Saturday, November 27, 2010

Of Limited Interest #14 - Ain't Goin' Out Like That

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to the latest edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Unfortunately it's cold/rainy so I've come up sick again and I won't be attending Friday Night Magic this weekend.  Instead I've decided to stay in tonight and catch up on some writing.

Shifting our focus from Standard for a moment lets take a look at a draft I actually participated in a couple weeks ago.  Previously we've talked about how to play the Infect deck  in triple SOM drafts including what signs or signals should cause you to either force or jump into "poison" early in pack 1.  Additionally drafting Infect has become a hot button topic in the online Magic community with arguments both for and against playing "poison" raging through both Limited strategy articles and the comments sections below them.  The general consensus is that forcing Infect from pick 1 can be a very risky strategy; it's better to wait a few picks into the draft for a clear signal that the players on your right are indeed passing Poison cards.  So what happens when multiple players read the poison signal; all in the same way and all at the exact same time?  Complete and total chaos as half a table's worth of drafters suddenly find themselves scrambling for a "Plan B".  Let's take a look at the "Infect" draft that wasn't and how I managed to avoid a messy train wreck by knowing when to quit:

I probably should have known this draft was going to be weird from the very first pick.  After rolling for seating I promptly opened a pack with 4 first pick white cards; including an Arrest, a Glimmerpoint Stag, a foil Razor Hippogriff and finally an Elspeth Tirel.  Even the lone Gold Myr in the pack produced white mana!  Making matters worse the only colored cards in the same league as those were a Turn to Slag and an Instill Infection.  With the draft being a "keeper" (no re-draft) it was pretty much a given I was going to take the Elspeth for pure dollar value; while simultaneously creating 3 other white drafters on my left to compete with.  The next pack was full of powerful artifact creatures, a Dispense Justice and a Darksteel Axe.  I took the Axe simply because game breaking equipment cards are very hard to come by in SoM drafts while artifact creatures are not.  Of course, it pained me to pass a Golem Artisan but ultimately the Axe is just the stronger card both in terms of power and utility.  Unfortunately packs 3, 4 and 5 would almost finish my draft before it even started.  The 3rd pack for example was incredibly weak; comprised almost entirely of random replicas, Saberclaw Golem/Soliton type creatures and some pretty marginal colored spells.  The single best card in the pack was a lone Plague Stinger and with almost nothing to lose I decided to take it.  If I ended up in "poison" the Stinger would make an amazing combo with my Darksteel Axe and if I didn't I hadn't exactly passed up anything spectacular to take it.  If pack 3 was the setup punch then Pack 4 was surely the body blow; surrounded by solid U/W/R Metalcraft cards I found a lonely Cystbearer winking at me and without hesitation I quickly snatched it up.  The simple truth is that Cystbearer is the best Infect common in the format and I felt that seeing a 4th pick 'Bearer was a strong signal that nobody to my right was playing "poison".  Pick 5 seemed to confirm my suspicion when I took a Corpse Cur over a Bladed Pinions and an incredibly late Volition Reins.  Unfortunately the next pack was completely devoid of Infect creatures but I did managed to snag a somewhat late Flesh Allergy.  While I'm not a huge fan of the card in "poison" decks it's actually quite good with Necropede or Perilous Myr.  Even without those key "bonus" removal effects it's still a legitimate answers to a huge # of "bomb" creatures in the format and thus playable in any Black deck.  My very next pick was an Ichorclaw Myr and I would draft a very late Carrion Call but otherwise I saw absolutely no more creatures with Infect in pack 1.  I did manage to table the Gold Myr from the pack I opened and I decided to take it just in case I opened a 6CC bomb in a future pack.  I also snagged a Strider Harness in between random G/B support cards like Tainted Strike and Tel-Jilhad Defiance.  Finally my 2nd last pick was a lonely unwanted Ghalma's Warden that I took primarily because "he isn't a land" but was pretty surprised to see at that point regardless.

Pack 2 continued along the same lines as pack 1 for the first few picks.  After opening a pretty mediocre rare I found myself excited to nab a Skinrender with my pick.  While not a poison creature himself he serves an important function in the Infect deck; acting as both spot removal when he comes into play and then serving as a fairly effective blocker against enemy weenies/Hill Giants.  At this point I was still pretty sure I was playing poison despite the "soft" pack 1 and I rationalized that if nothing else I'd need a few non Infect creatures to take proper advantage of Tainted Strike.  Of course my opponent to the left then proceeded to pass me a terrible pack with no relevant Infect, black or green cards whatsoever.  I probably should have taken this as a signal but I decided to "deny" draft the best card in the pack instead; a Myrsmith.  I then took Grasp of Darkness and Sylvok Lifestaff back to back before coming to a very sobering realization by pick 5; despite having passed zero Infect creatures throughout pack 2 I hadn't drafted a single "poison" monster in the entire pack.  Faced with yet another pack with no Infect creatures I was finally forced to accept the obvious; despite the very clear early signal that "poison" was open I was clearly being cut out of the strategy completely by someone on my left.  Frustrated and more than a little nervous I quickly began to catalog the cards I'd already drafted based on sheer power while purposely ignoring "poison" as a viable strategy.  Once I'd given up on fighting for the Infect deck completely it quickly became obvious that 4 of my 5 best cards we either white or black; Elspeth, Myrsmith, Skinrender and Grasp of Darkness.  My only legitimate option at this point was to play some sort of w/b token/equipment deck and without hesitation I quickly snatched a 2nd Gold Myr out of the pack.  Of course I'd already sent a very strong signal that white was open from my direction in pack 1 but I honestly felt I didn't have much of a choice at that point; I would be playing with both the Myrsmith and Elspeth even if I drafted no other white cards.  I spent the rest of the pack aggressively drafting b/w playables and came away with an Auriok Replica, a Glint Hawk, a Kemba's Skyguard and a Bleak Coven Vampires.  For the second pack in a row my last non-land pickup would be a card that eventually made my deck; in this case a Trigon of Mending.

Going into pack 3 I felt pretty lucky to have recovered so well from a near disastrous pack 1.  While I wasn't exactly happy with my deck I felt I was anywhere from 8-10 playables away from building a decent deck.  Opening an Arrest was certainly a nice start but real salvation wasn't achieved until I was passed a second copy in the very next pack!  Unfortunately both of these picks again left me passing strong artifact creatures and Metalcraft cards but none of them came close to Arrest in terms of raw power.  My 3rd pick out of a weak pack 3 was a Sunspear Shikari followed by a Trigon of Corruption.  The rest of the pack was pretty mediocre; netting me a 3rd Gold Myr, an Origin Spellbomb and a couple of random replicas.  Unfortunately despite the strong start pack 3 had left me just shy of 24 good cards and I'd be forced to run about 5 cards that I didn't want to.  After going back and forth on several marginal cards I finally sleeved up 24 cards, added 16 land and entered the tournament with the following deck:                         
W/B Token Aggro:

Creatures - 13 (14):

1x Glint Hawk
3x Gold Myr
1x Myrsmith
1x Sunspear Shikari
2x Auriok Replica
1x Kemba's Skyguard
1x Vulshok Replica
1x Ghalma's Warden
1x Skinrender
1x Bleak Coven Vampires

Spells - 11 (10):

1x Darksteel Axe
1x Origin Spellbomb
1x Sylvok Lifestaff
1x Grasp of Darkness
1x Trigon of Mending
2x Arrest
1x Strider Harness
1x Flesh Allergy
1x Trigon of Corruption
1x Elspeth Tirel

Lands - 16:

8x Plains
8x Swamp

I probably don't have to tell you that this wasn't the deck I had originally wanted to build and that by the time round 1 rolled around I was pretty sure I would be lucky to win a round all night.  When a deck can best be described as "some removal, some equipment and the creatures nobody else wanted" you know you're probably headed for trouble.  I figured my only real chances to win were either to outrace my opponent with one of my few flyers + some equipment or to grind them out in the long game with Elspeth.

Round 1 - Cory U/W Proliferate Combo:

As it turns out my round 1 opponent was playing a deck that might have been even weirder than mine.  Cory's deck was built around a Proliferate engine that featured at least 2 Thrummingbirds, a Throne of Geth, a Contagion Clasp and a couple copies of Steady Progress.  Of course he also had a number of cards that somehow featured counters; included a couple of Tumble Magnets and 4 artifact creatures that also said Infect.  If poison wasn't a viable option the deck would simply bash you to death with Dark Steel Sentinel, Gilmmerpoint Stag or a Soliton.

Continuing the theme of the evening game 1 was a spectacular clash of epic proportions.  Cory won the roll the go first and quickly began harassing me with a Vector Asp and an Ichorclaw Myr.  I opened the game with a Sylvok Lifestaff, a Gold Myr and a Kemba's Skyguard.  Without knowing the contents of Cory's deck yet I blocked his Vector Asp with my Skyguard on his next attack phase, reasoning that I could still attach the Lifestaff and swing for 2 on my next turn.  Hitting 3 poison also seemed acceptable as long as I managed to cut the number of potential poison sources down by 1.  Of course Cory proceeded to cast Steady Progress on his 2nd main phase; killing my Skyguard, rocketing me to 4 poison and drawing himself a replacement card in the process.  Trying to stay calm I responded by topdecking a Skinrender like I knew it was there the entire time.  Usually I'd be loathe to spend such a strong removal effect on a lowly Ichorclaw Myr but with 4 poison tokens already and absolutely no board presence I figured I didn't have much to lose.  After Cory cast a turn 5 Soliton we both spent the next several turns drawing lands and staring at each other's growing mass of irrelevant creatures.  Eventually Cory dropped a Strider Harness on his monster and started bashing me for 4, dragging me down to 10 life before I finally drew an Arrest.  I attacked into him for 8, with a Sylvok Lifestaff equipped Skinrender and some sundry Myr.  When Cory shipped back the turn without playing anything I was pretty sure that I'd already won the game.  I drew a Bleak Coven Vampires, cast it to gain 4 Life, knocked Cory down to 8 and attacked with everything.  My opponent proceeded to flash a Darksteel Sentinel into play and used it to murder my Skinrender; falling to 5 life in the process.  Unfortunately on his next turn he dropped and activated an Origin Spellbomb, drawing him into a Wall of Tanglecord.  Then he cast a Revoke Existence on my Lifestaff to shut off my life racing ability and started to bash me for 4 with his Vigilant Sentinel; eventually clawing me down to 5 before I finally draw Grasp of Darkness and finish off his monster.  He sacrificed it in response to a Culling Dias but I was just happy to see the indestructible threat removed from the equation.  By this point we both have several smaller creatures in play and when I finally drew Elspeth I was again pretty sure it was game over; I quickly gained 6 life, attacked for 2 with my Glint Hawk and shipped the turn back to my visibly worried opponent.  Cory would have one final surprise for me though; a long-shot singleton Scrapdiver Serpent that promptly picked up the Strider Harness and killed Eslpeth in one savage shot.  Gulping audibly I assessed the situation; on one hand I was up 11 life to 3 with a Glint Hawk in play and my opponent with no flyers.  Unfortunately he did have a Silver Myr, a Flight Spellbomb and a random 1/1 Myr token; meaning it would take me 3 turns to kill him with just the Glint Hawk. Alternately, tapping down his Myr and sacrificing one to block the Glint Hawk would let me get 1 extra damage through with a 1/1 Myr token if I just swung with everything.   This would send him to 2 life and making the Glint Hawk lethal on the next turn.  With virtually no other options I swung and passed the turn.  Cory untapped, attacked me for 6 with the Scrapdiver and then cast a Necropede and a Throne of Geth, instantly killing my Glint Hawk and leaving me with 2x 1/1 Myr.  Unfortunately Cory still had a Wall of Tanglecord to block with and without some sort of spectacular topdeck I was going to lose with him at 1 life next turn.  I untapped, cast an Origin Spellbomb and cycled it to draw a card before attacking my opponent with my other two Myr tokens.  I then revealed a Trigon of Mending with exactly enough remaining mana to actually use it.  This would of course take me to 7 life and give me one turn to survive Cory's unblockable onslaught.  When my opponent drew into 2 lands on his next turn he immediately conceded.  Frustrated he proceeded to reveal his next two cards; Corpse Cur and Thrummingbird.  If the game had gone any longer I likely would have died by poison.

After our epic 18 some odd turn slug-fest I was pretty sure Cory and I were in for a disappointing game 2 and for a little while it looked like I might be right.  I quickly seized the lead with a Myrsmith, a Sunspear Shikari, a few random artifacts and finally an Elspeth. At one point I was ahead something ridiculous like 31 life to 11; with 2 Solider Tokens and 2 Myr Tokens in play.  Cory had finally killed the Sunspeak Shikari and had cast a Soliton and a couple of Infect creatures on previous turns.  With Elspeth at 6 Tokens I decided to activate her "ultimate" ability to destroy everything except her and my 4 Tokens (2 Solider/2 Myr); this would cost me a Myrsmith and a gold Myr but would leave my opponent with a 1/1 Myr token, 6 land in play and 1 card left in hand.  After wiping the board I attacked with my 4 tokens, forcing Cory to trade his token for one of mine (Myr on Myr violence!) and clawing him down to 8 life.  I passed the turn pretty confident that the game was mine although the last card in Cory's hand did have me mildly worried.  I wasn't *too* afraid however because I still had Elspeth and 3 tokens in play and could blow up the world again in as few as 3 turns.  Unfortunately for me however Cory had other ideas; after drawing and playing his 7th land Cory dropped Myr Battlesphere onto the table like a lead brick and shipped the turn back to me.  Desperate for answers I drew a Trigon of Corruption, cast it and promptly activated it to kill one of Cory's 1/1 Myr tokens.  Gaining a final 6 life I said goodbye to my Elspeth and watched as Cory attacked, tapped 3 Myr tokens and redirected the damage from me to Elspeth.  After I topdecked another land and killed one of his Myr tokens, Cory swung in for 6 (+2) damage.  I drew another land, attacked Cory for 3 (down to 5) and killed a 3rd and final Myr token with my now spent Trigon of Corruption.  Unfortunately Cory proceeded to cast a 1/2 Bird and 2 turns later I was sitting at 14 life with 3 1/1 Myr tokens in play desperate to finally draw an answer.  Fortunately my deck obliged and I was able to promptly Arrest the Battlesphere and turn off my opponent's aggro options.  I followed that up with a Kemba Skyguard and 4 relatively uneventful turns later I was on my way to round 2.

1-0 (2-0) MVP - Trigon of Mending and no I'm not kidding; I doubt I win game 1 without drawing it and by the end of game 2 I was so mentally exhausted from playing against Cory's wacky build that I doubt I would have been able to win another hard fought contest.

Round 2 - Moe - B/G Molder Beast Combo:

My round 2 opponent was one of the other players who jumped into Infect early in the draft and then found himself high and dry when everyone else did so too.  Eventually he managed to stabilize with a deck built around Molder Beasts, some Tainted Strikes, some spellbombs, a few black Infect creatures and a Throne of Geth.  While this may not sound like a very strong deck the truth is Moe's build was capable of doing tremendous amounts of damage out of nowhere; poison or otherwise.

Sadly game 1 was a relatively one sided contest.  Moe's draw started out fine with 3 land, a Wall of Tanglecord and some Spellbombs.  Unfortunately I drew an early Darksteel Axe and a turn 4 Skinrender to neutralize the Wall.  Additionally virtually every time Moe played another creature I managed to top deck the removal spell to keep pushing my 5 power Skinrender through.  After I killed his 3rd creature in a row Moe smiled and asked me "how much removal" I actually had before conceding.

Game 2 started out significantly better for Moe with an early Copper Myr and Horizon Spellbomb leading into a turn 4 Molder Beast.  Before he could use it however I sent it to his graveyard with a Grasp of Darkness and cast a Myrsmith.  Moe responded by casting *another* Molder Beast and again shipped the turn back to me only to watch helplessly when I murdered it with a Skinrender.  This time however Moe had a Grasp of his own and after killing my Skinrender he cast a Darksteel Axe and bashed me for 3 with his geared up Copper Myr.  I started casting artifact creatures and making 1/1 Myr tokens with my Myrsmith, forcing Moe to drop a Plague Stinger and switch to "poison" mode with his Darktseel Axe.  Two turns and 6 poison counters later I finally managed to draw the Trigon of Corruption and kill the Plague Stinger, all the while trading 1-2 points a damage per turn with Moe through Myr tokens.  Moe untapped and dropped a Bellowing Tanglewurm which finally baited the Arrest out of my hand in response.  Out of threats my opponent cast a Wall of Tanglecord and equipped the Darksteel Axe before passing the turn back to me.  Drawing my second Arrest made it possible to slip through for 5 Damage a turn with my Myrsmith and 3 tokens and when Moe drew back to back Grafted Exoskeletons while I drew Elspeth and another artifact the game was quickly over.

2-0 (4-0) MVP: It's a toss up between "having a bunch of removal" and "playing the other guy who forced Infect pack 1".  Moe's deck was very powerful but much like mine it was made of bits and pieces left over when Infect bottomed out; making it inconsistent and dependent on seeing key cards.

Round 3 - Leon - G/U Fatties:

Despite winning my second round in 2 games I once again found my opponent in the Finals already waiting for me.  This was likely because my deck was full of powerful control cards but mostly did it's killing with 1/1 Myr and Soldier tokens + Equipment.  Apparently it takes a long time to kill someone 1-3 damage at a time.  Leon's deck was kind of combo-ish with Flight/Horizon Spellbombs, some Equipment, a couple of Untamed Might's and some fatties including a Molder Beast, an Alpha Tyrranax and a Wurmcoil Engine.  He also had more than enough bounce effects to render my Arrests a temporary answer at best.

Game 1 started out very slowly for Leon and very quickly for me.  I used turn 2 Myrsmith  to produce something like 7 tokens over the course of this game and cast an Elspeth on turn 4.  I even managed to resolve a Bleak Coven Vampires with active Metalcraft to essentially finish off my opponent in the mid game.  Leon on the other hand drew almost nothing; some Mana Myr, a couple of Sylvok Replicas and some equipment.  He even had to cast his Acid Web Spider when the only equipment I had in play was the indestructible Dark Steel Axe, just to get a blocker.  Eventually I simply overwhelmed him with tokens and an Axe after blowing up the world with Elspeth.

Game 2 actually started out worse for Leon than game 1; he stalled on mana early and on my 4th turn I dropped a Skinrender to kill his lone Copper Myr.  I attached a Strider Harness to it next turn and by the time Leon finally stabilized with a Wall of Tanglecord and a Neurock Replica I had him at 8 Life.  Unfortunately at this point my deck started to run out of gas; feeding me random replicas and all 3 copies of Gold Myr in rapid succession.  Leon hid behind his walls continuing to build his mana base while cycling what seemed like a never ending supply of Horizon Spellbombs.  Eventually I finally drew the Flesh Allergy and decided that I had to get rid of the wall if I was going to have any chance to winning.  I attacked first, baiting Leon into taking 2 damage and killing a spare Myr token with his Neurok Replica.  After combat I sacrificed a tapped Myr Token to destroy the Wall of Tangelcord and bring Leon down to 3 life.  He could have used the Neuroc Replica to save his Wall and fizzle the Flesh Allergy but I assumed he didn't either because he hadn't noticed or the play simply wouldn't be profitable enough.  I smiled inwardly and hopped that he's simply forgotten about my Bleak Coven Vampires.  Leon calmly untapped, drew a card and played a land from his hand before dropping a Wurmcoil Engine onto the table with 2 mana left over; pretty much grinding my game to a halt.  When I drew the Arrest on my very next turn it gave me a tiny smidgen of hope; I Arrested the Wurmcoil Engine and attacked with the remains of my Myr token army.  Leon of course blocked 1 of the tokens with the Neurok Replica, took 2 Damage and during my end step cast a Disperse on his Wurmcoil Engine.  On his turn he recast the Wurmcoil Engine and showed me the Stoic Rebuttal he'd just drawn.  With roughly 2 Myr tokens in play and nothing but land in hand I decided to scoop and head to game 3.

Game 3 again saw me throw down a turn 2 Myrsmith and start generating tokens while Leon played Spellbombs and mana Myr.  Unfortunately after about 5 damage and 2-3 attack phases Leon managed to get an Accorder's Shield down an attached to a Silver Myr; effectively blunting my ground assault.  I slipped through with a Metalcrafted Ghalma's Warden for a single turn but Leon responded by forcing out a turn 5 or 6 Alpha Tyrranax and after equipping the Shield our "fatties" spend a couple of turns starring at each other.  Eventually I did manage to find both of my flyers while Leon was only able to respond with a single Wall of Tanglecord.  2 Damage at a time, I started to claw his life total down from 11 all the while worrying as he kept cycling spellbombs and building his mana base.  I topdecked a Skinrender but when I tried to use it to shrink Leon's Alpha Tyrranax he responded with a Stoic Rebuttal.  At that point Leon was at 7 life and I was doing 2 a turn in the air with absolutely no relevant cards in hand; to say I was desperate to finish the match off would be a mild understatement.  That's probably why I cast my topdecked Elspeth into his Stoic Rebuttal and didn't even notice when he sacrificed a Neurok Replica to bounce the Glint Hawk back into my hand and sink to only 5 life.  After recasting my Glint Hawk and a random Gold Myr I realized that I could get through for exactly 4 damage next turn by attacking with everyone and shipped the turn back to Leon.  In response to my attempt to end the turn Leon cycled his last Horizon Spellbomb for a Forest and untapped.  Of course he promptly played a Wurmcoil Engine *AND* a 2nd Wall of Tanglecord; effectively ending my night when I drew yet another land.

2-1 (5-2) 2nd Place:  LVP - My opponent having a real deck.  Honestly I got VERY good draws all 3 games against Leon but I was trying to win the games with 1/1's and a Darksteel Axe while he had giant Wurms and Dinosaurs.  My only chance was to win the game before he played enough bombs to make victory unattainable and while I came close ultimately I couldn't do that twice in 3 tries.

Well folks that's about all my fingers can take for today.  I guess if there's an overarching lesson we can take from this draft it's probably a simple "Don't Panic!".  Both the drafting process and the actual games were very touch and go; on multiple occasions I could have made incorrect choices and ruined my draft.  Ultimately however I managed to finish 2nd pretty much by hanging around forever and grinding maximum value out of my picks/cards.   It's not everyday that the proper application of a Trigon of Mending wins you the game for example.  As always thanks for reading and see you next time here at The Cardboard Witch.


  1. Trigon of Mending...
    Wow. It's never helped me in draft. Then again, I don't think I've ever used it.

  2. Hehe, yeah it's a pretty horrible card but I was desperate for ways to trigger my Myrsmith and or activate my Bleak Coven Vampires. My opponent was not overtly amused at losing to such a bad card.