Monday, August 8, 2011

Of Limited Interest #33 - Dancing with Myself

Hello ladies and gentlemen out there on the "Intar-webs"; welcome to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Before we get started today I'd like to apologize for the long delay between this and my last blog post.  As regular readers of this blog may already be aware I have qualified for the 2011 Canadian National Championships; which are being held on August 19th-21st in my hometown of Toronto.  To be perfectly honest with you I'm more than a little terrified about playing in this event; while I've been playing Magic for a *very* long time, most of my tournament experience comes from LGS 8 man drafts and FNM events with 12-25 people in attendance.  While it's true that I played in GP Toronto amongst a field of 1300+ people it's also true that I left that event 4-2 after becoming incredibly sick over the course of the day.  Simply put I expect that Nationals will probably the hardest tournament I've ever played in and as such I have been spending nearly every waking moment practicing for this event.  I'm drafting M12 every single night on MtGO, I'm averaging 75 or so games of Standard a week against a wide variety of decks/opponents and I've even been cracking open sealed pools and battling to get a head start on preparing for GP Montreal.  Unfortunately playing somewhere around 125 games of Magic a week doesn't leave a lot of time for writing and worse still I can't really write about all the Standard games I've been playing.  Several of my friends are attempting to grind into Nationals on the Friday before the tournament and may well end up playing one of the 6-8 decks we've been play-testing as a group so I've been sworn to temporary secrecy.  All I can really say is that we've been testing a lot of variations on Caw Blade, Red Deck Wins, Tempered Steel, Valakut, 2-3 different types of Twin decks and several RUG builds; with and without Birthing Pod.  At one point I was also tinkering with U/B Control (again with and without Tezzeret) but since it showed absolutely no signs of every beating even mediocre Caw Blade decks I quickly gave up.  Editor's Note: as I say this Ali Aintrazi is crushing David Ochoa in the U/B on Cawblade match-up in the finals of the US National Championships.  I have two possible answers to this contradiction; either my Caw Blade opponents draw much better than Dave (not hard) or Ali is a way better U/B Control player than I am (also not hard).

Thankfully I *can* still talk about M12 Limited and now that I'm a few weeks into the format there are a number of things I've noticed that weren't so obvious when I first starting playing it.  While most of these observations consist of minor tweaks to my master pick order lists, some of them have fundamentally changed how I look at M12 Limited formats as a whole.  Unfortunately as this article covers tips for both M12 Sealed and Draft it's a little "ramble-y"; please forgive me, playing as much Magic as I have been recently does funny things to your brain.  Let's get things started by talking a little bit about Sealed:

Two-Fisted Sealed:  Okay so I'm not going to bore you by going over the basics of Sealed deck-building here in this article; by now everyone knows you want to play as many of your bombs as possible, to try to prioritize "power" over curve, don't be afraid of going 3 colors, play control over aggro unless you open "the nuts", etc.  This is actually pretty solid advice for when you open a pool with a comfortable mix of bombs/removal/creatures in 2.5 colors but in my opinion Sealed deck is the easiest format to "solve" in Magic when you open a *good* pool.  The problem of course is that you aren't always going to open a good pool; sometimes you're going to be stareing at 6 packs worth of garbage and trying to figure out if you can really win games with 3 Fiery Hellhounds and a Goblin Tunneler (the answer is yes; but it won't be easy).  Naturally this has lead to the common assumption that Sealed Deck play is all about luck and opening/being passed a good pool. This assumption however doesn't hold up to scrutiny when you examine the results of high level sealed tournaments (mostly GP level events); the same players consistently fight their way to the top over and over again despite having a new pool at each event.  No rational person in the world can assume that these players simply "always" get lucky and rip an awesome pool so clearly there's some sort of skill involved here that allows these players to win with what others consider "bad cards".  What's more if it truly *is* a skill that means it can be practiced and learned by anyone willing to put in the time and effort to do so.  Unfortunately practicing for sealed is actually pretty hard in a traditional sense; not only are there way fewer Sealed events held for you to attend it's typically hard to talk a bunch of your friends into plunking down the cheddar for 6 packs to play 2-3 practice rounds of Sealed.  In fact I personally never really enjoyed practicing for Sealed events in the past simply because I never really felt I was getting "value" out of the 6 packs I opened; if you can't sell an idea to a MtG junkie like me who can you sell it to?  Thankfully one night while screwing around with M11 Sealed my boyfriend came up with possibly the single greatest idea he has ever shared with me: what if you had to build 2 decks with the same 6 packs and play each of them against each of your opponents decks?  Once I'd picked my jaw up off the floor we spent the next 45 minutes arguing about the rules of the format and eventually "Two-Fisted Sealed" was born:

The Rules:
  1. Each player has 6 packs from which to build 2 completely separate 40 decks; standard Sealed deck-building rules apply and players will be provided with as many basic land as they require to build their decks.  Once you assign a card to one deck it may not be moved into the other deck for post sideboard games.              
  2. Each player must assign his remaining cards to the sideboard of either one or the other deck.  This rule is designed to prevent someone from building 2 horrible decks and then simply sideboarding into all of her good cards for games 2 and on.  Yes, I thought of doing this the first couple of times we played the format; really.
  3. Match play consists of a series of best of 3, 5 or 7 game battles between each of the opposing player's decks.  This then produces a series of 4 matches as Player X plays his Deck A against Player Y's Deck A, then Player Y's deck B before switching to his Deck B and so on.  Typically it is customary for the loser of the first match to switch decks first.
Advantages:  Well for starters you can play Two-Fisted Sealed with as few as one other player; in fact if you're playing best of 7 matches I highly recommend avoiding adding too many other opponents to the event.  Additionally you simply get more value out of this format than traditional sealed; the purchase of as few as 12 packs can gain you as many as 28 games of Sealed Magic.  Probably the most important advantage this format has over traditional Sealed however is that it *forces* you to learn to gain value from all of the marginal cards you normally wouldn't include in a "good" Sealed deck.  Simply put it's going to be a rare set of packs that can produce 2 well rounded decks full of good to excellent cards for you to battle with.  What's more in order to build two functional decks you'll probably have to splash into all 5 colors which in turn will force you to learn more about mana bases, card draw effects and splashing in general.

Strategy:  After playing Two-Fisted Sealed a couple hundred times I've found that deck-building basically comes down to 2 formal strategies.  Either you divide your cards into two equally powered decks to give yourself the best possible chance to win each and every single match, or you build one super-powerful deck that's guaranteed to stomp opponents into the ground and try to eek out match wins with your weaker deck "by any means possible".  There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles of play and typically your pool will play better one way or the other depending on the cards you open.  As a general rule however I feel it's usually better to build one "good" deck and one "hope I don't lose" deck so at least you get *some* quality games out of your packs no matter what.

As a final note I should mention that when my friends and I play this format we usually break our decks down after all of the matches are complete and build a "normal" best sealed deck out of them as well.  This is important because while learning to play with marginal cards is a vital skill in Sealed you also want to know how to build the best decks possible out of 6 packs.  Additionally this allows us to play yet *another* matchup and get 3-7 more games out of the same 12 packs; value is value.

The Number 4:  As longtime readers of this blog will already be aware I'm a firm believer in the concept of size-based "tiers" regarding creatures in a given limited format.  This is basically a fancy way of saying that in every format there's a certain basic stat combination that automatically makes a creature more valuable than smaller critters in the same format.  Typically this will be caused by a combination of the majority of other creatures in a set being smaller and the available removal spells that can contain these larger creatures being somewhat scarce.  If you can't easily kill it and you can't profitably trade with it in combat even a vanilla "X/X" creature with dominate the board for entire turns at a time.  Here in M12 I've found that opponents will typically struggle to deal with any creature that is 4/4 or larger; this isn't to say that casting these creatures will automatically win you the game but in my experience the first 4/4 to hit the table quickly outclasses/invalidates most of the "weenies" already in play and immediately signals that the contest has shifted into the "mid-game".  The 4 power is key because it enables a steady 5 turn clock that forces your opponent to block while simultaneously tearing through the various 2/4 "Walls" common to virtually every Limited format in MtG history.  Alternately the 4 toughness is important because it allows your creature to freely attack into defending weenies of which a surprising number have 3 power here in M12.  Simply by casting a random 4/4 "badboy" you will force your opponent to take one of 3 actions; cast his own 4/4 or larger creature to threaten a trade with yours, spend a premium (Doom Blade, Pacifisim, Fireball, Chandra's Outrage, etc) removal spell or block with multiple creatures and risk a potential in-combat blowout.  If he does not you will likely maintain board control with this single creature and eventually grind out the win; all other things being equal.  While naturally evasion, printed keywords or activated abilities will play at least some part in your pick rankings the fact is that in M12 Limited just being "4/4 or bigger" is enough to give a card extra value in this format.  Let's take a look at the list of common and uncommon creatures here in M12 that match this description:
  1. Serra Angel: This card makes the top of the list primarily because the combination of Flying, Vigilance and a 4/4 body for 5 mana is pretty hard to beat.  Of course you didn't need me to tell you Serra Angel is a good card and consequently she's be going around about where she should go in both the "real life" and online drafts I have been playing in; 1st-3rd pick at the latest.
  2. Vampire Outcasts: Coming in right behind Serra is one of the cards I feel is being most undervalued in M12 draft right now; Vampire Outcasts.  A 4/4 beat-stick with Lifelink absolutely should *not* cost 4 mana; the commitment to double black and the necessary work to turn Bloodthirst on is more than worth it when you drop this guy onto the table in his full glory.  In a recent MtGO 8-4 I managed to grab 2 copies of this guy to go with 2 copies of Doom Blade and I have no problem saying that overall the Vampires were the better card.  They were particularly effective at shutting down the Bloodthirst and/or Aura-based aggro decks I often face here in M12; my opponent could not outrace me and at 4/4 on turn 4 it easily outclassed the various "bears" they were running.  Right now this card is sticking around in packs as late as 4th or even 5th pick and that makes no sense; this is a 1st pick card in an average pack and should be going absolutely no later than 3rd.
  3. Sengir Vampire:  Another classic Limited staple, Sengir Vampire makes this list primarily because he's a 4/4 flyer that happens to be immune to one of the best removal spells in the format; Doom Blade.  Big, evasive bodies are hard to deal with in Limited and at 5 mana this card is pretty easy to cast in your traditional 17 land deck.  In terms of pick value he's just a little bit behind the first two cards on this list; you could easily pick him 1st out of an average pack but if the packs were particularly hot I could see Sengir going as late as 4th.
  4. Gorehorn Minotaurs:  I really, really struggled with ranking the Minotaurs this low on the list.  After all if 4/4 is the cutoff line for a solid "beater" in the format how amazing is a card that trumps all of your opponent's 4/4's *and* laughs in the face of Chandra's Outrage?  The answer is very, very valuable indeed and I have first picked this card out of a pack without hesitation on a number of occasions so far here in M12 with satisfying results.  It certainly doesn't hurt that picking up an early Minotaurs firmly cements you into red which happens to be the best color overall in the set.  By the way; have I mentioned that you get all this for the ridiculously low price of 4 mana?  Helllooo Blastoderm!  Unfortunately the lack of Flying or Trample keeps this card from being truly game-warping which explains the #4 ranking on this list.  In many situations however the Gorehorn Minotaurs can actually be better than the cards listed above it and as a result it's a pretty solid 1st to 4th pick.  As recently as 36 hours ago I was passed a 7th pick Minotaurs in pack 2 and there is just no way that should be happening at this point in the format.
  5. Cudgel Troll:  Coming in significantly behind Gorehorn Minotaurs but at the top of our list of "2nd tier" 4/4 beaters is the reprinted favorite; Cudgel Troll.  Okay so he's not really a 4/4 but the fact is that he can attack profitably for 4 damage and with the expenditure of a single green mana come home to talk about the experience with his pals.  This can often make him *better* than your typical 4/4 since he productively trades with them in combat; only a desperate man would throw a Bonebreaker Giant in front of your Cudgel Troll if you had mana available to Regenerate it for example.  The downside of course is that Incinerate still kills him like a bug and he'll spend all day stareing down a Blood Ogre wishing he had 4 toughness.  Additionally his double green mana cost and activated ability force you into a color that is considered "less desirable" in M12; although to be fair I think this is a much smaller drawback than most people believe it is (more on this later).  As far as pick orders go I'd never want to take a Cudgel Troll higher than 3rd in a pack but he probably shouldn't last longer than pick 5 either.
  6. Volcanic Dragon:  While I'm hesitant to jump aboard the "M12 is an aggro format" train it's pretty hard to argue that the divide between 5 and 6 mana in the set is pretty huge.  This isn't to say that 6 mana cards are uncastable in M12 but they are significantly harder to play in a format where it's so easy to maintain both early and constant pressure.  Typically by the time you are on 6 mana you will either be firmly in control of the game or being swarmed by numerous smaller creatures that demand an immediate and overwhelming response.  In the first situation Volcanic Dragon is pretty much the ideal card; 4/4 flying and haste can end games quickly before your opponent can respond.  In the second situation however Volcanic Dragon is pretty average; he's a good flying blocker but Haste compares poorly with Serra's Vigilance or Sengir Vampire's ability to get bigger every time he executes an attacking weenie.  This isn't to say that the Dragon is a *bad* creature; 4/4 flying beats is still a pretty decent bargain even at 6 mana.  With that noted however I consider this card to be slightly weaker than Cudgel Troll and as such would prefer to draft it around picks 3-5 in all but the most marginal packs.
  7. Phantasmal Dragon:  Possibly the ultimate boom or bust pick in M12 Limited, I have been treated to exactly two experiences in the format every time I cast Phantasmal Dragon; either my opponent does not have a near worthless targeted effect and I immediately set about winning the game or my opponent *does* have such an effect and my monster dies posthaste.  There is absolutely no in between with this card and I find that when it *is* going to die my opponents have an uncanny knack for drawing their most marginal spell immediately after I cast the Illusion; there's nothing more humiliating than losing a 5/5 Flying Dragon to a Divine Favor or a Consume Spirit for zero damage.  In particular I find the card almost worthless against blue and white decks; cards like Gideon's Lawkeeper, Aether Adept, Frost Breath, Ice Cage, Alluring Siren, Mighty Leap and Unsummon make it frighteningly easy to destroy your Phantasmal Dragon.  Naturally of course if your opponent has to spend an actual *good* removal spell to kill the Dragon (Doom Blade, Chandra's Outrage, etc) you're far less worried and on the occasions your opponent can not answer the Dragon at all you win the game extremely quickly.  Personally I find the Illusion mechanic in M12 frustrating/annoying; which explains why I'd rank a flying 5/5 beatstick behind Gorehorn Minotaurs.  In my opinion this card is no better than a 3rd pick and I could easily see it sliding as far as pick 6 in a very strong pack.  With that having been noted however I have both won and lost games in M12 on the back of Phantasmal Dragons and I couldn't fault someone for liking the card more than I do because of it's tremendous potential to win games.
  8. Stampeding Rhino:  While arguably a somewhat generic "fatty", Stampeding Rhino is blessed with one of the most relevant traits in M12 or any limited format for that matter; Trample.  This seemingly innocuous keyword has a habit of shaping entire games and helps the Rhino come in comfortably at the top of our "3rd tier" 4/4 monsters and #8 overall on this list.  While I obviously wouldn't go so far as to suggest he was as good as a flyer, Trample does act as a form of "psuedo-evasion" because your opponent can very rarely chump block profitably with his various early game weenies.  This not only shortens your clock but it puts increasing pressure on your opponent to deal with the Rhino or eventually find himself "trampled under it's hooves".  This is an absolutely tremendous value for 5 mana and right now I believe this card is being *criminally* undervalued at draft tables everywhere.  Stampeding Rhino plays on the table like a 4th-7th pick card and yet can easily be had as late as 8th-10th in almost every draft I've participated in so far.  There is absolutely no way this guy should be going later than Garruk's Companion and Sacred Wolf unless you have some serious problems with your mana curve at that point in the draft.   
  9. Bonebreaker Giant:  The "ham and cheese sandwich" of M12 Limited, Bonebreaker Giant is all about giving you what you need with no extra frills.  This guy is probably the ultimate example of what I mean when I say that simply being "4/4" is an ability in it's own right here in M12 Limited; with absolutely no relevant keywords or traits whatsoever the B.B. Giant will still usually become the immediate focal point of any battlefield he's cast onto.  Besides being 4/4 his other primary attribute is that he's a red card which means he makes a nice pick-up after you've finished drafting Gorehorn Minotaurs and removal spells.  In terms of true value  B.B. Giant feels like a solid 5th-7th pick but I've frequently seem him handing around packs well after pick 9.  Once again the comparisons to other cards in this color that are frequently drafted ahead of the Giant are somewhat comical; Fiery Hellhound, Manic Vandal and Goblin Piker are all considerably worse creatures and yet I've seen them consistently chosen before Bonebreaker Giant.
  10. Griffin Rider:  To be fair when this card is actually functioning as a 4/4 flyer for 2 mana it's probably worthy of a much higher ranking than this.  Of course the fact that you have to have *another* creature that says "Griffin" in play to make it a 4/4 is what's holding it back.  Furthermore most of the cards that *do* say Griffin in this format are pretty underwhelming on the table despite looking fairly decent at the outset of M12.  Assault Griffin is too fragile for it's 4 mana cost, Peregrine Griffin needed 5 toughness to be an effective blocker in the format and Griffin Sentinel quickly goes from super Hawk/Wall to "annoying distraction" the moment someone drops a 3/3 Flyer.  Finally of course unless you have multiple Griffins in play at all times you will constantly have to live in fear of your opponent destroying your enabler and blocking the now 1/1 Griffin Rider; likely generating a blowout in the process.  Despite these many drawbacks however it's pretty hard to ignore the potential power of attacking with a 4/4 flyer on turn 3 and as such this is a card that should remain constantly on your radar.  Personally I value it in the 5th to 9th pick range; ideally I'd like to get my first Griffin Rider late in pack 1 around picks 8-9 but as the draft continues and I accumulate more Griffin cards I'm likely to ratchet that up all the way to a 5th pick or so. 
  11. Carnage Wurm:  To be frank I'm starting to think this might actually be a pretty bad card in M12 draft; while I've had great success running it in Sealed decks I have now drafted this card 3 times and on every occasion lost at least one game that night while stareing ruefully at the Carnage Wurm and repeatedly counting 5 or 6 mana on my board.  What's more every time I was able to cast him he promptly met a Doom Blade or was part of a game I was already winning by a very wide margin without even playing the Wurm.  Simply put 7 mana is fine when I'm getting a 5/6ish flyer with a bonus Fact or Fiction/Diabolic Tutor but it's just not a good value for a random "big trample" guy in a pressure based format like M12 draft.  Personally I wouldn't want to draft this card before pick 7 or 8 but I often find myself cutting it out of packs for signaling purposes as early as pick 5.  Considering that I tend to sideboard it out for game 2 against all but the slowest decks it's real value is probably more like pick 9-10.
  12. Vastwood Gorger:  In a pinch this card can serve as a reasonable "bomb-like substance" in a deck that has a *lot* of other, better cards.  For example if you used your first 3 picks in every pack to draft a sick removal spell there's a pretty good chance you missed out on all the "good" beaters and you might have to resort to a card like Vastwood Gorger to finish your opponents off in a timely manner.  Otherwise however this is a pretty marginal card; as previously mentioned 6 mana is somewhat awkward in this format and in this case the payout of a blank 5/6 creature is really not worth it.  Personally I'd rate this card as a 10-12th type pick but I could see it going around pick 8ish in pack 3 if someone was just that desperate for a fatty.
  13. Harbor Serpent:  There is basically one situation in M12 limited where Harbor Serpent is playable; you have a deck with multiple copies of cards like Merfolk Looter, Divination and Azure Mage that simultaneously lacks relevant "finishing" creatures that don't cost 6 mana or demand that 5 Islands be in play to actually attack.  In this situation it is perfectly acceptable to maindeck exactly 1 copy of Harbor Serpent and hope it helps you "mise" a game or two over the course of the tournament.  Otherwise this is a devastating sideboard card in the blue on blue match-up and I will often make a point of selecting 2 copies of this card before the draft is over entirely because of this.  In terms of pure value this is a 10th-12th type pick but I occasionally find myself taking it much higher (8th or so) in pack 3 once I'm sure I have significant competition for blue at the table.   
Editor's Note: I purposely left Thran Golem off the list because I knew we'd be talking a lot about him in this next section.  In terms of functionality he's basically the same card as Griffin Rider except the payout is better while the support cards (Auras vs Griffins) are worse.  I also left Crumbling Colossus off the list because in my experience he's not actually very good at grinding games out in m12; on the table he tends to act as a very big "Wall" that eventually turns into a burn spell.
Disenchanted:  Based on my experiences in numerous recent MtGO drafts I suspect that what I am about to say may shock and hurt many of you.  Unfortunately it's for your own good and frankly for mine as well because playing so many *bad* decks online is starting to drive me a little batty.  Okay, ready? The truth is that even though Auras are definitely a sub-theme here in M12 Limited for the most part they are still pretty bad.  Now before you start yelling at me please give me a moment to explain myself; I am not saying that all Auras are bad or that there is no reason to draft or include Auras in your deck.  For starters, Pacifism (and to a degree Arachnus Web) is still a very early pick and it will be fairly rare draft where I'd be willing to ship an Angelic Destiny.  Additionally it's hard to deny that on the right creature (specifically something with Hexproof) a card like Trollhide or Spirit Mantle is more than capable of winning you games.  The key here is it *has* to be the right creature; Hexproof is not exactly a common ability in this format and throwing a stat-pumping Aura on "any ole random duder" is just as good a way to get 2 for 1'd here in M12 as it was in previous formats.  I simply can not count the number of games my opponent has dropped a Goblin Arsonist on turn 1 and followed it up with a Goblin War Paint on turn 2 to "get in there" for 3 damage here in M12; surprisingly enough I have lost precisely zero of these games.  Even the Hexproof trait isn't always enough to make a given stat-boosting Aura worth playing; putting a Divine Favor on a Gladecover Scout really doesn't make either card in this equation any better for example.  Probably the worst offender however is the much-beloved and highly overrated Thran Golem; look I love a Flying, Trampling, First Striking 5/5 Flying beatstick for 5 mana as much as the next gal but in my experience the effort and risk you put into creating a "super-Golem" *rarely* actually leads to this outcome.  What's more because the Golem itself looks so powerful on paper he will almost always be over-drafted in this format; along with the Auras required to feed him.  I don't know about you but losing 2 top 5 picks to a single Doom Blade doesn't sound like a great way to win drafts to me and in my personal experience this card has actually bordered on bad when I've seen it played.  Just the other night for example my opponent dropped a Dark Favor on his Thran Golem and crashed into me for 8 damage only to watch me top-deck an Acidic Slime; I suppose you could argue that damage was worth 7 mana and 2 cards but considering I finished the game at 11 life I'm not entirely sure how valid that argument would be.  So when are Auras good?  When they give a creature that's already hard to kill both a stat bonus and an additional ability; this is what makes cards like Spirit Mantle/Trollhide good (but not great) while cards like Divine/Dark Favor and Goblin Warpaint remain extremely "marginal" cards.  In my opinion the simple truth is that Auras are a powerful but relatively minor theme here in M12 Limited; they're nice when you combine the right Auras with the right monsters but overall the theme is simply not deep enough to build entire decks around.  In other words putting a Trollhide on an Aven Hexwing is a *very* good play but selling out to play an Aura based strategy without a *significant* number of quality Hexproof creatures (Fleetwin, Sacred Wolf, umm Dungrove Elder; this is not a long list folks) is most certainly not.  At best a given 8 person draft table can support two players running an Aura based strategy and right now it seems like every table I sit down to draft at has *twice* as many people drafting Auras as there are quality cards to support the theme.  Finally I should mention that with so many people over-valuing Auras in the format it becomes a very smart idea to load up your sideboard with "Disenchant" or "Bounce" effects to help contain these cards.  While you may have to waste a mid pack pick or 2 on an Unsummon if you're in blue, cards like Naturalize, Stave Off and Demystify can be just as effective at controlling enemy Auras and can usually be snapped up *very* late in M12 packs.  In fact if you're running short on playables it's probably a good idea to include any one of these cards as your 23rd card over marginal "bodies" just to fill out your curve; right now people have gone so Aura happy it will actually be *hard* for you to find a match-up where you can't gain value from these cards.

Actually, it's Pretty Easy Being Green: Okay so this point is almost entirely about MtGO 8-4 tournaments but as it pertains to color valuations in M12 Limited at large I feel it's useful even if you never play MtGO. To put it bluntly; I and nearly everyone else who said green wasn't any good in M12 Limited was wrong. Not completely wrong; the fact is green is still pretty thin at the top compared to the other colors in the format. It is however *much* deeper than I had originally expected and as a result using green as your secondary support color and a way to get undervalued "beaters" passed to you later in packs is actually a very smart idea here in M12 drafts. What's more because everyone seems to believe that playing green in an 8-4 is a fate worse than death it's being woefully under-drafted right now online!  Just recently I found myself playing in 3 consecutive drafts where an early Overrun (1st-2nd pick) forced me to go into green and I quickly found myself absolutely flooded with amazing cards from both directions.  In one draft I was passed a 4th pick Stingflinger Spider, a 9th pick Garruk's Companion, a 10th pick Arachnus Web and most unbelievably a 13th pick Lurking Crocodile.  The next two drafts were more of the same; 5th pick Acidic Slimes, very late Arachnus Webs and random Stampeding Rhinos lying around like they were Goblin Pikers.  Probably my greatest coup however was in the 3rd draft when already rocking 2 Overruns and a Fireball I was actually shipped a 4th pick Arachnus Spider to go with the 2 Arachnus Webs that had been passed to me earlier in the draft.  Needless to say I won that draft without losing a single game; although a couple games were very close because I have an uncanny ability to mana flood constantly while playing MtGO.  Naturally of course if you do go into green you'll want to pair it with some solid removal cards in another color but right now this is actually pretty easy to do; if people are going to freely pass solid green creatures late in any given pack you can simply use your early picks to snatch up all the good removal in other colors and just ease into green when the Rhinos/Wolves/Basilisks start tabling.  I should mention at this point that I'm hardly recommending that you try and force green in your next MtGo 8-4; the color remains short on both "bombs" and "removal".  What I am suggesting however is that building the very best draft decks is still about gaining as much value as possible with your later picks and if people keep passing cards like Giant Spider picks 5 and 6 it would behoove you to jump into green to take advantage of your opponent's miss-evaluation of the format.  This is particularly effective online where "sliding into green" seems to be pretty comparable to "farming for Magic packs" at this exact moment.

Drafting Like Al Davis:  For those of you who don't follow professional football; Al Davis is the owner and some would say complete dictator of Oakland's professional football franchise, the Raiders.  He's also one of the most brilliant and important men in the history of football or at least he was until he apparently went stark raving mad sometime during the mid 90's.  In Al's defense he's 82 years old and has a long history of seeing opportunities where others see trash and eventually making these gambles pay off.  Unfortunately this hasn't translated to his football team recently because while drafting/signing players for his franchise Al has become the ultimate gambler; eschewing conventional wisdom year after year Al directs hist team to draft high variance "boom or bust" players *long* before other teams would even consider taking such a gamble.  Sometimes this pays off of course but most of the time Al and the Raiders end up choosing a pretty poor football player and the team suffers because of it.  Look up the names Jamarcus Russell, Todd Marinovich or Bob Buczkowski for an idea of just how badly these gambles have typically paid off for the Raiders.  Okay so what does this have to do with Magic you ask?  Simply put right now I'm seeing a *lot* of people who are building draft decks like Al Davis builds football teams.  In particular I've watched an absolutely huge number of drafters waste early picks on "boom or bust" rares that could *potentially* win games while willfully passing solid removal spells/beaters that *will* help you win games.  Let's take a quick look at what I feel are the top 5 rares people shouldn't be first picking in the format right now but probably are:
  1. Solemn Simulacrum:  Like most of the cards on this list the Simulacrum isn't a bad card by any definition; this doesn't however mean that he's a particularly *amazing* card here in M12 Limited either.  While it's true that it's hard to beat Simulacrum for overall value the simple truth is that he's not actually very good at any of the 3 things he does individually; mana ramping is nice but unless you're holding a 6 drop or an off color splash card it's really not something you're all that excited about to do on turn 4.  Combine this with the fact that the Simulacrum is only a 2/2 in a format dominated by 4/4's and that his leave play ability only draws you 1 card when he dies and you have a magic recipe for a card that looks much better in the pack than it plays out on the table.  This isn't to say that the Simulacrum isn't a decent card here in M12 Limited but on sheer value alone he's more like a 3rd or 4th pick and certainly shouldn't be going ahead of Flying 4/4's or premium removal; right now he is doing exactly that.
  2. Day of Judgement:  This is another example of a card that's actually pretty good but makes this list almost entirely because it's rarely the best card available in a given pack.  Look, I certainly see the value in taking a card that wipes out every creature on the table fairly highly; after all everyone knows that killing creatures is important in Limited Magic so how can a card that kills *every* creature not be awesome right?  The truth however is that the symmetrical board wipe effects can be kind of hard to take advantage of at the best of times; you have to slow roll your opponent into playing out more or better creatures than you, draw/play the Day of Judgment and then follow it up with a creature he simply can't just kill to regain parity.  What's more this is particularly hard here in M12 where white's creature base consists almost entirely of small, cheap weenies who want to flood the board and start bashing as soon as possible.  I'm not saying you should *never* take Day of Judgment first in a pack but unless you're already firmly in white shipping cards like Doom Blade, Fireball, Serra Angel, Vampire Outcasts and Chandra's Outrage to do so is almost certainly a mistake.
  3. Jace's Archivist:  The problem with Jace's Archivist is that while he's certainly potentially *very* powerful the fact is that situations where he's truly worth a 1st overall pick almost never come up.  I imagine that when most people 1st pick this card they are imagining a scenario whereby they spend the very last card in their hand and then activate the Archivist to mill their opponent's 5-7 card hand away and simply "reload" over and over until they win the game.  If this ever actually *happened* in a real game of Magic the Archivist would most certainly be worth snap picking but unfortunately most of the time when this card hits the table both you and your opponent will have 3-4 cards in hand.  If your opponent is seriously worried about you milling these cards away he will simply play out his hand or kill your archivist; if he isn't he'll probably thank you for milling away his "chafe" and giving him 3-4 new cards to look at.  Finally of course there's no guarantee that *you'll* want to mill away those cards if the situation ever does come up which makes the Archivist an extremely high variance choice.  He's pretty good in an aggro deck with a *lot* of cheap creatures but otherwise this card should be going around pick 4 or 5 in all but the weakest packs.
  4. Lord of the Unreal:  I really can't put this any simpler than what I am about to say; there are a grand total of 3 creatures that say Illusion in M12 Limited and one of them is a rare people are *highly* unlikely to pass you.  Additionally it is basically NEVER a good idea to build your deck around a 2/2 "bear" who's going to die almost immediately after you play him.  This is the first card on the list that I actually think is a genuine piece of garbage and not just "over-rated"; do not draft Lord of the Unreal.
  5. Sorin's Vengeance:  Frankly if you're first picking this card right now I highly doubt anything I'm going to say to you here will actually change your mind.  For some people the potential to end the game immediately and/or create a 20 point life swing will simply to too much to ever resist.  Unfortunately as "big" as this spell can be sometimes it's actually pretty worthless to you unless your opponent is at 10 Life or is putting virtually no pressure on you whatsoever.  In my opinion a 7 mana sorcery needs to actually *win* me the game for it to be worth inclusion in a deck; potentially winning me the game if I've already done 10 damage just isn't worth BBB4.  I should mention that this really only applies to the draft format; in slower Sealed deck tournaments Sorin's Vengeance absolutely *is* a bomb and should be included in your 40 if you're heavily enough in black to support it.
Honorable Mentions: Grand Abolisher, Call to the Grave, Goblin Chieftan, Birds of Paradise, Garruk's Horde, Adaptive Automaton, Quicksilver Amulet.

Well folks that's just about all the typing my fingers can take for the moment so despite having a million more things I could talk about in M12 Limited I guess I should wrap up the article here.  Hopefully it hasn't been too ramble-y and as always thanks for reading folks.  I have no idea how many more blog posts I'll find time for between now and Nationals but right now I'm shooting for 2-3.  Until next time always remember that if your first pick in pack 1 is a 2/2 "Bear" you probably aren't doing it right.  Keep it weird.

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