Monday, February 4, 2013

Web Hopping with The Cardboard Witch

Well folks, as promised I've been working my little butt off writing about Magic on the inter-webs over at Mana Deprived and Legit MtG .

It's not easy, but so far I'm doing a pretty good job of keeping up with the pace of writing for growing Magic websites with large readerships. The people I work with at both sites are pretty amazing and in particular to thank Dave Mantel, Justin Duewel-Zahniser and Heather Meek for making my job so much easier. Of course it's also great to be working with Jon Medin and KYT; both of these guys work tirelessly to make Magic a better place and I'm proud to be a part of helping their websites grow.

Unfortunately I don't have a lot of news for you folks except to say that I've published a few articles and I appeared on Episode 14 of the MtG Podcast: Heavy Meta with regular hosts @MattyStudios and @KevyMetall with special guest @MTGOFerret. Check out the links below:

A Triggered Response: The Woman in the Mirror. - A personal response to the second round of trigger rules in competitive Magic (since changed a 3rd time).

Chasing the White Whale - over on Legit we take a look at Duskmantle Seer, a new card from Gatecrash with amazing potential that might struggle to find a home in Standard.

Heavy Meta Episode 14 - The Ferrett, the Witch and the Bottle! - my aforementioned first every appearance on a Podcast. We talk about the Gatecrash Pre-Release, the banning of Bloodbraid Elf in Modern, Financal Advice with the MtGO Ferret and some long winded shoutouts. I had a blast and the boys said I did a good job but you be the judge.

Tha Crossroads: The Passing and (Potential) Rebirth of Jund in Modern - This is a more detailed look at what the Banning of Bloodbraid Elf means for Jund in Modern. Hint, it's not good.

Well folks, until next time thanks for reading and I hope to see you again real soon. Keep it weird.


Monday, January 14, 2013

A Long Expected Journey

"There are downsides to everything; there are unintended consequences to everything." - Steve Jobs

Hello folks, long time no see huh? I'm sorry about that guys, it's pretty much (entirely) my fault. To be completely honest with you I've been avoiding the act of writing this post because somewhere inside, I knew it was going to hurt. While I won't proclaim this blog as some sort of writing masterpiece, I'd like to think I was always took a very "honest" approach to my work here. Whether you loved it or hated it I wanted to promise readers that they'd always get my real thoughts, opinions and sometimes even emotions here at The Cardboard Witch. The downside (or upside, depending on your perspective) is that writing for this blog has become a very tangible part of who I am; both as a Magic player and a writer. I've poured a little bit of myself into every one of these posts and so the idea of leaving them behind is legitimately scary. I feel a profound sense of loss every time I think about writing this letter and as a result I've been too chickenshit to do so. I'm sorry about that. Unfortunately however the show must go on; even if I'm feeling a little Misty about the closing act.

To be completely fair, I am not closing The Cardboard Witch. I don't see any reason to take down the work that's already posted here and it's not like someone is offering me big money for the rights to this website. Unfortunately, my writing has progressed to a point that it's worth sharing on a larger stage and I've recently started writing regularly for two websites in particular:

First and foremost I'd like to say that I am incredibly happy that both of these websites have given me an opportunity to showcase my work. While I consider both KYT and Jon Medina to be personal friends I'm also really excited about being a part of the excellent content these guys deliver to the Magic community on an almost daily basis. It's really a win/win situation for me as a writer with the possible exception of this letter. Both of my new "bosses" have been kind enough to let me work without deadlines but even when I'm "on" it's going to be hard to come up with 2-3 articles a month for both sites and still maintain this blog. Barring the ability to clone myself something has to suffer and sadly for the last 3 months it's been the Cardboard Witch.

At this point all I can really promise is that the occasional article will appear here from time to time and I promise to link to them on Twitter/Facebook when they do. I assume there will be times where the editors at the sites I'm writing for don't want a particular article and occasionally I may need to share something too personal for mass consumption. This essentially relegates The Cardboard Witch to "LiveJournal" status so I feel it's only fair to warn you. The truth is that "The Cardboard Witch" has always been me, rather than this blog and when I move on to other sites I'd like to think she comes with me.

Finally I'd like to thank everyone who came here to read my ramblings over the past 3 years. Knowing that someone was out there reading got me through a lot of long nights and gave me the confidence to chase my dreams. I can't thank you guys enough for that.

If anyone is interested or hasn't already read there here's a few links to the work I've produced while I was away:

I also contributed a paragraph or so to Heather Meek's year end round up:

Well folks, this isn't goodbye but it is "see you later and probably a little less often". I'm all teary now so let's just get it over with shall we? Keep it weird and thank you all from the bottom of my heart.


Monday, November 26, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different.

Hello folks; I certainly hope you're all having a better day/week than I am right now and welcome to another edition of The Cardboard Witch. Unfortunately I don't have any sweet Standard technology for you today; in fact this isn't really a Magic article at all. Recently I've been testing Modern Jund decks on a nightly basis in the hopes of attending/doing well at Gran Prix Toronto on December the 8th. As I also mentioned my life has been extremely stressful recently and at some point these two facts crossed over and my tiny squirrel-like brain spit out the "masterpiece" of modern rap "filkery" you see below.

For those of you who don't know the song, go download/watch Jay Z's "Brooklyn, We Go Hard" and come back or this won't make much sense:

"Bloodbraid, We Go Hard"

Bloodbraid, Bloodbraid, Bloodbraid, Bloodbraid
We go hard, we go hard
Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard
(Repeat X2)
Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard
(Repeat X3)

This is Swamp magic rap
There's no fear in my eyes when I fetch, crack
Betta cast Expedition Map
It's fine, me not like ta Bob-fight
Me not tink such a deck is threat to my life, right?

So you wanna test my ride?
Just promise when I win, you won't cry
Boom bye bye,  Lil voodoo, it's crucial
I'm a Cascade pro, it may take some gettin' use to

Hand snatching, can't have it, gotta rip it
Same shit from Infect to lame Fishes.
Master this child; mana pooled, full grippin'
Even the combo deckers, they was all afraid to bang with it

Before you know it, I win the game; bang finished
Reach for my sweet sideboard, peel the answers back
Like a rin-ger is, I'm dangerous
Tell me, you ain't really playin this shit?

Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard
(Repeat X3)
Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard
(Blood-braid Elf-Ok?)
Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard)
(I Cascade, cast again!)
(Repeat entire section X2)

I Thoughtseize, I Bloodbraid Elf to them
I crack, I Bob, I win
Ah man, what card types are in the bin?
Cause when Goyf meets face, I'm going ta win
Lucky me? Ninja please, you can't touch me
Betta call off the bets, 'less you top-deck quickly
You're looking for cards, but yo hand is so sickly
No love, miss me, deck by... Smitty?

I pity the fool with tools from LSV
With no history, in Toronto, meet sorrow
Ain't no way that you'll be returning tomorrow
Day two don't come out for many, right Benny?
Cash orphans, your deck should'a been an abortion
Top-decks almost did, yet I managed to live
I mull hard, I owe it all to my rips
Now, please tell me; what the fuck is harder than this?

Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard
(Repeat X3)
Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard
(Blood-braid Elf-Ok?)
Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard)
(I Cascade, cast again!)
(Repeat entire section)

Well I've got no byes, due to circumstance
Up at Six, as a consequeance
By round 5, I'll be done with fools
Mouthbreathers; don't know the rules

Road was harsh, now its all good
That shit wont fly in my neck of the woods
Let's call the judge now, that's a warning
Sun-day, we play all morning.

Gotta make you think, dropping tricks like ballers
Shaman is a whore, just glad I'm the one that got her
Why don't you just quit, shaking to the core
One turn, one draw, beat you some more

The field is tough and top eight's a mess
Got big cash dreams and a tricked out deck
Robbing fools just to earn street cred
To kill your voice, whining in my head.

Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard
(Repeat X 3)
Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard
(Repeat X 3)
Bloodbraid, we go hard, we go hard
go hard, go hard

Well, I think it's safe to say we all feel better after that. I know I do. Until next time remember that if you aren't having fun, you aren't really playing Magic. Hopefully I'll be back with an article before the GP talking about "How I Learned to Play Modern Despite Hating the Format". Peace out gang.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Standard Deviations - In the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King

"A champion should ask himself: 'if I were to compete against myself, what would I practice to beat me?' -Leo Vieira, Brazilian Jujitsu Fighter/Instructor 

I'm here to tell you that it's going to be okay. I know it doesn't seem like it right now; I know you're frustrated and more than a little embarrassed. The truth is that we've all been there at some point in our Magic experience. I haven't heard your specific story but stop me when this starts to sound familiar okay? You copied the best deck on the internet last Tuesday when the latest round of deck-lists and Magic articles came out. You spent a couple days putting the deck together, practicing online and reading every scrap of information available about your weapon of choice. By Thursday you knew the correct lines of play and how to mulligan against every 1st tier deck in Standard; you even practiced how to break the mirror and threw in a couple of hot side-board cards just to accomplish this goal. Walking into your FNM, weekly tournament or GPT was a rush all by itself; you felt confident that you were the most prepared player in this room. Let's be honest, you were just hoping for even draws all night because deep down inside you genuinely believed you were going to take this event down.

Then, Round 1 happened. Your opponent was playing some kinda horrible Jund deck with a bunch of sideboard cards in the first game. You battled hard but when he dropped a 5 point Rakdos' Return on your hand and redirected the damage to your Jace that was pretty much game. You boarded in more counters for game 2 but he boarded into Duress and Lilianna of the Veil; it was almost like he knew exactly what you were going to do before the game even started. As you signed the match slip 0-2 you couldn't help but snap at your opponent "so how exactly do you expect to beat Zombies again?" He just shrugged and said "I prolly won't play it bro; good games, I gotta go smoke." As he walked away you worked hard to keep your rage in check; after all there were still 3 more rounds to play and you could still prize out if you ran the table.

Rounds 2 and 3 weren't much easier to be honest; you lost game 1 both times to W/x "Humans" decks running 30+ creatures and main deck Thalia, Guardian of Thrabens. Naturally, you'd come prepared for aggro but you hadn't counted on paying 5 for Jace, 6 for Tamiyo and 7 for Terminus. Your creatures were better than his and you gained some life but there was no way you could keep up with just your G/W cards. Thankfully neither of your opponents were actually that good at Magic; they both made mistakes in games 2-3 that allowed you to advance through Thalia on the back of 6 board sweeper cards. When you finally won that second game 3 to move to 2-1 on the night you broke down and asked your opponent why he was running Thalia in the maindeck. Without blinking he said "well everyone thinks Bant control is the best deck right? Thalia destroys that build and I can't afford to change decks every week." When you objected and asked about other match-ups he flatly told you "I've played nothing but Bant and Azorius all night man; she's the best card in my deck today."

The worst part of your night however was probably round 4. With prize money on the line, you sat down across from a sneering jackanape who opened your match by saying: "so you're playing that old version of Bant Control? This should be interesting." Game 1 did not go well; he stuck an early Geist of Saint Traft and then countered yours when you tried to cast it a couple of turns later. You eventually stabilized behind a Beast token and a Restoration Angel but a top-decked Bonfire of the Damned at precisely the wrong time ended the game immediately. Game 2 was much better. You were on the play, hit a farseek and your opponent played a bunch of tapped lands. Given some room to work with, you forced out some threats and countered every answer he tried to play. You particularly enjoyed applying the finishing touches with your Traft after boarding up to 4 copies. The 3rd game however, was a heart-breaker. You and your opponent spent 3/4 of the contest exchanging counterspells and 2 for 1's before you finally managed to stick an Angel of Serenity. You couldn't do anything about your opponent's Traft but you ate up his Restoration Angel and "reloaded" a couple of Thragtusks from your graveyard. Your opponent was literally screwed; the Angel would hold of Traft unless your opponent wanted to Detention Sphere her and give you back 4 men and 10 life in the process. You shipped the turn with confidence only to see the little bastard bust out a shit-eating grin and ask "so you're all tapped out?" before he even drew a card. He proceeded to "flash" in a Restoration Angel, untap and cast Dungeon Geists of all fucking cards; targeting your Angel. As he crashed in for 9 you desperately hoped for a good top-deck and for once in your miserable life the universe delivered; you slammed a second Angel of Serentiy, exiled the Resto/Dungeon Geist and shipped the turn. You were just starting to feel good about the match when he said "okay, I'll cast Thundermaw Hellkite and kill you then?"

Hello ladies and gentlemen, my name is Nina Illingworth and when I'm not practicing amateur Magic psychiatry I write a blog called The Cardboard Witch. Since you're here reading this I can only assume you already knew that, but what you might be asking yourself is why I just made you read through a completely hypothetical bad beat story about a netdecker who went 2-2 at his FNM. The reason of course is because we've all been the player in that story; playing the best deck from last week, one step behind the local metagame and wandering through tournaments with a giant target on our backs. To say that this is no fun would be a mild understatement; I've seen nights like these put players off of playing Standard for entire rotations. There's a general sense of helplessness and frustration; a lingering sensation that if everyone had just chosen the right decks or cards you clearly would have performed better. It just doesn't feel fair that your opponents specifically tailored their decks to beat yours while you diligently prepared for a variety of opponents; yet they advance while you flounder in the .500 bracket. It doesn't have to be this way however; the metagame doesn't have to be your enemy. In fact, a competent player can learn to use his understanding of the metagame as an ally while building decks or even during actual game play. To illustrate this concept, let's talk a little bit about what a metagame actually is and how it directly affects you as a player regardless of what level you compete at. Once we understand these ideas we can take a look at a couple of kick-ass Standard decks and how they actively taking advantage of the current metagame to win more matches.

What is "the metagame?": From a purely Magic-centric perspective the metagame can be defined as a loose collection of all the decks and cards that are currently popular in tournament play for a given format. Additionally when discussing the metagame most players will qualify a given card's place within it based on how often it appears in relevant tournaments. Thus in our current Standard, Thragtusk can be described as being a "very big part of the metagame" while Epic Experiment combo decks would represent an extremely small part of same. What's more, individual card choices can be further qualified as "good" or "bad" in the expected metagame depending on how effective they are against the most commonly played cards or decks. For example; Feeling of Dread can be a great way to answer creatures you can't (Vampire Aristocrat) or don't want (Thragtusk) to kill. If these creatures are a big part of the current Standard metagame it stands to reason that Feeling of Dread would perform admirably as a main-deck choice against them. In other words; the metagame is simply the cards and decks you know you will play against in a given Magic tournament and the act of metagaming is nothing more than filling your decks with cards that will be good against these known quantities.

Time keeps on ticking: Naturally, there are complications. For starters the metagame is constantly changing and I don't just mean "whenever a new set comes out". Let's assume for a moment that the most popular and successful deck in the format is Rakdos Zombies. This shouldn't be too hard for those of you actually playing Standard because it actually was the cat's ass at the start of the format. The deck is fast, extremely aggressive, very resistant to traditional creature removal effects and general wins games on turn 5 without disruption. None of this however is to say that Rakdos Zombies is invulnerable; it struggles against life gain effects, cards that exile creatures and aggro's new bugbear; Terminus. This naturally causes players to include more and more cards that are good against Zombies until they finally break through and "solve" the deck in testing. Once the weekend rolls around decks like American Control and Bant Midrange explode onto the scene and scour the Rakdos Zombies menace from the format. The lack of success for Zombies begins to pull players away from that deck type while the success of these new "zombie killers" draws players towards them. In a matter of days being ready to beat Zombies is no longer relevant and the new metagame now revolves around beating Restoration Angels, counterspells, Terminus and Jace, Architect of Thoughts. This in turn pushes the next wave of players towards cards like Lilianna of the Veil, Appetite for Brains and Cavern of Souls and thus the cycle continues.

Where it's at: The other essential problem with understanding the metagame is that it changes on a regional or even store to store level as well. While conceptually we talk about cards being "good in" or "a big part of" the metagame the simple truth is that your personal metagame will be defined entirely by the decks and cards you face over the course of a given tournament. If your local shop is packed with wall to wall U/W aggro players it makes little sense to play a slow control deck that struggles against flyers. Following the same line of reasoning it's probably a bad idea to try and win Magic tournaments in Toronto without any counter-control metagame cards; people in my town will play the crap out of this deck type even when it isn't good in my experience. Sometimes even blind luck is a factor; if the computer decides to pair you against 3 straight Mono-Red players at your next tournament your personal metagame is going to revolve around Hellrider and Brimstone Volley awful quickly for example. In short; the metagame and the quality of your metagaming decisions can vary wildly from tournament to tournament. This is why it's generally a bad idea to copy a top 8 SCG Open decklist the night before a tournament and assume you're good to go at your local FNM this week.

Assess, adapt and survive: The important thing to remember here is that despite outward appearances the constant shifting of the metagame is not random. You can clearly define and accurately predict these metagame shifts in advance simply by looking at which decks are currently winning large tournaments and MtGO daily events. Personally I prefer to use TCG Player for all my decklist needs but I assume there are any number of websites out there that provide this information. While every environment is different the simple truth is that most Magic players aren't about to re-invent the wheel; the vast majority of the decks you'll face locally will at least be based on something that did well online or at a big tournament somewhere. Once you identified the popular decks and cards it's important to mentally run this information through your local knowledge filter for maximum effect. If the best player in your environment has been playing W/x aggro for the past 4 years it's a pretty good bet he's not going to switch just because Jund control won a PTQ in Winsconsin after all. Do not hesitate to use anything you know about your future opponents' card preferences against them when building your deck. This is small time gambling folks and there is nothing dishonorable about punishing a fool for repeatedly playing the same tired old deck every Friday when money is on the line.

Now that we've talked about what the metagame is and how it affects us on both a local and international level, let's take a look at those deck lists I promised early. While neither of these decks are equipped to "take on all comers" they both represent excellent examples of how a smart player can attack the current Standard metagame:

(Slightly) Modified American Mid-Range 
by Ryan Forsberg, 1st place SCG St. Louis (I changed like 3 cards):

Creatures - 15:

4x Snapcaster Mage
4x Geist of Saint Traft
4x Restoration Angel
3x Thundermaw Hellkite

Spells - 21:

4x Searing Spear
3x Azorius Charm
2x Essence Scatter
2x Feeling of Dread
2x Dissipate
2x Detention Sphere
3x Syncopate
3x Bonfire of the Damned

Lands - 24:

4x Hallowed Fountain
4x Steam Vents
4x Glacial Fortress
4x Sulfur Falls
4x Clifftop Retreat
1x Island
1x Mountain
1x Plains
1x Slayer's Stronghold

Sideboard - 15:

3x Purify the Grave
2x Pillar of Flame
1x Dissipate
3x Dungeon Geists
2x Jace, Architect of Thought
2x Supreme Verdict
1x Tamiyo the Moon Sage
1x Syncopate

Analysis: As you can see from the title, I didn't build this deck so much as I stole it off the internet and changed 3 cards. For those of you interested in the original version you can find a complete decklist here. The simple truth is that I wasn't playing against many Zombie/Humans decks in testing anymore and I got tired of staring at Centaur Healers and Thragtusks with a Pillar in my hand. I also found Unsummon to be pretty underwhelming while Feeling of Dread was winning entire games for me whenever I drew it. Aside from these minor quibbles however I have to say that this deck is absolutely perfect for an environment dominated by mid-range builds on the Thragtusk/Restoration Angel plan or slow control decks with multiple boards-sweepers.

Against these decks U/W/R mid-range seeks to capitalize on it's cheaper threats to quickly establish board control while still leaving up counter-magic and disruption. This often depends on casting a Geist of Saint Traft but in my experience you do win a suprising number of games behind a lone Restoration Angel and a rando Snapcaster Mage. Frankly, if you draw Slayer's Stronghold and enough mana virtually any single creature in the deck becomes a legitimate threat to kill your opponent. Against control you'll be actively attacking removal spells, Planeswalkers and Boardsweepers while simultaneously milking the Flash and Haste traits for as much advantage as possible in this match-up. Against midrange the deck is primarily trying to counter effective blockers and pesky sources of enemy card advantage; say Garruk or Sphinx's Revelation. Eventually however your opponent will stick a threat of some sort; typically because you've tapped out, run out of counterspells or he's put a Cavern of Souls into play. Once this happens the U/W/R deck shifts effortless into evasive beatdown mode, using cards like Detention Sphere, Thundermaw Hellkite and Feelings of Dread to slide through tremendous amounts of flying damage. Finally if your opponent somehow survives all that you can always just "dome" him with Searing Spears/Snapcaster Mages and the occasional Bonfire of the Damned.

On the downside the deck isn't very good against aggro strategies in my experience. That isn't to say the deck auto-loses to weenie rush decks; no build that runs Bonfire of the Damned is ever completely out of a fight against swarms of enemy monsters after all. The deck does however struggle with concepts like "blocking" and I've spent entire games digging for a Detention Sphere while my opponent slowly ground me out with Loxodon Smiters. Even with 2 maindeck Pillars the deck is a clear underdog against Rakdos Zombies in game 1 and I've lost more than a couple games against G/W Soulbound Humans while waiting for a Bonfire that never came. Additionally due to the lack of Farseek the deck's mana base is still ever so slightly "wonky." It's actually much better than previous versions of this deck that I've seen and Ryan's specific selection of spells is a huge part of how it overcomes these problems. This means you really can't tinker with the deck too much, sideboarding is a bit of an issue and even if you don't touch it all there will still be games where you play your first 5 lands into play tapped. Naturally since this isn't my own creation I can't offer many insights on card selection or the process that went into building this deck. What I can say is that it's a wonderful example of a smart player successfully exploiting the metagame to tune his deck for the purposes of winning a tournament. Ryan Forsberg correctly identified a hole in the environment, built his deck to attack that hole and ended up walking away with first prize in St Louis on a weekend when most experts assumed the eventual winner would be rocking 4 copies of Thragtusk.

"Boss Hog" - Jund Control:

Creatures - 16:

4x Vampire Nighthawk
4x Huntmaster/Ravager of the Fells
2x Olivia Voldaren
4x Thragtusk
2x Thundermaw Hellkite

Spells - 19:

4x Farseek
3x Dreadbore
2x Rakdos Keyrune
1x Underworld Connections
2x Sever the Bloodline
2x Garruk, Primal Hunter
3x Bonfire of the Damned
2x Rakdos's Return

Lands - 25:

4x Blood Crypt
4x Overgrown Tomb
4x Rootbound Crag
3x Dragonskull Summit
3x Woodland Cemetery
3x Forest
2x Kessig Wolf Run
1x Mountain
1x Swamp

Sideboard - 15:

3x Duress
3x Pillar of Flame
2x Deathrite Shaman
2x Rakdos Charm
2x Abrupt Decay
2x Lilianna of the Veil
1x Sever the Bloodline

Analysis: This deck on the other hand I did build myself; albeit after looking at 5 or 6 older Jund lists online. Once again the idea here is to attack a format dominated by midrange and control decks while simultaneously offering as much resistance as possible against aggro in game 1. Unlike the deck above however, Boss Hog Jund does this not by sliding a threat under a slower/unwieldy format but by forcing a protracted, "grindy" game of card advantage and 2 for 1 effects.  Virtually every card in this deck was chosen for it's ability to be a long term thorn in the side of multiple popular strategies here in Standard and in that respect they do their jobs very well. With 31 mana sources, a small army of creatures that threaten to win the game individually and a stunning selection of removal spells, board sweepers and card advantage effects this deck is clearly built to both force and dominate long games of Magic. The real cherry on top however has to be the selection of "X" spells and mana sinks; ripping your opponent's hand, wiping his board and then dumping all of your mana into Kessig Wolf Run is an extremely satisfying path to victory folks.

Of course it's not all gumdrops and lollipops; in order to ensure such a ridiculous game against other midrange decks it became necessary to "sacrifice" a few potential match-ups. For starters I don't think this deck can beat Rakdos Zombies in game 1 and I'm not sure bringing in 3 Pillar of Flames, 2 Abrupt Decays and another Sever the Bloodline really makes you a favorite in games 2 and 3 either. This probably isn't a big deal considering the decline of Zombies in the overall metagame but it's never a good thing to have an auto-loss against any random aggro deck. Additionally the deck relies a little too heavily on Vampire Nighthawk, Bonfire of the Damned and Dreadbore in other aggro matches. While these cards certainly hold their own against decks that turn dudes sideways we're still talking about 10 cards total in a 60 card deck; if you don't draw them you might be screwed. Finally while I feel Boss Hog Jund is the pre-sideboard favorite over virtually every other control deck I've seen in Standard, it can be somewhat difficult to win games 2 and 3 against a deck who boards into a simply "ridiculous" number of counterspells. This forces us to use 5 sideboard slots on Duress/Lilianna and while this isn't a "problem" per se, it certainly makes effective sideboarding against other strategies in Standard more difficult.

Unfortunately due to the extreme length this article is already reaching I can't detail the reasoning behind every card selection in the deck for you here today. Frankly it wouldn't be all that relevant to our discussion anyways. The point here is that both of these decks survive and even thrive by specifically adapting to and attacking the current Standard metagame. They both surrender ground against less popular/successful decks in the format in order to maximize their ability to crush matches against the best/most popular decks in Standard. Finally they both utilize a number of highly specific "griefer" or sideboard cards in the maindeck specifically to disrupt the so called "established" metagame. Oh, and I guess it's fair to say that based on a couple hundred games worth of testing they both smash a whole lotta face.

Well folks the lactic acid building up in my fingers and wrists tells me we've reached the end of our discussion. The simple truth is that reading and exploiting the metagame in Magic is a complex subject that requires both intensive study and a certain amount of intuitive thinking to master properly. There's simply no way anyone can "learn how to metagame" from an article on a blog; even the best writer on earth could at best only hope to describe the metagame in it's entirety for but a single moment in time. In light of this it's my hope that this article can serve as a sort of guidepost; a shining light to illuminate your own path towards predicting and reacting to future metagames. Short of that however let me leave you with some simple advice on the subject once imparted to me by someone far smarter than myself. I don't know if he stole these ideas from somewhere but in a moment of drunken lucidity a friend once shared the following thoughts on winning Magic tournaments with me over a bottle of wine:
  • You can't win an environment. You will never be declared the ultimate winner of Magic because Magic keeps on changing and there's a new winner every second. The only thing you can do is win the tournaments you enter.
  • To win a tournament you must be able to beat the decks, players and cards you will play, not those that you should play. It doesn't matter what you think or some website thinks is the best deck; what matters is what the guy across from you is playing and whether or not you can beat him to advance.
  • Ask yourself "what decks will the better players in the room be playing?" This is important because if you intend to win the tournament you'll be spending a lot of time playing against these players on the low numbered tables. If you have to make assumptions why not assume that you're going to be winning and therefore playing against the best players in the tournament all day?
  • If you must go into a tournament absolutely blind don't play the deck that beats "the best" deck. Instead play something that performs well against the established build that preys on "the best" deck in the format. This not only ensures easier matches as the tournament goes on but it also allows you to use your less savy opponents to suppress the most popular deck in the room; sorta like a good NFL cornerback cheats by using the sideline in man coverage.

In the years since I've been unable to decide if these ideas represent the single greatest 3 minute guide to winning card tournaments known to man or the drunken ramblings of an overconfident lunatic. Considering the source; they could be both (I miss you Jared). Until next time folks; always remember that all is fair in love, war and when splitting prize payouts at meaningless FNM events. Keep it weird.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Standard Deviations - Banging Your Head on Some Mad Bugger's Wall

"Standard counts and keeps on countin', and we knows now finding tha trick of what's rotated and lost ain't no easy ride. But that's our cypher, we gotta break it. And there ain't nobody what knows when it comes undone. Still in all, every night we does the tell, so that we 'member what it was and can still be...but most of all we 'members counting back-wise from twenty, before the Angels came. And we lights the fires, not just to remember but for all them what turn creatures sideways. 'Cause we knows there comes a night, when they see the distant light of Gatecrash and they'll be comin' home." - Nina Nix, Return to Ravnica: Beyond Thunderdome

Hello everyone and welcome to the latest edition of The Cardboard Witch. As you can tell by the above introduction I'm feeling a little "theatrical" today; don't worry I'm not crazy enough to try to write an entire article in the voice of Savannah Nix. I would however like to address the elephant in the room that nobody else seems to be talking about; the death of Aggro strategies in post-RtR Standard. Let me repeat that for those of you who weren't listening: aggro is dead in Standard. When I say "dead", I do in fact mean kaput, obsolete, roadkill, devoid of spark, promise or life. In short, if you're playing a turn 5 deck that turns creatures sideways in Standard events right now you are literally "dead money" and will be unlikely to win said tournaments. Now before you get upset at me please understand that it brings me no joy to deliver this news. I am a firm believer that a healthy Standard format revolves around having effective aggro, control and mid-range options with a few odd-ball combo decks thrown in for spice. Unfortunately it seems that lately Standard formats rarely actually achieve this sort of balance and in my opinion the post Return to Ravnica format actively discourages/hinders aggro strategies. These are bleak times for weenie rush decks folks and after several weeks of testing I am prepared to state the case against aggro before you today. It's a grim tale but I hope that in the telling I can convince at least some of you out there to stop wasting entry fees on decks that simply cannot win tournaments for you. 

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth: Ironically, the death of aggro here in Standard was caused primarily by the most innocuous and traditionally least profitable effect in Magic: the ability to gain life. Historically the refuge of new players, casual multi-player aficionados and the truly desperate; cards that gain life do not have a long history of success in tournament Magic. There have certainly been exceptions to this rule (Kitchen Finks comes to mind) but ultimately the generally held theory that board control is more relevant than your life total has prevailed. After all, if you're trading cards for life that means you aren't trading cards for my cards and sooner or later the monsters I've cast will overwhelm you. The RtR/Innistrad Standard format turns this theory on it's ear however by being absolutely loaded with cards that both gain huge chunks of life and help you establish board control. As an aggro player it can be disheartening to watch your opponent gain 5 life from a single card; depending on the point in the game this likely undoes an entire turn of hard work and gives your opponent time to cast more expensive (and typically superior) cards to thwart you. When this life gain is combined with a kill effect or a reasonable defensive body (again see Finks) the problem becomes more serious; not only are you likely down a turn but you're probably down a card now as well in one way or another. So what happens when your opponent can gain 5 life, Flash a 3/4 flying defender into play and simultaneously create a 3/3 chump blocking token? What about when your opponent can repeatedly trade his worst creatures and tokens for your best creatures while simultaneously gaining life in 6-12 point chunks turn after turn? How exactly do you "race" against a deck that can easily gain 60+ life over the course of a single, moderately long game? These are rhetorical questions folks because the answers are as plain as day to anyone playing Standard right now: you get blown out, you lose and you can't (respectively).

Of course there are other reasons for the demise of aggro here in Standard besides the preponderance of awesome life gain effects; we'll cover some of those later in the article. For the moment however let's take a closer look at the incidental life gain cards that literally "ruinate" aggressive strategies in this format:

The Unholy Trinity:  If you've been playing aggro in Standard recently I'm willing to bet that your least favorite turn 1 play in the format is "Temple Garden into play tapped, go". The reason for this of course is that if your opponent is skipping his first turn and playing a G/W dual there's a very good chance he's playing 4 copies each of Centaur Healer, Thragtusk and Restoration Angel. Taken individually each of these cards represents a fairly formidable roadblock against aggressive strategies. At 3/3 for a converted mana cost of 3 it's probably fair to question why Centaur Healer gains a full 3 life when it enters the battlefield. In a world of 2/2 Zombies and 2/1 Knights the Healer makes a habit of undoing more than a single attack's worth of work while simultaneously threatening to devour a weenie on each subsequent swing. Moving up the curve we get to everyone's (least) favorite card in Standard; the nigh ubiquitous Thragtusk. Better writers than I have already devoted many paragraphs to detailing exactly why 'Tusk is pretty stupid in Standard so I'll skip it here. What I can say is that for an aggro deck the 5 points worth of life gain is significantly less painful than the body that trades off for one of your best creatures; twice. Finally, even without a good target for her come into play trigger Restoration Angel does a pretty good job of ambushing small dudes in the middle of combat. At 3/4 she ranks as one of the better front line blockers here in Standard and both Flash and Flying are extremely relevant to her performance in this role.  Of course when you combine these 3 cards together in the same deck, all hell breaks loose. Just 4 Healers and 4 Tusks alone represent 9 blocking bodies and 32 points worth of life gain but by adding the Angel to the mix you get free blocks/tokens, free ambush kills and double dipping rights on the lifegain effects. To say that this causes "problems" for aggro strategies would be like saying "that iceberg caused problems for the Titanic"; this isn't a mismatch, it's a massacre in favor of the G/W player. Perhaps most disturbingly the mana costs on these 3 creatures involve a total of 2 green and 2 white mana, which in turn makes it criminally easy for an absolutely huge number of decks in this format to include all 3 cards.

Punched in the Junk: While the 3 cards discussed above are certainly the most popular incidental life gain effects here in Standard they are by no means the only, or even the best such effects. As games drag on and mana/creatures become more plentiful this environment provides a whole new set of problems for aggro decks in the form of mass life gain effects. In particular, three extremely popular cards have appeared to choke the last breath from aggro strategies in post-RtR Standard: Azorius Charm, Sphinx's Revelation and Vault of the Archangel. Of these 3 cards the Charm is probably the most frustrating simply because it can be used as a removal spell in the early game against aggro strategies. As we discussed in my last article there are a number of benefits to be gained from "topping" an early aggressive creature with this card and as such it represents a legitimate obstacle to any beatdown plan in Standard. Of course, once our opponent does play a few creatures the mass-lifelink mode of this card typically puts the final nails in aggro's coffin; it's pretty hard to finish off a deck that's attacking for more damage than you can while simultaneously gaining life in 8-15 point bursts. At the other end of the spectrum is Sphinx's Revelation which is thankfully awkward and expensive if you're going to gain any significant amount of life from casting it. Unfortunately it also lets the caster draw a card for each point of life he's gaining and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that some of those cards will probably be good against aggro. It's also an Instant; just in case potential combat damage math wasn't hard enough already on aggro players in this format. Probably the worst part of facing down this card with an aggro deck however is that your opponent will typically cast it just before you are about to finish him off and right after both of your hands have drained extremely low. Let's just say that this is pretty demoralizing and significantly reduces aggro's chances of actually winning that game. While both of the above cards seem a little unfair when you're trying to beat down with weenies, they are at least Instants that must be actually cast and therefore "used up" to cause the aggro player harm. The same can not be said for our final "junk punch" card; Vault of the Archangel. I'm not a card designer by any stretch folks but a tiny part of me wonders how anyone could possibly think it was a good idea to print a land that can potentially give all of your creatures Lifelink turn after turn. Yes, it costs 5 mana to do so and that is not an insignificant investment but when you have the potential to gain upwards of 15 life per turn it seems like a relative bargain doesn't it? This is all besides the point that the silly thing actually gives out Deathtouch as well which makes it one of the premier defensive cards in the format even before you factor in gaining rivulets of life. While a mid-game Az Charm or Sphinx's Revelation probably means the aggro deck loses, an active Vault (with creatures to affect) most definitely ensures that it will.

Blindside Pressure: To be honest the above 6 cards alone are probably good enough reasons to avoid aggro altogether here in Standard. It's never a good idea to fight uphill battles all day during a Magic tournament and the preponderance of quality Bant, Junk and even plain old Selesnya Midrange decks in the format virtually force aggro to do just that. Sadly however there are actually a number of other, less popular life gain cards that still qualify as "playable" (or better) here in Standard. In my mind the best example of this is probably Trostani, Selesnya's Voice. While you are unlikely to find Trostani in a top tier Standard deck at this point, she's still a 2/5 body that can potentially gain massive hunks of life over the course of a single game. She's got 5 toughness, works well with tokens and makes it extremely easy to outrace other creature based decks if they can't kill her. As a result, she's at least reasonably popular with the FNM set and it's never too shocking when your opponent drops a turn 4-5 Trostani at smaller events. Another card that works well in the lifegain package and has the potential to cause aggro strategies serious grief is the casual/Comander favorite, Deadeye Navigator. On the downside the Navigator is 6 mana and doesn't actually have a printed lifegain effect. If you can Soulbond him with a Centaur Healer or a Thragtusk however, the situation quickly becomes all upside as his 1U flicker effect theoretically allows near-infinate potential life gains. Other quality cards that randomly provide some sort of life gain effect include Huntsmaster of the Fells, Vampire Nighthawk, Sorin's Vampire tokens, Tribute to Hunger, Deathrite Shaman and Griselbrand. Heck, I've even played games against cards like Nearheath Pilgrim and Gnaw to the Bone in post-RtR Standard. While these cards are certainly less popular than the previous 6, the simple truth is that they are out there and each of them represent another strike against the aspiring aggro player.

"Sweep the leg Johnny": Of course not all of aggro's problems in this Standard format revolve around life gain; it's certainly fair to say that playing in a format with two Wrath of God effects doesn't help either. For those of you clutching your Lilianna of the Dark Realms, hoping for a Mutilate revival I'm talking about the wonder-twin tandem of Supreme Verdict and Terminus. Trying to play around as many as 8 potential boardsweepers while maintaining a reasonable clock is a nightmare for aggro decks facing down Hallowed Fountains. The only real mitigating factor here is that because many decks in the format can shrug off a Supreme Verdict you might only face them in games 2 and 3 from the sideboard. There is no relief from Terminus for the aggro player however and you can firmly expect to see 3 maindeck copies and a 4th from the board if you're trying to beat down against Azorius in Standard. As if this situation wasn't miserable enough; there are also 3 key one-sided boardsweep effects that see significant play here in Standard. Of the three, Cyclonic Rift probably represents the least danger due to it's cost and because theoretically the aggro deck can just recast it's creatures. The fact that it's instant and only requires one Blue mana however is a fairly serious issue; frankly it's not that difficult to get to 7 mana against aggro if you've gained 18-25 life along the way. Mizzium Mortars is also expensive at 6 mana and has the added problem of requiring RRR to Overload; which adds potential turns to it's casting time. If your opponent does survive to cast it however, 4 damage across the board is usually more than enough to wipe out most aggressive create bases. Finally of course, the most dangerous one-sided boardsweep effect for aggro in this format is a "miracle'd" Bonfire of the Damned. With as little as four available mana a deck running Bonfire can completely wipe the aggro deck's board, throw a lightning bolt at the pilot's face and free up all of his monsters for a savage attack. Naturally of course there are ways to attack some of these cards (Gravecrawler, Vampire Aristocrat, Geralf's Messenger, Wolfir Avenger and Strangleroot Geist) but the simple truth is that no aggro deck in the format can play around all of them. In fact, I suspect you'd be hard pressed to find any aggro deck in Standard that can play around Terminus and Cyclonic Rift.

The Land of Bad Math: Hopefully by now you are starting to understand why it's simply not a good idea to play aggro in this format. On one hand aggro decks are forced to rapidly advance their board state to attempt to "outrun" near infinite life gain effects in Standard. On the other hand if they dump out their hand to accomplish this there are multiple boardsweep effects waiting to punish them for doing so. Further complicating matters are the sheer number of potential 2 for 1 cards aggro decks must contend with in this format. While the number of cards in Standard that match this description is somewhat staggering, the 3 most common problems for aggro decks in this format are Detention Sphere, Sever the Bloodline and Lingering Souls. Sphere is frustrating because it's an exile effect (negates regenerate, indestructible or undying) and because it actively discourages casting multiple copies of your best creatures. When your deck doesn't draw cards and wants to vomit it's hand onto the table as quickly as possible, this can easily lead to quick blowouts unless the aggro player is extremely cautious. Sever the Bloodline presents virtually all the same problems as Detention Sphere except it's all but guaranteed to provide a 2 for 1 effect in a long game due to it's flashback. On the upside for aggro, 4 mana for a kill spell isn't the greatest deal and in the absence of other answers your opponent may not survive long enough to hit 7 mana and flash it back. The most annoying card of the lot however is probably Lingering Souls, which for 5 mana mortgaged over 2 turns provides a staggering 4 flying chump blockers. The only way around this card for most aggro decks is the Trample Trait, Blood Artist or a top of the curve Thundermaw Hellkite. Naturally, when combined with Vault of the Archangel this card goes from "extremely annoying" to "legitimately game breaking" awful fast if you're trying to throw guys sideways into the spirit tokens.

Show Me the Money: I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "well that all sounds very scary Nina but people can't run all of these cards in the same deck and they can't draw them every game. I'll be fine".  Unfortunately I have bad news for you folks; yes they actually can run all these cards in one deck and until Gatecrash at least it is highly unlikely that aggro will be "fine". The existence of RtR shocklands, Innistrad buddy duals and cards like Farseek make it easy to build a variety of powerful, greedy (3 colors with lots of double mana symbols) mid-range and control decks. When Blue/White control decks have absolutely no problem selling out for Pillar of Flame and Bonfire of the Damned you know we've gone past concepts like "colors" and "mana restrictions". In an effort to highlight exactly what a good mid-range deck can do to aggro in Standard, I've built an extremely simple Junk (G/W/B) deck to share with you today. I may or may not have also heard a rumor that more people will read your article if you provide a decklist :) :

Welcome to the Machine - Junk Mid-Range w/Rites

Creatures - 18: 

4x Centaur Healer
4x Restoration Angel
3x Thragtusk
2x Sigarda, Host of Herons
2x Armada Wurm
3x Angel of Serenity

Spells - 18:

4x Grisly Salvage
4x Mulch
2x Farseek
4x Lingering Souls
4x Unburial Rites

Lands - 24:

4x Temple Garden
4x Overgrown Tomb
4x Woodland Cemetary
4x Sunpetal Grove
2x Isolated Chapel
4x Forest
2x Vault of the Archangel

Sideboard - 15:

3x Intangible Virtue
2x Sundering Growth
2x Oblivion Ring
3x Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
2x Sever the Bloodline
3x Entreat the Angels

Analysis: Conceptually this deck is designed to be a G/W Midrange deck that uses it's graveyard and Unburial Rites to either accelerate towards a win or finish off a staggering opponent in the late game. In this context it becomes very important that the deck be able to reasonably "hard-cast" every creature in the deck while simultaneously looking for opportunities to take advantage of it's graveyard. This prevents the deck from ever being dependent on Unburial Rites and makes it very easy to board them out in game two if we're expecting graveyard hate. In this case I've chosen to fill the void with a more token based strategy but this is very much a personal preference. You could probably go a number of different directions with this sideboard so long as the chosen cards adequately replaced the Rites you may board out.  More to the point of our discussion however this deck absolutely steamrolls aggro and it does so without running a significant number of cards that are simply bad in other match-ups. While it's fair to say Centaur Healer doesn't shine in every game, cards like Restoration Angel, Lingering Souls, Thragtusk and Vault of the Archangels perform admirably against a wide variety of opponents. Looking back on our previous discussion it should be fairly easy to see how this build interweaves an absolutely massive number of "aggro-killing" cards effortlessly into a highly focused/structured deck design. While I haven't had the opportunity to enter a tournament with this deck a few days of online practice and a quick scan around the internet/my FNM confirms that many other people are exploring these same card combinations successfully.

Well folks, once again that's just about all the time we have for today. At this point I feel that if I haven't convinced you that aggro is just a bad deck choice by now there may be no hope. For reasons beyond my comprehension there will always be a certain segment of the Magic community who simply cannot resist the seductive allure of curving out at 3, dumping your hand and turning little dudes sideways. In these dark times I can only wish these poor unfortunate souls godspeed and the ability to topdeck multiple "threaten" effects. For those of you who can count past 3 however there remains hope; Standard is home to a number of solid mid-range, token beatdown and control decks right now. It's time to embrace your inner Timmy, break out your trade binders and release your 4, 5 and 6 drop rares and mythics. This format has become a battle of colossal monsters and earth shattering sorcery; you don't want to be the guy who shows up with a pack of 1/1 goblins. Remember gang, big monsters always need lunch.

- nina

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Standard Deviations - Get Off My Lawn

"I like how you have given up on playing fair Magic" - Mark Everson, Team Dickwolf

To be completely honest with you folks, I kinda hate writing about my Standard decks. I always feel like some sort of traveling door-to-door saleswoman; practically begging someone to let me in the door so I can display my wares. Even worse; at least door-to-door saleswomen get paid for grovelling like that. In my case I'm writing for a free blog with about a thousand regular readers at most. Perhaps more germane however is the fact that if you as a reader are looking for "hawt new Standard tech" you really shouldn't be trolling random Mtg blogs but rather devouring top 8 deck lists from SCG opens, GP-level events and Pro Tours. These decks win multi-hundred person tournaments for a reason and to tell you the truth the vast majority of my successful builds aren't all that different than the decks you can find making the cut at these events. As such, I typically find myself ignoring Standard altogether here on the blog unless I feel the deck I'm playing is significantly different than the run of the mill netdeck version you can find basically anywhere. Obviously since you are reading this and I am writing it, I feel that is the case with this deck.

Genesis: Like most good ideas in Magic the original concept for this deck was savagely stolen from other, more successful players. After messing around with Jund for a couple of weeks to start the format I got tired of getting my teeth knocked in by Rakdos Zombies and decided a change was in order. After asking a few of the stronger players I know on Twitter for some advice I was eventually pointed towards this deck by none other than Seth Burn. Frankly, there is a lot to like about this build in the context of the format it was created for. Namely it has an incredibly strong game 1 against both Rakdos Zombies and Jund Mid-range; the two accepted "big bad wolves" of the early post RtR-Standard format. For the exact moment in time that it was designed this deck is literally almost perfect. The problem of course is that by the time I got my grubby little paws on it and started testing that moment in time was over; the metagame had shifted firmly towards grindy mid-range decks with Thragtusk or lightning fast aggro decks built around Geist of Saint Traft. This didn't mean that Jund and Zombies were dead per se, but they were no longer popular enough to ensure that simply beating "them" would lead to winning tournaments. More perplexing however was the fact that the deck wasn't actually all that good at winning "grindy" Thragtusk mirrors. While cards like Jace, Garruk and Sphinx's Revelation showed promise I discovered that the vast majority of the time both players would bounce non-trampling ground-pounders at each other until someone cast an Angel of Serenity that wasn't answered. Since the match hinged on such a limited number of cards there were a number of games where I simply didn't draw my "mirror breakers" and my opponents did. Finally even rock solid match-ups like Jund and Zombies were started to become more difficult post sideboard. Jund players began running Appetite for Brains and Rakdos Returns to answer Bant's card advantage while Zombies began boarding in multiple "Threaten" effects to simply steal your 5 power beasties and bash you with them. After a solid week of tinkering and losing in the top 8/top 4 of my local store's Gameday events I finally accepted that the deck as presently constructed was "yesterday's news".

Enter the Pod-Father:  Unable to solve the problem myself I quickly sought outside council while preparing to trade for yet another new deck. Fortunately heaven sent me an angel in the form of sharp dressed, fast talking podcast host Scott MacCallum. In a moment of sheer serendipity Scott happened to stop by my office for a random friendly visit and before long we got to talking about Bant decks. Naturally he had a more recent list in mind and showed me this article on To be completely fair this deck was much more in line with how I felt a good Bant deck should look as the format evolved. It's much faster than the previous deck, maindecks 4 copies of the cheapest mirror-breaking card in Standard (Geist of Saint Traft) and is generally less confused than the Montana build. In short rather than jamming half of a control deck with half of a beatdown deck, Bianchi has chosen to be a strong beatdown deck with "some control elements". This strategy is basically right up Scott's alley and after some minor threats he convinced me to read all of Alex's well-written article there on the spot. As I read through the article and poured over the card choices it suddenly dawned on me why I disliked virtually every Bant deck I'd seen online. I turned towards Scott and said simply "it's too confused sir." Scott demanded an explanation and by way of careful interrogation helped me verbalize my issues with "traditional" Bant midrange:
  • Too many of the cards argue with each other. If this deck were a high school student, she'd be the emo chick who listens to Dead Can Dance while cutting herself. Whether we're talking about the inclusion of counterspells in a ramp deck full of 4, 5 and 7 casting cost cards, the general inability of it's big finishers to actually finish or the sheer insanity of running 3-6 sweepers in a deck trying to beat down with 5/3's these builds have serious "focus" problems.
  • Depending on the build, the mana base for this deck is genuinely horrible. Either you're trying to run Jace, Garruk and Angel of Serenity in the same deck or you're dropping Cavern of Souls/Gavony Townships into builds with multiple greedy non-creature spells that all want to come down as soon as possible on the curve. This is literally a recipe for disaster in the current "go over the top" Standard.
  • The decks generally lack a clearly defined path to victory. This once again speaks to the lack of synergy in the build to some degree but it's actually much deeper than that. It's hard to win games when you're tucking your own finishers under your library or drawing dead Sweepers/Counters when all you need is some more "action". This deck wants to see it's cards in a very specific order and when they come out of sequence you generally sit around sulking about it until you die.
  • 40 minute game 1s. I really don't feel this bears much explaining. This deck's finishers are traditionally pretty horrible at actually finishing; you've got 5-6 flyers and a bunch of guys who don't trample. It's virtually impossible to finish 3 games in 50 minutes versus a competent mid-range opponent with the Montana States build for example.
As Scott and I debated back and forth the road to enlightenment became clear; we would take the stronger parts of Bianchi's deck, combine it with the genuinely superior manabase of the Montana States build and staple both elements to a clearly defined endgame. With Scott's help I threw down some preliminary numbers and we continued tweaking the deck through the night over email until we'd settled on the ideal "core" of the build. The only question then of course was how to actually end the game before minute 40 and thanks to some test games against Jeremy Skelton (@peeps_champ) I had the perfect idea in mind :


Creatures - 16:

4x Centaur Healer
3x Geist of Saint Traft
3x Restoration Angel
2x Thragtusk
2x Sigarda, Host of Herons
2x Armada Wurm

Spells - 19:

4x Farseek
4x Azorius Charm
3x Cyclonic Rift
2x Selesnya Charm
3x Detention Sphere
3x Jace, Architect of Thought

Lands - 25:

4x Hallowed Fountain
4x Temple Garden
4x Hinterland Harbor
4x Glacial Fortress
3x Sunpetal Grove
3x Forest
2x Island
1x Plains

Analysis: Before we talk about what this deck is and how it works, I'd like to take a moment to discuss what this deck isn't. For starters, this isn't a control deck. There are no counterspells, no sweepers and no "win the long game" Planeswalkers in this build. Jace is included primarily because drawing cards is freaking amazing and while I have used his -8 ability it's exceptionally rare that games will go long enough to actually do so. This also isn't a "grindy" mid-range deck either; you win games by keeping your creatures alive rather than trading monsters and milking marginal card advantage effects for 15 some odd turns. Finally, only a fool would call a deck who's creature curve starts at 3 and finishes at 6 "aggressive" so it certainly isn't an aggro deck either. No folks, this is a sledgehammer; a big ole, super-mean junkyard dog that simply refuses to interact with other decks until it finally goes over the top for the immediate win. In fact, if anything Sandy Bant plays like a combo deck where the combo is "Cyclonic Rift and 12-24 power worth of broken creatures". If you don't believe me let's take a basic look at how this deck wins games in Standard:

  1. Play lands while simultaneously "Time-walking" your opponents with Az Charm and/or Centaur Healer/Restoration Angel if he attacks before you're ready to allow it.
  2. Cast the best creatures in the entire Standard format for 2-4 turns; pausing only to play a Jace, Architect of Thought if necessary.
  3. If cards like Traft, Sigarda and Armada Wurm haven't already killed your opponent play your 7th land and bounce all of his permanents back into his hand; sometimes at Instant speed!
  4. Turn your guys sideways into his empty board and kill him
Sound easy enough folks? No more confusion, no more questions and especially no more agonizing over potential combat damage math for 3 minutes at a time as you decide whether or not to "miracle" your freshly drawn Terminus. Your game plans against aggro, control and mid-range decks are virtually identical; give or take playing around the occasional counterspell and/or Thundermaw Hellkite. Frankly half the time this deck doesn't even have to block; if you curve naturally from Centaur Healer into Restoration Angel and then into Tusk/Azorius Charm it's literally impossible for aggro decks to outrace the Cyclonic Rift. Even decks with heavy "burn" elements will struggle to do so and I personally take great delight in telling Zombie players "no, I will not interact with your Messengers, Grave Crawlers or Blood Artists in any meaningful way sir." Against control decks you simply present must counter threats turn after turn while daring him to tap out to cast sweepers/answers or to counter flashed in Restoration Angels. Finally a simple re-reading of Cyclonic Rift should make it clear why you aren't overtly worried about the mid-range mirror; just save the Rift until endstep and then Detention Sphere his Beast tokens if absolutely necessary. Even if you don't kill him in one shot (say because he's been casting Thragtusks too?) there's little chance he will be able to establish board presence quickly enough to stop you from killing him on the next turn in my experience.

Questions, Answers and Advice: Traditionally in this type of article the author will chew through a few pages describing the usage, corner case applications and selection rationale for each and every single card in the deck. In virtually every single case this will be terminally boring unless the deck designer is supernaturally talented or the reader is an absolute rank beginner. I am not a brilliant writer and you aren't a rank beginner so why is this necessary? You don't need me to tell you that Geist of St Traft closes out games, Restoration Angel works well with "187" triggers or that Farseek lets you play Jace on turn 3 into an empty board. In lieu of this tired old trope I'd like to take a few moments to answer some of the questions I am most commonly asked when I share this deck list.

  • "Why haven't you included a sideboard?"  
This is actually a really simple answer. We built the deck roughly 4 days ago and as such the sideboard is not completely settled. What's more I generally feel that a good sideboard will be specifically tailored towards the tournament the pilot is trying to win. In other words the sideboard that's good for my FNM may not be acceptable for a SCG Open in Florida. For the sake of completeness here is the current sideboard I am using for this deck:

3x Cavern of Souls
3x Loxodon Smiter
1x Geist of Saint Traft
2x Thragtusk
2x Acidic Slime
2x Rest in Peace
2x Sphinx's Revelation

The Caverns, Smiters, Geist and Tusks are for control decks that run counters and sweepers. The Acidic Slimes are there to kill Kessig Wolf's Run. Rest in Peace attacks both Snapcaster control decks and Reanimator. Finally Sphinx's Revelation is there to win mid-range mirror matches that drag too long; think of them as Cyclonic Rifts #4-5. I should also mention that there are no SB cards for aggro decks in here because your deck should already beat the holy crap out of aggro. You can always bring in the 2 bonus Tusks if you absolutely must have additional answers.

  • "Why are you only running 2 Thragtusks in the main? Isn't it the best card in Standard?"
Well for starters Alex Bianchi and Phil Blechman were right. The correct natural progression for this type of deck is Centaur Healer into Restoration Angel followed by a 5 drop of some kind. Sandbagging the Angel until you've had time to cast a Thragtusk is both greedy and extremely clunky. That isn't to say that you won't profit by targeting a Tusk with a freshly drawn Restoration Angel later in the game but waiting around to do so has a habit of getting you "perished". More importantly however he costs a whopping 5 mana and yet is by far the worst "finishing" creature in this deck. Armada Wurm tramples, the Angels fly and the Legends all have hexproof while Thragtusk is simply a souped up Juggernaut that quickly turns into a 3/3 Beast token whenever his extremely relevant toughness of 3 comes into play. In fact I'd dare to say that the only thing he does better than the other creatures in this deck is provide some relief from Terminus/Supreme Judgment (along with naked Restoration Angels) and that's the primary reason he makes the main-deck at all. In other words, Thragtusk is nice but he's no Sigarda/Armada Wurm and he's almost completely dependent on Cyclonic Rift to actually finish off your opponent. Naturally the Tusk remains excellent in a defensive role but as I've mentioned previously this deck is in no particular rush to adopt such a posture.

  • "Bitch, have you ever even read Time Walk? How do I timewalk with Azorius Charm?
Yes, I have read Time Walk. Now I have a question for you; in a primarily creature based format have you ever really thought about what a "turn" really means? For an aggro deck it means drawing a new card, playing a land, declaring another attack to deal X damage and likely casting another threat before shipping the turn. This is also essentially true of mid-range decks in this format with the only real exception being they typically spend the first few turns forcing mana sources into play so they can cast bigger threats and declare larger attacks. When playing against a control deck this can be more narrowly defined as a new draw phase and the ability to untap your lands; in many cases attacks and damage will not occur until board control has been firmly established for either side. In other words we're talking about resource management and tempo here folks. In the early game using an Azorius Charm on an enemy creature provides 3 major benefits; you preserve X points of life, you deny your opponent a live card draw opportunity and you remove a permanent from the board (at least temporarily). This becomes critical once you realize that most of the "action" here in Standard occurs at or above the 4 mana threshold and that many aggressive decks will skimp on lands to jam more sources of damage into their builds. By "topping" a cheap monster in the early game you not only have a chance of keeping your opponent off his all important 4th mana but even if he does have the land in hand, you present an either or choice: "you can have the little dude, or the 4 drop from hell but not both sir." Of course, once your opponent does manage to cobble some lands together this trick loses some of it's luster; after all you certainly don't want to start "topping" cards like Thundermaw Hellkite and Armada Wurm right? Thankfully Azorius Charm has got your back folks; once the game degenerates into a back and forth exchange of sizable threats (a very common occurrence here in Standard) you simply attack with a bunch of dudes and cast the charm in lifelink mode. This allows you to generate a "cushion of life" that will net you an entire extra turn where you don't have to block or interact with your opponent's creatures at all. Let me tell you folks, turning all of your men sideways for a massive attack while sneering at your opponent's creatures behind 30 some odd life points is pretty fun. You like extra attacks right? Remember how good Cryptic Command was? I thought so. Finally, cashing in a Charm for a card at the end of your opponent's turn allows you to generate "library velocity" when facing down a Control deck. This can be critical because in this match-up we're trying to present our opponent with more threats than he can answer; more cards equals more potential threats. Perhaps equally importantly it gives us something to do when our opponent is representing a counterspell as he passes the turn. Obviously we'd rather drop a Restoration Angel in this situation but beggars can't be choosers and anything is better than doing nothing because we're afraid of counter magic.

  •  "Doesn't this deck just snap lose to Control?"
This is a fair question and as you can see from the sideboard above I certainly felt Sandy Bant had a problem with control decks that ran counterspells and to a lesser degree board-sweepers. A funny thing happened during play-testing/local tournament play however; I kept beating control decks senseless in game 1. While we're obviously talking about a small sample size here I'm beginning to suspect that the deck's general "threat density" is simply too much for the meager counter-suite run by today's Control decks. By my count this deck presents roughly 18 "must-answer" problems in game 1 alone including: Geist of Saint Traft, Jace Architect of Thought, Thragtusk, Sigarda, Cyclonic Rift, Armada Wurm and especially Restoration Angel. Naturally of course not all of these spells have to be countered but if they aren't it's a reasonable bet that your opponent is going to have to tap some mana to play some sort of answer. This in turn means he will find it more difficult to counter the next threat and so on. What's more, because the vast majority of the cards we're talking about here threaten to win the game by themselves you're never really required to dump multiple targets into a potential board sweeper. When he drops a Supreme Judgment on your Centaur Healer and Restoration Angel? You simply cast Sigarda. When he produces a Terminus for that Sigarda you demand he find another with Armada Wurm and so forth. Arguably the most direct example of this strategy involves using naked Restoration Angels as either a beatdown clock or a Mana Short. You simply leave up 4 mana and wait for your opponent to pass his turn before flashing in the Angel (even if she has no targets); this forces him to either counter the Angel or accept a 3 damage clock until such a time as he can remove her while still leaving up his counters. Naturally if he does counter you respond by playing a better threat like Giest of Saint Traft, Jace or Sigarda on your turn. If he doesn't counter you happily begin chipping away at his life until he decides to do something about it or you draw another Angels. In my experience they run out of either time or counterspells before you run out of threats but millage may vary I suppose. Of course, if you're using the same sideboard I listed above games 2 and 3 become considerably easier. This may however be largely irrelevant since as of this moment I have no definitive evidence that Sandy Bant is the underdog in this match-up.

  • "Why did you choose Armada Wurm over Angel of Serenity?"
 While there is no question in my mind that Angel of Serenity is one of the most powerful cards in the format the simple truth is that she's pretty redundant in this deck. We already have 5 power flyers in the form of Sigarda and we already have a 7 drop that removes all of our opponents permanents from the table in Cyclonic Rift. What's more, because our plan is to cast a bunch of fatties and then overload a Rift the fact that she doesn't come down until the turn we're already planning to drop Upheaval only serves to slow us down an entire turn. Finally once we do drop Cyclonic Rift it's safe to say that 10 power worth of trample is noticeably better than 5 power worth of flyer folks.

  • "Is Cyclonic Rift really the best card in Standard?"
Well, I certainly think it is. At a very minimum it's definitely better in a creature based Bant deck than either Terminus or Supreme Verdict. Have you noticed that it's an Instant yet?

  • "Why Selesnya Charm? Can I replace those cards with counterspells?"
To answer the second question first; you could but you would lose flexibility and live in constant fear of Thundermaw Hellkites and Angels of Serenity. The key to remember here is that much like Az Charm, this card serves an important function in all 3 modes depending on the match-up. Against weenie hordes the 2/2 knight often trades for a random attacker while the +2+2 Trample ability is extremely useful in creature combat. I've sent more than one opponent to the sideboard shaking their head and muttering about "limited cards" after trampling over a Snapcaster Mage for lethal damage. Another favorite trick of mine is to suddenly grow my Geist of Saint Traft to 4/4, thereby liquidating their 3/3 blocker and surviving another turn to make more Angel tokens. Finally of course exiling 5 power monsters at instant speed for a mere 2 mana is "some good" and can be particularly rewarding if your opponent was counting on getting immediate value from said fatty. 5/5 Olivias, rampaging Thundermaw Hellkites and marauding Angels of Serenity all come to mind but frankly any ole' 5 power beater will typically do.

  • "Why didn't you answer my question?"
I'm not psychic; the above questions are merely a representative spread of the questions I've been asked by those I've shared the deck with. If you have a question I haven't gone over in this article please feel free to ask me in the comments section below. I can't promise an instant response but I do promise that I'll work my way through any questions at a reasonable pace and respond to your comment with my own.

Well gang, that's about all the time we have for today. When I original sat down to write this article I expected it to be about 2 pages long and take roughly 3 hours to complete. Roughly 9 hours and 8 pages later I'm still not sure I've gone over all the important details. Unfortunately tired eyes and sore fingers will not be bargained with and so I bid you adieu for the time being. Before I go however I'd like to thank Scott MacCallum, Tommy Liu and Jeremy Skelton for all the deck ideas I stole from them when constructing this deck. I would also like to thank Alex Bianchi for his wonderful article on that helped me finally crystallize what I felt Bant mi-range decks were missing in the format. Until next time then; always remember that it's extremely easy to kill an enemy mage when your board is full of fat, broken monsters and his is comprised only of lands. Ciao folks.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." - Frederich Nietzsche, Twilight of Idols

I've always found it somehow ironic that the quote above originates from one of the most thoroughly depressing nihilist philosophers in human history. This guy, quite literally believed in nothing and yet somehow penned a profound statement of hope that has provided strength to countless unfortunates the world over. During times of adversity, hardship and misfortune millions of people have repeated these seven words and found comfort in the idea that they would survive; not necessarily unscathed but somehow better for the experience. Not bad for a dead emo German atheist with a Yosemite-Sam mustache right? I mention this now because I've been thinking a lot about Freddy's most famous statement while lying in bed recently and wondering if I would ever play Magic again.

Hello everyone my name is Nina Illingworth and welcome to another edition of The Cardboard Witch. For the precisely none of you tracking at home; it's been just under 3 months since my last article. Unfortunately my absence has been caused by some fairly serious health problems. As it turns out my broken foot healed quickly and the remaining swelling was actually part of a much larger and more serious problem with my kidneys. The details are pretty gory but basically I turned yellow, started sleeping 14 hours a day and rapidly began changing my lifestyle/eating habits so as not to "become perished". Apparently the limit for how long people who aren't Keith Richards can survive on little sleep and a diet consisting primarily of coffee, cigarettes and recreational drugs is 16 or so years; who knew?  In lieu of a long, boring story about what being *that* sick felt like I've decided to provide a short movie clip I feel captures the experience completely:

See, wasn't that better than some tedious yarn about lying in bed as the world went dark and wondering if this was the end of the game? Needless to say folks, I did not perish and while not every day is completely wonderful I am most certainly feeling much better. In fact, I've recently begun actually playing Magic again, which in turn means I can write about Magic here on the blog. Before we get started however I'd just like to thank all of you for your support during my illness. Whether it was my friends, coworkers, twitter followers, fellow grinders or article readers you guys were always there with words of compassion and encouragement. I daresay that I'm proud to call myself a member of a Magic community that's full of such exemplary, compassionate people. I can't thank you guys enough and I honestly believe that one of the reasons I'm here today writing this to you is the sheer amount of "love" the community heaped on my wretched carcass.

With all the mushy stuff out of the way lemme just ask you; are you enjoying Return to Ravnica limited as much as I am? Truthfully I was too sick to attend the RtR pre-release myself but once again I have some of the best friends and co-workers on the planet. Knowing I would be depressed about missing the event they kept their pools intact and brought them by to play with me once I was well. I ended up playing the Golgari Starter to a 2-0-1 finish but I think Leon would have beat me with Selesnya if he had played it out rather than offering the draw. I was fading pretty quickly after a mere 2 rounds of Magic and his deck was just better than mine in the endgame. To say I had a great time would be a mild understatement, that was "cracking good fun" as the English would say (50 years ago). In particular I was very impressed with how WotC handled the "choose your own guild" gimmick in the format. When I first heard about the guilds I worried that the vast majority of players were going to choose their colors based on which super cool promo they most wanted to play; only to open their packs and find the cards telling them to play a completely different guild. WotC solved this problem by switching one of the regular packs with a pre-set shrink wrapped selection of cards from your chosen guild/colors. What's more in my experience the VAST majority of the cards in your guildpack were at least playable and more often than not snap inclusions in a good Limited deck. What's particularly impressive about this strategy is the overall "smoothing out" effect it produced on virtually every deck in the room. Think about it folks; if you're guaranteed roughly 11 very good cards in your guildpact and we're playing 40 card decks with around 17 land, how many good cards do you have to open the "normal" way to have a solid deck? That's right, "roughly 12" and you have 5 packs to find those 12 cards. We're literally talking about "no more bad pools" here folks. While I've never been a fan of the MtG storyline I can get behind *any* gimmick that makes pre-release more fun for beginners, casual players and people who only attend pre-release tournaments. Opening a bad pool is a fact of life for PTQ grinders but it's absolutely heartbreaking to casual players who've often been waiting weeks for the event. I know it won't be easy but I hope WotC finds an excuse to use this gimmick at every pre-release event from here on out; even long after we're done with guilds.

Unfortunately due to massive, insane-o, off the charts demand for Return to Ravnica packs, boxes and cases I've only had the chance to draft the set twice at this point. Additionally because I've been sick for so long I actually haven't had the time to pore over the spoiler in great detail yet. I have a pretty good idea of what each of the cards do but otherwise I'm learning as I go folks and it's actually kinda refreshing. Normally I get pretty OCD around previews season and typically by the time I sit down for my first draft I've not only read every card in the set 5+ times but I've also plotted out what decks they belong it, what turn you ideally want to cast them and where I expect other drafters to choose them. While this certainly makes it easier to win my first few drafts it also apparently sucks some of the "magic" out of the draft experience. Sitting down to draft with very little prior knowledge of the cards felt a lot like being a little kid at Christmas time; each new pack was a present to be opened, examined, cherished and then discarded quickly to see what the next amazing package contained. Prior to the draft I decided my strategy was going to involve reading the cards carefully, choosing the most powerful options available in the first few packs and then desperately clinging to the resulting guild until the ride was over. To be perfectly clear I don't believe this is actually a *good* strategy folks but since I had no idea what I was doing it was the best I could come up with on the spot. Fortunately I'm not as rusty at Magic as I suspected and managed to "win" both events, going 3-0 and 2-0-1 respectively. In the first draft I opened a P1P1 Angel of Serenity and promptly got passed a Skymark Roc to cement me firmly in Azorius. When the dust finally settled 40 picks later, this is the deck I ended up with:

"Talk to the Giant" - U/W Tempo

Creatures - 16:

1x Doorkeeper
1x Keening Apparition
1x Seller of Songbirds
2x Sunspire Griffin
1x Lyev Skyknight
1x Tower Drake
1x Vassal Soul
2x Hussar Patrol
1x Skymark Roc
1x Soulsworn Spirit
1x Azor's Elocutors
1x Skyline Predator
1x Palisade Giant
1x Angel of Serenity

Spells - 7:

1x Azorius Charm
1x Dramatic Rescue
2x Inaction Injunction
1x Paralyzing Grasp
1x Arrest
1x Trostani's Judgment

Lands - 17:

9x Plains
6x Island
1x Azorius Guildgate

Analysis: When I sat down to build this deck I honestly didn't think it was very good at all. After talking to a number of people who'd played Azorius at the pre-release I'd been given the impression a good U/W deck in this format *had* to be mono-flying/evasion. While I had a significant number of flyers I was also going to be forced to play with a bunch of "shitty walls" and I assumed I'd be easily overwhelmed by Golgari/Selesnya decks. You know what they say about assumptions right? As it turns out when your opponent's decks are comprised entirely of undercosted 3/3 beaters it's actually a good thing to have a bunch of overcosted 2/4 walls. By striking a balance between 2-3 power flyers and random blockers I was typically able to race my opponents for the first 10 or so life on either side and then completely lock out the board while I proceeded to my endgame. Once we started trading 5-7 casting cost cards I usually found myself winning via Mythic-rare Angel or the Giant/Elocutors combo. As an amusing side note I should mention that I repeatedly passed the Elocutors in pack 3 and only grudgingly chose it when there were absolutely no other options left in the pack. It wasn't until I sat down and read the Palisade Giant I'd taken in pack 2 that I realized I had a game winning combo on my hands. Hooray for dumb luck huh? Other cards that impressed me in the build included Skymark Roc, Lyev Skyknight, Soulsworn Spirit, Skyline Predator, Inaction Injunction and of course Arrest. The real all-star however was Hussar Patrol and if I'm going to be playing Azorius in future drafts I intend to go out of my way to take as many copies of this guy as possible. He's not as sexy as the flyers but time and time again he was *the* reason I didn't die to wave after wave of 3/3 green groundpounders. As for cards I wasn't that impressed with; Seller of Songbirds is probably much better in a G/W populate deck, Paralyzing Grasp was pretty mediocre without a tap effect and Azorious Charm was surprisingly disappointing. The vast majority of the time it functioned like an unsummon more than anything else and it was particularly worthless against haste creatures. By the end of the night I was cycling it almost every time I drew it.

During the second draft I decided I would adopt the same strategy as I had the first time with one minor exception; I would play any guild except Azorious because I'd "been there, done that". Opening the first pack I found myself hoping for a good rare to build my deck around again. Perhaps I hoped a little too hard because when I flipped the the last card in the pack I found myself staring at another Angel of Serenity. So apparently the key to winning at RtR drafts is to open the Mythic-rare Angel folks and I took her without the slightest bit of hesitation. The second pack was a little trickier this time and the best card in it was probably Dreg Mangler or Hellhole Flailer. I briefly thought about selecting one of those two but I really didn't want to commit to 3 colors so early when the Angel was gonna cost me WWW anyways. After scanning the pack a second time I decided to draft Common Bond and force G/W for the rest of the draft. I wasn't entirely sure Common Bond was worthy of a second pick but in the last draft it had been one of the more frustrating cards I'd faced so I figured it had some upside. As the draft progressed however it quickly became clear that I wasn't the only Selesnya player at the table and by the time the draft ended this was the best deck I could build:

"Arrested Development" - G/W/r/b Aggro

Creatures - 18:

3x Azorius Arrester
1x Gatecreeper Vine
1x Brushstrider
1x Selesnya Sentry
1x Oak Street Innkeeper
1x Centaur Healer
2x Stonefare Crocodile
2x Sunspire Griffin
2x Axebane Guardian
1x Sluiceway Scorpion
2x Rubbleback Rhino
1x Angel of Serenity

Spells - 5:

1x Giant Growth
1x Soul Tithe
2x Common Bond
1x Annihilating Fire

Land - 17:

6x Forest
5x Plains
1x Swamp
1x Mountain
2x Transguild Promenade
1x Rakdos Guildgate
1x Selesnya Guildgate

Analysis: Frankly this isn't the best draft deck I've ever built. It lacks synergy and there are a number of cards in here that would clearly be better in other decks. The Arresters are probably the best example of this phenomena; in an Azorious deck like the one I posted above this card would be pretty amazing. Unfortunately I lacked the steady stream of cheap flyers or 3/3 beaters you need to make casting an early Arrester relevant and typically they simply served as "2 turn" speedbumps in this deck. What I did have going for me however was a Mythic-rare Angel, two very hard to kill Hexproof beaters and two copies of "whoop ass in a can": Common Bond. It is absolutely, straight up impossible to participate in creature combat in this format and not generate a potential 3 for 1 for an experienced opponent holding this card with untapped mana. I started the night wondering if I should have second picked my first Common Bond and ended it wondering why the card was still in the pack for me to choose 2nd overall. Whether it was on offense, defense, in response to burn or just to make my Hexproof Rhino bigger, Common Bond flat out won me games all night. I was also mildly impressed with Brushstrider, Centaur Healer, Sunspire Griffin, Gatecreeper Vine and the card that let me find 23 playables; Axebane Guardian. Unfortunately all of the 3/2's were just as bad as you'd expect them to be and I think I sideboarded out Oak Street Inkeeper before game 2 every match. I managed to win my first two rounds while dropping a single game and then offered my 1-1 opponent a 3rd round draw because it would guarantee we'd both prize (1st for me, 3rd for him). The lesson here is "Common Bond is ridiculous".

Well folks that's about all we have time for today. I'm starting to feel pretty tired and the people who care for me keep asking me to listen to my body more, so I think I'm going to take a nap now. I missed Magic but more importantly I really missed the people who make Magic so special for me. Our shop is getting more RtR on Friday so I'll probably be back soon to talk about the other 3 guilds in Limited and some of the cooler constructed decks I've been testing. I've been stealing deck lists off Magic mastermind Seth Burn and writing the names of cards I don't own on basic lands until I can buy a case on Friday. For those of you looking for a sneak preview, lets just say "Nina's got Wurms". Until next time folks, thanks for reading and always remember that you don't have to pass the pack just because the annoying guy to your left makes all of his picks in 15 seconds flat. Ciao.