Commander Tonight

Sorry for the short posts lately, I’ve been preoccupied with a few other projects and obligations. But tonight I’m excited to be trying out a new lgs in my area, in my hometown as a matter of fact. It’s EDH night, so my gaming group and I are going to check it out and bring a few of our decks.

I’m going to roll out there with my Slivers tribal deck that I’ve nicknamed “Infinite Slivers,” due to its win-con. I also have a slightly souped up Breya deck (Commander 2016 precon) that I want to give a shot at the tables.

In the future I may write about my local EDH league, but the games have been so infrequent – and it’s so hard to keep track of the plays – that it might not be worth the effort.

Cube Draft Tonight

For a long time a friend of mine has been working on a Magic cube for our gaming group, and tonight it will be unveiled for its inaugural drafting. I contributed a few cards to it, my final contributions (for now) are:

  • Wrath of God
  • Mind Twist
  • Regrowth
  • Hymn to Tourach

I’ll provide an after action report if anything interesting happens, and I may take a crack at a themed cube in the near future. I’ll discuss that in greater detail when the time comes.

 

Old Friday Night Magic

This week I took a break from the electronic games and got back into Magic a bit. My friend has been constructing a cube for some time now, and I finally got around to bring over some donations for it. Amongst the 1200 cards or so in the boxes, there were some gems from the early 90s that we had a good laugh over. This isn’t retro-hate by the way: we both started playing around the same time (1994) and had many of these old cards. He made the offhand comment that I should make a “worst cards ever” cube for drafting with the group. I haven’t quite taken him up on the offer, but I was inspired to blow the dust off my binders and take a look at my old collections.

The Dark was released in the summer of 1994. It was the first Magic expansion from which I would buy packs, passing over Arabian Nights and Antiquities which were in short supply and Legends boosters which were priced at a hefty $19 a pack at my local hobby store. I had but a Revised starter deck and two booster packs in my entire collection and a poor understanding of the game. To say nothing of not knowing about the business model of collectible card games (who did back then anyway?).  Though it gets a bad rap these days for its wonky and underpowered cards, it did give us some iconic staples (Blood Moon) and the flavor was very strong.

Eater of the Dead was one the cards I was scared of back in the day. For no other reason other than it could be untapped by removing somebody else’s cards – from the game. At 5 to cast for a 3/4 creature, it’s not exactly a beater. But its ability was unique for its time. I’d have to do my research but it may be one of the first legitimate graveyard hate cards in the game with no drawback. In fact, the lack of a drawback makes the card unique for its time. Other than its bad stats and high casting cost, that is.

And the artwork is pretty metal too.

 

Commander Report: A Day with Daretti

The other night the stars aligned and nearly my entire gaming group plus some walk-ons managed to get in a game of Commander. We had decided to play a 7 player free-for-all earlier that day though one of our number was lobbying for a Power Cube draft. I had purchased the Red Commander 2014 preconstructed deck “Built from Scrap” so I was spoiling to get in some EDH, as were several other guys.  Alas in hindsight that was probably the better decision, as the EDH game ended up being a four and a half hour long slogfest, with no win conditions hitting the board. We came closest to a finish when the guy piloting a Progenitus deck had something like 10 planeswalkers out on the board. His undoing was his turn 4 drop of Dream Halls which enabled him to cast Progenitus.  Dream Halls is an older card from Stronghold that was famously overlooked when it first came out but was soon banned for abuse. 17 years later it’s still great for warping board states. Speaking of that, a Warp World hit the board and the Progenitus deck was able to weather that and line us all up for the KO.

That’s when I decided to act.

Progenitus deck had drawn a lot of hate during the game, so its pilot’s life total was at 8. As Warp World spun down, I was left with a Tyrant’s Familiar on the battlefield and a Bogardan Hellkite in hand. I attacked with the Familiar, knowing my opponent couldn’t block the flying damage, and then promptly used Dream Halls to flash out Bogardan, killing the Progenitus pilot. I was fairly certain at that time that somebody else was going to kill us all off, but by the second time the turn had been passed back to me, there was no end in sight. About 15 minutes to midnight (we had started at about 7:15) we decided to call it; one of the guys had amassed 75+ life so he was declared the winner, but he refused the honor, so I took it as the only one with a PK to my credit during the game.

So it didn’t go as well as it could have. But we had fun during the game before it degenerated into sheer boredom and top decking.

As for Daretti, I came away very impressed with the deck. Unfortunately Jeleva was one of my opponent’s commander, and had gutted my obvious win conditions. But the synergy is so strong in this deck that with just a few modifications I can easily see why it is one of the best precon EDH decks of the last bunch, if not all of them.  I’m looking forward to trying this deck out more in the near future.

The Good Old Days in Magic

Over at Gathering Magic, Abe Sargent takes a trip down memory lane to the very beginnings of the game:

“As someone who played in the halcyon days of Magic, I still have a fondness for some cards and concepts. The cards in the first set continue to influence us today. I thought it would be fun to build some decks just from cards from this era.”

If only the time machine were a real thing. I wouldn’t mind going back to the time when there were two or three lgs and comic shops within walking distance of me as was the case in my youth. There is a little part of me still regrets buying two packs of the Dark and two packs of Revised to complement my very first starter deck, instead of taking up the cashier’s offer on half a remaining box of Arabian Nights. But as Sargent opines in his piece, who really knew how long the granddaddy of the CCG phenomenon was going to stick around? Surely there’s some unopened product of Jyhad still lying in somebody’s basement somewhere that could be cashed in on eBay. Sealed starter decks can be had for only $12 at the time of this writing. Of all the imitators that flooded the market in the early to mid 90s, Magic had the most staying power. But it wasn’t so obvious back then even back in the “halcyon” days of Magic. (I do think it’s somewhat laughable that Abe would consider The Dark to be the halcyon days, since that’s when he started playing according to his bio. The consensus in my neck of the woods was that it was far inferior set to the vastly better Fallen Empires…)

Anyway, I enjoyed reading his modern constructed take on some of the classics. As I mentioned when I found my old U/B deck list, we didn’t have a notion of archetypes back in the early days of Magic. At least nobody in my playgroup did. Our decks were just cobbled together from whatever we could trade for and got out of random packs. In fact it was only with the greatest hesitation that we reluctantly agreed to follow the draconian guidelines we learned about from reading Duelist: 60 card decks, only 4 copies of non land cards, singletons of others, and even following the banned list.  The entire card pool of the game was slightly less than 1,000 back in the fall of ’94, so it was relatively easy to figure out the group meta when we all were following the same rules for constructed and ran with mostly the same cards. And when at most your paper route money could net you a $20 Vesuvan Doppleganger or maybe a $15 Sol Ring at the nearest lgs, you weren’t exactly going out to fill up a deck with singles. The exception being the guy who taught me, who was a few years older and had a real job.

My teacher and mentor was the most advanced player in the group for a while, and he was always happy to teach anybody who to play. That was because he was eager to get more novices into the card pool since that was often how he grew his collection by winning ante. You definitely didn’t want to be the guy who never played for ante, that’s for sure.  Magic is definitely a more fun game when you’re winning with superior cards, most of the time. As I recall, he ended up quitting (retiring as he put it) about 2.5 years into his run, shortly after Ice Age was released. By then a lot of my friends had stopped playing too and most of us traded in those worn decks toward PlayStations and Nintendo 64s. Coincidentally this was also around the time I had constructed a tribal Goblins deck and was winning 9 out of 10 games. Go figure.

From the looks of the lists that Abe put together, I would have to say the decks that I ran into the most were #4, #5, and #7 – or what he calls W/B Soul Control, W/U Sleight Knight, and Enchantress Combo respectively. W/U was particularly brutal in my group, at one point I think six or seven guys were running some variant of it. I chuckled at the combo of Magical Hack and Karma. That was good for a few rage quits back in the day. The only missing in these deck lists are Veteran Bodyguard and Personal Incarnation, which were staples. In fact I wouldn’t mind seeing Veteran Bodyguard get reprinted. If he had expanded the list beyond ABU, there would have the odd Legends card like Moat tossed in for good measure. That was only about $40 back in ’94, in case you were wondering.

We were much more willing to tinker with brews too. There’s so much data available on the game today that it’s often hard to resist the temptation to paint by numbers. Experimentation is a necessary component of coming up with that meta breaking deck, but you have to be brave enough on a certain level to do it. At one point it was fairly common to include hoser cards just to defeat one person’s deck, especially if they were managing to win 10 or 15 games in a row. Not an uncommon occurrence. So this kid got smart and decided to run an all artifact deck. His rationale he explained to me afterward was that he could use any kind of mana to cast his spells, and besides Circle of Protection: Artifacts, there weren’t any hoser cards that he could think of. He brought this deck – filled with things like Juggernaut,  Mishra’s War Machine, and Obsianus Golem. He managed to win the first couple of rounds, but that day I remember we had agreed to play with a “new” rule: side boarding. The way we played it was you could swap out 15 cards of your deck for any other in your collection. In response to this new threat, the host put in a number of Shatterstorms, as did anybody else who had the card on hand. You can probably guess what the artificer’s deck W/L record ended up looking like at the end of the day, and how red our friend’s face got.

Yes, I sure do miss the good old halcyon days of Magic.

Commander Battle Report

Last night was the epic Fatal Four-way that ended up being a 3 way dance once again due to a scheduling issue. We managed to get in two games, one going to the Xenagos deck I lost to a few days ago, and the second game handily going to a Simic deck commanded by Experiment Kraj. The old Ice Age legend, Skeleton Ship, was overmatched and outclassed. This was not an unexpected outcome to be sure – it was a flavorful choice not a competitive one – but my deck did flash moments of potential. That’s tantalizing enough for me to stick with the archetype, if not the commander or strategy.

In Game 1 I had a fairly good lock in the mid game, but I was creature starved and couldn’t hold off the inevitable attacks. Propaganda is still a helluva card after all these years. The undisputed MVP of the deck so far however has been Painful Quandary, and like most of my deck brews it was an afterthought card that almost didn’t make the cut. When PQ hit the board in Game 1 and in a few games on Wednesday, it actually put me within striking distance of victory. The problem for me is that I never had anything to strike with.  And my opponents are good players too so that may have had something to do with my losses in all cases.

Game 2 was a wash as the Simic deck got going early. I’m not too up on the Kruphix engine but what I do know is the game was most likely in scoop territory for me and my other opponent somewhere around turn 4. I did have a good mana base going in this game and a few of the right cards to start constructing the negative proliferation  engine, but it was too little, too late, and far too slow. By the time Simic’s board state had reached critical mass there was nothing either of us could do (Xenagos had switched to a 5 color Sliver deck). A counter to my last ditch overloaded Cyclonic Rift and it was all over. GGs all around but they did leave me wanting more.

None of the other commanders in the UB color identity appeal to me, so I’m expanding to a tri-color deck. UBR were the first colors I tried before settling on UB Inquisitor back in the day so it’s a nostalgic choice for me once again. But this time I plan to make it a little more competitive than the Skeleton Ship can be. A new Commander may help me add a few more notches to my W column. As my potential opponents may be reading I don’t want to telegraph my next moves, other than to say I’ve updated my OODA loop accordingly.

Commander at Sea

After the new commander post I wrote the other day, schedules worked out so I actually had the chance to get in a few trial games before Friday night’s big multiplayer extravaganza. The games went like this: a 1v1 game against a Xenagos deck, a three game 1v1 series against a Mogis deck, and finally a 3 player game against both of those decks, piloted by the same guys. How did Skeleton Ship fare you ask?

0-5.

Not the greatest showing. Considering I put the deck together in record time, I’m surprised it managed to hang in there at all against two aggro decks. It’s been a long time since I’ve played the control archetype and I underestimated the complexity of all that interaction. Learning the Magic Online interface was also a bit of a culture shock to say the least. Apparently I’m not the only one who takes issue with MTGO. Anyway I got the hang of it after a few rounds. My shoddy initial deck construction was not so easy to overcome.

Of the five games, I cast my commander (Skeleton Ship) once and managed to ping one of the gods with a -1/-1 counter before a board wipe undid most of my slow build up. My opponents were in agreement that my deck felt very oppressive. Both also agreed that my deck was not optimal for 1v1 and did much better in the multiplayer environment. For my part my mana base was appallingly inadequate. I rolled in with 37 lands, but only one dual land (Underground River) and Command Tower, with no fetches.  This was a poor choice considering what I was up against and I’ve since corrected the issue by adding a ton of duals and fetches.  I’ve been happy with my test draws so far and I think my refined win conditions should make the big game interesting, if not fun.

A New Commander

For the last two years or so I’ve run a Slivers EDH deck with my local gaming group.  Since I had a few dusty binders full of singleton collections lying about the deck is slightly OP. I was able to round it out with quite a few older cards (original dual lands, sliver queen, etc). The problem though is that I’ve never been able to run the deck very well. The guys in the group have my number – they know what my deck has to offer and how to counter it.  They said as much in a recent email exchange where were discussing the changing commander meta in our area.  I’m glad they were so candid in acknowledging that they have me figured out in the Commander meta of our group. With another commander night coming up very soon, it’s time to disrupt their OODA loops with a new archetype (for me) and and unexpected commander:

Skeleton Ship - New Commander
The New Commander – Skeleton Ship

I’ve seen a few decks that use Skeleton Ship as their general. I’m banking on the quirkiness and apparent low power of the card to allow me to sneak up people in the multiplayer format and perhaps even come away with the win, if I can wither everyone down enough and overwhelm somebody in a 1V1 situation. I’m unfamiliar with the wither mechanic, but it seems to have good synergy with infect. In my group we tend to go for the ridiculously overpowered combos as the win conditions rather than relying on other archetypes. I’ve also grown a little lazy having stayed with one Commander deck for so long. It’s a little bit of a culture shock going from five colors to 2 colors, and the synergy of certain cards aren’t jumping out at me.

I’ll post a deck list and the results of the matches this weekend.  For those who are curious, my unofficial Commander record in the group is something like 1-13. We’re all big believers in broken Magic in our EDH match ups so it’ll be interesting to see who brings what to the table.

An Old Deck List

I was going through some storage bins last year when I came across one of my first Magic deck lists, circa Fall 1995. I put it up into TappedOut but here’s the deck list in its entirety:

“Inquisitor” Blue/Black

Land (27)

Sorcery (10)

Looking at this deck list I can almost hear echoes of Alanis Morrisette and Hootie and the Blowfish, back when they used to play music videos on MTV. As you can imagine I didn’t win very many games with this deck. At the time my playgroup was dominated by two archetypes (although we didn’t use that word back then): White Weenie and White/Blue Control.  I was definitely leaning toward a control archetype with the counter magic, but other than that the deck had no focus. In fact this deck list is rife with “cool” combos that I found impressive:

  • Icy Manipulator/Royal Assassin
  • Library of Leng/Ivory Tower
  • Glasses of Urza/Nebuchadnezzar
  • Braingeyser/Underworld Dreams

Those are just a few I can remember just by looking at the list. So I guess I could call this a Combo deck.

Patrick Chapin, aka the Innovator, wrote a book called Next Level Deckbuilding. In the beginning of the book he opines that many used to approach deckbuilding by simply putting in all of the “best” cards that they had or thought were the best. That certainly describes my thinking back in the mid-90s. Our knowledge of the game today is light years beyond what it was back in the heyday of Inquest and Scrye. That said, as a thought experiment I’m going to resurrect “Inquisitor” over the next few weeks and post the updated decklist. I may even bring it to my local gaming group and see how it does.