A Trio Of Treats

Dan Barrett dishes out some quick thoughts on: Planeswalker Points and FNM, a night of drafting at home, and the most infuriating cards in Innistrad Limited.

Normally around this time before a Prerelease, you might expect to see an article from me on potential uses of the new cards spoiled thus far. Of these, one or two suggestions work out to be sort of okay once heavily tuned by someone else, and the rest are… at least fun or a cute idea?

However, I’ve been pretty busy at work recently—we have our new book out you see, and I’ve been off meeting and interviewing the world’s most pierced man (he beats me 453 to 4) and the women with the largest afro and longest tongue, amongst others. It’s been an exciting couple of weeks. Many of you may not have read our book since you were a kid of 10 or so, but… perhaps these records are up your street and may rekindle some interest?

Anyway, I’ve not had a chance to really think about Innistrad much yet, so here are just a few quick Magical thoughts and happenings for you to digest.

How Planeswalker Points Will Ruin FNM

Okay, so maybe not “will,” but “could,” and “ruin” might be a little strong, but the point is I have your attention. Planeswalker Points have arrived, and love them or hate them, they aren’t going away. From now on, if you’re at all serious about getting onto the Pro Tour, you’ll be trying to accumulate as many as possible—could you be one of the One Hundred who qualify for the PT based on Competitive points?

Maybe that’s not for you, though. Perhaps you don’t have that kind of time to put in because you’ve a full-time job and a family or don’t take the game that seriously and just want to enjoy FNM once a week with your buddies. That’s fine too. In fact, there’s something new for you guys and girls as well—The FNM Championship. This is another invite-only tournament, with places (and possibly even plane tickets to get there) awarded to 100 of the top FNM players in the world!

Which is a great idea in principle, don’t get me wrong.

But in reality…? I’m not so sure—here are my two biggest concerns:

Raising the bar

With there no longer being any risk if they (God forbid!) lose a round and a pretty weighty 3x multiplier, “competitive” and pro players are now heavily incentivized to attend FNM. Which leads to some great things: The shufflemaster himself, Brian Kibler, attending your store’s FNM as he calls through on his global travels? I can’t think of a more inspiring experience for today’s young hopefuls aiming to blossom into the stars of tomorrow.

But what about the other end of the scale? When it’s not a Hall-of-Famer, but a spikey PTQ regular, attending FNMs for the first time in two years (now they are no longer “negative EV, man”), just so he can grind out more points? After all, with FNM being worth 40 a week (averaging a 3-1 or 4-0 finish at a 40-player event) to him, they’re a worthwhile supplement to all the GP/Open/PTQ weekends he’s putting in trying to become one of the One Hundred.

Well, there’s your problem. Not everyone else at FNM is of such a cutthroat mindset and goals. It may seem strange to you or me, but most Magic players don’t actually read through a pile of articles daily and scour tournament results for the latest tech. They just want to have fun with Magic in their own way. Which probably isn’t being combo killed on turn 4, facing down a “netdeck,” or fighting against a heavy control deck—all things you can expect from a serious tournament player.

Until recently, these less serious players have been able to enjoy FNM at a great many stores in their own way. Now that much more competitive players with top-tier decks are being thrust into their midst, will that continue to be the case? And will these more serious players relish in utterly destroying the wills of their more casual opponents? I hope that, like Carrie above, we do not take great pleasure in doing so.

Gaming the system

We just can’t leave anything alone, us gamers. If there’s a loophole to be found or an edge to be gained, we are going to locate and exploit it. We take the extreme couponing of every other system “normal” people leave well alone or ignore. Taking a flight? We can game that for airmiles. Going on a diet? We’ll make cash/forfeit wagers against friends to give an additional incentive to meet targets.

Which is all great fun and makes for good stories to be sure, but there is a point at which all these exploits take away the essence of something. Something like FNM. Already, many locations are undergoing changes to their tournament structure in the wake of the Planeswalker Points announcement:

But these are just the tip of the iceberg—I’ve also heard reports of many additional rounds being added and matches having much tighter time limits or becoming “best of one” to accommodate these extra rounds:

I don’t see how such dramatic changes as these can be good for what these tournaments are “supposed” to be. Or for the stores running them—there’s now an arms race between stores to see who can offer the most overall rounds and thus points. Do store owners want to be running extra rounds way into the early hours just to retain players? More to the point, does your average FNM player really want to play eight or more franticly paced, twenty-minute, best-of-one rounds, or until 2 am, just so some number of grinders (who likely never turned up to the store regularly before now) can be better off points-wise? I doubt it. Do you want to play FNM under such conditions? I know I don’t. It sounds more like hard work than fun—and fun is why I play Magic!

Drafting Under The Influence #2

At some point in time I will have some friends round and manage to create a Magic video, which is at a level of both quality and family-friendliness that means it can be embedded in one of my articles here on SCG. Sadly, I failed to achieve this goal once again the weekend before last, so you can just have some words instead and hope a bootleg VHS of the event surfaces on eBay, or something.

I’d told everyone to arrive at 7 (pre-empting their 7.30), but obviously everyone was running very late, deciding to go for dinner after fellow Magic player Mike Wood’s comedy show. While waiting, I hopped in a 4322 NMS draft with my last three packs to kill some time. Apparently these are “strictly worse” than 8-4s now, but I’m much more confident of winning one round in one of these than two in an 8-4 to guarantee packs, and I can always drop after round 1 and not lose everything if I get cut short.

Having nothing to lose, I decided to go a bit rogue. Everyone says NMS draft is a slow format where you always choose to draw, so why not draft a hyper-aggressive deck that wants to play first? Surely this is the counter to these widely held beliefs? I ended up with this:

Only one Concussive Bolt is a little sad, and I toyed around with the Furnace Scamp/Rally the Forces numbers a bit each time, but a low curve and land count made for a fun deck to play. I made a really obvious mispick p1p3 when I passed up a Mycosynth Wellspring (for Mortis Dogs; yea, I know), then received an Artillerize p4), but overall I was happy with my experiment. I won round one; then Thom arrived, and I was distracted by his chat (and was also playing looser than a Wizard’s sleeve), so lost a round two I maybe could’ve won.

Mills and Phil managed to grace us with their presence, and real-life play commenced. Mills and I Winston drafted my common-uncommon cube, while the other two attempted to play Ascension for money. I say “attempted,” as neither of them could agree on the rules for using a doubling-cube. This meant they played for just £1 a round rather than the high-stakes 20-quid-plus game Phil said he wanted, which Thom was in no way afraid of.

The final score ended up being 3-4 or something, so just a lowly pound coin was exchanged there. Meanwhile, Mills had drafted every land-fetching creature in the stack, with his Ondu Giant, Borderland Ranger, Fertilid, Sylvan Ranger deck facing off against my U/B/R control deck stacked with two-for-ones. I managed to find ways to lose two games though, making a terrible alpha-strike in the first and keeping a seven-lander on the draw in the second (and that game was close!). We played a third for fun, and I won very easily, truly reflecting the matchup and our Winston drafting skills.

We argued for well over an hour over what to play next, as Phil continued to lay waste to the worst spirits available in our flat, mixing up a Vermouth and juice, before forcing us to watch Kreayshawn videos. Mills’ elitist musical tastes did not cope well with this, and he proceeded to (very delicately, I must say) overturn some of my furniture until it was turned off.

We started a 2v2 draft with five packs of nine cards just as Hana got home from her evening out, but she very nicely didn’t mind us playing it all out. Mills and I dominated, he with a Jund deck featuring all of the good cards (Bloodbraid Elf, Putrid Leech, Blightning) from the Constructed deck, while I had the sickest U/B control I’d ever drafted. Sick to the point that Air Elemental was in my sideboard for curve reasons, and again I will have to reduce the power level of blue in my cube. Feel free to take a look at my list and make some suggestions, by the way.

After that, it was time for the others to move on (Thom had one of his East-London warehouse parties to consider attending, after all), and we watched the second half of Rosemary’s Baby in bed. Much like that of this section, the ending of that film is abrupt and rubbish.

Top 5 Most Infuriating Cards In Innistrad Sealed

I might not yet have much idea of what Innistrad cards I want to put in a Constructed deck any time soon, but I sure know which cards I don’t want to play against come this Saturday’s Prerelease. It looks like I’m not the only one to notice how rage-inducing some of them will be either:

#5 — Trepanation Blade

Mill cards are not usually very good. However, every single time I play against this card, it is going to flip over two decent creatures, two removal spells, and the lone bomb in my deck. I will then be forced to look at these cards sitting in my graveyard while drawing straight lands as I slowly lose, knowing I would’ve had a chance in this game if I had gotten to draw any one of them. Oh, and it’s only an uncommon!

#4 — Essence of the Wild

Just like it was with Mirror-Sigil Sergeant, or anything else that makes other tokens indefinitely, you will only ever be able to kill this after it has made a copy, at which point that is irrelevant. You will look at your hand in the mid-to-late game and be happy you saved a removal spell in case your opponent has something horrible. They will play Essence of the Wild, and you will look down at your cards, and the kill spell will have vanished and is now the second-from-top card of your library. Your opponent will topdeck a spell that creates multiple copies of the 6/6. You will tick the drop box in a fit of rage and complain about this to your friends, all the way home.

#3 — Army of the Damned

You know what’s worse than Howl of the Night Pack from a mono-green deck in core set Limited? The same card, from a two-color deck that actually has removal spells to stop your early rush. Except it actually makes twice as many tokens and has flashback. Sorry, what was that? They didn’t print Pyroclasm with flashback in this set at uncommon? OH JOY!

#2 — Balefire Dragon

Who knew Dragons could be “gothic?” It’s not even wearing a “Team Edward” t-shirt! Anyway, do you remember playing against Flameblast Dragon? How did that make you feel if you didn’t have a kill spell? Not good, huh? Well, the good news is this card is exactly the same, only it deals damage to EVERY creature you control, and not just one of them. And that ability costs no mana. Also it just blocked your toilet, wiped its feet on your nice clean carpet, and keyed your car.

#1 — Bloodline Keeper

So it’s a 3/3 flier for four, that spits out 2/2 fliers. FOR FREE. That on its own (making 1/1s instead) would be unbeatable, or so says Julian Booher. And he’s MUCH better than me, so listen to him. But oh yea, did I mention it can transform into a 5/5 (which still flies)? And at that point it is also a DOUBLE GLORIOUS ANTHEM for your team? Ridiculous. To add insult to injury—it’s ONLY a rare, not even mythic. So you’re guaranteed to face it at least once each INN Sealed PTQ you attend.

Good luck and have fun with Innistrad Sealed, everyone! 😀

Dan Barrett