Last week? Grand Prix Philadelphia.
Next week? Journey into Nyx.
This week? Hump week. This week is that kind of in-between stage where you don’t really care about the old format but you haven’t seen enough of the new format to really put things in motion yet. So I decided to hedge. I decided to go 50/50. Fair and balanced. I decided that I’d mix and match between the past and future in my musings.
A little of the old. A little of the new. A confluence of the two. A Mana Confluence, that is.
"Hey BBD, you’ve got some brass balls throwing a pun like that into your article. City of Brass balls, that is."
I’m willing to go deep. Just how deep? "City of Brass Balls" deep. Don’t test me.
This week I’m just going to throw out a couple of thoughts, connected and unconnected, and see where it runs off to. If you like it, good. If you don’t, then I’m sure I’ll hear about it from you ungrateful jerks!
Just kidding! I’m sure I’ll hear about it from you in a positive and uplifting way. You all are amazing.
Speaking of positive, let’s start off on a positive note.
I Hate BTT Draft
That was me two weeks ago.
I somehow limped together a 1-2 draft once, bringing up my combined Limited record in the format to 1-26. Suck it 2008 Detroit Lions! I tasted victory once. You wouldn’t know a thing about that. Hah! Yeah.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I was averaging worse than a 1-2 record in the drafts I did when testing for Pro Tour Born of the Gods. That’s pretty awful.
Two weeks ago I fired up Magic Online and tried to do a few drafts just to see if I had picked up anything new since the Pro Tour. The dream was to improve upon my miserable Limited record in this format.
I lost in the first round of both. I turned off my computer, calmly walked into my bedroom, closed the door, and laid down in my bed. I slowly pulled the covers over myself, and then I wept. Softly at first, barely more than a whisper. Then I remembered every Ordeal, every heroic trigger, every time I missed my fourth land drop for the Griptide in my hand as Wingsteed Rider took another giant chunk of my life total. The tears fell free and the wailing crescendoed into a full-blown cacophony of sadness and despair. Heliod himself looked away in pity and disgust.
I hate BTT Draft. It’s a terrible format where whoever gets the nut Ordeal draw always wins, and there is no skill and no enjoyment from that.
Did I mention that I hate BTT Draft? Well, I did.
I Love BTT Draft
This is me now.
I would have to be an extremely shallow person to suggest that the only difference between me loving a format and me hating a format is how well I’m doing at it. Clearly before, when I was losing constantly drafting BTT, it was an awful format. I hated it because . . . um . . . the set sucked and stuff. Yeah, stuff. It had nothing to do with me being bad at it and everything to do with the cards sucking.
So yeah, then I started randomly winning at the format. I discovered a new strategy. And you know what? It’s actually a pretty solid Limited format. I really love it a lot now.
What changed, you might ask? My mindset. Now that I’m not losing constantly, I have time to appreciate the fine points of BTT Draft that I missed before. Such as winning. I wasn’t doing that before and am doing it now, and my entire basis for liking or hating the format is that. Yeah, I’m shallow. Get over it. I like winning and hate losing.
Oh yeah, that new strategy I was talking about. Let me share those Denver Nuggets of wisdom with you right now.
All those things I was doing before? I stopped doing them. So basically every time I’m about to draft a really good card, now instead I’ll take a 1/1 for one with a marginal ability. And you know what? I’ve started winning. A lot. Cavalry Pegasus over Hundred-Handed One? Obvious pick. One of those is a crappy 1/1 for two with a marginal ability, and the other is a powerful rare. An older and dumber version of me would have taken the Hundred-Handed One, but I have now wised up. Pegasus is nearly first pickable. Hundred-Handed One is a marginal playable.
Most of my 1-2 or worse drafts involved the color green. Green seems like it should be an awesome color, with tons of powerful creatures and acceleration. It’s a trap. My new strategy involves never drafting green. You might think I’m joking, but I most certainly am not. There is not a single green card that could ever put me in the color. I opened Courser of Kruphix, rare drafted it, and then went into W/R. I opened Fated Intervention in back-to-back drafts, passed it both times, and then beat the guy who played it both times. Green sucks worse than the 2008 Detroit Lions.
So besides never drafting green, what other sweet strategies have I picked up? I’m glad you asked. I also try to never draft black. Yep. You heard me. My new plan is to immediately cut out roughly 40 percent of the cards from the entire set and never touch them unless I am being held at gunpoint. It doesn’t matter how good the card is—I will not touch it. I opened a Herald of Torment in one pack, decided to go against my better judgment, and took the card. I drafted what looked like the actual nut black deck, and I was thoroughly and easily defeated in the first round by Aqueous Form on an irrelevant creature.
And that sums up this Draft format a hundred percent accurately. Your good cards are going to lose every time to their crappy cards with Aqueous Form on them.
Don’t draft black or green. It’s a trap. You can sometimes draft black if you’re aggressive, heroic, and pairing with white, but I would never try for a control strategy. You’re just asking to lose.
So it should come as no surprise that I like to draft W/R, W/U, and U/R decks. You know, those being the only colors left that I’m willing to draft. If I’m playing more than sixteen lands in one of these decks, I messed up at some point. I have to be scraping for playables, or it has to be a very high-impact card or have evasion for me to play a four-drop. I will only play a five-drop if it’s an actual bomb and has evasion or is Akroan Conscriptor. The lower the curve, the better.
A lot of my decks could get away with fifteen lands since my curve stops at three and most of my cards cost one and two, but I will usually play sixteen anyway because there are enough cards like Dragon Mantle, Fearsome Temper, Fleetfeather Sandals, and the bestow mechanic to make use of an extra land and often with fifteen land I run into mana troubles. It isn’t so much that I don’t have enough land but more that I can’t get a good enough ratio of my two colors without one more land. It’s hard to cast both Phalanx Leader and Kragma Butcher on time with nine Plains and six Mountains.
Cheap bestow creatures are good. Nothing is better than an on-color Ordeal. Evasion is king. Fleetfeather Sandals makes every W/R deck I draft. When in doubt, take the cheaper card. Keep in mind that a card like Ill-Tempered Cyclops is actually Hill Giant because he will never be monstrous. Borderland Minotaur is thus better. Spearpoint Oread is one of the worst red three-drops because it never gets bestowed.
That’s about all I got. I went from never winning in this format to going infinite on Magic Online in BTT Draft. All it took was for me to abandon everything that made any sense whatsoever, stop taking good cards, and start taking really crappy cards. I’m confident that you can do the same. Just stop taking good cards and you too can win in BTT Draft.
Did I mention that I love BTT Draft?
Going into Grand Prix Philadelphia, I was confident that if I escaped the Sealed portion, I would completely dominate the Draft portion. I knew Draft inside and out. I knew exactly what cards I needed to pick when and how to build a curve and a deck in the format. I had done countless drafts. I was prepared.
I just needed to escape Sealed.
I Did Not Escape Sealed
I looked at my sealed pool and openly wept. An Excoriate, a Sip of Hemlock, and a Sudden Storm were the only three "removal" spells in my pool. Removal is in quotes because one of them is a tempo play, another is situational, and the other costs six mana. No matter what deck I built, my creature curve didn’t start before four mana. It was gross.
I ended up playing U/G because I had a lot of tricks along with a Kiora’s Follower and a Horizon Chimera. If the game went long, I was going to win. I would set up a board state with some combination of Springleaf Drum, Horizon Chimera, Kiora’s Follower, Aerie Worshippers, Sphinx’s Disciple, and Oracle’s Insight and just power through my entire deck. Coupled with Triton Tactics, Crypsis, Savage Surge, and other combat tricks, it was tough for my opponent to really hang with everything I could do late in the game.
The issue was getting there. I had three total playable creatures that cost less than four mana, and two of them were just mana producers (Kiora’s Follower and Opaline Unicorn). The other, which was Leafcrown Dryad, I would rather not cast on turn 2 anyway. I also played an unplayable Guardians of Meletis simply because I felt I needed something to do early on in the game. At any rate, I didn’t have a lot of options. The other deck I could reasonably build, R/B Aggro, also had the same issue where the curve didn’t really begin until turn 4, and it feels a lot worse to be playing an aggressive deck that doesn’t start until turn 4 over a controlling one. U/G it was.
Grand Prix Byes
I only had two byes because playing in the Pro Tour doesn’t count for seasonal Planeswalker Points. Since I skipped two weeks of tournaments to test for and play in Pro Tour Born of the Gods, I missed having three byes by one event. If I’d skipped the Pro Tour for an SCG Open Series, I would have three byes. If the Pro Tour counted for points, I would have made it, but since it doesn’t, I missed.
I think the system is flawed. I think that Pro Tour competitors are exactly the kind of players that Wizards wants to have three byes, which is why various levels in the Pro Players Club award exactly that, yet playing in the Pro Tour actively hinders getting byes.
That doesn’t make much sense to me.
And Back To Sealed
Regardless, I was able to win round 3 and round 4 in Philly. Both of my opponents were playing slower U/W decks. My deck was perfectly set up to beat those kinds of decks with my great endgame. In round 4, I was paired against Gregg Spano, who was one of the guys who crushed me on my downward spiral from 10-0 to 10-5 in the Season One Invitational in Charlotte. I vowed I would get revenge this time around. Unfortunately I was only able to leave him at one life at the end of turns in game 3, but he graciously conceded since a draw was as good as a loss for us both and it was clear he couldn’t win.
At that point I was 4-0, and my deck was performing reasonably well. I thought perhaps I was wrong and the deck was a lot better than I thought.
Things went downhill from there. I lost to a Nimbus Naiad with Oracle’s Insight on it. I knew on turn 4 I had lost that game. I had no removal in my deck, so there was no way I could ever beat the card advantage and selection without a way to actually get the creature off the table. My deck wasn’t fast enough to really race it.
I also lost to a Wingsteed Rider with a Fearsome Temper on it for the same reason. With no removal and no way to block it, a 5/5 flier ends the game quickly. Again, I was too slow to race, so I was just drawing dead since I couldn’t get enough fliers into play to trade with his creature, especially since he could just make mine unable to block.
Quickly I went from 4-0 to 4-3 and was dead.
I was frustrated that I had a poor pool, but I also had misbuilt it by a few cards. I should have cut Guardians of Meletis for an eighteenth land. Even though my deck was prone to getting run over by a fast deck without everyone’s favorite 0/6 for three, I still should have just accepted that I was going to lose those games and played the eighteenth land for smoother draws. I thought that having Kiora’s Follower and Opaline Unicorn would be enough external mana sources to make seventeen lands right, but my curve was still high enough to necessitate eighteen.
I also should have played Annul maindeck. I sided it in during nearly every round. While I had both Nullify and Dissolve, I couldn’t get enough of the ability to cheaply counter spells. Having access to Springleaf Drum along with inspired creatures meant that any spell that cost one mana was doubly effective for the scenarios where I could cast a four-drop on turn 4 and then still play Annul the same turn. Triton Tactics was an all-star for this reason in numerous situations.
I spent a lot of time working on Draft but not nearly as much time working on Sealed. To some extent it was because I enjoyed drafting more, so it was easier to just jump into a draft. The other reason was that it’s hard to carve out the time needed to do a Sealed event on Magic Online. A draft you can fire whenever, and it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. A Sealed event you can only really play at specific times, and it could take four or five hours.
No more excuses! I have a PTQ coming up this weekend. I’m focusing more on Sealed for this one. I’m not going to make that mistake again.
In game 3 against the guy who crushed me with the Wingsteed Rider plus Fearsome Temper combo earlier in the match, we arrived at an interesting board state. My opponent had a Deathbellow Raider with a Ghostblade Eidolon bestowed on it to grant +1/+1 and double strike. I had a Nylea’s Emissary and a Kiora’s Follower, and my hand included Triton Tactics and Crypsis.
After no deliberation, he attacked with his Deathbellow Raider. I say no deliberation because the creature has to attack, so he didn’t tank too hard on it. In fact, he actually said "has to attack" before sending it in.
I immediately sensed weakness and did what any self-respecting player with no understanding of how the rules work in this specific instance would do and called for a judge. I privately asked the judge how damage would work between his creature and my blocking creatures if I cast Crypsis on the creature that he ordered first among my blockers.
The judge informed me that his creature has to assign what would normally be lethal damage to my Crypsis creature and then could assign the rest to my other creature afterward. That meant that his three-power double strike creature would assign three damage to my Nylea’s Emissary and then the other three to my Kiora’s Follower. Or at least I thought so.
Resigned to my fate, I cast both the Crypsis and Triton Tactics in order to save both of my creatures. Since he also had two other creatures in play and I was at five life, I felt that it was imperative to keep as many creatures in play as I possibly could. Kiora’s Follower was worth more than Triton Tactics there, especially since Nylea’s Emissary was the biggest creature in play, meaning he couldn’t really safely attack into it anyway no matter if I had the Tactics or not.
My opponent later ended up winning by bestowing a Heliod’s Emissary on a creature and tapping down one of my crucial blockers to put me in an awkward situation. If I’d had the Triton Tactics, I could have untapped my creature, killed his creature, and maybe been able to pull off a win later, but sadly I’d had to blow it earlier.
Or did I? Apparently my understanding of the rules was wrong. His double strike creature actually has to deal lethal damage to my Crypsised Nylea’s Emissary during both combat steps. That means his three-power double strike creature would have dealt zero damage to my Kiora’s Follower in either combat step and I wasted Triton Tactics for no reason, costing me a couple of turns, possibly the game, and possibly the GP itself since this was the round I was eliminated.
Did the judge lie to me? No, he didn’t. He told me the truth—the creature has to assign lethal damage to the first blocked creature before assigning elsewhere—but he simply didn’t inform me that this resets for each combat phase since damage doesn’t stay on the blocked creature due to the Crypsis. Even though I got a faulty understanding of how things worked, I don’t blame the judge for this.
I should have asked a more thorough question. Judges have to toe a close line between answering a question thoroughly and providing actual strategic advice. Ultimately I don’t blame the judge and don’t blame myself either (since I didn’t know at the time that I needed to ask a different question), but it did kind of suck that a simple rules misunderstanding caused me to waste an important spell and might have likewise spelled the end of my Grand Prix.
I played it out for Planeswalker Points (just try to stop me from having three byes next season WotC!), and I finished 6-3.
Athreos, God of YES HE COSTS THREE MANA YES!
I saw that Athreos, God of Passage got spoiled midway through GP Philly. I clicked on the link tentatively, with butterflies welling up in my stomach. "What if he sucks?" I thought to myself. "What if my connection with Obzedat, Ghost Council is severed because Athreos isn’t good enough to hold our love together anymore?"
I got over myself and looked at the picture. I saw that he cost three mana, and I stopped looking at the card. I immediately jumped up and started playing the air guitar in joy. Then I looked back at the picture and saw that Athreos was also playing the air guitar. It was like we were a match made in purgatory, where all the bound Orzhov souls gather for the rest of time. It was so beautiful.
Then I saw his ability, realized that it was probably somewhat playable, and went on my merry way. They didn’t make the Orzhov God suck. They saved that for some other lesser God. Fantastic.
Super Sunday Series Qualifier
I played the Junk Reanimator list that I’d been working on for the past week in the Super Sunday Series Qualifier. I showcased it in an article, a Versus video, and a Magic Online video, so I won’t dwell too much on the deck other than to say that it is very good. I went 7-2. I lost in round 4 in two quick games to G/W Aggro. I then lost round 8 in my "win and in" to Mono-Red Aggro.
While I did lose twice to aggressive decks, I don’t feel like either of those decks are bad matchups. In fact, I beat red aggro two other times on the day. Reanimator has plenty of tools to handle their draws. The huge limiting factor is the shock land mana base. I think these matchups can be improved, but I’m not sure what needs to change or whether it’s worth sacrificing other matchups to accomplish it.
I was X-2 going into the last round of the Super Sunday Series Qualifier. Before the final round began, a guy came up to me and talked to me for a bit. At the end of the conversation, having seen him at the top tables, I asked him if he was X-1 in the event. He confirmed that he was, and I wished him good luck in the Top 4. I had (wrongly) assumed that all the X-1s would be able to just draw into Top 4.
Sunday Super Series Qualifiers involve a Standard tournament and a Sealed tournament. Both events play an extra round than normal, but they cut to the Top 4 only. Then the top 4 from both events combine into a Top 8 draft to see who is truly crowned the victor.
Well, it just so happened that there were actually five players who were X-1 or better going into the last round of the Standard portion, and since two of them were the two fine gentlemen who took it upon themselves to defeat me in this event, my tiebreakers were what some folk may refer to as "the nut."
That meant that I was the top X-2 at sixth place, and I got paired up against the X-1 in fifth place. If I won my match and one of the matches ahead of me played it out, I could end up in fourth place and make it into the Top 8 draft. With how confident I felt in drafting this format, I was convinced that if I made the Top 8, I would win the event. Whether or not that would have actually happened, I have no clue, but my confidence level was at an all-time high.
Well, it just so happened that the match ahead of me had to play it out because if my opponent beat me, one of them would get knocked out on tiebreakers if they drew. That also meant that if I beat my opponent and the match ahead of me finished playing it out, I would end up in fourth place. My dream of Top 8 wasn’t dead.
As fate would have it, my opponent was the guy who talked to me before round 9 began. It was the same guy who I had wished "good luck in the Top 4" to. And when he asked me if I was willing to concede to him, I had to tell him no since I still had a chance at Top 8 myself. Talk about a feel bad situation.
"Hey good luck in the top—hold on a second. Looks like we are paired. Sorry, I have to dream crush."
It was made more awkward by the fact that we were playing our match right next to the two players ahead of us who had to play out their match purely because of ours. It became clear to me during the match that the player to my right was focusing very heavily on how our match was playing out. In other words, he was hawking our match to see who won. If I won, they could safely draw into Top 4 afterward. But if I lost, they would have to play out their match to completion.
Those two players were also playing glacially slow. I ended up speaking with one of the players afterward, and he let me know that he wasn’t intentionally playing slow to drag out their game. Even if that is true—and I have no reason to believe otherwise—they were still playing slowly, which was to their advantage. There was an incentive to play slowly. Whether or not he did it intentionally, the fact doesn’t change that it was to their benefit to drag out the game, and it’s entirely possible that he was doing it without even realizing, acting purely on the subconscious.
We were already done with game 1 and a good chunk through game 2 before they finished their first game. Their first game wasn’t that much longer than ours in terms of the number of turns. At this point I felt pretty uncomfortable with the situation. I felt like if I won my match, they would just immediately draw and knock me out, but if I were to just concede to my opponent and let him into Top 4, then I would be stupidly throwing away my own chance of making Top 4. It seemed like a no-win situation.
I called for a judge. I explained the entire scenario to the judge. The result of the match being played at table 2 entirely depended on the result of our match being played at table 3. I didn’t feel comfortable with the situation because I felt like table 2 could just wait it out, see how our match finished, and then finish their match accordingly. It seemed like they could effectively game the system by just playing slower than us and then either drawing or playing based on the conclusion of our match. I asked to move to a different location to finish our match.
The judge ruled that since we were already in a game and since they could just get the information of how our match ended regardless of where we were seated, he wasn’t going to move us. I wasn’t happy with the ruling, but I accepted it. I sat back down. My deck coughed up the goods twice, and I won two quick games against my opponent. He signed the slip, and the table ahead of us stopped playing and intentionally drew as soon as we left the table.
I got fifth.
I felt awful about the situation. It wasn’t just that I missed Top 4 because let’s be honest, being X-2 going into the last round meant I wasn’t a favorite to make it anyway. I actually felt much worse for my opponent, who I dream crushed out of the Top 4 before getting dream drawn out of it myself. It was an awful situation where I either throw away my own tournament equity by conceding or I win and knock both of us out of the Top 4 assuming the table ahead makes the optimal choice.
It felt like a situation that could have been avoided. I hope this is something the judge community considers addressing. At the very least, I would consider always approving a player’s request to play in a different location if space isn’t an issue, especially if it affects tournament integrity.
I was put into a position where I wanted to stall the game out. I wanted to play suboptimally so that my opponent would win game 2 so that our match might take longer than theirs. I didn’t do it because I wouldn’t have felt right about it, but I think it’s bad to have a system in place that encourages this kind of behavior. Because my opponent and I finished our match first, we both got knocked out. If table 2 had finished their match to a win-loss conclusion first, then one of us would have made it. There should be a framework in place to avoid this kind of "who can play slowest wins" game of chicken. I think the easiest solution is to allow players to play their matches separated from each other when this scenario comes up again.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think any parties involved did anything wrong. The table ahead of us is legally allowed to use our match result in determining whether to draw. They did nothing wrong (assuming they weren’t intentionally stalling, which again I have no reason to believe). There is nothing unsporting about me playing out my match to its rightful conclusion, especially with my own tournament life at stake. Finally, the judge’s ruling to not allow us to pick up our ongoing match and move it was at least defensible, though I disagreed.
Despite my feeling that nobody did anything wrong, the entire situation still didn’t sit well with me, and I felt that it could have definitely been avoided somehow.
I’ve either gotten a set of steak knives or been fired, and I’m not sure which. The fact is that I can’t close. My last five events went as follows:
- 6-3 at GP Cincinnati, missing day 2.
- Ninth place in the Cincy Super Sunday Series Qualifier after losing my win-and-in round.
- Ninth place in an SCG IQ after drawing into "Top 8." I only missed if the wrong player won two separate matches and another guy also passed me on breakers. Both matches went wrong, and the other guy also passed me on breakers.
- 6-3 at GP Philadelphia, missing day 2.
- Fifth place in the Philly Super Sunday Series Qualifier after getting drawn out of Top 4.
I’d like to start a petition to cut to the Top 9.
I can’t say I’m totally thrilled with this card because it fits a lot more into an aggressive shell than a controlling one and I like the controlling ones more, but despite it all I still have a soft spot for this little dude. Personally, I feel like he fits best in a shell similar to the Esper Humans lists that have put up sporadic finishes in the past few months. You know, the Esper Humans that plays like 30 creatures and sometimes also plays Supreme Verdict. That list.
- 1 Pack Rat
- 3 Lyev Skyknight
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 1 Keening Apparition
- 3 Obzedat, Ghost Council
- 1 Imposing Sovereign
- 1 Heliod, God of the Sun
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 2 Ephara, God of the Polis
- 4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
This is a recent list from a Magic Online Daily Event. Spear of Heliod; Whip of Erebos; and Obzedat, Ghost Council provide a huge boost in devotion to Athreos, God of Passage, and the aggression that Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Precinct Captain provide can make Athreos’ triggered ability a huge punisher for your opponent.
Personally, I’m not sure the blue is worth it. I tried out a list without blue in my Versus video against Chris VanMeter that comes out today. Check that out if you want to see potential Standard powerhouses like Underworld Coinsmith duke it out against the best CVM had to offer.
That’s right. Underworld Coinsmith. 2/2s for two with marginal abilities are my jam!
This card will be good. I also think people are completely overlooking how painful the cost truly is. When you open a hand with two copies of Stomping Ground, you start the game at sixteen, but you don’t have to pay any more life beyond that. When you open the game with two copies of Mana Confluence, you pretty much start the game at like seven life. Oh, your opponent has Boros Charm in their deck? Feels like I’m a corn farmer with how many "aw, shucks" I’m giving.
The card is good, but play it in moderation.
The Bachelor: Theros Edition starts this spring. Eligible doesn’t even begin to describe this literal hunk of meat.
This guy has just joined a three-way tie with Fleshbag Marauder and Doomgape for my favorite art of all time. Seriously, if Chris Rahn isn’t given an immediate raise for drawing this piece of art, then not all is right with the world. This is a masterpiece. A masterfeast. I can’t stop looking at how awesome this art is. Best of the block, hands down.
I love Goooooooooooooooooooold tokens. I think this guy is going to see some play. Alongside things like Springleaf Drum and other solid inspired creatures like Pain Seer, I can easily see a deck in the making. At the very least, it’s something that we Midas well give a shot. It might be a touch too weak, but maybe, just maybe, this guy will punch the golden ticket to success. Whatcha know ’bout those Triton Tactics, baby.
And Would You Look At The Time
Holy Mackerel, this article ended up being a lot longer than I intended. Once you start rambling, you just can’t stop. I hope you enjoyed my scatterbrained musings. And on that note, I’m going to have to cut this article off before I end up scatterbrained and scatterdrained.
Nobody wants to see that. Except the Obzedat, those sick old men.