Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Magic - Black Devotion Template

At major Magic events over the last couple weekends, Master of Waves focused blue devotion decks have been blowing people away in Standard.  The success of these decks combined with my assumption that devotion will continue to be relevant throughout the remainder of the Theros block has inspired me to start testing devotion in some other (cheaper) colors.

On the table right now is a black devotion template.  Using only cards from Theros, I'm hoping this list can serve as the template for a block-constructed deck once the full block has been released.

As usual, I'm building this deck only from cards I actually own.  I'd like, for example, to run several copies of Hero's Downfall in place of Lash of the Whip for much cheaper, much more effective removal, but I only have one of the former.  I'd also like to run a couple copies of Insatiable Harpy to help deal with evasion and Whip of Erebos to recur my enters-the-battlefield devotion effects.  I'd also love to have a couple copies of Rescue from the Underworld for further ETB shenanigans; alas, I have none.

Here's the current list.  It's a little heavy on the upper end of the mana curve, but hopefully I can fill some of the gaps mentioned above and the next couple sets will provide a bit more for surviving the early game.

2 Abhorrent Overlord
3 Baleful Eidolon
4 Disciple of Phenax
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Insatiable Harpy
2 Keepsake Gorgon
4 Mogis's Marauder
1 Nighthowler

1 Hero's Downfall
Lash of the Whip
4 Pharika's Cure

4 Read the Bones
Sip of Hemlock

1 Whip of Erebos

23 Swamp

At this point, the basic strategy is pretty straightforward: Build up my devotion by dropping permanents until I can hit Gray Merchant or Mogis's Marauder to deal tons of damage.  The Overlord is an alternate win condition, plus a sac outlet so I can recur the ETB effects if I can't win with some burst damage a bit earlier in the game.  Read the Bones helps control my draws and look for what I need, with Pharika's Cure offsetting the life cost.

To form a more effective baseline for future modifications, the changes I'm hoping to make within Theros are:

  • Add more Hero's Downfall, removing Lash of the Whip
  • Add another Whip of Erebos, probably removing a copy of Read the Bones
  • Add another early-game creature or two, removing either Pharika's Cure or Nighthowler
I intend to play a few matches with this setup to see how it goes, with particular care going towards tweaking the overall speed (this may end up being too damn slow) and seeing whether Nighthowler and Insatiable Harpy are even useful.  Either way, I think this deck will be pretty fun to play, so here's hoping it's somewhat effective, too!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Magic - Let's Talk About Theros

Holy crap, I'm excited about Theros.

I was able to attend my local Friday Night Magic last week after missing both the Theros prerelease and release events, so it was my first opportunity to play with Magic's new Greek-themed set.  And I have to say - Theros made one hell of a first impression.

The Set
Sure, a lot of my excitement comes from the fact that I ended up winning the FNM draft (my first such win), but the set brings pretty sweet mechanics and feels incredibly well-balanced.  Although the Theros metagame certainly hasn't stablized, no single deck archetype appeared dominant.  Aggressive decks were a bit stronger than slower controlling decks, but I think that's just because the set is new and people don't quite know what they're doing.  In the coming weeks, I expect several dramatically different styles to emerge victorious as players get more comfortable with the set's powerful keywords.

In addition to being a surprisingly flavorful set (see Underworld Cerberus and Rescue from the Underworld) with some fabulous art, Theros is incredibly fun to play.  Each color has powerful common or uncommon removal capabilities (directly, like black's Sip of Hemlock, by fighting, like the green Time to Feed, or through combat tricks, like the uncharacteristically blue Triton Tactics), and there are a few big nasty creatures in each color, too.  As a result, it seems possible to build strong control decks and strong aggro decks in virtually any color combination; I think the metagame for Theros will be pretty exciting.

The real high points, however, are the awesome set mechanics.  Each is strong, and they all affect gameplay in significantly different ways, giving the Theros a very robust feel.

Scry is a returning mechanic that allows the player to look at the top N cards of his or her library.  After considering the options, the player is then able to put any number of those cards back on top of his or her library and the rest on the bottom.  Scry is a powerful tool for controlling the flow of the game, as it allows you to filter lands when you're looking for answers or a game-winning blow, or you can use it to guarantee land draws if you need to hit your next land drop.  It serves as pseudo card advantage, and it's a great weapon in any sort of deck.

The Mechanics
My favorite of Theros' mechanics is probably Bestow, which gives a number of creatures an interesting alternate ability.  Similar to Gatecrash's Bloodrush, Bestow lets you cast a creature as an Aura enchanting another creature.  It then grants that creature's abilities to the enchanted one, buffing the existing creature.  The biggest threat, however, is the fact that a creature cast using its Bestow cost will revert to a normal creature if its target disappears - destroying the enchanted creature leaves the Bestowed creature on the battlefield.

Following with the Greek theme of heroes, monsters, and gods, Monstrosity lets your big baddies get even bigger.  Paying the Monstrosity cost on a creature (which can be done at instant speed) will add some number of +1/+1 counters to that creature, providing some fearsome combat tricks or just a way to dump unused mana in the late game.  When many of these creatures become Monstrous, they also trigger further effects, like destroying a creature or preventing creatures from blocking for a turn.  Monstrosity turns some of your beefiest creatures into long-term investment plans, paying dividends well into the game.

To combat the set's monsters, the Heroic mechanic allows smaller creatures to engage in David and Goliath style combat.  Heroic triggers any time you cast a spell that targets one of these fearless creatures you control, and the ability provides some additional benefit, like +1/+1 counters or drawing a card.  These effects occur after any type of spell you cast, including a Bestowed creature, allowing you to draw ridiculous value from auras and battle tricks.

Finally, the gods of Theros are empowered by your Devotion to their color.  As a measure of your fidelity to a color, your Devotion is simply the number of times a mana symbol of that color appears in permanents you control.  Devotion has a number of powerful uses, from turning your otherwise passive but omnipresent gods  (like Nylea) into imposing creatures to gaining life (like Nylea's Disciple) or draining your opponent's life (as the Gray Merchant does).

Those five elements give Theros incredible depth and make it a fantastic set to play.

The Draft Deck
To give an idea of how Theros plays out, here's the deck that I ended up using at FNM:

1 Akroan Crusader
1 Blood-Toll Harpy
1 Cavern Lampad
1 Ember Swallower
1 Flamespeaker Adept
1 Fleshmad Steed
1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Minotaur Skullcleaver
2 Returned Centaur
1 Tymaret, the Murder King

1 Hero's Downfall
2 Pharika's Cure
2 Spark Jolt
1 Titan's Strength

2 Portent of Betrayal
1 Rage of Purphoros
1 Read the Bones

1 Ordeal of Purphoros
1 Scourgemark

7 Mountain
10 Swamp

It was a moderately aggressive deck, with many cheap creatures doing most of the work, but the bigger things like Ember Swallower give something to look forward to in the late game.  I used a little bit of everything in this deck, mostly allowing the various Scry spells to help me find the particular pieces I needed at any point in a game.  Read the Bones is unbelievably powerful, particularly while Flamespeaker Adept is on the board to take full advantage of the Scry.  Cavern Lampad did a lot of work, both while an aura and while a dude, and the Gray Merchant got me out of a couple tight spots.

All-in-all, I was able to dabble with all of the set's mechanics a bit and, with the exception of Monstrosity, I put them to good use.  I found that Scry is just an awesomely powerful mechanic, especially when attached to some basic removal spells.  I expect to see much more coherent decks as people get used to the set, though.  I'm looking forward to building decks that feature each of the other mechanics a bit more prominently in the coming weeks; it should be a great time.

The End
It seems like this set is all about getting tons of value out of your cards, and it's incredibly fun to play.  I highly recommend that everybody with the slightest interest in Magic give it a shot.