Friday, November 29, 2013

Crypt Incursion

Anyone who complains that Wizards of the Coast doesn't print powerful Commons anymore hasn't taken a good look at Crypt Incursion.

The first effect of this card is pretty typical stuff for a Black Common. Black typically has the means to interact with the Graveyard, particularly to return creatures to hand from there, and thus it makes good design sense to have an answer to that particular ability. Interestingly enough, the ability to remove multiple cards from a Graveyard has fallen from favor with the design team. One has to look all the way back to Scars of Mirrodin block to find such an ability - namely, Nihil Spellbomb.

So while the first effect is good, the second effect is potentially back-breaking. I was curious about what similar effects existed in the past, so I did a quick Gatherer search. In the past, cards that could gain a variable amount of life equal to some resource have (with 1 exception) been either White or Green, with the most common such spell using creatures on the battlefield as this resource. Gnaw to the Bone is the most recent example, providing a similar effect without exiling the creatures. On the one hand, it uses a 2x multiplier instead of 3x. But on the other hand, it does have Flashback, allowing it to be cast twice.

Based on that research, this effect is not so far outside the boundaries of what is normally acceptable power-level at Common. However, the fact that Black gets access to such a large amount of Life seems to be a mistake. Sure, Black certainly gets access to lifegain, in the form of removal spells, drain-effects or the like. Black even gets the ability to gain a variable amount of Life. But this has always been tied to the number of Swamps in play, or more recently, the amount of Black mana symbols in play. And even then, such effects have been pushed back to Uncommon as of late - such as Corrupt.

Here's my main issue. Given its access to the best removal, Black lends itself well to Control archetypes. Such archetypes intrinsically play more powerful cards, but take longer to gain access to these effects. Thus the simplest way to beat them is to play an Aggro archetype, denying your opponent the time to take control of the game. But when Black has access to large amounts of Lifegain, this strategy is significantly weakened. And when this happens, you end up with a deck like Dimir Mill, which is well on its way to dominating the current Standard Pauper metagame. If you're interested in why I think this card has made this deck so overpowered, you can find some discussion here.

For this reason, I believe this card would have been better as a multicolor Golgari Common, with a casting cost of 1BlackGreen or even 2BlackGreen. Given its dual effect and power-level, such a casting cost would be more in line with what this card can do. Alternatively, one could also simply drop the variable lifegain, changing the card so that the caster simply gains 3 Life.

What do you think of my analysis? Am I overreacting? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Thousand Names

While this blog has primarily become a source for much of my Magic the Gathering musings, I still am very much interested in the world of fantasy fiction. While I have taken the time to review some of my favorite fantasy authors, I have yet to ever write a book review for my blog. So what better time to start than now?

In particular, I am always interested to see what is selling in the fantasy market, particularly by a new author who hasn't made a name for him or herself yet. The Thousand Names, by Django Wexler, is just such a book. (As an aside - you know an author is new to the scene when he has yet to have an entry at Wikipedia).

The novel follows the story of two officers assigned to a colonial garrison in a remote part of an empire. One is a gentleman among rogues and scoundrels, the other a young girl masquerading as a soldier. Save for brief interludes between sections, the book alternates between these two perspectives. Their lives are forever changed when a new colonel arrives to take command. Under his military genius, they undertake an impossible campaign to recapture a rebellious city. But along the way, it soon becomes clear that this conflict is overshadowed by a struggle to take possession of a power to reshape the world and bring the empire to its knees.

The Thousand Names is unique in its setting, its historical period, and its attention to military detail. Rather than the typical medieval Europe, this reads more like a Napoleonic campaign in Africa, complete with cannon, cavalry, and muskets. It is decidedly low-magic, but tips off the reader very early that there is a supernatural element to what appears to be a mundane military conflict. The characters are vivid, unique, and interesting, each with secrets that are slowly revealed as the story progresses. The story itself is well-crafted, doesn't get bogged down in the middle, and balances action, intrigue, and character conflict.

The Thousand Names is highly recommended. If you enjoy a more historical, low-magic fantasy story rich with details about military campaigns of the Napoleonic era, this is the perfect book for you. But there is enough here that almost any avid fantasy reader will enjoy this book.

But don't take my word for it. Check out the excellent reviews posted on, and buy yourself a copy today! You won't regret it.

Finally, if you're still on the fence, you can check out for free a short story that serves as a prequel of sorts to The Thousand Names, although obviously it isn't required prior reading. Check it out here!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mono Red-Blitz

So the other day, as I was browsing the latest content from ChannelFireball, I came across a video by Caleb Durward featuring a list he called Standard Mono-Red Blitz. While as a rule I don't follow much Standard, I still enjoy watching content on this format and sometimes even pick up ideas for Standard Pauper.

As the video began, I was intrigued by Durward's list. With only a few exceptions, the deck was mostly Commons. Take a look for yourself:

So immediately I wanted to find out whether this archetype would work in Standard Pauper. Obviously I had to remove the non-Commons, which included the playsets of Firedrinker Satyr, Legion Loyalist, Rakdos Cackler, and Ash Zealot. The only replacement one-drop worth playing is Bellows Lizard, but Rakdos Shred-Freak, Skinbrand Goblin, and Goblin Shortcutter seemed natural replacements, along with a full set of Gore-House Chainwalkers.

I tested and tweaked the deck, finally arriving at this list:

So what do you think of this list? How well do you think it would fare in the current metagame? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Azorius Control

The new Standard Pauper metagame is shaping up nicely, with a fairly wide variety of decks still in contention for top spots. While Dimir Mill seems to be the clear front-runner, Hexproof, Mono Black, Orzhov, and RDW are all producing good results.

None of these have really captured my attention though, despite their strengths. Instead, I've returned to my roots in Blue White, and testing out a build that I believe has the potential to carve out a place in the emerging metagame.

Here's the list I'm currently playing:

With 25 Instants (including creatures with Flash), this deck is about as close as one gets in Standard Pauper to 'draw-go,' firmly pushing the deck into the role of Control. It also has eight different Scry effects as well as 3 draw spells, giving the deck the ability to dig deep to search for answers. Furthermore, between Deputy of Acquittals and Voyage's End, this decklist can sidestep a surprising amount of removal, while also potentially ambushing attackers as well. Basilica Guards is also a cornerstone of the deck, allowing you to recover from early aggression and get extra value out of your spells. And, perhaps best of all, the deck has some solid options for playing against Dimir Mill, even to the point of being able to 'out-mill' your opponent.

I've spent quite a bit of time fine-tuning this list, but there certainly could be room for improvement. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this build.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Sky Is (Not) Falling

Unless you've been disconnected from the virtual world for the last week or so (or don't follow what's going on in the world of Magic Online), by now you've no doubt heard about the horrific problems Wizards of the Coast had with Magic Online last weekend and the ensuing decision to shutdown most of the major events until further notice.

Problems with Magic Online resulting in cancelled events are nothing new, but in this particular case Pro Magic player Brian Kibler, understandable frustrated by his experience, called for the community to stop playing Magic Online until the problems were fixed. The post went viral, and while not officially confirmed, it seems likely that this firestorm of negative publicity was at the least a contributing factor to Wizards of the Coast's decision.

Twitter went crazy as this all went down. Just search under hashtag #mtgo or better yet #blamekibler to see just what I mean. You could also check out StarCityGame's The Magic Show, which in an entertaining ten-minute segment gives a decent overview of the whole situation.

Personally, the best response I've read so far comes from Pete Jahn's State of the Program for today. I encourage you to check it out for yourself. But here's the big takeaway: Don't panic. Yes, Magic Online has serious problems. Yes, it's going to take some time to fix it. Yes, some of the previous features won't be available for the foreseeable future, and may be dramatically different once they return. But this is familiar ground. It's happened before. Sadly, it will probably happen again. And in the end, Magic Online will survive, its audience will continue to grow, and we will continually find new things to frustrate us about the program. Because despite all its flaws, Magic Online gives us an experience that we can't find anywhere else.

And, for us casual players, there is a huge silver-living. Now is the time to really push Standard Pauper as a format. Let's double our attendance at the weekly PREs. Let's publish more on PDCMagic's Standard forums, on Twitter, and YouTube. Let's take this opportunity to really see Standard Pauper shine.

See you next time.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Clan Standard Pauper Players

The other day I was asked why I have never joined a clan.

Wait. Let me back up for a moment. On Magic Online, there exists something called Community Clans. Currently a clan can be any number of players, restricted only by whomever the current clan captain chooses to invite. Magic Online keeps track of the number of packs won within each clan, and gives each clan its own chat-room. By clicking on any other player, you can view what clan he or she belongs to. But otherwise, there is little difference between being in a clan and not.

While I have, in fact, been part of two different clans during my time on Magic Online, they have been brief memberships. I'm on at odd hours, really only play one format - and a casual one at that - and thus never really found a clan that suited me. Certainly not one that was worth some of the odd requirements or restrictions that exist among the various Magic Online clans.

But recently I was introduced to a clan called Standard Pauper Players that, for obvious reasons, immediately caught my attention.

I was amazed to discover that such a clan existed. It was centered around Standard Pauper, boasted over 50 members from all across the world, and was dedicated to seeing the format gain official sanction from Wizards of the Coast. They even had their own blog.

If ever there was a clan for me, this certainly seems to fit the bill.

But before I jump into anything, I have a question: As the host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, one of the most popular Player Run Events, does the fact that I belong to a particular host somehow disqualify me from membership in a clan? Do I run the risk of appearing to favor my fellow clan-members? I don't think so, but I'd love to hear what you guys think.

Don't forget that my second update of the week is now on Fridays instead of Thursdays. And thanks for reading.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Options for Dimir Mill

For this week, I decided to devote all three of my blog posts to the Dimir Mill deck that captured the trophy for MPDC 23.02. On Sunday, I wrote a brief introduction to this archetype. Then, on Wednesday, I wrote about some strategies that can successfully counter what this deck is trying to do. While these strategies go a long way to defeating this archetype, the determined Dimir Mill players is not without options. So today I want to briefly discuss some potential ways that Dimir Mill can emerge victorious:

1. The biggest weakness of the build that won MPDC 23.02 is its inability to successfully mill out an opponent who doesn't cast any spells. What is needed, then, are some cards that overcome this shortcoming. The most obvious answer is Tome Scour, which for a single blue mana mills an opponent for 5 cards. All other things being equal, if you manage to see most of your deck and thus cast all four copies, this should be enough to counter the additional cards in your opponent's library gained through Sideboarding and aggressive mulligans.

2. Of course, the reason Tome Scour wasn't included in the original list is that its essentially an "aggro" mill card, in that it doesn't convey any additional advantages. For that reason, one could argue that a better solution would be creature-based mill. This would not only help solve the original shortcoming, but would also force your opponent to deal with additional creature threats. This, in turn, forces him or her to cast more spells, and this in turn gives you a better chance to cast counterspells and removal. Let's look at three such possibilities.

A. Gatecrash unveiled a special "mill" mechanic where an opponent reveals cards until he or she reveals a land, and then all those cards get put in the Graveyard. Balustrade Spy is perfectly positioned to take full advantage of this ability. While the amount of cards it mills will obviously be somewhat random, in a typical deck it will average between 2 and 3 cards, with a much higher potential. Even better, a 2/3 flyer is a significant threat, which your opponent cannot simply ignore turn after turn.

B. The second option comes from Return to Ravnica in the form of Doorkeeper, a much more typical Blue creature with the ability to mill cards. Paying two a blue mana to mill a single card from your opponent's library is not very good, but in multiples this has the potential to mill quite a few cards over the course of a game. Of course, since this doesn't otherwise threaten your opponent, I would judge it weaker than Balustrade Spy, although it will probably mill more cards over the course of a game.

C. The final option is Returned Centaur. This is similar to Balustrade Spy, but with a guaranteed four cards mill when it comes into play. While it isn't quite as potent a threat as the Balustrade Spy, it consistently mills for almost as many cards as Tome Scour while still presenting a threat that your opponent cannot simply ignore. In my opinion, this is probably the most consistent creature-based milling option, and would be the first option I would want to test further.

3. It should also be mentioned that the Sideboarding trick works almost as well for you as it does for your opponent. Especially in Game 3 if you've already seen your opponent use this strategy, it makes sense to utilize it yourself. While weakening your overall plan, the game is all but guaranteed to go long anyway, and so you should be able to overcome the dilution of your library.

In closing, I confess that I have to test any of this. But if I were going to go down this route, these would be the options I would start with.

So what about you? Any solid options that I missed? Do you have any other tips, either for improving the Dimir Mill deck or defeating it more consistently? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Beating Dimir Mill

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Dimir Mill deck that won MPDC 23.02, piloted by the skilled player Adner. While the deck didn't perform as well in Monday's event, it is still a deck that you should be prepared to face. And, like I mentioned before, Dimir Mill can be a tough matchup, given its ability to easily keep pace with mid-range and control strategies. So today I will look at different strategies designed to help you overcome this archetype.

There are essentially two directions you can take.

First, you can try to power out a quick victory, overwhelming the deck's ability to keep the board under control. This means aggressive starts, dealing damage as quickly as possible, and casting multiple spells in a turn to push through the counterspells in the deck. Since this archetype is so reactive, if you can create more threats than your opponent can keep up with, you can secure a quick victory and essentially render all of the milling effects meaningless. Unfortunately, this requires a pretty aggressive build as well as a good opener, and such a start may not even be possible for many of the popular archetypes. Which is where the second strategy comes into play.

You see, you need to realize that any Mill archetype is playing an entirely different game. Rather than trying to reduce your life from 20 to 0, Dimir Mill is trying to reduce your library from 60 to 0. This means that anything you can do to keep more cards in your library is ultimately going to be good for you.

Furthermore, the strength of this deck is also its greatest weakness. Both Pilfered Plans and Thassa's Bounty take as many cards from your opponent's library as they do from yours. The only way the Dimir Mill deck has to get ahead in total cards remaining is to cast Psychic Strike and Grisly Spectacle. But your opponent can only cast these two spells if you allow them.

So the second strategy is this: refuse to play into Dimir Mill's strengths. Instead, play a different game entirely.
  • Take your entire Sideboard, dump it into your Library, and Submit. Viola! You just boosted your "life total" from 60 to 75.
  • Aggressively mulligan, even down to a single card, if that's what it takes to keep your library larger than your opponent.
  • Don't cast any draw spells. Anytime you do this, you are reducing your "life total" by the number of cards you draw.
  • Don't cast any creature spells either, and only cast other spells if you are certain your opponent can't counter it.
If you follow these simple tips, provided your start the match with more cards in your library than your opponent, the only way you can lose the game is from lethal damage from Archaeomancer. Deal with this one card, and you literally can't lose the match.

So, is there anything the Dimir Mill deck can do to counter this second strategy? That's what I'll cover on Friday. See you then.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dimir Mill

Today I want to write about Dimir Mill, the Standard Pauper archetype that captured the trophy for MPDC 23.02.

But before we get to that, I have two quick points of interest:

1. I discovered today that I somehow neglected to write Thursday's post last week. No idea what happened, but clearly I dropped the ball. To make up for this, I will be publishing content three times this week.

2. From this point forward, I will be submitting new posts on Tuesdays and Fridays, instead of Tuesdays and Thursday. Frankly, my Thursdays have gotten hectic enough that it's no wonder I completely missed the fact until now that I didn't put up a post that day.

So with that out of the way...

I confess when I first got back into Magic, I loved the idea of a Mill deck. Back in a previous (and shortlived) blog, I even wrote a blog post exploring different options available at the time to try to make such an archetype work. Since that time, there have been a few viable Mill strategies that have come and gone, and in the mean time, I came to despise the archetype, much as I do almost any non-conventional win strategy. It isn't that such strategies are inherently weak or unfair or cheap. It's just that in an all-common format like Standard Pauper, dedicated answers simply don't exist for such archetypes.

It shouldn't surprise you then that I was somewhat distressed to see a new Mill deck not only emerge in the new metagame, but capture the trophy of the second event. In case you missed it, here's the decklist:

Dimir Mill*
1st place by Adner in MPDC 23.02
4 Archaeomancer
4 cards

Other Spells
4 Cancel
4 Devour Flesh
4 Essence Scatter
4 Grisly Spectacle
4 Psychic Strike
3 Pilfered Plans
2 Crypt Incursion
3 Read the Bones
2 Stymied Hopes
3 Thassa's Bounty
33 cards
10 Swamp
8 Island
4 Dimir Guildgate
1 Unknown Shores
23 cards

Psychic Strike
* Note that since Gatherling hasn't been updated for Magic 2014 or Theros yet, I had to make a best guess for the number of some of these cards included in the decklist.

Unlike almost every other Standard Pauper Mill deck I've seen, this one doesn't rely upon cards that only mill. In fact, it doesn't have a single dedicated Mill card in the decklist. Instead, this list runs permission spells, draw spells, and removal, and nearly every spell provides incidental milling. Furthermore, since the only creatures in the list are Archaeomancers, it blanks nearly all the removal spells from the opposing deck.

Having now played against this archetype, I can tell you that it's quite powerful. It has answers to just about every contender in the metagame. It can weather early aggression fairly well, can keep up with mid-range strategies, and plays fairly well in the end game. So the question is, how do you beat it? That's what I want to talk about on Wednesday...