Monday, March 18, 2013

Revisiting M13 (and the Mental Side of Magic)

Yesterday my local store ran a small draft (9 people), and since their latest shipment of Gatecrash hadn't come in, we ended up drafting M13 Core Set. I was pretty excited. As I said before, it's one of my favorite formats. It's balanced, flexible, and very well-designed for draft.

So my first pack I open...Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. I had never opened this guy throughout the regular M13 drafting season (he is mythic, after all). Of course I took him. And pack 1 the Bolas plan started looking pretty good. I picked up some nice red, black, and blue cards, including two Unsummons and a Murder. But I was also passed 2 Pacifisms, which were by far the best cards in the pack. By the end of Pack 1 I was still pretty open, but the beginning of Pack 2 gave me the following three picks: Oblivion Ring, Serra Angel, and a third Pacifism. I could have taken a Fog Bank over an O-ring, but that just seemed so bad. Ignoring the clear White signal in lieu of going for the janky Grixis deck seemed like a recipe for disaster, so I moved in on BW. I ended up with 5 exalted cards, 3 1-drop creatures, 6 2-drop creatures, 5 4-drop creatures, and zero 3-drop creatures. Pack 3 was a complete dud. It turns out the drafter to my immediate right was in GW, even though he had passed me 2 Pacifisms in Pack 1.

I don't think I made very poor decisions in the draft. Pacifism is about as premium as removal gets in draft, and two from the right in Pack 1 seemed like a relatively strong signal. I thought this would pay off in Pack 3, but the pack was obviously light in good white, and I was getting cut hard on good creatures, since the draft to my right was on the creature-heavy GW train. Just a couple of solid 3-drops (a couple of Attended Knights would have done the trick...the dream was a Vampire Nighthawk or 2). So I ended up with a deck with 14 creatures (with a pretty low power level), 7 removal (3 Pacifism, 1 O-ring, 1 Murder, and 2 Essence Drain), no bombs, and a couple of combat tricks. The removal was godly, but all only 1-for-1's.

Round 1 I just go overrun by RG aggro. Flames of the Firebrand is pretty devastating against BW because of the prevalence of 1-toughness creatures. Game 1 was competitive, but I lost. Game 2 my opponent curved out with 1-drop, 2-drop, 3-drop, 4-drop, and even though I had a near ideal opener with War Falcon, Knight of Glory, Oblivion Ring, and good land, I couldn't race that opening. I lost 0-2. Matches: 0-1.

Round 2 I barely won against a UB deck with multiple Talrand's Invocation. One game I used all 3 of my Pacifisms. The card advantage of getting 2 2/2 flyers is simply insane in Limited. It was a close match and I barely won. Matches: 1-1.

Round 3 I played against a mono-black deck running multiple Ravenous Rats and Mark of the Vampire. I would have loved a Mark or two for my own deck, since I picked up 2 Tormented Souls through Pack 2, but I only saw 2 in Pack 1 and never saw any again, which is pretty unusual. Again, a super-close match, but one where my enchantment removal really shined. Matches: 2-1.

The fourth and final round put me against a BR deck. Again, game 1 a turn 3 Flames of the Firebrand killed both my 1 and 2-drops, a Chronomaton and Knight of Glory. I opted to play out the Knight instead of leaving mana open to pump the Chronomaton. I opted for developing my board and being aggressive. I think not doing any damage in the early rounds and simply growing the Chronomaton could have led to the even worse outcome of him killing it with a black spell after I'd invested lots of mana into it. Maybe my line was bad, but I think I was positioned badly no matter what. We split the first 2 games, and game 3 was very close. We were both around 7 life, and I had 2 Griffin Protectors on-board. He had 3 creatures in play, including a 2/2 flyer. I played a Serra Angel, pumping my griffins, swung to put him near death, then passed turn. I was hoping the Angel would stabilize me, but in formats with Threaten effects, this is a dodgy proposal. He untapped, played Mark of Mutiny, and killed me with my own Angel. I drew pretty badly in this match overall. In one game he piled 3 enchantments onto a Bladetusk Boar for the win, and I didn't draw a single removal spell. Matches: 2-2.

Didn't place in the prize support. So it goes.

If I had it to do all over again I would have stayed on the Bolas train and tried to just build Grixis control. I think I read the signals well, even though they were wrong (heavy white players usually don't pass multiple Pacifisms). Ah well. It was kind of fun...not as fun as winning, of course, but it was nice to see M13 again.

On a last note, the latest Limited Resources is almost completely devoted to the mental side of Magic, dealing with variance and tilt. My friend and fellow Magic player Jack says he doesn't find these sorts of discussions all that useful, since he doesn't feel like he gets a lot of actionable advice out of them. I think the mental side is pretty important, and cultivating a strong mental approach to the game is difficult, but very useful. Even yesterday I tilted a bit in a game where I kept a 3-spell, 4-land hand and drew 5 lands in a row. It was a pretty casual draft environment, but I think it's a good idea to try to maintain good habits, and avoid tilt as much as possible. I got visibly upset, told my opponent I had all lands in-hand, and was very on edge. This does nothing but give my opponent advantage,'s bad.

A few weeks ago I played in a Gatecreash sealed event. I wasn't crazy about the deck I put together, Naya with some strong cards, but not a lot of synergy. Round 1 I played a fellow Lafayette player (the tourney was in Baton Rouge). We split the first two games, and game 3 was going very badly. My life total was low (like 5). I hadn't done any damage to my opponent, so he was still at 20 life. He had killed all my creatures except for one, a lonely Court Street Denizen. Meanwhile, my opponent had a Zhur-Taa Swine suited up with a Madcap Skills and a Riot Gear, making it an 9/6 that could only be blocked by two creatures. It was his only creature on-board. Now, I didn't have any creatures in-hand. I drew another land. Things had been going horribly all day. It was hot, noisy, and crowded in the store. I was hungry. And I was already feeling defeated, since I hadn't even touched my opponent all game and I was facing off my 2/2 against his 9/6. But I had a Boros Charm and an Act of Treason in-hand. I missed the winning play and passed the turn. The winning play was to steal his pig, give it double strike, and swing for exactly 20. He was tapped out. That would have won me the match. Because I was in a defeated, frustrated frame of mind, I missed my out. It's rare that you don't do any damage to your opponent all game and are able to kill them with one play, but it does happen, and you need to be looking for it. My problem was that I wasn't looking hard enough. I had already lost in my mind.

So I don't mind discussions of the mental side of Magic. I can always improve this aspect of my game, and constant reminders and input from others are a good way of doing that.

Our regular Gatecrash draft is Wednesday. I hope to pull out of my mini-slump then and get some confidence going into the Sealed next Sunday. I'll also likely try to do some more GTC Sealed practice on MTGO this week. I'll report any results here.

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