Saturday, May 28, 2011

Of Limited Interest #30 - Opening Day

Hello everyone out there in Internetland and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Recently in another post on this blog I had mentioned that I participated in a Triple NPH draft on release night for the new set and promised to share the absolutely wicked deck I managed to build.  Unfortunately a number of things came up in my life this past week and it's only just now that I've had a chance to sit down and review my notes from the draft.  So with all apologies for the delay let's dive right in and take a look at one way to crush a release night draft.

Going into the draft we had 10 players which meant splitting the group into 2 seperate 5 player pods by random die roll.  If the truth be told I'm not exactly fond of 5 player pods because of the crazy decks they often produce.  With only 5 picks between each pack fully tabling it's far too easy to get strong color reads on your opponents very early in pack 1 which in turn leans to more focused synergistic decks all around the table.  Additionally when there's only 5 players picking at the table it tends to significantly magnify any mistakes made by less experienced drafters as the "ridiculous" cards that shouldn't have been passed tend to be concentrated into the other 2-3 more experienced players decks.  In fact I would be lying if I said I didn't feel that happened in this draft and I benefited from some curious passes on both sides.  Unfortunately the other option in this situation is to draft with 10 people around 1 table which is actually worse in my mind to the point of almost not being a draft; randomly picking the best card passed to me with no strategy for tabling future picks feels way too much like sealed for my liking.   

After being seated at the back table with 4 other players and waiting for the signal to open our first pack I excitedly tore into the wrapper and found a Sword of War and Peace staring back at me.  The pack was also full of a number of awesome cards (Volt Charge, Glissa's Scorn, Tanadon, Soul Eater as I recall) but you don't look a gift horse in the mouth so I took the mythic sword without hesitation.  Naturally of course my opponent to the right would proceed to pass me a pack missing a common but containing a Chancellor of the Forge.  Now to be fair there are a number of commons in this set I would consider taking over a given Chancellor and the CotF in particular is hardly an automatic slam first pick.  He lacks any sort of evasion and his "reveal" ability to start the game is almost so inconsequential as to be not worth bothering in draft.  On the other hand his ability to bring in a whole team of 1/1 Goblin tokens in bogged down late game scenarios is absolutely worth the mana investment in the right kind of deck.  Additionally I had no idea that I would proceed to open about 10 copies of this card later in the week when I opened my boxes so I decided to just take the rare "bomb" and ship the various decent but not amazing removal cards to my left; it's not like there was a Dismember or Enslave in the pack to be fair.  The next pack turned out to be rather unexciting; a bunch of decent creatures but no black removal or burn and I assumed my opponent to the right was probably playing B and had just been snagging kill spells all draft so far.  I took a Tanadon out of the pack because it was easily the best creature available and noted that I was shipping a number of good R and W creatures to my left; including a Tormentor Exarch that I wanted to choose but didn't feel was as good a choice as the Tanadon.  To be fair this was probably a mistake as during play the Exarch was pretty amazing but at the time my rational was that it couldn't kill the Tanadon which also combined better with my Sword with the Trample keyword.  Pick 4 however would turn my understanding of the draft completely on it's head when I was handed a pack with a Phyrexian Metamorph in it and a number of other cards I barely looked at.  At this point I became confused as to what my opponents were doing in front of me at the table; clearly someone to my right was cutting black hard but in that case why would they ship me what amounts to a bomb first pick in any sort of control deck?  With little hesitation and absolutely no intention of going into blue I quickly snatched up the Metamorph and shipped the pack.  At this point I knew I had the the makings of a truly awesome draft deck but I was still pretty shy on removal until as if on command picks 5 and 6 produced a very late Volt Charge and a tabled Glissa's Scorn.  This left me with the impression that both red and green were likely wide open at this table and when I closed off the pack with a Sickleslicer, the Tormentor Exarch I should have taken 3rd overall and a Razor Swine I knew I was right; at least about the red part.  Naturally of course I also took a bunch of random bad artifacts and SB cards late in this pack but unfortunately I didn't write them down and 2 weeks later they are gone from my memory.

My sick luck would continue in pack 2 when I opened a Moltensteel Dragon that would look pretty good wearing a Sword of War and Peace.  There were a number of other good cards in this pack but once again no Dismember or Enslave so the Dragon was a pretty easy choice.  Pick 2 was kind of weird because I took a Volt Charge and sort of automatically assumed it meant red was open from both sides.  As it turned out however my opponent to the left was playing W/r/b aggro and had simply opened his OWN copy of Sword of War and Peace before shipping me the Volt Charge.  Green however clearly *was* open when I took a 3rd pick Beast Within followed by a 4th pick Thundering Tanadon and firmly settled into the R/G Dinosaurs archetype in the process.  Pick 5 was a second Sickleslicer which I took primarily as a 3 drop creature because my curve was getting a little out of hand but it was back to "stompy stompy" land when I 6th picked another Tanadon!  Once again I closed out the pack with 2 high utility cards; a Fallen Ferromancer nobody wanted and a Deat-Hood Cobra I couldn't believe was still in the pack.  Unfortunately owing to the lack of depth in NPH picks 9-14 were largely irrelevant again and I moved on to pack 3.

Unfortunately in pack 3 I got a little lazy and a little overconfident.  I had decided that both red and green were wide open and therefore based most of my drafting decisions in this pack on that assumption.  Things started out fine when I took a Volt Charge over a Fresh Meat I had little interest in actually playing; it's not that I think Fresh Meat is a bad card but it's pretty situational and takes a lot of work to make it the game winning monster most people seem to think it is.  Pick 2 however I decided to take an Etched Monstrosity over a 2nd copy of Glissa's Scorn because I was almost certain the Scorn would table.  It didn't and during the draft I discovered that the Monstrosity was actually a pretty bad card in a format with so much artifact removal and random proliferate effects.  He's probably better in NPH/MBS/SoM but in a triple NPH draft this guy is actively "poor" and was the first card I sided out virtually every game 2.  I made up for my mistake with a pick 3 Volt Charge (my 4th) however and grabbed a Fallen Ferromancer over a Leaching Bite with my 4th pick because after all green was open and all those cards would table right?  Wrong; clearly someone else jumped on the train because I never saw another relevant green card for the rest of the draft.  I closed out pack 3 with a 6th pick Razor Swine and a 8th pick Ogre Menial that would ultimately make my deck but all in all it's safe to say I kinda "flubbed' pack 3.
Sitting down to build the deck out of my draft pool was actually pretty easy once I got a look at the cards; the only real question in my mind was how many card slots to devote to the Infect sub-theme and after deciding the answer was not many this is the deck I entered the tournament with: 

"Gruul Summer" - R/G Dinosaurs w/Infect

Creatures - 14:

1x Death-Hood Cobra
2x Razor Swine
2x Fallen Ferromancer
1x Ogre Menial
1x Phrexian Metamorph
1x Tormentor Exarch
1x Etched Monstrosity
1x Moltensteel Dragon
3x Thundering Tanadon
1x Chancellor of the Forge

Spells - 9:

1x Glissa's Scorn
1x Beast Within
2x Sickleslicer (really creatures)
1x Sword of War and Peace
4x Volt Charge

Lands -17:

7x Forest
1x Island
9x Mountain

Overview:   Okay so obviously you don't need me to tell you that a deck with 3 Tanadons, 4 Volt Charges and a mythic Sword is awesome.  What's really interesting to me however is the way it seamlessly blends an early game Infect/Control strategy with a late game Dinosaur Stompy finish.  Typically I would start out each game on the poison path with a Razor Swine and one of my 3 equipment cards.  This in turn would force my opponent to start spending his removal to eliminate my Infect threats and thus making it much easier for me to stick a dinosaur or two in the mid/late game.  Naturally of course my opponent could choose to ignore the poison damage and save his removal for real threats but then they risked the very real possibility of losing to Fallen Ferromancer or the proliferate effect on Volt Charge as the game wore on.  While typically I am not fond of hybrid poison/damage strategies the simple truth is I had so much excellent removal and so many amazing finishers that the 5 Infect cards in the build functioned simply as a time/enegry sink for my opponent at no real loss of efficiency for me.

Unfortunately because I intended to write about this deck much sooner than I ended up doing so I only took the most rudimentary notes on my actual matches during the draft.  Round 1 I played against my good buddy Lucas who was running a *very* sick R/W metalcraft deck that probably would have won the tournament if I hadn't.  Sadly for Lucas I drew my Sword of War and Peace early both games and instantly shut down the Blinding Souleaters and Forced Worships he was dropping on my head.  I did make a mistake game 1 by forgetting I could make the Forced Worship fall off my Chancellor of the Forge simply by equipping the Sword but I figured it out a turn later and killed Lucas immediately with him.  Game 2 ended pretty much the same way except the Sword-bearer this time was a Moltensteel Dragon that I pumped 14 life into to finish my opponent off in one shot.  My round 2 opponent (Zimmer) was from my pod in the draft so I had a pretty good idea that he was playing U/W with a lot of flying.  I knew for a fact he'd grabbed a pack 3 Chancellor of the Spires as a 5th pick because I'd passed it and my opponent directly to the left was also not in blue.  This match would also be when I learned how bad Etched Monstrosity is after Zimmer cast his Chancellor and reused my Volt charge to both kill one of my guys and make my Golem smaller.  Unfortunately my deck was simply too strong for my opponent and despite the fact that Zimmer outplayed me in both matches I won pretty easily on the back of stupid Dinosaurs and removal.  Round 3 turned out to be a bye when my opponent and good friend Kelly dropped after pairings to go home and get some rest.  Truth be told I think he didn't want to jeopardize my shot at Nationals because we're such good friends and decided to drop rather than trying to convince me he intended to play out a match he had no chance of winning.  For further thoughts on this subject please check the section entitled "On Qualifying for Nationals by Rating" in this article.  Fittingly the finals paired me up against a player who had also opened "the nuts"; namely a Batterskull which he drew every single game.  This is not to say that my opponent's deck was poor in any way however; Arthur is a veteran drafter in our local playgroup and is well known for making pretty solid blue control decks regardless of pack composition.  This time he was rocking green as well but his deck was primarily all about Islands, control spells and flying plus the aforementioned Batterskull.  This was not to be Arthur's day however as every single time he dropped the Skull I had the removal for it immediately; I even managed to *kill" the Skull 5 separate times in game 2 when my opponent kept leaving 3 mana open to bounce it back to his hand in response.  Despite both games being close I eventually prevailed behind waves of giant Dinosaurs and managed to escape the evening with my rating intact.  

In the final analysis it would be very tempting to call this draft a product of sick pack luck and some mistakes made by less experienced drafters trying to grasp a brand new format.  After all it's not every day you're going to have 5 powerful rares in the same deck with 4 copies of Volt Charge and it does very little good for me to tell you to snap pick Sword of War and Peace if you open one; you were going to do that anyways.  Until I played Arthur in the finals I honestly felt I *could not* lose a game in this tournament because my deck was simply that strong.  There are however a few things I took away from this draft that I feel will apply somewhat universally to future triple NPH drafts; a format which I expect to have to play for at least the next month while my local drafters build their collections.

  • Dinosaurs are even better than normal in this format because it's slower and so much of the removal is artifact based.  Giant non-artifact bodies with useful abilities dominated a significant number of games in this draft both during my matches and during those around me.  This doesn't mean you should avoid house artifact creatures like Thundering Tanadon and Porcelain Legionnaire but it's now more important than ever to have 2-4 "big bodies" that don't go down to a Shatter effect in your deck because with 3 packs of NPH it's gonna seem like the Glissa's Scorns and Gremlin Mines are everywhere.
  • Infect is not a decktype so much as a theme and should be drafted accordingly.  While it's certainly true that there are a number of amazing poison cards in NPH and a significant number of games around me were won by poison I didn't get the impression that traditional B/G Infect aggro was still a viable decktype in this format.  For one thing the Infect trait is spread out over all 5 colors and there aren't enough good poisonous artifacts to cover up the gap.  Black for example has virtually no quality commons with the Infect trait and unless you open a Reaper of Sheoldred it's highly unlikely you'll end up in poison out of this color.  Presumably the Pestilent Souleater is supposed to cover up this gap but in practice it's basically the worst Scourge Servant ever; a card that was itself pretty marginal in previous Infect builds this arc.  Green doesn't fair much better in my eyes with it's best Infect common being the 1/1 Glistener Elf who is so far being *criminally* overdrafted on tables I'm playing at.  Naturally this doesn't make all infect cards bad; I saw a number of games won on the back of Viral Drakes, Triumph of the Hordes, Fallen Ferromancers and the occasional Shriek Raptor but all 3 of the players who forced straight aggro Infect decks in this draft were highly disappointed with the final results.  At this moment the only truly viable infect strategy I see in the format is U/B control with proliferate effects; Kelly was 2-0 with a similar idea before dropping from the tournament and after watching the end of his 2nd round I felt the deck-type was pretty solid. 
  • Equipment is incredibly scare in this format unless you open good rares/mythics which in turn hurts both the Infect and Skies deck archetypes at least slightly.  Quite literally the only stat boosting gear in this format that isn't R/M is Sickleslicer and scarcity alone means you probably aren't going to be passed this card very often. This may not seem particularly significant at first but I assure you it will become more relevant the first time you pass an attack phase with multiple "bears" in play because your opponent has a Spire Monitor on the table. 
  • Phrexian Mana is very powerful but also very dangerous.  While it's certainly tempting to throw down 3/1 first strikers and 5/4 tramplers as soon as possible failing to properly manage your life total while doing so can be fatal.  Due to the lack of "true Infect" decks generally you're going to want to actually be able to cast your spells without losing life eventually in virtually every match-up you play.  For example I won a number of games in this draft simply by playing for a draw while my opponents spent 2-8 life rapidly flooding the board with their Phyrexian mana critters, only to have me kill their monsters before they could really take advantage of it.  In a way this allowed me to generate numerous 2 for 1 scenarios by getting in 2-4 points of damage as if I had cast creatures early while still letting me safely destroy my opponent's monsters.  Used early and in moderation this mechanic is obviously very powerful but don't go loading up your deck with 18 ways to lose 2 life if you expect to win in 3x NPH drafts.  
Well gang there you have it; the sensational story of how I managed to draft 4 Volt Charges and 3 Tanadon's on New Phrexia release night and somehow managed to leave the draft without being lynched by my opponents.  Hopefully you've enjoyed this article and have found it helpful in some way.  Personally despite the fact that it's heinously overpowered I am really enjoying the triple NPH format and will gladly agree to play it for as long as my locals desire.  It turns out that small set drafting is actually pretty fun when you aren't running into decks with 4x Blightwidow all the time; who knew?!  Until next time always remember that there is absolutely no good excuse for passing a Phyrexian Metamorph and keep it weird folks.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Abstract Iterations #2 - Cleaning Out My Closet

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As regular readers will already know I'm not overtly enamored with generic strategy articles or opinion/editorial type pieces here on this blog.  This is because I prefer more information orientated articles that focus on specific decks, cards and tournaments.  I generally believe that people who're reading about Magic on the internet are already plugged in enough to form their own opinions about the game and thus readers would rather I focus on cold hard facts when I post an article; information is power while opinions are like... nevermind you know the saying.  With that having been noted however I've recently found myself participating in a number of fascinating, emotionally charged discussions about Magic on Twitter with other players quite literally from all over the world.  While none of these discussions merits an article on it's own I thought it might be useful to group my thoughts on these subjects together into one article here on the blog.  For those of you looking for hot draft action or a Standard decklist; sorry to disappoint and I promise to get back to my typical fact orientated writing as soon as I get a couple things off my chest here.

On the New Phyrexia Pre-release Format: While personally I was unable to attend any of the local NPH pre-release events here in Toronto I had a number of friends both locally and on Twitter who attended multiple tournaments and I have to say folks; they weren't happy.  After reading a whole weekend's worth of complaints I had to see for myself and I managed to sucker a couple of them into playing the sealed format with me despite their general objections.  Unfortunately nothing about my play experience allowed me to disagree with the majority on the subject; the format is particularly bad because the wrong packs were chosen to form the sealed pools.  Simply put not only do I no longer need any of the rares/mythics in Scars the set has almost no synergy whatsoever with New Phyrexia without Mirrodin Besieged to bridge the gap.  This is particularly noticeable if you open a significant number of cards that say Metalcraft or Infect on them; the first trait is virtually nonexistent in NPH (Dispatch and?) while the SoM Infect cards require a constant stream of poisonous bodies which meshes poorly with the slow controlish Infect style favored in New Phrexia.  Additionally the common infect creatures in NPH just aren't as good as the common Infect creatures in SoM and the trait is spread out over all 5 colors instead of being concentrated into 2 like before.  While there are definitely powerful cards for either decktype in the format (Legionnaire, Tanadon for MC/Reaper of Sheoldred, Triumph of the Hordes for BG Infect) this simple truth is the lack of synergy made most of these cards "dead" in the pools they were opened in.  This in turn forced an absolutely huge number of people into playing 3 color control decks; typically Jund (B/G/R), Grixis (U/R/B) and Naya (G/R/W).  While I'm certainly not saying this is a bad result the truth is that 3 color control decks are *always* pretty good in sealed and changing the pack composition would have opened up other deck types in my opinion.  After finding the 3x SoM/3x NPH format frustrating several friends and I decided to play 6x NPH as an excuse to open more packs and found the format way more exciting; even with the presence of decks that had 3-4 copies of multiple strong common/uncommon removal spells (Volt Charge, Blinding Souleater, Dismember, etc).  While the decks were certainly a little overpowered to a man (woman) we agreed that the format was WAY more fun that what WotC had offered the previous weekend.  I don't want to be a whiny mcwhinerson here but I have a sneaking suspicion that the mix of packs chosen for this format had a LOT more to do with selling a whole pile of Scars packs than it did with providing the most fun release environment possible.  This is just my opinion of course but there's no question 2/2/2 with MBS included or just 6x NPH would have been a more enjoyable format.

On Qualifying for Nationals by Rating: Okay so technically I'm not actually qualified for nationals yet; due to some glitches in WotC's new tournament software they extended the cut-off date for Nationals Invitations to June 1st.  At this point however my rating is high enough that I do not believe enough people can catch me in time to prevent me from being in the top 100; I'm currently 45th in Canada with a 1971 Total rating and I believe the person in spot #100 is more than 30 points behind me.  Recently qualifying for this event has become a major goal in my life and once I realized that my rating was high enough to grant the opportunity I spent a great deal of time, energy and effort in making sure I stayed within the top 100 in Canada.  While I'm certainly happy to have accomplished my goal (I set out to qualify for Nationals the day after GP Toronto) there are certain aspects of the experience overall that I consider hugely negative and will probably never repeat.

For starters I would not purposely set out to qualify based on ranking ever again; simply put the DCI ratings system is horrible for a game like Magic and fails to account for the random variance inherent to the game itself.  While I won't bore you with complicated math the simple truth is the formula used to calculate your rating is based on completely unrealistic expected win % numbers when comparing two players 200-300 points apart on the rating scale.  You can learn more about your rating in this excellent article by Jeff Till at but suffice to say when some of the best players in the history of the game have career win percentages of 60-63% (Kai Budde, Jon Finkel, etc) it's pretty unrealistic to assume I have an 85% chance of beating *anyone* who's even reasonably competent at this game.  In my situation this problem is compounded by the fact that I mostly play Limited against hardened Magic veterans who have been playing for over a decade but absolutely do not maintain their ratings, so while the computer may think I have an huge edge over my opponent in terms of talent and experience that simply isn't true.  Finally further exacerbating this issue is the fact that due to poor health and a busy work schedule I have a hard time traveling to larger Magic tournaments more than once or twice a year.  This of course means that the vast majority of my events are standard LGS Drafts or 8K Friday Night Magic events; between the low K values of these tournaments and the vast disparity between my rating and the average rating in the room it's actually been incredibly hard for me to get anywhere within the system.  At this point losing a single match can cost me as much as 13-14 points while winning an entire 4 round tournament rarely gains me more than 9 points.  You don't need to be a math major to understand that the "Law of Diminishing Returns" is at work in this scenario and I have been playing with absolutely no margin for error since at least the beginning of March.  This may shock you to hear but the truth is *never* being allowed to lose isn't exactly a fun way to play Magic and I honestly feel just winning a National Qualifier tournament would have been much easier.  After all to win a 100 man qualifier you only have to be the best player in the room for a single day; to maintain a 1950+ rating while constantly playing in 8K LGS events you have to be the best player in the room all the time.  Frankly I doubt I'm up to the task; my local environment has a lot of very good players and the current streak I am on comes down as much to luck as any sort of playskill on my part.

This leads into my other major issue with qualifying on rating; the fact that right now it makes more sense for me *not* to play in sanctioned Magic tournaments than it does for me to keep playing the game I love at a competitive level.  Now before you dive all over me and say "it's your choice whether to risk the points or not" or "sitting on your rating is so lame" you need to understand one thing; it's not all about me anymore.  In fact I decided sometime in early March that I was going to keep playing despite the odds against me simply to at once prove to myself that I deserved the invitation and to maintain practice/focus for what will no doubt be the largest tournament in my life.  I did exactly what everyone on Twitter suggested; I cowgirled up and kept rolling the dice and somehow against all odds I kept coming out the winner.  A funny thing happened on the road to glory however; I started to notice that my friends and playgroup weren't having much fun playing against me.  You see like true friends none of these guys wanted to jeopardize my chances of attending Nationals and each of them were fully aware that even a single loss at this point in the season to someone with a low enough rating would likely cancel my ticket immediately.  In fact I began to suspect that they'd made an unspoken pact to avoid beating me for this very reason and when my good friend Kelly decided to "go home and get some sleep" rather than play me in the 2-0 bracket of a Thursday Night Draft I couldn't ignore the uncomfortable position I was putting my friends in any longer.  It was obvious to me that none of these guys intended to beat me before we sat down and while not everyone I played with was a friend of mine enough of them were that my participation in a given event meant a whole lot of people I cared about wouldn't be allowed to play to win.  This realization made me feel terrible about Magic and with a heavy heart I decided to stop playing until June 1st when things would go back to "normal" and I could stop caring about my rating.  Once again I'm left with the idea that simply winning a qualifying tournament would have been far less stressful and would have allowed me to keep playing Magic with my friends guilt free these past few weeks.

On the Proper Training of Jedi:  Recently on Twitter I found myself participating in a detailed multi-person discussion about introducing new players to tournament level Magic that quite frankly left me a little upset and confused.  While the discussion originally started with a friend of mine suggesting I shouldn't loan out my spare decks for FNM as often as I do eventually it evolved into an epic argument over how best to help aspiring card-floppers develop into strong tournament Magic players.  I'm certainly not going to repeat the argument here but I felt strongly enough about the issue that I wanted to revisit my philosophies on training new tournament partners in more than 140 characters.  After all nobody plays forever (except me) and sooner or later I'll need to find new people to play with if I want to keep playing Magic!
First and foremost I think it's important to help new players establish clearly defined, attainable goals that reflect what they want to gain out of the Magic experience.  In essence I ask them "are you a brewer or a jockey?"  For many aspiring tournament players building/playing interesting decks to 2-2 finishes at FNM is all they really want out of this game and for them a little advice on how to make their epic homebrew masterpiece "suck less" is all it will take to start them along their way.  These players a likely the future mad brewers and combo maniacs of your environment and will as a general rule be self starters and rugged individualists; they don't want answers they merely want a little guidance towards the path that will help them find the answers on their own.  Unfortunately the path of "trial and error" that most brewers have to walk is both the most arduous and time consuming; left to his own devices it can take a new player potentially years to "level up" far enough to consistently win tournaments with their own homebrews and as the losses mount up it gets pretty hard not to become discouraged.  The simple truth is that most people don't have the dedication, thick skin and emotional detachment necessary to be a truly successful brewer and when I meet someone who has these qualities I try to provide as much encouragement as I can while taking a hands off approach and providing card/theory advice only when asked directly.  You can't rush genius and typically a brewer is going to have to fall down 100 times before he can really dance anyways.

Most players however enter the tournament scene because their competitive nature has taken them past kitchen table Magic; they want to battle with other competitive people and they want to win those battles.  I affectionately refer to this type of player as a "jockey", short for "deck jockey" because much like a professional racer they are more concerned with winning than which horse they're riding while doing so.   Typically this type of player will be asking for help because what he's trying at the moment isn't working and he's prepared to try something, anything else so long as it produces the desired result; match and tournament victories.  These players may have started out as brewers but by now their losses will have started to mount and along with them their frustrations.  This can be a struggle in and of itself because many times when you meet a jockey he (or she) will already be thinking about giving up on Magic altogether and be suffering from a severe lack of patience with the game overall.  They may be lacking confidence from losing all the time and I've even encountered a few players who were beginning to question their own intelligence in the face of mounting match losses. 

Unfortunately the only way out of this downward spiral for a true jockey is to start winning matches and preferably as fast as possible.  To this end I believe the best way to help this type of player is to "hook them up" with as much information about the format as possible; links to key strategy websites like , or are a great start but if you really want to help someone get better at tournament Magic they are only a beginning.  I try to encourage aspiring "jockeys" to spend the necessary time and effort researching the decks that are actually winning tournaments right now with a specific emphasis on higher K value events like Qualifiers, Regionals, Pro Tour events and Star City Games Open events.  I also encourage them to keep up with the daily tournaments held on Magic Online because generally everything you will see at your local FNM seems to show up on MtGO at least a weak before it breaks into the general environment.  You can find these lists by visiting the What's Happening page on the Mothership site and looking for the Event Coverage box on the right side of your screen.  While my primary focus is and will remain Standard as you can see MtGO holds numerous events in all kinds of formats and you can get complete decklists for each deck that performed well (3-1 or better) by clicking on each specific tournament. 

Once a player has shown the willingness to do a little research I encourage them to actually *play* as many of these tier 1 decks as possible and this is where the lending out my decks part comes into play.  It is simply not realistic to expect a starting Magic player to run out and buy a 300-500 dollar Standard deck sight unseen without a test drive and frankly most people just don't have the patience to build 75 cards out of mostly proxies.  I on the other hand as both a game store manager and a complete Standard junkie typically have slightly tweaked copies of all the best decks in the format lying around simply to test against.  Since I can only play one of these decks at a tournament I'm typically willing to loan them out on a tournament by tournament basis to any of the local "jockeys" who I know are still trying to break into the format.  This allows a new player to test out a number of top decks in the format before making an informed choice about which deck he wants to play while simultaneously allowing him to practice with a great deck and learn why good players before him built it the way they did.  I even occasionally loan these decks out for several nights at a time if trust is not an issue so that the player can put in the necessary repetitions to learn the deck inside and out before tournament play.  This type of "training" has several advantages for the aspiring "jockey" because it forces them to focus on fundamentals and actually learning to play high level Magic while also providing reassurance that they are on the right path; after all if hundreds of pros are winning tournaments with Caw Blade why can't you?  It also tends to lead to actual wins much faster if the player in question is actually prepared to put in the time and effort to learn the format as a whole.  This in turn helps wash away the frustration and despair that comes with losing and provides the player with a real basis on which to build his understanding of the format as a whole; personally I think of it as throwing a fellow warrior a lifeline across a falling bridge but I'm kinda nerdy like that. 

Unfortunately the downside is that I have to face my own decks in tournaments all of the time but to be fair I don't really mind; most of the time the decks I loan out merely represent a starting point for the people I'm trying to help and within 2-3 sets they are already off on their own with opinions and ideas that differ from mine.  The larger point remains that I know have another player to compete with in my local environment and I'm more than happy to have helped him learn the very basics of tournament Magic.  If I said I was doing anything more than that I'd be a self aggrandizing liar and I'm just happy to have someone else to play Magic with. 

On the Sorting in New Phrexia: As a veteran of *many* other CCG's where this is not true I have always felt that Wizards has some of the finest mechanical card sorting in the industry.  Typically a MtG product will break down almost *exactly* by the numbers over the course of a single case and as both a player and a store manager I have always opened these products in case form just to guarantee an even spread.  At this point however I have to say that I think something is seriously wrong with the sorting in New Phyrexia.  I have now opened 2 cases for the store, 4 boxes for myself, 2 fat packs and loose packs adding up to 4 drafts and 3 sealed pools; combined with reports from a number of friends who also opened 3-6 boxes each I feel pretty comfortable that it's not just "variance" either.  Here is a short list of problems I've seen with my own eyes:

  • Multiple Fat Packs were opened with 6 uncommons in some or all of the packs inside.  These took the place of common cards so I doubt anyone is complaining but it certainly makes "drafting out of a Fat Pack" a little trickier.
  • Entire boxes with only 2 uncommons and an extra common in each pack.  Guess that's where all the extras from the fat packs came from?
  • A box that produced 9 copies of Norn's Annex and 4 copies of Jin-Gitaxias.  Based on my understanding of CCG print runs I don't even know how this is possible but I definitely saw it with my own eyes.
  • Boxes that contain either all the good mythics or all the bad ones.  This is of course a somewhat subjective complaint but it's becoming disturbingly uncanny how often Sword of War and Peace/Batterskull/Karn come near each other in the same box but the box with the Blue, Green and White Praetor rarely seems to turn up any of those cards.  I want to dismiss this complaint but I'm looking at too many Swords/Skulls in my trade binder to really argue the point.
  • Boxes that contain 10+ copies of certain uncommons and 2- of others.  This may not seem very relevant but when you open 2 Mental Missteps in a box and you play Legacy that's pretty frustrating.  
  • A box that contained no Mythic rares whatsoever.  Again based on my understanding of how CCG's are made/packaged this should not be possible.
  • Packs with 2 copies of the same common but no foils involved.  Again not a big deal but pretty annoying if you're trying to run a fair draft; I would hate to accuse someone of adding cards because of a packaging mistake.
  • In 4 boxes and 3 fatpacks I have somehow opened 11 Norn's Annex, 11 Omen Machines, 10 Hex Parasites, 10 Birthing Pods and a grand total of 2 Spellskites/Caged Sun's.  As you can imagine I'm not that upset about the Caged Sun but the absence of Spellskite in multiple boxes + Fat packs is starting to wear thin.  
  • Also personally I have opened exactly 1 copy of Urabrask the Hidden (in foil no less) but 5 copies of Vorinclex and the aforementioned 13 mythic equipment.  This very well could be normal variance but when combined with the other problems I *know* are real it certainly doesn't feel like it.

Overall I think it's safe to say that "something is rotten in the state of Denmark" in regards to New Phyrexia boxes and I for one hope Wizards quickly returns to their usually *flawless* sorting as soon as possible; it's pretty hard to justify opening more boxes to find the cards I need until I know this problem is fixed.

On Passing 25,000 Pageviews Yesterday: Back when I started this blog at the end of August in 2010 I really didn't know where I was headed with it or for that matter how long I would continue blogging.  I certainly had no idea if people would actually *read* the articles I was writing but I felt the need to reach out and start writing about Magic anyways.  Well folks I am proud to say that sometime last night The Cardboard Witch passed 25,000 all time pageviews proving without a doubt that someone out there is reading and my writing is reaching someone.  I can not stress how gratifying and at the same time humbling it is to know that other Magic players find this blog at least worth checking out from time to time and I promise to keep trying my best to make it a place worth visiting.  It's just a number on the pageview counter but knowing that so many people are reading or have read The Cardboard Witch truly inspires me to galvanize my efforts and for that I am very grateful.  To anyone who's reading this right now; thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Well folks that's certainly enough rambling out of me for one day; as always thanks for reading and I promise to avoid op/ed pieces for a little while now that this is out of the way.  I really do sometimes wonder if having a Twitter account is bad for my writing so I decided to expand on a few things that were "sticking in my craw" so to speak; my bad won't happen again.... for a while.  :)  Until next time gang always remember playing Magic is more fun than not playing Magic and you'll get by with a little help from your friends.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Standard Deviations #14 - In a Strange Land: Starting Points in New Phyrexia

Hello ladies and gentlemen; I hope you've all had a "Magical" week and welcome back to another edition of the Cardboard Witch.  Judging by the number of emails and direct messages I've been receiving asking for advice, decklists and format projections the post NPH evironment has everyone excited about Standard again.  This is a good thing if, like myself you're an unrepentant Magic junkie with an extensive "Type 2" collection; pre-NPH Standard had firmly settled into a one horse race and a number of my friends simply gave up on beating Caw Blade about a month or so ago.  It's hard to feed the monkey when you have nobody to play with so I for one welcome any changes to Standard that get more people back to the table and playing while simultaneously reducing the number of people begging for Jace/Mystic bans on Twitter.

Unfortunately due to time constraints and my complete inability to open the cards I need for decks in packs of New Phyrexia I only recently started testing this past weekend; I don't think I need to tell anyone that 5-6 days is hardly enough time to form solid opinions on an entire format.  I have however had a chance to play about 150 pre-SB games in that time while testing out 4 different decks I've been tinkering with since NPH was spoiled early.  While I'm not exactly fond of publishing decklists without proper testing I've been assured by a number of readers that they'd rather see "where I'm at right now" than wait around for final versions of these decks; this is probably because I write slowly and like to test a deck at least 200 times before I bother to share on the blog.  For those of you used to my usual level of thorough testing please accept my apologies in advance and I promise that I won't make a habit of this; there's nothing I hate worse than running around to find the cards to build a deck only to have the designer tell me 3 days later that he *now* sees that the original build was completely wrong and I have to run out for 25 new cards to "fix" it.  In light of this I ask that you understand that these lists merely represent a starting point in the post NPH environment; quite literally these are the first 4 decks I built that survived the initial goldfish/testing process and I'm sharing them now merely by request.  At this point I have a pretty good idea of where the sideboards for these decks are headed but until I'm confident that the main builds for these decks are finished I'm not too worried about it.  Additionally developing a proper 15 card sideboard is much easier once you know what cards *other* people like in the format and thanks to Wizards I won't have to make any of these decks tournament ready until June 1st; might as well take the time to measure twice right?  And now, the decks:

Cult of the Furnace God - RDW:

Creatures -16:

4x Furnace Scamp
4x Goblin Guide
4x Ember Hauler
4x Kiln Fiend

Spells - 21:

4x Lightning Bolt
3x Burst Lightning
4x Searing Blaze
4x Shrine of Burning Rage
3x Staggershock
3x Koth of the Hammer

Lands - 23:

4x Teetering Peaks
4x Arid Mesa
15x Mountain

First of all I should probably mention that this isn't exactly my deck.  A friend of mine (Jared Devlin-Scherer) who's a former CCG designer and possibly the smartest man I know basically handed me the shell of this build to wake me out of my funk and get me interested in the post-NPH environment.  All I did was add Kiln Fiends, Arid Mesas and mess around with the card numbers slightly before rolling over almost everything I tested it against.  Out of all of the decks in this article Jared's RDW design is the one I've played the most and I'm pretty comfortable declaring it a finished product; mad props to my homeboy for building such a wicked damage engine.

In terms of deck-style this build is a fairly classic example of RDW; although in this case the deck is more orientated towards "burn" and "dome" (throwing damage at the play directly) effects than previous versions in this arc.  In fact when Jared first sent me the deck he noted that essentially every card in the deck was a "domeable burn spell" and thus the deck was not dependent on keeping creatures in play.  This is a VERY smart idea in a format dominated by Stoneforge Mystic, Deciever Exarch, Lotus Cobra and a million other powerful effects that happen to have "legs"; your opponents WILL be packing creature removal spells maindeck in the post NPH environment simply to deal with these cards.  Naturally of course I screwed the theory up almost immediately by adding Kiln Fiend; who is not really a burn spell and without haste is pretty vulnerable to removal spells.  In testing however the payoff of potential turn 3-4 victories that don't involve Koth or a Shrine of Burning Rage was too good to pass up.

Cards of Note:  Shrine of Burning Rage is probably the best card in this entire deck and the vast majority of games will end with you "doming" your opponent out with a 6-9 point Shrine.  The entire deck has been built to interact with this card including keeping a lower curve to make it that much easier to load up the Shrine quickly and efficiently.  Simply put you pretty much ALWAYS want to play the Shrine turn 2 if possible unless you're on the draw, you're staring down a Stoneforge Mystic and you know for sure she's about to put a Batterskull in play.  In this scenario it's acceptable to Searing Blaze the Mystic and wait for turn 3 to play your Shrine but it will be a very rare situation where dropping the Shrine as quickly as possible is not the correct play.  Trust me, if you don't believe in the power of this card now all it will take is 1-2 games with or against a solid Mono Red build running them to change your mind; "Shrine of Melting Your Face Off" is absolutely nuts.  Furnace Scamp is the other NPH inclusion in the maindeck and while I initially balked at playing it this little guy is actually very good in the current format.  He'd obviously be much better if he had haste but the vast majority of the time you'll cast one early and easily connect for 4 damage.  For example one of my favorite openings on the play goes something like: turn 1 Furnace Scamp, Turn 2 Goblin Guide, Teetering Peeks on the Guide, swing for 5 and sacrifice the Scamp for another 3.  Alternately getting 4 damage through while casting a turn 2 Shrine really isn't a bad deal either.  For those who are going to ask me anyways; yes you pretty much always sacrifice him if he connects because he's probably not going to connect later in the game.  Additionally Jared assures me that you board him out for more burn/creature control in game 2 on the draw although I can't confirm this as I haven't played any sideboarded games with the deck; the theory is sound however.  Staggershock was chosen over Volt Charge because it still puts 2 counters on the Shrine (Rebound cards are actually recast on upkeep) and adds up to one more damage overall.  Oddly enough Koth does not shine in this build like I expected him to; most of the time you'd rather cast a bunch of cheap R spells to load up your Shrines and get more damage through than stop and cast a 4CC planeswalker.  He does however help you win bogged down games against heavy removal and as always gives top tier control decks like Caw Blade fits so I wouldn't advise cutting him.

Grixis Twin - U/B/R Combo: 

Creatures - 10:

4x Spellskite
4x Deciever Exarch
2x Grave Titan

Spells - 24:

4x Preordain
4x Inquisition of Kozilek
3x Lightning Bolt
3x Go For the Throat
3x Mana Leak
4x Splinter Twin
3x Jace the Mindsculptor

Lands - 26:

4x Creeping Tar Pit
4x Darkslick Shores
4x Blackcleave Cliffs
4x Scalding Tarn
4x Mountain
4x Island
2x Dragonskull Summit

By now everyone has at least heard of this deck after it's strong showing at the Star City Games Orlando Open and there are likely a number of variants running around your local environment as we speak.  This is the version of deck I built after reading a number of articles about the decktype; most notably those provided by (I'd link but they're having tech difficulties atm - ed.).  Unfortunately I've only had one evening to test the deck because a number of the cards I used to build my initial copy were borrowed and the lender needed them back after a single testing session.  I can however say that the deck tested out pretty well during the evening; going something like 8-2 in pre SB matches vs Caw Blade, a post NPH Valakut and a BUG design I felt still needed some work.  As a word of warning I should mention that this deck is not particularly easy to play well; like most combo decks there's a very fine line between racing towards your combo and making sure your opponent can't stop you from winning.  This is why the deck includes 2 Grave Titans; if the game grinds out too long and your opponent can effectively stop the Exarch/Twin combo then you simply cast the giant zombie maker and go to town.

Cards of Note:  While obviously the Splinter Twin/Deceiver Exarch combo forms the backbone of the deck in my brief play experience the most important card in this build was actually the Spellskite.  Putting this card into play on turn 2 essentially amounts to adding a free counterspell to your hand for the purposes of comboing off with the Exarch/Twin.  In fact I will go so far as to say that dealing with Spellskite is going to be one of the *major* themes of the post-NPH environment; every time I put this card into play I find a new way to use it to wreck my opponents.  Inquisition of Kozilek was chosen as the maindeck discard spell over Duress and Despise simply because it's better at finding removal spells will still letting me rip Stoneforge Mystics and Sword of Feast and Famine out of my opponents hands.  Once again part of playing a creature based combo deck is protecting said combo and simply put Inquisition does that better than the other options available.  The removal package of 3x Go For the Throat and 3x Lightning Bolt was chosen to simultaneously attack enemy Spellskites (can't redirect a G4tT) while still protecting against problem artifact cards like Precursor Golem.  During testing the idea of replacing the Bolts with Dismember came up multiple times and I'm not entirely sure that's wrong.  The only issue I have is that without playing 4 life Dismember is more expensive than Bolt and it doesn't make as efficient use of our mana; any deck based around a RR2 Aura is going to play a significant # of red sources and not having anything to do with them but Splinter Twin seems sketchy.  Finally as mentioned I chose Grave Titan as the alternate path to victory in this build over Consecrated Sphinx.  Once again this choice comes down to a question of decktype; namely if you're going to lose with this build it's probably going to be because your opponent has a tremendous amount of removal.  Against this type of opponent Grave Titan shines by leaving behind 2 Zombie tokens even if he's killed and being immune to Doom Blade (which is still a viable card in STD afaict).  Remember, your opponent is likely going to be holding back instant speed removal at all times against this deck simply because it's so easy for you to combo out in one cycle; this in turn means that it's *highly* unlikely your Consecrated Sphinx will survive into upkeep against a deck that's good enough to have not already lost to your combo.  Finally I should probably mention that a number of people I've shared this deck with have asked for another card draw spell of some kind; personally I've had almost zero issues with 4x Preordain and 3x Jace but if it becomes an issue I'd probably choose an Into the Roil/Twitch type effect before I went with one of the many "pay 2-3 mana draw 2 cards at sorcery speed" options in the format.

"Skullblade" - U/W Fish:

Creatures - 12:

4x Stoneforge Mystic
4x Spellskite
4x Mirran Crusader

Spells - 21:

4x Preordain
3x Condemn
3x Spell Pierce
3x Mana Leak
2x Divine Offering
1x Sword of Feast and Famine
1x Sword of War and Peace
2x Tumble Magnet
3x Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1x Batterskull

Lands - 25:

4x Celestial Colonnade
4x Seachrome Coast
4x Glacial Fortress
5x Island
5x Plains
3x Tectonic Edge

In my opinion this is the list that will likely cause the most controversy; people are *very* attached to their Squadron Hawks and any Caw Blade list without them stands a pretty good chance of being rejected out of hand.  After testing however I'm prepared to take that chance because simply put Spellskite is a *way* better card than Squadron Hawk and the deck's mana curve doesn't work well with 12 cards in the 2CC slot; I know, I tried it with both initially.  The Sqwak doesn't provide free counterspells to protect your Mystics/Batterskull, it isn't pro-black and can't end the game in a single shot like the Crusader so it doesn't make the final cut.  Feel free to call me insane in the comments but I believe the end of the Squadron Hawk era is now firmly upon us.   While I must admit to only having about 25 games in with this deck at this point I'm pretty confident that it's very strong; so far my only losses have come to decks involving Shrine of Burning Rage (more on this later).

Cards of Note:  By now people are going to be tired of hearing about how amazing Batterskull is in Cawblade; get used to it because so far in testing this card has actually somehow been *better* than I anticipated.  Frankly this card and this card alone has officially turned Stoneforge Mystic into a second Lotus Cobra in the format; namely you absolutely must kill her before your opponent starts a turn to remove her summoning sickness.  If you do not you're probably going to lose to Batterskull and I can assure you it won't be pretty.  The sad truth is most of the time in testing my opponents *have" snap killed the Mystic and still ultimately lost to a turn 5 hardcast Batterskull; I will not be surprised if by the time I take this deck out to sanctioned tournaments I've added a 2nd copy because this card is just that good on the table.  As previously mentioned above Spellskite is an absolutely godsend to any deck trying to protect a creature based strategy and this is no different; whether it's keeping your Mystic alive long enough to force in a Batterskull or preventing your opponent from touching a Mirran Crusader who's about to one shot him with a Sword of War and Peace this card shines in Caw Blade.  As I wrote on Twitter last night; any card that can make me cast it turn 2 over a Stoneforge Mystic in hand has got a lot going for it.  Obviously the "1 shot you lose" combo with SoW&P is the primary reason for including the Crusader but frankly he's just as effective with a Sword of Feast and Famine in his hands.  Additionally with the rise of Spellskite I envision Go For the Throat replacing Lightning Bolt as the removal spell of choice and Cruasder is clearly very effective against black removal spells in that situation.  Condemn was chosen over Oust because it's instant, more effective against RDW aggro strategies and because unless your opponent actually attacks with his Spellskite too it can not be redirected.  Finally I caved and added two copies of Divine Offering to the maindeck to reflect an environment I expect to see dominated by Spellskites, Batterskulls, Tezzeret decks and Shrine of Burning Rages.  This wasn't something I did willingly but so far in testing it's bearing out as an excellent choice; I have not played a single deck yet that did not maindeck at least one artifact.          

"Grave Consequences" - U/B Control:

Creatures - 7:

2x Gatekeeper of Malakir
2x Phyrexian Metamorph
3x Grave Titan

Spells - 27:

4x Preordain
4x Despise
2x Spell Pierce
2x Inquisition of Kozilek
4x Mana Leak
3x Go for the Throat
2x Into the Roil
3x Dismember
4x Jace the Mind Sculptor

Lands - 26:

4x Darkslick Shores
4x Drowned Catacombs
4x Creeping Tar Pit
3x Tectonic Edge
6x Swamp
5x Island

As regular readers of this blog know I have a huge soft spot for U/B Control decks built around Grave Titan and in fact it's actually my favorite deck in Standard.  The only reason I stopped playing it this winter was the rise of Caw Blade; a deck that effectively ended U/B Control's reign at the top of standard by being both faster & more durable than U/B could ever hope to be.  This was primarily caused by the U/B Control player's inability to deal simultaneously with quick aggressive creatures carrying Swords (Mystic, Hawk) and ground out strategies involving Planeswalkers (Jace, Gideon).  Inquisition of Kozilek helped against the Mystics and Duress was effective against Jace but it was virtually impossible to construct a deck capable of dealing with both aspects of the U/W strategy.  Enter Despise.  By combining Ostracize with the part of Duress I cared about in this format Wizards managed to give me back my favorite deck in one fell swoop.  Once again I should mention that this is not a particularly easy deck to play but typically most control strategies aren't and the power level of the cards in this build make it slightly more forgiving than traditional control decks.

Cards of Note:  As previously mentioned the most important NPH card in this build is Despise; this format is pretty much all about creatures and Planeswalkers with the exception of Batterskull and having a single card that attacks both is very powerful right now.  I would also be remiss if I didn't give Dismember it's fair share; while it's not my favorite removal spell in the format it combines well with Go For the Throat to help answer most creature packages in the format effectively.  Remember just because you *can* lose 4 life to play it for 1 doesn't mean you have to and the utility this spell provides because of that is pretty much off the charts.  The inclusion of Into the Roil was a bit of a compromise; during testing I felt the deck needed more ways to handle a Batterskull while simultaneously wanting another card draw effect; so far the results have been mixed but I haven't found anything better for that slot either.  Finally I'd like to give some love to my favorite card in the deck; Phyrexian Metamorph.  The fact that people aren't including this card in more decks is completely insane; a 3 mana clone in a format with 8 million come into play effects is ridiculously powerful and I firmly expect this card to start popping up in decks all over the place very soon.  In this build his primary function is to copy enemy Batterskulls and/or Titans (your own or his) but the truth is this card is as good as the best creature/artifact your opponent plays during the first 4-5 turns.  I've copied Vengevines, Phyrexian Crusaders, a Wurmcoil Engine and even a couple Spellskites when I desperately needed a colorless blocker.  Probably my favorite Metamorph play so far involved my opponent dropping a turn 4 Primeval Titan on the draw and fishing out 2 copies of Valakut only to have me play a land, Metamorph to copy the Titan and fish out 2 Tectonic Edges before killing *his* Prime Titan with a Go For the Throat.  I won that game.

Well folks there you have it; a completely unstructured look at all the decks in my Standard Lab as they stand at this exact moment.  As previously mentioned I simply haven't had enough time to test everything in this format so these lists can and in fact probably *will* change.  Hopefully however these decks aren't too far from where they will end up and can at least provide a starting point for people out their working on their own ideas.  As for sideboarding; ya'll are on your own suckas! (*nina dodges*)  Jared mentioned that both Dismember and Act of Aggression were necessary in the RDW but other than that I'm still mulling too many options over in my mind to put definitive 15 card 'boards together.  As always thanks for reading and remember folks just because @Smi77y goes nuts over a card doesn't *automatically* mean it's bad!

(PS: Inside joke, if you don't know who Smitty is you need to get on Twitter and/or start downloading The Eh Team Podcasts at or , no really.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Of Limited Interest #29 - A Brave New (Phyrexian) World

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As most of you are no doubt already aware this past weekend was the worldwide Pre-release for New Phyrexia; the 3rd and final set in the Scars of Mirrodin Block.  Unfortunately for a number of reasons I was unable to attend any of the pre-release events in my area this weekend; work, my health and the fact that I am currently qualified for Canadian Nationals based on my DCI rating were all factors in this decision.  Thankfully many of my friends happen to be good at Limited Magic and were able to win enough packs of New Phyrexia at the pre-release to allow us to hold a couple of full Scars block drafts after the events (NPH/MBS/SoM).   While I certainly can't claim to have mastered this exciting new format at this point I did perform reasonably well in these two events; going 2-1 for 2nd place and 3-0-1 for a share of 1st.   Let's take a quick look at the decks I ran and talk a little bit about my initial impressions of how adding New Phyrexia has changed the SoM draft format:

"Dino Sores" - G/B Dinosaurs w/ Infect backdoor:

Creatures - 13 (14):

1x Copper Myr
1x Death Hood Cobra
1x Necropede
1x Viridian Emissary
1x Rust Tick
1x Flesh-Eater Imp
1x Peace Strider
1x Skinrender
1x Molder Beast
2x Tangle Hulk
1x Alpha Tyrranax
1x Fangren Marauder

Spells - 10 (9):

1x Glissa's Scorn
2x Grim Affliction
1x Morbid Plunder
1x Trigon of Corruption
1x Triumph of the Hordes
1x Asceticism
1x Spread the Sickness
1x Strandwalker (*really a creature)
1x Corrosive Gale

Lands -17

8x Forest
9x Swamp

Prior to the addition of New Phyrexia this archetype was actually one of my least favorite decks in Scars Limited.  While G/x Dinosaurs is certainly a legitimate deck whenever I was drafting it I would find myself going out of my way to avoid pairing my lizards with black.  This is in part because black's removal is very powerful but it isn't very deep and in part because the combination of green and black shares a number of cards with the most popular archetype in the format; Infect.  It's one thing to have your green removal/utility cards being cut by the poison players at your table but fighting for BOTH colors usually leads to misery in my experience.  Going into the draft I had no real reason to suspect this had changed much; in fact I had expected black to be even *harder* to draft now because the NPH packs seemed to favor the color so heavily.  To this end opening my first pack I took a Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer over a bunch of random good removal spells and a Viral Drake; I have absolutely no idea if this was the right pick but I typically enjoy playing R/W in the format and a 5/4 first striker for 5 mana isn't exactly "junk".  To wit I didn't own any New Phyrexia cards yet and while I doubted I would ever play him in constructed I still needed 4 copies for my playset binder just in case.  Then my opponent to the right passed me a pack with no red removal spells, mostly marginal white cards and a Triumph of the Hordes.  Eventually after examining the pack for a few moments I came to the conclusion that the best card for a r/w deck in the pack was a Razor Swine.  Despite not knowing the format I just couldn't bring myself to 2nd pick the pig over a card that in my mind seemed like a "slam on turn 6 or so and just win" effect.  Taking the Triumph of the Hordes I figured I'd just wait to see which options opened up as the draft developed; with any luck I could play a green heavy "Naya" (g/w/r) deck and still run both of my good cards.  Naturally of course the next pack was full of amazing blue cards including a Spire Monitor that I figured was the best creature in the pack.  It also had a Grim Affliction which I found pretty surprising due to black's overall power in the set and after debating between 2 colors I didn't really want to pair with green I eventually took the Grim Affliction over the Spire Monitor primarily because it might help me proliferate out an Infect victory.  When my next two picks were a Glissa's Scorn and yet another Grim Affliction I was well on my way to playing B/G Dinosaurs.  Unfortunately due to the newness of the format I don't actually remember much about the rest of this pack, I know I got a Death-Hood Cobra sometime around pick 7 or 8 which seemed pretty ridiculous and otherwise I drafted a bunch of marginal G and B creatures that would be quickly replaced once I hit MBS/Scars.  I also grabbed a Corrosive Gale at some point to protect myself against flyers since at the time I basically had none and only the Cobra to deal with them.

Thankfully the MBS pack would turn out to be completely insane for my deck; after opening a Flesh Eater Imp I was passed a Spread the Sickness, a Fangren Marauder and a Strandwalker all in rapid succession.  The rest of the pack was also solid and would ultimately produce 5 more cards that would make the cut; Morbid Plunder, Viridian Emissary, 2 copies of Tangle Hulk and a Peace Strider.  I think it's important to note that this seems to be a consistent trend when drafting the block as far as I can tell; while NPH has a number of amazing 1st-4th pick type cards it's not actually very deep and most of the decks I played against were MBS heavy because it's simply the strongest of the 3 sets.  Going into the Scars pack I felt my deck's chief issues were a lack of early/mid range creatures and a need for a few more removal spells.  Thankfully the pack complied by giving me a 1st pick Skinrender followed up by a Trigon of Corruption, a Necropede and a Rust Tick before the packs dried up.  I did manage to grab a Copper Myr, a mid pack Asceticism that I didn't actually expect to play and most shockingly a 9th pick Molder Beast followed up by an 11th pick Alpha Tyrannax.

Building the deck itself was pretty easy and my primary decisions revolved around which Dinosaurs to play (I had drafted something like 12 5CC+ creatures) and whether or not to include the Asceticism.  I had played the card before in Infect and found it to be pretty strong if your opponent couldn't remove it but I was obviously leery of including it in a deck with so many other expensive cards.  Eventually I decided to keep it for two major reasons; regenerating, "troll-shroud" 5+ power Dinosaurs are better than just regular 5+ power Dinosaurs and because I'd never tried the card in Dinos before.  The draft wasn't sanctioned and I figured it would be a great time to explore an interesting rare with little or no consequences for doing so other than that my deck might be a little weaker because of it.  

In terms of the tournament portion of the event my deck performed very well; in fact better than it's pilot by far.  I spent most of the evening playing very sloppy Magic and winning anyways because my deck was so strong.  Typically most of my games ended 1 of 2 ways; either I'd cast a turn 4-5 Asceticism and just flood the board with ridiculous Dinosaurs or I'd drop some combination of Flesh-Eater Imp, Triumph of the Hordes and proliferate kill spells to win by poison.  My round 1 opponent was playing an aggressive R/W metalcraft deck that wasn't helped by constant mana flood issues while in round 2 I played against a G/R aggro deck that lacked legitimate answers for my Imp.  Unfortunately I was to get my comeuppance in round 3 playing against a very strong U/B Infect hybrid built around a couple of Blighted Agents, several good equipment cards that boosted power and a Viral Drake that I'd passed him early in pack 1.  I lost game 1 on a slow draw when my opponent countered 2 of my removal spells after getting me to 5 poison before I could really gain any board presence.  Naturally of course some of the fault was on me because I cast both of my good removals spells into open mana.  I won game 2 primarily by killing my opponent's Drake the moment he played it and flooding the board with Dinosaurs; including a Fangren Marauder that essentially shut down any hope he had of beating me by damage once I'd killed off his Infect monsters.  Game 3 started of strongly for me with multiple removal spells in my hand and a Flesh Eater Imp.  My opponent's draw was reasonably quick but I eventually hit the point where I had full board control and started angling towards a Poison victory.  This was my first mistake as my opponent allowed me to hit him with the Imp a couple of times (knowing I wouldn't be prepared to sacrifice 5CC Dinosaurs for extra poison) before killing off my Imp once he'd reached about 5 counters and was thus still safe from Proliferate effects.  Switching back to the damage track I still had my opponent on the ropes while he proceeded to cast out his Viral Drake and a 2nd equipment (Strider Harness) to try and establish a board.  I quickly Spread the Sickness on the Drake and bashed again before shipping the turn back to my opponent and essentially giving the game away.  He untapped and cast a 1/1 Blighted Agent followed by a removal spell to negate my Fangren Marauder before passing me the turn.  At this point I had a Grim Affliction in hand and I really absolutely should have just executed the Agent right on the spot but I got greedy; I figured my opponent was going to strap on a couple of his equipment cards on his next turn and I could easily timewalk him in response by killing the Agent at that point.  I proceeded to cast a random critter and leave up 3 mana to drop the Affliction at instant speed and absentmindedly let my opponent start his turn, equip a Flayer Husk to his Agent and then equip a Strider Harness to it.  Naturally I am going to Grim Affliction this creature this turn but I figure well I might as well let the equip resolve and have him go to attack step; after all the Blighted Agent is only 2/2 and it dies either way right?  Yes folks, I somehow forgot that Flayer Husk gives a +1+1 stat bonus and no I can't explain to you why except to say I had already assumed I had the game in the bag twice at this point and I honestly didn't believe my opponent could do anything about it so I just stopped paying attention.  Clearly this was a bad idea because through superhuman effort my opponent proceeded to turn the game around from there; casting multiple chump blockers to hold off my armies on the ground while playing a 2nd Viral Drake in the air and putting the pressure on me with a 1/1 poison monster who would die if he ever took off his equipment.  Eventually he closed off the game by casting a Quicksilver Geyser on my Molder Beast and his own Agent while I was at 7 poison; once I realized the Agent would have haste because of the Strider Harness and he had more than enough mana to cast it and equip both gears I conceded the game and match.

2-1 (5-2) MVP - My deck.  This build was pretty awesome overall and I have a funny feeling B/G Dinosaurs is going way up on my "decks I am fine with drafting" chart.  Big monsters, effective kill and Triumph of the Hordes is a pretty good basis for a decktype and I strongly encourage anyone who misses blowing people out with Overrun in M10 draft to give it a try.  LVP - Me.  It's been a while since I've quite literally blown a match due to overconfidence and a play mistake; to my opponent's credit he was an excellent player and used my mistake to turn the tiniest crack of opportunity into a match win but he never gets that opportunity if I just killed the Blighted Agent on my turn like I should have.  Also my opponent's deck was beats and I really should have respected the Blighted Agent as a path to victory more than I did; if you aren't drafting this card you should be, it's actually *very* good and more than worth spending a top flight removal spell to get rid of.

With that out of the way lets take a look at the 2nd deck I drafted in this format; unfortunately this was a 5 person round-robin event due to attendance numbers but I'm not one to skip out on drafting Magic just because we don't have 8 players:

"Infernal Jund" - B/G/r Control:

Creatures - 15:

1x Death-Hood Cobra
1x Iron Myr
1x Perilous Myr
1x Vault Skirge
1x Viridian Emissary
1x Moriok Replica
1x Sylvok Replica
1x Blightwidow
1x Dross Ripper
1x Fallen Ferromancer
1x Bellowing Tanglewurm
1x Pith Driller
1x Carnifex Demon
1x Fangren Marauder
1x Lumengrid Gargoyle

Spells - 8:

2x Glissa's Scorn
1x Mortarpod
1x Shatter
2x Morbid Plunder
2x Enslave

Lands - 17:
7x Forest
2x Mountain
8x Swamp

To say that the draft portion of this event started off a little "weird" would be a mild understatement; I opened a fairly boring rare (Fresh Meat) and quickly decided to snatch up an Enslave.  In my opinion this card is probably the 2nd best removal spell in NPH after the absolutely sublime Dismember.  In fact these two cards are a huge part of the reason I expect heavy competition for black in future Scars block drafts; 1-3 people at any given table are going to first pick these and be VERY reluctant to back out of black as the draft progresses.  Naturally when my opponent took her rare and passed me another Enslave I was feeling pretty comfortable with where this draft was headed.  Things got a little weird next pack however when she passed me both a Glissa's Scorn and a Fallen Ferromancer.  At this point I knew I would be writing about the event for this blog so I had little desire to go back into b/g for varieties sake but I had also shipped a fair number of very good red cards to my left and figured it wouldn't be open by the time the packs came around.  This made choosing the Glissa's Scorn pretty easy and when my opponent passed me a 2nd copy at pick 4 I was absolutely thrilled with my decision.  Starting off the draft with 2 Mind Controls and 2 Shatters in an artifact heavy format is a pretty awesome way to build a great draft deck and when my next two picks produced a Pith Driller and a Death-Hood Cobra (late again imho) I was well on my way to assembling a pretty amazing control deck.  Unfortunately the packs dried up after that point and I was forced to select a couple of Vault Skirges back to back; while I initially had high hopes for the card actually playing it in Limited revealed it to be a serious "pretender" and I'll likely avoid drafting them in the future.  There's nothing worse than paying 2 life to drop a 1/1 flyer on turn 1 only to have your opponent lock it out for the rest of the game with a... Hovermyr.  Pick 9 however would turn my understanding of the draft on it's head entirely; somehow the Fallen Ferromancer was still sitting there in the pack and despite my complete lack of mana-fixing I simply could not let it pass.   The rest of the pack was pretty mediocre and once again I closed it off by drafting a bunch of creatures I'd replace quickly in MBS/SoM.

Going into the MBS pack I was keenly aware that my current pile of cards featured some great removal, a couple of decent early drop creatures and absolutely no way to kill my opponent unless I Enslaved something huge on his side.  Unfortunately I opened a Decimator Web and a pack devoid of good "beaters" but I wasn't too unhappy with a 1st pick Mortarpod as a consolation prize.  Thankfully my opponents weren't looking for big creatures however because I was passed a Fangren Maurauder, a Lumengrid Gargoyle and a Blightwidow in rapid succession.  Picks 5 and 6 produced back to back Morbid Plunders before I closed out the pack with an 8th pick Viridian Emissary (way late) and an 11th pick Dross Ripper (also late).  As it turns out the Scars pack would however solve all of my big beater problems when after taking a Perilous Myr out of a mediocre pack I was shipped a Carnifex Demon.  Apparently my opponent was heavily into U/W at that point and had little hope of molding her deck to include the game breaking Demon.  I followed that up with back to back on color Replicas (Sylvok, Moriok) and then closed the pack off by drafting an Iron Myr, a Bellowing Tanglewurm and a 10th pick Shatter to finish off my red splash.

Unfortunately the tournament portion of this event was actually pretty uneventful.  Due to the round robin nature of the format I started the first round on a bye while the U/W Mirror match went to full time and when I was finally paired I played the loser of the 2nd match because the winner was tired of waiting for other matches to end and had gone for pizza.  My round 1 opponent was playing a very fast R/W aggro deck that unfortunately included a number of marginal cards I suspect he was running because he had no other choice.  I won game 1 pretty handily but got off to a slow start in game 2 before stabilizing at 8 life and threatening to poison my opponent out with a Fallen Ferromancer hiding behind a number of "meatshields.  Unfortunately at that point my opponent was able to drop a Fulgent Distraction to tap out my good blockers and after "alpha striking" me with a bunch of 1/1 Goblin tokens I found myself sitting at exactly 5.  When I couldn't kill him on my next turn he untapped and without draw a card dropped an Artillerize on my dome to send us to game 3.  Game 3 was more like game 1 however and my opponent mana flooded to boot; I highly doubt he was running 17 lands considering his curve and I think he finished this game with about 10 basics in play.  My round 2 opponent was playing a U/W Skies control deck but was also playing in his first draft ever as a way of getting back into Magic after a multi-year absence.  To be fair his deck actually wasn't that bad but I'm sure he'll be the first to admit that it could have been better if he were more familiar with the cards.  Both of our games were long, drawn out affairs that eventually ended when I managed to drop a Carnifex Demon in the late game after we'd both spent most of our removal.  I also cast Morbid Plunder 3 times over 2 games and stole a couple of his flyers with Enslave in one of them but to be fair our games were so drawn out it was a question inevitability in both cases. Unfortunately these would be the last games I'd actually play on the day; my round 3 opponent dropped at 0-2 because she was exhausted from the 55 mins 2 game round 1 and when my last opponent entered our match also at 3-0 I couldn't see a good reason to avoid drawing with him.  He was also playing Jund and had opened a Chancellor of the Dross and taken every good black card I'd let go by in both NPH and MBS.  To be fair I believe I would have beaten his deck but it wasn't a certainty by any stretch and he had more than enough gas to end my day quickly if he drew well and I didn't.

3-0-1 (4-1*) MVP - Carnifex Demon.  Out of the 5 games I did play this guy put the finishing touches on my opponent in 3 of them and was probably my best chance of dealing with my opponent's Chancellor of the Dross if I had played out the finals.  I guess you could also say "not having to play Magic" at this point since my round 3 was a drop and my round 4 was an intentional draw.  On the plus side after all of that waiting around I was pretty bored/tired so drawing in the finals to go play Magic Online was an acceptable result.

Overall I would have to say that my first 2 full SoM block format drafts were a smashing success; I had a great time, won some matches and got a sense of how people's initial opinions of the set are affecting their draft choices.  Once again the trend of players deciding their color combinations very early in pack one seems to be rearing it's ugly head; green seems to be massively undervalued in favor of sexier B/W cards in NPH despite the fact that it's so strong in MBS and at least above average in Scars.  Conversely it seems that White is being over-drafted on the back of solid top 3 picks like Porcelain Legionnaire, Blinding Souleater and Remember the Fallen.  Unfortunately white is not very deep in NPH unless you're taking Infect critters and the exact same thing holds true for MBS.  While I'm pretty sure you can succeed with this color if you're able to corner all of the poison creatures the simple truth is that White Weenie Aggro w/ lots of flying as a deck-type takes a huge hit by adding NPH and is thus no longer a good fall back strategy for winning drafts.  Blue remains the domain of "trickster" type players who want to out think their opponents on a round to round basis but some of the tricks in NPH are pretty incredible.  This is particularly true of the classic U/B Infect + Proliferate deck which got a number of amazing cards; most notably Viral Drake and Blighted Agent.  Additionally I have noticed that players are undervaluing one of the best commons in the set (Spire Monitor) and if this remains true it makes blue an excellent value option in the format.  Red is obviously strong and remains the only color in the format that has ridiculous depth in all 3 packs you build from.  Unfortunately most of these cards are pretty "splashable" and thus the competition for quality red cards remains constant and intense.  One possible area for exploitation I have noticed in the format can be found in NPH's excellent trio of red infect monsters; Razor Swine, Ogre Menial and Fallen Ferromancer.  So far players have been virtually ignoring all of these cards in drafts I've participated in which makes little sense to me because all 3 cards are very strong in their own way, even if you aren't chasing poison as a main strategy.  Finally I should probably say something about Black here but I'm sort of struggling for words.  It's very good, probably the best color in NPH.  It's also very deep so it doesn't really matter if your opponents are also playing black; I've seen 5th and 6th pick Grim Afflictions in this format simply because there are so many excellent black cards to choose from.  When you factor in that black is at worst the 2nd best color in MBS and while thin, extremely powerful in SoM I think it's save to advise you to bring some extra Swamps to your drafts; you're probably going to need them.   

Well folks that's about all the time we have for today; between sleep, draft, writing about draft and drafting some more I'm not getting a lot done at work at the moment and I should probably make some adjustments based on that.  Hopefully you've found this initial look into drafting the full Scars block helpful or at least entertaining and I promise to be back soon with more exciting NPH action.  Just last night I participated in a 12 man Triple NPH draft during our Midnight Release event and managed to build what may possibly be the finest G/R + Phyrexian Metamoph deck ever constructed; I can hardly wait to share it with you all.  Until then thanks for reading and as always, keep it weird gang!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Of Limited Interest #28 - Groundhog Day

"I told you. I wake up every day, right here, right in Punxsutawney, and it's always February 2nd, and there's nothing I can do about it."

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  For those of you too young to remember; Groundhog day was a 1993 comedy starring Bill Murray about a man who was forced to live the same day of his life over and over again (that day happened to be Groundhog Day).  While this may seem like an odd inspiration for a Magic article recently I've been having a little "deja-vu" myself; every single time I sit down to draft this past week I seem to be picking the same deck over and over again no matter how hard I try not to.  Naturally the individual cards and composition of the decks change from draft to draft but I keep finding myself locked into R/W aggro decks and at this point it's starting to seem more like a trend than an accident.  In order to investigate this phenomena further I'd like to compare and contrast 3 separate tournament winning R/W decks I played this week and while doing so talk a little bit about why I think this powerful archetype is suddenly "open" (both locally and online).  First up let's look at a very amusing deck I piloted to an 4-0 (8-1) finish at a 12 man draft last Thursday Night:

"Glint Hawk Idolatry": R/W Aggro:

Creatures - 10 (16):

1x Gold Myr
1x Iron Myr
1x Perilous Myr
1x Leonin Skyhunter
2x Embersmith
1x Spin Engine
1x Oxidda Scrapmelter
1x Pierce Strider
1x Razor Hippogriff

Spells - 14 (8):

1x Galvanic Blast
1x Copper Carapace
1x Origin Spellbomb (really a creature)
1x Burn the Impure
1x Contagion Clasp
4x Glint Hawk Idol (really a creature)
1x Mortarpod
2x Shatter
1x Arrest
1x Strandwalker (really a creature)

Unfortunately I removed the land from this deck before I recorded it for the blog so I don't remember exactly how many land I ran; probably 16 because of the 2 mana Myr but as regular readers of this blog know I have no real problem going to 41 cards to include an extra land or decent removal effect.  This is probably mathematically wrong every time and I won't waste time arguing otherwise.  I will say however that on a purely subjective level in 10 some odd years of drafting I've never said "I would have won that game if I just played 40 cards" whereas I have on a number of occasions gone down while wishing a card in my sideboard had just been in the main-deck all along.  As always mileage may vary and I'm certainly not recommending everyone run out and start building 41 card draft decks; I'm just too greedy to cut good cards to make an arbitrary stack of 40.  Amusingly enough I *never* run 42 cards and psychologically consider 42 cards the same way many people consider 41 cards in my decks; an automatic mistake. 

The draft portion of this event was fairly interesting; with 12 players we were seated into 2 separate 6 man pods and I ended up being bracketed between a B/G Dinosaurs player who opened a Glissa and a Mono Black Infect player who probably should have been B/G based on the cards I passed him (Blightwidow, Rotwolf, etc).  My first 4 picks from MBS were in order: Mortarpod, Strandwalker, Burn the Impure and Pierce Strider.  This left me pretty open to grabbing whatever color came around later in the pack and unsurprisingly that color happened to be white.  I managed a 6th pick Leonin Skyhunter, grabbed a Spin Engine and then picked back to back copies of Master's Call before closing out the pack with a late Bladed Sentinel.  Unfortunately when it came time to build my deck it would turn out that I had so many good removal effects and solid creatures that none of the 3 white cards I picked after the Skyhunter would make the cut but they certainly would have if my Scars packs hadn't been so nuts.  The fact that these cards were available in the back half of the pack is obviously the larger point here and picking quality combat tricks/artifact creatures after pick 7 isn't easy to do unless a color is wide open.  Going into the Scars armed with this knowledge made filling out the rest of my deck pretty easy; I focused on drafting red cards and artifacts early and simply waited for all that "sweet sweet" white to come around the table.  My first picks in pack 2-3 respectively were Oxxida Scrapmelter and Galvanic Blast.  Likewise the Contagion Clasp was shipped to me in pack 3 when my opponent opened a Steel Hellkite which is certainly pretty understandable.  Shockingly enough however everything else in the deck was free passed by opponents who simply were not in my colors and too busy fighting over black, blue and especially green cards to care about the monster deck I was assembling right under their noses.  Pack 2 produced back to back Embersmiths at pick 4 and 5, a 5th pick Shatter, 2 Glint Hawk Idols (6th, 9th) and both mana Myr.  Pack 3 was even better with a 3rd pick Hippogriff leading into an Arrest, a Perilous Myr, a Shatter, 2 more Idols and a 10th pick Origin Spellbomb!

In terms of the actual tournament I'll spare you most of the details; my deck went 8-1 and my one loss was in the finals to a very good G/B Infect build when I played 12 land and 6 spells over the course of the entire game.  That's not to say every match was a cakewalk; a number of them were reasonably close affairs and if I had played poorly I most certainly would have lost more games/matches.  Ultimately however the deck was simply too fast with too much removal for most of my opponents and I ended a number of games just by swinging with weenies and sacrificing them on my 2nd main phase to Mortarpod for lethal damage.  My opponents by round were playing G/R/w Dinosaurs, Mono Black Infect, U/R Control w/Flyers and G/B Infect.  The first two were in my draft pod while my round 3 and 4 opponents were playing decks I had never seen before we sat down.  In the final analysis I would have to say I had the best deck in the draft; although I did not see everyone's deck so I can't be entirely sure that's true.  My build was however incredibly powerful and this was primarily fueled my my decision to jump into white halfway through MBS while my opponent's chased more "powerful" or "desirable" colors with little regard to white's strength in SoM; this will be a reoccurring theme.

The next deck I'd like to take a look at was the product of another 6 man pod; although this time it was because we simply lacked the 7th and 8th players to make up a full draft:

"Bad Religion" - R/W Aggro:

Creatures - 15 (16):

1x Glint Hawk
1x Gold Myr
1x Iron Myr
1x Lead Myr
1x Myrsmith
4x Blisterstick Shaman
1x Snapsail Glider
2x Glimmerpoint Stag
1x Ogre Resister
1x Peace Strider
1x Lumengrid Gargoyle

Spells - 9 (8):

1x Darksteel Axe
1x Origin Spellbomb (really a creature)
1x Burn the Impure
1x Contagion Clasp
1x Divine Offering
1x Mimic Vat
1x Piston Sledge
1x Turn to Slag
1x Red Sun's Zenith

Once again I returned the shop's basic land after the draft and thus have forgotten exactly how many basics I was running; if I had to guess however I would think I only ran 16 due to the presence of 3 mana Myr (2 on color!).  As a side note I should mention that I didn't name this deck after the band "Bad Religion" and have actually never heard any of their songs whatsoever.  During the draft while selecting my 3rd copy of Blisterstick Shaman I found myself absentmindedly thinking "what kinda crappy religion do Goblins have where the guy with the stun gun automatically gets to be the priest"?  Once I'd finished the pack with 4 Blisterstick Shamans, a Burn the Impure and a Divine Offering I couldn't help but laugh at the religious imagery involved and the name simply stuck.  In fact I had 2 Priests of Norn in the main deck for a several minutes while building because I couldn't resist the urge to construct a wicked theme-deck around the concept of violent priests!  Thankfully I eventually came to my senses and dropped them for a Snapsail Glider and an Iron Myr to feed my Myrsmith, but for one glorious moment I forgot myself and went completely "Vorthos".

This draft is a pretty good example of what I mean when I say white is being under-drafted in the format because it's not very exciting in MBS.  After first picking the Red Sun's Zenith I was passed a Vedalken Anatomist and was thus pretty keen on forcing R/U early.  My next pack was fine with a Burn the Impure and a bunch of marginal blue cards but when the pack after was completely devoid of both blue and red playables I started to worry and took a Piston Sledge.  I could have taken a Blisterstick Shaman at this point and been fine with it but oddly enough the first two packs I'd opened had Shaman in them as well and I figured I had a chance of tabling at least one of them in a 6 man draft.  I finally gave up on blue when the 5th pack produced a Divine Offering and no other removal whatsoever while the last "new" pack gave me the Blisterstick Shaman I'd wanted over pretty much nothing.  Stunningly enough all 3 of the previous Shamans tabled along with a Lumengrid Gargoyle I took primarily to mess with whoever had taken the Treasure Mage I had hoped would table from pack 1 after I took the Anatomist pick 2; revenge is a dish best served cold.  I closed out the pack with an Ogre Resister and a couple of extremely late Priests of Norn before someone passed me a 13th pick Peace Strider.  Going into the Scars packs I figured I was likely in r/w but because of the Anatomist I was still hoping to open a broken blue rare/uncommon to sway my opinion the other way.  This was not to be however as I had to ship a Neurok Replica and a Sky-Eel School to take my rare; a Mimic Vat.  Thankfully my opponents to the left complied by passing me a 2nd pick Glimmerpoint Stag and a 3rd pick Myrsmith to both solidify my colors and make it clear that white was at least fairly open once again.  While the rest of pack 2 turned out to be pretty average I still managed to grab a late Origin Spellbomb and a 9th pick Glint Hawk; confirming my suspicion that nobody else at the table really wanted any white cards.  Unfortunately pack 3 some of my opponent's would finally catch on that I was purposely trying to table white cards and jump into my colors.  My first five picks were pretty decent; after opening a Contagion Clasp (and passing a Revoke), I snagged a Darksteel Axe, another Glimmerpoint Stag, a Turn to Slag and an Iron Myr before the packs dried up completely.  I did manage to table a Snapsail Glider but it was clear that other people had moved into white late in pack 2 or in pack 3.  This was of course fine with me since I'd already managed to pile up enough playables during MBS and the first pack of SoM simply because nobody else wanted all those great white cards. 

This time the tournament portion of the event was considerably harder, at least in part because my deck wasn't quite as powerful as the last one.  I had a much lower number of flying creatures this time (2.5) and was thus forced to rely more heavily on my removal and numerous 1 for 1 combat trades until I could draw a way to win the game; usually Mimic Vat, Lumengrid Gargoyle, Red Sun's Zenith or one of my flyers + an equipment.  I did still however manage to go 3-0 (6-1) by beating U/W/r Control, G/B Infect/Dinos Hybrid and G/B Dinosaur Control build around another Glissa and a Wurmcoil Engine.  My only loss came during game 1 of my 2nd round when I was unable to draw any removal while my opponent switched from Infect to Dinosaurs mid game and quickly outclassed all my piddly little Myr tokens and "bears".  I should also admit that I have no idea how I beat my opponent in the finals; game 1 I managed to simply outrun him before he could play anything good but somehow game 2 lasted at least 12 turns and hinged around me controlling the game with a Mimic Vat despite my opponent playing green and having 3-4 ways to destroy artifacts in his deck.  

Now that we've looked at a couple of decks that were produced by moving into white halfway through MBS let's take a look at a deck built by purposely forcing R/W after pick 2 in MBS:

Mirrodin Liberation Front - R/W/b Aggro:

Creatures - 14 (15):

1x Gold Myr
1x Lead Myr
1x Myr Sire
1x Myrsmith
1x Silver Myr
1x Moriok Replica
1x Snapsail Glider
1x Spin Engine
1x Vulshok Replica
1x Hero of Bladehold
1x Ogre Resister
1x Kuldotha Flamfiend
1x Sunblast Angel
1x Myr Battlesphere

Spells - 9 (8)

1x Flayer Husk (really a creature)
1x Virulent Wound
1x Contagion Clasp
1x Divine Offering
1x Revoke Existence
1x Dispence Justice
1x Spread the Sickness
2x Turn to Slag

Land - 17:

8x Plains
7x Mountain
2x Swamp

Okay so I lied; this is actually a R/W/b deck and while it has numerous weenie creatures most of them are 1/1 mana Myrs.  This combined with excellent removal and disgusting finishers like Sunblast Angel and Myr Battlesphere meant the deck assumed the control role during matches nearly as often as it "went aggro".   The point of comparison with the other two more traditional aggro decks remains strong however because once again white was wide open in packs 1 and 2.

As previously mentioned during the draft I knew right away that I would be playing R/W; I ripped open a Hero of Bladehold and was promptly shipped a Kuldotha Flamefiend which pretty much set my colors.  Sticking with the theme I grabbed a Divine Offering out of a pack loaded with quality blue cards (Serum Raker, Gust Skimmer, Quicksilver Geyser and Steel Sabotage). I eventually became distracted by a 4th pick Spread the Sickness and a general absence of quality red cards as the MBS pack wore on but even while I was choosing black cards I knew in the back of my mind there was no way I wouldn't be running the Flamefiend.  Unfortunately in the process of jumping around between 3 colors I may have left too many white cards in the pack because absolutely nothing I wanted in that color tabled; though somehow I was able to grab both a Spin Engine and an Ogre Resister despite red appearing so thin early on.  This first Scars pack quickly put me back on track however as I opened a Sunblast Angel and was promptly passed the following sequence of cards; Mysmith, Revoke Existence and Turn to Slag.  To my opponent's credit the player immediately left of me was playing a primarily green infect deck built around Green Sun's Zenith and the guy to the left of him was playing green Dinosaurs with splashed of both white and red.  Assuming the Dinos player saw a Slice in Twain/Tangle Angler/Oxxida Scrapmelter/Arc Trail in his first pack I could see them both passing on the Revoke and the Turn to Slag.  I spent the rest of the pack loading up on mana Myr (Gold, Lead), a Snapsail Glider and a bunch of sideboard cards I'd never end up using.  Naturally going into pack 3 I was hoping to open yet another "bomb" rare to make it 3/3 on the night and the Universe complied.  Unfortunately it was an Engulfing Slagwurm which would qualify as a bomb rare for someone else (playing green) when I shipped it left for a Contagion Clasp.  I could have spiked the Wurm but I really needed both the removal effect and the cheap artifact to fuel my newly acquired Myrsmith so I did the right thing and sent it down the line.  My jaw nearly dropped to the floor when I found a Myr Battlesphere waiting in the next pack to reward my faith and I quickly snatched it up without looking too hard at the rest of the cards involved.  While I have heard some people claim that the Battlesphere is too expensive I for one am *always* willing to add this card to my pile and this was especially true in a deck that already had 3 other cards that said "Myr" and another card that made "Myr" tokens!  My next two picks were Dispense Justice and a 2nd copy of Turn to Slag which would solidify the removal package and essentially complete the deck.  I closed off the pack with a Vulshok Replica, a Silver Myr and a late Moriok Replica selected entirely to justify splashing my Spread the Sickness from pack 1.   "Greed is Good" apparently.

In terms of performance in the tournament portion of the event this deck delivered the goods with a 4-0 (8-1) record and a number of extremely one-sided wins.  My opponents in order were playing G/w/r Dinosaurs, B/U Control, Mono Green Infect and B/G Infect.  Unfortunately I never did get to cast Hero of Bladehold the entire draft because she rarely came up until the game was already in hand.  Additionally I had trouble drawing the Myr Battlesphere all night even when I had the mana to cast it and as a result I only played it once.  In a moment of poetic justice however it happened to be in game 2 against the opponent who'd passed me the "Big Ball of Myrs" and it combined with a sideboarded Strider Harness to kill him immediately.  The obvious lesson here is "never pass a Battlesphere unless there's a foil Mythic involved somehow".
Ultimately the key to building good draft decks will always remain going with the flow and choosing the best cards for your deck archetype as the draft goes along.  This doesn't however mean that you should ignore obvious trends developing in the format as a whole when you could instead use this information to your advantage.  It would appear that currently players are shying away from white cards because the color is somewhat "underwhelming" in MBS while failing to recognize that this was likely done on purpose to counterbalance the obviously *sick* power level white enjoyed in Scars of Mirrodin.  In a draft with 1 pack of MBS and 2 packs of Scars it doesn't take a math genius to figure out that ignoring white as a viable option in draft is rather "shortsighted".  So how can you identify if you're sitting in a draft where white will be open in pack 2?  In my experience the key is finding one of the following cards later in your MBS pack: Divine Offering 4th pick (or later), Leonin Relic-Warder 4th pick (+),  Leonin Skyhunter 5th pick (+), Master's Call 6th pick (+) or Choking Fumes 6th pick (+).  At their respective rankings each of these cards represents too much value to ignore and it's likely that they're passing so late because nobody to your right is playing white.  By choosing these cards mid pack you "turn off the faucet" and suggest to the other drafters that white is even weaker than they had initially suspected because *someone* is taking all of those cat people they passed early for good G/R/U/B cards.  This naturally allows you to profit greatly in pack 2 and 3 when your opponent's curse their "luck" for not realizing they were going to open Razor Hippogriffs, Arrests and Revoke Existences in Scars.  Naturally of course this leads to the next question "okay so why do you pair it with red"?  The answer is actually pretty simple however; both red and white are curved aggressively, have access to cheap removal, can make effective use of artifacts in a variety of ways and finally are deep enough to prevent having to jump into a third color consistently.  This resemblance between the two colors allows for greater deck consistency and overall deck synergy; concepts that regular readers will know I consider very important when trying to win a draft.  The truth is I've also won drafts with B/W and U/W versions of this decktype for pretty much the same reason (white is criminally open) but I find red to be deeper than either black or blue and thus often ended up shunted into the color anyways when competition becomes too fierce during pack 1.                 

Well folks that's about all my fingers can take for tonight; hopefully you've enjoyed this article and find it useful in the future when drafting MBS/SoM/SoM.  In my experience the recent format wide downgrade of white cards is more than just a local trend and I've suddenly had a tremendous amount of success jumping into white mid MBS during drafts online.  Until next time remember that a 5th pick Leonin Skyhunter is an absolute steal and always keep it weird gang!