The Mana Dork

THE MANA DORK Commander Banlist – Prime Time and Garbage Time

by April 8, 2017

Commander Banlist The Mana Dork

Commander Banlist – Prime Time and Garbage Time

HOW TO AVOID TWO COMMON LOGICAL TRAPS WHEN TALKING ABOUT THE COMMANDER BANLIST

Man, I’m like the worst clickbait artist ever. How am I supposed to lure you in to read a whole list if there’s only two things on the list?

Anyway.

Commander Banlist Feroz's Ban

As I mentioned in my last column, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about the Commander banlist. And I keep running into the same two logical traps in almost every Reddit thread and pleasant moment of spoiler-season small talk.

So while I’m testing our Dovin Baan Planeswalker Deck for the Planeswalker Deck Challenge, I figure I might as well do myself a favour and talk about how to avoid these fallacies. If nothing else, it’ll help all of you guys have better banlist discussions with your friends.

Shall we?

Commander Banlist Prophet of Kruphix

LOGICAL TRAP #1: “This card has so many answers! It shouldn’t be banned!”

Prophet of Kruphix is the most recent addition to the commander banlist and the card where I see this argument come up the most often, so let’s begin with it.

Yes, Prophet of Kruphix can be answered by many things, including kill spells, bounce spells, exile spells, counterspells, Speak & Spells, the musical Godspell, and Roadhog hooking her to point 2 on Ilios. The problem from an argumentative perspective is that this is also true of literally every other card in the game—including cards that are rightly banned.

Griselbrand has answers. Black Lotus has answers. Yawgmoth’s Bargain has answers. Even original Emrakul has answers—I once played in a game where someone didn’t know Emrakul was on the commander banlist, and we let them cast her for politeness’ sake. I immediately bribed her with Gwafa Hazid on my next upkeep, and the toughest creature in Legacy sat there admiring her shiny gold coin until a boardwipe came along.

When an argument is just as true of something you do not wish to prove as something you do, it ceases to be effective. This is the case when it comes to relying on answers for why a card should or shouldn’t be banned.

There are two more flaws with relying on the presence of answers as a premise for your argument.

One, remember that answers are never guaranteed to be available—someone has to have the right answer at the right time with mana to cast it. Your pod might have That Guy playing Counterspell Tribal with Talrand or Baral, but there’s always a chance they’re holding lands instead of their 19th or 20th piece of countermagic. Therefore, suggesting that the presence of answers proves a given card should be unbanned is flawed, because the answers are not always present.

And two, if your base assumption for a card is that it gets answered, why are you discussing it at all? Logically, we must assume the card goes unanswered, in order to assess its effects on the game and whether it is bannable in the first place.

So when you’re arguing for a card to be unbanned, please remember not to say, “It has so many answers, it’s fine!” That premise is flawed.

Commander Banlist Mana Crypt

LOGICAL TRAP #2: “This card is so mechanically strong! It shouldn’t be legal!”

If you’ve ever wondered why some broken cards are legal, while much weaker cards are banned, I’m about to tell you why.

Mechanical strength is the typical measuring stick for what should be banned in most other Magic formats. So it makes sense for the Rules Committee to apply that same measuring stick to Commander, right?

No, it does not.

First, we must remember that balanced competition is not the Rules Committee’s goal. They intend for Commander to be “a refuge from competitive formats”, and to create a place where “strong cards are not a problem”. I find many faults in how they conduct themselves, but I cannot find fault in that.

Second, evidence shows that the Rules Committee almost never bans a card based on mechanical strength alone—and the current explosive growth of Commander at least partially proves that they are correct to do so. For more proof of this, we look to Tiny Leaders—as enchanting as it is, the format has largely faded away, partially as a result of insufficient work and testing on its banlist. Therefore, if a format is successful, its banlist must play a role in that success.

So we must conclude that relying on mechanical strength to prove or disprove our points is another logical trap, another flawed premise, and we must find arguments that more closely match the reality of Commander if we wish to discuss the banlist effectively.

What are those arguments?

I’ve noticed that once you get past the dexterity cards, ante cards, and “cards that interact poorly with the format” like Coalition Victory, the Rules Committee generally bans cards that create multiple turn cycles where the game is over, but it hasn’t ended yet.

Commander Banlist Primeval Titan

To borrow a term from football, the RC bans cards that create garbage time. They allow strong cards that can end the game quickly, but ban cards that put one or more players too far ahead without actually ending the game.

And, again, I don’t think they’re wrong in this instance. Commander is a format with four players that is not explicitly competitive. It makes no sense to waste the time of one or more players by forcing them to spend too much time in a game they have a negligible chance of winning.

So Ad Nauseam and Tooth and Nail remain legal, while some ostensibly weaker cards like Prophet of Kruphix, Braids, and Primordial Titan are banned—because Ad Nauseam and Tooth and Nail at least win quickly, while Prime Time, Prophet, and Braids create garbage time.

Commander Banlist Ad Nauseam

THE AD NAUSEAM QUESTION—PUTTING “GARBAGE TIME” TO THE TEST

It’s time to apply the idea of “garbage time” to specific cards.

Let’s look at Ad Nauseam. It is a prominent win condition, or setup for a win condition, in almost every deck that includes Black. If you combine it with a card that can prevent life loss or game loss, such as Angel’s Grace, you can draw your deck for a paltry amount of mana. The card is ridiculous in its strength, and a common bugbear for commander banlist discussions.

It even meets the criteria of not ending a game on its own—or does it?

What happens when Ad Nauseam resolves? Either the Ad Nauseam player wins, or loses, and generally very quickly. Put another way, either the game ends, or the remaining players continue at relative parity. In no situation does the game continue for multiple turn cycles with one or more players alive, but out of contention. There’s no garbage time after an Ad Nauseam.

Compare with Prophet of Kruphix or Primordial Titan. Assuming as our premise that Prophet/Titan resolves and goes unanswered for multiple turn cycles (as we discussed in Logical Trap #1 above), the Prophet/Titan player has vastly, vastly improved their ability to generate and convert resources, putting other players out of contention. But the game has not ended. We’re in garbage time.

Compare also with Upheaval and Worldfire—two inclusions on the commander banlist that are less contentious. Both cards are boardwipes that allow their caster to float mana, wipe the table, then re-cast their commander or any number of cards from their hand. Again, one player is ahead and multiple players are out of contention in a game that hasn’t ended. Again, we’re in garbage time.

I argue that Prophet, Titan, Upheaval, and Worldfire are all bannable because they create garbage time, while Ad Nauseam and Tooth and Nail remain legal because they do not.

You may ask, “If some players are out of contention, why don’t they just concede?” To which I respond: if people are regularly conceding when they see a card that doesn’t even win the game, should that card not be banned?

Commander Banlist Teferis Reponse

IN CLOSING…

Let’s not argue that a card should be banned or unbanned because of the presence of answers.

Let’s not argue that a card should be banned or unbanned because of its mechanical strength.

Let’s instead argue that cards should be banned or unbanned based on how much garbage time they create.

Thank you.

Commander Banlist Aether Thief

IF YOU DISAGREE WITH ME AND WISH TO ENGAGE IN FURTHER DISCUSSION, I WILL BE ATTENDING THE FOLLOWING EVENTS AT THE STORE

There’s so much going on!

In the world of Magic, we’ve got the Standard 9-Week Challenge, the GPT Farewell Tour, and Amonkhet Pre-Releases all coming up. I’ll be there for Standard next Tuesday the 11th to put the Dovin Baan Planeswalker Deck through its paces!

Also, International Tabletop Day is Saturday, April 29th—come on down to the store for special promos and special events all day!

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He’s going to leave what ELSE he would ban as a mystery for now. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK – Magic Announcement Week, Literally Everything Amazing Ever

by June 21, 2017

This last week was Magic Announcement Week, where Wizards of the Coast announced the next six months or so of products — including the initial celebrations for Magic’s 25th anniversary next year! And, holy crap, was there a lot of stuff announced!

Magic Announcement Week The Mana Dork

Magic Announcement Week also featured some news for how Magic releases will change starting in 2018, as well as a new Banned & Restricted announcement. So let’s have at ‘er!

Magic Announcement Week Pithing Needle
IT’S THE CORE NECESSITIES, THE SIMPLE CORE NECESSITIES

First things first: core sets are coming back!

In his column last week about the Magic Announcement Week, Magic head designer Mark Rosewater announced that core sets will be making a return, starting with what is currently called “Core 2019” next year. He explains that they serve a vital purpose in Magic — they’re a home for everything useful in Standard that’s difficult to reprint in Standard-series expansions, like generic answers, and creatures that can give decks new life. He also says they’ll be revamped significantly — although just what that means is up in the air.

He also explains that small sets, as well as the concept of blocks, will be going away — instead, Magic will simply do three large sets a year, plus Core sets. He says that small sets unnecessarily complicated draft environments, and that they were always less popular than drafting 3x of a large set.

Personally, I’m a fan of all of this. While I loved two-set blocks for how quickly they pushed us through environments, never feeling boring or dull, I think that going to a “Three-and-One” model will chew up design space less quickly, and give more of what more players want more of more often. It should be tremendous fun, and I can’t wait.

Magic Announcement Week Treasure Trove
UNTAP, UPKEEP, NEW UN-SET

Plus a whole slew of other new products were announced during Magic Announcement Week! You ready? Deep breath:

  • August 25, 2017: Commander 2017
  • September 29, 2017: Ixalan
  • November 10, 2017: Duel Deck: Merfolk v Goblins
  • November 17, 2017: Iconic Masters
  • November 24, 2017: Explorers of Ixalan, From the Vault: Transform
  • December 8, 2017: Unstable
  • January 19, 2018: Rivals of Ixalan
  • March 16, 2018: Masters 25
  • April 27, 2018: Dominaria
  • July 20, 2018: Core 2019

To explain some of these: Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan are the two sets in Ixalan block, featuring pirates battling dinosaurs. (You heard me right.) Iconic Masters is a Masters set built around “iconic” things in Magic — speculation is rampant, but it’s quite likely we’ll see cool angels, sphinxes, demons, dragons, and hydra. Explorers of Ixalan is a new boardgame-like product featuring four pre-constructed decks (zero new cards) and game tiles of some kind; Unstable is a new Un-set (!!!), Masters 25 is an as-yet-unexplained Masters set that celebrates 25 years of Magic history, Dominaria is a new large set that sees the game return to its first and largest setting after more than a decade (!!!!!), and Core 2019 has been explained above.

To say I’m excited would be an understatement… but I think the absolute best coming out of Magic Announcement Week might be the new Un-set. For those who might be newer to the game, there were two previous Un-sets — Unglued and Unhinged — where Magic took itself less seriously and released entire sets full of comedy cards. Who could forget classics like Hurloon Wrangler, Jalum Grifter, My First Tome, Greater Morphling, and Un-all star Cheatyface? And now you’re telling me there’s going to be a new one? Holy! The hardest part is going to be avoiding spoilers!

Magic Announcement Week Aetherworks Marvel

A MARVEL-OUS DEVELOPMENT

Just a quick note on this one — for those of you who were wary of a Standard where the best card won you the game on a coin flip, Wizards has taken the still-unusual step of banning Aetherworks Marvel from the format. Temur Energy builds will still be a thing, doubtless, but they will no longer feature Marvel spins in an attempt to find Ulamog or an expensive Planeswalker.

… which of course means that the format is now wide open, and you should absolutely be bringing your brews to test at our Tuesday Standard nights!

Magic Announcement Week Dueling Grounds

AMONKHET SOME LEAGUE GAMES IN

Before I let you all go, I have to shout out Amonkhet League Part 2 at the store. Seriously, to whoever came up with the League format: thank you.

By now, you’re at least a little familiar with the way League works: buy 3 boosters, build a 30-card deck, add a booster every week and/or every 3rd loss, play whenever there are League folks around.

But what a simple description doesn’t capture is just how joyful it is to play with what you bought in boosters. It brings me back to childhood kitchen-table Magic, where you’re just trying to jam this cool rare you found and win some games with it. No watching the metagame, no buying expensive singles, no $15 or $30 outlay every week — just boosters and hanging out.

And speaking of which, the atmosphere for League at the store is fantastic. If you’ve always been intimidated by Draft or Sealed play, League is just right for you — everyone is relaxed and willing to help. Cannot recommend it enough.

There’s just one week left for Amonkhet League Part 2, so if you’re going to jump in, do it this Sunday!

BEST CAMP EVER!

We’ve got a slew of things coming up at the store — regional championships for A Game of Thrones, Monthly Game Day, and Hour of Devastation pre-releases — but I have to, have to, have to plug the incredible Board Game Camps being offered this summer.

The camps will be on at the store July 17-21 and August 21-25, from 1 PM to 5 PM. For $125, your gamers-in-training will get five days of supervised board games, RPGs, arts and crafts, and a snack! (I’m jealous. Can you tell? I’m actually jealous I’m not a kid right now.)

There are 10 slots available per camp, so register now! If you register before June 30 for the July camp, or before July 15 for the August camp, you’ll get a $25 gift certificate for use in the store!

See you there!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games who was clearly born too early. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK—Tools of the Trade: EDHREC

by June 3, 2017

We’re in a bit of a lull here at the Mana Dork—we’re working on the Amonkhet Planeswalker Deck Challenge behind the scenes, and Amonkhet League 2 launches this weekend—so for today, I figured I’d take the time to walk you guys through one of the tools I use when building EDH decks!

Wizards maintains an official database for every Magic card ever printed, called Gatherer. But Gatherer has a few drawbacks. Among other things, you can’t find out what other people are using in their decks—you can’t build off of the collected wisdom of the online EDH community.

That’s what EDHREC is great at.

EDHREC analyzes decks that have been posted to TappedOut or DeckStats to find out which cards people are using with which commanders. It then aggregates all that data into a set of card suggestions for that commander.

In plain language, EDHREC tells you what the most popular cards are for any given commander or it can tell you which commanders work best with a certain card.

What this does is provide you with a ready-made list of suggestions for the latest legendary creature that has caught your eye, stretching all the way back to the beginning of the game!

To see how it works, let’s look Athreos, God of Passage, the commander for a deck I’ve spent a lot of time tuning lately, my Athreos Apostles combo list.

The first thing that comes up are “signature” cards for Athreos—cards that are used for Athreos more than any other BW commander.

These are useful for most builds of Athreos—you’ll probably be sacrificing or blocking often, since you’re likely to get your creatures back, so Harvester of Souls and Dictate of Erebos are fine choices for any build.

But we want to go deeper. Let’s filter Athreos lists by Shadowborn Apostle—this lets us only see suggestions from lists that feature everyone’s favourite token non-token creature:

Nice! This is handy!

But let’s go one step further. My Athreos Apostles list combos off with Thrumming Stone—what if we only look at lists that have both Apostles and Thrumming Stone?

Helloooo, what’s this?

We’ve found a card that I don’t currently have on my list. Secret Salvage. And it’s in 100% of the decks that have both Apostles and Stone? Surprising!

Secret Salvage came out in Aether Revolt, and I initially dismissed it. Because my deck relies on leaving as many Apostles in my library as possible when I combo off, I don’t really want more than one or two in my hand at any given time. And paying five mana to get a whole bunch in my hand seemed… steep.

But I missed a key turn of phrase: “any number of cards”.

I don’t have to fetch all 34 Apostles with Secret Salvage if I don’t want to (and by the way, you should play Magic with 34 copies of the same nonland permanent any chance you get, it’s amazing—I also recommend Relentless Rats!). I can fetch just enough to make sure my hand has some gas when I hit the combo turn.

Five mana is still steep, but if I’m sitting there with six lands and thumbs a-twiddle while everyone else is Doing Things™, it’ll seem a fine price to pay.

TRIBAL DECKS

But that’s not EDHREC’s only trick. It’s got a couple more up its sleeve.

If you love tribal decks—and who doesn’t?—EDHREC has a section that aggregates data for tribes instead of individual commanders.

This can be extremely handy if you’re actually me in real life and you’ve spent literal days hitting EDHREC’s “Random” button to find an interesting general. Who cares about the general? Build a tribe! I have elves on the docket, I think, and I’m definitely going to be visiting EDHREC’s Elves page for ideas while I build it!

CUSTOM SUGGESTIONS

Here’s EDHREC’s most impressive trick, though—suggestions customized specifically for your list.

What you see above are EDHREC’s suggestions for my Athreos Apostles list. As you can see, most of them are about improving the mana base—and rightly so, since I haven’t put a lot of the fancier lands in my deck. (If you’ll recall, I’m a big advocate of basic lands.) But if I want some consistency—which I do, because a combo deck requires consistency—I should definitely consider it.

Custom suggestions will only work once you’ve uploaded a decklist to TappedOut.net or DeckStats—I recommend the former—but once you’ve done so, it will be a tremendous help.

HOLY CRAP I WANT TO SEE A MAGIC DECK WITH 34 OF SOMETHING, WHEN ARE YOU AT THE STORE

I’m glad you asked!

In the world of Magic, I’ll be there this Sunday for the kickoff of Amonkhet League Part 2. It’s all the fun of kitchen-table Magic with all the new friends you make from organized play! Buy in for $20 any time in the next few weeks, play League games with other League players any time you’re in the store, and earn special prizes!

If Magic’s not your agenda, make sure you swing by for the Netrunner Regional Championships on June 10th! AMNG has a great Netrunner community that provides some stiff competition when the cards are shuffled up, so it should be a great time!

And finally, AMNG is also running a special Father’s Day Ticket to Ride Tournament on Sunday June 18—and if you’re lucky, you may even be able to meet the illustrious Mana Dork the Elder while you’re there!

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He is probably going to get thoroughly crushed at Ticket to Ride. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK – Native Planeswalkers and Legendary Creatures

by May 17, 2017
Native Planeswalkers and Legendary Creatures

Well, that’s a wrap! Pro Tour Amonkhet is in the books, and surprising absolutely nobody, Mono-Black Zombies won the whole wait whaaaaaaaaaat

It’s true, though. Gerry Thompson, rocking his sweet Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sleeves and deckbox, piloted this list to his first-ever Pro Tour win. No Gideons, no planeswalkers at all in the mainboard — and speaking of which, his entire mainboard consisted of cards that were $6 or less per copy when Amonkhet released! He cruised through much more expensive decks, the sheer consistency of his zombs swarming over Temurworks Marvel and Mardu Vehicles lists with ease.

It was refreshing to see. Pricy, greedy combo decks have been running the tables in Standard play for the last few months (though thankfully we still saw a LOT of creative homebrews at the store!), so having a traditional, inexpensive aggro list take Pro Tour Amonkhet says a lot, I think, about the viability of new brews, and how you can win an event without reducing your wallet to weeping openly and listening to “Hide and Seek” on repeat.

I mean, like, it’s a great song. But I’ve definitely heard Imogen Heap singing in the back of my head when I looked at the price on some of those four-colour Saheeli combos and older Mardu Vehicles lists.
Mmm, what’d you say?
Mmm, that you only meant well
Well, of course you did
Mmm, what’d you say?
Mmm, that it’s all for the best…
Anyway.
– – –
So, I have a question. Why do so many players want to see “native planeswalkers” in each new Magic set?
 

It puzzles me. “Native planeswalker” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. If you’re going to define a character by their ability to hop dimensions and bend the fabric of space-time, why stick them at home? We should see them when they’re out exploring the Multiverse. We should see weird characters we don’t understand yet, faces and abilities that are a gateway to more mystery.
But lately, what we’ve seen — and here’s the part that I don’t understand, what I see people asking for — are a series of homebodies.
Beginning from the Magic Origins reboot and ignoring planeswalkers who existed previously, we’ve met Arlinn Kord on Innistrad, and Saheeli Rai and Dovin Baan on Kaladesh. “Native planeswalkers”… who could have done their jobs just as well if they were legendary creatures.
(Notably, neither Arlinn nor Saheeli leave their planes at all during the course of their stories. They are “planeswalkers” who do not planeswalk even once! Heck, Rashmi did more planeswalking than Saheeli did, inside the Planar Bridge!)
Now, I love their design as characters. Arlinn is a powerful and bad-ass older woman, Saheeli is a charming and daring inventor, and my feelings about Dovin Baan have been mentioned previously. I am glad they are here, and I am happy to see what they have brought to Magic’s stories.
But to be honest, though, they could have been legendary creatures and done largely the same thing. And we could have had more space for weird and fascinating planeswalkers from other worlds, walking previews of Magic’s future with a face and name.
Like Ashiok.

Ashiok is a perfect example of what I’m talking about, perhaps the most recent perfect example. Ashiok doesn’t even have a face. It’s just smoke, and horns, and nightmares, and what happened to my library oh Ugin no no NONONO —

Ashiok is mystery. And terror, in this case. Ashiok saw play in many Standard lists of its era. Ashiok is a perfect hook for a future world (“What do we know about this place? … Ashiok is from here? Welp, I’m scared now…”). Ashiok simply existing is exciting, because it represents so much that we do not know about the wide, wide Multiverse.

Ashiok is exactly what I think a planeswalker should be.

I’m not just concerned about planeswalkers, though. I’m also concerned about what the desire for “native planeswalkers” has meant for legendary creatures.

Starting again from the Origins reboot and skipping the Eldrazi Titans for now, most of the legendary creatures we’ve seen have been side characters, also-rans, and supporting cast members. The “mentor” cycle in Origins, Zada and Jori En and Noyan Dar on Zendikar, Thalia and Odric and the twins on Innistrad, and so on. The only legendary creatures here who I think got an appropriate story treatment are Rashmi and Baral, both on Kaladesh.

It used to be that legendary creatures were the pushed, center-stage, face-on-the-poster chase cards everybody got excited about. The cards that changed the game. Back in the day, I saw people get hyped for Kamahl, and Phage, and Bladewing the Risen the way they now get hyped for non-Origins-5 planeswalkers.

(Quick note: “pushed” is slang for “a card Wizards has deliberately made very strong for its mana cost in order to help ensure it sees play in high-level tournaments”. Taken from “pushing the envelope”.)

These days, legendary creatures largely exist as nods to us Commander players, and hooks for the occasional short story. Rarely do they break into the Top 8 of Pro Tours.

Why has this changed? Why did it have to?

Look at Ulamog up there. Perfect example of what I think legendary creatures should be doing in Magic. Perhaps a divisive example, as not everybody is a fan of the Eldrazi Titans, but nevertheless perfect for this discussion.

In Ulamog we see a very pushed legendary creature present in many top-level lists as a game-ending all-star. The Temurworks Marvel lists from Pro Tour Amonkhet often used Ulamog to finish games. You are scared when Ulamog comes down, as so very little in Standard can answer it.

And critically, people opened Battle for Zendikar boosters looking for Ulamog. Others bought and will buy Ulamog as a single — which is much more profitable for the LGSes that keep the game alive. Ulamog drives sales and thus makes the game healthier as a whole. And it does so without having loyalty abilities.

Ulamog is exactly what I think a legendary creature should be — or, perhaps more clearly, Ulamog is performing the mechanical and marketing functions I think a legendary creature should perform. (Maybe we don’t need 10/10 indestructibles for 10 with two removal spells as a cast trigger all the time. But you get what I’m saying.)

This is getting lengthy, so I’ll cut to the chase cards.

I think those mystifying calls for “native” planeswalkers are the result of two things: Wizards putting an enormous spotlight on planeswalkers, and players subconsciously treating ‘walkers the same way they used to treat legends because of that spotlight.

I think this is compounded by the regular presence of pushed Gatewatch planeswalkers in Standard. People will naturally want to see characters from new planes mixing it up with Chandra, Jace, and the rest. As a result, we have players calling for “native planeswalkers” that could just as well be legendary creatures, simply because planeswalkers are the most pushed card type and people want new things.

I think this is why we’ve been seeing so many Standard environments where Gerry Thompson’s ‘walker-less maindeck is a notable aberration, rather than a regular sight.

I think the game would be improved if we used some mechanical strength and some marketing muscle on legends more often. Legends can serve as the face of a set just as well as planeswalkers, they can carry just as much of the story and key-art load on their shoulders, they have the same uniqueness drawback — and importantly, they can free up space for more interesting and creative planeswalker designs, since the ‘walkers no longer have to do as much work selling the set.

… and for the sake of maintaining my credibility throughout the above arguments, we shall ignore the amount of time I’ve spent in previous columns gushing about Commander, because I’m not biased at all. Never. Nope. Nuh-uh. Pure, unbiased journalism and punditry right here, folks. The Mana Dork — Your Trusted Source For Reasonable Magic Opinions.

Please?


OKAY FINE, MAYBE I AM BIASED, BUT AT LEAST YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO HUMBLE ME FOR IT AT THE FOLLOWING STORE EVENTS

On the Magic side of things, Amonkhet Game Day is this weekend! We’ll have events on both Saturday and Sunday, with registration at 11 AM, gameplay at noon, and prizes for participation, Top 8, and winning the whole thing. Come on down!

As well, the GPT Farewell Tour is coming to a close, with just three events left — GPT Vegas Limited on Friday May 26, GPT Vegas Modern on Sunday May 28, and a final GPT Vegas Limited on Friday June 2. These will be your last chances to earn byes for GPT Vegas and win our sweet GPT Farewell Tour playmat, so make sure you sign up!

Outside of Magic, we’ve got the Netrunner Regional Championships on Saturday June 10, the Star Wars 40th Anniversary X-Wing Tournament on Sunday June 11, and a special Father’s Day Ticket to Ride Tournament on Sunday June 18!

There’s tons of stuff happening at the store — we’d love to see you there!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He’s actually super-biased, don’t believe what he wrote up there. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK — The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Conclusion

by May 7, 2017

The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Conclusion

“What possible circumstances could render these draconian measures necessary?”
— Dovin Baan

We took a bit of a break for Amonkhet’s release (and a couple of soapbox moments), but we’re back with the final installment of the Aether Revolt Planeswalker Deck Challenge.

Here’s the idea: I believe that the Planeswalker Decks, as currently constructed, are a solid product with which to introduce new players to Magic… but they could be so much better. They could be built with more competitive cards, greater synergy, and an eye towards a strategy that better fits one of Magic’s established deck archetypes, rather than simply featuring a mechanic from the newest set.

For my first step in testing this out, I competed with the Ajani Planeswalker Deck in Aether Revolt Game Day at A Muse N Games, using only the contents of the deck and included boosters. I posted a result of 1-3 — with my single round win coming as a result of facing off against a homebrewed combo deck that was intimidating in function, but failed to fire in the games we played. While the result looks good on paper, I felt incredibly outclassed on the battlefield, as my Silkweaver Elites regularly went up against Torrential Gearhulks and Winding Constrictors.

I then brewed a Dovin Baan-themed deck, following all of the rules both formal and informal that Wizards follows with their Planeswalker Decks — with the exception that I would include many more complete playsets, and did not have access to the unique commons, uncommons, and rares that proper Planeswalker Decks come with.

Finally, I competed in a Tuesday Night Standard event at A Muse N Games with the Dovin Baan deck.

So, how did I do?

ROUND 1: TEMUR TOWER
My first match-up was against “the saviour of Standard”. Temur Tower decks were posting some good results in competitive events, breaking into the well-established two-deck metagame of Mardu Vehicles and Copy Cat combos. How was my pure control deck going to do against a more modern, midrange-y, value-based control deck?

It began in tension. We played land drops and Shielded Aether Thieves, and eyed the battlefield warily from behind our carefully-sculpted hands. I was digging hard for an Aetherstorm Roc or a Long-Finned Skywhale, something that would let me go over the top of their defenders. They were digging hard for a Dynavolt Tower so that their deck could come online.

I hit their first Dynavolt Tower with an Ice Over… and promptly realized the weakness of the card. Ice Over doesn’t actually tap down the permanent it enchants, nor does it prevent triggered abilities (or some activated abilities) from happening. Not only would my opponent get at least one use out of an Iced Over Dynavolt Tower that was untapped, it would continue to build energy for them.

After a long, hard battle, they eventually won off of activations from their second Dynavolt Tower. I had taken them nearly to time, however, with a bare handful of minutes left for Game 2… which they won quickly with a couple of early manlands.

Round Record: 0-1. Games Record: 0-2. (I’m a Hedron Crab!)

ROUND 2: GREEN-BLACK CHITTERING HOST

“Dude, what is this? You won a Standard event the other night with RW Dwarves! You broke the metagame! Why aren’t you playing that now?” — a passersby, to my opponent

“Man, I just wanted to play with Chittering Host. Chittering Host is cool.” — my opponent

My opponent was not wrong. Chittering Host is indeed cool. It is also… menacing… to face off against. There were some minor delirium synergies in the deck, but at its core, this was a classic “Rock”-style deck that swarmed the board with small creatures and sought to resolve a Chittering Host for an alpha strike.

Game 1 saw me hold off some of their beaters with a couple of early Shielded Aether Thieves (seriously, those guys are bros), until I eventually — finally! — resolved a Skywhale and protected it. I ground out the win by flying over the top with the Skywhale and clogging up the ground with Aether Thieves and various answers.

Unfortunately, I would make a critical mistake in Game 2. I was beating down again with a Skywhale and had a Baral’s Expertise in hand, while their board grew and grew and grew. Nervous, I cast the Expertise to bounce a couple of tokens and value creatures… and not the Westvale Abbey that had been sitting on my opponent’s side of the battlefield since Turn 3 or so. They recast some small creatures, sacrificed their board, and immediately began swinging with Ormendahl, Profane Prince for the game.

Game 3 ended with another critical mistake on my part — I kept a greedy hand instead of mulliganing it away. Chittering Host chittered all over my cold, dead bones in short order.

Round Record: 0-2. Games Record: 1-4. (I’m a Calcite Snapper!)
 

 

ROUND 3: RED-GREEN PUMMELER

Okay. Alright. I didn’t face off against Mardu Vehicles tonight — the matchup my deck had mostly been built for — but I’m about to shuffle up against RG Pummeler, another aggressive deck that relies heavily on artifacts. This is good. This is a good thing. I’m ready for this. I was made for this.

Game 1: I was not made for this.

Game 2: I have answers! That’s two Pummelers down! Thank you Fragmentize! Now I just need to hit a Long-Finned Skywh — oh, dear, that’s their third Pummeler… oh, dear, that was my face.

Round Record: 0-3. Games Record: 1-6. (I’m a Wandering Tombshell!)

CONCLUSION AND MOVING FORWARD

I should get better at playing Magic.

In all seriousness, though — this deck felt so, so much better than the Planeswalker Decks I tested. Pushing Temur Tower to time and almost winning a second game over a GB Rock variant may be Pyrrhic victories, but I will take them. I felt like I always had answers, and a line of play towards a solid win condition, instead of feeling completely outclassed by Turn 5 — like a Ford Pinto trying to race a Lamborghini.

I will admit to perhaps some bias — since I built the deck from scratch, I knew its lines of play and outs quite well, as opposed to having to learn the deck while I play it, as I did with the Planeswalker Decks. But I feel that this is minor in the grand scheme of things. I’m still inclined to wonder how much of the 0-3 round result is due to the power level of the various cards and how much is simply due to my play mistakes, as detailed above.

Going forward, I’ll change up a couple of things — I will keep the $11 limit for the 59 non-planeswalker cards in the deck, but I will likely change the distribution of rares, uncommons, and commons, and I will buy two booster packs to add to the deck, just like the regular Planeswalker Decks.

We will see how it works. I’ll be continuing the experiment for future Magic sets — albeit in fewer columns, since I don’t want this space to become the Planeswalker Deck Dork! — until I feel like the Planeswalker Decks are at a good place in their construction.

Until then — onward, to glory! And by glory, I mean getting viciously beaten in Standard games, all in service to my audience.

 

DO YOU DARE TO COMPLETE THE TRIALS OF AMONKHET? AND ALSO POSSIBLY A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY?
 

The Trials of Amonkhet are underway at the store — complete various Magic challenges with various friends in various formats to earn shiny lazotep d20s and d4s! Make sure to ask at the store for details.

And in July, the Fantasy Flight Store Championships are happening! Compete in official Fantasy Flight Organized Play events for Star Wars Armada, Star Wars Imperial Assault, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures, and Star Wars Destiny for sweet prizes and the respect of your peers!

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Do not ask him what was in the hand he kept. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK – The Second Sun Approaches!

by May 11, 2017

Amonkhet Prerelease –  The Second Sun Approaches!

amonkhet-prerelease-mana-dork

Hail Nicol Bolas, the God-Pharoah! May his return come early, and may we be found worthy!

amonkhet-prerelease-approach-of-the-second-sun

The store’s Amonkhet prerelease is only hours away, and Magic’s newest set has a ton of fun toys for Limited and Constructed play. Cycling looks like it will be making some noise with the new cycling dual lands and a number of fun payoffs like Drake Haven and Archfiend of Ifnir. The new exert and embalm mechanics are going to make for some very interesting choices during games, the Aftermath cards will have players agog (atog?), and the prevalence of -1/-1 counters will have implications for removal spells and build-arounds in every colour.

Here’s everything you need to know to do probably-better-than-last-time-maybe-or-at-least-walk-in-with-more-confidence-because-confidence-is-good-right-yes-excellent-good-show!

amonkhet-prerelease-aven-wind-guide

EMBALMS AWAY

Embalm is pretty straightforward: it’s like Flashback, but for creatures. Once the Embalm creature is in your yard, you can pay the Embalm cost and exile the creature to create a token that’s an exact copy of it, except it’s also White and a Zombie. (Which raises the question: most Zombies are Human, but Humans are also Human. Does that mean an Embalmed Anointer Priest is a White Zombie that’s more Human than Human? These are the things I think about.)

 First things first: yes, the Embalmed token itself also has Embalm, but it doesn’t matter, because tokens can’t exist in the graveyard. (Or in your hand, library, or exile.) Whenever a token would change zones — by dying and going to the graveyard, for example — it vanishes from existence as a state-based action, before players receive priority. Which is a fancy way of saying that before you could activate the token’s Embalm ability, the game has already ushered it along into the next life.

That being said, Embalm is still powerful and something you should think about when building your deck for the Amonkhet prerelease. You’re getting two creatures off of one card, on a bit of a layaway plan. Don’t count them as two creatures when you’re building with them, of course, but do remember that you’ll be able to clog up the board state a little longer, and that you’ll be facing down extra blockers and board stalls some percentage of the time. I’d definitely consider looking at exile spells like Cast Out and Final Reward for the creatures, and bounce spells like Winds of Rebuke to deal with the tokens. (Remember what I said about how tokens can’t exist in players’ hands? Turns out, if you bounce a token… )

amonkhet-prerelease-ahn-crop-champion

I HAVE BEEN EXERTING MY BRAIN BUT CANNOT COME UP WITH AN EXERT PUN

Once more unto the breach, my friends, once more, or close up the Hekma with our Naktamun dead! Exert lets a creature give 110% when it swings to convey some additional benefit, at the cost of not untapping the following turn.

A reminder for using Exert — you must declare whether or not you’re Exerting a creature BEFORE blockers are declared. The option to Exert a creature triggers as the creature’s being declared as an attacker, so you have to decide before your opponent declares blockers.

This means you must Exert your creatures carefully if you want to successfully use them during the Amonkhet prerelease. There’s no use Exerting every time and skipping every second combat — AND giving your opponent a combat step where he knows you can’t block! I’d be careful to Exert only when you need it for your creature to get through or when you specifically need the creature’s Exert bonus. If you can read your opponent and anticipate what the boardstate will be in a turn or two and whether or not it’s safe, go ahead!

amonkhet-prerelease-heaven-earth

IN THE AFTERMATH

Aftermath is pretty straightforward: it’s like Flashback, but for spells.

Wait, what? Don’t those already have Flashback?

Actually, Aftermath is a new take on split cards like Fire // Ice and Ready // Willing. Cards with Aftermath also function as two separate spells, but one of them can only be cast from the graveyard. Then, just like with Flashback and Embalm, the card gets exiled.

 Once again, we’re getting the value of two cards for the cost of one, on a bit of a layaway plan. This time, though, we’ll have to be more careful — many of the Aftermath spells have heavier mana costs than normal, and none of them have cycling, so they’re not going into your graveyard for free. I would look at the “normal” side of an Aftermath card when building your Amonkhet prerelease deck and judge whether or not I actually want it in my deck before including it.

 (Also, a side note for the more invested among us, and by “invested” I mean “people who like Isochron Scepter“: as of Amonkhet’s release, all split cards are treated as though their CMC is the combined CMC of both halves when in any zone other than the stack. This makes them much more difficult to use with Scepter and similar effects, but much easier to actually remember how they work without six minutes of Googling and a judge call. Overall, I’m a fan.)

amonkhet-prerelease-scarab-feast

I LIKE TO RIDE MY CYCLING CARDS, CYCLING CARDS, CYCLING CARDS

An old friend slides back into Magic with Cycling’s appearance in Amonkhet!

Cycling is sometimes challenging to evaluate. Cycling cards are usually a little overcosted, but the benefit is that they’re not dead in your hand or deck — if you’re in a situation where you’re holding a Cycling card that does nothing for you, you can cash it in to draw a card instead, and have another chance at drawing that premium removal spell much-needed land drop. In general, you can safely include narrower effects and more toolbox-y cards in your deck when they have Cycling, because they don’t take up an entire card slot.

With Cycling, I’d be careful to manage the number of cycling cards versus the number of cycling-payoff cards in your deck. I’ll be looking for at least 8-9 cycling cards before I include my first Drake Haven or Horror of the Broken Lands.

amonkhet-prerelease-bounty-of-the-luxa

GENERAL NOTES

As always, drink water, eat healthy, get some rest, and don’t be afraid to call a Judge if you need to, they’re there to help everyone at the Amonkhet prerelease.

Also, remember BREAD — bombs, removal, evasive creatures, aggressive creatures, then duds. Live by the bread, die by the bread. Be the bread.

(… if you’re wondering why none of those phrases used “bread” originally, I recommend breadening your horizons. Eh? … Eh?)

amonkhet-prerelease-combat-celebrant

THE PLANESWALKER DECK CHALLENGE CONCLUDES IN OUR NEXT COLUMN — WHILE YOU’RE WAITING, COME HANG OUT AT THE STORE 

I have finally plunged the Dovin Baan Planeswalker Deck we’ve forged over the course of Aether Revolt (1, 2, 3) into the crucible of Standard combat at A Muse N Games, even as the fires of the Revolt began to smolder. Soon, my friends, I shall tell you tales of towers, rats, and energy. Soon.

In the interim, A Muse N Games is hosting Amonkhet prereleases events all weekend! Swing by at midnight, noon, 5 PM, and 6 PM Sunday for sweet, sweet Amonkhet Prerelease Sealed action — and a chance at sweet, sweet prizes!

On top of that, the GPT Farewell Tour continues with GPT Montreal Standard on Sunday April 30 and GPT Vegas Legacy on Sunday May 7, both at noon (11 AM registration)!

Finally, it is time for the human boardgames to be celebrated! International Tabletop Day is Saturday April 29, and A Muse N Games has a bunch of fun things planned and prizes waiting! Bring a game, bring a friend, bring both, bring neither, just come on down!

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He has spent the last week staring at As Foretold and dreaming of free counterspells on his opponents’ turns. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK—Is Wizards Taking Control of Commander?

by March 24, 2017

Well, this is fascinating.

We’re going to take a break from the Planeswalker Deck Challenge series (1, 2, 3) this week to talk about a recent announcement Wizards of the Coast has made, and what it could mean for Commander as a whole.

Specifically: Wizards is going to be making 1v1 Commander on MTG Online a Thing. And this has Implications.

(First, a very quick glossary of some terms that might not be familiar:

  • MTG Online/”MTGO”: The official client for playing Magic online.
  • Rules Committee/”RC”: The grassroots group of community members that currently governs the Commander format, making rule and banlist decisions.
  • Duel Commander: A 1v1 rules variant of Commander with its own Rules Committee and its own banlist, very different from regular Commander. Controversially, they changed starting life totals from 30 to 20 last year. Popular in France, and sometimes called “French EDH”.
  • Leviathan Commander: A format that splintered off from Duel Commander last year after the life total change. Leviathan Commander is roughly identical to Duel Commander, except it keeps the starting life total at 30. Popular in Italy.
  • 1v1 Commander: Not currently an official format—just a term used to describe one-on-one Commander games on MTGO. But that may change.)

This week, the official Wizards Tumblr page for Magic Online made the following announcement, which I will quote here in full:

30 LIFE FOR 1V1 COMMANDER

The Modern Masters 2017 Edition deployment today contained a change which moved the starting life total from 40 to 30 for 1v1 Commander games.  (Games with 3 or 4 players remain at a starting life total of 40.)

We have plans to introduce more support for 1v1 Commander.  As part of this, R&D determined that format is better off with a starting life total of 30. At one point we had planned to introduce this change as well as league support and a modified banned list today, but later decided to instead introduce it during Amonkhet season.

Unfortunately, in this process the life total change did not get taken out of this build, and so today it is live. Now that it is live, since it is a change we were planning on making anyway in the future, our intent is to simply leave it in place.

Stay tuned for an article about what support we plan to offer for 1v1 Commander leagues moving forward!

– Lee

 

To my knowledge, this is the first time in the history of Commander that Wizards has taken control of some rules for the format—even if it’s just for a variant. Previously, they have left every decision in the hands of the Rules Committee.

Going from 40 life to 30 life for 1v1—identical to Leviathan, and Duel Commander pre-2016—is interesting enough. But modifying the banlist is a big signal that more changes may be en route.

The Commander banlist has been the subject of vociferous discussion for years, and I have spent many thousands of words (that I could have gotten paid for by writing articles for the store instead! Ah, hindsight is Marit Lage… ) arguing for and against various cards. It is at the heart of the many PR problems faced by the Rules Committee as a whole, and it is what makes many players question whether or not the Rules Committee remains relevant today.

The idea that the Rules Committee controls the list entirely, without input from Wizards, is core to the identity of Commander. This is The Casual Format, The Grassroots Format, safe from the hard-edged Pro Tour circuit, and you can tell because Wizards isn’t even in charge of it.

But despite that, all is not well in the clachan. Many believe that the Rules Committee’s choices of what and what not to ban are dubious, based largely on anecdata from their personal playgroups. And regardless of what you believe, it is fact that if they collect real data, they share none of it with the public when making announcements.

This lack of transparency has not helped the RC’s public image. Even when Sheldon Menery—the public face of the Rules Committee—writes a column about the banlist philosophy in an attempt to explain their thinking, he is… circuitous.

That article is approximately 2,000 words spent building up the straw-man fallacy that banning cards based on mechanical strength would lead to cascading additional bans, when Menery could simply have said that the format is about mechanical strength, and bans are instead made based on whether or not a card creates “garbage time” scenarios where multiple players spend multiple turn cycles with zero relevance in gameplay. Which is all true, if never stated so concisely.

And yet Commander has been extremely successful in recent years, as the Casual and Competitive events at the store show. Is this because the RC is doing something right? Is it simply because Wizards is putting Commander pre-cons on every shelf? Is it both, neither?

So it’s in the middle of this bubbling cauldron that Wizards makes the announcement above.

But what does it mean?

 

Let’s look at one more key line from this announcement—the fact that Wizards will be supporting 1v1 Commander leagues going forward. This is new, and huge.

Currently, Magic suffers from the Not-Hearthstone problem. Specifically, it is a game designed for paper play in physical spaces with instant-speed interaction and counterplay, making it unsuitable for presentation as an eSport. Hearthstone, meanwhile, is designed from the ground up as a digital game with almost no instant-speed interaction, allowing for a slick, smooth presentation and no constant little delays waiting for priority from an opponent passed out/BMing on the other side of a keyboard three million miles away.

Hearthstone is a very popular eSport, and it got there using a business model Magic pioneered. It’s ridiculous to think that Magic can’t be successful in that same arena. There’s money to be made in eSports, and it makes sense that Wizards would go after it.

But how do you get there, given MTGO’s notoriously user-unfriendly graphics and constant priority delays?

Well, you start by giving viewers a strategy they can latch onto quickly. One with a strong visual component. Possibly one that centres on a legendary creature they can see at all times and that the players have access to at all times.

I think Wizards will be pushing 1v1 Commander as a potential eSport. I think they’re taking precisely the steps required to do so—running 1v1 Commander leagues, and asserting control of the banlist and ruleset—and I think they will watch and see how the community responds (cf.: how popular the leagues are on Twitch) before pushing further.

I also think Wizards is testing the waters for asserting control of Commander as a whole. Today, many players enter the format thinking Wizards controls it, as they do every other format, and are shocked to learn that the Rules Committee exists and has the power it does. The RC was instrumental in the creation of Commander as a whole, but the format is now largely self-governing, and there’s an argument to be made that the RC is almost vestigial in its purpose and impact. If players respond warmly to the choices Wizards makes governing 1v1 Commander on MTGO, this announcement may be a bellwether for Wizards’ eventual assertion of control over Commander some years from now.

Only time will tell.

THAT WAS LIKE THE CHEAPEST TROPE YOU COULD POSSIBLY END A COLUMN ON, MACKENZIE, HOW ABOUT YOU TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON AT THE STORE INSTEAD

Can do!

The Standard Spring 9-Week Challenge rolls on, with Standard every Tuesday night, On-Demand Standard whenever four or more folks want to shuffle up, and one more special Sunday tournament in April.

The GPT Farewell Tour is off and running, with Kickoff Weekend starting tomorrow! GPT Vegas Legacy is tomorrow at noon, GPT Vegas Limited MM2017 is Sunday at noon, and GPT Vegas Modern is Monday at 7! Make sure you show up 15 to 30 minutes ahead of time to register.

Speaking of registering, Amonkhet Pre-Release events are now open—you can register at the store or on Eventbrite for $35 before 10 PM Wednesday, April 19th!

Finally, Free Games Day is happening tomorrow at the store! Bring a game, bring a friend, bring both, bring neither and just show up and learn some new boardgames—it’s all good! Admission is free, but the fun is forever.

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He is not sorry for the Heartstone/Hearthstone pun half a column ago. Tune in every two weeks for the Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK—The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Part 3

by March 9, 2017

Get out your boxes of bulk, it’s time to start brewing!

In the last two instalments of the Mana Dork, I’ve been talking about the Planeswalker Deck Challenge, where I competed with the Ajani Planeswalker Deck at Aether Revolt Game Day in order to demonstrate that the Planeswalker Decks could do more to set new players up for success.

I was incredibly lucky—I opened Ajani Unyielding in one of the booster packs for the Ajani Planeswalker Deck, along with a Greenwheel Liberator and some excellent uncommons. With this, I went 1-3, with 3 game wins across 9 games—well above par for what people currently expect for a Planeswalker Deck.

But I maintain that I shouldn’t have to be that lucky to get that win total. So in today’s edition of the Mana Dork, we’re going to brew our own Planeswalker Deck, following all of the restrictions Wizards sets for their official ones.

Shall we?

BREAKING IT DOWN

The Planeswalker Decks follow a well-established structure:

  • They promote the current set
  • They feature a custom version of a Planeswalker in that set, tuned for casual play
  • They include two copies of a custom rare card that tutors for that Planeswalker
  • They include three copies of a custom uncommon permanent that gets a benefit when you control that Planeswalker
  • They include four copies of a custom common card flavoured for that Planeswalker
  • They include four copies of a land that taps for both of the colours in the deck

Additionally, when we look at the decklists themselves, as well as the MSRP of the product and how it is produced and released, we can draw two more conclusions:

  • The deck should be worth about $11—the cost of a Planeswalker Deck when you take away the two booster packs it comes with.
  • Outside of the new cards specific to that Planeswalker Deck, they should have about two rares, 10-11 uncommons, and 12-15 commons, depending on how much land is in the deck.

Finally, there’s one more conclusion we can draw—based on the number of cards that have only one or two copies, we can deduce that Wizards includes incomplete playsets in the Planeswalker Decks in order to encourage new players to go out and buy booster packs to complete them.

However, I’m going to disagree with that last premise. I think that one of the purposes that Planeswalker Decks should serve is as an example of proper deckbuilding. Teaching new players what a consistent deck looks like is, I think, a better use of a pre-constructed product—as well, a more consistent deck does better against its opponents and therefore gets players more excited about the game. So for those reasons, I will ignore that restriction and include as many 4-ofs as I can in our brew.

(I should note that we are also forced to do without the custom cards each Planeswalker deck gets. In the next phase of this project, I will be competing in Standard events at A Muse N Games, which means I have to use cards that are legal in Standard—not ones I dream up for a column!)

Putting it all together, here are the rules we will follow for our deck:

  • One planeswalker
  • Four rares from the current block
  • 13-14 uncommons from the current block
  • 16-19 commons from the current block
  • Four copies of a land that taps for both of the deck’s colours
  • Grand total of $11 or less after the planeswalker.

So, which planeswalker are we going to brew around?


AKA, “THE BAANHAMMER”

Dovin Baan is my favourite character from Kaladesh—he is relentless and uncompromising, he flawlessly executes everything he sets out to do, he has the driest sense of humour in the Multiverse, and his journey as a not-quite-villain trapped in between doing the best for the people of Kaladesh and obeying Tezzeret’s orders was fascinating to follow.

However, despite how awesome he was in the stories, his planeswalker card has yet to see tournament play. Even with Blue-White Flash spending several months in 2016 as a top-tier deck, Dovin failed to make a mark.

So let’s change that, shall we? Dovin lends himself well to a control strategy, with his +1 neutering potential Crew activations and his -2 granting us card and life advantage. So our Dovin deck will be a classic blue-white control list.

Let’s start with some rares.

Baral’s Expertise is reasonably flavourful—Baral is one of Dovin’s underlings in the stories—and very powerful. Since Dovin’s +1 ability cannot hit Vehicles, we’re going to need a good sweeper for our well-wheeled opponents. Baral’s Expertise gives us something that can answer most major threats in the format (outside of other planeswalkers), and a free cast of something else in our hand. Free is good, right? We’re going to have three copies of Baral’s Expertise.

Our other rare slot will be spent on a good finisher for the deck. Several of the commons and uncommons we’ll be using give us Energy, so Aetherstorm Roc—an absolute house in Limited—will fit in nicely. Generating tons of Energy and tapping down creatures for days, Aetherstorm Roc is an ever-growing flier that will do a great job of taking out both planeswalkers and opponents with ease. And, let’s not forget—we can cast it for free off of Baral’s Expertise!

Going by TCGPlayer’s Mid price for these cards, we have spent $4.55 of our allotted $10—$4.20 for the Expertises, and 0.25 for the Roc. We’re in good shape—a good deal of value should be in the rare slot.

Onward!

Glimmer of Genius is the strongest draw spell in Kaladesh block and one of the strongest currently in Standard. Getting to scry before we draw is extremely good—we can filter away lands we don’t need, or answers that won’t answer what’s in front of us. And if one of the top two cards is something we want, we can guarantee drawing it. This card is seeing play even in non-Energy decks, so the fact that it produces Energy for us is a lovely bonus. We’ll take three copies.

Shielded Aether Thief and Aether Meltdown are both two-drop instant-speed answers to creatures and Vehicles that generate Energy, which, y’know. Sign me up, right? The Thief even gives us a good Energy outlet with its card draw. Three copies of the Meltdown and four copies of the Thief, please!

Finally, Long-Finned Skywhale has done a ton of work for me in draft and I have to feel good about including it here. Despite its blocking restriction, it can still get in the way of many of the best creatures in the format—but with all of our other answers it shouldn’t have to, and can ideally just beat down with 4 power in the air every turn.

3x Long-Finned Skywhale and Aether Meltdown and 4x Shielded Aether Thief and Glimmer of Genius puts us at 14 uncommons and another $2.96 spent—right on target.

We’ve got $3.49 left for 16-19 commons and four special lands. Can we do this?

The answer is yes. Dovin always has answers.

Specifically, these answers.

There is only one white or blue common in Kaladesh block where Dovin Baan is referenced in the flavour text—and lucky for us, it’s a great answer to the inexpensive Vehicles everywhere! Four copies of Fragmentize go in the brew, helping to reinforce the Planeswalker Deck flavour, along with four copies of Ice Over.

As I mentioned in the first part of this column series, the “Copy Cat” combo featuring Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian is also seeing tons of play (despite not performing well at Pro Tour Aether Revolt). So we’ll need some answers that hit both parts of that combo, as well as many other targets. Four copies each of Negate and Revolutionary Rebuff should do us well here.

Finally, Meandering River is the designated uncommon tapland for our colours.

4x Fragmentize, 4x Negate, 4x Ice Over, 4x Revolutionary Rebuff, and 4x Meandering River all add up to another $2.23—we’re done, with an impressive $1.26 to spare!

GET BAANED AT OUR ON-DEMAND STANDARD EVENTS AND THE GPT FAREWELL TOUR

Our list is complete—and now, it’s time to take it to the shop!

The Standard Spring 9 Week Challenge continues until April 16th. A Muse N Games will be running Standard tournaments every Tuesday at 7 PM, as well as additional tournaments Sunday March 12th at 2 PM and Saturday, April 15th at 2 PM. Compete in enough Standard events and you can earn alt-art battlelands!

On top of that, we’ve got On-Demand Standard happening—make sure you’re at the store with three other folks who want to play Standard, and we’ll fire up a sanctioned event with prizing for a $6 entry fee!

Registration is now open for the Amonkhet pre-release—sign up now for $35 Early Bird registration!

And finally—just announced—A Muse N Games is hosting the 2017 GPT Farewell Tour! Before Grand Prix Trials close down for good, you’ll be able to attend no less than ten Trials for the Grands Prix in Vegas and Montréal later this year. First place in a GPT at AMNG wins an exclusive playmat!

See you at the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games, and is going to have way too much fun searching through AMNG’s bulk boxes to build this deck. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK—The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Part 2

by March 23, 2017

THE MANA DORK—The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Part 2

Well, I did better than I expected, but still not good enough.

In the last installment of the Mana Dork, I said I would be taking the “Planeswalker Deck Challenge” — competing in Aether Revolt Game Day with only an Aether Revolt Planeswalker Deck and the contents of the two booster packs that came with it.

I’m doing this because, as much as I love Magic and I love the idea of Planeswalker Decks, I think Wizards of the Coast can do a much better job of setting new players up to succeed with these introductory products.

In preparation for Game Day, I picked up both the Tezzeret and Ajani Planeswalker Decks and did some preliminary testing with both. I felt it was important to give myself the best chance to succeed, in order to give the Planeswalker Decks the fairest possible showing.

In testing, the Tezzeret deck seemed inconsistent. Some games, I’d spam out a bunch of cheap artifacts, get out the Efficient Construction I found in one of the packs, and win off of a Tezzeret activation or thopter beatdowns. Other times, I’d spam out a bunch of cheap artifacts, get out an Improvise finisher like Wind-Kin Raiders, and watch it eat a removal spell before I died.

When I opened the booster packs from the Ajani deck, this happened:

Alright, RNG gods, I’m listening. Ajani it is.

The Ajani deck played better, too. It wasn’t as flashy as Tezzeret’s, but the simple aggro strategy of getting out good small creatures and pumping them up was much more consistent than casting Implements and praying with my shiny metal claws.

If you’re curious, here is my final decklist. With six or seven pick-ups from the booster packs—including the second Ajani, a Greenwheel Liberator, and a Daredevil Dragster—I aimed for a more consistent set of creatures, and greater ease in triggering Revolt when I needed it.

So, how’d I do?

ROUND 1: GRIXIS TOWER CONTROL

(Quick side note: “Grixis” refers to the colour combination of Blue, Black, and Red, and is named after one of the Shards of Alara. If you’re unfamiliar with some of the slang terms for colour combinations, here and here are excellent resources!)

In this match-up, I found out that Torrential Gearhulks are a thing. Also, why they are a thing. Also, holy Bolas they hurt a lot!

My opponent was on a control gameplan, so they were happy and content to take damage from my small, efficient creatures while they built up Energy counters and sculpted the perfect hand. I often saw them Disallow an Armorcraft Judge or Prey Upon, then flash in a Torrential Gearhulk to counter an Ajani’s Aid with a Disallow from the graveyard… and, at least once, Ajani himself. (Sadface!)

In the end, even though their Gearhulks couldn’t block my Audacious Infiltrators, I lost both games, and couldn’t get them below 10 life in either one.

Round Record: 0-1. Games Record: 0-2. (I’m an Ornithopter!)

ROUND 2: GREEN-BLACK SNAKEWALKERS

(Quicker side note: I am aware that GB Constrictor is an established top-tier deck, but this did not look like that deck. Also, how can I pass up a chance to call something “SNAKEWALKERS”? C’mon.)

This match-up was a lesson in value — getting more than one card’s worth of value out of a single card.

This was a common boardstate in the two games we played. I’d have a couple of small, efficient creatures, and they’d have a Winding Constrictor and a whole mess of Planeswalkers and tokens. 

Planeswalkers give you excellent value when they can stick around. Many produce tokens and other small blockers, and when I’m facing them down, I have to choose between attacking my opponent—which brings me closer to winning—and attacking their Planeswalkers, which brings me closer to a neutral boardstate, but not much closer to winning.

While Winding Constrictor doesn’t interact directly with Planeswalkers, it did work nicely with all the tokens my opponent’s Nissas were putting out, as well as the Energy counters that were feeding their Longtusk Cubs and Glint-Sleeve Siphoners.

In the end, even though I was able to get an Ajani out, I again lost both games.

Round Record: 0-2. Games Record: 0-4. (I’m a Jeering Homunculus!)

ROUND THREE: BLUE-BLACK SECRET HEDRONS

Hedron Alignment decks got a huge boost in Aether Revolt with the printing of Secret Salvage. Does this mean my opponent has a shot at winning with one of Standard’s unlikeliest methods?

But wait! I got both Ajanis in my opening hand! Double Ajani, what could it mean?

Oh, no! A wild Sphinx of Magosi has appeared! I didn’t even know that was legal in Standard! (It is, thanks to the Welcome Decks!) Does a huge flying creature mean my sweet, sweet Ajanis are doomed?

Yes, yes it does. Along with my boardstate.

I ended up winning game two when they failed to find a finisher, but my opponent was successfully able to beat me down with the Sphinx in game one, and took game three with a Hedron Alignment win.

Round Record: 0-3. Games Record: 1-6. (I’m a Fortress Crab!)

ROUND FOUR: MONO-BLUE AETHERFLUX ENGINE

Paradox Engine has been the subject of much debate in EDH communities online. A 5 CMC artifact that goes in almost any deck — capable of untapping mana dorks and rocks for more spells, or creatures to block after an alpha strike — is quite powerful, and seems destined for the banlist.

But in Standard, it’s somewhat less powerful. There are fewer good mana rocks and dorks for it to interact with, and if you’re piloting a top-tier deck, you’re likely running Planeswalkers, which means even fewer things that tap.

My opponent’s strategy here was similar to that of the Tezzeret deck I mentioned above, but with better cards — power out a bunch of cheap artifacts, cast a Paradox Engine, then power out more cheap artifacts and card draw off the Engine’s untaps until they can land an Aetherflux Reservoir and win with a gargantuan 50-life laser kill.

Unfortunately, their plan never quite fired, and their reliance on non-creature artifacts meant there was nothing to block my small, efficient beaters. I took both games 2-0 for an unexpected round win.

Round Record: 2-0. Games Record: 3-6. (I’m a Maze Sentinel!)

CONCLUSIONS AND NEXT STEPS

I will be honest: I wasn’t expecting to even win a round, especially after the first three. I cannot imagine how I would have felt as a much younger or newer player, going into the fourth round with that record.

And while we’re being honest—that I was able to take a round against a homebrew deck with a complex win condition speaks well for the Planeswalker Decks as they’re constructed currently. It shows that Wizards is on the right track.

However, I still think an ideal Planeswalker Deck would have allowed me to win another odd game or two in the previous rounds, as well as a round win. In the next edition of the Mana Dork, I plan on proving that point by building my own “Planeswalker Deck” and competing in an A Muse N Games Standard event.

Alt Art Battle Lands from BFZ

THAT WAS A BEAUTIFUL SEGUE INTO THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH

Speaking of which, if you’re interested in playing or trying out Magic’s Standard format, have we got the promotion for you!

A Muse N Games is now running the Standard Spring 9-Week Challenge. Wizards has challenged the store to hold 15 Standard tournaments before April 17th, and there’s some very, very nice promos for people who come out and participate!

On top of the regular Standard events Tuesdays at 7 PM, AMNG will be holding bonus tournaments on March 5th, March 12th, and April 15th. As well, we’re hosting On-Demand Standard—whenever there’s four people in the store and they want to play Standard, AMNG will sanction the event for a $6 entry fee and offer prizing!

For more details, check out the official post here.

See you in the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games, and considers himself more of a Disruptive Student than a Maze Sentinel. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!

THE MANA DORK -In Defense of Magic’s Story

by January 24, 2017
 
Long, long ago, my father and I used to play Magic. He had a Blue-White fliers deck, and a classic Black discard deck with Dark Rituals, Hymns to Tourach, and Hypnotic Specters. I’d build whatever I could out of his leftover Green and Red cards, and we’d play each other.
Hypnotic Specter
(“Do you know why this Hypnotic Specter is strong?” “… You can cast it after Dark Ritual?” “Not just that — it takes cards from your opponent’s hand. It takes options away from them. They can’t counter your spells if you took the counterspell away.” “OH!”  — 9-year-old me, learning about the metagame clock and card advantage instead of, y’know, how to catch fish and fix things.)
I got so into the game that my dad picked up one of the earliest pieces of Magic lore ever published — Tapestries, a collection of short stories by leading fantasy authors of the time. It didn’t delve much into Urza, Mishra, and the Brothers’ War, but the authors did have an absolute field day with the idea that you spent the game summoning creatures and then just… leaving them there. The book was filled with classic fish-out-of-water stories and bildungsromans with a fantasy flair.
Tapestries gave me my first taste of lore — that intoxicating concoction that turns a collection of numbers and game mechanics into an elf. Into something I can care about.
I tore through the stories and chased them down with the flavour text on every card in our collection. I caught glimpses and facets of Urza and Mishra, like shards of light from a jewel’s reflection. I watched the Kjeldorans war against Lim-Dûl in the italicized text on every soldier I cast.
Kjeldoran Skyknight
When my father stopped buying cards, I took a break from the game as well, though not for long — I was back six years or so later, in time to see Kamahl’s story of rage, and then of redemption. Then came Mirrodin’s struggle against Memnarch, and Toshiro’s battle against Kondo and O-Kagachi, with Kamigawa’s war against itself in counterpoint.
Then another ten years gone, until Sarkhan traveled back in time to save Ugin, and I traveled to a brand-new games store on Portage Avenue to attend a draft and support a friend’s new business.
In all that time, the lore captivated me — though not so much how it was packaged in novels. I found actually playing the game preferable to slogging through 50,000 words of action I wasn’t taking part in, and kept up on the lore through research in my downtime.
So imagine my reaction when I returned, and discovered that Wizards was now publishing Magic’s story directly to the web in digestible little short stories and vignettes every single week. “Joy” understates it.
And then — and then — in 2015, we saw the Origins reboot, and each of our (now-)iconic Planeswalkers got origin stories and motivations. Again, that alchemical moment, when these powerful, modal enchantments became something with faces I could care about.
In 2016, the Gatewatch. A team of these icons, traveling planes and battling foes in a way Magic hadn’t seen since the days of the Weatherlight.
It was with the Gatewatch that I saw the criticism mount.
Imprisoned in the Moon
To hear some of the commentary online, you’d think the Gatewatch dooms us to years of plain, careworn comic-book super-feats and gosh-darn-it Boy Scout do-gooderism. Stories with no stakes and no growth — only cool explosions, cooler monsters, and pushed, tournament-level mythics with first names instead of descriptive ones. Woe, oh woe were the purists when Emrakul was revealed as the villain in Shadows block. Weep, oh weep did the devoted fans with every “Ashaya” and chess-playing Eldrazi Titan. The Internet rang with dismay.
Clearly, Wizards is just pandering. Or setting things up for the movie. Or sacrificing artistic merit for the sake of selling a product. Or giving in to the Tumblr crowd. Or something. Whatever explanation is popular this week. It changes depending on who you ask.
Yahenni's Expertise
If you cannot tell — personally, I think that thanks to the weekly-short-story model and the Gatewatch, Magic’s story is the best it’s ever been.
I know we’re all nostalgic about Urza and Mishra and Yawgmoth and the Weatherlight and Venser and Elspeth, and nostalgia is wonderful and all, but look: here and here are the two most recent stories by Chris L’Etoile, a writer from BioWare’s legendary stories that Wizards brought in specifically to work on Magic. And then there’s Alison Luhrs, showing off here and here and here and here and here, a Wizards employee with a background in playwriting who’s turning out some of the company’s finest work — especially with Yahenni, a Kaladesh character you have to meet.
Go on. Read them. It’s worth the time, trust me.
When you’re done, I want you to read this story and pretend that you know nothing else about Magic.
Yes, I just made you read about Jace. But look at that story again — if you take away all of Jace’s appearances in Alara and Zendikar and Return to Ravnica and all the core sets, if you just look at that story and the ones that came after it, Jace is a fascinating character.
Origins Jace is what happens when you take Memento, the Hunger Games, and every Cold War double-agent spy thriller and blend it all up. Out comes an exasperated nerd who could be the brainy sidekick on the radio in any action movie — except this is Magic, so this sidekick gets pushed to the forefront occasionally and told he has to save the day. Or at least not die while he comes up with a plan.
It’s a novel take. Maybe I’m benefiting from not having been around for seven or eight years of Jace in core sets, but I’m entertained, and I can’t wait to see what happens when he returns to Vryn.
And when it comes to the Gatewatch — ensemble-cast media spellbinds us, like it always does. Marvel has propelled itself to juggernaut status based on how skillfully it has used its ensemble casts, to give you an example, while DC tries and tries again. Frankly, you’re not going to break the surface these days if you don’t have a broad cast that people can connect with, and the Gatewatch is precisely that.
I now have characters with weekly adventures I can invest in, delivered in an accessible way, and I cannot tell you how happy I am. Sure, George R. R. Martin delivering 2,000 words of Innistrad intrigue would be great. But today, I will take Alison Luhrs telling stories of Orzhov machinations on Ravnica just as gladly.
Dark Intimations
Finally — finally — if nothing else I’ve said here compels you, consider this: Nicol Bolas, Magic’s greatest antagonist, is coming back in Amonkhet. Revelations are at hand. Years of lore will be connected in ways we don’t expect.
Don’t you want to see what happens next?
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IS FREE GAMES DAY — AT THE STORE, AT LEAST
Sunday, January 29th is Free Games Day at A Muse N Games! Bring some friends and bring a game, or try one from the store’s extensive demo library! Staff will be on hand to help you if you have any rules questions, and there’s no charge to participate, so come on down!
On the Netrunner side of things, we’ve got the Netrunner Store Championships on Saturday January 28th. Bring your decks and a $15 entry fee and try to reveal — or hide — those corporate Agendas to win glory and fame (and some sweet prizes!).
Outside of that, there’s organized play every day — Modern on Monday, Standard on Tuesday, D&D, LCGs, and now Frontier on Wednesday, drafting (now with Aether Revolt!) and X-Wing on Thursdays, boardgame shenanigans, Sealed, and Commander (casual AND competitive!) on Fridays, more drafting on Saturdays, and D&D Expeditions on Sundays!
See you at the store!
Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games and completely unapologetic about how much he likes Jace and the Gatewatch. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!