Thursday, September 23, 2010

Of Limited Interest #6 - Fried Chicken Combo

Hello everyone and welcome back for another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As regular readers of the blog know I've recently been appointed Magic Coordinator for two of Hairy T's three locations.  I can honestly say that if I knew how much work this was going to be I might not have agreed so easily.  In particular I've spent a great deal of time getting the info out for our Scars of Mirrodin Pre-Release tournament being held this Saturday (25th, 1PM) at the Hairy T North.  Our local Magic environment is definitely growing and we're hoping to get to the magical # of 32 participants this time; myself included.  Please feel free to accept my open invitation to this event, I'd love to meet anyone who reads the blog and this set looks like a pile of fun for Limited formats.  You can find full event details here:

With that out of the way lets dive right in and take a look at an 8-Man draft I participated in a couple weeks back.  I've been saving this one for the next installment of this column because quite frankly it's one of the most disgusting draft decks I have ever built, regardless of set.  It's capable of playing pure Aggro as well as any M11 build I've made while still completely functional as a turn 6-7 combo deck; allowing you to switch back and forth between styles depending on the match-up/game state.  In my humble opinion this monster would take out most factory bought Pre-constructed decks in a 2 out of 3 setting, that's how good it is.  Here is the final deck list I entered the tournament with; I've left out the sideboard because I honestly didn't get very many playable cards that didn't make the deck:  

R/W Aggro w/ Fire Servant Combo

Creatures - 14:

1x Infantry Veteran                                                                    
1x Blinding Mage
2x Ember Hauler
1x White Knight
2x Wild Griffin
1x Assault Griffin
1x Cloud Crusader
3x Fire Servant (no really)
1x Magma Phoenix
1x Angelic Arbiter

Spells - 9:

1x Condemn
1x Fireball
3x Lightning Bolt
2x Pacifism
1x Crystal Ball
1x Lava Axe

Land - 18:

9x Mountains
9x Plains

3-0 (6-1)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Standard Deviations #1 - Goodbye Shards, Hello Scars! Part 1: "Every Word Means No" U/W Control

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch; the blog that proves you don't have to be a jerk to be good at Magic.  While most of my recent posts have been about M11 Limited/Draft play today we're going to switch gears a little bit and talk about Standard (Type 2 for geezers like me) play.   For those of you unfamiliar with this format, the current "rules" for Standard can be found here:

Now before we continue it's probably only fair to warn you that I've only been playing Standard for about 2 months now after a 5+ year absence.  While I'm fairly good at Magic in general the simple truth is that familiarity with the current environment is one of the most important aspects of good constructed play and much like many of you reading this blog I'm most certainly "learning as I go".  Making matters a little more complicated; I jumped back into Standard just as M11 was being released but just before the Shards of Alara Block rotates out (October 1st).  It would ultimately take me about 6 weeks to feel comfortable saying I understood the current environment; leaving me with only a month to enjoy the benefits of that understanding!  Thankfully you can cram a lot of Magic into a month's time if you're a CCG-playing junkie with no social life outside of your Magic circle.  I've probably played well over 300 games this past month, including one epic 4 day weekend where I estimate I was averaging 25 games a day.  During these games I have to confess to having an insane amount of fun with the environment overall; probably a byproduct of being blissfully unaware of the dreaded "Year of Jund" that burnt most players out on Shards era Standard.  Unfortunately all good things must come to and end and like the rest of the Magic card-flipping world I'm eagerly anticipating the arrival of Scars of Mirrodin even though it means saying goodbye to an environment I'm enjoying so much.

With that having been said then please allow me to share with you the decklists I have been playing in the post M11/pre Scars of Mirrodin Standard environment.  While ultimately most of these decks will change quite a bit after the rotation (and in some cases cease to exist) it's my hope that a basic breakdown of each deck can help us improve our deckbuilding skills overall.  By discussing what each deck was and wasn't good at dealing with we can help frame them in the context of the environment we're about to leave behind.  The truth is that Magic really doesn't change, and learning how to play a given decktype in a given environment absolutely does have value as those themes and decktypes will occur in future sets; often sooner than you think.

Deck # 1 - "Every Word Means No" - U/W Heavy Permission/Control:

Creatures - 6:

4x Wall of Omens
1x Frost Titan
1x Sun Titan

Instants and Sorceries - 20:

4x Path to Exile
4x Mana Leak
2x Negate
3x Cancel
3x Day of Judgement
2x Jace's Ingenuity
2x Traumatic Visions

Planeswalkers - 8:

4x Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2x Elspeth, Knight Errant
2x Gideon Jura

Lands - 26:
4x Celestial Colonnade
4x Glacial Fortress
2x Sejiri Refuge
5x Plains
5x Island
3x Tectonic Edge
1x Marsh Flats
1x Scalding Tarn
1x Terramorphic Expanse

Sideboard (15):
3x Celestial Purge
3x Flashfreeze
2x Negate
3x Oblivion Ring
1x Frost Titan
1x Sun Titan
1x Jace Beleren
1x Tectonic Edge

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Of Limited Interest # 5 - Losing My Favorite Game

Note: This article was originally written on Tuesday, September 7th.  Unfortunately a combination of working too much and my lungs getting worse kept me in bed for most of Wednesday and Thursday.  Compounding matters a friend of mine who I haven't seen in several years came by and we played Magic for roughly 4 days straight (including another draft).  By the time I got back to this article, it was just turning midnight on Tuesday the 14th.  Please accept my apology for the delay.  - Nina

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to the latest edition of The Cardboard Witch.  For those of you wondering why I'm writing so much the past few days the truth is I'm racked up with a lung infection and pretty much all I *can* do right now is write about Magic.  Of course this certainly didn't stop me from playing in a fast and dirty 4 man triple M11 draft last night; never let it be said that a potentially fatal respiratory illness can keep me from a meaningless non-sanctioned draft event! :)  The truth is I only agreed to be the 4th player because the draft would have been cancelled without me and because my opponents were very experienced.  I knew we would play 3 rounds of swiss very quickly; letting me get back to bed well before midnight.

Of course the downside of drafting with a small group of experienced opponents is that there are few bad passes and the deny drafting can be savage; this draft being a perfect example.  I started off pack 1 pick 1 with a Sword of Vengeance and couldn't help smiling a little when the guy to my right passed me a Blinding Mage.  Of course I don't know that I'd have been smiling if I knew I would be unable to draw EITHER card the entire tournament.  Early on however I felt pretty good about my selections.  Unfortunately as the draft progressed two major trends emerged.  First and foremost; every time I saw a pack with even the slightest amount of removal or control the same pack also had a ripping 4+CC flyer I felt would make my deck stronger.  Secondly absolutely nothing I hoped would table ever did; including multiple Excommunications and Ice Cages.  Now I understand deny picking a pack 2 Pacifism (which I only took because there was a Serra Angel), but Excommunicate and Ice Cage?  Eventually I found myself staring at a pile of excellent creatures and some combat tricks but very few "control" elements to speak of:

Creatures - 14:

1x Infantry Veteran
1x Blinding Mage
1x War Priest of Thune
1x Aether Adept
1x Cloud Elemental
1x Wild Griffin
2x Assault Griffin
2x Azure Drake
1x Cloud Crusader
1x Water Servant
2x Serra Angel

Spells - 9:

1x Mana Leak
3x Mighty Leap
1x Cancel
1x Excommunicate
1x Sword of Vengeance
1x Warlord's Axe
1x Jace's Ingenuity

Land - 17:

8x Island
9x Plains

Now I just want to be clear, I'm not in any way shape or form implying that this was a bad deck.  It's well curved, has a number of incredibly strong creatures and absolutely *can* end games before your opponent ever really gets in them.  The problem I have with this build is that if you DON'T knock your opponent out quickly you have a very limited number of options for dealing with a good endgame strategy (bomb rares that are bigger/better than Serra Angel).  Additionally while the deck is curved decently it still has 8 creatures that cost 4 or more and only 6 that would qualify as "early" drops; even without factoring mana issues.  This of course created an obvious contradiction; my lack of removal/control dictated an aggressive attacking strategy while my creature base would only allow such a strategy on roughly half my draws.  The other half of the time I would be forced to play defensively until I could establish a creature advantage and then slowly whittle my opponent's life down with flyers.  This would of course give him *more* time to find his expensive "bomb" creatures I had no real way of controlling.  Despite being acutely aware of this design flaw I had no real choice but to submit my deck and hope for the best; my sideboard options were pretty miserable.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Snap Judgements #2 - Scars of Mirrodin: Thrumming Bird & Steady Progress (Proliferate)

Hello everyone and welcome back to The Cardboard Witch.  Today I'm up early checking out more Scars of Mirrodin spoilers online.  I think we all knew things were going to be different when the overpowered multi-color cards from Shards of Alara rotated out but I myself didn't expect them to be THIS different.  So far the set looks fast and highly synergistic; simple early turn plays become way more effective as you combine them.  In particular I think the "Proliferate" mechanic has the ability to turn the whole environment upside down when you consider just how many cards in this format use counters (Planeswalkers, Levelers, Allies, etc).  I'm still not sure the strategy will be cost effective but when you see cards like Thrummingbird it doesn't seem so far-fetched:

Now obviously nobody is going to write home about a 1/1 Flyer for U1 in modern day magic. Afterall it's not like Augury Owl is seeing a lot of play in Standard (though don't think I haven't thought about it).  What really makes Thrummingbird so interesting that it provides a cheap reusable way to abuse the proliferate mechanic.  You aren't really worried about how MUCH damage you're doing; hitting your opponent for a single point triggers the ability just fine.  Please note that proliferate lets you choose what does and doesn't get a counter so even if your opponent is ALSO running a proliferate based counter deck you can gleefully trigger the ability with impunity.  At a paltry 2 mana you should be able to snap down a Thrummingbird quickly and start abusing the proliferate ability right away.  For example Thrummingbird into a turn 3 Jace Beleren seems like it might be a strong play; generating very real card advantage without ever losing counters on Jace.  Of course as a creature (with 1 toughness at that) it's possible for your opponent to kill off your Thrummingbird(s) before things get too far out of hand.  I suppose the consolation is that if your opponent DOESN'T do exactly that he's probably going to get crushed under a wave of Plainswalkers, +1+1 counters, Allies and or Levelers.  Playing a number of creatures your opponent "has" to kill to stay in the game is one of the few ways to mitigate the weakness of the creature card type overall and Thrummingbird definately fits the bill.

Of course one solution to your opponent killing all your Thrummingbirds would be to play a spell that simply lets you trigger the proliferate ability with no strings attached.  Throw in a cantrip (single card draw) effect and you've got the perfect counterpart to our beloved Bird Horror; Steady Progress.

Now again, I can't be sure because I've done absolutely no testing with Scars of Mirrodin cards (the set isn't out yet).  With that having been said however I have a funny feeling that Steady Progress is going to be a VERY popular card.  Moreso than Thrummingbird this card fits incredibly well into an absolutely huge number of counter based strategies.  It works equally well in U/W Levelers as it does in a U based Plainswalker control deck and even opens up some potential for Allies.  Don't forget that it's instant; allowing you to play it during your opponent's endstep and therebye significantly minimize it's real cost.  Even better assuming you're playing a deck that features a bunch of creatures who have counters you can even play it as a combat trick; instantly increasing the size of your monsters after your opponent declares blockers but before damage is dealt.  The fact that I also get to draw a card from the whole arrangement just pushes this card into the rediculous zone and I honestly think it would have seen play WITHOUT it.

So what's the best Proliferate combo I've come up with so far?  How about 3-4 Creatures (maybe a Thrummingbird or 2?), Ajani Goldmane and anything that says "proliferate".  First remove a Loyalty counter from Ajani to give all of your creatures a +1+1 counter and vigilance.  Then trigger your proliferate card to not only return Ajani's spent Loyalty counter but also give all of your creatures ANOTHER +1+1 counter at the same time.  I can pretty much guarentee your opponent will not be able to withstand that kind of onslaught for very long. 

Well folks it's 11 PM on a cold/wet night and I've been tinkering with this preview off and on all day.  Hopefully Wizards will spoil some more cards soon so I can talk about something else but if all else fails I can write about Venser (very good) and the new Elspeth (downright broken I think).  Thanks for joining me and as always remember to keep it wierd.

PS, thanks to the 4-5 readers to emailed to tell me I was on crack and the Steel Hellkite only destroys non-land permenants that cost EXACTLY X; not X and under.  This makes the Steel Hellkite's ability more like Engineered Explosives than Pernicious Deed and while still powerful the Steel Hellkite is probably not the super awesome control engine I thought it was.  Everyone goofs and I totally read what I wanted to see instead of what the card actually read.  I'm deeply sorry that my inner Johnny got the better of me there.  On the other hand what do you expect from a series called "Snap Judgements"? :)  Either way I'll try to actually read the card in the future and I'm open to any mocking in the comments section or by email you guys feel is necissary.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Snap Judgements #1 - Scars of Mirrodin: Steel Hellkite

Greetings and welcome to a special supplemental edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Like pretty much everyone else who plays Magic I'm all over new set previews "like a fat kid on a french fry"(no offense to fat kids or french fries, it's good stuff).  There's something special about the very first time you see an exciting new card; your mind starts to race with possibilities and you begin constructing whole decks around this new card in your head.  I can honestly say that sometimes a really exciting card preview can directly affect how much product I buy from a given set.  I know for example that the very first time I saw Grave Titan I immediately wanted to and eventually did buy an entire case of M11.  So with Wizards of the Coast releasing a bunch more official Scars of Mirrodin previews today I figured I'd jot down a few thoughts about the card I most want to build a deck around from what we've seen so far.  If this promotes a decent discussion we can continue the series as more cards are spoiled.  Please remember this is my "snap judgement" on a new card I just saw this morning and is therefore based on no actual testing whatsoever.  Millage may vary.

So lets start our first review off by asking the question; "What would a card look like if you combined Shivan Dragon with a one-sided Pernicious Deed while simultaneously making it easier to cast than both of them?"  The answer is coming in Scars of Mirrodin: 

For the vision impaired (including me): 

Steel Hellkite
Artifact Creature-Dragon
(2): Steel Hellkite gets +1/+0 until end of turn
(X): Destroy each nonland permanent with converted mana cost X whose controller was dealt damage by Steel Hellkite this turn.  Activate the ability only once each turn.

Wow.  Let me start by stating the obvious; this card is very good and I'm not just talking about in draft.  6 Colorless mana for a 5/5 Flyer is a reasonable price and while I'm sure nobody is going to write home about the "pump" ability; nuking your opponents entire non-land board REGARDLESS of card type is incredibly powerful.  Think about it this way; if you had 6 mana to cast the Dragon you can probably activate it's ability for 6 on the next turn.  We're talking about mass nuking planeswalkers, artifacts, enchantments, random creatures and even Titans in one fell swoop here.  Better yet we're talking about doing it turn after turn until your opponent deals with the Hellkite or simply loses the game.  The fact that *all* of this can be accomplished with colorless mana is particularly frightening; essentially turning any deck of any color that can cast and stick one of these babies into a recurring control engine.  I feel pretty confident in saying right now that an absolutely huge number of post Scars games will involve players scooping with no answer to the Steel Hellkite.  Of course like any creature it can be killed/controlled in a number of ways but that hardly changes the fact that if your opponent fails to do so using the activated ability even once on this card is potentially game over.

At this point of course it's really too early to say just how important the Hellkite will be in tournament play.  For starters we still haven't seen the rest of Scars which somehow I have a feeling will contain some serious artifact hate when all is said and done.  On the other hand there may well be ways to cheat the Hellkite into play sooner than expected; a common theme in artifact heavy sets.  With all that having been said I still don't think you can ignore the potential power of this amazing card.


Of Limited Interest #4 - Turning the Hat Trick Part III: R/B Beatdown W/ Removal

Continued from Part II here:

Unfortunately after building a deck chock full of "bombs" and cards that helped maximize the value of those bombs no matter what I drafted next, it was going to seem like a disappointment.  Let's take a closer look at that deck and why I managed to win anyways:

R/B Weenie Beatdown W/Removal: 3-0 (6-1), 4 Players

Creatures - 16:

1x Black Knight - This guy is a solid example of a basic "good" creature in a R/B beatdown deck.  The double Black mana required can be somewhat annoying but even played on turns 3 or 4 the Knight is still a tank-like bear in this format.  That having been said he's still just a 2/2 body with some fancy abilities; the game will pass him by sometime around turn 5-6ish.  Too many people overdraft both BK and WK in this format and you just aren't getting value if you're taking this card before about pick 4 in all but the weakest packs.

1x Child of Knight - While I may not be overtly fond of Child of Night in a U/B control deck, it's hard not to like her here in a R/B aggro deck with a mitt-full of removal.  Simply put; if you can attack consistently with a Child of Night into an empty board or against an opponent unwilling to block, she can actually win you games by herself with Lifelink.  In this deck in particular 3x Prodigal Pyromancer typically encouraged my opponent to avoid blocking the Child.

1x Nantuko Shade - Going into pack 3 during the drafting portion of the tournament I can honestly say I felt my deck was borderline terrible.  I had a bunch of removal, a billion 1/1 creatures with abilities and almost no legitimate way of killing my opponent.  Then I ripped open a Nantuko Shade and my deck instantly got a whole lot better.  What's more my deck sucked enough that I didn't *MIND* running a bunch of extra Swamps just to make him useful.  While I'm not always a huge fan of this card I have to admit the undead bug saved my bacon.

2x Reassembling Skeleton - Without a doubt this is likely the single most wasteful example of using 2 Reassembling Skeletons in an M11 draft, ever.  I drafted both of these guys early in Pack 1 and kept waiting/hoping I'd see a couple Bloodthrone Vampires or a Jinxed Idol.  Sadly all I saw the rest of the night were 2x Viscera Seer and I left them hanging around both packs too long; allowing my fellow drafters to deny them.  This in essence turned my Reassembling Skeletons into glorified "Walls" for most of the night and I only played them for lack of better options.  During one bizarre game I managed to deal 12 damage to an opponent with 2 Skeletons against an empty board, but I still can't say that made them a "good" card in this deck.  

1x Arc Runner - This simply isn't a good card and even when I'm playing Red it will take a very special set of circumstances to make me actually want to play it.  In this case it came down to playing the Arc Runner or playing a Goblin Balloon Brigade; my sideboard was truly *that* bad.  I chose the Arc Runner because I had a Fling and I figured at least once in the tournament I could go "Turn 5, take 10" to an unsuspecting opponent.  Sadly this combo never materialized, although I did manage to sneak the Ox through for 5 damage both times I cast him that night.  Positive results aside, Lava Ox is still a pretty terrible creature.

1x Bog Raiders - The nicest thing I can say about this card is that it's probably ever so slightly better than the Arc Runner and sadly that isn't saying much.  When you consider the other common options for X2 in the format (Scroll Thief, Wild Griffin, Brindle Boar and Manic Vandal) it's hard not to feel Black kinda got the shaft here.  This card made the deck purely because I lacked higher quality cards to replace it with; it's pretty horrible overall.

1x Fiery Hellhound - I wasn't high on the 'Hound when M11 first debuted but after playing it enough times in the format I've developed a grudging respect for the little monster.  In fact I'd go so far as to say Fiery Hellhound is Red's best common creature in the format and you should try to draft a couple of them if you find yourself in that color.  While obviously strong against an empty board or in combination with a Goblin Tunneler, the Hellhound still has value as a trading partner in the mid/late game when your opponent plays better creatures.  In this draft I killed more people with the Hellhound (2) than I did with Nantuko Shade (1).

3x Prodigal Pyromancer - This card and the fact that I have an astounding 3 copies of it probably represents 80% of why I was able to win this tournament.  Even as a singleton the Pyromancer is a very powerful creature; allowing you to smite weenies and create all sorts of unfavorable combat trades.  Played in multiples however "Tom" (common nickname for PP) becomes a reoccurring creature kill engine; the kind of thing that outright wins games in Limited formats.  This in turn allowed me the necessary time/empty boards to beat my opponents to death with a horde of sub-par creatures.  I picked these guys 2nd, 3rd and 2nd overall in packs 1-2-3 respectively.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Of Limited Interest #4 - Turning the Hat Trick Part II: B/U Control Recursion

Continued from Part I here :

Okay now that we have a better idea of what makes the U/W Flying Aggro deck tick lets change gears completely and take a closer look at the 2nd deck:

B/U Control Recursion: 3-0-1 (6-0-2), Triple M11, 5 Players.

Creatures - 14:

3x Child of Night - Generally I think Child if Night is much better in B/W or B/G where you can use Mighty Leap and Giant Growth respectively to protect/increase it's value in combat.  Alternately the Child combos pretty well with cards like Shiv's Embrace or Whispersilk Cloak.  In this deck however she's mostly a 2/1 Wall that allows you to trade for enemy weenies and gain a quick 2 life in the process; in other words useful but hardly taking full advantage of what this card offers.

2x Steel Overseer - In theory this should be a pretty good card to have multiple copies of in a Control-ish draft deck.  I picked each of them 2nd overall in packs 1 and 3 respectively with the idea that I could drop one down as an early blocker and start putting a token on it at the end of each turn.  Once I'd gotten up to 3-4 tokens then I could switch to the offensive and heaven help my opponents if I got BOTH out at the same time.  Unfortunately word must have gotten out that I had them at the draft since every time I played one (even in game 1 turn 2) it promptly ran into a Naturalize, Manic Vandal or Assassinate almost immediately.  This in turn makes Steel Overseer incredibly hard to evaluate in the context of this deck.

1x Aether Adept - Another card that's probably better in a more tempo or aggro based decktype I mostly used the Aether Adept as a rewind button on my opponent's turn 4 or 5 drop creatures.  I'd bounce their Fattie back to their hands to buy a turn, then they'd have to recast it which bought me a turn and finally I'd chump block with the Adept for yet another turn.  This typically allowed me to get into *MY* endgame which I suspect you'll agree by the end of this list was always stronger.

1x Barony Vampire - It's really funny how much of a difference color and format changes can make.  In Zen/Zen/WWK drafts the R2 Goblin Roughrider was a pretty solid beater and worth picking after the "good" cards were gone.  Now here in M11 it's B2 counterpart is borderline worthless because there's no B/R aggro deck in the format to speak of.  In this deck the Barony Vampire was "just a body" and mostly made the cut because I ran out of better cards.

2x Liliana's Specter - Arguably Black's best common creature in the format; I really have no idea how I ended up with both copies of this card in my deck.  This is particularly shocking when you consider that I passed both of them early in pack 1 so I could take more powerful "Bombs".  Simply put there isn't a Control deck in existence that can't find a use for a 2/1 flying Ravenous Rat for 3 Mana.  I can only assume the double B mana symbols scared people off during the draft allowing me to snatch them up in the middle of the pack.  Either way card advantage and evasion for 3 mana is pretty strong in ANY limited format; even if the Specter trades poorly with Augury Owl/Squadron Hawk.

1x Clone -  When I got to my 3rd pick in pack 3 I was incredibly surprised to find myself looking at a copy of Clone.  While it's true there was no way for the two guys to my right to know what kind of bombs I'd already drafted by this point they should have known I was firmly in Blue based on the cards passed.  Simply put Clone enters the battlefield as a copy of the best creature in play on either side and as such has as much potential to be a bomb as ANY creature in the format.  You don't expect to find that kind of card in your color 3rd pick pack 3 but you certainly snatch the opportunity when presented.  I wont ruin the fun by telling you what I copied with Clone but lets just say copied the same creature 5 times and won all 5 games almost immediately.

1x Gravedigger - If Lilianna's Specter isn't the best Black common creature in M11 than Gravedigger most certainly is.  Graveyard recursion is powerful in Limited formats and the Digger is an efficient way to accomplish this; allowing you to trade creatures early and then generate real card advantage by returning them to your hand later.  Of course you can always save the Digger until later in the game to help replay your insane "Bomb" creatures once your opponent finally kills them.  *insert evil grin here*

2x Nightwing Shade - I'm not really a huge fan of the Nightwing Shade at this point in M11 drafting. It's not really a bad card and in limited numbers (read 1) it can help you grind out long control-ish games.  On a base level however it's a 5 mana 2/2 flyer and B1 for a +1+1 pump isn't exactly great value; even for a flyer.  If you aren't careful you can waste entire turns pumping up the Shade while your opponent develops towards a real endgame.  I was happy to add the 1st copy of this card to my deck but the 2nd copy was simply a matter of necessity once it became clear I didn't have enough "good" creatures.

1x Grave Titan - The centerpiece of the entire deck; I opened a first pack Grave Titan and immediately started forcing Black.  There was absolutely no way I was going to pick the best card in all of M11 Limited and then not play it.   I even made sure I shoved my way into Blue in the early stages of pack 1 as well just to ensure I'd get enough card draw to A) find and B) pay for my Grave Titan as often as possible.  This strategy was highly effective as I managed to cast "Gravey" in 5 out of the 6 games I actually played; sometimes multiple times!  Needless to say I won those games by producing crushing waves of Zombie tokens.

Of Limited Interest #4 - Turning the Hat Trick Part I: U/W Flying Aggro

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  First let me apologize for the 6 day gap between this and my last post.  I have quite literally spent almost every waking moment this week either working or playing Magic; including 2 Standard Tournaments and 3 Drafts in 5 days!  What's more, I actually managed to win all 3 of those drafts with 3 completely different deck-types/color combos.  Now typically I'd write a long tournament report for each of these events explaining both my thought process during the drafts and the actual play situations that arose in each event.  At this point however I think we've done that a few times already.  What I'd like to do this time instead is take a closer look at each deck card by card and talk about what made them good enough to ultimately win their respective tournaments.  In particular I'd like to focus on how several normally "sub-optimal" cards made the final cut in each deck primarily to create "synergy".  Too many people reduce the art of drafting to simply collecting piles of good cards with no concern for "deck-building" of any kind.  While this strategy can be effective at times ultimately most rounds will be won by the better deck rather than the more powerful pile of cards.  Let's jump right in with our first deck:

U/W Flying Aggro -  3-0 (6-0) Triple M11, 8 Players.

Creatures - 14

2x Infantry Veteran - One of the best "value archetype" cards in M11; the Infantry Veteran will hang round for quite a while in packs unless someone at the table is playing U/W Flying Aggro.  In this deck-type however the Veteran turns into a borderline All-Star, allowing you to both dominate creature combat against other flyers and ram through extra damage during an aggro race.  When you're picking cards that can win you games anytime after pick 8 in a pack that's amazing value!

1x Augury Owl -  Augury Owl is pretty good in virtually any kind of Blue deck in M11 drafts because card selection remains an important concept in Limited.  In a deck with 2x Infantry Veterans and a Warlord's Axe however the Owl can easily shift from a supporting/blocking role into a front line beater.  In my local environment it's very hard to draft multiples of this card as many people will value it as a 3rd or 4th overall pick.  I believe I took this one 6th in pack 2 this time however.

1x Maritime Guard - This is the worst card in the entire deck and it's not even a very close race.  Typically my draft style causes me to value spells over "random bodies" as we move towards the middle picks in a given pack.  This often means that during the build phase of the draft I'm scrambling for late-picked warm bodies to fill my creature slots and give me board presence in the early game.  At the very least the Maritime Guard blocks random "Bears" and "Gray Ogres" with impunity since nobody in their right mind wastes a combat trick on a 1/3 Fish.

1x Stormfront Pegasus - The simple truth is that I rarely get to play with the Stormfront Pegasus because the card is incredibly overvalued in every M11 draft I've participated in. I think it's because Welkin Tarn was *soo* crazy good in Zendikar drafts; typically the Pegasus will fly out of the packs between the 2nd and 4th picks in my experience.  Considering how poorly it trades with Augury Owls and Squadron Hawks along with it's vulnerability to Prodigal Pyromancer, I just can't agree with that valuation.  I think I took this 4th pick pack 2 after I already knew I was playing Flying Aggro and the pack I was handed had almost nothing else I wanted in it.

1x War Priest of Thune - Really a much better sideboard card than a maindeck beater; I ended up running the War Priest anyways because I didn't draft enough "good" creatures.  The basic problem with this card is that as a 2/2 body he's only going to be effective in the early game and yet playing him without an opposing Enchantment to destroy is a borderline criminal waste of resources.  This of course makes him an ideal card to sideboard in against powerful enemy enchantments but pretty much a glorified Silvermane Lion in this deck otherwise.

1x Wild Griffin - What you see is what you get; a cheap flying attacker for 3 mana who can apply pressure early and becomes a disposable blocker in the late game.  Oddly enough the Griffin tends to be much easier to draft than the Stormfront Pegasus even though it's the better card for the same deck-type.      
1x Assault Griffin - I'm up and down on the value of the card almost from draft to draft.  In a true aggro deck, against an opponent who can't block or kill it the Griffin is incredibly powerful.  On the other hand it's 2 Toughness is a constant issue in an environment with Azure Drakes, Giant Spiders, multiple random 2 power flyers and the occasional Pyroclasm.  Investing 4 mana in such a fragile creature can sometimes backfire on you in this format.  In this deck however the 2x Infantry Veterans ended up making the point moot and made this card worth every bit of the 3rd pick I spent on it in pack 1.

1x Azure Drake - This is my favorite common in the entire deck because it pulls double duty as both a sweet aggro option with evasion and a 4 toughness flying "Wall".  There is literally almost no point in a given game when you'd be unhappy to top-deck an Azure Drake with this deck.  I don't remember exactly when I drafted this card but typically it'll go between 3rd and 5th in my local drafts; sometimes sooner if the packs are weak.

1x Conundrum Sphinx - I first picked this in the 2nd pack knowing full well that I was running a U/W Flying Aggro deck.  I actually passed a $8-10 foil Mana Leak just to do so simply because of how well I felt the Sphinx meshed with the deck I was clearly building.  With that being noted however I think it's important to say right now that Conundrum Sphinx isn't really a bomb.  For starters it takes 5 entire turns to kill an opponent with an unmolested 4 Power flyer and while that's a decent clock it's hardly "bomb" worthy.  Additionally while the ability on the Sphinx works amazingly with Scry effects it's actually pretty risky to use blind on it's own.  I've totally swung and named "Island" only to ship a potentially game winning Sleep to the bottom of my library.  Worse still your opponent will often name either a basic land-type or whichever spell in his deck will kill the Sphinx; thus making it unlikely it will actually survive to finish your opponent off.  Of course as previously mentioned building draft decks is all relative and while the Sphinx wasn't the best card in the pack it was far and away the best card for my deck in particular.