Hearthstone – Persisting Archetypes In Standard

If you’re wondering when my review of Whispers of the Old Gods will be, I did say I was waiting until half the set was revealed (which we just hit in the last few days), but the nerfs to several Classic/Basic staples warrants immediate attention.

Today, Hearthstone posted this article detailing long-awaited changes to many of the powerhouses of the Classic set. Some nerfs were for power level reasons (Knife Juggler), others because they enabled combos that would otherwise remain in Standard forever (Force of Nature), and still others because they restricted design space (Master of Disguise, though I’m sure no one saw that one coming).

I don’t want the tone of this article to be too negative, so let me quickly say that I am happy with the overall direction the nerfs are taking Standard. Team 5 have practically said outright that Silence was a mechanic they wish they never introduced, and I’m glad that, even for class cards, you pay a hefty price to shut another card up (or off, in some cases). Every other nerf was because the card just gave too much for it’s cost, and most of the nerfed cards still seem viable in the right decks, rather than just being auto includes in every deck that can utilize it.I’m glad they decided to nerf Force of Nature rather than Savage Roar, mostly because almost ANY change to Roar would render the card unplayable, while the change to Force of Nature is crippling, but does not damn the card to the Casual Room.

The only card I’m unhappy with is Arcane Golem. I really hated it pre-nerf, but I’m pretty sure the card is just plain shit now. If you want a 4/4 for three with a drawback I can point you to Ogre Brute and Dancing Swords, both of which saw absolutely no Constructed play outside mill decks, which as we all know aren’t real decks anyway.

But what cards were overlooked in this wave of changes? Team 5 had an amazing chance to make Classic and Basic cards the infrastructure of Standard by making changes to cards to ensure that particular archetypes will not persist year after year in a supposedly always fresh format, but a few decks appear to be poised to forever be Standard contenders.

Freeze Mage

The first deck that jumps out at me is Freeze Mage. Maybe this is what the developers want to be the Mage’s identity; a reactive hero that has excellent options for board control, sustainability, and burst. None of Freeze Mage’s primary cards were changed at all, so you can expect to face the same combination of Ice Block/Barrier, Frost Nova/Doomsayer, and a flurry of burn (and maybe an Alexstraza) to the face to end the game. Yes, Mad Scientist is leaving, but I don’t think it will change much with how much Standard appears to be slowing down since the Scientist’s best use was against aggro decks, where he just bought time. Emperor Thaurussian will eventually leave as well, but he is just a luxury, not a requirement. It remains to be seen whether decks that play for the extreme late game, like C’Thun decks, will serve to keep Freeze Mage in check, but I have my doubts.

You might ask how Freeze Mage is any different from a deck like Control Warrior, and that many of Control Warrior’s cards are also going to always be in Standard. The difference is that Freeze Mage operates on a very specific axis, while Control Warrior, as evidenced over the last two years, has undergone several different iterations. Sure, the goal is always to stabilize and then win somehow, but the cards they use to get there have changed over time, and so have their win conditions. Did you know that you can build a 26-card all Classic Freeze Mage deck? Sure, maybe you don’t want Acolyte of Pain or Azure Drake in some metas, but holy shit more than two-thirds of the deck is NEVER going to change unless flat better options come about? I hope you all like getting Fireballed a bunch of times, forever.

Ramp Druid

By this time we all know that a big part of Druid’s identity is mana ramping. They will probably have access to many ramp spells/minions in Standard, probably a great deal of them during the Fall when Standard grows to it’s maximum size.

It’s really just one card in the archetype that really bothers me – Innervate. I’ve never liked Innervate as a card because I usually don’t like cards that are many orders of magnitude more powerful in the early game than the late game. Facing down a large threat far earlier in the game than you can handle is one of the most frustrating ways to lose a game, and clearly it’s worth playing despite the risk of drawing it late since almost every Druid deck since ever plays two.

Hearthstone is a different game than Magic: The Gathering by a wide margin, but it’s hard not to think about how free mana affected Magic in its early years. Now, Magic has purged it’s professional formats of almost all fast mana, not only because it isn’t fun, but it also restricts design space. In almost every resource-driven card game ever made, the very core of gameplay revolves around slowly building resources that allows for play and counter-play, but Innervate breaks down that dynamic. Sure, Innervate costs a card, and occasionally Innervating out a card means not playing anything meaningful on the next turn, but in Hearthstone it almost doesn’t matter. If you play a fat minion early, all most opponents can do is decide which minions they want to throw away to yours, simultaneously praying to RNGesus that you don’t have any follow up because it’s those games where a Druid plays a Druid of the Claw on turn three and a Shredder on turn four that are practically unwinnable for the opponent. You simply fall too far behind too quickly while the Druid gets to make all the trading decisions every turn.

Divine Favor

Yes, Aggro Paladin had many of it’s early minions nerfed, and so not changing Divine Favor may not have any impact at all for some time, but we have to adopt a long view here since Divine Favor will ALWAYS be a part of Standard, and frankly, might be the most powerful card in all of Hearthstone behind Innervate because it circumvents one of Hearthstone’s basic tenets – players draw one card per turn.

Sure, there are many cards that draw cards out there. Acolyte of Pain, Arcane Intellect, Shield Block, the list goes on and on. But Divine Favor can  draw four OR MORE cards for three mana, and the mechanic by which it determines how many cards you draw is practically toxic because it encourages a player to dump their hand regardless of whether it’s a ‘good idea.’ Who cares if everything you played that turn got wiped out on good trades from an opponent when you refilled your entire hand and can just keep mindlessly vomiting out minions?

The very idea that a card exists that encourages players to ignore strategy and simply play as many things as possible is terrible for Hearthstone, and it may not be a problem right now, but I remember when Cancer Paladin was a thing, and I’m not taking about Secrets.

No Buffs?

For some time I expected many cards to be buffed in this wave of changes. There are plenty of crappy cards out there that have never seen serious play, but I came to see that buffs to cards will probably be very rare going forward. Any time a card is buffed, especially a Classic or Basic card, there is less of an incentive to buy more cards because that suddenly powerful card will take the place in decks of something from a newer set. If the developers have a cool new idea for a card, they can simply release it in the next set instead of buffing one of the many useless cards that already exist.

In addition to business model issues with buffs, there’s also the chance that buffing Classic cards will just create more of what almost all the nerfs were designed to remove -ubiquitous staples that would just eventually have to be nerfed. Sorry Totemic Might, maybe your destiny is somewhere down the road, but it’s going to be as the same shitty spell you are right now.

That about wraps it up for now. I’ll be back with my thoughts, and maybe a full review of every card (a big maybe) in Whispers of the Old Gods shortly before it’s release on April 26th! If you think I missed any cards you feel should be nerfed, be sure to let me know either in the comments below, on my Facebook page The Olentangy Plays, or tweet at me @NigelTheLondon

Until then, may all your Crackles be for lethal!


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Hearthstone – Standard is THE Standard

The creepy cardback for preordering WotOG

The creepy cardback for preordering WotOG

I don’t get people who are angry over Team 5’s decision to introduce the Standard format. Literally every complaint has a gaping hole in it. Let’s crush a few, for fun!

“I bought these cards, and now I can’t use them!”

This argument makes no sense. Go play Wild. Those of us who enjoy Standard (everyone but you) will play Standard.

“I want to be a pro Secret Paladin player forever!”

If you want to be a professional Hearthstone player, you have to spend money to keep up. That’s the fucking business model. And at least you have it easy. If you’re any good, you don’t really have to spend that much money when a set comes out; you should have a bunch of gold and dust stockpiled. You don’t even have to get off your ass for the most part. Do you have any idea how much time and money it takes to try to become a professional Magic player? You’re spending hundreds of dollars a month on cards, and travelling hundreds of miles a WEEK to follow around the various tournament circuits, just hoping you post enough good finishes to at least break even.

“Wild will eventually be a dead format!”

Yep. That’s why they made Standard, so players don’t feel like they are on a slowly sinking ship with no where else to go.

Do you know WHY Wild, without extreme policing from the Hearthstone developers, will eventually die out? There are three main reasons. Let me hit you over the head with them.

#1 – Power Creep

Let’s say Team 5 is designing a new Hearthstone set. Every set needs some vanilla-ish creatures, to fill in the gaps, for flavor and feel reasons, and because not every card can be super complicated.

BB: “Let’s see, we need a four mana guy that has a solid body.”

YW: “Well, we made Chillwind Yeti, then in GvG we made Mechanical Yeti. What’s next?”

BB: “We really want people to want to buy packs of this new set so we keep our jobs, so we need to make this minion playable in Constructed.”

YW: “I know, let’s make it a 5/5! It will be awesome!


BB: “5/5 Yeti was a hit, even if it did create confusion about what having a “yeti” means, but we have another set coming, and people need to stay excited!”

YW: “Hey, let’s make it a Dragon too!”


BB: “If we don’t give it a Battlecry, people will just use the old one!”


YW: “6/6!”

I think you get where this is going. Power creep stops a developer’s ability to design cards that are balanced for the game. You need to sell these cards you design, and so you always have to make the next one better than the last.

#2 – Growing the player base

Believe it or not, not everyone in the entire world plays Hearthstone, but Team 5 would really like to continue growing the player base, and really, players should want that too (but that’s another topic)!

Let’s say it’s four years in the future. There are now like a dozen expansions for Hearthstone and nine adventures. Let’s assume Team 5 somehow managed to avoid power creep from ruining the game yet, and so the meta is full of cards from all products. A new player hears about Hearthstone from his friends, and creates an account. He completes the tutorial and gets all his classes to ten. He eventually creates his own deck and ventures into Constructed, where predictably he gets his ass whooped. Undeterred, he decides that because he really likes this game, he wants to buy in and build decks like the decks he sees on ladder. He clicks on the shop, frowns, does a little math, logs off, and never comes back.

What happened? Our prospective new player realized that the chances of him getting the cards he wants in packs are incredibly low, and since he only needs a few cards from each set, most of what he gets would be dusted, but only getting 1/8th value on the VAST majority of cards would mean he needs to spend about $1000 to build the deck he wants.

#4 – Design Space

This point sorta ties into power creep in a way, but it’s more about complexity and similarities between cards, and even less tangible things like Hearthstone’s flavor and feel.

Hearthstone has a very simple layout. Hand, deck, and board. Stuff goes from deck, to hand, to board, and then eventually it goes away. This is the essence of Hearthstone, and its simplicity in game play is one of the reasons why its OK to add animations of the cards crashing into each other with voice overs. You wouldn’t want the game to be too busy. Think about what MTGO would be like if every time you tapped a mana, your lands did things, like animated or played noises. Magic already has many physically moving parts (even in the digital realm since MTGO is played using a virtual board), and so having all that extra stuff would just be distracting, confusing, and probably annoying.

Now think about the new cultist cards in Whispers of the Old Gods. Whenever you buff your C’Thun(wherever it is), a little portal opens up on the side of the board and you briefly see him getting buffed. It’s a cool little effect, but it also serves a game-related purpose because it reminds the players of how big Captain Eyeball is, so you need to have it.

From a developer standpoint, that ‘space’, where you summon something and this little portal opens up to show what happened, is taken. In order to retain Hearthstone’s essence of simplicity in game state representation, they now cannot continue to design things of that nature, even if they were completely unrelated to each other, because you can’t summon a minion and have like nine things happen. You would lose the essence of Hearthstone.

The other side of design space is much simpler. Often times, when developing a set, there is a central synergistic mechanic, like GvG’s mechs or The Grand Tournament’s inspire. Sometimes developers like to return to an existing space because they still have great ideas using it. Now, without Standard, any new cards designed all have to be balanced against the existing cards, and without a doubt often times when exploring a design space cards are designed that, for balance reasons, cannot exist together. With a rotating format, there is no worry about those old cards. A perfect Hearthstone example for this is Goblins vs. Gnomes. I guarantee you that at some point Team 5 will want to try again at a mech-themed set, and they won’t have to balance everything around the existence of Mechwarper.


There are plenty of reasons to look forward to Standard. New decks, new cards,and a new format. To those of you who still don’t get why it wouldn’t be fun to play against Mad Scientist (a perfect example of a card that restricts design space) forever, I promise you that this is the right long-term decision for everyone. I was there when Magic created Standard, then Extended, then Legacy, then they axed Extended for Modern. Some of these formats were not well received, but now they provide a rich variety of metas, some quickly shifting and some not, that allow for players of all tastes to find a format they enjoy.

See you at the inn!

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Hearthstone – Whispers of the Old Gods

My initial reaction to finally getting to see the next Hearthstone set, and the set that will herald the coming of Standard (finally, but still not soon enough, read below), was … interesting. The actual live reveal on twitch.tv happened while I was busy, and so I got to see the spoiled cards with no production value. In case you haven’t seen them yourself, here they are.


Aside from C’Thun, I wasn’t terribly impressed, but I get the feeling that Blizzard doesn’t want to start with the coolest cards in the set and lose hype over time. C’Thun is pretty cool, and is certainly worthy of being a 10 drop.

All the ‘tainted’ cards revealed seem pretty terrible in Constructed. Two health dooms the Hoarder, although it’s worth nothing that having more dudes that die to draw a card could mean something down the line(really anytime the same effect appears on multiple cards you should look for crazy shit to do with them).

The Validated Doomsayer looks cool, but I don’t think you can ever afford to play it unless you’re WAY ahead. I feel like it would be really tough to make it any better than Salty Dog, and while the ability to tell Aldor Peacekeeper and his friend Keeper of Uldaman to piss off is cute, it seems like too much of a corner case for ladder.

Corrupted Healbot seems fine, I guess. Right now the only method we have to compare whether a card will be playable based on power level alone is by looking at what we know will be in Standard, and I don’t think it its good enough in general. I could see playing it in Warrior maybe, where you just want a fat dude on five to assert control, or in Priest, where you could do some fancy tricks with Soulpriest to surprise lethal opponents.

C’Thun for You, and You, and You

Something I didn’t hear about until I watched the reveal myself later was that when you open your very first WotOG(that’s awkward) pack, you will get your five cards, AND you get C’Thun, so expect literally every deck you play against on the first day to be C’Thun creations. According to the developers, there are over a dozen cards that interact with C’Thun in some way, so there will likely be several varieties across all the classes for a while.

Also note that logging in during the promotion period will get you three free Whispers(better) packs!

More cards will be revealed throughout the weekend, and hopefully we’ll get to see a few more of the Old Gods or the cards that work with C’Thun, so stick to the spoiler pages or just watch Winter Champs all wekeend!


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Hearthstone – Conquest Event to Win League of Explorers

Lats night I managed to win a small promotional tournament hosted by AsainKing2(social media links pending). The event was double elimination conquest, the winner got $20 on BNet, and the runner-up won $10. There was no entry fee, so I want to thank AsainKing for ponying up the money! It was only an 8-player event, but since even small events can take quite a while (this one was about four hours long), I wanted to give it my best.

Deck Selection

In the conquest format, I find that one of the easiest strategies is to pick a style of deck and heavily lean against it. In a previous tournament, I chose to target combo druid in the past by building decks that can stay out of range of the combo, and it seemed to work well, and it was a huge plus that the decks that can stay out of range were also the ones I knew the best.



Ever since the OTK Patron deck left the scene, Dragon Priest has been a top-tier deck for ladder. Sure, it isn’t the fastest deck, and doesn’t really have a concrete plan to win other than attacking with random dudes, but it does a great job of just not dying.

I agonized over including the hybrid package of Circle/Blademaster/Soulpriest over Chow/Thoughtsteal/more board clears, but I decided that the former was just more consistent, and anyone who’s played a bunch of priest mirrors knows that it’s all about the Blademaster early.

The only other change was going with a second Shadow Word: Death over the second Blackwing Corruptor. With the Soulpriest package in the deck having more spot removal isn’t as important since you want them to overextend into your clears. I don’t play Chillmaw because it just does more of the same stuff the rest of the deck does, and that’s not what you need from a seven-drop.



I won’t lie, I’m not that experienced with Freeze Mage, but I really wanted another class to fit into that niche of fighting combo druid. The last conquest event I played in I played Warrior/Priest/midrange token Paladin, and while I did fine, I did not really like the Paladin deck, and I don’t think it’s position has improved in the last month or so.

For those who don’t play this deck, basically the deck is broken into three parts – card drawing, staying alive, and kill conditions. Most of the ‘staying alive’ portion of the deck isn’t actually life gain, but stalling cards like Frost Nova and Blizzard, or Ice Block, a card that is leveraged to try to assemble a two turn kill while ignoring an opponent.

Interestingly enough, I think Freeze Mage is actually a toxic deck. Opponents are often simply left to guess with very little to go on whether to play more threats or hold back and bleed the mage out slowly. What keeps the toxicity at bay is just how difficult it can be for the freeze mage player as well. When you play a deck with three faces, you never know how a game will play out.

The only stylistic change I made is playing one Illuminator over a second Healbot. Illuminator costs less mana, gains at least four life when it comes into play, and soaks a minimum of four more before dying. I don’t play two because Ice Block isn’t always in play. Illuminator can also draw a silence out, making later Doomsayer plays more likely to succeed.

Note that I would have played a Bloodmage Thalnos if I had one.



Ahh, my old standby. I’ve been playing control warrior since the OTK Charge builds, and it’s always been my most consistent deck. This build, however, is more reflective of a desire to beat aggressive decks in general. I generally don’t like heavy RNG cards in decks that rely on consistency from turn to turn, but I’ve learned that  most of the time, you use the RNG cards to try to swing a game you were losing anyway, and the non-RNG substitutes are generally not good enough to turn the tide anyway.

That’s why I love control warrior. There are lots of choices in deckbuilding to make. Bash or Shield Block? Emperor or Sylvanas? Shieldmaiden or Sludge Belcher? How many Taskmasters? What sorts of win conditions? Since the deck often goes the distance into fatigue-ville, the impact of every card choice you make is felt.

The event itself went well, but I’m not used to trying to recall Hearthstone games in great detail like I can do with Magic, so I’ll have to stick to highlights.

In a game against Dragon Priest mirror, I topdecked both Deaths on the correct turns, then had to make some tough decisions when my opponent played a Dragonkin Sorcerer and a boatload of Velen’s Chosen on it. He dominated my board for a while while I sacrificed most of my hand to try to get a Ysera to stick for more than a single turn to dig for Dream, but luckily I forgot I had Vol’Jin left, and took over from there.

The only warlock I played against I was SURE was handlock since it was paired with warrior and mage, and so I mulligained away a priest opener that was awesome against aggro and terrible against handlock, and got Flame Imp’d right off the table.

In the finals, my warrior almost came back from a Malorne that rampaged out of an Unstable Portal, followed by Ragnaros (not from a portal), without using a single Execute.

In an example of how the RNG warrior cards are good when used in the right spots, I only Brawled once in the event, but it was clutch and hit the 1/3 to swing the game.

The decks performed as expected. I lost some games to the new Patron Warrior and some other midrange lists, but I preyed on combo druid and won almost all my games against it. While I still think that in a meta where no one deck is better than the others a ‘knockout’ style of event is better since it allows for some crazy decks, conquest is pretty fun too.

Hopefully in the coming weeks I get to play in more events. While four hours is a long time for an eight-man, I still enjoyed it!

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Hearthstone – Thoughts on League of Explorers

Now that we’ve all had a day or so to digest the new cards coming in the upcoming Hearthstone adventure League of Explorershere’s a few random thoughts on them.

New Mechanic: Discover

scarabI don’t think the discover mechanic is very good. Sure, it has the “Unstable Portal” effect, meaning your opponent can’t easily narrow down the range of cards you could be holding, but like most RNG effects in the game, it either comes at too high a cost or isn’t worth the mana.

Think about Jeweled Scarab, which discovers a three drop when played. It’s a two mana 1/1 Beast, which is terrible by itself, and generally worse than Novice Engineer, a card that saw play only when the game was very young.

You get no discount on this three drop, which could be a minion or a spell, and you can only get neutrals or cards for your class. If you look at the 3-drop neutral minions, they generally kinda suck because they aren’t oversized for their cost, and many are great in the right deck (Tinkerer), but are poor otherwise.

The payoff is in the class cards you could get since they are just more powerful. Some classes have weak ones, but generally there are always a few good ones out there. If you ALWAYS discovered class cards, I’d be much higher on these cards in general.

There are about 50 neutral 3-drop minions, and no class has more than like 10 class cards(Let’s average it out at eight). You get three shots at discovering a class card, so that’s something like 60% (8/50 = .16, so chance of whiffing once is .84, so three shots is .84^3= 60-ish percent) of the time you will reveal NO class cards, and thus, probably not worth it since you paid two mana for it and a 1/1.

Animated Armor

armorThis card might not do enough, but it is reasonably-costed at 4/4 for four, and can prevent large amounts of damage in the right spots. At worst it prevents none when it gets Sapped or killed some other way without soaking damage, but at best this is a mega-Antique Healbot that costs less mana and is bigger. I’d like to see this card in Freeze Mage since a huge chunk of the deck is already devoted to effective, but not actual, life gain. Freeze Mage also has precisely dick to do on many turn fours, and this guy is a good distraction.

Raven Idol

idolRaven Idol might be the exception to the rule from my thoughts on Discover in general above. Being one mana means it often costs nothing since you either play it on turn one when nothing is happening anyway, or to fill in awkward turns when your Darnassus Aspirant gets killed.

Let’s not even examine the minion half of this card closely, and just say that it’s not so bad to be able to dig for a random threat at a low cost.

Instead, we should hone in on the spell half. There are 26 druid spells counting Raven Idol. Let’s discount to prospect of getting another for simplicity. At 25 different spells, you have about a 1/9 chance of seeing a particular druid spell. Seven of the 25 are damage spells, some better than others. Wild Growth and Innervate are obviously pretty good since they are almost certainly in your deck, and either part of your combo, or are a little narrow but still not bad in many spots.

In fact, the only two poor hits are Astral Communion and Poison Seeds, and although we don’t know if you can have the same card selected twice in a given discovery, even if they can be, it would be VERY unlikely to select just these two spells for all three slots.

The problem with this card is that since it is purely an unknown quantity, I have no idea what to cut for it. Time will tell.

Everyfin Is Awesome

everyfinThis card will either be amazing or crap. I think it’s borderline good enough to include in a deck that features SOME, but not exclusively ALL murlocs. Not much to say really other than having just two murlocs in play makes this card cost five, and at five mana this card seems GREAT. Anytime you can give +6/+6 or more that attacks that turn, this card carries its weight. Sure, the bonus is spread out over a number of dudes, but that is often better than buffing one dude and getting it removed somehow.

Reno Jackson

reno jacksonI’m going a little out on a limb here, but I think this card is extremely powerful. Any deck that wants to play this wants to play a longer game anyway, and you don’t have to build a singleton deck. It isn’t hard to keep track of what you’ve played, either by paying close attention or using 3rd party software (forgive me I can’t recall the names of any).

But is it better than Alexstraza? Not being able to dome your opponent is a big deal, but it costs far less mana, has a decent body for the cost, and can restore way more life than the Life-Binder ever could.

I suspect this card will appear in some Warrior decks that lean more towards fatigue as a win condition. Or maybe some crazy casino-style singleton deck will be good, who knows?

I’d like to talk a bit more about some cards, but honestly, Fallout 4 is releasing in like 24 hours, 15 minutes, and I’ve reserved this entire week to losing myself in the wasteland. I guess I’ll be back after the first wing is released!

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BFZ Draft #2 – Processing For Fun and Profit

After a week off I have another draft under my belt.

This time, I wanted to try something a little more interesting than the landfall deck I drafted before. My first pack had a five mana Blue card that drew cards, but sadly I went with Stasis Snare because while I love drawing cards, it looked pretty slow. No seemingly good White came along, but Black was open, and I got some late Blue cards as well. Pack two went as expected, with Black and Blue coming, but of course White was also flowing since it was well cut upstream in pack one, and I passed a 7th pick Stasis Snare to some lucky jerk.\

In pack three I opened Gruesome Slaughter, which I misjudged to be awesome when it’s VERY hard to use correctly, especially in a deck that wants to trade early to extend the game.

This is what I ended up with:

1 Sludge Crawler
2 Tide Drifter
1 Coralhelm Guide
2 Dominator Drone
1 Cryptic Cruiser
1 Cloud Manta
2 Mind Raker
1 Murk Strider
1 Oracle of Dust
1 Ulamog’s Reclaimer
1 Ulamog’s Despoiler
2 Spell Shrivel
2 Complete Disregard
1 Horribly Awry
1 Gruesome Slaughter
1 Dampening Pulse
1 Rising Miasma
1 Transgress the Mind
9 Island
8 Swamp

Relevant sideboard cards: Swarm Surge, Bone Splinters, 2 Mire’s Malice, Skitterskin, Retreat to Coralhelm, Eldrazi Devastator, and Molten Nursery.

My first match was against Orzhov, and he came out of the gates slowly in both games, but I flooded badly in the first game and almost made a miraculous stabilization in game two.

He had a bunch of dudes, including a 4/5 flier and a Pilgrim’s Eye that were the real threat. I had sided in Retreat to Coralhelm since the matchup seemed very slow, and it was in play alongside Oracle of Dust, Cryptic Cruiser, and Ulamog’s Reclaimer. I had six mana in play and could activate my Cruiser once. My opponent’s all-in would kill me, but I had a Complete Disregard to stay alive at one, then on my next turn I could play Gruesome Slaughter and play the land I had sandbagged to wipe the enemy’s board off the map.

But, he killed my Oracle. Oh well. It WAS going to be cool.


Match two was against a sweet five-color deck with all kinds of cards I had to read, but my deck was well set up to take advantage of it and ground him out with Mind Raker and other discard. Still, I thought his deck was MUCH cooler than mine.


My third match was against an aggressive landfall deck. In game one he curved out one, two, three, but was met with a Rising Miasma, and while it was tense for a bit, Transgressing his five-mana Threaten effect left him a few damage shy. Game two went similarly.


My final match was against another Orzhov deck, but he got a text very early on, and seemed distressed about it the entire game. My draw was great, I countered his third turn play, bounced a guy the next turn, then played a dude AND countered a spell, then for good measure, countered one more spell to seal the game. He said he needed to go take care of something, and conceded.

In the end, I did not like this deck. It contained a few situational cards, and had issues dealing with a large threat already on the table. It had a few moving parts, which I liked, but most of the interesting stuff was very mana-intensive, like the Cryptic Cruiser. Deciding when to use cards for processing was fun, but most of the effects felt weaker than the effects that placed the cards in exile in the first place. Maybe that’s by design since my dudes were reasonably costed in the first place, but often you have to alter your play to make sure something gets exiled so you can extract the bonus later, and you can get punished for it. Additionally, my deck felt very two-faced. It had aggressive cards like Dominator Drone, but also had five mana 2/5s.

Hopefully next week I’ll feel up to drafting again, but Fallout 4 is fast approaching, and I’ve taken the entire week off from work to revel in its glory, so we’ll see.

I’d also like to do more detailed breakdowns of my drafts, but these days people want streaming video, and frankly, I don’t know enough about the format yet to be able to talk at-will about a draft in progress. Perhaps that will change though with time.

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My Blind BFZ Draft

I don’t play Magic much anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I’m involved in Magic, I just don’t play much. In fact, aside from a random single round this summer where I borrowed a deck, I haven’t actually played since Fate Reforged came out.

But Battle for Zendikar looked promising for me, a dinosaur of a Limited specialist, and so I gave it a crack.

In a 19-player event (I’m in a 6-man pod), I drafted this without any knowledge of the set:

Creature (15)
1x Dragonmaster Outcast
1x Giant Mantis
1x Grove Rumbler
2x Makindi Sliderunner
2x Snapping Gnarlid
1x Tajuru Stalwart
2x Territorial Baloth
3x Valakut Predator
1x Void Attendant
1x Wave-Wing Elemental
Land (17)
1x Blighted Woodland
2x Evolving Wilds
6x Forest
1x Island
1x Looming Spires
5x Mountain
1x Plains
Instant (6)
1x Infuse with the Elements
1x Natural Connection
1x Smite the Monstrous
1x Stonefury
1x Swell of Growth
1x Unnatural Aggression
Sorcery (2)
1x Call the Scions
1x Earthen Arms
Sideboard (10)
1x Boiling Earth
1x Dispel
2x Hedron Blade
1x Plummet
2x Scythe Leopard
2x Shadow Glider
1x Unnatural Aggression
There are a few useless cards in the board too. I ended up 3-0-1 with this deck, after deciding four hours was enough Magic.

Some highlights from the draft:

P1p1, I read every card, and almost certainly incorrectly picked a Shadow Glider. I wasn’t sure about how relevant the themes of BFZ were, and although I don’t recall what I passed on, I ended up picking it because Wind Drake is good in every format, right?

Most of pack one I continued to be unsure of the relevance of the keyword abilities in BFZ. I picked up an early Gnarlid as it reminded me of Oren-Reif Survivalist, and that card was alright!

P2p2 I opened a pack with Prairie Stream, and after asking how much it was, I took it not knowing what to pick again since I felt White was open, but I got a few late Red and Green cards. Hey, drafts aren’t free!

I passed two copies of Drana’s Emissary in pack two, tabled one, and lamented my life choices. I don’t need to know BFZ to know that’s a good card.

P3p3 I opened Dragonmaster Outcast and took it after deciding I wanted to be Gruul. The one time I saw him was on a mulligan scry, and shipped it immediately. Still, I decided that the table was decidedly not into Gruul, and tabled a Grove Rumbler from the pack. Mise!

In retrospect, I was probably the only person drafting Gruul Landfall since I got NINE landfall dudes (11 if you count the not-great Scythe Loepard).

After trading in the Stream for a cool $6, I headed into my rounds, where I don’t really have specific plays to talk about in sequence, so I’ll just talk in general about the deck.

The deck was aggressive compared to most I saw. Other decks tried to eek value from Awaken cards, or generate a large dude and win with it, and still others tried to tempo me out with bounce effects attached to dudes. Of those, it was only tempo plays that were scary. You see, a landfall deck is on a very specific clock. You need to make land drops up to four or five just to, you know, play Magic, and all your guys are a mite too small to compete most of the time, so in order to get in there you need to play land after land. Once you’re out of lands, the offense stalls HARD. I had a few ways to keep up the pressure with Evolving Wilds or Blighted Woodland, but I knew I needed to attack every turn.  The one game I lost, my weak start was punctuated by a Clutch of Currents, and it was over right away.

No one seemed to have real removal outside Touch of the Void, which was a pleasant surprise. It meant that boards will build and race, or stall and let swing cards carry the day. I’ve never really liked two and three drop into double removal on the play, and BFZ doesn’t appear to have much of that.

At one point my opponent, with UR open, blocked and was dead if I used my Blighted Woodland and didn’t cast anything else on my turn. I had sized him up as competent, and I exclaimed “C’mon, man! Don’t put me to the test!” Luckily, when I said “Well I’m going for it,” he scooped up his cards and said he plain forgot about it. Mise again!

I watched a number of games on either side of me, and a draft video or two after getting home. I am reasonably sure this style deck is not great against the Orzhov midrange decks that gain a fair bit of life, mostly because you eventually will stop playing lands and they will be at like 15 life and not five.

I had an inkling that this format would be an enticing reason to come back to the game, even if only once a week to draft, and I was not disappointed. BFZ, after one draft, reminds me of a less aggressive triple Innistrad draft. There are multiple archetypes to draft beyond mere color combinations, there is a one mana blue sorcery I’m in love with, and synergy is rewarded.

Sadly, I won’t be drafting live next week since Halloween is approaching and I’m carving pumpkins next Monday, but this set seems good enough to maybe update MTGO and burn some tix, and yes, that is actually a HUGE compliment!

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