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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 – Malygos Rogue

MalygodRecently while browsing Hearthpwn.com, I came across this little gem from superjj102, who recently ground to #2 on EU with a Malygos Rogue deck. Normally I don’t get too excited about a Hearthstone deck, especially since there are so many Undertaker midrange decks out there that all play out more or less the same, but this deck caught my eye because unlike many decks in Hearthstone, it functions on a different axis than the norm for it’s class.

For example, I could build a Hunter deck that was slightly slower and more midrangey, but all the usual strategies against the more aggressive Hunter decks would still be solid against it. But this deck, which resembles Miracle Rogue in most of its openers, can leave opponents playing right along with the plan of trading resources and not letting your life total get too low, until BLAM, they suddenly lose to a flurry of Sinister Strikes and Shivs from life totals that Miracle Rogue usually can’t reach. The best part is that taunt creatures are useless against the onslaught.

In trying out an initial list of my own, I passed on Zombie Chow and Earthen Ring Farseer in favor of more traditional rogue cards like Assassin’s Blade and Loot Hoarders for added velocity. However, Loot Hoarder is actually terrible in this deck because he never trades with anything that you couldn’t already deal with via your other cantrip spells. The free card was nice, but not needed since so many cards in the deck already replace themselves. It was like playing Storm in Magic: The Gathering with nothing but card selection – all I ever found was more digging spells.

malygod 2This is what I’m currently playing after about 15 games of tweaking. I’m better than 50% win rate, but barely due to growing pains, like getting my Malygos killed unexpectedly, or just playing incorrectly against certain decks. I could REALLY use a Bloodmage Thalnos, likely in place of Edwin VanCleef, which is a nice alternative strategy, but doesn’t work well against decks like Shaman, Hunter, and Warrior because of their ability to kill or silence a large creature.

The deck plays out like most control decks. Maintain parity, and keep your life total safe. Remember, you have very little board presence most of the time, so don’t fall too far behind cycling or doming your opponent. Unlike Miracle Rogue, Gadgetzan Auctioneer isn’t quite as vital because your combo isn’t as specific, so feel free to run him out there and just draw an extra card or two.

Turns five through eight are the hard ones. You don’t have an end game besides Malygos, and it’s likely your opponent isn’t low enough on life to worry about a Leroy that isn’t coming. All you can do is keep doing what you’re doing. Hopefully playing Azure Drakes will incentivize your opponent to keep trading resources. If they don’t, things can get rough, but your only goal is to survive without blowing everything if you have Malygos, and dig for him if you don’t.

After finding Malygos, you can either and play him with a Conceal, or just run him out there and use Preparation to Fan of Knives/Blade Flurry(which benefits from spell damage) their board if needed. If you think you’re going to run into that situation, you need to be more aggressive in dealing damage, because if Malygos dies, you are often left without enough damage to win!

I’m thinking of re-including the Assassin’s Blade as a way to pressure opponents who just sit there. The original list had it before an edit, it’s better at worse ranks because you have a simple backup plan that doesn’t blow up your primary one. Having a Sap would also be nice, and gives you an out to play for in some spots, but I haven’t found a cut I like yet.

Let me know about your experiences with this deck if you decide to pick it up!

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Drafting Solforge

I’ve received a request to post a primer on drafting Solforge. I’m certainly not a draft master yet, but I feel like I’ve learned a ton since that first draft that, if I had known when I first started 12 or so short drafts ago, I would have fared far better.

The Basics

Most people are introduced to Solforge by playing Constructed with either someone else’s deck, or with the cards that a starter account begins with. Decks have powerful, powerful creatures and removal spells. Decks tend to revolve around specific interactions. No where is this more prevalent than in the recently popular Weirwood Patriarch/Tarsus Deathweaver decks, where almost every card works in conjunction with the others to create armies of monsters quickly and efficiently.

Draft however, is a different beast. Cards have to function well independently because we typically won’t have a ton of copies of two different cards to put together. That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities to build synergy based decks, but they can be risky to draft. We’ll cover a few specific archetypes later. This primer assumes that you understand the actual mechanics of drafting (ie. two factions, distribution of rarity, etc.)

In draft, there are a few ways to evaluate a card:

Scaling

DEEPBRANCHEspecially early in the draft, looking at how a card performs at it’s various levels is the first thing I examine. Some cards, like Deepbranch Prowler, are powerful options at rank one, but scale poorly relative to other cards. Generally, I find it easiest to look at how cards perform at ranks two and three since most games will go well into rank three or later. There are some cards, however, that severely over-perform at rank two, like Sparkblade Assassin. Sparky is almost as good as some rank threes at it’s second rank, so don’t dismiss a card entirely because of a single poor rank. It can often be vital to have a way for a slower moving rank three-based deck to fend off the more aggressive decks that scale poorly, but try to win the game before you can take control.

Tempo

This method of evaluation is more useful when considering between spells you are forced to take at the back end of a pack.

Spells in draft are strange because they don’t serve the same purpose as they do in Constructed. Most decks in Constructed play removal either because they are seeking to mitigate a specific weakness, or because they are trying to enable a specific strategy, typically either going bananas with Grimgaunts or playing well-scaling level three cards like Chrogrias.

In draft, spells tend to be tempo oriented, mostly because it’s impossible to predict what sorts of creatures an opponent will have. Even generically good spells in Constructed like Dreadbolt and Botanimate aren’t great. Botanimate isn’t reliable enough to draw as a singleton (not to mention that the 3/3 it leaves behind is a small tempo loss). Dreadbolt can be good, but draft tends to focus on high toughness creatures.

soothing-radiance-1So what exactly about spells creates tempo? In almost all cases, using your spell to ensure one or more of your own creatures survive a fight is why you draft spells (other than being forced to). If you cast an Epidemic that turns two trades into your two creatures surviving, it’s like playing an extra card. Even something like Soothing Radiance can generate huge tempo swings.

The other reason to draft a spell is because it can end the game. This may sound obvious, but really, Jetpack is the best common game ending spell. Many games come down to attrition, and both players’ life totals whittle down to the teens often during standoffs. However, Jetpack moves your level three Fangwood Ravager into the empty lane next to it to deal the final 20.

When Jetpack isn’t ending the game outright, it still does good work. Often an opponent who lacks a good trade with a large creature will put something smaller in front of it in the hopes of putting another one down afterward. using Jetpack isn’t creating positive tempo, but it does create a favorable racing situation by moving your higher power creature that’s ready to attack into an empty lane. The very best thing about Jetpack though, is that it avoids the Botanimate issue.

The Botanimate Issue

OmnomnomAs mentioned before, it can be hard to draw otherwise sweet cards like Botanimate on time, but why are they actually bad? It’s actually pretty simple. Spells that require a target to be level one at rank one and scale up appropriately generally aren’t that good. Frozen Solid, Energy Prison, and Warmonger’s Mod all suffer from this issue. However, cards like Omnomnom, while weak at level one, can affect any board state without regard to the levels of the creatures it targets, making it playable.

 

How Creatures Generate Tempo

Sure, Grove Huntress and Magma Hound can generate obvious tempo, but really, a creatures toughness is generally what creates tempo. But it isn’t all that simple. In fact, it’s all relative.

Any creature that kills something and stays in play creates tempo because your opponent has to play another card to deal with it. This is why Stonefist Giant is probably the best common in the format. I haven’t actually calculated the true average toughness of level threes, but I’m guessing that it’s right around 16, which just happens to be Stonefist Giant’s power, making it the king of tempo because it can kill two level three creatures, and often three or more level two creatures due to it’s 24 toughness.

The Constructed Draft Deck

You know, you could always just take everything I’ve just taught you about drafting cards on individual merit and just toss it right out the window. It certainly makes for more exciting drafts and games, even if it likely also results in you owning less tickets and legendaries.

My personal favorite is the Corpse Crawler deck. Big CC starts big and scales into a monstrous 20/21. Your goal when drafting this deck is to draft a critical mass of CC’s and ways to mitigate it’s drawback. While all the factions have creatures that work well with the Crawler, Uterra certainly has the best. Ether Hounds, Grove Matriarch, and Brighttusk Sower all provide excellent fodder. Of course, the actual best are Death Seeker and Fell Walker, which are respectable cards in their own right.

I intended this to be a quick primer, but I’m over 1000 words already, so I’ll cut it off here for now. I’m thinking I have more to say on specific archetypes, but I’ll leave that for another day.  I leave you with an example of a draft that was intentionally done as a gag, and ended up 3-0.

Nigel

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Controlling Standard

This post is courtesy of @BrianEconomides, a friend of mine who thinks my blog is cool enough to want to post his own material here. Contact him on Twitter or on this post for feedback.

 

The good old days

The good old days

I remember the first time I ever truly understood what counter magic did. It was an experience that altered the entire game for me. Since then, we’ve gone from using simple spells like Arcane Denial and Counterspell to complex ones like Cryptic Command. I am a control player, one who really enjoys locking an entire game down and having my opponent scoop with the understanding that they just can’t win.

However, today’s Standard format requires a different style to be successful. With Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash producing next to no help for true control players while setting the stage for Naya and Boros decks to shine, what’s a control player to do? These last few weeks I’ve spent countless hours researching the best cards for an Esper control deck. My first effort looked a lot like Brian Braun-Duin’s Esper list that he tested on January 25th, with minor changes, but after putting it to the test, I was disappointed.

 

  • 3x Obzedat, Ghost Council
  • 1x Snapcaster Mage
  • 3x Jace, Architect of Thought
  • 1x Liliana of the Veil
  • 1x Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
  • 1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
  • 2x Detention Sphere
  • 2x Dimir Charm
  • 2x Dissipate
  • 4x Sphinx’s Revelation
  • 4x Think Twice
  • 2x Ultimate Price
  • 4x Lingering Souls
  • 4x Supreme Verdict
  • 4x Drowned Catacombs
  • 4x Glacial Fortress
  • 3x Godless Shrine
  • 4x Hallowed Fountain
  • 2x Isolated Chapel
  • 2x Nephalia Drownyard
  • 4x Watery Grave
  • 1x Swamp

I won’t go over the sideboard as my meta will probably differ from yours (I live in Japan), but here are some realizations from my first two weeks with this deck.

Lingering Souls

Lingering Souls has seen its time come and pass in Standard. Unless you are building a deck based around pumping your critters up, this card just lacks any value in this format. I even tried Sorin, Lord of Innistrad over Liliana of the Veil to give my Lingering Souls a little more value, but it just wasn’t enough. Too often was I casting Lingering Souls turn 3 to avoid getting slapped in the face by a 3/3 Haste creature, or worse, Geist of Saint Traft. Or, I’d cast it only to find out that they were holding a Bonfire of the Damned or Thundermaw Hellkite.

Think Twice

Too many times I found this card just sitting in my hand when what I really needed was either a way to deal with a creature, or a creature to put on the board. Additionally, many people see Esper and automatically think Rest in Peace, which turns Think Twice into a cycler instead of a draw spell. Coincidentally, Rest in Peace also hits Lingering Souls, and screws over the one Snapcaster Mage that wiggled its way into the deck.

Sphinx’s Revelation

Finally, I don’t feel there is a need for four Sphinx’s Revelation. I love this card, but if you draw more than one in your first four turns, they just start clogging up your hand and you start wishing you had answers for your opponent’s board and not a hand full of draw cards with three lands in play.

So, after some initial setbacks, I’ve come up with this new brew, one that should help us control player’s stand a little bit of a chance against aggro:

  • 3x Obzedat, Ghost Council
  • 3x Augur of Bolas
  • 4x Geist of Saint Traft
  • 2x Jace, Architect of Thought
  • 3x Liliana of the Veil
  • 1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
  • 1x Dimir Keyrune
  • 1x Orzhov Keyrune
  • 2x Dimir Charm
  • 2x Orzhov Charm
  • 2x Detention Sphere
  • 2x Dissipate
  • 4x Supreme Verdict
  • 3x Sphinx’s Revelation
  • 2x Essence Scatter
  • 4x Drowned Catacombs
  • 4x Glacial Fortress
  • 3x Godless Shrine
  • 4x Hallowed Fountain
  • 2x Isolated Chapel
  • 2x Nephalia Drownyard
  • 4x Watery Grave
  • 1x Swamp

Some notes on the new additions.

Augur of Bolas

Lumengrid Warden he is not

Lumengrid Warden he isn’t

I felt that this decks early game is what got it into trouble against aggro. In the past, we had access to cards like Wall of Omens that aided in the early game. Today, the closest thing to this is Augur of Bolas. Initially, I didn’t like the concept of Augur, however, I found myself always digging for spells and Think Twice wasn’t getting the job done. Augur allows me to see three cards down and have the option of which one to take. To top it off, this ability is attached to a 1/3? Couldn’t ask for more.

Geist of St. Traft

The old version really had no way of dealing with Geist of Saint Traft and the deck lacked any offensive capability. I believe the saying “If you can’t beat them, join them” comes to mind. Adding four Geist’s to the list brings not only giving me another means of dealing with him, but also the ability to turn a creature sideways for some damage.

Mana Considerations

I altered the mana curve slightly to account for the fact that Sphinx’s Revelation was only really effective at six mana or more. Two Keyrunes came in to help with the mana-fixing and to help create offense after a Supreme Verdict.

Orzhov Charm

I struggled to find an effective creature kill spell, but eventually landed on Orvhov Charm. I’m still wary of this card as it comes with a few downsides. First, you lose life equal to the creatures toughness. This really only becomes a plus against Thragtusk and Aurelia, The Warleader because they deal more damage than they can take. Second, one of the abilities of the charm is completely useless in the deck. I’m currently checking out some one cost creatures to see if it would be a good idea to run any, but am currently at a loss.

Board Control

The last thing I considered was the board control elements of the deck. I added two Essence Scatters to help with early threats, and ditched a Jace, Architect of Thought for a third Liliana of the Veil. Liliana is just great all around because if you aren’t forcing your opponent into top deck mode, you are helping nuke creatures off their board.

Test Time

Now that I feel the deck has answered some obvious issues with its early game, it’s time to test this thing out at my local Friday Night Magic. Keep an eye out for my next article where I’ll be discussing some of the best sideboard cards for each color.

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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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Choosing Your Weapon in AVR Draft

After a successful release weekend of fun and victories, I’m just bursting with thoughts about how to draft AVR. I waited one extra day to squeeze a few more drafts in, to make sure I had a good handle on things before I went to you about it, and this gets posted in time span http://www.channelfireball.com/articles/carrie-on-%E2%80%93-drafting-avr/ . It’s an excellent dissection of a few of the major archetypes that have been discovered in this juvenile format, and worth reading in addition to this if you need to cram for the PT this weekend, or you just want to stomp your local FNM.

A quick note before we begin. I only talk about non Rare/Mythic cards when discussing an archetype, unless it’s a single card strategy based around that particular card. I also don’t bother to say things like “Defang is useful in the White Angels deck because you have a flying army anyway, and removal is good.” Hopefully you don’t need me to say things like that. If you do, you need to stop reading and go learn the basics of drafting. Let’s to it!

White Angels

This is a loose archetype, almost a sub strategy that blends well with Green soulbond and Blue control, but I’ve had a ton of success with it so far, expecially against the super popular Red Humans decks that just run out of gas against the endless stream of life gain attached to already decent cards. The entire basis of this deck revolves around two commons, Seraph of Dawn and Scroll of Avacyn. They are your two biggest weapons in extending a game. Seraph is first pick worthy, and Scroll will often fall rather late to you, making it a great value relative to the work it does against the aggro decks. When it comes to uncommons, Goldnight Redeemer is excellent, as is Emancipation Angel, and Archangel isn’t bad either, even if it does cost seven. Other White cards that can contribute depending on your composition include Voice of the Provinces, Defy Death, and Spectral Gateguards. Seraph Sanctuary deserves mention as well, because no one will ever want one but you, and playing one doesn’t hurt much. Two is riskier, but also workable depending on how many double colored spells you have.

So how does a deck with these cards win a game? Aside from the above mention of Red Humans, everything except Seraph of Dawn, Emancipation Angel, and Goldnight Redeemer tend to go rather late, but they form a powerful defense. It’s very frustrating to effectively race an army of guys with Gateguards + Seraph. Opponents will expend resources in an attempt to kill you quickly, before the life gain becomes too much to overcome, but will find you well out of their reach after a Scroll of Avacyn, or Goldnight Redeemer. You also have a strong evasive army that allows you to shift gears easily once the time to strike comes. Often, you won’t have but five or six cards in this archetype, and it will be meshed in with something else(preferably Blue), but that’s not a big deal because all of these cards are acceptable on their own, and contribute to a longer game plan.

Pairing Angels is pretty simple. You want Blue, and bad. Galvanic Alchemist, and Elgaud Shieldmate both perform a similar function, providing a large butt and an extra ability for your Seraph of Dawn. Peel from Reality lets you replay your ETB Angels, mess with attacks that would normally kill you but instead gain you life, or just reset your Seraph to block while bouncing an enemy creature. Mist Raven, one of the top commons in the set(perhaps THE top common), is also obviously good with the rest of the cards you’d like to see, and Ghostly Flicker is a great trick that can achieve total blowout status in many spots. Uncommons like Nephalia Smuggler, Favorable Winds(in the right deck), Ghostly Touch acting as a versatile vigilance aura, and Tandem Lookout to keep the gas coming all help extend the game and let you continue to grind advantage with your threats. Crippling Chill and Amass the Components are both ok as well, even if that seems a little obvious.

Although I won’t go into detail, Green is the other viable color to go with here, but it isn’t quite as powerful. The goal is to pair up with pump bonders and race, but it’s not as effective.

The end result is a slow grindy, control deck that often can win with ten attacks from Seraph of Dawn, while hampering an opponent’s ability to break through. It’s probably not going to end up as the ‘best’ archetype, but it’s fairly easy to draft, and makes for entertaining games filled with important decisions.

Green Soulbond

This deck is all about beating the crap out of people with large men. Best of all, it can be paired effectively with any other color, though I prefer Blue solely because of Wingcrafter to have large FLYING men. Drafting this deck is pretty simple. You take Wandering Wolf, Timberland Guide, and Trusty Forcemage above most things. Nettle Swine should be in there too, along with Wildwood Geist. I don’t like Pathbreaker Wurm very much, but he can get the job done too. Uncommons to watch for are Druid’s Familiar, Blessings of Nature(this could be the best uncommon in the set), Wolfir Avenger, and Gloomwidow. Be sure not to fall into the trap of having too many expensive spells. It’s quite easy to have a deck with Yew Spirit, Howlgeist, and Vorstclaw by accident. This will not get the job done in most cases, so don’t value your five/six drops too highly. Use those picks to branch into whatever other color you deem correct.

I didn’t include Triumph of Ferocity because it deserves it’s own paragraph. This card seems like a trap card, a win more card, whatever else you like to call do-nothing enchantments like this. The line of thinking that associates ToF with the previous statements is that if you already have the biggest guy, you are already winning, and don’t need an extra card. However, this card is a little different. You can be TIED for the greatest power and still get the card. I admit, it’s tough to always have a higher power guy. Usually you would need a three or four depending on the matchup if you needed to trump their power. Being tied however, is substantially better. Board stalls, or just parity is more common in this format than most, and activating this even just twice can tip the scales. I didn’t quite think much of this card until last night, when I had my eyes opened on it when ToF beat out multiple Amass the Components and Gryff Vanguards in a fairly epic match.

Pairing Green with someone is easy. Just pick the open color that fills whatever gap you seem to have. White gives some nice two drops and combat tricks, Red brings a little removal, some two drops that aren’t quite as good, and some interesting Human synergies, Blue brings Wingcrafter and trickery, and Black gives some dorky creatures and excellent removal. I haven’t drafted enough to definitively say what goes best with Green, but I’ve had success with Blue, using it’s tempo cards, especially Vanishment and Into the Void, to get way ahead on board. Ghostly Flicker also does hard work here, dodging removal and repairing your monsters to create favorable trades. After that, and don’t take this to heart because it’s half conjecture, and half birding other people’s games, I like White, then Red, then Black as potential partners for Green.

Black…Something?

Black is in a strange spot in AVR. They are the only color with removal that doesn’t plain suck, but as a result their creatures are even worse than usual. There are a number of strategies that let you draft Black without having to play Mass of Ghouls en masse.

Loner Black

This is a tough deck to end up in. It takes a number of uncommons to make it come together, so I don’t suggest forcing it, but if it appears to be falling to you, slipping into this deck can reap huge rewards. The number one card you probably want is Homicidal Seclusion. It is damn near impossible to race this card on a flier, and it’s so good you want two if you can get it. To supplement this strategy, and to increase the likelihood of drawing Seclusion, Amass the Components, Crippling Chill, and even Fleeting Distraction will get you closer to your goal of Voltroning a five plus power guy that essentially never dies because you can just play another one. Having some Bone Splinters is very important, and lets you make interesting plays, like attacking to gain some life, blowing up your guy to kill a threat, and replacing your guy to block and gain more life. It’s primary purpose though, is to stop you from flat losing to aura based removal like Defang and Spectral Prison. I’ve only played this deck once, so my experience is very limited, but I can say that Demonic Taskmaster, possibly the best card to have Secluded, kills in three turns. Other key cards are Fettergeist, Undead Executioner, Marrow Bats, Alchemist Apprentice, Latch Seeker, and Evernight Shade. As stated before, this deck is difficult to get, but sometimes worth the risk, and if you can pick up the usually useless Demonic Rising, you get an alternate way to win that won’t cost you much in terms of picks.

Sacrificial Black

Another strange sort of deck that Black can manage is one based around stuff dying. Again it centers around uncommons. The overall idea is to assemble a large man with Havengul Vampire or Bloodflow Connoisseur, and along the way gain ground using Blood Artist, undying creatures, Undead Executioner, and Even Thatcher Revolt. Oftentimes, this deck will have a small Human subtheme simply because there aren’t many cards that explicitly belong in this deck, so dipping into another archetype is an evil that is unavoidable. Oddly, many rares would go great in this deck, like Hound of Griselbrand, Demonlord of Ashmouth, and Harvester of Souls. Sadly, they are all so generically good that it’s unlikely to see them late. Lastly, the lowly Butcher Ghoul might be the most important creature for this deck. Without two or more of them, sometimes this deck just doesn’t come together in the right way, and you end up with a terrible B/R aggro deck with no synergies. Do not pass too many of these!

I’m a little short on time, so I’m going to skip the Red Human archetype(which, in the link above, is explained in great detail, and a somewhat obvious deck to draft anyway), and leave most of the single card strategies for next week, like milling with Otherworld Atlas!

Enjoy drafting!

Nigel Higdon

 

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