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!


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