The Cursed Traveller
The gods of Theros were furious.
Twice now, their mortal worshippers had failed, and now but one Orb remained. This had gone far enough. The authority of the gods would not be denied a third time. The thieves had proved themselves powerful and determined, but no mortal creature could travel to the realm of the departed and hope to return.
The gods sent their emissary, a shining soldier born from the fabric of the sky, to Theros. With a delegation of mortals accompanying him, the Nyxborn took the final Orb and left it in the cold sunless realm of the underworld, far from where any living thing could hope to survive. The journey was fraught with peril, and many of the mortals accompanying the Nyxborn did not return, but eventually the quest was done. Hidden in the realm of the dead, the Orb would be safe for all time.
Temple of Silence, the Underworld, Theros
Unlike the other great temples of Theros, the Temple of Silence was not truly a temple, in that it had no walls or roof. ‘Shrine’ would have been a better word to describe it, seeing as it consisted of little more than a pile of treasure larger than many dragons and a great arc-covered bridge studded with torches. However this unusual design meant that no one who approached the temple was unseen, for only by the bridge could access be gained. Every day, the souls of the recently deceased would trudge along the gargantuan length of the bridge to move onto their hereafter; the slow, relentless drumming of feet on wooden boards usually drowning out the occasional oily slap of the stagnant waters of the great river. Only the dead and their wardens roamed here, either those arriving in resignation or departed with doomed optimism. Down here, stagnancy reigned.
And yet, just recently, something had changed. For hours now, the flow of dead had slowed to a trickle. This in itself was not unusual, Theros was at peace, no wars or conflicts were happening to swell the tide of the dead, but for there to be so few in such a time was still strange. Just as it was starting to seem as if something strange was going on, there returned the familiar sound of tramping feet. A demon, one of the guardians of the temple, who had been on the cusp of flying off to investigate the mystery, was mollified at the reassuring sound. It had just begun to relax, when a thought occurred to it.
I hear voices….. two voices….but the dead never speak….
Kallorn had never been in a plane’s afterlife before, and this experience was not doing anything to make it into his top ten. The air was stale, the temperature chilly even for his thick skin, and he felt like he had been trudging on this charmless bridge for longer than he could remember. The company wasn’t helping either. But then, it never did.
“You always take me to the nicest places, Kallorn. The witch-lights really add to the ambience, don’t you think?”
Kallorn’s rhino-ears twitched, as though flicking away a bothersome fly.
“Do be silent, Dark. This journey is wearing enough without your babble.”
Next to him, keeping pace step by step, was the vampire.
“I understand. This place must be draining for you, eh? Your breathing is shallow. Feeling fatigued as well I’d wager. It’s been a long walk I admit, but you seem to be really leaning on that staff for someone in the prime of their youth. Oh, and of course there’s the matter of….”
He gestured to Kallorn’s face.
Kallorn reached out with his free hand and explored his face. He pulled his hand back. There were splatters of blood on it, tinged with oily black.
“Great. So much for the trip to the Font of Return. I thought you said the waters would stave off death. Do you have any more useless advice to give me?”
Dark shrugged his shoulders with indifference.
“Hey, keeping things alive is not really my area of expertise; quite the opposite actually. And you’re not dead yet, the power of the waters will keep you going long enough to get that orb anyway. Of course, if you want to take a load off and let me take over, I’d be happy to help. This place doesn’t affect me so much, and I’ll even fetch your trinket for you. How’s that sound?”
Kallorn glared at his companion with hatred.
“No. No I don’t think I’ll take you up on that offer. This is my quest to complete, and mine alone. You have rendered what… services I asked for, but that is all I need from you. Not your advice, not your thoughts, nothing that worms its way out of your sick twisted little mind or mouth.”
“Touchy, touchy. So, Kallorn, while we have this delightful view to ourselves for a moment, can you answer me something that’s been bugging me for a while?”
“If it will keep you quiet for a bit, then yes.”
“Well, here’s the thing: you’ve never said my name. It’s all ‘vampire’ this, and ‘abomination’ that, and ‘shut up, Dark’. Why is it you’ve never wanted to know my name? I do have one, you know, its…”
“Quiet,” interjected Kallorn, “We’re here.”
Before them rose a massive wooden arch, formed from the skeletons of two once-great ships, lashed together at their prows. Carrion crows preened and stared out from atop the edifice, and now Kallorn could see a cluster of the pale torches betraying the presence of solid land through the mist. He was almost there.
As he strode directly under the ship-arch, Kallorn could hear movement. A lot of movement. Something big was waiting for him on the shore of the underworld. Kallorn decided he didn’t have the patience for surprises.
“Be as a boon to those who cannot see in the dark and as a bane to those who live in it. Light, guide my way.”
He spread his palms and an orb of bright light flew out, breaking apart as it crested over the Temple. It split and slowly descended, bathing the area in temporary heat and light. The fog ebbed, revealing the army of the dead that was waiting at the mouth of the bridge. At least two hundred of the Returned, armed and armoured in gold for battle, barred the way in a glittering phalanx formation. At their head, standing just before the shieldwall, a Returned stood. He was marked as something special from his comrades by his stylized death mask, frozen in a rictus of rage, and the aura of palpable malice that streamed from him.
“Interloper… you will find only death here. Leave… the orb is to remain in the Underworld. This is your only warning.”
Kallorn sagged for a moment, and then straightened.
“You’re the one known as Tyramet, yes? I find it strange that one known by the title of ‘The Murder King’ would stand guard over a treasure.”
Tyramet stiffened at the comment. Then he drew out a heavy golden blade, laden with deaths-head charms.
“Erebos commands us to guard, and so we are compelled. It is of no matter, once you are dead, we will be free to go about our business once more. You have declined our offer to leave peacefully. Now you must die.”
Kallorn considered pointing out that he hadn’t rejected any offer per say, but as Tyramet ducked behind the line of his troops and they brought their shields to readiness in hostile stance, he didn’t think it was worth it. Keeping one eye on the advancing soldiers, Kallorn turned to look at Dark. Kallorn nodded once.
“Okay, you’re up. Bring them. As I outlined.”
Dark was excited, his vampire fangs protruding when he smiled. He nodded once.
“Alright. Hold on.”
Kallorn felt his arms wave as Dark poured magic through them. For a moment his consciousness got in the passenger seat as Dark’s moved to the fore. Kallorn braced himself to fight for total control, but Dark exercised his sorcery and then slunk back without protest, which was unusual for him. Kallorn decided not to question the good fortune. It wouldn’t matter soon anyway.
The Returned phalanx advanced slowly, shields interlocked, spears held out. Across such a limited frontage, the formation had no weaknesses, presenting Kallorn with a host of spear points and shields. Kallorn spied Tyramet, moving his troops into position.
“Tyramet! I brought an army too, you know.”
The golden death-mask’s expression didn’t change, but there was a flicker of contemptuous amusement in the voice.
“Really? Then where is it, pray tell?”
Kallorn smiled, though he felt sick to his very stomach. “Haven’t you wondered why the influx of souls have slowed down to a trickle?”
Somewhere behind Kallorn, there came the sound of a great mass of feet tramping on the boards of the bridge. Not the even, measured, uniform tread of feet marching in unison, but a great disorganized slapping of feet of many individuals moving at their own pace. Then came the groans. Hollow, mindless groans.
“I stopped at the other shore for a bit. Did some recruiting.”
Out of the mist they came; zombies, in a mob so dense they filled the width of the bridge to bursting. Not the intelligent undead of the Returned, but mindless, good-old-fashioned zombies, dead shells reanimated by Dark’s necromancy. These undead bore no clothes, gold masks, or weapons. They spoke and walked not like the men they had once been, but stumbled unevenly and howled like the mindless monsters they were, and with no hesitation they attacked.
Tyramet was taken aback, but only for a moment. Raising his golden longsword he roared “Returned! ATTACK!”
The first wave of disorganized zombies crashed into the organized formation of the Returned. The Returned lashed out with a solid semblance of military precision, spears thrusting out and impaling zombies with each strike. Against more nimble foes they might have had trouble, but each zombie made the Returned look positively nimble in comparison. But neither side was saddled with the weaknesses of the living, they had no fear of death, no understanding that they were being massacred. All they knew was to press forward and bludgeon and bite anything they could get their hands on. And with the unthinking, slow-yet-inevitable fervour only they undead can manage, they tried to do just that. At a few places in the shieldwall they succeeded, grappling Returned and dragging them out of position, them swarming on them with dead fists flailing. For each Returned that was killed, another simply pushed forward to take his place, keeping the shieldwall manned and stabbing.
Kallorn stood just behind the carnage zone, the zombies parting around their master as they hobbled into the fray. He wasn’t surprised by what he saw, but neither was he happy. The zombies would never retreat or question his orders, but neither would they win this fight. On the narrow bridge, the tactics and skill of the Returned tipped the battle hugely in their favour. Already a score of lifeless (no, really lifeless) corpses littered the bridge, and the Returned blocking his way hadn’t retreated an inch. Kallorn had a small legion of the dead at his command, but if he wasted them all for no real gain then he might as well go home.
“We’re stalling. Bring in the linebreakers, and send the flanking forces up.”
“Yes sir, field marshal, sir! Shall I send an aide to fetch you ale while we observe the campaign from afar?” chirped Dark, clapping a mocking salute to his head.
“Do it now,” snarled Kallorn.
Two huge shapes suddenly pounded along the bridge at high speed, great footfalls sounding like the beats of war drums. Regular zombies were hurled aside like skittles to make way for Kallorn’s linebreakers; two of the Underworld’s largest Cerberuses, freshly killed and reanimated. The three-headed dogs, each the size of a small elephant, crashed into the Returned phalanx like sledgehammers into wooden planks. The mass of tightly packed soldiers rippled and wavered as six heads bit down, snatching up great mouthfuls of Returned. In the wake of the canine carnage followed the zombies, pouncing on any disorientated or injured Returned spared the Cerberus’ charge. Tyramet could be seen trying to rally the Returned back into a formation to counter-attack, but the three-headed hounds were having none of it. Carnage ensued as the Cerberuses drove through the Returned’s ranks like unliving battering rams.
At the same time, sludgy river water cascaded off a host of shapes as yet more zombies emerged from the depths of the underworld river itself, having laboriously trudged along the river floor. The life and memory-stealing waters of the underworld river presented no problems to the zombies, and as they emerged from the rivers and onto the banks of the Temple of Silence they engaged the Returned there still dripping, who barely had time to about-face and defend themselves from this unexpected quarter. The Returned soon realized their mistake: bereft of the phalanx formation and the tight confines of the bridge to funnel their foes, the length of their spears were more liability than boon and the zombies gave them no respite to draw their shortswords. Many Returned were dragged down before they could even draw their sidearms, and then the real fight began. Dead versus dead, a siege launched on the very underworld itself.
Kallorn judged the situation to be under control. The enemy was scattered and disorganized, their formation shattered and hard pressed by his relentless forces, they would be unable to affect more than a token resistance. Kallorn strode forward, ready to take to the shores and claim his prize when a keening screech cut the air. The massive bat-winged form of a Theros Demon slashed through the skies and landed on the bridge before Kallorn like a thunderbolt, slashing a whole rank of zombies to giblets with its claws.
“Obviously more than just the Returned had been pressed into the Orbs’ protection,” thought Kallorn, as he raised his quarterstaff to block a strike that would have spilled his guts to the air. The demon brought two fists down, and Kallorn was brought to his knees in blocking them again with the flat of his staff.
“The living may not pass!” screeched the demon, swinging again.
Kallorn was starting to lose the feeling in his arms as he deflected another blow.
“Can you do something about this guy? And I don’t mean offering to barter our soul to the thing,” snapped Kallorn.
Dark nodded. “I’ve got just the thing. You know, I love this place. Everything is dead: the people, the air, even the wood. It just needs some encouragement to come alive…”
And from Kallorn’s mouth Dark spat a word of vile power.
The demon was just bringing its arms up to crash them down on Kallorn again, when one was seized in a strong grip. The demon looked up in surprise. A thick tendril of rotten planks from the overhead ship-arch had enveloped his arm. As the demon stared in naked astonishment, the two boats flowed and reformed, sending the flock of birds atop them screeching in alarm. The wood twisted and warped, forming thickset arms and legs. In moments, what had been two long-dead boats was now a pair of looming elementals formed of twisted wood, lanterns glowing acidic green as their eyes and mouths opened with hate, more green light spilling forth from their broken-board maws.
With a howl the demon wrenched its arm free of the hulk holding it, clouting the nearest one in the face with its other fist. The blow connected, and timbers were ripped free and sailed through the air, but the hulk was hardly damaged. With a hiss of ropes and pulleys squeaking, the pair of elementals bore down on the demon, wrapping limbs of wood around it in a giant embrace. The demon flailed and fought with all its diabolic strength, tried to take wing, but the hulks’ heavy limbs grabbed it. Kallorn knew that Demons on Thereos were formed from the most vile of the souls that had come down here and collected heinous power, but as the two walking boat-wrecks began to pull the demon down into the cloying mucky embrace of the underworld river, he thought it gave a very human wail of terror before vanishing in a trail of bubbles. Kallorn watched the faintly thrashing figures beneath the surface sinking, till only the green lights of the hulks’ lantern-eyes remained. Then that too disappeared, and he strode on at the head of a horde of zombies, onto the shore and the Temple of Silence.
Combatants weaved and clashing in a mass of violence as far as the eye could see, but Kallorn had long become accustomed to the sight of battlefields and paid the clash scant attention. Besides, Dark would say something if there was anything truly dangerous coming his way. No, the Rhox’s attention was taken up by his prize: the last Orb of Warding. Atop a truly massive mound of treasure, lodged in the summit of the mound like the fabled sword in the stone (Kallorn had seen three on various planes, they seemed to be a bit of a multiversal constant) was a pillar of solid gold, shaped in the form of a pair of cupped hands. Floating in its clutches was the Orb.
Kallorn tested the pile of treasure. It gave way beneath his feet, loose as gravel. Kallorn grimaced. No one said stealing an artefact from the underworld was going to be easy. He really wished he wasn’t so out of breath. A sudden dizzy spell caused black spots to pop before his vision, but Kallorn mastered his focus and pushed the nausea away. He would be leaving soon. And he would not be empty handed. But he would be alone.
“You better get a move on. More demons could show up soon. And we wouldn’t want that. You’ve got your paperweight to collect and I want to get on with what you owe me Kal.”
Kallorn’s only response was a grunt as he began to struggle up the mass of coins.
Magic the Gathehring fanfiction by Joshua Olsen
Welcome back to another week of Crack a Pack MTG with Bruce. We’re going to take a little break from some M15 for a while, mostly because as cool as the set is, it is also a very tricky draft format because there are a very high number of picks where it is tough to decide what is best. It just isn’t a clear cut slam dunk. There are so many interchangeable cards and cards that seem to be reasonable (but not amazing) in M15 that picking cards and ordering selections is very difficult. So, this week I thought I’d go back to Journey Into Nyx…but don’t worry, I’ll be back on M15 for next week, that’s a guarantee.
There’s no point beating around the bush…let’s get down to business and see what we’ve got.
Ok, once again this week we have opened up another premium Mythic Rare in our pack. Pharika is pretty solid god who got a bit of bad reputation. She’s a house at 5/5 for 3 mana if you can get her online…so if you want to take her you had better be ready to go Black and Green. Her activated ability is also pretty useful if you can score a few Constellation cards in your draft. She also accesses your graveyard to make 1/1 death touching snake tokens which can warp combat and trade up to take out much larger creatures. Add in the feature that she’s worth a couple of dollars and you have the makings of a very fine first pick. In some formats I would be shy to grab a Gold card as my first pick, but considering the relative power level of the card and the fact that the B/G deck is actually very good, I’d be prepared to grab her and see what I can manage when it comes to finding playable cards to support Pharika. She’s not quite a windmill slam first pick, but she is very solid and clearly gets out in front as the early favorite.
Believe it or not, the next card to grab my attention is Sigiled Starfish. This innocuous little 0/3 is super useful. For starters, it blocks “Bears” for days, but the real asset is the Scry 1 ability when you tap it. This allows for SO much card filtering in your deck that it is a little absurd. This improved card selection may not give you true card advantage, but the improved quality of what you will be drawing will make a huge difference and put you in the driver’s seat.
The next card that grabs my attention is Bladetusk Boar. This solid creature comes with evasion in the form of intimidate and just does work. A 3/2 for 4 mana isn’t super efficient, but the fact that it almost assuredly speeds up the clock on your opponent means that it needs to get answered soon. Also, Red is very strong in this format, so grabbing the Boar and then forcing Red a little doesn’t feel like a bad idea.
Gold-Forged Sentinel is another interesting card. A 4/4 flier for 6 mana, but seeing as it is an artifact it can fit in any deck. I like the 4/4 flier. I like that it is an artifact and can deal with creatures with Intimidate. This is a very reasonable choice and a solid body that can get rough and tumble when you need it. Normally artifacts aren’t a high priority for me, but this one is a very serviceable body and can fit anywhere.
Sigiled Skink also gets my attention because a 2/1 for 2 mana is very crucial in this very fast draft format. The fact that it allows you to scry 1 whenever it attacks can also set up some very good card filtering and really help your cause avoid drawing into dead cards. I like this little guy, but he is a little limited due to his 1 toughness.
Colossal Heroics is a useful combat trick to untap a blocker and pump it…and the Strive ability can help you to set up a situation where you could conceivably blow your opponent out with surprise blockers. It takes a fair degree of set up, so go sparingly with this card, but it does make a useful addition to a deck and is a long way from being unplayable.
Spiteful Blow always gets my attention. Yes, it is still 6 mana removal…that hasn’t changed from a couple of weeks back when I looked a pack of Journey Into Nyx…but it does kill a creature, set your opponent back a turn with respect to their land, and is a nice insurance policy. I’ll look at it because removal at almost any price will get consideration, but it’s not super flashy.
Akroan Mastiff is a very solid tempo type creature for white. The ability to tap down a creature is very relevant and makes this a strong utility creature. The body is a little fragile, so it is unlikely to be going into combat too frequently, but I won’t give up on it.
Nyx Infusion is a versatile aura that can act as a form of quasi removal or as a pump spell. The options presented here makes this a very valuable little addition to deal with creatures of all sorts. Look in this pack alone at all the things this card kills. Sigiled Skink, Akroan Mastiff and Bladetusk Boar and it turns the Gold-Forged Sentinel into a Wind Drake. No, this is useful in either mode, but mostly as a form of conditional removal.
Godhunter Octopus. I don’t much care for this card. Sure, a 5/5 for 6 mana is pretty useful at the top end of the curve, but the condition placed on this creature in order for it to attack really makes me nervous. There are lots of other very good 6 drop creatures in this format and I would be none too thrilled to have this at the top of my curve unless I was well and truly stuck.
Mortal Obstinacy, Cruel Feeding, and Nature’s Panopoly. I lump all of these in together, not because they do the same thing, but because they are all marginal cards that you could play if you wanted to try and benefit from some Heroic triggers. Otherwise, they are all kind of Blah and could be played as a 23 card, but you aren’t going to fist pump like a champ because you grabbed any of them. Your deck would also largely be fine if they didn’t make the deck in favor of some other card too.
Desecration Plague is the last card in this pack and is probably the most unplayable card in the pack. Destroying a land is fine and all, but truthfully speaking, you would rather be doing something else with your mana. Sure, the Kitchen Table “Land Destruction deck” will love this card, but in a draft, if you would like to do well, you avoid this and hope it gets forced on someone. It just does not do enough to impact the board state and leaves you stranded looking at a dead card in hand.
Once again this week, there is almost no doubt about what gets drafted first. Pharika, God of Affliction is just too powerful to ignore, and so you’ll grab her and try and force Black and Green a little. There are a few other cards in this pack in both Black and Green that might work their way back to, so I won’t feel bad. However, I have left Red and two very strong Red creatures (the Boar and the Skink) available meaning that there will almost assuredly be someone in Red nearby. All in all, I feel pretty good about my pick and comfortable with the direction I would be taking and ready to see what came next.
So, there we have it…another week, another pack, and pretty sweet Mythic Rare in the form of Pharika. What would have picked first? Pharika? The Starfish? Something else? I could see someone making a pretty good case with this pack as there were actually some other choices that could have made sense in another strategy, but I feel pretty safe in taking the Pharika and trying to build the B/G agro deck.
Thanks very much and until next time, may you open nothing but bomb Mythic rares.
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791
Spring is here! Thank goodness because winter felt VERY long. The sun feels warmer, the snow is all gone and the excitement of summer is just around the corner. It is also the time of change. New flowers, new leaves, new clothes, new activities, new plans…ah…new plans…here’s an idea.
The Spring set is here with Journey into Nyx. Standard will start to evolve with the new cards, but rotation is only 4 months away with a new block on the way that will change the complexion of the Meta-game completely. Players who aren’t already committed to this Standard format but are looking to get into playing Standard have a very serious conundrum. They COULD run around and track down the chase rares to put together a strong Standard deck, but that can be pretty pricey for a limited 4 month window where the cards will be well and truly playable. And if you are on almost any sort of budget, well, now we are talking a near impossibility. So what is an aspiring Standard player to do? Well, let this be a sort of a road map to help you find your way to getting ready to play Standard. I’ll lay out a series of steps that an aspiring Standard player on a tight budget could follow in order to get ready to join the ranks of competitive Standard players at any Local Game Shop.
Once again, here is my usual disclaimer. There will be some players out there that won’t heed a single word of this. They have the deep pockets needed to pick up all the Standard playable staples they need. I however have players with a limited budget each month. What exactly is that budget? I have no precise number in mind, but the basic tenets will remain the same. Players with slightly larger budgets can likely accomplish the steps more quickly, but even those with tighter budgets can hope to get there following these steps. So, without further delay let’s see what we’ve got.
As uncool as this sounds, the mana base is the backbone to every deck. I have often maintained that the mana base can’t win you the game…but you sure as heck can lose the game if you don’t have the right mana. Now is the time to track down full play sets of all the Scry lands, Nykthos, and Mana Confluence as these will be key lands in every two colour (or more) deck once rotation hits. The nice thing with the mana base, from a monetary standpoint, is that they at least seem to hold their value once you’ve invested in them. So, once they rotate out, you can probably still find a taker who will be willing to either allow you to trade for reasonable value or a shop that will give you decent (notice…decent) value off their Buy list.
Now, this is absolutely an investment. Lands don’t come cheap and the scry lands all look to run at least $5 a piece (more for some of them), but if you can find someone willing to trade with you for them ,or a decent price on them somewhere, your budget will be wisely spent on these. Don’t worry if you get fleeced a little on your trade. If your end goal is to play Standard, then you will need the lands to play, and if you have other older cards that someone is willing to trade for to give you those lands, well, guess what? You’re doing it.
One of the biggest traps that players fall into is that they want to “crack packs”. I love cracking packs…we all do…but the numbers don’t play out very well in your favour. So, how else do you get cards? The answer is easy…draft. For your entry fee into a draft you get the equivalent of 3 packs of cards…AND you get to try those cards out in game play. This is the perfect place to try out that kind of unusual rare card you opened, just to see what it does. Maybe you want to try out a different colour combination that isn’t your all time favorite in order to get a feel? Draft is a great place to get your feet wet experimenting and trying out new ideas. Heck, you might even win a few prizes along the way to further expand your pool of available cards without costing you any extra. Don’t bank on the prizes because you are out experimenting, so your decks may be somewhat less streamlined than other players, but every once in a while a little prize support is a nice bonus for your night of drafting.
Now, the danger with draft this time of year is that soon the new stand alone set will be out. Last year it was Modern Masters, this year it’s Conspiracy. These cards aren’t Standard playable, so if you do sit down to draft these, this won’t help you much in terms of getting you ready for Standard post-rotation (although it is fun!). So, be sure to be familiar with the format you will be drafting and the sets that will be used.
It has already been said by Gerald right here on Three Kings Loot that one of the best ways to prepare yourself for the NEXT Standard format is to sit down and make a conscious effort to play block constructed. Whether that is with your buddies at a kitchen table, or at a shop if they host a Block Constructed event, the experience of limiting your key card pool will be a huge factor in determining how prepared you will be for the next Standard format. You will see what cards emerge as cards that were underplayed in the current format and that might make a splash once rotation hits. So, Herald of Torment…time to shine big guy!
The biggest difference with Magic in 2014 versus when I started in 1996 is that the amount of information available to players is staggering. Between all the various discussion groups, websites, articles, podcasts, and videos there is no shortage of information for the average player. I would strongly suggest that you take the time to sit down and read the thoughts of players and writers you like and respect. As we near rotation many of these players will have the advantage of sitting down and doing their utmost to figure out the best strategies in the new format and can give you some helpful tips to help you along…just by reading the internet.
The other great asset is all the coverage of various events available. Between the Pro tour coverage and coverage from other events around the globe (and watching MTGO for those who have time) you can not only see the deck lists of these many top players, but you can actually see them in action. This will give you a chance to see the decision making processes tied to each choice made. This is super useful so that you can make optimal use of whatever strategy you like best. Let’s be honest, many of the guys on the Pro-Tour are going to get maximum bang for their buck with each card and it is undoubtedly helpful for us less experienced players to see them in action. The same can be said of watching players at your local game shop that you respect and like the way they play. Yes, it can be nerve wracking to sit down and watch someone live and in person at a store, but if you start talking to them you might find that they are quite willing to sit and talk shop with you to give you some pointers
It takes a lot of time in order to get really good at something and Magic is no different. If you want to play Standard, and presumably if you are playing on a competitive (or semi-competitive ) basis you would like to be as good as possible, then you will need to sink time into this. This is by far and away the hardest part of making this transition. Up until this point you can do most of the steps I’ve laid out with some money you’ve saved up or for free on open sources on the internet. However, there is a finite amount of time in each day and unless you are independently wealthy or playing Magic for a living, there will be other things that will drain your time. This will mean evening trips to the game shop to sit down and play. It likely also means some weekend as well. You will need to sit and read about changes to the meta game and how it will impact your deck of choice. And most of all, you will need to play. Play lots. Play lots against just about anyone. The more you play, the better you will get at playing your deck and the choices you will need against each other archetype. Time is absolutely a commodity and something else you will need to gauge closely if you hope to perform to the best of your abilities.
So, these are the 5 steps that I’ve seen and other players I know take in order to climb into the realm of Standard competitive Magic. For some this works out great because they are prepared to invest wholeheartedly. For others, this process is difficult for a number of reasons. Needless to say, these 5 steps each have their own pit falls that must be navigated and may not come easy. This is part of the reason making the transition from playing Casual Magic to Standard is tricky. Not impossible…but it is tricky. Needless to say, it can be very rewarding once you get yourself into the format, but it is not for everyone, and that’s ok. Not everyone on the planet needs to play Standard…there are formats aplenty for each and everyone.
Thanks everyone and I hope that some of you find this helpful. If there are aspiring Standard players out there I hope I haven’t made the process seem too daunting. It is achievable, but it does take a plan. This is just one of many ways to getting to your end goal. In the mean time, I’ll go back to brewing up silliness and see where my Casual meandering takes my Magic and my decks.
Take care and until next time Keep it fun, Keep it Safe…Keep it Casual.by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791
I hope everyone enjoyed their pre-release events this weekend. I had a blast playing in a Two Headed Giant pre-release and got my first up close and personal look and feel for Journey into Nyx. The consensus around the room was that the set was very solid and very interesting. There are some terrific cards, some very intricate cards that will need careful timing to work, and a bunch of very useful and relevant creatures that make the whole process a lot of fun. I wanted to take a moment, now that we’ve all got a taste, what I think are some of the more exciting and interesting cards from Journey into Nyx.
Let’s start off with this disclaimer. I may not be picking the best cards, or the flashiest cards. I’ll leave that to players who will trying to brew up top level competitive decks. No, I’m taking more of a Casual approach and looking at cards that I feel offer us something interesting that we may not have seen in a while, offer some interesting deck ideas, or are just plain fun. So, without further delay, let’s get to looking at what new treats I can’t wait to get my hands on where Journey into Nyx is with us for real.
There are actually a number of really sweet commons that have been printed in the set and I had a hard time settling on one…so I picked 2.
Desecration Plague I love the versatility of this card. The ability to take out an enchantment or a LAND is super fun, particularly the land. With this and Red’s Demolish in the same set, the Casual Brewer in me is seriously looking at building a R/G land destruction deck and just make a wreck of the land base for my opponent and frustrate the heck out of them. I bet there is no one else on the planet that is actually jazzed for this card, but I think this will be a fun addition to our repertoire of spells. Nothing quite like undercutting your opponent by eating his land.
Flurry of Horns- The more I look at this card, the more I think it is going to be a ton of fun. I love me a tribal deck. Goblins, Merfolk, Spirits…you name it, I love it. Now, Minotaurs are a thing. They REALLY REALLY are. Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself. This spell will be an awesome addition to a Man-Bull deck and for 5 mana is suitably costed, gives you 2 more Minotaurs with haste, and lets you stampede over your opponent. If you’ve got Kragma Warcaller or Felhide Petrifier in play as well, well, wow, things are going to get ugly…FAST. This is dripping with flavour in a mythology inspired block and is a fun and card to rock in your new Minotaur deck.
Fleetfeather Cockatrice- This gold card has too much text for it to not be good. Honestly, Flying, Flash, Deathtouch and MONSTROSITY all on the same card? This will be awesome. Sure, it’s 5 mana, but it comes out of no-where thanks to flash and straight up kills something. It’s big enough that it could survive combat, which is awesome, and it can then take over the skies if you can trick it out with the Monstrosity ability to make it a 6/6…that’s a freaking dragon!? I love it. I am sure that my G/U flash deck is going to love seeing this addition in at least a pair of, but I might be prepared to take this guy out and see what other carnage I can cause with him. He doesn’t lend too much in the way of combos or wild synergy, but there is something to be said for just a straight up good creature that will do a lot for you. This is the sort of creature I want and will get good value from him. Oh, and I love the reference to the original Cockatrice from Revised which was a staple and can now have a new play mate in 2014.
There are a number of fun rares in this set and generally I feel like they are powerful without being broken. There has been lots of buzz around Eidolon of Blossoms, but I’m not convinced that the Constellation trigger on it will actually end up being that cool. No, the rare that caught my eye, just because of the simplicity is Dawnbringer Charioteer. This is a tried and true tested formula in Theros block and you can’t miss with this guy. We saw very early on that Wingsteed Rider was good. Like ridiculously good. Then, we saw that Akroan Skyguard was good too. We have seen that just about ANY Heroic Trigger that puts +1/+1 counters on it is good, and if it flies it is even better…so how can you miss with the Charioteer? Bottom line, you can’t. It’s a 2/4, flying, lifelinking, Heroic BOMB and it just destroys your opponent. I raved about this one when it was spoiled and I still think it is awesome. Is it going to be Constructed playable? Doubtful, but the Casual Brewer in me is already hard at work trying to brew up something disgusting to do with this guy.
While we are on the topic of Rare cards, I wanted to diverge a little. Yes, I said I would talk about cards that got me excited, but I wanted to take a minute to talk about a card that I can’t imagine playing. Dictate of the Twin Gods is just about as unplayable a card as I have ever seen. Yes, I get that there are some people that will love this one, but my honest sense is that it will backfire and end up costing the caster far more often than not. If you can’t close out the game the turn this lands on the table, my honest sense is that it is game over for you because you have committed to being all in…and didn’t get there…and now the backswing from your opponent is going to sting twice as much. I had an opponent run this at our pre-release and instead of allowing them to run up the damage with their Minotaurs, it resulted in double damage to the face when my Charioteer punched through for about a million. Yeah, this card seems like more trouble than it is worth and I am really struggling at seeing too much in the way of quality uses. Funny uses? Oh hell yes, I can dream up FUNNY…but they aren’t GOOD uses. Rant over…thank you.
It seems like a bit of a cop out to pick one of the Gods, but they all look really cool in this set. The one that has me most excited is actually the last one I thought I would like when I read his abilities. Kruphix, God of Horizons is actually super neat, but initially I misunderstood his abilities. Apparently I wasn’t the only one as the twitter universe was all a-buzz about his abilities. The first ability, of having no max hand size is nice. However, what makes him exciting is the second ability that basically means you get to store your unused mana as Colourless mana. The more I think about it, the more I think that the second ability is tremendous in some strategies and casual decks. The sky is now the limit! Just keep pouring in that mana into good ol’ Kruphix and watch the fireworks. Think about it! Giant Sphinx’s Revelation. The biggest Mistcutter you’ve EVER seen. Wild Strive Triggers. Going Monstrous with Polukranos for…oh…I don’t know…about a million and blowing out the whole other team. The options available are just about endless. Now, this is living in Magical Christmas land again, but honestly, there’s nothing wrong with living there for a little while. Heck, that’s why we love the new cards! Magical Christmas Land has come and you can see all the cool new treats and the silly things you can do with them…and Kruphix is just the same. I’ll let the Scrooges out there dump all over Kruphix for Constructed purposes, but for Casual he’s going to be HILARIOUS!
So, there we have my picks for cards for Journey into Nyx. It is interesting to see the difference between Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx, both of which were similar add-ons to Theros, but while Born of the Gods was almost simplistic in nature, Journey into Nyx is actually pretty complex with a bunch of really interesting new abilities and mechanics to weigh when considering making a deck. Is a Constellation deck possible? Would it be any good? How good will Strive be? We didn’t have the same questions from Born of the Gods because the mechanics were pretty straight forward. This time we have new things to consider and some very serious options to weigh when building decks. Oh well…time to get down to work and see what else I can brew up. I’ll catch you guys later.
Until next time, keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it casual.
I love spoiler season! The new cards start to open up so many crazy and neat new ideas to make decks, revisit old ones, and brew up some silly things that I can take with me to my next Casual card night. Well, Journey into Nyx is no different and has offered up loads of fun new ideas already and I wanted to take some time to share some of the Casual new brews I’ve been piecing together even before Nyx drops in May.
The first deck I started brewing up was for our return to “Hobo” night at our Casual card night. I wrote about Hobo night in a previous article, but basically we all agreed that we would play no Rare or Mythic Rare cards in our decks, but we could play commons and uncommon from any set. This really challenges you because many of the most potent spells that we all like to play are Rares or Mythics, so to force ourselves to play commons and uncommon is healthy and refreshing, and usually evens out the power level of the various decks. Yes, this format is usually called Peasant, but that just sounds dull, so we opted to call it “Hobo” and the name has stuck.
My inspiration for the deck came from watching the coverage of the MTGO championships a couple of weeks ago where I saw a Standard take on a “dredge” style deck. The deck exploited the power of cards in the graveyard to deal some pretty healthy amounts of damage and looked pretty exciting, so I sat down to see if I could create something similar for Hobo night.
I started with the auto include cards for this sort of deck, namely Satyr Wayfinder and Grisly Salvage. These cards allow me to start to burn through the top of my library to find land or creatures and fills up my graveyard to be used at a later time. These are the “raison d`être” for this deck and need to be there in suitable quantities to fill up your yard, but more importantly ensure you never lack for land so that you can chain together powerful spells as the game moves along.
The next creature that is an automatic in this sort of deck, particularly in a Hobo variant, is Nemesis of Mortals. The 5/5 for 6 mana sees the cost to cast him reduced by 1 colourless for every creature in your graveyard. As a result, you could be casting this guy for much less than the 6 mana in the casting cost without much trouble. However, Nemesis of Mortals gets better from there because his Monstrosity 5 ability gets reduced in cost by 1 colourless for each creature in your graveyard. This guy can very easily get silly big for a bargain basement price thanks to all the graveyard shenanigans in your deck and makes the prospect of going into combat very difficult because it is such a huge monster.
However, what happens when some of my key components end up in the graveyard because I’ve put them there myself? There are a number of ways to return lost creatures to your hand and have them be available to you again. Now, I will be honest, this isn’t the same dropping them onto the battlefield and cheating big fatties into play because you still need to cast the spells again, however it does ensure that you have access to the creatures and a chance to re-use them, which is very helpful. Pharika’s Mender, Odunos River trawler, and other “Raise Dead” effect cards allow you to get your most potent threats back again and force your opponent to burn more removal spells on things that just don’t stay dead.
The final piece is the plethora of Bestow creatures that this deck packs. Bestow has proven to be a very valuable ability in Limited formats, and once again this is a form of limited format. Baleful Eidolon and Nyxborn Wolf can come down early as blockers to plug up the ground and play solid D to get us through to the point where our bigger bombs can take over. Nyxborn Wolf, at 3/1 can trade up to take out larger creatures, but the Eidolon can shut down attacking by virtue of the Deathtouch ability. Once they have served their purpose they can then be brought out of the yard and used to Voltron up another threat and really do some work.
Here’s the deck list.
Hobo – G/B “reanimator”
So, people will point out that this decklist isn’t Standard and my response is, you’re 100 percent correct. However, without much trouble you could make this Standard playable. A few minor adjustments like replacing Sign in Blood for Read the Bones would be the first switch. I could absolutely replace the Disentomb, and Raise Dead with Treasured Finds. So without breaking the spirit of the Hobo deck I could make some adjustments and make it completely Standard Legal, but sifting through my boxes I came across these cards and they did the job just as well and for less mana. It can also be ramped right up to match the Standard “Dredge” decks running around these days making this a decent skeleton upon which to build a more robust Standard deck.
The next deck is entirely Casual based on one of recurring theme in Theros block on Kraken, Octopuses, and other sea creatures. Whelming Wave was given to us in Born of the Gods, and now with the spoilers from Journey into Nyx we have Scourge of Fleets. With these two sweeper effects in Blue’s arsenal the possibility exists for a viable Kraken/Control deck. Don’t believe me? Check this out.
Mono-Blue Kraken Control
The idea behind this deck revolves around the interaction between Archaeomancer and Mnemonic wall and Whelming Wave. When you hit turn 4 you are banking that you have Whelming Wave in your hand and return all creatures that aren’t Kraken, Leviathans, Octopuses or Serpents to their owners hands. Then on turn 5, cast your Archaeomancer or Mnemonic wall, buy back your Whelming Wave and restart the cycle. You will continue to cast the wave and buy it back with the Archaeomancer/ Menmonic Wall interaction as you stall looking for one of your bigger Sea critters. So, hit the Sealock monster and when you wash away your opponent’s creatures Sealock Monster stays and can now attack into a open board. If you get stuck, Sea God’s Revenge approximates the same effect as you wait to piece together the combination and the dissolves are there to protect your creatures, should things get ugly. Scourge of Fleets is another possible sweeper condition that comes with a huge body and is asymmetrical in design, so he’s sort of like Plan C if you need to go down that road. The last pieces of this deck, the Hypnotic Siren and the Voyage’s End are to play some early interference as you set up your board.
Now, you may have missed it, but I stated that this was a Casual deck list. There is no way I’d even attempt to play a Tier 1 Standard deck with this list, but the hilarious interactions between Archaeomancer and the Whelming Wave are well worth the risk. I can’t wait to see the face of my opponent when I repeatedly wash away his stuff as I stall…and then swim across the table with my Sealock Monster and crush him. That would be priceless. It would certainly be entertaining and very flavourful with all that we have seen from Standard.
So, there you have it. Some fun deck ideas that are flavourful, relatively inexpensive, and fun to play. By all means, give them a try and see what think. The Hobo Dredge deck might be really good for a player who isn’t convinced playing B/G Dredge is for them, but once they get the hang of it with this less high octane model might be willing to speed matters up and go play with the big boys of Standard. The Wave deck is just funny and I can’t wait to put it together.
If you have other ideas or more fun ideas for funky decks I would love to hear about them. I`m always working on some new deck ideas that could make playing at my Kitchen table fun, entertaining, and fresh.
As always Keep it fun, Keep it safe…keep it casual. Until next time!
Felhide Petrifier- Ok, so tribal Minotaurs was scary already and there is a pretty reasonable Budget Standard Minotaur deck…and they got ANOTHER weapon. Felhide Petrifier is a 2/3 for a black and 2 colourless and it has deathtouch and gives all other Minotaurs you control death touch. So, now you don’t even want to block the Man-Bulls. He’s cheap, has HUGE upside for your Man-Bulls, and just makes the board state awful. I like him and might try a Man-Bull deck of my own.
Flamespeaker’s Will- An inexpensive Aura for 1 red that gives target creature +1/+1, so it’s ok right there. However, the extra with this is that when enchanted creature deals damage to a player you may sacrifice Flamespeaker’s Will to destroy target artifact. Frankly, the conditional aspect of the second half of the card is a really a disincentive to playing it because the set up cost to trigger it is actually pretty high. +1/+1 for 1 mana is ok, but hardly exciting…so, you can run this in limited, but you’ll probably want to pass on it.
Flurry of Horns- 5 mana (1 red and 4 colourless) sorcery that gives you 2 2/3 Minotaurs with haste. A friend was talking to me about this card and said that he looked at this as a 4/6 for 5 mana, because in essence, that is the net impact to your board state. When put in those terms, this is actually a reasonable card. It won’t see play in Constructed or anything, but it is a pretty useful card for Limited and is another source of Man-Bulls for the Minotaur deck.
Goldenhide Ox- A 6 mana (1 red and 5 colourless) 5/4 Cyclops that also Monstrosity 3 for 7 mana (2 red, 5 colourless). It’s a useful body and the single red in the casting cost could make him splashable…but he’s really just a dude with a big body that will plug up the board.
Goldenhide Ox- This is an interesting 6 mana (1 green and 5 colourless) enchantment creature ox that has Constellation that when it is triggered forces target creature to get blocked this turn if able. A 5/4 for 6 mana is ok with a solid body to attack or block with, and the single green means you could splash this guy easily enough, and the Constellation ability is potentially useful to take control of combat on your opponent. I think this is mostly just a big body, but the Constellation could become relevant in some decks looking to turn the tide of combat.
Grim Guardian- A 1/4 enchantment creature Zombie with Constellation for 3 mana (1 black and 2 colourless). The Constellation ability, when triggered, says that each opponent loses one life. This is actually a pretty solid card and very grindy in the B/W draft deck featuring Scholar of Athreos and Servant of Tymaret. The high toughness makes this a solid blocker for 3 mana, and the Constellation ability could really be useful to chip away at the life total of your opponent.
Harvestguard Alseids- a 2/3 enchantment creature Nymph with Constellation for 3 mana (1 white, 2 colourless). The Constellation ability, when triggered, says prevent all damage done to target until end of turn. This will be marginal and mostly used for the reasonable body, but is mostly just a big yawn because it’s pretty uneventful.
Hour of Need- A three mana (1 blue, 2 colourless) Instant with Strive that says exile target creature and put a 4/4 flying blue Sphinx token and for an additional 1 blue and 1 colourless you can target additional creatures. This is a pretty awesome card because it is ridiculous combat trick. Cast this, exile your dinky merfolk or little soldier, and trade it for a 4/4 flying Sphinx! That’s ridiculous! I’ll happily trade my little creature for an Air Elemental. The Strive makes this potentially really powerful because 5 mana for a pair of 4/4 creatures is very good. I like this one…if you see this in draft, don’t pass on it.
Hubris- This is a 2 mana (1 blue, 1 colourless) instant that is basically a unsummon effect. You return the creature and all auras attached to it to its owner’s hand. This is useful if you need to save something you have Voltroned up, but is really a removal spell for Blue and sets your opponent back quite a bit, particularly if they have Bestowed a creature (which is quite expensive usually) on the creature you just unsummoned. We saw that Voyage’s End was good in Theros, and Hubris will be similarly quite good.
Humbler of Mortals- A 6 mana (2 green, 4 colourless) for a 5/5 Enchantment Creature Elemental with Constellation. The Constellation ability, when triggered, says creatures you control gain trample. This will a solid 6 drop in limited and could really make your big fatty’s very relevant and help push through the damage, but I feel like what you REALLY want to do is on the follow up turn Bestow something on this guy, trigger the Constellation, and then Smash away. He’s a little conditional, but the big body helps to make this guy more playable.
Knowledge and Power- 5 mana (1 red, 4 colourless) enchantment that says whenever you scry, pay 2 colourless, deal 2 damage to target creature or player. This is a huge set up cost for a shock and frankly is pretty unplayable. Don’t get lured in. Pass this one up and keep moving.
Lagonna-Band Trailblazer- 0/4 Centaur for 1 white mana that has Heroic and gets +1/+1 counters when targeted by spells. He’s already a good blocker with high toughness, and then hit him with a spell of ANY sort and suddenly this guy is VERY good for the amount of investment. Yoked Ox version 2.0 with the improved ability makes this guy very good.
Leonin Iconoclast- A 4 mana (1 white, 3 colourless) for a 3/2 Cat Monk (love the creature type) that has Heroic that says whenever it is targeted destroy target Enchantment Creature your opponent controls. This could be really useful because this block is chocked FULL of enchantment creatures…and now I get a creature a solid body that can attack, get tricked, and takes out an Enchantment creature and can trade up to get a 2 for 1. I like this creature.
Lightning Diadem- a 6 mana (1 red, 5 colourless) aura that gives target creature +2/+2 and when Lightning Diadem enters the battlefield deal 2 damage to target creature or player. 6 mana for +2/+2? No way! Even WITH the Shock on the Enter the Battlefield this is a bad card. Don’t waste your time.
Magma Spray- Well, hello pillar of flame, my old friend, I’ve missed you. This will be useful removal, is cheap and inexpensive and exiles pesky creatures. You’ll play this in limited and it might even find a way to sneak into sideboards in Standard.
Market Festival- A 4 mana aura (1 green and 3 colourless) that targets a land and says that whenever the land is tapped for mana, its controller gets 2 mana in any combination of colours to his or her mana pool in addition to the mana it normally produces. This an interesting ramp spell that essentially produces 3 mana from 1 land, but is expensive to cast. If you cast this you had better have a handful of HUGE fatties you want to drop, but I think it’s a little slow and likely something you will pick up late in your draft and may opt to pass on as far as being in your 23 card deck.
Mortal Obstinancy- 1 white gets you an aura that gives +1/+1 to target creature and when enchanted creature deals combat damage to an opponent you may sacrifice it to destroy target enchantment. It’s still pretty conditional, but I might run this in limited because of the large number of enchantments in the block and might find it useful to take out a troubling enchantment creature.
Nature’s Panopoly- 1 green mana for an instant that also has Strive and says put a +1/+1 counter on target creature and you may spend 2 colourless and a green to target each additional creature. This is an ok combat trick, but lacks a little bite. It might be on the fence for your 23 card deck but likely won’t hurt you much if you run it.
Nessian Game Warden- a 4/5 Beast for 2 green and 3 colourless that has a really neat ability. When it enters the battlefield you may look at the top X cards of your library where X is equal to the number of forests you control, and reveal a creature from among those cards and put it in your hand and the others put them on the bottom of you library in any order. This is interesting card advantage and a big body that makes this one very playable and quite powerful.
Nightmarish End- a 3 mana (2 colourless and 1 black) for an instant that gives target creature -X/-X where X is equal to the number of cards in your hand. First off, the artwork on this is super cool as Ashiok has clearly done awful things to the poor dude in the picture. The ability is good in limited where you will likely have cards in hand because the format is a little slower and could quite seriously take out a big creature or two. You’ll consider this one as being a solid removal spell.