“To Ottawa we go, North of the Border, Sens on a tear, 3rd period, no score, oh-oh, fisticuffs. Later, Pavel Datsuk, in the penalty box, feeling shame” – ESPN Sportscenter.
As a connoisseur of North American sports broadcasting, I’m a veritable mine of useful and not-so-useful catchphrases from assorted broadcast outlets. Many of them have found their way into Magic podcasts down the years, and I’m confident I’m the only MTG commentator who would refer to Havlik and Hornansky winning Grand Prix: Amsterdam with a flyer as ‘going top shelf where Mommy hides the peanut butter.’ A glorious moment, I think you’ll agree.
I’ve opened up with the quote above because this time around I’m the one in the penalty box, feeling shame. My Pre-Release experience was horrible, horrible, horrible. Somehow, somewhere between my front door and the immaculately-run tournament in Leeds, my brains entirely dribbled out of my ears, and I proceeded to make some of the most ghastly decisions I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to own up to.
This confessional effort, designed to help you avoid the kind of idiotic false logic that possessed me last Saturday, comes in three parts. The first, cunningly titled “The Build”, will take you inside my perfectly viable Sealed Pool, which I contrived to turn into the closest thing to a nuclear waste dump this side of Bradford.
The second, “In which Deckmaster Hagon attempts to swim the Atlantic, be a Chick Magnet, win the Pre-Release, and other Utterly Implausible Scenarios” will feature six rounds of car-crash reading, leading to a record that shares rather more in common with Pillarfield Ox than I’d like.
Finally, in the bit that actually matters, helpfully labelled, “Because Asking Questions Is What I Don’t (Apparently),” I shall relay the many, many ways in which my brains mystically returned to me, and as a result, I shall clarify the 4,378 errors I made during the day.
Part 1 — The Build
So what I’m going to do here is attempt to recreate my thought process as I looked at my pool. I’ll tell you what I really think now in Part 3. Just for fun, why not grab a pen and paper and jot down every time you think I’ve made a mistake in my thinking. And while you’re at it, feel free to build the deck yourself. Will it be better than mine? Assuming both your age and IQ are in double figures, almost certainly. And if one of these isn’t true, don’t despair, you’re still in with a great chance.
I always begin with piling out the cards, absolutely without looking at them in a critical way, so the first time I pay any attention to the cards is once they’re with the rest of their color. I don’t alphabetize them, as I have done here — that’s just all part of the service you get from yours truly.
One disclaimer before we get going. It’s very much part of my job to know all the new cards and what they do etc, especially with a Pro Tour looming. This time around, for a change, I consciously didn’t read spoiler lists and sites, so I came at Zendikar as a very ‘clean’ experience, something I haven’t done for a long, long time. So if you’re thinking, ‘But so-and-so told us last week that X was rubbish’, chances are I haven’t read it. Just saying.
Journey To Nowhere
Quest For The Holy Relic
Journey To Nowhere is obviously good. If I’m light on spells, Narrow Escape might be fine. Bold Defense is playable, Nimbus Wings isn’t, and nor is Quest For The Holy Relic, unless I have bonkers Equipment. How many years do I have to wait to trigger it? Oh look, Kicker, with a cost of 576 trillion. That’s a relevant mechanic then. Still, Conqueror’s Pledge looks awesome. Six 1/1s for five, good times.
Creatures? Don’t like Caravan Hurda, Pillarfield Ox (playable), Kor Duelist (again, barring bonkers Equipment). Kor Aeronaut and Kor Skyfisher are obviously good, Kor Sanctifiers and Kor Hookmaster are fine, and having a cheap Kicker on the Sanctifiers is a nice way to have answers to Artifacts and Enchantments maindeck.
Now then. Armament Master. 2/2 for two, and an ability that could be nuts. I have five Kor I want to play with, could stretch to the Kor Duelist, and Conqueror’s Pledge makes six of them. That’s awesome, if I can get Armament Master Equipped and alive. Sounds like I need to check on the Equipment situation.
The Scope is only any good if you’re on offense, and there’s no way to tell if that’s going to be true just yet. The Net turns a 2/2 into a Giant Spider, and it basically just gets better from there. Giant Spiders are a proper roadblock, so this is probably good. Machete? Unholy Strength as Equipment, that’s probably fine.
Right, so I could play three Equipment, and expect to get solid use out of at least two of them, with or without the Armament Master.
Overall, the White’s solid but unspectacular, with only one authentically ‘power’ spell, which is the Conqueror’s Pledge, and I’ve seen Howl Of The Night Pack be utterly rubbish so many times, and this is basically half the card that Howl is.
Caller Of Gales
Into The Roil
Ior Ruin Expedition
Quest For Ancient Secrets
Long experience has taught me that unless you get a freakish distribution featuring eleven flyers, or you open three comedy Rares, Blue in Sealed is basically a collection of cardboard waiting to be used as shopping lists.
Oh look, I’m right. There are five cards which might, in a pinch, be playable. The best card looks like Reckless Scholar, which is Merfolk Looter with an irrelevant boost in power and a relevant boost in cost. Tedious. Still, I suppose you could target your opponent in some weird situations. Into the roil is a glorified and overcosted Unsummon, Paralyzing Grasp is Entangling Vines, meaning you get smashed in the face at least once. Joy. Shoal Serpent is a beefy Defender, so that’s something. Hedron Crab? Is that a lot of milling? Basically a 0/2. Rubbish.
Blue, I love you in Constructed, but here, I have neither eleven flyers, nor three comedy Rares. I know you’re utterly rubbish, because if I had a Disorient from M10, my Blue would just have got significantly better. Go away.
Gruul Draz Vampire
Quest For The Gravelord
Soul Stair Expedition
Okay, I’m interested in removal. What do I have? An excellent Hideous End and a not so excellent Mire Blight. Still, I’d have to play it if I’m Black, because then I can at least chump some little guy into their Enormodon or whatever this set calls a big dumb Green thing without Trample. The Quest gets me a very nice guy, and there are always creatures dying in Sealed, so I should get it sometime before Christmas. If I’m creature-light, the Soul Stair Expedition might turn out to be useful, but I don’t like Grim Discovery much.
What’s this Blood Tribute? Kind of good anyway, kind of really good if I have a Vampire. Let’s see if I do…
Oh hellooooo. I have five Vampires that I’m interested in. A 2/2 for one mana is a serious business, so double Vampire Lacerator plus Gruul Draz Vampire at one, plus Vampire Hexmage and Bloodghast at two sounds like the foundations of a nice start. Getting my opponent to 10 looks like a really good plan, so the Blood Tribute gets better again, Bloodghast comes back, Gruul Draz Vampire suddenly becomes a real threat (and what a nice mechanic, that kind of ‘sniffing out blood in the air’ vibe, so it gets better — awesome.)
Heartstabber Mosquito can be evasion at four or kill your man at seven, so I’d want that. Mindless Null is clearly horrible, the Hagra Diabolist is probably gash unless I have tons of Allies, and the Hagra Crocodile is a one toughness monster for four. In my book, that puts it into Lightning Elemental territory, which was more powerful, had haste, and could block. Landfall-shmandfall, you’re crap.
Overall, there’s nine cards I’m keen to play with, and another couple I certainly wouldn’t mind. What with the ‘get them to 10’ idea, it would be nice to think Red would give me some removal and some burn.
Goblin War Paint
Ker-ching! Magma Rift kill a guy, Magma Rift kill a guy, Inferno Trap kill a guy, Punishing Fire kill a guy, or even more if idiots are playing Caravan Hurda, Spire Barrage kill a guy or even Them, Unstable Footing kill Them…
Not so sure about Runeflare Trap or Seismic Strike. Suspect the Strike might go against my own guys, and the trap seems awfully expensive, and that trap cost is pretty unlikely. And then I have a Planeswalker. Obviously I must play with her. What’s that first ability? Four damage to creature or player? And then I get spells back as her ultimate. Awesome.
Monsters are less exciting, but that’s ok, I’m going to kill everything that moves, ever. Molten Ravager can trade for most things, Ruinous Minotaur is a really quick clock from Turn Three. Shatterskull Giant looks good, if there’s no Lightning Bolt equivalent running around. What’s the standard for removal in the set? Two or three? Let’s find out. Probably play the Bushwhacker, and Hellfire Mongrel is a really nice lategame answer to deal the final points. Wow my Red rocks!
Harrow is a terrific spell, Beast Hunt isn’t, Relic Crush is utility, but utility shouldn’t cost five. Ooh, Rare, Beastmaster Ascension, this looks interesting. Seven. Seven! That’s a lot. Still, you basically can’t lose if you get there. Definitely interesting.
How about the creatures? I’m expecting fat, and solid, and uninspiring. At five mana, Territorial Baloth sits beautifully between overcosted 4/4 and undercosted 6/6. That’s a nice mechanic. Vastwood Gorger is everything that Green is, except the one thing you want it to be, a Trampler. Gigantiform, now that makes a splash, it has the T-word, much better. But that’s it for fatness. I’ve still got a ton of Green monsters. What else is there?
Oran-Rief Recluse is fine. Mold Shambler is solid and unspectacular, and will frequently be just a Hill Giant (a 3/3 for four mana) which nobody really wants, even if they end up playing with it. The Oran-Rief Survivalist is a possible upgrade on a Runeclaw Bear, but not much of one. Scythe Tiger looks pretty horrible at any stage of the game, and the two Allies — Tajuru Archer and Joraga Bard — both seem rubbish without critical mass of Allies. Oh look, my summoning-sick 1/4 for four just got Vigilance. Oh happy day. That leaves Timbermaw Larva. 2/2 for four, unless it’s attacking. Grim. Might attack as a 5/5, but just dies in response to a piddling removal spell. Unlikely to be any good.
Overall verdict — disappointing. The 4/4/-6/6 Territorial Baloth seems to be the highlight, followed by an Aura with what looks like one of the most pointless wastes of ink in history. ‘When Gigantiform enters the battlefield, if it was kicked, you may search your library for a card named Gigantiform, put it onto the battlefield, then shuffle your library. ‘ Alrighty, so we’ll assume we open two of these Rare badboys. Fine. We play them both. Fine. We draw one of them, while the other is still in the deck. Fine. We have two guys. Fine. We elect NOT TO CAST IT until we get to nine mana, because making a guy an 8/8 Trampler would be pointless anywhere through Turns, let’s say, four to nine. Not fine. The only time this could possibly become relevant is when you draw it on Turn 13, and just happen to have nine mana sitting there, and get to go ‘oops, I got another one’. Yay for Kicker. I played with Kicker first time around, and it was great. So far here, it’s a nonsense. I haven’t seen the whole set yet, but I’m looking forward to the spell that says:
Target creature gets +0/+0 until end of turn.
When you cast Kick Me!, if the Kicker cost was paid, and you’re under five feet tall, and wear glasses, and have never heard of Wizards Of The Coast, you win the game. Twice.
I suspect I’m going to be Red-Black, so neither Refuge is helpful. Also, gaining a life in exchange for a land arriving tapped doesn’t seem like a great deal. Come to that, nor does gaining two life, especially when the land doesn’t facilitate your mana in any way. If you think of Kabira Crossroads as a spell, you’d never play with it. To treat it as a land, and a suboptimal land at that….shudder. The Piranha Marsh at least has an ok ability, but if I’m playing a quickish deck I certainly don’t want to waste a turn waiting for it to untap. Basically, all of no use to me.
In addition to my three Equipment, I have a Stonework Puma. That’s a 2/2 for three, the last refuge of the damned.
At this point, I’m almost certain in my mind that I’m going Red-Black. I look again carefully at the White, but conclude that the real reason to play it is Armament Master plus Equipment, and basing a gameplan on a 2/2 for two that I almost certainly can’t protect seems poor.
This is the point at which you sit down and finalise your own list. See how different it is from this, my finished ‘Masterpiece’:
Gruul Draz Vampire
Quest For The Gravelord
Soul Stair Expedition
I have 12 monsters. Nothing costs more than four, unless you count the Heatstabber Mosquito, but a 2/2 for seven won’t compete with big guys. Only Shatterskull Giant and Ruinous Minotaur can get involved in a heavyweight tussle, so the plan must be to attack early, and attack often. I’m well-equipped to do that, with lots of speed plus an absolute ton of removal. Add in the fact that Chandra Ablaze, Unstable Footing, Spire Barrage, Blood Tribute, Hideous End and even Punishing Fire can go straight to the dome, and this feels like a deck I can smash face with, long before my opponents are busy messing around with six and seven drops. Game on!
Part 2 – In which Deckmaster Hagon attempts to swim the Atlantic, be a Chick Magnet, win the Prerelease, and other Utterly Implausible Scenarios.
Fabulous though the tales of Atlantics and Chicks might be, I will in fact only tell you here, in brief, about the outcome of the day. I’ll try to make these analytically factual, rather than tales of woe, which are basically just dull and explain why some Magic players have no friends.
Round 1, I open up with a quick win, courtesy of double Vampire Lacerator plus some removal. This is good, since this is exactly what my deck does to win. Game Two begins in similar fashion, but then I get introduced to the first boardsweeper in Zendikar, Marsh Casualties. Oh, and to be fair, the first proper use of Kicker I’ve seen. He gets four-for-one out of that exchange, and kills me with Landfall flyers. In the decider, I’m again The Beatdown, but he’s doing a fair job of racing with his flyers that I, unaccountably sans removal, can’t deal with. Still, I have the win on board as long as he doesn’t have a pump spell and can make my ground blocker irrelevant. This seems a tall order, until he casts Eldrazi Monument, and I die. Since this is Mythic, I have no problem losing to it — that’s fine, that’s part of the game, and my deck was fine. In fact, I’m pleased with it.
Games 1-2, Rounds 0-1.
In Round 2, I faced someone who I’m sincerely hoping was a new player, since they missed out large strategic parts of the game — things like Upkeeps, Draw Steps, one or both Main Phases, Combat, End Steps, Instants, and some other stuff. Oh yeah, like Untap. I knew I’d forgotten something, and so had he. He died to my monsters, having dealt me 12 damage with an Electropotence that would have utterly destroyed my team in the hands of a more experienced player, and died to my monsters in the second game, having resolutely failed to take up the offer on all his ‘may’ cards, which mostly seemed to say, ‘If you can read, you MAY make this card better than you’re currently intending to. But don’t feel forced.’ I should say that all the compulsory bits of the turn, like drawing a card and all that good stuff, I gently and helpfully insisted upon. As for the ‘may’ bits, I just assumed he wanted them not to arrive with +1+1 counters, curmudgeon that I am.
Games 3-2, Rounds 1-1.
Round 3 saw me make the one play of the day I’ve been able to identify to myself as being hideous (as opposed to the many a Pro might have spotted.) On Turn Three, my opponent made Plated Geopede, the Landfall 1/1 First Striker. I knew I wanted it dead, but unaccountably decided that the ‘funky/cool/clever’ play was to wait until he triggered the Landfall, and to respond by killing it.
My Punishing Fire was duly responded to with Harrow, his guy became 5/5, then took the two now-irrelevant damage, then became 7/7 when the original Landfall trigger resolved, and he dolloped me from 15 to 6 (with flying backup). I died shortly thereafter. Top quality Rare entertainment ensued in Game Two, where Hellkite Charger seemed, and was, tremendous. You may remember that I didn’t have Hellkite Charger in my pool. In fairness, we played a bunch more games, and I was lucky to get one.
Games 3-4, Rounds 1-2.
As the day went on, I was coming to understand that my rush strategy was really struggling, largely because it seemed that everyone had early stuff to do, and often it was better stuff than mine. Take my Round 4 opponent, a Black-White merchant who consistently made 2/3 flyers on Turn 2, and 2/3 Flying plus Deathtouch plus Lifelink Vampire Nighthawk shortly thereafter. With Blood Tribute actually providing the double whammy for the first and only time in the day, Unstable Footing narrowly squeezed a win in Game One, but in the remainder my opponent found a particularly obnoxious lump of meat called Felidar Sovereign. At 4/6, that’s sizeable. With Vigilance, it’s a chore. With Lifelink, that’s very bad news for me. Suffice it to say that he could have beaten me by getting to 40 life in either of the games he won, but he generously put me out of his misery first.
Games 4-6, Rounds 1-3.
Round 5 saw the highlight of my day, and I’m not being sarcastic. By this point, I’d come to realise just how underwhelming my deck was, so I was just there for the fun of seeing new cards and interactions, rather than being competitive. After two games that featured minimal Magic and maximum mana issues, the ever-friendly Kenny and I settled in for a decent decider. I died as follows:
Kenny untapped with me at 13. He won moments later, with me still at 13.
Step One — Lay Misty Rainforest. Hedron Crab triggers, put three cards in my bin, Khalni Heart Expedition triggers, put on second counter.
Step Two — sacrifice Rainforest, get a land, Hedron Crab triggers, mill three (six total), Khalni Heart Expedition triggers, third counter goes on.
Step Three — sacrifice the Expedition, get two lands, both enter the battlefield, both trigger Hedron Crab, mill six (twelve total.)
Step Four — cast Archive Trap, mill thirteen (twenty-five total.)
I now have no cards left in my library. I will die in my draw step. Wait, no I won’t. He completes his turn by activating Reckless Scholar, targeting me.
Milled for twenty-six to die, on Turn Six. Kenny Hall, take a bow.
Games 5-8, Rounds 1-4.
By this point, my self-esteem was so low that I was contemplating (a) suicide (b) playing Yu-Gi-Oh or most likely (a) as a result of (b). Still, there was another round to play. I should really apologise to my opponent, Owen, because I was probably a lot less gracious than I should have been. The fact that I really didn’t want to be there isn’t an excuse. Still, over three games where I yet again recognised that I’d properly ruined my deck from the get-go, I narrowly squeaked over the line in games that, had they been at 4-1, would have been considered highly competitive and good fun.
Games 7-9, Rounds 2-4.
Glutton for punishment that I am, I followed this disaster up with a friendly against the Editor of this very website. Following a game in which he was violently manascrewed, normal service was resumed, and I died in the decider to a Timbermaw Larva, which I had attempted to terminate via Magma Rift, only to find that his two remaining Green mana hid a spell that made his Larva both untargetable and significantly larger.
Games 8-11, Rounds 2-5.
Part 3 – Because Asking Questions Is What I Don’t (Apparently)
I once wrote an article here entitled, ‘Because Asking Questions Is What I Do.’ I’m good at asking questions. It really is what I do for a living. Hopefully, my questions lead to information, enlightenment, comedy, an insight into the interviewee….you know the stuff, if you’re a listener. The reason I’ve given this final section the title it has is that it utterly encapsulates the vileness that was my decision-making last weekend.
This is a paraphrase, and not a quote, but Mike Flores once wrote something along these lines:
“In an undefined Metagame, it is usually better to be asking the questions than to be trying to provide the answers.”
He was talking about Constructed, and a new Format was looming. The point he was making, and a fabulous one it was too, is that being proactive is generally a better approach than being reactive when the broad field is unknown. In simple terms, that means that saying ‘Can you deal with THIS?’ is most successful as a strategy when Control players don’t know exactly what ‘this’ is. Once the field is broadly mapped out, it becomes easier for a Control deck to say, ‘I must deal with x,y, and z, which I will do in the following ways’.
In an undefined metagame with undisclosed and possibly unknowable threats, the best the Control deck can hope for is to say, ‘I have some generic answers to generic threats. I hope you have generic threats, because if your threats are specific, you might have me in trouble.’
Let’s apply that to the Pre-Release. We can certainly say that any Pre-Release is an unmapped environment, at least outside a few hundred hardcore headcases who insist on memorising the set word for word before they’ve even touched a card. For almost everyone at a typical Pre-Release, the event is a voyage of discovery. Therefore what we want is to provide as many threats as possible. Partly the simple fact that creatures outnumber spells so massively in the typical deck guarantees that there are fundamentally more threats on the battlefield than answers in hand. More than that, though, we simply want our opponent to have to deal with as much as possible, and any time we don’t do that, we grant them the opportunity to get on the front foot, and find us wanting.
There was nothing wrong with my having a coherent plan. Make some cheap men, remove anything that gets in the way, win quickly with a bit of burn to finish things off. However, if we look at the deck through the prism of ‘Can you deal with this?’ we get a very different answer:
Goblin Bushwhacker — a tiny monster, never able to effectively grant haste, and the fact that it didn’t grant +1+1 meant that anything that was going to trade could still do so. Of course they dealt with it, effortlessly.
Vampire Lacerator — never mind that it’s a 2/2 for one, the point is that it’s a 2/2. Every deck can deal with 2/2s, unless there’s something like four of them on Turn Three. There never was. Most of the time, these were chump blockers for big men, allowing me to stop losing a life every turn. Awesome!
Vampire Lacerator — ditto.
Gruul Draz Vampire — since I rarely got my opponents to 10 life, this remained that most ghastly of all creatures, a 1/1 for one. Can you deal with that? Yeah, actually, you can.
Quest For The Gravelord — Most of the time, it was my guys going to the graveyard, and by the time it came online, opposing flyers were ready to pounce, or they had a handy bounce spell for my token. Still a decent card, though.
Vampire Hexmage — Properly good, but hard to describe as a legitimate threat, except possibly as an answer to an opposing strategy involving counters of some sort.
Bloodghast — Again, very good, but only a threat as part of a critical mass of headlong rush, which rarely happened.
Hellfire Mongrel — Never anything other than a Gray Ogre. That’s nobody’s definition of threat.
Ruinous Minotaur — Good defensively, but never had the chance to lose the land without severely crippling the rest of the game. More later.
Molten Ravager — Solid, but unspectacular.
Shatterskull Giant — Good, and big enough to be a moderate threat.
Heartstabber Mosquito — A staggeringly-expensive removal spell, or an uninspiring flyer. Still arguably a threat, because it flies.
Mire Blight — Please Sir, may I voluntarily one-for-two myself?
Soul Stair Expedition — Sometime shortly before Hell freezes over, I may be able to return one, or even two, of my entirely inadequate monsters to hand, allowing me to chump block later on.
Punishing Fire — Excellent card, but doesn’t win games alone.
Magma Rift — Should have been amazing, and wasn’t. That losing a land was a horrible drawback, despite running 18. When it failed to kill things as well felt like a real kick in the teeth.
Magma Rift — ditto.
Hideous End — Top notch removal, but let’s not confuse threats with answers. This is an answer, it isn’t a threat.
Inferno Trap — Quality removal.
Spire Barrage — Looked good, but the Sorcery bit made it approximately 75,000 times worse than Seismic Strike. And the five mana didn’t help either.
Unstable Footing — Like any to-the-face burn, this was only selectively useful.
Blood Tribute — The double-header of full-on Drain Life-style action happened a grand old total of once. Without the life swing rather than just the life loss, this became an expensive Lava Axe.
Chandra Ablaze — What a horrible disappointment. (That I utterly failed to understand how crap this was before I put it in the deck.) In my defense, I guess I succumbed to the Big Kid syndrome, of wanting to play with a splashy Mythic Planeswalker, because how often are you going to open one, and if you can’t play it at the Pre-Release, when can you? Still, she was unremittingly rubbish.
At best, she either turned a red removal spell into a red removal spell, or allowed me to draw one extra card on my opponent with the middle ability, allowing them to draw more good cards that would destroy my rubbish ones. I would go so far as to suggest that she’s utterly unplayable in Sealed, with approximately zero chance of ever achieving her ultimate, no reason to use her first ability, and every chance of being punished for using her second ability.
Every single one of the initial Planeswalkers were fabulous to play with in Sealed. Ajani, Jace, Liliana, Garruk, and Chandra, all rocked. They may not all have found a slot in Constructed, although three out of five ain’t bad, but when you opened them, you wanted them on your side. Not only is that not true for Chandra Ablaze, I’m pretty certain it’s not true for Nissa Revane, who seems similarly irrelevant to Sealed. For two out of the three new Planeswalkers therefore, the only time you’ll get the fun of actually playing with the ‘super special’ ‘mythic’ etc is when you purchase four of them, and demand to see them in your opening Constructed hand (although it’s hard to see Chandra Ablaze as much use for anything right now. Perhaps she’ll be great in Block.)
9 Mountains — These 18 land were a threat to my sanity. With double Magma Rift, and the Ruinous Minotaur, and spells costing six, it felt like 18 wasn’t enough. Despite a ton of cheap monsters, I was constantly struggling with an inability to cast what I wanted, when I wanted.
Now, given that I got hammered, I obviously have some jaundiced opinions about the cards in my deck. However, I played twenty-three spells. Here are the ones that I would, in an ideal world, be glad to play with again:
Quest For The Gravelord
That’s fourteen out of twenty-three. How many of those represent genuine game-winning opportunities?
Quest For The Gravelord — big on power and toughness
Shatterskull Giant — quick clock late game, reasonable toughness
Heartstabber Mosquito — it flies.
Not a single card in my deck could legitimately be said to be a ‘power’ card or a ‘gamebreaker’. Not one. Now, given this, there’s quite a lot of good sense in my ‘tempo plus removal = quick game win’ plan.
I grew up believing that removal is king. I’m naturally a Control player. I don’t like getting beaten by things I can’t do anything about. Although there are times I’ll go into M10 Draft without any Artifact or Enchantment removal, I loathe getting beaten by a Platinum Angel. Loathe it, and I’m much happier with a Naturalize or a Solemn Offering available to me.
Depending on how you quantify a card like Chandra Ablaze, I had 8-9 pieces of legitimate removal in my deck. This is good times, or at least it should be. My deck was quick, so what went wrong? Here’s what I lost to:
Bunch of flyers — fine, didn’t see enough removal.
Eldrazi Monument — Mythic ‘oops I win’ card.
My Stupidity — missing out on the Plated Geopede removal.
Hellkite Charger — awesome Rare.
Felidar Sovereign — Mythic Rare.
Felidar Sovereign — Mythic Rare.
Manascrew — all part of the game.
Milled for 26 — Either (a) once in a lifetime coming together or (b) a totally viable new strategy.
Quick Flyers — just better quality monsters.
Better monsters — fatter Green men were quick enough to outclass me.
Answers to Removal — he kept his monsters alive when I wanted them dead.
Let’s set aside the ones that you just shrug off:
Answers to Removal
Manascrew and stupid mistakes are part of the game. You’ll sometimes just die to them drawing better monsters than you, and if your removal doesn’t remove, you’re going to die. Now the next group:
Bunch of Flyers
Now this is similar to what I was trying to do. Individually, a 2/2 flyer isn’t much of a threat, but collectively they can kill you very quickly. The difference is, flyers are good early, middle, and late, while tempo cards (my plan) are basically only good early.
Then the rest:
Milled for 26
I think that being milled to death was a freak occurrence, but it only happened thanks to a Rare. Three of the other four were death by Mythic, and Hellkite Charger might as well be. This is not, however, a complaint about Rares or Mythics being powerful. Far from it. What this is is a stark reminder that Flores was right. In an undefined Metagame, it’s the threats that win you games, not the answers, and I had almost no threats.
Sometimes, you have no choice. Your pool gives you next to nothing to work with, and you end up with a coherent plan that comes up short too many times. That didn’t happen to me though. If I’d taken my brains with me to the Pre-Release, I would have known that I was looking for threats, not answers. Once you start looking at things from this perspective, you realize that this deck could have been amazing:
Journey To Nowhere
Now let’s annotate that list, and see just how superior it is to the Black-Red disaster:
Spidersilk Net — solid, turns on Armament Master.
Trusty Machete — ditto, plus makes my small flyers into big flyers.
Explorer’s Scope — helps wade through the deck, turns on Landfall during combat.
Punishing Fire — removal.
Journey To Nowhere — removal.
Armament Master — a threat simply by existing, and a game-winner if equipped post-Conqueror’s Pledge. Even a big problem with just one other Kor in play.
Kor Skyfisher — awesome value, and it evades.
Kor Aeronaut — ditto, plus chance to game-win with the kicker on a huge fattie.
Kor Sanctifiers — combo with Armament Master, plus means no need for utility ‘Naturalize’ slot.
Kor Sanctifiers — ditto.
Oran-Rief Recluse — solid.
Magma Rift — quality removal.
Magma Rift — ditto.
Bold Defense — either a nice trick unkicked, a really nice trick kicked, or good game when kicked post-Conqueror’s Pledge.
Harrow — amazing fixing, could help turn a 4/4 Baloth into a 10/10 baloth. Finds my mountain, so minimal impact on the mana base to play the three removal spells.
Beastmaster Ascension — with Conqueror’s Pledge, almost certainly game, and similar even if arrived at incrementally. +5+5? Bonkers.
Mold Shambler — utility attached to a good body.
Timbermaw Larva — Yes, just a 2/2, but a 5/5 attacker.
Territorial Baloth — combo with Explorer’s Scope, Harrow. Oh, and, you know, land.
Territorial Baloth — ditto.
Gigantiform — 8/8 Tramplers are probably good.
Conqueror’s Pledge — six monsters, 3/3 with Armament Master, or with Bold Defense. Six monsters.
Vastwood Gorger — huge.
Graypelt Refuge — Both major colors, lifegain, no attempt at speed so minimal downside.
Kazanda Refuge — Major color, plus splash, means 1 less Mountain needed.
So how many threats does this deck have? I make it a whopping eleven, with any of these potential game-winners:
There are plenty of thoroughly good spells to go with that lot, too, including four removal spells, plenty of nice utility, and Equipment that’s going to do good things wherever they get planted.
And I didn’t play this deck, because I was busy hoping to have Answers, when I should have been doing what I Do, which is Asking Questions. As Mark Rosewater might put it,
“May you be the one asking the Questions.”
Or, as ESPN Sportscenter might have said,
“To Leeds we go, Zendikar in town, early, still no score, oh-oh, nothing top shelf where Mommy hides the peanut butter. Later, 5-2 down, Rich Hagon, in the penalty box, feeling shame.”
As ever, thanks for reading.