Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Eldrazi Just Keep Coming

As I discussed last time, all this week I will be looking at the many Eldrazi printed at Common in Battle for Zendikar. There are 20 Eldrazi in the set altogether, represented not only as colorless creatures but also each of the five colors except White (although, thanks to the Devoid mechanic, they are technically still colorless in all respects save for their casting cost).

Yesterday Part One of my Standard Pauper review of Battle for Zendikar was published over at PureMTGO, where I analyzed all of the White and Blue Commons. Here's an excerpt from the article, which you can read here, covering the remaining Blue Eldrazi:

1. Benthic Infiltrator is this set's twist on the classic Horned Turtle. The Ingest ability will probably never be used to mill an opponent out, since it will always damage your opponent faster than it can run them out of cards. Instead, it sets up the so-called processor cards to allow you to take full advantage of them. In this specific case, the four Toughness will also allow this card to block well, while the unblockable ability all but guarantees the ability to utilize the processor cards later. If those cards are part of your strategy, Benthic Infiltrator may be your best bet for setting them up.

2. We've essentially seen this card in White, Red, and now in Blue (yes, technically it's colorless), where three mana gets you a 2/1 and 1/1 creature, one of which has Flying. In the case of Eldrazi Skyspawner, it's the 2/1 that gets Flying, and the 1/1 can even be sacrificed for a point of colorless mana. All that certainly adds up to an upgrade to cards that were already pretty good in the format. Overall this card seems quite reasonable on its own, and in a Control build that's looking to ramp up to play some giant creatures, this is quite strong. So while it's not amazing, this should see play.
3. Murk Strider is the first of the processor cards in Battle for Zendikar that we've looked at, requiring you to have exiled one of your opponent's cards in order to get its full effect. A 3/2 for 4 mana that bounces a creature when it enters the battlefield is an upgrade to Separatist Voidmage, a card that is playable but not great. This will still tend to trade down with your opponent's 2- and 3-drops, but the extra point of Power is certainly a nice bonus. Time will tell whether or not this is good enough to make it worth running some Ingest cards in your deck.
4. Oracle of Dust, on the other hand, seems like it offers some significant rewards for getting your opponent's cards into exile. The ability to loot multiple times in a turn for a mere 2 mana is quite strong. On its own, a 3/5 for 4U isn't that exciting, but it does have the ability to block most other creatures on the ground profitably. In a Control archetype that's looking for the game to go long, if you can exile enough of your opponent's cards, this will generate a steady supply of card advantage over the course of the game.
5. Salvage Drone is yet another Ingest creature, and this time it's a meager 1/1 for 1. As I mentioned before, such cards simply don't give you enough value to be worth a card slot in your deck. At least in this case it gives you some additional value when it dies, since you get to draw and then discard a card. Again, if you're all-in on colorless cards or exiling your opponent's cards to activate processor cards, this is at least worth considering. It may also be worth a second look in a deck looking to cheat in big creatures early using Extort. But outside of those particular uses, this doesn't seem that good.

It remains to be seen just how good these cards will prove to be in the new metagame. Both Benthic Infiltrators and Eldrazi Skyspawner will probably see play regardless of how good a dedicated Eldrazi deck turns out to be, as will Incubator Drone (which I reviewed earlier). For the rest, I have my doubts that the so-called processor cards will prove good enough to make the other Ingest cards worth playing.

So what do you guys think of the set so far?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

More Eldrazi in Battle for Zendikar

We've had our hands on the full spoiler for Battle for Zendikar for almost a week now, and with the official prerelease events happening this weekend, it's time for me to submit my full set review for Standard Pauper. But as that process gets started, I want to spend the next few posts offering a sneak preview of that content by finishing up my look at all of the Common Eldrazi, which I began during the previews.

There are 20 Eldrazi in the set altogether, represented not only as colorless creatures but also each of the five colors except White (although, thanks to the Devoid mechanic, they are technically still colorless in all respects save for their casting cost). Today, let's take a look at the three Eldrazi that contain Red in their mana cost.

1. Kozilek's Sentinel comes from a long line of Red creatures that can be pumped by casting certain kinds of spells, of which Kiln Fiend and Nivix Cyclops are perhaps the two best  known at Common. In this case though, it gains a mere plus one boost to Power for casting colorless spells, which is a pretty mediocre reward for a type of spell that isn't going to be cast all that often. Now granted, it is a 1/4 for 1R, which essentially makes it a cheaper Red Horned Turtle with upside. But Red typically isn't looking for defensive type creatures such as this. I am not optimistic that this will see much play.

2. Nettle Drone is an interesting variation of Goblin Fireslinger. On a clear board, it attacks for 3, and when that option isn't available, it can still ping your opponent for a point every turn. It also has the slight upside of being able to untap whenever you cast a colorless spell, allowing it to become a surprise blocker or even just tap for another point of damage. This isn't really a card that would play well in the sort of prolonged game that typically favor Eldrazi, but it might find a home in an aggressive archetype that contains enough colorless spells to get some value out of its untap ability.

3. Vestige of Emrakul is certainly efficiently costed, giving you an extra point of Toughness and Trample for a very reasonable 3/4 body for 3R. It certainly isn't flashy, but anytime you get Trample on a creature at Common it's worth paying attention to. Obviously this is an excellent target for Power-boosting combat tricks, and the extra point of Toughness means that it can not only survive combat against most other four-drops but also sidesteps a lot of Common removal. Still, this probably won't make the cut unless you've got an archetype that is looking to pack in as many reasonable colorless cards as possible.

I'm pretty excited about the way this set is shaping up. How about you?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Aura Madness

Only two more events remain in Season 30 of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge leading up to the capstone event, held on the same day that Battle for Zendikar is released online. In some ways it's a shame that this is one of our shorter seasons, since this is probably the largest card pool we'll see in the format for the foreseeable future.

But with all those cards still in play, it's no surprise that new archetypes can still make an impact in the format. Such is the case with the deck that Malum piloted to first place in yesterday's MPDC 30.07. Let's take a look at his list:

This decklist is clearly a Control archetype, utilizing recursion effects by way of Auramancer and Font of Return to constantly generate value by getting Enchantments in the graveyard and then returning them to play. Nantuko Husk, Satyr Wayfinder, and Commune with the Gods give you a fairly steady supply of cards into the graveyard, which can also be used to cast an early Gurmag Angler. Twelve enchantments also allow you to drain your opponent slowly via Grim Guardian, and half of these also serve as removal that can searched up by means of Heliod's Pilgrim.

There's lots of little combinations that make this deck tick, and while some have apparently accused it of being unfair, this looks like an interesting take on the format right now. While I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, I certainly intend to do so soon!

If you played with or against this deck, I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Evaluating Fertile Thicket

The full visual spoiler for Battle for Zendikar is now available, but before I offer some thoughts on the set and get to work on my review for Standard Pauper, I need to finish up my post from last time concerning the new Common cycle of spell-lands.

Interestingly enough, the full spoiler also revealed Swell of Growth, a Green Common which allows you to play any Land onto the virtual battlefield at Instant speed. This is a considerable boon, as it allows you to potentially play any of these spell lands at Instant speed.

For today, I want to consider Fertile Thicket, the last of the five spell lands. In Alex Ullman's article that I reference last time, he seemed optimistic about this card's ability to almost guarantee your ability to find a Land that gives you access to a second color. Since this ability is tied to a Land card and not a spell, it would greatly increase the ability for aggressive decks to run multiple colors. However, there are two important caveats I'm not sure he considered.

First, this card itself enters the battlefield tapped, which is exactly the situation that hyper aggressive decks are trying to avoid. Second, Fertile Thicket can only search up basic lands, which means it doesn't work well with any of the other Common dual lands or Evolving Wilds.

As such, I fail to see how Fertile Thicket significantly improves the ability for aggressive decks to get access to multiple colors without having to slow down their access to mana. Yes, it's great when you desperately need to find one more land and can reasonably expect that you have a basic land in your next five cards. But outside of that scenario, you're not getting much value for the penalty of having Fertile Thicket come into play tapped.

If this placed the basic land into your hand, that would be be pretty decent value. As is though, I'm just not excited at all about this card.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Spell Lands in Battle for Zendikar

In case you somehow missed it, we now have a confirmed new "Spell Lands" cycle at Common in Battle for Zendikar:

Alex Ullman has an excellent review of this new cycle over at GatheringMagic.com, and I highly recommend you check it out. He seems cautiously optimistic about these cards seeing some play in Classic Pauper, especially thanks to the fact that Crop Rotation creates the possibility of turning these into Instant speed tricks. But what about in Standard Pauper?

Both Sandstone Bridge and Looming Spires are fairly good value, providing not only a small boost to Power and Toughness but either Vigilance or First Strike as well. However, since Red and White both tend to be fairly aggressive, the fact that these enter the battlefield tapped is not to be ignored. Between Evolving Wilds and the Common Dual Lands that enter tapped, we already have a glut of lands that aren't available to use when they come into play. It will take some significant testing to figure out how many of these such decks can afford to slot in.

Skyline Cascade is a perfect fit for a Blue or Izzet tempo deck looking to use bounce and other tap effects to keep opposing creatures at bay long enough to finish off an opponent. Keep in mind that it doesn't actually tap the targeted creature; it merely keeps it tapped for an additional round. So this won't function as much of  a combat trick, since your opponent will already know that the creature will be tapped on your turn. Still, for a spell effect that you get 'for free' from a Land, this is still good value.

Mortuary Mire is a bit of a puzzle to me still. Reclaim will always be a terrible card, since you're both giving up a card and your next draw to get a single card back into your hand from your graveyard. But when you're getting that effect on a Land, the cost of doing so is significantly reduced. Still, would it really have been too good to allow you to return a creature to your hand instead? As is, the creature you are returning needs to be among the best in your deck to make this an attractive option.

And as for Fertile Thicket...I think I'll save that for next time. :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Conquering My Email

I've decided that I have a problem; an E-mail problem, to be exact. While I have a fairly decent track record when it comes to both my personal and business E-mail, there are certainly times when my correspondence falls through the cracks. I forget to respond, lose track of certain threads, and at times even miss important messages.

I use a combined Gmail account for both my personal and business E-mail. As of this morning, I had well over 7,000 E-mails sitting in my Inbox. While I am quick to delete junk mail as it comes in, anything else pretty much stays in my Inbox forever. If it's important, I'll usually remember to "star" or "flag" it, and for recurring messages I even use labels. I'm fairly adept at using Google's search tools to find what I need, assuming I know that I need to find something. But I've definitely got room for improvement.

So, inspired by The E-mail Game, I've decided to conquer my Inbox. Every day, I'll be spending some of my downtime (both at work and at home) going through it, deleting messages I no longer need and archiving the rest. In case you're unfamiliar with the term, Gmail has an excellent archive feature that essentially moves any E-mail you select into a virtual filing folder. It can still be searched, is never deleted, and if anyone replies to an archived message, the thread shows back up in your Inbox. For someone like me who relies on old E-mails for important information, it's the perfect solution.

My goal is to first get through the last few years of correspondence, going all the way back to the time when I merged my work and personal E-mail into one address. Once I've gone back that far (which is approaching 30 months), the rest I'll just shove into the archives and forget about. As I'm sorting, anything that is important will be starred, which is another useful sorting feature that Gmail includes. With that complete, my end goal will be to empty my Inbox each and every day. That way, anything left in my Inbox I automatically know I need to attend to. It's going to take some work to get there, but I am confident it will make a big difference.

How about you? What strategies do you use to help manage and/or conquer your Inbox?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Board Game Component Storage

If you're a longtime reader of this blog, you should be familiar with my love for all sorts of complex board games, which often feature dozens if not hundreds of individual components. While most such games come with small resealable plastic bags to keep them separate, having to deal with all these individual baggies can still be a major hassle while trying to setup or play one of these type of games.

This is particularly true for Caverna, which I reviewed earlier this week. The game includes 14 different wooden bits for various components, as well as almost a dozen different squares and rectangles that represent the various mines, fields, pastures, and chambers you can construct. With such a crazy number of components, finding a way to easily store and organize all these pieces becomes necessary if you want to be able to setup and play the game in a reasonable amount of time.

So what's the solution? Small, customizable plastic containers like the ones shown above are just what you need. After I first discovered these, I wondered how I ever played without them. These comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and typically the length or width of the individual trays can be adjusted as well.

Specifically, if you're looking for storage for Caverna, you should order this bin and this one, both made by Plano and available from Amazon. With them, you can organize just about every piece in the game, and still fit both the storage bins and the game boards inside the original box. Or, if you're just looking for something you can use for multiple different games, I personally recommend this particularly organizer, also by Plano and available from Amazon.

I hope you find them helpful.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

MonoBlack Sacrifice Control

I always love seeing quality Magic videocasts online covering interesting decks and skilled gameplay. And when those videos are about Standard Pauper, so much the better! Today I want to look at a recent video covering a Standard Pauper list run in MPDC 30.05. The video is published over at MTGOAcademy by Jason Moore, aka BambooRush, in his series Dime a Dozen, covering a MonoBlack Control list with a very small White splash. Here's the decklist:

This is a unique take on the MonoBlack archetype, maximizing the powerful Devotion ability from Gray Merchant of Asphodel while also taking advantage of some sacrifice synergy with Nantuko Husk and/or Vulturous Aven combined with cards like Black Cat, Dutiful Attendant, and Sultai Emissary. The White splash primarily allows it to run Pacifism, but also gives it access to Pillar of Light and Revoke Existence in the Sideboard.

The deck ended up going 3-0 in the Swiss rounds, but BambooRush didn't participate in the Top 8 playoffs for some reason (I was absent for this event, so I am not sure what happened). If you're interested, I encourage you to click on the link and watch all the videos for yourself. And be sure to follow BambooRush on Twitter for more great Pauper content!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


It's been more than a month since GenCon, where I completed the Mayfair challenge and purchased the excellent game Caverna with my hard-won 50% discount. So I figure it's way past due for me to post my review.

About a year and a half ago, I spent quite some time blogging about Agricola, which at the time had quickly become one of my favorite board games thanks not only to its excellent design but also its availability as a game app for IOS devices. Caverna is a spiritual successor to that game, created by the same designer, and utilizing a lot of the same mechanics.

Caverna belongs firmly in the worker-placement style of board games, where each turn each player chooses from one of several options by placing one of their tokens on that action space and following the instructions. Like Agricola, your goal is to create the best farm possible through growing wheat and vegetables, acquiring livestock, and establishing and feeding your growing family. Harvests come much more often now, allowing you to produce crops more quickly and breed even more animals, but at the cost of having to also feed your people more often as well. Gone too are the requirements to cook your food; now, you can easily convert either crops or livestock into food at full value right from the start.

The biggest difference in Caverna, however, is that you are also expected to expand a network of caverns, which serve as your base of operations for not only mining and housing your family but also forging weapons and going on expeditions to gather more supplies and resources. As you go on more of these expeditions, your family members become more experienced, and are thus able to gain even better loot from these quests. In fact, these expeditions serve almost as a wildcard, minimizing the ability of your opponent to keep you from achieving success in one area or another.

Caverna has the same high production values as its predecessor, but has a significantly higher number of pieces. Between all of the meeples, different game boards that vary by the number of players, and the individual farm boards for each player, the box weighs in at over 5 pounds. That may not sound like much - but believe me, after carrying it around all day during GenCon, it's quite heavy, even compared to other games like it! Just take a look at all the components!

All in all I would rate Caverna as being more balanced and newbie friendly than Agricola. Since you have more options and multiple ways to achieve the same goals, you don't have to worry nearly as much about your opponent intentionally blocking you and cutting you off from a valuable resource just when you need it most. And since Caverna doesn't include any of the occupation or minor improvement cards from Agricola, the gameplay is much more straightforward. As such, if you had to choose between them, for most gaming groups I would recommend choosing Caverna.

If you're interested in more detailed information about Caverna, check out the video below. And thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Eldrazi Are Back, Part Two

Last time, I started a two part look at the new Eldrazi at Common in the forthcoming Battle for Zendikar. The signature mechanic Annihilator is no longer part of these creatures, and the 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn have been replaced with 1/1 Scions while still keeping the ability to sacrifice them for mana. These new Eldrazi also come in different variations, some of which utilize the new Devoid and Ingest mechanics while others, like those we will look at today, are simple colorless creatures. Let's take a look:

1. Kozilek's Channeler is a 4/4 colorless creature for 5 mana with a secondary ability, which is pretty good value for a Common, particularly when compared to other colorless creatures, since it can be played in almost any deck. And in this case, it also features one of the strongest ramp cards we've had at Common in some time, allowing Kozilek's Channeler to tap to add 2 colorless mana to your pool. Granted, most of the time you won't be playing cards that cost more than 6 mana, making the availability of this ability much less relevant. But the fact that you can either ramp this out earlier or utilize it to cast multiple spells in a turn is pretty good. And it has pretty relevant stats too. Looks promising for sure.
2. Eldrazi Devastator looks like the second cousin of Ulamog's Crusher, gaining you a single point of Toughness and Trample but giving up the excellent Annihilator 2 (as well as the so-called "drawback" of having to attack every turn). This does have the advantage of sidestepping your opponent's ability to chump-block, and the fact that it's colorless makes this a threat that any Control deck can include. At eight mana, it's still quite expensive, but as long as we get several sources of Eldrazi Scions and/or other ramp spells, that shouldn't be that big of an issue. So while not quite as good as the Crusher, this is still one of the better finishers we've seen in some time, and should make the cut once Standard rotates.

Any other thoughts about these two cards? I'd enjoy hearing them in the comments below. Thanks!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Eldrazi Are Back, Part One

Spoiler season for Battle for Zendikar is well underway, and even with only a few dozen cards spoiled, we already have at least five new confirmed Eldrazi Commons. As a creature type, the Eldrazi Commons were almost all uniformly playable or good in Zendikar block, with Ulamog's Crusher even seeing play in Classic Pauper from time to time. Thus, as soon as Battle for Zendikar was announced, I was excited to see if their successors would prove to be equally viable in Standard Pauper. So I thought I would take a couple posts this week to look at these new Eldrazi and offer some initial thoughts on how good they could be after Standard rotates this fall.

1. Dominator Drone was among the first cards spoiled for the set, and it introduces us to not one but two new mechanics for the set. Devoid is flavorful but not particularly relevant most of the time, since it simply reinforces that these are colorless creatures despite the colored mana in their cost. Ingest, on the other hand, creates a whole new twist on the milling win condition, since each time it deals damage to an opponent it also exiles the top card of that opponent's library. And if that weren't enough, this drone also deals 2 damage to your opponent as long as you have another colorless creature in play. All that, and a decent 3/2 stat line for 2B, should be enough for this to see play.

2. Mist Intruder seems cut from the same cloth as the previous card, but despite having evasion it seems much less interesting. This card immediately reminded me of Fetid Imp, a similar creature in Black that has activated Deathtouch rather than the twin Devoid and Ingest mechanics. In a deck that is actively trying to actually mill your opponent out of cards, this is certainly a better choice than the Dominator Drone, since Flying means it will actually deal more damage over the long run. Additionally, if there are other Eldrazi that convey significant advantages if you having other colorless creatures in play, the value of this card certainly would go up. But outside of those two conditions, this is otherwise a pretty mediocre card.

3. Incubator Drone is virtually an analog for Kozilek's Predator from Rise of the Eldrazi, although I suspect this will prove to be somewhat of a disappointment in comparison. For the same converted mana cost, you get one less point of Power in the creature itself, and only a single token instead of two. Of course, it's worth noting that these are not 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn, but 1/1 Eldrawn Scions, which still retain the ability to be sacrificed for colorless mana. In effect, then, you're getting 3 Power and 4 Toughness for 4 mana, with the ability to trade off a point of each for a single colorless mana. I would evaluate that as definitely worse than Kozilek's Predator, but not substantially so. As such, this should see play.

So what do you guys think of these new Eldrazi?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

RG Monsters

A new season of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge is well underway, and so far Magic Origins doesn't seem to have made a major impact in the format. In fact, the winning decklist from the most recent event captured the trophy without a single card from the new set. While many people expected token strategies to continue to dominate, so far it's been pretty diverse, with MonoRed and  MonoGreen taking the first two events, and a Dimir Control list winning last week. And then yesterday, the winning list was RG Monsters, piloted by Mrozik1141 to victory. Let's take a look at his list:

This list is somewhat of a variation of the MonoGreen Stompy list, sharing with it the general strategy of ramping out big creatures and using combat tricks to guarantee your bigger creatures always come out on top. In this case, Hardened Berserker serves as both a beater and as a secondary source of ramp mana, giving you multiple ways of getting out your giant creatures. And with Temur Battle Rage, these massive creatures can win out of nowhere, turning an already massive hit into an alpha strike. And should the board stall out, there's always Lightning Strike to deal those last few points of damage.

Personally, this looks like a very fun deck, and one that I will certainly have to try. If you've played with it or against it, I'd love for you to share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!