Blog Fanatic: My Vacation in Kamigawa

This past weekend, I finally, finally got a chance to fiddle around with Champions of Kamigawa. I arranged with none other than our esteemed site editor Ted Knutson to come down to Roanoke so that we could do back to back to back to back to back Champions of Kamigawa drafts until our eyes fell out of our heads. This is what I learned from what looks to be an excellent new set for Limited play.

I don’t get to play Magic outside of Magic Online that much these days. This sorry state of affairs has held especially true during the last month and a half, as we headed full steam ahead towards completion of our new shopping cart, spoiler generator, decklist maker, and other behind the scenes work. While I’ve found the time to get about a draft a night in on MTGO, I missed the prerelease. I haven’t been able to attend Friday Night Magic in store (though we have Joel to help run these tournaments for us – Joel is a very capable gentleman who cares very much about Magic). My draft box is gathering dust on my dining room table, the best cards still pulled out after my abortive attempt to make a top 100 draft box card list. In short, I’m well past withdrawal and have headed into a black hole of grading, inventorying, pricing, sorting, alphabetizing, selling, buying, touching, caressing, kissing, hugging, and loving Magic cards – but not playing with them.

This past weekend, I finally, finally got a chance to fiddle around with Champions of Kamigawa. The shopping cart went up with very few hitches, and so I was free to finally have a weekend to myself (which quickly turned into a Friday night and Saturday to myself. Sunday was spent working again). I arranged with none other than our esteemed site editor Ted Knutson to come down to Roanoke so that we could do back to back to back to back to back Champions of Kamigawa drafts until our eyes fell out of our heads.

As a side note, I know that there have been making jokes made about Champions of Kamigawa being abbreviated as COK, which is, of course, another name for the male phallus. Wizards would prefer we refer to this block as Kamigawa block, though most call it the COK block. This isn’t the worst of the naming woes for this group of sets. First of all, there are three Kamigawa sets. They are named, in order, Champions of Kamigawa, Betrayers of Kamigawa, and Saviors of Kamigawa. We could refer to these sets collectively as Kamigawa Block or COK block, but why stop there? Let’s call it KKK block (for the three Kamigawas). I could insert a completely tasteless joke about R&D finally improving White if this were the case, but instead I’ll just say that I’m only making observations and openly detest any manner of racist organization and I am sure that nobody at Wizards is in anyway associated with any racist organizations as well. Since COK Block is a little dirty, why don’t we just call it CBS block, to remind ourselves of Janet Jackson’s nipple baring episode this past SuperBowl? That way, we can both censor ourselves as a community and remind ourselves of censorship on television!

But I digress.

Ted came down to draft, and we did hardcore one-on-one Kamigawa booster drafts all Friday Night and all Saturday afternoon, just like Eric Lewandowski and I used to do in order to practice Urza block. Ted won the first draft 3-2, and then I beat him five straight drafts. Although we were both playing to win, we openly discussed which strategies were and weren’t working. The Mexican Restaurant, El Puerto, had excellent Margaritas and chips, and they treated us quite well as we stayed straight until close for our first draft. Ted beat me down with large Green men, though I took the first two quickly on the strength of Nagao, Bound By Honor and a bunch of samurai. Nagao is quite unfair – he’s a 4/4 attacker with bushido one that pumps your other men. He breaks the Hill Giant curve easily on defense as well, thanks to that bushido ability. Unfortunately for me, my deck decided to stop drawing well in the third through fifth games (we played best three out of five) and Ted beat me up with Moss Kami powered quickly by multiple Sakura-Tribe Elders and Kodama’s Reach.

The next couple of drafts took place on my dining room table, a massive oak affair designed to seat six people comfortably side-by-side. I bought the table back in 1999 as a surface where we could play eight man Box Drafts in New Orleans, and I’ve had the table since – though in my last apartment in New Orleans, it was too large for the apartment so it was taken apart and leaned behind my couch! Anyhow, Ted and I peeled off two more drafts, which were marked by periods of intense drowsiness and tiredness. I barely even remember these games, so let’s skip to the next morning.

My internal alarm wakes me up around nine a.m. these days, but Ted didn’t wake up until around eleven. [I tend to sleep 3AM to 10:30, for those who care. -Knut] This gave me time to grab a quick draft Online with Mirrodin Block, which I lost quickly in a not-so-spectacular fashion. Once Ted was up, we drove to an Italian place which had amazing, amazing steak sandwiches – the cheese was melted right onto the bun and the steak was seasoned just right. Best of all, they didn’t advertise it as a Philly Cheese Steak – which you can only get done right in Philly – but as just a good ol’ fashioned steak sammich.

Over the course of our next three drafts, Ted and I would completely ignore Blue as a color, as it never seemed like there were enough playables in a two man draft to support the color. Instead, Ted kept favoring Green, whereas I started drafting Black/x variants. Black is an incredibly deep color in this set, and between bites of my sandwich, I enjoyed smashing Ted with Rend Flesh, Rend Spirit, Befoul, Pull Under, and Nezumi Cutthroat.

Let me say a few words about Nezumi Cutthroat. He’s a shadow creature. Yes, I know he doesn’t have shadow, but he fills that same gap for this block that Dauthi Horror and Dauthi Slayer filled way back in the days of Tempest. He’s the best aggro common creature for Limited play since Wild Mongrel. Please note – I’m not saying he’s as good as Wild Mongrel (he’s not), but that the state of quick beats in Limited play haven’t revolved around two-drops since Invasion block. This time around, there are a lot of good early aggressive drops in Black, Red and White, whereas Green has been given its best common mana accelerators since Harrow and Fertile Ground hit the ground running in Invasion block, and the Green beatdown curve starts more at three to four than at two.

After a very prolonged lunch, Ted and I made our way to the Star City Game Center for Draft Till You Drop 3 – Champions of Kamigawa edition. The turnout wasn’t as great as we had hoped, but much of this was in part to our having closed down the retail store for the week leading up to DTYD in order to inventory our stock for the website. Word didn’t get out quite as far as it had for the past couple of Draft Till you Drops, and so we only ran five or six drafts on Saturday.

I met up with Sceadeau D’Tela, former Pro Player and good friend of mine. He came up to Roanoke for the day to visit/draft, and him, me and Ted got into the same pod with one another. The first round matched me up against Ted, who had me dead until he decided to use Frostwielder to kill off one of my blockers instead of doing one damage to me when I was at two life. [I’m an idiot. – Knut, who has realized that The Bleiweiss is his Magical foil] I killed the Tim with a Pull Under the next turn, and came back from one life to beat the Knut. He was visibly disheartened by his play mistake, and couldn’t really get back into the match – I ended up winning.

To those of you who find yourselves making avoidable and recognizable play mistakes, I have a method that is quite good for getting better at the game. Here’s how it works: every time you make a mistake in a game, you put a dollar in your penalty jar for each mistake you make. You are not allowed to take money out of the penalty jar until you go through an entire tournament/day of Magic without making any major mistakes – judgment calls are fine as long as they are defensible. I’ll tell you this – it’s quite easy to make mistakes in Magic, but once you build up several hundred dollars in that jar, you will start paying more attention to your play. There’s nothing like a hurt in the old pocket book to get the mind a-chugging.

I beat my next opponent, and went up against Sceadeau (pronounced Shadow) in the finals. He had a mono-Blue deck featuring a five Teller of Tales and untold legions of Soratami creatures. Fortunately, I had untold legions of quick beats and Cutthroats, and mono-Blue is ill equipped to deal with a Black/Red aggressive deck packing a half dozen removal spells and a dozen 2/1 two-drops and three Ronin Houndmasters. He fell quickly, but I gave my prize (free entry into the next draft) to Sceadeau, as I was all Magicked out for the weekend.

Unfortunately for me, the last draft got stuck at seven people, and so I was roped back into playing. Sigh. I drafted Red/Black again, and started taking the Cutthroat over removal spells. It paid off – Black/Red is so deep in removal, that taking a creature that swings for two every turn of the game starting the second turn is vital. This paid off, as the Cutthroat in the second eight-man pod of the day probably came in for a good third of my total damage dealt.

Champions of Kamigawa is amazingly fun and skill intensive for Limited. Color signaling matters again in draft, and different strategies are completely viable. Just like in Urza’s block draft, color archetypes might be viable for all ten color combinations – R/W has the Samurai deck, G/W has the spirit deck, U/R has a ton of Splice and Arcane spells, R/B has all-out Aggro, B/W has the Removal/Flying strategy, U/G has Bounce and large creatures, B/G has Removal/Large creatures and a ton of spirits to go around, and U/W has stall and flyers. I haven’t seen G/R yet, but I’m sure there’s a deck out there which combines the finesse of Red (who ever thought that would happen?) with the brute force of Green. There are enough combat tricks to make G/W viable as a strategy, which is a nice change of pace from Mirrodin Block’s “draft Blinding Beams and combat won’t matter” method of Green/White drafting.

All in all, I had a great weekend playing Magic, and got to spend all Friday night hanging out with Ted and all Saturday night hanging out with Sceadeau at Frank’s, the best pizza place in Roanoke. Most of my time in Magic these days is spent immersed in the cards, but it was nice to have a weekend where I was playing with my friends, learning a new format, and reminding myself that the game is all about having fun with people you like.

Ben can be reached at [email protected].