Saturday, January 10, 2015

Casual Corner - Titania's Dominion

               Greetings fellow spell slingers! It's been a while since I've posted anything here on the Fanatix blog and I've been itching to talk about some of the latest happenings in the Magic world. As we all know, the holidays is a turbulent time, one in which we scatter, scuffle, and scramble about ferociously in an effort to eventually (hopefully) take it a little slower with our friends and families. When things do slow down, I'm always on the lookout to find an opportunity to jam some extra games when possible, and while that didn't happen too terribly often this year, the hustle and bustle of the season couldn't stop me from thinking about Magic. What's been on my mind? Straight up? Casual formats!

                Look, I find Standard, Modern, and Legacy plenty interesting, but I've been completely enthralled with all things Casual lately. So, I'd like to discuss a couple of Casual formats today: one old, one new, and I'm always on the lookout to play something blue. So, if you're interested in the ramblings of a single-minded, Singleton-format-loving madman, read on dear reader, read on.

                First up, I've got to talk about a bit about the release of Commander 2014. I've got to say that I think Wizards of the Coast, under lead designer Ethan Fleischer, did a tremendous job with these. I know, I know. These decks have been out for a while. They're so 2014, but it's refreshing when you see the caretakers of our game go to such lengths to try and satisfy as many players as possible. Personally, I thought they did a great job of giving most of the niche audiences a little something to appreciate. For those that like to see design space explored aggressively, we have a cycle of Planeswalkers that can start in the Command zone. This is a pretty natural progression, I know, but with only five slots to play with, I feel like Wizards threw a pretty juicy bone to those that love more radical designs as well as those that enjoy seeing some of the story elements get fleshed out. I was a little skeptical at first, afraid that this tactic was going to be too gimmicky, but I think ultimately the Planeswalker Commanders were well-executed and well-received. Plus, even with all the haymakers crashing about, they found a few slots for the efficiency-loving Legacy players, too. Containment Priest is hateful, hateful hate bear and Malicious Affliction has been a blowout every time I've seen it cast. All in all, this release was a great addition to the Commander product line and I'd highly recommend them as a way to begin your journey into the format.

                Aside from the above-mentioned praises of the C14 decks, I really enjoyed that they made the choice to make them mono-colored. Even prior to the C14 release, I had always had an affinity for single-colored Commanders. I find the deck-building constraints to be a bit refreshing, actually. It really forces you to "go deep" in a color to explore all the color has to offer. Sure, you often find yourself turning to artifacts for must-have effects that don't exist in your mono-colored ecosystem, but even so, I feel like the constraint really pushes you scrutinize all the nooks and crannies of the color. I'm always tickled when I get to peer into Magic's past and find a gem that would in no way conform to modern development practices or stumble across a more modern card that bends (or breaks in half) the color pie (Hello Time Spiral block!), but is the perfect fit for my theme or strategy. How about a few examples? Something old: Desert Twister. Yes, the very first Vindicate was a costly mono-green card. Something new: Utopia Vow. A trippy card from Planar Chaos that allows green to do a pretty solid Pacifism impression. Something Blue: Psychic Venom. Because, you know, sometimes you have to have snakes on a Plains.

                With all that said, I'd like to move into the main topic: reengineering one of the C14 decks. As much fun as they were to play out of the box, the C14 decks really compelled me to put on my brewer's hat (drag out my brewer's cauldron??) and seek to build around one of the new cards. The spark-wielding Commanders were interesting and Feldon of the Third Path seemed nuts, but the legendary creature that kept catching my eye was Titania, Protector of Argoth. She's got such an interesting set of abilities. This seemed like the perfect build-around card. Plus, I knew it would push me to finally acquire a card that I've always admired from afar, but never had a chance to play with: Doubling Season!

Dorks vs. Rocks
                Before we power slide down the rabbit hole, I'd like to take a quick aside and pose a question. Well, first I want to set up the question. I've been pondering one of the interesting deck building decisions that you need to make when crafting a mono-green EDH deck: dorks vs. rocks. For the uninitiated, "dorks" is short for "mana dorks" and most often refers to cheap creatures, usually one or two mana (but not always) that produce mana. On their own they have a few tradeoffs. If drawn early, they can be one of the more powerful things you can do in EDH. The one-mana versions like Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves are about as close to Moxes as Wizards R&D is comfortable allowing. Ramping your mana in EDH is nearly always a plus. (I say "nearly always" to avoid getting side-tracked on the topic of politics in EDH and remaining threat-neutral during some portions of the game.) However, there are some obvious drawbacks. Drawn late in the game, your friendly forest critters provide little more than a warm body on the battlefield. Sometimes that's valuable. There's often things to do with stray creatures, but on turn 14 you're not going to impress anyone by using your Birthing Pod to chain your Elves of Deep Shadow into a Sakura-Tribe Elder.  Perhaps the more likely scenario: it becomes a small appetizer for an opposing Sheoldred or is a casual bystander when Sir Sweepsalot (every group has one) decides to wreck the board...again. This brings me to the major tradeoff to consider when considering the inclusion of mana dorks: they're vulnerable. So, what's the alternative? Rocks. "Rocks" is short for "mana rocks" and refer to artifacts that produce mana. There are some doozies out there (I'm looking at you Mana Vault, Mana Crypt, and Grim Monolith), but perhaps the most commonly played one is the obscenely powerful Sol Ring. But here again, we have a tradeoff. While more resilient to mass creature removal, these rocks only produce colorless mana. Often, this is a minimal drawback, but if colored mana is a concern, there are plenty more options such the Signets, Darksteel Ingot, and Coalition Relic. Here's the thing though. Mana rocks have become so prevalent in EDH that most players are packing some form of hate for them, ratcheting their liability factor up a couple of notches. So, what's a Green mage to do? I usually hedge my bets and run a split of some sort, but keep a keen eye on your play group's tendencies and balance your dork-rock ratio accordingly. If you've got any thoughts on how to conquer this portion of mono-green deck building, be sure to leave a comment and share your approach.

                Alright, we've clearly got a build-around-me style Commander here with Titania, so let's break down the card's abilities and start assembling the pieces that will most readily play nicely with her. Step one, let's take full advantage of her enters the battlefield trigger by playing a healthy portion of lands that sacrifice themselves as well as spells that allow you to sacrifice lands. Wait, should all that apply to her second ability? Yes! Her self-synergy is amazing. As far the land base goes, here again, playing a mono-colored commander lets us go a little deeper into the card pool; We'll have an easier time establishing green mana when we need it, so we have extra slots that can be devoted to lands that generate value with Titania's first ability. Step two, we really want to leverage Titania's token generating ability. This part of her rules text is what makes her such an insane build-around card. Of course, Titania will not stay on the board all the time , so we're going to be scouring Gatherer for cards that bolster our token-producing options and are generally good with token strategies. All the while, we'll keep an eye out for cards that will be insane during the times when Titania gets to stick around for a couple of turns. Lastly, we'll explore a strategy that Titania brings to the table, but isn't printed in her rules text. Because we're "devoted" to green, we can also dabble in a few a "Forest-matters" or "Green-matters" cards that should be maximized in a deck like this. Below I'm going to break down some of my choices into three groups: Land-centric, Token-centric, and Forest/Green-centric. Many of the choices will be obvious inclusions for their general power or utility, but others are making the cut because we're pushing the strategies that Titania presents to us as far as we can. On to the cards!

                This group will either actually be lands or will allow us to abuse lands, usually by allowing us to play additional ones per turn or by having effects when they enter play. Alright, let's get the nastiness out of the way: Strip Mine. Yes, recurring this seems nasty, but in multiplayer it is much less punishing and Titania on her own won't recur it that many times. Even with Crucible of Worlds in the 99, recurring Strip Mine won't break any games wide open and EDH games have a nice self-correcting power balance. If you get too aggressive with land destruction, you'll feel the heat immediately. Okay, now the obvious fetch lands. I try to play these in EDH anyway, but they're extra good here and you should include them in you can. What about these OTHER fetch lands? I'm referring to the Panoramas from Shards of Alara. Admittedly, I haven't played with these much, so I don't know exactly how good they are, but in a mono-colored deck they do provide many of the same benefits as your "real" fetch lands. Some other interesting lands that I'm excited to play are Lotus Vale and Scorched Ruins. These seem to be tailor-made to play well with Titania. Even she's not out to make Elementals, having lands in your graveyard will be a common occurrence with this deck and should almost always be a value-generating benefit.

                There are some other neat lands that sacrifice themselves, but what about nonland cards? How about the obvious: Life from the Loam. This is a one-card engine and is a ton of fun to play. In this deck we'll be recurring all manner of utility lands and some sweet, sweet cycling lands. Other nonlands in our land-centric group include ways to power out a mana advantage. Exploration, Burgeoning, Summer Bloom, and Oracle of Mul Daya are among the cards that really let us leverage our land theme. In some games, these cards will be virtual Time Walks as you will be operating several turns ahead of your opponents where mana production is concerned. Here again we have something old: Gaea's Touch, something new: a card I can't wait to try, Wave of Vitriol and something that acts very Blue: Font of Mythos. Hopefully, the font will let us exploit our multi-land-per-turn advantage. And of course, we want to press that advantage by doing some sweet stuff when the lands enter, so let's touch in a Lotus Cobra and Rampaging Baloths for good measure. What's that? Rampaging Baloths also plays well with our token-centric strategy? Let's take a look at some of those cards, too.

                Most players I know really enjoy token strategies and I'm no exception. You get to play with even more cardboard (or dice, or coins, or paper clips)! The cards chosen here are doing lots of cool things to leverage this strategy. In particular, I was looking for cards that accomplished one of the following: makes more tokens, makes our tokens better in some way, or generates value from the tokens entering play. Here again, we'll start with the obvious one I mentioned earlier: Doubling Season. This, along with its more token-focused little brother, Parallel Lives, have been the backbone of many token strategies for a long time. Some other goodies that I'm looking forward to playing are Ant Queen, Hermit Druid, and the EDH all star, Avenger of Zendikar. Wait, what is this little gem from Prophecy? Squirrel Wrangler? Not a powerhouse per se, but he's doing basically everything this deck wants to do. He's in! So now that we're filling the Multiverse with irrelevant 1/1 Insects, Squirrels, and lowly 0/1 Plant tokens, what are we going to do to actually win? Here, we'll lean an old favorite, Coat of Arms, a new favorite, Craterhoof Behemoth, and a very blue (sad) Garruk Wildspeaker that has to wait a turn before he can throttle people with trampling tokens.

                In the final group, I wanted to include a few cards that made good use of the fact that we're all green and should have a relatively high number of Forests in play. These cards weren't quite as plentiful as I thought they might be, but there are several that I think will be potent in this build. My nomination for something old is Fortitude. This is a decent way to protect Titania from some of the board sweepers and removal we expect to see floating around. It plays well with our commander and just might buy her way out of a jam here and there. Our new (ish) inclusion in this category is Baru, Fist of Krosa. His grandeur ability will never be a thing, but I like his pseudo landfall ability enough that I thought he warranted inclusion. The mass trample is what sold me. Perhaps the card in this group I'm looking forward to casting the most is Beacon of Creation. I imagine this card tag-teaming with Ant Queen and Coat of Arms to assemble an insect-led invasion. Who doesn't want to beat down with thoraxes and mandibles?!

                Lastly, I rounded out the build with some general utility calling on the battle-tested prowess of cards like Reclamation Sage, Scavenging Ooze, and everyone's favorite uncle, Yavimaya Elder. Green isn't the best at producing raw card advantage, but I aimed to squeeze in a few options by including Praetor's Council, Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury, and Garruk's Packleader. I've yet to actually cast Creeping Renaissance, but I'm hoping it normally reads "draw a ton of cards from your graveyard." I'm really looking forward to jamming some games with this deck as I think it will prove to create very fun and interactive games. I've got my complete list below. As always, be sure to share what cards you think I completely missed. What sleepers do you think would be right at home here?

1 Titania, Protector of Argoth
1 Bant Panorama
1 Armillary Sphere
1 Ant Queen
1 Crystal Vein
1 Awakening Zone
1 Avenger of Zendikar
1 Dust Bowl
1 Beacon of Creation
1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
1 Encroaching Wastes
1 Beast Within
1 Baru, Fist of Krosa
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Burgeoning
1 Cartographer
18 Forest
1 Coat of Arms
1 Courser of Kruphix
1 Gaea's Cradle
1 Concordant Crossroads
1 Craterhoof Behemoth
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Constant Mists
1 Deranged Hermit
1 Havenwood Battleground
1 Creeping Renaissance
1 Eternal Witness
1 Jund Panorama
1 Crop Rotation
1 Garruk's Packleader
1 Lotus Vale
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Lotus Cobra
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Doubling Season
1 Oracle of Mul Daya
1 Myriad Landscape
1 Expedition Map
1 Paleoloth
1 Naya Panorama
1 Exploration
1 Rampaging Baloths
1 Petrified Field
1 Explore
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Font of Mythos
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Scorched Ruins
1 Fortitude
1 Squirrel Wrangler
1 Slippery Karst
1 Fresh Meat
1 Sylvan Safekeeper
1 Strip Mine
1 Gaea's Touch
1 Yavimaya Elder
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Harrow
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Kavu Lair
1 Thawing Glaciers
1 Life from the Loam
1 Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury
1 Tower of the Magistrate
1 Manabond
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
1 Tranquil Thicket
1 Parallel Lives
1 Nissa, Worldwaker
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Praetor's Counsel
1 Windswept Heath
1 Realms Uncharted
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Restore
1 Scapeshift
1 Summer Bloom
1 Sylvan Scrying
1 Wave of Vitriol
1 Worldly Tutor
1 Zuran Orb

                 Ah yes, I did say in the opening that I wanted to discuss a new format, didn't I? I really wanted to talk about the very cool Tiny Leaders format, but the more I thought about, the more I thought it deserved its own article. Plus, the format seems to have caught on like wildfire AND it's being shaken up by upcoming cards from Fate Reforged, so I think I'd prefer to wait and dedicate a post to it. With all that said, that's going to do it for this installment.

Thanks for reading. I'll see you on the battlefield!

Eric Peel has been playing Magic: The Gathering since he discovered the game in college, around the time of Invasion block. Most of the time Eric's simply a devoted family guy, but occasionally he finds time to sling spells or become temporarily devoted to a Therosian deity. He enjoys multiple formats, finding fun and competition in Limited, Constructed, and Multiplayer Magic.

His current favorite card is Bloodghast.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the write up! Very fun read. I'm looking forward to seeing this deck in action at the weekly commander meetup.