Month: February 2018

Why the solution to balancing Dusk Road draft is buffs, not nerfs

Update: Some folks over on reddit have pointed out that this analysis doesn’t quite do justice to some factions. The biggest reason for this is that a 0.0 and a 1.0 aren’t fundamentally different in terms of whether or not you’re going to play them in draft, but one hurts a faction’s score significantly more than the other. I’m going to leave this article as it is, but I’ll be posting a follow-up (will be linked here) with some more data that better shows that some factions have too high a density of bad cards.

In the last month, Dire Wolf Digital has released two balance patches for Eternal. In each patch, one of the major objectives was to tone down the dominance of Justice in draft. This was much needed, in my opinion, as it was often correct to force some sort of Justice deck, even if it wasn’t particularly open. You’d often end up splashing, or a full-on three factions, but that was fine because the multi-faction Justice cards (e.g., Awakened Student, Whirling Duo, Rooftop Vigilante, Slay) are powerful enough to make up for a shaky power-base, and Justice as a whole is not as reliant on its tribal synergies as other factions.

So, Justice needed to take a step back. The first round of nerfs didn’t quite get the job done, so DWD hit it again. It’s still a little early to tell if this will be enough to finally end Justice’s reign of terror, but were nerfs ever the right answer in the first place?

I’m not so sure. With the exception of Valkyrie Arcanist, I didn’t feel that any of the Justice cards were under-costed, and certainly not oppressively so. Arcanist needed to get hit with the nerf bat because allowing decks to play too many of them created bad play patterns by which you keep chaining 6/6 flying threats until your opponent finally can’t deal with one. None of the other nerfed cards had that kind of problem.

Will the nerfs succeed in putting Justice back in line with the rest of the factions? Maybe. But will it make the format better? That’s the question I asked myself when I began this analysis.

The Data

For the data used here, I took the draft tier list ratings produced by the folks over at rngeternal.com. You may not agree with all of their ratings. I certainly think some things should move up or down a little. Still, this represents a sampling of multiple high-level drafters that is the best available data set outside of my own biased rankings.

The cards are each rated between 0 and 5, at increments of 0.5. Thus, we expect an average card to have a rating of 2.0 or 2.5. These are the bread-and-butter type cards in draft. The majority of your deck will (hopefully) be between 2.0 and 3.0. If you’re playing any cards at 1.5 or below, you’re not feeling too great about it, usually. That’s not to say you should never play 1.5s. Sometimes you just have to fill in that last slot, or sometimes you’ve really gotten there on whatever synergy the card is asking for, or sometimes you just really need something to do before turn 4.

Ratings of 4.5 and 5.0 are generally reserved for absurd bombs like Mystic Ascendant or Ijin, Imperial Armorer. Cards of lower rarities should never be 4.5s or 5.0s because that would create a very skewed draft format toward whatever faction held that 5.0 uncommon. Indeed, no common or uncommon holds a rating higher than 4.0 in the RNGEternal spreadsheet.

The first thing I did was to hack and slash that wonderful spreadsheet, cutting out all the rares and legendaries. These just don’t make a huge difference to the health of a draft format because they show up so infrequently.

I then sorted the cards by set and faction. I plotted the number of cards at each rating, for each faction, at both common and uncommon. Multifaction cards are grouped all together in the plots, but I consider each faction pair individually in my further analysis, which includes variance and total strength of individual factions in an average pack of each set.

The Ideal Format

What does an ideal spread of ratings look like for a draft format? Or, rather, what spread do we expect a good draft format to produce? For commons, this is a fairly simple question to answer, since we expect most of them to be between 1.5 and 2.5, with a few above and a few below. Commons should almost never be 4.0s, and only a few per set should even go to 3.5 because we don’t want them to overshadow uncommons in terms of power level, and we don’t want too many of a single, powerful card showing up to warp the format. We also don’t want too many low on the scale, since having too many bad cards showing up frequently will lead to people failing to scrape together playable decks at too high a rate. A regular bell-curve type distribution entered at 2.0  is probably the “ideal,” but it obviously isn’t the only criteria for a good format.

At uncommon, things are a little less clear. The high-value uncommons should obviously be higher on the rating scale than the best commons. But the uncommon rarity also tends to introduce more complex, “out there” cards, as well as more build-around type cards. If you’re drafting competitively, and not just for the memes, you probably want to shun all-in build-around strategies because they’re inconsistent. The “out there” cards tend to be over-costed because the developers don’t want them accidentally breaking the format. Thus, at uncommon, you not only tend to have more 3.5s and 4.0s, but you also have more unplayable cards at 1.0 and below. So, we expect more of a double-peaked distribution, with maxima near 3.5 and 1.0.

I haven’t analyzed rares and legendaries here (perhaps later), but I would expect those distributions to be even more skewed.

Set 1 – The Empty Throne

I thought Set 1 draft was a great format. I always felt like I could draft whichever supported faction pair was open, and I never really felt as if one was better than the other. Combrei did get the one single 4.0-rated common in Awakened Student, but Student never felt completely oppressive, thanks to a variety of efficient answers. Playable count was rarely a problem, unless I really waffled on my factions deep into pack 2. Do the numbers bear out that assessment?

Set 1 starts us off strong. The average value of a common is 1.996, which is pretty much spot on in terms of what we’d expect. The distribution is somewhat skewed, with a large spike at 3.0, meaning there are more premium commons, but also more fringe playables, and fewer average commons. Fire appears to be weaker than the rest, with a wide spread in power level, while Primal seems to be the most evenly-distributed. Now let’s have a look at the uncommons.

Once again, Set 1 has an absolutely beautiful distribution, with the expected peaks at 3.5 and 1.0. The average uncommon rating was 2.31, a reasonable amount higher than the commons. The factions appear to be fairly balanced, with the exception of Primal, which has fewer weak cards overall, and thus will have a higher average.

Let’s look at some more detailed numbers. The table below shows both the averages and standard deviation of the commons and uncommons, along with the expected average rating of a card in that faction that you’ll see in a pack. For those who aren’t familiar with statistics, the standard deviation is a measure of the variance in a set of data. Larger standard deviations mean that the data is more spread out; smaller standard deviations mean that the data is more clustered.

FactionAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Fire1.751.132.320.97
Time1.951.112.111.36
Justice1.880.922.091.14
Primal2.030.902.611.16
Shadow1.901.002.331.09
Multi-Faction2.400.742.601.01
Neutral2.391.021.33--

 

These numbers show that Fire has the weakest commons, while Primal has the strongest by a margin of 0.08. Worth noting is the larger standard deviation of the Fire commons, where we have a couple of really premium options like Torch, along with a lot of really bad ones like Ruin.

Primal also wins at uncommon, by quite a large margin. Looking back at the distribution once more, this isn’t due to any excessively powerful uncommons. Rather, Primal just has fewer unplayable ones. As long as these uncommons aren’t oppressive–and they aren’t–having a high average score at uncommon won’t break the format.

Of course, multi-faction cards have a large impact on how strong or weak single factions are as well. For the following table, I’ve assumed that we know we are drafting each two-faction pair. With that in mind, I combine the cards from both of the factions in that pair, along with the relevant multi-faction cards to compute what kind of power level we’re likely to see, depending on our faction pair.

Faction PairAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Combrei1.951.062.171.27
Elysian2.011.082.421.22
Rakano1.861.072.201.03
Stonescar1.851.142.311.05
Feln2.001.072.511.11
Praxis1.851.182.221.19
Hooru1.951.002.351.13
Argenport1.891.012.211.14
Skycrag1.891.182.471.16
Xenan1.931.092.211.26

 

These numbers bear out my experience with the format. The spread in all factions is only 0.16 at common and 0.34 at uncommon. Even the pairs that weren’t directly supported, receiving no multi-faction cards, are decently strong. The median lies at 1.91 at common and 2.27 at uncommon. Keep these numbers in mind as we compare the other sets to Set 1.

Set 2 – Omens of the Past

I enjoyed Omens draft, but I didn’t find it quite as balanced as Set 1. I almost never drafted Praxis. I did draft Skycrag sometimes, but I never had much success with it. Usually I stuck with Argenport, Xenan, or Hooru. The format was much lower-power than Set 1, both in terms of the raw power of each card, and because Set 2 rendered moot the powerful multi-faction cards found in Set 1. There were far more payoffs for drafting a critical mass of cards from a Set 2 faction, as well as a higher density of multi-faction cards at Common, so you usually found yourself heavily committed to one of the Set 2 faction pairs. This reduced the value of the multi-faction cards from Set 1, because you would often have to splash if you wanted to play them, and things like Awakened Student have much less impact when you can’t consistently land them on turn 2.

The ratings here for Set 2 have been taken in the context of Set 3, so many of the synergistic cards have been lowered in value from where they once were. These numbers aren’t reflective of the health of the Set 2 format, only Set 3. Let’s have a look…

The average rating for commons is 1.88, which is significantly below that of Set 1. This distribution is also less pretty than that of Set 1. Not only is it misshapen, but the factions are also poorly spread.  Primal, Shadow, and Fire, have zero mono-faction commons that rated at 2.5. Shadow only has two commons above that; the rest are below-average cards. Time’s biggest concentrations are at 3.0 and 1.0. Fire has nearly as many cards at 0.5 or 0.0 as it does everywhere else combined. Justice is the only faction with a nearly-even distribution between 1.0 and 3.0.

The average uncommon rating is 1.92, which is well below Set 1. The distribution looks a little more like the two-peak distribution we’d expect. The higher peak is down at 3 instead of 3.5. Once again, Fire is in the doghouse, with only three uncommons at 1.5 or better.

FactionAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Fire1.461.191.130.58
Time1.821.172.291.09
Justice2.040.642.131.04
Primal1.860.911.421.15
Shadow1.460.901.421.11
Multi-Faction2.130.932.650.98
Neutral3.000.00----

 

Yowza. Justice is top dog at common by a long shot, with Time and Primal being tier two. Fire and Shadow are both atrocious. Remember how I mentioned that you’re really unhappy to be playing 1.5s and below? Well, the average Fire and Shadow common is nigh-unplayable. Same goes for Primal and Shadow uncommons. Shadow and Fire are complete and utter trash. Primal has decent commons, but very little punch at the uncommon slot.  Time does pretty well, with decent commons and the strongest uncommons. Justice is the clear winner, however, with above-average commons and the second-strongest uncommons. When it comes to drafting, strength at common is often the most important thing at determining which faction is dominant, and Justice runs away with it here.

Not only does Justice have the strongest average, but it also has a very small standard deviation. This means that the ratings are tightly clustered around the average of 2.04, resulting in fewer stone-unplayable cards. When you see a Justice card, most of the time it will be a 1.5 or above, meaning that, at the end of the draft, if you’re in Justice, you’re simply more likely to have more playables than a player who isn’t Justice. Somehow Fire’s average uncommon is 30% weaker than its average common .

The average multi-faction card is much stronger than the mono-faction cards (as they should be). Are they strong enough to pick up the slack in the other factions?

FactionAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Combrei1.930.992.211.07
Elysian1.841.051.851.19
Rakano1.751.001.630.98
Stonescar1.461.071.270.92
Feln1.660.961.421.13
Praxis1.731.181.661.13
Hooru1.950.781.961.16
Argenport1.810.882.001.22
Skycrag1.771.161.361.01
Xenan1.631.122.041.21

 

The short answer is no. The Fire and Shadow factions place much lower than the factions that contain neither. Argenport and Rakano are somewhat carried by their Justice half, as Xenan and Praxis are somewhat carried by Time. The latter two are hampered by the fact that they have weak multi-faction options. Praxis’s were never too good to begin with, with such hits as Brilliant Discovery and Sandglass Sentinel. Xenan’s multi-faction cards used to be fantastic, but the complete lack of lifegain support in Set 3 has knocked them down several pegs.

The median rating is 1.76 at common and 1.76 again at uncommon. This is well below the median power level of the factions in Set 1, particularly at uncommon.

Set 3 – The Dusk Road

Much maligned for relying too much on synergies that don’t come together, Dusk Road has been the primary target of the nerfs. Certainly, Justice is by far my most drafted faction, followed by Shadow and then Fire (usually because of Whirling Duo).

Set 3 has a pretty reasonably-shaped distribution. The only problem is that it peaks a little too far to the right. The average rating for a common is 1.87, on par with Set 2’s low rating. Set 3’s distribution is better-shaped, but it really lacks premium commons. Set 2, which is of a similar size, had 28 commons at 3.0 or above. Set 3 has only 12, none of which are in Primal.

Uncommon is quite a bit different from the previous two sets. The distribution is pretty much flat between 1.0 and 3.0, which isn’t really what we want from our uncommons. There are about a third fewer cards at 3.5+ when compared to Set 2, which itself was considerably weaker than Set 1. Furthermore, two-thirds of those powerful uncommons are multi-faction, compared to about 40% in Set 2. That makes it even more unlikely that you will be able to first-pick a desirable uncommon out of your Set 3 pack, since taking multi-faction cards first overall is a major risk that is usually best avoided in favor of a slightly weaker, but mono-faction card.

Speaking of mono-faction cards, let’s have a look at some numbers.

FactionAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Fire1.940.752.080.78
Time1.880.821.961.15
Justice2.190.771.570.84
Primal1.560.752.000.84
Shdow1.780.711.810.90
Multi-Faction----3.100.80
Neutral----1.0--

 

How do the faction pairs stack up? Justice is once again the clear winner at common, but it’s much weaker at uncommon. Fire is somewhat redeemed here, boasting strong averages at both common and uncommon. Time is a clear third, followed by Shadow, and then by Primal. Though Primal has relatively strong uncommons, it’s so much weaker at common than the other factions that you won’t often see Primal cards that keep you invested, even if you do first pick a solid card.

Faction PairAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Combrei2.030.831.841.09
Elysian1.720.852.001.01
Rakano2.060.791.880.89
Stonescar1.860.742.000.85
Feln1.670.781.940.86
Praxis1.900.792.000.97
Hooru1.880.821.790.87
Argenport1.980.801.770.93
Skycrag1.750.892.200.97
Xenan1.830.781.941.03

 

At common, Justice takes four of the top five. That’s it, case closed, Justice is OP!

Is it, though? Look at the actual scores. Only Rakano and Combrei exceed the 2.0 threshold, and not by too big a margin. Several factions, most notably those containing Primal, are well below 2.0.

At uncommon, the Justice pairs are actually the lowest. Primal factions get a bit of a bump here, but because of the inconsistency of seeing any given uncommon, it’s not enough to help them overcome their major deficit at common. The power level of the uncommons as a whole is much weaker than that of Set 1.

The median ratings are 1.87 at common and 1.94 at uncommon. The common power level is close to that of Set 1, but uncommon is still well below the bar.

Bringing it All Together

In order to get a clear picture of how this all shakes out, let’s look at each set’s average scores side-by-side, starting at common. Since we get two packs of Set 3, I’ve included a weighted average that counts Set 3 twice.

FactionSet 1Set 2 Set 3Weighted Avg.
Fire1.751.461.941.77
Time1.951.821.881.88
Justice1.882.042.192.08
Primal2.031.861.561.75
Shadow1.901.461.781.73

 

In Sets 2 and 3, which make up 3/4 of the draft, Justice is the strongest faction, but it isn’t exceeding the 2.0 mark by that much. The more glaring departure is in how low some of the other factions are. Particularly in Set 2: Fire and Primal miss the 2.0 mark by 0.54! That is a massive margin. In Set 3, Primal misses by 0.44, and Shadow by 0.22. Both of those margins are greater than the margin that Justice is exceeding 2.0.

Can the multi-faction cards make up these deficits?

FactionSet 1Set 2Set 3Weighted Avg.
Combrei1.951.932.031.99
Elysian2.011.841.711.82
Rakano1.861.752.061.93
Stonescar1.851.461.861.76
Feln2.001.661.671.75
Praxis1.851.731.911.85
Hooru1.951.951.881.92
Argenport1.891.811.981.92
Skycrag1.891.771.751.79
Xenan1.931.631.831.81

 

This reveals what I believe to be the crux of the problem. The Justice pairs are the only ones that don’t have major drop-offs at common after Set 1. Heck, Set 2 is supposed to be THE set for Praxis, Skycrag, and Xenan, while Set 1 isn’t supposed to support those combinations. Yet, the average scores at common for those three factions take a major dip in Set 2.

Set 3, on the surface, seems as if it is supposed to support all factions. However, in my experience, Hooru, Feln, and Xenan lack any sort of identity in Set 3. Hooru seems to want to be “things with two battle skills,” but all of the payoffs are at uncommon or higher, and the cards aren’t playable on their own if you don’t get there (a 1-cost 1/1 and a 4-cost 1/5, for example).  Xenan is…I don’t even know. Dinosaurs? Nightfall? Dinos in the Dark? Feln wants to be the Unseen curse deck, but none of the payoffs are worth playing some of the terrible curses in the set. As a result, the Primal factions, Feln in particular, wind up with a major deficit in Set 3. Elysian’s score is higher in Set 2, a set which did not support that combination at all.

Remember the median scores from Set 1? At common, the median faction pair score was 1.91. Only the Justice faction pairs meet that threshold, and only Combrei really exceeds it by a decent margin.

Every non-Justice pair falls short of the mark. Praxis gets the closest, but Xenan, Skycrag, Feln, and Stonescar all miss by a larger margin than Combrei exceeds.

At uncommon, Justice is actually one of the weakest factions. However, the overall power level is quite a bit lower than we might like:

FactionSet 1Set 2 Set 3Weighted Avg.
Fire2.311.132.081.90
Time2.112.291.962.08
Justice2.092.131.571.84
Primal2.611.422.002.01
Shadow2.331.421.811.84
FactionSet 1 Set 2Set 3Weighted Avg.
Combrei2.172.211.842.01
Elysian2.421.852.002.06
Rakano2.201.631.881.90
Stonescar2.311.272.001.90
Feln2.511.421.941.95
Praxis2.221.662.001.97
Hooru2.351.961.791.97
Argenport2.212.001.771.94
Skycrag2.471.362.202.06
Xenan2.212.041.942.03

 

The median average sits at 1.97. This means that the average uncommon across the three sets is weaker than the average common should be. Time has the best uncommons at 2.08…but that is the same average as Justice gets at common! Of course Justice is going to dominate the format when its commons are just as good as the top uncommons of all factions. Again, though, this is a symptom of non-Justice factions being too weak rather than Justice itself being too strong.

Conclusions

While Justice is clearly the strongest single faction across the draft format, this analysis does not find that it is excessively strong. Rather, it finds that other factions are excessively weak, particularly at uncommon. Nerfing Justice cards will bring balance to the factions, but it will not create a more fun drafting environment. Consider two matchups, one where both players have a deck which averages a 3.0, and one where both players have a deck which averages a 1.8. In the first match, both players get to do powerful, exciting things. Even if you lose, you say to yourself, my deck was great, but my opponent’s was better. What a game! If you win, you say to yourself, awesome! I beat my opponent even though they had a really good deck!

Now consider the other case. Even if you win, you are left with the feeling that you got lucky that your dumpster fire burned a little hotter than your opponent’s dumpster fire. And if you lose, you’re left with the feeling that your deck is complete trash and you suck at drafting. Your opponent’s deck was terrible, but it still beat you.

Is that the kind of experience we want to have, especially for new players? I consider myself a skilled drafter, able to read signals and have the discipline to switch gears and abandon my first picks, and I still find myself scrambling to put together an actual deck quite often. I’ve played some real stinkers as my last few cards. It must be even worse for those who aren’t as serious about drafting.

From a design standpoint, it actually makes sense to overshoot the power level a little bit. Rather than 2.0, aim for, say, 2.2. High enough that players can build consistent, fun decks without crossing their fingers and hoping they get to 28 actual playable cards.  As long as the various factions stay balanced, that is a fine place to be. New players won’t find themselves playing complete garbage cards, and skilled drafters will be able to really put together some sweet decks.

With that in mind, Justice is fine where it is. What we need is to elevate the other factions to that level, not lower Justice to theirs. The few buffs we’ve received thus far are a good start. We need more of that. In particular, Primal, Fire, and Shadow all need significant help in Sets 2 and 3.

At the end of the day, these numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story. After all, you need to consider power curves and synergies as well. There will be times when you take a 2.5-rated 2-drop over the 4.0-rated Pillar of Amar because you already have a few 6+ drops and really need a cheap play. Plus, it doesn’t matter if a faction is stacked with 3.5-level commons if those commons all cost 6+ power, as you won’t be able to play too many, even if you can draft them. I’ll be taking a deeper look into those things with my next little project.

Until then, for all the complaining I’ve been doing here, I’ll be drafting because that’s still the best thing to do in any card game, even if I believe the format could be improved.

 

Eternal Weekly Draft Report – Piles and Piles

At the end of last week, I was two wins away from Master. I began the week drafting Elysian, splashing Shadow for a few removal spells. Unfortunately, I forgot once again to grab a screenshot of the deck. I thought it was a powerful deck, good enough to carry me those two wins. Sadly, I got power-screwed a couple times and finished a frustrating 2-3 to start the week, leaving me now three wins from Master.

I then drafted this beauty:

Draft 2: Argenport Arcanists

Spoiler for uess my record...

7-2

 

 

I mentioned last week that the nerf to Valkyrie Arcanist might make it so that you can’t just draft a pile of them and expect to win. Turns out I was wrong.

I opened on a pair Spiritblade Stalkers and an Entrapment. Classic Justice stuff, right where I want to be, even after the nerf. Inquisitor’s Halberd followed, which pushed me into Argenport. My first Arcanist came next, then Challenge by Law. That’s a rare I’ve never played before, but hard removal is never stone unplayable in limited.

Omens of the Past was as mediocre as it usually is, giving me only 4 playable cards.  The Empty Throne was much kinder, stuffing my deck full of Lethrai Rangers and ways to get them through. The second Dusk Road pack was where things got really juicy. I picked up 2 Arcanists, Entrapment, Tandem Watchwing, Affliction, and Copperhall Marshal.

I got off to the 3-0 start I needed, which means…

Wait, did I say I was three wins away? Sorry, I meant four. ahfjagajkhgbdj

Okay, deep breaths, everything’s fine. My deck is great. I’m just going to keep playing well, and I’ll get the Master rank I deserve.

Or my opponent will get stuck on 2 power when I have a Lethrai Ranger. Whew.

I finished out this draft and climbed through Master to about rank 60. Crownwatch Press-Gang was a little suspect in the deck with only two 1-drops, but I had enough evasion that tutoring for a Minotaur Oathkeeper was a solid play. Challenge by Law proved to be playable, if not amazing. Usually the thing you want to silence is also the thing you want to kill anyway, but there were a few times I used it to kill a big ground-pounder and clear the skies for my valkyries to get there.

Arcanist might cost 6 mana now, but she’s still as annoying as ever for the opponent to deal with. And because I had so many flyers, the opponent was often in a Catch-22 position when it came to dealing with her.

Draft 3: Xenan Dredger

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-3

 

 

Riding high off my fresh Master ranking, I started off on Stonescar Sneak. I love this guy. He gives you an incredible amount of late-game inevitability for a very small cost. I followed up with some Vainglory Patrols and random gunslingers, flirting with justice along the way. When I opened Memory Dredger in pack 2, I felt really good. Pack 3 blessed me with Plague, followed by Execute. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Pack 4 was the worst pack I could possibly imagine. I first-picked Vainglory Patrol over nothing else. My second pack had zero shadow cards and no playable time ones. Other than a second, very late Vainglory Patrol, I picked up nothing but extremely mediocre junk like Duskcaller and more Baying Serasaurs than I could ever want. Serasaur is fine when you’ve got some dino synergies to go with it, but I didn’t have any of that. I wound up having to play Subvert as my last card, but I probably should have just played 18 power (since that’s all Subvert ever hits: power).

Still, I started off 2-0, peaking at rank 38. Memory Dredger was fantastic, returning all my random 2s that I traded off. Unfortunately, 2 was where the winning stopped, as I started running into players with actual synergistic decks instead of leaning on bombs.

Draft 4: Breaking Safe Return

 

Spoiler for uess my record...

5-3

 

 

After that disappointing finish, I dropped back below 100. I opened a rather unexciting pack, with some middle-of-the-road playables and a Crest of Wisdom. I took the Crest, staying open. You might notice that the Crest isn’t in the final deck, and you’d be right. I must have completely overlooked it in deckbuilding, and then totally forgot I drafted it until I looked at my notes to do this writeup. Whoops. On the bright side, I don’t think I ever flooded out, so it would have probably been only a marginal upgrade.

I second-picked Extinguish, then followed up with a Trail Maker over Vainglory Patrol. Took Nocturnal Creeper third out of a very weak pack. Auric Record Keeper came fourth, which is a card that goes later than a 3-power 4/4 with upside should go because Combrei isn’t really a supported tribal archetype. Not much else playable came out of this pack. I took a few mediocre fire cards over nothing, but I wasn’t feeling too good.

I opened a foil Crownwatch Press-Gang and a Noble Firemane as the only two notable cards in pack 2. I didn’t feel like fire was really open, so I went with the money draft/higher upside of the foil Press-Gang, even though I didn’t yet have any 1-drops. I took Streetwise Informant over not much, and it began to look like I was going fully three-color in this one. Sleepless Night came third, again over nothing. Highbranch Sentry (aka a vanilla 3/3) followed. 6th pick, I moneydrafted a Champion of Fury because there were, yet again, no playables.

Glad to be out of that horror show and back to real cards, I first-picked a Clockroach over Rapid Shot and a Lethrai Ranger. I really didn’t want to be committed to shadow if I didn’t have to be. Unfortunately, I had to take an Amethyst Acolyte second, but I got back on track with Vanquish and a pair of Towering Terrazons. Then I picked up an Awakened Student sandwiched by Safe Returns.

I still wasn’t thrilled, but it began to look like there was a decent Combrei-splash-shadow deck lining up. I took a pick-1 Duskwalker in pack 3, not ideal but not unplayable either. Frenzied Omnivore came next, followed by two Frontier Confessors.

So that’s how I ended up with this pile. Safe Return was definitely the MVP. Resetting the killer on Frenzied Omnivore won me several matches, as well as protecting a swole Awakened Student from their one way to deal with it.

It also did a fantastic job of resetting Frontier Confessors. At 4-1, I ran into a Praxis Sentinel deck with not one, not two, but three Monolith Guardians. I combined Frontier Confessor and both Safe Returns to silence two of them and a Seasoned Spelunker. I dealt with the third by trading a Nocturnal Creeper for it.

Sleepless Night was actually pretty good for me. I had enough Nightfall that I was hitting all my power drops. If it looked uncastable, I discarded it to Frenzied Omnivore. It directly won me two games where we had exchanged resources and then I got to draw 8 cards.

Unfortunately, I went from 5-1 to 5-3. My last-round opponent comboed off with Sureshot to kill me just before they were about to die. Curse you, Ornamental Daggers!

Final Tally: 16-11 (48-28 overall).

Not the best week, but not the worst either. It was good enough to get me to Master, where I’m currently hanging around in the 60s. I’ll probably do a few more drafts before the reset, but my time may be devoted to Magic for a bit, starting on Wednesday with the return of Cuuuuuuuuuube!

Card of the Week goes to Safe Return. Despite being fairly mediocre in previous formats because it’s such a negative tempo card that doesn’t generate card advantage on its own, the Dusk Road draft format is a lot slower than previous formats. When both players are struggling to assemble synergies, setting yourself back on mana to protect a big threat or generate card advantage isn’t so punishing.

Soapbox time: Set 2 should get the hell out of my draft format. I mentioned this last week, but I feel like going into more detail this time. It was already a fairly low-power set compared to Set 1, but Dusk Road rendered half of the already-scant playables useless. Lifeforce and Mentor synergy cards are garbage now, because you can’t draft enough of the pieces around them. Sure, some of the cards like Roosting Owl, Sparring Partner, Minotaur Oathkeeper, and weapons are just sold cards overall, but stuff like Voyaging Lumen is just a vanilla 5/5 for 6 most of the time. You can’t go deep on Bloodcall Invocations anymore because there aren’t enough lifegain cards to make it consistent. Many of the Xenan commons, in particular, were devoted to the Lifeforce deck, which can’t really exist in the Dusk Road format. There’s one repeatable lifegain effect in the Xenan factions in Dusk Road, and it’s a 1-cost relic that won’t do anything if you don’t have one or two of your payoffs.

A lot of the playable-but-mediocre cards lack the right tribes. Nobody wants Unseen or Elementals or Minotaurs or Mystics or Radiants or Centaurs or Warriors or Soldiers or Mages, all of which appear on multiple commons/uncommons in Omens. Omens has some nice Hooru cards…except that Hooru isn’t really supported in Dusk Road, so you’re unlikely to be prepared to take advantage of things like Aerialist Trainer or Shelterwing Rider with their demanding influence requirements.

What about Skycrag, though? That was a supported faction in Omens, and we’ve got Yeti tribal in Dusk Road! One problem…Skycrag in Omens has exactly 4 Yetis, one of them rare. None of them are real payoffs for being the Yeti deck. Sure, you can pick up some Mortars if you’re lucky enough to have them opened in your pod, but you’re not going to get much tribal help here. Fire doesn’t even have a single yeti.

Praxis in Dusk Road wants you to have Sentinels and Explorers and Relics.  Praxis in Omens has…three explorers at common, but only one is really a card worth playing unless you have serious payoffs. In my opinion, Praxis is the biggest offender because some of these cards could easily have been explorers. Excavation Assistant barely has a reason to exist as-is. Couldn’t we at least have made it into an explorer instead of a machine? It has three mages at common or uncommon. Two of the lifeforce cards are a cultist and a mystic, but could we not have found a way to make them flavorfully explorers? I’m not saying these should all have been explorers, but it would be nice to have a least a few of them. Amber Ring is the best card for the Sentinel deck here, but it’s uncommon and you may not ever even see one. Fire in Omens is straight-up worthless for the Praxis deck. Not a single explorer OR sentinel OR playable relic.

Argenport does a little better. Even though its multicolor common, Auric Bully, fails the tribe test, it’s a very playable 2-drop that synergizes with a universal mechanic, weapons. Shadow is not very deep because of the aforementioned lifeforce problem. Justice has a million playable units, but so many are soldiers or minotaurs or unseen that it’s tough to make synergies come together. There are a few valkyries, and one random gunslinger (why just one???) at uncommon in Minotaur Duelist.  Stonepoweder Alchemist is also a gunslinger, but requires a full Argenport commitment. Argenport gets by because it has decent weapons and pump spells that are always decent things to have in draft, not because it’s actually at all synergistic with Dusk Road themes.

Another thing to note is the density of Justice cards that remain playable out of Omens. The recent balance changes have been aimed at taking Justice down a peg, and rightly so. In my opinion, this is because Justice has so many generically-playable cards out of Omens of the Past. When other decks are drafting effectively three packs and Justice is drafting four, of course it’s going to be dominant. Instead of fixing the cross-set synergies, they’ve just nerfed Justice cards twice. Honestly? I still think Justice is the best faction because you’re just less likely to draw blanks in one-fourth of your draft.

So, of all the faction pairs that Omens of the Past was created to support, none of them have any cohesion with Dusk Road themes whatsoever.  And of course, if you’re in one of the other five faction pairs, you can’t take advantage of any of the multicolor cards in Omens, which are where a large amount of the power lies. Note that my analysis hasn’t considered rares or legendaries. They don’t show up often enough to matter in the overall draft environment. Empty Throne doesn’t help out as much with the synergies

I feel like, outside of bomb rares, pack 2 has added little, if anything to my deck in any of the Dusk Road drafts I’ve done. Why is it here? What’s wrong with 3-1-3-1? If you’re concerned about new players building their collections, bump the Omens of the Past drop rate from gold chests. Pay out 2:1 Omens:Empty Throne. Or, instead of just tweaking things in Dusk Road, buff some of the unplayable commons in Omens.

 

 

 

Magic Weekly Draft Report – Hello and Goodbye, RIX

After playing some more of this format, I can say it’s definitely better than triple-Ixalan, but certainly nothing special. I did three more drafts this week, and those may be my last, since Legacy Cube returns on Wednesday. There aren’t many formats that could convince me to draft them over Cube of any kind. I would have liked to get deeper into this format, but missing the first few weeks, combined with the early return of Cube means I’ll probably be bidding it goodbye.

Draft 1: RG Dinos

Spoiler for uess my record...

1-2

 

 

The week didn’t start off very well for me. In my first draft, I opened a pack where Crested Herdcaller was the clear first pick.  Pick 2, I was passed Raging Regisaur, another clear best card in the pack. I got a 6th-pick Hunt the Weak, along with some mediocre cards for the dinosaur deck. It definitely felt like RG was open.

Pack 2, Pick 1 was a pretty miserable selection. I took Path of Discovery over Goblin Trailblazer and Jungleborn Pioneer, figuring that it had a higher upside. In hindsight, I wish I had just taken the Trailblazer. Pick 2 was similarly awful, as I had to second pick a Knight of the Stampede over nothing else playable. Green was still open, as my third and fourth picks were Thrashing Brontodon and Hunt the Weak, and I even snagged a seventh-pick Reckless Rage.

Pack 3, Pick 1, I was right back in the Pit of Misery, as I had to take Fathom Fleet Firebrand. Certainly a good card, but not one I wanted to first pick. I followed up with Raptor Hatchling and Verdant Sun's Avatar, and a fifth-pick Thrash of Raptors. I also wheeled a Thrash of Raptors 11th pick.

The RG Dino theme was open, but perhaps this just wasn’t the draft for it. I got some really nice late removal spells in both red and green, yet some packs were just complete blanks for me. I whiffed on 2-drops pretty hard. Sun-Collared Raptor was atrocious. I thought, you know, I’m going a little bigger with this deck, and maybe I’ll have some free mana floating around…

Nope. It’s not like I really had a choice in playing them, since you can’t just play three 2-drops in this format. But I had some hope, at least, that they might do something. The only things they did in any of my matches were chump block and look embarrassing.

This wasn’t a very good Path of Discovery deck. It probably should have just been Storm Fleet Pyromancer, which got sided in a lot against flying pirates, or a maindecked Dual Shot. There were just too many 4s in the deck.

Round 1, I ran into Champion of Dusk, which is an absurd card, especially when paired with Legion Conquistadors and Forerunner of the Legion. I was put into a Catch-22 where I either had to trade cards like Thrashing Brontadon and Knight of the Stampede for a single Conquistador each or let my opponent draw infinite cards. But even if I do trade, now I’m down several creatures, and my opponent still draws 3 off Champion.

Though I finished 1-2, I felt like I could have won the final match if I had ever drawn a Hunt the Weak in any of my three games. I died to flyers that I couldn’t quite race, and killing a single one would have swung the games in my favor.

Draft 2: Esper Guardian

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-1

 

 

I wasn’t super high on Golden Guardian after last week, but I opened a pack with nothing else that was overwhelmingly exciting. Baffling End, Skymarcher Aspirant, and Exultant Skymarcher, and Moment of Triumph were all very solid white cards, but I wouldn’t be super happy first-picking any of them. I took Golden Guardian because it was colorless and would let me defer on color choice. Plus, maybe I could build around it better this time.

I picked up Moment of Craving, followed by an interesting rare in Captain's Hook. Not the kind of card that you’d think would go in the Golden Guardian deck, which is inclined toward blocking, but it has the potential to turn every one of your creatures into a 2-for-1. And it even helps your blockers trade up, if that’s what you need to do. The equip cost of 1 is great. I’m not sure how this made it to third, as it’s something I would he happy to slam first-pick.

I followed up with a fourth-pick Impale, but then playables dried up very quickly. I took a Jungle Creeper and some mediocre white cards. I did manage to pick up a Traveler's Amulet and a 12th-pick Evolving Wilds (come on, people, respect the fixing!).

I think I made a mistake in my second pack, pick 1. I took Slaughter the Strong over Recover and Waterknot, both of which were probably better picks. I saw the late white cards as a signal, but I don’t think they were, in hindsight. They were all mediocre, and I perhaps should have just taken Recover, as I was much more committed to black. Waterknot would have been a higher-risk pick, but defensible because Recover might wheel.

Deadeye Brawler was my second pick, and I settled into blue-black. The final deck was very weird, splashing two good, but not really worth splashing, white creatures. I had tons of fixing and two copies of Recover, which made them worthwhile. Ixalan was hot garbage, as usual. I picked up some cheap flying idiots, and that was it.

In round 2, I played one of the most interesting games of limited I’ve played in a while. My opponent also had Golden Guardian, and we got into a dance around trying to kill our own Guardians. My opponent had cast a Hunt the Weak on his Spire Winder, and they eventually ascended to make the Winder a 4/5. They only left up 2 mana, and tried to fight their Winder (which was their only other creature) on my end step. I hit the Winder with Swords to Plowshares Sea Legs, meaning they were unable to flip the Guardian that turn, while I finally flipped mine thanks to Captain’s Hook on a Shipwreck Looter.

They untapped and had the choice to flip their Guardian, but I was at about 10 life, meaning that the Spire Winder was maybe their best way to kill me. Because of Sea Legs making it a 2/5, they would have had to double-fight with the Guardian in order to make sure it died, which would cost them the Winder. Ultimately they declined to fight the Winder, and I was able to menace my way through everything else until they were forced to block with the Winder. They eventually flipped their Guardian, but I was too far ahead with no clock on me.

I don’t honestly remember what I lost to in the finals, and MTGO seems to have deleted all of my match history and recordings with the new patch last Wednesday.

~Quality Programming~

Draft 3: Merfolk

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-1

 

 

Everything went right with this draft. I had my pick of every single Merfolk that came my way, rounding out with cheap things like Siren Reaver and efficient removal. I’m not certain which final build was correct, but the deck felt completely unfair in the first two matches. I won both 2-0, and my opponents were never in any of the games.

Of note, I took the foil Jadelight Ranger over Ghalta, Primal Hunger in pack 1 because MTGGoldfish told me that foil Jadelight was 8.5 tix, but no bots are buying them for more than 3. Had I known that, I probably would have taken Ghalta there.

In round 3, I ran into the mirror, except my opponent had Deeproot Elite on turn 2 both of our first games. I managed to squeak out game 1, but got crushed game 2. Game 3, my opponent didn’t have the Elite, but started out with Mist-Cloaked Herald and River Sneak, following up with Jade Bearers and a Jade Guardian to put me low. I kept a hand with 3 Islands, a Mist-Cloaked Herald, and three Shaper Apprentices. A gamble, yes, but I had five draw steps to hit green mana. On the final turn of the game, my opponent was tapped out, at 9 life, and I had all three Apprentices in play. I was holding Merfolk Mistbinder to steal the game if I found a Forest, but alas, it was not to be.

One question I have is whether it was even correct to play Jadelight Ranger. It’s a great, efficient card, but my deck was so heavily slanted toward blue that I rarely had GG. I only cast the Ranger once. I drew it a few other times, but never had the mana to cast it, not that I needed to when I was tempoing them out with my blue cards. I could have played one more Forest, perhaps, but I felt like I really needed the 11 blue sources with four UU cards at 3 mana.

I ran a 1/1 split on Jadecraft Artisan and Spire Winder because I wasn’t sure which was better for the deck. Spire Winder was the much better performer, and I often wished that I had run the second instead of the Artisan. +2/+2 on an unblockable dork is nice, but repeatable flying beatdowns were almost always better.

Final tally: 5-4 (12-6 in RIX overall)

I’ll end the format on a decent record, though obviously this is a fairly small sample size. If cube wasn’t coming back next week, I’d certainly play more of this format, but it just has too much of Ixalan left in it to be a truly good format. RIX improved significantly upon XLN, but XLN was just too bad for RIX to elevate the format like Hour of Devastation did with Amonkhet.

As for rares, I got to re-evaluate Golden Guardian in the context of a better deck for it. It certainly performed much better in a grindier deck. Captain’s Hook was a stone-cold bomb every time I played it. Verdant Sun’s Avatar is a much better card in this slower format. Jadelight Ranger is a card that is obviously good but didn’t get to shine in my mostly-blue tempo deck.

Bonus Theros Flashback draft: Red-Green 5-drop tribal

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-1

 

 

Theros was a fun format for a few drafts, though it quickly gets stale losing to one big creature that you just can’t remove (Hmm…sounds like another format I know…). My favorite decks to draft were the ones that tried to go around those big dumb creatures. Wavecrash Triton was my most drafted card on MTGO when Theros was around.

With that in mind, I started off on Griptide, Nimbus Naiad, and Lightning Strike. Blue dried up after that. Fortunately, the people in my pod forgot how busted big snakes are in this format.

Nessian Asp is a hell of a card, but so are Anthousa, Setessan Hero and Centaur Battlemaster. I ran into the nuts monoblack devotion deck full of Gray Merchant of Asphodel in round 1, but bounced back to murder opponents with broken 5-drops in rounds 2 and 3. The highlight of the draft was dealing 16 damage to my opponent through two blockers, starting with just a 3/3 Battlemaster. Time to Feedate one blocker (6/6). Ordeal of Purphoros killed another (10/10). Titan's Strength finished things off for a total of 16/14.

 

 

Eternal Weekly Draft Report – And Justice for All

Note: I do not yet have a plugin to link card images like I do for the Magic articles. I’m not sure one exists. If not, I’ll work on writing one.

The Dusk Road has been here for quite a while now. I had a rocky start to the format, but since I finally learned to embrace the Justice life, I’ve had a good deal of success. I usually hover around upper diamond, into master if I have enough time during a given month.

I’ll give more detailed thoughts on the 3-2-1-3 format at the end of the article. I certainly enjoyed sets 1 and 2 more than this, but that won’t stop me from drafting as often as I’m able. It’s just a bit of a shame that they went to all the trouble of designing these cool tribal mechanics, when it’s often correct to ignore them in favor of less greedy, more consistent picks.

The recent minor nerfs to several justice cards have helped bring the format a little more into balance. I think that justice is still top dog, but not by quite the same margin.

Draft 1

Spoiler for uess my record!
6-3

This deck had a few subpar cards in it, but it also had Rooftop Vigilante and two copies of Spiritblade Stalker, which are enough to carry you to six wins, apparently. I didn’t take too many notes on this draft, but I did note that I felt very lucky to get to 6, won a lot of games I probably shouldn’t have.

Draft 2

Spoiler for uess my record!
5-3

This deck felt a a little more solid than the last one, up until that top-end. I went in wanting to draft something other than Rakano or Argenport, but…then I opened Rakano Sheriff and got passed Extinguish and Vainglory Patrol. Midway through pack 1, I thought that justice was not open, and I was right. The deck ended up mostly shadow, but I’m playing some pretty sweet justice cards.

My 6-drops really suck, but you can’t have everything. My early pressure is enough that pretty much any big dumb threat should be good enough.

Sadly, I wound up 5-3 despite feeling quite good about the deck. Inquisitor’s Halberd was a card I had yet to draft, and it was very good in combination with Rooftop Vigilante.

Draft 3

I evidently forgot a screenshot of this one, but I drafted Elysian dinosaurs, splashing some shadow cards. I had a Shimmerpack, but didn’t play it because most of my creatures were at least 3/3s, and it didn’t seem worth playing an 8-drop that might give them +1/+1.

I wound up 3-3 with this one, but the deck felt better than that. My first opponent had the nutso curve of Ageless Mentor into Xenan Obelisk. I did not win that game.

Draft 4

Spoiler for uess my record!
6-3

This draft started off with a first-pick Stonescar Sneak. He was as good as I thought he’d be, turning my stupid little dorks into real threats. This is probably the most aggressive deck I’ve ever drafted. I wish I hadn’t had to play junk like Iceberg Frontrunner. I’d rather have not played the expensive removals either, but at least I had some flood insurance from Scrap Hound, Stonescar Sneak, and Thunderhoof Warrior.

Draft 5

Spoiler for uess my record!
5-3

Stonescar Sneak did right by me last time, so I figured I’d take him out for a nice dinner and murderfest. This one was justice-flavored, and just as solid as the last one. Valkyrie Arcanist definitely still has what it takes. You just can’t draft a pile of 4 of them anymore, which is probably for the best.

 

Draft 6

Spoiler for uess my record!
7-2

Every now and then, after a hundred or a thousand tries, you create a masterpiece. This deck was incredible to play. It had lots of neat little synergies, good faction-fixing, enough removal, tons of mana sinks, and SWORD OF THE SKY KING.

Battlefield Scavenger was an over-performer in this one, several times bringing Valkyrie Denouncer straight into play and drawing me a card. Also gotta give a shoutout to Initiate of the Sands. More than once she bravely ramped me to 7 and then volunteered herself to feed the big dino, who crippled my opponent’s board.

The deck had such fantastic faction-fixing that I was always able to play Auric Record Keeper on turn 2 or 3 if I wanted, and hitting the full SSTTJJ was a piece of cake.

In case you were wondering, yes, Sword of the Sky King is a stone-cold bomb in draft. If you have any sort of blocking ability, you just slowly munch through your opponent’s stuff.

Conclusions

Card of the Week goes to Vainglory Patrol. I want at least 2 of these in any shadow deck. Yeah, they die if you look at ’em funny, but there are lots of good ways to gum up the ground, and 3 flying strength for 4 power is a fantastic rate. If you’re justice and can slap an aegis weapon on them, they’ll carry you all the way.

This week I did six drafts, falling into justice in four and a half of them. I tried not to draft it so much, I really did. But they just keep sending me cheap dudes and weapons, and their door-to-door game is strong. They just want to tell me about their Lord and Savior Rolant, who they say can prevent all the damage I’ll take for all eternity as long as I’m justice.

My final record for the week was 32-17, good enough to put me at something like 85/100 in Diamond. I have a little gold in the bank, so I might try and hit a home run with my next couple drafts, then retire them if they don’t get there. All I need to do is start 2-0 to hit Master for the month.

None of my drafts took too big of an advantage of the new bond or ally mechanics. The only one that did any of that was the Elysian draft where I went a paltry 3-3. I don’t really understand the rationale behind loading up the set with these mechanics that want you to reach a critical mass of certain types of creature, then only having two packs in which to do it.

Furthermore, Set 2 seems even more out of place, as the themes there don’t mix at all with the Set 3 themes. Lifeforce cards are god-awful in the Xenan dinosaur/sentinel tribal deck. All those cute “if this becomes a student” cards in Hooru…don’t have any mentors in any other set.

While Set 1 also doesn’t directly support the tribal mechanics, it at least had more broad, efficient cards that didn’t ask for specific synergies in other cards. Empower cards work just fine in a Set 3-focused deck because they just ask you to play some power. The Elysian theme of “play big dumb creatures and stun your opponent’s blockers” works just fine alongside the dinosaur synergies. The Stonescar theme of generating value on death just requires some combat to happen. Set 1’s themes were accentuated by having, say, Ravenous Thornbeasts to sacrifice your Dark Wisps, but neither of those cards was stone unplayable without the other like so many of the Set 3 cards are. Lots of Set 3 cards are absolute garbage unless you’re lucky enough to see enough cards of that tribe, and it’s not a winning proposition to gamble on it when you could just be taking a medium 3/3 for 3 with minor upside.

3-1-3-1 would have been a much, much better format, in my opinion. Set 2’s power level as a whole is already a lot weaker than Sets 1 and 3, and when you add to that the complete lack of any synergy cards coming together, I think you have a pretty good argument for cutting it from the format completely.

Magic Weekly Draft Report – First RIX Impressions

Introduction

Welcome to my first weekly draft report! Drafting is my favorite thing to do, both in Magic and Eternal, so I wanted to do a weekly roundup of the sweet decks I’ve drafted, along with my impressions of the format.

I got a bit of a late start on this format, on account of being in Antarctica when it was released. I got home a little over a week ago, but I was slow to fire up the draft queues. Ixalan was, shall we say, not my favorite format. Not because I was bad at it; my win-rate in Ixalan was about the same as any recent draft format. I just dislike any format where interaction is so nonexistent. Fast formats don’t bother me, though I am a man who likes to durdle around and cast 7-mana spells. Still, I enjoy fast formats so long as there are good ways to interact. And I do count blocking as interaction.

The last two large-set formats have been very low on interaction, with lots of ways to punish blocking. Amonkhet had exert creatures and lots of tokens, but Ixalan went even deeper. For one, the very playable hexproof common in Jade Guardian was a miserable beating when the opponent stacked auras on it. That alone isn’t enough to break a format, though. If you put that creature in most sets, it would just be a cute deck that could sometimes spike a draft pod.

Ixalan’s problem was that Jade Guardian was just another creature in this set. It almost didn’t matter that it had hexproof. You could stack One With the Wind and Mark of the Vampire on literally anything because there was so little playable interaction that could punish you. All in all, too many games devolved into each player essentially just tossing their hand onto the table and seeing who could count to 20 faster, two ships passing in the night.

Enough about Ixalan, though. Rivals is here to fix everything, right?

Hey guys! I’m so excited to be…why are you all looking at me like that?

…well, at least this one costs five. And, truth be told, in my three drafts, I didn’t run into any all-in Soul of the Rapids decks like I did Jade Guardian deck in triple-XLN. Five is a lot more than four in Magic. What did I play against? Let’s dig in…

Deck 1: Green-White Tetzimoc

Apologies; apparently I didn’t sort this one by curve…

Spoiler for uess my record...
3-0! Thanks, Tetzimoc!

 

It took me a while to finally get into this format, but my patience was rewarded with a Pack 1, Pick 1 Tetzimoc, Primal Death (foil!). Alrighty, draft is on rails now, just draft black and…

Yeah, black got cut hard. After pack 1, I had only Dusk Legion Zealot and a Vampire Revenant to show for black cards. What I did have was a pile of Exultant Skymarchers. When Innistrad flashbacks come back around, you’ll see how much I love me a Chapel Geist, and this one has a very relevant tribe to boot.

I picked up on a few mediocre green cards toward the end of pack 1, including a Plummet that tabled 13th pick or so, which is a sign that nobody around is in green, since it’s a very good sideboard card to pick up on the wheel. Early in pack 2, I picked up Atzocan Seer, along with an Evolving Wilds and a couple dual lands. At this point I was solidly into G/W, with the idea of splashing the Tetzimoc off all my duals. Double-color splashing is ambitious, but the final deck was able to reliably hit BB by turn 6.

After first-picking a Merfolk Branchwalker, getting passed a Sanctum Seeker in pack 3 showed me visions of the vampire deck that could have been. I counted my black cards, desperately looking for that magic number. I took Anointed Deacon and followed up with a pair of Skyblade of the Legion.

Alas, the black was not quite there. I did wind up playing the Deacon because it’s just too strong with my five flying Vamps, and Sanctum Seeker even came in off the bench once because I needed ways to gain life against early pressure. That may have been wrong, but, as you will learn, I am a greed monster.

My first round, I was paired against an aggressive black-red deck that played a turn-4 Vance's Blasting Cannons in game 1. I wasn’t able to apply enough pressure, and I conceded once it flipped rather than fight a hopeless fight, though if there were higher stakes, I would have kept playing for information. I mulliganed game 2 into a curve of Skyblade -> Skymarcher -> Hunt the Weak, which cleaned things up nice and quick. Game 3, Tetzimoc did what Tetzimoc does, which is make your opponent miserable, yet fill them with hope that mayyyyyybe you might just never make it to 6…

I made it to 6.

Round 2, I ran into an aggressive black-white deck that appeared to be splashing blue for a single Siren's Ruse. Maybe there was something else, but that’s all I saw in three games. Game 1, my opponent managed to land a Raiders' Wake that put me at 2. Thanks to a timely Moment of Triumph, I stabilized the board to a point where I could empty my hand and not be dead to any old attack, but eventually they out-topdecked me and were able to get around my blockers for the last 2 points.

This is where I brought in the Sanctum Seeker. Game 2 I didn’t need it, as I had the ol’ Skymarcher into Hunt the Weak curve again, and my opponent graciously helped me out with a Dire Fleet Ravager. A flurry of pump spells finished them off. Once again, Daddy (Mommy?) Tetzimoc made an appearance for the decider. I had a brick wall of Skyblade of the Legion wearing Squire's Devotion, along with some other dorks. I drew Tetzimoc on turn 7 and just hung out tossing prey counters around until I was able to straight Plague Wind them.

My round 3 opponent had a pretty nice blue-green deck full of Merfolk Mistbinders and Silvergill Adepts. Tetzimoc is apparently fond of sashimi and showed up early both games.

So I started out this format riding high with a 3-0. And with a fairly slow deck, by Ixalan standards. I did have a lot of X/3 creatures, which actually let me block things. And Tetzimoc put me (gently) onto his/her very spiky shoulders in several games. So I can’t make any major assessments other than Tetzimoc is bah-roken. But we all knew that already.

Draft 2: Red-White Path of Mettle

Spoiler for uess my record...
2-1.

This draft showcases why we pick removal at a premium and fill in the random creatures later. I started out with two copies of Bombard and a Luminous Bonds. I didn’t consider myself locked into , but nothing else jumped out at me, so I rode the Boros train all the way to the station. Early in pack 2, I picked up the Path of Mettle, which was surprisingly easy to trigger (shoutout to Mogg Not-So-Fantastic, Mr. Fanatical Firebrand). It also has a neat little interaction with Needletooth Raptor (another shoutout to Dr. Firebrand there, too).

At the end of it, I had a pile of bad creatures, combat tricks, and five nice removal spells (plus the Raptor).

As it turns out, nobody knows what the hell Path of Mettle, but I was able to sneak in just enough to put them to 2, and cold to my newly-drawn Frilled Deathspitter. Game 2, I had the nuts Path of Mettle hand, but drew 5 mountains. It was a close game, but eventually I died with a hand full of Pious Interdictions and Path of Mettle. Game 3, my opponent put a One with the Wind onto a Siren Stormtamer and elected to try to race the RW aggro deck. That was not smart. I cleaned it up with an Ascended Storm Fleet Swashbuckler picking up a Sure Strike.

Round 2, my opponent had a siiiiiick merfolk deck. Game 1, I put them to 1 life, then sat and sat and sat and eventually found one of my two remaining Firebrands. Game 2 I got the shame scoop after they attacked their 8/7 Forerunner of the Heralds into my Metzali, Tower of Triumph. Whoopsie.

Round 3 didn’t go as planned. I lost game 1 to Deeproot Waters going off. Game 2, my opponent played a Merfolk Branchwalker that stayed as a 2/1. On my turn 3, I had the option to play Path of Mettle to get the free kill on the Branchwalker or develop my board with Emissary of Sunrise. I went for the more efficient play and got savagely punished. First they played Hadana's Climb, putting one counter on Branchwalker. I untapped, played my Needletooth Raptor, and felt pretty good about things. Next turn I was going to play Path and get the Needletooth trigger to off the Branchwalker before the Climb flipped. And then my opponent got super aggro with One with the Wind on the Branchwalker, leaving 2 mana up. I ate my 6 damage, untapped, and slammed my Path of Mettle. Because of the Path ping, I was safe from one of the two copies Aggressive Urge I’d seen in game 1.

They had Dive Down instead. I took 14 on turn 5 from the 7/6 Branchwalker getting targeted by the flipped Winged Temple of Orazca[.card]. Ow.

2-1 seemed about right for this deck, though I would not have been surprised to go 1-2. The deck had some cool interactions with Needletooth Raptor, and Path of Mettle was easily flippable, but that's just two cards in a deck with zero card drawing effects. Most of my creatures were pretty terrible, and they had no synergy beyond the Raptor stuff. I lost to a deck that was doing powerful, synergistic things, though I did beat my round-2 Merfolk opponent. I did squeak out game 1, then flip my sweet rare and get 'em in game 2. It felt like I easily could/should have lost that match-up, too. Just goes to show that any creature can be a hero when it's backed up by a fistful of removal.

Draft 3: Blue-Green Kinda-Folk? 

[spoiler title="Guess my record..."]2-1.[/spoiler]

This was a weird draft. I once again first-picked a [card]Bombard. I followed up with a Hunt the Weak, then a few green cards, but red was getting cut. I did pick up Golden Guardian around fourth or so. Curious about how the card was, I took it. I got two laaaaaaate copies of Crashing Tide and decided to move in on Merfolk. Never saw a Mistbinder, sadly, but I did pick up Kumena's Awakening, another rare I wanted to try out.

Ixalan was fairly mediocre for me. I picked up a few mediocre playables. Dusk Legion Dreadnought was something I was unsure of playing, but I figured it was a nice combo with Golden Guardian. It’s possible I misbuilt this one and should have been playing River Sneak and Deeproot Waters. I was a little light on 2s, but River Sneak blocks so poorly for a deck that wants to be playing cards like Secrets of the Golden City and Kumena’s Awakening, and Deeproot Waters didn’t seem quite good enough with only 9 Merfolk left in the deck.

I did pick up the HOT HOT COMBO of Induced Amnesia + Release to the Wind, but I did not have the courage to try to assemble that contraption in this particular deck. Maybe if I’d had a way to kill/bounce the Amnesia on the rebound.

Round 1 Game 1, we both stumbled on lands. My opponent was able to back up a Shaper Apprentice and a Spire Winder with enough removal to get there before I got Golden Guardian online. Game 2, my opponent conceded way early at 20 life. Maybe it was a shame concession when they attacked Jade Guardian into my active Gold-Forge Garrison, but they had a Soul of the Rapids that was currently unchecked. I had a Crashing Tide and a Riverwise Augur in hand, so I was probably going to be able to find a way to block that thing and take over with my golems, but I think they definitely were not dead. Game 3, I was able to Ascend a Spire Winder and bounce/pump my way through anything that tried to stop me.

Round 2, I got my comeuppance for my first draft, as Tetzimoc (who clearly does love raw fish) showed up both games. I never had a chance. Substitute Tetzimoc for just about any other card in the set, though, and I think I can win that matchup. I felt like I had the edge in the other 39 cards.

Round 3, I played against a GW dinosaur deck that was playing swamps. I spent the whole time certain that I was going to see the dreaded “Tetzimoc, Primal Death has entered the revealed card zone.” Fortunately, that never happened. I took down game 1 with the ol’ golem factory. Game 2 got a little dicey as the board stalled out. I had an active Kumena’s Awakening and had a hard time finding a flying creature or Golden Guardian. I eventually did find Shaper Apprentice and Spire Winder in time to kill my opponent with 2 cards left in my library.

This deck did feel a little clunky. I was overloaded on 4s. I definitely should have cut the Jadecraft Artisan for a 2- or 3-drop. I did that after sideboarding in most rounds. Orazca Frillback came in off the bench and blocked very well against beefier creatures, and tried valiantly to race my opponent’s Tetzimoc in round 2.

It did feel real nice to play a Riverwise Augur followed by Evolving Wilds. I think good mana fixing is already a high pick, but I will snap up any and all shuffle effects if I have an Augur or two.

Golden Guardian might just be a trap. I misread the card at first, thinking it was 2 mana to activate on the back side. 4 mana means that you often won’t get to do anything else if you make a 4/4. Fantastic in a longer game, obviously, but if you’re getting beaten down by flying creatures, it’s not very useful. If the activation was slightly cheaper, you could both play some sort of kill spell or blocker AND make a golem, and then you’re cooking with gas.

Flipping it will usually cost you not just the 4/4 body, but also another creature, or even two. It’s rare that your opponent will make an attack that lets you flip it unless they think they can race the factory. If you’re in the market for a 4/4 for 4 with Defender, by all means, play it. Or if you have a lot of 5/5s floating around, go for it. But I found it a little clunky in most matchups. Not something I’ll take too highly in the future.

Closing thoughts

7-2 is a solid way to start the format. I drafted a good mix of colors and archetypes. The format definitely felt slower. I can’t imagine playing a card like Secrets of the Golden City or Kumena’s Awakening in triple-Ixalan. I saw a lot of Merfolk decks, and they all looked really, really good when they had a Mistbinder in play. I wasn’t super impressed by any of the other decks I ran into, nor was I that impressed with any of my own. Certainly none had any of the punch that some of the hyper aggressive Ixalan decks had. I think that’s a good thing. When everyone is doing fair things, it allows for more interesting gameplay decisions. Obviously, nine matches isn’t enough to draw massive conclusions about the format, but right now it seems like a massive improvement over triple-Ixalan.

I did get to try out some weird rares this week. Kumena’s Awakening and Path of Mettle impressed. Golden Guardian did not.

Whew, this was longer than I thought. Perhaps fewer details next time, especially if I get up to 5 or 6 drafts next week.

 

 

 

 

 

How I got here…

I wrote the first word of what would become my first finished novel, Designs of a Fox, when I was a junior in high school. Though I had been reading sci-fi/fantasy my whole life, I had just read A Game of Thrones and its (at that point three) sequels for the first time. I’m sure it was in part to the fact that I was an edgy teenager, but it was my first exposure to that kind of storytelling, and it really inspired me to start writing a story of my own. My AP English teacher, to whom my first book is dedicated, gave me more freedom in her class than any teacher I’ve ever had. If I had to credit any one person with enabling and inspiring me to pursue my writing, it would be her. I did poetry explications on Rush songs and did literary analysis on A Storm of Swords; that’s how much freedom she gave me. For my final creative writing project, she just let me turn in the first three chapters of the book I’d spent the whole year telling her I was writing.

The original story looked nothing like it does now, and I don’t know if any of the characters I wrote back then could be considered to be the same people in anything but name, but there was a constant evolution from there to where I am now. I didn’t work much on it for the first few years. It was just a fun little side project.

To be honest, I don’t know why I began to push it harder, but during my junior year of college, I decided to set myself a daily writing quota of 1,000 words. It took quite some time before I was regularly hitting that number, but I finished the first version of the book in about six months of hard writing, once I got the rhythm going.

Then I realized I had to rewrite most of it. In those six months, I had actually vastly exceeded my 1,000-word target. I suddenly had a 250,000-word behemoth of a novel that wasn’t even done yet. I read all kinds of advice online about how your first book shouldn’t be a big one, since publishers aren’t likely to take a chance on an unproven author whose book is going to cost a ton to produce. It was soul-crushing to read that, since I’d poured so much time and effort into this thing, only to find out that nobody would ever want to publish it.

As an aside, that advice was honestly a blessing, since I can confidently say that the original incarnation was an inferior story. Too many disjointed plot lines and characters to go into one story; nobody would have been able to follow it all. I’m much happier with how it turned out after some tender, loving chopping-into-pieces.

So I spent the winter break of my senior year hacking and slashing and basically rewriting the whole damn thing. Back at school, I slowly began filling in the holes, and managed to graduate with an all-but-finished story. Graduate school began. Between teaching my first semester and taking classes, I didn’t have tons of time, but I managed to write the final words that winter. It did wind up being somewhat longer than would be ideal, at 170,000-ish words, but the re-written story is much more focused, the characters more fleshed-out, and the foundations of the world solidly declared.

It’s been six years since then. What the hell have I been doing in that time? Editing here and there, improving some novice mistakes in the writing, and so on. A couple years back, I commissioned a piece of cover art for the bookBut I haven’t really tried to find an agent or a publisher, or anything like that. I did write about 2/3 of what will become another story, Of Courtesans and Crowns, for National Novel Writing Month one year, and I’ve gotten about 20,000 words into the sequel to Designs of a Fox, titled A Wayward Raven, but that’s not much for six years’ time!

Well, I did get a Ph.D. in the meantime. And that did take a lot of both

My incredibly stressful worksite in the Marshall Islands.

time and mental energy. It’s sometimes difficult to transition from the rigorous, logical mindset of doing science to the wild, imaginative moods that it takes to write fantasy. I was learning how to live on my own for the first time. I met my girlfriend and many great friends, adopted two cats and coughlikesixcough aquariums, traveled the world shooting off rockets, and honestly had a great time. I finished my Ph.D. and took a postdoc in Alaska, where I’ve been living for a year and a half now.

But I wasn’t writing. As I mentioned, sometimes I lacked the energy, but that’s a poor excuse for not doing something that brings me a great deal of joy. I’m still not sure why I stopped writing. Perhaps it was a lack of tangible motivation. I didn’t have an agent, didn’t even know if the stories I was writing were any good. The people close to me with whom I shared them always seemed to love them, but of course they would.

I’m a pretty shy person. I’m not the kind of guy who actively shares my work with anyone who will give me the time of day. Not saying that would be a bad thing; in fact, it’s probably a recipe for success! I just struggle with a general anxiety about approaching people, especially for something as personal as sharing this thing I’ve poured my heart and soul into over the past ten years. Naturally there’s a lot of anxiety about rejection, about whether people will hate it. And for someone like me, a quiet, introverted person, that anxiety is magnified.

You know what, though? I’ve got a good job, and solid prospects for my career. I’ll be fine, even if I never sell a single copy of my books. Of course I’d love to be that next hit author, but if that never happens, I’m not going to starve. I shouldn’t have any anxiety at all about sharing my work. Still, it’s hard to shake it.

Which is why I’m here, finally. Putting my thoughts out onto this website not only gives me an outlet, but it also helps to motivate me to keep on writing. It’s my hope that, in addition to promoting myself and my work, this website will help keep me accountable, and thus writing on a regular basis.

So thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more updates! I’ve just returned from my second trip to Antarctica, where I did a considerable amount of writing, so I’ve got some things to talk about!

 

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