Feature Article — One Match

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Tim Aten, that far-too unfamiliar firebrand, presents us with an in-depth look at a single game from an 8-4 TPF draft. While Rich delivers a daily dose of Draft delight, Tim’s tactic takes is through two troublesome games play by play, and fills our heads with high-level in-game strategy. Seriously, as I was reading this I felt my brain expand. Welcome back, Mr Aten… you’ve been missed.

Haaaaaayyyylllo ev’rbody, and welcome to another edition of The Magic Show! I’m actually mildly upset with Evan Erwin right now. In his videos from Grand Prix: Columbus, he has a brief clip of me drinking a Pepsi. I’m a Coke man (born and raised), so Pepsi is against everything I stand for; I just had to drink it because it was all they had at the concession stand. I have half a mind to sue him for defamation of character. He prodded me to get interviewed for the camera, but I was sick and hence disinclined to acquiesce to his request. Maybe next time, Evan (and I actually mean there’s a shot).

For the record, I have not abandoned StarCityGames.com for Londes.com. Londes is a bush league website, and it’s run by a bush league man who uses a bush league PTQ Top 8 pin as a bush league reminder to pay upkeep. He says he’s going to pay me for the scant work I’ve done, but that promise seems ephemeral at best. That said, I may continue to moonlight as an irregular Londes writer*, but this will always be my happy home. (Since it’s not bush league. And since Pete ships checks. Mostly the former, though.)

In all seriousness, though . . . um, well . . . I guess I was being serious. But any publicity is good publicity, right Bill?

I haven’t been “inspired” to write anything lately since I haven’t had much interesting to say, and since y’all are a bunch of tasteless ingrates anyway. The last article I wrote was a GP report for Massachusetts. I experimented with a new format, but apparently people were too inept to figure it out. On the first day, I stated quite explicitly that the “quiz” was not an actual article, and that the following day’s post would be a real article – and yet, the hit count of the non-article was significantly higher than that of the actual article. This makes less than no sense to me. How is it possible that masses of people will click on a link that ends up revealing merely the phrase “Article here tomorrow by the person you clicked here to read!” but they won’t click on the link to said article the next day? If the hit counts were low for both, maybe I could just assume that people have lost interest in me since I willingly jumped off the train and since I’m a shadow of my former self behind the pen. But since the hit count was noticeably lower on the real article, the only conclusion I’ve been able to reach is that a lot of you are really dumb.

Well, stupids, for better or worse, that little incident doused what diminutive spark I had to write. It didn’t exactly have its work cut out for it, though. There isn’t a lot of new ground to be covered in Magic that isn’t just rehashing something Flores or some other theorist wrote years ago. If someone else wants to do that, fine, but I’m a hasher, not a rehasher. If you want to know about current Constructed, read Flores, Chapin, and Feldman. If you want to learn how to draft, you can read Drafting With Rich. When you do that, look a bunch of drafts and see what patterns emerge. You’ll be able to figure lots of stuff out without even asking questions, assuming he admits to errors he made during a given draft in the write-up.

Also, I’ll let you in on a little secret. When I started writing regularly, it was an ego thing. I wasn’t getting the success I thought I deserved as a player, and I wanted to draw attention to myself. Now that I’m not a foolish youth anymore, I care not about “notoriety.” Once I was established as a writer, I usually had one or more of my friends in mind when writing, such as Chambers or Joey Bags. Entertaining them was my primary goal, and anyone else who got entertained was icing on the cake. Now, I don’t have any friends. Hence, no articles.

So, after a long drought, I got a message from noble StarCityGames.com editor Craig somethingorother. Apparently reeling from my lack of content lately, he decided to come crawling back and ask me in his politest tone possible…

“Hey, Ugly! Gimme Gadiel’s AIM name this instant!”

… which I, begrudgingly, did. Then I gave him a suitable guilt trip for only messaging me in order to get someone else to write, and he begrudgingly offered me a slot. I begrudgingly accepted.

Before I continue with the engrossing narrative of how this article came to be, I suppose it might help some of our dumber readers if I took the time to reassure them that I was, in fact, kidding when I said they were stupid earlier. I would never just insult – and potentially alienate – my readership, would I? Alright, fine, fine. But not to their faces, right? Of course, the people who clicked on the non-article but not the article the last time will probably not notice this paragraph even if they continued to read after I insulted them, on account a’ they’re so stupid, so I don’t know if there was a point in writing this. Not that I care.

In all seriousness, though… um, well… back to the narrative!

I didn’t really know what I wanted to write other than that it would be about draft, my area of expertise. At first, inspired by the forums of Rich’s articles, I thought I would write about pick orders. People claim that they’re worthless, but without a fundamental understanding of which cards are good and why, it’s rather difficult to make more complicated, deck-dependent decisions. If I’m still seeing Saltfield Recluse 9th on Magic Online, and if people don’t understand that Stonebrow is not enough reason to make you actively want Battering Sliver in your deck, then apparently some people need to reexamine the basics.

Another thing I noted in Rich’s (and other) forums was an interest in seeing gameplay details. With that in mind, I decided to keep an eye out for interesting scenarios while I drafted, and not too long ago, I finally got involved in a tight match with a couple interesting decisions. For my first attempt at this, I will simply give you the play-by-play of the entire match. Only a few of the turns are critical, but knowing everything will provide a better feel for the flow of the game.

Before I do that, though, you are all LONG overdue for a nice thorough cramming of my modern rock musical tastes down your gullet-holes. Here are my Top 5 songs this week:

5. The White Stripes “Icky Thump” – It’s got parts that are musically high quality – that’s a positive – but it’s a little disjointed, and several parts could best be described as cacophony – that’s another positive! I love obnoxious songs, and the guitar riff stayed in my head for some time. For what it’s worth, I consider the recurring guitar theme to be the “chorus” of the song.

4. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club “Weapon of Choice” – I can’t believe these guys aren’t British (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It kind of sounds like a more raw Oasis with some 70s Brit-Rock thrown in, I guess. This is a fairly new entry to my chart, so it’s harder to wax philosophical about it, but I actually recommend it to everyone… even the dreaded, snotty College Music crowd.

3. AFI “37mm” – Boy, I’m really milking Decemberunderground for all it’s worth, aren’t I? I dismissed this song as filler when the album came out a year ago, but somehow, over the last few months, I was struck by the need to listen to it. Not the best song on the album by a long shot, but the one I feel like hearing most nowadays (and one of the easiest on the ears).

2. Tiger Army “Forever Fades Away” – After a solid month atop my list, the Army has finally been dethroned. The song is pretty similar to (but better than, in my opinion) AFI’s “The Missing Frame,” with a little bit of Stone Temple Pilots’ “Sex Type Thing” in the song’s guitar riff. I was pretty impressed with the album, but I’m not going to try to wheedle anyone into downloading it. For the most part, the Top 5s are relief for my list-making compulsion; I don’t necessarily recommend the songs on them. It’s more of an “If you’ve heard this song already and have an opinion one way or the other, I’d like to hear it” sort of deal. That was a nice sentence, wasn’t it?

1. The Used “Paralyzed” – Along with “Weapon of Choice,” this is the other song I actually recommend if you haven’t heard it. Bert, unsurprisingly, continues to do quality work, and this is the best song on his newest album.

With that out of the way, I can present the match. The only relevant exposition is that it was round two of a Magic Online 8-4 and that my opponent’s rating was just shy of 1800. For reference, here is my decklist:

1 Mogg War Marshal
1 Goblin Skycutter
2 Homing Sliver
1 Sedge Sliver
1 Grinning Ignus
1 Skirk Shaman
1 Henchfiend of Ukor
1 Fomori Nomad
1 Reckless Wurm
1 Spitting Sliver
1 Skizzik Surger
1 Corpulent Corpse
1 Midnight Charm
1 Grapeshot
1 Flowstone Embrace
1 Feebleness
1 Premature Burial
1 Fatal Attraction
1 Ghostfire
1 Kor Dirge
1 Empty the Warrens
1 Shivan Meteor
10 Mountain
7 Swamp

Apparently, I love me a 10/7 mana base. Recently I’ve submitted more decks with 10/7 than with 9/8. Usually, though, the "10" in question is either Swamps or Plains. Homing Sliver seems pretty awesome here, as the first one (naturally) tutors for Sedge Sliver, and the other becomes a Sedge Sliver unless I was careless or unfortunate enough to let the real deal die. We’ve all heard about how, with Grinning Ignus and a storm spell, "each Red mana you have becomes another copy of the storm spell." Not only do I have a lot of Red mana, but I also have the two good Time Spiral storm spells. Having ten Mountains makes Skirk Shaman less clunky and awkward. As a last note, the deck features several threats that have more than two power and two toughness, which are an important part of R/B decks with a decent amount of removal. You don’t want to have to kill every Grey Ogre the opponent plays just to get through, and you don’t want to take ten turns to kill your opponent after all of his relevant guys are dead. All told, I was pleased with this deck.

Game 1
My opponent won the die roll, chose to play, and kept his seven. My opening hand was Skizzik Surger, Skirk Shaman, Fatal Attraction, Kor Dirge, Feebleness, and 2 Swamps. While Mountain is by far the most common card in my deck, I wouldn’t exactly be the heavy favorite to win even if I plucked two straight. Granted, if I knew I was going to pluck two in a row, I would have kept, but the disadvantages of any other scenario are enough to make me want to ship it. If my deck were worse, I might also consider keeping, as I’d need to get lucky to win anyway, and a six-card grip isn’t much more likely to make that happen than the seven I already have.

My six cards were Skirk Shaman, Reckless Wurm, Fomori Nomad, two Swamps, and a Mountain – a rather reasonable mulligan hand. I’ll probably "get there" (as the kids say) at some point, and then I’ll have some solid threats and hopefully some removal to back them up. Obviously, going to five was not a remote consideration here.

Turn 1
My opponent plays a Plains and ships it. I draw another Swamp and play a Mountain. Sometimes it matters what land you play first; here it did not. I had no double-Black spells in my deck and no Tendrils, and even if I had a double-Red card in my deck, I couldn’t draw both it and a Mountain during my next draw step.

Turn 2
My opponent plays another Plains and fortunately has no creature. I draw my second Mountain and play a Swamp.

Turn 3
My opponent plays a Forest and gets another with Edge of Autumn. I draw another Mountain and play my Skirk.

Turn 4
My opponent plays another Plains and a Sporoloth Ancient. I draw yet another Mountain, play it, and attack him for two. (Me: 20, Him: 18) Naturally, I’m not feeling so hot about my chances at this juncture.

Turn 5
My opponent attacks with Sporoloth Ancient (Me: 16, Him: 18), drops another Plains, and rawdogs Deadwood Treefolk. He didn’t get a guy back with it on the way in, and I don’t plan on letting him have one on the way out. I draw Empty the Warrens and attack with Skirk (16 apiece). I play Swamp and Fomori Nomad. I opt for the Nomad because I’m going to block his Deadwood Treefolk, and if he has a trick, he’ll use it. That being the case, if one of my guys is going to die, I’d rather it was the one without trample.

Turn 6
My opponent now has two counters on each creature and four cards in hand. He attacks with both guys, I block his Deadwood Treefolk with my Nomad, and he plays Thrill of the Hunt. My Nomad dies, and I take 4. (Me: 12, Him: 16) I’m not in great shape, but fortunately my opponent’s only post-combat play is a fifth Plains (bringing him up to seven mana). On my turn, I draw Feebleness. I attack with my Skirk (Me: 12, Him: 14), then Feebleness his Sporoloth Ancient and Empty the Warrens for four. Playing the Reckless Wurm doesn’t accomplish anything because of the Thrill of the Hunt in the yard. While Feebleness isn’t the best answer in the world for a 4/4 that spits out 1/1s, it will allow me to block the Ancient with Reckless Wurm without fear of Thrill of the Hunt.

Turn 7
My opponent attacks, and I take five on the chin. (Me: 7, Him: 14). As much as I love chump-blocking, I’d like to prevent more than three damage, and I think I can wait a little while longer. My opponent then plays Harmonize and casts Knight of the Holy Nimbus. I draw Homing Sliver and attack with Skirk. (Me: 7, Him: 12) I cycle the Homing Sliver for Sedge Sliver and play it. I ship it back to my opponent with four Goblins, the Sedge Sliver, and a Swamp untapped.

Turn 8
My opponent’s Deadwood Treefolk dies, and his Ancient goes up to four counters. He plays a foil Jedit Ojanen of Efrava that I know he somehow got sixth and doesn’t attack. I draw Mogg War Marshal, attack (Me: 7, Him: 10), and play just Reckless Wurm, leaving regeneration mana up. My opponent makes two Saprolings at the end of my turn.

Turn 9
My opponent casts Marshaling Cry, flashes it back, and swings for the fences, meaning it’s now fun time for me. His attackers, all with vigilance, are: Sporoloth Ancient (4/5), Knight of the Holy Nimbus (4/4), Jedit Ojanen of Efrava (7/7), Saproling (3/3), and other Saproling (3/3). My blockers are four 1/1 Goblins, Sedge Sliver, and Reckless Wurm. Oh, and my opponent still has Thrill of the Hunt in the yard. How should I block?

First, my opponent gets his Cat Warrior token with Jedit, but that obviously can’t attack. Then I put Sedge Sliver in front of a Saproling and chump the rest with Goblins. It’s not too attractive to block anything with Reckless Wurm since Thrill of the Hunt will kill it while letting any of his guys live. I also kind of need to save the Wurm to double-block Jedit, who would be a 6/7 with Thrill on the ensuing turn. It’s obviously best to chump-block now while his guys are enormous… even the Saproling, which will be a negligible threat next turn. I regenerate Sedge Sliver, he obviously opts not to waste Thrill to save a Saproling, and after he suspends a Search for Tomorrow, it’s my turn.

I draw Goblin Skycutter, so my obvious play is to attack with my Red-fear guy (Me: 7, Him: 8) and drop the Marshal and the Cutter on the table.

Turn 10
My opponent attacks with just Jedit; I double block as planned. There’s no point in blocking with anything else, because if he has another pump spell, I’ll be wrecked anyway. Even if I manage to push my creatures’ combined power up to or over Jedit’s toughness, he can simply kill all my guys except for the Sliver and overwhelm me the next turn. As it is, he doesn’t have another pump spell, and Jedit trades with Reckless Wurm (netting him another Cat token on the way out). He plays a Giant Dustwasp (leaving him with one card in hand) and passes it back. I pay echo on my War Marshal and draw Skizzik Surger. I attack with the ol’ Skirk (Me: 7, Him: 6) and don’t have enough mana to play the Skizzik Surger, so I ship it on back. He makes a Saproling at the end of my turn.

Turn 11
Search resolves, netting my opponent another Forest. With two cards in hand and five each of Plains and Forests untapped, my opponent attacks. The troops coming over are Sporoloth Ancient (2/3), two Cats (each 2/2), two Saprolings (each 1/1), and Knight of the Holy Nimbus (2/2). Dustwasp stays home. My potential blockers are Goblin Skycutter, Mogg War Marshal, Goblin token, and Sedge Sliver. What’s the play?

Before I watched the replay, I thought I may have messed up. I thought there was a way to block such that, with my Skizzik, I’d have enough to kill my opponent on the swing back even if he had another blocker. There was not, so my play was fine. I block Sporoloth with Sedge Sliver and throw my 1/1s in front of two of his 2/2s. He lets his Sporoloth die, and I take 4 (Me: 3, Him 6). As it turns out (and I wish I had been thinking specifically this at the time), if he’d had a one- or two-toughness flier in reserve, I would have been able to Skycut it, play the Skizzik (which his Wasp would have to block), and get through for exactly six damage. He didn’t play anything after combat, though. On my turn, I draw a worthless land, play Skizzik, and send ’em all in. My opponent has two blanks and concedes.

Final thought: All things considered from his point of view, what should he have attacked with on what ended up being his final turn?

Before game 2, I sideboard in Melancholy. A lot of the time there is an obvious candidate to be boarded out, but in this case nothing was, so I think I just cut the Spitting Sliver.

Game 2
My opponent keeps, and I keep Skizzik Surger, Henchfiend of Ukor, Goblin Skycutter, Feebleness, two Mountains, and a Swamp.

Turn 1
My opponent plays a Forest; I draw Reckless Wurm and play Mountain.

Turn 2
My opponent plays a Plains and passes; I draw and play a Swamp and cast Goblin Skycutter.

Turn 3
My opponent plays Essence Warden and a Plains. I draw Melancholy, play another Mountain, and waste no time in Feebling up his Warden. I attack, he Judges my guy to be Unworthy, and he puts all three back on top (revealing Aven Riftwatcher).

Turn 4
My opponent plays Plains and Riftwatcher. (Me: 20, Him: 22) I draw a Mountain and play a Swamp. My hand is now Mountain, Melancholy, Reckless Wurm, Henchfiend of Ukor, and Skizzik Surger. Naturally, I opt not to play the Henchfiend so that I can Wurm next turn.

Turn 5
My opponent suspends a Dustwasp, plays a fourth Plains, and attacks with Riftwatcher. (Me: 18, Him: 22) He has two cards left in hand, so I feel like I’m in pretty good shape, especially if I draw a land in the next two turns. I draw Kor Dirge and play Reckless Wurm.

Turn 6
My opponent plays a Forest and suspends Nantuko Shaman. I topdeck a Mountain, play Skizzik Surger, and attack with both guys. Tragically, my opponent’s last card is a second Judge Unworthy for the Skizzik. He puts two cards on the top and reveals Harmonize. (Ewwwww.) As his Riftwatcher only has one counter left on it, he chumps my Wurm. After trample and the Aven’s trigger, my opponent nets a life. (Me: 18, Him: 23)

Turn 7
My opponent’s Shaman comes off suspend. He then Harmonizes and plays a morph before swinging past my tapped-out board with the Shaman. (Me: 15, Him: 23) I draw Corpulent Corpse to go with my Fiend, Melancholy, and Dirge. I attack my opponent with the Wurm (Me: 15, Him: 19) and play the Corpse.

Turn 8
My opponent’s Dustwasp is down to one counter. He draws and plays a Plains (bringing him to six Plains and two Forest), then Searches up another Forest. This makes me kind of suspect his last card is Jedit Ojanen, which wouldn’t be the worst for me… as long as his morph is Lumithread Field and not Thelonite Hermit. He attacks with just Nantuko Shaman. This means that his morph is likely to be one of the aforementioned, particularly the Field for obvious rarity reasons. It’s unlikely that it’s Gathan Raiders; if it were, why would he have played the Plains? It’s also equally unlikely that it’s Whip-Spine Drake, as he probably would have flipped/reversed it and attacked me with that in the air. As it is, I take three from the Shaman. (Me: 12, Him: 19). My opponent then reveals his last card to be… Sacred Mesa! (Ewwwww again.) He has only three mana untapped, so the Mesa won’t get chugging full steam until his next turn.

On my turn, I draw Flowstone Embrace and cast it on his morph. I don’t care if he chooses to unmorph it; if he does, I’ll get tons of damage through. He does, in fact, turn his Grey Ogre into a Parapet in response to my Embrace activation, tapping him down to one land. I tap the rest of my mana to play my haster and swing with all three of my guys. (Me: 12, Him: 9) There’s no sense in trying to keep a blocker back for his Shaman. Sure, he’ll kill me faster if he attacks with that, but considering that I have two non-lands in hand (it would have been better for me to play a land and deal an extra damage with the Henchfiend than to bluff that I have spells), and considering that he just dropped below 10 life, he may be more inclined to keep the Shaman on D.

Turn 9
Dustwasp hits play, and my opponent makes a Pegasus to sacrifice to the Mesa. He attacks with Wasp (9 life each) and drops a land, bringing him up to ten total lands (eight untapped).

During my upkeep, I pay echo on the Henchfiend. In this game, the best defense is a good offense; the more resources he has to commit to dealing with my guys, the fewer he has to smack me in the face with. I draw and play a Swamp, then go deep into the tank. My options are: 1) Melancholy his Shaman and bash him; 2) bash him with the intent of Kor Dirging; and 3) bash him with the intent of playing Melancholy on his Wasp. What should I do?

I know that he’ll block with the Nantuko Shaman if I don’t Melancholy it. If I do Melancholy it and attack with both my creatures, he’ll presumably double-block each. All his tokens would die, but he wouldn’t take any trample because of his Lumithread Field. Then on his turn, he’d make a token to sacrifice to his Mesa and attack me to 6 with the Wasp. Then, on my turn, when I attacked with my guys, he’d block the Wurm with just one Pegasus and take 5, falling to 1. Then he’d make three more guys, make one on his upkeep to sacrifice, and finish me off in the air. So this option means I’d have to topdeck something spicy.

What happens if I just attack?

Suppose I attack with everyone with the intention of Melancholying the Wasp after combat. If I do, he presumably blocks and kills both my guys. This leaves him with two tokens at the end of my turn, as my Wurm will be forced to trade with Shaman straight up. So he’d be at six, he’d have to make a Pegasus during upkeep to feed the Mesa, and then he’d attack me to seven. I’d attack him to three, and then he’d only be able to make four tokens at the end of my turn, leaving him with six points of attack-eligible power and me at seven life. Almost poetic. So casting Melancholy on the Shaman means I would have to topdeck, and casting it on the Wasp means he would have to topdeck.

Playing Kor Dirge would accomplish the same thing as casting Melancholy on the Wasp after combat. He would block my Wurm with a Pegasus and the Shaman, and my Henchfiend with two Pegasus tokens. With damage on, I Kor Dirge, redirecting the damage Nantuko Shaman would deal to Wurm over to his Pegasus token and saving the Wurm. He would make a token at the end of my turn, make another during upkeep to feed to the Mesa, then attack me for four (putting me to five). On my turn, I attack with Wurm and Corpse. The option that lets him deal the most damage to me is to single-block Wurm with a Pegasus. He’d take five and go to one, then I’d play Melancholy on his Dustwasp. At the end of my turn, he’d make three more Pegasus tokens. This would leave him with four power worth of attackers and me at five life.

Arbitrarily (I think), I choose to let my Wurm die and Melancholy the Wasp after combat. The rest of the next two turns proceed as planned; on his final turn, he’s at three facing down a fear guy, and I’m at seven facing down six power worth of fliers (actually five power, as I Fatal Attractioned one, which still wouldn’t put me out of Thrill range, but maize). He makes a token to pay for upkeep, and then thinks for a moment. I figured that was a good sign, but when he attacked instead of conceding I got a little worried, though I still thought he had just been "letting me stew." I drop to two life, and he plays Deadwood Treefolk after combat. This was worrisome. If his last card was a topdecked land (assuming he’d drawn the trees the turn prior), he could rebuy his Aven Riftwatcher and put himself out of range (unless I topdecked Ghostfire). Of course, if he’d drawn the Trees the turn prior he should (and probably would) have played them then. As it was, he got back Essence Warden and played it. He only had one mana left, so he was on the "hope my opponent screws up and plays a guy before attacking" plan. I naturally didn’t play a guy and just attacked him for the final three.

And thus, the hero went on to split in the finals. If you liked the strategy portion of the article, please let me know in the forums or by email, or let Craig know by email.

Timothy James Aten
Your 2008 Resident Genius
Founder of Camp Vermilion
The River Below

*As in “person who writes irregularly for Londes” not as in “person who writes for Londes who has trouble producing stools.”

(Wow. Only one footnote. How about that? I guess I was subconsciously trying to cut back now that Hack Hill is churning out upwards of seven per article.)