Tag Archives: Limited

BFZ Draft #2 – Processing For Fun and Profit

After a week off I have another draft under my belt.

This time, I wanted to try something a little more interesting than the landfall deck I drafted before. My first pack had a five mana Blue card that drew cards, but sadly I went with Stasis Snare because while I love drawing cards, it looked pretty slow. No seemingly good White came along, but Black was open, and I got some late Blue cards as well. Pack two went as expected, with Black and Blue coming, but of course White was also flowing since it was well cut upstream in pack one, and I passed a 7th pick Stasis Snare to some lucky jerk.\

In pack three I opened Gruesome Slaughter, which I misjudged to be awesome when it’s VERY hard to use correctly, especially in a deck that wants to trade early to extend the game.

This is what I ended up with:

1 Sludge Crawler
2 Tide Drifter
1 Coralhelm Guide
2 Dominator Drone
1 Cryptic Cruiser
1 Cloud Manta
2 Mind Raker
1 Murk Strider
1 Oracle of Dust
1 Ulamog’s Reclaimer
1 Ulamog’s Despoiler
2 Spell Shrivel
2 Complete Disregard
1 Horribly Awry
1 Gruesome Slaughter
1 Dampening Pulse
1 Rising Miasma
1 Transgress the Mind
9 Island
8 Swamp

Relevant sideboard cards: Swarm Surge, Bone Splinters, 2 Mire’s Malice, Skitterskin, Retreat to Coralhelm, Eldrazi Devastator, and Molten Nursery.

My first match was against Orzhov, and he came out of the gates slowly in both games, but I flooded badly in the first game and almost made a miraculous stabilization in game two.

He had a bunch of dudes, including a 4/5 flier and a Pilgrim’s Eye that were the real threat. I had sided in Retreat to Coralhelm since the matchup seemed very slow, and it was in play alongside Oracle of Dust, Cryptic Cruiser, and Ulamog’s Reclaimer. I had six mana in play and could activate my Cruiser once. My opponent’s all-in would kill me, but I had a Complete Disregard to stay alive at one, then on my next turn I could play Gruesome Slaughter and play the land I had sandbagged to wipe the enemy’s board off the map.

But, he killed my Oracle. Oh well. It WAS going to be cool.

0-1

Match two was against a sweet five-color deck with all kinds of cards I had to read, but my deck was well set up to take advantage of it and ground him out with Mind Raker and other discard. Still, I thought his deck was MUCH cooler than mine.

1-1

My third match was against an aggressive landfall deck. In game one he curved out one, two, three, but was met with a Rising Miasma, and while it was tense for a bit, Transgressing his five-mana Threaten effect left him a few damage shy. Game two went similarly.

2-1

My final match was against another Orzhov deck, but he got a text very early on, and seemed distressed about it the entire game. My draw was great, I countered his third turn play, bounced a guy the next turn, then played a dude AND countered a spell, then for good measure, countered one more spell to seal the game. He said he needed to go take care of something, and conceded.

In the end, I did not like this deck. It contained a few situational cards, and had issues dealing with a large threat already on the table. It had a few moving parts, which I liked, but most of the interesting stuff was very mana-intensive, like the Cryptic Cruiser. Deciding when to use cards for processing was fun, but most of the effects felt weaker than the effects that placed the cards in exile in the first place. Maybe that’s by design since my dudes were reasonably costed in the first place, but often you have to alter your play to make sure something gets exiled so you can extract the bonus later, and you can get punished for it. Additionally, my deck felt very two-faced. It had aggressive cards like Dominator Drone, but also had five mana 2/5s.

Hopefully next week I’ll feel up to drafting again, but Fallout 4 is fast approaching, and I’ve taken the entire week off from work to revel in its glory, so we’ll see.

I’d also like to do more detailed breakdowns of my drafts, but these days people want streaming video, and frankly, I don’t know enough about the format yet to be able to talk at-will about a draft in progress. Perhaps that will change though with time.

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My Blind BFZ Draft

I don’t play Magic much anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I’m involved in Magic, I just don’t play much. In fact, aside from a random single round this summer where I borrowed a deck, I haven’t actually played since Fate Reforged came out.

But Battle for Zendikar looked promising for me, a dinosaur of a Limited specialist, and so I gave it a crack.

In a 19-player event (I’m in a 6-man pod), I drafted this without any knowledge of the set:

Creature (15)
1x Dragonmaster Outcast
1x Giant Mantis
1x Grove Rumbler
2x Makindi Sliderunner
2x Snapping Gnarlid
1x Tajuru Stalwart
2x Territorial Baloth
3x Valakut Predator
1x Void Attendant
1x Wave-Wing Elemental
Land (17)
1x Blighted Woodland
2x Evolving Wilds
6x Forest
1x Island
1x Looming Spires
5x Mountain
1x Plains
Instant (6)
1x Infuse with the Elements
1x Natural Connection
1x Smite the Monstrous
1x Stonefury
1x Swell of Growth
1x Unnatural Aggression
Sorcery (2)
1x Call the Scions
1x Earthen Arms
Sideboard (10)
1x Boiling Earth
1x Dispel
2x Hedron Blade
1x Plummet
2x Scythe Leopard
2x Shadow Glider
1x Unnatural Aggression
There are a few useless cards in the board too. I ended up 3-0-1 with this deck, after deciding four hours was enough Magic.

Some highlights from the draft:

P1p1, I read every card, and almost certainly incorrectly picked a Shadow Glider. I wasn’t sure about how relevant the themes of BFZ were, and although I don’t recall what I passed on, I ended up picking it because Wind Drake is good in every format, right?

Most of pack one I continued to be unsure of the relevance of the keyword abilities in BFZ. I picked up an early Gnarlid as it reminded me of Oren-Reif Survivalist, and that card was alright!

P2p2 I opened a pack with Prairie Stream, and after asking how much it was, I took it not knowing what to pick again since I felt White was open, but I got a few late Red and Green cards. Hey, drafts aren’t free!

I passed two copies of Drana’s Emissary in pack two, tabled one, and lamented my life choices. I don’t need to know BFZ to know that’s a good card.

P3p3 I opened Dragonmaster Outcast and took it after deciding I wanted to be Gruul. The one time I saw him was on a mulligan scry, and shipped it immediately. Still, I decided that the table was decidedly not into Gruul, and tabled a Grove Rumbler from the pack. Mise!

In retrospect, I was probably the only person drafting Gruul Landfall since I got NINE landfall dudes (11 if you count the not-great Scythe Loepard).

After trading in the Stream for a cool $6, I headed into my rounds, where I don’t really have specific plays to talk about in sequence, so I’ll just talk in general about the deck.

The deck was aggressive compared to most I saw. Other decks tried to eek value from Awaken cards, or generate a large dude and win with it, and still others tried to tempo me out with bounce effects attached to dudes. Of those, it was only tempo plays that were scary. You see, a landfall deck is on a very specific clock. You need to make land drops up to four or five just to, you know, play Magic, and all your guys are a mite too small to compete most of the time, so in order to get in there you need to play land after land. Once you’re out of lands, the offense stalls HARD. I had a few ways to keep up the pressure with Evolving Wilds or Blighted Woodland, but I knew I needed to attack every turn.  The one game I lost, my weak start was punctuated by a Clutch of Currents, and it was over right away.

No one seemed to have real removal outside Touch of the Void, which was a pleasant surprise. It meant that boards will build and race, or stall and let swing cards carry the day. I’ve never really liked two and three drop into double removal on the play, and BFZ doesn’t appear to have much of that.

At one point my opponent, with UR open, blocked and was dead if I used my Blighted Woodland and didn’t cast anything else on my turn. I had sized him up as competent, and I exclaimed “C’mon, man! Don’t put me to the test!” Luckily, when I said “Well I’m going for it,” he scooped up his cards and said he plain forgot about it. Mise again!

I watched a number of games on either side of me, and a draft video or two after getting home. I am reasonably sure this style deck is not great against the Orzhov midrange decks that gain a fair bit of life, mostly because you eventually will stop playing lands and they will be at like 15 life and not five.

I had an inkling that this format would be an enticing reason to come back to the game, even if only once a week to draft, and I was not disappointed. BFZ, after one draft, reminds me of a less aggressive triple Innistrad draft. There are multiple archetypes to draft beyond mere color combinations, there is a one mana blue sorcery I’m in love with, and synergy is rewarded.

Sadly, I won’t be drafting live next week since Halloween is approaching and I’m carving pumpkins next Monday, but this set seems good enough to maybe update MTGO and burn some tix, and yes, that is actually a HUGE compliment!

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Theros Draft #1

Welp.

I don’t want to start this new series off with such a stinker, but when I take the time to record a video and do commentary, I’m going to post it. Besides, there is often more to learn from a draft I tanked rather than one I won.

In retrospect, I should have just slammed Spear of Heliod. It’s at least an A-, maybe even an A since every single White deck would want to play it, and is good virtually every time you draw it regardless of whether you are behind, ahead, or board stalled. My first pack would have gone poorly, but I certainly would have succeeded in playing a deck featuring at least one of the two colors I designated during the draft to be essential. I didn’t even end up playing the Sea God’s Revenge in the end.

Some early commenters on YouTube mentioned a particular pick I’d like to focus on. It was early in pack two, and I had up to that point the Sea God’s Revenge, a good Black base, and a bunch of marginal Green cards. My choice was between Blood-Toll Harpy and Voyaging Satyr. In the video, I failed to even take notice of the Satyr, so I’ll explain here why I chose the Harpy.

I wasn’t sure what two or even three color combination I was going to be, but I knew I was playing Black. Every card I actually wanted to play outside SGR was black. Sure, I knew I was probably going to end up in Green in the end, but I was holding out hope that I would still be base Black with a splash of Blue, which is a far better color combination. Besides, the Harpy is a fine creature. As stated during the draft, Wind Drakes win games in this format. Admittedly, I’m talking more about Wind Drakes that scale into Exalted Angels via Wingsteed Rider + Hopeful Eidolon, but the point stands.

I really only made one decision in the first game, to keep a bad five card hand. Mulliganing to four is suicide, and even though my five was bad, I’ve won with worse. Also, I could have not played the Swamp and just conceded to hide my second color since there were two Dark Betrayals in the draft, and my opponent could have had them, but again there was the chance he was totally out of gas.

The second game’s only interesting decision was playing the Pharika’s Mender for no value. You can’t always just wait around to get something in your yard to return, and had my opponent not played the Sip of Hemlock he may or may not have drawn the turn I died, the Mender would have served as a decent clock.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be back next week with another draft, more interesting board states, and hopefully a win.

@NigelTheLondon on Twitter

OlentangyThe on YouTube

Occasional Guest on Running the Gauntlet

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Breaking Down Gatecrash’s Guilds

Orzhov

THRULLInitially, I didn’t like Orzhov very much. The idea of Exort seemed somewhat low-impact at first. Adding one mana to all your spells seemed not worth the issue of making your curve higher. Triggering Extort every turn meant drawing a long string of spells, which very much felt like a ‘win more’ strategy. Also, many of the defensive creatures in Orzhov looked as though they would quickly become outmatched by growing Evolve creatures, Battalion-fueled alpha strikes, or turn after turn of Bloodrushed creatures.

The truth is that Exort is rather unimpressive by itself. However, what happens when you have two Extort permanents in play? Doesn’t spending two extra mana for a drain or two sound far better? What about three? At some point, an Orzhov deck probably starts to feel like a burn deck, or at least a deck with a fair amount of reach. There are eight common or uncommon cards with Extort in Gatecrash, meaning it’s very possible to build a deck that closes quite effectively without attacking.

That said, cards like Kingpin’s Pet (BW1 2/2 flyer with Extort) will be paramount to an effective Orzhov deck. It’s an aggressive flier that isn’t asked to put himself at risk through blocking. Trying to build your entire deck around grinding your opponent’s life down while hiding behind the four toughness ground duders with Extort probably isn’t going to get the job done by itself; the other guilds have too many ways to breach your defenses. Evolve, Battalion, and Bloodrush will all make a 1/4 Defender largely useless once the mid-game arrives. That’s not to say the four toughness men are unplayable. After all, they DO have Extort, and they all help pad your life total, which in an odd way, becomes your defense after you reach a critical mass. I can see some tense racing situations while playing as Orzhov, so remember, every life point except the last one is a resource to be spent. Use it properly, and you will win some seemingly unwinnable games.

Dimir

DIMIR1I chose Dimir to talk about next because I feel like it is uniquely placed among the guilds of Gatecrash. It has a bit of an identity crisis. It has mill effects, some beaters, and some control elements, which can make it tough to build or play.

My guess is that at times, Dimir(or Orzhov) will want or need to add the appropriate color to become Esper. The combination of each guild’s keyword is intriguing. When you play a copy of an encoded Cipher spell, you also trigger your Extort effects. If there was a way to play a ‘normal’ control deck in Gatecrash Limited, Esper will be the way to go. This format looks to be light on blocking, especially so when it comes to flying blockers. Any old flyer with a spell encoded on it has a good shot to do serious damage.

Playing Dimir by itself can be complex. Ever realize suddenly during a ‘normal’ game of Magic that the possibility of semi natural decking exists for at least one player, and you possibly should have switched gears a turn or two earlier? Be aware of that when playing Dimir, depending on how many incidental milling effects you have. If your initial offense fails, you can always try to fall back on drawing your Mind Grind,Whispering Madness, or random duders that help mill cards, which at some point in a game will become lethal.

Mind Grind in particular shines at finishing games. Imagine a turn nine on the draw. Your opponent has naturally drawn 15 cards from their deck, and you milled him for say, six cards with random stuff. He has 19 cards in his deck. Mind Grinding him for seven has a fair shot at ending the game, or at least pushing your opponent to the brink. The best part about the spell is that you usually have a good idea of what a lethal number is. Players rarely hold more than one land to bluff, though savvy ones may hold more if they are flooded and know you can Grind them.

The other way to win a game is by Ciphering just about anything multiple times, though this means you are connecting with a guy over and over. I could be wrong on Cipher being enough to dominate a game because Dimir’s creature defenses aren’t that great. Dimir’s removal is excellent considering how rare it is in this format, but given how dangerous almost anything can be from Gruul or Simic, waiting for the right moment is key.

Simic

SIMIC1Simic is the guild I officially represent according to Plansewalkerpoints.com. I picked them back before Gatecrash was previewed because I liked the Graft mechanic so much(and because their quiz told me I should). Gatecrash has NOT dissapointed me. Evolve is very simple on the surface, but might be the toughest mechanic to master. Measuring risk/reward ratios when deciding whether to play a guy that can later Evolve versus playing something to pump the existing team can create important decisions early in games. Sometimes it will be obvious, but other times the game could easily be decided by which play you make, and it could happen on turn four or five. You’ll have to choose with little information, so letting the right play happen by trusting your instincts will sometimes be the only way to go.

A big problem with Simic besides tough choices is just getting your cards in the right order. Many of the most powerful Evolve cards start very small, and have limited board impact in the mid to late game. Ever drawn a Stromkirk Noble on turn six? Yeah, it feels something like that.

the last issue I have with Simic is that it doesn’t pair that well with either of it’s partner guilds. Both guilds bring some splashable removal, but their keywords aren’t great. Bloodrush is always nice, but generally your guys are supposed to be bigger anyway. Some of the blue Cipher cards are fine, but everything shy of Shadow Slice(B4 Sorcery Cipher Target player loses 3 life) seems not worth straining a manabase. Then again, Green does have an additional fixer, so perhaps the opportunity cost is low enough after all.

Of course, if everything goes right, if you open a solid pool and curve out often, you will feel unstoppable. And you very well may be. Simic can have those kinds of draws.

Gruul

GRUULI’ve thought about how Bloodrush affects creature combat extensively. I’ve had whole discussions on the topic, but to no avail. The only conclusion I’ve arrived at is that Bloodrush will be a polarizing force for Gatecrash Limited. Barring the fear of being Giant Growth’d out of the game, opponents will likely either always block or never block. Ones who change their tactics midgame may have a trick to cause the behavior change, are just trying to read you for a particular card, which is exceptionally difficult to do given the range of Bloodrush costs and effects, or just trying to stop you from playing another duder on your turn by forcing you to spend mana in combat. or they could just be mentally flipping a coin in their head, which actually would probably make mapping out your future turns a nightmare.

There could be a slight issue with choosing Gruul for the prerelease. I see the ideal Gruul deck having 18+ creatures. It’s likely very rare that any normal sealed pool will be able to build a straight Gruul deck with 18 guys. As a result, Bloodrush’s impact will be diminished a bit because you will often need to commit another creature to the board rather than use it as a trick.

The above issue isn’t a real turnoff to choosing Gruul. It has many advantages, especially at a prerelease event. Gruul is very linear, which makes it well suited for an event where you may be playing for Top 8 at 8 am. With Gruul you can just shove your dudes forward while you’re half asleep. The wide array of tricks you could have also may cause opponents to assist you in closing them out by not knowing just how much you could pump your guy and blocking poorly or not at all. I expect to see many players die from 8+ life to a single attacker.

Boros

BOROSThis is the guild everyone is all excited about for Standard, and who can blame them. They got the best charm, a sweet X spell, a way to counter an X spell, and some more humans to just maybe make R/W Humans a thing.

Limited is a different story however. Boros is in a strange spot in the meta of Limited. The Battalion mechanic is quite powerful, but it’s presence on many of Boros’ dudes means that without Battalion, their cards are rather weak, and will usually die in combat without help. This means Boros decks are weak to decks that can brawl early and go bigger later to keep up with Battalion triggers. That’s pretty much the definition of both Gruul’s and Simic’s strategies, so be wary when facing off against those guilds.

The good news is that leaves two guilds to pick on. Against their strategies that are grindy and not overpowering, you can be the deck that goes biggest. The bad news is that I think Orzhov and Dimir will be the least played of all the guilds, so choose Boros with caution, and open well. They do seem to have a ton of playable cards, so maybe just having a deck with a high density of quality threats is enough to keep pace with Gruul and Simic.

Or maybe I’ve just completely misread how these guilds stack up against one another. Guess I’ll find out in about 24 hours. See you all at Gamer’s Gauntlet. Any over/unders on attendance? Last prerelease was over 160! So come on by and play. I’ll be dispensing advice on builds all night whenever I’m not in a round.

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Back in the Saddle

Over the past several months, instead of posting in this blog, I’ve been posting pictures on my Facebook page, live Tweeting events, and streaming RTR Limited often. I’ve also been a part of Running the Gauntlet, a weekly podcast where I comment on news, decks, issues, and the like. So it’s not like I haven’t been living and breathing Magic as I have been for the better part of a decade now. The format changed, and my old style of blogging just wasn’t getting it done. All that stuff is new, and fun, but I’m happy to be able to say…

It’s good to be back.

Even if it’s only for a little while, I’ve missed putting my talents to work in constructive ways, so I’m going to ride out this revival as long as possible. That sentiment applies to more than just my plans for this blog. I decided that despite the part of me that loves to sleep in on Saturdays was practically pulling my eyes closed last Saturday, I got up and went to a PTQ in Fenton. It was my first of the season, and in fact my first of the entire YEAR (I played in exactly one PTQ all of 2011 as well, also in November, where I punted the win and in round to Russel Slack), so while I had been playing a fair amount of MTGO, I didn’t have the highest of hopes.

The short version is that I played well enough to take it down. The long version is as follows.

I woke up Saturday morning at 8:30, only five hours after I went to sleep. Getting home from work at 2 am has the unfortunate side effect of keeping me up at least another hour, most of which was spent deciding if I even wanted to go to a PTQ all bleary-eyed at BC Comix, a place where I had never won a match of Magic in my life, and I personally considered to be cursed as a result. On the way, I decided to leave I-75 early because there were a few lane closures before my exit, so I meandered through 10 or 15 miles of swampy farmland on Davisburg Road or some such, but eventually arrived just before 10 am. Dismayed that most of the crowd I expected to be there was absent, I said hello to Mike Guptil and Dave Rappaport from PES, both of whom I hadn’t seen in some time.

Seriously, I once lost to a Bump in the Night.dec with no red mana in it.

I took my seat for registration and build, wondering what business I even had predicting the PTQ habits of people whom I hadn’t even seen at a PTQ in over a year because I just wasn’t attending them. The registration was uneventful, shipping a Pack Rat and some other fair stuff two to my left. Someone at my table decided that a foil Jace, Architect of Thought and some shock lands were good enough to just get up and leave, prompting a discussion about what everyone’s personal price was to simply drop out. I didn’t think there was one for me, but I’m sure an eyeful of foil Jaces might have swayed me. Of course, it was not to be, and I looked over my pools rares first (as MTGO has taught me to do), I wasn’t all that impressed. Slaughter Games, Search the City, and Counterflux were pretty unexciting, while the Mana Bloom, Grove of the Guardian, and Sphinx’s Revelation all seemed decent. I lamented my rares, and the player who registered my pool said something along the lines of it being  the worst sealed pool he’s ever seen.

Here is the entire pool. That’s an Axebane Guardian in the top right corner, and a 3rd Transguild Promenade obscured by the flash from my camera.

If you have trouble reading the card titles, just click the image to zoom.

I waffled around, building Rakdos, and then trying Selesnya splashing blue, trying to ignore the incredible mana base I’d been gifted. Transguild Promenade was not a card I’d liked very much in RTR draft, which was essentially how I learned to play the format on MTGO. Losing your second turn could be crucial, and going BACK a turn later in the game could be equally as devastating. Still, this was Sealed, and  it was a different game. If I could dodge or get lucky against fast decks in the first few rounds, their numbers would dwindle to nothing, leaving only the lumbering grindy decks that didn’t care about tempo or curving nearly as much. I had the right cards, so I built the best deck to match that plan of attack.

The greediest of greedies. Travis Ladoucer would have been proud.

That Launch Party should be a Druid’s Deliverance as lucky number 23. I had a little trouble recalling my maindeck at first. Either way, I added the classic four Forest, three Plains, and three Islands to my deck and was ready to play some long games.

Round 1 – Richard Stachurski (Golgari or Esper)

I was going to take a picture of all of my opponents in case I couldn’t read my own handwriting when it came time to recall their name, and to put a face to the name even if I DID remember it right. Richard decided to be coy and declined, AND I scribbled down his name illegibly, but lucky for me Planeswalker Points already has the updated information.

Richard mulled once on the play, opening on Slitherhead and Sewer Shambler vs. my soon to be usual slow start of turn two Promenade. I recall being quite happy when he Stab Wounded my Vassal Soul, thinking if he’s wasting time Stabbing that then I was going to easily win this game because either my opponent has no gas or he’s just unskilled. Well, I figured out why a few turns later when I looked at my board of Centaur token and Court Hussy both bleeding me to death. The game wasn’t going to last too much longer either way. Richard had not much going on, and I was stuck on four lands. I EOT Dramatic Rescued my Hussy, and spent my Druid’s Deliverance (this play is why I know it was #23) copying the centaur. Richard could only add a Cackler and a Brushstrider, and fell to my random bigger guys with me still at five.

I was so preoccupied trying to process his game plan, and how I should craft my own around his at least triple Stab Wound that I didn’t notice right away that he had went from a sleeved deck to an unsleeved one. I recalled him unsleeving just a few cards, so when he opened on white and blue mana, I assumed he also had Swamps so he could Stab people.

We played a fairly uninteresting few turns, to the point where I only recall a few key points. One was when I had a weak clock on him to his virtual nothing, and he cast Sphinx’s Revelation for 6 on himself on my end step, and I responded by casting my own for five. I remarked that if this is how the entire PTQ was going to go, playing against triple Stab Wound and having two copies of busted mythics on the stack at once, I had underestimated how interesting the format was. Rich untapped and cast Supreme Verdict, but had no follow up, while I slowly rebuilt my idiot army. Rich had exactly one land left in his deck at the end of the game when he extended his hand.

1-0, 2-0

Round 2 – Todd Davis (Izzet)

Todd is a solid player I’ve known for a long time, but I usually see him at events trading with people more than playing actual Magic. He happily consented to me taking a picture of him, but since he was the only one who assented, there’s no reason to post it. I can see from my notes that his life total went down by two each time it moved, so I’m guessing I Stabbed a Splatter Thug. He didn’t play much  early besides the Thug and a Los Lobos(Lobber Crew) or two. I probably sat there and watched him bleed to death. I played a Dramatic Rescue, but don’t recall why. Honestly, my deck had two avenues of attack. I could make a 3/3 on two and start beating down, or if I drew the Revelation, any of the 2/4s, or Grove I played the waiting game, trying to grind them out with superior card advantage, Stab Wounds, and 8/8s.

Game two’s life totals indicate I went the 8/8 route, as Todd’s life goes from 20 to 12 to four. My notes only include cards Todd played, since they were actually so I could recall potential plays from my opponents in later games. I do remember him playing Tenement Crasher, hitting me for six, then playing Faerie Impostor and bouncing it. A Sphinx of the Chimes died to my sideboarded Ultimate Price, and my 8/8 was enough to get the job done.

2-0, 4-0

Round 3 – Ryan Starski (Izzet)

This was the last round  I even tried to take a photo of my opponent. Ryan, as you know, declined. Ryan led on Civic Saber into Caclker. I offered Vassal Soul to trade, but he had Mizzium Skin. Still, I mounted a beefy defense with my 2/4s and stalled the game long enough to deal him three a few times, bringing him low enough that either Vassal Soul number two or a Stab Wound finished him.

Game two featured an odd play. Ryan played a Stealer of Secrets on the play. I had seen Pursuit of Flight in game one along with Mizzium Skin. I decided to Ultimate Price his Stealer on his upkeep, thinking that if I drew the counterspell I was free to play a Spider, which seemed important since I had no guys on the board and my hand was quite slow. I could have waited to see if he suited up his guy, and perhaps that really was the best choice since I had played a guildgate that turn and only had two mana up, limiting the ways I could punish him for playing the aura. Ryan ended up letting the Stealer die, but played another one. My Spider was trumped by Pursuit of Flight, and he crushed me with Mizzium Skin again when I cast Eyes in the Sky on his attack step. He chose to kill the Spider, but had little follow up besides a Cancel late enough in the game that my dorks took over.

3-0, 6-0

These last two rounds are a perfect example why it’s best to just try to play the most powerful spells you have available in RTR Sealed. Sure, you might be able to play a decent aggressive deck, but when you stumble, you just never get back in the game. When Ryan didn’t have a great follow up to his Mizzium Skin blowout in game two, despite him being ahead I got right back into it by just playing more impactful cards. You’ll see that I stopped getting paired with pure aggro decks as  the event wore on, mostly because they lack the ability to overcome a poor start.

Round 4 – Keith Herrick (Bant)

Keith had am overachieving Selesnya Keyrune, which dealt 12 damage to me in game one. But because he was wailing on me with it waiting for his bigger spells to come online, I had the time to try to set up a Revelation, which never ended up being cast. Keith ended up Supreme Verdicting because I had Stabbed something of his, but I rebuilt faster and got there. Keith told me that was his first loss of the day. I told him that would have been my first loss.

I sided in the slower cards and more instants to have more options.

Game two was very similar to game one. He played his Keyrune again, but had spells to ramp into. I was attempting to get enough mana and dudes to be able to make a Grove of the Guardian token and be able to Druid’s Deliverance on the same turn to essentially counter whatever bounce spell he had, but for some reason I traded my Skyknight for a 3/3 and ended up having to wait two more turns to get it going. When I passed with the right mana up, Keith EOT played Sundering Growth on my own Selesnya Keyrune, forcing me to make a token on my turn. He then cast Voidwielder and Syncopated my Druid’s Deliverance to take game two.

Game three was uneventful. Keith hit me for 12 more with his Keyrune, but drew all the weaker cards in his deck like Selesnya Sentry, Tower Drake, and Seller of Songbirds. Yes, I know those aren’t bad cards, but they were the worst in Keith’s deck. I made some 3/3s and bashed him.

4-0, 8-1

Round 5 – Andy Moore (Bant)

Having feature matches at a PTQ sounds lame, but BC Comix did a pretty good job for their first effort. Luckily for me, this round was streamed AND archived here, so you can watch it there if you so desire. Unfortunately the sound doesn’t work for the first several minutes, but again, I liked the idea of feature matches at PTQs overall.

::EDIT::

At some point those videos will dissapear from twitch.tv, probably within a few days of posting this report. If I discover BC Comix decided to archive on YouTube, I will adjust the links accordingly. Watch them ASAP, especially the games against MJ, for maximum entertainment.

::/EDIT::

Just a few notes about the match. In game one, my plan was to Stab Wound him to death essentially the entire time. Once I got him to Common Bond that token, the race was on! In game two, if Andy had any extra pressure beyond his Keyrune and Centaur, the game would probably have gone to him. Also, I did think about Common Bond when I triple blocked his Centaur token. I needed a man to die that turn, and triple blocking to take Common Bond out of the picture was worth taking the extra three damage from the unblocked Selesnya Keyrune. Lastly, if I had drawn an untapped Blue source the turn after he played the Centaur’s Herald, I would have gotten to play my sideboarded Izzet Staticaster for the super blow out. Sadly, it sat in my hand the entire game, but I still won the match.

5-0, 10-1

Round 6 – Michael Jacob (Azorius + Red)

How lucky, two feature matches in a row! Here’s the coverage.

This match was pretty epic. Lots of maneuvering and back and forth action. MJ’s deck was pretty much the flier deck, with some premium removal like Arrest and Martial Law(which turned out to not be as great as it looks). Something you may not have caught from the coverage was MJ missing his Matial Law trigger on my Risen Sanctuary. I pointed it out late in the turn by saying “you’re detaining this guy again, right?” So yes, I did allow him to detain my creature despite the rules technically saying it was too late. I could have tried to mise a win there, but honestly, that’s just scummy. We had a fun match going on, and it was pretty obvious that my dude was being redetained from the board state.

I was paid back for my generosity in the second game, where I had a Stab Wound going, and on MJs upkeep he looked at me expectantly, and I just started back. I think he grabbed a pen to mentally nudge me to state my triggers. Eventually I understood what an idiot I was being and pointed at it sheepishly. I tried to cover for it by saying that MTGO has made me terrible at calling out my triggers, and that I’d never had to declare my Stab Wound triggers so obviously before, which was true, but still, I knew I was a better player than that. As I recall, I won the game where I gave MJ a take back, and he won the game where he more or less gave me one. I ended up losing a squeaker where I may or may not have misplayed, trying to get my Stab Wound back with a Keening Apparition a little too late. I’ve reviewed the tape, and it’s hard to figure out because I can’t tell when I drew the Apparition. If you can keep track of my hand, feel free to comment here or in person what you think I should have done. Either way, MJ peeled the Dramatic Rescue off the top on a Nivix Guildmage loot to win the match in extra turns. Honestly, I’m sorta glad he did, because it cemented one of us in the top eight, where a draw would have left our futures in doubt.

5-1, 11-3

Round 7 – Tim Joseph (Doran)

In both the last two PTQs I’ve played in (this one and November of last year, in case you forgot over the last 2500 words), Greg White and his brother Tim Joeseph were in attendance. It was good to have someone I knew to talk to between rounds, and at this point Greg also stood at 5-1. I avoided him, but drew his brother Tim, whom I had never played as far as I knew, but could tell he was a solid player, especially if he was playing with Greg.

Games one and three ended up not being very interesting. Game one Tim only played a few spells, including a Soul Tithe and a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage. My lie totals state he went from 20 to 18 to 13 to 8, so I likely just played out some fliers and Centaurs while Tim didn’t have much going on. Game three he kept a land light hand on the draw, essentially gambling on making top eight with a few good draws, but didn’t get there while I deployed my ultra slow hand and slowly won.

My loss came in the only real game of the match, where we both had fair sized armies, but I got completely blown out by Rootborn Defenses to kill my 8/8 token and grow his centaur army.  When I last ditch Stabbed his Korozda Guildmage to try to make the inevitable clash easier to figure, Tim correctly Common Bonded it and killed me in two attack steps. Still, I was moving on, and feeling rather lucky to beat a pretty aggressive deck that I didn’t match up well against.

6-1, 13-4

Round 8 – Raymond Perez (???)

The ID made me essentially a lock for top 8. I had seen Richard, my round one opponent, playing a feature match in the later rounds, so I knew my breaks were pretty good. Unfortunately, Greg White fell in the last Swiss round to end up 6-2. The top eight was pretty stacked for a PTQ. Joining Raymond and I were Stephen Boggemes, DJ Kastner, Ben Perry, and of course Micheal Jacob. Sorry I didn’t know the other two guys, but I’m a little disconnected from the community these days.

The pairings for the draft were not randomized, so I knew a rematch with MJ was in the works. Also, though I am unsure of how or why it happened, we were unable to use the relatively new ‘seeding’ rule for determining who gets the choice of playing or drawing first. I was seeded in the lower half thanks to my last round draw, so of course I was just fine with that.

I opened a pretty weak pack one. Hellhole Flailer and Security Blockade were my only meaningful choices. I chose the Blockade because frankly, I don’t enjoy drafting Rakdos that much, and although Flailer is a premium creature, what makes Rakdos great is it’s removal and general curve. A 4/3 on three is nice, but honestly, any dude with a respectable body would do in that spot, whether it be Failier, Thug, or even Viashino Racketeer. A few packs later I was settling into a white based deck. What’s more, only a few picks in I had two Security Blockades and an Ethereal Armor, so I decided to gamble a little and draft a deck I’d only heard about: the auras deck. Tom Willoughby had beaten the crap out of me a week or so earlier with the ‘armor’ deck, it had come up very briefly during conversation among the players who drew the last round, and of course Ari Lax made the deck semi-famous with his turn three Fencing Ace kill(2(1+3+3+3)=10) at GP Philly this year. I knew that White was the color to be drafting in that seat, especially if I can make up for weak picks by picking up ‘useless’ Ethereal Armors that would only get better with each successive pick.

By the end of pack one, I had some dorks, two Armors, and two Blockades. I hadn’t chosen whether I wanted to be Azorius or Selesnya yet, but I was leaning towards Selesnya because the slightly over-sized bodies would allow me to close games faster with my dudes that were essentially immortal in combat. There was also the idea of stretching my opponent’s potential bounce spells by making them choose between a token or an Armored creature. Sadly, I passed a Blood Crypt 13th to Ben Perry because I had to take a Rubbleback Rhino. Rubbles ended up sitting in my board. Sadface.

Pack two started off well, and cemented me in Selesnya by gifting me a Grove of the Guardian. After that though, not much came around besides a Palisade Giant and a third Ethereal Armor. I was getting playables, but not the kind that make you think, I’m gonna win this draft. As it turns out, DJ was two or three to my left, and he ended up some amalgamation of Selesnya and Golgari, and MJ was one or two to his left forcing Golgari. I imagine that clash caused DJ to abandon Golgari a bit late and end up three colors, also messing with my second pack. At the end of the pack, I was very confident that pack three would be very kind to me since with both DJ and I snapping up Selesnya, there was essentially nothing at all getting passed right.

In pack three, I opened…Concordia Pegasus. Yep, that was my best pick. I don’t recall what other choices I had, but since I settled on the dorkiest of dorks clearly there wasn’t much else. Lucky for me, the next pack had Armada Wurm, a card I certainly had never been passed and likely have never opened. My eyes widened when I saw it, and I tried to pretend I was looking at the rest of the pack, but inside I went from “I’m not sure I’m leaving here with 2 boxes for second place, let alone an invitation, to HOLY SHIT THIS PACK IS GOING TO BE NUTS IF RAY SHIPPED ME THIS!”

Yes, I brought the Wurm token from home. I was feeling lucky!

Sure enough, I was shipped the absolute goods. After the Armada Wurm came a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage and a Call of the Conclave, instantly launching my deck from mildly good to completely bonkers. I finished up with a fourth Ethereal Armor and some random dorks to wear armor. As I was building, I told Dave I was going to win, something I usually don’t do, but after laying out the deck, it just seemed unbeatable. Since I had potentially unreal starts featuring Ethereal Armors and busted uncommons alongside six drops like Armada Wurm, Palisade Giant, and Grove of the Guardian in a consistent two color deck, the angles I was attacking from focused on the two points during a game where players tend to not have much control over what happens; the very early turns and the very late turns. Most decks are either good early or late. If I failed to dispatch them early with my auras, then my rares could take advantage of an opponents already taxed resources. The only time my deck wasn’t good in my estimation was the mid game, when larger creatures start to match my enchanted men and removal can two for one me. Luckily, most RTR limited decks aren’t built to shine in the middle turns.

This is roughly what I registered:

Anytime your deck includes Trained Caracal, it’s either unplayable or insane. This deck is probably the latter.

Quarterfinals – Michael Jacob (Golgari)

Once again, you can find match coverage here. MJ’s Golgari deck really changed my perceptions about what the non-rare laden Golgari deck does, and how it is built. MJ and I talked a little bit about his deck during and after the match. He told me that he just forced the guild in the draft, and has had great success with it most of the time. His vision of Golgari plays out like a weird combo deck, and it’s not just using Daggerdrome Imp to race. Using Golgari Decoy, MJ can permanently wrath an opponent’s board as well. Everything in his deck was designed to reach the point where he can Voltron up a guy. His supplemental cards were all intended to dig through his deck to generate card advantage and/or bin scavenge creatures. MJ eschewed guild staples like Trestle Troll that can stretch a game in favor of being completely all-in on his scavenge plan. The deck was actually well set up against my slower draws.

Luckily, I drew Armada Wurm twice while MJ missed his third turn land drop in game two. Watch the coverage if you want more insight into my decision making process since most of the noteworthy crossroads I encountered were all on the attack step, making them pretty easy to follow. Note though, that in the first game, my attack that dropped MJ low but didn’t kill him was designed to encourage not blocking much damage to give me a better chance of winning the game on the next turn. If I attack with more guys, he would be forced to block a fair chunk, and it would become nigh impossible to win.

7-1-1, 15-4

Semifinals – DJ Kastner (Doran)

I assembled, for the only time the entire draft, the unstoppable armored kitty juggernaut in game one. I’m guessing from my life going up 12, 22, 28, 34, 40 meant that I had a Caracal with an Armor and Valor on it, with a Security Blockade in play as well. DJ had a very slow draw, and I just wailed on him until he ran out of guys and died.

Jace (one of my cats) is practically unstoppable once he’s clad in these auras.

Game two was more interactive. I had Armada Wurm, but DJ had a decent board presence on the ground, and was racing me with a Common Bonded Griffin effectively. The critical turn came when I was at three life to DJ’s five, and I played a Security Blockade before combat to get an extra +1/+1 out of my Ethereal Armor. This would also allow me to survive the next attack from the Griffin, provided I dealt damage with my naked Caracal. I didn’t do the math of it all because it was rather uncertain how the attack would play out, but wanting that extra +1/+1 may have cost me the game. When I attacked, DJ blocked my Caracal with his Golgari Long-Legs, and cast Swift Justice on it(!) to enable him to survive the attack at three life. Moreover, my Caracal didn’t gain me any life, so I died to the Griffin the next turn with an overwhelming ground army. If I don’t play that Blockade before combat, it’s possible DJ trades his Long-Legs + Swift Justice for an Armored Wurm token, or some other block that doesn’t include my Caracal getting first striked down. If he just sits on it, which I think is VERY unlikely, he can still kill me by just pumping the Griffin.

Luckily, DJ kept Stab Wound plus nothing else in game three needing a black mana, and didn’t deal me a point.

8-1-1, 17-5

Finals – Raymond Perez (Azorius+Red)

Raymond made it quite clear to me before our match that he liked to chatter, certainly more so than I do, so I just left him to do most of the talking since he knew almost everyone watching, while I knew about three people. Although I kept the banter to a minimum, I got jabs in here and there. When I was at 23 and he Lobber Crewed a little forcefully, I informed him that I’ll let him know when he gets me under 20. When he Crewed me to 19, I pointed it out too. Don’t mistake that kind of banter for hostility though. We were two players in the finals of a 160 person event. It’s perfectly natural by this point to be extremely confident, to the point of playful verbal jabs.

Once again, the coverage is here. Skip forward to the 11:45 mark to skip my uneventful game three against DJ. Game one, I stumbled a little on mana, unable to find the lands to cast the Armada Wurm and Palisade Giant in hand, but I mounted a fair offense with an Armored Centaur Healer. Ray had a New Prahv Guildmage that he used to bridge the gap from four to six, when he started to assemble a flying army with an Isperia Skywatch. I continued to whiff on lands, and used an Azorius Arrester to simply buy time. When the Wurm finally came down, I also had the chance to play Palisade Giant before combat, but declined because I wanted Ray to use a removal or bounce spell on one of the 5/5s to ensure I didn’t die to either Teleportal or Explosive Impact. Either were relatively likely out of his Red splash in addition to the Lobber Crew. My suspicions were confirmed when he declined to detain using his Guildmage, and a Trostani’s Judgement came down, removing my Wurm token. He went to two from the attack, and when I played the Giant after combat, I was just about sure I was going to win from 14. I chose to only attack with my Armored guys on the next attack step, crippling him and ensuring my Giant lived even longer. Ray had no answers and scooped.

Game two Ray mulled to three on the play. Predictably, I played Armada Wurm on six, and Ray was gracious in defeat.

9-1-1, 19-5

Afterward, I was sort of in a daze. I shook some people’s hands, was congratulated a bunch of times, and only vaguely understood what Mike Guptil was telling me about how to contact WotC to book my flight. I had been playing Magic since 10 am, and it was now midnight. It was strange not having close friends there to celebrate with, and I left the site alone. The first person I called to tell that I won was my wife, who doesn’t play Magic, but was happy for me nonetheless. The fog on the hour long drive home was oppressive to the point where I couldn’t tell where I was, and the exit signs came and went in just a second or two. I sped through this weird, uncertain world, thinking about my weird, uncertain future, playing songs that reminded me of my weird and sordid past, and smiled.

I was back.

PROPS

PES for running a great event.

BC Comix for streaming a feature match every round. They did an excellent job, and I hope that their efforts go further in this direction.

Raymond Perez for passing me Armada Wurm

My wife for always supporting my love of a children’s game.

Larry and Tony for arranging to get my lunch. You guys saved my life.

SLOPS

My opponents (except Todd) for refusing to take a picture.

WotC for discontinuing the awarding of Top 8 pins.

Me for taking over a week to write this. I’ve been busy at school, ok?

Nigel Higdon

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Choosing Your Weapon in AVR Draft

After a successful release weekend of fun and victories, I’m just bursting with thoughts about how to draft AVR. I waited one extra day to squeeze a few more drafts in, to make sure I had a good handle on things before I went to you about it, and this gets posted in time span http://www.channelfireball.com/articles/carrie-on-%E2%80%93-drafting-avr/ . It’s an excellent dissection of a few of the major archetypes that have been discovered in this juvenile format, and worth reading in addition to this if you need to cram for the PT this weekend, or you just want to stomp your local FNM.

A quick note before we begin. I only talk about non Rare/Mythic cards when discussing an archetype, unless it’s a single card strategy based around that particular card. I also don’t bother to say things like “Defang is useful in the White Angels deck because you have a flying army anyway, and removal is good.” Hopefully you don’t need me to say things like that. If you do, you need to stop reading and go learn the basics of drafting. Let’s to it!

White Angels

This is a loose archetype, almost a sub strategy that blends well with Green soulbond and Blue control, but I’ve had a ton of success with it so far, expecially against the super popular Red Humans decks that just run out of gas against the endless stream of life gain attached to already decent cards. The entire basis of this deck revolves around two commons, Seraph of Dawn and Scroll of Avacyn. They are your two biggest weapons in extending a game. Seraph is first pick worthy, and Scroll will often fall rather late to you, making it a great value relative to the work it does against the aggro decks. When it comes to uncommons, Goldnight Redeemer is excellent, as is Emancipation Angel, and Archangel isn’t bad either, even if it does cost seven. Other White cards that can contribute depending on your composition include Voice of the Provinces, Defy Death, and Spectral Gateguards. Seraph Sanctuary deserves mention as well, because no one will ever want one but you, and playing one doesn’t hurt much. Two is riskier, but also workable depending on how many double colored spells you have.

So how does a deck with these cards win a game? Aside from the above mention of Red Humans, everything except Seraph of Dawn, Emancipation Angel, and Goldnight Redeemer tend to go rather late, but they form a powerful defense. It’s very frustrating to effectively race an army of guys with Gateguards + Seraph. Opponents will expend resources in an attempt to kill you quickly, before the life gain becomes too much to overcome, but will find you well out of their reach after a Scroll of Avacyn, or Goldnight Redeemer. You also have a strong evasive army that allows you to shift gears easily once the time to strike comes. Often, you won’t have but five or six cards in this archetype, and it will be meshed in with something else(preferably Blue), but that’s not a big deal because all of these cards are acceptable on their own, and contribute to a longer game plan.

Pairing Angels is pretty simple. You want Blue, and bad. Galvanic Alchemist, and Elgaud Shieldmate both perform a similar function, providing a large butt and an extra ability for your Seraph of Dawn. Peel from Reality lets you replay your ETB Angels, mess with attacks that would normally kill you but instead gain you life, or just reset your Seraph to block while bouncing an enemy creature. Mist Raven, one of the top commons in the set(perhaps THE top common), is also obviously good with the rest of the cards you’d like to see, and Ghostly Flicker is a great trick that can achieve total blowout status in many spots. Uncommons like Nephalia Smuggler, Favorable Winds(in the right deck), Ghostly Touch acting as a versatile vigilance aura, and Tandem Lookout to keep the gas coming all help extend the game and let you continue to grind advantage with your threats. Crippling Chill and Amass the Components are both ok as well, even if that seems a little obvious.

Although I won’t go into detail, Green is the other viable color to go with here, but it isn’t quite as powerful. The goal is to pair up with pump bonders and race, but it’s not as effective.

The end result is a slow grindy, control deck that often can win with ten attacks from Seraph of Dawn, while hampering an opponent’s ability to break through. It’s probably not going to end up as the ‘best’ archetype, but it’s fairly easy to draft, and makes for entertaining games filled with important decisions.

Green Soulbond

This deck is all about beating the crap out of people with large men. Best of all, it can be paired effectively with any other color, though I prefer Blue solely because of Wingcrafter to have large FLYING men. Drafting this deck is pretty simple. You take Wandering Wolf, Timberland Guide, and Trusty Forcemage above most things. Nettle Swine should be in there too, along with Wildwood Geist. I don’t like Pathbreaker Wurm very much, but he can get the job done too. Uncommons to watch for are Druid’s Familiar, Blessings of Nature(this could be the best uncommon in the set), Wolfir Avenger, and Gloomwidow. Be sure not to fall into the trap of having too many expensive spells. It’s quite easy to have a deck with Yew Spirit, Howlgeist, and Vorstclaw by accident. This will not get the job done in most cases, so don’t value your five/six drops too highly. Use those picks to branch into whatever other color you deem correct.

I didn’t include Triumph of Ferocity because it deserves it’s own paragraph. This card seems like a trap card, a win more card, whatever else you like to call do-nothing enchantments like this. The line of thinking that associates ToF with the previous statements is that if you already have the biggest guy, you are already winning, and don’t need an extra card. However, this card is a little different. You can be TIED for the greatest power and still get the card. I admit, it’s tough to always have a higher power guy. Usually you would need a three or four depending on the matchup if you needed to trump their power. Being tied however, is substantially better. Board stalls, or just parity is more common in this format than most, and activating this even just twice can tip the scales. I didn’t quite think much of this card until last night, when I had my eyes opened on it when ToF beat out multiple Amass the Components and Gryff Vanguards in a fairly epic match.

Pairing Green with someone is easy. Just pick the open color that fills whatever gap you seem to have. White gives some nice two drops and combat tricks, Red brings a little removal, some two drops that aren’t quite as good, and some interesting Human synergies, Blue brings Wingcrafter and trickery, and Black gives some dorky creatures and excellent removal. I haven’t drafted enough to definitively say what goes best with Green, but I’ve had success with Blue, using it’s tempo cards, especially Vanishment and Into the Void, to get way ahead on board. Ghostly Flicker also does hard work here, dodging removal and repairing your monsters to create favorable trades. After that, and don’t take this to heart because it’s half conjecture, and half birding other people’s games, I like White, then Red, then Black as potential partners for Green.

Black…Something?

Black is in a strange spot in AVR. They are the only color with removal that doesn’t plain suck, but as a result their creatures are even worse than usual. There are a number of strategies that let you draft Black without having to play Mass of Ghouls en masse.

Loner Black

This is a tough deck to end up in. It takes a number of uncommons to make it come together, so I don’t suggest forcing it, but if it appears to be falling to you, slipping into this deck can reap huge rewards. The number one card you probably want is Homicidal Seclusion. It is damn near impossible to race this card on a flier, and it’s so good you want two if you can get it. To supplement this strategy, and to increase the likelihood of drawing Seclusion, Amass the Components, Crippling Chill, and even Fleeting Distraction will get you closer to your goal of Voltroning a five plus power guy that essentially never dies because you can just play another one. Having some Bone Splinters is very important, and lets you make interesting plays, like attacking to gain some life, blowing up your guy to kill a threat, and replacing your guy to block and gain more life. It’s primary purpose though, is to stop you from flat losing to aura based removal like Defang and Spectral Prison. I’ve only played this deck once, so my experience is very limited, but I can say that Demonic Taskmaster, possibly the best card to have Secluded, kills in three turns. Other key cards are Fettergeist, Undead Executioner, Marrow Bats, Alchemist Apprentice, Latch Seeker, and Evernight Shade. As stated before, this deck is difficult to get, but sometimes worth the risk, and if you can pick up the usually useless Demonic Rising, you get an alternate way to win that won’t cost you much in terms of picks.

Sacrificial Black

Another strange sort of deck that Black can manage is one based around stuff dying. Again it centers around uncommons. The overall idea is to assemble a large man with Havengul Vampire or Bloodflow Connoisseur, and along the way gain ground using Blood Artist, undying creatures, Undead Executioner, and Even Thatcher Revolt. Oftentimes, this deck will have a small Human subtheme simply because there aren’t many cards that explicitly belong in this deck, so dipping into another archetype is an evil that is unavoidable. Oddly, many rares would go great in this deck, like Hound of Griselbrand, Demonlord of Ashmouth, and Harvester of Souls. Sadly, they are all so generically good that it’s unlikely to see them late. Lastly, the lowly Butcher Ghoul might be the most important creature for this deck. Without two or more of them, sometimes this deck just doesn’t come together in the right way, and you end up with a terrible B/R aggro deck with no synergies. Do not pass too many of these!

I’m a little short on time, so I’m going to skip the Red Human archetype(which, in the link above, is explained in great detail, and a somewhat obvious deck to draft anyway), and leave most of the single card strategies for next week, like milling with Otherworld Atlas!

Enjoy drafting!

Nigel Higdon

 

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Autopsy of a Sealed Pool in Avacyn Restored

Unfortunately, I had left my bag at Gamer’s Gauntlet Monday, rendering me helpless to talk in depth about my sealed pool from the prerelease. With it in tow now, hopefully the dissection of this 84 will improve your performance at this week’s release events. I will probably be at GG’s 12AM Friday morning release to trade, talk, and maybe play a few rounds(that’s LATE Thursday night to be clear), so stop by and say hi, and that you can’t get enough of this little blog.

Enough begging for plugs. The business at hand is my sealed pool, and whether or not it was even good. But before we answer that question, it’s important to note the range of emotions I ran during the twenty minute build period. At first, I was excited just because I was cracking AR for the first time. After examining my rares and uncommons, I was less excited, but still pumped to try new cards. Ten minutes more, and I was just shaking my head, confused as to why nothing seemed to be any good. People actually commented that I was just sitting, my head slowly lolling back and forth. Even now, I don’t know what I should have done with this pool, and there is a slight frown on my face.

White

  • Angelic Wall x2
  • Devout Chaplain
  • Holy Justicar
  • Archangel
  • Seraph of Dawn
  • Moonlight Geist
  • Nearheath Pilgrim
  • Defang
  • Zealous Strike
  • Cloudshift x2
  • Angel’s Mercy
  • Midnight Duelist

Blue

  • Spectral Prison
  • Stern Mentor
  • Amass the Components
  • Gryff Vanguard
  • Latch Seeker
  • Geist Snatch
  • Scrapskin Drake
  • Peel From Reality
  • Captain of the Mists x2
  • Galvanic Alchemist
  • Rotcrown Ghoul
  • Dreadwaters

Black

  • Ghoulflesh
  • Searchlight Geist
  • Mental Agony
  • Unhallowed Pact
  • Undead Executioner
  • Evernight Shade
  • Driver of the Dead
  • Demonic Taskmaster
  • Crypt Creeper
  • Butcher Ghoul
  • Blood Artist x2
  • Bone Splinters
  • Descent Into Madness
  • Triumph of Cruelty
  • Hunted Ghoul

Red

  • Dangerous Wager
  • Demolish
  • Gang of Devils
  • Riot Ringleader
  • Hanweir Lancer x2
  • Fervent Cathar
  • Heirs of Stromkirk
  • Mad Prophet
  • Lightning Prowess
  • Thunderbolt
  • Somberwald Vigilante
  • Malicious Intent
  • Battle Hymn

Green

  • Geist Trappers
  • Nightshade Peddler
  • Pathbreaker Wurm
  • Uvenwald Tracker
  • Timberland Guide
  • Borderland Ranger
  • Wolfir Avenger
  • Revenge of the Hunted
  • Nettle Swine
  • Howlgeist
  • Yew Spirit
  • Wildwood Geist
  • Flowering Lumberknot
  • Eaten by Spiders
  • Abundant Growth
  • Grounded
  • Snare the Skies x2
  • Diregraf Escort
  • Natural End

Colorless

  • Bladed Bracers x2
  • Angel’s Tomb
  • Otherworld Atlas
  • Scroll of Avacyn
  • Seraph Sanctuary x2

Since I’m confident that most of you, and me really, haven’t learned how to just look at a pool full of cards we barely know and judge it effectively, so I’ll help you out by just saying that this pool doesn’t seem very good. It’s not terrible by any means, and it has powerful cards, but it is lacking in depth across most colors not called Green.

When I opened this pool, as I stacked the cards in a pile to be sorted, I glanced at the rares and uncommons as I did so. I’ve changed the method by which I build over the last year or so, mainly because of MTGO, and getting to see top players execute their method in videos. Conley Woods, a personal favorite of mine if for no other reason than his videos are highly entertaining, always uses ‘rarity sort’ first when developing a sealed deck, and I’ve found it works well for me. You shouldn’t become too attached to wanting to play some sweet rare, but since rares/mythics are the most complex(and powerful) cards you can get, it makes sense to keep them in mind during the entirety of your deckbuilding process. My rares did not seem all that awesome. Descent into Madness was useless, Otherworld Atlas was awesome in a mill deck and no where else, and Captain of the Mists seemed decent but mana intensive. Uvenwald Tracker and Revenge of the Hunted seemed like solid starting points for deckbuilding; they were clearly the best rares I had, and luckily they were in the same color. Before starting in earnest, I quickly checked for a mill option, but found it lacking. Stern Mentor was solid enough to play on it’s own, and Rotcrown Ghoul served as weak filler, but Dreadwaters was unplayable outside dedicated mill, so that plan was dismissed, at least as a primary kill condition.

I laid out the best cards in each color in columns, with creatures at the top and a gap between dudes and spells to get a feel for where I should be looking. Green was easily the deepest color with at least 11 playable creatures. and a 12th if Flowering Lumberknot had enough support. Red had some low drops, and some splashable removal. Black had Evernight Shade, which is awesome but requires a huge commitment to Black. Outside that, nothing else seemed good except Bone Splinters. Blue had a bunch of things that were mana intensive, but interesting, like Galvanic Alchemist and Captain of the Mists. It also had a counterspell, a bounce spell, and a decent card drawing spell. White had good cards, but was very shallow. It only had six guys that could attack,  and didn’t bring much else to the table. In the colorless pile, there were two weak equipments and an Angel’s Tomb. I had 16 cards in the unplayable pile, which I’m not sure is alot, but I felt handcuffed by it when figuring out what colors to choose.

After the overview, I usually examine a few go-to builds. This format is probably not going to have the nuts removal deck very often because the removal is all weak, and several of the common spells only deal with one or two toughness creatures. I clearly didn’t have it. Next is fliers, which doesn’t have set colors, but again, I didn’t have it with six flying creatures that could attack. Usually if there is some mechanic that you can build around in the format, like Allies or Metalcraft, that gets a look next. This being a new set, the two themes are ‘loner’ and Soulbond, but only ‘loner’ is a real build-around-me sort of thing. Aside from a Taskmaster, which is very good, there wasn’t much to support it.

Since there was only twenty minutes to build, I didn’t have the time to evaluate a bunch of similar color combinations. I knew I was playing a normal deck, and I knew it was going to be Green, so I stacked up the piles, and laid out the Green cards I could play. There were two good mana fixers there, so a light splash entered the picture for later. My Green curve was level, with an average of two creatures in each spot from one to six, and three seemingly good spells. This included the Flowering Lumberknot, who I would only include if I felt I could reliably play him active on turn four, so I didn’t count the Pathbreaker Wurm in the Soulbond count.

White got the call first since I had Nearheath Pilgrim and Archangel, along with a precious removal spell in Defang and a solid trick, Zealous Strike. The problem is that it just looked…boring. This is just about where I started making the lemon face and shaking my head. This deck had one way to get back into a game:Revenge of the Hunted. The build was solid, but it certainly didn’t strike me as the best build despite having an over average number of creatures, a good curve, and somewhat powerful creatures. Noting what could be splashed, the White was set aside in favor of Blue.

After a bit of tinkering, I found the better part of a list I liked. The curve was not nearly as good, but it had more power. Latch Seeker and double Captain of the Mists can solve problems and win games. The spells got a fair upgrade with Amass the Components, a card I initially balked at, but I had forgotten the power of Sifting. Geist Snatch seemed weak, but always countered an excellent spell. Peel From Reality didn’t have much to play unfairly with, but is just a good card. Somehow, some solid cards ended up on the sidelines. Nettle Swine and Scrapskin Drake didn’t make the deck, though there was reasoning behind it. Scrappy is usually an auto include, but I felt that because this is an Angel oriented set, it would not dominate the skies like it usually did. I’m pretty sure I was wrong on that one; he’s still great. Nettle Swine was left off because it just didn’t work with my game plan of either using Captain on turn four, Amassing some Components, or countering a relevant spell with Geist Snatch. Finally, Spectral Prison was axed out of fear that some random aura would beat me; the spoiler had shown there were many auras, though I didn’t play against any all day. Currently, the quirky list looked as such.

  • Uvenwald Tracker
  • Nightshade Peddler
  • Timberland Guide
  • Borderland Ranger
  • Wolfir Avenger
  • Latch Seeker
  • Galvanic Alchemist
  • Captain of the Mists x2
  • Yew Spirit
  • Gryff Vanguard
  • Pathbreaker Wurm
  • Howlgeist
  • Peel from Reality
  • Geist Snatch
  • Amass the Components
  • Abundant Growth
  • Eaten by Spiders
  • Revenge of the Hunted

Nineteen cards all told. Some of the cards that didn’t get played could get jammed in, or even all of them. Adding them plus a Bladed Bracers, a card that seemed fine with all the Humans in the deck, and especially good with Captain of the Mists, would be the requisite 23, but the thought of playing everything that already got cut to avoid a splash when there was an Abundant Growth and a Ranger just sitting there set off a mental alarm. A cursory reexamination revealed two possible splashes, as Black had some good cards, but they didn’t play well with what I had. White brought Nearheath Pilgrim, which shouldn’t be played on two even with a Plains, Holy Justicar, another tapper, and Devout Chaplain, a walking Revoke Existence. Red had Mad Prophet, a backwards looter but with the discard being in the cost instead of the effect, Thunderbolt, and Lightning Prowess, which I learned after a few rounds also granted haste. Gang of Devils got no consideration, though it should have. The extra mana for some reason excluded it from consideration, even though it’s an excellent card and probably should have made the deck.

In the end, White was incorrectly chosen to be the splash. I relied on LSV’s set review to make the decision for me, and only White was out then. He had given Devout Chaplain a 3.5, and Holy Justicar a 3.0, two cards I also thought would be good. However, with all the other mana hungry creatures in the deck, and the overall low immediate impact the cards had on the board, it was easily the worse choice. After two rounds, Red got subbed in for White, and performed much better. Wildwood Geist also got promoted in place of Howlgeist, which just wasn’t good against the decks I faced, as no one bothered to ever kill anything, and being a 5/5 for one less mana was very important with the Tracker. Scrappy never found his way into the deck.

My matches were fairly complex, and difficult to recall with complete accuracy, so just a quick summary follows.

Round one was the combo of all removal plus all terrible creatures. he had four spells that dealt two damage, either in combat or at Sorcery speed, and the worst creatures possible, including Midnight Duelist. After realizing what his deck was up to, I just stopped attacking into things, and build board presence, making him unable to win. Game two I drew one spell, but that one spell was Revenge of the Hunted, wrathing his crappy team and turning around a game that was being lost to Assassin’s Stronghold. Note that my opponent played Divine Deflection during this match, a card that is very difficult to play around correctly.

Round two was against Lee, a dude I had never met, but quickly learned he was a solid player, if a slow one. He was playing a four color deck with multiple fixing spells. Game one was won on the back of Soul of the Harvest backed up by good removal spells. Game two he built a huge advantage by sifting a few times and playing Borderland Ranger, but I had Alchemist, Bladed Bracers, and Tracker. After the second time he chose to break up my combo with nothing else going on, I correctly concluded that he had nothing that could beat it, and somehow won after sticking it on the fourth try. Game three had time called just as it was about to get very interesting. I don’t recall the exact sequence of cards in my hand, but there was a Captain, an Alchemist, and Tracker was already in play. Instead, I played for the draw. During the match, I learned that Lee was friends with Chase, and stopped being a jerk to him. Well, I wasn’t being a real jerk, but did things like asking him his target for Divine Deflection when he tapped eight mana. When he read the first line only, I told him “KEEP READING,” so he would choose a target, knowing when he did declare a target I was dead. As we were signing the slip, I decided to scoop to him because he was Chase’s friend, my deck wasn’t great, it was already 3:30AM, and his deck was just awesome. Either way, a draw wasn’t helpful, since it just ensured an extra round had to be won by both of us.

Round three I played against someone who was very, very tired, and although he had a great deck, he didn’t play his best, but almost beat me anyway with Heirs of Stromkirk, the firebreathing Soulbond guy, and the first strike Soulbond guy. I think he also had the Red/White legendary Angel, but it was countered or bounced or something. Note that he played Divine Deflection, a card I’m seriously already sick of.

Round four was Don Oldaugh’s turn to beat up on me. We played a very interactive match that went three games, but in the end I lost to a hexproof Latch Seeker combined with a miracled Thunderous Wrath. Earlier in the game I chose to attack and trade Borderland Rangers when I had Peel from Reality in hand and only one Green mana, thinking that I would eventually draw another to cast the Revenge of the Hunted and blow him out. Even when it didn’t appear, I was ahead with my own Latch Seeker until it was Crippling Chilled. I should listen to my gut, not about ‘knowing’ that I won’t draw another Green mana, but just listening to that inner voice that said ‘don’t attack with the Ranger.’ It was a close call whether to attack at all, and the game ended with the Peel still in hand anyway. I don’t think it was a matter of Brucing myself, as that’s all about self sabotage. It was me unable to understand what my subconscious was trying to tell me by giving me physical cues just as I was tapping the Ranger. It’s a moment that clearly stands out in my mind, and a feeling we all should learn to recognize. If i had to describe it, all I could say is that my body clenched up ever so slightly, though if you’ve experienced it you know it was more, yet indescribable at the same time. It was 6:15AM after Round four, and I left for home, exhausted but happy with my effort considering the card pool, and the fact I did scoop a match.

See you all at the release!

Nigel

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