Monday, 17 May 2010

Rafiq of the Many - And many are the ways!

I started EDH about two and a half years ago now and skipped from deck to deck a fair bit, stopping only on Ghost Council of Orzhova for any length of time. Rafiq is the first general I got really fixated on. No matter how long I play with him and his Bant-aligned colours, I can always find new ways to make him fun and interesting and, probably most important, relevant to my metagame.

He started life as an exalted beatdown deck aiming for the general win before morphing into a voltron somewhere along the way still with general beats in mind. The next step was intended as a lesson to my metagame and was one which functioned very well as Hermit Druid, Golgari Grave Troll, Attunement and very aggressive Life from the Loams allowed me to Replenish my graveyard full of enchantments onto Rafiq or another of my creatures to slam in for the win in short order. Once graveyard hate became the mot du jour, Rafiq got to try on new armour into an early version of the deck that, after a few changes, became the following:

== General (1) ==
1x Rafiq of the Many

== Land (37) ==
3x Plains
4x Island
4x Forest
1x Maze of Ith
1x Riftstone Portal
1x Darksteel Citadel
1x Strip Mine
1x Wasteland
1x High Market
1x Flagstones of Trokair
1x Eiganjo Castle
1x Tolaria West
1x Tranquil Thicket
1x Lonely Sandbar
1x Secluded Steppe
1x Misty Rainforest
1x Windswepth Heath
1x Flooded Strand
1x Tundra
1x Tropical Island
1x Selesnya Sanctuary
1x Azorius Chancery
1x Simic Growth Chamber
1x Yavimaya Coast
1x Brushland
1x Adarkar Wastes
1x Breeding Pool
1x Temple Garden
1x Hallowed Fountain

== Artifact Mana (5) ==
1x Sol Ring
1x Darksteel Ingot
1x Selesnya Signet
1x Azorius Signet
1x Simic Signet

== Non-Mana Artifacts (8) ==
1x Tormod's Crypt
1x Relic of Progenitus
1x Sensei's Divining Top
1x Skullclamp
1x Lightning Greaves
1x Crucible of Worlds
1x Whispersilk Cloak
1x Sword of Light and Shadow
1x Behemoth Sledge

== Enchantments (5) ==
1x Survival of the Fittest
1x Aura Shards
1x Rhystic Study
1x Greater Good
1x Mirari's Wake

== Instants (11) ==
1x Mystical Tutor
1x Enlightened Tutor
1x Worldly Tutor
1x Swords to Plowshares
1x Path to Exile
1x Trickbind
1x Intuition
1x Krosan Grip
1x Capsize
1x Careful Consideration
1x Fact or Fiction
1x Opportunity

== Sorcery (8) ==
1x Life from the Loam
1x Regrowth
1x Kodama's Reach
1x Wrath of God
1x Catastrophe
1x Concentrate
1x Tidings
1x Spitting Image

== Creatures (23) ==
1x Coiling Oracle
1x Sakura Tribe Elder
1x Wood Elves
1x Trinket Mage
1x Mirror Entity
1x Eternal Witness
1x Knight of the Reliquary
1x Yavimaya Elder
1x Solemn Simulacrum
1x Academy Rector
1x Oracle of Mul Daya
1x Body Double
1x Karmic Guide
1x Mulldrifter
1x Reveillark
1x Acidic Slime
1x Genesis
1x Seedguide Ash
1x Blinding Angel
1x Krosan Tusker
1x Kederekt Leviathan
1x Akroma, Angel of Wrath
1x Woodfall Primus

I firmly believe the consistancy of the mana base is what makes or breaks an EDH deck first. Playing a tri-coloured deck, you need to make absolutely sure you have the mana you need early in the game whether it is WW, GG or UU. To this end the mana base is varied and as balanced as I could make it. It's very rare that I cannot pick and mix the availability of my coloured mana based on the requirements of my hand. To help me get there, outside of the lands themselves, I have 7 creatures that net me lands either directly on coming into play or though a tap or sac ability. In addition there's one sorcery, 5 mana artifacts and a metric buttload of direct or creature-connected card draw that is independant to the attack step.

Here's where we start theorising about Rafiq builds. I've now made Rafiq every which way from total control to damage triggers all the way up to and including a Rafiq combo-dredge deck. I've moved away from and argued against decks based around damage triggers in a multiplayer setting. The pervasive arguament for this style of deck is that "there's always someone to attack". Unfortunatly that's not any truer than "Your board will get wiped and their dudes will just be bigger than yours when you rebuild." Small beaters trying to take down three 40-life opponents don't get there. That leaves various renditions of Combo-Rafiq and Aggro-control Rafiq. My deck sits firmly in these two camps. It's an Aggro Control deck that can combo but there is a really important aspect to knowing when you can and can't combo. Very simply put: If somebody is going to Douchebag you, you put the DB trigger on the stack and destroy them in reponse. Otherwise the combo elements in Rafiq should only be used for their excellent CA properties. This health warning was brought to you by your friends.

So what can this deck do?

It can Wrath & Armageddon (Catastrophe). Seems simple but it's necessary. Use the 'Geddon effects sparingly for your continued health.

It can destroy trouble lands, enchantments and artifacts from a number of different sources.

It can accellerate land and fix mana. This would be a bit of a "Well, duh!" statement except that I am not simply referring to the start of the game. At any point where you can recur a Wood Elves multiple time in a turn you can go from 0 to 5-6 green sources, not to mention any additional colour those lands would produce. That extra land is an additional Rafiq, a hardcast Woodfall Primus or similiar accelleration.

It can kill individual creature threats either by removing them from the game or, in the case of Generals or other legends, just legend-rule killing them repeatedly with Spitting Image.

And what about winning the game? Well, there's Rafiq himself who generally gets the job done either by getting big and tramply, potentially unblockable in addition or by giving his bonus to a couple of big beaters, the Knight, Priums or Akroma. A few guys with Mirror Entity and a LOT of mana can also cause problems.

I do have one exception to my "No damage based triggers!" and that is the little pearl known as Blinding Angel. Now, a 2/4 is not going to win a 4 man pod all by her self (not today anyway, she may be finished before breakfast!) but with Rafiq she hits for 6 flying and the added bonus of shutting the defending player down for 2 turns. Sure, they can still play stuff but by the time they can attack again, you've attacked them again and they are down another 2 attack phases. Maybe this attrition war doesn't appeal to you but it's a great way of getting someone off your back while you deal with other players. It's also worth mentioning that, even if she's killed, the attack phases are still skipped so concentrating multiple double-Strike attacks on one player for a couple of turns will net you 4 non-attacking turns irregardless of whether someone deals with your little angel. Oh and she's a Reveillark target with her two power in addition, which is nice.

The deck is very focused on getting what it wants: More land, specific coloured land, more cards, specific cards through the various tutors and everything permanent tried to be a 2-for-1 or better. When you re-use these effects again and again, it starts to swing the game in your favour quite often.

Now this is never a finished work. There's a long list of cards that are in and around the deck and these two are on that list. I have Clone, Loxodon Warhammer, Glen Elendra Archimage, Garruk Wildspeaker, Armageddon, 3-4 more Wrath effects and a few others in the wings. As it is currently, I'm looking to stay away from a build where I always go straight for the kill. I'll generally not look for any other enchantment with Academy Rector than Mirari's Wake unless I need to clear a lot of artifacts/Enchantments (Aura Shards). Rhystic Study, Survival of the Fittest and Greater Good generally just get drawn.

Now, all of that was pre-Rise of Eldrazi and our friend Rafiq is looking to suit up against some unleashed gods. Basically we need more table control and the question is really down to how much of the rest of our deck do we want to cut back on?

Here's what I'm looking to add in:
+ Treachery, + Bribery, + Roil Elemental.
If you're going to run monstrously huge Eldrazi, I'm going to do my level best to steal them from you. All three of these are abusable and all work on each of the legends except for Treachery on Emrakul, that is unless you find it with Academy Rector which nicely circumvents the targetting requirement and protection ability from the largest of the Eldrazi. Bribery is for the sneaky early Eldrazi from your opponent's deck and Roil Elemental will probably make the cut despite it's fragility simply for the ability to take control of multiple creatures which will either form a wall or annihilator fodder against the Eldrazi. One of the many interesting tricks is putting the Annihilator trigger on the stack, cracking a fetchland or using Knight of the Reliquary to find a land (or, better yet, a fetchland), stealing the Eldrazi themselves and sacrificing them to their own Annihilator ability. Bazinga!

Two other additions, or rather one reappearance and one addition are:
+ Oblivion Ring, + Riftsweeper
Oblivion Ring is pretty much on the fence right now but I'm going to push it in there somewhere as it's effectively another Academy Rector target as well as being perfectly acceptable on it's own. The one reason it's currently out is that it's relatively poor in a Child of Alara enviornment which is where I find myself. Riftsweeper is to combat the afforementioned realisation that graveyard hate is good and to re-use Academy Rector if needed. She's currently a one-shot and that's a shame. Should a key card or a large portion of my deck/graveyard be exiled, looping Riftsweeper through Reveillark/Body Double/Karmic Guide can recover those cards into your library. As long as Riftsweeper itself isn't one of those cards! ;o)

What's likely to hit the cutting-room floor?
- Akroma, - Skullclamp
These are the first two as the focus of the deck shifts subtly towards other player's creatures, Akroma is not as important. As it stood, she was more likey to be Body Doubled or Karmic Guided into play rather than hard cast. Replacing a 6/6 Tea & Coffee for 5WWW with a 15/15 Tea & Coffee for 3UU seems like a much better deal. As long as Emrakul is sitting in a deck opposite, Bribery will be getting the "Fatty" nod in the deck. Skullclamp is a source of cheap card drawing that generally does too little in the deck as it stands. The hope is that this loss will be offset by the flashier plays that Treachery could provide.

Two of the remaining three slots likely to see play will take the place of Whispersilk Cloak (purely for the costs involved) and one of Sword of Light and Shadow / Behemoth Sledge and I'm currently on the side of the Sword for both the protection and recursion over the Trample and unchecked, unrestricted lifegain.

I have a feeling that the final cuts will be rather painful. Testing will see what works.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Getting your Annihilator on!

Ah! It's been a long month of sealed and draft and pre-releases before we could get back to some serious EDHing. Rise of Eldrazi has really gotten a rise (geddit?) from the playgroup and we've already had our share of Annihilating and annihilation. The expected presence of Lands Ungiven has materialised in numerous decks:

However, we're still a little short on other additions. One of the reasons for that may be that Marc, our Uril player, has yet to level up his legend and I'm really not looking forward to that. I can confirm, though, not that it needed to be confirmed, that Channel is pretty strong and this previously ignored card is now at the centre of the debate regarding its continued viability in the format.

It didn't take long for it to surface in only our second post-RoE EDH game. Taking things chronologically however, first came a quick heads-up game with Rafiq getting served by Phelddagrif:

1v1, Rafiq (me) Vs Group Hug (Arnaud) for the giggles.

Arnaud decided to try to win with the full-hug version and managed to land a Forced Fruition before losing it to an Oblivion Ring. Unfortunalty he followed that with an Eye of The Storm & Windfall and I couldn't kill it right away so I went for the throat. He chumped a couple of times before I tried to push through the win by dropping a Shield of the Oversoul on Rafiq with Finest Hour out. He played Swords to Plowshares for Rafiq, Misdirection on the Shield and followed it with a Krosan Grip. The extra 30 cards drawn off the Forced Fruition didn't really help me with the attack phase over and the next turn Prosperity & the copied Windfall finished me. Hippo deck wins! Wham!

Another aside: What's better than a Flying, Purple Hippo?

Answer: a Flying, Purple Hippo with Firebreathing!!!!!!

Get it made R&D! You know you want to!!

Checking back with our EDH team, we have a 4 man set up: Me (Kazuul/Big Red/Eldrazi) Vs Marc (Nath/Eldrazi) Vs Arnaud#2 (GAAIV) Vs Arnaud#1 (Rafiq)

Going first on his turn 3 Marc plays Channel into Pathrazer of Ulamog and Kozilek. That's pretty bad, though it could have been a lot worse. Still, if we can kill them, Marc is only at 9 life (we play 30 life games) and very likely to get crushed. Kozilek eats a Path to Exile right away, but the Pathrazer gets in one attack stripping me of all my permanents. This is essentially the big play in the entire game whenI convince Marc that all I need is to play my third Mountain to "deal with" the Pathrazer. He falls for it.

When Arnaud#1 then asks what's in everyone's graveyard (after only 2-3 turns) and him with 5+ mana coming free when he untapps his lands, Sol Ring and signets, it can only mean he has a Body Double in hand and I know that we can pull it out. I have no land and a full grip of things that really could have done with me getting Planar Lens online (without the annihilation, of course) so I could either play the remaining mountain in hand or discard..... It that Betrays hit the bin hoping for my intuition to be right about Body Double.

Arnaud not only had the Body Double, he also has a Hall of the Bandit Lord which I hadn't noticed so It That betrays slammed into Marc for the 11 needed to kill him on the spot. Channel that!

Two Eldrazi down, one to go!

I played a mountain & Arnaud#2's Island meant that Arnaud#1's Dancing Boots went away to a Mogg Salvage before it could be an issue & Arnaud#2 had the follow-up Swords to Plowshares right after to make it final.

Then we played a normal, Eldrazi-free game and had a lot of fun though I may have overdone the "flinch and you take 2" effects. Dying to your own cards, and not even in the hands of your opponents, is a bit weak.

Eldrazi 0, Rest of the Plane 1

Over the following weekend I shamelessly copied Jeremy's Karrthus/Eldrazi deck off YouTube, made a couple of changes and got ready to battle again.

You can find Jeremy and his lovely wife on their YouTube channel (there's that card again!) extolling the virtues of this great format: ElderDragonHighlandr This is a great visual resource by theway and I highly recommend giving up a few minutes (or a few hours) to watching these videos.

The first chance I had to play Eldrazi-Jund was actually against the deck. Friday we pulled out 5 decks and randomly assigned them. Here's where we got to after the opening few turns.

Arnaud#1 rolled the Karrthus/Eldrazi deck and has powered out enough tokens and land to play Emrakul but doesn't have it in hand, though he's also just dropped Eye of Ugin with a stack of mana open and passed the turn so it's as good as having it in hand! He's got a couple of chumps apart from the tokens but nothing that flies or otherwise effects the board. Very importantly he has Anger in the GY so his Eldrazi are going to hurt someone fast when they come out to play. He has a full hand and passes the turn on 38 life.

Arnaud#2 is playing Thada Adel/Artifacts and it must be said, he's playing it very badly. He has 10 cards in hand (and a Reliqary Tower), Propaganda, about 10 mana, Aeon Chronicler with a Basilisk Collar on it, and Magus of the Future showing Island. The deck is a monster being driven by someone who doesn't understand its power and that's a bit sad because I'm fairly sure that he should be the #1 threat at the table. He has just gone back up to 40 life by attacking with the now tapped Chronicler.

Antoine is packing Sharuum. He's Acquired Thada Adel's Darksteel Forge and played a Platinum Angel on previous turns but is down to 11 life. His latest play is a KRoR on the Angel which leaves him tapped out but with 24 power of indestructable flying on the board. He has 5 cards in hand when he passes the turn.

Player 4 is Me, the active player, playing Group Hug. I have 8 mana, Gomazoa, Indentured Djinn and Swans of Bryn Argol. I have 40 life and a full hand of 6 land, Swords to Plowshares that I've just drawn and Trade Secrets.

Player 5 is Rhys - G/W Elves. He had a full hand, Garruk on 5 counters, 5 creatures and had announced that he has Overrun in hand. He's on 25 (or 26) life.

As the active player with only Trade Secrets able to effect the game significantly, who do you target? Ok, accepting that you can just pass the turn to Mr. Double Overrun to your left, you don't have to play the Trade Secrets, but it's going to go downhill from all sides anyway so you may as well pick someone to help:

Player 1 who will have Emrakul the next turn irregardless.

Player 2 who won't be able to profit from cards he draws through inexperience.

Player 3 who has 6 indestructable Platinum Angels already


Player 5 who can annoy the hell out of almost every player but actually kill none before he passes the turn to Emrakul.

I can help Thada Adel but I won't because he should be completely dominant already and he's randomly discarding Rings of Brighthearth before asking what the point of the Basalt Monolith is or not choosing the Acquire pile in an otherwise empty FoF split despite having Sharuum sitting opposite who has just Acquired his own Darksteel Forge the turn previous only because his own Acquire is in Japanese. The Emrakul player is helping him a lot with advice and reminders and but is having to hold back because any more help and he's essentially just playing the deck himself. I'm not going to give him any more though choices on what to play with Trade Secrets, because those choices are not going to solve the situation currently developing. Unfortunatly for him, this essentially relegates him to the status of "sacrificial goat" for no other reason than having Darksteel Forge in his deck.

Sharuum is winning the game quite well on his own, thank you very much. Emrakul is likely to try to do a number on him as Sharuum has noted the lack of fliers and, well, 6x indestructible Platinum Angels is a bit of a threat.

So that leaves Rhys. I think I can convince him to try to kill Thada Adel as quickly as possible so as to give the imminent Emrakul a shot a beating off Sharuum but the Propaganda is a pain. He can't play both Overrun & attack with everything, so he's got to use Garruk & attack then do it again but with the Basilisk Collar sitting opposite, it could take a lot of time without outside help and he risks being caught in a return attack. There's very little overall benefit to be reaped by helping him as it can't add damage to his attack.

So I help Karrthus. I actively help the Eldrazi take over. I must be mad!!!

Emrakul is currently the only way to beat Sharuum. Either he attacks directly (not a good idea because the 20 power of untapped flying indestructible will kill Emrakul even after the Annihilator 6) or he kills Thada Adel to get rid of the Darksteel Forge that Sharuum controls [When a player is killed all cards and permanents he/she owns are removed from play and the stack immediatly lethal damage is resolved]. The rest of the table have a couple of turns to find a way to deal with Emrakul once he's been unleashed and it's coming out anyway so helping is immaterial to what's going to happen on the next turn anyway.

So why am I helping at all?

Sharuum can untap and SDT/tutor or draw into an O-Stone or Disk and just win if he can do it before Thada Adel is killed. He also has 6 Platinum Angels in play. Me & Rhys are not really threats until Sharuum is gone and Sharuum gone means that Thada Adel is too. Rhys becomes potent especially if Sharuum takes some life off Emrakul but it's not in Rhys' interests to kill Emrakul until Sharuum & Thada have been dealt with. This is a pretty twisted situation where two players are actively ignoring the two biggest threats to help eliminate another player so that a domino effect can be triggered. It's really all just hoping that, once the beast has fed, it will roll over and take a nap letting the mice scurry in for the kill.

So what happened?

It went pretty much as I had calculated, cajoled, pushed and manipulated. I played Trade Secrets and Karrthus drew about 15 cards while I drew about 10, one of which was Hallowed Burial. I smile and pass the turn while getting roundly cussed!

Rhys goes into the tank in his first main phase and, I slip in for a quick dip and to expand on the idea that A beats B to get at C and we should help. Seeing no better solution appart from passing the turn, he attacks into Thada Adel, using Garruk's Overrrun & paying for 4 creatures for 22 damage. Thada goes to 18, loses his Magus of the Future and Rhys passes the turn.

Emrakul is searched out with the Eye of Ugin at EOT and played. He starts tapping for an all out attack on Sharuum when I suggest that he should probably attack Thada Adel with his Kozilek's Predator. He does a double take and looks at the board again before attacking Thada Adel with both for exactly lethal. Darksteel Forge goes away and Sharuum is a bit stunned. He wasn't expecting that at all!

Karrthus untaps for his additional turn and plays Artisan of Kozilek getting Dread Drone back into play. He attacks into Sharuum with all three. Annihilator 8 destroys his mana base and he blocks Emrakul with 4 Platinum Angel copies, killing Emrakul and losing 3 of the copies. He takes 14 from the Dread Drone & Artisan (-3).

Since Thada Adel is dead, Sharuum is next up, plays a land and an empty Chrome Mox and passes a bit disgusted that his grand plan is in tatters.

I untap and draw Forced Fruition, attack & kill Garruk with my Indentured Djinn, much to Rhys's total disgust. I play Hallowed Burial. Sharuum dies. He cries. It's sad when a Sphinx cries. Worse than doves.

Eye of Ugin ends up tutoring out the Eldrazi one after the other and killing off myself and Rhys. Giving an Eldrazi a billion cards that he can use to just recycle his graveyard into his library at will and tutor back is pretty strong against a deck that hopes to inadvertantly win through milling while doing it's best to help you to win! Had it been an Eye of the Storm rather than the Forced Fruition to go with the Swords to Plowshares I had in hand, I would have been much happier but it wasn't to be and it only takes a single hit from Emrakul to crush your manabase to the point where hoping to cast a 7cc enchantment, if you ever draw it, is just foolish thinking.

Eldrazi 1, Rest of the plane 1

So, we're going to sign this one off as a score draw but those pests will take some watching! Next week is Cube week with a surprisingly huge number of cards from Rise of the Eldrazi making the cut into the Common/Uncommon cube I shamelessly copied (where have I seen that before?) from Klug over on which you can find here. Take a quick visit even if you're not a cuber, it's pretty pimp!