Monday, 25 February 2013

Scapeshift & Nick's BG midrange

Sup c*#@nts

More bloggy boo.

Thought I'd talk about my Scapeshift deck this blog post. Haven't had particular success with it, but I like it. Plays some funky cards, does stuff that other decks don't do and it has a good matchup Vs Zoo.

Heres is current list:
Diligent Farmhand
Coiled Oracle
Pernicious Deed
Wayfarer's Bauble
Demonic Tutor (3)
Thrun, the last troll
Search for Tomorrow
Shardless Agent
Seige-gang Commander
Nature's Lore
Grim Tutor (1)
Three Visits
Beseech the Queen
Primal Command
Rampant Growth
Eternal Witness
Inferno Titan
Bloodbraid Elf
Skeletal Vampire
Into the North
Grave Titan
Broodmate Dragon
Time Walk (3)
Clutch of the Undercity
Sakura Tribe-elder
Dimir Houseguard
Solemn Simulacrum
Maelstrom Wanderer
Wooded Foothills
Faerie Macabre
Misty Rainforest
Ravenous Trap
Verdant Catacombs
Mindbreak Trap
2 x Snow Covered Forest
2 x Snow covered swamp
Snow covered island
6 x Snow covered mountain

Volcanic Island
Flametongue Kavu


Rhystic Tutor

Overgrown Tomb

Gaea's Revenge

Akroma, Angel of Fury

Stomping Grounds
Scute Mob

Breeding Pool
Dragonmaster Outcast

Tropical Island

Treetop Village

Raging Ravine

Tranquil Thicket

Valakut the Molten Pinnacle

Polluted Delta

The plan is: ramp turn 2 & 3. Then slam bombs from turn 4 onwards.

The Ramp
To keep a hand with this deck, the hand needs to contain a 2-cost ramp spell (Although, there are fringe cases where I know what my opponents are playing and I can get away with a slow hand).
Because I play Timewalk, Demonic Tutor can act like a 2-cost ramp spell. Timewalk also turns Grim Tutor and Beseech the Queen into 3-cost explores.... How many explores?
Beseech the Queen less so because triple black isn't common, but it does happen.
Shardless Agent and Bloodbraid Elf are almost always ramp spells. Occasionally they'll hit Diligent Farmhand or Wayfarer's Bauble (that's bad), but occasionally they'll hit Timewalk or Demonic Tutor (that's good).

The control matchup is inherently bad. That's why the deck plays cascade guys and Thrun. Thrun crushes most control decks and I often transmute for him. Combining Thrun with the cascade guys and the two manlands is enough to make the control decks tap out. Which is when you Scapeshift them.

In case you're unfamiliar with Scapeshift, you need to have at least 7 lands in play. You sac them all and get 6 Mountains + Valakut, dealing 6 x 3 damage to their face. Most highlander decks will have paid a couple life or you may have nugged them with a cascade creature. If not, you just have to wait until you have more than 7 lands to get enough triggers to kill them. The deck plays Scapeshift and 6 other tutors for it (Primal Command finds Dimir Houseguard). You may also cascade into a tutor. So by the time you're at 7 lands you'll probably be able to pull the trigger.

The Bombs
The cards that I've catagorised as 'bombs' can take the game by themselves but most of the time they just keep me alive long enough to cast Scapeshift. I've chosen the bombs for their resilience against removal. I don't add much to the board turns 2 and 3, so whatever I play turn 4 is typically going to cop removal. That's why I'm not playing such bombs as Wurmcoil Engine and Primeval Titan. Those two are amazing if your opponent hasn't got removal, but I don't want to take that chance.

The mana base
Playing Scapeshift makes for a very challenging mana base. I've found that 11 mountains is the minimum. There have been several games that I've used every mountain in my deck to kill my opponent. As well as playing a minimum 11 mountains, I currently play 17 green sources, using trusty statrek, that's at least 1 green source in 90% of hands.

Other than the mountains and green sources, I also need 2 basic swamp and 1 basic island to find with my ramp spells so that I can cast all my black and blue spells.

Adding all those lands together gives me 28 lands, well over the general consensus of a sufficient land count, so the deck doesn't have the luxury of Wasteland or Underground Sea.

The sideboard
Scapeshift's counterspell matchup is very bad, hence the hilarious anti-counter sideboard. Quagnoth lol, anyone who drafted a lot of Future Sight can empathise with me here: you're sorting through a bunch of random rares in your collection! I didn't know I had 5 Tarmogoyfs!... awwww fuck you Quagnoth, got me again.

The sideboard also has a nice transmute suite: ravenous trap, mindbreak trap & massacre.

I know that me rambling about one of my tier 3 creations is not the most interesting topic but it's really easy for me to write about and I enjoy it ^^. At least if you're sick of losing to Zoo you can try it out...although getting a timewalk can be tough.

Ok, onto last posts' 1st posted list...

Nick Watson's GreenBlack midrange (not sure how comfortable people are about me typing their last names in my blog. I like to think that it improves communication, which makes up for any identity paranoia people may have. Nick aiming to become a public film figure, I'm sure wouldn't more revealing information)

Alright, here's his list!:
1 Deathrite Shaman
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Bloodghast
1 Mental Misstep
1 Gatekeeper of Malakir
1 Mind Twist
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Skullclamp
1 Tarmogoyf
1 Sol Ring
1 Eternal Witness
1 Thoughtseize
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Bitterblossom
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Skinrender
1 Hymn to Tourach
1 Shriekmaw
1 Sylvan Library
1 Thragtusk
1 Umezawa's Jitte
1 Grave Titan
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Pernicious Deed
1 Putrefy
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Snuff Out
1 Batterskull
1 Beseech the Queen
1 Bayou
1 Duress
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Guttural Response
4 Forest
1 Nature's Claim
1 Marsh Flats
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Pithing Needle
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Planar Void
1 Polluted Delta
1 Dark Confidant
7 Swamp
1 Shadow of Doubt
1 Twilight Mire
1 Victim of Night
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Choke
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Faerie Macabre
1 Volrath's Stronghold
1 Phyrexian Crusader
1 Wasteland
1 Tribute to Hunger
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Damnation
1 Woodland Cemetery
1 Nekrataal

Nick has never played or made a highlander deck before, so this is an impressive first list.

I imagine this comes down to card familiarity, but Nick has managed to make a Recurring Nightmare deck without Recurring Nightmare! All its friends are here: Eternal Witness, Kitchen Finks, Skinrender, Shriekmaw, Wurmcoil Engine, Grave Titan, Thragtusk, Bloodghast. So that's the first card he should try out.

I'm naturally inclined to be more aggro with my card choices, so keep that in mind when taking my suggestions onboard. Aggro may not be your style. Currently Nick's playing Umezawa's Jitte but only ~6 creatures that wear a Jitte well (creatures that are likely to survive combat and cost <4). I think Nick should add more creatures that can wear Jitte rather than cut Jitte from the deck. A few suggestions:
Strangleroot Giest (would require a mana base change which I'll get to later)
Glissa, the Traitor (Karakas is now 1 point so she's very playable now)

Adding more creatures boosts you skullclamp & recurring nightmare too.

Mana base. Nick's a card choices are a little torn between Mox Jet and Sol Ring.
On team Mox Jet we have:
Hymn to Tourach
Vampire Nighthawk
Scavenging Ooze
Liliana of the Veil
Gatekeeper of Malkir
Sylvan Library
Sakura Tribe Elder

Then on team Sol Ring we have:
Garruk Relentless
Wurmcoil Engine
Grave Titan
Mind Twist

That's 10 for Jet and 7 for Sol Ring. If Nick can borrow/purchase a Jet he should play it instead of Sol Ring. It should be noted that both Mox Jet and Sol Ring are bad with Pernicious Deed, so are Sylvan Library, Tarmogoyf, Deathrite Shaman, Scavenging Ooze, Bitterblossom, equipment etc. Deed should probably be cut if Nick wants to go for the equipment and recurring nightmare route.

Nick's curve is pretty spread out so I think he can add Treetop Village without the tempo loss hurting him too often. He can also play the 7th fetch land, windswept heath. 6 forests is enough to not run out of lands to fetch. He can even play scrubland to find with windswept heath or cast kitchen finks with. I'd also add Llanowar Wastes, Nick has a lot of double colour spell and even gatekeeper of malakir and beseech the queen which can be triple colour. Having said that, I'd also consider cutting Volrath's Stronghold.

4th: Miscellaneous card choices.
·        Play Dark Confidant main. If he lives, you win the game if he dies he only cost 2 mana so ~the same cost as a counter or removal spell.
·        If you add Recurring Nightmare you'll find that Acidic Slime will be good. Green Sun's Zenith finds it, you can add that too. So versatile.
·        Thrun, the last troll should be considered.
·        Phyrexian Metamorph is an ok card which can be cut. It is very reactionary. I suspect Andrew Atkinson may have recommended this card to Nick, as Andrew loves it.
·        Skinrender and Shriekmaw are also very reactionary but much more powerful. Playing cards that are good against some decks but bad against others is a personal preference thing. These guys will be awesome vs creature decks yet trash against control. At the moment I'd say maindeck Skinrender and Shriekmaw are a great metagame choice. GWx creature equipment decks are coming out on top and being played a lot.
·        Try out Vraska :P I haven't seen anyone play her yet and this is the deck you'd play her in if any. Let us know if she's good.

5th: Sideboard.
·        You can play better graveyard hate than Planarvoid. Planarvoid doesn't actually stop much stuff. Flash decks that go off instant speed will kill you with the Planarvoid trigger on the stack. Hermit Druid combp can respond to the trigger with Memory's Journey. I think surgical extraction would be better.
·        Guttural Response is a too narrow. The spell types of highlander decks are actually quite diverse. If you want something extra against U, try Thrun and/or Great Sable Stag.
·        I like that you have Duress in the board. Lots of people really overload on discard effects which can be really bad against aggro decks
·        I love Shadow of Doubt, but not in your deck. To play Shadow of Doubt, you have to be holding up 2 mana every turn to catch that search effect. Your deck taps out sorcery speed 99% of the time.
·        Get Mindbreak trap in your board, amazing against Storm. There's typically one Storm or two storm decks in the bigger tournaments and you don't want to be caught out without any hate.

Ok, that about sums it up. I know I've taken a while to respond and there's a good chance you might have changed the list a couple times since you posted it.
I like to mention everything I think of and I only type up this blog on my daily train rides to work so it can take me a while.
It's hard for me to tell how my critique comes across. I hope I don't sound too critical, but it is the nature of this article. If I mentioned everything that was good, these posts would be even longer!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Choosing your creatures & Karl's Zoo

Sup guys! :)

I’m sunk into the recliner, got my pentium 4 shitbox plugged into the big screen TV, southern comfort & coke with ice in hand, life’s pretty sweet. Just mowed the lawn and repaired the basketball ring, worked out how to turn on the house’s AC, that’s enough productivity for one day :P Time to think about magical cardboard and the many ways I can rearrange it...
A challenge which arises in highlander more often than in any other format is: choosing between cards of almost equal power level. What are the best 6 burn spells? What are the best 6 counterspells? This really depends on your deck's style and finding the answer takes a lot of testing. The same goes for creatures. There are so many creatures out there, it's hard to make the correct choice. So, I thought I could help out :)

The situation is: You've got a long list of creatures that you want to play and you're deciding which ones to play and which ones to omit. Here are some criteria in order of importance, that can help you decide.

1st Selection criteria: Does this creature suit my deck’s strategy?
The America Football coach walks across his new freshmen recruits like a sergeant. What’s this? There’s a kid in a wheel chair here. Go home son, you can’t walk! Get out of my aggro deck Wall of Omens, you can’t attack!
Think of how your deck is trying to win and decide if the creature fits your strategy. A few examples to give you a better idea:

Control example - You're playing counterspells because you want to have an answer to everything, therefore you don't want to tap out for a creature until your opponent has cast all their threats. Often a threat will sneak through your counterspells so any creature you play needs to clean up that threat. By this stage your opponent will probably have removal in hand also. So, your creature needs resilience against removal (hex proof, protection or produce some tokes when it enters/leaves the battlefield. You also need to get your opponent to 0 life. Your creature has a job to do! On the plus side you probably have about 5 or 6 mana to play with by this stage. Grave Titan is a good example of a control creature. To a lesser degree there's Wurmcoil Engine, Hornet Queen,  Consecrated Sphinx, Broodmate Dragon etc...

Aggro Example - Your deck's plan is to kill your opponent as fast as possible before they either:
·        Get to enough mana to cast their big powerful spells.
·        Overwhelm you with card advantage.
·        Combo off
So your creatures need to be attacking your opponent for as much damage as possible.  You don't want to be playing high cost, slow cards like Baneslayer and you don't want to be casting slow acting creatures like Orhan Viper.

2nd Selection Criteria: Does this creature fit my curve?
To check this, sort your deck into 3 piles:
·        Spells that you would always cast immediately if you and your opponent were top decking onto an open board.
·        Other spells
·        Lands
Ensure you have enough 'pile one' cards of each mana cost. If the creature you're considering has a mana cost that you already have heaps of, then you should change it to a creature with a mana cost you're short on. You need the minimum number of cheap threats to reliably draw them. Otherwise you'll fall behind in the early game. You also want to maximise the power of your deck which involves playing just enough big spells that you don't get stuck with them in hand. Finding the right balance takes a lot of testing.

3rd Selection criteria: Reducing weaknesses
Examples of what I'm talking about:
·        You're playing a deck with lots of creatures. You're going to be weak to Wrath of God. If you're deciding between Loxodon Smiter and Kitchen Finks, you can choose Kitchen Finks to reduce your weakness.
·        You might be wanting to add another 2 drop but not increase your weakness to Engineered Explosives; Porcelain Legionnaire is your man.
·        You haven't got much instant creature removal or instant artifact removal so you're weak to Umezawa's Jitte. Therefore, creatures with First Strike should increase in value for you.

Think about the Metagame. If you predict there will be a lot of Zoo decks then you'll want creatures that kill 2/3's. If you predict lots of mana elves then you'll want to avoid 1 toughness creatures.

4th Selection Criteria: Feel
This criteria isn't as 'real' as the others but I think it's important. 'Feel' is all about whether you like the card.
·        You might have a fond memory of it.
·        You might think it's underrated and want to prove its worth.
·        You may prefer outrageous high risk/high reward cards. 
I wouldn't recommend 'liking the art' as a reason to play a card. If you don't want to play a card cause it looks shit, go get a different print of it or alter it with a sharpie.
These little things all contribute to the pride you have in your deck and your motivation to do well with it.

Ok, hopefully that helps you out if you're having trouble deciding on your creatures. The criterion are pretty translatable for non-creatures as well. I've already typed enough though, so you'll have to translate yourself :P

Onto section two! When people ask me stuff about highlander, the most common question I get is: “Would you be able to help me with my deck?”. Mmmyes, mmyes I can help you with your deck and the way I’m going to do it is:
·        I’ll analyse one deck per blog post (which will still include the usual random highlander topic).
·        First  decklist posted in the comments of each blog post will be the deck that I’ll analyse in my next blog post.
·        Please post a deck that you’ve already built and had some games with. Include your side board as that is obviously very important. Last blogging, Karl posted his list so here I go :)

Karl didn't include his sideboard but that's ok. He said he changes it heaps depending on who's in the room. A great policy if you're confident you know what everyone else is playing.
No one has played highlander Zoo more than Karl, here's his list:

Noble Hierarch
Loxodon Smiter
Stomping Ground
Skyshroud Elite
Knight of the Reliquary
Strip Mine **
Temple Garden
Figure of Destiny
Scavenging Ooze
Burning-Tree Shaman
Kessig Wolf Run
Steppe Lynx
Strangleroot Geist
Rith’s Charm
Karakas *
Grim Lavamancer
Stoneforge Mystic *
Oblivion Ring
Barbarian Ring
Dryad Militant
Tin Street Hooligan
Treetop Village
Scalding Tran
Wild Nacatl
Qasali Pridemage
Arid Mesa
Loam Loin
Green Sun’s Zenith
Ranger of Eos
Flooded Strand
Kird Ape
Boros Charm
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Bloodstained Mire
Steelshaper’s Gift
Umezawa’s Jitte *
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Sacred Foundry
Wooded Foothills
Mental Misstep
Porcelain Legionnaire
Marsh Flats
Windswept Heath
Lightning Bolt
Misty Rainforest
Verdant Catacombs
Swords to Plowshares
Sword of Fire and Ice
Path to Exile
Skullclamp *

I like how Karl always tries out new cards in his deck. Always trying to improve and mix it up. The way everyone should approach life in my opinion. You can see he's trying out Boros Charm and Ghorclan Rampager. Both look pretty good on paper. I mentioned them in my last blog entry (Gatecrash highlander playables). It's funny that just last night I lost a game in draft to my opponent Boros Charming his Ghorclan Rampager for the win.

Karl's list is well refined so there's not an overwhelming number of things to mention (which is good)

Boros Charm
Flexible , I can't imagine too many scenario's where it won't be useful. This is purely a support card however, so Karl needs to be sure to keep his creature count high. I've owned Karl so many times with Pernicious Deed. Boros Charm now gives him an out.

Ghorclan Rampager
Another flexible card. There is almost no pump in highlander so this guy will really catch people off guard. It's funny how this guy wears a Sword of Fire and Ice really well yet you can't Bloodrush your other dudes wearing a Sword. This guy helps Karl answer Goyf which can be a real problem for his deck.

Tinstreet Hooligan
This guy's a great card, but if Karl wanted to cut a card in the future, it could be this guy. All the big artifacts you want to kill typically come out turns 4 and 5 e.g. Jitte, Sword of Fire and Ice, Vedalken Shackles, Skullclamp. So you really want your artifact kill spells to sit on the same spots in your curve that your opponents' artifacts sit.

Ranger of Eos
Another great card but cuttable. He can be a little slow vs combo and he's 'more of the same' if you know what I mean. Like, Karl is weak to a 4/5 or bigger and Ranger of Eos isn't going to beat a 4/5. Perhaps it's worth trying a planeswalker instead: Ajani Vengeant or Garruk Relentless. Maybe even Jeska, warrior adept, I've tried her out in mono-red and she was great.

No Flinthoof Boar? (Freddy Flinthoff)
This guy's gotta be the next card in if Karl cuts a card.

No Aven Mindcensor?
Mindcensor is just such a wrecker against control and combo. Karl doesn't like it because of its small body vs aggro. I still like it against aggro, it flies over and shuts down their fetch lands, green sun's zenith, knight of the reliquary, stoneforge mystic, steelshaper's gifts blah blah. Mindcensor gets a lot better the earlier you play it, which leads me to my next comment.

Stripmine Vs Mox
Karl's currently play 6 points so mox and stripmine are interchangable. I don't think there are any other good ways to spend his points. Maybe playing Stripmine lets him play Enlightened Tutor. Enlightened Tutor would only be a sideboard card against decks with almost zero artifact/enchantment kill.
The most obvious difference between Stripmine and Mox is $$$$, but let's disregard that assuming that Karl will be able to borrow any Mox he wants. If he asks to borrow cards the night before rather than his usual 4 hours before, then he won't have any trouble :P
Stripmine and Moxen are such different cards it's hard to compare them. I'm just gonna list a bunch of things to consider and Karl can make his own mind:

·        Stripmine doesn't cast your spells well so most of the time you're going to be saccing it.
·        Vs aggro; you'll be one mana down on them (the tapping of the stripmine) but there's a chance they kept a land/colour light hand.
·        Vs control; they'll often hold up 2 mana for a counterspell and not be able to cast it when you stripmine them. You lose 1 mana from tapping the stripmine but they lose 2 mana from not bring able to cast the counterspell. = +1 mana = sweet. 
Some control decks will spend turns 1-3 digging for answers and drawing cards whilst you're casting creatures. Keeping them off that 4th mana (wrath, venser, planeswalkers, etc) for a turn gives you another swing with the creatures you've got.
·        Vs combo; they're often playing 5 colours so you have a good chance of colourscrewing them.
·        You can find Stripmine with Knight of the Reliquary which is nice.
·        Stripmine can still hit key cards later in the game where Mox won't do anything.

·       Typically lets you cast an extra threat each turn until you run out of gas. This is a mox's main function and it is huge. Say you get to play an extra 2power one-drop turn one and an extra 2power one drop turn 2. By turn four (the turn that combo decks typically kill you or control decks starts casting 2 for 1 spells) you've racked up an extra 10 damage.
·        Moxes do nothing late game.
·        Moxes let you get your hosing cards down faster (aven mindcensor, thalia, burningtree shaman etc)

Alternatively Karl could play Blue for Timewalk :P I suppose then he'd add Geist of Saint Traft and Snapcaster Mage and the deck would completely transform from there....

Figure of Destiny
Figure is an awesome card. I haven't seen Karl ultimate it yet though. Karl has a few lands which hold back Figure. They are: Forest, Treetop Village & Kessig Wolfrun. Karl really wants to play a forest incase he's playing against non-basic hate and because of path to exile. I don't know how Kessig Wolfrun plays but it's sweet with Sword of Fire & Ice and trampling over with a huge Knight of the Reliquary. Can't say I like Treetop Village that much. It can lose you a mana early by entering the battlefield tapped, the reverse of my mox example. So you'll lose ~6 damage compared to playing an untapped land.

Karl's playing 24 lands. Entering the numbers into a hypergeometric calculator, that's ~86% to draw 2 or more lands in your opening hand, which isn't that high. That calculation also counts hands with 5+ lands and hands missing critical colours. Also, 2 of his Karl's lands are Stripmine and Wasteland, so I think Karl should add 1 or 2 lands to his deck. Maybe Horizon Canopy? Razorverge Thicket?

Ok, that's about all I have to say. Hope this helps you Karl. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on my suggestions.

See you Thursday or at some big interstate tournament :)