Posts Tagged ‘ken briscoe’

Judge’s Chamber: Morphology 101 by Ken Briscoe



mtg card back

Get used to seeing the back of this!



You’re probably asking yourself why I’m writing an article about Morph, the mechanic returning (for the third time!) in Khans of Tarkir. Surely it’s not so complex that it needs its own rules explanation…right?


WRONG. Read on to see why I, as a Judge, want you to know all the ins and outs. I definitely don’t want to issue any penalties, so as a favor to me, please soak this up…


What’s complicated?

Did you know that Morph doesn’t use the stack? That’s right, you can flip the card face-up and pay the cost, and your opponent can’t respond to it. In the same way they can’t respond to you tapping a Forest for green mana. Once you decide that flipping a Morph creature face-up is what you want to do, it just happens. No responses, no triggers, no instants, no nothing will cause this to not happen. No Trickbind or Stifle (even if they’re not in Standard) will stop this. IT JUST HAPPENS. PERIOD. HARD STOP.
OK, so that’s not so bad, but what is? Some cards, such as the recently-spoiled Master of Pearls have triggered abilities that trigger when they are turned face-up. While the act of turning a creature face-up does not use the stack, any abilities that trigger when that happens do use the stack and can be responded to. Other cards have effects that happen as the creature is being turned face up, such as Hooded Hydra. Take the following example:
You attack me with a 3/3 while I control a face-down creature (which, at this point, is a vanilla 2/2). I block, and you have no effects. Surprise, I do! I pay five mana and turn my creature face up to reveal that it’s Hooded Hydra. As it is being turned face up, I put five +1/+1 counters on it.
Remember, this all just happens. No stack involved, and no opportunity for you to Shock my creature. Once it’s face up, you can Shock it, but that won’t destroy it because it’s a 5/5. Once combat damage is dealt, both creatures will die. But once I said that I had effects and paid the Morph cost, it’s too late for you to respond by killing my face-down creature.
Another common question from players who’ve never played with Morph before is one similar to what we recently had with the Bestow mechanic. That is, “When I flip a Morph creature face up, does that count as coming into play?”
The short answer is no. The long answer is no, here’s why: Face-up/face-down is a status, just like tapped/untapped or flipped/unflipped (from Kamigawa-block flip cards). If that piece of cardboard was already on the battlefield and you just move it around a bit, that doesn’t count as entering the battlefield. It counts as staying on the battlefield.


What’s My Name?

Heads up, folks, we have a new token. It looks awesome, but as a judge, I have one issue with it.
This looks pretty sweet, with one exception – a Morph’s name, while face-down, is not “Morph”. Face-down creatures do not have a name. No name at all. These tokens are strictly a reminder and not a hard-and-fast representation of the game state.


Why does that matter?

I control two face-down creatures. You have Bile Blight. You want to kill one (or both) of them. You cast Bile Blight on one of them. I have no responses. What happens? The answer is that the face-down creature you targeted with Bile Blight is the only one that dies. Why? Because since Morph creatures don’t have a name (despite what that silly token may imply), then they can’t share a name. Which means the creature targeted with Bile Blight will die, its face-down comrade will not.


Face-down non-Morph

This is really the impetus for the article.You’re at the pre-release and you decide that you want to bluff your opponent. You decide to pay 3 and put a card into play face-down. Except, since you’re bluffing, you put an instant face-down, not a creature with Morph. Turns go by and you eventually win, maybe thanks to your bluff. Your opponent isn’t so happy but is none the wiser to your bluff.






Not sure I can express this any other way. Only creatures with Morph should be placed face-down on the battlefield. (Ixidron shenanigans aside.)


In fact, if there is a face-down creature on the battlefield, you must reveal it to all players when either of the following things happen:


  • The game ends.
  • The face-down creature would move from the battlefield to any other zone. If it’s bounced to your hand, you reveal it. If it’s destroyed, you reveal it. If it’s exiled, you reveal it. If it’s put on top of your library, you reveal it.


These measures are in place to prevent the scenario of having an instant (or any other non-morph card) being on the battlefield, either by accident or by an ill-intentioned player.


Moving Morphs

“Ah ha,” you’re saying, “I won’t play my non-Morphs face down, but I will move around my face-down creatures on the battlefield so my opponent won’t know which is which!”
This is another one of those “don’t do that” scenarios. While your opponents don’t have the right to know the exact Morph creature that any particular face-down creature is, they do have the right to know certain characteristics about them. For example, they have the right to know the order in which they entered the battlefield. They have the right to know which, if any, are summoning sick, tapped, or have any counters on them.
So my recommendation is to lay out your battlefield in such a way that your face-down creatures are side-by-side in chronological order. This will reduce confusion all around.


Speaking of Counters

If a face-down creature has any counters on it, when it’s turned face up, it will retain those counters. So if you cast Hunt the Weak and choose your face-down creature to fight one of my creatures, later on when you turn it face up and reveal it to be that Hooded Hydra from earlier, that Hydra will be a 6/6, not a 5/5.
What about the other type of counter? You cast a Morph creature face-down. I decide I want to counter it, even though I don’t know what it is. What happens? Recall from earlier that if a face-down creature would go from the battlefield to any other zone, you must reveal it. That’s only part of the story. When a face-down spell is countered, it goes to the graveyard face up, like any other spell. So while it’s on the stack, I might not know what the creature is, but if I counter it, I’ll know exactly how good or bad my decision to counter it was.


In a Nutshell

So while there are a couple of non-intuitive features to the Morph mechanic, if you remember the following few things, it should get you through 99% of your interactions with Morph:


  • Always remember to reveal the Morph at the end of the game, or if it would change zones!
  • Keep your face-down creatures distinct and clearly separated so each player can differentiate them.
    Counters, Auras, and Equipment will stay on the Morph creature even after it’s turned face up (unless the face up creature has protection from the Aura or Equipment).


And some strategic advice straight from 2002: Kill the Morph.
Thanks for reading.

About the author

Ken Briscoe is a local competitor of the Abington store and lover of all things “Magic: The Gathering.” He began playing “Magic” during Revised, and quit for about 6 years. He then picked things right back up at Mirrodin block. For real work, Ken is an IT Consultant. He is also a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan. He attended Syracuse University and Bridgewater State. but not at the same time. His latest accomplishments include beating Paul Calder last week in fantasy baseball.


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Your New Favorite Format – Part 1 by Ken Briscoe

This is not a request, nor is it negotiable

Despite my last (first) article laying out why Modern is awesome, I did mention that Legacy is actually my favorite format. Today I want to give you my first set of reasons why this is the case. I’ll also leave you with a decklist that may not be one of the premier decks in the format, but which isn’t uncompetitive, yet still fairly cheap and at least semi-competitive when compared to other decks.


Legacy is fun

How could this not be the first reason why Legacy is so good? Fun means different things to different people, but let me ask you a few questions. Almost no matter what type of player you are, at least one of these things should appeal to you, and they’re all common occurrences in Legacy.


-Have you ever paid one mana to put Griselbrand into play, paid seven life to draw seven cards, then paid one more mana to put Emrakul into play? Oh yeah, and attacking for 22! Oh yeah, on turn three!
-Have you ever locked your opponent out of the game by destroying most if not all of their lands while attacking for two – with Thalia, so when they do draw a land, they still can’t play their spells?
-Have you ever drawn your card for the turn and had to map out a series of rituals, cantrips, and tutors? Not to mention decide which of your win conditions is most likely to be successful. Do you need more cards at the expense of your life total (Ad Nauseam) or is your stocked graveyard enough to let you win (Past in Flames)?
-Have you ever locked down a game by activating Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s 0 ability over and over again, all the while ticking up Liliana of the Veil?
-Have you ever won the game without casting a single spell from your hand?


No matter what you find fun, there’s a competitive deck out there that will let you scratch that itch.


Legacy is popular

Let’s start at the local level. Did you know that Battleground’s Abington location runs weekly Legacy events on Thursday nights? Then on a national stage, the Open Series Legacy events have been averaging nearly 350 people since the beginning of the year which, historically, has had some of the highest turnouts for these events. One of the events even took place in a snowstorm that dropped a foot of snow on Indianapolis.


Not that it has any effect on the local scene, but Legacy may be even more popular in Europe. The Europeans tend to gravitate towards older formats, so it’s no surprise that Legacy is continuing that trend on the other side of the pond.


Beyond having multiple chances to play Legacy locally, if you’re willing to travel a couple hours in any direction, you could conceivably play a good sized event at least every weekend, sometimes doubling up on Saturday and Sunday. And even if you can’t make the trip, all SCG Opens are live streamed, as are some other occasional regional events. This offers you the ability to at least watch some sweet, sweet, Legacy Magic even if you can’t make it out to the event.


Legacy is expensive


angry mob fun run

Whoa! Put away the pitchforks! Let me explain. I know that even after I do, this might leave a sour taste in your mouth, but I do firmly believe that the (sometimes outrageous) cost of some Legacy staples can be a good thing.
The fact that some of these cards are on the Reserve List (meaning that Wizards of the Coast has promised to never reprint them, or any functionally identical card), or simply too powerful to reasonably be considered for a reprint means that supply will never go up. Assuming one of these staples doesn’t suddenly fall out of favor and become unplayable (which is unlikely, because we’re talking about cards ingrained in the format, not fringe cards), the card will maintain its value. Or at least a majority of it. So when I open my wallet to buy one of these cards, I know that it’s not going to be worthless tomorrow. This is the financial game we all play with Magic cards, but Legacy staples – specifically ones on the Reserve List, and more specifically lands on the Reserve List – are the safest bet in Magic, in my opinion.


And this isn’t just me blowing smoke. I’ve personally invested in Reserve List cards that I know I will rarely play. I’ve done it because I trust that WotC will keep their word and not reprint these cards, and that they will continue to make Magic great, thus keeping interest (and necessarily, demand) high. But I’ll let the #MTGFinance folks chime in on that.


An interesting side effect caused by the value of the cards: due to the fact that the cards can be pricey, players tend to take better care of their cards. In Legacy, you generally see more pile shuffling and “mash” shuffling than riffling. This doesn’t bend the cards. Most players have also taken to double-sleeving their decks for a little extra sturdiness in the sleeve as well as insurance against spillage of their Red Bull or Mountain Dew. This means that when I trade for your Karakas or Show and Tell, it’s probably in better condition than it would be if it was only worth $10. Because you know that if you take care of it, you can get a premium for it in trade.


Again, because it’s expensive, Legacy players who are financially invested tend to also be emotionally invested. For the most part, Legacy players just love the format, and that shows when playing a match. Ever go to a PTQ and play against that one guy who just can’t seem to ever find fun in the game? You know, the one who doesn’t say anything besides “No Blocks” or “Go” for the entire match and sarcastically says “Nice draw” on the turn you kill him? Just unfun all around. Well, those players exist in Legacy too, but there are far fewer of them. Legacy players care about the format, their cards, and their experience playing. Sure, we want to win, and that’s a primary motivation for entering any tournament. But it’s not all about that. It’s about the experience of playing with some of the most powerful cards, combos, and decks to have ever existed.


The opposite happened last weekend at the SGG Worcester Legacy Open. I played against a few players I’d never met or seen before, and one of them was the nicest, most easygoing, laid-back, let’s-have-fun type of player I’ve ever encountered. He told me he doesn’t play Standard because he doesn’t like the general attitude. Say what you will about competitive Magic players, but I find that the older the format, the more fun you will have on a personal basis with your opponents.


Wrapping Up and a Bonus Decklist

I’m not even sure I’m half-way done with what’s turning out to be a long list on why Legacy is so good, but I’ve been capped on the number of words, and I think I’m already beyond it. So, I’ll leave you with a decklist and then be on my way.


Here’s a semi-competitive decklist that you could use as a starting point for getting into Legacy without breaking the bank.
Note: I’m going to assume that you’re not starting from scratch and have either Modern cards (fetchlands, for example) or a collection that you can use to trade up for Legacy cards.


UG Infect
4 Blighted Agent

4 Glistener Elf

4 Noble Hierarch

2 Sylvan Library

1 Berserk

4 Brainstorm

3 Crop Rotation

4 Daze

4 Invigorate

4 Vines of Vastwood

4 Gitaxian Probe

2 Force of Will

2 Pendelhaven

4 Verdant Catacombs

4 Misty Rainforest

1 Blinkmoth Nexus

1 Forest

4 Inkmoth Nexus

4 Breeding Pool


Obviously there are sub-optimal numbers in this list, but as a budget-friendly(ish) starting point, it’s not bad when compared to other Legacy decks.


Were I starting here I would look to improve the deck in the following ways, in this order (so as to maximize the number of decks you can play in the meantime while you continue moving down the list).


-Four Tropical Islands
-Four Stifles. These may not belong in the deck, but they’re cheap and played in more than one Legacy deck. They’re also relatively cheap now with the reprinting in Conpiracy.
-Four Wasteland. This deck may not want four but maybe a couple. These three items on the list will get you closer to playing one of a few different Delver decks.
-Two Force of Will. This may be self-explanatory. Force of Will is the quintessential Legacy card.
-Berserk. You probably don’t want a full set, maybe just one or two more.


When that’s all said and done, even this deck is an investment, but if you buy cards one at a time over the course of, say, a year, you’re looking at something like $30 a week. To some of you, this may be doable, but to others it may not. But that’s OK! The deck above, as-is, is more than capable of winning a small local three- or four-round event. It may not take down a 10-round SCG Open, but it will be able to hold its own.


Next time, I’ll have another set of reasons why you should be playing Legacy. Alongside two cheaper, more competitive Legacy decklists!


Thanks for reading.




About the author

Ken Briscoe is a local competitor of the Abington store and lover of all things “Magic: The Gathering.” He began playing “Magic” during Revised, and quit for about 6 years. He then picked things right back up at Mirrodin block. For real work, Ken is an IT Consultant. He is also a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan. He attended Syracuse University and Bridgewater State. but not at the same time. His latest accomplishments include beating Paul Calder last week in fantasy baseball.


Join the Battleground Games & Hobbies community forums!

Please don’t forget to check us out on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @battleground_gh!


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Modern Love by Ken Briscoe




Josh (left) battles Ken (right). This was when there used to be regional tournaments. Remember those?


Hi all, welcome to my first article here on Battleground Games & Hobbies. At this point, I don’t know how often I’ll be writing, or even if Simeon will want to keep putting my articles up! However, when I do write, it’s going to be mainly about Eternal formats – that is, Modern and Legacy. There may be a little Vintage every now and then as I begin to learn that format, but as I don’t get a chance to play it but a couple times a year, that certainly won’t be a focus of mine in this series.


So with that, let’s go!


Today’s article is going to be about my recent love affair with the Modern format. When it was first announced a couple years ago, right after the death of Extended, I viewed Modern as “Legacy Light.” I was just starting to become invested in Legacy cards and following the format, and I felt as if I didn’t have time for another format. So I ignored Modern for a while to focus on playing what I do consider to be the best format of all, Legacy. But as I’ve come to realize recently, Modern is no slouch. It’s a deeply rich format with its own identity.


Very Modern. So Deck. Much Archetype.


In the last year, Modern has gone through an insane popularity boost. With the wildly successful Modern Masters and the huge Grand Prix Richmond leading the way, not to mention the current PTQ season, players all over the world have taken up Modern. Now with all these events, as the metagame changes and Wizards gets more and more data on what’s too good (or the opposite), the format is as healthy as ever. There’s no one boogieman-best-deck that everyone is either playing or trying to beat.


You could play any one of maybe 30 different decks and not be laughed out of the room. The format is that wide open. For starters, in no particular order:


UR Pyromancer Ascension StormUR Splinter TwinRUG Tarmo-TwinJund“Big” Zoo

“Small” Zoo



UW Control

UWR Control

UWR Kiki/Twin

Mono Red Burn

Melira Pod

Mono-Black Devotion

Restore Balance

Kiki PodAngel PodTribal Flames ZooGW HatebearsGR Tron

Mono-Blue Tron

UW Tron

Mono-Green Tron

BW Tokens




GB “Rock”


Living End


I’m sure I missed a handful of decks too!


Granted, some of these decks are simply better than others, but if you were to head to a large event it wouldn’t be unheard of to play nine rounds against seven or eight different decks. If I had to pick the top five decks with which to run through a large tournament, I’d probably say it’s these five, more or less in this order:


1)      UR Splinter-Twin

2)      Angel Pod

3)      Robots

4)      UR Pyromancer Ascension Storm

5)      UWR Control


My Own Personal Modern


In March, I got to compete in Grand Prix Richmond. In seven rounds (thanks to two byes), I played against six different decks. My day two experience was less than stellar, quickly losing three in a row – to a Melira Pod deck, a Kiki-Pod deck, and a Jund deck. More importantly, out of the 10 rounds I played at that tournament, I played against seven different decks! The format is wide open, and I think that’s absolutely fantastic. You can pick out almost any card from your trade binder and build a deck with it.


In fact, that’s almost what I did last weekend for a Grand Prix Trial at the Plainville location for GP Boston/Worcester. I have been playing UWR midrange/aggro-control for a while, but wanted to mix it up with Jund for this event. However, at the last minute, I stumbled across this Jund-like list. When I reached into the old Modern binder, on almost every page, there was a card I could use for this deck. Here’s what I sleeved up:


4 Dark Confidant2 Scavenging Ooze

1 Snapcaster Mage

4 Tarmogoyf

1 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

3 Liliana of the Veil

1 Sword of Feast and Famine

3 Abrupt Decay

2 Disfigure

4 Mana Leak

1 Slaughter Pact

2 Spell Snare

4 Inquisition of Kozilek

1 Maelstrom Pulse

2 Thoughtseize

2 Bitterblossom


1 Forest1 Island1 Swamp2 Breeding Pool3 Darkslick Shores

2 Hinterland Harbor

4 Misty Rainforest

2 Overgrown Tomb

4 Verdant Catacombs

2 Watery Grave

1 Woodland Cemetery


I went 3-1-1 in the swiss, cracking the Top 8. The only blemishes were a draw with UR Splinter Twin in round 1 (he also made Top 8) and a loss to Mono Red Burn in round 3. Then a quick loss to Robots in the Top 8.


I’m not claiming this deck is great. It’s mediocre at best. The reason I even typed out the list is to show some of the playable (if not fantastic) cards that you might not think of.


  • Disfigure – Who knew? That card was absolutely amazing for me all day.
  • Spell Snare – Seems a little niche, but I played it to great effect in both UWR in the past and in this deck. It counters a lot of problem cards – with Cranial Plating being the primary reason for running it.
  • Bitterblossom – Since coming off the Banned List, it hasn’t really found a home. It was OK for me in this deck, but I think I know why it hasn’t really found a home in Modern – it’s slow. But it was definitely worth a try.
  • Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver – OK, this one was no all-star for me, but there are worse cards to run, I’m sure. And it was an interesting experiment in peoples’ reactions to it.


Picture Package 1 resize

Wrapping up


If nothing else, take away from this article my three favorite things about Modern:


1)      Even “unplayable” cards or decks can be playable, and even good, in the right spot. Did you know that both Shadow of Doubt and Twisted Image see Modern play? Those cards are awful by most standards, but in certain situations, they really shine in Modern.


2)       There’s a ton of playable decks in Modern, so if you don’t have a certain set of cards, there’s always other decks to play that will fit your play style. That is, you don’t need a set of Tarmogoyfs to play Modern. The barrier for entry is actually quite low if you’ve been playing Standard for a couple years. Maybe you won’t be able to play your first choice deck, but you can find something similar, no doubt.


3)      Every tournament, every round, and every game, you learn something. Unless you’ve played the <Deck A> vs. <Deck B> matchup a million times, nothing is old hat. Maybe you’re seeing a deck for the first time. Maybe you finally realize why a certain card is played. Maybe you see a new use for a card (casting Remand your own spell in response to a Cryptic Command, perhaps). There’s just so much information available that every time you play Modern, you find out something new.


If you haven’t tried out Modern yet, or even if you have and love it as much as I do, come give it a shot. There’s another Grand Prix Trial for GP Boston/Worcester on 6/29 – this time at the Abington location. I like Modern so much I turned down the chance to judge the event so I could play! In addition, Abington hosts weekly Modern tournaments on Tuesday nights and every third Friday of the month is a Modern tournament. In Plainville, they have Modern tournaments every FNM. So you have plenty of chances to not just play Modern, but to play against a wide variety of decks each and every week!


Until next time, thanks for reading.




About the author

Ken Briscoe is a local competitor of the Abington store and lover of all things “Magic: The Gathering.” He began playing “Magic” during Revised, and quit for about 6 years. He then picked things right back up at Mirrodin block. For real work, Ken is an IT Consultant. He is also a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan. He attended Syracuse University and Bridgewater State. but not at the same time. His latest accomplishments include beating Paul Calder last week in fantasy baseball.


Join the Battleground Games & Hobbies community forums!

Please don’t forget to check us out on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @battleground_gh!


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