Booster Packs – What are they good for?

The worst part of a CCG/TCG (what exactly is the difference?) is the way they sell the cards. I guess it’s a good business model, but random cards at different rarities is really the worst consumer model for the super casual player. I’ve complained before about the amount of booster draft chaff in every pack, but even lamer than that is the dud rare. I mean you only get one per pack, so it ought to be guaranteed to be at least decent. I keep swearing off booster packs, but it’s really the only way to satisfy my ‘I want some new cards now’ urge. After my most recent experience, though, I am really starting to get serious.

In the last week or so, I picked up 8 booster packs. I had thought to do a little draft, but it was never convenient and in reality, my kids aren’t good enough at valuing cards to make it a meaningful experience yet, so I just ended up opening them. The results were quite disappointing.

Here are the rares I got (the uncommons and commons were nothing to write home about either):

Sutured Ghoul – It must have been an omen when this was the first card I opened. I can pick this RARE up for $0.19! To add insult to injury, I got another one in a later pack. Plus, I already had one from the Judgment set. Have I mentioned that the main reason I even buy booster packs is to pick up rares I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford?

Royal Assassin – I like this guy, but I already had one from an M11 precon, and I can get them for $0.22 – I might as well complete the playset now for $0.44 more.

Arachnus Spinner – This is an OK card, except that in all the packs I opened, there was not a single Arachnus Web, it’s companion card, in sight, and, of course, I can pick these up for $0.20.

Rites of Flourishing – This is definitely a card I had my eye on in the set, but since I can buy it for $0.40, it’s not something I want to get in a booster pack.

Sorin’s Vengeance – This was another sweet card I wanted to get, but at $0.48, I could have just bought a couple.

Sunpetal Grove – I play a lot of GW, and I’ve been meaning to get this for my (K)night of the Terravore Deck, so I wasn’t unhappy to see it, but since it keeps getting reprinted, I can just buy one for $0.80.

Dungrove Elder – The best of the lot in these packs, but still only worth about $1.75. This will definitely go into one of my mono-Green decks.

So, 8 packs and no Mythic Rares. 8 packs and $4.23 worth of Rares. 8 packs, 120 cards, retailing for $32. I recently made an order with Old School Gaming for 117 cards that ran around $30 ($35 after shipping costs), but I got 117 cards that I actually wanted and most of which will see some play. Of those cards, 47 were Rares and 3 were Mythic Rares. Granted, these were cheaper rares, but mostly better than what I got in those packs. I think we can all see the moral of this story: In this day and age, unless you actually plan to do some drafting, don’t bother with booster packs! I’ll still probably pick one up now and again, but I’d be better off spending $10 for a Mythic than buying 3 packs and crossing my fingers.

Interaction

This weekend while playing some games, it was really brought home to me how lacking many of my decks are in ways to interact with my opponent. Too many of my decks consider combat to be the main method of dealing with an opponent’s creatures, and focus so much on their own synergy that they often just can’t win because the opponent’s plan comes to fruition quicker or the opponent is able to actually interact and disrupt the deck’s game plan. I know this is nothing new for competitive players, but I suspect that I’m not alone among the casual crowd who too often build decks that can only really win against a goldfish (the Johnny writer at MagictheGathering.com seems to have this problem in many of his decks). I have a hard enough time cutting out cards that could synergize with the deck’s main plan, such that there is no room for general utility. But this weekend I mostly lost because I did not have enough Doom Blades (or couldn’t target those pesky BLACK Germ tokens), or because my opponent was busy exiling all my creatures. My only reaction could be, “I’ve got to get me more of this removal action.”

This leads to the very practical question of “How much?” I figured I would start by examining a few decks from the latest StarCityGames.com Open series. Interacting with your opponent seems to come down to two main categories: Control and Removal. Control includes various forms of counterspells (i.e. nope, sorry, you don’t get to play that spell of yours), discard (Oh, I’m sorry, were you hoping to be able to play that card soon? Sorry…), or redirection (I know you were aiming at my big scary monster, but you’ll have to settle with actually hitting my bambi). Removal is about getting rid of permanents of a variety of forms (creatures, enchantments, artifacts, lands, etc.)–I’ll give bounce only half-credit, since it does remove tokens but otherwise simply delays, and disabling the same (OK, you’ve turned my land into a simple Island, but I can still tap it for mana, so it’s not completely useless).

So, let’s look at a few decks, think about their nature, and see how much interaction they’re packing. Obviously, the exact numbers are going to be metagame dependent, and the deck’s archetype will also determine some of the numbers, but we’re just looking to get a little better educated about removal here, so we have to start somewhere. One other caveat is that sideboards will probably have more removal since they are designed to target specific problems, but since I don’t usually play with sideboards, I’m only going to count those cards as half. But I will count sweepers (marked with an *) as double, since they will usually get rid of more than one problem at a time.

Caw Blade

This deck started as a UW control deck, so we should expect a bit more control than usual.

Control

3 Spellskite

4 Mana Leak

3 Spell Pierce

Removal

3 Dismember

1.5 Into the Roil

4 Tectonic Edge

SB:

1 Deprive

2 Flashfreeze

3 Mental Misstep

2 Ratchet Bomb*

1 Dismember

2 Day of Judgment*

2 Revoke Existence

Control:10 + 3 = 13

Removal: 8.5 + 5.5 = 13.5 (Creatures = 9, Artifacts = 4.5, Lands = 4, Enchantments = 4.5)

U/R Twin

A combo deck that just wants to dig for pieces and survive long enough to pull of the combo.

Control

4 Dispel

2 Mana Leak

Removal

2 Into the Roil

1 Dismember

SB:

1  Spellskite

2 Mana Leak

2 Combust

1 Dismember

1 Twisted Image (kills Spellskites and Battlements)

4 Pyroclasm*

Control:6 + 1.5 = 7.5

Removal: 3 + 6 = 9 (Creatures = 9, Artifacts = 2, Lands = 0, Enchantments = 2)

Mono Red

The problem here is that a lot of the removal is also supposed to be direct damage to the opponent, but Red isn’t much for control so it has to bring more removal to the fight. Perhaps the numbers should be halved unless it’s clearly aimed at creatures.

Removal

4 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Searing Blaze

4 Staggershock

4 Arc Trail

4 Flame Slash

SB:

4 Manic Vandal

4 Dismember

Control: 0

Removal: 24 + 4 = 28 (Creatures, Artifacts = 2, Lands, Enchantments)

Tempered Steel

As an aggro deck, don’t expect a lot of either here.

Control

1  Phyrexian Revoker

4 Spellskite

Removal

2 Dismember

4 Dispatch

SB:

2  Phyrexian Revoker

2 Leonin Relic-Warder

2 Revoke Existence

Control: 5 + 1 = 6

Removal: 6 + 2 = 8 (Creatures = 6, Artifacts = 2, Lands = 0, Enchantments = 1)

RUG Twin

A different version of the combo deck.

Control

2  Spellskite

3 Mana Leak

Removal

1 Acidic Slime

2 Dismember

SB:

1  Spellskite

3 Flashfreeze

3 Nature’s Claim

3 Pyroclasm*

Control: 5 + 2 = 7

Removal: 3 + 4.5 = 7.5 (Creatures = 5, Artifacts = 2.5, Lands = 1, Enchantments = 2.5)

Caw-Bade II

Another version of the Caw Blade deck.

Control

1 Deprive

4 Mana Leak

3 Spell Pierce

Removal

1 Into the Roil

3  Oblivion Ring

3 Dismember

1  Tectonic Edge

SB:

3  Spellskite

3 Flashfreeze

1 Celestial Purge

3 Day of Judgment*

2 Revoke Existence

Control: 8 + 3 = 11

Removal: 8 + 4.5 = 12.5 (Creatures = 10.5, Artifacts = 5, Lands = 1, Enchantments = 5.5)

Pyromancer Ascension

Not quite a combo deck, this whittles you down with lots of small spells copied over and over. Its core is an enchantment, though.

Control

4 Mana Leak

2 Spell Pierce

Removal

3  Burst Lightning

2 Into the Roil

4 Lightning Bolt

SB:

1 Deprive

2 Dispel

3 Mental Misstep

1  Burst Lightning

Control: 6 + 3 = 9

Removal: 9 + .5 = 9.5  (Creatures = 9.5, Artifacts = 2, Lands = 0, Enchantments = 2)

Vampires

This is an aggro deck that wants to clear the way for its attackers, so it’s all removal really.

Removal

4 Gatekeeper of Malakir

4 Dismember

3 Go for the Throat

4 Lightning Bolt

3 Staggershock

SB:

3  Manic Vandal

2 Combust

1 Go for the Throat

2 Arc Trail

Removal: 18 + 4 = 22 (Creatures = 20.5, Artifacts = 1.5, Lands = 0, Enchantments = 0)

Conclusions

So, the nature and number does vary from deck to deck, but the overall average is about 20 ways to interact with your opponent. Since this includes sideboards, which may sometimes replace main deck interactors, we might guesstimate that a deck should run about 1/4 interactors, or 15 cards for a 60 card deck. With 24 lands, that leaves only 21 slots or so for the meat of the deck 😦  At the very least, this will help remind me to include a few ways to interact with my opponent as I build my decks.

Into the Scrapheap? – Episode 4 (Manalith)

This episode is really a follow up to the first episode of “Into the Scrapheap?” where we looked at Alloy Myr. Now in Magic 2012 we have a new addition to the family:

MTG Card: Manalith

In a Standard environment where mana fixing is a little light (after the fetch lands rotate), some decks may be forced to play some kind of artifact like this to help out (although I would be a little surprised if the pros really did). Manalith takes its place next to Alloy Myr, and really is probably a little inferior –  Alloy Myr does give you a 2/2 body, although that does make it a little more susceptible to removal being both artifact and creature. But, what really struck me and made me want to write about this is that I recently ordered the Obelisk cycle from Alara block (I came to them in search of a specific color combo for an EDH deck), and this card completely invalidates all of the Obeslisks – this costs the same and produces all colors, not just three of them. Of course, these were already surpassed by Coalition Relic and Darksteel Ingot, which are both superior to the Manalith. I know, I know – they make functional reprints with rotating formats like Standard in mind. So, unless you desperately need a bunch of 3 mana artifacts that produce mana (like say, in a singleton format), I hereby banish the Obelisk cycle to the scrapheap!

A question…

I readily admit that I am not a hardcore tournament player – that’s the point of this blog, really – but I like to learn and deepen my understanding of this game where I can – I play Magic as a strategy game that engages the mind in both the deck construction and playing stages. So, can anyone explain to me why Grim Lavamancer is considered such a good card?

MTG Card: Grim Lavamancer

I read LSV’s recent review of the card, but he simply takes its awesomeness for granted. I’ve seen this played in Legacy tournaments, so I know that the pros think it is good, but wouldn’t you rather just play a Cunning Sparkmage? At its core, it’s just a 1/1 for 1 that can tap for a Shock, if you have some cards in the graveyard. Normally, this would seem like a lot of setup for a fragile ability. This dude gets pinged to death like any 1-toughness creature, it has to wait a turn to use its ability, and you have to have two cards in the graveyard. I’ve seen guys waiting around to bring this guy back on line. Now, if there aren’t any other pingers left in Standard after the Fall rotation (both Cunning Sparkmage and Prodigal Pyromancer are scheduled to leave), then sure, play the Grim Lavamancer, but the rhetoric seems to be that Grim Lavamancer is really superior. So is it, really?

The best way I can think to consider this is to make a direct comparison with the Cunning Sparkmage and Prodigal Pyromancer.

MTG Card: Grim Lavamancer MTG Card: Cunning SparkmageMTG Card: Prodigal Pyromancer

Turn 1:

GL: Play GL (Mana Count = 1)

CS: Do something else

PP: Do something else

Turn 2:

GL: Play two other one-mana spells (Graveyard Count = 2); Attack with the GL (Damage Count = 1)

CS: Do something else

PP: Do something else

Turn 3:

GL: Use the GL’s ability (Damage Count = 3; Mana Count = 2) play two other one-mana spells (Graveyard Count = 2)

CS: Play CS, ping for one (Damage Count = 1; Mana Count = 3)

PP: Play PP (Mana Count = 3)

Turn 4:

GL: Use the GL’s ability (Damage Count = 5; Mana Count = 3) play three other one-mana spells (Graveyard Count = 3)

CS: ping for one (Damage Count = 2; Mana Count = 3)

PP: ping for one (Damage Count = 1; Mana Count = 3)

Turn 5:

GL: Use the GL’s ability (Damage Count = 7; Mana Count = 4) play four other one-mana spells (Graveyard Count = 5)

CS: ping for one (Damage Count = 3; Mana Count = 3)

PP: ping for one (Damage Count = 2; Mana Count = 3)

Turn 6:

GL: Use the GL’s ability (Damage Count = 9; Mana Count = 5) play four other one-mana spells (Graveyard Count = 5)

CS: ping for one (Damage Count = 4; Mana Count = 3)

PP: ping for one (Damage Count = 3; Mana Count = 3)

OK, I begin to see the value a little here, although a deck full of one-mana spells probably has some other issues and may not be winning. What if we only cast 1 spell per turn?

Turn 1: GL (Mana count = 1)

Turn 2: GL attacks (Damage count = 1) (Graveyard count = 1)

Turn 3: (Graveyard count = 2) GL ability (Damage count = 3) (Mana count = 2)

Turn 4: (Graveyard count = 1) GL attacks (Damage count = 4)

Turn 5: (Graveyard count = 2) GL ability (Damage count = 6) (Mana count = 3)

Alright, I begin to be convinced. 3 mana for 6 damage certainly is value, although whether the Grim Lavamancer actually gets in for those 2 points of regular combat damage is debatable. 3 Mana for 4 damage is less stellar (I’d rather have 3 Lightning Bolts or even 1 Lightning Bolt and 1 Incinerate). I haven’t run the data on Spikeshot Elder, but that has a lot more potential in my view since it doesn’t tap and there are lots of ways to boost its power (Can you imagine that thing with a Gigantomancer in play? 4 mana for 7 damage! or a Gigantiform on it? 3 mana for 8 damage (and possibly 6 mana for 16)! I feel a deck coming on…)

Conclusion

I’d still like to hear further arguments in favor of Grim Lavamancer, but I’m willing to agree that it probably deserves a place in a mono-Red aggro deck, and maybe some sort of UR build with lots of cheap spells to fill your graveyard. I still wonder if there isn’t better stuff to play in Legacy, though.

Some Johnny musings

I recently got an order of cards in from Channel Fireball, so I thought I’d share what I plan to do with some of them. I should also note that I haven’t yet gone through the M12 spoiler yet, but now that the release day is upon us, I will try to get to it soon, since now some of the ridiculous pre-order prices will start coming down.

(K)night of the Terravore update

I’ve added a couple of Qasali Pridemages to my deck, to give me some utility against other decks. He’s a bear with essentially two abilities, one of which will go nicely with my Terravore (Exalted plus trample means almost guaranteed damage), and now I’ve replaced the Disenchants which were originally in the deck. I also decided that the deck only needed 2 Nantuko Monastery, since you really only want those late (after you have threshold), and I have several ways to tutor one up. I am looking to get some more manlands (Stirring Wildwood, Treetop Village, etc.) to make my Realms Uncharted a little more scary.

Mercadian Masques lands plus Proliferate

I ordered a bunch of the different lands from Mercadian Masques that hold storage counters (Saprazzan Skerry, Mercadian Bazaar, etc.), and I’m percolating up some proliferation shenanigans. I’m thinking that many artifacts, these lands, the levelers, the fading mechanic, and planeswalkers all mesh well with some proliferation action, so I’ll see what I can come up with that isn’t too slow to get going.

Artifact tutoring

I’m getting together the pieces of an artifact deck that uses both Trinket Mage and Treasure Mage to good effect, plus my Sun Titan and Kuldotha Forgemaster. I got a couple more Thopter Assembly, and a Mindslaver (I love it when the cool mythics start to get cheap). Should I try to combine all this with Shape Anew, or is that a different deck? I don’t know but Scars of Mirrodin block really has some fun artifact shenanigans waiting to happen.

Alara multi-color goodies

I wasn’t playing during Alara block, so I missed all these triple colored lands and artifacts. I might call them “a poor man’s duals”. I wanted a couple of Grixis cards (Grixis Panorama and Crumbling Necropolis) for my Crosis, the Purger deck, so I decided to just get some of everything – you never know when you’ll be making a triple color deck, and I can’t afford real fetchlands.

EDH enhancements

I picked up a few other cards for my Commander decks, besides the Grixis stuff mentioned above. I added a Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet (I really do like the fact that you only have to buy one copy for an EDH deck) to my Drana deck, and I figured a Necrotic Ooze would be sweet in a discard deck in a multi-player format.

Odds and Ends

I don’t know what I’m going to do with them yet, but I picked up some rares that had gotten cheap enough ($.25-$.49) that seem like they could be good in something: Bazaar Trader (I’m thinking this might be good with Jinxed Idol, but either way, this is clearly a card no Johnny (even a part-time Johnny) should be without) and Scute Mob (a 1 mana 5/5 in a ramp deck seems good).

All in all, I’d say this was better than some random booster packs… and on the Spike front, I’m looking forward to perusing the top decks from the latest SCG Open to see what the new Standard is looking like.