Magical Hack – Drafting The Rares and Winning A Car

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Last week, we began looking at the most recent format of relevance to tournament play – Lorwyn Sealed Deck. It only makes sense to follow up on that subject the week after a North American Grand Prix in the format, especially with the PTQ season hitting its stride as we hit Thanksgiving weekend. Not being a turkey fan myself, I’m more interested in the Magic weekend that a few days off will provide…

Last week, we began looking at the most recent format of relevance to tournament play — Lorwyn Sealed Deck. It only makes sense to follow up on that subject the week after a North American Grand Prix in the format, especially with the PTQ season hitting its stride as we hit Thanksgiving weekend. Not being a turkey fan myself, I’m more interested in the Magic weekend that a few days off will provide, but that may just be because after working a full week and playing a full weekend it’s Monday as I’m beginning to write my article and am already thinking “Man, I could really use a weekend…”. Thus, much like my weekend, this article will be split between two formats: Lorwyn Limited and Standard.

The Grand Prix season so far had broken down into some interesting trends, with an almost clean split between “Pros” with largely two-color consistent Sealed Decks and the “Joes” with largely three- to four-color high-power inconsistent Sealed Decks amongst the undefeated Day 1 decks. This one is a dash different, in that all three players at 9-0 on Day 1 played three color decks… and all three were some combination of White, Blue, and Black. You can’t point to the prior trends to mark them as similar to the results in Australia or Japan… and you can’t try and use the same “Pros vs. Joes” argument to cut a marker between the two, as all three started with three Byes.

The three undefeated decklists can be found here, and might prove an interesting exercise in Lorwyn Sealed Deck. I for one am curious whether the trend is to play those three colors in varying exact compositions, as it’s an odd thing to see all the decks of a similar flavor. Kitakyuushuu had a Red/Black deck, a Green/Black/White deck, and a four-color G/B deck… while Bangkok saw U/B, U/B and Green/Black splash Red as its top finishers. Brisbane just didn’t list them, as sometimes happens when you send one crazy reporter named Blisterguy somewhere to do everything all on his lonesome, a difficult feat for anyone who’s ever tried it. Black is generally considered to be one of the strongest colors, and Blue-Black specifically the strongest archetype; I myself had a mediocre but still acceptable Blue-Black sealed deck at this past weekend’s PTQ and was able to strongarm my way to 4-1 before finally meeting a deck that straight-up overpowered me, and that was just with a somewhat average card-pool plus one bomby rare: Wydwen, the Biting Gale.

Speaking of Rares, the undefeated decks from Daytona Beach had Mirror Entity + Dread, Sower of Temptation (Chandra in the sideboard), and Sower of Temptation among the notable cards. But decks come with rares and with a cycle of powerful Legends for each tribe, one Planeswalker and one Elemental Incarnation for each color, it’s not exactly unusual to see a Sealed Deck that has at least some spikes of power to it. Synergy is the more interesting thing to learn a lesson from, especially when you see something you don’t expect. Never mind the fact that Nassif’s deck has a Leaf Gilder in its otherwise UBw deck, there’s a few other things I’m not used to seeing, specifically the Wellgabber Apothecary that I frequently leave on the sidelines even in my most streamlined Merfolk decks, and a Wings of Velis Vel and Familiar’s Ruse that I would have figured would be an “in” in any Blue deck.

But that’s about where we stop really getting interesting information from this Grand Prix, or at least information that wasn’t previously acquired through looking at this tournament’s predecessors. The format seems to be well-enough understood that we’re basically out of surprises, other than the fact that a deck that took White cards intentionally seems to have won the tournament. So for our amusement we’ll take a look at something slightly different, to follow up on Abe Sargent “How To Win While Rare Drafting” from last week. Playing with Lorwyn at the tournament level is one thing… and playing it in draft on Magic Online is a beast of a different color. Economic issues alter the value of the cards in relation to each other, and a player who has reason to feel advantaged over their opponents can try for some greedy min-maxing to get a deck good enough to win the table with (or at least try) while also scooping up cards of value in order to maximize their payoff at the end of the draft. Abe’s article led to some contention, first off because the subject is contentious and especially since Abe appeared quite overzealous in his taking of Rares.

Drafting on Magic Online is actually the bulk of my Magic-playing right now, and with zero ability to spend money on cards I often find it worthwhile to try and maximize my payoffs over the course of a draft so as to better cushion myself against when decks don’t work out (… manascrew happens, after all…) and also to put forward the agenda of earning tickets to buy cards I actually want. Abe’s article to at least some degree outlines my method of drafting on MTGO when I’m just “playing for fun,” rather than, say, actually practicing for a tournament format and thus playing ‘for serious’ and not min-maxing my playskill. I’ve generally “gone infinite” on drafts so long as I know to take a break when I’m not playing well or might overreact to the last loss I took, and have had the pleasure of drafting as much as I want for minimal investment since, um, Saviors of Kamigawa or so. Given that Lorwyn has been online for just under a month now and I’ve started with exactly one Lorwyn draft set to my name, the fact that I’m still churning along merrily and have 557 Lorwyn commons in my collection means I’ve drafted a minimum of thirteen times and still at least broken even over the whole… and likely more than that as I’m sure I’ve taken a few boosters’ worth of Uncommons and Rares, it’s just that I actually get rid of those for tickets at some point so counting them doesn’t really help lend credence to the number of drafts I’ve actually done. For the record I’ve 104 Uncommons currently in my folder and 18 Rares, though not any more since looking at ‘em reminded me I wanted to sell some for tickets… for a total tally of at least 15 drafts over a less than 30 day period, so at least one draft every other day effectively “for free.”

So for your amusement and edification, we’ll continue discussing Abe’s stratagem by adding in (Rare)Drafting With Sean, to look at one of my recent drafts of this format through something of a different perspective.


Pack 1:

Glimmerdust Nap, Cloudcrown Oak, Oblivion Ring, Wanderer’s Twig, Hornet Harasser, Axegrinder Giant, Skeletal Changeling, Fire-Belly Changeling, Elvish Branchbender, Amoeboid Changeling, Crib Swap, Vivid Meadow, Harpoon Sniper, Auntie’s Hovel, Secluded Glen

Pick: Secluded Glen

Pack 2:

Moonglove Winnower, Kinsbaile Balloonist, Inner-Flame Acolyte, Peppersmoke, Paperfin Rascal, Nath’s Elite, Moonglove Extract, Wings of Velis Vel, Flamekin Brawler, Facevaulter, Warren-Scourge Elf, Wizened Cenn, Goldmeadow Stalwart, Nettlevine Blight

Pick: Wizened Cenn

Pack 3:

Consuming Bonfire, Boggart Loggers, Runed Stalactite, Inner-Flame Acolyte, Neck Snap, Spiderwig Boggart, Flamekin Brawler, Tideshaper Mystic, Rootgrapple, Triclopean Sight, Thundercloud Shaman, Boggart Shenanigans, Mosswort Bridge

Pick: Thundercloud Shaman

Pack 4:

Battlewand Oak, Oaken Brawler, Pestermite, Hurly-Burly, Peppersmoke, Triclopean Sight, Nath’s Buffoon, Caterwauling Boggart, Tideshaper Mystic, Fodder Launch, Incremental Growth, Faerie Tauntings

Pick: Fodder Launch

Pack 5:

Kithkin Healer, Footbottom Feast, Axegrinder Giant, Quill-Slinger Boggart, Springjack Knight, Heal the Scars, Inkfathom Divers, Boggart Birth Rite, Lammastide Weave, Flamekin Harbinger, Inner-Flame Igniter

Pick: Inner-Flame Igniter

Pack 6:

Wanderer’s Twig, Bog-Strider Ash, Mudbutton Torchrunner, Wellgabber Apothecary, Aquitect’s Will, Mournwhelk, Zephyr Net, Scarred Vinebreeder, Faerie Tauntings, Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender

Pick: Mudbutton Torchrunner

Pack 7:

Wanderer’s Twig, Axegrinder Giant, Woodland Changeling, Kithkin Greatheart, Exiled Boggart, Heal the Scars, Skeletal Changeling, Hearthcage Giant, Ego Erasure

Pick: Kithkin Greatheart

Pack 8:

Runed Stalactite, Black Poplar Shaman, Elvish Eulogist, Wings of Velis Vel, Caterwauling Boggart, Goldmeadow Dodger, Captivating Glance, Adder-Staff Boggart

Pick: Adder-Staff Boggart

Pack 9:

Glimmerdust Nap, Wanderer’s Twig, Axegrinder Giant, Skeletal Changeling, Fire-Belly Changeling, Amoeboid Changeling, Vivid Meadow

Pick: Fire-Belly Changeling

Pack 10:

Paperfin Rascal, Nath’s Elite, Flamekin Brawler, Facevaulter, Warren-Scourge Elf, Goldmeadow Stalwart

Pick: Goldmeadow Stalwart

Pack 11:

Inner-Flame Acolyte, Spiderwig Boggart, Flamekin Brawler, Triclopean Sight, Boggart Shenanigans

Pick: Inner-Flame Acolyte

Pack 12:

Hurly-Burly, Nath’s Buffoon, Tideshaper Mystic, Faerie Tauntings

Pick: Hurly-Burly

Pack 13:

Axegrinder Giant, Heal the Scars, Boggart Birth Rite

Pick: Axegrinder Giant

Pack 14:

Aquitect’s Will, Faerie Tauntings

Pick: Faerie Tauntings

Pack 15:

Heal the Scars

Pick: Heal the Scars

Pack 16:

Bog-Strider Ash, Aethersnipe, Tarfire, Herbal Poultice, Kithkin Greatheart, Oakgnarl Warrior, Ingot Chewer, Soaring Hope, Shimmering Grotto, Judge of Currents, Lace with Moonglove, Crib Swap, Vivid Crag, Marsh Flitter, Mistbind Clique

Pick: Crib Swap

Pack 17:

Boggart Sprite-Chaser, Oaken Brawler, Smokebraider, Stonybrook Angler, Fertile Ground, Blades of Velis Vel, Cenn’s Heir, Ringskipper, Black Poplar Shaman, Shimmering Grotto, Flamekin Spitfire, Fallowsage, Vivid Grove, Nova Chaser

Pick: Flamekin Spitfire

Pack 18:

Pestermite, Leaf Gilder, Boggart Sprite-Chaser, Thieving Sprite, Kinsbaile Balloonist, Whirlpool Whelm, Boggart Loggers, Nightshade Stinger, Faultgrinder, Faerie Trickery, Warren-Scourge Elf, Jagged-Scar Archers

Pick: Kinsbaile Balloonist

Pack 19:

Hurly-Burly, Peppersmoke, Lys Alana Huntmaster, Consuming Bonfire, Wispmare, Faultgrinder, Rootgrapple, Goldmeadow Dodger, Wings of Velis Vel, Vivid Creek, Sentry Oak, Kithkin Mourncaller

Pick: Consuming Bonfire

Pack 20:

Woodland Changeling, Kithkin Greatheart, Lignify, Kinsbaile Skirmisher, Lace with Moonglove, Scarred Vinebreeder, Springjack Knight, Treefolk Harbinger, Rebellion of the Flamekin, Guardian of Cloverdell

Pick: Kithkin Greatheart

Pack 21:

Springleaf Drum, Oakgnarl Warrior, Glimmerdust Nap, Kithkin Daggerdare, Gilt-Leaf Seer, Protective Bubble, Ingot Chewer, Amoeboid Changeling, Elvish Harbinger, Vivid Crag

Pick: Vivid Crag

Pack 22:

Consuming Bonfire, Wispmare, Gilt-Leaf Ambush, Elvish Handservant, Cenn’s Heir, Boggart Forager, Facevaulter, Ego Erasure, Horde of Notions

Pick: Consuming Bonfire

Pack 23:

Deeptread Merrow, Kithkin Daggerdare, Herbal Poultice, Warren Pilferers, Gilt-Leaf Seer, Boggart Birth Rite, Zephyr Net, Bog Hoodlums

Pick: Warren Pilferers

Pack 24:

Bog-Strider Ash, Herbal Poultice, Oakgnarl Warrior, Ingot Chewer, Soaring Hope, Lace with Moonglove, Vivid Crag

Pick: Vivid Crag

Pack 25:

Boggart Sprite-Chaser, Fertile Ground, Blades of Velis Vel, Cenn’s Heir, Ringskipper, Vivid Grove

Pick: Blades of Velis Vel

Pack 26:

Boggart Sprite-Chaser, Whirlpool Whelm, Nightshade Stinger, Faultgrinder, Warren-Scourge Elf

Pick: Whirlpool Whelm

Pack 27:

Hurly-Burly, Rootgrapple, Goldmeadow Dodger, Kithkin Mourncaller

Pick: Hurly-Burly

Pack 28:

Kinsbaile Skirmisher, Lace with Moonglove, Rebellion of the Flamekin

Pick: Rebellion of the Flamekin

Pack 29:

Oakgnarl Warrior, Gilt-Leaf Seer

Pick: Oakgnarl Warrior

Pack 30:

Boggart Forager

Pick: Boggart Forager

Pack 31:

Streambed Aquitects, Stinkdrinker Daredevil, Nameless Inversion, Battlewand Oak, Hurly-Burly, Plover Knights, Paperfin Rascal, Hunt Down, Giant’s Ire, Dawnfluke, Spellstutter Sprite, *, *, Nectar Faerie, Dauntless Dourbark

Pick: Nameless Inversion

Pack 32:

Goldmeadow Harrier, Soulbright Flamekin, Glimmerdust Nap, Cloudcrown Oak, Soaring Hope, Shimmering Grotto, Judge of Currents, Lace with Moonglove, Blind-Spot Giant, Vivid Crag, Faerie Tauntings, Silvergill Adept, Windbrisk Heights, Stinkdrinker Daredevil

Pick: Blind-Spot Giant

Pack 33:

Lowland Oaf, Fistful of Force, Aethersnipe, Quill-Slinger Boggart, Surge of Thoughtweft, Cloudcrown Oak, Tarfire, Inkfathom Divers, Needle Drop, Soaring Hope, Captivating Glance, Giant Harbinger, Seedguide Ash

Pick: Giant Harbinger

Pack 34:

Adder-Staff Boggart, Fertile Ground, Hillcomber Giant, Stinkdrinker Daredevil, Lairwatch Giant, Spiderwig Boggart, Boggart Forager, Ringskipper, Hunt Down, Benthicore, Glen Elendra Pranksters, Twinning Glass

Pick: Stinkdrinker Daredevil

Pack 35:

Surge of Thoughtweft, Weed Strangle, Mudbutton Torchrunner, Spring Cleaning, Exiled Boggart, Shields of Velis Vel, Mournwhelk, Needle Drop, Ego Erasure, Goldmeadow Stalwart

Pick: Mudbutton Torchrunner

Pack 36:

Runed Stalactite, Nath’s Elite, Smokebraider, Broken Ambitions, Nath’s Buffoon, Faultgrinder, Rootgrapple, Goldmeadow Dodger, Flamekin Spitfire

Pick: Runed Stalactite

Pack 37:

Moonglove Winnower, Whirlpool Whelm, Adder-Staff Boggart, Wispmare, Elvish Eulogist, Giant’s Ire, Lairwatch Giant, Spellstutter Sprite, Vivid Marsh

Pick: Vivid Marsh

Pack 38:

Deeptread Merrow, Soulbright Flamekin, Blind-Spot Giant, Exiled Boggart, Heal the Scars, Kithkin Mourncaller, Hearthcage Giant, Tar Pitcher

Pick: Blind-Spot Giant

Pack 39:

Stinkdrinker Daredevil, Hurly-Burly, Paperfin Rascal, Hunt Down, Giant’s Ire, Dawnfluke, Spellstutter Sprite

Pick: Stinkdrinker Daredevil

Pack 40:

Soulbright Flamekin, Glimmerdust Nap, Soaring Hope, Lace with Moonglove, Vivid Crag, Faerie Tauntings

Pick: Soulbright Flamekin

Pack 41:

Lowland Oaf, Quill-Slinger Boggart, Needle Drop, Soaring Hope, Captivating Glance

Pick: Lowland Oaf

Pack 42:

Adder-Staff Boggart, Boggart Forager, Ringskipper, Hunt Down

Pick: Adder-Staff Boggart

Pack 43:

Exiled Boggart, Shields of Velis Vel, Needle Drop

Pick: Shields of Velis Vel

Pack 44:

Faultgrinder, Rootgrapple

Pick: Rootgrapple

Pack 45:

Giant’s Ire

Pick: Giant’s Ire

Final Decklist:


1 Runed Stalactite
1 Adder-Staff Boggart
1 Adder-Staff Boggart [FOIL]
1 Fire-Belly Changeling
1 Flamekin Spitfire
1 Nameless Inversion
2 Blind-Spot Giant
1 Inner-Flame Acolyte
1 Inner-Flame Igniter
2 Mudbutton Torchrunner
2 Stinkdrinker Daredevil
1 Fodder Launch
1 Giant’s Ire
1 Lowland Oaf
2 Consuming Bonfire
1 Giant Harbinger
1 Thundercloud Shaman
1 Warren Pilferers
1 Axegrinder Giant
10 Mountain
4 Swamp
2 Vivid Crag
1 Vivid Marsh


1 Blades of Velis Vel
1 Boggart Forager
1 Crib Swap
1 Faerie Tauntings
1 Goldmeadow Stalwart
1 Heal the Scars
2 Hurly-Burly
1 Kinsbaile Balloonist
2 Kithkin Greatheart
1 Oakgnarl Warrior
1 Rebellion of the Flamekin
1 Rootgrapple
1 Secluded Glen [FOIL]
1 Shields of Velis Vel
1 Soulbright Flamekin
1 Whirlpool Whelm
1 Wizened Cenn

Pack 1: With a foil Secluded Glen in the 4-5 tix range, it’s the obvious raredraft. Of the nonrare cards Oblivion Ring is best, but I’m generally happy to pass White cards to a neighbor and won’t resist taking a solid-value rare.

Pack 2: My habit when doing this is to accept that missed picks require reading strong signals from your right to figure out which tribe is open; Moonglove Extract is clearly the safest pick but I take a risk on Wizened Cenn because it’s high-powered and if it works out should lead to an excellent chance for victory. Never mind that I passed Oblivion Ring, sometimes the game really is “screw your neighbor.”

Pack 3: Speaking of reading clear signals… Major Tom to Ground Control, we’re taking Red cards.

Pack 4: Same concept… take the powerful cards that indicate a tribe is open, niche your way into that tribe after leveraging tactical raredrafting. Of worthy note you’ll also see Incremental Growth suggesting Green is open (… but I hate that card and rarely win with it, so I’ll pass it for a card I basically never lose with…) and Pestermite tells me that Faeries may be open a bit upstream since it’s in everyone’s top tier of Blue commons.

Pack 5: Sticking with Red, taking the card that doesn’t cost six, we can get more Axegrinders later if we want them and don’t really have to worry that it’ll pollute our signals downstream.

Pack 6: I am the Red mage. Roger.

Pack 7: I could have taken either Axegrinder or Hearthcage Giant, but am trying to rectify that Wizened Cenn pick and also perhaps choose an archetype; I like W/R Giants specificallly because of Kithkin Greatheart, so I take him here.

Pack 8: Filler, but filler I’m content to play.

Pack 9: Changeling-giants are better than actual Giants. Two drops, better than six drops. Check.

Pack 10: Still might end up W/R Giants/Kithkin.

Pack 11: Inner-Flame Acolyte remindsme of just how open Red really is. I’m confident of one of my colors, by a mile.

Pack 12: Possible sideboard card.

Pack 13: Axegrinder comes back, yay. Needs more Stinkdrinker, though.

Pack 14: Uncommons worth slightly more than commons. Nothing to see here.

Pack 15: You can call it a choice if you want to, but I make this card immediately invisible and wait to see what my next pack has.

Pack 16: Mistbind Clique doesn’t show up on the “Buyers” list, and thus isn’t a high-enough value to raredraft. I take the more powerful removal spell, even though I’m not clearly lodged in White yet and am only certain I am Red, and even though I’d be happy to have a Tarfire.

Pack 17: Flamekin Spitfire is a man that makes me happy, while Nova Chaser is a man that I often have a hard time trading for value and getting to work in the first place. Someone else can have the Elementals… ironic as it is that I say that while I draft one. Utility creatures are good, and Spitfire better than most are aware.

Pack 18: Giants like to fly.

Pack 19: Generic expensive removal spell.

Pack 20: Still hoping that Greathearts + Giants will work out.

Pack 21: Mana-fixing to help cast early Wizened Cenn, or perhaps splash a third color if I get something stupid I want.

Pack 22: See Pack 19, “Generic expensive removal spell.”

Pack 23: This shouldn’t be here, so I take it and start thinking about that Fodder Launch again.

Pack 24: See Pack 21, “Mana-fixing.”

Pack 25: Blades does something, everything else does nothing, something… better than nothing. Blades is awesome with Greathearts, by the way, but I’m less sure I’ll be R/W now that R/b is looking like a possibility.

Pack 26: No card for me, so no card for you, Blue-mage.

Pack 27: Should have been the Mourncaller, since I’ve actually lost to it complicating combat, but I took a second Hurly-Burly in case I play lots of one-toughness Elves or Faeries or Elementals.

Pack 28: For my amusement and nothing more.

Pack 29: One of these cards I might worry about if it were in play:

Pack 30: See Pack 15, “Choices.”

Pack 31: Dourbark isn’t worth a ticket, Nameless Inversion works well in our R/w/b deck and might clarify which of those two second colors we’re actually sticking with. I’m hoping Stinkdrinker or Giant’s Ire will table back.

Pack 32: I really want more Giants and happily take a 4/3 for 3 with built-in Pacifism, presuming I can make it work out.

Pack 33: Giant Harbinger tutors for Giant Wrath, goes in my pile.

Pack 34: Finally I manage to take a Stinkdrinker and pass nothing I’d have wanted otherwise.

Pack 35: Torchrunner, still good, still a sign I read the signal right by taking Red cards. This not so hard!

Pack 36: I loves me my Spitfire but I never want a second, while the Stalactite should enable some of my cards that might otherwise seem a little bit sketchier.

Pack 37: More mana-fixing, and with three Vivid lands I really have my pick of things in getting all three colors to work if I need to.

Pack 38: I’m more concerned with getting my Giants tribe to function than I am in trying to take advantage of Tar Pitcher, so I take Blind-Spot Giant with nary a second thought.

Pack 39: Stinkdrinker tables.

Pack 40: Soulbright Flamekin is the only card I’m interested in, as there is such a thing as too many Vivid lands.

Pack 41: Hill Giant makes me happy.

Pack 42: Generic filler Goblin #2.

Pack 43: Nothing to see here.

Pack 44: Rootgrapple might maybe do something, Faultgrinder is more expensive than I want to pay for a non-Giant.

Pack 45: Icing on the cake, the Giant’s Ire I wanted to take eight picks ago comes to me LAST.

I won the first round in a breeze, cranking out fast Goblins and Giants and attacking viciously. There was some interaction but it sort of went away when in successive turns I played Fodder Launch, sacrificing Mudbutton Torchrunner, and Giant’s Ire. This puts me at the break-even point, presuming I can indeed turn that foil Secluded Glen back into a booster pack plus a ticket or two, which should be doable… it’s one of the two that are played in Constructed and thus has value, so it should be a solid 5 tix when I get around to it after the draft.

I win the second in ten minutes for the match, viciously beating my opponent with a carefully set-up Thundercloud Shaman in the first and then charging my three- and four-power men to trade for a Forest if he wants to use his Branchbender; he does and foolishly gets stuck on two lands now and can’t develop his board. There’s a bit of a race to it because I choose to ignore the plays he can make and just attack, so I’m at ten when I kill him… but I kill him. We’re at guaranteed assured profit of about three tickets rather than just reaching the break-even point.

I lose the finals because I am sorely, sorely outclassed by Dread, and that’s the end of the story. Still, it’s a happy one; I got my draft set back and spent two tickets to get a foil rare worth five, plus I had fun while sitting on the couch of an evening for about two hours while I drafted the magical spells and attacked with fantastic creatures. Sure, two hours of my life isn’t worth a measely three tickets… but getting three tickets while I’m relaxing and having fun is pretty nice on top of the awesomeness that is getting to play Magic from the comfort of your home at no effective cost to yourself.

Draft recording done by Blargware‘s MTGO DraftCap. Support Blargware!

Now, with that obligation to pay attention to the Limited format (if a bit skewed) and the Grand Prix circuit happily dispensed of, our eyes can turn to another interesting format. With States now weeks behind us we’ve only the City Champs events to focus on if we want to get our fix of Standard tournaments outside of the guise of Friday Night Magic play, until Worlds two weeks from now. Or at least that would be true if not for one other curiosity… perhaps if you’ve been reading Brian David-Marshall The Week That Was you’ll have heard of the “Win a Car” qualifier series that took place this past Sunday. This was a series of tournaments all happening the same day… though not necessarily the same time, for those transportation-savvy individuals who could string together a possible early plus late tournament and get two shots if the first doesn’t work out… and all with the same format, Standard. The metagame is reasonably well known and reasonably well defined, after not just States but also Grand Prix: Krakow helping to firm up the general view of the metagame as a whole.

Admittedly, Blue decks seem to be dominant, though this seems to be more to do with the Grand Prix results than with States: States actually saw Black-Green as the most successful two-color combination, fielding both Tarmo-Rack (some with The Rack, some without) and Elves! to take high honors. Pickles variants were extremely successful, having the most wins, a Grand Prix win, and being towards the top of the pack when it comes to decks winning in the Top 8… all a good indicator of what might be a best starting point for choosing a deck for the qualifier events.

I played the PTQ this past Saturday, of course, and managed a solid run of 4-1 with an acceptable but by no means overpowering pool before running into a deck that exhausted my ability to answer his sizable threats… not quite what it takes to make the Top 8, though I was hopeful that a solid two-color pool, aggressive draws and the mental toughness to tear down my opposition might help make a difference. This article is not about that tournament… and the seed of this story begins weeks before, as I was watching the States wrap-up and beginning my statistical analysis of the format. In pilfering through the decklists I noted quite a few strong things, but one that I was really curious to see was the Wisconsin state champion’s deck, seeing how it defeated the deck that I felt was the best choice overall once its existence was made apparent to me: Brian Kowal’s UGb deck, packed to the gills with all the best cards in the format, or so I thought. I saw Mike Flores and Paul Jordan testing with the deck. I knew its strength, and so I was curious to see exactly what it was that beat it, especially after reading Adrian Sullivan report of the Wisconsin State Championships.

I of course didn’t play States… I was actually out in Chicago, more specifically Palatine, Illinois, traipsing about someone’s house that was mocked up to be an evil villain’s mountainous lair, myself pretending to be James Bond playing in a player-versus-environment LARP. Missing the first brush with Standard that comes each October, I intended to live viscerally through the experiences of others, and this deck caught my attention:

Not to insult a deck that won what is arguably one of the three or four hardest State Championships in the US, but to my trained eye this deck appeared to be rather untuned and thus its win when it still had room for marked improvement was impressive. The sheer ballsiness of playing double-Green spells with only nine Green sources and no card drawing (… but yes, with Wall of Roots to turn G into GG…) made me wonder what the deck could do if it cut the colorless Deserts that were murdering its manabase. The sideboard seemed unfocused, being essentially an even less tuned version of the classic “bad sign” 3-3-3-3-3 sideboard, instead a 3-3-3-2-2-1-1 sideboard that can’t even settle on which sideboard cards are best or when you want them enough to know which it wants four of and which it can transition out. And the maindeck seemed awesome… just without all of the correct choices for a clutch three slots, as it seemed evident that Cancel probably wasn’t the correct choice and Teferi, good man that he is, didn’t actively do enough to really make the deck as anything more than a counterspell hoser. I’m used to Teferi doing a lot more work than he’s doing here, when he’s being played at all, and in fact here he seems very reminiscent of the not-actually-good-enough U/G Block Constructed deck I spent a month developing prior to Pro Tour: Yokohama. (I now wonder what that deck would have looked like if I’d started with Brine Elementals instead of Willbenders. The world may never know.)

Feeling I already knew several if the issues (Desert? Really? In a two-color deck with Cryptic Command? Really?) and with a desire to change the deck only lightly, I spent several weeks developing, tuning and testing the deck I was working on. Admittedly, that started out on Magic Workstation and got real useless real fast, including playtesting for an hour and a half against an otherwise anonymous player who professed to be an area player who crossed some of the same tournament circles as me, and who decided to throw anti-Semitic slurs my way throughout various parts of an almost two hour playtest session I found very informative and useful.

I don’t understand people, some days. But sad as this was, sadder still is that this was still clearly the most informative playtest session I’d managed to find via Magic Workstation, which is why the rule there is as always “only play people you know.” The new plan was actually to migrate over to Magic Online, where I had the bulk of the cards and could borrow the rest of the ones that were out already… but would have to work some in order to get the Lorwyn cards I needed for the deck. One week of merrily drafting later, plus another 30 tickets or so invested by playtest partner Jim Halter, and we had all the cards we wanted to play the deck… and only one copy, for the both of us to test with. Testing there was a lot more reasonable… and I’d like to think it’s not just because the program filters out dirty words. With zero real-life games logged, though, it was time to acquire and play the following:

Peeblesbot Floreskiller
… or, y’know, Blue-Green Pickles if that works for you.

You’ll note right off the bat that this is a little unusual for a Blue deck, since nowhere in here do you get to say “draw a card”… except sometimes on Cryptic Command, which honestly is usually some combination of the other three modes and usually has a decent chance of winning the game in those combinations. Arguably it would be nice to have a bit of draw in there somewhere, but it’s not exactly necessary — Garruk provides many of the same assets for which one would want to rely upon additional cards, from more mana to more sizable creatures to win a fight with, and as an added bonus can work to finish a stalled board while he’s at it. The idea is pretty much the basic Pickles deck… with an aggro-control frame, rather than the more dedicated control frame of Cheon’s Grand Prix-winning U/W Pickles deck. It plays much like any other Pickles deck, but with the added power of the best Planeswalker increasing the deck’s intensity.

Oh, and the lands are Snow-covered in case you copy or steal an opponent’s Phyrexian Ironfoot. Snow has no usefulness to the deck by itself, but can provide some sort of benefit in the context of the format.

Having just made fun of the creator’s sideboard, we see three fours, a two-of that increases the main-deck count to four as needed, and a singleton tutor target ‘silver bullet’. (Academy Ruins and Triskelavus are married to each other, in case you didn’t know.) Against the more common decks in the format, here’s the general plan for sideboarding:

Versus Teachings: -4 Wall of Roots, -1 Garruk Wildspeaker; +2 Academy Ruins, +2 Triskelavus, +1 Tormod’s Crypt

The idea here is that you are already advantaged overall, but become a great deal less advantaged as the game goes long… where you’ll especially feel the lack of charge-lands as relevant. Your plan is to cut off their recursion elements… Academy Ruins/Triskelavus on the one hand, and Grim Harvest on the other… with the singleton Tormod’s Crypt, which can be reapplied as necessary via Academy Ruins if you run into say a second copy of Grim Harvest that needs to be controlled. While you’re at it, you also plan to set up your own recursion element, especially seeing how Extirpate is generally garbage against you and is only really of relevance against exactly two cards post-sideboard. You begin at the advantage thanks to being Pickles vs. Teachings, and maintain at least parity strategically by being prepared to fight the kind of fight that otherwise will win them the game, via Urza’s Factory and Triskelavus recursion.

Versus Elves!: -3 Cryptic Command, -3 Brine Elemental; +2 Sower of Temptation, +4 Unsummon

This can be a difficult one to race with, and you don’t have time to spend hoping to unmorph Brine Elemental or praying that Cryptic Command hasn’t come too late. An aggressive eye towards tempo shows that Unsummon is exactly the right card for the job, though it’s best used mid-combat to get a Lord out of the way. Sower of Temptation is a massive swing, and thanks to Shapeshifters you can have up to eight of them. Try to avoid playing a Forest if possible, but don’t miss your third land drop just to satisfy that rule of thumb.

I tend to win this match on two or three life. I don’t always win this match. It’s down to the wire and requires you to take charge as fast as you can, and sometimes Profane Command just murders you if you don’t have a counter… of which you have six after sideboarding, two of which only delay the otherwise inevitable. I’m comfortable with the match and I’d even say it’s favorable, but that’s only if you play tightly and conserve your life totals, oh and steal away their men and keep them from Forestwalking you. This one tends to be won by the skin of one’s teeth if you catch my drift, even if you win it a fair chunk of the time.

Versus Black/Green: -3 Brine Elemental, -1 Garruk Wildspeaker, -2 Wall of Roots; +4 Unsummon, +2 Sower of Temptation. If they have considerable discard beyond Thoughtseize, -4 Riftwing Cloudskate; +4 Dodecapod

Aggressively trading for positional advantage and not taking a lot of damage early in the game lets you out-tempo your opponent, eventually gaining the win in a grueling fight. This is actually the matchup I tested the most, and I found I wanted the Unsummons to protect my own Tarmogoyfs and Sowers of Temptation from removal, letting me win the attrition war by protecting my threats. This Pickles list is surprisingly good at attrition, probably due to the fact that Wall of Roots absorbs a lot of damage if you let it.

Dodecapod can be an absolute beating, and lets you turn entirely onto the aggressive by turning your Rune Snags into five damage just protecting Dodecapod. They aren’t necessary, by any measure, and can even disadvantage you if your opponent takes out their discard to play around them… at which point you’d rather have the Cloudskates back. Additionally, it pays to be watchful for Riftsweeper, as some people have liked them in B/G discard decks, myself included.

Versus Mannequin: -1 Wall of Roots, -1 Garruk Wildspeaker; +1 Tormod’s Crypt, +1 Academy Ruins

Contain Grim Harvest and the game is yours. This is actually a pretty easy matchup.

Versus Snow Red: -2 Sower of Temptation; +2 Unsummon.

Watch out for Stuffy Doll into Molten Disaster… but generally you can bounce the Doll often enough to throw a spanner in that plan. Shapeshifters should always come down face-up as copies of Stuffy Doll and remain that way for the course of the match, ensuring a steady flow of damage and cutting off the power-play of Molten Disaster; mutually assured destruction does not a match-win make. It’s not exactly the most favorable, but it is certainly winnable especially since your main plan is to get a big Tarmogoyf and keep Stuffy Doll off the table, a feat easily helped by Cloudskates, Venser, and Cryptic Command, even before adding in the Unsummons. This match is hairy and not one I want to play, but it’s not completely unwinnable… I started picking up a fair amount more games once I started copying Stuffy Doll.

If you are opting out of using Dodecapods because you feel that they do not truly benefit the deck, a decision I can understand given the general scarcity of Black/Green discard decks following GP Krakow, two or three copies of Serrated Arrows would go a very long way in this matchup in addition to generally helping to contain Faerie threats and win Tarmogoyf wars. If you see a lot of Faeries, Arrows become even more important, in the realm of the four-of. Customize accordingly.

Versus Snow White: -0; +0.

Patience is a virtue. If you can’t completely push them out of the game by bouncing multiple lands and sending through deadly threats while protecting from Wrath of God, you can sculpt an end-game where an Urza’s Factory provides an army in a box and a single use of Brine Elemental can cripple their defensive measures. This matchup is not necessarily easy… neither is the one against Mannequin, for that matter… but it is certainly favored if you sculpt the game according to the right plan.

They will sideboard in fresh coats of paint to watch dry, for the second and (hopefully not) third game. Don’t fall into the role they want you to fall into and you’ll be fine… they can handle you if you try and just attack the player, but if you constrain the mana the game is yours.

Versus Pickles: -3 Brine Elemental; +2 Sower of Temptation, +1 Unsummon

It’s the mirror match. Brine Elemental is too dangerous to want to ever flip up, while Sower of Temptation does good work for the Pickles team. The one Unsummon just kind of fits as the best sideboard card to sneak in. Generally the advantage to the matchup comes from having Garruk, to make more mana or more threats as needed, Wall of Roots… again, more mana… and Treetop Village to close the game with.

If you see an Academy Ruins from the opponent, you should sideboard one of your own in for an Island or Tolaria West, to avoid shenanigans. It’s not common but it’s out there.

Versus Blink: -0; +0.

You’re basically the same deck, but with a much better mana base and no Momentary Blinks. You can’t get the same utility out of your comes-into-play creatures… but you can cast Cryptic Command, where they have Mystic Snake at best. Oh, and you have the Pickles lock. Advantage: you.

Jim and I had worked on the deck together for several weeks preparing for the Win a Car tournament, and came prepared to travel to a second event if somehow we didn’t do well. We both went undefeated in the Swiss… only five rounds, and including an intentional draw between us to maximize our chances of both making top eight… and tried to differentiate our records some in order to end up on opposite sides of the pairings, with me ending up at 4-0-1 and him at 3-0-2. We both won our quarterfinals matches… B/R Goblins for him, Snow White for me… only to sadly meet in the semis. “Who won” was determined by who was most comfortable playing in a 5pm Friday afternoon tournament, and Jim conceded to me based off the fact that there was a nonzero chance he would not be able to attend a 5pm Friday tournament… the perils of being a high-priced lawyer. (I was going to concede to him if he was comfortable with the time of the tournament, and try a second time in the Legacy tournament at Worlds to again attempt to get us both in there… but what happened, happened.)

And now it seems I have some Standard to be testing, for Worlds. The last four cards refining the sideboard are currently being debated, with the Dodecapods being both narrow in focus and not required in application, and it is possible that the fourth Cryptic Command and three Serrated Arrows may fill those slots instead. Jim felt he liked the fourth Command more than he liked the fourth Garruk, while I felt the opposite; he felt he wanted another Forest over another Island, while I again felt the opposite… and ironically we should probably trade positions on that one, putting the extra Forest with the extra Garruk and the extra Island with the extra Cryptic Command if we’re going to debate slight changes to the deck.

We may not have figured out the exact perfect configuration for the deck yet… but it reads off like a list of the format’s all-stars and plays like a dream, so we’ll get there yet. I still haven’t figured out what to tell Anita when she comes home from her vacation on Monday, as to why she might have to change our holiday Cirque du Soleil tickets to another date because I might just win $20,000 that day instead. I suspect the tickets can be moved, and it’s the happy kind of accident as to why I wasn’t able to properly schedule around it in the first place.

Watch for me at Worlds, and cheer at home if there’s internet coverage…

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com