Gruul Food

I think the mantra of the deck is if you can’t beat them, steal their best cards. Gruul Food is basically a green food deck with red to get the decent removal of red. Mainly Embercleave, Bonecrusher Giant and Akroan War. You also get some utility with Shatterskull Smashing being a land and a decent removal spell in the late game. Gruul Adventures has always had an issue dealing with Mono Green Food, due to the large creatures and the constant card advantage and life gain in Great Henge. With Gruul Food, you get the Feasting Troll Kings to give you a large body to prevent aggro and more Henges to help survive and get more gas. This deck sacrifices some of the early game damage that Gruul Adventures has, to shore up the mid and late game options. The idea that taking two of the top tier decks in the meta and compromising on them is interesting, I don’t know if you can do this with other decks but it’d be interesting to see if you could add something to help deal with your biggest issues. Most of the other decks are either 3 colours like the Yorion decks or are leaning heavy towards aggro or control and can’t really cut cards for others.

The deck itself has a fairly straight forward game plan, you want to start off with getting at least 1 three drop creature in play so you can hope to get Great Henge down early. That or you get Castle Garenbrig down and can play a 6 drop Kogla or Feasting Troll King down on turn 5. After this you kind of grind out your opponent as much as possible before they find a way to remove your creatures permanently. With the Troll King enabling his own recursion it is a bit harder to deal with him without exile. The deck feels more midrangey since it’s too slow to be an aggro deck but also does not have enough late game cards that can win the game outright such as Ugin or Dance of the Manse or looping Yorions.

Deck Playstyle

The deck as seen above shows that your main costs are going to be green with red being more utility than outright power. Also you have less copies of certain cards than you would in normal Adventures or Food, only 3 Feasting Troll Kings, 1 Embercleave and so forth. This is to allow you to draw more options than you normally would if you had more. With a dual colour deck, those 4 pip and 3 pip green cards will be difficult to hard cast. Which is where the lands come in, having Castle Garenbrig to give you the mana to play those large 6 cmc creatures is what will allow you to cast them efficiently and not worry about securing those 3 or 4 green mana sources.

My main hands that I hold will have a 3 cmc creature, Kazandu Mammoth or Lovestruck Beast are the best since they will allow you to play Great Henge sooner. I also like hands that give you your draw engine in Goose and Trail of Crumbs. Having this in your hand is worth keeping because you will be able to start getting free draws by turn 3.

The 1 Embercleave may seem like too few to be worth it but you don’t really need it, it’s a nice to have and will be dependent on the deck your opponent is playing. Your focus is to get Troll out first and Embercleave just helps later on. Embercleave is still great and worth having in the deck, we want a way to run over our opponents creatures if needed.

The Ketria Triomes are nice even if you have no blue cards that need the extra colour. It helps to get you both red and green and if not needed you can always cycle it, which is more often what you do with the card. I find unless it’s in my opening hand I will usually cycle it over playing it. Your highest pip for red is 2, so usually having 2 red sources is enough to play all your red cards. I like going up to 3 or 4 if I board in more red cards after game 1. Usually in game 1 having 2 red is enough.

In the sideboard is again more red to handle removal, with Soul Sear for planeswalkers and indestructible creatures. Ox and phoenix for the Rogues matchup and more Embercleaves to be more aggressive against control decks. While I think the sideboard is okay, there can be changes made to deal with your current meta. More escape creatures to deal with Rogues or more red removal to deal with aggro decks.

Best of 3 Matchups

This entire meta has been mainly Gruul Adventures, Rogues and Yorion. Though from the above matchup record you can see that during this run Mono Red Aggro made a return. The thing is Mono Red isn’t very good in the meta and I’m assuming it’s probably being played by newer players who don’t have a full collection to build the current meta decks. Also it’s late in the set, so with Kaldheim coming out at the end of the month it makes sense that I’m seeing non meta decks more often. With the deck ending up 29-21, this ties it with the Rogues list but also 42 of these matches were in Diamond 4 and up, while Rogues was only Gold and Platinum. I would consider this list better than Rogues but has much worse matchups when compared to Rogues.

I’m going to start focusing on how to play against the top 3 matchups I played against since it’ll hopefully be helpful towards the current meta.

Gruul Adventures:

I played against Gruul 6 times in the 50 games and went 3-3. This matchup shouldn’t be as hard to play against but Adventures is a bit faster and has a simpler draw engine in Edgewall Innkeeper. You really need to have Bonecrusher to deal with it and also decent ramp into your bigger creatures. Getting a Troll King down on 5 will usually lock the board in your favour but you won’t be doing that every game while Adventures will most likely be getting their small aggro creatures in play consistently. After sideboard they will usually bring in Akroan War for the Troll Kings and artifact removal for Henge. I don’t really like changing up the game plan much but will bring in Wilt and another Ooze to handle Embercleave, Akroan War and the early creatures. If you’re on the draw I would drop the Trail of Crumbs and bring in the Soul Sears. The Soul Sear can handle Vivien and most of their large creatures. The way you lose is if they get Henge going before you do, because they will most likely draw into Embercleave before you can prepare for it.

Esper Yorion Doom:

I faced off against this specific Yorion Deck 6 times and went 4-2. I’m hesitant to say that this is a good matchup even with the positive record. Gruul Food isn’t fast enough to kill them before they get to the mana they need. I think most of my wins were due to them drawing dead or not getting the mana they need. They have a lot of good removal for our creatures but they have to use it efficiently. Doom Foretold is a pain but you have fodder that you can sacrifice to it if needed though I’d rather just let it die and have it off the board. My sideboard plan is to remove most of my removal, Akroan War, Kogla are gone. I usually remove 1 Wicked Wolf, keeping the other 3 is okay because you can go indestructible to deal with their non exile removal. I drop a Witch’s Oven keeping one is good to sacrifice your creatures in response but you don’t need two of them since your plan is to push early. I bring in Embercleave, Vivien, Ox, Trail of Crumbs and Ooze. We want more early plays with Ooze as well as being able to exile their graveyard so Elspeth Conquers Death and Dance of the Manse won’t get them value, the extra Embercleave is there to push for damage and Trail is your draw engine.

Dimir Rogues:

This deck eats Rogues alive, this brings in two decks that the Rogues deck already has issues with. I had 7 matches against Rogues and went 6-1. Their only game plan against you is to mill you, going over top of you with fliers won’t really work due to your decent removal package. The Wicked Wolves will help in removing the Soaring Thought Thieves and with food can also remove the Guild Enforcers. If you keep applying pressure and force them to make bad blocks or to take too much damage, you’ll win. There’s not much they can do against you since normally they want to hold up counterspells or Into the Story. After sideboard, you should bring in all the escape creatures and all the Viviens. That will mean main decking 65 cards total, which will help against mill. I would drop an Embercleave, Akroan Wars and a Kogla. You’ll have to try and get out your creatures without them countering them but usually you can afford to throw some towards making them use up their counterspells so you can put something more valuable down. They don’t have an answer for Great Henge once it resolves so you can push even harder after that. Be aware of which Rogues deck you are playing against, the non Lurrus one may have a better matchup due to Zareth San stealing your Trolls/Henges.

Thoughts

  1. The deck floods quite a bit and I’m not sure the best way to deal with it. I’ve had a few games where I have a Henge down and only draw lands. Maybe boarding out some will help in games 2 and 3 but I’m not sure you want to get rid of too many.
  2. When playing against Dimir Control or Yorion lists that use Elspeth’s Nightmare, remember that Shatterskull Smashing is a spell so play it as a land if you have it in your hand before the second phase.
  3. I like getting red mana to two and then mainly going green unless you have multiple red spells that need more than two. You really need the green mana for Ooze and your larger creatures.
  4. Play your Witch’s Oven before a creature so you can sacrifice it if needed. Most decks don’t have an instant speed response to Witch’s Oven other than blue.
  5. The activation ability of Feasting Troll King is actually an interrupt on your turn, so you can use it as a response to graveyard hate if you have the food up for it.
  6. Be aware of the trigger order of Great Henge, always have it trigger before a Wicked Wolf so you get a 4/4 wolf to fight with.
  7. I like playing Akroan War as a finisher, but if you do use it as a midgame play, try to steal a creature you know you can chump with one of their creatures on the forced attack turn. It’s much easier to play when you have a Witch’s Oven down to sacrifice it at end of turn, in this situation steal their biggest threat.
  8. Due to more occurrences of Mono Red Aggro, I wanted to say the matchup doesn’t feel as easy as it should be. Most of the creatures you have work really well against the Mono Red plan, but the slowness of the deck puts you in a hard place to win before they do. I think you have to make sure you have Lovestruck Beasts and Bonecrusher Giants to stall towards your mid game. Once Great Henge or Trolls are down you’re good until they board in Akroan War.
  9. If I sideboard in a Soul Sear it is usually when I’m on the draw. You never really want to be reactive when you’re on the play and would rather add as much pressure as possible.
  10. Kogla is surprisingly good and if you have a 1/1 Lovestruck Beast token out and the Beast is dead you can bounce the token, mana available of course, to protect Kogla. Be aware the token is removed upon bouncing.
  11. I find the early turn sequencing to be rather difficult due to being in a situation where you’ll end up playing your spells inefficiently due to the amount of possible tap lands you can have. Goose on 1 to possibly play a three drop next turn but then only Kazandu Mammoth fits this line because the other 3 drops would lose value being that they would rather have their Adventure side be cast first on turn 1 or 2.
  12. Due to Gruul Adventures being prevalent in the meta, if you are losing early you can hold back playing the food side of the deck and fake out being a Gruul Adventures deck, which will make your opponent sideboard incorrectly for game 2.
  13. The deck plays 63 cards maindeck, which is strange and I don’t have a good reasoning for it but if you wanted to cut down to 60. It would probably be a land, a Troll King and maybe a Bonecrusher Giant.

Overall Thoughts

Gruul Food is better than I expected in the current Zendikar meta. It handles Rogues and Temur lists really well and is fairly even in matchups against Gruul and Mono Green Food. While suffering more against control decks I don’t feel like I played against enough control decks to prove whether that is true or not. I did well against Esper Yorion Doom but worse against all the other control lists. The deck compromises on early aggro to be more resilient and beefy in the mid to late game but it is still a deck that wins from beating down your opponent. Against control I feel like if they have enough tools to deal with you creatures through exile in some cases, you won’t be able to make a comeback. Also a plus is that it can throw your opponent off if they think you are playing Gruul Adventures. There aren’t many days left before Kaldheim comes out and this may not be a good choice moving forward but it may still be able to win a few games early before the Kaldheim meta settles.

Dimir Rogues Mill

I had to eventually play the Rogues deck this standard meta, this being one of the top decks with the best win percentage in the last major tournament. My problem with this is that I’m not a fan of playing this style of deck, while it may be annoying to play against and for those who don’t want to even touch it because of the mill aspect it is not an easy and simple deck to play. After playing through Temur and Gruul, the Dimir Rogues decks have been frustrating to play against. Sometimes you feel like you can’t beat them due to the amount of value they get from Into the Story or just the amount of counters they have with Drown in the Loch. The mill happens so quickly due to the Ruin Crab that you may not be prepared for it but the moment you pick up the deck you find out it’s not that easy. For all the games where a Rogue deck beat you with no issues, there are Rogue decks that are constantly losing. So I wanted to see how difficult it really was.

Deck Playstyle

While on the forefront the deck looks really simple, it uses a lot of rogues that were introduced in Zendikar and the landfall mill affect of Ruin Crab to give the deck multiple win conditions. Also using the graveyard numbers to allow for better counterspells or cantrips makes this deck very synergistic. But it is not an easy deck to pilot, it requires a lot of decision making around whether to hold up mana or to play out your rogues or pulling Lurrus, there’s just enough there that it’s not just a straight forward mill deck. So it’s an interesting build, a lot of small creatures that are susceptible to removal but held up to be resilient due to Lurrus and Agadeem’s Awakening. It can mill but also deals damage fairly quickly due to the buffs it can gain from Soaring Thought Thief, so you can get damage in fairly quickly, due to the evasive nature of them being fliers as well.

When I started with the Rogues list, I was playing a Zareth San version and was not doing well with it. I started out 3-0 and thought it was a pretty good list but then went 4-9 in the next games and decided to change the deck up. The list above is what I ended up playing and after the switch I ended up 20-12, so I feel like the Lurrus list is much better. It allows you to play WindRobber and also Agadeem’s becomes a 6 mana spell consistently and not have to spend more for Zareth San. That is also due to how limited the mana base is, you won’t really get flooded that much, you spend more time trying to spend your mana as efficiently as possible due to how few resources you have.

The mill gameplan is usually how you win game 1 while games 2 and 3 are to decide what your win condition is going to be and building the deck towards that plan. Against Yorion and escape decks (Rakdos Midrange) you don’t really want to mill them. You want to get to 8 cards in the graveyard so your cards get activated but no more than that if it allows your opponent to gain value from it. Yorion decks being more than 60 cards just makes it a bit of a slower game plan if you are looking at milling them. Though it is possible at times.

If milling is the game plan, you want to get value out of the Ruin Crabs, you really only need 2 on the board to really setup a clock. Most games that end with me milling the opponent is due to 2 crabs and me playing Fabled Passages really carefully as well. Also to make sure you have a way to keep your millers in play, this is usually your crabs, Thought Thieves and Guild Enforcers. Though letting a crab go is okay since you still have Lurrus and Agadeem’s.

The other win condition is just to get 8 cards in your opponent’s graveyard and have a 1 cost 3/2 death toucher and 2 cost 2/3 flier in play. The damage output is quicker than you think when you’re hitting for 5 from turn 3 onwards.

Best of 3 Record

The meta is full of Gruul, Temur, Rogues, Yorion and Food. The only matchup that I feel is a bad matchup is Gruul and Food while Yorion can be tough, Rogues is pretty resilient against most slow decks. Ending my run at 29-21 is the best record I’ve gotten during this standard meta and for a deck that I was dreading to play and didn’t have that much joy playing, it ended up going better than I thought. Though I was 18-19 before going on a 9 match win streak without realizing how it was happening. I think taking 37 matches before being able to figure out how the deck should be played really shows how it isn’t as easy as it looks from the other side.

While playing Gruul it felt like I couldn’t beat Rogues but the matchup showed otherwise, and with Rogues it shows the same. Gruul is tough to beat because you only have so many answers to use before Gruul gets going. The game plan in game 1 is to mill them and if you can’t get a good mill going from turn 1 it’s going to be really tough matching up to their creatures and damage output. You should save your counterspells for Embercleave and Great Henge but it would be situational based on your answers in hand and how you want to use them. Game 2 and onwards will be dependent on what they are boarding in, Gruul will most likely bring in the escape Ox, Phoenix or Spiders but trying to deal with them is tough. I’d still focus on a fast mill plan but also looking to do damage with your fliers. Gruul usually won’t have blockers for your fliers and will board in Spiders and Vivien to shore that up. Since most of the removal is Heartless Act you won’t be able to deal with the escape creatures easily, I like bringing in LullMage’s Domination to steal creatures that can block your fliers. Stealing also means you won’t have to deal with their escape effects.

While the Mono Green Food matchup is tough, your game plan is always to mill. You won’t be able to fight them on a life total basis, food keeps them going and the large creatures make it hard to push through. Green doesn’t have anything to counter or easily remove your creatures so you can stall and just mill away without too much issue. Wicked Wolves will cause issues since that removal will also put a creature into play that is hard to remove due to its own ability. Feasting Troll King makes blocking almost impossible, so you really want to mill before they get their food source going. While you can board in Cling to Dust I don’t like it here because it doesn’t deal with all of the other threats in the deck and only deals with Troll King.

The Temur matchup is the easiest I feel, Temur doesn’t have a good answer to mill effects and even after sideboard they don’t want to move too far away from their normal game plan. So you can usually out last them and mill without too much worry. Due to the extensive mana they can obtain I usually bring in a split of Negates and Mystical Disputes but will side more heavily towards Negate if I see they are heavy ramp vs being Obosh. When I was playing Temur Obosh I would board out all but 1 Genesis Ultimatum and just play value creatures. I’m not sure if this is still the plan currently but be aware that Obosh decks could go more creature heavy and avoid playing Genesis Ultimatums into your counterspells.

Yorion decks are kind of split, you can usually beat them down early but they have good answers to the beatdown option of Skyclave Shades. Though due to your low to the ground cost, their Elspeth Conquers Death will be less value for them. I have been able to mill a few Yorion decks and it’s due to having Ruin Crabs early but I usually side out 1 for game 2 and 3. You really want good counterspells here since most of their effects are ETBs. So I would probably bring in a few Negates and remove Lullmage’s Domination and the BloodChief’s Thirst.

Thoughts

  1. The deck should play slow since you want to mill to win game 1, while there is a control version of the deck this isn’t that but it’s not a beat down deck against other aggro decks.
  2. You can somewhat aggressively mulligan to meet your game plan, if it’s beat down you need your rogues early, if it’s mill try to get Ruin Crabs.
  3. You don’t want to throw away your Fabled Passages too quickly, they are your best mill enablers for Ruin Crab. If you have 2 crabs in play, 1 Fabled Passage is 12 cards milled which is 20 percent of a normal sized deck.
  4. WindRobbers are really good at taking blocks and sacrificing it for a draw. With Lurrus you can keep preventing damage and getting draws to find an answer.
  5. The deck runs through cards really quickly so you do need to have your cantrips actually draw you cards. Make sure you’re not playing them into open blue mana.
  6. Try to get Lurrus into your hand early or when possible, you will rarely have enough lands to pull it into your hand and play it for value on the same turn.
  7. I prefer to play the dual lands and Fabled Passages as swamps. Though it’ll be case to case on what colour you need.
  8. Be aware you’ll need 3 black and 3 blue for Agadeem’s and Lullmage’s Domination, respectively. Due to this make sure you have the needed colours to play them. I find planning your colours ahead of time you can surprise someone with Lullmages before they can deal with it.
  9. Try to play most of your cards on your opponents turn, due to having instants and flash affects you’d rather them spend mana on their turn to deal with your cards than on yours.
  10. I like playing Ruin Crab on turn 1 when I can since it can cause your opponent to answer it as soon as possible and limit their options against your rogues. Just make sure you have lands for the following turn to mill effectively.
  11. If you have Agadeem’s in hand and 6 mana to play it, you can play Lurrus without too much worry. Since you can get it back and force your opponent to spend removal. Though the caveat is against exile decks.
  12. Both black and white has exile affects, be aware of them since you don’t want your limited creatures to be removed in a way that you can’t recur them.
  13. Always be aware of your opponents library size. There are times where you can find a win if you can get enough mill through.
  14. You don’t have to play your lands right away if you know you have crabs in your library still and if you have at least 6 or more mana on board. Running out of lands to mill your opponent could set you back.
  15. Into the Story is your best comeback card, make sure you can play it and be aware of escape cards that can prevent you from playing it if you give them a turn to escape.

Overall Thoughts

While I’m not a fan of the deck, I can say that it is very good and takes a bit of practice before understanding the nuance of playing it. When to hold up mana versus when to use it, when to play beat down versus mill. There are choices to how to play the deck and being a good pilot of it will get you very far in the rankings. While it is a good deck be aware of your very well known game plan, you can be picked apart if they are able to handle your threats and prevent your card draws. I like the Lurrus version due to recursion and having more ways to do that keeps you in the game. The original deck only had Agadeem’s Awakening for that and it would constantly be countered or wouldn’t be worth it due to the limited mana. The other deck also played Brazen Borrowers over WindRobbers which also felt bad, since two blue is quite costly at times and a three mana creature is kind of expensive when you can’t play it easily. Windrobber gives you card draw which could get you an out when needed. It’s happened a few times for me and I feel there were occasions where I didn’t want a Borrower but never really felt that way with Windrobber. Sure if you don’t have 8 cards in your opponents graveyard Windrobbers are less valuable but that is the case with most of your cards. I wasn’t expecting to get a high win rate with the deck but I needed to spend more time to play it and lose with it before understanding how to play it in certain situations. I still don’t believe I’m a great pilot of the deck either but the winrate shows that it’s still the best deck in standard.

Gruul Adventures

The current tier 1 deck in standard and possibly the best deck to pay for new players within this meta. While it’s not the only tier 1 deck I believe this is a much easier to pilot deck while still having interesting sideboard options to move it to multiple win conditions if it goes up against a bad matchup. As with the Temur list I talked about last month, this deck gets a lot of value out of its adventure cards and it shows the power level of Eldraine again as a set. Also there isn’t just one build for this deck, I don’t even think the deck list I used is all that optimal but I was building it for ladder versus a tournament where you know the opponents decks. So the deck is built to try to win games against the largest percentage of the meta while letting go of already unfavourable matchups. This means a lot of my focus is on matchups against Rogues, the mirror and possibly Temur, Yorion and Mono Green Food lists. While Gruul had a slight dip in usage when Mono Green Food showed up, it has quickly come back into the meta as the most played deck. I believe this is due to a versatile deck list that most players can build as well as already using a number of cards that have always been meta relevant, where as Feasting Troll King only recently was being looked at more prominently since Zendikar dropped. So most players wouldn’t have Feasting Troll King ready to just build a Mono Green Food deck, I know I don’t have a full set of them. Though I do have a large amount of cards for Gruul just due to playing adventure cards during most of the last few sets. As well as Embercleave and Great Henge having been a staple piece in the meta. For anyone looking to rank up on the MTGA ladder, I would recommend Gruul, though be prepared to see a lot of the mirror.

Deck Playstyle

The deck plays aggressively game 1 and may move to a more midrange style depending on the opponent. There are a lot of low cost creatures in the deck and the aim is to get in damage whenever possible for a later Embercleave turn to close out the game. The starting turns usually consist of a turn 1 Lovestruck Beast token into either Edgewall Innkeeper or Brushfire Elemental, depending on the value plan. Brushfire will allow you to get in a substantial amount of damage before your opponent can fully get their game plan together. Also the fact that it has haste and can’t be blocked by low power creatures means you’re almost guaranteed to get in 3 damage. You still have to be careful with how you play it, a turn 2 Brushfire that eats a Bonecrusher Giant’s Stomp is not great, but also playing it on turn 3 could slow you down.

While on the other hand you could just play Edgewall Innkeeper and then play Lovestruck Beast on turn 3 for value. If they target the Edgewall, it may have eaten removal for your Lovestruck Beast to survive and get either a Great Henge or Embercleave on turn 4 for a large amount of value. Either way you force your opponent to stop your value game versus playing reactively.

These are the common starts you want to look for, while your hand should hold as much game enders to get to your win condition. On that note, your starting hands are usually playable if not efficient, I did find that mana is an issue even though you have decently clean mana for a two colour deck. Plenty of spell lands to shore up mana screw and flood, but it doesn’t seem to always work that way. While you don’t need a lot of mana to make the deck work, I’ve found that I’ve rarely had a game where I hit 5 mana consistently.

After game 1 though you decide how the deck changes. Against control decks you try to maintain the aggressive game plan but also bringing in answers to their changes as well. I find that most control decks bring in a lot more removal so you really want to get damage in early or get a Great Henge or Vivien down on curve. The deck never really shifts away from the “Embercleave them on turn 4/5 and win” game plan but you may make concessions due to the extra removal they’ll be bringing in.

Against aggro decks, depending on the creature toughness, you may decide to bring in Fire Prophecy to handle 3 toughness that Bonecrusher’s Stomp can’t. Such as the Rogues decks that have Ruin Crab and Soaring Thought Thief, creatures you should be removing but won’t be able to with the 2 damage stomp. You may want to bring in Akroan War to help you take a blocker away for a decent Embercleave next turn, or you might just not make any changes since the main deck does fairly well against small aggro decks like Mono Red.

Bo3 Record

After 50 best of 3 matches, within platinum and diamond, you can see that I had an overall win percentage of 54%. I believe this was actually around 60% until I hit diamond which then I was playing against better players and ended up losing more than winning in the final stretch.

You can also see that the most frequent matchups are against the Gruul mirror, Temur Obosh, Esper Doom and Rogues. I had split up the Rogues decks but together they total to 10% as well. This has been the meta since the Omnath ban. With Mono Green Food taking a small percentage, which is good for us since Gruul does not matchup well against Food.

Gruul does fairly well against Rogues, you can just overpower them with your creatures and you end up forcing them to make bad blocks when you have Embercleave ready. There are times where Rogues can deck you but again they have to play with a very good starting hand to keep you off of your momentum. After sideboard, you get escape creatures in Aracnir and Ox of Agonas to keep your graveyard clean and them without a cheap way to play their Into the Story.

Gruul also does really well against Temur, due to most Temur Ramp lists and even Obosh durdling the first few turns. While I do have positive win rates against the Temur variants, you are on a clock and a single Genesis Ultimatum can end the game since the creatures in the Gruul deck cannot stand toe to toe against the Temur creatures. You may want to bring in removal to deal with the early creatures, so you can constantly get damage in. Them playing Lovestruck Beast on turn 3 can stall the board and set you behind. The fastest I’ve seen a Genesis Ultimatum be played is turn 5 so be prepared for it.

Against Yorion decks it gets a bit tougher, you almost have to play more aggressive and hope they aren’t playing a wrath effect like Shatter the Sky. It does depend which Yorion decks you play against, in my games I saw mainly Esper and Dimir variants and a couple of games were Abzan but I don’t see Abzan enough to understand the matchup. For Esper and Dimir you will need to be aggressive, while I will play Soul Sear from the sideboard to try and deal with Planeswalkers, I would only do it if I know that Planeswalkers are a big part of their win condition otherwise I will just focus on the value game. If you can avoid over committing to wraths and get enough creatures on board to give them a hard time they won’t be able to hold on for long.

The mirror is strange, I think the mirror gives way to whoever can stick an Embercleave first. While that doesn’t mean you outright lose but it is very difficult to come back when you’re getting hit for that much damage. I would board in more removal to handle the early game creatures and not let them get Great Henge or Embercleave down. This is where Wilt may come in handy and is a bit better than the Embereth Shieldbreaker.

Mono Green Food is a lost matchup, I didn’t win a single matchup against the deck and while I could steal a game here or there, they are able to get creatures on the board and remove yours while doing it. You don’t have a good way to trade through a Feasting Troll King and the Wicked Wolves will usually handle anything you have on board. Again I think you win on aggression and preventing them from getting any value pay from the Wicked Wolf. They play a few mana dorks and getting rid of those early will slow them down a bit. Having not won a matchup I’m not sure what else can be done, possibly a change to the deck itself is needed.

Thoughts

  1. I would almost always play Lovestruck Beast on turn 3 and Kazandu Mammoth on 3 if you have a land for next turn. This will at least enable you to play a Great Henge on 4 and if it sticks it’ll be hard to remove.
  2. You should think about whether you can play Brushfire Elemental as a 1/1 for Lovestruck Beast, sometimes I just use it to enable the Beast for more damage.
  3. The starting hands I like are ones with 3-4 lands, Lovestruck Beast and maybe Stomp or Edgewall or Brushfire.
  4. I find I get mana screwed more than flooded so due to this I don’t like keeping 2 land hands but I usually have such a good curve if I draw a third land that I do keep those hands. It usually hasn’t worked out for me.
  5. If you have two Embercleaves sometimes it’s okay to force one early and use the second one next turn for a surprise Embercleave switch in the middle of combat.
  6. Akroan War works better as a finisher than to stall, it doesn’t do enough to steal a creature and give it back two turns later. You almost always want to take a creature to prevent blocking unless it can provide value immediately like a haste creature.
  7. I like playing Bonecrusher Giant against black removal decks due to the small 2 damage will add up and allow you to more easily find room for lethal damage.
  8. There is so much efficient removal for your small creatures that I usually board a few out during game two and three. Going down to 3 Edgewall or 3 Brushfire is okay if it blanks a few of their removal like Elspeth’s Nightmare.
  9. I’ve mainly used Vivien’s +1 when bringing her in but they more I think about it, the -3 is really helpful when you need a 1/1 for Lovestruck Beast or just a Brushfire to get in that extra damage. I would want to try using the minus more if I get a chance to go back to the deck.
  10. Gemrazer is a card you won’t see much in other lists but I like it due to having another answer to artifacts and enchantments that most players won’t expect. Also the reach is nice to have against fliers in general since that is another reason you could lose the game. You won’t have an answer to fliers until you bring in Vivien. You can decide whether you leave it in the main when you board in Wilts for games 2 or 3.
  11. Garruk is really good at pushing damage as well. One of is enough to surprise someone who isn’t expecting it.
  12. I like having Primal Might for the first game as a form of removal and finisher if need be. There are a few times where it just acts as an efficient pump spell and you just kill them out of no where.

Final Thoughts

Gruul is one of the best decks in the current meta. Its only bad matchup is Mono Green Food but that deck is not great against the rest of the field so it leaves Gruul to continue running through games in ranked. While I feel Rogues has a better win rate overall in the meta, it’s a much harder deck to pilot than Gruul. This deck is fast and requires the opponent to react rather than direct, which is great for a deck that can just win due to an Embercleave. I do think that bad habits with the deck will be hard to relinquish, once I got to diamond I had to play a lot cleaner and there were a lot of mistakes that cost me games. The deck may be easy to pilot but there are so many different choices that can be added or removed it requires some attention to the current meta to be able to play with a consistent win rate.

Temur Obosh Adventures

Temur has had a tumultuous time during the Zendikar format, at the start of it Temur was the strongest deck due to the large amount of value Omnath would provide to the deck. While the Omnath decks are 4 colour decks due to Omnath himself, I still see it as a Temur deck due to the limited need of white in the deck. Moving forward past the bans, we now have Temur situated into two camps with the same end game plan. Temur can be played as a pure ramp deck that ends the game with either Ugin or a Genesis Ultimatum into hard to handle permanents. We also have this deck, the Temur Obosh Adventures deck which still uses Genesis Ultimatum as a late game finisher but also has mid game value creatures to stall towards that end game or may just end the game on their own.

During the December season I noticed that Temur Obosh Adventures was put into Tier 1 on certain players list of decks. While playing the deck to see if it really deserved that distinction I felt that the deck itself is too slow to beat Gruul or Rogues on a consistent basis but does have a huge shift in the state of the game depending on what Genesis Ultimatum can pull for you. My feeling on any tier 1 deck is that it has the ability to consistently beat the tier 2 decks but will trade with the other tier 1 decks. While playing Temur Obosh Adventures, the only other tier 1 deck at the time was Mono Green Food, both Gruul and Rogues were relegated to tier 2. Which may have been the main reason Temur Obosh Adventures had been given a place in tier 1, seeing that it was able to consistently beat Mono Green Food. Though I did not see why Gruul and Rogues were moved to tier 2, they were both extremely prevalent in the meta and still held a sizeable win percentage over Temur.

After the Zendikar tournament, Temur was moved back to tier 2 with Mono Green Food and both Gruul and Rogues were moved back to tier 1, which is where I felt they should have always been. Even if the tournament meta had more players playing Mono Green Food previously it should not be what is used to determine the tier that the other decks belong in, it should always be about matchup power between the decks.

Deck Playstyle

Above is the decklist I was using, there are a lot of different variations to the deck. Mainly around what is being used in the sideboard and which modal lands to use for the main deck. I chose to use Kazuul’s Fury due to liking a Fling like ability to end games if needed and to reduce the number of Cultivates to support more Great Henges and have less need for the Riverglide Pathways.

The way the deck works is you want to focus on your ramp spells early to be able to use Genesis Ultimatum to develop the board or to even end the game. You still get value from the Edgewall Innkeeper and the Adventure creatures that have been prevalent since Eldraine. In cases where you do not have ramp spells in your opening hand, the value creatures can cause enough issues for your opponent that they’ll have to spend their resources to deal with them even before Genesis Ultimatum is ready to be played. Which is a benefit the Temur Ramp decks don’t have, they need to ramp hard because their heavy hitters require much more mana. While I rarely won games off of the adventure creatures alone, I more often then not got them to a low enough life total that a single Genesis Ultimatum was enough to force a concede. This allows you to push the opponent to worry about multiple ways to lose rather than hold up mana just to handle the 1 Genesis Ultimatum and then kill you. Most of the time you spend the first few turns ramping or playing value creatures. Obosh should not be a consideration until really late, and will always be there if needed, in the 50 matches I played I believe Obosh may have only been played 29 times, so overall in 100+ games Obosh was played possibly 30% of the time and only won me 59% of those games. While it’s a really great finisher the game plan isn’t to play it in every case.

Bo3 Record

From the above image you can see that I ended my 50 matches at 28-22, with 10 of those matches in Gold and the rest in Platinum. While playing the deck the beginning of the season was fairly even with losses and wins, I was at 15-15 before the wins started coming more easily. The last 10 matches were less even with mainly losses. What this tells me about the deck is that it has that swing potential due to Genesis Ultimatum. There were many games where I was behind only to Genesis Ultimatum into a win or into stabilizing.

You can see that the meta was mainly Gruul, Rogues and Esper Yorion, I was expecting more Mono Green Food but I think with it being played less in tournaments also pushed more players back to playing Rogues and Gruul. You can also see Dimir Control making a larger cut of the meta than before, I think this is due to Dimir Control being played pretty often by streamers and content creators which drove the popularity up, while also doing fairly well in a meta that is skewed towards aggro creature decks or late game control decks. Which Dimir Control does fairly well against.

You can see that I split Rogues up into two categories, Mill and Rogues. I did this due to the separation of win conditions between the two. Where Mill looks to deck you while Rogues are more looking at getting 8 cards milled so it can started rolling its engines. My feeling between the two is that the Mill version is hard to play against, they get to Mill on turn 1 while you won’t be doing much till turn 3. You do not have any answer for Ruin Crab until you can get creatures on the board. While against standard Rogues you can stabilize a bit easier and handle their creatures before they get too far ahead. 2 Ruin Crabs is enough to set you very far behind by turn 3.

The worst matchup seems to be Rogues, while I did have a 50% winrate against the normal Rogues deck, having 0% win ratio against the mill version is very bad. Rogues just Mills too quickly and this deck durdles a little too much to be able to face them. While it is possible to win a game here or there, I don’t think you’ll consistently do it.

Gruul is a better matchup and while they can kill you fairly quickly, you have better tools to handle them. I think in most matchup situations, you win if you can deal with the Embercleave. The matchup really is tougher in the first few turns due to Brushfire Elementals or Kazandu Mammoths into Great Henge. Stalling the board and not taking damage can give you time to get the Genesis Ultimatum off.

The matchups this deck is really good against is mostly control decks or decks that do not have a way to prevent Genesis Ultimatum from resolving. That leaves most Blue control decks to be harder to play against but also they have to decide whether to answer the creatures or hold up an answer for Genesis Ultimatum. The nice thing about our creatures is both Bonecrusher Giant and Terror of the Peaks requires the opponent to damage their life to remove them, unless it’s an Extinction Event or white removal.

Overall for a tier 2 deck the record seems decent. The current meta is okay for this style of deck and you’ll end up winning more often than losing. I ended off in Platinum 1 so I think if I grinded a bit more this deck can easily get to Diamond.

Thoughts

  1. The mana base is again rough for 3 colours but you do have decent ramp options to get to the intended colours. I almost always go for Islands and Mountains unless there is a better play in your hand. You have very few blue options so going for it early helps to not need it later.
  2. Even though ramp is the focus, it would really depend on if your current play is better to help you later. Such as needing to Stomp or Petty Theft something off the board.
  3. If you resolve a Genesis Ultimatum into Terror of the Peaks and multiple creatures. You can highlight each Terror of the Peaks trigger on the stack to see which creature it is taking the damage of.
  4. Remember that if Great Henge is a part of the Genesis Ultimatum dump, with Terror of the Peaks on board or part of the dump, the creatures are doing the final power damage which is after it gets a counter from Great Henge.
  5. If you have Terror on the board, Obosh doubles the damage from the trigger of it too. This can lead to a single Beanstalk Giant into a win.
  6. Make sure you’ve lost before conceding, a single Genesis Ultimatum can turn the board quickly.
  7. If you board in Akroan War, Obosh will no longer be playable as a companion. None of the sideboard guides say anything about main decking Obosh if siding in Akroan so I believe you just don’t play Obosh.
  8. Due to the value creatures in the deck and very little top end power, your Genesis Ultimatum will often give you a medium dump. Sometimes it’s okay to not drop the creature if you’d rather have the spell side, such as with Brazen Borrower.
  9. Also not dropping a creature with Genesis could leave you to add more value by being able to play Terror of the Peaks and the creature you put in your hand.
  10. Genesis Ultimatum will not trigger Edgewall Innkeeper with the Adventure creatures put into play, since they are not cast.
  11. Genesis Ultimatum will trigger Great Henge with each creature put into play since they are entering the battlefield.
  12. I can’t make statements about sideboarding, it’s very situational. I like bringing in Mystical Disputes against Blue decks and removing all the Ultimatums and Cultivates if they run a lot of counterspells but seeing that the Ultimatum is what wins games that may be incorrect.
  13. I find playing against Rogues Mill, you can’t really play the escape creatures easily. Either they get Cling to Dust or you never have the mana to play them. There are so many times that if I escape Ox of Agonas I’m drawing myself into decking so it’s a play I don’t want to make.

Final Thoughts

The deck doesn’t have a steep learning curve, you basically have a goal in mind and are trying to reach that goal. Due to this there are games where you just lose because you never draw Ultimatum or you get your board wiped due to an Extinction Event. Mill decks will hurt you a lot due to your dependency on mana and spells, if they mill enough of your library before you get going you may never reach 7 lands in time to cast the Ultimatum. Due to this linear gameplan most decks will know how to shut you down, play around that knowledge. Keep a counterspell up with mana to play both it and the Ultimatum, you don’t have to Ultimatum on 7 if you know they have mana up. Playing against decks that you know have no way of stopping the Ultimatum from resolving is very stress free. You can make risky plays knowing they don’t have a way to stop you. The main problem I have with the deck is the fragility of its plays hinging on a resolved Ultimatum, I won 71% of the games where I casted Ultimatum, which is the highest winrate when compared to any other cast card in the deck. Which doesn’t bode well if you aren’t able to cast it. While you have enough value creatures to win just off of them, I don’t think that situation comes up as often as you think. Usually you might be able to get away with just being able to deal consistent damage with them but you will rarely win off of just casting creatures. It’s the reason why I use Kazuul’s Fury in the deck as well, if you can get damage in and enough creatures up, sometimes the fling is all you need to win and you won’t need Ultimatum but it rarely happens.

Sultai Midrange

Sultai is my favourite colour combination because it brings into it everything that everyone hates in Magic. A little bit of ramp, a bit of removal, and of course counterspells. Sultai has been either non existent or the bane of the meta for the last few sets that I’ve been playing. It’s either destroying the meta of standard due to Uro or Krasis or Nissa or it’s not great because it can’t handle everything in the meta.

Currently in standard, Sultai is subpar. It’s not as dominant since the banning of Uro and rotation of Nissa, Krasis, Growth Spiral and a number of really good cards in those colours. While I do agree that the power level of blue and green has grown I also think that Sultai can still be fun to play without needing to be overpowered in any way.

The current list I am playing can be seen below:

Maindeck
Sideboard

Deck Playstyle

While the deck is called a midrange deck, I feel like it’s only midrange in the fact that it’s not on either side of the spectrum of aggro or control. Though I don’t think the deck is a true midrange deck, not what it used to be back in the Ravnica block. This deck is still very controllish, I find that most games you’re not really playing anything on the first few turns due to holding onto interaction or not having your 2 and 3 drops. Due to having very few 2 or 3 drop permanents. Your big plays are all on turn 5 and up being Gargaroth and the planeswalkers. Most games end up being games where you wait and play your cards on a very safe board. Since this is not a go wide deck, you will almost never get much on the board but you have a lot of options to protect or help when you do get a large threat up.

I’m not a big fan of playing this heavy of control in a midrange deck but I don’t know if you can play proactively with the deck. The manabase makes it very difficult to sometimes be able to play what you want due to having multiple spells that are double pip of the three colours.

Your removal package is very good, Heartless Act for most creatures, Bloodchief’s Thirst for planeswalkers and Extinction Event for wipes. This is what will be your main reason for staying alive, being able to remove almost everything once it hits the board. Soul Shatter is very good at doing this and sometimes the opponent doesn’t activate the planeswalker ability right away and you get to remove it for no value to the opponent.

Your counterspell package is okay, Jwari Disruption is probably the worse of the set. With Neutralize being hard to cast at times and Thassa’s Intervention just being able to give you outs when you need it. While I think the counterspells are important, I find that you don’t have enough to really help handle all situations so you have to be rational with their usage.

Bo3 Record

After 50 matches of best of 3 my record was 26-24. With the final 5 matches being after season rotation. So the first 45 matches were from Platinum to Diamond, the last 5 were in Gold after the reset.

From the stats above you can see that my win percentage was better on the draw than on the play. I don’t think that stat line matters too much due to how much variance is in the game and also the fact that I may be holding onto a bad hand when on the play. As for matchups, the Bo3 ranked meta is populated with Gruul Adventures, Dimir Rogues and variations of Yorion Doom decks. Most of the games were played during the start of the November season and I believe Mono Green Food was just getting more popular towards the end of it. I expect to see more of it when playing through the December season.

You can also see that those were also my main losses, losing to the majority of the meta is not great for a deck I was trying to rank up with. My main wins were against the less common meta decks, which justifies this deck being within tier 2 due to not being great against tier 1 decks but able to beat most tier 2/3 decks.

Thoughts

  1. Soul Shatter is a great surprise card, because it is a sacrifice instead of destroy, you can use it to go through most indestructible creatures. This has gotten rid of Dream Trawlers, Ugins, Viviens, Wicked Wolf and other creatures that are under protection abilities. Also being an instant is great, to be able to interact on your opponents turn and like I said above, if your opponent doesn’t activate the planeswalker right away you get to kill it for free. Due to most planeswalkers being the most expensive permanent on the board when they come down.
  2. The deck is kind of grindy, you have a suite of stalls and removals. Mazemind Tome does a really good job of filtering and keeping you alive. Always play until you know you have lost, there were times where if I just kept playing instead of conceding that the next card could have turned the tide.
  3. Sometimes the only way to win is hard casting Shark Typhoon and going to the skies. Having 1 big shark is not as good as being able to constantly create more even if they are smaller. There is enough removal in the meta to remove one creature easily. Against Mono Green Food you could probably get away with 1 large shark but also they don’t have much ways to handle a board of fliers, even then I would still try to hard cast it. We aren’t playing 4 so creating the shark might not be as beneficial in the long run, since you won’t have more available.
  4. The manabase is rough, there were plenty of games where I either could not get a second colour source out that I needed. Which really makes it hard to play cards and hold up counterspells, since both Neutralize and Thassa’s Intervention are 2 blue pips. It makes it hard to deal with certain threats due to Bloodchief’s Thirst and Hagra’s Mauling needing 2 black to remove creatures larger than 2 cmc. Gargaroth is your best creature card and it is 2 green pips.
  5. Due to the mana base, I find that I’m really only able to play one spell per turn, unless it’s holding up removal to instant cast. This makes the deck very vulnerable to Doom Foretold which is why that matchup feels hard to win. With Doom Foretold on the board it may be better to hold onto spells until it gets removed, we don’t have any enchantment removal, which means waiting for a turn to discard to it and have it leave the board.
  6. While the deck does have a good amount of removal and counterspells, those resources drain fairly quickly and sometimes you have to just let something resolve so you can deal with the larger threat later. Such as against the Temur Ramp decks where you want to save the counterspells for Genesis Ultimatum but that allows them to play their large creatures and get them on board with no issues. Or letting a Kazandu Mammoth resolve so you can counter the Great Henge that is coming afterwards. Every meta deck has some large threat that will need an answer to and that means you might be holding onto an answer for just that moment. Don’t waste all of your resources if it’s not needed yet.
  7. While the removal suite is pretty good, you still have to be aware of what you’re using to remove what is on the board. Bloodchief’s Thirst and Soul Shatter are your only good tools at removing planeswalkers so be careful when using it to remove a creature that you could use heartless act on.
  8. Your planeswalkers are your win conditions, so making sure they can come down and be protected is important. Though there are times when you won’t have a choice but to play them or die. This comes up more often than I would like due to the mana base issues.
  9. I side out Polukranos a lot due to the amount of exile in the meta currently. Black has Cling to Dust as cheap exile after removal, white has its standard set of Elspeth Conquers Death and Apparition. Green has Scavenging Ooze. Even red might have a burn spell that exiles as well, ie) Scorching DragonFire, Spikefield Hazard.
  10. I find it really hard to beat up on the Yorion decks because they play a better control game than this deck does. You don’t have the best sideboard to switch into a beatdown style either. Though I still think the strategy is to go faster than them, I don’t like trying to out control them.
  11. Gruul being able to resolve Klothys after sideboarding is a hard hill to climb back up. Board out the negates and hope you have Neutralize and 2 blue mana up in time to counter it. If they are on the play you won’t be able to stop Klothys from resolving and it will be very tough to beat them at this point but you still have outs. Mainly Extinction Event or Shadows’ Verdict when Klothys becomes a creature. Though this means allowing enough permanents on their side to get it to become a creature, which may also backfire.
  12. Shadows Verdict works pretty well against Gruul and Temur Obosh Adventures. Again 2 black pips makes it hard to cast but also you want at least 3 creatures to cast it against for some value. Gruul does sometimes have Questing Best which comes down faster than Verdict and can’t be removed by it.
  13. There was far more control in Bo3 and this would be the first time I did not matchup against a mono red aggro list. I want to say we matchup well against them due to good removal and good lifegain from Mazemind Tome and Gargaroth but there’s no data to support that.
  14. There were a few games where I lost due to 1 misplay, this deck is very pilot performance dependent. If you’re a good decision maker, you can probably carry this deck further than me. I recall losing to Rogues due to not leaving a blocker up for their flash creatures. I lost against Temur Ramp due to not holding up mana to counter their second Genesis Ultimatum that they top decked. Always be aware of how you can lose this turn and play to prevent that.
  15. Winning with this deck is more dependent on knowing the opposing decks game plan and preventing them from achieving it. I don’t feel like this deck has its own proactive plan to winning.
  16. If you do get to ult Garruk or Ashiok, you should be winning the game on that turn. This has only happened twice in my 50 matches. Both garnering immediate concedes from the opponent.
  17. I’ve only sideboarded in Cultivate with Ugin, and never one without the other. I’m not sure if that is correct. There are cases where you may want Cultivate just to be able to have more land so you can play your threats earlier.

Final Thoughts

I really wish this was a more midrange deck. While I did enjoy the intricacies of the decision making and what to keep. I really don’t like that most games I don’t do anything for several turns. Which just feels like I’m allowing the game to get away from me. The sideboarding with the deck is also strangely unbalanced. While you do have some choices to make when it comes to aggro vs control, there never seems like a good matchup to play Ugin in where you can get him down comfortably. You would think against Gruul it would be good but I rarely could get to 8 lands feasibly and not just die to Embercleave on turn 5. Also the spiders are only in the sideboard for Rogues, which is great while they are a meta staple but not good against other matchups, you’ll most likely only have 13 cards in your sideboard against everything else. Against Temur Ramp decks I can counter their first Genesis Ultimatum, play my threat on my turn and then not have another counter ready for the next one and die in a single turn. This is what I mean when I talk about game plan, the Temur deck has a clear goal of ramping, stalling, and then ultimatum for either a win or to get very far ahead. Sultai doesn’t have that same plan, it just grinds and plays a planeswalker or Gargaroth and hope they don’t get removed. Which is a terrible plan in and of itself, it’s not proactive enough to push the opponent to make mistakes. So overall I feel the deck plays fairly reactively even if you’re on the play. It’s a decent deck and if you play methodically you can make it work.

Boros Knights

The knights archetype has been pretty good since Eldraine, and while the set is still in standard the best cards are mostly Eldraine. The knights has Mardu colours that add more synergy to knights, Boros is just better as an aggro oriented deck.

Here’s the decklist:

Boros Knights

Note: The Temple of Triumph should probably be Needleverge Pathways, I did not have all 4.

Deck playstyle

The deck works as a heavy aggro deck that synergizes around knights that gain advantage with more knights, either being played or being on the board. Its win condition is getting creatures on board and swinging with Embercleave ready to flash in for cheap. Winning early with just a lot of power on board before the opponent can answer them.

Bo1 Record

In best of 1 after 50 games my record is 31-19 in Platinum 4. As can been seen below:

Best of 1 record

In best of 1 the ability to win games makes a lot of sense, it’s a deck that isn’t as prevalent in the meta. This allows you to surprise the opponent before they can make the correct choices to stop your game plan. You come down fast due to the small 1 drop knights in Fervent Champion, Weaselback Redcap and Venerable Knight. Your two drop Inspiring Veteran improves these one drops and now you’re doing a lot of damage by turn two. There are chances that you can Embercleave by turn 3 if your turn 1 and two can drop three 1 drops.

In best of 1 my most frequent matchups were against Mono Red and Dimir Rogues. My full matchup percentages can be seen below:

Frequent matchups and Win/Losses

From this information we can see that while Mono Red Aggro and Dimir Rogues are abundant in Bo1, this deck does well against them. Due to having larger creatures than Mono Red in the later game while still having decent removal to handle their creatures with Bonecrusher Giant. Against Dimir we can kill them before they mill us, most of the losses were due to bad starts where we don’t get Inspiring Veteran early enough to run through their creatures. While I have a winning record against Mono Green I feel like it’s a bad matchup. They get bigger creatures down quicker than we can really handle. If they don’t we win, but a turn 3 Lovestruck Beast is hard to push through.

Best of 1 Thoughts

  1. Sometimes playing just red mana until you really need white can throw off the opponent thinking you’re playing Mono Red.
  2. While the Temples are great for setting up next turn plays, having untapped Needleverge Pathways would be better. Though it does lead to flood and screw a bit more due to no way to scry away those draws.
  3. Holding up Worthy Knight and a 1 drop knight for turn 3 is okay to do when the opponent is playing a slow deck.
  4. Try to always get value from the Acclaimed Contender, so you can find Embercleave or an Inspiring Veteran to push more damage.
  5. I would play Bonecrusher Giants when you can, since they do not have knight synergy and having it on the board will eat damage and deal damage when they are a target to spells. Which could allow for a good Embercleave next turn.
  6. This plays similar to mono red where pushing small bits of damage is worth it so you can Embercleave into a win.
  7. Try not to over commit to the board against non creature control decks. The only decks I would over commit against are Ugin ramp decks since you want to win before Ugin comes down. It’s hard to win once he’s on board.
  8. Rimrock Knight’s spell ability works best with Fervent Champion when needing to block or force a trade.
  9. Rimrock Knight’s spell ability is great when trying to get extra damage from Embercleave.
  10. Sometimes holding onto extra Embercleaves can help you trick an opponent to block an Embercleave equipped creature and then you just play another one to put it on another unblocked creature for lethal damage.
  11. Tournament Grounds should only be played over a basic land if you need the extra red for Embercleave. Usually playing a basic land is better since you have Adventure spells that cannot be played with Tournament Grounds

Best of 3 Record

In best of 3, I had the complete opposite record from best of 1. I was 19-31 in Platinum 4. My record and matchups can be seen below:

Best of 3 record
Best of 3 matchups

From this data we can see that Gruul Adventures is heavy in best of 3. Also that we do not do well against this matchup. Due to them having good removal for our creatures with Shatterskull Smashing and just red removal in general. Their creatures are also bigger than ours and they have Embercleave, Great Henge and a card draw engine in Edgewall Innkeeper. All of this compounds into a game plan of getting under them as quick as possible and not playing into their game of gaining board advantage and stalling.

Another interesting note is that our matchup against Rakdos Midrange is worse in best of 3. This is due to their sideboard bringing in great answers to our deck. Using board wipes in Extinction Event, Witch’s Vengeance and Shadows’ Verdict. Also black having really efficiently costed removal makes it hard to keep our creatures on board.

On the note of sideboards almost every meta deck has sideboards that completely answers what our deck is doing. White has Shatter the Sky, where there is a large percentage of us not getting a draw due to the size of our creatures. Red has Storm’s Wrath which will always board wipe. Black was already mentioned and Green has the Great Henge. While we do board in Embereth ShieldBreaker to answer Great Henge, if they get any value from it that may just set us behind enough to not be able to win the game.

Best of 3 Thoughts

  1. Everything mentioned in best of 1 should still be considered for game 1 of best of 3.
  2. Sideboards will mostly be beneficial to the opponent. Sometimes it’s better to gear towards being more aggressive vs stalling or going wide.
  3. White has exile effects in Glass Casket that may require a sideboard of Embereth ShieldBreaker.
  4. You are very mana dependent and the deck is a low curve mana deck, I mulligan almost 70% of the time in best of 3 due to no hand smoother.
  5. You win game 1 on surprise, you will need a good curved hand to win games 2 and 3.
  6. While Circle of Loyalty can keep you getting creatures on board against control. The cost of it is expensive and you are still low mana, so create knights on their turn and not yours.
  7. Basri’s Lieutenant with Joust can work wonders against Yorion or multicoloured creatures. This doesn’t happen enough to help but it’s a good consideration.
  8. Joust being sorcery speed makes it really bad, and becomes one of those compromise situations due to not having better removal in the deck.
  9. While aggro is usually good against control, we don’t have the toolset to go faster due to the two colour mana constraint of the deck. Making sure your starting hand has both colours is almost adamant.

Final Thoughts

This deck is fun to play, you get to Embercleave without needing to play mono red and have better decisions due to the knight synergies present in the deck. I do feel that this is a best of 1 deck and should not be played in the current best of 3 meta. The current meta for best of 3 has all the tools to shut down this deck due to the narrow focus of the deck. We do not have ways to protect our creatures or remove their creatures. The burst potential of this deck is incredible though and usually double plays of Inspiring Veteran will just end games.

Mono White Auras

This deck came to my attention a few days after the ban. It was fairly cheap to build and didn’t require very many new Zendikar cards. It’s a low to the ground creature deck that gains its push through auras, hence the name. Here’s the decklist: Decklist

The list itself comes from a user submitted deck from Mythras, you can find his youtube here: Mythras Gaming. The video of him talking about the deck can be seen here: MG Mono White Auras

I also saw a video of Absurd Heroine playing a Bo1 version of the deck, again here are video links of her channel and playing through her version of the deck: Absurd Heroine and her Mono White Auras deck.

After 50 best of 3 matches, here is my current record with the deck in ranked.

Untapped.gg Record for Mono White Auras

Overall I was able to maintain a win percentage above .500 but it wasn’t a back and forth experience. Early on the deck was doing really well, I started out 9-2 but then fell to 17-10 and then 20-20 within a couple days. It had early spikes of winning almost every game to not being able to win even a single game. I attribute this due to the changing meta and the rise of Yorion decks, where they are able to stall out the game long enough to get the flickering engine going with the permanents they have in play.

These are my following thoughts about the deck and my experiences within the current meta.

  1. The deck runs out of gas really quickly. Due to having no creature above 1 mana other than possibly a Stonecoil Serpent, Lurrus, or Drannith Magistrate from the sideboard.
  2. Your starting hand needs to consist of at least 1 creature and some protection, whether that is Alseid or Selfless Saviour. As well as the ability to set this up by turn 2.
  3. You almost never want to play out a creature turn 1 if you are on the draw and sometimes maybe not even on the play. I would always play a 1 mana creature on the play game 1 and hope they don’t have a 1 mana removal. Since you don’t know what colours the opponent is playing you have to be more aware of the possible answers. Currently the meta has BloodChief’s Thirst in black and Spikefield Hazard in red, these two turn 1 removals will cause you issues and set you behind if the opponent are able to resolve them. Make sure that if you play a creature you can also protect it.
  4. Know the colour you’re playing against and the removals they have. Keep the proper protection versus those answers. The most difficult removal I’ve had to deal with is white exile. Skyclave Apparition and Glass Casket are in a lot of the Yorion decks and you’ll see them often. The only way to deal with them is with coloured protection, the issue with doing this is if you are protecting a creature with a lot of auras attached to it, all those auras will be destroyed the moment you choose white as the colour. Hexproof is a better option but the deck only has Karametra’s Blessing to do this until you bring in Mirror Shield from the sideboard.
  5. Lurrus feels crucial to keep recurring your protection creatures onto the board. Though Lurrus is a very large magnet for removal so you need to make sure you have protection. Also with the large amount of discard in the meta you can’t bring Lurrus to your hand alone.
  6. Committing too much to the board could set you behind if a board wipe is played due to having no card draw. The two main ones being played is Extinction Event and Shatter the Sky. Shatter can be protected against by being indestructible while the deck does not have a way to protect against Extinction Event.
  7. Most of my wins happen before turn 6, and they usually involve having Speaker of the Heavens out and being able to activate it by turn 4. This happens more often than I expected with the deck.
  8. The deck feels like a hybrid bogles deck, you usually have one creature that goes tall and everything else is used to protect it from removal. While also gaining you health with the lifelink creatures to keep you from losing a race.
  9. Sometimes you can win by offensively casting a protection to prevent blockers from being assigned. This has won me games against decks that tap out thinking they can chump against a large non trample creature. Do not do this when trying to run through white creatures due to point number 4.
  10. Yorion decks out value you, again if you can’t win by turn 5 to 7. Most likely Yorion will come down and get very ahead of you. Being able to flicker their exile removal makes it difficult to keep up enough protection to handle them consistently.
  11. You won’t have much mana available and needing to keep at least 1 or 2 mana open for protection will make it very hard to use your resources effectively.
  12. Even if your starting hand has 1 land and playables, keeping it is rarely a good idea. You usually need mana available for your protection spells.
  13. Towards the later games I started siding in Mirror Shield for matchups that didn’t have deathtouch creatures but had a lot of removal. The hexproof is really helpful in giving you constant protection and opening you up to use your spells more effectively.
  14. Drannith Magistrate was only ever helpful in matchups against RB Midrange, I’ve had a game where it held off 3 Kroxas, 2 Bonecrusher Giants on an adventure and an Ox of Agonas. I do board it in against UB Rogues but for a different reason.
  15. UB Rogues/Mill is very abundant in the meta and this deck will lose to it. While I have a fairly even record against UB rogues, most of the losses were due to losing key pieces to mill. The sideboard plan is to bring in everything and cut nothing. It doesn’t work all the time.
  16. While Heliod’s Punishment is your only pseudo removal, I prefer to use it against abilities versus just to remove a plain blocker. Removing a creature’s ability for 4 turns is very useful.

Overall I think the deck is fun and you can usually sneak in a win quick enough before the opponent can figure out how to deal with it but with the current meta shifting to Yorion controlling decks it’s harder to be able to compete. It’s very inconsistent and I find the mana base even though it’s clean, there are plenty of games where you will not get your 4th land and will have to make due. The removal package in the current meta is very efficient and even more so against this deck.

Week 52: Arkham Knight

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It took me a while to get through as much of Arkham Knight as I could, where I felt like I had experienced enough of it to offer a proper opinion on the title. In total I’ve put around 78 hours into the game, finishing off the main story, all side missions and all Riddler trophies the only thing I’ve not spent a lot of time in are the AR missions. I do feel that the optional tasks in the game may be a little much but they aren’t frustrating enough for me to dislike doing any of them.

Arkham Knight is the last title in the Arkham Trilogy, I don’t consider Origin a part of the trilogy, it felt like a filler game that was released to fill in for a year where there would be no Arkham game. Though Arkham Knight does make the Origin game canon I felt they needed to to be respectful to the developers rather than just ignore the game. I’m not sure how long it’s been since Arkham City timeline wise but the game starts off with Commissioner Gordon cremating the Joker’s body. Which ended up being the aftermath of Joker taking all that Titan formula after Arkham Asylum. I was actually really worried about the continuation of the series after killing off the Joker in the previous title but I think having Scarecrow be the main villain works out well. He doesn’t have the gravitas that Joker has when he’s on screen but I think that is due more to the voice work of Mark Hamill. Scarecrow in his own right should be here, he’s angry at Batman for making Killer Croc attack him. He wants revenge and he’s been waiting a long time for that, his introduction back in Arkham Asylum was one of the most memorable section of that game and it makes sense that he’s here.

Of course along with Scarecrow is a whole host of other characters from Batman’s rogue gallery. It wouldn’t be an Arkham game if you didn’t have to deal with the other villains, though I do feel like they could have been used differently. Compared to Arkham City, the fights against these villains never felt like there was ever a real fight. Only a few felt like legitimate boss fights while everyone else as more or less just an obstacle but I’ll get to that later. Since a large majority of the game was designed to be varied based on other missions and objectives around the city. Arkham felt more like a game revolving around objectives to solve rather than villains to thwart.

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I really want to commend Rocksteady on creating a game that is 3 times the size of Arkham City but is still very manageable due to the introduction of the Batmobile. This is the first Arkham game to feature a Batmobile under your control, unlike in Arkham Asylum where the vehicle was seen but did nothing more than sit there. Now with the Batmobile it gives Batman more mobility through the city but what it does well is it doesn’t completely nullify the usage of the grapple gun and gliding. Gliding was the main travel method in Arkham City and it’s still useful now though the Batmobile is the quicker way to make it across the 3 islands in the game. I do find that in certain places the Batmobile is the go to option, since it is new the design of the game is very focused on using it as much as possible. This does end up over saturating the game with Batmobile objectives or the fact that anytime you’re stuck doing something you can use the Batmobile to solve that problem. It ends up being the swiss army knife for different parts of the game. Which isn’t terrible but it was used a little too much and I can understand the criticism for that.

Vehicular combat happens quite a bit in the game and the Batmobile has an offensive mode that turns it into a tank to handle these sections. Wielding two guns that fire heavy shots and smaller rounds, it’s odd that Batman would put guns on his car but they sort of hint as to why he did this. The combat itself is very fluid. The car can move in all directions while in battle mode and is very mobile. The secondary weapons can be charged up to fire a volley of missiles, an emp or a virus to control other vehicles. The premise is that the other vehicles are all controlled remotely and therefore are not occupied by people. This allows Batman to blow them up without prejudice. Criticism here is that the Batmobile combat takes up a large portion of the game, which I would agree with. Most of the side objectives involve using the Batmobile to stop APCs or detonate mines which is fine but the worst part is that a large amount of the finale in the game involves the car, which feels strange. It ends up being more of a mech fight than actually being Batman. Which is not how you want to end a Batman game.

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The combat is the same as the previous title with a few additions, the ability to use environmental take downs and being able to use your gadgets as takedowns. There is the added ability of using gadgets while gliding to attack a group of enemies, which I haven’t found too useful yet but it’s interesting and maybe because I’m not using it I’m making things harder on myself. The addition I’m a little confused about is the ability to pick up the melee weapons that are dropped by the enemies. Mainly lead pipes and blunt objects, but with Batman already being a powerhouse with his fists, giving him an actual weapon makes him far too powerful. The weapon does break after a few hits but it is the answer to all enemy types. The brutes don’t need to be stunned if you have a weapon, the shield enemies don’t need to be aerial attacked, the stun batons don’t need to be dodged. It’s just too good, now maybe in the more difficult modes it’ll be required but in most fights I find that I can pick up the weapon and deal with the largest threat right away. It makes fights easy in that you don’t have to think about how to deal with the threat, you just whack away until they are unconscious. Other than that I think the combat has never felt better, especially in parts of the game where you are duel teaming against a group of thugs. It looks really impressive seeing Batman work together with other allies. I’ve always enjoyed the free flow combat and I think Rocksteady are the masters at this combat style, which has been heavily used in recent games but never as well as in the Batman titles.

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One really nice touch is how all the other characters fight as well, each one feels a little different from Batman, with the exception of Azreal who basically mimics Batman’s fighting style. I really noticed this when playing as Batgirl, where because she has a smaller frame than Batman when she needs to do any takedowns her animation shows that she is using the leverage of her entire body to do this rather than just her upper body like Batman. It really nice to see Rocksteady put thought into this since they could have taken the easy route and just made carbon copy animations.

Predator mode hasn’t changed much, there are a few new things added, such as vents that you can access from a vantage point rather than being on the ground. The new gadgets you get also affect the things you can do while in predator mode. Overall it will still feel very much like the other Arkham games except for one thing, which is a lot of the predator modes take place on the main map. What this does is it gives Batman an easy way out, if you are seen just grapple away or jump off of the building you’re on. This is actually something I really dislike about the game. Previously the predator modes were initiated when Batman enters a small space and can’t fight enemies due to them carrying firearms. This was well designed because there was no easy escape for Batman, now of course people would argue that you always just grappled to the rafters and swung around a bit for the enemies to no longer see you but this is still a game so an escape mechanism has to be a part of that. With Arkham Knight it just feels really un-Batman like to just swing to another building far away when detected.

Multifear takedown has been introduced in this game, which allows Batman to take out multiple enemies before they can react to him. It makes engaging in certain battles much easier but the strange thing is that most of the time it is being used during Predator modes which sort of negates the point of predator mode. I understand the reason behind it but the fun of predator mode was taking out enemies without alerting them. The multifear takedown will alert everyone, so you really only want to use it when there are a few left in the area.

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With the side objectives in the game you still have the Riddler puzzles but this time they’ve been halved, so instead of 440 you only have around 240. Which is really great, I think people got really fed up with the trophy collecting in the last game and reducing it by half is good. It also allows them to design better puzzles around the trophy rather than just finding them and collecting them.With the reduction in Riddler trophies comes the addition of other side stories involving the other villains. I didn’t have any issues with the side missions other than you never really engage against any of the bigger villains themselves, like Two-Face or the Penguin. Though the smaller ones were still fun to go through, like Killer Croc and Professor Pyg. Especially introducing someone as niche as Professor Pyg allows players to go and do research into the character. I’m also a fan of concluding stories, this being the final game in the trilogy means you can close storylines or characters that were from previous games. Though I feel like they really missed out on finishing the Mayor Quincey arc that started making him get involved in being possessed by the ghost of Arkham. Then again maybe that storyline would have been incredibly ridiculous and uninteresting. Getting to see Mr. Freeze come to terms with his wife’s disease, closing out the Ra’s Al Ghul disappearance from the last game, even bringing in the villains from Arkham Origins was a nice nod to the developers of that game. This allows for closure and there are few games that allow a player to have than when they end up being large franchises.

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I do think that the game still suffers from repetitive tasks, mainly involved around clearing out the Arkham Knight’s militia from the city. The militia is categorized into a few side objectives, destroying their APCs, shutting down their towers and roadblocks and defusing the mines set in the roads. The biggest issue with this is that these objectives keep replenishing after every act in the game. You can clear all of them at one point in the game and after continue with the story line the Arkham Knight sends out more militia troops to again populate the city with these objectives. It becomes a little annoying when you’ve spent a large time clearing them out only to have more appear later on. I was really hoping they would become more varied but they never do.

Getting back to the usage of Batman’s rogue gallery, I find that even though they are used and fairly often. It just isn’t as interesting as when you had to deal with them in Arkham Asylum or even Arkham City. Here your main focus is stopping Scarecrow and everything after that is just things to deal with on the side. While there are really good fights, such as Killer Croc. You also have fights that doesn’t pit Batman against the villain he’s trying to stop. Two Face is dealt with as a predator mode confrontation, Penguin is dealt with in a cinematic QTE, you don’t fight Harley or Poison Ivy. It just seems so wasteful to deal with these colourful characters in such a manner and ended up being disappointing.

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While the main game is really good, they’ve added in a large number of challenges inside and outside of the main game that gives the player more content to go through. Personally the amount of extra content is a little staggering, you get a large number of AR challenges each can be done with a number of different characters. You also get DLC in the form of separate storylines involving the other characters in the game. The largest and most interesting one being the Batgirl storyline, this takes place before the Joker paralyzed her. Extra content is always great to see, though I find this much a little overwhelming. It feels like I will end up spending more time to complete these AR challenges and that will end up over saturating my time with the game. Sometimes playing a single game for too long ends up making you dislike it a little more just due to time rather than the game being bad. I’ve experienced this with Far Cry 2, where I just was not enjoying it any further due to just too much time with the game. Though I have yet to experience this with Arkham Knight, I do think quality over quantity should win out most of the time.

Being a fan of the previous titles, I’m biased and I know I’ll enjoy this one even after all the qualms I had with it. I would say that if anyone disliked Arkham City, they will probably find no redeeming factors here. The game is Arkham City plus more, so it won’t win you over this time if you couldn’t find enjoyment with the previous title. I was thoroughly satisfied with RockSteady’s take on Batman and I’m looking forward to their next game. Which I believe is a Superman game.

Week 51: Magicka 2

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What I’ve missed over the years of change in the games industry is the abundance of couch coop games. There are a lot of multiplayer games but very few cooperative games that either take place in the same room or at least on the same screen. The resurgence of these titles have started showing up again over the last year with games such as Overcooked, Tower Fall, Duck Game and a few others. While Tower Fall and Duck Game or more competitive than cooperative they serve the same experience, playing a game with people around you rather than everyone sitting in their own homes. It gets people together and that is really the crux of couch coops.

We used to sit together and play games like NHL or Mario Party, two games which are distinctly different from each other but offered the same enjoyment. It got everyone together and multiple people could play and compete all at once. It brought enjoyment to getting together and playing games. Something that hasn’t existed in a while, with board games making a huge comeback I’m hoping we get more couch coop titles.

Magicka 2 is of course the sequel to Magicka, a game I only played a few minutes of from playing the demo and nothing more, it has some differences from what I recall was in Magicka. Mainly a larger perspective of the field due to the camera being moved higher up. A change to how the elements are summoned and probably a few other upgrades that I can’t remember about the first game. Overall it’s still a Magicka game and that means a hectic battle system involving the combination of different elements to create spells as well as keeping track of what is happening on screen while thinking of the next combination of elements to use.

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The basic mechanic in Magicka is creating spells from different elements. You have 8 elements to use and each one on its own can be casted in 4 different ways. They can be shot out from your staff, casted as an area attack around you, embued into your sword or casted on yourself. The elements themselves all have different abilities split into two categories, defensive and offensive. The defensive elements can be used offensively when combined with an offensive element but by themselves will not harm enemies except in one case. Where the healing element will harm the undead but that is the only exception. Combining different elements will also combine their attack pattern, such as the lightning element will bounce to multiple enemies, combining that with the fire element will create a flaming lightning that will bounce to multiple enemies. Besides the simple element combinations there are multi element combinations that will give your wizard a spell to cast. These combinations are specific and can be mapped to a key for fast casting but with a cooldown afterwards or can be created normally and casted immediately without cooldown.

The spell casting mechanic is almost the whole game and if you play Magicka as a single player experience it is the core of the gameplay. What makes Magicka unique is the fact that this changes when you’re playing with other players. Adding more players adds a sense of chaos to the game that makes it really enjoyable, having other people that can make mistakes could cause massive destruction that you just won’t experience as a single player. There is friendly fire in the game and with spells that can be used to cause swaths of destruction, you’ll most likely need one player to focus on medic duties. This element is what creates great experiences, I remember the best experiences with a game like Left4Dead was when crazy screwups would cost you a run. They weren’t frustrating they were sometimes just incredibly funny. I miss a lot of that now with more competitive oriented multiplayer game. Yes you’re still working together but mistakes can cost you the game which ends up being more frustrating than humorous.

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The other great thing about the coop experience in Magicka is how you can combine your spells with other players. You can use your shield ability to deflect another players laser into an enemy. It adds a more strategic element to the game that again you wouldn’t have as a single player. I found that when you’re playing by yourself the general strategy is to run in a circle constantly healing yourself until you get a chance to attack the enemies. It’s not the most interesting playing style and because of the constant rush of enemies it’s hard not to fall into this pattern. You rarely have time to setup for the incoming army, you just have to head straight in and react to their attack type and elements. This means dying a lot and figuring out what defensive shield to give yourself to avoid a certain type of damage. Even though it was still fun it doesn’t exemplify why Magicka is such a fun game. Being able to have one person spray water on the enemies while you shock them with lightning feels really good. Having a plan and executing that plan always feels good. Also due to the hectic nature of battles, you always have to be talking to your teammates. This is the core of what makes coop games enjoyable.

The basic storyline to the game is that you are trying to protect a chosen child from the invading hordes of goblins and orcs. While the story does end up going in strange directions it doesn’t really add much to the game. The world is full of memes and easter eggs and references to other games. It’s all very tongue in cheek at the same time, Vlad the main narrator and guide will show up with a different hand every time. I’m not sure what it is referring to but it must be some inside joke. The storyline does move us across the different lands in the world and you meet different races and people. The overall world’s view of wizards is pretty hilarious. Based on the first game apparently wizards were the unwanted heroes, they would come in and try to help but end up either destroying everything or killing all the people they were trying to save. Because the wizards are designed to be faceless, only having a hooded robe you end up viewing them as oblivious to the problems they are causing.

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The game offers a number of ways to play, the main campaign has different difficulty levels and after that there are challenge maps to test your spell casting abilities. There are even further modes that can be bought through DLC. There also seems to be an online component that I have not tried but that would also extend the longevity of your play experience. Though for me after finishing the campaign unless I can get more people to continue playing, I find that the game just doesn’t have the pull it needs to keep me involved.

My big problem was the fact that since I was playing single player for most of it, there was a lot of trial and error. You have to die so you know what you’re facing and then better prepare for the fight. You end up running around in circles healing constantly until you can apply a shield that will prevent the main damage to you. Not being able to prepare or setup for the next attack made me feel like I did not have control of the game and more that I was running through a trap maze. You just are trying to survive until you can put up a proper fight. The lack of control was really disappointing, I think with more players, you will feel like you are making progress in the game versus just surviving the game.

Magicka doesn’t really ramp up quickly but it also doesn’t hold your hand much past the first tutorial. I had to start figuring out element combinations and how certain spells worked on my own. Usually by killing myself with them but afterwards you start getting the hang of it. Memorizing spell combinations is also asking a lot of new players, I ended up memorizing one spell and never really changed. The other spells were learned with little fanfare so I did not notice that I had a whole bunch of spells to choose from until rather late in the game.

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I’m really looking forward to playing more coop style games, while Magicka is a great game there is a lot to take in. A game such as Overcooked is super simple to understand the mechanics, it’s basically two buttons but is made much more difficult due to level design and an emphasis on preparation. While Magicka is more based on the ability to think on your feet and react to the enemy types. I find that introducing people to games is best done without any sort of stress on them. A difficult game or an overly complicated game will push people away. This is why Nintendo is so good at making games anyone can play, simple mechanics with deeper complexity when you want to become better at it. Games like Mario Party and Mario Kart are fairly simple, but when thinking about how to win that’s when strategy comes into play. I really want more coop games to show up to give me a reason to play with others instead of always against others.

Week 50: Invisible Inc.

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I own a few tactical strategy or RPG titles and even though I’m terrible at them, I find them to be rather relaxing vs other strategy titles. When you play real-time strategy games, their is always a sense of urgency. The player has to be constantly aware of their surroundings and aware of what their opponent may be doing, all of this is done while the player needs to keep up their own unit/base/economy. Tactical strategy games end up being slower but also less urgent, each turn is thought out and planned before the turn actually happens. Invisible Inc, brings stealth based play to a tactical strategy interface.

The premise of Invisible Inc is that in this future Earth corporations have ended up taking over and running things. Invisible Inc runs a sort of uncover operation of stealing information from these corporations. The game starts off right away with their main base being infiltrated by the largest corporation and having everything destroyed. The only thing that could be salvaged were a few agents and Incognita, their AI used to help them break into these corporations. With only these tools left, you’re task is to get Incognita hooked back up to a large server so Invisible Inc can continue operating.

At this time you’re dropped into a tutorial level and taught the mechanics of the game. the way the game works is that you control a team of operatives. Each operative has stats that determine how good they are at certain skills, such as hacking, moving, holding items etc. Your operatives have a number of action points (AP) they can use this is used up whenever they move or activate an action, action points can be increased by increasing their speed stats. Moving takes up one AP for each space moved to directly next to the spot, so moving diagonally will take up two AP. Basic actions that can be used are peek, steal, and any interaction with objects or people. Peeking is an action all characters have and is pretty essential to the game.

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Peeking allows you to see into the next room or around corners without the enemy seeing you. This allows you to plan ahead and figure out how to deal with the next room. Peek will end up using one AP point, which shows how useful it is. Peeking around corners and through open doors shows you a wider vision and that extra vision may reveal objects that can be hacked. While some characters like Internationale has an ability that allows her to detect devices in other rooms, most of the time you’ll have to peek in to see if any security devices exist. There were plenty of times I forgot to do this and ended up opening the door and being detected by the person standing right behind the door.

There are a lot of operatives and while they probably all have unique abilities, I was only able to unlock 4 of them and between the 4 I found that Internationale was probably the best operative due to her being able to interact with the power stations without needing to be beside them. This gives you the ability to give Incognita more power so that she can continue to hack the security for you. The other operatives ended up being moved into specialist roles. Such as hacker or cleaner. While those roles are useful I found that giving each character some kind of offensive item allowed them to be able to move about on their own. Since you start every map without knowing where to go, I ended splitting up the team to cover more ground. Which of course has it’s pros and cons.

Every map has an objective and you start each session deciding what would be useful to you for the final battle. The levels range from gaining new tech, to getting more credits to spend on gear or to rescuing an operative to expand your team. Since the game only gives you a certain number of hours before the final encounter, you have to pick these missions to suit your playstyle. I was playing on the beginner mode so I had 72 hours before the final confrontation, with each mission taking up anywhere between 6-12 hours off the clock. In reality you will be able to finish 4-6 missions before the finale.

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With each mission having a specific win condition and being randomly generated, you don’t actually know the best way to tackle that mission every time. You’ll have to make decisions without knowing what to expect. For the most part the levels are fair, guards won’t just open a door and walk in on you. Though fair doesn’t mean the levels are easy, even on beginner I would have to restart a number of levels or rewind my turn several times due to just making poor decisions. With most tactical games this should be a given, that you will fail and have to rethink your approach to the level.

The hacking elements of the game are all done through Incognita, by activating her she shows you all available hacking options. Incognita has several abilities though I stuck to two main ones, one that recharges her power by 3 each turn for 4 turns but will need an initial commit of 5 power and the main hacking ability that uses 2 power. I never expanded beyond these two and I assume that is more to do with the missions I took than not being given more abilities. Incognita becomes the most useful in later levels where being able to disable security becomes a big deal. Though with only a limited toolset I probably did not utilize her in the best possible way.

The main reason why Incognita becomes invaluable is that while on a level each turn raises the security level. The higher the level the more security gets enabled, which can revive security cameras or add more guards to the level. Using Incognita effectively will allow you to get through the extra security without ending up abandoning your other operatives. I do think that they should have allowed more abilities to be unlocked for the beginner difficulty but maybe the really wanted to simplify the player choice for new players.

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There are a number of interesting mechanics in the game, if you end up knocking out a guard you can stay on top of the body to keep them from regaining consciousness. This gives the player two choices, either stay here so the guard doesn’t get up or keep moving to reveal more of the level. This ends up making one of your operatives useless for most of the game, if they end up sitting on this guard. Though you are allowed to drag the body with you which reduces the movement of the operative and makes them slower. It becomes an interesting trade off. Which is what makes most tactics games really good, having each decision you make matter.

The objective on each mission also has a slowing affect on the game, you know that when you activate the objective you raise the security level and add a bunch more guards to the map. This then sets up the player to have everything ready before every activating that objective, so it adds even more planning to the game. Since you never know where the exit is, if you find the objective before finding the exit you’ll end up waiting until you know the exact location of the exit. Which in turn causes the security to keep rising, it’s a balancing act to decide if you just want to rush the mission or actually get everything there is to offer.

Which adds another layer to the game, each map is littered with corporate safes. These safes contain credits that can be used to buy more equipment or upgrade your team. But staying in the level to collect these safes may make escaping even tougher. Later on in missions, the hackable equipment and safes may contain daemon programs. These daemons will activate once the equipment they are attached to are hacked. The daemons are all negative and will hinder you once activated. Usually you make the decision to take the negative effect for whatever is inside, even if you don’t know what it could be.

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The game offers plenty of replayability, especially with the expanded difficulty settings and custom settings for difficulty as well. I mentioned that I liked the custom difficulty settings in Ninja Pizza Girl and it’s pure coincidence that Invisible Inc. does this as well. Though on a much deeper level, you can decided how many rewinds you get, how many guards will start on the level and even more settings. It allows you to make the game as easy or as difficult as you want. I felt that the beginner difficult is just hard enough that it allows the player to make mistakes and understand the nuances to the game. Though I won’t have time to try the harder difficulties I can only guess that they will add even more challenges to the game. Besides increased difficulty you can also removed the hard time limit and play an endless mode. Which is a nice way to allow someone to see more of the game and maybe find more agents for their team.

Since this is a game from Klei, who made the great stealth action game Mark of the Ninja, the stealth portions in this game are similar. Though not as well done as Mark of the Ninja, but there are things added that making moving into and out of stealth easy and apparent, which is what Mark of the Ninja did really well. I do think that the guard’s vision cones are a bit too narrow, sometimes a guard would burst through a door and instead of scanning the room would just stare at the wall. It’s a bit strange but a wider cone may have just made the game too difficult. The game allows you to ready yourself and ambush guards, you are also given the option of running though I found that that option is rarely reliable. I did find that having an operative that has a long ranged knockout weapon really useful even if the ammo is low and the cooldown to reuse the weapon really long. Most of the time you are using a stungun to incapacitate enemies, and with the cooldown on them and the short range, if you get surrounded by multiple enemies it is useless to fight.

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Invisible Inc is a game worth checking out if you enjoy tactics based strategy games. I will try to find time to come back to it because I just don’t think I got everything I wanted out of it and I think there is much more hidden that I just couldn’t unlock. Playing in endless mode will probably be the most fun I will end up having due to not being rushed to the finale. Klei is still making great games and Invisible Inc is another one to check out, though I don’t feel like it will have the same addiction that I had with Don’t Starve, it’s still very much a solid outing for them.