Monday, August 6, 2018

Why Torrential Gearhulk is a Toxic Card That Should Have Never Been Printed

Torrential Gearhulk is a card that makes the current standard meta almost unplayable. It is almost directly responsible for so many people playing red decks because red is the only way to combat the toxic control decks that oppress the format. Many people think Teferi is why control is so good but it isn't, it's Torrential Gearhulk and if you simply look at the value of the card you will see why.

Torrential Gearhulk is a 5/6 creature with flash for 6 mana. When it enters the battlefield, you get to cast an instant from your graveyard without paying its mana cost. Most often the cards you see flashed back are Vraska's Contempt, Disallow, or sometimes card draw like Glimmer of Genius. Let's look at each of those.

Say you flash back a Vraska's Contempt to exile a Hazoret the Fervent, Rekindling Phoenix, or a Lyra Dawnbringer. No only did you get a 5/6 creature but you also exiled an opponent's creature thus two-for-oneing them, and also gained two life. This is 10 mana and 2 cards worth of value for 6 mana and 1 card. Many times you will get even more value because you can flash Gearhulk in during combat and block another attacker, thus THREE-for-oneing your opponent.

If you flash back Glimmer of Genius you get a 5/6 creature with flash, scry 2, draw 2, and gain 2 energy. Once again, 10 mana and 2 cards worth of value for just 6 mana and 1 card.

Similarly, if you were to flashback Disallow this could and often does counter a key spell at a crucial moment. 9 mana and 2 cards of value for just a 6 mana investment.

The problem with Torrential Gearhulk is something that WoTC has had issues with in the past - it lets you cast stuff for free. When players can cast things for free, the game breaks. Just look at the Urza's block. If Torrential Gearhulk was going to allow the caster to cast a spell from their graveyard, it should have either limited the mana cost of its potential targets (perhaps allowing you to only cast an instant costing 3 or less for example) or Gearhulk itself should have been made a worse creature. A 5/6 with flash for 6 already isn't that bad. Maybe they should have taken away the flash, thus allowing players to only cast Torrential Gearhulk on their own turn, during their main phase. This would have avoided the mid-combat shenanigans and also made it so you can't flash back a counter spell. Alternatively they could have just made him slightly smaller, maybe a 4/4. It is silly that he can block a Hazoret indefinitely.

Basically Torrential Gearhulk allows players to skirt the four-of restriction to what cards they can play in their deck. If you have already eaten four Vraska's Contempts, you shouldn't have to worry about dealing with more. And yet with Torrential Gearhulks - you do. You can be contempted six, seven, even eight times.

This is one of the worst standard formats I can remember and the control decks are the reason why. Hopefully once cards like Torrential Gearhulk, Scarab God, and Disallow rotate, it will be enough to knock them down a peg and allow other decks to come into their own. Judging by how many tools WoTC has given current though, I'm pretty sure the new set will just replace them. Settle the Wreckage is a toxic card, there are multiple board sweepers, Teferi, constant draw filtering with Search of Azcanta, and numerous other counters like Negate, Essence Scatter, and Syncopates. Standard decks should not cost $400 - $500 dollars and yet these decks do. There's a reason.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Confirmed Modern as a Format Takes no Skill

It has been a bit since I have posted an update on here but figured now would be as good of a time as ever since I recently confirmed Modern takes no skill as a format. Now, before you rage, I obviously don't have a lot of experience with Modern. I played Burn for about three weeks several months ago, thought the format was boring and quit. Then I learned that this PPTQ season would be Modern so I decided to get back into the format to at least give myself a chance.

I needed a deck that could win on its own merits, but was relatively linear and did not require a lot of knowledge of the format itself - a deck that did its own thing and was not really concerned about what my opponent did. So I settled on Bogles. I bought the deck for what ended up being an incredible deal and took it to a few local tournaments. I had mixed results, going 3-0 the first week, then 1-3 the next, then 4-0, then 2-0-1. Then came my first PPTQ.

So I had only piloted the deck in four tournaments. I had barely even played against anything in that time frame because most of the people who go to my LGS just play Affinity and Burn. The PPTQ had 45 people at it including several bronze level pros who apparently had to regain their qualification. There was quite a wide field and I personally played against Spirits, Dredge, Lantern, U/W Control, Burn, Humans, Death & Taxes, and Eldrazi Taxes. I finished 6-2-1, and got second place (losing only to Lantern and then Eldrazi Taxes in the finals).

Even though I knew next to nothing of the format I was still able to steamroll people to a second place finish and brought home a hefty $500 in store credit for my troubles. My losses themselves were rather fluky. Lantern locked me out with a turn three Ensnaring Bridge both games. I had no answers main deck and game two he milled my sided-in answers away. Eldrazi Taxes just played a turn two Chalice on one both games. Game one I had no answers and since he was on the play I literally had a 1/1 Bogle that could never be enchanted. Scoop. Game two was slightly closer, but I got stuck on two land, a Forest and a Razorverge Thicket, with three Daybreak Coronet in my hand.

But the whole point of this blog post is that Modern takes no skill - and it doesn't. My wins were not skillful. The deck just handed me wins when it felt like it. My losses had nothing to do with skill, either. The cards in Modern are simply so powerful, that they win you the game on their own. Locking out your opponent with a Chalice, or an Ensnaring Bridge, or a Blood Moon or something similar isn't skill. The card is just broken enough that you win the game instantly. There are lots of cards and decks like that. Modern is a turn three format and that's dumb.

The only skill involved in this format is knowing when to mulligan and how to sideboard. These are just gained with experience, though, and aren't actually related to play skill or intelligence. There's no outsmarting your opponent in modern. There's not tactical play. It all boils down to, "here's my bomb or combo, can you stop it? No? I win."

In other formats, bombs are important but not the be-all and end-all. You can play a Scarab God in Standard, one of the better cards of the format, and still lose. In limited you don't necessarily need any bombs in your deck to win games (I won my sealed PPTQ without any bombs in a very bomb-heavy set). In Modern when someone drops a turn three Karn or have to answer it immediately or you just lose. Now that's silly.

I will probably continue to play Modern though because Bogles is undoubtedly fun. Once it wears itself out and becomes boring I will likely give up the format. I'd rather outsmart my opponents in Standard and outplay them in limited than rely on broken cards for easy wins in a busted format.

Sorry Modern fans, but Modern sucks and this PPTQ result proves either I am a masterful player that can just dominate any format, or Modern truly does require no skill. Take your pick.

Monday, December 4, 2017

I Won An Iconic Masters PPTQ

So after grinding out about five PPTQ's I finally won one! It was Iconic Masters sealed which was interesting to say the least. The whole tournament ended up taking something like 12 hours as it was six rounds of Swiss with a cut to a top 8 draft. I went 5-0-1 in the Swiss rounds (I got paired down in round five and had to actually play it) then 3-0 in top 8 obviously. Here is the deck that I put together:

Creatures (13)
1 Child Of Night
1 Stalwart Aven
2 Angel of Mercy
1 Indulgent Tormenter
1 Wight of Precinct Six
1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
1 Abzan Falconer
2 Seeker of the Way
1 Vizkopa Guildmage
1 Dragon Bell Monk
1 Ajani's Pridemate

Non Creatures (10)
2 Guardian Idol
1 Star Compass
2 Grisly Spectacle
1 Eternal Thirst
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Darksteel Axe
2 Heat Ray

Land (17)
1 Rakdos Canarium
1 Orzhov Basilica
2 Mountain
7 Swamp
6 Plains

Relevant Sideboard Stuff (stuff that made it into games at some point)
1 Dead Reveler
1 Pentarch Ward
1 Kolaghan Monument
1 Heat Ray
1 Guard Duty

Seeker of the Way was definitely the biggest all star of the deck. Getting a turn 1 Darksteel Axe into a turn 2 Seeker with a noncreature spell (ideally a kill spell) on turn three to attack for five lifelink would start off games heavily in my favor. There were some games I was up to forty+ life off Seeker and then Guildmage coming in.

My deck really didn't have too many "bombs" compared to some of the other decks. Obviously there was Blood Baron and Indulgent Tormenter. They only won me a couple games on the day though.

After Seeker of the Way, Grisly Spectacle was a close second for value. It did so much work! The milling effect was almost just as good as killing something. There was one game where I killed a 5/6 Riverwheel Aerialists (after Prowess) and milled the guy out for Keiga, the Tide Star, Yosei, the Morning Star, AND a Blood Baron. He was so pissed!

I splashed red exclusively for Heat Rays and my sideboard actually had a third copy of Heat Ray which I brought in against decks using their own Blood Barons which gave me a way to kill it. I wanted to run all three in the main deck but didn't want to get caught holding too many red cards with no red mana so I felt two was safer. I also kept a Kolaghan Monument in the sideboard because although it tapped for red and black, which is what I needed, I really wanted to make sure I had a turn two play which could help me ramp my mana to avoid mana screw so I went with two Guardian Idols. If the deck I was playing was slow or didn't have much flying, I sided the Monument in for one of the Idols. 

After cutting to top 8 and drafting here is what I played:

Creatures (12)
2 Rakdos Drake
1 Splatter Thug
1 Battle-Rattle Shaman
2 Thrill-Kill Assassin
2 Dragonlord's Servant
1 Borderland Marauder
1 Hoarding Dragon
1 Bladewing the Risen
1 Kokusho, the Evening Star

Non Creatures (11)
1 Kolaghan Monument
1 Grisly Spectacle
1 Pillar of Flame
1 Star Compass
2 Darksteel Axe
1 Ulercate
1 Doom Blade
1 Rift Bolt
1 Reave Soul
1 Heat Ray

Land (17)
1 Graven Cairns
8 Swamp
8 Mountain

Relevant Sideboard Stuff
1 Splatter Thug
1 Child of Night
1 Virulent Swipe

This deck was interesting since I didn't actually have many dragons but ran two Servants anyway. I was originally drafting for a quick boros beatdowns type deck so I had some really good white cards I ended up not playing such as Lightning Helix, Ainok Bond-Kin and a Seeker of the Way. Then I opened Kokusho in pack two. I got passed a Bladewing, and a Hoarding Dragon so I decided to just go black/red instead of red/white. I tried to keep the initial aggro theme intact with a lot of low-costing Unleash creatures for early game pressure to put them on the defensive. Two Darksteel Axes seemed like overkill but I really wanted to have one early so I included both. They were still useful later on equipped to dragons anyway (I won the semi-finals thanks to a Kokusho equipped with a Darksteel). Then I just packed in whatever removal I could find.

The deck turned out to be a perfect combination of early game aggro, late game flyers, and sufficient removal to deal with everybody I faced.The games weren't even close. 

One of the key takeaways of the day is to always play enough land so you don't get mana screwed. I played 17 land both times regardless of the fact I had several mana rocks in both decks AND two cost reducers on my draft deck in the form of Dragonlord's Servants. I thought I could have gotten away with 16 land in each of these decks but didn't want to risk it. I'd rather have too much land then draw a Kokusho or a Blood Baron off the top. The Kolaghan Monuments were also key mana sinks as turning it into a 4/4 flying dragon was relevant in a lot of matchups.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Ebay Sellers That Won't Accept Best Offers

In the words of the illustrious Peter Griffin, you know what really grinds my gears? Ebay sellers that put the Best Offer option on their listings but never accept a best offer no matter how little you are actually taking off the asking price.

For example, I recently got into Modern and want to play Burn so I was buying up cards from the competitive deck list. I needed some Inspiring Vantages so I headed over to good ol' Ebay to see what I could find. I like to buy off Ebay more than TCGPlayer because I want to support individual sellers (like myself) rather than some random store across the country and also because I earn Ebay Bucks with every purchase. So I went to Ebay and saw the lowest priced Buy It Now was listed for $4.43 or best offer. I offered $4 for it, 43 CENTS lower than asking price. He declined. Not only did he decline the offer, but he didn't even counter. It wasn't as if he then countered with $4.25 or something. He just looked at the offer and thought to himself "nope" and declined it.

What exactly is the point in putting Best Offer on your listing if you won't even take 43 cents less than asking price? I sell cards on Ebay almost every day and I always try to accept reasonable offers because I don't need to nickel and dime fellow Magic players for literally every penny of possible value. I give them a good deal and my cards sell faster. It's win-win.

This isn't the first time it's happened either. I once saw a card listed for $7.15 and put in an offer of $7.00. The offer got declined. That 15 cents really was going to break his margins apparently. One has to wonder why then he clicked the Best Offer option when creating the listing? Simply to draw in interested buyers who might make offers then begrudgingly settle for full price when they all get declined? C'mon man.

The best part about all this? I then looked on TCGPlayer and there are Inspiring Vantages from Kaladesh in Near Mint condition for $2.99 with free shipping.

So in other words, this Scrooge McDuck just saved me money. Thanks guy!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Ramunap Red Sideboarding Versus the Mirror Super Secret Tech

So after losing several heartbreaking Ramunap Red mirror matches at the PPTQ last weekend I have been mulling over some side boarding plans to help give me an edge. I think I may have come up with some super secret tech that I haven't heard of anybody else running at all. I play tested it yesterday during my LGS's Standard Showdown to good results.

And the card is.....

Board wipes are obviously good at punishing aggressive decks like Ramunap Red but there is a very specific reason that Fiery Cannonade is actually better than the alternative I have seen in a few red sideboards which is Sweltering Suns.

First of all, Fiery Cannonade costs two colorless and a red rather than one colorless and two red, so it is slightly easier to cast when you might have a field full of Sunscorched Deserts and/or Ramunap Ruins and don't want to unnecessarily ping yourself. Unlikely but hey it might happen and every little advantage counts.

The second, and most obvious, reason it is better is that Fiery Cannonade is an Instant while Sweltering Suns is a Sorcery. This allows us to pass the turn, see what the other Ramunap player drops, and then Cannonade after attackers are declared to potentially hit one extra haste creature and get added value. Additionally, assuming it clears their board and they can play nothing else (perhaps from tapping out from playing an Ahn Crop Crasher or something), then on our turn we will be able to reset the tempo by playing the first creature onto the battlefield. This is really strong, especially when you're on the draw and at a huge disadvantage to begin with. Resetting the tempo can negate their choice to go first and as any Ramunap player knows, going first is huge for this deck.

The third reason Cannonade is better than Sweltering is because Cannonade does two damage instead of three. Now you might be thinking to yourself what kind of noob is this guy, he thinks two damage is better! It hits fewer things!

Consider this:

  • Turn 1: Soul Scar Mage
  • Turn 2: Kari Zev Skyship Raider
  • Turn 3: Pass to them. On their turn, play Fiery Cannonade. Prowess triggers on your Soul Scar to buff it to a 2/3, thus he survives. Kari Zev at three toughness survives. 

For the sake of this article lets assume your opponent went Turn 1 Bomat Courier, Turn 2 Earthshaker Khenra, and Turn 3 Ahn Crop Crasher. Now this would normally be a very fast and good opening three turns for Ramunap. Suddenly all three of his creatures die and the two dudes you played both survive.

Obviously this is a best case scenario situation, as maybe he played a Turn 2 Kari Zev which would survive this (but that is also why you wait until attackers are declared so at least you can kill the monkey and avoid the two damage there).

The point is that even though Sweltering Suns would assuredly kill more of your opponents threats, it also kills everything you have played too. It won't actually help you regain any tempo unless you intentionally don't play creatures before using it. Even then, you have to play it on your turn so your opponent gets to play the first creature back onto the battlefield again. Fiery Cannonade might not have those drawbacks. It might kill your opponents threats, while allowing your stuff to survive. That's why it's better. If the scenario I outlined above happened, it would be very, very difficult for your opponent to recover and regain the tempo needed to win the mirror match.

As an added bonus it also is very good against Mono White Vampires!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

PPTQ Double Header Weekend and Ramunap Red Mirror

So this weekend I played in two nearby Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers. The first was Sealed Deck on Friday. The field was 28 players which is pretty respectable considering the store was small and the entry fee was $35. I wasn't too happy with my pool but I rarely am when it comes to Sealed. I ended up playing a Green/Blue Merfolk/Dinos deck. Red had absolutely nothing. White only had a few playables and black had good removal but no real win conditions.

My 'bombs' were in green in the form of Colossal Dreadmaw, Ripjaw Raptor, River Heralds' Boon and Thundering Spineback. I had some strong blue cards as well including two One With the Wind, Tempest Caller, and some Depths of Desires.

I lost round one to a pirates deck that was just too fast for me. I took round two against a very similar green/blue Merfolk/Dinos deck which also had Jace so I think it may have been better. Round three I also won against Red/White dinos. I then took round four versus mono white vampire tokens. Finally, lost round five against pirates again.

I went 3-2 in the Swiss but my tiebreakers weren't good enough to get into the top 8. The thing is I was 3-1 in the final round and if my opponent had simply drawn with me, we both would have gotten in. He didn't want to though for whatever reason and my dreams got crushed.

Since I was so close to getting top 8 at least I decided to go to another one on Sunday which was about an hour away. This was Standard rather than Sealed and I have been playing Ramunap Red to great success on a weekly basis at the Standard Showdown and FNM. This tournament had 20 players and our weekly Showdowns pull 40-50 so I felt confident going in.

I started off the day well, taking down a Blue/White Second Sun deck. Round two I saw Ramunap Red mirror. Even though I outplayed my opponent greatly throughout the match I still ended up losing because he won the initial die roll. This is a big problem for this deck because the entire match is left up to chance. He won the die roll so he got to play first - which means I lost game one barring some sort of land screw or poor draws on his side (which didn't happen). So I play first in game two - I take it. Then he gets to play first in game three and again he takes that. Even making better decisions still wasn't enough to overcome the tempo advantage.

For example, at one point he had Soul Scar Mage and Aethersphere Harvester. I have Soul Scar Mage and Earthshaker Khenra. I attack with both with three untapped lands. He crews the Harvester with Soul Scar and then blocks my Soul Scar. I Lightning Strike the Harvester before damage. He responds by giving Harvester lifelink. Okay...? So his now 0/2 Harvester has lifelink and dies to my 2/3 Soul Scar. Owned.

Anyway back to reports, round three I played against yet another Second Sun deck. This is an easy match up for me and I take it quite handily.

Round four I play against God Pharaoh's Gift. I was watching some of this guy's matches early
because I hadn't actually played against this deck yet and I thought it would give me trouble. I was correct. I literally couldn't do anything.  I saw zero Abrades in the matchup despite running four.  Game one he had Gift on board on turn three or four and was already pulling Angel of Inventions out with it. Nothing I can really do there. Then game two He Hostage Taker'd one of my Ahn Crop Crashers and then cast it against me. He also hit me with three Fatal Pushes in game two so I couldn't keep anything on board to hit him with. I 0-2'd and he said "normally I lose right away to Ramunap I don't know what happened." Yeah ok.

Game five I needed to win in order to top 8. My breakers were good this time around so 3-2 would get me in. It ended up being another mirror match. We roll and he wins the roll. Like before, this means he takes game one. Just too fast. I go first game in game two and I win it. Game three he goes first, and wins it again. Same as before, like clockwork.  It's actually quite stupid that this game literally boils down to just a chance die roll. I'm going to have to look at sideboarding more against mirror because it was ridiculous. Currently my board looks like this:

2 Chandra's Defeat
2 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Glorybringer
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
4 Harsh Mentor (for energy decks of which I saw ZERO)
3 Rampaging Ferocidon

I am currently thinking of taking Pia out of the main and putting Rampaging Ferocidon in the main, then replacing him in my sideboard with Sand Stranglers and maybe adding a third Chandra's Defeat then going down to three Mentors? I don't know.

I ended at 2-3 on the day with a side of salt. There's another standard PPTQ in my hometown this Saturday I am going to go to as well. Hopefully I can at least top 8 it.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Have you ever had an opponent RAGE at you?

Have you ever had a situation where your opponent RAGES during the game or immediately after you beat him? I haven't had this happen before until this weekend. I was doing a Friday Night Magic draft at my local game store and was 3-0. In the finals game to determine who went 4-0 and won the tournament, I was playing a guy that was apparently a pro tour champion (I Googled him afterwards and confirmed he is legit). He had a really good blue/white weenie deck of almost nothing but fliers. My deck was a sort of red/white aggro hybrid with a few late game things mixed in.

He dominated me in game one until I blew him out with a Settle the Wreckage to exile his board. I was down to nine life and he attacked with five fliers for a total of eleven damage. Settle the Wreckage took care of them all and then I was able to kill him in two turns thanks to crack back. The extra lands didn't even help him because he already had something like seven or eight and no cards in hand. He threw his cards down angerly screaming "You have SETTLE THE WRECKAGE?! No wonder you won all your games then. That's how you won huh?"
Game two was more close. We traded a lot of creatures back and forth. I had him down to two life and I was at six. I had no creatures on board, Settle the Wreckage in hand, and that's it. He had Siren Stormtamer on board, and no cards in hand. I drew Unfriendly Fire - lethal damage in this situation. I knew though that if I played it he could sacrifice the Stormtamer to just counter it. I passed the turn and hoped he attacked with Stormtamer because...why wouldn't he?

Then again he knows I have Settle the Wreckage in my deck and I pass turn with two cards in hand and six untapped lands. Kind of fishy huh?

He attacked anyway. I Settled the Wreckage and he didn't seem too shocked by it. He played another creature, which I honestly don't even know what it was because I was already thinking about killing him next turn with Unfriendly Fire.

I draw. He preempts me, "Got Unfriendly Fire or something huh?"

I hadn't played it in game one so he was purely speculating at this point. I place Unfriendly Fire on the board. "Four to you?" I say. 

He slammed the table with his hand and yells, "Of course of you have that! Of course! Ridiculous! You have both that and Settle the Wreckage in hand. Exactly what you needed! That is utterly ridiculous!" 

"Good game," I say.

"Yeah right!" he yells back.

He is violently scooping up all his cards and now muttering to himself about how it's okay he lost and he will just get his packs and leave. He got up and starts walking toward the front of the store, which in our store the play area is in a separate back room. I truly think he might just try to report he won since he is on tilt so I follow him up there to go report. He kept muttering to himself all the while he is walking up front, seemingly going over each turn from the game and what he thinks he could have done differently while also wildly gesticulating with his arms like a shopping bag lady on the streets predicting the end times.

He reported he lost and then left the store. I was amazed at how upset he was over a 20-man FNM draft. You would have expected such a well-known and talented player wouldn't really care about dinky FNM drafts anymore. Does it really matter if he went 3-1 or 4-0? Both are respectable records and the difference in prizing was only two packs - a pack per win and then two extra for 4-0. It's not as if a booster box were on the line or something!

Perhaps next time I will just have to show him this:

My winning deck list below (without card links because I am lazy)

Creatures (17)
1x Kinjalli's Caller
1x Rigging Runner
1x Bishop's Soldier
2x Tilonalli's Knight
1x Kinjalli's Sunwing
1x Captain Lannery Storm
1x Territorial Hammerskull
2x Frenzied Raptor
2x Thrash of Raptors
1x Pterodon Knight
1x Storm Fleet Arsonist
1x Glorifier of Dusk
2x Sun-Crowned Hunters

Spells (7)
2x Vampire's Zeal
1x Slash of Talons
1x Firecannon Blast
1x Settle the Wreckage
1x Unfriendly Fire
1x Bright Reprisal

Land (16)
1x Unknown Shores
9x Mountain
6x Plains