This weekend, I went to Gamers’ Mecca — which is to say that I attended the Grand Opening of the Star City Game center in Roanoke, Virginia. And let me tell you, my friends — you all want to go. It’s that cool.
“Oh, Ferrett,” you sigh. “Of course you’d say that. Your paycheck is signed by StarCityGames.com — heck, you’re practically required to shill for them!” To which I would point significantly to my article archives, which contain a distinct lack of fawning over StarCityGames.com old location.
The lesson? I tout what I think is good. And StarCityGames.com new location is Teh Goodness.
What makes it the frosting on a gamer’s cake, you ask? Well, there are a lot of things that could set it apart from the run-of-the-mill gaming locations. It’s gigantic, over 15,000 square feet; Peter Jackson could have filmed several of the climactic battles of Lord of the Rings in Pete’s back room and had room to set up a Bingo game. That’s how big this damn place is.
It’s also scrupulously clean, which is something you’d expect from a place that just opened… But this being the World of Gamers, I’m often disappointed. I’ve been to freshly-opened stores that, somehow, managed to come pre-installed with a layer of cardboard Box Dust and a floating odor of cat pee. Now all you can smell is gamers!
I kid, I kid. Gamers are far worse than cat pee; their scent sticks to your flesh like burning napalm. You can’t scrub Gamer Funk off in the shower, even if you use Brillo pads — I know, I’ve tried. Fortunately, Pete knows his crowd and has installed a very powerful ventilation system. The StarCityGames center smells like victory. Yet that is not the best part.
There’s a parents’ waiting room, a screened-off glass area complete with a television and a stack of Entertainment Weekly magazines, so if you burn out early you can go sit down and watch reruns of Police Academy. Yet that is not the best part.
“What is the best part?” you ask. And I’ll tell you: it’s the Sideboard CafÃ©. Pete could have easily cheaped out with the usual convention center culinary massacre, a place that sells tin-foil wrapped hamburgers that have been lurking uneasily in freezers since 1972. I’ve eaten the burgers-and-cardboard-potato-chips many a time, and as a snobby foodie it hurts me in my heart.
But the Sideboard CafÃ©? It’s a damn diner. It makes your food on the spot, grilling up a fresh egg sandwich with a real hard roll and crispy bacon, then calls your name when it’s done. You can get a hot pizza there. And it’s reasonably priced.
At a Magic tournament, I’m pretty much resigned to eating some old hot dog with a casing like thick vinyl, or eating at Burger King. The Sideboard CafÃ© is not gourmet food by any means, but it is solid food — the kind you’d expect to get from a shiny metal cab car straight from the 1950s, served to you by a fat guy in a greasy apron named “Mel.”
Real food at a Magic tournament? Oh, you know I’m in love. But enough with the rhapsody; let’s talk cards.
I helped out with the Standard tournament in the morning, checking decklists, but in the afternoon I got to participate in two drafts. I’m still finding my draft-legs, but hey! The whole point of a column like this at an early stage in Time Spiral development is to tip you off as to which cards are better than you’d think, and which ones are worse.
So let’s talk about the first draft. I sat down, cracked open packs, and just decided to see what came my way. What came my way, despite some early Red picks, was largely White and Green. I’m not a fan of W/G in Limited, since it usually doesn’t have enough removal, but fortunately Black isn’t nearly as good in Time Spiral… Which helps.
1 Amrou Seekers
2 Castle Raptors
1 Detainment Spell
1 Duskrider Peregrine
1 Durkwood Baloth
1 Durkwood Tracker
1 Errant Doomsayers
1 Fungus Sliver
1 Hail Storm
2 Might Sliver
1 Outrider en-Kor
1 Pentarch Ward
2 Spinneret Sliver
1 Stuffy Doll
2 Temporal Isolation
1 Thrill of the Hunt
1 Thallid Germinator
Now, did I build the deck correctly? Lord knows there are people who’d take me to task for leaving the Amrou Scouts in the sideboard, but I looked at it and discovered that really, I’d only be able to search up the Outrider, the Doomsayers, and the Amrou Seekers — not really enough of a Rebel theme that I felt like committing to it.
There’s also a case to be made for going with Gemhide Sliver and splashing the Red, since Lightning Axe and Bonesplitter Sliver could help with the theme. (Prismatic Lens and Chromatic Star would also help.) But I hate splashing for two cards unless those cards win me the game by themselves, and neither Bonesplitter Sliver nor the powerful-but-not-quite-that-powerful Lightning Axe counted.
That said, here’s what I did learn:
Stuffy Doll = Not So Bad.
I thought people would mock me for the Doll, but actually it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t much good against Blue (which flew over it) or Black (which —x/-x’d it out of existence), but against Green or a groundbound White, it actually did quite well. Almost every color has a way around it (White can paralyze it, and Green can trample), but it’s a darned nice little wall with a slow win condition.
If I had been paying attention, I would have combined it with multiple Outrider en-Kors, which was perhaps the funniest gol-durned moment of any draft I’ve been in recently. G’wan! Attack me!
Errant Doomsayers = Totally Growing On Me.
I almost left them out of my first draft deck, but then I remember the rule of White in Draft: “Give tappers a chance.” And indeed, these little guys have served me well time and time again, holding off morph creatures, whittling away at someone’s defense at the end of turn (“I’ll tap your guy just for the hell of it at the end of your turn, and… Hey! I drew something good!”), or just staving off some stupid 5/2 thallid dude until you can handle it. The two toughness thing is a bit of a bear, of course, but for the big guys you want Temporal Isolation anyway.
Chronosavant = Still Underrated.
In my second draft, I got a fourteenth-pick Chronosavant. Fourteenth! Come on, people — in a color that’s a little light on beefy bodies, a 5/5 for six mana is not to be scoffed at. And his “ability” is one that comes up more than often than you’d think (assuming, of course, that you think that the answer to “When would I skip a turn?” is “Never.”). I don’t do it often, but when your opponent’s in topdeck mode and doesn’t have anything good on the board, occasionally it’s worth taking a chance.
Hail Storm = ???
Evan Erwin flipped through my deck, noting the Hail Storm with interest. “How’s that workin’ out for you?” he asked. And the answer was that I didn’t know. It seemed like a great way to pants someone — who the heck expects direct damage in Green, even with the knowledge that it technically could be there? — but in reality, two damage never seemed to be enough to kill any mass assault except for Thallids, which really aren’t Teh Nuts anyway. I suppose it’s a solid card, but it never fired for me.
Two Might Slivers = GG.
I was surprised how good they were. Sure, there’s the possibility that you might be helping your opponent, but that’s less likely in Draft, and if you’ve picked up a minor Sliver theme then it works out pretty well. I got the both of them out in a couple of games, and 6/6 smashy things never hurt you.
I’m torn on Slivers in draft, though; I’ve seen kids try to do the all-Sliver deck, and it never works because they’re too busy picking up every Sliver in every color, and then you’ve got a crap deck. Me? I don’t think it’s a bad idea to go with the “Snap every Sliver up in your colors, if they come your way” plan and then try for a Sliver theme that can be sideboarded out if your opponent’s more slivertastic.
Fungus Sliver = ??
Wow. I wish I had played it to find out whether it worked. But every time I cast it, even in fun games, it immediately died. And what fun is that?
This deck went 1-1-eliminated, beating a Thallid deck in the first round, only to lose to a U/B deck with a lot of madness effects in the second. I got manascrewed in the first game against the U/B deck (being finished off as my Durkwood Baloth got Pthithsisesd), then felt my heart sink as he Terramorphic Expansed for a Mountain. “A Mountain,” said I. “Someone would only want a Mountain if he had… Disintegrate.” And sure enough, as his bouncy-bouncy stalled me, he finally dug his way to the Disintegrate on the thirty-ninth card of his deck. Yowtch.
I played for fun against another guy in the draft, and I smashed him the first game, leading to a second game where I probably would have ultimately lost thanks to his early Magus of the Scroll, except… Hey, new draft!
This draft was a disaster. I started out with a Foriysian Totem in the first (and very weak) pack, and then got mixed signals everywhere, fighting with the guy on my left for the good Green. I shifted into Black, picking up Madness outlets and waiting for the removal to come… But it never did. (Talking with other people in the draft later confirmed that there wasn’t much Black to begin with.)
Sadly, I plucked up some late White and resigned myself to a flat-out three-color deck — not the two-colors-with-a-splash that I can occasionally go with, but three ugly colors.
1 Aether Web
1 Clockwork Hydra
1 Corpulent Corpse
1 Durkwood Baloth
1 Durkwood Tracker
1 Errant Doomsayers
1 Evil Eye of Urborg
1 Griffin Guide
1 Havenwood Wurm
1 Nantuko Shaman
2 Penumbra Spider
1 Primal Forcemage
1 Search for Tomorrow
1 Stonewood Invocation
1 Strangling Soot
1 Temporal Isolation
In-My-Colors in the Sideboard:
1 Cloudchaser Kestrel
1 Faceless Devourer
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Ivory Giant
1 Krosan Grip
1 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
1 Skittering Monstrosity
3 Skulking Knight
1 Tendrils of Corruption
2 Trespasser il-vec
1 Tromp the Domains
1 Urborg Syphon-Mage
1 Wormwood Dryad
Ben Bleiweiss watched me play after I complained bitterly about how poorly the draft had gone and ventured, “I haven’t seen you play any bad cards.” And it’s true, there are no truly suboptimal cards (except for maybe Primal Forcemage, playing the role of “An early body”) — still, this is a little more free-ranging on mana than I’d like in a Draft deck, leaving me open to manascrew.
Here’s what I learned:
Suspend Is God’s Way Of Saying, “Go Ahead And Mulligan.”
The three suspend cards in the main deck almost balanced out my mana issues, since mulliganing and then putting out a first-turn Suspendy-thing made it hurt less, giving me a guaranteed power play at least once in the game. It wasn’t my ideal, but being down a card but not having to worry about manascrew overmuch was nice, very nice.
Mindstab = Good.
I was surprised, since I wasn’t big on this card on paper, but if you can get it on the first turn it truly changes the whole way your opponent plays (unless they have a Madness-based deck, in which case it truly changes the whole way your opponent plays in ways you don’t want). If you don’t get it on the first turn it’s still not bad, since you can cast it — albeit at a reasonably high cost — and strip their hand when they’re not expecting it. I know I wasn’t.
Penumbra Spider = Crazy.
Why am I getting this card so late in the draft? This card is incredibly good because it neuters almost every other color’s strategies instantly. If you’re playing White or Blue, you’re hoping to win at least partially via fliers — and this shuts most fliers down cold. If you’re playing Red or Black, you’re hoping to win via removal — and this makes removal a very ugly thing indeed. This is perhaps one of the most solid creatures Green has to offer, and you should take it — not as a first pick, but it should almost never ever lap the table.
Greenseeker = Better Than Expected.
Again, on paper I didn’t like this too much, but in real life it helped me out of a lot of mana floods. That’s right — mana floods. Once I realized that I could essentially discard any land I drew to thin another land out of my deck, I began churning through my deck to reduce it to pure action… And I did in one game after having fetched the seventeenth land out, guaranteeing nothing but pure gas for the rest of the game. I thought I was going to lose that one, and probably would have since my hand was so choked with mana, but five turns of Greenseeker and I was pretty much set.
It’s not a cure-all, of course, but it’s moved up from “A warm body” to “A pretty good card if it doesn’t get killed.”
Draining Whelk = Funny.
Well, not so funny when you use it right.
“I’ll remove the last counter from my suspended Corpulent Corpse and send it in.”
“Um, Draining Whelk?”
“Okay, you can do that… But I’ll just block it the next turn.”
Clockwork Hydra = Bad Ferrett.
Apparently, Clockwork Hydra can add counters to itself. This makes it an extremely good card, but there was so much text on the damn thing that I kind of skimmed it. As it was I missed about five or six end-steps where I could have swollen my Hydra to Behemoth proportions, and then lost a game because of it. Oops.
Nantuko Shaman = A Perfectly Reasonable Source Of Card Advantage In A Color Light On Card Advantage.
Um… That’s pretty much all I had to say, actually. Maybe I shouldn’t write such comprehensive titles as lead-ins to my text.
Durkwood Tracker = A Great Wall.
I like the Tracker, especially when you slap a Pentarch Ward down on him so he can annihilate another color, but I’ve attacked with him only once (and then for the win) despite him being in both of my decks. Since he only works on attacking creatures, unless you have some cool way of untapping him (*cough cough* Scryb Ranger *cough cough*) you have to leave him back as a deterrent. That said, as a wall he can’t be beat. Well, I guess he can be beat by a larger creature, but you know what I mean.
So How’d I Do?
Surprisingly, I won the draft. I wound up getting an early Durkwood Baloth in the first match against a far superior deck and rode his action-light draw to victory (especially on the back of a Stonewood Invocation), then lost to my own mana-screw, then thinned my deck down to pure action and overwhelmed him.
The second match was against an interesting experiment — the dude had drafted a mono-Red deck and went with Sligh, which was surprisingly tough since he came out of the gates fast. He got me down to four in the first game before I stabilized and came back (and he was playing Pardic Dragon, which I don’t think is a very good card even after I see it in action). The second game he just swamped me with multiple Goblin Skycutters, a Keldon Halberdier, and finished me off by destroying my only blocker. In the third, I stabilized much earlier, at sixteen life, and with both a Penumbra Spider and a Durkwood Tracker with a Griffin Guide on the board he really had no hope.
The last match was the U/W control with Whelk, which I won… Well, I can’t remember how I won. I know I just did. And wasn’t that enough?
The Weekly Plug Bug
Halloween is just around the corner, and could we give up the chance to do a short Halloween storyline? Of course not. So this week’s Home on the Strange is called “J-Horror Will Eat Itself,” and deals with what happens when you put four nerds in a house and force them to watch Japanese horror flicks until dawn.
Ferrett out, baby.