Sunday, February 16, 2014

BNG Pack 1 Pick 1 Exercises

So last friday night I went 2-2 with a very solid black/green deck which started out 2-0 and then lost a couple of close ones, the final round against Anthony, once again. My first pick was fanatic of Xenagos, a very solid uncommon card, but color committing.  I tried to grab red cards, as BNG has made red better, and to get a red/green beatdown deck seems a bit better in this format than in triple theros, but red was just dry.  My hunch seemed correct, as I faced Anthony's 3-0 G/R beatdown deck in round 4 (he was the last undefeated and I got paired up).  Ultimately, the fanatic of xenagos sat in the board, taunting me with its beatdown excellence.  Still, I regret nothing: the Silent Sentinel I passed up wouldn't have made the deck anyway, although it might have steered me in a radically different direction.

It hasn't all been mediocre results, though.  A couple of weeks ago, at a small BNG prerelease I went 2-0, splitting the finals with the other undefeated player (thankfully so, his removal-heavy B/R deck crushed me 2-0!).  I ended up with seven packs, and lacking a better way to use them, it seems like they might provide good examples for how a BNG-THR-THR draft might start.

Pack 1: 
Tier 1 Cards:
Drown in Sorrow
Akroan Skyguard
Hunter's Prowess?

Tier 2 Cards:
Nyxborn Wolf
Snake of the Golden grove
cyclops of one-eyed pass
revoke existence

Tier 3 Cards: 
Archetype of Endurance
Reckless Reveler
Epiphany Storm 
Evanescent Intellect
Forsaken Drifters
Black Oak of Odunos

As we flip through a pack, the first thing most of us do is sort into categories: those we like a lot, those we are fine with, and those we just don't value highly (aka: it'll wheel).  In this pack, only drown in sorrow and akroan skyguard really strike me as having a huge impact on the potential quality of my final deck, if they end up being a part of it: hunter's prowess just seems so incredibly risky to me.  I do like big burly green creatures, and hunter's prowess can prove effective with one of them against a tapped out opponent but... one voyage's end, or heavens to murgatroyd a griptide and you're effectively out of the game.  Drown in sorrow has played well for me so far, and had I drawn it in round three or four of my most recent draft it could very well have swung the tide in my favor.  My pick: drown in sorrow.  I still don't like white.

Pack 2:
Tier 1 cards: 
Pinnacle of Rage
Pain Seer
Stormcaller of Keranos

Tier 2:
Vortex Elemental
Loyal Pegasus
Weight of the Underworld

Tier 3:
Setessan Starbreaker?
Grisly Transformation
Nyxborn Rollicker
Sudden Storm
Hold at Bay
Fearsome Temper
Evanescent Intellect
Aspect of Hydra

A question mark lingers over setessan starbreaker.  It could be that auras end up being so important in this new format that it becomes a higher pick.  As it is, the weak body and conditional effect make me leery.  This pack seems weaker than the last, with the standout card being pinnacle of rage.  In a red/blue deck, stormcaller of keranos seems incredibly powerful, but not powerful enough to warrant taking over a single color spell pack one pick one.  Pain seer is a pretty mediocre bear, but like fleshmad steed adds to your black devotion, and if it gets in there even once, you'll be happy.  Getting better grizzly bears is valuable in limited, especially as Theros block hasn't provided us black drafters with a gutter skulk.  I think the correct pick here is the pinnacle, as it seems fairly easy to get a two-for-one with it, but given how much I like black I might be tempted by the pain seer.

It's worth noting that the card quality drops off pretty significantly in this pack, even more so than in the previous (fairly unexciting) pack.  I wouldn't expect to wheel a playable from this pack, and I find this happening with some frequency with born of the gods.  As a limited-focused player, it's hard to get excited by this expansion when it seems so many of its commons are limited-weak.  Of course, if I start performing better, this attitude will probably change!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Triple Theros' Last Hurrah

Tonight, I will draft born of the gods for the first time.  I am sad to see triple Theros go, as I feel like I'm continuing to improve my play and drafting style there, but ever onward.  I'm not hugely keen on the introduction of Born of the Gods, as the overall power level streaks me as being on the weak side, but if my hunch is correct, that should make prudent drafting even more helpful in navigating the inevitable packs, arriving around picks three through four, full of unexciting cards.

When last I left, I had gone 2-2, now two weeks prior.  Last week was my last chance to draft Theros and I did not want to miss it.  When I opened the pack and found an Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, staring me back in the face it was hard not to do a little jump for joy.

I wanted to experiment outside of my green comfort zone, and this three-mana planeswalker seemed like just the card to do so.  That said, there was a keepsake gorgon right behind it, and I knew that Tony, who was sitting to my left, has a history of going black.  Resigning myself to the idea that black would be fought over during the second pack, I proceeded to just take the card and hope to cut blue and black as hard as possible, hopeful that he would at least not go blue.

Thankfully, blue and black are in this format deep enough to support two people going those two colors, even if they are sitting next to eachother.  Later, I found out that Tony had opened up a strong blue bomb (Prognostic Sphinx, if I remember correctly?) and went u/b as well.  Still, there were enough goodies to go around, as I ended up with the following list:

1 Boon of Erebos
2 Baleful Eidolon
1 Pharika's Cure
1 Voyage's End
1 Shipwreck Singer
1 Returned Phalanx
1 Wavecrash Triton
2 Read the Bones
1 Nighthowler
1 Dissolve
1 Nimbus Naiad
1 Burnished Hart
1 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
1 Disciple of Phenax
1 Coastline Chimera
1 Cavern Lampad
1 Thassa's Emissary
1 Prescient Chimera
1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Sea God's Revenge

It is possible, for devotion purposes, that I might have been better off running a miscellaneous black creature over the burnished hart.  With a very low mana curve, and with only two colors, it's ability was not hugely impactful.  Indeed, either the fleshmad steed, blood toll harpy, or fellhide minotaur would often come in when I faced decks where I decided adding a touch of black would matter.

Round 1 and 2 were both favorable match ups, in my opinion: red green and red white aggro, respectively.  Returned phalanx provided a huge defensive boost in both rounds, as well as such defensive all-stars as baleful eidolon and coastline chimera.  Kelly did take a game, as my removal (namely Pharika's cure) didn't match-up well against her large, resilient threats, but with enough blockers and cheap interaction I was able to secure a game three win.  I didn't document my match against Peter all that well, but I seem to recall a deathbellow minotaur suiciding in against a returned phalanx.

Round three, however, the wheels began to fall off.  To be fair, I entirely deserved to lose this round.  Once again, I played against Anthony, who has defeated me very consistently.  Indeed, looking back I have mentioned getting crushed by him multiple times in this very blog, despite it being only an infant blog.  There was not just one, but two terrible misplays in this round.  For one thing, I played a nighthowler on one of my creatures despite there being no creatures on board.  Theoretically, this was to enable my next turn disciple of phenax hitting more of his hand, but his griptide (which I had seen game one) utterly demolished this plan.  I even played well to give myself a chance, coming back to within an inch of game three, but he had enough evasion to hit me for exactly lethal the turn before I could deal lethal myself.  Needless to say, I have been mentally kicking myself for playing gray merchant before shipbreaker singer since.  Every point really does matter!

Round 4 was also an uphill battle, as Dakota used his almost mono-white deck to deal a very impressive amount of damage game one, while also gaining life through, I believe, hopeful eidolon.  Dakota's improved significantly as a player since he first started coming to the store, and has really started to understand decks on a more holistic level.  I didn't have an answer to his Heliod, at all, so I was simply fortunate to preserve my life total to the point where I could start going to work on his life total with a thassa's emissary and win before he drew the godly-threat.

At 3-1, going into the fifth round I was fortunate to play against Tony, who was the last undefeated.  There was a certain poetic justice here, as I was essentially playing against the deck that I passed.  With a win, I could potentially take first place, with a loss I would scrub out at 3-2.  In the blue-black mirror, each game proved to be a long, drawn out affair.  I took game one with a meager three points of life remaining, having been victimized by his multiple evasive three drops.  Game two, I was hardly able to deal him a point of damage.  Game three played out as I expected it would: I struggled to stabilize against his early three-mana fliers.  Thankfully, with Ashiok I was able to summon forth a shipwreck singer that my own deck refused to provide for me, which when combined with a timely sea god's revenge, finally stabilized my position at a precarious one life (albeit with gray merchant in hand).

Sadly, each of these games was such a long, drawn-out affair, that we were now in turns.  Had we infinite time, it was possible I could have used my new-found board position to finish milling his deck with Ashiok, or even take him to zero, perhaps.  Given the number of people at the tournament, I knew that there were probably enough x-1 players where even a draw would not put me into the top 5, where one receives store credit.  Scolding myself once again for losing round three due to terrible, terrible misplays, I scooped them up.

It was a sad finale for what was a strong deck, but I had to give Tony credit: his strategy did stack up well against mine, with his consistent evasive threats blanking several of my important defensive cards such as returned phalanx and baleful eidolon.  Decks of this caliber come along only every so often, and when you do get them, it is important to play conservatively, precisely, even professionally, in order to get maximum value.  Bestowing a nighthowler for no value other than to look at more cards with my disciple of phenax was precisely the sort of "tricksy" play that I should have avoided.

Born of the Gods doesn't offer a whole lot to this style of deck at the uncommon and common slot.  Drown in sorrow, certainly, bile blight even, but those are uncommons which will get taken very highly.  Really, your best black removal spells for a control style deck is probably weight of the underworld, which compares pretty unfavorably to the awesome two-punch of baleful eidolon and returned phalanx that Theros provides us.

I blue, Eternity Snare could also be good in this sort of strategy, but at six mana it is unappetizingly expensive.  At the common slot Nyxborn Triton and divination are probably the only cards that blue offers us for this strategy, once again comparing unfavorably to such sweet spells as wavecrash triton (best horned turtle ever?) and voyage's end.  Still, if enough uncommons of the caliber of siren song lyre or pillar of war find their way to you, this style could prove to be viable.

Perhaps I am being too hard on born of the gods.  The mere existence of the whelming wave/mnemonic wall combo, for example, does add something.  This really does feel like a shake-up of the format, and going into tonight's draft I really feel no strong guidance aside from that old drafting stand-by: stay open, and take the best strategy passed to you.  We shall see if I can follow my own good advice!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Give me the tools, and I will finish the job... maybe?

It's been an interesting couple of weeks in magic limited.  For me, it has been a series of ups and downs, with solid draft decks -almost- getting there and a prerelease where almost getting there was as good as a win.

Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all. - Thomas Carlyle 

I suppose I have been hesitant to write about the last few weeks, as they have been marked by personal disappointment.  In a way, I feel some sense of shame as I didn't do justice to the decks which I drafted.  Two weeks ago, I approached the second-to-last triple Theros draft at my lgs in the mood to splash, which meant green.  Unfortunately, the passage of time has left my memory fuzzy as to how I built my draft pool precisely.  Here is how best I reconstructed it.

1 Sedge Scorpion
2 Traveler's Amulet
2 Voyaging Satyr
2 Nylea's Presence
1 Returned Phalanx
1 Opaline Unicorn
1 Wavecrash Triton
3 Nessian Courser
2 Burnished Heart
1 Time to Feed
1 Griptide
1 Thassa's Emissary
2 Nylea's Emissary
1 Nessian Asp
1 Lash of the Whip
1 Nemesis of Mortals
1 Abhorrent Overlord

This deck seemed to me to have quite a bit of power to it.  I like to think of drafting triple Theros as a process of accumulating tools which will allow you to weather all sorts of different decks.  This deck features several of the tools I like to have: big bodies, some removal/bounce, some card draw, some ramp.  Thus, it was disappointing to go 2-2, losing some very close games.

Round 1 I played against Brian, who had drafted a very black-heavy deck.  He played good spells in the format, but his smaller creatures were just blanked by my slightly larger green dudes. At first, this was nessian courser; later, it became nessian asp.  Read the bones is a great card, but his deck couldn't seem to provide him with fatties which would rumble profitably with my board.  In game two, I noted that my bestow creatures provided me with an indomitable board presence, making up for an absent nessian asp.

Round 2 was against Kelly, were my anti-aggro tools once again came up big.  Her selesneya aggro deck featured the play of ordeal of heliod onto cavalry pegasus, but my griptide provided me with a solid answer.  Fortunately I only took two from the pegasus, and soon I had ramped out an abhorrent overlord with the ramp elements in my deck.  Game two was not representative of what her deck was capable of, I think, as she was forced to mulligan to 5.  Despite that, I was forced to two-for-one myself with sedge scorpion and time to feed to get rid of a dangerously big staunch-hearted warrior, but being on the draw with a seven card hand, I was able to overcome that card disadvantage fairly easily.

I then played against Doug.  There are two Dougs at are store, so I shall dub this Doug Doug the younger.  Sitting at 2-0, I felt hopeful that I could make this week an undefeated one, so the quick thrashing I took from his rakdos aggro deck certainly took the wind out of my sails.  Tymaret and blood-toll harpy are not singularly scary cards, but in sufficient numbers and backed up with solid removal they do the job just fine.  I did put up a fight, bringing him to three games, and close ones at that, but ultimately I stumbled in this round.  I really felt the lack of powerful, flexible cheap spells in these games: leaf crown dryad, or another sedge scorpion, would have been huge.  Even a single nylea's disciple might have made the difference.  The one game I did win was off the back of wave crash triton, a three drop, reinforcing my belief that this matchup is decided by having good early role-players.

Round 4, I was looking for revenge, and got matched up against Fletcher.  In previous games I've played against him, he's tended to go for aggro strategies, so I made a mental note of this and tried to preserve my life total accordingly.  He had drafted the blue-white heroic deck, and a solid one at that.  It leaned heavily on the whiter side of things featuring the devastating phalanx leader-evangel of heliod combination that overwhelmed me in game two.  Wishing I had a shredding winds in my board for game three, I reluctantly moved on to game three.  Here, I played as well as I could, assembling an on-board presence with my voyaging satyrs, nessian asp, and a nylea's emissary that threatened to win me the game on my next turn.  With one turn to kill me, he turned on the proverbial after-burners with a combination of battlewise valor and dauntless assault, pumping up both his wingsteed rider and his evangel of heliod tokens for exactly, exactly lethal.  As Anthony excitedly said, after the match was over, I "got fletched."  I had thought that sitting at a life-total of 16 would see me safely to the next turn.

On reflection, I wish I had taken the time to recount the on board power presented once more, or called a judge.  I had originally counted fourteen, while Fletcher and a neutral observer counted 16.  Perhaps the fact that he had two bounce for what were presumably lethal left me feeling frustrated.  Still, I couldn't be too disappointed with the night as a whole.  While I didn't have a winning record, I had learned some valuable lessons about acquiring the tools to weather aggro decks in Theros, lessons which I would try to apply next week, which I shall cover in my next entry.