My #Top8Cards

Hey, look! I got off my butt and wrote something!

I've been working on this off and on for a couple of weeks, but hit a wall in finishing it. As a result I've decided the best way to complete this and get it posted is to explain my choices in haiku form instead of dithering over paragraphs.

And so, with Sam in bed and a Pastis in hand, let's see the list (in no particular order):

  • Dark Ritual

High school's best first turn:
A swamp, Ritual, Sol Ring…
Juggernaut. Cackle.

  • Astral Slide

Though I'd stopped playing,
Slide was the first card
That screamed, "Build 'round me!"

  • Gravecrawler

Tickled my fancy
For combos and recurred threats
Oh, also zombies.

  • Hellrider

You mean it's OK
To overextend your board
Because of this guy?

  • Huntmaster of the Fells

Loved him in Jund decks:
My turn, nothing, flip; and then,
Your turn, two spells, flip.

  • Young Pyromancer

Go wide! No, wider!
Squeeze every drop of value
Out of Lightning Bolt.

  • Monastery Swiftspear

Notice a trend with these?
Come down fast, hit hard, cast spells.
I foiled these ones, too.

  • Nekusar, The Mindrazer

For EDH fun,
Your group hugs cause so much pain.
Good to be villain.


Griefer Madness, or: Going Full Timmy with Rakdos, Lord of Riots

A bit more than a year ago, I was flipping through looking for suggestions on what to do with my Grimgrin EDH deck. After all, Grimgrin is better in single-player matches, because it's a cheap piece of garbage that aims to infinite combo your opponent to death. There's got to be more than life than that.

No, I was looking for something new in my life. I was thinking of building a multiplayer-focused deck, and Cassidy McAuliffe’s Rakdos, Lord of Riots deck really caught my eye.

“Wow!”, I thought. “This is bananas!” I don't think that this is the sort of deck that I'd normally play. Of the three different player psychographics, I'm pretty squarely Aggro Spike. This deck, however. This deck appeals to the Timmy in me. You durdle for an uncountable number of turns, and then you get a damage source to stick around, Rakdos comes out, and then you ride the wave until he dies. There’s a visceral pleasure I get from sneaking some damage in and then casting huge creatures for next-to-no mana. Even better: this is a deck that rewards crappy strategy. If you're trying to milk every last bit of value out of your Rakdos, why not overextend and drop your entire hand?

What? I had to use a doge meme joke before it fell out of favour. I'm not too late, am I?

While I loved the concept, there were a couple of things about it that I wanted to improve:

1) I don't think it looks back far enough

Mr. McAuliffe said that this deck is a way to bring in new players and, as a result, would be made only with cards that are Modern-legal. First, he already broke his own rule by using Magmatic Force (which is from a Commander set and thus only legal in Legacy/Vintage/EDH). Second, I have no such qualms. Bring on the pre-8th Edition stuff! There are all sorts of great mana-fixers (Badlands, Bloodstained Mire), board wipes (Breaking Point), card-drawers (Browbeat, Wheel of Fortune), and tricksy enchantments (Sneak Attack) that could be stuffed into this deck. I say bring 'em on!

2) I don't think it looks forward enough

The article was written in September 2012, when Return to Ravnica had just come out. Theros added no fewer than two fantastic gods that work super-well in this deck. You’d be a fool to not add a couple of indestructible, synergistic creatures. In theory, I could use Hero's Downfall in this deck, too. I just haven't gotten around to buying a foil one yet (you'll see why I have this limitation later.)

3) I’m a bigger jerk than Cassidy McAuliffe

The people I play with pack some badass-bordering-on-broken decks (off the top of my head, there are Bruna, Child of Alara, Dralna, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, Mimeoplasm, and Phenax decks that I really worry about).

When Mr. McAuliffe says, and I quote, “I do find it worth it to note that this would be an ideal place to slot Blightsteel Colossus or Ulamog the Infinite Gyre but my playgroup frowns on both poison and…well Ulamog”, I’m thinking to myself “I am probably the slowest deck in the match! I'd better use Ulamog and Kozilek, and hope to God that I can play them both in the same turn!"

4) I wanted more of an early game

I feel that Rakdos decks have a built-in tension to them. You need a certain number of small, cheap effects that can be used to bring out Rakdos. Short-term, one-shot, splashy spells aren’t as cool as persistent, similar effects.

For example, the original deck packed a trio of one-shot, pay-life-to-draw-cards sorceries: Sign in Blood, Night’s Whisper, and Ambition’s Cost. Wouldn’t it be preferable, and more in-line with what Rakdos is best at, to use creatures that effect card draw? Erebos, God of the Dead; Seizan, Perverter of Truth; and Baleful force are all over there in the corner making goo-goo eyes hoping they’d be noticed.

Also, if you are hoping to bring out Rakdos on turn 4 without acceleration, you’d better have stuff that you can play on turn 3 that will let you do that. Sorceries that do damage to your opponents have to be cast in the same turn you want to cast Rakdos. So dropping a Sizzle for 2R, in the hopes of casting Rakdos for BBRR, is something you may only get to do on turn 7. Why not just cast Onyx Goblet for 2B on turn 3, and then ping an opponent for 1 and then cast Rakdos on turn 4? Yeah, that's why this deck needs Bitterblossom something fierce.

5) It could probably use more mana acceleration

I've toyed with adding in the "super ramp suite" of Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Gilded Lotus, and Thran Dynamo. I haven't done this yet. I can't figure out what I would cut in order to make room. This deck could probably use it to great effect, what with the huge number of fatties it employs. I just feel like Rakdos would rather have me use cards that actually DO damage, so that he can come out and ramp into big creatures, rather than just ramping right away.

6) It was a fairly inexpensive deck to put together, and that just isn't right

Mr. McAuliffe said that there was “a bit of sticker shock on this one”. Because most of the Dear Azami articles are deck tune-ups, rather than entirely new decks, this deck inevitably costs more than what he normally suggests.

Building this deck, using whatever cards you can get a hold of and, yes, maybe even splashing out for a Badlands, should be a lot cheaper than building a competitive Standard deck, and certainly is cheaper than building a competitive Modern deck.

The problem is that I quickly fell in love with this deck, and fell in love with it hard. I //seek out// multiplayer EDH games, so that I have an excuse to use it instead of my Grimgrin deck. When you love something this much, you should prove your love by making it extravagant. I feel compelled to refer back to the episode of Walking the Planes I talked about before.

I quickly resolved to foil the thing out.

And, by God, I did it. It helped that I was selling off my Warhammer 40k stuff at the same time, so I could easily convert one addiction into another. It took a while to find everything. There are some cards that are pretty tricky to find in foil.

Even then, not every card in the deck is foil, mind you—there are cards that aren’t available in foil, like ones from Commander sets or from sets that predate premium cards. Maybe they’ll get Judge foils at some point. I pray that they'll get Judge foils at some point. And I really should get a black-bordered Badlands to replace the Revised one I'm currently using. (FBB Italian Revised is in the front-running, because "Malaterra" just sounds so great.)

Anyway, this is the Red Deck Wins of EDH, in my eyes. You either completely fail and can’t put anything together, or everything comes together and you get to do something ridiculous. It’s the RDW way! There is a visceral joy to casting a ridiculous creature for free, even if you end up dying as a result of being the prime threat.

Despite all that, I'm pretty sure my favourite card in this deck is Psychosis Crawler. It's a sleeper.

So, without further ado, here is the annotated deck/brag list:

7 Mountain (all foil)

6 Swamp (all foil)

1 Akoum Refuge (foil)

1 Badlands (not available in foil)

1 Blood Crypt (foil)

1 Bloodstained Mire (Judge foil)

1 Bojuka Bog (foil)

1 Command Tower (Judge foil)

1 Dragonskull Summit (foil)

1 Evolving Wilds (FNM foil)

1 Graven Cairns (foil)

1 Lavaclaw Reaches (foil)

1 Opal Palace (not available in foil)

1 Rakdos Carnarium (foil)

1 Rakdos Guildgate (foil)

1 Rupture Spire (foil)

1 Shivan Gorge (foil)
1 Spinerock Knoll (foil)

1 Stensia Bloodhall (foil)

1 Strip Mine (FTV: Exiled foil)
1 Temple of Malice (foil)

1 Terramorphic Expanse (foil)

1 Urborg Volcano (foil)

1 Kher Keep (foil)

1 Miren, the Moaning Well (foil)
1 Volrath’s Stronghold (not available in foil)

1 Darksteel Colossus (foil)

1 Duplicant (foil)
1 Platinum Emperion (foil)

1 Psychosis Crawler (foil)

1 Solemn Simulacrum (foil)

1 Artisan of Kozilek (FNM foil)

1 Baleful Force (not available in foil)

1 Bloodgift Demon (foil)

1 Bogardan Hellkite (FTV: Dragons foil)

1 Disciple of Bolas (foil)
1 Dread Cacodemon (not available in foil)

1 Inferno Titan (Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 foil)

1 Knollspine Dragon (foil)

1 Magmatic Force (not available in foil)

1 Murderous Redcap (FNM foil)

1 Pestilence Demon (Japanese Worldwake buy-a-box Foil)

1 Reiver Demon (foil)

1 Shriekmaw (foil)

1 Stigma Lasher (foil)

1 Erebos, God of the Dead (foil)
1 Kokusho, the Evening Star (FTV: Dragons foil)
1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth (foil)

1 Lyzolda, the Blood Witch (foil)

1 Maga, Traitor to Mortals (foil)

1 Purphoros, God of the Forge (foil)
1 Rakdos, Lord of Riots (foil)
1 Seizan, Perverter of Truth (foil)

1 Tymaret, the Murder King (foil)

1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre (FTV: Legends foil)

1 Chromatic Lantern (foil)

1 Darksteel Ingot (foil)

1 Lightning Greaves (foil)

1 Oblivion Stone (foil)
1 Onyx Goblet (foil)

1 Rakdos Keyrune (foil)

1 Rakdos Signet (foil)

1 Staff of Nin (M13 Release Day foil)

1 Swiftfoot Boots (foil)

1 Vedalken Orrery (foil)

1 Bitterblossom (Judge foil)
1 Exquisite Blood (foil)

1 Goblin Assault (foil)

1 In the Web of War (foil)

1 Phyrexian Arena (foil)

1 Warstorm Surge (foil)

1 Bituminous Blast (foil)

1 Hideous End (foil)

1 Rakdos Charm (foil)

1 Sulfurous Blast (foil)

1 Volcanic Fallout (foil)

1 All is Dust (Grand Prix foil)

1 Breath of Darigaaz (foil)

1 Disaster Radius (foil)

1 Earthquake (foil)

1 Exsanguinate (foil)

1 Flamebreak (foil)

1 Molten Disaster (foil)

1 Plague Wind (foil)

1 Promise of Power (foil)

1 Reforge the Soul (foil)

1 Sizzle (foil)

1 Torrent of Souls (foil)

1 Wheel of Fortune (Judge foil)

Lulzing it up with Mono-Black Heroic (AKA the Eye Gouge Deck)

With few exceptions (see my love affair with Jund in Innistrad—Return to Ravnica Standard), I'm not interested in playing the most popular deck.

It's not that I need to be different—although that's part of it. I think it's more that I'm never that good with decks when I first pilot them, so trying something new is insurance against mirror matches. You can't blame yourself for losing to someone with an identical deck if you never encounter an identical deck!

So when the Twitters were a-bubbling about a wacky mono-black Heroic deck doing well at Grand Prix Vancouver, I knew I had to try it out. Luckily, Born of the Gods had come out, so I had even more things to play with.

Such majesty!

Here's what I took to a recent tournament:

20 Swamp
4 Mutavault

4 Agent of the Fates
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Nighthowler
4 Pack Rat
1 Pain Seer
4 Tormented Hero

4 Eye Gouge
3 Gift of Orzhova
2 Hero's Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
2 Underworld Connections

4 Bile Blight
4 Dark Betrayal
4 Doom Blade
3 Duress

The deck works a bit like a faster mono-Black Devotion deck, with the fun twist of being able to bestow a Nighthowler on a creature and get some nice resistance to sweepers. And it's always fun to Eye Gouge your own Agent of the Fates to make your opponent sacrifice a creature. (In a pinch, you can even target your opponent's Mutavaults directly!)

I did reasonably well, going 2-1 with it and coming in 4th out of 8. I lost to BW Control (or mono-Black with White?), and won against Maze's End Control and UW Control. Given the low number of creatures I faced, I didn't get to run rampant over people with Eye Gouged Agents. Instead, I dropped Pack Rats as quickly as I could, and then protected them however I could, until I had built an army of the little buggers and turned sideways to victory. Nothing says "awesome" like a flying, lifelinked Pack Rat, I assure you.

The Pain Seer was a workhorse, given my match-ups, and I was super pleased every time I drew him. I'd have run the full three instead of one and two Underworld Connections, if I had had more than one Pain Seer at the time. It's nice to be able to do damage and draw cards!

It was a fun deck to play, especially due to the eye-rolling I got when people realized what deck I was using. But I felt that it was a bit too cutesy. So I'm trying something different next time. At least now I have the deck list written down here so I can build it again if the mood strikes me.


The Grand Unified Theory of Basic Land Artisanal Hipsterism

"Hey, your Mountains look very nice. They look old! Where are they from?"

I had somebody ask me that at a tournament not too long ago. I'm used to the reaction: it happens pretty often. My foreign, black-bordered 4th Edition basic land—mostly Chinese, Japanese, German, and Portuguese—isn't seen too much in these parts.

Actually, my land was older than he was. But I didn't break it to him. I'm a gentleman. An old gentleman, but a gentleman nonetheless. So I thanked him and explained what they were from and where I got them (I bought a lot of foreign starter packs in high school).

The comment did get me thinking about my motivations for using that land, which got me thinking about how this feeling of self-worth could be quantified and—dare I say it—used to prove that I was a better human being. I mean, obviously I'm using these lands because they're different, and because I like how they look, and because I like the reaction.

Crap, you're talking to a guy that wore a jacket, tie, and pocket square to Grand Prix Toronto.

Similar to some of the collective tendencies displayed in the "A Matter of Taste" episode of Walking The Planes, there's something to be said about using basic land as your means of expression. After all, the most abundant card in your deck is your basic land, and it can be obtained for virtually free. Thus, there's a payoff to having basic land that you actually paid money for, and has a common theme that you enjoy.

And so, I hereby submit

The Grand Unified Theory of Basic Land Artisanal Hipsterism (GUTBLAH), which states:

The weirdness of your basic land is directly proportional to your worth as a human being, with the hierarchy for basic land weirdness being as follows:

"Basic" Basic < Zendikar < Old < "Un" < Foreign, black-bordered original-art

Other assumptions:

Foil versions of a basic land are better than the non-foil counterparts, but not as good as the step above. What foil says about you is generally the same as what non-foil says about you, with an extra dose of "Oooh, shiny!"

Keeping your land all the same art is often a strategic consideration and, therefore, does not contribute to GUTBLAH. GUTBLAH is all about aesthetics, not strategy.

I could try to cram in where Beta lands, Guru lands, etc. all go, but for now I'm content with the general structure.

Here are the tiers, in order from lowest to highest.

Tier 1: "Basic" Basic Land

Land from Return to Ravnica. I just snagged this picture off of eBay.

What it is: Basic land with no distinguishing characteristics, assembled from whatever you have on-hand
What it costs: Usually free. Foil versions run about $0.50 each.
What it says about you: A combination of "I couldn't be bothered." or "This is dumb." or "I fall asleep during intimate moments."

Tier 2: Zendikar land

A selection of Zendikar land. I think I snagged this picture off of eBay.

What it is: Full-art basic land from the Zendikar set, released in 2009.
What it costs: $1 each on average. Foil versions run about $5 each.
What it says about you: "I cannot be content with mediocrity. These things look pretty sweet, don't they."

Tier 3: Old land

Mirage land: a personal favourite of mine. Image snagged off of eBay

What it is: Basic land from older sets (Me, I'm a sucker for Mirage and Tempest lands.)
What it costs: Not much. Maybe $0.25 a land or so. Foil versions probably don't exist
What it says about you: "I would like to subtly direct your attention to the patches on my tweed jacket."

Tier 4: "Un" land

Unhinged and Unglued land. No idea where I got the picture. I think I Googled it.

What it is: Full-art basic land from the Unglued or Unhinged sets, released in 1998 and 2004, respectively. (Personally, I find the Unglued land to be ugly as sin, but the Unhinged land is awesome.)
What it costs: $7 each on average. Foil versions of Unglued land don't exist; foil versions of Unhinged land run about $40 each.
What it says about you: "I'd like you all to know that I've been at this a long time, and I have the land to prove it." EXCEPTION: If they're using all foil Unhinged land, it says "I value my cards more than I value a house, car, or education."

Tier 5, AKA The Pinnacle: Foreign, black-bordered original-art land

Aaaahhh. Sweet, sweet old-school land. Picture from eBay.

What it is: Basic land from Revised or 4th Edition was originally in white border and looked pretty pale and ugly; basic land from Revised or 4th Edition in foreign languages, however, are black-bordered and far more saturated in colour.
What it costs: $2 or so each on the retail market but, man, it's tough to find at times (tougher than foil Unhinged land, I think?).
What it says about you: "I reject traditional notions of what is cool and what isn't, and am a true basic land hipster. I believe in only the finest, and that the finest need not be flashy. Bask in my glory."

OK, so I'm a bit biased, since I'm putting my land choice at the top of the pile. But I feel it's justified: the only other person I've seen that uses this land has been Nathan Holiday, the winner of Grand Prix San Diego in 2013, whose land was all Portuguese Revised.

A screen-grab from Youtube of the GP San Diego finals. Nathan's on the left. Using beautiful land.

Check. That. Out.

I'm in good company.


The Big Chart of Regret

I’ve finally admitted to myself that I’m not likely to play Warhammer 40k any more. I’m not at the right time of my life, nor in the right mindset, to do Warhammer justice. I don’t have the time or inclination to paint and assemble models, and I’d rather play several twenty-minute games of Magic than a single three-hour game of Warhammer.

So I’m selling my figures off, and immediately plowing the proceeds into Magic cards that I normally wouldn’t buy due to their cost.


Let me tell you a story of regrets.

Between May and August 2007, I eBayed my most valuable cards in order to put a dent in my student loan debt. I wasn’t really playing Magic anymore anyway, I thought, so why not get some use out of them?

While it helped keep my loan payments down, I should have known that I’d get back into Magic and would be happier with the cards.

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I ran the numbers and figured out how much more everything would have been worth if I had kept them (not that I'd sell them).

Here’s a chart comparing how much I sold each card for (adjusted for inflation), and how much it would cost to buy the same card off of or eBay now.


The biggest surprise was that every single card I sold appreciated, and vastly outpaced inflation. The pooled average increase was about 2.5x.

The only cards that came close to holding their value were the Italian Legends Mana Drains, which only appreciated 20% over what I sold them for.

But, man, those dual lands.

My two Revised Tundras? Sold for about $20 each, now worth $130 each.

My two French (black-bordered) Revised Tundras? Sold for about $75 each, now worth $300 each.

If ever I think that I should sell some of my more valuable staple cards, all I'll need to do is stare at this chart until my mind blanks out.