Ingesting the Flavor and Mechanics of Battle for Zendikar’s New Eldrazi

A rugged vista of Zendikar, showing the otherwordly, leached latticework of Eldrazi corruption.

Numerous cards for Magic: The Gathering’s upcoming expansion set, “Battle for Zendikar,” were revealed at this weekend’s Pax Prime event. The setting, a mana-rich and volatile plane called Zendikar, is Ground Zero for an epic battle between the races and nations of that plane and the Eldrazi, otherwordly and terrifying abominations that look as though they walked straight out of an H.P. Lovecraft novel. Much like the Terminator, the Eldrazi can neither be bargained nor reasoned with, and their very existence comes at a terrible, brutal price: the complete and utter elimination of everyone else’s.

We last saw these lurking horrors at the conclusion of Magic’s first visit to Zendikar, the self-evident “Rise of the Eldrazi.” What set the Eldrazi apart from other antagonists is their immense size, colorness nature, and ability to erase anything standing in their path.

The key Eldrazi mechanic in “Rise” was “annihilator,” which forced your opponent to sacrifice a specified number of permanents (lands, creatures, artifacts, or enchantments) each time an Eldrazi with this ability attacked. “Annihilator” was a nasty mechanic that made victory only a matter of (often very short) time whenever Eldrazi made their way to the battlefield.

In “Battle,” the terror of annihilation has been replaced with an exile mechanic called “Ingest.” Several of the nonlegendary Eldrazi revealed thus far show this is a fixed mechanic: whenever an Eldrazi with Ingest deals combat damage, the defender exiles the top card of their library.

“Ingest” showcases how the warped nature of the Eldrazi not only distorts the landscape (see the vista at top and the detail on “Mist Intruder” below) but tears the very fabric of reality itself.

Mist Intruder

Ulamog, the first legendary Eldrazi previewed in this set, has a much more intense version of Ingest, where the top 20 cards of your library are wiped from memory each time it strikes.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

In the game of Magic, the library has been described as a planeswalker’s “memory,” which is why mill effects are found in Blue’s part of the color pie.

To have the Eldrazi steadily and relentlessly pull your library into exile (the game’s “point of no return”) versus condemning them to an untimely demise in your graveyard (where they could be recovered), to me, speaks more to the sense of dampening helplessness and crushing inevitability that these horrors are supposed to evoke.

The other new mechanic for the Eldrazi is simply a status keyword called “Devoid.” Cards with “Devoid” have no color identity, even if they’re cast using colored mana.

Barrage-Tyrant

In “Rise,” several of the lesser Eldrazi were actually colored cards in the Jund spectrum (green, red, or black). For “Battle,” the design team use “Devoid” to retain the colorless nature of the Eldrazi, which cleanly illustrates them being beyond the boundaries and characteristics of colored mana and further separates them from “normal” reality.

The unique identity of Eldrazi cards is further marked with a hard-lined meander design (reminiscent of their former hedron prisons) at the top of “Devoid” cards.

The last well-placed artistic stroke to come out of the Pax Prime reveals was the haunting painting below, depicting three statues.

CNn7EU3WIAAMIrh

While not identified in the Wizards of the Coast Twitter stream, players of the original Zendikar block will recall that the Eldrazi made their way into collective myths and legends on that plane.

The statues here show Emeria at top, Ula at left, and Cosi at right.

These deities are blurred racial memories … echoes of recall thousands of years old from when Emrakul, Ulamog, and Kozilek first rampaged across the land. You can see attributes of each Eldrazi in these statues, such as Emrakul’s fleshy, domed hemispheres and trailing tentacles in Emeria’s wings and coattails.

We still have several weeks before “Battle for Zendikar” gets its full reveal, but the rich flavor of the set’s artistry and setting have already proven captivating and suitably unsettling.

All photos and artwork in this post are copyright ©2015 Wizards of the Coast.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Why I Finally Quit Magic: The Gathering, or, “So Long, and Thanks for all the Phyrexians”

Well, my friends, it’s the end of an era: I’ve officially quit Magic: the Gathering.

Like many Magic players, I first picked up the game in college during its heyday and quit for trivial reasons (for me, it was to pay a dorm room fee). I returned many years later, right after Dark Ascension hit the streets in February 2012. I dove in hard, buying boosters weekly, fat packs with new releases, and becoming heavily invested with online trading websites.

ImageI wrote a lengthy essay last year about taking an eight-week “fast” from Magic in order to get my personal life in better order. At the time, I was burning up a great deal of mental energy and effort on trading, brewing, and consuming all aspects of Magic, and it was taking an increasingly negative toll on my relationships with my family. I succeeded in making it through the fast, but the effects of remaining tied to Magic, even loosely, lingered in the background.

I worked hard to limit my exposure to the game after the fast, but old habits die harder. I did a very limited return to online trading, but had to reign myself in before I started putting too many cards back on the market. I started playing again in a casual setting, but I found myself acting less than mature, almost bordering on sneaky, when asking for the time and opportunities to play the game amidst a busy family schedule.

After a set of lengthy discussions with my family, I went to a local game store last Thursday and made a commitment to sell off my entire Magic collection on the spot. Most of the cards I owned were still sleeved and in decks; I played a final few rounds with a friend of mine while one of the employees was pricing a stack of my highest-value cards. I’m sure I could have earned a much larger amount of money selling my collection online piece by piece, but this wasn’t about the money.

What makes this departure different to me is the context. My reasons for leaving the game aren’t the usual ones you hear from former Magic players, such as “I don’t have the money to keep up with the format,” or “my friends don’t play anymore/moved away,” or “I don’t like the new set/direction Magic (as a game) is taking.” This was about figuring out what works in my life and what doesn’t.

See, one thing I’ve had to come to terms with is my age. I’m not a 20-something college kid or working single man with minimal sets of responsibilities and the freedom to spend what I have (in both money and time). I’m nearly 40, married, and have two small children. I don’t have the luxury, the ability, or the need to spend countless hours mulling over a collectible card game when there’s children to care for, work to be done, schedules to plan, home projects to complete, and promises to fulfill. And it’s not like Magic was ever an integral part of my identity. Magic has always been an add-on; it was never something I played for years on end, nor was it a critical part of my growth and development, nor was it something that brought my wife and I together (as it has with many folks). It was a hobby, and it grew far outside its boundaries as a simple hobby.

I know there are plenty of folks who are successful in managing their gaming alongside their significant others, spouses, families, and careers, but it took me a while to discover that Magic is simply not compatible with mine. And it was hard to take the hooks out … that’s why I made the decision to cut my losses and cash out.

For all the people I’ve met during my recent time playing Magic, it was awesome getting to know you, and I hope we can continue stay in touch. As for you, Magic: the Gathering …

… so long, and thanks for all the Phyrexians.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Casual Friday: Two Red/White Decks for Fun and Profit (At Least the First Part…)

Legion_Loyalist_Art

Welcome, fellow adventurers, to my first “Casual Friday” column! These articles will explore the realms of the Casual, or “kitchen table,” format in Magic: The Gathering, where there’s no pressure to keep up with either the evolving wilds of Standard or the insane power and price levels of competitive Modern and Legacy. These are purely decks for fun or for exploring deck interactions from various blocks.

Today’s column features two red/white decks: 1) a build based around the Theros block’s “Heroic” mechanic and instants, appropriately named “Instant Success,” and 2) a variation of the Modern-format “red/white burn” deck that’s composed of some of my favorite cards from the past few blocks. Let’s start with “Instant Success.”

Instant Success

downloadCreature (20)

Instant (16)

Artifact (2)

Land (22)

The “Heroic” mechanic from Theros offered you two possible tracks during deck building: 1) running enchantment-heavy decks, ideally using creatures with the “Bestow” mechanic to replenish your ranks (plus Hero of Iroas to lower their cost) or 2) packing the deck with instants (such as Gods Willing) that give your team a temporary buff in addition to Heroic-generated counters.

White was one of the key players in “Heroic” with superstars like Phalanx Leader (the “Oprah” of the group), Fabled Hero, and Favored Hoplite. The other primary colors to pair with White were Green for heftier, albeit pricier, Heroic creatures (such as Staunch-Hearted Warrior) or Red for smaller and faster ones (such as Akroan Crusader). I’m a devoted fan of aggressive decks, so a red/white blend appealed most to me.

“Instant Success” is intended to be two things: fast and cheap. Nothing in the deck costs more than three mana. True to tournament style, I run four copies of nearly every card for consistency of play. Each of the instants are chosen to target two creatures at once, guaranteeing the maximum Heroic boost, especially if one or more Phalanx Leaders are involved. Bring a LOT of dice or counters to this game, my friend, because you’re going to need them!

U Mad Bro?

download (1)Creature (20)

Instant (10)

Sorcery (2)

Artifact (2)

Enchantment (4)

Land (22)

My second build leans more towards the Red part of the spectrum, but takes advantage of both battle-tested multicolor cards (Assemble the Legion, Boros Charm) and newcomers (War Flare) to bolster your team on their way to victory. The pair of Dolmen Gates allow for a risk-free strike, at least from the damage side of the house.

The creatures, like in “Instant Success,” were chosen mostly for their speed and cost, but also for the amount and type of pain they can inflict. I had a lot of fun using Legion Loyalist, Firefist Striker, and Spark Trooper in a former Ravnica-block Boros build, hence their prominent roles here.

There are plenty of tournament-grade Modern builds that bring on the red/white hurt a lot more effectively than “U Mad Bro?”, but like I said at the beginning, this is just for fun.

That’s All, Folks

That’s all for today’s column! Next time, I’ll showcase a black/white build based on the Modern “BW tokens” archetype along with a green/black deathtouch build I’ve assembled.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Tipping the Scales: A Standard GW Counter-based Deck for Magic: The Gathering

“Hardened Scales,” by Mark Winters. © Wizards of the Coast.

Today’s Magic: The Gathering column is a green/white build I’ve had in mind ever since “Khans of Tarkir” was released back in November. The white-aligned clan, the Abzan Houses, emphasize a defensive posture based around counters. This ties nicely to the Heroic mechanic of the Theros block and the gradual “build up” nature of green/white creature armies.

The keystone of this deck is the one-drop enchantment Hardened Scales, which gives us a bonus +1/+1 counter any time a spell or ability gives a permanent counter to one of our creatures. Scales is by no means as mighty as the fabled Doubling Season, but a free counter each time we cast a spell or trigger Heroic is sure to put our army over the top at an accelerated pace.

Now, there are plenty of green creatures in Theros block who grant multiple +1/+1 counters each time their Heroic ability is triggered (such as Staunch-Hearted Warrior), but most have a higher converted mana cost than their white counterparts. That’s fine for the long game, but I wanted this deck to build up quickly.

Without further delay, let me introduce “Tipping the Scales”:


hardenedscales“Tipping the Scales”

Creatures (24):

Instants (10):

Enchantments (4):

Lands (22):

Sideboard (15):


The theme of “Tipping the Scales” is one- and two-drop creatures who will rapidly grow into heavyweights due to Heroic triggers and counters. The supporting pair of Abzan Falconers and Tuskguard Captains add flying and trample, respectively, to everyone who has a counter. Phalanx Leader serves as the “Oprah” of the team. Coupled with multiple copies of Hardened Scales, each time Phalanx Leader is hit with a spell, we add at least one to three additional counters in an average game.

Fleecemane Lion is our ahead-of-the-curve two-drop whose Monstrosity trigger can easily be ballooned in size with additional copies of Scales on the field. Favored Hoplite and Feat of Resistance offer valuable protection to keep enemy hands off your forces. Fabled Hero serves as our beater. Our playset of Warden of the First Tree, while not a source of counters, is a simple one-drop who can grow to be a heady threat on their own.

Our Strive cards, Nature’s Panoply and Solidarity of Heroes, give us the option of pumping as many counters to our Heroic friends as we can muster. They’re good as one-offs early on while providing a good investment of abundant mana later in the game.

The sideboard contains a few reactive cards: Erase for enchantments, Banishing Light for troublesome permanents, and Plummet for dragons and other flyers. Ajani Steadfast‘s second ability mirrors that of Phalanx Leader for extra counter shenanigans. Nyx-Fleece Ram is a stalwart defensive player and always welcome in any white-based deck I play.

What do you think? Does the build need a better balance of instants to justify the theme, or is the balance right on the mark? How would you adjust the composition or pace for play at your next Friday Night Magic? Please share the in comments below.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Divinely Inspired: Oh! My Goddess Cards for Magic: the Gathering

For this week’s Magic: the Gathering article, I’d like to take you on a journey into the hobbyist-slash-enthusiast realm of creating custom cards based on fictional, non-Magic characters. There are plenty of folks who enjoy dreaming up representations of their favorite heroes, villains, or literary companions using the terms and mechanics of Magic to express how those characters would interact in the game. These cards can be a fun mental exercise or a way to design one’s own version of the game to play in an informal setting.

For today’s article, I designed cards for four of the main characters from the Japanese anime series “Oh! My Goddess,” specifically, the 26-episode rendition that aired back in 2005. I’ve found this series quite faithful to the original manga (written and illustrated by Kosuke Fujishima) and believe it shows a good range of each character’s talents and personalities. The characters I chose are the three main goddesses: the kind and helpful Belldandy, her alluring and often interfering older sister, Urd, and her technologically adept yet child-like younger sister, Skuld; as well as the humble engineering student whose life they change forever, Keiichi Morisato.

To represent the scope of their overall powers and abilities, I chose to design each of the goddesses using the planeswalker model, with Keiichi designed as a legendary (mortal) creature.

Belldandy, Merciful Goddess

Let’s start with Belldandy. To me, Belldandy is a solidly white-aligned character: she believes in peace, harmony, generosity, and selflessness.

Belldandy, Merciful Goddess

I designed her abilities to shield others from damage, dispel harmful or interfering enchantments, and send her foes back to their own realms and out of harm’s way. Many times throughout the anime, Belldandy discovered and unraveled spells cast by demons and spirits upon Keiichi and her friends, so exiling Auras made for a good fit here. She also exiles rather than destroys with her third ability; this keeps with her peace-loving nature. As Belldandy is willing to help anyone in need, she has the highest starting loyalty of the goddesses.

Urd, Impulsive Goddess

Next comes Urd. While she ultimately has good intentions in mind, Urd is driven by passion and impulsiveness, making her a perfect fit for red’s part of the color pie.

Urd, Impulsive Goddess

The black-aligned part of her color identify comes from both her demon heritage as well as her tendency towards selfishness and satisfying her own desires, often at the expense of others. Urd has great power, but she lacks precision, so I designed the random nature of her second ability to represent her occasional misfires. Her ultimate ability reflects the charms and potions Urd creates to control and manipulate others’ actions.

Skuld, Inventor Goddess

Skuld is a brilliant engineer and legendary for her talents with machines, so an artifact-themed build was the natural direction for her. Like Urd, she can also be impulsive, so I made her color identity blue/red (similar to the theme of the Izzet guild from Ravnica).

Skuld, Inventor Goddess

Skuld never fails to build in a self-destruct feature in her creations, so her tokens all have that ability. I designed her second ability as a way of representing her innate magical talent with protecting her machines from harm. Since planeswalkers to date have no instant-speed abilities, I added the errata about casting this only on your turn. For her ultimate ability, I wanted to showcase Skuld’s talents in turning any mundane device into a living machine. To avoid this becoming too broken rules-wise, I limited it to single use versus a persistent emblem. Also notice that it doesn’t affect the tokens she creates with her first ability.

Keiichi Morisato

Keiichi Morisato

Keiichi was the most challenging of the four to design. He, like Skuld, is very talented with machines, and shares Belldandy’s compassion for others. This, coupled with his innocent demeanor, made Keiichi a solid fit for blue/white. But, how to represent his relationship with the goddesses and his penchant for getting in mishaps due to their presence? The first clause gives him extra defenses in their presence to illustrate how he’s ultimately protected by the goddesses, but only when they’re around. Obviously, this limits his play potential, but I didn’t want this to say he’d be protected by any planeswalker, as I can’t imagine Garruk or Liliana taking him under their care. I also think it shows the physical vulnerabilities he has on his own. Keiichi’s second, simpler clause shows his talent in fixing machines and giving them new life. It’s basic, in part because it’s intended to be less flashy than the goddesses’ abilities.

How I Made the Cards

Each of these cards were designed using the outstanding and versatile Magic Set Editor program. I’ve attached the set file with this article so you can add Keiichi and the goddesses to your set, or for you to modify them as you see fit. If you do create your own versions, link to them in the comments. I’d love to see them!

Oh! My Goddess Magic card set file

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Deck Spotlight: “Star Attraction”

Underworld Coinsmith | Art by Mark Winters

Underworld Coinsmith | Art by Mark Winters

I absolutely love enchantments. They are far and away my favorite card types in Magic.

Theros block, with its heavy enchantment subtheme and roster of newfangled enchantment creatures, was an absolute treasure trove of new goodies to add to my builds. The third part of the block, Journey Into Nyx, capped off this trend with its unique “Constellation” mechanic. For those of you unfamiliar with Constellation, it rewards you for playing enchantments by triggering an effect whenever one enters the battlefield under your control. I’ve wanted to brew an all-enchantment deck for some time now, and, at long last, the time was right to make this happen.

At the Journey Into Nyx prerelease, I constructed a black/white deck that predicted the type of build I’ll showcase below. I enjoyed the interactions I observed among the Constellation cards and wanted to see how that increased with a more consistent number of them on the battlefield.

Without further adieu, allow me to present my “all enchantments, all the time” build, “Star Attraction”:


“Star Attraction” (Standard black/white)

Creatures (31):

Artifacts (2):

Enchantments (5):

Lands (22):


As a black/white build, the main (and traditional) attributes of this deck are:

  • Defense: Build up the ramparts and start the pain. The primary workhorses (or sheep, as it were) in this role are Nyx-Fleece Ram and Grim Guardian. There’s also a pair of Doomwake Giants for muscle further down the mana curve.
  • Life gain/drain: Both Underworld Coinsmith and Grim Guardian fulfill this role, though Spiteful Returned is a worthy runner-up as well. Once enough of these two find themselves on the battlefield, each subsequent enchantment you cast will put you further ahead and your opponents further behind. Nyx-Fleece Ram boosts you on your upkeep while Fate Unraveler punishes your foes on theirs.
  • Stabilizing the battlefield (control): Brain Maggot and Banishing Light work to remove troublesome cards from your opponent’s roster, with the former giving you valuable intelligence on what’s ahead. All three of the gods work to keep your foes on their toes, whether that’s boosting your defense (Heliod), suppressing their lifegain (Erebos), or putting a hard choice before them (Athreos). The Whip of Erebos and Spear of Heliod provide extra teeth to your enchanting army to make foes hesitate as you whittle their life away.

One of the key points behind “Star Attraction” is to avoid the “two-for-one” danger of Aura enchantments, so these are limited to Bestow enchantment creatures, such as Nyxborn Shieldmate and Gnarled Scarhide.

Since this deck is designed to be played in Standard, let me take a moment to express how utterly distraught I am that Ethereal Armor has rotated. Yes, it’s an Aura, and, yes, it can be “two-for-one’d,” but, by Heliod’s spear, stacking Armors in an enchantment-rich deck was simply magnificent. You have not lived, my friends, until you’ve double-stacked Ethereal Armors on a Hopeful Eidolon and swung on turn three with a 7/7 lifelinked first-striker. My basic substitute in this build, Eidolon of Countless Battles, is somewhat of a successor to Ethereal Armor, but it’s a bit costlier overall.

The obvious weakness of this deck is versus pinpoint removal. Every single card in the deck, except for lands, can be dealt with using simple spells such as Erase, Revoke Existence, and Fade Into Antiquity; the gods, of course, can fall to Deicide. All I can say is that I’m glad Paraselene is not in Standard any longer; a Wrath of God for enchantments is pretty much the Achilles heel of this deck.

While this is certainly not tournament-level material, “Star Attraction” is a fun build for the casual and Friday Night Magic environments. Give it a go and see whether you’re as enchanted with its inner workings as I am.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Deck Spotlight: Doom and Gloom

Tormented Hero

Tormented Hero, a card from the Theros block of Magic: The Gathering. Art by Winona Nelson.

Ahoy, fellow adventurers! This is the first of several Magic: The Gathering deck spotlights I plan to write for 3-Sided Die. Allow me to begin our journey with my current headliner build, a black/white brew I’ve dubbed “Doom and Gloom.” I’ll share the deck list, discuss the key cards and strategies I’ve developed, and offer some suggestions on how the build can evolve when rotation happens next week.

“Doom and Gloom” Decklist

Creatures (23):

Instants (4):

Sorceries (2):

Artifacts (1):

Enchantments (8):

Lands (22):

Sideboard (15):

Torment Them with Your Heroes

One of the key themes of this deck is immediately obvious: life loss/life gain. I love how black/white decks can start a gradual decay in your opponents’ life totals that can get quite out of hand with certain card combinations. One of my favorite pairings in this deck is pulling Congregate while Sanguine Bond is on the battlefield. The look on your opponent’s face as you fatally drain them for 18 life while they have a veritable army on their side of the field is priceless. Until you get to strike that killing blow, Tormented Hero, Hopeful Eidolon, and Soldier of the Pantheon help swing the scales in your favor. Whip of Erebos pinch hits for extra support in getting even more edge over your foes.

Putting 2/1s on the battlefield on turn one is a superb starting point for this deck, which tends to list more towards the aggressive end of the spectrum. For turn three, Banisher Priest is a solid, square-stat creature that can easily remove evasive threats and throw in a few blows of its own, while Agent of the Fates keeps the tension high and provides lethal defense. I love the versatility of Hopeful Eidolon as a chump blocker or Heroic enabler for the Hero and Agent. Enchanting the Eidolon with stacked Ethereal Armors is efficiently brutal; swinging with a turn three 7/7 first strike lifelinker is an effortless task with 4-ofs of both in this deck.

Remove All Doubts

Erebos, God of the Dead stops life-gain shenanigans from your opponent cold, and, with your own means of getting life, the card draw option becomes a no-brainer. The pair of Obzedat, Ghost Council drive home a fierce and tough-to-eliminate threat that just adds to the life loss misery on the other side of the table.

Angelic Accord adds insult to injury for your foes by giving you 4/4 flyers to sweeten your ever-increasing life total. Hero’s Downfall adds more pinpoint removal to keep the field clear of whatever your Priests and Agents couldn’t handle. I personally prefer to always have artifact and enchantment removal in my mainboard, and the reprint of Revoke Existence fits the bill nicely, taking care of Theros-block gods and other annoyances with ease.

Finally, the playset of Temple of Silence in your mana base helps preview your choices as you move along. Being able to plan ahead, to me, offsets the “enters the battlefield tapped” downside.

Banish Their Hopes

As I mentioned before, this is intended to be a fast, aggressive build. Press the point and don’t let up.

Between the Priests, Agents, Downfalls, and Revokes, you’ve plenty of removal options at your disposal. Abuse the stacking nature of the Armors to their absolute fullest; you have four of them, so don’t worry too much if the enchanted creature gets nixed (or, should I say, Nyxed?).

In mirror matches, you may choose to swap in the Glare of Heresy and/or the Dark Betrayal in the sideboard for more precise kills.

We Are the Warriors

As I write this essay, we are days away from rotation for Return to Ravnica and the Core 2014 set. Keeping this deck Standard-friendly means losing the Armors, Priests, and other key cards.

A possible evolution could be to move this into the fast-moving black/white Warriors tribal suggested by the dynamic duo Chief of the Edge and Chief of the Scale from Khans of Tarkir. I would likely start with two of each in the mainboard with the other pair in the sideboard to vary the aggressiveness of the deck. Tormented Hero fits quite nicely in a Warrior build. Other one-drop options could include Disowned Ancestor for early defense or Mardu Hateblade for killing blows. Herald of Anafenza, while itself a Soldier, puts out Warrior tokens, as does Mardu Hordechief and the instant Take Up Arms.

The good folks at PucaTrade posted a “budget brew” article today that provides an excellent framework for this build. I’d highly recommend referring to this post if you decide to move down the black/white Warriors path.

Now, if you choose to keep the life gain/life loss theme, you may want to switch to an Abzan/Heroic build to take advantage of all the +1/+1 counter interactions in Khans. Many of the Abzan cards grant bonuses to creatures with counters, but look for others, such as Seeker of the Way, who gains lifelink whenever you cast noncreature spells that would trigger Heroic on other members of your team.

Since Artifacts appear to be less of an issue in Khans block thus far, I’d suggest swapping the Revokes for Erase, which rejoins Standard after its last appearance in Core 2013. Suspension Field, while limited to targeting creatures with toughness 3 or higher, can put the brakes on beaters your team can’t handle, as well as Banishing Light, which duplicates the effects of the Priests without the body.

Congregate in the Comments!

That’s all for this installment of Deck Spotlight! I hope this deck list and analysis have been enjoyable and informative, whether you’re a casual player or hitting the Friday Night Magic circuit. I welcome all feedback and variations on a future version of “Doom and Gloom” in the comments below.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Mental Missteps: Mistakes I Made as a Casual Magic: The Gathering Player

038_mental_misstepLast week, I shared my personal journey through an eight-week “fast” from Magic: The Gathering. The much-needed time away from the game allowed me to realize some “mental missteps” I made as a casual player that I’d like to share, as well as what I plan to do more effectively in future games.

Let me say two things before I begin. First, I realize not everyone plays Magic in the same way or with the same motivations, so this is very much a “your mileage may vary” essay. Second, this is by no means an exhaustive list of dos and don’ts, so I welcome any feedback in the comments section to supplement what I’ve written.

I’ll start with my missteps, or, what I felt I did “wrong”:

  • I cracked boosters. This seems innocuous enough, right? People love surprises and instant gratification, and boosters offer both. “Am I going to get that shiny mythic rare?” “Ooh, maybe I’ll be the lucky one to score the ‘God Pack’ this time!” What I came to discover, however, is that cracking random boosters as an impulse buy ended up being a poor decision well over 80% of the time. By the time that wrapper came off and I’d sorted through everything, I often had a handful of cards I’d never play with or were worth too little to trade.
  • I bought into the hype, literally. Hype is everyone in the Magic community. Speculation over new and returning cards and mechanics ebbs and flows with the release schedule, but it’s always humming in the background. One of the worst things I did was trade for three of the Journey Into Nyx enemy-colored gods (Athreos, Iroas, and Pharika) right as the set came out. Athreos, for example, was priced at US $24 on release day. At the time of this essay, he’s hovering around US $8-9. This was a completely impulsive decision, and, as someone who played only occasionally with friends, is was a poor one to make as well.
  • I only played decks when I had all the cards (again, literally) in hand. For some reason, I never wanted to play with proxies, which are “stand-ins” for cards you don’t yet have in your possession. Professional Magic players use proxies constantly to test and fine tune their decks before they commit to adding them in their deck list. I never played any of mine until I had them fully assembled, after which I would start playing and testing. More often than not, I would discover that cards I had just traded for didn’t work out as I expected, so I’d cut them from the list and start up trades for their replacements.
  • I focused on too many decks in Standard. Part of what makes Magic endlessly fascinating is how many combinations of cards, effects, and mechanics you can combine in your decks. With each new set comes a whole new array of concepts and interactions. This makes it hard to choose where you want to go with your Standard decks, as new cards can make dramatic changes to your current game plan, both from what you want to design and what you’ll need to account for on the other side of the table. My problem here is that I couldn’t decide. I saw deck builds online and wanted to try quite a few of them, so I had at least three or four partially-built decks going at any one time. Without a consistent play group and use of proxies, I often didn’t realize how well a specific build would perform until I had committed a good deal of time into its design and development. This often left me with one decent deck and several other lukewarm builds.
  • I overlooked the most vital aspect of Magic: the social aspect. This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. At its core, Magic is a social game; it is not designed to be played alone. There is only so much satisfaction you can draw from singular activities such as trading, collecting, and deck building. As I mentioned in my “fast” essay, I had moved hundreds of miles from my former playgroup, so I lost my core group of casual gamers. I also did not have the desire to playing Magic online, as I had read many not-so-positive experiences about it, both from the mechanical side (glitchy interface and frequent downtimes) and the personal side (cutthroat competition and rude opponents). I started venturing out to local game stores to find other players, but did not have the guts to interact and talk with folks there beyond the games themselves.

What should I have done?

  • Drafted. What I came to realize over time was that many of the cards in any given set are designed exclusively for the Limited format. “Bad cards” exist specifically to add strategy and tension in drafts. You need to be skillful and cunning to craft a winning 40-card deck from random booster pulls, which is why there is such a die-hard following around Limited. Had I drafted instead of cracking boosters, I would have been able to experience new cards and mechanics in a fun and constructive way.
  • Been patient. Had I bided my time and waited until the hype over Journey Into Nyx had cooled off, I could have snagged Athreos and his divine kin for a third of their prerelease cost, and spent my remaining trade credit on other cards I wanted. It seems that, with a few exceptions (such as dual lands and high-value reprints such as Mutavault and Thoughtseize), the inflated prices of hyped cards settle down within the first one to three months after the set hits the streets. Planeswalkers in particular are notorious for being highly overvalued ahead of a prerelease.
  • Used proxies and playtested. Whenever I design a deck, I have a vision in mind for how it will play out. More often than not, however, cards I bought or traded for didn’t interact on the battlefield the way I planned. Had I used proxies to test my theories instead of taking the time and money to acquire the actual cards, I could have given my builds a proper run-through, chosen what really, truly worked, and saved my trade credits for the final roster.
  • Narrowed my focus to a single Standard deck. Making a commitment to one build in Standard would have been a much wiser use of my time and money. It would have limited the trades I wanted and freed up points for higher-dollar cards for that one deck. It also would have allowed me to playtest it exclusively, sussing out strengths and weaknesses much faster and more effectively. Plus, playing with a single deck would have helped me sharpen strategies in specific matchups (for example, what cards would I need to always swap in or out versus a Control player, or an Aggro player).
  • Put more effort into finding a play group and settling in at my local game store. I’m an introvert at heart, so it’s challenging for me to form new friendships and connections in places where I don’t know anyone. It would have been worth the personal risk to have gone out of comfort zone and be more gregarious and purposeful when playing at Friday Night Magic and prereleases events. I could have also taken the initiative and taught fellow coworkers about Magic to form a new playgroup during office lunch breaks, much as I did at my former location. I took the easy route out and assumed I would make new Magic friends by proxy, when, instead, all I did was sit on the sidelines between games and keep to myself.

Now, let me turn it over to the masses: what have you learned as a Magic player that you realized was not the best method or tactic? What would you offer as guidance or advice to other players out there?

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Why I Went on an Eight-Week “Fast” From Magic: The Gathering

I am one of the many players of Magic: The Gathering who first got into the game back in college, stopped playing for some reason or another, and picked it up again after a hiatus of several years. I returned just as Dark Ascension hit the streets and played, traded, and lived Magic ever since. Eight weeks ago, however, I went on a strict “fast” from anything and everything related to Magic.

I am a casual, “kitchen table” Magic player. I have a DCI number and have been to a few Friday Night Magic events, but I never intended on being a semi-professional or professional player. I was just looking to play the game.

Early in 2013 (around the time of Gatecrash), I moved a half-a-dozen states away from the place where I had lived for nearly 25 years. I left behind good friends, valued colleagues, and familiar places. Moving is never easy, and moving out of state is nothing short of a trial. It’s costly, it’s stressful, and it’s a major, major effort. At the same time, my eldest child was growing out of her toddler years and into a much different world than when she was littler and had simpler needs. About a year later, we welcomed our second child into the world. My duties as a father, husband, and head of our family’s household were evolving faster than ever.

"Swords to Plowshares," a classic Magic card with superb art from Terese Nielsen.

“Swords to Plowshares,” a classic Magic card with superb art from Terese Nielsen.

I am not a person who thrives on drastic changes. I like change, but in small, measured doses. These recent shifts in my life were intentional and the best decisions for our family, but they were still a lot to absorb. Hundreds of miles away from my friends and my former playgroups, I started delving deeper into Magic as a release.

On my bus rides to and from work, each of which last around 30-45 minutes, depending on traffic, I would dutifully listen to Magic-related podcasts: Drive to Work, Limited Resources, Brainstorm Brewery, and a few lesser-known titles. On my lunch break, I would pore over my deck builds and constantly think of how to improve their performance. Anytime I was on a computer, I would see the pings from my PageMonitor Chrome plug-in and immediately rush over to PucaTrade to grab some new trades before someone else did. In idle moments, I was checking my trading sites for new opportunities or paging through MTG blogs (Blogatog, Voice of Vorthos, Daily MTG, etc.) to soak up new tidbits of gaming lore. At home, before bedtime, I’d often go through my unsorted cards and organize them, rearrange decks, or package mail trades for sending out the next day.

Slowly but surely, I allowed Magic to occupy a significant portion of each day and consume increasing bits of my mental energy.

I started to forget things. I got flaky with facts I needed to recall or tasks I had promised to help with. I often got short or cranky with my family. I was putting myself first before others. I found myself hiding my browsing and trading habits as though I was doing something illicit. It started to become a trust issue.

I am lucky. I did not put myself and my family into financial ruin. My daytime work did not suffer. I was not late to where I needed to go or missed important events or engagements. That said, however, I had become distracted, less enthusiastic about life, grouchier, and obsessive about all things Magic: reading about cards, trading cards, learning more about cards, fussing over card values … the list goes on and on.

After going through this for months, my family and I had a lengthy conversation about the game, how Magic was distancing me from the rest of my life, and how I was using it as a coping mechanism to avoid the necessary growth within myself. I decided right then and there to commit to a full stop before things got more out of hand.

My “Magic fast,” as I started calling it, was an eight-week period of going “cold turkey.” I didn’t read any Magic blogs or listen to any MTG podcasts. I unfollowed a bunch of accounts on Twitter and Facebook to stop the flow of Magic-related posts into my feeds. I removed the PageMonitor notices and deleted the Magic-related bookmarks in my browsers. I ceased buying and trading cards altogether, and stopped the every-other-week games with my co-author Jinx over Facebook. I boxed up all my cards and put them away on a shelf.

It was a heavy challenge for the first three weeks, especially during spoiler season for Magic 2015. I unintentionally learned who the planeswalkers in the set were and the names of a few of the more hyped cards, but I blocked myself from thinking about them further. By weeks four and five, I noticed my thoughts were becoming free of Magic. I had no desire to unpack my cards or read, listen, or talk about them. During week seven, I felt myself getting “itchy” about all the speculation going around. The weekend of San Diego Comic Con was a particularly tough moment: I happened to log onto Twitter right as the Saturday Magic panel was underway and saw several spoiled cards and details for Commander 2014 and Khans of Tarkir all in the span of a few minutes. I quickly closed the app and called it a day. Thankfully, it’s been “steady as she goes” through the final week, which is where I am as I write this post.

What will I do now that my “fast” has come to a close?

First and foremost, I’ve decided to stop trading cards online. Communities like PucaTrade and Deckbox are splendid for getting cards you want or need by trading off what you don’t, but, for me, it’s far too much temptation and time investment for how little I play. The cost of stamps, envelopes, and mailers, as well as the occasional booster pack for trade fodder, adds up over time. As a family man, I don’t have a huge war chest of “fun money” to spend on Magic-related activities, nor do I have abundant amounts of free time. If I do ever want to trade or buy cards, I’ll do so in person, at my local game stores, or through online merchants like Amazon. My family comes first.

Second, I’ve lifted the veil of the “information blackout,” but only a little. I do enjoy seeing what’s intriguing about the new rules, new cards, and new worlds Magic has in store, but I want the hype muted to a faint whisper. No more constant chatter of blogs and podcasts. Let the pundits and finance wizards get giddy and agitated over speculation.

Third, I’ll be keeping my card collection. I’ve recently been introduced to a fellow family man who’s collected Magic in times past and is interested in getting together to play cards at the kitchen table. He, like Jinx, is not into obsessing about rules or formats; he just wants to play. It will be good to put the investment I’ve made over the past two years to use in building new friendships and bolstering old ones.

I’m exceptionally glad I decided to fast from Magic. It’s been immensely beneficial in recalibrating my priorities, my actions, and my thoughts. I’ll be keeping tight reins on my re-entry to make sure I stay on point and don’t retreat into my previously poor habits. I owe it to my family and to myself.

Next week, I’ll guide this journey in a bit of a different direction and share what I feel were some “mechanical” mistakes in how I played, collected, and traded Magic, and how I intend to game moving forward.

About brightmatrix

brightmatrix is a long-time casual gamer. His gaming journey has included Magic: the Gathering, the first, second, and fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the first wave White Wolf games from the late 90s. If you are a denizen of the Twitterverse, you can read his posts on Magic, web development, puns, and other shenanigans at @brightmatrix.

Last Rites – A deck by Jinx

So I’m crossing over a bit into brightmatrix’s domain of Magic the Gathering and out of RPG’s for a second, but I really wanted some input on a legacy deck I’ve created that I thoroughly enjoy playing. The deck is completely of my own design and is not just a copied shell of another deck out in cyberspace.  The name comes from one of the pivotal cards in this deck, the Deathrite Shaman, who really helps to keep things in my favor.  By the way, this deck was aptly named by brightmatrix himself!  He’s punny that way.

Please keep in mind when reviewing the deck that I’m a casual player.  I don’t play in tournaments and therefore there may be some aspects (like # of cards in the deck) that are not legal per tournament play.  I play for fun, with friends, but am always looking for a way to take my concept to the next level.

I really love this Golgari deck because it atypical for the most part, can be really fast, all of the cards have a purpose and its synergy with the other cards is endless.

Golgari Charm

Found the above picture here:

First a quick decklist:

Creatures:

4 x Deathrite Shaman

4 x Agent of the Fates

2 x Glissa, the Traitor

1 x Creakwood Liege

4 x Desecration Demon

4 x Phyrexian Obliterator

 

Instants:

4 x Dark Ritual

4 x Undying Evil

1 x Abrupt Decay

4 x Krosan Grip

 

Sorceries:

4 x Prey Upon

4 x Harmonize

 

Artifacts:

4 x Lotus Petal

 

Enchantments:

2 x Burgeoning

1 x Mirri’s Guile

 

Planeswalkers:

1 x Garruk Wildspeaker

1 x Vraska the Unseen

 

Lands:

4 x Evolving Wilds

3 x Forest

7 x Swamp

4 x Tainted Wood

4 x Woodland Cemetery

 

So what makes this deck fast?

Well, the Burgeonings are a great help early on to keep the mana flowing in direct response to the other player.

The Lotus Petals: Free mana, need I say more?

Mirri’s Guile: Helps you to manage what cards are coming next, especially if mana deprived or if specific mana is needed like for tainted wood and the phyrexian obliterator.

Woodland Cemetery and Tainted wood: For mana of both colors. Though there is a slight lag with the tainted woods if you don’t have a swamp out, it’s a cheap alternative to have 4 more dual lands on the board.

Garruk Wildspeaker: His +1 of untapping 2 lands is huge when you want to bring out an phyrexian obliterator with only 2 black mana on the board.

Deathrite Shaman: Exiling your evolving wilds or your opponent’s lands lost with an phyrexian obliterator encounter for some extra mana of any color.

Dark Rituals: For a quick phyrexian obliterator or desecration demon on round 1 coupled with a swamp and a lotus petal!

Now let’s talk about all the synergies:

Deathrite Shamans: As said earlier, exiling your evolving wilds or your opponent’s lands lost with an phyrexian obliterator encounter for some extra mana of any color. Plus, exiling some key instants or creatures from your opponent’s graveyard is a huge win, especially since you either gain 2 life or your opponent loses 2 life.

Agent of the Fates: First, it has deathtouch, so it protects you on the ground. Second, with the Heroic ability, if you cast prey upon or undying evil on him, you are usually killing 2 of your opponent’s creatures at the price of 1 or NONE of your own creatures (if undying evil was played on the agent or the opponent’s creature isn’t strong enough to kill the agent). I think this card is severely underrated, as controlling the board by forcing sacs for basically nothing, is pretty awesome.

Glissa, the Traitor: First, it’s a 3/3 first strike, deathtouch for only 3 mana. Plus, as it’s killing things, you’re getting free mana when your lotus petals come flying back from your graveyard into your hand and directly into play, (if it’s your turn), as they cost nothing. Thanks Glissa!

Creakwood Liege: Pumps out 3/3 tokens during each upkeep, helps my deathrite shamans to survive a lightning bolt and generally just power-ups everyone.

Desecration Demons: For 4 mana, you’re getting a 6/6 flyer creature that basically says, if you don’t sacrifice something, a badass is coming your way and if you do, you lose a creature and my demon becomes even MORE badass next turn. SICK card.

Phyrexian Obliterators: This is by far the sickest card in the deck. A 5/5 Trample with a special ability that scares EVERYONE, he is a force to be reckoned with. I love using prey upon on him, as you know no one is going to attack one unless they HAVE to, so prey upon forces this on them, usually resulting in agony by the opponent. Plus, it’s a round 1 casting with a lotus petal, a swamp and a dark ritual.

Dark Rituals: Key for getting out phyrexian obliterators and Desecration Demons.

Undying Evil: For triggering the Agent of the Fates heroic and keeping him alive. For keeping any of my other critters alive for one more round, for a cheap mana cost.

Abrupt Decay: I only have one in this deck, but I want more. An exceptionally versatile card which keeps your opponents in check. Plus, it can’t be countered and is instant speed. I hope that my critters can keep the opponent’s creatures busy, but this card is still a big win early game.

Krosan Grip: Another great card that is basically the best alternative to abrupt decay for enchantments and artifacts. Can’t be countered either.

Prey Upon: Perfect for my Agent of the Fates and my Phyrexian Obliterators. Outright kills a creature (or multiple creatures) with the agent and forces permanents destruction with the obliterators.

Harmonize: For a fast deck, you need to have SOME card draw, otherwise you’re sitting around waiting for one card to play each turn. That’s boring. This helps keep me flush.

Lotus Petals: Help to bring out turn 1 obliterators and demons, helps with mana deficiencies if I drew poorly, becomes a frequent mana source if glissa, the traitor keeps bringing them back.

Burgeoning: Speeds up the deck considerably, getting the lands I have out very quickly.

Mirri’s Guile: Helps to give you a choice of what’s the best card needed out of your top 3.

Garruk Wildspeaker: His +1 gives you a huge push on mana when you need it. His -1 is ok, bringing out a 3/3 creature for defense instead of him and his ultimate isn’t a game changer, but when it turns my demons into 9/9 trample and my obliterators into 8/8 or my fates into 6/5 deathtouch, it makes a difference.

Vraska the Unseen: Though she doesn’t seem powerful, the fact that for -3 loyalty, she can just destroy a non-land permanent, is just awesome. It’s always nice to have some additional removal. If anyone attacks her, she is most likely going to kill that creature either using her +1 or her -3. Her ultimate is just fun. If the other player doesn’t have enough creatures on the board, next turn, it’s game.

Evolving Wilds: Great food for the deathrite shaman to score some additional mana early on.

The rest is pretty self explanatory.

Anyways, I would love to hear any and all feedback on this deck.  I know some of the combos above had some redundancies, but overall, the deck has some great synergy.  Would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks!

Jinx

 

 

About jinx_the_bard

Longtime Dungeon Master, tabletop and video gamer. Been playing D&D and Shadowrun on and off most recently. Ran a post apocalyptic, paragon, 4th edition D&D campaign for a couple years. Running a 5th edition campaign now called "The Fall of Astia". Enjoy Borderlands 1, 2 and even the Pre-sequel (which I tend to play with fellow author Ness), Fallout 3 and 4, Bioshock and Skyrim. (Games this good never get boring) I also indulge in Magic The Gathering, mostly in the Legacy and Modern formats. Please feel free to contact me at dungeonmaster.bm@gmail.com for any questions, thoughts or things you'd like to see featured on our site.