The War Report: EDH via Webcam

I’ve been a member of a few Magic: The Gathering and specifically EDH oriented groups on Facebook for a while now. I regularly see people post about groups they might be able to join up with in real life in order to play, but these posts are usually met with little in the way of answers. This is partially due to the fact that despite there being a very active playerbase, it is split up in several ways. There are folks like me who had their own friends whom they played with and as such didn’t really expand beyond that. Others (myself included here as well) go to events at local game stores like Pre-releases for new sets or specific Commander events where prizes are won. Not to mention there are folks who have given up on paper Magic altogether and play solely online via MTGO or Arena. I’ve tried my hand at the digital format and find that I don’t care for it, but I’ve had fun with both other circumstances. But after moving out here as of this year, I really haven’t played much MTG in person. I did make a trip out to where I used to live one time, and I have had some rounds at my house with my sister and her husband, otherwise there was the Vegas trip where I spent the most time actually playing the game.

On those posts where people try to find others to play with in person, most of the answers suggest going to an LGS but there are places where they don’t exist (where I live is one of those places, where the nearest store is 30 minutes away). Others suggest playing via Skype/Discord or whatever else people are using to communicate these days. Initially I was turned off by the proposition, but my old roommate decided to join an EDH Discord channel and told me that he had been playing games with strangers from all over the place and having a blast doing so. Having only a PC and not a laptop, I knew I was going to have to invest in some equipment. My friend said he was using an app on his phone that makes it act as a webcam, but after seeing it in action I’m glad I decided to pick up a proper webcam. It didn’t cost much either.

It took me the better part of an afternoon to get things all set up. First, I had to unpack the webcam and the hinged arm that I purchased for it as well. Then it turned out that my desk is too thick for the arm’s clamp, so I had to find a solution which ended up  being a thick book. Thankfully the webcam is tiny and weighs very little, so the book is enough weight to hold it into place. I’ve found the perfect desk for this sort of thing on Amazon and will likely pick that up after I move, so I can then mount it properly. Anyway, once I had the physical pieces set up, I discovered that the camera’s USB cord was pretty short, but thankfully I have a spare USB port on the back of my keyboard, so I was able to plug it in there. Initially it wouldn’t turn on for me either, and after some digging I found that I had access to the camera denied in Windows’ privacy settings, so once that was enabled we were good to go. My friend pointed me in the direction of two different Discord servers, but so far I’ve only really used one. If this sort of thing interests you, the server I use is linked in that last sentence.

After being a part of the Discord channel, there are LFG tools there to pick up players to get EDH pods going. Since the traditional pod size is four players, it doesn’t take long to get games up and running. I joined my old roommate and some random guys for the first time last weekend, and it was quite an experience. People generally use a free conference software via Whereby, and I have to say it’s a great tool. This reminds me of Zencastr which I used to record podcasts with, and I’m thankful for the Internet and the cool shit that comes along with it. Pictured above is my screen, where you can see me in the top left, my friend in the bottom right and the other two random guys we were playing with. One person logs into their “room” and then sends an invite link to Discord where the other players will join in so you can see their playmats. Obviously the video quality isn’t amazing and you’re not going to be reading cards off of the screen (instead, asking “what does that do?”) but you can see their general board state and it adds to the immersion. Otherwise Discord voice channels are used on the server so that you can communicate. I’ve worn my headset and I’m thankful for its noise cancelling because I’m set in the living room and the TV and other things are always going but I haven’t gotten any complaints about background noise. We had a couple of rounds that day, and then yesterday I spent a big chunk of the afternoon playing as well.

I’m not sure why the camera were set up weirdly in this picture, but it was when I was playing in the late afternoon with a group of random people. I ended up playing several games with these guys but for some reason some of our cameras were displaying weirdly. Perhaps there are some quirks in the system I’m unaware of. Whatever the case, it has been a blast to literally play MTG on demand. I haven’t had this sort of release in quite some time, and since I’ve barely played at all this year I intend to make up for it. This allows me to practice decks more often, and find ways to tweak them to make them better. I’m already tearing through my collection trying to make new decks that just kinda work just to have other things to play. I know now that I won’t feel like I’m wasting my time coming up with new builds and whatnot, because I’ll actually get to use the cards I’m buying and play the decks that I’m building. I’m looking forward to my next session already!

What’s really interesting is the difference in metas. Apparently the culture is a little different too, as proxies are allowed and people aren’t asking for proof that the players even own a copy of the card. I’m not down for playing proxies myself, but I can see how it can make a meta more competitive. Most of my decks are pretty well balanced, so we’ve been playing mostly in the “mid” power level group, and it’s been mostly fair outside of the above game where “Roons” was playing a deck that was probably more fitting for a high power room. Regardless it worked out fine in the end and we had a blast playing a bunch of different games. If you love paper magic, EDH, and don’t have a playgroup, I highly suggest checking this idea out. It’s as close to the real thing as many people can get.

If you’re interested in my webcam setup, here are links to the Amazon pages:

Logitech C615 Webcam
Neewer Suspension Boom

TWR: Brewing Around Partners

I’ve been sitting on a couple of partner commanders for a couple of years now. I bought the Saskia Commander 2016 precon that came with Tymna the Weaver and Tana the Bloodsower and though I played the deck as it was for a little while, I eventually broke it up to make Saskia into a weird ball lightning deck before later changing her to an infect commander. Tymna found her way into another brew of mine that centered around Alesha, but Tana was relegated to a binder never to see play again (not to mention that the decks I’ve mentioned to this point aren’t seeing play or are broken up). Knowing that the partners have some powerful decks people have come up with, I was looking into another competitive option so that I’m not forced to play Zur every time I want to play cEDH. Arguably the most powerful combination, Tymna + Thrasios builds typically rely on the “Flash Hulk” combo. You can google that last term and find viable lists abound. Vial Smasher decks look solid too, and was the other build I saw most of when it came to partners with Tymna. Finally though, I came across a “Bloodpod” primer that showcased a deck centered around Tymna and Tana, and these are the cards I already owned. It turns out that I owned a good chunk of the list too and though I didn’t want to out right copy it, there isn’t a lot of room for change either. Mainly, I figured that there were some budget versions of cards that I could swap out, and thereby make it a little easier to build overall, despite having a value similar to that of my Zur deck. Most importantly, it isn’t trying to win via Laboratory Maniac and actually wants to turn creatures sideways, which is fun. It’s also pretty stax oriented, another style I enjoy. Backstory aside, let’s take a look at our partners:

Tymna doesn’t look all that great at first glance, being a 2/2 for 3 with Lifelink. However, if you can manage to damage an opponent, you’ll get an extra draw during your second main phase. If you manage to damage multiple opponents, you’re drawing more cards. That’s actually pretty amazing, and with her low CMC you can start doing this early. Tana supports the other side of our plan, in that she too wants to get in for combat damage, but also produces tokens for us to use sacrificially, or to spread our damage around to multiple opponents for more card draw via Tymna. Also, being able to create tokens and draw cards while under stax effects means we’ll be ahead of our counterparts for the majority of the game.

So what’s our game plan? Well the original Bloodpod deck was named as such due to the above two cards. Blood Moon is a card that hoses many multicolored decks, particularly if they are running mostly non-basic lands. It does ruin our non-basics too, and with only a few basic lands that can hurt, but it shouldn’t be an issue if we already have out our commanders and can keep drawing cards and creating saprolings. Birthing Pod is a nefarious card that allows you to sacrifice creatures in order to tutor up other ones, and there are several ways we’re going to utilize it. Essentially, the deck wants to throw down some early stax/tax effects and then pod into a victory combo. The original deck was made a few years back though, but newer versions have come out and I’ve managed to take some ideas from multiple decks and put them together. Some things to note: I don’t have the mana base that most lists do, but found a more budget friendly way to go that should still be effective. I also don’t own some of the most expensive cards, so I’ll be showing you some budget options for those as well. First up, the stax pieces:

I’d argue that more stax pieces are artifacts and enchantments than creatures, but it seems there are plenty of good hatebears for the deck as well. These cards are all purposefully picked in order to slow your opponents down and allow us to get ahead. Combo/Storm decks need to cast more than one spell a turn, so shutting that down as an option is good, as is forcing them to pay taxes on top of CMC. Shutting off the abilities of artifacts and creatures or making them come into play tapped sets people back turns. We also have the all important graveyard hate stapled to Leyline of the Void and Anafeza the Foremost. Magus of the Moon is a second Blood Moon. Grand Abolisher protects us on our turns. You see where this is going. So our gameplan then is to have more mana, more card draw and a faster tempo than the rest of the table. We’re only running 34 lands, which are a combination of Shocks, Pain lands, and others that allow us to create mana of any color, with very little utility. Mana rocks are present in Mox Diamond, Chrome Mox and Sol Ring, but otherwise we are depending on multiple early dorks to really accelerate our plan. Here’s our dork package:

We can make most of our colors with the above elves, along with making an explosion of green mana if we get priest of titania and a couple more elves on the battlefield. Birds of Paradise and Deathrite Shaman can fix for us. So after we have out some decent ramp and some stax pieces to put us solidly ahead, we can work on our wincon. This can be helped with a solid tutor package:

Yisan is basically another Birthing Pod, while Fauna Shaman is a budget version of Survival of the Fittest. Eldritch Evolution only works one time, but can grab you something needed, while the other more traditional tutors can pick up pieces that we need for our combos. What do we need for combos? I’m glad you asked:

So, here are some combo pieces that will win us the game. Kiki-Jiki along with Splinter Twin are two ways to allow us to infinitely ping down our opponents in conjunction with Goblin Sharpshooter, as such:

Splinter Twin + Goblin Sharpshooter + any x/1:

  • Twin on Sharpshooter #1.
  • Tap #1 to create #2.
  • Tap #2 to kill a dork. #1 and #2 untap.

Loop:

  • Tap #1 to create #3.
  • Tap #2 to damage face.
  • Tap #3 to kill itself. #1 and #2 untap.

We also have loops from Birthing Pod/Yisan that count on creatures like Felidar Guardian, Karmic Guide and Village Bell Ringer, all of which can essentially be tutored with Buried Alive and then reanimated with either the Karmic Guide or the couple of reanimation spells present in the deck. For example:

Birthing Pod + 3drop + 4drop + 2mana -> pod 3 into Felidar Guardian -> Flicker Pod -> pod 4 into Kiki-Jiki

The deck can be a little convoluted, but you should be able to win either by infinitely pinging, or making infinite Guardians with haste that you can hopefully win the game with. Instant board wipes could be an issue, but with the recursion you should be able to get one of these going. If nothing else, you can stax lock the board and win via normal combat damage. I think the deck can be very competitive and I can’t wait to start building. It’s probably going to take some time to get the capital together for the cards needed but I think it’s going to be worth it just as much as building Zur was.

TWR: Throne of Eldraine Spoilers & The Next Year of MTG

We’ve known about the next Magic: The Gathering expansion, Throne of Eldraine for a little while now, but as is customary in the month leading up to a set’s release, we’re entering into spoiler season for it. I saw a few whispers about a Twitch stream that certain community members were given access to, and shortly thereafter we were learning that Wizards of the Coast would be attempting again to push the Brawl format. Most people, myself included, had already written it off as dead, but with the additions to Arena, they have been pushing the format again between paper and digital. I’m not sure if there will be Planeswalker decks, or if these are going to be more comparable to the Guild Kits from the Ravnica block, but whatever the case, a new product is launching with Throne of Eldraine and we’ll see Brawl preconstructed decks for the first time. Here are the face commanders for these sets:

Brawl Commanders:

If you are unfamiliar, Brawl is a Commander variant in that it follows the same color identity and singleton rules, but instead of being 100 card decks they are only 60 cards. They also have a rotation that matches standard, meaning you can only play with standard legal cards. So no putting your Commander deck cards into your Brawl decks. I think it’s a silly limitation and part of the reason I stopped playing standard is because rotation can be expensive. In EDH, you can wait for a set to rotate out and get a good deal on singles you want. Otherwise it’s pretty much the same game. And when it comes down to it, I’m not overly impressed with any of these commanders enough to warrant building a new EDH deck around it. I think the Bant and Esper creatures are more interesting than the others, but I’m sure people playing knights are excited to access to a new color with a new general. Friends of mine seem to be most interested in Korvold, and I’ve seen what sorts of shenanigans you can pull with him but I find it uninteresting. Deck lists were already released for these, though I don’t believe all of the cards have been spoiled just yet. They don’t really seem worth the time, but I’ve heard they are going for $20 a piece so not a lot to invest if you want to build around one.

New Mechanics:

Throne of Eldraine is adding a couple of new mechanics, and though they are kind of interesting and their take on fairy tales aren’t bad, I just haven’t really seen much yet that I’m excited for in the set. I don’t think I’m burnt out on the game because I’m still always brewing, building, writing and thinking about the game. One problem is that I don’t really play much, but even with all of that on my plate I still don’t find much to be excited for. So the new mechanics are Adventure, Adamant and Food Tokens. Various cards from the set reference food and creating food tokens. Some, like the Goose above, will allow you to create food but also to sac food to the goose itself to get a different effect. Otherwise, Food tokens are much like Clues or Treasures before them, but instead of drawing you cards or giving you mana, instead you gain life. I guess Oloro players rejoice, but it just seems like a tacky limited-only thing. The same really goes for Adamant. It’s great for mono colored decks I suppose, because it typically requires you to cast the spell with only one color of mana in order to get a bonus effect. That’s pretty meh, and I haven’t seen one that seems worth it yet. Of course, spoilers have only just begun. Lastly, with Adventures you get the new card frame at top right above. There is a spell side and a creature side to these cards. You can cast the creature normally for its CMC and be done with it, or you can cast the adventure spell (which can be either instant or sorcery) which is then exiled rather than going to your graveyard. You may then cast the creature half of the card from exile for it’s normal cost. I can see ways this could be really good, but the creatures spoiled that have adventures on them haven’t been great.

New Planeswalkers:

A couple of Planeswalkers have been spoiled so far, including the return of Garruk. Apparently Will and Rowan from the Battlebond set are supposed to be around as well, but we haven’t seen them just yet. Garruk looks ok, but I’m not sold; older versions are better. A brand new walker in Oko has appeared as well, and he references those damn food tokens too. I’m not into this guy either. As a matter of fact, I think I still have a hangover from War of the Spark.

In other news, we were treated with the schedule of releases for the next year of Magic: The Gathering. I first saw this information over on Hipsters of the Coast.

 

So, we know that beginning in quarter one of 2020, we’ll be returning to an older plane with Theros: Beyond Death. I’m pretty excited for this one as I wasn’t playing when the original Theros set released but I have purchased many cards from the block. I’m curious to see what sorts of new Gods them might come up with. In quarter two, we’ll be heading to another brand new plane, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Apparently there’s something about building monsters in this set, but I’m not sure if that will be like the fusing of creatures in Unstable, or if it will be more like the meld cards. Whatever the case, the new planes tend to be more exciting than the old. Core Set 2021 will likely have some gems, but overall core sets are dull. Finally, in quarter four we’ll see another old favorite in Zendikar Rising. I didn’t play during either of the Zendikar blocks, though the latter was still standard legal when I came back to the game in 2016. As such, I own a ton of cards from these sets, but I’m disappointed that we won’t get more Eldrazi.

Whatever the case, 2020 looks like a good year for MTG. I’m looking forward to new things to come!

The War Report: A Magical Vacation

I’ve been on vacation for a week now, and it’s been pretty swell. Last Sunday was my final day of work before the paid holiday, and smack in the middle of my time of was the trip to Las Vegas for Magic Fest 2019. I managed to play a lot of Magic: The Gathering over the course of the week, and thought I’d share some words and pictures to commemorate the events.

So as I said, I got off of work last Sunday morning, and still won’t go back to work until Wednesday early am. From there I had a couple of days of rest and relaxation ahead of me. My sister and her husband-to-be came over to visit us on Tuesday, and that meant we’d play some MTG in between catching up conversations and pizza (yay pizza, by the way). I had finished up my Yuriko build that I wrote about the other day, and really wanted to try that out so I ended up playing it vs. her Teysa Karlov and his Jodah, Archmage Eternal decks. He ended up beating us pretty readily with an early turn Sneak Attack into an Utvara Hellkite that we couldn’t answer. Yuriko still looked to have potential but it’s the only game I had played with her since finishing the build. I wanted a win and we only had time for one more game, so I pulled out my Zur the Enchanter deck which I had never played against them (it’s considerably higher powered) and pulled off a quick win.

Wednesday was prep and pack for Vegas day, so I ran some errands and gathered up my stashed recycling, coinage and bills and got those all turned in for cash for the trip. I left for Vegas on Thursday morning at 10am. I arrived by 2 pm. Unfortunately my friend who had reserved the room at our hotel wasn’t able to get off of work, so he left later in the afternoon and didn’t arrive until almost 9 pm. Needless to say I had to find a way to kill some time. Luckily our other friend who had moved to Vegas a couple of years ago had a place for me to hang out, and I did just that. We had some food, drank some beers and played some 1v1 Commander.

We ended up playing three separate games, and I won two of them. He’s had some money troubles and sold off a large portion of his collection. This meant he only had a total of three EDH decks and that would prove to be more frustrating for him than us as the weekend went on. Yuriko performed much better in the game at his house, and nearly won but he had a well timed Empress Galina that kept stealing my shit and pissing me off. My Zur game was a win, as was a game with Jodah. Later I would leave him behind (he had work in the morning) to go meet up with my ex-roommate to check into the hotel. We weren’t ready for bed yet, but at this point the first day of the convention was winding down, so we ended up ordering a pizza (yay pizza again!) and playing a few rounds. We got four games in before he was falling asleep with cards in hand. I won three of those games, probably the most fun of which was with Jodah, where I managed to drop Emrakul, the Promised End for 5 mana and basically took over the game. We crashed out looking forward to attending the convention in the coming days.

On day two, after waking up and getting cleaned up, we decided to play a few games in the room before heading over to the convention. Our other friend didn’t get off of work until 2pm, so we figured we’d hit the con and then go swoop him up to do something. Once we were at the convention center, we quickly learned that the venue was at the same hall as last year, so everything was very familiar this time around. Some things changed though, in that this year the cornered off area with the orange table cloths was called the “command zone” and we had to check in to get our passes to access the area at will.

Beyond just the pass giving us access, we also received a alternate art foil Sol Ring, four commander on-demand passes, and a 100+ deck box with Channel Fireball livery. I slammed the new Sol Ring into my Zur deck immediately as I’ve been pimping that deck out for a while now. We ended up wandering the hall for a while and checking out the vendors and things, and then ended up back in the command zone where we sat down and played some 1v1 waiting on other players. It seems that this wasn’t the best method, as we waited for a while and didn’t see lone players LFG or have anyone invite themselves to play with us. We decided to do some on-demands and found pods to play with that way, and had a bunch of fun. As soon as we had sat down to play our friend was bugging to come pick him up, but we ended up hanging out for a while before doing so.

We ended up back at the hotel room after picking up our friend and getting some dinner. We drank and played cards for a few hours, but later in the evening my ex-roommate had the commander party to attend. He ended up getting the Populate C19 Precon and since that was the one I wanted and he wasn’t as interested, I ended up buying it off of him. He got some Liliana sleeves as well, but I put those on my Varina deck since that’s the only place I have any Liliana cards. I sleeved up the precon and set it aside. We had plans to get the others the next day.

On day three we spent more time in the room than anywhere. Our third wasn’t in a spot to really do much at the convention so we decided to do some day drinking and play some games in the room before we went to go grab lunch. We went back to the hotel and played even more before we headed to the convention center for the last time. Between the two of us with money to burn, we wanted to get all four of the precons and only one was had at this point. I also wanted to get either a t-shirt or a playmat as a souvenir to commemorate the occasion and ended up with a new lightning bolt playmat that featured Magic Fest, the Channel Fireball, MTG and WotC logos on it. We ended up pooling our prize tix from the on-demands and I was able to pick up the Flashback precon as well. He ended up buying the other two at good prices, mainly because he traded in some valuable cards he wasn’t using for credit towards them. I was happy with the new purchases and we headed back to the room to finish our last night out playing more cards and drinking some brews.

Overall the convention was fun, the trip was memorable but I think I overdid it with the extra day. It turns out that one can only play so much Magic and be away from home for so long before wanting to do something else. I left early on Sunday morning despite originally planning on staying the day. I missed my family and wanted to sleep in my own bed. I still had a good time, but I think if I do this again next year some things will have to change. I’m hoping to maybe get my sister and her man to get interested in the trip and make it with me… would be really nice to have a pod of 5 before even heading to the con. We’ll see, I might end up just doing the Los Angeles convention next year instead, as it’s much closer and I’m sure the room prices would be about the same. Whatever the case, I’m glad to have done it, and I’m glad that I ended up with two extra days off after arriving back home. It’s back to the grind soon, but I’m glad to have had this opportunity again.

The War Report: Overpopulation

After realizing I had already made a “go-tall” token style deck in Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun back when I first got into commander, I thought I should try my hand at this strategy again but in different colors. I was already interested in Ghired for some of the other cards that come in the box that I want to add to other existing EDH decks, but decided I should probably brew him up as well. He’s the only face-card commander I find appealing in any sense of the word, so let’s take a look at him (again):

Ghired is a 5 CMC 2/5 with an ETB trigger that creates a 4/4 Rhino token with trample. He also has the added bonus of triggering populate each time he attacks, and whatever token you choose to copy comes into play tapped and attacking. Give him haste, and you can slam 10 power on the board on turn 5 at the latest. Honestly I wish I could use Temmet in this deck, solely to give that unblockable bonus, but alas he contains blue and that wouldn’t be allowed. So given that populate only copies creature tokens, and it only does it one at a time, we’re going to want bigger creature tokens rather than little ones. We also don’t necessarily want to go wide, but the speed at which you should be able to populate, you will eventually go wide provided there aren’t a lot of board wipes being cast. Still, we want tokens in general to copy so I have included a few ways to make some smaller ones, but for the most part we’re focusing on those that are 4/4 or more. Let’s take a look at what I mean:

As you can see, there are a myriad of ways that we can make some big tokens, from creatures that ETB or otherwise trigger other tokens to be made, to spells that create tokens that you can later populate, or event enchantments that can churn out 4/4’s and 5/5’s like nobody’s business. For the most part, we’re looking for big tokens to target with our populate triggers, so I’ve tried to focus on this theme. If you can get a few populate triggers in a single turn, you could be looking at several 6/6’s or 8/8’s, particularly with the token support package we’ve included (populate and other bonuses).

This support package will make those populate triggers happen, but it will also benefit your population, in that you’ll get extra tokens with an Anointed Procession or Parallel Lives on the board, and then if you can double up on that with Song of the Worldsoul or Growing Ranks. We also have a few anthem effects to make those 4/4’s into 5/5’s or even 6/6’s. Intangible Virtue and Angel of Invention can help beef up the tokens already on the board.

As I said earlier, we really want our new token creatures and our commander in particular to have haste. As such I’ve included Fervor, Fires of Yavimaya and Rhythm of the Wild to give this to them. If we can use our commander immediately we get a bunch of power on the board quickly, and utilizing our populate triggers this can me explosive turns. But we also need to draw cards so enchantments like Colossal Majesty, Elemental Bond, Rishkar’s Expertise and Shamanic Revelation were included. Hour of Reckoning is an on-theme board wipe, while Second Harvest can make an already big board that much larger. In order to help keep up with mana production, I’ve also included Mirari’s Wake (doubles as an anthem) and Zendikar Resurgent (doubles as card draw). They’re pretty much staples in the colors, so I expect you know them by now.

I’m positive this deck will not be overly competitive, but it looks like fun. I hope to pick it up while I’m in Vegas and get some test runs in as it stands in the precon, but this version of the deck is ones I’d aspire to upgrade to.