Just Lurkin' on Youtube and Twitch - I watch so much Magic so you don't have to.
A big part of the appeal of starting my own blog is so that I can fill it with content, whatever kind I like, several times a week. Duels Diaries was started as a weekly forum post to discuss my decks, their results, and the Magic Duels meta, but how I create, play and test those decks is a longer story.
I am not a naturally gifted deck builder. I feel like I should have added to a disclaimer to the end of my last post (HERE), because all of those decks are just ideas. Unlike some gifted people who can seem to brew up solid gold with a notebook and a pen, I usually make bad mistakes with my theory-crafted decks. As has been pointed out on NGA, I usually don't even count to sixty reliably. What I do have on those geniuses who seem to poop out great decks without playing a game is that nobody outworks me in testing and research. Aside from playing over 100 duels a week when the iOS connection bug isn't taking a dump on me, I also read and watch everything I can. I want to make a reoccurring blog column about watching Magic because I believe it is the best resource for learning about the game. Watching the play of the fine folks who stream and record their games gives you a lot of opportunity to see what is working, what isn't, card interactions you may have missed, and a view into the meta, even across platforms.
So this is my Lurkin' series, I will watch some YouTubers and Twitchers play the game and talk about what I saw and takeaways we can use to make our decks and our Magic skills better. A quick request - be kind to the Twitch streamers and YouTubers who create this awesome content. Please don't be that person who jumps down their throat with MIS-PLAY MIS-PLAY MIS-PLAY, unless you feel you know them well enough to get away with it (HAKEEM!).
We'll kick the episode off with a video I mentioned in my last entry, LEGENVD's Eldrazi Ramp YouTube video (HERE)
Here is the list he is running -
3 Jaddi Offshoot
4 Elvish Visionary
4 Gatecreeper Vine
2 Evolutionary Leap
1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
1 Reclamation Sage
4 Nissa's Pilgrimage
4 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
2 Outland Colossus
1 Greenwarden of Murasa
1 Woodland Bellower
1 Oblivion Sower
1 Nissa's Renewal (mentions he'd play two if he had them)
1 Gaea's Revenge
1 Nissa's Revelation
2 Breaker of Armies
1 Eldrazi Devastator (mentions it would be the 3rd Breaker of Armies)
1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
1 Desolation Twin (mentions he would play a 2nd copy if he had one)
3 Foundry of the Consuls
1 Rogue's Passage
Legenvd hasn't unlocked all the cards at the time he makes this video, so there is some room for tuning. We'll get to that, but first let's talk about the games.
Game one - LVD keeps a hand that would make me nervous but he draws like a champ and curves Visionary into Pilgrimage into Moss against a very slow start from the opponent. Moss flexes it's muscles here as a powerful card that just gets better when you draw multiples. Nissa's Revelation makes an appearance but looks very "win-more" in this scenario. The card is an interesting one to argue. When you need it, you are behind or even on the board and you need a big monster in your top six cards. Sometimes you may cast it and whiff. The flip-side of that scenario is that you didn't have a big monster in your top six cards, and you where likely to lose that game anyway. At least Revelation gets you five cards closer to a fatty. On the other hand, Revelation itself could be a fatty. So I would not replace a creature that is amazing enough to just win the game on its own with a Nissa's Revelation, but if you already several of those cards and need a card to bridge the gap from seven lands to ten, then Nissa's Rev may be your card.
If anyone has an inner Timmy that just wants to see Ulamog cast on camera, HERE you go.
Game two is a pretty iconic battle between a quick Borors deck and our mighty-but-slow Eldrazi ramp deck. Sadly Jaddi Offshoot doesn't make an early enough appearance, as I believe this is the matchup you want him in. This game is a showcase for why I have mixed feelings about Gaea's Revenge in mono-green and some other decks. Gaea's Revenge is at its best when you are a little be ahead, say with a G/R Monsters deck that has one or two other midrange beasts applying pressure. Gaea's Revenge backed by burn can usually put the game away. In Big Green Ramp, your best-case scenario for Revenge is when you have a control deck or other ramp deck just staring at you from across the board and Revenge can be the only thing on the battlefield and run away with the game. In B4Z duels, I don't know how likely that is. While you cast Revenge, the opponent either (a) be closer to casting Ulamog or Desolation Twin which dwarf Revenge, or (b) be attacking you with fast and furious dorks like Boros does in this game. Both scenarios are bad for Revenge. Still, the real question is "Can we do better?". If the answer is no, we still stick with Revenge. We'll explore this more in a minute...
Game three is another great curve out with double Acid-Moss against an opponent who is short on land. These gimmie wins won't make you friends or earn you style points, but they are a good reason to play this deck and to respect Acid-Moss in the format. If ramping into Eldrazi becomes a regular thing, or if converge decks become a thing (read on), Acid-Moss will get better and better. Evolutionary Leap is just lukewarm in this game, I'm confident it didn't steer the results of the game, and I am not sure if it is what this deck should be doing. Keeping a steady stream of creatures flowing is a great idea, but does the deck do that without Leap similar to my G/R Monsters decks? On the other hand, this deck is likely to get into a grindy battle with control and other ramp decks, and there I suspect Leap could make a difference. Again, Revenge doesn't come down on curve and doesn't make an impact on the game.
So we get three games -
A win over Sultai ingesting junk.
A loss to Boros Auras
A win over Boros Auras.
In both wins, we saw a lot of Acid-Moss. In the loss we didn't see a turn one Jaddi, and that is something I am watching for.
This is a bit of a flash forward, but I watched a streamer play this deck for several games last night as well, and the deck was consistent. It usually got to ten mana just fine, which answers a question by itself - Yes, you can get to ten mana and cast Eldrazi spells in the format. This isn't always a given in competitive arenas, and ten is a lot of mana.
Ok, what changes can/should we make to the build? Legenvd himself mentions adding From Beyond, the 2nd Desolation Twin and Nissa's Renewal which I like. I am not sure about Breaker of Armies. We never got to see it in action, but it strikes me as similar to Revenge. If the opponent doesn't want to lose all his creatures, he just attacks with all of them, and since you are likely to be on the back foot anyway, I don't know if that is something you want.
I feel like the core of the deck, the part I wouldn't touch, includes Jaddi Offshoot, Nissa, Nissa's Pilgrimage, Gatecreeper Vine, Acid-Moss, Outland Colossus, Oblivion Sower, Nissa's Renewal, Woodland Bellower, Ulamog and Desolation Twin. I personally find that identifying the best cards and synergies in your deck helps you make clearer decisions about the remaining cards. Can't figure out how to get the 2nd Desolation twin into the deck? Just compare it to each of the cards remaining and think about scenarios the deck is likely to face. You can usually reach a conclusion about why one card is better in the deck.
A card we haven't discussed is Retreat to Kazandu. I played a lot of Chant of the Mul-Daya in Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014, and I remember how good it is to gain two life with landfall. One thing my early testing has shown me is that we don't want too many of these effects (if you have 50 life, no giant monsters, and your opponent has 100 power worth of attacking creatures, you didn't accomplish anything). Since we already have the amazing Jaddi Offshoot, we may not need Retreat, but I want to try to find room for one or two.
From what I have watched, the deck seems to get to double digit lands consistently, so we can stick to 24 lands for now. I have never seen the Rogue's Passage activated, so I want to try one Fertile Thicket, because I think it can act like a 5th Gatecreeper and let me keep a two-land hand. It may just be a bad card, but if it will ever be an almost decent card, it should be here, in a deck with 20 basics that wants to hit land drops.
HERE is where I ended up with the deck. I kept the Revelations because I really want to use them to bridge the gap from seven to ten lands when I don't have a Nissa's Renewal, and I don't trust Revenge to save me in most situations for reasons I mentioned above. However, I expect to be testing swapping Revenge for Renewal often, and of course it depends on the meta.
Next I have a couple of Twitch streams to check out. We'll start with Abysmalvoid. No past broadcast link for this one sadly.
While I was watching, Abysmalvoid was playing the five color ramp-converge deck that I first saw HERE. This is an interesting enough read, mostly because some folks jump down the author's throat about some card choices and get pretty feisty. I admit that I shared their concerns just looking at the list. After watching Abysmalvoid play for about an hour, probably more, I feel I can make some more educated judgements about what to do with the deck.
First off, the deck is powerful. Such a deck couldn't exist before B4Z because the top-end cards just didn't do enough. That cannot be said about Ulamog, Omnath, or our new planeswalkers. A few cards really blew my mind. I have tested with Emeria Shepherd in a G/W ramp deck, and I haven't been super impressed, but the 2x copies where amazing on this stream.
The critical comments on Reddit are correct about the lands, you shouldn't assume you can get away with 21 lands in a deck with ten drops in it, regardless of your gatecreepers and pilgrim's eyes. 24 is the lowest I would go. Before we get into too much debate, I saw the deck lose for only two reasons, not enough mana and bad mana. The deck always had great spells, it was always just a question of getting to cast them. This is a deck that has such raw card power that it will rarely lose because it floods out, as each card is super strong, and will lose far more often to not being able to cast it's amazing spells. Acid-Moss is pretty brutal too, and I think it will be a common card to see for a while.
Finding cards to cut isn't hard, a few specific cards never impressed during the stream (note, it appears the author of the reddit thread changed the list since last night, so you may not see these cards that were in the original thread on the list now).
Liliana, Heretical Healer never got flipped, and often never got cast at all even when drawn.
Sire of Stagnation - Never did much.
Rising Miasma - I think we only need one, maybe we can live without them.
Kiora - never -2'd, never ultimated, never untapped a land or creature in a way that lead to anything useful.
Part the Waterveil - at it's best, you play another land and activate your walkers again. At it's worst, not much happens. It is pretty low-impact for this deck, especially for a six drop when you should have all five colors available. I never saw it awakened once.
One card that receives no love from theory crafters (including me) but absolutely crushed it on the stream is Brilliant Spectrum. I read this card as garbage, but every time I saw it cast it was amazing. 4 fresh cards off the top, including lands/colors/fetch cards that were needed and the two discarded cards where never a problem, usually cards that weren't working the matchup like Rising Miasma against ramp or Desolation Twin against aggro. Invariably, Greenwarden and Emeria Sheppard would fetch the cards back later if they were wanted or needed. There just isn't anything that can say "draw 4" on it in Duels, and I suspect most people are missing the power level of this card (I know I did). Don't cut them till you've cast them folks.
A tough decision for me is whether to run From Beyond and one Ulamog, or 2 Desolation Twin and an Ulamog. Since getting to ten isn't very hard, and since dropping From Beyond on four takes away from Brilliant Spectrum, I think just running the Twins is good. Does the deck absolutely need From Beyond or Tha Twins? I am not sure, but I want to keep them around for now. I was impressed by watching control decks on the stream actually deal with getting Ulamog'd and Twin'd. Planar Outburst + Greenwarden can get you through a lot of fatties, and it wouldn't blow my mind to see the deck run out of win conditions.
Jaddi Offshoot is a card that should be able to help the red matchup, and since I firmly believe the main enemies of this deck to be it's own mana base and time, Jaddi can help solve these issues by buying time, which means more draws, to get the lands right and cast the awesome spells.
HERE is where I am going with the deck right now.
The deck has some old nemesi and weaknesses. I saw it get milled twice on camera and almost milled a third time, I guess Mana Mastery just can't get away from Dream Puppets. I also hate the idea of playing against Legenvd's green deck, converge has more answers like Outburst but green has more ramp and will be far more consistent in getting to Ulamog, and Acid-Moss appears terrifying.
To sum it up, I can't wait to test this one myself.
My final viewing of the evening was pretty awesome and a reminder of what a small place the internet can be. I jumped on the stream of Chesspieceface, which is someone I haven't watched before. HERE is that evening's recording.
When I jumped on I had the sound muted while my wife watched TV, and I watched this guy grinding gold with LVD's Green Ramp deck for a while. Again, very consistent, plenty of wins, most losses due to awkward hands that get stuck between six and ten lands.
Apparently Mr. Chesspieceface is a reader of the blog, and when he saw me jump on the stream he tried to talk to me, but I didn't realize it because the iPad was muted. About an hour in I unmute and I realize he is trying to talk to me, and we build and try a few more decks including Golgari Sac (HERE) and an update to Sultai Fog Mill, which is a deck I hadn't worked on yet since B4Z dropped.
Golgari beat Red Aggro, another Golgari Control deck and a Sultai Control list, while dropping a game to Elves where the lack of sweepers really hurt it. We tried Jaddi Offshoot in the deck, because why not, the card is great against aggro, but since we didn't have it in against Red Aggro and we still won that game I am not convinced they are needed.
The work on Sultai Fog was much more interesting in my opinion. We tried a few additions, including Kiora, Part the Waterveil, Ob Nixilis, Jaddi Offshoot and Lumbering Falls. The results where pretty good, the only loss was a mana-screwed game against a Bant Ramp & Mill deck. There was one of the coolest turns I have ever seen recorded starting around 2:50:00. I see a lot of potential in the deck, and I think Part the Waterveil is at it's best here where every extra turn means more milled cards and more Planeswalker activations. Chesspiece mentions that removing the Alchemist's Vials makes Artificer's Epiphany worse and I agree, so I revised some of the changes since the stream to more thought-out substitutions.
HERE is what I would do with Sultai Mill now, and I promise to write more about this deck in a regular Duels Diaries post when I have results. I think the deck gains a lot, the lands got better and the new planeswalkers and Greenwarden act as additional win conditions if the Tutelage plan fails. I am already plotting on adding a fourth color, perhaps white for Planar Outburst, so I can cast Tutelage turn three and Brilliant Spectrum (DRAW 4) on turn four. I can't wait to see where this takes us, is the mana THAT good?
Alright, that sums up today's Lurkin' entry. Thanks for all the streamers and Youtubers out there, you never know when I might be watching and looking for something to write about.