Monday, May 13, 2013

PTQ: Theros Tournament Report

By: Nic Chrysochou

The competitor stands at the starting line. Eyes focused, adrenaline pumping through his body increasing his heart rate; shaking his hands as if they contained dice as a gambler would do at a craps table; flicking his feet forwards as if kicking an imaginary football; licking his lips in anticipation...

My preparation for the double header weekend began shortly after the Gatecrash release. I had decided to attempt to relax and enjoy playing Magic the Gathering (MtG) as a hobby again after a series of very unexpected and disappointing results.

I had competed in all the following available qualifier events over the past year after the World Magic Cup 2012 (WMC):
·         South African Invitational in Johannesburg
·         PTQ Gatecrash (Montreal) in Cape Town
·         PTQ Dragon’s Maze (San Diego) in Johannesburg
The lead up to all these events were done in a similar manner and I was confident that the process and procedures I followed would bring success.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Marvelous Modern – Getting into it – White Staples

By: Dale Pon

When one thinks of White in Magic, words such as ‘law’, ‘order’, and ‘justice’ all spring to mind. White is characterised by removal such as spot removal and board wipes, controlling cards, as well as token producers and numerous other creatures with varying abilities.

The premier White spot removal spell in Modern is undoubtedly Path to Exile, since the ultimate White spot removal spell, Swords to Plowshares, isn’t legal or balanced for Modern. Even the drawback of Path to Exile (i.e. the exiled creature’s controller gets to search for a basic land put it into play tapped) is usually negligible (except when your opponent is severely mana screwed/ colour screwed). Condemn and Oust are sometimes used, as additional spot removal, but they still don’t even come close to the power level of Path to Exile. Oblivion Ring can also be regarded as spot removal which can also deal with pesky creatures as well as permanents such as Planeswalkers, Artifacts, and Enchantments.

Most of the times you want to remove a little more than just one creature and this is where board wipes/sweepers come in handy. The classic board wipe is Wrath of God, and its subsequent, slightly nerfed version (i.e. without the “can’t be regenerated” clause), Day of Judgment; while a newer incarnation of a board wipe is Terminus, which in some cases (particularly against indestructible or regenerating creatures) is actually better than the destruction of the creatures.

White also has a reputation for being a major culprit when it comes to control, and in Modern it is no different. Cards such as Rule of Law and Silence all make sure your opponent can’t do as much as he/she would like to, while Angel’s Grace and Phyrexian Unlife allow you to just say “No” (even if it is just for a short while).

As far as my previous vague statement of “other creatures with varying abilities” goes, I am referring to the numerous useful White creatures out there. Amongst them, those with ETB (Enter The Battlefield, for those who don’t know all the jargon) triggers such as Blade Splicer (2 bodies for 1 reasonably well-costed card is generally a good thing), Stonecloaker (the bounce as well as the graveyard hate at instant speed is rather nifty), Wall of Omens (a wall which replaces itself), Squadron Hawk (which stalls an opponent for a rather annoyingly long time), Sun Titan (who doesn’t love a 6/6 beater which brings stuff back nearly EVERY turn) Flickerwisp and Restoration Angel (giving the ability to reuse any ETB trigger again, as well as tricks with cards such as Mangara of Corondor to make stuff permanently disappear). Other White creatures which I think of as being staples due to their efficiency are: Mirran Crusader (a 2/2 double striker for 3 mana with protection from Black and Green, yes please!), Baneslayer Angel (a 5/5 flying, first-striking, lifelinking mofo with protections from stuff that is sometimes relevant), Silverblade Paladin (MOAR double strike), Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (annoying the crap out of burn and control players since 2012), as well as Auriok Champion (gains life and has protection from the 2 removal heavy colours).

Loam Lion
and Steppe Lynx are seen prominently in Zoo-like decks, where Steppe Lynx can dish out as much as 4 damage a turn in conjunction with fetch lands; while Martyr of Sands, Soul’s Attendant, Soul Warden, and Serra Ascendant are all seen prominently in Martyr Life/Soul Sisters. Creatures such as Aven Mindcensor and Leonin Arbiter all help in taxing and annoying any opponent who uses any search spells or fetch lands (which is the vast majority of Modern players).

Token creating spells which deserve a mention are Lingering Souls and Spectral Procession, while others such as Midnight Haunting, Raise the Alarm, and Gather the Townsfolk all see some play once in a while.

There are several White cards that I haven’t mentioned which are staples, and this might be due to them being covered when I eventually get to writing about sideboard staples.

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Marvelous Modern – Getting into it – Red Staples

By: Dale Pon

After the excitement of the PTQ has died down and the Modern season starts to come to an end, it’s time to continue with the staples of Modern.  The next colour I will talk about is Red. 

When one thinks of Red in Magic one almost immediately thinks “Burn”, i.e. direct damage.  Thus, it is no surprise that the first ‘category’ of Red staples is burn.  Nearly every one-mana red spell which does three damage is a red staple, e.g. Lightning Bolt, Lava Spike, Shard Volley, and Rift Bolt (even though it’s actual mana cost is three, most of the time you are suspending it for one red mana).  Other one-cost burn spells (that are in some situations better than a Lightning Bolt) include Galvanic Blast (in Robots/Affinity), Burst Lightning (the Kicker is sometimes relevant), and Forked Bolt (can two-for-one the opponent). There are also other useful one-cost burn spells such as Magma Spray and Pillar of Flame for those pesky Undying/Persist creatures such as Geralf’s Messenger or Kitchen Finks, while Flame Jab is seen in Aggro Loam decks.

There are several useful burn spells which cost two mana, such as Searing Blaze, Magma Jet, Tribal Flames (in the right deck this is five damage for two mana); Shrapnel Blast (five damage for the cost of two mana and an artifact), as well as Skullcrack (which essentially replaces Flames of the Blood Hand in Modern) which is useful against decks utilising a lot of life gain (e.g. Soul Sisters). 

What can be better than a single burn spell, except burn on legs.  There are numerous cheap, efficient Red creatures which are essentially that, and sometimes more.  Examples of these include Goblin Guide (your opponent gets a land, and a face-beating), Vexing Devil (most of the time this bad boy is one-mana for four damage), Plated Geopede (can become a 5/5 first striker in conjunction with fetchlands), Keldon Marauder (basically two guaranteed damage and a swing with a 3/3) , Hellspark Elemental and Spark Elemental (basically Lightning Bolt on legs).  Grim Lavamancer also fits into this category, but although he doesn’t actually bash face he still deals his fair share of damage to the opponent’s face.

There is a third category of Red staples known as ‘sweepers’, i.e. spells that clear the board of creatures.  These include the oldie-but-goodie Pyroclasm, the versatile Slagstorm, the artifact-friendly Whipflare, and the uncounterable sweeper/burn Volcanic Fallout.  These are all useful for removing those Hexproof guys, especially everyone’s favourite Geist of Saint Win (i.e. Geist of Saint Traft).

Besides burning face Red is also notorious for land destruction.  Land destruction is a less common approach, with the idea that if the opponent has no lands they can’t cast any spells.  Examples of land destruction spells include Boom/Bust, Stone Rain, Molten Rain, Sowing Salt, and even Avalanche Riders.

Miscellaneous Red staples include cards used in Storm, with win conditions such as Storm Entity, Grapeshot, and Empty the Warrens; and mana accelerators such as Desperate Ritual, Pyretic Ritual, and Simian Spirit Guide.  There are some Red cards used in more novel combos such as Conflagrate, Lightning Storm, and Banefire.  There are also several Red cards with uses in more specific decks, for example, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (in Splinter Twin and Pod decks) and Atog (in Red Robots); while cards such a Kiln Fiend, Fling, Brute Force, Assault Strobe, Faithless Looting, and Desperate Ravings see fringe play from time to time in some novel deck of sorts.
Red staples I won’t really talk about are those pesky creatures known as Goblins.  Goblin Bushwhacker, Goblin Chieftain, Goblin Wardriver, Siege-Gang Commander, as well as Warren Instigator all make appearances in Goblin decks, although currently Goblins aren’t very popular in Modern.

Whether it’s by burn, aggressive creatures or land destruction, Red is definitely a good colour if you love causing chaos and destruction!

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Marvelous Modern – Lead up to the PTQ

By Dale Pon

So I was going to continue with more Modern staples this week, but the Modern PTQ is right around the corner so I decided to write something concerning that.  Don’t worry though, I will continue with the staples of the other colours after the PTQ.

The PTQ (or Pro Tour Qualifier) is the chance for every Magic player to chase the dream of making it big on the competitive scene.  The winner of the PTQ gets an invitation and flight to PTQ Dragon’s Maze in San Diego where they have the opportunity to battle with all the big names.  Naturally, one wants to try their best in winning the PTQ and the last thing you want to do is lose the final or miss out on the Top 8 by forgetting something silly or making a really bad play mistake.

Today’s article will provide some tips, particularly aimed at those new to Modern, but can serve as reminders to veterans as well.  Obviously the longer one has played Modern, the greater that player’s knowledge of the card pool and its interactions should be.  This helps greatly in deciding the best strategies and cards to use for particular scenarios, as well as what to be mindful of.  For example, if your opponent plays his/her second land on Turn 2 (one of which is an island) and passes the turn; you can predict with a fair amount of accuracy that he/she is holding either a Mana Leak, Remand or Snapcaster Mage.  Thus, one should play around this, e.g. by playing a spell that you don’t mind getting countered, or attacking with a creature you don’t mind trading off with a Snappie.  Similarly, facing an opponent with one untapped island could mean a Spell Pierce, an untapped plains could mean a Path to Exile, while an untapped mountain could mean a Lightning Bolt.  Two untapped lands, one of which is a swamp, could indicate your opponent holding one of the removal spells black is known for, such as Doom Blade, Go for the Throat, Smother or Ultimate Price.  These are just some simple examples of ensuring you don’t fall for a really cheap trick.

In a similar vein, one also needs to be aware of the various expected cards that are likely to be side boarded in vs you and how to sideboard appropriately.  If in Game 1 your opponent saw your artifacts such as Aether Vial or Isochron Scepter be consciously aware that chances are they’ve sided in their 2-4 anti-artifact cards in the sideboard.  A little trick I used when I used to play American Scepter Delver, was when my opponent saw my Isochron Scepter with an imprinted Lightning Helix on it in Game 1 I would side out all my Scepters for Game 2, thus rendering most of their sideboard hate useless and forcing my opponent to have 2-4 completely dead cards in their deck.  If your deck’s idea is based on the graveyard, e.g. Eggs, Reanimator, etc, then you should be anticipating cards such as Relic of Progenitus, Tormod’s Crypt, Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void or similar cards to be sided in and thus you should probably be countering this with cards such as Echoing Truth (for the Enchantments) or Pithing Needle for the artifacts.  However, Pithing Needle has more applications than just that, it can be side boarded in against Planeswalkers, Aether Vial’s or even Swords.  As one plays at a more competitive level more often one learns which cards are standard sideboard material.  As much as learning to sideboard in is important, taking the right cards out is also crucial.  There’s no real purpose in having 8 removal spells in your deck if your opponent is running a Combo deck.

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Marvelous Modern – Getting into it – Blue Staples: Part 2

By: Dale Pon

This is Part 2 of Modern Blue staples, for Part 1 go Here.

Blue is the colour of control and one way of doing this is by having more cards than the opponent (i.e. card advantage). Thus, aside from counterspells, Blue is also known for its card drawing capabilities. There are different kinds of card draw in Modern; you get a variety of cantrips which let you draw a card and do something useful, e.g. Gitaxian Probe, Twisted Image, Thought Scour, and even Spreading Seas; then you get the kind of draw spells which modify the order of your library to a degree (unfortunately the best spells of this sort, i.e. Ponder and Preordain, are banned in Modern because they’re too good), e.g. Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, and Telling Time; you also get the spells which just dig deeper into your library for a card, such as Forbidden Alchemy and Peer Through Depths; and lastly the kind that generates card advantage such as Think Twice and Visions of Beyond (if your graveyard is rather full).

Another thing Blue is known for is its ability to stall the game in an effort to control the game. This can be achieved by bouncing the opponent’s creatures (using a card like Vapor Snag), or by tapping them (using a card like Gigadrowse). Creatures such as Kira, Great Glass-Spinner and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir also serve to stall the opponent, the former by forcing the opponent to use two removal spells/abilities to get rid of one creature, the latter by only letting the opponent cast spells whenever they can cast sorceries. This slows down the opponent and buys time for you to draw the right answer. Naturally, if you’re like me you don’t always draw the right answer, thus it becomes necessary to search your library for an answer, which Blue allows in the form of ‘tutor’ cards such as Mystical Teachings and Gifts Ungiven. Mystical Teachings allows you to search for a specific instant card, while Gifts Ungiven forces you to search for 4 cards with different names which doesn’t initially sound very useful, but choosing your cards carefully can still result in you getting the desired result.

There are several other Blue staples in Modern that don’t quite fall in any of the aforementioned “categories”; such as my friend Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, Sower of Temptation, and Threads of Disloyalty.

I don’t think Delver of Secrets needs much explanation, although you could always ask anyone who has faced the one mana 3/2 flier on Turn 2. Snapcaster Mage is an example of a card which creates “virtual card advantage” since you aren’t actually getting more cards than the opponent, you’re merely reusing an instant or sorcery in your graveyard, i.e. you’re getting two cards worth of effect for one card. Vendilion Clique is a very useful flier which also serves as hand disruption, while Sower of Temptation and Threads of Disloyalty allow you to take control of an opponent’s troublesome creature.

There are also several Blue cards, e.g. Merrow Reejerey, Pestermite, and Master of Etherium that are only staples for specific decks, i.e. Merfolk, Splinter-Twin and Affinity respectively. I won’t really explain them here since they each have synergy in their respective decks.

That about wraps up an overview of Blue staples in Modern, although chances are I’ve missed a few, so feel free to add any in the comments.

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Marvelous Modern – Getting into it – Blue Staples: Part 1

By: Dale Pon

So now you’re really excited about Modern and have invested or traded for the lands of your favourite colours… That’s great but you actually need creatures and spells to win. 

In the following articles I will be talking about the staples of Modern.  So, “what are staples?” you might ask; well simply put staples are the cards that are most frequently played and are regarded as the best and most efficient at what they do (examples include Lightning Bolt, Mana Leak, Path to Exile) and contrary to what one might expect not all staples are ridiculously expensive.

In today’s article I will talk a little about Modern Blue staples, what makes them “staples” and provide a list of some of them.

Blue has always been the colour associated with control and knowledge, thus it is only fitting that the basis of Blue staples are counterspells, stalling spells and card-drawing spells.  Unfortunately, in Modern we don’t have the ‘free’ counters in the form of Force of Will and Daze, and thus all counters in Modern require untapped blue mana.  The most important and prevalent blue counterspells range from 1 to 4 mana in cost. 

Important blue counterspells costing 1 blue mana are:

Spell Pierce

As you can see, they each have rather restrictive conditions, and Dispel is used in the Sideboard vs Combo, while Spell Pierce and Spell Snare are both used Mainboard.  Spell Pierce has the ability to stop an early Liliana of the Veil or even just counter another counter; while Spell Snare stops numerous valuable creatures such as Snapcaster Mage, Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant.

Coming in at a converted mana cost (CMC) of 2 are:

There are several less popular counterspells with a CMC of 2, such as Delay, Rune Snag, Deprive, Unified Will, Muddle the Mixture and the current Standard familiars Negate and Essence Scatter.

Mana Leak is the classic counterspell from Standard not so long ago, and in the early game it’s as good as a Counterspell, while later on it forces your opponent to always leave 3 extra mana open.  However late-game it’s pretty terrible, merely adding a premium to your opponent’s spell cost.  Remand is my personal favourite and for newer Modern players it may come as a surprise, since it counters the opponent’s spell, but then it returns the spell to their hand instead of going to the graveyard.  That’s right, your opponent gets to cast that same spell again the following turn if they so wish, and all you get in return is a single card.  So why is it so good?  The reason is that when you “Remand” your opponent’s spell, a fair amount of the time they’re tapped out and have to pass the turn, while you get to draw an additional turn; in a way you have “Time Walk”ed them, and in the your turn following the Remand you can generally cast a spell or creature without fear of disruption.  Since Remand doesn’t actually stop the spell overall, it just slows the opponent down and is regarded as a strong Tempo-play (tempo is basically the rate at which you are playing your threats, in a way it’s your momentum; you want to have a tempo advantage since it essentially means your opponent is on the back foot).

Counters with CMC 3 aren’t very popular in Modern, since the difference between a cost of 2 and 3 mana is huge is Modern; counters like Dissipate see fringe play due to the exile clause, while Cancel is horrifically bad (even in Standard) and you never want to be running any number of them in your 75.

If the difference between a CMC of 2 and 3 is so huge, one can only imagine the jump to a CMC of 4.  However in Modern there is one counterspell with a CMC of 4 that sees regular play, and that is Cryptic Command.  The reason for this is its amazing versatility; it firstly counters (its main use), it can replace itself, it can tap out your opponent’s creatures to prepare an alpha strike or it can bounce that troublesome permanent.  It is used predominantly in Scapeshift (to protect the combo), as well as in control decks.

In my next article I will continue with Blue staples, more specifically with card-drawing staples as well as stalling spells (such as bounce and tap effects).

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

Magic Theory 101 - Is it a good or bad idea to stick with one deck through a Constructed Season?

By: Enrico Agostino Guarneri

I asked a couple of top local players, and international professional players whether it is a good or bad idea to keep playing the same deck throughout a constructed season.  These were their replies:

Adam Katz:
“When playing a big event it’s really important to have lots of experience with the deck you are playing. From that end its helpful to have played the deck in many tournaments however testing in a home setting can give you the same edge. So if you do not do enough home testing I would say it’s important to stick to the same deck, if you do enough testing then I think it’s fairly irrelevant, so if you like the deck keep playing it, if you think there is something better then switch.”

Russell Tanchel:
“I prefer to play all sorts of different decks. Playing one deck all the time is boring. I enjoy exploring all the different colours, speed, and strategies of the different decks. I will play a deck from around 1 to 3 times, changing some cards every new tournament. If I find a deck I really really like I will occasionally play it more often. But I prefer switching between aggro, control and midrange.”

Jarcque Henning:
“It is an advantage to play different decks. Learning the ins and outs of different decks will give you a feel of how to play against it and even how to beat it. But also a disadvantage by not knowing one deck good enough. I think it all comes down to personal preference, and how versatile your play skills are.”

Michael Strauss:
“Personally I prefer mixing up decks as it keeps things interesting and avoids games becoming monotonous, but obviously I have my favourite deck, or style of decks in the season that I would stick to in bigger events.”