Thran Utopia #8: Eleven Karns and double the Anticipation

Wow, that was fun. Last afternoon (I’m writing this the next day) and night Robert and I cracked a lot of New Phyrexia packs, for his to-be shop. Ten boxes, to be precise. We managed to slug out 35 one-of matches with a mixture of Pack Wars and Type 5 Draft, with Robbert beating me 18-17. The numbers, how impressive and gigantic they may sound, where just the basis for half-a-day filled with pure fun and genuine little-kids’ excitement. That little boy present in each and every one of us just wants to crack a pack and open a big, expensive, and possibly foil card. Today, I’m gonna give a recap of that day, and afterwards I’m gonna do something new. Sounds interesting? Read on!

Two player draft

There are three ways to open packs in a fun way when there’s you and someone else (check this pretty all-round overview of wasy to open packs). The first one I came to know is Winston Draft. You open three packs each, shuffle them all together without seeing them (you remove the tokens and tips, removing the basic land is optional) and make one pile. Next, you put three cards face-down on the table, these are draft-piles one through three. The first player looks at the first pile. He can take it; if he does so, he puts the top card of the draw-pile face-down in the place of the card he drafted. If he didn’t like that card, he puts it back, puts the top card of the draw-pile face-down on top of it, and looks at the next pile. Here he does the same, and if he doesn’t like it, he moves on to the third pile. Should he not like this one either, he is dealt the top card of the draw-pile. Then the next player repeats this process until all cards have been distributed. Note that you draft a pile, not a single card from a pile. This way, a pile is bound to become interesting one way or another.

Because Winston Draft is pretty time-extensive, we chose to run the other two formats, where skill is less of an issue, and which is both faster and more random than Winston Draft. So we started with Pack Wars. Here, you each open a booster and remove the token and basic land. Again, without looking. The token is recognisable and the basic land is right behind that. They are usually the last two cards in a pack, unless there’s a foil. The foil is always the last card in the pack. You add three basic lands of each type to your booster, shuffle it together, and play. We did this a few times and that was a lot of fun. The loot from four packs was, among other cards, a foil Phyrexian Metamorph and a foil Jor Kadeen. Pretty nice! Robert was especially happy with the metal Clone, since he could put that straight into his pimpy almost-singleton-but-no-Commander artifact-deck.

After a few Pack Wars, we crossed over into Type 5-land. Opening two boosters per game is a lot slower than six per game, which was the suggested amount for this game: at least three packs per player. You shuffle everything together except the basic land and the token card and draw a starting hand (we decided on five cards). Since there are no lands, you can use your cards as lands. Each turn, you can play one of your cards as a land, it’s mana cost being what it can produce. This can lead to some degenerate games, but that’s the fun of Type 5. It’s not meant as a skilltester, it’s just another way to pass the time and to improve the fun of cracking packs.

By far the hardest laughs got the following game. I had an opener that contained Geosurge (a really bad card to play, but an excellent land to have), an Artillerize and Pith Driller to chuck, and a Ogre Menial. Since there are no mulligans in this format (after all, most of the fun here is to be anticipating your every draw step) and Robert kept a slow hand, I was able to bash for 7 poison on my second turn. 7 poison? Where did you get that extra three red mana? Enter Chancellor of the Forge. Oh yeah, and I played a Pith Driller to off a blocker.

This is where I started to get genuinely excited. Sadly, Robert was able to produce two guys (a Flameborn Viron and a Furnace Scamp), which meant I had to draw a removal spell to pull of a turn three-kill. And I did. I drew a Volt Charge (2R) for the Scamp, Artillerized the Driller at the Viron (3R, 5RR total), and was able to pump the Menial for lethal with the remaining two red mana. Two additional poison damage, ánd a proliferation via Volt Charge, meant I bashed Robert for exactsies. Yeah, I got a high five.

After those thirty-five games, we both silently but mutually agreed to stop the battling. Let me leave the games with a few things that may or may not have happened. Well, they all happened, but I like the way this looks.

* I may or may not have cast Life’s Finale more times than I will for the rest of my life;
* Robert may or may not have benefited from said Life’s Finale almost every time with Remember the Fallen;
* Phyrexian Hulk may or may not have been the stone cold nuts in just about every game;
* I may or may not have conceded when I had lethal poison damage on board;
* Robert may or may not have dealt upwards of ten damage with a single Hovermyr in one game;
* I may or may not have activated Birthing Pod without finding a legal target;
* Robert may or may not have had a Chancellor of the Annex seemlingly every game;
* I may or may not have activated Soul Conduit in a game I won;
* Robert may or may not have won a game on the back of two Immolating Souleaters;
* I may or may not have cast Xenograft for Golem without knowing if I had any Splicers;
* We may or may not have had in one of our (Pack Wars) games where we had the exact same three turns.

This is where the other insanity started. We started regularly opening the packs, since it was getting a little late to continue gaming. There is, however, one downside to cracking as much packs as we did: you lose track of the cards that are a little special, since you see so friggin’ much of ’em. I believe we saw each rare at least nine times, with the more common appearances creeping over fifteen. So I won’t bother you with what we exactly opened, since we opened, well, everything. Literally. Every single card in the set. So Robert has a few Karns too now, right? That is correct. The picture below was taken at the end of the night. Robert’s Karn-count increased with eleven, including two foil ones, one for himself and the other one for whomever wants it (I heard my friend Rick was interested).

And just like the last time I helped Robert with the heavy burden of opening those damn booster packs, I got a little reward. Last time it was a Tezzeret, this time it was my whole New Phyrexia wishlist. There were only a few rares on it (Phyrexian Metamorph, Glistening Oil and Slag Fiend), but it sure was way more than I wanted. So Robert, thanks again buddy. I mean, having fun and getting ‘paid’? This is the best afternoon a Magic-player can have!

Virtual deckbuilding

In the latest deck I built here, I was planning on using Leyline of Anticipation. Sadly, it got cut. This week, I didn’t want to build another paper deck. So I thought to myself, “can I come up with a deck idea to digitally and theoretically flesh out?”. Turns out, I can. I am going to build a deck using Leyline of Anticipation and a card database.

I started my venture by looking at cards that are unfair to play at instant speed. The first card that sprung to mind was Upheaval, that gnarly old friend or Dr. Teeth that everyone seems to hate. It was here I decided to stick to mono-blue, just for fun.

Upheaval is a powerful card that begs to be built around a bit, like it was in the days of artifact mana and Tinker. Float a bunch, cast Upheaval, replay a few cumbersome cards like Tangle Wire, and pass the turn.

As you know me by now, this is not the way I plan on building. No, I want to abuse the Upheaval-synergy in a less obnoxious way. Two ideas came to mind, namely suspend cards and artifact mana (take note that artifact mana and Upheaval are only malicious when there is another nasty card involved).

Build the suspend

But let’s start with suspend. There is good news here and bad news. The bad news is that there are only two worthwhile cards with suspend: Deep-Sea Kraken and Aeon Chronicler. The good news is that one of them, Aeon Chronicler, is in my top three favorite (blue) creature cards. (Sidenote: I have no idea if you can suspend a creature at instant speed with Leyline out. I know it worked with Teferi, but they are worded differently, so I’m not sure.)

So that’s already one card down, next to Leyline and Upheaval. The beauty of Aeon Chronicler is that it interacts wonderful with Upheaval: cast Upheaval the turn before Aeon Chronicler enters the battlefield (possible at the end of an opponent’s turn), then attack with a huge and potentially lethal Chronicler.

This opens op a new alley of options: cards that enlarge your maximum hand size. Reliquary Tower is a no-brainer, while other options include Minamo Scrollkeeper, Graceful Adept and Venser’s Journal. Soramaro, First to Dream becomes another viable win condition this way.

Let’s  examine some forms of artifact mana. Not only do they accelerate, they also help to overcome Upheaval, either by generating more than 4UU, or by just rebuilding quicker. The options I jotted down where Thran Dynamo, Thran Turbine, Everflowing Chalice and Silver Myr, with Chalice as a special card because it can benefit from Clockspinning, a card that conveniently interacts with Aeon Chronicler too.

Hide-and-seek

The next segment of cards is what I call hide-and-seek. They enter the battlefield, hide something, and when they leave it comes back. This is perfect for this kind of deck, since it works with Upheaval, but also with the Leyline. You get to counter a removal spell if you exile the targete creature, for example. There wasn’t much here, only Wormfangs, and of those, Wormfang Drake spoke to me the most. I tried champion-cards, but they were very underwhelming – at least, in blue.

So I expanded my range to cards that did something when they left the battlefield. I mistakenly put Ichor Wellspring here, but Thalakos Seer was kind of the same. It can even attack, too!

The best part of my search was no doubt Argent Sphinx. This is another one of those cards that I’ve been meaning to do all sorts of cool tricks with, but he keeps leaving decks before I even have them trimmed down to sixty cards. Another no-brainer, so to speak. The artifact count is already shaping up nicely, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Protect and Serve

With the core of the deck firmly in place, all that is left is to find some cards to serve that core: I’m talking counters, bounce, and other defensive cards. I’m gonna go over them a bit hastily, since they aren’t very evocative or anything.

Counters: Arcane Denial, Mana Leak, Rune Snag, Remand, Counterspell, Dream Fracture. With a creature like Aeon Chronicler, having a counterspell draw a card is a plus, so I looked for those a bit.

Bounce/removal/defense: Into the Roil, Riftwing Cloudskate (a forgotten suspend-card), Fog Bank, Evacuation, Pongify. All just defensive cards, either bounce, or capable of handling creatures.

Build!

Building this list into a virtual decklist was all that was left. I started with the core:

4 Leyline of Anticipation
4 Upheaval
4 Aeon Chronicler

These all seemed like cards I’d want four of. Next up was the no-hand-size suite (and Soramaro, AKA ‘The Extra Chroniclers’):

4 Minamo Scrollkeeper
4 Reliquary Tower
2 Venser’s Journal
2 Soramaro, First to Dream

I knew I wanted one of Adept/Scrollkeeper and I chose Scrollkeeper, because that card can surprise some attackers with a Leyline. As said, Reliquary Tower was a no-brainer, and I decided I wanted 2 Venser’s Journal just for fun. Also 2 Soramaro’s, just for fun. I had a deck with him once and it was a lot of fun.

We continue with the mana, of which I have a lot. So I had to cut down considerably:

4 Thran Dynamo
4 Silver Myr

All these are basically good cards, so cutting was based on gut feeling. A creature is good, hence Silver Myr. Lots of mana is also good, hence Thran Dynamo. Clockspinning didn’t make the cut, and so Chalice didn’t make a lot of sense either. Thran Turbine is a potential route for a Leyline-deck, but not this one.

Of all the hide-and-seek cards and cards that reward you for them leaving play, only Argent Sphinx survived:

3 Argent Sphinx

And of the whole slew of defensive cards, this is how I left it after my first runthrough:

2 Arcane Denial
4 Remand
2 Fog Bank
1 Evacuation
4 Riftwing Cloudskate

Again, this mix is mostly based on my gut feeling about what would work and what wouldn’t. Should anyone actually build this deck for real, I am curious to see how everything actually works out.

Assuming a healthy 24 lands, we need to cut 8 nonland cards from these 44 (48 if you count Reliquary Tower). In the end, I went with the following list. As Noel de Cordova does a lot, I cut a lot of the cards down to one-ofs so that there is potential inside the deck. It isn’t a finished list, it’s more of a basis for anyone who reads this to build upon. If you like this deck, sleeve it up and change around what you don’t like. I’m not giving you a crappy product mind you, I’m giving you a rough diamond you can polish to perfection – perfect by your own definition.

Aeonpheaval
Creatures (19)
4 Aeon Chronicler
3 Minamo Scrollkeeper
1 Fog Bank
3 Riftwing Cloudskate
4 Silver Myr
3 Argent Sphinx
1 Soramaro, First to Dream

Other spells (17)
1 Evacuation
4 Leyline of Anticipation
4 Remand
2 Thran Dynamo
4 Upheaval
2 Venser’s Journal

Lands (24)
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Halimar Depths
8 Island
4 Reliquary Tower
4 Seat of the Synod

If you have any ideas on how this deck should be, please let me know!

My set review, reviewed

Recently, Neale Talbot (@wrongwaygoback on Twitter) did a review of New Phyrexia set reviews. To my surprise, he reviewed mine too. Among other positive things, he had this to say as well:

“Again, no scoring system – it seems they are truly out of vogue – but an interesting look at some otherwise unloved cards.”

First of all, thanks for the kind words. Second, I want to take this moment to address the lack of a rating system. To keep things simple, I will be using LSV’s rating system as the one I’m gonna base assumptions and such on. You can find an example here.

LSV uses a scale from 0.0 to 5.0, with a 5.0 being an allstar in all formats. He gives each cards a grade for Limited and Constructed. To me, this is where the problems begin. You see, while Limited is still relatively uniform (i.e. the rating of a card generally is the same in Sealed and Draft, small differences being possible), they tend to vary wildly for Constructed formats. Except all Constructed formats get shoved in the same category.

What good is a 4.0 in Constructed for Mental Misstep? (I don’t know what LSV gave Mental Misstep, since I can’t access the site at the time of my writing.) Sure, people read the accompanying paragraph (at least I hope so) and get that it is more valuable in older formats, but a 4.0 for Constructed seems a bit misleading for a card that varies a lot in playability. A lot of the cards that define Standard, like Primeval Titan, rarely pop up in Extended, let alone beyond it. (This used to be a Golden Rule, but cards of late, like Jace and Stoneforge Mystic, are more powerful and therefore more likely to show up in eternalland.) It is hard to do a card’s quality (or lack thereof) justice when you have to take into account various formats and bundle them into one of eleven (0.0 to 5.0 using .5-intervals) options.

A rating for a card is supposed to give the reader a basis on which to compare the cards. “Black card X receives a 4.0, and black card Y a 3.5. This must mean card X is better.” The obvious problem here is, again, that people need to read the paragraph that leads up to the conclusive rating in order to really grasp what’s going on with the grade. People tend to stop reading and thinking, based on the assumption that n.n captures all there is to be said about the card. In a way, grades discourage thinking, where you actually want to light up the spark and not snuff it out. So why use grades, then?

This is exactly my point. A rating tends to let the readers skip over the actual content you want them to read. I learned this from a Dutch videogame website. They got a viewer question asking why they didn’t conclude their video reviews with a rating. They said that ratings are too restrictive, in that they flatten any nuances you mentioned in the actual review. A grade is like a summary, but a really bad one at it. This is true for Magic cards as well. No matter how much I try to set card A with rating 3.0 apart from card B with rating 3.0, they both got the same grade so they must be equals, right? I know people don’t consciously think this way, but it will blend everything together unconsciously in the long term.

Not only does this matter for formats, but for different decks, too. Take Deceiver Exarch, for example. It is teh nuts (or at least, very compatible with) Splinter Twin in Standard, but pretty mediocre otherwise. This is another nuance that is lost on the numeric rating of a card.

So that is why my review did not have cold hard numbers. I like to point out options and possibilities, and a rating doesn’t let me do justice to either. Sure, if the topic is less open-ended, I could see a review using grades. But otherwise, like with this seemingly endless landscape of Magical possibilities, I see a numeric grading system as more harmful and deceitful than actually helpful.

Thanks to Neale for throwing me this bone to chew upon (and to throw a bone right back at him, I too am starting to fall in love with Moltensteel Dragon), thanks to everyone reading, and see you next week!

Advertisements

Posted on May 21, 2011, in Articles, Thran Utopia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: