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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 – Grand Tournament Card Reviews #1

I really wanted to make a long video review for The Grand Tournament, but real life obligations have made that an unlikely prospect (for now), so instead I’m just going to write a little bit about a few of the new cards that might not be on the radar right away, both in Constructed and Arena!

boneguardBoneguard Lieutenant

We all remember Undertaker, curse his bony grin. It seems that Blizzard has learned a bit since his short-lived reign of terror over the Constructed scene. Boneguard Lieutenant is the newest iteration on the theme of a growing dude. “Lou” won’t be doing much in ranked play because spending turn three not playing a card can be damning, but in Arena he’s a two drop with actual upside, and I’m not talking just being a beast or a murloc.

Most of the time he’ll just trade with another 3/2 for two, but for those times when an opponent has a 2/3 or smaller, Lou will do good work, especially when your hero power is also relevant ::MAGE, cough cough:: It’s not common that a three-power two drop gets to kill something then trade up outside of Shielded Mini-Bot.

There is also the option of playing Lou on turn four with a hero power, followed by another the next turn to create your very own Spider Tank. Sure, it’s not ideal in a tempo deck, but in Arena, where you often have to squeeze maximum value out of your cards, its additional flexibility that’s not often found in low drops.

raiderKvaldir Raider

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think this card is actually bonkers in Arena. We’ve already been playing with this card for months in warlock decks, and now we don’t have to damage ourselves to grow the Watcher Raider. Just like the card above, “Kev” here grows whenever you use your hero power, but this guy more or less starts as a 6/6 on seven, and by the time he attacks, he gets to beat up almost any minion shy of stuff like Core Hound and live to fight again. Imagine having this guy on the board in a Priest deck. It’s a slower ramp-up time, but an even more unstoppable Kev.

Refreshment Vendorvendor

Antique Healbot really sucks. We play it in Constructed because we often don’t have any other options against aggro, but a 3/3 for five mana is friggin’ awful. Half the time its such poor tempo that the life is given right back on the following turn.

Refreshment Vendor, however, might be awesome. Four life isn’t even close to eight, but coming down a turn earlier, and more importantly, being a reasonable body for its cost, is more than worth the four life you don’t gain.

That said, I’m not sold 100% on this tusked wonder quite yet. Turn four right now is the turn where many control decks start to ramp up the removal. Swipe, Death’s Bite, FIreball/Polymorph, Frostbolt/FIreblast, and more all move to stabilize the board, but if this 3/5 can do work, we’ve got one more tool to combat aggro, something Hearthstone really needs.

Also, combine with Shadowbomber and Auchunai Soulpriest for hilarious priest aggro action!

Buccaneer and Cutpursepirate

Rogue has always been an odd class. The two decks that have ever had lasting success for Rogue revolved around assembling specific combos, while the rest of the deck was about either digging or just staying even on board.

But what about Value Rogue, or Tempo Rogue? Are the existing Rogue cards just not good enough to stand on their merit without Leroy/Shadowstep or Oil/Anything? TGT brings a few new tools that might spawn something new!

Buccaneer is a one drop pirate (one step closer to a pirate deck btw) that makes any weapon you equip a little stronger. Many reviewers have dismissed  “Bucky” as just a random one drop, but any Rogue deck that wants to be play the tempo game or just be aggressive would probably rather have this creature over Goblin Auto-Barber because you have to spend a total of four mana to get a two attack weapon, while Bucky only demands three. Bucky is also an aggressive one drop that curves nicely into a dagger to remove anything that could trade with Bucky and letting him do his thing.

PercyCutpurse functions on a different axis than Buccaneer. It’s got a weak body for its cost, and requires attacking a hero to trigger, but the payoff is HUGE. Getting a Coin, or a second Coin can put you way in the lead early.

Imagine you Coin out Cutpurse. You opponent plays a dude to trade. You face with “Percy” and Coin out an SI:7 Agent. Now your opponent, with three mana, has to either spend their turn killing Percy, or playing another dude, which will then net you a third Coin. Sure, this is a little bit of a Magical Christmas Land, but only a little. The point is that netting even a single Coin can mean huge tempo swings down the road. Percy is unreliable, but you can’t deny that free mana is a rare thing in Hearthstone, and he could enable some truly dominant board states early in a game.

Bear TrapBEAR

Hunters have a bunch of cool new cards, and I’d like to talk about practically all of them, but the limits of this post demand the classes share time on the stage, and Bear Trap is probably the easiest to talk about without going deep on the various Beast synergies in TGT, which are immensely interesting as well.

When I first saw Bear Trap, I thought of it as a higher variance version of Explosive Trap, mostly because as an aggressive Hunter you are probably way ahead on board and in life most of the time, and so don’t care about a smaller dude hitting you. In exchange for not killing that minion, you get to hit your opponent for an extra point on your next turn since the Ironfur Grizzly is a 3/3.

Then I realized I hate face Hunter, and I’m sure they don’t want to dip their toe into the waters of chance beyond the evil required Summon God Damn Huffer Animal Companion.

However, if a more interactive Hunter deck is in the works, or perhaps even in the current midrange Hunter builds, Bear Trap could surprise aggro decks who assume the trap is Freezing Trap.

More likely than anything however, is that the mere existence of Bear Trap will have an effect on anyone facing down a secret in play. In a very similar way to how I often close my eyes and pray I don’t hear hissing after attacking a Hunter’s minion, I’ll be cringing at the growling of a bear.

Mysterious Challengerchallenger

Misty here sounds like a font of card advantage. With the new secret Competitive Spirit, there are six different Paladin secrets, and putting one copy of each into play would not only make your hero’s portrait look like the Riddler recently paid a visit, but would be a net six cards and six mana. Crazy!

But wait.

The problem is that most Paladin secrets are absolutely putrid, and even the better ones require a dedicated aggro/tempo deck to look their best. If Eye for an Eye did DOUBLE the damage you received when it triggered, it still would only be OK.

Even just playing the acceptable midrangey/valuetown secrets of Repetnance, Noble Sacrifice, and Avenge doesn’t work all the time. What happens when you draw one of those cards that is barely worth a card in most cases? As much as I love the design, Mysterious Challenger feels like a big-time trap.

Elemental Destruction
element

I chose Elemental Destruction and Ancestral Knowledge to review for two reasons. One, I imagine many people will talk about all the new totem-centric cards, and two, because of the apparent critical mass of Overload cards Shaman now possess.

When Lava Shock was released in the Blackrock Mountain PvE expansion, I was excited about the chances for Shaman. A spell that costs one mana too much that could save you two or more mana? Sounds amazing, but as it turns out, being forced to cast Lava Shock to try to gain value doesn’t work out that often, and the dream of having locked mana crystals for consecutive turns isn’t easy to pull off.

TGT brings two more reasons to run Lava Shock. First, a more reliable sweeper in Elemental Overload was something a slower Shaman deck was desperate for. I can’t recall the number of times I had to hope and pray for a Wrath of Air totem so my Lightning Storm would do more than tickle medium-sized threats. Elemental Overload doesn’t tend to tickle – it kicks minions in the jimmy. If you have to cast it super early, it’s basically a Lightning Storm since you didn’t often do much the next turn beyond hero powering anyway. Later, you can wipe the board clean, then Lava Shock anything left over by stickier minions.

knowAncestral Knowledge is great for living the dream of the consecutive overload because its so easy to fit into a turn’s worth of mana. It also means actual, raw, card advantage for Shaman, which is something they could only garner previously through virtual means, like Fire Elemental or Flametongue Totem. Whether a class like Shaman that is so centered around board control can afford to lose tempo by drawing cards remains to be seen, but it is certainly possible.

If The Grand Tournament doesn’t release this Tuesday, I’ll be back in a few days with some more thoughts on the upcoming set. in the meantime, think about what you think the most interesting cards in TGT are, and share your thoughts here, or on Twitter by tweeting me @NigelTheLondon

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Hearthstone: Favorite Goblins vs. Gnomes Cards

Well, GvG is almost here. In fact, it’s live on Arena right now, which is amazing for people who just want to Arena with the cards, but for me it’s just a huge tease. I want to OWN the cards, and more importantly, crush people in Constructed with them! With 120 new cards and countless other full set reviews out there, I’m just going to talk a little bit about the cards I’m personally excited about instead of just the most powerful cards that everyone has already gushed over endlessly.

Pirates

PIRATES

I don’t think Hearthstone is quite ready for a full-on Pirates deck that can take people to Legend – it still needs like ONE great pirate and one OK one to bring everything together. However, One-Eyed Cheat is a pretty nifty number you could play on three along with a Southsea Deckhand (ha-HA!) to get a free four points in. Now, having another reasonable pirate to follow up with is the issue, and no, Southsea Captain is not reasonable. Not yet anyway.

Now, should another worthy pirate appear, Ship’s Cannon could see a little play. I really wish it was a 3/2, but being able to play it on three and a one drop to kill an opponent’s one or two drop seems enticing. Sadly, both of these cards are super weak against Haunted Creeper, which sees far more play than it should.

Mini-Mage

mini-mage-214x300I have been fascinated with spell damage since I started playing Hearthstone way back in closed beta. The keyword is clearly something the developers feel could spiral out of control very quickly, and so they only put it on a select few minions, and poorly-costed ones at that. I agree with them in part. Spell damage is powerful, but the restriction that spell damage can only occur on minions(because they are the only permanents) meant that it was always a fleeing thing, something you used to get an extra boost for a turn before the creature was traded off. Often, spell damage minions are expensive, like Azure Drake, or fragile, like Bloodmage Thalnos.

Mini-Mage can help change the narrative a bit. It’s versatile since it can be used like a removal spell, well costed given the abilities and designed purpose, and is neutral so it can fit into any deck. Mini-Mage can be looked at in some matchups as a four mana spell that permanently increases your spell damage by one. Others, it can get in there after providing the traditional one turn boost. Personally, I think it lends itself fantastically to a Shaman burst deck since Shaman generally don’t have much to do on turn four other than play a removal spell and totem up, or cast Spirit Wolves, mostly because they can’t be sure that the Lightning Storm in their hand will clear the board. Mini-Mage makes things a bit more certain, something Shaman decks clearly want.

Mini-Mage fits just as well into any deck relying on spells that deal damage to get the job done. It could mean the revitalization of Mage or Rogue Malygos-centric decks since they won’t have to lean so hard on drawing Azure Drake and Bloodmage Thalnos in the mid-game.

Unstable Portal

unstable-portal-211x300I may be way off base on this one, but I feel this card actually isn’t bad. Sure, it looks alot like Far Sight, a card that most people don’t play and generally isn’t very good. There are two huge differences between the spells, the first being that Unstable Portal is a Mage card, not a Shaman card. Both classes like to control the board, but while Shaman can’t really afford to fall behind to a large creature because they only have two Hexes at most, Mage has more reliable and powerful sweepers and two ways to deal with a singular large threat in Fireball and Polymorph. This can heavily mitigate the cost of taking a turn off to cast this early and getting something you cannot cast.

The other advantage is more subtle, but is a powerful factor in many games of Hearthstone. We’ve all been Thoughtstolen by Priests in the past, so we understand the effect this can have on the game. Assuming we aren’t also playing Priest, we suddenly have so many more cards to consider when finding a line of play. Hmm, what if he got my Brawl, or my Gorehowl, or even just an Inner Rage? Playing around a bunch of extra potential cards can be tough. Now imagine your opponent casts Unstable Portal and doesn’t cast the minion he got immediately. The number of potential minions they could have is staggering, and nearly impossible to play around completely.

The second point is, of course, offset by the fact that some of the time, you’re going to get a bad minion. But pretty much every large minion will be good, and there are far more good minions to snag than bad ones, and the bad ones you can almost always just play in the same turn since they likely cost zero!

 Crackle

crackle-211x300I can’t stress enough just how excited I am about Crackle. Sure, it has the worst type of RNG, that is, RNG you have to adapt to after the fact rather than having the ability to deduce from playing the game (secrets, spare parts, etc.). But consider Crackle’s role in an aggressive Shaman deck. For two mana, it can trade evenly with many minions, and has the ability, especially when bolstered by Wrath of Air, to take down five or six cost minions for only two mana.

Crackle also fits well in an aggressive Shaman deck that wants to burn opponents out. Compare it to Lava Burst. Crackle’s average damage is 4.5, only half a point less than Lava Burst. Burst, however, costs more mana AND has Overload two to Crackle’s one.

That’s not to say that a deck with Lightning Bolt, Lava Burst, and Crackle can’t work. That’s 22-28 points of burn over six cards, not counting potential spell power from Wrath of Air or other effects.

 

Whirling Zap-o-matic

Zap-o-Matic-215x300Another new Shaman card with an aggressive bent, Zap-o-matic can severely punish players for missing drops, or for casting stuff like Wild Growth. If you get the WZOM(?) down first before your opponent’s two drop, you even get a free three damage in before deciding whether to trade or not.

Imagine this scenario. You’re on the draw, and you coin out WZOP, and your opponent plays his own minion. An Abusive Sergeant and a Lightning Bolt later and you’re way in the lead. What about just going ham and casting two Rockbiter Weapons? Sure, you’re down a bunch of cards, but you just cast a couple one mana Fireballs, and a deck designed to take advantage of a crippled opponent could likely find enough burn or charge minions in a few turns.

Honorable Mentions

WURMYI just want to point out that the untapped design space in Hearthstone is somewhat staggering. We’ve seen a few departures from the limited by practicality physical world of CCGs with mechanics like Mad Bomber, Mind Vision, Nozdormu, and the very concept of the Arena. But GvG is taking another step into uncharted territory with cards like Unstable Portal and Bolvar Fordragon. Just imagine where we’ll be in a few years. Personally, I’m hoping for cards that grant hidden effects that you can access just because they are in your deck, sort of like Panglacial Wurm in Magic.

It doesn’t have to be as simple as that though. It could be something like a minion that you would never want to draw because it has an overcosted mana cost, but you get to play for free when a condition is met, for example, when the third Silver Hand Recruit of yours dies. Or perhaps it’s a terrible card you include in your deck to gain access to a single-use pump spell you activate by clicking elsewhere. The possibilities are near limitless!

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Breaking Down Gatecrash’s Guilds

Orzhov

THRULLInitially, I didn’t like Orzhov very much. The idea of Exort seemed somewhat low-impact at first. Adding one mana to all your spells seemed not worth the issue of making your curve higher. Triggering Extort every turn meant drawing a long string of spells, which very much felt like a ‘win more’ strategy. Also, many of the defensive creatures in Orzhov looked as though they would quickly become outmatched by growing Evolve creatures, Battalion-fueled alpha strikes, or turn after turn of Bloodrushed creatures.

The truth is that Exort is rather unimpressive by itself. However, what happens when you have two Extort permanents in play? Doesn’t spending two extra mana for a drain or two sound far better? What about three? At some point, an Orzhov deck probably starts to feel like a burn deck, or at least a deck with a fair amount of reach. There are eight common or uncommon cards with Extort in Gatecrash, meaning it’s very possible to build a deck that closes quite effectively without attacking.

That said, cards like Kingpin’s Pet (BW1 2/2 flyer with Extort) will be paramount to an effective Orzhov deck. It’s an aggressive flier that isn’t asked to put himself at risk through blocking. Trying to build your entire deck around grinding your opponent’s life down while hiding behind the four toughness ground duders with Extort probably isn’t going to get the job done by itself; the other guilds have too many ways to breach your defenses. Evolve, Battalion, and Bloodrush will all make a 1/4 Defender largely useless once the mid-game arrives. That’s not to say the four toughness men are unplayable. After all, they DO have Extort, and they all help pad your life total, which in an odd way, becomes your defense after you reach a critical mass. I can see some tense racing situations while playing as Orzhov, so remember, every life point except the last one is a resource to be spent. Use it properly, and you will win some seemingly unwinnable games.

Dimir

DIMIR1I chose Dimir to talk about next because I feel like it is uniquely placed among the guilds of Gatecrash. It has a bit of an identity crisis. It has mill effects, some beaters, and some control elements, which can make it tough to build or play.

My guess is that at times, Dimir(or Orzhov) will want or need to add the appropriate color to become Esper. The combination of each guild’s keyword is intriguing. When you play a copy of an encoded Cipher spell, you also trigger your Extort effects. If there was a way to play a ‘normal’ control deck in Gatecrash Limited, Esper will be the way to go. This format looks to be light on blocking, especially so when it comes to flying blockers. Any old flyer with a spell encoded on it has a good shot to do serious damage.

Playing Dimir by itself can be complex. Ever realize suddenly during a ‘normal’ game of Magic that the possibility of semi natural decking exists for at least one player, and you possibly should have switched gears a turn or two earlier? Be aware of that when playing Dimir, depending on how many incidental milling effects you have. If your initial offense fails, you can always try to fall back on drawing your Mind Grind,Whispering Madness, or random duders that help mill cards, which at some point in a game will become lethal.

Mind Grind in particular shines at finishing games. Imagine a turn nine on the draw. Your opponent has naturally drawn 15 cards from their deck, and you milled him for say, six cards with random stuff. He has 19 cards in his deck. Mind Grinding him for seven has a fair shot at ending the game, or at least pushing your opponent to the brink. The best part about the spell is that you usually have a good idea of what a lethal number is. Players rarely hold more than one land to bluff, though savvy ones may hold more if they are flooded and know you can Grind them.

The other way to win a game is by Ciphering just about anything multiple times, though this means you are connecting with a guy over and over. I could be wrong on Cipher being enough to dominate a game because Dimir’s creature defenses aren’t that great. Dimir’s removal is excellent considering how rare it is in this format, but given how dangerous almost anything can be from Gruul or Simic, waiting for the right moment is key.

Simic

SIMIC1Simic is the guild I officially represent according to Plansewalkerpoints.com. I picked them back before Gatecrash was previewed because I liked the Graft mechanic so much(and because their quiz told me I should). Gatecrash has NOT dissapointed me. Evolve is very simple on the surface, but might be the toughest mechanic to master. Measuring risk/reward ratios when deciding whether to play a guy that can later Evolve versus playing something to pump the existing team can create important decisions early in games. Sometimes it will be obvious, but other times the game could easily be decided by which play you make, and it could happen on turn four or five. You’ll have to choose with little information, so letting the right play happen by trusting your instincts will sometimes be the only way to go.

A big problem with Simic besides tough choices is just getting your cards in the right order. Many of the most powerful Evolve cards start very small, and have limited board impact in the mid to late game. Ever drawn a Stromkirk Noble on turn six? Yeah, it feels something like that.

the last issue I have with Simic is that it doesn’t pair that well with either of it’s partner guilds. Both guilds bring some splashable removal, but their keywords aren’t great. Bloodrush is always nice, but generally your guys are supposed to be bigger anyway. Some of the blue Cipher cards are fine, but everything shy of Shadow Slice(B4 Sorcery Cipher Target player loses 3 life) seems not worth straining a manabase. Then again, Green does have an additional fixer, so perhaps the opportunity cost is low enough after all.

Of course, if everything goes right, if you open a solid pool and curve out often, you will feel unstoppable. And you very well may be. Simic can have those kinds of draws.

Gruul

GRUULI’ve thought about how Bloodrush affects creature combat extensively. I’ve had whole discussions on the topic, but to no avail. The only conclusion I’ve arrived at is that Bloodrush will be a polarizing force for Gatecrash Limited. Barring the fear of being Giant Growth’d out of the game, opponents will likely either always block or never block. Ones who change their tactics midgame may have a trick to cause the behavior change, are just trying to read you for a particular card, which is exceptionally difficult to do given the range of Bloodrush costs and effects, or just trying to stop you from playing another duder on your turn by forcing you to spend mana in combat. or they could just be mentally flipping a coin in their head, which actually would probably make mapping out your future turns a nightmare.

There could be a slight issue with choosing Gruul for the prerelease. I see the ideal Gruul deck having 18+ creatures. It’s likely very rare that any normal sealed pool will be able to build a straight Gruul deck with 18 guys. As a result, Bloodrush’s impact will be diminished a bit because you will often need to commit another creature to the board rather than use it as a trick.

The above issue isn’t a real turnoff to choosing Gruul. It has many advantages, especially at a prerelease event. Gruul is very linear, which makes it well suited for an event where you may be playing for Top 8 at 8 am. With Gruul you can just shove your dudes forward while you’re half asleep. The wide array of tricks you could have also may cause opponents to assist you in closing them out by not knowing just how much you could pump your guy and blocking poorly or not at all. I expect to see many players die from 8+ life to a single attacker.

Boros

BOROSThis is the guild everyone is all excited about for Standard, and who can blame them. They got the best charm, a sweet X spell, a way to counter an X spell, and some more humans to just maybe make R/W Humans a thing.

Limited is a different story however. Boros is in a strange spot in the meta of Limited. The Battalion mechanic is quite powerful, but it’s presence on many of Boros’ dudes means that without Battalion, their cards are rather weak, and will usually die in combat without help. This means Boros decks are weak to decks that can brawl early and go bigger later to keep up with Battalion triggers. That’s pretty much the definition of both Gruul’s and Simic’s strategies, so be wary when facing off against those guilds.

The good news is that leaves two guilds to pick on. Against their strategies that are grindy and not overpowering, you can be the deck that goes biggest. The bad news is that I think Orzhov and Dimir will be the least played of all the guilds, so choose Boros with caution, and open well. They do seem to have a ton of playable cards, so maybe just having a deck with a high density of quality threats is enough to keep pace with Gruul and Simic.

Or maybe I’ve just completely misread how these guilds stack up against one another. Guess I’ll find out in about 24 hours. See you all at Gamer’s Gauntlet. Any over/unders on attendance? Last prerelease was over 160! So come on by and play. I’ll be dispensing advice on builds all night whenever I’m not in a round.

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Weekend at Griselbrand’s

First off, let’s get my overall rating of the set. I’m giving it…an 8.3, and it didn’t even have to fly off a balcony to get that! Mind you I’m still wallowing in the euphoria of new mechanics, and not having to deal with Travel Preparations anymore, so saying that I set my rating so it works with my Weekend At Bernie’s spoof title is legit. You got me, and props for knowing why I chose 8.3.

8.3 isn’t a rating I think will stick however. After the Prerelease high wears off, and I play a few more Sealed events, I could forsee writing right here on this blog how much I dislike Avacyn Restored, for a multitude of reasons.

My first major gripe is possibly overblown because I’ve read so much about the flavor of the set, and other non-competitive things related to AR since I had nothing better to read about during the spoiler season. Sealed does a terrible job of highlighting the whole Angels vs. Demons aspect of the set using the ‘loner’ mechanic. In case you’re not aware, there are a bunch of cards in the set that don’t play well with other creatures being in play, or hinder your ability to play more guys. Most of these creatures are undercosted fatties like Demonic Taskmaster, a 4/3 flier for B2 that requires you to sacrifice another creature each of your upkeeps. Note that this card is unlike previous ‘tribute’ cards(think Lord of the Pit) in that it does not have a drawback if you just don’t have anything else to serve up to Demon Dad(should probably reserve that title for…wait a second…Griseldad! It’s officially too easy. Carry on.). Anyway, Sealed just doesn’t seem to provide the foundation to play a deck that revolves around the loner mechanic. Never mind the fact that most of the more important loner cards are Uncommon or worse, how bout the mass of non-creature spells that just seem bad in a deck that wants to use something like Homicidal Seclusion. Maybe this loner thing is more niche than was advertised, and certainly will be better in draft where you have more control over the composition of your pool, but it was still a pretty big letdown.

Moving on from the nit-picky sort of things that likely only annoy me, the next irritant that keeps this set from being downright awesome is a somewhat unassuming blue creature called Elgaud Shieldmate. Miss Elgaud, who looks like she left straight from Cygnar for Innistrad(which, oddly, makes me dislike her even more), is a 2/3 Human for U3 with a SoulBOND that grants Hexproof to both parties. I already pretty much hate this creature after one event, and though it doesn’t have much directly to do with me receiving me second loss in said event due to this creature, that particular situation provides a simple, yet effective example of why I hate hexproof. Essentially, my opponent paired up Miss Elgaud with Latch Seeker, a 3/1 unblockable Spirit, and just beat me down with it. Nevermind the other factors that contributed to my loss(a story for a bit later regarding the complexities of this format), the point is that I lost because of an ability that is very hard to interact with. Hexproof is just a big middle finger to interaction. I could deal with it being on some annoying 1/1 unblockable for two that is at least uncommon, and in a very fast format where many times you don’t find your Dagger or Cleaver or Sharp Pointy Thing to assemble Eggs+Basket in time for it to matter, but this time it’s far worse. Sure, it’s a 2/3 for four mana, but it gives anything hexproof, AND itself! Suddenly, my opponent gets to choose what I cannot interact with for the rest of the game, and it’s not as though the Shieldmate can’t still rumble. Removal is very, very limited in this format, and outside of Zealous Strike and Joint Assault, I don’t even like any of the cards that can surprise it during combat in the common slot. Worse yet, it’s difficult to just kill before it gains hexproof because it has three thoughness, and if you can it likely takes your whole turn to Death Wind it, or use a spell you would rather have used on whatever Miss Elgaud was going to team up with. Let’s not even think about how annoying she is with Cloudshift, a card that I’m not certain about yet, but suspect is actually awesome in some archetypes. To top all of this off, she is COMMON. Just writing a paragraph about this card makes me tire of it. I think I’m going to keep a running count of how many times I lose to that card. We are currently at one. Expect it to rise.

The previous paragraph really illustrates why the keyword hexproof is just bad for Magic. It was cool on Troll Ascetic, a dude who lived in an era of Arcbound Ravager that everyone thought was interesting but not powerful enough to play most of the time. Now hexproof is heavily featured in the best decks in Standard on Stalker and Geist of St. Traft. I suppose I can concede that it being on some ultra powerful mythic card is fine, and that the mileage one will get from the keyword can vary widely in all formats, but when it’s good it’s because it stops the essence of Magic from happening. Two people are supposed to be playing a game, and they are supposed to be interacting with each other by doing things to each other’s cards, not just blandly staring at an unblockable guy that has Pro Red/White that is going to kill them in two turns, or a flying 4/4 Geist that brings an Angel to the party every turn. Being able to suit up a guy with various Swords/Pants/Whatever while your opponent can’t do anything about it is just frustrating, and easily creates hopeless, or worse, boring situations. Recently, people have started to jam Spectral Flight in their Delver decks in an effort to be more aggressive. How good must hexproof be to want to play Spectral Flight with it? Sure, Geist has something to do with that, and perhaps we’ll never see anything quite as good as Geist ever again, which would be fine with me. I just don’t like the idea of being unable to interact with your opponent’s cards while they are unhindered, and doing so with creatures that sometimes would still be respectable if they were downgraded to simply have shroud. It could be that I’m just not seeing things the right way, or maybe this is just the future of Magic, but there are far more hexproof creatures being cast than there used to. I see it as something that needs to be kept in check, and a generally bad sign for the future. Hexproof now being common in draft, relatively cost efficient, reusable, and available on any creature is going to be very irritating.

Enough about my personal vendetta against hexproof, and negative things about AR in general. I could complain more, and in fact some of the things I like about the set may in fact seem like bad things, but I am all about the following.

Miracles, are in fact, sweet, at least in Limited. Even being on the bad end of them makes for swingy, interesting Magic. It does have the strange effect of causing me to feel like I’m watching a sporting event in the sense that I am no longer directly involved in the game’s outcome, and can only watch and hope that my team deck will come through just like the other team deck did. Most miracles are not back breaking, but they do put you pretty far ahead in tempo. Vanishment, Banishing Stroke, and Thunderous Wrath are usually removal + a decent sized spell for that turn, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, especially when you consider how decent they are at their normal cost. Remember, this is Limited, and almost any removal is good removal. You may notice that I left off one uncommon miracle when talking about tempo and how they are ‘pretty good.’ I left out Blessings of Nature on purpose because it is miles ahead of the other three. It is like a 4/4 haste guy for G, and oftentimes better than that if the counters go on an evasive dude, or get spread out to create a pseudo-anthem effect. In the latter case, even if your opponent can deal with a creature, you still gained value, and it only cost you a Green mana. Also consider how strong Blessings is in the early game. Attacking with a 6/6 on turn three isn’t pretty. If you hated turn one Reckless Waif before everyone in the world figured out two drops were good in Limited for the umpteenth time, you are going to lose your shit when this happens to you. That said, pick Blessings accordingly, and smash some faces.

Something else I really like about the set is the length of games in Limited. At the end of Round one at the Prerelease, ten out of about 30 matches were ongoing, and it’s not because everything just sucked like in Kamigawa. No, I don’t blame Bushido for making it slow. Kabuto Moth didn’t have fucking bushido, and it was a first pick, so shut it. The complexity of soulbond, and playing with a ton of new cards slowed everyone down a bit, but board states just tended to be more complex, and decisions about what spells to cast were not always easy, even during early turns. My deck had a bunch of activated abilities thanks to Uvenwald Tracker, Galvanic Alchemist,  and a pair of Captain of the Mists, and seeing the right play was seemingly impossible at times. There were just so many avenues I could go down every turn, and having to consider what I could draw later when discerning the correct path was just exhausting. I see this level of complexity as a challenge, and something that will allow me to test myself as a player. It will also grant better players a huge advantage because there are so many more ways to screw up now. There are counterbalances to this(read: stupid hexproof), but I expect the better player to win games in AR at a higher rate than is typical.

The actual event of the Prerelease was awesome as well. The whole Helvault thing was pretty sweet, even if it didn’t have anything really useful inside it. To be fair though, Wizards shipped all those puppies out for free, so you really can’t complain too much. I would have liked to see something I could play in an actual Magic deck besides the Prerelease card, which was so bad I gave it back to the store because they didn’t have enough to go around. At this point I don’t even recall what it was, just that it sucked. Apparently, and I just learned this today via Twitter(@NigelTheLondon if you’re inclined), some Helvaults were ‘upgraded’ to have judge promo Demonic Tutors in them, or other interesting goodies. Some people seem to feel cheated, but really it is just another ‘hidden treasure’ type thing a la Zendikar, and I’m all for this sort of random fun stuff at Prereleases. It’s probably a good thing that the guy who posted the contents of a Helvault on EBay before Saturday didn’t get an upgraded one, or some percentage of the Magic community would be quite dissapointed, even though just a normal Helvault is a pretty cool and flavorful idea. I also enjoyed the achievement aspect, which was this postcard sized thing you got with your product that had stuff ranging from ‘attack with five creatures in a turn,’ to ‘greet someone who is at their first prerelease,’ to ‘speak in a monster voice to an opponent who controls a non-human, non-angel creature that shares a creature type with one of your guys.’ The deal was, players had to get 12 of these achievements, turn in the card, and that allowed them to crack one of the seals on the Helvault. I admit that though I was not much of an achievement whore in WoW, I played differently to get a few extra of these, and it actually almost cost me a game!

As for my actual matches, and my Sealed pool, which I’m sure now I built wrong, that’s for next time. I’m pushing 2000 words and 1:30 AM simultaneously, so for now I’ll just tease my next post, where people get turned into goats, and the dead can dance. Props again for knowing.

Nigel

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The First 150

Finally, a substantial portion of the set has been spoiled, and the nature of the Avacyn Restored Limited format and Standard with AR can be speculated on with a reasonable degree of certainty. Also, the ability to get a bead on current and future pricing of these cards is open to us because we have enough context. As you’ll see though, it probably isn’t time to go on a buying spree now.

Despite all these shiny new cards, I am unconvinced that this is a ‘great’ set for Constructed. The combination of the miracle and soulbond mechanics, both of which one could argue were designed more with Limited in mind than Constructed, takes up alot of the rare/mythic slots where those Constructed gems tend to dwell. Also, I see little to change the whooping Delver decks are dealing out on a weekly basis because this appears to be quite a slow set in terms of CMC, but a few weapons are available to those of us who want to fight the power.

Cavern of Souls

Land

ETB choose a creature type

Tap: Add 1

Tap: Add 1 mana of any color. Use this mana only to play creature spells. If this mana is used for a spell, that spell can’t be countered by spells or abilities.

It might not be quite as narrow as it seems. A pretty obvious inclusion in Humans or maybe Zombies(though Zombies is one of the few decks that doesn’t mind playing Delver all day), the ability to ignore the few relevant counterspells in the format is pretty nice. It can also go in less tribally oriented decks, ensuring you can resolve a Hero of Bladehold or some other threat. However, the real power lies in letting Ramp decks play their Titans against control with impunity. Often, ramp has to make the choice to try to get to nine mana to be able to ignore Mana Leak. This land, at least in non-greedy two color ramp, will have a home.

Human Frailty

Instant – B

Destroy target Human.

Not pictured is the awesome art of someone’s boot stepping on a skull. I’d want to play this card just so I have something nice to look at while it’s in my hand. Most I’ve talked about this card with don’t think this removal that happens to cost as much as Delver(a true rarity in this world) is any good because ‘you can’t play one for one with decks that this is good against.’ First off, that isn’t true. Yes, Delver gets tons of extra cards via Ponder, Probe, Snapcaster, and Moorland Haunt, but without the actual Delver to provide cheap evasive pressure, the deck can have trouble assembling a concrete plan to deal twenty damage. Against more traditional Human decks, killing Champion of the Parish before you take three on turn two nullifies all their nut draws. In both cases, the CMC of the threat being killed is equal to the cost of the removal, and this can’t be valued highly enough these days, especially against such dangerous turn one threats. Also, when considering the whole ‘one for one’ thing, recall that Snapcaster Mage is a card, and flashing back Human Frailty is almost as fun as Snapcaster + Tragic Slip, if not more so in many situations.

Other cards that tickle my Standard fancy, but are more ‘hunch’ cards than anything I could articulate, or cards other people have talked about at length, include Barter in Blood, Rite of Ruin, Restoration Angel, Peel From Reality, Bonfire of the Damned, Ulvenwald Tracker, Devastating Tide(!), and the as yet unreleased name of the UG land that lets you cast stuff with Flash until EOT. Overall, not much is changing it seems from the first 150 cards spoiled for Standard unless there are a few new decks that happen to shift the meta to where, say, Zombies is really good, which will knock Delver down a peg. There are still another 100 to see though, so don’t lose hope yet.

For Limited, well, the partial information we have tells us both nothing and everything. I can extrapolate upon what we already have to envision how the entire set looks, but it might be way off, so read this with that in mind. Overall, the set looks slow, a welcome change. I like seeing more cards in Limited, so I can play bombs more often, give opponents opportunities to make mistakes, and generally play more Magic(this is probably why I LOVED self mill decks in ISD and DII). This assumption is based on the expensive nature of the Angels/Demons, and how generally crappy soulbond creatures are on their own. There are also almost a dozen Auras that go on your own dudes that give them a conditional bonus, a weaker all the time bonus, or a spellshaper type effect such as ‘target can’t block,’ or ‘target deals 1 damage to target.’ If the remaining 100 cards shape up like these, you can expect slower games because playing some of these will be inevitable(or even desirable), and tapping your creatures to gain an effect means you probably aren’t bashing with them.

The flavor of the set is White vs. Black, with the scales tipped in Whites favor, as they appear to have more of the ‘good’ mechanics. I don’t think this means that decks will usually be W/x or B/x, as the mechanics don’t dictate that the sides clash unfavorably. Undying, an ‘evil’ mechanic, is still awesome in any deck, and soulbond plays well with anything that doesn’t have a problem with other dudes in play, and for now I’ve only seen a few actual creatures like that, and both are uncommon.

Miracles are, as endlessly talked about by everyone else, going to be awesome for Limited. It makes especially good sense when the spell in question is a removal spell like Thunderous Wrath(six mana five damage, miracle for one). We will be leaving a format where we played Wrack With Madness all the time, along with endlessly conditional removal spells like Bonds of Faith, Victim of Night, and Slayer of the Wicked. It’s a breath of fresh air to just overpay and ensure dead guy is dead, or flip it off the top like it’s nothing when you needed to peel. Luckily, Avacyn Restored won’t be a miracle bonanza, as no Miracle cards have been spoiled in the common slot, and I don’t expect to see any. Besides, ‘Common Miracle’ doesn’t make much sense, does it? I just hope the Green Mythic slot Miracle has nothing to do with gaining life, or putting lands into play, unless it’s like, ALL OF THEM. That might actually be sweet.

Well, this didn’t quite turn out as planned, but it wasn’t terrible, and hopefully a worth a quick scanning. There are still many questions to be answered about AR, and the future Standard and Limited formats. Once the rest of the set is spoiled, I’ll talk about the Last 100. Until then, may you pay 7 to draw 7 with Necrotic Ooze!

Nigel

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Insert Your Own Miracle Joke

For brevity’s sake, I’m not going to spend a ton of time talking about the cards previewed this weekend by WotC at PAX East. I can sum most of it up in a single sentence. Here we go.

It’s awesome.

That may be true, but I can probably do better. Let’s try again.

Avacyn Restored features White Angels versus Black Demons that battle using various Miracles, drawing all the denizens of Innistrad into the conflict, who ally with either side via Soulbonding themselves to good or evil.

That’s good enough, but maybe the first try was better for that whole brevity thing. Suppose that was never my sort of thing anyway, and in the event that you haven’t been keeping up on your dorky hobbies over Easter weekend, here’s a quick rundown.

There are a few new mechanics that join a few returning ones in AR(Avacyn Restored). Undying is still around, hopefully making a bigger impact on Constructed beyond a silly 2/1 with haste. The previewed card that proves the above statement is a big flying Demon that not only has Undying, but also requires a sacrifice each time it enters the battlefield. Doesn’t seem like a card that plays well against Vapor Snag, but that’s just me(and everyone else).

There are a few other cards supporting the Angels and Demons theme, and then there’s Thunderous Wrath, a RR4 instant that deals five to a target. It also happens to have what seems like the signature keyword for this set, Miracle. Miracle says that if you draw this card as the first card on a turn, you may play it right then and there, ignoring the normal timing rules for it’s miracle cost, and in Thunderous Wrath’s case, it’s just R. This mechanic has tons of possibilities, and although TW isn’t as great as it seems since Standard doesn’t have a Brainstorm effect(think about that one you Legacy players), it has already inspired me to finally rebuild Tebow Time, which is hilariously fitting considering the origin of the word miracle.

But hold the phone, stop the presses, and get ready to maybe change your pants. Having just checked the spoiler on mtgsalvation.com to be sure of my information on the aforementioned cards, I saw this:

Temporal Mastery UU5 Sorcery

Take an extra turn after this one. Exile Temporal Mastery.

Wait for it.

Miracle U1

Yikes. Although I haven’t read it, Chapin’s most recent article (http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/standard/23883_I_Need_A_Miracle.html, and get your Premium account you cheapskate), referenced Rosewater’s column this week featuring the Miracle that WotC was the most wary of printing. Pretty sure that Temporal Mastery is it. Sadly, after getting you all pumped up about it, I’m going to set it aside and just post the very first reiteration of Tebow Time, AR style.

  • 4 Delver of Secrets
  • 4 Grim Lavamancer
  • 4 Thought Scour
  • 4 Noxious Revival
  • 4 Mana Leak
  • 4 Thunderous Wrath
  • 4 Ponder
  • 4 Snapcaster Mage
  • 3 Faithless Looting
  • 3 Galvanic Blast/Vapor Snag
  • 22 Lands with a few Green sources for some spicy Green splash probably.

Sure this isn’t anything close to an optimal list, but it really showcases what Thunderous Wrath can do. You can Ponder it to the top, Scour it away and Revival it to the top, loot it away form your hand if you get stuck with it, or even just tap six and Lava Axe someone. With all the Looting, Pondering, and Scouring going on, not to mention Snapcastering to rebuy Revivals, it’s probably going to get pretty Wrathy for your opponent. Combined with the usual Delver awesomeness, and backed by Grim Lavamancer to take advantage of your bin filling up, this is quite a brew, and this is only with a handful of AR cards previewed! With a different aim in mind, one could take advantage of the Miracle for W that puts an artifact, creature, or enchantment on the bottom of someone’s deck.

This is just the start of the craziness that surrounds a new set’s release, and we don’t get a big set in the Spring very often, so it’s time to brew, speculate, and obviously, draft!

 

Nigel

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