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!

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