Saturday, January 31, 2015

Should Treasure Cruise Be Banned in Standard Pauper, Part Two

Last time, I discussed the recent situation regarding Treasure Cruise. With its recent banning in both Modern and Legacy, as well as now Restricted in Vintage, there have been players calling for the card to be banned in Standard Pauper as well. While our community is somewhat divided over the issue, there certainly are those who have a very strong opinion regarding the unsuitability of this card. One such player is known as Zoltan, and last time we looked at the first part of his argument calling for a ban of this card in Standard Pauper.

His essential point is that Treasure Cruise is too similar to one of the most powerful cards ever printed - Ancestral Recall - and as such has no place in a format that caters to new players wishing to learn the ropes in a relaxed and simplified environment.

He then wanted to respond to three major objections. The first objection he listed was that Treasure Cruise is not always cast for a single mana. Even so, he concluded, the average cost is still going to be very low thanks to the presence of cheap cards to fill up the Graveyard.

You're all caught up. Let's take a look at the rest of his argument, in his own words:

2) WoTC didn't ban Cruise for normal Standard.

Aside from the obvious counter-point that I will soon make, namely that Standard != Standard Pauper, Wizards does not ban for the PRE community on Magic Online. Thus, don't expect them to have studied any fringe format like Standard Pauper and determined what's best for the players of such a format. And from what it seems, even this aside, they are late to the party anyway - how long did Treasure Cruise need to twist Modern for them to ban it? How about Jace for Standard? Their bans are not proactive enough. Additionally, it is the norm for PRE players of fringe formats = like tribal, heirloom, or silverblack back in the day  - to devise their own banlists, considering the players there are more interested and versed in their respective formats than wizards are, considering that they - from what is obvious now - don't even bother playtesting for modern. Where is Standard Pauper's banlist? Relying on a group of people who are neither interested nor playtesting the format to tell you what's fair doesn't seem like a good idea.

As I mentioned before, some people oppose a ban of Cruise, and point to its legality in Standard. The counter-argument is deceptively simple - namely that Standard is not the same as Standard Pauper - that more clarification is needed. Well, what do I mean? I mean, specifically, the decks played in the meta, and the overall power-level of cards that can fight against Cruise in aggro is way stronger. Aggro decks in normal standard can work at breakneck speed, and make the aggro decks of standard pauper look like a joke. Normal standard aggro decks are capable of punishing control decks that run cruise in a way that standard pauper cannot. Let me ask the audience - where is goblin rabblemaster in standard pauper? monastery swiftspear? stoke the flames? Standard Pauper is a format where control still gets to use its #1 card from Standard, while aggro decks get neutered and lose all of their star players. Compare a standard control deck to a standard pauper control deck - you will notice at least some of the commons overlap. Now do the same for aggro decks, and you will see far fewer overlap, in comparison. What does this tell you?

The two most popular aggro decks in standard pauper that are fast enough to beat control decks with cruise - namely, WW tokens and mono red - have another big issue to deal with: Scouring Sands. Make no mistake about it - as if Cruise is not bad enough - Control has access to what is, in a format rife with creatures of 1 toughness and of an overall low power level for their CMC, a Wrath of God for half the mana. Call me crazy, but I think that in a format where only commons are allowed, a deck shouldn't have access to Power 9 light and a big board sweeper. These two cards - Scouring Sands and Treasure Cruise - make playing aggro always feel like an uphill battle. It isn't just a race until Cruise hits; it is also hoping your opponent doesn't draw that single card that hoses your entire deck. Given the fact that people are beginning to run Scouring Sands maindeck, it is a strong testament as to how strong that card is at nerfing decks and clearing the board long enough for a cheap cruise to the Galapagos to hit. The aggro decks that can beat Cruise in normal standard do not fold as easily to Scouring Sands.

3)  Aggro decks are still better than control

This statement is neither true nor relevant. Control decks are taking top spots recently. The meta-game is shifting away from aggro and more toward control. Ask any player that plays WW or mono-red aggro - that deck rolls over to Scouring Sands. As an aggro player myself, I can tell you, the match-up feels unfair when standard pauper has access to a 2 mana board sweeper and a power-9 level type card. Even if aggro decks were somehow better than control, does that mean that a singular card as broken as cruise should be allowed? Same is true for any card in any deck, no matter who is top dog at a given time. 

Resident writer adept gwyned - purveyor of Standard Pauper as a format and host of MPDC - feels that R/W Boros - a type of aggro deck - is the strongest overall in the format. This is a deck that works like hexproof auras in normal pauper and modern, except the creatures don't have hexproof. This deck doesn't automatically roll over to Scouring Sands, however, make no mistake - this deck too has severe weaknesses that control can exploit. Firstly, it isn't as fast as other aggro to shut the game down before Cruise delivers too much card advantage to the opponent and - more importantly - since the deck relies on beefing up creatures with enchantments, it is more vulnerable to the counterspells and bounce that control runs, by virtue of having a fewer creature base than other aggro decks have, like WW.

4) Cruise can be a dead card in hand if you cannot cast it

What card doesn't have situations where it is completely useless? Even broken cards are not broken 100% of the time. (Umezawa's Jitte) and (Skullclamp) - two of perhaps the best equipment ever printed that have also experienced the banhammer by Wizards - are also dead cards if the player has no creatures. The point is - when the card has a situation where it is good - it is *too* good.

In sum, Control is the best archetype in the format, and Cruise is the best card in the format. Scouring Sands - another tool for control and probably the second best card in the format - allows for a cheap wrath of god to make sure control has enough time to set up a cruise, and Boros aggro is like a hexproof deck with no hexproof, making it susceptible to the multiple bounce spells that control runs as well as countermagic.

Finally, aside from overall level of power, I would like to say that Cruise itself destroys the spirit of Standard Pauper. I think Cruise is broken at any rarity, but by having it as common, it feels like a special affront and slap to the face to the overall theme and feel of Standard Pauper, namely that the cards are overall balanced and not too strong, to make for a format that is both fun and fair for players of all skill levels. I cannot remember the last common that was printed that was anywhere near as powerful as Cruise, and cards similar to cruise are of different rarity. Off the topic of my head, (dig through time) is a rare, and (ancestral visions) - a card, much like cruise, that was supposed to be the modern r&d update on ancestral recall - is also a rare. Both, incidentally, happen to be banned in Modern too. But by having such a card in Standard Pauper - the weakest constructed format in Magic - one that is better than 99% of rares ever printed, it seems to be the polar antithesis of the heart and soul of this casual fringe format.

Send the cruise to find treasure in the Bermuda Triangle, and good riddance to it. Thanks for reading.
If you have an opinion of this matter, I encourage you to make your voice heard. We had some great comments left in the previous post, so I'd love to see the conversation continue here. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Should Treasure Cruise Be Banned in Standard Pauper?

Back in October of last year, as Khans of Tarkir was being released into the format, I wrote a post examining Treasure Cruise and whether or not it was too strong to see play as a Common. My conclusion was that if Treasure Cruise is consistently cast as if it were Ancestral Recall, then it is probably too strong.

Now about four months later, Wizards has recently banned this card from both Modern and Legacy and restricted it in Vintage, which certainly seems to indicate that it might be problematic. Interestingly enough, they chose not to ban the card in either Standard or Pauper, despite the fact that it has made a major impact in the latter.

Opinions in the Standard Pauper community are divided on this card, although it seems the majority are fine with it. However, there are certainly a growing number of others who would like to see the card banned from the format. Among these is a player named Zoltan, whose claim to fame is that he has played  White Weenie (WW) in pretty much every format he can, often with very good results. After this week's MPDC, I offered him a chance to submit a short guest-post on why Treasure Cruise should be banned in Standard Pauper. Today and Saturday, I want to share with you, my readers, what he has to say, in his own words:

I took my beloved WW deck and won last week's MPDC (Standard Pauper) event with it. I am an aggro player at heart, and I have played WW in Standard Pauper for years now, spanning and surviving multiple rotations. But I've had a hard time recently putting up good results because of this one maddening card.

I want to talk to the people today about such a card: a little card known as (Treasure Cruise). I don't think that it is any secret among the Standard Pauper players that I hate Treasure Cruise, for every conceivable reason that could be given. As far as I am concerned, the fact that R&D printed this card (as a common, no less) indicates that their extracurricular activities probably include copious amounts of alcohol and LSD ingestion  However, aside from personal opinion and taste, an objective evaluation of this card's power level would, in my opinion, suggest it to be banned in Standard Pauper, just as it was banned in Modern and banned/restricted in other formats. And I am not here to make jokes, draw flashy pictures, or try to win internet points by entertaining you. I am here to write an opinion piece and give a wordy analysis on why this card needs to be banned in Standard Pauper.

We have gone far enough with this broken card. Tap an island: draw 3 - the heir to Ancestral Recall, one of the strongest cards printed of all time since the early dark days of magic known as the Power 9 - not only shouldn't be a usable card anymore, but shouldn't exist as a common to be used in Standard Pauper. This is a format whose major benefit - among others - is the ability to help newer players play with easy-to-use cards, in a relaxed atmosphere, without having to worry about the sharks with more expensive and complex decks in other formats competing for more lucrative prizes, and having Power 9 type cards floating around in this format seems to not be very congruous with the general theme.

Since I already know what the proponents of Ancestral Recall #2 will say in its defense (who are, largely, control players playing control decks - surprise, surprise), I will do my best to list their arguments, and refute them as being invalid. The most common counter-arguments appear first:

1) It isn't always cast for 1 mana.

To that, let me ask you - how often have you seen someone use Cruise for 8 mana? I've played many games in the current Standard Pauper format, and even there, a format weaker in power level than the normal standard, casting Cruise at 1 mana or 2 mana isn't a big deal or hard to achieve. It isn't hard for control decks in constructed - U/R or U/W - to dump cards in the graveyard with counter-magic, burn, bounce, other card draw, even saclands, to the point where the graveyard is filled by mid-game, around turn 5 or so, where a Cruise for 1 mana to refresh one's hand is not uncommon. Even without a full delve, I've heard that 3 cards for 2 mana isn't so bad either. Cruise is a flexible card, and the same card that can draw you 3 cards for 2 mana - already good enough - could even reduce the mana cost even further to a broken level. Whenever someone taps an island for 3 cards in ANY circumstance, it doesn't matter who wins or loses at that point - the opponent on the receiving end is being cheated, and it isn't Magic anymore.

Next time, we'll take a look at how he responds to the other two most common counter-arguments. In the mean time, I'd love to hear your thoughts about whether Treasure Cruise should be banned. Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hearthstone: The Undertaker, Nerfed

About six months ago, while I was just starting to get serious about playing Hearthstone, I blogged about one of the new cards from the then-just-released expansion Curse of Naxxramas called the Undertaker. Here's what I said about it:

Three stat points at one mana with a minor ability is pretty standard for Hearthstone, but in this case the potential is there to slowly build this lowly one-drop into a formidable threat. Currently, there are a ton of strong neutral low-drops with relevant Deathrattle abilities, including Leper Gnome, Haunted Creeper, and Loot Hoarder. This creates the potential for a massive buff midgame, or even forcing your opponent to waste their removal on a lowly 1-drop. 

 As it turns out, the Undertaker was better than anyone guessed. It became an auto-include in almost any aggressive deck, especially both Zoo and Hunter. A little too good, in fact, for today they announced that the card was going to be nerfed:

While the community has been split on the issue, the general consensus certainly has been that Undertaker was too strong and needed to be changed. There were several proposed fixes, but in the end Blizzard chose the simplest one in that its Health is no longer buffed along with its Attack when you summon a Deathrattle minion.

Hearthstone personalities (including Magic the Gathering pro Paulo Vitor) were quick to make their opinions heard:

What about you? What do you think of this change? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Runemarks from Fate Reforged

When it comes to new sets, I confess I have a soft spot for Common cycles. I enjoy the design of them, particularly since they often illustrate the way that the color-pie impacts the same idea through these five different philosophies.

There are four major cycles in Fate Reforged (as well as a three color mini-cycle), including the reprinted cycle of "Refuge" Dual Lands at Common. Today, I want to focus on the cycle of Runemarks.

The Runemarks are a Common cycle of Auras, each costing 3 mana, that give the enchanted creature +2 / +2, and also grant a color-appropriate keyword if the player controls a permanent that is either color of the other two colors in that clan's wedge. The Sultai one, granting Deathtouch, is probably the least powerful; with the Mardu and Jeskai ones (granting First Strike and Flying respectively), being the most powerful; and the other two (granting Trample and Vigilance) somewhere in the middle.

In general creature Auras are not fantastic in Standard Pauper due to the presence of good removal. But now, with removal becoming slower and more expensive, as well as the presence of Heroic, at least renders them playable, assuming you can reliably activate the keyword ability. In fact, playing these on a creature that is already one of the two requisite colors is probably your best bet to ensure you don't get blown out by well-timed removal.

The multicolor requirement does make it an interesting exercise to consider how these might fit into existing archetypes. The Jeskai Runemark is the easiest fit, since it meshes well with the Izzet Control archetype, although the low numbers of creatures makes this suspect. Sultai Runemark similarly would work in the UB Control variants, but it's easily the weakest of the cycle and probably won't make the cut. Obviously neither White Weenie nor RDW have access to multiple colors, so those are out. The Boros Heroic deck could easily make use of the Abzan or Mardu, but spending 3 mana for an Aura is quite a bit in that archetype. Finally, the Temur Runemark doesn't currently have much of a home, but a Simic archetype does see play from time to time, so maybe it would slot in there.

On the whole, although these auras are decent in a vacuum, the multicolor requirement makes them more difficult to make work with existing decks. At least at this point, I am not optimistic about them making much of an impact in the metagame. But time will tell.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hearthstone Rogue MechAggro

One of the more interesting features of Hearthstone is the daily quest system, where each day you are randomly assigned a quest worth between 40 - 100 gold pieces (with a pack costing exactly 100, just to give some sense of economy). Because the vast majority of these quests involve winning a certain number of games with a particular class, this system essentially incentivizes you to create a decent list for each of the nine heroes. That way, no matter what your daily quest is, you at least have a good shot at completing it in the casual room in a relatively short period of time.

As such, I am always on the lookout for competitive decks that do not require a major investment in cards and/or do not involve Legendary minions, since most of those remain out of my reach. One such deck I recently discovered from Hearthstone pro Kolento is a decklist I want to feature today.

My list lacks the Trade Prince Gallywix as well as the Cogmaster's Wrench, and I also left out the Antique Healbot since I rarely expect to need the Lifegain. In their place, I wanted to run 2 copies of Sludge Belcher, and 1 copy each of Assassin's Blade, Argent Commander, and Sprint. That left me with one too many cards, so I cut Blade Flurry down to 1.

At its heart, this is a combo deck, utilizing the synergy you get with Mechs to build up an early board presence and then finish off your opponent with a massive burst of damage. Between Deadly Poison and Tinker's Sharpsword Oil, it's trivially easy to enhance your weapon to 6+ power, and in combination with Blade Flurry and/or Eviscerate, you can often setup a 15+ damage swing before Turn 10. And your midgame minions like SI:7 Agent, Spider Tank, and Mechanical Yeti should easily be sufficient to bring your opponent Life total low enough that a 15 point burst is more than enough to finish them off.

This is a fun and budget deck, yet surprisingly effective. If you don't have a Rogue deck you enjoy playing, definitely give this one a try.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Turn Three Kill in Standard Pauper

Double strike has always been dangerous in Standard Pauper. Temur Battle Rage nicely illustrates why. With the perfect hand, we now have a Turn 3 kill in Standard Pauper, assuming your opponent doesn't interact with you during those three turns.

Turn 1: Red cast Akroan Crusader.
Turn 2: Red cast Rouse the Mob targeting the Crusader; Red cast Titan's Strength, again targeting the Crusader. This buffs the Crusader up to 6 power and creates 2 1/1 tokens with Haste. They deal 8 damage total.
Turn 3: Red cast Titan's Strength, targeting the Crusader; RedRed cast Temur Battle Rage, targeting the Crusader. This buffs the Crusader up to 4 power and creates 2 more 1/1 tokens with Haste. With the tokens from the previous round, they deal 12 damage total (4 first strike, 4 regular strike, 4 total from the tokens). For those playing along at home, 12 + 8 = 20, or the starting Life total of your opponent.

The same trick also works with Satyr Hoplite. But in this case, it's a 3/3 before buffs on Turn 2, and a 5/5 before buffs on Turn 3. You still deal 8 damage on Turn 2, but on Turn 3 you now deal a whopping 16 damage, bringing your total up to 24 damage.

Granted, either way this takes the perfect hand. You have to draw two copies of Titan's Strength, a copy each of Rouse the Mob and Temur Battle Rage, and three Lands, all of which must come into play untapped and two of which must be Mountains. You also need the Akroan Crusader or Satyr Hoplite in your opening hand, and for your opponent to be unable to interact with you during those three turns. You also get two Scry activations from Titan's Strength, for whatever that's worth.

Unlikely, yes. But certainly not outside the realm of possibility. And even with a slightly less ideal hand, a Turn 4 or 5 kill is even easier, particularly if you can pull off multiple buffs before casting Temur Battle Rage.

I suspect that this card alone will cause more rage than any other in the Standard Pauper cardpool once Fate Reforged is released.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bolster in Fate Reforged

Fate Reforged is bringing three new mechanics into Standard Pauper. I've already spent some time talking about Manifest and how it functions on Ethereal Ambush. As I continue to work on my set review for Standard Pauper, I thought I would take the rest of this week to look at the other two new mechanics and what impact I expect them to make in the format. Earlier this week I looked at the Dash mechanic. Today I will finish off my looking at the Bolster mechanic.

At Common, we only get three Bolster cards: Abzan Advantage, Abzan Skycaptain, and Map the Wastes. First off, for a base-line, placing one +1 / +1 counter on a creature is a pretty marginal ability, one that is not worth an entire card. Placing two +1 / +1 counters on a single creature is still marginal, but as an Instant it might see some fringe play. Additionally, with Bolster, you only get to place the counters on your weakest creature. Most of the time, you would rather place it on your strongest creature. And worse yet, since Bolster doesn't actually target, it doesn't even trigger Heroic. So, as a baseline, each of these Bolster cards need to pretty good already to make the cut, with the Bolster effect only as a nice secondary ability.

Unfortunately, these three cards are pretty mediocre at best, with Abzan Advantage being downright terrible. An 'edict' style ability for Enchantments is all downside; a 2/2 Flyer for 4 is below par for White; and a Rampant Growth effect, while fine, hasn't seen much play in the format in the past.

Unless Dragons of Tarkir gives us something better, Bolster will not have any noticeable effect in Standard Pauper.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dash in Fate Reforged

Fate Reforged is bringing three new mechanics into Standard Pauper. I've already spent some time talking about Manifest and how it functions on Ethereal Ambush. As I continue to work on my set review for Standard Pauper, I thought I would take the rest of this week to look at the other two new mechanics and what impact I expect them to make in the format. Today we'll be looking at the Dash mechanic.

At Common, we only get three cards with Dash - Alesha's Vanguard, Goblin Heelcutter, and Mardu Scout. None of these cards have any special ability that is triggered when they are cast using Dash; you merely get a reduction in mana cost (1 less for the Vanguard and Heelcutter, 1R instead of RR for the Scout) when the corresponding effect of returning it to your hand at the beginning of your end step, assuming of course it's still on the battlefield. This effectively allows the creature to attack 2 rounds earlier than normal. So the real question is this - when is it better to cast these creatures for their Dash cost?
  1. As a surprise attacker. When your opponent has just enough blockers to hold your creatures back, swinging in with a Haste creature can be just what you need to push through additional damage. Or if it forces your opponent to deal with it on that turn, you've effectively gained some tempo through the discounted casting cost.
  2. To dodge Sorcery speed removal. If you strongly suspect that the only way your opponent can deal with your creature is with Sorcery speed removal, and you've got the mana to spare, using Dash prevents your opponent from ever having an opportunity to interact with it.
  3. When the game is about to end. If you can end the game either this turn or the next, and you don't need any blockers, then using Dash makes sense, because you otherwise would not get to deal any damage with that creature.
But in general, even if Dash allows you to attack with a creature one round earlier than you would otherwise be able, you're better off just casting it normally. Assuming that you have other spells to cast, it will be more efficient in the long run to cast the creature normally and get value out of it turn after turn.

That being said, these three creatures are not very impressive as vanilla creatures, so unless you're playing an aggressive deck that will be able to setup board states where one or more of those conditions apply, you're probably better of not playing these creatures. They're not terrible, but should only see play in decks built around them specifically.

What do you think of the Dash mechanic in general and these three creatures in particular? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Choice and Complexity

As I continue to work on my set review for Fate Reforged, I have made an interesting note about this set. In the past, I have written extensively about Common Design and the tenets of New World Order limit the kinds of cards we can expect at Common going forward. The whole point of this design constraint is to limit complexity and thereby keep the bar of entry for new players as low as possible while still retaining the essentially elements of the game.

But, at least in my opinion, both Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged have been pushing up against the constraints of New World Order more than we have seen in some time. Indeed, I would argue that simply by allowing the Morph mechanic (and now Manifest as well) at Common, signals a shift in what kinds of complexity are allowable.

Now, in Fate Reforged, we have the return of modal abilities in a cycle of creatures at Common. The presence of such cards used to be fairly routine in Magic's history; now, they are quite unusual. So while these abilities never disappeared entirely, giving players the choice of two distinct abilities when a card is cast is an unusually high level of complexity, and one that probably would have been red-flagged and then moved up in rarity save that it ties into a particular theme of the set. Additionally, these creatures also would have been red-flagged simply for the amount of text on the card, which easily exceeds the four line limit.

Choice creates complexity. Board states with hidden or hard-to-discern information also create complexity. And yet, both these elements are present at Common. Is this a shift in New World Order philosophy, or simply an oddity due to the specific needs of this block? Time will tell, but at least for now, I am cautiously optimistic about what this means for future Commons.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fate Reforged Multicolor Instant Cycle, Part Two

Last time, I took a look at two more of the cards in the cycle of Instant Multicolor Commons from Fate Reforged. Today I want to finish with the last two cards in the cycle and offer my evaluation of them. And again, in the interest of full disclosure, I am offering my review of these cards after listening to Episode 266 of Limited Resources, where this cycle was reviewed as the show's official preview cards.

This card immediately brings to mind one of the more powerful Commons to see print: Corrupt. Harsh Sustenance is cheaper, and Instant speed instead of Sorcery, but relies on the number of creatures you have in play rather than the number of Swamps. Even with only three creatures in play, this is the equivalent of Lightning Helix, another extremely powerful card. It's quite strong in a board stall situation, or when swinging in for an alpha strike, and particular strong in any sort of tokens strategy. Granted, it does nothing if you have no creatures in play; your opponent can also destroy your creatures in response. But this card is very strong, and will definitely see widespread play.

War Flare is also strikingly similar to another card - in this case, Inspired Charge, which was recently printed again in Magic 2015. However, ignoring mana costs, this is strictly better, since it also untaps all of your creatures, making this useful on both offense and defense. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of tokens at Common in both Red and White, and obviously this card would be quite powerful in that sort of strategy. In a board stall, it allows you to swing in freely, knowing that even if you don't finish off your opponent, your creatures will still be able to block on your opponent's turn. It's a bit expensive as a combat trick though, so it will probably only see play in decks specifically designed for it.

Taken as a whole, this is a very powerful cycle of cards at Common. Given the design constraints of New World Order, you can clearly see that these cards were "pushed" to retain this level of power and/or complexity at Common. While requiring two colors does constrain them somewhat, the availability of easy fixing at Common should allow them to see widespread play. I anticipate this cycle will have a strong impact on the Standard Pauper metagame after the release of Fate Reforged.

What do you think of this cycle? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Fate Reforged Multicolor Instant Cycle, Part One

Last week, I offered my evaluation of Ethereal Ambush, one of the more powerful of the Manifest cards at Common for Fate Reforged. As it turns out, this card is one of a five card cycle of multicolor Instants at Common, so I thought I would take my next two posts to evaluate the rest of the cycle.

This cycle was also the official preview cards for Limited Resources, who evaluated the cards during Episode 266, which is incidentally also the first show featuring new co-host Luis Scott-Vargas. If you're not already listening to this show, I highly recommend it. In any case, for full disclosure, I am offering my review of these cards after listening to this episode.

Searing Blaze returns, but now it replaces itself as well? Not quite. Cunning Strike does a lot of small things well. It deals 2 damage to a creature, draws an additional card, and hits your opponent for 2 as well. Problem is, you pay 5 mana to accomplish this. Granted, you do get 4 points of damage for the price, most of the time you'd rather not split it between the creature and the player. Further, while it does have some synergy with Prowess, this mechanic has not made much of an impact in Standard Pauper. Overall, to get full value out of this card, you'll probably need to play it in a Control archetype like Izzet Control, but even there I'm not sure it's worth running over the existing cards in that list.

The Fight mechanic continues to see print in several interesting variations at Common, and Grim Contest seems right in line with these cards. But in this case, the damage is based upon both creatures' Toughness rather than Power. This is an odd change, but probably not particularly relevant for the card's overall value. I would evaluate this as being pretty much on par with other Instant-speed Fight effects like Pit Fight or Fall of the Hammer, but with the significant downside of requiring two colors of mana. Additionally, the Black/Green combination hasn't seen much play in Standard Pauper in this metagame, so this card also lacks an obvious deck to slot it into. Thus, while the value is there, I don't anticipate this card making a big impact.

Let me close with a couple other reminders:
  1. My article covering the State of Standard Pauper was published over at PureMTGO earlier this week, and I would appreciate my readers checking it out.
  2. Earlier this week I announced the details for the long anticipated Standard Pauper Sealed League. Don't miss out on this fun and unique event!
See you next time.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Standard Pauper Sealed League

Here's the announcement you've all been waiting for!

I am happy to officially announce the Standard Pauper Sealed League. Last month, I previewed this great format with an article on PureMTGO, a couple videos, and a previous post discussing how the event would work. But if you've somehow missed all that, here's the quick concept: a 90 card Sealed pool consisting of all Commons, generated from 9 packs in any combination of sets that are currently legal in Standard. You receive your pool, sort out of the non-Commons, create a decklist, and battle it out over a several week period. And like the old Sealed Leagues, you can even add additional packs as the event goes on!

So here are the official rules for this event:

1. Registration: Registration begins immediately and will be open until 11:59pm EST on Friday, January 30th. To register, send an email to gwyned at gmail dot com with "Standard Pauper Sealed" in the subject line and include your MTGO username, your time zone, and your choice of boosters for your Sealed pool (more on that below) in the body of the E-mail. There is no entry fee to participate - in other words, it's absolutely free!

2. Important Dates: You must register by Friday, January 30th at 11:59pm EST to participate in this event. You will receive your Sealed Pool by 11:59pm EST on Sunday, February 1st. Round 1 then begins on Monday, February 2nd. Each round will run one week, beginning on Monday and ending at 11:59pm EST every Sunday.

3. Sealed Pool: Each player can choose which booster packs will be used for his or her Sealed Pool. You pick 9 boosters from the five sets currently in Standard (Theros, Born of the Gods, Journey Into Nyx, Magic 2015, or Khans of Tarkir). However, you may not choose more than 4 boosters from any one set. This means, at minimum, your pool will contain cards from at least three different sets. As the host, I will be generating pools for each player to ensure integrity. You will receive your pool as an E-mail attachment, and you will need to sort out all of the non-Commons prior to building your decklist. Check out this video for a walkthrough on how to do this (start at the 4:12 mark on the video).

Additionally, after you have finished your match for the week, you can request an additional booster pack worth of cards to be added to your pool. These pools will also be sent via E-mail attachment and will need to be manually added to your existing pool.

4. Decks: Decks are 40 card minimum, with any card in your pool available during Sideboarding.

5. Structure: This event will be Swiss style, with the total number of rounds determined by the number of players:
  • With less than 17 players, we will play 3 rounds. 
  • With 17 players or more, we will play 4 rounds.
  • With 33 players or more, we will play 5 rounds.
  • With 65 players or more, we will play 6 rounds.    
  • With 129 players or more, we will play 7 rounds.
After the Swiss rounds are complete, there will be a cut to Top 8 (resulting in three more Single Elimination rounds).

I will be using Gatherling on to facilitate matches. This means that each participant needs to have a functional account at I will be adding players to the event manually once I have received your registration E-mail, so don't try to register on that site directly.

Each week, login to the Player CP on Gatherling and look for the entry under Standard Pauper Sealed #1. There you will see your Pairing for the round. Once your match is over, both players will need to record the results in their Player CP as well. Failure to complete your match may be grounds for disqualification for the event. Be sure and contact your opponent early each week to make sure you can complete your match in a timely fashion.

6. Tables: Please set up each match as follows; before you join a match, make sure the match is setup correctly.
  • Type: Freeform
  • Match Structure: Best 2 out of 3
  • Event Timer: 25 minutes
  • Allow Watchers
  • Comment: Standard Pauper Sealed Round #
7. Conduct: It is the responsibility of each player to be aware of all the rules for this event. Ignorance will NOT be an excuse.

This event, like any Player Run Event, relies on the honor system. Please be a good sport.

If you’ve contacted your opponent and have not received a response in 48 hours, please contact me. If only one person contacts me and no results are reported, I will award that player a match win and drop his or her opponent.

If you are having any other problem (such as your opponent not showing up, your opponent dropped connection in the middle of the match, harassment, or anything else), don’t hesitate to contact me. And if you suspect another player is cheating, let me know. But I trust that every player will be a good sport and act in good faith such that I never have to become involved.

8. Prizes: The exact prize structure will be determined by the total number of players, but I will be donating a minimum of $28 in prizes. If you are interesting in donating to this prize pool, please contact me at gwyned at gmail dot com with the subject line "Standard Pauper Sealed Prizes".

9. Questions: Leave any questions in the comments below, or feel free to contact me at gwyned at gmail dot com.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The State of the Standard Pauper Metagame

Early next week, I will have an article published over at PureMTGO concerning the current state of Standard Pauper. Today I want to bring you a sneak peek of the content from that article by discussing the current Standard Pauper metagame.

The current metagame is in an interesting place. Typically, aggro strategies dominate a new format, then are slowly pushed out by control builds as the metagame matures. More recently, White Weenie has stayed at the top of the heap, generally having good matchups against just about anything in the format. Right now, the metagame is divided almost straight down the middle between aggro and control, with three major archetypes dominating the Top 4 of these events. However, even though these three decks represent the bulk of the metagame, that's not to say that there are no other viable choices. In fact, over the past couple months, fifteen different archetypes have made at least one Top 4 finish in either MPDC or SPDC. Here's a snapshot of how these different decks have been represented in the Top 4:

Considering that the Standard Pauper set is at its smallest possible size right now (with only four expansion sets and one core set), this is an impressive amount of variety! Additionally, even the top performing decks are seeing quite a bit of variation in their actual lists, so there is still plenty of room for innovation and experimentation in the metagame right now.

So what's your favorite deck in the metagame right now? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Making Sense of Manifest

Everyone's favorite season is here again. No, not the holiday season - spoiler season! In this case, the first spoilers for Fate Reforged have been revealed, including seven Commons. While there are several new mechanics that caught my interest, today I wanted to take a quick look at the Manifest mechanic, particularly as it plays out in Ethereal Ambush.

Manifest is an ability that has you take a card from another zone (typically your library), and play is face down on the battlefield as a 2/2 creature. If the card that you play is a creature, you can flip it face up for its mana cost at Instant speed. Interestingly enough, if it's a Morph card, you can also flip it face up for its Morph cost. But if it's not a creature card, the card will continue to be a 2/2 creature until it leaves the battlefield or the game ends.

Now some might intrinsically dislike this ability. After all, the card that gets played face down might have been the one card in your deck that could let you win the game. It might be a powerful Instant or Sorcery, or a creature with a sweet enters-the-battlefield ability, or something or that nature. So rather than getting to play it, now it's relegated to a mediocre 2/2 creature.

But in fact, Manifest plays out almost like a mill-type effect. At its worst, it is equivalent to: place the top card of your library into your graveyard, then put a 2/2 creature token onto the battlefield. In fact, it's actually better than that, because one of the best ways to get rid of tokens is to bounce them, and that won't permanently deal with a Manifest card.

So with that out of the way, how good is Ethereal Ambush in Standard Pauper?

For the sake of argument, imagine instead it was a 4/4 vanilla creature with Flash for 3GU. While you might prefer a 3/3 with evasion (aka Spire Monitor), this would be certainly be playable in the right deck. Now, instead make it an Instant that splits that 4/4 up into two 2/2 creature tokens, and you have a card that is arguably even better. The near equivalent to this, of course, is the powerful Flurry of Horns and Rise of Eagles, trading the french vanilla abilities for the upgrade from Sorcery to Instant speed.

Of course, this does cost you two cards from your deck. But unless Manifest leads you to empty your library, those extra two cards don't really matter anyway. At best, you've gained some interesting options for two creature cards; at worst, you've discarded two cards into your graveyard. 

Obviously the final value of this card will depend a lot on the metagame that surrounds it. But the ability to summon multiple creatures at Instant speed in Standard Pauper is nothing to be overlooked. I evaluate Ethereal Ambush as being playable at worst, and potentially very good in the right deck or circumstances.