Friday, March 06, 2020

February Arena Progress Update

At the beginning of February I talked about how I was trying two new decks, the UW Dream Trawler control and the mono Red Embercleave decks. I also decided to tip my toe into Best of Three ladder climbing instead of Best of One. Here is my report.

First off, by the end of the month I made Platinum again. Considering I was not trying to aggressively climb I was happy with that result.

Secondly, Best of Three is exhausting! I found it a lot more stressful trying to figure out what to swap in and out for matches two and three, and the time commitment against a slow control deck could be as much as 30 -50 minutes! Also, I discovered that there were a lot more control decks in Bo3 compared to Bo1 where aggressive decks seemed more prominent. Over time I found myself drifting back to Bo1.

Thirdly, my early success rate for both decks was not great. My mono-Red was 59% (23-16) and my Trawler deck was an abysmal 42% (11-15). This might have been compounded by being in Bo3 and not being experienced at sideboarding for the UW deck. Halfway through the month I switched to another version of the mono-Red embercleave deck and focused on Bo1 and was much more successful, going 23-9 for a 72% win rate.

4 Runaway Steam-Kin (GRN) 115
4 Light Up the Stage (RNA) 107
4 Scorch Spitter (M20) 159
4 Bonecrusher Giant (ELD) 115
3 Embercleave (ELD) 120
4 Fervent Champion (ELD) 124
4 Rimrock Knight (ELD) 137
4 Robber of the Rich (ELD) 138
3 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell (ELD) 147
4 Castle Embereth (ELD) 239
4 Anax, Hardened in the Forge (THB) 125
18 Mountain (THB) 285
1 Experimental Frenzy (GRN) 99
3 Lava Coil (GRN) 108
1 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator (WAR) 146
2 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame (M20) 126
4 Unchained Berserker (M20) 164
3 Redcap Melee (ELD) 135 
It felt competitive in every match when I was not mana-flooded and could steal the occasional match with a surprise Embercleave. If I was solely interested in climbing the ranks I would probably use this deck in Best of One matches.

But we're in March and I wanted to try something new. I wanted to really push into Best of Three and mean in and I wanted a deck that could go toe to toe with the control decks there. One of the latest hotness around is Temur Clover and since it uses a few cards I have and I needed to craft only a handful of rares, I decided to try it out.

The basic idea is run them over with Lovestruck Beast, Bonecrusher Giant, and Beanstalk Giant and everything else is support to get you there. Lucky Clover is a force multiplier for the spells on the Eldraine cards, Escape to the Wilds is surprisingly a "don't always need it" card to search for things you need. Fae of Wishes is the big value even by themselves but really is game winning when combined with 1-2 Lucky Clovers. Excuse me while I get from the sideboard two cards I need to dismantle you.

Eight matches in and I'm only 50% win rate but I'm still getting the hang of this deck so I'm not worried yet. A good thing about this deck is I don't really need to sideboard between games as they are better off in the sideboard where the Fae can fetch them.

I'm really liking this deck as I learn it. Will report on my progress with it in a couple weeks.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Board Games With the Spawns

I haven't talked about The Boys much but they are a very large part of my life, both regularly and especially in gaming. The twins are turning 12 this coming April, and the younger brother is 10 next week, so they are getting to the age where more complicated games are not only intriguing for them but also possible.

This past week I started to introduce them to one of the big influences of my childhood love of board games, Axis and Allies. After doing some small scenarios and rules introduction, we broke out the latest version I purchased, Axis and Allies 1941.
It includes Destroyers but not Artillery pieces, comes with fewer bits overall, and the setup has fewer pieces per player and the economy is such that you buy fewer pieces every turn. But the general idea is the same: Japan and Germany have bigger starting forces and must win before the larger buying power of the Allies overwhelm them.

Since this is a shorter and simpler game then other versions its perfect intro for The Boys. And it went well!
Wilmick and Terjoe were the Axis, while Aarjay and I were the Allies. I went easy on them, helping them with strategy and ideas, and in the end I left a path open for victory before lunch.

Another evening Wilmick and I had a skirmish in Mothership.

Next up, Axis and Allies Pacific!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Crying Suns Review

Do you remember this little indie game that came out back in 2012 called FTL? Its a fun game even still (booted it up last fall) and one of the all time greats. So when I saw Crying Suns advertised on Imgur I checked it out and was intrigued by what I saw as it reminded me of the former game.

Its described as thus:
Crying Suns is a tactical rogue-lite that puts you in the role of a space fleet commander as you explore a mysteriously fallen empire. In this story rich experience inspired by Dune and Foundation, each successful run will uncover the truth about the Empire... and yourself as well.
I was trying to find one image to capture the game but it was difficult.
Basically you are an Admiral revived from stasis to find the empire you were once part of fallen apart and in chaos. Your goal is to travel from the outer rim to the empire's former center to find out what happened and what you can do to fix it.

The game play is broken into two parts: the first is travelling from solar system to solar system and planet to planet having encounters n which, if successful, you can glean more resources for your ship such as upgrades, repairs, officers, equipment, scrap (used as currency in the fallen empire), or information about what happened and/or what's going on. The second part is ship to ship combat with weapons and squadrons.

I'm about half way through. The game has 6 chapters and each chapter has 3 sectors of planets to run through with a boss at the end. I'm in Chapter 3, sector 3, about to fight the chapter boss. (And I'm playing on Easy, so sue me.)

The variety of encounters is impressive. The game claims 300 unique encounters and I believe them. And some encounters can have different outcomes based on what officers you've recruited along the way. The sectors you travel though have real decision points, as in do I go this route and visit a station that sells and repairs my squadrons, or this route with more opportunities for encounters to build up my resources?

And the space combat... it took me a few tries to figure it out but once I got the hang of it I really enjoy it. Its not simple but its not twitch based or super complicated. There is a lot of variety of ship weapons and squadrons and upgrades so it takes the right amount of thought to win a fight without being frustrating.

Overall I'm really enjoying this game and its totally worth the $28 dollars I spent on it.

4.5 / 5 Stars

Wednesday, February 12, 2020


It was my birthday yesterday, and I am old.

It was a pretty quiet day. Taught some martial arts, worked, and went home to spend some time with the family. They made a special Pork Chop dinner with potatoes and broccoli, and a delicious Texas Sheet Cake dessert.

For presents, as money is tight these days, I got modest gifts. A batch of homemade Haystack cookies from one son, a picture from another, and a paper boat from the third. My wife got me two Magic the Gathering Boosters, power/toughness dice, and a playmat.

In the boosters the rares were Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths which is a decent Blue-Black gold card, and a Black Gravebreaker Lamia which is only good if I get a deck that cares about things in the graveyard.

One of the boosters also had the pretty alternate art Renata, Called to the Hunt which I really like.

Overall a good day for an old man like me.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Cleaving and Trawling

Since it was February and the month of love due to Valentine's day I decided to go wild and try and Mono Red aggro deck. Well, also because I had accumulated a bunch of Embercleaves so why not? I also decided it was time to try out "traditional" play, i.e. playing Best of 3 games and using a sideboard between matches. 

This is the deck I settled on:

Deck 4 Runaway Steam-Kin (GRN) 115
4 Light Up the Stage (RNA) 107
4 Tin Street Dodger (RNA) 120
4 Scorch Spitter (M20) 159
4 Shock (M20) 160
4 Embercleave (ELD) 120
4 Fervent Champion (ELD) 124
3 Robber of the Rich (ELD) 138
3 Castle Embereth (ELD) 239
3 Anax, Hardened in the Forge (THB) 125
4 Infuriate (THB) 141
2 Phoenix of Ash (THB) 148
17 Mountain (THB) 285
4 Unchained Berserker (M20) 164
4 Claim the Firstborn (ELD) 118
2 Embereth Shieldbreaker (ELD) 122
3 Redcap Melee (ELD) 135
 It did not go well. I stopped after going 5-9 record.

Part of it was learning the deck I admit, learning when to mulligan, which order to cast spells, how to get your attack through, etc. And I know people have ranked high with similar decks, but this version felt so finicky, that is to say if your lands didn't come in just right, or you flooded, it petered out fast. And everyone knows the key cards to remove to disable it.

There are other red aggro decks I'm tempted to look into, but really the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth. So I decided to try out something else I had my eye on: Blue White Dream Trawler Control:

4 Absorb (RNA) 151
4 Hallowed Fountain (RNA) 251
2 Dovin's Veto (WAR) 193
4 Teferi, Time Raveler (WAR) 221
1 Tranquil Cove (M20) 259
2 Castle Ardenvale (ELD) 238
2 Castle Vantress (ELD) 242
4 Banishing Light (THB) 4
4 The Birth of Meletis (THB) 5
4 Shatter the Sky (THB) 37
4 Omen of the Sea (THB) 58
1 Thassa's Intervention (THB) 72
4 Thirst for Meaning (THB) 74
3 Dream Trawler (THB) 214
3 Temple of Enlightenment (THB) 246
6 Plains (THB) 279
8 Island (THB) 281
2 Narset, Parter of Veils (WAR) 61
1 Dovin's Veto (WAR) 193
3 Aether Gust (M20) 42
1 Glass Casket (ELD) 15
1 Mystical Dispute (ELD) 58
2 Sorcerous Spyglass (ELD) 233
1 Elspeth Conquers Death (THB) 13
1 Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis (THB) 14
1 Heliod's Intervention (THB) 19
2 Whirlwind Denial (THB) 81
I've had better success in initial testing, going 5-2. The basic idea is similar to other UW control decks I've run last fall where I delay and put off their creatures until I dominate the board. The big difference is that this deck does so with the impressive Dream Trawler instead of waiting for opponent to give up.
If you can get this guy to land on the board, it will quickly dominate the game. Power it up with some draw card spells and its game over.

One thing I will say about Best of 3 though is that its far more mentally exhausting than Best of 1. Sideboarding cards in and out is stressful, control decks tend to take longer already, and one match can easily take 25 minutes for three games. Take a look at these 5 test games:

And if you lose a 22 minute match? I find it more of a blow than losing a 10 minute match. I want to get better and I think learning the ins and outs of Best of 3 is important, but I'm not sure I want that to be my main playstyle.

Monday, January 27, 2020

So Close, Yet...

... So far.

I was running along fine since reaching Platinum 4 tier and it seemed like Diamond was easily within reach thanks to the broad shoulders of the Questing Beast and friends, and then Theros Beyond Death started to impact Standard.

Right around when I was one win from Platinum tier 1 in fact. I started getting hit with Legendary Enchantment gods, Escaping Titans, Mono-white aggro decks and Mono-black devotion decks (Gray Merchant of Assholery is on my Hate list). I was forced to make some modifications to my deck like removing Midnight Reapers for some Return to Nature instants that do triple duty against enchantments, enchantment creatures, and escape creatures in the graveyard, but even with those changes I was not doing as well.

Before Theros my record was 47-27 (64%) and after is was 53-53 (50%). While I expect the record to flatten out as I climbed the ranks, it is apparent I need to go back to drawing board.

That being said, I did manage to put on a winning streak last week and got into Platinum 1 and yesterday was twice within 1 win of my goal of Diamond. Failed to convert both times and the second time had a wonderful little 5 game losing streak. With only a few more days left of this month's season I'm not hopeful I'm going to make that goal, but that's OK. I've already started planning for next month's deck...

Blue White? Blue Black? Mono-white? Mono-black? Decisions, decisions, decisions...

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!

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