Tribal Thriftiness #20 – Shadowmoor Experiences

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Thursday, April 24th – Wherein Dave learns the value of time management, plays creatures with activated abilities that require mana he can’t produce, drafts a deck of a single color, and name-drops “The Swiss Missile.”

As you might know from reading my column, I’m a big fan of pre-releases, so I hope you won’t mind if I take a little detour from budget building to talk about my experiences in the Shadowmoor pre-release.

I went in to the weekend of the Shadowmoor pre-release knowing that I would be forced into leaving early; my friend John had gotten us tickets to the roller derby for my birthday, and so I knew I had to leave Denver and be back in the Springs in time to go to that. So from the get-go, my goal was to pick up as much Shadowmoor as I could logically manage while still leaving in time to make it my evening engagement.

I planned my attack very carefully. I would show up at the site of the event right as the doors opened, with the intentions of being in the earliest Sealed pod possible. I would play through round 4 (the second of the “pack rounds”) and, judging by my results at that time, either continue to round 5 and get prizes, or drop and draft – whichever would yield me the most packs. After my issues with getting to the last tournament site, I checked the tournament organizer’s page and found that this tournament would be held in a different location from every other tournament I’ve been to in Denver. I checked the location. I printed out directions. I put the phone number of the site into my cell phone.

I did not, however, check the start time for the event.

I woke up at seven on Saturday morning, ready for the day’s events. It wasn’t a great night’s sleep; the missus and I had been up a little late catching up on television off the DVR. But I still felt good. I showered, grabbed my bag, and checked the location of the event one last time just to confirm in my head that I was going the right way.

Oh, I was going the right way – but the event started at eight, not nine, as I had mistakenly assumed.

I leapt into the car. Before that, I mentally adjusted my plan past the bagel shop where I had planned to get breakfast, instead snagging a pot of yogurt from the fridge before I left. Five minutes up the highway, I remembered I needed to stop for gas – luckily, I remembered, and the car didn’t remind me the hard way. So off for another stop. Already my well-planned day was starting to fall off the rails.

I made the hour-and-twenty-minute drive in about an hour. Don’t speed, kids! – unless it’s in the middle of the stretch of Mars between Colorado Springs and Denver, where you’ve left one bubble colony and are racing to the other, where the speed limit is already faster than most places in the States, and there are new Magic cards on the line. Then, if you have experience driving at high speeds that you’ve cultivated on the German Autobahns, you have my permission to go +5mph.

In terms of finding the tournament site, this attempt went much better than my last attempt, which saw me about fifteen miles off course and actually worrying about making the tournament. (The worrying was because, back in 2004, I played in a PTQ in Denver where I didn’t know the event location, got lost, didn’t find the place until round one had started, managed to talk my way into the tournament, but had to concede to the kid who got the bye. Oh, that kid ended up being Ryan Cimera, wunderkind at PT Philadelphia 2005, and raising my record against Pro Players to something 0-15.) Where was I? Oh, right, finding the site. I got off the highway and quickly started looking for the event site. I knew I was taking the Chambers Road exit due to my printed-out directions … directions … where are those directions? The answer: on my coffee table, forgotten in the rush of learning I was already late for the event. Fortunately, I had put the phone number into my cell phone, and a quick phone call to the event site (while driving past it) had me on site in no time.

I registered as player eleven in pod 4. From my experience with Denver’s pre-releases, this meant two things. One, I was getting a very late start, confirmed by the fact that it was quarter after nine by the time I arrived. The second was that I was set for a much later start. While the pre-releases on the East Coast seem to have three hundred or more people, the ones in Denver barely clear 200. I was in pod 4 for Lorwyn, and I don’t think they started it until they were sure no more people were going to arrive. Figuring I was looking at a ten o’clock start, I quickly reconfigured my plans, and figured I needed to drop after round 2 (the first “pack round”) and go straight in to drafting, as I didn’t think I’d be able to see the light at the end of the Sealed Deck tunnel.

To my delight, we actually start earlier than ten; there was a steady stream of people coming in the door, and I know we weren’t the last pod. To my dismay, I am reminded about the dreaded “lunch round” that the TO in Denver is fond of doing, and so I know I’m still stuck drafting after round 2. We sit down and start the deck verification process.

Shadowmoor: Sealed

Around me is a pair of guys, unrelated, but both at their first pre-release. It’s nice to talk to guys who are just starting the game, that still have that “wide-eyed innocence” to them. I like that. They have a couple of questions about the format, about the process of registering decks, and we talk some outside of that as well.

One piece of advice I give them is this: “Don’t pay any attention to the contents of the deck you’re registering. Don’t even read them. Just sort the cards, fill in the boxes on the paper, and put them back together. You’ll only cause yourself misery if you look at the cards, because you’re going to end up passing this deck to someone else.”

I then immediately ignore my own advice as I open my Sealed Deck for registration. How could you keep up that front when you open a Sealed Deck that includes: Oona and Ghastlord of Fugue, two Kulrath Knights, Flame Javelin, Beseech the Queen, a fair shake of Black removal …

It gets passed, off to find another home, another set of hands, as is the norm in this bitter world of Sealed Deck. I try and pay attention to who ends up with it, just so I can keep tabs on them over the course of the tournament, but I forget as soon as I get my own deck. Time to build.

Here is what I played:

2 Boggart Arsonists
1 Wort, the Raidmother
1 Grim Poppet
1 Tattermunge Witch
1 Tattermunge Maniac
1 Cinderhaze Wretch
1 Scuttlemutt
1 Faerie Macabre
1 Emberstrike Duo
1 Smolder Initiate
1 Scuzzback Marauders
1 Scuzzback Scrapper
1 Rustrazor Butcher

2 Burn Trail
2 Gloomlance
1 Scar
1 Torture
1 Ember Gale
1 Traitor’s Roar
1 Torrent of Souls

9 Mountain
8 Swamp

Usually I am not the kind of person who will focus on splashy rares, but Wort, the Raidmother just seems like it could be rather bomby in Sealed. I started out Red and Green, but quickly realized that, beyond those two Farhaven Elf guys, there really wasn’t much to go on. And it didn’t seem smart to run the Green just for those two; I mean, sure, I could cast all of my Goblin guys with Green mana, but I knew I wanted to run the Black removal as well, and I couldn’t fudge on those like I could with the Goblins. I went all-in on Black/Red, playing all the Red/Green guys as just red guys.

It worked out great until I actually played Tattermunge Witch and realized I had no way to get the Green mana to use her ability. But more about that in a moment.

In round 1, my opponent is playing all of his Scarecrows, and is Green/White/Blue. Game 1 is where the Tattermunge Witch incident happens, as I curve into Maniac, Witch, blinking at my mana problem, then into Scuttlemutt. I am thankful of his presence, despite the fact that I never end up using the Witch’s ability – I draw what feels like all of my removal, eventually killing off two blocker Scarecrows using two successive Gloomlances, and getting the discard by turning them White using Scuttlemutt’s color-changing ability. In game 2 he gains creature advantage, but I have Wort to make chump blockers. He, however, has Tower Above, and Wort gets lured in before any Conspire shenanigans can happen. I still have an out – I have Grim Poppet in hand to terrorize his board if I can ever get to seven mana, of which I have five, plus Scuttlemutt. Unfortunately, I am forced to block with Scuttlemutt to survive, and can’t draw two lands to get to the Poppet. The third game, I got Wort out again, and cleared his board of Lurebound Scarecrow (set to Blue) and Merrow Grimeblotter thanks to a Conspired Ember Gale. That was enough to let my remaining guys sail in for the win.

Round 2, my opponent made a bad choice to keep a color-light hand, and my early creatures rushed him before he could draw his second color. In game 2, he came out a little better, with some early Red guys and Flame Javelin. We traded guys; I ended up having to use Scar on a Juvenile Gloomwidow just so I could start attacking with my Faerie Macabre, the only evasion guy in the whole deck. He played out Gnarled Effigy, allowing him to start picking off my guys one by one, but Grim Poppet came to the rescue, cleared his board, and kept me with enough of an opening to squeak in the last damage.

The rare from the pack spoils from this “pack round”: Din of the Fireherd. Eh. Better than Ice Cave, I guess. Should prove good fodder for a column somewhere down the road.

We take our lunch round, and upon returning, I head to the draft signups. I am person number one on said draft signup, which is also number four. I expect that it will take a while before it starts so I sit down to play round 3. My draft starts in the middle of the round, so I concede to my opponent and go to get more Shadowmoor.

Shadowmoor: Drafted

Having seen (at nearby tables) or heard about most of the bomb rares in the format, and being untrained in the ways of Shadowmoor drafting, I decide to go with whatever the cards give me rather than trying to force something. Drafting new sets is hard, especially at pre-releases, where people can be rare-drafting just to try and get the good new stuff. Signals don’t necessarily work very well. However, my first pack doesn’t work so well either, giving the option of a lot of junk. I start out in White/Blue with a first-pick of Plumeveil (speaks to the quality of that pack, doesn’t it?) and second-pick Armored Ascension, then dip into Red as I appear to be getting burn spells somewhat late in the pack. I realize Burn Trail is a little expensive at four mana and a sorcery, but it’s still removal, and don’t you pick up as much of that in draft as you can? Middle-pick Burn Trails and AEthertows make it into my deck, but it isn’t until I realize that I have drafted THREE (!) Faerie Swarms in the first pack that I feel I may need to shift my thought process. I start figuring out if, realistically, I can draft mono-blue. My second pick yields up a Isleback Spawn – that’s a yes, so far. I get a third- or fourth-pick Cemetery Puca. Not bad. Kinscaer Harpoonists, Wasp Lancer, Consign to Dream, some card-drawing … definitely enough to run mono-Blue. I eventually splash in Red for removal, although I definitely think I could have gone mono-Blue. Here’s the deck I played:

3 Faerie Swarm
2 Kinscaer Harpoonist
2 Wasp Lancer
1 Cemetery Puca
1 Isleback Spawn
1 Parapet Watchers
1 Plumeveil
1 Gravelgill Axeshark
1 Leech Bonder
1 Barrenton Cragtreads
1 Cursecatcher
1 Merrow Wavebreakers

2 AEthertow
2 Puncture Bolt
1 Scarscale Ritual
1 Consign to Dream
1 Ghastly Discovery

14 Island
3 Mountain

My first-round opponent in the draft was playing Blue/White. The first game, I managed to assemble a flying force before he could build the appropriate blockers, and won with a handy AEthertow to set him back some draws. In the second game, he built a much more defensive wall, with tappers and Kithkin Shielddares, all with Thistledown Liege to pump them up. I had a very large Faerie Swarm and a buffed-up Isleback Spawn, but I was reduced to trying to weed through his chump blockers and damage prevention to try and whittle him down. Again, a timely AEthertow was the decider, as it allowed me to remove his two flying blockers, and the next turn use Kinscaer Harpoonist’s ability to alpha strike for the win.

In the second round, my opponent was playing Red/Green. The first game I won on the back of both AEthertows and Consign to Dream robbing him of numerous draws until Isleback Spawn came down and won it for me. The second game he took, as he sideboarded in Raking Canopy to deal with my fliers, and he attacked into my Isleback Spawn and removed it (using Firespout for the remaining damage) before he got too big to handle. For the third game, I attempted to switch completely into mono-Blue mode, siding out the Red removal and the Mountains for a Wanderbrine Rootcutters, two Drowner Initiates and a Memory Sluice. I knew his creatures were generally bigger than mine, so I thought I might mill him out; it turns out that running fourteen land in a draft deck, no matter if it’s single-colored, might be a bad idea – I died before I found my fifth land.

After the match was over, someone asked how drafting mono-Blue had worked out for me. I told them that it worked pretty well, and I do think that’s true – all of the hybrid in Shadowmoor definitely makes it easier to draft playable cards in just one color, if that’s what you want to do. I have always been partial to flyers in draft, so that may have been my natural leaning, but the fact that there is potent removal that’s playable in mono-Blue makes it a little easier to not worry about splashing that second color. I’ll be trying to do something similar in two weeks at our local Shadowmoor Release Party here in Colorado Springs.

I snagged my packs, headed for the door, and made the long drive home. I was a little worried that roller derby might pale in the face of all the new, great Shadowmoor cards, but it turned out that an evening of watching high-speed, elbow-throwing fun was a pretty good complement to a morning of brain-wracking Magic. And let me tell you, Magic has nothing on roller derby in terms of creative names – when your home team has a girl named “The Swiss Missile,” you tend to forget about all those cute nicknames that Magic cards have.

I think Swiss Missile could take Nom Nom the Tattermunge Maniac any day.

I hope you all enjoyed your pre-release experiences as much as I did … and I hope you’re planning on getting out and hitting the Release Parties in your area!