Monday, 27 June 2011

Balthor Says "Magic 2012 delivers!!!!"

A 5/4 Deathtouch Zombie for 2BBB? That's a pretty good deal!!

A recurring targetted Dread effect from your graveyard tacked on for free.... That's just flabbered my ghast!!!

 Balthor says: 

Me Likey!!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Archenemy Sidebar

Someone in work mentioned breaking out the Archenemy cards next week for a return to that brief period last year when we rocked them for about 3 weeks solid before a new release dragged out eyes away from them like a cat following a laser dot.

Since then, I've been thinking about whether to break out existing EDH decks and just pick the relevant schemes to go with that deck (which I'll proabably do for at least 2 decks) or whether to re-build an old, dismantled deck just to maximize on the effect of "Perhaps You've Met My cohort." There's nothing quite like the roulette of seeing which scheme you're getting and have it show up All Aces on Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, especially in the early game. Now our Nicol has a new friend to make that early choice just that little bit more interesting. I think the right choice is always going to be Bolas then Karn, but having the two allows you to draw one and not need to find your Jace or Scroll Rack to get in back in before a Scheme hits, especially if you're slow on mana.

The main reason why the deck got taken apart and the main block to rebuilding it is the toll it takes on the mana bases in my other decks. Removing duels and shocks from multiple decks just to fuel a single deck, is a huge pain.

I suppose I could get away with a full set of Fetch lands, Alara Shard fetches and a lot of land searching in Green to get over this but I wonder inflicting that restriction won't water the deck down so much that it would become unwieldy. As I've been itching to make a proliferate deck as well, I'm leaning towards actually getting this done. It's just a pity that there's not a proliferate scheme. As a "Super-Friends" deck goes, it's got potential to be a huge headache for my opponents.

Irregardless of how I build the deck, which deck I build or whether the world is due to end tomorrow, there's a scheme that will always be included in any scheme pile I make as a 2-of: Plots That Span Centuries. This is the Twincasted Time Warp of Archenemy Schemes. You get to trade this turn's scheme doing basically nothing into a turbo-fuelled scheme turn the following turn. If your opponents are unfortunate enough to have you flip into the second copy on your next turn as one of the first 2 schemes, you'll end up getting 4 schemes in one turn.

Just as bad, if you flip it as your third scheme on that turn, you'll get 2 active schemes this turn and 3 guarenteed hits next turn (as both your "Plots" will be tucked under the scheme pile).

About the only downside to having multiple schemes flip on a single turn is that you have to be very careful how many X schemes you've included in your pile. It's all well and good to flip a "Plots....." early on only to subsequently flip 2x "Every Last Vestige Shall Rot" and 1x "My Genius Knows No Bounds" on a paltry 1 or 2 mana. That said, it's kinda hard not to include both as they are pretty crushing at the right moment given enough mana.

You are either drawing a lot of cards and gaining a lot of life, or you're wiping away the entire non-land board that someone has developed over subsequent turns but giving them nothing in return. Resolving multiples of either with sufficient mana during a game is essentially game over for those players as the nature of the Archenemy set-up invariably requires one player to over-extend. Wiping one away and repeating it on a second player is just a horrific amount of card advantage.

Back to setting up for next week, I have a set of schemes chosen for what was my Thada Adel deck, now Memnarch, and I think I'll run them as chosen:

2x Every Hope Shall Vanish
2x Surrender Your Thoughts
2x Only Blood Ends your Nightmares

2x I Delight in Your Convulsions
2x Realms Befitting My Majesty
2x Every Last Vestige Shall Rot

2x Your Puny Minds Cannot Fathom
2x Plots that Span Centuries
1x My Undead Horde Awekens
1x I Bask in your Silent Awe
1x Tooth, Claw & Tail
1x Behold the Power of Destruction

This is pretty much my basic package for any deck with about 5-10 of the slots being mutable for flavour reasons. For example, while I'm quite likely to build a Scheme stack for my Balthor deck, I'll be pretty much obliged to start two copies each of "My Undead Hoard Awakens", "Mortal Flesh is Weak" (though nothing is mentioned about Undead flesh, so that's acceptable) and "The Dead Shall Serve".

So that's my Archenemy sidebar, I'm looking at playing Memnarch, Balthor and, if I have the patience and time to build it, a 5 colour Planeswalker/proliferate deck. If anyone else out there is still rocking Archenemy or has favourite individual Schemes or even a favourite full 20, let me know in the comments. I'll be back in about 2 weeks with a follow-up to tell you all how it went.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Blue One (URG)

All good (or generally ok with some flashes of "slightly better") things must come to an end and thus we line up the Fifth and last of our Preconstructed Commander Deck reviews: the URG deck in the Blue packaging, Mirror Mastery.

Copy and paste. Copy your spells and creatures with Riku and paste your opponets with them. In practice, it may be a little more conplex, but that's the basic idea.

And it's a good idea. Any creature is better when it's got a copy of itself sitting alongside but when that creature is a Simic Sky Swallower or similiar, you're talking great value. Two very synergistic legends in Riku & Animar and a lot of fun tricks with their abilities and the stack.

There's very little that is bad about Riku. You could argue that, 1.) given the huge mana demands he automatically generates, he's a little too expensive at 5cmc and 2.) I have a little niggle with the spell copying ability (that is, it being just "Copy that spell" rather than "you may play a copy of thet spell") but, all in all, he's a huge engine in a little body. Now, the counter arguament to my niggles are equally valid: 1.) He's expensive so that he's not too dominating, you're required to invest in him fully, and 2.) What? Did you want him to do your laundry, fetch your shopping and make you a cup of joe too?

My small niggles are essentially only to have something to detract from what is otherwise all upside. He slices, he dices, he spawns, he copies. As all of us in a relationship know, going solo is ok, but having a partner is a lot more exciting. Riku provides this by playing in a most excellent way with himself.

That.....came out wrong.
You get a non-token creature into play (note that it's not "play a creature spell"), pay a little extra and suddenly it's National Twins day. A Llanowar Elf is nice, two is better. Same for spells: A Cultivate is nice, two is better, etc., etc. That's the basics. In the Riku deck, you should be expecting to copy Simic Sky Swallowers, Prophetic Bolts and, repeatedly, Call the Skybreaker each time getting an extra 6/6 Shroud Flying Trample, 8 damage with 2 Impulse attached or lots of 5/5 fliers.

Or a pair of Nom Nom Hydras.

Also included in the deck is a spattering of Evoke creatures. While the seemingly obvious Mulldrifter is surprisingly missing (possibly because he's a little too good if you have means to copy and recur him repeatedly and you do, in a limited fashion) the strategy is fundamently sound: Pay less with evoke, copy the incoming creature, get the Kiss-Cool effect of the original and the copy, allow the original to die and keep the copy in play. So, for the missing Mulldrifter you'd pay 2GUU rather than 4U to get 4 cards and a flying 2/2 rather than 2 cards and a flying 2/2. What? You're not even paying more,just tapping your mana differently? In-sane.

The deck designers realised that the deck was very mana hungry so, at first glance, there's a lot of land-cyclers, Elvish Abberations and other cards like Magus of the Vineyard or Veteran Explorer, more often seen in Hug decks, that seem horrible but they are really very much in their element. You have to ramp your mana and this deck will do that, even if it's helping other players as it does so. Collective Voyage, a new "New Frontiers", is another example of getting the mana & to hell with the consequences because the upside of all this is that, once you have the mana, you are the best deck at the table because everything you cast is doing double duty.

Potentially excellent cards include anything that will boost your own mana exclusively rather than help out everyone else; Seedborn Muse seems like it could be very, very strong; Mulldrifter (did I mention him?) is an obvious exclusion and really should be added right away.

The huge "downside", if you will, is that this Riku deck, while being hella-fun to play, is very, very mana hungry. The packaged deck addresses this in it's own way but that will not appeal to those players who abhor giving opponents a hand up, whatever the circumstances.

Not a Fierce Empath
Secondly, a couple of thing need to go right for you to win. You need to get your mana up to about the 7-9 mark and have Riku in play. Then you need spells and creatures that will be worth copying and, in addition, provide some card value when you play them. That may sound like a lot, but when your last card is a Fierce Empath (which you copy) to get a Nucklavee & something else, you'll start seeing why. Or rather, if that last card wasn't a Fierce Empath, you'd rather it had been.

The next "issue" with Riku is not just that he's mana hungry, he's very colour mana intensive. Both his abilities and the spells/creatures you're casting require a colour investment of at least 3 coloured mana, likely more for CC spells: UX+Spell. What this essentially means is that accellerating colourless mana is not really the road you want to take unless your upper curve is all Eldrazi & artifacts. This necesitates you to run a fair number of land searching spells which, especially if copied, can get you out of the starting blocks. But you need to hit them early because drawing everything the wrong way round would be a drag.

You're starting to see the downsides but in reality, it just takes one or two of the right kind of cards early on to get you rolling and, when Riku gets rolling, you'll start having fun with the deck. Build a tight deck around Riku and this shouldn't be an issue. The last two "bad" points of the sealed product are the inclusion of two strategies generally held in very low regard within the EDH community: LD & Tuck. Ruination and a couple of other LD creatures feature as does the new Hinder. This is not going to go down well if the current view on both tactics holds true.

The Legends

A couple of things to note about our lead legend Riku: He puts a copy of an Instant/Sorcery directly onto the stack so he'll not help your storm count. This comes up because there's a Storm spell in the deck, Hunting Pack. In addition, when you play Hunting Pack and choose to copy it, you'll get just once copy, not a copy with accompanying Storm trigger. This is so contrary to what the deck is trying to achieve that it's a wonder they included it (unless to illustrate exactly that point).

Next is his inability to copy tokens that enter under your control, which begs the question about whether Call the Skybreaker wasn't also chosen to illustrate exactly this though it makes sense to avoid silly loops. Conversely, any spell that brings a creature directly into play from any zone can be copied as can both creatures brought into play in this manner. A clear example of what to do when you have UUURGGX open and are otherwise at a loss for what to do with it!

At 2/2 he needs to be protected though so think hard about that when switching up the deck.

Lots has been written about Edric already so there's not a huge amount to be added here. In multiplayer games featuring players who put a premium on card drawing, he's brilliant and he will force attacks just so players can draw cards, best of all, those attacks will be going elsewhere.

If there's a token horde out though, and it's not yours, think twice about throwing Edric out as a blocker as there's some cards advantage that will inevitably equal too much card advantage!

He's going to be huge heading up token decks of your own so I'm looking forward to an Elf Rogue deck!

Maybe a general for a different deck, Animar still has his place in here by helping you out on those creature mana costs as the game goes on. In fact, in the right metagame, he could be quite explosive as protection from White & Black are extremely relevant abilities and he will also benefit from any sort of +1/+1 counter or Proliferate strategy.

Get a few markers on him and your Blightsteel Colossus could be costing 6 or 7 mana. Scarily, if you also have Riku in play, for a mere UG more you'll have 2 Colossii....

Shrieking Drake, Palindron and all sorts of Shennanigans are probably  extremely happy with Animar's appearance but hopefully all that will get very old, very quickly and we can get on with non-insta-win Commander.

The New
Spell Crush, have I mentioned it already, golly gee!! It's in here too as is Ruination. Tuck & Mass LD: two of the most hated strategies in the format. In addition, with Riku in play, it's as good as certain that the original or a copy or either will resolve.
Some cards come along and are harbingers of new decks and strategies, some are upgrades of existing cards and some are metagame defining. Homeward Path is one of the latter. A colourless, free answer to any sort of creature stealing strategy, this must be dealt with before any shennanigans can ensue.

Is the extra step to control or destroy the Path sufficient to stall those kinds of decks? I think that it will be relevant more often than not. From having played a lot of Memnarch/Shackles, it would pain me to be required to steal or destroy a land before I could start ripping off everyone's creatures. A very solid addition with no drawback as it's available to every colour.

Geth, Shackles, Bribery, Debtor's Knell: This is your Nemesis!! (or speedbump!)

In this specific sealed product, a deck that wants it's lands in play rather than in exile, this seems like a strange choice. In addition, for the ability to be in any way relevant, the number of exiled land must be superior to six as the exiled land count replaces the printed P/T, not adds to it. Here, it's relevant because there's no LD in any of the other Pre-cons and a couple of trampling 10's could be used to seal the deal.

That said, huge, trampling beast is huge, trampling beast. An interesting card that could have a place in a gutsy Mana Severance deck or metas that continue to eschew land destruction.

Also, the strange additional rules niggle is the order or resolving the triggers: do you get a 6/6 with additional land-search or a 12/12 with additional land search?
Force of Magma: Yes! Red finally gets it's very own Force of Nature with 3 damage replacing the Saproling token (and not some lame "gain 3 life" clause). The Riku flavour text titillates with dreams of having two in play at once. It is repeating damage and a decent, if chumpable, body for 8 mana.

The only niggle (I'm allowed another niggle, amn't I?) is that 3 damage isn't really very much.

Yes, I'm greedy!!
Here he is, Nom-Nom Hydra, the one you've been waiting for, the new (almost) best green creature in Commander (ok, Primeval Titan is kinda hard to knock off the top rung but even the idea that he could compete is exciting, isn't it?!) The only thing keep this off the top, and that's a very big claim, is the lack of Trample but, hey, you're in green, how hard could it be? On any given table, there's someone you want to kill but is too well entrenched. In those situations and there's generally means to damage one of your other opponents, especially if you figure out the trample part.

What Nom-Nom Hydra gives you is a way to kill player A by killing player B. Any sort of evasion and boost on this guy is worth the slot which is evidently where the idea to include Colossal Might in the deck came from as it solves both issues. I'd have happily gone for the more resillient Rancor except that Colossal Might is Riku-able and almost certain to resolve at least once on one or, heaven forfend, both of your Nom-Noms.

And don't let that 8 attack fool you, it's really 8*#opponents, so, about 24 usually. A 24/8 for 4GG? What are you smoking?!

This is a planning, tricksy, thinky kind of deck that URG mages will love and finally, with Riku, there's a general worth playing in those colours. You also get Animar who will spawn multiple decks of his own. This is far and away my favourite preconstructed Commander deck, and not just for the content in the decks, the style & challenges speak to me as a deck-builder much more than the others.

And there's Nom-Nom Hydra.

Top 5 non-legends (in no particular order):
Mana-Charged Dragon
Martyr's Bonds
Hydra Omnivore
Homeward Path

Honourable Mention: Command Tower

 Top 5 Legend (again in no particular order):
Vish Kal
The Mimeoplasm

The Black One (BGW)

Welcome to the Fourth of our Preconstructed Commander Deck reviews. Let's get right on into the BGW deck in the Black Packaging packaging, Counterpunch.

It would be unfair to label this as a glorified "Rock" deck just because it's in colour but sometimes you just have that feeling. The +1/+1 & Saproling token subtheme is good if you enjoy filling your time that way but it just feels a little forced for me, something to do when you don't have a bomb to drop. That's not to be disparaging about the deck, it does have very strong lines of play though there is a feeling that you'd rather be playing with some of the methods that the UGB/Ooze deck is employing to benefit from the graveyard.

The up side is that any token generator and a means to sacrifice them makes the included Butcher of Malakir and Grave Pact quite insane. When you get to make big plays, they tend to be huge though there's a lttle too much spinning wheels as you draw land after land while playing cards that find you land when you're really just prefer to be doing something huge. I haven't heard any stories of this deck dominating any pre-release whereas I've come across at least one instance of each of the others winning a table.

Like the URG/Riku deck, it is very mana intensive (thus the need for all teh search effects) though with seemingly fewer explosive plays, this is one precon, like the WUR (Red) deck, where you're usually going to spend your time slowly grinding out small advantages until you can win. So, em, like I said, it's a "Rock" deck.

You could get the nuts General, Mana & Skullclamp draw and there are tricks in the deck, don't let me give the impression that it's a bad deck I'm probably biased away from this style of deck and towards broken good stuff because the Teneb list I'm running is trying to push the attrition/cost cutting envelope as far as possible.

Maybe part of the disillusionment is that there's less "new" effects and more of what we've already seen in different forms. Reprinting Spawnwrithe and Symbiotic Wurm doesn't really cut it either unless you've just attacked unblocked with a Nantuko Husk and while the others could be acceptable bit players in specific decks, they aren't going to induce you to buy this deck in teh same way the Devour for Power list would.

There is at least one very brightly shining light however, which is Vish Kal.

Boom! He's the highlight of the deck and the tipping point between keeping up and taking over. He's dominant in this deck but would be downright stupid in any other Teneb-Graveyard style deck.

What makes him just that little bit better than what's out there at the moment is the huge confluence of useful abilities. Sure, he costs 7 but for that you get:
1.) Lifelink, an ability to keep you in the game and occasionally put you out of reach;
2.) Flying, while not the ultimate evasion that "unblockable" gives you, is still relevant enough to get there;
3.) Sacrifice outlet, an effect that every deck should have in some form or another, especially in a Control Magic-heavy metagame, is the cornerstone for a vast number of advantage engines. UNlike Greater Good's card drawing or Mirin's lifegain, this one just gives you a much bigger monster to beat face with;
4.) Removal, is sweet on any beast but doubly so when it's renewable free and doesn't cause the source to tap out to use it. Vish Kal is a math's testing monster as he gets you to tally up when you need to sacrifice to him in order for the count to be on the money when he transfers over those -1/-1 counters.

Imagine this line of play: Saffi + Sun Titan + Vish Kal. Or how about Reveillark + Karmic Guide/Saffi + Blade Splicer + Vish Kal. Both of these will give you infinite optional loops on how best to kill the targettable creatures on the table and, incidently, an infinitely large Flying, Lifelink Vampire. If only there was some way to give him trample........

Scavenging Ooze, or Baby Ooze as I like to call him now that we have "The Ooze", is one of only 3 graveyard hate cards in the sealed product which puts you at an advantage against a couple of decks if you have the G open to benefit at exactly the right time. He's also the little ooze who could, giving you both a beater and life in addition to the pinpoint graveyard removal. A sweet addition.

I'm adding Hornet Queen to illustrate the extremely fine line between playable and chaff. Had this created 4 insect token with just flying and ignored the deathtouch part that hideous mana cost would render the card unplayable but deathtouch is a game changer, luckily for the Queen. Now you can hold off attacks though the air with some, admittedly very flimsy, blockers that will cost the attacking player a goodly part of their attacking force.

Another advantage is that the queen has 2 power or less, normally a disadvantage when you want to block or attack big but here allows her to be used with Reveillark for repeat deathtouch tokens.

Leaving off the deathtouch would have meant Raid for the Queen's little swarm. Such a little thing that makes a card useful..... or not.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Red One (RWU)

Welcome to the third of our Preconstructed Commander Deck reviews. Let's get on to the RWU deck in the Red packaging, Political Puppets.


This is your classic "wait and see" deck, you're likely not going to be the aggressor until you have complete control. What's in question is do you have the tactical nous to be that player? The deck is defensive, almost agonisingly so, and the card selection is certainly not for the aggresively minded: Ghostly Prison, Propaganda, Windborn Muse, Azorious Guildmage, Fog Bank (seriously) and friends leave you feeling that Ken Nagle had to have outside help in to design this one, it's just not the beatdown.

The Good & the Bad

Now, the deck was supposedly built around Zedruü, who has a funky ability but has no real means to benefit from it within the presented deck without constantly ceeding advantages (if you consider Fog Bank an advantage) despite the tactics insert recommending you to be "agressive" wth his donate ability (and seriously Wizards, where's the actual Donate? SMH!), I can see Zedruü being a really fun general to build around but here there's seriously only 1 or 2 cards that I'd happily donate to an opponent to profit from his drawing and life-gain ability and no, surprisingly enough, neither one is Fog Bank. Red, White, Blue and Artifacts have enough global abilities that don't necessarily benefit just the controller and there's almost none in the deck, Howling Mine being the sole exception. Ok, I wasn't expecting Rule of Law or Arcane Lab but I feel that this avenue wasn't sufficiently worked during development and the deck is the poorer for it as it has no real connection with the listed general. That said, to start getting a pretty serious life- and card-advantage engine going, you really only need to hand over 3 or 4 permanents in total as the defensive nature of the deck should allow you to retain that advantage once you start benefitting.

Now, don't let this suggest that the contents of the deck are in any way inferior. You just can't have enough Insurrections or Reins of Power in any Commander metagame. This deck also increases the number of False Prophets in circulation [Was that a groan I heard in the back there? Ed.] Like I said, the deck does defensive very, very well and a 2/2 that will exile the board is often just what the doctor ordered.

The Legends

Zedruü, who the deck is apparently built around, would benefit from having a deck actually built around him. Start with Illusions of Grandeur, Delusions of Mediocrity and Puca's Mischief and work from there. There's a lot of creative space here for anyone who wants to put the deck-building work in. I'll be doing a deck tech with Zedruü very soon and it will blow your socks off with its selection of "Zero to Hero" cards. Two thumbs up for the goat! Em, Minotaur... Seriously? She's at best an Elan or a Gazelle, but a Minotaur? Never!

Nin: There's possibly a deck for Nin, but probably unsurprisingly, this isn't really it. You are either ceeding resources to gain card advantage (as with Zedruü's ability) or donating card advantage to remove threats. On top of Zedruü's ability and Ruhan's incongruity, Nin is just a step too far for the deck; at some point you're going to want to keep your stuff and the number of tricks are limited given the cards selected. How many times are you going to get away with a sneaky 1-damage ping on your own stuff just to draw cards with a 1/1? Not very often. People don't like their opponents to have unfettered card drawing and will generally send at least one ping of an Electrolize Nin's way, just because. Elsewhere, with cards like Stuffy Doll, there are opportunities to be discovered.

Big, stupid beats will really only be relevant if you end up hitting the same person repeatedly and your statistical chances of that happening decrease the more players are in the game. This makes Ruhan less than appealing. In addition, he's completely out of place in this particular deck as he only wants to attack and the deck generally only wants to defend. Sure, you need something to close out the game when the dust has settled and you're 1 on 1 with your last opponent but you'd really prefer to have something with any kind of evasion when this situation arises. A figurehead in a chaos deck is a possibility as is his borderline playability heading up a 1v1 deck, but overall, he's underwhelming.

His only seeming advantage is to replace Doran in 1v1 beatdown for those players who prefer the RWU colour mix to the treefolk's BWG. I prefer neither in a beatdown deck so this leaves me cold.

....and The New
Spell Crush (& Oblation). Do you like Tuck? Maybe the fact that you tuck this tucker upon resolution will make this more palatible though I seriously doubt it. How important is it that your Hinder goes into the graveyard when you play it? In some sort of counter-beasts UG build that can flicker Eternal Witness repeatedly for infinite Hinders, I suppose it could be an issue but as I've just described the personal Hell of a vast majority of EDH players, I doubt that it's an issue so tucking your own Spell Crush under your deck is really just an excuse not to reprint Hinder. What's the point?

Champions Helm: A boost and troll shroud for your general is a nice set of abilities and it's not too expensive especially as the back-end cost is so low. Essentially, once it's in play, you're happy. A one-of in the product, it's a real pity it's not in the Riku deck but it's just as necessary here with the entire deck hanging on whether you can get Zedruü online and protected. This is essentially a Lightning Greaves #2 as the boost is not going to save your general from the bigger threats in the decks without additional help.

Chaos Warp gives red the ability to deal with any permanent with the chaotic possibility that you could reveal the very permanent you mixed into the library or something worse. Given that it can whiff on the reveal, I'd say this is pretty much an auto-include (sorry) in mono-red decks against problematic enchantments. If it reveals a non-permanent, you've effectively dealt with a tricky permanent with zero downside. Or you can hit an Angelic Arbiter on your first shot and a Consecrated Sphinx on your second and be reeeeeeaaaalllly conservative with it from there on out. Still, the chaos aspect is a blast but if you don't like rolling the dice, don't play at the craps table. That apart, um, wow!   


Crescendo of War: R&D tried to give every other colour a "Force of Nature - every upkeep" type card in the set, this isn't it though you'd be forgiven for wishing it was. The actual White Force of Nature-Like guy gives 3 life....... Less said the better. Crescendo of War is a strange fish in this deck: an aggressive card in a defensive deck, even if you do benefit when blocking, is terribly out of place. Despite the personal bonus, you're more likely to lose defenders than keep them even if you do take out the opposing attackers.

Personally, if an opponent played this, I'd happily ignore it and switch to aggressive mode but with the Zedruü deck, that's kinda hard as beating down with defenders is a rare (though wonderful) occurance. This is a stellar card in aggressive, multiple attacker decks but a baffling choice here.

Flusterstorm: Ah, Eternal fodder here we go. One of the eternal strategies that works well is Storm specifically because you essentially need to resolve one of 2 cards currently in print to fight it (Trickbind & Stifle) The storm mechanic's own counterspell, Hindering Touch, is too expensive for the eternal formats at 4 mana. What development decided to do was to reprint Force Spike. With Storm. Now that Tendrils is 33% less likely to resolve and Eternal SBs have become even more competitive.

Outside of that it's occasionally a better Spell Pierce but the "Instant or Sorcery" clause really puts into a certain niche. Depending on how the eternal metagame develops it will be a part player or a core counter.

What? You want EDH applications? Em, occasionally you can Force Spike someone.

Head and shoulders above these is Martyr's Bonds: Grave Pact and Karmic Justice had a lovechild, costed it at 4WW and unleashed it on the Commander world and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Killing any non-land permanent the Martyr's Bonds player controls, even including shitty little plant tokens, now costs you your Titan or other huge beast.

Worse still, the trigger is not source sensitive so the Bonds player themselves can put together a litttle creature sacrifice loop and force you to sacrifice in turn.

Even worse still, if that loop contains a creature with multiple types, like "Artifact Creature" they can clear the table of artifacts and creatures. Removing the last loyalty counter from their Planeswalker will spell doom for any others opposite them and sacrificing a Seal of Anything will do the same for Enchantments. Luckily they put in the non-land clause, imagine this with any type of fetch land or strip effect?

Grave Pact cleared shops and cleaned clocks on many an EDH table in years past and this is, frankly, better in almost every single way: it hits more targets, it's easier to splash and you have two chicks with Zendikar-angel halos (but no wings) holding a sword to the throat of the rest of the table. I won't say that this goes into every W/x deck because, well, that much is pretty obvious already except.......

..........except it's seemingly not obvious to the makers of the Zedruü deck who overlooked that killing a non-land permanent  you control will allow them to destroy the non-land permanent you had painstakingly donated to them to benefit from Zedruü. Multiple turns of set-up undone in an instant. Essentially the presence of this card in the deck is a huge hint that you should only be donating lands if you really want to benefit from Zedruü's triggered ability and, let's face it, who wants to be constantly be giving lands away?

The deck: Good if you like defensive stuff and political machinations. Now-where near the amount of visceral "OOOOMPH!:" of the Mimeoplasm or Kaalia decks. As for the new legends, there's definitely something there, just out of kilter with the deck WotC have provided us with. Zedruü looks like a great addition to the format. We'll see what the brewmasters can cook up for us. All in all, not my preferred style of deck but someone out there will love it and the new legends are interesting if not very well supported here. Martyr's Bonds and, in certain decks a couple of other cards,  is top drawer though.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Green One (GUB)

Welcome to the second of our Preconstructed Commander Deck reviews. Let's jump straight into the GUB deck in the Green packaging, Devour for Power.


As the strategy insert suggests, it's all about getting things into the graveyard and having cards that care about the greaveyard both in terms of size and content and this includes your opponent's, not just your own. Any means of getting those cards in the bin is deemed appropriate: Milling, destroying & Burying things Alive. This plan plays into the strength of the deck itself but also the strength of The Ooze.

The first time we saw The Mimeoplasm play, it was a 7/7 with seven additional +1/+1 counters for a mere 5 mana. 14/14 generals usually get the job done very quickly. In addition, the two chosen targets were not in his owner's graveyard so he provided a very brief and painful glimpse in one play of what was not going to feature for that opponent during that game. To make matters worse, the creature he copied had Trample so, of course, he had trample.....

To sum up quickly: 2UGB, double cremate, 14/14 trampling monster. What's scary about this is that it's not even close to being the best play. The first thing you think of when you see The Mimeoplasm in action is "FLICKER!!" and the second thing is "Damn it! He's not White!!" followed quite swiftly by "VANISHING!! OMG!!" The rest is all just finding ways to get nasty fuel into various graveyards. If you know your playgroup well enough, things like Life's Finale will probably be all-stars in a Mimeoplasm deck so you're not stuck relying on constantly hitting yourself for a 3-for-1, however strong you can build those to be.

And, of course, he's an Ooze.

The three big advantages of the Mimeoplasm's colour scheme are 1.) Black has the tutors to find what you need and the mass destruction to fill graveyards with creatures when needed, 2.) Blue has the counters and mill that, while not the best strategy in EDH, can get you fuel for the Mimeoplasm to scavage and 3.) green for the almost obligatory Riftsweeper to recycle some choice exiled creatures back through the Mimeo-Blender.

Given his copy/paste ability, he's going to crush in the late game if there are any sort of stacked graveyards around. In the unaltered pre-cons, there's next to no graveyard hate so he is going to have fuel to smash face. Speaking of playing in the unaltered pre-con metagame, while the WBR Kaalia deck may have the most aggressive potential in the series, the GUB Mimeoplasm deck has by far the most synergy and it's one glaring weakness, graveyard hate, is sorely missing. While this won't be the case in constructed where any self-respecting play-group will have what it takes to thwart the Ooze, it's something that's obvious when playing directly out of the box.

In addition to the Mimoplasm the deck boasts six other legends: Damia, Wrexial, Skullbriar, Vorosh, Patron of the Nezumi and Szadek.

I'm an avid player of Zombies and really appreciated seeing Skullbriar both for the abilities he has and the colours he's flashing. Traditionally Zombies decks are either mono-black or Black-Blue Red (for Thraximundar, Lord of Tressorhorn or Sedris) but this is only the second Green/Black Zombie legend after Glissa and she didn't exactly scream "Build Zombie tribal!!" around her.

The attraction of moving into green is that you get to plug all the holes that mono-black decks traditionally can't just by adding a single other colour. You also get recursion and access to a lot more dredge, if that's your thing. In addition, Skullbriar himself is sweet.

A turn 2 attacker that grows is not hugely impressive, think Slith Firewalker. In fact, he's exactly that: a GB legendary Slith Firewalker. What sets him apart from the Slith, apart from his vastly superior creature type, is his ability to keep all his counters in all zones barring the library and your hand. You attack with him in the early game while your opponents are just fiddling with their mana bases and get some quick hits in. He'll eventually get killed but will be back, all hasty, later in the game still as big as he was when he left. This may not seem much of a big deal but cheap aggro generals tend to get left behind in the power stakes in the later game, often rendering them obselete and the Skullbriar neatly (though with some interesting rules bending) gets past this issue. He'll be nice at the head of GB aggro decks or as a voltron commander.

The very small worm in the apple is the small possiblity that someone puts a -1/-1 counter on him when he's still only 1/1. Unfortunatly, his ability will ensure that the -1/-1 counter remains on him rendering him exceedingly difficult to play there-after.

The other big card in the deck is the second legend, Damia, Sage of Stone. Only 4/4 for 7, she doesn't have great stats but seems, like Kaalia, to be right in that sweet spot for both being playable while still being a size your opponents can reasonably handle.

Deathtouch is nice, but obviously not a surprise on a gorgon. That's followed up with the famous "Skip your draw step" text that has been used on some of the most powerful cards in the history of the game. Here the disadvantage is that if you empty your hand you get a free draw 7 only at the start of your own upkeep, so she has to survive a turn around the table. The advantage is that you get a free draw 7. If you drop a Paradox Haze on yourself, you have a shot at emptying your hand during your upkeep before you get a second free draw 7 (and when I say "draw 7" here, I really mean "draw up to 7")

I can see it being good with Zombie Infestation or other cards that allow you to discard for fun and profit but it would need to be a pretty solid plan if you're waiting until the mid-game to see your legend effect the course of things. At 7 mana, you're unlikely to be cheating her into play early too often and I think that she's just that single extra mana too expensive for my tastes.

If you hate Hinder or any other sort of tuck sepll, you're going to hate this because Spell Crumple is Hinder Mk.II. I've added it here because when you're playing out of the box where there's no tutors, a Spell Crumple is pretty much au revoir for your general. While I think tuck has it's place in the format, giving an extra tuck counterspell is a pretty gutsy move from Wizards. At best it counters something unimportant. At worst it will ruin a new player's introduction to the format. The additional downside is that Spell Crumple is not even the only tuck spell in the product and with a second copy, two Oblations and a Chaos Warp allso in various decks, there's a good chance that this effect will crop up more often than not during pre-releases.

Overall this deck has gone more for the synergistic approach so you'll have a lot of cards that go well with "filling graveyard" strategies but sadly no new cards that have that extra "Wow!" factor. To make up for it WotC put a lot of "WOW!!" into the reprints they included in the deck: Vulturous Zombie, Avatar of Woe, Living Death, O-Stone, Grave Pact, Buried Alive, Butcher of Malakir, Eternal Witness, Solemn Sim, Troll Ascetic. I've seen all of these played a lot more than the reprinted legends and I expect to see them more than the new cards in this deck (barring Mimeoplasm) so the deck is worth something to your collection in terms of playability even after you break it down.

If you're looking for a solid deck for the pre-release that's well placed in the sealed product enviornment, this is for you. Ditto for a deck that will add valuable staples to your collection, especially in Black & Green.

Enjoy your meal!! (Get it? Devour for p.... Oh, Never mind!)

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The White One (WBR)

Welcome to the first of our Preconstructed Commander Deck reviews.

Each post will give a quick overview of the style of the deck, where it's looking to make it's mark, the legends in the deck and the top new cards

General Product Overview

We knew a couple of weeks back  that we'd be seeing a lot of Lightning Greaves and a Sol Ring in each deck. What was also obvious with enemy wedges was that, for the product to be playable out of the box a lot of effort needed to go into stabilizing the mana base. What the developers did with this product was go to the best common and uncommon land fixers in the wedges and stuff them in. While this may be disappointing to some who were expecting colour-fixing reprints of rare cards, it allows each deck to have a similiar and stable mana base without taking up rare slots (though I agree that rarity in a product like this is somewhat of a misnomer).

What you'll find in abundance are: Ravnica Signets & Karoos, Darksteel Ingots, Armillaire Spheres, Onslaught cycling lands (a mixture of card selection and the assurance of basic colours), Time Spiral stockage lands, Rupture Spires, and a spattering of other fixers (Vivids, Expanses & Zendikar bi-lands). You'll also get a copy of a new multicolour staple in each and every deck: Command Tower.

This new non-basic will be a staple in pretty much any non-mono-coloured deck, guarenteeing you the colours you need. Previous cards in this slot included City of Brass or Reflecting Pool but now you get the City without the pain and the Pool without the possibility of occasionally not having what you need. The other advantage is that it's in each deck and completely useless outside of Commander so there will be copies in circulation, though maybe not enough for all of your 25 decks!

One of the cycles that the Commander product has added is an interesting take on auras (with each deck getting the relevant wedge colours, you'll see them a lot in non-altered games). These are the "Vow" auras. Each aura grants an ability (Flying, Intimidate etc.) and a boost (+2/+2 except in the case of Green's +3/+3) along with the addition that the enchanted creature can't attack you or a planeswalker you control. Of course you can put it on your own creature and ignore the second ability but there's no problem with slapping it onto an opponent's and sitting back to watch the carnage unfold.

On your own creature it's just another pump & ability aura with the corner-case advantage that, if it ever gets stolen, it can't attack you, usual aura card disadvantage applies. Any other time, it's more likely to resolve because 1.) you aren't going to counter it or kill the creature in response and 2.) the owner of that creature is less likely to counter it or kill that creature in response as it gives them an advantage over the remaining players. You're reducing the number of players with the willingnes to respond.

It's not as big a card disadvantage as Auras usually are if someone does kill the opposing target creature either as 1.) You lost the Aura, 2.) opponent A loses the creature and 3.) opponent B loses the kill spell leaving 4.) opponent D the only "winner" in the card advantage stakes. Generally any auras you play on opponent's creatures cripple the creature targetted in some way. Leaving it not just fully functional but more dangerous than before actually encourages removal to target that creature thus pulling fire away from your other permanents. 

On to the decks! Let's get the ball rolling with the WBR deck in the white packaging, Heavenly Inferno.

Basic Deck Strategy

Heavenly Inferno has 3 oversized generals: Oros, Tariel and the wedge legend that the deck is built around: Kaalia. It's probably the least cerebral of the pre-cons but that's not important. What is important is that it takes a line of strategy, aggression (usually of the flying type), and shoves it down your throat. Takes this line of play directly from the pre-con:

Turn1: Land, Sol Ring, Signet
Turn 2: Land, Kaalia
Turn 3: Land (maybe some Lightning Greaves?), attack, resolve Kaalia's ability by putting Red Akroma into play attacking.

That's one possible passage of play just from the unaltered product. I'm sure you can see ways to make this a little better by adding to the deck yourself. Dragon Tyrant maybe? Or Demon of Death's Gate, Iona or Knollspine Dragon? Cheating Rakdos in after the "declare as attacker" trigger step is conveniently past seems good too.

In the product itself there are 23 creatures other than Kaalia that you can cheat into play with her ability. That works out, after your opening hand, at 1:4 of every card you draw which is a nice enough ratio for a pre-con. What seems to be the tactical part of playing this deck is deciding whether to cheat in creatures with Kaalia or to cast them if they have relevant abilities that only trigger when you cast them from your hand such as Reiver Demon. Otherwise, it's just beat down with your general as often as you can.

What's particularly interesting about Heavenly Inferno is that it's opening up essentially 4 lines of deckbuilding for when you get the deck home and want to customize it yourself: BWR Goodstuff, Angel Tribal, Dragon Tribal or Demon Tribal. Each of these has more than enough support to fill out an entire deck by themselves but wouldn't have really cohabited before. When tricks like Conspiracy (naming Demon) & Blood Speaker combine, suddenly you're pretty much always sure to have food for Kaalia's ability irregardless of which if the three tribes you choose: everything is a demon and you're investing 3B every turn to churn out huge flyers.

The small drawback with Kaalia is that she's not very resillient at only 2/2, though that's probably good given what she's capable of (turn 3 Iona anyone?). In colour you have access to pretty much any burn, exile or destroy removal you could ever want so clearing a path shouldn't really be an issue, however, if you can't clear away defenders but still need to trigger her, you would be well served by Maze of Ith or Whispersilk Cloak.

At 7, this deck has the most legends: Oros, Kaalia, Tariel, Bladewing the Risen, Red Akroma, Malfegor & Basandra. That's a pretty good starter kit for other decks if you ever decide that you can do without them in this particular build

Looking at some of the new cards: Avatar of Slaughter.

Pretty much the only disappointing aspect of this deck is the biggest "win more" card doesn't trigger off Kaalia but that's probably for the best considering how early she caould cheat things into play! This should be your top-of-the-curve game ender in any deck that plays red and lives in the red zone. A fat body that doesn't need to attack to do it's thing (though you're probably giving it haste somehow anyway) your miniature army can flat-out win games with the Avatar in play. Add trample to taste.
Mana-Charged Dragon

There seems to have been a printing error on this card in that the name, "Boom! Headshot!" seems to have been changed to read "Mana-Charged Dragon". There's been some derision about the Join Forces mechanic but I can assure you that it's purely down to not having played the cards yet. Once MCD hits play, it needs to be killed STAT. Trust me, there is no bigger threat in play if the Dragon is on-line because there's no-one in the game that can afford not to help kill you if it flies in your direction.

I've seen it happen and it has one-shot killed each player it has attacked every single time because, when the calculations about the possiblity of staying alive are made by each other player, the rest of the table will take those odds every time and pump sufficient mana into it to finish you. Evasion & trample mean that it's almost always going to connect too. If you're the unhappy recipient, I recommend dumping your hand onto the table if you can't kill the MCD yourself and hope that there's something in there that someone else wants you to play and will try to keep you around. It's basically your only chance. This is top drawer multiplayer gold and will be in my top 5 for the set at the end of this series.


Solutions! Give me solutions!! Apparently these two effects, reducing opponent's ability to tutor/search and stopping extra turn shennanigans, were on the cards for the set from very early on and the lead designer came to Sheldon with a card that brought them together. Stranglehold is the fruit of that union.

It's not flashy but it is effective and it's in a colour that needs some really good niche cards to help carve out a bigger piece of the EDH pie. While Red didn't get every single piece of goodness in the set, we're only one deck in and already there's red 3 cards worthy of taking for a spin.

That's all for Heavenly Inferno. It's an excellent aggressive starter deck for a new player while still providing something nice for seasoned veterans. Enjoy!

Oh, for tuck's sake!!

tuck [tuhk]
–verb (used with object)
1. to put into a small, close, or concealing place: Tuck the money into your wallet.
2. to thrust in the loose end or edge of (a garment, covering, etc.) so as to hold closely in place (usually followed by in, up, under,  etc.): Tuck in your blouse. Tuck the edge of the sheet under the mattress.
3. to cover snugly in or as if in this manner: She tucked the children into bed.
4. to light a neon sign over one's head denoting "griefer" or "douchebag" when playing Commander: Jon responded with Hinder on Mary's General before casting Spin into Myth on Mike's. What a dick!

A lot of people seem to be ragging on the "tuck" cards recently. While this started before the information release of the recent commander product, the news that two additional tuck cards have been added to the mix has re-opened the debate.

Some say they're not good, other say that your deck is not optimised if you don't play them. What exactly is the deal with tuck spells?

A tuck spell is one where, during the resolution of that spell a card is moved from one zone either into or under a library. In 60 card magic this was never really a big deal (either positively or negatively) and the effect, while occasionally played, didn't create much in the way of debate.

Along comes the huge upsurge in popularity of EDH/Commander and suddenly there's a tuck target that is really worth tucking: an opponent's general. You see, if you bounce an opponent's general, he can just re-cast it. If you exile or kill it, that opponent can choose to move it to the Command Zone and replay it with the additional tax. All you're doing in those situation is sending the general away for a short period of time after which he (or she) is back. You have to start all over again!

Collateral damage!
The logic using tuck spells on generals is quite simple: Your opponent has built his deck around his general. If you put his general in the one place he cannot access it easily, his library, then you're gaining a large advantage over that opponent. This advantage is greater or lesser depending on two factors: 1.) that opponent's ability to search through their library and find their general again and 2.) their dependance on their general for the deck to function. An opponent has to expend turns and resources recovering their general only to see you tuck it away again the moment it resurfaces.

This naturally leads to some disgruntlement.

So it's clear that there is a significant tactical advantage to this move but this begs the question: Why would you want to do this? It's clearly not going to result in a fun game for your opponent and after all, fun is what EDH is about. It turns games into a variation of German Highlander with strange colour restrictions and, if that's the case, why not just play German Highlander?

On the other hand, if this form of removal is so efficient in this format, what is the strike against it? Surely everyone is free to run the most efficient spells at their disposal? Many say that tucking a general is a step too far. I say that there's quite a lot of other cards and spells that are worth tucking away, not necessarily just Generals.

Proposed rules change

There's a small but vocal body of posters who would see the ruling changed from its current wording to one that sees a general being tucked and offers the option to move that general to the Command Zone, exactly the same as when you would exile or kill a general:

Terror: Graveyard or Command Zone?
Swords to Plowshares: Exile or Command Zone?
Hinder: Tuck or Command Zone?

While I have no truck with the blanket tuck haters out there, especially those not down with Hallowed Burial, there is probably something to this suggestion. How important is the General to the core identity of the Commander format and to what lengths should the RC go to protect the integrity of Generals within each and every playgroup?

A recent rules update stated that this will soon be added to rule 12:

"If a Commander is discovered in exile face-down by any player, turn it face up and move it to the command zone."

This suggests that the RC are willing to take steps to stop what they see as playable loop-holes to permanently divest a player of their general but the announcement also added the caveat:

"We continue to believe that tuck (putting a general into the library) is an acceptable part of the format as a temporary answer to degenerate Commanders, but it does have unfortunate interactions with some cards in the game that move cards out of the deck face-down."

So, if you want the rule changed you'll have to convince the RC that tucking is sufficiently difficult to get around in all colours collectively and individually in order for them to consider it.

Until then, everyone is free to tuck it!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Zombie Sleeves

Balthor Deck, I'd like to introduce you to your new sleeves!

New sleeves, Balthor deck.

Nice to meet you.