Scouse of Cards – Starting Block

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Tuesday, May 13th – All I wanted to do was stick Shield of the Oversoul on a Doran. The idea nagged at me, nibbling my ear when I was otherwise occupied. Come on, it’d whisper, build a Super-Doran deck… “But it’s a three-color guy in a speedy format,” I’d offer, “and creature enchantments are rubbish!” The idea continued its coaxing unabated. Eventually, I caved…

1 — Project Birmingham, Week 1: Looking at Lorwyn Block Constructed

All I wanted to do was stick Shield of the Oversoul on a Doran.

I’m not a great deckbuilder. I have trouble identifying the exploitable loopholes in any given format… and when I do spot them, I have trouble coming up with the cards and strategies to do the exploiting. I feel most at home taking a deck that I’ve seen on the internet, or one recommended by friends, and tweaking it to my own design if necessary. So in general, I hone in on the strategies with which I’ve had most success: aggro and mid-range beats.

Another problem I have? I latch onto an idea I feel is “cool,” and I can’t let it go. This time, I wanted to make a functional 7/7 indestructible flier that was swinging in turn 4. That’s gotta be fun, right?

The idea nagged at me, nibbling my ear when I was otherwise occupied. Come on, it’d whisper, build a Super-Doran deck… “But it’s a three-color guy in a speedy format,” I’d offer, “and creature enchantments are rubbish!

The idea continued its coaxing unabated. Eventually, I caved.

Let’s investigate the deck and examine both the good and bad points.

Good — Optimizing Wilt-Leaf Liege
The Liege is fantastic, and most of the wins I had in testing were fuelled on the back of the 4/4 double-Crusade guy. While +1/+1 to a premier three-drop like Imperious Perfect is nice, I really wanted to ensure I was getting the full +2/+2. To do so, I made sure I maxed out on creatures that were both Green and White. There’s the signature Doran, of course, and the all new Loxodon Hierarch in Kitchen Finks. We also have the wonderful Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, who look great as 5/6 Vigilance guys, but even better as functional 6/6 men with a Siege Tower in the mix. Safehold Elite is fine, and the somewhat out-of-place maindeck Elvish Hexhunters (a natural response to Bitterblossom) are still 3/3 guys for one mana with a Liege down. Gaddock Teeg, there to kick Cryptic Command and Planeswalkers in the junk, is tricky to kill when 4/4, especially if he’s Shielded. And then, of course, there’s a 7/7 Doran that grows to 9/9 with both Liege and Shield. Yowza!

Bad — Everything Costs Three Mana
Let’s look at the curve:

One-Drop Guys — Three
Two-Drop Guys — Seven
Three-Drop Guys — Twelve
Four-Drop Guys — Four

Definitely a little three-drop heavy… but if you add the nine three-drop spells too, the problem becomes ridiculous. This means that any deck with a smidge of countermagic, such as Faeries, will get fair value out of their one-for-one Just Say No cards. And it means I’ll have trouble doing multiple things a turn until turn 6 at the earliest. If a deck ever needed Llanowar Elf, this is it.

Good — It. Beats. Down.
I ran this deck against a Shadowmoor-updated Kithkin list (not updated with much, I admit). Super-Doran kicked the Kithkins’ faces right off their bodies. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise, as their 2/2s are easily bested by a 3/4 Vigilance guy that holds off the beats until Liege or Shield makes him literally undefeatable. Even if they God out with Stalwart revealing Cenn, Cenn, Stalwart and two-drop, without seeing multiple Oblivion Rings they will succumb to the inevitable. Kitchen Finks will help you stabilize, and then something stupid will smash them to pieces.

Bad — Why Bother With Black?
To be frank, this was the one that killed me.

Okay, so the Faerie matchup was sketchy at best. If Gaddock Teeg appeared to halt Command bounciness and countermagic, or if they failed to make either turn 2 Bitterblossom or turn 4 Mistbind Clique, I was fine… but they’re designed to these very things. Even so, I could forgive that, at this early stage.

But Doran, the very spell that drew me down this sickly path… he just didn’t justify his inclusion.

To start, my manabase forced me to jump through a few hoops in order to get the big ugly tree down early. And while the Vivid lands also hit Red for extremely cheeky Firespout action, they hindered more than they helped. Next, the Black splash offered exciting board options, like Shriekmaw, Thoughtseize, and Nameless Inversion… but these all sound like cool maindeck options, so why not go there full pelt and play a more traditional Doran deck? Why bother with Shield of the Oversoul at all?

That was the main problem… the voice that originally nagged me to stick a Shield on a Doran now told me that Doran was defunct.

After a round of testing in which I battered some aggro decks but fell afoul of the Faeries, I knocked on Adrian Sullivan door. He gut-tweaked my deck and came up with the following list:

I’ve not had a chance to test this yet. Neither, I suspect, has Adrian… he was simply helping me out, and he did append the list with “this could be awful.” However, there are some nice things here:

– Four copies of key cards like Cavaliers, Liege, Finks, and Oblivion Ring. The core of this build looks very much like the successful side of my own.
Manamorphose makes the Mutavaults less scary (even if the Vaults do still seem a little greedy), and they make those 4-ofs actual 4.3-ofs or similar.
Kitchen Finks and Rustic Clachan, yeah!

As it stands, I’ve tweaked the mana a little (I think the Bosks are redundant now, unless like Adrian you believe it may open up a few sideboard options). I‘ve split the four Bridges into equal parts Mosswort Bridge and Windbrisk Heights in order to test both of these. I’ll keep you posted on the list next time out.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll shoehorn Doran back in there yet…

2 — Ideas for MTGO

“Wanna playtest some Block Constructed?”

I spent this past weekend deep in Draft Heaven. Richard Hagon, ever the genial host, dragged a number of Magic players from the four corners of the country to partake in six triple Shadowmoor drafts over two days. This is not that story. For that story, go read Rich’s article that appears below this one.

I came prepared for battle. I took my trade folder, my playmat, my oversized D20, my Cube. And, as Grand Prix: Birmingham approaches, I took a couple of Block decks. The Green/White deck above, and everyone’s current backup deck U/B Faeries. I surmised that, when presented with a roomful of like-minded folk preparing for the Grand Prix, Magic players would leap at the chance to test the format in the flesh.

Of the twenty or so players that passed through the gates of Chez Hagon, those packing Block Constructed heat numbered one.

Yes. That means me.

Sure, everyone had ideas on the format, and some were happy to throw my Faeries against my Green/White… but let’s face it, if I want ideas I’ll hit the forums, and if I wanna test my own decks against each other I’ll do it at home.

After the second day of drafting, which (without spoiling Rich’s article) went a hell of a lot better for me than the first, my good friend Paul Wray and I were chatting on the short drive home. We bemoaned the lack of Block testing that was available, both in real life and online.

“You’ve got a decent online collection now,” Paul said. “Why aren’t you testing on MTGO?”

I do have a decent collection, especially of Block Constructed cards. I was fine for Time Spiral, and have basically four of everything for Lorwyn Block… that’s been release thus far. And there we have it: No Shadowmoor on MTGO means there’s no point testing Block Constructed. There’s also the problem that last time I played MTGO V3 the whole thing seemed as slow as an arthritic zombie sauntering through custard, but that’s another story.

I understand that the online card release needs to be delayed in order to boost paper sales and ensure secrecy in development. I also understand that various delays and problems plague the schedule of the ongoing V3 release, and you can be sure I’ve been more than patient there. What I don’t understand, however, is how Wizards can possibly promote MTGO as a legitimate testing tool for tournaments when it doesn’t schedule the tournaments in question to align with online releases.

PT: Hollywood is coming. Folk would love to test on MTGO for that bad boy, I’d wager. As it’s Standard with Shadowmoor, they simply can’t do it. Same with Grand Prix: Birmingham. And same with various Limited Grand Prixes and Pro Tours, who always seem to start round 1 on or around Paper Release Day. Seriously, I can’t understand the reasoning behind this schedule. Why isn’t the Block Constructed Pro Tour held the weekend before the release of the next big set? That way the tech in the tourney would be the pinnacle of the format rather than a mishmash of hopeful suggestions.

Anyway, during our various ramblings, Paul and I came up with a few interesting ideas on testing and MTGO and scheduling and Magic and fun.

MTGO Prizes for Real Life Tournaments
In the UK, the current PTQ prize payout system works like this: you win the PTQ, you get an invite to the Pro Tour and your flights to and from the tournament venue paid in full. And that’s cool, especially if you’re gunning for an Asian PT or similar. So all you have to do is book your hotel, save up some spending money, and practice for the event.

But do you know what’d be really cool? If Wizards, alongside the above prizes, gave you a chance to practice for the event in style… a chance that wouldn’t actually cost them a penny.

You enter an Extended PTQ that feeds a Block Constructed Pro Tour. You take your Domain Zoo deck all the way to the top of the standings, and demolish the Top 8 with energy to spare. Your prize?

One Block Constructed Pro Tour invitation.
One return flight to the venue.
And four online copies of every card in the current Block Constructed format.

How’s about that for an incentive to use MTGO as a test tool?

It’s a Limited Pro Tour? Okay, how about 360 boosters of the relevant set? It’s Standard, or Extended? Hell, fill out their accounts. What does it cost? Little if anything, unless I’m missing something fundamental.

Even if Wizards don’t like that idea, how about this? Winning the PTQ gives a PT invite, a flight, and access to a Wizards-owned MTGO “God Account” until the PT is over. An account that contains four of each card and unlimited boosters, none of which can be traded, sold, or redeemed.

Yes, there are problems here, not least the “but the God Account won’t have 4 of each Shadowmoor card until after PT: Hollywood” argument… but such things should not be insurmountable.

What do you think? Come tell me in the forums.

MTGO Proxies
This one is a little more experimental, and probably not implementable in the way I’m suggesting here, but Paul and I were pretty excited about the idea when he first suggested it.

You’re testing for an Extended tournament, and you’re looking for some online testing on MTGO. You wanna test with Pernicious Deeds, just to see if The Rock is as ghastly as you remember, but you can’t afford to shell out the big bucks in order to quell your curiosity. So instead, you rock up to the MTGO Store, and buy four copies of Pernicious Deed Proxies for $1.

These proxies don’t have art, or they’re greyed out and “stamped” with PROXY. They aren’t legal for sanctioned play, and are only usable in the specially-formed “Proxy Testing Room.” They function exactly like the real cards, but they can’t be played in tournaments.

Immediately, we can see problems with this idea. Wizards don’t really like the idea of proxies as a concept, and who can blame them? Also, if proxies are available, what’s to stop casual players playing entirely with the cheaper proxies and thus wiping out the MTGO secondary card economy overnight? Online proxies are definitely dangerous ground…

… so how about making proxies only available for a week, or a fortnight? You pay your $1 for four proxied Pernicious Deeds, and they remain in your online collection for a week.

Another problem is that Wizards aren’t really into the whole secondary card market… so how about making “blank” proxy cards, four for a dollar? These cards can be bought blank and then used once by “writing” the name of the card “onto” the proxy. You can assign, once only, the card you’d like your proxy to represent… and again, it “wears out” after a week or two of use and has to be re-purchased.

Or if Wizards don’t like that, how about allowing Test God Account Rental? Let me pay my X dollars a month for four of each card, in an account that is disabled for both Limited and sanctioned play. Give me the tools to help me test my formats!

As I said above, this idea is one that probably needs a lot of work… even so, it’s pretty radical. And definitely exciting.

Cube Drafting Online
I’ve mentioned this one before, but it does bear repeating… as a format, Cube Drafting is superb.

So why not implement Cube Drafting online?

Let me, the owner of my account, set up my own Cube using the cards in my collection. For those who aren’t aware, a “Cube” in this sense is a singleton Highlander collection of around 400-600 of the “best” cards in Magic, divided into equal parts by color (including artifacts, multicolors, and land). Those cards are then drafted as normal, and played out with the usual Limited 40-card deck rules. In general, the cards are all supremely powerful, and when you’re getting fifteenth-pick Exalted Angels you just know the play is gonna be great.

So let me build a Cube in MTGO. And let me set up private drafts with my friends. Sure, there’s no boosters for the winner, but it’s all good fun! And it’s free to enter! Alternately, make it two tickets to enter for everyone, with ten tickets going to the winner of the draft, and the other six going to Wizards coffers. Or let Wizards take all sixteen, and have the winner win three boosters or something. Anything in order to make this idea work.

Personally, I’d love the ability to Cube online. And I’d love the chance to play your Cube, and Tom LaPille online Cube, and Evan Erwin online Cube, and The Ferrett online Cube… And I hope you’d all have fun playing with mine.

That didn’t quite sound as intended.

That’s all from me this week. Next week, I’ll bring you some updates from my Block Constructed testing, and I’ll share my own real life Cube listing and ask for your input.

Until then…

Thanks for listening.

Craig Stevenson
[email protected]
Scouseboy on Magic Online