Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Of Limited Interest #17 - Season of the Digital Witch

Hello ladies and gentlemen, hopefully you've all been well the past couple of days and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As regular readers of this blog may be aware I hold a deep almost over-riding mistrust for two major forces of evil in this universe; Canadian winters and Magic Online.  My distain for winter is fairly self explanatory; when it gets cold and wet I generally get sick and miserable, sometimes for months at a time.  My dislike of Magic online however is a little more complicated and would take long enough to explain that it probably deserves it's own article.  To sum things up quickly:
  • I don't like paying full retail for packs.  Booster packs haven't been MSRP in Toronto for years the market simply won't bear it.  This puts me in a position of paying *more* for cards I can only use online.
  • When I last played (in Shadowmoor/Eventide) the interface with the game was completely terrible and caused me to constantly go to time even in games I was winning easily.  I will admit to being a little bit "bad" at computers but I was still having problems my 8th or 9th draft in.
  • Apparently as a player it's important for me to actually see my opponent's face; I find that I walk into far more traps/bad plays online than I ever have in a real game of Magic.
  • I'm just not that great a video games.  While I'm pretty good at keeping track of what's going on and various triggers in real life Magic I have a disturbing habit of misclicking, hitting "okay" at the wrong time or most embarrassingly forgetting who's turn it is and hitting F6 (pass turn basically) on my own upkeep when playing online.
Unfortunately a recent cold/wet snap here in Toronto has conspired to keep me indoors and away from the draft tables.  Desperate to feed my growing Magic addiction I found myself with no recourse but to ask Leon to let me draft with his MtGO account.  He agreed and helped me enter my first ever triple SoM MtGO Swiss Draft this past Friday night.  I chose the Swiss format pretty much entirely because I'd had previous bad experiences with the MtGO interface.  I figured that I might as well guarantee myself 3 matches to get as much practice in with the game as possible in the hopes of making fewer mistakes.  I won't lie, when I finally sat down to draft there was a certain sense of self loathing to the experience; after all I was doing something I hated (playing MtGO) simply because I couldn't go out and play "real" Magic at my FNM.  To my complete surprise however I actually enjoyed myself; the interface had clearly improved since Shadowmoor and after watching Leon play hundreds of games online I found that my own "error" rate had gone down significantly.  Of course I still made several boneheaded misclicks but for the first time ever I was able to focus more on playing Magic than trying not to "screw up the video game".   Let's take a closer look at the actual tournament itself; first I'll talk a little bit about the deck I drafted and how I ended up with the cards that I did.  Then I'll take briefly about my rounds with a focus on the differences between the online and "real" Magic experience as I see it.

Unfortunately I don't remember the draft itself with absolute clarity; the sheer "newness" and unfamiliarity with the MtGO interface made it difficult for me to focus on my picks as much as normal.  I do remember that my very first pick was a Revoke Existence and that the 2nd pack was so terrible that my only real options were to either take a Sunspear Shikari or jump into Infect by taking a Plague Stinger.  Most of my removal came in pack 2, including a 1st pick and a 4th pick Grasp of Darkness.  Finally pack 3 yielded my 2nd Cystbearer and Plague Stingers #2 and #3.  As usual my first 8 picks in each pack tended to be decent but by halfway around there were no good "Poison" cards to take.  The lone exception to this was my 2nd Carrion Call which came incredibly late in pack 2, something like pick 13ish.      

"Dead Woman's Hand" - B/G Infect Aggro:

Creatures - 14 (16):

1x Vector Asp
1x Blight Mamba
1x Leaden Myr
1x Necropede
3x Plague Stinger
2x Wall of Tanglecord
2x Cystbearer
1x Ichor Rats
1x Moriok Replica
1x Blackcleave Goblin
2x Carrion Call * (Spell that makes creatures)

Spells -10 (8):

2x Grasp of Darkness
1x Throne of Geth
1x Tumble Magnet
2x Instill Infection
2x Untamed Might

Lands - 17:

8x Forest
9x Swamp

Relevant Sideboard - 4:

1x Wing Puncture
1x Withstand Death
2x Moriok Reaver

In many ways this deck is similar to the deck I finished 2nd with during last Thursday's "real" draft at the Hairy Tarantula (see Of Limited Interest #16).  In particular the sheer number of "doubles" and the excellent selection of cheap infect monsters.  Unfortunately this deck is probably a little worse at grinding out long games than the previous version and while my best cards are certainly very good this deck also runs more "marginal" cards than the other one had to.  One other disturbing way in which they are similar is the complete lack of enchantment/artifact destruction.  Sadly I only ever saw one Sylvok Replica; I opened it in my second pack and decided that I couldn't take it over a Grasp of Darkness.  In a vacuum I still believe the Grasp is the better card but in this case the fact that I never saw another Replica or Slice in Twain after that point combined with the fact that I would 4th pick another Grasp in pack 2 make the decision questionable in hindsight.  The other major issue I have with this build is the complete lack of power boosting equipment; while 2x Untamed Might worked out well as a finisher I really would have liked a Darksteel Axe or a Sylvok Lifestaff to maximize the value of my 3x Plague Stingers.    
Round 1 - G/W/R Aggro:

My first round opponent was playing a fast deck built around a bunch of cheap white flyers; in particular he had a seemingly never ending supply of Kemba Skyguards.  Unfortunately game 1 didn't go particularly well for him; he played some early creatures including a Shikari and a Skyguard and then drew nothing but land.  Sadly I don't remember this game very well but after killing all 3 of the creatures he played I quickly rolled to 10 poison.  I don't think I made any misclicks or interface mistakes in this game but being fair I really didn't have to *do* much except cast poison monsters and turn them sideways.  Game two my opponent sided out his Red for Black cards; running a bunch of random infect creatures to counteract mine.  Unfortunately I drew all 3 Plague Stingers in rapid succession this game and eventually dropped an Untamed Might for 5 to end the game turn 7ish.

1-0 (2-0) MVP: A combination of my opponent's soft draws and my ability to topdeck an early Plague Stinger every game.  Untamed Might also deserves an honorable mention.

Round 2 - B/R Infect/Proliferate:

My second round opponent was playing a weird but very powerful deck built around what must have been a first pick Koth of the Hammer.  He also had at least 2 Contagion Clasps and a seemingly never-ending pile of cheap removal spells.  Additionally he had clearly cut a bunch of my poison monsters; at least one Plague Stinger, a Rat, 2 or more Ichorclaw Myr and a Corpse Cur afaicr.  Unfortunately while my opponent's deck was very interesting my opponent himself was a bit of a jerk.  For starters he was clearly playing in a number of drafts at the same time; all 3 games were punctuated by long random pauses while my opponent went to check on his other games.  This wouldn't be as big an issue if I weren't playing in what amounts to a "casual" Swiss Tournament; if you were grinding for packs hard enough to be playing more than one draft at a time then what are you doing in the Swiss flight?  I got the impression my opponent was "slumming" in a Swiss tournament and didn't respect me or my deck very much at all; this impression would be confirmed by his behavior at the end of the match which I'll get to in a moment.

Unfortunately I don't remember very much about game 1; I know I drew both copies of Grasp of Darkness and multiple Cystbearers.  My opponent responded with a couple Ichorclaw Myrs and a Plague Stinger but never really got going.  I managed to Instill Infection at least once maybe twice and won on turn 6ish by poison.  My opponent wasn't overtly happy with the result of this game and seemed to think I'd been a little lucky in drawing one of my 2x Untamed Mights in a 6 turn game.

Game 2 started out fine for me; I dropped a turn 1 Vector Asp, a turn 2 Plague Stinger and a turn 3 Cystbearer.  Unfortunately my opponent played a Contagion Clasp to murder my Stinger on his 2nd turn and after I missed my turn 4 land drop proceeded to slam down Koth of the Hammer.  I missed another couple of land drops before stabilizing with a Wall of Tanglechord and by drawing a Swamp to FINALLY play my opening hand Grasp on like turn 9.  Eventually my opponent went "ultimate" with Koth and started "Tim-ing" me with Mountains until I died by normal damage.  The fact is he also had 2 Contagion Clasps in play by the end of this game so even if I had killed Koth he could have poisoned me out; he just hadn't been bothering b/c of his Planeswalker.

My opponent started off our 3rd game by mulling down to 5.  My hand wasn't particularly fast but I'd managed to throw down 2 Plague Stingers and a Cystbearer before he zapped one of the Stingers with a Galvanic Blast on my turn and proceeded to drop Kuldotha Phoenix on his turn and bash.  I immediately dropped the Wall of Tanglecord I'd been hiding and we settled in for the long game.  We both kept drawing just enough removal to lock the other in place for several turns; I had been holding on to an Untamed Might for 3/4 of the game but I had never had an opportunity to use it for lethal.  Finally I managed to topdeck a Carrion Call and cast it on my opponent's endstep.  On my turn I used the last counter on my Tumble Magnet, tapped out his Kuldotha Phoenix and swung win with 1 more Poison Monster than he could block; dropping the Untamed Might for the win.  At this point my opponent began typing "RIP! RIP! RIP!" in all caps with a lot of exclamation points in between before conceding from the game; presumably in disgust.  Considering that he had about 48 seconds left on his clock at the time and had been forcing me to wait for long pauses between his phases I had little sympathy.

2-0 (4-1) MVP Untamed Might and my opponent generally being on tilt.  The funny thing is I might have actually misclicked on that last play; Leon was watching over my shoulder and swore that I failed to click on the proper mana symbols before hitting okay.  That would mean I was casting an Untamed Might for 0 and still had a bunch of mana in my pool.  Fortunately my opponent rage quit too quickly for either of us to find out and I therefore won the game and the match.
Round 3 - G/W/B Control:

My round 3 opponent actually had a very sweet deck and was clearly the best drafter I'd played all day; I guess somewhat predictably considering this was the 2-0 match.  Over the course of 3 games it became apparently that my opponent had drafted doubles of Arrest, Necrogen Scudder, Tangle Angler and Trigon of Infestation.  It's possible he also had doubles of Perilous Myr although he may have just dropped his lone copy early every single game.  Amusingly enough he probably also had 2 or maybe even 3 Horizon Spellbombs to fix his mana base; he played one by turn 3 every game and a 2nd copy several times as well later in the same games.     

Game 1 was a little bit embarrassing for me; after mulling to 6 on the play I kept a 2 land hand and proceeded to make two critical play errors.  First I forgot I had a Vector Asp in hand and passed the turn after playing my turn 1 land.  Secondly on my 2nd upkeep I lost track of who's turn it was and accidentally hit F6 on my own upkeep; failing to play a land or cast my Plague Stinger!  As I previously mentioned I'm not very good at Magic the video game yet and I was a little tense from the epic 3 game battle the round before; I just wasn't focusing hard enough on what I was doing.  This game ended very quickly with my opponent Arresting my lone Plague Stinger and then using his Tanlge Angler to kill off all of my weenies.  I finished the game having dealt only 4 poison total, although I did have a Throne of Geth and 2 artifacts in play.  I also drew an Untamed Might but by the time I played it he had multiple Wall of Tanglecords in play and I just could never sneak it through.

Game 2 went a lot better for me; I drew a much better opening hand and this time my opponent mulled down to 6.  I quickly threw out a Plague Stinger, a Cystbearer and then a Wall of Tanglecord to hold off my opponent's early attackers.  His draw was much slower than the last time and I was drawing a steady supply of removal.  The turn after he finally killed my Plague Stinger, I top-decked an Instill Infection to kill his Perilous Myr and free up my 2 Cystbearers to attack.  By the time he finally did cast his Tangle Angler I'd drawn a Tumble Magnet and quickly set up an "end-step" Magnet into Untamed Might finishing combo.  My opponent also had a 5/4 Alpha Tyrannax on the table that might have eventually become problematic but at this point couldn't block multiple critters by itself.

Game 3 turned out to be an epic battle for supremacy that took so long I actually ran out of time on my game clock before my opponent could kill me; although he was assuredly going to do so and in a "real/paper" Magic tournament I would have conceded just before time.  My opponent dropped a turn 2 Perilous Myr (again) while I responded with a Plague Stinger.  He proceeded to swing with the Myr and tapped out to cast a Necrogen Scudder.  Undaunted I replied with a turn 3 Wall and then a turn 4 Cystbearer (leaving a Forest untapped each time).  I managed to draw a 2nd Swamp on turn 5 and after Grasping the Scudder started beating down with the Stinger.  Unfortunately my control of the skies would last only a single turn when my opponent responded by dropping an Arrest on the Plague Stinger.  While he was still only at one Poison I understood this play because he'd lost the last game to an unexpected Untamed Might and no longer had anything that could block my flyer.  I dropped a copy of Ichor Rats but the game started to swing in my opponent's favor when he replied with a Trigon of Infestation.  Making matters worse I started to draw an incredible number of land in a row; 4 or 5,  Unfortunately I really had no choice but to keep attacking into him since I knew sooner or later he'd get his Tangle Anglers and I would lose all my low toughness Infect guys.  Just as things were starting to spiral out of control I managed to drop an Instill Infection on one of his one toughness guys, swing in for a 5th point of Poison and cast my 2nd Plague Stinger.  I also had a throne of Geth and another artifact in play so while the situation wasn't great; it wasn't hopeless.  Then of course my opponent proceeded to bring down the hammer.  In one rapid 3 turn sequence he proceeded to cast Glint Hawk to return the spent Trigon of Infestation back into his hand.  He then recast it to refill up to 3 tokens, made a guy, untapped on his next turn and cast a 2nd Trigon of Infestation and made 2 more guys.  Then he proceeded to cast a Trigon of Thought with enough mana to make a guy AND draw a card.  As time ran out on my clock I had an untamed might in play; was down to about 6 life and my opponent had an active Tangle Angler to prevent me from blocking any of the 9-10 points of damage he could send over; truly his game 3 was a thing of beauty.

2-1 (5-3) LVP My opponent being both a better MtGO player than me and having a better deck.  This was a very good infect deck but my opponents 2 color control monstrosity had very good answers to what I was doing.  Additionally the fact that once again I never saw a pickable Sylvok Replica or Slice in Twain ultimately caused me to lose in the finals for the 2nd consecutive draft; this is why you 1st-3rd pick these cards in an Infect deck folks.

In the final analysis I have to say that I had a pretty good time drafting for the first time with Magic Online.  In particular I enjoyed the stress free environment of the Swiss format; knowing that I was guaranteed 3 matches took a lot of pressure off of me and allowed me to focus on learning how to properly interface with the game.  I even managed to grab Leon an Eslpeth for his account; although it cost me a beautiful Skinrender that likely would have made my deck stronger.  Oh well, considering he just GAVE me the 3 packs and 2 tickets to draft with the least I could do was take a Planeswalker for him.  In fact I had so much fun that I'm probably going to be picking an account up for myself as soon as possible; I can't steal Leon's packs/tickets forever!  I wonder if the name CardboardWitch is taken?

Well folks until next time thanks for reading and hopefully I bump into some of you out there in Digital Magicland.  I'm on Twitter, I have a blog and now I'm gonna be on Magic Online; it truly has become the season of the Digital Witch.  Keep it weird.

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