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.

The War Report: This Shirt is Not Black

This Friday the Commander 2019 precons release. By the time this post goes live I’ll already be in Vegas and it actually should already be Friday, but who knows if I’ll have gotten my hands on any of the new decks yet. I fully intend to try and pick up both the Naya Populate and the Jeskai Flashback decks, mostly likely by going to the LGS out there. Whatever the case, there weren’t initially any commanders from the new sets that I wanted to build, but after some careful consideration, I decided on building one that doesn’t even come in one of the decks I want to purchase. As such, I’ll likely grab him as a single and go from there, don’t believe I’m using any other cards from that particular box. The commander in question is from the Rakdos Madness deck, and it’s *drumroll*:

That’s right, it’s K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth. I have brewed a mono black deck or two in the past, but I ended up never really being all that passionate about the commander. In this case, I absolutely love what K’rrik can do. A 7 CMC commander is not one you’d usually aim for, but because the 3 black pips are actually phyrexian mana, you can pay 2 life instead of 1 black mana, meaning you can play K’rrik without even having a swamp on the board, just need a couple of decent colorless mana rocks. Besides that, he gives this ability to all of you cards, where each black pip turns into phyrexian mana. On top of that, K’rrik gets +1/+1 counters fore every black spell you cast, and he has lifelink to keep the engine running. I don’t really think it’s necessary to make this into a Voltron deck, but I do think a Tainted Strike and Phyresis are in order to capitalize on big swings and then adding infect. One thing that I think black can do almost better than any color is both make some big time mana (without infinite combo) and make use of your life total as a resource. We’re going to aim to do both, with a splash of good stuff along with a few known but busted win conditions.

Big Mana:

I’ve been wanting to make a mono black deck for a long time, if for no other reason than using the Cabal Coffers/Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth combo, and it’s on flavor with K’rrik at the helm. Other lands that can help to make explosive turns are both Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Cabal Stronghold. If we can get a few of these out on the battlefield at once, look out. Not only can we capitalize on lands, but also utilizes creatures that do a similar thing: Nirkana Revenant, Magus of the Coffers and Crypt Ghast. The latter also feeds into one of our subthemes with extort (and it’s completely legal because the hybrid B/W symbol only appears in parenthesis and therefore is only reminder text, not part of color identity). Black Market will build up additional mana for you over time, and Bubbling Much can make a big mana turn even bigger by doubling up what our swamps produce. I imagine you can get to a point where you’re probably wasting mana, but without testing I don’t know just yet.

Ramp and Card Draw:

Here we have a selection of ramp and card draw spells, creatures and enchantments. Each card was included to either get you some land or draw cards. Having a ton of mana means we can cast too many spells and be low on cards all the time, so we need to refill that hand as often as possible! Next up, how we can use our life as a resource:

Playing with Life:

I’ve added a selection of creatures that will ping our opponents while give us life. Not pictured here, several creatures with Lifelink that will also help. We can use our life gained in various ways, for instance by casting spells in conjuction with Bolas’s Citadel. Use it for a big Toxic Deluge, or just trade up and down in combination with cards where you pay life and then get life back. In this deck, you’ll have a life total that fluctuates more than normal! I feel like I packed in enough ways to gain life back though, so you shouldn’t worry about using it to do stuff.

Win Conditions:

Outside of just whittling your opponents down with the cards we have already covered, you have a few ways to close games out. Bond of Agony can be used to drain out your opponents as long as you have the highest life total. Ditto Exsanguinate, though it will heal you instead of harm. A big Torment of Hailfire can help to close out a game, and you should be able to make some big mana with this deck. As such, if you can gain enough life, Aetherflux Reservoir is there to blow up your enemies one at a time. If you have K’rrik out and he’s starting to get big due to his counter ability, you can throw on Phyresis or Tainted Strike to eliminate a player. Finally, the cheesy Exquisite Blood/Sanguine Bond combo will close out those stubborn games.

All in all it looks like a really fun deck to pilot, is mid tier when it comes to budget (and I’m sure more expensive cards could be included to make it even better), and should still be semi competitive. You can see the full deck list here.

Quote of the Day: Diversity is Important in Game Design

Game design is a tricky thing, and you can ask any developer and I’m sure they will agree. Usually when talk about game design crops up, I find it on other gaming blogs, bigger news outlets or rants on social media. Typically games are dividers, in that when something with more diversity is created, they are fans that rejoice and there is almost always some pushback. Whether it comes up in the form of the age old PVE vs PVP debate in MMOs, or how there are powerful black women taking center stage of the newest FPS, we’re never going to all agree. Finding a balance of “what already works” and what can be done to “increase diversity” can be tricky, but game developers at least, seem to be starting to “get it.” I was perusing the Magic: The Gathering page the other day and came across this article about the importance of diversity in game design, and the writer, Mark Rosewater, touched on some great points. I encourage you to read the whole article, but wanted to highlight a few passages:

The trick to getting everyone to love something is to have some breadth in what you offer. For example, I often talk about how often when designing Magic I’m thinking about all the different kinds of players there are. There are drafters and Standard players and Commander players and Modern players and Vintage players and Pauper players and a whole host of other formats. There are players who focus on two-player play and others who focus on multiplayer play. There are Timmies and Tammies, Johnnies and Jennies, and Spikes. There are the Vorthoses who live for the flavor of the game and the Mels who thrive on the mechanical artistry. There are collectors and traders. There are cosplayers. There are people who experience the game and/or express their feelings for the game through podcasts and videos and blogs and articles. And every time we make a set, we must be aware that all of those different kinds of players exist. We help each of those different types of players fall in love with something by making sure we provide things catered to them

Sounds like the exact way MMO design has turned out. I guess you could say that MTG is sort of an MMO as well, with millions of players across paper and digital platforms, but clearly this is an apples to oranges argument. Next, from the “DESIGN THE COMPONENT FOR THE AUDIENCE IT’S INTENDED FOR” segment:

This lesson talks about the dangers of designing to please too many audiences. To do your best game design, you have to understand what audience each component is aimed for and then maximize that component for that audience. Also, included in this idea is that it’s okay if a different audience doesn’t like that component. It’s not being made for them. (A quick aside that if that component is actively insulting to another group, for example, showing them in a bad light, that is a problem. You shouldn’t make one group happy by actively denigrating another group.)

The reason this lesson is key for understanding the importance of diversity is that the people who belong to the group in power probably are used to having a high percentage of representation. Lowering their representation to allow you to have an opportunity to showcase others is sometimes met with criticism because you’re lessening their representation. They’re taking the status quo as a baseline. Lowering that baseline can sometimes be seen as an attack because you’re taking something away from them.

My counter to that is that your game needs to be reflexive to the needs of everyone playing and not just the most dominant group. For example, Commander as a format didn’t exist for many years. As such, we didn’t design with it in mind, but as we started to see interest in the format, we began incorporating it into our designs (even making a product specifically for the format). By doing so, we increased awareness of Commander which, in turn, led to more people playing the format.

I’m a fan of this sentiment. Think about when the devs of Wildstar catered to that core vocal group and didn’t care about anyone else playing the game? Remind me where they are now? It goes to show that by being more diverse, you can create better worlds, better stories and overall better games. I hope this is the sort of philosophy developers adopt in the future, and we’ll see some awesome stuff as a result.

The War Report: Ninja Update

Despite all of the recent hype around here surrounding the impending release of Commander 2019, I still have projects that I’m always working on. Each new set brings with it new cards that can potentially replace older cards in my existing decks, and sometimes a set comes along with enough of boost to a pet project to snowball a deck into fruition. When Commander 2018 was being spoiled last year, I immediately knew that I wanted to build Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow. Ninjas aren’t exactly a well supported tribe though, basically only having cards from the Kamigawa block. I still brewed a deck around this commander, but it never really felt like it was where I wanted it to be. There were ninjas in it, there were ways to manipulate the top of the library to capitalize on Yuriko’s ability. There were plenty of unblockables and then enchantments like Conspiracy and Arcane Adaption to make sure everything that wasn’t a ninja would still count as a ninja. This still felt pretty half-assed. Enter Modern Horizons.

I ended up writing a post about my pickups from Modern Horizons, and the extra few ninjas that were put out in that set enabled this deck to feel more on theme. Gone from the original list:

Duskmantle Seer
Sire of Stagnation
Grave Pact
Fleshbag Maurader
Merciless Executioner
Evil Twin
Viscera Seer
Patriarch’s Bidding
Sakashima’s Student
Palace Siege
Tetsuko Umezawa

Some of the cards that were removed were due to the fact that they just weren’t on theme enough. Duskmantle Seer is a fine card, but it doesn’t really fit in with the ninja theme, I can’t use ninjitsu to throw it out from my hand, and well it’s a vampire. Ditto Sire of Stagnation, it’s an awesome card but I don’t really feel a lone Eldrazi is the way to go. I also had some light sacrifice theme stuff going on in the prior build that was no longer relevant, so I have removed Grave Pact, Fleshbag Maurader, Viscera Seer and Merciless Executioner. Copy effects sounded okay, but Sakashima’s Student is a little pricey, and I had some budget constraints to stick to if I wanted to build this deck before my Vegas trip. I dropped Evil Twin as well, opting to go for more theft effects rather than copy effects. Patriarch’s Bidding was also cut due to the budget, though I did splurge on Sensei’s Divining Top because it is basically required. I also dropped Palace Siege (was in for recursion but isn’t very efficient) and Tetsuko Umezawa (she’s great and all but I felt another ninja would be better in her stead).

New cards that were added were mostly from Modern Horizons, including:

Changeling Outcast
Mist-Syndicate Naga
Phantom Ninja
Azra Smokeshaper
Ingenious Infiltrator
Moonblade Shinobi
Fallen Shinobi
Cunning Evasion

These cards were a given, due to all but one of them being a ninja outright. The Changeling Outcast is a shapeshifter, but counts as a ninja without needing enchantment help. It’s also unblockable so that’s on-theme for ninjitsu tricks. The rest are pretty obvious inclusions, while Cunning Evasion is a double whammy in this deck. Not only is it protection for our creatures that can’t get through unblocked (allowing them to be returned to our hand if they are blocked) it also can fill our hand back up with ninjas that can then be dropped back onto the battle field if we have some creatures that get through unblocked. It’s cool stuff. Other notable new inclusions are:

Scheming Symmetry
Notion Rain
Aminatou’s Augury
Future Sight

These cards were put in while I was finding a better mana curve. The first is a new tutor from M20 that allows you to pick another player to give a tutor to while you tutor up something as well (cards go to top of library). A great political tool and way to set up for big Yuriko triggers. Notion Rain is a pretty decent common from Ravnica that gets you two cards and some selection with surveil. Aminatou’s Augury is a bomb and I don’t know why I didn’t think of using it sooner. You get to exile 8 cards, ramp by throwing a land onto the battlefield, and then potentially cast 3-4 cards for free. Future Sight is also a no brainer for top deck shenanigans.

The deck is finally done and playable, and I can’t wait for Vegas to try it out. Here’s the updated deck list.

TWR: C19 Spoilers – The Madness Deck

Spoiler season for Commander 2019 has finally finished, and as such I can go over the final decklist. The Rakdos-colored madness-themed commander deck is led by Anje, and though she seems pretty good for the mechanic I’m not overly interested in it. I was surprised that there are quite a few cards in the deck that I would like to own though, but that’s due in part to them not being madness-centric. I should also note that some of the spoilers that were missing from some of the previous decks that I covered have finally showed up, probably because they were included in more than one of the decks so I’m sure WotC didn’t want them spoiled early. First up, the alternate commanders:

Alternate Commanders:

Chainer is a character that has existed previously, but I’m not too interested in this version. The recursion is nice and giving recurred creatures haste is a boon as well, but that’s all he does and it’s not that interesting. Greven is a little better, as you can sac a creature to draw some cards and lose life, and then he gets +1/+0 for each life lost, so perhaps a good voltron commander. Having menace is some nice evasion as well, so he’s probably the better Rakdos commander here, and he enables the madness theme, but so does Chainer in this form. K’rrik is pretty awesome, but I’ve already talked about him. There isn’t another multicolor commander in this deck due to it being the only one that isn’t a wedge deck, so mono black is it. I guess there are a couple of other legendaries included that you could build as well, but they don’t seem to be on theme.

New Cards:

Of these cards, the two I like the most are the Bone Mizer and the new curse. Curses have been a thing for a while, and many people have found ways to make curse based decks, and I’m sure those are annoying to play against. The new one has already been broken with some recently released cards where you can essentially pay life to gain more life and draw out your deck. Whatever the case it’s not bad by itself. I really like the Bone Mizer though and want a copy for my zombie deck. It already relies heavily on discard and recursion effects, and having the option to discard creatures, spells or lands in order to get tokens, card draw or mana is nice. Honestly you can’t lose with that card. Some of the other new cards are pretty good too, and Aeon Engine already has Uno memes dedicated to it.

Notable Reprints:

The new art for Solemn Simulacrum is quite nice. Ob Nixilis is a great Planeswalker addition to any collection. I’ve been meaning to grab a Geth for quite some time just to have, and Magus of the Wheel is one of the better wheel-on-a-stick cards. Lastly, Geier Reach Sanitarium is a little bit of group-hug, but card draw on a land is never a bad thing. It’s great for colors that need the help in that department!

Missing Spoilers:

As I mentioned there were some spoilers missing in previous posts, and these are them. Bloodthirsty Blade is an interesting way to staple the goad keyword to a creature, and because it was in more than one deck it didn’t get revealed until the end. The same goes for Mire in Misery and Voice of Many, thought the latter was spoiled the next day after being missing the first. Mire in Misery is some new enchantment removal for black that is a color that struggles with it. However, being conditional, it’s still not very good. It’s precon good, but not EDH good, if that makes sense. The Voice of Many is fine in creature heavy green decks, Emmara being one token themed deck I can see really benefiting from it. Nothing too exciting though.

Overall I am still only interested in buying the Populate and Flashback decks. They have the most value for my buck. I might buy a few singles from this deck only because they are likely to be at their cheapest point due to this reprint, but none of them are very expensive to begin with. It’s sort of a lackluster year, but I have trouble saying it’s worse than last year. I hope come 2020 we get another awesome year like we did in 2017. We’ve been spoiled and subsequently let down.