Chatter of the Squirrel — Lorwyn Initial Impressions

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I love everything about this set. It was odd at first, because I hated Onslaught. The misapplication of the Morph mechanic made games too swingy, and I hate formats where you have to play eighteen or nineteen lands without too much to do with a flood. Then there was the fun “Commando-Craghorn-Zombie Cutthroat” debate which left you all-too-eager to slit your own jugular and drain into blissful oblivion, and all told I drafted a whole lot of Eighth Edition during that time period.

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Man. Breathe in. Breathe out. Think. Pause.

This is unusual. What’s happening?


You, dear dear dearest readers, just witnessed a moment of inactivity. For the last, oh, four weeks, I would have killed for such a moment. Senior year of college is supposed to be easy, and yet – Chatters, short stories, tests, the newspaper, Valencia, and scholarships scholarships scholarships. The sheer volume of paperwork you fill out to try and get people to give you money could probably fuel entire nations if it were unceremoniously burned. On the bright side? I might be joining Craig, Craig, and Danny-pie in Angle Land come next year if I keep my fingers crossed and all goes well. We’ll have to wait and see.

For now, though, I’m enjoying the peace and quiet.

Though I still may have tested thirty total games for Valencia so far. Those are good odds, right?

Magic is so much easier in the summer.

I did, however, get a chance to attend the Lorwyn prerelease, and man do I love everything about this set. It was odd at first, because I hated Onslaught. The misapplication of the Morph mechanic made games too swingy, and I hate formats where you have to play eighteen or nineteen lands without too much to do with a flood. Then there was the fun “Commando-Craghorn-Zombie Cutthroat” debate which left you all-too-eager to slit your own jugular and drain into blissful oblivion, and all told I drafted a whole lot of Eighth Edition during that time period.

Lorwyn draft changes all of that. Creature types still matter, sure, but you don’t get bonus points for simply having in your deck a bunch of Elves or Boggarts or Flamekin or whatever. They need to work together in this format to do something more than the sum of their parts. Of course, cards still exist that care about the number of Elves or Faeries or Giants that you have in play, but this time each tribe has a “motif” of sorts that you’re really encouraged to exploit. Today I want to examine three drafts – all very different strategies – that were built around these certain motifs to take advantage of lower, theme-specific picks. I don’t remember the picks themselves, but I do have my decklists, and I think we can begin to develop a schema for the format based on what made these decks tick.

Of course, these were all drafts that happened at the prerelease or shortly thereafter, so the validity of the strategies must be taken with a grain of salt. Prerelease players are often, um, questionable, and because nobody really understands the format, experimental strategies are easier to pursue; after all, they haven’t caught on yet. I also just might be focusing on the draft portion because of my insanely strong 2-2 finish in the main event itself, but ssh, don’t tell. My secret’s safe with you, ah? So, no, 3-0ing prerelease drafts doesn’t automatically mean that I’ve mastered the format. But we’ve got to start somewhere.

The first deck comes from my very first draft ever. I got reamed by having to use a Nameless Inversion on a what-I-previously-thought-to-be-unplayable Elvish Handservant in the Sealed portion of the event, and decided that he might be worth basing an entire strategy around if you didn’t have to make too many sacrifices. Here was the deck:

2 Elvish Handservant
2 Skeletal Changeling
2 Woodland Changeling
1 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
1 Leaf Gilder
1 Gilt-leaf Seer
2 Moonglove Winnower
1 Shriekmaw
1 Warren Pilferers
1 Thorntooth Witch
1 Oakgnarl Warrior
2 Runed Stalactite
2 Nameless Inversion
1 Lace with Moonglove
1 Moonglove Extract
1 Fodder Launch
1 Fistful of Force
1 Liliana Vess
8 Forest
8 Swamp

I remember first-picking Liliana because I had no idea whether or not Planeswalkers would be good, but I wanted to start playing with them as early as possible. My second pick was a Nameless Inversion, third a Woodland Changeling (I think my initial impulse that Changelings were unreal was more or less correct) and the draft took off from there. In the second pack I was rewarded by a third-pick Shriekmaw and a fourth-pick Wrens Run Vanquisher (this card is just all kinds of DI), and despite a sharp decline in pack 1 quality after pick 5 or so, the deck turned out to be very good. A few things I want to note:

Maindeck Handservant, as mentioned earlier. Obviously I was drafting these with the turn 2 Changeling play in mind, but if you’ve got that he’s Isamaru, which is clearly nuts. I’ve got six turn 2 Changeling plays – assuming I am willing to use an Inversion early, which is a tremendous “if” – but it’s very difficult to lose if that guy is a 2/2 on turn 2. Why, you might ask? I mean it’s nice, but he’s just a Grizzly Bear. The thing is that a variety of things may happen, all of which are good for you. The first obviously is that you might just have the nut Changeling draw and your guy’s swinging for three on turn 3. Secondly, all of the sudden the opponent has to play completely differently for the rest of the game. He’s either going to spend an early turn using a valuable removal spell on your seventh-pick, or he’s going to have to hold all of his Changelings for fear of your dude getting out of hand. There’s also the possibility, of course, that your opponent is just running the giant deck and at that point you don’t hesitate to take the victory lap. The bottom line is that this format gives you a whole lot of value out of one-drops – more on this when you see my next deck – that we really haven’t been able to exploit in awhile. Time Spiral had suspend, which was awesome, but I can’t remember a format that had this many playable one-drops since Tempest. Moreover, many of them are central to the core of a deck’s strategy. Both of the following decks adhere to that pattern, and I’ll get to them in a minute.

I mentioned I thought Changelings were going to be the nuts, and this deck shows why. Remember when I said you don’t really need a billion Elves (or Giants or Faeries or Merrow or whatever) to take advantage of tribal synergies? Changelings are a big part of this. They’re absolutely integral to the set’s design. It’s not just for the obvious reasons, either – that, you know, you can have Changelings and they substitute for actual Elves in your Elf deck. The more subtle aspect to the ‘lings is that they allow your deck to revolve around two or three separate strategies without having to draft two or three different decks. What this means is that you have a lot more flexibility dipping into other archetypes, and don’t have to go as all-in as you would for, say, Clerics in triple-Onslaught. As an example, in this deck Changelings are great for the Giant reason I mentioned earlier, but also to help power out the turn 2 Vanquisher, hasting up a Warren Pilferers, allowing me to play the ridiculous Fodder Launch (also thanks to the Stalactites, which are unreal), and most importantly giving me an extremely resilient late-game in the Thorntooth Witch. They add an entirely new layer of intricacy to the draft, because you are able to construct your deck along multilateral goals with the addition of comparatively few cards.

Finally, you’ll notice that the deck’s sixteen lands, a pattern that held for the next two drafts. While I don’t necessarily think this is a sixteen-land format generally, I do think that numbers from fifteen to eighteen can and should be taken very seriously during the deck construction process. I’m not even entirely sure that this was a sixteen and not seventeen-land deck, but the fact that the Leaf Gilder was unlikely to die and the relative underabundance of high-mana cards made me want to focus on my early game as much as possible. Particularly with the Seer and the cantrip Lace, the deck could (and did) operate on three lands. Sure, double Stalactite would hypothetically give me something else to do with my mana in the case of flood, I also only enjoyed two sources of real card advantage (the Witch and Liliana – and yes, I did “get there” on two separate occasions). My deck had so much aggressive potential that I felt I ought to maximize the potential for advantage in that portion of the game.

Speaking of Planeswalkers, I also had one in my next draft, which was a four-man consisting of old-school Memphis mainstays Robert Larrabee and Jason Potter along with the up-and-coming University of Memphis Law School prodigy Kevin McCormack. This time the strategy was much less aggressive, though I will note that I would still describe the format as extremely fast. Whether or not the games end quickly doesn’t define a format’s speed; rather, it’s the necessity of mounting an early defense at the risk of being overrun. This deck was a control deck, but it definitely could (and would) curve out on you:

2 Tideshaper Mystic
1 Silvergill Douser
1 Stonybrook Angler
1 Deeptread Merrow
1 Judge of Currents (the absolute highest nuts in this deck)
2 Drowner of Secrets
2 Paperfin Rascal
2 Streambed Aquitects
1 Ethereal Whiskergill
1 Oaken Brawler
1 Inkfathom Divers
1 Cloudgoat Ranger
1 Mulldrifter
2 Whirlpool Whelm
1 Familiar’s Ruse
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Faerie Trickery
1 Crib Swap
1 Ajani Goldmane
1 Vivid Creek
10 Island
5 Plains

Originally the Faerie Trickery was a Springleaf Drum, which I ran because it had synergy with the Judge and because it fixed the mana, but I quickly realized I hated that card and could easily get by with sixteen lands and two Mystics. The Mystic is unreal in this archetype, activating all of your Islandwalkers, getting in for beats in the early game, letting me cheat on Plains, and possessing obvious synergy with Ajani’s vigilance.

Since this deck did its fair share of clashing, I want to go ahead and talk about that mechanic briefly. Put simply, I love it (well, except on Gilt-leaf Ambush, as it’s the one card where I feel the effect is far too swingy). Clashing smoothes both early and late-game draw steps, and provides a small enough reward every once in awhile that both players are encouraged to put clash cards in their decks. The net result is that both players’ draw steps tend to improve – assuming they make correct top-or-bottom clash decisions, which is another skill-tester – and so the mechanic allows for a more interesting and less luck-intensive game.

Some games I won through milling, others I gave them Islands and sent in the team. What was interesting to me though was the subtle power of the Drowners and the Judge. A lot of the Merfolk – the Aquitects, Angler, and Douser in particular – are incredibly adept at ensuring nothing happens. If all you’re doing is sitting there, it’s hard to procure an active advantage from nothing happening. With a mill effect, though – even if it’s only for a few cards – your opponent is forced to try and seize the initiative, and thus forced to make bad attacks or to prematurely commit. That’s one reason the countermagic was so effective in this deck; they’d wreck themselves so as to put the Drowner or the Aquitects in a vulnerable position, then spend their pump or removal only to have it countered. At that point, they’re more or less out of the game.

This final deck I drafted the day after the prerelease based on an experiment. What does it feel like, I wondered, to vault on faces?

3 Facevaulter
1 Skeletal Changeling
1 Sneaking Pie-Squeak
1 Oona’s Prowler
2 Adder-staff Boggart
1 Soulbright Flamekin
1 Inner-flame Acolyte
1 Boggart Harbinger
1 Spiderwig Boggart
4 Mudbutton Torchrunner
2 Hornet Harasser
1 Marsh Flitter
1 Warren Pilferers
1 Tarfire
1 Boggart Shenanigans
1 Fodder Launch
1 Makeshift Mannequin
1 Auntie’s Hovel (was)
8 Swamp
7 Mountain

People sure don’t understand that Mudbutton Torchrunner is the most ridiculous card in history, and that’s absolutely fine by me. I’ll roll with Seal of Incinerate for as long as I can. This deck obviously gets lucky in its methods of abuse, but there’s also the good ol’ Tar Pitcher and that giant that chucks Goblins at people’s faces and gives them flying. I wanted to try out the Shenanigans and it turns out that they were actually pretty decent. This is the type of deck that definitely could have used a Footbottom Feast, and I passed one up in the draft that in retrospect I ought to have taken.

I don’t have much to say about this deck that I haven’t said already, but I think if you’re going to “learn a lesson” from this article it’s that Lorwyn’s tribes each have a very different modus operandi. Part of it is the fact that we’re back to triple-base-set draft and it’s possible once again to aim for multiple enablers and craft your deck around those, but even moreso than usual you’ve got to keep synergy in mind. As you can see with these decks, the most broken strategies usually involve making good use out of what would normally be very low picks.


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