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Archive for May, 2009

When I’m playing cards with my brother, I often bitch at him for not shuffling his deck a whole lot before games. Maybe he’ll “power shuffle” (which I now know is called “table shuffling”, distributing the cards into 5- 7 piles) once and then do a little “overhand shuffling”.  I, on the other hand, will “power shuffle’ a couple of times each game, and then overhand shuffle quite a bit afterwards.

The funny thing is we both get mana choked/screwed about the same number of times. My brother finds this funny because when it happens to him I say it is because he doesn’t shuffle enough.

“Well, what is your excuse then?” he asks. “You suck at shuffling?”

Thanks to Mike Flores and his article over at Five with Flores, I know the answer to that question. I do, in fact, suck at shuffling.

According to Flores, table shuffling does not get rid of mana clumps or even do a decent job of randomizing a deck. In fact, he’s shown how a deck can be rigged by table shuffling. I think back to a FNM a month or so ago where a kid told me he was warned at a big-time event for “power shuffling”. Now I know why. When I did it, I always made sure to overhand shuffle quite a bit afterwards so nobody would think I was countin’ the cards.

However, if table shuffling isn’t so good at randomizing the cards, I’m going to learn to “riffle shuffle” as Mr. Flores suggests. I can think of a few games last Friday where I lost because I drew 4 non-land cards the entire game. In the B/W mirror, this really sucks, FYI. Most of the big-league players agree, fully randomizing your deck can really cut your losses due to repeated crappy draws. Who wouldn’t want that edge? Losing to some smart-ass kid with the deck his daddy built for him because you’re mana screwed is not fun.

Flores also mentioned the need for shuffling your opponents deck, as opposed to just cutting it. I’ve heard this before and follow this rule religiously. I’ve actually seen dudes mana-weave and then get all sad-faced when I pick up their deck and shuffle.

While I’m practicing my riffles and frowning at slightly bent cards, the guys at Grand Prix Seattle/Tacoma are playing away for the big money. I’m really curious to see what goes down. Five-Color Blood Braid finished first on Saturday, and Faeries *gasp* finished second. Just Jund color Bloodbraid Decks,  B/W tokens and Cascade Swans are also in the mix. A lot of people must have expected Cascade Swans, because the fae look to make up 20% of the field. Ouch! I am curious to see who wins the battle between the Bloodbraid decks and Faeries.

Of course B/W might just pimp slap them both, but I think it is a tough fight for the weenies. Sweepers and counters; oh my…god, just let me have a few tokens already.

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I live under a rock, so I don’t own an iPhone or a Crackberry. Hell, I don’t even have an iPod. I am 30 years old and not an artist or into “indy” music, so, like Lauren, I’m simply not “cool” enough for Apple.

Okay, that’s not true. I just don’t want/need them.

I do sometimes poke my head out from under my rock (if the sun isn’t too bright) to see what’s going on. Recently I discovered, via a thread at the forums at StarCity Games, some people have made an, uh, “app” called The Sylvan Archives which apparently does all sorts of cools stuff like track life totals and contain the entire MTG Gatherer database on your iPhone thingy.

Well, I was shocked so I decided to see what else was available for your little hand-held electronic leashes.

The Sylvan Library
This one seems to have everything. It has the Gatherer database, dice rollers, coin tossers, life counters, upkeep reminders, game timers and all sorts of other neat features like magic site RSS feeds and Facebook integration. I am especially impressed that the designers saw fit to make sure you could use poison counters. Poison counters, who would have thought of that?

If you like to do everything on your iPhone that you could just as easily do in RL, this is for you.

MTG db
This one just features the Gatherer database and features the oracle rulings as well. It seems like it had some problems at first, but apparently they’ve been fixed.

MtG Score Keeper , MTG Tools and Magic Counter
These are pretty basic life keepers. Some roll dice and flip coins. None of them feature poison counters though. Bummer.

I don’t know anything about these, who makes them or how reliable they are. If you run off and download them, don’t bitch to me if your fancy iPhone “crashes” or “freezes” or asks you to play a game of Global Thermonuclear War.

In other news, here’s something else I didn’t know was in existance, yet another deck with cascade cards innit. This one has been constructed by master Kyle Sanchez, who took it to 3rd place at the Houston PTQ.

Cascade Chronic, by Kyle Sanchez, seen on Starcity Games (or directly here, if  you have a premium account that is. I would suggest one. They are nice.).

Maindeck:Artifacts
1 Behemoth Sledge

Creatures
3 Anathemancer
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Putrid Leech

Enchantments
2 Runed Halo

Instants
3 Bituminous Blast
3 Naya Charm

Sorceries
4 Captured Sunlight
4 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Wrath Of God

Basic Lands
1 Plains
1 Swamp

Lands
2 Exotic Orchard
2 Fire-lit Thicket
1 Llanowar Wastes
4 Reflecting Pool
2 Savage Lands
2 Sulfurous Springs
4 Treetop Village
1 Twilight Mire
3 Vivid Grove
2 Vivid Meadow

Sideboard:1 Runed Halo
2 Wheel Of Sun And Moon
2 Chaotic Backlash
3 Violent Outburst
2 Identity Crisis
3 Pyroclasm
2 Thought Hemorrhage

This deck seems to follow the same idea as the other Bloodbraid Elf cascade decks; cast free spells, attack for some life points, kill some creatures. 

The additions to this deck are interesting though. Naya Charm, like most of the charms from Shards, is pretty interesting. The Naya Charm can return any number of relevant cards, kill one of the many 3 toughness creatures in play these days and can tap the enemy down for an alpha strike or for defense. Speaking of defense, this deck seems to be heavy on the D. Four Wraths clean the board if they start getting cluttered up by tokens and two Runed Halos can be set as a safeguard for particular threats like Anathemancer, Thought Hemorrhage and Seismic Assault. Captured Sunlight gets back lost life points.

If you want to know more about how the deck actually works, I would read Sanchez’s article. If you want my take on it, here it is. The deck blows up creatures with Maelstrom Pulse and Wrath of God,  then repopulates the right (read: your) side of the board by cascading with Bloodbraid Elf and Captured Sunlight. Naya Charm provides some recursion too. It seems like a solid plan against tokens, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. I’m sure the guy at my FNM who has stated many times he wants to sex Mr. Kyle Sanchez up will be running it tomorrow, so I’m betting I will get my chance to see it in action.

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Alara Reborn’s cascade mechanic has breathed life into the ol’  seismic swans deck, giving it a shot of adrenaline and enabling it to take the crown at the Grand Prix in Barcelona last week.  The victory was quite a surprise to a lot of people who weren’t expecting to see the pissy birds back from tier 2 exile.  The return of the seismic deck was barely a blip on the radar pre-barcelona, but it was there if you were looking. Even if players had noticed, I doubt anybody though it would work as smoothly as it did.

Cascade Swans, by Grand Prix Barcelona winnner Joel Calafell

60 cards
2  Battlefield Forge
2  Cascade Bluffs
4  Fire-Lit Thicket
2  Ghitu Encampment
4  Graven Cairns
1  Mountain
4  Reflecting Pool
4  Spinerock Knoll
4  Treetop Village
4  Vivid Crag
4  Vivid Grove
1  Vivid Marsh
4  Vivid Meadow
1  Vivid Meadow


41 lands 4  Bloodbraid Elf
4  Swans of Bryn Argoll


8 creatures
2  Ad Nauseam
2  Bituminous Blast
2  Captured Sunlight
1  Primal Command
4  Seismic Assault


11 other spells
Sideboard 
2  Aura of Silence
4  Countryside Crusher
2  Maelstrom Pulse
1  Primal Command
2  Vexing Shusher
2  Wickerbough Elder
2  Wrath of God


15 sideboard cards

There are different variations to be sure. The forums at Starcity Games and MTG salvation are abuzz with arguments for and against about the inclusion of Spinrock Knoll, Ad Nauseam and Countryside Crusher. However, I’m going to refer to the Calafell deck.

Cascade Swans works like this: put Seismic Assault on the table and then either a. play swans and then draw enough lands from burning the swans for 2 to kill the opponent or b. finish the opponent with Seismic Assault by drawing enough lands from Ad Nauseam. Seismic Assault can be hard-cast, or the little deckwhore Bloodbraid elf can consistently find if for you as can Captured Sunlight. The tutoring effect of cascade in a deck full of lands is sick. This combined with a very limited number of spells the cascade cards can play almost always finds you the right card.

Ugh! It makes me shiver just thinking about it.

The deck can win with with the beatdown too, although it is not as exciting. Man-lands provide some offense alongside the Bloodbraid Elf and the swans.  Contryside Crusher in the second game can provide some unexpected muscle, as many players board out most creature-kill against the deck. However, it isn’t often a seismic assault doesn’t come along, and even without a swans or Ad Nauseam, there are plenty of lands to feed to it to kill opposing monsters and chip away at the other guy.

At first, it looks like the deck would roll over to anything playing fast creatures, but it doesn’t. The swans/seismic assault combo is easy enough to pull off the comobo consistantly by turn 5-7. Until then it can sucessfully ignore pretty much everything save for the most righteous opening hands. Man-lands provide a little defense and a Seismic Assault with a few extra lands can stave off more than you would think.

The deck is pretty resilient too. Many people think the right hate will completely shut the deck down, but it is harder than one might think. The message boards claim Pithing Needle and Runed Halo will totally shut the deck down, but the swans player has plenty of board options to deal with these. “Haters” need to remember non-swan decks will have to draw the hate to win, but the swan deck just needs to play its original game.

Time will tell if the Cascade Swans deck will flicker out quickly (as did its predecessor) now that people know what to expect and can build accordingly. The deck is good against quite a few strategies that cannot win very quickly, but looks weak against a control deck running more than a set of Cyptic Commands. The closest thing to control it faced, at least in the finals, was  a 5CC piloted by Riccardo Neri. Cascade is also a real bitch for the counterspell player.

It might be a while before the deck sees the right  strategy to counter it though. The standard format is currently hostile to true control decks, so the swans might have a go until super-control finds a way back. Maybe it will be 5CC or a rejuvinated Faerie deck (which is pretty pissed about the premature funeral), but it will be something. Control always finds a way to come back and ruin the fun.

Always.

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Deck Technology

 The standard metagame is somewhat paradoxical at the moment. The format is pretty hostile to creatures, yet creature decks are at the forefront of the pack. Control decks are slipping under the waves of critters too numerous for traditional sweepers. You’re more likely to see three spirit tokens and a Kitchen Finks across the board than an empty crater the turn after you cast Wrath of God. Token decks have plenty of ways to juice up 1/1 tokens in a jiffy, putting them well out of range for Volcanic Fallout or Jund Charm.

 So what to do? Play creatures. Don’t just play any creatures though; the current format is so bloated with removal that only the most efficient creatures are worth your mana. Throwing out a ton of Kithkin just doesn’t cut it anymore. If you’re going to risk paying for something that’s probably going to get terminated, terrored, pulsed, pathed, burnt to a crisp or swept into the graveyard the next turn, it better be worth the tapped lands. It should have an immediate effect on the game, even if it dies. Remember, forcing your opponent to use removal counts. If they don’t have to kill it, or it doesn’t give you some kind of advantage besides having a body on the board, it probably isn’t worth playing.

 Here is a list of some of the most efficient creatures seen in the top standard decks and why they’re there. 

Forgetender

She can do amazing things with a red-hot poker too.

Burrenton Forge-Tender
With all of the red colored sweepers, this hard lady is a necessity if you want to keep your 1/1’s and 2/2’s around long enough for them hit the gym. She can also protect your gourd from various burn and mancers with the first name of Anathe. She’s not too bad at blocking things like Bloodbraid elf or Boggart Ram-Gang either. At one mana, she’s a bargain, and usually quick enough to get in for a few jabs if you draw her early enough.

Figure of Destiny
One of the best guys printed in a while, Figure of Destiny a man for all seasons. He starts out as a 1/1 for one, but he’s also a 2/2 a 4/4 and an 8/8 flying first-striker. It gets costly to pump him up to his full potential but even if he sits as a 2/2 for most of the game the threat is always there. He can also be de-pumped in response to a spell or effect which would take control of him.

 Kitchen Finks
This guy is everywhere, and for a very good reason. He’s the bane of many aggressive decks, not only providing life gain but a sturdy blocker; twice. He’s strong enough to take out a good number of early threats and come back for more. At a reasonable price to boot, this guy is easily one of the most efficient creatures around.   

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Friday Night Fights

It is official, Jund colors are good. Anybody looking at the metagame with a discerning eye can see the possibilities of the colors red, green and black. This is why most of the new Alara Reborn inspired decks run those colors. Also, when 5 of the top 8 players at my 60 man FNM were playing some form of Jund Midrange, I start thinkin’.

Damn, Chapin is right again. Anathemancer and Bloodbraid Elf are that good.

The best part about the Jund showing is the deck that took home the money was designed by me and my brother, who piloted it to victory.

Here is the Jund Mid-Range we built, which I have nicknamed the KADA deck.

Jund Mid-Range (KADA), by Colin & Morgan Merry

Creatures
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Anathemancer
4 Bloobraid Elf
3 Broodmate Dragon
2 Chameleon Colossus
2 Shriekmaw
2 Cloudthresher
Sorceries
4 Maelstrom Pulse
Instants
4 Terminate
2 Jund Charm
2 Magma Spray
2 Makeshift Mannequin
Basic Land
4 Mountain
2 Swamp
1 Forest
Non-Basic Land
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Savage Lands
3 Ghitu Encampment
2 Fire-lit Thicket
2 Graven Cairns
3 Karplusan Forest

Sideboard
3 Thought Hemorrhage
3 Stillmoon Cavalier
3 Volcanic Fallout
1 Chameleon Colossus
1 Slave to Bolas
4 Blightning

Several things about this deck.

First of all, KADA stands for “kill-all death-all”, a phrase a childhood friend of mine used when we were small children to describe something that caused devastation on a massive scale.

Ex: “Quick, use your kill-all death-all spell on those zombies!”

Second, the deck is an amalgamation of the Jund Mana Ramp Mike Flores was working on at Five with Flores and the Jund Aggro suggested by Patrick Chapin several weeks ago on StarCity Games. Basically, my brother wanted to run something with massive amounts of creature kill and a few win conditions. However, it is hard to win without some bodies on the table these days, and resilient finishers are hard to come by. Even 5CC ran with some muscle. We decided to stick with the overload of kill, but adopted more of a mid range solution as far as creatures went.

Here is a quick breakdown of the deck.

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Magic: The Gathering

At my last local FNM, the metagame was a total mess.  With Shards of Alara out, everybody is looking to find the next hot thing right now before the format solidifies. I saw everything from the net-recommended Jund Aggro and Midrange Bloodbraid decks to W/u Reveillark and crazy, crazy Naya decks. I also saw a good number of home brew decks.

 In fact it was a home-brewed G/u that went home with the money that night, winning over B/G Elves. This made me smile inside because I have a secret obsession; I lerve G/u as a color combination.

The deck also played Lorescale Coatl.

 I did not get to see the deck in its entirety. Aside from the Lorescale Coatl, I saw Kitchen Finks, Noble Hierarch, Sower of Temptation and Overbeing of Myth(?!). It had a nice counterspell suite with Cryptic Command and Broken Ambitions. Gift of the Gargantuan was also there.  Strangely, I did not see a whole lot of card drawing. It also used a mouldy toilet scrubber (Snakeform) for removal.

Lorescale

The glow in his eyes means he's thinkin'; thinkin' about biting.

 It honestly seemed kind of bad to me, and it made me wonder what it faced to get to the finals. It certainly wasn’t built to make the most out of the crazy snake from what I saw. It was an interesting idea though and I wanted to try it out.

Beacuse I love G/u.

First, let’s look at the Lorescale Coatl. He’s not so hot outright. You’re paying three for a 2/2. He dies to everything.  People compare him to fricken Tarmogoyf to talk about how bad he is. However, the snake has got potential. He can get pretty burly just by passing go a few times. If you manage to draw a few cards with him in the game things can get dangerous. He seems good for legacy where they have all sorts of cheap card draw like Brainstorm and Accumulated Knowledge.

Standard is not Legacy though. Essentially, he starts out as an overpriced Grizzly Bear with the potential to turn into Tarmogoyf after a few turns. He is more of a gamble than Tarmogoyf though; you won’t always get value out of him.

 He does seem like fun though.

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It has been several weeks since Alara Reborn has been released and it’s safe to say the new set has added enough good cards to the pool to send some ripples through the standard metagame. Old decks are being tossed or revamped to account for the new tech. Waves of new decks have also begun popping up, and some of them look like they mean business.

 

As far as old strategies go, a few deck lists got an upgrade but it looks like quite a few are losing support from the dealership and may need to evolve into something totally different. From what I’ve seen so far, the only deck remaining strong without a whole lot of changes is B/W tokens.

B/W Tokens

B/W Tokens by Mandee Peralta: 1st place Pro Tour Qualifier in Dallas, Texas

Maindeck:Artifact Creatures
4 Tidehollow ScullerCreatures
3 Cloudgoat Ranger
3 Kitchen Finks
4 Knight Of The White Orchid
2 Marsh Flitter

Enchantments
3 Glorious Anthem

Instants
3 Path To Exile
3 Zealous Persecution

Planeswalkers
3 Ajani GoldmaneSorceries
4 Spectral ProcessionTribal Enchantments
4 Bitterblossom

Basic Lands
3 Plains
1 Swamp

Lands
3 Arcane Sanctum
3 Caves Of Koilos
4 Fetid Heath
2 Mutavault
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Windbrisk Heights

Sideboard:3 Wispmare
3 Mark Of Asylum
2 Celestial Purge
2 Identity Crisis
3 Thoughtseize
2 Wrath Of God
ImageCALDEVUI

It's quick, but it probably won't be painless.

This nice midrange deck is like the jerk in high school we were jealous of; it does everything. This deck can attack with multiple, cheap threats on both land and in the air. Given a relatively short amount of time these weenies can get pretty big. These same weenies are pretty good defenders, as are Kitchen Finks and Cloudgoat Ranger, who smells funny too. Path to Exile takes care of anything else and Tidehollow Sculler is notorious for ruining perfectly good hands.

The addition of Zealous Persecution is Alara Reborn’s contribution to the B/W Token strategy. This card does amazing things at instant speed. It can turn the tide of battle, especially in a mirror. It can also keep your team alive if the opponent hits the Volcanic Fallout/Jund Charm button. This is fun to cast when they try to burn your guys while you’re on the attack.

This deck works pretty well against aggro, and slow/midrange creature decks. Faerie and spirit tokens are well-known for blocking everything in sight. Finks keeps your life total padded. The deck has access to some solid sideboard cards too,  like Runed Halo, Wrath of God and Mark of Asylum. B/W Tokens is pretty resilient on its own, even with Maelstrom pulse poking around.

Other decks have gotten the re-vamp too, but these new versions of old favorites don’t look much like they used to.

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