A foray into uncharted realms
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Well, happy Canadian Thanksgiving to all my friends here North of the 49th! May you have eaten too much turkey, pumpkin pie, and other delicious foods and enjoyed every moment with your friends and family. To my friends in the United States and elsewhere, you may need to wait a few more weeks, but I have no doubt it will be just as awesome for you as it was for us up here in chilly Canada.
As some of you might be aware, I recently wrote about being invited to my Local Game Store’s quarterly invitational. By virtue of having placed second at the M15 pre-release with my brother we had an automatic entry and we had both decided to seize the opportunity and play out this event. The format was a 5 rounds of Standard with a cut to the top 24. The top 24 would then play 3 rounds of Draft with a cut to top 8…and a boat load of prizes. It was a who’s-who of MTG players in and around Ottawa and the event was pretty high caliber.
My brother and I knew we were both in tough as we sat at a nearby restaurant registering our decks. I’m very much a Casual player, or at best a Limited player, but this was something completely different. My brother is more into Modern or our Casual stuff as well, so he also felt a little out of place. The fact that the caliber of the other players was much higher than normal was also slightly disconcerting and something we certainly had to keep in mind.
One of the most important features of these sorts of events is in monitoring the goals you set for yourself. In our place we had it pretty easy because we had a free entry and just had to show up and play. In essence we were playing with house money! But this could have been a super difficult day if we had not set for ourselves realistic goals to help define what constituted success. My brother sat there and said that winning two rounds and going 2-3 on the 5 rounds of constructed would be perfectly reasonable. He knew this was unlikely to give him a place in the top 24, and that was fine by him. This was a modest goal and really helped set the tone for his day. On my end I just wanted a single match win. I very much was running a home brew and wanted to land 1 win and anything else beyond that was gravy. Again, modest goals so as to assure that I didn’t disappoint…which may have been selling myself short…but giving myself lots of opportunities to meet that modest goal.
For those curious, I ran an Abzan deck very similar to the deck I posted here on
Three Kings Loot last week (Ed’s note: We had issues with the blog causing certain delays). There were a few little tweaks, but you get the idea of the idea. My day started and I played against a very tough Mardu deck. My brother was running a similar build with Rabblemasters, Butcher of the Horde, and Stormbreath Dragon and then plenty of hate. In game 1 I got my opponent pretty handily with the Fleecemane Lion/ Rakshasa Deathdealer beat down plan and we moved to game 2 pretty quickly. Post sideboard I was in trouble. Multiple Thoughtseizes crippled my hand and the Rabblemaster tokens being sacked to the Butcher pretty much made short work of me. Game 3 was close but again, too many Butchers on his side…and not enough removal on my end. I was 0-1 but feeling like I had been in that match and had a chance to beat it if I were to see it again later in the day.
Round 2 had me get the Bye. Yup…the Bye. I’ll take the free win ensuring that, at least on paper, I got a win. It isn’t the same as ACTUALLY winning a game, but I’ll take it considering the environment.
Round 3 saw me paired with a U/G devotion deck that went SOOOOO far over the top with the mana that I didn’t have a chance. When a deck can Genesis Hydra for 17(!) and tutor up a Hornet Queen you KNOW you’re in big trouble. It was over very quickly (Thank goodness) and I moved on with life. I was 1-2 at this point and feeling kind of lousy.
Round 4 I was up against a Jeskai deck of some sort. I’m not sure quite what type of deck it was because my opponent stumbled on his white land in both games and I never really saw much of it. I, on the other hand, was well on the road to beating down with Fleecemane Lions and Siege Rhinos. I was done with 32 minutes remaining on the game clock and was back a very respectable 2-2 and had my first true match win.
Prior to round 5 they posted the standings and I was just outside of the top 24 and it likely meant that win and I was in. With that thought in mind I sat down to face my opponent and was ready for just about anything. What transpired was NOT what I expected. My opponent was on a Jund-y walkers deck of some sorts. Lots of Sarkhan, Chandra, Lilianna, and Xenagos, the Reveler, but I didn’t see a Nissa or Garruk…or much else really apart from a bunch of Coursers of Kruphix. In Game 1 I got a win off Elspeth and her ridiculous Soldier token production. Game 2 was long and grindy, but I came out on the wrong side of that exchange. In game three I was back on the Fleecemane and Siege Rhino beat down plan and found myself securing a win. I was 3-2! And sure enough, I was in 23rd place!
So, at this point I was already tired and had been at this a long time on Saturday. However, being given a chance to draft Khans first hand, for FREE, was just too good to turn up. So, I sat down in my pod and started the draft. For those of you who have never drafted in a competitive setting before (i.e. with time limits, everyone drafting at EXACTLY the same time, and registering what you pull) I’m glad that isn’t how many of my drafts go. It was tense! I also feel like I was rushed to make some of my selections and would have preferred a little more time. To make matters better one guy full on rare drafted. Anything rare, foiled, or mildly of valuable this guy snapped up with no regard for building any sort of deck. After we were done he stood up and told the judge that he was dropping right then and there. The other 7 of us in our pod were pretty upset because we all got stiffed on a couple of good cards for our decks. Sure, we ALL got stiffed in the same sort of ways and there are no rules preventing him from doing that, but it still doesn’t make you feel very good.
My draft started with a Necropolis Fiend but I ended up in Mardu and running the Fiend just because I could. It was hardly a work of art, but it felt reasonable, if somewhat underpowered. I won the first round and was really pleased with life and thought I had an outside chance at finishing top 16 and perhaps grabbing one of the prizes. However, between rounds 1 and 2 the judge asked to see my deck. Apparently I forgot to register one of my lands (my Wind-Scarred Crag) and on paper was running a 39 card deck. I apologized profusely and made the correction. I then in turned asked what were the consequences (thinking this would be a warning or something relatively minor). The judge informed me that I was taking a game loss to start the next round…meaning I had to win BOTH games if I wanted to stay undefeated at the Draft portion. I’m not one to complain much about referees and judges because I’ve refereed high end competitive hockey for 20 years and know that even mistakes ought to be punished, but this one felt stiff. It was an honest mistake and was easily corrected and a little leniency perhaps would have been appreciated. However, I didn’t complain, took my penalty and sat down for my next match…where I was promptly blown out. Round3 didn’t go much better and I ended up 4-4 on my day and in 20th spot.
If you had told me at the start of the day that I was going to finish 20th out of 60 odd players I would have told you to lay off the Vodka that early in the morning. However, by the end of the day, where I had a chance to hit top 16 if I secured 1 more win and let it slip away was pretty tough to watch. I was still pretty pleased with myself and glad that I attended the event, but it was a crazy long day. To be good for that long and to be mentally alert for every game is tough and makes it all the more impressive to watch the guys at the pro tour do it time and time again.
Here’s some of my lessons learned from these events
The Abzan midrange decks that ran all the mana dorks struggled in our event on the weekend (despite seeing Ari Lax win out with the deck at the Pro-Tour). The number of mana dorks clogged up the deck and couldn’t really help combat things like Butcher of the Horde, Stormbreath Dragon, or even the Rabblemasters out there. The more aggressive Abzan builds full of Fleecemane Lions and Rakshasa Deathdealers fared better because they could come out of the gate faster. They relied less on the ramp because the Abzan deck relies on resolving efficient beaters over and over again and forcing an opponent to be on the defensive. By having mana dorks, particularly in the late game, you often just draw dead cards and don’t have enough to do with all that mana.
Utter End, while very versatile, just costs too darn much. I had a pair in my sideboard and didn’t once even contemplate siding them in because there are SOOO many other things I’d rather do with 4 mana. You know what deals with threats just as well? Thoughtseize/Despise because it just makes the card vanish and not cost you 4 mana later in the game.
Judge Calls: yes, I had a run in with the judge (and didn’t much like the ruling) but all day long the same players kept having to call the judge over to have him sort out issues. I managed to play 7 rounds and have 0 judge calls apart from a deck registering issue. The moral of the story here is speak clearly and clearly identify to your opponent what you are doing. Take your time…you end up wasting far more of it by having to call over a judge. And above all, just think clearly about what you are doing before you do it. When mistakes get made is when judges seemed to get called over most frequently…and typically for very minor things that are 100% avoidable if you think it through step by step.
In the draft format I learned that Khans provides a very complex environment. The versatility of the Morph cards makes it very difficult to assess what is the best choice, and it also makes it tricky to determine when to play your Morph. I generally got the sense that more Morphs was better than fewer, but that really is about the extent on the Morph issue. I will need a few more cracks at it to really get a sense which direction it ought to be.
Tormenting Voice is a bust. I picked it because I was looking for a way to dig for cards and thought in the later stages I would want to pitch a land and dig for answers with it. In the 6 games I played I drew it numerous times…and only cast it once. I was hardly impressed and would have rather had something…almost anything… in my deck.
Necropolis Fiend is the real deal. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to hit enough mana to cast it, but with the Delve mechanic I was able to get there a number of times, even in a Mardu deck. However, every opponent I played was terrified of it and before I could untap with it I found the Fiend being removed (usually by suspension field).
2 vs 3 colour decks. I would have been better off playing a 2 colour deck and feel like 2 colour decks offer a lot of consistency. I should have dropped the Red from my deck and just played a B/W deck and passed on the Red. I really wanted to try and push the Ponyback Brigade and the Hordling Outburst (both of which were very good for me) but the rest of my red was poor and not really worth it. So, don’t force yourself to play a third colour…it isn’t a requirement despite it being a Wedge set and sometimes consistency is better than more power.
Suspension field. This is premium removal and is every where! It’s 2 mana and hits just about everything…and certainly everything relevant in the draft format. I grabbed a pair on back to back picks mid-draft and was by no means disappointed. This just did work, shut out my opponent, and was just what the doctor ordered. Here’s my Draft deck
Mardu Draft deck
Well, that’s my recap and some of my impressions on the Draft and Constructed environments as we head into life with Khans. There are lots of good things to come and I can’t wait to get another crack at the draft format again because it feels super cool. I can’t complain with the results of my day and generally how it went except that I wish I had fared a little better to wrap up the day. Oh well…for a day with a free invitation I can’t complain much.
Thanks for reading this week. I’m prepping a Crack a pack that I hope to put the finishing touches on it later this week, but things are starting to pick up in the world of Khans and the possibilities are increasingly endless. Oh, and I’ve got a pair of Casual budget brews for our next Hobo night that I’m looking to share.
Until next time, keep it safe, keep it fun…keep it casual.
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791 on Twitter