Naya Kill Team at the ChannelFireball Spring Series 5K

Congratulations to Phil Yam for winning the CFB Spring Series 5K this weekend. You can read the full coverage by clicking here – it includes a good deck tech by Phil about the Mythic build he piloted to victory.
I clocked in at 3-2 on the day before dropping, but since I won’t be talking about my tournament experience in this week’s In Development, I’m including a tournament report and deck list here.
Click through to the extended entry for both.

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Watch this – ShipItHolla takes us through a PE

You may well have missed this, as ShipItHolla slid this content onto YouTube without much fanfare a couple days ago:

That’s the first video in a fifteen-video play list as ShipItHolla plays his way through a recent Standard PE, with commentary. He discusses his plays and thinks through them out loud as he goes through the event. Given his excellent online play record, this is a great resource, and I hope to see more videos from him in the future.

This week’s In Development – Scatter plots and planeswalkers, oh my!

This week’s In Development is up, and this time around we’re taking a look at planeswalkers in Standard. Is the secret answer to Rise Standard “more planeswalkers?”
Well, maybe, and maybe not so much.
I take a look at this issue through the power of my favorite research visualization tool, the scatter plot, as applied to the top 32s from five recent high-level events from both MTGO and paper Magic.
Click here to read the article, then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

This week’s In Development – Vengevine, Vengevine, Vengvine…and Student of Warfare

This week’s In Development features a return to the Junk archetype, updated and revised to fit in everyone’s favorite Rise of the Eldrazi card – Vengevine!
Also, we have some Ranger of Eos action and Student of Warfare. Yes!
Finally, this week’s column features an awesome illustration by Inkwell Looter.
Click here to read the column, and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

This week’s In Development – From ‘cute’ to ‘functional’

In Development is back, and this time I’m walking through the steps by which I admit I’ve delved too deep into the vaults of “cute” ideas and need to pull it back a little to generate a deck that will actually win.
Click here to read the article and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.
Also, kittens. Well, one kitten. Despite the article title.

I don’t like Blightning

In the pleasingly named Nationals Q and Effin’ A series of podcasts, Mike Flores does a cute run-through of the best cards at each converted mana cost in Standard. I think it comes out as something like –
1 – Lightning Bolt
2 – Spreading Seas
3 – Blightning
4 – Bloodbraid Elf
…and so forth.
His point was that the Grixis deck he ran for National Quals runs almost all of the best cards at each mana cost, per his recent principle of “just play all the best cards, regardless of synergy.”
In the past week, I’ve been trying out a more traditional (for me) Jund build featuring this Jund stalwart:
I’ve realized I don’t like Blightning all that much. As a consequence, I don’t use it all that effectively.
I’m not doing the autopilot move of just running a Blightning out and then kicking myself when my opponent plays a planeswalker that I could have killed with said Blightning one turn later. That said, I’m finding it super-disappointing in a lot of my match ups.
Against U/W, it can put a dent in their planeswalkers, but kills none of them outright, if the opponent plays correctly. It similarly doesn’t do much to knock two cards out of their hand if they can just tap out into a gigantic Mind Spring the following turn. If it’s bad at killing their planeswalkers and doesn’t legitimately disrupt their hand, then the sole remaining impact would be on the board…which is utterly absent.
I’m aware that a two-for-one that does damage is theoretically good. In practice, I really don’t like it. It doesn’t impact the game that I believe I’m playing when I run a Jund deck. There’s the occasional “bee sting” ability to kill an opponent that you’ve taken down to 3 life…but then I’d rather just run Lightning Bolt, which can at least act as removal.
Over the past week, I kept finding myself wanting to side the suckers out, yet being convinced that I’m not “supposed” to. I think it made me actively worse at playing and at deck design and development. Blightning just doesn’t do enough proactively for me, nor have I been so pained by it on defense that I’m convinced it’s an awesome card.
So what is the best three-mana card in contemporary Standard?
Here are some cards I like more than Blightning:
Ruinblaster is sort of an honorary mention, as I really want to be casting it kicked. When I build decks, I prefer to treat Ruinblaster as a four-mana card.
Yup, I’d rather have a 2/2 that searches up a land. See, it makes me resilient against opposing Blightnings, it helps me fight my way around Spreading Seas, and it gives me a guy to trade with opposing Bloodbraids. Aragorn is just so much better than a Blightning.
A versatile and often giant creature for a mere three mana. Sure, she draws a lot of fire, but at the three-mana position, I’d rather have a card that has the potential for solitary game wins over a card that can’t even touch the board.
Ending my list is one of my favorite cards since it came out, Maelstrom Pulse. Both better and worse than its progenitor, Vindicate, the universal nature of Pulse’s ability to impact the board makes it the ultimate super-Swiss Army knife – a Jack of almost all trades and master of many.
I’d basically rather play any of these cards than try to cast more Blightnings. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve had such a rough time of it trying to get Blightning to work for me in Standard.
What do you think? Is Blightning just that good, or has its power waned?

This week’s In Development – Immediate action!

It’s In Development time again, and this time around I’m looking at just how darn fast Standard is right now. Why tap out to cast some dudes when you could tap out to cast some dudes with haste? Right.
If you’re getting the feeling that it’s all life in the fast lane right now, I’m inclined to agree. I go into that and run out my new Jund list (lists, really – check the comments) right here.
So, click here to read the article and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

This week’s In Development – Pushing deck designs decisively

It’s In Development time this week, brought in under the wire by our crack editors, since I was forced to turn it in almost a full day behind schedule due to travel issues.
This time around, we’re looking at how to push a deck design toward success, through our own risk aversion and other natural human limitations. In the process, I highlight two recent successful deck designs, and my own updated BRG Planeswalker Control deck.
I also made a mistake in putting together Consuming Vapors and Bituminous Blast, but about a million people corrected me, so that’s fine. 🙂
Click here to read this week’s article, and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

Brilliant Tentacles

That sure sounds like a movie I never want to see.
If you’ve checked in with this week’s In Development and read through the fairly extensive comment thread, you’ve seen a pair of ongoing conversations. One focuses on suggesting optimizations or alterations to the Planeswalker Jund deck I proposed, and the other is a back-and-forth on the value of the deck concept all on its own. Although I agree that the build can be optimized, and plan on discussing that next week, I think there’s a valuable lesson in the tendency of people to reject ideas that don’t map well onto the proven ideas they’ve already seen in action.
Clearly, these people aren’t innovators. However, in their mind, they’re not thinking, “New is bad,” because people who continually buy into a collectible card game generally don’t have that attitude. After all, we all get excited about spoilers. Instead, there’s a lack of experience in evaluating completely new archetypes (the alternate here being evaluating tweaks and modifications to existing archetypes). Seen through this lens, any new design is probably evaluated in terms of its degree of digression from a known archetype.
Or, to put it another way, a black/red/green control deck is a really bad black/red/green aggro deck. And if all black/red/green decks are necessarily aggro decks in your current frame of reference, well…there you go.
With that in mind, check out Alex Viksnins’ deck from the top eight of the TCGplayer Boston $5K:

7 Creatures:
Wall of Omens
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
29 Spells:
Path to Exile
Spreading Seas
Esper Charm
Day of Judgment
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Gideon Jura
Liliana Vess
Brilliant Ultimatum
25 Land:
Arcane Sanctum
Creeping Tar Pit
Glacial Fortress
Marsh Flats
15 Sideboard:
Celestial Purge
Doom Blade
Identity Crisis
Kor Firewalker
Kor Sanctifiers

I would love to be able to ratchet back in time a week or so and post this list in an article. What do you suppose the response would be?
I’m betting on negative.
In contrast, I think this is a clever alternative to Polymorph that trades the speed of that archetype for the resilience of not being dead to spot removal. It would be pretty poor in an environment that had extensive countermagic…but hey, that’s not our current metagame. Given the lack of resistance to haymaker spells, you’re highly likely to be able to cast and resolve a Brilliant Ultimatum, flipping up an Emrakul that you’ve set up with Jace, Liliana, or Ponder.
Pleasingly, Brilliant lets you cast the spell, meaning you get the free turn and thus the frightening annihilator effect.
The deck is otherwise a pretty serviceable control deck, which can also operate in that mode and win on the back of Elspeth, Jace, Gideon, Creeping Tar Pit, or potentially Liliana Vess. I like it.

Lauren’s mythic victory

As I mentioned earlier this week, Lauren Lee took down one of the first PTQs of the season using her fine-tuned Mythic build. Now she’s written about her experience in three parts (well, two parts and an appendix of sorts). Here they are:
Part 1 – Deck list and notes
Part 2 – A brief pointer to URW Planeswalker control, which Lauren faced down in the finals
Part 3 – Links to the top eight lists
Congrats again to Lauren. You can see all the top eights from the current Amsterdam PTQ season here. The four reported post-Rise PTQs were won by Grixis midrange (Thomas Ma in Denver), Polymorph (Vincent Thibeault in Quebec), Conscription Mythic (Eric Twarog in Salt Lake City), and Mythic (our own Lauren Lee).