I have a question for those of you young enough to remember learning to play basketball. My son Aaron has expressed interest in learning to play, and I recently cleared out some debris that had been stacked up around the basketball hoop we have at the top of our driveway and fixed the net. So it's all clear to shoot hoops there. Now, Aaron's 4½ and big for his age, but I wasn't sure whether I should get him a regular-sized basketball or a smaller one. Wal-Mart temporarily solved the problem by not having any smaller b-balls, so I got a regular sized one for now. A weird mini-blizzard this weekend has made it too cold and wet to get him out there with it yet, but I was curious - did you learn basketball with a regular ball, or a smaller one and graduate later to the larger one? The ball just seems so huge compared to Aaron's little hands; did you find it awkward handling a regular ball as a little person? My father was more a football / baseball guy and never was interested in teaching me to play basketball, so I'm hoping some of you can let me know your own experiences.
Now is the time when all good Magic players who just can't wait until the prerelease start to click on MTGSalvation.com on a daily – or even hourly – basis to see what credible information is starting to be put together by their crack team of spoiler sleuths. StarCityGames.com's own Ben Bleiweiss dropped me an IM on Thursday that went something like this:
BenB: Happy Birthday
BenB: Tombstalker seems tailor made for a Dredge deck
BenB: so Happy Birthday!
BenS: Tombstalker is poop
(see how I deftly turn BenB's own descriptors against him!)
BenB: Discard Golgari-Grave Troll to Greenseeker, dredge it back, play 5/5 flier for three mana, GG!
BenS: A graveyard is a resource to be nurtured and loved. Tombstalker is terrible, it is at best a Limited Bomb / bulk rare.
Ben claimed in his column Friday that Tombstalker is “comma quote not bad end quote comma fer sure rilly period.” He is so off base here it's not even silly. Sorry to beat the Dredge horse yet again here, but somebody's got to set the record straight.
First, in classic Dredge – you're not going to have enough cards in your graveyard that you'd be happy to remove from the game early enough for this to be worth it. Most of the cards in your deck are Dredge cards, creatures you can access with Golgari Thug, and lands you want to access with Life from the Loam. If you wipe them out for the hypothetical turn 3 Tombstalker, sure you could win the game in short order if your opponent has no answer. Sadly though, Tombstalker isn't fearsome enough to be worth the risk - he doesn't trample, or have fear, or has protection from White… really, he's just a 5/5 vanilla dork with flying and an adjustable / conditional casting cost. Your opponent responds with Wrath, Damnation, Mortify, Faith's Fetters, Snapback… God forbid he hits you with Remand. People always have answers to creatures so that in itself isn't reason to not play creatures, but it definitely should make you hesitate to play creatures that have as hideous a drawback to your deck's strategy as Delve. It's going to make Golgari-Grave Troll and Svogthos – two major threats in your deck – much less powerful. Lastly, in the late game are you going to want to retrieve a vanilla 5/5 flier with Golgari Thug or say… an Avatar of Woe that's… well, infinitely better.
Moreover, that Reanimator combo Dredge deck certainly has better creatures to cheat into play than a vanilla 5/5 flier. Speaking of new cards for Dredge, I imagine Reanimator combo will love that new Llanowar Mentor! Pitch Akroma to make a 1/1 critter, then sac it, the Mentor and another random dork to flashback Dread Return…
The Challenge of MTGO
Like many people, I don't have the scratch to maintain both a cardboard and virtual card collection, and I will always come down on the side of cardboard. Evan Erwin gave me a poke last week about my word of warning concerning ditching your cardboard collection, but I stand by what I said. Magic Online has a ton of positives going for it, and for some players who live in remote areas or work odd hours and cannot connect with local players regularly, being able to find a game any time, 24/7 is fantastic. But still, sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen for hours on end has finite appeal to me as a gamer, especially if since my job requires the same. The social aspects of gaming are what drew me in and hooked me to begin with. When my kids get older, I'm not going to want to turn them on to Magic by firing up the computer; I'm going to want to shuffle up some decks, sit down at the kitchen table and flop some cardboard. I'm going to want to take ‘em to the game shop and let them soak in the atmosphere, not just for the Magic cards but to give them exposure to all the other games that are out there, CCGs, miniatures, RPGs. I can't wait to take them to their first prerelease tournament, their first State Champs, their first Regionals and PTQ. I hope that maybe they will squirrel away some scholarship money from the Super Series. These are vital parts of the Magic experience that you just cannot get from MTGO.
I will always attend to my cardboard collection first, and currently I can put together several competitive decks for testing, runs at FNM and Regionals when it comes around (with the addition of Future Sight). However, I have to admit wanting to be able to run something in competitive Constructed tournaments online. Sealed and Draft is fun and all, but it does not exactly blow my kilt up. So I have been dedicating some of my limited disposable income to tix and working on buying and trading singles. Dredge would seem to be a natural thing for me to try, but the cost of acquiring four Damnations just pained my wallet too much. Initially I acquired cards for my G/W/b Teneb the Harvester deck, since Saffi Eriksdotter, Magus of the Disk, Teneb and so many other gems were so cheap, and even Loxodon Hierarch was reasonable. But when I realized the only way I could really make a competitive Standard deck around those cards was if I acquired a good mix of Ravnica dual lands, and even though digital versions are more affordable than cardboard, it's still a huge chunk of change to try and acquire the 8-10 of them you'd need. So I have relegated Harvester to casual multiplayer games (which is fine, since the deck is fun and competitive in that arena), and have turned instead to Time Spiral Block Constructed.
Fixing your mana in TBC is not nearly as reliable but is infinitely more affordable. I thought about porting Harvester over to TBC, but the big Dragon isn't as invincible – or downright sick – without Hierarch out there backing up Saffi shenanigans. Since I had both Spectral Forces and Scryb Ranger I kicked around the idea of running TBC Scryb & Force, but it didn't feel powerful enough.
Thankfully, some other writers and deckbuilders appear to have finally figured out Wild Pair and presented various decklists out there. Pat Chapin's build on the premium side was the most enticing. I won't go over the ins and outs of Wild Pair here because the ground has certainly been covered by others already, but if you have any questions feel free to post them in the forums and I will let you know what I can.
I decided to go ahead and throw something together to give Wild Pair a try. I wasn't the only one who apparently found Wild Pair suddenly alluring, as finding singles for the card proved very difficult. I threw together an initial list with just the two Wild Pairs I could find (a “pair” of Pairs heh), and added Harmonize to try to dig for ‘em, and ran some games in the casual room to see how things went. Initial results were positive - when I actually drew Wild Pair and it resolved, the enchantment proved dominating and downright ridiculous. It kinda gives me a “Survival of the Fittest” vibe.
A few days – and a full playset of Wild Pair – later, and I finally had this put together.
- 4 Mystic Snake
- 4 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 3 Sage of Epityr
- 3 Scryb Ranger
- 4 Wall of Roots
- 3 Whitemane Lion
- 1 Mangara of Corondor
- 3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
After some initial testing in the tournament practice room, I decided to go ahead and jump into an 8-man. Wow, was I not ready for prime time! The first round I get manhandled by someone amusingly going by Cheebamonkey, playing a White Weenie deck splashing blue for Psionic Blast, Vesuvan Shapeshifter, and Think Twice. Since I had suspend action going on, he boarded in Pull from Eternity, which screwed me up one game since I was relying on Search for Tomorrow to fix my mana. When I wised up and stopped Suspending cards, he could “cycle” Pull by targeting his flashbacked Think Twice (which I thought was rather clever). I somehow manage to steal one game to make this best out of three, but I get buried in Serra Avengers, Calciderms, and Knights of the Holy Nimbus wearing Griffin Guide cloaks.
One thing I found annoying is Mangara of Corondor. Testing for Champs last fall we ran across the synergy of Mangara with Scryb Ranger and Momentary Blink, where you can get multiple activations from your Mangara before he shuffles off to the removed from game zone. At least, that works in the realm of cardboard Magic. Online I could not seem to get the trick to work, which was particularly aggravating considering at one point I untapped with Mangara and two Scryb Rangers in play, with a Momentary Blink in hand. Mangara ended up removing one card from the game while my Rangers and Blink stare stupidly unused, instead of the six cards it should have been. Is there a timing thing I'm getting wrong online or is it a bug? MTGO gurus feel free to educate me in the forums!
So White Weenie ends my first 8-man run in the first round. Man, that was a bit disheartening but I did get to experience just how good White Weenie is and that I definitely need to prepare for that matchup. I decide to go ahead and jump in another 8-man after making a few adjustments to my deck. Unfortunately, since I had last saved the deck as a text file (in order to share it in my column here), when I made the adjustments and saved it, it saved the text file so I ended up playing this same deck again – D'oh! This time I make it past the first round by beating a Red/Black build running Blood Knights, Sedge Slivers, Sulfur Elemental, and tons of removal (gee, hate White Weenie much?). He concedes the first game once I get a Wild Pair out, even though I don't get any Plains in play for Lion shenanigans, I do have Teferi and Riftwing so I can use the Blue bouncer as an expensive Lion. The second game he suspends Mindstab turns 1 and 2 and I can't get too much going on the board before my hand gets stripped and I don't top deck enough good stuff to not get run over. The last game I get a good draw despite my opponent's early Mindstab. Thankfully, he stalls on three lands, including a Gemstone Mine, so I go to work bouncing his lands with Riftwings to keep him stymied while I struggle to keep creatures on the board through his removal. I get a Wild Pair on the board by the time he gets four mana, and quickly take control of the game. At this point my opponent - going by the name subliminal man - goes on tilt, berating me, berating my deck, my playskill, and my rating.
For all the weenieheads out there like subliminal man, here's a bit of advice: saying “your rating sucks” is pathetic as far as insults go. If your ego and self-esteem is so fragile that you need to insult your opponent when you lose, you need to work a little harder on your routine. Better yet, grow up a little and learn some manners and grace.
Anyway, surviving the first round is progress - whoo hoo!
Round 2 another Wild Pair deck brings me down to earth, but my opponent Ben Ani has a nasty surprise - his Wild Pair deck runs Slivers, with Dormant Sliver giving him enough draw power to more reliably draw into his Wild Pair. He utterly annihilates me in the first game by getting Wild Pair down on turn 5 with Lion to lock me down. In the second game I make it a little more competitive since I also get a Wild Pair down, but he's so far ahead of cards that his Wild Pair out-muscles mine.
Color me finally impressed by a Sliver deck! Evan Erwin posted a Sliver Wild Pair deck last week that is pretty close to what Ben Ani ran:
- 4 Basal Sliver
- 1 Darkheart Sliver
- 4 Dormant Sliver
- 4 Gemhide Sliver
- 1 Might Sliver
- 3 Reflex Sliver
- 1 Sedge Sliver
- 3 Telekinetic Sliver
- 4 Wall of Roots
There were some differences—Ben Ani ran Search for Tomorrow, Riftwings, and Spectral Forces (at least in the sideboard; I saw the Forces game 2), and I don't think he ran the Black slivers, but he did have Gemhide, Dormant, and Psionic Slivers. Erwin's decklist is a combo build ramping up to a huge Disintegrate, while Ben Ani's is “just” a Sliver deck welded onto a Wild Pair frame. Hopefully Ben Ani will read this and perhaps post his decklist in the forums, as I think he had quite the brutal deck.
So my second 8-man comes to a brutal but thought-provoking end in the second round (whoo-hoo, one prize pack!). Ben Ani inspired me on two counts - first, if I were running Scryb Ranger, I should go ahead and run Spectral Force. He is huge, he's good on his own, and if you have a Wild Pair out why not go ahead and fetch another one? Ben Ani also asked if I were running Stormfront Riders in my deck. Hmm, I hadn't thought of it, but it seemed like something worth trying out. Not only does he generate some blockers with all the rescue action you have going on already with Lion, but also he “Pairs” up nicely with Teferi, and he can help you “reset” a Lion that you may have played out there earlier before you got your Wild Pair engine going.
I also decided to strip out Momentary Blink, even though it has natural synergy with cards like Riftwing and Mystic Snake. In testing though, I found the card less than impressive, especially with Split Second cards prevalent. It's a cute trick, but too often I found my hand filling up with spells and not enough creatures. This is a Wild Pair deck after all, so the more creatures the better (which is why I first ended up cutting the Mystic Research from Chapin's original build). This is what I have ended up with:
- 1 Triskelavus
- 4 Mystic Snake
- 4 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 3 Scryb Ranger
- 1 Serendib Sorcerer
- 4 Spectral Force
- 1 Stormfront Riders
- 4 Wall of Roots
- 3 Whitemane Lion
- 3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
I've been pretty happy with this build in the casual tournament practice room, though I've run through my allotment of tix this week so I haven't tried it in the sanctioned tournaments area. Serendib Sorcerer sits in the Mangara slot - it is easier to actually cast, since you want double Blue early anyway - and protects nicely against Serra Avenger and Spectral Force beatings. He is still on probation though.
I finally acquired a playset of Serrated Arrows, which were nearly as difficult to hunt down as the Wild Pairs were. They're worth it though as a way to give you a fighting chance against White Weenie. I'm giving Mire Boa a try as one of the best answers I could dream up to fight Calciderm, which is nearly as big a pain in the ass as Blastoderm was, though I'm certainly open to other ideas from those more successful in fighting the 5/5 untargetable menace.
So that's what I got going on in the world of MTGO right now. If you haven't tried out Wild Pair yet, I recommend you give it a try. The enchantment is surprisingly powerful, and I suspect it's going to be kicking around the metagame for the next year or so.
Until next week,