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No Death, Only Life

This is a quick little post inspired by thoughts on death and how it relates to my spiritual path as a mystic. Death is of course a very harsh reality. Every living thing dies. My body is no exception to this. My body will eventually fail for reason and circumstance in the future unknown to me now. My flesh will rot. My bones inevitably and eventually turn to dust. I will die. I know this and I accept it. 

And yet, I do not. At least not certain ideas about death. Certain generally accepted things. Death happens, but what is death? What is it really? Again and again I come to the same conclusion for myself and my own spiritual path – there is no death.

The spiritual path of mysticism is basically a fundamental realization that transforms awareness. To be a mystic is to change who you are by awakening to the realization of what you are. That realization is impossibly simple – you are existence itself. More than a body, or a mind, or a soul. More than an angel, devil, or god. The very ground of existence itself. The suchness of reality. Whatever this and every other universe might be considered to really be. That is you. And the you that you think of yourself in terms of everyday life – while that certainly has a reality and life of its own, there is a deeper you. 

So then, death happens. What then? An afterlife? Some say there is one. Some disagree. I like to think that there is an afterlife for those who believe in one. I like to imagine that there are as many otherworldly realms as there are stars in the night sky. I cannot prove this. But I do like the thought. I hope that it is true. But I do not want it to be true for me. 

I do not want an afterlife. I do not think that such a thing is for me. It is difficult to explain why someone who believes in afterlives would not want one for himself. Why someone who acknowledges the reality of death – even seeking to embrace it with the virtue of a martial artist – would at the same time reject the reality of death. It is because I am a mystic. And because I love life. Truly and deeply. Not just the physical act of living and breathing. But the very ground of existence. My path is to understand that the suchness of all things is what I really am. I am It. It performs the act of being a strange man nicknamed Mouse. 

And what will my death be? I like to imagine my own death as a release. A release from this form into many more. The death of Mouse will be the birth of ten thousand other things. Worms in my flesh. Smoke from my ashes. Memories in friends. Grass in the garden. A flutter on the breeze. I like to imagine my death like a firecracker in the sky – exploding into sparks of light, never to be the same. The act of being this person will be over. But what goes on deeper will go on as ever. Existence goes on ever and ever. No death for that. No death for that which I really am. Only death for the dream of this person. The realization of this is key for my spiritual path. That art Thou. I am It. 

If something of the me that types this blog were to continue on as is. It might be paradise for another. But it would be a wretched failure for me. I must not be so trapped. I hope all who desire those fine paradisal realms may find them. I hope only for release for myself. Release into what is. For that to truly be, I must not hold onto me. “Me” must be swept away entirely. I must be free. My inner spirit has always felt like gentle breeze. Flowing, stirring, blowing, whipping. Restless, but free. I know that I must never be too still. Stay too long. I am happy to linger awhile. But I must eventually go. “I” must eventually go away. 

There are two stories in fantasy literature I have read that capture something of the feeling of what I wish I could convey more easily. In the first, an ancient, immortal elf named Arafel is having a conversation with Death. They are discussing mortal kind. During the course of the conversation, Arafel admonishes Death and reminds him that, “You cannot touch me. My kind fade.” That is how I feel sometimes in regards to death. Others will die, but I might fade away. Gone, but continuing. Just in the opposite way that many others hope for. So many others want to continue on as “me”, and let the rest go. But I love the rest. I would let me go, and continue on with the rest forever and ever. That brings me to my other story. One where a foreign priestess confronts wizards of another land and religion. They believe that her kind are soulless because their people do not appear in the afterlife or their people. She snaps back with the question, “Why do your dead not die?” And informs them that while their people continue on as themselves in an afterlife constructed in the spirit world of ancient magics, her people die to themselves and thus live on forever in the cycle of nature. I like the idea of the former. But I cannot help but hear the beautiful call of the latter. 

I love life. I will let myself get lost then, lost in its beauty. This is my path. This is my way. Not a choice, so much as a recognition of who I am. An allowing of myself to fully realize my own being.

Now that we are getting Avacyn Restored spoilers in, I wanted to take some time to examine a card that has caught my eye: Vexing Devil. Vexing Devil is a 4/3 Creature – Devil with “When Vexing Devil enters the battlefield, any opponent may have it deal 4 damage to him or her. If a player does, sacrifice Vexing Devil.” Obviously, this card is aggressively costed. Wizards R&D wants us to be playing with this card. But there is a nuance to the design of the card that is worth examining closely, I believe. I think that this is a smartly designed creature, and that the intricacies of its interactions will allow it to be a strong card without being overpowered.

The format that I’m really excited to try playing this card in is Legacy – mostly because that is my favorite format. And  because I feel that this card fits perfectly into some maindeck wiggle slots that I had open and have been experimenting with. But this card will very easily see play in Modern and Standard too. Mono Red Burn/Sligh strategies seem the perfect, even obvious, fit for a card like this. But I could see it being run in Zoo builds or any Aggro strategy where under costed creature beef plays an important role. Until the Devil was spoiled, I had been contemplating changing from playing Mono Red Burn in Legacy to UR Burn. But with the arrival of this awesome creature, I think that Mono Red will be getting a present that will make Burn worth playing for awhile yet.

First off, I would like to begin by comparing this card to another card in Legacy that is not good enough to play in Burn, but perennially seems to be brought up in the conversation. That is Browbeat. Browbeat looks good until one realizes how crushing it is to offer choices to your opponent with your spells. A good player will always choose the lesser evil and play around it. Vexing Devil is a lot like Browbeat. It offers choices to your opponent, and ways to play effectively around those choices. So it will not be overpowered as some fear, despite its insane power to mana cost ratio. These choices are elegantly built right into Vexing Devil’s design.

1) Vexing Devil can be killed outright (effectively countered) for 4 damage.

2) He’s vulnerable to most removal.

3) He can be trumped by fatties that realistically see play (Tarmogoyf in Legacy, Titans in Standard).

The thing to remember is that you will almost never get to play and swing multiple times with this creature. If the opponent does not have removal or a trump creature (or sufficient amount of spirit token blockers), he will most likely just take the 4 damage to kill it. In which case, Vexing Devil is a Lightning Bolt +1. This is actually where and how the Devil is probably best. And why one would want to play 4 of him in a Burn/Sligh deck. You really want to drop this guy on turn 1 or 2 before the opponent has time to set up removal and trumping. The threat of swinging with him multiple times is what makes taking a super Lightning Bolt to the face worth it in the long run. Combined with multiple Lightning Bolts in Legacy, this gives you great pressure on the opponent’s life total. The 3 toughness ensures that chump blockers will only delay the inevitable. Even Thalia and her amazing First Strike cannot defend you from this guy. Only a real threat like Knight of the Reliquary or Tarmogoyf will be a sizable enough wall to stop him. In Standard, the Devil’s effect forces tough decisions on your opponent in a format where Brimstone Volley is a playable card. It keeps him from being a dead topdeck in the mid-game in Mono Red. Who wants to take 4 to kill this guy then take another 5 from Brimstone Volley because of the Morbid trigger?

What Vexing Devil has in its favor that Browbeat does not is an insane potential damage to mana cost ratio. This is what will make Vexing Devil see play where Browbeat could not. Despite the offering of choices to the opponent, Vexing Devil still applies enough pressure early enough and with little enough investment card and mana wise that he comes out ahead as a strong card with some minor drawbacks. Browbeat is an example of a creative and unique card for red’s color pie design that just wasn’t costed effectively enough. I see Vexing Devil as R&D’s way of learning from that mistake. Offering choices to your opponent is enough of a drawback that it justifies aggressive power options. Particularly in a color as single minded as red is these days (land destruction purposefully being unplayable in Standard). I would not want to see this creature as a blue, white, or green card.

In short, I love Vexing Devil. It is an example of good, creative design from Wizards. It’s power level is appropriate for where creature power levels are at right now. It is an interesting threat for the opponent that offers them choices, but at the same time makes those options uncomfortable with the appropriate power level threat behind them. I think this is a good direction for red color pie design to go in.

I disagree with the basic premise of people-first language. That being that placing words that describe aspects of a person’s identity or condition before the person in sentence structure necessarily emphasizes that aspect of a person in a negative, demeaning, or reductive capacity. Proponents of people-first language believe that they are taking back language in a such a way that will put people first, both literally and figuratively. I disagree with this. Furthermore, I believe that it confuses the English language in such a way that actually has the potential to enact the exact effect that it seeks.

Adjective-noun structure is extremely common, baseline, modern English language usage. This point cannot be argued. That said, this leads immediately to a key point that proponents of people-first language fail to realize. For they will claim that it in cultural practice adjective-noun is used frequently by those speaking abusively about people with handicaps, mental illness, or minority groups. The problem is that this is myopic view.

Yes, adjective-noun usage can be used negatively. But there’s nothing necessarily negative about it. The use of this word order itself does not denote the negative emphasis on the adjective. It is the context, voice, and use of the speaker/writer that does this. If adjective-noun word order is used commonly by people who speak negatively about someone, if it is because adjective-noun word order is used commonly by all people speaking about all things. This includes insults. But the format itself is not in any way insulting. It is the person using the format to insult (as he or she would use it unconsciously, out of habit for almost anything).

There are many problems and dangers presented by people-first language. But here is the chief one that I want to focus on. By placing an imaginary and unnecessary emphasis on word order that does not really exist either in practical use or academic use, one is actually deflecting attention away from the true matters of prejudice and ignorance in culture. If people are really important and to be valued whatever our differences, then we need to focus on and appreciate those differences. We need to do the hard work required – actually put in the soul-searching, thinking, and contemplation necessary to really see a different person as a brother or sister in humanity. We need to put people first.

Unfortunately, people-first language puts people last. Firstly, it immediately devalues the actual voice, thoughts, and intent of speakers and writers everywhere. It does not say that it is wrong to insult or devalue people. It says something much more insidious and pernicious than that. It says that if you use a common written and spoken practice that you are by default being insulting and devaluing, regardless of the entire content and context of your words. People first language therefore demeans the art of the English language by imposing a false and presumptuous rule upon it. And it demeans the voices of all who use that language by imposing a mask of meaning upon their actual expression. In other words, people-first language

But that’s not the worst of it. Here’s the most awful rub of all. People-first language actually give prejudice and ignorance a mask to wear. Where before, context and tone could be judged to evaluate whether a statement was negative or not, now the hateful have a petty, structural defense. If they do acquiesce to altering their sentence structure to avoid conflict in the workplace, they can keep all their hate and venom within. They may even be able to trick themselves into believing that they are not prejudiced, because they talk about sensitive topics and groups in the “approved” manner. All the while never being called out, never being challenged, and keeping ignorance alive and well behind a thin veneer.

This is anathema to me. This is something I feel strongly enough against to actually fight. The true purpose of language is the illumination of the mind to oneself and others. This accomplishes the exact opposite ends. This confuses the actual use. It imagines demons where there are none. It attributes wrong to a false cause. It confuses people, even potentially to themselves. It perverts language by transforming it from a grand art of expression and illumination into a mere play of current fashion and manners. It obscures the mind instead of illuminating it.

Words don’t insult people. People insult people. Word order does not demean others. Writers and speakers demean others. They do this through the use of subtle (and not so subtle) means of context, content, and tone. But since these can be difficult to judge, why not make up an easy, if completely misguided means of judgment, right? If the truth of human experience is a difficult thing to discern, why not invent a new, easy truth that sweeps the inconvenient of processes of contemplation, introspection, and interactive discernment under the rug?

People-first language pretends that overcoming prejudice and ignorance is as easy as thing as making sure your hat matches your shoes in the current fashion. Or even worse, the people who advocate it know better, but settle for less.

Just got done with a small Legacy tournament today at the local game shop, and I have Magic on my mind. Only a few people showed up for the tournament, so I did not get to run an extensive gauntlet but the results still gave me some things to think about. First of all, I had a choice between two decks that I have put together for Legacy at the moment – Burn and Affinity.

First off is my choice of deck to play. I very nearly played Burn instead of my usual choice of Affinity. A quick review of who showed up and some quiet observation revealed the likely candidates of UW Stoneblade, RUG Delver, and Goblins. My mana sink version of Burn runs 3 copies each in my main deck  of Grim Lavamancer and Searing Blaze. I felt that this would give me a fairly good matchup against RUG Delver and Goblins by allowing me to burn off their smaller creatures while still applying burn pressure on their life total. The Stoneblade matchup would have been a race to burn him out before Batterskull’s lifegain came online against me. Sideboard Sulfuric Vortex and artifact destruction would have come in for games 2 and/or 3.

Instead, I ultimately chose to run with Affinity again. This was mostly because I wanted to test some changes to my Affinity main deck. I recently cut 4 Frogmite and 4 Master of Etherium. They were replaced with 4 Glint Hawk and 4 Etched Champion. I had goldfished these changes, but had not yet put them to the test against an actual Legacy field of live opponents. The results were very encouraging today. Glint Hawk proved far more relevant than Frogmite due to its flying. It was always pseudo-free due to Mox Opal or midgame artifact land bounce tricks. And there was only one instance in one game where I could not immediately play one in hand due to lacking a white mana source. Interestingly, this was because my only land at the moment was a Blinkmoth Nexus. I currently run 3 Blinkmoth Nexus, but wanted to lower this to 2 and add a 4th Ancient Den to my main deck to because of the Glint Hawk change. But I could not procure a 4th Ancient Den before the tournament. This instance solidifies my desire to make that additional small change to the maid deck’s mana base. The addition of 4 more evasive fliers to the deck also lessens some of the need for the flying Blinkmoth Nexus.

The other main deck change of 4 Etched Champion instead of 4 Master of Etherium also proved invaluable. Champion evaded targeted removal all day long. In every matchup, his metalcraft protection from colors was active immediately upon entering the battlefield. He won several games during the day with his ability to swing through for lethal damage carrying a Cranial Plating.

That said, the bane of my existence this day was Umezawa’s Jitte. My one match loss was largely because of that card (and general skillful play from the opposing player). It was disheartening to face repeating removal that could get past my Etched Champion’s protection. My hands and draws just did not let me race the UW Stoneblade deck fast enough to prevent Jitte from dominating the board. I faced Jitte post-sideboard in another match with a RWB deck that I was unfamiliar with. I lost the first game due to an obvious play mistake, but took the next two games in a simple race to swing with evasive creatures and Cranial Plating.

This tournament has given me a fresh perspective on a deck that I have been playing for awhile now. On a superficial level, I have always acknowledged that the great strength of Affinity is its synergy. But for a few months now, I have stubbornly refused to get rid of Master of Etherium based mostly on his raw power as a beat stick. But he rarely gets to swing in a metagame so filled with spot removal. Or he gets chump blocked. Or I don’t have the blue mana to cast him. I had even considered Glint Hawk to replace Frogmite before, but had never tried it because it did not interact well with the Master.

Master of Etherium seems better in theory, but Etched Champion is better in reality. The ability to dodge removal AND swing through blockers with a Plating is just too relevant to the current metagame. And represents a more subtle sort of synergy with the rest of Affinity’s strategy than the obvious power boosting synergy of the Master. “How good is it with Plating?” has become the key question in discerning what creatures should and should not be included in an Affinity deck. Glint Hawk may not feed the artifact count, but it is great with Cranial Plating (much better than Frogmite). And the Champion is unbelievable with the Plating equipped. Vault Skirge is only so-so until you consider how excellent swinging for large amounts of flying, lifelink damage is against most decks. All three of these creatures equipped with Cranial Plating were key to winning multiple games for me today.

As for sideboard changes, they were rarely relevant in today’s tournament. Pithing Needle was boarded in for a few matchups, but I almost never drew it. I filled in 3 undecided sideboard slots with 3 Tidehollow Sculler. It was a weak choice, but I had them available to throw in fast. I have been thinking they should be 3 Nature’s Claim, and that would have helped greatly against Umezawa’s Jitte. At the very least, I am glad that I removed the 3 copies Phyrexian Metamorph. They are mostly irrelevant now that I have 3 Grafdigger’s Cage. I am also contemplating getting rid of the 5 sets of 3 cards style of sideboard. I have come across too many instances where I am not drawing my sideboard hate. This will require further investigation and testing.

But all in all, I am pleased with how the tournament went. My Affinity build is running much better in the main deck. Some tweaks to the sideboard should hopefully give it the tools it needs to compete with the Tier 1 decks. This was a very encouraging day.

The path of spiritual and philosophical transcendence. Mysticism. Enlightenment. Since the first day I was exposed to the Taoist and Buddhist concepts in Tao of Jeet Kune Do, I have realized that this is my path. Like the roots of a tree, it is a realization that I have grown in over the years. My mind has branched out, exposed to many ideas, to many realms of thought, belief, and feeling. But my roots have grown ever downwards. Deep down into the unassuming, fertile earth of the base of my own being.

I have come an interesting phase in my own development. Intimations that I once felt with uncertainty and hesitation, have grown strong and now have the force of muscle and conviction behind them. I have heard and felt the heartbeat of my own being, and this subtle sound has changed the nature of the music the world makes for me. This vulnerable, transient thing that is the manifestation of my very self is something that I come to actually trust. I have found that my self is something both far stronger and far more wondrous that I ever suspected.

I have become less and less concerned with ideas like advancement, power, control, and victory. These things have been replaced by a surge of motivation from within, and enjoyment and revelry in life and my own existence in this world for its own sake. And although I am very intrigued and in love with the dance of motions of the world and all the other dancers within it, I find that my motivation more and more comes from within rather than without. Concepts like ethics and morality have become fun mental exercises for me, as a lover of philosophy. But they have also become extremely uninteresting and unmotivating on a very basic level. As I learn who I am and what I am, this takes more and more precedence in my decision making process.

I find myself at an intriguing place where I intuitively feel my way through difficult problems. A place where I trust more and more the immediacy of perceptions, the holistic harmony of the universe, and the deep void my own unconscious.

Wandering in the woods, with no purpose but the wandering. Enjoying the motion of the hiking, the beauty of nature. Even enjoying -after a fashion – the terrifying exhilaration of being lost. Trusting one’s own fear, I have discovered, is a uniquely strange sensation. For what is there to fear when one is armed with one’s own heartbeat?

I have imagined what I might do if faced with horrors in the afterlife. What if gods and goddesses should sit in harsh judgment of me? What if ravenous spirits or raging devils should attack me? What if wicked magicks should be hurled at me? What if I find myself falling headfirst into the gaping maw of Hell or empty oblivion?

I am unimpressed by the threats of these scenarios. Not by doubting their possible reality. Not by seeking safety or security through clever spell, or the protection of benevolent beings. Not by adhering to a moral or ethical code that will grant me access through the gates of paradise.

I have only my heartbeat. And that I find is enough. There is a strength in it that defies explanation. Not by granting my power over anything at all. But by giving my strength to do what it is that I am meant to do. To be what I am meant to be. It is the only sort of strength that I need. Even when I am afraid. Even when I am bruised and bleeding. Even when I am uncertain. I always have my heartbeat.

I find myself walking a spiritual path amongst all the possible realms of existence, amongst all the possible gods and spirits and magics, yet without gods or spirits or magics. Trusting in the tiniest, humblest of things. Something that most people completely ignore and dismiss. Walking, lost in the woods of reality. Yet unconcerned.

I cannot explain it. But I am content. And I am free.

Dark Ascension is almost here, so I thought I might discuss some of the cards that I’m looking forward to seeing from this new set and what impact these cards might have on my favorite formats. The card I’m most excited to see is Grafdigger’s Cage, but I’ve already discussed that card and its uses for my Legacy Affinity deck in a previous post. I don’t have the wherewithal for a complete set review; instead, I’ll just be touching on the standout gems from my perspective. So now, onward to the rest of the set!

First off, curses! I’m disappointed in general with the Curses printed in Innistraad. They are a great idea in general. Some of them are even borderline playable. But they just cost too much. And neither Bitterheart Witch nor the newly printed Curse of Misfortunes is good enough to justify a Constructed playable deck archetype based around these auras. These cards remind me quite a lot of the Honden Shrine enchantments in Kamigawa. But just like with the Shrines, Curses just don’t quite get there in terms of competitive power level. Curse of Misfortunes, in particular, reminds me of the Enduring Ideal deck that was played in Old Extended. This card, much more than Bitterheart Witch from the previous set might have been the card to make Curses a real archetype. This difference between this and Enduring Ideal, however, is that Enduring Ideal had a way to protect itself in the form of Form of the Dragon. Sure, Curse of Death’s Hold and the new Curse of Exhaustion can slow an opposing deck down. But Standard is full of aggro decks right now.  By the time that Curse of Misfortunes gets online and fetches Curse of Death’s Hold a Mono Red player can just burn for the win. And every aggro deck will already have creatures on board by the time Curse of Exhaustion comes out. Also, the presence of Titans and Hero of Bladehold make casting one spell all that you need to keep applying pressure for the win.

I like Curse of Misfortunes’ effect. It is exactly the sort of thing that a Curse based deck needs. But what is missing is that Form of the Dragon style effect that can hold off attackers and reset your life total every turn. And that sort of effect (or something different that could fill the spot) is the missing link that kills the Curse theme before it can get off of the ground. Sure, there is always ramp to get you to that casting cost of Misfortunes’ quicker. But if you’re playing ramp, there are better and more reliable things to ramp into in this format. Period. In summary, there are a number of Curses right now of which I very much like the effects, including: Death’s Hold, Exhaustion, Misfortunes, Stalked Prey, and Bloodletting. But the costs are just too high, and an effective strategy for cheating them into play has yet to be revealed.

Next on my list – Mono Black Aggro. This is an archetype that really deserves a second look in Standard right now. Diregraf Ghoul now has Gravecrawler as a friend in the one drop slot, backed up by Highborn Ghoul as a two drop. Geralf’s Messenger is decent as a three drop. These cards may be the backup crew that Phyrexian Obliterator has been missing to make Mono Black a real, staying presence in Standard. Tragic Slip is effective early removal that can get rid of bigger creatures when paired with other removal. The ability to wipe the board with Black Sun’s Zenith and replay Gravecrawler from the graveyard and/or have Geralf’s Messenger come back through its Undying mechanic should not be underestimated either. This could let Mono Black dominate against other fast aggro decks by wiping the board and still having a team on the battlefield.

The Captain cycle is pretty good. But I’m not sure how many will see play due the state of Standard right now. Drogskol Captain probably has the best effect giving all other Spirits you control the lord boost, plus Hexproof. U/W Humans may wind up running some copies of him. Straight Spirit Tribal is out of the question, however. No good one and two drop spirits in the format.  The Diregraf Captain also has an interesting effect, but I believe that Mono Black edges out U/B in terms of Zombie playability in Standard. Splashing Blue eliminates the ability to play Geralf’s Messenger and Phyrexian Obliterator. Immerwolf is an interesting effect, but again Standard does not lend itself to true Tribal decks right now. Dedicated G/R Werewolves Tribal seems unrealistic, even with this card. Although, I will say that a card like this needed to see print for the sake of Werewolves. Stromkirk Captain would be absolutely ridiculous… if Zendikar were still Standard legal. A 3/3 first striking Vampire Lacerator can take out Wild Nacatl, Delver of Secrets, and Kird Ape all the live long day. Maybe Extended or Modern will find a home for him. By himself, I don’t think he can make Tribal Vampires a reality in Legacy, but maybe in the future with more excellent one and two drop vampires. It’s something to keep an eye on. Especially for budget Legacy players. The mana base for a R/B Tribal Vampire deck in Legacy could be played just fine with Blackcleave Cliffs and Graven Cairn – no dual lands required.

Green has some interesting additions. Strangleroot Geist opens up the possibility of Mono Green Aggro in Modern. This alongside Green’s many one drops, Talara’s Battalion, and Vengevine could be a potent aggro synergy. I like Young Wolf as an addition to G/W Humans in Standard if removal spells on one drops continue to be a strong presence in Standard. It comes back in a similar way to Doomed Traveler, and gets pumped from a transformed  Mayor of Avabruck.

I would love to see a goofy deck built around transforming Huntmaster of the Fells back and forth continuously. I don’t know for sure how viable that is, but it could generate some ridiculous card advantage if someone can manage to pull it off. The new Sorin is amazing as so many planeswalkers are and will see play in multiple formats.

Hellrider could find a home in a Kuldotha Red style blitz aggro in Modern. It’s an awfully nice finisher on turn 4 with a board full of cheap, early drops. Forge Devil will probably see some sort of inclusion in Standard Mono Red decks. It acts as a one drop that kills opposing one drops. Or a drop on turn 2 that allows Stromkirk Noble to swing through a non-human on the battlefield.

I could go on more, but this is dragging a bit now. In short – Dark Ascension is not a “wow” factor set. It does not have a lot of overt power standing alone. It does not have multiple format money cards like Snapcaster Mage. Or a multiple format redefining aggro card like Delver of Secrets. This is not a format or strategy defining set. It’s a support set. What it does have is a lot of support cards to sift through. This is a good set to look at for tech to reinvent existing decks and strategies with as Standard looks to reinvent itself in the next couple months. This set gives dedicated brewers some material to mull over.

So good luck, and start brewing!

I was extremely happy to see Grafdigger’s Cage spoiled for the upcoming Dark Ascension set. While this card might be overhyped a bit, it just so happens to be exactly what I was looking for: an effective and versatile sideboard card for Legacy Affinity. At a recent local tournament I was just bemoaning my lack of good sideboard options for the Elves matchup. I have 3 Ethersworn Canonist already, but that’s not always enough. There’s always Engineered Plague, but sideboard space is tight. Then a few days later, the skies open and this gem is unveiled like man from the heavens (pun intended).

I plan on replacing my fairly standard sideboard package of graveyard hate with 3 of these. My current graveyard hate package consists of 1 Tormod’s Crypt, 1 Relic of Progenitus, and 1 Nihil Spellbomb. Although Relic is probably the best of the 3, the common wisdom is to run 1 of each to avoid getting hosed by a opponent’s Pithing Needle. As the Cage does not use an activated ability, running a full 3 is perfectly reasonable and eliminates this fear.

On the downside, Cage does not remove cards in the graveyard – which is a problem if (and when) they manage to destroy or bounce it. However, I feel that this card should still be effective enough at slowing down graveyard strategies to warrant its use.  I will have to test against Dredge and Reanimator to see real life results, but from a pure theory perspective, it seems like it still ought to be effective enough against graveyard strategies. Especially considering that Affinity is a fast, aggro deck. As an Affinity player, I don’t really want or need to utterly hose my opponent’s strategy. I only need to slow them down enough to win with Cranial Plating, Master of Etherium, or Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. It may be somewhat less powerful as a hate card specifically against graveyard strategies, but I think that its versatility more than makes up for this.

This is where the second hosing effect of Grafdigger’s Cage comes into consideration. This thing stops Green Sun’s Zenith and Natural Order. Both of those cards are popular enough to warrant something that hoses them, as well. I’m pretty sure that bringing both my Cannonists and Cages in against Elves will help significantly. It will be good to have 6 effective hate cards to sideboard instead of merely 3 (my previous attempts at bringing in Cabal Therapy have shown weak results to date; Therapy being much better against pure combo or control).

I like have versatile sideboard cards. It’s one of the reasons that I love Affinity as a deck archetype. Although the main strategy is very straightforward and linear (something I also enjoy), the sideboard opens up a wide world of options. There are a lot of excellent, cheap artifacts to choose from in Legacy with a wide variety of effects. I already run 3 each of Ethersworn Cannonist and Pithing Needle. Pithing Needle is generally accepted as one of the best generic hate cards in print. Ethersworn Cannonist helps to slow down both Storm Combo decks and tribal decks like Elves. I will be more than happy to add 3 Grafdigger’s Cage to my toolbox of versatile hate cards.

I run 3 each of 5 sets of cards for my sideboard in Affinity. The reasoning behind this is that I want to have enough of each card to hopefully see it after siding it in, but still squeeze as much versatility into my sideboard as possible. Most of my sideboard cards are cheap and artifacts, so they add to my affinity count while still being able to be tutored off of the top 5 cards with Tezzeret’s first ability. The excellent card draw that I have available in 4 maindeck Thoughtcast also help me to be able to draw into hate, helping me to justify only running 3 of each. The main exception to this is Cabal Therapy. But each copy of Therapy that I draw into can be flashbacked at a minimal cost, so I don’t feel the need to run a full 4 of that either. Every physical copy of Therapy is a virtual two.

The inclusion of Grafdigger’s Cage in my sideboard effect leaves me with another consideration, though. I run 3 Phyrexian Metamorph as a hate card against Progenitus and Emrakul strategies. This card has only been minimally effective (and usually completely ineffective) in fulfilling this purpose. Since Natural Order is the usual means of getting Progenitus into play, Cage eliminates the need for Metamorph on that front. That leaves only Emrakul as an issue to be dealt with. And honestly, I don’t realistically get the chance to play Metamorph if Emrakul is hardcast (a deck like Elves will just take the extra turn and win right then and there). But I don’t really see Show and Tell in my local metagame. Although I like to be prepared, I might just resort to using 3 Therapy to fight Show and Tell strategies. This would open up 3 sideboard slots for something else that I’ve been craving: targeted problem permanent destruction in the form of Nature’s Claim (or similar effects). The ability to destroy a Batterskull is huge in Legacy right now. Not to mention that artifact/enchantment removal can hit other relevant things in the mirror match, or against things like Aether Vial or Phyrexian Dreadnaught.

In summary, I think that Grafdigger’s Cage not only provides a fresh sideboard card for Affinity in its own right, but will also allow me to restructure my sideboard to be more effective against the evolving Legacy metagame as a whole.

This makes me happy.