Blog Elemental – Super Size Friday
July 16, 2004
Before I make any other changes to the deck, I want to nudge it closer to cog-tacularity and further away from WW Equip. I fully admit that someone else doing this experiment would do the exact opposite, which is part of the fun.
OUT: 1 Auriok Glaivemaster
In an equipment-heavy deck focused on beatdown, this guy is a star. Unfortunately, the deck is becoming less about beatdown and equipment. As a result, the Master of the Glaive is a measly Eager Cadet way more often then he’s a 4/2 first-striker on the second turn. With four Leonin Elders, I don’t need any more White 1/1s on the first turn.
OUT: 1 Auriok Windwalker
Did I mention the deck is becoming less and less about equipment? I hate dropping one of the two rares, especially when it’s a card with so many cool tricks inherent in it. But although I have played the Windwalker in games, it’s always been either a speedbump to slow down attackers or a flying attacker. If I want a flying attacker, which I’m not sure I do aside from Qumulox, there are better choices. The cool ability is the reason to play Auriok Windwalker, and I will rarely use the ability in this deck.
OUT: 1 Steelshaper’s Gift
Today is weeding-out-the-equipment-theme day, but this one is still tough. There are currently three pieces of equipment in the deck, all of which cost one mana. I’m slightly ambivalent about dropping a tutor, since it essentially acts as a fifth Trinket Mage for the deck’s equipment. Truly, though, Trinket Mage most often searches for Spellbombs, Scrabbling Claws or Ornithopter (as a recurring blocker with Auriok Salvagers or Salvaging Station), so I’m not entirely certain the equipment is going to be lasting much longer either.
OUT: 1 Skyhunter Skirmisher
There is nothing inherently wrong with the Skirmisher in this deck. It’s quicker than Auriok Windwalker as an attacker/blocker and more deadly than Ferropede. It’s a great target for Bonesplitter and… ah, there’s the problem. It’s a great target for Bonesplitter, period. Otherwise, it really has no synergy with the rest of the deck. By dropping Steelshaper’s Gift, the likelihood of getting the two cards together is even slimmer, which means that Skyhunter Skirmisher just looks out of place. The double-White mana requirement is a pain, too.
These four openings allow me to add…
IN: 2 Auriok Salvagers
Every time I get an active Auriok Salvagers working, crazy things ensue. My life skyrockets. My opponent’s creatures bounce away into hiding. My entire graveyard gets put on the bottom of my library or my opponent’s graveyard disappears. I draw a ton of cards. My opponent’s reactions are always”Cool” or”Neat trick” or”Awesome idea for a deck” when I get an active Salvagers. In addition, I have always appreciated the 2/4 blocking ability. This all tells me that Auriok Salvagers and Trinket Mage are the two hearts of the deck, and I want four copies of each. The problem with Salvagers is that it costs four mana and uses a ton of mana for its tricks. Eventually I might decide to drop the total number down to three instead of four, but at least for now I want to try four and see if I run into mana problems.
IN: 1 Salvaging Station
Salvaging Station has made me similarly happy every time it comes into play. Unlike the Salvagers, I think the six casting cost and being a rare means I only want to add one additional copy now, giving me twice the chance of drawing it. The free activation cost is an incredible luxury and its untapping ability never ceases to surprise opponents. I had hoped this card would be cool, and it has so far lived up to my expectations.
IN: 1 Ancient Den
I just took out two single-cost cards, one that costs three and another that costs four. In their place I added two four-cost cards and one that costs a whopping six. As a result, the mana curve of the deck just got steeper, considerably so. Originally I thought to add Wayfarer’s Bauble in this slot. I think the Bauble is a great addition to the deck and something I want to try out soon. Truly, though, the deck is looking like it needs more land, and the Bauble is too slow an immediate solution. This feels like a good opportunity to sneak another artifact land into the deck, making the total number of land twenty-four. Since there are now four Salvagers, I think the addition of another white source of mana is an obvious one.
“What a pain,” you may be thinking,”Having to find two more Salvagers and another Station… I hate this deckbuilding stuff.” Ah, but here is my little secret: I bought two copies of Nuts and Bolts! It was pretty clear to me that I would want more copies of many of the cards already in the deck. If you’re ever trying an experiment like mine, I highly recommend this practice.
I write these blogs a few days in advance so that Ted can do the editing, which means that today is the day I’m getting a chance to see people’s Forum suggestions to Wednesday’s changes. Right now there seems to be a clear message that the deck needs a way to deal with opposing artifacts and enchantments, with the top two ideas being Altar’s Light and Engineered Explosives. One of these two will get added soon, I promise. A few other folks have mentioned Myr Servitor, which is a cool idea, but to be effective you need four in the deck and I’m not ready to go there yet. Silver Drake is an awesome idea for a non-Standard deck.
My enthusiasm is getting the better of me, but I have some time to play a few more games.
Game 12: Mono-Black Cranial Plating
This guy’s deck was brutal. He dropped Disciple of the Vault (bad for a cog deck), Myr Enforcer, Cranial Plating (I have no way to deal with artifacts, you might recall…), two Genesis Chambers (…which is still a problem), and all artifact land. I manage to get a Salvagers to block, an Aether Spellbomb to recur, but it’s all too slow. A 1/1 Myr token sneaks through, becomes 14/1, and Disciple life-loss from the blocked tokens finishes me.
Game 13: Monoblack Clerics
Even though I lose the next game, it’s a lot of fun. He comes out early with beatdown and the only reason I’m able to survive is because of two Leonin Elders who are gaining me a bunch of life. When he drops Grave Pact and Cabal Archon, things look grim for the home team. He also empties his hand of a full four Dark Banishings, which is just cruel.
But even amidst the abuse, I manage to stabilize with him at twenty-two life and me at four. I have an Auriok Salvagers and Aether Spellbomb keeping his Archon in check, with Scrabbling Claws keeping his tricks to a minimum. Now it’s a topdecking war, which I can win thanks to recurring Claws. I get a Qumulox and Trinket Mage to start the attack. When he drops to ten life, it looks like I’m going to win. Then he draws Promise of Power, draws five cards, and has enough Clerics to kill me with Archon before I can bounce everything. Still, a great game, as was the next one.
Game 14: Mono-Red beatdown/burn
I’ll never fully understand why someone would bring a mono-Red burn deck packing land destruction to the Casual Constructed room, especially a polished, expensive deck. My opponent has Slith Firewalker, Magma Jet, Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], Arc-Slogger, Molten Rain, and Shrapnel Blast. So I lost right away, right? Wrongo. I get two early Elders and a fourth-turn Auriok Salvagers to block. A recurring Aether Spellbomb keeps the Slogger from doing anything, so my opponent goes into full-on burn mode. He sacrifices his land for Shrapnel Blast, Pulses me twice, Magma Jets me twice, etc. It would have worked, too, except I drop Trinket Mage to get Sunbeam Spellbomb, recur it (he doesn’t have the mana to recast the Slogger anymore) and win at fourteen life. To his credit, my opponent is gracious. He loves the deck and is very complimentary.
Game 15: Blue/Green control
This guy packed a lot of Fifth Dawn cards, including Pentad Prism, Myr Servitor, and many a Scry shenanigans. He also had Krosan Tusker, Viridian Shaman, Concentrate, Sculpting Steel, Echoing Truth, and Bribery. I think his plan was to get maximum mileage out of Shaman, Steel, etc. with bounce, so maybe Eternal Witness was in there too. Anyway, Trinket Mages gets me a Scrabbling Claws and Aether Spellbomb while Leonin Squire kept them coming. The Squires really shined for the first time, since they provided, with the Mages, a horde of 2/2 attackers while keeping the cog production going. My opponent Bribes a Qumulox, but I have the mighty Leonin Bola on the equally-mighty Ornithopter. The Bola shuts down his (er, my) big flier, and my army causes him to concede. Neat.
Game 16: Mono-Green… something
Wow. I totally dominate a game. I get a quick Aether Spellbomb, then Trinket Mage for Bonesplitter, then Auriok Salvagers and Skyhunter Prowler. I’m on the attack. My opponent can only Journey of Discovery for a couple Forests on his way to a fifth turn Molder Slug. But, see, I have Salvagers and Spellbomb. His Slug bounces back into his hand twice and he concedes.
Okay, that’s another five games. This next change should come as no surprise:
Artifact lands help Leonin Elder, Synod Centurion, Qumulox, and all of the cog cards. The only situation in which they stink is versus March of the Machines and Akroma’s Vengeance. This is an easy change to make.
However, what about Darksteel Citadel? Right now, I think the mana requirements are too severe to include it, but it’s something to consider. Other land considerations include Flooded Strand, Glimmervoid, Mirrodin’s Core, City of Brass, and Grand Coliseum. At some point soon I’m also going to have to look at the color balance to see if I have enough sources of each color. Stay tuned.
The current decklist looks like this (I’ve again sorted by type and cost and italicized the cogs):
I think I’m honing in on the cog theme and successfully neutering the deck’s schizophrenia. The next changes, I’m guessing, will start pulling in cards outside the original decklist. Log your ideas in the Forums and let me know where you think I should go from here. By this time next week, I’m betting we’ll be on our way to a pretty darned interesting deck with all sorts of painful and contested choices.
Blog Elemental – Squaring Off Against Expensive Decks
July 15, 2004
I’m still playing a deck pulled in two directions, but somehow it feels nicer to have put my own stamp on the thing having changed a few cards. Let’s see what happens…
Game 7: Blue/Red March of the Indestructibles
My deck decides to play like a weenie deck, except instead of equipment I get a bunch of cogs. I’ll tell you a secret: Sunbeam Spellbomb, Auriok Glaivemaster, Ornithopter, Leonin Squire, and Auriok Windwalker don’t have tremendous synergy, especially against a deck with Pyroclasm and indestructible creatures. What I like about a deck built around cogs is that I rarely feel manascrewed. In this game, however, I definitely felt underpowered and out of my league.
Game 8: Blue/Black Oversold Cemetery–Razormane Masticore deck
A pair of Leonin Elders gain me a ton of life thanks to artifact lands and cogs. He gets Oversold Cemetery and an Arcbound Worker, but I Trinket Mage for… Scrabbling Claws! Woo! He drops Razormane Masticore, and I’m able to recur an Aether Spellbomb three turns to stall it before it eventually kills my Elders. Thankfully by that time I’ve gotten a Qumulox, Synod Centurion, and Leonin Bola. I have all the tools to a) keep his graveyard empty, b) tap the Masticore, and c) attack for five a turn. The life pad the Elders gave me is enough to keep me alive through Frogmite and Worker nonsense, and I win. Note that Fifth Dawn cards are starting to creep into opposing decks now, which is great.
Game 9: Green/Blue Arcbound deck
My opponent’s Composite Ranking is near 1700, and when he puts a first turn Birds of Paradise down I’m wondering how quickly he will decimate me. Turns out he’s playing a wacky and very fun deck based on the big Arcbounds, like Lancer and Overseer. I would bet money that Forgotten Ancient was in the deck too. Anyway, my schizophrenic deck decides to play weenie beatdown. I get a Auriok Glaivemaster attacking with Bonesplitter on turn 2, then an Elder, Prowler and Qumulox. I also have a Viridian Longbow out, which means even when he stalls my attack, his life is still going down. He concedes at seven life.
Game 10: Green/White beatdown
I needed a long break to towel off after the next game. The guy played Troll Ascetics, Pulse of the Tangle, Pristine Angel, Viridian Shaman, One Dozen Eyes, and, the kicker, Echoing Courage. The game went on for a long, long time, each of us doing our respective tricks. Eventually the situation comes down to how many attackers he can pile on each turn versus how much life I can gain via a recurring Sunbeam Spellbomb with three Leonin Elder on the table. My life would start each of his turns in the sixties, then drop to the thirties by the beginning of mine. He eventually draws his lone Nemesis Mask. It’s a weird card to turn the tide of a game, given all of the high-powered cards the guy was playing, but it does the trick. I concede with him at eleven life and me at fifty-seven life, with eighteen cards left in my library.
After the game, my opponent says how cool my deck is and that if I add Red and include Pyrite Spellbomb I would be set. Interesting idea.
Another idea to file away: Right now I have no way to deal with opposing artifacts or enchantments. This strikes me as a Bad Thing.
Game 11: Red/Green/White Dragons
You want to know two really bad cards to play against if you’re packing a cog deck? Pyrostatic Pillar and Timesifter. Actually, my opponent almost kills himself with his own Pillar, constantly recasting a Dragonspeaker Shaman I’m fond of bouncing, but when he gets Timesifter into play, he takes about four turns for every one of mine. Krosan Drovers, Kilnmouth Dragons, Clockwork Dragons, and Pristine Angels ensue, and even a Salvaging Station and Aether Spellbomb can’t hold off the onslaught. He ends the game at two life, which has me thinking about Pyrite Spellbombs again.
I have now drawn and played every card in the deck. Moreover, I feel like I am getting comfortable with the cards and how they interact. Tomorrow, methinks a few more changes are in order.
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?”
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.