Saturday, September 4, 2010

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.

1x Cyclops Gladiator - What does it say about Red in M11 limited that even it's "Bomb" creatures are hard to cast and have unwieldy abilities (Ancient Hellkite, Hoarding Dragon, this guy)?  3 Red mana is no small feat in a deck that runs Nantuko Shade and a Quag Sickness.  Additionally, the Cyclops' own printed text has a habit of killing him when he attacks an opponent with two creatures because damage dealt lasts until end of turn.  Of course that matters less when your opponent is having trouble keeping creatures in play because you have multiple Pyromancers/Burn Spells.  As a result, the Cyclops actually worked out okay in this deck both times I was able to cast him.  That still doesn't make the card a good reason to go heavy into Red however.

1x Nether Horror - Paying 4 mana for a ground-pounding monster that trades poorly with J-random "bear" isn't exactly how I try to win Magic games. Unfortunately as previously mentioned some soft packs and my general preference for removal spells meant I was scrambling for playable cards during the deck-building phase of the event.  In it's defense the Nether Horror plays well against an empty board and he makes a decently threatening chump blocker at 4 power.  In all honesty however I'd rather not run this card unless I had to (like here).

1x Vulshok Berserker - The Little 'Zerker isn't really a bad creature but you certainly can't justify the picks most players will use to draft it.  As mentioned above, 2 Toughness on a 4 Mana body is a significant drawback in this format; allowing your opponent to easily contain this card with random Bears or first-striking Knights.  The Haste ability is decent but to make it work you'll either have to be looking at an empty board or actively racing an unsuspecting opponent.  In my experience both of these situations are rare.  Even in this particular deck with piles of removal I never really got any value out of VB; I think I played him as a defensive trade piece at least twice for example.  Straight up if it's a choice between this card and Canyon Minotaur, take the "Hill Giant".

2x Berserkers of Blood Ridge - I must admit to having something of a love hate relationship with this card.  On one hand I recognize that it's probably the best common Red beater in the format and most decks in the color would be better off with 1 than without.  On the other hand however, I *hate* how poorly this compares with the other X4 common creatures in the format.  I guess it's better than Armored Cancrix but it gets exactly one shot to block Spined Wurm, bounces off Siege Mastodon all day and straight up loses combat against a Rotting Legion.  You don't know frustration until you HAVE to attack into a Giant Basilisk because your Bersekers say so even though you have no way of winning that interaction.  2 copies of this card made the cut here simply because I failed to draft a Rotting Legion/anything better.

Spells - 7:

1x Lightning Bolt - It's really getting to the point that Red's general weakness in M11 drafts should force me to start passing Lightning Bolts even when it's the best card in the pack.  This is especially true when you note that Green and Blue both splash Red's two best removal spells quite easily; Lightning Bolt and Fireball.  This makes it very hard to draft multiple good removal spells and thereby make up for Red's sub-par creature base as a whole.  In this case I picked the Bolt 1st overall in pack 1 because the only other choices were Assassinate, Armored Ascension and Shiv's Embrace.  I honestly felt the Bolt was simply the best card by miles of those 4 and would prevent me from jumping heavily into my least favorite color (Red) so early.  As you can see, that worked out beautifully and I ended up in Red all along.  Even knowing that however the Bolt is just a better card that Shiv's Embrace so I still made the right choice.

1x Doom Blade - I opened this card in pack 2 and immediately shipped a $10ish Glacial Fortress to the right without even blinking; that's how good Doom Blade is.  The ability to kill an opponent's best creature with almost no restrictions, at instant speed and for only 2 mana is both powerful and versatile.  I'm pretty sure this card won me some games all by itself; killing a timely Greater Basilisk in game 2 of the last round for example.

1x Fling - Due to the unfortunate M10 change to the Combat Damage rules, Fling really isn't the card it used to be way back in Stronghold. With the ability to stack damage before sacrificing the creature this card was a top 3 pick in Tempest drafts and probably would never have seen print again without the rules change.  Here in M11 Fling plays more of a supportive role; situationally quite powerful but not really the kind of card you want multiple copies of.  In the draft it proved fairly useful; letting me throw a "Pacified" Nantuko Shade at one of my opponents creatures and killed a couple flyers.  That's pretty good value for a card I picked 9th or 10th in pack 2.

1x Mind Rot - Functionally this card works pretty much the same in a Red/Black aggro deck as it did in the U/B Titan Control deck.  This means you'll want to wait until your opponent is holding 3-4 cards in hand before you drop the Mind Rot to maximize it's "screw you" factor.  Don't draft a pile of these, they're worthless once your opponent is playing off the top of his deck.

1x Quag Sickness - In my opinion Quag Sickness is actually Black's second best removal spell in M11 Limited formats and I will absolutely choose one over an Assassinate every single time.  While obviously the requirement for multiple Swamps can be an issue against high toughness creature, it's ability to kill creatures before they can swing at you becomes invaluable when life totals start falling.  I picked this card 3rd overall in pack 1, shoving myself into R/B even though I desperately wanted to avoid that color combination.  Turns out this wasn't such a bad decision after all as I seemed to draw the Sickness almost every game and had no trouble finding good creatures it would kill.

2x Chandra's Outage - The fact that every once in a while this card will last until picks 4-6 because of it's double R casting cost is arguably the *ONLY* reason to force Red in M11 drafts.  In this case I managed to grab copies in packs 1 and 3 somewhere within the desired range.  I could have had a 3rd copy of this card but I chose the Pyromancer 3rd overall in pack 2 and never saw the Outrage again.  It was kind of a coin flip pick, but the fact that I already had a Pyromancer was my primary reason for choosing it over the one-shot spell.

17 x Basic Land - Deceptively clunky and slow this deck might actually have been better with 18 mana split right down the middle.  Unfortunately I didn't really think the matter through enough on draft night and I went with the generic 17 land base; 9 Mountains and 8 Swamps.  More than once this seemed to keep me from getting the necessary 3rd Swamp to push my Nantuko Shade into the "Bomb" zone.  Regardless with 2 "pumpable" creatures, 2 Reassembling Skeletons and a Quag Sickness the extra land would have been useful. 

As far as deck concepts go it really doesn't get much simpler than this.  This deck wants to push out a couple of  "Dorks" with 3 or more power and then use it's burn/kill to clear our enemy blockers.  If your opponent can't keep creatures on the table you can beat him down with any random creature; a point this deck seems to be striving to prove.  It's not really a "blitz" or "rush" deck because it's creatures are fragile and typically can't swing until you've removed multiple threatening blockers.  Alternately this deck DOES have an incredible removal package and on most decent draws I had no real problem creating opportunities to attack because of this.      

Well folks there you have it, a card by card breakdown of 3 completely different tournament winning M11 draft decks.  Looking back I think it's safe to say that while none of these decks were perfect all 3 of them were built to maximize their strengths and minimize/disguise their weaknesses.  In my experience it's pretty rare that the "best" deck will simply fall into your lap during a draft and what separates good drafters from lucky drafters is the ability to find workable decks even when you don't have all the best cards.

Whew that was certainly epic.  Note to self: try to avoid writing about 3 limited decks at the same time in the future for your own sanity.  Before I go I'd just like to offer a shout out to Calvin from Toronto for beating the crap out of me in and M11 Draft last night at the Hairy T North.  2x Serra Angels and Air Servant and some timely counter magic were simply too much for my W/B Flying deck to overcome and Calvin played 2 very good games of Magic after essentially giving me game 1.  Way to pull your butt out of the fire, "mad props" to my opponent.  As always thanks for reading and until next time remember to keep it weird.



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