December 31st, 2011
So, my 11 year old son Simon and I went to FNM at Montag’s Games for the first time in a while since I had been on the road on Friday nights for the last three weeks. We both did OK—Simon did much better, and I’ll explain that as well. The other thing is that I think these are two of the best decks in Standard right now, but that doesn’t say much, because Standard is fantastic right now with so many viable decks that “best” really means “I like somewhat better than the others.”
Anyway, here are the decks we played:
That’s what I played. My son Simon played this:
I’ll go over mine first.
Round 1: Audra, playing Kessig Ramp
This is a matchup that I ought to be able to win, but nothing is certain. Game 1 I opened with a Nexus, then a Stinger on turn 2, then a Specter on turn 3. She burned the Specter but I got a Lashwrithe on the Stinger and that carried it. Game 2 she mulled to six and I kept a slightly sketchy hand and ended up paying for it. I ultimately had a huge Phyrexian Crusader with a Lashwrithe on it, but she was generating wolf tokens with a flipped Mayor of Avabruck and they were chumping. She eventually drew a Primeval Titan and got the Kessing she needed to make her Nexus lethal. Game 3 I mulled to six and opened with a Nexus, then a Spellskite, then a Plague Stinger, then a Trigon. The Spellskite kept the Stinger safe from all her burn spells and mostly what she did was ramp and then die to the pumped Stinger. It was good that I had the Stinger/Trigon because I never drew a fourth land at all.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games
Round 2: Josh, playing UG Splinterfright
He was playing something pretty close to the event deck. I opened with Nexus then Stinger, then Spectre and had him pitch four cards, which actually wasn’t all that great since his next card was a Boneyard Wurm, and then he Mulched to make the Wurm a 7/7. However, I got Skittles next and won that race. Game 2 I got the turn 4 kill. Turn 2 Stinger, turn 3 Piston Sledge, turn 4 Trigon for the win. Nice when you know your opponent has minimal removal. The whole match took like 10-15 minutes.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games
Round 3: Simon
So, Simon was 1-1 at this point, and since I was 2-0, I scooped to Simon to not eliminate him. I knew this would make it harder for me, but I figured it was the least I could do for him since the last time we were in an elimination situation for the top 8 he opted to play and I won, which made him pretty unhappy. So this time I gave him the win.
2-1 matches, 4-1 games
Round 4: Chris, playing Solar Flare
Neither of these games were particularly quick. Game 1 we traded back and forth and at one point he Snapcasted back a Mana Leak and that Snapcaster got me down to like 10, but I got a Specter out and ate his hand, then was free to cast a Skittles and that went all the way. Game 2 was kind of a mess in terms of board state but I got out a Lashwrithe, got him tapped out except for one Isolated Chapel, then got out a second Lashwrithe and double-equipped a Nexus for the win.
3-1 matches, 6-1 games
Round 5: John, playing UW Delver Illusions
So, the situation was that if all the 3-1s drew, then one of them would not make it on tiebreaks. My breaks were not that good anyway, and I did this once before only to have my son Simon be the one who missed on tiebreaks, so I decided to play it out even though I knew my matchup wasn’t very good and I knew Simon would draw. It’s not unwinnable, but it’s not great. If they draw a lot of Vapor Snags you can only win if you have a Spellskite out. Game 1 I got a Spellskite, but he got a turn 3 Geist and I had no answers. He smartly Snagged the ‘Skite when it mattered and had a Gut Shot for my one Stinger and I was too far behind for the Skittles to matter. Game 2 I mulled to six and kept an OK hand, but no Spellskite, and he drew three Snags and a Snapcaster and I had no chance.
3-2 matches, 6-3 games
We found out after that if I had drawn, I would have been eighth. Grr. The good news is that Simon finished 7th. Now, he doesn’t take any kind of notes so I don’t have a full report from him, but I know his matchups and his outcomes, so I’ll recap those:
Round 1: Chris playing Mono-U Grand Architect
Simon won this one, though I don’t know many of the details. I guess in game 3 his opponent stalled on two land after Simon had been flooded in game 1.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games
Round 2: Dillon playing BantPod
Simon lost this match, though he should have won it. Late in game 3 Simon had an empty board and his opponent, who had no Pod in play, tapped out to cast a Wurmcoil Engine. Simon, who was stuck on only 3 land, copied the Engine with an Image, but then did NOT use the Vapor Snag in his hand. Dillon of course untapped, played a Pod, and podded into Elesh Norn. Oops.
1-1 matches, 3-3 games
Round 3: Freebie from dad!
2-1 matches, 3-3 games
Round 4: GW Humans
This one also went three games. Apparently in one game that he won, Simon had a Lord out and was able to copy a Hero of Bladehold with an Image, and in another, he had the “Bear, Lord, Image copying Lord” opener.
3-1 matches, 5-4 games
Round 5: Kessig ramp
Simon chose to ID since his opponent was #2 in the standings so Simon figured his breakers would improve and he’d lock up a spot. Turns out he was right.
3-1-1 matches, 5-4 games
Quarterfinals: Dillon, playing BantPod
This was indeed the rematch from round 2. Since I was out of the top 8, I was going to railbird it, but Simon told me that would make him more nervous, so I took off. Simon carried the first game and told me I could come back to watch, which I did. However, I rather wished I hadn’t. Dillon ramped into a turn 3 Thrun, and Simon ended up just chumping that like crazy for the rest of the match, during which time he drew 10 of his 20 lands. I decided not to watch the decider, which Simon carried and apparently played very well.
4-1-1 matches, 7-5 games
Semifinals: John, playing Uw Delver Illusions
John and I had actually talked about these decks between rounds and he was playing a deck that was maybe 3 or 4 cards different than Simon’s in the main deck. John is a strong player so I didn’t give Simon much chance in this and I decided not to watch. Simon apparently made a couple small mistakes in game 1 and lost it badly, corrected them in game 2 and won easily, and then just got blown out in game 3 by virtue of John having a much better draw.
4-2-1 matches, 8-6 games
So Simon finished in the top 4 and got store credit for the first time ever! He got a nice $17.50 and spent it about a dollar at a time on causal singles (for play with his brother and his school buddies) until everyone was going crazy (it was like 1:00 in the morning at this point) and he used his last $3 on a pack of Mirrodin Besieged, from which he pulled a Bonehoard. Hooray Simon!
Next time, though, I think we’ll just ID.
Some comments on the decks, first on the Infect deck:
• I’m fairly convinced this is the right build, or very nearly so, at least in the maindeck. If I were to change anything in the main, I’d consider putting the Specters in the sideboard.
• I still can’t believe that anybody plays this deck without Trigon of Rage, it just seems ridiculously good.
• I’m also not convinced that the builds that run blue (I mean a real amount of blue, not the token here) in order to run Blighted Agent are really better, since then you lose Lashwrithe. Lashwrithe is excellent. Going two-color also raises the opportunity to be color-screwed or get tempo-hosed by lands coming into play tapped—that never happens with this. This is the only mono-colored deck I’ve played in ages and it is amazingly nice to never have those problems. I see the appeal of RDW sometimes.
• I think maybe the sideboard needs a third Spellskite and desperately needs some better set of answers to Illusions. That’s the only matchup I really worry about. RDW can be tricky, too, but Crusader is really good there. I have no good ideas about dealing with the Delver Illusions deck, it’s just a bad matchup. If anyone out there has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.
Now, some thoughts on the Uw Delver Illusions deck:
• This deck needs a catchier name. “Uw Delver Illusions,” though descriptive, is awful.
• The deck is very strong. It plays a lot like old-school Merfolk, of course, and has both explosive starts and a decent midgame. If the game goes very long then it’s obviously a little weaker.
• Geist of Saint Traft is a really solid card, and should probably be a 3-of rather than a 2-of. I’m thinking of cutting one of the Probes for it.
• Vapor Snag is spectacular in this deck. This is a card that nobody used to play and is now a serious weapon.
• Gut Shot is also surprisingly good. There are way too many 1-toughness creatures in Standard right now.
So, I’ll be brining these two decks with me to play at side events at GP Austin. Who’s going?
December 6th, 2011
It’s been a while since I did any kind of tech review, but this one needs to get out there. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages and just haven’t had the time. Well, I still don’t, but here I go anyway.
First, for anyone reading this who doesn’t know, The Omni Group is an Apple-only software shop that makes what I consider to be some of the best applications out there. OmniOutliner Pro and OmniGraffle Pro for the Mac are absolutely top-notch. In fact, OmniOutliner Pro for the Mac is one of may all-time favorite applications anywhere ever on any computer, right up there with MacWrite Pro back in the day. My hard drive is littered with probably a thousand OmniOutliner documents.
Now, I also love my iPad, and I put off getting one for a long time because Omni hadn’t released OmniOutliner for it. I did finally cave before the release, but I really missed having a top-notch outliner for the iPad.
So, with all that praise floating around, how is OmniOutliner for iPad (hereafter just “OO”)?
Unfortunately, my reaction to is is mixed. While it’s certainly the best dedicated outliner I’ve seen for the iPad, that’s not saying to terribly much, though CarbonFin Outliner is pretty decent. The fundamental problem is that OO doesn’t live up to the Mac version. This is slightly odd for Omni, since the iPad version of OmniFocus is actually far superior to the Mac version, and OmniGraffle is quite comparable on both platforms.
Omni certainly got a lot of things right on the iPad version of Outliner. It generally looks good, it’s responsive, it’s packed with features like full multi-column support, has a good set of starter templates, etc. Omni obviously put a lot of work into it.
But, unfortunately, they didn’t get it all right, and this is where I get into the mixed feelings part. Let me describe what I think are the most major flaws:
The Document Manager
Unfortunately, OO uses the same kind of document manager as Apple’s productivity apps like Pages and Keynote. Unfortunately, it’s not very good. It’s fine when you have only a few documents, but it doesn’t scale very well. As I noted above, I use OO all the time on my desktop, and I want to do that on my iPad as well. Unfortunately it just doesn’t scale. If you have even 30 documents, it becomes very cumbersome to manage. There are no folders and no search facilities, just view by modification date or file name. This is a pretty major stumbling block, and while it is one shared by numerous other iPad apps, i feel it more with OO than with any other app, since I tend to generate lots of outlines. (This is my preferred way to take notes in meetings, for example.) GoodReader is an example of an application that does this much better. No, GoodReader’s document manager isn’t pretty, but it scales a heck of a lot better.
This is also a really important thing for me, to be able to share outlines between my iPad and my Mac(s). OO is pretty bad at this as well. First, it doesn’t support DropBox, which is a shame, only WebDAV and iDisk. (And iDisk is going away anyway. More on that in a bit.) iDisk support isn’t very good, though some of this isn’t Omni’s fault—iDisk has always been a dog for me. The real problem, however, is that it doesn’t actually synchronize at all. It will make a copy of something on iDisk, and you can save a copy of a document to iDisk, but those are only copies. It doesn’t sync. This means I constantly have to check and re-check to see whether the most recent version of any particular document is on iDisk or on the iPad. Again, GoodReader has this problem solved reasonably cleanly, storing a link to the document on the sever and supporting a “sync” button that figures out who’s newer and syncs it.
Now, I would guess that in the future Omni will support iCloud and this will get somewhat better—if you can use iCloud. Unfortunately, for work I still need some old applications that only run under Rosetta, so I can’t upgrade to Lion yet, so I can’t use iCloud. (Also, some of my favorite Mac software isn’t Lion-ready yet, which is a separate rant for another time.)
Another other big problem is that there are number of very annoying incompatibilities between the iPad and the Mac that OO simply does not handle well. For example, I find that to look right on the iPad, I need documents zoomed in to about 125%. Unfortunately, when you open that document back up on the Mac, it remains zoomed in at 125%, and there is no way to change the zoom level on the Mac version of OO. Argh! (Actually, I’ve figured out a way to deal with the problem, which qualifies as a horrible hack: If you open the raw XML of the OO document on the Mac with a text editor like BBEdit, you can actually find the setting buried in the XML and change it back to 100%. Not fun.) There are also problems going the other way. If the document on the Mac side is in a font that doesn’t exist on the iPad, it obviously can’t use that font—but then it throws away all font information in the whole document. All the bold, italics, size changes, etc. are wiped out when you open it on the iPad. Look, I understand that Gil Sans (or whatever) doesn’t exist on the iPad, but it’s not like bold doesn’t exist. Why is that information lost?
Missing Functionality/Feature Requests
This might be getting a little nitipicky, but I really like being able to attach audio to my outlines, which is something that is available on the Mac side. As I mentioned, I like to use OO as my note-taking app in meetings, and it would be GREAT to be able to record audio snippets as annotations. I guess this is more of a feature request than missing functionality.
The other thing I desperately want is the ability to print. Amazingly, there are times when I want to be able to have hardcopy, and as far as I can tell, there’s no easy way to do this from OO. It can be done, badly, by exporting the outline to some other app that does know how to print, but again, this is a pain and the results often aren’t quite what I want.
My Other UI Gripe
The last thing on my list is another user interface gripe (the document manager being the first one). One of the most important features of an outliner, from my point of view, is use as a hierarchical checklist. Fortunately, OO supports this, but its support for this is pretty awful from a UI standpoint. Fundamentally, where you want the checkboxes to be is on the left side with the start of each line of text, and you want those checkboxes to indent as the text indents. This is exactly what the Mac version does, and what every even half-decent outliner I’ve seen anywhere else does (including CarbonFin Outliner on the iPad/iPhone). Unfortunately, OO for iPad treats the checkboxes not as a property of each row, but as an entirely separate column, and this column is rendered on the right, away from the leading edge of the text. This is, not to put too fine a point on it, a truly awful bit of UI. Usually Omni is really good about UI stuff (one of the reasons I’m normally such a fan), so this seems very out of character.
Now, despite all those things, I still use OO for iPad fairly regularly. In fact, I even generated the outline for this review on it! It’s still a good iPad app, and it’s still a fairly early release, so I’m optimistic that some of these will be addressed in future updates, though I have concerns about how soon such things will be available given that OO for Mac has been at version 3 since early 2005(!). OmniOutliner for iPad does fall short in some key areas that prevent me from using in the way I would like to use it. Most of those issues are ironically enough that OO for iPad is difficult to use with the Mac version of OmniOutliner. If your planned use of OO for iPad is as a standalone, then I’d rate it higher. But using it with the Mac version is frustrating and klunky, not things I generally associate with Omni Group products.
December 4th, 2011
Another FNM, another report. I played UR Delver because I really like counter-burn strategies (I played CounterHammer back when that was a deck in Standard, and then CounterPhoenix in Rath Block Constructed), and haven’t really had a viable shot at one for a long time, so when I saw this list online I figured I had to give it a whirl. I played pretty close to the original list:
It’s 61 cards because I meant to take out one Island for a Ghost Quarter but I miscounted and didn’t realize it until I was shuffling up for the first match. I should have stopped and fixed it, but I didn’t. My bad.
If I had had more time beforehand I would have tried to work in a couple copies of Desperate Ravings which seems good in this deck, but I really didn’t have time to tinker with it and wasn’t sure what to take out. As has been the norm lately, I didn’t have a chance to playtest it at all beforehand and played it cold. I know, I know, that’s a horrible strategy, but it’s where I am life-wise right now.
5 rounds, cut to top 8.
Round 1: Michael, playing homebrew Naya Golems
I have to say that I don’t know very much about this deck. I guess he did OK with it overall, but mostly what I saw out of it was land. Both games he cast Rampant Growth on turn 2 to get his third color and thereafter mostly drew land. Game 1 he dropped an Adaptive Automaton naming “golem” and I never saw another creature. Game 2 I got turn 1 Delver, flip, turn 3 Delver, flip on a Galvanic Blast. I hit him down to 7, he cast Day, I Volleyed him down to 2 and Blasted for the win. I took zero damage total. Good start on luck and did kill pretty quickly both games, but not exactly a strong test of the deck.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games
Round 2: Zack, playing GB homebrew
Zach is maybe 15 years old and a slightly awkward teen, but basically a good kid as far as I can tell. Game 1 I flashed in a Snapcaster early to either counter or burn something and he got in a few times before eating some removal spell, which I followed up with another one, then a Delver which I flipped off a Ponder, then finished with burn. Game 2 was more about permission and removal on my end, letting me poke away with little guys until I had him at 5 and won on a Volley. First point of note: this deck definitely punishes bad decks.
2-0 matches, 4-0 games
Round 3: Paul, playing RDW
Paul is a good player and definitely knows how to pilot RDW, which is not as brainless as many people think. Game 1 we had a good back-and-forth but in the end he drew more burn than I did, which isn’t really a surprise, and he took it home while still at 7 life. Game 2 I was very land-light, stuck on 3 for many turns, but he got flooded and my early Snapcaster (brought back a Blast) went most of the way. Game 3 was awful. He got a really fast start, I didn’t, and my Delver sat for four turns in a row of drawing land. I did not get there, but overall it was a close match, as game 1 really could have gone either way.
2-1 matches, 5-2 games
Round 4: Weylin, playing Haunted Humans
Weylin is also a strong player and the Humans deck can be very good; he smashed me with it last time I played FNM. Game 1 I got a turn 1 Delver and flipped it turn 2, burned all his guys as they came out, and finished him off with another Volley. Game 2 he got the god draw, or at least a very good one: Champion of the Parish on turn 1 and a second Champion and a Doomed Traveler on turn 2, then a Grand Abolisher. I never really caught up with that. Game 3 was closer, and we both made some small mistakes that might have swung it. I opened with a Stromkirk Noble, him with a Traveler. I know his turn 2 was another Traveler but turn 3 he went for Geist of Saint Traft and I Leaked it. (That was his mistake.) I followed with a second Noble and he followed with a Grand Abolisher (which is what he should have used to draw out the Leak). We exchanged blows a bit, he got my larger Noble with an O Ring and then I drew all three Phoenixes. I did screw up in that something died when I had a Volley in hand and I volleyed the Abolisher rather than sending 5 at him, but the three Phoenixes were too much in the air for him to keep up and I won anyway.
3-1 matches, 7-3 games
Round 5: ID
My opponent did the math, figured out we’d both be in, and so I accepted the ID. This turned out to be a mistake, because my 10 year old was 2-2 but won in the fifth round and finished 9th. If I had played, then he would have gotten in ahead of the loser of my match. (He was playing mono-Black Infect, by the way.)
Quarterfinals: Joe, playing UB Control
Joe is almost certainly the best regular player in the store and my nemesis—I rarely beat him, because he’s better than me. It’s a game with luck, sure, but there’s enough skill difference here that it matters. Anyway, his build has Reassembling Skeleton and Sword of Feast and Famine, plus the usual suite of counters, card draw, and spot removal, a very tricky matchup. I mulled to six and kept a one-lander because it had three Delvers in it. Unfortunately, I could not get one to flip and Joe had all the early answers he needed for them (he runs Dead Weight main and had one, as well as a Ratchet Bomb, ugh) and even with a Ponder in the opener, I failed to get on enough early pressure and then fell too far behind in the land race. Game 2 was more competitive, as I got in a few hits here and there and had a Phoenix running, but he managed to get a Wurmcoil Engine, though he tapped out for it. He was at 6 life and I didn’t have the damage I needed to finish him. The only answer I had in my hand was a Vapor Snag, and what I should have done was Snag the Wurmcoil right away, rather than letting him untap and doing in response to combat, since he just Leaked the Snag. The six life he gained was enough to keep him out of burn range for a bit, and I never got there, ultimately dying to the 6/6. i probably should have won that game. Oops.
3-2-1 matches, 7-5 games
So, not bad, but certainly not great. Rounds 3 and 4 could easily have gone the other way. I probably could have won game 2 in the quarters if I hadn’t punted, but I still think the UB deck has the edge in game 3, at least against this build.
So, the deck. It’s a style I love, but I’m not in love with this specific build. Some thoughts:
• Galvanic Blast, which is really Shock in this deck, is really subpar. Incinerate isn’t l that great, either. This deck wants Lightning Bolt so badly it’s painful. If I were to play this again, I’d cut the Shocks completely, probably cut the Incinerates to 2 or 3, and run some mix of Arc Trail, Gut Shot, and maybe Geistflame.
• I have mixed feelings about Stromkirk Noble. When he’s good (turn 1, vs. humans), he’s fantastic, but otherwise he’s underwhelming.
• Brimstone Volley is amazing, but a little costly for this deck. 3 might be enough.
• Ponder is great with Delver, of course, but not so hot otherwise. I’d go to 3 and run a couple Desperate Ravings as well.
• I didn’t really like the sideboard all that much. Going to 4 Nobles vs. Haunted Humans was great and and Arc Trail very good in multiple matchups, and Flashfreeze has its place, too, but otherwise I’m not so sure. Manic Vandal and Steel Sabotage seem especially suspect.
Of course, I wrote this, and then a UR Delver list made top 4 of the SCG Open in St. Louis. That list is pretty interesting in that it completely foregoes Stromkirk Noble and uses a burn package more like what I’d switch to. The loss of Noble means the deck can lean on more blue mana and can thus support the Psychic Barriers, but seems like it might make Phoenix harder to cast. I like the sideboard Ancient Grudge plan but I’m not sure about 2 main deck Satchels. Don’t get me wrong, I love Satchel, but that seems like a sideboard card vs. control decks more than a main deck choice; I’d probably swap for the Arc Trails. The loss of Noble also seems like it’d make the deck softer to Humans, but I guess that’s what Mental Misstep is in the board for, and main deck Gut Shot probably also helps.
Anyway, it’s a great deck to play and I think it has solid potential to keep evolving well as the format evolves. The format, by the way, is fantastic. There are so many viable deck choices right now; the format feels completely wide open, and I love that.