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!


  1. Good review. I've felt the same, Green is better than people give it credit for and black is almost unavoidable. The flavor of NPH is a little strange - I think it's hard for people to draft Infect in Red, but those three - especially Ogre Menial IMO, are great.

  2. I agree with the comments about both Red and Blue... I drafted an awesome U/R infect/proliferate deck. I'm pretty sure everyone else at the table was fighting over B and G, though, since I got one copy each of Blighted Agent, Viral Drake, Ogre Menial and 2 Razor Swines! (And of course opening Contagion Engine in the third pack was probably my entire dose of good luck for the month in one big shot...)