Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Posted in Serious Fun on July 22, 2014

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

At my core, I'm a negative person.

I recently came back from a vacation to see my relatives and I was reminded of my negativity. My mother is a negative person. I can't say if it is something genetic, something she learned from her family at a young age, or just something that has developed due to her life experiences, but my mom is not a positive, bubbly person, and never will be. If you want to know if you look fat in that dress, just ask my mom and you'll get a straight answer. "I don't think it is the dress that makes you look fat. I suspect it is the size of your belly." I come by negativity honestly. I was raised that way.

I had backup plans, since you needed to know what you were going to do "when that blows up in your face." Getting Bs on report cards involved explaining why you didn't get As. Getting As was met with, "That's more like it. I expect more of the same next term." Putting out job applications meant putting out more job applications since you "Probably won't get that job, so apply to others."

Obelisk of Urd | Art by John Severin Brassell

As bizarre as this phrase is about to sound, being negative has some positive points. It was good preparation for the harsh realities in life. I didn't believe the ads I saw. I generally expected the worst and was either not disappointed or happily surprised when things went well. I was generally on time for appointments and rarely surprised, since I considered the worst case and tried to plan for it. When I went to college and learned "Critical Thinking," I was shocked to find that I had been doing this all along. Being negative has its positive side.

The problem with being negative all the time is that, generally, you get out what you put in. If you expect the negative result, you'll probably get it. If the situation is hopeless, why try? I decided it was time to change that. Being negative may give you a sense of realistic expectations, but if you never take the shot, you'll never score the goal. I make efforts to stay positive and upbeat about life and things in it. My Twitter feed is a fount of positive, mostly Magic, experiences. I try to look at the "Sliver" lining for all things Magic. People will read the occasional negative article, but when you are talking about something as interesting, engaging, and fun as Magic, why would anyone want to read a depressing rant about Magic problems week after week?

So how does this relate to Magic? This is Convoke Week and my negative side has come out. My plan is to give you the positive side of the negativity, then just give you the positives!

Mr. Poopypants

Cards with convoke tend to be more expensive cards that you can't realistically expect to cast without using convoke to bring the cost down. This means that you'll need to have several creatures on the battlefield when casting a card with convoke. If a card is going to force me to tap a bunch of my creatures, which means they can't attack or block, as well as tap my lands, it will need to be an amazing card. Too many cards with convoke just aren't all that amazing. A 9/14 with trample for fifteen mana? Sorry Autochthon Wurm. Eight mana for a fog that gains life? I think if I have a bunch of creatures out, I'd just as soon run Fog over Chant of Vitu-Ghazi. Obelisk of Urd is six mana to give all creatures you control of a chosen type +2/+2. This is a whole lot better, but if I have several creatures to help convoke it out, I could just as easily go with an old-school Coat of Arms.

Another problem with convoke is the "win more" aspect. If I have enough creatures out there that I can afford to tap several of them to cast a convoke card, then I probably had enough mana to cast it without resorting to creatures, or I probably should have run a spell that would give the creatures in play the ability to win the game for me. Angel of Salvation is great in the right situation, but cards that give my creatures a bonus and trample will be better, considering I likely have several creatures already on the battlefield.

Convoke is particularly vulnerable in multiplayer games. Mass removal tends to show up more often with multiple players, so getting to the mass of creatures necessary for convoke to help is more difficult. Even when you do use convoke, it is most commonly seen on big creatures, and your opponents are quite happy to use their mass removal later, taking out your big creatures, as well as all the little ones that were tapped.

I even tried to cheat the convoke ability, suggesting ways to untap creatures so you could tap them for a second, third, or thirtieth time to make convoke cards free. Rules Manager Matt Tabak kyboshed that idea. Tapping a creature for convoke is something that happens as the card is cast, so you can't put another ability that untaps in between tapping for convoke.

So it is pretty clear: convoke is a hopeless mess. Don't even try. Just walk away knowing all is lost and there is no chance of making convoke a success. Convoke isn't a glass half empty. Convoke is a cup half empty and full of small shards of broken glass. And it turns out that what you thought was water was hydrogen peroxide.

Mr. Sunshine

Once again, Mr. Poopypants isn't looking for the silver lining. There are plenty of card abilities that don't appear all that interesting or powerful on the surface, but if you just look carefully, the benefits are there.

Rather than focus on the expensive convoke cards, better to look at the less-expensive cards. For every Feral Incarnation there is a card like Devouring Light that lets you use creatures, without forcing them to die in an attack or block, to get rid of an opponent's creature. Exiling also solves that indestructible-creature problem that plagues many groups.

It should also be noted that convoke is only susceptible to mass removal if you are planning to use eight creatures to cast a large spell. The less-costly convoke spells often are only looking at you to tap one or two creatures. Board wipes don't have to be horrible. Return to the Ranks offers another way to solve your opponents' efforts to get rid of your creatures through mass removal, bringing back what you lost, and making the next play just nasty—since you almost doubled the size of your army.

A key to looking at an ability like convoke is to find ways to make tapping your creatures beneficial to you. If you only look at tapping your creatures as a cost for convoke, it will never be as awesome as you want it to be. Luckily for you (and me!), Bennie Smith has already found a great way to take advantage of your ability to tap creatures. Inspired is in Theros block and is an ability found on a variety of smaller creatures that lets them do something when they untap. The problem with inspired was finding a way to tap those creatures. Convoke does a great job solving that problem!

In Bennie's article, he uses Chief Engineer to give all his artifacts convoke. Bennie goes on to build an interesting Standard deck that runs it. He suggested Daring Thief as an inspired creature that could be built around and the idea seemed awesome! Cast an artifact with Chief Engineer in play. Tap the Daring Thief to reduce the cost by one. When the Thief untaps, you can swap your puny artifact for something a little more impressive. This seemed like an excellent start, but where to go from there? Well, why not ask the author?!

I emailed Bennie, looking for some multiplayer suggestions and he had plenty!

Myr Battlesphere was the first suggestion. It is a little pricey, but when it enters the battlefield, it drops all those wonderful 1/1 artifact tokens. With Daring Thief you can swap the token for an artifact or a creature, so they carry extra value.

Liquimetal Coating is not something you'll want to swap, but it does turn an opponent's permanent into an artifact, so if your opponent has a Planeswalker, land, or enchantment out that you think would look a lot nicer on your side of the battlefield, Liquimetal Coating really opens up your options.

Norin the Wary isn't an artifact, but he is just too cool with Daring Thief to not include him. Swap him for an opponent's creature, then attack, bouncing Norin to your hand. Besides, the idea of a Daring Thief and Norin the Wary working together just pleases the Vorthos senses!

My friend Brandon responded to my email looking for ideas for a deck with Daring Thief and Chief Engineer. He gave me an entire decklist full of suggestions, so I picked through his list, choosing the options I thought best matched what I had so far.

Æthertow just makes good sense with this deck. If someone uses the creature you've traded to attack or block, you can bounce it to the top of your library, and you can even copy the spell by tapping your own creatures, something the Daring Thief wants to do anyway.

Etherium Sculptor also works well in this deck. My artifacts will be a little cheaper, and when the cost isn't an issue, the Sculptor can be traded away for something with a little more raw power.

Trading Post was another of Brandon's suggestions. It inspired this exchange between Bennie and Brandon:
Bennie—Goats from Trading Post make a great thing to trade away with Daring Thief!!
Brando—My thoughts exactly. Plus, you can sacrifice what you steal for value, should you so choose. But more importantly, you can give Goats to your friends. And who doesn't want that? (They also conspire for Æthertow. Tech!)
Goats conspiring? Consider me sold on Trading Post.

At this point, I had a solid base and needed one last artifact I thought would be fun. Esperzoa is a cheap flying creature that demands you bounce an artifact to your hand. This can be done relatively easily in this deck, but if you trade it to an opponent who doesn't have another artifact, your opponent will be bouncing the Esperzoa back to you.

Engineering a Convocation, aka Totes ma Goats convoke!

Download Arena Decklist

My thanks to Brandon and Bennie for helping me out. Getting ideas from others makes the decks in Serious Fun more varied and far more interesting!

I hope you'll take the caution Mr. Poopypants offers along with the joy and glee of Mr. Sunshine, and join them together into...Mr. Sunpants? Mr. Poopyshine? Well, neither of those sound too great, but you get what I mean. A mix of the two makes for a reasoned deck that should be a blast to play.

Bruce Richard

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