Redemption

The sins I’ve been burdened
Wears down my very soul
Its very essence has been
Corroded like rust to metal

And with each fleeting moment
I feel the pain surge through
Within my wasted veins
As I cry in despair and hopelessness

I was about to succumb to
The anguish of eternal sin
When a lady in scanty drapery
Bathe in a divine light appeared

She extended a hand from
The far blinding heavens
Soothing my anguish with
Her serene smile and blessings

As soon as I held unto her
I felt all the burden lifted
With my strength rejuvenated
And my soul cleansed completely

With renewed hope and faith
I stood up and held on
As she gracefully carried me
To the gates of the vast heavens

You may…

You may get tired of me
Ranting all day long
But I won’t get tired of you
For I will love you more

You may hate me one day
For being dense or insensitive
But I won’t hate you for it
And will remain loving you

You may not speak with me
For a couple of days
But I’ll always be here to listen
And offer you my love

You may decide to leave me
To pursue your dreams
But I will always include you in mine
And will love you still by then

You may forget me one day
And might find someone else
But I won’t find anyone
That I’ll love the same way as you

Not to do it again…

A kid of at the age of eight
Was spank by his mom
For being such naughty kid
And promised not to do it again

When he reached fourteen
He was caught for theft
And was beaten soundly by his dad
Promising never to do it again

When he reached his twenties
He was caught for drug addiction
And entered rehabilitation
And promised not to do it again

When he got out he went home
And looked for his parents
Taking his father’s gun
He shot his parents again and again

When the police arrived
He’s got a shot in his head
With a note in hand saying
“I promise not to do it again”

Before there was Theros….

It’s been 15 years since I started playing Magic: The Gathering and I can still vividly remember some of the first few cards that I saw like Flare, Essence Flare, Imposing Visage, and many more.

Before there was Theros....

Magic: The Gathering was fairly new at that time and there were only a few shops that sell the trading card game and even more few are the tournaments. The game was first introduced to me by a cousin of mine and one of the first questions I asked him in response to choosing what colors to play was;

What color handles defense and counters against opponents’ spells?

And that was how I came to play a mono blue deck. As months went by, my addiction to the game grew and I would always keep a portion of my allowance for Magic: The Gathering expenses. My cousins and I would always play the game every day and during the evening. I also saved up money just so I can buy the Inquest gaming magazine monthly where I learned a lot about strategy and the latest tech at that time. It was also from that magazine that I got inspired to construct my blue white millstone deck:

Blue-White Millstone Deck

61 cards

Lands: 18

4 Adarkar Wastes

6 island

1 Kjeldoran Outpost

6 Plains

1 Soldevi Excavation

Spells: 43

4 Arcane Denial

1 Balance

3 Browse

4 Counterspells

2 Disenchant

1 Feldon’s Cane

4 Force of Will

2 Gerard’s Wisdom

1 Grindstone

1 Helm of Obedience

4 Impulse

1 Island Sanctuary

2 Marble Diamond

2 Millstone

2 Sky Diamond

4 Swords to Plowshares

4 Wrath of God

1 Zuran Orb

Looking at the number of lands that my blue white millstone deck had back then, I can say that it is blasphemous if not atrocious. These days, blue white control decks tend to have 26 lands as the bare minimum if they want to get their lands on the battlefield consistently and for them to be able to cast all their spells. In fact, there are times that they even go as far as 27 lands! One of my favorite combinations at that time was these cards:

Before there was Theros....

Having both of these cards in play, and supported by ample lands made it impossible for aggressive opponents to deal damage to me. This gives me time to set up my defenses and the deck pieces needed to win the game. Another deadly combination that I enjoy putting my opponents through back then were these cards:

Before there was Theros....

Having these two cards in play ensures victory, provided that I have my artifact mana sources to to help me play my spells. Basically, the main idea is casting Balance and then sacrificing all my lands to the Zuran Orb which gains me tons of life. Once Balance resolves, it will check who has the least number of lands which would be me at that time and then each other player will have to sacrifice enough lands to make it equal to mine.

If I am feeling sadistic, I tend to cast all the spells in my hand and using my counters to counter my own spells just so I can have my opponent discard enough cards to make him or her helpless. Yeah, those were the days that I tend to just play around with my opponents once I was in control of the board state. Of course, nowadays, playing around does not only insult the opponent but it can also cost you the game if you’re careless so I no longer do such a thing.

At that time, my cousins had difficulty beating my deck. Looking for another deck to play in addition to my blue white deck, I also made a red deck:

Red Aggro Deck

Main Deck: 60

Lands: 20

20 Mountains

Creatures: 14

1 Goblin Baloon Brigade

1 Goblins of the Flarg

1 Goblin Recruiter

1 Goblin Soothsayer

1 Goblin Tinkerer

1 Goblin Vandal

1 Gorilla Shaman

4 Mogg Fanatic

1 Mogg Raider

1 Mon’s Goblin Raiders

1 Raging Goblin

Spells: 26

2 Final Fortune

4 Fireblast

4 Goblin Grenade

4 Guerrila Tactics

4 Incinerate

4 Kindle

4 Lightning Bolt

Before there was Theros....

This is the deck that could easily beat the blue white millstone deck that I made and is often borrowed by a cousin of mine who doesn’t have a deck of his own but someone whom we taught how to play magic. This deck is perhaps the most straight-forward deck that I made. The main idea is to play a creature on each turn and then just use the various burn spells that I have in my hand and that I draw, hoping to kill the opponent before he even have time to set up his offensive.

Another deck that I constructed that I enjoyed playing was a Green Red Aggro deck:

Red Green Aggro

Lands: 18

10 Forest*

8 Mountains*

Creatures: 24

1 Eron the Relentless

4 Fyndhorn Elves

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Woolly Mammoth

4 Tinderwall

2 Varchild’s War-Riders

4 Whirling Dervish

1 Yavimaya Ants

Spells: 18

4 Blood List

1 Fireball

4 Giant Growth

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Incinerate

1 Savage Twister

Before there was Theros....

This was a fun deck to play and sadly, I am no longer sure of some of the numbers of the cards in the main board. I was also utilizing snow-covered lands at that time so I can trigger the trample ability of my Woolly Mammoths. Like the red deck, this is another straight-forward deck that aims to continuously attack the opponent using your mana dorks and then pumping them with your pump spells to deal massive damage. If there were blockers, you just get rid of them using your burn spells. If your creatures aren’t enough to finish off the opponent, then there’s Savage Twister and the miser Fireball to finish everything.

Another memorable deck that I constructed at that time was a black white aggressive deck which looks something like this:

Black White Aggro

Main Deck:  79

Lands: 20

10 Plains

10 Swamps

Creatures: 32

4 Black Knight

2 Blinking Spirit

2 Fallen Angel

4 Femeref Knight

2 Knight of Stromgald

1 Ivory Gargoyle

1 Ornithopter

2 Order of Ebon hand

2 Order of Leitbur

2 Order of the White Shield

4 Serra Angel

2 Sengir Vampire

1 Spirit of the Night

4 White Knight

Spells: 17

1 Angelic Renewal

4 Disenchant

4 Dark Banishing

4 Drain Life

4 Terror

Before there was Theros....

Yes, you read that right. This deck in particular has seventy plus cards and that is because I didn’t have any idea how best to make a deck. At that time I was starting to play magic, I just ask people what cards where good to play and then jammed them all in one deck. The good thing though is that this deck wins a lot as well since it has like 16 spot removals to deal with pesky creatures and enchantments. The only deck I remember I lost to was the Manabarbs deck which the opponent didn’t seem to correctly understood how it functioned, looking back at it now. Imagine, I am taking damage from the barbs and then he wasn’t. But oh well, that was how magic was a long time back.

But perhaps one of my favorite decks at that time that I constructed was the Blue Green Malignant Growth Deck though I am no longer that certain about some of the numbers of the cards here since it’s been so long since I made that deck, particularly the land count.

 Malignant Growth Lock

Creatures: 16

4 Ernham Djinn

4 Fyndhorn Elves

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Wall of Roots

Spells: 42

4 Arcane Denial

1 Black Vice

3 Browse

4 Counterspell

2 Fellwar Stone

4 Force of Will

2 Icy Manipulator

4 Malignant Growth

2 Moss Diamond

4 Mystical Tutor

2 Shimmer

2 Sol Grail

4 Stormseeker

2 Sky Diamond

2 Winter Orb

 Before there was Theros....

The strategy of this deck was simple, ramp as much as you can and then play mana artifacts and creatures then plopped down a Malignant Growth. Just continuously pay for the cumulative upkeep and then throw occasional Storm Seekers that will eventually kill the opponent. There’s also the Shimmers and the Winter Orb Icy Manipulator combo to lock the opponent’s mana supply while the Malignant Growth slowly kills him.

But after being able to complete my Millstone Deck, I decided to stop buying and quit. I still played but I no longer buy cards since I really didn’t have any more reason to buy new deck pieces, especially I wasn’t playing competitively at that time

It took 10 years or so before I decided to get back in the game and this was thanks to a friend of mine who was actively playing at that time. It’s funny though that he already stopped playing the game and I am the one who’s going competitive. Right now, I just want to play competitively and hopefully, I am able to attain my objective of being one of the best players there is if not the best. I know the dream looks big but then again, I am patient in attaining this goal. This is perhaps the first time I made a goal for myself that I want to achieve real bad.

Well, that’s it for today. I just thought to share the history behind me learning how to play Magic: The Gathering and the different decks that I used to play a long time back.

Thanks for reading,

@ravenknives at Twitter

Raven Knives

image credit: gatherer.wizards.com, wizards.com/magic

Before there was Theros....

No Home to Return To…

The storm clouds hover above
The world is plunged in darkness
My heart longs for your warm embrace
Is there still a home to return back to?

Will my prayers reach the heavens
If the god which resideth there is deaf?
How can the world below be so complacent
Of keeping their love in their hearts?

But no matter how strong the storm
Brave souls continue to march forward
With swords raised to the heavens
Shouting words of justice, in this hopeless war

Will there be a place for me?
To go back home to?
Do I still breathe the air of the living?
Or am I already a thing of the past?

The song of battle beckons
My soul to walk towards the future
But alas, my sword has been broken
By countless battles that time has for gotten

The storm clouds has dispersed
And the sun’s rays has blessed the land
But there was no more place to return to
Nor a body to walk back home with

Forbidden Fruit

I know that if our lips meet
the poison on them
will snuff my life away
like a candle being blown by a subtle breeze

But why is it that I long for you?
When death awaits my mortal body
Then again, does it matter?
When my soul is lost to begin with?

Maybe selling my soul to the devil
Isn’t that bad after all?
If in exchange I can taste
This forbidden fruit with you

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

It’s just a few days before the prerelease and I am still undecided if I would be partaking on this upcoming event primarily due to financial constraints. Not to mention that I am more inclined to just save up for deck pieces that I can use in the new standard metagame. As of the present, all the cards in Theros has already been spoiled and the truth is that contrary to my initial impression of Theros, there are a number of cards that I really found interesting. Sadly, I’ve been preoccupied with a lot of things these last few days which kept me from writing about the newly spoiled cards but no matter, let me take this opportunity to write about one of the planeswalkers which a number of people seem to not find impressive as compared to the first two planeswalkers that were spoiled.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

Like most of the previous blocks’ first set, they often have three planeswalkers and Theros is no exception. Ashiok, Nightmare Reaver is the third planeswalker to be spoiled after Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Xenagos, the Reveler. Furthermore, if you’re going to notice, the three planeswalkers generally represents the five colors of magic with Elspeth being the only mono-colored planeswalker representing white, Xenagos representing red and green and Ashiok, representing blue and black.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

Like with all planeswalkers, Ashiok is difficult to evaluate especially that we’re not sure how the new metagame will look like, setting aside the most likely probability of red-based aggressive strategies swarming the metagame.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

What initially caught my attention regarding this planeswalker is its low mana cost. Ashiok only cost three mana and if we’re going to look back at previous planeswalkers  which costs three mana, we can confidently say that all of them saw play in the metagame of their times, with the exception of Ajani’s latest iteration which I feel may still impact new standard in some way.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

Jace Beleren initially didn’t see play right away as compared to Garruk Wildspeaker and Ajani Goldmane. People didn’t appreciate Jace’s +1 ability since it let’s their opponents draw a card and it’s perfectly reasonable. Who would want their opponents to be benefiting from the card that you paid the mana cost for? Not to mention that it’s likely that you wouldn’t be able to play the card you drew in cases where you had just plopped Jace on the battlefield. On the other hand, choosing to draw only for yourself through his second ability reduces his loyalty counter which makes him vulnerable to the opponent’s creatures. His ultimate was rarely used at that time since the metagame was a bit aggressive, with faerie rogues flying around and kithkins drawing their swords, supported by their wizened cenns so there was just not much time to go up to 10 loyalty counters, not to mention that in order for you to do that, you have to use his first ability which allows your opponent to draw a card which is not a good idea. However, the tournament adjusted and people eventually learned to utilize Jace Beleren effectively and eventually became a staple in Faerie decks like Garruk being a staple in green ramp aggro decks at that time.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

Liliana of the Veil on the other hand was the most expensive planeswalker of her time. When she first came around the standard metagame, people were excited to put her in their Solar Flare decks since it helps enable their plan of discarding a big creature, in this case, a Sun Titan whom they will eventually reanimate through the use of Unburial Rites. This then will bring back copies of Phantasmal Images which will then become copies of Sun Titan themselves, re-triggering the ETB ability of a Sun Titan to get more copies of Phantasmal Images from the graveyard to become another copy of Sun Titan and you get the idea. It should be obvious by now that having no immediate answer to such threats will likely close the game on the spot.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

Her second ability is also no joke since it definitely gets rid of a creature. However, when UW Delver decks started dominating the metagame, people started to use Liliana less since they tend to get out tempo-ed. Just imagine, a UW Delver deck will simply play the turn one namesake card and then increase the chances of it becoming a reasonable threat through the help of Gitaxian Probe, and Ponder and once it becomes an insectile aberration, they’ll just sit on their counterspells, which was Mana Leak at that time. However, if the necromancer of the veil goes through unopposed then it will spell trouble for any deck since her ultimate is very very relevant and wins games.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

In fact, even now, Liliana continues to be a staple in some decks, particularly the current Jund Midrange decks. Though Liliana is no longer seen that much these days thanks to the changes in the metagame, she has proven herself to be one of the most powerful planeswalkers to have been designed by Wizards of the Coast. And we’re not even mentioning the havoc that she’s causing in the Modern format as a four-of in a Jund deck and was usually cascaded to by the once-modern format legal card Bloodbraid Elf. And this won’t be possible if not for Liliana’s low-mana cost. And thanks to her low mana cost, playing her on the 2nd turn with the help of a Deathrite Shaman is possible with the Jund deck in Modern.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

“Bloodbraid + Liliana = Devastated Opponent”

Domri Rade is another card that has impacted the current Standard metagame. Though his inclusion is mostly limited to creature-densed decks, his abilities are all worth it. One common interaction would be Domri’s fight ability, the second ability to be exact, being used to target your own Boros Reckoner to fight another creature of an opponent which will then deal damage to the minotaur wizard which in turn, will trigger its ability to redirect damage dealt to it to a creature or player. Even his first ability is relevant since it helps you draw half a card, provided that your deck’s creature density is really high. And truth is that based on my experience, a turn two Domri is hard to deal with especially if you’re a control deck and once you are able to use his ultimate, it’s usually game over for your opponent.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

And perhaps, the biggest factor which made these aforementioned planeswalkers standard playable is their low mana cost and I believe the same can be said of Ashiok.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

At first glance, his (or her, though Vorthos Doug Beyer nor anyone didn’t confirm Ashiok’s gender but for the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to Ashiok as a male character) first ability doesn’t seem to impact much of the board. It simply exiles the top three cards of the opponent’s library and nothing more. It doesn’t let you draw cards, nor does it let you deny opponents any resources or even deal with creatures or even create tokens to defend itself. It’s like playing an over-costed Millstone with a free activation that mills the opponent for three cards. Now, would you play a three mana cost millstone when you can simply play a more proactive three mana cost card like Nightveil Specter perhaps? Assuming that Ashiok is in some kind of control shell, would you bother tapping out on the third turn just to mill your opponent three cards which does not affect his board position at all? Considering these factors, it is perfectly understandable why people would easily dismiss Ashiok. However, if we’re going to look closely, Ashiok’s starting loyalty is three and using his first ability brings his starting loyalty to five. Suddenly, the three-drop planeswalker became difficult to get rid off by mere aggression. In order for an opponent to force the Nightmare Weaver to retreat, he has to at least have a total of 5 power on board. And even if he is able to off Ashiok, the turn will likely end with you unharmed.

And take note, this is not putting factors like you having a removal for your opponent’s creatures into account. Looking at the color combination of Ashiok’s mana cost, we have a number of creature removals at our disposal such as Doom Blade, Warp Physique, Devour Flesh, Ultimate Price and many more. We even have a possible turn two Omenspeaker to serve as a chump blocker against your opponent’s creatures who’re planning to deal with a third turn Ashiok. What makes Ashiok’s first ability good is that it has synergy with his second ability.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

Had to admit that I wasn’t able to understand what Ashiok’s second ability does at first glance but after reviewing it a number of times, I was able to eventually comprehend it. Yay for me. Basically, Ashiok’s second ability is dependent on the creatures exiled using Ashiok’s first ability and ultimate. So after using his first ability the first time to exile three cards, the Nightmare Weaver has the option to put any creature from the exiled cards into play at the cost of his loyalty counter which is equal to the converted mana cost of the creature that you want to put into the battlefield. For example, two of the exiled cards are creatures namely Boros Reckoner and Precinct Captain.

You have the option to get one of those creatures into the battlefield with the added creature type of “Nightmare” under your control, provided that Ashiok’s loyalty counter is equal to the creature’s converted mana cost or less. So if for example Ashiok has five loyalty counters, you can either put the Boros Reckoner into play under your control or the Precinct Captain under your control at the expense of Ashiok’s loyalty counter. If you decide to choose Boros Reckoner then the loyalty counter cost to get him under your control would be three which will reduce Ashiok’s loyalty counter down to two. On the other hand, if you choose to get Precinct Captain instead then the value of X will then be two which will reduce Ashiok’s loyalty counter down to three.

If you’re going to think about it, this is Ashiok’s means of protecting himself; by taking control of a creature that was exiled by either his first ability or ultimate. Just being able to take control of a Boros Reckoner from an RDW opponent can definitely make a big difference when it comes to board state and will surely make your opponent think twice before attacking you or Ashiok for that matter. Even better if you can gain control of a Kalonian Hydra right off the exiled cards and is possible since using the blue black planeswalker’s first ability will increase his loyalty counter to five which is enough for him to make a nightmare out of the hydra. Just imagine doing such a thing on the fourth turn. It can be devastating to the opponent.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

Even if you’re unable to get a good creature like a Hydra or a Reckoner, being able to generate a chump blocker is still a good thing since you’re not losing leverage. At the worst, the pile of cards exiled don’t have any creatures but at least, you still have Ashiok with a high loyalty counter which can make killing him challenging. Not to mention that you may have spot removals to keep creatures down. Having an Ashiok online against a control player is also advantageous since using his first ability potentially threatens an ultimate in four turns and if not dealt with, can be crippling to the control player.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

Speaking of his ultimate, it may not appear impressive against an aggressive player since more or less, the aggro player already has dumped most of his hand before you can even activate his ultimate. This is provided that you are also not using his second ability to stem the aggression which will likely keep Ashiok from having enough loyalty to pull off his ultimate. And even if you are able to reach eleven loyalty counters, you’d probably prefer to keep it that way and use his second ability to stall the opponent’s attacks instead of his ultimate. In addition to this, even if you do actually utilize his ultimate, it will still keep Ashiok alive with one loyalty counter for you to be able to continuously abuse his abilities, totally wrecking your opponents’ hand. And yes, that’s opponent with an “s” meaning that if you are able to miraculously pull an ultimate in a game of Commander, then chances are, you’ll be enjoying the look on your opponents’ faces.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

On the other hand, Ashiok’s ultimate can totally win you control match ups if he is not dealt with right away. Even if he was dealt with using cards like Hero’s Fall, Dreadbore and or Detention Sphere, the damage that he has done on the opponent’s library is irreparable since his first ability exiles cards rather than putting them on the opponent’s graveyard. Though frankly speaking, the chances of you triggering his ultimate may not be that high thanks to cards that specifically deal with planeswalkers, and him being able to come online as soon as the third turn is already a big deal. Remember the Nephalia Drownyard days? Yeah, only this time, you don’t need to leave mana up every end of turn of the opponent to mill their libraries. You only need to play an Ashiok and use his first ability to do that.

Standard Thoughts on Theros Spoiler Season: Ashiok “Salonga”, Nightmare Weaver

Of course, it’s still faster to mill the opponent’s library utilizing multiple Drownyards unlike Ashiok due to him being legendary but then again, I guess we can’t have it all huh? Overall, I honestly believe that Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver will make an impact in the upcoming metagame somewhere along the way. That’s it for today! Next time, let’s see what kind of brews we can come up with now that all the cards in Theros have been spoiled!

Thanks for reading!

@ravenknives at Twitter

Raven Knives

Maddening Music

Listening to this maddening music
I watched the doves fly towards the cerulean sky
What will they find across the endless sky I wonder?
These corroded chains that bind my heart
Will it be set free to love what has been lost in time?

The faces I see around me are blank
But why does the face in the mirror smile at me?
Its eyes are filled with malice and yet tears flow down from it
The music continues to play, it’s lyrics echo in my mind
Will it be remembered forever by this aching heart?

The sun is almost setting in the horizon
And the doves that flew away can no longer be seen
I watch the world’s reflection on the silent and lonely sea
Will this silent prayer reach the heavens?
Will the hope buried in time resurface for it to be claimed?

Listening to this maddening music
I watched the doves fly towards the crimson skies
The horizon continues to entice those doves
My heart remains chained by the unforgiving past
A lost soul that will forever wander throughout the end of time

Song of Fickle Love

I saw your faint visage in my dream
With that charming smile of yours
Those eyes that reflect my longing eyes
An image torn from heaven’s mural

Looking at your comely face
Nostalgia fills my dull heart
Relieving dead moments in my deceitful mind
I want to hold you again like before

I mutter a silent prayer
That only nameless gods could hear
To grant me another moment
To see your smile and feel your warmth

Do those suple lips
Even speak my name?
Nor remember those few moments
That they touched mine?

The clock’s hands continue to move forward
And your image will remain but an illusion to my weary eyes
For you have flown away with feathered wings
Leaving me with this song of fickle love

An Endless Gallery

Imprisoned in this endless gallery
I try to search for a lost visage
Of the past which haunts me in the present
Why do these ghosts see me as a beacon of hope?

My heart throbs as I long for a future
That will welcome me without prejudice
But the ghosts forever haunt me trapping me in time