Archive for February 2012

DKA/INN Sealed #1: A Hell of a Pool   2 comments

And by hell of a pool, I mean hella awful.

This was my first dip into the water of Dark Ascension/Innistrad limited, as I didn’t want to waste extra money on the rather inflated prerelease prices and I haven’t been able to get to my local playgroup recently. Here’s the pool (click for full-size):

 

 

As you can imagine, I wasn’t thrilled at first glance. Still, to pick out the bones…

White:  There are some decent cards here, but the colour is just too shallow. The only really exciting cards are the Niblis of the Urn and Loyal Cathar, with the rest of them being very average, which doesn’t really draw me to the colour. We didn’t really open any bombs in it either, so it looks like White is out.

Blue: Although we have a lot more cards in Blue, it’s very shallow. The geists, both Stormbound and Tower are very good and I wish there were more of them, but there isn’t Claustrophobia is also nice. But the rest devolves into a mish-mash of Frightful Delusions and Saving Grasps. Let’s hope things pick up…

Red: They do! Red seems to be our best colour, with one good rare in Flayer of the Hatebound and one bomb in Hellrider. We’ve also got some removal with Wrack with Madness (A card that everytime I play, I can’t help but think “Stop hitting yourself!”) and Geistflame, with some bodies that I don’t mind sticking in my 40, such as Nearheath Stalker, Ashmouth Hound and Hanweir Watchkeep. The strongest colour so far that I’ll be keeping my eye on- but it’s still a bit shallow.

Black: Aha! There’s a lot of removal! A Boneflinger and Banshee, backed up by a Dead Weight and Tragic Slip is exactly what I’m looking for- a lot of card that play well together in the same colour, making Black stand out straight away. Things improve even further with Falkenrath Noble, one of the best cards to get in Black and a pet card of mine that I think is slightly underrated, Undying Evil. For one black mana, the card pulls a lot of weight and can make a lot of games swing completely in your favour.

Green: There are only 9 Green cards. 3 are Crushing Vines. Will not be playing.

Gold+Artifacts: Diregraf Captain doesn’t have enough support here unforunately, as it’s one of the better lords, but the artifacts provide some good offerings with Warden of the Wall, Blazing Torch- and of course, Galvanic Juggernaut.

After some time looking, it seemed that our biggest problem was a serious lack of depth to our pool. Black and Red seemed the best colour combination- ending up like this:

The deck wasn’t looking great to me. We had one great bomb and a fair amount of removal…but if we didn’t draw Hellrider, how were we winning? (As it turned out- unless we were flinging a Flayer, we weren’t). There was a serious lack of 2 and 3 drops, leading to the somewhat questionable inclusion of Erdwal Rippers, which as you can imagine…didn’t end well. Things went a 1-3, although I believe all of them were 2-1’s- and most of the time we won a game it was because of Hellrider- that card is seriously good. All the games it won, I was seriously behind- but it forces your opponent to get on the defensive, quickly.

 

I’ll be back with more sealeds soon, hopefully. Starting a new job that is taking up a lot of time!

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Posted February 29, 2012 by drafterildal in Sealed

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Non-MTG: Where did all the bad guys go?   Leave a comment

This is something non-MTG related here as I just felt like  putting it up- an article I wrote for a competition recently in which we were restricted to 500 words to write about something in Video Games we hated. This is what I come up with:

Ocelot. Ganon. Arthas. Three of the most memorable bad guys in the history of gaming. Compelling and hateable, they were satisfying to defeat and made the time you spent on a game worthwhile. These days, I hate that the art of the great villain is a lost one, with even some of the better games of recent times failing to deliver us a great bad guy to get our teeth into. Recently, when I finished Mass Effect 2 and beat the giant Human-Reaper under Harbinger’s control, I felt empty.

Because I couldn’t care less about the Collectors, Harbinger, or the Reapers.

They just don’t make them like they used to.

The strange thing is, Mass Effect’s universe is diverse and interesting- but when it comes to it’s villains, they’re bland and unexciting- the generic “powerful alien race that wants to destroy everything.” What’s to get excited about there? We’ve seen it all before and it just doesn’t cause me any excitement. The Reapers are just another in the long list of generic antagonists we get in our games today. What happened to the Sephiroth’s of the gaming world? A fantastic bad guy can turn a good game in to a great game, because finally defeating a truly great bad guy felt satisfying- but these days bad guys are one-dimensional and forgetable, seeming more like objectives than characters.

The gaming world isn’t delivering on great bad guys not only in terms of personality, but not even giving us great final boss battles- once the true cause célèbre of games. How can some of the biggest games of the past year, Mass Effect 2 and Gears of War 3, produce such bland final boss fights, when the likes of Metal Gear Solid provided several memorable ones in each game? Great boss fights are some of our most cherished moments in gaming and I still have vivid memories of taking on Psycho Mantis for the first time and being blown away. It was on a new level to anything I’d eve experienced, because it didn’t feel like Mantis was attacking Snake- he was attacking you personally and getting in yourhead.

I’m sick and tired of beating boring bosses in the first couple of attempts. It’s completley forgettable, unlike some of the greats from the past- Sephiroth for example, is still remembered fondly fifteen years later, because he felt like a true challenge, taking the combined efforts of your team, aswell as your enemies to kill him. Even then it took three battles. Combined with the fact he felt inhumane and extremely powerful- destroying villages and killing your friends. In a way, he made Final Fantasy 7 the great game it was. The likes of Saren pale in comparison.

The industry is capable of delivering better, yet it constant disappoints Give me somebody to hate. Give me somebody I can feel good and happy about sinking my time into defeating. Anything else just smacks of laziness. I swear to god, the next game that has “It’s AI that’s gone wrong and turned on it’s creators” is going to get a slap in the mouth for being dull and lacking in any amount of effort. I hate the lack of well-created bad guys in gaming at the moment- it needs to change.

Posted February 19, 2012 by drafterildal in Uncategorized

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Quick PT Dark Ascension Thoughts   Leave a comment

Some quick thoughts about Pro Tour Dark Ascension…

The coverage was miles ahead of what we’ve previously been offered, with the main benefit being live games from start to end. Maintaining a steady stream of about six thousand viewers throughout is great news and I was impressed how there wasn’t a huge amount of downtime, filling things in with deck techs and interviews so that people weren’t switching off and coming back all the time- the best of this being when they got Aaron Forsythe and Zac Hill into the booth. The extended coverage means you get to build up the event as a big deal and can begin to get people used to players- one way this worked out well is how the team successfully made Jon Finkel look like a huge deal. Now obviously to a lot of us, Finkel already is a big deal and one of the worlds best- but for those who are new to MTG, they really sold him as a legend of the game. If you can build up players that people want to watch, it can only improve the game and viewing figures.

The constant coverage also helped catch some great moments and more magic. Without the new improvements, we’d never have seen Estratti’s ice-cold levelling of Tom Martell and the ability to swap between games was pretty nice, meaning instead of having to watch a judge sort out the Kibler/Finkel ‘extra wolf’ situation, we could just flip over to the Nagai/Da Rosa match. I also can’t help but approve of the addition of two extra commentators. I love Rich and BDM, but Sheldon Menery and Rashad Miller both add a different dimension- Sheldon in particular is fantastic on commentary and having a judge emeritus who is well respected by all in the game is a huge boost. It felt professional and had some neat little touches- using Cover it Live to update people on their particular favourites, down to the little intro video going to the booth to the games (which really helped get me in the mood.) All together it was a vast improvement and a great step into the next iteration of Magic coverage and although there are still kinks to work out, it was the stand out winner of the Pro Tour. If there was one thing they should really work on for PT Avacyn Restored, I would say maybe having a live results ticker in the webcast layout and giving those in the booth a better image of the board- it seems the commentators were having trouble deciphering what was being played and in player’s hands sometimes. I have to agree with Matteo Orsini-Jones’ article on Blackborder in that they could really do with a pro doing commentary too.

The top 8 of the tournament was fantastic. Three members of the Hall of Fame, one of which being arguably the best to ever play in Jon Finkel. Another dead cert hall of famer and one of the best in Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and three unknown, but possible future stars in Costa, Nagai and Rachid. The match ups were fairly varied too, which only added to the spectacle. It was a good showcase for standard with the final being contested between team-mates and two of the best against each other in an almost 75-card mirror in an enjoyable final, with a fan favourite in Brian Kibler taking the crown, even though the tournament had already ‘peaked’ so to speak with the frankly absurd Kibler/Finkel match that is going to be talked about for years to come. It was also good to see quite a diverse field in terms of nationality, with five countries present. Also, it’s worth noting that a good outside bet for the Magic World Cup in advance might be the Czech Republic. They can put a team together from Blohon, Juza, Jurkovic, Cifka, and Jaklovsky which could be quite formidable.

Metagame wise, I think it’s tough to say that any one archetype really dominated things- we did see a lot of Delver builds but that seemingly might be down to sheer numbers than the quality of the deck- the decks that put up good results are quite varied- R/G Ramp and Delver are your front runners now, but a lot of people were saying how Todd Anderson’s Mono-Green deck was very powerful and may have been a perfect call for the meta. Amazingly, Shouta Yasooka once again manages to put up a great beformance with a Tezzeret deck when seemingly nobody else can. For me, other things of note were Channel Fireball being regarded as having a bad weekend, yet three of their players made it to the Top 8, with PV and Kibler contesting the final- although LSV going 1-4 is always a shock. There was a lot more talk of people testing and playing with teams which is interesting, especially as (if you missed it), Aaron Forsythe said that WotC are looking to get team events going. That’s big news. All-in-all, a fun PT- roll on Avacyn Restored.

Dark Ascension Design Review: White   Leave a comment

Archangel’s Light

So we’re off to a bad start here. This is a very baffling mythic and I really didn’t understand why it was made at first. It’s not a key element to the story, unlike Helvault, which justifies the rarity as a central part of Innistrad’s storyline. The effect isn’t overly stunning for what it is- sure you gain a bunch of life, but most of the time you’ll die before you get there as this sits in your hand. On reflection, it feels like you’re paying for a heavily overpriced Elixir of Immortality that gives you a bit more life, but does it more slowly. As has since been explained by WotC, there was a problem with this card that it was a last minute replacement which they had to keep the same Name and Art, which is a considerable constraint- and as much as it’s a shame a Mythic slot was lost to this, Kudos to them for holding their hands up and admitting the weakness of the card and for erring on the side of caution as to not have a late change end up like others have, with an overpowered card. (Skullclamp says hello.)

Bar The Door

Good design here, with effect, art and name all tied together neatly. It’s barely playable in limited and unplayable in constructed though. I do like what they did in the promotional videos for this card though, stapling the art onto that of Zombie Apocalypse. I don’t think I’ve seen two arts merged together before like that, which was a nice little touch. It’s also colour pie 101 as you’ll notice this is basically Hysterical Blindness, which reinforces that blue takes away the power of opposing creatures and white boosts the toughness of it’s own.

Break of Day

This is a card that I like. With a simple concept that at sunrise, the Humans get a little bit stronger when it isn’t night-time, as well as fateful hour conveying the feeling of a “last stand”. It’s also a very smart way to show off fateful hour in the common slot with a simple effect. The card is decently costed too, with limited looking to continue a theme where the creatures have quite low toughness across most the colours, meaning the card is better than it looks on first glance and has a decent home in this set.

Burden of Guilt

This is cheap removal for limited and the card feels white in every way. Using somebody’s guilt to keep them controlled not only fits white as a colour, but Innistrad as a plane. It’s a good riff off the usual tappers we see and you get that nice balance that you’re still paying for the tapping, but it’s not on a vulnerable body that can be picked off at any time. What’s quite cleverly been done is having this in a set where Village Bell-Ringer, the Niblis’ (Nibli?) and Galvanic Juggernaut exist so tapping isn’t always the perfect answer- but it gives White a decent way to deal with Undying creatures, too.

Curse of Exhaustion

A nice little effect here. Very few limited purposes with probably an eye towards giving White a little defence against Burning Venegance in block. From a flavour point of view, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about White having a Curse as it doesn’t quite sit right. The odd thing is that this card would be fantastic in a Werewolf deck, as you could make it easier to flip them and harder to reverse the effect, but it’s just not in the right colour- and I think you’d be look foolish splashing for it- although if you’re W/R or W/G with enough werewolves to make it worth it, it could be a huge beating, but your creatures would need to be 50% lycanthrope or something.

Elgaud Inquisitor

Again, another good white card along the line of “Human dies, becomes ghost”. Not sure why he’s an Inquisitor, though. A slightly above average common that plays well with White’s themes and several draft archetypes- natural human builds, and various combinations of sacrifice decks- he’s also similar to Mausoleum Guard in that he gives opponents a difficult decision whether to kill it and give you a flier, or take damage from letting them through- exacerbated by the lifelink clause. Naturally, he’s good to leave at home to block too, as you can always cash in for 2 life and a spirit.

Faith’s Shield

A well designed card. It shows off Fateful Hour in a fairly powerful way for limited- Stave Off that can upgrade into Brave the Elements. An interesting quirk on this card is that it reads “target permanent” rather than just “target creature” like these cards normally do. It’s a card that shows off Fateful Hour in a flavourful manner- when times are desperate, the Humans get more powerful effects- which translates in giving you a chance to hang in there just as things get tough- and if  you’re in a racing situation, it can power you through the blockers for an alpha strike.

Gather the Townsfolk

Another good way to show off Fateful Hour here- two guys for two mana that can explode into 5 guys if need be. It’s one of those cards that tells a good story too. When things are okay, only two people turn up. When shit gets real, five people turn up. A strong limited card that plays nicely with the upsurge of Sacrifice themes that Dark Ascension provides. With a few cards that care if the sacrifice is human, it gives Townsfolk more versatility than say, Midnight Haunting. You can combo this with some great cards- Falkenrath Aristocrat or Falkenrath Torturer to steal some games off the back of a fatefully houred Townsfolk. It is the premier common for the new mechanic in this set- much like Morbid had Brimstone Volley in Innistrad.

Gavony Ironwright

A Horned Turtle for White with some upside here. A simply designed uncommon, allowing players to have an opportunity to stall out an aggressive opponent by making everyone big blockers. I suppose the flavour is that it’s an armoursmith, which I guess means the guy is so good at blacksmithing that he just gives all the creatures on your team a slightly better Accorder’s Shield. Must’ve pulled quite a few night shifts.

Hollowhenge Spirit

Design-wise there’s not much to say here. It’s a spirit and a flier with two abilities, which makes Uncommon it’s rightful home. A decent limited trick that can mess with combat, which continues the theme that has developed during Dark Ascension, which is that Spirits have more of a “mischievous poltergeist” feel, in the sense that they mess around with combat by tapping mostly, although in this case it just plain takes someone out of it.

Increasing Devotion

What I like is that although Dark Ascension is the set where things get considerably worse for the human populace, with a lot of them meeting their end and others turning to demonic cults, Increasing Devotion is a card that at highlights that not all humans are giving up on Avacyn, despite her disappearance. It’s a powerful card and is my favourite kind of limited rare- It’s powerful and can swing the game, but it won’t end it immediately. A good fit for white in the “Increasing Cycle” that plays extremely well as a top-end card for Innistrad’s Token theme. It’s a good fun card for the casual players too- Conqueror’s Pledge has always been a kitchen table favourite, and this is in a similar vein.

Lingering Souls

A format defining card that will not only have impact on the standard metagame, but also delivers huge rewards in limited too. It’s a hugely upscaled version of Midnight Haunting and in what is a rarity for Spirits, it highlights the story well via the flavour text,  Hollowhenge being a “key” town in Innistrad as it is the former Avabruck, where Werewolves slaughtered the entire town, so it would naturally be filled with angsty ghosts.  I like it as a card that is good to all players. Obviously high-level players appreciate the raw value you get out of it, while the more casual player can appreciate it too, as the effect is very clear for them to see. A well designed and aggressively costed card that will see play in all types of magic.

Loyal Cathar

This Cathar is easily one of the home-run hits of the set. It’s a card with limited and constructed purposes- a decently costed but not overpowered card, but I’m personally in love with this card as a simple concept, designed elegantly. In life, he is vigilant as he guards the walls from whatever horrors lurk outside, but when he dies and returns zombified, he now can’t block as he’s trying to burst in, now a mindless zombie- a complete opposite of what he once was.  Fantastic flavour. If there were ever a card that hammered home how bad it is for the humans, this is it and when this card was spoiled it just confirmed for me that the implementation of Double-Faced Cards has been a master stroke and one of the main reasons this block is such a runaway success.

Midnight Guard

Filler common here for when you need to flesh out a deck, given a little boost with psuedo-vigilance, providing you can play another creature. Works well when there are a handful of flash cards running around. I like the concept here, of the overwhelmed yet hard working guard chasing after everything that appears in the night. Brilliant art on this guy too. My only complaint is that we now have an infinite combo in Pauper with this guy and Presence of Gond.

Niblis of the Mist

I’m not a fan of the Niblis’. They seem very out of place as there’s been no mention of these “Niblis” spirits before. Why not just use geists for consistency? Otherwise, it’s another spirit that is running around messing with people by terrorising them, which translates into Spirits have a tendency of tapping creatures in Dark Ascension, which works well as a concept as I’ve mentioned earlier and can make for some interesting situations for limited.

Niblis of the Urn

The other white Nibbly (Sorry , that’s just how I want to pronounce it in my head) creature that taps creatures during combat. An interesting card here as a 2 mana 1/1 flyer isn’t overly strong, even with the tapping ability so I personally find it a bit strange that it’s an uncommon. It can obviously tap the creature in the air blocking it, but if they have two guys who can block it, it’s pretty much relegated to chump blocker status. That said if you have a couple of these, and other means of tapping, you can live the dream of faltering most their blockers each turn. Personally unsure on it.

Ray of Revelation

A good reprint here- the name fits the plane and it goes well in the cycle of on colour-pair flashbackers. As there are a lot of good targets for this in limted formats, such as Claustrophobia, Bonds of Faith, Burning Vengeance and many others, it makes Ray one of the most powerful sideboard cards you can have. A subtly great design not only for the set, but they’ve managed to get this effect into the Modern format with this reprint.

Requiem Angel

I really like this card. It’s another of those “fair rares” which won’t win the game straight away despite its powerful effect. I really appreciate the flavour on this card despite it being slightly subtle. Normally the idea is flavour wise that on Innistrad, when somebody dies they pass into the “Blessed Sleep” and quite literally rest in peace. However with Avacyn gone, the humans cannot have this much craved death and can be tampered with, stitched into monstrous forms and all manner of shenanigans, so all Avacyn’s Angels can do is guide dead people’s ghosts the best it can- so you get 1/1 tokens instead of a totally dead dude. Excellent.

Sanctuary Cat

Meow. Filler common and a cute little card and I can’t really think of much to say here- I’d say I was glad they managed to hit the cat trope, but Black Cat does it so much more better.

Seance

Another design home run here. It’s one of those cards that gets people thinking of the possibilities and makes them want to try it out, even though the results are probably not going to be what they desired. The flavour is great though and basically describes what a Seance would be- summon the spirit of a loved one, have them around for a cup of tea and a chat, before they bugger off for good. Perfect, perfect, perfect. This is a card that states the case for top-down design and I think it hits on a flavour level as well as creating an interesting card with an unusual effect.

Silverclaw Griffin

A continuation of the theme that the avian species of Innistrad are on the side of the Humans, we are presented with a very decent flier at Common with stats and abilities that are quite powerful. Simple card that pads out the set and will star in limited. Can’t help but feel for Abbey Griffin in all it’s mediocrity though, as now it can’t even claim to be the best Griffin in the format.

Skillful Lunge

Traditional white combat trick that are a dime a dozen, although this feels like it could fit in any set rather than just Innistrad. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this in a core set one day. A fine design.

Sudden Disappearance

Another quirky White card here and another reason to let people live the dream of actually getting some use from Sundial of the Infinite. I think it’s a cute little card that fits the set it’s in and will probably be a hit with some casual players. That said, it has virtually no Standard or Limited applications as far I can see- which unfortunately happens a bit to white’s rares this set.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

I’m very happy that WotC  gave us another “character” card, like Olivia and Mikaeus. For too long it’s been a case of the central characters of a plane just being the Planeswalkers, but I really like this not being the case for this block. It’s very much a struggle that’s isolated to the natural inhabitants of the plane and that the ‘walkers like Lilly and Garruk are just a little bit removed from the central storyline (Although Sorin is there and I don’t mind that too much as he’s clearly ingrained in the history of the plane) so we have some of the key figures of Innistrad appearing on their own cards, playing into their themes. Thalia is a central figure in the “Fight for Thraben” that was described in the flavour parts of spoiler week and clearly a person of large influence for the humans, so it’s only appropriate she appears here. Her mechanics suit her too as she is represented in the storyline as a zealot-like Human, so the fact she makes non-creature spells cost more fits her role. In terms of play, it’s quite clever- a fair amount of the time in Limited, your White-geared decks are going to be aggressive and full of creatures, so this will generally aid your cause- the average G/W deck that likes to vomit out creatures constantly with the odd travel preps in between will like her and she’s actually got decent stats and is a good ground beater for that kind of deck too. A great card with limited power and many constructed applications.

Thraben Doomsayer

I’m not sure about how I feel about this card flavour-wise, as it seems pretty muddled- I can kind of get that a Doomsayer would create his own little “cult mob”, hence the token generation, but if he’s predicting that the game is up, why does everyone get stronger? Surely they should get disheartened and worse? Obviously that would make for a terrible card, but hey. Vorthos for life. It’s a pretty good rare however and a Psuedo-Lord here when Fateful Hour is on and a token maker is always powerful, although this not Bloodline Keeper. Another fair Rare and an absolute all-star in the Humans deck.

Thraben Heretic

Clever card here, with a Human who is taking matters into their own hands in a somewhat controversial way by just killing all the corpses to prevent them becoming Zombies, or Skaab-feed. Good to show that not all the humans are being decimated. Fantastic art on this one by the way. As for play, this isn’t bad for limited- like Silverchase Fox, it’s a 2/2 for 1W, which is playable- and you get a utility effect too. It can downsize Harvest Pyres, Spider Spawnings and such- albeit slowly and provides a useful tool against the skaab-heavy decks.

Top 5 White Designs:

1. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
2. Loyal Cathar
3. Requiem Angel
4. Seance
5. Increasing Devotion

Overall, I like what’s been done with White. Humans have continued to show deep flavour (Just ask the zombies), showing some branching out in new directions in addition to the reinforcement of most of the themes humans were along before. Spirits seem to actually have some mechanical ties flavour-wise now rather than just being bodies that also happened to be spirits, while also tugging back on White’s insane power in limited a little. Good job all round.