Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Limited Resources Cube: A Draft Report

When you fall on hard times, sometimes you just can't draft anymore on magic online.  Sad, but true.  After two crushing defeats in the magic online cube I was tapped out on phantom tickets, but left with an internal fire burning in my heart, whispering to me: crush people in cube!

So what was I to do?  Well, I've been known to cube with people in real life, so what if that experience could be taken online, without the whole nasty money factor that you get with modo?  Of course, I had been looking to try out the Limited Resources cube for a long time.  As a long time LR fan, I had heard mention of it, and it had always been at the back of my mind, something I wanted to give a try but I never got around to.

Sometimes, what it takes is a good walloping to get your ass into gear, and after being thoroughly destroyed in a few modo cube drafts, I signed up for this past thursday's LR cube draft.  And not only would it be free, but the list of cards would be different, giving me a chance to try something new!  Win/win.

Before hand, I had given the cube a quick spin on cubetutor, seeing what archetypes were available, and trying to get a feel for each of the colors.  I quickly noticed that there was a very distinctive g/b graveyard theme in the mix, possibly incorporating blue if you got the spider spawning.  And if you got spider spawning, you could pretty much count on getting its best buddy, gnaw to the bone!

With that in mind, I took a bone shredder out of a fairly weak pack for my first pick.  Not only would this go well in a spider spawning deck, if that was open, but it would leave me open to other black options.  In more powerful cubes, black often gets left behind, as it only has one powerful planeswalker, and its powerful removal spells are often less good against decks full of creatures with comes-into-play effects.  However, a powered-down cube like this one doesn't have planeswalkers and some other bomby effects that black lacks, and the inherent power of black can shine just a little bit more.

Well, green wasn't open, ultimately.  While I kept picking up decent black cards, solidifying that as my main color, I struggled early in the draft to find a second color.  While I got great blue cards, I was getting some sweet white cards as well.  Esper control?

In the end, I ultimately couldn't justify including white in my pool, despite having a day of judgement and a little bit of white fixing.  I would have really loved to play day of judgement, because wrath effects are far rarer and thus harder to play around in the LR cube, but I opted for some more consistency.  I made a mental note to potentially side in plains for that, and the mortify and disenchant if I saw good targets, but it never came up.

The deck fell solidly into a blue/black control archetype.  I just couldn't stop myself from picking creatures that killed other creatures, with duplicant (one of my favorite all-time cards) topping the curve at that effect.  I was really happy with this, as the deck gave me both some early defenses and ways to grind card advantage.  Having five six drops was concerning, but I hoped that playing a high land count plus the signet would help me get there.  For additional synergy, I had THREE merfolk looters to help loot away any extra lands, further justifying the eighteen lands.

Round one I played against B0neReaver, and my hoped-for turn-around failed to materialize as his deck presented threats that were either well-positioned against me, or I simply played against badly.  I completely forgot that bone splitter doesn't target artifacts, which meant that it only killed an irrelevant master splicer than the crucial golem token.  I managed to land a volition reins on the behemoth sledge, hoping to use it to life-gain me back into the game, but skeletal vampire would have ultimate been the better target as it was just more important to develop my board in terms of creatures.

Round two started, and I played against DogPuppy, wielding a three color deck.  With a grisly salvage in his deck, I suspected he had been going for a graveyard/spider spawning strategy, but it hadn't been there for him.  He wasn't able to present an early threat, allowing me to build up enough mana for my swingy effects.  I decided to steal the lightning greaves, to ensure that all of my ETB creatures would be able to have their effects.

As the game wore on, I continued to grind, grind grind, with the added benefit of being able to equip the greaves onto a looter for an ultra-speedy loot!

In the next game, I was once again able to have time to build up my defenses so as to create a superior board.  Lightning greaves protected his yeva, yes, but it can only protect one creature at a time, which allowed me to enslave or otherwise deal with his other threats while continuing to build up my own board. At last, victory!  And it only took a six-mana mind control to do it!

Game three was against my third green opponent.  I guess I was right to hope out of green!  Well, I never really hopped in, but I had been actively looking for a reason to go green: a reason which never came.  Unlike my previous multicolor opponents, emerald was playing a more conservative straight green-blue build.  I knew I was in trouble when he landed a card which I just have an incredible amount of trouble defeating: juggernaut.

Yes, on the board my murderous redcap deals nicely with it, but none of my in hand cards would, and I knew that he would have some way to protect it. A briarhorn later, and I was in trouble.  I was able to build up my board with a domestication and a talrands invocation, but ultimately it wasn't enough and I succumbed to his threats.

Games 2 and three were more in my favor though.  Being on the play game 2 helped take some of the early pressure as I was allowed to reach turn three unscathed:

With three lands in hand, my plan was to essentially allow my opponent to play into a crushing life's finale, and follow it up with either mulldrifter or duplicant.  Although I decided to play the mulldrifter at five, to buy me a little more time to get more life's finale value, this was ultimately not a losing plan.

Game three was similarly "according to plan" as I was able to barter in blood for full value, following it up with any one of my sweet sweet creatures.

At long last, a 2-1 draft!  It had been a while, and it felt good to win again.  The power level of this deck was, I felt, incredibly high, so I couldn't take too much solace in the victory; how would I have done with a worse deck, after all?  Still, I felt like I was shaking off a slump.  I really enjoyed playing this style of blue-black control.  I didn't have card draw spells, and my sweepers were bad by traditional cube standards, but the inherent card advantage of my creatures was able to make up for those potential problems.

Looking back, I noticed that three of my opponents were green.  As was Asturiel, the draft coordinator!  with four players in green, I was happy I stayed out.  He had drafted the much-desired spider-spawning deck.  I wonder how high he took it?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Conspiracy Drafts: Powering through

I love high-powered draft formats.  Cube, of course, is the highest-power of all draft formats and it's hard for me to get enough of cube.  All too often, in more powered-down draft formats it feels as though one is just skimming through pack after pack where the decision making process is too easy, as there are only a few cards which stand out and the only decision, really, is which colors to go into.  When you get to pick 5, however, and there are multiple cards in each color that you're in, the decision of what to take becomes more interesting.

Does the power-level of a format make a significant difference in terms of how skill-testing it may be?  I'm not so sure.  If every card to choose from is powerful, it is certainly easier for a less-skilled drafter to assemble a deck capable of powerful things.  To create a poor deck there is an exercise in self-defeat: inattention to mana curve, playing too many colors for too little benefit, things of that sort.  I suspect that good drafters and good players are about as advantaged in a high-level format as they are in a less-powered one.

So not too long ago I wanted to take a break from conventional local game store drafting and get an in-person fix of something a little bit more high-powered.  When I heard the call ring out for a local Conspiracy draft, I was in, and in big.  One of the hallmarks of a powerful draft environment is the ability to bend and break magic in an advantageous way, and I knew that conspiracy would offer that.  After all, how often do we get draft environments with sweet commons like these?

Alright, alright.  If you're familiar with bad cards from the past, you'll know that I've tweaked these cards a little.  The first two have gained the birds of paradise ability; the third has gained additional power and toughness.  All of this is made possible with conspiracies, a mechanic in the set which affects the draft itself as much as it affects the gameplay.  At my most recent conspiracy draft, conspiracies went much later than I would hope.  Certainly, I was very judicious in passing my own conspiracies, letting only a couple by.  

Fundamentally, conspiracies reward drafting multiple cards of the same name.  The birds of paradise conspiracy is not great if you only have one target for it, but if there are junky one and two drops that nobody wants, you can get birds of paradise as much as you like.  Conspiracies are an investment; if you don't see any early on in the draft, drafting creatures with the same name is an investment for any potential conspiracies you might open or get passed later on.  I had gotten an early muzzio's preparation in this draft, and had been focusing hard on trying to get it to work, with two shoreline rangers and three zombie goliaths, so when I got a second one late in the draft, it became easily the most powerful card in the pack.  Ultimately, living the 6/5 for five mana dream was not for me, though.  Black was cut pretty hard, and in the game that followed the ability for shoreline ranger to block in the air became key.

Enter the Dack...

For most of pack one, I was blue black, with such control powerhouses as reckless spite and fact or fiction.  However, I noticed some oddly late red picks at the tail end, and made a mental note.  When I was lucky enough to open Dack Fayden in pack two, I made the decision to go all-in into blue red, possibly splashing black if the mana worked out.  Brimstone volley is less good, far less good, in a four-player (or more) game, but it's still useful, and the inclusion of a singleton reito lantern proved key in allowing me to not only deck myself with Dack, but to draw infinite brimstone volleys in the end game.  In my second conspiracy draft, I emerged victorious!

Certainly, my play was tight, and the weird diplomacy of a multiplayer game helped, but I'll remember this draft most of all for demonstrating the power of switching colors.  I could have obstinately stuck to blue-black, splashing red for Just Dack, but my deck would have emerged far less powerful.  Oddly powerful last picks sometimes may be more than just an abberation: sometimes, they can provide clues to help us navigate the draft more skillfully.