Hey; I’m back!

Look for content in the coming weeks. I promise.

Into the Breach of Power - Learning about Vintage

Due to the company I keep, I tend to learn about various formats rather quickly; an eclectic mix of casual players, Wanna-Be-Pros, EDH fanatics, PTQ grinders, Judges of various levels, and Eternal Fanboys. 

I feel comfortable with Standard. I will mess around with Extended as I head off to PTQs. I built Karn for my EDH deck, I’m prepping to take my L1 exam, and I am in love with Limited in all shapes and forms - including Cube drafting! However, Legacy and Vintage are foreign concepts to me. Stax? TPS? Zoo? High Tide? These decks make no sense to me. A format where not all blue decks run Jace because he’s too slow? Jace, too slow? He’s worth a hundred damn dollars a pop right now! Jeez.

Andy Probasco,  a.k.a BrassMan, has urged me to get into Vintage. I decided to give it a looksee, and I liked what I saw. Sure, you have to look at Lotuses and Moxen, but it is still a fascinating format. Andy decided to give me a crash course by practicing some matches against me; first I ran the Unfair Bears deck and learned just how crazy Vintage could be when I laid a land and said go, and he comboed off with storm on his turn and hit me for more than lethal with Tendrils of Agony copied a bajillion times over.

I switched over after a few games to a more traditional deck: A Stax deck made by Allen Fulmer he won a Vintage tournament with at the end of last year. That deck was much better suited to fight against the Brass Man, where I was able to lock him down thanks to Tangle Wire and Thorn of Amethyst and Chalice of the Void to get the victory with a silly little Duplicant.

Those games really got my brain to work. Do I stand a chance with Vintage? If I got enough people together, could I get a running group going? Could I get the guts up to start buying pieces of Power to build some of these decks? 

To answer the questions: Yes, Maybe, and I doubt it for now.

Looking at the various archetypes, I definitely lean towards this Stax build as one I enjoy, and will work on modifying it from there. Despite what I thought, most of the games did not come out to a combo on turn 1 to destroy me (save that one game), and they were fairly interactive. I’m rather excited for this, and will keep writing about my ongoing education in the Eternal World - stay tuned for additions to my standard articles about Standard for writings about Vintage and Legacy!

To Hold a Blade or Rid(g)e the Ox(id): Which Hero to Run?

Boros is a very strong aggro deck; probably one of the few true Tier 1 non-blue decks out there in Standard. The deck has a super low curve, with the peak of the curve hitting 2-6 cards in the 4 CMC slot. Of that, every Boros player has about four decisions to make: Hero of Oxid Ridge, Hero of Bladehold, Bonehoard, and Koth of the Hammer.

Koth is a legitimate bomb, so you obviously want to save about 2 spots in the 75 for him, since too many and your curve gets thrown off - not to mention he’s the card you +1 for the victory swing.

Bonehoard is great in the right metagame. If you’re in a meta full of swarm decks like Kuldotha Rebirth, the mirror match, Elves, and BR Vampires, I would definitely put in a Bonehoard to tutor up with Stoneforge Mystic or mise off the top. In creature-light metagames, it’s much less useful. I wouldn’t run more than 1 of this card in the 75, and I’d be more likely to sideboard him in against a swarm aggro deck than have him in the main.

The question remains: 2WW, or 2RR? Which creature is better to cast on turn 4?

The answer is not as simple as you may think. Right now, there are a lot of 1/x decks in the format. Elves (Matt Nass plug), Valakut (Overgrown Battlements are silly, and who would chump their Lotus Cobra without a Titan on the board?), Tezzeret (Inkmoth Nexus), and the Big Bird; UW Control. That’s not even mentioning the mirror match. With that in mind, Hero of Oxid Ridge is miles better than Bladehold in this current metagame. 4 Power, Haste, and the ability to ignore all those silly Squadron Hawks makes this card great, and add to that the fact that he pumps all your other duders makes him way beyond useful.

However, Type 2 is a fickle mistress. With Caw-Blade (the newest UW control build) dominating standard with wins in Paris and D.C., and the ability to put a combined 15 players into top 16 of both events combined (And that’s not counting the Japanese players running their version of it), the metagame must now learn to deal with that deck or run that deck. I see a lot more people picking up the Squawks (since a 60.86% win percentage of the Caw-Go variants with nearly 400 pilots at PT Paris is just absurd) than generating hate for them. In a month or so, however, that might no longer be the case. People will start playing a lot more sweepers - the non aggro red decks sometimes have upwards of 6 board-sweeper cards between Pyroclasm and Slagstorm - and that 2 toughness guy will go down in power very quickly. Once you start noticing that, I’d switch over to the Hero of Bladehold. She has a much larger posterior, though it is inappropriate to say such things about a lady in most cases. She can take a Slagstorm or a Pyroclasm and stick around to get when you untap.

Her only disadvantage is summoning sickness. You tap out to play Hero of Bladehold on your turn four, and they respond with a Day of Judgement or a Jace-bounce-your-dudette and you have just been Time Walked. But there are ways to play around this. Test out Strider Harness in your Boros build with Hero of Bladehold. It makes your squawks get in for some extra damage before they wrath your board, then you can untap with five mana, play the hero, equip her, 8 your opponent and threaten lethal (before you play any other spells on your next turn) if they cannot deal with the Hero on their next turn. 

Am I saying it is the best strategy? Of course not. You want to try and kill them ON turn 4, not after it. Unfortunately as the metagame shifts, so must we. So get your Hero of Oxid Ridges into your decks for now, but be ready to exchange them for their more feminine counterpart once your opponents start seeing red - and using it to Pyroclasm away your creatures.

Data Dump: Mana Screw and Mana Flood - How common is it, really?

I love data and statistics. It helps me prevent myself from going on tilt by blaming stuff on luck. We play a game that is a combination of skill, variance and chance. We can control Skill, we can manipulate variance, but we cannot control chance. The only thing we can do is understand it. Some of the most common complaints I hear from players is “I only run 22 lands in this deck, yet I keep getting land flooded game after game after game! My deck hates me!” or “I only lose when I get mana screwed! It just happens all the time!”

Does it really happen all that often? Really and truly? Mathematics seems to disagree with anecdotal experience, it seems. In this article, I’ll tell you how often you can expect to draw a land with your typical deck in a static scenario on your first draw step, and within your first four draws. Those are often the most integral points in time to draw any number of lands, and getting too many or too few lands in that point in time can often be the deciding factors in a game. Read on for the details.

Read More

Jace 2.0 alteration done by an artist using the old card frame and “alpha-style” rules text. Original artist is Jason Chan, alteration done is by Noah Posthuma.

Price Check! Kuldotha Red costs $70.04.

With the announcement of the Event Decks on Daily MTG, I instantly recognized the similarities between Into the Breach and Christoffer Andersen’s 4th Place Kuldotha Red deck from SCG Indianapolis. This got me thinking. “How much would it cost to make Kuldotha Red from scratch by buying two Into the Breach event decks, selling or trading the excess cards, and using that to purchase or trade into the missing cards in Kuldotha Red, with a little bit of cash for the difference between the two?”

The resulting cost at this point in time - February 16, 2011 - is $70.04 with no taxes included. How did I get there? Like so:

Read More

Kuldotha Red: Dealing with Devastation (and the Summons thereafter)

Kuldotha Red is one of the best things to happen to the metagame of Standard since M10 and Alara Rotated out of Standard. Red Deck Wins is a deck that is often necessary to give people who might not have the cash for decks that need things such as four Jaces or Primeval Titans to stand a chance on a competitive stage.

Mirrodin Besieged introduced two new things to Aggro that really sent this deck to the limelight: Battle Cry and Contested Warzone. One is a mechanic that has brought back the definite Turn 3 Kill that RDW needs to be viable, and the other provides an uncounterable means to push through extra damage.

One of the more disconcerting cards in that deck is Devastating Summons. Not everyone is as comfortable as others with going down to 0 lands for any reason. I think it’s probably one of the strongest cards in the deck. You just have to know how and when to use it. Just remember: 4 is the lucky number. If you aren’t ready to sacrifice four or more lands, then don’t cast that spell. It also costs only one mana to cast, so here’s the best way to deal with this card:

1. Tap all your to-be-sacrificed lands for mana before you cast the spell. Remember that you can float mana during a step in your turn. That allows you to play around counterspells, since there can be other spells you can play even after you cast that summons. Goblin Bushwhacker is a perfect example. Best case scenario, it resolves and you cast a kicked Bushwhacker to swing in for a minimum of 12 damage, assuming those three creatures are your ONLY attackers. If they have a Mana Leak or a Spell Pierce, you have enough mana floating to pay for it and possibly cast another spell. Worst case scenario, they have a hard counter, but you still have the mana to cast more spells, meaning you can rebound.

2. Be conscious of your game state. If your opponent is playing in colors that have instant mass removal, such as Black Sun’s Zenith, Day of Judgement, or Consume the Meek, as well as the mana to cast it, don’t be afraid to play conservatively for a turn or two. This is common sense, but is even more integral when you have spells that require a sacrifice of a vital resource even before the spell resolves.

3. Don’t cast-go. If you are planning on playing Devastating Summons, have other spells to cast in addition to supplement that plan. Haste critters or direct burn are usually best. Goblin Bushwhacker is the BEST card for this situation, but other cards are still good.

4. 4-6 is primetime. 4 lands is probably the best time to cast this spell, since you have officially moved outside of Bolt range, meaning they need dedicated removal to deal with each critter. 6 lands is probably the most I’d cast this spell for, because beyond that and you run an even greater risk of blowout if something bad happens. 

If you can remain conscious of those four things, you have nothing to fear from this card. If you are comfortable playing Aggro, if you are not afraid to goldfish, and if you are looking for a cheap, effective deck to play at FNM, go for Kuldotha Red. 

What to think about to prepare for your first (or any) Competitive REL Event!

  • Don’t be like that guy on Round 4 in Standard of the SCG Open coverage in Indianapolis and present a 14-card sideboard game two. Always be sure to count your sideboard after every game to make sure you have 15 cards, and always be sure to switch your deck back to pre-board after every match so you don’t get a game loss.
  • Don’t be afraid to RTFC, even on your own cards. Think about how many people left their Zeniths in the bin after casting it during the Standard Open in Indianapolis after MBS rotated in. Those were just the people who were feature matches!
  • Figure out what makes you tilt, and figure out how to cope or prevent the tilt. For me, it’s listening to music. I put my iPod on shuffle, turn the volume down so I can hear my opponent, and I’m good to go.
  • Test, test, test. Set up a Gauntlet of decks to playtest against, of both tier 1.x decks and tier 2 decks that show up a lot. You’re just as likely to face UB Control as you are WWQ Rounds 1-3. Keep statistical track of your win percentages pre-board, post-board, and overall. I think 9 matches per deck should be an accurate representation: 3 2/3 matches pre board, 3 2/3 matches post-board, and 3 2/3 regular matches.
  • Check for stalling if you think they’re stalling. If your opponent takes longer than 3-4 minutes on each turn, ask politely for them to hurry up a little. If they blow you off or make a snippy remark or keep doing it, don’t be afraid to call a judge and ask them to watch the person’s play. You are not going to get in trouble for calling the judge. That’s what they’re there for.

On a related note: Never be afraid to call a judge if you are confused about something or if you feel something fishy is going on. You’re not expected to have a complete comprehension of a Competitive REL and you’re not expected to know exactly what every card does. Be clear and direct, don’t offer erroneous information, don’t lie about anything and keep your story straight. If there’s a dispute, they’re more likely to go with the person who says “I am certain of x and y and fairly certain of z” than the person who goes “well he did x and y… or maybe not but i think so. But i think maybe he did z, but i could have done f and g.” A judge will also be much less harsh on you for calling your own play errors than your opponent calling you on them. 

  • Enjoy your match. Don’t be afraid to be chatty with your opponent. Worst case scenario, they’re a jerk and blow you off but you still enjoy yourself. Best case scenario, you find someone interesting and enjoyable to talk to or possibly glean some information that you might not have gotten if you said nothing past “Draw. Attack. Mana Leak. Pass Turn.” Don’t give away extra information yourself, but have fun. Joking around with your opponent is also a very effective way of preventing tilt after a bad beat or a harsh loss.
  • Sleep. I got to both Nashville and Atlanta a night early with my friend and we both crashed in pretty early that night we got in. We did much better than other people we knew didn’t get any sleep in Nashville, and while I scrubbed out in Atlanta due to a bad metagame call with my deck, my friend made it to the final round of day 1 before being cut from contention. 
  • Focus on a deck you’re comfortable with, rather than focusing on a bunch of decks deck you think will be the “top deck” to find the perfect one. It’s easier to pilot a 1.5 deck you’ve had weeks to practice with than a tier 1 deck you chose the night before the event. Don’t take this as an excuse to pick a weaker deck than you could be piloting, but once you find something that you can win with against a significant portion of the metagame you can start honing it to beat the rest as well.

I know most of this shit sounds pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised. My friend is very good at picking up aggro decks and running with them, which is why he did so well in Atlanta despite it not necessarily being the best deck in the field. I got a decent night’s sleep and took a janky homebrew BG Infect deck to victory in a Standard 8-man win-a-box at Nashville because I wasn’t tired and I knew the deck better than all the UB and UW players in the queue, and had a deck that beat that particular metagame. 


Oh, also going with friends is always good and having something unique to present helps you come across in a better fashion - I have Phyrexia Funny Money from Inkwell Looter for Limited and for when I feel like playing my homebrew Type 2 deck that is always a hit, both with other players and with Judges. If you are thinking of running Kuldotha Red, consider the same artist’s Tuk Tuk and the Grunts tokens for your little gobbo-band. 

Keep this in mind when you go to your next Grand Prix, Pro Tour Qualifier, or Star City Games/TCGPlayer Open Series!

How to play EDH.

(Source: luluscards.com)

Deck Thinning Does Not Work! Or: STOP PLAYING FETCHLANDS IN MONO-COLOR DECKS.

I’ve seen this come up again and again and again. “Why did you shell out for those four Arid Mesas and those four Marsh Flats in your Mono-White deck over four more Plains and four Emeria, The Sky Ruin?” 

"Because they thin my deck!"

Here’s a little hint: No. It does not. Deck thinning is a negative gain concept that has more detriment than payoff. This has been written about many different times, but I’ve even heard some pros say they run fetchlands for thinning. So I would like to address this.

The impact of using fetch lands to remove lands from your deck is statistically negligible in the long run. You are paying an average of 2.5 life per game for a net gain of 1 extra nonland card every 6 games. 

There have been articles written about it, spreadsheets with all the data, and countless discussion points done by more than just myself to support this data. For those that might not be able to conceptualize the graphic in the spreadsheet or don’t feel like clicking on it (it takes me a while too, so this isn’t a jab at anyone - just an assistance and an illustration of my point for those that might not want to click through the link or can’t really get the data), here is what the statistical data presents itself to us:

Assuming you run 4, 8, or 12 fetchlands, here is the earliest you are expected to see a benefit of extra spells drawn within 30 turns:

  • 4 Fetchlands - .5 extra spells by turn 28. ~.60 spells by turn 30.
  • 8 Fetchlands - .5 extra spells by turn 19. 1 extra spell by turn 27. ~1.3 extra spells by turn 30.
  • 12 Fetchlands - .5 extra spells by turn 15. 1 extra spell by turn 21/22. ~1.97 extra spells by turn 30.

How often do your games go to turn 30 or more? How often do they go to turn 20? Most Control vs. Control matchups barely go that long. And even assuming they do go that long, think about how much life you are paying over the course of a regular match to gain that advantage. Here is the Lightning Bolt test for fetchlands - at which point you have given your opponent any number of free Lightning Bolts against you.

  • 4 Fetchlands - On average, you have given your opponent .75 free Lightning Bolts by turn 30, with an average total life loss of 2.45 life at that point.
  • 8 Fetchlands - On average, you have given your opponent 1 free Lightning Bolt around turn 15, and 1.6 free Lightning Bolts by turn 30, with an average total life loss of 5.04 life at that point.
  • 12 Fetchlands - On average, you have given your opponent 1 free Lightning Bolt by turn 9, 2 free Lightning Bolts by turn 23, and 2.3 free Lightning Bolts by turn 30, with an average total life loss of 7.02 life at that point.

Tracking the data, you’re giving yourself about 1 Lightning Bolt’s worth of damage to get 1 extra spell about twelve turns later. 

That isn’t saying there are no reasons to ever run fetchlands. I can think of three awesome reasons off the top of my head.

  1. Landfall. With cards like Plated Geopede, Khalni Heart Expedition, Hedron Crab (for dredge decks), Steppe Lynx, Adventuring Gear, and most of all Lotus Cobra, the cost-benefit analysis is often in the positive for fetchlands, especially considering you don’t immediately have to crack them for any of these cards. Lotus Cobra is the prime example of good fetchlands, since there’s a reason Channel is banned in Legacy. 
  2. Shuffle Effects. Your singleton Baneslayer or Wurmcoil just got Condemned, and your Brainstorm with Jace reveals a Mana Leak, a Plains, and a Celestial Colonnade. You place the two lands back on top, and look at the board position. You REALLY need to draw live next turn, and you only get to look at two new cards next turn. You have an Arid Mesa in hand, however.  You lay it down and take advantage of the extra life you gained to shuffle that useful card back into rotation, and those two useless lands away from the top of your deck. 
  3. Color Filtering. The thing these cards were originally intended for. You don’t always have to crack them the turn you play them, and if you don’t draw the color of land you need at that time you need it, you can crack the fetchland for that particular color. 

Always look at the data before deciding if Fetchlands are appropriate for your deck. If this still doesn’t make any sense to you, just think about it this way: Would you play the following card?

Deck Thinning - 0

Instant

This card cannot be countered.

Lose 3 life: Draw 1 nonland card in 12 turns.