Kaya, Ghost Assassin

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A couple of days ago, Wizards released some information about an upcoming planeswalker, likely to be printed in this summer’s Conspiracy 2 – Kaya, Ghost Assassin. The little we know so far is neatly contained in her Planeswalker page, and in a story about her, known as “Laid to Rest“. Contrary to some of the other stuff – Laid to Rest is actually pretty good! Magic story is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I’ll admit I like it way better when released piece-meal on a weekly basis than published thrice a year in book form. The Tarkir story was often pretty well done, and I liked many of the characters. The stories regarding the Avengers Gatewatch, however, have yet to thrill me in the same way. Laid to Rest, however, was pretty neat, and I recommend you check it out!

We don’t know much about Kaya yet, but in this post, I will present my theory regarding her colours. Read on to find out!

I will spoil Laid to Rest, so if you’re interested in reading it without any spoilers, do so before reading on. Spoilers after this awesome pic of Kaya:

kaya art

Kaya, to me, seems like at least Dimir (blue-black). She is an assassin, or rather, a ghostbusting assassin, but she murders sentient beings for profit. She seems, in the story, to be of the ambitious kind, and ambition is black. Further, she values knowledge, information and planning, and that is clearly fundamental blue values. She seems to be the one who murders Brago, on a contract from Marchesa, another ambitious part-Dimir character.

However, she is also bound by some sort of honour codex, which the end of the story presents. Rules and regulations are white. Also, she has some abilities of spirits and in the game of Magic, white has the most spirits (followed by black, blue, green, red in that order).

This, in conclusion, leads me to believe that she is Esper (white-blue-black), and we haven’t yet seen an Esper coloured planeswalker, so I think we’re due one. We already have a three-coloured planeswalker in Standard right now, but it’s quite obvious Kaya will be printed in a non-standard set, so that shouldn’t be a restriction.


And that’s my theory – Kaya will be Esper! What do you think? Am I right or wrong? Leave a comment!

Deckbuilding 101 – Card evaluation

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Welcome back, class! The last time we learned about concepts in EDH, that is, the necessity of choosing and sticking to a theme. I hope you’ve spent your leisure time pondering what to build, because this time we’re talking about card evaluation in EDH. I want to stress that what I’m about to share is my method, and it is in no way all-encompassing. This is merely the way I do it.

I want to reiterate – the goal here isn’t necessarily to build the strongest possible 100-card deck – it’s more likely to build a fun and/or unique deck that suits your goal, style, meta and collection. The last bit, the collection, will differ widely between players. I prefer to mostly build from what I own, which has affected my method of building, but I will expand upon and include a couple of other examples.

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SadBot – the first ramp card to be added after Sol Ring.

The first thing I do is to go to EDHREC.com, and look up either whatever general I’m building, or researching the available commanders in my intended colour(s). EDHREC is a very powerful tool if used responsibly, and it is a great starting off point if you’re at a loss over where to start. Once I’ve got a grip on the commander, I sit down and type a list of cards I know from memory that I want. Usually I like to do this on paper – but anything works.

Next, I go to my collection of “EDH playables”, a big box of cards sorted by colour. I go through the relevant colours and pick out all the cards that I want to play in the deck.

By this time, I often have a stack of cards around 150 or so cards, and by this time, I start to break down the deck in it’s relevant parts. If we break down the bare bones, here’s what we have:

Commander: 1
Lands: 38
Mana ramp: 10
Card draw: 10
Sweepers: 4

These are numbers I always start with. Some decks will want more than 38 lands, some can get by with less. Some cards might want more than 10 ramp cards, some less, and so on.

Easy math will tell you that in practice, most commander decks aren’t 100 unique cards, they are 100-1-38 (the commander and the lands) which leaves us 61 card slots. Take away the slots for the basic ramp and card-draw, that leaves 41 slots. Take away the slots for sweepers, and that leaves 37. Does that mean only 37 cards differentiate EDH decks? Of course not, but most decks should have these basic card types before considering anything else.

Remember class, the goal here isn’t to build a “competitive EDH deck” (since that’s an oxymoron) – the goal is to build a functioning EDH deck. Since you will devote at least 45 minutes to every game you sit down for, most often more than that, it’s important to have a deck that stands a fighting chance – lest the games will turn into very boring slogs towards the end for you.

After I’ve sorted out the lands, the ramp cards, the card draw and most often at least a basic suite of sweepers, I separate the cards left into three tiers. These tiers aren’t set in stone, but it’s usually what I do in order to rank cards.

livingdeath.hqTier one: Cards that are absolutely necessary for the deck to function. They are central to the theme, whatever it is, and the deck will not do without them. Cards in Pharika that are tier one are cards like Grave Pact, Viscera Seer, Oath of Ghouls, and Living Death. The deck would be considerably worse without these cards, and they are central to Pharika’s theme of controlling graveyards and grinding out with your own.

Tier two: Cards that aren’t exactly necessary for the deck, but are good in it and most often related to the theme. Cards that are tier two in Pharika include Eidolon of Blossoms, Doomwake Giant, Creakwood Liege, and Maelstrom Pulse. Most spotremoval falls into tier two-territory, and though many spotremoval cards make the cut, not all should, for obvious reasons.

Tier three: Tier three is the lowest of the tiers, though that does not mean that they are cards that can be cut without consideration. These cards did make the first cut out of the box/binder, mind you. Cards in tier three are cards that aren’t related to the theme directly, cards that fall into the “danger of cool things” territory (yes, it is within the curriculum to refer to an article from 1999), pet cards etc. Although most of the time, there aren’t that many tier three cards in my decks, I have a few pet cards that I tend to play with. An example in Pharika would be Vraska, the Unseen. Although she isn’t a pet card specifically, I really like planeswalkers, and I like to have them in all of my decks – and Vraska is the only black-green one prined so far. She’s also like the best rattlesnake there is, and if there is one deck that could protect a planeswalker from attackers, it’s Pharika.


Lavamancer 2By now, we’re getting a rough sketch of what we need in the deck – and we can start making cuts. Usually, I start from tier three, make heavy cuts, go to tier two, make slightly less cuts, and initially, I keep almost all cards in tier one. Once the deck is around 110-120 cards, I start to look at what the next part will be about: mana curve and designing mana bases!

I’ll leave you with a few wise words from our very own friendly neighbourhood Lavamancer, like the last time.

Your homework for the next time is to make a rough sketch of your deck, and try out the tier system for yourself. It is a lot easier to work with if you have a large collection, though it can be done electronically, if you plan to buy a bunch of cards.

Class dismissed!

Deckbuilding 101 – Conception

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“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.

Rattlesnakes in EDH

city of shakar

Intrinsically, EDH is a very varied game. How you look upon the format affects how you evaluate the cards getting played. Some playgroups are cutthroat “competitive” EDH groups, full of combo decks, stax, mass-land destruction, and plenty of salt. Some groups are casual with modified pre-constructed decks, or decks built from draft leftovers. Some groups might play certain variations of the format, leading to changes in deck lists and strategy, and some might play mostly 1 vs. 1.

ambushviper.hqHowever, most groups of EDH are playing games that are multiplayer, free-for-all style battles. In these situations, unless people are just playing solitaire and trying to combo off, diplomacy will play a part in how the game plays out.

One of the facets of diplomacy that I see used all the time but not often talked about is rattlesnake cards. Today, I want to discuss these rattlesnake cards, why they’re useful, and why they play an important role in our format.

rattlesnake by definition, is a card that in some way says “do not attack me!”. However, the definition goes beyond that, I’ve identified four different types of rattlesnakes: Direct, Indirect, Offensive and Implicit. A card could fall into two or more of these camps depending on how it’s used, but for the sake of the discussion, I want to break it down.


baleful strixDirect – The direct rattlesnakes are the most obvious ones. In this camp falls most creatures that are primarily included for blocking. Examples of these include deathtouch creatures and creatures with good dying triggers. The very best of these tend to generate some sort of advantage other than being just rattlesnakes for the opponent – Baleful Strix, Yosei, the Morning Star, or Archon of Justice. Other examples include cards that outright punishes your opponent for attacking you – No Mercy or Michiko Konda come to mind.

Indirect – Indirect rattlesnakes are cards that doesn’t outright punish people from attacking you, but they put up a big enough deterrence to make people stay away. Cards that act like indirect rattlesnakes tend to be permanents that also act like sweepers – like Pernicious Deed, Kagemaro, First to Suffer or Oblivion Stone. Grave Pact with fodder is also a prime example.

graveblade marauderOffensive – Offensive rattlesnakes aren’t necessarily rattlesnakes at all to begin with, and they work quite differently compared to the previous two categories. In short, offensive rattlesnakes are cards that threaten to strike back at an opponent who has attacked with (non-vigilant) creatures. Any creature threatening enough can have this effect, and the interesting thing is that often these work for other players almost as well as the controller – simply put: if someone has a Graveblade Marauder equipped with a Quietus Spike on the board, you’re not turning your creatures sideways in any direction unless you have enough chumps to stay home.

This is likely the most common form of rattlesnakes in the format, since these situations tend to appear all the time while playing. This is one of the reason that vigilance is so good in the format – while you have one turn to attack and one turn to block in regular 1 vs. 1 Magic, in EDH you have one turn to attack and two, three or maybe even four turns to block, depending on the size of the game. It’s also important to be aware of these situations in a game, since a change in the apparent rattlesnake can affect several attack steps.

heros downfallImplicit – The most esoteric of all the rattlesnakes is the implicit one. What I mean about this is that these rattlesnakes are perceived threats – usually cards in hand. Examples include spot-removals like Hero’s Downfall, or instant-thieving cards like Reins of Power. What’s interesting about these rattlesnakes is that they work just as well or even better when they’re not actually used. If all three opponents around the table decline to attack you because they fear a Hero’s Downfall, you’re up nine mana and three cards.

This means that the implicit rattlesnakes also might well be the most effective ones, since it can save life points, mana and cards all rolled into one neat package. However, these are also the most difficult to use, since it requires careful play, or even certain deck construction. My own version of Wydwen, the Biting Gale (link to TappedOut.net here: click) is a good exampwydwen,thebitinggale.hqle of how everything from deck construction to gameplay depends on these implicit rattlesnakes. The deck has no less than 14 cards that can be used for spot-removing a creature at least temporarily, and the deck is all about sitting back and being reactive to the point when people leave you alone
for fear of being punished too harshly for attacking.

Implicit rattlesnakes demand a certain demeanor around the table – everything from language to mannerisms help towards making others certain you have spot removal or other tricks – even when you might be holding two lands and an equipment. I’m not saying I have it down to a science, but I have won games with Wydwen when I’ve had spot removal in my opening hand and never used it.


So what’s the point? The point is that these strategies are under-utilized in some playgroups I’ve played in, and in a m
ultiplayer format, these cards will save you both mana and cards. Use them, learn to do so effectively if necessary, and they will reward you for it.

I wish you the best of luck in your use of these cards and strategies.

On trading (Tasigur Analysis pt 2)

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While my deck doesn’t specifically contain Tasigur’s Cruelty, I got a bit tired of the usual art. Besides, he looks so happy in this picture. I’m not saying I’m in love or anything, I’ll leave that bit to Black, our very own black-aligned planeswalker.

When I set out to make the deck around Tasigur, I simply wanted most of the deck to consist of good stuff spells, to promote interaction with my opponents and to create interesting political decisions around the table. Some like to build Tasigur as some sort of combo deck with umpteen lands, Ad Nauseam and any random combo to kill the table. Some like to build him with lots of redundancy, sort-of like a Gifts Ungiven deck, through putting in cards like Go for the Throat, Ultimate Price, Doom Blade etc.

The thing is – common wisdom in EDH dictates that one-for-one trades are generally bad. The reason for this is that while trading one-for-one in general is fine in regular formats, it leads to mutual card-disadvantage. For example, if I use a Doom Blade to kill one of player A’s creature, then both me and Player A are out one card, while Player B and Player C are up one card on the both of us. It’s not a good trade-off if there are several people at the table still in the game, and especially not if the aim is control (i.e. overwhelming card-advantage).

That said, I do have a few one-for-one countermagic in the list:disdainfulstroke.full
1 Counterspell
1 Cryptic Command
1 Dimir Charm
1 Disdainful Stroke
1 Flusterstorm
1 Muddle the Mixture
1 Swan Song

Cryptic Command is one of the most flexible control spells in the format and doesn’t really need any defence, and since Dimir Charm can also work as removal and as filter both for myself and my opponents, it gets away with flexibility. Muddle the Mixture can find Sylvan Library, Exsanguinate, Snapcaster Mage and other important spells, meaning there are really only four one-for-one counterspells in the deck. The rest are straight one-for-ones, and the loosest one is probably Disdainful Stroke, but I like it – it’s easy to cast and very Sultai in flavour.

On the removal side, there are a few one-for-ones:sultaicharm.full
1 Murderous Cut
1 Putrefy
1 Sultai Charm
1 Maelstrom Pulse

Maelstrom Pulse can, technically, be an X-for-one, depending on the board state. It’s fun blowing up people’s Sol Rings for example, but most often it’s a 1-for-1. It gets away through flexibility, since it can take care of any nonland permanent, not just creatures. Putrefy and Sultai Charm are both able to blow up boring stuff like Pithing Needle on Tasigur while still being able to kill most creatures, and lastly – Murderous Cut is very non-descriptive about what it can target and it also helps cleaning the graveyard from chaff like ramp spells I no longer need, making Tasigur’s ability more effective.

The main reason why I play these cards despite the fact that I know that the trades are bad is that they can all be used diplomatically – and I think that’s the way to go if you want to cast removal spells in EDH. Make some offering around the table, to deal with that Sheoldred that bugs everyone but you, and in return, someone else takes out that blasted Rest in Peace.

There’s no shame in admitting you want to win eventually, but that goes for everyone around the table, and putting aside the self in favor of the group – seemingly – only to turn around and benefit in the long run, is a very Sultai thing to do.

Failed Resurrection?

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A while back, I wrote a post regarding the demise of Nimble Mongoose as a competitively viable creature in Legacy, due to Treasure Cruise‘s superiority as a graveyard-based one-mana spell. With the latter now finally banished from the format, things are looking up for our Mongoose friend again, no? Maybe not. There are more contenders for his spot in Canadian Threshold than ever – primarily, in my opinion, Hooting Mandrills. Thus, I feel the need to as objectively as possible compare the candidates with each other – bearing in mind Nimble Mongoose is one of my favourite creatures of all time – and lastly present a list with the new candidate included.

The similarities:
+- Both creatures are green, which means neither pitch to Force of Will, but neither dies to Pyroblast. There’s not much more to say about it, really.

+ Both creatures cost one mana to cast. This is a modified truth, really, since Hooting Mandrills might cost slightly more, but shouldn’t for most of the time.

+ Both creatures are quite large by Legacy standards, but Hooting Mandrills is larger which matters quite a bit, as we will see.

– Both are susceptible to graveyard hosers, but in slightly different ways. Hooting Mandrills won’t care if someone resolves a Rest in Peace after it has hit the battlefield, but Nimble Mongoose can be cast in an emergency even if Rest in Peace is in play.

Nimble Mongoose:nimblemongoose.hq
+ Immune to spot removal in all shapes and forms. This is especially great against decks like Miracles who will have to use Terminus to remove the threat, and can’t rely on building card advantage through Swords to Plowshares + Snapcaster Mage. Miracles is one of the best decks in the format, and I predict it will remain so after the bannings, meaning this upside is not to be underestimated.

+ Casting two is almost as easy as casting one. Multiples of Nimble Mongoose is just fine, and as long as there are seven cards in the graveyard, they all benefit, contrary to Hooting Mandrills.

+ Easier to cast on turn one and two, which means it might be better against decks like Goblins who will want to swing with a Goblin Lackey on turn two. Granted, this is a small upside, since Goblins are rare these days, but if you attend a large tournament without byes, you might just run into it in the early rounds.

– Dies more easily to Pernicious Deed, Engineered Explosives etc. Admittedly, this is a minor thing, since these cards are quite rare, but there will be match-ups where it’s relevant.

– Will need seven cards in the graveyard to be fully powered up.

Hooting Mandrills:hootingmandrills.full
+ Is bigger than Nimble Mongoose, and that extra +1/+1 matters quite a bit in Legacy – it won’t be chump-blocked to death by a flipped Delver of Secrets, it will trade with a Batterskull token in an emergency, and so on.

+ Trample is extremely relevant for playing the tempo game, since Hooting Mandrills can’t be chump blocked effectively by tokens, or random x/1’s and x/2’s who populate the format.

+ Only needs five cards in the graveyard to be cast initially, and is always fully powered when in play.

+ More or less immune to the sweepers mentioned above, though again, it’s a minor thing.

+ Might make opposing Deathrite Shamans and Tarmogoyfs worse, in rare cases.

– Loses to Swords to Plowshares, Maze of Ith and other targeted removal not named Lightning Bolt or Abrupt Decay. This is quite relevant, since it turns quite difficult match-ups (Miracles, Death and Taxes, Lands) into nightmarish match-ups.

– Multiple copies in hand are more or less useless. This is also quite relevant, since Canadian Threshold generally wants to play spells reactively and save Brainstorms for as long as possible – using one to shuffle away chaff is fine in most cases, but having both extra uncastable creatures and extra lands in the deck as dead cards seems bad to me.

– Can potentially be awkward with your own Tarmogoyfs, but it’s unlikely.

Conclusion:
There is no clear winner between these two, and testing is surely needed. I don’t want to play the full set without cards to specifically fuel the monkeys, but adding a 19th land, a fetchland, to the standard list and augmenting the creature base with True-Name Nemesis is appealing to me. This gives us the following list:

9 fetchlands
4 Wasteland
3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Tarmogoyf
2-3 Hooting Mandrills
1-2 True-Name Nemesis

4 Brainstorm
4 Ponder
4 Stifle
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
4 Lightning Bolt
5 flex slots (Forked Bolt, Spell Pierce, Spell Snare, etc.)

I think adding another fetchland to help with both padding the graveyard and cast True-Name Nemesis is the way to go with this creature base. Testing will tell if it’s better than the old version of 4 Delver of Secrets, 4 Nimble Mongoose, 4 Tarmogoyf.

What do you think of these green beaters? Which will come out on top? Leave a comment!

Winners of the Banhammer Raffle

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Previously on Goyf Wars: The menace that had plagued the format all fall was finally gone – with Treasure Cruise removed from the environment, the survivors are left to pick up the pieces. Who will be restored to former glory, and who will be left behind in the junk binders?

With the regards to the ban of Treasure Cruise, I want to look at what decks and cards will be most affected by the change. The “winners” in this case are cards that will become more important, or will be played more frequently in the near future, and the “losers” are the opposite; cards that will be played less frequently.

The Winners:nimblemongoose.hq
Nimble Mongoose: Welcome back to the format, old friend. Canadian Threshold can again play its oldest threat without fear of public shaming, with Treasure Cruise gone. During its time in the format, Treasure Cruise pushed Nimble Mongoose away from RUG Delver, and stand-in as threat 9-12 was generally Young Pyromancer. Though I never actually sleeved up RUG Delver with Young Pyromancer for a tournament, I feel the child soldier is a bad fit for the deck. Canadian Threshold is a deck full of reactive spells, but Young Pyromancer revels in proactive spells, like cantrips. Young Pyromancer whispers to you to cast just another main phase Brainstorm, while Canadian Threshold begs you to hold them until you really need them. This lack of proper dynamics makes me welcome Nimble Mongoose back into the 60, finally.

Hymn to Tourach: Hymn to Tourach is arguably one of the game’s best, most mana-efficient, discard spells. Everyone who has spent some time in Legacy knows the sinking feeling when the opponent taps two black mana and starts to look for a die. However, even if the discard is random, when the opponent can easily reload with Ancestral Recall – especially when decks play four of them, alongside four Brainstorms and four Ponders – discarding things from your opponent’s hand is rarely an effective strategy. Oh, how I long to start off a game with turn one Deathrite Shaman into turn two Hymn to Tourach and Wasteland.

lilianaoftheveil.hq

The queen of fanservice is back!

Liliana of the Veil: Presuming UR Delver and Young Pyromancer will lose power in the format, Liliana of the Veil will be a stronger card in the future. With her +1 restored to power, since generating card advantage now is harder than to just cast a sorcery speed Ancestral Recall, and her -2 much better since it’s likely to hit stuff other than 1/1 Elemental tokens, Liliana is back in power. Clearly, one of the winners of this change.

Dig Through Time: Some petty fools will probably just try and replace their Treasure Cruises with Dig Through Times, and although the latter is an exceptionally powerful card, it doesn’t beat Treasure Cruise in redundancy or sheer power. Decks like UR Delver will not want to cast this UU instant, because aggro decks like that want to chain spells together in an explosive turn 3-4 and win, meaning that doubling the price of the Delve card will be quite devastating. Still, decks like Stoneblade, Show and Tell, and maybe some sort of slower control build now that the format’s premiere Aggro deck is a bit neutered, will all be fine places for a couple of copies of Dig Through Time. It’s the older, more studious, more cultured cousin that will be in charge for the foreseeable future.

Elves!: Not a single elf card specifically, but more like the deck in general. Elves was a good deck even during Treasure Cruise’s reign, but an influx in 2/1 mage prodigies along with 1/1 tokens meant that more people were playing small sweepers like Pyroclasm or Golgari Charm were more attractive, and incidentally, they all created splash damage on the deck full of 1/1’s and 2/2’s. With these sweepers less attractive as sideboard cards, Elves are sure to benefit – though I’m not seeing a huge surge in the deck’s power or popularity.

worldgorgerdragon.hqWorldgorger Dragon: Clearly, a card that will most definitely see more play with Treasure Cruise banned is a card that happened to be unbanned at the same time. It’s unlikely that it will prove more effective than other reanimation targets (specifically Griselbrand, the bench mark of this category of creatures), but let’s not forget that Worldgorger Dragon with Animate Dead and Nephalia Drownyard is a turn 2 kill, something Griselbrand won’t do in the same situation. If one adds Oona, Queen of the Fae it’s a kill even if the opponent is packing Eldrazis who would otherwise protect the opponent from the mill death. The combo is easily disrupted by Stifle, Abrupt Decay and everything else that regular Reanimator loses to, but it’s funny as hell when executed and will surely see some fringe play.

 

The Losers:
Young Pyromancer / Monastery Swiftspear: The two prime beaters of UR Delver, who ironically didn’t make it into the deck name, both benefited greatly from Treasure Cruise, since both really like it when the pilot plays some cantrips, reloads and then plays some more cantrips to chain a bunch of triggers together and either deal a huge amount of damage in one turn, or create an overwhelming board state for the opponent. These two are still able to somewhat do this, and I don’t think UR Delver is completely uncompetitive because of the ban, but these two creatures will carry somewhat of a lesser impact in the future.

Thoughtseize: This one is minor, but decks that used to play Hymn to Tourach before Treasure Cruise in some metas decided to play Thoughtseize instead, and some of these decks might go back to the bigger brother of discard spells now. Thoughtseize is still a brilliant card in many metagames, especially those with some non-redundant combo decks in them, but it’s unlikely to see more play with Treasure Cruise gone.

chainsofmephistopheles.hqChains of Mephistopheles: I don’t suspect there will be much change in the usage statistics of Chains of Mephistopheles, it’s a horrifyingly expensive card to get a hold of, and it only have uses in fringe decks, but when Treasure Cruise was legal in the format, Chains of Mephistopheles had more utility and was even included in the maindeck of some decks. It still has usage in the format, but again, it’s fringe and very expensive, and thus will not be seen more.

Pyroblast: A card that will see sharp decline in usage, I predict, is Pyroblast. Pyroblast was a perfectly acceptable maindeck card during the Treasure Cruise terror, but will likely just be relegated to be a very good sideboard card in the near future.

Golgari Charm: Cheap sweepers, especially those that come in instant speed, are valuable in metagames with a bunch of X/1’s, and Golgari Charm has two other useful modes. It’s a great sideboard card in decks that can run it, and will likely stay great, but perhaps not as great as it has been against UR Delver, the format’s best-performing deck for quite some time. Golgari Charm is respectful as a 1-2 of in sideboards, but that’s about it in the future. Clearly another “loser” in this case.

 

And that’s it for my list. What do you think will be the best-performers in the coming Legacy format? Leave a comment below!

Legacy’s unsung heroes

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Boasting the second-largest card pool in the format – only Vintage is bigger and we’re talking a couple dozen more unique cards in a card pool of over 14 000 cards – Legacy is immensely deep and vast as a format. Of course, only a few hundred of these 14 000 cards are even remotely playable, it’s a strict fact that most Magic cards are simply bad cards and in a format as inherently broken and powerful in Legacy, only the top dogs get to eat.

There’s no wonder that there are plenty of hidden gems in a format of this size, even with the relative high power level. This post is dedicated to Legacy’s unsung heroes. It’s not a top 5 list, because I was unsure about how to quantify something as subtle as being undervalued or underplayed.

relicofprogenitus.hqRelic of Progenitus: Reanimator and Dredge seems to still hold some presence in the format, despite it generally being more hostile to graveyard decks with the inclusion of Dig Through Time and especially Treasure Cruise. Deathrite Shaman holds a lot of value in matches where both players play these powerful delve spells, since it can slow down the opponent and let you cast your delve spell first. Relic of Progenitus has the same up-side, but also comes with the added bonus of hosing the opponent’s Deathrite Shaman – since they can’t steal things from your graveyard as long as your Relic of Progenitus is untapped. Blowing it up seems less than ideal if playing with delve spells, but could timed with your own delve spells, and it’s a nice out if the opponent hits 6-7 cards first. Timing is key, since blowing it up in response to a delve spell will do nothing at all. As a bonus, Relic of Progenitus fits well into a Trinket Mage package in slower artifact-based control builds.

spellsnare.hqSpell Snare: For a single blue mana, Spell Snare trades one-for-one with important threats or key spells in most every deck-to-beat in the format. Stoneforge Mystic, who is especially potent against grindy decks, since it’s quite slow and Young Pyromancer has together somewhat invalidated Tarmogoyf as the best two-drop in the format, and incidentally, all three are countered by Spell Snare by not Spell Pierce. No blue decks play Dark Confidant anymore due to Treasure Cruise, but there are decks that still play Snapcaster Mage. Further, Counterbalance is hardly the most important spell to counter against Miracles, but it can be extremely frustrating to play against and might shut down large parts of any deck’s game plan.

Against Elves it mostly only counters Elvish Visionary and Green Sun’s Zenith for one, but both are quite important spells, depending on your deck. Lastly, against Sneak and Show the card is mostly dead, but that’s just a single match-up. It’s too bad Delve doesn’t actually lower the mana-cost of a spell, since that would mean Spell Snare could counter a Dig Through Time played for UU or a Treasure Cruise for 1U. That said, the card solves a lot of problems in today’s metagame, and should at least be considered for a slot or two in most tempo- or control builds.

pyroclasm.hqPyroclasm: Two damage to all creatures for 1R is amazingly potent in today’s metagame, where Stoneforge Mystic, Delver of Secrets, Deathrite Shaman  and Young Pyromancer are the supreme creatures of the format, and with Elves still a force to be reckoned with, having access to Pyroclasm is hardly a bad thing. Golgari Charm, Engineered Explosives, Rough // Tumble etc. all have similar effects, but none are as elegant, as effective, and as easy to cast as the good old Pyroclasm. Lam Phan played a whole three of them in his sideboard at Grand Prix: New Jersey, and he clearly knows what he is doing. Play it, live it, love it.

These are my three favourites among a whole slew of playable but underplayed cards in Legacy. What are your favourites? Tell me in the comments section below!

The Brainstorm apologist

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Discussions regarding Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are running rampant on the Internet, and especially the former seems doomed in at least Modern (along with Jeskai Ascendancy), and maybe even in Legacy. Some, however, seems to come back to the fact that blue is the best colour in Legacy, and blue has the best card in Legacy, which is Brainstorm. Thus, Brainstorm should be the one that really gets the axe, not Treasure Cruise.

brainstorm.hqI disagree, and I’ll try and explain why. This is from a subjective standpoint, obviously, but I won’t throw down the old “if Wizards bans Brainstorm, I’ll quit the game”, because even if that was true, it’s not even a half-decent argument. Subjective as this post may be (as all posts are), it’ll be a cold day in hell before I resort to only looking from a personal perspective. Opponents to anecdotal evidence might beware as well.

To begin with, what does Brainstorm actually do for a deck that plays it? Well, I wrote on it in “On Brainstorm, and variance“. To reiterate parts of what I said back then, and to try and boil it down somewhat:

1) It draws three cards and forces you to put back two cards on the top of your library. Really. This has great interaction with fetchlands etc., but I think we don’t need to go over that here and now.

2) It replaces itself, meaning the card costs only mana and not cards.

3) It helps smoothing out draws at any point in the game and is almost as valuable on a turn 7 topdeck as it was in the opening hand.

4) It creates consistency.

forceofwill.hqI want to stay at number four for a bit. To me, Legacy is a very broken format. It is a format where it’s very possible to kill your opponent on the first turn of the game. There are decks specifically designed to prey on decks that lack meaningful interaction on the first couple of turns in the game – two notable examples are Belcher and Oops, All Spells. These decks are balls-to-the-walls combo decks with a very all-in game plan, they want to win around turn two or three, and they both tend to lose if the opponent opens up with Force of Will and another blue card in hand. The particular Oops, All Spells list above has a few Pact of Negations to… negate this, but that will in turn make the deck slower and less consistent, which means the fair match-ups gets worse.

So what are these decks banking on? Well, if you run 20-something blue cards including 4 Force of Will, your chances of drawing one and another blue card in your opener is just under 40%. That’s a pretty good chance, but in the majority of the cases, you won’t have access to it on the first turn. Belcher and Oops, All Spells want to either face mostly fair decks with few interactions on the stack, or they root for the opponent to not have the Force of Will. Sometimes, these decks have to play straight into the Force of Will, and in a minority of the games that they do this, they will lose. In a majority of these games, however, they will win.

This begs the question: why isn’t everyone playing these decks just to go off at turn 1? The answer is that Legacy is full of decks that preys on these decks. Tempo and control builds (Delver decks, Miracles etc.) not only plays a fair amount of countermagic, they also play the cantrips needed to have even more shots at getting that crucial early Force of Will.

Imagine you took away parts of that consistency for these tempo decks. What would happen? The decks in question would obviously get a lot worse, which in turn will open up for these broken, extremely fast combo decks that are results of Legacy’s wide card-pool. Tempo and control keeps these things in check, largely due to Brainstorm, because Brainstorm allows the decks to be consistent enough to beat the all-in combo.

In a way, the Brainstorm decks are overrunning the format, but Brainstorm tends to go into all kinds of different archetypes, from tempo (BUG Delver, RUG Delver), aggro (UR Delver) and control (Miracles, Deathblade), to midrange (classic Team America), to combo (Sneak and Show, TES, ANT). Parts of these decks keep the format fair, and that benefits all kinds of decks, not just the ones Brainstorm itself is played in.

duress.hqI suspect that if Brainstorm is banned, it’s obviously not the end of the world. Vintage lives on, even if it’s not very popular, though Brainstorm is obviously even more powerful in that format. However, I don’t think it’d be good for the format. A deck like Belcher would run rampant in a format with inconsistent control decks, and Preordain and Ponder aren’t anywhere near as good at providing consistency. I imagine the Belcher lists, for example, would shift to a lower gear and slow down a bit and add a bit more disruption. My friend played a successful Belcher list for quite some time and to some success, most notably a T8 and the GP: Stockholm side-event a few years back. It had main deck Duress, among other more disruptive elements, and I could see a list like that be successful in a metagame where decks have worse consistency.

This is all rather far-fetched, I know, but this is my honest prediction of what would happen if Brainstorm decks were neutered. The card is certainly ubiquitous enough and powerful enough to actually get banned, but then again – metagames are complex things, and a ban like that would have a much more widespread and unpredictable effect, compared to other bannings like Mystical Tutor, Survival of the Fittest or Mental Misstep.

Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments section!

On Nemeses, especially those of the True Names

Since English is not my first language, I had to google the plural form of nemesis. Turns out, it’s nemeses, and not nemesi, as I was hoping. How unfortunate.

The first Commander product (henceforth known as Commander 2011) brought with it 51 new cards, and although some of them are now effectively EDH staples, like Spell Crumple or Stranglehold, mflusterstorm.hqost failed to make a splash even in the intended format, let alone Vintage or Legacy. The sole exception is Flusterstorm, a humble single-mana Instant which found its way to many sideboards in the formats, and it’s even played in a few maindecks, most of the time as an alternatve or a complement to Spell Pierce.

The 2013 edition of Commander, or Commander 2013, is most more of the same. It contains a few cards that are great even in “competitive” EDH decks (though that should, in my book, be considered an oxymoron and really going against the spirit of the format), like Bane of Progress. It also contained three cards that has seen at least some serious Legacy play, and this is not counting Order of Succession. The latter was used briefly on MTGO to exploit a game-breaking bug: if you cast it with no creatures in play, your opponent was still forced to try and select one of your non-existant creatures. Since this can’t be done, his timer will tick down, giving you a free game win. The bug has since been ironed out, and anyone who was caught using it when it did work was suspended for a month.

Two of the other three cards have seen moderate play in the format. Unexpectedly Absent, an XWW instant, gave Miracles and similar decks who could afford the double-white in the mana cost, an answer to problematic non-creature permanents. It has since been more or less replaced entirely by Council’s Judgment, who is essentially a more effective version. The other is Toxic Deluge, who’s had a bit of a slow start in the format, but is well-suited in BUG Midrange decks. It has been increasing in popularity slightly every high-profile tournament since its release, and it is a card one needs to be prepared for if one’s playing Elves, Death and Taxes, or other decks that rely on winning with creatures.

The final card is the most controversial of them all, and easily the one that has had the most format penetration (pun intended). I am, of course, talking about True-Name Nemesis:

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The truest of nemesi… nemeses…

True-Name Nemesis was included in the Commander 2013 Grixis-coloured deck “Mind Seize”, and the deck quickly became the most sought-after of the five. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon to see stores selling “Mind Seize” at twice the price of either of the other decks, nor was it uncommon to see stores more or less isolating their walls with copies of horrible “Nature of the Beast” decks. Ironcially, “Mind Seize” is probably the worst of the five decks out of the box, at least when played against the other four, but since it came with True-Name Nemesis and a copy of Baleful Strix (then a pretty expensive uncommon only printed in one of the Planeshift decks), it easily became the most desireable one. Another obvious irony is that True-Name Nemesis is laughably bad in the inteded format – in a multiplayer game of EDH, where he only has protection from one opponent, he’s perhaps more flavourful, but a 3/1 effectively vanillia creature will never do anything in a format full of board wipes and other opponents.

In Legacy, however, he’s very very good. He’s often dubbed “mini-Progenitus” for his game-breaking ability, and if you pair him with Stoneforge Mystic to find him an Umezawa’s Jitte, he gets even worse. What True-Name Nemesis umezawasjitte.hqeffecitvely does is that he breaks open any match-up between two “fair” decks, i.e. between decks that are not cheating the mana system by paying 2U for Emrakul, nor playing nine spells and then a Tendrils of Agony in a single turn, but between decks that are paying full price for their creatures and then try to win with them like Garfield intended. In these match-ups he’s strictly un-fair because he breaks the rules for combat – he can’t be blocked for sure, and he can block the biggest of threats without dying himself.

Conventional removal spells in the format, Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt, or Abrupt Decay, does nothing to hinder his spirit, although the latter can be used to answer Umezawa’s Jitte at least. As such, the decks in the format has been forced to adapt their strategies in order to account for the Nemesis. Examples of this include the fact that Storm-based combo and other decks that genuinely regard True-Name Nemesis as a vaniallia 3/1 have been re-taking ground ever since last fall, and decks like Death and Taxes have been playing more fliers to race him, and decks like RUG Delver have upped the number of Red Elemental Blast in thte sideboard, since they can’t interact with him outside the stack. Spells like Golgari Charm and even Marsh Casualties (in case you play True-Name Nemesis too) have surged in popularity. Even with all of these effects, there are still a bunch of naysayers who call for his banning.

All in all, is True-Name Nemesis bad for the format? I’d say definitely “no”, and that’s not just because I play him in DeathBlade. I honstely believe he’s far from the most oppresive creature in the format (he’s in fact, nowhere close to even the most oppresive blue creature – Delver of Secrets), and the fact that’s he’s complete garbage compared to say Vendilion Clique against anything that don’t want to win with creatures on the ground makes him alright in my book. All the proper tier 1 decks have shown ways of dealing with him effectively. It’s a matter of adapting, like all other cards, and it’s nice to see a new release shake up the format. The one frustration to me, initially, was that he was too hard to come by, but the prices of him have stabilized now and dropped like $15 between what I paid for the first one and what I paid for the last one.