Thursday, October 30, 2014

Removal At Common

This past week Marshall Sutcliffe of Limited Resources fame wrote an excellent article for Wizards entitled "Doom Blade Days." (You can click on the title to read the original article, which I definitely recommend). In it, he tracks how removal has changed at Common all the way back to the Shards of Alara block, which actually is around the same time that I started getting involved in Standard Pauper. I have long maintained that of all the sanctioned formats of Magic the Gathering, Standard Pauper is probably closest to Limited, due to that format's dependence on Commons. Marshall's analysis is spot-on, and has strong implications for Standard Pauper.

Back in the day, Doom Blade was one of the premiere cards in both Limited and Standard Pauper. It was Instant speed, cheap, and almost unconditional, save for its inability to target Black creatures (which, incidentally, also boosted the power level of Black in general). Today, it has by-and-large been replaced with cards like Flesh to Dust, which are Sorcery speed, expensive, but at least remain otherwise unconditional. In Red, there has been a similar shift, moving from the excellent Lightning Bolt to the reasonable Lightning Strike but trending more and more towards cards like Bring Low. Oblivion Ring, Journey to Nowhere, and even Pacifism have all gone by the wayside.

In his article, Marshall traces how this has affected Limited, and these effects are mirrored in Standard Pauper.
  1. Auras are playable. Gone are the days when auras were almost unplayable. Now, with removal being more expensive and Sorcery speed, it is much easier to stick and get a card's worth of value out of many of these enchantments.
  2. Combat tricks are better. Interestingly enough, as removal has decreased in power level, combat tricks have increased accordingly. Cards like Gods Willing and Feat of Resistance are very strong.
  3. Bounce and 'Detain' effects are almost as good as removal. Especially in a tempo-based archetype or when attached to a creature, this has become the go-to method for interacting with your opponent's creatures early in the game. 
  4. Defensive creatures and Deathtouch are also more widespread. Typhoid Rats, Lagonna-Band Trailblazer, and others have moved from fringe to playable.
Gone are the days when most Standard Pauper decks include 12-16 removal spells. This has allowed the format to diversify, and shifted the balance away from Control decks always dominating the format. Overall I would say this has been a healthy shift for the format. It will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.

What do you think of this shift in removal at Common? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


As part of my job, I get a chance to speak into the lives of teenagers. This week, I am going to be sharing with them about the ancient spiritual practice of simplicity. You see, we live in a culture that glorifies busyness and hurry. Despite all our technology (or perhaps because of it), most people have less downtime and more stress than ever before. And this is particularly true for teenagers, who face enormous pressure to distinguish themselves academically, socially, and/or athletically. So today I thought I would share with my readers 10 practices related to the discipline of simplicity:
  1. Buy things for function rather than for status.
  2. Reject anything that will take control of you.
  3. Develop a regular habit of giving things away.
  4. Don't give in to the pressure to obtain the newest, the biggest, or the best.
  5. Enjoy things without having to own them.
  6. Get outside and enjoy nature as often as you can.
  7. Don't purchase things you can't pay cash for.
  8. Let your words be honest and plain-spoken.
  9. Don't participate in things that exploit others.
  10. Don't get distracted from the most important things in life.
I think we could all use more simplicity in our lives. And yes, that is a deeply ironic statement.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

To Delve or Not To Delve

Of all the mechanics in Khans of Tarkir, it appears that Delve is making the biggest splash in just about every format. While Treasure Cruise is taking up most of the headlines, all of the Delve cards at Common are playable in Standard Pauper, and thus it's important to think about how best to utilize them.

Early on, I saw several decklists that were running cards like Necromancer's Assistant or Satyr Wayfinder to quickly dump a bunch of cards into the Graveyard to enable casting these Delve spells as quickly as possible. The problem with this strategy is that these cards tend to not be very good, and thus are generally only good for filling the Graveyard quickly. And if your opponent responds by countering or removing that early Delve creature, you've invested a lot of time and resources into something that your opponent was able to answer with only a single card.  Even a simple bounce spell is good enough in these scenarios, since you will rarely be able to recast the creature until several rounds later.

(BTW - this is why Treasure Cruise is easily the best of the Delve cards. Assuming your opponent doesn't counter it, you get an immediate payout for your investment).

A far better way to get maximum value out of Delve is to instead play a bunch of cheap but effective spells that quickly fill up your Graveyard while still having a solid impact on the virtual battlefield. Removal and combat tricks obviously shine in this role, but card draw also works well in this role.

Additionally, all other things being equal, don't just burn through all the cards in your Graveyard at the first opportunity. Wait until you can pay for most of the cost using mana, and utilize Delve only to shave off a few colorless from the cost. Not only does this help mitigate against the effects of having the creature immediately removed; it also saves resources for the next Delve spell as well.

Most of the time, it probably pays to be patient. Sure, you'll win some memorable games where you drop a Turn 4 Hooting Mandrills and your opponent never draws an answer. But more often than not, a good opponent will be able to punish you for such recklessness.

If you've had some experience with Delve in Standard Pauper, let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why Should I Play Magic Online?

I had an interesting realization today concerning Magic Online and my sometimes ambivalent attitude towards playing it. For the first time in a while, I logged into the client, constructed a deck, and sought to find a match in the Just for Fun room. It's gotten to the point where I almost never get on except for Mondays for MPDC, but I had both the time and interest, so I thought I would try it out.

I only played a single match, got bored, and logged out.

So I asked myself the question: Why? Why wasn't I more motivated to play?

Here's what I realized: Magic Online provides no external incentive for me to do so. I'm not trying to compete in sanctioned events (in paper or online), so there's no incentive to practice for those type of events. I'm not trying to compete in the Magic Online Championship Series, so I don't need to try to earn Qualifier Points. In fact, the game itself provides me absolutely no reason why I should play.

Now this isn't to say that I don't want to play. I have plenty of internal reasons why I play on Magic Online. But the point is, all these motivations are all internal to me. And if I'm not motivated to play for my own reasons, there is no other factor in the equation.

Which brings me to my point. The fundamental problem with Wizards of the Coast in regards to Magic Online is this: They see no reason to provide motivation for you to play. Magic the Gathering is a hugely successful enterprise. People all over the world love to play it. And so they created this software that allows you to play it online. But to them, that's where their responsibility ends.

You love it. You can play it online. So we expect you to do so.

It doesn't matter if it's buggy. It doesn't matter if it's aesthetically pleasing. It doesn't matter if it's easy to use. You should love the game, and that should be motivation enough to play. Wizards of the Coast doesn't believe (or at least, doesn't demonstrate the belief through their actions) that they should have to do anything more than allow you the opportunity to play.

If you think about it, it's a pretty arrogant attitude. Unfortunately, it seems like they are right. They are making money hand-over-fist with Magic Online, with no end in sight. As long as Magic the Gathering is successful, Magic Online will follow suit. And people will continue to play and spend their hard earned entertainment dollars.

So why should you play Magic Online? The only logical answer is that you love Magic. If you don't love it already, I can't see any reason why you would play.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Is Treasure Cruise Broken?

Of all the cards that entered the world with the release of Khans of Tarkir, none has generated more discussion than Treasure Cruise. It has seen immediate and widespread play in both Modern and Legacy, to the point where many are predicting that this Common will be banned in Modern within the new few months. Interestingly enough, from the albeit limited research I've done on the subject, it  has seen significantly less play in Standard.

So what does this mean for Standard Pauper?

First, what is it about Treasure Cruise that makes it potentially so good? This, at least, is easy to answer:

When Treasure Cruise becomes (a Sorcery speed) Ancestral Recall, it is officially broken. Which leads us to the next question.

Second, what does it take to push Treasure Cruise to that point? With a casting cost of 7U, you need a reliable means of dumping a whole bunch of cards into the graveyard quickly while simultaneously actually getting value out of said cards. In Modern and Legacy, this is being accomplished two ways:
  1. Fetchlands - Play a land, sacrifice it, and bring a different land into play. This thins your deck, improves your mana, and places a card into the graveyard. 
  2. Cheap spells - Cast a bunch of spells whose converted mana cost is 2 or less. Typically these are burn spells, counters, or card filtering.
  3. Synergy creatures - Play efficiently costed creatures that synergize well with castings lots of cheap spells or otherwise interact with the graveyard.
So, for our final question, can these strategies be effectively utilized in Standard Pauper? This is not so clear. For the first item, the only Fetchland at Common is Evolving Wilds, which isn't reliable enough. For the second, the format certainly has lots of cheap spells, as illustrated by the Red Deck Wins archetype. And for the third, both Akroan Crusader and Jeskai Windscout come immediately to mind, with other Heroic cards being possibilities.

But whether this is good enough or not remains to be seen.

What do you think? Is there a viable archetype that can push Treasure Cruise to the point of being broken in the format? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Traveling Home; No Post Today

I am traveling home today, so there will not be a Tuesday post. Considering the insanity that is my life after being gone for almost a week, I also make no promises I will be able to catch up with a bonus post later this week. But at the least the rest of this week's posts should appear as scheduled.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

What is Casual?

Not that long ago, players on Magic Online used to argue about the question, what is casual? There was an entire "room" on the online client named the "Casual Room," and so players would argue about what kind of decks were and were not appropriate for play in that room.

Of course, in that setting, Casual didn't have anything to do with the power level or expense of the decklist, or the attitude of the player. No, Casual simply meant that games didn't affect your rating (of course, unless it was a sanctioned game, this was true for games in other rooms as well). Eventually, this room was renamed the "Just For Fun" room, and this seemed to end most of the arguments.

Fast-forward several years, and Hearthstone enters the digital gaming world. It features only four different gaming modes, and one of those is called Casual. And I, like many others, have complained about the numerous players who seem to be playing tournament-caliber decks in this gaming mode. But as it turns out, once again Casual means something very different. Here's what I recently learned about this gaming mode:

Every time you play a game in Casual mode, the game attempts to pair you against a Casual opponent of equal skill. But how does it know who is such an opponent? As it turns out, you have a hidden MMR (Matchmaking Rank) that is updated with every game you play in this mode. This rating is completely invisible and is not affected by anything else, including the cards in your deck or your rating in other modes of the game.

Further, depending on the pool of players also seeking a Casual game at the same time, you could easily end of paired against an opponent with a much higher or lower MMR than you, if such a match is the closest that is available. 

In this sense, it's not even Casual in the way that Wizards of the Coast defines casual. It is ranked play - it's just that neither you or your opponent can see the ranking. Frankly, I'd just as soon they take a page from Magic Online and just call it something else.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Theft of Swords Review

As a voracious reader, I am always on the lookout for new books, especially in the fantasy genre. It's gotten to the point where I've taken to walking up and down the aisles of my local library, waiting for something to catch my eye. While this isn't exactly the most efficient method, I have discovered a few gems that I might otherwise have missed. Theft of Swords, by Michael J. Sullivan, is just such a book.

I absolutely love the tagline from the back cover: "They killed the king. They pinned it on two men. They chose poorly."

Theft of Swords tells the story of two men who form the most unlikely of partners. Royce Melborn is a skilled thief and assassin who trusts no one and love nothing; Hadrian Blackwater is former mercenary with a soft heart for those in need. Together they are Riyria, an infamous duo who make their living carrying out impossible missions for those with the coin to pay. But in the course of their work, they are swept up in the currents of "an ancient mystery that has toppled kings and destroyed empires."

What makes Theft of Swords so good is not its unique setting or characters or plot, although these are all excellent. Indeed, Sullivan admits that he purposely uses a quasi-European medieval setting complete with dwarves, elves, magic swords, dragons, and the like - all the staples of modern fantasy. But what makes Theft of Swords so good is the author's ability to tell a good story. Royce and Hadrian are larger-than-life, capable of handling almost anything thrown at them. Yet, as a reader I was fascinated both by their own internal struggles to understand themselves and their ability to figure out what is really going on and how to come out ahead in the end. Additionally, Sullivan has the ability to layer plot on top of plot with great intricacy and skill. Like an onion, just when you think you've got a handle on what's really going on, another deeper layer is revealed. It's clear that the trilogy is really designed to tell one big story; yet the events of the first book (and even the individual parts within) have a satisfying arc all of their own. Finally, I found Sullivan's prose to be quite refreshing. Rather than the deep, complex, or just plain wordy style that characterizes a lot of modern fantasy, Theft of Swords reads more like a movie or screenplay. His style is decidedly light or minimalistic, giving you just enough to visualize what's going on without any extraneous detail. This makes what could otherwise be a long read into a real page-turner.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and I strongly recommend it. Pick up a copy on Amazon today. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

MPDC Season 26 Champion

Another season of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge is in the books, and with it we bid farewell to the Return to Ravnica block in Standard. I can't think of a better way to close it out than to highlight the championship winning decklist from MPDC Season 26 WORLDS: 4CC ETB, which stands for Four Color Control Enters the Battlefield. And it just so happens that the deck is built around three of best Commons from Return to Ravnica block: the Gatekeepers! Let's take a look at the list:

It's pretty easy to see what this deck is trying to accomplish! Recurring the Gatekeepers (as well as the Centaur Healer) with both Peel from Reality and Font of Return creates some amazing card value. While the metagame saw its share of aggressive strategies, this list ensures that it can live long enough to get this value with eight different sources of Life-gain! It also has great game against Enchantment-based strategies, with 4 Keening Apparition in the main and another 4 Revoke Existence in the board. Throw in Gods Willing to protect those creatures, Sign in Blood for card draw, and even a one-of Zephyr Charge to sneak all of those ground based creatures past your opponent's defenders, and you've got quite the game plan! Congrats to MyGalaxy on his unique build and his excellent piloting skills in taking this deck undefeated through the entire tournament!

I can't wait to see what new archetypes emerge with Khans of Tarkir. And maybe you'll be the one to pilot one of those new archetypes to victory in the capstone event of Season 27 of MPDC, which starts next Monday, October 20th. Don't miss it!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

MPDC 27.01 and the Standard Pauper Filter

All this week I've been writing about the latest bug with the Standard Pauper filter on Magic Online. As I announced last time, this bug actually affects both Classic and Standard Pauper, allowing cards once printed at Common to be legal in their respective formats.

According to the latest word on this bug, the issue will be fixed during the October 22nd downtime. However, this means that the bug will still be in place for the first event of the new season of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, which is scheduled for Monday, October 20th. Now in the past, we've sometimes started the season with some sort of wacky or unusual format. So it seems fitting that for MPDC 27.01, I will simply allow any deck that passes the Standard Pauper filter.

Let me be clear. Unless things change between now and then, all of the following cards will be legal for MPDC 27.01, even though they are not printed at Common in the new Standard format:
This also will provide some useful data in seeing just how disruptive these cards really are in the metagame. However, by no means does this mean I will necessarily support the inclusion of these cards in the event that the bug is NOT fixed on October 20th. But it seemed like a perfect opportunity to add a little spice into the new metagame.

So spread the word. Let your friends know. MPDC will be on its normal end-of-season break for October 13th, and will be a special event on October 20th in which the cards listed above will be legal for that event.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

It's Getting Bigger

Last time, I wrote about the new bug with the Standard Pauper filter on Magic Online that now allows any Uncommon currently in Standard that was once printed at Common into matches. Obviously this would have a big impact on the metagame going forward.

As it turns out, it wasn't just the Standard Pauper filter that was bugged...

While the community has gotten reassurances that the Magic Online team is aware of these issues, thus far there is no word on what the problem is or when it will be fixed...

As far as MPDC is concerned, until the problem is resolved, there seems to be three options:
  1. Simply go with the filter as is. The "Uncommon-Commons" would now be allowed into the format. 
  2. Continue with the rules as they are. This means that despite the fact that players will technically be able to enter a match with illegal cards, once they are discovered, that player will receive a match-loss.
  3. Change the way registration works such that Gatherling enforces the rarity restrictions rather than Magic Online.
This is a big issue, and I appreciate all those who have commented thus far. Here are some of my initial thoughts:
  •  Looking at the list of Commons that would be added to the format, only Arc Lightning, Gravedigger and Stab Wound would see widespread play with the potential to disrupt the format in an unhealthy way. The rest of the cards might find a home in particular archetypes, but aren't really broken or overpowered. But Gravedigger in particular is a strong card with no real answers in the format. Of course, the same might be said for Font of Return.
  • Having new players enter what they believe is a legal deck, only to be disqualified due to a bug with Magic Online, seems like a good way not to keep new players. While MPDC worked this way for a long time, I have no doubt it hurt the growth of our player base. And having a filter that doesn't work properly only makes the problem worse, since the new players would have every right to believe that their deck was in fact legal.
  • The third solution seems like a good idea, but in fact Gatherling doesn't actually work that way, at least not the version we use on Even if you force players to enter a decklist to register, they can still just enter nonsense characters into the decklist and bypass that restriction. And it certainly doesn't tell a player that a card entered isn't legal for a particular format. So if we wanted to go down this road, we would have to switch over to the software at, essentially leaving pdcmagic altogether.
Hopefully this will all be a moot point. The Magic Online team is aware of the issue, and one can hope the problem will be resolved before the next season of MPDC starts. We shall see.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

More Card Legality Issues in Standard Pauper

A couple months back, I wrote about a persistent error with the Standard Pauper filter on Magic Online. Essentially, the problem was that the filter would show certain cards as legal for Standard Pauper, but wouldn't actually let you join a match with those cards in your decklist. All of the offending cards were reprints that at one point were Commons, but were now Uncommons in Standard, and thus not actually Standard Pauper legal.

But now the bug has taken an unexpected turn. As was first reported on this post over at, these cards no longer prevent you from joining a Standard Pauper match. Without any fanfare or announcement, this bug has just added 11 cards to the format. Here's the full list of cards:
So, in regards to MPDC (as well as its sister tournament SPDC), what should our policy be regarding these cards? On the one hand, these 11 cards are technically not Standard Pauper legal, as they are NOT printed at Common in the current Standard set. On the other hand, by prohibiting them, we return to the days prior to the implementation of the Standard Pauper filter, where players were required to police every match for cards that weren't legal. More often than not, this punished new players, forcing them to take a match-loss for an illegal card. Not exactly a great experience.

I will be mulling over this situation for the next week or so. Thursday, I will post some of my thoughts on the matter. In the mean time, I'd love to hear what you guys think about the situation. Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Orzhov Pilgrim Post-Rotation

Looking at the results from the most recent Standard Pauper tournaments, it is clear that the Orzhov Pilgrim deck is the deck to beat for next week's capstone Worlds event. Additionally, this will be one of the archetypes that will be a solid starting point for deckbuilding in the new Standard once Khans of Tarkir is released on Magic Online. So today I want to take a look at this decklist, discuss how it will be affected by rotation, and offer some initial thoughts on what new cards might find a home here.

Let's start by taking a look at Forli's build of this archetype, which he piloted to an undefeated 1st place finish in MPDC 26.06:

Of these 75 cards, only 43 cards will survive rotation. Gone are Auramancer, Beckon Apparition (SB), Celestial Flare (SB), Duress (SB), Ethereal Armor, Keening Apparition, Orzhov Guildgate,  Pacifism, and Stab Wound. Of these, the loss of Auramancer, Ethereal Armor, Keening Apparition, and Pacifism are probably the most significant: Auramancer for its recursion of the deck's numerous Enchantments; Ethereal Armor for its ability to turn any creature into a massive threat; Keening Apparition for its ability to act as a creature and also Enchantment-hate; and Pacifism as excellent spot removal that could be searched up using Heliod's Pilgrim. So what does Khans of Tarkir bring to the mix?

Erase1. Erase is the best option for Keening Apparition. While it obviously doesn't have the added utility of being a 2/2 creature, it can fulfill the same role as Instant speed Enchantment removal. It's cheap and even prevents the Enchantment from being returned from the Graveyard. Feast of Dreams, Moral Obstinacy, and Revoke Existence are also worth consideration.
2. Kill Shot is probably the best stand-in for Pacifism. While it can't be tutored up using Heliod's Pilgrim, it does allow you to kill anything as long as your opponent actually attacks with it. Most of the time that won't be a problem, since Standard Pauper rarely includes solid utility creatures. Kill Shot also has the advantage of not be vulnerable to Enchantment hate.
3. With most of the relevant Auras leaving the format, Auramancer wouldn't be as effective as it was previously. This means that Font of Return should be able to perform a similar role. Again, having this effect tied to a creature is obviously much better, but in a longer game Font of Return can generate a ton of value. And since it's an Enchantment, it can still be fetched by Heliod's Pilgrim.
4. Sadly, there simply is no replacement that even comes close to the value of Ethereal Armor. Molting Snakeskin is probably the closest analog, in that it pumps the creature's power, is cheap, and allows it to survive combat with Regeneration. Eternal Thirst has also seen some play already in this deck, and is also a decent substitute.

Other cards from Khans of Tarkir that might be worth considering for this deck include: Ainok Bond-Kin, Bitter Revelation, Sultai Scavenger, and Unyielding Krumar.

If you've got other ideas for this archetype, I'd love to hear them! Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Hearthstone Resources

Today I looked back at some of my previous blog posts regarding Hearthstone, and I was surprised to see I've only been playing it for about four months. Although I have heard from several Magic players I respect that they find Hearthstone to be too shallow for them to continue to be interested in, I continue to enjoy it as much today as I did when I first started.

Since Hearthstone is still a relative newcomer, there isn't a ton of great resources for the game online. But I have found three websites that I check almost daily for new content, and I have been very pleased with what I've found. So today I wanted to share those three websites with my readers in hopes that you will also find them helpful. Here they are, in no particular order:
  1. IHearthU: This site is probably the most similar to strategy sites for Magic Online. It's daily articles include decklists, a report on the current metagame, some strategy tips, several popular podcasts, as well as some feature matches between two well-known players. If you look closely, you'll even find articles by ChannelFireball's own Paulo Vitor, otherwise known as PV. You can even hire Hearthstone pros for coaching!
  2. Liquid Hearth: This site is more of a collection of articles and information from around the Hearthstone community. While it does have a few feature articles, most of the content includes links to decklists from recent tournaments or official Blizzard events, some custom content including new ideas for heroes or cards, and news tidbits from a variety of sources. This is also the home of Trump's official Arena pick orders, which is an awesome resource for new and journeyman players looking to improve their Arena results.
  3. HearthHead: This site isn't updated as often, but tends to have more in-depth content on specific decks, strategies, and news from around the community. But what really makes it shine is its database of tools, which include an Arena practice mode, automated feeds from all official posts and tweets from Blizzard development, and an amazing card database that allows you to keep track of what cards you own and use that data to automatically filter their huge list of decks to see what you can already build for Constructed and build decks right from their site. 
So if you're a fan of Hearthstone and you haven't checked out these websites, you're missing out! Give them a try - you won't be disappointed!