Monday, October 8, 2012

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." - Frederich Nietzsche, Twilight of Idols

I've always found it somehow ironic that the quote above originates from one of the most thoroughly depressing nihilist philosophers in human history. This guy, quite literally believed in nothing and yet somehow penned a profound statement of hope that has provided strength to countless unfortunates the world over. During times of adversity, hardship and misfortune millions of people have repeated these seven words and found comfort in the idea that they would survive; not necessarily unscathed but somehow better for the experience. Not bad for a dead emo German atheist with a Yosemite-Sam mustache right? I mention this now because I've been thinking a lot about Freddy's most famous statement while lying in bed recently and wondering if I would ever play Magic again.

Hello everyone my name is Nina Illingworth and welcome to another edition of The Cardboard Witch. For the precisely none of you tracking at home; it's been just under 3 months since my last article. Unfortunately my absence has been caused by some fairly serious health problems. As it turns out my broken foot healed quickly and the remaining swelling was actually part of a much larger and more serious problem with my kidneys. The details are pretty gory but basically I turned yellow, started sleeping 14 hours a day and rapidly began changing my lifestyle/eating habits so as not to "become perished". Apparently the limit for how long people who aren't Keith Richards can survive on little sleep and a diet consisting primarily of coffee, cigarettes and recreational drugs is 16 or so years; who knew?  In lieu of a long, boring story about what being *that* sick felt like I've decided to provide a short movie clip I feel captures the experience completely:

See, wasn't that better than some tedious yarn about lying in bed as the world went dark and wondering if this was the end of the game? Needless to say folks, I did not perish and while not every day is completely wonderful I am most certainly feeling much better. In fact, I've recently begun actually playing Magic again, which in turn means I can write about Magic here on the blog. Before we get started however I'd just like to thank all of you for your support during my illness. Whether it was my friends, coworkers, twitter followers, fellow grinders or article readers you guys were always there with words of compassion and encouragement. I daresay that I'm proud to call myself a member of a Magic community that's full of such exemplary, compassionate people. I can't thank you guys enough and I honestly believe that one of the reasons I'm here today writing this to you is the sheer amount of "love" the community heaped on my wretched carcass.

With all the mushy stuff out of the way lemme just ask you; are you enjoying Return to Ravnica limited as much as I am? Truthfully I was too sick to attend the RtR pre-release myself but once again I have some of the best friends and co-workers on the planet. Knowing I would be depressed about missing the event they kept their pools intact and brought them by to play with me once I was well. I ended up playing the Golgari Starter to a 2-0-1 finish but I think Leon would have beat me with Selesnya if he had played it out rather than offering the draw. I was fading pretty quickly after a mere 2 rounds of Magic and his deck was just better than mine in the endgame. To say I had a great time would be a mild understatement, that was "cracking good fun" as the English would say (50 years ago). In particular I was very impressed with how WotC handled the "choose your own guild" gimmick in the format. When I first heard about the guilds I worried that the vast majority of players were going to choose their colors based on which super cool promo they most wanted to play; only to open their packs and find the cards telling them to play a completely different guild. WotC solved this problem by switching one of the regular packs with a pre-set shrink wrapped selection of cards from your chosen guild/colors. What's more in my experience the VAST majority of the cards in your guildpack were at least playable and more often than not snap inclusions in a good Limited deck. What's particularly impressive about this strategy is the overall "smoothing out" effect it produced on virtually every deck in the room. Think about it folks; if you're guaranteed roughly 11 very good cards in your guildpact and we're playing 40 card decks with around 17 land, how many good cards do you have to open the "normal" way to have a solid deck? That's right, "roughly 12" and you have 5 packs to find those 12 cards. We're literally talking about "no more bad pools" here folks. While I've never been a fan of the MtG storyline I can get behind *any* gimmick that makes pre-release more fun for beginners, casual players and people who only attend pre-release tournaments. Opening a bad pool is a fact of life for PTQ grinders but it's absolutely heartbreaking to casual players who've often been waiting weeks for the event. I know it won't be easy but I hope WotC finds an excuse to use this gimmick at every pre-release event from here on out; even long after we're done with guilds.

Unfortunately due to massive, insane-o, off the charts demand for Return to Ravnica packs, boxes and cases I've only had the chance to draft the set twice at this point. Additionally because I've been sick for so long I actually haven't had the time to pore over the spoiler in great detail yet. I have a pretty good idea of what each of the cards do but otherwise I'm learning as I go folks and it's actually kinda refreshing. Normally I get pretty OCD around previews season and typically by the time I sit down for my first draft I've not only read every card in the set 5+ times but I've also plotted out what decks they belong it, what turn you ideally want to cast them and where I expect other drafters to choose them. While this certainly makes it easier to win my first few drafts it also apparently sucks some of the "magic" out of the draft experience. Sitting down to draft with very little prior knowledge of the cards felt a lot like being a little kid at Christmas time; each new pack was a present to be opened, examined, cherished and then discarded quickly to see what the next amazing package contained. Prior to the draft I decided my strategy was going to involve reading the cards carefully, choosing the most powerful options available in the first few packs and then desperately clinging to the resulting guild until the ride was over. To be perfectly clear I don't believe this is actually a *good* strategy folks but since I had no idea what I was doing it was the best I could come up with on the spot. Fortunately I'm not as rusty at Magic as I suspected and managed to "win" both events, going 3-0 and 2-0-1 respectively. In the first draft I opened a P1P1 Angel of Serenity and promptly got passed a Skymark Roc to cement me firmly in Azorius. When the dust finally settled 40 picks later, this is the deck I ended up with:

"Talk to the Giant" - U/W Tempo

Creatures - 16:

1x Doorkeeper
1x Keening Apparition
1x Seller of Songbirds
2x Sunspire Griffin
1x Lyev Skyknight
1x Tower Drake
1x Vassal Soul
2x Hussar Patrol
1x Skymark Roc
1x Soulsworn Spirit
1x Azor's Elocutors
1x Skyline Predator
1x Palisade Giant
1x Angel of Serenity

Spells - 7:

1x Azorius Charm
1x Dramatic Rescue
2x Inaction Injunction
1x Paralyzing Grasp
1x Arrest
1x Trostani's Judgment

Lands - 17:

9x Plains
6x Island
1x Azorius Guildgate

Analysis: When I sat down to build this deck I honestly didn't think it was very good at all. After talking to a number of people who'd played Azorius at the pre-release I'd been given the impression a good U/W deck in this format *had* to be mono-flying/evasion. While I had a significant number of flyers I was also going to be forced to play with a bunch of "shitty walls" and I assumed I'd be easily overwhelmed by Golgari/Selesnya decks. You know what they say about assumptions right? As it turns out when your opponent's decks are comprised entirely of undercosted 3/3 beaters it's actually a good thing to have a bunch of overcosted 2/4 walls. By striking a balance between 2-3 power flyers and random blockers I was typically able to race my opponents for the first 10 or so life on either side and then completely lock out the board while I proceeded to my endgame. Once we started trading 5-7 casting cost cards I usually found myself winning via Mythic-rare Angel or the Giant/Elocutors combo. As an amusing side note I should mention that I repeatedly passed the Elocutors in pack 3 and only grudgingly chose it when there were absolutely no other options left in the pack. It wasn't until I sat down and read the Palisade Giant I'd taken in pack 2 that I realized I had a game winning combo on my hands. Hooray for dumb luck huh? Other cards that impressed me in the build included Skymark Roc, Lyev Skyknight, Soulsworn Spirit, Skyline Predator, Inaction Injunction and of course Arrest. The real all-star however was Hussar Patrol and if I'm going to be playing Azorius in future drafts I intend to go out of my way to take as many copies of this guy as possible. He's not as sexy as the flyers but time and time again he was *the* reason I didn't die to wave after wave of 3/3 green groundpounders. As for cards I wasn't that impressed with; Seller of Songbirds is probably much better in a G/W populate deck, Paralyzing Grasp was pretty mediocre without a tap effect and Azorious Charm was surprisingly disappointing. The vast majority of the time it functioned like an unsummon more than anything else and it was particularly worthless against haste creatures. By the end of the night I was cycling it almost every time I drew it.

During the second draft I decided I would adopt the same strategy as I had the first time with one minor exception; I would play any guild except Azorious because I'd "been there, done that". Opening the first pack I found myself hoping for a good rare to build my deck around again. Perhaps I hoped a little too hard because when I flipped the the last card in the pack I found myself staring at another Angel of Serenity. So apparently the key to winning at RtR drafts is to open the Mythic-rare Angel folks and I took her without the slightest bit of hesitation. The second pack was a little trickier this time and the best card in it was probably Dreg Mangler or Hellhole Flailer. I briefly thought about selecting one of those two but I really didn't want to commit to 3 colors so early when the Angel was gonna cost me WWW anyways. After scanning the pack a second time I decided to draft Common Bond and force G/W for the rest of the draft. I wasn't entirely sure Common Bond was worthy of a second pick but in the last draft it had been one of the more frustrating cards I'd faced so I figured it had some upside. As the draft progressed however it quickly became clear that I wasn't the only Selesnya player at the table and by the time the draft ended this was the best deck I could build:

"Arrested Development" - G/W/r/b Aggro

Creatures - 18:

3x Azorius Arrester
1x Gatecreeper Vine
1x Brushstrider
1x Selesnya Sentry
1x Oak Street Innkeeper
1x Centaur Healer
2x Stonefare Crocodile
2x Sunspire Griffin
2x Axebane Guardian
1x Sluiceway Scorpion
2x Rubbleback Rhino
1x Angel of Serenity

Spells - 5:

1x Giant Growth
1x Soul Tithe
2x Common Bond
1x Annihilating Fire

Land - 17:

6x Forest
5x Plains
1x Swamp
1x Mountain
2x Transguild Promenade
1x Rakdos Guildgate
1x Selesnya Guildgate

Analysis: Frankly this isn't the best draft deck I've ever built. It lacks synergy and there are a number of cards in here that would clearly be better in other decks. The Arresters are probably the best example of this phenomena; in an Azorious deck like the one I posted above this card would be pretty amazing. Unfortunately I lacked the steady stream of cheap flyers or 3/3 beaters you need to make casting an early Arrester relevant and typically they simply served as "2 turn" speedbumps in this deck. What I did have going for me however was a Mythic-rare Angel, two very hard to kill Hexproof beaters and two copies of "whoop ass in a can": Common Bond. It is absolutely, straight up impossible to participate in creature combat in this format and not generate a potential 3 for 1 for an experienced opponent holding this card with untapped mana. I started the night wondering if I should have second picked my first Common Bond and ended it wondering why the card was still in the pack for me to choose 2nd overall. Whether it was on offense, defense, in response to burn or just to make my Hexproof Rhino bigger, Common Bond flat out won me games all night. I was also mildly impressed with Brushstrider, Centaur Healer, Sunspire Griffin, Gatecreeper Vine and the card that let me find 23 playables; Axebane Guardian. Unfortunately all of the 3/2's were just as bad as you'd expect them to be and I think I sideboarded out Oak Street Inkeeper before game 2 every match. I managed to win my first two rounds while dropping a single game and then offered my 1-1 opponent a 3rd round draw because it would guarantee we'd both prize (1st for me, 3rd for him). The lesson here is "Common Bond is ridiculous".

Well folks that's about all we have time for today. I'm starting to feel pretty tired and the people who care for me keep asking me to listen to my body more, so I think I'm going to take a nap now. I missed Magic but more importantly I really missed the people who make Magic so special for me. Our shop is getting more RtR on Friday so I'll probably be back soon to talk about the other 3 guilds in Limited and some of the cooler constructed decks I've been testing. I've been stealing deck lists off Magic mastermind Seth Burn and writing the names of cards I don't own on basic lands until I can buy a case on Friday. For those of you looking for a sneak preview, lets just say "Nina's got Wurms". Until next time folks, thanks for reading and always remember that you don't have to pass the pack just because the annoying guy to your left makes all of his picks in 15 seconds flat. Ciao.


1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry to hear about your illness, Nina, I had not at all heard that you were that knocked out. Well, I'm glad you're getting better and can enjoy RTR Limited along with the rest of us :) It sounds like you had a great time so far with the set (winning helps a bit, right?) and I agree completely with your assesment of Hussar Patrol and Common Bond both.

    I enjoyed the read even though you've left a few cosmetic mistakes in there ;) (one of the decklists says it has 17 lands and then lists 16, per example). Glad to have the Cardboard Witch back and in action, and looking forward to more of your thoughts on the format and set!

    Take care, and get better,
    Marcus (@Lobster667 on twitter).