More Thoughts on M14 Draft

Since my last post, I’ve drafted M14 at my local gaming store, the Fantasy Shop in Florissant, MO, twice more for Friday Night Magic. I’ve done pretty well, winning my pod one week with mono-black, and getting 2nd last week with mono-blue.

The mono-black deck was a result of opening a Xathrid Necromancer. I immediately started looking for sacrifice outlets and humans for the synergy, preferably in white and/or blue. When I got a Doom Blade and three Vampire Warlords in the first pack, I realized black was wide open. The deck rounded out with a few Blood Bairns, a Corpse Hauler, a Corrupt and a Quag Sickness. Mark of the Vampires and Accursed Spirits rounded everything out. The deck was pretty gross altogether. Mark of the Vampire is a great card, but the trick is to bait out your opponent’s removal with a bomb and pressure before playing, and then dropping it on something evasive or resilient. Accursed Spirit and Vampire Warlord are great targets for it. The only game I lost that night was against a red-white deck with Serra Angels and Lightning Talons, and my opponent had the hyper-aggro dual Talons draw and just beat down.

This past week I opened a Windreader Sphinx pack 1 pick 1, which was a card I wanted for Commander anyway, and I proceeded to start looking for every flier I could find in blue, white and black. For this draft, blue was wide open. Wide open. The Messenger Drakes I passed in favor of Claustrophobia (I grabbed every one I saw) wheeled back around to me, and I quickly realized I was going into mono-blue. I kept looking for white or black fliers to splash for, but every pack had a better blue card and so I went with it. I also managed to snag a Dismiss into Dream and Zephyr Charge combo, which I assembled twice. Casting Dismiss Into Dream at the end of my opponent’s turn, and getting it back a couple turns later with Archaeomancer was pretty nice, and that happened twice as well. I was actually a little nervous about all the card draw potential in that deck, as I passed a couple of Elixir of Immortality’s that never came back around. Fortunately, decking myself never became an issue.

I lost my first match of the night to the black-red Act of Treason/Sacrifice deck, and very nearly tilted out, but managed to get my head back on straight. Two of the other matches went to time and wound up as draws, which meant I still had a good shot at packs. My next match was against a blue-black deck, and my multiple Claustrophobias locked down his board both games.

My final match was against an older gentleman, who was playing red-green-blue. I was surprised to see blue cards in either of my final two matches, but I knew I had most of the really good ones. My opponent managed to get all three colors in all three games. I had the lockdown for his board game one, and he never touched me. I never got anything rolling game 2 at all, as much as I tried to stall out the game with tempo plays, I never found a fourth land. Game 3 went in my favor, although we had an interesting, mana-intensive impasse where we both had Air Servants tapping down each other’s fliers. I managed to bounce his Air Servant finally, and swung in for exactly the nine points of damage I needed for the game.

So, what have I learned about M14 draft so far? It’s not a fast format, but there are some very aggressive possibilities, particularly sliver nut-draws. Every color has it’s own type of removal options, and knowing what they are and what to play around can help quite a bit. There are a lot of different decks to draft in this format. Sometimes, no matter how good your deck is, you just run into a deck that you won’t have the right answers for. More often than not, though, if you build a solid deck with a plan and some flexibility, you can do very well with tight play. This is a hallmark of a great draft set of Magic, and Magic 2014 hits the nail quite squarely on the head.

Oh, and Slivers is a trap, about seventy-five percent of the time. You really need a critical mass of the good ones to make it a real deck. If you can snag enough of them early in the draft you can spend the rest of it looking for good removal, but more often than not, you have to pick one or the other in a pack as they come around, and neither will make it around the table back to you. The biggest problem is that the slivers that are good, are good on their own and decks in their colors will play them just to have them. Predatory Sliver is a decent bear on its own, ditto the haste one and the +2/+0 one. Put them together and they’re great, of course, but that’s hard to assemble a lot of the times. Hive Stirrings, likewise, is good for white decks just looking for chump blockers. All these things mean is that it will be difficult to assemble that critical mass of slivers to go crazy with them. They can, however, be an effective sub-theme of a deck, and I think this is where they shine the best.

All in all, I highly recommend drafting as much M14 as you can!

Friday Night Magic 6/26/2013

Had a great M14 Draft at the Florissant Fantasy Shop last night. The newest Core Set is surprisingly (and deceptively) deep. We had twenty folks show up to draft (which is about par for the course for our small shop) which meant two pods of ten. That’s not exactly ideal, as it’s harder to get a sense of what’s open and who’s passing what. Regardless, I kind of fell into a sliver deck, which wasn’t my plan going in.
Generally, I look for some solid removal early and try to stay in those colors. In this case, I picked up early Shock and Chandra’s Outrage. I kept seeing slivers so picked up a few, and by the end of the draft had nine sliver spells (including two Hive Stirrings). I wasn’t convinced that I had enough, but I went with it anyway. The sliver plan was backed up by three Act of Treason, a Wall of Swords, and two Marauding Maulhorn and an Advocate of the Beast. Windstorm was also there for me whenever I needed to clear some fliers out of the way. I was basically a red deck splashing white and green. Basically the only thing I was happy with about my deck was that only the Outrages and Maulhorns had double-mana casting requirements, so the splashes wouldn’t be too painful on the mana base, which I built at 8 Mountains, 4 Plains and 5 Forests. I’m not sure if it was right or not, and I had no fixing whatsoever (not even the mana-dork Sliver made an appearance), but I went with it anyway.
Match 1 I played against Rob, who was playing a Blue/Green tempo deck. He’s one of the better players who plays at the Florissant Fantasy Shop, and he’s definitely not someone I wanted to be paired against Match 1. He had early tempo plays, putting my dudes back on top of my library and into my hand, but was never able to do much with the pseudo-Time Walks. One of the memorable lines of play was when I cast Hunt the Weak on my Marauding Maulhorn, and had it fight Rob’s Wall of Frost. The look on Rob’s face was indredulous, as that obviously wasn’t enough damage to kill the wall… except it was with the Shock in my hand! Once I had that road-block out of the way, I was able to run him over with the swarm. Win, 2-0.
Match 2 I played against one of our Commander regulars, Blake. He was on a Green/White ramp plan. Unfortunately, my deck decided I wasn’t going to actually play much Magic this match, and my mana-base hurt me. Never saw the second Mountain game 1, and never saw much action game 2 after keeping a land-heavy hand of 6 that had all three colors, where I proceeded to get flooded out. Loss, 0-2, puts me at 1-1 on the night.
Since it was a ten-man pod, there were three players at 2-0 after 2 rounds. I got paired up to play against one of them, Brett. Brett was running mono-white, on account of having four maindeck Celestial Flare and two Serra Angel. Master of Diversions showed up every game. This was easily the most fun match of the night, as all three games were back and forth affairs. In the end, the swarm of slivers overwhelmed him, with a little help from some of his own creatures! I won the match 2-1, putting me at 2-1 on the night, which wound up good enough for 3rd place, and 4 packs.
One of which contained a Scavenging Ooze and a foil Archangel of Thune. So… not a bad night!
Overall, M14 Limited is a lot of fun. After all the multi-color madness of Ravnica, it is a welcome relief to be back to basic Magic for a little while, without all the gold cards going crazy on the board. It is surprisingly deep, well balanced, and rewards tight play and synergistic builds. My deck had no “bombs” at all (literally, the only rare in the deck was the goblin that forces creatures to attack), but it was a well-oiled machine of removal and synergistic dudes, and it served me well.

Gatecrash Prerelease!

I have four Magic-playing children, my Prodigal Sorcerers, and I took two of them (the youngest two, eight and nine-year-old Aiden and Chloe) with me to the Gatecrash Prerelease on Saturday, January 26th at the Fantasy Shop in Florissant, Missouri. Normally, I would only take one of them, as the expense adds up quickly and money is tight. It was Chloe’s turn to go, but it was Aiden’s birthday, so I took them both. The Florissant Fantasy Shop is our regular spot to play, as they host casual Magic nights on Saturdays, and my Prodigal Sorcerers are well known there.

Normally, on Saturdays, space is tight when 16 people show up, and that’s considered a good night. Forty-three players showed up Saturday for the Prerelease. I was quite happy to run home to fetch more folding chairs. Comic book and gaming displays had to be moved around, and we still had at least one game playing out on the floor.

Of course, with an odd number of players, I pulled the short straw and got the round 1 bye. I had chosen Dimir for my guild, and had an interesting pool to draw from. Ironically, my milling options were very light and unimpressive, and the promo Consuming Aberration got pulled from the deck after my round 2 loss. My mana-fixing was quite solid: two Dimir Guildgates and two Orzhov Guildgates, making the white splash for a few more extorting cards and the bomb Deathpact Angel I opened quite easy. I’m not sure if I should have run with the mill plan over the extort cards, but I enjoyed having the extort options on the board. Also, I hate playing against mill decks, so wasn’t really drawn to milling anyway. I don’t normally play with Islands, but I was trying to expand my horizons a bit and get better at playing control. Well, that and I wanted the Consuming Aberration promo for my Dakkon Blackblade Commander deck!

My pool included plenty of hard-to-block Dimir creatures and cipher spells. I’m not sure if any of the Gatecrash guild mechanics are really constructed-worthy, but they are all a lot of fun in limited. Dimir’s cipher ability along with Orzhov’s extortionists is cruel; since you are casting copies of the ciphered spells, any instances of extort on your board can be triggered and paid for each “free” spell.

My round 2 opponent was my good friend Roger, who had a solid Boros build that was very hasty and aggressive, which he proceeded to carry to a 5-1 record on the day, only losing in the final round. Our match wasn’t close, with all three games being decided by mana shortages on the losing side. I took the first game, and he rolled over me the next two.

Round 3 I was matched against AJ. He was in Gruul, and I was more than a little worried that my Esper build didn’t have enough early defenses against a fattie rush. He had early action but ran out of gas before he could take me out, and my unblockable, ciphered-up rogues carried the day. Turns out, casting spells for free multiple times is pretty good.

Round 4 was Boros again, this time against George. His build simply wasn’t aggressive enough, and I was able to hit him multiple times with a ciphered rogue casting 3-point life drains and drawing extra cards. I think I even had extort out to drain him on each ciphered spell as well.

Round 5 was against my protege, Anthony. Anthony is a friend I’ve known for several years, but he only recently got into Magic a couple months ago (and through other friends, not me, weirdly enough). This was his first organized play event and I was quite happy to see him with a 3-1 record. Turns out I’d taught him fairly well. He had a good Gruul deck, but I quickly took him out in two quick games; the second game wasn’t even a game, really, as he only got two lands in play.

My final match of the day was Kevin. He was playing Orzhov, splashing red for some battalion abilities, but was mostly on an extort plan. I’ve played against Kevin plenty at casual nights; he’s usually running some kind of really solid legacy brew, and I’m not sure I’ve ever beaten him (or his brother, for that matter). He has several pages in his trade binder dedicated solely to Dark Rituals. He’s good, and he’s been playing for a long time, and I knew I had my work cut out for me. All three games were tight. My Deathpact Angel hit the board every game. It won me the first game, but he had answers for it games 2 and 3. I’m not sure exactly how I could have played around that; I tried to force him to use his removal before playing the Angel out, but he managed to be patient and extort the life out of me, slowly draining me down each game. All three games were won on pivotal turns. It was always right down to the wire, and the winner had to take it right then or lose the next turn.

I wound up in 6th place overall. Out of 43, that ain’t bad. Prizes in packs were awarded to the top half of players, 21 in all. At 6th place, I got 5 packs (and opened Obzedat Ghost Council!). There were plenty of door prizes randomly given out as well.

Gatecrash is an incredibly well-balanced set that rewards tight play, no matter what guild you are affiliated with. I saw a lot of red opponents throughout the day, but from what I saw of other matches being played, every guild had potential to do well in the hands of a competent pilot with a halfway decent pool.

Overall, this prerelease was a major win for our little shop. The event went smoothly and everyone seemed to have a great time. There was a very healthy mix of players young and old, new and experienced. I had a blast, and so did my kids.

As for my Prodigal Sorcerers, neither Aiden nor Chloe ended the day in the top half of the field. They certainly won their share of games, but each only won a couple matches, which wasn’t quite enough to make the top half. Aiden did win a door prize, though, which was cool because it was his birthday.

Major kudos to the Florissant Fantasy Shop for running the show so well! They could have turned people away when so many showed up, but they adapted and made it work out for everyone. The tournament was well-run and went smoothly all day long. I don’t think they’ve ever hosted an event that size at that store before, though the manager John has experience with larger crowds of Magic players from working at the St Charles Fantasy Shop for years, where they frequently host 100+ player events, including PTQs (and have the dedicated space to accomodate them). It was a testament to the scene here that so many players stuck around to the very end, and everyone cheered for everyone else as prizes were handed out.

This kind of event is what Magic is all about: good friends, good times, great competition. Highly skilled players were helping the newer players get their bearings and tune their decks all day long. We had one instance of a competitive level player forgetting what rules-enforcement level he was playing at, and being a jerk about a minute issue, but other than that, all went well and everyone had fun!

Becoming a Better Magic Player

Magic: the Gathering is a very complex game. To a beginner it can often be overwhelming to try to learn everything, or even keep track of all the different things going on in just a single game!

Sometimes, winning and losing a game can be attributed to mana-flood or a series of painful mulligans. More often than not, however, the outcome will be based on one thing: information.

Information is king in Magic. Every move you make, spell you cast, even which lands you tap and which you leave up give an attentive opponent information about what spells you may have left in your hand and what your strategy may be. This goes both ways, of course; paying attention to what your opponent is doing can give away a lot of information.

Based on this knowledge, I offer the following tips to help you become a better Magic player.

Patience, Young Padawan

You will often want to cast all of your spells as quickly as you can. Unless you are playing a very fast, aggressive deck that has to win quickly or risk running out of gas, it is often best to resist this urge. Wait until the last possible moment to cast spells and activate abilities. Often this will mean using them at the end of your opponent’s turn. Having cards in your hand and untapped land means your opponent doesn’t know what you plan to do, and may play around a combat trick that isn’t in your hand! “Bluffing” these types of things is as applicable in Magic as it is in poker.

Also, this strategy keeps your options open for as long as possible, which is always to your advantage. By waiting to the last possible moment to activate abilities or cast spells, you maintain the ability to respond to whatever your opponent does.

Typically, you almost always want to play sorceries, enchantments, and creatures during the second main phase of your turn; that is, after combat, unless that spell will have a beneficial effect on your combat phase. Combat tricks, which are typically instants or activated abilities of creatures or enchantments, almost always want to be played during the combat phase, and typically at the last possible moment. Don’t play your Giant Growth until you know how your opponent is going to block!

The threat of a combat trick can sometimes be enough to bluff your opponent. Even when you have only one card in your hand, as long as you have untapped lands, your opponent has to make an educated guess about what you are representing.

Know Your Deck

You should have an intimate understanding of all 60 cards in your deck. If you’ve just jammed a bunch of spells, creatures, and lands together and called it a deck without much thought going into how it all works together, see my article Deckbuilding 101.

Understand how the deck works, the various interactions that make it tick, and its route(s) to victory through different match-ups and situations.

Be able to explain to your opponent clearly how any combos might work, and have an understanding of any rules you need to know. For example, if you have several creatures with the “Regenerate” ability, you should be aware how that keyword ability interacts in a variety of situations.

Does your deck make tokens? Have several of the types you will need ready to go.

Does your deck have tutors? Tutors are cards that let you go find other cards in your deck. These are powerful cards. When you play one of these cards, you should know exactly what card you want to go fetch; this is not the time to take a trip through your deck and see what looks like fun, this is the time to get exactly the card you need to turn the tide in your favor, and you should already know what that card is. Green decks often feature cards that allow you to search your deck for a land of some sort; know what land you’re fetching before you start searching.

Knowing your deck will help you make correct plays throughout the game, based not only on what is in your hand, but what you could possibly draw later in the game.

Tell-Tale-Taps

The mana sources you tap to cast spells, the sources you leave available, tell your opponent a story. Usually this story is about what is in your hand.

Experienced opponents have often learned to play around certain cards, especially if they know you have it in your deck. Leaving two islands untapped is usually a clear sign of a Counterspell. Having an untapped forest going into combat can herald a Giant Growth.

Keep in mind, however, that just because you have that combat trick or counterspell in your hand, doesn’t mean you have to use it. Save your counterspells for the spells that count. Save your Giant Growth for the moment you get to kill one of their creatures with it, or swing for the kill.

If you have dual lands on the board, you almost always want to leave those untapped if at all possible to keep your options open.

It is also important to know and understand the strengths of the different Magic colors. There are some powerful, cheap, common effects that are typically played in each of the five colors, and you should be aware of them, both when you are representing spells in hand, and when your opponent has untapped mana and cards in hand.

White often has situational combat tricks in the form of “destroy target attacking or defending creature” or “exile target creature with power 4 or greater”.

Blue favors counterspells to control the board and “bounce” effects that send creatures back to their owner’s hand. Casting spells into open blue mana can often be a tricky endeavor, but what your opponent chooses to counter (and chooses to allow on the board) can tell you a lot about how they play and even what is in their hand.

Open black mana can often mean murderous intent, as black is the king of instant-speed creature removal with cards like Doom Blade and its predecessor Terror being cheap, efficient and quite effective.

An opponent with an untapped Mountain or two may very well have a Lightning Bolt. ‘Nuff said. Burn spells are prevalent and powerful in red decks, and just one can often drastically alter combat math.

Green is similar to white, in that it often has situational instant-speed combat tricks. Giant Growth was printed in Alpha and every Core Set until M11, and most recently reprinted in Return to Ravnica. Also of note are cards like Plummet, which kills a flier, and Naturalize, which eliminates an artifact or enchantment.

Read the Flippin’ Card!

Look at, read, and clearly understand every card your opponent plays. If you don’t know how a certain rule works (for example, something obscure like Phasing or initially confusing, like Dredge), ask for clarification. Magic is an incredibly deep game with a ton of cards that do a lot of different things. No player who has just started can be expected to understand every keyword or ability from the get-go (even the ones that are spelled out, in detail, on the cards can be confusing sometimes! I still have a hard time grasping the strategy behind Dredge, for example.)

Try to do more than just read and understand the cards your opponent plays, though. Think about the cards you’ve seen from your opponent, how they fit together, and you can get a better idea of what kind of deck they are playing and what you can expect out of it.

Burnination

Know what your burn spells are for. If you are throwing Lightning Bolts at your opponent’s face on turn two when they are still at 17 or so life, you’re doing it wrong. Burn spells are powerful because they double as direct damage and possible creature removal. In the early game, clearing a path for your creatures is generally a better use of a Lightning Bolt (or any other similar burn spell). In the late game, when life totals are low, a Lightning Bolt can be the final nail in your opponent’s coffin. At that point, don’t be afraid to use it as such.

Understand (and use!) Your Resources

You have a variety of different resources at your disposal in any given game of Magic. Which of these are available to you depends on how you build your deck. For new players, the two most difficult resources to use correctly are their graveyard and their life total.

The graveyard is the easier of the two to grasp, as there are cards that allow you to bring a creature from the graveyard directly to the battlefield or to your hand, and Innistrad block made excellent use of the “flashback”mechanic, which allowed you to cast spells directly out of your graveyard.

The life total, however, is not exactly an easy resource for newer players to understand how to use well. Black spells will often offer the player the option of trading life points for cards. I remember when I first started playing with my kids, they would often cast Sign in Blood (“Target player loses two life and draws two cards”) and target their opponent with it, wanting to hit them for two life but not realizing the advantage the two extra cards would give their opponent. Granted, that is the right play to make, if the opponent only has one or two life points left, but normally you want to trade your own life points for cards if at all possible.

Your life total is a resource that can be used. You don’t win the game for gaining twenty or a hundred life points; you win (typically) by reducing your opponent to zero life. It doesn’t matter if you are at 1 or 100 life. Don’t be afraid to take some damage to keep your creatures on the board a while longer in the early game, especially if they have useful abilities.

Have Fun!

This is a game, right? It’s supposed to be fun. If you get so focused on winning that you forget that you started playing the game to have fun with your friends, your play will suffer. If you are so caught up in having to win that you get angry when you lose because of variance, or mana-flood, or your own bad plays, you lose a lot of the capacity to learn from your mistakes.

Every mistake is a learning opportunity. Every lost game is a learning opportunity. Even if you’re playing tournaments, Friday Night Magic or Pro Tour Qualifiers or Grand Prix, every x-2 drop is a learning opportunity.

Gaining the clarity to calmly examine your own play, figure out what you did wrong, what you could have done better, and how you will improve next time is a major key to getting better at this game. As such, take notes! Every game, make a note of mistakes made and how they could have been avoided (if at all!). And remember, sometimes there is no “out” to a situation. It happens to everyone.

Sometimes, you’re going to play a deck that completely, utterly destroys you. My Five-Color Goodstuff.dec is heavily built around enters-the-battlefield triggers. One night at the shop, I sat down to play a game, and one of my opponent’s first plays was a Torpor Orb (“Creatures entering the battlefield don’t cause abilities to trigger”). Every answer I have in the deck is in the form of an enters-the-battlefield trigger, even for problematic artifacts (my beloved Acidic Slime)! I had never even known Torpor Orb existed (okay, maybe I did, but I’d certainly forgotten about it!). Instead of getting mad, though, I sat back and tried to stem the bleeding as best I could with my suddenly overcosted, sub-par creatures, but it was a losing proposition; he was playing a bunch of cheap, incredibly powerful creatures that were cheap and powerful because they had enters-the-battlefield effects that were often detrimental to the caster and good for the opponent (which were now turned off because of the Torpor Orb in play). All of a sudden my Restoration Angels, Thragtusk, and Sun Titan didn’t look so hot in my hand. Even my Elvish Visionary made me sad. Even so, I learned an important lesson: in Magic, there’s an answer for everything. No matter how powerful your deck might be, there’s another deck out there that totally shuts it down.

So you might as well sit back and enjoy what your opponent has put together, see some cool cards interact in a new, unexpected way, and have fun!

When you are focused on playing the game just to play, instead of playing to win, you will often find that you will have a lot more fun, and as a result play a lot better! It is, after all, a game that we play to enjoy ourselves and our time with our friends.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is power in Magic. The more you know, the better decisions you can make during the course of any given game. Paying careful attention to the board state, reading all the cards, knowing how best to use your own cards (and sometimes your opponents!), and lots and lots of practice will help you become a better Magic player.

And don’t forget the most important thing: have fun!

Jackpot!

My parents got into their attic today, to get down Christmas decorations, and as my dad was looking through boxes, noticed some of my old Magic cards.

Decks I thought had long been left on the other side of the country, and had since written off to be gone to my reckless past.

There were three of my old decks in there. I’m not sure why they were separate from my shoebox full of extra cards, but there they were, in a box of my old stuff, with some cool old books (including a copy of the Foundation Trilogy which was clearly older than myself).

The biggest gem to be found amidst these hundred-eighty cards was the 3rd-Edition/Revised Savannah, which even at “moderately played” (though I think this one probably falls somewhere between slightly and moderately played status) sells for $80 at SCG.com.

There were a number of other cool old cards that I was very happy to find again as well, including a playset of the Lord of Atlantis (3 3rd edition and 1 4th), two Lords of the Pit, five Dark Rituals (all in one deck, not sure what that’s all about lol).

Anyways, for posterity’s sake, I’m going to put up decklists and some thoughts before taking them apart and assimilating the cards into the modern collection. Keep in mind all these decks were build around 1996.

Dinner Thallid (Black-Green)

Forest x14

Swamp x13

Snow-Covered Swamp x1 (huh?)

Dark Ritual x5 (yeah I don’t really know why there are 5 in there either, I must have been a cheater lol)

Terror x3

Fear x3

Fallen Angel x2

Nettling Imp x2

Royal Assassin x2

Frozen Shade x4

Hecatomb x1

Hell’s Caretaker x1

Murk Dwellers x4

Sorceress Queen x1

Lord of the Pit x2

Feral Thallid x2

Thallid Devourer x4

Thallid x4

An-Havva Inn x1

Gaea’s Touch x1

Fungal Bloom x1

Night Soil x1

Superior Numbers x1

 

I remember this deck, though I have no idea why I have five Dark Rituals in there. I clearly understood that I could only have 4 of any individual card in the deck, as I have 4 Thallids, etc. Regardless, the general idea of the deck was to build up a token swarm of saprolings with which to overwhelm the opponent. If I was lucky, I would land a Lord of the Pit, which would be more than happy to eat my saprolings for dinner and trample over and eat my opponent for dessert.

 

Green-White Deck

Forests x10

Plains x11

Savannah x1

Alabaster Potion x2

Seeker x4

Divine Offering x1

Serra Angel x4

Caribou Range x1

Wall of Swords x3

Seraph x1

Dust to Dust x1

Conversion x1

Disenchant x4

Divine Transformation x1

Animate Wall x1

Wall of Resistance x1

Gaea’s Liege x1

Untamed Wilds x1

Quirion Elves x1

Wall of Ice x2

Vitalize x1

Radjan Spirit x1

Scaled Wurm x1

Craw Wurm x4

Vitalizing Cascade x1

Gabriel Angelfire x1 (what the heck is rampage anyways?)

I’m not really sure what this deck was trying to do. It has decent fliers (for the time), good blockers, powerful ground creatures… but it doesn’t really do anything spectacular either. There’s no way to abuse the Seraph (though, really, I’m not sure if such a way existed at the time!).

 

Island x23

Lord of Atlantis x4

Blue Elemental Blast x2

Spell Blast x3

Power Sink x3

Vodalian Soldiers x4

Vodalian Mage x4

Merfolk of the Pearl Trident x2

Segovian Leviathan x1

Merfolk Raiders x2

Vodalian Knights x2

River Merfolk x2

Merfolk Assassin x2

War Barge x2

Phantasmal Terrain x3

Flight x1

Millstone x2

Meekstone x1

I honestly have no idea why the Millstones are in this deck, as they don’t do much of anything with any other cards. There are definitely better counterspells to use, but I was never a very good blue mage lol.

Well, that’s it for this lovely blast through the past! Thanks for sticking around this long!

Deckbuilding for Beginners

My kids keep asking me to help them build their decks, but they don’t give me much to work with other than “I want to build an Elf deck” or “Vampire deck” or “Snake deck” or whatever other tribal possibility has struck their recent fancy. However, they don’t ever bring me any actual pile of cards or half-constructed deck or much of anything else do anything with, so I typically wind up just giving them general deck-building advice and sending them on their way. So, in an effort to stop repeating myself over and over again, I wrote them a general guide to deckbuilding, which I present to you now!

Deckbuilding 101

There are many things to consider when building a constructed, 60-card deck for Magic: the Gathering. First and foremost, your deck must have a plan for how it is going to win. Your deck should have ways to protect those win conditions. You may want to have answers to your opponent’s cards. And you need to be able to actually cast your spells (your mana base).

Let’s begin with the basics: your deck must have at least 60 cards, and can only have 4 of any individual card except basic lands.

Planning to Win

What is your deck’s game plan? I’ll use my decks as examples. Mono-black vampires seeks to disrupts the opponent’s hand early in the game, control the board with removal spells, use morbid triggers to get strong effects out of cards like Tragic Slip, and land powerful creatures to end the game quickly.

American Dream, on the other hand, seeks to abuse two different effects: Liquimetal Coating turns any permanent into an artifact, which can then be destroyed with cheap artifact destruction. Those spells are able to be used again and again by blinking an Archaeomancer, until a flight of Drake tokens can hit overhead for the win.

Black & Red Zombies abuses the combination of sacrifice outlets, token generators, and Blood Artist.

Green & White Humans and Werewolves simply seeks to play a lot of dudes, pump them, and swing in for the win with powerful Soulbond effects.

Five-Color-Goodstuff wants to ramp up, clog up the board, get access to all five colors, abuse blinking and enters-the-battlefield triggers and have plenty of card-draw, and then play any number of unexpected, super-powerful spells.

One thing all these decks have in common is that they have powerful synergies, and they are generally capable of controlling them. For example, in the Blood Artist deck, I’m not waiting for the opponent to kill my creatures to trigger the Blood Artist; I do it myself, and frequently.

Another example of this would be an ability like Landfall. If you build around creatures and effects that trigger off Landfall, make sure you can play more than one land per turn, and preferably whenever you want. Cards like Evolving Wilds enable this kind of strategy.

Good decks are often, and ought to be, more than just a bunch of good creatures, spells and lands. I’m about to start giving you some numbers to guide your deck-building. These are all approximate and by no means are they set in stone, but they should give you a solid base to start tweaking from.

Mana Curve

Different spells have different mana costs. The idea behind a Mana Curve is that you generally want a decent number of spells in your deck that each cost 1, 2 and 3 mana, with a smattering of more expensive, powerful spells that should typically turn the game dramatically in your favor or allow you to win outright. 1, 2 and 3 mana spells are important because they allow you to have things to do during the critical first few turns of the game, to establish a board presence, or get an aggressive start.

The principle behind this is fairly simple: the player who makes the most of their available mana over the course of the game has a much greater chance of winning the game. In the early game, this is often whoever can play a card each turn. If you can play a 1-drop on turn 1, a 2-drop on turn 2, and a 3-drop on turn 3, you will be far ahead of an opponent who may have missed a land drop or had no turn 1 or 2 play.

Some Numbers

Find the cards to build your strategy around. As a starting guideline, you’re looking at 36 spells and creatures to go along with 24 lands. Make 24 of those spells and creatures focused on your primary strategy.

What about the other twelve spells and/or creatures? Reserve these slots for answers and support. What goes here will depend largely on what colors you’re using and what your strategy needs.

Answers

For example, if you are running a basic red and green stompy deck, and your primary objective is to ramp to big creatures and smash face, you’re going to usually be weak against fliers and have trouble dealing with your opponent’s larger creatures, artifacts, and enchantments. Fortunately, green and red are quite good at getting rid of artifacts, and green can destroy enchantments and fliers easily. Red’s plethora of burn spells can be used to clear the path for your big green beaters, and green’s mana ramping can enable you to take over the skies with big dragons. Whatever your strategy, it helps to have ways to deal with the roadblocks your opponent will invariably put in your way.

Each of the five colors has different strengths, as far as answers are concerned.

White can deal with most permanents, although often its answers are situational or temporary. “Destroy target attacking creature” is an example of a situational spell, and cards like Oblivion Ring and Fiend Hunter exile cards only so long as they are still on the battlefield.

Blue’s method of dealing with problems is usually pre-emptive, through the use of counterspells, or by bouncing the card in question back to its owner’s hand with a card like Unsummon.

Black has the most access to creature destruction spells, though it can’t interact with enchantments very well. Cards like Doom Blade and Murder are the most direct.

Red has access to cheap artifact destruction, and likes to destroy creatures with direct damage spells and effects, such as Lightning Bolt and Cunning Sparkmage.

Green can take out enchantments and creatures with flying quite easily with cheap cards like Naturalize and Plummet.

These are just some basics. Keep in mind also that in older Magic sets, the abilities each color had access to were still in flux; white had access to cheap and easy artifact destruction, and Swords to Plowshares is one of the best removal spells in the Legacy format. Sets like “Time Spiral” experimented with colors having access to spells and creatures typically reserved to other colors. “Brute Strength” is an example of this, being a “Giant Growth” for red.

It helps if your situational “answer” cards also promote your primary strategy, but this is not always a possibility.

I would start by having twelve cards devoted to being answers to various problems you may anticipate. This part of your deck is likely to be the most in-flux, as you change cards around to have better answers to the decks you play against the most.

Like I stated before, the numbers for your deck aren’t set in stone and will likely be different than the 24 land, 24 strategy, 12 answers breakdown, but it is a good starting point. You may find that you want more support for your primary strategy. You may find that you want more answers (especially if your strategy is to just have answers until you find your win condition!).

Mana Base

Some people consider the mana base to be the most boring part of a Magic deck, and while it’s not flashy, it is what enables you to cast your spells in the first place, so it’s incredibly important!

If you are relatively new to the game, or if you don’t have access to a lot of multi-color lands, you probably want to stick to decks containing only two of the five colors. Single-color decks will be (obviously) the most consistent, mana-wise, but often don’t have enough versatile answers to deal with more varied decks.

I said earlier to start with 24 lands as your mana base. This number will be more or less depending on what your deck is trying to do. “Control” decks often want 26 or even 27 land to ensure that they draw mana consistently through the game and have access to enough mana for counterspells and other permission before landing a major threat. Faster aggro decks, with lots of cheap creatures and cheap pumping effects, can often get away with as little as 20 land.

A very important thing to consider when building your mana base is the ratio of cards in each of your colors. This should influence the number of each type of land you include.

Another important factor to consider both when building your deck and when assembling your mana base is the casting costs of your spells. If you have a lot of spells with double color casting cost requirements, such as Vampire Nighthawk’s 1BB (B is for Black mana) or Archaeomancer’s 2UU (U is for Blue mana), those spells will be more difficult to cast “on time” in a multi-colored deck. Sometimes you’ll have more of one color and only one land in the color you need. I try to play a lot of spells that have only a single colored mana in their casting cost. If you are “splashing” a third color into your deck, any cards you’re playing in that third color should almost always have only a single colored mana requirement (“Splashing” means to add a few lands and a few spells of another color to the deck to have access to certain effects). This is why a card like Thragtusk is everywhere in the current Standard environment; the single green mana in his 4G casting cost makes it very easy to splash green just for that card one card.

There are no hard and fast rules on how exactly to build a mana base for any given deck. When Magic first came out, the general deck-building guideline was “20 land, 20 spells, and 20 creatures”. Things have changed quite a bit since then. Some decks run 20 lands and 40 creatures! Some others run 27 lands and 33 spells and no creatures. The possiblities are endless.

Building a consistent, powerful deck is not terribly difficult; it’s also possible to do on a budget. You don’t have to have all the best, most expensive cards to put together a strong deck with excellent synergy. Have fun and play as much as you can!

Five-Color GoodStuff.dec

Oh, hey, I have a blog. I was totally planning to write stuff for this thing, and then I just played Magic with my kids instead, and I forgot what I was going to write anyway.
Regardless, I think I’ve said before that we don’t really play Standard or Modern or Legacy or Type 1.649 or whatever else the formats are called. I guess our format is Kitchen Table Casual or whatever. Regardless, for a few months now there has been talk of having a little tournament at the Fantasy Shop to give us something halfway organized to do during Saturday Casual Night.

The format, it was decided, would be Standard… plus M12. Apparently there was some concern that not all the interested players would have access to enough cards to build proper Standard decks. Yes, we’re that casual. Granted, I think Jason might have underestimated us to a degree, but I digress.

I waffled about what to play for quite a while. Having M12 legal threw my brewing brain for a bit of a loop, as that opened up things like the Titans, Mana Leak, Ponder, Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise. I tried putting together a few different decks. The 8-man nature of the metagame gave me pause. I knew all the players, and figured just about every archetype would be represented, the full spectrum of control to aggro. What to do?

The unexpected.

Put up a solid wall to slow down aggro, and have enough unexpectedly powerful threats (and card draw) that eventually control runs out of answers. Here’s the deck I put together. I’ll give you the properly Standard version first.

Lands
Sunpetal Grove x4
Selesnya Guildgate x3
Golgari Guildgate x2
Izzet Guildgate
Rakdos Guildgate
Azorius Guildgate
Forest x6
Mountain
Island
Swamp
Plains

Green-Based Ramp/Land Fetch/Rainbow Package
Gatecreeper Vine x3
Axebane Guardian x3
Borderland Ranger x3
Chromatic Lantern x3
Gilded Lotus

Mid-Game Support
Elvish Visionary x3
Restoration Angel x3
Disciple of Bolas
Acidic Slime
Thragtusk
Garruk, Primal Hunter
Jarad’s Orders x2
Treasured Find
Unburial Rites
Conjurer’s Closet

Fatties
Craterhoof Behemoth
Utvara Hellkite
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius
Armada Wurm
Geist-Honored Monk
Door to Nothingness (Nothing is better than a Door win!)
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

Combo
Deadeye Navigator
Zealous Conscripts

The “M12-Plus” Version utilizes singletons Solemn Simulacrum, Sun Titan, and Rune-Scarred Demon, which I trade in for a Borderland Ranger, Elvish Visionary, and Sigarda. Keep in mind that most of the card decisions were determined by what cards I had available, although I have been thinking of taking this to FNM just to see how it does. The deck is super fun to play. It can gum up the ground pretty easily to slow down aggro long enough to land something they can’t handle. Azorius fliers can get in for a while until you land something they can’t race with and are forced to block. A Thundermaw Hellkite would really help in that regard, although the Utvara Hellkite does a fine job of that on his own, as he leaves a blocker behind every time he attacks, and the number of Dragons just doubles every turn unless they have an answer for it. If they do, you just wind up playing some other huge threat. Basically, I get to play a lot of my favorite cards in Magic, utilizing my favorite strategy (ramp), abusing my favorite effect (enters-the-battlefield), and even having the potential to combo off to Super-Magical-Christmas-Land with Deadeye+Conscripts+Gilded Lotus or Axebane Guardian (with two other defenders on the field)+Restoration Angel+Thragtusk…

You get the idea. Infinite mana. Infinite life. Infinite beasts (hasty too, thanks Zealous Conscripts!). Infinite take-all-your-stuffs. Infinite Win!

Sure it’s a long-shot. But there are enough to fetches and card-draw that it can happen. Because more often than not, you top-deck Garruk and you’ve already got 5 or 6 power on the board, and five mana for five or six cards is pretty darn good. Ditto Disciple of Bolas. Sacrificing a Thragtusk to the Disciple is always nice. Especially when you draw Unburial Rites as part of your five.

Anyways, there’s a lot going on with this deck. It can do some really powerful stuff, but it’s not going to break standard anytime soon. Have you ever blinked a Thragtusk six times at the end of your opponent’s end-step? Try it sometime. Watch your opponent try desperately not to flip the table.

Game Day Fail

So, we tried to go to the Magic Game Day event a week ago, and failed. Two of the prodigal sorcerers had soccer activities in the morning, and by the time we finished all that up and had gotten to the shop, Game Day was underway and there were no spots left. The other nearby stores that were hosting the event were already finished, so it was a bit of a bust.

So, we did our own Mini-Masters tournament! I went and bought some packs and we cracked them, shuffled in land, and got going. My oldest daughter decided she’d rather go hang out with the girl next door, so it was just myself, Kanaan, Chloe and Aiden. First round I played against Aiden and Chloe played Kanaan. Both matches went to three games (mana-screw is a very real thing in Mini-Masters), but I beat the boy and Kanaan beat Chloe, so Kanaan and I each got a pack to add to our deck. The winner would get another pack. I also let Chloe and Aiden play a third-place game for the final pack.

I cut the white out of my deck (the only thing I remember opening was a Serra Angel, which is a decent bomb in the format but I only had two other white cards, none of which I wanted to play, which made white totally not worth keeping. I’m not sure Kanaan put quite as much thought into his deck, but our match went to three games before I won.

I enjoy these type of little tournaments with the kids, but they can be hard at the end. There’s always a loser, and if there are packs or other prizes on the line at all, whoever winds up with the least amount of stuff (compared to all their siblings) starts pouting and acting hurt. I see this kind of thing in our D&D games, too, and I have yet to figure out just how best to handle these situations. I’ve always made it very clear that I won’t take it easy on them when we play any game (it’s just not in my personality, and I don’t think it helps them become better Magic players).

We have been making a regular thing of casual night at the Florissant Fantasy Shop, although this past Saturday the kids all missed it on account of being in trouble (failure to complete chores at home during the week, and other behavioral issues, have caused Saturday Night Magic to become something that has to be “earned” as opposed to something that can just be “lost”).

It is rather ironic that almost as soon as I started this blog, the amount of time we spent playing Magic plummeted, but I will try to update this blog once a week or so with some stories about lessons learned while teaching my little Prodigal Sorcerers to sling spells.

My Prodigal Sorcerers

Hello there! My name is Tommy Sullivan, and this blog is all about the trials and tribulations of teaching my children to play Magic: the Gathering.

We’ll start with a little background on me. I learned to play Magic back when Ice Age was on the shelves, and was never really any good at it. The priest at my church taught me and some of my buddies how to play, and we mostly played massive, messy multi-player affairs that lasted entirely too long. We also played a good deal of D&D, of the old-school DragonQuest variety.

Regardless, I kind of forgot about Magic for the next, I don’t know, fifteen years, until my in-laws got each of my step-children a starter deck of Magic cards. I dug out the shoebox of old Magic cards from my parents’ attic (seriously) and soon found myself buying Deck Builder Toolkits and Fat Packs and voraciously inhaling Magic articles and rules tips and getting myself caught back up on everything I missed since 1998.

Because, after all, I have four little Prodigal Sorcerers to educate in the Magical ways! Judging by how they’ve done at casual night at my FLGS, the Florissant, MO Fantasy Shop, I think I’ve done alright.

From oldest to youngest:

Alexis, age 12. She likes to run her Rage Extractor starter deck and has been trying like hell to make an angel deck work ever since she beat me with a couple of Archangels. She’s more interested in the art and the “collectible” part of CCG than the strategy in the gameplay, but absolutely loves the social aspect of the game.

Kanaan, age 10. He’s probably our most serious Sorcerer. Currently in the “tribal” stage of deckbuilding. His goblin deck kills on turn 5, fairly consistently; to the point that the guys at casual night at the FLGS refuse to play against it. And he won the “goblin showdown”.

Chloe, age 8. Chloe is an enigma, but a pretty clever Magician. She’s got the rules down pretty well. Her most recent deck is black-blue, and it wants to be control but she hasn’t quite figured out how to play that way yet.

Aiden, age 7. He plays a white humans build; the base was the Innistrad starter deck, and I  helped him tweak it some. It’s not bad; oblivion ring is a decent answer to just about anything, and if he plays his hand right, he can get through a lot of damage really quick.

Oh, and there’s me, Tommy, age 29 (30 in a week). I’ve got three different decks I like to run: a red/white aggro humans and soldiers, a green-white roaring primadox midrange  ETB type of thing, and a monoblack vampire control deck.

We’ve done a number of different experiments to help the kids all learn the game, and I’m going to recount them all in posts here on this blog in the coming weeks. We don’t play Standard, or Modern, or EDH or Commander. I guess we play Legacy but not really, because we don’t have any Force of Wills or Dark Confidants or any other serious cards that cost more than $20. Seriously, any time we open up any chase rares, they get set aside so they can get traded out for a TON of cards. But I’ll talk about that in another post, too.

Til then, attack first and cast your spells during your second main phase. Unless, you know, you don’t.

-Tommy