Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Melbourne's abundance of stores


I live in Melbourne, Australia. It is the year 2017. When I moved here around ten years ago, there were only three Magic the Gathering retail stores that I knew of within a half-hour train ride from the city. Now there are about fourteen! And then there's the biggest store of all, Magic Online. Lately I've been thinking about what this means; Is it sustainable? What are the advantages and disadvantages? This article is my thoughts on the subject. It is targeted at Melbourne players but there may be ideas to garner for anyone not living here.


Greater flexibility in when you can play:

When there are multiple stores within a similar area, they will adjust which weeknights they host events as to not clash with each other.

Higher standards of store performance:

If a player has a choice between two stores there are many factors which can suade them: cleanliness, friendliness of staff, smoothness of tournaments, prize support, tournament entry, stock availability, positive environment, etc. When stores are competing they are incentivised to improve in all these aspects.

Less travel time for players.

(Assuming all the stores are spread apart from eachother)

More PPTQ's:

For me personally, this is the biggest advantage. There's an average of more than one PPTQ per week within a two hour drive of Melbourne. This is amazing for grinders who prioritise PPTQ's over almost everything. Adelaide in comparison only get about four PPTQ's per season.
Huge shout-out to Jimbo Jones and all the Melbourne store organisers for taking the effort to avoid PPTQ date clashes, legends.

A quick aside regarding PPTQ's: Players are often unaware of PPTQ's happening around them. My current system is to check the Wizards website before each season here. Then I'll add each Victorian PPTQ to my google calendar. Only takes ten minutes. There's also draftaholics anonymous, which is a great resource.


Potential to spread player base too thin:

PPTQ's have big enough prizes that players will travel far to play in them. Weekly FNM is a different story. When the city's player base is spread thin, smaller weekly events may only get seven or nine players turn up. If a player has taken the time and effort to come play, then the event doesn't fire, that is very discouraging. If that player had the potential to invest in the game but instead stopped playing because their first two events didn't fire, that hurts the community.

Date saturation:

PPTQ's are the most attractive tournaments and there is one almost every Saturday and Sunday. All the grinders are lured to PPTQ's and away from other tournaments. This means that formats like Legacy, Vintage and Highlander can't host weekend tournaments. The same is true for Modern during three out of four PPTQ seasons. With good planning and communication, stores can organise big events before the PPTQ dates are submitted to Wizards but this is difficult, e.g. Eternal Masters at Next Level Games Dandenong, 10th -12th June 2017.
Other cities with large player bases but fewer stores can better support non-PPTQ formats.


Obviously Melbourne has a relatively large population but I think there's another reason:
Magic the Gathering started in Australia a certain number of years ago. People tend to get into Magic when they have a lot of free time, like when they're at university. Now happens to be the era in which that first generation of grinders have had enough years in the work force to save some money. They're sick of working for others and they're taking a shot at running a Magic store.


I haven't got the data to tell if all the Melbourne stores are doing well financially but I feel we're slightly over-saturated. Hopefully paper Magic continues to grow and all the stores enjoy success. I suppose the years to come will tell. It's not all bad if some stores need to close. It will just bolster the remaining stores. Greater attendance at events increases player confidence and humans love being a part of big social events.

Melbourne, take it from a player who's been playing non-stop for more than ten years; we got it really good right now. Appreciate it. Get down to your local store and jam some games!



Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Walk like a Highlanderian - Amonket Set Review

May his return come quickly,
and may we be found worthy...

In alphabeti-cool order:

Too slow for maindecks but big and scary in the sideboard of some decks. If you're some crazy madness deck with lots of discard, Archfiend can shred creature decks.

An inconspicuous sideboard card. I consider Marsh Casualties and Zealous Persecution very playable cards. This is one mana less, that's huge! Although it doesn't kill True-Name Nemesis like the others do. This card is somewhere in the Forked Bolt range, a card which I've seen cast to great effect many times.

Yeah I'd call this playable, just. Either way it's mana-inefficient but you need removal when you need removal. Highlander has an interesting dilemma: you need removal for the few super busted permanents (Time Vault, Vedalken Shackles, Moat, Skullclamp, etc), otherwise you just want threats so that you don't brick against blue control decks and creatureless combo decks. Cast Out is passable in both situations. Exile is also pretty nice.
The plethora of decent cycling cards from this set gives a miracle themed deck a few more playables. Also good for delirium and Emrakul, the Promised End.

Best counterspell we've seen since...Spell Pierce? "unless its controller pays 1" cards are so funny. Feels so dirty on both sides when they work.

This one's a bit of a stretch but I honestly would play it in my colourless beatdown deck. When you're playing ~24 unique colourless lands, you'd be surprised how deep you need to go.
In my opinion Zombies are still far from a playable tribe.

I can imagine these in some kind of Delver deck with Gitaxian Probe, Kiln Fiend, Gush, Spellheart Chimera, Bedlam Reveler, Young Pyromancer, Curious Homunculus, Thoughtscour, Mental Note, you get the idea. Three additional cards for a strategy should not be overlooked.

It think this card is playable in all midrange decks. If people can spend mana on Sensei's Divining Top and other cantrips and still not fall too far behind on tempo, that's an indicator that the format allows doing 'nothing' with one mana here and there. If he was a 3/3 I'd say no but 4/4 is good enough in my opinion.
If you're playing some delve or miracle cards, Sphinx gets a little better.
There might be a wacky Living End deck which could play this.

Only playable in Living End I think.

Goes in the madness deck or even the Living End deck which I apparently think is a thing.

If you've laid out your weenie deck and almost all your dudes happen to be ≤2 power, then this is a great sideboard card.

If you're green and low on artifact removal, I think this is solid. You just gotta have answers for Time Vault/Vedalken Shackles/Jitte/Skullclamp.

Excellent aggro card. You will need sufficient removal for their blockers though.

First let me say that I am also one of the many players sick of Gatewatch planeswalker cards. I'm particularly sick of how all the cards with the same planeswalker type get diluted with each printing of that character. Each of the Gatewatch members are no longer cards. Having said that I think the story articles on the mothership are awesome and I look forward to them every week.
This is a particularly interesting Gideon.
That first ability is more of a control ability. If you were playing GotT in an aggro deck, the creature you target can still block provided that it can block one of your attackers and not die. In that context Gideon is a very bad removal spell.
In that same context, you also can't attack if they have a second big creature, since the creature you didn't target can counterattack Gideon next turn. If your opponent has multiple creatures you kind of need to hold back blockers to keep Gideon alive and that is not in an aggro deck's plan. Aggro deck's creatures typically don't block well, Steppe Lynx for example.
If you don't expect many creatures from the average opponent and you're playing some creature removal, then Gideon is still maindeckable in aggro decks. But all things considered, I see Gideon as more of a control card. He plays Icy Manipulator, then you sweep and he switches to killing the opponent or their planeswalker.
Against decks without many creatures, Gideon is just a great beater and therefore a decent sideboard card.
Against some combo decks, Gideon is an excellent hate bear. Any deck trying to kill you with Tendrils of Agony is going to have issues with this latest Gideon.
Last ability also sweet with Ad Nauseum and Pacts.

UG Nissa seems awesome. She requires a heavy build restriction but the power is there. You obviously want to be really creature heavy and you want all your creatures to be good defensively so that they can protect Nissa.
Library manipulation works well with her, Sensei's Divining Top plus fetchlands is a classic. Brainstorm too. Courser of Kruphix works nicely as well.
Planeswalkers with a +2 loyalty ability are frustrating hard to kill. In a way Nissa can act like a removal spell for a two-power creature.
UG Nissa could work well in a weird burn deck. Imagine casting her for four mana then using your burn spells to kill their guys; in a couple turns you've got ten damage for four mana.

Great in the enchantress deck. Can hose some combo decks similarly to Nevermore.

A very solid dude. In a race situation, this guy is as fast as a 4/4. Weak against Liliana, the Last Hope but you're unlikely to face her.

Yet another five-cost four-power haste dragon. I think this comes second to Stormbreath Dragon in that category but still good.
Play some discard and hatebears to ensure you don't get combo'd out and let the dragons do the rest.

Hits a bunch of things in Highlander, most notably: fetchlands, Sensei's Divining Top, Flash/Hulk and Time Vault.

Only in Boros aggro. Only reason you'd not go Naya would be to use Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon.

In addition to Reclamation Sage. Better than Reclamation Sage against the big artifact decks which play Myr Battlesphere and such.

I play Coercive Portal in the sideboard of my Mishra's Workshop deck and it's great. Oracle's Vault is similar enough that I think it's playable.
Note that Oracle's Vault says "play" rather than "cast", therefore it works with lands. At times, Contagion Clasp and Contagion Engine have made it into my Workshop Deck, their proliferate abilities would be sweet with this.
This card gets better the lower your curve is. You really want to play the card you drew for the turn AND the card you exile off Oracles Vault.
Because the ability says "exile", be wary of activating it if there's a chance you will flip a critical combo piece that you can't afford to cast.

A good kill piece for Worldgorger Combo.

What a difference cycling can make to really situational cards. I think this is maindeckable. It's in the same realm as Slice and Dice and Starstorm. Slice and Dice is totally underplayed by the way.

Playable in the aggro affinity deck. I'm imagining Phyrexian Walker, Ornithopter, Memnite and Court Homunculus bashing in turn two and then late game all the creature lands getting in on the action. I'm playing one in my Modern affinity deck. Gonna be siiiick.
Could also be good in a stompy deck with lots of mana creatures.

Spicy. Ever read DUNE? (The original Pokahontas Avatar)

If these didn't have land types they'd be unplayable. The land types make them good in decks which care about having lots of a certain land type. I'm thinking Scapeshift, High Tide, Lashwrithe, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary etc.

Combos with Devoted Druid for infinite mana and is in the weirdly large group of creatures that gain infinite life with Kitchen Finks and a sac outlet: Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Metallic Mimic, Master Biomancer...
There's a pretty sweet Collected Company deck going on here.

"Hmmmm interesting, the Royal Vizier. That would"
Infinite with Time Vault. Also untaps Gaea's Cradle and Tolarian Academy, which could be a thing.

"It's a world class menagerie! Prince Ali. Fabulous he. Ali Ababwaaaaaa"
Could be good in Elves where your whole deck is dudes and you have heaps of mana.

OK! That concludes the playable section. Amonkhet has lots of fringe playables, no really big standouts. I'm gonna say the best two cards for Highlander are Censor and Gideon of the Trials.
With so many fringe playables, there are of course those which I feel fall just short. I wanted to mention them:

Parallel Lives hasn't been a thing in Highlander yet. Maybe Anointed Procession is that one extra effect to push it into playability? But really, combo decks can be killing you on turn four, as can aggro decks. This just seems too slow. Unless there is some ≤3cmc enchantment which you can sac to produce a few big hasty threats, then yeah, too slow. Zektar Shrine Expedition? Saproling Burst?

Sweet that this lets you cast the Time Spiral (expansion) cycle of 'no mana cost' cards: Ancestral Visions, Wheel of Fate, Restore Balance, Living End and Hypergenesis. Unfortunately that's not enough to make this card playable in Highlander and all those cards require very specific and not necessarily mutual strategies.

I would've had this in the 'playables' section had this not been a sorcery. Time Vault and equipment really require instant speed to counteract.

"Indestructible", that's what we're interested in. We already have Darksteel Citadel and Flagstones of Trokair. Perhaps eventually there'll be enough indestructible lands to make a dedicated Armageddon/Ravages of War/Burning of Xinye/Boom // Bust deck.

If you're non-interactive you need to be able to kill by turn four, otherwise aggro decks and combo decks will kill you first. In four turns you have ten mana. They'll draw a minimum four cards, probably more since they'll be fetching. You need to mill an average of more than five cards per mana....Compelling Argument does not do this.

More like KefNOT. Maybe, MAYBE a sideboard card for control mirrors, similar to Keranos.

I've played Loxodon Smiter a lot and been very impressed with it. Unfortunately for serpopards everywhere, that one less toughness makes a huge difference. Lightning Bolt, Anger of the Gods, Kitchen Finks, Wild Nacatl, all very popular cards. 
Making the rest of your dudes uncounterable is probably worse than not having the hilarious discard-cast clause of Loxodon Smiter.

I was (and still am) quite high on Saskia the Unyielding, who is one mana less. That's the difference between Jace, the Mindsculptor and Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. Admittedly I built Zoo and neglected to add Saskia, so if she isn't getting a spot, then Samut hasn't got much of a chance. But cummon! Look at all those keywords! Perhaps she's good enough. Flash is quite nice in Highlander since counterspells are so good.
Matt Sperling is an entertainer for sure. Watch this from 5:40

Haha! I think I actually got this set review out at a reasonable time. Before the next big Highlander event at least, which is probably Eternal Masters at Next Level Games Dandenong on Monday 12th of June. If you're in Melbourne there's a small Highlander at Next Level Games Ringwood Sunday 14th May and another on Saturday 20th May at General Games. General Games is a great store with player-staff, check'em out if you're local. I'll definitely be at the General Games event.

Maa salama!