Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch. Based on some of the emails I've been getting a few of you have noticed that it's been a little while since I've written about an SoM Booster Draft. Mostly this has been caused by a lack of opportunity; I've been sick most of the winter and during the holiday season our drafts go all wonky. Additionally because I manage the store where I draft it's generally not a great idea for me to be "the odd woman out" on draft night. One of the best reasons to draft at the Hairy Tarantula is that we try to guarantee our customers 3 rounds of Swiss regardless of their win loss record. Of course some things are beyond our control; if an unhappy/busy/distracted customer wants to drop from the event nobody is going to force him to keep playing Magic. One thing I can control however is my own entry into the tournament; typically I will choose not to play if my inclusion in the event would cause an odd number or a round 1 bye. I generally assume that our customers came to *play* Magic not watch other people play Magic while accumulating perfect tiebreakers. Thankfully last night we finally ended up with an even number of drafters and I joined in as the 6th player with Leon agreeing to sit out so I'd have something to "write about on the blog" later.
Sitting down for the draft portion of the event I pretty much had only one thing on my mind; trying desperately to avoid playing R/W Metalcraft... again. For those of you who don't regularly read this blog it's become something of a running joke that I just can't seem to avoid playing the same deck over and over in SoM drafts; even when I'm actively trying to avoid it! I've probably played R/W Metalcraft about 50 times and frankly I'm getting tired of building decks out of the same 60 or so cards. By random luck I'd been seated to the right of my good friend and co-worker Kelly Ackerman. This was bad on one hand because Kelly is a very good drafter and was unlikely to give me a lot of "free" picks in pack 2 but it was also good because I knew that Kelly favored R/W Metalcraft decks in SoM. It would be much easier to avoid being "trapped" in the same old archetype when I knew there would likely be fierce competition for all the best cards between the two of us.
With 9 poison creatures after pack 2 I felt a lot more comfortable going into the 3rd pack. I had passed an absolutely huge number of amazing removal card in pack 2 just to ensure I had enough infect monsters to build a deck. Now that I had a good base I figured I would be free to "cherry pick" the best control/removal effects that came by while adding maybe 3 or so more creatures with infect along the way. Unfortunately the pack I opened only had removal spells in colors I wasn't playing; an Arrest, a Turn to Slag and some sundry blue cards that didn't suck. It did however have a Cystbearer and it was pretty hard to argue with adding a 4th copy of what may well be the *best* infect creature in the format, so I took it. This would start a disturbing trend for the entire 3rd pack however; every time I'd be passed a new set of cards I'd find an awesome infect creature and 3-4 amazing R/W removal spells or finishing creatures. Worse still because this was pack 3 I was forced to pass these cards to Kelly on my left and I knew full well that he would be playing R/W at this point. While I managed to finish pack 3 with additional copies of Plague Stinger, Contagious Nim, Tumble Magnet and Corpse Cur, I had also managed to pass a Scrapmelter, an Arc Trail, a Revoke Existence and probably the latest Razor Hippogriff ever handed to a white player in SoM draft history. Towards the end of the draft I managed to fill out my ranks with a Tel-Jilad Fallen, an Untamed Might and a Strider Harness; all excellent cards in this deck type.
After spending about 5 minutes lamenting the general absence of Slice in Twain or Sylvok Replica (never saw either all draft) in my card pile I quickly threw together the following deck:
Creatures - 16:
1x Blight Mamba
1x Ichorclaw Myr
2x Plague Stinger
2x Contagious Nim
1x Rust Tick
2x Corpse Cur
1x Tangle Angler
1x Tel-Jilad Fallen
1x Contagion Clasp
1x Grasp of Darkness
1x Heavy Arbalest
1x Strider Harness
2x Tumble Magnet
1x Trigon of Corruption
1x Untamed Might
Lands - 17:
1x Instill Infection
1x Wing Puncture
1x Heavy Arbalest
1x Trigon of Infestation
As far as infect decks go, this one was fairly broken. While it's missing one (or more) of the "Big 3" infect rares, having 4 copies of Cystbearer was downright criminal. Having doubles of Corpse Cur, Plague Stinger and Tumble Magnet also promised to be filthy and although I didn't have as much hard removal as I would have liked I did have a Contagion Clasp. Repeatable proliferate effects are borderline broken in a good poison deck and the fact that the Clasp usually kills something BEFORE you start proliferating is amazing in this format. While I was mildly afraid of Kelly due to the sheer amount of removal I had passed him I honestly felt I had a better than 50/50 chance of running the table and winning the draft at 6-0.
I'd only ever played Scott once before in a triple SoM draft so I really didn't have a great idea what to expect from him. After the drafting portion of the event he'd let it slip that he'd opened a foil Koth so I had a pretty good idea that he'd likely be playing red. He'd also mentioned a fondness for metalcraft based decks during our previous match so I figured on seeing a lot of artifacts too.
Game 1 I opened up a relatively slow draw and my opponent got out of the gates much quicker than I did. My opening draw was a Cystbearer, a Corpse Cur, a Grasp, 3 Forests and a Swamp so it's possible I have only myself to blame. Additionally Scott had clearly played a few rounds against poison decks in the past because he was pretty stubborn about keeping himself poison-free. My opponent quickly clawed me down to 12 life with a Screeching Silcaw, a Vulshok Replica and an Oxxida Scrapmelter before I finally managed to draw my 2nd Swamp and stabilize by Grasping the Scrapmelter and locking down the Replica with a Rust Tick. Eventually I started to draw more poison creatures and I managed to get Scott up to 4 poison with a Plague Stinger carrying a Strider Harness. I had to play carefully because he'd managed to hit me for 2 more damage and still had the Vulshok Replica in play but the game slowly moved in my favor when I drew a Heavy Arbalest and then a Contagion Clasp. At this point Scott was unable to effectively attack and started taking 3 poison counters a turn from my artifacts; a recipe that ultimately proved fatal within a couple of turns.
Unfortunately game 2 was a bit of a travesty. My opponent kept a 3-land hand and proceeded to draw almost nothing he could play with 3 lands the rest of the game. He didn't draw any more land either. I on the other hand went turn 2 Plague Stinger, turn 3 Cystbearer, turn 4 Tangle Angler, turn 5 Cystbearer and the game predictably ended very quickly.
1-0 (2-0) MVP: Contagion Clasp/Heavy Arbalest. Being able to poison my opponent out without sacrificing potential blockers is probably the only reason I won that first game in this match.
It turns out Sam and Kelly are brothers and that Sam had recently moved (back?) to Toronto. Kelly had invited him out to draft with us and he'd decided to give it a whirl. While my opponent was only playing in his 2nd SoM draft ever I knew better than to take him lightly; I had heard that he'd absolutely destroyed the first draft with a Wurmcoil Engine. As luck would have it Sam had also ripped ANOTHER Wurmcoil Engine in his second draft proving definitively that opening packs *is* a skill in SoM. He also turned out to be a pretty good limited player in his own right; rocking an artifact-heavy deck that gained extra value out of castoff cards like Goblin Gavaleer and Lifesmith. Unfortunately he'd never played against a poison deck before and between the life gain effects and the overall lack of toughness on most of his creatures his deck was poorly suited to winning against an infect opponent.
I won the roll to start Game 1 and shot out of the gates very quickly with a turn 2 Plague Stinger and a turn 3 Strider Harness. Sam responded by casting a Lifesmith, a Gavaleer and a Strider Harness of his own but no removal spells or flyers. By turn 5 I had him at 5 poison with the Harness-wearing Stinger and a Tel-Jilad Fallen in play when Sam proceeded to attack me and then tap out to play a Wurmcoil Engine on his turn. When he passed the turn back to me I pointed out that he had no flyers or non-artifact creatures untapped and thus could not block the 5 points of lethal poison I had already on the board. While this was admittedly a huge play error the truth is I actually had the Tumble Magnet in hand anyways so unless Sam had left *two* non artifact creatures back to block he would have lost anyway. Additionally since he only *HAD* two non Artifacts to block with that would have meant skipping the attack phase completely and allowing me to get through for another 2 in the air with the Plague Stinger. I would then have used the Tumble Magnet to lock down any potential flying blockers and thus won the game in 2 more turns regardless.
Game 2 sadly was even less interesting that game 1. Sam had to mulligan down to 6 on the play and proceeded to draw a total of 3 creatures; all of whom had one toughness or less. My draw alternately featured cheap creatures and most of the removal in my deck, including a sideboarded Instill Infection. Of course Sam then proceeded to draw something silly like 4 land in 5 draw steps and our match ended on a rather sour note.
2-0 (4-0) MVP Plague Stinger. In both games my opponent lacked answers for a turn 2 flying infect monster which brought me a long way towards winning the match eventually.
Hitting the finals and finding Kelly waiting for me on the other side of the bracket wasn't a huge surprise. As previously mentioned I already knew that his deck was strong simply because I'd passed him so much excellent removal. What I didn't know is that Kelly had also opened 3 ridiculous bombs on his own; a Contagion Engine, a Steel Hellkite and a Tempered Steel. I'd actually seen the Contagion Engine while waiting for him to finish an earlier match but otherwise I was walking into a tiger trap completely unawares.
Game 1 was a classic example of why I hate how infect works here in triple SoM. Kelly started off slowly after keeping a hand with 2 land and a Mana Myr. I managed to top-deck my Fumespitter the turn after he played his Myr and proceeded to lock him at two mana for the next two turns when he couldn't top-deck another land. By the time he did start playing land/threats again I'd top-decked the rest of my removal and cruised in for an easy victory with random poison guys. While I understand that mana-screw can happen in any format the "double" nature of poison damage tends to amplify these issues significantly; giving you roughly half as much time to draw yourself out of the hole. While I appreciate the stress free game 1 win, the simple truth is that neither my opponent nor I had any fun in this game.
My draw in game 2 was a little dicey from the outset; 3 Forests, a Swamp, a Plague Stinger, a Cystbearer and a Strider Harness. While I would generally prefer more creatures against a removal heavy deck like Kelly's, I didn't think mulliganing the draw was a great idea. I had a turn 2 and turn 3 play and land in both colours, shipping it back would just be inviting a worse opening. Unfortunately things didn't get a whole lot better from there; I managed to top-deck an early Rust Tick but I also drew a tremendous number of Forests. Kelly on the other hand opened up with an Origin Spellbomb and after baiting out my Fume Spitter with an Gold Myr cast a Necropede. I wasn't overly worried of course, until he killed my Plague Stinger and dropped a Tempered Steel, grinding my aggro plan to a complete halt. Things only proceeded to get worse when Kelly dropped a Steel Hellkite and then kill my Rust Tick on the very next turn. Though I'd managed to delay the inevitable, the metal dragon eventually crashed in for 5 and proceeded to wipe out a Contagious Nim and both of my equipment cards. We headed to game 3 when I couldn't top deck my 2nd Tumble Magnet (Kelly had Revoked the first one) on back to back draw phases.
2-1 (5-2) 2nd Place, LVP Tempered Steel. In game 2 this card basically beat me all by itself, in game 3 it bought Kelly enough time to simply outdraw me. I might also mention my opponent's incredible pack luck (Contagion Engine, Steel Hellkite, Tempered Steel = somegood opening) and my own ability to top-deck land after land when almost any infect creature would have done in game 3.
In the final analysis it should be noted that as good as my deck was, Kelly's was equally or possibly *more* broken by comparison. It's one thing to have 5-6 excellent pieces of removal in the two best colors in the format; it's quite another to chain that wonderful removal to bomb after bomb after bomb in the same color(s). Even Kelly's Mana Myr were a legitimate threat; although it never came up against me he had 3-4 of them and 2x Myr Galvanizers. On the other hand I'd be lying if I said that losing this draft wasn't personally very dissappointing to me. It's not often you get to be the only player at the table playing Infect and I have my doubts that I'll ever build another "pure" poison deck as tight as this one.
Well folks there you have it, a detailed account of how I spent my Thursday Night Draft "Losing With Poison". As always thanks for reading and until next time remember that poison monsters are better in pairs (or quadruples) and that sometimes even a "full house" won't beat Kelly's mad top-decking skills. Until next time gang; keep it weird.