In the month before the holiday break, I walked through the slow evolution of the Way of the Warrior preconstructed deck. By all accounts, it was a mighty successful deckbuilding experiment. Here are the poll results from my final article of 2004:
|How often should Jay do these "preconstructing constructed" experiments?|
|Do it again! Right now!||2828||55.8%|
|Once a set seems about right.||1646||32.5%|
|Once or twice a year seems about right.||297||5.9%|
|Please don't ever do this again.||297||5.9%|
Now, I'm not quite ready to transform “Into the Aether” into “Constructing Preconstructed,” but these results are duly noted. Thanks for the warm response, and I would expect another preconstructed-series-thingamabopper soon.
One pang of guilt while creating my Samurai deck was the lack of direct focus on Magic Online. I mean, of course I used Magic Online to play my deck, but the articles were above all an exploration of deckbuilding. As a result, today I'll tip the scales a little back towards the specific interface of online play, though Standard enthusiastists should enjoy themselves too. Whether you prefer today's focus or the precon month, you should generally expect me to drift all over the place in this column from week to week. Magic Online is too big a topic to get pigeonholed.
In Praise of Snippets
I can't remember exactly how it came up, or when, but sometime well before the precon thing, Scott Johns and I had the idea of a snippets article. A “snippet,” as we defined it, was a useful tidbit of Magic Online play that the general playing public may or may not know. These bits of knowledge are meant to improve your online experience--None are essential to play the game Magic Online, nor are they likely to win you additional matches. Some are helpful shortcuts, some are silly and fun, and some may be features you didn't know you wanted until now. I almost guarantee that you know at least a few of these snippets if you play Magic Online regularly, but my hope is that some come as a surprise even to veteran players.
Speaking of veteran players, it was never my intention to assemble an exhaustive list of game features. Instead, consider the below list the things that Scott and I (well, okay, and lead programmer Alan Comer, Doug Beyer, and John Carter) could think up on our own. Please, I implore you, if you have other snippets that you think the average player may not know, post it on the Message Boards for all to see. In addition, if you find my description of a particular snippet confusing or otherwise lacking, feel free to write your own “how to” and “why” description on the Boards.
Snippet: Net Decks
A side effect of being an Into the Aether columnist is that online I'm constantly getting Private Messages from folks interested in chatting, giving me feedback, or asking to play me. Usually people who want to play don't just want to play, though, they want to match their favorite (or new) deck against a very particular deck from one of my articles. As you might imagine, recently I've had a lot of requests to play against my Samurai Fish deck.
I'm often happy to oblige such requests, but the problem until recently was that I play on two different computers: My laptop and my wife's desktop. I used to find that if I made a deck for an article on one computer, I would need to either e-mail myself the .dec file, memorize the decklist, or write the deck down so that I could reproduce it on the other computer. It was annoying, but I didn't want to get into a situation of explaining to someone that I couldn't play them because I didn't have a published deck of mine assembled.
Then Alan clued me into the “Net Decks” feature. Net Decks are decks that you store on the server instead of your individual hard drive. With Net Decks, my IntoTheAether account has access to my decks from any computer I use to play.
Here's how it works: Build a deck in your Deck Editor window, then click on the “Net Decks” button. You'll see ten slots, numbered 0 through 9, all of which should initially say “**Empty Slot**”. Click on a slot, press the “Save” button, and your deck is now a Net Deck. Later, when you are logging in from a different computer, press the “Net Decks” button, click on the deck you want, then press the “Load” button and you have the deck in your Deck Editor. Voila!
Snippet: Deckbuilding Filters
Here's a snippet that Scott told me about and that I now use almost daily: In the Deck Editor window, you obviously have a bunch of filters in the top left of the screen, allowing you to search for cards by a particular color or card type. These filters are not news.
But did you know that if you right-click on any of the filter icons you select just that filter? In other words, if you're building a blue deck, you can right-click on the blue mana filter and you'll see only the blue cards. I build a heckuvalot of decks, so this was a bit of an epiphany for me, and these days I'm happy to feel very filter-proficient.
Snippet: Mistform Shortcut
Here's the shortcut: When the window is up, you can just start typing the creature type you want and the list will jump there. For example, if you want your Stalker to be a Serpent, just type “Se” and it will jump you right to Serpent instead of having you scroll down to find Serpent on the list. This little trick also works with cards like Meddling Mage and Cranial Extraction, which involve finding a single cardname in a huge list of potential cards.
When Doug told me about the above snippet, I quickly made a deck using lots of Mistform Creatures and Meddling Mage, then played a Solitaire game to see how the shortcut worked. A few people asked me what the heck a Solitaire game was and what it was for. Although the Casual Constructed room usually has several Solitaire games going at any one time, it seems like a lot of people aren't aware of this Solitaire option.
When you start a “New Game” in any of the Constructed rooms, you'll see a lot of options in front of you. Most people know about changing the format and match structure, but if you toggle the “Play Structure” you can choose to play a Solitaire game. In Solitaire mode, you shuffle up your deck as normal and play against yourself--meaning that the damage you inflict drops your own life total towards zero.
For any deck, Solitaire lets you see if you can draw enough land or the right mana before playing against a live opponent. For aggressive decks, this is a good way to see how quickly your deck can deal twenty damage unhindered. For decks that rely on a key card or combo, Solitaire lets you see how easily you can set up your deck in the absense of disruption. I especially use Solitaire for Singleton and Prismatic, since my decks in those formats are hardest for me to guage just by eyeballing them.
Snippet: Tutor Window
I don't know about you, but sometimes when I cast Godo, Bandit Warlord during a Singleton Prismatic game, all of the cards are so tiny that it's hard to see which equipment to grab. The game highlights which cards are available and legal to choose when a tutor window appears, but that doesn't help when the names are too small to read.
Luckily, you can enlarge everything in a tutor window by grabbing the corner of the window and dragging outward. There aren't any visible “handles” on the window, but they're there just the same. You can also enlarge your graveyard when the cards get too small to read, as well as the “removed from the game zone” window.
Snippet: Card Size
Here's another easy one: You can right-click on the big card image (top left in games, bottom left in Deck Editor or Collection) to increase its size. If the image is already maximum size, it wraps around to the smallest size. Personally, I usually have the card images on maximum size whenever possible because I like to read the cards during games or when building decks.
Snippet: Text Decks
I mentioned this one during the Champions of Kamigawa beta, but you can now build potential Magic Online decks without having the program loaded up. Instead, just use a text editor like Notepad (or anything else that can save a plaintext file), and use proper spelling of card names and proper formatting. You use one card per line, typed as: [#ofcards][space][cardname] and sideboard cards come after a line that says "Sideboard". So, for example:
36 Relentless Rats
You can then Load the text deck into your Deck Editor from anywhere on your computer. Magic Online will turn the names of cards you don't own blue. One reminder, make sure you don't pluralize cards that appear in multiples. You'd want to type "24 Swamp", not "24 Swamps".
You can also export a deck to text in the Deck Editor by clicking “Save As” and choosing the “Save as type” “.txt”. Or, in a spreadsheet view of your deck, right-click on the spreadsheet to get an "Export as CSV" option, which saves the deck as a comma-delimited text file.
These new options make it easy to see a deck someone else has made online (either in an article or tournament coverage), cut-and-paste it into a text file, then import it directly into Magic Online. The export feature is handy if you're shuttling around e-mails or if you're like me and want to get your Magic Online decks into a document like an article.
When Magic Online was but a babe, there was a lot of attention paid to stops. Now it seems there are enough newer players that it may help to get a stops refresher.
So what are “stops”? To answer that question, I direct you to the aforementioned resources, all by Daniel Myers. Check out part one, part two, part three, and part four of Dan's series. Between those four articles, you literally have more than you ever need to know about the fine art of stops.
In brief, stops allow you to choose when games pause so you can cast spells. If you want to block with Raise the Alarm tokens, set a stop in your opponent's Declare Attackers step. If you want to tap a potential attacker with Kitsune Diviner, set a stop in his Beginning of Combat step. If you want to get back your Eternal Dragon, set a stop in your own Upkeep. Set your stops by hitting the Settings button or right-clicking and selecting Preferences, or by clicking the appropriate step to put a red dot there. Remember, though, that the red dot shortcut can only set stops in the current turn, so you might be too late if your opponent attacks right away, since you can, for example, miss your own upkeep.
Mostly just read Dan's articles and you'll be fine.
Snippet: Cute Icons
Finally, probably the thing new players ask me more than anything is how to make those cute little graphics icons in chat windows. The trick is pretty easy: Hold down the “Control” key on your keyboard, then press the “Q” key, then release them both. Press one of keys below and you have access to these icons:
Incidentally, if you ever see someone with the icon next to their name, it means that person is a Wizards of the Coast employee. I figure most people know this, but thought I'd mention it just in case. No, I don't get the tag because I'm not an employee as much as I am a contractor.
As I said earlier, this is just a sampling of the sort of snippets that Scott and I envisioned. If you have other helpful tidbits, shortcuts, or ease-of-play tips, please post them on the Message Boards and educate the rest of us. If you think of others later, email them to me and we'll include the best ones next time we do one of these!
Anyway, eventually I tired of little white weenies and instead focused my attention on what has traditionally been my favorite format: Standard. I had yet to really stretch my deckbuilding legs in Standard since Champions of Kamigawa arrived and pushed Onslaught block to the wayside. Over the holidays seemed like a perfect time to do so.
I like a lot of things in Champions of Kamigawa, but by far my favorite mechanic in the set are the “flip” cards. Flavor-wise, I think it's cool to think of an everyday Magic creature that does something monumental enough to become legendary. Mechanically, too, they're interesting enough to spark my deckbuilding passion. I like trying to think of the best ways to a) reliably flip them, and b) use the flipped version to maximum effectiveness.
There are ten flip-cards in Champions, and I wasn't exactly sure where to begin. As a result, I decided to start at the beginning alphabetically and work my way down the list. Over the break I managed to come up with decks I like for the first five cards, which I'll share today. I'm sure that before Betrayers of Kamigawa arrives online I'll make my way to the other five cards as well.
Keep in mind that with these decks all I'm worried about is flipping my feature card and using it. I end up using a lot of rares in most of the decks, and I'm certainly not suggesting these decks will win you an online tournament. My hope is that you enjoy the fruits of my vacation labor, and that these ideas inspire you to make your own creative Casual decks.
Tok-Tok, Volcano Born
Instead, I originally tried a “pinging” deck, thinking that I would have Akki Lavarunner deal its damage straight to my opponent's head. I used Surestrike Trident and then... and then... And then I realized that was about all I had as an option (Sword of Fire and Ice deals its own damage, sadly). I salvaged things like Spikeshot Goblin and Loxodon Warhammer from the first draft of my deck and went back to the drawing board. After a lot of pulling and tugging, I made a deck that's pretty good at clearing opposing blockers and very good at dealing lots of damage once Tok-Tok enters play. I particularly like the interaction of Tok-Tok, Rukh Egg, and Flamebreak. Yay protection from red.
It occurs to me that if you like the aggro route it would be fun to make a dedicated haste deck with Akki Lavarunner, Slith Firewalker, Ronin Houndmaster, Oxidda Golem, Lava Hounds, and the like. Surprise!
Dokai, Weaver of Life
Initially I was a little too tricky, using things like Crucible of Worlds and Living Terrain. I settled into a deck whose sole purpose is to put a lot of land on the table and win with either ridiculous fatties or a big Rude Awakening.
If there is one downside to the deck, it's that with Reap and Sow, Creeping Mold, and Eternal Witness, the deck can very easily slip into a focus on land-destruction. As most people know, LD in the Casual room is about as popular as Monoblue permission decks and dedicated discard decks. When I don't blow up opposing land, however, there are very few opponents who can't appreciate the beauty of beating down with 11/11 and 12/12 Elemental tokens.
Kenzo the Hardhearted
The problems were threefold. First, it wasn't a Bushi Tenderfoot deck so much as it was a classic White Weenie deck. Second, it struck me as fairly unoriginal, especially after I played against three similar decks in one evening of play. Finally, it was too similar to my precon experiment, so my interest was quickly waning.
I switched my focus to green. Green is good at boosting creatures' statistics, I figured, and Green can also give creatures trample (good with both Bushi Tenderfoot and Kenzo the Hardhearted). I started the deck with four copies each of the Tenderfoot and Predator's Strike and built from there.
The result is a deck that looks all wrong on paper (Tangle Asp and Horned Helm? Double-white and double-green mana requirements in an aggressive deck? Thirteen creature enhancers?) but is fun as heck to play. When the deck is bad it looks pretty awful, but more often than not it pulls out some amazing--and dynamic--wins. Do some quick math on how much damage Kenzo can inflict with Horned Helm, a couple +1/+1 Test of Faith counters, and a Predator's Strike thrown in for good measure. Yowza.
Goka the Unjust
My first thought in thinking about Initiate of Blood was to combine it with Death Pits of Rath (I know that at first it sounds like anti-synergy, but you just need to make sure the Initiate deals its damage while the triggered effect from Death Pits is on the stack). After that I looked for as many ways of “pinging” an opponent as I could find, then added Gravedigger because I needed more creatures.
I like a lot of interactions in this deck, including Death Pits of Rath with Honden of Infinite Rage, the use of Wail of the Nim, and a surprisingly easy time getting Goka the Unjust into play. The problem, really, is that the deck is slow in an environment with explosive decks (not the least of which is Affinity), and it's inconsistent since there's no way to dig for its key cards other than Magma Jet. Still, I've received a lot of “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs” playing it, so it's probably a deck I'll continue to explore.
Tomoya the Revealer
The deck has turned out to be a gem, though, mostly because of its versatility and tricks. It has a minor “cog” theme with Trinket Mage able to search out Aether Spellbomb, extra land (Seat of the Synod), some minor utility (Scrabbling Claws and the anti-Disciple Viridian Longbow), and Spellboook. Thanks to Tomoya the Revealer, it has an alternate win condition by allowing you to deck an opponent if winning a damage race isn't enough. As an added bonus, the deck is legal for Tribal Wars games.
Finally, and easily my favorite trick in the deck, Azami and Tomoya make Empyrial Plate a wrecking ball. I routinely win with 15/17 Graceful Adepts swinging for the fences, or a seemingly-innocuous Blinkmoth Nexus.
As I said, hopefully seeing what I played over the two-week break triggers some inspiration on your part. Already I'm rubbing my chin and wondering what deck monstrosities Kitsune Mystic, Nezumi Graverobber, Nezumi Shortfang, Orochi Eggwatcher, and Student of Elements will bring. Stay tuned.
Until next week, explore your snippets, enjoy your flippers, and Happy New Year!