Draft Dodging

I ended Tuesday’s entry wondering how to keep my hand in playing Magic as I’ve wound down playing our weekly casual game.

Back in 2006 when I got back into Magic (having previously played from 1995-1998) I was also getting into poker, and my friends seemed to split into playing one game or the other. I decided to go the Magic route (though I still play poker from time to time – honestly I might have lost less money sticking with poker!). But while I enjoy casual constructed, I also really enjoy doing booster drafts.

The problem with booster drafts is that they’re hard to arrange:

  • They require you set aside a chunk of time, usually 2-3 hours, to do the draft and then play up to 3 best-of-3-games matches.
  • Gathering enough people in person (at least 4, usually 6-to-8) is difficult in casual games.
  • Playing at a store involves playing on the store’s schedule, and driving to and from the store.
  • Playing at either a store or on Magic Online usually means playing against a more serious, and often more skilled, class of player.

The most convenient way to draft is on Magic Online (MTGO), where there are usually drafts starting up every few minutes. Unfortunately, the MTGO client runs only under Windows, and I just find the Windows interface to be dreary (I’m a Mac guy). I do have a Windows partition on my Mac which I use using VMWare Fusion, so that helps a little. On top of that, though, MTGO’s own user interface is pretty terrible (I won’t go into details, but anything involving the stack tends to be presenting in a perplexing manner at best).

I think the real barrier for me, though, is that playing online is just such a solitary activity: It requires all of my attention for most of the time I’m playing, and while I haven’t had any bad experiences with other players online, it’s fair to say that I don’t really connect with anyone either. So telling myself that I’m going to spend 2-3 hours sitting in front of the computer playing a game by myself has been a difficult barrier to overcome. Throw in my feeling that I’m not really that good at drafting (after all, most of my competition has a lot more practice than I do) and it’s hard to convince myself to spend an hour or more doing a draft that might end up being crappy.

Since I always seem to have plenty of chores to do around the house, or things I feel I “ought to” be doing (like reading a book, or playing with the cats), I just never set aside the time.

One thing I do is listen to the excellent podcast on drafting and other “limited” Magic formats, Limited Resources. Listening to them talking about the theory and practice of drafting, and how much time they put into honing their draft skills, I sometimes think it would be cool to draft enough to become a genuinely skilled player. But then I think what else I could be spending that time doing.

I don’t know. I’d like to do more drafts, at least to the point where I’m good enough that I don’t feel intimidated by it. But it’s been a hard barrier to overcome.

The Magic Goes Away

(Note: This post has nothing to do with the book of the same name. In fact, it will probably be of little interest except to players of the Magic trading card game.)

Since I got back into Magic: The Gathering back in 2006, I’ve been playing in a weekly casual game. But a little over a year ago our regular host decided to move out of state, and we moved to a rotating hosting system. Our metagame had also been getting (to my mind) a bit stale, with people often playing the same types of decks (not quite the same exact decks, but the same basic frameworks used to trigger slightly different win conditions). And I’d been struggling to come up with interesting new decks of my own, which could work within our metagame.

Late in the summer my heart had gone out of it, so I decided to take a month or two off (conveniently timed around our trip back east in September). When I got back, I learned that the weekly game had been moved from Mondays to Wednesdays, which reduced my likelihood of attending to near-zero, as Wednesday is of course comic book night. Consequently, I haven’t attended since last summer.

Since then I’ve been gradually filing my cards and generally tidying up my card collection. Perhaps I needed the time off from the game. For some years I’ve been buying boxes of the new expansions and opening them, but that was getting pretty old, too – a lot of bookkeeping. Not to mention that all the cards take up a lot of space. If I want to keep up with the new sets, maybe I’ll just buy some singles; heck, I could probably buy playlets (4 each) of the best new cards that come out and spend less than I have been on the boxes.

(In theory I guess the total value of cards on the aftermarket end up equalling the cost of buying the unopened product, with commons as a whole being worth close to nothing, while the valuable cards account for most of the cost. The market is probably not quite that efficient, but except for a few outliers it’s probably pretty close. And acquiring more commons gets less and less interesting over time, as the design philosophy of New World Order has generally made commons less interesting to collect for people who own many of the older cards.)

Anyway, I still enjoy Magic and would like to keep my hand in it, but I don’t know when (or if) I’ll want to spend the time on casual constructed games in the future. And I know I don’t have much interest in serious competitive Magic. So what’s left?

Dragon’s Maze Prerelease

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at Illusive Comics in Santa Clara at the Dragon’s Maze Magic prerelease event. I went to the Gatecrash prerelease in January (which I somehow forgot to write about), and had a lot of fun – I played a Simic deck and went 3-2 in 5 matches. I went to that with Andrew, Adam and Subrata and we all chose Simic as our guilds.

This time I was going on my own, but I wanted to go because I thought the structure would be really neat: You pick one guild from either Return to Ravnica or Gatecrash, and get randomly paired with one of four guilds from the other set which shared a color with it. You get a guild pack from each of those sets for those guilds, and then you get four Dragon’s Maze packs to build a deck out of the six packs. I’ve played a lot of Simic and Selesnya, and I wanted to pick a guild that looked like fun that I hadn’t played much. My guess was that Boros and Rakdos would be the guilds to pick to win a lot, but I don’t find either of those guilds to be a lot of fun to play. In the end I decided to go with Golgari. My “secret ally” guild was Orzhov, which as it turns out was my second choice.

The other gimmick in this prerelease was that each guild would advance on a chart for each match win by their guild during the afternoon; whoever got to the end first would get a special prize card, and each guild that reached the end at all would get another special prize card. The problem was that I was the only player who chose Golgari, so I’d have to win 4 of my 5 matches to reach the end.

I opened up my packs, and after some thought I ended up with this deck:

# Cost P/T Card Notes
1 black/green mana 1/2 Deathrite Shaman
1 green mana   Giant Growth
1 1 manawhite mana   Lyev Decree
1 1 manawhite mana 2/2 Syndic of Tithes Extort white/black mana
1 1 managreen mana 2/2 Drudge Beetle Scavenge 5 managreen mana
1 1 managreen mana 2/2 Kraul Warrior 5 managreen mana: +3/+3 until end of turn
1 1 managreen mana 2/2 Skylasher
1 white manablack mana 1/1 High Priest of Penance
1 2 manawhite mana 1/4 Basilica Guards Extort white/black mana
1 2 managreen mana 2/1 Battering Krasis Evolve
1 2 managreen mana 2/1 Stonefare Crocodile 2 manablack mana: Lifelink until end of turn
1 1 manawhite manablack mana 2/2 Kingpin’s Pet Extort white/black mana
1 X manablack manablack managreen mana   Gaze of Granite
1 3 manablack mana 3/2 Syndicate Enforcer Extort white/black mana
1 2 manablack manablack mana   Grisly Spectacle
1 2 manablack manablack mana 0/4 Perilous Shadow 1 manablack mana: +2/+2 until end of turn
1 2 manablack managreen mana 2/2 Sluiceway Scorpion Scavenge 1 manablack managreen mana
1 4 manawhite mana 3/3 Guardian of the Gateless
1 3 manablack/green manablack/green mana 5/4 Golgari Longlegs
1 3 manablack managreen mana 2/5 Korozda Gorgon
1 4 manablack managreen mana   Rites of Reaping
2 3 mana   Orzhov Cluestone
1     Golgari Guildgate
1     Orzhov Guildgate
4     Plains
5     Swamp
6     Forest

The format strongly encourages three-color decks, which can lead to some shaky mana bases but which I enjoy (in theory) because I like a slower game so that things can develop and we have a chance to play our high-cost cards.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get a single Pestilence in my Dragon’s Maze packs (and yes, I recognize that since it’s an uncommon I probably had less than a 50% chance of getting one). I also did not get any Guildgates in my colors other than in my two guild packs, which meant not playing any Gatekeepers.

My pool had 4 of the 6-cost Maze Elementals, but none of them did much for my deck so I didn’t play any of them, deciding to go for efficiency instead. I wondered if I should have played an Armored Wolf-Rider instead of the Golgari Longlegs, since a 4/6 body might have been more useful than a 5/4 body, but on balance it probably didn’t make much difference.

I wasn’t going to put Guardian of the Gateless in my deck at first, but I overheard people at the table behind me talking about it and saying that it was a really good card, so I decided to run it, and it was quite useful when I was able to play it.

Anyway, other than worrying about my mana base I was pretty happy with my deck. Due to my mana base I generally elected to go second, figuring the extra card would let me smooth out my mana curve. Overall my strategy was to overrun anyone who stumbled with my cheap creatures, and otherwise try to stall them out and win through Extort and eventually-superior biomass on the ground.

My first match I played against an aggressive Boros deck, who stumbled in the first game, ran me over with a nifty attack combo in the second game (Riot Piker and Madcap Skills), but I dealt with his stuff in the third game and managed to pull out a win.

My second match was against a Selesnya deck piloted by a player who didn’t seem very experienced. I swept the board with Gift of Granite, but he reloaded and we stalled out. He made an ill-considered attack, I managed to Extort him down to near-death (with help from Deathrite Shaman), and then overran him with all my bodies. But the game took 35 minutes and we didn’t have time to finish the second game, which gave me the win.

This put me tied for first place, so I was matched up against a very good Selesnya/Orzhov deck. We split the first two games, and the third game came down to the time limit. But he played Tesya, Envoy of Ghosts (he apparently had two of them in his deck!), which I didn’t have a way to deal with, and I couldn’t stall him until time was called, so I ended up losing.

The fourth match put me up against another Boros deck, and this we stalled out in the first game again. Unfortunately although it was very close, I wasn’t able to win this one. In the second game he played a Desecration Demon, but I managed to topdeck Grisly Spectacle (using a Cluestone to get there). He reloaded, but I played Gift of Granite. I think I could have won this one, but we ran out of time, so I lost the match.

The fifth match I played a Rakdos deck run by one of the guys I’d sat with while doing deck construction. He got land-shorted the first game, and then I drew plenty of removal in the second game. We played the third game and I won again – my deck was just too fast for him, somehow.

So all-in-all I went 3-2 in my five matches, and was competitive in my other two. I did misplay from time to time, but I don’t think they were decisive in any of my matches; overall I was pretty happy with how I did. I finished in eighth place, winning three booster packs.

I’ve also been happy with the people I’ve played with at Illusive, as they’re not generally clearly better players than me (as has been the case when I’ve gone toChannel Fireball), and they’re all friendly to play with. The game space is a little cramped, but they run the events efficiently so we’re never sitting around waiting for things to begin. We actually finished the event over an hour earlier than projected! So I hung out and chatted with folks for a while afterwards. I should go there for Friday night drafting sometime.

So all things considered the prerelease was just as much fun as I’d expected, and I’m looking forward to drafting the block once it’s out, as I think it should be a very interesting experience with some nifty strategies to try out.

Return to Ravnica

Last night I got together with some people at work to play some Magic. What made this a little different is that I had never met any of these folks before. There’s been a mailing list for Magic around for a while, but it’s been long-dormant. A few newer folks joined it and organized a few games, and last night I went to join in.

Originally we were planning to do a booster draft, but one guy had not done a draft before, and another expressed a preference for sealed deck, so we decided to do sealed instead. We played Return to Ravnica, which I had already done one sealed deck game with my friend Subrata, and it was an underwhelming experience, mainly because our pool of cards was pretty lame. So I hoped that this would be a better one.

While we were opening our packs, I joked that I was opening rares that were useless in limited (like Grave Betrayal and Guild Feud, both of which I opened). Then I joked that it was time to choose the wrong colors for my deck.

I wasn’t too impressed with my deck when I built it, but it turned out to be an absolute powerhouse, winning all six games I played. Heck, arguably it was more my deck that won than me.

Here’s the 40-card deck I played:

# Cost P/T Card
1 2/1 Dryad Militant
2   Swift Justice
2 0/1 Centaur’s Herald
1   Giant Growth
1 2/2 Keening Apparition
1 2/2 Drudge Beetle
2   Sundering Growth
1 2/2 Precinct Captain
1 2/2 Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
1   Avenging Arrow
1 3/2 Selesnya Sentry
1   Aerial Predation
1 2/3 Sunspire Griffin
1 2/2 Azorius Justicar
1 5/5 Deadbridge Goliath
1 3/3 Skymark Roc
1   Trostani’s Judgment
1 8/8 Risen Sanctuary
1 5/7 Angel of Serenity
1     Azorius Guildgate
1     Hallowed Fountain
1     Selesnya Guildgate
1     Transguild Promenade
7     Plains
6     Forest
1     Island

This might not be the very best deck I could have built – neither Aerial Predation nor Sundering Growth are great cards – but it still worked very well. Even those two cards served their role, killing a flyer and getting rid of a few pesky enchantments. I did not get much use out of either the Populate or the Scavenge mechanics on my cards (I think I Populated once in six games, and never Scavenged), but the Azorius Justicar’s Detain ability was handy multiple times.

This is an aggro deck with a wonderful curve: I’m usually laying down serious beatdown by turn 4, and I often have options to kill my opponent’s creatures, keep him from killing mine, or just to play my creatures in the right order so I end up with my best stuff on the table by the time he runs out of removal. Precinct Captain is a beast which runs away with the game if left unchecked, and Deadbridge Goliath is just ridiculous in limited. Inevitably I just overran my opponents with my sheer number of creatures.

I splashed blue for Skymark Roc only because I had filled 21 of my card slots and was hard-pressed for the last card. I decided the Roc was just so much better than my marginal white and green cards that I would try to shoehorn it in. It only showed up once, but it was the all-star of that game.

The only change I made to my deck was I removed a Plains and added a Forest after my first game; getting my small green creatures out on turns 1 and 2 was critical, so I think that helped.

I’ve been running 18 land in my 40-card limited decks since I read an article a few years ago about why this is a good idea. I wish I could find the article, but the basic argument is that you lose more games by being mana-short than by being mana-flooded. Ironically, for aggro decks like this one where the majority of the cards are cheap (16 of my 22 spells cost 3 mana or less), hitting your land drops can be even more important since you want to make sure you put the pressure on early and don’t miss an opportunity. But 18 land also gave me the flexibility to play 2 spells costing 7 (and the Angel of Serenity won a game for me singlehandedly; I drew the Risen Sanctuary once when I could have cast it, but it was superfluous by that point).

Anyway, the guys I was playing with were a lot of fun too. It’s been a while since I’ve met a bunch of new people at work, so this was a neat change of pace. And it reminded me how much I enjoy playing limited Magic, especially when everything comes together.

The Answer

Today marks another orbit around the sun for me, and this year I’ve turned the age of The Answer – a frivolous connection, but one I was happy to play up when talking about it.

I threw my annual birthday party last night. I’ve been doing less well as the years roll on at planning my party in advance, I think because I get back into the swing of work after New Year’s, then get distracted by things like my book discussion group, and then worry about inviting too many people, or too few, or something. Anyway, this year I didn’t send the invitation until last Wednesday night. On the other hand, a late invite does tend to polarize the responses – people are either available or not, and probably not going to have something else come up. Anyway, maybe I’ll do a little better next year.

We got a pretty good turnout this year, spread out over more than 8 hours: My cow-orker Joar and his wife arrived earlier with their infant daughter E. E was very well behaved, and was fascinated by the cats once she saw them. (The cats, of course, took one look at her and said, “Oh hell no.”) And our friends Lisa and Michel came by with their daughter I, who is now three, and who loves when she visits to spend the whole time playing with me. So I had to tell her every so often that I was going to go talk to other people for a while. She was very well behaved about it, too. She was full of energy, so I did play with her for a while.

We broke out the cake (from the Prolific Oven) and ice cream (from Rick’s) before the folks with young kids left. An eclectic group of folks from in and out of work showed up, which was nice since for a little while I wasn’t sure many would show up. But the usual fun time was had by all, and I’m grateful to everyone who came.

Today was my actual birthday, and I threw the party yesterday so that I could pretty much sit on my ass all day. Other than the Patriots utterly collapsing against the Jets (reminiscent of their “barely showed up to play” Super Bowl performance against the Giants a few years ago), it turned out to be a pretty good plan. Debbi took me out for brunch, we took a little walk to Starbucks, and otherwise just stayed home. I cooked dinner, did some reading, petted the cats, and hung out with Debbi.

I also did a Scars of Mirrodin draft on Magic Online, and my birthday gift to myself was that I won the draft, after never advancing past the second match in previous tries! It wasn’t even particularly close, as I had a decent bit of luck but also felt like I was generally playing better than my opponents, playing patiently much of the time and pressing my advantage when I had the chance. I only lost one game of the seven I played. Definitely a nice outcome – maybe I’m generally getting better.

Seems like the weekend has just flown by. Unlike some folks, I don’t have tomorrow off from work. Still, despite my worry about lining things up for my birthday each year, I always do enjoy celebrating it. It’s been a good time.

Long Time No Draft

Since I recently introduced my cow-orker Sean to our Monday night Magic group, I decided to take him up on his suggestion to go with him for a Magic 2011 draft yesterday afternoon. Sean goes to Legends of Comics & Games, a store in Vallco Mall which somehow has survived and even thrived as that mall has come near to death and then slowly come back to life. (Oddly, the store seems to lack both a web site and a Facebook page.)

I’ve done drafts at a couple other places in the area, and this one seems like the friendliest and lowest-pressure among them, so I’ll probably go back just for that reason. It would be nice to draft once a month or so, if Debbi is willing to sacrifice part of a weekend every so often for me to go off and do so. 🙂

This week’s draft was Magic 2011, and it’s my first draft on about two years, since Shadowmoor. Despite visions of first-picking a Grave Titan, in fact my first pack was not very exciting, and I decided to take Corrupt and see if I could force mono-black. In fact, the black poured in from the right, and I did indeed end up mono-black, only taking other colors when there was no black left in a pack. My one big decision came in deciding whether to take a second Corrupt, or a Nantuko Shade. Others agreed it was a tough choice, and felt the Shade (which is what I took) was defensible because if I actually dropped it on turn 2 it would be hard for any decks to deal with. In fact as things played out Corrupt would have helped more, but that was purely situational.

My deck seemed so-so, in particular it felt light on creatures. But I did have a Demon of Death’s Gate, which I looked forward to playing. I also had a pair of Duress.

I won’t detail the games greatly; I lost my first match 1-2 against a blue/white deck; in the deciding game I double-mulliganed, got him on the ropes anyway, then stalled out and finally lost. The second match I won 2-1 in three lightning-fast games against a red/blue deck. My big lesson from the first two games was learning how effective Quag Sickness is in mono-black.

The third match was the most interesting, against a green/white deck which was nearly all creatures. So after the first game I sideboarded out Duress in favor of a pair of Deathmarks (woo-hoo!). We split the first two games, and played the decider. I got out three creatures, but he was starting to build up defense, so I played my Demon of Death’s Gate, which put him on a 2-turn clock. He winced, said he wasn’t sure how he’d get out of this, drew for his next turn – and Pacified my demon. Ugh. Then we each started building up creatures (I sacrificed my Demon to a Viscera Seer, hoping I could bring it back with Rise from the Grave), and were in a stalemate. I was at 5 life, he was at 11, and I started just drawing land. Oddly he decided not to attack – I think he could have won if he started applying pressure – and I observed that the dam was going to burst soon. As I was drawing, he remarked that I could draw the right removal and break the deadlock. I looked at my card and said, “Or I can Corrupt you for 12.” He put his head in his hand and we shook hands.

I was slightly amused that I was quite a bit older than most of the players – I played against two high schoolers and a 20-year-old. Though there were a couple of people older than me, there. It was also an object lesson in, well, financial means, since most of the younger folks were interested in trading cards (imagine that, trading trading cards!) whereas I tend to just buy most of the cards I want (except for the most expensive ones). Still, as with any game, once you sit down to play you’re on equal footing.

So I had a lot of fun, and won a free pack of M11 for my efforts. By the next time I draft, Scars of Mirrodin might be out, and that ought to be a completely different experience.

Deck List: Cascading Haste

The new Magic set, Alara Reborn, has a new mechanic making a lot of buzz: cascade, in which when you play a spell with cascade, you can play another spell of lesser value – but (usually) selected randomly from your library – for free. Every Magic player loves to play things for free, right? So I had to build a deck with this.

Of course, it took practically no time for someone to come up with a tournament-competitive deck using cascade, which is surely a lot better than my deck. But what the heck.

This deck is based around what seems to be the most popular cascade card, Bloodbraid Elf. The main feature of Bloodbraid Elf is that it’s a 3/2 with haste. So I decided to build a deck around creatures with haste:

2 1(rg) 1/1 Tattermunge Witch
4 RR 1/1 Slith Firewalker
4 RG 2/2 Rip-Clan Crasher
2 2G 2/2 Primal Forcemage
1 1RR 4/2 Viashino Sandstalker
1 1GG 2/2 Eternal Witness
4 (rg)(rg)(rg) 3/3 Boggart Ram-Gang
4 2RG 3/2 Bloodbraid Elf
22 Creatures
4 1G   Seal of Primordium
3 1R   Incinerate
3 RG   Colossal Might
3 2R   Puncture Blast
3 1GG   Gaea’s Anthem
16 Other Spells
3     Fire-Lit Thicket
3     Shivan Oasis
8     Mountain
8     Forest
22 Lands

My goal in building this deck was to minimize the number of cards I could cascade into which would ever be unplayable. Since our metagame makes enchantment and artifact removal a must – especially since this is a largely creature-based deck – I needed a Naturalize-like card, and the enchantment Seal of Primordium was perfect for that. I also like Incinerate and the withering Puncture Blast to clear the way for the creatures. Colossal Might is really the only card which might not be playable (since it can’t target the cascading Elf), but it’s so useful in pumping up the relatively small creatures that I wanted to use it.

With all the hasted creatures, Primal Forcemage is quite potent (and if an Elf cascades into it, then it pumps up the Elf!) – especially with Viashino Sandstalker. Tattermunge Witch provides an outlet for any extra mana and a way to run over blocking creatures.

In play, the deck is a little under-landed – deliberately, since no spell costs more than 4 – and it lacks a true finisher, or a way to deal with big threats. It might do pretty well in duels, but it runs out of steam in multiplayer, relying on drawing 1 or 2 elves for card advantage.

When I rework it, I think it needs a finisher, like Overrun. But larger spells would require more mana. (And then there’s Protean Hulk, which seemed like a great idea when I thought of it, except that creatures fetched when it dies don’t get played, they get put into play, so their Cascade abilities wouldn’t trigger. Alas.)

I’m not sure what I think of the Slith Firewalkers. They’re so vulnerable until they get going. Then again, any 3-cost creature with haste is going to be relatively wimpy; the Boggart Ram-Gangs are really the best you can do in that category.

So it’s an interesting base to start from, but I’m not sure how much potential the deck really has. It is fun to play out a lot of hasted creatures, though, so I’ll tinker with it a bit to see what I can do with it.

(Incidentally, the deck is pretty close to being Standard-legal. Swap in Hell’s Thunder and Jund Hackblade, and replace the Seals and Gaia’s Anthems with something appropriate – more burn, perhaps – and it would probably work pretty similarly. The big loss would be the Primal Forcemage effect.)

Deck List: Giantbaiting Warriors

Kicking off my occasional series of Magic deck lists is this mono-green beatdown deck based on Jacob Van Lunen’s “Dear Giantbaiting” deck. For an explanation of the environment I play my decks in, read this.

My deck is largely similar to his, but I did make several changes:

4 G 1/1 Essence Warden
3 G 2/2 Nettle Sentinel
4 1G 2/2 Bramblewood Paragon
1 1G 4/3 Talara’s Battalion
4 2G 2/2 Imperious Perfect
2 (rg)(rg)(rg) 3/3 Boggart Ram-Gang
1 2GG 4/4 Chameleon Colossus
1 3GGG 3/3 Nacatl War-Pride
20 Creatures
2 XG   Hurricane
3 1G   Naturalize
4 3   Obsidian Battle-Axe
4 2(rg)   Giantbaiting
2 3G   Hunting Triad
2 2GG   Harmonize
1 2GGG   Overrun
18 Other Spells
1     Treetop Village
21     Forest
22 Lands

The neat thing about Van Lunen’s deck is that it’s built around a single card – Giantbaiting – but the cards it uses to enable that card also fit together very nicely, so it’s actually a pretty potent deck even if you never draw Giantbaiting, because ultimately it’s built around Elves and Warriors, who play together quite well.

The major changes I made to the deck are these:

  • I took out the mana-generating elves (Llanowar Elves, Boreal Druid). This deck is pretty cheap – only 2 spells cost more than 4 mana, and it runs only 22 lands – so I was rarely happy when I drew one.
  • In multiplayer, the original deck didn’t have a lot of staying power; it would stall out easily. To mitigate this, I added some Essence Wardens, since life gain works well in multiplayer, and works well with Giantbaiting, too. This tends to let me stick around to try to reload if I stall out, and I added to Harmonizes to help me reload.
  • Our environment tends to have lots of enchantments and artifacts, so Naturalize was needed. (Beatdown decks are really sad if they get thwarted by Ensnaring Bridge or Meekstone.
  • The deck needed some sort of damage-dealer, so I went with 2 Hurricanes.
  • Chameleon Colossus, Talara’s Battalion and Nacatl War-Pride are there to add some beef. Arguably I could replace any or all of them with Wren’s Run Vanquisher (which Van Lunen used). I’m not sure whether the Vanquisher or the Battalion is the better card.

Ideally the first few turns involve dropping Essence Wardens, Nettle Sentinels and Bramblewood Paragons, before either playing Giantbaiting or re-stocking with Harmonize.

This deck destroys opponents who start slowly; turn 3 or 4 Giantbaiting can put another player on the ropes even in multiplayer when unblocked. The Obsidian Battle-Axes are a little hard to use without the elvish mana acceleration, but they also tend to draw opponents’ Disenchants and Naturalizes in our game, so their utility is somewhat limited.

Bramblewood Paragon and Imperious Perfect both make Chameleon Colossus devastating, since he’s pro-black and too big for many burn spells.

I keep hoping I can play a Bramblewood Paragon/Obsidian Battle-Axe/Nacatl War-Pride combo sometime just for fun, but it hasn’t happened yet. A second Chameleon Colossus would probably be better anyway, but I don’t actually own one. But I have managed to swing for 18 in one turn with Giantbaiting (and that was after they Naturalized the Battle-Axe).

I’ll probably play around with the high-end creatures a bit (candidates include Jedit Ojanen of Efrava, Roughshod Mentor, or even Sosuke, Son of Seshiro), or see if I can add some sort of removal (a challenge in a green deck), but the core of the deck is pretty solid, and a lot of fun to play.

Our Monday Night Magic Metagame

I’ve mentioned that I play Magic with some friends on Monday nights. I want to write about Magic more than I do, but in order to do so I ought to give a primer on our competitive environment, since that’s very important for understanding the kinds of decks we play. So here I go!

(Anyone who doesn’t care a whit about Magic can just move on. I expect most of the traffic I get on my Magic articles will be from people surfing in from Google anyway.)

At a high level, our metagame environment looks like this:

  • Constructed decks.
  • Vintage format: Any card ever published (other than the Un-sets) is technically legal.
  • Multiplayer games, especially 2-headed giant and 5-way star
  • No card penalty for mulligans, but we rarely mulligan for reasons other than <2 lands or extreme color screw.
  • Proxy cards are allowed.
  • Some people play the same set of decks every week, some bring new decks regularly.
  • Most people play a different deck each game.
  • Quite a few decks are based around cards from the powerful Urza block (I’ll probably see at least one deck with Rancor each week).

Basically, we play games for fun, and try to keep everybody involved. If you get an initial draw that would just be no fun to play, then you can get a new draw. We rarely play the top tournament-competitive decks, for two reasons: First, they don’t always do as well in a multiplayer environment as they do in duels, and second because if you have a deck that can win almost every time, what fun is it to keep playing it?

Most of our decks are creature-based because it’s hard to get off a combo which can kill multiple other players. And that means that creature removal is very popular. So we see a lot of Lightning Bolts and Wraths of God and similar spells, as well as creature defenses such as Caltrops, Ensnaring Bridge, and AEther Flash. And that means that enchantment and artifact destruction spells like Naturalize are necessary, too. We do have a few entirely creatureless decks lurking around.

One thing I like about multiplayer is that games often go on for a long time, so you frequently make your 7th or 8th land drop even without mana acceleration, and thus you can play some more expensive spells than you can in duel. I think the large amount of removal accounts for this: There’s usually at least one person interested in killing your creatures, so it’s difficult to kill anyone in just a few turns. I think the fact that the game can progress over many turns (sometimes many, many turns) leads to some very interesting games, and makes some decks viable that wouldn’t be in a duel, or more strictly competitive, environment. (I like limited play for much the same reason.)

My own decks have the additional constraint that I almost never play proxy cards, especially of powerful and rare cards like Damnation. This means that I run 1-of or 2-of many cards in my decks, since that’s all I have, so I don’t build decks around those cards. But it also means my decks tend to have several modular parts that interact in different ways, depending on what draw I happen to get.

Also, since I’m still buying new cards and most of the group isn’t, that means that I’m usually introducing completely new cards into the metagame which they haven’t seen before. I think the card I’ve introduced that’s made the biggest splash has been Austere Command, since it can wipe the board of creatures as well as cripple decks which rely on enchantments or artifacts.

By convention, we tend not to play some of the unusually powerful cards in Magic’s history, such as the Power Nine cards, or Sol Ring. This is partly because only one of the group owns many of these cards, but he doesn’t find playing unbalanced decks very fun. Plus he’s the host, so he sets the house rules. 🙂

All-in-all it’s a pretty challenging environment, but it also allows a lot of flexibility in deck construction. And it’s a fun bunch of people.

I’ll run an article on one of my better-tested decks from time to time, with the thinking behind the deck and how it’s worked out in practice.