A PTQ Scenario Examined

Dan Paskins returns to the pages of StarCityGames.com after a brief hiatus. His article today concerns a recent Coldsnap conundrum faced in a recent PTQ Top 8. Given the details Dan had, would you have made the right choice? He also shares his thoughts on the triple-Coldsnap draft format. A fine return from Mr Paskins… long may it continue.

The good thing about having played Magic for so long is that everyone who used to be better than you stops playing, so you get to win more often.
Richard Hagon, Mox Radio

This week’s scenario is as follows. You are trying to qualify for the Pro Tour, and have managed to make it into the top eight. Your opponent is fellow StarCityGames.com columnist Martin Dingler, of Grand Prix winning fame. You are tied 1-1, and draw your hand for the deciding game. You draw your hand, and it is as follows:

Surging Flame
Ohran Yeti
Aurochs Herd

Should you mulligan? Which cards are you hoping to draw?

Before getting round to explaining this scenario, some background information would probably be in order.

Last week’s Pro Tour Qualifier in Manchester was the first tournament that I had played in since Nationals.

Nationals 2005, that is. Which meant that it was the first time that I was playing with Coldsnap cards. Or Dissension cards. Or, come to that, Ravnica or Guildpact cards. The only advantage that I had was the knowledge gleaned from my StarCityGames premium membership. I had read every single instalment of “Drafting With Rich.” I don’t know what many of the cards that he wrote about were, having never seen them in real life and being too lazy to click on all of the different cards to get the text. What I did learn, though, was that the idea was to get the Blue cards, as they were much better than the others.

Just like computer games, Magic tournaments come with different difficulty settings. Sometimes, you have to play on “Very Hard” mode, like when you turn up to a Constructed tournament and every single round you have to play against your worst matchup… and it is so unfair because all the other people playing the same deck are getting much easier matchups. And sometimes, you get to play on “Easy” mode, which is particularly welcome when coming back after a year of not playing.

Here’s my Sealed Deck for the 5-round, 28 player PTQ:

I could have typed out the cardpool and asked you to choose your build, but I don’t think it is that challenging to identify the nine removal spells and find appropriate cards to accompany them.

I managed to win three rounds, and then ID twice to reach the Top 8. You may very well complain that being able to make the Top 8 after winning just three rounds is ridiculous, but equally there is nothing stopping you from getting a new job in North West England and travelling to 28-player PTQs like I did. Nothing very significant happened, beyond me discovering how much fun Steamcore Weird/Mark of Eviction and Izzet Chronarch/Flame Fusillade (and all the other combos that you get given to you on Easy mode) are.

The most amusing thing that happened during the Sealed Deck portion of the tournament was inflicted on the Editor. I went over to watch him in the first round, and his opponent literally cast a creature or removal spell every turn for the first seven turns of the game – it went something like Frenzied Goblin, Utvara Scalper, Stinkweed Imp, Daggerclaw Imp, removal spell for Craig’s blocker, another creature, another removal spell, attack attack attack.

While I would normally be cheering for my editor, there was just something so commendable about someone opening up a Ravnica block Sealed Deck and deciding to build a deck dedicated to beat down, despite the fact that even I could see that it was a format all about letting your opponent go first, card advantage and all that sort of thing. Craig had the last laugh, qualifying for the Top 8 and then for the Pro Tour.

So, to the Top 8. I had discussed Coldsnap with people, and decided to take Red cards and be flexible about supplementing these Red cards with whatever seemed good.

Sadly, Easy mode was turned off for the Top 8. I opened up a booster pack with no Red removal cards so took a Ronom Hulk, and settled down to draft a Red-Green deck. I don’t think that the set of packs were particularly strong – certainly more or less every pack I saw contained two or three reasonable Green creatures and bad cards in the other colors.

I ended up with the following:

1 Boreal Druid
2 Martyr of Ashes
3 Bull Aurochs
1 Orcish Bloodpainter
2 Goblin Rimerunner
2 Sound the Call
2 Ohran Yeti
1 Thermopod
2 Ronom Hulk
3 Aurochs Herd
1 Into the North
1 Surging Flame
1 Surging Might
1 Hibernation’s End
1 Snow Covered Forest
1 Snow Covered Mountain
1 Snow Covered Island
6 Mountain
8 Forest

Not desperately impressive, but I don’t think that there were any silly powerful decks at the table, though Craig may correct me on this. [Mine was very similar, but with a Rimescale Dragon… pack 1 pick 2. Who passes that? – Craig.]

And so, I was paired with Martin Dingler. He had a Red-Black-Blue Snow deck. I won the first on the back of a turn 4 Ronom Hulk, which he didn’t have an answer to. I lost the second despite getting to use Hibernation’s End four times, as he used a combination of removal and difficult-to-block creatures, such as Chilling Shade and Zombie Musher, to finish me off.

The cards of his deck that I saw in the first two games were as follows:

Feast of Flesh
2 Zombie Musher
Karplusan Wolverine
2 Chilling Shade
Ohran Yeti
2 Thermopod
Phyrexian Ironfoot
Rimewind Taskmage
At least seven snow-covered land

For game 3, I was on the play, and drew my hand to see the following:

Surging Flame
Ohran Yeti
Aurochs Herd

Against some decks, this would be a great hand. I have my one removal spell, plenty of land for my big creatures, and a guaranteed source of card advantage to cast Aurochs after Aurochs.

But against Martin’s deck, the plan of trying to win the longer game was unlikely to work. Although he had some defence in the early game, his deck gets much stronger as the game progresses, with his Chilling Shades (which I cannot block) growing in strength, and his tapper coming on line. It is important for him to be able to cast his higher casting-cost creatures, such as Thermopod, without being under pressure.

My best chance to win is to put him under pressure with early creatures, of which I thought I had more than Martin, and then use Ronom Hulk to do 10-15 points of damage before he can gain control and kill me with a Shade. My deck was totally ill-equipped to be the control deck, so I had to try to make sure that I could maximise my chances to gain and keep the initiative.

The problem with my hand was that it contained neither a Hulk nor any early pressure. I did seriously think about mulliganing, but chose to keep the hand, hoping to draw some early creatures in the first 2-3 turns, or at least a Hulk to play on turn 5.

Martin also had a slow draw, and my Ohran Yeti was the first creature on either side. We each played out largish creatures (Yetis, Thermopod) and traded damage. I played one Aurochs Herd, which got Skredded, and another, and built up a ground force. The turn before I could finish Martin off, he had a Balduvian Rage for his Shade to win the race.

My rule is that any time I lose a match, it is because I did something wrong. When I started writing this article, I assumed that the reason that I lost the third game to Martin was because of a mistake I made, either in failing to mulligan my hand or in the way that the game played out.

I still don’t know whether it would have been better to have mulliganed. If my six-card hand had been 2 Forest, 1 Mountain, Into the North, Boreal Druid, Ronom Hulk; or three land, Druid, Aurochs, Rimerunner, then I would almost certainly have won. Equally, if I had drawn a one-land, or five-land hand, I would almost certainly have lost. Overall, most six-card hands would have turned out worse than the hand I drew, although since I lost with the seven cards I played with, there is a good argument that it was worth the risk.

But thinking about it, I think my mistake came a little earlier. When I was drafting, I ended up choosing between creatures of similar power in pack after pack. In each case I was evaluating the picks according to which would best fit my mana curve, and whether they had any other advantages, such as being an Aurochs.

Since Coldsnap has a very flat power curve, I ended up with another 4-5 creatures which I didn’t end up using, including Lovisa Coldeyes, Martyr of Spores, and 3 Goblin Furrier. While I can’t remember the exact choices in each of these packs, I certainly had the chance to pick up cards that would have helped to shore up my deck against particular weaknesses. For example, no one at the table was picking Icefall highly, and I could certainly have ended up with 3 copies of Icefall in place of some of the creatures that I picked over it. Another option would have been to notice that the removal wasn’t coming, and pick the Spider more highly to give myself some defence against fliers.

The way that I drafted meant that I had to hope that my opening hand gave me the right set of cards to defeat the Snow control deck – I didn’t have any way of improving my deck or bettering my odds against this kind of deck. Even a small amount of land destruction against this sort of deck could have ended up swinging the game in my favor, without reducing the quality of my deck against White beatdown decks or any of the other decks which land destruction is less good against.

My initial impression of Coldsnap draft, and one that is worth further investigation, is that when drafting, you should be aiming not just to draft a deck, but also to draft a sideboard. Obviously, if you have the 8 Sentinel, 7 War Cry deck, this is less important, but in the course of a three round draft, you are likely to face different strategies – big Green creatures, White beatdown, Blue fliers, snow control – and since you are bound to end up with more than 22-23 playable cards in your colors, it is worth trying to make sure that you have at least some of the cards which are particularly good against each of these strategies. It makes it harder to have to remember to draft a sideboard as well as keeping an eye on your mana curve, but one way to do it is to look through the packs that don’t have anything particularly exciting, particularly towards the end of each pack, and think about whether it would be worth taking a narrower card rather than another 3/3 for 4 or whatever.

There’s another PTQ this weekend, and I’ll let you know how I get on. Since I am now working five days a week, rather than seven, I have no real excuse not to write regularly, so I shall try and improve on the total of three articles that I have managed this year.

Until then, may your booster packs contain many Skreds,

Take care

Dan Paskin