Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Going On An Adventure

At the beginning of November I set a goal to climb the ladder to Platinum and after a few missteps I did so with a Rakdos sacrifice Cat Oven deck. In December I wanted to expand my horizons and do a control deck on the ladder and failed to reach Platinum again, but stilled learned a lot.

January, the last month of the Throne of Eldraine standard meta, I decided to try a Green Black Golgari Adventures deck as it seemed to be one of the toughest decks I was running into on Arena. I'm happy to report that its not even the middle of the month and Platinum rank has been achieved.

Now I'm going to see if I can climb to Diamond before the end of the month.

I started off with a deck I got from @MythicMeebo who used it at the Mythic Championships to a top 8 finish.

I didn't have a great start with it, having a 2-4 record. So I switched to a similar deck:

I played this one a lot, 79 matches, and while I had some early success climbing to Gold 3 quickly it flattened out. At a 54% win rate I was not going to climb very well. The problem seemed to be that it was too slow to kill early, and lacked a lot of end game power. I tried a version with more Beanstalk Giants and a Liliana Dreadhorde General, but really it was too late or too easy to counter. I always felt I was fighting from behind.

So finally I switched to this deck:

This deck had the four mythic Questing Beasts and three Rankle, Master of Pranks which both increased the ability of the deck to hit hard and fast in the early game or as surprise damage in late game. Ideally I overwhelm the opponent before they can stabilize, and if they do stabilize then Cavalier of Night or Massacre Girl can break the deadlock.

One of the things I learned from these decks is the importance of card draw from the Edgewall Innkeeper and Foulmire Knight (and less so from Vraska). Those extra cards are necessary to keep up the pressure against counter spells from control decks or removal from other decks. Without them the deck runs out of gas and its hard to get going again.

My current deck is working well at the moment, but I've got an eye on some substitutions in case it flounders on the ladder. Noxious Grasp is useful in a lot of situations but could be swapped for something like Lucky Clover to get more value from the adventure spells (as long as you have enough targets or enough life for the ones that take your life as a cost like Swift End), and the Great Henge is OK but rarely affects the outcome of my games, its more of a "win more" card so I might swap it out for another Cavalier of Night who is a definite momentum swing.

Look out Diamond, here I come!

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Review: Star Wars Rise of Skywalker


OK, I've had a week to digest Rise of Skywalker and to give it a grade both as a movie and as the end of the Sequel Trilogy and end of the saga.

First off, as a movie: its Star Wars; even when its bad its good. This movie leaned into the bread and butter of the franchise which is space fighting, blaster fighting, and light saber duels. Like all the new movies it leans into spectacle far more than slow story and character building. This is a trend we see starting even in Empire Strikes Back (giant space asteroid worm? Why?) and Return of the Jedi, and since today's modern big name action directors have so much more ability to make what they envision in their heads appear on the screen due to CGI effects and knowing that these Star Wars movies are remembered for the big scenes, the trend towards spectacle over story is almost inevitable.

That being said, the lack of space to breath is really noticeable in this movie. It really goes from scene to scene to scene at a frenetic pace, trying to put a big explosive covered bow to wrap up its own trilogy and the 9 movie saga as a whole. It tries hard, very hard, to raise the stakes to a 9 movie conclusion and really, I feel like it failed in that regard.

Overall, at first I thought I liked it more than The Last Jedi but I feel now that maybe that's not true, but keep in mind I'm a big fan of TLJ so this is not a big hit on RoS. If I were to give TLJ a 7.5/10 score, I'd give RoS 7/10.

Now, taking a look at it as the end of the trilogy and saga, I think it scores better because it hits all the notes you want a big saga end to have: biggest of the bad guys, biggest of the stakes, duels, crisis, combat... you kind of want the frenetic spectacle at the end of the saga, just like Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith both did. On that note, I'd give it a passing grade.

Was fun, would watch again.


OK, I want to take a minute and talk about The Last Jedi again.

Yes, there were problems. Poe Dameron should have been summarily executed by firing squad for his disobeying orders, going rogue, and full blown mutiny, not gushed over by Leia and Holdo. Arcing turbo lasers without a gravity well. Taking a handful of skimmers out against an army of walkers.

But outside of those issues this movie tells a story, has meaningful character arcs for multiple characters (Rey, Finn, Poe, and even Luke!), and looks and sounds gorgeous! I love re-watching this movie with my sons, it just hits the right notes in so many ways.

And I found Old Man Luke believable and relatable, his story and arc satisfying. His confrontation with Kylo was compelling and more than just a light saber duel.

The issue with the resistance bombers dropping bombs? Capital ships generate gravity fields, it makes sense to utilize it with smaller easier to make bombs you drop into its gravity field than make more expensive torpedoes, especially for a cash strapped resistance.

Canto Bight scenes? I don't see any problem with it, it was a nice fresh look into a galaxy unconcerned with the dark/light war and profiting from it.

Anyone who wanted the Luke / Rey arc to go differently, or hated what the writers and director did with Luke as a character, I sympathize but just because its not what you expected does not mean it was not good.

The movie told a new Star Wars story and told it well.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

December Wrap Up

So the experiment with controlling decks in December comes to a disappointing end. Things were going swimmingly, I was 1 win from Platinum with over a week left and then... boom. Ended down in Gold 2.

I went from a 60% win rate down to a 55% win rate pretty quickly. What the hell happened? Taking a look at my most played match ups gives a good hint.

The meta shifted hard in the last month to more aggro decks than I was seeing before; Red decks of various stripes, Golgari adventures, and Simic flash all were appearing more frequently and all exposed weak spots in my deck's game plan.

- Red aggro simple got in under my defenses faster than I could set up and if I didn't get a turn 5 Time Wipe or maybe a turn 5 Planar Cleansing I was toast.

- Golgari Adventures either hit me with a turn 3 (!) Questing Beast or used Midnight Rider or Edgewall Innkeeper to draw replacement cards enough to simply start over after I did a board sweeper.

- Simic flash simply got creatures on the board and then counter spelled my attempts to remove them.

All three of those matches I faced more frequently in the last ten days of December and all of them were well below a win rate to climb higher. On the upside I dominated against the mirror match up and had a good handle on any Cat Oven decks.

For the last month of Throne of Eldraine standard I'm going a new/old direction. I'm going to find a Golgari deck to use and climb the ladder with. Its going to be difficult since I only have 6 rares with which to craft a deck with so I'm going to have to leverage my existing collection more than I would like. I'll report on this experiment once I have some matches under my belt.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Getting the Hang of Controlling the Game

On December 4th I talked about trying to learn control decks in Magic the Gathering. This was a learning opportunity and I threw myself into it with the usual starting disaster I have trying anything knew. I'm just not a natural at anything I try, I can't see the combos and strategies like others can, I need to learn them from falling down a lot.

And boy did I ever. Fall down a lot I mean.

I was not having luck with the Azorius deck I was trying so I borrowed one from my friend's lists and did even worse. I went back to the Esper control deck I started with and had a bit more luck, but still couldn't make headway on the ladder.

Finally I heard about Ben Stark playing Ally Warfield at the Mythic Championship with an Azorius deck and decided to check out his list. It was even simpler than the ones I had previous tried so I loaded it up and gave it a try. This new deck, combined with some very painful lessons-learned, started to click and I finally climbed my way out of Gold 4 to Gold 3 and then Gold 2 this past weekend.

So far a 63% win rate and while it has not been completely smooth sailing up the ladder, its definitely a lot more consistent than I was experiencing earlier.
My version of Ben Stark's Azorius list for Bo1 ladder play.

And why is that?

First off was the learning curve. When you play with aggro creature-heavy decks or even mid range decks you get value from things on the board, not in your hand. Its second nature to cast things as soon as possible to get the maximum value from them, taking into account what your opponent is doing and how to get around things of course. But at the end of the day, the heuristic to use as much of your mana base as possible each turn is ingrained into my psyche.

But with a control deck every spell has to be weighed against what spells you can't cast if you cast this one. Hesitation, patience, playing the (very) long game are all called for. Its literally like playing a different game, and while I knew in my head that it was a different play style, I had to learn it in my heart and learn new instincts. That took a while.

Another factor was that the first couple decks I crafted, the Esper control and Azorius decks, were based on Best of 3 matches and I suspect that they suffered when playing Best of 1 matches. Control gets more powerful when it can customize the list for colour hate and the opponent's play style in matches 2 and 3 I think.

The Ben Stark deck on the other hand, was a simpler version of the Azorius deck and I found it surprising at the lack of win conditions. Just a few Gadwicks and Brazen Borrowers, how can this be? But it turns out that once you have control of the game in hand, a couple creatures and some 1/1 from the Ardenvale Castle are all you need to win.

Which brings me to my last point: control decks seem to have a lot more decision points involved. My normal decks have decision trees with 2 or maybe 3 branches at each point; control decks seem to have 4 or 5 branches each turn and making the wrong move can be disastrous (as evidenced by my record). Playing control is not for the casual match!

Now that I feel like I'm getting the hang of how this deck plays, I can see the attraction of control decks, the feeling that you are playing multi-level chess while your opponent is playing tic tac toe. Its intoxicating.

Next step is to ride out the rest of the December season and see if we can't get that Platinum level once again!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Back to Battlegrounds?

I have considered recently giving Player Unknown Battlegrounds another try. I had a lot of fun using the emulator to play PUBG mobile until the population for the emulator dropped off and wait times climbed to over 5 minutes or more. I tried to pick the PUBG Mobile back up on my phone but my old phone can't handle the battery drain very well and trying to go back to phone controls after playing so much using mouse and keyboard was frustrating.

So my mouse is hovering over that steam link to reinstall the PC PUBG and wondering if I can hack it in the full game this time...

Meanwhile, I saw this infographic over on ACMarket.biz about the big winners in the PUBG pro-scene and thought it was amazing how much money e-sports has available these days.
Click HERE for full size image.
You know what? I'll give it another go. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Trying to Take Control With Esper and Azorius

With the November season in the books I started the December season with a new Esper control deck I found on the internet and wanted to try.

This deck required a lot of rares to craft (mostly those dual lands) but I had hopes that this would work out and I could learn about the ins and out of control decks more intimately.

It did not go well.

After 23 matches I had a 26% win rate, 6 wins, 17 losses.

I'm pretty sure the problem is me and not the meta. There are a lot of decision points with a deck like this: when do I wipe the board, when do I hold off for a counter spell, do I counter this spell or that one? So many decisions and so many chances to do the wrong thing.

Against aggro decks I seemed to get down to low life before I got enough mana to take control and against other control decks I was simply out played. But there is some good news; I started off 2-13 and then went 4-4 so it was getting better.

I decided to switch to an Azorius control deck as I hoped it would be simpler to learn how to use and I didn't have any rares left to craft something in other colour pairing really. it has a number of similarities to the Esper control deck with Teferi and counter spells but the win condition is based on the Agent of Treachery and Mass Manipulation instead of Liliana.

I've gone 7-11 with it, slightly better with a 39% win rate but still not enough to climb any ranks. I'm still running into the same issues: aggro decks getting me before I can take control and control decks out-controlling me.

Still, I'm going to give it the old college try because its a good learning experience and I have no more rares to craft anything else.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Surprising Climb

A few weeks ago I was lamenting how my efforts at climbing the ladder in Standard Constructed for November's season was not working:
Its amazing how quickly the meta shifts in Magic the Gathering. Just a little while ago I was celebrating getting to Platinum Standard Ranked with my mono black deck and now I'm getting beat around the face like no one's business, languishing in Gold 3 and 4.
 That was back on Nov 5 and I stuck with the deck for another week to give it time and see if it could bounce back (or if I could play it better more accurately) but while I climbed to the cusp of Gold 2 I could not bridge the gap.

I decided to try something else on Nov 13, switching from the mono-black deck centered around Ayara and Liliana to a Rakdos Sacrifice deck that leaned heavily into the Cauldron Familiar/Witch's Oven combo.

At first it did not seem to make a difference, falling all the way down to one loss from back in Silver. It seemed like I was facing nothing but control decks based around Doom Foretold and Fires of Invention! By the middle of the month I had written the season off as I had very few rare wildcards to draft with and was getting very frustrated so I decided just to ride it out and plan for December.

And then something strange started to happen. I started to win more. I don't know if the meta shifted so I saw fewer control decks, or if I relaxed after giving up so I played tighter, or my luck of the draw changed, or some combination of all three but I began climbing from the bottom of Gold IV and after a few days was hitting Gold 2 and 1.

"Maybe I will get back to Platinum this month," I thought, and sure enough, I did.
Highlight is Rakdos Sacrifice deck.
So my original goal of getting to Platinum 2 is back on the table!

About the deck: the base engine of Cat -> Oven is what this deck is built on. They are both one mana to cast and operate without further mana investment, pinging the opponent for 1 each turn and gaining me 1 life in return. And it operates at instant speed so if someone tries to kill the cat early, I can simply remove it myself and bring it back later.

Everything else in the deck is gravy. Mayhem Devil can deal a lot of extra damage if left unchecked, Cavalier of Night and Rankle can beat down as well as trim the herd on the other side of the board, Reaper of Night is value add with some draw cards, and my spells are around removal to make sure I don't die until they do.

Biggest threats to this deck besides bad luck on the draw are decks with tools to remove the Oven and control decks with lots of counter spells. A particularly bad matchup is against the Esper control deck making rounds that uses Doom Foretold to slowly clear the board and take apart my engine and then cripple me with Ethereal Absolution.

I'm going to ride this deck out to the end of the month and see if Plat 2 is reachable in 5 days. Next month, maybe back to mono black with Cat Oven and Ayara?

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