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 Sword of Vengeance
1x Warlord's Axe
1x Jace's Ingenuity
Land - 17:
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.
Round 1: Cory - U/B/R Control
As regular readers of this blog know, I play against Cory quite a lot in local booster drafts and as a result we know each other's playstyles quite well. Cory's decks tend to be focused around creature removal, card draw and counter-magic; making him a pretty tough out unless you get a fast opening draw. Unfortunately game 1 went sour almost immediately as I started with a slowish draw and proceeded to topdeck nothing but 4+CC creatures and my lone Jaces Ingenuity. I did throw down a turn 3 Cloud Elemental but it only survived to deal 4 total damage before Cory sent it to the graveyard with a Quag Sickness. Making matters worse I missed my 4th land drop until turn 6, which meant by the time I started playing my good creatures Cory had already cast a Nantuko Shade and a Fire Servant. I chump blocked for a couple of turns against the Shade before Cory brought the hammer down with a Pyroclasm (and 2 mana to pump the Shade), sending 2 Assault Griffins and a Wild Griffin to the graveyard and leaving me with no way to stop his monsters. I quickly sideboarded in my lone Safe Passage in place of the Warlord's Axe and hoped for a much faster draw in game 2. Thankfully my deck complied and I end up playing the following sequence of cards:
Turn 1 Infantry Vet
Turn 2 bash for 1, Mana Leak his Black Knight on his turn
Turn 3 bash for 1, Cloud Elemental
Turn 4 bash for 3, Cloud Crusader, Cory plays a land and a Wall of Frost
Turn 5, Bash for 5, Serra Angel, Cory concedes.
Cory sideboarded in one card and we proceeded to shuffle up and start game 3. Unfortunately my opening draw is a one land hand (plains) that I simply couldn't keep. When I mulligan I see 3 land (2 plains, 1 island), a War Priest of Thune, a Water Servant and a Mighty Leap. I probably sat there staring at my hand for about 45 seconds before I finally decided to keep it. My logic was fairly simple; this hand was terrible but at least it contained 3 lands. There was no guarantee that I'd see 3 lands off a mulligan to 5 and this deck really doesn't get started until it sees it's 4th land. Things don't get much better in the early game as I drew absolutely zero playable creatures and Cory rammed down a turn 3 Wall of Frost. At this point I started to get frustrated; I couldn't draw an early creature or for that matter ANY creature with Flying and ultimately I really didn't have a pile of great answers to the Wall of Frost. We spent our collective turn 4's playing somewhat irrelevant creatures; a Water Servant on my side and an Augury Owl/Child of Night on his. My turn 5 I topdeck a Serra Angel but I still didn't have the 5th land to play her and I had to decide between playing a War Priest of Thune without destroying an enchantment or playing absolutely nothing and implying I might have a counterspell. I decide that if Cory had a relevant enchantment I would have seen it by this point in game 3 and cast the War Priest to give myself an extra blocker and a more threatening counter-attack.
Round 2: Leon - G/R/B "Bombs":
During the draft portion of the event Leon had been openly rare drafting and as a result had concocted a 3 color bomb factory deck built around a couple of Cultivates, a Crystal Ball and a Sylvan Ranger or two. I had no real idea what to expect out of his deck except that I had passed him a Demon at Death's Gate and a Reverberate and he was likely running both of those cards. Game 1 my deck came out pretty smoothly and Leon's didn't. I played an Infantry Vet and a Cloud Elemental early and managed to Cancel his Giant Spider to keep the pressure on in the mid game. Eventually he played a Cudgel Troll but I replied with a Serra Angel and he scooped without having ever played a Red mana source. Game 2 was a different story as not only did I find myself staring down a slow draw but Leon came after me right away with a turn 2 Nantuko Shade, a turn 3 Barony Vampire, a turn 4 Giant Spider and a Turn 5 Cudgel Troll. I managed to hang on for a few turns and when I finally drew the Serra Angel I though just maybe I'd stabilized. Unfortunately Leon finally topdecked a Mountain and dropped an Act of Treason on my Serra. I didn't even bother to count the damage; my life total was that low already. Game 3 was even more strange as I opened up with a fairly fast draw while Leon played nothing but Sylvan Rangers and Cultivates for 4 turns. This left me with a pretty superior board position on turn 5 so I decided to start racing Leon with my flyers and dropped a Warlord's Axe; failing to leave mana up for the Cancel in my hand. When Leon replied by playing a Cudgel Troll and a Child of Night I felt pretty silly about this decision. It's probably a good thing that my next topdeck was a worthless land because it pretty much forced me to swing with some flyers and pass back the turn. When Leon tried to cast a would-be fatal Overwhelming Stampede I was able to play the Cancel pretty much by default. I still might have lost the race with Leon's Cudgel Troll/Child of Night team but a turn or so later I top decked one of my Serra Angels and traded a couple small flyers to buy the time to equip her with the Axe; winning the game and match.
Round 3: Kelly W/B Flyers:
Kelly came into the match 0-2 and relatively down on his deck as a result. Alternately the fact that I'd somehow managed to cobble together a 2-0 record has tricked me into believing that maybe my deck was better it really was. As it turns out, both Kelly and I were wrong about our decks and this match would ultimately prove it. Game 1 I kept a decent but not perfect opening hand; 2 Islands, 1 Plains, Assault Griffin, Infantry Veteran and a Cancel. I had lost the roll but I felt pretty confident that I would draw more land/threats before Kelly put me in any real danger. Drawing a turn 1 Cloud Elemental did absolutely nothing to deflate my confidence and Kelly didn't drop anything on his first couple of turns either. Unfortunately this was primarily because he was holding a fistful of removal; a fact I learned quickly when he dropped a Quag Sickness on my Cloud Elemental and then ripped a Doom Blade for my Could Crusader. At this point in the game however both Kelly and I were stuck on 4 mana with no real game winning threats in play. Kelly dropped a couple of smaller creatures and I played out my Assault Griffin but neither one of us was really "in control" at that point. The game continued like this for several turns before my Assault Griffin/Infantry Veteran combo finally forced Kelly to burn another piece of removal and left him with exactly 1 card in hand. During the stall period he had played several relatively non threatening creatures including a Wild Griffin and a Cloud Crusader of his own. I had cast an Azure Drake and drew both Jace's Ingenuity and a Serra Angel but still lacked the 5th mana to cast either. Finally I topdecked another land and played it, leaving me with 3 basic options:
A) Play the Serra Angel and start bashing.
B) Cast Jace's Ingenuity and generate huge card advantage.
C) Do absolutely nothing for yet another turn and save the Cancel for his last card.
Now I could justify the decision I ultimately made here in a number of ways but the honest truth is that I severely underestimated Kelly's deck because he was 0-2 at the time. I assumed that he'd not only played out his last kill card but that whatever his last card was it was highly unlikely to be strong enough to stop a Serra Angel. The fact that he appeared to be trapped at 4 mana certainly didn't hurt either; after all it's not like he would be casting a Vengeful Archon or a Grave Titan on his next turn. I played the Serra Angel with confidence, pretty much sure that I'd just put the finishing touches on an overtly complicated/frustrating game. The fact that Kelly's eyes lit up the moment he saw the card he'd drawn was probably not a good sign but I still couldn't tell what at 5 mana out of Black or White he was going to play that would get him out of this situation. The answer came in the form of a Baneslayer Angel and I'm pretty sure I audibly asked "are you freaking kidding me?" as Kelly cast it. I had been playing in the same room as this guy all night and not 1 single person had said "oh wow a Baneslayer". I was caught completely flat-footed and worse still I *had* the Cancel in my hand but no other answers.
Dangerously close to going straight on tilt I tried to calm down and consider my options. I basically had 3 good answers left in the deck: Excommunicate (+ Cancel), Aether Adept (+ Cancel) or Sword of Vengeance. Additionally I could drop into a defensive posture and try to triple block the Baneslayer with more toughness than she could simply first strike away. Unfortunately even casting Jace's Ingenuity on my next turn I would never see either the Aether Adept or the Excommunicate. I did eventually cast a 2nd copy of Serra and a Warlord's Axe to set up an epic triple block against Kelly's mythic rare. Unfortunately some timely instants (Mightly Leap and Stabbing Pain as I recall) allowed him to wipe out both my Serra's without losing his Baneslayer and that was pretty much game over. I don't remember what I sideboarded in for game 2 but I can pretty much guarantee it wasn't an answer for the Baneslayer; I simply didn't have one. Sadly game 2 was way less interesting than game 1 as I started off with 2 Islands and a Plains again and then took 5 turns to draw another land. I never did see a 5th land that game and I learned that in addition to his Angel, Kelly had also drafted 2 copies each of Doom Blade and Pacifism. My tiny flyers never stood a chance in game 2 and Kelly simply removed them from the path of his Assault Griffin and Lilianna's Specter turn after turn until I was dead.
I suppose that if there is a lesson to be learned from this draft it's that it's never a very good idea to assume your opponent doesn't have anything relevant in his hand. In the first game against Cory I gave the game away by casting a near irrelevant War Priest of Thune one turn too soon. Then again in the first game with Kelly I let him sneak a game winning Baneslayer into play despite having a Cancel in hand; simply because I didn't think he had a good card left in his hand. In both cases my assumption was incorrect and I paid savagely for playing as if I knew the answer when I didn't. Additionally while it would be easy to blame this deck's relatively lukewarm performance on not drawing either of my first two picks all night the truth is the deck simply didn't have enough removal/control elements to play in longer games. If I could end the game quickly the deck usually won, if I couldn't it usually lost.
Well folks, I'm probably about to hack up a lung here so I should wrap it up for now. Thanks again for reading the Cardboard Witch and hopefully I'll never take a whole week off blogging again. My bad.