Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mid-Week Update: April 28

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
This mid-week update, Carlos is dropping by with some research from the Arcane Lab, we're linking our affiliate sites for their content, and of course, providing y'all with a reminder about the upcoming call-in episode of CommanderCast. I also would like to remind everybody that the judgment process for our Season 2 Contest is currently underway, and we will announce the winner of our sick custom-art card by my man Derfington on the season finale. But we also had a second, smaller contest... GIANT SHARK MONDAY!

And I'd like to announce the winner, MM0GG. Here is the contest-winning... thing. He sent me the following e-mail:

Subject Line: GIANT SHARK

"Best use: Giant Shark beer coaster: make sure it's face down and the glass has condensation so that when you lift your glass, others can see it and shit themselves in fear."


There is an awesome prize on the way to Mr. MM0GG as we speak!

Here's what my mans have been brewing up this week:
And, another reminder:


Now you can be a part of PODCASTING HISTORY with CommanderCast's first live call-in show! Do you like Commander? How about talking? Then this is right up your alley! Think "boring AM radio show" meets "colossal explosions" and you should have an idea of what this episode will be like. Maybe YOU can be one of those explosions, or at least some shrapnel!

This episode will be recorded starting at 9:00PM EST on April 30th, 2011.

How can you take part in this? Instructions below:
  1. You need Skype (free to download up in this piece) and a microphone that works reasonably well. Bruce used a Rock Band microphone to record and sounded pretty sweet, so if you have one of them, try it (it also makes you feel like a rock superstar, always useful).
  2. Make sure you're available April 30th, 2011 for 9:00PM EST. If you have engagements like sleep, weddings, or liquor store robberies, I'd recommend rescheduling.
  3. E-Mail CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com and express your interest with the subject heading "LIVE EPISODE". If you know you will be available, provide me with your Skype name.
  4. BRACE YOURSELF and await instruction.
  5. We will be accepting callers on a first-come, first-serve basis. There might be four of you, there might be four hundred (probably not)! We're going to cap it at a reasonable number, so don't wait to e-mail me! Also, if you've already been on the show, be advised we will be giving priority to those who have never made a CommanderCast appearance (though prior guests will be more than welcome to join the host panel).
And of course, finally...
The Arcane Laboratory 012: Most Overrated
Let me be perfectly frank:  I’m getting more and more frustrated with the online commander community.  It’s not because you guys are bad people; I get along with most of you pretty well, and I think that the online community is, in general, a good thing for the format.  However, I’m getting a little tired of people running “good” cards just because they’re “good,” and not thinking about why they’re “good.”

The whole idea of running good cards because they’re good in the abstract is something that I can relate to and talk about.  As someone who builds and tweaks a lot of decks, I’ve played with a lot of bad cards.  Like just about everyone, I’ve identified some of the better cards in the format and tried to find excuses to fit them into decks.  The problem that arises is that people (myself included) want to run cards that are generically good rather than contextually good.

I’ll be going through 10 cards that are frequently run in decks that probably don’t need or want that card.  The point here isn’t to say that these cards are bad; they’re all incredibly powerful in the right circumstances.  The problem is that the right circumstances don’t come up as frequently as people seem to think they do.

#10 Obliterate, Jokulhaups, Decree of Annihilation, and variants
These cards catch a lot of hate because they get played in decks that shouldn’t play them.  These are NOT the red equivalents of Wrath of God, and they’re not reset buttons.  These are some of the very few cards that actually need to be cast with a modicum of responsibility if you don’t want to draw infinite hate from the table.

These spells end the game.  If you’re casting them in such a way that they don’t end the game very shortly thereafter, then you’re doing it wrong.  You cast these, and then resolve some threats, or make something Indestructible, or have broken enchantments in play. Cast Obliterate and drop some mana rocks, cast Obliterate with Sulfuric Vortex and Impatience in play, cast Obliterate and replay your general with the floating mana, give Godo a Darksteel Plate before Obliterating.  It doesn’t matter what you do, but if your plan is “Obliterate, go” then don’t play the card; you’ll make everyone’s game a little more enjoyable.

# 9 Mind’s Eye
I don’t understand how much love this card gets.  I don’t understand its status as a staple. I don’t even think it’s that good in the abstract.  Sure, it’s passable in colors that don’t have much card advantage, but in colors that have access to any kind of tutoring or “real” card drawing, why would you play this?  I mean, in order for this to equal a Harmonize, you have to cast it for 5, leave up three more mana, AND have it survive through multiple turns.

My problem with this card is two-fold.  First, its drawing power is conditional at best. Second, you have to invest resources into it every turn in order to get that effect.  So, even though the number of cards that you draw is open-ended, it costs more up front than most “real” card-drawing spells, you have to continue to invest resources into it every turn, and after all that, you’re still not guaranteed to get any cards out of it.  Sure, the best case scenario is absurdly good, but most of the time, I’m pretty sure this is just worse than something like Sign in Blood, much less Tidings.

#8 Sword of Fire and Ice
SoFI is the best sword in other formats, but I don’t think it really deserves that status in Commander.  Protection from Blue and Red is probably the worst set of protections, and while drawing a card is always good, the two damage is much less relevant when life totals are doubled and most creatures are bigger than X/2.  I’m definitely not saying the card is bad, because it’s clearly not; any equipment that gives +2/+2, some kind of evasion, and “draw a card” is obviously going to be very, very good.

I think that this Sword is probably worse than both Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of Light and Shadow in the Commander format.  The protections are more relevant on both of those swords, and their “primary” effects are more powerful in this format.  I’m pretty sure I’d rather recur a good creature or double my mana rather than draw a random card.

#7 Damnation/Wrath of God
Oh the old standbys, when did you get to be so bad?  I don’t know why people run either of these any more, since there are so many options that are just as good or better for the format.  There are two things that you need to ask to understand why these aren’t very good.  First, when was the last time the regeneration clause was relevant?  That’s what I thought; unless you’re playing against a Thrun deck, it’s just about never relevant.

Second, how important is it that you be able to wrath on four mana as opposed to five or six?  I’d say that there’s not much difference.  It’s unlikely that you’re going to die because your wrath costs two more, and if that really is the case, just back your wraths up with some more spot removal.  I’d rather have a wrath that’s good against everything and leave myself a little softer to creatures.

So what are your alternatives?  Well, to start with: Hallowed Burial, Rout, Austere Command, Final Judgment, and Mass Calcify are examples.  These either provide additional card advantage, utility, or are more likely to wrath your opponent’s board but not yours.  Similarly, black has Mutilate, Barter in Blood, Decree of Pain, Black Sun’s Zenith, and others.  These even draw cards, or get around indestructibility!  You’ve even got Nevinyrral’s Disk, Oblivion Stone and All is Dust as colorless options that are probably better than Wrath. Moral of the story: Don’t play Wrath.  Just don’t.

#6 Crucible of Worlds
I love this card to death, and it’s in quite a few of my decks because of how powerful it can be.  The problem is that I see people throwing it into decks as insurance against land destruction but without any real way to abuse it.  You have to realize that whenever you play a land off of Crucible, you’ve just gained card advantage.  Sure, it’s “just” a land, but it’s still a free card. You’ll want to utilize a variety of powerful lands to maximize the advantage generated by Crucible.

Here’s a good mix:  Fetchlands such as Polluted Delta, Rocky Tar Pit, and Terramorphic Expanse;  utility lands such as Mouth of Ronom; Cycling Lands; land destruction such as Ghost Quarter, Strip Mine, and Tectonic Edge. These are all ways that you can take advantage of your Crucible without warping your deck. Crucible isn’t bad, but you have to put in a little effort to make it as powerful as it ought to be.  Bottom line: tweak your mana base to make Crucible more unfair; yes, it protects you from land destruction, but it can also be a game-winning card advantage engine.

#5 Mox Diamond
This is one of the best pieces of acceleration in legacy and leads to all kinds of broken starts in that format.  It’s also card disadvantage and an artifact.  Being an artifact means it’s going to get destroyed when someone plays Austere Command or some such wiper. Is the acceleration worth it?  Sure, it can be in some decks; more than one of my decks wants a Mox Diamond. All of those decks have ways to recoup that card advantage and have ways to take advantage of the fast start and mana fixing.  I’m pretty sure that most decks would prefer to have a Sol Ring, Signet, Coalition Relic, or some other mana rock that isn’t quite as explosive but is more stable and consistent.

#4 Force of Will
Yes, this is the best counterspell ever printed. Yes, I’m saying you shouldn’t be playing it.  This card does a number of things, most of which I think are unnecessary in Commander.  First, it allows you to counterspell on turn one, even when you’re on the draw.  What, besides Sol Ring, would you possibly want to counter on turn one?  If someone has Sol Ring/Mana Crypt into a Sword or something, you still have time to deal with the creature or run out artifact destruction.

Second, it lets you answer spells when you’re tapped out.  While this is more relevant, I still don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.  You’ve got an entire table of people who can answer problematic permanents, and if you fear spells, then don’t tap out.  The fact of the matter is that the card you have to pitch is probably more important than the free counterspell.  Besides, Pact of Negation and Mindbreak Trap are probably both better in most cases.

#3 Conflux
The most over-the-top powerful tutor in the format.  I’ve run Conflux in a number of decks, and it almost always ends up getting cut, because I can accomplish the same thing for so much less investment.  I can draw five cards with Allied Strategies or tutor for three cards with Intuition, for examples.  The problem with Conflux is that you’re spending eight mana for something that doesn’t affect the board at all when you can accomplish a similar thing for much less mana and time.

Sure, Allied Strategies isn’t the same as tutoring for five cards.  But if you’re playing a lot of good cards and you’re playing some tutors, then it does a pretty fair approximation which should be good enough.  All Suns’ Dawn is another great example of a card that’s probably just as good as Conflux, but without being as costly.  I think the issue is that  people overestimate the power of tutors and underestimate the power of just drawing cards, and Conflux is the flagship for that.

#2 Kodama’s Reach/Cultivate
There are other cards that cost less than three mana, I promise.  I swear that every other deck in the format is green-based just to run Kodama’s Reach and Cultivate. I can’t stand decks that start with Sol Ring and a bunch of ramp spells;  you can ramp all day, but you’re not actually affecting the table.  Run more low cc creatures, like Viridian Emissary or Yavimaya Elder.  There are decks that don’t need to ramp and can just curve out naturally, but they’re running these kinds of ramp spells just because they’re playing green and feel obligated.

Honestly, just try cutting some of your ramp spells and high-cc bombs for more early and mid-range cards.  Your deck will be better equipped to answer problems at every stage of the game, and you really won’t lose that much power in the late game. I promise.

#1 Reveillark
This one I expect to get a lot of hate over, but I actually don’t think that Reveillark is nearly as good as people think it is.  Yes, it’s a 3-for-1 if they waste removal on it. Yes, it’s an absurd engine. Yes, it can combo--but is it an auto-include?  Absolutely not.  You have to be running a reasonably significant number of creatures with power two or less; if you can’t consistently have two of those in your graveyard, then you probably don’t want Reveillark.

If you’re running G/W with Saffi, Karmic Guide and Acidic Slime, Reveillark is obviously going to be one of the best cards in the deck.  However, if you’re playing W/R with Bogardan Hellkite and Stonehewer Giant, Reveillark seems like it’s not going to do very much a lot of the time.

Whether or not you agree with my evaluations, I hope this has made you think about cards that you might be running because they’re just “good” as opposed to actually contributing positively towards the function of your deck.  If you’ve got any comments about my choices, or want to share some or your own, I’m glad to take any comments or emails that you want to send my way.  As always, if you’ve got an idea or a deck you want to talk about, or any kind of comments or criticism, shoot me an email or tweet at me on my new-ish twitter account!


Monday, April 25, 2011

CommanderCast S2E11: Screaming Muses, like Monster Trucks

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
Continuing the trend of completely shameless crossovers from episode ten, this week on CommanderCast I am hosting the entire Muse Vessel. They come bringing their usual collective multiplayer Magic wisdom with me putting a Commander twist on their deluge of information. Now you can put a voice to the... uh... editorials of the Graveborn, Seedborn and Windborn Muses--Daryll, Brandon, and Bruce. You also get a reasonably sweet podcast.

Also of note:

Now you can be a part of PODCASTING HISTORY with CommanderCast's first live call-in show! Do you like Commander? How about talking? Then this is right up your alley! Think "boring AM radio show" meets "colossal explosions" and you should have an idea of what this episode will be like. Maybe YOU can be one of those explosions, or at least some shrapnel!

This episode will be recorded starting at 9:00PM EST on April 30th, 2011.

How can you take part in this? Instructions below:
  1. You need Skype (free to download up in this piece) and a microphone that works reasonably well. Bruce used a Rock Band microphone to record and sounded pretty sweet, so if you have one of them, try it (it also makes you feel like a rock superstar, always useful).
  2. Make sure you're available April 30th, 2011 for 9:00PM EST. If you have engagements like sleep, weddings, or liquor store robberies, I'd recommend rescheduling.
  3. E-Mail CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com and express your interest with the subject heading "LIVE EPISODE". If you know you will be available, provide me with your Skype name.
  4. BRACE YOURSELF and await instruction.
  5. We will be accepting callers on a first-come, first-serve basis. There might be four of you, there might be four hundred (probably not)! We're going to cap it at a reasonable number, so don't wait to e-mail me! Also, if you've already been on the show, be advised we will be giving priority to those who have never made a CommanderCast appearance (though prior guests will be more than welcome to join the host panel).

Shows notes and pertinent links below. Enjoy.

01:00 to 05:16: Intro: We provide introductions. What a thrilling concept.

05:24 to 24:51Community: Deck Suitcase: How many decks should you bring to the table? What are the advantages and disadvantages to bringing dozens of decks for a night of gaming? How many decks is too many? From the guy with only one deck, to the guy with the literal deck suitcase and everything inbetween, we're looking at the impact of multiple deck ownership and the messages it can send, impact it can have, and our thoughts on this stuff.

25:04 to 25:43Community: Deckbuilding Challenge: Brace yourself. The Blood Witch is coming and she is going to plant one of those points on her ridiculous hat firmly up your God damn eye socket.

25:26 to 40:02: Strategy: Keywords: A quick discussion on the impact of keywords we love and hate on strategy. From exotics like Horsemanship to the fundamentals like Flying, how to keywords impact your strategy?

40:12 to 1:03:51: Strategy: Balancing vs Bandwagoning: In multiplayer, somebody is always winning. How do you respond when it isn't you? Do you jump on their bandwagon to help them motor along and eventually STAB THEM IN THE SPINE WITH A RUSTED SPORK, or do you and the other ragtag losers at the table form a Rebel Alliance to take down the proverbial Death Star? What's this whole Kingmaking affair you hear people bitching about? In this segment we look at the shifting dynamics of domination in a multiplayer game.
1:04:06 to 1:25:32: Technology: Secret Tech: Muse Vessel Edition: Each Muse has three cards to share.

Brandon's Picks: Dawnglare Invoker, Phantom CentuarButcher Orgg
Daryll's Picks: Wail of the Nim, Invulnerability, Balthor the Defiled
Bruce's Picks: Dream Fighter, Phyrexian Splicer, Spoils of Evil

1:25:45 to closing: Outtro.

  • General show contact/E-Mail Andy: CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com
  • To Contact Daryll: (at)the_casual_guy on Twitter
  • To Contact Brandon: (at)earthdyedred on Twitter
  • To Contact Bruce: (at)manaburned on Twitter
  • To Tweet Andy: (at)CommanderCast on Twitter

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mid-Week Update: April 21

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
Mid-week update coming in fast.

This week, we're doing a special crossover feature with my man Dominik from He's got his article posted on this piece, and mine on his. We're discussing the banned list in Commander; should it be shorter? Longer? Maybe it should dress nicer every now and then? In any case, you can find his dissertation below: for a glimpse at my perspective, be sure to peep this link. This is pretty much the first time I've ever written anything and I have to say, it's hard to do and kind of boring. It also makes me feel crazy because it feels like talking to yourself. I don't know how some people do this every week.

But wait, there's more! Mistveilplains is BACK IN ACTION, rappelling through the Internet's skylights and dropping another Commander deck primer on y'all. This month, we're putting his Rasputin Dreamweaver deck in the spyglass!

Be sure to check back in on Monday when my cheap promotional crossovers continue, as the entire Muse Vessel is on board for next week's CommanderCast! Three straight updates with nothing but crossovers as far as the eye can see... I'm such a dirty sellout.

Check this:


Now you can be a part of PODCASTING HISTORY with CommanderCast's first live call-in show! Do you like Commander? How about talking? Then this is right up your alley! Think "boring AM radio show" meets "colossal explosions" and you should have an idea of what this episode will be like. Maybe YOU can be one of those explosions, or at least some shrapnel!

This episode will be recorded starting at 9:00PM EST on April 30th, 2011.

How can you take part in this? Instructions below:
  1. You need Skype (free to download up in this piece) and a microphone that works reasonably well. Bruce used a Rock Band microphone to record and sounded pretty sweet, so if you have one of them, try it (it also makes you feel like a rock superstar, always useful).
  2. Make sure you're available April 30th, 2011 for 9:00PM EST. If you have engagements like sleep, weddings, or liquor store robberies, I'd recommend rescheduling.
  3. E-Mail CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com and express your interest with the subject heading "LIVE EPISODE". If you know you will be available, provide me with your Skype name.
  4. BRACE YOURSELF and await instruction.
  5. We will be accepting callers on a first-come, first-serve basis. There might be four of you, there might be four hundred (probably not)! We're going to cap it at a reasonable number, so don't wait to e-mail me! Also, if you've already been on the show, be advised we will be giving priority to those who have never made a CommanderCast appearance (though prior guests will be more than welcome to join the host panel).
Finally, a huge thanks to the whole Quiet Speculation organization for hosting CommanderCast! You will be able to find us over there every week. As promised, CommanderCast has begun to flood the internet, much like the crack cocaine of MtG podcasting. My insidious reach knows no limits whatsoever! While you're over there be sure to check out my man Neale and his ridiculous scribblings on Commander.
Anyway, here's the article from Dominik. To see my side of the argument, click on this bitch.

Cross-Over Article: Should There Be More Banned Cards in Commander?
Article by DOMINIK
Not only did Magic: the Gathering become wildly successful over the last few years since Hasbro took over and unleashed their marketing guys upon the brand; their marketing research showed that the broad audience of Magic players were those Kitchen Table Guys nobody ever payed attention to in the old days. Now not only do we have highly sought after mythic rares to tickle our inner child - sorry, have to correct myself there - inner Spike, but growing numbers of players all around the Multiverse. Most of these players are of the well known Kitchen Table Guy variety, and that is part of why alternative formats are on the rise. Of these formats, their poster child is EDH, now called Commander, holding the banner up high. So as the format becomes more and more played, there is one inevitable conclusion: it will become more competitive. Now people like me, who are casual players at heart, are asking themselves one big question:
Do we have to ban more cards to keep everything in check?

The most important thing we have to consider in my opinion is the first principle of MtG: Commander as stated by the Rules Committee. It is known as the "rule of social interaction" and is stated on their official homepage right above the "official" (at least as official that can get when you abide the following principal) banned list:

“[Commander] is founded (and dependent) on a social contract, otherwise known as a gentleman's agreement. Unsporting conduct (whether extreme or simply "being a jerk") should not be tolerated by players. Refusing to play with antisocial persons is the fastest way to better EDH community.

However, because players have varied opinions of what constitutes fair and/or fun play, a recommended banned list is maintained to help guide players towards a good social experience. House rules or "fair play" exceptions are always encouraged if they result in more fun for the local community.”

I think this is in theory totally the right mindset to have when playing Commander. I wrote an article some weeks ago, upholding this principle and reasoning why it is valid. But still I believe this does not legitimize the fact that certain cards remain unbanned. Further bannings may seem rather unnecessary if you and your playgroup follow the first MtG: Commander Principle, but this fundamental principle is already undermined by the simple existence of a banned list. Despite the fact that this list is only ‘semi-official’, it is backed by the authority of the Rules Committee and the most widely accepted set of guidelines followed by most Magic players all over the Multiverse. Many build their decks with this list in mind to ensure wider acceptance among their Magic peers, or when playing with strangers. Having this kind of authority to enforce an accepted banned list and telling us to follow the "social principle" would be strangely idealistic, but fine. Instead they sneak in this ‘semi-official’ banned list, therefore betray their very own first principle of MtG:Commander.

My conclusion on this matter is that if this social contract could work without the semi-official banned list, we would not have a semi-official banned list in the first place.

Believing in the necessity of a banned list, I of course see that there should be as few cards banned as possible, while still believing that the first principle will take care of the minor glitches. Bans cannot be applied to every abusive combo or douschebaggery, as douschebaggery cannot be attributed to a card on its own, but rather on the collective deck - which finally is the responsibility of the piloting player. Maybe excluding Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, every card currently on the banned list could be used in different decks without a broken or unfun outcome. This is where the the First Principle and the Banned List meet eye to eye and have to find a compromise. I know that the solution cannot be to banning every half-decent combo or removing every card from the format which annoys a specific portion of the player base without creating a list that overshoots its mark.

But there is one kind of card category that makes decks focused on abusive combos even better. Their exclusion from the format would not harm any casual players strategy - the only thing hurt would be some player’s nostalgic feelings towards MtG: Commander. The power these cards yield to an abusive or offensive deck is not limited to a certain combo or deck archetype, but instead makes every already uncasual abusive deck even better - if not outright broken. The kind of cards I believe should be banned in MtG: Commander are:

High-end mana accelerators.

The problem with most decks that are considered unfun in MtG: Commander and are hated by most casual players are decks which try to assemble a certain kind of unstoppable strategy as fast as possible. Either these decks create some kind of really fast prison lock or assemble their proven win-combo turn 4 or five - some of them even sooner, and reliably. The only way to enable this kind of speed are overpowered mana acceleration cards. Most of these cards are known for their power in Vintage and Legacy and are without a doubt candidates for their respective banned and restricted lists. As mentioned before, most of these cards are associated with a feeling of nostalgia for a lot of long time "Elder Dragon Highlander" players. Nevertheless, these cards are proving to be unhealthy for the format more and more each day. The following cards have been known for their power to enable crazy first or second turn starts for a long time now. Among their most famous recidivists are (sorted by power level):

Mana Crypt
Sol Ring
Mana Vault
Grim Monolith
Mana Drain

These cards might not be reliable enough to guarantee game-breaking starts in a singleton format in every game, but seem to do it every other game. Also when combined with other decent acceleration, it collectively takes these kind of decks over the top, reliably, in every game. I understand the fondness a lot of casual players have grown for their lovely Sol Rings, especially if they are premium foil, custom altered Judge Foils. But without a doubt these cards only remain in the format for one single reason from my perspective: the affection casual players have devoted to the fact that they own cards that cannot be played in any other format except for Vintage - which sadly has an entry barrier of about 3000 bucks and might not considered casual enough for most of them (compared to Commander where you can start with as little as $40).

Many argue that Sol Ring should be banned for the fact that you cannot build a deck in Commander without including one, as it is a staple alongside with Sensei's Divining Top and Maze of Ith. While I believe Sol Ring should be banned, I totally disagree with anybody using this sort of reasoning. Although it might be true that I have never built a Commander deck without including Sensei's Divining Top, this has never been an issue or problem for the format. While some people might feel bored by the obvious card choices their opponents make, most colors or even color combinations yield a similar problem, as they have certain staple cards of their own. While one can never remove the existence of "Staple Cards", they only ever become omnipresent when they are artifacts. This should not be viewed as a problem and cause a banning. One banned staple will just be replaced by its next best successor to become the new benchmark - the new staple.

I only vouch for Sol Ring to be banned, as much as I vouch to ban the other cards on the list (and other similar offenders I might have missed) for their enhancement of decks which are all-powerful already. Though only giving a marginal advantage to the average deck, that wasn't built to be abusive. While any casual deck will of cause be better off with a Sol Ring it doesn't miss much by not having it - except for invoking a nostalgic feeling for its pilot. An abusive deck on the other hand, can profit immensely by including cards like this to create a head start in the game to lock others out of it, or to end before it ever began. I understand the well established argument that there are enough answers to any given problem in Magic, even to fast mana, but sometimes these answers are not fast enough (Yes, this pun is pure irony!).

Putting this behind, there are no other cards which have to be banned immediately in MtG: Commander, in my view. This only leaves us with one card category worth putting on the Watch List. As I see it, these cards are problematic to casual Magic in general:

Mass land destruction.

A lot of cards traditionally used to destroy lands, like Violent Ultimatum, Pillage or even Smokestack, can be used with an inoffensive intent, if you built your deck accordingly. Mass LD cards are one kind of card that only has two outcomes. Outcome one: You have put some relevant threats on the board by turn 4+, while your opponents for various reasons don't (maybe they got theirs destroyed in some way or they are having a slow start). Now you drop an Armageddon on the board and your play group has to decide to show you some form of Counterspell or scoop up their cards to get another game started. Even if somebody is able to handle your threats in response, it only has an outcome equal to outcome two: any kind of board state where nobody has any real threats and somebody cycles an unanswered Decree of Annihilation (as Stifle isn't really that much of a staple in Commander). Now you have to sit through a dreadful game waiting for somebody to finally topdeck enough mana to play an Eternal Witness or something to start bashing face for an amazing two damage for the next six turns, until he finally gets enough mana to play a decent threat. By that time, probably half the players have already scooped because of boredom - or left their cards at the table to get snacks, having instructed their opponents to flip their top card and play all the lands, as their cheapest spell in hand is a five drop.

While other cards can and often are used to induce grief played in the right manner, I see no possible alternative way to play a mass land destruction spell without keeping the other players at the table from having fun. We all know that mana denial is the most unpopular threat to play against, so how can undiscriminated mana denial be considered fun? As having fun is often described as the essence of "Casual Magic the Gathering TM", I believe, that all mass land destruction effects must be put on the watch list immediately and probably should receive the ban-hammer, ultimately.

Banning single combo pieces that annoy people might seem like the obvious choice, I would rather vouch the Commander community to take another approach. Instead of taking that route, we should consider thinking about the stuff that really makes games unfun. While there will always be annoying combos, there might be an underlying cause me might be missing, while we whine about those. I'm not saying that my presented approach is perfect or universal, I'm just pointing out things I dislike about Commander and search for the underlying cause of ruined games. While I don't like abusive combos, it is mainly the fast mana that enables them to be all prominent and sometimes unstoppable. Also I dislike games that either lock you out of them or leave you with nothing to do, something that always happens when somebody plays a land sweeper. While these problems could also solved by a social contract, I do not fully believe in its functionality as a gentleman's agreement (and neither, it seems, do the Rules Committee).

While I believe that a gentleman's agreement is a great way to deal with single cases, we have to follow a general set of laws and rules. The same way Wizards tries to make Magic’s rules create a certain experience, the EDH Rules Committee should try to emulate the way most casual people play EDH, by adjusting its rules and ban lists accordingly. In a democratic nation, laws are in general not passed so people follow them, but rather to represent and reflect the societies overall accepted moral standards. This does raise the question: why does the Rules Committee not follow the same principle? And I will tell you why - because it is hard work!

I don't want to call them lazy or anything, but sometimes in life you have to step up your game. Now as Commander is getting more and more popular every day, it finally might be time to realize that they have a higher responsibility than in the good old days when people were still confused by "this strange Magic variant" all the Judges played in their downtime. But let us not jump to a fast conclusion, as I heard some rumors that they are actually working on some rules adjustments, that are still in testing. My guess is that these changes, if there are any, will be announced with the release of the new MtG: Commander product from Wizards, in June.

‘Till then keep it casual, even if there is no banned list forcing you to.

Yours Dominik S.

Monday, April 18, 2011

CommanderCast S2E10: Guest Spot Recursion

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
CommanderCast is doing another CHEAP PROMOTIONAL CROSSOVER with Mr. Scotty Mac from the Eh Team, just like last season's episode 10 installment. I also brought Carlos and Byron along to form like Voltron and assemble into a singlular entity of knowledge-spewing, audi-producing, podcast-publishing excellence.

The Season 2 Contest has also come to an end! If you didn't get your entry in before I posted this, WHY DID YOU WAIT SO LONG!? Anyway, stay tuned for the upcoming CIRCLE OF JUDGMENT and announcement of the contest winner! Remember, we're not only slinging out a sick custom card altered by my man Derfington, but you could also win a vandalized card by none other than myself in the style of Malfegor, the Flying V!
Finally, the upper-left corner holds the final restriction for Carlos' Deckbuilding Challenge; a choice of general! Make your vote count in this historic event in Commander deckbuilding (cough).

Show notes and links below. Enjoy.

00:00 to 02:42: Intro: We are introducing ourselves, providing a bit of a preview to the Mid-Week Update, and a reminder about the contest.

05:29 to 24:24Community: Deckbuilding Challenge: Pick the general for Carlos' upcoming deck!

05:29 to 24:24Community Spotlight: drrob132's List Thingy!: In an amazing bit fo work done out of the pure goodness of his heart, drrob132 has compiled over 1500 decks from MtG: Salavation's Commander forums into a single downloadable file! This .zip file contains these decks in the .dec format, usable in Apprentice and Cockatrice. Check it out!

02:52 to 05:18: Community: Netdecking: With the dawn of the webternets, we saw the rise of th 'net decking' phenomenon. How does this impact Commander, as a format? Is the internet a good place to get deck advice? What are the ups and downs, and where does the stigma of the 'net decker' come from?

25:43 to 39:07: Strategy: Archetype Rundown: The Rock/Attrition: Scott is a local celebrity when it comes to attrition strategies with his Teneb, the Harvester deck. I thought I might as well pick his brain about it while he's up in this piece.
56:14 to 72:53: Technology: Hands-On Review: Scars of Mirrodin: Armed with adequate experience, we are now reviewing Scars of Mirrodin. "But Andy, this is mad late!" True, but it's also based on real experience instead of speculation and theorycraft. Anyway, we all listed a card that lived up to expectations, a card that was a big old flop, and a card that is surprisingly good.

Byron's Picks: Skithiryx is really sweet, Argentum Armor was a dud, and Steel Hellkite surpassed expecations
Carlos' Picks: Venser, the Sojourner met the hype, Asceticism flopped, and Nim Deathmantle is the best thing ever (even better than air)
Scott's Picks: Genesis Wave worked out, Sword of Body and Mind didn't, Kuldotha Forgemaster surprised him
Andy's Picks: Exsanguinate is obviously good, Hoard-Smelter Dragon was less-obviously-not-good, Culling Dias is a hidden gem
81:55 to closing: Outtro.

  • General show contact/E-Mail Andy: CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com
  • To E-Mail Carlos: cag5383(at)gmail(dot)com
  • To E-Mail Byron: surgingchaos19(at)s1group(dot)com 
  • To Tweet Scott: (at)MrScottyMac on Twitter
  • To Tweet Andy: (at)CommanderCast on Twitter

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mid-Week Update: April 14

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
Thursday is the scheduled day for the CommanderCast Mid-Week Update. As a result, the website has seen the expected updates for the occasion. This includes a new installment of "The Arcane Laboratory" written by Carlos. The subject for this article is his creation of a Karn, Silver Golem deck for use in the popular Commander variant format of Magic the Gathering. Additionally, Byron, whose internet alias is SurgingChaos, has recorded and uploaded a new installment in his series of Video Blogs that is hosted on YouTube. There is an embedded player below, though if you prefer there are also hyperlinks you can follow to visit the video on YouTube.

There is also the matter of CommanderCast's Season 2 Contest. If you have any interest in winning the prize, please remember that the time to make a submission ends on Monday.

Additionally, in this Mid-Week Update, there are several new posts by CommanderCast's affiliates that may interest you if you enjoy the material seen on this website weekly. It is recommended you click on the hyperlinks, though this is not mandatory (but only due to a lack of effective enforcement mechanisms).
Here is Byron's Video Blog.

Here is Carlos' article about Karn, Silver Golem.

Arcane Laboratory 011 – KAAAAAAAAAARN!

Now it’s time to wrap up the series of mono-colored decks with a mono-brown list.  Having a colorless general raises a whole slew of interesting problems that don’t come up with a typical deck, the most obvious of which is your manabase.  It becomes pretty difficult to fill out 40ish lands when you can’t use basics.  It’s also reasonably difficult to build a cohesive deck when you’re using exclusively artifacts.  Each color has a unique identity and a set of things that it does well, and artifacts are typically used to supplement those identities.  When the artifacts are the central theme, sometimes you’ve got to reach and focus more on the interactions than on individual cards.

Which brings up another concern:  In general, there are three kinds of decks that are playing lots of artifacts.  First, there are decks that don’t have access to mana acceleration, so they use mana rocks instead (example: Mono Blue).  Second, there are decks that are going Voltron and use equipment to suit up their general (example: Kemba).  Lastly, there are prison-themed decks that use artifact-based mana disruption to prevent people from interacting positively with their plays.  Now, I’d argue that none of these styles are particularly interesting when you’re building mono-artifacts.  I think that the pivotal point here is choosing a general that enables you to do novel things, thereby forcing the deck’s style away from these overly familiar archetypes.

There aren’t very many choices for colorless generals.  In fact, there are only three, now that Emrakul got the banhammer.  Here are your choices in all of their colorless glory:

Karn, Silver Golem
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre

I must say that I have a fundamental problem with the two Eldrazi legends as generals.  When your general is an absolutely absurd win condition unto itself, the entire purpose of your deck is going to be ramping out that general and trying to give it haste.  I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem like an interesting deck to me.  It’s like the Tooth and Nail decks from the first Mirrodin block.  Can you count to 9 mana?  Did you untap?  If yes, win the game!  I guess it’s fine if you really like casting Eldrazi, but the novelty has sort of worn itself out for me, so I’m not really interested in that sort of deck.  These Eldrazi decks ultimately fall under the “overly familiar problem” I mentioned already.

That sort of leaves Karn by default, doesn’t it?  Karn is actually the most popular colorless general by a significant margin, and it seems pretty obvious to me why that is.  Firstly, Karn is a defensive powerhouse.  He’s colorless, has a huge 8 toughness, and is capable of blocking a significant portion of the gigantic threats that Magic has to offer.  Granted, blocking isn’t always what you want to be doing to those threats, but hey, Karn can do it.

Secondly, his ability to turn non-creature artifacts into creatures is really interesting, and has all kinds of niche applications.  Salvaging Station is a great example of what can be done with Karn in mind.  Turn an Expedition Map into a creature, tutor for a land, untap Salvaging Station and buyback your Map?  Do the same with graveyard hate trinkets, or all kinds of other tricks.  You can turn artifacts into creatures and then abuse Voltaic Construct.  That seems pretty powerful with something as simple as an Everflowing Chalice, much less Lux Cannon or something else absurd like that.

Lastly, he’s an artifact.  The Eldrazi tentacle-monsters are just colorless, so you can’t really build a mono-brown deck with them, now can you?  Maybe I’m in the minority for being that nit-picky about my theme-decks, but it just seems more fitting to me, regardless of how silly it might be.

I think the biggest trap here is that I don’t want to build artifact-fueled combo.  I want to build something with powerful synergies that isn’t just trying to assemble a combo as quickly as possible.  It’s entirely possible that there will be unintentional infinites in the deck (such as Chalice and Voltaic Construct above!), but I think that by minimizing the pieces that go infinite and not intentionally tutoring up the pieces that go infinite, then I think it should be a pretty fun and powerful deck while not being overbearingly powerful.

Well, let’s get started with this then, and see what this ends up looking like!

Unlike with other decks, I want to start with the mana base.  This is going to be a pretty important part of the deck, especially since I want to avoid running infinite utility artifacts and mana rocks. I want the lands to be as efficient as possible.  If the lands can cover some of the burden of ramping up and providing generic utility, then I won’t have to waste non-land slots on these effects.

Urza’s Tower
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Power Plant
Temple of the False God
Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors

Strip Mine
Tectonic Edge

Mishra’s Factory
Blinkmoth Nexus
Inkmoth Nexus
Dread Statuary
Stalking Stones
Gargoyle Castle

Blasted Landscape
Petrified Field
Deserted Temple
Hall of the Bandit Lord
Mystifying Maze
Miren, the Moaning Well
High Market
Reliquary Tower

Gods’ Eye, Gate to the Reikai
Gemstone Caverns
Crystal Vein
Darksteel Citadel
Tower of the Magistrate
Ghost Town
Rath’s Edge
Scrying Sheets
Mouth of Ronom
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
Sheltered Valley

There are a few different sets of lands here.  Firstly, there are the mana-ramp lands, Urzatron, three Posts, Temple of the False God, that kind of thing.  I’m really surprised that Cloudpost and Glimmerpost don’t see more play in Karn lists, or in mono-colored lists in general.  I mean, there are almost no drawback, but it pays off pretty well when the interaction comes up.  I’m sure it helps that most of my decks run a pretty extensive set of tutors for non-basics.

Second, we’ve got some land destruction.  Just a heads up; there’s a Crucible of Worlds.  The thing is, the land destruction isn’t there to grief.  It’s there to be a land that doesn’t have colored symbols and provide some additional utility when you need it.  There are a lot of broken lands in the format, and you HAVE to have ways to deal with them, so I don’t feel bad about running these spot removal lands.

Next, some manlands.  If you’ve got to run colorless lands, they might as well do some work, right?  Vesuva can copy Blinkmoth Nexus or Mishra’s Factory to help go on the beatdown plan, you can use them as blockers.  Manlands just provide you with a lot of options that you wouldn’t have otherwise, and I don’t see a reason NOT to run them.

Then there are the lands with utility effects that might be relevant in a reasonable number of circumstances.  Deserted Temple untapping Blinkmoth Nexus or Urza’s Tower or some such seems reasonable, and drawing cards off of Blasted Landscape is fine.  These are lands that you’ll find yourself frequently using for their secondary effect  instead of just using them for mana.  The one land I’d really like to take a minute to discuss is Hall of the Bandit Lord.  People need to run this card.  It is INSANE what this does for you.  Don’t want the tapped land?  Cut a spell for it, it’s that good.  These are going for $1 on SCG right now, while other utility lands like Miren and High Market are going for about $3, and there’s no reason for that difference.  I mean, really, Titans, Forgemaster, Colossi, Eldrazi, even generals with activated abilities that involve tapping--all of these things get about infinitely better with haste.

Lastly, there are some lands that have effects that you might use once or twice, but in general will just tap for colorless mana.  There are a really, really low number of snow-covered lands, just in case you get Mouth of Ronom and a Snow source, but that’s almost never going to happen.

There are two lands I wanted to take a second to talk about; the first is Tower of the Magistrate.  I mean, have you ever seen a card that hates on Voltron any harder?  It’s a land that even beats Lightning Greaves: just give the guy pro artifacts when they try to equip it. You can make most other equipment falll off, and sometimes just beat voltron decks by having this in your 99.  If you’ve got Kemba or Godo running rampant, pick up a copy and blow them out!

Second, Gods’ Eye, Gate to the Reikai.  Making a 1/1 is relevant more often than you’d think it would be, but it’s not something you want to take advantage of too often.  If you wanted to run Smokestack, Gods’ Eye would make Smokestack a lot better.  It’s really powerful with Vesuva and Dustbowl.  Just don’t forget that Gods’ Eye has an effect, since it’s relevant reasonably often.

Now let’s cover the mana artifacts.  I don’t want to run too many of these, since they’re just ramp, and take up slots in the deck. As always, you’ll notice a distinct lack of Sol Ring and Mana Crypt.  I hate what these cards do to games, and I don’t want to play them.  I don’t mind other people playing them, but I don’t enjoy games where I pull ahead from the very beginning, and no one really gets a chance to keep up.

Mana Rocks
Sisay’s Ring
Coldsteel Heart
Everflowing Chalice
Worn Powerstone
Thran Dynamo
Mox Opal
Cloudstone Key


Most of these are reasonably straightforward.  Coldsteel Heart is there for making snow mana in case that’s ever relevant.  The only other one that’s even a little bit interesting is Cloud Key.  Cloud Key actually enables a couple of different loops that aren’t infinite, but makes them cheaper.

Hearstone is really interesting here, actually, and it’ll become apparent a little later why that is.  Karn is your general, so you can animate your other artifacts to reduce their activation costs.  
Brittle Effigy
Oblivion Stone
All is Dust
Spine of Ish Sah
Nevinyrral’s Disk

About what you’d expect, right? I wish Effigy didn’t exile itself, but there’s not much that can be done about that.  It was actually really hard to justify adding Disk and Oblivion Stone, since more often than not you’re going to wrath your entire board, which is pretty unfortunate.  Still, you can add Darksteel Forge to the mix and it’ll be fine.  (Sidenote: I intentionally didn’t add Mycosynth Lattice to the deck, since it does so many “unfun” things with Karn, like destroying lands with Disk or Karn’s ability.)

The card I’m most excited about here is Spine of Ish Sah.  I mean, this thing is probably my favorite card from the new set, and one of the things that I really wanted this deck to do is to abuse this card as much as possible.  We’ll see if I managed it!

Station Combo!
Salvaging Station
Grinding Station
Blasting Station
Summoning Station

Hey, why not?  Who can be upset if you win with the four card combo Wizards advertised from Fifth Dawn?  Besides, multiple pieces are pretty powerful in the deck, especially because you can activate a lot of them multiple times in a single turn.  Karn even eliminates the need for some of the stations as long as you can afford to activate him a ton of times.

Salvaging Station is the one I’m really excited about here.  Animate an artifact that sacrifices itself, like Expedition Map.  You now have as many activations of Map as you can afford, which seems awesome.  You can add sacrifice outlets so that you don’t need to “combo” with just Expedition Map, but there are a ton of interesting things that you can do with it that I’m really excited about.

Salvaging Station Targets
Phyrexian Furnace
Scrabbling Claws
Expedition Map
Voltaic Key
Welding Jar

The first three cards here seem pretty obvious to me.  Recurring graveyard hate that also draws cards?  Tutor up your utility lands?  Yes, please!  Not to repeat myself too much, but you can even animate your Phyrexian Furnace/Scrabbling Claws to recur them repeatedly with Salvaging Station, which seems pretty absurd when you’re facing down a graveyard-based deck.

Equipment and Sacrifice Outlets
Basilisk Collar
Nim Deathmantle
Lightning Greaves

Sculpting Steel
Krark-Clan Ironworks

So I’m just going to say up front that I am hooked on Mortarpod.  This card is absolutely awesome, and has been making its way into more and more of my decks.  It started in a Kemba deck, then moved into a Tolsimir deck, Horobi deck, and it’s been awesome in all of them.  Seriously, this thing provides a good amount of utility and combo potential for just a 2cc artifact, and I’d be more than willing to say that it’s the best uncommon in Mirrodin Besieged for Commander.

I’m running Mortarpod so I can animate an artifact, like Spine of Ish Sah, equip it with Mortarpod and sacrifice it to buy it back.  Then why not add Basilisk Collar to deathtouch guys with Mortarpod?  Then why not add Skullclamp to draw cards when you Mortarpod a guy?  Then why not add Nim Deathmantle to buyback the Spine you just sacrificed?  Mortarpod adds a lot of interesting interactions, especially with Karn, so I’m definitely running it for now.  Maybe I’ll get a little more disenchanted with the card as time goes on, but right now I’m convinced it’s one of the best cards in the set.

Last, Sculpting Steel provides some of the generic utility that it always does, copying good artifacts like Spine of Ish Sah and whatnot.  Krark-Clan Ironworks is really good because you don’t have to animate artifacts to sacrifice them to it, and because it gives back mana. This plus Nim Deathmantle is kind of stupid, and add any kind of token generation to go absolutely broken. Seems good to me.

The Artifact Creatures – Myr Themed!
Kuldotha Forgemaster

Myr Battlesphere
Myr Turbine
Palladium Myr
Plague Myr
Myr Retriever
Myr Welder
Shimmer Myr

I have been looking for an excuse to play Kuldotha Forgemaster since the card was printed.  The thing seems pretty absurd; Tinker on a body is really, really powerful, and I want to find a way to abuse it.

Myr Battlesphere and Myr Turbine are ways to abuse it.  They make tokens for you to sacrifice, and you can untap the Turbine to make more and more tokens.  It also gives me an excuse to run a small Myr theme, which is always awesome.  Unfortunately, most of the myr have colored symbols on them, which makes me really sad, but there are still some good ones.

Palladium Myr and Plague Myr are just mana guys.  Worn Powerstone on a creature is still really good.  Plague Myr even gives you a chance to poison someone out, which is awesome and hilarious.  Myr Retriever is obviously really powerful in an artifact deck, especially one that’s weird enough to be running Mortarpod and other sacrifice outlets exclusively to make cards like this better.

Myr Welder and Shimmer Myr are a little interesting, since I’m not exactly sure what they do for the deck.  I mean, you can theorize about it all you want, but I think these are two of the cards that you have to play with to see how good they are or aren’t. They seem like they could be really powerful, but I just don’t know.

Recursion and Card Drawing
Junk Diver
Mimic Vat
Arcbound Reclaimer

Ichor Wellspring
Serum Vat
Sensei’s Divining Top
Mind’s Eye

I’m a big fan of all of these cards, and I’m really excited to get a chance to play some of them.  Junk Diver is another Myr Retriever, which is always awesome.  It’s a little overcosted relative to Myr Retriever, but that’s fine.  Everyone knows that Mimic Vat is awesome, but it’s even more awesome when you can untap it multiple times.  Last, Arcbound Reclaimer seems really good, especially when you can recur it and especially with the proliferation coming up next!

Next, there are some powerful card-drawing effects.  Serum Vat is obviously awesome with both proliferate and when you’re casting a ton of artifacts.  Mind’s Eye is obviously awesome, and everyone knows that it’s a really powerful source of artifact card drawing.  Ichor Wellspring and Sensei’s Divining Top are both really interesting ways to draw cards.  It should be noted that you can tap Top and then sacrifice it in response to Mortarpod or Krark-Clan Ironworks to get a card but NOT put it on top of your library.  Ichor Wellspring is another card from Mirrodin Besieged that I think is secretly awesome.  I mean, you’ve got infinite ways to sacrifice it not only to get value out of the sacrifice, but also to draw a card?  Sign me up!  In Slobad, Ichor Wellspring is actually just “draw 2 cards, counter a removal spell” for 2.  That seems really, really good.  This card is going to see more and more play as people realize that it’s a cheap way to draw cards AND get utility.

Rings of Brighthearth
Contagion Clasp
Contagion Engine

Darksteel Reactor
Orochi Hatchery

And here’s the proliferate package and the cards that love it.  These are especially powerful when you’ve got untap effects, which the deck does.  In playtesting, I managed to win with Darksteel Reactor the turn after I played it, which seems pretty good to me.  There’s a lot of interesting and powerful things you can do with these, especially since you’ve got the tools to keep them going in and out of play with Deathmantle and Retrievers and such.  These are just really powerful  effects, and this deck is uniquely equipped to abuse them.

Wurmcoil Engine
Steel Hellkite

Eye of Ugin

Obviously all awesome, especially with recursion.  Lots of colored decks go out of their way to run these guys, and you still get to run them as a colorless deck, but with more ways to abuse them.  Then add Eye of Ugin to tutor up the ones that are powerful?  I’m sold!  Honestly, even though I’m not running Eldrazi, giving up a land drop to be able to tutor up your best creatures seems more than good enough to me, so I’m going to run with it.

Generic Utility
Crucible of Worlds

Darksteel Forge
That Which was Taken

Clock of Omens
Voltaic Construct

And these are your generic utility effects.  Recurring lands is always good, especially when you’ve got Strip Mines.  You can even use Petrified Field to recycle Blasted Landscape for card drawing, if you need to or just recur your lands that get destroyed.  Crucible is powerful even when you don’t build around it, but when you’ve got a few built-in synergies, it’s absurd.

Darksteel Forge and That Which was Taken are both really good ways to make your permanents indestructible.  What other deck gets to make its whole team indestructible?  Not many.  That Which was Taken edged out Darksteel Plate by a little bit, so you could definitely run that instead, but I think that, with your untap effects, That Which was Taken is probably better.

Lastly, there are the untap effects I keep coming back to!  Clock of Omens is the weaker of the two, since you have to commit to tapping your other cards.  Remember that you can tap Equipment, and it should be fine though.  Voltaic Construct is one of those cards that becomes infinitely better with Karn as your general.  Being able to animate a Contagion Engine, and then repeatedly proliferate in a single turn is REALLY good.

And that’s the Karn deck, the real end to my series of mono-colored decks.  This is definitely one of my favorites of the series, since there’s so much synergy.  I’m sure I couldn’t play it anywhere near optimally since there are going to be so many complex board states, but it’d still be fun to play!  I’d also be interested to see some kind of voltron deck using Karn.  Actually, I just really like the idea of equipping a Sword of Fire and Ice with a ton of other equipment just because I can.  This is such a stupid game sometimes, and I love it.

Anyway, if you’ve got any comments or criticisms, have a deck you want to talk about, or just have some questions, I’d be glad to hear from you.  I’ve been pretty good about staying on top of my mail right now, so I think I’ve gotten back to everyone who’s sent me an email recently.  Next week I’ll be taking a look at a Tribal deck, since that’s something I don’t do terribly often, so get excited!