Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pikemen: The common soldier.

"All rivers eventually run to the sea. My job is to sort out who goes first."
Maeveen O'Donagh,
Memoirs of a Soldier
"I'm a Soldier, I fight where I am told, and I win where I fight"
--General George S. Patton.
Just doing their job the best they can.

War is won on the back of soldiers. While history remembers only a chosen few, twiddled down through time, all wars, are won by soldiers. The soldier is a important necessity, even in Magic. While the game is full of amazing and illustrious creatures, one musn't forget the soldiers of M:tG. The 9-5 common men that face up against unspeakable horror, near god like dragons, personifications of the elements, and the worse Hell can muster. They do this simply because that is their job, and for better or worse, doing it, even against impossible odds, is better then the alternative. 

Magic too has Soldiers, even Old School. In a time before soldiers became over the top warriors in themselves, the soldier in Magic was that, a small, insignificant creature that was usually good at utility. Old-School has numerous, largely the forces of Icatia, but one musn't forget the doomed Benalish Hero and of coarse the Pikemen.
Sure knights get the glory, but Pikemen, the medieval all purpose foot soldier, gets the job done.  Traditionally used to take down Calvary. They survived even into the age of gun powder, due to the simplicity of their weapon, and the effectiveness against mounted enemies. 

Pikemen in Magic, just like in life, don't get the glory they probably are due. After all, they aren't nearly as good as the knights of the same mana cost (or stat wise to their squires). They can be pinged w/ a Javeline, shot with an arrow, or magic missled by a bored wizard. However, I feel even with these factors, they just are more underappreciated then they should be.

The Art: Pikemen's art (by Dennis Detwiller, not Denise) is actually pretty damned good. In it, you see three anonymous soldiers sitting along a parapet, in a relaxed position. There is no glory to speak of, none of these characters stand with exaggerated muscles, heroic deeds, or great treasure. No, they stand, as if for a portrait, in a neutral pose, their faces obscured by their flimsy helmets. Even their armor is non-descriptive, matching a simple leather and cloth tunic, each one the same as the previous one. The background is also the same, with a simple sky and cloud set up, showing just how mundane an activity this is. This works particularly well with the vision of Dark cards and it's emphasis on bolding the color black while fading the color white. Making the shadows of the men and the parapet behind them that much more noticeable. In reality what works with this that is lost in the 5th edition art is these men are just that, men, swords for hire, the common man, with no glory to be seen.
The art gets a 4/5. 

Playability: I'll be the first to admit there are better two drops, especially in the states which allows for Fallen Empires. White Knight, in all situations will be better then Pikemen, and numerous others are better. However, you shouldn't write off Pikemen as unplayable just because it's weak 1/1 stats. A small simple word on the card makes Pikemen worth considering: Banding. For those of you who don't know, banding lets your forces fight as a team (I'm not getting to into the mechanics of it, that will be another article all together). It's meant to show white martial ability for tactics in combat, and in my humble opinion, never truly got it's due. However, since shield bearer isn't in Old School proper, this might be the best bander in the format. Those who doubt just how good banding can be should try it, just once, before writing it off as a 'poor' mechanic. The first strike is just icing. While it's original printed creature type was simply 'Pikemen' it got Soldier in the Great Creature Type Update, and as such, can work with Icatian Lieutenant (and other tribal support much later in the game). It's also white allowing it to be run with Angelic Voices, Crusade, and Jihad. I'll give it an optomistic 3/5. One point for banding, one point for potential color/tribal interactions, and one point for first strike. Maybe I just overvalue banding, but I've never been disappointed when it worked. 

Flavor: In reality, outside the art, the flavor, while effective, is boring. Yes, Magic needs mundane things, and yes, even the flavor text wasn't that interesting, but it's atmosphere is top notch. In the fact it's that mundane concept that makes this soldier work so well. While other cards are meant to be heroes, healers, or great beasts, Pikemen are just pikemen, and they will die loyally where they need to be. Flavor 2/5, while I'd like to rate it higher, it's truly a boring, but valuable creature. While it will hold a special place in my heart, both from my early white weenie decks, and because I'm a sucker for banding, it tastes a little plain.

Overall 9/15= 3/5. Sure it's not the best card, but I'd recommend the occasional budget/casual 93/94'r to attempt a spot for a few grunts. I assure you, they will make their work better then you'll realize, and if you don't, they still cost .10.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Land Equilibrium: An interesting two headed idea.

"We use to use that in team games, since it said opponents. One guy would sac his lands, and keep the other players in check, the other guy would actually play Magic"--The Don.

    One time, many moons ago, I ran to Dons card shop in a vain attempt to pick up a Land Equilibrium he had recently picked up. I was 30 minutes to late. However, he started talking about it from back in the day, and said the above quote. Of coarse, his shop was a rocking place in the 90's, and he played large multiplayer games that modern Magic players wouldn't even touch (in 2009, I was in a 32 man game in that shop). 

    Recently, Wak-Wak posted an article about the deck, and with the recent announcement of Denmark hosting a 2-Headed Giant format, I figured it would be as opportune time as any to discuss this often forgotten gem.
This would have made some awesome land art.
Now the idea of this would be simple, one player would run a denial strategy, while the other, runs an aggressive strategy.

For the sake of posterity, I'm rating the card and overall 4/5 in art, mechanic, and flavor (the flavor being the iffiest part).

Now first we must design both decks, the idea being simple, one would hit hard, the other would play defense. Naturally the defensive deck should be blue, and possibly white. This would give you access to COP's, Swords to Plowshare, and if needed, balance.

I recommend each deck not sharing colors, due to the 4 of both deck rule, or each deck can't have a combined more then 4 cards of the same name. This also applies to restricted cards, so each deck can only have a total of 1 strip, one piece of power ect.

This makes the issue even harder, because both decks need to be synergized better. However, I recommend the other deck to run some variant of Green. The ramp can compliment your teammates Land Equilibrium well, since he'll be utilizing a mana denial strategy.

This could also use w/ the infamous Mana Vortex you're teammate will be running. If you decide to go red, you can even throw in Stone Rains as additional mana denail support.

Both decks in theory can run creatures, but I'd recommend largely support creatures for the blue one. One classic that never gets enough love is Time Elemental, allowing an expensive, but useful bounce strategy, or Zephyr Falcon, a classic vigilance creature.

Another idea would be a red/white deck, to utilize the likes of vigilance creatures w/ Smoke.

All in all, it's up to the team to figure out what to play, but I hope you don't over look this potent strategy.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The making of BetaMax: A deck making challenge

This logo is property of Sony
 "I have the perfect name for this, this pile of nostalgia and hot mess, Betamax"
 --A Jund Player, after beating me third game of the finals of a Modern FNM

    When Modern was announced as a format almost a decade ago, someone told me I should put my old cards to use and build a Modern deck utilizing cards from Beta. It was largely said in jest due to my pension and passion for playing with old cards, but it intrigued me. Could I pull it off, was it even possible?

     By memory I knew a few cards were modern legal, Terror, Juggernaut, Mahamoti, and a few less then amazing creatures like Giant Spider and Hill Giant, but I didn't think it was possible. The idea festered in the back of my brain a few days, until I decided to look up on Gatherer. 111 cards were legal in the format as of the time (Spell Blast, Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, and Blessing would make the total a whooping 114 as of me typing this). I was first, amazed, a little over a third of the set had managed to be reprinted over time, some being exclusive to 8th or 9th edition, while others where core set staples, being reprinted almost constantly.

   For instance, Evil Presence was legal, which I hadn't realized, along with Wall of Stone, one of the early games best blockers. I had to naturally however, pick which colors to use.

Naturally some draw backs exist, no rocks, no cantrips, no counterspells (remember Spell Blast didn't exist), little to no life gain. Creatures also are below the modern power curve, and while I may have nostalgia for Grizzly Bears, it isn't going to win me much games.  The advantages though were the casualness of deck, and how easy the removal was, it also contained something you don't see much anymore, Tempo cards, like Icy and Twiddle.

                                                               Choosing a Deck

       Naturally choosing a color is the most difficult but important part of deck building. I had to study them, come with a win condition, and move with it. Going mono-colored was sadly out of the question (which the exception of black), and gold card literally don't exist. Thus, I had to evaluate the Strengths and Weaknesses of each color combination.

Red/White: Red/White offered the best in terms of speed and control. With Lightning Bolt at the helm, it offered an amazing amount of offensive and defensive power. In addition, I had access to Earthquake and Wrath of God, making removal not that difficult. Throw in some Stone Rain for disruption, main deck CoP: Red for it (and Orcish Artillery), Wall of Stone/Fire as blockers.  Disintegrate/ Fireball provides you with both burn and defensive possibilities. You even had access to Serra Angel as a beater. Plus you can juggle trolls in the format, for some old school goodness. Not to mention Jade Statue which can easily be played around the two sweepers in the main deck, Disenchant/Shatter for the issue with Tron/Affinity. The draw back to the deck was it's strengths, it has control, but only against creature heavy decks. Though lantern control didn't exist at the time, I wouldn't want to play this against it, and other aggro decks can burn you out on the aggression front. However, Further more, without mana flare, I'm unsure how well this deck's X spells would actually turn out. Still, I'd be interested in trying this sometime. 

Red/Green: The deck that died when I realized that Wild Growth wasn't in the format. While red gets everything it had, you add green to it, for the ramp. Instead you're running a ramp/burn deck. After all, Green still has Elves and Birds, not to mention access to Hurricane, Fog and Giant Growth. A few large beaters make the deck interesting, including the infamous Force of Nature, Cockatrice, and Juggernaut, since in theory you can play Juggernaut as soon as turn three. Add this to the realistic possibility of playing a turn two Stone Rain and a The disadvantage was that it seemed to be too easy to disrupt with removal, the first 'ramp spell' wasn't printed until Legends, and I was stuck with relying on creatures for my ramp, which was easy picking for the creature centric early days of modern. I was also worried about being outplayed by burn and storm. When I realized that Wild Growth didn't exist, I put this deck idea back in the note book, both because it seemed bad, and it seemed it would be boring to run. 

Red/Blue: This would be your typical burn/control build, but with much more emphasis on the burn. It would include the infamous pingers of the format, including the legendary Tim himself, Orcish Artillery and even possibly Pirate Ship. The deck could include Stone Rain, Ice Manipulator, Unsummon, (and later Spell Blast) for it's control elements. The deck would also have some of the best burn spells of all time, include Psionic Blast and Lightning Bolt. Throw in Juggernaut for some beats (Invisibility is legal too!). Maybe even Twiddle as a swiss army knife. The deck could also utilize Steal Artifact for the affinity match, Clone for when I'm up against Titans, Walls (and Uthden Troll) for defense, and even X burn spells as a end gamer. However I was worried that this was too much of a one trick pony.  While it was definitely a contender, and I never forgot about it, it wasn't what I built.

Green/White: Similar to the Red/White deck, this deck utilized Circle of Protection: Green. My twin insisted on building on this, due to his love of Force of Nature. That would be the deck, utilizing Hurricane/Force of Nature with Circle of Protection Green. Enchantress for card draw, some control elements. I was luke warm to the deck to begin with, and my brother fared very poorly with it. 

Green/Blue: Easily the strangest deck of the batch. Sadly Regrowth got it's 11th hour change from being legal in the format, but it would utilize tap abilities with Twiddle and Icy Manipulator. Combine with utility artifact and dorks, and you have a strange but interesting deck. You can even combine Fungusaur and with Pingers, land disruption with Gaea's Liege, For and Giant Growth compliment the green side, with Unsummon complimenting the blue. It however didn't make it past the 'interesting' phase of designing. 

Mono-Black: The only mono colored deck I considered (though I did wonder about the viability of Red). This was due to two cards, Nightmare and Bad Moon. You have a decent curve, Will-o-the-Wisp, Black Knight, Drudge Skeleton, Hippie, Bog Wraith, and Sengir. Terror, Fear, Raise Dead, Weakness and Unholy Strength compliment the deck well amazing, and Howling Mine, Icy Manipulator, and Royal Assassin make for amazing synergy. Combine a Disrupting Scepter, Evil Presence, and Throne of Bone make for interesting option as well. This is honestly the only deck I didn't consider running Juggernaut, so everything got synergy off of Bad Moon. I was worried however about artifacts, and without Disc, it didn't allow for any real option to deal with them, and I shelved the idea. 

I ultimately went with White/Black. Removal was all top notch, with Terror, Disenchant, Wrath of God, and Royal Assassin made for a solid amount of removal what was effective and versatile. The beaters included the likes of Juggernaut, Serra Angel, and Hypnotic Specter. Icy Manipulator made for a solid tempo plays, and synergized with Royal Assassin. 

 Designing the deck

       The deck would end up being a mid-range stompy deck designed at being a 'jack of all trades'. It wouldn't be fast enough to compete the arms race against aggro, controlly enough to play the control game directly against cruel control, no where near the synergy of Fish. Instead it'd have to operate on minor advantages and disruption, playing it's strength of versatility against decks with a more focused purpose. Naturally this requires me to evaluate creatures more shrewdly. In order for it to be it's best, I'd have to ignore running cards I like for cards I needed. Each card would need to serve multiple purposes against multiple decks. Since I'm building from an extremely limited pool, it's even more so emphasized on it. 

 Juggernaut (x4): Easily the auto include in almost all decks listed here. A 5/3 for four, even though his second ability that might as well be flavor text. However, short of missing land drops, it's guaranteed a turn 4 drop, and quickly becomes a 'must deal with' creature. 

Choo Choo!

Serra Angel (x2): The queen of skies herself, Serra Angel is a limited super star to this day, demanding respect even in a time of stronger and more consistent creatures. The real key to success with her isn't the flying, but the vigilance, and few creatures in modern surpass the 4 toughness anyway. However, at 5 mana, I choose to run two, plus The Keeper only ran two and it won worlds, so that shouldn't be so bad. I considered I ran this spot with Sengir, but without Arena or Sorceress Queen, Serra edged out on top. 

The most fearsome flier of it's day

Royal Assassin (x4): I use to call this one n00b bait. It's amazing how many times people would swing into an untapped Royal Assassin, even if it was only once. Besides this, it works well w/ Icy Manipulator, but everyone even vaguely familiar with these cards know this one. 

Fun Targets I've gotten: A goyf, numerous elfs, and once just once a fucking Emrakul!

I only ever seen revised ones, so that's what I choose.
Hypnotic Spectre (Hippy) (x2): Without any form of fast mana, the Spectre shows just how fair of a card it really is. Someone once explained how when he was reintroduced in standard, no one ran him. But without the likes of Dark Ritual, he's just a modestly good creature (try running him even for the time without rock or ritual to get the point across). With only two points in each stat, the three mana cost makes it questionable. However, after trial and error, and much consideration, I ultimately felt it was the best creature for the curve, and good early game removal bait to keep my Assassins and Serra Angel's alive.

In reality, not that amazing

Will-o'-the-Wisps (x4): In my humble opinion, Will is the best blocker in the entire game. Durable, effective, and annoying. It's been a shield for players since way back in 1993, and I see it continuing to do so well into Magic's future, even more so since 'Regeneration' has been removed from future releases. It's amazing that it can hold it's own in a time of cheap removal, bigger creatures, and more exile effects. Now, I will admit, he's not fool proof, but anytime I can get him to be Abrupt Decay'd, Path to Exile, or Incinerated over some of the more effective targets is a plus. The number of removal spells and creatures it can survive is impressive as well, sadly, in my build, there is no way to make it offensive.

It keeps going and going.

Savannah Lions (x3): I'll openly admit that I put him in as filler. I figured eventually something would be reprinted that would be more useful (it wasn't), or I'd figure something better for this spot (I didn't). Instead, Savannah Lions became a interesting early game drop. Proving a small amount of aggro pressure and becoming removal bait/chump blocker. The number of times players complained about wasting removal on a 'vanilla' is always amusing, and against certain decks, it's early pressure is more valuable then the sum of it's stats. 

It's not Kird Ape, but it gets it done.

Jade Statue (2): The last 'creature' of the deck has become the dark horse. More often then not I'm asked 'is that legal' or 'JUDGE' followed by people looking for it's most recent printing (it was 9th btw). It's unusual ability to be animated only in combat has actually served to be more useful then I will ever fully admit. It's gotten around Planeswalker, Wrath of God/Damnation, and forcing people to play around me activating the ability. The 3/6 is also healthy stats at two mana, though the initial cost of 4 is a bit high. It's most infamous however because I want to emulate the 'old school trick' with Wrath of God, to get some tech infamous in the day. I jumped between running two of them, or running three, but atm, it sits at two. 

One of four total printings, weird isn't it?

 Disenchant (x2 in the main, x2 in the board): Originally this was a 'cover your bases' card, after all, in the early days Boggles was a huge contender, along w/ the ever presence of Tron. Affinity also existed well, but wasn't common in my local meta at the time. As the format grew, Affinity became more prevelant, and required my to consider main boarding a set (but I never did). Instead, however, it would be the replacement for the Terrors. 

Does this wording interact with Megrim?

Terror: (x4): Some cards simply put, don't age well. Terror, despite being efficent, iconic, and cheap, in a time of Indestructibles, Jund, and Affinity, this card isn't the answer it once was. However, that doesn't stop me from running a set in the main. When I first designed the deck, just like Disenchant, I kept two in the main, two in the board. However, I noticed switching them into the main way to much to keep that way, and insisted on including them into the main. So naturally, when the redesign came, I had to include the other two into the main.

A few things it can still deal with in the format:
Pride Mage
Half of Elves
Walletslayer Angel
Everything in Zoo

It also doesn't effect White Knight

Weakness (x4): As mentioned in one of my very first articles, this card graced this deck as a four of, originally for the lack of better options. However as I said in that, I've been very happy with the results. There is nothing more rewarding the dropping a ..10 card to kill Bob or Nerf an early game Goblin Guide. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't used it in a pinch to weaken a Gofy, a swiftspear, and other assorted beaters, but ideally I won't do that. 

I wrote an article about this card and it's use in 94, which less then 50 people have even viewed, so go check it out.
It's dead Jim, it's dead.

 Wrath of God (x4): There are people out there that would say a play set of Wrath of God to be excessive. Those people complain when you cast a third Wrath of God. In reality, Wrath of God is only bad against Combo, which isn't it's own fault. It's solid against Goblins, Elves,  Mono-red, Boggles, Zoo, and if you can top deck it, Jund. It also has wonderful synergy with Jade Statue that can't be ignored. 

 Icy Manipulator (x4): Not technically removal, Icy Manipulator is deceptively the most powerful card in the deck. It clears out blockers, taps down lands, removes potential attackers, and hits utility artifacts. It's biggest tragedy is the lack of mana rocks, which make it a turn four (and usually more so a turn 5) drop. However, it's power can't be understated, and as anyone even a little familiar with the format could tell you. 

This is the version I used, it gets the treatment.

The Sideboard

 The Sideboard should have the answers that can't be found in the main deck. This has naturally evolved over the years, and outside of events sits at a healthy '19'.

Evil Presence (x4): Everything about this card that applies to my previous article applies to this as well. It hurts tron, can kill man lands, punished greedy mana bases. It's a simple but devastatingly powerful card, all for a black mana.

Disenchant (x2): (Read Entry Above) 

Black Knight (x2): Early on, he wasn't even in the deck, but as jank utilizing white started creeping around, I had to use him at least on the board. With the additional fact he can't be Helix'd or Path'd is just a bonus, and he can swing on Tribal Gideon (though that has never actually happened).

Why doesn't the battle need purpose?

White Knight (x2): Originally in the main, for reasons I don't exactly remember he got demoted to the sideboard, however, he's extremely useful when needed. He works against 8rack, vampires, but most importantly Jund realized only it's Lightning Bolts can deal with him (or a stupid large Goyf). 

Beta white knight, get it?

 Circle of Protection: Red (x2): My answer for the Goblin/mono-red match up. It's more then once game over against the right player. Sure, it's boring, but if you win with it, isn't that what matters?

The bane of red players since 93

Circle of Protection: Black (x2): Honestly, I'm not sure my thought process about this one. It's probably anti-vampire, which wasn't an uncommon deck back in the day. It's been useful before with Jund and Rakdos. I almost attempted to use this with Lord of the Pit, but common sense slapped me before that happened.

They are called cops for a reason.

Circle of Protection: Green (x1): Goyf and Elves, that's honestly it.

Fuck off Craw Daddy!

Consecrate Land: In some meta's, like my most recent group, has a land destruction guy. If I know I'm playing such an opponent, I'll swap these into my board before the event begins, thus giving me some semblance of hope.

Trivia: Jeff A Menges had to plagarize his own art for the TS version of this.

Btw this is the deck in it's final form:

 Honorable Mentions

The following cards were removed from the deck, or were never made it past the cut.

Sengir Vampire: While best for discouraging chump blockers, Sengir just dind't pack the same punch as it's white counterpart. While it's in its own right amazing (It'll get an entry one day), it just wasn't as good as Serra, and thus, never saw the light of day.

Howling Mine: Originally I wanted to abuse the potential synergy w/ Icy. However, as I continued to play with the card, I realized I typically just Icy'd their lands/creatures, and never my Mine. Add this w/ the detrimental fact it draws both players card, after a few events I took it out for good. 

Resurrection: The 4 mana reanimator spell was in the deck for a long time. It only got removed when someone asked 'Why don't you replace them with better creatures?" I took them out that night and never looked back.

Raise Dead: read above.

Sometime next week (weeks) I hope to give a break down on how it played, what I learned, and ways I attempted to make it better. Until then, feel free to leave feed back on the deck, on the article, or anything else. I'll answer any comment left on the blog, or anywhere else this winds up. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

My MVP's of the Winter Derby: Evil Presence

Despite the old school feel of old school, very few Enchant Lands see play in the format. This is largely due to how common Land Destruction is, in particularly EC (since I'm in the states). With a set of Strip Mine, Demonic Hordes, Sinkhole, Armageddon, and Stone Rain (not to mention Ice Storm, Mana Vortex and other fringe spells) it's easy to see why this would happen.

However the handful of Enchant Land Spells that do see play, are usually in some way offensive spells. This includes blue's personal favorite Phantasmal Terrain, the burn players Psychic Venom, and yes, Evil Presence.

Behold the presence of evil!

While I naturally always knew of the card, I never actually used it in a deck until modern times. After all, why change the land type into a swamp when I can blow it up (no I never built a swampwalk deck, yes I'm terrible I know). It wasn't until I was brewing for the 'Betamax' deck that I realized how potent it could be. After all, I was building with an extremely limited cardpool, I needed every answer I could get, and a spell that could shut down manlands and hurt greedy mana bases seemed too good (not to mention it's potentcy against one of the earliest decks in the format Tron).

I quickly fell in love with it. One time, I managed to draw three in my opening hand, and shut down a 4 color ally deck with it rather quickly (guess which color he wasn't running). Another time, I managed to play it on a turn 2 tower, and he failed to draw an Expedition Map or another Tower (it was the w/u variant).

The version that made this all possible!

While I hastely threw the deck together, the four Evil Presence was an auto include into the board, and I honestly wish I just threw them into the main. Every time I drew one that I sided, it was met with good use.

Just to sum up how useful it was:
-Bait a Strip Mine
-Turns a Library into a Swamp
-Kills Factory
-Makes Workshop fair
-Turns an open player w/ Maze into an open player
-Able to get rid of Island of Wak-Wak
-Hurts the utility lands from Legends
-Hurts duels, disrupts Tron

Basically it's almost always useful, even if it's annoying. Once again, this was one of those cards I had to play disc around, because the question become was it better to shut down the land, or blow stuff up and return the land into a good card.

I wonder if instead of the disc, if I just ordered some Hellfire-s, and ran a few Bog Wraiths with this in the main how different would the deck honestly performed. It's forever a mystery of what could have been, but I'm sure I'll brew something along those lines.

Next Article: BetaMax, how I designed a deck utilizing only cards originally printed in Beta.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

My MVP's of the Winter Derby: Haunting Winds, the Dark Horse

Out of all the plays, out of the cards I've casted, all the things I side boarded, nothing got more comments, more compliments, and more wtf's then the simple card called "Haunting Winds".

Haunting Winds was literally sided in almost every game I played against, and it did it's work. Doing an average of 5 damage per game, it stopped Basalt comb's, made a Sol Ring a more modest card, hurt moxes, and made Trisk a 1 damage for 1 damage. I sadly never got it against Tetravus, but I'm sure it would be equally as funny.

I had a long history of running this badass in EDH, and before that, had a Lattice shell that included this as a win condition. It seemed only natural in my pursuit of artifact hate that I would run it, and I'll be honest, I didn't expect it to run nearly as well as it did.

Everyone complimented it as I played it, and it quickly became something that required to be played around. Maybe one day I'll attempt it again with Underworld Dreams and Manaflare in some crazy enchantment burn shell, but I will be honest, it had done it's work so very much.

Monday, January 29, 2018

My MVP's of the Winter Derby: Nightmare

In reality, this card should have it's own entry truly talking about how amazing it is. It's influence is so important, both in Oldschool, and to black as a color, that's its been standard legal for almost as long as standard has existed. It's probably one of the most reprinted black cards in the game, and in my opinion, it's the best black creature in the format.  I've run him as late as Theros limited in a mono-black control/devotion deck, and while he didn't help w/ Devotion, he didn't need to. He did the job himself.

I wasn't running a beta one, but it's appropriate.

While building the deck, I realized that I just didn't have the cards to make it a proper suicide black. A lack of Juzam sealed that fate, though I considered substituting Juggernaut (Derelor was sadly out of the question). Stone Throwing Devils just weren't feeling it for me, and without Hymn, the Dark Rit's weren't nearly as good as turn 1 cards. So instead, I went the control route, and realized, I needed an actual win condition.

I looked at my black beaters (under valuing artifact creatures like a noob), I made a list, with Nightmare at the top, other contenders included Sengir Vampire, Fallen Angel, Demonic Hordes, Lord of the Pit, and finally Mold Demon. I evaluated each of their strengths and weaknesses, and concluded Nightmare would make the best of the list, which it became a two of (though I wish I found room for Sengir, maybe next online event).

Nightmare became a quick 'answer creature', finding himself typically settling down in a nice cottage (and maturing some great life for me), going to the disco, or facing God himself. When he didn't befell one of these awful fates, he typically hit hard and fast, and even the -1 from animate wasn't that big a feal.
Edit: Someone pointed out he also can't be Control Magic'd, which is a plus I didn't think of.

If I could go back, would I run him again? Maybe not. There were games where I had some wimpy Nightmares, and while I never encountered an Armageddon, that doesn't change the fact it's very much possible. Further more, there are better artifact creatures at 6 mana, though not as strong at the raw power as him.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

My MVP's of the Winter Derby: Xenic Poltergeist.

The Winter Derby was an event that happened over the course of December and into January. Using Sweden Ban/Restricted list, the tournament had 7 rounds before a top 8 cut. I originally going to run a red/blue burn control build, a classic if you will.

Instead, I was forced to go mono black control, and it didn't do well. Among my seven opponents included a Land's Edge deck, two burn-control builds, and three rocket launched/infinite mana decks. I have however learned some good things about mono-black, and the format as a whole.
The deck, note the two Ashes to Ashes which proved to be useless.
The Side board

One card in there proved to be more valuable then I'd ever given it credit for before hand. No it's not the Gate (which was useless), nor was it Nightmare (who was the win condition). it was small throw away card I put in the deck as a budget option.

That's right Xenic Poltergeist proved to be extremely useful in the format, and for my deck. Often under looked in many cases until it was too late.

Mono-black has few answers to artifacts, and I wanted something that I could get away with throwing in the main deck. Originally I put him in, as a way to kill Moxes. After all, it breaks jewelry. The other benefits came as I actually played it for the first time ever in any deck.

First it had amazing synergy w/ Oubliette, allowing me to animate a pesky artifact (say a Howling Mine or Winter Orb), and remove it from the game. It could also trade another artifact in a field wipe (not uncommon when I played Nightmare), turn my discs into 4/4's, give basalt monolith summoning sickness, and block if needed.

I actually realized despite the lack of Icy, I ran some Royal Assassins because of the number of artifacts he could have killed w/ this guy would be spicy.

However, hindsight is 20/20, and I almost wish I didn't run the Disc along side him and oubliette, because that created some difficult situations.

I'll be posting other MVP's over the week, and I hope you enjoy them.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Keldon Warlord: Terror of the playground.

"Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It's a whim of circumstance, and barbarism is ultimately triumphant"--Robert E. Howard

"Battle is our religion. This fortress is our temple"--Latulla, Keldon Overseer

As we've grown as players, and as people, we realize some cards, no matter how cool, just aren't good. The number of bad ass creatures of yesteryear are numerous. In the larger MtG, this can be attributed to power creep, with creatures getting flashier as time goes on. However, in this format, in theory these former power houses should be able to shine in there glory, and for some, they do. Mahamoti, Serra, Sengir, Shivan, all bad ass creatures in there own right, shine on once again, as if it was 1994. Other former popular creatures haven't fared so well. One of these creatures is Keldon Warlord.

The Keldon's are a group of Conan the Barbarians. Living for battle, they are actually separated into two races, the 'pure' Keldons who are hulking massive brutes who worship War as a religious act. Then there are the Gathan's, genetically engineered rogues who was made by a wizard that felt Urza's bloodlines project didn't go far enough into making the perfect warrior. Skyshroud Elves also appear among their ranks post Phyrexian Invasion.

Numerous Keldons appear throughout the lore, including Maraxus, Latulla, and Radha, however, this is talking about the original Keldon, Keldon Warlord.

What if they threw a war and everybody came?

I remember as a kid, he was a common sight among many red decks. After all, in a time where cards were scarce (especially when in the country), you didn't always have a playset of Shivan Dragons, and you filled spaces. Secondly, he can in theory, be HUGE, even if on average he's probably only a 2/2 or a 3/3. Even on the gatherer comments, people talk about how cool he was as a kid, leading your army of Orcs and Goblins into battle, being just generally huge.

I can honestly say, I didn't see him in the Winter Derby, nor did I expect to, after all, while he holds a place in my heart, there are better options. It can be argued that Hill Giant with it's consistent power/toughness is better. Even if it isn't, Mountain Yeti certainly is, with it's protection and landwalk ability.  Sedge Troll is better in B/R. Stone Giant is even better, being able to give creatures flying (and juggle trolls). In a time when every card is at our finger tips, both visually and limited only by our finances, the Warlord just can't compete.

However, there is no doubt that he is hands down cool. He's art would find a place on any 80's metal album, he looks like he's riding a nightmare, and Mr/ Bockschmidt's ability to exaggerate leaves a good mental mark. He's also the one lord of way back when that doesn't have the 'lord' ability, instead leading by example by being stronger (and thus attacking).

What if they threw a war and everybody came?

The Art is easily his best feature. As said earlier, he would look fitting on the cover of an old pulp fiction comic or metal record. The warrior has exaggerated features, having the muscles of someone who been weened on red meat, pure iron, and steroids since he left the womb. Even his sword is over the top, not only being unpractically large, but containing over the top decorations and gems.

Even the surrounding atmosphere works, with the flaming castle being the major focus point, showing his latest conquest, which obviously he drew no quarter. Even his helmet is unpractical, but also extremely awesome, and the shoulder bad is just icing on the cake.

The only issue is the tiny leg (which isn't that tiny) below the sword. It's as if he's skipping leg day.

 Kev Brocksmidt revisited this art and has stated it as one of his most popular.

Art gets a solid 4/5.

Playability: As said earlier, where he excels aesthetically, he doesn't work as well on the battlefield. Not only is his fluctuating power risky and inconsistent. It can be lethal, as damage can kill him later in the turn as card remove from the battlefield. Sure, in a token deck he can get stupid big, but honestly, how many of those are there, especially in this format. I've debated running my beta one as a one of in mono-red aggro, because as I said, I like him, but I'll admit his playability is not good.


Flavor: This is where he makes it. The fact he doesn't check walls just adds to this (because how do walls give moral). Instead, his power increases with his prestige, and decreases as his prestige declines. That's probably his most redeemable feature. He just feels so, right. It's one of those cards you could pull out of a pack and not only enjoy, but think how you could make him good, and that is the type of card that allowed Magic to thrive throughout the 90's 3/5.

A solid 3/5 overall. It's nothing special, but it's a good addition to have in the card pool, even if it's just in the box.

Check out to see what he's been up to.
Also Kev has made two new arts, the one for the art book
Revisited, I'd actually like to see this on cardboard.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

What could have been: Super Hero

Play test cards are always fascinating. They show cards that could have existed, and what could have happened, (and what didn't). Alpha makes this more interesting, because everything is possible, and because its influence on the game can't be understated.

Alpha as an expansion, and philosophy certainly doesn't match up w/ the stiff rigid design of the modern color pie. Green land destruction, blue burn, land changing cards across all colors. In reality, it's a strange but amazing thing to look at. That's just what made it to print, many other classical tropes didn't make it to print. These included a Red Time Walk, a card that randomized ownership of all lands in play, a card that killed trolls and vampires, and among others the card I'm going to talk about today.

It's a bird... it's a plane... it's a strictly better Terror... 
Superman here is actually a really good creature. For those not in the know, that mana cost would translate into either WWW or 2W depending on who you ask, because during playtesting, they couldn't quiet get the concept of mana down. So with that knowledge, lets look at what we get:

-A Gray Ogre (or Pearled Unicorn) with a very relevant ability.
-An Instant Speed removal spell with feet.

Well realistically it probably wouldn't have kept that name, and certainly not that art. The 'Prince Charming' is speculated by some to be a possible working title. It's concept is pretty good, if not a bit generic, the hero who dies facing off against an impossible foe, being a martyr in the process. Much like Beowulf, he can die fighting a Djinn or Dragon, sacrificing his own life for glory (and because you made him).

This actually reminds me of a YGO(Yu-Gi-Oh) card "Exiled Force" in which you can sacrifice it on your turn to destroy any monster, regardless of it's power. The influence this card would have had on the game, particularly the color white can only be speculated, but it's very likely white would have become a color of self sacrificing creatures much earlier in the games life. Plus, this guy would be seeing play in white decks throughout the 90's.

In a lot of ways, I'm glad he didn't make it, because of his power (at least as printed). He can bury a creature, swing, counter spot removal, and be an amazing chump blocker.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Tenth Post!

How many of you still have some cards from 'back in the day', I bet many of you do. I managed, despite thieves, accidents, bad trades/ good trades, and drinking, have managed to keep a few. Today, in honor of my 10th post, I will show one of these bad boys (and threaten my ability to remain somewhat anonymous at the same time).

I'm aware my hand is filthy.
This time worn relic is Eron the Relentless, an immortal man who in the lore died numerous times. I can tell you this time worn piece has died countless more then that.

A small list of things that has happened to this piece of cardboard:
-Shuffled in dozens of decks, both sleeved and unsleeved.
-Shoved into book bags/boxes/pockets.
-Was part of a 7th grade diorama
-Had soda spilled on it
-Was in a deck deliberately sabotaged by a friend
-Spent three years in a damp basement in NY.  

One of my very first Legends, Eron I realized was amazing, being uneffected by summoning sickness and being able to survive combat allowed him to be more useful then some of the other jank I was playing at 5 mana (like Orgg and Goblin Mutant). More importantly he directly interacted on the cards with Joven and Chandler. I actually remember at a sleep over reading the lore about him with Retribution and Anaba Bodyguards, and why they aren't minotaurs (or weren't).

The best part was, my young mind assumed Legends, by the title, must be better creature types then other creatures (I was wrong!). It didn't stop me from making a deck later that combined the color friends feats of Invasion block w/ the legends from Chronicles (and Lady Orca). It eventually grew into a 400+ card monstrosity full of flavor and function, but that's a story for another time.

I almost got this card signed at Gen Con, but I had the foil TS version on me instead. Mr. Rush passed shortly there after. I'm glad I got to meet him. Alas, this is a small  update about a card I care very much about, who's been with my and my lot for a very long time.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Lich: What's the price of immortality?

"I will go to any length to achieve my goal. Eternal life is worth any sacrifice."
—Zur the Enchanter

I was just getting out of the shower!

The quest for Immortality has plagued man for as long as man could think of self. History is littered with stories of people pursuing it in vain, from Emperor Chin, to the Pharoahs of Egypt, to Ponce de Leon, to the transhumanist of modern times, people have pursued some attempt at immortality for as long as we've known the self. Even Christianity, Judaism, and Catholicism, with it's emphasis as a death cult of sorts, promises immortality after the end of days.

However, Immortality is either too impossible to reach, or becomes a chore. Immortality is often shown to be a chore of sorts, a punishment even. People live to watch even there most loved ones die, the world around them change without them able to keep up. One article in 'Weird USA' (a website published by the gentlemen who publish Weird New Jersey) claims he met a man who said the Fountain of Youth in Florida was discovered by  a secret society sometime in the 1800's, and extreme measures have been made to keep it hidden. He also showed a list, with a number of American folk heroes on it, some who died at extreme ages, but not from disease, nor hunger, or age. Whether this is true or not, can you imagine how strange it must be to live so long, to realize that time suddenly has no consequence? I'm almost 30 years old, and I can barely understand the world in these unusual times, can you imagine someone 130?

Still this perspective never kept anyone from trying, whether it be through alchemy and science, philosophical thought, great quests for mystical items, demonic deals, or technology, some individuals will always long to live forever, no matter what the cost. Which is where we come to today's card.

"A lich was a wizard who wretched free his soul, for to keep safe in phylacrity, forsaken all life for immortality, plus immunity to lightning is cool!"---Dan, the Bard. Procrastinating Demi-Lich,

A lich is an Old English word roughly translating into 'Corpse'. Given it's archaic nature, the term lich was a common term for any animated corpse, and even skeletal animation, in many early fantasy books and short stories. The idea of a Lich being the dead remains of an animated wizard who cheated death first appears in the story "Skull-Face" a swords and sorcery story by author Robert. E. Howard, as well as number of short stories by Clark Ashton Smith. Another early passage of a sentient raised corpse appears in the short story ''The Death of Halpin Frayser" by Ambrose Bierce. 

"For by death is wrought greater change than hath been shown. Whereas in general the spirit that removed cometh back upon occasion, and is sometimes seen of those in flesh (appearing in the form of the body it bore) yet it hath happened that the veritable body without the spirit hath walked. And it is attested of those encountering who have lived to speak thereon that a lich so raised up hath no natural affection, nor remembrance thereof, but only hate. Also, it is known that some spirits which in life were benign become by death evil altogether."--Ambrose Bierce, The Death of Halpin Frayser, 1891.

However, the popularity of Lich's in popular culture is thanks to it's portrayal in Dungeon's and Dragon's, in which a Lich was an epic villain, often commanding entire armies, and scheming over the course of many centuries.  This served the basis for base set card Lich. After all, even a planeswalker, in all his might and splendor is ultimately mortal.

Art: The art, despite the bad quality, shows exactly what it says on the tin. The Lich in the art is seen with holes in it's flesh, barely being held together by dark magics. A stone engraving is in the back, and a spell being casted in it's hand, which serves at the only light source in the piece. Some minor details can give the robe an age'd effect, but alas it's a simple portrait. I like Gelon, but this one only get's a 3/5 from me. It works with the source material, and it's gets the message across, but it's not the first image anyone is going to remember.

Play ability: Lich is one of the most controversial cards in the game. Costing 4 black, it's the definition of not splashable, and it's most severe drawback, when it's destroyed you die, is enough to make most Planeswalkers put it down as quickly as they picked it up. It also has a drawback of turning your cards (not permanents mind you) into your life, forcing you to constantly sacrifice your resources to stay alive. You also can't pay life fore effects, since your life total is at a constant state of 0. It's boon's however, are incredibly powerful. Whenever you'd gain life, you instead will draw that many cards. This turns Healing Salve into an Ancestral Recall (I'll let that sink in), an Alabaster Potion into an instant speed Braingeyser. El-Hajjah now gains you a life everytime he deals damage (at a minimum), Charms now cantrip, Drain Life becomes stupid powerful, and even Fountain of Youth reads "2, T: Draw a card". Further more, it can realistically buy you a turn or two to draw an answer for the game, since you don't need to worry about conventional damage. Further more, it's uneffected by life loss, so any effect that forces you to lose life, forces you to lose none (Personal Incarnation anyone?).  Plus this is an instant win with Mirror Universe (and unusually flavoristic as well).

In reality, only a few cards can destroy it:

-Tranquility (the only well played Green enchantment removal)
-Disenchant (Yes, this card makes it extremely dangerous to have, I admit)
-Disk (Not as threatening, but very real).

A few other examples that fall into fringe territory include Northern Paladin (which is badass in it's own right) and Boomerang (Very much so this).

Now, like many classic black spells, it offers great power at a terrifying price, but if you can harness that power, you can be nearly invincible. 3/5.

Flavor: Like almost all Alpha enchantments, this is where the card shines. It's both amazing and sad this NEVER got a reprint, but I suppose that is part of the flavor itself. After all, only the most dedicated would hunt down the needed path to even find a spell needed. The drawback refers to enchantment as the Phylacria itself, and if it goes so do you. In the current rules of the game, you'd die as a state based effect before that trigger resolves, and that is a relic from the pre-6th edition rules where you'd normally not die until the end of the phase. It's life=draw is a strange argument, but I'd suggest it's the idea that you accumulate knowledge in some form. The draw back can be the same, as you take damage, people destroy your items, hoping each one is a phylacria, however, that one is stretching it a bit.

I'll give the flavor a 5/5, if for nothing else, the meta idea that it's impossible to find.

Note: Several cards have copied and improved on this through out the years, but eventually the idea of you becoming a Lich was scrapped so creatures could be Lich's instead.

More Note: One of my favorite decks of all time was a deck where I'd use Lich with Form of the Dragon to become a Draco-Lich, in it every end step I drew 5 cards, and I couldn't be attacked by non-fliers. It was pretty dope tbh.

Monday, January 15, 2018

What does it mean to be a Warrior?

"This card is more flavorful then every card in Kamigawa block combined"
--Iandustrial, Gatherer, 4,20,2009

"A warrior is worthless unless he rises above others and stands strong in the midst of a storm"
--Yamamoto Tsunetomo

What it means to be a warrior is something that stretches amongst all warrior cultures across the world and across time. From the Hittites, to the Marine, from the Channel of England and France down to the orient of Japan, every culture that has had a warrior culture or caste has asked this question. Many have come up w/ different answers, but one that stays true is the ideal of putting yourself at the best of human ability. Virtues of the culture are idealized (if not realistically practical), and are remembered, even when the less then savory facts aren't. Everything from the naked Zulu, half naked Spartan, to the heavy armored knight, to the technologically advanced Marine and SEAL, these ideals are championed in an attempt to separate the Warrior from the other castes of society. 

Naturally, like other philosophical questions, this ended up portrayed on an early Magic card. It's a simple, usually overlooked Magic card, but like many of the era leaves a profound mark beyond it's play ability (outside Shandalar of course). 

Art: The art shows what can be best described as a classical cinematic depiction of a Samurai warrior. Anson, who is famous for his horrific horror artwork, manages to show his versatility with this. Particularly in the detail of the samurai's uniform and the light source. The light source being something in the viewers direction (we will say the sun). In this, we see the light reflect off both the samurai's slicked back hair, and the well polished statue. The statue isn't of any character or symbol in particular, but it feels so right. The samurai makes no mind to it, as if it's part of his everyday life. Behind himis a simple green wall or bush, depending on your perspective and opinion, it fades into the light source, but a focused eye can see small details showing it didn't disappear. 

The best part of this is how realistic the samurai looks, his eyes steady, his cowl humorless. He isn't exaggerated like some of the art of Kamigawa, nor is he done in a historically accurate style (like Tetsou Umezawa). Instead we are giving a simple but evocative picture of a samurai standing, whether it be on guard, in front of another samurai, or in mid stroll, is unknown and irrelevant.

Art gets a 5/5.

Ability: It's strange that vigilance was once stretched across the color pie. In today's rigid design, It's a white mechanic, with it occasionally appearing in green. It does appear on a few blue cards, and many multicolored cards, but almost all those blue cards require white (The last one not being Serra Sphinx and Auramancers Guise back in Planar Chaos). However, it's across the color pie, and a few are red, including Axelrod Gunnarson, Windseeker Centaur, and card posted above! Green had Rabid Wombat, and even black got it's only mono-black creature in the form of Ghost Hounds.

The greatest warrior

It's strange to imagine a world were 'Attacking doesn't cause to tap' would be shared between white and red, but in a way, it almost happened. This card's plabaility is hurt like many, due to being an aura, however, it's effect even if only used once, can be pretty damn amazing, because attacking without needing to tap is an amazing feature to have. It allows you to cover your bases. I will rate this how I rate many aura's, with the idea that you treat is like a sorcery speed combat trick, that simply gets better if it can last longer. While it doesn't do much, it does what is needed, and gets it done. 

3/5 on playability, even if it only works once. 

Flavor: Now here is the philosophical point of the post.Why is making your creature a warrior allowing it to attack and block? Is it because it now has proper training? Does it make your creature faster, stronger? Is your creature just simply more dedicated to the cause? The idea that a warrior must be more vigilant then others around him, to be more then good, be exceptional, works extremely well with this. It's easy to know why Serra Angel, the Falcon, and Yotian Soldier have vigilance (the two fly, the last one is a robot that can move unusually quick). It's not so easy for other creatures, I mean, making your Djinn a warrior isn't keeping it from smacking you in the face, nor does making your raiders a warrior ever make them stronger. Maybe instead, you are imbuing them with the idea that they are stronger, and they try harder? I was actually disappointed this didn't get updated text and new art in Champions of Kamigawa (we got a white version called Vigilance instead).

Either way it's flavor gets a solid 4/5. 

12/15. Not bad for a card from Legends. 

In it's native Nipponese