Tag: Return to Ravnica (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
[/mtg_deck]

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?

The Guilds of Gatecrash

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Art by Cliff Childs

The cards have been spoiled, the materials have been sent, and another Magic: the Gathering release event is upon us. The second set in the Return to Ravnica block, Gatecrash, hits the streets to open February, and with it comes a re-introduction of the five guilds not featured in the first set. While I maintain my allegiance to the Izzet League, I must admit some of the other guilds do hold appeal for me, and all of them warrant examination.

We’ll start with the Gruul Clans. A loose affiliation of rowdy and rather monstrous bands of warriors united under the massive cyclops Borborygmos, I think they would only be out-partied by the Rakdos. Gruul is all about big game-ending creatures, from dragons to hydras, and I feel it will pair very well with two of the guilds introduced in the previous set, Golgari and Selesnya. The new Gruul mechanic, Bloodrush, ensures that attacking creatures could always get bigger than the opponent expects. Yet, I don’t feel the Clans are for me. I like dragons and massive creatures as much as the next Planeswalker, but I also enjoy coming at my challenges from areas other than the “smash face” angle. Plus, with many saying Gruul is “the guild to beat” in Limited engagements, my inclination is to invest in another guild.

The Simic Combine feels like a cousin to the Izzet League. This may be due to many of their creatures being somewhat odd combinations, like Crocodile Frogs and Crab Sharks. But rather than Frankensteinian mad science at work, the Simic seek to bring the natural world into the cityscape of Ravnica in a way that may not be as harmonious as the Selesnya would like, but still ensures the preservation of non-constructed life. Simic creatures Evolve, growing stronger as larger ones enter the field. I can see how advantageous this could be. However, I don’t feel quite as drawn to the Combine as I am to some of the other guilds.

I’ve always been fascinated by decks that marry the colors of black and white. [mtg_card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/mtg_card] remains one of my favorite Planeswalkers. While not what I would consider my primary colors, the dichotomy of white’s ability to defend and gain life and black’s tendency to erode and corrupt is intriguing. So it is with the Orzhov Syndicate. Part church and part organized crime family, the Orzhov often make you pay for what you want. Attack an Orzhov player and you may lose all of your creatures. Attempt to damage them directly and they’ll gain life in response. The new Extort system allows an Orzhov player to supplement the cost of a spell with additional mana that not only increases their own life, but reduces that of the opponent. I feel Orzhov may be one of the most underestimated guilds in all of Ravnica, and I’m curious if I can prove it.

Slightly more prevalent than my fascination with dichotomy is my love of stealth, counter-intelligence, and espionage. Games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Thief, and Metal Gear Solid always get my attention, as has House Dimir. Ravnica’s guild of spies and assassins relies on deception and misdirection, as well as nasty tactics like milling an opponent’s library, forcing discards, and making creatures impossible to block or even target with spells. And if a Dimir agent gets a hit in on you, it could cost more than life points; Ciphers attach to creatures like enchantments but cannot be removed without removing the creature themselves, repeating their effects every time the creature does damage. My attraction to the Dimir may help explain my trepidation towards the Gruul; I prefer subtle tactics to overt ones.

Last but never least, the Boros Legion returns in Gatecrash. While the Orzhov may represent the most insidious aspects of an organized spiritual movement, the Boros are more of the fire and brimstone types, or rather fire and sword. Lead by a literal archangel and commanding an army of dedicated soldiers, Boros has just as much aggression potential as the Gruul clans. It combines the direct damage of red with the defenses and life gain of white, and Battalion allows groups of creatures working together to surge forward in battle. On top of all of that, I feel they may work quite well with Izzet. After all, Boros are all about righteous fire, and what fire burns hotter than lightning conjured by magic?

All in all, Gatecrash looks to be an exciting and flavorful set. I think I will be playing Boros in at least one release event, and if I manage to pair up with someone for Two-Headed Giant, I may choose Orzhov or Dimir. I have Standard deck ideas that include all of those three guilds… more on that next week.

If you’re playing in the Gatecrash release events, what guild have you chosen and why? If you haven’t picked one yet, don’t worry – you can learn more about them here, or even take a quiz to place you in one. Good luck!

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!!!!!”]
Land
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

Spells
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

Artifacts
3 Chromatic Lantern
1 Door to Nothingness
2 Gilded Lotus

Creatures
1 Thragtusk
1 Angel of Serenity
1 Griselbrand

Planeswalker
1 Nicol Bolas, planeswalker

Sideboard
4 Centaur Healer
1 Thoughtflare
3 Thragtusk
1 Planar Cleansing
2 Terminus
1 Temporal Mastery
1 Worldfire
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
[/mtg_deck]

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?”

Yes.

YES!

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
[/mtg_deck]

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
[/mtg_deck]

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
[/mtg_deck]

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.

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