Jeff Rients is actually everywhere

Yesterday, I was looking up a picture of an oldschool Battletech Marauder (that is to say, a Zentraedi Glaug) just to have something fun to test our newly repaired printer out on. In the process, I hit a web page with a super-classic Battletech scenario, only to discover that it was part of an old Jeff Rients site, the same Jeff Rients of Jeff’s Gameblog. That’s right, the home of Dungeons and Ninjas and How to Awesome-Up Your Players.
Everywhere, I tell you.

Always play this card

From the moment Manamorphose was spoiled, I found myself thinking, “When wouldn’t I want to play this card?” Getting two in my second sealed pool at last weekend’s prerelease only confirmed its value. It replaces its mana, replaces itself, and, as a bonus, can fix colors. It turns your sixty-card deck into a fifty-six-card deck. If you’re in enough red or green to play a second-turn card in either color, is Manamorphose just strictly an auto-include?
My first thought in the negative was “it sure would suck to get a Manamorphose countered.”
But not really. After all, if they just countered your Manamorphose, they’ve gained tempo — but that would have happened anyway. Had they countered an actual value card or yours instead, you would not only have lost tempo, but also a play. That’s actually worse then a counter being burned on the Manamorphose. Note that following this logic, I don’t expect good control players to ever counter the ‘phose when they can just wait and burn your spell instead. So counterspells, not a problem.
I could also see the “I have too much good stuff” argument, but really, this is the same argument that has people playing sixty-two card decks when the minimum is sixty. Your deck always, always has X worst cards, where X is the difference between your deck size and sixty. Given the option to go down to a fifty-six card deck, you really, really should.
That leaves mana curve. In some decks, particularly Boros or Sligh-style aggro decks, your mana curve is low enough that many of your plays happen on one mana, and a two-mana thinning device messes that up. I haven’t experimented with any designs in Lorwyn-Shadowmoor megablock or in Standard to see if that applies, but I can imagine it doing so.
In the meantime, the main question for all my block designs will be “does this deck provide enough red, green, or red and green to support using Manamorphose?” The basic qualification should be that its a second-turn playable almost all of the time. I suspect that most designs in block that support the right colors at all will support this play, making Manamorphose nearly a requirement.
Welcome to the world of fifty-six-card decks.

Killing things in the time of the Aurora

A hallmark of the combined Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block is an abundance of aggressively costed (or undercosted) creatures. This combines with a sincere lack of mana acceleration in the set. This will push the metagame toward creatures crashing into each other instead of the benchmark “best deck” of Time Spiral block, the Relic-driven Teachings build that could wipe the board, gain life back with Tendrils, and generally make things painful for aggro decks.
But I still like killing things before they get a chance to bother my creatures. So what are our removal options in the coming block season? In the extended, I break it down by price, from low to high, then cap it with a second look at mass removal in block.

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“Your father’s Peacemaker. Not as clumsy or random as a flintlock…”

Over in this RPGnet thread, Thornhammer rethemes an old favorite as a part of the Old West. His words:
New Hope County, southern Arizona. Looking at an invasion by some unpleasant Federal Government types, led by US Marshal Garth Vader. He wears black.
They’re looking for the runaway daughter of a US Senator who is thought to have escaped Out West with the plans for a new federal gold reserve. Why did she steal the plans? Who knows? She’s been captured and is being held in Estrella Muerte, an old fortress along the Mexican border.
An old prospector and a young hotshot cowboy roll into Los Eisley on a lazy summer day, looking for transport out to Estrella Muerte…

Preparing for Lorwyn-Shadowmoor superblock constructed

As the Shadowmoor prerelease approaches, with the promise of a full spoiler for the set, my mind turns to figuring out what my best option is for the Lorwyn-Shadowmoor superblock constructed season of PTQs leading to PT Berlin 2008. I’m looking forward to hitting the very first PTQ of the season on Saturday at Pro Tour Hollywood 2008. I’ve participated in one block constructed season so far, the Time Spiral block events leading up to Pro Tour Valencia. If your experience is similarly limited, you may find yourself wondering how representative the Time Spiral experience was. How have other block constructed seasons turned out?
As it happens, Wizards is good enough to archive top eight decklists from PTQ seasons past, although they’re not great about making them easy to find. Click through to the extended entry for a whole host of links out to block constructed events ranging from the recent Time Spiral nostalgia-fest all the way back to Odyssey and Onslaught (the last tribal block!). Is there useful data in there? Hard to say. Time to get reading.

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Match coverage to watch

Wizards is a fairly amazing company in terms of online support for their product lines, with daily updates to the Magic site and product developers who regularly read and respond to email. One aspect of this support that I especially appreciate is the archiving of Pro Tour webcasts. Each Pro Tour event features a live webcast of the top eight, allowing you and thousands of other players to watch the finale of the the event and, more often than not, see some really good play. Since 2004, Wizards has been archiving those webcasts in and making them available for download on The Webcast Video Archive page. There, you can find the top eights — usually broken up into quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals — zipped and ready for download and viewing.
Recently, I’ve taken to downloading some of the event coverage, stripping out the audio into separate files, and then using that as background listening from time to time. If you know the cards and the tournament environments, the audio play-by-play is about as good as the video (and if you don’t know all that, the video tends to lose you anyway).
In the extended, I’ll talk about my favorite coverage, and why I think it’s good stuff.

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Redcloak, evil genius

Redcloak, once lackey and now evil genius in his own right in Rich Burlew’s excellent Order of the Stick, is possibly my favorite evil mastermind of all time. I like that he is pragmatic, reasonable, not prone to grand gestures, and has a solid dose of love and protectiveness for his own people. It’s that last part that really sells me on Redcloak, and even though he’s nominally a bad guy, puts me on his side much of the time.
You can read a surprisingly extensive Wikipedia entry on Redcloak here. And if you’re not reading Order of the Stick, you should be.

Grrr, dude, grrr

Yesterday, Mike Flores previewed a card that fits his mandate as the “competitive play” writer on, Tattermunge Maniac. Here it is:
Before I talk about the card on the mechanical side, check out the great Matt Cavotta art. I just wrote to Matt to compliment his great and appropriate art on this one. It’s a maniac who’s out to eat your face, and it’s wearing a monster hat. Roar!
If you’re curious, “munge” comes originally from Scottish slang for “munch into a chewed-up mess.” Yup, he’s going to eat your face.
Card-wise, this is a beautifully aggressive card, in both of the right colors.
Magic has a history of aggressive 2/x cards for one mana, but they’ve most effectively flourished in white, the king of small, aggressive critters, and in red, where an early aggressive creature can be effectively backed up by a mountain of burn.
Jackal Pup is the best-known 2/x in red, and it appeared as late as Shuheii Nakamura’s second-place finishing Red Deck Wins build at Pro Tour Columbus. Utterly non-aggressive art aside (seriously, click the link), the Jackal Pup was a great enabler of fast, aggressive red decks. It also has a substantial drawback if you don’t just kill the opponent off early, as a Pup catching a burn spell effectively lets the opponent two-for-one you, where you’re one of the two. Ouch.
Lorwyn brought us the Flamekin Bladewhirl, another 2/x in red. It made everyone sit up and take notice for a few seconds, before it became clear that an elemental take on RDW (or BDW) just didn’t work. It’s not looking like Shadowmoor will really change that. In contrast, Lorwyn brought white a new Isamaru in Goldmeadow Stalwart, trading the Legendary drawback of the doggie for a tribal drawback that’s not a big problem in a Kithkin aggro build — and unlike elemental aggro, Kithkin aggro pretty much works.
So on top of all this, we now have a 2/1 Goblin that will come out on the first turn and keep attacking until it dies, one way or another, whether that be from removal or from suiciding into something bigger than it can handle. The thing is that this is just fine — you’re running a 2/1 for one, right? You wanted to be attacking, attacking, attacking, and unlike Jackal Pup, the Maniac won’t deal you bonus hurt when it goes. Not bad.
(And it’s green. And it’s red. Sweet.)
This clearly goes in aggro decks in Standard, and depending on how things shake out once the full Shadowmoor set is known, seems like an obvious one for aggro builds in block, too. All that, and it’s uncommon, so people won’t be clambering over each other with large wads of cash in an attempt to acquire it. Good stuff all around.

Competitive psychology, the Magic edition

Rich Hagon and Zac Hill have written a number of good articles recently on competitive psychology in Magic. They generalize well to pretty much any competitive venue, and are only loosely focused on Magic. A good read, no matter what you do.
Focus – Zac Hill talks about staying present and involved in the competitive endeavor you’re involved in right now, rather than drifting.
The Right Way to Lose – Zac Hill talks about how one must leaven taking personal responsibility for your performance with the knowledge that some things are actually out of your control.
A Very Big Secret – Rich Hagon talks about giving yourself permission to win at an event. “For almost everyone, our Comfort Zone is rooted in Failure. When we are removed from our Comfort Zone, usually due to the ‘threat’ of Success, we subconsciously do all in our power to return there.”
Permission to Win 101 – Rich Hagon looks at the psychological bits and pieces that people employ on their way to a win — and that’s more than just at the event itself, but in the days, weeks, and months leading up to it.

Oona could be my gal, seriously

Doug Beyer’s latest Taste the Magic column talks about the faeries of Lorwyn-turned-Shadowmoor, who have not, themselves, changed. The article focuses on the character that is also Doug’s preview card, Oona, Queen of the Fae. If you’re at all a fan of the flavor of Magic and the story behind the game, check out Doug’s article. Lots of good stuff, and some neat concept art. While we’re on that note, you should also go look at the recent feature article by Jeremy Jarvis.
In the meantime, here’s Oona:
A 5/5 flying creature with an additional ability for six mana = dragon. Oona is a solid win condition, with a built in extra win condition. And no, I don’t really mean milling them out. I’m not fond of milling wins, especially as we go into a block constructed season where you might reasonably expect to see Primal Commands running around. I mean that in an environment likely to be chock-a-block with two-color decks, the ability to turn maybe 30% of the cards Oona mills into flying beaters is just grotesque. Much like my beloved Kokusho, Oona becomes a “win damn soon” card when you factor in her ability.
She just may show up in my decks for the coming PTQ season.
The other preview card today is Deep-Slumber Titan, a 7/7 for 2RR that comes into play tapped and won’t untap unless you hurt it. Will that be good? Hard to say.