I want to start off this week by publicly expressing appreciation to those readers who took the time and energy to vote for me at CCGPrime.com’s Writer’s War through last Friday. This was a nice effort to support good writing that I tried hard to be quiet about. I gave generic, non-partisan encouragement in my reader email responses to go to the site and vote for whoever they liked, gave a prediction to The Ferrett, and made a passing joke on the StarCityMtG mailing list. But these were quasi-private forums; I never felt comfortable with any public rallying cries.
Wherever I ended up without lobbying or begging, that’s where I wanted to finish. I trust my readers to support me as far as they could and my trust, ultimately, was very finely placed. As we all know in the world of Magic, "Top 8" is noteworthy! So thanks, everyone. You made me feel good; and I hope can return the favor through future Casual Fridays.
I predicted to The Ferrett as the Round of 32 started that Rizzo’s Glorious Army of Fanatics would overwhelm Alongi’s Militia of Moderates. (I hope Toby and Chad, both of whom I read when I want to learn something, will forgive my presumption that they had an uphill battle. Goodness knows I’d be facing a steep curve if I ever played them in a DCI-sanctioned event.) Rizzo is an innovative writer who shows a great deal of passion, and that rightly gets lots of people excited to vote. There’s a lesson for Rizzo in there regarding his career destiny. We should all look for his imminent political campaign for the Pennsylvania State Legislature soon: lawns will be adorned with signs boldly lettered "Friggin’ Freedom!", "Shirtless for Senate!", and "Don’t Let the Dead Vote!" I will gladly serve as any campaign manager with Rizzo’s face on the posters.
(Space to think about all of the really funny political causes that might sport Rizzo on a poster…
(Cruelty to animals?
(The search, perhaps unsuccessful, for extraterrestrial intelligence?)
As he hates sentences that start with "as", I just thought I should take a moment to congratulate and concede formally to John, wish him and the other Final Foursome luck in the coming week…and encourage those who voted for me to support this magnificent bastard all the way, so that I can take solace in the fact that I lost to the champion, and no other.
Actually, now that I can talk about it, I’m really torn with my own vote. The purist in me honestly believes Gary Wise is the best Magic writer on the Internet today. No one combines the breadth of subject matter, depth of content, and clearly identifiable style that Gary has. So do I go with my brain, heart, and soul, and vote for Gary? Or my ego, and vote for Rizzo? Ah, how the scales balance…
I also hope CCGPrime.com will do this again in six months, or a year. As we learn how to encourage better writing in the Magic community, I think we’ve come up with all sorts of nifty models – Meridian Magic, Shawn Jackson’s (magically disappearing-reappearing!) columns, and this rather sustained voting effort. It’s all good stuff, and makes people think about what they read, what they like, and what they write.
That ought to be enough writing about writing, for now. Some decks, perhaps?
We got in some fun decks from Casual Fridays #84’s idea, around item 43, where I suggested a deck built with cards of converted casting cost two, three, and/or seven. I’ll list a few here, and name a champion. For this contest alone, I bent my "must have real name" rule since I kept forgetting to email back offenders with a reminder. But in the future, submissions without real names will just get junked. I often get enough entries for these contests that I’m LOOKING for an excuse to dump a few, folks! Don’t give me a reason to shaft you.
Red/black decks were heavy favorites. Soul Burn, Pyre Zombie, and Tsabo Tavoc were all over the place. Syphon Soul and Pyroclasm were excellent multiplayer-style additions in more than one deck. Out of these, Alward Wayne gets special mention for adding two rules to the five I set, "so that there would be seven." He restricted himself further so that each card could only have two, three, or (for land) seven copies, and built an 84-card deck.
Another guy used Morgue Toad as rather humorous mana acceleration. I can’t even give his alias kudos since he didn’t give me any name at all; and as I write this I’m pressing up against deadline and don’t have easy access to the original emails. (I do a complex cut and paste that I really don’t want to bore you with right now.) Folks, INCLUDE YOUR NAME WHEN YOU SEND ME AN ENTRY. I want to give you credit. Really.
Adam Sherman had a take-no-prisoners deck with Inferno, Tectonic Break, and Hammer of Bogardan as bombs, and Pyre Zombie and Nether Spirit for creatures. His deck was probably the most aggressive of those I received; and I hope for Adam’s sake that no one in his group that plays Voice of Law and/or Paladin en-Vec!
Casual Players’ Alliance mainstay The Orgg provided one of the most fun red-black builds I saw, with Thieves’ Auction as the bomb and its favorable treatment of token creatures as an advantage by using…Mogg Alarm. How tasty! He also used Lunge, which I think has been forgotten by many casual players as a solid, economical card in group. (Ditto Sizzle.)
Andrew Wright gets credit for his quality, non-red-and-black approach. Andrew was captivated by the allure of Molimo, as well as all those high-quality green two-drops (River Boa, Quirion Elves) and clever three-mana plays (Natural Affinity, Harrow, Tranquility).
There was at least one other green deck, splashing white that I would have placed highly (Noble Panther, Kavu Titan, Nomadic Elf which is fantastic for cleaning mana while you’re waiting for your seven-drop, Silt Crawler, etc.)…but this unnamed entrant also put in Thornscape Apprentice, which has a converted mana cost of one.
For our runner-up, we return to red and black, and a creature-themed deck. Nathan Long gives us the following beauty, blending two creature types into one:
2x Flowstone Thopter
2x Chilling Apparition
2x Do or Die
2x Hidden Horror
2x Plague Fiend
1x Rhystic Tutor
2x Seal of Doom
2x Diabolic Intent
2x Breath of Darigaaz
2x Kyren Sniper
1x Mogg Alarm
2x Squee, Goblin Nabob
2x Arms Dealer
3x Goblin Recruiter
1x Kyren Legate
1x Pyre Zombie
3x Dralnu’s Crusade
2x Sulfurous Springs
4x Urborg Volcano
I really like squeezing goblin and zombie ideas into this really restricted format; Nathan did a great job here. He had to sacrifice some consistency, though, to get all of the different cards in. I would love to hear from anyone (including Nathan) who tries this deck out; the Dralnu’s Crusade does seem like it was made for us all, and I suppose we ought to investigate it as thoroughly as we can. I would also be interested in hearing of any build that used more zombies (perhaps letting the Horrors, Undertakers, and Fiends go in return for Shivan Barbarians, Lava Zombies, and Lord of the Undead…That sort of thing).
The winner also used a creature theme, but opted for a blue-black variant. Joe Reeves gives us the following Merfolk deck:
4x Lord of Atlantis
4x Rootwater Thief
4x Vodalian Zombie
2x Vodalian Merchant
2x Glacial Wall
4x Sleeper’s Robe
1x Charcoal Diamond
1x Sky Diamond
4x Undergound River
It’s simple, straightforward, and it can deal with a surprising range of threats! Merfolk are making a bit of a comeback in the casual community, and it’s nice to give a prize to a deck that uses them so well.
When the Sideboard gave me Noxious Vapors to preview, my first impressions of the card text they gave me were far less favorable than my initial reaction to Sunken Hope. Where Sunken Hope is an easy card to pitch multiple group decks off of, Noxious Vapors poses the problems of contradictory mana vs. mission (pay 1BB to punish mono decks?), random effect (you don’t know what you’ll hit), and unsuccessful multiplayer theme (discard). That’s a lot of baggage.
But a more studied look at the card revealed some possibilities; and you can read the full analysis in the Sideboard archives here at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=sb20010117a. A couple of months after I did the article (and of course, after Planeshift product was actually available), I built a deck not unlike the "Signal" deck I proposed. Using powerful, cheap instants and creatures I could play at instant speed, I hoped to show opponents the futility of standing up to me. The deck that I ended up with:
4x Lightning Bolt
1x Magma Burst
4x Noxious Vapors
3x Yawgmoth’s Agenda
1x Hull Breach
2x Vampiric Tutor
4x Defender of Chaos
4x Simian Grunts
4x Raging Kavu
4x Pyre Zombie
2x Ghitu Encampment
2x Spawning Pool
2x Peat Bog
1x Lotus Vale
1x Darigaaz’s Caldera
Swamps, Mountains, Forests to taste (you need at least four of each, with the lion’s share going to swamps)
Yawgmoth’s Agenda started as a "back-up plan" to this deck; but as you can all imagine by now, it quickly became the focus of the deck’s strategy: play out threats and solutions at instant speed as required to keep yourself alive, get plenty of stuff in the graveyard, and then slap down Yawgmoth’s Agenda to get your second breath.
Strategic aside here: you should absolutely wait until you have at least a dozen (and preferably twenty or so) cards in your graveyard before laying down an Agenda. Cards put in your graveyard once the Agenda is out are gone for good. So that graveyard you’re looking at is a finite library with a clock on it. Make it as big as you can before you try to use it.
Given Agenda’s dominance of the deck’s pacing and play, Noxious Vapors gets quickly relegated to a supporting role: an early-game sweep for artifacts ranging from Tormod’s Crypt to Draco. It’s pretty good at that. It’s also pretty good at punishing anyone who’s color-screwed. That’s kicking someone when they’re down. I have no ethical objection to that in Magic, but there’s so little sport there.
So I might take the Vapors out. Hard to say. I run one Hull Breach, which I amazingly have yet to DRAW in over a dozen games with this deck. So I have no idea whether I should just take out the Noxious Vapors and put in two more Hull Breaches and two more creatures (it does feel a bit creature light), or just leave it as is.
After all, the deck CAN win. Not with the satisfying consistency I seek in my other decks, but perhaps a quarter to a third of the time in three- and four-player games. I don’t like it in five-player or larger: The threat of an instant-speed kill is not as effective as a Seal or other solution already visible on the board. Therefore, the Pyre Zombies have to do too much in a huge game, since you need them as both early signal and closer for lots of people and Yawgmoth’s Agenda won’t really let you do this for that long. I accepted that tension intentionally as a price of using both powerful cards in the same deck, and they don’t run into each other much in a three-player. But in a seven-player, you’re asking for trouble.
When it works, it’s a real slick operating system that will get you grins. (Playing lands out of your graveyard that have died to Magma Burst earlier gets rave reviews. And people do keep forgetting that I can Terminate their creature even when I have no cards in hand!) When it fails, it usually fails to not having enough black mana, or to Night Soil.
Guess that means the Vapors go, doesn’t it?
COMING SOON: By now some of you may have seen a separate, occasional series of articles I am doing on the Sideboard regarding my team’s effort to qualify for Pro Tour New York. Feel free to punch in over there (Star City was linking, last I checked) and take in some less casual strategy-related musings. As for this space, we’ll be looking shortly at some decks that Seventh Edition reminded me I ought to be playing; and we’ll also (I hope) welcome a new member to our group. Also, what might we want to tell WotC about casual play as they plan Eighth Edition?