Saturday, June 11, 2011

Of Limited Interest #31 - Mythic Proportions: A final look at the triple NPH format.

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As regular readers of this blog are no doubt already aware I have recently been playing an incredible amount of Standard in preparation for the upcoming Canadian National Championships.  This will be the biggest Magic tournament of my life so far and I'm making a point of putting in as much time at the practice tables as possible before this event.  Obviously that doesn't leave as much time for drafting as it used to but I've still been finding time to draft here and there; after all "fish gotta swim" right?  At this point in the format NPH is still new enough that my local store is hosting mostly triple NPH drafts so players can build their collections at the same time as drafting; the guys I play with love them some new cards! :)

So far my impressions of the Triple NPH draft format have been a pretty mixed bag.  On one hand I always appreciate formats with a lot of solid C/U removal effects and NPH is chock-full of wonderful cards that either tap out, take control of or kill your opponents cards.  Additionally I'm very fond of the Phyrexian Mana mechanic in limited play because it adds a huge element of surprise while simultaneously punishing the caster appropriately for doing so; while it's easy to ignore 2 and 4 points of lost life in constructed Magic managing your life total properly is a *far* more important skill in Limited.  Unfortunately if the format has a flaw it's probably the significant and rapid drop off between the set's "oh wow that's amazing" creatures and the guys who are "just bodies".  While this doesn't always break along lines of rarity (Porcelain Legionnaire, Pith Driller and Thundering Tanadon for example) the simple truth is this set has a huge number of rare and mythic rare monsters that are almost impossible to beat once they've hit the table.  Compounding matters is the fact that most of the removal in the set is largely ineffective against high toughness "bads" like Chancellor of the Dross, Elesh Norn, Sheoldred, Chancellor of the Spires, Phyrexian Obliterator or even more marginal cards like Chancellor of the Annex/Forge/Tangle and Phyrexian Ingester.  To be fair I haven't even mentioned broken equipment cards like Batterskull, Sword or War and Peace and to a lesser degree Lashwrithe which further stress the available removal in the environment almost to a breaking point.  In fact if you aren't in black (Enslave, Dismember, Geth's Verdict or Parasitic Implant) you're probably a straight dog the moment any of these cards hit the table!            

In my experience this produces a "herky-jerky" sort of environment where the vast majority of games play out exactly the same way regardless of deck-type.  Both players will typically spill out some 2-3CC monsters and usually the guy with access to more evasion or Phyrexian Mana cards will seize early tempo.  This will be short lived however due to the ridiculous amount of spot removal available in the format and the game will settle into a back and forth exchange of removal/guys while both players build their manabases towards dropping their respective bombs.  Assuming neither player starts cold drawing consecutive lands off the top and can thus adequately defend themselves eventually someone will drop a ridiculous game winning card that demands an immediate answer.  If the opponent does have the answer the game falls back into the previous holding pattern until someone either stops drawing relevant cards or another bomb is played.  If the opponent does *not* have the answer the game ends almost immediately over the course of 2-4 exceptionally violent turns.  While this certainly has it's fun points and there *are* a couple of decks in the format that play out differently (R/x Rage Extractor.deck, U/G or U/B Blighted Agent/Viral Drake Infect) after a while it gets a little tiring and it can border on being completely enraging if you go through a spot of bad pack luck while everyone around you is opening Karns and Life's Finales. 

In order to successfully combat this phenomenon I've adopted a complex 2 point draft strategy that I'm prepared to share with you all here today:
  1. Open ridiculous bomb creatures, equipment or removal (Dismember, Enslave, Life's Finale) from your packs; people are unlikely to actually pass you these cards.
  2. Force B/x control every single time to ensure you have enough copies of Parasitic Implant and Geth's Verdict to destroy/control all of the ridiculous bombs your opponents are going to open in their NPH packs.
Sadly I'm not actually kidding folks and in fact if at all possible I recommend that if you are forced to play 3x NPH for some reason you should probably try to do both!  As an example of what I'm talking about let's take a look at the last two decks I managed to 3-0 with in this format; keeping in mind that I am fully aware that both of these decks are completely broken and were absolutely the product of some sick pack luck.  First up is a U/B Control deck I used to crush a 6 man non-sanctioned event a couple of weeks ago:

"Every Breath You Take" - U/B Control:

Creatures - 14:

1x Alloy Myr
1x Deceiver Exarch
4x Trespassing Souleater
1x Phyrexian Metamorph
2x Pith Driller
4x Spire Monitor
1x Chancellor of the Dross

Spells - 9:

1x Gremlin Mine
3x Geth's Verdict
1x Grim Affliction
2x Parasitic Implant
1x Batterskull
1x Karn Liberated

Land -17:

8x Island
9x Swamp

Pretty ridiculous right?  My opens were Chancellor of the Dross (who's better than 3/5ths of the Praetors), Karn and Batterskull in that order.  My opponent to the left was in R/W aggro, my opponent to the right was playing a sick R/G Infect deck and my only competition for blue cards was forcing a Blighted Agent/Viral Drake deck which allowed me to snatch up a ridiculous number of Spire Monitors/Trespassing Souleaters as the draft progressed.  I should also note that I benefited from at least one drafting mistake during the event; there is absolutely no good reason to pass a Phyrexian Metamorph that doesn't involve a better foil Rare/Mythic.  The massive amount of card replication was mostly caused by everyone at the table repeatedly opening very similar common runs; there was a deck with 3x Artillerize/3x Volt Charge, a deck with 4 copies of Razor Swine and my round 1 opponent actually had 5(!) Blinding Souleaters.  Regardless of the overall power of the packs we opened however I was almost certain that I was going to dominate this draft through very little real effort on my own part; I'd opened sick bombs and managed to slide into black early enough to get 3 Geth's Verdicts and 2 Parasitic Implants so I could easily control my opponents bombs as well.  This is not intended to disparage my opponents in any way; in fact quite the opposite, I would like to thank them for not rage-quitting during our matches when it became apparent that the only outs against my deck were hoping I land screwed/flooded or somehow drew absolutely nothing.  I won the tournament in 6 games straight and while many of these games were close I "got there" on the back of Karn twice, Batterskull twice, a Chancellor of the Dross and my Metamorph copying my finals opponent's Chancellor of the Dross before I killed it.  To say that I feel there was very little skill involved on my part would be a massive understatement; I just opened "the nuts" and built my deck accordingly.

Okay so I know what you're thinking; "but Nina almost any deck with 2 broken Mythic Rares and arguably the best rare Creature in the format will usually dominate tournaments, that's hardly exclusive to NPH!"  You may certainly be right in the case of the deck above; I opened 3 amazing rares/mythics and both of my colors were relatively open all draft.  What happens however when black isn't open and your first two packs are pretty middling overall?  Let's take a look at a deck I drafted in a classic 8 man last Monday where I was faced with this exact situation:
"Death By Slanderous Tongue" - B/W Tempo:

Creatures - 14:

2x Suture Priest
1x Blade Splicer
2x Blinding Souleater
3x Porcelain Legionnaire
1x Entomber Exarch
1x Mortis Dogs
3x Pith Driller
1x Sheoldred Whispering One

Spells -10:

1x Gremlin Mine
1x Forced Worship
2x Grim Affliction
1x Pristine Talisman
2x Remember the Fallen
1x Sickleslicer
1x Parasitic Implant
1x Enslave

Lands - 17:

7x Plains
10x Swamp

The draft portion of this event was pretty weird because I opened a pack 1 Enslave and took it over Etched Monstrosity (awful in triple NPH) only to see almost no worthwhile black cards in the entire pack.  I came out of pack 1 with an Enslave, a Grim Affliction and a fairly late Entomber Exarch to go with a bunch of "white" cards (Porcelain Legionnaire, Blinding Souleater) and some random artifacts.  Pack 2 saw me open a Blade Splicer and then begin snatching up every relevant black card I could in the hopes of simultaneously supporting my 3 good cards from pack 1 and driving *someone* to my right out of black.  As an added side bonus I'd drafted white so heavily in pack 1 that it allowed me to table several decent white cards (Suture Priest and both Remember the Fallens) while my opponents adjusted to the change in my signals.  Going into pack 3 this left me with a deck full of cheap creatures, decent removal and exactly one "bomb" (Enslave).  At this point I'd say I was mildly worried because I was building a "metalcraft" aggro deck with full knowledge that the 3x NPH format simply doesn't favor that kind of deck.  Thankfully the 3rd pack would bail me out when I opened a Sheoldred and was promptly passed a Blinding Souleater, 3 consecutive Pith Drillers and my 3rd copy of Porcelain Legionnaire.  Frankly I don't remember what else I drafted out of this pack but at that point it really didn't matter anways; I'd managed to grab an Enslave, a Parasitic Implant and 2 copies of Blinding Souleater to fill the "deal with huge creatures" requirement and while I only had 1 *bomb* finisher I had 3 ways of recurring her from the graveyard.  Naturally the games with this deck were a little closer than the games I played with the previous deck but ultimately I finished 6-0 again with Sheoldred winning 4 games by herself.  Oddly enough I never drew the Enslave in a game that mattered but apparently that means very little if you can topdeck Sheoldred like a fiend.  I should also mention that my opponent in the finals certainly could have beaten me off the right topdeck; he was running multiple Artillerize and at least one Act of Aggression which would have cooked my bacon pretty good if he'd cast them on Sheoldred in either of our games.

While I hate to be the bearer of bad news I think it's pretty safe to say that 3x NPH isn't exactly the most "skill intensive" draft format in the history of Magic.  In my opinion this really isn't a big deal because the set was designed primarily to be drafted with MBS and SoM; triple NPH drafts are simply the byproduct of people desperately wanting a chance to open new cards.  I personally have no problem with that up to a certain point but it's hard to disagree when my fellow drafters complain that the format is so "bomb" driven.  In conclusion my advice is to avoid drafting triple NPH unless you are looking for either a very "wild" draft experience with numerous match swinging cards hitting the table or simply need to spice up your collection.  If you *do* find yourself in a triple NPH draft it's pretty hard to go wrong with forcing B/x control decks; to a lesser degree W/x control can also work well if you get 2-3 Blinding Souleaters and a couple of late pick Exclusion Rituals (do NOT overpay for this card, it's not a bomb it's just a mediocre answer to your opponent's bombs in a format with few answers period).  Regardless of *how* you accomplish these goals the key to remember is you will need some high toughness creatures your opponents will have a hard time destroying and you will need multiple answers to these types of cards.  I recently saw someone tear through a triple NPH draft simply by having 3 copies of Rotted Hystrix and a bunch of removal; his opponents could usually answer the first 6 toughness beater but typically struggled to find answers when he cast a second copy.  As a point of comparison I'm not even sure Rotted Hystrix justifies a maindeck slot in an NPH/MBS/SoM draft; that's how different the formats actually are!

Well folks that's about all the time we have for this article.  I've recently been working on a guest piece for the Canadian MtG website Mana Deprived about playing RDW in Standard so I haven't had as much time to write here on the blog.  Hopefully I'll wrap that up sooner rather than later and I promise to link you guys to it when it's finally published.  Until next time always remember to pick the packs with Karn or Batterskull in them and keep it weird guys!


  1. Nice article, good job on the wins! I've been reading some magic blogs lately after getting interested in competing again and I really enjoy yours! I'm going to a triple NPH draft tonight and while I'm not that confident that I'll place, I think reading your blog has helped me understand drafting better than I did before (I would always pick one drops over bombs even if they were vanilla just to have a satisfying turn one play.../shake head)

  2. I hope you don't mind me posting something long on your site, but I don't have a blog of my own and I thought maybe you, as a great drafter, might be able to give me some feedback.

    We actually ended up playing SOM/MBS/NPH which was probably more enjoyable anyway. I tried to keep what I learned in mind but I don't think I was as successful as I could have been (but definitely better than I ever was before.)

    Pack 1 I opened a Chancellor of the Dross, and used that BREAD acronym and said OK, this is expensive, but it's definitely a ridiculous card once it hits play. The rest of the pack wasn't incredibly exciting - and I felt pretty good picking a black card because there's a lot of great Black removal in this block (GFTT, Geth's Verdict, etc). After that, I ended up getting passed a lot of nice black cards from my right, so I was pretty sure at this point that I was getting strong signals from my right that these guys had no interest in Black (I mean, Go for the Throat could easily be first pick, am I right?) After getting a nice foundation of solid Black cards (1 Chancellor, 2 Blind Zealot, 1 Blistergrub, 1 Exsanguinate, 1 Skinrender...Also picked a few Dross Ripper for some reason...That was a waste) I started focusing on artifacts - taking things like Trespassing Souleater and Gust Skimmer as nice evasive creatures to compliment my bombs & removal. In pack 2 I picked Myr Turbine, which was probably my MVP during the tournament. I wasn't getting much Black from my left which was alarming because I hadn't been passing any Black cards at all (other than the obvious jank like Evil Presence), and I wasn't sure how to read it. Were these guys hate drafting so soon? Were the packs just bad? I had to start picking artifacts with another color - this actually started out with White as I picked Norn's Annex, and felt comfortable picking up Choking Fumes, but then I started seeing some good Blue cards - Serum Raker, followed by Wing Splicer, followed by another MVP, Vedalken Anatomist. I picked up a few more questionable artifacts (Golem Foundry & Vault Skirge) and opened pack 3, picked Porcelain Legionairre since I felt like the first strike would be huge (and it was) and fortunately got a lot of good blue cards like Turn the Tide, Disperse, Stoic Rebuttal, and Steel Sabotage.)

    Not sure if I drafted to the best of my ability. I was thinking about sending 'i'm taking black' signals to my left but didn't think about the guys to my right sending 'we're taking X' but that will probably come with time.

    So the finished deck actually had a decent balance, and was probably my finest draft deck so far.
    Bombs: Chancellor of the Dross, Myr Turbine, Exsanguinate
    Removal: Go for the Throat, Blind Zealot, Rust Tick, Anatomist, Disperse, Blind Zealot, Skinrender
    Efficient: Trespassing Souleater, 2 Gust-Skimmer, Legionairre, Wingsplicer

    I won't write out a full tourney report, but real quick;
    Match 1 I 2-0d a blue/white control after we both made a ton of mistakes (like me asking what creature his quicksilver gargantuan was copying, thinking it was 'when you play' rather than 'when it comes into play' which prevented me from using Stoic Rebuttal on it) because I had Chancellor of the Dross, Rust Tick, Myr Turbine (to block his 7/7 forever) and Blind Zealots

    Match 2 I 0-2d against black/green infect which looked more like constructed than draft!

    Match 3 I 2-1d against red/blue, his most threatening cards were Artillerize and Kuldotha Flamefiend, I got out Anatomist and Legionairre early to defend myself, built up to a myr turbine, left mana open to counter his Flamefiend, and eventually dropped a powerful Exsanguinate for game!

    Anyway, sorry for the long winded post, but I've been trying to learn more about drafting and to become a better player, and your articles have truly inspired me! I hope my post made enough sense for you to give me some general pointers or criticize my noobishness during the draft :)

  3. Sorry I didn't get to this earlier; I was busy finishing up a couple articles that were due at the same time on different websites.

    First and foremost let me welcome you back to competitive Magic; this is a great time to be drafting again as SoM block is reflective of how Wizards designs for Limited these days. That's a good thing.

    From the sounds of it you guys were drafting the right packs, but not necessarily in the right order. Each player should have opened their NPH pack first, drafted until that pack was done and then moved to MBS, completed that pack and then moved to Scars until there were no more cards to pass. This makes it pretty impossible to go Serum Raker into Wing Splicer or open a pack 3 Porcelain Legionnaire for that matter. You may want to talk to the TO about fixing this for next time; although drafting "scattershot" sounds like fun!

    Still all and all it sounds like you did pretty well for yourself. CotDross is a ridiculous finishing creature and you were dead on when you spotted how awesome the Anatomist is; that guy is a first pick getting him at 3rd is amazing. Skinrender is also ridiculous, Go for the Throat is great. So that's 4 straight up "first picks" and then your 2nd tier of "high value" cards is also pretty amazing; Rust Tick, Legionairre and Wing Splicer are all the cream of the crop when it comes to creature quality. What happened to the Serum Raker? Presumably you played him and just forgot to list it right?

    About the only advice I can give you based on your description of the draft goes like this:

    - You may be overvaluing Myr Turbine. It's a very good card but it's too expensive, requires too much time/mana investment and most important too vulnerable in a format with so much artifact removal to be a bomb. I realize it was very useful for you tonight and it's definitely a *good* card so I'm not saying you shouldn't have taken it (especially in a vaccum)but it's more like a good 4th-5th pick than a snap first pick card.

    - Dross Ripper is actually a pretty good card and would have made your deck if people weren't passing you so many amazing creatures. You made the right choice but in future keep in mind that Ripper plays better on the table than he looks in the pack.

    - The lack of black in pack 2 was probably caused by someone to your left opening a bomb rare/Enslave in either pack 1 or right to start pack 2. Color signalling is important but you have no way of stopping your opponent from forcing a color if he ripped a Sheoldred for example. Also black is insanely strong in NPH and pretty sick in MBS so it's quite possible you were competeing for black all of pack 1 and just happened to be in the luckier spot on the wheel. You color signaled correctly and afaict ended up with more than enough black to finish your deck just from packs 1 and 3.

    - Playing against Infect is an aquired skill. They key is to trade creatures aggressively with them early and have a few high toughness blockers to hold them at bay for a while; eventually you're bigger/badder monsters will seize the board if you hold off his weenies long enough. To this end my personal philosophy is to *never* let them put a poison on me if I have a choice in the matter. Unfortunately the style of deck you built has very few high toughness blockers and most of the creatures aren't cards you WANT to trade with infect dudes. No deck is perfect; next time try to get a couple of Neurok Replica's: Poison players HATE that card.

    Well hope that helps and feel free to post any other questions you may have now or in the future in the comments.

    Also, if you're LOOKING to start a Magic blog I'd recommend Free and so simple even *I* could figure it out. Have a great day and happy drafting! :)