Removed From Game – Drafting and Drafting and Drafting with Rich part 2

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It’s time to prop the eyelids open, as the Rich Hagon Limited Marathon enters its final phase of tortuous manabases, ridiculous synergy, and some eye-watering math information, for those of you who like that sort of thing.

Greetings fellow travellers and welcome to the final part of a gargantuan weekend of Magic that began with a Pro Tour Qualifier in Bradford which saw my teammates Neil Rigby and Craig Stevenson scandalously fall at the penultimate and final hurdle respectively. We continued through 6 hours of Saturday night draft and League action before picking up the story last week at 10am on the Sunday morning. That’s right you people with actual lives we’d already done the best part of 24 hours Magical gaming before the story even starts. Madness.

In part 1 we blistered our way through five drafts and a 4x Premier Event to the world-class record of 2-6 and a MTGO meltdown. Though it won’t be hard after that kind of performance I can assure you that things are about to get better – much better. Except before they get better they had to get just a little worse….

Draft 6 7.15pm

Okay so the thing is one of the problems with MTGO is that you win your first round really quickly and then hang around for the best part of an hour waiting for Round 2 to start. Although we had some Sealed packs to fiddle about with our desire for online interaction took charge and through most of the day we were playing in multiple events. This means that the MTGO crash that ended our participation in the Premier Event also put paid to this our 6th draft of the day. Have a look at this:

As is often the case down the Magical ages the monsters in Red/Black aren’t exactly stellar. On the other hand Mudbutton Torchrunner and Hornet Harasser are fabulous for blunting a weenie rush as they frequently either trade two-for-one or at the very least one-for-a-very-good/big-one i.e. Torchrunner for Axegrinder Giant. With 11 swamps in our deck we can expect the Ghostly Changeling to be a sizeable body and we have a certain amount of inevitability with our elemental Dread. As you may have spotted our removal is awesome. Sorry is that two Nameless Inversion? Two Fodder Launch? Three Weed Strangle? Plus assorted other “men in bin” action. This was deck 7 of the day and it was definitely the strongest. As we said if we didn’t win with this one in a fair fight (i.e. not totally manascrewed or flooded) then it was really time to pack it in.

We didn’t just lose the first game. It was the most comprehensive undiluted mauling any of us have ever had – that’s nearly 29 years of Magical experience and as we agreed afterwards we were in with a chance until somebody won the die roll and said gl. From then on it was butcherization. Respect to itsaratio and his 1874 ranking. Thirteen Pro Tours between us and we just sat laughing at the screen as we were totally profoundly and prodigiously dismembered piece by piece. Scholars of Magical excellence will be aware of the concept of Card Advantage. If that’s a new term to you now is not the place for a complex explanation but suffice to say that the more cards you have the more options you have and the fewer cards your opponent has the fewer options they have. Options for you + less options for them = good times. Here’s what he did to us remembering that we have all the removal in the world ever and that it’s not going to matter:

First off he spends three mana and evokes Mulldrifter. The classic definition says that has a Card Advantage of +1 because he started with X cards in hand and ends the spell resolving with X+1 cards in hand. He has however drawn two cards deeper into his deck in search of fuel for the fire so we’ll classify this as +2 cards drawn. In a way we don’t mind this since Mulldrifter is a great card and to see someone “waste” the 2/2 flyer part of it was encouraging. Against a lesser opponent we’d have thought they were just being premature an affliction that affects lots of men – just ask Pele. (Google Pele and Dysfunction). Against 1874-boy we wondered what he was up to.

Next up is a four-mana Black instant… so good I’m surprised nobody’s thought of using it for Standard. Oh wait they have and almost won a Grand Prix with it. Yes it’s Makeshift Mannequin bringing the Mulldrifter back into play. Do you know what Mulldrifter does when it comes into play? Yes it draws you two cards. He’s now +4 cards drawn over us. Our cards need to be really good with him drawing all these extra options. We’re about to have two less options since he next evokes Mournwhelk and that’s two cards we’re not getting back. His advantage is now +6.

You know I pointed out how good Mulldrifter is? It turns out that a second Mulldrifter has exactly the same genital rearrangement properties as the first one. Yes it’s another kick in the nads as he goes to +8 and by this time we are shaking with laughter at the unbelievable massacre going on. Then we make the foolishly unforgivable error of killing his first Mulldrifter. Ever heard of Warren Pilferers? Well he used to go to my school and… no not really but he does get back a creature card from the graveyard like let’s say Mulldrifter. He’s now at +9.

Next turn Mulldrifter. +11. Of course all this ridiculous Card Advantage is netting him er cards with which to further ritually humiliate us. Thieving Sprite forces us to discard putting him to +12 and his second Thieving Sprite of the turn takes away our last card.

Did I mention Deathrender?

He finishes the game against a deck that not only features 11 removal spells but also contains 8 creatures with abilities that remove heartbeats and caned us so badly I still can’t sit down.

Plus 13. In Draft. It’ll be another thirty years of playing before we see the like again. Plain awesome. At this point MTGO crashes and I’m not surprised. Surely no server could cope with a game like that?!

Game scores 7-16 Match scores 2-7-1.

After a pause for food and rebooting we’re ready to get cracking again. Drafts have now gone until Monday morning and Andy has quit when he’s behind with countless therapy sessions looming on the horizon due to him being a Blue player beaten by 13 cards. So it’s off to Premier Event land and I promise faithfully we’re heading for the upturn bit of the story.

2 x Premier Event 10.30pm

At first glance our manabase is a mess and we seem to be getting unnecessarily greedy. Two things: no it isn’t and no we’re not. Let’s start with the splash cards. Lash Out is a fine card and even though you win the clash only 35-40% of the time that can often be game either because they’re actually on two life or because the extra three takes you to critical mass for a swing that turn having removed a problematic blocker with the reason you put the spell in your deck in the first place. In White we have Crib Swap and Neck Snap. On a flavorful note I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had these cards been er swapped around. Crib Snap

”Baby Jesus.”
“Baby Jesus.”

Neck Swap

”The Gorilla was pleased to see beyond the treeline while the Giraffe felt somewhat disgruntled.”

Thanks to our assorted non-basic lands we are able to run seven Black sources of mana and four White for the two White spells. Red has three sources for two spells. If you’re fairly new to Magic I cannot stress enough how full of pitfalls four- and five-color decks can be. However as Quentin Martin is fond of saying when in doubt get greedy and we certainly have.

Round 1 versus wrathofmoocow rating 1813 playing UWr

In Game 1 Hoarder’s Greed found our Liliana Vess and we always had answers. The Greed is an interesting card with a profound psychological effect. It’s a fact that people are far more interested in extreme stories even if they’re horrific than in mundane tales of simple effectiveness. The story of the guy who died from 16 life at the Prerelease may be true but the math behind Clash is really in your favor. Yes your opponent can find a land and keep it there in a bid to kill you but here’s a rough guide:

You win the first clash approximately 37% of the time assuming that your deck has a similar distribution of land and spells at assorted costs as your opponents which taken over a vast number of games will be true. So 37% of the time you will be “forced” to draw 4 cards for 4 life. At that point assuming your opponent is playing for the win you will need to find a land yourself in order to draw the clash and stop the Greed. You have roughly 40% of land in your deck probably slightly higher (16 land in 40 cards is 40% 17 is 42.5% 18 is 45%). We’ll assume 16 land for illustrative purposes. So after drawing 4 the chance of me having to go again is:

37% (chance of winning Clash 1) x 60% (chance of Clashing with a spell against a deliberately land-keeping opponent). This comes to approximately 22%. You’ve now drawn 6 and paid 6 life. To be forced to draw 8 you’re looking at 22% x 60% which is roughly 13%. In summary assuming your opponent sees this as his route to victory and will leave a land on top :

Draw 2 pay 2 life – 100%
Draw 4 pay 4 life – 37%
Draw 6 pay 6 life – 22%
Draw 8 pay 8 life – 13%
Draw 10 pay 10 life – 8%
Draw 12 pay 12 life – 5%
Draw 14 pay 14 life – 3%

These numbers are approximate since of course the chance of drawing a spell continues to go down with each iteration. In reality therefore every figure from 6 cards onward are on the high side. So you will die from 10 life approximately 1 time in 12 from 12 life 1 time in 20 and from 14 life 1 time in 35 or so. Mitigating against the Greed of course are the times that you draw it when you’re on 2 life or at least a precarious 4-6. My question for you here is what are you doing on 2 life? Presumably you’re in trouble or you certainly have been even if you’ve just stabilized. In short the math says that Hoarder’s Greed is mostly an “okay” card and is better than that more often than it’s terrible. Normal non-math-based programming will now resume.

In Game 2 we discovered that Oblivion Ring isn’t just a removal spell but also acts as a nasty tempo swing as our Brion being removed left us permanently behind in the race. Inkfathom Divers versus Islands didn’t help either. 1-1. In the decider we mulliganed to 6 and although Final Revels more or less reset the board Oblivion ring on Brion for the second game running gave him time to establish Inkfathom Divers and the rather tasty Ethereal Whiskergill. 1-2.

Game Scores 8-18 Match Scores 2-8-1

Round 2 versus jkjuggernaut rating 1672 playing RWb

Changeling Berserker is an interesting card. Sometimes he’s a real beating especially in a RB deck where you get to remove plenty of potential blockers. In that kind of deck he’s almost a win condition. Most of the time he’s a removal spell since most opponents will want it in the bin. Admittedly less than optimal against Plover Knights he will mostly take down at least one guy and sometimes two. Another plus is the likelihood that he’s going to die and that means Championing him to something with a nice comes-into-play ability like a Harbinger. I’ve certainly had games where turn 3 Kithkin Harbinger led to turn 4 Changeling Berserker then the Harbinger triggers again to fetch my second Berserker then turn 5 the Berserker dies again to allow me to fetch Wizened Cenn. Meanwhile my opponent has put two or three monsters in the bin. Given how useful he is you don’t really want to be playing him when you have only one monster on the board just begging to be two-for-one’d. This is exactly what jk did in game 1 but sadly we had no way of punishing him for this. 0-1.

You may have spotted that there are some cards which apparently only have one use despite there being several options on the card. Austere Command would be a simple example of this since it’s Lorwyn’s Wrath Of God. Some people think of it exclusively in those terms and blindly put all the monsters in the bin. Sometimes though you’ve got all the big monsters and your opponent has all the little ones and you want just half a Wrath and some Artifact removal. Spotting these (and as I said Austere Command is a straightforward example) can be the difference between being an ok player and a good one. In this game Final Revels was the card. It’s a baby Wrath and again that’s what many people think it is. It’s also a hugely expensive Fortify and against our manascrewed opponent that’s how we used it. 1-1. We took down the decider with little fanfare learning from our earlier mistake with Liliana Vess to go fetch Brion straight away and winning a couple of clashes took the game away from him. 2-1.

Game Scores 10-19 Match Scores 3-8-1

Round 3 versus abs369 rating 1697 playing BW

Game 1 – aargh mana issues again. Maybe we were too greedy after all. Game 2 he casts Hoarder’s Greed for 4 cards pretty much the perfect number most of the time. We aim Final Revels at his two remaining monsters a Hornet Harasser and an Oaken Brawler spotting that if it resolves successfully he will be obliged to give the Brawler -2/-2 when the Harasser dies (the Harasser ability has no “may” in there to avoid potential embarrassment). Playing with irritating competence abs369 has seen no need to waste his Fistful Of Force on a few bonus points of damage and instead uses it now to keep the Harasser alive and by extension the Oaken Brawler too. Fistful Of Force: Counter target Final Revels. Nice. 0-2.

Game Scores 10-21 Match Scores 3-9-1

Since we’re already involved in yet another PE we decide to cut our losses and for the first time concentrate exclusively on one tournament. Maybe that would turn out to be the right decision…

4 x PE 11.15pm

Our spells are perfectly serviceable although the best you can say about them is that Wanderer’s Twig + Springleaf Drum + Fertile Ground + Elvish Harbinger + Leaf Gilder allows us to run just one of each of our splash lands a lone Mountain and Swamp. The real strength is in the monsters especially once we reach four mana. Brion has an obvious target painted on him as soon as he appears Masked Admirers is an outstanding card and once they turn sideways the Veteran Of The Depths are Hill Giants with potential. It’s also worth noting their synergy with Springleaf Drum – good times.

Round 1 versus coles rating 1867 playing GR

This was Cole Swannack a young man of antipodean origins who made a bit of noise on the world scene a few years back. We win Game 1 when he mulligans to five and simply can’t catch up. He came back to equalise with a nice early start of 3/2 Adder-Staff Boggart Elvish Branchbender Kithkin Daggerdare and a bunch of efficient removal. With us just about stabilising on two life the 1867-rated opponent demonstrated his ability to read Moonglove Extract by pointing it at our face. 1-1. It looked for a long time as if we would get off to a winning start during Game 3 as we went to the races with an Avian Changeling and Shriekmaw. With us up on 10 life he would need something good. Turns out that Changeling Berserker plus Kithkin Daggerdare plus removing our blocker with Lash Out plus winning the clash = 10 points of damage. Good game. 1-2.

Game Scores 11-23 Match Scores 3-10-1

Round 2 versus mm_young rating 1748 playing G

Game 1 is where our luck finally turns. When I look in to see how Neil is getting on the monitor is a mass of monsters and most of them are on our opponent’s side of the board. Right now I reckon one of the most interesting challenges in Magic is to beat Imperious Perfect once it’s been going for a while without one of the obvious full-on boardsweepers like Thundercloud Shaman Final Revels or Austere Command. He’s already created four of the little pointy-eared bastards (are you aware on a flavor level what absolute scumbags the elves are in Lorwyn?) and only precious lifegain from Brion is keeping our head above water. Eventually we kill the Perfect and although his army is still massive it’s also massively small. Do we actually have a chance? With Kinsbaile Balloonist flying over with a friend every turn we do and Brion’s sacrifice ability completes the turnaround. 1-0. The early turns of Game 2 are uneventful but from turn 5 onwards we take complete control. Cloudgoat Ranger and Cloudthresher more or less seal the deal and when Kinsbaile Balloonist generously donates a pair of wings to the Cloudthresher we’re done. 2-0.

Game Scores 13-23 Match Scores 4-10-1

Round 3 versus thegenk1818 rating 1798 playing BU

We knew things were looking up when we took Game 1 against Liliana Vess which our opponent had managed to get all the way up to 8 counters before we finally got her under control. When we say “under control” we’re talking about Cloudthresher and if you haven’t got removal that’s a lot of turning sideways power. 1-0. We couldn’t really argue with his rares in Game 2 as Nath Of The Gilt Leaf generated both discard and elves in equal measure and Fathom Trawl gave him everything he could want except a microwave for Christmas. 1-1. When he made Liliana Vess again in Game 3 we were concerned but managed to get our own rare Brion into play and from there the victory was routine. 2-1.

Game Scores 15-24 Match Scores 5-10-1

Round 4 versus mook1e rating 1800 playing WU

A lucky escape in the opener as we did the infamous F6 error skipping our second turn. Oops. That was as bad as it got though as Hillcomber Giant and Cloudcrown Oak repeatedly turned sideways. 1-0. He had one of the scarier rares in the set Mirror Entity as Game 2 developed. Shriekmaw dealt with him and Brion is the kind of card that wins a race. He attempted to take our RW rare down with Wings Of Velis Vel but our two mana instant was better than his netting +4+4 and trample for the Lifelink beating machine. 2-0.

Game Scores 17-24 Match Scores 6-10-1

We’re now at 3-1 in the tournament and starting to look optimistically towards the summit. Two more wins and we should be able to ID in to the Top 8.

Round 5 versus drtednelson rating 1694 playing GBw

There’s no better feeling than doing powerful things earlier than they have a right to be. Turn 3 Hillcomber Giant fed into turn 4 Cloudgoat Ranger and that’s more than enough to answer the question “Who’s the Beatdown?” Add in assorted removal and tricks in hand and nobody’s coming back from that. 1-0. One of our weaknesses with this deck is the early game. We definitely don’t want Leaf Gilder getting involved in blocking Branchbender wants to come online Avian Changeling is no defender the Harbinger is unexciting and Harpoon Sniper is another that needs a turn to be any good. Goldmeadow Stalwart into 3/2 Adder-Staff Boggart is the kind of start that could cause us problems. With GBw however a fast start is relatively unlikely – Wren’s Run Vanquisher would be bad news – and here neither side could do much early. That suits us just fine as our big guns at 4 5 and 6 take care of business. 2-0.

Game Scores 19-24 Match Scores 7-10-1

Round 6 versus captstabbin rating 1617 playing URB

Elvish Harbinger fetches the rather fine Masked Admirers but more importantly the Harbinger turns sideways for a bonus mana turn 4 giving us Cloudgoat Ranger with in-hand removal. Next up was Cloudthresher and his multi-block effort the following turn destroyed him thanks to Eyeblight’s Ending. 1-0. We got into a race in the second game and a race is exactly where Fodder Launch shines. Away with our decent blocker in with the team five damage to the dome what’s not to like? 1-1. Game 3 could have been a nervy affair with Top 8 on the line but we curved our way to an almost unopposed victory. Turn 2 Fertile Ground became Turn 3 Cloudcrown Oak Turn 4 Kinsbaile Balloonist and our tag team of Flyer and Flyer-by-proxy just kept on turning sideways until he was dead. 2-1.

Game Scores 21-25 Match Scores 8-10-1

Woohoo! We’re there at 5-1. Yes! Except no we’re not. Having lost in the first round we can’t be guaranteed a slot without playing the last round. How very tedious.

Round 7 versus eken rating 1853 playing UW.

Here’s another thing I love about MTGO – sleep. You just know that sooner or later some poor guy in Switzerland or somewhere is going to have got through two rounds at two in the morning said to himself “I’ll just play until I lose one more” and then kept on winning. Eventually though the curse of the eyelids strikes. At least that’s what we chortlingly tell ourselves as we imagine him snoring his way to a Game 1 loss for not showing up. He woke up for Game 2 but we made him wish he hadn’t as Branchbender and Masked Admirers give us an early lead Brion raises the threat level to critical and his blocking plans again lie in ruins thanks to a damned good Fistful of Force. 2-0.

Game Scores 23-25 Match Scores 9-10-1

Woohoo! We’re there at 6-1. Yes! Except yes this time we really are. It’s 6.30 in the morning and now’s the time to play our best Magic. Joy.

Top 8 4 x PE Draft

So how did it go? Not sure. Our path was totally set after five picks – Merrow Reejerey Summon The School Silvergill Adept Ethereal Whiskergill and Judge Of Currents. The disappointment is that from there we were unable to secure the final part of the Holy Merfolk Trinity Drowner Of Secrets which is simply ridiculous with the Summon and Judge. At least the Reejerey gets to put our Summoned Merfolk to good use. We end up with a rather creature heavy deck with 19 monsters and just 5 spells. Plus our spells are hardly stellar. Only Neck Snap qualifies as straight-up removal while Springleaf Drum is likely to be of most value if we have Fallowsage in play at which point it’s a genuine card advantage engine. We’re extremely well positioned to punish anyone else playing Blue spells with Ethereal Whiskergill Deeptread Merrow and Inkfathom Divers and our Tideshaper Mystic can make our opponents play with Islands if we need him to. Overall we can look to our flyers and evasion to win it for us while Summon the School a bit of bounce and a pair of Changeling Heroes should keep us alive long enough. Hopefully.

Round 8 versus captstabbin rating 1625 playing RW Perhaps we have a psychological edge over captstabbin having defeated him in Round 6? We certainly have no problems Game 1 with Summon The School keeping things comfortably locked down on the ground while we win with flyers. Game 2 is even more straightforward as we also have Judge Of Currents to go with our Merfolk-making machine. Not much is going to get through that combination of two Merfolk plus gain four life every turn and he packs up and goes home in short order.2-0.

Game Scores 25-25 Match Scores 10-10-1

Oh my God. After what feels like 4000 years since we started this madness we’ve broken even. Semi-final time…

Round 9 versus kingmidas rating 1890 playing GB

We saw earlier how useful Elvish Harbinger was for us. Here it does the business for kingmidas as he accelerates into Nath Of The Gilt-Leaf. With three land and a spell in hand Nath inevitably hits our lone spell and he rides the pointy-eared rare to Game 1 victory. In Game 2 we get off to a good start but can’t sustain the advantage. Once he stabilises Mournwhelk reduces our options and the card that basically wins it for him is the much-maligned Hoarder’s Greed. Four cards is more than enough for him to ask more questions than we have answers and we’re unceremoniously dumped out of the tournament at the semi-final stage. 0-2.

Game Scores 25-27 Match Scores 10-11-1

It’s 9am and we’re knackered. But we can’t stop there. Just one more draft before we give in to sleep common sense and the real world…

Draft 496 9am

Oh hellooooo. Shall we count the ways in which we’re going to rape and pillage our opponents? Ignore the fact that we’ve got a great curve. Ignore the fact that we have three top quality removal spells. Ignore the fact that we have a foolish 6/6 flyer rounding out the deck. Instead let’s talk about how obscene Galepowder Mage is going to be in this deck. Suppose that we cast Goldmeadow Stalwart turn 1 revealing Wizened Cenn. The Cenn arrives Turn 2 we attack for 3. Turn 3 is our 2/4 Kithkin Harbinger fetching Galepowder Mage. We cast the Mage Turn 4 and then the fun begins. Our 4/4 flyer attacks removing the Harbinger from the game. At end of turn the Harbinger returns to play and triggers. We fetch Militia’s Pride which as some of you may know is a Kithkin Enchantment and therefore a target for the Harbinger. Turn 6 we make the Pride before turning our men sideways making 3 2/2 hasty Kithkin. The Galepowder once again removes the Harbinger. Assuming that your opponent hasn’t started scraping his eyeballs out with hot rusty spoons by this point we go fetch Surge Of Thoughtweft this time a Kithkin Instant. Untap attack with Stalwart Wizened Harbinger Galepowder and a bunch of 2/2s generate a bunch more 2/2s give everything +1+1 and draw a card….

As for the combo of Galepowder Mage and Cloudgoat Ranger don’t get me started. I’m not going to go into detail of our matches for this draft except to give an honorary mention to stonehator who with Turn 2 Fire-belly Changeling Turn 3 Inner-Flame Acolyte and Turn 4 Changeling Berserker actually managed to take a game off us. That was of course the only one.

Game Scores 31-28 Match Scores 13-11-1.

From 3 wins and 10 losses we won 10 of our next 11. As they say in Galaxy Quest “Never give up. Never surrender.” And as they don’t say in Galaxy Quest “Bedtime.”

Next week we’ll take a look at how drafts like this one can be yours too. Until then as ever thanks for reading.