06 October 2015

My favorite Magic the Gathering rule

When Noah and I started playing, we just jumped in.  To this day, I've never actually seen a rulebook but have heard there is something out there that is long and complicated.  RTFM?  No way.

Luckily, if you read the cards and start playing, most of the rules become pretty obvious.  Noah played in a few junior league tournaments and we saw the basics of: cast spell, attack, respond.  Things like that.

But Instants...those made no sense.  You could just cast them whenever, all willy nilly and they did things.  Doom Blade was the big one...it destroyed the freaking creature!  But, having no idea that something called the stack existed, it turned into a game of reflexes.  If I had a creature that had an enter the battlefield effect (say Thragtusk) and Noah had a Doom Blade, he would hold it in his hand and if he had it hit the table before my creature did I wouldn't get my 5 life.

It got to the point where we would be slamming cards on the table without even realizing what the other guy was playing in an attempt to get the instant's effect first.  There was no way that this could be right but it's how we played.

Learning the rules has made the game more fun and sensible but I do kind of miss the adrenaline rush of slamming cards on the table.

01 October 2015

Deceiver Exarch For the Twin!

Since Noah has turned into the King of Splinter Twin I've had a problem.  Patience.  I've either exercised too much patience or too little.  Here's the crux of the problem, he always has cards in hand and open mana.  ALWAYS.

So, what do I have to do?  I need to realize that he can combo off starting on turn 3 (for non-MTG'ers, combo off means play two cards and win) and keep any outs that I have in hand to stop the combo.  I also have to very carefully play around all of his removal and bounce effects.  And I have to put a clock on him (meaning do a certain amount of damage each turn).

But it never ever works.

Example.  I'm playing Tron and I think I have a lock on him by playing two spellskites.  These critters are nasty, they can redirect spells to themselves, keeping him from combo'ing and winning.  So, they sit out there looking mean and menacing.  Every time I try to get out a threat it's either countered or bounced back to my hand or something.  I finally get 12 mana and play a wurmcoil for 6, it gets remanded, so I tap the other 6 and it gets played.  I have a threat on the battlefield!  And he can't combo!  I tick up Karn one more and ready to exile Emrakul next turn, then ultimate him to restart the game with Emrakul on the battlefield after that.  It's a beautiful line!

Then Noah electrolyzes a point of damage to each of my spellskites and draws a card.  Uh oh, why would he do that?  Because he then bolts one of them, casts snapcaster mage, and bolts the other.  I shake my head and wonder aloud if I could have just redirected both points of electrolyze damage to one spellskite.  He casually shows me the other bolt in his hand.  Argh.

Next turn, combo.

Next game, on the play I get out a turn 3 oblivion stone on the off chance that he doesn't have the combo.  He does.  Of course, he does.  Before I had enough mana to blow stuff up...combo!

We play no-sideboard because we both want to learn  how to play the matchups.  But none of our matchups are good.  Our other decks: Tron, Affinity, Burn and Bogles.  None of those can withstand the Splinter Twin juggernaut.  I'm going to sneak some rending volleys into the main board for Burn and Tron (we run main board Galvanic Blast in Affinity and Path to Exile in Bogles) just to kill the freakin' Deceiver Exarchs but it shouldn't be this hard.

It's weird that killing a 1/4 is such an important thing.  First time I played Burn against him, I held up 1 red and 1 white mana thinking I had him.  He Gitaxian Probed me because I looked too confident.  He looked at my hand and immediately cast Deceiver Exarch.  I laughed, threw down Boros Charm and said, "busted!"  He asked if I was targeting him or myself; confused, I read the card.  Target player!

We had worked out a pantomime of the combo where he pretends to tap both cards back and forth a few times so he did that and it was back in the loser's bracket for me.

I know we have answers in our decks (well, everything but Burn does) but without sideboarding I just can't get there.  It's an amazingly frustrating feeling that the two of us are playing really amazingly good games of Magic but he's just a step ahead of me always.

I feel like I have to play like he has the combo and/or answer unless I have a clock on him.  When I do that, it gives him time to get the combo/answer.  When I go aggressive he does have the combo/answer.

It's not a 100% matchup for Twin, I have to win some time.  But I need to find that patience/aggro line and when to do each first.

28 September 2015

The Magic Major League

Eudemonia's last Battle for Zendikar pre-release event of the weekend was the two headed giant (is that a magic-ish sounding name or what?).  In this format, two players build decks and play together as a team trying to crush the other team. Your team shares life totals, can help each other and it's generally a fun game.  And it's perfect for father/son teams.  You know, because we play as a team.

When Noah and I sat down at the table, I had my game face on -- staring at the unfortunate saps that were about to take a beating while also doing my best to assert Noah's and my alpha status.  Noah, on the other hand, noticed the dude's playmat, sits down and asks him if he really top-8'd the WMCQ a few weeks ago.  And, of course he had.  And in the course of Noah's inquisition we find out his partner had gotten 9th place at some GP recently.

My game plan was out the window, these guys were no longer intimidated by Noah's and my matching sleeves since my partner was excitedly finding out about what it was like for Jennifer to play LSV and what modern deck Ryan played.  We were now on a first name basis and had basically conceded the game!

We actually might as well have, they not only had the psychological advantage, they built better decks and are better Magic players than we are.  It was still fun, we played a good game, got some of our planned combos off and were one turn away from making the game a SLIGHT bit more painful for them.  But they won.

And that leads to the point of the post.  The dude, Ryan, plays red green Tron in Modern...and had top-8'd with it.  R/G Tron is what Noah played at that tournament and we had a chance to get a tutorial on how to play it.  We told him that Noah had finally beat Splinter Twin and asked him how he played that deck.

Since they had beaten us so fast, we still had 30 minutes left in the round, so we pulled out a twin deck, he pulled out Tron and Noah played him.  Every turn, we'd all talk through the decision points he was using, what he'd recommend for Noah to do, and how to time and sequence all of it.  He beat the Twin deck partially by design and partially by luck (design: he plays 3 spellskites mainboard; luck: he drew 2 of them!).

It turns out he has a VERY similar build to ours (he runs 1 more Ugin and no Ulamog and runs 1 more ghost quarter with I think 1 less wurmcoil).  It's the 3 maindeck spellskites that we have in common and is the key vs. Twin.  He doesn't like torpor orb in the side and recommends rending volley which actually does sound more flexible.  And he has spent the cash on Crucible of Worlds which now seems pretty inevitable to make a dent in my wallet and end up in our deckbox.

And now that I'm 84 paragraphs in to this post, I'll get to the point.  We were at a very casual event, a fun event and really in it to pull an Expedition or a Gideon.  But what we got was two exceptional Magic players that took the time to help both of us become better players, walked through how they built decks and play them, and then Noah got to play a game of Magic against a dude who has top-8'd a tournament that had Sam Freakin' Black in it.

The funny part that I only casually mentioned above is that we've completed the first iteration of a Twin deck (thanks PucaTrade!) and Noah was fishing more for ways to beat Tron with Twin than the other way around but I think I'm the only one who noticed that! 

Either way, Noah's goal in life is to make the Magic Hall of Fame, the Swimming Hall of Fame, and the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I think he thinks there is a Lawyer Hall of Fame that he's going to be in also but that's another post in itself.  Getting to play a Top-8'ing Modern player is one more step on that journey!

25 September 2015

Full set of Fetches!!!

I have completed my goal, I now have 5 full playsets of Khans' fetchlands.  It's been a long time coming, lots of trading and lots of pack openings.  And orders...I did have to buy a few.  This post would be boring if I didn't tell you what decks the fetches are in so here you are:

Bogles (deck nickname is Clyde) has 4 Windswept Heaths.  Bogles plays 8 green hexproof 1 drop creatures and most of the good enchantments (and Path to Exile) are white.  So Windswept Heaths.  As of this writing, I'm actually not sure why I'm not running any Temple Gardens.  Weird.

Burn is playing 2 Bloodstained Mire, 2 Flooded Strand, and 4 Wooded Foothills.  The idea is that between these I can get my 4 Sacred Foundries and my 2 Stomping Grounds.  And basics of any of the colors.  The deck really only plays red and white but needs to splash for green occasionally from the sideboard.  And this manabase means I'm able to add Nacatls if I need to.

But the reason I completed the set is for Twinsies, which is going to be running 4 Polluted Deltas, 2 Bloodstained Mires, and 2 Flooded Strands (which I stole from my soon to be obsolete standard Jeskai deck).  This is the only deck that really NEEDS the enemy fetches but I just can't justify the money for Scalding Tarn when this will work out OK.  This deck needs lots of red and lots of blue (twin needs two red sources and cryptic needs THREE blue sources) so the fixing has to be perfect and not kill me with shocks.  So I'll probably need the Tarns.

When it was confirmed that Battle for Zendikar wouldn't have the enemy fetchlands, Alex from Masters of Modern kicked of a bit of a twittoversy by saying that they weren't even really needed.  Based on the list above I'd have to agree.  For now.

But the main point here is that I feel like I just hit a magic milestone.  I have all 20 allied fetchlands!  I can build almost any deck and get to say, "that is so fetch!" whenever I want now.

23 September 2015

Pack Wars - playing once winning twice

When Noah and I have enough packs (4), we play a fun format called Pack Wars.  Editorial note: I have highlighted that phrase to add some fun and excitement to the blog.  If you're using a 15 year old browser the blink tag might even be working!

Pack wars is simple.  We each get 15 lands -- 3 in each color.  We then open a single pack, remove the filler and land card from the back*, and shuffle it into the lands without looking.  The we play Magic: The Gathering as usual.

Except it's not usual because we don't know what cards we have!  The focus is alternately on beating the other player (you know like a freakin' spell casting wizard planeswalker would do) and drawing the card on top of your library hoping for that mythic rare sweetness.

Once the first game is decided, we repeat the process with a second pack and slip 15 new cards into the deck sight unseen and shuffle up again.  If you didn't see the rare in the first game, you now have two to pull off the top.  Double the pleasure I guess.

The first time we did this, it was with Modern Masters 2.  I delivered a beatdown with Ulamog's crusher or something, but everyone was disappointed with the stupid rares that we pulled.  We added the second packs, Noah beat me with some artifacts or spirits or something, we pulled more dumb rares and finished kind of disappointed.  The game itself was fun (I cast an eldrazi I guess) but Pack Wars needs a game and a pull to make it worthwhile.  All we got was a game.

As I was about to toss all the cards into a box for later filing, Noah asked what my second pack foil was.  Hmmm, I didn't remember so he grabbed the deck, rifled through it and flipped out.  A FOIL EMRAKUL!  A card that almost got unceremoniously tossed into an Adidas shoebox suddenly became the first card in our Tron deck!

Fast forward to two nights ago.  Played a pack war and got Ulamog.  Yeah, that's an Eldrazi.  Fun, mythic rare and we were happy.

Last night, we go again.  First pack, Noah is badgering me about whether I got my rare yet.  I had but wasn't going to tell him instead changing the subject to whether we could pretend this mountain on the battlefield was an island.  He kept saying no so I kept lying about the rare sitting in my hand.

On about turn 8, he flips out and yells, "Dark Confidant!".  As happy as I was for him, I'm in this thing to win.  So I tell him, "yeah, my rare is better than yours, but I'm not showing you until I have a second island."  He concedes that the red land on the battlefield looks pretty darned blue to him, I play my Vendilion Clique with aplomb and commence the beatdown while he has to figure out how to kill his own Dark Confidant (by this point he was taking 3 from the air every turn and hitting himself in the face with each Dark Confidant draw).  Vendilion Clique won the game.

So, yeah, I won the pack war coming and going.  But Noah got a Clique to go in our work-in-progress Twin deck!

tl/dr I pulled a foil Primeval Titan in the second pack.

* If opening Modern Masters 2, there is no land card, just the filler.  FYI.

22 September 2015

How to feel safe in Magic

I am nervous when I play Magic.  I have my plan but I'm constantly on the lookout for countermagic, combat tricks, and disruption that open mana communicates.  Sitting across from a blue player is not good for my mental health.

I have a standard deck (well, it's standard until Saturday) on Magic Online (MTGO).  It's an aggro jeskai deck that relies on Mantis Rider, Jeskai Ascendancy, and Seeker of the Way.  It's fun and I can usually tell by the fourth or fifth turn if I have a shot at winning.  So I only have about a minute or two of tension before I can enjoy the game.

My other MTGO deck is my annoying blue deck that uses countermagic and card draw to make my Chasm Skulker really big.  This deck is really fun when it wins but makes me a nervous wreck while playing it.  I rarely play it.

In paper magic, I play almost exclusively modern.  Games are usually fast with our aggro decks (Affinity, Bogles, Burn) so I get in, do my thing, either get shut down or overwhelm my opponent.  Sometimes these games can go long and I deal with it; but the nerves are real.

Noah and I have one deck that just gives me a sense of calm.  And it's calm from turn one.  It's because I am going to win.  In a relaxed-for-me. soul-crushing-for-the-unfortunate-sap-across-from-me way.  Except when I have no chance.  That deck is Tron.

I'll start with the no-chance times.  Sometimes they blow up a critical tron piece or blood moon me or I just can't draw that one Urza's Tower.  And I'm fine with that.  Because I know if I do build Tron, then all sorts of beautiful cards are going to rain from my hand onto the battlefield.  I'll wipe the board a few times, put some wurmcoils out and then eventually frickin' Emrakul is going to own the battlefield.

Just knowing that Emrakul is out there ready to save my bacon is what gives me this sense of peace.  This weird blobby tentacled interdimensional eater of worlds is on my side.  As Alfred E. Neumann says, "what. me worry?"  Heck no, I can get Karn on turn 3, Ugin on turn 4, Ulamog on turn 5, and Emrakul on turn 6.  And I can blow stuff up while waiting for any of those.

I try to keep a poker face but when I look down and see a hand like this?  How do you not just breathe out, relax, smile, and wish your opponent "good luck"?

15 September 2015

Noah's Nemesis

Noah has played in three pretty big Modern tournaments.  In two he played Tron and in one he played Affinity.  Affinity is now exclusively my deck.  But he did very well with Tron.

The first Tron tournament, he went 3-1-1, intentionally drawing the last game to split the prize.  The time he played with Affinity, he went 2-2 which really isn't as bad as he remembers (he toasted a Grixis Control dude with an ensouled darksteel citadel).  And the last Tron tourney, he went 2-2.  The same record BUT he finally beat Splinter Twin so that day was a success.

He has a good poker face but his body language is a bit telling.  I can usually tell from a distance when he has a lock on the game.  And unfortunately, I can also usually tell when somebody casts his nemesis: Cryptic Command.  Holy toledo, he hates that card.  In fairness, I know he's beaten both a Grixis Control and the Splinter Twin deck that played it but I'm also pretty sure every other Modern tourney loss he's had has been at the hands of that card.  It's right there on this page, go ahead and read it.  It's just a mean nasty vile card.

You've heard the saying, "if you can't beat them, join them"?  We have to join the Evil Cryptic Command Gang.  So we spent about two weeks refining the Tempo Twin list we wanted to play.  But since we're not blue people usually, we need almost all of the cards.  We had a couple of remands, a few dispels, one polluted delta, a few Splinter Twins, and of course four freakin' Kiki Jikis because he's a goblin.  But none of the blue staples of the deck.

So Noah got to trading, starting with Cryptic Commands, Remands (somehow we now have 5), deceiver exarchs, the rest of the splinter twins, pestermite and holy toledo we have a long way to go.  So we remembered our neighbor talking about PucaTrade.

And I've gone into overdrive trading around the country with Gitaxian Probes, Spell Snares, Telling Times, Izzet Charms and hopefully a couple of Vendilion Cliques on their way.  It's going to take some time but so do Magic games involving blue cards so we should get used to it.  All told, we'll have about 70 cards for the mainboard that we'll have to narrow down then start worrying about the sideboard.

And then, someday, Noah will cast a Cryptic Command, bounce my Wurmcoil and I'll start planning my revenge on the Splinter Twin.


Relevant podcast deck tech from Masters of Modern.  Take a listen.  And don't think that Twisted Image isn't on my list to kill spellskites.

14 September 2015

Zombies, zombies and more zombies

One of my most successful sailing posts was about how to survive the zombie apocalypse (hint: sail offshore and don't drop anchor).  So, of course, when playing Magic I wanted zombies because there are very few sailboats in Magic.  So zombies win.  And I want to win.

After building Noah's and my first few decks, I found this site called tappedout.  Tappedout is a place where people post their deck lists so that others can admire it, offer advice, trade cards I guess, but really just to show off.  It has a good search capability so I looked up zombie decks.

There are a ton of zombies and zombie deck posssibilities in Magic.  But only one zombie deck that is truly hilarious.  It's called Zombie Hunt and has four moving parts:
  • 4x Treasure Hunt
  • 2x Zombie Infestation
  • 4x Reliquary Tower
  • 50x islands/swamps in any combo
Before I explain the deck, I have a quick quiz: what is scary about a single zombie?  Nothing. It's slow, ugly, has bad breath and is stupid.  That's not a scary combination.  What's scary about zombies?  How freaking many of them there are...they swarm and come from all directions at once...you can never stop running or they WILL catch you.

So, life advice and magic advice combined: be scared of a lot of zombies.  If you are on the zombie side of the equation: find ways to make more zombies.

So here's the combo...get a Reliquary Tower and an Island on the table.  Cast Treasure Hunt.  Treasure Hunt lets you search your library until you find a non-land card, putting all cards revealed this way into your hand.  54 of the 60 cards in your deck are lands, you will have a lot of lands in your hand.  This will confuse your opponent, you need to look really disappointed. 

Then you pass your turn.  When they suggest you discard a few cards, have them read Reliquary Tower...it states that you have no maximum hand size.  Try to play it off like it's a weird ridiculous thing that you're keeping 40 cards in your hand.  Here's a quote you can use, "hah hah, I'm so stupid, keeping 40 cards in my hand, please don't attack me with your Favored Hoplite :) ."

Next turn, slap down a swamp, play Zombie Infestation, discard 36 lands and make 18 2/2 zombies.  Stare them down as you lay the tokens on the battlefield one by one.  Then put your arms out like a zombie, look hungry and say, "braaaaaiiiiiinnnnnnssssssss!"  Next turn, win the game*.

* Pro-tip: If you suspect they have bile blight or anger of the gods or some sort of board wipe, only play 5 at a time.