TWR: Thoughts on Ikoria Mechanics

The next Magic: The Gathering set is called Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths and is a new plane filled with giant beasts (among other strange things). Preview season has kicked off, and that means a multitude of things. First off, there’s always a post on the Mothership about the new and/or returning mechanics of the set. You can read that over there, but I’ll be going over them individually along with adding some of my own commentary. Additionally, various YouTube content creators will also be unleashing a ton of new videos centering around these new mechanics, new card previews and discussions about the set. We’re also getting the brand new Commander 2020 sets releasing alongside of Ikoria, so even more spoilers are coming down the pipeline than usual. As was discussed in a post towards the end of last year, when we were looking forward to what 2020 had in store for the game, we’ve already known about Commander 2020, the additional Commander decks being released besides the other major set releases, and the Commander Booster Box set (that doesn’t even count how good Mystery Boxes were for Commander players) coming towards the end of the year. Needless to say it’s “the year of Commander,” and we’re in full swing. As such, I am planning on making separate posts with spoilers for the Commander 2020 precons along with the main set, but I do want to just focus on mechanics for this post. One caveat to keep in mind though: despite spoiler season still rolling out on the normal time table, there has been a delay in the actual release date for these new products, pushing them back about a month to May. This is probably for the best since many players have taken hits to their income, but hopefully many of us will be back to work come that time. With all of that said, let’s get into the mechanics of Ikoria.

Returning Mechanic: Cycling

One of the more interesting past mechanics that is making a return is Cycling. Cycling is a neat ability stapled onto a variety of cards that allows you to pay a mana cost, discard that card from your hand and then draw a new card. Decks that typically want to run a lot of cards with cycling are those that care about drawing cards, so the Locust Gods and Nekusars of the world. I personally only run cycling cards in my Locust God deck, but I’ve had a building interest in turning my Doomsday Zur into an Astral Slide version that wants to cycle a lot. I have a feeling with an influx of new cycling cards coming with this set, that deck might get that much better, or perhaps there will be more options to build in other colors. We already know there’s a cycling focused precon and it already looks pretty spicy. I expect a high number of cards to have the ability itself, along with many new “cycling matters” cards like the one spoiled above. If you can cycle to get draw value but also gain other effects, it can be pretty busted.

New Mechanic: Keyword Counters

Counters have been a thing in Magic for a long time, the most common form being +1/+1 counters, although -1/-1, infect and loyalty counters are getting up there in frequency. Never before has a creature been granted flying via a token though, and that’s where this is a unique mechanic although only really broken in certain circumstances. So normally creatures would be allotted flying from another creature only if that creature remained on the battlefield. Giving a sense of more permanency, these counters mean that even if the originating creature giving the keyword dies, the remaining creature with the counter still gets the benefit. They’re semi-permanent enchantment auras, and that’s pretty cool. But what if you can move counters from one creature to another, or perhaps even remove these types of counters to draw cards or something else exploitative. They’ve already said these counters won’t stack, so proliferating them isn’t powerful — until they print a card that turns this ability up to ten. Whatever the case, a combo has already been discovered with a creature that gives returns a creature without a counter on it who dies to the battlefield with a flying counter on it, but if you have Solemnity on the board that basically reads: if a creature you control dies return it to the battlefield. Pretty cool stuff.

New Mechanic: Mutate

Mutate seems to be WotC’s way of trying to revive the meld mechanic from Innistrad while simultaneously bringing the mashed up creatures of Unstable to standard play. You’re essentially putting two creatures together to get a mash up of keywords, and sometimes when mutating a creature you’ll get additional effects upon doing so. The main consideration when thinking about mutating creatures is what that extra ability might be, and how you’d like to stack the creatures, as you’ll only get the power/toughness of one of them, dependent on which you put on top. In the example above you’ll see what I mean, in that you either get a 5/4 with the additional Vigilance keyword, or you’ll get a 2/4 that gains reach and the mutate ability. However, you can only mutate creatures that have the mutate alternate casting cost, so the Cloudpiercer above is needed to make the meld. It’s an interesting idea but sort of gimmicky and even though I know one of the commander precons will attempt to build a deck around this concept, I think it will fall flat sort of like the morph deck did last year. It’s just kind of silly when you only have to Swords one target to kill two creatures.

New Mechanic: Companion

Companion is another new mechanic being introduced, and it’s already produced waves in the community. There is a partial cycle (known to this point at least) of these cards in color pairings of hybrid mana. They each have a stipulation built into them to allow you to use them in your decks, but they don’t count towards your deck’s card limit. This means you can essentially build 101 card Commander decks with these, and it’s an extra spell in your command zone (almost as if WotC decided to try some Oathbreaker design space). However, before the set has even been released, the Izzet companion card has been banned in commander. The rules committee apparently agreed that the other companions weren’t too broken but this one was. I’m not going to go further into it than that, but it’s still a crazy idea in the first place. The Spike Feeders put up a video where they discussed these in-depth and I thought I’d share that next:

While giving us a new way to include more cards (virtual sideboard, or Oathbreaker style spells in the Command zone) into our decks is a design space I’d like to see more of, these cards are pretty restrictive in their deck building requirements so it’s not quite there yet for me. I feel like I could embrace this more if there were a larger number of companions or cards that use this outside of the game wording to where we could have a virtual sideboard and could then utilize wish style spells effectively. But that’s skirting rules that have been a part of EDH for a long time, so perhaps no one will want to push that boundary. I for one would love sideboards and the ability to use wish effects to target those cards. Anyway, as I said I plan to make posts to preview the main set along with the precons so stay tuned for that!

TWR: The Extortionist’s Hound

I’m not sure why, but the Orzhov color pairing has always spoken to me. Something about the “death and taxes” aspect of it perhaps, maybe it’s the gothic/religious flavoring that isn’t normally my style. Whatever the case, these colors are great at adding taxing effects to the board, and that’s something I enjoy doing to my table (call me a dick if you like). One of the cards that came out with Theros: Beyond Death caught my attention early on, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. First, let’s look at the card and then I’ll extrapolate:

Kunoros, Hound of Athreos (another great Orzhov card himself) is a 3/3 for 3 CMC that comes stacked with vigilance, menace and lifelink. That alone is pretty good, but then he also is basically Grafdigger’s Cage on a stick, in that he doesn’t allow cards to enter from graveyards, nor can you cast spells from graveyards. So this hoses flashback, most recursion, and even the new escape mechanic. All for only 3 mana, are you kidding me? Since this commander is the goodest of boys, I started to think about other Orzhov fun stuff I could do, and remembered the extort mechanic, which is absolutely perfect for this deck. Don’t forget to pay your taxes!

Extort

So the main thing I want to do with this deck is to extort my opponents to death. Extort is a unique mechanic in that every instance of it on the board can be triggered, and each instance can be paid with hybrid WB, so all of our mana is always available to be spent for extort triggers, so we shouldn’t have much if any left over on our turns. Cast a two drop, then use your last mana to extort. Or extort twice now that you have two instances of it on the board. Each time you do, each opponent will lose a life, and you’ll gain 3 (or an amount equal to the amount of opponents you have). This probably isn’t going to make you friends, but with some of the other gameplans I’ve included, I think it’s going to be fun anyway! So most of these cards are straightforward creatures with extort stapled on them, but there are a couple highlights. Crypt Ghast will also double up the mana your swamps make, and Pontiff of Blight just outright gives all of your creatures extort, so he’s probably the MVP of the deck, but a little expensive. Lastly, we have a single enchantment with the keyword, but it also causes some light stax by forcing your opponent’s creatures and artifacts to come into play tapped. Speaking of stax… yeah, let’s go there.

Staxes and Taxes

So here we have all manner of hate pieces. Some are creature based, others are enchantments or artifacts. This smorgasbord of goodness will have creatures and artifacts coming into play tapped, will tax people for drawing cards by allowing you to draw as well or instead (or damaging them), will stop ETB triggers, will keep graveyards empty or unable to be used as a resource, will prevent more than one spell being cast per turn (good thing we can just extort) and will generally piss off someone at the table. Now that we have your attention, drain away that life and stay safe!

Notables

Since our commander has lifelink and comes down early, and we have plenty of ways to extort our opponents means we’re going to be pretty healthy. So we should probably find ways to use that life right? So first, when we have lifegain triggers, we can further damage our opponents with cards like Cliffhaven Vampire and Sanguine Bond, or we have Dawn of Hope to help us draw cards off of the lifegain. I’ve also packed in Phyrexian Arena that will draw us an additional card each turn for a life, but we should be gaining more than that anyway. Finally, if we manage to get Bolas’s Citadel out onto the field we’ll be able to cast the top card of our library for life instead of mana, so as long as we’re always topping off this is just great value. The last card of note is the new Athreos which is particularly important for this deck. Since we have piled on quite a bit of graveyard hate, its not really possible to build in a recursion engine. I did include old Athreos, but he’ll be a dead drop sometimes depending on what other stuff we have on the battlefield. As such, the inclusion of the new one gives us some recursion but it takes time to build up. Once he’s out, each end step you can put counters onto creatures. Then it doesn’t matter if they die OR go to exile, as he will return them to the battlefield regardless. This is great since we have cards like Rest in Peace exiling our graveyards as well.

This deck was created to be resilient in the sense of being able to still do things even while playing heavy stax/tax effects. Most of them are one sided in that they affect our opponents only, but some spill over and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to play cards that hinder you, challenge yourself to find ways to work around them. The payoff is worth it. I’ve also seen in the wobbly meta on the Discord that the majority of people’s decks do a lot of nothing until they suddenly combo off. This is designed to slow that down and hopefully prevent those combos. I have an answer for every major combo I’ve come across, so this should be a safe (and fairly budget) bet towards slowing games down so you can grind it out. Plus, if all else fails you only need to hit someone in the face 7 times with your commander to eliminate them, but you shouldn’t need to given the amount of drain we’re packing in.

TeamFight Tactics: Galaxies

So it’s been a while since Teamfight Tactics officially went live, and since then I dipped my toes into the game with their Elemental set. I had only played the game once prior to that during the beta, when the original set was introduced, and honestly didn’t know what would change with this game nor how often these changes would occur. I had also basically written off the genre after I wasn’t really intrigued with DOTA Underlords or Teamfight Tactics in its earliest form. When friends convinced me to give it another go, I found a surprising amount of fun could be found while not really controlling the action. I suppose this should be common sense, since people have been playing idle or clicker games for years now, but those styles of game rarely appealed to me on a personal level. Regardless, I managed to play enough to start to understand the rules, the champions available, their classes and item builds and then jumped headfirst into ranked. During that season (which are rather short) I climbed from Iron to Bronze, but abruptly the next set was released and progress was reset. The next new thing? Galaxies.

The previous set had a special feature, where certain tiles of the battlefield would be enhanced with buffs that would apply to whichever champion you stood upon them. This time around, those tiles are gone, replaced by a random chance to enter into a different galaxy for that game. Above are examples, and honestly I don’t even know if I’ve seen either of these or if there are more of them. I have probably played more games since the new set kicked off than I did last season, so I would imagine I would have seen at least one of them, but honestly there is so much new information to absorb after a reset, I couldn’t tell you if I have.

New items were introduced that can help you to get to those higher origin/class tiers faster, along with a couple that are utility oriented. Having used both the Shroud and the Portal, the Portal is the better of the two but the Shroud still has its uses. I like putting it on my tank that has an item or two by late game or is level 3 and it’s effectively a guardian angel. It’s really good. The others rarely pop up in the carousel and you don’t get spatualas often either so you’ll see less of them.

Just when I started to understand which origins and classes worked well together, they switched things up on me. I have managed try most of these to the minimum or 2/3 that they need to go online, but have pulled together a Mech Pilot team one time, a full squad of 6 Chrono and Star Guardian. I really enjoy Chrono because it grants attack speed across the board, so if you have a couple of other strong champions that don’t quite fit they still benefit from the attack speed. Speed = more mana = more spells = more DPS. Fighting against Mech Pilot comps feels shitty but I actually got crushed when I ran it so I guess I didn’t have the proper support.

There are some similar classes this time around, but a couple of others that do something a little different. Snipers only require two units, and actually stack quite well with Chrono. Vanguard is a solid choice too even if you only get to 2 units. Starship basically replaces Alchemist in that the character runs around aimlessly, but has a powerful ability. Infiltrators are basically Assassins. Blademasters function mostly the same. Overall the bigger changes occurred with the origins, and many of these I haven’t fully delved into due to having other preferences.

Anyway, as I said I’ve been playing more often now than I had been mainly due to being home basically all of the time. I’m really starting to enjoy it as well, after learning more about the new abilities I felt confident I could get further in ranked than I had previously. I managed to come out of my placement matches in the same spot I had ended the prior season on, so there was nowhere to go but up! Since then, I have played a few more rounds and managed to get my first victory of the season (with the aforementioned 6 Chrono 2 Sniper build) which promoted me from Bronze IV to Bronze II. I think I’ll be able to run up to Silver at least before the reset. Looking forward to trying, and I’ll check back in the next time we have something new to tackle.

MTG: Stuff to Watch on Quarantine

As the global crisis continues, a large portion of the population is stuck indoors. I suppose in other times we wouldn’t have had the Internet, cable and streaming services so we’d probably want to spend more time outside or visiting other people, etc. This type of freedom of movement has been severely restricted for much of the world, so being stuck inside is the only option if you are deemed unessential. We should all be feeling pretty fortunate that this is happening in 2020 and not 1991, because the Internet gives us plenty of things to get lost in. This is the sort of post that could apply to anyone and any topic, however I’m only going to stick to Magic: The Gathering Content Creators today. But if you happen to be into something completely different, I’m sure a cursory search of YouTube can get you to your chosen hobby, and you could probably make a similar list for your niche. To wit, I’d imagine you could learn a whole new skill or find a brand new hobby simply by perusing the annals of the web. With that said, here are several of my favorite MTG themed YouTube channels that are helping me get by in these the boring-est of times.

The Command Zone


I believe this was the first MTG themed podcast I started listening to, and only started really watching their channel back in 2017 or 2018. So it’s been a little while and I have to say that I’ve liked most of their content. There’s a dud episode here or there, but I like the way they find topics to discuss that is more structured the way I used to try and structure my own (dead) show. I also met Josh at GPVegas a couple of years back and that brings it that much closer to home. What I really find mesmerizing about their channel though is the sub-show “Game Knights” where they have live reality TV style games of magic in their studio. Here is where their production value really shines. The show is presented as if they are only minimally edited though a bunch of great animations and sound effects really bring the games to life. As a source of information, the guys are typically some of the first to relay important announcements from WotC themselves, and they have presented helpful tips about the game and its many rules interactions. Highly recommended even if you are fairly new to the game as these guys skew more towards the casual side of things.

Casually Competitive


Truth be told, The Command Zone was pretty much the only MTG related channel I followed for a long time. I only more recently (say the past 3-4 months) became more interested in watching gameplay videos, and this is probably in direct correlation to the fact that it’s around the same time I started playing paper Magic over webcam. As such, this ends up being like watching professional eSports though the games are heavily edited and narrated. Apparently there is a whole crop of newer players in the community that are starting these sorts of channels, because these aren’t the only new kids on the block that have found a fast following. Whatever the case, the bulk of Casually Competitive’s work are these edited and narrated gameplay videos. However, they do some instructional videos as well that will help you sort out the difference between Casual, Competitive and Casually Competitive decks. I like their stuff and you might too.

The Spike Feeders


So if The Command Zone skews more towards casual and Casually Competitive is sort of there in the middle, then The Spike Feeders are definitely the higher end of the spectrum. These guys do a variety of gameplay videos, but do have a know your combo series as well, though everything skews towards the highest end of competitive MTG. With that said, all power levels of Commander appeal to me for different reasons, and well, I like all three of these shows for the same ones. The Spikes give me games with cards in them that I cannot afford and I get to live my cEDH dreams by proxy. Speaking of proxies, I’m not sure if these guys play with those, but if they don’t they’ve got quite the collection regardless.

Play To Win


Play to Win is another newcomer to the community. They have only been around for a couple of months but already have quite the following and I can understand why. Honestly they are probably my favorite aside from The Command Zone, and that’s mostly due to the chemistry between the show’s two main hosts, the way that they edit the gameplay videos, and the little cuts back to the hosts in the middle of play. If The Command Zone is the big budget summer blockbuster film, this is the low-budget indie flick that you ended up liking better. Your mileage may vary, but I’m sold and hope they maintain their pace.

The Commander’s Quarters


There’s some irony in my inclusion of the above video, in that I had started working on this draft a couple of days before it went live. The day that I finished this draft and scheduled it for posting, the above video released. Looks like great minds think alike. While I will have named several of the same channels in this post as Mitch does in his video, he does touch on some other options that I did not include here (mainly because I watched his video after the post was done) so I’d watch that video for more suggestions. Mitch’s typical content is about building budget EDH decks, and his typical limit is $50 (though it used to be $25). I’ve taken some inspiration from his deck techs in the past, so if you’re looking to get into the game on the cheap, this is a great place to start.

Tolarian Community College


I’ve been watching Tolarian Community College for almost as long as The Command Zone, probably because there has been some overlap between their shows. Last year at the Magicfest in Vegas he was present along with Josh and Jimmy from TCZ but I never managed to catch them. Anyway, he’s a long time member of the community and has some great and varied content. He covers more than just Commander like most of the other channels I’ve mentioned, but he also has interviews with WotC personnel and a couple of different podcasts with varying content as well. His personality is probably what keeps people coming back, as he’s a loveable goof that we’ve all known at some point in our lives.

Jumbo Commander


Jumbo Commander came across my radar when Jimmy from TCZ was in New Zealand filming for Mulan so Josh pulled DJ over to co-host a few shows. He was also a guest in the past. Whatever the case, I took notice and have followed him since. He makes a variety of non-gameplay videos but has recently jumped into streaming a bit of his MTG Arena gameplay (which I’m not really a fan of watching, but it’s there if you like that). I’ve mentioned his channel plenty of times in some of my own deck tech style posts, where I’ve said that I took his inspiration and then made it my own. he’s another likable guy and he’s got a lot of content to dig into.

Playing With Power


Playing with Power is essentially the same sort of channel as Casually Competitive though they strictly put out narrated gameplay videos of cEDH games. I have enjoyed their matchups and think the videos are well done. There’s not a lot of commentary here because I’ve only recently started following them and they don’t have a huge back catalog. It’s worth watching if you’re into higher end gameplay.

That’s all I have for today. Happy binge watching!

Apex Legends: Season 4 – Assimilation

I’m a bit late to this post, and honestly it’s been sitting in my drafts folder for some time now. Season 4 of Apex Legends kicked off back at the beginning of February. It, like seasons before it, came packed with a new Battle Pass option (containing new skins, animations and artwork), a new Legend enters the fold, and of course the promise of new limited time events. Truth be told, I have had a relationship with this game since it released a little over a year ago, and though I’m not done with it, I’m riding one of those lows right now. It’s still a fantastic game. I love the fact that they have done something new each season. While the first saw an extended time on the same version of the original map, the 2nd season warped that map in new ways. With the 3rd season we saw a whole brand new map, and to fall in line, season 4 has torn the new map up giving it new life. This means an adjustment in your specific game plans, though the broad scope of the game remains the same.

The main new attraction is this big laser drill in the center of the map, while a huge lava filled canyon split the major city in two. Overall it’s still the same map but the new touches are cool and provide variety if you continue to play regularly throughout the years.

The new character Revenant seems really cool in appearance, but I find that his skills are a little underpowered. He’s much like Wattson who is a little limited when it comes to combat I feel as well. They’re more support oriented characters in my estimation, despite maybe having a different title in the game. Whatever the case, Revenant is a little more mobile due to his passive, but his tactical silencing grenade doesn’t feel too hot. His ultimate is also debatable in usefulness, mainly because you have to drop a totem, then press a button to activate the “death protection,” and then have to die within the time limit for it to do anything. If you place it properly and happen to die it’s nice, but it seems too much of a pain in the ass to be worth it. Have you played Revenant with success? Am I just stupid? Comment below.

As I said, I wouldn’t say I’m burned out but I played 324 games last season and I was already on the uptick during season 2. I basically played the shit out of the game prior to seasons, then didn’t play season 1, started getting into it more seriously in season 2 into 3, and then basically didn’t play much at all during the whole first 3rd of the current season. Whatever the case, you can make comparisons between my last season and what has occurred so far in season 4 above, and draw your own conclusions. I have padded that total a bit more recently as in the past week or so I’ve played a couple dozen games, and I am working it back into my rotation a little bit just because I’m playing with friends due to our quarantine situation. My total stats are listed in the last picture for reference, and you can see I’m nearing 800 games played, which is an average of about two games a day for the past year or so. I guess you can say I enjoy the title, despite my couple of breaks. I’ll check back in once the next season starts and see where my interest lies at that time.