PTQ Hollywood: Kokusho you!

Last week, my Extended affections wore stolen by the Death Cloud deck, as piloted to a top eight finish by Clair Bigelow. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Despite forum protestations that Death Cloud is utter jank, the most recent batch of PTQs had a slew of Death Cloud decks:
Eighth place in Atlanta
Fourth place in Baltimore
First and sixth places in Columbus
Third place in Denver
Fourth place in Madison
Second place in Winnipeg
I’ll take a moment to point out that 28 people showed up for the Winnipeg PTQ. The average attendance for each of the other PTQs was 150 people.
That’s one or more Death Cloud decks in the top eight of all but one PTQ this week. All but one, I say, because although Robert Price’s sixth-place finishing build from Mobile has a couple Death Clouds in it, it is not properly a Death Cloud deck. It’s something even better.
A Kokusho deck. With only Basic Lands as its mana base.
I almost giggled when I saw his list. It’s great. I think I’m running it.
Price’s list and some commentary in the extended.

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One With Everything: Cube drafting Kamigawa

In addition to my normal Constructed play, I’ve learned over the last year that I enjoy the draft format. Normal drafting has the significant downside, however, of requiring new packs each time. That makes it unfortunately expensive, or requires that you have the patience to buy packs (that you were going to buy anyway), then wait for the next chance to draft before you can open them. As I don’t typically buy packs anyway, this is a particularly bad option for me.
The solution here presents itself in the form of “Cube Drafting.” You can read the origin of the Cube concept here in the Magic forums, and you can learn a bit more about the format here at Evan Erwin’s site dedicated to the concept. Briefly, the idea behind a cube draft is to draft from a prearranged card pool. Simple as that.
The original cube concept involves building up a carefully balanced (in terms of distribution across the mana curve in each color) collection of the most powerful cards you can muster. We’ll quote Evan here:
Each Cube is constructed by compiling the most powerful cards you can find and putting them together. This doesn’t mean just Moxes and Mana Drains. This can be any collection of powerful cards.
Well, I really have no interest in the most powerful cards. I just want to draft, and have it be fun and flavorful. Coincidentally, in the last year I’ve really fallen in love with the flavor of Kamigawa block. Kamigawa came out at a time when I’d been out of Magic for quite a while. SSO and I split a box, and decided we were a bit nonplussed by it. A couple years later, I realized that Kamigawa works best if you have access to all the Legendary things, and in abundance — they really drive the flavor of the setting. You want to be able to say, “I smack you with Yosei, the Morning Star” and not just “Glacial Ray you.” Since that time, I’ve rounded out my collection of Kamigawa cards decently via sniping at ebay auctions for whole sets (and Kamigawa goes for pretty cheap, although you need to wait a little while to catch the Pithing-Needle-bearing Saviors set at a good price). This leads to my current plan.
I’m building a “cube” that’s a “one with everything” Kamigawa draft set. Just one of each card in the whole block, in a draft set. That’s a shade over 600 cards, and has the advantage, versus normal drafting, of enriching the draft for flavorful rares and uncommons (there are just over 150 rares in the block and just under 150 uncommons, so instead of an 11:3:1 ratio, we get to play with about a 2:1:1 ratio).
I’m really looking forward to draft games out of this pool, with big Legendary dragons and funky spirits facing off on a regular basis.

Games on the (imaginary) docket

At any point in time, there are a number of games I’d like to design (or, at the very least, magically have exist). Here’s what’s on my mind at the moment:
Venator.jpg Ace and Admiral – The Star Wars Miniatures Starship Battles game came with a lovely set of miniatures and a desperately poor rule set. Although the rules were derived from the popular Games Workshop game Battlefleet Gothic they were simplified far too much. The game is now sort of like chess without nearly as much tactical depth. Sadness. I currently have a draft going for a game that should, I hope, more directly model the feel of fleet combat in Star Wars, with lumbering battlecruisers and swarms of fighters desperately trying to take them down.

Stormtrooper.gif Star Wars minis – Unlike the Starship Battles game, Star Wars Miniatures is a good game. It is, however, focused on very small actions, with just a few people on each side. I’d like a version that plays quickly and has a little room for officers, squads, and other organizational bits. Basically, I want a fast, easy, and still Star-Wars-feeling game that lets me use my big squads of Stormtroopers, my AT-STs, and so forth.

BattleofOmarion.jpg Fleet Action – Every so often, I’ve thought about a Star Trek starship combat game. Many years ago, a friend and I made a super-super simplistic one that really replicated the original show (it had about two paragraphs of rules, and a critical hit table that had results like “Ship spins wildly”). These days, I think that trying to model ship-to-ship combat on a tactical scale is kind of unfun in the Star Trek universe, but I’d love to have a larger-scale game that tracks movement of ships, with larger-scale objectives and so forth, so you could play out a Federation-Romulan war, or run an Ogre-like scenario with a Borg cube. To really catch the flavor, I’d go for a Card-Driven Game, or CDG. FYI, the picture I’m using is from the Battle of the Omarion Nebula, which looked like it was going to be a totally cool episode of DS9, and turned out to be an okay episode of DS9.

Epic.jpg Salient – A revised set of rules to go with the mountain of 6mm miniatures I have. I’ve always enjoyed the epic scope of battles allowed by this miniature scale, and as a consequence I over time accrued a ton of 6mm minis to play with various editions of Games Workshops’ Epic line. These days, I’d like a system that taps into ideas of morale a little bit more, especially as I’m enamored of the idea of Tyranids being without morale — it makes for really interesting “people versus the bugs” battles. Cool beans. I have some drafts of this, but I want to simplify dramatically more from what I currently have.

Run! It’s the Death Cloud!

I was originally planning on sitting out the current PTQ season, as it’s Extended and I don’t have the extensive card pool that applies to the current Extended. I’m very much looking forward to late 2008, when Extended undergoes a massive roll-over, and only sets from Mirrodin on (so, Mirrodin, Kamigawa, Ravnica, Coldsnap, Time Spiral, Lorwyn, Shadowmoor, and one more block, as well as eighth through tenth editions of the core set) are legal.
But that’s in October. Now, Extended is the territory of fetchlands and unfortunately expensive cards from Invasion (the few of those that I had, I sold off last year).
Still, I wanna give it a shot. It’s no fun sitting out through a PTQ season, so, well, I’m going to sit in. Initially, I thought my only chance was to go for an aggro build of some kind, and my thoughts went to Boros, or Dark Boros (Boros with Dark Confidants, more or less).
Then Clair Bigelow brought the Death Cloud to town in Butler, Pennsylvania, and I had my deck. Honestly, Death Cloud just sounds like a Hollywood title (although IMDB lists no movies by that name, “Death Cloud” was the working title of this fine film starring Danica McKellar of Wonder Years and Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem fame). Regardless, it’s a beautiful design, and I’m going to do my level best to ape it. More in the extended.

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Robert Frost hates unstructured play

Actually, the relevant quote is “I’d sooner write free verse as play tennis with the net down.”
In the most recent episode (15) of their Magic podcast DeckConstruct, hosts Alex and Dan go to a local Magic scene and ask people what they think of casual play, as well as how they’d define it. The consensus understanding of “casual” is “not tournament play,” as embodied in the phrase “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose.”
There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. If every game were about qualifying for a Pro Tour and a $25 entry fee, I’d be a pretty grumpy camper.
But even in casual play, there must be structure. A lot of the interviewees said that they liked how they could bring “any old deck” to a casual game, no problem. But there is a problem, inasmuch as without any particular rules, it’s hard to say what you can bring. Or, to put it another way, “Sure I can make a deck that sucks, but how do I make sure mine sucks as much as yours?”
In competitive Magic, this is easy. Format? Standard. What can I play? Anything in Standard. Put in the best cards, optimize your deck, try to win. Everyone’s on the same page.
In default casual, it’s unclear. This is social contract territory, because the “rule” really is “try to win, sort of, but not too hard.” If you go into the “tournament practice” area in Magic Online, you will occasionally run into people who haven’t made the best possible deck. You will run over them, and that’s okay. If you go into the “casual play” area, it’s entirely rockier. Hit someone up with a Stone Rain and you may find them complaining publicly that you suck for playing land destruction. Or perhaps not. Who knows? There are no hard-and-fast rules, and this kind of casual play often amounts to “whatever I don’t feel put off by.”
That’s a vague, vague rule to follow.
My preference is for structured play. Rather than the fuzzy implied social contract, set an actual contract. Play Standard. Play Extended. Play Highlander, Pauper, or anything else with defined rules. I want to be on the same page with my friends, whatever that page happens to be. The fundamental problem with the implied contract is that you’re trying to play suboptimally, and there’s no good way for everyone to accurately be equally bad. Someone may well accidentally bring an overly good card to the dance, and then they just keep winning over and over again, which isn’t fun for anyone.
Back when I played Mechwarrior a great deal, we had an explicit agreement across the tournament players to play “faction pure” forces (that is, forces derived all from one faction within the game, a situation not required by the game rules). We did this because pure forces looked better, and because pure forces came with inherent strengths and weakness that mixed-faction forces smoothed out. Had we not formalized this, the one person who didn’t care as much and showed up with a mixed force might well have walked all over the others — whether they really wanted to or not!
In gaming, as in the rest of life, I like my social contracts to be explicit. When everyone’s on the same page, it’s just that much easier to have a good time.

Post-Morningtide deck designs

Morningtide was released last week, and per the new policy, is already Standard legal. Although I can’t promise massive creativity, here are some post-Morningtide Standard deck designs. We have (all in the extended):
That’s Weird – A fast-paced aggro goblin deck that hopes to have some reach past turn three
Oblivion Idyll – A creatureless deck that leverages the power of Idyllic Tutor and combines it with a transformative sideboard for game two
Prowl Rack – A TarmoRack update that builds in some interesting synergies with Dryads and Outlaws, of all things.

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