Category Archives: Magic: the Gathering

Dragon’s Maze Mini-League Adventure

Teysa1[1]

The recent trip to Texas was centred around visiting a friend, so Mr. Troo and I took a Dragon’s Maze booster box with us and spent a fortnight engaged in an impromptu mini-league. Here’s how it worked:

  • Each player took one third of the booster box.
  • For the first three rounds we opened six of our boosters and built a 40-card deck.
  • Each subsequent three rounds, we opened one additional booster.

This went pretty well for me from the very start, as I was able to riff off these guys:

DGM Battering Krasis DGM Trostani's Summoner

Opening three Battering Krasis and two Trostani’s Summoner within my first six boosters was a boon, but I didn’t have enough Green and White to go full Selesnya, so I splashed Black and included a few Orzhov staples such as a couple of Tithe Drinkers.

This was working reasonably well for me, but wasn’t especially reliable. My saving grace in the early stages was that both Shannon and Mr. Troo had pulled even less cohesive colours than I had, and were struggling to pull together remotely reliable decks.

As the league progressed and more boosters were opened, I lucked out and pulled even more Orzhov cards while my opponents were pulling more assorted random gibberish. Ultimately my deck looked like this:

3x Tithe Drinker
Sin Collector
Maw of the Obzedat
3x Rakdos Drake
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Pontiff of Blight
Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts
Bane Alley Blackguard
Boros Mastiff
2x Crypt Incursion
2x Far/Away
Alive/Well
Profit/Loss
2x Debt to the Deathless
2x Riot Control
Godless Shrine

Pretty soon my star players had shifted to these guys:

DGM Pontiff of Blight DGM Teysa

I was able to extort myself alive long enough to pull one or the other, after which extorting my opponents to death or becoming relatively unassailable shifted control of the board in my favour. My two main problems were when Mr. Troo pulled two Mirko Vosks, and Shannon pulled a Master of Cruelties. Mr. Troo was pretty capable of grinding me to death if he played a Mirko successfully, so the sight of that Dimir critter usually put the game on a short, sharp countdown. It was the appearance of Mirko that made me include the Rakdos Drakes in the end, avoiding unleashing them so that I had flying blockers that could buy me an extra turn each.

All in all I pulled some amazing cards to build a robust Orzhov deck around, as I already have some bloody good Orzhov cards sitting about, so I’ll tinker with a deck list and test that puppy out!

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An Open Letter to Hasbro

Discord

Dear Hasbro,

You own companies which make some fantastic games, as do you yourself. You have fingers in multiple entertainment pies, and some people are perhaps unaware of exactly how versatile your portfolio of revenue streams actually is. And I realise that you are a business, and as such it is your job to generate profit.

I’m forced to ask, then, whether shutting down your own fans is contributing to that profit.

Let’s talk about Shards of Equestria. This was, for those who don’t know, a Magic: the Gathering / My Little Pony fan project which had a significant amount of time invested into it. It was fun. People love MLP! People love Magic! Combining the two actually took a great deal of thought and playtesting, but eventually the work was done, and the cards made available for people to download and print.

What’s that, you say? A Cease and Desist letter?

I’m not going to rail and whine. Both MtG and My Little Pony are Hasbro’s copyrights. But nobody was making money from Shards of Equestria, and no funds were being diverted away from Hasbro products – in fact, many Pony fans here went so far as to say that Shards of Equestria got them into Magic: the Gathering.

That’s right. This fan project brought you new customers. Perhaps not many, but those people have friends, and we know how Magic spreads. And those new customers weren’t all in one place, so that’s several new customers with several non-intersecting groups of friends who discovered your games through the love and hard work of fans. Quick. Better shut it down.

And so the world turns, and we come on to Cockatrice. From cockatrice.de:

I have received a letter from a law firm representing Hasbro Germany, expressing a strong feeling of dislike for our project, backed up with legal claims. Regardless of whether the claims they are making are factually correct or not, I have agreed to shut down the project in its current form. As soon as this is completely sorted out, development work will be put into keeping alive the code base in such a way that it can be used for other purposes.

I deeply appreciate all the support from the community and hope to see all of you again soon. I will keep you posted if there are any news.

2013/02/27
Max-Wilhelm Bruker <brukie@gmx.net>

Forum thread

If readers weren’t aware, Cockatrice was a fan-made, free product which – in a rudimentary fashion – allowed them to play Magic online with anyone, anywhere, without paying a penny for either the platform or the cards. This is a little more touchy: I would say there’s a very valid argument that this poses a genuine risk to profit, as if people can play for free why would they pay?

Let’s face it, this is about MtG Online, a platform which is barely above Cockatrice in any technological sense – oh, other than the back-end for handling the money, of course. That part’s extremely robust. But the part where MTGO actually works? Not so much! Let’s check out MTGO’s top recent bugs:

  • Gloom Surgeon cannot be removed. It will mill its controller because the game refuses to take it off the Battlefield.
  • Pillar of Flame and Annihilating Fire kill creatures, but do not exile them.
  • Sculpting Steel copying an artifact which is not in play and isn’t the target.
  • “Commander Removed from Play” – and staying there!

I have no doubt that there are people who play Magic on Cockatrice and don’t spend money on cards. I also have very little doubt that with Cockatrice unavailable, they won’t suddenly be rushing forth to spend money on either MTGO or booster packs: they will simply stop playing and find something else that’s free.

I have no doubt that some people on Cockatrice spend a great deal of money on cards, and will continue to do so with or without Cockatrice, but that Cockatrice enabled them to test their decks against friends and strangers alike without needing to drive an hour to get to their nearest game store / clum / FNM. Those people are the players who don’t grasp – quite rightly – why they should be forced to pay twice to own the same cards.

Perhaps some small percentage of Cockatrice players will shrug and think to themselves “Well, all right. I better subscribe to MTGO!” But I genuinely doubt this.

Most people I know – both personally and virtually – used Cockatrice to test deck ideas before investing in the cards. Will we rush forth and buy a booster crate or complete playsets for every set now so that we can experiment at home? No, that isn’t going to happen. If we could afford to drop four thousand dollars a year into a card game, we’d also be playing MTGO already. I myself have to drive at least half an hour to get to other MtG players, and while Americans might wonder what the deal is with that, for us Brits an hour out of our day lost to driving is a waste of time. Being able to play with those same people while I dink around with deck-building ideas saves me:

  • An hour
  • A quarter of a tank of fuel (that would be about $25 – I’ve seen your fuel costs, America, and I don’t share them)
  • However much it would cost to buy my latest crazy deck only to realise how bad it is after three matches

It’s no idle threat when I say that the removal of Cockatrice may well mean that I cannot play Magic any more. I can’t afford it. I’m a writer, and I need to eat, so while until now I’ve been ready to place eBay bids on cards which I have tried, tested, and know that I want to have, I am not in a position to buy endless boosters in the hope of a playset, and I am not in a position to buy playsets only to find they don’t quite interact with other cards in the way that I had envisioned.

And let’s look at this from yet another perspective: Cockatrice wasn’t only for Magic. It supported a variety of CCGs, of which Magic was only one, and yet you, Hasbro, are the only company to issue a Cease and Desist. Perhaps it’s because those companies do not have comparable online offerings, and perhaps it’s because those companies do not see Cockatrice as a threat. It is, after all, free marketing; a tool your existing customer base can use to draw new customers toward your product. “Try it online for free, and if you like it, let’s go to a Friday Night Magic!”

So, we come to the crux of this letter: Yes, these properties are legally yours. That was never in dispute. Yes, you are well within your rights to defend your properties. And, yes, I doubt that losing one Magic player who never attended a PTQ let alone a GP is hardly going to make you lose any sleep.

All I can really do is ask you, please, to consider whether what you do attracts customers, or turns them away. What you do to retain short-term profitability may be harming your brand’s image in the long run.

It may not, of course. Grand Prix and Pro-Tour events are getting larger by the year. The money is certainly there. Perhaps one lone customer having to step away from a game she not only enjoys but is actually getting quite good at just doesn’t matter.

Yours Sincerely,

Troo.

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The Firemane Avenger is mine!

Here’s a quick update after my earlier post regarding emergency deckbuilding.

Mr. Troo and I attended the Gatecrash Game Day at our FLGS today with decks we’d hurriedly slapped together at the last minute due to extreme time constraints on our end. I’m happy to say that we both Top-8’d, so both got our full art Firemane Avengers. Even more happily they turned out to be foils, so very pretty, and there were three Zameck Guildmages each for attendance (because while top-8 sounds impressive, actually only 10 people showed up; we had a sudden bout of snow in the morning).

2013-02-23 19.36.26

I ran R/B Vampires as follows:

Maindeck:

4 x Stromkirk Noble
4 x Mugging
3 x Nightbird’s Clutches
4 x Vampiric Fury
1 x Dreadbore
4 x Stromkirk Captain
3 x Rakish Heir
1 x Olivia Voldaren
2 x Falkenrath Aristocrat
3 x Bloodline Keeper
3 x Havengul Vampire
1 x Rakdos, Lord of Riots
3 x Falkenrath Marauders
1 x Bonfire of the Damned
2 x Rakdos Guildgate
3 x Dragonskull Summit
9 x Mountain
9 x Swamp

Sideboard:

2 x Madcap Skills
1 x Dark Imposter
3 x Blasphemous Act
3 x Balustrade Spy
3 x Deviant Glee
3 x Mark for Death

It went pretty well, all told. There was a really nice mixture of decks present, and most match-ups ran pretty close. I think in the past I’ve been underestimating Deviant Glee, and wish I’d maindecked it. I usually swapped out the Rakish Heirs and Havengul Vampires for Deviant Glee and Madcap Skill, but a particularly troublesome opponent made me side in the Dark Imposter too so that I had more creature-thieving ability. In the end, though, it just wasn’t enough. Ah well. I got what I came for!

Firemane Avenger, let’s be friends!

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Hobbies are bad for you

In the wake of Wednesday’s deck-building binge, I thought it might be a terribly good idea to get around to sorting all of my remaining Magic cards.

Now, I’m awful at this. I have a friend who sorts straight from each and every booster, which seems extraordinarily sensible, but me? I enjoy booster-ripping too much, and end up with a pile of 90 cards which I’ll “get around to”. Then another pile. Then a few more piles, until the house is littered with piles of cards, usually numbering 90, which the cats enjoy knocking over.

2013-02-21 14.15.28

Of course, spending an entire morning hunched over thousands of cards while I sort them into some semblance of order is totally my idea of fun… Well, maybe not. But It gave me cause to consider how just about everything we gamers consider a hobby is detrimental to our backs. We spend a lot of time leaning forward at keyboards, clutching controllers, squinting at cards, reaching over boardgames, or the ultimate body-punishment: gripping paintbrushes while peering at miniatures and curling over to paint them. And we do all these things for hours on end. At least with roleplaying you either get to lounge comfortably on a sofa or lean against the kitchen table.

Considering I didn’t even start playing Magic until Innistrad, I’ve picked up a ridiculous amount of pre-Innistrad cards; most are from Scars of Mirrodin, but there are some Zendikar and older. It’s possible that Magic cards build up a certain density of gravity beyond which other Magic cards cannot escape, until they begin getting sucked through time and space to join the collective.

2013-02-21 14.20.01

I’ve got absolutely no use for either of these, for instance. But I imagine someone out there might. I’ll have to consider eBaying the older stuff, I think.

I should have spent my morning assembling some Dropzone Commander minis instead, but someone decided to block access to the cutting mat.

2013-02-21 13.12.45

See? The universe conspired against me. When even the cat thinks I should be sorting the cards, there’s no choice.

Maybe I should take up some sort of sport thing. I understand that sort of hobby is actually good for you?

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It’s clobberin’ time!

Very sensibly, I decided to leave it until the 11th hour to make a decklist for a Gatecrash Gameday on Saturday. This likely means what I have in my grubby mutts now is a very sloppy deck which might get me to 4th but is unlikely to get me that lovely Deathpact Angel playmat. Which is a shame, because it’s extremely pretty.

Deathpact Angel Playmat

So pretty. I wants it, but I may just end up getting it off eBay for a ridiculous price. Failing that I might buy one of Noah Bradley’s amazing playmats instead. We’ll see!

But the Firemane Avenger? Well, there are a full eight of those on offer. I should be able to top-8, surely! I usually do in Constructed, so I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to hope for one of these babies:

Firemane Avenger full art

And no. I’m not going to post my decklist. There are people watching, you know! People who might be willing to stay up later than me to get this done! Paranoia Mode Engaged!

Come back on Saturday and I’ll share the full decklist, as well as the results!

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It’s a Happy Gatecrash Birthday!

GTC Box

Yes, yes, settle down. I know I didn’t post a great deal last week. Oh. This? Well… It’s kind of you to notice. That’ll be the Gatecrash booster box my darling fiancée presented me with for my birthday last Thursday. Mm-hmm, I’m a Valentine’s Baby.

Where have I been? Sir and / or Madam, might I suggest that you try to open, look at, and sort through 36 boosters in one day? Blimey, so demanding!

But for all my hard labour, what did I receive? Well now!

Eight Shocklands.

Seven Primordials.

One Obzedat, Ghost Council.

One Gideon, Champion of Justice.

One Prime Speaker Zegana.

One Lazav, Dimir Mastermind (bringing it up to a full playset now).

One Aurelia’s Fury.

One Lord of the Void.

One Hellkite Tyrant.

There were also some excellent utility cards – Duskmantle Guildmages, Assemble the Legion, and Clan Defiance. Even a Crypt Ghast!

Happy birthday to meeeee…

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It’s taxes time! Orzhov deckbrew

I’m pretty sure that Extort should be good. It looks good, like all good water-wings. And like all good water-wings, they won’t save you forever, so you better make sure you have a plan for getting out of the water when things are starting to get desperate.

I’m a heartless bastard at times, so I decided to focus on this particular pairing:

AVR Exquisite Blood GTC Vizkopa Guildmage

With that in mind, it’s time to make a decklist!

Main:

4 Exquisite Blood
4 Vizkopa Guildmage
4 Blind Obedience
4 Crypt Ghast
2 Treasury Thrull
2 Alms Beast
4 Syndic of Tithes
4 Gift of Orzhova
4 Orzhov Charm
4 Sign in Blood
10 Swamp
10 Plains
4 Orzhov Guildgate

Sideboard:

4 One Thousand Lashes
3 Immortal Servitude
4 High Priest of Penance
4 Oblivion Ring

The Goal:

It’s deceptively simple: Survive long enough to get Exquisite Blood and Vizkopa Guildmage in play together. Drop your 1WB into the Guildmage’s second ability, then trigger a lifegain.

The lifegain options are essentially:

  • Extort any spell
  • Sign in Blood on your opponent
  • Attack with lifelink

If your opponent sideboards, then it’s possible they have some emergency Enchantment-destruction lurking around, in which case it’s time to go full-on Extort. Side in the High Priests to give them serious pause for thought about attacking. Get O-Rings and One Thousand Lashes in. Throw out your big beasts and the Gift of Orzhova. Give them so many Enchantments to waste Naturalizes on that sooner or later they run out, all while you Extort to death.

That’s the logic, anyway. Now I need to test this puppy out!

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Epic Orzhov battle at Gatecrash pre-release

Know that feeling when you crack open your boosters in a Sealed event and get really awesome cards?

No, me either. But I got my Treasury Thrull, and had to make do.

GTC Treasury Thrull

Isn’t he lovely? 6cmc for a 4/4. Better hope I can last until turn 6 against Gruul or Boros decks, eh?

Out of my guild pack, I got absolutely nil cards of any serious use in the format: a single Orzhov Guildgate; one Boros Guildgate; no guildmages; one Boros Charm.

Boros Charm? Wasn’t that one of the cards I would guarantee to splash red for? You’re damn right it is, and I did. Because not only did I get a Boros Charm, I got a foil Assemble the Legion, and two Court Street Denizens.

GTC Assemble the Legion GTC Court Street Denizen

Suddenly what I was fielding wasn’t an Orzhov deck. It was Boros with a black splash to try and maintain my life total long enough for these two to begin working together. I didn’t get anywhere near enough cards with Extort on them for that to be a viable tactic (four, for those who are curious: four cards out of six boosters with Extort on them). I didn’t get enough critters with Battalion to rely on that either.

Did I mention that other than the two guildgates and a Prophetic Prism (everyone got one of those in their guild booster), I got no mana-fixing whatsoever? Mmm. This was going really well!

Round 1:

My first round was against a pure Dimir deck. My life totals were all over the place, as was to be expected, but his? Nope. For the most part I just wasn’t able to form a cohesive threat. I won the first game, but lost the next two. My opponent was a great guy, and we had a lot of fun chatting about the cards we’d pulled.

Round 2:

The Round from Hell. The app matched me up against the only other Orzhov player in the tournament, and he had also splashed red. He had also pulled remarkably awful cards. In fact we had a lot of sympathy for each other. At times our decks and plays were identical. The first game was over quickly as I struggled to form any kind of defence whatsoever. But the second?

The second was the most epic battle I have ever played in. We laughed. We cried. My opponent begged me to kill him so that we could have lunch. I suggested if he were that hungry he could concede, but neither of us were taking that option.

Rounds were 45 minutes each. We’d spent 10 on our first game. The second used the remainder of our round, then spilled over into our 15-minute comfort break. Our Judge gave us those 15 minutes to keep going if we wanted, and with grim determination we forged ahead.

Life Totals

This is what an hour of Orzhov on Orzhov violence looks like. Save yourselves: don’t participate in this kind of nonsense.

The round ended in a draw.

Round 3:

Round the Third brought me up against another pure Dimir deck. This was all over fairly quickly – she beat me hands down in the first game, but I won the next two. Finally, an outright win!

Round 4:

My fourth round was against the deck which went on to win the tournament: Boros with Gruul splashed. Again my opponent was absolutely lovely to play against, but even though I squeaked him down to 4 life in the first game, he came in and demolished my fairly comfortable-looking 12 in a single attack. In the second game, I didn’t even chip the paintwork.

Overall:

I had an awesome time. The people were friendly, the atmosphere was fun, and there wasn’t a sore loser to be found. I came 5th out of 16 players, which was fairly poor, but entirely my own fault: I made a couple of sloppy plays in Round 1 and again in Round 4. There were times I should have taken a Mulligan and didn’t, and there were times when I got muddled over my mana and found myself unable to cast the planned second spell of my turn because I’d tapped the wrong colour combinations. I refused to ask for take-backs, because I think unless you endure the consequences of your actions you just don’t learn from them so well.

Mr. Troo came second, and his prize was 8 booster packs. Naturally when we got home and opened them we found:

  • Two Lazav, Dimir Mastermind – one foil, one non
  • Deathpact Angel
  • Vizkopa Guildmage
  • Immortal Servitude

We also seem to have accumulated a playset of Consuming Aberrations, so I think that building a Dimir deck is highly likely in my very near future…

DRWTFENVNJAZ

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Assemble the Legion!

It’s that time: Wizards have released the full image spoiler for Gatecrash, and now we have five days to think before the pre-release.

Obviously we can’t plan a deck. It’s sealed, and we only know for sure what one of our 90 potential cards will be. But I’m going Orzhov, and will absolutely splash if I pull a bomb that’s worth it, so let’s look at what’ll make me think twice.

Blue:

GTC Psychic Strike GTC Spell Rupture GTC Aetherize

I will splash blue in a heartbeat for any of these. I think counterspells are going to be my only real defence against bombs, and Aetherize will dispose of tokens and pesky +1/+1 counters in a flash. Psychic Strike has a handy side-effect, but I won’t be able to capitalise on it, because I’m not playing Dimir. Spell Rupture is far tastier, as I’m guaranteed to have a 4/4 body in the deck from the Treasury Thrull.

Red:

GTC Boros Charm GCT Skullcrack GTC Martial Glory

If I don’t pull blues worth splashing for and any of these come up, I’ll certainly think about adding red to the mix instead. Boros Charm is a board-saver for all those precious lifelinking, extorting creatures. Skullcrack is a cheap direct damage that can also give a nasty surprise to opposing Orzhov players, and Martial Glory could be the coup de grâce to help a blocked creature survive and add more power to one which broke through (or has lifelink).

And for the Orzhov?

GTC Cartel Aristocrat GTC Alms Beast GTC Vizkopa Guildmage

I’m going to be pleased as punch to pull any of these! The Cartel Aristocrat is a nice enough bear, and can help shed harmful auras. I’m reluctant about the Alms Beast, but it *is* going to kill much of what it blocks, and coupling it with either Skullcrack or the Vizkopa Guildmage should counteract its offputting ability. If I can field both the Alms Beast and the Vizkopa Guildmage, then I don’t mind donating lifelink to something I’m about to kill if I can farm 6 life off doing so.

GTC Beckon Apparition GTC Shadow Alley Denizen GTC Contaminated Ground

I love all three, and they’re cheap commons. Just look at them! Beckon Apparition gives a 1/1 flying Spirit token and an exile, for W/B. Shadow Alley Denizen is 1/1 body and potentially unblockable creatures, for B. Contaminated Ground gives you a way to slow your opponent down and make them pay if they need the speed for 1B. These are all very sexy cards. I will include these without a second thought.

GTC Executioner's Swing GTC Death's Approach GTC Balustrade Spy

Executioner’s Swing is Gatecrash’s 2CMC single-target removal. As with all black removals at this cost, it has a limitation. Well, sadly it actually has two, and it’s no guaranteed removal. But it’s a start, and it’s seriously worth including: we need all the removal we can get. Death’s Approach is fantastic, and will force your opponent to play around it if you slap it on the things they’re desperate to keep. It can defang Battalion effects, reduce Simic bonuses. Lovely! And the Balustrade Spy is a handy 2/3 flier with a handy grind built in; I might go for him if I also splash blue for Psychic Strike, but otherwise I may well pass.

And finally…

GTC Orzhov Charm GTC Glaring Spotlight GTC Thespian's Stage

I don’t know what to make of the Orzhov Charm. Being able to rescue a creature and all my auras could be useful. Throwing two mana to retrieve a 1CMC creature to the battlefield seems reasonable, but not exciting. Vitally, though, it’s another removal option, and it costs me the life that I should be making back with Extort and Lifelink… So it’s definitely a keeper, but I think I’ll have to see it in play before I’m completely sold.

Glaring Spotlight, of course, is just amazing. Could even be a game-winner. There are quite a few pesky hexproof creatures in Gatecrash, and being able to bypass that will be extremely handy. More handy, of course, is giving your whole army hexproof and making them unblockable for the turn. Could be the key to get past a wall of Soldiers or FrogCrocodileMutants.

Honourable mention goes to Thespian’s Stage. It could, at the very least, be a very useful mana fixer. But I think it’ll be far sexier beyond Sealed and into any Constructed format you go to. Copying a Cavern of Souls? Or a Gavony Township? Maybe a Vault of the Archangel? All very tasty indeed.

Are there any cards you’ll pick without question this weekend?

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Gatecrash Pre-Release

I’m looking forward to Gatecrash. It has more guilds in line with my favoured colour combinations than Return to Ravnica did, and the mechanics released in the spoiler drip-feed look more relevant to my play-style.

In particular I’m hoping to get hold of some of these:


I do occasionally like to float the Millboat, which (I know, I know) makes me a bastard. But let’s face it, the Duskmantle Guildmage is going to be lovely with Jace, Memory Adept (or “Jace the Mill Bastard”), and already the cost of a Jace, MA, has leaped to the highest I’ve seen in months. Seems I’m not alone in this (very obvious) train of thought. And Mind Grind? Well now. I think I just got a little overexcited. Excuse me while I go take a cold shower.


The Crypt Ghast is an Extort enabler, and protecting it will be a serious priority if it gets cast – similarly removing it from your opponent if he’s fielding Orzhov against you is going to be one of your top goals. High Priest of Penance? Good god, yes. You need to slow your opponent while you nibble them to death with Extort, so dissuading them from attacking you is great. Nobody wants to trade a valuable, targetable nonland permanent for a WB 1/1. Pop some Illusionist Bracers on him and they’ll be doubly reluctant to let you kill him off as a chumpblocker. And if you can make him more resilient? Well, then he’s just exponentially lovely!

Hopefully Gatecrash will have some affordable counters and removal, or Sealed format could be a nightmare for anyone facing off against any of these cards.

Obviously I hope the reverse: That I pull all these lovelies and that nobody can take them off me!

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