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!