Monday, April 29, 2013

Dragon's Maze Prerelease Weekend Recap

I happily continued my pattern of success at prereleases, which is nice, but not nearly as impressive as performing well at big tournaments with much more at stake. Still, it's always nice to start the draft season with a pocket full of booster packs to let you pack into drafts throughout the season.

I played four events, and here are the recaps:

Event 1:
And Books II
Lafayette, LA

Guild: Rakdos
Allied Guild: Dimir

My worst nightmare. I had the most success in RTR with Rakdos, so it was my go-to guild. Why? It's aggression level is nearly unmatched. My hope was an uber-aggressive ally like Boros or Gruul. What did I get? Guys who like to hide in the shadows. What was my Dimir rare? Whispering Madness. Ugh.

I had exactly one playable rare in this pool...Pyrewild Shaman. And he is very, very good. But when you are often facing down mythics, he doesn't really stack up. Still, the deck had a solid, aggressive curve and good removal, so I thought I might do okay. You don't need bombs to win, right?

First match I faced regular Limited player Joey, playing Naya. He had 3 Zhur-Taa Druids. I hated him already. Game 1 started out with him on the play, dropping a Druid turn 2 and a Rubblebelt Raiders turn 3. Nice. I had mana for Augur Spree, but didn't draw it until the turn after he had attacked with the Raiders, putting them out of reach of my removal. Game over. He crushed me Game 2 as well.

So...not a good start.

But now in the losers bracket, I faced three opponents in a row who were not seasoned grinders. The first two were Esper decks, both relatively weak. I 2-0'd both matches. Round 4 was against a BWR deck that was powerful, but again, my opponent made several play mistakes and I took the match.

At this point I was 3-1. The tourney was 5 rounds, and I was able to simply intentional tie into the top 8. Most wanted to call it an early day, so we chopped the prize pool for 10 packs each. Not bad.

I then wandered over to the other local game store in town to see if they might be firing any more events. Hey, they were.

Event 2:
Anime and Games Central
Lafayette, LA

Guild: Azorius
Allied Guild: Simic

They said they only had two packs left: a Rakdos and an Azorius. I'm not the biggest Azorious fan, but it's fine, so I took it. Paired with Simic, I was fine with Bant, and wanted to live the dream of pairing an Ascended Lawmage with an Unflinching Courage. Alas, I didn't open a Courage, though I did open 2 Ascended Lawmage. Again, no bombs, just solid evasive flyers and a good curve. I 3-0'd and we chopped top 4 for 7 packs.

Event 3:
Rocket's Hideout
Baton Rouge, LA

Guild: Gruul
Allied Guild: Rakdos

Now this was my dream. Jund! I went to Baton Rouge with Lyall, mostly because I wanted to play 2-headed giant and the format wasn't offered in Lafayette. But we decided to play the noon sealed as well. Why not, right?

I got my dream color combination, but again, no bomby creatures. I did have a bomb in Gaze of Granite, though. I'd generally rather have a crazy creature like Exava or Savageborn Hydra, but oh well.

Match 1 was pretty sweet. I was up against Naya. Game 1 was a blowout with me curving out with Gorehouse Chainwalker into double Rakdos Drake. I had very good spot removal to back up my efficient, aggressive creatures. So far, so good. Game 2 was more interesting. My opponent is on the play and resolves a turn 3 Boros Reckoner. I have a Stab Wound in hand, so I untap and stab the minotaur. A 1/1 Reckoner is substantially less scary, but still a problem since I can't really attack on the ground anymore. I'm hoping to bleed him out and finish him with evasive creatures. Well, then he puts Unflinching Courage on his Reckoner, rebooting it into a 3/3 lifelinker with potential first strike. I had two ground dudes (maybe the black Gatekeeper and a Swine?), and he had two other 3-drops plus a Boros Keyrune in play. The board state was pretty clogged, though I had Gaze of Granite in hand. Problem was, I only had five lands. Luckily I peeled the sixth land, cast GoG for x=3 and wiped all five of his non-land permanents. GoG did work for me all day, but that was by far the best job it ever did. I won the match.

Match 2, I faced down a 4-color deck with 2 Unflinching Courage. We went 3 games but he got it...on the back of Unflinching Courage.

Match 3 I played against a pretty good Esper deck. Honestly I'm pretty sure my deck was better, and I'd seen my opponent punt to Lyall in round 1, missing a sure lethal attack. So I felt pretty good. Well, this was one of those matches decided entirely by mana issues. Game 1 I kept a 5-land hand with a 3-drop creature and a removal spell (Fatal Fumes, I think), and 5 of the next 6 draws were lands...hard to win a game like that. Game 2 I won. Game 3 I kept a 2-land hand with a Chainwalker. Missed my third and fourth land drops, never made it past 4 lands, and promptly died.

It's possible I should be mulliganing more aggressively. That's a part of my game that could probably improve. Both those hands were marginal keeps, but not outlandish.

Anyway, at 1-2 I only had one more match to play. My opponent in round 4 was not very experienced, so I 2-0'd pretty easily. Players with a 2-2 record got a single pack. Meh.

Onto the last event!

Event 4:
Rocket's Hideout
Baton Rouge, LA

Guild #1: Izzet
Allied Guild #1: Simic

Guild #2: Izzet
Allied Guild #2: Gruul

Sweet...two RUG decks! At first I built a straight aggro RUG deck, but then decided that the blue wasn't buying a whole lot in terms of power, and that a RG deck would be more efficient without losing much power. It was a straightforward deck with a solid curve and almost no removal. It did have 2 Zhur-Taa Druids, though, which was cool. Gruul Ragebeast was the curve-topping bomb. I also have a lot more respect for Armed/Dangerous.

Lyall, on the other hand, but together a sweet Grixis control build with scads of removal. I believe the deck had 5 premium split cards (3 Far/Away and 2 Turn/Burn?). He also had 2 Mirko Vosks!

Round 1 we played against two former state champs. The match was very tight. Half of their team was stuck on 3 lands the whole match, but every spell he played was relevant: Arrest on my Madcap Skilled bear, a timely Rootborn Defenses, a Sundering Growth that populated a bird token for a game-saving block, and an Unflinching Courage on his partner's own Gruul Ragebeast to build them back up to a safe life total. Lyall resolved both Mirko Vosks back-to-back after the first was removed, but only got in one hit. A second might have been the game. The game was extremely close, and it's possible we misplayed by being too aggressive, but if so, it wasn't a huge misplay. The key to the loss was that we both flooded mid-game and Lyall drew nearly none of his removal. Turn/Burn or Far/Away would likely have been game at nearly any point. Ah well.

Our first round opponents were running Crackling Perimeter and a jillion gates, which seemed like a really sweet idea, so Lyall revamped his deck to add in this combo. I also dropped the 17th land in favor of Electrickery.

Round 2 Lyall's deck was working as planned, and we were able to maintain the superior board presence throughout and steadily pound out lethal damage.

Round 3 we played a very nice father/son duo (both named Alex). Their decks weren't completely awful, though we did get Riot Control played against us (in rounds 2 and 3, actually). We took a fair amount of early damage, but were able to keep their worst threats in check and inevitably build up to a lethal alpha strike. Lyall had a Void Wielder in play and I had a Zhur-Taa Swine and another smaller creature. I cast Armed/Dangerous targeting the VW to give it Lure and making my pig a 6/5 double-strike. Upon attack, I bloodrushed it with a Rubblebelt Maaka, making it a 9/8 double-strike, which was lethal. Even if that hadn't done it, Lyall had Crackling Perimeter in play with something like 5 gates. Each hit from Perimeter does 2 to the team, so we had extra damage to spare.

Teams going 2-1 got 3 packs for each team member, so that was fine.

It's possible we could have made better play decisions in match 1...I don't know. The only other match I think my play was a factor was Event 3, Round 3, where I may not have mulliganed aggressively enough. On the whole I was happy with the way things turned out, though, and my play in general.

Event 1: 3-1-1 (top 8: 10 packs)
Event 2: 3-0-1 (top 4: 7 packs)
Event 3: 2-2 (1 pack)
Event 4: 2-1 (3 packs)

Total: 10-4-2 (21 packs)

I've come away from the last 4 prerelease events with 15-20 packs of the new set, which is always sweet for a rabid drafter. So I'm pretty happy. Still, I feel like to get to the next level I need to win or top-4 a competitive event.

There was a recurring theme throughout the prerelease, and it was Unflinching Courage. I either lost, or nearly lost to this card in almost every decisive match. I hope to actually have one of these in my card pool at some point in the format, because it's kind of nuts.

Next Sunday is the Win-a-Case sealed event at Rocket's. I'll be there, and hopefully I'll open a legitimate bomb or two and make a real run for the top. Either way I'll post the results here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Bittersweet Top 8

I played in a Gatecrash sealed Grand Prix Trial on Saturday.

My sealed pool was one of those with evenly-distributed cards among the colors, and not much in the way of bombs (Stolen Identity was my "bomb"). I ended up in Esper (UWB), mainly because of 2 Kingpin's Pets and 2 Orzhov Charms. I didn't think the deck was particularly strong, but it did have a good curve, and a little fixing.

We played 5 rounds of Swiss. All of the first four rounds I played against Borzhov (BRW). I won all four, admittedly getting a little lucky on my opponent's poor draws. I did play very tight Magic, though, not making any obvious mistakes that I can recall. I tied into the top 8 with my 5th-round opponent.

The top 8 did a Gatecrash draft. I don't think I drafted very well, though I think I did get a little unlucky. One issue was that each pick was timed. I'd never done a live draft where the picks were timed. Of course, on Magic Online, the picks are timed, but they cards are also laid out fully in front of you, so making picks faster is easier. You can immediately rule out certain cards and focus on just a few. In a live draft, you cannot lay out your cards. You must look at them one or a few at a time. This makes a timed live draft a bit more nerve-wracking. I'm used to fairly casual drafts where I have plenty of time to mull over my decisions. This was one of the first times I've felt rushed drafting.

Anyway, my first two picks were: 1) Grisly Spectacle, and 2) Dimir Charm. They were the best cards in those packs, and I thought I might be able to have a minor coup by moving in on Dimir (a generally underdrafted guild) and possibly being the only Dimir drafter at the table. Things were looking pretty good when I picked up a Call of the Nightwing pick 4, but then the cards started to dry up fairly quickly. I don't remember pack contents extremely well, but I do think that I probably should have been picking up strong Simic cards in pack one to stay reasonable open. I think I took mediocre Dimir cards instead. I was hoping for a nice suite of removal (Death's Approach and Devour Flesh at the very least, a Killing Glare and/or another Spectacle, best case). But the removal didn't come. In retrospect, I think I probably had one or more Orzhov drafters to my immediate right, because the black was downright horrible.

This is one of the poor design choices made by Wizards with respect to Dimir, I think. Most of the cards Dimir wants are also easily playable in Orzhov. Virtually every removal spell with black (except Dimir Charm, though Orzhov gets its own removal charm which is arguably better) is also playable in Orzhov. I guess Soul Ransom counts, but of course it's at rare. Dimir really needed something like Agony Warp, a UB spell much more difficult for Orzhov to pick up.

Now, I got a Simic Manipulator passed to me in pack 2, but that was the highlight. I ended up very light on removal and with zero Deathcult Rogues (which I was really counting on for offense and cipher).

I was the #1 seed, so I faced an opponent I'd beaten in Round 4. He was a nice guy, but made several play mistakes. He was playing Naya and had a lot of high-quality early drops (Truefire Paladin, Skarrg Guildmage, etc.). In game 1 I got my Simic Manipulator online, along with Call of the Nightwing, and the game was a complete blowout in my favor. Game 2 I got stuck on 4 lands, missing 3 land drops in a row with Dinrova Horror and two other 5-drops in hand. He curved out and I died. Game 3 was closer, but on a locked board he drew three creatures in a row to my three lands, and my board was outclassed. So I lost first round in the top 8, which left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. I had moved in on Dimir, which I thought was a strong move, but either I wasn't the only Dimir drafter, or more likely Orzhov was being heavily drafted in the pool as well, or the pool was just very Dimir light.

At one point I had one of those moments where I felt like a douche for rules-lawyering. My opponent had a Skarrg Guildmage in play. He played a mountain, then tapped three lands and pointed to the mountain he had just played. "Make it a 4/4," he said. A judge was watching. I sighed and said, "You know that mountain has summoning sickness, right?" He said, "Oh okay, then I'll just make my Plains a creature instead." He started to untap his mana, and the judge said, "No." My opponent was visibly upset. Had a judge not been there, I'm not sure what I would have done. I kind of felt like I'd already given the guy a break. In the Swiss portion, the same opponent had been on the play. He had looked at his hand, said "Keep." I said, "Mulligan." He then said, "Okay, we'll I'll mulligan too then." I knew that wasn't cool. He'd already shoved his cards back into his deck. I had let that one go. Not sure what a judge would have ruled, but I'm pretty sure he would have at least gotten a warning. Having let that go, I felt like I had to point out the issue with the activated land. I wouldn't have been surprised in the judge had said that his intent was to activate a non-summoning sick land and let it fly, but I thought it was the sort of thing that someone else would have held me to, and I wanted to be on a level playing field. But, despite this and other minor play mistakes (mostly involving not making attacks when I he had good ones), I lost.

Ah well. It was my first top 8 in a competitive rules environment. I've top-16'd two Grand Prix Qualifiers (including one online with over 400 participants), but this was my first competitive-level top-8. So, I'm generally pleased. I won't be really, really pleased until I win one, though.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Winning the First Dice Roll

Last night we barely scraped together 8 people for a live draft after my local game store crapped out by not having inventory (but that's a whole other post).

After first-picking a Sunhome Guildmage I was passed an Elusive Krasis. I really like Simic in this format (and I'm a bit fatigued on Boros) so I moved in on Simic. This was likely a mistake. There were 4 Simic drafters at the table (one was RUG, but still), one of which was two players to my right. Pack 2 was great for me, scoring a Simic Manipulator, but Pack 3 was miserable and the Boros signals in Pack 1 were quite strong.

Ah well. I went 1-2 in three rounds of Swiss, losing two very close mirror matches. I believe I had the better deck in both matches, and I think my play was very solid. Looking back, though, I realized that I'd lost the initial dice roll all three matches. How big a difference does that make?

I would love to see some hard data on this. Alternatively, I'm too lazy to try to gather it. Matthew Watkins has done some interesting draft format analyses. Maybe I'll shoot him and email and see if he's willing to look at this issue and comment.

I've been Googling for the past twenty minutes trying to find win percentages based on playing first vs. drawing first, in any MtG format. I can't find anything other than forum posts where people are just speculating. I know I saw an article in the past six months that discussed this in-depth, giving hard numbers. Now I can't even find information on when they changed the rule from "play-first-and-draw" to just "play-first", but I thought I remembered the match win percentage advantage to drawing and playing first being something like 58% vs. 42%. That is, under the old rules, when you both played first and drew first, you got an inherent advantage of 8% (this may not be exact, but I remember reading that the advantage was quite large). Under the current scheme, I thought the advantage shrunk to 52% to 48%. Again, if anyone has links to actual statistics on this, please let me know.

Now then, the lower the curve, the more aggressive the deck, and the faster the format...all these factors will skew that advantage even more. If Watkins is correct that GTC is even faster that RTR, than the advantage gained from playing first with a fast, aggressive Simic, Gruul, or Boros guild should be substantially higher. My first-round opponent had two Experiment Ones in his deck. There aren't a lot of one-drops in the format, but Experiment Ones, Cloudfin Raptors, Boros Elite, and even Foundry Street Denizen can get in a few points of crucial damage that will win a close mirror.

Boros seems especially primed for huge tempo advantage due to playing first. Last week at my LGS, I lost last round to a player who sequenced like this:

Game 1 (on the play):
Turn 1: Boros Elite
Turn 2: Wojek Halberdiers
Turn 3: Frontline Medic

Game 3 (on the play):
Turn 1: Boros Elite
Turn 2: Daring Skyjek
Turn 3: Frontline Medic

These lines are nearly impossible to beat. You must have a cheap form of removal in the first three turns or you are simply dead. His deck also had two Firemane Avengers, but those weren't even a factor (as bonkers as that was). I didn't feel bad losing that match. I just shook my head at the brutal curve-out.

Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised to find that the play-first advantage in this format for Boros is around 60%. If there is any truth to the general analysis here, then that first dice roll becomes substantially more important, further increasing the variance in the game, which I think is a bit unfortunately. But it's also another variable to look at when analyzing post-play. There's nothing you can do about it, short of cheating on the dice roll, but it might help give some perspective on results if you played against super aggressive decks each round, losing the dice rolls.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My latest draft was a Gatecrash Swiss:

I ended up in black/red/white, my historically worst color combination (I've gone 1-3 in two live drafts with BRW). My colors were evenly distributed, and I had only one piece of fixing, a Prophetic Prism. But unlike some of my other BRW decks, I had some juicy bombs. Have a look, and if you have any comments about my picks or play, just leave them here.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What Percentage of MtG Games are Decided Primarily by Mana Issues (Screw or Flood)?

I used the last of my DKA/INN packs to play a 4-3-2-2 this morning. It was another one of those horrible MtG experiences where we only had one actual game.

My opponent mulled to 5 in game 1, dropped a Doomed Traveler, then scooped after he missed his second land drop (presumably out of frustration, though he was definitely not out of the game).

So given the freebee, we won a pretty evenly-matched game 2.

Game 3, my opener had 1 land. Unplayable. My mull to 6 had 1 land. Unplayable. It's at this point when I should be zen, but I friggin hate the game design. I mull to 5 to keep a crappy hand, but a better one that either of my first two.

It's really not a game at all. My opponent had mulled to 6, but on the draw that's far less impactful than playing a 5-card hand on the play. If you watch the video, you'll see that I get enough land to put down a Geist, but I lose any potential card advantage from Burning Oil due to his trick. I'm horribly behind on the board anyway. I drew 2 spells (Tragic Slip and Midnight Guard) and 6 lands the rest of the game. He invalidated my Slip with a Faith's Shield. So basically I was playing the entire third game crippled due to the mulligan, and flooded out anyway.

These types of matches are not fun. Not just because I lost, but because two of the games were not even played. They weren't games. They were non-games. I'm fine with game design that gives inferior players a chance to beat better players due to variance. But there are game designs that allow for that without having the experience be a complete waste of time. Poker is a good example of this. Even with horrible hole cards, I can still play the game in some meaningful way (e.g. bluffing). But MtG games that result from resource variance are simply unplayable, and thus un-fun.

My estimate for games decided by mana issues is about 20%. I initially estimated about 1 in 6, but I think it's slightly higher than that. And those experiences, while you should take them in stride, still leave a bad taste in my mouth, because I think they are not a necessary part of the game design.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Card Design Gone Horribly Wrong: Goblin Test Pilot

Goblin Test Pilot - 1UR
Creature - Goblin Wizard (Uncommon)
Tap: Goblin Test Pilot deals 2 damage to target creature or player chosen at random.

"All pilots and prototypes destroyed. Extensive collateral damage inflicted. Conclusion: flawless design."
-Manual of Melek

Since returning to Magic a couple of years ago, starting with M12, I've been consistently impressed with the generally solid, robust design of new sets. 

This guy makes me question the judgment of R&D, though. He's. Just. Awful.

He's an evasive creature with zero power. Okay.

He's a creature that deals damage that has the same probability of killing himself as hitting any other legal target.

From a paper game play perspective, he's just awful. Determining the outcome of his target is horribly clunky. Rarely is there an even number of targets, so we're going to have situations where there are 7 creatures on board and including the 2 players we're going to have to figure out how to resolve the target. Roll a 10d? This is going to eat up the clock, be confusing, and not particularly fun.

Aside from logistics, something that has a symmetric effect has the potential to be powerful if the situation is crafted well (see Balance). But this is no Balance. You have to buff his toughness to keep him from potentially killing himself, or give your team hexproof (Mizzium Skin away!).

Seriously, he's just garbage. He's clunky from a gameplay perspective. Random abilities can be fun. The new Ral Zarek's ultimate is a great example of this. But not this guy. He's utter, complete crap.

Return to Ravnica Phantom Sealed

Spoiler alert: I still can't break the 3-0 curse, even with a pretty bonkers deck. Comments on my deck construction, play, and sideboarding are welcome. Though simply flooding out to lose is pretty depressing. One could argue I shouldn't be running 18 lands, but when you've got Armada Wurm and Collective Blessing at your top end, the additional lands increase the probability of hitting those as early as possible. Still, if you disagree, let me know.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Latest Draft: M13 on MTGO

I've started streaming on It's going okay, but there are still a few issues to work out. Here's my latest draft, an M13 Swiss where I go UR and end up playing three BW decks in a row (which was weird):

I obviously have some issues with the sound, which is difficult to test. In the playback my mic volume is too low compared to my other system sounds. Also, I got dangerously close to time in the first two matches, so I need to get better at playing quickly while commenting. This was a deck where I had to make a lot of choices, and required a lot of clicking, but I shouldn't have gone to time.