Cruel Hollow

As the third in my series of decks featuring specific Shards (here are deck one and deck two), I’m taking a look at Grixis.
At first, I didn’t have any really exciting ideas, as red-black-blue is not a color wedge I normally use. Once I hit on the idea of centering my effort on Cruel Ultimatum, the idea of using a Hideaway land followed immediately after. And with that, we had…
Cruel Hollow
Click through to the extended for decklist and commentary.

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Chocolate Frosted Jund Bombs

Both as a way to process the newest set, and by way of coming up with ideas for the upcoming States (and possibly local tournaments, as it looks like I now have a venue that holds regular Standard tournies), I’ve decided to build one deck for each of the Shards. I’m not trying to push too hard — or to avoid — cards from Shards of Alara. Rather, I’m going to try and build the decks and just see how many of the new cards I end up using. With that in mind, here’s the first one:
Chocolate Frosted Jund Bombs
Click through to the extended for decklist and commentary.

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Buying Shards of Alara

Now that Shards of Alara is fully and officially spoiled (you can check it out the way I do by clicking here), it’s time to look at buying some cards. Ben Bleiweiss over at Star City Games runs a regular feature in his Insider Trading column called “The Financial Value of X” for each new set. This is premium (that is, paid) content, but if you have an SCG subscription, it’s one of the more valuable ways to countercheck your own thoughts on what might be worthwhile. Click here to read “The Financial Value of Shards of Alara”.
How I buy from a set
I have a standard procedure I now follow when each new Magic expansion comes out. First, I buy a full playset of commons and uncommons from the set (a playset is, conventionally, four of each card). This is by far the most affordable way to pick up these cards, and it saves me the hassle of trying to decide which commons and uncommons may be useful — this is especially important since cards in this rarity range can unexpectedly turn out to be really important to a build, and traders on-site at events like PTQs often don’t stock many or even any cards that aren’t rare. Second, I review the set and decide which of the rares I plan on buying separately. I pick up rares based on the formats in which I expect to play, as well as what I might play in those formats. For the moment, for example, there isn’t a block season or a lot of block events going on, so I haven’t given much thought to what the Shards block environment would be like. Standard is pretty wide open, so I’m likely to think about the full range of deck options there, even though I tend toward certain archetypes more than others. Over in Extended, I know I will be playing some Rock-like build, so I’m not even thinking about picking up cards from Shards that will work well with Affinity.
Whenever I talk about buying here, I am talking about Ebay, by the way. Ebay has consistently been the cheapest, most reliable source for playsets and singles since I returned to the game. I know some people are generally suspicious of Ebay, but I have had no bad experiences there. I imagine it helps to pay assiduous attention to the feedback people have received. The one “neutral” experience I had was a guy who lagged in sending cards out until I opened a Paypal complaint against him. That strikes me as a fine and low ratio of “problem to good experience”, given how often I used the service.
How I review a set
When I’m looking at some grouping of cards, whether it’s a new set, all the cards in Extended, the cards available in Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block, or something else, I go to Gatherer and sort the cards by cost. After some tinkering around, I found this was the most useful sort to go with, as it most directly serves the needs of figuring out “Which of these cards am I actually going to play, and how often?” Utility cards tend to live toward the low-cost end of things, whereas once you’re crawling up toward the top of the cost (the bottom of the Gatherer list), you’re looking at either the full-on casual-only Timmy cards, build-around-me cards or finishers that you use sparingly.
I look through the whole set to get a feel for what’s useful, then check out what Ben Bleiweiss has to say about it, then return to Gatherer review things a second time, noting which rares I want to buy, and how many copies of each.
Click through to the extended entry for my current buy list, with explanations.

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First Northern California PTQs for Kyoto 2009

Although Wizards has been rather pokey about putting up the pro tour qualifier schedule for the PTQ Kyoto 2009 season, our local TO, Conan Blackwell, has the first two Northern California PTQs up at the Matchplay site. Here’s the info:
PTQ Kyoto 2009 – Sacramento
October 11, doors open at 9am
$30 entry fee
At Great Escape Games
PTQ Kyoto 2009 – San Jose
October 25, doors open at 9am
$30 entry fee
At Superstars in San Jose (I’d heard they had a new location; it must be a nice big one, given how huge our PTQs are. I’m not sure if the address on their website or on the Matchplay site is correct, so I recommend calling ahead to check.)
I won’t be attending the Sacramento PTQ, as I’m being a corner man for my friend in a wholly different kind of tournament that day, but I should be able to make it to the first San Jose PTQ of the season. I expect there will be at least one more San Jose PTQ later on in the season, as we’re a large feeder market and we’ve had a couple for each of the last few seasons.
All the Kyoto PTQs are Shards of Alara sealed, leading into draft for the top eight. I’ll post a link to the general schedule once Wizards has it up.
Note that Matchplay is also coordinating our area prereleases for this coming weekend, with events at Superstars in San Jose, Great Escape in Sacramento, and A Place to Game in Marysville. Marysville is the county seat of Yuba county, and is about forty miles north of Sacramento, and just west of Beale Air Force Base. For more info on these prereleases, go to the Matchplay web site. This is your chance to get an early view of the set and pick up an alternate art Ajani Vengeant.
Update: Here’s a more up-to-date URL for Superstars, with all their current information:
It sounds like they’re planning some impressive stuff for the prerelease, including booster box giveaways between rounds, and a midnight opening this Friday.

Oiso again

Masashi Oiso is this year’s Japanese national champion, coming out of a top eight that also featured Makihito Mihara, Yuuya Watanabe, and Shingou Kurihara. You can read full coverage here.
It’s cool to see Oiso win. Following a quartet of Pro Tour top eights, he stepped away from obsessive Magic play for a while. As he demonstrated with his fifth top eight at Pro Tour Yokohama 2007, however, he’s still amazing, and can win events when they come near him.
Also…I recommend clicking through here to see Osanbashi Hall in Yokohama, where Japanese Nationals was held this year. It’s basically a beautiful, floating convention hall. Very nice.
(For the curious — Oiso won out with a blue-white Lark deck of the non-infinite variety.)

Bombs and Charms — more Shards of Alara previews, and they’re both solid

It’s felt a little bit like the recent spate of spoilers I’ve seen have been rife with Timmy cards. As most of my actual play is in tournaments, and I usually test out as a Johnny, that’s pretty much the one demographic chunk I usually don’t fit.
This week we have two great preview cards:
As BDM tells us in this week’s edition of The Week That Was, you probably want to see Vein Drinker in your sealed pool during the PTQ season for PT Kyoto. It’s a 4/4 flier for six mana that can pick off one smaller creature each turn — with “smaller” being a value that increases monotonically as the game progresses. If you stick the Drinker and they can’t get removal pretty quickly, you may well rule the board and then kill them in short order.
Is it constructible? Probably not.
Art’s awesome, though.
On the other hand, the Bant Charm, previewed in this article from new hall-of-famer Mike Turian, is definitely constructible. Destroy an artifact, remove a creature, or win a counterspell war. The mana looks awkward, but it’s going to be living in a Standard (and Extended) full of Vivids, hybrid duals, Reflecting Pools, painlands, and tribal duals.
Combined with treats like the Stoic Angel, the “Bant” color combination of blue-WHITE-green is seeming just darn cool. Consider that in addition to the block cards you’ve seen previewed so far, you get Wrath, Condemn, Oblivion Ring, Cryptic Command and more.
Nice previews, both.


Earlier this week, we had this preview card and, coincidentally, a video by LSV discussing strong choices for the new Extended. LSV’s picks match my intuitive picks — Affinity, Tron.
Unsurprisingly, there’s been some hubbub about the Esper shard in Shards (that’s the blue-centric one), with all its permanents being colored artifacts. After all, that plugs more or less directly into the linear mechanic that is Affinity.
The Master could — maybe — be an utter house in Affinity. Coming in at three mana, the Master is minimally a 4/4 the turn it comes down, in addition to being an effective Crusade for artifacts — that is, all your creatures, since you’ve probably taken the Hoverguards out for this build. With a more explosive start, the Master might just be a frighteningly large finisher, especially without Pernicious Deed sitting across the red zone in the new Extended. Consider:
Turn 1: Darksteel Citadel, Ornithopter, Ornithopter, Springleaf Drum, Arcbound Worker, Frogmite
Turn 2: Vault of Whispers, Master of Etherium
Congratulations. Your untapped Thopter, Worker, and Frogmite are swinging for 6 damage on turn two, and your 8/8 Master can join in on turn three for a total of 20+ damage and the kill.
Not bad.*
I look forward to seeing what turns up at Pro Tour Berlin 2008, and possibly to hating out a bunch of Affinity decks when the qualifier season for Pro Tour Austin 2009 rolls around.
*Yes, that’s sort of a dream draw. That said, one of the top finishers at GP Vienna 2008 talks in the audio coverage about an opponent with the turn one play of “land, thopter, thopter, Springleaf Drum, Frogmite, Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, go.”

Accelerating into the new Standard

I like the Sakura-Tribe Elder.
It’s a great utility card. It hangs out, it blocks, it keeps counters off of Jitte (when that’s relevant), and it accelerates you into four mana on turn three, and it does that in one of my favorite ways — it sticks a land into play.
My preference for acceleration is “put more lands into play.” The “put more lands into play” (PMLIP?) option is my favorite because it’s more or less nondestroyable. Naturally, your opponent could be packing land destruction, but if they were going to do that, it was going to happen and inconvenience you anyway. In contrast, acceleration that lives in the body of a creature, artifact, or enchantment can be removed, and often by cards that decks are simply packing as utility items. Especially creatures. As BDM tells us, “I’ve just been conditioned to burn the Bird.”
Coldsnap – Time Spiral – Lorwyn – Shadowmoor – 10th Standard gave us a host of options, including Search for Tomorrow, Into the North, and Wall of Roots which gets a bit of a pass as a creature because a whole lot of cheap removal can’t easily deal five. With Cold Snap and Time Spiral rotating out, we’re also losing those two sorceries (along, it should be noted, with a couple of low-cost acceleration artifacts). Obviously, Alara may bring us acceleration — I do hope it does — but in the meantime, what’s left in 10th and Lorwyn-Shadowmoor?
More in the extended.

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