This week instead of focusing on one particular subject, I want to cover a small variety of topics I’ve gotten emailed about or discussed over the past two weeks.

Three things Magic Online should take from Hearthstone:

1) A tournament mode that I can play as much or as little of in a day as I want to.

Leagues used to accommodate this to an extent and Magic Online really is just begging for a mode other than 2-mans where I can pay an entry fee, play a game, log off, and then continue my run at a later time. Arena mode from Hearthstone is essentially stripped down drafting where it’s done via algorithm, and you only pick from three cards. Once done with that, you have your deck and then can find an opponent at your own whim, ending when you either collect 12 wins or 3 losses. While I wouldn’t suggest emulating that aspect of it, what I love is that with no time restrictions I can log off whenever I want. Do I want to do a whole run in a day? I can do that! Do I only have time to play two matches a day for the next couple of days? The program is right there and offering me that.

Realistically this statement is: bring back Leagues. It goes deeper than that, and Matt Sperling wrote a piece detailing his own suggestion. I would have no problems paying for a “Daily Event” equivalent that offered a lesser prize payout, but would let me play games on my own schedule. You could even just jack up the number of wins needed for a certain level of prizes while keeping the two and out setting. If we wanted to go really deep into this type of thing, we could have a modified drafting equivalent. If we’re phantom drafting via computer or even just building Sealed pools, what’s the big deal about removing mythic rares from the playing pool? That’s just the most obvious of many potential small tweaks they could try out on a short-term basis and see what garners interest.

2) Kill chat.

Here’s a breakdown of how chat on Magic Online is used:

MODO Chat

Here’s a breakdown of how chat (AKA: Only six premade emotes) on Hearthstone is used:

HS chat

There’s absolutely no reason I should have to see my opponent raging or complaining non-stop because I had the poor judgement of being paired against him in a tournament match. If you want to leave chat on by default for the casual rooms, fine, though I don’t see much better in those parts either. Get rid of chat or restrict it to a small number of pre-prepared phrases so at least the trolling has to get creative. Oh, and fix the squelch feature to block every word that player says in any chat across the program. At the very least making it into an opt-in program would be great, so I could opt out immediately and at least force them to private message me where squelching actually does something. I don’t miss chat in Hearthstone at all, and the only opponents who have added me afterwards were just ragers.

3) Do more to entice lower income players to buy/play.

Hearthstone has done a great job of making me want to put money into their beta program. Everything is pretty, play is quick, laddering isn’t really incentivized with anything tangible but they want to work on that in the future. You get your first Arena run for free and spending real money gets you a special promo. Opening a booster pack is treated like an event rather than just displaying what was in it all at once on a lifeless screen.

Three things Hearthstone should take from Magic:

1) Hands off balancing issues with a metagame that changes weekly (and even within 1-2 days). Things get nerfed weeks after they’re no longer valid and don’t necessarily address the core problems at work. (See: Ice Block, Pyroblast, and lack of interaction versus OHKO decks)

2) Tournament mode or at least BO3 with sideboarding. Forcing your deck to be jack-of-all-trades because everything is master of one really hamstrings certain classes/strategies and favors decks that either ignore interaction or Rock variants.

3) A clear rules manual or interaction guide posted somewhere with an in-game link or an addition to the tutorial. Right now when there’s a rule interaction or weird card wording, you kind of just guess what’ll happen and hope for the best. I was completely taken aback when I found out how Blood Imp functioned against sweeper effects.

Relevant Section:
Blood Imp is a 1/1 creature that gives all your other creatures +1 health.

Say we have two 2/2s and a Blood Imp in play. The 2/2s become 2/3s while the Imp is around. If something is cast, say a spell that deals 2 damage to all my creatures, if you play Magic you would assume everything dies. In Hearthstone, damage is applied, Blood Imp dies and the creatures stay alive at 1 life. Such a simple rules change such as when buffs end and when damage is checked can make a huge difference on how things play out. Right now there’s not a great way to know what the hell is supposed to happen (since some interactions are actually random based on other factors—likely bugged). A rules document would be amazing and even just a common interactions list would be great to have.

What I’m Playing in Standard

I’m still battling with UW Control, though I’m finding the metagame has reached a sort of peak where everyone and their dog knows what they want to do against the deck now. It doesn’t mean these decks won’t work of course—see Owen crushing yet another tournament with Mono-Black Control for an example of that. However, it means you have to be much more careful with your long-term game plan when everyone understands how you intend to win. They can take riskier lines and play the clock against you in many situations, plus sideboarding becomes a crapshoot where you just don’t have as many hard counters as you had in years past. Wizards has done a really good job of not pushing heavy-duty hosers with a few exceptions, and in Standard the closest thing I have to an aggressive removal spell is [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd].

UB Control may be the way to go in the short-term, since [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] is as close to a hard counter you’ll get against many threats and assists greatly with planning. Meanwhile, you can open up the selection of removal you want (though you lose [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd]) while retaining a draw-go style and more early plays to keep you in games against opposing Thoughtseize starts. You also get [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd], and if we haven’t established by now how good Pack Rat is in a fairer format, you probably haven’t been paying attention for the last three months. Really, the only reason I’m not just automatically deferring to control decks is that aggression backed by [ccProd]Xathrid Necromancer[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] happens to be in a really strong spot at the moment. Both cards hurt sweepers and the usual fair ways to combat WW, and sideboarding lets you go bigger with [ccProd]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/ccProd] against other aggressive decks.

Of course, someone last week pointed out that WB Aggro generally loses to Blood Baron. My general response is, OK and? Blood Baron decks simply aren’t enough of the field to play a worse deck (Boros aggro) over it. Especially when Boros has problems with the same card, only difference being that it has a handful of outs instead of none (Save for Devour Flesh). If you want to play RW Devotion, that’s a different argument to be made and I think that has a lot more value in the current meta. I just tend not to like the current crop of devotion decks versus Thoughtseize, Supreme Verdict and lots of spot removal.

Here are the current lists that I’m battling with:

UW Control

[deck]Main Deck
2 Mutavault
4 Temple of Deceit
2 Temple of Silence
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Azorius Guildgate
5 Plains
6 Island
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
4 Supreme Verdict
2 Quicken
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Divination
4 Dissolve
1 Essence Scatter
4 Detention Sphere
4 Last Breath
1 Elixir of Immortality
Sideboard:
4 Nightveil Specter
3 Master of Waves
2 Domestication
3 Negate
2 Aetherling
1 Pithing Needle[/deck]

UB Control

[deck]Main Deck
4 Nightveil Specter
3 Master of Waves
2 Prognostic Sphinx
4 Thoughtseize
2 Dissolve
2 Syncopate
1 Essence Scatter
3 Dimir Charm
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
3 Hero’s Downfall
2 Domestication
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Watery Grave
4 Mutavault
2 Dimir Guildgate
7 Island
5 Swamp
Sideboard:
4 Pack Rat
4 Tidebinder Mage
3 Duress
1 Doom Blade
2 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Negate[/deck]

WB Aggro

[deck]Main Deck
4 Dryad Militant
3 Boros Elite
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
4 Daring Skyjek
4 Precinct Captain
2 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Banisher Priest
3 Xathrid Necromancer
2 Spear of Heliod
3 Orzhov Charm
3 Brave the Elements
2 Thoughtseize
3 Orzhov Guildgate
4 Godless Shrine
4 Temple of Silence
4 Mutavault
1 Swamp
6 Plains
Sideboard:
1 Swamp
2 Thoughtseize
2 Sin Collector
3 Dark Betrayal
3 Doom Blade
1 Xathrid Necromancer
3 Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/deck]

If I had a tournament tomorrow I’d play UW Control purely because I was the most familiar with it’s matches and sideboarding. I still like the other two strategies, but really need to iron out a few sideboarding plans before battling anything bigger than a daily with them.

Holiday Cube

To sum up every Holiday Cubing experience: it’s fun to draft every time and most of the games were miserable to play. Even though both are underpowered in this Cube, I really enjoyed forcing* mono-red and green/X ramp. I may think [ccProd]Plow Under[/ccProd] is terrible, but in decks where I can consistently turn-three it, I don’t mind all that much. Same with turn three [ccProd]Karn Liberated[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Eureka[/ccProd].

*Ok, it isn’t really forcing when you get [ccProd]Goblin Guide[/ccProd] 4th and [ccProd]Fireblast[/ccProd] 12th.

Three tips for those who aren’t using the #cubeporn tag and want to do better the next time around.

1) Stop passing mana acceleration. Unless you want to play small-ball aggro, Moxen, Signets, and Monoliths let you execute some truly disgusting chains of Magic spells. Turn five [ccProd]Upheaval[/ccProd] into even just a Land, Mox, Signet is insane. Setting up turns where you do that and then blast out a [ccProd]Bribery[/ccProd] two turns later is even better. Decks that have no need for acceleration are few and far between, especially blue decks or ones trying to cheat fundamental Magic rules. It’s a broken take on Limited Magic, act accordingly.

2) Draft an archetype instead of good stuff.dec because archetypes are largely better than good stuff piles and it’s easier to see if your late picks are going to work out.

3) If you get cut, mono-red is still a tier two strategy and easy to go into late pack one. I’ve switched as late as pack one, pick twelve and still come out with a deck that made the finals easily. You can also afford to take artifact removal and start it in the main deck—I’ve happily played [ccProd]Ancient Grudge[/ccProd] in many decks. Having a cheap way to take out acceleration and cards like [ccProd]Batterskull[/ccProd] is underappreciated. Actually, hang on-

4) Maindeck reasonable artifact removal in your Cube decks.

So yes, mono-red can be picked up late unlike normal Cube, has a good goldfish and can run enough disruption to have a chance against the really busted stuff in the Cube. It’s probably the only ‘fair’ non-blue deck I could see trying to draft.

Pre-GP Sacramento Tips & Tricks

I’m going to do a full article on this next week, so if you’d like to see anything in it, please let me know this week. For now I just want to go over a few quick pointers.

First, you should stop splashing unless you have a really strong card and the mana fixing to pull it off. I’ve seen way too many three-color Sealed decks because they didn’t like their dual-color brethren. I feel like this should be widely known by now, but this weekend I played a Sealed GPT and a good four of six opponents were three color, where only one remotely had the mana to support it.

Secondly, you need to pay attention to the clock if you aren’t trying to sack an Ordeal into win plan. Games go looooooong in this format and you’ll have a lot of games dragged out by the general power level of commons and uncommons. Outside of [ccProd]Sea God’s Revenge[/ccProd] making a mockery of your game, there aren’t a ton of instant-win cards to concern yourself with. This means if you go to a game three, consider carefully how aggressively you need to play. It also means that you need to be willing to call for judges to watch for slow play or at least nudge your opponent a lot earlier in the match.

Finally and most importantly, slow down when playing and resolving spells and make sure you get every heroic trigger, every scry, and anything else earned from playing a spell. The number of missed triggers in this format with the current rules has been ridiculously high and every time you give one away, you lose percentage points. More importantly, you risk tilting yourself over an easily correctable mistake.