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.
Okay so as we've already establish I opened a Drowned Catacomb in my first pack and took it, passing about 8 playable cards to my left; the best of which was Pacifism. Since I didn't play in any M10 drafts I don't actually own 4 copies of Drowned Catacombs yet so I felt this was a pretty solid investment in making sure my night turned out okay regardless of how many games I won. Now the player to my right is my good friend Kelly, who if you've been reading this blog you know has a strong affinity for building broken White + Color X decks. This is important because Kelly is going to be feeding me packs for 2/3 of the night and knowing that he tends to value white cards higher than other players tells me I'm not likely to get a lot of good white out of him. Considering I'd passed a Pacifism already I can't honestly say I was worried about this development until Kelly handed me a pack with absolutely no removal/control cards; except a Blinding Mage. Now I know for a fact that Kelly considers the Blinding Mage a first pick and he confirms this by saying "I wouldn't read to much into that pack if I were you". The rare is terrible (I honestly don't remember, Jinxed Idol maybe?) and the missing card is an uncommon which I strongly suspect is both white and good enough that Kelly is ready to fight over the color to play it. I mentally picture the Serra Angel I know he just drafted and swear under my breath as I take the next most playable card in the pack; an Azure Drake. My suspicion is confirmed as Kelly hands me an Air Servant and then a Mind Control, no doubt in favor of cutting off white from whoever ended up with the Blinding Mage (the player to my left it turns out). Most of the rest of pack one works out to be ho-hum and while I'm sure I'm in Blue at this point I really don't know what my second color is. I'd deny drafted a Shiv's Embrace and grabbed a Manic Vandal plus a Thunder Strike at the end of the pack. This made me suspect I was in Red, although I had also grabbed an Elf and a Spined Wurm "just in case". This turned out to be somewhat fortuitous because I was forced to burn my first 3 picks on "Deny" picks in pack 2.
Going into pack 2 I had what amounted to 7 playable Blue cards and either 2 Green or 3 Red cards. While not being sure of my 2nd color yet bothered me a little my blue cards were something insane like: Azure Drake, Mind Control, Air Servant, Redirect, Diminish, Cloud Elemental and Ice Cage. This is an absolutely crazy number of good to incredibly good cards from a single pack and I figured I'd go Red if I could draft some removal or Green if I couldn't. Things started off well enough when I opened my 2nd pack and found myself looking at a Cudgel Troll. The rare was pretty uninspiring and the best blue card in the pack was an Augury Owl. While I hadn't totally decided on U/G the Cudgel Troll is an absolute bomb in M11 Limited so he did go a long way towards pushing me into Green. Then the player to my left (who I knew was in white as I'd passed him the Blinding Mage) handed me a pack with a Serra Angel, a Whispersilk Cloak and a Crystal Ball but no rare. Worse still there was a Cloud Elemental, a Chandra's Outrage and 3 playable Green cards in the pack. I really, REALLY wanted to take either the Whispersilk Cloak or the Crystal Ball but I happen to know that Kelly already has at least one Serra Angel and at this point in the draft I have precisely ONE good answer to a Serra Angel; Air Servant. If I end up playing Kelly the pressure to control his Angel will be tremendous in any game he draws it and as much as it hurts me I'm forced to deny the 2nd Angel simply to prevent it from being near automatic. This of course means he gets either a Crystal Ball or a Whispersilk Cloak to go with his previous Angel however so it's hardly gumdrops and lollipops. The next pack leaves me downright horrified as my opponent who is supposedly playing white hands me an Armored Ascension, a Crystal Ball and sundry quality Red creatures. At this point I'm about to panic; it's not only too late to jump into white but I've also just passed enough Red to my right that I have almost no hope of getting back into the color later due to pick competition I helped create. I can't rightly pass Kelly the Armored Ascension but if I take it I'm wasting my second high pick on a denial and forcing myself into Green to keep the Cudgel Troll from being a completely wasted pick. This pick probably takes me 30 seconds to make but ultimately I decide I have no choice but to spike the game changing Armored Ascension. Now at this point my memory becomes a little blurry regarding pick orders/when I obtained certain cards. What I do remember is that while I didn't see many good Blue cards ( Cloud Elemental, Wall of Frost, Unsummon) I did absolutely luck out with 6 or so solid Green playables. This included both Sylvan Rangers, a Garruk's Packleader, a Cultivate and Giant Spider. While I wasn't totally thrilled to be playing U/G again it was hard to argue with my overall card quality. With a little luck in pack 3 I felt I could end up with something incredibly strong.
I won't lie; when I opened my last pack and saw an Overwhelming Stampede winking back at me I had to resist the urge to break out into a little jig. This card is absolutely broken with 4 power creatures; ending games decisively as early as turn 4 or 5 depending on how you build around it. With a Cudgel Troll, a Garruk's Packleader, an Air Servant, a Spined Wurm and a couple of random Flyers my deck was *already* the perfect kind of build to abuse this card and I took it without hesitating. Of course this meant passing yet another Pacifism to the left but "the ship had sailed" on stopping Peter (to my immediate left) from building a broken White deck an entire pack ago.
The rest of pack 3 goes pretty smoothly at this point now that I have a pretty good sense of how my deck is shaping up. I grab an Acidic Slime 2nd pick which leads into a 3rd pick Warlord's Axe. I manage to grab a late (5th or 6th?) pick Augury Owl and then snatch a couple Sacred Wolves to combo with my Packleader and Axe. By the time I manage an 9th pick Elf I'm pretty sure this draft is going incredibly well In fact it went so well I spent the back half of this pack drafting cards for my sideboard ( Flashfreeze, 2nd Giant Spider, Brindle Boar and a Harbor Servant), After throwing some land together I ended up with the monster U/G aggro deck listed below:
2x Llanowar Elves
1x Augury Owl
2x Sylvan Ranger
1x Cloud Elemental
2x Sacred Wolf
1x Cudgel Troll
1x Giant Spider
1x Azure Drake
1x Acidic Slime
1x Air Servant
1x Garruk's Packleader
1x Spined Wurm
1x Stone Golem
1x Ice Cage
1x Warlord's Axe
1x Mind Control
1x Overwhelming Stampede
1x Terramorphic Expanse
I ultimately decided to play the 2nd Giant Spider and the Wall of Frost in the sideboard for two reasons:
A) I felt I was likely the fastest Aggro deck in the room and thus diluting my deck too much with primarily defensive cards would be giving away some of my advantage.
B) I also needed the 3 power creatures to trigger Garruk's Packleader and I felt the Wolves (which I normally dislike) would be considerably better in combination with both the Packleader and the Axe than the Wall/Spider. Even if that didn't work out I could probably trade them off for attacking enemy creatures long enough to get me into my real "Fatties".
While I don't normally like to play at 41 cards I couldn't figure out what to cut; I honestly felt my three worst cards were Redirect, Giant Spider and Ice Cage. All 3 of these cards were very powerful in the right commonly occurring situations. Additionally with 2 Elves, 2 Sylvan Rangers, an Augury Owl, a Cultivate and a Terramorphic Expanse I wasn't exactly worried about running an extra card. Perhaps I should have been as it turns out but I certainly felt confident I was going to win this draft as we gathered at the front counter for pairings.
Round 1 - Cory U/G Merfolk Aggro
When Stephen does the random pairings and I end up against one of my best friends in round 1 I'm a little disappointed in my luck. When it turns out Cory is ALSO playing Blue and Green and has pretty much every single good card I passed in either color I'm pretty much prepared to sacrifice an entire bucket of KFC to whichever evil spirit I actively pissed off this time. It turns out Cory had ripped open a couple incredibly solid rares (Obstinate Baloth, Protean Hydra) and had chained his broken green to a Merfolk package that included 4x Scroll Thief and a Merfolk Sovereign! While his deck lacked some of the raw power I had his overall synergy was through the roof. This certainly wasn't the round 1 match I was hoping for.
I won the roll to start on the play for Game 1 and it went pretty much as I'd expected it to when I built the deck. I managed to seize the early beatdown because my deck was faster but Cory was rapidly cycling through his deck with Augury Owls and had locked out my non-flyers with an early Scroll Thief. I waited a couple turns and pressed my advantage with a long Cloud Elemental before finally deciding I'd better get rid of the Scroll Thief before Cory drew the Sovereign and started drawing cards. Cory however responded to my Ice Cage with a second Scroll Thief and the game stumbled on until I finally drew an Air Servant. Cory proceeded to topdeck about 17 land (no Sovereign!) and noted that he'd be fine if he could control the flyers before conceeding. Before game 2 he sideboarded two cards while I made no changes; I had no idea at this time that he'd brought in 2x Plummet and I was feeling pretty good about my deck so far.
Game 2 was on one hand less interesting than game 1; Cory stalled out on 3 blue land for a while and had to drop 2 Augury Owls and skip to his 5th turn before finally seeing a Forest. This meant that as long as I saw mana/played threats I was highly unlikely that Cory could claw his way back into this game. I did and started beating on him with an early Spined Wurm. As the game progressed it became apparent to me that if I could just play another threat and make it stick it would likely break Cory's back and advance me into the next round. Of course the turn after I drop the Azure Drake, Cory pulls the Forest and promptly plays Plummet to murder it. I swing back in with the Spined Wurm and kill an Augury Owl, dropping an Air Servant on my second main phase and silently thanking my lucky stars Cory spent the Plummet last turn. Of course Cory promptly Plummets it and drops a 2nd Augury Owl that works as a Timewalk against my non-Trampling Spined Wurm. Swearing under my breath I draw a Garruk's Packleader and start considering my turn. At this point in time Cory has an Augury Owl, a random Sylvan Ranger and a Scroll Thief in play. He was on 5 land, with 2 of them being islands. Being screwed for Green mana early I had a strong feeling that he'd probably put an Island or two on the bottom of his deck over the course of playing all 3 of his Augury Owls this game. I could also sense at this point that he was probably going to play the Merfolk Sovereign next turn and start refilling his hand at my expense. Now I'm not sure it would get him back in the game, but the only scenario I could imagine where he managed to steal the win from me involved him making a Scroll Thief unblockable and drawing a bunch of cards. I decided to play the Acid Slime I'd been holding all game in case of an emergency; destroying his second Island. This turned out to be the smart play because Cory promptly drew and revealed his Merfolk Sovereign, played a Forest from his hand and passed the turn. I play the Packleader and start swinging in to kill his blockers. Two turns later Cory conceeds with me swinging for 9 damage and him with no way to prevent it.
Round 2 Leon - B/G/W Tempo
Cory and I had finished up a little later than the rest of the table so by the time I got to the counter I had already been paired against Leon for round 2. I understand that I have a lot of friends and that means that I will often be playing against people I know during CCG tournaments but back to back rounds against my best friends on earth was a little hard to take. While obviously my relationship with Leon will survive a few games of magic it's still never fun to compete against your boss. Leon's deck was mostly B/G with some nice removal and a couple of choice splashed white cards. While typically 3 colors is hard to accomplish in base set drafting Leon had snagged 2x Crystal Ball and a some green mana fixing cards to ensure he saw all 3 colors every game.
I don't remember much about game 1 except that my draw started off a little soft and Leon had an early 3 power attacker in play. I had played my Augury Owl but no mana acceleration and my hand was pretty slow overall. This meant I pass priority after my 3rd turn with 2 untapped Islands in play the Redirect in my hand. I wasn't entirely sure but I had a funny feeling Leon was about to drop a Mind Rot on me and I figured it was worth playing around simply because I didn't have much else going on at the time. Leon of course did lead with the Mind Rot and found himself down to 1 cards afterwards because of it. I then played some fatties; he killed a couple but not enough to win the game. While it was possible for him to win after the Mind Rot it was highly unlikely because he would have to keep topdecking either additional threats or additional answers. The game ended 3-4 turns later when he drew two consecutive land.
Game 2 I kept a draw I maybe shouldn't have; I had 2 Islands, an Augury Owl, a Redirect, a Cultivate, an Azure Drake and a Spined Wurm. Now obviously I didn't have a source green mana at this point but I felt pretty confident I could find one with a turn 2 Agury Owl. Leon had chosen to play in game 2 so I'd be on the draw and that'd give me roughly 6 or 7 cards to see a forest before it became a serious issue. Leon started the game by dropping some early mana fixing creatures. I drew an Unsummon and another Green card before dropping my turn 2 Augury Owl as planned. Of course I proceeded to hit Garruk's Packleader, Overwhelming Stampede and the Acidic Slime off the Augury Owl and was forced to ship all 3 powerful cards to the bottom of the deck in hopes of seeing a Forest. Leon dropped a Sacred Wolf and said go, I drew an Island and with absolutely nothing to play passed the turn. Leon proceeded to swing at me and out of options I blocked with the Augury Owl and targeted it with Unsummon before the Damage step. I figured that if I didn't draw a Forest next turn I would be happier with the ability to play an Augury Owl than I was Unsummoning his Wolf in response to whatever combat trick he was no doubt about to play. Nobody swings into a 1/1 Augury Owl with a 3/1 beater without some sort of plan; especially not a player as good as Leon. He played a Terramorphic Expanse and passes the turn without casting another creature which very important for me because I managed to topdeck another Island and thus still couldn't cast most of my hand. Casting the Augury Owl I finally saw the elusive Forest and of course left it on top. I think I also Ice Caged one of Leon's creatures just to try and stem the bleeding. Staring down the Augury Owl again Leon opts to cast a Nether Horror and pass the turn before I finally draw my forest and flip it down as my 5th land. Now I have a Sylvan Ranger, a Giant Spider and a Spined Wurm in my hand. At first I was going to play the Sylvan Ranger and go fish out another Forest but I talked myself into forcing out the Spined Wurm instead. My logic was that at this point Leon had no real answer for my creatures or he would have killed the Augury Owl to free up his Sacred Wolf for 3 damage a turn. I couldn't really think of a play he could make even on 5 or 6 mana that would take care of my Spined Wurm. I passed the turn pretty confident that I'd dodged a weak draw and taken control of the game. To my utter shock and horror, Leon proceeds to drop the only card that could control my Spined Wurm and screw over my mana at the same time; Acidic Slime targeting my Forest. To make matters worse, I don't draw a Forest next turn and the 2/4 Azure Drake I did draw wasn't going to stop the Nether Horror from dragging me down to 12 (or less) life. I played the Drake and sacrificed the Augury Owl to stay at 16 life on Leon's tun. He played out another smaller creature and passed the turn leaving me to pray for a Forest like it was my job. Thankfully of course I do draw a Forest and force out the Sylvan Ranger getting another Forest. Leon drops another Nether Horror and swings for 4, I block with a random spud and find myself looking at 2 creatures and a full board on Leon's side. I'd been swinging with Flyers whenever it was possible; dragging Leon down to 15 life in the process. I top decked the Warlord's Axe and immediately strapped it to the Drake. Leon took 5 and then attacked in force in response. I blocked as much damage as possible, killing one of his attackers. I then swung for another 5 and in my second main phase dropped a Giant Spider and another 1/1 blocker (Elf?). Leon drew and stared at the board for a couple of seconds before conceding that he was unable to either kill me or survive the next swing with the Drake + Axe.
Round 3 Bo - Mono Red Blitz/Aggro
Because there were 2 players between Bo and myself on the left and 3 players on the right I had no real idea what to expect out of his deck. I'd heard earlier in the night that he was playing a hyper aggressive Mono Red Blitz deck and that he had in fact been the only player taking Red in the entire draft after I jumped into Green in pack 2. I also knew he had at least one Pyroclasm and a Fireball based on commentary I'd heard from other drafters. I figured this made me the underdog in game 1 because I had so many 1 toughness creatures but I also felt I could sideboard effectively to deal with Bo's deck in games 2 and 3. I really had no idea what his deck would do against a Wall of Frost and I doubt he had any idea either. Additionally the 2/4 Giant Spider, Flashfreeze and the 4 life/early blocking from Brindle Boar seemed ideally suited to outlasting a mono Red blitz deck.
Game 1 I lost the roll despite hitting a 10 on a D12 and found myself on the draw looking at a 3 land hand with 2 Elves, an Ice cage and a Spined Wurm. It wasn't perfect of course but all things considered I just couldn't mulligan a draw with that much promise. With a little luck I could easily outrun the "Blitz" deck and even if it went wrong I had the Mana to play pretty much anything I drew from there. Of course I didn't count on drawing absolutely nothing but land for the rest of the game. I played the Ice Cage on an Ember Hauler and I managed to kill a Firey Hellhound by suicide blocking with my Spined Wurm. When Bo finally dropped a random Volshock Berseker and applied the killing blow I'd drawn 9 Mana Sources (7 Land, 2 Elves), an Ice Cage and a Spined Wurm. Trying not to express how frustrated I was I quickly sideboarded out the Augury Owl, both Sacred Wolves and the Acidic Slime for a Flashfreeze, a Wall of Frost, a Giant Spider and a Brindle Boar.
Game 2 my opening hand was 5 Blue cards, a 5CC Green Creature and Forest. I decide to mulligan it away because no matter how lucky I am Bo's deck wasn't going to give me time to draw my way out of that. My 6 new cards were Forest, Island, 2x Landowar Elves, Giant Spider, Overwhelming Stampede. Again, not perfect but really I couldn't afford to go down to 5 on the play against Bo's deck. I proceed to go turn 1 Forest Elf. Bo plays a Mountain and says go. I draw a Spined Wurm and play an Elf and an Island and say go. Bo plays a 2 Mountain and proceeds to cast Pryoclasm. I draw an Island, play it and say go. Bo plays some creatures. I Flashfreeze one of them but I draw a Cultivate instead of an Island. By the time I finally do draw a forest and play my Spined Wurm, Bo has an Act of Treason and whips my own Wurm at my head to take me down to 6. He drops a Chandra's Spitfire, I play some creatures and then die when he kills my Spider and fires a Lightning Bolt at my head; swinging for 4 unblockable with the flying Chandra.
2-1 (4-2) 2nd Place.
I'll spare both of us the 2 paragraph spiel about how unfair the world is and how much I feel I really should have won that draft. The fact is that Bo's deck was very good, mine was just better in my opinion. It happens, luck is a factor sometimes. I figure if I keep building decks as strong as this one it will only be a matter of time before the wins come back.
Must admit though, losing to Weenie Blitz Mono Color decks in back to back finals when I'm playing such a strong aggro option IS a little frustrating.
Well folks, at this point it's 6AM and I'm still hoping to play some Friday Night Magic at the North End location. Until next time, ciao and thanks for reading.
Lol, apparently I got so tired last night I forgot to post the link to the draft program I was talking about at the start of the article. Allow me to present La Bestiare and please accept my condolences on the death of your free time: