The Beautiful Struggle - Momir Basic for Fun and Profit
People accuse me all the time of being too serious when I play Magic. The Vintage players accused me of it in the forums of this article, and many more players accused me of it when I forced a prepubescent opponent to sacrifice his echo creatures after drawing a card at the Time Spiral prerelease. At the Planar Chaos prerelease, my own Two-Headed Giant teammate accused me of it, after I refused to allow an opponent take back a Momentary Blink because the opponent did not understand what it means to be a permanent's “owner.”
Now, I take most games I play seriously; you should see me when I'm home for the holidays playing Pictionary with the family. However, I do try to have fun whenever I can, and one way I can is to play Momir Basic on Magic Online.
For those who don't know what I'm talking about, the MTGO avatar Momir Vig, Simic Visionary has the following ability:
X, Discard a card: Put a token into play as a copy of a random creature card with converted mana cost X. Play this ability only any time you could play a sorcery and only once each turn.
This gave birth to Momir Basic, where all players show up with 60-card decks composed only of lands, and they play the game solely with those lands and the creatures they receive from using Momir's ability. It originally started as a casual format, but it has grown to the point that at least one Premiere Event dedicated to the format runs each day. The format is not rated, but the cost for entering is the same as other PEs, six tickets. Most of you will probably have to purchase the Momir Vig avatar itself, which was available for 8 tickets from the bots in the Trading Post last time I checked. Eight tickets might sound like a lot, but believe me, it's the best eight bucks I've ever spent on MTGO.
You might wonder why that is, since this seems like a very random format. Couldn't your opponent just hit a bomb and you are powerless to win? Well, yeah, sometimes. It's not uncommon to see a comment like this in the chat window of a Momir PE...
[name withheld]: yeah, this has to be the most random Magic format out there. Face it, good guys lose too.
... to which I say, this is exactly why the format is fun!
Face it, no matter how much you love Magic, sometimes the game gets a little stale. In an 8-4 triple-Time Spiral draft last week, I faced a player whom good authority has told me is a Magic Hall of Famer. When he attacked with exactly one of his two morphs leaving BBBU open, I immediately deduced that his two morphs had to be Coral Trickster and Liege of the Pit — not because I claim to be on his level as a player, but simply because I had seen every morph trick in the format and his attack only made sense with exactly that combination.
Momir Basic gives you a nice level of unpredictability to playing Magic — one that is difficult to replicate when you're playing with non-digital cards. In that vein, a couple weeks back I resolved Avatar of Discord on turn 3 of a Momir match; I had to figure out if (a) that was a good or bad thing, and (b) if it was a bad thing, how I could recover. How many times will you face a challenge like that, ever? These random, crazy shifts are exactly why I think Momir is so much fun.
If you like it enough, you can also make a fair amount of profit; these Premiere Events I am referring to do have prize payouts, after all. I don't think I have enough Momir experience to claim to be a master, but I have a couple of PE Top 8s, and I'd like to share with you what I've learned from those experiences.
The first draft of this article was way too long with a lot of awkward sentences, so let me introduce some slang:
[Capitalized Number Word]: The hypothetical Momir-created creatures created by spending [Number] mana. For example, on the game's first turn you have the option of making a One, and on the following turn you can make a One or a Two.
Hit, Make: Revealing something with the Momir ability, i.e., “I hit Grey Ogre on Three” or “I made my Four through Eight.”
With that out of the way, let's get down to business.
In Momir, there are only three resources: the mana you have on board, your lands in hand, and the pool of creatures that you could hit with a given activation. This leads to some simple and logical rules about the format that you'd do well to put to heart before you even purchase the avatar:
1) Most games will go to turn 8 at a minimum. I've had a couple games where “both players discard” effects caused us to both run out of cards before anyone got to make an Eight, but even then the game lasted well beyond turn 8. However, the vast majority of my games have ended with both players making Eights over and over until one proved to be a game-breaker. The reason that most games end with repeated Eights is that...
2) Eight has the best likely creature set. Eleven is the best drop if you can get there; Hypnox and Darksteel Colossus are nigh unstoppable (although you can also catch the relatively poor Mycosynth Golem). Nine ain't bad, but as I'll mention later you have to miss a dangerous number of drops to get there. Six has some stone-cold bombs, but it also has a ton of 4/4s or 3/3s with useless abilities.
Thus, Eight is the consensus best choice. You can blow out your opponent's lands (Sundering Titan, Petradon), his creatures (Avatar of Woe, Hoverguard Sweepers, Bloodfire Cyclops, sometimes Ashen Firebeast), or find some of the Best Fatties Ever Printed (Verdant Force, Akroma). Even comparatively lame hits like Scaled Wurm will usually win fights with every non-Eight your opponent makes.
3) If you are on the play and you make a man every turn, you run out of cards after making your Six. After that, you'll be forced to either hit Six every turn or miss a drop so you can get to Seven and higher. Along those same lines, if you are on the draw and make a man every turn, you'll run out of cards after making Seven. So, the general rule is this: if you want to get to Eight, you have to skip two drops on the play and one drop on the draw.
4) Creatures that allow you to draw cards are good, and creatures that have discard effects are even better. This is a direct extension of the previous rule: each card you lose from your hand is essentially a future drop missed, and each card you draw is a future drop you can make. For example, if you're on the play and skip your One, hitting Cartographer or Merchant of Secrets on Three is hot because you won't have to miss another drop all the way up to Eight. Conversely, I recently lost a game when I had not hit any fliers to fight my opponent's Silent Specter, which kept me locked on Six for the remainder of the game.
Building Your Deck
One thing that might be surprising for newcomers to the formats is that the contents of your deck are relevant, because the lands that you play during a game are relevant. The one thing you don't want to do is just play all of your lands willy-nilly, because you might need those lands for the activated abilities of creatures you make. Plus, since most games will see an Eight, it behooves you to minimize the damage that could be done by Sundering Titan.
The majority of truly useful activated abilities require Red, Black, or Blue mana. The number of Red pingers alone with mana-based activation costs is what kids these days call “D.I.” You might need that activation mana in large quantities, too; Nicol Bolas, Memnarch, Nightscape Master and Ashen Firebeast are good examples. For this reason, the following build was recommended to me by Alex Majlaton before a recent Momir event:
Going light on White mana is the toughest choice; there are a few creatures that use White mana for useful tapping or damage-prevention effects. For that reason, I almost always discard Forests and extra Islands first, just in case a Plains could prove useful.
Now, a build like this will occasionally hurt you. You might hit Trophy Hunter in situations where he would be a stone cold bomb, but you won't have the mana. In a more serious case, I recently won a game in which I had been behind and under pressure the whole time, because my opponent hit Force of Nature on Six without sufficient Green mana and I was able to use the Force damage to win the race. However, another principle for Momir is that you can't allow low-probability events to influence your strategy. In fact, that's a pretty good rule for most games of chance, but it's especially useful here.
Another gift from Alex Majlaton on my first day playing Momir, and it has served me well ever since. It goes a little something like this: (a) if you are on the play, hit your Two through Four, skip your Five, and then hit all the way to Eight; (b) if you are on the draw and your opponent skips his One, you make Two through Eight; (c) if you are on the draw and your opponent hits a One, you match him drop-for-drop for the rest of the game.
You skip your Five on the play because it is the weakest drop. There are plenty of serviceable guys there, but very few bombs compared to other drops. I mean, I have a great story from the game where I hit Brawn on Four and Stonebrow, Krosan Hero on Five, but on average I have won a lot more games where I missed my Five altogether. If your opponent makes a One on the play, the reasoning behind matching him drop-for-drop is that even a mediocre One can get in there for quite a bit of damage if you hit a lame Two (I'll talk about this in more depth below).
Of course sometimes you will deviate from basic strategy, either because something bad has happened to you, or just for the hell of it (fun format, remember?). In those cases, you might want to think about...
From what I've seen and read, the big debate in Momir is whether or not you make a One. There are definitely some decent Ones: Savannah Lions, Isamaru, Suntail Hawk, any mana creature, the Mirage guildmages, the Guildpact Rusalkas, Taunting Elf. I have tried this strategy a few times, and I have won a few games in which I hit One on the play. I have lost games to people who not only advocated Ones, but who advocated a strategy I call All-Out Ones (emptying your hand by hitting One through Six on the play).
However, I can't say that I have ever won a game because I played a One. I have never hit any of those quality Ones, and I've never had a game where I thought my One swung the game in my favor. By contrast, I have lost a great many games because I played a One and was thus deprived of a later drop when I was under pressure.
Here's an example. Recently I lost a Momir match to an advocate of All-Out Ones. In the first game he got Quilled Sliver on Two. The sliver actually decided the game, because it caused me to play like an utter moron regarding Possessed Barbarian (I forgot it had first strike on its first attack, and I mistakenly thought that he lost first strike after attaining threshold). His One, Crazed Goblin, had an effect on the game only in that it combined with the Sliver to trade with my Two. Then in game 2 my opponent had Herd Gnarr on Four, a nasty Avarax on Five, and a back-breaking Two-Headed Dragon on Six. In that game the One was Fugitive Wizard, who had absolutely no effect on the game itself.
Personally, I don't like Ones. Yeah, you can hit some saucy stuff, but most Ones are just 1/1 guys with no evasion. I'll make a One sometimes, for a change of pace, but I always feel like I am putting myself at a disadvantage. I can say this: if you are going to do Ones, I would do it on the play, because the big advantage of a One is that it will get in there and force your opponent to defend himself. If you hit a One on the draw, the odds are good that your guy will be simply outclassed by your opponent's Two, and then you've wasted a drop. So do your One through Four on the play, and then depending upon the game state on turn five, you can choose between going All-Out or skipping Five and Seven to make it to Eight.
A favored strategy of my friend Sean Vandover, it refers to making a certain drop twice on consecutive turns. In fact, Sean often likes to double up his doubling, spending his turns 2 through 5 by making Two-Two-Four-Four. Sometimes you'll be forced into this by a mana cost, say if you hit Granger Guildmage on One, and sometimes you'll just do it by choice.
Bad Beat Alert: One time I tripled up on Seven. The first Seven, I hit Pus Kami and used it the following turn on my opponent's dragon. Then I made another Seven — a second Pus Kami! After using the second Kami, my next Seven was some sort of giant flier, and I won easily.
The logic behind choosing Two and Four to double up is that both slots have some terrific hits you can achieve — Several strong utility creatures are Twos, and Four offers either giant guys (Iwamori, Jade Leech) or 187 removal effects (Flametongue Kavu, Nekrataal) — so you want to maximize your odds of getting them. I especially like to double my Four, because as I mentioned before Five is not spectacular.
I've tried Sean's strategy (2-2-4-4) twice, and both times I hit the most motley crew of twos and fours you've ever seen. Each time, I think I assembled a total power of 2 or 3 over the four turns. However, it seems like a strong strategy on paper, and I definitely will be trying it again in the future.
Last week I played opponents who were on the draw and skipped their One and Two, One and Three, or One and Five with the intention of going all the way up to Nine. This is an interesting strategy because you might argue that Nine offers better “bomb odds” than Eight. Kuro, Pitlord is usually game over on the same turn he hits, and Blazing Archon is almost as good. The Bringers from Fifth Dawn are interesting: Red is a bomb, Blue and Black both guarantee that you can get to Eleven in a couple turns, and Green can swarm the opponent with men if given the time.
If you wanted to run the Nine strategy, I would recommend that you only do it on the draw, because it will cost you three drops on the play. Three drops missed is too many, in my opinion, especially if the opponent hits a decent Two. Nine seems like a strong anti-Basic Strategy move; if your opponent skips his One on the play and hits a weak Two, you might consider skipping your Two altogether so that you could get to Nine.
Playing Good Momir
One time when I was in New York for a PTQ, I scrubbed out and was drafting with Brian David-Marshall, Mike Flores, Jon Becker and company. This was back in the triple-Ravnica days, and Flores drafted a base-Selesnya deck that assembled an impenetrable defense with Oathsworn Giant. However, I managed to stall his attacks for many turns, so many that my best plan for beating Mike was trying to deck him.
Mike eventually drew Woodwraith Corruptor and swarmed me with an army of Forests. My point for telling this story, though, is that just before he drew the Corruptor Mike surveyed the crowded board and shook his head sadly. “I wish I was as good as Kenji [Tsumura] with stalled boards,” he complained. “Kenji would know exactly what to do here.”
Don't think that Momir is all about hitting a lucky creature at the right time. Playing Momir is actually a lot like having two removal-light Limited decks go at each other: a great many points of damage are there for the taking with the proper attacks, and the skilled players will not let those points go to waste. Good players can take advantage of the crowded board positions that ensue, even if they have hit worse creatures than their opponents.
In my opinion, you should always strive to be ahead on board in a Momir game. You always want to have the more threatening board position because then the opponent is forced to hit a strong creature. Sometimes he will hit that strong creature, but many more times he will not. Only at Eleven is the opponent favored to hit a game-breaking creature; at every other drop he is much more likely to hit something that isn't instantly decisive.
What this means is that you should not be afraid of trades, if you think that you will still be ahead on board afterward. Most turns you will want to make your creature before you attack, so that you can make attacks that you decide will leave you ahead on board afterward. It's also in your favor on the numbers to make your creature before attacking, since there are more creatures with Haste than with Bloodthirst, but thinking about the board position before you attack is always a wise case.
Finally, though, the most important rule to success in Momir is to have fun! If you can't laugh off bad luck on your part or miracle luck on your opponent's part, you've picked the wrong format. This one is for people who can deal.
This article could not have been written without the following fine works, all of which are not behind any Premium subscription:
* Tips and Tricks, Momir BASIC, and Leagues, by Frank Karsten, in which Karsten interviews a successful Momir player who recommends the strategy of Ones.
This article written while... actually, I can't really say. Sorry about that.
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