Shalom khaverim! (Hello friends!)
After a disappointing French Nationals, I left France and visited my brother in Israel, to take a fresh new start for the second half of the season. We are two weeks away from Grand Prix: Gothenburg, and three weeks away from Pro Tour: Amsterdam, and I’ll be using this time to fill the holes in my M11 Limited game and study the new Extended format.
My Limited preparation for French Nationals consisted of playing the prereleases (of which I’ve talked about before) and drafting a few times. Following prereleases, players here in Toulouse wanting to play Paper Magic usually meet for an excellent BBQ at Christophe Mercy’s place. The name probably doesn’t sound familiar to any of you, but Christophe, better known as “Christophe du Loft,” won the first French reality TV show ever in 2001: “Loft Story”. Not that it changes much in terms of Magic, but it’s still a cool fact!
Of all the preparation drafts I played, I was most successful with Black/Blue and Mono-Black.
Here is one of the Black/Blue decks I drafted:
This is the way you want your average UB deck to look. I say “average” because, except for Mind Control, this deck is not extremely difficult to draft. There have been talks about how late you get passed a Foresee. I have been playing on Magic Online for a few days now, and I’ve seen many get passed after the fourth (and even fifth) pick, since players pick removal over it (which is understandable) or want to follow up with cards in the color of their first picks without choosing Blue as their second color. And then, of course, you have Doom Blade, which is a must-have in almost any Black deck. In other words, no Rares or Mythic are necessary here to end up with a good deck.
Unsummon has risen a lot in value with M11, for two reasons. First of all, you will immediately make up for the lost card if bouncing a creature allows a Scroll Thief to hit once. And most importantly, the Blue mage needs a way to make up for the loss of tempo when he’s casting Foresee or Jace’s Ingenuity. Card drawing spells play along great with cheap removal. Sure, Doom Blades would be better, but you’re not always UB and passed more than one or two, as you are with Unsummons…
Your game plan is simple: hit as many times with Scroll Thief as possible, thanks to your removal arsenal (Aether Adept, Deathmark, Doom Blade, Diminish, Mind Control), control the board thanks to the card advantage your spells provide (Gravedigger, Liliana’s Specter, Foresee) plus better card quality provided by Scry spells (Crystal Ball, Preordain), and eventually kill with bigger creatures. They do not need to be extremely big, but at least three or four 3+ power creatures are necessary if you don’t want the game to stall and have you run out of threats, leaving your opponent a window to get back into things a threat of his own that you will not be able to handle.
Deathmark is a main deck card, especially in this deck where you have the opportunity to Scry it away when you face one of the few color combinations it is not good against. In general, I am not sure I would want to have more than one Deathmarks main deck, but in this configuration with so many Scry spells, I would definitely have played a second.
I tried to draft the archetype in my other practice drafts, and always managed to end up with something coherent. As long as you don’t send the wrong signals when you’re drafting, you should be fine.
With that in mind, here is what I drafted in the first Limited portion of French Nationals:
The above deck is almost exactly what I wanted. It is lacking a couple of bigger creatures to make sure the games don’t last too long. I have been involved in games where I had to struggle hard to keep my Sphinx alive; I had to reanimate it a couple of times, since it was the only creature in my deck actually able to deal lethal damage in the late game, as I don’t rely on the Scroll Thieves and Aether Adepts to deal damage after turn 7 or 8. With that said, and according to what I said above, I was happy with my Sphinx but I wouldn’t have minded trading my Rare for two or three Common Cloud Elementals (or any average three-power creature). The Bloodthrone Vampire feels a bit awkward as well, but I had to fill with a creature, no matter what it was.
Necrotic Plague is a card I have seen wheeling a thousand times. Is it because there is too much to read? This card is awesome! Not in every deck, but awesome nonetheless. In this particular case, without any obvious combo, it allows you to clear the board, starting with your opponent’s biggest creature. You will never lose a card in the process unless you set it up badly, but come on, it’s not that hard. Just don’t play more creatures than your opponent. It doesn’t work very well when you’re ahead on the board, but neither does Day of Judgment…
I love Diabolic Tutor in M11. It is at its best in this format, where you have the option to look for either the solution to a threat on board (and play it right away, such as Doom Blade), or find the key card in your deck to finish the game as quickly as possible (such as Conundrum Sphinx).
I won my two first rounds of the draft, losing the finals to a very mediocre BW deck packing removal and fillers around his Angelic Arbiter. I did expect to 3-0 that draft, and with my poor 1-2 start in Standard, I needed it to stay in the tournament.
At 3-3, there wasn’t much I could hope for, but I didn’t want to drop yet…
I had just drafted one of the best Blue/Black decks I ever had in this format, and then I ended up with the worst Blue/Black deck I ever had in the second draft. At least it taught me a lesson: it doesn’t always work out. And I probably didn’t make all the correct picks either. I cut most of the Black in pack 1 without passing a single Blue card, and yet wasn’t rewarded in pack 2. My left neighbor was set on WR, and opened a Frost Titan, suddenly deciding to go Blue. I ended up missing the key cards to make UB work: a Doom Blade, Aether Adepts, a game ender. As good as Gravediggers can be, they don’t do enough if they don’t have the right backup.
I lost my first match, as I couldn’t deal with a turn 2 Goblin Piker, turn 4 Canyon Minotaur, and I thought I’d rather stop the tournament there, as things were humiliating enough. I don’t think I could have won any match with this deck. (I think we were seven at our pod, so I guess I could have hoped for a bye.) I really wanted to play more with my standard deck, but with nothing at stake, you don’t really enjoy the game as much.
As for single card strategies:
I don’t remember exactly why, but Sleep used to be a very good card in M10. In the above deck, it is the absolute nut low, and I should have played a land or an Unholy Strength over it. Disappointment makes you do stupid things sometimes, and in this case my stupid thing was actually running the card. I have drafted it a fair amount, and I’ve never seen it do anything relevant. Blue/Green is not an archetype I would recommend, and it probably finds its home there along with big monsters. Or in a very aggressive deck. But I don’t really see any aggressive deck that would be able to cast Sleep (meaning a deck that is running Island), as Blue creatures are not the most powerful monsters.
How high should you pick Merfolk Sovereign? I understand how awesome it looks along with Scroll Thief. Having a potentially unblockable 2/4 Ophidian is cute indeed, and the more Thieves you have, the better it gets. However, it is most of the time a 2/2 for 1UU, and this is far from being impressive. Unlike Captivating Vampire, who has a lot of followers in M11, Merfolk Sovereign can only pump two other Merfolk – Merfolk Spy and Maritime Guard – not counting other Merfolk Sovereigns… and Clones. I don’t think I would pick it over any relevant Blue card that would be better than a 2/2 for 1UU, unless I have three or more Scroll Thieves. The easiest comparison would be with Aether Adept. The Adept works great with Scroll Thieves anyway, and has a significantly bigger impact on the game than the Sovereign. So I would pick the Adept over it almost every time.
As you may have understood, Blue/Black is by far the archetype I like the most. But I also like Red very much.
While there is not much that need saying about Chandra’s Outrage, which is a very efficient removal spell that goes great with Red Uncommons like Chandra’s Spitfire and Servant of Fire, there is a little more to say about Fling.
Since damage is no longer put on the stack, cards that require you to sacrifice a creature lost a lot in value. Fling is one of them, but it remains a very good card in Limited. First of all, it is direct damage that can potentially deal a lot of damage, and it is hard to counter. Only Safe Passage and Negate will make your opponent survive a lethal Fling. It is cheap enough so you can play around Mana Leak when you’re going for the kill. One of the reasons I like it so much is that it goes hand in hand with another Red Common that also got a huge boost in M11: Act of Treason. The combo is obvious: steal a creature, attack, and Fling-sacrifice it to either kill another creature or kill your opponent.
On its own, Act of Treason is a fine card. It removes a blocker and gives you an extra attacker, which is quite useful when your plan is to attack with power creatures (RG’s plan). It also finds its home in Red/Black decks, along with Bloodthrone Vampires and Viscera Seer, that will allow you to turn your Act of Treason into a powerful removal spell.
Fling, Act of Treason, Bloodthrone Vampire. All three cards work great together. Steal a creature, throw it or eat it, or sac all your monsters and Fling the vampire. Or even better: steal a creature, swing with everything, eat it, and launch the Vamp. This is the kind of synergy I like in a format where there’s often not much to look for. These combos can make decks on their own.
I mentioned Viscera Seer above. I laughed the first time someone played it against me, and I see myself running it almost every time now. It’s not that bad on its own, but it’s not extremely exciting either. However, it’s far from being useless. For it to be worth playing, you need to have either an Act of Treason and/or a Reassembling Skeleton in your deck. I think I would run it every time if I had either of these cards, regardless how many Bloodthrone Vampires I already had.
Reassembling Skeleton is a huge card as soon as you have either Bloodthrone Vampire or Viscera Seer. Along with the Seer, you can “Impulse” every turn with an extra free block on the ground for your defense. Don’t forget you can Scry multiple times during your upkeep if you plan to have spare mana during your turn and would like to select your draw. It turns your Bloodthrone Vampires into Nantuko Shades, except that you only need half Black mana (but need to pump twice at once). It fits aggressive strategies better since you will be willing to spend your mana in order to sneak more damage (not something you would do if you have to play a Foresee on your turn), so it’s at home in either Red/Black or Mono-Black.
I haven’t talked much about White or Green because I think you should stay away from these colors. Red, Black, and Blue offer a lot of options and all go with each other in any combination, and hopefully your neighbors won’t decide to do the same thing. In that case, if it’s not too late, change your plans…
I have seen so many insane looking Blue/White decks, with Serra Angels and most of the good stuff, going 1-2 in drafts for no apparent reason. I have seen a lot of decks with White and Green along with the other colors, but none of them matched combinations of Red, Blue, and Black. This is, of course, my strategy, and it might be changing before the next tournament, but it’s been quite successful so far (except for that terrible second draft at Nationals), and I plan on sticking to it for now.
To conclude, I would like to add a little note to all non-US residents who have won money in the U.S. in Pro Tours or Grand Prix tournament and had taxes withheld from their winnings. Check this link. I’m sure some of you will be greatly interested.
Good luck if you are playing at your Nationals soon!
Until next time…