Magical Hack – Drafting Mimics, Counting to 100, and Casting Votes

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Friday, August 22nd – To break from the monotony of over-analyzing Lorwyn Block Constructed, I decided I might have a little fun doing small-set draft on Magic Online. Having opened a decent number of packs of Eventide now on MTGO, I feel confident in saying that Runed Halo is in fact from Shadowmoor, no matter how many times I say it’s from Eventide.

To break from the monotony of over-analyzing Lorwyn Block Constructed, I decided I might have a little fun doing small-set draft on Magic Online. Having opened a decent number of packs of Eventide now on MTGO, I feel confident in saying that Runed Halo is in fact from Shadowmoor, no matter how many times I say it’s from Eventide. Patrick “The Innovator” Chapin agrees, being the one who apparently paid attention to this former bulk rare turned breakout star, remembering some conversations with Wizards employees who hinted that the card did quite well in the Future Future League. Having drafted more than a few times with 3x EVE since the queues appeared at the start of this week, I’ve still yet to see one out of a pack… who knew?

The tedious monotony of Lorwyn Block Constructed isn’t anywhere near as tedious as advertised. You can reasonably expect to play in a PTQ and face six different archetypes in six rounds, all with competitive decks that will gnaw your face off if you haven’t picked a deck that can cut it in the big leagues, and even if the big threats are Kithkin and Faeries that doesn’t mean other decks don’t just win Grand Prix. Drafting triple Eventide, however… now that is tedious. Two drafts in, I knew how things were going to be: my first deck had four Woodlurker Mimics in a mono-Black deck, and I was worried that I was removal-light with just an Unmake, two Soul Reaps and a Gwyllion Hedge-Mage to play Mimic Control. I needn’t have worried; I had four Mimics, a very solid curve, 15 total G/B creatures and three copies of the G/B God enchantment that nobody at the table seemed to want. Let me tell you, +2/+2, Lure and Deathtouch on a 4/5 Withering Mimic is something stupid. One game, I sideboarded in my four Nightsky Mimics and replaced the two artifact creatures I’d deigned to play in my two- and three-drops with some more B/W spells, to help ensure I could maximize the chances of getting “the Mimic draw” on the play for game 3. Triple Nightsky Mimic said I could. I lost that draft in the finals to a six Shorecrasher Mimic deck, who conveniently was the other Mimic that is immune to Soul Reaps.

For the second of those two drafts, I learned my lesson: that worked really, really well. But this time it seemed people were passing Red removal too, so I was sort of stuck between solidifying with a mono-Golgari deck to fuel Mimics and just abandoning the color and jumping into Red, because I had two Puncture Blasts and a Rekindled Flame to go with my developing mono-Golgari deck. When pack two kept shipping me more G/B Mimics, I realized I was all-in on the Mimic plan again, but this time splashing Puncture Blasts unless I got some nuts Black removal passed my way that absolutely required I go mono-Black. Since I was passed a third Puncture Blast but still no Unmakes, three Puncture Blasts and a Flame Jab ended up in my seven-Mimic B/r deck. Unsurprisingly, having drafted eleven copies of that particular Mimic in two drafts, I was able to win the one where I had seven copies. A seizure-prone ebola monkey could have won it too, though it’d have left an awful mess at the keyboard in the meantime.

Is the triple-Eventide format just that simple? Possibly. But seeing how Banishing Knacks keep dancing around the table, and I keep drafting four-plus Mimic decks to let me churn packs until I open worthy raredrafts like the thirteen-ticket Tarmogoyf of the set, Figure of Destiny, one would hope that there is at least a little more depth to it than “draft Mimics, apply God enchantment to Mimics.” Aggression is key, certainly: the most important thing in a match is making your Mimic hit the opponent first, and thus the format is ruled by two-drops and answers to two-drops like the ever-amazing Flame Jab. And you can’t always get the seven-Mimic deck, not to mention the fact that the moment you start pick-one pack-one drafting Mimics is the moment you find yourself at the mercy of those upwind of you who might just cut you mercilessly and leave you dead in the water. Being at the mercy of the merciless is by definition a bad thing, so the question is: what can you do to protect yourself? “Be aggressive” is the name of the game, which is why the best plan was to horn in on those Mimics anyway.

For my third draft in Mimic-land, I was mono-Nightsky when I opened a pack-two Figure of Destiny, and book-ended the draft by opening Stillmoon Cavalier. I only had three Nightsky Mimics in the end, having passed two for each of those Rares, but such is life. No one wanted Ballynock Trappers or Recumbent Bliss either, so my mono-Orzhov deck happened to get to play Figure of Destiny as well, running as it was off of basic Plains. If you think Figure of Destiny is a beating in Block Constructed, try beating an 8/8 flying first striker in Limited. But there is more to the set than that stupid cycle of Commons, and that is why we can look at Eventide draft as something you can actually learn how to do well instead of “hurr I opened Nightsky Mimic again and they passed me some more of ’em.”

And so, without further ado, here are my top underrated picks for Eventide limited, as pertains to Eventide by itself:

Ballynock Trapper — I don’t see why this creature gets no love. He hoses the opponent’s best creature every turn, in a format where removal isn’t plentiful and several of the removal spells won’t even stop him: he cares little about Recumbent Bliss, and Fire at Will just makes him glad that he’s not Will. He’s too big for a single Flame Jab, and did I mention he stops your opponent’s best creature every turn, and sometimes taps an awful lot of things and leads to a dead opponent?

Banishing Knack — No one is taking these. Admittedly, untapping isn’t as easy to abuse in this set, with a very few cards possessing the actual “Untap” mechanic. But with God enchantments ruling the day and the ability to get nutty with untap-when-you-play-the-right-spell creatures, this shouldn’t be passing around the table… never mind going 13th, which is the latest I’ve seen it so far.

Flame Jab — Okay, we all know this one. But I promise, the format really is about 2/1s for 2, so this card is a rockstar.

Nettle Sentinel — As mentioned, this is a very aggressive format. I used to think that in Limited this guy would just sort of peter out, but it’s actually just Isamaru, except you can effectively play all ten you draft. One-drops are worth playing in Mimic-dot-format, because they do stuff before you cast Mimics and thus can help put you ahead in the race, maybe even breaking serve if they get to go Mimic-crazy and just swing for the fences first. A swarm of these, presumably followed up by Shorecrasher or Woodlurker Mimics, can be an absolute beating.

Rendclaw Trow — A Grey Ogre with benefits, it just so happens that the Persist on this guy means you always get something to work with afterwards, and the Wither means it actually kills a Mimic if it catches one. Since it can ‘catch’ three out of five, that’s a pretty good deal for a three-drop, and when you’re not fighting the Mimic fight and you get to play actual non-idiot Magic, he’s quite a worthwhile beater.

Duergar Hedge-Mage — For mono-Plains, he controls God enchantments while also filling the curve. Considering just how often the darn things come up, this is a worthwhile thing to remember. He’s by no means amazing, but he is worth adding to your pile for reasons other than the fact that you took the R/W Mimic first pick.

Gwyllion Hedge-Mage — I can’t say enough good things about this little witch. In a format where the 2/1 is king, a free -1/-1 counter kills the most threatening thing on the opponent’s board while developing your own with a Grey Ogre. It’s the Uncommon I most hope to see, when I am planning on being the mono-Swamp mage.

Voracious Hatchling — I am actually not too big of a fan of this cycle, since four mana is a lot in this format… you might just be dead on turn 5 to the Mimic draw, and what has your four-drop 2/2 done for you then? If your four-drop swings and gains you four life, then you might just forestall the doom that tends to come in four-point increments from the likes of Nightsky Mimic, and thus this Hatchling is the one that does something that is really meaningful, besides get chumped once before they kill you.

It’s a pretty simple format, after all… but it’s not immediately obvious that the best Uncommon is a Grey Ogre that casts Scar most of the time. It’s just interesting enough to get me playing it as a distraction from Lorwyn Block Constructed, but not enough for an entire article… now I know why they call them the ‘dog days of summer.’ To escape boredom, it seems the local players around me are trying to crack into something new… to us, at least. The name of the game is Elder Dragon Highlander, and the idea is that with no States to test for on the horizon and everyone tired of both SSE draft and the long grind of a less-than-innovative PTQ season, de-stressing with EDH is a good way to restock the competitive spirit: chicken soup for the gamer’s soul.

Given the advice that being wacky is a good way to have fun, fly below the radar, and do cool things that people appreciate and don’t immediately gang up on you and kill you for, I decided right off the bat I was going to have fun with Reaper King and a manabase of 40 nonbasic lands. I set a budget limit on myself — I can’t reasonably expect to get one of each of the Revised dual lands, but one of each Ravnica Block dual is very reasonable, and I already have basically all ten of the Shadowmoor block duals. Add the fact that I was planning on having a reasonable Changeling count anyway, to pad my Scarecrow numbers, and we have a semi-budget deck… I can realistically expect to get a lot of things, or have my friends put up with a few weird proxies till I find the things I’m missing, but proxying Mana Drain is not on that list… and neither is trying to be That Guy as hard as I can be, the guy who casts Yawgmoth’s Will as a ‘fair card,’ has a big turn, then gets pummeled for it because I just did a bunch of stuff and gained a huge advantage. With a five-color manabase I can play whatever card I want, and presuming I can reliably have whatever color whenever if I try hard enough I figured I’d just go crazy with it… if Doran into Cryptic Command works in Block Constructed, why not in a hundred-card singleton format?

The Lands:

Academy Ruins
Volrath’s Stronghold
Reflecting Pool
Polluted Delta
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Flooded Strand
Murmuring Bosk
Secluded Glen
Wanderwine Hub
Gilt-Leaf Palace
Ancient Amphitheater
Auntie’s Hovel
Overgrown Tomb
Breeding Pool
Temple Garden
Stomping Grounds
Godless Shrine
Blood Crypt
Watery Grave
Sacred Foundry
Steam Vents
Hallowed Fountain
Vivid Marsh
Vivid Crag
Vivid Creek
Vivid Meadow
Vivid Grove
Mystic Gate
Wooded Bastion
Fire-Lit Thicket
Graven Cairns
Sunken Ruins
Cascade Bluffs
Fetid Heath
Flooded Grove
Rugged Prairie
Twilight Mire

The Spells:

Powder Keg
Oblivion Stone
Nevinyrral’s Disk
Pernicious Deed
Living Death
Patriarch’s Bidding
Compulsive Research
Swords to Plowshares
Cryptic Command
Austere Command
Demonic Tutor
Oona’s Grace
Deep Analysis
Fact or Fiction
Arcane Denial
Thirst for Knowledge
Legacy Weapon
Sylvan Library
Imp’s Mischief

The Creatures:

Necrotic Sliver
Sedge Sliver
Venser, Shaper Savant
Crystalline Sliver
Mad Auntie
Imperious Perfect
Sliver Overlord
Ghost Council of Orzhova
Rith the Awakener
Brion Stoutarm
Oona, Queen of the Fae
Sliver Queen
Doran, the Siege Tower
Wicker Warcrawler
Grim Poppet
Wingrattle Scarecrow
Painter’s Servant
Fang Skulkin
Woodland Changeling
War-Spike Changeling
Turtleshell Changeling
Taurean Mauler
Moonglove Changeling
Mirror Entity
Ghostly Changeling
Fire-Belly Changeling
Avian Changeling
Cairn Wanderer
Chameleon Colossus

And of course, The General: Reaper King. People tell me I don’t know how to have fun, but I think going through an awfully long game then casting Patriarch’s Bidding or Living Death to get back Reaper King and all of his friends, nuking 20 different permanents with the King’s comes-into-play ability, is pretty “fun”… and sort of unrealistic enough that nobody will worry about me even if they know what the deck does, because why worry about two cards out of a hundred-card Highlander deck? It’s high-quality gold monsters, high quality spells, and some fun little Changeling/Sliver action on the side. If nothing else, how can it be a bad thing to have something new to talk to judges about instead of “dude, your ruling sucked” or “so do you need a scorekeeper for the Shards of Alara prerelease?” Sure, you may laugh at some of my awful creatures… but if you’re laughing, you’re probably not worried to death that a Wicker Warcrawler is going to come your way and thus eager to get me off the table.

And now for something completely different… in case me discussing Elder Dragon Highlander isn’t already different enough! As of last year, I have had the distinct honor of having a vote in the Hall of Fame Ballot. That time of year has rolled around again, and Craig has said he would be happy to see my ballot posted as a column (… so long as it wasn’t the entire column, as I did that trick twice already, and one of those years I didn’t even have a vote!).

When it comes to the Hall of Fame, I have some difficult standards. I am a painfully ethical person – the sort of guy who’ll call a game loss on himself down 1-0 against a small child round one of the PTQ, or more importantly the sort of guy who lives up to his own standards of behavior by telling it honest and doing the right thing because it’s the right thing rather than because there’s a reward for it. Because of these high ethical standards of mine, I’m far more impressed by someone who does well at Magic by actually doing well at Magic, and I see the Hall of Fame as a place for the very best of the best to assemble and be recognized for their achievements. I see the brush that paints that virtual halo around the forehead of Kai Budde and Jon Finkel touching each and every member of the Hall, and likewise I would see these same luminaries marred in by allowing a cheater into the Hall of Fame. It’s for this reason that I have expressed outrage at the idea of Mike Long ‘making the cut’ into the Hall of Fame… not because I don’t think he possesses one of the finest Magical minds of all time, for I have good reason to be convinced that he would very easily have made the Hall on his talents alone… but because the best of the best should be remembered because they are great, not because they just happened to do really well and may or may not have had a Prosperous Bloom in their lap or did a fake-shuffle of a deck full of Howling Wolves. Ethics, then, are the first standard to be upheld… and then the rest, from there on, come down to who I feel has accomplished enough across these myriad categories of Top 8, wins, and ‘outside accomplishments’.

Ted Knutson has managed to relieve some of my stress this week, by telling it like it is regarding Olivier Ruel. On the achievements alone, he is an easy one to vote for – but his achievements cannot be taken alone, without remembering the multiple bannings and the fact that judging technology had to get an awful lot more sophisticated to catch out Olivier’s “pattern of errors.” I keep a personal “black list” as well, full of Pro Tour stories and rumors that I have held on to for a very long time, many passed down along from back in the day before I was anything even close to a competitive player by my longtime partner-in-crime Seth Burn… and while these are not my grievances to air, especially since I have witnessed so few of these events and had a chance to meet only a very few of these players to look them in the eye and take their measure, it does mean there are a few names that receive in my mind a black mark of shame, like Lord Voldemort’s Death-Eaters or anyone who can do the Macarena with fewer than four beers in their system. It agonizes me to wonder when it is that a player has reformed themselves sufficiently to induct them into the Hall of Fame – not because I would seek to see Olivier in the Hall of Fame, or Mike Long, but because the ethical standards that I keep force me year in and year out to realize that a great asset to the Magic community who has been “community-building” the Internet for mages everywhere will remain unrecognized because of the acknowledged specter of dark events long since passed that keep me from putting a now-squeaky-clean Scott Johns up next to Kai and Jon. This ethics test extends perhaps even farther than just Magic, which is why I find that I will not be voting for any of my fellow Star City Games writers on the ballot this year, for reasons that need not be drawn out in public.

This vote, then, is for the squeaky-clean. If there is any reason to doubt… well, then, by standing that person in whom we doubt up next to Jon Finkel and Kai Budde, that doubt reflects poorly upon those in whom we should have no doubt. Entering into the fourth year of the Pro Tour history, we have begun to see remarkable effects for cleaning up the game and thus less doubt cast all around, but things have never been perfect and thus it takes an insider’s knowledge to look beyond the numbers to see if anything so ephemeral as ethics should bar one from the Hall.

I am happy to reiterate some of my votes from last year for the Hall of Fame. If you want to think of the Hall of Fame ballot as a ‘futures’ market where your accuracy at predicting the outcome determines your worthiness to continue to vote, last year I voted for three of the five inductees and my other two votes came in 6th and 7th on the ballot, with Mike Turian but one vote away from Randy Buehler (whom I did not vote for) in the fifth slot. My opinion of Mike has if anything improved since then, as memories and anecdotes have a habit of sharpening over time.

Vote #1 – Mike Turian

Vote #2 is likewise very easy – my standard for who should be in the Hall is “who do I think the Hall thinks should be in the Hall,” and thus I try to give my votes to those card sharks who have terrified all but the very, very best in their years of playing Magic, to see past the star power of Jon Finkel and Kai Budde to realize what it is that makes them fierce competitors, and to look for that certain je ne sais quoi in those whom I would see enshrined in the Hall alongside them. Mike Turian has that ineffable something in spades, as might be expected for one of the leaders on the Pro Tour Top 8 Appearance category: you can lucksack your way into a PT Top 8 once easily, twice believably… but five times? That’s like saying the likely cause of death was falling down an elevator shaft… onto some bullets. Next to Mike Turian on my ballot then is…

Vote #2 – Ben Rubin

This ends my broken phonograph repeating itself from last year’s vote, and thus it is time to see who is the best among the rest of those eligible for this year’s vote. I’m well aware of the fact that historically on the ballot I perhaps vote for too many Americans… many of the stories I know have to do with players from the same continent as myself, for the obvious reason of the nearer you are to me the more likely it is I’ve heard something. Thus I think the next best step would be to look beyond my home region to see whom I think deserves the induction, with a critical eye that reminds me that no matter how much I might want to vote for ‘people I like’, that is not my purpose as a member of the voting committee for the Hall of Fame. Ethics, again, tells me I have to vote with a combination of my heart, my brain, and other visceral things, not just rattle off votes for Craig Jones because that was one hell of a topdeck… and if I am to expect that ethics should affect the membership of the Hall of Fame, then I must expect that my ethical behavior is likewise a requirement.

“Back in the day” of the Team Pro Tours, you were either the Juggernaut, or you were not winning the Pro Tour. Alongside the German Juggernaut that was Kai Budde stood Dirk Baberowski and Marco Blume… and while it’s true that neither Dirk nor Marco ‘was Kai,’ you didn’t have to be Kai to beat the pants off of literally everyone else in the room, when the rules of three-man play mean that you can win the Pro Tour without ever having to play against Kai. Marco and Dirk were both pretty fearsome in their own right – and thus given the fact that Dirk equals the Pro Tour Top 8’s number that so impressed me for Turian and happens to be tied with Jon himself at #2 for most Pro Tour wins, the fact that Dirk Baberowski has proven himself both in teams and individual play means that I feel he has earned my vote as a luminary of the Pro Tour of impeccable ethics and terrifying ability, and not just because he used to have Kai Budde over his shoulder for a few Pro Tours.

Vote #3 – Dirk Baberowski

The difficult question for me is, how many Grand Prix Top 8’s equals one Pro Tour Top 8? And perhaps more importantly, how impressive is multiple Pro Tour Top 8s on someone who has never managed to have a comparable success on the Grand Prix circuit? Answering these questions tells me how to accurately weigh those players who excel at Grand Prix play but have not torn up the Pro Tour on any given Sunday, or weigh the career of someone like Ryuuchi Arita whom I know so little about… or Alex Shvartsman, whom I would consider heavily as a candidate, but whose standout Grand Prix Top 8 success still didn’t convert into an incredible number of wins, and who saw just one Pro Tour Sunday, a number I don’t consider ‘terrifying’ enough to suggest to me that the Pro Tour itself parted in his path lest he destroy them. Behind Olivier Ruel, whom I will not vote for, and Alex Shvartsman, whom sadly I doubt I will be voting for this year, you see just three other players eligible for induction who have double-digit Grand Prix Top 8s to their name: Itaru Ishida, Jelger Wiergesma, and Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz. Ishida, like Shvartsman, has very little noteworthy success at the Pro Tour, and I find it would take something quite considerable to give my vote to someone with just one appearance on a Pro Tour Sunday… even the vote I most want to give, to Chris Pikula for his advancement of the ethics of the game and increasing the color of the game away from the battle between black and white on the chess-board of good versus Mike Long, comes with three Pro Tour Sundays, and again like Alex Shvartsman I fear I will not be able to give that vote to Chris either.

But these next two… each have three Sunday appearances, one of which was a win, in addition to a considerable level of achievement on the Grand Prix circuit. Knowing what I do of each of them, through friends and extended networks, I find it simple enough to cast my vote for their induction into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame and believe that I have done well in paring these votes down to the essentials: ethics, success, dominance. Thus I find that my ballot is complete, even if I have come back around to North America once again and cast my final vote for a player on home soil… if anything I am glad for the fact that the recent changes to the voting structure allow for potentially more than five inductees into the Hall of Fame, because it means that I need worry less for national favoritism in my voting with the belief that my fellow voters on the Hall of Fame Committee so long as these votes are reasonably distributed across the world. The simple fact remains that much of the early history of the Pro Tour is dominated by Americans, and thus even as far into the voting as Year Four I find the larger portion of my votes happen to fall amongst that national body.

Vote #4 – Jelger Wiergesma

Vote #5 – Steven O’Mahoney-Schwartz

I vote for what matters to me. Many things matter to many people, and we have a reasonable cross-section of interests on the Hall of Fame Committee to represent just as many opinions about the Hall of Fame as there are voters in the Hall of Fame Committee. But what matters to me first and foremost is that we continue to send a clear message to those who would play the game at the highest level: to be recognized as the best of the best, you have to win of your own merits, not because you’ve learned how to best distract your opponent from the fact that they played a Pact last turn or because you mulligan better during game one because your shuffle is “sloppy” and lets you see cards in your opponent’s deck. To get into the Hall of Fame, you have to be a cut above… and cheaters never prosper. My only hope is that enough of the Hall of Fame Committee thinks similarly, so that a known and acknowledged cheater who happens to be amongst the best of the best can be remembered for his sins as well as his accomplishments, and does not share those sins with those who have earned enshrinement in the Hall of Fame on merit alone.

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com