Emblem – you die slowly

In case you missed it, Jules Robins had a fun column recently showing off the best results from his “You Make the Planeswalker” contest. It’s a fun read, with a lot of creativity in terms of planeswalker abilities. My favorite was this planeswalkerized take on Glissa:

The first ability certainly makes sense – Glissa brings more infect bugs.

The second ability obviously synergizes quite well with an infect deck. It’s also cute, inasmuch as it’s effectively another +1 ability.

It’s the third ability that really caught my attention, as it puts your opponent on a strict clock in a way that almost no other planeswalker ultimate has done to date. A poison-generating emblem just hadn’t occurred to me, and it’s a cool idea.

It’s also pretty slow, of course, since you need to make infect bugs unmolested for four turns before you can activate the emblem – and then you need to hope they don’t kill you while the emblem counts up. In fact, if you’re curious about just how slow Glissa’s ultimate would be, you can check out this article I wrote about how quickly planeswalkers deploy.

Anyway, the planeswalker design article is a fun one, so check it out.

In Development liner notes – CawBlade, Faeries, and the area under their curves

After a work-related hiatus, In Development is back up and running.

In case you missed it, here’s this week’s In Development, in which I discuss cumulative mana curves and the idea of cards being useful at certain points in a game.

The article itself uses the current Standard for examples, so if you read it you’ll see cumulative curves for Delver, Wolf Run, Solar Flare, and others.

My original motivation for examining this issue was Paulo’s love affair with aggro-control, so I found myself asking…what about his other examples? How did CawBlade and Faeries match up?

So here you go. Drawn from two Pro Tours, we have CawBlade, Faeries, and some of their opponents.

Pro Tour Paris 2011

This Pro Tour featured several CawBblade lists in the top 8, along with some fast aggro and one example of a control deck. Two things stood out to me here. First, Grixis is all utility cards and trumps, with nothing in between. Second, CawBlade is pretty trump-tastic compared with Delver. Of course, four of those trumps are Jace, who saw a banning relatively soon after.

Pro Tour Hollywood 2008

PT Hollywood had a lot of Faeries decks, but they didn’t really make it through to the top eight (except for Paulo, who did pretty well but get rolled by one of the nastiest “empty my hand” openings I’ve seen from an aggro deck in the quarterfinals). It also saw the debut of early Vivid Control in the form of Manuel Bucher’s Quick’n Toast, which had a solid day one performance before falling off into day two.

Notably, Elves hits its power cards very quickly. You can see how it could overwhelm Faeries, and how it sure would overwhelm Quick’n Toast.

The area under the (Delver) curve

Pretty much inspired by PV’s excellent article about aggro-control this week, I decided to take a couple of the major players right now and lay out their “cards that you can play and that matter” along the turn curve (which is sort of the mana curve, but accounting for things like acceleration):

These are cumulative curves, meaning that the things you can cast on the first turn also count on the second, third, and so forth. The Wolf Run and Strangleroot (R/G Aggro) curves drop off because the early acceleration cards don’t count in the mid-to-late game.

What’s interesting, in light of Paulo’s thesis, is how Delver forms a smooth curve that comes up over the top of the other three archetypes. Esper Control has a similar curve, but is a consistent two turns late.

As a final note on this quick conceptual knock-together, the Delver curve as shown assumes paying the Phyrexian costs for those cards where it applies. Obviously, it’ll push a little bit toward the start of the aggro curve if you instead pay full price.

An awesome wager

So, in checking out the complete Avacyn Restored Card Image Gallery yesterday, I noticed this little gem that I hadn’t seen in previous spoilers:

Although the dedicated burn deck is not really my deal, nor is low-and-fast aggro in the manner of Boros and friends, this seems like an amazing card if you are going to play the fast aggro game.

“Discard your hand to draw two” is no good for your typical control deck where you want to progressively build your hand (obviously). Dangerous Wager is brilliant, however, as an end-of-your-opponent’s-turn play for a fast aggro deck. After all, if you still had burn, you’d be burning them with it. If you still had creatures that were relevant, you’d be casting them. If you have an extra land or two in hand, why not replace them with cards that can actually shift the game?

And naturally, most of the time you’ll just be casting Dangerous Wager on an empty hand, making it a pure two cards for two mana.

As a “discard then draw” spell it naturally also feels like a Dredge-adjacent card. I think at two mana with no flashback or other benefits it’s too slow for Legacy Dredge. It might, however, make Modern DredgeVine decks more consistent and effective.

For now, though, I’m just impressed by how good it seems it should be in fast aggro.

Jund with Emrakul

Since I’ve been duly informed that I’m not allowed to mention things like this without providing a list, here’s Mattia Rizzi’s “Jund with Emrakul,” which took him to a top eight at a PTQ in Verona last month:

60 Main deck:
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lightning Bolt
Thoughtseize
Tarmogoyf
Terminate
Eternal Witness
Jund Charm
Kitchen Finks
Maelstrom Pulse
Huntmaster of the Fells
Through the Breach
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Treetop Village
Raging Ravine
Blackcleave Cliffs
Stomping Ground
Overgrown Tomb
Blood Crypt
Marsh Flats
Forest
Swamp
Verdant Catacombs
Fire-Lit Thicket
15 Sideboard:
Seal of Primordium
Ancient Grudge
Thoughtseize
Huntmaster of the Fells
Kitchen Finks
Anathemancer
Magma Spray
Grafdigger’s Cage
Thrun, the Last Troll
Wurmcoil Engine

Job Opening – Grand Cenobite – Must be willing to travel

Crossing the flavor and backstory of Magic with the tournament scene sometimes generates curious images and ideas.

Spare a moment of consideration for Elesh Norn, who surely must be the busiest Phyrexian in the multiverse.

In a game of Magic, when we cast a typical creature, we’re grabbing one example of that kind of creature out of the multiverse, yanking them to the battlefield where two dimension-hopping mages are fighting, and then dropping them back off afterward, if they survive. So I kidnap some random elf from the Llanowar Forest, he faces some undying eldritch terror while using his nature magic to accelerate out some weird ghost he’s never seen before, and then dies horribly.

Fair enough (well, except for the elf).

But when I cast Elesh Norn, that’s not a Grand Cenobite, that’s the Grand Cenobite, the one and only Elesh Norn.

Over and over again, in GPs, Open Series events, and PTQs.

I have to imagine some poor, bewildered Phyrexian church functionary standing in Norn’s inner sanctum, trying to check in on the news of the day.

“So first…”

*fwoop*

“I’ll wait.”

*whop*

“Okay, you’re back. So first…”

*fwoop*

“I’ll wait.”

Being Legendary and a popular tournament card seems like the closest thing to a distributed denial of service attack that the Magic multiverse can offer.

Imaginary block constructed

The influence of an upcoming Block Constructed Pro Tour has my mind once again filled with visions of running Block events from before there were Block events…or even from before there were proper blocks.

Not counting core sets, there are six sets before we hit our first proper(ish) block in Ice Age. If we arbitrarily split them into two blocks in chronological order, here’s what we get…

Arabian Nights – Antiquities – Legends

It feels like this block would end up dominated by weird, frustrating control decks. Legends in particular is inimical to creatures. I recall when Legends was newly on the scene and you’d run into The Abyss and find yourself completely locked out of the game until your opponent killed you with Mirror Universe.

In case you’re confused, the Mirror Universe kill no longer works.

The only saving grace for creature-based strategies here is Arabian Nights. Although they’re pretty tame by contemporary standards, the Djinn and Efreet from Arabian Nights were utterly badass creatures that were, for quite a while afterward, considered pretty overpowered.

The Dark – Fallen Empires – Homelands

This is an even more curious “block” than the last one. It’s clearly down-powered, since its made of one set that lost power due to being more coherently flavored and two that were intentionally limited.

I actually don’t have much to add to that, except that despite the sets being low power in general, you do still get access to goodies like Hymn to Tourach and Goblin Grenade.

So what do you think? Would you play in either of these ad hoc blocks?

Dark Ascension – so what do I want to play?

So I’ve been reading (and re-reading) the Dark Ascension cards.

I have a couple things in mind when I’m doing this. I want to know:

  1. If any of them are going to impact Modern
  2. If any of them are going to impact Standard
  3. If I actually want to play any of them

There are some obvious “yes” answers to point two. There will be a very robust tokens deck. In fact, there’s an embarrassment of riches for those of you who are into that kind of thing. You actually have to decide which token options you want to use at each point in your mana curve.

For point three, I’ve found myself less enthusiastic about this set than I was about Innistrad. I wanted to immediately jump on Forbidden Alchemy, for example…and ended up playing a fair amount of Solar Flare in the subsequent Standard environment.

…but there are still some cards that draw my interest. Let’s take them in order by color:

I’m not sure if we’ll have a need for Ray of Revelation in Standard or, really, even in Modern. But I do find something incredibly satisfying about the “destroy something, destroy something again” aspect of Ray of Revelation. Like Luis said in his set review, Ray of Revelation is exactly as good as Ancient Grudge, just with a less frequent target pool.

Of course, I already have my play set of Rays, that look like this:

That’s the original Ray from Judgment, a card that already frequently appears in Dredge sideboards in Legacy.

If there’s reanimation in Standard, maybe this will be a worthy card. I’m excited by it as a more versatile Mental Note, but my enthusiasm is bounded by the fact that we don’t have a card like Psychatog that thrives on Mental Note’s immediate impact of “cards in the graveyard plus a cantrip.” For Psychatog, that’s pure fuel. For archetypes in Standard and Modern…not so much.

Tragic Slip is another card that’s been extensively discussed in other reviews. It’s good, and honestly, kind of funny when it comes to flavor considerations. It’s an “Oops, I slipped and died” moment…which is sort of plausible for that dude in the picture, but becomes kind of hilarious when you consider Kozilek misplacing a tentacle (on the world’s biggest roller skate left out by an Eldrazi Spawn, perhaps) and then…”Oops, IT slipped and died.”

Indeed.

I’m a big fan of card selection (cf running Ponder in Solar Flare), and Faithless Looting is, well, more of that. Also might go into some kind of reanimator build I suppose…but my main interest here is in seeing more of my cards.

The Lich is an interesting card, in that it’s one I suspect I will end up playing, but it’s not necessarily a card I’m looking forward to playing. A 4/4 for five mana that reanimates on the cheap seems ridiculous…although the more I look at it, the more I wonder if I really want my reanimation to be killable itself. Maybe it’s just better to use Rites if you’re looking for stock reanimation and not, say, powering some kind of super combo.

Just on its own, Huntmaster is a fun little card. Four mana for two 2/2s and 2 life seems decent, right? The fact that you can rack up that life gain and damage if your dude keeps flipping back and forth…

…adds to the potential fun. Of course, every time I’ve tested Werewolves, the lack of control over the flipping process makes them untenable…but Huntmaster may actually be fine as long as you’re not relying on it being a 4/4, but instead are okay with that pair of 2/2s that come with occasional value.

I was missing fetches. It’s not as sexy as the Zendikar fetches, perhaps, but Evolving Wilds will facilitate less junky mana bases on Standard while not making it too easy to power out every spell under the sun (Vivid Lands, I’m casting my suspicious gaze your way).

Although I’ve already written about how Grafdigger’s Cage isn’t just “doom, doom, doom” for graveyard strategies, it is nice to have another Trinket-able “solution card” available in a Standard that will include Trinket Mage for another few sets. In fact, it makes me want to run Trinket-powered Solar Flare again so that I can drop a Cage against Wolf Run decks, then focus the rest of my effort on killing token swarms.

Overall, Dark Ascension has some cards I’m interested in, but no cards that have me really feeling compelled to give them a try. I think if I liked tokens-style decks, the story would be different there. As is, though, I’m happy to see the return of Evolving Wilds, and the other cards I’m interested in playing are just that…interesting, but not engaging.