Peebles Primers — Lorwyn Limited

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The prerelease has passed, and we’re all eager to play both Draft and Sealed with the new cards. Benjamin Peebles-Mundy, fresh off a number of drafts with triple Lorwyn, introduces some of the strategies and synergies that we’ll come to embrace in the coming months. In order to lead by example, he presents a couple of successful Draft decks and explains why they put up a strong performance. There’s also a Sealed cardpool for us to investigate!

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Prereleases in the Ohio Valley are a much bigger event than I’ve experienced in other places. When I lived in Boston and in Albuquerque, the Prerelease was just a handful of 32-player flights, with prizes paid out based on a 4-0, 3-0-1, or 3-1 record. Here, PES runs flights in addition to a “main event,” a PTQ-style tournament with seven or eight rounds and at least nine boxes of product on the line. This set’s main event attracted over one hundred and twenty players, and the various tournaments sprawled across four rooms in the event hall.

Pretty much everyone I play Magic with plays in the main event, partly because you get more Magic for your money, partly because you stand to win more, and partly because the risk of being cheated is lower in a tournament with a deck registration portion. This past weekend, about twenty people from CMU and the local store descended on Cranberry Pennsylvania to try to take home a case of packs to draft with before the official release.

I lost two matches in the sealed portion of the prerelease, while winning more than my fair share along the way. My deck was somewhere between solid and good, by which I mean that I had a bomb or two (Deathrender and Fodder Launch), a large number of very good creatures (two Cloudcrown Oaks, Warren Pilferers, and Briarhorn), good tricks (Fistful of Force, Makeshift Mannequin, and two Gilt-Leaf Ambushes), and glue to hold it together. In one match, I managed to cast four Treefolk spells following my sixth-turn Thorntooth Witch. In another, I used Guardian of Cloverdell and Deathrender to rapid-fire expensive creatures into play, including an end-of-turn Nath’s Elite.

The matches I lost, though, were the ones that began to reveal the secrets of the format to me. In round 2, I played against an opponent who had a no-show in round 1. I won the roll and chose to draw, which I was sure was correct when he led with a Nightshade Stinger. Two turns later, though, when he’d played a two-drop and then Militia’s Pride, I was facing three creatures before I had even played my first. I tried to dig my way out of the hole with a Gilt-Leaf Ambush and a Cloudcrown Oak, but I was already so far behind that the token swarm did me in before I could truly stabilize.

In round 6, my opponent (a friend from CMU drafts) lead off with an astounding array of mana-fixers: Vivid lands, Wanderer’s Twig, and Fertile Ground. He then played Runed Stalactite, Avian Changeling, Elvish Branchbender, Silvergill Douser, and Timber Protector. At some point I realized that he had created a board position that I could do almost nothing about; he refused to ever engage his Timber Protector, instead sitting back on his indestructible flying 3/3, indestructible animated Forests, and indestructible Saltfield Recluse. Since my removal was comprised of Gilt-Leaf Ambush, Lace with Moonglove, and Fodder Launch, there was just nothing I could do to stop his machine.

The lesson here is that the sealed decks that beat mine were the ones that had better synergy than my own. I had plenty of cards that worked well together, even some miniature “combos” that I used to win multiple games on the day, such as Nath’s Elite plus Lace with Moonglove, Guardian of Cloverdell plus Deathrender, and Mournwhelk plus Makeshift Mannequin. However, my deck had no engine, no driving force behind it beyond the standard “play some guys, play some tricks, and beat the opponent to death.” Where I had a few guys to play after the Thorntooth Witch, other players had exploitable interactions, whether Tribal or not.

With what we had learned and seen at the prerelease on our minds, the CMU contingent returned to Pittsburgh to draft. For many of my friends and teammates, drafting a new set is something that they enjoy more than any other Magic-related endeavor. For me, it is somewhat the opposite; I feel lost and unsure of what direction to take. One of my biggest weaknesses, I believe, is my lack of ability to quickly assess a card’s strength in a vacuum and in the context of its format. After a few drafts I find my feet, but the first couple are always an adventure. I think that, in this format especially, leaving your preconceptions behind will be very important, as cards that barely make the cut in one deck will be the centerpieces of another.

I want to share two decks from our first draft, because I think they illustrate the trend that I suspect will be reinforced over the coming weeks. The first deck was my own, and while I was drafting it, I was fairly certain it was very good. I may have said that card evaluation in a vacuum is not my greatest strength, but I was happy with how my deck was shaping up. At the end of the draft I had the following:

1 Treefolk Harbinger
1 Warren-Scourge Elf
1 Nath’s Buffoon
1 Kithkin Mourncaller
1 Battlewand Oak
1 Black Poplar Shaman
3 Bog-Strider Ash
1 Nath’s Elite
1 Seedguide Ash
1 Warren Pilferers
1 Dread
1 Oakgnarl Warrior

2 Fertile Ground
1 Lignify
1 Moonglove Extract
1 Eyeblight’s Ending
3 Incremental Growth
1 Rootgrapple

1 Vivid Grove
10 Forest
6 Swamp

There were three cards in the deck that I wasn’t happy with (the two-drops and the Mourncaller). This was an unfortunate side effect of opening Dread in pack 3; at that point I had a handful of White cards like Kinsbaile Balloonist and Hillcomber Giant to go with a huge number of Green cards. I’d seen plenty of Black cards go by me, so when I opened the Dread I took it and decided that I’d be able to fill in the gaps with Black cards. I was wrong. Still, twenty of the cards in the deck were strong and the other three weren’t exactly shameful.

I played two matches before we won the draft. In one, I lost the Green/Black mirror to a deck that was simply more powerful than my own, what with his Shriekmaws and Thorntooth Witches. In the other, I played against a Red/White deck that had a definite Giant theme, with cards such as multiple Giant’s Ires and Sunrise Sovereign. However, my defensive creatures held the ground long enough to let me smash through with Incremental Growth.

Outside the context of Lorwyn, I would have said that my expectations for my deck were accurate, as I felt in the driver’s seat in one match and only somewhat outclassed in the other. However, at that same table, a teammate of mine had drafted the following deck:

1 Sygg, River Guide
1 Silvergill Adept
2 Deeptread Merrow
3 Silvergill Douser
1 Judge of Currents
2 Avian Changeling
1 Drowner of Secrets
1 Merrow Reejerey
3 Streambed Aquitects
1 Fallowsage
1 Inkfathom Divers
1 Wellgabber Apothecary

1 Whirlpool Whelm
1 Glimmerdust Nap
1 Crib Swap
1 Summon the School

1 Jace Beleren

10 Island
7 Plains

Where I had a Treefolk theme, and one of my opponents had a Giant theme, this deck was one hundred percent about abusing Merfolk. There are literally no non-Merfolk creatures in the deck, and when I watched it play out I was astonished at how efficiently everything ran. The Giant deck at the table cranked out a fourth-turn Axegrinder and followed it up with an Avian Changeling on the cheap and an Inner-Flame Acolyte to pump it up and fire it into the red zone. This deck shrugged that draw off, giving the Giant -4/-0 and milling three cards, gaining four life along the way. When he untapped and played the Reejerey and another Douser (milling a card and gaining a life), his opponent just picked all of his cards up.

I’m not trying to say that Merfolk are the greatest draft strategy of all time, or that there’s no way for a Giant deck to beat a swarm of utility creatures (Thundercloud Shaman leaps to mind), but that this draft format, more than ever, is going to be about synergy. I said before that I wasn’t happy about including Warren-Scourge Elf in my draft deck, but I can see a time where I would be thrilled to have him instead of a more universally powerful card, simply due to the fact that he would power up my Jagged-Scar Archers, Lys Alana Scarblades, and Elvish Branchbenders. My draft deck had powerful cards, but my teammate’s deck was miles beyond my own.

The last time I remember a draft format that had a similar feel to this one was during Champions block. There were plenty of creatures that you could pick up in the last picks of a pack, such as Crawling Filth, that most people were trying their hardest not to play. Meanwhile, that card Soulshifted your Scuttling Deaths, Gibbering Kamis, Elder Pine of Jukais, and so on. Or perhaps you played Wandering Ones en-masse so that your Devouring Greeds would always be lethal. Either way, this format seems to be one where your goal is to construct an engine, and we haven’t seen anything like it in quite a while.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM

Bonus: Build my Sealed Deck

I’m attaching my card pool from the Prerelease in case anyone wants to try to build it themselves.

I wound up Green/Black, though I looked longingly at the White cards in my board after every game.

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