Tuesday, 14 July 2015

MTG: 10 Intriguing Casual Cards from Magic Origins

The Core Set has long been the cornerstone of the Magic: The Gathering universe over its 20+ year history, dating back to Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, and then Revised. One could always count on the core set to be the all-encompassing general set that was a little less advanced and complicated than the Expect expansions.

Magic Origins represents the 'final' core set to be released for Magic, as the game shifts to two-set blocks twice a year from the usual three-set block plus core set scheme we've been used to for well over a decade. Cards that don't fit into certain worlds could find a home in the more neutral setting of the core set.

While core sets have long been rather stale (although Magic 2010 was a nice change from the previous ways of doing things), and most won't be too sad to see them go, Magic Origins proves that core sets can be fresh and exciting.

Dripping with flavor, story, and many intriguing cards, Magic Origins *almost* makes me sad that we will no longer see core sets. Almost.

I wasn't expecting there to be so much to look forward to, but I see many cards that I want to try in my casual decks.

Here is what is stoking my creative flames.



1. Tainted Remedy





If you play against people who love their life gain, this is a pretty decent way to stop them.

Of course, why just annoy them when you can kill them outright with Beacon of Immortality *cackle*. A pretty cheesy, but easy to do, 2-card combo kill.

 Your opponent's reaction when you pull this off

2. Dark Petition



Most modern tutor cards cost at least 4 mana, so you end up using your entire turn just digging for an answer.

With Dark Petition, if you meet the spell mastery condition, which can be quite easy for certain decks, you can basically end up paying Demonic Tutor mana for whatever you had to search for. Voila! You now have mana floating to cast whatever bomb or removal spell you got your greedy hands on.

Sure, combo decks will love this, but any general black deck could probably find a home for one of these.

3. Managorger Hydra




Anybody who has played against Taurean Mauler (one of my wife's favourites) knows just how easily that bull can get out of hand.

While the hydra doesn't have the all-creature-types thing going for it, it does have trample, AND it gets bigger from your own spells, too. If left unchecked, the Managorger Hydra can easily win some multiplayer games on its own, or at least take out an obnoxious opponent or two.

4. Flameshadow Conjuring




Why have one when you can have two for twice the price ONE red mana?

No contracts to sign, no shipping fees, and only one low payment!

With all of the awesome creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers on them, this enchantment is going to find itself in many of my red-based casual decks.

Sure, the token disappears quickly, but it can attack right away and you'll be sure to conjure up some immediate value.

This guy knows what I'm talking about!

5. Languish




Let's face it, Wizards of the Coast will never print a 4-mana black wrath as strong as Damnation ever again. EVER!

Mutilate, and now Languish, are as close as we can expect.

What makes Languish great is that you can build around it. If you have a bunch of high-toughness creatures (Tasigur and Siege Rhino in standard), this can be quite one-sided.

The art, flavor text, and the name are all flavor knockouts.

6. Chandra's Ignition




It's fitting that red gets such a Boom-or-Bust spell like Chandra's Ignition.

If you play your cards right *groan*, this is easily a one-sided wrath that smacks your opponent upside the head.

Yes, you are prone to get blown out like Carrot Top's hair, and this spell depends on having a good creature in play, but I'm willing to roll the dice.

How to abuse this?

1. Find a Hexproof creature with a decent amount of power.

2. Find a deathtouch creature with any amount of power. Yes, those 1 points of deathtouchy goodness will kill every one of your opponents meatbags

3. Find a lifelink creature, letting you gain life off of the misfortune of others.


7. Deadbridge Shaman



This is just a common girl with a gluteus minimus, but this is the kind of rattlesnake card that I love to play.

Your opponents will be loathe to attack into her, as the 3 power will take out quite a few of their creatures.

Your opponents will be loathe to block her, as they'll have to pay the price one way or another.

The only way to win is to not play.

8. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy



The new hitch to the Planeswalkers is that we see them in their pre-spark form, back when they were normal mortals. They have to reach some condition to trigger their spark, meaning you need to work to get them to where you want to.

This version of Jace is hardly as powerful as previous iterations, but the ability to flashback big instants and sorceries, or simply play a little defense, is still valuable in control strategies.

At the bare minimum, the prodigy side will replace my looters in any deck that uses them. The only downside is that you *might* not want your looter to flip.

9. Liliana, Heretical Healer




Liliana tried to cure her brother with some forbidden concoction, turning him into a zombie (hence, the token). Strangely enough, I'm a zombie until I've had my morning coffee.

A 2/3 lifelinker for three mana is solid, but the value you get from the token, as well as her reanimation ability, makes her a powerhouse all around. Of all of the 'walkers in the set, she seems to be the easiest to flip.

10. THE THOPTER CORPS





Yeah, I'm kind of cheating by putting four cards here, but they all fit into a single Red-Blue Thopters archetype. If you are going to build that deck, you want all of these.

What I like about these four, in particular, is that they are all pretty good in their own right, and don't necessarily have to go into just one specific deck.

Hangarback Walker - Play this on turn two, and keep ticking it up. When it explodes, it's raining thopters! It makes a good late-game play, as you can sink in all of your extra mana into it.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar - Chandra's parents do a good impression of Siege-Gang Commander, and turn all of your drones into suicide bombers.

Thopter Spy Network - A little more narrow, but you get a card that basically combines Bitterblossom and Coastal Piracy. In any artifact deck, and even with artifact lands, you are going to get some serious incremental advantage every turn.

Whirler Rogue is just plain nuts for an uncommon, as you get the same little army that you do with Chandra's parents. What I really appreciate is that you can use the rogue's ability right away, and make another creature of yours unblockable, and with no mana cost.

Of course, if you put these all together in a single deck, you have a drone army that would make Barack Obama jealous.



Those are the 10+ cards that have me the most excited to brew with. What strikes your fancy?



Shameless Plug:

Do you love dragons? Do you love dragon art?

"Cookie Dragon" , courtesy of White Magic

If you think this cookie-munching dragon is cute, then check out my wife's Facebook Page or Etsy Store. White Magic has lots of these adorable dragons for sale and show.




Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Yes, I am THAT Guy in Casual Magic


The Mana Pool is one of my favourite Magic: the Gathering podcasts, and one of the few geared towards casual players.


The most recent episode, #377 Aaron’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame, hit home as Aaron talked about being THAT Casual guy:



Aaron comes on to talk about being That Guy. No no, not THAT That Guy. Not one of the bad ones. But the guy that’s been playing forever and has lots of cards and lots of decks and actually has some money to spend on the game. Some casual players frown on That Guy, which gives That Guy some kind of stigma. Aaron wants to address that stigma and help change the opinion of That Guy. That Guy might not be all bad. You might even be able to learn something from That Guy’s experiences! So don’t dump on That Guy!

As you might have guessed, I am also that guy…and my wife, I guess she is THAT girl ^.^

We’re the ones that have been playing for years (2007), have a huge collection, make far too many decks (over 200!), and spend an excessive amount of our disposable income on the game.

We have met a lot of new people playing Magic, yet it’s been eight years since we’ve had the feeling of being the newbies. Most everybody we play with has varying levels of experience, and some even have been playing longer, but my wife and I always tend to be the ones with "all of the good cards".

On this ‘cast, Aaron brought up some good points that I’d like to connect with our personal experience.


STARTING OFF


Magic: the Gathering is a very complicated game, and there have been over 13,000 unique cards printed. When we first met some very experienced casual players, it was an overwhelming experience. I had played back during the REVISED era, and the card pool was fairly tiny compared to today.

Not only did we have to stop and read every card, but with so many (new) rules to learn, and so many strange interactions, our hastily put-together new decks were often destroyed. It was great to swim with the sharks and learn to swim without a floatation device, but it can be daunting.

The players we played with we far from cutthroat, but the nature of the game, combined with their massive card and deck pools, meant that we had a lot of catching up to do.

Thus, it is important to be patient with new and very casual players and do your best to explain what your cards do (let them read them carefully) and how things work. Try not to overwhelm them right off the bat, or they might get discouraged. Information overload is a real possibility.


POWER LEVEL


If you are playing with newer or unfamiliar players, it is best to have a variety of decks to choose from. If you curb-stomp them with your Tier 1 Standard deck, and do it constantly, they won’t even want to play with you again.

This isn’t the military, and we don’t need hard-knock boot camp training. I don’t suggest going ‘easy’, but bring out a mid-level ‘fair’ deck and try to have interactive games.

I always bring a good range of decks to play against new and unfamiliar opponents. If I notice that they have some serious game, then I can bring out the big guns. Otherwise, I have goofier decks that I can play and foster a more social setting.

As for Combo decks, most of our playgroups frown on those these days. I know only to whip them out around other players that are at ease facing them, and only on rare occasions. Best leave the combo decks in the box until you know it’s safe.

** One little caveat that amuses me is just how much more powerful creatures are compared to 10-20 years ago. Even newer players can match up well against old decks, simply by the virtue of how much better today’s creatures are.

DOLLAR SIGNS


Maybe he should change his diet?
One intimidating factor can be the fact that my wife and I tend to have a lot of splashy mythics and rares. Yes, we’re the lambs that usually buy a box of every new set, tend to do a bit of trading, and like to tweak and evolve our decks from time to time.

It’s important to note that money isn’t everything in the game, and newer players should be taught that...

1.    Many of the expensive cards that we might have were acquired when they were cheap. Liliana of the Veil is now over $100, but I got my copy from a booster pack. Simply put, long-time players will have expensive cards, just by the nature of the game as a collectible and popular hobby. 


2.    Not all good cards are expensive. I love to ‘bin’, and search bulk boxes for $1 gems. Some of the best cards are commons and uncommons, and I like to challenge myself to build good decks without spending $ and by using cheap cards. These two cards, for example, are amazing, and can be found very cheap.
 
3.   If you have a large collection, with lots of excess cardboard lying around, donate some of those cards! We have a bulk box that any of our friends can search and take some freebies from, and we’ve also put some bulk rares into a binder. If we won’t use them, and they aren’t very tradable, maybe one of our playgroup can find a home for them. 


HAVE FUN

It goes without saying, but try not to be an over-competitive ass. I know I had a few spurts where I was getting far too angry about losing casual games, and it was making the other players uncomfortable. If you are feeling very competitive and want nothing to do but win, find a different arena.



Remember, nobody is keeping stats, and you want to be able to foster relationships that will last. I know I was close to driving away some people because I was acting like a prick, and appeared to not be having fun, so cut that crap out.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Grand Prix Vegas - Casually Disappointed

Grand Prix Las Vegas 2015 was, by far, the biggest Magic: The Gathering tournament ever held.

In addition to the 7,500+ players that played in the regular weekend event, several thousand also came for the side events and general shenanigans that surrounded the event. #Makemagichistory was all over Twitter and Reddit. 

My wife and I chose to travel to Las Vegas for our yearly vacation, with the Grand Prix a nice excuse to make our way south of the border.

Sadly, our experience with Grand Prix Vegas was memorable for all of the wrong reasons. We were part of that not-so-vocal minority that didn't have the "most epic time ever, dude!"



GP Las Vegas ran from Thursday, May 28th, to Sunday, June 1st, 2015.

Thursday and Friday were purely for side events, while Saturday and Sunday also contained the big main event.

We intended to attend Thursday and Friday for the side events, as we're not interested in the large main event and had a trip to the Grand Canyon to make.

We arrived Thursday morning, and were astonished at the pure size of the convention hall and how busy it was already. We thought Thursday would be a fairly quiet day, but I think the attendance on that day dwarfed that of most any regular event.


It seems that the event organizers and judges were also overwhelmed by the unexpected surge, as all events were well behind schedule. Those who signed up for on-demand drafts waited over an HOUR to even start their events, and those are supposed to be the fastest-running.

My wife and I had preregistered for a 2HG (Two-headed Giant event) for US$80. With the exchange rate, it was just over $100 Canadian. Owch! :(

As is the theme of the post, this was a disappointing experience for us, for the most part.

To start things off, the whole event started about 45 minutes late. This was 45 minutes before we even got our packs of cards to build our decks! Add on time to build our decks, and it was a good 90+ minutes before we even played our first game.

Rounds are supposed to take 50 minutes, and they usually run a little long. This time? Each round lasted 75-90 minutes, and this was a 5-round event. We seemed to spend more time waiting around than actually playing. Ugh.

We certainly enjoyed the process of building our decks and PLAYING the game, and we got to meet some pretty cool people from all parts of the USA. Our first round opponents even cracked a foil Tarmogoyf (A cool $300 or so), so we didn't feel too bad for beating them.

For the actual tournament, we went 2-1 and then dropped. The proceedings simply took too damn long, and Vegas had other things to explore. We intended to play all 5 rounds, but not if we're playing the Doctor Waiting Room Experience.

Our pool?

Well, a certain friend of mine said about the cost: "You'll probably make up the value in the cards you open!"

Let's see how we did..



For those who don't play the game (much), the card in the lower left corner is the only card worth more than 50 cents. (It's about $13 now)

That's right, we pretty much got one of the most worthless pools we could have possibly opened. No mythics, and one Surrakar Spellblade, a card so bad that I wouldn't taint my drinks by using it as a coaster.

On the other hand, we actually had a good pool for the tournament. Despite the lack of money, my wife and I had pretty good cards and decks that complimented each other. I think we could have ended up 4-1 if we had played the last two rounds.

My wife played the GOOD deck of the two: Gw Ramp/Tokens.


With limited bombs like Ant Queen, Mirror Entity, and Wilt-Leaf Liege, combined with 3 ramp spells, we finished off the top of the curve with 2(!) Pelakka Wurms and 2 Ulamog's Crusher. There was so much beef in this deck that we could open up a Fatburger franchise.

I went on the support role with a durdly black-blue deck with some random artifacts. My role was to kill and/or bounce creatures, and make sure Sarah's army destroyed the opponents.

Yes, 3 Aethersnipes and 3 Nameless Inversions.

My wife and I make a good team, and our play styles certainly paired well with the cards we got. The only match we lost was due to a Primeval Titan (expensive bomb) that we couldn't quite deal with. I would love to try a 2HG event again, as long as it is well-run.

Two other things contributed to us having a less-than-stellar time at Grand Prix Las Vegas

1. Artist Alley was a nightmare!

We were fortunate to get a bunch of autographs from some of the lesser-known artists, but weren't able to get any from the popular artists.


Long lineups are expected, but many jerks decided to bring 40-50 cards for the artist to sign, and the line would barely move. Is it worth it to wait an hour for autographs? Hardly. I wish the artists told these idiots "I'll sign 12, and then you go to the back of the line".

2. We didn't know anybody else!

Many people attending GP Vegas managed to meet up with friends, have parties, and have a real experience out of it. Nobody we know, apart from a local vendor, made the trek to Vegas. Being casual players, most of the people we play with have never even been to a Friday Night Magic, much less a Grand Prix.

Even the podcasters and writers I correspond with said Vegas was too far/expensive to get to.

Thus, it was kind of a lonely feeling being at a large event where we miss out on the social aspect.

--

We were certainly happy to travel to Vegas and be part of this experience, but it was definitely not as fun as we expected it to be. We didn't even bother going back on Friday for drafts, since waiting around for hours didn't seem like a great use of vacation time.

Yes, we're the silent minority that came away from this event the same way we came away from the city of Las Vegas: "That's it? It was expensive and overrated"

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

MTG: 11 Intriguing Casual Cards from Dragons of Tarkir

Due to some real life events, and the fact that Fate Reforged came out not *that* long ago, I haven't really gotten into Dragons of Tarkir as much as I would normally do for any new set.

One rant before I begin: Where are all the frickin' baby dragons?

WOTC's official answer was that the Dragon Tempest only gives 'birth' to fully-grown dragons, and baby dragons don't exist on Tarkir. Pbbbbbttt!

What a load of junk! Seriously, Dragon decks have been craving lower-drops for years, and this was the perfect set to do it.

What do we get? A bunch of durdly 6-drops :(

*ahem*

Now, after playing in a release tournament, and getting to look through the player's guide (aka Bathroom Reading), I've finally started to get excited about some of the new goodies.

What's inspiring this casual player? In a totally random order...

1. Rakshasa Gravecaller


My allegiance has now shifted to the Silumgar brood, as they reward cunning and resourcefulness. I favour decks that win on grinding resource advantage, as my opponents slowly find the game slipping out of their hands.

Now, the Gravecaller is one of the most powerful cards in the set, especially in a Draft or Sealed environment. How many cards, especially UNCOMMONS, offer 7 power and 10 toughness for the price of one (well, plus another) card? This card could have been rare, and that would have been fair.

This card was a definite MVP for my winning Silumgar deck at the release tournament. I don't often win, so I might as well brag a little ;)

2. Assault Formation


Harkoning back to Doran, the Siege Tower, Assault Formation is a great 'build around me' card that turns your 0/5 walls into brutal attackers. Most high toughness creatures are fairly cheap to cast, as is this card.

Thankfully, I already have a deck pre-made for this beauty. My Arachnophobia deck is full of spiders with big asses and not much power. (Sir Mixalot would approve!) This enchantment will turn any 2/4 into a literal 4/4, and give the whole team a big papa pump.

3. Palace Familiar


Yes, a 1/1 owl for two mana hardly seems exciting, but if you need fodder for your exploitations, this feathery friend will ensure that you don't face card disadvantage.

This dude also makes an amazing chump blocker, since it replaces itself. Don't need to block? Just peck your opponent in the eyes or poop on their head until you need it as a sacrificial fowl. 

4. Deathmist Raptor


It seems the Predator is done with earthlings and decided to visit Tarkir.

Besides being a powerful creature in its' own right (it's already seeing Standard play), the fact that you can get it back over and over again in a deck with Morphs is one reason why this card was turned into a mythic rare.

5. Youthful Scholar


When this card came out, I joked that it was the perfect Magic representation of myself: I'm not dumb, and, while I am smart, I am not a high achiever.

Best to keep expectations low and pleasantly surprise people :)

On it's own, it's almost Mulldrifter-level in terms of power. If you need an Exploit target, this is the very best.

6. Dragon Whisperer



On the other hand, this card is a great Magical representation of my wife: She really is the Dragon Whisperer, and this is one of the few low drops that will actually make it into a Dragon deck.

7. Sarkhan Unbroken


Sarkhan has finally shed the madness that has consumed him, and has found happiness in a plane ruled by dragons.

As for this card, how can you not love a card that poops out dragons? At the very worst, he 'gains' you 5 life and draws you a card.

As for the Limit Break? Well, I have a dream where my wife ultimates Sarkhan Unbroken, only for me to Wrath the board the very next turn.


8. Sidisi, Undead Vizier



We hardly ever get any Demonic Tutor type cards these days, and now we have one that is built into a 4/6 deathtouch monster! It pays to serve Silumgar.

Yeah, I'll gladly turn my dorky 1/1 into the most powerful card in my deck.

Deathtouch creatures tend to be purely defensive in nature, but 4 power? Talk about an offensive powerhouse. Your opponents are going to have to put something beefy in front of her to actually kill her, or will be afraid to block her at all.

9. Silumgar's Command

Of all of the commands, this is the most likely to produce 2-for-1s.

Now, five mana makes it a very expensive spell, especially since the other commands are all cheaper. You don't want to be stuck with 3-4 of these in your hand.

On the other hand, any card that can outright kill annoying Planeswalkers is going to get top marks from me. It's a pain in the arse to have to devote so many creature attacks to kill an opposing planeswalker, after all.

The first three modes will see the most play, for sure, but all of them provide a load of value and tempo.

10. Dragonlord Silumgar



The big daddy himself! Yeah, he's gotten a bit lazy in his old age, but he will still *steal* the show.

If you are desperate for exploit fodder, and/or want to get rid of your opponents most annoying creature, just borrow it and exploit it for profit.

(I feel so much like a Wall Street banker *giggle*)

11. Silumgar Sorcerer


If you had a spell that read "Choose one - Counter target creature spell or put a 2/1 flying wizard into play", you would most certainly put that card into any blue deck.

Silumgar Sorcerer is great in that it offers so much flexibility, and you don't need to decide between a Remove Soul or a flashy flyer for the last spot in your deck.

Granted, this card can't counter more annoying removal spells and planeswalkers, but it's still a deceptively powerful creature that can go into even non-Exploit decks.

12. Sunscorch Regent


Remember this bullish creature?


Taurean Mauler is one of the more annoying cards to face off against in multiplayer, since it just keeps growing...and growing...

Well, Sunscorch Regent is the dragonic version of Mrs. Mauler, destined to make all of your opponents groan in resignation.

Now, the Regent isn't quite as good as the Mauler in two respects: a. The Mauler comes down much earlier, and is will get much larger much earlier, and b. the Mauler has any and all creature types... yes, even a dragon :)

Still, the Regent has a nice bit of evasion, and will also gain you some life for all of the work your opponents are doing.


13. Swift Warkite


Welcome to Valuetown, population: Swift Warkite.

Of all of the uncommon gold dragons in the set, this is, by far, my favourite.

Besides having decent stats, the reanimating clause can bring back a bevy of valuable creatures onto the battlefield for another go.

Don't want to lose the creature you just reanimated? Don't attack! At the end of turn, it will bounce safely back into your welcome bosoms.

I think the Warkite combos very nicely with something like Bone Shredder. Then, it reads as a 4/4 dragon with Terror attached.





So, while Dragons of Tarkir might not have any cards that make me nerdgasm (Villainous Wealth), or any real big combo enablers, the set will inspire me to make a new deck based around the Exploit mechanic.

What cards are you looking forward to getting?