Tag: FNM (page 1 of 2)

FNM: Walking After Midnight

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Art by D. Alexander Gregory

The gates are open, and all ten guilds of Ravnica are available to players old and new in Magic: the Gathering’s Standard format. This is one of the problems with the format, actually: every few months, the available cards change radically. Some previously robust deck solutions get the wind taken out of their sails, while previously unrealized options come to light. But in this rotation, something I didn’t quite expect has happened. The field has opened up to allow some old favorites from a previous rotation to become viable.

Last block, a card was introduced that I absolutely adore. It’s not a planeswalker, a majorly powerful instant kill sorcery, or a creature with massive stats and fantastic keywords. No, my favorite card of the Innistrad block is the humble [mtg_card]Lingering Souls[/mtg_card]. It keeps emerging in my decks – Vengeance at Dawn back when Scars of Mirrodin was part of Standard, Spirit Squadron when that rotated out, a token deck in Modern – and there’s good reason for that. It only costs three mana to cast, and having two flying creatures on the field at turn three is a powerful field position even if they’re small. In addition, it has a flashback cost, meaning it can be cast again after its first use. And in an inversion of the usual setup of such spells, the flashback cost is lower than the regular cost. This means that in subsequent turns, the spell is even easier to cast, provided it’s not removed from your graveyard.

One thing I’ve discovered is that creatures cannot always be relied upon to secure a win. There are all sorts of ways to avoid dying to creature damage: big blockers, sweepers, gaining life, and so on. Some players find ways around this with direct damage, creatures resilient to being destroyed or capable of evading defenders, or some combination of spells to pull the rug out from under your opponent, such as in OMNIDOOR THRAGFIRE! and older decks that use dreaded “infinite combos”. Like many tools in a competitive game, such combos are the sort of thing that feel blatantly unfair when you’re on the recieving end of their shenanigans, but when you pull apart the mechanics, you can see the ingenuity involved and realize why some players may choose that route. Remember, neither I nor any other person has the right to tell other people how to play their games.

Standard now does feature one of these combinations. Gatecrash introduced us to the [mtg_card]Vizkopa Guildmage[/mtg_card]. Her second ability states that whenever you gain life, each opponent loses that much life. This is useful when you include the new Extort keyword, but the last block’s final expansion, Avacyn Restored, gave us the enchantment [mtg_card]Exquisite Blood[/mtg_card]. “Whenever an opponent loses life, you gain that much life.” With both cards in play, and the Guildmage’s ability active, all one has to do is gain one life, or deal one damage or steal one point for your opponent, and a positive feedback loop begins.

This combo is not foolproof. While it’s powered by an enchantment, which are very difficult to get rid of, the other major component is a creature. They’re vulnerable, and if she hits the battlefield too soon, every turn is another turn that could see her getting blasted. Thus the ideal situation is to summon her, activate her ability, and set off the loop all on the same turn. This requires mana. Thankfully, there are ways to generate all of that energy even without green. The new creature [mtg_card]Crypt Ghast[/mtg_card] causes more black to come our Swamps, while alluring but deadly planeswalker [mtg_card]Liliana of the Dark Realms[/mtg_card] gets more of those Swamps for us to use.

[mtg_deck title=”Walking After Midnight”]
// Creatures
4 Crypt Ghast
3 Vizkopa Guildmage

// Sorceries
4 Lingering Souls

// Instants
4 Tragic Slip
3 Beckon Apparition

// Planeswalkers
2 Liliana of the Dark Realms
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

// Enchantments
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Blind Obedience
3 Oblivion Ring
2 Exquisite Blood

// Lands
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
8 Swamp
7 Plains
2 Vault of the Archangel

// Sideboard
3 Sundering Growth
3 Ultimate Price
3 Nevermore
2 Rest in Peace
2 Chalice of Life
2 Midnight Haunting

The idea in Walking After Midnight is to have more than one win condition. One is our combo, and the other is an overwhelming force of tokens. The old, tried-and-true setup of Lingering Souls, [mtg_card]Intangible Virtue[/mtg_card], and [mtg_card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/mtg_card] is the fuel for that potential army. To get either of these things going properly, we’ll need mana (as mentioned before) and time. We get time by using the final portion of the deck: control. We exert control over aggressive creatures with [mtg_card]Tragic Slip[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Blind Obedience[/mtg_card], eliminate creatures or other permanent threats with [mtg_card]Oblivion Ring[/mtg_card], and [mtg_card]Beckon Apparition[/mtg_card] removes potential targets for reanimation or flashback. And the deck also uses the aforementioned Extort mechanic to equalize when necessary as well as setting off the combo win condition. The sideboard deals with more specific threats, and packs a way to set off our combo if the opponent has a way to resist damage or loss of life.

It’s not perfect, but it’s resilient to sweeping spells, accelerates quickly, and if nothing else, should be fun to spring on people who don’t expect it.

How does the deck look to you? What would you change? How would you shut it down?

FNM: Opening New Doors

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Art by Svetlin Velinov

“Only a madman would create such a door. Only an imbecile would open it.”
– Flavor text from [mtg_card]Door to Nothingness[/mtg_card]

“Wow, that’s me all day long! Sign me up!”
– me

So in spite of the notion that I can give advice on Limited Magic, the truth of the matter is, I kind of suck at it. I can latch on to a color combination or a neat card trick way too easily and mess up my curve, miss a key bit of information from my pod, or just build a crappy deck. The last time I tried to draft at my closest gaming store, I tried to draft something like my Safety Dance deck. It didn’t turn out well.

Side note: this was my closest gaming store, not what I consider my ‘home’ friendly local gaming store (FLGS). I will still trek all the way up to Doylestown to actually hang out with like-minded Magic players, while going to the closest place when I need an FNM fix. Speaking of which…

I’m not sure how well Safety Dance will work at the nearby store. I will more than likely be taking my Grixis Superfiends deck to FNM tomorrow night. I know there are at least a couple people who run similar decks, and many others who built decks using some variation on the [mtg_card]Thragtusk[/mtg_card]/[mtg_card]Restoration Angel[/mtg_card] combination. I’ve never been one to strictly adhere to trends, but I can’t deny that Thragtusk is kind of ridiculous in terms of value. I was wondering how someone would utilize the card in a unique way while poking around on Something Awful, when someone mentioned “OMNIDOOR THRAGFIRE”. My curiosity was piqued.

Thanks to Travis Woo I have absolutely no reason to ever say another bad word about decks I find on the Internet.

[mtg_deck title=”OMNIDOOR THRAGFIRE!!!!!”]
2 Glacial Fortress
3 Hallowed Fountain
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
2 Overgrown Tomb
4 Hinterland Harbor
1 Steam Vents
1 Plains
1 Island
1 Forest
1 Alchemist’s Refuge
1 Kessig Wolf Run

2 Fog
4 Farseek
4 Increasing Ambition
4 Ranger’s Path
4 Supreme Verdict
2 Terminus
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Temporal Mastery
1 Omniscience

3 Chromatic Lantern
1 Door to Nothingness
2 Gilded Lotus

1 Thragtusk
1 Angel of Serenity
1 Griselbrand

1 Nicol Bolas, planeswalker

4 Centaur Healer
1 Thoughtflare
3 Thragtusk
1 Planar Cleansing
2 Terminus
1 Temporal Mastery
1 Worldfire
2 Sphinx’s Revelation

Let’s turn it over to Travis to explain how the deck works in practice. Mr Woo?

The deck stalls with [mtg_card]Fog[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Supreme Verdict[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Thragtusk[/mtg_card], and [mtg_card]Terminus[/mtg_card]. It ramps hard with [mtg_card]Farseek[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Chromatic Lantern[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Ranger’s Path[/mtg_card], and [mtg_card]Gilded Lotus[/mtg_card]. It refuels with [mtg_card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/mtg_card]. It finds the missing pieces with [mtg_card]Increasing Ambition[/mtg_card]. And then … all hell breaks loose.

[mtg_card]Omniscience[/mtg_card] hits play. Nicol Bolas hits play. [mtg_card]Griselbrand[/mtg_card] hits play. Cards are drawn. [mtg_card]Increasing Ambition[/mtg_card] finds [mtg_card]Temporal Mastery[/mtg_card]. An extra turn begins. A massive [mtg_card]Griselbrand[/mtg_card] swings with a [mtg_card]Kessig Wolf Run[/mtg_card] pump. [mtg_card]Increasing Ambition[/mtg_card] is flashed back to find another [mtg_card]Temporal Mastery[/mtg_card] and a [mtg_card]Door to Nothingness[/mtg_card]. Another extra turn begins. Nicol Bolas ultimates. “Really?” The opponent asks. “Really?”



And then we shut the door in our opponent’s face.

It’s this sort of unexpected weapon that really appeals to me. There’s a certain mad finesse to pulling off this win. I like finesse, especially in Magic. It’s why I lean towards using Blue as a primary color, other than the obvious branding tie-in. I may run mono-red in Legacy but that’s because [mtg_card]Force of Will[/mtg_card] is prohibitively expensive. I would need to pick up a few cards to make OMNIDOOR THRAGFIRE! work, but it may be worth doing, just to see the looks I’d get as soon as [mtg_card]Omniscience[/mtg_card] hits the table. What I love about a deck like this is its apparent impracticality. You simply do not expect a deck that runs only one copy of a particular combo to get there on a consistent basis, but from the looks of things, this deck has the chops to do it. We shall see!

I will favor you all with an after-action report on the latest FNM early next week. I’m curious to see how Niv-Mizzet and Rakdos work together in an actual competition!

FNM: You Can Dance If You Want To

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Art by Slawomir Maniak

To be blunt, I wouldn’t have this deck idea without Magic the Gathering Online.

There was a time when I scoffed at the idea of playing Magic on the Internet through a sanctioned client. I’m not talking about Duels of the Planeswalkers, the 2013 version of which I’ll review once I play a Planechase game or two. No, I’m talking about the actual, Wizards-approved, “Here is the Magic experience as close as we can make it without making your computer print cards” client. Meaning one must use actual money to pay for virtual booster packs.

As much as one might discount this idea as a money grab, the idea that one can practice drafting at any time rather than waiting for a weekend or a get-together with friends is an overwhelming one. Limited format Magic is a different kettle of chips from Constructed. It takes practice, a slightly different mindset from Constructed play, and a willingness to think outside of established parameters. As much as you might like a certain color combination, say black and green, if you get nothing but blue rares and no good cards outside of red, being stuck in the black/green mindset will mean you’ve lost long before your first game begins.

I will discuss Limited play another time, but suffice it to say I drafted an interesting deck the last time I played. Its core card was [mtg_card]Sphere of Safety[/mtg_card]. My first copy was an early pick out of a pretty lackluster pack, and after seeing what it does I started picking up as many useful enchantments as possible: [mtg_card]Chronic Flooding[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Arrest[/mtg_card], and so on. While I only won one match during the event, I still had a blast playing the deck, and a couple of my opponents complimented me on my esoteric but powerful choice.

So I returned to my beloved Standard with my Izzet Controlled Burn deck in hand, and checked out the scene at the King of Prussia mall. Alas, my first choice, Cyborg One in Doylestown, is now a bit of a hike to get to. The new place had a decent turn-out, and I did all right but fell in the first round to an aggressive Golgari deck that ended up winning the entire event. Aggression can be hard for control decks to deal with, and as disappointed as I was in a few mis-plays on my part, my mind kept coming back to the [mtg_card]Sphere of Safety[/mtg_card] idea.

At first the thought was to cram as many enchantments as possible into the deck so that attacking me or my planeswalkers becomes ridiculously expensive as quickly as possible. However, relying on the appearance of [mtg_card]Azor’s Elocutors[/mtg_card] or [mtg_card]Jace, Memory Adept[/mtg_card] could make for very long games. I love good old-fashioned mill decks as much as the last Revised veteran, and the idea of talking an opponent into submission is hilarious to me, but at least in the initial encounter, the potential to deal game-winning damage is never a bad option to have.

[mtg_deck title=”Standard Safety Dance”]
// Creatures
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Bruna, Light of Alabaster

// Enchantments
4 Bonds of Faith
4 Detention Sphere
4 Sphere of Safety
3 Oblivion Ring
2 Curiosity
2 Martial Law

// Instants
4 Azorius Charm
4 Dissipate

// Planeswalkers
2 Jace, Memory Adept

// Land
8 Island
10 Plains
4 Hallowed Fountain

// Sideboard
4 Chronic Flooding
4 Soul Tithe
3 Negate
2 Azor’s Elocutors
2 Knight of Glory

You’ll notice that all of the creatures, save for [mtg_card]Bruna, Light of Alabaster[/mtg_card], have Hexproof. This means that, for the most part, an opponent’s creature removal is useless. Provided this deck can win the first game of a match, it’s likely they will sideboard out some of that removal for any enchantment hate they have. I, on the other hand, am free to board in [mtg_card]Negate[/mtg_card] which will deal with both those spells and any remaining removal, and [mtg_card]Azor’s Elocutors[/mtg_card] for a filibustery second game. It’s certainly not your normal Standard deck, but I think it’ll be just as much fun for my opponents to discover what I’m playing and how I’d win as it will be for me to plan ahead, execute gambits, and come at victory from outside the box.

How does the deck look to you? What suggestions would you make? Is there a particular deck or card you’d like me to discuss? I plan on laying out my thoughts on Limited next time – specifically, I’m going to tell you what it means to ‘brew’ up a good draft or sealed deck.

FNM: The New Standard

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Geist of Saint Traft, Art by Igor Kieryluk

The wait is over. The rotation has occurred. We have returned to Ravnica, and the plane-spanning cityscape has not disappointed. As much as things change, however, some thing do remain the same.

A challenge whenever a set rotates out of Magic is adapting old decks to the new Standard. Some designs are more resilient than others. Some cards in and of themselves take the wind right out of certain decks, vis a vis [mtg_card]Birthing Pod[/mtg_card], while others like [mtg_card]Delver of Secrets[/mtg_card] lose the suppor they need to really shine ([mtg_card]Ponder[/mtg_card], etc). To be frank, I’m pretty happy to see both of those decks fall by the wayside or perhaps slip in to Modern, a format to which I must sadly send my trusty [mtg_card]Hero of Bladehold[/mtg_card] – more on that tomorrow.

However, the token generation of my Scars/Innistrad Standard deck remains mostly intact. With the addition of the Populate mechanic used by the Selesnya Conclave, the possibility exists to generate even more creatures without warning. Examination of existing resources also indicated some potential that, until now, went unrealized. To that end, I built the following deck.

[mtg_deck title=”Spirit Squadron”]
// Creatures
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Drogskol Captain
2 Geist of Saint Traft

// Spells
4 Lingering Souls
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Rootborn Defenses
4 Favorable Winds
4 Eyes in the Skies
2 Cackling Counterpart
2 Detention Sphere

// Planeswalkers
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

// Lands
5 Plains
4 Island
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Vault of the Archangel
1 Swamp

// Sideboard
4 Judge’s Familiar
3 Cyclonic Rift
3 Azorius Charm
3 Sundering Growth
2 Grafdigger’s Cage

The centerpiece of the deck is, of course, [mtg_card]Geist of Saint Traft[/mtg_card]. With every attack, his guardian angel appears. She has a tendency to disappear after combat, but Instant-speed Populate cards and [mtg_card]Cackling Counterpart[/mtg_card] can copy her, and the copy sticks around. Enhanced by [mtg_card]Intangible Virtue[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Favorable Winds[/mtg_card], she’ll be a force to be reckoned with. The multiple Captains protect each other and any Spirit tokens I generate, as well as making them even more powerful. It’s a heavily aggro-flavored deck, but preventative spells like [mtg_card]Rootborn Defenses[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Detention Sphere[/mtg_card] should help stave off sweeping responses or large defenders.

As eager as I am to test this deck in a true FNM situation, my heart remains leaning towards Izzet. In the wake of the various pre-release and release events, I know I have a variety of mad science choices. As good as the cloning technology in the Spirit Squadron deck might be, I feel a strong Izzet deck will be a touch flashier in its climax. I’ve been playing around with a few designs, facilitating between control and aggressive burn, and I think what follows is the best one yet.

[mtg_deck title=”Izzet Controlled Burn”]
// Creatures
4 Goblin Electromancer
3 Guttersnipe
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

// Sorceries
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Mizzium Mortars

// Instants
4 Izzet Charm
4 Searing Spear
4 Dissipate
2 Think Twice

// Planeswalkers
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
2 Jace, Architect of Thought

// Lands
7 Island
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Steam Vents
7 Mountain
2 Desolate Lighthouse

// Sideboard
4 Demolish
4 Chandra’s Fury
3 Counterflux
1 Mizzium Mortars
3 Thunderbolt

It’s still a work in progress, and I’m torn between [mtg_card]Dissipate[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Syncopate[/mtg_card] as the main deck counterspell. The Electromancers reduce the cost of each, both include the Exile clause, and while Dissipate may be a touch costlier, it does not allow my opponent the chance to ‘buy’ their way out of the counter. I’ll run with it for now and see how it works. If it looks promising, I may alternate between using this deck and Spirit Squadron in upcoming FNM events.

Standard isn’t the only format out there, though, and I’ll address the formats I’ve been neglecting since my days in high school… next time.

Returning to Ravnica

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Hypersonic Dragon, Art by Dan Scott

I must confess that, as much as I adore the setting and dynamics of Ravnica, I missed the block the first time around. I picked up Magic: the Gathering for the second time just as Time Spiral was debuting, after a long hiatus from the game stemming from the events leading to my breakdown. If I knew then what I know now… ah, but it’s water under the bridge. The future is brighter than the past, and the future is the Return to Ravnica.

I committed myself to representing Izzet all weekend long, and not just because their promotional card is a lovely alternate art foil of [mtg_card]Hypersonic Dragon[/mtg_card]. Which we could actually use, in deviance from the normal sealed rules. I was looking forward to what amounted to a Magic marathon, especially because the last couple work weeks have been so grueling. So it began at my friendly local gaming store, Cyborg One, with…

Friday Night, Midnight

After a long day of work and a less than stellar showing at Friday Night Magic, I prepared myself for the first pre-release event. Upon opening the box, I found my packs were leaning towards the new mechanic Izzet introduces in the set, Overload. Each card with Overload can be cast for that increased cost, which allows you to switch the word “target” on the card with the word “each”. The highlights were [mtg_card]Mizzium Mortars[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Cyclonic Rift[/mtg_card], and [mtg_card]Teleportal[/mtg_card]. Two [mtg_card]Goblin Electromancer[/mtg_card]s made those spells very inexpensive, even on Overload. The main card from the guild pack, however, was [mtg_card]Mercurial Chemister[/mtg_card], a somewhat beefy scientist that allowed me to draw cards with relative impunity.

However, it was difficult to strike the right balance with the deck, and all of the big spells supporting rushes towards the win only ever broke even for me. Still, a record of 2-2 is nothing to sneeze at, and I did get a couple new prize packs.

Saturday Afternoon, Noon

With the guild box at this event, I found myself splashing into Azorius. Two of my big rare pulls, [mtg_card]Righteous Authority[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Detention Sphere[/mtg_card], seemed extremely helpful in maintaining control of the battleground. Considering my largest bomb was the intimidating [mtg_card]Utvara Hellkite[/mtg_card], I wanted to make certain I would see the turn in which the big guy hit the table. More often than not, however, I didn’t need him. As good as his synergy was with the aforementioned Hypersonic Dragon, most of the work was done by a [mtg_card]Stealer of Secrets[/mtg_card], usually enchanted with [mtg_card]Pursuit of Flight[/mtg_card]. Multiple Detain effects (Detain shuts a creature down for a turn) and other removal made fliers even more difficult to stop. At one point, I had a Stealer with Pursuit, [mtg_card]Knightly Valor[/mtg_card], and Righteous Authority enchanting her. This sort of thing saw me placing second overall in the event, with a record of 3-0-1. I split my prizes between packs and store credit, and opened a [mtg_card]Blood Crypt[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Vraska the Unseen[/mtg_card], and [mtg_card]Epic Experiment[/mtg_card] among others.

Sunday Afternoon, 2 p.m.

Sundays during these weekends are different. Cyborg One runs Two-Headed Giant events, and with this pre-release, each team got two guild boxes to start with. I paired up with Jay Treat, mastermind of Wizard’s Familiar, to make the most of the event. He chose Selesnya while I continued to participate in these things FOR SCIENCE! He opened a [mtg_card]Grove of the Guardian[/mtg_card] to go with the one he had as a promotional foil, while I opened an [mtg_card]Armada Wurm[/mtg_card]. I also opened a second [mtg_card]Hypersonic Dragon[/mtg_card], and we began to formulate our plan. In essence, it fell to me to manage the early game, holding off aggression with [mtg_card]Frostburn Weird[/mtg_card]s and removal like [mtg_card]Street Spasm[/mtg_card] while he made preparations for his large token creatures. Once he had at least one out, he would Populate them as much as possible, generating additional tokens as part of several instant-speed spells, such as creating flying creatures with [mtg_card]Eyes in the Skies[/mtg_card] or making his creatures indestructible with [mtg_card]Rootborn Defenses[/mtg_card]. We felt prepared for just about anything.

Our first game ended with a rules dispute, and while technically the win was ours, after all of the back and forth we offered our opponents a draw, rather than just cackling all the way to the winner’s circle. After that, though, all of our wins were legitimate, though some were a bit narrow. At one point, I had a Hypersonic Dragon on the field, and he had two Bird tokens and a Guardian token. While the Guardian did not fly, there was a [mtg_card]Rogue’s Passage[/mtg_card] available, which meant that, since our opponents had no way to block flying creatures, we could damage them with impunity. And with that mix of creatures, with every attack we were devastating their life total.

We placed first in the event. It may be the biggest prize pool I’ve ever won in Magic. I couldn’t have done it without such an exemplary partner.


With a very comfortable amount of store credit to my name, and after several good trades, I am now in a position to roar back into constructed Magic events. My Legacy deck is nearly complete, I have two Standard decks to finish, and I have a couple ideas for the Modern format. But that is a post for another time.

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