Saturday, September 3, 2011

Standard Deviations #20/Of Limited Interest #34: A National Disaster (Part III)

Hello ladies and gentlemen; I hope you are enjoying the last few days of Summer as much as I am and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Unfortunately I have to start today's article off with a confession and an apology to the many readers to have emailed me asking for part 3 of my Nationals report.  The truth is that I've started to write this article at least 15 times in the past week and ultimately decided that each version was unpublishable for essentially the same reason.  When I started to write this report my goal was to keep the content "fun", "vaguely humorous" and "completely honest"; after all since I didn't win the event itself I felt that my actually feelings and experiences of the event would be far more relevant than a simple round by round match report.  Who wants to read about the 6-5 CawBlade mirror match on table 28 anyways?  This was actually pretty easy for the first two parts of the report and I've been told by a number of readers on Twitter that it's some of my best writing.  Unfortunately whenever I sit down to write the 3rd part it just comes out "blah blah whine whine I hate mulligans" and frankly that isn't the kind of work I want to produce on this blog; I wouldn't read that crap so why should you?  Sadly however I'm the stubborn type; even though I've failed innumerable times I can't seem to write *anything* else until this report is finished.  In light of this I've decided to give it one last try, doing everything in my power to focus on the good side of mulling into oblivion at the most important Magic tournament you'll play in all year.  Please bear with me folks; this apparently isn't easy.

Editor's Note:  For those of you who have no idea what Nina is talking about the previous two parts of her Nationals report can be found here: Part I and Part II.

A Day (of Judgment) late and a dollar short:  After about a half hour delay to allow the judges to reset up the tables and create draft pods I was eventually seated at a table with Alexander Hayne, Andy Van Leeuwen, Matt Mealing and 4 players I didn't know.  At this point I was feeling pretty confident but 6 rounds of Magic and a draft were starting to take their toll; I wouldn't say I was tired but I certainly wanted to get this draft over and get some sleep for Sunday as soon as possible.  In terms of the actual experience itself the second draft was very much like the first draft except that for whatever reason the judge calling the second draft wanted to finish the packs in roughly half the time.  At first this wasn't a real issue but as the picks went on he actually managed to speed up; at one point I recall being told to pass my pack before I'd even examined the 8 cards remaining.  I was initially a little worried that I was the only one struggling to keep up until I noticed that *many* other players in the room were murmuring quietly for the caller to "slow down".  Eventually things reached a breaking point sometime during pack 3 when the judge began calling the picks so quickly that he actually forgot which pick we were on and told everyone to pass "5 cards to the left" when we had 7 or so left in the pack.  At this point the murmurs became audible complaints and he was finally forced to slow down.  In my opinion however, the damage had been done; while I don't think the speed of the draft affected my picks too much the truth is I spent almost the entire draft nervously trying to keep pace with the judge.  Simply passing/receiving the packs on time became my primary goal and this left *significantly* less time to consider my picks and the deck I was building while making them.  More importantly; drafting at that speed was absolutely 100% "not fun" and by the time the draft was over I actually wanted to have a cigarette just to calm down.

Unwrapping pack 1 I was naturally hoping to open some sort of disgusting game winning bomb I could plan my entire draft around; as were all 7 of my opponents no doubt.  Unfortunately my first pack turned out to be fairly mediocre; the rare was Reverberate, there was a Shock, an Assault Griffin, a Belltower Sphinx and a whole pile of average to poor cards.  After eliminating the Griffin because it would be ineffective against both of the other "good" cards in the pack I eventually settled on the Belltower Sphinx.  My logic was actually pretty simple; in the first draft and during numerous practice drafts (both real and MtGO) I consistently found that red was heavily over-drafted.  This meant that I was really only prepared to draft two types of red cards pick 1 pack 1; high impact cards that could potentially win me a game by themselves or above average removal spells I would be happy to splash as my only red card.  Shock doesn't actually qualify on either front and what's more would be completely incapable of killing the Belltower Sphinx I would be passing instead.  Alex then proceeded to pass me an average pack with a lot of solid creatures, no good removal and a Stingflinger Spider.  Without a moment's hesitation I snapped up the Spider and resigned myself to playing U/G again in the second draft.  Naturally when pick 3 produced a Merfolk Looter I was pretty pleased with my previous two choices and felt that things were working out "just fine" once again.  Unfortunately it would be the last relevant blue card I'd choose that pack as Alex and at least one other drafter to my right began heavily cutting the color throughout pack 1.  My next 6 selections were actually green cards; Giant Spider, Trollhide, Garruk's Companion, Titanic Growth, Hunter's Insight and Trollhide #2.  Finally I rounded out the pack with a Fiery Hellound (in case there was no blue in pack 2 either), a Brindle Boar I had no intention of playing, a Plummet for my sideboard, Dragon's Claw and a 14th pick Lifelink.

Going into pack 2 it's pretty safe to say I was a little nervous; the first pack had been something of a complete disaster and while I had drafted some decent cards none of them told me very much about what kind of deck I was building.  I knew for sure that said deck was green and had some Spiders in it but otherwise I was headed into the second pack essentially blind.  Unfortunately around about the start of pack 2 is when the draft caller became so fast it was all I could do to keep up with his instructions to pick and pass.  I simply did not have enough time to memorize the other cards in the pack as well as I would have liked and now almost 2 weeks later the information is completely gone.  I know I first picked an Oblivion Ring with the intention of either splashing it in my U/G deck or switching into white as my second color entirely.  Matt then passed me a second copy of Oblivion Ring and I was pretty sure the switch to G/W was complete.  I third-picked an Arachnus Web and then actually passed a Skywinder Drake to take an Arbalest Elite simply because I was *that* sure I wouldn't be playing any blue cards in my deck.  Pick 5 was a second copy of Giant Spider and continuing the transition to G/W I grabbed a Roc Egg out of a very average pack pick 6.  Pack 7 however featured a bunch of incredibly marginal cards and a Chasm Drake; this confused me quite a bit but since there were no quality green or white cards to speak of I took the Drake.  Frankly I had no real idea what the presence of the Drake meant and I was still pretty sure I'd end up in G/W when all is said and done.  The next two packs were pretty dead; I ended up taking a Llanowar Elf I knew I would play and an Ice Cage I was hoping I wouldn't.  Thankfully nobody else at the table wanted any cheap green creatures because I somehow managed to pick 4 consecutive (picks 10-13) Runeclaw Bears and a random last pick Demystify.

Things were certainly starting to look grim headed into pack 3; not only was I still trying to figure out what my second color was but my entire deck was populated by crummy Bears and Spiders.  On the plus side I had come out of pack 2 with an Arachnus Web and 2 Oblivion Rings I knew I'd play even if I ended up going U/G so it wasn't all a loss.  Naturally of course I opened a pack 3 Vengeful Pharaoh, a bunch of quality but not first pickable green creatures (Rhino, Sacred Wolf) and another Arachnus Web I simply couldn't pass.  Somehow pack 2 was actually worse; I can't remember most of the cards in this pack but I do remember that absolutely none of the G/U/W cards were main-deck material and I ultimately decided just to "spike" a Chandra's Outrage even though I had zero chance of playing it.  Picks 3 and 4 would finally decide that I was a G/U deck splashing white for Oblivion Rings when I snatched up a Skywinder Drake and followed it up immediately with a 2nd Belltower Sphinx.  To be perfectly honest it wasn't exactly a difficult choice; there were no good white cards in any of the first 4 packs and the Drake/Sphinx were actually better than most of the green creatures I'd already drafted.  Unfortunately pack 5 would ultimately typify the kind of draft I was having when I spread out the cards only to find a Sacred Wolf, a Stampeding Rhino, a Greater Basilisk and an Acidic Slime.  What's more most of the non-green cards in the pack were pretty bad so even if I *was* the only green drafter at the table I knew none of these cards would make it back to me.  Eventually I took the Acidic Slime simply because it was the most powerful card in the pile and I figured I might be able to table the Wolf/Rhino from pack 1 anyways.  My next pick was a 2nd Llanowar Elf out of a pack with basically nothing followed up by a Carnage Wurm I took mostly because all of my creatures were 2-3 power weenies at that point.  Unfortunately the remaining packs pretty much dried up after that and I closed out the draft with a Spirit Mantle, a Vastwood Gorger I should have main-decked but didn't, a Distress, a Gladecover Scout, a Pride Guardian, a Bountiful Harvest and a Taste of Blood; ick.

Once again the players in my pod were separated for the "deck build" portion of the draft but this time I needed almost every single alloted minute to complete my deck.  This is the list I submitted just as time was expiring:

"Bear Necessities" - G/U/w Aggro:

Creatures - 17:

2x Llanowar Elf
1x Garruk's Companion
1x Merfolk Looter
4x Runeclaw Bear
1x Skywinder Drake
2x Giant Spider
1x Acidic Slime
2x Belltower Sphinx
1x Chasm Drake
1x Stingerfling Spider
1x Carnage Wurm

Spells - 6:

2x Arachnus Web
2x Oblivion Ring
2x Trollhide

Lands -17:

7x Forest
7x Island
3x Plains

Analysis:  The simple truth is that this is a pretty average deck in M12 Limited.  Generally when you play a U/G aggro deck it's because you've got some ridiculously powerful cards in those colors; Mind Control/Overrun come to mind as a pretty good example.  Unfortunately this deck doesn't really have any cards on that power-level and even the two best cards in the deck (2x Oblivion Ring) are actually splash removal spells.  What's more because the deck has no mana fixing and no card-draw outside of the Looter the mana base itself is pretty bad; you want 10 forests to support your Elves/Companion but you need a significant number of Islands/Plains to play your Looter/Oblivion Rings.  My biggest problem with this deck however is it's complete dependence on drawing Trollhide, Chasm Drake or Carnage Wurm to actually win games.  For a deck with 17 creatures this build was surprisingly bad at applying the "beatdowns" because the vast majority of it's monsters topped out at 2 power unless you could stick a Trollhide somehow.  In retrospect I don't think I correctly estimated just how big of a problem with would be during my matches and as a result I probably built the deck wrong.  I typically found myself siding out a Rune Claw Bear and 1-2 Trollhides for some combination of Vastwood Gorger, Titanic Growth and/or Ice Cage in game 2.  Despite these shortcomings the deck wasn't a total loss; the removal package was actually quite good (2x Arachnus Web, 2x Oblivion Ring, Stingflinger Spider, Acidic Slime and sideboard copies of Plummet, Ice Cage and Titanic Growth) and the sheer number of early (1-2) drops made it pretty easy to adopt the aggro role in most match-ups.   
Match Reports: Unfortunately even though I remember all 3 matches in great detail the truth is that my second draft was pretty much a dud all around.  My first round opponent was rocking a very solid U/W control deck and although I had no idea who he was at the time I later found out he was one of the best players in Western Canada; he certainly played like it.  Game 1 started out fine as I flooded the board with "bears" and managed to stick a Trollhide early.  Unfortunately my opponent seemed to have an endless supply of Unsummons, Ponders and Divinations so my enchantment didn't last very long.  Eventually I managed to claw him down to 6 life with more than lethal damage on the table; unfortunately I'd also played every single card in my hand and when my opponent dropped the Day of Judgment he'd been drawing towards I knew my goose was cooked.  He naturally proceeded to cast 3-4 white creatures over the next 2 turns (including a Serra Angel) and when I could only respond with lands we were headed to game 2.  In between games I sideboarded out both Trollhides and replaced them with a Plummet and a Titanic Growth; I'd seen at least 2 unsummon effects in game 1 and I had a funny feeling my opponent had at least one Aether Adept in his pile to boot.  Unfortunately game 2 saw me mulligan to 6 and keep a fairly slow draw while my opponent rolled out some Ponders, a Mana Leak (I think, it was a counterspell of some kind) and a Divination.  Eventually however I managed to draw/play enough creatures to force him to cast a Peregrine Griffen and another blocker (I honestly can't remember).  This situation continued for a number of turns until I finally had him on 7 life with 4 cards in hand; one of which I was absolutely certain was a Day of Judgment.  My hand at this point consisted of a Belltower Sphinx, a land and a Carnage Wurm but I didn't have lethal damage on the table unless I were to cast one of those creatures.  After tanking for a few seconds I eventually cast the Belltower Sphinx and shipped the turn back to my opponent; this was not a popular choice with the crowd watching behind me based on the murmurs I heard but I was absolutely certain that my opponent was sandbagging his Day of Judgment.  Like clockwork my opponent untaps, draws a card and drops a Day of Judgment on me in about 3 seconds flat.  More disturbingly however he also plays a 2nd Island and passes the turn with 2 Island and a Plains untapped.  Now at this point I absolutely knew I was walking into a counterspell but when I drew yet another land to start my turn I really didn't see how I had much of a choice but to find out.   My opponent still had 3 cards in hand and it was a pretty fair assumption that at least one of them was a 3-4 power flyer; if I shipped the turn back he would likely just cast a creature and ship the turn back to me with his countermagic still available.  Mustering up as much confidence as possible I threw my Carnage Wurm on the table and tried not to groan openly when he responded with a Cancel.  Out of cards and out of options I could only watch in horror as my opponent cast 2 flyers on his next turn (Skywinder Drake and Assault Griffin I believe) and when I drew nothing relevant I was forced to concede a couple of turns later.

Fortunately for me, round 7 marked the end of day 1 at Nationals.  I was tired, frustrated and more than a little shaken from my last loss and at that point I was pretty sure I'd drafted a deck so poor that it would single-handedly eliminate me from contention before round 9 was over.  Thankfully several of my friends and fellow competitors were around to talk me down from the ledge and eventually I went home to a warm shower before spending roughly an hour and a half goldfishing my deck and examining possible sideboard options for day 2.  I don't actually remember falling asleep that night but I certainly remember waking up at 5:30 the next morning and wishing the organizers would hold big Magic events less than an hour away from "civilization".

Going into the first round of day 2 the one potential opponent I was hoping to avoid was Alexander Hayne.  Not only was he one of the best players in my pod but because of Mana Deprived's coverage of the event I knew Alex was playing a *very* strong U/B control deck that would likely make short work of my "pile of cheap creatures + Trollhide" build.  Naturally of course I would be paired against Alex but a funny thing happened on the way to my eventual defeat; Alex could not draw lands of his second color in either game.  Game 1 he played 4 Swamps and actually made a reasonably go of holding me off with a Royal Assassin;  until I dumped my hand and swarmed him to death.  Game 2 was worse as after mulling to 6 my opponent kept a 2 Island hand with a Merfolk Looter and managed to miss his 3rd land drop before playing yet another Island on turn 4.  Unfortunately my draw was actually very fast this game and Alex conceded with a 4 card hand that probably had as many good cards in it as my entire deck.  I can not stress enough how disappointing this match was to me personally; Alex is one of my favorite players in all of Canada and his deck was easily much better than mine.  I never go into a match hoping/expecting to lose but in this case I couldn't help but feel terrible for Alex; he didn't deserve to lose that round any more than I deserved to mulligan into oblivion for the rest of the day.

The third round of the second draft would once again see me paired against someone I had no desire to play in what amounted to an elimination game; this time it was local ace and all around "good guy" Andy Van Leeuwen.  As it turns out Andy was playing a W/R "min-maxed" aggro deck with a number of very very good cards and some "random bodies" to fill out his back 40.  Unfortunately what I didn't know at the time was that it really didn't matter what Andy was playing; I was about to embark on the single worst string of mulligans I have *ever* experienced in Magic and learn a whole new meaning for the word "variance".   Game 1 started out poorly; I lost the roll and then mulled into a slowish hand with a Runeclaw Bear and a Giant Spider as my only creatures.  Andy responded by casting an early Gideon's Lawkeeper and following that up with a turn 3 Fiery Hellhound.  Unfortunately I drew nothing but land and 5 drops and for a couple of turns Andy was able to tap out my blocker and swing freely for 4 damage with his pumped up Hellhound.  Eventually I managed to stabilize somewhat and I even had a Stingflinger Spider ready and waiting when Andy cast his Serra Angel.  Unfortunately I didn't have another answer when he followed that up with a Flameblast Dragon and I scooped as soon as he played the necessary land to "Fireball" me out in a single shot.  After the game I couldn't resist counting up my graveyard; I'd played 9 land and 5 spells in a 9 turn game.  Game 2 saw me board in Plummet and Ice Cage over a Runeclaw Bear and a Trollhide but I once again started the game by mulling to 6.  When my hand came back Plains, Island, Forest, 2x Oblivion Ring, Arachnus Web I actually wanted to mulligan again; unfortunately down to 6 cards on the play I simply couldn't turn down 3 playable removal effects at that point.  Sadly my first few turns really weren't much better; I drew absolutely no land and only one castable creature in my first 3 turns.  Andy also had a much slower draw this game but was easily able to Shock my only blocker and start getting in with a Goblin Piker and eventually a Lightning Elemental.  Missing land drop after land drop I was eventually forced to cast all of my removal spells on poor targets before I finally managed to hit 4 mana and cast a Giant Spider.  By this time I was hovering around 7 life and clearly out of legitimate removal spells so Andy dropped his Flameblast Dragon and shipped the turn back.  I did actually have one last play; I cast an Ice Cage on the Flameblast only to watch Andy "Shock" it on his mainphase and declare what would be a lethal attack.

The measure of a (wo)man: After game 2 I quickly signed the match slip and managed to wish Andy good luck in his future rounds before escaping the room for a quick smoke break.  Though I was doing my best to appear calm on the outside, inside I was upset, frustrated and most disturbingly of all; a little scared.  At this point in the tournament it was hard to tell what the cutoff line for the top 8 would be but everyone was pretty sure X-4 was right out and that any X-3 players to make it would most certainly need strong tiebreakers to do so.  Upset and on the verge of tears I was seriously tempted to just drop and go home immediately.  Thankfully my friends Tommy and Kelly were still with me and after convincing me to calm down the 3 of us started to go through the math together.  While at least 2 of my previous opponents had dropped almost everyone I'd played during the first draft was not only still in the tournament but doing exceptionally well; it might have taken a miracle finish but I was not mathematically out of the running quite yet.  Additionally Kelly reminded me that my original plan had been to "play Magic until the organizers kicked me out of the tournament hall" and as of yet that had not happened.  Hardening my resolve with a rare second cigarette I decided to make good on my promise and somehow "find a way" to run the table during the last 3 rounds of Standard.  As we walked back in the doors I even remember saying to Tommy that "at least it'll be easier, Caw Blade is a much more reliable deck than that pile I just drafted."       

Standard Deviations:  Unfortunately folks this is the part of the story that's sad, boring and repetitive.  As anyone who's heard me whining since Nationals knows I proceeded to lose all 3 rounds of Standard while constantly mulling bad hands into not appreciably better hands.  Frankly I've run through each of these games literally hundreds of times in my head and I can see absolutely nothing of value in sharing anything but the barest of details with you the reader.  My opponents were playing mono green elves, caw blade and caw blade respectively; to a man they were all extremely polite and respectful of my mana/mulligan issues and if I had to lose painfully while drawing no lands I could not have picked 3 nicer guys to do it against.  In fact after game 2 with Nassim Ketita we chatted pleasantly for a few minutes together about our match; I admitted that at that point after mulling yet again my heart was no longer in it and he offered some advice on how I might take my game to the next level.  To be completely honest by the final round I was just going through the motions anyways; I probably should have dropped after hitting 6 and 4 but I decided to keep my promise and forced myself to continue playing.  If there is one lesson I have learned from Nationals besides "variance kinda sucks sometimes" it's that I am not nearly as good a player when my heart isn't in the game.  Sometimes my emotions get in the way of playing "perfect" Magic but they are also a very important part of my core game as a Magic player; *shrug* guess I'll never be a robot from the future after all.  In lieu of a round by round match report that features the word "mulligan" 11+ times I would like to submit the following song as an accurate reflection of both my last 3 rounds and my general feelings about them: 

No fetch-land no cry, no fetch-land no cry
Say, say, said I remember when I used to hit
All of my land drops, right on time
Shuffa, shuffa, shuffle than head to six
As I wonder how this thing could happen to me
Good games I’ve had, and good games I’ve lost
But not this wa-ay
No cards, no future
The Japanese had it wrong
So shuffle up and pray

No fetch-land no cry, no fetchland no cry
Oh my little Angel; don’t make no birds
No fetch-land no cry

Say, say, yes I remember hitting six on six
And casting Con Sphinx for the win
And then Jace; he would draw cards all night
As it is; there is not a land in sight
That’s when I took, third mulligan
On Twitter; share with you
Can’t win mirror on just three lands
I guess that’s why I’m so blue
Hope that I’m wrong…

Every game gonna mull to 5, every game gonna mull to 5

No fetch-land, no cry
No, no fetch-land, no cry
Hey now my little Angel; don’t make no birds
No fetch-land, no cry.

After signing the match slip for round 12 I suddenly felt both very sad and extremely tired at the same time.  The fact that my journey was over and had ended so poorly after such a promising start was beginning to sink in fully; sapping whatever energy I had left after 2 days of Nationals that included 12 rounds of Magic and two separate drafts.  I took a last few moments to wander around the room and say goodbye to as many of my friends as I could find.  Finally, after excusing myself from several post-tournament dinner invitations I jumped into a cab with Tommy and started the long ride home.  Overall I would have to rate my Nationals experience as a positive one.  While I certainly wasn't happy with finishing 6-6 I learned quite a bit about myself as a player; including the fact that I actually *did* belong in that room as a Magic player after all.  While I can't speak credibly about the future I can say that right now I have every intention of earning an invite back to this tournament in 2012; and I intend to win it next time.
Well gang that's about all my fingers can take for the moment; there's a lot of humidity in the air here in Toronto and I may be developing a mild case of arthritis because my joints are starting to ache.  As always thanks for reading and I'm sorry this wasn't the most "fun" article I've ever written.  It's actually pretty hard to write about losing at Magic without sounding like a whiner; I intend to avoid losing in the future as a method of avoiding this experience. :)  Until next time guys and gals remember that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and keep it weird folks.

No comments:

Post a Comment