Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Back In Black

Last week I talked about how I was going to use my friend's Grixis Reanimator deck to try and climb the standard ranked ladder. It started out ok and I climbed into high silver but then stalled and fell a little. Basically, in many game I had a lot of trouble making all the moving pieces get into the right place before I died: Bond of Revival in hand, Drakuseth or Agent of Treachery in the graveyard, mana to cast it... and even if all the pieces were ready one kill spell or counter spell could spell my ruin. Don't get me wrong; when it works, it works really really well at turning games around, but lacking any life gain or ways to handle big creatures while I set up was severely hurting me. I tried some minor modifications but didn't really help the major weakness: just too slow to get going most of the time.

So I went back to the drawing board and in my RSS feed I saw this article titled Mono-Black Midrange on Channel Fireball website. Well that had my attention! I had previously made use of mono-black deck in my Dreadhorde Invasion deck which I enjoyed even if it failed to succeed like I wanted at the higher ranks so I read it with keen interest.

One of the problems of trying new decks is having the cards to make them in Arena; a deck that has a lot of rares or mythic rares that your collection is missing can be very costly to craft with wildcards, especially if the deck turns out to not work like you wanted. Crafting the missing pieces of the Grixis Reanimator deck was not too bad since I already had the three Drakuseth cards, but there were some other decks I had interest in (a Golgari and a Blue-Black reanamator deck) that would have been expensive to craft just to try out.

But this mono-Black deck in the article leaned heavily on rares and mythics I already had for the most part: Murderous Rider, Cavalier of Night, Dread Presence were all features of my Dreadhorde Invasion deck, and Liliana Dreadhorde General was a card I had from an earlier Zombie tribal deck. The only rare cards I needed to actually craft were a few copies of the perennial Gutterbones that is a feature of many black decks anyways, and the new Throne of Eldraine card Rankle, Master of Pranks.

So I put together this deck in Arena, crafted the missing cards once more, and tested it out in quick play matches to string together 6 wins and 1 loss. I was very pleased needless to say. It felt a lot like my Dreadhorde Invasion deck with the removal but was more solid on the ground with more win conditions. I could either go with the straight up beat down with creatures led by the Cavalier of Night and Rankle, kill them through incidental damage from Ayara, First of Lochthwain and Dread Presence, or curve into Liliana which almost never hits the board without swinging it in my favour.

So I took the deck into Standard Ranked and let loose the dogs of war... only to lose horribly to a defensive green deck that built up mana to a ten mana Finale of Devastation. I wish I had a screenshot of all the creatures with double digit power and toughness. Egads.

Nevertheless I persisted and won the next 9 games in a row.

Wait, what? Holy shit! Seriously, 9 wins in a row.

This deck (that I've called Liliana's Night) has propelled me into the first rank of gold and shows no signs of stopping yet. Now some of those 9 wins were extremely close and due to luck but I'm ok with that. At least the deck is working to put me into those positions right now.

We'll see if the trend continues as I've yet to face a serious control deck and only one poor representative of Red Deck Wins.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Waiting for Eldraine (Ranked Limited Draft that is...)

As I wait for the Ranked Limited Draft format of Throne of Eldraine I've been looking at expanding my horizons as a Magic the Gathering player.

When I came back to the game after decades away I pretty much picked up the style of play that I left off at: a range of creature power levels, some spells, some removal. Basically what is know nowadays as a mid-range deck that hopes to survive the early onset of aggro decks and overpower spell heavy/control decks. This style eventually evolved into my Dreadhorde Rising mono-black which at the end of the day is just a mid-range deck.

With the Standard card rotation and getting to gold rank two "seasons" in a row I decided I needed to branch out and explore different, more exotic, deck types. As a bonus Arena gave me a bunch of decks as part of the renewal event which included ten pre-built decks of the 5 colour pairings. I took this gift as an opportunity to try out some decks I had not really explored in the past.

I played some Dimir UB control, Selensya GW tokens, Azorius UW control, Izzet UR spells matter, etc. I really found myself drawn to the Selensya token deck that went wide with numerous creatures first and then went tall with spells that boosted all of them at once. "I don't care if you have a 7/7, my seven 1/1s are now all 3/3 and linklink." Its a great feeling.

I started to get interested in net-decking a UB reanimator deck when my best friend pointed me at his Grixis reanimator deck on his Untapped profile. This deck is massively different from anything I've tried before, including trying to run with three colours, but my friend is really smart and good at MtG so I copied his deck list into Arena and spent my stored up wildcards to craft the necessary cards. (Lucky for me I already had three Drakuseth cards in my collection because "hey big dragon!".)

It was quite a mind bender at first, trying to figure out what to discard, when to surveil, how to survive, what lands I needed when, etc but after 12 games in regular play I felt I had gotten the knack of it, so I'm going to try this deck out in Standard Ranked to see if it can help propel me higher than Gold.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Throne of Eldraine and My Mono Black Dreadhorde Invasion Deck

Disclaimer: I'm a filthy casual.

I know my Mono Black Dreadhorde deck is not super competitive and will not take me high in the ladder rankings. I don't care. It gets me to Gold tier and that is fine with me. If you want to give me some advice on how to improve it, that would be great. If you comment to tell me why I'm stupid save your breath.

Now, on to the post.

With Throne of Eldraine cards available in Magic Arena I scoured through them and found some good replacements for the cards rotating out that I talked about last time.

One of my favourites is Murderous Rider. Not only is it a better Murder with its ability to target planeswalkers, its also a 2/3 creature with lifelink that I can cast later which helps get that 2 life back that I lost in casting the Swift End adventure. The flexibility is amazing and an awesome replacement for Ravenous Chupacabra.

Another great replacement has been Bake Into A Pie which not only gets rid of a creature but gives me a food token I can sacrifice for life later. Its not quite as efficient as Vraska's Contempt but works well nonetheless.

I'm still looking for a good replacement for the Reassmebling Skeleton as the Sanitarium Skeleton is so mana intensive to get back on the battlefield. I've considered Gutterbones as he requires one less mana but requires I do damage to the opponent and can only bring him back on my turn.

Currently my deck is using 3 x Cavalier of Night which is a card I love but I've been questioning its place in this deck as I have fewer cards I care to sacrifice for his Enters the Battlefield effect since the Reassembling Skeleton and Ravenous Chupacabra are gone. But his lifelink and ability to bring someone small back from the dead when he dies is so handy.

Anyways, here's my current incarnation:
Click for full size.
In case you can't tell, the goal is to get that Zombie army rolling and once its 6+ power just let it attack every turn. Love me some Dreadhorde Invasion!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Batman Arkham Choices

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Lego Batman Trilogy
LEGO® Batman™: The Videogame
LEGO® Batman™ 2: DC Super Heroes
LEGO® Batman™ 3: Beyond Gotham

Batman Arkham Collection
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham Knight

Quick! To the Batcave! I mean... the Epic Games store!

Now I already have Arkham Asylum and Arkham Knight, but I had misplaced my DVD copy of Arkham City and I was super stoked to be able to pick it up for free since I already had a Epic Games Launcher on my PC for the kids playing Fortnight. So click and click and I started the download of my favourite Batman Arkham game.

Don't get me wrong: Batman Arkham Asylum was ground breaking and amazing in 2010 and still holds up today, but Arkham City is my favourite of the three I played extensively. It was a bigger and more wide open environment than its predecessor and appeared more fleshed out then the successor Arkham Origins, which despite being in an actual city felt like an empty stage upon which a few set piece amusement park rides were staged upon.

However, Arkham City is full of life and activity and things to explore and a great storyline and well implemented environment. I love it. This is my third time playing through.

Someday I'll give Arkham Knight a try again. Last time I tried it my computer lagged badly enough for me to quit after less than an hour.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Bracing for the Standard Rotation

Getting into Magic the Gathering has been daunting. Not the actual playing of game, but figuring out all the different ways people play the game now! Back when I played MtG ~20 years ago you just made a deck from your card collection and had at it. Its not like that now.

Last post I talked about the Limited Draft format where you draft the card to make a deck from as part of the event and contrasted that with Constructed formats where you make a deck ahead of time and bring it to the game instead. There are many different types of Constructed formats and two of the biggest are Standard and Modern which are the same in how you play the game but differ in what cards you can use to make your deck.

Modern allows you to use any cards (except for a few banned ones) from the "modern era" of Magic:

That's a hell of a lot of cards. Magic the Gathering Arena does not have a large fraction of those sets so its not something I've been concerning myself with a lot.

Standard is much more restrictive and only allows you to use cards from the two most current "blocks" of releases:

That's still a fair number of cards to work with and there is a lot of variation of decks you will find on Arena and in the wild.

So you are asking "what's a block?" and I was too when I started. Basically, a block is a year's worth of releases give or take. In the above picture there is the "Ixalan" block consisting of Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019, followed by the "Ravnica" block consisting of Guidls of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, and Core Set 2020.

However, the standard format rotation is going to happen with the first expansion of the next block coming in early October, Throne of Eldraine. When it lands all four releases in the Ixalan block rotate out of Standard decks and are only allowed in Modern decks (and other formats I didn't cover here).

This is kind of bad news for me because my current Black Aggro deck leans heavily on a few key cards in that block. One of the biggest losses for me is the Ravenous Chupacabra. This card is an amazingly efficient two-for-one where it kills an opponent's creature and leaves behind a 2/2 creature for me. So far I have not found a suitable replacement. The Cavalier of Night is similar but requires a bodily sacrifice and costs more mana.

Speaking of cheap bodies, I'm also losing my best bud Reassmbling Skeleton. Another hyper-efficient card that can block and return to the battlefield for just two mana, or I can use him for a sacrifice for a spell and bring him right back! The options for replacing him are Gutterbones which requires one more mana to get back on the table and requires the opponent to have lost life, or Sanitarium Skeleton which requires 4(!) mana to get back on the table if he dies.

Another blow to efficiency is losing the awesome Vrasks's Contempt spell which is a two-for-one that kills a creature OR planeswalker and gives me two life. More costly than a plain Murder but can target annoying planeswalkers AND gives me a boost in life counters? Count me in.

Or rather count me out because in a few weeks you are rotating out, sweetheart.

All this loss of super-efficient cards is telling on my revised deck which is averaging about 50% win rate instead of the 65% win rate my original Ixalan-infused deck was doing on the ranked ladder.

I'm hoping that Throne of Eldraine brings in some new cards I can use to reinforce my fun little black aggro deck.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Magic the Gathering Arena - Limited Draft Woes and Wins

I've decided to blog more about Magic the Gathering since I'm really having fun with it and some content in this dusty corner of the web would be good.

One of my favourite things to do in MtG Arena is Limited Drafting mode. In this mode (which costs 5000 gold or 750 gems) you and 7 bots have 3 rounds in which you open a 14 card pack, pick a card, and pass along to the next player until all the cards in the packs are gone. After 3 rounds of this you have 42 cards to make a 40 card deck (with access to any basic lands you need).

Then you play against other human players with their own 40 card limited draft decks. You keep going until you win 7 games or have lost 3, and then you collect rewards (packs and gems) based on the number of wins. And you get to keep the 42 cards you drafted.

I like it a lot because in "regular" MtG games with 60 card pre-constructed decks people can make some really powerful combos and archetypes, especially if they play a lot and have access to a lot of rares and mythic rares in their collection in Arena, but in the Limited Draft mode the playing field is a lot more even as everyone only has access to at most three rares (or occasionally 4 if a bot passes one) and you have to work hard to make a good deck out of the cards available to you.

The current Limit Draft mode is using three packs of the M20 release cards and I've been enjoying it a lot after the craziness of the War of the Spark release earlier this year where there were so many bombs (i.e. great game winning cards). M20 has a few bombs too but also is loaded with lots of common removal spells of all colours.

Usually I am pretty average in Limited, Recently I had a run of terrible drafts in which I went 0-3, 1-3, and 0-3 again. Ugh. Usually I'm happy with going 3-4 wins, ecstatic with 5 or 6 wins, and have never strung together 7 wins in a draft. In M20 I was averaging about 3 wins per draft until I hit this bad streak of 1 win in 10 games over three drafts. So after a break I sat down, paid my gold for a new draft, and cracked open the first pack.

The rare in my first pack (each pack has 1 rare, 3 uncommon (or 4?), and the rest common) was Knight of the Ebon Legion. I love this guy! First off, he's black and that's my favourite of the 5 colours. Secondly, he's got a low casting cost but can bump himself up temporarily. And thirdly, he grows if you do damage to the opponent.

I continue drafting the first packs, picking up more black cards but also some decent white cards and a few red removal cards. I don't pick a definite direction for my deck until I've had a chance to see most of the cards available to me in the second and third packs.

My second pack pick 1 offered a terrible rare, a Leyline enchantment (I don't recall the colour, they are all bad) so I continued picking up red, white, and black cards.

Then I got to the third pack and opened... Cavalier of Gales, the blue version of the Cavalier cycle! This is horrible! Not the card, its great: 5/5 flying, drawing cards when it enters the battlefield, and when it dies it goes into the library instead of graveyard. Its one of the best of the 5 Cavaliers for sure. But horrible because I've not been drafting many blue cards and a spell that requires 3 blue mana is very hard to splash with mana fixing of which I had none of.

I took it anyways (always good for the collection) and tried to see what other good blue cards I could get from the last packs to see if I could main blue and black and splash white or red, but I had some really good white cards to go with my black ones, and the rest of the blue cards were meh at best.

In the end when I made my deck I reluctantly left the Cavalier of Gales on the sideboard and with a sigh worked on a black white deck.

Final Deck List. Sorry I didn't get a nice Arena screenshot of the deck.
I didn't feel great. I ended up with a deck with not a lot in the way of bombs to win the game, so I was going to have to sludge through with my smaller fliers and removal and hope the Knight can steal a game or two.

I started to play. I won the first game, and the second one too. "Well!" I thought, "that's a much better result than the last three drafts!" Then I played in a third and fourth game and those were wins as well. "What the heck?" I asked myself, "How is this happening?!"

What seemed to be happening is that my numerous removal would take care of my opponent's big creatures while my small fliers dealt the chip damage I needed to win. Occasionally the Ebon Order knight would get going and run away with the game, and sometimes the Herald of the Sun would show up and flip the table, but usually it was just trade bomb for bomb and then win on the wings of Gorging Vultures and Dawning Angels. The Dawning was especially helpful with the 4 life she gave when I cast her, meaning I could afford to get low early on and flight back when I had the mana and spells I needed.

With 4 wins under my belt, and no losses, I was doing better than average. Usually when I start a draft with 3-4 wins it means the game must punish me with 3 losses from mana floods or mana screws or opponents with ridiculous decks. But amazingly this time the stars aligned and I won games 5, 6, and 7! I went 7-0 for the first time with this fairly plain deck.

So it just goes to show that sometimes the best decks are the ones without a bunch of flashy bombs, but just solid creatures and spells to back it up.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Terraforming Mars Board Game

I got Terraforming Mars for my birthday back in February but since I was going through a rough time I didn't get the gumption to try it out, then summer hit and we were busy living life outside, but finally a lazy Labour Day weekend arrived and my son Wilmik and I broke it out and learned how to play.

It was a little intimidating at first with tons of cards, tiles, and cubes but the instructions were clear and the game mechanics were straight forward that we got the hang of it pretty fast.

Basically the story is this: you represent a corporation trying to terraform mars and get the highest score. You score points by raising the temperature, making greenry, founding cities, and for accomplishing milestones, awards, and large projects. The game is for 1-5 players.

A few turns in, we have got a decent amount of water and Wilmik has planted a lot of greenspace.

My player card. From top to bottom, left to right: Money (for projects), steel (for building), titanium (for space projects). Bottom: plants (for greenry), energy (for heat and projects), and heat (for raising temperature). I'm getting ready to green the surface of mars and raise the temperature soon.

Wilmik's zone.

Many turns later, oxygen has been maxed out, average temp is approaching zero, and only a few aquifers left to place.

Not enough cudes for traking titanium so started using my old warhammer dice. On the left we see some of my ongoing projects which either add victory points or allow me actions.

Wilmik has a lot of completed projects (green) but only a couple ongoing ones (blue).

The game ends once all 9 aquifers are placed, oxygen reaches 14%, and temperature is +8 degrees C.

Our final board.

I got VPs for importing animals including small animals, fish, and livestock.

Wilmik added a lot of microbes and brought in pets for the people.
We tallied the end score and Wilmik won 82 to 71 victory points. His early push to green the planet made the difference as he scored VPs both for upping the oxygen level and the green tiles themselves.

Next time we will try the more advanced corporations with unique rules and the milestones and awards.

Good game, would recommend.

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