Posted tagged ‘next level cube’

Ah yes, Avacyn has been Restored

May 25, 2012

Yes, I noticed the new set coming out. I actually already thought a lot about its cards. The thing is, debating which of them should go into my limited card pool for Next Level Cubes got something rolling which led to me completely redesigning and greatly reducing that pool – and that took a LOT of time. I shrinked my collection from roughly 3.600 cards to less than 2.300, and I thought hard about each and every one of them, always in context with other existing options (for example, how many other cards supporting a tribe or a mechanic I wanted and needed, and how those should be distributed over colors, mana costs and functions, but sometimes just comparing similar cards and deciding how many of them I could use for clearly distinct purposes). Now I’m finally done with that, resulting in about 2000 cards I want to get rid off (including some I’d taken out earlier), but also a wish list of over 100 cards (mostly from New Phyrexia onward, but also including a few older ones I needed to round off my now much more tightly defined themes).

For those of you who are interested, I will still post a list of those Avacyn Restored cards I intend to acquire for my pool with a few comments, but note that my criteria have become much stricter, leading to several cards which play perfectly fine in cubes being ignored, since I no longer ask “CAN I use that card in a cube”, but “Do I NEED that card to build the cubes I want to build?”

A few general words, though: As should come to no one’s surprise, I deeply hate the miracle mechanic, which stands for almost everything I hate about the new direction Magic design has taken over the last years: Random, swingy, overpowered, and only “fun” for people who prefer to watch the game play itself. But I really like the idea of soulbond (actually, I dabbled with a very similar design once), but I can’t yet tell how well it plays, especially in an environment with decent removal (this has priority – I will not sacrifice interaction to propagate a mechanic which doesn’t work with it). However, it seems to me that most cards with soulbond are strong enough to be still useful then, although not as dominating as they seem to be in AR limited, so I’ll give them a try.

Other than soulbond, AR hasn’t much to offer me beyond single cards – I still don’t use human tribal, because it’s a nightmare when combined with older cards, and since I don’t like to use a tribe spread over all colors (I actually eliminated allies and slivers from my pool for that reason, although there this was a feature, not a bug), and I certainly don’t use angel tribal, since angels are a really silly tribe (almost a silly as dragons or giants), mechanically as well as flavorwise: They are supposed to be strong single cards, not a weenie strategy held together by support cards. Also, I don’t like most angel tribal designs.

Then, I will not use too many cards encouraging you to keep exactly one creature in play, because that leads to not too enjoyable play patterns (I’m looking at you, Homicidal Seclusion). That leaves two themes/cycles continued from Innistrad & Dark Ascension, for which Avacyn Restored fills a few holes: Creatures with Undying and the utility lands requiring dual mana. In the end, I’m still interested in 40 cards – not overly much for a large set, but not exactly just a few stray cards either.

To the cards:

Lands:

Desolate Lighthouse – even together with the lands from Ravnica Block, I was unable to find a ten-card-cycle I liked. Or a five-card cycle, for that matter. I came to the conclusion that in limited a land which only gives colorless mana, but needs two colors of mana to justify its inclusion, doesn’t belong in a cube unless it supports a color-defined theme of that cube, so I wouldn’t keep lands I couldn’t use in a cycle. I found only one possible cycle I liked: Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion; Stensia Bloodhall; Skarrg, the Rage-Pits and Desolate Lighthouse – fit for inclusion in a Red-dominated cube.

Artifacts:

Angel’s Tomb – A very nice card which rewards playing creatures and attacking with them, but also has subtle synergies with self-bounce and flickering. I already use Halcyon Glaze, and this is a reasonable colorless version.

Angelic Armaments – while I severely whittled down the number of equipments I kept, I still want a good selection at my disposal. This fits a hole, and does so with sensible stats.

Vessel of Endless Rest – I wouldn’t have kept it just for the manafixing (I have Coldsteel Heart and Coalition Relic for that function), but I’m always on the lookout for colorless, maindeckable cards featuring moderate graveyard hate to allow interaction with graveyard themes.

White:

Avacyn, Angel of Hope – While the effect is really strong, you are supposed to get some value for 8 mana, and Avacyn likely neither wins the game on the spot nor can it only be removed with card disadvantage (although removing it isn’t easy). I believe this is a good spot for an 8-mana creature to be in, and I want a few of those for some cubes. It’s also the only reasonable choice for an 8-mana spell in White in the whole game…

Goldnight Commander – Obviously another card encouraging you to play many creatures, but also interacting nicely with flash creatures or instant token generation. I like this design more than Herd Gnarr (although the Gnarr is completely fine), since it plays better and makes more sense flavorwise.

Nearheath Pilgrim – I kept two soulbond creatures in every color featuring them (plus two extra in Green). Silverblade Paladin is just too powerful and steps on the toes of Hanweir Lancer, so I had little choice in White. However, I am happy with the Pilgrim.

Seraph of Dawn – really like the design, but this will NOT be common in my cubes – a card that is at the same time always very useful and able to completely upturn a game just shouldn’t be common. It might work in Avacyn Restored limited, but that’s an environment with little interaction consisting of players taking turns dropping overpowered creatures and two-card combos.

Spectral Gateguards – Well, I wish this wasn’t a 2/5 creature, since I don’t like the way these stall the board, and thus use them very sparingly. This means that putting the Gateguards in a cube will force me to leave out other cards of that kind, restricting my options when I want it for soulbond – not optimal, but acceptable.

Thraben Valiant – very basic creature, and thus very useful. Obviously, especially interesting in cubes featuring auras and/or equipment.

Cloudshift – While I’m not nearly as much a fan of this mechanic as MaRo is, since I don’t like tricks which are only really desirable when you can expect a stalled board, this one’s basic, cheap and efficient enough that it makes sense in many possible cubes (Ghostly Flicker, on the other hand, didn’t make it, because it’s too clumsy and too situational to be enjoyable in an interactive environment – well, and because I prefer Blue to use bounce for such purposes).

Black:

Demonic Taskmaster – As I said, I don’t want too many of this kind of card, but a few is fine, and this one can also be used as a risky finisher or a sacrifice outlet (and of course works nicely with Persist and Undying).

Harvester of Souls – Very powerful effect, but I can make use of a few powerful 6-mana creatures, and this is no Visara. I’m glad it has the following two safety features: “another” and “nontoken” – they make the difference between a strong card for high-powered environments and an unfairly overpowered card.

Marrow Bats – That’s a nice design, although I would have preferred that card to not be splashable. I guess it’s weaker than it looks, since not all removal is damaged-based, and since you don’t always get to trade 4 life with quality spells like good removal or other expensive creatures, but sometimes just with small 1/1 flyers and the like. The Bats made it easier for me to remove Sengir Vampire from my card pool, though – I don’t think Black should have a (albeit only very slightly) superior Air Elemental. (There’s also Fallen Angel, but that feels a lot less generic to me.)

Green:

Druid’s Familiar – in Avacyn Restored, Green and Blue have a higher number of soulbond creatures, but I didn’t like most blue ones, so I decided to give a higher number only to Green (to make up for Black having none, in a way). This one, however, is really powerful in limited (I have no idea how clueless a Magic player must be not to see this immediately), but then again, I put good removal in all of my cubes, so the Familiar is brought down in power a little. Also, it is just the kind of creature with soulbond you WANT to have. I’ll give it a try.

Howlgeist – I admit I would’ve preferred an even cleaner design (maybe a mana cheaper) without the extra ability, but this is a useful green creature with undying on a sensible power level.

Nettle Swine – Each color needs a few vanilla creatures, and this one’s in a perfect spot for Green. This is purely a flavor update – I feel the card makes more sense as a boar than as a human monk. (I wish it was a beast instead, though.)

Nightshade Peddler – well, if Black had soulbond, this would’ve been a black design. Useful, basic and not too obvious at the same time.

Pathbreaker Wurm – Again, basic and useful (and not even obsoleting Craw Wurm, although I really wouldn’t have a problem with that – see Vorstclaw). While I’m not enthusiastic about it (I feel that soulbond plays better on smaller, cheaper creatures), there’s really no competition for it – Diregraf Escort is silly, Wolfir Silverheart is bonkers, and I would already hate Geist Trappers if they only made themselves a 3/5 Wall for 5 mana which stops flyers – as I said, I use that kind of card only very sparingly and consciously, and I really try to avoid creatures for 5 or more mana which play defensively.

Trusted Forcemage – the most basic soulbond creature. How could I not include it?

Vorstclaw – I experienced Craw Wurm going from “not nearly as good as most players think” to “nearly unplayable in most environments” in limited over the years. Yes, it was a solid creature in, say, 4th Edition limited, but that was because it was near impossible then to fill your limited decks with cards you’d even NOTICE when drafting or deckbuilding with modern sets. Craw Wurm is just overcosted. There’s some wiggling room for correct stats on a vanilla creature for 4GG, and 7/7 is a bit on the high end, but it’s still a very sensible default.

Wandering Wolf – A simple, useful, although not too remarkable design, but I like the subtle synergy its ability has with enhancers. Also, a good way to give Green some kind of evasion which makes sense on less than gigantic creatures (meaning that it’s not a version of trample).

Wolfir Avenger – well, Centaur Courser is in the right spot for a 2G creature, and a double-colored mana cost on a 3-drop justifies a noticeable increase in power. I’m also happy that it gives me a green flash option in between Ambush Viper and Briarhorn.

Snare the Skies – It’s a Silk Net with updated wording. Silk Net is a wonderful basic green trick.

Terrifying Presence – I like maindeckable Fog variants. Between this one and Tangle, Green now has good basic options.

Blue:

Latch Seeker – won together with Scrapskin Drake and Chambered Nautilus (which I need for the beast tribe – yes, that tribe makes more sense in UG than in RG!)  in the crunch against Phantom Warrior and Cloud Spirit when I decided which basic blue 2-mana evasion creatures I needed.

Mist Raven – a much more fitting companion to AEther Adept than the complicated Venser, Shaper Savant (and compensates for the loss of Riftwing Cloudskate when I finally removed suspend from my card pool). Excellent design (and always undervalued by mediocre players).

Scrapskin Drake – see Latch Seeker. Also, an update to Cloud Elemental, since the zombie tribe needed the blue 3-mana drop more than the elemental tribe (and yes, I let myself be persuaded to make zombies BU instead of mono-Black, because I like Havengul Runebinder better than Cemetery Reaper, which is too strong for my taste, and Diregraf Captain is an excellent design, and because this allowed me to dispense me with faerie tribal, which I feel doesn’t work too well in limited).

Tandem Lookout – That’s certainly an interesting soulbond creature. Actually, I might’ve preferred simple over interesting, but I hated most blue soulbond creatures: Elgaud Shieldmage doubles the issues a creature with hexproof has (yes, I eliminated hexproof creatures completely from my card pool in the meantime),  Stern Mentor is about milling (a non-interactive alternate win condition – an absolute no-go!), and Galvanic Alchemist and Deadeye Navigator have no effect until you pay extra mana, which I feel defeats the concept of soulbond, especially because it’s colored mana. Even more important, the Navigator threatens to totally take over a game as soon as you untap with it and is nearly unstoppable by removal, while on the other hand the Alchemist is, in most situations, rather underwhelming. I like the Lookout, but I might have liked another card in this slot better.

Wingcrafter – this one, on the other hand, is just perfect in every way!

Favorable Winds – This card just makes a lot of sense. (It also made it easier for me to get rid of the anemic bird tribe.)

Into the Void – I’m perfectly fine with Undo being splashable if it costs a mana more. Undo was always a bit too strong for my taste.

Spirit Away – This is a powerful 7-mana spell which makes a lot of sense in Blue. Great design.

Red:

Archwing Dragon – I always loved Viashino Sandstalker and Viashino Cutthroat, but had to realize that they didn’t work too well in limited. This one does.

Hanweir Lancer – excellent basic soulbond creature. My first choice in that color.

Heirs of Stromkirk – a quite strong red evasion creature, I admit, but not too strong for its cost – I believe comparisons to Thieving Magpie and Abyssal Specter are fair.

Kruin Striker – another wonderful creature encouraging players to build a weenie rush deck.

Lightning Mauler – my second choice. While it SEEMS basic, it actually plays a bit differently, since it usually gives its soulbond bonus only to one creature. It’s still fine, though, and I don’t like Stonewright because that is another case of needing to spend colored mana to get a bonus from soulbond.

Mad Prophet – so this is how looting works in Red. I’m okay with that, especially if it’s coupled with haste (otherwise, 4 mana would’ve been too expensive for my taste). By the way, just attacking with the prophet will often be an attractive option, too. Good design.

Dangerous Wager – Unfortunately, this is not just a red take on card draw in the way that Night’s Whisper is a black take on it, since this card really only works well in certain decks. However, it is a great tool for those decks.

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A Winchester Experience (with Innistrad, without basic lands)

October 20, 2011

(Kurze deutsche Zusmmenfassung: Winchester Draft ist ein unterhaltsames, spaßiges Format. Auch ohne Länder kann man Magic spielen und damit Spaß haben, auch wenn sich einige Dinge dann ändern. Die doppelseitigen Magic-Karten sind noch größerer Mist, als ich vorher schon dachte, und Innistrad insgesamt spielt sich ganz nett, aber mehr auch nicht.)

I wanted to try out winchester draft for quite a while, and seeing that Innistrad contained many cards I wanted for my next level cubes pool, and that single prices for cards from this set were rather high, I decided to buy a booster display and use it to give winchester a whirl.

However, I screwed up my preparation: While I thought of bringing the boosters, as well as opaque sleeves (playing with checklist cards certainly wasn’t an option), several dice to use for counters and to show life totals, and even a stack of pro player cards to use as tokens, I managed to forget the basic lands – and where we wanted to draft, there were none available in the vicinity.

There was only one practical solution: We had to draft enough cards to build 40-card decks from them without adding additional land, and allow all non-land cards to be played as lands. Such a card would have the basic land types corresponding to its colors. Colorless cards would have no land type, but the ability to produce colorless mana. Everywhere else than on the battlefield, these cards are not lands. Of course, I knew from prior experience with this kind of landless limited play that it changes draft and deckbuilding decisions as well as gameplay considerably, but that couldn’t be helped – it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, since this variant is actually quite fun!

I’ll list the most important general ramifications of landless play:

1. You’ll never be manascrewed or manaflooded.

2. Once you have assembled the manabase you want, you will draw only (or nearly only) business.

3. Splashing colors becomes much less risky.

4. Cards which require the payment of more than one mana of a specific color become less attractive, since they tend to force you to play more lands than you’d otherwise need.

5. Deciding which lands to play becomes a much harder decision, adding to strategic complexity of the game.

6. Since a card played as a land is no longer a land when it changes zones, many actions – including sacrificing, bouncing or flickering lands – may have interesting implications. (I strongly recommend to install an extra rule that a card played as a land being exiled and directly returned to the battlefield from there returns as a land.)

Then there are card-specific things to keep in mind:

1. Some cards will flatout not work (for example, spells which allow you to search basic lands out of your library.

2. Some cards might work so well they need to be banned (meaning that they can ONLY be played as lands). Trepanation Blade is an excellent example here.

3. Many cards will become stronger or weaker or just play differently. Ghost Quarter, for example, becomes a Strip Mine. Mulch will just mill you for 4 cards. Milling will generally put more creature cards and more flashback cards into players’ graveyards. Delver of Secrets will flip more frequently. Frightful Illusions will much more often be able to counter spells, since players tend to avoid playing “excess” lands. Werewolves are more unlikely to transform on an oppnent’s turn, but also slightly less unlikely to transform back (since players often won’t have enough lands in play to cast two spells in one turn).

Overall, landless play really is a lot of fun for a change, but unfortunately not too well suited for less experienced players.

Still, the actual drafting process wasn’t affected too much. We shuffled together the contents of 4 instead of 3 boosters for each player, and we had to make sure that the random foil basic land which would come up didn’t get sorted out like the other basics, because, unlike those, it sits in a common slot. (There are actually reasons to draft and play it – for example, an opponent’s Ghost Quarter!)

My verdict on winchester draft: It’s really a lot of fun, and easily my most favorite 2-player draft format! The competition isn’t too hard, though: Winston draft is simply horrible, requiring players to alternately look at stacks of hidden cards and memorize their contents, and to make decisions which feel like a lottery (weighing the value of known cards versus that of unknown cards), taking too much time while doing a lot of things which aren’t actually fun. Solomon draft is skill-intensive, balanced and reasonably fast, but doesn’t really feel like drafting a deck – it’s more like constantly trading with someone and trying to rip him off, which I do not especially enjoy. Also, you can dig yourself a hole quite fast in this format, which is related to the fact that you actually make very few decisions (which are supposed to be the fun part of drafting). My personal take on backdraft (German link here) is a lot of fun, too, but serves a slightly different purpose, forcing players to play with mediocre cards and chosing the contents of their opponent’s card pool. Also, it takes much longer. Let me say this, though: Taking longer is not necessarily a bad thing for a draft – provided that you have fun all the time! But obviously, going faster can be a plus because of RL concerns.

Winchester is probably the fastest 2-player draft format (assuming that solomon drafters actually think their decisions through), but still offers plenty decisions which are all meaningful. It also provides some protection against unevenly distributed power level among the drafted cards (meaning that the order in which cards come up is less likely to give a deciding advantage to a drafter). It is moderately skill-intensive compared to other variants, with the choice between fewer but stronger, and more but less exciting cards being its signature feature. It shares the issue of being 50% draft and 50% hatedraft with practically every other 2-player draft format (winston doesn’t solve this problem, it just adds uncertainty and a lot of busywork). It offers higher redraft value for the same card pool than many draft variants, because you often pick stacks of cards, meaning that you have to react to the distribution of cards when deciding which color combinations or achteypes you want to draft (if cards are drafted one at a time, drafters will usually be able to craft their deck in specific ways much better, which can lead to repetitive strategies soon when using the same small card pool several times).

Winchester decks are roughly of the same power level as decks drafted via other 2-player variants (excluding my backdraft variant, obviously) – trust me to be able to gauge this even after playing it landless! As with most draft variants which are half hatedraft, decks tend to be three colors (even more if played landless). This means the environment is slower compared to those produced by 8-person drafts or in two-thirds-drafts. A consequence of this is that while winchester helps balancing out overall power level of decks between competent drafters, bombs will still decide games more often than in other drafts – the slow environment is one reason for this, the overall small draft pool which will usually simply not contain enough (if any) answers to certain threats another. That is not mainly an issue of winchester, though, but of the card pool used. If you play winchester – as I did – as a way to open packs from a new set, you’ll have to live with this, but with a properly constructed next level cube (it would have to be one built specifically for 2-player draft, though), that problem can be eliminated.

For me, 2-player draft in general is a matter of opportunity. If you have the option to set up a draft with more players (8 players may cause too many logistic problems, but that’s ecxactly why I designed two-thirds-draft for 4 players), you should do that – while the drafting process of Winchester is at least as much fun as “normal” draft, the larger draft pool will help to make games less swingy, and the play-to-draft ratio is just better with more players. With only one other player, fewer boosters, or fewer available time, however, Winchester is a great choice for getting your limited fix!

Finally a few words about Innistrad: Before I had actually played with them, I believed that double-faced cards would play absolutely horribly. Now that I did… I KNOW that they play EVEN MORE horribly! I am really confusticated that R&D actually expects people to draft and play with them.

I thought that winchester would make it possible to cover not yet drafted cards. However, this didn’t pan out. There was no way not to see them coming.

It was even worse using them in our decks, though. If you didn’t exactly remember what their nightside did, you effectively had to announce them to your opponent by taking them out of their sleeve. Transforming them was fiddly every time (and you still had to look at their other side quite often), and keeping them out of the sleeve while on the battlefield proved annoying and is anyways not the point of protective sleeves. All in all playing with double-faced cards feels like trying to run with slipping pants. Really an astonishing experience!

Other than that, the set seemed overall fine, but didn’t really thrill me. I concede that I might misjudge the werewolf mechanic, which played okay, but not overly exciting, because of that landless thing. But honestly, I imagine that in normal limited werewolves might actually play worse, since both manascrew and manaflood will reduce your ability to interact with them. The graveyard-based mechanics worked reasonably well, but not es well as I expected, considering that landless play should make them a bit easier to use. Morbid didn’t seem to be too relevant most of the time. The human tribal effects were somehow irritating, requiring you to keep track at all times which creatures were humans or not, and how that would change after transformation. Somehow I do not remember such issues from earlier tribal environments like Lorwyn or Kamigawa with its division into spirits and non-spirits. Maybe it had something to with the necessity to process so many things at once – playing with new cards, and having to decide which to use as lands at the same time – but I found it taxing to prepare for the possibility of Spare from Evil or Bonds of Faith in moderately complex situations. The biggest issue, however, were overpowered single cards or combinations, like Bloodline Keeper, or an Invisible Stalker wearing a Butcher’s Cleaver.

We drafted three times (and after those 24 boosters I’m still waiting for a Liliana, Garruk or Snapcaster Mage to show up, so that my display refinances itself at least partly), and the most enjoyable games were those which felt the most like generic Magic (which is, as many people do not seem to remember, a lot of fun!) Some transform cards played (logistics aside) interesting – Civilized Scholar and Cloistered Youth, for example – but overall that mechanic is not nearly worth the trouble caused by double-faced cards. It is a great set to harvest for my card pool and to enrich next level cubes, though, as I already noticed.