Magic: The Gathering, Esper

Sphinx of the Steel Wind

Sphinx of the Steel Wind

Sphinx of the Steel Wind

While playing The Cube I discovered many cards that cried out to be put in decks. Several of them required new decks since they did not fit into my limited number of leftover decks when I reentered the world of playing Magic. One of those cards was the Sphinx of the Steel Wind.

The Sphinx of the Steel Wind is an Artifact Creature – Sphinx that costs BUW5 to cast and is a 6/6 with flying, first strike, vigilance, lifelink, pro red and green. The artwork is amazing too. This card is so good in the cube it inspired me to make the bluest of my blue decks yet.

I don’t mean blue as in percentage of blue cards in the composition of the deck, I mean as in control. Blue is all about control. So I built what turned out to be my most annoying deck yet (I’m sorry but I enjoy being a blue/white player). It’s focus is card drawing/denial and its win condition is based upon casting large flying creatures.

Sharuum the Hegemon

Sharuum the Hegemon

This deck went through several iterations before reaching its final form. When I first constructed the deck it struggled to reach a win. The deck would get off to a good, if slow (blue and white folks, it’s going to be slow) start and then just kind of peter out. I played it for several weeks, eliminating bad draws and establishing a consistent pattern of losses.

Since there aren’t many ways to speed up blue/white/black I had to focus on what blue and white do well: Control. So I took out some of the sphinxes and added more control. Once I was done I realized this was the most controlling of any deck I had ever made. The changes worked and now the deck actually does win on occasion. When it doesn’t win it annoys the living daylights out of my opponent so even when it looses I win.

Here is the card list for my Esper deck:

Esper
3 Jelenn Sphinx
2 Sphinx Sovereign (This is the last Sphinx I ordered for this deck)
2 Consecrated Sphinx (Soooo good)
2 Sphinx of Magosi
2 Sphinx of the Steel Wind (This is the card that started this deck)
1 Sharuum the Hegemon
1 Prognostic Sphinx
1 Arbiter of the Ideal
1 Enigma Sphinx (this is way better than you might think)
1 Sphinx Summoner
1 Sphinx of Jwar Island
1 Ojutai, Soul of Winter (Surprise!)
1 Steel Hellkite
1 Voidmage Husher
1 Ascended Lawmage (low casting cost comparatively speaking and the art fits the tone of the deck)
2 Utter End
1 Sphinx’s Revelation

Sphinx's Revelation

Sphinx’s Revelation


1 Cyclonic Rift
1 Exclude
1 Punish Ignorance (I love everything about this card)
1 Undermine
1 Countersquall
1 Comeuppance
1 Dismiss
2 Dissipate
1 Armillary Sphere
1 Sol Ring
1 Sapphire Medallion
4 Arcane Sanctum
4 Drowned Catacomb
3 Tundra
3 Isolated Chapel
2 Azorius Guildgate
1 Reliquary Tower
3 Island
3 Plains
1 Swamp

Punish Ignorance

Punish Ignorance

As with all of my decks, this may undergo changes as new sets come out and potentially better cards become available, or I discover them as I continue to rediscover Magic: The Gathering. K

Magic: The Gathering; Dimir, My Process for Deck Building

Hythonia the Cruel

Hythonia the Cruel

Hythonia the Cruel

Everyone has their own, unique, process for building a deck when it comes to Magic. Even people who build competitive, tournament decks have their own approach, that is part of the beauty of the game, that it taps into creativity on the part of the players. This also causes people to become attached to their decks. They built them, they play them, it’s something they are invested in.

I’m sharing three decks that I’ve put together that are moderately successful. I thought it would be useful, possibly even helpful to see my process for building a deck. Now I like to build Johnny decks not Spike decks and it’s kind of messy since I’m not in a super hurry to get it done.

First I pick a theme or find a card I want to play. For my Dimir deck (black and blue), I stumbled across a Hythonia the Cruel and loved the picture. Upon reading the card I realized that I couldn’t just throw her into my Rakdos deck because her Monstrous form destroys all non-Gorgon creatures. This, naturally, meant that I was now committed to building a deck around Gorgons. I also had a Morkrut Banshee I couldn’t wedge into my Rakdos deck and I really think it’s a good card. So I’ll put it with my Hythonia the Cruel and see what I can do with them.

Xathrid Gorgon

Xathrid Gorgon

Once I have the seed of a deck, like the above two cards, I begin to choose cards that I like, that I think might work or that seem cool and throw them into a deck case. Editing will come later. I tend to throw a bunch of cards together if I like them or think I want to play them and then have to edit later. It’s far easier to cut a deck down than try to find that one perfect card. Also, if you get a deck together that functions you can play it until you stumble across that perfect card.

There aren’t really enough Gorgons to make a full deck with just them so I’m thinking Gorgons and Zombies. This means I need to find some kind of graveyard recursion. Zombies call for it by nature. I wouldn’t be being true to the spirit of the creature if I neglected graveyard recursion. The question is what? Also I think a Skullclamp is called for.

My card list so far:

1 Hythonia the Cruel
4 Gorgon Recluse
3 Keepsake Gorgon
4 Xathrid Gorgon
1 Black Cat
1 Morkrut Banshee
1 Pharika’s Chosen
1 Steel Hellkite (I like it and I haven’t found another home deck for it)
1 Stromgald Crusader (His place is not secure in this or any deck but I keep trying)

Nyxathid

Nyxathid


1 Lifebane Zombie
1 Diregraf Captain
1 Nyxathid (I keep trying to get this into a deck)
1 Night’s Whisper (the art goes in this deck)
1 Grasp of Darkness (foil, gorgeous and disturbing art)
1 Tendrils of Corruption
1 Countermand
1 Exclude
1 Dissipate
1 Dismiss
1 Dark Ritual
2 Aspect of Gorgon
1 Skullclamp
1 Sol Ring

32 cards so far and I still don’t know quite what this deck does. To make it work I have to know what it does—besides win, silly. I need to know how it is going to win. I need to pick a focus for it like my Orzhov deck has and my Rakdos deck.

Night's Whisper

Night’s Whisper

From what the cards already do there is a lot of removal. That may be the way to go. A little more control from the blue and that could get my Gorgons and Zombies through their defensive line.

Figure 24 land to start with in an average deck with a relatively undemanding mana curve, that leaves me with 4 more cards I can easily fit into the deck and keep it at 60 cards. I’ll have to see what I find. This is the beginning of my Dimir deck. I will keep you updated as I complete it and how it plays in game play. K

Magic : The Gathering About that Orzhov Deck

Obzedat, Ghost Council

Obzedat, Ghost Council

Obzedat, Ghost Council

Just the week before Christmas 2014 I got back into playing Magic: The Gathering. I dusted off my two old decks and after several painful defeats reworked them, taking out some old cards and putting in some new ones. I’ve been having so much fun I decided to make a new deck with all new cards.

I started with a couple cards I knew I wanted to play and then as I chose cards that I thought went with them I began to think about what I wanted the deck to do. With my Rakdos deck it’s all about sacrificing creatures and bringing them back from the graveyard. With my Azorius deck it’s about casting large flying creatures. As I began to look at the cards I was drawn to for my Orzhov deck I found that life gain and life drain seemed to be the way the cards were going so that became the focus of the deck.

Erebos, God of the Dead

Erebos, God of the Dead

It’s awful to say but I began to look at the cards I was considering and trying to see how I could make the deck such that every time I did something, my opponent was punished for it. No card does just one thing with the exception of basic land. I still managed to get some cards in the deck that I just like too. There’s always room for some cards you just like. Having a defined focus for the deck led to me building one of the best decks I’ve ever put together and it was good from the beginning.

Often times when a deck is first put together it goes through a period of tuning and refinement as a player discovers what works and what doesn’t in the deck. For my Orzhov deck that was not the case. I still fine tune it but it has worked from the first game.

Ashen Rider

Ashen Rider

Here is the card list for my Orzhov deck:

4 Tithe Drinker (I know, I actually put 4 of something in a deck that isn’t land)
3 Vampire Nighthawk
2 Vampire Hexmage
2 Butcher of Malakir (extremely ugly but too good not to put in the deck)
2 High Priest of Penance
1 Angel of Despair (I’ve been trying to get her in a deck since I got her)
1 Deathpact Angel
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council (awesome and I love the way Obzedat rolls off the tongue)
1 Erebos, God of the Dead (Ya bruh)
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath
1 Ashen Rider (this is the bad boy that started this whole deck)
1 Shriekmaw (a personal favorite)
1 Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief
1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Blood Artist (I should pick up another one of these)
1 Child of Night (foil)
1 Pulse Tracker (also foil)
1 Crypt Ghast (I need another one of these)
1 Whip of Erebos
1 Sol Ring
1 Profane Command (This card is amazing)
1 Merciless Eviction
1 Syphon Mind (I’m thinking of making this a sideboard card)

Profane Command

Profane Command


1 Victimize
1 Utter End (I need another one of these too)
1 Grasp of Darkness (foil)
1 Zealous Persecution
1 Mortify
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Vault of the Archangel
1 Orzhov Guildgate
1 Arcane Lighthouse
1 Ghost Quarter
10 Swamp
7 plains

This deck is really a lot of fun to play and it’s competitive enough to win its fair share of games.

Magic: The Gathering –Speaking of Johnny Decks

Avacyn, Angel of Hope

Avacyn, Angel of Hope

Avacyn, Angel of Hope

Last time I wrote about my Fallen Angel deck, now named Rakdos. I seem to recall that I promised I’d write up my Angel deck, now called Azorius (Blue and White). This is my slowest deck. The mana threshold went up from 5 to 7 when I rebuilt it and there is very little acceleration to be found playing Blue or White. I also didn’t want to dilute the deck by putting too many counter spell type cards in it. I had to use some countering abilities though, since I cannot speed up the deck, my only hope is to slow down my opponents.

The real crux of my Azorius deck is that if I don’t miss a land drop and don’t get defeated before turns 5 to 7 I can and will cast a large flying creature every single turn after I hit the peak of my mana curve. It’s a dicey strategy since a lot of decks, even casual ones, if they get a good opening hand, can take me down before my deck gets going. If I, somehow, manage to survive though, the angels are amazing.

Archangel

Archangel

I’ve tried to select angels that multi-task. Gone completely are the classic Serra Angels of yore that used to be the backbone of the deck. Gone too are the Archangels that used to be my big closers. Now I have Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Avacyn, Angel of Hope among others. It was a difficult choice to remove the Serra Angels and Archangels but the deck is slow, I need for the Angels I play to give me bonuses of some kind.

Iridescent Angel

Iridescent Angel

Of the Angels I have in the deck the two that seem to cause the greatest gnashing of teeth and wailing from my foes are the Iridescent Angel and Reya Dawnbringer. The Iridescent Angel has protection (pro) from every color and Reya Dawnbringer allows me to return target creature card from my graveyard to play during my upkeep. I find them quite useful.

One of the other things I look for in cards and in a deck is that it is pretty. There is enough Magic: The Gathering art out there, and variant art for individual cards that I can usually find something I like or that fits with the visual theme of the deck as I build it. My Azorius deck is the most beautiful deck I’ve ever been able to put together. With a very few, notable and very practical exceptions, every card is simply gorgeous. Yes art matters.

There are still some angels I would like to get for this deck and a few cards I’m not too certain about keeping in there. This deck, of all my decks, is my favorite, it contains the remnants of the first deck I ever made and it is the one that I’m most particular about. Unlike my Rakdos deck or my Orzhov deck it is not quite right yet, it doesn’t have quite the right feel to it.

Angel of the Dire Hour

Angel of the Dire Hour

Here is the current breakdown for my Azorius deck:

1 Seraph of Dawn
1 Platinum Angel
1 Battlegrace Angel
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence (new addition)
1 Angel of the Dire Hour
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
1 Avacyn, Angel of Hope
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Angel of Salvation
1 Angel of Jubilation
1 Angel of Serenity
1 Reya Dawnbringer
1 Shepherd of the Lost
2 Sunblast Angel
2 Archangel of Thune
2 Serra Avenger
2 Lightkeeper of Emeria
3 Iridescent Angel
2 Wall of Omens (cheap and card drawing but I’m iffy about these in the deck)
1 Noble Stand
1 Moat
1 Concentrate
1 Timely Reinforcements (iffy)
1 Remember the Fallen
1 Iona’s Judgment
2 Dismiss
1 Erase
1 Cyclonic Rift (so useful but I resist it in this deck)
1 Comeuppance (useful but kind of ugly)
1 Sphinx’s Revelation (not right for this deck but card drawing is so good)
1 Return to Dust
1 Loreseeker’s Stone (iffy)
1 Sol Ring
2 Pearl Medallion
1 Elixir of Immortality (Doesn’t seem right for the deck)
1 Maze of Ith
1 Seraph Sanctuary
1 Prahv, Spires of Order
1 Emeria, the Sky Ruin
2 Azorius Guildgate (we have a name, folks)
2 Glacial Fortress
4 Tundra (Did I mention the remnants of my first ever deck?)
2 Island
18 plains

Sunblast Angel

Sunblast Angel

Whew! That’s quite a list to type up. I’m currently looking to pick up some other angels to swap out for some of the questionable stuff, like a Baneslayer Angel. I really like this deck but it is not the fastest deck to play, it’s really more of a style thing and it does need some improvement. I’m very happy that there are so many angels to choose from that I can really make something close to competitive using angels.

Next time I think I’ll write up my Orzhov deck, which is actually quite good and may be second only to my Rakdos deck. K

A Prodigal Magic: The Gathering Player Returns To The Game

Rukh Egg

Rukh Egg

Rukh Egg

Well, that would be me. I stopped playing just after Mercadian Masques came out (has it been so long?). I had started playing Magic: The Gathering right after The Dark came out, so not a bad run but life got busy and I didn’t have the time or the money to keep up and it kind of fell by the wayside.

So fast forward to the week before Christmas and my family, after months of badgering, gets me to play MTG again. Now everyone is playing all these new cards from sets and expansions I’ve never even heard of. This leads to me having to upgrade the two old decks that I kept as mementos of my Magic playing days.

It was The Cube, which initially brought me back to Magic. That format allowed me to see what some of the newer cards do and to have fun without the investment of my own deck. That was so much fun I actually wanted to dig out my old decks and see what they could do.

Moat

Moat

Back in the day when the only angels were Serra Angels, Fallen Angels and Archangels I built an angel deck (It wasn’t as bad as you might think—I have a Moat). I also built a Fallen Angel deck that relied on Kobolds and Yawgmoth’s Will. These decks, in their primordial state, got thoroughly trounced by the newfangled decks my family is playing.

These brutal and startlingly fast defeats led to some deep soul searching and even deeper searching of The Gatherer online database of Magic cards and a couple weeks of upgrading my old decks.

I didn’t want to move too far away from the original concepts of the decks. While my family tends more towards the “Spike” style of play (fast kills at any cost) I prefer more of a “Johnny” style of play (what do the cards do and how intricate can I make the combinations). I liked the idea of Fallen Angels and using Kobolds as sacrificial critters is not only fun and gives an underrated card some love, it makes old school players of MTG smile when they hear about it.

So, a few Grave Pacts, Skullclamps and other things later and my Black-Red Rakdos (a name I’ve had to learn as I’ve gone along) deck became my only truly competitive deck. This led to an hysterically funny and ridiculous win wherein a Khabal Ghoul had 33 +1/+1 counters on it and I top decked Profane Command against a Gruul deck (another name I learned, albeit while getting my kiester handed to me during game play).

Khabal Ghoul

Khabal Ghoul

I cast the Profane Command, gave 6 of my creatures fear and took out the Gruul player who had a dozen huge and mostly flying creatures on the board that I had previously not been able to get through. Attacking every turn with the Khabal Ghoul and forcing the player to block with a saproling from their Verdant Force led to the Ghoul getting ridiculously huge. They were unconcerned since the Ghoul couldn’t fly right up until I gave it fear. I also hit a player for 6 life loss with the Profane Command which allowed me to take out both of my opponents.

My decks don’t work like a normal tournament deck. I play strictly casual Magic. I like the complex win or loss. My Rakdos deck is the closest to a tournament deck I have and I don’t feel compelled to make another like it. I like to be competitive but I feel the turn 1 or 2 kill isn’t fun at all. You don’t even get to see what the cards can do in that kind of a game. There’s no real strategy to it, you’re just hoping to get the combo before anyone else has a chance to do anything. As far as I can tell, I play Magic the way other people play Chess. It makes my opponents crazy because they don’t understand what I’m up to but they know if they can’t take me out early I’ll build up to something bad for them.

Ok so Rakdos is now the term for a Black/Red deck. Here is the current, improved deck list for what I used to call my Fallen Angel deck:

2 Rukh Egg (I like them very much)
4 Crimson Kobolds
4 Crookshank Kobolds
1 Profane Command
1 Nefarox, Overlord of Grixix
2 Crypt Ghast
1 Rix Maadi Guildmage
1 Disciple of Bolas
1 Avatar of Woe
1 Shriekmaw
2 Khabal Ghoul
1 Liliana Vess
2 Blood Artist
1 Kederekt Parasite
1 Grim Haruspex
4 Fallen Angel (the 7th edition is prettiest but I have 1 Legends Fallen Angel)
1 Tragic Slip
2 Dark Ritual
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Annihilate
3 Grave Pact
4 Lightening Bolt
1 Fires of Undeath (It’s pretty and useful, I like it)
1 Epocrasite (also cool)
1 Sol Ring
1 Jet Medallion
1 Wurmcoil Engine (It’s cool)
4 Skullclamp (we play casual)
1 Crypt of Agadeem
1 Maze of Ith
3 Dragonskull Summit
3 Badlands (I’ve been playing MTG for a looooong time)
5 Mountains
1 Hammerhelm
9 Swamp

Crimson Kobolds

Crimson Kobolds

As better players, or perhaps different style players, than I am will notice right away, there are a lot of single cards in this deck that perhaps could be replaced with others and multiples that would be more efficient at achieving a win condition. That’s not how I play. I like to see the different things that all of these cool cards can do. The fun is the complexity, the possibilities and the unexpected that the cards can produce.

This is my most competitive deck. Next time I’ll write up one of my other decks. K.

Games People Play: Dominion

Dominion

Dominion

Dominion

I don’t know that I can do Dominion justice in a review, but I’m going to give it a try. The backstory for the game is that you have inherited a small kingdom and you want to enlarge your holdings by gobbling up surrounding territories held by petty kings and warlords. Each of the other players is in the same position. They want to make their kingdom the largest.

The game mechanics involve cards, lots and lots of cards. Each player starts with a very small, identical deck of cards. Other cards are laid out in sorted piles from which each player may purchase more. There are Action cards, Victory cards, Curse cards and Treasure cards. Those are pretty self-explanatory.

It’s in these cards that the game gets quite complicated. Some of the cards give you points towards winning, Victory cards, and some put you in a better position to get more points, Treasure cards for example. Others restrict what your opponents can do by taking cards away or forcing them to discard, sounds like Curse cards to me.

There are so many variables that it is difficult to carry a single strategy through the game and win with it. Flexibility and the ability to think on your feet are what make for a better chance to win in this game. Don’t loose track of what your opponents are doing either.

For such a complex game it goes fairly quickly. This isn’t like sitting down for a game of Risk that can take hours and hours. Dominion is fast enough to be exciting. Often I find I’m just getting to a place where I think I’m good when suddenly it’s game over.

There are 9 expansions too. Adding any of those into the mix really changes the flavor of the game. I like the Alchemy expansion but Intrigue not so much.

Dominion is distributed by Rio Grande Games and was made by Donald X. Vaccarino. It is recommended for 2 – 4 players ages 13+. I’m pretty sure we’ve played with 5 players at parties and it works out ok. It’s a fun game and good for your Fourth of July entertainment or any gathering. It makes a great gift too. Last but not least there is a Dominion app that is quite fun. K.

Games People Play: 7 Wonders

7 Wonders

7 Wonders

7 Wonders

With the Fourth of July just around the corner I’m continuing with our series on board games. We play quite a few different tabletop games. I’m pretty sure there is a game out there for just about every type of gamer. I like building games. I like games where what you do in the beginning impacts the endgame. I like games where you have to be thinking the whole way through to win and one of the games I like best is 7 Wonders.

I’ve played 7 Wonders with as few as 3 people and as many as 5. I would say that it’s the most fun with more players. The wonder you start with is key in determining your strategy for the game and there is flexibility so that people who like to play more aggressively can choose that route and people who like to build things can go that way and either can win. For the record I like the Temple of Artemis at Rhesus or the Pyramids of Giza.

The game rewards not just a consistent strategy but also how well you choose your actions as a subset of your strategy and how flexible you are without forsaking your strategy altogether. A calculated risk now might pay off later or sink you if someone else sees what you are up to and prepares for it. How close to the wire do you dare to dance? Can you sacrifice one turn of your strategy to counteract a threat without missing out on something that could win you the game? Do you hate draft a card that will give your opponent an exponential bonus or do you grab the card you want that could edge him or her out?

There are three ages in the game and the power of the cards builds for each age. How you start the first age can greatly affect your ability to get the cards you want in the third age. Choose wisely. Although similar to Dominion I find the differences great enough that people I know have definite preferences for one or the other depending upon their preferred style of game play.

The expansion set adds to the fun. I really enjoy it and would probably have to say that 7 Wonders is one of my favorite board games. I like it even better than Dominion, which is also a fun game. K.

Games People Play: Risk Legacy

Risk Legacy by Hasbro

Risk Legacy by Hasbro

Risk Legacy by Hasbro

Well, okay, games I like to play with people. No not those kinds of games, silly. The Fourth of July is coming up and whether you are having a lot of folks over to celebrate or going someplace to be with friends or family, or even just trying to have a quiet night at home with the family, having some board games on hand is never a bad thing. Sometimes, on a Saturday or Sunday we will just call it “Family Game Day” for no other reason than we like to have fun and play games.

Recently we got Risk Legacy, which is a fun twist on the Risk game we used to play in our college days. There is now a science-fiction-y backstory that allows the game to introduce clans, which give the player special abilities and advantages in the game. Choose wisely whom you will play.

Note in Risk Legacy

Note in Risk Legacy

Another fun, and somewhat risky move is that players now write on the board. The winner gets to make permanent changes to the game board. For example, the North American continent in our game is now called Torchwood, not America. Also the winner can chose to make changes that are of tactical advantage to them in following games.

I find that these additions make the game more fun. Now, instead your wins are recorded for all to see. They’ve raised the stakes just a bit in a game that is all about global domination. The clan cards change your strategy too, so the Risk game you know and love from before is now just slightly different and your old, tried and true tactics might not work quite so well anymore.

Game board and box for Risk Legacy

Game board and box for Risk Legacy

I looked and Hasbro, the makers of Risk Legacy are on the Ethispher’s list of most ethical companies for 2013. For me that is no small thing. I want to support ethical companies and I don’t want my money going to unethical companies. Granted there were issues with Hasbro in 2011 and before but they seem to have cleaned up their act. They better have because if I find out they haven’t they’ll be on my list of companies to boycott. We make the world we want to live in with every dollar we spend. Spend wisely, gentle reader. K.