Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #257 – Magic in the Northwoods

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Thursday, January 8th – I was staying with my in-laws in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula over the New Year’s weekend. That’s snow country, and it snowed. Officially, we got 20” between Friday evening and Sunday noon. Other than some cross country skiing, curling up in front of the fire and eating, I played Magic online. My goal was to play as much Magic, in as many different formats, as possible.

I was staying with my in-laws in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula over the New Year’s weekend. That’s snow country, and it snowed. Officially, we got 20″ between Friday evening and Sunday noon. Other than some cross country skiing, curling up in front of the fire and eating, I played Magic online. My goal was to play as much Magic, in as many different formats, as possible.

We arrived late in the day Wednesday, New Year’s Eve. It snowed. It pretty much never quit — except for a few hours on Friday, when the wind picked up. I did ski down to the beach for a while. With temperatures around zero, Fahrenheit, and winds of over 30 mph, it was not fit for man or beast. I remembered reading about the sailing ships that used to ply the waters of Lake Superior in the late fall and early winter. By comparison, my job seems plenty cushy.

Broadband service has finally reached my in-laws’ place. We had a full winter storm and 16 hours of darkness a day outside, but all four of us were enjoying the fire with our laptops. It was not exactly roughing it.

I did not play all the time — but I do tend to wake up early, and everyone else likes to sleep in. That meant I generally got a chance to play for 3-5 hours before anyone else woke up, and then again when we were not doing anything as a group. During that time, I played a lot of Limited, and Constructed when I could not find anything else.

I went into the weekend with three draft sets of Tempest, five packs and two tournament packs of Shards of Alara, three packs of Masters Edition I (not 2), plus some Lorwyn packs and Shadowmoor packs. Coming out of the weekend, I have no Tempest, two Shards of Alara packs and a tournament pack, the same Lorwyn & Shadowmoor packs, and four MEDI packs.

Did I mention that this was Nix Tix weekend? All the drafts were product only, so I could just redraft won packs, and I did that a lot. Cheap drafting is great.

My rating has also gone up about 80 points — which still does not make it anything spectacular.

Let’s look at the formats.

Shard of Alara Limited:

This is the current format, and it fires consistently and often. Alara drafts are offered in three varieties. 4-3-2-2 is the traditional favorite. It pays out four packs to first place, three to second and two each to third and fourth. 8-4 drafts cater to a higher level of player, and pay eight packs to first place, and four to second place. The final option is 321 Swiss. While both 4-3-2-2 and 8-4 are single elimination formats, 321 Swiss drafts have all players playing all three rounds, and the prize is one pack per match win.

I did not play in any 8-4 drafts. I do, on occasion, but I am not yet very experienced in drafting Alara. More importantly, only once was an 8-4 closer to firing than a 4-3-2-2 or 321 Swiss draft, at least when I was looking. Like a lot of other players, I am not thrilled with waiting to draft, so I generally join whatever is closest to full. This weekend, that did not include 8-4s.

I played in three Shards 4-3-2-2s. To my very great surprise — since I have not drafted Alara much at all – I won one and did pretty well in the others. My opponents in the 4-3-2-2s were very mixed. Some drafts were filled with a number of strong drafters. Others were not. One draft I was passed both Infest and another strong card fourth pick — I want to say O-Ring but I don’t think it was quite that good. It might have been Executioner’s Capsule — and I already had a Sanctum Gargoyle. Having both was surprising — but what was really amazing was that the Infest tabled. Thirteenth pick Infest? Yeah, I won that draft.

Overall, the 4-3-2-2s fired fast and often, and the quality of the opposition was quite varied. This was true at 4am CST on Friday, and at peak times during the weekend. The volume of players was higher, and the quality slightly lower, later in the day on the weekends.

Alara 321 Swiss drafts also fired fairly often. I played in a couple of these initially, since what I needed was more time to see how cards worked and interacted. I find that, over time and on average, I tend to go 2-1 in drafts, both online and in paper FNM drafts. Since some of these losses occur in the first round, that means I’m out in single elimination events. That is fine if I want to draft again, but I tend to learn more if I play more matches.

In my experience, the quality of drafters in the 321 Swiss drafts was pretty close, both in terms of rating and perceived play skill, to those in the 4-3-2-2s. I was certainly playing other skilled drafters, at least much of the time. The main downside was that the 321 Swiss drafts were noticeably longer than single eliminations events. In general, the second round lasted 5-10 minutes longer, and the finals more so. I also noted the lower payout. Since I only rarely lost in the first round in 4-3-2-2s, I averaged 2.5 to 3 packs in the single elimination events, and 2 packs in the Swiss drafts. That meant I had to trade for packs to keep going when playing Swiss.

MTGO also offered two forms of Sealed Deck Shards events. They offered Last Chance Qualifiers for the Invasion block event on Saturday, and Swiss 8man events. I noticed three of the IPA qualifiers fired, one when I was out skiing, one when I was doing some family stuff, and one I managed to enter. I went 2-1, and faced reasonably skilled opponents. I never saw the queue for the Swiss events get much above 3, which was a shame because I have the necessary tourney packs, and would have loved to play.

These 8 man sealed events are hidden away in a separate room, and I don’t think enough people know about them.

There were also, presumably, Premier Events over the weekend, but I did not have time to play in any. Taking a couple hours to play in a draft between other things is fine — but I could not play for 8 straight hours at any time over the weekend. That is pretty much always true, it seems.

I also did some quick calculations based on the number of packs I have bought or traded for, at various times, and the number of cards I have, traded or have given away. After extracting the three booster packs I used in sealed tourneys, it appears I have done 22 drafts. I have bought or traded for 28 packs, and have won a total of 39 packs. That means I have won a touch under 2 packs per draft.

I generally draft and play sealed to develop a card pool to use for Constructed. The results are mixed. I have a complete set of commons, and most uncommons I need (e.g. Tidehollow Sculler and Rhox War Monks, and most Charms.) I have three of each uncommon land. The rares and Mythics are a more mixed bag. I bought 3 Ranger of Eos and 3 Knight of the White Orchids for the Boat Brew deck, and have now drafted four more Rangers and three more Knights. I have opened 2 Cruel Ultimatums and 2 Broodmate Dragons for my Cruel Control deck, but had to buy all three of the Ajani Vengeants I have so far. Of course, I did not have to buy cards like Wild Nacatl, and I play them all the time.

Overall, drafting Shards has probably not been cost effective, based solely on value of cards divided by time spent, but I have enjoyed it, so that calculation isn’t necessary.

Tempest Limited:

Tempest drafts are also available in three varieties — 8-4, 4-3-2-2, and 321 Swiss. Tempest drafts do not fire as often as Shards. In my experience, the 4-3-2-2 drafts were firing roughly every 10-40 minutes during the Nix Tix periods — more often during the peak times, of course. They may well slow down afterwards. (Quick note: on Tuesday night, just before I submitted this, two drafts had fired, about two hours apart.)

I have not played in Tempest 8-4s. I think I saw just one close to firing, and another draft in another set was closer. After Nix Tix ends, I would expect these to happen once a day or so, at most.

Tempest 4-3-2-2 drafts are by far the most common — if you can call them common. They happen. I was able to get one to fire in a reasonable amount of time all weekend. The quality of the drafters was mixed. At least half the drafters are familiar with the format, and draft the standard archetypes well. Only a few, however, understand the nuances (e.g. “jump off, jump on” blocking with Licids), so skilled drafters have an advantage. With the end of Nix Tix, I would expect the casual / inexperienced Tempest drafters to disappear.

Personally, I have done very well in Tempest draft. That could be a commentary on the relative simplicity of the format, on my level of skill, or on the level of skill of my fellow drafters — or maybe all three. It’s hard to say, but I will note that the ratio of 8-4 drafts to 4-3-2-2s in Tempest is much lower than in Alara.

I have played in two 321 Swiss Tempest drafts. I entered one because, very early on Friday morning, nothing else was close to firing. I entered the other by mistake, thinking it was a 4-3-2-2. Based on this very small sample size, I really didn’t see much difference between 321 Swiss and 4-3-2-2 in terms of skill level of the drafters / 321 Swiss drafts did take a bit longer.

Tempest 8 man sealed events are also available in the sealed Swiss queues room, but I have almost never seen anyone in the queues at all, much less seen one fire. (Tuesday night there was one person in the queue.)

By dividing number of cards owned by 15, it looks like I have done pretty well in Tempest Limited. In drafts, it appears that I have taken 14 Tempest boosters I have bought over time and won a total of 63 more. I did Top 8 one large PE, and did okay in two smaller ones, but the majority of packs won were in drafts. On the down side, I am now out of packs.

I drafted to acquire cards for Classic Constructed. I now have playsets of all the commons, of course. I have playsets of two of the good uncommons, namely Reanimate and Wasteland, but have only two copies of most of the other Classic playables, like Goblin Bombardment, Chill and Ancient Tomb. I was really drafting for the Constructed rares, and those results are mixed. I have single copies of most of what I wanted — Grindstone, Scroll Rack, Sapphire Medallion, Altar of Dementia, Living Death, and Intuition. I have no Meditates and no Humility. On the plus side, I have three Alurens and two Earthcrafts.

Overall, drafting to accumulate Constructed cards has been marginally effective, despite a really good run.

Classic Formats:

For the holidays, Wizards brought back a number of classic formats — including Mirrodin and Kamigawa block, and every block after them. The drafters had to provide their own packs — the old sets were not for sale in the store. The packs were available from dealers, and some players still have some in their collections.

Overall, these drafts fired very slowly. I heard from a few players who got into a couple Kamigawa drafts, or a mix of others. In general, I doubt these older formats fired more than a couple times a day. I doubt that Coldsnap fired at all — I can’t remember ever seeing a single person in the queue.

The only classic paper set that is still for sale in the store, besides Tempest, is Mirage block. Mirage block was not firing well, if at all. I have argued before that Mirage block packs need to be discounted in order to make them attractive to drafters. I didn’t think Nix Tix would be enough, and I think Wizards might want to look at the numbers and reconsider. We had over ten days of Nix Tix drafts, and I doubt that Mirage block drafts fired a dozen times in that period. Constructed-playable Mirage block rares are still ridiculously expensive.

The one type of Classic format that I did try to play was Masters Edition — the online only sets composed of “greatest hits” from pre-Mirage sets. In MED II at least, those “greatest hits” are the MtG versions of “The Best of Barry Manilow” or “The Bay City Rollers Retrospective.” Still, MED I has Force of Will, and MED II has the dual lands, Necropotence, and a few other staples, like Mana Crypt.

MED drafts are available, but only in the 4-3-2-2 variety.

I traded for one draft set of MEDI and bought a draft set of MEDII when the Holiday events began.

The MEDII drafts fired fairly regularly all weekend. I played in one MEDII draft early, and lost in the first round. The value of the cards I drafted totaled about 1.5 Tix — not too good for $12.75 worth of packs. I obviously did not get anything worth reporting, and I really did not enjoy the format. MEDII has bombs, but it has a heavy theme of Thallids and Thrulls and generally crap cards. I did not see any removal and little evasion. I am also really sick of seeing lots of reprints of cards I bought in the Coldsnap precons. Overall, after I lost the draft, I could not justify buying more packs, despite having every intention of getting playsets of all the duals over time. I guess I’ll just have to buy them.

Over time, I have bought 35 booster packs of MEDII, and drafted the format 17 times. I have won just 20 packs. More importantly, I have opened exactly one dual land — a Tundra — and one Necropotence and one Mana Crypt. Every other rare I have opened is worth less than the value of the pack — and most are worth a lot less. I now have two of each dual, four Necros and some other staples, but I have bought nearly all of them. Drafting MEDII has produced a playset of Elvish Spirit Guides, but that is pretty much it.

I also did one MEDI draft. I did not open Force of Will. The only rare I opened that was worth anything was Ivory Tower. Nifty. On the plus side, I actually won the draft. That got me excited enough to try to enter more MEDI drafts, simply because that would be more fun than just busting the packs. However, despite checking the draft queues all weekend, I never found a second draft, and still have my four packs.


Tenth Edition / Lorwyn / Shadowmoor:

These sets are still for sale in the store.

Tenth edition drafts are available in 8-4, 4-3-2-2 and 321 Swiss formats. All three seem popular, especially 4-3-2-2 and Swiss. The later two, especially, seemed to fire with the same sort of frequency as Alara, and much faster than any other formats. At least, that’s my perception. I did not try to assemble hard data.

Personally, I don’t play Tenth anymore. I did, and I enjoyed the format, but I already have pretty much all the Constructed cards from the set I need, and the rest are cheap.

Lorwyn / Morningtide and Shadowmoor / Eventide drafts were also available. They still are, at least in the 4-3-2-2 variety. They fire occasionally — far faster than Mirage but not quite as fast as Tempest, and far slower than Alara and Tenth. I can’t say anything about the level of play and skills of the players — I didn’t play.

I have some packs from Lorwyn and Shadowmoor blocks. I also have some Tournament packs in both formats. I’m saving them for a PE, if I ever get time, or for leagues, when they appear. Alternatively, when Wizards does get around to eliminating tournament packs, I expect that it will trade tourney packs for booster packs. At that point, I will probably use them in the next Nix Tix drafts.

Now it’s Tuesday, and the Holiday Weekend events are over. I would love to have complete data on how many drafts fired, in each format. Algona has some stats, which are usually reliable, showing that draft numbers over the period were quite good, and higher than 2.5 at times.

Without Nix Tix, I will be going back to Constructed play. My goal now is to play as many different formats as possible, with as many decks as possible. That’s for next week, unless something more interesting comes up.


“one million words” on MTGO