Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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.

1x Juggernaught - I really wasn't sure this card fit in all that well with the deck I was building when I drafted it in pack 3 even though I was fully aware that Juggernaught is a powerful card.  I felt it's lack of evasion and 3 toughness meant it was going to be blocked to death immediately by an opponent happy to see a non-flying creature.  In the actual games however the Juggernaught turned out to be a game winner, combining with Mighty Leap on two different occasions to deal lethal damage to my unsuspecting opponent.  I guess it's safe to say "good card is just good".

1x Air Servant - Lets not beat around the bush, Air Servant is the best creature in this deck and if it weren't for Mind Control it'd be the best card period.  We're talking about a 4 power flying beatstick that ALSO has a built in creature control ability which it can still use while tapped (presumably from bashing for 4).  Admittedly the tap ability only works against creatures with Flying but it's not like that ability is rare in M11; even Red has an uncommon flyer!  I first picked this card pack 1 and I did it without even blinking.

1x Serra Angel - It doesn't take a genius to realize that Serra Angel is an incredibly powerful card.  4/4 Flying alone is an issue in this format and Vigilance just pushes this card right over the top.  Again however it's important to remember that being 4 Power and Flying doesn't actually make a creature a bomb; 5 turns is a long clock.  I drafted this card 2nd overall in pack 3 (my opponent took the rare) and I've never seen her go later than 4th in an M11 draft.  It is completely justifiable to pass this card for a good piece of removal with the caveat that you'd better make sure the removal in question can actually kill the Serra Angel you're gift-wrapping for your opponents.

1x Siege Mastodon - I don't really like this card and as a general rule I try not to play with it while drafting white.  While it's true 5 toughness can be useful in the format I generally like to get more "aggro" out of a 5 mana investment.  As previously mentioned however this deck was a little shy on creatures coming out of the draft so I was forced to "go with the bodies I had" a little more than I would have liked.  Being fair the Mastodon is miles better than the Maritime Guard, even if it mostly sat in my hand as a backup plan during the tournament.

Spells - 9
1x Condemn - Removal is good and while I'm not fond of giving my opponent a bunch of life, I'm not fond of being attacked by giant monsters either.  There's really no reason to not play a card like Condemn in booster draft regardless of your deck-type.

1x Diminish - A very up and down card, Diminish will often sit in my Sideboard when I'm building a more "Control-ish" U/W deck in M11 draft.  In this deck however it worked as a decent combat trick when combined with high toughness defenders.  The key is to trade it for your opponent's creature; if you have to block with a 1/1 and end up losing your man too it becomes a terrible loss of card advantage.  I don't remember when I drafted this but it certainly wasn't early.

2x Mighty Leap - Typically I think this card works best played at sorcery speed in a Green/White aggro build with big "Fatties".  There are very few legitimate responses to your opponent tossing an 8/6 Flying Trampling Wurm right at your noggin (Plummet).  Despite this however most players undervalue Might Leap in general so I ended up snatching them up late, even with a G/W aggro player at the same table.  In this draft I usually played them as mini-Giant Growths to win creature combat; except for the two times I went "airborn" with the Juggernaught as mentioned above.

1x Safe Passage - Safe Passage is generally an overpriced Fog the vast majority of the time; useful for winning a race against another aggro deck but not really worth the bother to maindeck.  In a fast deck with enough creatures however it can become the ultimate combat trick, allowing you to devastate an attacking/blocking opponent's army while keeping your team alive.  That exact trick won me an entire game during the tournament.  You can usually pick this card up very late, making it a great value pick for White aggro builds.  

1x Warlord's Axe - I think most drafters over-value this card in M11 simply because equipment tends to be so effective in Limited formats.  At 4 to equip however you'll often be forced to choose between using the Axe or casting more spells.  You'd also really like to get more than 1 extra toughness out of the Axe if you're going to skip your entire Main Phase to use it.  These concerns are of course less relevant in a deck populated by cheap flyers, since you're far more likely to actually get the +3 damage out of your 4 mana investment that way.

1x Sleep -The key to understanding Sleep's value in M11 is to remember that it's primarily an aggro card; even if it is Blue.  One of the reasons top level players are "down" on sleep in their online draft videos (yes I mean you LSV) is because they generally prefer to play Control-ish decks out of blue where Sleep is almost worthless.  In an aggro deck racing towards the finish line however Sleep borders on "Time Walk-ey", letting you "alpha-strike" your oppponent at least once and often twice.  Assuming you were already ahead on life there's usually no coming back from that situation.  This card is even better in U/G with giant fat Wurms.   This card is usually a very early pick in my environment and I'm pretty sure this draft was no exception.

1x Jace's Ingenuity - While I generally prefer Foresee it's a pretty rare draft where I'll pass on Jace's Ingenuity for anything other than a bomb or some removal.  Drawing 3 cards at instant speed is simply too powerful to ignore when you're playing 40 card decks.  Additionally the value of this card only increases as the game drags on and both player's hands begin to empty; significantly mitigating it's 5CC.

1x Mind Control - Simply put, Mind Control is the single best removal spell in the entire M11 draft format.  I do not pass this card unless it's for a Titan; even when I'm not playing blue.  Taking your opponent's best creature and then using it to kill him is one of the most powerful things you can do in Limited Magic and this will usually end the game incredibly quickly all by itself.  I first picked this card in pack 3.

1x Terramorphic Expanse - Really wasn't that important with only 3 double U spells and 1 double W spell, still a little bit of mana fixing is never a terrible idea.

16x Basic Land - With a deck that curved out at 5 and had plenty of mid-game drops I felt comfortable playing at 17 land.  In retrospect I probably should have played with 9 Islands and 7 Plains but during the actual tournament I split it right down the middle at 8 and 8.

Conceptually this is one of the simplest aggro decks I've ever built.  The deck tends to force out a couple early flyers and start the beatdown before shifting into a fatter/more aggressive midgame with 4 power flyers.  While the deck lacks significant amounts of removal it's ability to seize early tempo often forces your opponent into bad combat situations.  Good examples include blocking into a Mighty Leap/Safe Passage or forcing out extra chump blockers only to see them laid low by Sleep.  During the tournament itself I only had one difficult game against a U/G deck with a pile of bounce.  At one point he stuck an active Harbor Servant while we were both on 15 life and threatened to out-race me.  Thankfully I drew into a Safe Passage and then a Diminish; essentially "fogging" my way to the finish line against his superior board position.

Continued in Part 2.




  1. No worries about the days of absent between posts.Not everyone is forced to post daily. It just comes down to the content. I really enjoy reading your game plays.

  2. Thanks for the comment and the kind words. I'll try to get back to more play by play stuff about the tournaments later; for now I want to talk about deckbuilding and help my draft group get better at it.

    See you Friday?

  3. I hang out at Hairy T North more. But seeing I have nothing to do, I may just drop by to buy cards or anime stuff. Can't stay for FNM though. Too young to be hanging around downtown in shady locations. If you do early draft I may consider it XP.