Monthly Archives: August 2017

THE MANA DORK – Running a Budget Commander League

by August 29, 2017

the mana dork commander league

Running a Budget Commander League

It’s time for Commander 2017! Excite yes!

commander league ramos-dragon-engine

I’ve run a budget Commander league for my friends for a few years now and it’s been a blast. So this year, instead of telling you what I think some of the gems will be (Fractured Identity, Path of Ancestry) or ranking the decks by an arbitrary metric (there’s a Cats deck, metrics are meaningless), I’m going to talk about how to run a budget Commander league for your friends, using the C17 decks as a basis.

Budget Commander leagues can be a great way to re-vitalize a playgroup that has fallen into a rut, to introduce newer players to Commander in a friendly environment — or even both at the same time. They’ve been incredibly rewarding for my playgroup, and I hope they can be for yours as well.

Let’s go!

commander league nazahn-revered-bladesmith

BASIC PRINCIPLES

You’re going to want to figure out a few things about your Commander league right away.

  • Players — Who’s interested? Whether you’re making a Commander league for fellow university students, for your kids and their friends, or for a bunch of adults with 9-5 jobs and their own children, knowing who your players are, what they like in Magic, and what their availability is will affect several of the decisions you make below.
  • Points — How to award the players in each match. Your points structure will inform a lot of your players’ strategy and the types of decks and games you’ll see.
  • Schedule — Do you play weekly or monthly? Do you get everyone together to complete Commander league games in a regularly-scheduled night, or do you set periods where Commander league games can be played anywhere with the results reported to the organizer?
  • Budget — How much can your players add to their decks between games? Do you limit how much single cards can cost? Can players carry over a balance between weeks?

Who your players are is something I must necessarily leave to you, but I’ll address points systems, schedules, and budgets below.

commander league mages-contest

POINTS

This is often the first place people go when thinking about making a Commander league. All of a sudden, you have the power to help make the games you like to see happen, just by adding your own unique rewards system.

Here are the questions you’ll want to answer when making your points system:

  • Points for placement in each game: How top-heavy do you want the points for first and second place to be? Top-heavy systems reward winner-take-all strategies and encourage games that are shorter and more cutthroat.
  • Points for gameplay: Do you award points for kills? Cool plays? Saving players? Sportsmanship? Extra gameplay points can help even the rankings over the course of the Commander league and make sure things stay competitive until the end.
  • Penalties: Do you punish combos? Do you punish failing to report decks in time? Kills that are too early? Choosing what you punish, and how severely, also affects the strategies people choose.

There are several examples of points systems online, which can be found with some research. One example is the Commander VS. folks, who lay out their points system at the start of each season.

Here’s what my group currently goes with:

  • Players receive points for their placement in Commander league games as follows: 
    • +4 points for first place,
    • +3 points for second place,
    • +2 points for third and fourth place.
  • Players can receive bonus points in each Commander league game in the following ways:
    • +1 point for “first blood” — being the first to inflict combat damage on another player;
    • +1 style point for coolest play, as voted by the table;
    • +1 sportsmanship point as voted by the table; and
    • +1 point for playing in the game with at least two players you did not play with in the previous week.
  • Players can be docked points in the following ways:
    • -2 points for knocking out two or more players in the same state-based action;
    • -1 point for failing to report your purcahses and new deck list on time; and
    • Forfeit points for this week and last week if you play a deck over budget.

This system encourages decks that are aggressive and have a lot of battlefield presence, as well as classic control decks.

Combo has an inherent efficiency advantage in multiplayer, so I chose to balance that out a little bit. If you go the combo route, you’re planning to eat a loss of two points per game in return for greater consistency, and possibly some style points as you pull off your combo.

These are all choices I made to even the playing field — my playgroup includes heavily-invested players as well as newer ones, and gently pushing games towards battlefield interaction and away from combo wins results in enjoyable experiences for everyone.

Make sure to take stock of your own playgroup and find what’s right for you.

commander league impeccable-timing

SCHEDULES

These are the questions you’ll want to answer when setting your schedule:

  • Weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly?
  • Official Commander league nights, or windows in which to play games?

This is where you’ll need to know who your players are, and how much time they set aside for gaming in their lives.

For example, most of my players are dedicated gamers with 9-5 jobs but no kids of their own yet. I have a few players who are happy to play Magic, but don’t invest in the game the way some of the rest of us do. And some of us — including me — have an extremely demanding schedule, so I need to be conscious of how often they may be able to make it to Commander league nights.

What this means is that I can set a faster schedule (weekly or bi-weekly), but will need to be flexible (open windows).

If a plurality of my players had children to take care of, or heavy shift work, I would consider a monthly schedule. If they invested a lot of their time in gaming in different leagues, I might require everyone to play their games on an official Commander league night, to make bookkeeping easier.

My solution was to set up a regular weekly gaming night where most of us would be getting together for Commander league games, but also create “league weeks” with set start and end times, as well as deadlines for reporting your deck’s expenditures. I also allow players to play in multiple Commander league games each week — but in games after their first Commander league game, they’ll only be eligible for style and sportsmanship points.

This creates a system with more than enough flexibility — as well, it encourages players to help each other out and be available for more than one Commander league game each week, as they can earn extra points.

Again, make sure you take stock of your playgroup and find what’s right for you.

commander league limited-resources

BUDGET

Along with your points structure, your budget has a large impact on the strategies your players choose and the types of games you see.

I strongly encourage having as low a budget as your playgroup will still find fun — reducing the presence of “money cards” evens the playing field and results in games that are surprisingly memorable and interactive.

Here are the questions you’ll want to answer when setting your league’s budget:

  • Do you set a limit per card, or per week? Strict per-card limits heavily affect available strategies, while per-week limits are more flexible.
  • Can players carry over a budget from week to week? Allowing this will let players “save up” for a big-money card that may be quite powerful compared to the rest of the Commander league, but forces them to “fall behind” for a few weeks first.
  • What happens to cards that are cut from decks? Do players have to re-buy them if they wish to use them again?

My group uses the following rules:

  • Players can add $10 in cards to their decks each week, as defined by the lowest TCG Market price for a non-foil English printing. (My players get… specific, sometimes.)
  • Players may carry over their budgets from week to week.
  • Basic lands can be purchased at a rate of $0.25 for 10 lands.
  • Cut cards are placed in a “card pool“. Cards may be freely moved between your decklist and your card pool between Commander league games.

I am generally okay with proxies in the leagues I run, although I do mandate that all cards in decks at the Final Table must be real, in order to prevent abuse of the rule.

commander league serum-powder

OTHER NOTES

We generally ask that people upload their decks to a TappedOut link so that I can easily do deck checks and make sure people are following the rules—here is an example.

Also, for those who are curious, we use the following mulligan rule:

  • Exile your hand face-up, then draw 7 new cards. Repeat until you have a playable hand. Once you do, shuffle all exiled cards into your deck.

This makes sure everyone has a good game, still incurs a cost for mulling in terms of game information, prevents abuse, and has the incidental advantage of helping newer players by showing them what is and is not a keepable hand.

comannder league gleam-of-battle

GO FORTH, HAVE FUN, AND WHEN YOU’RE DONE (OR BEFOREHAND) COME TO THESE EVENTS AT THE STORE

We’ve got a Magic Chaos League!

We’ve got monthly Star Wars events coming up for Armada, Imperial Assault, and X-Wing!

We’ve got Open Board Game Day!

And pre-registrations are open for Ixalan!

Come on down!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor for A Muse N Games. He will never be Gary Bettman’s equal. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

The Jank Forge: Oops, All Blightsteel Colossus

by August 10, 2017

blightsteel colossus tapping cardboard

At a recent Legacy tournament, I got to watch Manaless Dredge in action and I realized how much I love that deck. My one problem with that deck is that it is kind of expensive to build and Legacy events are few and far between (although they are great when they happen and A Muse N Games has one coming up on September 17th). So, I started to think about making a similar deck work in Modern but Dredge is expensive in Modern too. Then, I realized that Shape Anew is a dumb card that works well with Blightsteel Colossus and decided to build a deck around that instead!

blightsteel colossus shape anew blightsteel colossus

Lands:
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Flooded Strand
8 Plains
5 Island

Creatures:
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Blade Splicer
1 Blightsteel Colossus
4 Thraben Inspector
3 Wall of Omens

Noncreatures:
4 Apostle’s Blessing
4 Vapor Snag
4 Shape Anew
4 Serum Visions
4 Path to Exile

The main combo of this deck is pretty straightforward: get an artifact token with either Blade Splicer or Thraben Inspector, cast Shape Anew to bring out Blightsteel Colossus, then punch in for 11 poison.

darksteel colossus blade splicer darksteel colossus thraben inspector

The rest of the deck either digs for the combo pieces (Augur of Bolas, Wall of Omens, Serum Visions) or keeps you alive long enough to get the combo off (Vapor Snag, Path to Exile). Apostle’s Blessing exists as a playset in order to protect your artifacts and Colossus until you can swing in for the kill.

bladesteel colossus augur of bolas bladesteel colossus wall of omens bladesteel colossus serum visions

To win with this deck, you need to survive until turns 5 or 6 and keep your opponent’s board as weak as possible. To start, your opening hand is going to want to have as many digging cards as possible and three to four lands. You want to start digging as soon as possible in order to prevent yourself from accidentally drawing your Colossus and ending your combo before it even starts.

bladesteel colossus vapor snag blightsteel colossus path to exile

Use Vapor Snag or Path to Exile on pretty much whatever creature might become a problem down the road since this deck cannot afford to risk something putting too much pressure on you. Unless you’re absolutely sure that your opponent has no removal in their hand (or at least nothing that your opponent can use on your artifacts or Blightsteel Colossus), hold off on trying to cast Shape Anew until you have an Apostle’s Blessing to avoid the chance of a misfire. A couple things to remember about the combo is that Shape Anew doesn’t make the artifact’s controller sacrifice it until the spell starts to resolve, so a counterspell thrown at it will not throw you off your game entirely and Apostle’s Blessing can protect your artifacts in a pinch.

This deck is built inside of a control-lite shell and the reason we can’t really go much deeper into the control side in the main deck is because we can’t really afford to sacrifice anything in order to make the combo work, however there are some changes that can be made depending on the meta. If there’s a lack of decks with a lot of removal, the Apostle’s Blessings can be swapped out for Delver of Secrets or Detention Spheres. If there’s a need to swing the turn you drop the Colossus, putting in a couple Slayers’ Strongholds and Sacred Foundries would allow you to get in your opponent’s face before they have a chance to react (even if you have to wait a couple extra turns). Finally, if Burn is your big issue, Lone Missionary is going to give you that much-needed life-gain to survive until turn 5 or 6.

As for a sideboard, this is going to be majorly meta-dependant (as all sideboards are). Dispel is a great option against control decks that want to bounce/exile your Blightsteel Colossus at instant-speed. Stony Silence is good against the Robots match-up that doesn’t hurt you very much. I like a copy or two of Steel Sabotage in the sideboard as well, since it can bounce Grafdigger’s Cage (which will stop you dead) and other annoying artifacts while also being an option to save your Blightsteel Colossus in a dire situation. Annul and Erase are good choices for Bogles and control match-ups that use a lot of enchantments. Snapcaster Mage is a way to get some recursion on your spells (even if it’s a smidge on the pricier side). There are a few other options to consider but it does depend heavily on what you see at your local tournaments and stores, so experiment and discover what works for you.

Jay Edwards is an advocate for janky magic combos, and exploring fun and casual Magic ideas. When he’s not contributing columns to A Muse N Games.ca, he keeps himself busy as a Magic Judge. His new column, Tapping Cardboard, will appear here twice monthly so be sure to check it out!

Magic Open House September

by August 6, 2017

Magic Open House September is an all day event with many events throughout the day to celebrate Magic the Gathering at A Muse N Games. We will be hosting our usual Saturday draft at noon, but also free learn to play drafts for new players at 12:00 pm & 3:00 pm.

There will be participation prizes from Wizards of the Coast as well as draws and prizing for the tournaments. Bring a friend who has never played Magic before and you will receive a premium full-art card from Ixalan and your friend will receive a free welcome deck (while supplies last).

Ixalan Release Weekend Sept 29-30

by October 8, 2017

Ixalan release

Ixalan release weekend is September 29th-30th, 2017 and your first chance to purchase the newest Magic the Gathering set! Here is what we have scheduled for the release weekend:

Friday, September 29th

Noon: Ixalan Draft
Players receive 3-packs of Ixalan and draft the best 40 card deck they can.
Entry Fee $20
Prizing: 1.5 Packs per player into the prize pool.
Each player playing through all swiss rounds receives a booster pack from the prize pool!

3:30 pm: Ixalan Draft
Players receive 3-packs of Ixalan and draft the best 40 card deck they can.
Entry Fee $20
Prizing: 1.5 Packs per player into the prize pool.
Each player playing through all swiss rounds receives a booster pack from the prize pool!

6:30 pm: Ixalan Sealed
Players receive an Ixalan Prerelease kit (while supplies list). These includes a Foil Promo, Spindown Counter, 6-Packs of Ixalan.
Entry fee $36
Players will enjoy 4 rounds of swiss.
Prizing: 1.5 Packs per player into the prize pool.
Each player playing through all swiss rounds receives a booster pack from the prize pool!

7:30 pm: Commander
Both casual and Competitive pods as usual.
Entry fee $6
Prizing: Casual Players each receive a Booster Pack for participating.
Competitive Players – prizing to the winner, prize TBD based on players entering. (8 or more players and a revised Dual will be up for grabs.

9:30 pm: Archenemy / Planechase Commander
Entry fee $6
Prizing: 1.5 Packs per player into the prize pool.
Each player playing through all swiss rounds receives a booster pack from the prize pool!

Saturday, September 30th

Noon: Ixalan Draft
Players receive 3-packs of Ixalan and draft the best 40 card deck they can.
Entry Fee $20
Prizing: 1.5 Packs per player into the prize pool.
Each player playing through all swiss rounds receives a booster pack from the prize pool!

4:00 pm: Ixalan Draft
Players receive 3-packs of Ixalan and draft the best 40 card deck they can.
Entry Fee $20
Prizing: 1.5 Packs per player into the prize pool.
Each player playing through all swiss rounds receives a booster pack from the prize pool!

Ixalan Prerelease Weekend Sept 23-24

by September 27, 2017

Ixalan Prerelease

A Muse N Games is hosting 4 Ixalan Prerelease events for the newest Magic: the Gathering set! Midnight, Noon, and 5 pm on Saturday, September 23 and then 6pm on Sunday, September 24.

Ixalan prerelease events will start promptly with deck construction at the listed start times. Early Bird registration $35 taxes in if you register before 10:00 pm Wednesday, September 20. Regular registration is $40 taxes in.

Each participating player will receive a special prerelease pack containing 6-packs of Ixalan, a spindown life counter, and promotional foil card! Two Ixalan booster packs per player will be placed into the prize pool. Any player who plays through all four rounds of swiss receive at least one Ixalan booster pack from the prize pool.

Further prizing information will be announced closer to the date of the Ixalan prerelease. You can preregister now in store or online below.

Midnight

Noon

5:00 pm

Sunday

THE MANA DORK — Using the Metagame Clock

by August 5, 2017

the mana dork metagame clock

Using the Metagame Clock

HOUR OF RED

Pro Tour Hour of Devastation is in the books, and we’ve got a second victory in a row for budget decks, which I’m tremendously happy to see.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s Ramunap Red list took down the tournament, with Ramunap Red decks as a whole forming five of the top eight and about 30% of the decks that made it to Day Two. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen budget-ish “Red Deck Wins“-style aggro decks with a presence in Standard — the last time was in 2015, that halcyon era before those $600-$800 four-colour ORI-BFZ decks. And, I mean, look at those prices. When was the last time you saw a sub-$200 deck Top Eight a Pro Tour?

As is tradition, Wizards works on a two-year timeline (roughly), and it looks like their efforts to make Standard more affordable — including the Masterpiece Series cards and seeding RDW cards and budget answers in the last few sets — are paying off.

Now if only they’d do a better job with the Planeswalker Decks

metagame clock clock of mens

USING THE METAGAME CLOCK

So, I had a problem in my Commander meta, and then I solved it, and the solution created more problems, so I’m solving those now, and since the minutiae of my life are fascinating to everyone I figured I’d share this process with you.

Specifically, I’m making use of the Metagame Clock to solve this issue, and the Metagame Clock is an important Magic concept that I haven’t talked about here which you may find useful.

So.

Most of the time, when I’m playing Commander with my friends outside the store, I’m playing with two folks who we’ll call Aggro and Control.

Aggro plays a variety of decks, but the main one is a terrifying Alesha re-animator. Aggro swings at you, and it hurts, and then Alesha pulls some card out of the graveyard that says “When this creature enters the battlefield, destroy target opponent’s hopes and dreams,” and then all my sunshine lollipops and rainbows are crushed and broken and Aggro’s still swinging because they dealt 21 commander damage to my will to live.

Control typically bounces between Kruphix and Sen Triplets, but even when they’re playing a Boros deck they still somehow find a commander that says “Pay 2 life: Search your library for target silver bullet and somehow have it in your opening hand, oh and also have like a million lands on the battlefield, how y’all doin’ “. And somehow those lands are never tapped when I’m T-minus two turns from winning the game.

If it is difficult to tell from my hyperbole, I was struggling.

Normally, I like to measure my success on any given Commander night by the number of times I threaten to win. Winning itself is difficult in Commander, with its 25% win percentage on average, but if I’m at least threatening to win in every game — if there’s a point at which only a counterspell or the right removal will stop me — and my opponents had a good time playing against me, I’m pretty happy.

(Take note of those two criteria for a successful game — 1. Threaten to win, and 2. Make sure my opponents have fun. We’ll come back to them later.)

But I wasn’t even doing that. I was durdling in the corner until someone else won. Or I was amassing a pretty great boardstate until someone dropped a wrath effect and then won. Or — and here is my great weakness — I was once again obsessed with making voltron work, and I’d build up to the point where I could one-shot Aggro or Control, and then the other one would play literally any bounce spell and I was done.

I was falling victim to the Metagame Clock.

The Metagame Clock (1, 2) is like Rock-Paper-Scissors, but for Magic: the Gathering strategies. (And many other games, too.)

If you don’t have the time to read those two linked articles in full — although I really do recommend them — the short version looks something like this: Aggro > Control > Combo > Aggro. When built well, aggro decks will generally beat control decks, control decks will generally beat combo decks, and combo decks will generally beat aggro decks.

I gave my friends those very apropos names for a reason — they’re super-apropos. I’m 90% certain Control develops a twitch in their left eyelid if they don’t have blue mana open, and while Aggro uses a variety of strategies that don’t always employ the battlefield, most of them involve me dying to damage in short order.

So I needed to pay attention to the Metagame Clock. If I wanted to have a decent shot at winning in a world of Aggro and Control, I needed to enter the dreaded realm… the realm of Combo.

metagame clock food chain

So I did.

I built those decks keeping in mind the points Douglas Buel makes in the first linked article above about playing multiple positions on the Metagame Clock. Apostlestorm is a combo deck… unless I’m playing against control, in which case I can tutor up Mirror Entity and go wide like an aggro deck. Food Chain Zegana is a combo deck… but if I see a lot of open blue mana, I can just pull out Rogue’s Passage or Thassa and make with the stomping. Volrath is a “combo” deck — I often one-shot people — but if conditions outside the City of Traitors aren’t favourable, I can bide my time discarding my opponents’ worst nightmares and then re-animating them. And so on, and so on.

And I began winning.

Now, I wasn’t winning all the time, but I was winning enough. More than enough. I was pleased with my new found success! Finally, a taste of sweet victory alongside these good times with my friends!

Right?

Right…?

Whenever I won, I noticed that the experience was… unsatisfying for Aggro and Control. Rarely was it a hard-fought battle full of counter-magic, steeled nerves, and tales to remember. Instead, I became something they were racing against. Can they amass enough resources and round the corner in time, or am I just going to pull out Drift of Phantasms into Food Chain and make infinite mana again?

And those were the good games. More often — too often — it was, “I cast Aetherflux Reservoir. Game 2?”

Not good. I mean, winning is good. But I’m not just here to win. That’s not what Commander is about. I’m here to have good times with my friends. And if my friends aren’t having good times, that’s not a win.

So, what’s the solution? I need to meet two criteria, remember — I should threaten to win, and I should make sure my opponents have fun. How do I do that while paying attention to the Metagame Clock and remaining in the world of Combo?

Metagame Clock primal surge

James LaPage presents four possible ways of dealing with this in his excellent Metaworker column “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor“. I had Tinker-Tailored my way into being a decent combo player in my meta. Soldiering now was unacceptable. Sailing, too — I like my friends! I needed to Tinker-Tailor my way into being more fun to play against.

The solution here is to find decks that still win the game, but allow for more counterplay and points of interaction. “Just winning” is boring. Successfully fighting through a hail of counter-magic, or being foiled by the perfect top-deck, my friend’s only hope — now that’s a story!

So I’m working on two decks now — a Marath, Will of the Wilds deck built around Primal Surge and Epic Struggle, and a Wydwen, the Biting Gale deck that will win with either Doomsday, or a bunch of Specters pecking you to death and discarding all your cards. These are still combos, but they require more of a battle to make work, and there’s plenty of ways Aggro, Control, and whomever else I play with can interact with them.

I’m not going to take apart my other decks — they’re at a power level and of archetypes that I’m happy with. But I think switching it up in this way will result in more fun for all.

This is a living column. I don’t know if this will work. But it sure seems like it might. And I wanted to share this process with you, because what I did here — look at my meta and then myself through the Metagame Clock and the Tinker/Tailor/Soldier/Sailor metric in a constant process of self-examination — is, I think, second only to open communication in its effectiveness at solving problems in one’s Magic life.

And that’s a fascinating thing, I think.

Metagame Clock Board Game Camp

ENOUGH NAVEL-GAZING, MACKENZIE, MAKE WITH THE EVENTS

Alright, alright!

First things first, the August board game camp is coming up. I spoke about how board games helped me in this column two weeks ago, but I can’t say enough — this is going to be a wonderful experience for your kid. Take a look at the program, talk to Scotia at scotia(at)amusengames.ca, I think you’ll like what you see.

Sunday is our Open Board Game Day and the Hour of Devastation League. If the hot crucible of competition isn’t to your liking, show up on Sunday and we’ll make sure you have a good time!

That’s it for now — see you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He may or may not still be inordinately proud of making “Apostlestorm” a real thing. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!