Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Abstract Iterations #1 - The Pressure to Win

Hello everyone and welcome back to another, admittedly late edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Before we get started I'd like to apologize for the abstract, personal and/or theoretical nature of this article.  Typically I prefer to write about specific decks, cards or events because there's usually more tangible information I feel I can share in that type of article.  Unfortunately due to a recent illness I simply haven't been playing a lot of Magic and therefore have no exciting drafts, decks or card interactions to write about.  In the absence of any actual games to talk about I thought I'd try my hand at a general "theory" article; after all in my present condition it may be quite a while before I get a chance to play in another tournament.  Additionally while I certainly could write a throwaway article about tips and tricks you can use to win matches I'd rather focus on something that's been coming up a lot for me in my recent play experiences; namely feeling and dealing with the "pressure to win" each time I sit down.

The simple truth is that tournament Magic is a competitive activity; there are winners and losers of every game and every round in a given Magic tournament and the *vast* majority of us would much rather be the former than the latter every single time.  This desire is completely natural in a competitive setting and is in fact a huge part of Magic culture; from prize payouts for top finishes to catchphrases like "get there son" this game is largely about winning.  Unfortunately there is of course a downside to this focus on success; for every single winner in every round of a Magic tournament there's someone who lost and probably doesn't feel great about it.  This vast disparity between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat can be difficult to accept and consequently many players (myself included) will be under an enormous amount of pressure to win each time they sit down to play.  Now to be fair, pressure isn't always a bad thing.  Many of our finest moments as human beings come while "under the gun" as it were and there are even people out there who actively *enjoy* the emotional experience of being under pressure.  For most of us however pressure is an unwanted distraction; it clouds our minds, hurries our decisions and ultimately makes it harder for us to accomplish our goals.  In a high skill (yes I said it) game like Magic this distraction can be fatal; you really can't afford to waste a lot of mental energy dealing with pressure when most games and matches hinge on a single play or sequence of plays.  In light of this it's certainly fair to say that how you deal with "the pressure to win" during a given Magic tournament can be just as important as your deck choice or practice hours in terms of wins and losses.

Okay personal story time folks; as some of you who've been reading this blog for a while are aware I decided to start taking tournament Magic a little more seriously after GP Toronto.  I'd started the day 4-0 and then stumbled through 2 losses with a high fever before dropping to go home and sleep.  While the end result was mildly disappointing I came away from the event with the sensation that I was at least reasonably good at tournament level Magic.  More importantly I found that I had enjoyed the activity immensely despite being very sick for the entire day.  Mostly I liked the opportunity to compete and win against new players; some of whom were clearly better than me at Magic and would thereby improve my game simply by playing against them.  Of course I also learned that I wasn't mentally (or physically for that matter) prepared to win a large Magic tournament yet because I was not adept at handling the accumulated pressure to win that each round of the GP had added.  As the rounds wore on I started to wear out mentally and the first time I played an aggressive opponent who was trying to put me on tilt I almost cracked completely.  I proceeded to win that round through sheer determination but I was left spent and mentally exhausted; after two quick 0-2 losses to players who were simply playing better than I was at that point I realized I had nothing else to gain and went home humbled but hopeful for the future.  I honestly felt that play-skill hadn't been my problem so much as general lack of practice playing tournament level Magic.  To rectify this issue I began changing my Magic playing habits drastically; I tightened up my Standard decks and made an effort to build a tournament copy of every single deck in the format that I could afford.  I also began insisting that practice games with my friends and playgroup be played as full 3 game matches complete with sideboards.  Finally I made an effort to attend as many sanctioned tournaments as my body would allow me to; mostly drafts but with a fair number of FNM Standard events sprinkled in between.  In short I began to put in the necessary effort to "level-up" as a tournament Magic player instead of just "playing Magic" and hoping for the best at tourney time.

A funny thing happened as I started to put more effort into tournament Magic; I started winning matches and simply didn't stop.  Match after match, tournament after tournament and week after week it simply seemed as if I could do no wrong as the wins piled up.  After a while my friends and playgroup began to notice that I was always either winning or taking an intentional draw in the finals during tournament play.  To be completely fair I had noticed too and when the consecutive number of matches won/drew in finals reached 30 we started to talk openly about my win "streak" and when it might come to an end.  Of course not all of my wins had been a matter of preparation and skill; on several occasions I only won because of my opponent's mistakes, sweet topdecks and some pure blind luck.  Additionally there were the aforementioned intentional draws in the finals; any one of which I could have lost to a good opponent running a strong deck if the matches had been played out (although I typical won the "for fun" match after reporting as I recall).  Unfortunately I seemed to be the only one who realized exactly how much luck had been involved in starting the win streak and as those around me grew to expect me to win each match, internally the pressure to continue winning started to overwhelm me.  I became paranoid about losing a sanctioned match and found myself playing tighter; at times even questioning my own desire to continue playing the game.  With every round came a new opportunity to suffer the agony of defeat and thereby prove that I had no business being on this kind of run in the first place.  Even the actual act of winning started to lose some enjoyment for me as I began to subconsciously regard victory as simply delaying the inevitable emotional crash when I finally did lose a match.  This internal pressure would ultimately come to a head sometime around match 38 or 39 when I chose not to enter an 11 man draft event simply because I was somehow sure I would lose a round that evening.  Like a witch's curse I felt a bad feeling wash over me and I openly decided on the spot to take some time off Magic simply because I felt somehow *fated* to lose my next match.

Thankfully while all of this internal turmoil was going on I happened to mention my feelings about the subject to one of my more grounded friends (and regular tournament opponent): Beau Wheelan.  In no uncertain terms Beau informed me that my mental struggles were "nonsense", that I was a good player, that I loved playing Magic and that it was a little pathetic that I didn't want to play because I was "afraid of losing".  Coming from someone else I might have been seriously offended but I've come to know Beau as a straight shooter who isn't afraid to say what he means and his evaluation of the situation forced me to come to grips with my own fear of losing.  Everything he had said was 100% true and I realized that the months since the GP had simply been a macrocosm of my experience at that event; at first I had been excited about winning but as the games piled up and the pressure to win had increased I had recoiled and eventually decided to take myself out of contention before match results did so themselves.  I was simply replaying out the same scenario over the course of many smaller tournaments instead of one large event!  Clearly something had to change and I decided to actively work on my own ability to recognize and cope with the "pressure to win" that was clearly ruining my Magic experience over time.    

Once I'd properly identified my problem  it became much easier for me to develop a strategy for coping with it. I began to examine my feelings closely and asked some hard questions like: "why do I feel pressure to win?", "why am I so afraid of losing?, "why do I think I deserve to win anyways? "do I really respect my opponents enough?", "don't they want to win too?".  Needless to say I wasn't entirely happy with some of the answers I found but these questions helped me re-evaluate myself as both a Magic player and a person.  In turn this allowed me confront my own fears and insecurities directly; more importantly it allowed me to go after these feelings individually and develop a mental checklist to help me stay afloat when the pressure to win is dragging me under.  While obviously everyone has their own demons I hope that by sharing my own methods of coping with pressure I can help others develop their own personal solutions to the problem.  Please keep in mind that this is by no means a "magic potion" to negate pressure; this is simply a list of the ideas I try to think about when I'm feeling anxious/under pressure during a Magic tournament.

1) Respect the game - As previously mentioned tournament Magic is by nature a competitive game and therefore each game results in both a winner and a loser (time issues/intentional draws aside).  This is of course by design and the hallmark of a well designed game (like Magic) is that both players start out with a completely equal chance to win the game.  You both have 20 life, you both start the game with 7 cards in your hand and you both have the opportunity to mulligan if your opening draw is terrible.  The only real slanting factor is that someone has to go 1st and even that is determined by a completely random die roll while the opportunity cost of going 2nd is simultaneously offset by gaining immediate card advantage.  While it's certainly true that you have a chance to lose every time you play, on a basic level it's important to remember that you have an equal chance to win simply by sitting down.  Even if you don't believe in yourself or you own abilities the game *itself* has been designed to give you a fighting chance.  Conversely there are going to be times when all the self confidence, belief and play skill in the world won't buy you the win simply because the nature of the game dictates that *someone* has to lose.  Whenever I'm afraid I'm going to lose my next round or find myself too impressed with my own abilities I take a moment to remind myself that Magic is a game and thus "both outcomes: winning and losing, are a possibility" every time I play. 

2) Respect your opponent as a human being - While I certainly can't speak for everyone, I know that sometimes when I'm under intense pressure to win I can find myself locked inside my own head.  I'm worried about if *I'm* good enough, if *I* can find a way to win, how will *I* feel if I lose this round and in the process I fail to consider my opponent at all.  My opponent then becomes a blank slate on which I project all of my anxiety about the match and thus grows into an unbeatable Golem fueled by my own fears and insecurities.  Suddenly I find myself wasting mental energy on beating a perfect opponent, who knows every possible line of play I can come up and is drawing the nuts turn after turn; completely inside my own head before the match has even started!  When this happens to me I try to remind myself that my opponent is not perfect and is in fact a human being just like me.  He (or she) may well be feeling just as much pressure to win as I am and more importantly they're as likely to screw up or have a bad draw as I am.  I make a point of introducing myself to each new opponent and make the effort to learn a little bit about them (besides their names) before we start; this helps me humanize them and ensures that I won't be fighting against my opponent and my own thoughts at the same time.  Naturally this goes the other way too; whenever I find myself assuming that I am going to win my next round or feeling that I somehow deserve to win I come back to the same point.  My opponent is a human being just like me; with hopes, desires and all the mental faculties God has bestowed our species.  He (or she) came here to win games just like I did and may well be every bit as skilled at this game as I think I am in my worst moments of hubris.  Everyone in the room at a Magic tournament is there because they know how to play Magic and they like to compete; nobody is going to hand out wins on a silver platter and every win you claw out will be earned because you played better, drew better or somehow found a way to "get there" ahead of your opponent.  The concept of who "deserves" the win more is by nature offensive to your opponents and will cause you to underestimate them at the worst possible times.  There's a fine line between letting your opponent make a mistake and assuming he will do so; no matter how many previous play mistakes you think he's made in the match.

3) Respect yourself - Let's face it; you didn't just fall off a bus and start playing Magic yesterday.  The vast majority of players will arrive at a tournament with some combination of past experience and preparation for the event.  For example I personally have been playing Magic off and on since Fallen Empires and while those early kitchen table Magic games rarely come up in my everyday tournament experience they certainly taught me a whole lot about timing and the fundamental rules of the game.  Whenever I catch myself doubting my own ability to win I try to remind myself that I'm a pretty good Magic player, that I've been playing the game for more than a decade and that I've probably won tougher matches than this in the past.  This is especially important in larger Swiss tournaments where winning early means you are likely to face better players who are also winning as the rounds go on.  During these situations I remind myself that I'm also winning too and thus by definition can count myself amongst those "better players who are winning"; victory is the only rite of passage in a Swiss tournament and I deserve to be at that table because I've won just as much as my opponent has.

4) Focus on the game -  Occasionally no amount of rational thought will help me calm down and alleviate the pressure I'm feeling to win.  My mind is simply racing too fast in all the wrong directions and trying to break it down logically is simply going to take too much time/energy away from my play.  At that point I'd generally do anything to stop thinking about the pressure I'm feeling and conveniently the tourney organizers have provided the perfect distraction; a game of Magic!  I combat the pressure by focusing entirely on the current game and even sometimes the current turn.  I divert all my mental energy into making the best play possible based on the current game state and use that focus to block out the rest of the world entirely.  It's just me, my opponent, our decks and this next turn; nothing else matters including our records, tiebreakers, previous mistakes in the game and who is or isn't the better player.  This single-minded turn by turn approach works well as a distraction from pressure simply because it doesn't leave you a lot of time to think about anything besides the current game state.  You aren't worried about winning the match; you're just trying to win the next turn enough times that winning the match will be the eventual result.  Naturally this style of play can lead to the periodic boneheaded mistake when you focus so hard on the current game state that you walk directly into an opponent's obvious trap.  In my experience however this is pretty rare and focusing entirely on the current game state leads to *many* more wins than losses.  Most of the time you'll see the trap coming anyways because you're paying such close attention to the game and can then easily play around it.   

5) Accept that you've lost and then come out fighting -  When all else fails and I'm starting to crack under the pressure I have one last trick left in my bag of answers; giving up.  Now don't get me wrong because by that I don't mean quitting or conceding the match and I certainly don't mean dropping from the event (even if I do it because I'm sick all the time :( ).  What I mean is taking a moment to mentally compose myself, closing my eyes and imagining a world where I've already lost the game/match.  I focus for a moment on how that makes me feel and then I accept that feeling which is typically frustration or anger.  I then channel that feeling into a determined promise to make my opponent's impending victory as difficult for him as possible.  That's right folks; if all else fails I play pretty much for spite (those of you who know me are nodding in unison right now).  You'd be surprised at what a person can accomplish through obstinate refusal to go quietly into that good night and pressure isn't factor when the cause is already lost.  While I certainly can't recommend this "fatalistic" approach for every match-up because it's not much fun, I have won more than a couple matches in exactly this mindset.  

Well folks there you have it; my first article in a little while and my first attempt at really "writing" an article in quite some time.  I hope it wasn't too self indulgent or creepy personal, my goal really was to help other people deal with the pressure to win we all feel in Magic.  I promise to get back to writing about specific decks and tournaments as soon as I can make it through 3 rounds of a draft without passing out.  As always thanks for reading and until next time remember that when the pressure mounts you gotta keep it weird.

P.S.: For those of you who're curious I did resume my winning streak after Beau helped me straighten my head out.  It currently stands at 61 matches (53W-8ID) and while I'm certainly proud of the accomplishment I try not to spend a lot of time thinking about it.  As a Magic player all I can do is try and win the next game the T.O. says I have to play and worrying about anything besides that only distracts from my goal.  Besides, I've already lost match 62 right? :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A brief explaination of this past weekend and my continued absence

Hello everyone out there on the Internets; unfortunately this time I can't say welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As many of you are aware I recently attended the Toronto TGC Player Open this past weekend (20th of March); an event I had been looking forward to since about Christmas and had decided that I wouldn't miss for the entire world.  As most of you are probably not aware however I became violently ill at this tournament and despite the best efforts made by the head judge (thanks a million) was forced to drop from the event after 3 rounds.  I had intended to gut it out after throwing up a couple of times but unfortunately when I blacked out and collapsed a mere 8 feet from the judges tables I felt I could not in good conscience make the judges responsible for my continued participation in the tournament.  If you're curious I was 3-0 with Green Sun Valakut and had not lost a game despite losing the roll to go first every time; unfortunately I was also running hot in another way and I doubt I could have maintained my level of play even if I hadn't blacked out simply due to fever/fatigue.  Later that evening I apparently turned blue and there was some discussion of calling an ambulance so it was quite serious and I was right to call it a day even if that's little consolation to my competitive spirit at the moment.  Now several days later I am at home resting after having consulted a doctor; I'm feeling quite a bit better although I'm still very tired and have been unable to play more than a game or two of Magic at a time without wanting to fall asleep.  I don't rightly know when I will be able to get back to playing Magic competitively and at the moment I don't have a lot of energy for blogging.  For those of you who've made The Cardboard Witch a regular stop on your tour of the blogsphere please forgive this brief interruption of service.  I promise to rest up and come back better than ever but for now I just can't provide the quality of writing I consider worthy of publishing.  Please bear with me and I promise to bring the blog back online as soon as possible.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Special Announcement #1 - FNM with "The Eh Team"! March 18th 2010

Hello everyone and welcome to a *very* special edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As some of you may be aware North Toronto is home to "world famous Eh Team Podcaster" Scott MacCallum and what's more he happens to attend a number of Standard events at The Hairy T North (the story I play at).  For those of you who've never heard of the Eh Team please allow me to provide the following quote from Luke Sonnier: "One of the most irreverent and funniest podcasts in Magic, The Eh Team covers weekly news with a focus on deck-building and the competitive scene."  You can read more about them in Luke's article here on ManaNation; they're the 4th podcast listed and are hugely popular with the growing Twitter Magic community.

Now of course while we're always happy to have him at our tournaments it's hardly news when Scott shows up to Friday Night Magic.  When he promises to bring along 2 OTHER member's of the Eh Team Podcast at the same time however?  Well then you *know* we're headed for an event of epic proportions.  This Friday (March 18th) at 6:30 PM the Hairy Tarantula North is proud to present a special "Eh Team" edition of Friday Night Magic with guests Jay Boosh and KYT traveling all the way from Calgary and Montreal respectively.  Unfortunately Smitty won't be joining us because Oregon is too far away to travel for a tournament; it's probably safe to leave your Kuldotha Phoenix meta at home boys.  As always we'll be holding a $5 Standard event with prizes (in store credit) for the top 4 but we're also looking at a potential side Draft or casual EDH event in honor of our Eh Team guests.

What:  A special "Eh Team" edition of Friday Night Magic at the Hairy T North.

When:  Friday March 18th, 2011 at 6:30 PM Eastern.  Please arrive early to register for the Standard tournament if you are playing.

Where:  The Hairy Tarantula North.  6979 Yonge Street (at Steeles) on the East side (directly across from Centerpoint Mall).  Look for the giant wooden Superman cut-out right outside our door!  If you still can't find the place please call 647-430-1263 and ask for Kelly.

How Much?:  As always it's $5 to enter our Standard tournament and 100% of the money collected goes directly towards prize support.  There may be additional expenses if you enter the side events (ie drafts).

Well folks there you have it; a special opportunity to rub shoulders and battle with the likes of Jay Boosh, KYT and Scotty Mac at the last FNM before the TGC Player 10K Open this weekend.  I hope to see you all out there; I know that *I* wouldn't miss this event for the world.

PS:  If anyone has spare copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor to loan Jay for his Toronto adventure please bring them to FNM.  I've got a spare but as of right now "The Boosh" is still looking for 3 to make his TGC player dream deck a reality and would greatly appreciate anyone willing to loan out 1 or more copies.  Thanks in advance.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Of Limited Interest #24 - All the Right Moves

Hello everyone out there in "Internetland" and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Hopefully you're having a great week after catching some savage Gamesday action this past weekend; unfortunately I couldn't make it to a weekend event and had to settle for a 14 man FNM the night before.  I also happened to participate in my *first ever* MBS/SOM/SOM draft tournament this past Thursday Night and I've gotta say I absolutely adore this format.  Don't get me wrong, double MBS certainly has it's charms; not the least of which is twice as many chances to open a Tezzeret/Sword of Feast and Famine.  There is however a general lack of "synergy" in these drafts and I typically find myself trying to assemble the best pile of 22-23 cards in 2 colors rather than actually building a deck. Playing the format as it was designed to be played however was a different experience entirely; it really brings out the 2 card interactions between both sets and encourages a focus on synergy rather than just raw power.  Personally I felt like I was building a pre-constructed starter deck the entire night rather than merely drafting.  Let's take a closer look at this draft and the deck it ultimately produced :

The actual draft portion of the event went pretty well for me.  We had 8 players so we were all drafting in the same pod and of course I started the event off ripping like a champ; P1P1 Sword of Feast and Famine.  Now if the truth be told I don't necessarily consider this card to be the same "slam dunk 1st pick" that Sword of Body and Mind was; with that having been said it's still an awesome card but you don't just play one and "win" if they don't have a Shatter effect like you did with SoBM.  Of course the fact that the draft was a "keeper" (ie no rare re-draft) significantly factored into my decision as well; I shipped a bunch of good cards including a Go for the Throat to my left.  My 2nd pick saw a pack with no removal and a Piston Sledge while I was passed a 3rd pick Divine Offering in a pack full of random black creatures.  I figured my best was to take the Divine Offering and ship the cards because I'd already sent a strong black signal with the Go For the Throat.  Additionally since my first two picks were artifact equipments I felt this pick protected my previous investment.  At this point I should probably explain that I was sitting directly left of my good friend and regular competitor Lucas Ma.  This is important because Lucas tends to strongly favor B/G Infect; often with a splash of blue for broken cards like Vedalken Anatomist and/or Corrupted Conscience.  Usually sitting left of Lucas means you will see absolutely no quality black cards after the first 3 picks so I had to admit I found it rather odd to see a 4th pick Morbid Plunder passing through him to me.  This left me in a fairly serious quandary; I had already passed a bunch of good black cards to my left but it was now exceptionally clear that Lucas was probably not playing black this draft.  Based on the packs I'd seen (admittedly only 3 at that point) he was probably in U/R or U/G which would make shipping all the free B he was going to send me a huge mistake.  Of course it was always possible I was over-reading the signals after only 3 packs; Lucas could have taken a *better* black card and shipped me the Plunder but I was having a hard time imagining what that card would be.  I decided it was probably best to just take the Plunder and hope I saw enough good black cards in packs 1 and 3 to make it my secondary color; most of the other cards in the pack ranged from "decent mid range bodies" to "bad cards you might include if you had to".  Naturally of course the next pack would *also* have a Morbid Plunder in it and I was off to the races.  Two of my next 3 picks (6 and 8) were a Leonin Relic-Warder and a 2nd copy of Divine Offering.  The rest of the pack was pretty boring overall although I did manage a late Leonin Skyhunter and a Peace Strider that would ultimately make the build.

Going into pack 2 I really had no idea what to expect from Scars of Mirrodin; my deck was off to a roaring start but I was a little short on bodies at this point.  Additionally I really hadn't acquired any cards that went particularly well with my Morbid Plunders and as such would be looking out for creatures with 187 (come into play) effects or ways to sacrifice themselves for extra value.  My first pack was a little alarming as it featured a Galvanic Blast, a Turn to Slag, a Slice in Twain and a terrible rare (Inexorable Tide).  Thankfully it also feature a Glimmerpoint Stag and without too much though I snatched it up and passed the sweet kill spells to my right.  My faith was quickly rewarded when my opponent passed me a 2nd pick Skinrender; apparently he had passed on the early Go for the Throat in pack 1 and was now heavily in Green on the strength of double Fangren Marauders and a bunch of artifact removal.  I was forced to deny a 3rd pick Volition Reins simply because I couldn't pass Lucas anymore first pick removal spells after picks 1 and 2.  My next 3 picks in rapid succession were Perilous Myr, Glint Hawk Idol and Necrogen Scudder.  Aside from the Idol I noted that these packs had been utterly devoid of quality white cards and assumed my opponent to the left had paired his green with white.  The rest of the pack dried up pretty quickly but I was delighted to get a couple of Fume Spitters around picks 9-11; while often marginal as removal spells go the fact that I could recycle them quite easily with Morbid Plunder was hardly lost on me. 
At this point in the draft I was extremely happy with my deck; I had 3 solid flyers to match with my equipment, doubles of Morbid Plunder and Divine Offering and a stunning 6 creatures with come into, leave play or sacrifice abilities.  I felt that headed into pack 3 I was looking for 3-4 more creatures, another removal spell or two and maybe a mana Myr.  Even if I only got half of that I felt I'd be able to cobble together a pretty strong build.  I wasn't even worried about having a "bomb" creature because I could simply make any one of my decent sized bodies into a beatstick with either of my two excellent equipment cards.  This naturally meant I would rip open a pack 3 with Geth, Lord of the Vault and a Grasp of Darkness.  I'd love to tell you that I was torn between these two cards but you simply do not pass Geth in this format or he will destroy you later.  As it turned out I didn't need to worry as I was passed another Grasp pick 2; while the pack was absolutely loaded with good W/B cards (including a Necrogen Scudder; more on this later) I really couldn't keep passing removal all day and expect to win this draft.   The 3rd pack I saw was pretty uninspiring and it basically came down to a Leaden Myr against a Kemba's Skyguard and while I was certainly interested in the lifegain + flying combo for my deck I *really* wanted to cast my Geth at some point during the tournament so I took the mana Myr.  I fourth picked a Moriok Replica out of an otherwise mediocre pack but the truth is I might have snapped picked him anyways because of the two Morbid Plunders at that point.  I stopped to deny a Darkslick Drake and then grabbed a 3rd Fumespitter to round out my early game.  I don't remember the exact order of the next few picks but for the most part the packs were pretty dead by then.  I grabbed an 8th pick Kemba's Skyguard and then was amazed when both the Fumespitter and Skyguard from earlier somehow tabled.  Because of the overall low quality of my sideboard cards it took me all of 5 minutes to build my deck and this is the list I entered the tournament with:     

"Vatican Assasin Drive-bys" - B/W Aggro w/ Graveyard Recursion:

Creatures - 16:

3x Fume Spitter
1x Leaden Myr
1x Leonin Relic-Warder
1x Leonin Skyhunter
1x Perilous Myr
2x Kemba's Skyguard
1x Moriok Replica
2x Necrogen Scudder
1x Glimmerpoint Stag
1x Peace Strider
1x Skinrender
1x Geth, Lord of the Vault

Spells - 8:

2x Divine Offering
1x Glint Hawk Idol (really a creature)
1x Grasp of Darkness
2x Morbid Plunder
1x Piston Sledge
1x Sword of Feast and Famine

Lands - 16:

8x Plains
8x Swamp

First and foremost I'd like to state that this deck is insane; the synergy and power-level presented in the cards I ultimately played with are completely off the charts.  The deck is built around 3 separate but extremely effective packages; namely "flying + equipment", "187 creatures with great abilities" and "graveyard recursion effects".

In the early game this build is capable of playing passively or aggressively with equal ability.  3 Fume Spitters and a Perilous Myr tend to discourage early attacks while alternately 6 flyers that cost 3 or less mana go a long way towards establishing the early beatdown; with or without equipment.  The Necrogen Scudders are especially strong in this build because I can offset the loss of 3 life so easily; making it a 3/3 flyer for 3 mana with essentially no drawbacks.  Naturally of course if I *could* draw the early equipment and my opponent failed to destroy it my games would quickly degenerate into blowouts.  While obviously the Sword is the more effective option in this deck Piston Sledge was also a beating; building your own 5/3 Dragon with a Kemba's Skyguard is pretty rewarding.  The only real downside was that I didn't have a whole pile of disposable artifacts to sacrifice if my opponent managed to contain the original target.  Even this wasn't REALLY a drawback; I could always sacrifice the Perilous Myr for free damage or the Peace Strider to set up a spicy Morbid Plunder in the mid-game.

In terms of the mid-late game this deck goes "big" with excellent cards like Skinrender, Glimmerpoint Stag and of course Geth himself.  As regular readers of this blog already know I am *very* fond of the interaction between an in-play Skinrender and a just cast Glimmerpoint Stag; having drafted the combo on a number of prior occasions.  What's more having two Morbid Plunders in the build allows you to create this interaction multiple times; I assure you after game 1 my opponents would rarely be interested in lethally blocking either creature for fear of setting the combo up again.  The grave-robbing fun doesn't stop there however as Morbid Plunder also combined well with my 3 lifegain creatures, the Leonin Relic-Warder and my lone Moriok Replica to provide me with a constant stream of useful effects and on-board bodies.  Finally while the deck was somewhat light on removal *spells* I still had 2x Divine Offerings and a Grasp of Darkness to ward off anything my "drive-by assassin" creatures couldn't handle.    

Overall I would have to describe this deck as "borderline repulsive" and definitely rank it amongst the finest builds I've ever constructed.  There are so many amazing two card interactions in this deck that during the tournament I often forgot that I had drafted a Geth/Sword of Feast and Famine until I actually drew them.  As far as I can tell synergy is very important in the MBS/SOM/SOM format but this was ridiculous; I honestly felt like I was piloting an above average pre-constructed deck bought right off the shelf.

Round 1 - Gilles W/G/R Midgame:

My round 1 opponent turned out to be a longtime friend who I have been drafting on and off with since roughly Mercadian Masques.  Gilles is a very strong player who's also a savy card player owing to years of playing Poker.  Unfortunately he also seems to have the most horrible luck with land; if it weren't for mana floods and mana screws Gilles wouldn't have any mana at all to paraphrase the common saying.  Note that I say this as someone who doesn't really believe in luck; Gilles' ability find horrible land draws completely transcends concepts like "disbelief" or "probabilities".  After winning the roll I shuffled up and sincerely wished Gilles good luck as far too many of our games have been ruined by mana issues.

Game 1 started out fine for both of us and Gilles and I spent the early game trading removal spells.  While his build was not exactly an infect deck he was playing early poison creatures and I had a little trouble figuring out how to approach it at first.  I walked a Glint Hawk into a Veridian Corruptor early on but I was able to trade off a Kemba's Skyguard and then drop a Skinrender on Gilles best creature.  Eventually I drew the Sword of Feast and Famine and strapped it onto a Necrogen Scudder; Gilles was short on removal and the game ended quickly when he proceeded to draw 3 consecutive land (putting him on 10 out of 20 cards for the game).

Game 2 was more interesting and eventually turned into a battle of epic proportions.  I started the game slowly but maintained board control by playing out a Fume Spitter, a Perilous Myr and a Leonin-Relic Warder that targeted Gilles' Phyrexian Digester.  Gilles proceed to cast a Corpse Cur targeting nothing and sent the turn back to me.  At this point I decided that if he was casting a Cur with no targets his hand was clearly pretty weak and I decided to cast my Glimmerpoint Stag on my own Leonin Relic-Warder and to use my Fumespitter to kill off the Digester when it came back into play.  I had a Moriok Reaver and a Morbid Plunder in hand so I figured I was setting up good value on my next 2 turns.  At the end of the turn Gilles complimented me on the play as I put his Corpse Cur under my Relic-Warder and I started feeling pretty good about my chances in the match. Gilles cast a Blightwidow and shipped the turn and as planned I sacrificed my Moriok Replica to draw into a land and a Peace Strider.  I drew a 2nd Fumespitter and casting out the Peace Strider and the Fumespitter on the same turn I once again started to feel like I was going to win the game and match pretty quickly.  This would ultimately prove to be my downfall when Gilles cast a Veridian Corrupter on my Peace Strider and attacked with the Blightwidow (block Glimmerpoint Stag, Sac Fumespiiter).  I drew a land and cast my Morbid Pluder before Gilles proceeded to draw (presumably) and cast a freaking Mimic Vat, instantly making the board-state about 100 times more complicated.  I naturally drew a Necrogen Scudder that I didn't want to cast but with my own Perilous Myr in play I figured my only real chance now would be to overwhelm him with flyers unless I topdecked one of my 2 Divine Offerings in the meantime.  Gilles naturally dropped a Tine Shrike and more ominously a Culling Dias and I made a mental note to do everything in my power to keep my Perilous Myr alive.  Realizing the game was slipping away from me I found myself hoping to topdeck Geth but instead had to settle for the Sword of Feast and Famine which I promptly played, equipped and swung in with the Scudder for 5.  Gilles calmly discarded a land, untapped and cast and Oxxida Scrapmelter on my Sword, attacked forcing me to trade something for the Veridian Corruptor and post combat dropped a Galvanic Blast on my Myr, killing his Shrike but getting my Perilous Myr under the Vat.  I knew this was pretty much game over at this point but I decided to play it out just in case I drew the Divine Offering fast enough to survive.  I didn't and 5 turns, 10 damage and 5 cards later Gilles finished me off with a Trigon of Rage; the truth is however he could have killed me several turns earlier simply by murdering my 2/2 Stag and then using it to flash out my Scudder every turn.

Unfortunately game 3 was a complete travesty; I cast a turn 2 Skyhuter and quickly followed that up with a Piston Sledge while Gilles drew no removal and got stuck on 3 lands, again.  I was able to play out a couple of disposable blockers to stop the 1 infect creature he did play and 4 turns later the match was over.

1-0 (2-1) MVP - Broken equipment cards and my opponent's perpetual mana issues (tie).  You never like to win a round because of your opponent's land but that's the game of Magic sometimes.

Round 2 - Moe: G/W Infect w/Equipment:

Round 2 would see me paired against another longtime friend and fellow competitor since Lorwyn block drafts.  Moe was running an interesting deck based primarily around 4 Tine Shrikes, some power-boosting equipment cards and a couple of Arrests.  While I certainly found it a little odd that there were *2* players playing G/W Infect variants in the same draft with only 1 pack of MBS I did recall an incredible number of Tine Shrikes moving around the table.  Once again I won the roll and Moe and I wished each other good luck; after a long run of missing each other in tournaments this was going to be our 2nd match-up in 2 weeks and I suspect we were both looking forward to the battle.

Unfortunately game 1 would once again be marred by luck; in this case my good luck.  My opening hand had both Divine Offerings in it and 2 of my first 3 cards off the top of the deck were Fumespitters.  This naturally left my opponent in an uncomfortable position when he cast a turn 3 Tine Shrike (Plague Myr) and proceeded to lose his board for BB and a couple Fumespitters.  Worse still I drew into a Morbid Plunder quite quickly afterward and proceeded to kill his next Tine Shrike the same way.  I even managed to draw into my lone Grasp of Darkness to kill off his Blightwidow before she could touch me for a single Poison.  The game ended when I strapped a Sword of Feast and Famine to a Kemba's Skyguard the turn after Divine Offering Moe's Strandwalker for 5 life.

Game 2 started out very similarly to game 1 with me keeping Moe off flyers/bodies through early removal and Fumespitters.  Moe however managed to cast back to back Blightwidows in response to lock out the board for a number of consecutive turns; all the while slowly adding random equipment cards to the table for later use.  I eventually drew a Piston Sledge and after strapping up a Scudder started executing Blightwidows in combat (and shrinking at the same time) but Moe was also keeping pace on the ground with a Rotwolf and a Bladed Sentinel.  After trading the Scudder off for the 2nd Blightwidow it took me a couple of turns to find another artifact to sacrifice for it but eventually I topdecked the Perilous Myr, killed a Tine Shrike and started bashing away again with a 5/3 Kemba's Skyguard.  When Moe cast a Strider Harness and sighed I figured the game was basically over and swung in with my flyer to take him to 3 life.  Naturally of course Moe proceeded to topdeck a Tine Shrike and after strapping on 3(!) equipments crashed into me for 7 poison (and putting me at 9 poison on table); laughing my butt off I asked "do you have the Predation or Mettle?" to which Moe replied by showing me a last-card in hand Forest.

2-0 (4-1) MVP - Fumespitter.  I could have also gone with "my opponent not drawing a Giant Growth" but killing 4 Tine Shrikes over 2 games with Spitters was pretty sweet.

Round 3 - Tommy: B/r/w Aggro:

Due to a couple of drops I found myself paired down against Tommy heading into round 3.  After losing round 1 to yet ANOTHER G/W Infect deck (3rd in a single draft) he had apparently run through his opponent pretty good with a pile of removal and a Bonehoard.  While I didn't realize it at the time Tommy's build was primarily a black-based equipment aggro deck and he was mainly splashing both red and white for removal cards (Red Sun's Zenith, Divine Offering, Revoke Existence and Burn the Impure) and the odd creature.  I was also unaware that Tommy also had a Skinrender and had drafted a Go for the Throat and a Spreading Sickness out of his MBS pack.  Once again I shuffled up and wished a good friend luck before settling down to focus on closing out the tournament.   

Game 1 started out strong for me; I quickly forced out a turn 2 Skyhunter and followed that up with a turn 3 Necrogen Scudder on a perfect mana draw.  Tommy was prepared however and dropped a Burn the Impure on my Scudder before I could run away with the game.  The game started to bog down on the ground when Tommy cast a couple of blocker types but I managed to turn the engine back on with a timely Skinrender.  Naturally Tommy responded by dropping a Skinrender on my Skinrender and seemed to have board control until I topdecked back to back Morbid Plunder/Glimmerpoint Stag.  I proceeded to play out the Skinrender to kill his copy, attack with it on the next turn and the flash it out with a Glimmerpoint Stag post combat to kill something else.  While I was pretty sure that would win me the game Tommy had one last surprise for me; an 8/8 Bonehoard.  Thankfully I had already drawn a copy if Divine Offering and after destroying his Equipment mid-combat on the next turn he conceded and we headed to the next game.

Game 2 was something of a reverse of game 1 as this time it was Tommy on the beatdown early and me scrambling to find removal to stay in the game.  Tommy however was curving out perfectly; with an early Flayer Husk, Necropede, Spin Engine and a Dross Ripper.  I did manage to play out a Perilous Myr and a Glint Hawk Idol in the early game but they quickly died trying to block my opponent's early hoards.  Eventually I managed to topdeck a Skinrender and a Necrogen Scudder (which I was forced to cast) but by the time I finally stabalized I was at 7 life and desperate to draw something off the top.  Naturally I proceeded to do just that with a Grasp and a Divine Offering before drawing my Geth.  Without thinking too much about it I slammed down the Geth (1st time all night) and shipped the turn back to Tommy who ominously informed me that if he drew a land I was dead.  His face on the drawstep said it all but I simply had to know what he was going to do if I drew another land; he revealed a Red Suns Zenith that would indeed have been fatal if he had drawn another land of any kind.  Laughing I thanked Tommy for the game and inwardly chided myself for not casting the Kemba's Skyguard in my hand instead of Geth.

3-0 (6-1) MVP - Skinrender.  Again I was tempted to go with my opponent's complete inability to draw a land at the right time but Skinrender was just so huge for me in both games; killing your opponent's best creature and getting a 3/3 body out of the deal continues to be amazing in this format.  Who knew? :)

Overall I'd have to say I am extremely happy with this draft.  The deck played out almost exactly like I expected it to on building and I genuinely felt like the favorite in all of my match-ups.  I was even guilty of sloppy play on a couple of occasions simply because the deck was so strong that I wasn't focused on thinking my decisions through properly.  The only real disappointment was my inability to draw/play Geth in a game that wasn't already decided; when you draft a busted 6CC mythic in Scars you sorta want to use him to win games and I just never had the opportunity.

Well folks there you have it; the epic tale of my first ever MBS/SOM/SOM draft and my torrid love affair with Morbid Plunder.  For those of you e-bombing my inbox with request for a "complete" draft report I hope you've enjoyed this article.  As always thanks for reading and until next time always remember to build a deck that can win without drawing Geth; he doesn't like you anyways.  Keep it weird gang.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Coordinated Fire # 2 - Tuesday Night Casual Standard at the Downtown Hairy T

Hello everyone and welcome back to a special edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Unfortunately like the last edition of Coordinated Fire this announcement is only relevant to local Magic players who play in Toronto; if you've tuned in for the latest Limited/Standard article you may be mildly disappointed.

Okay with that out of the way it is my pleasure to announce that starting Tuesday March 8th the downtown Hairy Tarantula Location will be holding a "Tuesday Night Casual Standard" event at 8PM on a weekly basis.  This is a completely free event and requires only that a player arrive with a good attitude and a Standard-legal deck with a complete 15 card Sideboard.  Before we get into the nitty gritty details lets talk a bit about what I mean by casual Standard:

What does "Casual Standard" mean:  Basically the idea is to get a bunch of players together locally on a weekly basis to play and practice their Standard decks against a varied field.  Players are encouraged to be social, talk with each other about deck construction and potentially try new builds before they take them out to the larger tournament scene.  While there will often be a Sanctioned Standard event running concurrently players are not required to participate/risk DCI points and space will be reserved for unrecorded "practice" gaming at every event.  This naturally means that unless players *have* signed up for the sanctioned event they are free to come and go as they please; running late or only time for a couple games?  Come on down anyway!

What "Casual Standard" does not mean:  This is a legitimate Standard practice event and that means that many players *WILL* bring current Tier 1 Standard decks.  Naturally nobody has a problem with you trying out your incredible new "homebrew" monstrosity, but it's important to understand that players are free to play with *any* Standard legal cards in *any* combination they so desire that adds up to a 60+ card maindeck and a 15 card Sideboard.  In other words; no freaking out and having a tantrum just because your opponent cast a Stoneforge Mystic and a Jace the Mind Sculptor in the same game.  Additionally if you *are* playing in the sanctioned event all current DCI rules apply; just because the event is "casual" doesn't mean your opponent has to let you take-back boneheaded mistakes.  If you're still practicing your deck feel free to skip the sanctioned tourney and join others in casual side games all night.

Tuesday Casual Standard at the Hairy Tarantula (Downtown):

What:  A casual gather of Magic Players designed to promote Standard play at the Hairy T Downtown Location.

When: The event begins at 8PM every Tuesday night.  Players who wish to participate in the sanctioned tournament portion of this event are encouraged to arrive on time.  Players simply looking for "practice" may arrive as they please but you're more likely to get games early.  Typically this event will run until about 11:30PM although it may run a little longer if the sanctioned tourney runs longer.

Where:  This event is held at the downtown location of The Hairy Tarantula Comics and Games.  The store is located at 354 Yonge Street on the 2nd floor.  You can call the store at 415-596-8002 if you're having trouble finding it (a periodic issue).

Cost:  This event is completely free; players are simply required to show up with a Standard legal deck and prepare to battle.

Note due to space and time considerations there is a cap of 10 players for the sanctioned tournament portion of this event.  Please feel free to register early any time on Tuesday if you're worried about losing a seat.  Additionally due to the cost of the event ($0) there will be no prizes for the event at this time.  I'll see what I can do to wrangle some Promos for future dates but at the moment we're playing for the love of the game.  Finally I should probably mention that anyone with a "cat" allergy may want to take a Claratin or two before attending the event.

Well folks there you have it; the complete lowdown on the latest exciting way for you to spend time playing Magic here at the Hairy T.  Please feel free to stop by and check it out on Tuesday evenings and hopefully I'll see you there myself!

PS: I'll have a draft article up sometime early this week in case you aren't local and this announcement means nothing to you.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Of Limited Interest #23 - Red Letter Daze

Hello ladies and gentlemen; welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  First of all I'd like to apologize for the recent long delays between blog posts; sometimes life gets a little hectic and while I've recently still found time to *play* a lot of Magic I have had trouble finding time to write about it.  This is unfortunate because I've participated in 4 or 5 incredibly interesting drafts the past week alone and each one of them would be worthy of an article on it's own.  Sadly due to time constraints and the backlog of decks I still want to write about building up I'm going to have to mash a few of the decks together into 1 article in order to keep pace.  For those of you looking for a detailed tournament report please bear with me while I catch up; I have a REALLY sweet MBS/SoM/SoM draft to write about later and I promise it will be worth the wait.  Until then however I'd like to break down 3 recent decks I drafted playing MBS/MBS/SOM that have two major things in common; they're all draft winners and they all strongly showcase red aggro strategies in Mirrodin Besieged.

First up lets take a closer look at a R/U build I drafted during an 8-man event at the Hairy Tarantula here in Toronto.  I'll spare you the pick by pick details of the draft except to state the following:
  • I opened the Bonehoard, Thopter Assembly and a Shatter.  
  • I was passed the Revoker (not a big deal) and both Igniters (pick 5 pack 1, Pick 2 pack 2).  After the draft I asked a couple of my opponents why they passed the Dragon; the guy in pack 2 was already in Infect and took a Spread the Sickness while the opponent to my right in pack 1 was leery of it's 7 mana cost.   
  • Both Serum Rakers were fairly early picks as was Treasure Mage, Trigon of Corruption and Piston Sledge.
  • Alternately I drafted the Gust-Skimmers, the Ogre Resister and both Quicksilver Geysers fairly late and all 3 cards provided incredible value over the course of the draft.

"Backdraft" - R/U Skies Aggro:

Creatures - 16:

1x Embersmith
3x Gust Skimmer
1x Phyrexian Revoker
1x Plague Myr
1x Silver Myr
1x Rust Tick
1x Treasure Mage
1x Vulshok Replica
1x Ogre Resister
2x Serum Raker
1x Thopter Assembly
2x Hellkite Igniter

Spells - 7:

1x Flayer Husk
1x Shatter
1x Piston Sledge
1x Bonehoard
1x Trigon of Corruption
2x Quicksilver Geyser

Lands - 18:

9x Island
9x Mountain
Okay so before you say it I'll go ahead and say it for you; it's pretty sweet to be passed multiple "game-winning, flying, hasty, damage bomb" Dragons in one draft.  It's also nice to open amazing limited rares like Thopter Assembly and Bonehoard; a draft that goes this smoothly is certainly a special occasion and should be cherished.  On the other hand I'm sure experienced drafters will not be surprised to learn that I rarely had to play out any of these "bomb" rares to win my matches and that the vast majority of my games were decided by Gust Skimmers, Serum Rakers, Quicksilver Geysers and a Piston Sledge.  On only a few occasions were my opponents able to stabilize against these cards and force me to lay out a giant Dragon or Thopter Assembly. 

As suggested in the title this deck is a near perfect example of the R/U flying aggro archetype that's so strong in draft formats with multiple packs of MBS (the deck is NUTS in triple MBS fwiw).  Blessed with strong flying creatures all along the mana curve this build seeks to put pressure on the opponent through the air while buying time with tempo/control cards like Embersmith, Rust Tick and the surprisingly amazing Quicksilver Geyser.  While obviously somewhat lacking in the creature control department "Backdraft" gets away with it by simply going over top of the opponent's gameplan both figuratively with the flying mechanic and literally with 3-5 power Drakes and Dragons.  Naturally of course awesome power boosting equipment like Piston Sledge and Bonehoard augment this strategy well but even a naked Gust Skimmer/Serum Raker combo is 5 damage a turn in the air; to say nothing of Thopter Assembly and "metal pump" Dragons in a deck with 13 artifacts.  Both of the mana Myr and the 18th land were included as a concession to the build's heavy mana curve; it's pretty hard to activate Gust Skimmers and still cast 7CC Dragons if you aren't constantly drawing land for example.  In terms of odds and ends cards; the Treasure Mage was included purely as a way to fish out the Thopter Assembly and has no other legal targets.  Presumably if you're already holding the Thopter Assembly you won't be too upset about having a "dead" Treasure Mage in hand.  Alternately the Phyrexian Revoker, Vulshok Replica and Ogre Resister are simply "bodies" in this deck; albeit an excellent "body" in the case of the Resister.  Finally of course both Shatter and Trigon of Corruption were as awesome as always; although Shatter was slightly less useful than normal with the lower artifact count in 2x MBS drafts and Trigon of Corruption was alternately more useful due to the overall slower environment.

As far as the actual tournament goes I'll once again spare you the gory details and offer a brief summary:
  • I went 3-0 (6-1) and my only loss was to a solid Infect build that caught me napping with an Untamed Might, Unnatural Predation combo; my poor Gust Skimmer never saw it coming and I took 7 (lethal) poison on the spot.
  • I mana flooded a couple of times but I also never had a problem casting the cards in my hand the entire tournament.
  • As previously mentioned I won most of my games by casting 1-2 early Gust Skimmers, a Serum Raker and then leaching my opponents tempo with Quicksilver Geysers.  The occasional Piston Sledge/Bonehoard on a flyer combo didn't hurt either.
  • The highlight of my night was swinging for 19 damage with a lone Hellkite Igniter and 4 artifacts in play; I activated the trigger 4 times and killed my opponent on the spot (the Igniter had -1/-1 tokens on it).
Next let's examine a R/W aggro swarm build that came out of a 6-man MBS/MBS/SoM draft at the same store later on that week.  Again with neither the time nor the exact memory necessary to detail the pick by pick order this deck was built with I'll stick with the highlights:
  • Pack 1 I opened a Consecrated Sphinx and a foil Sword of Feast and Famine.  In a vacuum I would probably have taken the Sphinx but it was simply too hard to ignore the money involved so I took the Sword and made a conscious effort to stay out of blue. 
  • After drafting the Sword my opponent would ship me a pack with a White Sun's Zenith and a missing uncommon.  Knowing that he liked to force Infect and wasn't exactly fond of W aggro I assume he took either a Go For the Throat or a Flesh-Eater Imp.  I personally consider either choice a mistake but I can certainly understand not wanting to commit to 3 mana symbols of a color you hate in a new format.
  • Yes I proceeded to open a Red Sun's Zenith in pack 2 and a Wurmcoil Engine in pack 3.  Oddly enough this was only the 2nd Wurmcoil I'd ever opened despite drafting 3x SoM about 100 times (no exaduration).  It's possible my "pack luck" comes in streaks because recently I have been opening the stone nut rares in the set quite frequently while for months prior I was the Queen of ripping Venser's Journal, Disspation Field and/or Shape Anew.
  • Both the Galvanic Blast and the Revoke Existence were quickly passed by the same Infect opponent from pack 1 in the SoM pack.  Apparently there had been heavy competition for Poison cards in pack 2 and by pack 3 he was simply snap-taking the creature with Infect written on it just to fill out his deck.

"Empire of the Rising Suns" - R/W Aggro Swarm:

Creatures - 15:

1x Signal Pest
1x Embersmith
2x Goblin Wardriver
1x Gold Myr
1x Leaden Myr
1x Leonin Skyhunter
1x Myr Sire
1x Blisterstick Shaman
1x Priests of Norn
1x Spin Engine
1x Vulshok Replica
1x Ogre Resister
1x Pierce Strider
1x Wurmcoil Engine

Spells - 9:

1x Galvanic Blast
1x Red Sun's Zenith
1x Revoke Existence
1x Master's Call
1x Rally the Forces
1x Sword of Feast and Famine
1x White Sun's Zenith
1x Skinwing
1x Strandwalker

Lands - 16:

8x Mountain
8x Plains

While it's true that I'm not a huge fan of weenie aggro rush decks it's hard to dislike a deck with this much synergy and raw power.  Obviously cards like Wurmcoil Engine, Sword of Feast and Famine and the two on-color Zeniths are very powerful but this deck also has an incredible early game with some of the best 2 and 3 drop creatures in the entire format.  This deck puts the pressure on fast by combining a smattering of Battle cry effects and an excellent mana curve with a cheap and effective removal package.  As previously mentioned if the opponent does somehow manage to stabilize the build has multiple late game answers in the form of Wurmcoil Engine, White Sun's Zenith and "Disintegrate Ver 2.0" (Red Sun's Zenith). 

In terms of deck composition this build is actually quite simple; the aggro core of the deck is composed of Signal Pest, 2x Goblin Wardriver, Leonin Skyhunter, Spin Engine, Vulshock Replica, Pierce Strider, Ogre Resister and if the game runs long enough Wurmcoil Engine.  Master's Call, Myr Sire and White Sun's Zenith all allow you to spit out "extra" disposable token creatures in one way or another; further augmenting your Battle cry monsters and helping to overwhelm your already wounded opponent once blockers are irrelevant.  The removal package in this deck is excellent although it could stand to be deeper; Embersmith and Blisterstick Shaman are excellent at dealing with low toughness blockers while more serious problems can be handled by Galvanic Blast, Revoke Existence or a giant Red Sun'z Zenith (or 3, more on this later).  The only real "defensive" creature in the build is the singleton copy of Priests of Norn who I included primarily because I didn't have a more aggressive creature to fill the spot.  As it turns out having one "very good" blocker that helped whittle down enemy units as the game dragged on worked out very well with the rest of the deck design; in fact it was so good that I'd highly recommend drafting a lone PoN the next time you play R/W aggro in this format.  Finally I included a couple of random mana Myr (including an off-color Leaden Myr) to make sure I could get maximum value out of my Embersmith, Wurmcoil Engine and Zenith cards.  Finally even though this deck didn't really need the boost it also has a very solid equipment package with Sword of Feast and Famine, Skin Wing and the highly under-rated Strandwalker. 

Once again as far as the tournament itself goes I'll confine myself to highlights:
  • The deck finished 3-0 (6-0) and didn't lose a game all day although I probably should have lost at least game 1 against my round 2 opponent.
  • Round 2 was in fact fairly epic.  I managed to defeat my opponent in 2 games primarily by drawing and casting grand total of 7 cards with "Zenith" in the title over the course of our two games; including back to back RSZ's in a tightly contested game 2.  Game 1 was a complete travesty as my opponent managed to get me down to 6 life and had complete control of the game with 3 creatures and a Mortarpod in play.  Desperate to simply survive I cast a Galvanic Blast in response to him equipping the first token and eventually forced him to trade his remaining creatures for mine.  My opponent proceeds to play some lands and draw no creatures at all.  2 Turns, 1 Signal Pest, a timely White Sun's Zenith for 5 and a Rally the Forces later we were on to game 2.  Game 2 was more balanced but it also featured 3x Red Sun Zenith, 1x White Sun Zenith and a Sword of Feast and Famine on my side; that was simply too steep of a hill to climb for my opponent despite his amazing deck and some stellar game-play.
  • The closest game I had was in round 1 when my opponent proceeded to play an Into the Core on my Sword and a Strandwalker in the middle of combat and wiped the majority of my team off the table.  Naturally I proceeded to draw Wurmcoil Engine and won the game/match.

Finally let's take a look at a R/B aggro deck built primarily around a strong removal package and a number of solid equipment cards.  This build came out of a 10 person MBS/MBS/SOM draft that was split into pods of 5.  Highlights that I can remember include:
  • The pod I was in turned out be pretty weird with a U/B and a U/W Skies deck and 2x B Infect builds; one G and one U/g.  As I was the only person drafting Red at the table I ended up with a number of strong value picks (although I didn't get passed the Hero of Oxxid Ridge :) ).
  • My first picks by pack were Go for the Throat, Spread the Sickness and Strata Scythe
  • The packs in this pod were loaded with Infect creatures so I made a point of snatching as much removal as I could and simply letting the monsters go by to other players.
  • Pack 2 produced a 3rd pick Into the Core and a 4th pick Burn the Impure which is basically insane but in truth nobody at our table ended up with a bad deck because the packs were so strong.
  • Both Mortarpods came back to back about halfway through pack 1; since then this card has rarely been passed at our local drafts so I think people have watched enough Channel Fireball draft videos to catch on.
  • My MBS rares were absolute horrible; finally disproving the theory that "everything Nina opens turns to gold in this set" that had become prevalent in our local draft scene.

"The Quartermaster's Militia" - R/B Equipment Aggro:

Creatures - 12:

1x Embersmith
2x Goblin Wardriver
1x Iron Myr
1x Myr Sire
1x Perilous Myr
2x Blisterstick Shaman
1x Brass Squire
1x Dross Ripper
2x Ogre Resister

Spells - 12:

2x Flayer Husk
1x Burn the Impure
2x Go For the Throat
2x Mortarpod
1x Strata Scythe
1x Strider Harness
1x Into the Core
2x Spread the Sickness

Lands - 17:

9x Mountain
8x Swamp

Archetype wise this deck is more of a mid-range type build; spending the early game controlling the opponent's creatures and setting up equipment combos before suiting up an Ogre Resister and going to town on your opponent's life total.  With numerous disposable blocker type creatures, multiple 2 and 3 mana removal effects and double Mortarpods it's really VERY easy to stay alive long enough to accomplish this goal.  As if that weren't enough heaven help the opponent who gets to see the deck's namesake in his full glory; simply put Brass Squire puts this deck right over the top by turning all of your equipment into instant speed combat tricks. 

As far as deck breakdown goes this build is basically divided into 3 packages with some cards crossing over into multiple roles (synergy, gotta love it!).  First and foremost the deck is built around a ridiculous removal package; including doubles of Go for the Throat, Mortarpod, Spread the Sickness, Blisterstick Shaman supported by singleton copies of Burn the Impure, Embersmith, Into the Core and Perilous Myr.  In simple terms this deck's "kill" suite is an embarrassment of riches and would probably have lead to a strong deck no matter what the creature base looked like.  The creature package in this build is also very solid; comprised of a good mix of disposable blockers (Myr Sire, Perilous Myr, Flayer Husk, Mortarpod) and passable "beaters" (Goblin Wardriver, Dross Ripper, Ogre Resister).  Finally of course the the build rounds out with an absolutely insane equipment package built around Brass Squire, Strata Scythe, Strider Harness and the aforementioned Flayer Husks/Mortapods.

As far as the tournament itself the deck performed about as well as expected:
  • I finished 4-0 (8-2) despite having serious mana troubles all night.  My sleeves were kind of gummy and I replaced them after the draft because I was consistently cursed with either too much or not enough land during my matches.
  • About half my games followed the basic pattern of me and my opponent trading removal for 2-3 turns before I managed to "suit up" a Wardriver/Resister with some "gear" and start hammering.  Naturally my opponent's would run out of removal before I did (see decklist) and I could usually grind out the win by turn 8 or 9.
  • The other half of my games typically involved me struggling to find land or creatures but dragging the game out with various removal effects until either me or my opponent drew an unanswerable threat and the game ended almost immediately.  I didn't lose all of these games mind you but they were all very frustrating nonetheless.  
  • My personal highlight of the night was getting the following cards into play at the same during a 7 turn game: Brass Squire, Ogre Resister, Perilous Myr, Strider Harness and Mortarpod.  My opponent failed to draw a removal spell for the Squire and I effectively locked him out of the game just by moving equipment around.  On the downside the match was against a good friend and as much fun as watching my deck explode was I wish it hadn't been at the expense of my buddy.
And there you have it gang and in-depth look at 3 tournament winning red based aggro decks built around completely different strategies and play-styles.  While obvious as people become more familiar with the post-MBS format it will get harder to build decks as sweet as these I'm pretty sure all 3 of these archetypes will remain viable with a few more filler cards and a few less doubles of broke things people shouldn't be passing.  Hopefully you've found this article both interesting and helpful; as always thanks for reading and come again soon.  Until then remember to keep quiet about how awesome Ogre Resister really is and always keep it weird.