Saturday, May 30, 2015

Endless Horizons: Drafting Five-Colors in Modern Masters 2015

As I write this, I'm listening to Marshall Sutcliffe as he commentates on a Neal Oliver match at this weekends GP Vegas.  As Oliver's five color deck takes over the game, he notes on how he's becoming more and more convinced that greedy, splash-heavy decks will be common in the tournament, and frequently successful.

Lessons from a sealed format don't always translate over into drafts, however.  Modern masters provides a plenitude of clear-cut, synergistic two-color archetypes.  Can five-color decks compete?  I certainly was hopefully that they would.  Something about the very nature of the play-style of multicolor decks appeals to some part of my personality.  The fixing and ramp cards I see as investments in later, more powerful spells.  An additional element of resource-management is added to the game.  Perhaps, having first learned to draft during ROE, I was uniquely conditioned to enjoy such a style.

So I joined in two local modern masters drafts, both very casual.  No prizes were on the line here; our aims were fun and the chance to play the pack-lottery.  At $30 just for the boosters themselves, few of us were interested in upping the stakes even more.  Part of me didn't want to draft the set at simply, as a thirty dollar draft just feels wrong to me.  I don't buy scratch tickets, and with most of the value in this set pushed into mythic, I didn't want to buy modern masters.  Wizards has been hyping the set an incredible amount, and to buy into it myself would make me a sucker.

However, curiosity and a desire for fun did drive me into the arms of two drafts.  I didn't really open any money (as expected) but I did have a sweet time.  A pack 1 pick 1 wayfarer's bauble out of a very unimpressive pack in the first draft led me into just what I was hoping to be.  Here's the list:

With the baubles, four karoos and a rampant growth, in all three of my rounds I found myself with very little trouble casting my spells.  Additionally, I was able to make some really great use of interactions: the cytoplast in particular was able to help grow my coatl and sunburst creatures.  

Green-red domain is the "official" five color deck, according to wizards, but I think it would be a mistake to put on blinders to other colors being potentially part of the backbone of a domain deck.  Green is essential, because of the solid creatures and rampant growth potential it provides, but red less so.  In this draft, blue felt more open and so I decided to just go with a green-blue domain deck, with red being a bit heavier of a splash than black or white.  This deck went 3-0.

This second draft was a little bit more tricky.  While I didn't feel the fixing was as strong or as good as in the first draft, the deck packed more brute punch.  Savage twister and pelakka wurm were able to compensate for skyreach mantas which were a little less powerful than they would be with better fixing.  This draft, I tried to be more aware of the +1+1 counter and proliferate synergies available, although sadly there just weren't enough good proliferate spells coming around to really "go off."  What good proliferate spells there were, I passed for more straight-forwardly powerful cards like savage twister or dismember.  Heck, I could even proliferate charge counters in this deck to good effect!

This deck went 2-1, losing only to a very good white-black spirits deck.  I lost that particular match 2-1, flooding out one game, and getting swarmed in the other.  Endrek Sahr almost single-handedly made my plan of playing a few solid blockers laughable, as he was able to generate roughly 11 total thrull tokens before the master broodmaker was forced to sacrifice himself.  With either a few less tokens to deal with, or a savage twister, I think I could take that game.

As it was, between two drafts I went five and one, and was happy with the outings.  I'm done drafting modern masters, my curiosity has been sated, and I hopefully look toward a future where you can draft a format that is as fun as this where you can have fun drafting without having to worry about massive amounts of cash that just gets poured into the activity.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Doing it Wrong: Going undefeated with the five color toughness matters archetype in Dragons limited

Dragons of Tarkir has been out for a while now, and the fundamental aspects of its nature are now revealed to us.  Black and red are most often cited as the most powerful colors to be in, with the blue-black exploit deck, when open, reigning as perhaps the most powerful archetype.

Bearing all this in mind, I can vividly remember shuffling through a fairly unimpressive pack for my first pick of my fnm draft from two weeks ago, moving to the front mirror mockery and a couple of average to good commons.  Dragons hasn't been all that terribly fun, and wanting to see if I could go a bit more on the deep end, I decided to take the very unique rare.  I had heard that it worked well with several of the exploit creatures, while having some flexibility in occasionally being cast on an opponent's creature as well.

As the first pack progressed, I tried to fit myself into that blue/black exploit deck, but black seemed to dry up.  Beyond a minister of pain and a death wind, there really wasn't much.  Green seemed, on the other hand, very very open.  I was definitely shying away from green, as it is well-known for having a troubled pack in fate reforged, but when I saw a very late assault formation come my way, I decided to try it out.  And not just any green deck - with assault formation to build around, I wanted to see if I could get a blue-green toughness based strategy to work.

When the dragons full spoiler first came out, I noticed that wizards seemed to be trying to create rewards for toughness, with four toughness being the most common reward point and both sight of the scalelords and gate smasher as your "rewards" (I use the term loosely).  With an equip cost of three, gate smasher is likely not good enough even in a deck full of tough bodies, while the set-it-and-forget-it nature of sight of the scalelords is less punishing on mana over the long term.  Plus, I already had an assault formation, so I wouldn't have to worry about not being able to attack with any defenders that might come my way.  Blue, with several high-toughness commons seemed the most natural pairing.

The assault formation going so late felt to me that most of the people around me were trying to draft tight, no-nonsense aggressive two color decks.  Those sorts of decks don't need derpy guys like these as much.  And in addition to trying to go deep with the various toughness matters cards, I decided to keep an eye open for fixing and splashes.  I felt reasonably certain that cards like explosive vegetation and sight of the scalelords would be ignored, so I tried to use my higher picks on good, tough creatures.

Pack 2 gifted me a dragonlord Atarka, and between that and death wind, I now had ample reason to want to splash. With an explosive vegetation in the deck, with some ways to stall out the game (for example, with tough blockers?) I felt like I could put myself in a position to get it into play more often than not.

Fate reforged was, as expected, pretty bad for my deck in terms of green cards.  However, an extra ramp/fixing spell with map the wastes was all I needed from that color.  Rather, I got some good fixing in the third pack, along with another nice pick up for my collection with windswept heath.

I was happy with the maindeck list, although if I had to go back and do it over, I think I'd play the yesova dragonclaw I got passed.  At the time, I was trying to stick to the theme, and I worried about having it with an assault formation on the board.  Looking back, I think that concern was ridiculous.  Additionally, I should have dropped white as a color.  While student of Ojutai fits the strategy of the deck, being both a good blocker and a way to help against aggro, it probably wasn't worth the extra inconsistency.  I suspect that I just wanted to be able to justify playing that windswept heath I first-picked.

I think what I was happiest about, however, was that I had found a way to use cards in this limited environment that I never thought I'd actually use and play, like sight of the scalelords and spidersilk net.  Between mirror mockery, assault formation, and siege of the scalelords, there were a full three enchantments in the deck, each with a unique effect.

In the first match I played against Kelly, who was working with a bant deck, which seemed to be mainly green white, splashing blue.  Mana troubles on her side of the board in game one allowed me to my defenses to quickly come online before she could get in much early damage, while dragonlord Atarka showed up to close out game two.

Round two, I found myself up against Andy, an experienced and thoughtful limited player.  He had one of those disciplined, aggressive two-color decks that I was sensing at the draft table, in his case black/red.  Turns out, blockers aren't a great matchup against goblin heelcutter which made all of my defenders look rather silly in game 1.  I took out white against him and filled the student of ojutai slot with another slightly-less good creature.  The lowest I went in the next two games was 18, as I clogged up the board as best I could, with dragonlord atarka showing up yet again to finish things off.

In round three, I found myself against another aggressive red/black deck, drafted by Dave.  Game one was stabilized at eleven life, with the sick curve of spidersilk net into custodian of the trove into ugin's construct.  I was in excellent position game two, as once again I had stopped him with my life at eleven.  Perhaps I should have tried to be a bit more aggressive, however, because while I was slowly wearing down his life total, he found his out in mob rule, which performed exactly as he'd hoped.  Sadly, both of these games took a while, and we went to a draw in game 3.  It was discouraging, given that I felt I was in a good position when we the time elapsed, but at 2-0-1 I knew I was in a good position to do well with a fourth win, especially if I were paired up.

Ben, at 3-0, was my fourth round opponent, and I knew that this round would decide my fate.  With a win, I would potentially have the most points of the draft, while a loss would put me out of prizes entirely.  Frighteningly, Ben seemed to have the best r/b aggro deck of the three I had faced on the night.  The greed of the maindeck, which I had hoped would put me over the top of midrange decks, seemed to be hurting me more than I expected.  It was only by the grace of a timely Atarka that I was able to take game 1, with mirror mastery cast on the Atarka locking him out of playing creatures with toughness less than five entirely.

For games two and three I decided to shift gears, and I tried to move into a base green/black deck which would, I hoped, offer me more bodies and blockers to help me develop a board full of blockers.  I believe the deck looked something like this:

No white now, and only the slightest of splashed for blue and red.  Hands of silumgar were Ben's premier two drops, and I had seen a large number of one-toughness creatures, so making black such a central color for minister of pain made sense.  Losing the ability to have aven surveyors hurt mirror mockery, but I was hopeful that minister of pain and silumgar butcher would compensate.  Truly, this was a match where a single trigger of her exploit power could swing things in my favor completely.  Still, despite the change up, Ben took game two without me getting a hit in once.

In game three, I cast Atarka once again and won.

Alright, so maybe my success with "the toughness deck" was largely due to Atarka just single-handedly closing the door on my opponents in a way which other cards wouldn't be able to do.  Still, in many of those situations I succeeded in crafting a stabilized board, and it is possible that many of those games would have been wins regardless. I had hoped to create, by focusing on high toughness creatures, a sort of grindy control engine, where I would gradually stabilize and overtake my opponents.  And while I don't think I have really discovered a brand new archetype (five color toughness ramp control?) I took advantage of picking up cards which were less valued in my local stores metagame and put together a deck which had a plan.