The problems with playgroups

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I spent Monday night playing EDH with some friends who I usually don’t play EDH with, which is always a complete blast. This night, I brought a deck I recently put together – Tasigur, the Golden Fang, who I myself wrote down wrote off as too durdly in my preview post of him. All bad feelings regarding him went completely out the window when I happened to open a copy of him in my Dragons of Tarkir sealed pool, and naturally, I had to build a deck around him. He did really, really well.

The deck can be seen here: You go, Tasigurl! on TappedOut.net.tasigur

The deck is obviously not tuned to any given metagame, since I more or less just threw together the good BUG cards I had, and with the tuck countermagic replaced by other similar cards, I was ready to at least take Tasigur for a spin around town, and boy did he spin.

Tasigur is followed by some cards that I have described as problematic before – Time Warp, Exsanguinate, and Rite of Replication to be specific, but since I had no idea what to expect from the metagame in question, I figured that the gloves were off. I wasn’t about to be outdone by somebody else at the table, and this is where I sorely failed.

Problems arose when the others showed up, a couple of people had preconstructed decks, some had just put together decks from draft leftovers, some had pieced together decks more aligned with my own from EDH staples. We played mostly three man pods, but found time for a final four man pod and when I brought out Tasigur and his deck, I realized how miserably I had failed in my deck construction.

villainouswealth.fullI don’t want to say I didn’t have fun, for example, casting Villainous Wealth for like 15 on the mono-green preconstructed deck from Commander 2014, which yielded Titania, Protector of Argoth, into Terastodon blowing up three of my own lands into Collective Unconscious for about a dozen cards was awesome, and even some of the other players at the table laughed at my board state. Rather, the issue was that I suspect nobody had as much fun as me at the table, and that is a huge issue in a social format. Thankfully, most of the players around the table seemed to let me be an asshole and play out my board with few frowns, and some even talked about getting more into the format afterwards, but I’m sure the latter were in minority.

My point is that the main issue with EDH as a format isn’t that it is inherently broken, which it obviously is. The problem is that it’s difficult for players to find a suitable power level in a playgroup. When my first playgroup started playing back around 2011, it was clear that everyone was very casual in the beginning, but as soon as somebody placed an order at StarCityGames, the arms race began, and pretty soon, we all had rather powerful decks. This is the same playgroup that both other contributors of this blog are a part of, by the way, and we’ve been playing EDH ever since. In fact, I’d much prefer to visit my old stomping grounds and play EDH a Friday night than compete in a tournament these days – partly because it’s great to see old friends, partly because in that playgroup, everyone has played lots of Vintage, Legacy and EDH and have access to most cards they want and need. In a setting like that, I don’t feel too bad about casting Villainous Wealth for fifteen because people are doing things in that neighbourhood all the time. However, in a group where there is a mix of new and seasoned players, I am left clueless.

Have you, dear reader, encountered similar issues with EDH? What’s your solution?

Tuck rule gone from EDH!

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In French Commander, the 1 vs. 1 format that’s quite different to regular EDH, they’ve been playing with a modified command zone rule for quite some time. In addition to having the option to put the commander in the command zone instead of exiling it or putting it into your graveyard, players could choose to put the commander into the command zone if it was to be put into the hand or the library. This effectively cancels out “tucking”, i.e. shuffling a commander into a player’s library, putting it on the bottom etc.

Without playing with these new rules, my initial reactions are positive. The EDH rules committee, the guys who are in charge of the rules of the format, defends the changes thus (their text in italics, my comments in regular typeface):

There are four major points in how we arrived at this decision. None of them individually was the silver bullet; the combination of factors got us to where we ended up. In no particular order:

1) We want to engender as positive an experience as we can for players. Nothing runs the feel-bads worse than having your commander unavailable to you for the whole game.

I completely agree, and this is more relevant for some commanders than others.

2) The presence of tuck encourages players to play more tutors so that in case their commander gets sent to the library, they can get it back—exactly the opposite of what we want (namely, discouraging the over-representation of tutors).

One of the format’s inherent strengths is the variance that the highlander nature provides. Tutors are a complete detriment to this, and even though I myself is guilty of playing lots of tutors in the format, I still feel that this leads to repetitive gameplay for everyone. Nobody likes losing the same way each game, and rather few likes winning in the same way each game. I don’t quite agree with the point entirely, however, since playing tutors is awesome despite the new no-tuck rule.

3) While we are keenly aware that tuck is a great weapon against problematic commanders, the tools to do so are available only in blue and white, potentially forcing players into feeling like they need to play those colors in order to survive. We prefer as diverse a field as possible.

chaoswarp.hqThis is, frankly, incorrect from an objective standpoint, but it is true that these colours are the best ones at it. I don’t think it’s a true incitament to play these particular colours, however.

4) It clears up some corner case rules awkwardness, mostly dealing with knowing the commander’s locationin the library (since highly unlikely to actually end up there).

I haven’t had any issues with this, but I’m sure that if you manifest a commander who is in the library, it does bring up some question. As said, this is corner-case as all hell.

All this aside, I think it’s a good change because it allows player to further construct decks around their commanders. The fact that it dents the balancing effects of being able to tuck broken stuff is  a side note, since the social contracts of this social format should prevent people from doing too broken stuff. If tucking is your only response to your friends’ commanders, you need to talk to your friends.

What do you think of the changes? Leave a comment!

Rending worlds at DTK prerelease (not really)

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And so, it was finally time for the much-anticipated Dragons of Tarkir prerelease, and though I planned to win this tournament, I was thwarted by a few things, mainly the fact that the TO had decided that the tournament is to begin at 1 PM, even though we were 40 players and six rounds of swiss awaited us, and the date coincided with the anniversary of my engagement, meaning I had less time than some at the tournament to finish.

In either case, I had preregistered Atarka way before the set was spoiled and I was pleased to see the spoilers dropping in. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa writes in his prerelease primer that Atarka is the best clan of the bunch, another thing I was very pleased to see.

denprotector.fullThe pool I opened wasn’t very exciting, however. It wasn’t bad per-se, but I’ve opened much better ones. Den Protector was my prerelease rare, not the best of the bunch, but certainly better than for example Atarka’s Command. What struck me about the pool is that it contained only a single dragon, a Belltoll Dragon. This is the set that is supposed to have a higher as-fan of Dragons than any other before it, and I couldn’t really see that. I got some dragon tribal cards, like Dragonlord’s Servant, and Draconic Roar but nothing near any on-colour dragons.

I built a pretty straight-forward RG Aggro deck, but since I opened both Reach of Shadows and Tasigur, the Golden Fang in my Fate Reforged pack, I splashed black for those two cards. Notice how the only mana-fixing I opened was the R/G gain land in the same pack. Fate Reforged was good to me!

The entire deck with the pool, minus the basic lands I opened, can be found here. I won’t go into much more detail, white had an excellent rare, but was too shallow to begin with. Black had a couple of good cards and was the deepest of the three non-Atarka colours, but lacked the good creatures to be viable as a second colour over green (red was already decided given the burn spells I opened), and blue had a bad Mythic Rare and some of the worst commons in the two sets.

In my first game, I played against another Atarka player and my mana curve’s wonkyness came back to bite me hard. I got stuck on four lands for a long time in both games one and two, with multiple five-drops in hand. For game three, I mulliganed to five before seeing two lands, and kept a pretty bad hand, but my opponent was playing cards like Sight of the Scalelords and Sheltered Aerie so I won anyway.

In the second game, I faced off against Silumgar splashing white for Pacifism, and won very quickly since he had some issues with his mana in the second game. My mana was perfect in both games, thank Atarka.

illusorygains.fullThe third game was the most exciting by far, again against Silumgar with a bunch of annoying 3/6’s and the ever annoying Illusory Gains (which he drew in all three games). I won a very tight first game through Salt Road Quartermasters moving both his counters onto Stampeding Elk Herd and Hardened Berserker and hitting him for exactly lethal through his blockers thanks to Formiddable, while he had me on lethal with fliers. Phew. I scooped a rather close but clearly in his favour board state in the second game to make time for the third.

I drew a great opener in the third game, but time was running low and time was called after just a couple of turns. We had had a lunch break of an hour before the third round, meaning the time was now like 5:30, and I was already late for dinner with my better half. As such, I scooped to my opponent even though there was no way he could get the win.

He eventually went on to win the entire tournament, going 5-0-1, which was all well and fair since he probably had one of the best decks in the room. 2-1 for myself isn’t stellar, and I wish I had had the time to play the deck for a few more games, but I got jealous seeing everyone else opening their shiny Dragonlords. The guy opposite me during deckbuilding was Kolaghan and opened Atarka in one of his boosters and elected to not even splash her. How rude!

The Prince and the Pauper

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In informal terms, different limited environments are sometimes described as being either “prince” or “pauper”, or rather – there’s a scale with one end labeled prince and the other end pauper, and all limited environments can be placed in between. A format leaning towards pauper (through coincidence, this is only tangentially related to the constructed format of the same name) is defined by its commons – there are good threats and good removal at the common level, there might be synergies to be drafted and so on. A format leaning towards “prince” is defined by bomby rares and mythic rares – where these cards that outshine the uncommon and common cards in the format by a large margin, so large that it puts the emphasis on drafting around these powerful rares.

wingmateroc.full3x Khans of Tarkir was, according to some, a pauper format. There’s no denying that there are plenty of powerful rares; High Sentinels of Arashin, Sagu Mauler, and Wingmate Roc are all game-breaking cards that will dominate most any limited board states, but the format also contains a bunch of binder fodder as well as some great commons.

Fate Reforged, on the other hand, was according to many a prince format with very powerful rares and the Fate-Khans-Khans drafts were usually focused on opening something sweet in Fate Reforged and then making sure to draft something that could play your bomb rare. Since this is the opinion of Luis Scott-Vargas and other pros, I’m left with no credentials nor confidence to stand against these titans. I agree.

However, part of the problem of Fate Reforged being full of bomby rares is that it is the first pack to be drafted. If you open a Dromoka, the Eternal in your first pack, there would have to be a right long string of good UR Tempo cards coming for you not to at least splash the Dromoka. The rare dictates the draft too much in this case. But, when Fate Reforged is opened in Dragons-Dragons-Fate drafts, people are already probably locked into a couple of colours. As such, I expect us to see people second- or third-picking Dromoka and friends, unless someone is hate-drafting them.

The problem with the Fate Reforged rares being too powerful might still be there – there’s lots more of Dragons of Tarkir to be seen, specifically commons and uncommons, but they won’t quite dictate our drafts in the future in the same way as they have in Fate-Khans-Khans. Personally, I think some decent unconditional removal in the common or uncommon slots would solve the problem outright.

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The most exciting spoiler so far

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One of green’s best commons in Khans of Tarkirs, if not outright the best one is Savage Punch. As such, I was sad to realize it has little time left in the format, since Falcon Punching your opponent’s stuff to death is among the best things one can do in the format. Fate Reforged has Hunt the Weak, incidentally one of the best commons in the colour as well, but nothing near the power level of Savage Punch. The days of seeing Surrak punch bears to death in limited are over, but the new timeline brings this gem to green’s commons:

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The awesome name aside, this isn’t as powerful as Savage Punch, but the bonus is always there and getting cheap green fight cards at common is really nice.

Out of the five khans previously seen in Khans of Tarkir, two are undead (Anafenza and Sidisi), one is seriously lacking in composure compared to his other version (Zurgo) and one is now a Planeswalker (Narset). I’d say out of the five, Surrak is the one closets to his other self, still punching large animals with his bare fists. I really want to see his card now.

What do you think about Epic Confrontation? Leave a comment below!

In with the old, in with the new

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Spoiler season is, again, upon us, and I must say I’m really excited. Khans of Tarkir was awesome, Fate Reforged clearly above-average, and for the last third-set Magic ever sees, I expect them to bring nothing but the biggest of guns. Two cards that, out of the eleven spoiled so far, that really caught my attention were these two:

sidisi

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Both of these, obviously, are seen in the previous sets in the block as Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and Silumgar, the Drifting Death. Especially Sidisi has undergone drastic changes between the different timelines and in the new present Tarkir, she’s an undead naga serving the new dragonlord rather than being the khan.

Further, this article from Uncharted Realms dealing with Sarkhan’s return to the present time shows a very different image of the Mardu khan:

zurgo bell striker

Zurgo Helmsmasher is no longer a helm smasher nor a helms masher, depending on linguistical perspective, he is striking nothing but bells in this timeline, and is left with a much-less impressive physique. Time will tell if he’s mono-red this time around, since Sidisi lost her other colours, but I generally don’t really want a cycle – I’d much rather see a planeswalker version of Narset.

The new version of Silumgar does promise new versions of the other dragonlords, however, and I for one am really looking forward to Ojutai!

stampeding elk herdSpeaking of which, I haven’t yet figured out which dragonlord to worship during the pre-release. Dromoka was great the time I played her old version in draft, and Abzan has in general been kind to me during Khans limited – but my heart is really Temur and thus Atarka. There’s still time, so I think I’ll wait for them to show some more cards, but Stampeding Elk Herd seems very nice in limited. A 5/5 for five is above the curve in most sets at least, and the Formidable ability seems easy enough to trigger with this thing on the field.

I also like blue, but I was never a fan of neither Jeskai nor Sultai, and time will tell if there will be common dual lands in Dragons of Tarkir which would allow for a good old blue splash in my Atarka deck.

What are you going to play at the prerelease? Tell me in the comments section below!

Mana Burn #14 – Need for speed

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Greetings everyone. And welcome to a very special episode of Mana Burn (the native webcomic of Goyf Wars, brought to you by me – your friendly neighbourhood Grim Lavamancer).

We’ll get right to it. Just click the picture below to read the comic.

Click to read-14

And yes. This is in fact true. And sad. So very sad. There are (as a quick search in the magic database will tell us) 7578 different creatures out there. Of those, only 359 have haste, or are unaffected by summoning sickness. This means that 95% of all creatures out there are suffering. SUFFERING! That’s why you should donate your red mana to the Haste foundation as soon as possible.

Well, actually, you shouldn’t. The Haste foundation isn’t real (and neither is red mana). So you’d be wasting your time.

Anyway, that’s it for this time. See you around!