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 Prized Unicorn
1x Air Servant
1x Greater Basilisk
2x Spined Wurm
1x Giant Growth
1x Ice Cage
1x Sword of Vengeance
1x Jace's Ingenuity
1x Mind Control
1x Terramorphic Expanse
2x Maritime Guard
1x Sacred Wolf
1x Wall of Frost
1x Nature's Spiral
1x Jace's Ingenuity
I think part of the issue with this deck is that I had drafted some solid Black cards and rare Drafted a Glacial Fortress and a Day of Judgement. Additionally I had quickly cut Blue off from the entire table and knew I was alone in the color by about 3 picks into pack 2. This steady stream of quality blue cards and a general absence of good support cards in Black or White caused me to hesitate until pack 3 before committing to Green as my 2nd color. This mistake likely proved costly as I could have had 2x Giant Spiders, another Giant Growth and at least one more Sylvan Ranger if I'd made up my mind a half pack sooner. Ultimately however I was able to recover nicely in pack 3 and ended up with a deck long on range, evasion and overall power. Unfortunately it's also short on ways to permanently control enemy creatures; using a variety of tempo based options instead (2x Aether Adept and a Prized Unicorn come to mind). I probably should note that I made at least one mistake building this deck as I side-boarded out the Scroll Thief in game 2 during all 3 matches. That probably should have been Nature's Spiral or Wall of Frost in retrospect as the only time Scroll Thief was relevant was during blowout wins that featured my Sword of Vengeance. I really would have liked to run the 2nd Jace's Ingenuity but my mana curve was already bloated with 5 drops and I decided to stick with just one.
Round 1 - Andrew B/G Aggro
Andrew was immediately to my left and is likely the player ultimately responsible for pushing me so hard into Blue early. He had know way of knowing I'd first picked a Glacial Fortress and was thus completely open to receiving his gift of a 2nd pick Clone, a 3rd pick Aether Adept and a 5th pick Cloud Elemental. Alternately however he'd done a wonderful job of hiding his interest in Black long enough to have me believing it was still open as late as pick 9 or 10 in pack 2. This both hurt my deck by forcing me to waste picks on Black cards I thought I could play (2x Quag Sickness and a Nightwing Shade for example) and kept me out of Green long enough to let Andrew scoop up the late Giant Spider/Giant Growth I was talking about earlier. I have no problem admitting that he absolutely outsteered me for the better part of two packs tonight and it's only because pack 3 was absolutely LOADED with Green cards that I ended up with a playable deck. Somedays you get the bull, yada yada..
I remember very little about our first game except that Andrew quite literally played 2 Doomblades, an Assasinate and a Plummet on me in rapid succession before killing me with a 7/7 Duskdale Wurm. I felt pretty much in control of the game most of the time but he always seemed to find another answer for the next threat I played. By the time he dropped the Wurm I'd already played out my entire hand and with no answers forthcoming after 2 draws I conceeded on 1 life staring down a 7/7 Tramping Wurm and a couple random bears with a 1/1 Elf. The phrase "blown out" does not accurately describe how badly I lost this game, Andrew drew everything.
(That slobbering sound you hear is Andrew's creature eating my face. OM NOM NOM!)
Game 2 went better for me for a number of reasons:
A) I hit my mana ramp, dropping a turn 2 Sylvan Ranger and a turn 3 Cultivate
B) Andrew didn't draw 5-6 kill spells
C) I drew a very early Mind Control and Andrew forced out a Yavimaya Wurm
Andrew did manage to blow up my Sword of Vengeance early in the game with an accelerated Acidic Slime but it was mostly downhill from there for him as I played too much "Fat" too quickly.
Game 3 was a little more back and forth in the early going as I tried to draw out Andrew's kill effects before dropping my own bombs as the game progressed. I started the game with both an Air Servant and a Mind Control in hand so I knew I didn't want to rush them out to early and eat one of my opponent's many kill spells. Unfortunately for Andrew however as the game progressed I just kept drawing my absolute best creatures turn after turn. At a certain point the idea of saving them no longer seemed relevant and I started running out giant fat Green monsters and Cloud Elementals with little regard to how fast they were dying. Finally Andrew was forced to drop a threat of his own; Yavimaya Wurm. I promptly Mind Controlled it, drawing out Andrew's last Doomblade before parading out my Air Servant and casting Clone as a copy of it the next turn. I doubt it was lost on Andrew that I'd put the final nail in his coffin with a card he'd passed to me but I didn't mention it and felt pretty lucky to get the win out of that round; considering just how much removal he had.
Round 2 - Kelly B/R Aggro w/ Combos
Kelly was the player to my left during the drafting portion of the tournament and I knew simply from what I'd passed him that if anyone at the table was in Red it was likely him. What I didn't know was his second color however and due to NUMEROUS past draft experiences with him I guess I sort of assumed he'd ended up going R/W. I was therefore thoroughly surprised when Kelly broke out a primarily Black based "Controlish" deck backed up by multiple Arc Runners and Act of Treasons. I've never been a huge fan of Act of Treason but it does combine rather well with Royal Assassin, multiple Bloodthrone Vampires and the odd Arc Runner.
Game 1 started out great for me; despite losing the roll I managed to Unsummon Kelly's Barony Vampire and the drop a Cloud Elemental in response. I had a 2nd Cloud Elemental and a Prized Unicorn ready to go on subsequent turns so I felt it was worth bouncing the Vampire to keep him from racing with me. Kelly proceeded to drop a Royal Assassin on his 4th turn and completely locked out the board. To make matters worse, despite having several answers in the deck I wasn't holding any of them at the time and I would spend the next several turns drawing massive amounts of land while Kelly whipped Arc Runners at my head and started setting me up for the kill. Thankfully just before he was about to overwhelm me I finally top-decked one of my answers: Clone. I quickly dropped it into play as a copy of the Royal Assassin and decided to give Kelly a target to think about by swinging with the Prized Unicorn. He'd tapped the Assassin the turn before after dropping an Act of Treason on my Cloud Elemental so he could kill it without having to return the Flyer. I felt pretty confident that one way or another Kelly's Royal Assassin was finally contained. Of course he then proceeded to untap, drop a 2nd Act of Treason on my Royal Assasin, use my Assassin to kill my own Prized Unicorn and then tapped his own Assassin to kill my Cloned copy. My board position utterly devastated; I stared at Kelly's Barony Vampire + Shiv's Embrace combo for a couple seconds and then scooped for game 2.
Now obviously this is just a 4-Man non-sanctioned draft tournament so it's hardly like the fate of the free world depended on me winning these next two games. Otoh I won't lie, after getting utterly blown out in game 1 both rounds I was starting to question the overall viability of my deck. People were destroying me with bombs and kill spells I'd simply never seen during the drafting phase of the tournament and my deck's inherent lack of speed and overabundance of huge 5 drops started to feel like I was playing directly into Kelly's hands. The fact that I opened game 2 eating 7 Damage on turn 3 (Black Knight/Arc Runner) and then another 5 on turn 4 (Arc Runner) certainly didn't help matters. Thankfully the temporary nature of the Arc Runner and Kelly's generally soft game 2 draw allowed me to start to get back up off the mat almost immediately. Unfortunately I had to be very careful at this stage of the game despite having multiple bombs in my hand (Clone, Spined Wurm, Air Servant) because Kelly hadn't played either Act of Treason and while I hadn't seen one so far its typically very common for players to combine this card with Fling. If I wasn't careful Kelly could snatch my own 4 power dude, throw him at my noggin and then Fling the bugger at me for lethal. This essentially meant I couldn't risk casting a 4 power creature as long as Kelly had 5 Mana available! I began to swarm over for 4 a turn with a Cloud Elemental and an Azure Drake, always careful to leave back at least 2 ground based blockers in case Kelly top-decked a haste creature or a cheap skill spell. He didn't but after game 2 he showed me the Act of Treason I had been playing around for turns and I felt considerably better about how I played the situation.
Game 3 was far and away Kelly's worst draw and as a result I don't remember a whole lot about this game. I'm pretty sure I hit a turn 3 Cultivate and started dropping "Fat" on turn 4 until he died. One interesting note is that I started the game with Mind Control in my hand and simply ordered myself not to play it unless Kelly was A) About to win or B ) had just dropped the Royal Assassin. He didn't play the card all game but I felt secure in knowing I had the answers even if he did.
Round 3 - Stephen Mono W Aggro
Stephen sat kitty-corner from me during the drafting portion of the tournament so I had a hard time reading his colors early on in the draft. I knew he was likely in White but I had no idea that he was cutting the color off as harshly as it turns out he did. The end result was a Mono White Weenie theme deck with a bunch of normally subpar cards that worked out perfectly for the deck Stephen had built.
Game 1 starts with me winning the roll and Stephen making the offhand comment that he doesn't like his deck's matchup with me on the play. This turns out to be rather prophetic as things would turn out because Stephen's deck is incredibly fast. He quickly spills out 4 creatures and starts rolling into me for 2 and 4 damage at a time. I manage to get a couple high toughness flyers into play and the start to take over the game with an early Air Servant. Then things get a little weird as Stephen attacks me with pretty much everything while he's at 6 life and I'm on 14. I decide something is obviously up and declare blockers with the goal of stopping maximum damage. It turns out to be a very good idea as an Inspired Charge later gets him through for all but 1 point of my life total. Stephen promptly scooped while mentioning that if he'd just been more patient with his Blinding Mage he probably could have won the game next turn. It was hard to disagree with his assesment.
Game 2 ends up being something of a nightmare for me as not only is Stephen's deck considerably more dangerous on the play but he also manages to break out a triple Squadron Hawk combo on me. I manage to stabilize fairly quickly with an Azure Drake and a Cloud Elemental but Stephen responds with a timely Blinding Mage. Realizing that I would soon be overwhelmed I began to attack aggressively into his army with a Spined Wurm and some random non-flyers. This worked for a turn but was met on the 2nd pass with a Safe Passage that cost me 2 small attackers and a Giant Growth to save the Spined Wurm. Stephen then responded by attacking with everything and dropping an Inspired Charge to send us to game 3.
Game 3 started off fairly quickly with both of us dropping early threats/flyers and trading damage back and forth. On turn 3 Stephen dropped the Squadron Hawk again and put the other two copies in his hand before I answered with a timely Azure Drake/Air Servant Combo. As the game played out it became apparent that I had the beatdown because my creatures were simply better but Stephen's sheer numerical advantage (he had 6 or 7 creatures out by turn 5) would prevent me from pushing the issue too aggressively. At one point I was forced to Mind Control his White Knight just to keep from being over-run. Finally there came a point where Stephen counted up my blockers and started doing math in his head. He also dropped a Pacifism on my Spined Wurm, eliminating a precious blocker in the process. I figured this was probably a dead giveaway that an Inspired Charge was coming so I began to brace for the impact when Stephen announced he was attacking with a long Silvermane Lion. I blocked and he passed the turn when it dawned on me that he'd left pretty much all of his Mana open. This meant that he could respond to me ending MY turn by tapping down a blocker, then start his turn and tap down another blocker before blowing me out with the Inspired Charge. I had the mana on board to tap out all 3 of his Squadron Hawks and I could get through for at least 8 life based on his current blocking situation. Of course, if he had the Safe Passage from game 2 I'd essentially be throwing away the game but I felt at the time that if I left him live past his upkeep I was going to lose the game on lethal damage anyways. Of course he had both the Safe Passage AND the Inspired Charge; half a turn later I went from 14 life to about negative 5 and lost the match.
2-1 (5-4) 2nd place.
Well there you have it folks, a far too detailed account of a meaningless 4-Man booster draft that I didn't even win. I have to admit however that my deck wasn't the best I've ever built and I'm at least reasonably proud of being able to squeeze two wins out of a deck I thought might get blown right out of the water. I also walked out of the draft with a Sword of Vengeance, a Day of Judgement and a Glacial Fortress so I can't say it was a complete waste of time. I've won the vast majority of M11 drafts I've entered but I haven't exactly drafted a pile of amazing rares while doing so. You can't always have your cake and eat it too. Also, Stephen's deck was beats and I almost pulled out the upset anyways. That has to count for something.
Well, it's 5:30 AM and I have work in roughly 4 hours so it's probably a good idea to call it a night.
Thanks for reading and see you on the flip side. Always remember; pass your Clones to Nina and keep it weird!