Thursday, January 19, 2017

Aether Automatons

The full spoiler for Aether Revolt is old news by now, and the set's release on Magic Online is fast approaching. As I continue to work on my set review, I will be highlighting some of the more interesting Commons here on my blog over the next couple weeks. I've been looking at the three Common cycles in Aether Revolt - first the Implements, then the Aethers. Today, I'll look at the final Common cycle - the Automaton cycle.

The Automotons are all colorless Artifact creatures that cost 2 mana to summon (save for the Black one,which only costs one, and the Blue one, which costs three) and have an activated, Instant speed ability that requires colored mana and produces an effect consistent with that color. These costs range from 2 mana all the way up to 5 mana, and since they don't require the creature to tap, can be activated as many times as you have the mana to pay for them. Unlike most cycles, these cards are otherwise different enough that they are almost impossible to evaluate as a whole.

Both the Augmenting Automaton and the Verdant Automaton boost the creature's Power. For the Augmenting, you get a single point of Power and Toughness for 1B, which goes away at the end of the turn. This is essentially a cheap Shade with a double-costed activated ability to grow it, which is pretty unimpressive. The Verdant, on the other hand, sets you back 3G every time you activate it, but it grants a permanent +1 / +1 counter instead. While this is clearly much better, the fact that your opponent can destroy this for cheap and essentially waste all the mana you invested is a significant drawback.

The Welder is yet another Red creature than can ping your opponent for 1 each turn, and is a very reasonable 2/1 for 2. Unfortunately, it costs you a full 3R to activate it. Still, in an aggressive Red Deck Wins style deck, this ability allows this card to do double duty, attacking in the early game and still doing damage to your opponent once you don't have anything better to spend your mana on. That said, it's still not great.

The Aegis has one of the best activated abilities we've seen at Common: the ability to return a creature you control back to hand at Instant speed. But you're having to pay a full 4W to pull this off, which makes it pretty awkward to hold up enough mana to use this on your opponent's turn. It also has no offensive ability as an 0/3, and doesn't really have enough Toughness to be great on defense either. Perhaps in an Azorius Control archetype this might be good in certain matchups, but I don' think it's likely to see much play in the main deck, despite how good the ability is.

That leaves the Watchful, and it's almost certainly the best of the cycle. It's already a reasonable 2/2 for 3, which while not exciting is at least borderline playable. But for the cost of only 2U, you get to Scry 1 as often as you like, giving you the ability to dig quite deep into your deck in the late game to find a much-needed answer. With Scry equal to about half a card, it won't take very many activations for you to feel like you've gotten your value out of this card. I suspect this card will be a roleplayer in many Blue-based Control archetypes, particularly if they have any Artifact synergies.

So that's it for the cycles in Aether Revolt. As I mentioned last week, I've also liked these cycles at Common, since they do such a good job of illustrating the themes of the set while also showcasing the color philosophies. Next time, I'll be back to look at a few more interesting Commons from Aether Revolt.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Putting the Aether in Aether Revolt

The full spoiler for Aether Revolt has been available for a while now, with the official prereleases running last weekend. As I continue to work on my set review, I will be highlighting some of the more interesting Commons here on my blog over the next couple weeks. Last time, I looked at the Implement cycle at Common. This time, I'm looking at yet another cycle in Aether Revolt - the Aether Cycle.

The Aether cycle is a set of Commons with an evergreen keyword ability consistent with each card's color (except for the Green one for some strange reason) that generates two energy tokens when they come into play and also allows you to cash in those energy tokens for a 1/1 artifact creature token when they attack. Like all energy cards, you can spend any energy tokens to activate the effect, not just the ones you generated with the original card.

As far as the creatures themselves are concerned, these are reasonable but nothing exciting. Both the Herder and the Inspector are about one more mana than you would want to pay (a 2/3 Vigilance for 3W and a 3/3 for 3G respectively), and are probably the worst of the cycle. On the other hand, the Chaser is a respectable 2/1 First Strike for 1R, while the Poisoner is a 1/1 Deathtouch for 1B. Similar cards to these two have seen plenty of play in Standard Pauper, and the fact that these can generate an extra 1/1 body makes these reasonable choices for some decks. Finally, in the middle we have the Swooper as a 1/2 Flying for 1U, which is borderline playable but not a strong card.

Overall I would rank these as fringe playable, but not likely to make a big impact on the format.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Implementing Aether Revolt

The full spoiler for Aether Revolt is now available, which means it's time for yet another set review for Standard Pauper. In the mean time, I want to highlight some of the more interesting Commons here on my blog over the next couple weeks.

Like Kaladesh, Aether Revolt has a few different cycles at Common. Cycles are always interesting to me in that they typically not only highlight something important about the set but also demonstrate some of the fundamental differences in the color pie. Today, I want to look at the Implement cycle from Aether Revolt.

The Implement cycle is a great example of a nice clean design. Each of the five cost are cheap artifacts that can be sacrificed for a single colored mana to produce an effect, and each one replaces itself with a new card once it's been sacrificed. They also play quite nicely with the Revolt mechanic, since this gives you a reliable and cheap way to trigger it on your turn. But how good are they?

The three that cost only a single mana to cast (Combustion, Ferocity, and Improvement) are clearly the weakest of the bunch. Doing a single point of damage to your opponent or gaining a measly 2 Life is no where close to being a card's worth of value, and even with the cantrip ability these are pretty bad. Implement of Ferocity is a little better, since paying 2 mana to put a permanent +1 / +1 counter can actually make an impact on the board state. But unless you've got some significant Artifact or sacrifice synergies, this probably still won't make the cut.

Implement of Malice costs an additional mana to cast, and does net you card advantage, since you've spent a single card to force your opponent to discard a card and you've drawn another card at the same time. This is essentially a half-strength Mind Rot cantrip, which might be an interesting Sideboard choice in a deck that, again, has some Artfact or sacrifice synergies. But again, this is too minor and situational to see much play.

Implement of Examination is clearly the best of the five, which is why is costs three mana to cast rather than just one. Here's you're essentially paying an extra mana for Divination, but you can hold off paying that extra mana in order to coincide with other relevant abilities. And unlike some of the other Implements, you can sacrifice this at Instant speed, making it a decent option for a Blue Control deck that wants to hold up removal or permission spells during your opponent's turn. Given you have the right deck to maximize its synergies, Examination is probably worth considering in the main deck.

What do you think of this cycle? What are your thoughts on how this set will impact Standard Pauper? As always, your comments are appreciated. See you next time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Yesterday's Magic Banned Update for Standard

Yesterday, Wizards of the Coast announced their most recent banned and restricted list, which included three cards currently in Standard. Now let me make very clear that I have next to no knowledge of the state of Standard right now in Magic, so I don't have any real analysis of this decision (although, from the little I do know, it sounds like it was a good step). But what is interesting to me is the banning of Smuggler's Copter.

Just for clarity, let's look at the reasons why Wizards decided to ban this card:

Simply put, Smuggler's Copter is too efficient and shows up in too many decks, diminishing the format's diversity. We want Planeswalkers, sorcery-speed removal, and a variety of vehicles to be viable options, and believe removing Smuggler's Copter will allow them to flourish again. Of the top archetypes in Standard, very few didn't play four copies of Smuggler's Copter, stifling many creative, fun options. Smuggler's Copter was the result of a new card type pushed too far, and, as such, is now banned.

So why does this matter for Standard Pauper? Well, we recently made the decision to ban Self-Assembler, which is another Artifact that every deck has access to, is very efficient (in that it almost always draws all four copies of itself), had become oppressive in the metagame, and that was present as a full playset in virtually every deck. For me, the strongest argument against banning Self-Assembler was that every deck had access to the card, so it was more or less an even playing field. But obviously the same thing is true of Smuggler's Copter. And yet, this card is now banned in Standard going forward.

All this to say, I am more convinced than ever that banning Self-Assembler in Standard Pauper was the right call.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Improvising an Aether Revolt

We're not even through the first week of spoilers, and already most of Aether Revolt has already been revealed. Last time, I took a look at three Commons that showcase the new Revolt mechanic. Today, I will once again look back to the Aether Revolt Mechanics article to bring you the other new mechanic: Improvise. Let's take a look at three Commons and see how it plays out.

Foundry Assembler is pretty unassuming as a 3/3 for 5 generic mana. In an "artifacts matter" themed set like Aether Revolt, just the fact that this is an artifact does make it better than a vanilla 3/3. Of course, it also has the Improvise mechanic, which means that you can tap other artifacts to help pay for that cost. This card reminds me a lot of Frogmite from Mirrodin, but costs one more mana for another point of Power and Toughness. Obviously the cost reduction from Improvise isn't nearly as powerful as Affinity, but it should be relatively easy to get this down for 3 mana early and potentially for free in the midgame.

Mana Leak returns to Standard with Metallic Rebuke, a card that is good enough to potentially see Modern or even Vintage play. Being able to hold up a soft counter for only one Blue mana (plus two untapped artifacts of any sort) is quite good. And even in situations where you don't have any artifacts - either in play or even in your deck - a slightly more expensive Mana Leak certainly isn't the worst. This card is going to push many players towards an artifact-heavy Blue midrange deck, and I suspect that such a deck will be quite strong in Standard Pauper once Aether Revolt is released. While not great late game, at any other point this card is very strong.

Sweatworks Brawler is another card that would already be decent even without the Improvise mechanic but becomes much better with it. A 3/3 with Menace is already tough to block early on, and it doesn't take much work at all to get this down on Turn 3 or drop this plus another creature once you've reached the mid-game. While even in the best case this card probably won't dominate the game, Sweatworks Brawler could easily play a solid role in a Gruul monsters or Rakdos style deck. On its own though, the payoff isn't quite good enough to be worth running artifacts in your deck without some other strong incentives.

So that's going to do it for my first looks at Aether Revolt this week. However, with how quickly the cards are being spoiled, I suspect I will be working on my first set review of 2017 by this time next week. What cards have impressed you from this set so far? Let me know in the comments below. See you next time.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Putting the Revolt in Aether Revolt

I did mention blog posts would be a bit sporadic, right? Sorry about that. In any case, as you probably are aware by now, spoiler season has begun for Aether Revolt, the second set in the Kaladesh block. On Monday Wizards of the Coast revealed the new and returning mechanics for the set, and in doing so spoiled several new Commons for the set. Today, let's look at three of these cards that give us a glimpse of one of these new mechanics - Revolt!

Decommission is another example in a long line of White Enchantment and Artifact hate. While it's great that you get it at Instant speed, you are paying one more mana than similar abilities normally cost, so of course you have to consider what else you're getting for the investment. In this case, if you've had any permanent of yours leave the battlefield (whether by being killed, bounced, sacrificed, or exiled), you gain 3 Life. This is very close to Solemn Offering, a card which at one point was the premiere choice for Enchantment and Artifact destruction. As such, I think Decommission will probably see play.

When Black gets access to flyers, they are often undersized for their cost, so Night Mark Aeronaut is right in line with that philosophy. You wouldn't typically be happy with a 2/2 with Flying for 4 mana even in Black, so you'll almost always want to wait until you can trigger Revolt. For that relatively easy requirement, you're getting a +1 / +1 upgrade, which is surprisingly good. The difference between a 2/2 and a 3/3 Flyer is huge, making this card one of the more efficient beaters you can have in Black, with very little downside. Night Market Aeronaut seems pretty good, and will probably find a home in almost any Black-based deck.

Silkweaver Elite is a bit unusual in Green in that it has Reach but has a relatively small Toughness for its cost. Furthermore, even a 2/3 Reach for 2G probably wouldn't see much play in the format. So, in keeping with our other two examples, you really want to ensure Revolt will trigger before playing this card. And when it does, you gain what is arguably the most powerful secondary ability of all - you get to draw a card! Given that Green rarely if ever has access to these sorts of cantrip abilities, Silkweaver Elite is actually quite strong. There will no doubt be numerous ways to take full advantage of its great ability.

If these three Commons are a good indicator of what we're getting for Standard Pauper in Aether Revolt, it's safe to say this will be a great set for the format. We've already got several more Commons spoiled, and I'll be taking a look at some of those later this week. For now, if you've got thoughts on these three cards, let me know in the comments below.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Mythos of the Maori

First off, I'm just going to concede that at least for the rest of the holiday season (including next week), my blog posts are going to be somewhat sporadic. I will do my best to post twice a week, but my schedule is all out of sorts, and my time in front of computer is somewhat limited. Enough said.

Currently, I am in the midst of writing a homebrew adventure for the Dungeons & Dragons campaign I am running. For this adventure, the players will be journeying to an isolated tropical island where they must unravel a mysterious threat against an ancient power that protects and rules over the islanders. I have been researching precolonial Hawaii specifically and Polynesian culture in general as inspiration for this adventure.

In the process of searching online for resources, I came across a very cool 'rules-light' roleplaying game system called Mythos of the Maori that is currently available for free from Mythopoetic Games. It started out as a non-fiction text on the mythology and folklore of the Polynesian people prior to their contact with Europe based on the author's childhood and early adulthood spent in New Zealand. Eventually though he deemed it unpublishable, but returned to it later and used it for the basis of a unique roleplaying game. The rules document itself is quite interesting, as most chapters the author intentionally blurs the distinctions between the rules and the setting, making it necessary for the reader to work through the entire book before having a good understanding of the system and how it all connects together. While he admits that this is both ludicrous and unfair to his readers, it is by design to deeply engage a potential GM in the setting.

For my adventure, I will certainly be referencing the third chapter extensively as a helpful resource for the language, cultural beliefs, folklore, and religious practices of the islands' inhabitants. As the characters will also need to eventually gain status among the islanders, the rules in the fourth and fifth chapters will also be quite helpful.

Anyway, this is a great resource if you're at all interested in ancient Polynesian culture. Hope you enjoy it.