The summer is wrapping up for me and I’m getting ready to head back down to Pittsburgh for my last semester at Carnegie Mellon. Unfortunately I need to be able to drive my car to get to school and Delta Airlines managed to leave my bag in Atlanta when I was flying back from my vacation last week with my car keys tucked safely away inside the bag. Hopefully the suitcase turns up before I’m scheduled to leave tomorrow.
On a more Magic-related note my article this week is going to be a bit of a round-up on the various flavors of Magic I’ve been playing recently. Great Britain’s National Championships was something that made me quite proud Block Constructed is offering me another chance to qualify this weekend and SSE Draft is finally up on the live Magic Online server. So allow me to dive in.
As far as Standard goes I nearly managed to hand my favorite deck to the winner of Great Britain’s National Championships. Instead I’ll have to settle for second place. The other person I gave the deck to finished in 14th so I think that it shows that the deck was quite solid. If you’re wondering what deck I’m talking about you may not have been around a month or two ago when I was raving non-stop about Blue/White Reveillark.
I’ve been playing the deck since the release of Morningtide even in the face of massive Faerie hate. The deck still has trouble with Faeries and Stephen Murray fell to them in the finals but the new presence of RDW has really pushed Faeries out of the way and so the favorable Red matchup and the decrease in the number of unfavorable Faeries matchups has served the deck quite well.
The week after Michael Jacob won U.S. Nationals with the Red deck a few friends and I spent some time brainstorming up good ways to beat a double-Demigod draw. We had solid options like Kitchen Finks and Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender to win the fight on the ground but the best cards we could come up with for the miniature Rorix were Condemn and Recumbent Bliss. I didn’t really like either of these solutions because they seemed like cards I’d want to use early and they still only went one-for-one with the Demigod. At this point someone mentioned Runed Halo a card that I had thought about right when Shadowmoor came out but had long since forgotten and so we shoved four into our sideboard and were off to the races.
I found myself boarding them in so often that we moved two to the maindeck. Two seemed to be the right number as drawing one was almost never bad but drawing two could be quite annoying against decks like Quick ‘n’ Toast or the mirror. They really shined against burn spells manlands and anyone that tried to “curve out” on you with two or three copies of the same guy. Confident that we had stumbled onto the next big thing in Standard we went around buying Halos up for a quarter of a ticket on MTGO. The next thing we know and the RIW crew had found the same tech (albeit in Block) and the world was made aware of Runed Halo by GerryT’s win in Denver.
Just because the world knows about Runed Halo (which they should since it’s pretty amazing) doesn’t make it any less powerful. Halo really gives Reveillark the ability to lock up aggressive decks and make sure that nothing slips through the Wraths and Reveillarks to swing or burn for the win. If you’re looking for something to play online I still highly recommend the deck.
I’ve been drawn to the various Five-Color decks all season long. My near-success at my first PTQ reinforced my desire to play with Reflecting Pool but Faeries again seemed to rear its ugly head and smash my hopes so I moved to the deck with Reflecting Pool that seems ready-made to beat Faeries. While I’ve been having a good time playing Five-Color Elementals on Magic Online I’ve still liked the deck less than I liked Five-Color Control.
Luckily for me Patrick Chapin and GerryT seem to have done the legwork necessary for me to go back to playing a successful Five-Color Control deck at this weekend’s PTQ. In addition to being the kind of deck that I naturally gravitate towards Chapin/Gerry’s Justice Toast has a proven track record which is always quite nice.
A few people have asked me about the changes that I plan to make to the deck before I play it this Saturday but I’ve had to tell all of them that I don’t plan on making any changes at all. The only changes that I would consider making are those suggested by the deck’s creators but I always think that it’s a bad idea to “tweak” a card or two before heading into battle. This stems from the fact that a proven deck may work for reasons that you don’t fully understand and the card you trim might be exactly the card you need to win a handful of matches on the day. Mike Clair wrote an article detailing his horrible experience after tweaking an Extended Goblins deck finding himself without the tools he needed to beat a popular deck all because he didn’t think his Living Deaths were truly necessary and cut them from his netdeck before the tournament.
GerryT managed to win a Grand Prix with this deck. If he says that it really should have a second Oona’s Grace (or whatever) then it could well be worth listening to him. If on the other hand I look at Oona’s Grace and decide that it makes no sense and I want to cut them all then I’m just going to trust in the finish of the deck and play it with the Grace or maybe even listen to the winning pilot and add the second. I don’t have the same amount of time and effort invested into the deck as other players do so I trust their judgments far above my own. Perhaps after playing the PTQ and a handful of smaller tournaments I will have developed my own informed opinion but until that happens I am putting my faith in the tried-and-true deck.
A few weeks ago Wizards of the Coast added a small piece of functionality to Magic Online. Now in the Game Play Settings screen you can check a box and have MTGO record your drafts similar to the old DraftCap tool that is incompatible with the new Magic Online. This option will give you a file that looks something like
C:Documents and SettingsBenApplication DataWizards of the CoastMagic Online3.0PumblesMumbles-58038-8-19-2008.txt
Application Data is a hidden folder so you may have to do a little bit of work to get to these files but once you do you’ll have text files with all of your packs and picks laid out. While I think that this is a great thing for Wizards to have done I think that the text file is a little bit difficult to read and understand so I’ve taken things into my own hands.
At my personal website there are a few tools that take as input the contents of these text files and output them formatted in a cleaner way. The most important one though is the one that outputs images which gives you an experience much like actually drafting the cards. As an example of this tool which is free to use I’ll be doing an SSE draft walkthrough.
If you like the idea of this tool please feel free to head to my site and use it yourself. If you have any questions find any bugs or just want to talk about it you should also feel free to IM or email me with feedback. The pictures are the same size as the ones used for DraftCap but if you need a larger picture simply click on the card required. Onward:
Back at the beginning of SSS I would have opened this pack and windmill-slammed the Leech Bonder. Since that time I’ve come to learn that while powerful the Bonder is very fragile. Sure it can dominate games but it can also easily be picked off by something like Scar. In addition Eventide has brought Flame Jab into the mix which people pick and play much higher than Scar.
The other card that jumps out at me is Power of Fire. There are those who say that Power is the top Red common and I’m not sure I’m entirely in that camp but I know I like it a lot. In addition these days I find myself preferring to draft Red if at all possible so my color preference is very likely affecting my decision. I also believe that the Bonder will give me at least one player worth of breathing room for pack two though I don’t expect the Scuzzback Marauders to go much later than third or fourth.
Getting passed Incremental Blight is something that many people consider one of the finer pleasures in life. CMU drafters though seem to have come to the conclusion that a second-pick Blight is almost always a trick and that you’ll either wind up with an awful Black deck that happens to include the Blight or you simply won’t see any more Black cards for the rest of the draft. This feeling that I had was amplified by the fact that the missing card was a Rare; there aren’t too many rares that are much better than Blight but it’s possible that the guy to my right is already planning to draft Black.
Unfortunately trick or no the Blight is the best card in this pack by quite a bit. Depending on how saucy I felt I might manage to convince myself to take Ballynock Cohort here but usually it would need to be something strong to go with my first pick (like Burn Trail) to get me to pass the Blight along to my neighbor. I didn’t really spend any time thinking about Curse of Chains or Barkshell Blessing and I came to my senses and took the three-for-one.
At this point I’m cursing my color preference and wishing that I’d taken the Leech Bonder first. I likely would have been able to talk myself into picking the Cohort in the previous pack and then I’d get a Duo or Steel here and really be on my way to a solid Blue/White deck. However I have a Power of Fire and an Incremental Blight in my stack and there’s not a single Red or Black card I want to third pick.
It came down to the fact that Power of Fire loves to see Pili-Pala and that taking the Scarecrow let me get my bearings a little bit better. If the Blue/White cards keep on pouring in then I planned to move in but for now I wanted to ride the wave a little bit and see where I wound up.
Again I look at this pack and I see two paths I could start down for the rest of my draft. I could take the River’s Grasp give myself a solid removal spell and a decent chance of managing to play Incremental Blight in my final deck or I could take Tattermunge Duo and try to push the Red Aggro deck I like so much.
In the end color preference won out again. Blue/Black is among my least favorite color combinations and Red Aggro is my favorite deck of the moment so I went with the Duo.
It’s worth noting that I didn’t spend any time thinking about taking the Devoted Druid here. I love the Druid when I’m drafting Green but I’m just not willing to jump on it at this point in the draft.
Mudbrawler Raiders was pretty obviously the pick I was going to wind up making though I managed to burn most of my clock thinking about taking the Spiteflame Witch. If I wind up in straight Red then both the Raiders and the Witch are equally playable with the Witch being slightly more aggressive than usual. However I was liking the idea of the Raiders even more than usual because of the Green cards I’d been seeing come along and because of the possibility of double-triggering my Duo.
Mudbrawler #2 vs Hollowsage doesn’t really seem like a hard decision to me. In fact if I were going to take a Black card it would have been Torpor Dust.
The only two cards in this pact that I might consider putting in a Red/Green or Red/Black aggro deck are Scrapbasket and Traitor’s Roar but I certainly wouldn’t be happy if they were in the final build. Because I didn’t think that it was worth spending a pick on a near-unplayable and because I’d been seeing so much White and Blue go by I snapped up the Cragtreads.
Just like in the last pack there’s nothing here that I actually want for my deck. Instead I took the Devoted Druid and figured that it had a better than average chance of pushing me into Red/Green.
This is where in my mind things started to go screwy. I had expected the Rune-Cervin Rider and Watchwing Scarecrow to both be gone by the time the pack came back but instead I was missing the Horde of Boggarts I thought I’d be taking here.
The question facing me was which of the fliers to take and I didn’t spend long before deciding on Watchwing Scarecrow. Part of the power of the Red Aggro deck is the large number of good Blue/Red cards waiting for you in the third pack and so the Scarecrow might make the cut if I wind up Red/Green just because it has a decent chance of picking up flying.
The Red/Green trend continues with an absurdly late Barkshell Blessing.
I don’t even know what happened here. All that I could think of was the time when I was drafting on the Beta server and wound up with six Dream Thiefs just because no one likes Blue. There’s no way I could resist taking the Duo here even if Juvenile Gloomwidow is a decent on-color pick.
At the end of pack one I had pretty much decided that the Blight was in fact a trick.
The one thing that I always try to tell my drafting buddies is that thinking of your deck as one color combination can be a huge trap. Before I saw this pack I was thinking of myself as Red/Green which isn’t a big stretch given my three hybrids the Blessing and the Devoted Druid. However if I thought of myself as White instead of Green I’d lose the Druid but gain Cragtreads and Thistledown Duo.
The whole point of that mindset shift is the Silkbind Faerie sitting in this pack. Throughout all of the first pack I just kept getting shipped good Blue/White card after good Blue/White card so I wanted a piece of that. I also wanted the flying tapper for my aggressive deck especially given that it happens to be an insane combo with Power of Fire.
A few people I’ve talked to have said that they like the Ashenmoor Liege here. After all it’s nearly a guarantee that I’ll wind up Red/X and so the Liege will always make the deck and generally be quite strong. While I do like Lieges especially four-power ones in aggressive decks I thought that I would actually get more value out of the tap effect of the Faerie than the pump effect of the Liege.
I suppose that there’s a Spectral Procession here to tempt me but Burn Trail is exactly the card I wanted to see.
For the first time all draft I felt like I was deciding between more than just two cards. I could take Ember Gale (which by the way I am absolutely in love with) if I wanted a card guaranteed to make the final build or Sootwalkers as a solid Hill Giant. I could take a second Pili-Pala to combo with my Power of Fire and further cast feelers out and hope to settle down. I could take Gloomwidow if I was ready to make a commitment to Red/Green or I could take Safehold Sentry if I was ready to make a commitment to White.
My eventual decision was that my White cards were much more powerful than my Green cards and that a really nice bear to start my curve off was worth making a commitment to my second color. While I do like to bounce around for a bit the eighteenth pick of the draft is pretty far along so I felt good about finally settling into a color combination.
In addition when I draft an aggressive Red deck it’s the early drops that I’m most worried about. I love to have a lot of high-quality one- and two-drops so that I can really put my opponent on the back foot. Safehold Sentry might not be the absolute best bear for that job but he’s pretty high up there. Plus there’s always Power of Fire.
Speaking of high-quality two-drops that put the opponent on the back foot this pack gave me my first shot at Mudbrawler Cohort. I was so happy about being passed one of these guys that I took it without really considering my options.
The other option I’m referring to is Last Breath. While not exactly the best removal spell to have for a small aggressive deck Last Breath is removal nonetheless and definitely deserved to be picked here. While I’m not sure that the Breath would have made the maindeck I do know that the power of Mudbrawler Cohort comes alongside your Red one-drops and the fact that I didn’t have any at all meant that the Cohort was also unlikely to make the final cut. Oh well.
I was realizing that the Cohort I just picked wasn’t actually that strong in my deck when I managed to see another one. While playing them on consecutive early turns would likely earn me a lot of damage I didn’t think it was worth the times I played a slower Raging Goblin or a late-game random bear.
On the other hand Kitchen Finks is a card I can definitely get behind. Red aggro decks do not have the best three-drops in the world as the quality drops off dramatically after Tattermunge Duo and Noggle Bandit. However a three-power attacker for my third turn seemed like just the kind of card I wanted though I was not exactly thrilled about how my mana costs were shaping up.
When drafting Red aggro I’m perfectly happy to first-pick an Intimidator Initiate. While this deck didn’t seem to be turning into the same blindingly fast aggressive machine that Red decks often become the Initiate gave me a good one-drop to power up my Cohort and a nice way to force through some damage when my 3/3s started getting outclassed.
I have just one good target for the Shield and I was no longer entertaining idea of winding up Green (and therefore picking the Gloomwidow) so my choice was between the Dragoon and the Runes. At this point I already had three hybrid Hill Giants the Watchwing Scarecrow and in general just didn’t feel like I needed another 3/3 for four. I wasn’t sure that I’d wind up with the Runes in my deck but it seemed like a good option to give myself.
Another good bear and another Power of Fire enabler.
With the Faerie Pili-Pala and two Sentrys I thought about taking and splashing Presence of Gond. Then I saw Ember Gale.
I always like having one of these guys to beef up my sideboard against Enchantments.
Another pack with a massive number of good cards for me. Essentially my decision was between the three removal spells and the two White creatures.
First I threw out the creatures. I already had some solid guys at both my two and four slots so I didn’t feel the need to spend my first pick on a guy even if that guy happened to be a good one.
After that I threw out Unmake. I planned on playing more Red than White though things seemed pretty even after I settled on White so I didn’t think I’d be able to cast it in a timely fashion. That left Flame Jab and Fiery Bombardment and a quick scan of my creatures showed that I didn’t have a whole ton of guys who would do more than a single point of damage from their sacrifice so I went with the cheaper version of repeated one-damage shots.
This time there’s six cards in the pack that I want to put in my deck. I stopped thinking about Riverfall Mimic and Harvest Gwyllion pretty quickly though since both pale in comparison to repeated taps or repeated Shocks. However both of those options seemed to me more fragile than the simple yet extremely effective Puncture Blast.
Despite having come to the conclusion that Puncture Blast was the right pick I couldn’t resist taking the Blue/Red Liege. First I wanted to see if I would ever be able to use the HHHH ability and to see just how good it would be if I managed to do it. Second I was seeing that my deck was primarily Red/X and White/Blue cards so the Liege would tend to buff my whole team. Third I just wanted to play with the splashy rare.
There’s not much to say other than that an unanswered Crackleburr will win you the game.
All of the cards in this pack that I could think about picking are White creatures and they all fall short of Harvest Gwyllion.
Given my White/Red build so far Fire at Will would have been 100% castable in games where I drew lands but it just didn’t excite me as much as either Patrol Signaler or Flickerwisp. I was still so stuck on the Power of Fire combo that I nearly took the Signaler but I do believe that a three-power flyer for three mana (that can remove a blocker kill an Aura or just reduce its cost by one) will tend to be more powerful than a 1/1 for two.
My options in this pack are Duergar Assailant Stream Hopper and Springjack Shepherd. I’m not sure what the right pick really is since I don’t think that any of them will tend to make the final cut but I went with the Hopper because it seemed always relevant as a 1/1 flyer and possibly very dangerous as a 3/3 flyer.
Hatchlings are pretty strong and Hatchlings that you can’t block seem even stronger to me. I felt pretty lucky to get an on-color Hatchling this late and it also made me feel better about the Stream Hopper I’d just taken.
I guess it takes people a while to realize that Phantom Warrior is a pretty high pick. A true gift.
With my pack back around it still seemed like it would be rare that I’d get more than one damage out of my Bombarded creature so I went with the Gyrfalcon instead. If he were just a 3/3 flyer for four I wouldn’t even have thought about the Bombardment but even with the drawback I wanted to see how he worked out.
Harvest Gwyllion remains one of the best possible Foot Soldiers you can get in this format but I was absolutely sure I didn’t need more four-drops. That left me with Riverfall Mimic which really didn’t make me too unhappy. I love Riverfall Mimic and I expected to be able to turn him unblockable quite a bit given my run of Blue/Red cards earlier. Lastly I certainly did not have too many two-drops.
Of all the cards in this pack I thought I might lose to a second-turn Exalted Angel seemed like the most likely.
I guess people hate hard-to-block blue 2/xs for three. Either way I get another one-drop to pair with my Cohort.
I might not want to lose to the build-your-own Exalted Angel but having an Inside Out in my board seemed like a good idea.
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Building the deck was just a matter of selecting which creatures I wanted to play as all of my spells were ones I really wanted to keep. I decided to only play Initiate for one-drops so I cut the Cohort and ran with Medicine Runner instead. I played all of my three-drops and then left some of the more marginal four-drops on the sideline. I wanted to try out the Gyrfalcon so I played it over Watchwing Scarecrow though I am not sure that I always would make the same decision. The final result:
1 Intimidator Initiate
1 Medicine Runner
1 Riverfall Mimic
2 Safehold Sentry
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Noggle Bandit
1 Silkbind Faerie
1 Tattermunge Duo
1 Thistledown Duo
1 Barrenton Cragtreads
1 Harvest Gwyllion
1 Loyal Gyrfalcon
1 Shrewd Hatchling
1 Mindwrack Liege
1 Flame Jab
1 Barkshell Blessing
1 Power of Fire
1 Burn Trail
1 Ember Gale
I was a little bit annoyed that I had so many 1RR and 1WW three-drops but I think that it’s hard to play better lands than these. I leaned towards Mountains because of the Liege but I did have more WW costs than RR costs so I could see the argument for swapping a Mountain out for a Plains.
In the first round I was paired against a Black/Green deck that seemed to destroy me with Dire Undercurrents. The turn after he played it he made me discard three and managed to draw a card and he followed that up with a Drain the Well to keep me off of RR a Soul Reap on my only real threat and a Heartmender. However a timely Power of Fire kept his smaller guys off the table and left him with two 2/2s to my Tattermunge Duo and 1/1 Cragtreads (thanks to Oona’s Gatewarden). Another good topdeck of Flickerwisp gave me a flying threat and a refreshed Cragtreads and that was good for the game. I started the second game off with Initiate Mimic and Silkbind Faerie while his first addition was a Gloomwidow which didn’t do a whole ton against my ground force though it stopped my tapper. I failed to draw a fourth land for a few turns though by the time I got there he was already at ten and my hand was full of four-drop gas. He seemed to be keeping up with my stream of guys but Ember Gale finished him off.
In the second round I won the roll but my opponent was first onto the board with a Woodlurker Mimic while I had Noggle Bandit and Loyal Gyrfalcon. He played a Faerie Macabre and then Cinderbones and on my fifth turn I killed both of his x/1s with Flame Jab dropped UW Duo and swung for five. He played another regenerator but I had Barrenton Cragtreads to drop him to five and finishing him off from there was not difficult. I started game two with a mulligan to a rather unimpressive six-card hand of four lands Flickerwisp and Loyal Gyrfalcon while my opponent started with Spiteflame Witch and Fang Skulkin. I played Thistledown Duo and Gyrfalcon while he played Voracious Hatchling and started pumping it with small black guys. Eventually it got to the point where I had to trade my entire side for the Hatchling including Crackleburr. This left him with two x/1s twenty five life and two cards to my empty board twelve life and three cards. However based on his play with the Hatchling I was almost certain that his two cards were lands while I untapped and dropped my Liege into play. From there my four mountains allowed me to repeatedly ambush him in combat and a 7/7 Hatchling eventually took it down.
My finals opponent won the roll and chose to draw first which surprised me. I decided to keep a risky hand with only two Plains though it had a Pili-Pala to help give me Red as long as I drew some sort of land. Unfortunately I did not draw more lands until my opponent had played Puresight Merrow Spectral Procession and Steel of the Godhead and my inability to cast the Burn Trail or Ember Gale stuck in my hand with four Plains on the table cost me the game. In the second game I assembled Pili-Pala and Power of Fire but only managed to shoot down one of his guys before he could scar it off the table. I found myself stuck on three mana again though this time I had a Tattermunge Duo and a Crackleburr to play. My opponent also got stuck on three but he had a Last Breath to stop my Crackleburr and Inquisitor’s Snare for my Duo. I drew a fourth land and played Shrewd Hatchling and pumped it with Mimic on the following turn. He also started to draw land and used Flickerwisp to reset my Hatchling though I had Cragtreads to repump it and used the ability to put him to 11 after trading off my Mimic. He answered with Procession but I had my Liege to put him in a huge hole and a massive Hatchling finished the game yet again. I thought I was in great shape for the third game as I played four creatures in the first four turns while my opponent played only a Scar on my one-drop and an Elsewhere Flask. However Cultbrand Cinder and Kulrath Knight stopped me cold with him at 10 life and my Loyal Gyrfalcon did not seem to want to be able to attack. I eventually got him down to four putting myself in a position to draw Ember Gale Burn Trail or Mindwrack Liege to kill him but none of those came before Steel of the Godhead killed me yet again.
Thanks for reading my round-up. If you have any questions about the Draft Converter again please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. And as always if you have any questions feel free to contact me in the forums via email or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
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