More Revolting Stuff

Posted February 1, 2017 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: Decklists, General, Lists

Tags: , , , , ,

Four more drafts in, I managed my second 3-0 in Kaladesh block. This was my deck:

 

bg

 

The good old mixture of strong creatures and a lot of removal, with quite a bit of incidental lifegain (which proved very helpful), and on a rather high power level overall. Both the curve and distribution of mana were just a tad bit clunky, but I got lucky enough to have no unkeepable draws and had my less promising draws develop nicely. A good variety of decent sideboard options rounded out a strong, but still far from perfect deck.

Since there isn’t much else to say here, let me take the opportunity to talk about something vaguely related: Between the releases of Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, I drafted very little. That was due to a number of reasons, most of which had nothing to do with Magic, but one of those reasons was that I disliked (and still dislike) draft leagues. I of course see the obvious advantages of largely eliminating waiting periods and the ability to budget your playing times, but I just miss real drafting. To recap the essential differences:

  1. Playing cross-pod means that you will get paired against people who drafted at tables with different draft dynamics and different card pool power levels. You might have drafted the best possible deck at your table and still face opponents with superior decks.

  2. This also means that hatedrafting becomes essentially irrelevant. While beginning players tend to vastly overvalue hating cards, intermediate players often give up a non-negligible amount of win percentage points by refusing to do it. (Once you need no longer to care about signalling, there is absolutely no advantage in taking a card in your colors which you will not play over a stronger card which you cannot play.) Eliminating the point of hatedrafting not only takes some skill away, it also reduces the number of picks which matter.

  3. Memorizing which cards you passed – and to whom – can inform your decisions when you play an opponent from your table. In cross-pod drafting, this is yet another bit of skill that is lost.

  4. Because of all this, cross-pod drafting is poor practice for real-life drafting.

Certainly, the majority of players doesn’t really care, but some, like me, do, and yet we do not get a split of draft tournaments and leagues offered. Instead WotC convert any and all draft formats where the critical mass of players makes this possible into leagues, and even though they claim to care for different players’ needs, they just don’t give a fuck about fans of real drafting, for one simple reason: Eliminating waiting times means that people can (and will) enter more drafts, which means they pay more entry fees, which makes WotC more money.

That’s all there is to it. It is also why they insist on keeping a single elimination draft league around, although that format is clearly unpopular; and it is why they are toying around with the abomination which the single-game league is. It’s all about giving you as little playing time per entry fee as possible. Everything else is just smokes and mirrors.

Revolting

Posted January 27, 2017 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: Decklists

Tags: , ,

To be honest, I really don’t feel much like blogging about Magic right now. Helplessly watching the world taking a turn to the worst pretty much quenches my drive to write about a card game (which still has a large number of annoying issues itself), and it’s not exactly helping to realize that the cancer of fascist thinking has crept deep into what little is left of the German Magic community as well. Also, I finally found the energy to continue writing my epic storytelling novel that I had put on hold due to personal reasons for years, and I do not wish to divide my strength between this and Zeromagic.

However, I am also not willing to let this blog die (…again?) completely, so I will make some token effort to keep it alive until my motivation to voice thoughts about my favorite game increases again. With Aether Revolt just having been released on Magic Online, at least I have something obvious to talk about, and I will start by showing you a screen shot of the draft deck which gave me my first tournament victory in over half a year (that sounds worse than it is before I mention that this time span only covers a total of nine events):

 

rg

 

My general impression of the format is that, overall, not a lot has changed, even if some details are different. It is still mainly about curving out and either making sure to not fall behind on board or pushing through before the opponent’s lategame is online, depending on the role – beatdown or control – that your deck occupies in a matchup. Creatures are on average a bit smaller now, tokens are a bit scarcer, artifacts have become a bit more important, and revolt incentivizes attacking and disincentivizes blocking a bit more than before; but the big picture hasn’t changed that much in my opinion. When in doubt, picking bombs over removal over efficient creatures will still get you reasonably far on your way to a strong deck, and identifying those picks where you should prioritize a synergy card will cover most of the rest of it. Just remember that breaking up your curve for a play that does not do anything immediately is likely to get punished, and you should be able to separate actually great utility (like Renegade Map) from the “sweet”, but clunky stuff (like Consulate Turret).

(I used those two cards as fairly obvious examples, because I watched Numot the Nummy pick Turret over Map without much consideration. Of course, his 4-turret deck sucked balls, and crashed and burned afterwards just like it deserved… I just don’t get it. It was the very first day of Aether Revolt Drafts being available on Magic Online, and that streamer was already clowning around with silly stipulations! Is this really what the public wants? This world is definitely doomed…)

About my deck: I started that draft with a bunch of red removal spells (I think my first pick was Shock over Gifted Aetherborn and Merchant’s Dockhand), which just kept flowing and cemented me in Red. However, the packs turned out to be short on efficient creatures overall, so I took that pair of Frontline Rebel with the concession that I had to build my deck around making them work. (Obviously, removal is a good start here!) I decided on Green as my second color without really seeing more of it than from other colors, because I knew I needed to fill out my curve with creatures, and Green gave me the best shot to do so. (My impression is that Green might have been underdrafted in general on the first day of that format, because it lacks the firstpick quality removal spells which White, Black and Red have.)

In the end, my deck turned out more or less exactly as I had hoped after the first booster round, although it could have used another 2-power 2-drop that would have allowed me to also put in Mobile Garrison in exchange for Quicksmith Genius and Embraal Gear-Smasher, which were fine, but a bit lackluster.

Deckbuilding essentially only offered two questions – how many and which combat tricks to run, and if I should maindeck that Appetite of the Unnatural. I decided on Implement of Ferocity plus Highspire Infusion, and no. The Implement is actually a decent card, and I was especially interested in making my two Frontline Rebel 4/4, since that is almost always big enough to make sure that they are a real threat and not an embarassment. In hindsight, the Infusion should have been Built to Smash instead for the obvious reason that it is one mana cheaper. I was probably a bit too concerned that I would need to use a pump spell on defense or in response to a removal spell, but it turned out that I almost always used my tricks on attacking creatures anyway (the only exception being when I cast Ornamental Courage on Aethertorch Renegade to kill a creature with toughness 2).

About Appetite: While I usually like it as a one-of main, I could not afford a possibly dead card in this deck, since my goal was to steadily apply pressure from the beginning. Having access to a lot of creature removal is great, but it also means that if you still need to keep your creature count high because your game plan is aggression, there is not much room for other types of cards – in this case, exactly 2 slots for combat tricks. Also, if you can already kill a lot of creatures, there aren’t quite as many things left which Appetite needs to destroy. However, against the deck with Multiform Wonder, two Self-Assembler and double Caught in the Brights, it certainly went in! Ironically, I still had to race (!) Multiform Wonder the hard way two times, because the only time I drew Appetite I used it to free a 4/4 Rebel from Brights…

In my other two matches my opponents seemed to rely a lot more on blocking than on removing my creatures, though, so I sideboarded out my least efficient creatures and put two extra tricks in the deck. This worked out fine, and in the end I won two games by giving an unblocked attacker 3 extra power.

I liked Greenbelt Rampager a lot, but I’m not sure you can count on being able to attack with it on turn three every time you draw it, as I did (two or three times total, I don’t remember exactly). Oh, and I cast Skyship Stalker twice, but both times it got killed before it could do anything. (Yes, that was against the incredibly strong looking BW deck.) Maulfist Revolutionary was a great, efficient attacker, although in this deck, his triggered abilities didn’t to too much. But, on a final note: In one game, I actually got to use my Aethertorch Renegade to deal 6 damage to my opponent (which turned out to be decisive a few turns later), thanks to Highspire Infusion and that Revolutionary!

A third look at Kaladesh

Posted October 10, 2016 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: General, Next Level Cube

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I concede that Zeromagic has seen times where I was more creative with my titles…

There has been a weekend with two limited Grand Prixs since I last talked about Kaladesh, and I also did a few drafts – with moderate success, going 2:1 thrice. Extrapolating from that experience and the information available online, I can now weigh in on the discussion about its dynamics, especially the speed of the format.

Players seem to be really divided on that topic, so here is my take: The format is a bit faster than I expected at first, but I wouldn’t quite call it “fast”. Let me explain my idea of how I categorize formats into fast, slow or medium fast: Essentially, it is about focussed aggressive decks being advantaged or disadvantaged, which translates into the number of aggressive decks supported by a table being higher or lower than the number of dedicated lategame decks.

The mere existence of aggressive decks doesn’t make a format fast – there were aggressive decks even in the notoriously glacial Magic 2014 – and neither does the average goldfish kill. Also, the necessity to run 2-drops doesn’t mean a format is fast (although the absence of that necessity certainly means it’s slow!), because almost every draft environment since at least a decade has been tempo-conscious.

The relevant question is how difficult it is to stop those aggressive decks! In Zendikar, that was nearly impossible – you were forced to race instead, since blocking just didn’t work. In Theros, blocking was also hard, because there was quite a lot cheap evasion, because heroic and bestow made creatures very big very fast, because combat tricks were strong and efficient, and because removal was expensive and inefficient. Those were fast formats. I would also count Shadows over Innistrad among the fast formats before Eldritch Moon was added to it.

Battle for Zendikar, on the other hand, was a slow format, because it wasn’t too hard to get into the lategame, and so was Khans of Tarkir. But where does Kaladesh fall?

Well, that set is sending a few conflicting messages. On one hand, the thriving creatures really want to attack; two of the three common vehicles are cheap, efficient beaters; and the combat tricks are very strong. On the other hand, there aren’t that many cheap evasive (like Welking Tern) or overpowering (like Steppe Lynx or Plated Geopede) creatures; the number of 2-drops is actually not that high (and some of them play more of a defensive role); the removal is comparably efficient; big, cheap creatures to brickwall weenies are plenty; fabricate gums up the ground with tokens; and while especially Red has a few ways to close out a game against a single big blocker, it has little burn that can go to the dome to finish off a player without combat damage.

Usually, people tend to underestimate the speed of a new draft format, so when several pros are now going on record saying that Kaladesh draft is fast, that gives me pause. But then again, other pros are saying exactly the opposite, and playtesting dynamics can sometimes give rather skewed results. I believe that the following might have been happening here: Too many people who thought the format to be slow (and slower than it actually is) drafted too durdly decks. That gave those players going for an aggressive approach two advantages: Firstly, their decks were stronger than they could expect if their archetypes weren’t underdrafted. Secondly, their opponents were easier prey than they would be if people were aware that they needed to add to the board early and consistently instead of fooling around with Puzzleknots and other spells without board impact. If the number of aggro decks per table increases, and everyone is aware that they need to field an early defense, things might even out a bit.

My current prediction is that Kaladesh draft will turn out to be medium fast, like Dragons of Tarkir was. In a slow format, you will usually get away with dropping your first creature on turn three on the draw, while in a really fast format, you need to get on the board as early as possible and cannot afford more than two or three cards that cost more than four mana. Medium fast formats are about maintaining board presence in all stages of the game, forcing you to both run a good number of cheap drops (or cheap removal) and a powerful lategame, ideally escalating from two-mana plays to five-mana plays without a hiccup, since taking a turn off might cause you to fall behind and not get a chance to come back. That was how Dragons of Tarkir played out, and so far, Kaladesh reminds me a lot of that environment. You can still draft quite aggressive decks, but you can also draft decks which are able to stop those.

This is my stance right now, but I am still in the process of absorbing and analyzing information.

For those who care, a few words on another topic: I have reconsidered some choices for my Limited Card Pool.

 

saheelis-artistry

Saheeli’s Artistry will not make it – I like the card, but it is not too original or essential, and I just noticed that it would be the only creator of noncreature tokens in my pool. For that one card (which would also only show up every third draft in a cube, since it is certainly a rare), this extra complication isn’t worth it.

 

whirlermaker

I am still sad that I had to remove Jayemdae Tome from my pool, but it just got never played, because it is so slow. I am afraid that the same is true for Whirlermaker, but then again costing one mana less is some help, and immediately adding board presence (albeit just a little) might just make the difference. I’ve seen the card crop up in a couple lists, and although I am still not convinced of its validity in Kaladesh, some of my cubes might create an even more favorable environment for it, so I’ll give it a whirl.

 

key-to-the-city

On the other end of the spectrum, Key to the City is a bit powerful for my taste, and it is also a bit close to the more elegant Jalum Tome, but it might still be a good option for a cube with an overall higher power level. I do have an opening for a low-cost rare artifact, and the Key might be a decent choice.

A second look at Kaladesh

Posted October 3, 2016 by Andreas Pischner
Categories: Next Level Cube

Tags: , , , , ,

More than two weeks have passed since my first look at the set. I am still not much wiser regarding its limited dynamics, not having participated in its paper prerelease, but I have made up my mind which cards I want to use in my Limited Card Pool.

Even though I ignore energy, and reject vehicle-specific cards as too parasitic, Kaladesh has a lot to offer to me! The set’s designers focussed on elegance, and they largely succeeded. Vehicles themselves and fabricate, but also artifacts-matter and counters-matter cards create or support themes I like, and additionally there a a couple very simple, but well executed cards. Overall, Kaladesh features 53 new entries in my Limited Card Pool, which is quite a lot, considering that I consciously try to stunt its growth (ideally, its size would remain constant, but there are still a few spaces to fill) by cutting cards to make room. Actually, vehicles are the one thing explicitly adding a new dimension to it by introducing a new card (sub-)type – generally, Magic has a limited number of themes its designs can care about, and while some of those are still vastly underexplored (like lifegain matters), others are already nearly saturated, so that new candidates for my pool tying into them are essentially pushing other cards out.

These cards made it:

Artifacts

consulate-skygatefoundry-inspectorsnare-thopteraccomplished-automatonsky-skiffcultivators-caravanrenegade-freighterbomat-bazaar-bargeovalchase-dragsteraradara-express

White

toolcraft-exemplartrusty-companionpropeller-pioneervisionary-augmenterbuilt-to-lastacrobatic-maneuver

Black

dhund-operativesyndicate-traffickerfoundry-screecherlawless-brokerweaponcraft-enthusiastaetherborn-marauderambitious-aetherborndukhara-scavengerunderhanded-designsharsh-scrutinyrush-of-vitalitysubtle-strikefortuitious-findeliminate-the-competition

Green

kujar-seedsculptorfairgrounds-trumpeterarmorcraft-judgearborback-stomperelegant-edgecraftersdurable-handicraftblossoming-defense

Blue

vedalken-blademasterlong-finned-skywhalegearseeker-serpentselect-for-inspectioninsidious-willshrewd-negotiationsaheelis-artistry

Red

inventors-apprenticereckless-fireweaverquicksmith-geniussalivating-gremlinsrenegade-tacticswelding-sparks

Multicolor

restoration-gearsmithcloudblazercontraband-kingpin

As always, I put a lot of thought into every single inclusion or exclusion, but since most of you do not care for most of those thoughts, I am not going to bother with the work of explaining all my decisions in detail. However, if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments!