Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Horrors of Innistrad #2 - A fortnight of drafts

Hey hey hey!

The enthusiasm of a new set to draft!  And the PTQ season is limited!  A group of my local players got together at casual night to get an extra draft in.  We used our boosters we'd won at the prerelease, and there was no prize to play for except pride.  My opening pack contained quite a good looking rare werewolf in Instigator Gang.  I took it, thereby signalling to all that I had an intention to draft red.  This is what I ended up with:

To my naive mind which was so used to M12, this deck looked pretty solid.  I anticipated some very quick wins.  I couldn't have been more wrong as it turned out!  This format is full of 2/3s and 1/4s, and I soon learnt a ground attack strategy with 3/1 creatures is not a good plan.  In order for this deck to work it would have needed many more cards to give it reach - I should have been playing my Bump in the Night, and even something like Cobbled Wings would have helped.  This deck went 0-3, which is not a surprise when you couple the bad plan of the deck with mulliganing every opening hand and having mana issues.


The next day was the usual Thursday night draft.  My opening pack presented me with one of my favourite new mythics (for casual purposes), in Essence of the Wild.  It was ironically alongside an Instigator Gang, but as I wanted to avoid getting trapped with the same deck as yesterday, I took the big green monster.  I got the foil Champion of the Parish 3rd pick, taking this as a signal that I should be able to get some cheap white creatures to go with the Essence of the Wild.  With this new focus on humans and creatures in general, this is the deck I ended up drafting:

I liked the look of the deck, and the 2 Village Bell-Ringers and 2 Ambush Vipers looked pretty sweet as spells to play when it was not my turn and I wanted to flip my werewolves, and I anticipated that instant-speed creatures would also be great with the Essence of the Wild.  I was hoping this deck would be able to break my 0-5 losing streak! 

Round 1 - I was paired against Tom (not a great start in breaking the losing streak because he is very good!)  I took him down handily in the first game, with a fast start involving Hamlet Captain and some humans, I beat him down while he didn't really do anything.  Game 2 was much closer, and I possibly would not have died if I'd made a different decision -  I was attacking Tom with my Dearly Departed in the air, while our ground creatures were holding each other off.  Tom played Kessig Cagebreakers.  He had 3 creatures in his graveyard, and I had an Ambush Viper in hand, so I attacked him with the Dearly Departed, assuming that if he attacked with the Cagebreakers I would be able to kill it with the Ambush Viper, and I'd be able to cope with 3 wolf tokens.  Tom then played Cobbled Wings and sent his Cagebreaker in the sky.  Oh dear....  If I'd held the Dearly Departed back the end of the game may have been quite different, but I ended up dying with Smite the Monstrous in hand, wishing the Cagebreaker had one more power.
Game 3 involved another ground stall, with lots of creatures on the table staring each other down.  I found my Essence of the Wild, but I had flooded quite a bit and didn't have many creatures to make into 6/6's.  It took a few turns, but when I was satisfied that he couldn't double block and kill all of my Avatar creatures I started attacking (he had a flipped Ulvenwald Mystics/Primordials, which was making life difficult as it could regenerate so he could effectively trade one of my 6/6's for one of his small creatures).  Before I'd managed to create an Abyss-like game-state for Tom, he found his Cobbled Wings again.  He managed to kill me in the air while chumping on the ground and my losing streak became 0-6.

Round 2 - This was against Owen, who assured me his deck was rubbish.  However my luck was completely rubbish.  In game 1, I mulliganned to 5 cards with Forest and Plains, then never drew a 3rd land.  In game 2 I again mulliganned, got stuck on lands again, eventually drew the 4th land and got some card advantage back with Divine Reckoning, but as Owen got to keep his best creature (a 3/3 flier), I still rolled over and died. 

Round 3 - One more chance to break my losing streak?  No, Ralph had dropped and gone home, leaving me with the bye.  I was feeling quite disheartened as my deck didn't look that terrible to me (it certainly wasn't great, but I thought it would be able to win a round), so I was quite confused.  Are my card evaluations really that off?  Do I have a fundamental misunderstanding of Innistrad?  What can I do better next time?


My record in Innistrad drafting was now 0-7.  This was not good at all.  I'd been planning on heading down to London for the PTQ on Saturday, but the losing streak had knocked my confidence and I did not feel at all prepared.  So, instead I had a productive day of doing chores and tidying the house, while Tom, Anthony and Alwyn headed down to London.  I kept in touch via texts throughout the day, they all did rather well.  Tom made the top 8, but sadly got knocked out in the semi finals.

I wasn't going to have a weekend devoid of playing magic though.  On Sunday there was a standard constructed tournament being held locally, a "Store Championship" qualifier.  If you want to read my tournament report, it is on the Oxford Magic forum here: http://www.oxfordmagic.info/forum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=1791#p12966 , but needless to say it was a good day and resulted in a very happy me with something very shiny:


In the following week we did another draft at the casual evening.  I wasn't sure what special new thing I should be doing, but I was going to concentrate on making sure I got the basics of drafting as spot on as I could - removal spells, good creatures and a good mana curve.  I opened a Geist-Honoured Monk in the first pack.  Cloudgoat Ranger was always a star, so although I hadn't actually played with or against this similar creature yet, I labelled it with high expectations and took it.  My next pick was Manor Gargoyle, another very solid 5 drop creature that left colour commitments open.  I then took a Gallows Warden, and became immediately aware I'd taken three 5 drops so it was time to start looking at the cheaper creatures.  I took some cheaper white creatures then picked up a pair Avacyn Pilgrims (I'd noticed them the 1st time round and had hoped they might wheel to me).  They would help to get the 5 drops out faster, are Humans which is relevant with several of the white cards, and green and white have other overlapping synnergies so they seemed like a good colour pair to try out again.  I might even get a Travel Preparations this time. 

I'd definitely cut white well during pack 1 and was rewarded nicely in pack 2, with a Fiend Hunter, 2 Rebuke, a Smite the Monstrous and even last pick Silverchase Fox.  I also picked up Gutter Grime, which looked like it would go very well with creatures which didn't particularly mind dying anyway. In pack 3 I opened up the excellent uncommon Slayer of the Wicked.  There weren't any Travel Preparations, but my deck filled out nicely:

The Demonmail Hauberk looked like it would be quite good in my deck and help out with my deck's Lumberknot/ Unruly Mob/ Gutter Grime plan.

Unfortunatley I can't find any notes from the games with this deck.  I broke my losing streak by winning the first round, but I can't remember the round at all! 

Round 2 -  Owen had drafted a pretty sweet looking UB Zombie themed deck.  He got impressively lucky in games 1 and 2 with a turn 1 Delver of Secrets which immediately flipped into it's 3/2 flying form.  In one game he backed it up with some more fliers and I died, in the other I Rebuked it, Slayered a zombie and killed him.  In the last game he had a massive hoard of the undead and I was on a very low life total of 2.  I had just managed to keep up with his creature count, minus 2 - but I had Rebuke in hand and Owen knew I had something so he wasn't attacking me.  The only creature I could take a hit from was the un-transformed Delver of Secrets.  Every turn that passed meant another possible upkeep transformation, and there were a mirriad of other things that he could draw such as a bounce spell or Claustraphobia, that would just kill me.  Luckily, I peeled my Demonmail Hauberk, making my Gallows Warden into a lethal attacker.

Round 3 - Tom again - this time he had drafted red green.  In the first game he got his Mayor of Avabruk flipped over and spitting out 3/3 wolves and I was soon run over.  In the 2nd game a ground stall occured which got broken by Gutter Grime - letting me attack - even suicide - creatures in, and stopping Tom from being able to attack at all.  In the 3rd game I got probably my best possible hand.  Geist-Honoured Monk was in play as a 6/6 on my 3rd turn.  This is pretty ridiculous, and Tom soon scooped. 

Going 3-0 was a nice confidence boost.  I was looking forward to what new things I could discover in the draft the next day.  Perhaps I wouldn't be sat near to the players who had been repeatedly forcing blue and I'd get a chance at drafting it myself and playing with the graveyard based mechanics.


In Thursday's draft I once again opened a good white rare,  Elite Inquisitor.  Humans again eh... well I had quite a lot of experience with the white cards now, so hopefully I would be able to draft a good white deck.  I almost ended up mono white, but some Spectral Flights came around late in the first pack so despite my general dislike of auras, I decided to take them and try them out.  The importance of having some fliers and the situationalness of the removal in the format had begun to form in my head.  I ended up getting some excellent equipment for my little humans as later picks in packs 2 and 3, and this was the deck I built:

I was feeling confident that this deck was also pretty good.  I ended up leaving a 2nd Smite the Monstrous in the sideboard because although it is removal it is situational enough to be quite awkward sometimes (as I'd found out last week).

Round 1 - Stephen had drafted mono red, so he had lots of werewolves and burn spells.  In fact he had one rather large devastating burn spell, Blasphemous Act, which he used at an excellent moment just after my Mausoleum Guard had traded and turned into tokens - the board was completely clear.  I then made an Elder Cathar and gave him some wings - Geistcatcher's Rig killed that off and I was out of gas, while he made some more creatures which squished me.  In game 2 I knew I needed to play around the Blasphemous Act, and I managed to kill him quite quickly without over commiting to the board.  In that game 2 Kruin Outlaws had made an appearance which I'd needed to deal with, so for game 3 I decided to bring in Sensory Deprivation as a good answer to them.  This game was more tense, I was forced to use my whole hand up to get the edge on the board, leaving me wide open to getting blown out by the wrath effect again.  Thankfully that didn't happen and I won.

Round 2 - Tom wasn't happy with his deck, but it definitely liked him, providing him with the needed early blockers, then lots of card drawing flashback spells that let him find his mythical Balefire Dragon.  I killed it in both games with Smite the Monstrous / Rebuke, but in game 1 I'd been too cheeky with my Elder Cathars and got blown out when I tried to put their counters onto the Elite Inquisitor who met an instant speed removal spell.  Geistflame was an all-star against me in the 2nd game, killing off 2 Unruly Mobs before they got to be Unruly.  So it wasn't his dragon that killed me, but his long game card advantage was just too unassailable for my deck.  We played a friendly afterwards where Tom didn't have his early blocker to get in my way and I killed him very quickly - so if you try this kind of strategy make sure you have a plan for the early game - pick up those Riot Devils!

Round 3 - This round was against a new player, Mark.  He had a blue black controlling deck which didn't have much early game and was mostly reliant on counterspells as removal.  In game 1 he was on the unfortunate receiving end of this:

In game 2 he countered some of my spells but I managed to once again get Butcher's Clever onto a human and beat him up with it.  After the round he had tonnes of questions - I gave him lots of advice, analysed his deck with him, discussed general drafting theory and played a friendly game that was much closer.  I was incredibly impressed with his attitute and willingness to learn, I think if he keeps it up he'll be winning lots of games very soon.


I felt I had more of a handle now on things that matter in this draft format.  Fliers are quite important as there are lots of large stally ground creatures.  I have a new found respoct for Cobbled Wings after Tom had beaten me up with it so many times.  The removal is all very situational, and having a range of different answers instead of lots of copies of the same one is important.  This situational removal format means that good threats are possibly even better than usual, so I have to fight against my personal preference of taking removal over threats. 

With my new found confidence in my knowledge of the format, I headed off to the Milton Keynes PTQ.  Next time I will tell you the story of how I ended up in the top 8 finals.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Horrors of Innistrad #1 - Prerelease weekend

Hey hey hey!

Before I go into my experiences of Innistrad so far, here is one last bonus M12 deck.  I wasn't going to write about it, but Rob wanted to see what it was:

I was still suffering from the dregs of bronchitis and coughing quite badly that evening, but I'd dragged myself down to the pub to draft night because I was missing the experience (and if I'm well enough to go to work, I must be well enough to go out and play, right?).  This draft went completely off the rails, and as you can see the resulting deck did not look good at all.  I started off heavily in black, then the person to my right decided to move in on it, so I ended up in somewhat of a mess - my Consume Spirit was now going to have to sit on the bench, and I was desperately short on cheap creatures.  There were no webs to draft for my Arachnus Spinner, and I opened nothing exciting in pack 3 apart from the rare, Grim Lavamancer, but at least I did have some colour fixing to allow me to splash it. 

Things were looking bleak when deck building.  In desperation I went all-in on the very high risk Thran Golem + Trollhide strategy (to be fair, it did work in the first game, but never happened in any others).  Somehow I went 3-0 with this deck, a combination of playing well, knowing all the tricks of the format and top decking like a goddess.  Oh, and that little crocodile was the bestest crocodile ever as all of my opponents were playing blue.  I remember feeling completely knackered by the end of the evening and felt like death, either playing magic had become physically exhausting or I'd drunk too many J20s... or perhaps both.


So, let's leave M12 behind and head to pastures new - the scary horror plane of Innistrad.  I went to the local Oxford prerelease which was held on the Sunday, still with a pretty nasty cough.  At least I was actually feeling a lot better even though it didn't sound like it!  This was my sealed pool:

It didn't look too bad at all, and I was immediately drawn to the white cards as they featured 4 removal spells (2 of which are creatures), and Mentor of the Meek who looked pretty bomby to me, as drawing cards in sealed is exactly what you want to be doing.  Red was the next most appealing colour because it had more removal in Brimstone Volley and Skirsdag Cultist, and another rare in Kruin Outlaw.  I wasn't sure how good werewolves were going to be, but her other side looked pretty awesome.  The werewolves also synnergised quite nicely with other things in my deck like the Mentor of the Meek, because when they are cast they trigger him, but then can become larger later.

I had some interesting looking blue cards too, and initially this is the deck I put together:

When it came to trying to work out the mana base for this however, I realised that things could go terribly wrong with so many double red and white casting costs, and most of my deck was looking to be on the more aggressive side.  So in the end I cut the Mindshrieker, Civilized Scolar and Skaab Goliath and put in 2 Riot Devils and a Nightbird's Clutches.

I went 4-2 overall and most of the games were fun and interactive.  I was pleasantly surprised by the werewolves, although I think they are overly mean against opponents who are already behind in the early game because they don't have a 2-drop.  I found Wanderer's Twig - excuse me - Traveler's Amulet to be very handy at sorting out the double coloured mana costs.  Mentor of the Meek was disappointing because I only drew him when I was having mana shortages, he never drew me a card.  I'm sure this was unusual however, so I will not be biased by my negative experience into underrating him.  In fact, in one game my opponent Anthony had a Menor of the Meek in conjuction with Lantern Spirit, which was a pretty awesome card draw engine in the late game.

There were two games however which I did not enjoy at all (and not *just* because I lost).  One was game 3 against James, who cast Mindshrieker on turn 2, then proceeded to mill me (which is most definitely wrong when you have not one but TWO Skaab Ruinators in your deck).  He played nothing else, just kept activating the Mindshrieker in his attack step and hit an almost-constant stream of my 3 and 4 drops, only hitting a land once.  He killed me while I had 5 land in play and the Rig and 6th land in hand, deciding to forgo holding up mana for his own Rebuke, which would stop my attack back with Terror of Kruin Pass (Kruin Outlaw's other side) from being lethal.  A complete gamble, and I really do not enjoy being killed in such a statistically unlikely manner. 

I also did not enjoy being punished for keeping a hand containing Fiend Hunter, Rebuke, Smite the Monstrous and some land.  It was again game 3, and my opponent made Geist of Saint Traft on turn 3.  I failed to draw any of my other creatures, and he didn't even play another creature which would have allowed me to get my Fiend Hunter onto the board to stop some of the bleeding.  I was frequently annoyed by the keyword Hexproof in M12, and here it is again making the game uninteractive and completely un-fun.

I did a draft after the sealed had finished as I was still on a new card excitment high.  That rapidly drained away during the next hour though as hunger and tiredness set in.  I drafted a green black deck which was an unfortunate mish-mash of some werewolves, some morbid cards and some sorcery speed removal spells.  This did not work well as the werewolves wanted me to be casting instants in my opponent's turn, and my morbid creatures wanted me to cast cheap removal like Dead Weight to kill something and then cast them afterwards (thereby playing 2 spells and transforming my werewolves back again).  I also apparently should not have been in these colours as they were exactly the same as the person feeding me, despite my backwards-signal of 1st pick Mayor of Avabruk, and then taking Sever the Bloodline passed to me as my 2nd pick.  I went 0-2, then dropped to go home and get some dinner as it was well past 9 o'clock.

In the next blog I'll go through the 4 drafts I've done since the prerelease and try to make sense of the mixed results.  This will have to be written another day however, it's getting late and I've got to get up bright and early to go to a PTQ tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Drafting M12 #5 - Sick Drafts

Hello everyone.

It's been weeks since my last post.  Unfortunately this is because I've been ill since the start of the month with the flu then bronchitis.

So I don't have any live drafts to bring you, I've barely left the house at all.  However, I've been able to draft a few times on magic online, so I thought I would bring you some of the more fun and interesting drafts I've done in my more lucid evenings. 

M12 Draft Deck - Stop Fearing Green

I'd been avoiding drafting green as I was convinced it was the weakest colour, but I was often losing to it in drafts due to my love of Islands and things that fly, and green having so many Spiders and Lurking Crocodiles.  In this draft I managed to put my fear of playing with green behind me.  I started out with red cards, first picking Chandra's Outrage and a Gorehorn Minotaurs, and then I was passed the shiny Garruk's Horde.  He seemed like something worth ramping into, and a signal that my neighbours are probably not interested in green, so for a change I decided to embrace my green side.

I took the Oblivion Ring quite early in the 2nd pack, knowing I could splash it fairly trivially, and got the Pentavus as a late pick.  I did struggle to get enough 2 drops, and in fact in pack 3 I had to pass up Cudgel Troll as my 5th pick in favour of the 2nd Rampant Growth to help the deck as a whole.

I think I misbuilt the deck slightly and ended up playing too many lands.  Because I had three 5 drops, a 6 drop and two 7 drops I was scared to go below 17 land, but I also had the 2 Rampant Growths and Manalith - half of my deck being mana sources was probably overkill.  I did mana flood several times, but of course one of the games I lost was because of mana screw ;-).  The relevant sideboard cards for this deck were Plummet, a 2nd Crown of Empires, a 2nd Brindle Boar, Slaughter Cry and Autumn's Veil.

I ended up going 2-1 with this deck, and it was fun to play and I didn't have the hopeless feeling I'd had last time I drafted green.  The game with Pentavus was very entertaining (mostly because my opponent didn't seem to realise that he should stop trying to attack me while it was in play).  I didn't get to play with the Garruk's Horde as in the only game where I cast it my opponent conceeded on the spot.  I won a couple of games with the Sacred Wolf + Troll Hide combo.  Mostly I learnt that green decks can be fun, just make sure the other colour(s) in your deck give you spells that let you interact with the opponent's permanents.

M12 Draft Deck - Mostly Black Control

This draft was pretty awesome, and had a very difficult 3rd pick decision.  I opened Cemetary Reaper, and then was passed Rune-Scarred Demon for my 2nd pick.  Sweet!  The 3rd pick offered the dilema of Gravedigger, who is very good, and Oblivion Ring, which can deal with anything that isn't hexproof, including Planeswalkers.  It is exactly the kind of card I want in a deck with a tutoring Demon, but there is definitely an arguement to trying to stay mono black and stop sending signals that black is open (I'd already had to pass Sorin's Thirst and Vampire Outcasts).  And it's a Zombie, so goes nicely with my Cemetary Reaper.  But I can't resist really good removal, so ended up taking the Oblivion Ring - what would you have done?  Let me know in the comments.

For the rest of pack 1 I took artifacts and black cards.  In pack 2 I opened Solemn Simulacrum, Consume Spirit, Serra Angel and Gideon's Lawkeeper.  Here I had to make a decision as to how I wanted my deck to look - I already had 1 Drifting Shade and was fully aware how good almost mono black can be.  After much deliberation I settled on the Solemn Simulacrum, as it would help me with keeping white a splash, and is the card advantage type creature a more controlling deck loves to have.  The pack I'd opened as a whole was really deep, with Chandra's Outrage, Gorehorn Minotaurs and Aether Adept, and so the Consume Spirit tabled much to my delight.  White was flowing to me in this direction, I picked up the 2 Pacifisms, Celestial Purge and then in the dregs I got Devouring Swarm, Zombie Goliath and a Buried Ruin which I suspected would end up in the deck.

Pack 3 rounded the deck out nicely, with 1st pick Doom Blade, 2nd pick Consume Spirit number 2, another Devouring Swarm, another Drifting Shade, a Deathmark and the crucial Sorin's Thirst (I ended up tutoring for it with my Demon more than once to kill something, give me a life buffer and let me play a 2nd spell in the turn).

This deck also went 2-1.  The 1st round was against a UG deck, and I struggled a little against multiple Acidic Slimes, it being the deciding factor in game 2 that returned Jade Mage from under Oblivion Ring and I died to exactly lethal damage from saproling tokens after casting my Demon.  I managed to win game 3 though despite the multiple bouncing of poor old Rusted Sentinel.  The 2nd round in which I lost was against a BR deck well suited for attrition with multiple Gravediggers.  He also had a Cemetary Reaper, and found it in game 1 and 3.  The 3rd round was against another BR deck, with some more aggressive creatures, but my life gaining removal let me stabilise then take over the games.

My Cemetary Reaper didn't come out to play in any games, but I drew my Rune-Scarred Demon quite a lot.  The Drifting Shades also had a habit of dying the moment I cast them.  Buried Ruin was very useful in this deck as I had 3 artifact creatures to resurrect, and I got to live the dream and return the Solemn Simulacrum once.  All in all it was a pretty fun draft, only slightly spoiled by my opponent in the 3rd round deciding to disconnect when I had the win on the table in the last game, making us all sit around pointlessly for 10 minutes. 

M12 Draft Deck - Awesome Dudes

This deck was so much fun, so I decided I will do a full report on it (apologies that this makes the article quite long!).  The draft itself was actually very interesting, and started with a first pick Aegis Angel.  Yeah.... so how did I end up Red Black?  My 2nd pick was a Stormfront Pegasus, and then in the 3rd pick there were no good white cards available.  I begrudgingly took Gorehorn Minotaurs - I was worried because I'd already passed Incinerate followed by Blood Ogre, and this pack I was about to pass along also contained a Volcanic Dragon.  I was setting myself up for a fight in the 2nd pack if I went red, but it seemed to be open to me from the right.  The 4th pick had a tempting Cudgel Troll, but I took a Griffin Rider in the hopes that white may be open.  I then get passed a 5th pick Incinerate and decide red is worth the fight with my neighbour (I also passed reasonable blue early, so they may not be my immediate neighbour).  I get a Goblin Arsonist, Bonebreaker Giant, Manic Vandal, Crimson Mage and a late Goblin Fireslinger.

My pack 2, pick 1 seemed to be decidedly unhelpful.  The commons are all unexciting, with only a lonely Goblin Fireslinger being on colour.  Two of the uncommons are very good, but not red or white - Acidic Slime and Azure Mage.  My rare is Royal Assassin, so I decide to hate draft it.  The next pack contains Overrun, Goblin Arsonist and Wring Flesh.  I sigh at the Overrun, and look at the Wring Flesh for a minute - I begin think to myself about how the white cards had seemed to dry up quickly in pack 1, and maybe it was being overdrafted?  I consider abandoning white for black at this point, but I'm hesitant, and take the Goblin Arsonist.  The next pack has no white cards and 3 decent black cards, so the colour switch begins - I take Gravedigger over Devouring Swarm and Mind Rot, hoping one of them will come back.  Seeds of doubt are planted as I'm next passed an Assault Griffin, but I take Blood Ogre over it as I already have lots of bloodthirst enablers.  Through the rest of pack 2 I collect a Lava Axe, Zombie Goliath, Devouring Swarm, Goblin Tunneler and his friend Fiery Hellhound.

Pack 3 sent my deck over the edge into awesomeness, and rewarded me for paying attention to the signals.  I didn't open anything special myself - the rare was a dual land, there are no good uncommons, so I take a Gravedigger from the commons, hoping to wheel Goblin Fireslinger, Bloodrage Vampire or Devouring Swarm.  I proceed to be passed Bloodlord of Vaasgoth, followed by Flameblast Dragon! (I had to pass a Sengir Vampire for it - for some reason I only ever see this guy alongside something even bigger and badder).  Wow!  The fun continued as I take Call to the Grave, which seems great with my high creature count, 2 Gravediggers and 2 Goblin Arsonists.  I then take Trollhide and Plummet out of some packs with no goodies for me, then get Call to the Grave's best friend - Reassembling Skeleton.  I take a Mind Rot over Drifting Shade and Fiery Hellhound as I'm slightly worried about my lack of removal spells (kind of forgetting several of my creatures have removal attached).  I get the Fireslinger on the wheel that I'd hoped for, a second Fiery Hellhound, a Blood Seeker and a Slaughter Cry.

Building the deck was fairly straightforward.  The only big decision was between Slaughter Cry and Lava Axe.  I normally don't like Slaughter Cry that much but I was lacking in tricks and I had 19 creatures for it to be used with, so I put it in the main deck over the Lava Axe as my late game looked quite solid anyway.  Other notable sideboard cards were a 2nd Slaughter Cry and Manic Vandal. 

Round 1 - Vs. Black splashing Blue

Game 1 - I win the roll, choose to play and by turn 2 I have 3 creatures in play - 1 Goblin Fireslinger and 2 Goblin Arsonists.  His Child of Night was not very effective, when he attacked me with it I traded it for an Arsonist. I get some early damage in, make Blood Seeker and then Fiery Hellhound.  He trades his Devouring Swarm with Hellhound, and I make Royal Assassin.  Strangely he uses Wring Flesh to kill the remaining Goblin Arsonist.  His lands so far are all Swamps, so I expect some Drifting Shades and Consume Spirits to make an appearance eventually. Royal Assassin goes on the beatdown with the Blood Seeker while my Goblin pings away at him.  I make a Blood Ogre, and unsurprisingly it's spirit is consumed.  I make a 2nd Goblin Fireslinger then my following draws are all lands.  He begins to recover with Warpath Ghoul and 2 Child of Nights, but they can't attack because of the Royal Assassin, and between Blood Seeker triggers and Goblin pings he dies.

Game 2 - I'm wary of combat tricks against black decks (at this point I don't know he has blue spells too as he didn't make any Islands in game 1), so I sideboard my Slaughter Cry for Lava Axe.  He chooses to play.  I make a turn 1 Goblin Arsonist, which he Wring Fleshes in my end step.  This makes sense when his next 2 plays are Child of Nights.  My Reassembling Skeleton holds them off however.  On my turn 3 I Mind Rot away 2 lands from his hand, leaving him with 1 card.  This turns out to be another Wring Flesh - he kills my Skeleton in my end step and bashes in with the Children.  I don't draw a 4th land, but do draw an Incinerate.  I leave my mana open, ready to return my skeleton or use the Incinerate if I have to.  He bashes me for another 4, then makes Drifting Shade - I decide to dispatch it with the Incinerate as it may get very awkward to do so later (which was a silly mistake - I should have reasemled the skeleton so that he could be a blocker and then used Incinerate on my turn).  I draw my 4th land, so the decision is to either make a Gravedigger or just return the Skeleton - I decide I can take the hit down to 8 while he goes to 31, and I return my Skeleton in his end step.

I draw a 5th land and for some reason don't notice the Goblin Arsonist in my graveyard which would have been a good thing to Gravedigger up and play, and instead make a Zombie Goliath.  Thankfully he doesn't draw anything to deal with the Zombie, so I attack with it and make Devouring Swarm (again the Gravedigger would've been a better play!  So many mistakes, I could easily have lost this game but my deck looked after me and his just gave him lands...).  I draw my Flameblast Dragon, but with only 5 lands I attack with my Swarm and Zombie Goliath, and finally make the Gravedigger and get back the Arsonist and cast it.  He again doesn't do anything except make a land drop.  I sacrifice the Arsonist to my Swarm, killing one of his Child of Night, and attack with everything.  He trades his other Child with my Gravedigger, so I play my 2nd Gravedigger returning the 1st Gravedigger.  My Zombie Goliath is Consume Spirited, and he makes a Phantasmal Bear.  I draw my 6th land and attack with the Swarm and Gravedigger.  He doesn't block the Gravedigger because I will just get it back again with the Gravedigger he knows is in my hand.  I make my land and play Flameblast Dragon - I probably would've held onto it if I didn't have Devouring Swarm, but as I did I was protected from Mind Control.  He unluckily draws and plays another land - I attack back, killing the bear with the Dragon's ability before it can block, put him to 5 then finish him with Lava Axe.

Round 2 - Vs. UW

Round 1 was over pretty quickly, and we were the first to finish.  As each other pair finished, I had a quick look at their replays to spy on what my potential opponents were playing.  So, I knew that I was playing against a UW deck this round.

Game 1 - I get some early damage in, with both Goblin Fireslingers in play.  He plays a Pride Guardian then a Timely Reinforcements to buy time, I make Royal Assassin.  He plays a Siege Mastadon and then Serra Angel, which could be a problem - but I draw my 5th land for Bloodlord of Vaasgoth (easily a 6/6 with Goblin Fireslinger support).  He makes Stonehorn Dignitary and then a strange suicide attack, I wonder if he has Guardian's Pledge, but I call his bluff, block and kill almost all of his creatures and continue to ping him.  He soon dies to a couple of Bloodlord attacks plus pings.

Game 2 - I don't change my deck during sideboarding.  I'm on the play and I have to mulligan down to 5 cards due to a lack of land in the previous hands.  My hand is 2 swamps, a Gravedigger, Blood Ogre and Arsonist.  He starts out very quickly with a turn 1 Phantasmal Bear, but has nothing for turns 2 or 3.  I draw more swamps, and make a Devouring Swarm.  He tries to Ice Cage it, so I sacrifice it to itself so that I'll be able to get it back with the Gravedigger.  I draw a 4th swamp, so proceed with the plan, then trade the Gravedigger with the Bear when he attacks.  He makes a Phantasmal Dragon, so I pray that I draw a Mountain which will enable me to make my Devouring Swarm, Goblin Arsonist, and sacrifice it to kill the Phantasmal Dragon.   He adds an Assault Griffin to his board, and I fail to draw the Mountain in time.

Game 3 - For this game I decide to sideboard in a second Slaughter Cry as they are makeshift removal spells against my opponent's illusions.  I choose to play, and keep a pretty sweet hand with my Reassembling Skeleton + Call to the Grave combo, Goblin Tunneler, Gorehorn Minotaurs, 2 Swamps and a Mountain.  His turn 1 play of Elite Vanguard is stopped in it's tracks by the Skeleton.  My Tunneler allows me to send the Skeleton past his Vanguard and Banalish Veteran, and make a bloodthirsted Minotaur which holds his creatures off.  He plays Divination, and chump blocks my Minotaur with his Elite Vanguard.  I play Call to the Grave so he has to sacrifice his Veteran in his upkeep.  He made a valiant effort to stay alive, with Stonehorn Dignitary, Aether Adept, two Pacifisms, but I could just sacrifice and rebuy the skeleton, or sacrifice something Pacified and get it back with Gravediggers, and he didn't find a way to get back into the game. 

Round 3 - Vs BG with Grave Titan

Due to my spying on replays again, I knew my opponent had a Grave Titan I needed to watch out for.

Game 1 - I win the dice roll and go first.  I make a turn 1 Goblin Arsonist and he replies with a Llanowar Elves.  I attack on turn 2, and am a little surprised when he blocks with the elf.  I make a Goblin Fireslinger.  Things make sense when he makes a turn 2 Jade Mage.  I make a Fiery Hellhound, and he passes the turn with the 3 mana ready to make a Saproling.  I draw the Jade Mage's natural enemy, Blood Seeker.  I attack with my Fiery Hellhound as I suspect he doesn't want to trade his Jade Mage for it, and he also doesn't make a Saproling to chump block with.  I pump the unblocked Hellhound up to 4 power and then make the Blood Seeker, he makes a token while it's on the stack.  He makes a land and passes back.  I've got him down to 12 already and don't fancy trading my Hellhound with 2 tokens, so I just make Devouring Swarm and pass the turn.  He makes a Cudgel Troll, so attacking on the ground will now be very difficult.  I draw a Gravedigger, play it returning the Arsonist, make my Arsonist and sacrifice it to the Devouring Swarm and kill the Jade Mage (I don't want to die to any Overrun shenanigans, so I can't let him keep his Jade Mage), and I attack with the pumped up flier.  He's down to 7 and makes a strange suicide attack with both tokens and the Troll - I let the Troll through and eat his Saprolings with Gravedigger and Hellhound.  He then makes his Grave Titan, losing 3 life to my Bloodseeker in the process and then he conceeds as he is dead to my Fireslinger and Devouring Swarm.

Game 2 - Once again, due to my opponent's black mana and and likelihood to have instant speed removal, I sideboard the Slaughter Cry out to bring in Lava Axe.  He chooses to play first.  My opening hand is mostly red creatures and 2 swamps, but it also has one of my best black creatures, Royal Assassin, along with the one removal spell I have that handily deals with Trolls - Incinerate.  I will definitely be in the game if I draw a Mountain in 4 draw steps, so I keep it.

He makes a turn 2 Blood Seeker, and I get my Mountain right on time for turn 3, and make Blood Ogre.  He misses his 3rd land drop and passes the turn back, I reply with an attack, and I've drawn a 2nd Mountain so I play a Hellhound.  He finds a Forest and spends 2 turns playing Rampant Growths, while I attack him and make the Crimson Mage.  On my next attack he blocks the Hellhound with Blood Seeker and Titanic Growths it as I only have 2 Mountains so can't trade with it.  Unable to resist a 2 for 1, I Incinerate the Blood Seeker in response to the Titanic Growth.  I make a Goblin Arsonist post combat.  On his turn he makes a Sacred Wolf and a Duskhunter Bat.  I draw a Gravedigger, so I send in my whole team.  He trades the Wolf for the Hound, and the Bat for the Crimson Mage.  I Gravedigger back the Crimson Mage as he has nothing on the board and I have my other Hellhound in my hand anyway.

He makes a Cudgel Troll and Jade Mage, tapping out.  I draw my Reassembling Skeleton, which will go nicely with the Call to the Grave in my hand if the game goes that long.  I attack with the Goblin Arsonist, he can't block it because then I can kill the Jade Mage.  I play out the Crimson Mage and Skeleton.  He makes a Manalith and a Saproling token, and I draw another 5 drop - my Bloodlord of Vaasgoth.  I attack with my Arsonist, who once more gets through, dropping him to 7.  Post combat I make the Royal Assassin, give it haste with the Crimson Mage and then assassinate my own Arsonist, killing off the Jade Mage.  On his turn he casts Distress, and takes away the Bloodlord, leaving me with Call to Grave and Lava Axe - I think my opponent made a mistake there, as if I draw a 5th land the Lava Axe will guarantee that he dies next turn, which is exactly what happens.

This was one of the most synergistic decks I've drafted in a while, I go 3-0 with it and win the draft!   I love it when my decks have pieces that go together well rather than being just a pile of cards, which is often I think why I get frustrated by core set drafts compared to block drafts.  This was one of the fun exceptions.

Hopefully I'll be back to full health before the Innistrad prerelease, and my report of it will not be a horror story.... Until then, happy drafting!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Drafting M12 #4 - Rollercoaster of Success

Hey hey hey!

I've been quite a busy girl and have 4 drafts to bring you from the past week and a half.  The first two are my Nationals draft decks.

If you've never drafted in a high level event like Nationals, then let me tell you it's quite a different experience to drafting down the local pub or game shop.  All the cards are stamped, the foils removed from the packs, the packs are labelled and the draft is timed and they call out announcements like "You have 20 seconds to make a pick".  There's definitely no talking, peeking at  your neighbour's picks or looking at your pile between picks, you just get a brief period to review between packs.  Then you have to go and sit in silence (away from other people in your drafting pod) and record all your picks and your deck onto a deck registration sheet. 

Here is my first disaster of a draft deck:

M12 Draft Deck - Here Be Dragons

The packs in our pod felt a little odd somehow.  I started this draft quite solidly with 2 Doomblades, Stingerfling Spider then a Volcanic Dragon.  Then I couldn't decide what was open - definitely not blue or white, and the picks were all quite weak in the other 3 colours.  At the end of the pack I thought perhaps I was going to wind up green red splashing the Doomblades and Deathmark for the sideboard, although I'd picked up some mediocre black cards.  In pack 2 I opened Flameblast Dragon and got passed Furyborn Hellkite.  I got an Acidic Slime too then there were no more green cards to be found except for Titanic Growths.  I scrabbled around collecting quite poor black and red cards and artifacts.  There was pleanty of good green being passed in pack 3 but I felt like I had to stick to whatever black and red cards I could find now or I'd just make it worse.  I managed to get just enough playables for a red black deck in the end, but the pile certainly looked quite miserable.

When I built the deck I stuck to two colours because I thought the deck looked like it would have enough trouble without me splashing green for Stingerfling Spider, Carnage Wurm (and up to 3 Vastwood Gorgers!  Joking....), but on reflection I think I should have gambled.  Two Flings are hardly what you want to be playing when you only have 11 creatures.  My red and black sideboard options were Manic Vandal (which I didn't want to run main deck as I had 3 artifacts)  and a second Deathmark.  So my entire deck's plan was survive to 6 mana, make a dragon and win with it....

Round 5 (we'd already played 4 rounds of constructed that day, I was at 2-2) - I faced the person who had been to my right in the draft.  He was also black red which helps to explain why my deck ended up so poor.  His deck was also quite weak and I won game 1 with an agressive draw of Goblin Piker into bloodthirsted up Bloodrage Vampire then some removal and Flameblast Dragon, blazing him in the head.  I sided out my Deathmark for Manic Vandal.  Games 2 and 3 I did not draw as well as the first game, no dragons came out to play and I lost.

Round 6 - I got a bye, which I felt quite relieved by as it had been a long day, I was tired and I knew my deck wasn't very good - I wandered around the venue, had a cup of tea and got some cards signed by Greg Staples.

Round 7 - It was back to action stations.  This round was against Stephen Murray, a very good pro level player, so I knew I'd be up for a tough time.  He's drafted a green blue beat down deck splashing black.  In game 1 I get crushed by Cudgel Trolls and Frost Breaths.  I board in my 2nd Deathmark over a Fling.

Game 2 almost goes the same way as game 1.  He has a Cudgel Troll on board to my Rusted Sentinel and Bloodrage Vampire and we're hitting each other.  I Distress him and see Unsummon, Frost Breath and Garruk's Horde.  I take away the Unsummon as I have Doomblade and Reverberate in hand.  If he taps out for the Horde and there is no creature on top of his deck then I can kill both his creatures.  He does not tap out, drawing more land before making his Horde.  Thankfully for me there's just a Forest on top.  I Doom Blade the Horde, and when he goes for the Frostbreath to win, I Reverberate it, keeping his Troll tapped, and I can make my Zombie Goliath as a blocker.  My sad deck manages to win a game without a dragon on the back of some tight play!

Game 3 I unfortunately get quite unlucky.  I Distress on turn 2, he has a Forest, a bunch of blue cards including an Unsummon, Solemn Simulacrum and a Plummet (he has a Swamp and Forest in play).  My hand contains both Flameblast and Volcanic Dragon, so I take the Plummet as if he doesn't draw out of the bad hand it's the only thing he has that definitely interacts with me.  Unfortunately for me I just draw swamps to go with my one mountain.  By the time I find a second red source he's drawn out of it and I'm staring at two Cudgel Trolls I can't kill with my removal spells.

After these games I went out for Chinese with a selection of the Oxford and Milton Keynes players.  I was in two minds as to whether I wanted to play the next day, and decided to sleep on it.  In the morning I chose to stay in the tournament and do the next draft because for some reason I find the stern timed drafts fun, and I enjoy the hard competition.

Here is my draft deck from day two:

M12 Draft deck - Quad Grenade

This one had gone much better and I was very excited to play my matches.  I can't quite remember much from the draft (it was an early start...), but I do remember being ecstatic when a Goblin Piker wheeled and taking goblin cards over better cards in packs 2 and 3.

My draft pod only had 7 players, and one of them is my fellow Oxford player James Cleak.  He was hoping for the bye, we both go to the pairings board...

Round 8 - I got the bye.  Oh well....

Round 9 - After some wandering around and more coffee I get to play.  My opponent has a black blue deck.  In game 1 I am crushed by Frost Titan.  I board in a pair of Combusts over Deathmark and Lightning Elemental and hope he doesn't draw the Titan again.  Game 2 I get some goblins out, kill his things and throw a grenade at his head.  Game 3 was depressing.  We have a good start to the game, trading our creatures.  I have a Goblin Fireslinger that's furiously pinging him and he has a Warpath Ghoul left.  I draw 9 of my 16 lands and miserably die to the 3/2. :-(

Round 10 - James is definitely looking good for getting the bye this round - but someone has dropped and we're paired against each other.  Poor James!  Of course my deck curves out like a dream, firing grenades at his head and crushes his green white deck 2-0.  Sorry James!

3-3 is definitely a sad Nationals draft record, especially when two of those wins were byes.  I was certainly hoping to do better than that!  I played the last 4 constructed rounds as none of the side events were that appealing and I enjoyed playing my Bant Pod deck.  I went 2-2 in those, putting my final record at 7-7.  I came 56th and won 4 booster packs for my troubles.  At least I got to feel very excited for one of my Milton Keynes friends, Kevin Blake, who made top 8!  We went out to celebrate with pizza and cider :-)


My First Magic Online Draft

I've recently got a magic online account.  I did intend to do some drafts on there to practice for Nationals but didn't find time to actually do one.  I'd done a bit of playing in the new players room to get used to the interface and F keys.  My friend Tom had also come round and we did a couple of drafts together on his account so he could show me how it worked.  Wednesday evening was quiet, so I decided to give drafting on there a go by myself.

I entered a swiss queue because I'm not feeling that confident with the interface yet and didn't want to play in an 8-4 and get knocked out of the first round due to stupid user error :-)  This is the deck I drafted:

M12 Draft Deck - My First MODO Draft

It was a very sweet deck and for some reason that Flameblast Dragon I opened in pack 2 really loved me - it was in almost every opening hand!

Round 1 - This was against a blue black deck.  Game 1 I mulliganned to 6, stalled on mana a bit but got some goblins in play and attacking.  He had a Tormented Soul and Drifting Shade.  I mistimed my Stave Off when he went to put Dark Favour on his Shade - if I was less of a noob I would have done it after it had resolved so that he lost one life.  This mistake almost cost me the game as I had Goblin Arsonist in play, Lava Axe in hand and he was on 7 life..... doh!  I got there in the end with a Firey Hellhound trading up to Sengir Vampire followed by Volcanic Dragon and the Axe - I never got around to making the Flameblast Dragon.  Magic Online didn't record the next game but from memory I got an aggressive start and made a bloodthirsted Gorhorn Minotaur.  He Mindcontrolled it, but I made another one so they just stared at each other while I pinged him with a Goblin Fireslinger and attacked with Griffin Sentinel.  I eventually drew my Stave Off to remove the Mindcontrol and had an overwhelming board that killed him.

Round 2 - There are no recorded videos from this round, but it was against a green blue deck.  He seemed to have infinite Merfolk Looters, and both games he had Plummet for my Flameblast Dragon :-(

Round 3 - This was against a red blue deck wih Crumbling Colossuses, Lightning Elementals and Flings.  I didn't see any of this game 1, as I stormed out of the gates super fast and won on turn 6 with Shocks to spare.  Game 2 was a little slower as I killed him on turn 7, not even needing the Lava Axe in my hand.

2-1 wasn't bad at all, I really liked this deck's ability to suddenly put the game away, with the back up plan of slowly pinging the opponent to death.

The next day was draft night, here is Thursday's creation:

M12 Draft Deck - Bloody Ogres

Now this is a good red black deck!  I was in the 8 man pod.  Four other players at the table were all also drafting red, but it didn't seem to harm me much - they were on the other side of the table to me sitting in a row, and we'd apparently opened a ridiculous amount of good red cards.

Round 1 - This was against Mikey P, who had also drafted a red black bloodthirst deck.  I knew there were probably some Gorehorn Minotaurs out there somewhere, and I suspected he had some of them so I planned to play around them as best I could by trading my creatures with his in the early game.  Game 1 did not start well as I mulliganned to 5 cards on the play.  I keep a one lander with some guys and recover by drawing land.  Unfortunately for Mike he also draws lands and floods quite badly.  I get him to 5 then Axe him.

Game 2 I had pleanty of creatures in hand and I suspected he had a Minotaur as he sent his 2/1 men into mine.  I trade them happily.  Mike makes a non-bloodthirsted Minotaur which I Outrage while dropping a Fireslinger, then he follows up with Volcanic Dragon which attacks me.  I cover the table with bloodthirsted Ogre, Berserker and Bloodrage Vampire.  Mike attacks, and makes some 1/1s, I attack and he blocks in such a way that he drops to 5.... I have the Axe again, winning 2-0.

Round 2 - Nick is another red drafter, he has a nice green red deck with lots of beefy creatures and removal.  In game 1 he mulligans to 6, I flood a bit, all of my creatures are Chandra's Outraged and his men stamp me to death.

For game 2 I side in Mind Rot over Manic Vandal as I haven't seen any artifacts from him and if I'm lucky I can nab a couple of fatties straight out of his hand before he has the mana to cast them.  I get a good curve-out draw and Mind Rot him even though he has 4 cards in hand.  This is apparently very awkward for him, as "dammit" is the exclamation to what he draws next turn.  The game is over pretty quickly as he finds no resistance to put up against my creatures' attacks.

Game 3 - Nick mulligns to 6 while I keep a spicy hand with Act of Treason and Devouring Swarm.  Things turn out very well for me as Nick makes Grim Lavamancer.  I don't attack as he would be able to trade his Runeclaw Bear for my Goblin Piker and then get 2 cards in his graveyard.  I Act of Treason the Lavamancer, putting myself to 2 cards in the graveyard, use it to kill his Runeclaw Bear then sacrifice it to the Devouring Swarm.  This is far too devastating to his board position and I win 2-1.

Round 3 - John with his GW(r) deck.  I'd seen John's deck in action as everyone had been waiting for his duel versus Simon's UW control deck to finish before we could get on with the last round.  I knew he had a Stingerfling Spider, Carnage Wurm, Timely Reinforcements and Pentavus.  I'd also seen he had a swamp, so was quite confused when he made a mountain in our games - at the end he told me it was because he swapped his splash from red to black for a Deathmark against the UW deck.

Game 1 was a very silly game indeed.  John mulliganed to 6, and I kept a two land hand with lots of 3 drops.  I stall on land drops for a couple of turns but make both of my Bloodseekers.  He has a Druidic Satchel, and I'm quite sad that I can't make the Manic Vandal in hand to destroy it straight away.  He gets a saproling to block with at the cost of 2 life, revealing Arachnus Spinner.  That comes out and a Arachnus Web shuts down my Goblin Fireslinger.  I eventually draw some more swamps and Manic Vandal the Satchel and play out Devouring Swarm and Drifting Shade.  He Acidic Slimes my Mountain and due to this distraction I forget to drain him for 2 which is really, really stupid of me.  I attack with my fliers, he has to block the Devouring Swarm with his Spinner otherwise I can sacrifice my board to pump it up and kill him.  This means I can pump the shade up and put him to 2 life.  He then makes the world's least effective Warstorm Surge :-)  I have lots of red cards that could finish him off trapped in my hand, and eventually I draw the Mountain I need to Shock him in the head.

Game 2 I board in a Combust over Drifting Shade as he has white fliers and lots of spiders to kill the shade with.  It was a much quicker and less silly game - he mulligans, and I curve out with bloodthirted guys and removal for his creatures.  I chump block a strange attack with my Goblin tunneler as I suspect he has his Carnage Wurm which would be a reasonable clock if bloodthirsted (I'm on 22 life), and indeed he does have it, but without it's extra power it's just too slow.  I win 2-0.

It was a good feeling to go 3-0 again - feels like it's been a while!  Next week normal draft service should resume - there should be less content to go through and I can go into more depth.  Hope you enjoyed reading about my rollercoaster of lows and highs.

Happy drafting!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Drafting M12 #3 - A whole bunch of drafts

Hey hey hey!

It's been a while since my last blog post.  Between helping out on a scout camp for a week, testing for nationals and going to parties I haven't found the time to write about my last few drafts.  I will cover the last 3 drafts at my local club in Oxford and summarise what I learnt from them.

M12 Draft Deck - Underrun

This draft didn't go so well.  I opened an Overrun and with nothing else interesting in the pack I ran with it.  I wheeled 3 Rampant Growths all in pack 1, so I was set up to play all the fatties and splash any removal spells I saw.

Unfortunately someone else took all of the large green creatures we opened apart from one lowly Vastwood Gorger.  And to add to my misfortune the only removal I saw in the entire draft was one Shock and one Pacifism.  The resulting pile kind of looked ok - I had a lot of creatures and I had my Overrun, but I was seriously lacking in the department of being able to interact with my opponent.  When playing the deck I kind of just made men and felt a little helpless.

Round 1 - I was stamped by Alwyn's RB bloodthirst deck with lots of removal for my guys, which topped out with a 12/12 dragon.  A sudden 7 drop was definitely a surprise out of his deck full of cheap spells.

Round 2 - I played against another RB bloodthirsty deck made by Ben, he had lots of enablers and rather less removal.  He won quickly in the first game, in the second game I powered out my Vastwood Gorger and beat him up with it.  The third game was incredibly frustrating.  I'd boarded in Circle of Flame which held him off from being able to attack me with anything, then proceeded to draw my Overrun and almost all of my lands.  Eventually he cast Consume Spirit at my face twice and I died.

Round 3 - I got paired with James's BW deck.  Unfortunatlely for James I found my Overrun game 1, and had my Shock ready when he tried to put Angelic Destiny on one of his small creatures in game 2, so I won the last round. 

1 - 2 is definitely not where I want to be in any draft.  I think my deck did have some problems and I didn't draw very well so it was understandable after some analysis.  I was very impressed by Jade Mage, it would have been sweet to have had my Adaptive Automaton set to "Saproling" at the same time.

So, next week - another draft.

M12 Draft Deck - Tricksy

At the end of this draft it was obvious I'd drafted too many tricks and not enough dudes.  In my sideboard was a second Unsummon, 2 more Stave Off, Guardian's Pledge and a Celestial Purge.  I'd mistakenly passed up on an Armored Warhorse and a Coral Merfolk that would have made my deck much better in order to take things like Turn to Frog and Celestial Purge (Turn to Frog may work sometimes, but in my deck it turned out to be a waste of space, being quite dead against Drifting Shades and Bloodthirsted dudes - I kept on boarding in my 2nd Unsummon instead).  In the end only 12 creatures can actually attack (and the looters don't really want to), so playing Swiftfoot Boots and Spirit Mantle was probably also a mistake.

Round 1 - Anthony had drafted a UG deck this week.  In game 1 I got some attacks in with some of my fliers, but he had Jade Mage out.  You guessed it.... Overrun for the win to him.  In game 2 Anthony mulligans, is a bit mana screwed and I get him with some attackers before he can draw out of it.  In game 3 we have a stupid fight over my Looter as he bounces it and I recast it due to having nothing better to do.  I have a choice to either bounce his Giant Spider and Mana Leak it on the way back down, or to do this to his Chasm Drake.  I do it to the Spider then regret this decision as all of my fliers get Plummeted and Stingerfling Spidered and he kills me in the air.

Round 2 - My nemesis Rob has drafted a BW midrangey deck which should be good at grinding out any long games with multiple Gravediggers.  In game 1 I mulligan to 5 and keep a 1 lander, and don't draw any more until it is far too late.  In game 2 we both mulligan to 6 cards.  I make a Looter, he Sorin's Thirsts it, then I make Jace's Archivist.  I Unsummon his creature then use the Archivist in his draw step, discarding my one card and his 6 and am greeted by a pile of Griffins (and apparently he just gets some lands)... teehee.  The large card advantage is enough to win that one.  In game 3 I again make a Looter and he kills it.  I top deck the Archivist again and proceed to win.  My nemesis has found his cardboard nemesis apparently :-)

Round 3 - Alwyn has also drafted UG.  In game 1 he plays Garruk, Primal Hunter.  Oh-oh.... I manage to kill Garruk from 6 counters by Turn to Froging his Chasm Drake, Mighty Leaping my Arbalest Elite and attacking Garruk with that and my Aegis Angel.  Then I die to beast tokens...  In game 2 I draw my perfect curve-out agressive draw (which felt very powerful - I am sure UW aggro is a good deck if drafted properly!), and all he does is make a Greatsword and Throne of Empires.  In game 3 I get to meet his other mythic rare - Primordial Hydra.  I Unsummon it when it starts to get out of hand, but he correctly reads that I have Mana Leak and refuses to replay it until he can pay the extra 3 mana.  My attacks are halted by a Stingerfling Spider, and despite my Looting I fail to find one of my other bounce spells to stop the 16/16 trampling Hydra from killing me.

Again a 1-2 performance, things were not going too well.  It was unfortunate that there were so many mythics and Stingerfling Spiders out there to get me, but there was a fundamental problem with my deck (not enough attacking creatures) so I place the blame on myself.  It might have helped if my Roc Eggs ever got broken - they either looked up helplessly at a flier beating me up, or were Pacifismed or covered in Arachnus Web. I definitely learnt not to overvalue cute tricks over solid 2 drop creatures this draft.

And now we come to last Thursday's draft deck.

Draft Deck - High 5

As you can see, this deck looked much sweeter than the last two, and I loved my deck's removal and top end creatures.  There were good blue cards also available to my seat, but I sort of forced the red as I'd already drafted WU twice and I wanted to experience some more variety in archetypes.  I was a little unlucky in the draft to not see more red creatures with Bloodthirst, but it was a 6 man pod so I assume we just didn't open that many.  One of my hardest picks in the draft was the one booster that did contain two Bloodthirst creatures.  I agonised between the Gorehorn Minotaurs and Stormblood Berserker, eventually choosing the Berserker because I had lots of enablers and it was easier to cast, and I couldn't think if I had enough cheap creatures at the time in my pile.  I think this was a mistake though - at the end, I had loads of two drops and only 1 four drop.  Even with plenty of enablers the Berserkers are very tricky to get as a 3/3 on turn 2, and the Minotaurs would have made much more of an impact on the board.

Round 1 - This round was against a UR deck drafted by Niels.  I'd never played him before (though I think he may have been to the prerelease), and I'd been feeding him very good blue cards in the draft - I knew he had at least 2 Aether Adepts.  I'm not sure how he ended up with red as his second colour though!  In game 1 he gets stuck with 2 land in play and my deck punishes him with a quick kill.  In game 2 I mulligan to 6.  This game was pretty cool - there was a stand-off between his Flameblast Dragon (now the red made sense!) and my Archon of Justice.  Thankfully he does not have the land + Unsummon to kill me, and he has to attack into the Archon and trade in order to use his dragon's blaze to kill my Stormfront Pegasus which is merrily flying down a goblin's tunnel at him.  I play some more men and kill him.

Round 2 - Time for another game against my nemesis Rob.  Rob's drafted a BR bloodthirst deck.  Game 1 was a sorry affair as he's not that quick out of the gates but I mulligan to 6 then get stuck on 2 land for ages.  I die before I can draw my 5th land for my Archon.  I go to my sideboard for a little help - he is even more agressive than me and all his men are pathetically small in general and his removal is for small creatures.  So I side in 2 Bonebreaker Giants and side out one Goblin Tunneler and the Goblin War Paint as I've seen instant speed removal from him.  Game 2 goes according to plan - he gets some early damage in, but I make some blockers and hold on to my Pacifism - I'm rewarded when I get to put it on something that matters, his Sengir Vampire.  He Combusts my Archon (so I get to remove one of his ground guys), and I have follow ups of Serra Angel and Bonebreaker Giant.  Game 3 I mulligan to 6 again.  I then make a terrible mistake by not listening to all the advice I'd read about going against your nature when playing against bloodthirst.  I should have traded my better Stormfront Pegasus for his lowly 1/1 Duskhunter Bat when it attacked.  The game spirals out of control as I can't do anything about his pumped Blood Ogre.  Again I would have been saved if I could have drawn a 5th land to make a big blocker, but I failed to buy myself the time by not making the Bat for Pegasus trade.

Round 3 - Conan (the littlest Barbarian!) and his GW enchantments deck.  Conan is a young player, but he's definitely learning very well.  I win quite quickly (although it's a good job my Lawkeeper made an appearance to deal with his Stingerfling Spider wearing Divine Favour and a Trollhide!).  We play a few friendly games and I help to give him some strategy advice, and Rob teaches him how to keep a land he doesn't need in his hand for bluffing.  He takes me down handily in our last friendly game with a very terrifying enchanted Sacred Wolf :-)

2 - 1 is good, and I learnt the hard way how important "bad blocking" is against RB bloodthirst. 

So that's it for live drafts before Nationals.  I hope you too may have learnt something from my mixed experiences.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Drafting M12 #2 - Saved by Pack 3

Hey hey hey!

It's time for another M12 draft report.  We draft each week in Oxford on Thursday.  Usually around 12 people show up but this week we were in for a surprise.  Perhaps it was the excitement of a new core set to draft - 20 people showed up to play!

Our TO decided to run two 10 man pods.  Thankfully we had most of our usual area of the pub to ourselves so there was space to set up two large tables.  To my right was a new face - an Austrian who is in Oxford just for a short while and had found out where the local magic scene was.  I'd chatted to him a bit before the draft, but I didn't know how experienced he was at drafting.  To my left was Sera, a casual player who doesn't usually draft, but comes to most of the prereleases.  I knew she has a preference for aggresive decks.

My opening pick was the solid icy-manipulator-on-a-stick Gideon's Lawkeeper, passing the interesting Adaptive Automaton.  Artifacts are appealing as a first pick as they are colourless, but Gideon's Lawkeeper is clearly the stronger card.  The second pick was Pacifism over Assault Griffin and Dungrove Elder.  For my third pick I got more confirmation that I am correct to be in white - a foil Honor of the Pure.  I was now on a mission to draft an aggressive white deck. 

I picked up a Banalish Veteran and a Guardian's Pledge, but I couldn't figure out what my second colour was supposed to be (appart from realising it was not red - this was definitely being drafted to my right).  I got a late Merfolk Looter and an Unsummon, then the blue disappeared entirely.  There were some decent black cards in the last few picks, including an incredibly late Onyx Mage which I passed in preference for Stave Off as it was something I'd definitely be playing.

I entered pack 2 with an open mind to my second colour - I was hopeful that I'd sent some good signals downstream and that I'd get some good white cards.  I opened a Serra Angel (sadly having to wave goodbye to a Stormfront Pegasus) and pick 2 was another Lawkeeper.  I was then passed a pack with a tempting Incinerate, but I was wary of going red as I wouldn't be getting any pack 3, so instead I took an interesting white card that I wanted to try out - Timely Reinforcements.  The Limited Resources podcast had decided that Timely Reinforcements was not good as it only helps you when you are behind, but I wasn't convinced by their arguments and wanted to try it out in practice.  Pick 4 was a non-exciting but perfectly servicable Peregrine Griffin.

Unfortunately this is where the draft appeared to go have gone wrong.  After pick 4 I saw no white cards passed to me for about 6 picks.  I couldn't figure out what had happened - did we open no white cards?  Had someone to my left opened an awesome card in white and moved into it?    I ended up taking some black cards, but I was not happy - in core sets I don't like pairing white with black unless one of the colours is a splash, as they both tend to be very coloured-mana hungry.  Devouring Swarm, Duskhunter Bat, Consume Spirit and a couple of Wring Flesh were not exactly good splash cards.  Later in the picks I found a Stonehorn Dignitary, which I wasn't sure of the playability of, and a Siege Mastadon.  Hmmmm......  I wasn't feeling very confident that I'd get enough playables out of pack 3, and the plan of drafting cheap white creatures hadn't panned out at all. 

My 3rd pack was less than helpful.  The rare was a RG dual land, the only white card in the pack was Lifelink, and there wasn't a good black card there either.  Frown town.  The two best cards in the pack were Fireball and Overrun.  Obviously Fireball is splashable and Overrun is not, so I passed the green bomb to my left to a shriek of delight from Sera.  But then it was time for my shriek of delight (although it was inside my head rather than out loud) - hiding behind a perfectly acceptable Assault Griffin I saw a Frost Titan staring back at me.  I decided that my second colour was now blue!  After the Frost Titan a constant stream of good white creatures came to my draft pile, along with a Jace's Archivist.

This is the deck I put together -

M12 Draft Deck - I Am the Law

3 x Gideon's Lawkeeper
1 x Stave Off
1 x Unsummon
1 x Honor of the Pure
1 x Pacifism
1 x Stormfront Pegasus
1 x Merfolk Looter
1 x Banalish Veteran
2 x Griffin Sentinel
1 x Guardian's Pledge
1 x Roc Egg
1 x Timely Reinforcements
1 x Jace's Archivist
1 x Arbalest Elite
1 x Stonehorn Dignitary
1 x Peregrine Griffin
1 x Serra Angel
1 x Siege Mastadon
1 x Frost Titan
1 x Fireball
8 x Plains
7 x Island
2 x Mountain

Sideboard Cards of note:

2 x Auramancer
1 x Griffin Rider
1 x Pride Guardian
1 x Alluring Siren

My deck looked slightly at odds with itself in some respects, as I had some very controlling cards in there (plan A: Survive until we can cast our Titan) and also some very aggressive cards.  I wouldn't usually run a Guardian's Pledge in a controlling deck, but given I had 13 white creatures it seemed like it would range from a decent combat trick to a mini-overrun.  I decided against running the Auramancers main as Pacifism ending up in the graveyard isn't the most likely of occurances, and Griffin Rider was destined for the sideboard as I only had 3 griffin creatures. 

Some of the cards I wasn't 100% sure about by just looking at them (Stonehorn Dignitary, Timely Reinforcements, and Jace's Archivist).  If nothing else I was going to learn a lot about these by giving them a go.

Onto the games!

Round 1

The first round I am paired to Sera who I was feeding for the whole draft, so I knew she would be in green - mono green as it turned out.  She certainly didn't keep it a secret, telling me all about the second Elvish Archdruid she'd been passed from the other direction to go with the one I'd passed to her, and how she'd been proritising hexproof creatures.  She won the roll and took the play, this could be rough...

Game 1 - What I did was completely irrelevant as she went Runeclaw Bear, bloodthirsted Lurking Crocodile, 2nd Runeclaw Bear, Sacred Wolf, Overrun.....  I am feeling very sad that I didn't pick up a random Negate or Cancel for sideboarding purposes.  My thoughts when sideboarding were that I need men on the table asap to trade with hers and I can't afford to stumble with my mana.  So I sided in Pride Guardian as it is good vs bears, taking out my Guardian's Pledge.  I also wanted to swap an island for a plains so I swapped in an Auramancer for Jace's Archivist as it would be easier to cast.

Game 2 - I am again under pressure early as I decline to chump block a Runeclaw Bear with my Merfolk Looter, and down comes the island-walking crocodile all bloodthirsted up again.  However this time I keep the crocodile under control with a Lawkeeper.  Things start to get interesting when she makes her Dungrove Elder with 5 forests, and I loot up Frost Titan.  She doesn't find the 6th forest, but does make a Sacred Wolf.  I attack into them with Frosty - I have Stave Off in hand so if she double blocks it will be a blow out.  She doesn't block and I make a Roc Egg and Pride Guardian.  The Elder smashes the Egg, and the bird token is proptly eaten by a Stingerfling Spider.  The game continues, I find some more fliers and won the game in the air.

Game 3 - I mulligan to a hand that doesn't have a 2-drop, but it has the lands the previous hand was lacking and also a great catch-up card in Timely Reinforcements.  They were very timely indeed as her start was Gladecover Scout turn 1, then another Scout and a Llanowar Elves turn 2.  My soldiers happily traded for the elves, thank goodness one of the two Archdruids weren't around!  The rest of the game played out very similarly to game 2, both Frost Titan and Dungrove Elder showed up, and again I won: 2-1.

Hexproof creatures were a bit of an achilies heal for my deck, and I was relieved only one game had been decided by Overrun.

Round 2

My Nemesis!!!!  Rob and I have a friendly rivalry at the Oxford club, we seem to take it in turns at beating each other.  This was going to be a UW mirror match, he was opposite to me in the big 10 man drafting circle and had gotten all the Assault Griffins I'd been forced to pass for better cards.  Rob wins the dice roll and chooses to play.  Boooooooo.

Game 1 - I keep a slightly risky hand as there is an Island and a Mountain but no Plains, but there is a perfect curve there and I'm on the draw so I risk it.  Like a champ my first draw is the hoped-for Plains.  He beats me down in the air early, but I find some Lawkeepers, Griffins and Serra Angel and take over the game.

Game 2 - This game demonstrated how Timely Reinforcements is pretty awesome on the draw, when I have a Merfolk Looter to his Azure Mage and Alabaster Mage, then suddenly I have a whole army.  The tokens stop Azure Mage and Alabaster Mage from being able to attack.  Jace's Archivist also made an appearance in this game and was probably my MVP.  Rob couldn't really use his Azure Mage very effectively because if he spent 4 mana to draw a card at convenient times like my end step, then I would just draw a card as well but for only a single blue mana.  I win 2-0 (must have been my turn to win this week).

Round 3

My opponent Anthony's reconnaisance had completly put him on tilt as he'd already decided it was a forgone conclusion he could not beat my deck with his UR deck.  It's true that his illusion creatures were going to probably die at the hands of my triple lawkeepers, but I told him to stop sulking, it is not a winning attitude.  But I could tell his heart was not in it at all. 

I Titaned him to death in the first game, he sided out his illusions.  In game 2 he mulliganned but had Merfolk Looter to undo some of the damage.  After he mana leaked my Fireball, I drew my Titan again.  I feel fortunate to have drawn Frost Titan a bit more than was likely and I win 2-0.

My 9 points got me 3 prize pack, and I played pack wars with Rob where he got his revenge.  There was another pack wars with my boyfriend Geoffrey when I got home.  One of those packs contained new Jace, who is definitely not good in pack wars!  (I think I will have to give him a try at some point when I'm testing constructed to see what he's like in UW control).

I did get in a few friendly games during the evening between rounds, so I got some play time with some of the cards I was unsure about.  Here are some thoughts on those:

Timely Reinforcements - This card was very good for me almost every time I had it, and when it was not useful having it in my hand didn't really feel like a bad thing - it was like an emergency back-up plan.  I think it was especially good with Gideon's Lawkeeper, because if their threat is getting tapped they'll have to make a 2nd threat, and it had added strength in my particular deck because of the two white creature pump cards I had.  It may not be as awesome if you have a deck that does not have these things.  However I think even an aggressive white deck may want to run it, because a lot of the decks in M12 will also be aggressive, so on the draw it is quite likely for you to have one creature and for your opponent to have 2.

Stonehorn Dignitary - This guy turned out to be pretty useful.  He's hardly amazing, but he allowed me to spend my mana on getting another warm body onto the table rather than on activating my Lawkeepers, without any worry that I would be smacked in the face by something suddenly wearing an equipment or enchantment, or by a certain uncommon hasty dragon.  The Dignitary's 4 toughness was pretty nice, and he was fine at sitting around until an alpha strike.

Jace's Archivist - Worst case scenario: you have a 2/2 beater because there is awesome stuff in your hand you can't cast yet.  Best case scenario: you dump your hand out first and get to draw a bunch of cards and annoy your opponent.  He was pretty interesting to play with, and when you've both run out of cards he can be used at the end of your opponents draw step to draw a card for yourself for 1 blue.  He practically shuts down Azure mage and overall I thought he was pretty damn good.

Fireball - I wonder if I've been overrating this card and if splashing red for it was too greedy.

Format Speed - As anticipated the format is pretty fast, the only draw I saw happen was a game where one of the players was very inexperienced and played slowly.

That's it from me this time, I would be very interested to read in the comments about other people's experiences with the cards I went through at the end.

Happy Drafting!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Drafting M12 #1 - The Prerelease Draft

Hey hey hey!

This is my very first blog post.  My name is Laura Dawes, I'm 28, I'm a computer game artist and I live in Oxford, England.  I've been thinking of making a blog about my favourite game, Magic: The Gathering, for some time now.  As M12 is being released this weekend it seems like a good time to start.

I've been drafting since the original Mirrodin block, so I'm a very experienced drafter, and probably the person my local crew least like to be paired against ;-)  Becoming good at drafting seems to me to be a combination of a lot of practice, learning from your mistakes and keeping on top of what others are experiencing the particular format to be like.  For anyone looking to get better at drafting, I highly recommend watching draft walkthroughs on Channelfireball.com, and listening to the Limited Resources Podcast on Mtgcast.com

I'll be drafting M12 quite a lot in the upcoming weeks as I've qualified again this year for the Great British Nationals, and it is the set we'll be playing for the two drafts in the tournament.  I'm going to attempt to document all of my M12 practice drafts and hope that there are some lessons to be gained from them.  I'll definitely try to draft as many different archetypes as I can and see how they perform.

So, the first opportunity to draft of course happens at the Prerelease, which was last Sunday for us.  In preperation I'd managed to listen to most of the 3 hour long Limited Resources set reveiw, which was again a good one (although I did disagree on some of the card evaluations, but I won't get into that now).  The most important observation was that M12 is likely to be a faster format than M11 was.   The reason that M12 is likely to be faster is the return of the bloodthirst mechanic and all of it's enablers.  Another thing they had said is that the power level of blue seems much weaker than in M11 - but given how powerful blue was in M11 I wasn't about to avoid drafting it altogether in M12.

The first pick, first pack, first M12 draft - Mind Control is sitting there, asking me to show how awesome blue still can be.  The rare was Druidic Satchel, which looks like a pretty useful and interesting card to me.  But Mind Control effects are always great in limited, especially in core sets where "Bomb" creatures are so powerful.  I was passed some good red cards and blue did not dry up.  I got some very late pick Skywinder Drakes and I opened a Fireball in the 2nd pack.  I ended up with a solid looking pile of removal, creatures with evasion, bloodthirst creatures and a couple of bloodthirst enablers.

I also succumbed to a little bit of silliness during this draft (it was the prerelease after all).  In the middle of the 1st pack I took a Crown of Empires as there was nothing good in the pack, and a bad Icy Manipulator is still an Icy Manipulator.  In the 2nd pack I got a 12th pick Scepter of Empires, and in the 3rd pack I was passed a 3rd pick Throne of Empires!  Was I going to be able to assemble the Empires machine?  Given my Ponder and 2 Merfolk Looters I decided to give it a go!

Here was my finished deck and relevant sideboard cards:

Draft Deck - Fallen Empires

1 x Goblin Arsonist
2 x Goblin Fireslinger
1 x Ponder
1 x Unsummon
1 x Crown of Empires
1 x Incinerate
2 x Merfolk Looter
1 x Blood Ogre
1 x Scepter of Empires
3 x Skywinder Drake
2 x Aven Fleetwing
1 x Chandra's Outrage
2 x Gorehorn Minotaurs
1 x Throne of Empires
1 x Chasm Drake
1 x Mind Control
1 x Volcanic Dragon
1 x Fireball
1 x Buried Ruin
7 x Island
8 x Mountain

Sideboard Cards:

1 x Bonebreaker Giant
1 x Cancel
1 x Fling
1 x Frost Breath
1 x Lava Axe
1 x Phantasmal Bear
1 x Tectonic Rift
1 x Unsummon
1 x Wall of Torches

If I wasn't in a silly prerelease mood I think I would have run the Unsummon and Lava Axe, Fling or Bonebreaker Giant over the Scepter and the Crown of Empires.  I was quite impressed by the rare part of the cycle, Throne of Empires.  It provided a stream of chump blockers on the ground in one game and a little army to attack with in another.  The Crown however was just too expensive to activate and get much use out of (but I think it would be fine in Sealed), and the Scepter - while useful for activating bloodthirst - was just unnecessary.

Pairing bloodthirst with blue was quite interesting - I attacked for 1 damage with a Merfolk Looter a couple of times to power up a Gorehorn Minotaur or Blood Ogre.  It may be stating the obvious, but the Minotaurs are really, really good when bloodthirsted, and are hardly insignificant when not.  A couple of the bloodthirst creatures are really quite miserable if you play them without their bloodthirst counters, which is something I quickly discovered in the sealed deck we'd played earlier in the day.

So, how did the deck do?  Did I manage to assemble the diabolical Empires machine?

In round 1 I played against Anthony's BW creation.  He had a lot of good cards - Doom Blades, Serra Angel, and his own Throne of Empires too.  I won 2-1, my MVP being Merfolk Looter digging me through my deck to a timely Chandra's Outrage for the Serra Angel.  Chasm Drake taking a Minotaur for a ride wasn't bad either.

In round 2 I played against Owen who is an inexperienced player & drafter, but definitely very clever and he'd drafted a pretty strong looking green deck.  I knew he had an Overrun in there as I'd seen him squash Nick with it in the 1st round.  Unfortunately for Owen in the first game I got a fast start with pleanty of removal to two for one him when he enchanted his guys.  I boarded in the second Unsummon due to the enchantments, and apologetically blew him out with one of them when he tried to cast Hunter's Insight on his Trollhide wearing Garruk's Companion.  I won 2-0.

In round 3 I faced the mighty Qu.  He is a very good drafter who sadly left Oxford this week so I won't have the pleasure of playing him again.  He'd drafted a very fast WG deck.  No matter what I did he had the exact answer each time, Pacifism for my blocker, Naturalize for my Mind Control, Mighty Leap to squash another blocker, and Guardian's Pledge for exactsies.  He crushed me 0-2.  We played a couple of friendlies, I managed to win one when he colour screwed ;-)  It seems that the good old 2 drop men and tricks is still a winning formula in this core set.

2-1 isn't too shabby a start, and I walked home with 3 prize boosters.  It would have been pretty funny if I'd managed to find all of my Empires pieces but the most I ever got in a game was two of them.  It's not something I recommend trying to draft!

So, my thoughts on the format so far:

- I think that creature combat tricks are stronger in this set than they usually are.  This is because of the hexproof and bloodthirst mechanics.  You can't kill hexproof creatures with traditional removal spells, so there will be blocking involved.  Creature combat tricks are good at both helping you to kill a hexproof creature or protect your own hexproof creature.  Bloodthirst also encourages blocking, even if it is just stopping one point of damage - so again surprise combat tricks are more important here.

- A lot of the bloodthirst creatures are quite below par if you can't enable their bloodthirstyness.  A bloodthirst deck is likely to be an agressive deck, and when forced to play defensively this problem is exaggerated.  I think you need to place high priority on good bloodthirst enabling creatures when drafting bloodthirst decks - Goblin Fireslinger, Tormented Soul and Griffin Sentinel all seem to be excellent for this purpose.

- The format does indeed appear to be faster than M11, and I think I will be avoiding spells that cost 7 mana (barring ramping or a very controlling deck).

I hope you have found this interesting and / or useful.  Let me know in the comments if I should go into more detail about the games or the draft in the future.  I hadn't made notes as I didn't pre-plan to report the prerelease deck, but I can of course do that next time.

Happy drafting!