Blog Elemental – Initial Changes

As have mentioned, the Nuts and Bolts deck is getting pulled in at least two directions. On one hand, it wants to be a weenie beatdown deck with small creatures packing equipment and Qumulox as cleanup. On the other hand, it wants to be a tricky control deck with one-mana”cog” cards like Aether Spellbomb to go along with Salvaging Station, Auriok Salvagers, Trinket Mage, and Leonin Squire. Look at the two rares, Auriok Windwalker and Salvaging Station, and you’ll see another signal of its two competing directions.

Blog Elemental – Initial Changes

July 14, 2004

As have mentioned, the Nuts and Bolts deck is getting pulled in at least two directions. On one hand, it wants to be a weenie beatdown deck with small creatures packing equipment and Qumulox as cleanup. On the other hand, it wants to be a tricky control deck with one-mana”cog” cards like Aether Spellbomb to go along with Salvaging Station, Auriok Salvagers, Trinket Mage, and Leonin Squire. Look at the two rares, Auriok Windwalker and Salvaging Station, and you’ll see another signal of its two competing directions.

As I’ve also mentioned, I am partial to the tricky cog idea. I’ve seen a lot of weenie equipment decks and I don’t think they are particularly interesting. A cog deck, meanwhile, has never really existed in Magic before. I expect this means that over time the deck will evolve towards the cog cards and away from the equipment idea. That’s a guess, but a pretty good one.

Which brings me to my first official changes to the deck. I’m only going to change cards I have actually played in at least one game, which currently excludes Auriok Windwalker, Skyhunter Prowler and, ironically, Scrabbling Claws. The rest, however, are fair game.

Obviously the deck needs a lot of focusing. What I’d like to do early on is up the number of key or cool cards already in the deck as I’m dropping cards. Eventually it will be time to add cards not in the initial decklist, but for now let’s work on the core of the deck.

OUT: 1 Fold Into Aether

I actually countered a few cards with Fold Into Aether during my initial six games, but I was never happy about it. All three times my opponent got a free creature, and at least once the creature was significantly better than what I countered. It’s entirely possible that some countermagic will eventually make its way into the deck, but having only one counter with such severe mana requirements right now seems silly.

OUT: 1 Healer’s Headdress

It’s a bizarre addition to the deck since it costs two mana. I agree that the deck needs defense, but this isn’t the way to get it. Maybe if the deck had Wall of Swords and/or Wall of Air in it, I could see the Headdress having a place as a way of setting up Salvaging Station, but even then just barely since Slagwurm Armor would work just as well and be tutorable.

OUT: 1 Ferropede

Ah Ferropede, my beatdown master. I like the unblockability, but three mana for a situational 1/1 is slow for beatdown and relatively useless for a tricky control deck. This may be a silly reason, but Ferropede is annoying to play online just like Sun Droplet is annoying; When it deals combat damage, you have to select a target for its ability whether there are counters on the board or not. It’s way too much pointing-and-clicking for a deck already heavy in pointing-and-clicking. Also, of course, it’s not a cog nor does it in any way help the cog theme.

OUT: 1 Myr Moonvessel

“Eh?” you say,”But it’s a cog!” True, but I’m not sure how it helps the deck. There isn’t a single situation I can imagine to tutor for this or get it recurring. What’s worse, there is no way in the deck to sacrifice it voluntarily for its one-mana boost nor is there anything particular to use the one mana to do. If a neat engine gets built into the deck, then this guy might come back but right now drawing him just makes me wince.

Those are four pretty easy exclusions. But what to add?

IN: 1 Trinket Mage

I’m not sure, but Trinket Mage may be the key to the whole deck. If I really can assemble a”cog toolbox” of interesting effects, this card will get the, uh, cog rolling. Tutors are some of Magic’s most valuable cards, and when they come on 2/2 bodies for three mana they make me extremely happy.

IN: 2 Leonin Elder

With all of the cog tricks, and given that so many opposing decks are packed full of artifacts, Leonin Elder is an excellent choice for early defense. It gives a life pad (which this deck desperately needs), provides an attacker early, and a chump-blocker late. If you use a card like Leonin Elder, it makes sense to have a full four of them since multiples on the table can get out of control quickly.

IN: 1 Aether Spellbomb

In all of my games, this has been the most useful cog. The sixth and most recent game with the deck should show how an Aether Spellbomb in the late game can be a game-winner. I think this number will quickly rise to four copies, but I’ve promised myself to take it slow making changes.

What do you think? Speak up in the Forums and I’ll listen.

For now, it’s time to get me a Trinket Mage and play a few more games…

Blog Elemental – The First Six Games

July 13, 2004

I had been waiting all weekend for Monday morning to roll around. Promptly at 9am PST, I got… nothing. The Fifth Dawn release was delayed by two hours. Sigh. That’s very annoying.

So, quickly before lunch, I logged on – warily this time – to buy my copy of Nuts and Bolts. Thankfully there were no frustrations this time around. Within minutes I had swapped out the Skullclamp for Scrabbling Claws, cracked my knuckles, and sat down at a virtual table for a game.

Keep in mind that in the first hour of the set’s online release, I was mostly going to be playing against non-Fifth Dawn decks. Even if people are buying the new cards quickly, it will take those people awhile to trade for what they want for their Casual decks. Still, these early games are more about getting a feel for the deck and what card interactions I like than anything else.

Game 1: A Green deck with Sun Droplet.

I win! From manascrew, sure, but I still win! In the first several turns I put out a Plains and three Islands to go along with Leonin Elder, Chromatic Sphere, Auriok Glaivemaster (equipped with Leonin Bola), and a Ferropede. Meanwhile, my opponent manages only two Forests and a Sun Droplet. The funniest thing was that my Ferropede wasn’t completely useless. After several turns he says”I’ve had enough of this” and concedes. Oh yeah, baby. Score one for the precons-picking-on-manascrew.

Game 2: Black/Red artifact deck.

I again get the Leonin Elder, Ferropede beatdown. Then he gets Granite Shard and blows up my little guys. You know what’s really super bad for a”cog” deck? Soul Foundry for Disciple of the Vault, which is what my opponent does, followed by Triskelion and Arcbound Crusher. It’s all downhill from there, folks. My meager attempt at defense includes a Synod Centurion that gets Shattered.

Game 3: Red/White Savage Beating/Spellbinder deck.

Guess what I drop on Turn 3? Yep… Ferropede. This time, though, it comes complete with Bonesplitter action and a Healer’s Headdress. Lots of Baubles and little artifacts mean that I can get a pretty quick Qumulox out, which is happy to take the Bonesplitter and smash face while Ferropede plays defense. My opponent gets a Spellbinder with Savage Beating behind it, but his two Frogmites are never able to damage me.

That’s right: I’m 2-1 with a preconstructed deck and last time took not a single point of damage. Booya.

Game 4: Monoblack Zombies

Ah, my first taste of Trinket Mage. Even though I get crushed by a much more polished deck, I at least draw the cards I’m excited to see. While getting pounded by Undead Warchief, Withered Wretch, Festering Goblin, and Rotlung Reanimator, I play two Trinket Mages, a Leonin Squire, and Salvaging Station. The frustration is in how little there is to nab from my deck. I search for a Viridian Longbow and Sunbeam Spellbomb to go along with my Aether Spellbomb and Ornithopter, all of which just delay the inevitable. In four games I have yet to draw an Auriok Salvagers, which is frustrating.

Game 5: Broodstar Affinity

My first turn Leonin Elder gains me a ton of life thanks to the decks we’re playing. A bunch of quick weenies (including Skyhunter Skirmisher, the first card I’ve played with my flavor text on it) tries to take advantage of the fact that he has no creatures, and it looks promising when I Vanquish a Broodstar. At one point I have him at 5 life, with me at 39. A spectator comments:

Vanu:”Could this one possibly go to the theme deck?”


My opponent has a Broodstar and a Future Sight on the table careening through his deck. Two turns later he has an army of metal men on his side and has Temporal Fissured my side.

Vanu:”Maybe not.”

doctorjay:”As I said… doubtful.”

It was fun to think of me beating Affinity with a precon, though.

I wonder about playing another game, but boy am I glad I did…

Game 6: Green/Black Tooth and Nail

I get the now-typical Leonin Elder and Ferropede draw. My opponent plays Chittering Rats, Wood Elves, and Nekrataal. For awhile we go tit for tat, with my Ferropede gnawing away one life per turn while a Qumulox holds off a Platinum Angel and sundry other creatures. I get Salvaging Station and am going mad with Conjurer’s Bauble, drawing upwards of three cards per turn thanks to the Station and things like Leonin Squire. Once I get Auriok Salvagers, the tricks become plentiful.

The game drags on, and he Tooth and Nails for Darksteel Colossus and Visara the Dreadful. Things look glum, except for the Aether Spellbomb I’m able to find with Trinket Mage. I have enough mana to bounce all of his guys and attack for the last six points of damage. My opponent is stunned and disconnects before I can kill him. Disconnects! I’m looking over at his side of the table as I type – Rats, Elves, 6/6 Demon token, Visara, Duplicant, Bane of the Living, and that doesn’t count the Colossus and Angel in his hand. Poor guy. He spent a lot on his deck and I just beat him with Nuts and Bolts.

I hereby take back everything I said yesterday about precons sucking. Who ever guessed I would be 3-3 on the day?

Tomorrow… let’s make some changes!

Blog Elemental – Preparing to Lose

July 12, 2004

Silly me. I thought that since Fifth Dawn came to Magic Online today that I could start writing about my preconstructed deck. But I forgot that I need to hand these things at least a day in advance to Ted, which means that tomorrow is the earliest I can start reporting on my games.

So here I sit, twiddling my thumbs. Waiting. Trying to think of something to write.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about in preparation of this experiment is how truly bad preconstructed decks are compared to other Constructed decks. Don’t get me wrong – I actually enjoy the precons a lot. I get a full set of them at every release, playing them with my wife once a month or so. That’s sort of the point, though. I play them against other preconstructed decks; I would never play a preconstructed deck at, say, Friday Night Magic.

Why? Why does Wizards make the decks so anemic? It’s pretty clear to me that if I win any of my first games with Nuts and Bolts that it will be an absolute fluke. Even in the Casual Constructed room the decks will pound me senseless. I have played several games online in which it became clear to me that my opponent was packing a precon, and my immediate reaction was pity. I mean, look, my PT Cruiser can get going pretty fast on the highway but that doesn’t mean I should be entering any Nascar races with it.

As far as I can figure, there are several things keeping preconstructed decks at a very low power level:

  • They use a high percentage of marginal cards like Ferropede and Healer’s Headdress and a small percentage of powerful cards like, say, Skullclamp. Most Constructed decks focus on packing as many powerful cards into them as possible while avoiding weak, slow, or situational cards.

  • They are inconsistent, largely because of the single copies of cards – often even the key cards in the deck. Most Constructed decks use three and four copies of their best and most critical cards.

  • They are unfocused, usually based on a loose mechanic-based theme. Constructed decks fall into clear categories like aggro, control, combo, etc. and all of the cards help them win through their single chosen strategy.

  • They are slow. Even aggressive precons contain cards with unwieldy casting costs. Most Constructed decks have already won before a preconstructed deck ever gets going.

Clearly the people at Wizards know how to make a deck powerful, consistent, focused and fast, since most of R&D played competitive Magic before ever coming to Wizards. Even if they decided to keep the decks at two rares per preconstructed deck, it would be relatively easy to make good budget decks that could compete in a skilled player’s hands.

Here are a few of the reasons I can think of for keeping preconstructed decks at a low power level:

  • They give you a broad look at the new set. Given all four preconstructed decks, you get a fairly good representation of the new mechanics. Moreover, you get a chance to see a diversity of cards, some of which you’ll love and others you’ll hate. If the decks were more focused, or contained less single copies of cards, this would be less true.

  • They are educational. Because they are a mix of weak and powerful cards, the preconstructed decks are teaching tools. A beginner sees firsthand how some cards can change a game while others sit uselessly in her hand. As a result, she can begin to make her own card valuations.

  • They encourage spending. Few people are going to be able to play a preconstructed deck unmodified for very long. Having a relatively weak deck pushes players to perform the same kind of experiment I’m undertaking, adding cards to make a deck of their own. Getting players excited about buying cards is what Wizards is all about, and the precons are a good vehicle for doing so.

Are these all of the reasons, or am I missing something? If they’re roughly correct, are these good enough reasons to keep preconstructed decks at their current power level? What would happen to Magic sales if precons were more competitive?

I suppose I don’t mind, really. If the current formula didn’t work, I doubt they would continue making precons the way they do. Besides, it gives me the challenge of evolving one of these decks into something I’ll enjoy playing, and hopefully something that will win its fair share of games.

Early on, though, I’m going to lose. A lot.