Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Of Limited Interest #26 - "Five by Five"

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.   As you can probably guess by the title we're back with an in-depth look at a Scars of Mirrodin block draft I participated in last Thursday.  This time however there's a twist; due to low turnout we only had 5 people show up to draft and were thus forced to play a round-robin tournament.  While naturally I would have preferred a full 8 man event, frankly I was just happy to be playing some Magic again so I didn't complain about the format too much.  As an additional bonus my good friend, co-worker and fellow Magic organizer Kelly Ackerman was attending the draft for the first time in months so playing together would give us a good opportunity to hang out for a while.  

The funny thing about a 5 man draft or for that matter any round-robin draft event is that you know with absolute certainty that you will eventually have to play against every single card you've passed.  This forces you to be extremely cognizant of the cards you are passing and their applications against the deck you are presently building.  Whats more the intimacy of a 5 player table makes it incredibly easy to identify what color combination and even deck strategy each of your opponent's are likely pursuing; there truly are no secrets in a 5 man draft with the exception of your first pick each pack.  

Opening my first pack I was disappointed to find myself staring at a Phyrexian Revoker and a pack generally full of mediocre cards.  While it's true the Revoker has some value and I actually expect it to be played more when Standard rotates in October I also happened to own like 11 copies of this card already.  I eventually settled on a Burn the Impure which while a decent consolation prize is probably one of the worst "acceptable" first pick cards in MBS.  It's a pretty rare limited deck that can successfully outrace a good Infect build which is what Burn the Impure is best at doing.  Additionally it can't actually kill most of the 5-6 casting cost "bomb" creatures in the format like other 1st pick removal spells can.  I'm not one to turn my nose up at any kind of removal no matter how marginal but if you're 1st picking a Burn the Impure in MBS it probably means you're holding a pretty soft pack and I most certainly was.  Thankfully Kelly shipped me an absolutely filthy second pack that was full of good cards in every single color and missing what clearly must have been an amazing rare/mythic.  Unfortunately a number of these cards were best in an Infect build (Rot Wolf, Core Prowler, Blightwidow) and I wasn't prepared to give up on my Burn the Impure that easily.  I grabbed an Into the Core (which I would have been happy to 1st pick) and after counting up the number of playable cards in the pack decided I would probably end up in red/blue if the Gust Skimmer in this pack tabled like I expected it to.  I should also mention that this pack had a Leonin Skyhunter in it which briefly tempted me to go into white before I realized there was also an Into the Core in the pack.  This was a good decision on my part because I didn't actually see many good white card until a couple of picks into pack 3.  My 3rd pick was a relatively unexciting Piston Sledge out of a fairly shallow pack with no removal spells whatsoever.  Things would get more exciting with my 4th pick however as Kelly passed me a pack with both a Strandwalker and a Spread the Sickness still inside.  While I was absolutely tempted to snap pick the removal spell I wasn't exactly enamored with jumping into black at this point in the draft.  I knew my opponent to the left was likely already in Infect and thus would probably be looking to play g/b as a matter of course.  Additionally I still figured I would probably end up in blue simply because I was going to table the Gustskimmer from pack 2.  As if to reinforce my opinion this pack *also* had a Gust Skimmer and enough solid cards in other colors that I had a reasonable chance of wheeling it as well.  Without hesitation I added the Strandwalker to my pile and calmly said "merry Christmas" as I passed the pack to Casey.  The last "new" pack would yield a late Serum Raker and my original pack came back with an Ogre Resister that I hadn't expected to table.  Naturally of course both Gust Skimmers would in fact table (sandwiched around a Spin Engine) and by pick 9 I was firmly in r/u.  Closing out pack 1 I managed to grab 4 more playable cards in my colors; Myr Sire, Crush, Copper Carapace and Fuel for the Cause.

With 13 playable cards going into pack 2 it's safe to say I was feeling pretty confident about my chances in this draft.  While obviously I didn't intend to main-deck every card I had drafted in MBS the fact that I could allowed me to focus on optimizing my build during packs 2 and 3 and not worry about reaching for cards just to fill out my bodies/removal ratio.  Once again I opened a pretty marginal rare (Myr Propagator) but this time I had no problem settling for an Oxidda Scrapmelter as my first pick in SoM.  By now I as pretty sure my opponent to the left was in Infect and he confirmed this by passing me a pack full of good metalcraft cards, a Revoke Existence and an Embersmith; the latter of which I snapped up quickly before shipping the pack right.  I proceeded to third pick a Tumble Magnet over basically nothing and found myself pleasantly surprised when my fourth pick produced a Turn to Slag.  My next two choices were Neurok and Vulshok Replica respectively over some choice green cards that I wasn't exactly comfortable passing at this point; Slice in Twain and Bellowing Tanglewurm.  Unfortunately right about then the pack basically dried up and I spent a few picks denying the best card not in my colors before closing out pack 2 with a late (10th) Soliton and a 12th pick Vedalken Certarch.         

Between packs 2 and 3 I took a few moments to take stock of my draft so far and found myself on 21 playable cards with 19 of them being cards I was fine with including in the main-deck.  While my deck was light on "bombs" I had an amazing removal package, a number of solid "beaters" and 3 power-boosting Equipment cards to attach to my flyers/Spin Engine.  Going into pack 3 I figured I was looking for a "finishing" creature, a couple more flyers and any removal cards that would represent a strict upgrade over what I already had.  Naturally of course this would lead to me opening a pack 3 Inexorable Tide and a bunch of phenomenal white and green cards; including an Arrest, a Cystbearer and a Razor Hippogriff.  Thankfully there was also a Contagion Clasp in the pack so I took that hoping to combo it with my Tumble Magnet from pack 2.  Once again Kelly passed me a pack with no rare and a bunch of sweet removal; this time I took a Galvanic Blast over a Grasp of Darkness and a Rust Tick.  The next pack turned out to be kind of frustrating because while it had a Turn to Slag it also had the Flameborn Hellion I was prepared to 3rd pick just to make sure I had *something* to finish the game with.  Unfortunately there was just no way I could talk myself out of drafting the removal spell and I (incorrectly) figured that the Flameborn Hellion had a reasonable chance of tabling anyways.  I should probably also mention that this pack had a True Conviction and a Myrsmith in it and had somehow gone through both players at the table I thought were playing white; to say this "bothered" me would be a severe understatement.  My 4th pick was another Neurok Replica; once again over basically nothing as all the good cards in the pack were green or Infect based.  Frustrated and hoping for some kinda miracle from the last new pack I was completely astonished to find myself starring at a Heavy Arbalest during my next pick.  While obviously not a "bomb" creature the "big crossbow" would combo out with my Soliton to win the game assuming I had enough Islands in play.  Sadly I don't actually remember anything else about this pack simply because I was so shocked at my own pack luck that I snapped the Arbalest without bothering to memorize the other cards.  I also managed to table the Iron Myr from my first pack and followed that up with a Snapsail Glider; giving me a 4th flying monster to carry my various Equipment cards.  Once again however the packs dried up pretty quickly after that point; in between deny drafting green/white cards the only thing I took for my deck the rest of pack 3 was a singleton Turn Aside.                    

Due to the sheer number of playable cards I'd drafted it actually took me quite a while to settle on a final build before my first round.  This left me in the position of having a round 1 bye while the other four players squared off but I didn't really mind since I needed the extra time to build anyways.  After an excruciating 15-20 minute process of culling excess but still quality cards this is the deck I finally settled on:

"Molten Rain" - R/U Control:

Creatures - 13:

1x Vedalken Certarch
1x Embersmith
2x Gust Skimmer
1x Iron Myr
2x Neurok Replica
1x Snapsail Glider
1x Spin Engine
1x Ogre Resister
1x Oxidda Scrapmelter
1x Serum Raker
1x Soliton

Spells -11:

1x Copper Carapace
1x Galvanic Blast
1x Burn the Impure
1x Contagion Clasp
1x Heavy Arbalest
1x Piston Sledge
1x Tumble Magnet
1x Into the Core
1x Strandwalker * really a creature to be fair
2x Turn to Slag

Lands - 17:

8x Island
9x Mountain

Functional Sideboard - 5:

1x Crush
1x Turn Aside
1x Myr Sire
1x Vulshok Replica
1x Fuel for the Cause

The first thing that comes to mind when looking at this deck is it's overriding simplicity.  This deck wants to play an early beater, strap on some power-boosting gear and go to town on enemy life total's while burning/bouncing/tapping out virtually every monster on your opponent's side.  If the truth be told I generally prefer decks with more synergy and 2-card combos when drafting Scars but the overall quality and consistently of the removal in this build makes that somewhat irrelevant.  It's pretty easy to bash your opponent down with geared-up Hill Giants if he can't keep an untapped creature alive to block and even if the games did go long I could always rely on Soliton/Arbalest or Contagion Clasp/Tumble Magnet to get me out of trouble.  While not exactly "slow" this deck certainly falls into the "mid range control" category since it will likely start every game on the defensive until it can "assemble" a finishing monster and draw/cast enough control effects to start getting through with it.  Going into the tournament portion of the event I felt reasonably confident that I was holding a 3-1/4-0 type deck.

Round 1 - Scott: U/B Aggro/Proliferate:

I was mildly worried heading into this round because my opponent was already 1-0 and had dispatched what I knew was a *very* effective G/B infect deck in 2 quick games.  As it turns out Scott was playing a weird hybrid deck with a number of flyers, equipment and proliferate effects backed up by a couple of expensive "bombs" in Volition Reins and Quicksilver Gargantuan.  Unfortunately for him the specialized nature of his creatures would make for a poor match-up against all of my burn but sitting down to play I had no way of knowing that.

Game 1 started off poorly for Scott and fairly well for me.  By turn 4 I had a Myr, an Ogre Resister, a Neurok Replica and a Copper Carapace in play against Scott's board of Oculus and Riddlesmith.  Strapping up the Resister on my next turn I started bashing and Scott started blocking; trying to draw into some sort of answer for the resister.  Eventually he did manage to bin the Ogre with a Go for the Throat but when I dropped a Snapsail Glider, Strandwalker and Vedalken Certarch into play over the course of 2 turns the game quickly turned against him.  I should probably mention that Scott drew absolutely no creatures that cost more than 4 the entire game and still managed to hit me a couple times with a Necrogen Scudder wearing a Barbed Battlegear.

Game 2 actually started out worse for Scott as I quickly ran out a turn 2 Embersmith and was able to cast back to back artifacts to kill 1 toughness blockers in the early game, including a Vedalken Certarch.  Thankfully he managed to stabilize with a Wall of Tanglecord and for a while we traded removal spells while my 2/1 Embersmith bounced off his 0/6 Wall.  Eventually however I drew into the Scrapmelter and destroyed the wall only to have Scott kill it and cast out his own Necrogen Scudder.  Unfortunately my deck started to stall out at this point and I was left tapping out his Scudder with my Certarch and getting through for 1-2 damage each turn with a bunch of 1 power "durdles".  Making matters worse Scott started drawing creatures turn after turn and began to overwhelm my defenses; after blocking and trading off a number of creatures I was staring down a Scudder, a Rager and a a Screeching Silcaw with a Barbed Battlegear.  Then by an extreme stroke of luck my opponent cast a Silverskin Armor and attached it to his Rager before shipping the turn back to me.  After untapping and dropping an Into the Core on both his Rager and the Battlegear the game rapidly shifted back in my favor.  It certainly didn't help when I top-decked the Oxxida Scrapmelter the turn after he attached the Armor to his last defender; a Plated Seastrider.  Eventually after drawing a few more cards and failing to find either Volition Reins or his Quicksilver Gargantuan Scott conceded with lethal damage next turn on board.

1-0 (2-0) MVP - Having an absolutely disgusting amount of removal.  Both games were defined by Scott's inability to keep creatures in play in the face of 5-7 removal spells a game.

Round 2 - Lucas: W/R Aggro:

I had the fortune of watching my round 2 opponent close out his first match while I was on the early bye and thus knew I was potentially in for a long day.  Lucas's deck was built around a number of cheap fast flying creatures, some equipment, a smattering of removal and two sick bombs in True Conviction and Horde-Smelter Dragon.  While I wasn't exactly terrified of the Dragon with 2 copies of Turn to Slag in my deck I was worried about the True Conviction; aside from a sideboarded Fuel for the Cause I had absolutely no way of dealing with his monster enchantment.

Game 1 started out strong for Lucas; he quickly played out a Sylvok Life Staff, a Glint Hawk Idol and a random 2/2 "Bear" (Auriok Edgewright?).  On my side I had played out an Iron Myr and used it to cast a Neurok Replica but after missing my land drop on turn 3 was forced to watch in horror as Lucas dropped a Blisterstick Shaman on my Myr; effectively trapping the Ogre Resister in my hand.  Thankfully I was able to start drawing lands in the next few turns and Lucas and I went into a holding pattern while trading small creatures and removal spells.  Lucas had gotten stuck on 5 mana and seemed pretty eager to draw one so I knew he was holding either the Horde-Smelter or the True Conviction; I had been slow rolling a Turn to Slag (and eating damage from a Life Staff as a result) for several turns because of the Dragon but I figured I was in a lot of trouble if he dropped the enchantment at that point.  When I finally drew the Heavy Arbalest I decided I should probably "go for it" and attacked with a couple Gust Skimmers and an Ogre Resister; unfortunately Lucas had a Burn the Impure for the Resister and all I could do post combat was cast but not hook up the Arbalest.  Naturally at this exact moment Lucas draws the 6th land and immediately drops True Conviction before bashing in for what would be 12 (leaving a 2/2 "bear" back on defense); I dropped a Galvanic blast on one of his creatures to reduce the damage to 6 but was forced to hook up the Arbalest and leave a Gust Skimmer behind to block on my turn.  When Lucas attacked on his next turn I killed one of his creatures and sacrificed the Gust Skimmer to keep him from gaining extra life on the double strike.  Lucas proceeded to cast out both of his remaining creatures and after drawing a land I spent my next two turns casting Turn to Slag and Soliton while my opponent drew nothing but land.  Due to his earlier life-gain shenanigans it actually took me two entire turns/attacks to kill him with the Soliton but eventually the "big crossbow" got there.

Unfortunately after our epic game 1 Lucas and I were in for a letdown in game 2.  He got stuck on 4 lands and I quite literally killed all 5 creatures he played during the entire game.  He was able to kill my Ogre Resister and a Snapsail Glider but eventually I beat him down to zero with a Serum Raker holding a Copper Carapace. 

2-0 (4-0) MVP - Heavy Arbalest - This was a tough call because I actually won game 1 due to the Soliton's un-tap ability but I probably wouldn't have gotten to that point in the game without using the Arbalest to not "just die" to True Conviction.

Round 3 - Casey: G/B Infect Aggro:

Going into this round my opponent was already staring an 0-3 record in the face and looking to end the night on a high note by playing the spoiler against me.  I on the other hand was somewhat astonished by Casey's record because I *knew* for a fact he had a very sick infect build going; after all I'd passed 2/3's of it to him.  In MBS alone I had shipped him a Blightwidow, Spread the Sickness, Sceptic Rats and a Viridian Corrupter and as the only infect player at the table he'd actually managed to wheel a pack 3 Corpse Cur right in front of my eyes.  As it turned out he had also opened a Black Sun's Zenith in MBS but unfortunately had been fighting an uphill battle against mana flood/mana screw all night and thus losing despite his amazing deck.  As we shuffled up to start playing I sincerely wished him good luck and hoped that his deck would be more kind in our match; there's nothing more frustrating than drafting a stone nut top flight deck and then losing to basic land. 

Unfortunately both of my games against Casey actually followed the exact same pattern in what must have been a frustrating match for my opponent.  In the early game I would cast out 2-3 creatures and begin attacking/aggressively trading on defense to keep his creature #'s down.  He would then wipe the board with his Black Sun Zenith and I would respond by casting a "beater" (Resister/Serum Raker/Soliton, etc) and strapping some equipment to it.  I would then kill every single creature Casey cast for the rest of the game; when he played the Septic Rats I responded with Burn the Impure, when he cast a Blightwidow I had a Turn to Slag, etc.  He was able to hold me off for a while with spot removal/Viridian Corrupter but eventually I'd draw another beater and start the smashing all over again.  While Casey's draws were pretty average in my honest opinion this just wasn't a very good match-up for his deck style.  While I genuinely believe that G/B Infect Aggro is the best poison deck in the format I would likely have had a much harder time against a more control-ish version of the deck with Trigon of Corruption and some proliferate effects for inevitability.

3-0 (6-0) MVP - My deck matching up perfectly with his deck/drawing enough removal to kill every creature my opponent cast over the course of 2 games.  This seems pretty self explanatory.

Round 4 - Kelly: W/G/r Dinosaurs:

Once again due to the magic of byes I'd already had a chance to scout a little bit of my opponent's deck and knew he had a number of solid "dinosaurs", some cheap white creatures, a decent smattering of removal (including 2 splashed Arc Trails) and a Hero of Bladehold.  I knew about the Hero because Lucas had bemoaned losing game 1 on the draw to a turn 3 Hero both audibly and for quite some time after it occurred.  As the final icing on the cake Kelly had something like 3-4 copies of Viridian Emissary to clog up the early game and make sure he could actually cast his Dinosaurs.  At this point Kelly was 2-1 and a win here for him would generate a 3 way tie at 3-1 between him, Lucas and myself; sending us to game record as a tie-breaker immediately.  Shuffling up I wished Kelly luck but not too much; I figured at 3-0, 6-0 I was a shoe-in for 1st place if I won even a single game in this match.

Game 1 started out weird with both of us "racing" even though neither of our decks were particularly well suited to do so.  Kelly was beating down on the ground with a Viridian Emissary and a random durdle while I was crashing back in the air with a Gust Skimmer.  Eventually I drew into a Neurok Replica followed by an Embersmith and after taking about 6 damage from the Emissary decided to *snipe* it with the Embersmith on my next turn.  This unfortunately put Kelly on 5 mana which let him drop Tangle Hulk, Molder Beast and Tangle Hulk on successive turns.  Fortunately I was able to blunt his assault by casting a Scrapmelter on the first Tangle Hulk, Burn the Impure on the Molder Beast and a top-decked Into the Core to take out his 2nd Hulk and a random equipment.  Although I managed to walk my Serum Raker into an Arc Trail later in the game I was still able to pull out the victory behind a Scrapmelter wearing a Piston Sledge pretty quickly after that.

Unfortunately game 2 would end up something of a travesty; Kelly kept an opening hand with 3 mana and 2 copies of Viridian Emissary only to draw something like 10 more land and 4 more spells.  While I kept a draw that was somewhat removal light I also curved out perfectly with a turn 2 Myr into a turn 3 Resister with Soliton and Strandwalker following soon after.  Kelly kept me busy for a while with an Arc Trail and a Slice in Twain but eventually drawing nothing but land was simply too much to overcome.  I should also note that he didn't see his Hero of Bladehold in either game; in game 2 especially I did not draw either copy of Turn to Slag so that likely would have been the difference.

4-0 (8-0) - MVP - My opponent's inability to draw creatures in game 2.  Locally Kelly is known for being an extremely lucky top-deck artist but I've personally never understood it.  He's a very strong player when he's focused so I think a lot of people mistake "playing to his outs" for luck.  There's no way you can tell me either of Kelly's draws this match were "lucky" for example.

Looking back on this draft I would have to say the most interesting thing about it is the perfect color balance we achieved at a 5 player table.  Each player independently chose a separate 2 color combination within the first 5 picks of the draft with no repeats (U/R, W/R, W/G, G/B, U/B).  Additionally each color in the format was represented exactly twice with the exception of Kelly splashing red for 2 copies of Arc Trail.  There was very little deny drafting going on as far as I could tell and everyone seemed clearly focused on making the best deck possible within their chosen colors/archetype.  This lead to a very balanced draft with all 5 decks being of exceptionally high quality in my opinion.  To be honest I still think Casey's Infect build was the best deck of the lot but his land troubles made the point difficult to prove as the evening wore on.  All in all however I found the color/archetype breakdown fascinating personally and credit this moreso than winning the tournament for the amazing time I had playing in this draft.

Well folks there you have it; another tale of adventure and woe from SoM block draft-land.  Hopefully you've enjoyed this article and found it helpful in some way.  To be honest I'm starting to get a little sick of drafting MBS/SoM/SoM at this point and like most of you I'm pretty eager to start drafting New Phyrexia.  MBS is certainly a fun set but I'm starting to run out of interesting deck-types to explore.  I've won a tournament with just about everything except G/W Infect at this point and I really have no intention of playing Tine Shrikes all night anytime soon.  Until next time remember that 2-3 good equipments and a pile of removal is most certainly a legitimate archetype in SoM block draft and always keep it weird gang.

No comments:

Post a Comment