zaterdag 24 december 2016

Card Spotlight: Fires of Yavimaya

On this beautiful Day before Christmas, what better time to celebrate talking about one of my favorite cards. It's cold outside, inside the warm glow around the Christmas Tree.

I started playing competitive Magic around 2000/2001. Urza's Block/Masques Block was the T2 format. Then Invasion got released, bumping Urza's Block out of the way, and introducing one of the staples of that particular Standard format: Fires of Yavimaya.

When a card has a whole archetype named after it, you know you've got something powerful on your hands. According to the MTGSalvation Wiki, it was 'the deck to beat going into the 2001 World Championships'. A version splashing black even reached the quarterfinals in the hands of Jan Tomcani.

The deck was a Red/Green aggressive midrange deck that abused the interaction between fading and haste, essentially giving an extra attack to creature that weren't supposed to have that attack. Llanowar Elves, into Fires, into Blastoderm, into Saproling Burst (removing 3 counters) was the most aggressive opening the deck was capable of. This little sequence was good for a turn 4 kill.

Lucky for us, all of the cards that made that deck great - except Saproling Burst - are legal in peasant. We have mana elves, good 4-drop beaters, efficient burn to finish the game, Flametongue Kavu.

The catch, sadly, is that the deck's namesake card is only a 1-of. Well, if you look at the typical Fires of Yavimaya deck, but take Fires of Yavimaya out of the equation...
Mana elves, midrange fatties, efficient burn. Yep, sounds like a typical and very solid Gruul Midrange deck to me.

Want to make the Fires deck more consistent so that it turns more into an archetype than a fun single build-around card? Cards like Lightning GreavesLightning Mauler and Reckless Charge are great ways to mimic the power of Fires.

Fires of Yavimaya slots perfectly into Gruul decks with mana elves that look to curve out into 3-4-5 drops. Green midrange already has the ability to go bigger faster because of its mana ramp, but adding haste turns it up to eleven. The combination of Elf+Fires turns a midrange deck into an aggro deck, combining the speed of aggro with the size of midrange.

Against aggro decks that are lower to the ground, the card is at its worst. Taking a turn off on turn 2 or 3 to cast something that doesn't directly affect the board is a huge cost. Against other midrange and/or control decks it may look like you're taking a turn off, but you get a pretty big boost by making your damage output more unpredictable.

I really enjoy playing with Fires of Yavimaya as subtle build-around card that feels and plays out very Gruul-like. The fact that you don't have to go out of your way to support it sets it apart from other build-arounds and makes it a great fit for any peasant cube with an available guild slot.

Merry Christmas everyone!

vrijdag 18 november 2016

Card Spotlight: Psychic Spiral

For a while, one of my friends kept asking me to add cards to my cube that mill opponents. Mill is also one of those archetypes that keeps popping up on different forums. People love their mill.

Traditionally, there have been 3 kinds of mill decks: control decks that win the game by locking it up and slowly grinding away at the opponent's library, a sort of burn-style mill deck that plays multiple mill spells to burn the library away as fast as possible, and different combo decks that use a one-shot mill spell or big draw spell to finish the game.

Let's call them control, aggro and combo mill.

Including mill as a win condition brings multiple problems. Control mill is slow. Both aggro and combo mill decks are faster, but are parasitic. To function, they need a critical mass of certain spells (mill spells and rituals/free spells, respectively) that do not go well into other decks.

So, for mill to work, you basically need a card that 1) can mill someone out on its own, 2) doesn't need multiple unplayable set-up cards that only work with it and 3) doesn't take 10-15 turns to kill. Oh, and preferably it's not too fragile.

Psychic Spiral checks all the boxes above, while also having fringe use in attrition based matchups as a way to shuffle your graveyard back in. The best part is that you can build a Psychic Spiral deck in 2 completely different ways (or let them overlap):

Control with Psychic Spiral as a finisher
With Psychic Spiral, you have a card that can finish the game without being vulnerable to creature/enchantment/artifact removal. It works best in a spell-based control shell (in contrast to a permanent-based control shell) that naturally puts cards in your graveyard. You can basically fill your deck with removal, counterspells and card draw. Usually, it ends up as either U/R, U/B or U/r/b with a couple of sweepers.
Example deck: U/R Control

Psychic Spiral combo
If your cube has any cards that support other graveyard archetypes (Reanimate, Spider Spawning, Psychatog) or synergies (delve, dredge), you can draft Psychic Spiral combo. Pick up all the cantrips, self mill, looting, etc you see and start churning through your deck like a madman. The great thing is that all the aforementioned both help to fill your graveyard AND dig towards Psychic Spiral. If possible, you want to run 1 or 2 cards that can get Psychic Spiral from your graveyard when you mill it.
This deck feels a little like storm combo in traditional cubes (without having to run storm-only cards!), and can be U/R, U/B, U/G or a combination of those.
Example deck: U/G Spiral Combo

Psychic Spiral has turned into one of my favorite cards in cube over the last year or so. With the inclusion of a single card, we've inserted decks that feel very different that most other decks.
It's one of the best control finishers available to peasant cube, and one of the best linear combo finishers in the format.

If you like the idea of mill as an alternative win condition and/or love spell based combo in cube, I'd really recommend trying out Psychic Spiral.

donderdag 10 november 2016

Archetype: White/Blue (Prison) Control

My cube is very archetype-centered. Most color combinations have two or more distinct archetypes or themes available to them (outside of plain aggro/midrange/control) that overlap with archetypes in other color combinations.

The plan is to eventually talk about all of the archetypes in my cube. Some are quite straightforward, while others might be a little more off-beat.

Today's archetype:

White/Blue (Prison) Control

White/Blue (Prison) Control is a lockdown control deck that uses cheap removal, card draw and counters to get through the early game and locks the game up with a combination of back-breaking permanents or spells. Finishing the game is typically done with a resilient creature, but is more or less arbitrary after the opponent's chances to win are basically taken away.
Control at its finest.

Historic relevance
Blue/white control is a classic archetype that's almost as old as Magic. The combination of white's board control and life gain and blue's stack control and card draw is apparently a very efficient one. Well known U/W control decks are The Deck, Millstone U/W controlInvasion-era U/W control, Caw-Go and many many more.

The deck can answer basically anything depending on how you build it: removal for single large threats, Propaganda against swarms of creatures, Disenchants against problematic artifacts/enchantments, Counterspells against problematic spells, lifegain against burn. Blue and white go together in control decks like peanut butter and jelly.
Another (minor) strength is that the deck is able to blank whole categories of cards by not running a lot of creatures and Propaganda basically making creatures a bad draw if your opponent already has a couple out.

The white/blue control deck is slow. It usually only plays a handful of cards that can finish the game, because so much space goes to answering the opponent's threats. This means that it's prone to getting outsped by super fast aggro. It also means that - even when the deck has control of the board - sometimes a single threat can be its downfall because the deck couldn't finish fast enough. And, because of it running so few threats of its own, decks filled with removal for that type of threat can be problematic as well if you don't have a pile of counterspells.
There's another weakness: the reliance on permanents to deal with swarms of creatures. Peasant has almost everything 'normal' Magic has for U/W control, except 1 very important thing. Traditionally, U/W control has made use of Wrath of God effects to trump creature decks. The closest thing Peasant has available to it in these colors are Propaganda and friends. While very efficient (and even better in some scenarios), this makes the deck vulnerable to enchantment removal.

Key cards
White: Ghostly Prison, Sphere of Safety, Story Circle, Swords to Plowshares (any flexible removal), Nyx-Fleece Ram, Timely Reinforcements, Faith's Fetters (any enchantment-based removal), Sentinel of the Eternal Watch, Enlightened Tutor
Blue: Propaganda, Jetting Glasskite, Mana Leak (and other cheap counterspells), Tidings, Compulsive Research (and other draw spells), Sphinx's Tutelage depending on the set-up of the deck
Gold: Wall of Denial
Colorless: Maze of Ith, Isochron Scepter, Pristine Talisman, Mind Stone, Darksteel Sentinel
Note: depending on if you include Isochron Scepter or Sphere of Safety, card evaluation for similar effects changes. For example, the choice between Path to Exile or Journey to Nowhere

Overlap with other archetypes
The deck overlaps well with other control decks, either the spell-based ones or the enchantment-based ones:
- white/green enchantress control
- blue/black control
- blue/red control
- this deck also frequently splashes for back breaking spells from other colors (especially when Scepter is involved)

Experience with the deck
White/blue control is basically a pile of all the good defensive white and blue spells put together. The thing that sets it apart is the lockdown nature of Sphere of Safety (essentially a build-around card). Apart from that, the deck needs a willingness of the drafter of committing to digging in and prioritizing getting control of the board. Running only a couple of win conditions is not something everyone is comfortable doing.

It's is a great deck, but not necessarily easy to get together. You need multiple things: early interaction, strong lockdown/control elements (not just 1-for-1 answers), finishers that are resilient enough that they don't just die to the first Doom Blade in your opponents hand AND powerful enough that they can kill someone on their own.
If either of those is not present, the deck can have a really hard time. If all you have is 1-for-1 removal to deal with creatures, you will get run over by aggro decks. If you have lockdown effects, but no single target removal, that single 4/4 will kill you. If your only threat is a 3/3 vanilla flyer, good luck winning.

It's very easy to support in your cube. I just went a little deeper than most by including Story Circle and Timely Reinforcements, for example. The hard part of supporting this deck is in support of the decks around it. Prison/control decks like these can be so good against aggro and midrange (aka the lion's share of decks in peasant cube) that it can feel a little stifling to them.

The weird thing is that - although enchantments are in a way easier to answer than the classic Wrath of Gods - players get more frustrated by not being able to attack with their whole team because of a Propaganda than by having the same team destroyed in one fell swoop. Be aware of this if you want to have this deck in your cube. Personally, I don't have a problem with cards like Propaganda, but you do have to make sure that decks have a way to not insta-lose to it. Be it enchantment removal, reach, discard, etc. (also: players should run enough mana sources in aggro decks).


I love having this deck in my cube. It's a staple historic archetype for Magic, it's very good (rewards a player for moving in) and has a very distinct feel to it by not being a general midrange good-stuff or aggro deck.

Having said that, I do recognize that a cube must be able to handle having the deck available. And, even if a format can, people might not enjoy playing against the prison-y nature of it.

dinsdag 8 november 2016

Cube update November 8, 2016

Time for an update to the cube! I'm making a whopping 35 changes, so let's get into them.

Draft the new changes on CubeTutor!

Out: Cloistered Youth, Sandsteppe Outcast, Wall of Resurgence, Intangible Virtue
In: Palace Jailer, Orzhov Advokist, Swell of Courage, Soltari Visionary
Cloistered Youth is good, but I think I have enough 2-drops for the decks that want them and the others are just better. Outcast/Wall are fine, but I needed the room. Virtue is the biggest cut, for me at least. My last Stats and Numbers article showed that the number of token creation was on the low side to support Virtue.
Advokist and Swell both support +1/+1 counters, with Swell also filling the role of team-wide pump for the token decks that still exist.
Palace Jailer is a card I've been wanting to try out, but haven't gotten around to. Should be fun with blink, and as card draw engine behind Ghostly Prisons and such.
Soltari should fit right into the white part of different pump archetypes while also giving a bit more enchantment hate.

Out: Vexing Scuttler, Seal of Removal, Narcolepsy, Singing Bell Strike
In: Archeomancer, Thought Scour, Snap, Deranged Assistant
While I like Wretched Gryff enough, Vexing Scuttler is just worse than Archaeomancer in a cube with both the blue double-blink effects. I also wanted to cut a couple of the blue enchantments for some instants after the Stats and Numbers article showed that support for Isochron Scepter was a little thin.
Snap (slightly) fills the gap that's left by cutting 3 blue removal spells. Time will tell if I need more (and if I will miss the enchantments). Thought Scour is not necessarily the best card to put on a Scepter, but it does draw cards, can mill your opponent out if need be and goes very well into UB, UR and/or UG graveyard-style decks.
Deranged Assistant is a fun little card that is sneakily quite good in any blue deck that wants to accelerate, but (again) pushes a little more into the direction of the graveyard in blue. Hopefully this also gives UR a different feeling deck than 'spells matter'.

Out: Havoc Demon, Festering Goblin, Indulgent Aristocrat, Blood-Chin Rager
In: Harsh Scrutiny, Phyrexian Reclamation, Orc Sureshot, Sinuous Vermin
These cuts where quite easy. Havoc Demon, Festering Goblin and Blood-Chin are decent, but unexciting. Indulgent Aristocrat just never really worked out very well.
I finally got around to buying an Orc Sureshot to give (mainly BW) creature/token decks another tool.
Reclamation is a nod towards grinder decks (GB), while also being an enchantment for the BG or BW enchantment decks.
Vermin and Harsh Scrutiny are just good cards I want to try out.

Out: Seal of Fire, Madcap Skills, Boggart Ram-Gang, Sparksmith, Rolling Thunder, Besmirch, Fiery Temper, Violent Eruption
In: Brute Force, Titan's Strength, Dynacharge, Slith Firewalker, Swirling Sandstorm, Frenzied Fugue, Cathartic Reunion, Genju of the Spires
Red got another big update. Somehow red seems to be the hardest to pin down archetype-wise, as I've been having trouble with R in combination with G, U and B. I'm not just accepting RU as spells matter and both RB and RG as different variations of aggro, even though that's red's comfort zone. Especially since red is my favorite color.
Over the last month or so, I've been trying a push for red as the 4th graveyard color (discard/draw), give it a big part of the +1/+1 counter pie and lastly: big red (sweeper) control. This gives me the following interesting archetypes: BR Reanimate, UR combo (Psychic Spiral or Sphinx's Tutelage) using the graveyard for value, RG +1/+1 counters, RG flashback/graveyard, and big control decks in all 3 combinations. This should explain most of the inclusions.
RW has tokens (Dynacharge) and double strike (the single target pump) as main archetypes. All 3 of the spells also work well in more aggressive RU spells decks without resorting to burn.
The cuts are basically cards that did their job without being very special.
Besmirch goes out for the new Frenzied Fugue, which looks like a very good card.

Out: Kessig Prowler, Kozilek's Predator, Somberwald Stag, Predator's Howl, Overrun, Gaea's Embrace
In: Skarrgan Pit-Skulk, Harvester Troll, Masked Admirers, Golgari Brownscale, Incremental Growth, Strangleroot Geist
Like white, cuts from green are getting very hard. Most of the cards serve a very specific goal or are just very good overall. The token cards where the easiest to cut because by cutting Intangible Virtue there's nothing that cares about the actual card-type 'token' and GB sacrifice wasn't really getting played. Overrun and Embrace got cut for cards with +1/+1 counters. That leaves Kessig Prowler and Somberwald Stag as overall very powerful cards, but with no real synergy where I want it.
After noticing that green's +1/+1 counter support could use some extra cards, I put some more in while still trying to buff other archetypes. Pit-Skulk (WG/UG pump), Harvester Troll (sacrifice), Growth (swarm), Geist (sacrifice). The Admirers and Brownscale come back for another run to buff all the graveyard decks with green.
Note to myself: be careful not to cut too many enchantments to support other stuff.

Out: Momentary Blink, Spike Jester, Catacomb Sifter, Lashweed Lurker, Rally the Peasants, Weapons Trainer, Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree
In: Migratory Route, Terminate, Nyx Weaver, Ongoing Investigation, Lightning Helix, Sunhome Guildmage, Juniper Order Ranger
Blink isn't really seeing play a lot, I want to try out the new card and I like the other cards better.
Jester got cut for another bland card. This goes a little against my guild card philosophy of not wanting to have cards the color doesn't already do. However, I want some more premium Isochron Scepter targets and there's nothing I want to run in Rakdos at the moment anyway.
Same goes for Helix. Rally was seeing less play lately, so I thought I'd try some other pump in white and red. Weapons Trainer is a fun build-around, but after thinking about it I think I want the more reliable creature/pump.
Vitu-Ghazi didn't really do much, and Juniper is very powerful in the right deck. It also gives me the Juniper+persister+sac-outlet left-field combo potential.
Lurker was meh, and Investigation was not bad when I had it before. I like that it can be a tool for UG enchantments, UG graveyard, and U/x swarm.
Catacomb Sifter is great in a vacuum, but the GB sac deck didn't come up often enough. Nyx Weaver is similar in application, but supports the GB enchantment deck some more.

Out: Serrated Arrows, Gathan Raiders
In: Snare Thopter, Ash Barrens
Arrows doesn't get played here, even though I like it. Raiders was included to give non-blue graveyard decks a way to get stuff in the graveyard, but I think we've gotten enough green and red discard outlets lately.
Thopter looks sweet as both an aggro curve-topper and not a bad target for assorted pump. Ash Barrens is the new sliced bread.

maandag 7 november 2016

Stats and numbers: Build-around cards

Everyone knows that the best cube cards are flexible and easy to play in a lot of decks. Cards with a reasonably high power level that stays more or less the same in every situation and deck.

Not Build-around cards.

Build-arounds are cards that, well, you want and have to build around to make them worth drafting/playing. They're generally not flexible, go into specific decks, and their power level is dependent on the deck they're in.

Ok, so why do you want to play them?

The short answer is that they're fun and can be really powerful.

Apart from that: They can make drafters feel excited and smart for doing something different (think Sneak Attack in rare cubes). They make drafters evaluate cards differently (do you take the slightly more powerful card or the one that goes with your build-around?). They make you pay more attention to signals (when is an archetype open/should you abandon your build-around?).

But, you do have to support them well. There's nothing worse than drafting a build-around card highly a couple of times because you think it's fun and the deck basically never comes together. You want to reward your drafters for going deep. This does mean that you have to keep an eye on the amount of support cards for a build-around.

Today, I wanted to check in on a couple of my own build-arounds to see if support (as of November 4th, 2016) for them is high enough.

Name (and similar)
Archetype(s) - 
[Category] - Number (percentage of cube)
AsFan - This number is the amount of this category of support card you can expect in each pack

Custodi Soulcaller
Archetype(s) - BW and WR (mostly aggressive and/or sacrifice decks)
1-drop creatures - Total 44 (8%), white 10 (1.8%), blue 3 (0.5%), black 10 (1.8%), red 13 (2.4%), green 7 (1.3%), colorless 1 (0.2%)
AsFan - Total 1.20, W/R/B 0.9
A new addition, not sure yet if it's worth it. Numbers seem decent enough, with just under 1 white/red/black 1-drop in each pack. In a draft of 8 people that means there are 21-22 1-drop creatures in the draft. Custodi Soulcaller needs only a couple of 1-drops to get value, so it looks fine for now.

Intangible Virtue
Archetype(s) - Tokens, mainly WG
Tokens - Total 47 (8.5%), white 11 (2%), blue 3 (0.5%), black 9 (1.6%), red 5 (0.9%), green 12 (2.2%), WG/GB 2 each (0.4%), WR/WB 1 each (0.2%), colorless 1 (0.2%)
AsFan - Total 1.28, WG 0.71
There are a good number of token makers in the cube. But, different from Custodi Soulcaller, you actually need more than a couple in your deck to make Intangible Virtue worth it. The effect is really good, but because it doesn't do anything on its own, I'd want at least 7 or 8 token makers in deck. With an AsFan of 1.28 (or, 31 total in an 8 man draft) you would need to pick up about 25% of all the token makers in the draft. The thing is, that's counting all the colors equally. Let's say I would only want white/green (as the 'easiest' color pair). With an AsFan of 0.71, or 17 cards total in an 8-man, you'd have to pick up 40-50% of all token makers in the draft. That's a lot to ask, considering that most token makers are very playable in any deck and I run cards like Roar of the Wurm that don't really go into Intangible Virtue decks.
I think I should probably cut it, or step up my token game.

Blightcaster/Blessed Spirits/Yavimaya Enchantress
Archetype(s) - WB, GB, GW enchantments, but I've seen UW, GU and BU as well.
Enchantments- Total 75 (13.6%), white 19 (3.5%), blue 13 (2.4%), black 15 (2.7%), red 5 (0.9%), green 16 (2.9%), GR 1 (0.2%), GW/WB/WR 2 each (0.4%)
AsFan - Total 2.01, white 0.52, blue 0.35, black 0.41, green 0.44
Enchantments as an archetype look well supported. There should be a total of 48 enchantments in a given 8-man, which would be enough to support multiple enchantment decks. On average, any non-red color combination should have access to around 19 enchantments in an 8-man.

Rage Forger/Abzan Falconer/Armorcraft Judge
Archetype(s) - +1/+1 counter stuff in any WRG combination.
Cards that have/give +1/+1 counters - Total 36 (6.5%), white 14 (2.5%), red 11 (2%), green 7 (1.3%), GR/GW 1 each (0.2%), Colorless 2 (0.4%)
AsFan - Total 0.98, white 0.38, red 0.3, green 0.19
Hm, numbers for this are lower than I thought. In theory, both GR and GW see a +1/+1 counter card every other pack. If nobody is in those colors/the archetype, a Gruul +1/+1 counter player could be able to pick up 12 +1/+1 counter cards. Together with a couple of pay-off cards, that would make a deck. Boros is a little better. But, if anyone else picks up a couple of the cards, the deck will probably not come together as well. In practice, we have the archetype come together more often than the number suggest. Here you notice the difference between 8-man drafts and 1v1 drafts. We mostly do 1v1, which means there are less people to compete with you for the same archetype (although it does happen that we're in the same boat).
Having said that, most of the +1/+1 counter cards are good enough on their own that you will still have a great deck if the actual counter archetype doesn't come together.
Still, it might be a good idea to start looking for more creatures with +1/+1 counters.

Bramblewood Paragon (warriors)
Archetype(s) - Mostly GR aggro or midrange. Overlaps with +1/+1 counters.
GR Warriors - Total 20 (3.6%)
AsFan - 0.55
I love checking the AsFan on different stuff. Apparently, Gruul Warriors have a higher AsFan than Gruul +1/+1 counters does. In practice, the 2 overlap more often than not, but Bramblewood is fine without specific +1/+1 counters support. I don't really feel like I need to push Warriors a lot, because the overlap with counters and otherwise incidental tribal synergy is enough for this card to work.

Thunderclap Wyvern
Archetype(s) - UW flyers, duh.
UW creatures with flying, including token makers - Total 40 (7.3%) (excluding defenders)
AsFan - 1.09
With every pack having at least 1 Azorius card with flying, this is quite an easy card to build around. Better yet, other than some other build-arounds, you can pick this up towards the end and slot it in most UW decks with creatures and have it function.

Weapons Trainer
Archetype(s) - Any Boros go-wide deck. Tokens, weenies, etc.
Colorless equipment - Total 13 (2.4%)
AsFan - 0.35
This is a more narrow build-around, because there's not a huge amount of equipment in the cube. With 8 equipment in an average 8-man it's not likely that you end up with more than 2-3 if you prioritize them. This is actually fine though. I wouldn't want more than 3 equipment in my aggro deck anyway, and you only need 1 in play for Trainer to work. Plus, it's still a 3/2 creature for 2 mana. It's not the most powerful option for Boros, but it's fun.

Silver-Inlaid Dagger
Archetype(s) - Aggro decks
Humans- Total 67 (12.2%)
AsFan - 1.83
Not the best equipment ever, but +2 power for 1+2 equip is fine enough. +3 Power, however, is actually quite sizable for that cost. With just under 1/8th of the entire cube having the human subtype (almost a quarter of all creatures in the cube), it's not hard to meet the conditions for the Dagger.

Isochron Scepter
Archetype(s) - Control decks, or spells-matter decks
Instants of cmc 2 or less - Total 37 (6.7%)
AsFan - 1.01
The AsFan of ~1 is a little deceiving here. A lot of available spells are either not good on Scepter  period (Lightning Axe), or go better in creature decks where Scepter doesn't shine (pump spells, blink spells, Undying Evil). Realistically, I count ~23 cards that I actively want on a Scepter, reducing the AsFan to 0.63 spread across colors. That's still not bad, I guess, but that does mean that if you pick up an early Scepter you have to prioritize imprint targets and sometimes not get there. I guess that's not bad, because the imprint targets are great in most decks so you'll still likely have a good deck even if you have to cut Scepter. Plus, Scepter is quite the insane card when you get it running, so maybe it shouldn't be too easy to pull off.
Btw, I used to have a lot more instants, but I know I've cut a number of them to support enchantments as an archetype. Maybe I should cut a couple of the blue and red enchantments for spells again, giving WBG the enchantment decks and UR the spells decks.

I hope this stats-based peek into supporting archetypes was interesting.
Personally, I think looking into certain cards/archetypes statistically is sometimes necessary to see what works and what doesn't. Sometimes a gut feeling, or personal preference, can create a false or flawed judgment about an archetype/card.
This little thought exercise gave me some deeper insight in my cube and I will look into making changes accordingly.

The Metagame Clock and Peasant Cube

This is an article I wrote back in 2014. I figured I'd repost it on here.

A while ago (edit: beginning of 2014) someone approached me with a couple of questions about starting a cube. As a board gamer wanting to take up Magic, he did some research and decided upon building a Peasant Cube. He gave me a link to an article on BoardGameGeek explaining the dynamics of a simple metagame to new Magic players. The article was based in part on the so-called metagame clock, a visual way to lay out how the different base archetypes (aggro, control, combo) relate to each other: Magic’s version of rock-paper-scissors.

One of the questions I got was: ‘Would you recommend your cube in regards to the rock- paper
scissors dynamic I described’.

Would I? And if so: why?

Metagame clock?

I remember that the Metagame Clock was first written about on The Dojo, ages ago. Sadly, I couldn’t find the original article, but this article by Mike Mason describes the clock pretty well:

‘There are five general types of Magic decks. They are Beatdown, Midgame, Combo, Control, and Aggro-Control. […]

Beatdown overwhelms. They peak early and fade late, and rely upon dropping consistent early threats, often with high evasion. They lack the strength to survive the long haul. In general, Beatdown loses to Combo, which ignores it and/or is faster than it, and Midgame, which possesses the stalls and resets necessary to cause Beatdown to over commit or suffer large disadvantages.

Midgame waits. Characterized by "reset buttons", early-game stall and control mechanisms, and a steady/progressive mana curve, Midgame decks are focused on creating advantages - small advantages early, and massive advantage late. Decks with a high mana curve are clocked earlier than those with a low mana curve, because a cheaper Midgame deck can more easily cope and recover in a Midgame-Midgame matchup. Midgame loses to Combo, because it doesn't generate threats until the combo has long since killed them, and to Control, against whom much of Midgame's tactics and resets are rendered useless. I sometimes theorize that you can also call low the "low advantage" area (one-for-one trades) and high the "high advantage" area, which is multiple-for-one trades.

Combo explodes. These decks generate a near-instantaneous win condition based on a combination of cards (usually enchantments.) The entire deck is usually built to generate that win condition and protect it from disruption. Clock position is twofold. One, the more the combo deck is focused on generation moreso than protection, the closer the deck lies to :20. Combo usually has a light counter base (if any), and thus loses to Control, who has the ability to ensure the combo never sees the light of day, and to Aggro-Control, which is able to present both aggressive threats and combo disruption.

Control maintains. Control likes to preserve an empty board, then typically win in a short amount of time with highly evasive or large threats. A lot of people confuse Midgame decks with Control; the difference is that true Control does not desire or allow permanents to reach the board. This objective can be attained via heavy counterspell, discard, or bounce. The fewer win conditions a control deck has, the closer it is to the clock position of :30. Control loses to Aggro-Control, as its ability to deny threats is thwarted by the Aggro player's own denial abilities and threat production. It also loses to Beatdown, whose ability to generate plentiful threats means Control is unable to prevent them all from reaching the board.

Aggro-Control answers. These decks consist of generally quick, efficient threats and disruptive control elements that work to prevent the opponent from stopping them. AC is positioned at :40; as control elements lessen, the deck moves in the direction of Beatdown, and as the control elements increase, the deck moves below :40. Aggro-Control loses to Beatdown, because AC has difficulty fulfilling both of its roles at once. Beatdown's threats match AC, who finds themselves having to pick an offensive or defensive posture to react, neither or which it can sustain versus a strong creature-heavy strategy. AC also loses to Midgame, who can withstand early aggression and reset the board efficiently. People often confuse Midgame with Aggro-Control. The difference is that Aggro-Control generates threats that require answers. Midgame's early game doesn't consist of threats; it consists of answers.

That's our clock.

If you take a ruler and draw a straight line through the center of the circle from any point along the edge, the particular decktype that you're drawing the line for will lose to all of the decks in the 50% proceeding clockwise from it, while it will defeat all of the decks in the 50% preceding counterclockwise from it. In simple English, you Win Counter-Clockwise, and you Lose Clockwise.

If you find a deck you need to beat, you clock :15 ahead of its position. That's where you'll find its worst opponent’

There you have it: the basic Magic metagame. Most players know, consciously or not, about this dynamic. It’s not a ground breaking new theory, especially for constructed tournament players. When playing constructed, metagaming can be very important and the difference between winning or losing.

Clocking Peasant

One reason I built my Peasant Cube was to be a snapshot of Magic’s history. This would mean that, if built correctly, I should have the basic archetypes covered. But, Peasant is a different beast than ‘normal’ (rare) cube, let alone constructed formats. We lack certain types of cards (mainly straight sweepers) and having to maintain a healthy and draft format means that some archetypes are excluded for fear of having too many ‘narrow‘ cards (that go in only one deck) so that on average the amount of cards in a pack that are relevant for a single drafter are higher.

Does Peasant Cube have a Metagame Clock as well, and if so: is Peasant Cube’s Metagame Clock the same as the basic one? Let’s examine how the basic archetypes hold up in my Peasant Cube when they’re on the clock.

Beatdown can overwhelm. Beatdown decks are possible in different colors, with a bevy of good aggressive threats that, indeed, lose some of their value later in the game. It’s a bit less of a glass cannon against Control because of the lack of sweepers to overextend into, but Peasant has other stuff for Control to stifle Aggro with.

Midrange can wait. The Midrange decks usually show theirselves in the form of sturdy creatures backed up by good removal. For me, Midrange decks are not necessarily the ‘waiting’ decks, but the pivot between aggro and control. It plays the more controllish role against aggro and goes aggro against control.

Combo doesn't explode. The nature of Cube (and singleton draft formats period) makes it so that focused combo decks are different than in formats where you can construct your own decks. The Peasant restriction makes it even harder, because there are very few actual good 2 card combos available to us in this rarity. On top of that, cube size plays a part in this as well. My cube is ~550 cards big, so we don't see all the cards in a given draft. I don't want to create too many feel-bad situations for my players where they draft a combo card without getting the necessary other parts. Obviously, the smaller the cube, the smaller the problem. Also, the modern combo decks like storm need a critical mass off a certain type of card that’s useless in most other archetypes and therefor falls into the ‘too narrow’ category.

The way I (and most Peasant Cubers) incorporated 'combo' is to enable highly synergistic decks through cards that are good on their own but better when you build around them. This type of combo deck operates on a different axis than the combo deck described in the Metagame Clock, because it's not necessarily faster than aggro decks. Generally though, it's still likely to do better against random aggressive decks with less disruption and worse against decks with a lot of disruption.
2016 edit: I've actually successfully incorporated some combo-style decks, of which Reanimate can actually be quite explosive. The other 'combo' decks, though, are mostly control decks with a combo finish.

Control can maintain. It’s very possible to draft a ‘classic’ control deck in my cube, but again, it’s a bit different than in other formats. Having an empty board is somewhat difficult when you don’t have access to boardsweepers. The amount of resilient finishers is also lower. This means that it’s more likely that control decks start to take the form of slower Midrange decks, with more and smaller win-conditions.

Aggro-Control can answer. I found the ‘answer’ part a bit narrow, as Aggro-Control does not answer everything, instead it poses a threat and only answers the stuff that threatens its threat (if that makes sense). But, Aggro-Control is present and very draftable in Peasant.

The Metagame Clock is very alive in my Peasant Cube. Some archetypes take different forms than they would in constructed formats, and I guess that the singleton draft nature of Peasant Cube makes more decks hybrids than not.

Why does this matter?

One of the most common things said about Cube is that your Cube is whatever you want it to be. Good cards, pet cards, bad cards, rares, commons, custom cards, only blue cards: everything is fair game. It’s your cube after all.

I wholeheartedly agree with this adage, but I do think that paying attention to a certain balance in basic archetypes is very important. It’s not the most exciting thing to include vanilla 2/2’s for 1 in your cube when you could use that slot to put in something more interesting, but those 2/2’s for 1 make a whole batch of other cards playable.

If we look at the Metagame Clock, we see that every archetype has its natural enemy that keeps it in check. By taking away Beatdown, you take away the natural foil to Control decks and with that the viability of Midrange decks. Same holds true when taking away one of the other pillars. Generalizing, every deck will end up with the same strategy. Anyone who has ever played in a metagame where you know you’ll be playing mirror matches all day knows that it gets really old really fast, where edges often are gained by having better draws. Same goes for having a metagame with a clear ‘best deck’ (this is often the same as the mirror-match one, by the way): why would you play something else then the deck without bad matchups?

Besides adding depth to available strategies, incorporating the theory of the Metagame Clock in your cube rewards players that draft ‘decks’ instead of collections of ‘good cards’. Obviously, your players need to be aware of the dynamic between the different archetypes, but when they are the drafting process becomes a lot more interesting. Suddenly cards get taken much higher or lower than they otherwise would depending on the needs of the deck. For example: without viable aggro decks, a control deck has no real incentive to draft a card like Wall of Omens over anything, because there is no need for early defense.

I want to say that this does not mean that I think everyone should start adhering strictly to this (or any other) Metagame Clock. I’m sure there are other ways of balancing a cube. However, I believe a good Cube owner has at least thought about this and made a choice in one way or another.

Edit: As an added disclaimer I want to say that I don't believe that the Metagame Clock is binding in all match ups. No archetype will have a 100% win or lose chance against another archetype. It's all about natural advantages, but control decks can beat fast aggro decks for example. Hedge Knight pointed out that the win/lose percentages are lower and higher, respectively, than they are in constructed Magic, and I agree.

Other interesting reads on the topic:
Aggro, Combo and Control - by Jeff Cunningham on
The Midrange Archetype - by Ken Nagle on
Roots: On the Clock With Magic's Nine Deck Archetypes - by George Colby on
The Metagame Clock Revisited - by Will Rieffer and Mike Mason on

maandag 31 oktober 2016

Top 5 Commander 2016 cards for Peasant Cube

Since Commander 2013 brought us Curse of Predation and Curse of Shallow Graves, I get excited every time a new Commander product gets released. This time was no different. And, even though there are only a handful of new cards, there are a couple of sweet ones.

Let's get on to the cards:

5: Parting Thoughts (2B, Sorcery, Destroy target creature. You draw X cards and you lose X life, where X is the number of counters on that creature.)

For cubes that are looking to de-power their removal, 2B to destroy any creature at sorcery speed is probably right where you want to be. It's not super efficient, but not super awkward either. The draw part is just gravy. Creatures with +1/+1 counters are quite a common sight nowadays, without a cube having to specifically support a +1/+1 counter archetype.

This comes with a big cost though. The draw part of Parting Thoughts can create random blow-outs. This makes it super swingy and almost a sideboard card. Personally, I've taken most creatures with protection from a color out of my cube because I don't want to have too many cards in my cube that can just randomly hose someone. On top of that, if cubes do support a +1/+1 counter archetype (without going overboard in it), odds are that it's not overpoweringly good to warrant a sideboard card. Reanimate and G/B value decks are good in my cube, but I don't want to invalidate someone's whole draft by having someone randomly drafting a 13th pick Relic of Progenitus.

Having said all this, I do think Parting Thoughts can be an interesting tool for a peasant cube owner. Like how Shatter was a high pick in Mirrodin limited, Parting Thoughts can be a bomb in a cube where every other creature does something with counters.

Verdict: Not making my cube, but I can see myself reconsidering when the format asks for it.

4: Orzhov Advokist (2W, Creature - Human Advisor, 1/4, At the beginning of your upkeep, each player may put two +1/+1 counters on a creature her or she controls. If a player does, creatures that player controls can't attack you or a planeswalker you control until your next upkeep.)

This card is so weird. It's a creature with defensive stats and an ability that both prevents your opponents attacking you AND makes your attackers better. I can see it playing amazing, terrible, and everything in between. This alone makes me want to try it.

Orzhov Advokist is probably best in a deck with a number of small flyers/unblockables or other creatures that benefit from +1/+1 counters. In that deck, it doesn't really matter what your opponent chooses. If he/she chooses counters, you're ahead on attacks. If he/she chooses to attack, your creatures will race faster.

Verdict: Will test

3: Frenzied Fugue (3R, Enchantment - Aura, Enchant Permanent. When Frenzied Fugue enters the battlefield or at the beginning of your upkeep, gain control of target permanent until end of turn. Untap that permanent. It gains haste until end of turn.)

Cool design, and again very unique. I take my hat off for the person who designed this. Being able to steal something and gain value from it over the course of a longer game, while still retaining red's impulsive feel and not being able to use it defensively is a thing of beautiful design.

What's even more amazing (and something I totally missed the first time reading this), is that it's an enchant PERMANENT. Without considering all the fun implications this has, it's a red answer to cards like Propaganda. I'll say that again.

It's a red answer to Propaganda.

Verdict: Will test.

2: Migratory Route (3WU, Sorcery, Create four 1/1 white Bird creature tokens with flying. Basic landcycling 2)

Simply put, this is just a great card. Four flying tokens for 5 mana is already a sweet deal, and this even has basic landcycling. It's also just the perfect crossover card between tokens (white) and flying matters (blue).

Oh, how I remember the days when Azorius as a guild felt super medium. The last year and a half we've gotten Reflector Mage, Thunderclap Wyvern, Cloudblazer, and now this. It's still not the deepest guild in the city, but I think this is the first time that I'm actually having trouble deciding on a configuration. And I run a whopping five guild cards (not counting lands).

Verdict: Definite include.

1: Ash Barrens (Land, t: Add C to your mana pool. Basic landcycling 1)

After the unique coolness of some of the other cards, this is quite the opposite but not less powerful. This innocuous little land is very very good. Like, better than staples Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse good. Let's compare them:

Turn 1 - Barrens: play for colorless mana or cycle to fix for turn 2. Wilds/Expanse: play to fix for turn 2. Advantage: Barrens.
Turn 2 - Barrens: play to cast a 2-drop or play 1-drop and cycle to fix (immediately, or) for turn 3. Wilds/Expanse: play to fix for turn 3 and cast a 1-drop. Advantage: Barrens.
Turn 8 - Barrens: top deck and cycle to fix immediately for the splash card you've been holding. Wilds/Expanse: top deck and wait another turn to cast your splash card. Advantage: Barrens.

Obviously, Wilds/Expanse shouldn't leave your cube ever, either.

I was already excited when we got Aether Hub from Kaladesh, but this is even better. It's been a good month for peasant cube fixing.

Verdict: Windmill slam include, never take out.

Honorable mention: Ancient Excavation (2UB, Instant, Draw cards equal to the number of cards in your hand, then discard a card for each card drawn this way. Basic land cycling 2)

Ancient Excavation is probably not really playable, but I put it up here anyway because there wasn't anything better and the ceiling of the card is quite high. Plus, land cycling is an amazing ability.
In reality, it's likely closer to a 4 mana instant speed Careful Study than anything else.