Friday, September 25, 2015

Eldrazi Scion Token

Rogue Decks?

Yesterday I was contacted by one fellow Magic player (he wanted his Vintage deck altered). Not entirely sure how but he ended up telling me how he hates everyone playing tier 1 decks here (because he was used to winning in the States, and here it is not the case) and that he would only play rogue decks that have nothing to do with the tier 1 decks (He's playing Burn or some kind of Affinity/Metalcraft decks usually). I tried to tell him how it looks like here and that it won't most probably change to anything less competitive since more casual players don't usually show up at tournament scene. I tried to make him understand that this is how it is and he either accepts it or not. He can play his 'rogue decks' as he called them if he wishes to, but that won't change the fact that some decks will just utterly beat him.

After this I was wondering what a rogue deck is nowadays? There are people who claim they play rogue decks and but they usually avoid (I mean they make sure NOT TO PLAY them) playing the best cards in the format (and the ones that are the most popular). Their decks can be Rogue but there is something wrong with their attitude from my point of view. For me a Rogue deck is any kind of deck that tries to win against the current meta in a way that is not common - it tries to break the format or at least try to survive in the format and still be able to win (this certainly is true even for a budget deck). That does not mean though that the deck needs to play cards that are not commonly played. Why should one limit himself/herself in such a way? Many decks that people call rogue are budget decks here but a rogue deck does not need to be cheap in order to be recognized as 'rogue'. Such a deck can become tier 1 deck later on. Or just stay in the format with less popularity. I'd say UR Tutelage is one of such a decks in standard. Someone felt that the format will soon change from all the aggressive red decks into slower midrange/control decks that can be easily milled. That person took the deck to a tournament and won. Rogue decks are often tweaked for the meta and can deal mainly with the most popular tier 1 deck(s). Some though are really broken and become staple decks later (see Dregde).

In standard we have decks like Mono White Aggro, Naya Prowess, UR Tutelage or Elves. In Modern there is RGw Zoo, Esper Tokens (Polymorph, Proteus Staff) or RG Scapeshift for example. Those are decks that I would consider Rogue. These decks are already quite known because someone played with them and probably won a tournament with them (and people started copying those decks). But all these decks started in someone's head as pure rogue decks. There are many decks that can still emerge and be able to fight the current meta. If I were to think of something I would build a deck around Rally the Ancestors for standard (or even Modern, how aout destroying all land?). I guess many people are looking for ways to abuse this card. After playing with Rally Elves I started to like the Rally the Ancestors very much (because I misread the card several times and finally when I played the card for the third time on MODO my brain finally registered what the card REALLY does). I like the idea of Siege Rhino, that's kinda straightforward. I also lik the idea of milling myself and then getting the cards back (Satyr Wayfinder, Nyx Weaver that can recycle the Rally). The only card I missed in the elf deck is some kind of sacrifice outlet. On the other hand though I was looking in a wrong way - because the creatures considered only were similar to Nantuko Husk - but there is a better way to sacrifice creatures in standard (except Butcher of the Horde). There is this exploit mechanic that I really liked in DTK. Expoit is ideal for a deck like this. The cards that come in mind are good in limited but some cards could be possibly used in constructed. For example Gurmag Drowner can look for another Rally. Qarsi Sadist could be considered as well even though the impact is not so great, but still it is a cheap blocker, 'deals' 2 damage and sacrifices a creature so it can be reused with another Rally. Sidisi, Undead Vizier can right away look for another Rally etc. Sidisi from KTK is also a creature that does a lot in this kind of deck. She mills and creates a token that stays in play after all the reanimated creatures leave the battlefield somehow. So why not play deck using all those cards? It would had to be 4c or something but that is still doable with all those lands we have available now. I'm also missing a creature like Flame-kin Zealot, but still with all those Siege Rhinos and token generating creatures I think this deck could possibly work. Since there would be a lot of good creatures it could just win by playing one threat after another (while also playing cheap cards like Qarsi Sadist or Elvish Visionary).
I need to build this on sounds like fun^^ See this is just some spontaneous thoughts about a rogue deck for standard...

In modern there are many ways to build a deck and many of those decks work to some extent be it a very straightforward aggro deck or a very strange combo (usually about cheating Emrakul in play). Just look at something like Restore Balance deck^_^. Pyromancer's Ascension also started as a rogue deck...But no one says the deck has to cost 50 bucks! Just build your rogue decks the way you want, but if a certain card that is popular and good is the right choice for your deck just play it. This won't make your deck less 'rogue'.

Rogue decks are build when a rotation is in sight. With each new set or rotation people try to come up with new decks and ideas. Those decks are not called rogue decks though but brews and it is possible that because of this people start to relate budget decks with rogue decks rather than the definition I encountered first.

That's just my two cents...

What is your definition of a 'rogue deck'?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Magic: The Gathering - Arena of the Planeswalkers

When this game was showed in Essen last year I wasn't really sure what to think about it. I decided to wait and eventually one day I would get the chance to play the game. Yesterday, a friend of mine brought the game to the local game store and we played an introductory game.

Some of you probably know HeroScape, to those of you the game won't be anything new except the setting - Magic: The Gathering one. The spells and units follow the Magic color philosophy (Jace bounces and mind controls, Chandra deals direct damage, Liliana discards, reanimates and kills etc.) but for the time being it is very limited.

The game sells usually for 30 USD (which is not the case here (double the price)) which is an awesome price for such a game (definitely worth it). The box contains

  • 5 Planeswalker figures
  • 30 Squad figures
  • 6 Cardboard terrain boards
  • Two 3-Hex sand tiles
  • Two 1-Hex sand tiles
  • 2 Ruins
  • 4 Glyphs
  • 30 Damage markers
  • One 20-sided die
  • 10 Combat dice
  • 15 Army cards
  • 60 Spell cards
  • 1 Turn marker
  • 1 Game guide

The planeswalker minis are pre-painted and not highly detailed (I've seen better from WotC) which I find a bit sad because I like nice minis. Anyway all the contents of the box is of a quality material and is pretty neat (certainly for 30 USD it is awesome). The only thing I missed was an actual turn counter. Many games have a pretty neat turn counters but here one can use a token and place it on the turn numbers in the rules booklet. That's neither nice nor helping much if someone needs to find something in the rules. (we used a twenty sided die for this, but's not ideal either)

The game is for 2-5 players. It is a fast and a simple game which means that anyone can play the game (without prior experience with miniature gaming) and have fun without being too overwhelmed with rules or figuring out how to create an army. On the other hand the game offers the players unit abilities and planeswalker spell abilities that can make the game more complex and thus also more entertaining.

In few minutes everything can be taken out of the box and prepared for a swift game. As a terrain there are 6 boards that create a relatively large board (containing some water areas) in real life. In game though the movement of units is actually high so in the end it is a really small play area (running away is not that easy and being attacked while leaving engaged units can really hurt). Except movement units have other stats - life, range, power and toughness, and abilities. Those can either be static or activated. Power/Toughness tells you how many dice to use when attacking or defending. There are special dice with sides with crossed swords or shields (or blank sides) so figuring out what hit and what was deflected can be seen at first glance even for someone who is not used to rolling dice in this manner. When unit's life reaches zero it dies and is put into a graveyard and usually cannot enter play unless a special effect says it can (reanimation). A unit can attack another one only if it is in range and in line of sight (pretty straight forward).

At the beginning of the game each player chooses one of the five Magic colors - White, Blue, Black, Red, Green. Then places their Planeswalker on the board, places their units on corresponding army cards, draws three cards from his or her spell cards deck. Each turn a player draws a card, moves his or her units (only one type can move in one turn), attacks and play spells. The spells are either Enchantment cards which come into play revealed and have some static ability or they are hidden and trigger when a condition is met. This adds a way how to do some combat tricks (spell cards cannot be played during combat otherwise). Up to three spell cards can be played per turn (it's very easy to forget about the hidden card triggers).

What is a bit strange (I don't mean bad, it is something I'm not used to) and probably original to the game is that units are deployed separately and within range five from the Planeswalker. This actually adds more decisions and it can be used to one's advantage which is pretty nice. It nicely follows the 'I, mighty Planeswalker, summon a powerful creature' line.

The game is very "planeswalker-centric". The 'walker is way more powerful and than the rest of the units and matters a lot. If one loses a planeswalker one cannot play any more spells or deploy units which also may be the reason why. I find it too unbalanced though because one can simply win a game just with the planeswalker alone.

There are scenarios one can play described in the rules but they are not really that interesting. Coming up with own ones is better.

Anyway the game has a great potential to be good (and since the next products should not be sold in booster packs but rather as stand-alone products one actually knows what they contain, the support and availability should be better). More customization is needed and more scenarios as well. It is a game one can take anywhere and prepare it fast and play. This helps a lot in nowadays fast paced lives. So I will look forward for the upcoming producs in this line (coming in 2016, probably in August as well?).

If you are an experienced miniature games' player you will most probably find this game too simple, but if you are looking for a simple fast paced game that is fun just try it out. The game is suited primarily for mainstream but with time this game can become complex enough to drive more hardcore players to it.

Rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ascension Dawn of Champions

In the middle of the year StoneBlade Entertainment released a new set for Ascension the Game. It is named Dawn of Champions and it is an expansion set for Realms Unraveled. Since I did not really like the previous block and I really enjoyed Realms Unraveled I really looked forward playing this game. But since I know that I'm incapable of playing something (for the first time) in digital form I tried to acquire a physical copy of the game. I did not manage that though because the distribution on this continent is not that awesome and it also takes half a year to get the game here for some reason (why? one would ask Stoneblade)

At Grand Prix Prague I was asked if I play Dawn of Champions and that it would be nice to bring the game to the GP and play some games. Even though I completely forgot about bringing the game it was an impulse to come back to Ascension and play it. And it was a nice change after the GP.

Dawn of Champions introduces Champion cards. Each faction has one Champion card. Each of those cards has 4 abilities.

  • Whenever you acquire or defeat a card of the Champion's faction you may put one renown (erm.. reputation?) counter on the Champion.
  • You can pay 2 runes (once per turn) to put one counter on the card.
  • When you reach 4 counters you acquire the Champion as a card that is put in your deck (discard pile).
  • When there are eight counters on the Champion card whenever you acquire a card of your faction you get to Rally.
Rally [faction] is a new mechanic in the set. It allows the player to acquire an additional card or defeat a monster that matches the faction of the card with Rally.

Since this is an expansion of Realms Unraveled there are still multi-faction heroes but not only that. This time around, there are also multi-factioned Constructs and Monsters making acquiring or defeating a card with Rally is actually quite possible even though it is very random. It can mean acquiring an overpowered card or a one that a player does not even want in his or her deck.

Playing with the Champion card is not obligatory and even if one plays with it he or she does not need to stick with that faction but one needs to be aware that the Rally ability is actually pretty strong and can swing the game and thus getting up to 8 counters is a good thing and should be done before the game gets to its 'late game'. In late game one can buy anything of a faction and gain value and does not really need to fear to draw those cards. A player has thus the choice to either follow the Champion's faction to gain the counters or ignore it and pay runes to put the counters on the Champion. I personally don't like to be limited in deck building and I don't like to hate pick cards that are dead in my deck and that is why I don't like the Champion idea at all. It certainly can help those who begin with deck building card games to see what deck building is about. It makes the game way more easily accessible.

What else is new in the set? Nothing much I would say which is the first time I can actually say this about an Ascension set. The set feels to be really small. There are 193 cards in total including 26 Mystics and 26 Heavy Infantries but it seems to me that there is a really small amount of distinct cards (too lazy to count them) for each (multi)faction. There are many multi-faction cards with a similar effect from earlier sets as well. Not that I would be against that, but there should be some kind of balance between new effects/cards and old cards/effects. For example there is a card named Rootscryer. It is Enlightened/Lifebound Hero for 2 that lets you reveal the top card of your deck and put it in your hand. If the card is Enlightened or Lifebound you gain 3 Honor. Sound familiar? Great-Omen Raven? Same goes to a Hero copying card or the fact that the cards giving 2 Runes cost 4 Runes except Shepherd of the Lost that costs 3. A novelty though is a cycle of 1 Rune costing constructs that give you something if you play 2 cards of the same faction that turn (Void gives 2 Power, Mechana 2 Runes, Lifebound 2 Honor, Enlightened Draws a card).

Within the set there isn't much one can do except drawing extra cards, putting some cards on top of the deck and rallying. The game is fast paced and one can generate a large amount of runes fast. Even though it does not seem that there would be too much Power in the set the game ends usually pretty fast (for me too fast) even faster than in Rise of Vigil.

When this set is played with Realms Unraveled though the real fun begins because it adds a way more variety and complexity. Since there are some really broken cards in Realms Unraveled there can be turns that will take ages. Both Multi-unite and Rally can lead to seemingly endless loops. Both sets played together feel right unlike the Dawn of Champions played alone which I don't find that fun (if at all). It just feels like there is something missing. One plays the game and follows instructions on the cards rather than figuring out how to build a deck and what to do with it. There are interactions that can win the game and working with the cards is not that simple as it might seem but still it does not feel like 'deck building' and 'playing the deck' to me (the Rally mechanic is too broken). Since I like playing interesting decks and decks that contain cards I like thus I probably am not such a fan of Dawn of Champions.

The screenshot above shows a game in which I had 6 Honor points collected by turn 12. I played one overpowered card - Surya, Light's Sword- and took 4 additional turns. When the game ended I got 1846 Honor Points. It could have been more most probably because I refused to acquire more cards that I could draw later. That's what happens when some broken cards end up in one deck.

There are cards I really like and I would like to put them in my cube but there are cards that will certainly be banned because I don't like games like the one above. Surya is sure to be banned.

While I'm not a fan of the expansion alone the whole block turned out well and it is nice to see a set that comes back to the original Ascension roots. But the randomness starts to get ridiculous and I am one of those who consider this as a downside not an upside. I prefer a well balanced games without utterly broken cards. Dawn of Champions is a simply and fast game that is perfect for an introductory game in my eyes. The level of complexity compared even to Chronicle of the Godslayer seems to be lower which can be a good thing if one does not want to concentrate much and wants to have some fun but on the other hand when one wants to play a complex game and enjoy the complexity Ascension offers it is not the best set to play (as a stand-alone game). Many of us playing Dawn of Champions played all the other games and are familiar with other card games, deck building games or board games so our points of view can be skewed.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Standard - Jeskai Tempo - first steps

Since last Friday I decided to try playing a different deck than Abzan Control. Partly it was because this deck won't survive rotation and also because to some extent Boros/Jeskai decks were a mystery to me. When I was watching some players (or played against them) I couldn't believe how many misplays they have done. I've seen so many games lost because players couldn't play the right cards on turn 2 and 3. This is something that showed later in the game but if played correctly it would win the game. Also burning the opponent was possible in many cases but the players did not realize that. So I wanted to try that myself and see what the deck can do and why this deck sticks around. Those are also the decks that beat me at GP Prague - it was the first time I actually saw someone pilot the deck well and learned the real value of Jace. Because Jace is the card that made this deck good once again.

You might be familiar with Jeskai already but I certainly wasn't before playing my first game with it. I should have played with the deck before GP Prague because it would help me understand how the deck actually works. (so far all the Jeskai decks I encountered I beat but only because the players weren't the best pilots of the deck)

My first experience with the deck was the worst one I ever had with a deck in my whole life. I knew that this deck is not for me, but I couldn't imagine myself playing the deck so badly. Ages ago, when someone gave me a deck to play no matter what it was I was capable of playing with it fairly well. It was relatively easy to figure out how the deck works and I knew the meta usually so playing well was possible even without prior experience with the deck.But nowadays this does not really work. Nowadays decks are not build because they function well on their own but rather because they can handle certain meta and Jeskai seems the most meta deck. With that what I mean is that the deck needs to be tweaked quite heavily against the meta (with Abzan I could change one or two cards but with this deck I could change up to 12 cards in the deck). I came to that conclusion after few games with it utterly dying (not really but the games I lost I was crushed). The deck can be heavily tweaked and that is its greatest advantage for some players but one of big disadvantages for other (not so good) players.

What was wrong? Well the deck I played in those games wasn't really prepared for burn and Abzan Aggro or rather it wasn't prepared for something too aggressive and something playing Hangarback Walker. So after few games I changed both main deck and sideboard because I did not believe I could win any game with the list I had. The changes I made did not really change the type of deck. I put Magma Sprays in main deck, added Arashin Clerics, Disdainful Stroke and Anger of the Gods in the sideboard. I actually cut the single Disdaiful Stroke from the main deck and replaced it with Rabblemaster which did not show as a good idea in the end (since it is a card that ends up sideboard out most of the time anyway). But I needed to learn what the deck can do and for that I needed slightly more creatures (thus I either tried to play with Goblin Rabblemaster, Hordeling Outburst or Monastery Mentor). At this point I had no idea what the deck can possibly do but I knew that going more 'midrangy' is not the way in general but after sideboarding this deck can take a more control approach (so I put Elspeths in SB as well)

How did the actual games go? I have to admit that I do not remember being more ashamed when playing Magic. In the first match I was completely lost and just couldn't figure out a strategy how to win which was my primary problem. 'How the hell am I supposed to stop a devotion deck' was my question during the game and that was the wrong one as it should have been 'how do I beat a devotion deck?'. The answer is 'faster than my opponent can develop his game plan' but when I came to that conclusion it was already too late because I tried to deal with his threats instead of killing him (which was actually doable). The reason why this was so difficult for me is that I played Abzan Control for far too long. Abzan Control usually has a strong board presence, the best disruption in terms of Thoughtseize and removal spells that can usually hit anything (except Ultimate Price). This deck though could simply wait, late game was not bad at all and could deal with almost everything. Jeskai Tempo on the other hand is a completely different deck. It plays differently in two different parts of one which the pilot puts a lot of pressure on the opponent somehow. With few creatures that usually immediately die (two two drops), then with a three drop that sticks for a while. One can try to keep this for a while but then the game needs to change since other decks start to overwhelm the Jeskai player. At this stage one needs to burn the opponent to deal the last few points of damage. That is the reason why I lost the first games I played even though I could have won them pretty easily because green devotion decks can hardly deal with Mantis Rider. I simply did not realize that I need to be very proactive early game and close the game in mid-game and if possible never get to late game with this deck as it can hardly do anything then. This deck has means to deal with Atarka or another annoying creature with Ojutai's Command and Disdainful Stroke but when dealing with these creatures the player should already be close to beating his opponent. If this is not the case the game cannot really be won.

This is a great example how NOT to fetch when one needs one red open all the time

In this match I also learned that playing the right lands is crucial. One needs to be aware of what mana he needs access to and also needs to keep the life loss at a minimum. This most probably means that the mana base is pretty bad but I guess there is no way around that. Played a tapped land t1, t2 basic/fetchland/painlant -> 2-drop, t3 tapped land -> 2-drop, t3 basic/fetch/paintland -> 3-drop is ideal. But when the majority lands one has are painlands it becomes tricky. When playing this deck one really needs to be cautious about the lands because that is something that can cost a game in this deck.

It was also the first time I ever played with Jace (if I don't count a Powered Cube experience with that card in which Jace usually played Ancestral Recall and tried to mill my opponent - it worked). With Jace in play I had to be aware of more things and also I needed to loot well. But since I wasn't aware of the power level of the cards I couldn't loot that well. Tracking the number of cards in my graveyard during combat was a novelty. I also completely messed up Jace's +1 ability while trying to kill some Thopter tokens in another match. Would you think this possible? To mess something like giving a creature -2/0 till your next turn? Everything matters in this deck. Be it playing a burn spell or using Jace's ability. My opponent knew what he was doing ulike me so I felt pretty bad and it felt even worse when I won the match in the end. Those 50 minutes were really embarassing. I couldn't believe how dumb my plays were sometimes. After this game I understood how such silly plays can happen^_^.

I was not only struggling with mana base and the deck in general but also with the Magic Online client as it sometimes did not register my clicks (since the last update it does this for some reason) and this slowed me down. But still playing online has its advantages. MODO forces rules and that is a good thing because it shows how certain cards interact. For example that if Grandmaster dies when you have a burn spell on the stack it loses Lifelink. This is a common scenario in Magic (how many times have you destroyed a creature that gives haste in order to save yourself from an attack of a creature that just came into play?) but sometimes some people do not realize that it works like this and they need to be reminded of that. Or for example playing Foul-Tongue's Invocation in response to Siege Rhino's trigger to gain 4 life and not die to Rhino's ability. Many players don't even know that you can do that. On a side note MODO is bugged and there are things that don't work as they should and sometimes the bugs are obvious (for example Damnable Pact gaining a player life except losing it) but some not - convoking a creature and sacrificing for mana at the same time (this was possible when Modern Masters was around so some people thought that it is how it works but it is not like that.)

When I finally realized that the best way to play the deck is as a tempo (and well this deck is usually named Jeskai Tempo) I finally started winning games. This might be obvious the deck's name IS 'Jeskai Tempo' but actually adapting the play style to tempo is not that obvious. Even a small mistake messes the game hell a lot (and I knew that only by watching others play the deck). I had to reevaluate the (use of) cards in the deck. Mantis Rider turned to be the number one creature I wanted to keep alive, burn spells were hitting my opponents more often than their creatures, Jace is most of the time a lightning rod but that is good and if Jace sticks he can help a ton but is not necessary for the deck's game plan, Soulfire Grand Master is lightning rod as well but it usually manages to gain some life before it dies (unlike Jace) and this is very important since majority of the field is super aggressive or burn. Dig Through Time usually translates to 6-8 damage to opponent's face.

When I was first expected to sideboard I just stared at the deck for a while. Then I asked myself...why certain card is in the deck (Valorous Stance - removal spell or someting that helps your creatures survive?) and what does it do (well it kills Siege Rhinos and Courser of Kruphix and thus it is hardly relevant against Burn as it won't in most cases save your creature anyway and it does not have targets to kill). Valorous Stance is an easy choice to side out but what about Rabblemaster on play against different decks? (the card I always forgot to side out was Stormbreath Dragon^_^) Rabblemaster is a card I would side out against Abzan Decks but what about other decks? Before one can be able to sideboard well he or she needs to understand the deck he or she plays. After figuring out what cards are good and and bad in certain matchups and what the deck needs against those decks one can come up with a sideboard and sideboard strategy. I would expect to side out burn spells against control decks and add Anger of the Gods and counterspells but is that ok? I don't know yet.

I'd like to tweak the deck a bit more. I really like Ojutai's Command. I've seen many people bring back Jace but it seems to be that bringing back Soulfire Grandmaster can actually bring a way bigger value unless Jace can end the game the next turn or wipte the board for example. Even though it seems awesome to bring back Soulfire Grandmaster back into play I'd like to try what it could possibly do with Harbinger of the Tides but I'm quite afraid of playing the card since it costs double blue (after seeing how much I struggled to play Dig Through Time). Hangarback Walker seems like an option as well but it's a nonbo with the Command.

In general I don't like the deck (I expected that). It is a pure Tempo deck and one difficult to master. I'm ok with the latter but the type of deck does not really suite me. Even though I play Delver in Legacy this is too much. I'll continue playing with the deck till the rotation and I will see then if I will change decks or not.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Wolf Token

I decided to paint another token. This time a Wolf token...because yesterday I was torturing some Burn players with my Huntmasters of the Fell.

Painted wolf...

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Soldier Token

A friend of mine asked me if I could do some Soldier tokens. I did not really have time for that. Elspeth will see play only for few more months but here is the token anyway! I might draw/paint something else in the future (elemental did not go as planned).

If by a chance you'd like to use tokens looking like this you can download a pdf file prepared for print. Soldier token by S'Tsung