Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Of Limited Interest #3 - Scrying for You - a 5 Person M11 Round Robin Draft

Hello ladies and gentlemen out there in Magicland, welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Today I'm back with another "Of Limited Interest" draft report; this time about the 5 man round robin event we held on Thursday night at the downtown shop.  Sorry for the delay in posting this but I've actually been busy playing in 3 MORE drafts besides this.  Clearly The Cardboard Witch is just as badly addicted to M11 booster draft as you are.  Additionally I'd write about Standard but listening to me complain about going 2-2 at Friday Night Magic because I can't draw land isn't exactly "a good time."  I'll try to do better next week so we can chat about Blue/White Control in Standard.  Until then lets dive right in.

Thursday, August 19th.  Triple M11, 5 Man Round Robin.

So after an epic long/bad shift to close out my week I decided that I pretty much *had* to play some Magic after work and I found myself drafting triple M11 with 4 other people as a form of "therapy".  I'll be 100% honest when I say I was kinda disappointed that we only had 5 players; throughout the week I'd had about 10 different people tell me they might show up.  Additionally of course nobody wants to show up for 2 rounds of draft and a bye so the only fair way to hold a 5 man tournament is to run it 4 rounds of round robin play.  This not only adds about an extra hour for the draft but it increases the chances of having no clear winner after 4 rounds and having to use tiebreakers to decided the final outcome.  Unfortunately I hadn't played since a late night 4 man draft on Monday that I won with a Primeval Titan and 3 random 2nd pick Armored Ascensions, so dropping out to make the draft 4 players and 3 rounds was not an option.  I wanted to play again, even if it meant staying up all night to do so!

In terms of the "drafting" portion of the event this was a pretty weird one.  My first pick in pack one was a Gaea's Revenge; a card that would normally commit me heavily to my favorite color in M11 (Green).  Anytime you can get an 8/5 beater that's essentially impossible to target with a removal spell in the format you pretty much have to play that right?   Even it's 7CC isn't a real factor in Green due to Cultivates, Sylvan Rangers and random mana Elves.  Things got a little more interesting picks 2 and 3 as I was passed back to back Crystal Balls in packs that contained no Doomblades, Mind Controls or Lightning Bolts.  Truthfully even if I had, I might have taken at least one of the Crystal Balls anyways as that card is a game winner in this format.  A 4th pick gift (Fireball) pretty much sealed me into G/R at this point and I felt really comfortable with my first 4 picks.  Then the guy to the right of me hands me a pack with a bunch of random cards and a very late Mind Control.  Obviously this is a personal opinion but I happen to think Mind Control is the best removal spell in the entire format.  It's capable of dealing with almost any "bomb" monster (but not Gaea's Revenge, lol ) while simultaneously giving YOU another game breaking threat; his best creature.  I'm not even sure I bothered to read the other cards in the pack to be honest, I took the Mind Control and decided to keep my eyes open for quality Blue cards just in case.  At this point I figure I'm playing G/U with a splash for a Fireball unless something changes drastically so I grab a few more cards in both colors and mostly shy away from Red.  It's possible if I'd been paying attention I might have noticed that the Cultivate I opened in pack 1 that I had hoped would table had vanished before I saw it again. I won't lie however; I don't think I even noticed that until the 2nd pack. 

Pack 2 however proceeded to go completely wrong.  I opened an Ancient Hellkite and decided I had to deny it despite a plethora of good Green/Blue cards in the pack.  This was possibly a mistake but the simple truth is that it's almost impossible to win games when your opponent enters his combat phase with an "un-sick" Ancient Hellkite.  At this point in the draft I had exactly two answers; Mind Control and a 7 mana Fireball I might not end up playing if I didn't see more mana fixing.  Of course the very next pack had a Pyroclasm and no Green cards even close to the same power level so I took the "Pryo".  To make a long story short I drafted about 8 Red cards in pack 2 including a Chandra's Outrage, an Ember Hauler and 2x Chandra's Spitfires.  The player to my immediate left had clearly taken the Cultivate 2nd pick since I managed at best 2 Green playables and a lone Augury Owl in Blue out of the entire pack. It was safe to say that going into pack 3 my draft was a mess.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rough Drafts #1 - One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, New Fish.

Hello ladies and gentlemen, my name is Nina Illingworth and welcome to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As some of you may have guessed by the title of today's entry we're going to talk about basic booster draft theory; specifically how to draft and build better decks.  For those of you who don't know me in real life, I manage a comic and games store here in downtown Toronto called the Hairy Tarantula.  One of the coolest aspects of my job is that I can disguise my complete obsession with Magic the Gather as "work" so long as I'm helping customers while I do it.  Recently this has meant helping a number of new customers get into the game through regularly scheduled booster drafts at both the downtown and north end Hairy T locations.  In my opinion booster draft is the ideal way for a new player to break into magic for 3 major reasons:

A) It requires no previously owned cards to play.

B) It allows a new player to build a collection as he or she goes, adding new cards to their card pool every single time they draft.

C) It's one of the fastest and most reliable ways to teach core Magic playskills.  Learning to squeeze the most out of your cards is *THE* defining skill in limited play and it's application to constructed Magic formats absolutely will improve your win/loss ratios over the long haul.

Unfortunately sometimes being "the new kid on the block" means taking your lumps while learning the lay of the land (read: losing both often and decisively).  This is particularly true in Booster Draft where the combined skills of card selection, deckbuilding and actual game play can be quite daunting for a new player to master. While it's reasonable to expect a certain "learning curve" when taking up any new activity it's also pretty hard to learn anything when your opponents are smashing your face in on turn 5.  These type of "blowout" losses can be both frustrating and expensive; ultimately discouraging new players from continuing with the hobby.  This deprives our Magic communities of fresh faces and new blood, diminishing the experience for everyone involved.  The worst part of it all is that in most cases this problem could be solved through the application of a few basic guidelines during the drafting process itself.  These basic "rules" form the backbone of building competitive draft decks and after a while they become second nature to an experienced drafter; allowing them to focus on the finer points of the game and increase their chances of winning even further.  While it would be silly to suggest that a brand new player can follow a list of rules and consistently beat experienced drafters, it is absolutely true that such a tool can help you stay in the game and avoid fruitless "blowout" losses.  Sometimes the first step towards learning to win really is learning how not to lose first.

It's important to note at this point that only time and effort will help you win your first booster draft; I am not presenting a magic formula for winning Booster Drafts without sufficient practice.  What I *am* talking about is an easy 6 part blueprint to drafting and building better decks at your next Limited event.  While this material may be useful to anyone who plays Booster Draft it is intended for the absolute beginner attempting his or her first few booster drafts.  Additionally I'd like to point out that while I have been drafting for years, nobody is perfect.  These "guidelines" represent my best effort to help new players break into the exciting format of Magic Booster Draft and people can and will disagree with some of the ideas I present here.  Please feel free to take whatever you can use from this article and disregard anything you can't.  It is after all the internet.

Okay, with that out of the way lets get right down to business and talk about how to draft stronger decks the next time you crack open a booster.  First and foremost you must remember that the art of building a good draft deck is about finding or creating value with each and every pick.  While this sounds complicated it really just means "load up on good cards" and "don't overpick a card now when you could obtain it later".   In essence this means evaluating every card you see in a pack according to a personal "pick hierarchy" and then comparing that evaluation to what you think your opponents will choose based on known information (including colors, previous picks and their assumed card rankings).  While this eventually becomes second nature to a seasoned draft veteran it can be incredibly hard for a new player to get an accurate read on what to pick and when until that happens.  So how do we skip all that trashing around in the dark until the light finally turns on?  Simple, we establish a basic pick priority based on TYPES of cards before we sit down to draft and then as those kinds of cards come up we choose them according to their ranking within that pick hierarchy.  In other words:

1) First we draft "Bombs"
2) Then we draft "Removal"
3) Then we draft creatures that are above the "mana curve"
4) We then draft spells that create card advantage or win creature combat
5) Later we draft powerful sideboard cards
6) Finally we'll draft enough "bodies" to consistantly affect board state (14-16 typically)

The beauty of this system of course is that these pick rankings will be rather similar to what your opponents are already doing besides you, thereby ensuring two things:  A) you won't be passing broken cards and creating unstoppable opponents and B) you will be able to immediately jump on any passing mistakes the player handing packs to you makes pretty much automatically.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Of Limited Interest #2 - A Triple M11 Draft Report

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  For anyone hoping I'd post about Standard earlier in the week like I was talking about at work; I'm sorry.  My shifts have been pretty epic long and I've been too exhausted to write after work for most of the week.  Additionally I've recently been introduced to a free online draft simulator that's probably more addictive than crack cocaine.  Of course you can't actually *PLAY* Magic drafts for free but the program does allow you practice drafting against computer generated 'bots' who pick according to information inputted by thousands (tens of thousands probably) of other drafters.  While not perfect the robots *ARE* surprisingly good at building good decks in booster draft and I feel that the M11 pools at least are a very accurate representation of a good 8 man M11 draft.  It's "cracking good fun" as the British would say; in fact it's so much fun I'm going to wait until the end of this blog post to link you to the program because I'm afraid everyone will stop reading and go draft all night ! :)

As some of you may know we hold booster drafts at the Downtown Hairy Tarantula location on Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights (7, 7 and 8PM respectively).  Recently my co-worker Stephen and I have been working hard to get our regular attendance for these drafts up to 8 players consistently and I'm proud to say that we managed to throw down with 8 drafters tonight!  While 4 and 6 man drafts are certainly a lot of fun the true art of Magic Booster Drafting reveals itself in the 8 man draft.  Quite frankly the packs are designed to be drafted with 8 players by Wizards of the Coast R&D.  I won't lie, I was pretty excited when we rolled off for seating positions and got down to busting open packs.

The drafts run at all 3 Hairy T locations are "Keepers".  What this means is that you get to keep whatever cards you pick during the "drafting" portion of the event.  While some shops will hold a rare "re-draft" after the event with pick order equal to finish my boss (and myself for that matter) has always felt this made attracting new players even HARDER than it already was.  This in turn is bad both for business and our local magic scene for somewhat obvious reasons.  I happen to agree with this philosophy simply because it helps new players pay for the 4-5 drafts it takes most people to really "get" the format and start competing for real.  By either selling the rares they've drafted or simply folding them into a rapidly growing collection even the most amateur of drafters can avoid the annoying "money down a hole" sensation that drafting against more experienced players can produce.  I mention this because I'm about to get down to brass tacks on what I chose, when and why.  Without knowing that I get to keep the Drowned Catacomb I opened in pack 1 for example it would be pretty hard to understand why I passed on a Pacifism for it.  Considering U/B's general lack of power in the current type 2 format, it may *STILL* be hard to understand.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Of Limited Interest - A Triple M11 Draft Report

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to "The Cardboard Witch" ; a Toronto based blog about playing competitive Magic the Gathering while retaining a casual attitude.  While there's about a million things I've wanted to write about in the past couple days, work and an incredibly poorly timed 8:40 AM Doctor's Appointment have both conspired to keep me away from the keyboard.  All of that ended tonight however and after a forced-crash nap in the early evening I settled in for a 4-Man M11 draft with 3 friends after the downtown Hairy Tarantula location (where I work) closed.      

Now the thing about 4-Man drafts that most people don't catch at first blush is the "all or nothing" nature of opening packs in the format.  You'd be tempted to think that with very little pick competition you always end up with more powerful decks from a 4-Man.  This is strictly not true and in reality the power levels of the decks created in this format are COMPLETELY dependent on the quality of packs you guys open.   Results can fluctuate wildly from pack to pack and you lose a certain smoothness, consistency and color balance when playing in smaller drafts.  Simply put 12 packs isn't 24 and this can make planning our your future picks MUCH harder than it would otherwise be in an 8-Man draft. Tonight's packs for example ended up being incredibly strong in both Black and Green cards, incredibly weak in Red and about average in both Blue and White.

After settling down and completing the "drafting" portion of the tournament I ended up playing a Blue/Green mana ramp deck with decent "Bombs" but light on control elements:

August 9th, 2010 - Triple M11

Creatures - 15

2x Llanowar Eves
1x Sylvan Ranger
2x Aether Adept
2x Cloud Elemental
1x Scroll Thief
1x Azure Drake
1x Clone
1x Prized Unicorn
1x Air Servant
1x Greater Basilisk
2x Spined Wurm

Spells 7

1x Unsummon
1x Giant Growth
1x Ice Cage
1x Cancel
1x Cultivate
1x Sword of Vengeance
1x Jace's Ingenuity
1x Mind Control

Lands 17

8x Forest
8x Island
1x Terramorphic Expanse

Playable Sideboard:

2x Maritime Guard
1x Sacred Wolf
1x Wall of Frost
1x Naturalize
1x Nature's Spiral
1x Jace's Ingenuity

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Greetings and Salutations

Hello everyone and welcome to the very first post here on The Cardboard Witch.  My name is Nina Illingworth and I'm a 33 year old Gamestore Manager/Magic Player who lives in Toronto.  That's in Canada if you've got a map and Scott Pilgrimland if you don't. :)

I started playing Magic back in early 1995, not long after Fallen Empires had been released.  A few of my friends at the local gamestore in Windsor Ontario had picked the game up a year or so before and hooked half of my regular RPG group inside of 3 months.  They would talk incessantly about the game; often well into the start of our sessions. As the GM this drove me crazy; I openly swore more than once I'd never touch the damn cards while insisting my gaming group get back on topic.  Finally of course after much prodding/pestering I decided to give the game a try one fateful winter afternoon.  Despite the fact that I barely understood the game and was by all accounts a terrible card player, I was nonetheless hooked immediately.  I quickly resolved to buy as many packs of Magic as I could afford and was on my way to do so when my playgroup hit me with the terrible truth.  Apparently Fallen Empires was the worst set of Magic released to date and utterly useless even for a beginning player/deck-builder. What's more the upcoming new base set (4th Edition) contained almost NONE of the powerful cards that drove previous editions (Moxes, Lotus, etc).  My friends had addicted me to a game for which they strongly advised I buy no cards!  I survived for 6 long months borrowing decks every time we played Magic before the summer finally brought with it the release of Ice Age and a chance to finally start my collection.  I bought an entire BOX of Ice Age Boosters (a huge investment for my 18 year old self) and when I cracked open my first pack and flipped to the rare slot, I found the following card staring back at me:

Now, I would love to tell you that I was a really smart kid back then and immediately recognized the obvious value of a card *THAT* broken, but the truth is I didn't.  Skip your draw phase?  Why would I want to do that?  Pay life to draw cards?  But when I run out of life I lose the game.  I even asked the store owner if there had somehow been a mistake; maybe Necropotence was some kind of misprint because there's no way they'd make such an awful card a rare.  He assured me that there was no mistake and suggested that if I didn't like the card I find another player to trade it with.  This seemed like a brilliant idea.  Of course if I had been a little older or a little wiser I might have wondered why it was so easy to find a trading partner to take this horrible card off my hands.  I might have also checked to make sure Lightning Bolt and Fireball were actually rares.  I did neither and ended up trading away my first Magic power card for two cards I could have bought as singles for a dollar or less.  Ignorance is bliss however and I wouldn't even realize how serious my error had been until I played Black Summer Necropotence 3 out of 4 games at my first competitive tournament an entire year later.  I won precisely zero of those games and quickly learned firsthand why Necropotence was so powerful in the post Ice Age environment.  While you might think this would turn me off of the game it actually had the opposite effect.  I was utterly determined to accomplish 3 things by the end of that tournament:  A) Get better at Magic.  B) Learn the game well enough that I never made such a poor trade again and finally C) Trade for 4x Necropotence and start trading life for cards!