The Winter Domain (Ojutai primer, pt. 2)

This is the card-by-card analysis of the string of posts I want to dedicate to this deck, although I will be brief and probably bunch cards together as needed, since some of the cards are essentially the same cards, and some exist in the deck for the exact same reason.

The lands:
I won’t go over the dual lands, since they are quite obvious. The notable omissions from the duals are Port Town, Nimbus Maze, Seachrome Coast, and Irrigated Farmland. There aren’t any notable reasons for any of these omissions, other than the fact that I don’t own these particular lands and haven’t gotten around to get them. None of them are strictly better than the duals I have in the deck anyway.

The basics are numerous in the deck, allowed by the two-colour nature of it. I use the Ojutai basic lands from Dragons of Tarkir in order to tie it all together nicely. They look pretty sweet.

It should be noted that the deck doesn’t outright need the expensive lands like the fetchlands, Tundra, and so on, but those are cards I actually do happen to have, so I’ve included them. The deck can be built much cheaper, and worrying about the manabase in a two-colour deck is overdoing it for most of the time, in my opinion. With that said, let’s have a look at some of the special lands in the deck.

Minamo, School at Water’s Edge – This is perhaps the most important land card in my deck, which is a shame since it’s getting up there in terms of price. It adds pseudo-vigilance to the Commander, which is very important, and it’s also a school, so it ties into the Commander himself flavourfully as well. It’s the land I most often get with Expedition Map.

Calciform Pools – I think that these storage lands are underplayed in the format, and I quite like them in control decks. I want to pass the turn with mana up most of the time anyway and if the lap goes around the table without me spending all of it, I might as well put a counter on this thing, to cast some of the big spells in the deck like the Draw X-cards.

Celestial Colonnade, Mishra’s Factory, Mutavault – I didn’t realize how expensive Celestial Colonnade had gotten, but the other two are at least not outrageously expensive. I think all three merit inclusion in the deck, due to three reasons: 1. They can carry the equipment in the deck in a pinch. 2. They work well as Planeswalker assassins. 3. Most importantly: they protect Ojutai from Edict effects.

The Ramp:
Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Sol Ring – All of these are awesome, since they produce more mana than they cost. Sol Ring is by far the best of the three, though. Mana Crypt is a bit risky in this kind of deck – since part of the gameplan is to play a long game, the damage really adds up. Thus, I usually don’t play it until the turn I need the extra two mana. Mana Vault allows for a turn 2 commander if I really want to paint a bull’s eye on myself, but is most often used for the large Draw X-spells.

Azorius SignetTalisman of Progress, Thought Vessel, Thran Dynamo – These serve similar purposes, though not the exact kind of purpose. The signet and the talsiman both ramp and fix my mana, both are great. I think the talismans are desperately underplayed in the format, actually, at least all the non-green one should warrant inclusion in any deck they’re allowed in. Thought Vessel is a good rock with a neat upside for the later parts of the game, and Thran Dynamo is my single high-end ramp, used solely to  cast huge spells.

Land Tax, Expedition Map, Wayfarer’s Bauble – Out of these three, only Wayfarer’s Bauble ramps technically, but the other two can be used to fix the mana by getting me whichever basic I need. Expedition Map comes with the obvious upside of getting any land, which includes all of the utility lands I discussed above. Land Tax is great, and combos with Scroll Rack, which is also in the deck.

In total, I run ten mana ramp or fixers, and 38 lands. This is usually more than enough, but it’s always best to stay cautious; I want to be able to make land drops every turn for the first five-six turns easily, and I have the spells to make use of all of my lands at all stages of the game.


In the third and final part of this analysis, I will discuss the cards I cast with the cards I listed above! Until next time!

 

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The Winter Dragon (Ojutai primer, pt. 1)

Introduction:
Though the switch between the old Tarkir timeline to the new led to the destruction of my favourite world of all time in Magic – the Khans-timeline Tarkir, it brought with it my favourite Commander of all time: Dragonlord Ojutai. As head of his eponymous clan after the downfall of all khans and the death of Shu Yun at the hands (at the breath?) of Ojutai himself, Dragonlord Ojutai is also known as “the Great Teacher”. His clan values knowledge and wisdom, as well as martial prowess, and Ojutai is the epitome of both those aspects.

This deck started off as a reaction to my friend’s project to build Dragonlord Atarka, and originally it was intended to be a school-themed deck. I’ve written about the deck’s thematic construction before (part 1, part 2, part 3), and since the deck has gone through numerous changes since, I want to focus on the deck’s function.

Why Ojutai?
Azorius is blessed with several good candidates for the command zone, whether you’re into control (Grand Arbiter Augustin IV), voltron (Bruna, Light of Alabaster, Geist of Saint Traft), blink (Brago, King Eternal), or even tribal (Sygg, River Guide, Kangee, Aerie Keeper). Ojutai steps into the ponds of both Augustin IV and Bruna by being a voltron commander of a control shell. This dual nature of the deck lends it strengths not available to other commanders: he’s better protected than Augustin IV, he’s cheaper than Bruna, and he’s better at generating card advantage than Saint Traft. This combined strength along with the nice thematic flavour of the commander makes him my choice.

Do play this deck if you:

  • Like long games.
  • Like interactive play where you’re able to answer a variety of threats.
  • Like your commander to generate cards for you.
  • Like to win with commander damage.

Do not play this deck if you:

  • Like to ramp out into huge threats.
  • Like to win quickly out of nowhere.

Basic strategy
Early game, the deck wants to make land drops and establish a board position by making land drops. I like to tap out to cast card-draw spells over holding up counter mana early game, if it likely allows me to never miss a land drop. The deck can then answer most threats presented by opponents either through the flexible removal suite or countermagic, to preserve life total for later parts of the game. In the mid-game, the deck wants to establish a card parity vs. most of the opponents, usually through Rhystic Study, or one of the Draw X cards-spells. The deck then wants to win in the late game through casting the commander and playing one of the various Vigilance enablers on him, followed by beat down.

The deck rewards, or outright needs, diplomatic play to survive the early turns of some games, against very aggressive opponents. Against all opponents, the deck will have to, and is good at, adapting to the changing board- and game states.

The Deck list:
I’ll leave you with the current deck list, as an image. Click here (TappedOut link) to see the same list but with working card tags etc.

The Greatest Teacher as of 2017-09-09

 


In the following posts, I will break down the deck into categories and discuss some of the card choices as needed. Until then, have a look at my themed custom play mat, drawn by my friend GrimLavamancer.

EDH deck update

Since it’s been so long since I’ve written here, I wanted to take a moment and present my current stall of decks that I play in my paper meta. Click the links on each of the decks’ names to go to my TappedOut page for each decklist. Some of the card choices might seem strange, but bear in mind that I’ve got all of the decks sleeved up at the same time, and I don’t keep a staples binder or similar system – all to save time when gaming (and because I prefer to keep my decks as-is). All of them, aside maybe the last one, are competitive within my paper meta.

The Greatest Teacher – Dragonlord Ojutai
My Dragonlord Ojutai deck is a fairly straight-forward blue-white control deck. Originally, it was built to emphasize Ojutai’s role as a teacher (since I too teach for a living), but while the theme was very easy to build, because many blue cards refer to things like knowledge or study, it has given way to the deck’s strength bit by bit. It wants to sit idle and make land drops for quite some time, cast one of the draw X-spells to get ahead on cards, and finally win through Ojutai suited up with one of the deck’s Vigilance enablers. It’s more controlling than most Ojutai lists I’ve seen, but it suits my playstyle. It’s my favourite deck ever, and I’ve made sure it’s noticed – I’ve got the custom play mat, I’ve got two of the Dragons of Tarkir prerelease Ojutai dice, the basic lands in the deck are all Dragons of Tarkir with the proper art and so on. It’s not a bad deck but it’s not a fast deck either. For quick games, I never bring this out.

Dark Necessities – Liliana, Heretical Healer
I’ve played several variants of mono-black in several formats, including EDH. Currently, my mono-black deck of choice is Liliana, Heretical Healer. I’ve tried making a fairly competitive deck that still feels a bit flavourful, and the list is my result. In short, I want to cast Liliana at an early opportunity, flip her with one of the deck’s many sacrifice outlets, and begin getting value from mostly her +2 ability. I really like that the deck makes use of some pretty far-out cards, like Geth’s Grimoire, and Blood Pet – the latter which is a pretty decent outlet that replaces the mana investment to cast it. It also sees almost no play in the format, and I find the 6th edition/Tempest art strangely cute. Unlike my historical black decks, Liliana sometimes has troubles closing games, but I like it still.

The Getaway – Reyhan, Last of the Abzan/Tana, the Bloodsower
I’m a big fan of Jund as a colour combination, but I’m not a fan of any of the available commanders. I looked over the available partners and found I liked Reyhan most in the colours which meant she had to partner with Vial Smasher, or Tana or otherwise I would be left without the Last Abzan. None of the Jund partners synch together in a completely natural way but I went with these two and took the deck down a “counter matters” route echoing my old Anafenza deck but with red over white and with a tokens sub-theme. This means the deck can go both wide and tall, which is very useful. I’ve focused on creatures that generate their own +1/+1 counters so as to not be stuck with tiny creatures not being able to grow by themselves, but there are a couple of exceptions. An obvious combo, which I didn’t see until it came up in a game, is Inferno Titan + Bow of Nylea / Mer-Ek Nightblade. The deck has many of these small interactions, which I like, and it can play long games through things like Genesis / Phyrexian Reclamation and it has access to a nice toolbox of creatures through Survival of the Fittest / Birthing Pod. My favourite cards of the deck are the cards that tend to support both the +1/+1 counter theme and the tokens theme – Bloodspore Thrinax, and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar to name a couple.

Mini Epic – Mairsil, the Pretender
My newest deck uses one of the commanders from the Commander 2017 release, and it’s the one that might be the most broken of them all. It’s pretty easy to make Mairsil into a combo machine, able to exile just a couple of cards and then generate infinite mana, mill everyone to death, and make nobody have a good time. I don’t want to do that, I want to play Magic, and as such I built a very casual take on Mairsil. Mostly because I wanted to play with Morphling again after more than a decade. I’ve also included a bunch of cards to enhance the “swiss army knife” feel of the deck – charms and commands most notably. The deck is very new and will probably go through many changes over the coming weeks.

Lastly, there’s of course Wydwen, but my Wydwen deck is currently going through an overhaul, so I’m not prepared to present a good enough list to be worth publication. It’s still the same good old deck, though – control elements, card draw, equipments, and the best Dimir commander ever printed.

Top 5: Factions within Magic

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Magic hasn’t been doing warring factions for real for very long. Before Ravnica, all we knew was the Coalition and the Phyrexians, pit fighters in Otaria and the Brother’s War. With the advent of warring factions, however, entire sets, prereleases, even the very language which we use to describe the game, has been altered drastically. In this top 5 list, I will give homage to my most favourite factions, be it from a coolness standpoint, or a gameplay standpoint, though mostly the former.

steward of valeron5. Bant (Alara block) – Bant is technically a shard and not a faction, but with the events of the Conflux set, Bant finds itself in conflict with its hitherto unknown neighbouring shards – Naya and Esper. Thus, I’ll let it count for this list. Bant is the land of chivalry, the place where Elspeth Tirel first regarded as a proper home. Valiant knights ride large cat beasts through a romanticized medieval fantasy kingdom, alongside angels, anthropomorphic rhinos and aven. The knights don’t wear armour on their backs, because nobody would ever consider trying to attack from anywhere but the front. The very essence of chivalry, Bant takes number five on my list. Its mechanic, Exalted, also demonstrates the chivalry of single combat well. The only thing that keeps Bant off of a higher position on this list is that while the white part of its white-green-blue alignment is easy to see, the other two colours don’t really make an impact on the aesthetics in my opinion.

phyrexianplaguelord4. The Phyrexians (all of Magic, more or less) – We’ve just seen the promised end of the Eldrazi, finally, and Magic has been through other great villains, Nicol Bolas for example, but none stand out as the main antagonist of all of the multiverse than the Phyrexians. What I like about the Phyrexians is that they are pretty much fully-realized as the worst thing that could happen to a plane. Constructed by Yawgmoth, on their eponymous mechanical plane, they invade other planes and spread sickness and death in order to “compleat” beings – meaning to replace biological body parts with mechanical body parts little by little, until nothing but the mechanical parts remain. This opens up a philosophical question, much in the same vein of the Boat of Theseus: if one were to remove a plank from a boat and replace it with a new one, and keep doing this little by little until the entire boat is entirely new pieces – is it still fundamentally the same boat?

Aside from trampling ancient philosophical questions, the Phyrexians have also been the focal point of a large part of Magic’s history. Virtually the entire Weatherlight saga, that spanned for many years during the 90’s and 00’s, the ongoing story was that of the Weatherlight crew trying to combat an impending invasion from the Phyrexians. Later on, we see them again compleating old familiar faces on Mirrodin, and particularly there, their new mechanic Infect serves them well in creating a threatening, evil faction. Props to the old workhorse of the Phyrexians, they take the number three slot on this list!

student of ojutai3. Clan Ojutai (Dragons of Tarkir) – Clan Ojutai retains many of the philosophical elements of their former incarnation of the Jeskai Way when Sarkhan changes Tarkir’s timeline which leads to the fall of the khans and their clans as part of the Fate Reforged storyline. But, while some of the old clans of Tarkir, perhaps most notably the Temur and the Sultai clans, end up serving their new dragonlords as lesser beings, Ojutai decides to take on his new subjects as students, because he is the great teacher. Clan Ojutai values study, knowledge, wisdom, and learning, and as a teacher myself, I can respect and relate to that. Aside from the fact that Ojutai himself partakes in terrible intellectual dishonesty due to erasing parts of the history of the plane in order to make himself out to be greater than he might be, I can sympathize with most of what they are doing.

Though non-dragon members of the clan are certainly in part second-rate members, much like in some of the more ruthless clans, in Clan Ojutai this is due to the fact that humans, aven and so on have much shorter lifespans and thus simply don’t have the time available to the dragons to collect wisdom. This is also very appealing to me, the fact that the dragons out-rank the humans and aven isn’t due to their physical size or strength, it is due to their knowledge and wisdom.

Mechanically, however, Clan Ojutai brings few new things to the table, using Rebound, a reprinted mechanic from Rise of the Eldrazi as their signature move. That keeps them from reaching any higher on this list.

dimir doppelganger2. House Dimir (Ravnica, Gatecrash) – Though Mr. Sean Whatson of Commanderin‘ fame may claim to be the “Dimirest Man Alive”, I too carry a soft spot for them in my heart. As the blue-black aligned guild of the cityplane of Ravnica, House Dimir is a secretive society, operating from the shadows using classical methods of espionage, deception, assassination and manipulation to procure information (or “secrets”) which they then sell on the black market of Ravnica. They are the essence of the knowledge of blue paired with the ambition of black.

House Dimir’s guild leader, Szadek, serves as the main antagonist of the original Ravnica’s storyline, making the guild very prominent to the players, but within the lore, House Dimir is so extremely secretive, most Ravnicans believe there are only nine guild on their plane. Both the guildpact drafted before the story starts, the guildpact formed after the events of the Dissention set, and the guildpact drafted by Teysa Karlov as part of the Return to Ravnica storyline recognizes only nine guilds. The guild is so secretive, most people who deal with them have no idea that House Dimir is behind the agents meeting them – they think that they deal with guildless or with agents from other guilds. In extreme cases, not even the agents aligned with the guild itself is completely sure who they are actually working for.

So, for being blue and black, and being the epitome of secretive, House Dimir takes the number two slots. Their keyworded ability from Ravnica, Transmute, is very powerful indeed, especially in EDH where tutoring is very powerful even if restricted, but it leads to repetitive gameplay. In Gatecrash, they got a new keyword in Cipher, which wasn’t as powerful as Transmute, but was clunky, only went on spells, and used the awkward “encode” wording. Thus, for being awesome in spirit, but awkward in mechanics, Dimir reaches number two!

snowhorn rider1. The Temur Frontier (Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged) – I wasn’t very interested in Khans of Tarkir when it was first announced. I’m not a huge fan of Mongolian popular history, nor was I in reality very excited about the coveted “wedge” set. But boy howdy, did Wizards prove me wrong on this one, and it is in large parts thanks to The Temur Frontier. Gathering much inspiration from peoples living in northern parts of the asian continent, the Temur lead a harsh nomadic life in the wilderness of Tarkir. They value strength, family, and survival above all else, and they don’t fight unless provoked (mostly by the Mardu Horde).

In battle, they join forces with bears, ride huge beasts, fight alongside ainok, loxodon and elementals alike, and they slide down hill slopes on top of sleds made from weapons as parts of their charge. Containing their awesome is impossible! The Temur Frontier is also the home of the whisperers, a type of shamans that can commune with animals and each other through a sort of hive mind state. The Temur Frontier are essential to the Tarkir storyline, in that Yasova Dragonclaw, the khan of the clan during Fate Reforged, is manipulated by Nicol Bolas into assisting in the killing or injuring of Ugin, depending on the timeline.

Their clan ability, Ferocious, isn’t much to write home about, since it’s merely a revamped version of Naya’s signature ability in the Alara block, but it did play very well in limited (Savage Punch was definitely green’s best common in triple-KTK, and perhaps one of the best commons in the set) and it is somewhat flavourful. Further, Surrak Dragonclaw, the khan of the clan in the Khans of Tarkir timeline, became khan by punching a bear. Likely in half. How awesome is that?


What do you think of my list? What’s your own top 5? Leave a comment below!

Deckbuilding 101 – Conception

pharika banner

“Art” is a controversial word. Plenty of people smarter than me have spent many hours trying to convince people that a thing so commonplace and almost banal as video games can be defined as “art”, much like other non-interactive mediums – literature, film, music. I, however, I think deckbuilding is an art. And it’s a tough one to boot.

In a series of posts beginning with this one, I intend to break down my method for deck construction in EDH. To exemplify, I’m also going to present my latest protect – Pharika, God of Affliction. To start off, I want to make a few things clear, using some truisms:

purphoros,godoftheforge.hqa) There are no such things, practically, as a “solved” EDH deck. Another label which one needs to be very careful with is “finished”. There are commanders that tend to be linear in their strategy – meaning they lend themselves to some strategies more easily. An example of this could be Purphoros, God of the Forge. Practically all Purphoros decks want to do more or less the same thing – drop Purphoros, make a whole bunch of tokens and kill everyone else at the table as soon as possible. It’s a linear strategy in a commander that more or less builds itself, and though every list will have variations, many will contain the same core strategy. Even then, it’s hard to argue that this list or that list is the perfect Purphoros 99; local variations always exist in individual metagames, and that has to be taken into account during the deckbuilding progress.

To clarify – let’s say you play Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Some metagames might be very cutthroat, so you put in all the extra turn spells you can, in hopes of regrowing them until you have either an unbeatable board state, or everyone else is plain dead. Other metagames might be more casual and the opponents will play less powerful decks, meaning every game ends with you taking 4+ turns in a row, regrowing your time walks, and winning. This will either get you kicked out of the playgroup, or targeted first in every game, neither situation is preferable.

These two considerations leads me to always fine-tune and make changes to my decks, with the waxing and waning of my local paper metagame. This, obviously, isn’t a bad thing, but it’s a thing to take to heart – you won’t likely sleeve up your 99, say “done” and play that same 99 until you retire the deck.

winterorb.hqb) EDH is, by its very nature, a very broken format. The object is very rarely to find a list that will combo-kill or lock down the table on turn 5 every game. The reasons for this is mostly the same as before – people may outright refuse to play against your deck, or target your first, turning your game into Archenemy.

Here, we get into a murky territory, but the object of your deckbuilding will, in many cases, be to find something that is “fun” to both play with and against. Granted, “fun” is a subjective experience, but I can say from my 20+ years of playing the game (this is an argument from authority, disregard that) that the games that I enjoy and find memorable are games where interactions and agency are important aspects. Games where someone blows up all the lands might be memorable, but not fun, since you can’t interact without mana. Games where someone kills you with a spectacular storm combo on turn 5 or 6 might be memorable for the sheer spectacle, but it’s hardly interactive, and losing to a nigh-masturbatory combo gets boring very quickly.

Don’t get me wrong – if you want to play in a metagame where people are playing die-hard, cutthroat, mass-land-destructing, storm-comboing steamrollers, then by all means. If you enjoy that, and if you find a group of people who enjoy that, knock yourselves out. However, from my experience both of online and paper metagames, most groups are not like that. Jason Alt’s 75% deckbuilding theory might be applicable to your local paper metagame, if you’re playing in anything similar to mine.


With all this in mind – today I want to talk about deck concepts. This isn’t a hard thing, per-se, but I want to stress the importance of a central theme or thought right from the get-go. Your concept could be almost anything, a few examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Tribal X (tribal dragons, tribal merfolk, tribal zombie, tribal elves)
  • Commander-based (Voltron, commander-based combos)
  • Vorthos decks (story-based decks)
  • Good-stuff (control, ramp or mid range)
  • Colour(s) (certain colour, colour pairs, shards, wedges etc.)

vowofdutyTo start off you need to think about what sort of deck you want to build. Then, use that central idea as a filter for when looking for cards. A card that might be underpowered in one deck might fit like a glove in another. To give an example from my own decks – one of the most powerful cards in my Ojutai deck is Vow of Duty. The Vow of-cycle, first printed in the original Commander product, are all interesting – they give +2/+2 and  grant a static ability, and if they’re cast targeting an opponent’s creature, that can’t attack you. This leads to interesting multiplayer situations, no doubt. In Ojutai, however, Vow of Duty grants Ojutai not only Vigilance, an underrated ability in a format where you have to block potentially three or four times for every time you attack, it also turns on his permanent Hexproof and boosts his power to the important threshold of 7 – enough to kill in exactly three swings. I’ve played many, many white Commander decks since the printing of Vow of Duty, but only in Ojutai do I consider it one of the best cards in the deck.

pharikasnakePharika has a few cards of similar calibre that I had to buy to put the deck together – most notably Eidolon of Blossoms and Doomwake Giant, which both triggers on Pharika’s activated ability, since the Snake tokens she puts onto the battlefield are Enchantment Creatures.

What I’m trying to get at with all this rambling is that it’s good to have a theme, and it’s even better to keep focus on that theme. I built Pharika very recently, the deck is only about six games old, but I’ve had a blast playing with it, and I will surely continue to work on it while I write this series. My initial thought, my central theme was quite simple – I wanted an interactive, good-stuff build that utilized some of the cool cards Golgari has to offer in EDH, and I wanted Pharika to be sufficiently different from Meren of Clan Nel Toth, which I played extensively from the release of Commander 2015 up until this spring, when Meren became the most popular Golgari general on EDHREC.com. Pharika, on the other hand, has only 66 registered decks, compared to Meren’s 485. I wanted something hipster, and I wanted something weird, and in brainstorming with Grim Lavamancer, I tossed around the idea of Pharika. So far so good.Lavamancer

I want to finish today with a few select words from our very own friendly neighbourhood Grim Lavamancer – take it away. Your homework until next time is to think about a concept for a new EDH build.

The Great Teacher’s domain

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A while back, I was talking to our friendly neighbourhood Lavamancer, on Facebook. This isn’t unusual, since we talk on Facebook most days – but on this particular day, we were talking about new EDH decks, and Mr. Lavamancer hatched the plan of building Dragonlord Atarka. I wasn’t to be outdone, so I countered (pun intended) by saying that I have to build Dragonlord Ojutai – which I did, though he finished his deck before I finished mine.

Mr. Lavamancer also came up with the rather excellent idea of drawing a custom playmat for his deck, and I asked him to make one for me too. Today, we got the results in the mailbox, and it was worth every penny, customs and all. I thought I’d show off my own playmat, with the hopes of Mr. Lavamancer showing off his in the near future.

ojutaimat 1

The playmat, in all its glory. Everything is drawn by Mr. Lavamancer, with periodic feedback from me. In essence, Mr. Lavamancer played up the Teacher aspect of The Great Teacher, which suits me just fine, since I’m a teacher too! There’s a lot of detail crammed in to the picture and some in-jokes, so I’ve snapped a few pictures to show off some of them (click to enlarge).


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Close-up of the board

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The teachers’ lounge, a.k.a. the command zone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


ojutaimat 4

Random student, Blue from our own Mana Burn webcomic series, and Narset featuring a dunce cap

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Library, graveyard and exile zones respectively

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


ojutaimat 8

The Great Teacher hanging out in the teachers’ lounge!

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Some of the lands in the deck displayed in the classroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t wait to break it out against the others on Friday, if I can find a hole in my schedule to get away for some EDH. I’m really happy with how the mat turned out!

Vorthos vs. Spike

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Being a great teacher is sometimes about making sacrifices. It’s not uncommon to have a lesson planned for which the teacher thinks he or she is worthy some prize. Then, if the class is uncooperative, it might all fall apart. Something that the teacher thought might be on par with the class’ general knowledge might prove too difficult or too easy. Things like that happen, all the time. To be a great teacher is to adapt. It is either to adapt oneself to the environment, or to adapt the environment to oneself.

Being a great teacher is understanding what a pupil thinks she or he knows, identifying what the next step would be, and then reaching twice as high.

dragonlordojutai.fullDuring my first playtest session against my paper metagame, Ojutai felt hopelessly outclassed right from the get-go. Granted, I had a pretty lousy game, but in a format where even short games take around half an hour, and many last for three or four times that time, having a single miserable experience is hard to shake off. It’s not that I lost, badly, it was that I spent the entire two hours of the game feeling underpowered compared to the other decks around the table.

As such, I was willing to try another approach. Fewer obvious “this is here because of flavour reasons”-cards, and more cards that fall into the camp of both powerful and flavourful. For example: I cut Ertai, Wizard Adept in favor of Mystical Tutor. I cut Barrin, Master Wizard in favor of Enlightened Tutor. Both cuts were hard to make, and neither makes me feel proud, but the replacements are powerful enough. Mystical Tutor finds any of the slew of instants or sorceries in the deck, ranging from removal, to sweepers, to card-draw, to countermagic. Enlightened Tutor serves to find any voltron-piece for the general, which helps out a lot. Both the tutors are also flavour-wise tutors, meaning there is a clear connection to learning and schooling. Feel free to call me a cop-out.

brainstorm.hqBut this is my point – it’s easy to see the appeal of a well-thought-out, well-executed theme deck in the works. But what use is a theme deck if it can’t at least stand up to the metagame? I’ve played six games with Ojutai so far, and I’ve been the last teacher standing a couple of times. This isn’t that important in a casual multiplayer format, but playing an underpowered list and being miserable all evening as your friends are doing broken things is simply awful, good theme or not.

In the end it’s about having a good time, and having a good time at an EDH table, for me, depends on having a fighting chance against all the decks. My new version of Ojutai, which you can see here: link to TappedOut.net decklist, has a fighting chance against a metagame which is what I was looking for.

To summarize, it’s not a question whether to go “vorthos” or “spike”, but rather, it is a dance between the two. They exist on a scale when it comes to theme decks in EDH, and I feel alright being somewhere in the middle.

The Great Teacher, part 3

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Today is the last day of my easter break, and I want to celebrate going back to work in the morning by doing one last post about the flavour in my Ojutai deck. This part will focus on any of the cards that center on learning, but aren’t students or school supplies. deepanalysis.hq

Thirst for Knowledge, Compulsive Research, Deep Analysis – All of these cards focus on learning orschoolwork. I especially like Deep Analysis, the cephalid in the art are obviously taking part in a biology lesson and are about to dissect a Masticore. All three are pretty good cards, and all three tend to generate some sort of card advantage at best, and card quality at worst.

Fact or Fiction – Clearly a reference to some sort of religious studies lesson, a subject I happen to teach. It’s also a very, very good card, which always helps.

rhysticstudy.hqRhystic Study – The name refers to studying, the art shows a student (Alexi?), and the flavour references teaching. Twice. It has to be in the deck. It’s also very, very good, and an EDH staple, for good reason.

Concentrate – …is a good thing to do, when you study. The card is decent. That’s about it.

Council’s Judgment – This one is even more far-fetched. I call it Student Council’s Judgment, and it represents The Great Teacher’s democratic side. Otherwise, most schools have some sort of disciplinary board if students misbehave, and I guess it could represent that too. Pretty sweet card, it deals with most things, and can lead to hectic diplomatic plays around the board.

Long-Term Plans – “To teach is to plan”, a lecturer told me during my teaching education, and that is the truest statement I heard that entire five-year span. Teachers spend an obscene amount of time planning, and this card represents The Great Teacher’s planning. It also happens to synch well with his trigger, which is also very nice.

Stroke of Geniusuginsinsight.full – Having a stroke of genius sure is nice when trying to learn something, and the flavour references experimentation, an important part of any science-based subject. The card is one of three draw-X spells, along with Blue Sun’s Zenith, and Sphinx’s Revelation. The latter is maybe also tied to teaching a bit, since it references knowledge in the flavour. All three are pretty boss ways to tap out at the end of an opponent’s turn in order to get ahead in cards compared to the entire board.

Ugin’s Insight – This is probably my favourite of the teaching cards, since it’s the most obscure. Clearly, Ugin is showing Jace a PowerPoint presentation of the Eldrazi. The card, the flavour and the art also convey the fact that Ugin is more knowledgeable than Jace, and in this case, teaches him. It’s also sometimes alright, sometimes really good. Scrying 2-5 and then drawing three is usually worth 5 mana, especially when you compare it to Concentrate.


I will write a final post on the “cards that are good but not really connected to the theme” cards, and then close the book on The Great Teacher for this time. I’m only a single game into the deck right now, and big changes might happen over the coming weeks.

 

The Great Teacher, part 2

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The decklist is “complete” (I am one of those who don’t believe in finished EDH decks), and I’ve taken it for a quick spin around the club tonight, and I thought I’d celebrate this by going over the school materials that the students of The Great Teacher will get to enjoy.

minamo,schoolatwatersedge.hqMinamo, School at Water’s Edge – These days this card is quite expensive, but I picked up two of them right after they had rotated out of Standard, for next to nothing. Little did I know then that it would be pretty kick-ass in an EDH deck more than a decade later. Minamo gives The Great Teacher Hexproof on command and is a really neat card to have in the deck. Flavour-wise, it’s a school, at the water’s edge, and just so happens, the school I work at is right by a lake.

Scroll Rack, Scroll of the Masters, Merchant Scroll – All schools need books, and in The Great Teacher’s school, they come in the form of scrolls. Scroll Rack is pretty powerful on its own, and the deck has quite a few shuffle effects, Merchant Scroll can find numerous cards in the deck for cheap, and Scroll of the Masters is pretty underwhelming but quite flavourful at the same time. I like all three well enough in the deck!

Expedition Map – It’s time for a geography lesson. Expedition Map can find Minamo, which is what it does best and is in the deck to do. It’s slow, but reliable.

Detention Sphere – Students who misbehave in The Great Teacher’s classroom get to go to the Detention detentionsphere.hqSphere. I plan to make a tiny paper dunce cap to put on the card currently in detention, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. In terms of game-play, it is pretty close to a blue-white Vindicate, even if it does get randomly destroyed sometimes, but it has the upside of being great against token decks in general. I don’t think I’d play blue-white without it.

Ring of Thune – This could perhaps pass as a class ring? In all honesty, it’s mostly there for the effect, giving The Great Teacher vigilance is really powerful, since it turns on his inherent hexproof all the time. In flavour terms it’s hard to justify, but I think a portion of the deck ought to be cards to grant The Great Teacher vigilance.

 

And that’s it for the school material! In the next post, I will go over any card that has to do with learning!

The Great Teacher, part 1

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Since my friend who you know as your friendly neighbourhood Grim Lavamancer, who also happens to draw our local webcomic, is knee-deep in a new Dragonlord Atarka deck, I decided to follow suit and design a new EDH deck to compete i proper Elder Dragon Highlander. I decided to focus on Dragonlord Ojutai, for a few reasons:

  1. I haven’t played Azorius in ages, and blue-white is my favourite colour combination in Magic.dragonlordojutai.full
  2. Like myself, Ojutai is a teacher, and that appeals to me.
  3. I wanted to do something a bit more focused on a theme.

All of these together led me to design a deck around Ojutai as a teacher, and the primary focus being cards that has to do with teaching. Luckily, blue is all about knowledge and learning, so the theme was in fact quite easy to do once I got started. Today, I want to go over the students that will be taught by our Great Teacher in the sky, as well as the staff that might have held high positions in their old institutions, but now are relegated to mere learners like the rest of the students.

Barrin, Master Wizard – In the lore, Barrin is the headmaster of the Tolarian Academy. Since his school is these days in ruins, he has been relegated to head bookkeeper in the library. He is yet to be joined by his wife, since I’ve yet to procure a paper version of her card, but she might join Ojutai’s school in the future. Gameplay-wise, Barrin is a bit underwhelming, but can certainly be useful against several Voltron commanders, creatures with counters (hello, Animar!) and the like.

jace,themindsculptor.hqJace, the Mind Sculptor – Jace’s origin story, as detailed in Magic Origins, retells how Jace was tutored from a young age under the Sphix Alhammarret (whose name I can’t seem to be able to spell to save my life). They had a falling out in the end, when Jace discovered Alhammarret had erased parts of his memory in order to conceal the Mind Sculptor’s abilities from himself. They battled, harsh words were certainly tossed around, and Jace planeswalked away with a damage mind, after having destroyed the mental prowess of his former mentor. In the official story, Jace ends up on Ravnica, but I don’t see why he wouldn’t take a de-tour to Tarkir and find himself learning under The Great Teacher himself.

As far as his prowess goes on the table, Jace is somewhat of a rattle snake – people tend to attack him just for the heck of it, because they are genuinely scared of the card-advantage it bestows upon the controller. This is very fair, since Jace is arguably the best planeswalker ever printed. He belongs in a control strategy, especially one that can protect him well.

ertai,wizardadept.fullErtai, Wizard Adept – Ertai was a student at the Tolarian Academy, and he is the archetypical countermagic-wiedling blue mage. He is arrogant, on the brink of foolish, and often thinks he is way funnier than he actually is. After joining the Weatherlight crew, he travelled to Rath, where he was unfortunately left behind by the rest of the crew due to an emergency, corrupted and killed by accident by Squee. Very tragic. In this case, however, he is a cocky student learning from The Great Teacher, like the rest of the class. Gameplay-wise, he’s pretty bad, but he is a reusable counterspell and can probably function like a rattlesnake like Jace, though to a lesser extent. I imagine he will be soaking up a spot-removal or two in his days. The original wording of the card also invites a lecture on the history of Instants and Interrupts!

Teferi, Temporal Archmage – Another powerful student of the Tolarian Academy, Teferi plays a major role in large parts of the Magic storyline, which eventually ends with him giving up his spark at the end of the Time Spiral block. This card represents him at the peak of his power, and I find him a lot more engaging than the creature counterpart. Though his ultimate is very expensive and unlikely to be used, the other two abilities are both very useful. He’s expensive, but worth it!

Academy Elite – A group of staff from the academy in Paliano on the plane of Fiora, how could they not qualify into The Great Teacher’s class? Though obviously much less learned than The Great Teacher, these classmates can band together to create a powerful creature, and also use their own counters to fuel more card-draw. The mana cost isn’t very cheap, but it’s very non-restrictive, and considering the size could be outright enormous depending on the opposition, I’d say they’re worth it.

narsettranscendent.fullNarset Transcendent – In the lore, Narset is expelled from Clan Ojutai in the Dragons version of the Tarkir storyline, but that doesn’t stop me from including her. She is actually the only one, aside The Great Teacher himself, to know what actually happened to the Jeskai in Tarkir’s past, and her story is quite engaging. In the Khans version of the storyline she ends up dead, like most of her current fellow classmates, and I guess exile is better than death. No doubt she is a brilliant student though, so she belongs in the deck. Her abilities are pretty damn good too, all three are relevant, and her loyalty score is really high considering her relatively cheap mana cost.


That’s as far as we’ll go this time, class dismissed! If there are any other students you, dear reader, think would qualify into The Great Teacher’s Academy of Spellcasting, Learning and Plotting, feel free to leave a suggestion in the comments section below!