Monday, 30 May 2016

In Your Head, In Your Head, Balthor, Balthor

When I was travelling around North America last year, EDH was a great way to kill time in stores where I knew no one. The players I tend to get along with are the ones trying to win PPTQ's. Typically those players don't play pick-up games of EDH in stores with strangers but despite that, it was a good way to just hang and get a feel for local lives. Also, if you don't mind waiting seven minutes until your turn and just let go of your bullshit, EDH is a blast.

I've only ever had one EDH deck and I love it. When I first started playing magic my friends were given their cousin's collection. This collection was comprised mostly of Odyssey, Onslaught and Mirrodin block commons and uncommons. Odyssey and Onslaught block had heaps of cards which read, "play this with other zombie cards". With minimal understanding of the game and little idea of how to build a deck, that was a clear seed to build with. The zombie decks didn't win much but the art was dark and badass.

Those first months of playing Magic with my friends were awesome fun; Sitting cross-legged on rugs, drinking cold milk and milo, watching Big Brother Up Late and playing Tony Hawk's Proskater 2. I wanted to pay homage to those times.

BALTHOR THE DEFILED <<< link to decklist

100 card decks are a lot to take in. I'll break it down:

Fill your graveyard with as many zombies as you can before you get to seven mana, then bring them all back with Balthor.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel a.k.a Grey Merchant of Ass-phodel or Gary, typically wins the game. This deck was ok before Grey Merchant got printed, now it's great.
I love the feel of the deck. It really feels like you're commanding a horde of relentless zombies. They get obliterated and just get back up again. More, more, more, again, again, again.

I'll categorise the cards:

Yes, he goes to the command zone after you activate him. No, I don't play minions. I play zombiiiiiieeesss!!!!
Check out that gnarly hat. Dunno what's going on there, two twisted trumpets?
As a rule I never cast Balthor when I haven't got the mana remaining to activate him; otherwise he'll surely die (again) before I can activate him. I almost always activate immediately. If you give your opponents the chance to untap/draw cards then you risk some kind of instant-speed-graveyard-removal-split-second-ability-countering nonsense.

I've never written about an EDH deck before. Adding links to all these cards would take ages, so I'm only going to link the unusual ones, which is still a lot.

Note that Balthor brings back EVERYONE'S creatures, therefore I'm playing cards which just fill my graveyard. I'm not playing Mesmeric Orb, for example.
Buried Alive typically finds Stinkweed Imp, Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Mikaeus, the Unhallowed.
Corpse Connoisseur
Putrid Imp: This deck is weird in that you would rather have zombies in your graveyard than your hand. Putrid Imp lets you put all the Zombies you've drawn from Skullclamp and Grave Deflier, into the graveyard. Also great for discarding dredge cards.
Bazaar of Baghdad: Only just added this to the list since I don't like proxying in EDH. However, if I had a Bazaar I would definitely play it.
Sultai Emissary: I think this card would actually be better if the manifest went straight to the graveyard heh.
Stinkweed Imp: One of the key cards in the deck. This is your go-to find with Entomb, Buried Alive and Corpse Connoisseur.
Street Wraith: Notably not a zombie. Just in the deck for Crypt of Agadeem and devotion for Grey Merchant.
Necromancer's Assistant
Necromancer's Stockpile: Insane with Stinkweed Imp. I need to keep zombie tokens in my deckbox just for this card, which is taxing considering it's a 100-card sized deck.
Gempalm Polluter
Undead Gladiator
Viscera Dragger
Twisted Abomination
Returned Centaur
Crow of Dark Tidings
Codex Shredder: When to activate this is interesting. If you suspect someone will be using a 'put on top of library' tutor (including yourself) then you may want hold it up.

Your opponents often feel safe thinking that Balthor is seven mana to cast and activate. These sorceries mess with that timing, leading to serious blowouts.
Zombie Apocalypse
Patriarch's Bidding
Living Death

Gray Merchant of Asphodel: As mentioned, this guy is the main win condition. Kokusho, the Evening Star is banned as a commander. Grey Merchant is Kokusho on crack in this deck.
Mogis's Marauder; Turns all your Dawn of the Dead zombies into 28 Days zombies.
Shepherd of Rot
Vengeful Dead

Important for preventing your zombies from getting exiled or put back into your library
Nantuko Husk.
Nim Shambler
Phyrexian Ghoul
Carrion Feeder
Corpse BlockadeLol such a bad card, love that it works in this deck.

If you mass-reanimate with Grey Merchant, a sacrificer and one of these, you get an extra Merchant trigger, which is game winning. Note that Phyrexian Delver wouldn't work since you can't sacrifice Grey Merchant into the graveyard before you need to target it with Phyrexian Delver.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Gravespawn Sovereign
Apprentice NecromancerApologies, in the art it looks like its head is coming out of a vagina.

Crypt of Agadeem: Insane in this deck.
Cabal Coffers: Often tutored for. Urborg and Zombie Trailblazer give this a little extra kick
Expedition Map: Finds the above two. Bazaar of Baghdad and Cavern of Souls are also common finds.
Terrain Generator
Myriad Landscape
Thespian's Stage: Copies Cabal Coffers or Crypt of Agadeem.
Undead WarchiefTypically dies before your next turn but often gives you a nice power boost to attack with the one turn it's alive undead.
Temple of the False God
Sol Ring: When will this be banned from EDH?
Mana Crypt: When will this be banned from EDH?

Sidisi, Undead Vizier: hmmm the royal vizier!
Demonic Tutor
Diabolic Intent
Vampiric Tutor: Typically finds Mana Crypt turn one.
Imperial Seal: Typically finds Mana Crypt turn one.

I've been wrecked by Anafenza too many times. All these except Fleshbag Marauder and Stronghold Assassin are new additions which I haven't tried yet but I like the safety they provide. The four-cost tap ones will probably be too slow but I'm trying them.
Stronghold Assassin
Tsabo's Assassin
Eastern Paladin
Western Paladin also kills Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, which is another problem creature.
Fleshbag Marauder
Phyrexian Bloodstock

Good to have against scary red and black creatures of your opponents', which Balthor would bring back, e.g. Massacre Wurm.
Withered Wretch
Agent of Erebos
Crypt Creeper

Zombie Trailblazer. Surprisingly powerful. Its ability isn't effected by summoning sickness and with enough zombies you can lock all your opponents' mana for the rest of the game.
Vengeful Pharaoh
Gloomdrifter: Kills surprisingly few creatures but I'm keeping it in for now.
Skinrender: Same as above.
Lifebane Zombie: Ability is rarely relevant. Could be cut soon.
Grave Defiler
Noxious Ghoul: Devastating effect. Ignores hexproof and indestructible. Typially kills ALL your opponents' creatures.
Skullclamp: Obv obv
Gravecrawler: Nice with Skullclamp...I should probably play Bloodghast.
Zombie MasterMakes all your zombies unblockable with Urborg or Zombie Trailblazer. Unblockable isn't very good though, since you normally get wrathed before you can attack with all your zombies. Zombie Master was not a zombie until the great creature type overhaul a few years back.
Geralf's Messenger

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Cavern of Souls: Good idea to slow roll this until you want to cast Balthor.
28 Swamp


  • Graveyard removal. I have a lot success with this deck because I'm not part of a regular EDH playgroup. If I was, they would surely begin to play graveyard hate. Static enchantments and artifacts are especially problematic. It may be worth adding a single Karn Liberated or Ulamog or Oblivion Stone to the deck.
  • Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.
  • Fast combo. The deck is low on interactive spells.
Make sure you get up to speed with your zombie movie and pop-culture references before you play this deck. Gotta bust out those quotes with gusto!

Gold mask. Definitely inspired by Grey Merchant of Asphodel


Luke Mulcahy

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

To Brew or not to Brew

When is it correct to bring a deck of your own design to a tournament? That is the question I'll be talking about.
Last weekend I played a local PPTQ and got paired against my friend Tim Hughes. Tim was playing the latest hot deck from the Pro Tour, GW tokens. Tim is an avid brewer and comes up with lots of off-the-wall ideas. It was unusual to see him playing a 'net-deck'. The topic came up in our conversation, basically Tim hasn't had the success he would like and has started net-decking more and more.

Out of the brewery and onto the podium?

This got me thinking, when is it correct to brew? There are world renowned players with reputations for brewing so it must be correct to brew some times. Patrick Chapin is the biggest innovator among the famous players. Conely Woods used to be a much bigger one, physically. Now he likes to dance.
Here's a famous article by Patrick Chapin on the topic of brewing. It made a big enough impression on me that I remembered it when planning this article. I recommend reading it.

Let's break the topic down by listing the advantages of net-decking and the advantages of brewing; Of course there is a grey area between copying seventy five cards and building a completely new deck with an unusual strategy. For the sake of keeping this article a readable length, I'm going to ignore the grey area.

  • Guaranteed good deck. You'll always bring a gun to a gun fight. If you design your own deck, you risk bringing a knife.
  • It's really fast. Find a list online and assemble it. You can have a top tier deck sleeved in your hands in less than an hour.
  • There are articles written online by professional players about your deck for you to learn from: sideboard plans, play tips, etc.
  • There will be others in your local area playing the deck who you can discuss it with.
  • People will be more willing to practice against you. Say it's the Thursday before your local PPTQ. Jess has invited you around for some beers and testing games. Two of your other friends, Steve and Dave have also come along. Steve has brought a 4c Rite deck to test with. There is going to be several of these decks at the PPTQ. Dave has brought his Assault Formation combo brew. He is the only player in the world playing it. Who would you rather practice against?


  • You'll never be behind the metagame because you'll be reacting to the popular decks.
  • I think it feels better when you win with a brew. I get a huge sense of pride from it. The feeling is so appealing to me that I'm prepared to take a few losses testing out brews rather than going straight for a proven net-deck.
  • Most players keep up-to-date with the current successful decks. Your local grinders will have a plan to combat each popular deck. If you brew, your opponents won't be prepared for you and they may make play mistakes or sideboard incorrectly. The advantage you can gain here is increased if you play a deck which is hard to interact with, e.g. a creatureless deck, a combo deck, a deck with narrow 'blowout' cards or a deck with lots of instant speed spells.
  • Formats which aren't Standard are much slower to evolve because they don't have every pro in the world dissecting them. For brewers, this presents an opportunity. There are still PPTQ's and GP's which are Modern. Depending on where you live, there may even be large Legacy or Highlander tournaments. Brewing in non-professional formats is far more likely to give you an edge.
  • You need to think about a format a lot and understand what's important if you are to make a successful brew. This format knowledge will help you during tournaments. You will be better able to identify key cards and what role your deck plays against the popular decks. You can still develop this amount of knowledge if you net-deck but it is not a forced prerequisite like it is when you brew.
  • If you ever qualify for the Pro Tour, being a brewer is a big advantage. The Pro Tour is always the first high-profile event of each Standard rotation. You can't net-deck for a Pro Tour.
  • Deck building skills you learn from brewing will improve your limited game, i.e. choosing a good mana curve and mana base.

This question implies that winning is your highest priority. If it isn't, then you should always bring a brew. If it is, then you should be aware of when brewing will increase your chance of winning. I will list several cases where brews are 'up'. If you're preparing for a tournament and most of these cases are true, then I say it's correct to bring a brew:

  • It is early in the format. That is, there has been no more than the Pro Tour and two or three Grand Prix's played since set release. Any longer than that and your brew has probably been tried and discarded by someone else.
  • There is no broken deck. The last Standard format was Kahns of Tarkir through to Oath of the Gatewatch. 4c Rally was by far the best deck. No amount of brewing could top it. Ironically, R&D may have suffered more scrutiny over 4c Rally than UW Eldrazi had the Pro Tour been Standard.
  • There is no powerful information-gaining cards in the format, e.g. Thoughtseize. You aren't going to get the jump on somebody when they see it coming.
  • You have plenty of time to practice and refine.
  • The format is not Standard. Pros dedicate all their time to breaking Standard. You alone can't compete with the brewing power of teams of pros. This also used to be the case for Modern but not any more.
  • You know what ~75% of the field is playing. In this case you can play hate strats. This often happens at stores where the same guys show up with the same decks. Rarely does it happen at big tournaments. Note that this point can overlap with the point about there being a broken deck, in this case, play the broken deck.

Do what makes you happy. If you love to brew, then jam your brews at low stakes events for practice. If one of them performs well and most of my 'When should I bring a brew' points are true, then I recommend jamming it at your next big tournament.



Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Format filters

Hey humans,

Every time a new standard rotation comes about, I go through every card and create a spreadsheet of deck ideas. This is a lengthy process but I don't mind because I enjoy it. One thing which makes this process much easier is what I call 'filters'. That is, cards which are very powerful relative to the rest of standard. Those few powerful cards will be very popular, so much in fact that any card which matches up against them poorly, is filtered out of the format, or at least into people's sideboards.

You've probably heard someone say "'X' warps the format". That card, 'X' is probably a filter. Examples of filters in the past include: Flametongue Kavu, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Bitterblossom, Siege Rhino, etc.

The current standard format is Dragons of Tarkir through to Shadows over Innistrad. I'm going list the cards which I believe are filters and explain why.

If Sylvan Advocate didn't have vigilance, I wouldn't consider it a filter. There have been many efficient two-drops in the past, Fleecemane Lion and Strangleroot Geist are two which come to mind (dunno why those two, Fleecy for sure came to mind because of my longing for Nick Watson). When Fleecemane Lion and Strangleroot Geist attack, you can at least attack them back with your two-power two drop. Sylvan Advocate though, blanks any two-drop without evasion or three power. Goodbye Scourge Wolf, goodbye Knight of the White Orchid (Knight of the Quite Awkward), etc.
"But Luke, Knight of the White Orchard does see play". Yep it does, but only because the deck it's in has plenty of cards to give that extra power to overcome Sylvan Advocate. I'd rather not rely on drawing my combo to overcome a staple of the format thank you. I want all my cards to match up decently by themselves.

Here's a list of in-my-opinion the best two-drop creatures in Standard:

Sylvan Advocate
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Stormchaser Mage
Forerunner of Slaughter
Kessig Forgemaster
Avatar of the Resolute
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

Sylvan Advocate is tier 1 because it rumbles with everything but Ayli early on and later in the game it's a huge 4/5 vigilance.
Ayli is held back by her legendary status and restrictive mana cost.
Stormchaser Mage and Forerunner of Slaughter are underrepresented at the moment, particularly Stormchaser Mage as he survives a friendly Radiant Flames
Kessig Forgemaster is, I believe the most underrated card in standard.
Avatar of the Resolute and Anafenza are too restrictive on mana-bases to be worth it.

Here's a list of other two-drop creatures which I consider generally good but don't rumble well with Sylvan Advocate:

Bearer of Silence
Skyrider Elf
Snapping Gnarlid
Leaf Gilder
Duskwatch Recruiter
Deathcap Cultivator
Dimensional Infiltrator
Hangarback Walker
Stratus Dancer
Dragon Whisperer
Zulaport Cutthroat

Filter cards not only filter out creatures, they also filter out removal spells. In current standard, removal spells like Twin Bolt and Avacyn's Judgment don't get there because they can't handle Sylvan Advocate.

The mana cost of a filter card determines which cards it filters out. For example, if a filter card costs five mana to cast, it isn't going to filter out any one-cost 2/1's because they'll get in enough damage to be good before the five-cost gets cast.
The mana cost factor is more relevant for removal, any creature which doesn't give you any value if removed, e.g. Polukranos, World Eater, shouldn't cost more than two mana more than any of the prevalent removal spells of the format. That's my rule at least. Back in Theros, Hero's Downfall was the premier removal spell (filter) and Polukranos passed the two-mana test.
I should put a caveat in here; sometimes a card is SO POWERFUL that even though there is the potential for you to get blown out, if they don't have the removal spell, you pretty much win the game. Baneslayer Angel was one such card. Doom Blade and Terminate were in her format, but sometimes you don't draw the removal and you lose. Cards like that are bad for magic.

Any dude which doesn't provide any 'enters the battlefield' trigger value and costs more than three, get's rekt by Reflector Mage. There's a reason why you don't see Woodland Wanderer wandering around or Endbringer bringing ends.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is kind of an exception. Part of the reason he still sees play despite getting rekt by Reflector Mage (Ref-rekt-or Mage) is that if you have a removal spell like Fiery Impulse on the same turn you cast Kalitas, you'll end up with a zombie. The other part of the reason he still sees play is how much of a Baneslayer he is.

Reflector Mage's 2/3 body matches Sylvan Advocate's, doubling the importance of choosing creatures which fight a 2/3 well.

An ironic thing about cards which act as filters, is that they weaken themselves as the format develops: players adapt and stop playing cards which are poor against filters. If you're in tune with when your local metagame reaches this point, you might be able to get away with leaving your poorly timed filters in the sideboard.
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets is a card which I rate highly but his -2 ability isn't very effective in a format where everyone has already adjusted to Reflector Mage. It's like Jace, Unraveller of Secrets was Starbucks and Reflector Mage was Melbourne's well established coffee cafe's...there's a filter coffee joke in there somewhere.

Notice how Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh got no play? I attribute that to Fiery Impulse. Similar to how Anax and Cymede never got any play because Wild Slash was popular.
Fiery Impulse's spell mastery is too hard to turn on by turn three, so X/3's on turn three are safe enough from Fiery Impulse.

Kozilek's Return compliments Fiery Impulse's warding effect on three-cost X/2's. To a lesser degree, so does Flaying Tendrils, Seismic Rupture and Gideon's knight tokens.

This card has single-handedly multi-leggedly pushed every X/1 out of the format since Pro Tour Vancouver last year.

Those are the only filters which come to mind at this stage. If you're brewing a deck for your next tournament, keep these four cards in mind and you should be ok.

Happy brewing,


Thursday, 5 May 2016

Why don't I modo?

How's it going?

I'm on the train to Melbourne, where I want to be living rather than Geelong. Living in Geelong I'm isolated. I can't play as much magic as I'd like. One solution is modo but for some reason I just don't play it. I believe I want to but when my mouse cursor hovers over the modo icon, I don't click. What is going on? I'm going to use this train ride to explore my thoughts and reasoning for this.

"It's not the same, there's no socialising"
This is partially true. There is nowhere near the level of social interaction as RL. You can't go down to the pub for a beer afterwards and it's almost considered impolite to talk in the chat.

However, I have heard exceptional stories. One was a husband and wife who met on modo. How awesome is that! I met them in Canada and they were fantastic.
Even without the social side though, magic should be fun enough that I want to play it on modo. I fear that maybe it isn't fun enough for me without the expressions and subtleties of human interaction. I want to love magic enough that I play all forms but evidentially I may not.
Streaming would be a great way to make modo more social. I could just bullshit to the camera and if I'm entertaining enough then others can enjoy it too. I'd like to learn the IT side of streaming too. I've done a little bit of that stuff and want to learn more, just handy skills to have.

$'s and the bad interface"
I think I'm a good enough player that I will win enough to make modo affordable. However, that will only be the case once I've become proficient with the interface. Currently I'm too slow and I misclick a lot. In the few times I've tried to get into modo it has been very frustrating when my intent is not delivered by the program. Practice makes perfect though and with enough hours I'll have the familiarity to be fast enough and rarely misclick. Getting to that point however, will cost significant time and lost entry fees. When I get a job in Melbourne and have the disposable income, then I'll pay those costs.

I'm not expecting Wizards of the Coast to improve modo, It's old and held together by quick-fix coding upon quick fix coding. To fix it they'd need to build a new program and burn the old one down.
The current Australian to American exchange rate is also pretty brutal for getting into modo.
Initially I'd need to buy constructed cards, which could be a huge investment depending on the format. I could probably reduce this by brewing up a decent budget deck though.

I did some research on the pathways to the Pro Tour that modo offers. I was surprised how many there were. I'll give my brief understanding here: All weekend every weekend there are tournaments which award you tokens. Those tokens enable you to enter a PTQ at the end of the weekend. Nearly every weekend! That's heaps. I had no idea. Not only is there that pathway, there is also the QP system. Whenever you do well in a minor event, you're awarded some QP's. Once you accumulate 35 QP's you can use them to enter a 'monthly'. If you do well in the monthly, you qualify for the 'quarterly'. Doing well in the quarterly qualifies you for the PT. The QP system also has a huge tournament at the end of the year which you can qualify for if you do well enough in monthlies and quarterlies.
It's a constant goal of mine to get on the Pro Tour. Such a shame to not be hitting these modo opportunities.

At the last Pro Tour I attended, Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar in Milwaukee, I got stung by not having modo skills. I was staying with a group of players for the week before the PT. It was great fun and there was always someone happy to jam games against my standard brews. Practicing draft however, was a different story. With only six players we couldn't paper draft. Modo was the only option. There was only a few days before the PT, not enough time for me to learn the modo interface properly. I resigned to birding the other guys' drafts, watching over their shoulder. Besides, I didn't have a constructed deck I liked yet and I could still be productive working on that. I went into the PT only having drafted BFZ about four times, a criminal amount and it showed in my draft record, 2-4. This was a lesson, I need to learn modo because this scenario could very well come up again.

I'm only two stops away from Southern Cross Station now and I feel a little closer to the heart of why I don't modo. Basically I'm putting it down to money at this stage. Perhaps that's just me procrastinating. Magic shouldn't be something you procrastinate from. That's for work and chores. Am I burning out a little bit? Possibly. I did decide to not go to a PPTQ last Sunday, granted that was a huge night, so I don't think that one counts. The spirit was willing but the flesh was tired and weak.

Ok, almost at Southern Cross. When I get a job in Melbourne I'll report back here, see if I've started modo-ing. Ironically I'll have much less time then, which may keep me from modo-ing. We'll see.

Catchaz laterz,