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.

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