Friday, 25 November 2011

Maelstrom Wanderer: PT/Avenger enabler

I’m not sure that the announcement of the upcoming Planechase 2012 product was all that exciting in and of itself as a format mechanic but a huge amount of interest has been gained from what was announced in the product and hinted at in addition to the product:

First up: cards exclusive to the Planechase product. The Commander pre-cons (and, I suppose, to a certain extent the recent changes in the core sets) have galvanized the community and led to a huge amount of interest in non-core products. If the 21 new & exclusive, planechase-product-only cards are anywhere near as awesome as the ones that went into the commander product, then Wizards will have scored another home run.

Second up: a cycle of multi-colored legendary creatures. They don’t confirm they will all be enemy wedge, but the mention of a cycle strongly suggests they will be. We know there’s at least one enemy wedge legend because they showed it to us:

While I concede that this could be extremely cool, in only 24h of interweb fapping over Maelstrom Wanderer, the idea-mongers have managed to produce just 3 ideas that everyone keeps coming back to again, and again and again.

And again.

And once more again because we’re now approaching 36 hours since the announcement.

Ways to do “cool stuff” with MW: The First

  • Fix the top of your deck to a Tooth & Nail.
  • Play Maelstrom Wanderer.
  • Cascade into the Tooth & Nail, paying 2 for Entwine.
  • Get Primeval Titan & Avenger of Zendikar.
  • Resolve second Cascade into whatever.
  • Resolve Maelstrom Wanderer.
  • Everything gets haste. Attack for 7+5+6+4X (where X is the number of lands you controlled when the Avenger triggered), so probably in the region of 50-ish damage.


Ways to do “cool stuff” with MW: The Second

  • Get Momir Vig, Simic Visionary into play.
  • Play Maelstrom Wanderer.
  • Stack the Momir Vig triggers so you draw first then tutor for an Avenger of Zendikar to put on top of the library (just hope you didn’t draw either it or PT).
  • Resolve the first cascade into Avenger of Zendikar and play it.
  • With the new Momir Vig trigger, tutor up Primeval Titan and put it on top of the library.
  • Resolve the second cascade into Primeval Titan and play it.
  • With the new Momir Vig trigger, tutor up something else and put it on top of the library.
  • Resolve Maelstrom Wanderer. 
  • Everything gets haste. Attack for 7+5+6+4X (where X is the number of lands you controlled when the Avenger triggered), so probably in the region of 50-ish damage. [Yes, I did just copy/Paste that]


Ways to do “cool stuff” with MW: The Third

  • Fix the top of your deck to a Jokulhaups or Devastation.
  • Play Maelstrom Wanderer.
  • Cascade into Jokulhaups or Devastation.
  • Either set up your second cascade into Primeval Titan or cascade blind.
  • Have a fun game!!


About the only suggestion that I saw that was in any way original was by putting a Selective Memory out there, exiling all those annoying little spells that you really need in your deck but are really not exceptional when you are cascading so you know that whatever you cascade into will be pure gold. That gets the thumbs-up for being ballsey from me even if the original poster was still intending to cascade into Primeval Titan / Avenger of Zendikar.

So, yeah, Maelstrom Wanderer will be huge and swingy and big and epic but only if some effort is made to make his cascades original. Otherwise he, like so many other cards, will merely become another route to Primeval Titan / Avenger of Zendikar.

Another 6 months of this before we even get to touch the card.


Third up: hints at another commander specific product.

So not only do we get more commanders, more cards, more new cards, we’re also getting additional commander product?

Hell, yeah.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Gifts Given

About a year ago I got an IM on my account from some random scrub in Canada asking me if I was free the following weekend to talk on Skype about EDH. It seems this guy somehow got it into his head that there was a gap in the market for an EDH podcast, of all things.

Well, much like the visionary Bill Gates, who managed to enlighten millions to a previously unknown void in their lives that could only be filled by his products, Andy, a.k.a. Ghooosts (that's 3 "O's" and plural, all over the internet), has likewise managed to convince millions (thousands) of EDH fanatics that their week is somehow incomplete without a 90-minute helping of Commandercast.

I, like many of the guys (and gal) that have been involved in Commandercast in some form or another, have been blown away by Andy's dedication to the show, something he does for no benefit to himself and on top of his work and family responsabilities. Despite his busy schedule, he's brought together the EDH community every Monday and has not missed a show, all the more amazing because Magic/EDH is apparently not even Andy's favourite game! Andy put himself out there and answered a need and keeps doing it, just for you & me.

That job in the bank must be terribly....what? He drives an ambulance for a living? Does this guy have any faults?!

So, when an all round good guy and generally inspirational character goes and asks you to send him stuff for free, you generally just send it first and ask "Why?" later. The "Why?" this time is a very good "Why?" though and one that bears repeating to anyone who will listen:

Since 2003, over 100,000 gamers worldwide have banded together through Child’s Play, a community based charity grown and nurtured from the game culture and industry. Over 7 million dollars in donations of toys, games, books and cash for sick kids in children’s hospitals across North America and the world have been collected since our inception.
This year, we have continued expanding across the country and the globe. With over 70 partner hospitals and more arriving every year, you can be sure to find one from the map above that needs your help! You can choose to purchase requested items from their online retailer wish lists, or make a cash donation that helps out Child’s Play partners everywhere. Any items purchased through Amazon will be shipped directly to your hospital of choice, so please be sure to select their shipping address rather than your own.

When gamers give back, it makes a difference!

For those of you, like me, who are a little caught up with daily life flashing past, watching your kids grow, taking care of your loved ones, enjoying your hobbies and building impressive collections of Magic cards, giving something back can often take a back seat. This is a charity that at once gives to those who need a little more fun and enjoyment in their lives and taps directly into our own interests as gamers.

Andy has generously extended us this opportunity to participate in Child's Play directly through CommanderCast with his Gifts Given programme, a drive that will donate all receipts directly to Child's Play.

So, take a little time to decide if this opportunity is for you and if this is the way you, as a gamer, want to give something back.

I've decided that Andy is going to get a small pile of cards from France to add to his offer in the knowledge that it all goes to a good cause.

Back Row: 
Hivis of the Scale; Lorthos, the Tidemaker (French); Godo, Bandit Warlord; Arid Mesa (Fr); Marsh Flats (Fr); Verdant Catacombs (Fr); Misty Rainforest; Scalding Tarn; Aven Shrine; Quest for Ula's Temple (Fr)
Centre Row:
Wooded Foothills; Windswepth Heath (Fr); Flooded Strand (Fr); Polluted Delta (Fr); Bloodstained Mire (Fr); Marrow-Gnawer (Japanese), Eight-and-a-half-tails (Jp); Possessed Portal (Jp); Dovescape (Foil/Jp); Sedraxis Specter (Foil)

Front Row: 
Wrexial, the Risen Deep (Fr); Braids, Drinker of Tears (Fr); Zur the Enchanter (Fr); Ib Halfheart, Nation; 2x Helm of Kaldra (Jp); Door to Nithingness (Jp); Heartbeat of Spring (Jp); Momentary Blink/Elvis (Fr/Alt. by Antoine)

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

[CommanderCast Crossover] Grimgrin v Thrax : Grimgrin’s Gatling Gun

November is Crossover Month at Commandercast. Overlord Andy ordered his legion of writers to get out there onto the blogosphere, siteosphere and any other kind of -sphere they could find. Their mission: Spread the CommanderCast Word and send back writers to do the heavy lifting for them whilst they are chilling out as honoured guests on blogs such as The Crazy 99. My own Commander legionaire is Maxwell "Max" Kautsch, usually responsible for the Peasant Rebellion articles on the Commander mothership. 

Welcome Max!

Grimgrin’s Gatling Gun

For Crossover month, Owen and I planned to look at the state of tribal Zombies in Commander now that we have Grimgrin, Corpse-Born in our lives.  I was going to try to make a case for why you might play Zombie tribal with Grimmy rather than the defending multicolor Zombie champ, Thraximundar.  So I started with Cassidy’s sweet “Grimgrin’s Zompocalypse” build and make it a little less Zombie-heavy and a little more combo/control oriented. I’ve always loved Cloudstone Curio and couldn’t resist pairing that with Rooftop Storm.

Although the deck experienced some success, mostly on the back of Curio/Rooftop Storm/Grixis Slavedriver with a Vengeful Dead and Grimgrin on the field, the biggest issue the deck faced was classic B/U: no artifact or enchantment removal.  Even the best of the bounce spells (Venser, Shaper Savant/Cryptic Command) and colourless removal (Oblivion Stone/Karn Liberated) did not seem to be cutting it often enough, leaving me wanting for the red in Thrax’s color identity.  My inclination to just Thrax it up myself was bolstered by discussions on the intertrons resulting in the general consensus that Thrax is still the better Zombie general.  After all, Thrax has haste, a shroud-proof sac ability, and red means MUCH better artifact hate than what a B/U deck offers.  I’m not saying Zombie tribal with Grimgrin can’t be good; I mean, Cassidy’s awesome Future Sight/Rooftop Storm/Gravebane Zombie combo is easier to get into play because a U/B deck makes UUU more efficiently than a U/B/R one.  And his build seems amazing.  But as Cassidy himself mentions in the comments of that article, any truly desirable card in that deck, including Grimgrin, could just as easily be played in a Thrax build.  Yup, Owen, you were right.  :)

So the question is, if Grimgrin isn’t optimal to lead your Zombie army, and if it’s doubtful he can unseat Wrexial, the Risen Deep as a better general for a traditional B/U control build, does Grimgrin really have a place in Commander other than as an auto-include in a Thrax Zombie tribal deck?  

First, let’s remind ourselves why the two cards inspire comparisons.  This is the entirety of the rules text on Thraximundar, a 6/6 for 7:
Whenever Thraximundar attacks, defending player sacrifices a creature.
Whenever a player sacrifices a creature, you may put a +1/+1 counter on Thraximundar.

This is the third clause of rules text on Grimgrin, Corpse-Born, a 5/5 for 5:
Whenever Grimgrin attacks, destroy target creature defending player controls, then put a +1/+1 counter on Grimgrin.

Both cards cause opponents to lose creatures when they attack, and both get bigger for each creature that hits the yard.  This means that the decks are likely to share cards that derive a benefit from creatures dying.  Skullclamp, Grave Pact, Butcher of Malakir, Mimic Vat, and Nim Deathmantle would be probable includes in either.  Grimgrin’s ability only results in destroying a creature if it is successfully targeted, which makes the ability vulnerable in a format rife with Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots, while Thrax’s triggers a sacrifice that doesn’t care about targeting (although Grimgrin has the advantage against a token deck because he can snipe).  Grimgrin is cheaper, but ordinarily can’t swing until turn 6, where haste lets Thrax swing only a turn later.  Given Thrax is not disrupted by something as common as Greaves, along with haste and access to red, I would agree that the fight goes to Thrax.

Except that we forgot to mention the first and second clauses of Grimgrin’s rules text:
Grimgrin, Corpse-Born enters the battlefield tapped and doesn't untap during your untap step.
Sacrifice another creature: Untap Grimgrin and put a +1/+1 counter on it.

The knee-jerk reaction is to view these mostly as drawbacks.  Yes, it is generally disadvantageous for a creature to enter the battlefield tapped.  Yes, you are potentially looking at card disadvantage if you have to sacrifice one of your own creatures before Grimgrin can even attack.  Yes, it’s too bad Grimgrin can’t sacrifice himself to prevent himself from getting tucked.  What I find interesting about Grimgrin is not only that he first swings as a 7/7 and effectively gets two more +1/+1 tokens for each subsequent attack, but also that he is the only general in print who can control when he untaps.  

Hmmm.  For starters, Paradise Mantle on Grimmy results in a de facto Phyrexian Altar, a card with a track record of Commander viability.  After some Gathering, a deck started to come together; it just didn’t involve Zombies.  So rather than bore you with a Grimgrin Zombie tribal deck when you should just read Cassidy’s article or pull out your Thraximundar, I bring you Grimgrin’s Gatling Gun.

The deck really only needs three things to fire away, given adequate mana: Grimgrin (the gun), some tokens (ammunition), and Surestrike Trident (the pain).  The Trident got some love when infect came out, for obvious reasons, but otherwise doesn’t seem to show up a whole lot.  In addition to targeting your opponents, it gives the equipped creature first strike, which seems relevant for a general who can destroy creatures only if he risks a trip to the red zone.  But how about that second ability with a pumpable general?  

Turns out, the Trident and Grimgrin happily provide the deck’s win condition without ever getting near the red zone as long as Grimgrin isn’t summoning sick and there are enough creatures to sacrifice.  A couple of “shots” is usually all it takes, depending on how long Grimgrin has been allowed to accumulate counters or if the deck is in position to make him infinitely large (and no, you can’t use the Trident to inflict general damage).  

So how do we get there?  The Trident costs 4 to equip, a relatively expensive thing to do at sorcery speed, so land fetchers like Wayfarer’s Bauble and Pilgrim’s Eye, along with and mana rocks and Tezzeret the Seeker, help out a lot.  Ashnod’s Altar is great with tokens, and even better with Nim Deathmantle and an ETB token generating creature.  Paradise Mantle can come in handy, too, and you can of course search it out with the ubiquitous Trinket Mage.  Obviously the Mantle turns any old creature into a BOP, which is good, but the fun begins when it’s equipped to Grimgrin.  When Grimgrin is wearing the Mantle, sacrifice a token to untap Grimgrin and give him a +1/+1 counter.  He taps for mana, sac another creature, he untaps, gets another counter, and taps for another mana.  Rinse and repeat.

So, what if you resolve an Army of the Damned under these circumstances?  Means you get up to 13 sacrifice triggers, making Grimmy +1/+1 each time, while also making more than enough mana to tap him and unattach the Trident as many times as there are opponents.  And then you can look blankly at your opponents, channel your inner Brick Tamland, and say “I killed a guy with a trident.”  

Killing guys (or troublesome planewalkers, if need be) with a trident makes for good fun with Grimgrin’s untap mechanics, but are there alternative effects for his Gat?  Ultimately, only Banishing Knack makes the cut because it helps shore up the deck’s weaknesses against artifacts and enchantments.  Casting this at the end of someone’s turn yields a lot of targets (and yuks) for only 1 blue mana as long as Grimgrin is accompanied by some tokens on the field.  It is absolutely conceivable that you could bounce all your opponent’s non-land permanents right before your turn given enough tokens.

Which brings us to an obviously important component of a deck like this: where are we going to get the tokens to feed a hungry Grimmy, and overcome the “card disadvantage” otherwise inherent in his ability?  My personal favorite has always been creatures with ETB effects creating tokens, especially in black because of black’s ability to recur creatures and not much else.  Blue fails when it comes to generating tokens via creatures, both black and artifacts have some good choices:  
Grave Titan
Wurmcoil Engine
Marsh Flitter
Skeletal Vampire
Precursor Golem
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder

For once Oona, Queen of the Fae is less combo finisher and more token generator, and cards like Reassembling Skeleton add to the stable of token-generating creatures for our “fodder” suite.  I also included persist baddies Glen Elendra Archmage and Puppeteer Clique because they can trigger two sacrifices in a pinch, in addition to their killer abilities.  Army of the Damned and Rite of Replication make oodles of guys, and watch out for the old kicked Rite on Precursor Golem.  Otherwise, ETB creatures such as Mulldrifter, Trinket Mage and Snapcaster Mage make for palatable sacrifices.  And then there’s the Mimic Vat, a “good stuff” addition that happens to be quite on-theme.  

    The final necessary component is cards that provide benefits when creatures go the the graveyard, all of which fit nicely in Thrax as discussed above.  The most important of those are of course Skullclamp and Gravepact.  The one card I really wanted to get in but couldn’t was Falkenrath Noble. Probably win-more, but you’d think it would have its moments in a deck where the general can sacrifice any other creature for free at instant speed.  

Otherwise, the deck’s choices were determined by its needs for card draw, control, and mana fixing/acceleration.  As you might expect, things like Consecrated Sphinx, Decree of Pain and Damnation made it. 

 Graveborn Muse has nice synergy with Grimgrin and what’s left of the Zombie flavor in Grave Titan, Nim Deathmantle and Army of the Damned.  Along with its ability to ramp, the aforementioned Ashnod’s Altar is one of a handful of sac outlets to help prevent Grimgrin from getting tucked; I also threw in High Market and Phyrexian Tower.   Other key lands include Coffers/Urborg for ramp, Academy Ruins, and Shizo, Death’s Storehouse to give Grimgrin evasion if he needs it.  Tolaria West searches out Pact of Negation, Maze of Ith or half of the Urborg/Coffers dream team.  

Finally, although the deck can’t deal with artifacts the way a red deck can, its ability to win without attacking allows for long range wins that may not require the same degree of removal as if the deck were forced to win with combat damage.  Even so, Kederekt Leviathan and Steel Hellkite join Karn to help with board control.  Life’s Finale rounds out the removal suite; love that card with Puppeteer Clique.

So maybe Grimgrin isn’t a better multicolored Zombie general than Thraximunder, but Cassidy showed he’s absolutely viable as the leader of a Zombie horde.  While my sub-Zombie theme failed as per Owen’s prediction, I have found that Grimgrin’s Gatling Gun v1.0 makes for fun games and a unique win condition.  I mean, if you don’t want to kill a guy with a trident....I don’t know what to tell you.

Deck list here:
Grimgrin, Corpse-Born
Lightning Greaves
Sword of Light and Shadow
Surestrike Trident
Paradise Mantle
Nim Deathmantle
Swiftfoot Boots

Tezzeret the Seeker
Karn Liberated

Cryptic Command
Venser, Shaper Savant
Banishing Knack
Pact of Negation
Decree of Pain
Life’s Finale
Steel Hellkite
Kederekt Leviathan
Nether Traitor
Reassembling Skeleton
Marsh Flitter
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Precursor Golem
Wurmcoil Engine
Grave Titan
Myr Battlesphere
Skeletal Vampire
Oona, Queen of the Fae
Mimic Vat
Glen Elendra Archmage
Puppeteer Clique
Army of the Damned
Rite of Replication

Wayfarer's Bauble
Expedition Map
Armillary Sphere
Memory Jar
Coalition Relic
Darksteel Ingot
Thran Dynamo
Sol Ring
Grim Monolith
Gilded Lotus
Pilgrim's Eye
Solemn Simulacrum
Ashnod's Altar
Dimir Signet

Demonic Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Rune-Scarred Demon
Sensei's Divining Top
Consecrated Sphinx
Snapcaster Mage
Trinket Mage
Graveborn Muse
Butcher of Malakir
Grave Pact

4x Island
6x Swamp
Maze of Ith
Dreadship Reef
Phyrexian Tower
Watery Grave
Underground Sea
Ancient Tomb
Academy Ruins
Jwar Isle Refuge
Polluted Delta
Tolaria West
Bojuka Bog
Halimar Depths
Temple of the False God
Dimir Aqueduct
High Market
Volrath's Stronghold
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
Creeping Tar Pit
Shizo, Death's Storehouse
Seat of the Synod
Vault of Whispers
Reflecting Pool
Darkwater Catacombs
Drowned Catacomb
Strip Mine
River of Tears
Cabal Coffers
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Buried Ruin