Boomtown

When I write about Magic decks, I’m typically sharing ideas for the purpose of spreading fun around our card-slinging community.

Not today.

Today, I’m going to write about the antidote to fun; the extinction of fun. Well, except if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool griefer. Those guys will enjoy what follows an unhealthy amount.

If you play Magic to:

  • Meet new friends
  • Enjoy cool and complicated board states with big splashy plays
  • Shake hands with your opponent after an honourable match, then have them earnestly wish you good luck for the rest of your tournament
  • Still like yourself by the end of the tournament

…just stop reading now.

Remember the good old days?

You know, the days when it was OK to print cards like Sinkhole?

Sinkhole is one of a very specific breed of magic cards: the kind which shut down your opponent’s ability to actually play the game, starting on turn two.

While land destruction effects are widely despised in any form, they are typically confined to cards costing three or more mana; this allows a slightly larger window for an opposing player to try and establish themselves in the game.

At two mana, it is conceivable that a player going first could blow up each land their opponent plays every turn, beginning with their first, before a second can ever be deployed… or at least until the survival of those lands becomes irrelevant in the face of a vastly superior board position.

Thankfully, Sinkhole is relegated to older formats in which it sees little play – formats so powerful that they can shrug off such punitive disruption. No-one playing a more contemporary game will have to worry about such demoralising shenanigans.

Boom - Bust

Oh…wait.

Boom//Bust is a split card from Planar Chaos, which offers two options both decidedly unfriendly to the real estate on the board. For the uninitiated, split cards work very simply: you can play them as either of the spells printed on the card, although usually not both.

It’s also legal for play in Modern, a format which looks set to be used for at least one round of PTQs each season for the foreseeable future.

And Boom costs only two mana.

But I don’t want to blow up my OWN lands, you fool

Don’t worry, my disproportionately angry friend – neither do I.

Boom only

If Boom was guaranteed always to kill one of our own lands, we simply wouldn’t play it. It would put us at a card disadvantage which would rarely be worth the sacrifice.

Happily, there exist ways to make the card rather more one-sided. The first and best known of these is Flagstones of Trokair, a land which, when it dies, handily replaces itself if your deck has been constructed correctly.

Flagstones was used to mitigate the downside of Boom in this way in Time Spiral block and the accompanying Standard format, so many older readers may be familiar with it. However, building a deck with only four lands which can help us break the symmetry of our marquee spell is going to yield underwhelming results. We need more lands that play ball.

…which brings me to Darksteel Citadel.

Artifact lands are almost universally banned in Modern, having enabled the dreaded affinity deck in some of its more potent previous incarnations. A by-product of this ruling is an obsession on my part with running the sole survivor, Darksteel Citadel, in various decks. Those decks typically care about the land being an artifact, so it will play nice with Tezzeret the Seeker and Thirst for Knowledge; this one is a break from the norm, because it only cares that the Citadel can’t be blown up.

It is the ideal partner for Boom, enabling multiple copies all on its lonesome.

Eight lands still isn’t enough for me. I want more!

Fetchlands are not the premier target for a Boom, but they’ll do in a pinch. The trick works as follows:

  • Cast Boom, targeting your fetchland and an opponent’s land
  • DO NOT pass priority. On Magic Online, you achieve this by holding down the CTRL key as you cast the spell.
  • In response to your own Boom, crack your fetchland. Keep holding that CTRL key until the ability is on the stack!
  • Put your fresh new land into play.
  • Allow Boom to resolve. Since your fetchland is gone, it now only has one target: your opponent’s land, which will die ignominiously.

The reason that this isn’t an optimal play is that you need two mana plus a fetchland in order for it to work – so you can’t cast Boom on turn two if a fetchland is your only target. At worst, this version makes Boom into a Stone Rain, which is still a respectable spell; if you have a one-mana play which you can make using the land you just fetched, you’re still gaining some tempo.

Four spells does not a deck make

I’ll concede that point. We need more ways to blow up lands if we want the strategy to work. Luckily, there are cards at three mana which fit the bill.

  

Of this motley pair, I’m more attracted to Molten Rain. It’s marginally harder to cast, but I plan to deploy a deck which won’t struggle to hit RR by the third turn – and I expect the damage it can deal to be relevant.

There is an argument for running both, of course. To make a land destruction deck work, a certain density of spells which will take out a land is required… but having played some of these decks before, I also know that a great way to lose is to flood out on them. There is nothing more demoralising than dying to your opponent’s one-drop creature, which they resolved before you started blowing up all their lands, having smashed their manabase turn after turn. As it attacks you for two, over and over, as each draw step yields another Stone Rain or a land rather than the removal spell you so desperately desire, you may very well go mad.

I want to make space in my deck for cards which can kill creatures and kill my opponent. I also want to have access to extra copies of those cards and my land destruction later in the game.

This brings me to the card which, together with Boom, inspired this particular deck:

Welcome to a world of utter degeneracy

With Snapcaster on our team, we get to do dreadful, dreadful things. The ideal play pattern runs as follows:

  • Turn two: Cast Boom, hitting one of our synergistic lands (ideally the Citadel) and the opponent’s first land.
  • Turn three: Cast Molten Rain on the opponent’s second land.
  • Turn four: Snapcaster comes down, flashing back Boom to clear away our opponent’s third land.
That's exactly what was about to happen here... had my opponent not gone on rampaging tilt and disconnected after the first Boom.

That’s exactly what was about to happen here… had my opponent not gone on rampaging tilt and disconnected after the first Boom.

This is clearly an amazing draw, but it’s not actually that unlikely. In fact, simply drawing any additional land destruction alongside a second-turn Boom is very good against a lot of strategies.

Any deck can experience a draw which is light on mana – and in these cases, a couple of lost lands are frequently enough to leave them down and out. Even a draw which sees them make land drops on turns one through four can be severely disrupted by a couple of Molten Rains. The important thing is to capitalise on each stumble, bringing enough pressure to bear that an opponent can be finished off before they can meaningfully recover.

Choosing our threats

My first draft of the deck carried a suite of burn and creatures with which to finish off the opponent – but in an effort to maximise the land destruction theme, they included several Avalanche Riders and Restoration Angels.

  

This was a fine combination when it worked; the problem was, I was creating situations where an opponent was choked for mana early in the game, but I wasn’t putting them under pressure with these creatures until turn four and five.

I kicked the deck around with some much better players and arrived at the idea of playing everyone’s favourite one-mana threat, the mighty-morphin’ Delver of Secrets, to start bringing the heat from turn two onward.

  

I still had space to plump for some four-drops, though – but again following advice, I pushed through my budget-friendly instincts and traded my way to some premier planeswalkers:

  

Ajani supports my strategy in the same way as Avalanche riders, typically taking out a land for the whole game… but he can also keep a threat under wraps, give me some help burning an opponent out or even wreck their mana for good if the game goes longer.

Elspeth, as it was put to me, is just awesome.

Topping the curve, I wanted something which would hit like a train and help me to close out the game in short order. Happily, I didn’t have to shell out anything for the perfect candidate, whom I was fortunate enough to pick up for next to nothing when he was unfashionable:

Full disclosure: this guy is pretty pricey, so if you’re looking for a budget alternative, I’d try something like Archwing Dragon. It’s more mana intensive, but cards in this slot should generally only have to attack once or twice for you to win.

The rest of this deck is rounded out four copies each of four strong cards, all of which help advance your strategy or close the game.

  

  

  • All this deck ever wants to do is profitably cast Boom on turn two. Casting Serum Visions on turn one will help to make that happen.
  • Lightning Bolt needs no introduction. Alongside Lightning Helix, it gives the deck a means of mopping up creatures which have slipped through before you started cutting off your opponent’s mana… and equally important, it provides reach to let you finish things off before the opponent stops reeling and starts casting good spells.
  • Remand helps us to keep an opponent bottle-necked, whilst drawing us into more action spells. It can be surprisingly effective in a land destruction strategy: remanding an opponent’s play, then untapping, making a land and snapcastering a molten rain to cut them off from playing it again feels pretty good. That said, it’s the spell I’m least sure about in the deck, since I want to be spending my mana proactively with almost every other card… holding up two mana to counter something can be awkward.

Just show us the deck, already

Here is my current working copy of ‘Boomtown’:

Boomtown Delver

The maindeck, I’m pretty happy with. The sideboard is, frankly, a mess… but it’ll get better as I play more matches and understand which strategies I’m really gunning for.

  • Sudden Shock is a little piece of technology I adopted after some tough matches against poison, but it has proven to have further-reaching value.
    • It kills a Glistener Elf or an Inkmoth Nexus stone dead, regardless of how many pump spells the poison player has in hand.
    • It kills an Arcbound Ravager, or any potential target for his modular counters, without a moment of concern.
    • It kills Kiki-Jiki or Melira, as a Pod player goes for their combo, in a way that eliminates all chance of shenanigans.
  • Wear//Tear is a bit of a catch-all utility card, but I like it. So far it has destroyed Birthing Pods, Vernal Blooms, Cranial Platings, Inkmoth Nexi, and Oblivion Rings. I hope to snag a few Prismatic Omens in due course.
  • Slagstorm I’m a bit ambivalent about. I added it because I noticed that decks with an abundance of mana-creatures could ignore my core strategy – and I wanted to be able to punish them for committing lots of them to the board. I plumped for a three-damage sweeper so that I could handle a wider range of creatures… still, I’m not sure it shouldn’t be Pyroclasm.
  • Boros Charm… this used to be in my maindeck. Some games I would win simply because I had aggressively Lightning-bolted my opponent early, then managed to charm them for four, untap and snapcaster them for the final four… but my win rate didn’t really dip when I exchanged them for more Remands. I still have them as insurance against sweepers and some extra reach, but I rarely side them in. They should probably go.
  • Restoration Angel is here because A) I’m addicted to value and B) I sometimes feel like I want another creature or two which can sneak in damage. Since they aren’t essential enough to make the maindeck, I could see just dropping them.
  • Smother is my concession to Tarmogoyf. By including them, alongside a single Watery Grave, I give myself an out to one of the most popular threats in Modern. Short of that, I have to race the Goyfs or tap them down with Ajani, which is less than ideal.

Put your money where your mouth is

I may be about to punt a large number of these

I don’t generally build decks which have an eye on cut-throat competitiveness; it’s not my style. However, this is a land destruction deck with a healthy smattering of premium cards in it, so I can’t kid myself that’s it’s a purely fun contraption built for shits and giggles.

For that reason, I’m not going to treat this in the same way I do my other, more friendly durdlings: this is not something I will be running out in the casual rooms simply for the joy of playing. If I’m building a deck which is only acceptable in competitive surroundings, I owe it to you, the reader, to actually measure its effectiveness in that environment.

I will therefore be vacating the Tournament Practice room, where this deck was born and took its first steps, for the steeper climbs of the Two-man queues. My plan is to jam as many games as my ticket balance will allow, then report back to you with my findings.

  • If all goes well, it will be a valedictory post in which I pat myself on the back for a work of deck-building greatness
  • If it goes rather more realistically, the article will at least serve as a warning to inveterate brewers about how easy it is to throw away your money online

Be it tragedy or triumph, I will endeavour to make it funny – and to include a number of comedy screenshots, come rain or shine. Cross your fingers for me.

Who watches the Scotsmen?

I read with bewilderment, this lunchtime, a statement by the board of Clyde FC which offered some insight into the thinking of the SPL and SFA on the car-crash which is ‘the Rangers issue’.

Laid out clearly, for all to see, is the incredible blind-spot of the SPL as a commercial organisation – alongside the staggering impotence of the SFA as a governing body. Allow me to explain these two statements in a little more detail.

The SPL conundrum or ‘You can’t have it both ways’

It would appear from Clyde’s account that Neil Doncaster, SPL CEO, presented the SFL clubs with a rather crude Hobson’s choice. The Scottish game is, according to Mr Doncaster, poised for financial meltdown unless the ‘Son of Rangers’ is admitted to the first division of the SFL; admit them or accept the consequences (to the tune of £16m in lost television revenue and sponsorship monies). The consequences, in this case, also include the withholding of the £2m ‘settlement agreement’ which the SPL is committed to provide annually to the SFL.

Mr Doncaster’s case was simple: football is a business, the clubs and leagues are businesses… so act like it. We cannot wave goodbye to this amount of revenue.

I have to say, it’s a very reasonable position for a business. But there’s a problem with this outlook, because as Clyde have noted,  Mr Doncaster has not followed the reasoning through to its ultimate extent.

SPL clubs – and increasingly, SFL clubs – have recently borne the brunt of a fan-power tsunami. Supporters of all stripes have contacted their clubs to make their feelings known about ‘the Rangers issue’; there is no doubt that a significant majority are opposed to any preferential fudge in favour of a ‘Son of Rangers’ club. As Dundee Utd discovered several weeks ago, the strength of this feeling is great enough to have perilous consequences for season ticket sales.

Now, there is a school of thought which says that Scottish Football is more than a business: it’s an institution, a collection of clubs which transcend P&L accounts and balance sheets to existing as keystones for their respective communities. If one believes this synopsis, then it might be reasonable to assert that irrespective of how ‘the Rangers issue’ is settled, fans will just keep coming back anyway – because what would their lives and identities be without Dundee Utd/Aberdeen/Hibs etc? Perhaps this is behind Mr Doncaster’s decision to ignore the implications of concerted fan action on the clubs’ collective bottom lines.

Perhaps.

But one thing is sure: you can’t have it both ways, Mr Doncaster. Either the clubs are businesses which are at the mercy of their customers, or they are institutions which will withstand any financial onslaught by weight of historical inertia. They can’t be one when considering the sponsorship which pays your wages, then another when debating whether to give their fans the finger.

The SFA debacle, or ‘Don’t just do something, sit there!’

The SFA has a clear role to play in Scottish Football. It’s notionally the governing body, invested by FIFA with the power to license clubs and leagues, sanction transfers, run the national team and generally safeguard the health of the game in this country.

Over the past few months, a picture has emerged of an organisation that:

  • Holds deeply conflicted interests, particularly in their continued employment of Campbell Ogilvie, a man actually implicated in the Rangers EBT scandal
  • May already have known that Rangers did not meet the financial requirements for League competition last season, but allowed them to compete in any case
  • Is liable to be overruled by FIFA with regard to sanctioning Rangers for seeking legal redress outside of sport, should it fail to impose appropriate punishments

With this as the backdrop, the SFA appear to have decided that inaction is the best policy. While they have the power to simply state that the ‘Son of Rangers’ club will be refused SFA membership unless it enters the third division, they are paralysed by fear of what will happen if they exercise that power; in truth, they are probably also paralysed by fear of what will happen if they fail to do so.

Our governing body is unwilling to govern. This effectively makes Scottish football a ‘wild west’ environment, where the outlaw with the biggest gun gets to set the agenda, as the sheriff weeps in his office, staring at the badge in his shaking hand and swigging from a bottle of warm whiskey.

The buck accelerates

The man with the biggest gun, currently, is Neil Doncaster… or so he thinks.

That’s the reason why Mr Doncaster has handily passed responsibility (for what he sees as Scottish Football’s financial meltdown in prospect) to the SFL clubs. It is they who will be obliged to make the decision on which his future likely hangs, they who will ‘take the heat’ – a position which also suits the cowering SFA – and in light of the official rejection by SPL clubs of a ‘Son of Rangers’entry into the league, it seems their decision will be a final one. Doncaster clearly believes that his implicit threats will seal the deal in favour of a first division entry, but I disagree with him.

One huge, £16m gun is impressive to brandish, certainly – but is it more or less deadly than the massed ranks of firepower represented by season ticket holders walking away all over the country?

In such a firefight, my money is on the fans. The Scottish game will survive in some form as long as an appetite for competitive football exists amongst Scots; poison the product with corruption, demonstrate that the leagues are anything but truly ‘competitive’ and that appetite will wither.

What good is a TV deal, when no-one wants to watch?

Finding the thread

A Twitter feed is a wonderful thing.

Not always, of course. I can’t unequivocally endorse any source that frequently produces a stream of terrible puns, or results (via retweets) in my having to read anything which Guido Fawkes has to say.

Occasionally though, my feed can help me see patterns with beautiful clarity… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Barely a day goes by without quotes from, or commentary on, the Leveson inquiry reaching me via Twitter. The extent to which the entire hacking scandal and subsequent legal process has gripped those I follow is striking; it’s also a reflection of how gripped I am personally by the whole affair, as I have actively followed some of the more knowledgeable individuals in search of their Leveson insights.

What has inspired this ferocious appetite for information? Well, I won’t retread the details of the hacking scandal in depth; suffice to say that one or more powerful press organisations have crossed a moral and legal line with their conduct, perhaps also trying to evade detection and punishment for these transgressions. The people of the UK, by and large, are pretty unhappy about this.

Last week, a new story began to flood my digital awareness, with the revelation that traders acting for Barclays may have lied to manipulate a hitherto obscure interest rate known as LIBOR; the net effect of this deception may have been a negative impact on the borrowing costs of vast swathes of the UK population, perhaps stretching to other financial markets. The response from Barclays has been relatively tepid: apologies have been issued and the non-executive Chairman has stepped down, leaving the actual decision makers who presided over this shady and damaging activity untouched.

The feelings of financial commentators – and as they wake up to the implications, the wider populace – are significantly less tepid.  The discovery of this incident is seen as a loud, clear indicator that the banking culture in the UK, far from having learned its lessons in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, is still operating under a prevailing, dark amorality. Anger is building amongst a people who have already begun to feel the pain of cuts; they see the organisations they blame for their tightening belts acting as if nothing has changed, continuing to wheel, deal and excessively consume with the support of their tax contributions.

News is emerging that RBS has sacked ten traders in connection with similar practices. As the scope of the scandal widens, a clamour is building for a ‘banking Leveson’ to be established. It’s a demand I believe the Prime Minister, lurching as he does from PR flashpoint to PR flashpoint , will find hard to ignore.

Both of these issues are relatively far-reaching in their connection with the public. Before I come finally to the point, I’d like to illustrate one with a more parochial appeal.

For those familiar with Scottish Football, it will be unsurprising for you to learn that I am interested in the demise of Rangers Football club. If you know nothing about Scotland, Football or the two in tandem, allow me to offer a short synopsis:

  • Rangers FC, one of the two largest clubs in Scotland and the most successful in the history of the Scottish league, has suffered financial meltdown and has been liquidated.
  • The problems at Rangers stem from irresponsible, even reckless management of the club over a number of years, including the operation of an illegal tax evasion scheme for employees which was concealed from the footballing authorities in breach of league rules.
  • In the aftermath of Rangers’ demise, various parties are engaged in a squabble over its assets, emotional legacy and the right to form a ‘successor’ club.

As the plight of this enormous – and potentially highly profitable – club became clear, various figures within the game began to devise plans to somehow keep Rangers FC (or whatever ‘Son of Rangers’ club emerged) in the Scottish Premier League (SPL). When these plans became known, a supporter revolt arose which seriously threatened revenue for all the SPL clubs who would be involved in voting on them. The message from supporters was clear: don’t let cheats off without punishment, or you undermine the whole point of sporting endeavour.

The result of this groundswell of opinion is that, before the vote has even taken place, numerous SPL chairman have publicly committed to refuse the ‘Son of Rangers’ entry into their league. While other desperate attempts are made by the game’s governing powers to give the club a leg up, to prevent them being forced to restart in the lowest professional division, fan opinion remains clear and I expect that fan power will win out, relegating Rangers to Scottish Division 3 before the start of the next season in August.

And so to the point. What is it that Twitter has helped me to understand with respect to these three unsavoury tales?

In each of these cases, powerful and wealthy establishment figures have taken liberties with the rest of society – and subsequently attempted to evade, ignore or cajole their way out of punishment. The reaction of society itself has been incredibly consistent: a wholesale rejection of the behaviour of these toxic organisations and a demand that they be held to account.

It was not so long ago that we in the UK were looking on, in paternalistic fashion, at the struggles of ordinary Egyptians in Tahrir Square and their comrades in the Arab Spring. How terrible it must be, we thought, to live in a country where democracy is a facade and powerful, corrupt interests simply steamroll the average citizen.

Now, with such corruption revealing itself in numerous areas of our public life, we’ve had a taste of that medicine… and if social media is anything to go by, we really, truly don’t like it. The collective feeling that we would like to do something about it continues to grow.

Look upon my Twitter feed, ye mighty and despair…

Follow @daveshed

Strong men also cry

The immortal words of Jeffrey Lebowski give me at least some comfort.

It’s a much-needed sort of comfort, to be honest. At least, with the support of a character from one of the most beloved cult films of all time, I can partially come to terms with what I am: a great, soft blubberer.

Don’t take this to mean that I spend my days and nights weeping without pause; for the most part, I can live a normal life.

But I have triggers.

My partner received an early warning of what was to come mere months into our relationship, when she stumbled into a room to find me inconsolable and awash with tears. This was no dignified, silent crying – rather, this was the kind wherein:

  • The cryer’s face is pulled uncontrollably into a horrific, pantomime expression most commonly associated with very small children.
  • The cryer is struggling not to allow any sounds to escape their body, despite racking sobs, but is completely unable to form words without roaring in sorrow.
  • The cryer knows that they should be in better control of themselves, admonishes themselves internally over their childlike conduct and feels a sense of cringing shame when they are discovered.
  • The cryer is capable only of hiding their face and desperately shoo-ing the interloper away to mitigate said shame.

She was, I recall, genuinely taken aback, even worried. It was an understandable reaction – no sane human being would be behaving in this way unless heartbroken, recently bereaved, or caught in the grip of despair. She needn’t have been concerned. I had simply fallen victim to one of my triggers: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, a ‘sad book’.

I’m really not sure how I managed to keep the poor woman around after that, but stay she did. Some years later, I’m revisiting the same territory with her and our son.

You see, it’s not just sad books that will set me off: when I’m holding David, even mawkishly sentimental stories aimed at the very young will make my eyes grow misty.

My vulnerability was quickly exposed when my partner began reading Guess how much I love you to David, as I fed him his last bottle before bed. As the pages turned and her narration followed the ever-increasing spiral of two hares, presumably father and son, trying to quantify their love for one another, I felt the familiar wave of sentimentality rise up to submerge me. Of course, I couldn’t say anything… to do so would have been to invite red-faced, voice-cracking humiliation. I prayed silently that she would fail to notice.

Of course, there was never any hope of such a face-saving outcome; by the time she had finished, I was dripping big, daft tears from my eyeleashes onto David’s pyjamas. Looking up, my partner gaped.

“Seriously?” she asked, wide eyed and shaking her head. “SERIOUSLY?”

I could only bob my head and sob silently in response. Somewhere in my subconscious, a wise-cracking, hard-drinking, skirt-chasing 25 year-old was holding his head in his hands, wondering what on earth he had become.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg. Since I’m in the business of finally, cathartically exposing my grand shame, I might as well give you some of the big ticket trigger items – if nothing else, you’ll enjoy a laugh at some of these howlers.

Perhaps, when David is a little older, he’ll also find the time to express his astonishment at the things which set his old man off. Perhaps he’ll weep alongside me, afflicted by cruel genetics with my irrational peaks of emotion. Frankly, as long as he still speaks to me after he’s seen one of my performances, it’ll be one in the win column.

Follow @daveshed