25 October 2012

Top Angels in Magic History

Last night at dinner, I mentioned to my roommate that Restoration Angel has supplanted Baneslayer Angel as the best Angel card of all time. It's another blatant example of creature power creep, and while it isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does restrict the available deck building options, especially in Modern. My biggest complaint about that format is the homogeneous nature of the card choices: if you play green, you play Tarmogoyf, etc. But enough about that, here is a timeline of the best Angel card in Magic through the years!

Alpha through 4th edition - Serra Angel
The first "best creature in the game", it was used by various control decks as a win condition that also answered multiple threats from your opponent. It also combined with Stasis to finish the opponent off quickly while you had them soft locked. Still a bomb in limited, she is one of Magic's most iconic cards of all time.

5th edition through Mercadian Masques - Vacant
WotC decided Serra Angel was too good, and took her out of the core set. Whether or not she would have seen any play during this time is debatable, but none of the replacements even came close. Warrior Angel, Radiant, Archangel, and others never were quite good enough to make it.

Nemesis through Planeshift - Blinding Angel
She took the defensive nature of Serra Angel and ran (or should I say flew?) with it! Locking unsuspecting creature decks out of the game completely, with their only hope to draw a Birds of Paradise to chump for one turn and hope that it resolved. Blinding Angel was a solid addition to permission based control at the time, since protecting her long enough usually led to victory.

Apocalypse through Judgment - Desolation Angel
Resolving this creature (with the kicker of course) was the best way to win a control mirror. A very dynamic card that could steal wins sometimes by being cast without kicker, she was one of many iconic cards from the enemy colored Apocalypse set.

Onslaught through Ravnica - Exalted Angel
No, she doesn't have the Exalted ability, but the Morph ability allowed for some fast beats. Not many aggressive decks could race an 8 point life swing starting on turn 4, and combined with Astral Slide and cycling cards, she could be impossible to kill. A long time player in Extended Scepter-Chant decks, she could be unmorphed on turn 3 with the help of Chrome Mox. Truly one of the best angels of all time, unfortunately relegated to the casual room with the printing of Baneslayer Angel.

Guildpact through Alara Reborn - Angel of Despair
The second black angel on the list shows that even when angels aren't the holiest, they still make for some great Magic cards. Angel of Despair's mana cost of 7 isn't unreasonable, but she spent most of her time coming out of the grave in Reanimator, Solor Flare, and Dredge decks. She is still a player in Legacy and can help you get out of many sticky situations with the Vindicate she brings along with her.

M10 through Dark Ascension - Baneslayer Angel
M10 brought a renewed focus on flavor, and a new focus on splashy creatures. Baneslayer was a workhorse in constructed, and nigh unbeatable in limited. The go-to threat for white control decks of the time, she obsoleted dozens of other creatures when she was printed.

Avacyn Restored through current - Restoration Angel
This card just does it all. From infinite combos with Kiki-Jiki, to value on Kitched Finks and Geist of St Traft, and just being an instant speed threat, all for the low price of 4 mana, Restoration Angel is easily the best angel of all time

And a bonus, the top 10 angels of all time, ranked!

1. Restoration Angel
2. Baneslayer Angel
3. Angel of Despair
4. Karmic Guide*
5. Iona, Shield of Emeria
6. Platinum Angel / Empyrial Archangel
7. Exalted Angel
8. Akroma, Angel of Wrath
9. Angel of Serenity
10. Emeria Angel

*Much in the way Worldgorger Dragon is one of the best dragons of all time, Karmic Guide makes the list almost solely on combo decks, and wasn't included in the discussion at the top.

16 October 2012

GP San Jose Report

The team:
Will Lowry
Ty Thomason
Haibing Hu

Will has never done team sealed before, so Bing and I did the preliminary theory crafting. We wanted to split the colors RB, UW, Gx, with me on Rakdos, Bing on Azorius, and Will on the durdle deck. I was going to be seat B as more or less the team leader, but I have complete faith in my partners. In fact, they are both better at limited than me, that's why I chose them.

I hadn't done any real practice sealeds, but I did look at probably 25 or so pools on the website that let you generate them over and over. It seemed like the commons and uncommons were usually pretty close, so the biggest factor to the pool being good or not was what rares you opened. Since the last time team sealed was a thing, the rares have gotten much better. Also, they stopped making tournament packs and instead give you 12 boosters, which really leads to some crazy multiples of cards that couldn't really happen before. So I think team sealed is higher variance now that it used to be, but it's still a lot of fun.

Our actual pool was pretty week. I had a solid RB deck with 7 removals and a low curve, but it was nothing special. I built it pretty quickly then started helping Bing with the UW, but there just wasn't any. Will had thrown together a solid GW aggro deck, and the green cards weren't really there to support a 4-color build. I decided to give Bing the GW deck, since it was the second best deck and the goal was to give Will the worst deck, since he has some unnatural gift for winning with jank. So with the rest of the cards, we put together a UWr deck with multiple Hussar Patrols that could board into a Lobber Crew deck if needed. Will didn't have many win conditions other than Teleportal.

The tournament was 11 rounds. They weren't really prepared for 571 teams, and I'm not sure why. GP sizes have basically tripled in 10 years, why wouldn't team GP also triple? The biggest problem with the structure of the tournament in actuality was the cut to only top 2. Since it wasn't top 8, they couldn't have people make day 2 that couldn't get to the finals (though the two teams that snuck in at X-2-1 we out of contention the whole time). If they could have had top 4 or top 8 cut, we might have seen more people make day 2 and less rounds on day 1. 

We only had one bye, because I didn't realize Silver level pros would only get 1 at this GP until it was too late to do anything about it. Oh well, it was going to be a lot of winning to do in order to make it to day 2 anyway. We got some lunch during the bye, and came back for round 2.

It was a long day, so my memory is pretty blurry. This is the best I can do.

Round 2 we played a father and his two sons. Bing won early and Will looked like he was going to win, so Bing told me I should lose so the kids would like their dad better. I didn't do anything intentionally bad, but I didn't play the best in game 3 and lost after Will had locked up the match.

Round 3 I don't remember. I think it came down to my match and I got there with the Phyrexian Arena enchant land. 

Round 4 we played against Saito, Yasooka, and Satou. I destroyed Yasooka in two very short games, then watched Will make some silly plays against Saito and lose a game. Bing won game 1, lost game 2, and third game was looking interesting. Saito and Will were locked in a epic control mirror, and Bing was clogging the board with centaurs against Satou's aura deck. There was a judge call when Bing's opponent tried to stack some triggers in a certain order, but they were controlled by two different players so what he did was illegal. I don't think he was trying to cheat, but i'm not sure about the way the judge remedied the situation either. Will and Saito drew on time, and Bing need to top deck an answer to a flier to win so we could win the match, and he did. 

Round 5 is still a blur. We won

Round 6 we played against the French Canadian team Alexander Hayne, Pascal Maynard, and some other guy. Will won, Bing lost, but I won game 3 when Hayne got stuck on lands. 

Round 7 we got swept, their decks were much better than ours.

Round 8 I played my first rakdos mirror all day, and it was interesting. I was very tired and things were foggy, but my opponent made some interesting plays that allowed me to steal the match . I think this was the only match where we swept the other team.

Round 9 was against Christian Calcano, Tom Ma, and Aaron Schwartz. I played terribly against Calcano like I always seem to do, but Bing and Will got there.

With two rounds to go, we were in 11th, but it didn't look like X-3 was going to have a shot, so we needed one win. Well, it didn't happen. Both the pools we go up against in the next rounds were just better than ours, and we get swept both times.

Losing round 11 to not make it to day 2 was pretty awful. I think we way overperformed for our pool, Will especially. This ended my GP money streak at 4 and GP day 2 streak 6.

Sunday was relaxed. I played 4 rounds of states before dropping at 2-2, then did a cube draft and a 2v2 before going out for a nice dinner and watched the Texans game. As for the GP, I'm really happy the way our team worked together, and I think we got the most we could out of our decks, and it just wasn't enough. Hopefully we can team together again next time.

15 October 2012

I Answer The Questions! 10/15

From SCG Providence:

What is your favorite card from Return to Ravnica?
Rakdos Cackler?

What's the best 1-drop in Standard right now?

What card from Scars of Mirrodin block do you miss most?
Green Sun's Zenith

Is U/B Tezzeret the ‘real deal?’
It's good, but I don't think its Tier 1.

Which Return to Ravnica limited all-star do you think can have an impact on constructed?
Chorus of the Conclave

Which planeswalker isn’t getting enough play in Standard?
If any, its Jace, since its the only good one really.

Is U/W/R here to stay?
UW is good, regardless of splash or not. So, yes.

From GP San Jose:

Who are your teammates, and why did you play with them? 
Will Lowry, Haibing Hu. Best players I know and I know their draft tendencies if we make it to day 2.

What color combination did you play in Sealed, and what was your most important card? 
Rakdos and Rakdos Cackler.

Do you prefer Team Limited, or Team Constructed? 
Unified Team Constructed is one of the best things you can do in magic.

12 October 2012

Friday Thoughts

1. I feel like my last article was pretty poorly done. 
It was hastily written and you can tell. I said I would write a more in depth report from last weekend, but I probably won't. What I will do is point out some things I noticed in the few days since I wrote the article.

First, some quotes from two SCG articles this week:

"what are the best things you can do? Off the top of my head:

1. Turn 3 Jace, Architect of Thought.
2. Thragtusk into Restoration Angel (both per Patrick).
3. A Bonfire of the Damned in quite a few situations.
4. (All kinds of stuff you can do with Thragtusk, actually... Unburying it and Farseeking it are both hot, but regular old casting it can be more than good enough)
5. Cyclonic Rift into Rakdos's Return.
6. Early miracle Entreat the Angels (for the race).
7. Intangible Virtue into Lingering Souls & co.
8. Heck, blind flipping a Delver of Secrets hasn't started being bad or anything!"

(from What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up, by Mike Flores )

and this:

"Restoration Angel is the real killer, one that isn't seeing nearly enough play right now. Granted, there isn't a great shell for her, but she'll make her return someday."

(from Cin City Aftermath, by Gerry Thompson)

Well, my deck meets 4 of the 8 things in Flores list (2,3,4, & 6), and plays the Restoration Angels that Gerry T alluded to. That's something to think about.

I've been playing the deck on modo in the standard queues which are post rotation but no one has access to RTR yet except for reprints. I haven't lost any matches, but that's to be expected.

2. Modern Sucks
I realized this as I did the fantasy PT thing on facebook (see here). It was so much easier than the Standard or the Block Constructed one. The good cards in modern are so good you can't play anything else. Also, Aaron Forsythe tweeted top 5 cards in modern dailies: Scalding Tarn, Misty Rainforest, Kitchen Finks, Island, Verdant Catacombs. I updated my list to Scalding Tarn over Misty, and also Prismatic Omen as the Enchantment. But really, the format is pretty bad. There's a couple niche combo type decks, and everything else is pick 3 colors, play the best value cards in those colors. Valakut unbanning helps, hopefully they will unban more. Matt Sperling was right on when he said they should ban fetchlands. There's no drawback to playing 3 and 4 colors in Modern, at least legacy has Wasteland. The format is fun to play, but it's not fun to build decks for. I'm sort of glad I'm not going to Seattle.

3. Team GP this weekend.
If you don't know, GP San Jose is this weekend. Team Limited. I'm pretty excited. My team is me, Will Lowry, and  Haibing Hu. We're hoping to do really well, follow us this weekend in the coverage.

08 October 2012

My Fantasy Pro Tour picks

so you can copy on Facebook, or make a better roster!

Liliana of the Veil. It's a 4-of in what will probably be the most popular deck, Jund. It's not the best walker (Elspeth and new Jace are better, but without a home), but will definitely be the most played.

Large Creature:
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Combos with Restoration Angel out of the pod deck, nothing else i think is even playable that costs 5 or more....

Medium Creature:
Kitchen Finks. It was a top 10 Modern card on MTGO, I can't see Restoration Angel or Geist of St Traft catching it, considering those decks also play Finks.

Small Creature:
I'm going with Snapcaster Mage, but Tarmogoyf is close. Funny that Goyf is considered a "small creature". Do not pick Delver of Secrets

Path to Exile. It was #1 on the MTGO Modern list, don't see that changing.

Inquisition of Kozilek. There are a lot of different options here, including Serum Visions, Thoughtsieze, and Maelstrom Pulse. I think Abrupt Decay pushes Pulse out, and I think less people will play Serum Visions decks than Jund.

Blood Moon. I don't even know if there is another option, maybe Threads of Disloyalty?

Cranial Plating. All of the "artifact aggro" decks play 4 of this, even if nothing else can be agreed upon. Would like to see it be Aether Vial, but that doesn't seem to be a popular strategy. Birthing Pod is a close second.

Non-Basic Land:
Hardest pick of the draft. Fetchlands outnumber shocklands, but which fetch? I went with Misty Rainforest, but Scalding Tarn and Verdant Catacombs are also good choices. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle could be a sleeper, but you don't really need to play the full 4 to get it to work so I didn't pick it.

Pro Tour Player
I picked Andrew Cuneo. He seems to always be on top of the modern format.

I Answer the Questions! 10/8

After a down week without any tournaments, we're back with more questions that need answering. All of these from SCG Cincinnati.

Are there any Magic 2013 or Innistrad Block sleepers in new Standard?
Thatcher's Revolt might be a sleeper

Which archetype will be the most popular in the room today?

What’s the most underrated card in Return to Ravnica?
The Gates.

Will Delver of Secrets find a way to survive in new Standard?

Which non-shockland Return to Ravnica card will have the biggest impact on Standard?

In what ways (if any) will Abrupt Decay change Legacy?
Delver decks won't have to play Lightning Bolt

Did Return to Ravnica affect your Legacy deck selection?

Which Return to Ravnica cards, if any, had an impact on your tournament or your preperation?
Abrupt Decay

Which Legacy archetype received the most help from Return to Ravnica?
BG variants. Actually playable now...

Which team-up (real or imaginary) would most entertain you to see winning Grand Prix San Jose?
Jose, Mo, Trevor