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.

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