Jacob’s Ladder – Reflections

Friday, December 3rd – Sometimes you just have to make do with your Sealed deck, which is what MJ had to do with his GP Nashville pool. Unfortunately, one more Scars event remains: Worlds in Chiba. Will Draft prove better?

I began my nine-hour journey in Michigan, driving down with Gabriel Nassif, Brian DeMars, and Liz Lempicki. I closed my eyes to sleep (many a sleepless night due to Rune Factory 3) and then awoke at the tournament site. I love casting Time Walk as much as the next mage, but seeing how tired everyone looked when we arrived, it seemed like they just couldn’t pay for my Temporal Extortion. Luckily I ended up repaying the favor by driving the whole way back, so my conscience remains satisfied.

The Grand Prix was held at the luxurious Gaylord Opryland and was probably the best tournament site that I’ve ever played at. The area was under five feet of water not too long ago, and this was its reopening. My only complaints were that there were no reasonable (cheap) food establishments within walking distance, and that parking was $20 a day. Fortunately I was able to stay at an old friend’s house (Doug Tice) and offset some of those costs, and I was well rested for the event the next day.

I opened a very mediocre pool with my best cards being Razor Hippogriff, two Chrome Steeds, and two Turn to Slags. A typical R/W metalcraft was registered, and I was off to look for a second opinion on my build. Luckily Gerry Thompson was idling, watching some durdles draft, so we sat down to get some games in.

Gerry wielded a slower U/R deck with a far better late game, but I thought I had enough evasion to fly over his defenses and steal at least a few games. He showed me how wrong I was by browning me game after game, and they all played out the same. I would deploy a bunch of crappy little guys and then a metalcrafted Chrome Steed. He’d deal with it, and I’d just sit there and die to Barrage Ogre or Volition Reins. We agreed that his deck was only a little above average, and if I couldn’t win a game, then my deck was truly atrocious. After the beatings ended, my pool was reviewed again to see if things were as hopeless as they seemed.

The alternative build of my Sealed pool included multiple Carapace Forgers and an Ezuri’s Brigade, eschewing all the playable white cards to go with mono-green splashing red for Turn to Slag. Gerry also suggested cutting lands down to fifteen to play a bunch of do-nothing artifacts like Liquimetal Coating, Wall of Tanglecord x2, and Golden Urn to support our metalcraft Elves and two Chrome Steeds. I was skeptical and with the updated build and still lost, but the games were a little closer when I drew the good half of the deck. It seemed like my play skill had no factor in this build, as I only had two ways to stop my opponent from doing anything. It also contained no card advantage like Razor Hippogriff or Origin Spellbomb and no evasion like Glint Hawk Idol or Kemba’s Skyguard.

Gerry suggested that I shouldn’t be R/W, despite it being the “better build” of the deck. Most people were going to be that color combination but with a far better card selection. My only chance was to jam an aggro deck, get lucky, and hope they’re mana screwed. He was probably right, but I don’t sling spells like that. I’d rather play my best cards and my best removal and hope that tight play gets me to the Promised Land.

One of the skills you gain when you consistently play at a competitive level is self-reflection. Each game can be replayed in your mind to figure out if you could’ve played around a combat trick, snuck in a few more damage, or a sequence of plays that could’ve led to victory. This ritual revealed that I had made no errors each round. Mana was efficiently used, combat tricks were dodged, and mulligans were correctly evaluated.

Sadly, good play doesn’t overcome most rares. Sunblast Angel, Sword of Body and Mind, and Wurmcoil Engine were the banes of my existence, and with their help, I was able go 2-3 drop for the fifth time this year.

Disappointment and dejection were what I expected to feel after my last loss, but there was none of that. There was only acceptance that I played the best I could and just didn’t get there. I had a good time in the GGsLive booth and watched some friends of mine do well in the Top 8.

Sadly there’s still one more premier event dealing with Scars Limited, and that is Worlds. From what I’d garnered from talking with others, the draft was far better and less bomby than Sealed. I vowed to redouble my efforts and put even more practice into Draft and hope that in doing so I’d not only overcome my intense dislike of the format, but maybe even become slightly proficient at it.

The adventure started with sixty Scars of Mirrodin packs and sixty tickets on Magic Online. Fifty-one packs later, I had gained a valuable lesson, which I will now impart upon all of you.

Chrome Steed is


This revelation blew me away at first, as I followed it backwards through everything else I knew about the format. I would very often first-pick Chrome steed in what I viewed as a weak pack, and the draft would spiral downwards from there. I was taking Vulshok Replica quite highly, even though it really isn’t that much better than Oxidda Daredevil or Ferrovore. Sunspear Shikari was never chosen over Auriok Replica, even if I only had one or two metalcraft cards. Myr Galvanizer was a stone blank every time I played him, but I thought metalcraft was so good that it was worth playing a bunch of terrible cards in your deck to support it.

I was now competently drafting non-infect decks, but I knew that couldn’t last forever. Calmly, casually, I’d take an off-color Myr over a sixth-pick Cystbearer and would routinely pass on the twelfth-pick Corpse Cur. I couldn’t win a single game with any infect deck I drafted, but it was the consensus best deck in the format. Needing help in this regard, I birded a draft Owen Turtenwald was doing, who just so happened to be going infect. In deckbuilding I saw he had drafted three equipment, fourteen infect creatures, some Replicas and removal, and a Tainted Strike. I had my doubts, but he said his deck was insane, so I sat down and watched the first match.

Owen destroyed his U/W opponent by playing seven infect creatures and a Sylvok Lifestaff. No removal, no tricks, just alpha strikes every turn. He went on to win the draft in similar fashion against all the opponents, as they couldn’t deal with the poisonous onslaught. After a short cackling session on pwning n00bz and a high five, I went to ponder on why I couldn’t emulate that success.

Piloting Valakut in a late-night playtest session gave me plenty of time to wonder why my efforts were so stymied with what seemed like such a simple strategy. After going 5-0 tossing Mountains at faces half-heartedly, I came upon the answer.

I never draft infect because it’s not remotely interesting. None of the infect creatures have activated abilities except for Tangle Angler, so I view all of the poisonous brood as Stormfront Pegasi, Lightning Elementals, and Dreg Reavers. With card quality like that, of course I’d take a random mana Myr or removal over them.

The synergy that I thought infect completely lacked was actually in the form of doubling all the power-enhancing effects. I thought Sylvok Replica was better than Untamed Might, Trigon of Corruption better than Hand of the Praetors, and Carrion Call better than Trigon of Rage. After asking around, I found out I was off base, and that has allowed me to draft the green and black critters to some success.

I also found it interesting that I linked this together while playtesting Valakut. I hate Valakut. A lot. My matches with and against it don’t even feel like I’m playing a game of skill. You also have no control over your draw step, and you even have to rely on chance for your Summoning Traps to do anything at all. When you play the deck, what decisions do you have to make?

–                    Mulligan a hand without Forests.

–                    Don’t get your Harrows Mana Leaked.

I hated this deck for the same reason as I hated infect; I was looking for synergy in the wrong places. When all your cards do the same thing, there’s no need for card filtering effects like Preordain. I should have been ecstatic that I had just 5-0ed a blue deck, but instead I was angry I didn’t have to make any decisions in the win.

Admitting the problem is my first step towards recovery, and hopefully I’ll be able to test for Worlds with playing the best deck in mind, instead of the one where I make the most decisions.

I’m currently in California, testing with most of American Magic. Hopefully I can get a Top 64 at Worlds, so I can maintain my level 6 for another year.

No one can fight the tide forever