Smoothing the Curves - Article 7 - Value Engines Online

Heyo! I feel it’s important to return to the mana base not only because it’s so important, but because it’s boring.  I mean, it’s treated as though it’s boring, but it’s not.  Or rather, it shouldn’t be.  It’s like the gas in your…wait, no.  Bad example; that’s boring.  It’s like your shoes…no, that’s worse. Maybe it just is boring….you tell me.  Anyway, let’s generate some value! Value is a synergy that exists between cards that makes their interaction better than they are under any other circumstance. I’ve been through quite a few decks and variations and I feel it a common misnomer is that good decks need expensive mana bases to really work efficiently.  This is actually, not true. It may impact how you need to frame your approach, but there’s no reason that a budget friendly deck can’t dominate! My astonishment here was not only at how consistently I could drop a 5 CMC, 5 colour commander on turns 4 and 5, but how effective many of the more budget friendly cards were, in particular the Panorama series.  These are lands that enter untapped, tap to produce a colourless and search up to the battlefield tapped 1 of 3 basic lands (Jund Panorama for instance will find you a basic Swamp, Mountain or Forest). I may have undervalued the Triomes a wee smidge when they were revealed.  Yes, they enter tapped, but having the option to target them was nice, as they boast 3 types of lands (though it doesn’t count as a basic)! I’ve concluded the best practice here would be to pick 2 of the Triomes that span all 5 colours, with the 6th overlapping colour being the key colour for the deck – in this case, green. But wait there’s more! The check lands rock in this configuration!  The check lands are dual lands that will enter untapped provided you already have a land with a basic type they care about in play, which synergizes amazingly well with the Triomes as well as the Panorams.  There certainly come turns when I’ll have a check land in hand and the Panorama that just doesn’t fetch anything the check lands cares about, but every deck misfires. And therein lies the epiphany – the problems I’ve had with many of my other decks are not expressly with the operation itself so much as poor decisions made on my part at early stages with my needs 2 or more turns out.  This more budgeted approach has forced me to consider my needs and my resource availabilities more seriously which has resulted in better gameplay in general. Korvold benefits from getting first choice in card allocation; unsurprisingly functions very well, however it doesn’t function proportionally well when considered against the deck’s monetary value.  I other words, if it’s worth 5 times the amount as my 5 colour deck, it doesn’t win 5 times as much, even in head to heads. Give these cheaper options another careful look and see if there are options right for you! Choosing a Commander Choosing a Theme Brewing What Do I Want the Deck to Do? Deck Building How to Build a New Deck How to Upgrading a Precon Upgrading your strategy (play big creatures) How to Focus your Deck How to Balance your Land base

Smoothing the Curves - Article 6 - Sweeping the Board

Heyo! Since we’ve started talking about spot removal, I thought we’d open up this installment of Smoothing the Curves to board sweepers! Let’s look at this one on more grass roots level and determine the impact of the wipe, and why we’d need to play it in the first place. We’d obviously need this if someone has outpaced us in advancing their board and its hit, or is about to hit, critical mass in some respect that they threaten victory during their next turn if left unchecked.  The sweeper effect is especially impactful against “go wide” strategies and sees diminished usefulness with hard cast strategies and is of negligible effect on Tron (if we’re being honest here, Tron is probably its own worst enemy). This “reset button” requires special consideration for everyone’s board state – wiping everyone’s board with Wrath of God, leaving only a Blightsteel Colossus may only expedite your defeat.  It’s also worth noting that sweepers can get around “protection from colour” effects as they do not target. The kind of deck you’d want to run these cards in should be decks in which you retain your capacity to repopulate your board presence quickly as you’ll probably be the last to do so and after investing the 4+ CMC to execute the board wipe in the first place, there’s not likely to be much mana left over to do anything really impactful until your next turn. The sweeper’s we should be considering should follow much the same kind of logic as the spot removals in that they should be flexible and place as much distance between the player and their pieces while offering some degree of flexibility for you in what they target while synergizing as closely as possible with your deck.  Hallowed Burial and Merciless Eviction are among my favourites for these reasons, however they cost both 5 and 6 CMC respectively.  I am especially fond at tucking creatures back into my library with decks that I can recur them later, like with Gishath, Sun’s Avatar.  Austere Command is another that offers a lot of flexibility but is hard to cast. Sweepers also come in 2 varieties: symmetrical and asymmetrical. An example of a symmetrical board wipe would be Toxic Deluge – probably the lowest CMC of any board wipe (without needing to jump through hoops like Miracle) in which everyone is impacted by the same effect.  These types are the most prominent. An asymmetrical board wipe would be an overloaded Cyclonic Rift, bouncing all of your opponent’s non-land permanent’s to hand, clearing the path for you to swing in.  Naturally, this is the preferred type however the limitation on it is of the monetary variety. Next time you move to play a sweeper, check in with yourself why you feel you need to.  Is it because it’s the easiest way to address the field, or are you trying to hit just a single or a couple of pieces?  Check in with your deck to see if the sweeper feels like an organic feed, or if you should look to a spot removal effect instead.

Smoothing the Curves - Article 5 - OhISeeWhatYouDidThere

Smoothing the Curves - Article 5 - OhISeeWhatYouDidThere

Heyo! Last time in Smoothing the Curves, I’d identified a particular phenomenon which we can refer to as the “Lightning Rod Characteristic”.  This describes how likely a board piece is to being targeted specifically for removal by your opponents.  Today we’ll be looking at dishing that out that single target removal! Increasingly, the meta seems to be shifting away from board wipes or “sweepers” in favour of single target removal, or “interaction”.  This is your response to what an opponent does when they get something critical into play that needs to be addressed post haste! Reliability and consistency are the keys to the kingdom here and we need to be able to interact with as broad a range of permanent types as possible, for the lowest cost, at the quickest pace. There are great examples of spot removal in cards like Hull Breach and Epic Downfall at Sorcery speed however the loss of instant speed reactivity can really back you into a corner.  Leaving open mana open sends some very strong messages, but unless you actually deliver a response sometimes, we need to be able to say “at the beginning of your end step I….” I try to scale a lot of my interaction in such a way to get around Indestructible as much as possible since it feels like the increasingly popular way to shelter big targets. The other problem with “Destroy” is that it means the target goes to the graveyard, which has a lot of opportunity for re-interaction, especially in black with the myriad of Reanimate-esque and Reanimate-adjacent type effects.  Exiling a permanent is optimal, shuffling it back into the library is a very close second with destruction and back to hand (or “bounce”) effects being the least desirable since the spell remains at the disposal of the player. I’d like to use my remaining space to highlight a couple of cards you may not be aware of and are worthy considerations. Deglamer: hits an artifact or enchantment at instant speed and the owner shuffles it back into their library.  Hits 2 permanent types, skits around indestructible, hard to recover unless they use a tutor, in which case, you spent 2 mana to at worst: remove a priority threat, at best: removed a priority threat they tutored for and had to re-tutor for. Oust: Sadly, this is a Sorcery which REALLY makes this a lot more narrow and it only hits creatures, but putting it into their library second from the top is really a crappy spot to be on the receiving end of, for just 1 white mana! Try to consider your spot removal spells against these 4 criteria: Speed – both CMC and Instant vs. Sorcery Flexibility – hitting multiple target types Distance – how easy will it be to recover a key piece for the owner impacted? Drawback – what does my opponent gain in exchange?

Smoothing the Curves - Article 4 - What the Ramp?!

Smoothing the Curves - Article 4 - What the Ramp?!

By: James NessHeyo! Since I last spoke about ramp, I thought today in Smoothing the Curves we’d take a bit of a closer look at M:tG’s most notorious headache: ramping. There are a lot of different ways to ramp and sadly, not all colours are created equally in this regard.  Green, as should come as surprise to no one, is the easiest to colour to ramp in and as such, my personal philosophy is to always lean into green in any deck with any green for the most robust acceleration. Land fetching is my favourite with spells like Rampant Growth and Harrow (sorry Cultivate – you just suck!) as it is often taboo in many play groups to pursue land destruction in most any form. Please note, this is not the gospel – Armageddon is not banned in our format and not taking proper precautions against this as a potential strategy may leave you high and dry. Typically, I’d first of all advocate for a blend of ramp types, as anyone wiping all of one type of permanent off the table will usually leave another untouched, so you retain bounce back with a diversified mana portfolio. Consider your options: Land Ramp (Rampant Growth), Mana Rocks (Talisman of Conviction), Creatures (Birds of Paradise), Enchantments (Utopia Sprawl), Spell Bursts (Dark Ritual) and so on. My next requirement is speed.  Gone are the days when Commander’s Sphere or Darksteel Ingot were strong inclusions – their rate of return is simply not great – 3 mana invested to net 1 is not great and I try to avoid this wherever possible. I am especially critical of rocks costing more than 3.  Nyxbloom Lotus, Gilded Lotus and Thran Dynamo all tempt with large amounts of mana, but there are two-and-a-half points to consider with these kinds of cards. Note: I am only considering rocks as just that – rocks that were hard cast with the intent of netting big mana to advance your board and not niche examples involving cheating them into play or any other shenanigans. Dumping 5 mana into something in the mid or late game has minimal impact on your board state – it doesn’t protect you, your board or advance your board meaningfully – it’s an investment in next turn. Consider what your opponents are likely to be doing on turns 3, 4 and 5 – when these cads are likely to hit the table.  If they’re doing things you’re either envious of or quietly wondering if you have any answers to, you may want to revisit your strategy to put yourself into that position. At 5 mana, is this really still “ramp”? I’d argue that 5 mana mana rocks are actually distracting from a greater, often more fundamental flaw with the deck – and that solution is not the amount of mana required to operate.  Rather than try and ramp over these rough edges, see if you can find another solution – maybe the problem isn’t the problem you think it is. 5 mana is a damn lot of mana! Even 4.  Hell, even 3!  Consider your feelings if you’d spent turn 4 dropping a Gilded Lotus and on your end step the next players cast Nature’s Claim targeting it?  These kinds of rocks are lightning rods for removal.  It’s highly unlikely anyone will specifically target your Wild Growth in this way.  It’s just a feel bad to spend a mid-game turn trying to accumulate more resources, only to have them stripped on your end step – you’re lost your turn, tapped down 5 mana and lost a card. For decks not running green, the options are disappointingly…well, disappointing.  Boros for example has you almost entirely at the whims of amazingly effective yet painfully narrow spells like Gift of Estates and Tithe – white “ramp” spells famously only search out plains to hand rather than basics to play.  Smothering Tithe while in dire need of a reprint as its price is soaring as it’s sees synergies in many decks, not just mono white. This unfortunately requires an almost uniform investment in a ramp package that looks almost exclusively like: Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Talisman of Conviction, Wayfarer’s Bauble, Coldsteel Heart, Mind Stone and Fellwar Stone.  Sadly, this pushes the price up for these cards while green remains not only able to comfortably ramp in any fashion, but also for mere pennies by contrast. You may have to get creative depending on the colour, but make sure that you consider: What colours do you have at your disposal to lean into? How does your deck operate? How will you recover from a board wipe or a lockout of a type of resource? Or just play mono green.  

Smoothing the Curves - Article 3 - Fine Refinement

Smoothing the Curves - Article 3 - Fine Refinement

Heyo! Today in Smoothing the Curves I want to dig a little deeper into our last discussion to focus in on the card choices for a deck. I’ll be referencing Korvold for examples and case-in-points. Let’s begins with really understanding the relationships between your commander, your theme and your win condition(s).  Think of these elements as your home, your car, your destination.  All 3 of these things have you distinctive style, and how you build the interaction between them will influence how effectively your deck functions. Ramp is arguably the least considered yet most important means of staying on flavor, so let’s look at it specifically since the lessons in choosing the right ramp package for your deck may be more broadly applied to other aspects of your deck. (I’d like to stipulate that “ramp” means having access to more mana than what turn you’re on.  Generally speaking, as an example, on turn 3, if you have 3 mana or less, you have not ramped, but if you have 4 or more, you have.  Also, lands in hand is not ramp since you can’t access the mana from there, you need to get them into play somehow.) Consider all the different ways ramp can be achieved: Land Ramp (Rampant Growth), Mana Rocks (Talisman of Conviction), Creatures (Birds of Paradise), Enchantments (Utopia Sprawl), Spell Bursts (Dark Ritual) and so on. These all have their strengths and weaknesses however not all of them are at home in all decks.  Korvold wants things to be sacrificed, so I wanted to look for things that want to be sacrificed or cared about other things being sacrificed. Fyndhorn Elves has no native interest in being sacrificed however they synergize well with Fiend Artisan and Ashnod’s Altar in a way that a mana rock would not, so I’ve opted for primarily creatures and land based acceleration with 2 notable exceptions: Wild Growth and Ordeal of Nylea. Wild Growth is incredibly low to the ground – even lower than a 1 drop creature as on turn 2 it can enchant the second land in play at no loss of tempo – I still have access to 2 mana on the turn it’s cast. Ordeal of Nylea wants to be sacrificed and ramps when it does, which if enchanted on Korvold, pumps him (it’s not the objective, but does no harm when it does) with the requisite number of counters on him will immediately become sacrificed and fish me lands. So hopefully a sense of my decision making process is starting to make sense!  Had the deck cared about artifacts in some way such as Affinity, I’ve have put more rocks in.  Or if I was playing Storm, maybe more Ritual kinds of effects, and so on. This same kind of scrutiny should be applied to all aspects of your deck building – this results in value.

Smoothing the Curves - Article 2 - Decisions Decisions

Smoothing the Curves - Article 2 - Decisions Decisions

By: James NessHeyo! Welcome back everyone to Smoothing the Curves!  Today I wanted to take a look at choosing a commander and a deck theme since these aren’t always mutually exclusive.  So let’s get to it! I find that the biggest challenge I face in deck building is avoiding top-down deck construction – meaning I start with the commander, add the spells, presume the ramp then hopefully I have enough slots left over for the lands – all before deciding on or defining a direction.  Working in this fashion makes it easy to include cards in a deck that may work, but don’t synergize or generate any value.  Bottom up deck construction not only ensures proper proportion of key components but also permits for the deck theme to be fully developed.  Roon of the Hidden Realm and Kaalia of the Vast are great examples of this, so let’s take a closer look. Roon undoubtedly has an incredibly powerful ability as it not only gets repeat value out of blinking powerful effects like Mulldrifter or Coiling Oracle – but to what end?  The deck came together to be incredibly powerful but not only not fun to play, but also not fun to play against on account of the high level of interactions and lack of a clear and decisive win condition.  How does Roon win – other than forcing bored opponents from scooping? Kaalia by contrast immediately offers a very simple and straight forward direction up front – cheat angles, demons and dragons into play and smash face.  This clarity in direction comes at the expense of deck flexibility in contrast with commanders like Roon. There are 3 principal considerations when first conceptualizing of the functioning of a new deck: What do I want to do? What commander best enables that? How do I win? Your win condition doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with your commander – combo-centric decks can have win conditions entirely separate from the commander – But outside of the cEDH arena, how you want to win should be among the first questions you ask when you start to consider your commander as this will help to steer your deck. When I brew, my journey begins with commanders that speak to me in one way or the other – usually a theme or general flavour.  Then I consider how I want to use the commander to accomplish my deck goals and how I will generate value.  Once I’ve roughed in my 99 cards I check it over for pieces that feel at odds with the rest of the deck and look for more viable replacements. This last step was something Roon taught me.  Everything seemed fine and dandy up until I started to play and I realized that locking other players out of the game with me while not moving towards a decisive victory myself was just not for me. While I believe that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to play the game, I will add the caveat that if you’re not having fun playing your own decks, there’s something wrong in there somewhere and you may want to check what’s missing and see if you can tweak things to make it more exciting for you!Looking for new options for your deck? Visit here:  https://tradingcards.criticalhitgaminglounge.com/pages/mtg-advanced-search    

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