Monday, 27 September 2010

4 New Generals all covered in Scars

Scars of Mirrodin is here and we have 4 new generals to play with! Let's just dive straight in!

An Elf Overrun Lord - Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Elves are known for being weedy little green guys with woop-loads of synergy especially in the mana-making department. Where before they had to go outside the tribe to get some beatdown going with Coat of Arms, Kamahl, Fist of Krosa or Overrun, Scars is handing Elves a turn 2 drop with lots and lots of potential. He's a decent 2/2 for 3 and has both the important characteristics you need in an aggressive Elf build: He's an Elf (ok, that's one's obvious) and he's a warrior. When he starts benefitting from both Elf and Warrior he's going to be annoying just by himself. He's adding to your Elf count for all the important "elf count" reasons but his text-box is what will push him right up there for inclusion with Rhys the Redeemed as a choice Elf General. Elves can benefit from the inclusion of White that Rhys provides but they don't necessarily require it to be viable. Rhys can churn out an army if left alone long enough but he shouldn't be, and regularly isn't, allowed to do so. What Rhys doesn't have is a way to protect key elements and here is where Ezuri calls attention to himself for the first time. Someone want to Terror your Priest of Titania and you have an untapped Forest? It's not happening. [This is some unobservant shit right here! Regenerate from a Terror? For shame! Read "Doom Blade" in that last sentence and you get the idea!] Keep that active Priestess open and Ezuri is going to regenerate your entire team if someone foolishly chooses a boardwipe without a "no regeneration clause". The only slight disadvantage is that he can't help himself, only other Elves.

His second ability is where Ezuri really shines. One of the disadvantages of Elves is that while they can swarm pretty well, there's not been an Elf Legend that can really push their damage potential over the top. The afforementioned Coat of Arms, Kamahl, Fist of Krosa or Overrun are generally included in the hope that they will become available at the right time and each has it's own drawback: Coat will also pump opponent's creatures; Kamahl is not an Elf, probably isn't your general and costs 10 to cast and activate his second ability; and Overrun is a Sorcery (still not an instant, Marc!) in a colour that doesn't really have a cheap way to tutor for it when necessary. Ezuri as your general gives you this ability built in and freely available from the General Zone to bust out a bunch of dorks and turn them into a force that will put a dent in any life total.

Do not underestimate the ability to protect your army and have repeated Overruns on a stick. He's cheap and he ticks all the right boxes. Straight to the top of the Elf Legend queue, Mr. Ezuri!

A Zombie Dragon - Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon

Skithiryx gains immediate bonus flavour points for being an undead dragon skeleton (though you have to ask yourself how an undead dragon with no wing membrane stays aloft). He's a 4/4 flier for 3BB which are acceptable stats. He's smaller than other dragons but that's not as relevant as it would normally be as he regenerates for BB. He's only the second Dragon in the game with this ability after Hellkite Overlord and he's a lot cheaper to cast. That's not what pushes him over the top however. He has haste if you happen to have a spare B lying about the turn you  cast him. That isn't what pushes him over the top either (and, honestly, optional haste is a bit of a waste of an ability; either build it in or don't, it's useless after the first turn anyway)

What pushes Skithiryx over the top is the new key-word "infect". Infect is a mix of Wither and Poison: You deal wither damage to creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters and Poison damage to players. The advantage of dealing poison counters to players is that it only takes 10 to kill a player making Skithiryx what in normal damage terms would essentially be the equivalent to an 8/4 when unblocked. Two and a half hits just with this bag of bones and you've won the game and that's without pumping him in some manner. If he tackles a bigger beast than he is, well that beast isn't going to be bigger much longer with all the -1/-1 counters he's handing out. He regenerates to be able to stick around to do it again next turn too so all in all this is a nice creature to have on your side. All that taken together is what pushes him over the top in EDH.

In EDH we have 40 life, 21 general damage and 10 poison counters as means of winning the game (There's decking and a couple of "I win" cards but essentially the first three is what we're focusing on.) Poison was pretty much the forgotten child up until now but with Scars of Mirrodin and the two subsequent extensions, that's about to change. Skithiryx is the first huge step in that change. Where a normal general is looking to get in for 21 general damage, Skithiryx is looking to get in for 21 general damage or 10 poison counters, whichever happens first. Anyone who's any good at math can tell you that 10 is most likely going to happen before 21. Should you use Skithiryx as your general, you're announcing that you intend to win in half the time another 4/4 general would usually require. Add in Unholy Strength, Howl from Beyond, Hatred or any other boost effect and you can cut the time it takes you to win down even further. Look at all the support cards that Scars is offering the Infect mechanic, especially the other new Scars keywords "Proliferate", and it's entirely possible that you're not using Skithiryx as a two hit general, rather that you're intending to win once he connects even once as some smaller minnions have gotten in there already to start the infection and he's just the coup de grace.

A new, very aggressive black aggro-poison strategy is now available in EDH and it's got Skithiryx front and center. Dust off your leeches and fight the infection! [And check the comments below for how to die to general damage (not poison counters) from Skithiryx !]

A Phyrexian-aided Lich - Geth, Lord of the Vault

Let's be honest, Skithiryx is not a flavour legend, he's a mechanic-driven beast with extra "legendary". Scars of Mirrodin has given us a second mono-black general who is very much a sop to the Vorthos types out there who clamour for storyline enrished goodness at every opportunity. Geth is a Lich. At the end of the original Mirrodin Block storyline Geth was decapitated but, being a lich, he just went on undying. Apparently in the intervening time he managed to convey himself back to the Mephidross and went about putting a body together with the help of some of Magics' more dastardly villans: the Phyrexians. Those nice Phyrexians gave Geth the lovely half artifact/half carapace thing you can see in the card-art here.

Strangely enough, even though the Phyrexians are the source of the infection, they didn't give it to Geth so he doesn't get to poison or wither like Skithiryx. He's a formidable leader apparently so he gets to Intimidate and he's got a decent 5/5 body to go with his 4BB cc.  His ability is interesting and self sustaining and very relevant for both standard and EDH except for one little thing: the Eldrazi are everywhere and mono-black doesn't destroy artifacts well in order to get the Geth ball rolling. There work getting that first artifact (and thus the mill effect) into play and you could just as easily hit one of our colourless legendary friends and undo all the hard work.

Now he's not bad, don't get me wrong. I'm sure he has a place in Standard or somewhere. For EDH however, all I see are hoops here whereas with his set-mate, Skithiryx, there's just tick marks in almost the right boxes. If he was BG, BU or BR you'd have all the tools you'd need to get him on line aggressively but in Mono-B, his support suite is sorely lacking.

Edit: Nah, you don't really want to read all that stuff up there! ;o) As was pointed out in the comments, Geth's reanimate ability is not just for artifacts, a card type that, along with Enchantments, Mono-B usually has a little more trouble than most handling once they have resolved. It also targets creatures which is a card type that Mono-B generally has very little trouble dealing with, thankyouverymuch! So what does that change? His ability can target two very common card types in EDH and is self sustaining. He can start the ball rolling in-colour and, as such, is potentially very effective as a mono-coloured general. If an opponent doesn't have the means to automatically re-shuffle his/her graveyard into their library, you've got the upperhand in the resources game because you're depriving him/her of potential cards in hand and thus solutions to deal with your Geth.

There is a small downside to giving your opponent an increased number of cards in his/her graveyard, that's a resource he/she can mine too, however I think that here the advantages outweigh the disadvantages given that it's now your resource pool too and you have a means to play repeated, targetted Beacon of Unrests at instant speed while your opponent has to use a new card each time to benefit in the same way. You're using your opponent's resources to win the resource war and, in doing so, fuel the pool.

I mentioned the Eldrazi Legends above and I'd like to come back to them. Unlike Darksteel Collossus, who has a replacement ability and never goes to the graveyard, Geth can yoink an Eldrazi Legend out of your graveyard in response to the ability going on the stack. In fact, should this ever happen, if you listen carefully, you will actually hear a tiny >YOINK!< noise as Geth's ability resolves. The grumbling noise you will hear just afterwards is your opponent grinding his teeth.

So, am I sold on Geth now? I'm not sure. Yes, it's a lot better than I had originally thought and he can head up a very focused type of Mono-B EDH deck. I still think 5B is a hefty price to pay for your general, though it's true that we see Invasion and Planar Chaos Dragons quite frequently so a cmc of 6 is not strictly "too much". I think I'll have to see Geth in action to fully appreciate his power.

Edit: Ok, I'm halfway through our first Draft and I got passed a foil Geth as a second pick/first pack. The player to my right preferred the 7/7 green dude who blows up blockers. I take it all back.

Geth is insane.

A Kitty with a Rack - Kemba, Kha Regent

Finally we have a mono-W general, Kemba. In the original Mirrodin we had another mono-W Cat legend, Raksha the Golden Cub, but a 3/4 for 5WW was always going to be a hard sell unless his ability was really stunning. Giving your creatures Double Strike if he's equipped is neat but it's not setting the world alight, especially at that CMC. Kemba is from line of younger sleeker Cat Legends. She gives up a point of power to Raksha for a 4 mana cost reduction. Nice trade up! At 1WW she's playable and she's still got junk in the trunk at 2/4.

What about the ability trade-off? I'm sure everyone would just love a straight discounted Raksha but you can't have everything. Instead of granting your cats Double Strike, Kemba gives you free 2/2 cats for each equipment attached to her. One equip: one 2/2. 5 Equips: five 2/2s. Realistically you're not going to get a huge number of equipments onto her any any one time, but there are quite a few juicy ones that would make it worthwhile. Konda's Banner springs to mind. Kemba herself doesn't gain anything but she'll be whelping 4/4s, not 2/2s, if she's holding the Banner.
One of the most impresive things about Kemba is that, not only is she an equipment based general, she solves your ususal problems of balancing the volume of equipment in your deck with the number of creatures you actually have to equip. Now you don't really need to worry about going overboard on the equipment side of things, either you put it all on Kemba herself or on one of the many cats she's pumping out each turn. Did I mention that they are free, these 2/2s? That's probably important.

Given that the ever increasing instances of equipment support are turning up in mono-white of late, Kemba is going to have all the back-up she needs to find and equip the bling that builds her army. Cats are not the most explosive tribe ever but Kemba is a step in the right direction for a solid Cat deck. Hum, Is this the right place to question whether R&D are aware that they are treading a very fine line with Kemba? Give lady bling: lady gives you babies. There's a message here somewhere. Who designed the card exactly?

As her flavour text proclaims: "I am not Raksha. I never will be." Damn right, you're playable!

That's all for now folks. Here's a quick recap:

Top of the class: Skithiryx. New archetype, new playable Mono-B general. Beastly beast. A+
Close Second: Ezuri. Right up there for the go-to elf general. Will being Mono-G hurt his chances as he goes toe-to-toe with G/W Rhys?
Moving up through the pack: Geth. I'm bowing to crowd pressure here. He's not as explosive as Skithiryx or Ezuri given the built in damage work-around of the Dragon or the tribal support of the Elves.
Thunder Cat: Kemba. Nice cost, nice ability, right colour for all the support you will need, nice rack, questionable sexual politics in the design process. Not a "Must Play" legend, but a good, fun legend.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Re-Tooling Thada Adel

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Seriously guys? Tolarian Academy too powerful in a deck dedicated to abuse it? Really? Seriously? Ban worthy? Honestly?

Ok, probably. Sometimes. More than likely. I mean, who doesn't love some hot, hardcast Emrakul goodness on turn 3?

What's that? "No-one"? Kill joys, the lot of them. :(

I had put my Thada-Adel "Taa-Daa" deck down for a while some time before Archenemy came out. As most of the cards are either deck specific or I have in doubles, it's one deck that I generally don't dip in and out of for cards to make other decks. This makes it quite simple to just leave untouched until the urge to wind up the robots takes me again. One change had to be made for sure and that was the exclusion of Tolarian Academy for something (which ended up as Oboro, Palace in the Clouds for no other reason than it was the card I replaced in my binders) after the last ban-hammer slammed down on the powerful legendary land. Despite the fact that I really enjoyed playing with Academy and obviously didn't want it banned, it can't argue with the RC when they did because it was a key component in powering up both tame Thada Adel decks (kidding) and broken Sharuum decks (totally not kidding).

As I live in France, we have players who choose to build their decks following the French 1v1 ban list rather than the multiplayer list we get from the EDH RC. If you clicked the link, you'll notice that Tolarian Academy does not feature on the French list. When it was banned on the multiplayer list and there was still grumbling about my use of Sol Ring (which is banned in France), I gave the team an option as to how I built my Thada Adel list: Either I play the multiplayer version with Sol Ring and there's no more grumbling or I change the deck to conform to the French 1v1 list, lose Sol Ring but gain Tolarian Academy. The pause was significant and deep as the potential of 2 colourless mana for 1 on a fragile artifact against, well, possibly the most broken land in the history of Magic was carefully considered. The mature consensus was that Sol Ring was a mere Camel's twizzle in the face of the location that almost destroyed the multiverse. Academy is out of our playgroup and Sol Ring is here to stay.

So I've tinkered with the list I had before to the one below. There's an Echoing Truth that I'm looking to squeeze in due to an increase of tokens in my metagame, though most of the obvious candidates to take out are flavour cards that I'm loath to cut. It looks like Sundering Titan is currently the most likely to be out because I'm not ever happy casting it.

Thada Adel, Acquirer

23 Island
Maze of Ith
Eye of Ugin
Thawing Glaciers

Academy Ruins
Darksteel Citadel
Seat of the Synod
Strip Mine
Faerie Conclave
Tolaria West
Remote Isle
Lonely Sandbar
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
Reliquary Tower

Sol Ring
Dreamstone Hedron
Mind Stone
Mana Vault
Basalt Monolith
Coalition Relic
Darksteel Ingot
Overflowing Chalice
Worn Powerstone
Thran Dynamo

Nevinyrral’s Disk
Ensnaring Bridge
Oblivion Stone
Voltaic Key
Explorer’s Map
Sculpting Steel
Mycosynth Lattice
Lightning Greaves
Memory Jar
Engineered Explosives
Darksteel Forge
Sensei’s Divining Top
Mind’s Eye
Vedalken Shackles
Tormod’s Crypt
Crystal Ball
Whispersilk Cloak
Avarice Totem

Tezzeret the Seeker
Emrakul, the Aeon’s Torn
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Sundering Titan
Stormtide Leviathan
Etherium Sculptor
Master Transmuter
Platinum Angel
Vedalken Archmage
Karn, Silver Golem
Trinket Mage
Lighthouse Chronologist
Magus of the Future
Verdalken Engineer
Faerie Mechanist

Fact or Fiction
Thirst for Knowledge
Careful Consideration
Rite of Replication
Ancestral Vision
Knowledge Exploitation

Future Sight
Artificer's Intuition

In recent games I've been having the most fun ever running a Lighthouse Chronologist out after a Mycosynth Lattice. I fully expect everyone to kill it on sight as a matter of course and I can generally level it right up to 7 with all my colourless mana. The look of horror on faces around the table when this first happened was probably a Kodak moment but I didn't have a camera on me at the time. Now he "only" provokes an immediate focusing of everyone's attention and fevered digging for answers before I can find a way to protect him. The huge drawback of the Thada Adel deck is that it can be very slow to get into the driving seat. Propaganda is a card that was in there at the beginning but was cut for flavour and space (though Karn art + Karn is probably enough to warrant re-inclusion, hummmm) and finding some way to get this guy into play and levelled around turn 5-6 essentially supercharges your deck. Well, it would do the same for anyone's deck but you're cutting whole chunks out of the turns people would normally get to attack you while you go on your merry way, hopefully torwards the win.

Speaking of flavour and Karn, Silver Golem reminds me that there are so many ways to be a complete barstud with this deck. Ok, we all know the Nevinyrral’s Disk/Darksteel Forge combo? Unlike Oblivion Stone which requires you to sacrifice the Stone as part of the cost, Nevinyrral's Disk says "Destroy all artifacts, creatures, and enchantments." In the normal course of events this would also nuke your Disk however the Forge makes it indestructible and allows you to repeatedly activate the disk. Nasty? Not nearly! Add in a Mycosynth Lattice and all permanents are Artifacts. Now all planeswalkers and, most importantly, all lands in play are artifacts and will also be destroyed by your Nev's Disk. Not your own stuff of course, as yours are indestructible, just everyone elses. So we've established that this is a pretty low move. How about what happens when our friend Karn starts mixing with the Mycosynth Lattice crowd? Get Lattice & Karn into play together with some open mana and suddenly there's a lot of very nervous lands. It's pretty much a repeat of Kamahl/Fist's interaction with White Crovax: "{G}, destroy target land" except we're paying {1} and we've got lots and lots of {1}. When you animate a land and give it a P/T equal to its casting cost (0, as lands have no cc) it dies once state based effects are next checked. That's a pretty low move this deck can make. Is it as bad as repeatable Disk activations? Probably. It's a bit sad for Karn though, who's a total pacifist. <- That's the flavour bit. Picture Karn animating these little artifacts only for them to die straight away. OOOooooooh, I feel like Volrath!!

Not an instant, Marc!
One of my playgroup runs a pretty extensive artifact destruction package. You know he's got one as he starts checking out exactly what's going on over my side of the table. He claims his biggest problem with the deck is that there's almost never a "right" target to destroy, or rather, there's always too many "right" targets. If he destroys Mycosynth Lattice or Master Transmuter, which is are enablers, all the pointy bits that actually do things to players are still on the table. If he takes out a pointy bit, the enablers are still there to enable something else absurd. If he declines to take out a mana source, he runs the risk of an Eldrazi. It's actually quite stunning to see how fast this deck still can be if it draws well especially considering how much slower it is now that Tolarian Academy is no longer in the format. The obvious drawback to "fast" is the afforementioned "occasionally slow" but that's not such a big deal because it's actually a good thing for the deck to get beat up from time to time. Overrun as an instant is, of course, the obvious exception, Marc.

The rest of the list is pretty much standard fare from the cards I have available to me. I don't have a Mishra's Workshop yet (nor am I likely to get one any time soon) though I fully expect Scars of Mirrodin to spew out a whole swathe of cards that will make the deck tick even faster including, dare I dream, a Karn - Artifact Planeswalker ......