Peebles Primers – Worlds Winners, and Learning Limited

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Today’s Peebles Primers attacks on two fronts. The first sees Benjamin cast his steely eye over the top two decks from Worlds, offering insight into why they performed as well as they did. The second is a lesson in Limited play that we all should learn… When faced with a powerful pick over a potential yet unreliable choice, what is the correct choice of action?

Since school reared its ugly head and I had to miss Worlds, I have to be content to pore over the mountains of data that have come out of the tournaments that took place this weekend. Obviously, the big stories are the Mono-Red Dragonstorm deck and the winning deck, B/g/w Doran Aggro. Today I’ll be taking a quick look at each of the two decks, and talking a little bit about Limited (and Magic in general) to round it out.

First up is the Dragonstorm deck, which is so popular that multiple people were running it in the more-casual Standard Vanguard tournament on Magic Online this weekend. It didn’t even need to play out the finals for everyone to want to try their hands at it, and the buzz has sent Spinerock Knoll’s value higher than anyone would have expected.

The back-story, for those that haven’t heard it yet, is that something very similar won a Grand Prix Trial at GP: Daytona Beach without losing a game. Various pros in attendance took notice, and a handful of them went back to work on the deck, unleashing it on Worlds 2007.

You might think that the control decks should have been able to contain the Dragonstorm threat, but that wasn’t the case. First of all, there weren’t too many true counterspell control decks playing in the tournament; according to the decklists at the top of the coverage, only eight players showed up with Cryptic Commands, and not a single one went undefeated (or made the Top 8). In addition, the amount of mana that the Dragonstorm deck can cobble together is absurd, and it’s not too hard to punish someone trying to defend themselves with four-mana counterspells when most of your threats cost three or less and you can produce upwards of eight mana on turn four.

In fact, the decks that showed up most were Green-based Aggro and Midrange decks. The eleven decks that went undefeated in the Standard portion included three Big Mana Red/Green decks, three Green/Black Elves decks, two Green/Black Midrange decks, and even two decks with Forests and Psionic Blasts. The Dragonstorm deck is very nicely set up to handle these. The R/G Big Mana matchup is a pseudo-mirror where you have tons more Hellkites, better ways to get them out fast, and a second combo kill. The Elves matchup can be a little bit scary, but you have Shock, Tarfire, Incinerate, Grapeshot, and Rift Bolt to make sure that you don’t get run over before you can bring a dragon out to start the beatings. The other Green/Black decks are even less frightening; they may have Thoughtseize, but they don’t have the same level of clock.

In other words, this deck seems so strong not only because it has two different Storm combo kills, but because Bogardan Hellkite is often good enough to win games by itself. This is not to say, though, that the deck is unstoppable, and Uri Peleg proved it when he took Chapin down in the finals.

Unlike the majority of other Green/Black decks running around New York, Uri’s was set up to handle exactly the kinds of threats that the Dragonstorm deck could spit out at him. He had a fast clock, with the ability to put six “power” into play on the second turn. He had disruption, with Thoughtseize and Liliana in the maindeck, and Nath and Stupor in the sideboard. He even had the ability to gain life with Warhammer and hit Lotus Blooms with Riftsweeper.

Uri’s deck is a pretty scary concoction. It has some of the best creatures that you can get your hands on, and it plays very nicely with Tarmogoyf, given the multiple Tribal removal spells it runs. It can come out fast on the back of its undercosted fatties, and it can go long on the back of its Planeswalkers and Profane Commands. Aggro decks don’t want to play against someone who can bust out second-turn 5/5s and massive Tarmogoyfs, and the more controlling decks don’t want to play against Ohran Viper, Garruk, or Thoughtseize.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this became the next big thing, and not just because it won Worlds. Magic Online has historically been a very good indicator of the best decks in a given format. For instance, veterans of the PE circuit were unsurprised when the Ghazi-Glare deck ran rampant across the World Championships two years ago. Prior to this year’s Worlds, the biggest deck on Magic Online was the Black/Green Midrange deck, and Uri’s winning Doran deck is a logical step to take.

Lorwyn Limited

While I wasn’t in New York this weekend, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t playing Magic. After all, I live with four other Magic players, and so we spent a large portion of Saturday drafting with Lorwyn. Most people were pretty tired by the end of the third draft that night, so we went to bed without discussing things in too much depth. However, I had a conversation with one of my roommates the next morning that shed light on how differently some of us see Lorwyn.

We were talking about a deck that he had drafted on MTGO that included a Smokebraider that he’d picked over Nameless Inversion, despite the fact that he already had some Black cards in his stack. I mentioned that I was amazed that he could make this pick, and he said that he thought it was a fairly easy decision. He already had a fair number of Elementals, but most importantly, he had a Flamekin Harbinger. With the Harbinger in his pile, my roommate said that he was much more excited by the Smokebraider because he could just tutor it up and start playing Mulldrifters and Aethersnipes immediately. It’s true that you can tutor up Nameless Inversion too, but giving himself more shots at a fast Elemental draw was exactly what he wanted.

This led into a discussion about picking a less-powerful (in the abstract) card simply because it fits better in your overall strategy, which in turn led to a discussion about a pick that I’d made the previous night: Lys Alana Huntmaster versus Lys Alana Scarblade. It was towards the early end of pack two, and my deck already included two Huntmasters, and so I said that I’d taken the “worse” Huntmaster over the “better” Scarblade because I felt that the third Huntmaster just offered too many good draws, even if I would normally think of the Scarblade as a better Elf card. My roommate countered by saying that he would be shocked if I had taken the Scarblade, because he believed that there were no situations in which the Scarblade should be considered better than the Huntmaster. He agreed that the Huntmaster was the right pick, and that it would offer some busted draws, but he was very adamant that I had not made a sacrifice by passing the Scarblade.

This simple disagreement over card evaluation brought two things to light. First, I like cards that are situationally very powerful and often slightly below-average more than most people (and possibly more than I should). Second, that it’s very important to make sure that you talk about card evaluations with multiple people.

On the first point: it’s certainly true that I like situational-blowout cards a lot. Lys Alana Scarblade is amazing against something like a Merfolk deck, where you can trade your mediocre Elves for their best players, letting your Huntmasters and Branchbenders win without the bother of Silvergill Douser and friends. On the other hand, a lot of the time it’s a 1/1 for three that you can’t afford to spend the rest of your Elves on because you need to be putting them into play. My roommate also mentioned Incremental Growth, which can completely seal up a game, but can also languish in your hand while you look at zero or one creatures in play. Sure, Overrun is amazing and can suffer from the same downsides, but the point is that the card will not help you win every single game. I have been doing very well for myself in Lorwyn drafts, so I don’t know that my roommate is right and that I am wrong, but it’s definitely something that I’ve been thinking about, and chances are good that it’s something that you’ll want to think about too.

As far as getting different opinions goes, well, that’s just part of a bigger step towards improving your Magic game to the best that it can be. People will tell you that the best thing that you can do to get better is to play with as many people that are better than you that you can. This is essentially the same thing, it’s just that you want to make sure that you avoid falling into a trap where you and your friend manage to convince each other that you know what you’re doing, and then suffer from tunnel vision for the entire draft format. Opinions on cards at CMU are hashed out among the many people who play there, but these opinions are also somewhat inbred. Lys Alana Scarblade, specifically, is a card that I know CMU likes more than the rest of the world. I’ve been involved in drafts where someone nearly picked the card, first pick and first pack, over plenty of other very strong options that many people wouldn’t have even considered. I have hate-drafted the card as early as third pick in a team draft, and so on. If not for the fact that this roommate of mine spends his weekdays out-of-state, he might have fallen prey to the same conclusions as the rest of the group.

Again, this is not to say that I know which side of the discussion is correct. The point that I’m making is that it’s very valuable to have someone who disagrees with you, assuming that the two of you respect each other and can discuss your differing viewpoints. My roommate and I spent a solid thirty minutes talking about the Scarblade, and about the Elf deck in general, and I’m pretty sure that both of us consider the time well-spent.

And that is, in summary, what I’ve been thinking about recently. Chances are very good that I’ll be playing against the two finalists’ decks this Wednesday for City Champs, and I’ll be looking forward to putting my new thinking to the test when I draft tonight.

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