Saturday, February 19, 2011

Of Limited Interest #22 - Trifecta

Hello everyone out there in Internet lands; I hope you're all having an excellent week and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As some of you may remember I've recently been playing in a number of MBS/MBS/SOM drafts at the shop where I work; The Hairy Tarantula (comics and games) here in Toronto.  This of course differs slightly from the current draft tournament standard format which features a single pack of MBS followed by 2 packs of SOM.  This naturally allows our regular players to open more packs with cards they want (MBS) and less packs with cards they already have (SOM) but has the unfortunate side effect of producing a slower/wonkier draft environment to play in.  While I personally look forward to a time when we'll be playing the "normal" draft format I also don't mind playing with more of the new cards while my fellow drafters build their Standard collections; and *oh wow* is MBS a good set for Standard.   With this "variant" format firmly in mind I'd like to take a look at all 3 decks I played this past week with varying degrees of success.  Rather than the usual round by round breakdown however I'd like to focus more on how each deck was built, what it's trying to do and why the cards included helped it get there.

First up I'd like to take a look at the deck I played Thursday February 10th to a 3-0 record; winning a 12 person MBS/MBS/SOM draft.  My first picks in this draft were a pack 1 Corrupted Conscience, a pack 2 Hellkite Igniter and a pack 3 Darksteel Axe; everything else was passed to me by someone else at the table. 

"Fire Drill" - R/U/b Control + Equipment:

Creatures - 14:

1x Gold Myr
1x Gust-Skimmer
1x Myr Sire
1x Plague Myr
1x Blisterstick Shaman
1x Brass Squire
1x Miran Spy
1x Bloodshot Trainee
2x Ogre Resister
2x Serum Raker
1x Kuldotha Flamefiend
1x Hellkite Igniter

Spells - 9:

1x Copper Carapace
1x Darksteel Axe
1x Burn the Impure
1x Disperse
1x Go for the Throat
1x Nim Deathmantle
1x Cerebral Erruption
2x Corrupted Conscience

Land - 18:

8x Island
8x Mountain
2x Swamp

Part of what makes this deck so special is the overall abundance of creature control effects; 2x MBS drafts don't seem to be as removal rich as 3x SOM drafts were so having a lot of control effects is even stronger than normal in this format.  This obviously starts up front with 2x Corrupted Conscience, a Burn the Impure, a Blisterstick Shaman and even a Kuldotha Flamefiend.  These effects are in turn supported by a Bloodshot Trainee, a Brass Squire and 3 equipment cards that give +2 Power.  Finally rounding out the package is a singleton Disperse, a splashed Go for the Throat and a semi-reliable board sweeper in Cerebral Erruption.  Assuming you can find an equipment card to turn on the Bloodshot Trainee or the Brass Squire that totals up to 10 removal (or removal-like) effects in a 41 card deck; almost a 1/4 ratio.  Simply put unless your opponent is running like 20+ creatures he's going to have a *lot* of trouble keeping monsters on the table to successfully defend against your attacks.

The second major pillar on which this deck is built are it's amazing selection of mid sized "beatsticks"; namely 2x Serum Raker and 2x Ogre Resister.  While obviously the Drake is better than the "groundpounder" both of these cards worked fantastically well in the slower 2x MBS 1x SOM format.  In particular both cards allowed me to cast an early (turn 3-4) threat and then apply pressure by removing my opponent's potential blockers/answers to that threat.  While it may seem elementary it's pretty hard to keep up with an opponent who's bashing you for 5-9 damage a swipe while also killing your best blocker each turn from turn 5 on!  This effect becomes significantly magnified when you throw in one of the deck's 3 excellent power boosting Equipment cards and the occasional Gustskimmer/Blisterstick Shaman-type body to help bring the beat-downs.

Finally of course no draft deck would be complete without a "Finisher" or 2 and this deck obliges with a Hellkite Igniter and a couple of copies of Corrupted Conscience.  While this is not really an "infect" deck per se, it's actually quite easy to "poison" an opponent out with his own huge monsters once the Conscience gives them the Infect trait.  To be fair I also won a game or two by sacrificing a random piece of equipment to a Kuldotha Flamefiend thus "finishing" the game; even if the Flamefiend isn't exactly big enough to be a true game finisher in it's own right.

In terms of the tournament itself my round 1 opponent was playing G/B Infect and had a very inconsistent draw; playing quite literally 3 creatures over the course of both of our games.  While he did have some control elements to slow me down not drawing any monsters is a pretty easy way to lose in draft.  My 2nd round opponent was playing W/R Aggro with a splash of B but he too had a terrible draw; no land and mostly expensive creatures.  In two games he played a combined 4 creatures and I went into round 3 having faced a total of 7 creatures in my first two rounds; very light lifting for a control deck.  The third round was more exciting as I faced off against a U/G/b Infect deck with lots of control elements.  I managed to win a long "grindy" game one after my opponent and I traded copies of Corrupted Conscience and Go for the Throats for several turns.  Game 2 seemed to be going completely in my favor behind a horde of cheap/effective flyers and at one point I dragged my opponent down to 4 life with lethal "several times over" damage on the table.  My opponent then untapped and began counting numbers in his head before informing me that he could only get me to 9 poison this turn and showing me how (Virulent Wound, Piston Sledge, Pistous Strike and Giant Growth type effect as I recall).  Laughing I accepted my opponent's concession and soon found out that the last other 2-0 player had lost his match on the pair down: thus making me the winner of the tournament after 3 rounds.

Final Record: 3-0 (6-0)
In the final analysis it would be pretty easy to say I won because my opponent's had poor draws/mana screw issues.  That would however be overlooking the overall strength of this deck which in my opinion is considerable.  I came away from this draft especially impressed by Brass Squire, Ogre Resister, Gust-Skimmer and Serum Raker who I feel are *all* being currently undervalued at the tables I'm drafting at.  I was also able to confirm my initial impressions of Kuldotha Flamefiend; it's absolutely first pickable and qualifies in the "not quite a bomb but better than marginal removal effects" area that belonged to Air Servant in M11 drafts.  Of course the draft wasn't all gumdrops and lollipops; I probably didn't need to splash the Go for the Throat and doing so pushed me up to 41 cards to accommodate the 2nd Swamp I needed to make it a reliable play.  To be fair I usually had the Swamp and the G4tT in hand at the same time, I just typically didn't need them to win the game and I was often short of either R or U mana for turns at a time while having a Swamp or 2 in play.  I also found the Mirran Spy underwhelming and Cerebral Eruption was only slightly less awkward in this format despite the significantly higher average casting cost of MBS cards.

Next I'd like to examine a B/G Infect deck I drafted on Sunday February 13th that just didn't get there.  I could have finished 4th out of 6 players pretty much entirely because a round 3 bye still counts as a win.  My first picks were Go for the Throat in pack 1, a Flesh-Eater Imp in pack 2 and a Hand of the Praetors in pack 3.

"Ravenous" - B/G Infect:

Creatures - 16:

2x Copper Myr
1x Ichorclaw Myr
1x Plague Stinger
2x Viridian Emissary
1x Rot Wolf
1x Septic Rats
2x Core Prowler
2x Flesh-Eater Imp
1x Hand of the Praetors
3x Scourge Servant

Spells - 8:

2x Unnatural Predation
1x Virulent Wound
1x Go for the Throat
1x Morbid Plunder
1x Piston Sledge
1x Slice in Twain
1x Untamed Might

Land - 16:

7x Forest
9x Swamp

Immediately after the drafting portion of this tournament I sat down to build a deck that I figured was "the stone blade" in this format.  2x Flesh-Eater Imps bordered on insane and I logically decided to build my deck around these brutal game winners.  This was a huge part of why I had picked up 2x Core Prowlers early in pack 2, a Mordbid Plunder and even 2 very late copies of Viridian Emissary; all to fuel the devastating power of the poisonous Imps.  Naturally I'd also selected a bunch of power boosting effects to help my Imps go "over the top" like Piston Sledge (broken in Infect), 2x Unnatural Predation and an old standby in 1x Untamed Might.  I'd even managed to snag an early Plague Stinger from the SoM pack thereby tripling my chances of poisoning my opponent out through the air.

It also didn't hurt that I'd opened a pack 3 Hand of the Praetors; the deck was a little light on creatures that actually said "Infect" after the first two packs and I was pretty excited to snag a card that could make up the difference all by itself right away in pack 3.  Filling out the middle of the lineup were singleton copies of Ichorclaw Myr, Septic Rats and Rot Wolf; all 3 of which I qualify as significantly above average in a typical poison build.  In terms of spot removal I couldn't help but feel the deck was a little light with only 3 cards in addition to the previously mentioned 3 "Giant Growth" effects.  Of course Virulent Wound, Go for the Throat and Slice in Twain are among the very best removal cards in the format, it's just that would have liked as many as 3-4 more spells just like them!   

In actual tournament play however this deck tested out quite poorly.  In the first round I played an opponent who was running something like 2x Gust-Skimmers, 3x Serum Rakers and a Thopter Assembly along with multiple removal spells and a couple of Quicksilver Geysers.  Game 1 went poorly for me when after a strong start I was simply unable to deal with his turn 5 (6?) Thopter Assembly; my Slice in Twain was something like 7 cards down.  I won game 2 pretty easily by controlling all of his creatures and forcing through Septic Rats and multiple Scourge Servants.  Game 3 I drew something like 11 lands, 2 copies of Viridian Emissary and 2-3 creatures with Infect total and lost.  Naturally I was upset about this but on later reflection my opponent's deck was likely much better than mine even without mana flooding being a factor.  Round 2 started off just as poorly when despite seizing early control against my opponent he proceeded to drop a Consecrated Sphinx and shipped the turn back.  I untapped, drew a card, triggered his Sphinx to let him draw 2 cards and then attacked into him; threatening lethal poison damage.  This forced him to block and when I dropped an Untamed Might for 6 to kill off the blasted thing I was pretty sure the game was mine.  Naturally of course my opponent proceeded to cast a Quicksilver Gargantuan (copying my Plague Stinger) and a Quilled Slagwurm on back to back turns, no doubt having drawn them off his Consecrated Sphinx.  I scooped at 7 Poison with no legitimate way to stop his Gargantuan and headed to game 2.  Games 2 and 3 went my way however when I *FINALLY* managed to draw a Flesh-Eater Imp (or 2) and even though my opponent dropped a Bonds of Quicksilver on it each time the initial poison "punch" gave me enough gas to eventually swarm over top of his defenses for 10 before he could drop multiple 6CC+ bombs on my head.  Unfortunately after our match my opponent (0-2 at that point) informed me that a family matter had come up and he would be forced to drop from the tournament early.  This of course would create a bye for the lowest ranked remaining player in the tournament during round 3 and since the guy I lost to in round 1 had just lost in round 2 that player would be me.  Rather than enduring the bye and potentially scoring 3rd place I decided to drop at that point and call it a night.

Final Record: 1-1 (3-3)

Ultimately I think the biggest problem with this deck was the lack of removal.  While it's true that Untamed Might and Unnatural Predation can be used as removal effects in the right combat situations this deck was short overall on universal answers to my opponent's creatures.  This in turn placed more pressure on my flyers and transformed the deck from a design "built around" Flesh-Eater Imp into a deck "utterly dependent" on them.  Additionally the 4 mana acceleration 2 drops tested out incredibly poorly; I almost always drew them long after they were relevant and on several occasions was forced to play them when simply put ANY creature in the format with Infect (even Flensermite!) would have been better.  My opinion may have improved if I'd ever been able to cast a 4CC creature on turn 3 because of these cards but quite truthfully that never happened in 6 entire games.  Finally I have come to the conclusion that Scourge Servant is not a very good card overall and it's definitely not the kind of card you want to run in multiples.  Simply put 3/3 Infect monsters look pretty grand on empty tables but paying 5 mana for a Hill Giant is relatively poor when your opponent can actually muster blockers.  This might be the worst "Infect" common in the format and if it isn't Scourge Servant is certainly in a dead heat with Phyrexian Digester and the aforementioned Flensermite for said title.  About the only positive thing I can say about running 3 copies of this card in a deck is that it made finding 2 sideboard slots *very* easy in games 2 and 3 each round.

Finally I'd like to take a look at a deck I piloted to a 2-0-1 record on Monday February 14th; drawing in the finals of an 8 man MBS/MBS/SOM tournament.  My 1st picks were Mirran Crusader, Corrupted Conscience and Sunblast Angel in packs 1, 2 and 3 respectively.  Someone passed me the Kemba and I distinctly recall taking the Vedalkan Anatomists pick 2 in both of my MBS packs.                 

"Morning Skies (Blue, White and Gold)" - W/U Equipment:

Creatures - 16:

1x Gold Myr
3x Gust-Skimmer
1x Leonin Relic-Warder
1x Brass Squire
1x Kemba, Kha Regent
1x Mirran Crusader
1x Neurok Replica
1x Palladium Myr
2x Vedalken Anatomist
1x Serum Raker
1x Sky-Eel School
1x Strandwalker
1x Sunblast Angel

Spells -8:

1x Sylvok Lifestaff
2x Viridian Claw
2x Divine Offering
1x Corrupted Conscience
1x Quicksilver Geyser
1x Volition Reins

Lands - 17:

9x Island
8x Plains

Much like the "Fire Drill" deck listed at the top of this article this build succeeds because it's built by combining multiple strong "packages" that work well together.  Once again the strongest of these packages is a tight cluster of highly effective control/removal effects.  Front and center in this regard are the 2 copies of Vedalken Anatomist which I personally think is one of the strongest cards in all of Mirrodin Besieged in terms of limited play.  Not only does the Anatomist excel at executing 1 toughness weenies but he can also function as a pseudo Blinding Mage to tap out enemy fatties while *simultaneously* whittling them down to size with -1/-1 tokens.  While I have heard some players complain about the U2 activation cost on his ability I can assure you with absolute certainty that the effect is worth it; in fact the Anatomist may well be under-costed in this format.  Naturally of course the fun doesn't stop there; the deck also possesses two variations on the classic limited bomb Mind Control in Corrupted Conscience and SoM favorite Volition Reins.  If an enemy creature (or permanent in the case of Reins) is too big to control with the Vedalken Anatomist the simplest  solution becomes to bribe it over to your side for the rest of the game!    The deck also packs 3 key artifact removal effects in 2x Divine Offering and a singleton Leonin Relic-Warder (which can also be used on Enchatments).  Finally rounding out the control package are key "bounce" effects from lone copies of Neurok Replica and the highly under-rated Quicksilver Geyser.

In addition to it's excellent removal suite Morning Skies is also blessed with an exception package of equipment and equipment related cards.  Two copies of Viridian Claw are certainly no laughing matter and things get even worse when you have a Brass Squire and a Kemba, Kha Regent to squeeze maximum value out of them.  I won more than one game under a crushing mass of 2/2 Cat tokens and it's pretty hard to attack into blockers when you know your opponent can give them +1 and First Strike just by tapping the Squire.  I also managed to draft a copy of Strandwalker which is rapidly becoming my favorite "Living Weapon" card in the entire set; +2/+4 and Reach are such powerful abilities that I'm TYPICALLY tempted to execute the Germ token by moving the Strandwalker to a better creature as quickly as possible.  Obviously this equipment also combines incredibly well with the Brass Squire allowing you to both attack and defend with the general immunity +4 Toughness provides.  Finally rounding out the package is a lone copy of Sylvok Lifestaff which while clearly the worst equipment in the deck still had all kinds of functional value in the design, particularly when combined with flyers or creatures with First Strike.      

Despite these obvious strengths however it's really the incredible package of flyers and the lone Mirran Crusader that set this deck apart from your average U/W build.  Starting off with 3 copies of Gust-Skimmer is decent enough in an equipment based aggro deck but complimenting them with singleton copies of Serum Raker and Sky Eel-School takes the concept of "Skies" to a whole new level.  With double strike and protection from 2 colors the Mirran Cruasder is also incredibly hard to block and once again wears various Power boosting equipment cards quite while.  Naturally of course even our big time "finisher" has flying; Sunblast Angel compliments this deck perfectly while providing the potential for an awesome game finishing Wrath of God type effect.  Finally simply because 6CC Angels and Mind Controls don't pay for themselves the deck found room for singleton copies of Gold and Palladium Myr without too much difficulty.

The tournament portion of the event went reasonably well although I can honestly admit that I was not playing at my best for most of the evening.   Round 1 I played against a R/W metalcraft player who was drafting at our store for the very first time.  His deck was decent enough and game 1 was very close when he dropped an early Semblance Emblem and used it to power out a turn 5 Thopter Assembly which managed to survive into his next upkeep.  Thankfully by the time he recast it on the next turn I'd actually drawn the Divine Offering and I found myself back in a long tightly contested game that I ultimately won on the back of a Sky Eel School and multiple equipment cards.  Game 2 was less interesting as my opponent came up creature shy and I simply flooded the board with flying creatures.  My 2nd round opponent was playing a strong R/W/b deck with something ridiculous like 15 pieces of removal overall including 3 Blisterstick Shamans and an Arc Trail.  I managed to win game 1 on the back of a mana flood and I was fairly convinced I had my opponent on the ropes in game 2 so I started playing a little big fast and loose.  I was not conservative with my removal and at one point I even cast a Sunblast Angel with absolutely no creatures in play tapped.  My opponent of course had been sitting on a handful of kill for the entire game and after playing out 3-4 cards and trading off a couple of blockers I found myself staring at a nearly empty board.  On my side was a Lifestaff and a Viridian Claw while on his side was a lone Goblin Gavaleer.  Still smarting from the previous flurry I decided my best bet was to drop the Corrupted Conscience in my hand on the Gavaleer and then swing in for 7 Poison on my next turn.  Of course my opponent responded by casting his *3rd* Blisterstick Shaman to kill off his own Gavaleer and when he finally drew a 2nd Plains on his next turn took control of the game with a Razor Hippogriff that returned a Saberclaw Golem.  3 turns and 2 land later I was forced to concede and head to game 3.  Naturally of course game 3 was also dicey as I opened up with multiple strong w Spells and 4 Plains before drawing into both my Serum Raker and a Sky-Eel School.  At one point I equipped at Viridian Claw to my Mirran Cruasder and last a Leonin Relic-Warder only to watch my opponent untap can cast Blisterstick Shaman and an Arc Trail; completely wiping out my board and giving him back his Sphere of the Suns with 3 tokens on it.  Thankfully at that point I started topdecking Islands and my opponent stop top decking removal; chaining a Serum Raker into a Sky-Eel School and then into a Corrupted Conscience has a way of ending games and this one was no different.  Naturally of course with nothing to play for my opponent and I decided to draw in the finals rather than play out the match; I hadn't been keeping track of tiebreakers and my opponents deck seemed strong enough to put up a decent fight at a minimum.

Final Record: 2-0-1 (4-1-2)

Despite it's struggles against my round 2 opponent I tend to think this deck was actually *very* strong overall.  Both versatile and powerful this design was capable of switching back and forth between aggro and control with ease, sometimes in the middle of a single game!  2x Super Blinding Mages, 2x Super Mind Controls and a Sunblast Angel alone ensure that this deck is always going to be in a control based match-up.  Alternately 6 flying creatures a Mirran Cruasder, a Kemba and 4 pieces of Power boosting equipment make up the foundation of an excellent weenie aggro build.  Even situational cards like Divine Offering, Relic-Warder and Quicksilver Geyser worked out incredibly well in this design.  I think it's somewhat telling that if I could build the deck all over there really isn't a whole lot I'd end up changing about it.

Well gang there you have it; the complete breakdown and analysis of 3 separate MBS/MBS/SOM draft decks.  While this format is certainly still young I'm beginning to notice several trends that should carry over well even when we start drafting 2x SOM again.  For starters U is WAY more powerful now than it was in triple Scars while alternately G/B Infect has switched more into a controlish mid-game archetype because it's hard to overload on 2 drops without 3 packs of Scars to work with.  Thanks for reading as always and until next time remember to plumb the depths of your MBS packs for hidden value.  One man's trash may well be another woman's Gust-Skimmer (stop passing me these after pick 8 guys!).


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