Tag: opinion

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Bruce Gray - January 13, 2017

Top 10 Casual Cards From Aether Revolt

Casual Encounters- Top 10 Casual Cards from Aether Revolt

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Hi everyone and welcome back once again.  Aether Revolt is just around the corner and everyone is counting down the top cards to be excited for. Well, I’m no different except that I’m not looking at Limited cards or Constructed cards.  No, what I want is some fun new toys to splash around with in some Casual decks and to really spice things up when I get to sling cards with my buddies around a kitchen table.  So, with Casual decks in mind, let’s look at the top 10 Casual cards that I’m eyeing from Aether Revolt.

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  1. Ajani, Valiant Protector: I usually don’t put Planeswalkers on my lists because they are typically very good and clearly geared with Constructed decks in mind,  but this one is just my style.  Ajani, Valiant Protector is the face of one of the Planeswalker decks meaning he is undoubtedly under powered because the product is geared for new players and as introductory product to playing Magic.  However, he plays ideally into a recurring Green/White theme and that’s namely +1/+1 counters on creatures. With a pair of plus abilities that are likely both very relevant in decks where he is featured he provides both +1/+1 counters AND card advantage without losing any loyalty.  That’s big because you can steadily march him upwards to his Ultimate and likely use that to end the game in a quick and decisive way.  Is he flashy the way some Planeswalkers are?  No.  Could he be on theme and very useful?  Absolutely.  Casual decks all over are going to love this new addition.

karizevskyshipraider

  1. Kari Zev, Skyship Raider: Kari Zev makes the list for the sole reason that she makes a Legendary Monkey Token whenever she attacks.  She makes a Legendary Monkey Token when she attacks! How awesome is that? Her casting cost is very favorable at a mere 2 mana, but really, who cares?  It is all about that Monkey Token.

rishkarsexpertise

  1. Rishkar’s Expertise: I took one look at this card and wasn’t really worried about the second clause on this card.  The card had me hooked at “Draw a huge pile of cards”.  Let’s face facts.  If you are playing Casual Magic and you are playing green you likely have some very large creatures which essentially means you get to draw a big old pile of cards when you cast this.  The second clause is potentially very relevant too because you just might want to slam a second play after playing this, but I’m all in on the card draw effect in my Green decks anyway. Can you imagine this in a deck with Ajani, Valiant Protector after a couple of activations?  Oh, that sounds like FUN to me!

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  1. Whir of Invention: Hello Chord of Calling for artifacts! I’m not going to suggest any combos because everyone will likely have their own, but the power level on this just can’t be missed.   Go find that big awesome artifact at the end of your opponent’s turn and then reap the benefits (end of turn Blightsteel Colossus anyone?) EDH decks love tutors and this one is going to be able to do some very powerful things in short order. It might see Constructed play to allow you to go and fetch a Gearhulk or something, but in Casual decks where the sky is the limit, this is going to be very spicy.

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  1. Exquisite Archangel: The life swing on this alone is kind of nuts. I can imagine this finding an immediate home in an EDH deck where this is used as a way to totally negate all the damage you’ve sustained at the hands of your opponent by giving you back your starting life total AND to give you a powerful flying blocker to help secure the battlefield.  At 7 mana it is undoubtedly too expensive for a Constructed format, but this will have a very bright future around the Kitchen table for years to come.

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  1. Maulfist Revolutionary:  This one is a little understated but the interaction it could have to in a deck interested in +1/+1 counters just can’t be missed.  However, the fact that it could potentially net you loyalty counters on your Planeswalker, or add to the Poison or Energy Counters in play is extremely interesting.  It gets even MORE appealing when you start to blink this guy in and out of play resulting in a whole bunch of triggers.  Sure, it is a little slow and potentially a little durdly, but it is exactly the sort of card a Casual player is going to scoop up and put to good use on  some Saturday night slinging cardboard with his buddies.  

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  1. Trophy Mage:  This may as well read “Go tutor up your Sword of X/Y”.  EDH decks are going to love the ability to tutor up their Swords and so there is little doubt that this will see fairly steady Casual play.  Oh, it gets better if you can blink it and go and find more goodies in your deck. Really, what isn’t to love?

aethertidewhale

  1. Aethertide Whale:  This giant flier is a solid creature, but what really gets me excited is the amount of Energy this thing produces.  You get a whooping 6 energy whenever this enters the battlefield and that could be super important. You can even return the Whale to your hand for 4 energy and then re-cast it meaning that each time you do you are netting 2 Energy.  You could see yourself scoring a whole pile of extra Energy and doing some really powerful things  There are whole bunch of really neat things you can do with that sort of Energy production like Aetherworks Marvel or Gonti’s Aether Heart or casting a very large Harnessed Lightning.  Whatever you like, there are lots of fun options that this creature will enable making him likely a slightly under appreciated card heading into the pre-releases. If you are looking to make use of Energy in  a deck this is the sort of creature you are looking to include.

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  1. Paradox Engine:  This just screams to be abused.  The ability to untap ALL your nonland permanents when you cast a spell is hugely powerful. I’m sure that there are people out there looking to break this card already, but the potential is dead obvious that you can’t miss it.  I kind of hope I get my hands on one of these in my pre-release so I can take it for a spin too!

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1.Planar Bridge:  This is a very potent card for EDH decks.  As a repeatable creature tutor that activates for 8 mana, this is an amazing way to go and find that big bomb you have lurking in your deck and dump it straight on the battlefield.  However, the other thing this does is it allows your deck to go and play more like a “Tool Box” deck that is so acclaimed in other formats.  Now, R & D has assured that at 8 mana to activate this that it is not a Constructed card, but in EDH, if you need an answer to eliminate that terrifying artifact, creature, or enchantment, you now have a tool to allow you to go and find it at Instant speed.  It may not be the most efficient way to answer something, but if the alternative is you dying then I would rather take my chances with the expensive creature tutor.  The one thing I am glad of is that Planar Bridge puts them on the battlefield rather than “casting” them and thus avoiding all the nasty “When Cast” triggers like on Emrakul, the Promised End.   This is going to make EDH very interesting.  Also, the Masterpiece version of the art of this card is stunning and one of the few times I might be prepared to shell out for the premium version rather than a simple non-foil version.  A very fun and beautiful card and in my estimation the top pick for Casual Players from this new set.

Well, there you have my top 10 Casual Cards.  As always, these lists are highly debatable and there is no doubt that I could have added another 5 cards easily.  However, I have to draw the line somewhere and 10 feels about right.  What has caught your attention from Aether Revolt? If you’ve got something that has captured your attention or something that you are really looking forward to playing let me know in the comments down below or find me on Twitter.  As always, thanks for stopping by and be sure to stop in next time for another Casual Encounter.

Bruce Gray

@bgray8791

 

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Bruce Gray - November 30, 2016

MTG Bargain Hunting

Casual Encounters- Bargain Hunting… Again!

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One of my favorite things about playing Magic is that with over 20 years of cards available there are many options and obscure cards that are available to help fill out a deck.  Sure,  in some formats your choices are limited,  but when you play casually you have countless options.  The only catch is that the very best cards are super expensive and hard to come by, and then may not even help you win. However there are plenty of perfectly viable cards that cost a fraction of the money that often perform just as well as their more expensive cousins.  Today I’m going to share a list of some very useful cards that are currently super cheap that should help in keeping your casual brews under budget and yet still fun to play.

I’m going start with some cards from Theros because it is a much-maligned set that many overlook for being able to offer anything interesting.  I think this perception is a little misplaced for the simple inclusion of the Scry Lands. These are likely one of the most balanced land cycles I have come across and have a huge amount of utility in Casual games.  They help fix your mana, but come into play tapped which is a fair trade off. This is certainly a drawback but they also allow you to Scry 1, which is hugely beneficial. That simple Scry 1 can allow you to help smooth out your draws in the early, mid, or late game and all the while helping to ensure that you are able to produce both colours of mana.  The design itself is so clean that it really is remarkable and the ability seems so minor, but yet can be so crucial.  To make matters better you can use all sorts of cards to eke extra value out of them like perhaps playing one of the Ravnicabounce” lands, or a Kor Skyfisher. Furthermore, since essentially everything from Theros was so widely printed, the prices on these have fallen to precipitously-low levels. Many of these are available on Three Kings Loot for between $0.99 (CDN) and $2.99 (CDN) making them  very modestly-priced and a real solid pickup.  

Prognostic Sphinx is another very solid card for your Casual games as a 3/5  flier with Hexproof if you discard a card. A 3/5 Flying body that is able to protect itself quite inexpensively is a very solid addition and this could see plenty of play in many decks, particularly some sort of Grixis-coloured deck with a number of Madness-themed cards, but it can see application in any deck playing Blue.  The real asset is the Scry 3 that is triggered when it attacks.   This can really generate some significant value and make your deck operate extremely smoothly because  Scry 3 offers you tons of control over the top of your deck. To make matters better, we are talking about essentially a bulk Rare at $0.49 (CDN)  meaning that he costs you less that a cup of coffee.  I call that some good value.

Another very sweet  addition to Casual decks playing White is a little common from M15.  M15 was largely a poor set with only a few truly interesting cards that might still see play, but Heliod’s Pilgrim is a tremendous little find.  In my 4+ years playing MTG again I have seen plenty of games won on the back of a terrible Aura that people just can’t remove or interact with profitably.  Well, if you have a casual deck with a potent aura hidden somewhere, Heliod’s Pilgrim acts like the ideal tutor. It it even leaves behind a body making it a very useful Tutor on a stick and an upgrade over Idyllic Tutor (that runs a very pricey $19.99).  It is no Enlightened Tutor, but Enlightened Tutor is a $15 card while you can get the Pilgrim for a cool $0.20 (CDN). A bargain basement pickup if there ever was one.

There are a number of other totally innocuous cards from Eldritch Moon and that are well-worth keeping an eye on. The first is Grapple with the Past  which can serve as an extremely versatile and potent “Regrowth” type effect.  We have seen time and time again that self mill strategies can be extremely potent and in the Commander 2015 product there was a B/G Meren of Clan Nel Toth deck that looked to exploit its graveyard for extensive value.  However, many of the Self-Mill cards recently printed reveal a certain number of cards and you select the required card, if it is among the revealed cards, and put it in your hand. (e.g. Mulch or Grisly Salvage).  However, Grapple with the Past goes into a much different range in that after you dump the cards in your yard you can select a creature or a land card from your graveyard, not just from the cards that were revealed.  Meaning, that as a late game play, once your yard has been filled up, you get to cherry pick the very best thing your graveyard has to offer.  Now, the original version of this sort effect is Regrowth and was last reprinted in a regular set in Revised (but it has been printed in a number of supplemental products recently) and can be found available for anywhere between $1.15 and $9 (CDN) depending on your version.  Grapple with the Past is a little more limited but can be found for a mere $0.37 at Three Kings Loot to help keep the old pocket book in check.  In a world with many “value” creatures Grapple with the Past is a very effective option and is a considerable discount over some of the alternatives.

Another card to keep your eye on is Splendid Reclamation. I think everyone is aware that this card has the potential to be truly broken given the right circumstances. Personally I have been truly astounded to find myself in a situation in numerous decks where I have either purposefully or inadvertently discarded, milled, or generally had lands destroyed and end up in my graveyard.   Splendid Reclamation does an amazing job of getting you all those lands back and essentially acting as a gigantic ramp spell. To my mind it is at its best in a self-milling strategy, but I could make a case for it in plenty of other situations as well.  However, once you start to see a bunch of lands end up in your graveyard, this is the perfect way to jump from having 4-8 land to having something like 10-12 lands in a single spell.  While you may not win the game on the spot on account of Splendid Reclamation, the truth is that you are now in a much more advantageous position because you have the ability to cast far more spells.  Add in the fact that this recently-printed rare is languishing at a mere $1.25(CDN) and you’re talking about a real bargain for something that could result in you having the upper hand at your next casual game.  

The final card  that I have for you all is yet another common, but this time from Kaladesh.  I have to say that I was astounded to find this card looking at me in my pre-release kit because I always figure this sort of effect is printed at uncommon or higher.  However, for a mere 3 mana (2 generic and a Black) you get a Fortuitous Find, a modal card to allow you to potentially regrow TWO targets.  The obvious first mode is to regrow a creature, that is very easy to predict, however the option to get back a potential artifact could be a hugely powerful play in the late game.  I can well imagine a situation where you have landed an early piece of equipment or a strong Artifact creature (think a Gearhulk)  and it gets destroyed by a well timed piece of artifact hate.  To have the chance to regrow both your best creature target AND an artifact is potentially backbreaking. We all know that in many casual games your opponent can likely deal with your best threats the first time,  but it is the ability to recur that threat a number of times that is truly the key asset and Fortuitous Find is a super cost-effective way to add that element of recursion to your deck. 

Well, those are a few things to add a little versatility and to make you a little more resilient when you start losing threats to the removal of your opponents.  There are plenty of great cards to help players of any budget, so I encourage you to go out and try a broad range of cards and see if you too can’t find a few highly effective budget options to help bring some versatility to your decks. By all means, if you find something fun and inexpensive share that with me here because I’d love to hear about a sweet new (or old) tech out there to spice up my next Casual game.

As always, thanks for stopping to read and be sure to stop in again next time for another Casual Encounter.  

Bruce Gray

@bgray8791

*Editor’s note: As with any discussion about prices, it’s important to remember that they’re always subject to change.

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Kyle A Massa Kyle A Massa - November 18, 2016

Commander 2016 First Impressions

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Play the Ten Drop – Commander 2016 First Impressions

Maybe it’s too early to say, but I’m going to say it anyway: this looks like the absolute best Commander product Wizards has ever released. Whether we’re talking about the Partner mechanic, the astounding number of new Legends, or the delicious mana bases, this year’s Commander has something for everyone. Let’s take a look.

 

Partner Looks Like a Home Run

When Wizards said they had a solution to the four color problem, they weren’t kidding. Partner will keep us all building new decks for years to come. Mixing and matching Commanders makes the game feel fresh, and it gives everyone so many more options for self-expression, one of the hallmarks of our format.

What’s more, I think Wizards did an excellent job balancing the mechanic. Think of all the broken combos that could’ve been printed on some of these cards. Seems like R&D was very careful not to make any of them too good, yet good enough when paired with another partner. Their collective power will at least match, if not surpass, many lone commanders.

Plus, I think Wizards made an excellent call by printing more enemy-colored commanders than allies. As the great and noble MaRo mentioned a few weeks ago, there just aren’t that many enemy color dudes out there. I’ve always found these color pairs more interesting than the allies, so I’m glad they’re getting a little more love.

 

The Sheer Number of Potential Commanders is Unprecedented

For both new and experienced players, the number of potential new commanders in this set is staggering. I went through the ol’ card image gallery and counted them up. There are 36 legendary creatures in this set alone (38 if you count Daretti, who can also be your commander). To compare that with some past Commander releases, here’s a breakdown:

Commander 2016 – 37 potential commanders

Commander 2015 – 18 potential commanders

Commander 2014 – 16 potential commanders

Commander 2013 – 21 potential commanders

Commander 2011 – 28 potential commanders

Partner certainly contributed to those numbers, but there are plenty of high-power reprints in addition. Zedruu the Greathearted and Ghave, Guru of Spores, for example, are two outstanding commanders that haven’t seen printing in five years. The deck building options are almost limitless.

And then there are the four-color commanders, which seem very exciting. Though they’re going to be tough to cast (especially on-curve), players are rewarded with some very powerful abilities. Atraxa and Yidris look very strong in particular, and if the numbers on EDHREC are any indication, they’re going to stay at the top of Commander pop charts for a while.

 

These Are the Best Mana Bases We’ve Ever Seen in a Commander Set

Though I’m still a little salty that we didn’t see the Shadowmoor/Eventide filter lands, the lands of Commander 2016 are still pretty darn sweet.

With inclusions such as the Alara and Tarkir tri-lands, Murmuring Bosk, Grand Coliseum, Exotic Orchard, Forbidden Orchard, and more, players can actually get their commanders out in a reasonable time frame. What’s more, these lands help reinforce any multi-colored mana base, whether they’re two, three, four, or five colors.

And, perhaps best of all, this gets some older lands into the hands of newer players, which is awesome. The Otarian filter lands haven’t been around in forever, which I find exciting. This opens up a whole new spectrum of possibilities for a heck of a lot of casual players.

If these decks sound good to you, I hear there are still a few left in the ol’ Three Kings Loot store. Go check them out!

 

By Kyle A. Massa – Play the Ten Drop
You can reach Kyle at @mindofkyleam on Twitter or through his site www.kyleamassa.com

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Bruce Gray - November 15, 2016

Two Ways to Spice Up Your Casual Decks

Casual Encounters- Two Ways to Spice Up Your Casual Decks

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The Inverted Truth

    Well, the boys and I got together and jammed some very casual games of Magic this past week.  It was glorious!  We just sat around and slung card board around until it was far too late and enjoyed every moment of it. However, one problem with playing casual Magic is that it takes so darn long.  Multiplayer games take ages because everyone is apprehensive about going out and attacking and leaving themselves vulnerable to some sort of counter attack by the rest of the table.  The game turns into plenty of defensive posturing and very little else going on.  In 5 hours of Magic we played 2 complete games.  2 Games!  That just isn’t very much.  There are lots of house rules that one can play, but I think I may have found something even easier to help bust up that board stall and speed up the game.

My solution is a maligned Mythic from Oath of the Gatewatch  that seemed like it could almost make the grade in Constructed, but sadly has fallen by the wayside.  I’m talking about Inverter of Truth  which is a devastating 6/6 flier for 4 mana.  With those sorts of stats you need to respect it, but there is a drawback.  The drawback is that when Inverter of Truth enters the battlefield you must exile your library, and your Graveyard becomes your Library.  In most situations this means that you lose a big portion of your deck, which can hurt.  If this is done too early you can run yourself out of cards in a real hurry and basically forfeit yourself the game because you just don’t have the tools you need to get the win.  However, if you use this judiciously, Inverter of Truth can be cast to great effect.

Imagine a situation where you have already cast a number of really good spells.  Perhaps you cast some removal spells, a couple of really strong creatures, maybe a reanimation spell or two and some other goodness.  What it means is that once you cast Inverter of Truth you get all those spells back and this time you won’t be drawing land in between good spells.  That sounds actually really appealing. Who wouldn’t want to draw only spells that ensure you play action?  

The other side effect that this card does is that it changes the mental position of the player who cast Inverter of Truth.  We played two games and both times that Inverter was cast the player who cast it immediately adopted a more aggressive position because they no longer had the luxury of playing for the attrition based resource battle. The player who just cast Inverter needs to get down to business of using his Library (that yields only gas) and this efficient 6/6 flier to pressure the table and bust up the board stall that is so typical in multiplayer Magic.  It is often this shift in just a single player that can push the whole table away from stalling out and reinforcing their position and then move everyone into a frantic race to not get run over.  This single person shifting into an aggressive posture is all the game needs to pick up speed and to cause itself naturally, without the addition of house rules or other adjustments to the game itself, to come to a very rapid conclusion.  It is a very effective trick to get a game kicked up into high speed.

In addition to the very intriguing and powerful card, Inverter of Truth gives us a very budget friendly creature to add to decks playing Black.  At a mere $0.75 this is a bargain for a card that dramatically changes the face of the game.  Some might argue that it doesn’t feel “Mythic” enough, but the effect on the game is immediate and profound suggesting that naysayers may be mistaken.  The next time you sit down to ponder what changes to make to your deck, do not discount Inverter of Truth because it can provide a much needed infusion of something truly interesting into the game.

*Editor’s note: Prices are subject to change according to the whims of the multiverse. 

 

Kaladesh and Blinking

There is no doubt that Kaladesh is a casual player’s paradise. The set just offers so much in the way of fun mechanics and innovative ways to get more out of your cards. However, to my eye the real element that has been built into Kaladesh that sets it apart from other sets is all the built in ways to “blink” your guys for value. Not since Avacyn Restored have we had so many ways to blink stuff and have draft chaff look so good.

Wispweaver Angel is the perfect example of a ridiculous limited card that has a huge payoff in casual games to allow you to blink all sorts of goofy things. It is a long way from being Restoration Angel, but the fact remains that using Wispweaver Angel is going to have some similar effects around the kitchen table. Pair the angel up with Panharmonicon and you have yourself some extremely powerful synergies to grab the attention of Casual players.

If blinking your stuff is proving an issue, or you’re looking for another way to get some value from your ETB triggers, Kaladesh has another totally innocuous card  in the form of Aviary Mechanic that can now play alongside Kor Skyfisher and  Emancipation Angel as some of the best ways to re-play your value creatures.  Let me assure you, these are the sorts of commons casual players look for and love to abuse.  Whether it is returning a Scry Land for the free Scry, or a Siege Rhino, or something slightly more degenerate, these simple but effective additions to casual decks can really help push them in the right direction. Look for them and see if you can squeeze them in because you might be pleasantly surprised.

Well, that’s what we’ve got for this week.  Thanks for stopping in for a read and be sure to stop by next time for another Casual Encounter.

Bruce Gray

@bgray8791  

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Bruce Gray - May 3, 2016

Embracing Change in MTG and Life

Casual Encounters- Embracing Change in MTG and Life

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I don’t usually figure that I am the type of person that gets all reflective.  I very much live in the here and now. I  focus on what is in front of me, what needs to be done, and I try very much to not get ahead of myself.  However, every once in awhile something happens to me that forces me to sit back and really take stock of where I am and what I am all about.

As some of you may be aware, during the day I am a teacher.  I love my job.  I love working with my students as they grow into outstanding young men and women.  I relish their successes, and I genuinely feel for them when they falter and stumble. I wouldn’t trade the job for anything. If you aren’t familiar with schools, it takes a lot of planning year to year to be able to keep a school running and publicly funded schools need to ensure that they have the appropriate number of staff for their site.  In my school area we start that process in April and it doesn’t get fully resolved until August and even then can be a kind of up and down affair.  

A year ago, at this time of year, I opted to move from a safe and sure thing at a solid school in order to search out a new job and some new experiences because I thought my teaching was getting a little on the stale side. I landed a job at a small school and have been forced to not only take a much larger leadership role than anticipated, but also challenge myself with my teaching and new subjects that I haven’t taught before.  The experience has been healthy to say the least.  Sadly, the staffing process for next school year has just begun and I found out that my small school is shrinking a little bit further and that I am now supernumerary.  That means that I’m out a job and will need to look for a new job for next school year.

Am I a little sad to leave?  Yes.  I have been afforded some tremendous opportunities and I have really enjoyed my experience.  However, staring down the barrel of forced change doesn’t feel so bad.  I’ve done this before, just a year ago, BY CHOICE, and done well.  Surely I can find myself another new job now that I NEED to go and find a new job.  Desperation can be a very powerful motivator, but so is the prospect of change.  

Many of us resist change.  It scares us and makes us tentative.  However, I have seen that change can be extremely positive in my professional life leading to greater enjoyment of what I love to do.  Does it still scare me?  You bet, but I am learning more and more to accept this change and to try and use it to my advantage and to improve myself.  

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How does all this discussion of change pertain to playing Magic?  I think it is very straight forward.  Change in Magic is good.  We all love the change afforded us on account of rotation and a new block.  This is a type of forced change that impacts most of us who play this game and helps to keep the game fresh and interesting at every level. To see the recent  transition in Standard away from 4-colour insanity to more modest 2 and 3-colour decks has been refreshing. We see new cards, new combinations, and new abilities that will help redefine how we think about Magic.

We can also see this sort of forced change through things like the recent Bannings and Restrictions.  Adding new cards to the card pool of a format like Modern goes a long way to help freshen up a format an unlock new potential combinations that will make the environment more enjoyable.

However, for every instance of someone getting excited for change, we see other things where players complain about all sorts of changes.  I can scroll through my Twitter feed and see people complain about all sorts of Magic issues on a daily basis.  I understand that some changes may not feel positive, but I would ask players to at least keep an open mind.  Play points may not be all bad for MTGO.  MTG finance might be more predictable at some point down the road. Less coverage of GPs may not be a bad thing instead of competing with everyone on Twitch for the attention of Magic players.  But if we all complain about such things instead of embracing some of these changes, or at least giving the people who planned the change the benefit of the doubt, then we are limiting ourselves.

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Then there is the question of change that you have brought upon yourself by choice.  This might be the most difficult area because many times it is unclear how we, as players, can change and grow.  However, perhaps it is a matter of becoming more attuned with the story of the game and paying more attention in that realm to help deepen your appreciation for the game.  Perhaps it is uncovering a new fun podcast or website for inspiration.  Maybe you just commit yourself to spending more time playing a given format into to try and grow your skill and understanding.  Regardless of what you have chosen, making those first steps down the path of change can open up countless opportunities and be something that pushes you to be better.

For me, I look at the next few months of impending change as a positive.  Am I sad? Yes. I hate to leave my school. I’m also sad when I take apart old decks from formats that I enjoyed and had kept together for nostalgia, but sometimes those cards can be put to better use elsewhere. However, the new possibilities that can exist from this change can be very positive.  I like building new decks and I enjoy new challenges professionally.  Things will be stressful and tense in the next few weeks as I attend interviews, but that’s part of the challenge and one I look forward to facing. I can’t wait and I am hoping that there is a perfect dream job out there for me somewhere.  In the meantime I am going to enjoy the time at my current school, enjoy a little Magic, and get ready for whatever may come my way.

Bruce Gray

@bgray8791 on Twitter

 

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Bruce Gray - April 8, 2016

Top 10 Casual Cards From Shadows Over Innistrad

Casual Encounters – Top 10 Casual Cards From Shadows Over Innistrad

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With the set releasing this weekend, I thought today would be an excellent opportunity to go through my top ten casual cards from Shadows Over Innistrad for all of you. Now, these may not be all the hottest competitive cards. Sometimes there are other cards that are spicy and fun to play with, but may not be particularly good in the competitive Magic scene. However, even casual players appreciate mana-efficient, powerful cards so don’t be surprised if some of those also appear on this list too. Let’s get down to business and see what I’m excited for in this new set!

 

Honorable mentionNew rare land cycle

 I always get excited for new land cycles because having good mana is so crucial to playing this game. I have maintained now for a long time that good mana is often better than having the premier spells because you can reliably cast your spells if you’ve got the correct mana. The new lands give us one more tool to help fix our mana, but the interaction with the Battle lands, namely that the Battle lands are dual typed, means that you can have this new cycle come into play untapped quite reliably. They aren’t exciting and most people aren’t thrilled about them, but I think they are one more viable land option. The other piece is that these lands should be fairly readily accessible and inexpensive for the foreseeable future making them an inexpensive investment and something that helps casual players get the mana fixing they want without breaking the bank..

sigarda, heron's grace

10- Sigarda, Heron’s Grace: While the other angels have gone crazy, Sigarda has stayed pretty true to her original printing. She’s still 5 mana, is a good body, but now she gives your humans and you hexproof. This doesn’t seem like it is very relevant, but she goes in tribal human decks very readily. Whether you are playing human Allies, Warriors, or even pre-transformed werewolves, she is relevant and could make life difficult for your opponents. I’m not sure if she has a future in constructed decks yet, but I know casual players will be excited for her to be played in tribal decks.

Triskaidekaphobia-Shadows-over-Innistrad-Art-600x403

9-  Triskaidekaphobia: I feel like this will be one of the cards that leave a lasting impressions on this set long term. Triskaidekaphobia is not likely to see much in the way of Constructed play, but it is templated beautifully for Multi-player games giving it more appeal for Casual players. The real draw here is that it is an alternate win condition for a deck that is interested in that sort of thing.  I know some EDH deck is going to brew with this thing and I have a few friends who will take a stab at making this viable, but that will only see the light of day around the kitchen table.  The art on this card is insane too in that it calls out to so many different instances of the number 13 that it is almost comical.  This will certainly be remembered and is extremely unique even for a set as rich and flavourful as Shadows over Innistrad.

SOI_Seasons_Past_Christine-Choi

8- Seasons Past:  As a casual player, this speaks to me very clearly.  For 6 mana I can regrow MULTIPLE targets?  So, sure, it is NOT what a Constructed deck wants, but I can imagine getting all sorts of things back in a Casual game very easily.  Just think about your favorite 1 drop.  Do you have it in mind?  Great.  Now a 2 drop.  Repeat that for a 3 drop.  Keep going…how about 4 now…and 5, and 6, and, and, and.  Seasons Past is exactly the sort of card that will scale ridiculously depending on what’s in your deck and we all know casual players are more apt to have bigger, splashier things in their deck.  This could be amazing… and the stories you will tell will start like this “Remember when I cast Seasons Past and got back…”.  Yeah.  I’m pumped.

Odric-Lunarch-Marshal-Shadows-over-Innistrad-Art

7- Odric, Lunarch Marshall:  Wow…so, you know when I had Sigarda playing guardian angel for a tribal humans deck?  Well, I want this guy to be the reason I win that game because he just grants all my other creatures silly abilities.  It isn’t hard to imagine this guy being ridiculous and casual players are ready and willing to give this guy a brand new home leading their decks.  Just a sweet new treat to make decks unbelievable. Fellow looter JP Vazquez is also excited by Odric, so check out his article if you haven’t already!

thalia's lieutenant

6- Thalia’s Lieutenant:  Hmmm…tribal humans just got another lord. Ok.  Sign me up. I could almost see this guy helping to build the foundation for a silly Humans build in Modern playing alongside Champion of the Parish and Hardened Scales but even without that push this is hard to miss.  

Second-Harvest-Shadows-over-Innistrad-Art

5- Second Harvest:  I read this card and had to stop and look at it again.  For 4 mana for that ability doesn’t seem THAT good. Oh wait, what am I talking about.  I’m clearly wrong and can’t wait to play this and do some degenerate token shenanigans with it.  Think about playing this in some of the EDH decks out there that are focused on token strategies: Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice, Ghave, Guru of Spores, Rhys the Redeemed, just to name a few.  These decks look to go wide. This lets them go WIDER. At instant speed.  We’re all going to die to this card in EDH.  I accept it and want my chance to try and cast it too.  

cardart_SOI_Epiphany-at-the-Drownyard

4- Epiphany at the Drownyard: This is perhaps my favorite card in this whole set.  I love drawing extra cards and nothing makes me happier than being able to do that at Instant speed.  The fact that this scales in the late game when I have a pile of mana is very appealing and could help me stock my hand all over again.  The similarities between this and Fact or Fiction is unmistakable and further adds to the appeal of the card because I love forcing my opponent to make a choice and see if they make a bad one for me to capitalize on.  This is a very strong card and certainly not something I will overlook.

Trail-of-Evidence-Shadows-over-Innistrad-Art

3- Trail of Evidence:  I’m using Trail of Evidence as a placeholder for cards that allow you to create multiple Clue artifacts.  I think these Clue artifacts are an ingenious way to help smooth out limited play by allowing players the chance to draw more cards.  If you can draw more cards you might find that answer you desperately need to stave off your death.  The result is very positive for Limited.  However, for a Casual player, these Clue tokens create a very interesting opportunity when paired with Ghirapur Aether Grid because you can use your Clue tokens to help deal damage to your opponent.  Any time you can weaponize something that is essentially harmless you have something that will appeal to a certain type of Casual player.

the gitrog monster

2- The Gitrog Monster: This is a wild card that has entirely too much text on it for it to NOT be something that Casual players are going to drool all over.  Don’t ask me where it goes…maybe it is the general for a whole new EDH deck…but I know that this thing is a) stupid big b) packs a ton of powerful abilities and c) has super cool art. I want me one of these guys.

PW_ArlinnKord_preloader

SOI_PW_Embraced_by_the_Moon_image_gallery

 

1-  Arlinn Kord:  This was a tough choice because I kind of wanted to put Avacyn in this spot. The reason I picked Arlinn is just because she is the first Planeswalker with the ability to flip back and forth under your control.  Garruk Relentless flipped over and stayed that way with no chance of flipping back.  Same for the more recent flip Planeswalkers in Magic: Origins.  This is the first time that we’ve seen a walker who can go back and forth at will. That makes her unique and something that can’t be overlooked ever.  She will undoubtedly be a strong competitive card in Constructed, but Casual players are going to love her too.  I mean, she packs 5 abilities, is a Werewolf, and looks amazing…she’s a casual all star and takes top spot on my list.

 

Well, there we have it.  My top ten is likely very different from most top tens.  Heck, I left Sorin, Avacyn and Relentless Dead off my list!  Don’t get me wrong, these are going to be amazing cards but they will find their home in Constructed Magic right away.  Some of the cards on my list will see competitive play, but there are others that will never see the light of day at a major tournament and will shine brightest around the kitchen table.  

Was there anything else that caught your eye or has you super excited?  Let me know by finding me on Twitter or by leaving a comment down below. This is clearly going to be a terrific set and I’m excited to see these cards dominate kitchen tables for years to come.    

Until next time good luck and have fun wherever you play Magic and be sure to stop by next time for another Casual Encounter.

 

Bruce Gray
@bgray8791 on Twitter

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JP Vazquez JP Vazquez - April 6, 2016

Early Shadows Over Innistrad Impressions

Optimum Jank – Early Shadows Over Innistrad Impressions

 

IMAGE - AVISITOR - Bastien L. Deharme - Asylum Visitor

 

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

The Shadows Over Innistrad Prerelease is behind us and we are just a few days away from the official release date of the new set. I hope you all had a chance to participate in a Prerelease event or two because Shadows Over Innistrad (SOI) is amazing. Perhaps my early impressions are overly favourable because I loathed Battle for Zendikar (BFZ) so much, but I feel my instincts for this set are on the mark: Shadows Over Innistrad is going to be tremendous fun.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this set are the sheer number of moving parts – from the mechanical elements of the game down to the story and presentation – working in unison in a truly meaningful way. If I may take a moment to contrast Shadows Over Innistrad with Battle for Zendikar, the story of BFZ was that of the Zendikari fighting alongside the unbelievably poorly named “Gatewatch” superteam of Planeswalkers to vanquish the terrorizing Eldrazi menace rampaging across Zendikar. While BFZ’s premise may have been presented as everyone working together to defeat a common foe, in reality, the entire block felt disjointed and divided into three separate entities each trying to do their own contradicting thing. The Eldrazi mechanics mostly worked parasitically meaning they didn’t really work well with anything else in the set… which is fine. The Eldrazi should feel different and alien. The Zendikari, however, were all over the place. Some were Allies which worked with everything… including the Eldrazi, which doesn’t make any sense at all. Others were… just there? They didn’t really do anything, nor were they Allies, so I guess they didn’t mind the Eldrazi being there? I have no idea. Maybe non-Ally Zendikari simply hate Zendikar. They weren’t overly synergistic with the Eldrazi either, so I’m not really sure why they were there in the first place.  Finally, we had The Gatewatch, functioning in their own space to the side by their very nature of being Planeswalkers. For a story and set about teamwork and working together, nothing meshed well nor made any sense.

I’m speaking in broad, generalized terms, of course, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Shadows Over Innistrad is pretty much the exact opposite. There are both obvious and covert synergies between many of the cards and mechanics in a set with a mythology in place that brings rhyme and reason to the improbabilities of certain cards or tribes working together. The madness currently overwhelming the plane of Innistrad gives us a credible reason for why humans would be working side by side with vampires or werewolves or zombies. In fact, in a large majority of the art, the humans are scarier than the actual monsters! Have you seen the art for Rabid Bite?

 

CARD - BITE

 

That human is BITING A WEREWOLF. This is amazing.

As if that weren’t enough, SOI just feels more powerful and more exciting than anything found in BFZ. There were a number of times I would be looking through my sideboard during the Prerelease thinking to myself: “I should be running this card… and I should be running this card too.” The reason for that is a lot of the cards feel like they could be role players in multiple strategies.

 

CARD - VESSEL

 

Take Vessel of Ephemera, for instance. It can provide attackers, blockers or sacrificial fodder, it can fuel Delirium, it works with cards that care about Spirits, at worst it can be pitched for Madness costs… the list goes on. That’s just one common. Imagine an entire set that has that level of synergy. The major problem of SOI isn’t a lack of options, its problem is having too many!

 

IMAGE - WITCH - Wesley Burt - Accursed Witch

 

Scared Walkers Going Crazy in a Caged Box

Since we’re on the subject of powerful cards, let’s talk about a few I was very impressed with because they turned out to be far more powerful than I had initially anticipated and a few that turned out to be a little less so.

 

I was lucky enough to pull these two cards in my first Prerelease pool and yes, I was able to live the dream once: I flashed in Avacyn at the end of my opponent’s turn to save one of my creatures. During my next main phase, I sacrificed five creatures, transforming Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl, Profane Prince which in turn transformed Archangel Avacyn into Avacyn, the Purifier. It was pretty glorious.

Archangel Avacyn is everything you would expect her to be. She’s a fantastic card when you’re ahead, when you’re at parity and when you’re behind. That being said, she’s not as clear cut a card to play as you would believe her to be. I played against another player with his own Avacyn and I felt there were times he would run her out too soon. She’s strong, but she isn’t unbeatable and well placed removal will send her to the yard. More often then not, I liked holding her back in my hand: If I was already ahead, I didn’t need to use her frivolously and get her killed. If I was behind, she was my insurance to get me back to parity. Knowing she was in my hand ready to fly in at instant speed certainly gave me confidence when making combat decisions. Archangel Avacyn strongly reminded me of the Queen piece in chess: A lot of power that is often best held back until it’s time to strike.

 

IMAGE - QUEEN

 

On the other hand, Westvale Abbey is an incredibly difficult card to use in Limited. Simply having it on the board – even if I wasn’t anywhere near activating it – definitely made my opponents play more aggressively and use their removal more liberally.

Activating Westvale Abbey in Sealed was very hard to do. I can see him being much more powerful in Draft or Constructed formats where you have more control over deck building and can take advantage of sacrificing creatures or building up your board with tokens. In Sealed, getting 5 creatures on the board isn’t easy. Using five mana just to get a 1/1 token was a tough pill to swallow. Sacrificing my board and hoping my opponent didn’t have a way to interact with Ormendahl was agonizing. I realized early on that transforming him against anyone running Blue was usually the wrong thing to do: Just the Wind was everywhere. Sending my entire board to the graveyard only to have Ormendahl return to my hand didn’t seem like the wisest of actions. If you could build a Draft or Constructed deck that could take advantage of powerful leave the battlefield effects when your creatures died or had a means of generating a large number of tokens you wouldn’t mind sacrificing, I could see how Westvale Abbey could be an absolutely crushing card. In my case, however, it was more often a land than it was a game-ender.

 

CARD - BOON

 

Where did this card come from? Who okayed this card? Because this card is insane.

Auras are usually frowned upon by the majority of Magic players because they often lead to potential 2-for-1s, i.e. enchanting your creature with an Aura followed by your opponent casting a removal spell targeting your enchanted creature. Your opponent only used one card (their removal spell) to get rid of two of yours (your creature and the aura). Gryff’s Boon completely disregards this weakness because it keeps coming back whenever you want it to. What makes it even more insane is that it doesn’t return to your hand like you would expect it to, it goes right onto the battlefield attached to whichever creature you’d like to turn into an immediate threat. Anything and everything in your deck has the potential to be stronger and fly. Short of exiling the enchantment, you’re never going to get rid of this thing. I had two players simply crush me with this card because I had very few ways to interact with it. Let me tell you, turning Inspiring Captains into 4/3 fliers can be backbreaking.

 

CARD - VISIONS

 

When this card was first spoiled, I though it was okay. I wasn’t certain how detrimental giving your opponent cards would be.  My strategy, if it were to be played against me, was to either A) outrace my opponent with damage or B) get my hand size down using discard outlets if I needed to. Turns out, I was correct in my assumption that it wasn’t as good against aggro/Madness decks, but I was wrong about it being easy to get my hand-size down to a manageable number if I needed too. If your deck lacks methods to discard cards and you’re running a control deck, you’re essentially racing against inevitability. You’re being punished for doing what a control deck loves to do – draw cards. In retrospect, I feel I should have somehow sided into a more aggressive deck with a lower curve to beat this card; playing my control deck against it was an exercise in futility.

I still don’t think this card is amazing, but I’m definitely giving it a bit more credit then I initially gave it.

 

IMAGE - CURSE - Wesley Burt - Infectious Curse

 

See Me Heal These Wounds

My first impressions of Shadows Over Innistrad have been overwhelmingly positive and I can’t wait until Friday when we’ll finally get a chance to draft it for the first time. I’m very excited to see if SOI Draft is as rich and nuanced as it appears to be from its Sealed environment. If you’re in the Montreal area, Three Kings Loot will be hosting SOI drafts all day on Friday starting at noon, followed by a 6:30 Sealed event. If you’re interested in playing with the new set all day, you should absolutely swing by and check it out. As always, if you liked this article or have any questions, feel free to leave a comment in the Comments section below!

JP Vazquez – Optimum Jank

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Roy Anderson Roy Anderson - April 4, 2016

What SOI Standard Might Look Like

Warp World medium
SOI’s Effect on Standard

Hello fellow Looters! We are in the midst of the final week before Shadows Over Innistrad (SOI) releases. The pre-release was this past weekend, and I hope you all had fun playing with the new cards! So with SOI so close, I figured it is time to talk about Standard. There are going to be a lot of changes from this last season and this is one of the benefits, (or detriments, depending on who you ask,) of the Standard Format. Obviously, we won’t know until the cards hit the table (hopefully in sleeves…) but hopefully this will get you thinking about the format.

 

General Format Changes?

The biggest way we will see standard change during this rotation is the power reduction of available mana. Now, we are not losing the ability to play multiple colors as there are still plenty of lands in the format (Pain Lands, Battle Lands, Man Lands, The new SOI land cycle, etc.). Let me put it in perspective, though. Currently, with fetch lands and battle lands, it is possible to use one fetch to get one of any four colors and even untapped a good portion of the time. This allowed four color decks like Abzan Blue, Mardu Green, Four Color Rally, and every other deck with an uncreative name to run rampant. To put it in the words of Patrick Chapin, “You don’t have to ask yourself if you can afford to play this card, you have to ask yourself, why not?” Why not splash Jace or Siege Rhino? With the loss of the fetch lands, we are now losing the ability to have such a streamlined mana base. In addition, tri-lands and gain-a-life duels are out the door as well. It is still very possible to run that many colors but you run a heavier risk of stumbling and your deck will be a lot slower with more lands entering tapped. I fully expect to see many more two to three color decks during this standard format, which will be a welcomed change for me.

KHHAAAAN!’s of Tarkir is parting ways with standard and ushering in the slow climb of fetches until Wizards decides to reprint them. It is taking its buddy Fate Reforged with it and, between the two of them, that is a lot of cards (454 to be exact). The most notable cards we are losing from standard, aside from fetch lands, are the hyper-efficient three-color cards. This includes things like Siege Rhino, Mantis Rider, Abzan Charm, Crackling Doom, Big Knucks, and a bunch of other cards loved by these four-color decks. There was nothing stopping decks from jamming these cards for almost no additional effort and it really crushed the playability of some otherwise great cards. Mana is supposed to be a restriction and I am glad we are returning to a world where more tough deck-building choices need to be made.

Oh yeah and I guess Ugin is leaving too… Maybe he wasn’t too happy with Jace over that whole Eldrazi thing?

 

What decks are we losing?

Abzan Aggro – Will Abzan completely disappear? Probably not, but with the loss of Khan’s of Tarkir, they are losing a lot of the cards that make the deck super powerful. Warden of the First Tree, Siege Rhino, Anafenza, and Abzan Charm are all rotation which leaves the wedge less supported.

Rally – When a deck loses its namesake, it is usually not going to survive rotation. That being said, most of the other pieces remain short of Grim Haruspex. Depending on what graveyard synergy we see, from Eldritch Moon and with Collected Company still in the format, we could see an efficient creature combo deck remain strong. Plus we still have to deal with Reflector Mage

Hardened Scales – Same goes with this namesake card. Khans also housed a good number of counter’s matters cards which will squish counter strategies until they are better supported. Counters will go from being a combo to just being… regular I guess. There are still plenty of powerful counter strategies that could make their way into standard.

Most 4/5 Color Decks – They won’t be impossible to build but we definitely will not see as many of them moving forward. That being said, I could probably 100% see a 4 color super friends deck or something similar being in the format.

 

What decks could we see?

Tribal (Vampire, Werewolves, and Zombies Oh My!) – There are so many awesome tribal cards that we are seeing from this set. I would not be surprised at all to see Zombies, Spirits, or Werewolves become a playable Standard deck. This being said, I don’t see any of them being top tier. The simple fact is, you limit yourself when building around a specific tribe which at times can cost you a slot that would have gone to a slightly better creature. This won’t stop people from building tribal decks as they are some of the most fun decks to play and they are really well-supported this time around! I could fully believe a Humans, Vampire, or Werewolf deck taking down a GP at least once as well. Eldritch Moon should make this category even strong as it will add cards without causing a rotation.

Reanimator – This was a deck that saw a lot of play in the original Innistrad Standard environment and was very powerful. Ever After and  Necromantic Summons are two very powerful spells that bring things straight from the graveyard to the battlefield. I think we need to figure out some better targets as currently most of the powerful effects trigger on casting the creature rather than entering the battlefield. That being said, I am all for another Reanimator deck, (assuming there is hate for it in the format, of course).

Artifact – Color me crazy, but this archetype is something to investigate. Origins is host to all sorts of Artifacts with a high power level. Cards like Thopter Spy Network could take over an entire game and with the introduction of Clues, I think there could be something here. There are not too many constructed playable clue producers, however, in my head I have delusions of tapping six Clues with Ghirapur Aether Grid to have a repeatable  Lightning Bolt. You never quite lose that ecstatic brewer in the back of your head. We also still have creatures like Hangarback Walker and all of the various thopter producers as well.

 

Summary?

I think the format is going through a well needed change. Normally when a new block rotates in, it has a theme and it is supposed to have hate cards that weakens previous strategies to allow new cards to shine. Battle for Zendikar fell short as it failed to bring much to the table and did little to break the hold that Khan’s of Tarkir had over the format. There was little punishment for player playing tons of colors. Aggro was in too weak a spot as removal was everywhere. Now that Khans is rotating, I am not sure how Standard will look but I am a big fan of keeping things new and exciting which is why I love the Standard format.

 

Roy Anderson
@Sockymans on Twitter

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