Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Blow 3.0

So can we jam for a second about how awesome it is that Blow is back in standard?

Esper Humans

4 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Mutavault
4 Plains
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Silence
3 Watery Grave

2 Ephara, God of the Polis
4 Imposing Sovereign
4 Lyev Skyknight
3 Obzedat, Ghost Council
3 Precinct Captain
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
3 Xathrid Necromancer

4 Detention Sphere
1 Far // Away
1 Hero's Downfall
1 Spear of Heliod
2 Supreme Verdict
1 Ultimate Price
2 Whip of Erebos

1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Dark Betrayal
2 Doom Blade
1 Duress
2 Gainsay
1 Glare of Heresy
1 Hero's Downfall

So now you're probably thinking, what the fuck is Blow and what does it have to do with Esper Humans?

We'll work backward from the present. 

In 2003, I advocated briefly for this deck to be considered for players heading to the State Championships. The year before, during the 2002 version, a B/W Cleric deck called Blow won Iowa Champs piloted by Gabriel Stoffa. We'll get to the Iowa deck in a minute, but analyzing the list above, you'd be hard-pressed to say it's anything special. Still, testing confirmed that the deck stacked up well against Goblins, still the biggest threat at the time given that Affinity hadn't found Arcbound Ravager in a pile of darksteel yet. And Slide had little to no chance at defeating Blow 2.0, despite playing a deadly nuke against tokens in its namesake enchantment and Wind Shards backup against a Zombie horde. Nova Cleric was actually just that relevant, and you had 6 virtual copies with the Doomed Necromancers.

The list isn't perfect, but versions of it did end up performing reasonably well. A perfect example of the Blow deck took down Champs the year before I riffed on it in the article on StarCityGames.

3 City of Brass
11 Plains
1 Starlit Sanctum
2 Swamp

4 Beloved Bodyguard
4 Beloved Chaplain
4 Devoted Caretaker
4 Master Apothecary
4 Nova Cleric
4 Rotlung Reanimator
4 Weathered Wayfarer

3 Disenchant
4 Prismatic Strands
4 Shared Triump
4 Wrath of God


3 Cabal Therapy
3 Oversold Cemetary
3 Ray of Revelation
4 Spurnmage Advocate
2 Worship

Holy Jesus, those were dark times for mana bases. Pray they never return. But Weathered Wayfarer made it work, eking out card advantage slower than a Jayemdae Tome, grinding the whole game to four mana, however long it took. 

Tribal decks are automatically fun to play, and this one has the added benefit of blowing up your own creatures for profit to go along with a cartload of synergy. 

Which brings us back to the new decklist and the current standard format. Esper Humans is, to be fair, not entirely in the full aggro lite-control mode that Blow was. But it provides a hell of a blueprint for building something that goes ham on the concept. Here's my take:

4 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Watery Grave
4 Plains
3 Temple of Deceit
2 Temple of Enlightenment
2 Temple of Silence
2 Mutavault

25 Lands

That's right, another three-color deck that runs two colorless lands without a hitch. Praise based Ravnica.

Next we need our amped-up aggro package:

4 Imposing Sovereign
4 Lyev Skyknight
4 Deputy of Acquittals
1 Sin Collector
3 Precinct Captain
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
4 Soldier of the Pantheon
4 Xanthrid Necromancer
2 Ephara, God of the Polis

27 Creatures

The game plan revolves around playing 187 creatures and running them headfirst into the opposition or wiping them away and replacing them with shambling mobs of undead. On the play, Imposing Sovereign is a virtual Time Walk, ensuring you'll always be a turn ahead even if they match you creature for creature. Skyknight, Obzedat and Sin Collector all offer extra value with Ephara in play, and Deputy of Acquittals can trigger the card-drawing celestial force during your own upkeep while guaranteeing you'll get another draw on your opponent's turn. You can tell from the creatures that this version always wants two untapped lands on turn two, which goes to explain the less-than-full-pack of Temples.

Your best start against most decks that flood the board with creatures is Soldier into Sovereign into Necromancer into Supreme Verdict. You'll have dealt eight and wiped the board, leaving you with 3 2/2s and a card to whatever they've managed to hold back defending against a perfect curve.

2 Detention Sphere
4 Supreme Verdict
1 Whip of Erebos
1 Spear of Heliod

8 Spells

Nothing too exciting here. Spear can really push an aggressive start over the top, and the Whip helps you stabilize or counterattack, especially post-Verdict. The Spheres are catch-alls that also make the unlikely possibility of an Ephara attack enter the realm of this-could-actually-happen.


1 Sin Collector
3 Bile Blight
1 Hero's Downfall
1 Ultimate Price
1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Thoughtseize
2 Detention Sphere

The sideboarding plan revolves around situations where your first and second onslaughts are being repelled by a control deck that can't handle grinding card advantage with Obzedat and Ephara. There's a smattering of removal suitable against rats and tokens, plus options against more monstrous threats. Whatever your needs are after board, you'll be taking out the Deputies, one or two Verdicts, the Spear, possibly the Sovereigns.

The two basic substitutions are

Against tokens or Pack Rat-style aggression:
-3 Deputy of Acquittal
-1 Spear of Heliod
-2 Ephara, God of the Polis
-1 Sin Collector
-1 Soldier of the Pantheon (on the draw)

+3 Bile Blight
+1 Hero's Downfall
+1 Ultimate Price
+2 Detention Sphere
+1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa (on the draw)

Against control you need to grind away:
-2 Supreme Verdict
-4 Imposing Sovereign

+1 Sin Collector
+2 Thoughtseize
+1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
+2 Obzedat, Ghost Council

If you liked this roundabout trip to a new decklist, let me know. If you didn't, well, hopefully there was still something in this for you (or I'm sorry you read all the way to the end of an article you hated). 

Monday, February 24, 2014


So during one of my more ambitious phases, I started a speculative fiction set roughly fifty years in the future. Writing it, I confined myself to scenes built out organically from thin loglines. Oh yeah, and I also decided to pull a Neal Stephenson or, well, attempt neologism. I'll throw this up here, see if there's any response to it. It's damn near impossible to write, since every other word involves close to two hours of linguistic projection and entirely too much research into modern, evolving dialects. TLDR: Hard to write, assessing value.


Hey there.  Glad you could stop by.  Hope you can stay awhile.  See, I’m a character in a pretty damn good novel, but I want to take a break and spit a line.  I’m not in this novel, I know you were thinking about it.  How biebery that’d be if I told you my story was a pretty damn good novel.  ‘Rish the thought, though, because like I dropped before, that’s not the case.  My clanner, Kalam, he’s the main ‘tar for this raid.  I’m just wearing a character tag, you know?  My real dent is as a mallspace photographer, but I avoid it as often as I can, which is pretty often when you friend a guy who can build bank tags faster than KFC can souse a chicken.  Still, tapping stories isn’t whedon-off from drawing them in a camera.  Enough of the exposition, time to assume the position and stop whistling. 
I met Kalam like nine or ten ball-drops ago.  He wasn’t lancing back then, but he had mad rep up for fixing sad mash jobs.   He could ding your cash back after having a cavity filled by blaming it on a black and decker.  So that was his main tag, fixing redit problems and working under the plan.   But he already knew he could tank harder eyel and maybe that meant detooing some other empire shit from happening.  Here, try this out, if you line it, you might cog it better.

                The hyperba was dimly lit by the lasing screens of the oscul monitors while ‘nic industrial oozed out of the woofers, the sound cut on the zor-edged metal screaming over the tech pulse.  Kalam was sitting slunk in his cline, a glass of vodul tipping like a congressman on the armrest. 
                “You have to understand, man, that tagging is more dangerous than you think.  It’s the future, sure, but really, I mean, have you specfic’d the idea yet, it rezzes out harder than Clu.  No way it buffies up when you put that much information out there in the space.  If you ask me, I wish they had never discovered it.”
                “I get it, dude, You think people are going to steal this tech—“
                “No, no—not the tech, it’s global now, free domain and bad Chinese dubs all.  It’s what happens with it.  Didn’t you ever watch classic whedon?”
                “Nobody did.”
                “Fuck off.  We tag ourselves, right, and then what happens?  What if somebody gets a hold of our tag?  Or we lose it.  That’s our souls, right there, floating around and somebody else can just plug us in and take our lives.”
                “Tagging isn’t like that.  It’s like vr, or something.  Matrix-shit.  Instant Jet-Li, just add virus-juice.”
                “If you can put something in, you can take something out,” he said, popping a slug of the vodul and spitting it at his friend for emphasis. 
                Reat me corner four if you want, but guy had high int even back then.  His cha was low, ob, still wasn’t buying the official retcon even if he couldn’t board any one with it.  I was walling for him that turn but he’d smith me later.  Course, he was neep in gibsonland and I couldn’t miller him out of it at that point.  Was sure everybody was going to get mindjacked as soon as the tory tags started up.  Ob, we didn’t, but he was right enough, when my flicker rep plussed enough, I got farmed for the AA30 serious altlife.  They did a partial, just a tweep scanback in the art mode, but I still felt like a character in a back alley etem.  Kept me off the slat for two cycles, and I’d been straussing something fierce for three or four drops at that point.
                I might be cashmanning my princeside about trying to stay frankout during this whole bay, but to know the story you have to ‘file the ‘tar, and ain’t nobody eyel or gamespace that knew Kalam like I did.  Take, to scout, his first snatchback.  He was so sixty after that he built me a tag just so I could feel his ding.  But enough of my nathing, line his side zero.
                “You gotta 404 offcloud now, cog?” the skyp tran blitzed and he delogge with the book already clasped and sacked up.  What the fonz was wahlberg?  He clicked into the apm and felt himself supermanning along the flagpoles.  His braincode was fried, the char card warped in the socket.  He ritchied it out and tossed it into the voidclutch nearby on the mover.  His bankvis screeched a warning when the autoticket read neg in balance.  A klaxed fired overhead and he barely managed to unchip before the restraints kinged him in.  The whole mover stopped, goonied up above the res distract and not close enough to grab the next ledge.  He couldn’t cloud out to another char, and he was strapped for teck not tank.  The swirling rotolights far below stapled his decision.  He slung his sack on his back and reached for the guideline, his left hand fumbling for a derez update to spin out the neg skillz and toggled in some ninja.  His movements were fluid on the vid, but his hands were tweaked a bit.  If he got out of this, he cursed, somebody was definitely get bombspammed with a honey pot rezzer in the adblock.  Damn right, he agreed with himself, taking a stallonehold and bale-ing out into the night.


A Bit too Far Away

                “Everything always seems just a bit too far away,” the young man with the sideburns said, absently scratching his chin.  His companion, a bigger man though not older, pushed back against the meat of the airline seat he was stretched out in.
                “Damn things never work,” he muttered.  He looked over at the young man. “Your’s work?” he asked, still fumbling with the chair controls.
                “Uh, yeah, it’s the button there.  I think maybe the problem is more internal.”  He was talking about the nature of goals.  The bigger man didn’t understand.
                “You think I’m stupid?” he grumbled.  He turned towards the young man and saw his sideburns.  They were brown and short, most of the hairs were shaved, not cut.  But the ends of them were up-turned, like Dali’s moustache. 
                “What? No,” the young man pulled back a little. “You see that guy?” he gestured towards the, “what do you call a guy stewardess?”
                “Gay?” his companion offered.
                The young man chuckled grimly, his face a forced smirk.  “Whatever, he is a guy who is living his dream.”
                “Being gay?” the bigger man said, his eyes transfixed on the sideburns.  
                “No, look, I mean look, really,” the young man said, pointing at the steward busy putting on an apron embroidered with a name.  The sideburns had clearly been played with, teased by the young man’s fingertips at one time or another.  But the bigger man was sure that he hadn’t seen it happen.   Maybe he didn’t realize they made him look like he was doing his best to fly alongside the plane.  The chunk that sounded as ice trickled into little plastic cups tore his attention away.
                “Would you like a beverage, sir?” the steward asked the bigger man.
                “What’s the clear one?  Vodka?” the bigger man responded.  The steward opened the Sprite can and looked over at the younger man.  “Would you like a beverage, sir?”
                “Coke, if you have it.”
                The steward was pouring both drinks at the same time, effortlessly switching between hands to add ice to another cup and reach into his apron to pull out a plastic room key he used to snap open another tab.  The steward was unsatisfied with the pour of the Sprite.  Back went the hand into the apron and back again with the key card, the hiss of carbonation escaping followed.  It was the movement of a satisfied man.  The steward handed the young man the Coke first but his right hand followed only a little while after to set the Sprite down in front of the bigger man.
                “I didn’t see you add vodka,” the bigger man said.
                “And you, would you like a beverage, ma’am?”
                The young man noted a distinct lack of vodka in his Coke.  He was grateful.  The bigger man sipped on his Sprite, his nose itched as the bubbles leapt from the little cup.
                “What were you saying, about the gay guy?”
                “He has to practice a lot,” the young man said.
                “Opening cans of soda like that?” the bigger man scoffed.  “I don’t think you practice that.”
                But the young man was convinced and could not be swayed.  He was imagining the steward at home, pouring endless cans of soda for his guests, never once forgetting to ask if they wanted a beverage first, but inevitably pouring the cans even if they declined.  It happened in hotel rooms, the young man was convinced.  He probably wore the apron, too.
                “Do you have a connection?” the bigger man asked.
                “I’m on the direct, heading home,” the young man replied.
                “What do you do?”
                The young man watched as the steward collected up the trash, the same efficient practiced movements as he scooped up loose napkins and unwanted newspapers, which were most of them.  His phone shook on the fold out tray table.  He picked it up.
                “Can I get you a refill on that drink?”  The bigger man shook his head, handing the steward his cup.
“Yes, thank you,” the young man said, handing the steward his plastic cup with crumpled-up napkin inside before returning to his iPhone.
“I don’t think he wants one,” explained the bigger man.  The steward walked away.
“Don’t want one what?” the young man asked, setting his phone back on the tray table.
“Whatever he’s selling,” the bigger man said.  The young man’s sideburn had been twisted.  The bigger man grunted, frustrated that he had missed it.  The matted brown hairs were spun together now, forming a point with only the short, shaven hairs now lying down in their correct position next to his ears.
“I work in sales,” the young man replied.
The bigger man hated salesmen.  His wife had left him for a car salesman.  Those were the worst kind.  “I run a tourist business.  Right now, I’m actually meeting up with a guy who is promising me a personalized check-in app with split ad revenue.”
“I sell data,” the young man offered.  “I wish we could smoke.”  He tapped his forefinger against his thigh, which bounced as his foot rapped against the carpet.
The bigger man fingered the packet of cigarettes in his breast pocket.  Smoking would be nice.  They could smoke at the airport, but by then, both would be eager to be getting on to their next thing.  It was always the airport you were flying into, never the one you were flying out from.
The stewards slick voice informed them that the pilot had turned on the fasten seat-belt sign.  The voice was a cross between Jimmy Stewart and the lady voice that every customer service department used to try and dissuade people from actually bothering to make a complaint.
“Who do you like this year at the Masters?” The bigger man asked.
“I don’t follow golf.”
The bigger man nodded in agreement. He wished he had an iPhone; the young man returned his attention to the tiny screen, intent on talking to some friend half-way across the world.