Monday, 28 April 2014

MTG: Jes's Top 12 Journey Into Nyx Cards

(Why Top 12? Because Stone Cold said so!)

After getting to play a few of the new cards in this past weekend's Journey Into Nyx pre-release (in which I sucked, again. This block hasn't been kind to me), and with the set coming out on Friday, I figured I'd opine on the 12 cards that I'm most excited about from the new set.

The previous set, Born of the Gods, was fairly 'blah'. Journey Into Nyx seems to have more cards that really stand out and get my creative juices flowing . There isn't too much that is screaming 'Brew Around Me!' just yet, but there is potential.

#12 - Chariot of Victory

This piece of equipment looks rather innocuous, and doesn't boost power or toughness, but I could see putting this into many different decks. The combination of those three tasty keywords, and just 1 mana to equip?

Any equipment with haste will always get a look-see, and adding first strike and trample turns any creature into a mini-Akroma.

The chariot likely works best on high-power/low-toughness creatures, but is a great casual card for any player.

#11 - Dictate of Heliod

The guy who won our pre-release had this bad boy in his deck, along with the two rare hydras, and just destroyed everybody in his path. +2/+2 is just such a massive boost, turning those dorky 1/1s into actual threats, and being able to play it as an instant-speed combat trick can be backbreaking. I could see putting this into my token-based decks, or even my Angels EDH deck.

 #10 - Nyx-Fleece Ram

Another gorgeous Terese Nielsen art (as was the last card), this little guy is a great defensive creature that will help against very aggressive decks. Gaining a life every upkeep makes this playable, and the cuteness factor cannot be denied.

#9 - Nyx Weaver

I love utilizing the graveyard, and have two decks that this spider will slide nicely into. Besides being a good roadblock, the ability to 'Regrowth' any card is pretty potent.

#8 - Tethmos High Priest

Recursion on a creature? That is always tantalizing. Turning any bestow or pump spell into a reanimate is serious business, even if it is just weenies you are getting out of the BBQ.

My UW Heroic deck will want at least one of these, given that almost every other creature is 2 mana or less.

#7 - Doomwake Giant

The one potential 'build around me' card is Doomwake Giant. Shrinking your opponents creatures with every enchantment can add up quickly and help win combats. The 4/6 body is beefy, and I could see myself rebuilding my clunky BW Enchantment deck around this.

#6 - Fleetfeather Cockatrice

The most beautiful card in the set, by far... the use of blue and green really evokes the colour-pie feel of the card, and it really stands out from most illustrations.

This card is one of my wife's favourites, and I'm sure my she will use this against me in nefarious ways.

#5 - Hydra Broodmaster

Mmm... Who is up for Hydra Omelettes?

Another card in our pre-release winner's pool, this Hydra is serious BEEF. A 7/7 for six mana is pretty typical for green, but if you untap and play another land, you get Three 3/3 hydras, and this thing becomes a 10/10. That's not bloody fair!

This is one of those 'must deal with right away' dudes that brings so much value for your investment.

#4 - Dictate of Erebos

Another awesome illustration! Here, we have an instant-speed Grave Pact that doesn't hurt your teammates. In our 2-on-2 environment, this is a much better card than Grave Pact. Block with your weeny 1/1s and then them all into removal spells.

#3 - Keranos, God of Storms

This card is pure value, and is an amazing card for UR control decks. Even if he never becomes a creature, you will storm over your opponent(s) with the constant advantage you get each turn.

Really, drawing a card or dealing 3 damage each upkeep will add up quickly, and we know indestructible enchantments are not easy to remove in casual environments. This is probably the easiest god to play, simply because it requires no other upkeep or investment, and devotion really doesn't matter too much.

#2 - Sigiled Starfish

♫ Oh, the fabulous Scryfish ♫

I had this in my crappy pre-release pool, and this little sea creature was the only reason I managed to not get completely stomped.

3 toughness makes this a pretty decent defender, and getting to scry every turn, for multiple turns, leads to some much-needed card filtering and selection. This card is easy to overlook, but can be deceptively powerful if left unchecked.

#1 - Athreos, God of Passage

As an Orzhov mage, I was obliged to pre-order and pay over $20 to get myself one of these. Being an Orzhov mage isn't cheap, after all :(

There is usually one card in every set that makes me jump up and down like a little girl, and this one was it!

Like Keranos, Athreos requires little upkeep after you cast it. Even if it never becomes a creature, you are going to get some value from Athreos as the game goes on. Either I get my dead creature back, or you take 3 to the dome.

The low mana cost is what will likely push this into Standard, as the BW-based beater decks can flush him out early, and then build from there.

The only downside is that decks with lifegain can easily take 3 life to not give you your creature back, and it doesn't give you as much 'free' value as Keranos will. Still, this is the card I'm most excited to own and play with. Better be prepared to pay the ferryman.


So, what cards are you looking forward to getting?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

NHL: First Round Playoff Predictions - Bestern Conference

Tonight's the night where Canadian hockey fans can unite and watch American teams chase the Stanley Cup. No, Montreal is not going to win it all. *sigh*

Here are my picks, using actual standings for the rank vs. the weird NHL system.

#2 Colorado Crapalanche vs. #7 Minnesota Mild

As an aside, I have loathed the Avalanche for many years, dating back to them beating the Panthers in the Stanley Cup Finals and Clod Lemieux's dirty hit-from-behind on Kris Draper. I dislike the Red Wings with respect, and the Avalanche without it.

Now, they are coached by the megalomanical Patrick Roy, a man with serious anger and ego issues (Just ask his wife). In goal? How about oft-drunk woman-beater Semyon Varlamov, whose sins seem to be swept under the rug because he can stop a hockey puck.


As for the on-ice stuff, the Avalanche have been this season's surprise story in the West, going from laughing stock to finished second in the West. For all of Patrick Roy's faults, his player want to play hard for him (out of fear, perhaps), and they show 10x the emotion the Canucks have.

That said, the Avalanche are the league's luckiest team, and their record is a bit of a mirage. The Avalanche, like the Maple Leafs, are constantly out-shot and out-possessed (is that even a term, Jes?). Although the Avalanche have a lot of skilled players, they have relied far too much on their goaltender to bail them out.

Goaltending: Varlamov, as I mentioned, is the prime reason the Avalanche did so well. His 92.7SV% ranks third in the NHL, and he did it facing many quality scoring chances.

For the Wild, Josh Harding provided the league's best goaltending early in the season, before his battle with MS forced him out of the lineup. Crazy Ilya Bryzgalov was brought in to be his replacement, and he's a clear downgrade. Advantage: Colorado

Defense: I still laugh at how the Blues fleeced Colorado for Kevin Shattenkirk. Erik Johnson is an OK defenseman, but he'll never be the franchise player that was expected of him. Minnesota's D is anchored by Ryan Suter, one of the league's steadier blueliners, and a guy who *did* blossom into a franchise-type player.

Where it comes apart for the Wild is their 78.8% penalty kill, 4th worst in the league. Colorado isn't great on the PK, either, but still better than Yeo's club. 

Forwards: Is it Mike Yeo's terrible coaching? The Wild have some really good forwards (Parise, Koivu, Moulson, Pominville), but have, as always, trouble scoring goals. Their +1 goal differential is the worst amongst all Western playoff clubs, and 207 goals for is second worst. Their leading scorer, Pominville, had only 60 points.

Colorado, on the other hand, finished fourth overall in goals scored. Speedster Matt Duchene is out for at least the first round, which hurts a lot, but they seem to be a better-performing group. The Avalanche have five players with 60 or more points, and their Power Play is also one of the league's best.

Patrick Roy knows how to let his dogs out (It was him!).

Prediction: Avalanche in 5. The Wild are relying on a real wild-card in goal, and appear to be the weakest team heading into the playoffs.

#3 St. Louis vs. #5 Chicago

The Blues have long been my *other* favourite team, so this is my one dog in the fight.

Unfortunately, the Blues seem to have run into the most rotten of luck. Besides having to face the powerful and experienced Blackhawks, the Blues limped into the playoffs, losing their final six games. With injuries to Oshie, Backes, and Pietrangelo, it is not looking good for the good guys!

Goaltending: Ryan Miller's save percentage went from 92.4% to 90.3% with the Blues. Ugh! He was traded for to be the OMGAWESOME goalie the Blues have always lacked. Corey Crawford is a steady goalie who provides slightly-above-average 'keeping. I'd give the edge to the Blues, but not with how Miller is playing right now.

Defense: The Hawks have an amazing trio of Keith, Seabrook, and Hjarmalsson, which the Blues match up well with Olympians Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk, and Pietrangelo. The Blues have better depth, but Pietrangelo's injury could even things up.

Forwards: The Hawks have the star power with Kane, Hossa, and Toews, but the Blues have a lot more depth up front. Unfortunately, ex-Sabres Steve Ott and Derek Roy have been terrible for the Blues, giving the lineup a glaring hole. When you trade for players from crappy teams, do you really expect them to do well? This is why the Canucks need to stop trading with the Florida Panthers (David Booth, I'm looking at you!).

Honestly, both lineups are pretty stacked, and both teams could have easily had a better record than they did if not for injuries. With Kane and Toews back from injury, I think this series is the Hawks' for the taking :(

Prediction: Hawks in 7.

#1 Anaheim vs. #8 Dallas

For some reason, Anaheim does not seem like THAT good of a team to me. Yeah, they have talent, but something about their record seems...inflated like Pamela Anderson's boobs. I haven't delved into why I feel this way, but some bacteria in my gut tells me the Ducks aren't as good as their record suggests. Their special teams are middle-of-the-road, for one thing...

Goaltending: Anaheim's greatest weakness is that Jonas Hiller is not that good. Will the Ducks go with rookie Frederik Andersen? He's played much better than Hiller has.

For the Stars, Kari Lehtonen has put behind his groin injury problems and become a very dependable goaltender. This is Dallas' one edge in the series.

Defense: Adding 50-year old Sergei Gonchar and dumping Stephane Robidas did help the Stars make the playoffs, but their group isn't overly impressive. The Ducks are anchored by the underrated Cam Fowler and steady Francois Beauchemin. A slight edge to the Ducks.

Forwards: This is where Anaheim has shined all season. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has always been great at getting offensive production from his roster, and the Ducks finished second overall with 266 goals for. The Ducks get good production throughout their lineup.

The Stars have two absolute bombs in Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but their depth just doesn't compare. Somehow, the Stars think the corpse of Erik Cole is still worth putting on the ice, and Ray Whitney's age has finally caught up to him.

Prediction: Ducks in 6.

#4 San Jose vs. # 6 LA Kings

The LA Kings have quietly been one of the league's most dominant teams, at least according to advanced stats. Darryl Sutter is a great coach for the club, and the Kings possession numbers and metrics suggest their record should be better than it is.

Darryl Sutter, the original "Grumpy Cat"

San Jose, of course, has a Vancouver Canucks-like history of playoff misery.

Goaltending: Quick is a bit overrated, in my eyes, but still battle-tested and dependable. For the Sharks, Niemi is also solid. A fairly even match.

Defense: No team was better than the LA Kings, defensively, as they finished first in goals-against with 174! Drew "Pillsbury" Doughty is one of the league's better 2-way defenseman, and Slava Voynov is tough to score on. San Jose's group is good, but the Kings can't be matched when it comes to team defense.

Forwards: The LA Kings bane has been their inability to score, while the Sharks are loaded with talent up front. If Havlat (big IF) can come back to the lineup and produce, the Sharks may be able to break the dam the Kings will put up.

The Kings are the worst offensive team in the 2014 playoffs, and their stifling system isn't the sole reason. They have a fine assortment of offensive talent (Kopitar, Williams, Carter, Richards), but seem to struggle on the Power Play, with the league's 4th-worst conversion rate.

Marian Gaborik has given the LA Kings a big boost on offense, and he might be the spark they need to retain the throne.

Prediction: Los Angeles in 7 very close games.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

NHL: Yes, The Flyers Are Still Stupid

The Philadelphia Flyers have long had a well-deserved reputation for being a bunch of dimwit thugs. When your team is run by the likes of Booby Clarke and Paul Holmgren, you ought to expect a bevy of bad business decisions.

Today's laughable news from Philly comes in the form of a disgustingly stupid long-term contract for defenseman Andrew McDonald.

The terms? 6 years, $30mil - cap hit of $5mil per season.

If you don't know who Andrew McDonald is, don't be alarmed. He's an slight-above-average-at-best defenseman who is known for blocking shots and not much else.

Sure, McDonald was set to be an unrestricted free agent, but that doesn't mean the Flyers needed to open Scrooge's vault to let him dive into. Let some other team sign him to a dumb contract. In the era of salary caps, every dollar poorly spent hurts.

Of course, this is the team that still has Chris Pronger on the books for a $5mil/season cap hit. Ha!

How does this new contract compare to his peers? CapGeek has the 20 best comparables.

For real perspective, compare his new contract to those of two Canadian Olympians!

Jay Bouwmeester - $5,400,000
Andrew McDonald - $5,000,000
Dan Hamhuis - $4,500,000

McDonald is nowhere near the skill level of these other two defenseman, yet is getting paid like a star.  As somebody who does not like the Flyers, this contract does make me well as shake my head in disgust.

Even the Flyers bloggers think this deal is crazy.

Monday, 14 April 2014

NHL: First Round Playoff Predictions - Leastern Conference

Yeah, I haven't been inspired to blog here much in the past few months, but I figure the start of the NHL Playoffs is as good as any to write something.

With the Vancouver Canucks having the collapse of the century (no hyperbole here!), I'm more of an outsider observer of the playoffs. Sure, my other favourite team, the St. Louis Blues, is in the playoffs... but we know the Blues have a history of playoff failure just like the Canucks do.

First, I'll start with the teams on the other side of the continent.

Want more proof that the Western Conference is Bestern Conference?

1. Two of the playoff teams in the East were in the West last season. Ha!

2. Western Conference had six 100-point teams vs. four in the East.

3. Six of the West teams have a +30 or better goal differential. In the East? Just two.

On to the predictions. I'm using their spot in the overall standings, vs. the new weird format the NHL uses...


#1 Boston vs. #8 Detroit

Mike Babcock deserves some Jack Adams votes for the way he's handled the battered Red Wings this season. Despite playing with half of an AHL team, the Wings made the playoffs with a second-half push.

Goaltending: Rask is one of the very best, while Howard is merely average.

Defense: Zdeno Chara anchors one of the better two-way defense corps in the league. Detroit just doesn't have the D corps it used to when Mr. Perfect (Lidstrom) was around.

Forwards: Detroit has some real quality, and Gustav Nyquist is quite the story, but their depth just doesn't match up to Boston's. The Bruins have depth, size, and a playoff-tested group of grunts.

What are you going to do, brother, when Milan Lucic runs wild over you?

Prediction: Bruins in 5.

#3 Tampa vs. #4 Montreal

Goaltending: Carey Price finished 3rd in Save Percentage, while the Bolts #1, Ben Bishop, suffered a late-season injury. The Habs won many games thanks to Carey Price, who made up for Michel Therrien's terrible coaching.

Defense: Douglas Murray is, probably, the very worst defenseman in the NHL. On the flip side, PK Subban and Andrei Markov are two of the most talented. As a group, the Habs give up a lot of shots, and the Bolts' D is far steadier. Hedman has developed, quietly, into one of the league's better two-way defenseman, while Sami Salo and Eric Brewer bring a wealth of experience.

Forwards: The Bolts got some surprising performances from youngsters Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. Inexperience, plus the loss of Marty St-Louis (due to his whiny trade demand) could be their downfall. The Habs have a very small forward corps, but they do have fairly solid depth. Both teams seem quite similar, in this regard.

Prediction: Habs in 7. I hope the Lightning win, but the Bolts seems to have run into some bad luck.

If the Bolts do lose, at least Ryan Malone can throw a great party!

#2 Pittsburgh vs. #7 Columbus

The BJs make the playoffs for the second time in franchise history, thanks to a move to the Leastern Conference, and a stifling put-your-opponent-to-sleep strategy.

Goaltending: BOBROVSKY!!! Given Fleury's penchant for meltdowns, this is easily an advantage for the Dinner Jackets.

Defense: Kris Letang is back after suffering a stroke, and we hope we don't see another scary incident. The Pens' D is quite mobile and offensively talented, while the Dinner Jackets play two of the most defensively risky players in the game on the back end (Johnson and Wisniewski).

Forwards: The Jackets do have a pretty decent forward corps, albeit without the star power of the Penguins. At the very least, they can grind out goals when needed. I'll take Crosby and Malkin over whoever the hell plays for Columbus.

Prediction: Penguins in 5. 

#5 NY Rangers vs. #6 Philadelphia

Ugh, two teams I care little for. I am happy Alain Vigneault is doing well in New York, though.
The Flyers best hope is to play their usual thug brand of hockey, and hope the refs and NHL head office let them get away with it.

Goaltending: Henrik Lundqvist is not the elite goalie he used to be, but he's still better than Steve Mason.

Defense: The Rangers are the 2nd best defensive team in the East, and the Flyers D core is shallow and full of holes.

Forwards: The advantage for the Flyers here is that they have star power that can actually score. The Rangers have some big names, but both Rick Nash and Brad Richards' best days are far behind them.

Prediction: Rangers in 7 nasty games.