two lands on the first turn.

Jayemdae Tome (LEB)

Extra Cards
Ancestral Recall replaces itself and gives you two more cards for an outrageously low cost. Jayemdae Tome draws and extra card every turn once you are set up for it. Sylvan Library trades life for cards at a reasonable rate as well.

Time Walk (LEB)

Extra Turns
Time Walk also replaces itself and gives you another land drop for an outrageously low cost. At worst, it usually untaps all of the cards you used to play it and replaces itself while giving you at least the possibility of making another land drop.

Regrowth (LEB)

Some cards are so good (see above) that you are limited by the game to having only a single copy in your deck. Other cards give you a chance to use these restricted cards again. Regrowth, Recall, and Timetwister are powerful examples.

Think of it this way, if games of Magic started where each player had no cards in hand, the first deck to cast Ancestral Recall would almost certainly win that race. How many times have you been in a similar situation in the middle of a game, one where both players are out of cards and trying to topdeck a threat? The same logic applies.

When you take all of the cards that bend of break one of the fundamental rules in the game and put them all in one pile with ways to protect them, you end up with a famous deck configuration called The Deck.

The reality for me is that I'm lucky to play in 1-3 competitive Old School events per year. There is no reason to have a dozen different decks that I will never get to play. My casual playgroup is just that: casual. Competitive decks need not apply.

In other words, having the cards the build 1-2 competitive decks on demand is reasonable for my situation. Having enough cards to build a couple of different singleton casual decks is reasonable too. Anything more than that is just me being up to my old tricks again.

But playing Old School isn't only about playing the most competitive decks. There's a place for that, certainly. But there's also a place for playing with the cards that excite you, even if they aren't the best. There's something special about putting together a pile and seeing combinations of cards that haven't come up before. How can you best use what you have in front of you?

So, instead of building a ton of decks and taking them apart, I'm planning on building a ton of decks and taking them apart in style. My project for the year is to build a new deck every month, with a new theme or a new way to execute the same theme. Will there be overlapping cards? Oh, yes. With a limited collection and the way the game works, there's almost no way around that. But, this will force me to focus on a single strategy for an entire month before trying something new.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

GP Portland 2018: A Magical Weekend

I'm back home from GP Portland 2018. What a weekend.

On Friday night, my wife and I met up for some casual Old School with the Horde. We got in a few games and met some great people. The big Old School tournament was the next night, on Saturday, but we had a different party to get to so I missed that one. Next year!

On Sunday, my friend and I entered the afternoon 2HG sealed event at GP Portland. He got his DCI number for the event, and I've never played in a "competitive" 2HG event. We were also both unfamiliar with the Guilds of Ravnica expansion. I expected a slaughter.

After a rocky first round that we might have been able to win with tighter play, we won our next two rounds for a 2-1 finish. Good enough for a decent amount of prize tickets. We each picked up 10 packs from the prize wall and then headed out.

It was a magical weekend all around, made better by having good friends and family there with me. It also doesn't hurt to leave a GP with a winning record, even if it is for a side event.

Plus, I got some Old School cards signed!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Five Color (5C) Full Art Singleton

They've created a lot of cards over the years. I mean, a lot of cards. So many cards.

They've created so many, many cards that it's entirely possible to build a workable casual deck using only full-art cards.

This full-art deck works, even if you only use a single copy of any one card (except basic lands).

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against super-consistent decks that run four copies of every card. Those decks have a special place. They are either super-competitive, because running four copies of the best card in your deck is better than running one copy of the best card. Or, they are super fun, because something you need four copies of Ovinomancer to make your deck work. (Ah, memories.)

The upside of Singleton (Highlander) decks is that the variance means you can play more games and see more interactions before the match-ups are solved. This works great for kitchen table Magic, where it's not about upping your win-loss percentage. Sometimes you just want to play some Magic!

Astute observers may notice that I've cheated a little on running only full art cards. The non-lands are all full art, but some of the lands are not. It is possible to replace the multi-colored lands with full art variants, thanks to Zendikar Expeditions, but the cost of the deck goes up dramatically. I'm not willing to go there. Yet.

Otherwise, what we have here is your basic 5 color control deck: utility, card draw, spot removal, and sweepers. Oh, and win conditions. I'm running 5 Planeswalkers for win conditions, but there are options. Once you establish control, you can win with almost anything.

As it turns out, Planeswalker artwork is visible through the rules box. So, I'm counting them as full-art for the purposes of this deck.

There are more full-art cards on my list to try. Here are a few.

It's like anything else, you can swap cards depending on what you are up against or how you like to play. It'll still work. If control isn't your thing, build an aggressive full-art deck instead. Here's a full-art Glorybringer to get you started.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Taking it Back to the Old School

As I head into the end of the year, it's a time to look back and how things went. 2018 was going to be the year of going colorless - and it was for the two times this year that I actually got out to a competition.

Early in the year, I played in a Modern FNM at the closest local game shop to my house. I put a colorless Eldrazi deck together for that event after trading like crazy with the intention of going at least once a month to throw down. I wanted to recapture some of the LGS feel from several years ago when the Commander scene started to blow up and I was there every weekend. The games were good, the crowd was good, but it didn't really click for me and I never made the time to go back.

More recently, I journeyed up to an Old School event put on by a local group called The Horde. It was a couple hours away and took up the entire day, but it was a great experience. And yes, I ran a colorless pile into that event, too. Good games, good crowd. Plus, I enjoy the nostalgia of playing with the old cards, more than I even expected that I would.

The rest of the year, I played casually with friends and family. My kids started to get into Magic this year, so we've played quite a few casual games with new decks as they learn the ropes. It's amazing to be playing my favorite game with my kids using the same cards I had when I was only a few years older than they are now.

Going into next year, I've already started making more trades online to pick up Old School cards to build into different decks. My casual Old School decks are singleton and don't include power cards. They are casual, after all. And, they remind me of playing with starter decks from back in the day when your "deck" was simply all the cards you owned. As it turns out, removal is still removal, and countering a spell still works. Lightning Bolt still does 3 damage to any target. Disenchant still destroys an artifact or an enchantment. In other words, as long as your deck is threats+removal+lands+utility, you have a decent shot now matter whatever your opponent is doing at the kitchen table.

The last time I played Vintage was GP Portland 2017. It was a side event on a Sunday. I was looking forward to something similar at GP Portland 2018, but it was not to be. There is no Vintage on the event list. The Horde is running a separate Old School competitive event during the GP, but I have a scheduling conflict so I won't be able to make it to that one. There is a non-competitive event the night before, though. The person that I was playing Legacy with from time-to-time moved away this year, too. Things falling apart?

Magic has been a huge part of my life for a long time, at least in my mind. In reality, I play competitively once or twice a year and it seems like even those opportunities are less and less. But I do spend a lot of time thinking about Magic, reading about it, watching game play videos, and generally keeping up on what's happening with the game. Is that a good thing? Maybe. It's like watching a commercial for something over and over, then finally getting it, and realizing that maybe you didn't need that thing after all.

Things change. Maybe that's all it is. Playing a few casual games of Magic with friends and family is how it was for me at the beginning. It was about running a card because I had it, not because it was the best in slot. Nine times out of ten, I cast a Khabal Ghoul and it does nothing but act as a speed bump, but every once in a while it grows and grows and grows. Maybe that's good enough. It's not that the card makes me win. It's that the card has a cool skull guy on it. It's old cardboard. It reminds me of times passed. It gives me the feels.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Old School MTG: Colorless at Border Brawl

I just got back from the 1st annual Border Brawl (OR/WA), an Old School 93/94 Magic tournament put on by a group called The Horde where 51 players showed up to cast old spells in 5 rounds of Swiss.

Image result for mishra's workshop

For my part, I brought a colorless artifact deck to the table. One of the guys that I drove up with was kind enough to lend me 4 copies of Mishra's Workshop for the tournament, so that powered my deck up quite a bit. I swapped them out for the Deserts. I ended up going 3-2 for the day.

Pre-Tournament : I played a back-and-forth game against Randy Buehler. He had a deck all proxied up for testing. I can't really say what it was, but it looked like he was using Titania's Song as a finisher. I ended up winning that game, but it was a close one.

Round 1: Steven (UR)
Steven was playing a UR deck with Blood Moon and Energy Flux main. He went first in game 1, but I won at 2 life though both Blood Moon and Energy Flux. He wins game 2 at 5 life. He plays a Library of Alexandria in game 3, but it's not enough to stop the beat down machine. An early Juggernaut goes all the way.
Status: 1-0

Round 2: Ken (WR Pink Weenie)
Ken is playing what looks like a typical White deck with Red support. I see Blood Moon, White Knight, and Savannah Lions. I take this round with back-to-back wins. My creatures are bigger.
Status: 2-0

Round 3: Elliot (Goblins)
Elliot is playing a goblins deck with burn, Goblin Grenade, Blood Lust, Ankh of Mishra, and Black Vise. I keep a couple of sketchy openers and get rocked two games in a row. At one point he attacked with a goblin, used Blood Lust, and then used Goblin Grenade on it after damage. We play a third game for fun and it's a lot closer.
Status: 2-1

Round 4: Chris (GBR Aggro)
Chris is playing a deck with Shatters, Argothian Pixies, and other good stuff. I lost two games in a row again. In game 1, he has 2x Argothian Pixies into Time Walk, Regrowth for Time Walk, Bolt, Psionic Blast. In game 2, he has turn 1 Black Lotus into Energy Flux and Time Walk/Regrowth with some beaters out. We played a game 3 for fun, where I had a much more explosive start of Mox Jet, Strip Mine, tap both for 2x Mana Vault into Triskelion on the play. His turn 1 is Black Lotus into Energy Flux again. Despite wiping me out on his turn 1, the game goes on for a while and ends with him at 3 life.
Status: 2-2

Round 5: Aaron (Mono Black Control)
Aaron is playing what looks like a typical mono black aggro/control deck. I see Hypnotics, Black Knight, Drain Life, and Paralyze. I win 2 games in a row, although the last win I was at 1 life. It felt like a great back-and-forth on that one. We were in the "feature match" area, so there might end up being a replay on YouTube.

I ended the day at 3-2. The cutoff for Top 8 was 4-1. There were a few hands I should have shipped back. The deck is unforgiving of a bad keep since there is no way to dig out. I was also surprised at the number of Blood Moons I ran into in game 1. I'm looking forward to another Old School event closer to home during GP Portland 2018. The Mishra's Workshops really made this deck tick. Being fully powered with the 'shops would be bonkers. I would also bump up the number of disruption cards to make the deck more consistent. Winter Orb is fantastic. Relic Barrier has lots of targets (and synergy with Orb). Max copies of Disk is also a good way to go for next time. There were several matches where Desert would have actually been a great card. Assembling Tron was almost never relevant.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Going Colorless in 2018: Eldrazi, Artifacts, and Collecting Magic Cards

Commander, for me, has lost it's luster.


There, I said it.

I think it all started when the 1vs1 banlist changes were implemented on MTGO. The format started to feel fragmented. Finding a game become more complicated. Following content, and watching games, became more confusing.

Baral, Chief of Compliance

Wait. What version of Commander is this?

Commander is still, in my heart, a crazy format where big things happen, where style matters, where friends get together and ramp into fantastic combos, where blowing up the entire board at a crucial moment to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat makes for a heroic story. Tuning Commander decks into 1vs1 competitive machines is the opposite of that!

Don't get me wrong. I don't begrudge anyone who wants to play Magic with any format or restrictions that makes them happy. But, at the same time, it pulls the format all over the place.

Time Stretch

I only have so much time!

Trying to get a pick-up game of Commander on a lazy Sunday afternoon at the local game store became a nightmare because everyone is going in different directions with deck construction.

More and more, I've come to like the "idea" of things, but not often the "execution."

Commander Cube is a great example of this. In theory, it works well. I can throw together a box of cards for Commander, quickly swap cards around to build new decks, try out new strategies, and see what works. In actuality, it's a nightmare to keep everything organized, keep up to date on new cards, and even to build working decks. There's nothing worse than sitting down with a brand new deck and finding out that your general mix of cards is way off, and the deck just doesn't do anything impactful. That ruins the night for everyone involved.


Another great example is my 5c Cromat deck I call Burberry Cologne. It's a beautiful deck, in theory. I like all of the cards. I like collecting all the cards. I like the slow, control aspect of how it plays out. But, in practice, is miserable to play against. It locks the game up. It takes forever to win. It's so controlling that it stops all the other decks from doing what they do. It's the antithesis of what the format is about.

Competitive Magic is the same way for me. I don't have the time to keep up on what's going on, so Standard is out of the question. It changes too quickly. Modern seems like a mess where powerful combinations of cards can win out of nowhere. It's probably the most balanced of the formats in the sense that your pet deck can sometimes take down a local tournament.


I like playing control decks, in theory. That's the style of play that I'm drawn to. But, Wizards understands that a lot of players do not like playing against that type of deck. They are right. They worked to change the game to make hard control decks weaker relative to the field. I'm making comparisons between the game 20 years ago and today.

In practice, playing a hard control deck successfully is complicated and hinges on correctly evaluating threats and countering the right ones. I'm not any good at that anymore because I don't have the time to pay that much attention to what's going on in any format.

So, where does that leave me?

Thought-Knot Seer

Like I said, Wizards has done a good job of creating cards that allow for a tap-out, disruptive, aggressive deck to be successful. In my mind, Eldrazi decks embody this type of strategy. Basically, if you are playing Eldrazi, you are running aggressively costed creatures that attack, you are tapping out on your turn, and you have disruptive elements to proactively "counter" what your opponent is doing. It's an interactive, quicker, and straightforward way to play the game.

As a bonus, there are similar, viable colorless decks in Vintage, Legacy, and Modern. It's time efficient, because by swapping around a handful of cards in the main deck and sideboard, you can shuffle up for different formats. The decks have similar lines of attack, similar disruptive elements, and so the practice time and experience ends up being time efficient, too.

Walking Ballista

I have also been impressed by how a similar strategy works in a more casual setting. A tap-out, aggressive deck with disruptive elements has a good feel in Commander, 7-Point Highlander, and even Old School 93/94. Going colorless, and leaning on utility lands, artifact ramp, and creatures with disruptive abilities just works, is fun to play with and against, and has a lot of cross-over potential for individual cards. A card like Walking Ballista has a myriad of great uses, and plays a role in a lot of different decks and formats. It's a great value and often a fun puzzle to solve.

So, 2018, for me at least, is the year of playing cards and strategies with maximum value.

I spent the last few weeks leading up to the new year trading cards online to build up my colorless collections. And you know what? It feels great. I am ending up with a smaller, more focused collection that I can be proud to show off. I'm building decks that I feel confident to play, and that are fun and interactive to play against. And I feel like it takes the massive psychological burden to "keep up" on every new thing in check.

It's going to be a magical year.

Ring of Renewal