Category: Magic

Magic Weekly Draft Report – Requiem for a Cube

Good night, sweet prince. You were always so kind to me. I’ll try to remember you, and I’ll try not to judge your little brother, Masters 25, by your standards.

Oh, who am I kidding? Cube is great. We want more Cube! Down with the tyranny of “real” sets!

This edition of Legacy Cube was particularly kind to me. Coming into this week, I was 20-7, which is a fantastic win-rate on MTGO. I was definitely sad to see it go, but all good things must end. Did I close things out on a high note?

Draft 1: UB Reanimator-Control

Spoiler for uess my record...

1-2 =(

 

This deck had some real quick potential kills off of Entomb, but not a whole lot of interaction. Daze was my only reactive protection for the combo. I did have a reasonable suite of proactive disruption in the form of Inquisition of Kozilek, Collective Brutality, and Vendilion Clique, and Gitaxian Probe at least let me know when the coast was clear. I had to be very aggressive with my combo, though, as I had no way to really win a long game.

Round 1, I had the pleasure of running the ol’ turn-1 no plays line again, and a turn-2 Sundering Titan was able to close, even through my opponent killing it once, as I had the Animate Dead to bring it back. In game 2, I set up to reanimate a Griselbrand via Buried Alive, but my opponent cast Hymn to Tourach, which hit my Exhume, and I couldn’t muster anything quickly enough to come back. Game 3, I hymned them right back. Unfortunately, this hit their reanimator target (which I had not seen in games 1 or 2!) and a Living Death put it away for them.

Round 2, I had Entomb into Reanimate on Griselbrand. My opponent had Cyclonic Rift to delay their demise a bit. But I just drew seven in response, discarded the Griselbrand again on cleanup, and had another reanimation effect on turn 3. Game 2, I whiffed on my turn-3 Inquisition of Kozilek, but that was because they were holding Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and lands. They drew out of it well, but Baleful Strix eventually put Jace down (they never plussed, for some reason…), and I hit Mirari's Wake off of Gonti, Lord of Luxury that let me hard-cast a Griselbrand, which I rode to victory.

Round 3 showed it was just not my draft. My opponent led on Swamp, Swamp. I cast Buried Alive. They cast Animate Dead on my Griselbrand. I conceded.

Game 2, I Entombed into a Reanimated Griselbrand. They conceded.

Game 3, they mulled to 4. I kept a hand with Search for Azcanta, Daze, and Griselbrand. Surely Search will find me gas. I wound up spending Daze on their turn-3 Buried Alive, figuring that the only way I lose to a mull to 4 is if they go off with Griselbrand, and I wasn’t likely to be able to Daze a cheap reanimation spell.

Naturally, I died 3 turns later to a turn-4 Phyrexian Obliterator off the mull to 4, followed up by a Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Sometimes it just ain’t your day.

Draft 2: Boros Raaaaage

Spoiler for uess my record...

3-0!

This was a really interesting draft. My first three picks were Snapcaster Mage, Venser, Shaper Savant, and Underground Sea! I followed up with Mana Confluence, Sword of Fire and Ice, and Spell Queller, picking up Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Geist of Saint Traft and an absurdly late 8th-pick Lightning Bolt later in the pack.

Notice how many of those cards wound up in my deck at the end? Three, if you count Mana Confluence, which I do, since it was basically the deck’s MVP alongside Inspiring Vantage. After pack 1, I thought I would probably wind up some weird UW tempo-style deck, perhaps splashing red. On the wheel, I had gotten, Journey to Nowhere, Reflector Mage, and Seeker of the Way.

I had a notion that red, particularly red aggro, was wide open, on account of that Lightning Bolt going 8th. That meant that nobody else at the table had wanted it. While it was possible that some red aggro player took something like Hellrider or Goblin Guide over it, I think it’s a major sign that red is there if you want it.

Pack 2, I opened on Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which is one of the more powerful cards for the other good aggressive color, white. Some RW duals and a FOURTEENTH-PICK Hellrider later, and I was locked into RW. I don’t like this position, normally. Aggro decks tend to be quite demanding on colored mana requirements, since all of their cards are cheap, and you want to be playing multiple spells on fewer lands. If you’re going to play aggro, it’s usually best to stick to a single color.

This deck’s raw power is insane. It has some of the best 4-drops in the whole cube, plus the lower drops to back them up. This might just be the best deck in the cube, if you have the mana for it. Honestly, I wasn’t too thrilled by that part of things. Yes, I have four duals that help, but one of them is Arid Mesa, which doesn’t actually tap for both red and white without Sacred Foundry or Plateau. Needle Spires is great against control decks, but it enters tapped and won’t help me play my million one-drops. Playing Mutavault was insanely greedy and probably wrong. It probably should have been another colored source, but I am lucky enough that it didn’t punish me.

Round 1, I got paired against a UB player running Ancient Tomb. They did deploy a turn-5 Wurmcoil Engine in the face of my Goblin Rabblemaster, which let them gain 6. Didn’t matter. This party don’t stop. I managed to attack for enough that my Stormbreath Dragon finished the job. Game 2, they had a similar plan, but this time I had Journey to Nowhere to clean up the Wurmcoil with a little less sweat. As a note, I had the option between Banisher Priest and the Journey. Banisher Priest would develop my board more, and it was also a much more efficient use of my mana, particularly my colored mana. However, I was playing against a tapped-out UB opponent. They have very few ways to remove Journey to Nowhere, and a lot more ways to remove a Banisher Priest. If they were able to kill the Priest after I attacked, that would be curtains for me, as the Wurmcoil would come back and get to eat a creature (and gain them 6 life) before I could remove it again. It was much safer (and correct, IMO) to take the tempo hit and play Journey to Nowhere against an opponent about to be at 10 life, who has an Ancient Tomb in play.

Round 2, I played against GB ramp-n-stuff, with a turn-2 Bitterblossom. Unfortunately for them, I had a turn-1 Mother of Runes, which kept my Hellrider from getting blocked to death, and that was all she wrote with Bitterblossom dinging them every turn. Game 2, I had the Arc Trail out of the sideboard to answer their turn-2 Pack Rat, but the follow-up Managorger Hydra ran away with things. Game 3, I curved out with Goblin Rabblemaster, and they conceded before they even let me drop my Hero of Bladehold 🙁

Round 3, I mulled on the draw, but it turns out that Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a Human, which has a bit of trouble blocking Stromkirk Noble, despite my opponent trying several times. They fought back with the flipped Jace finding and recasting a sweeper, but they were too low, and a Needle Spires activation ultimately did them in. Game 2, they again had the turn-2 Jace, looting away Sheoldred, Whispering One and Angel of Serenity, which had me quaking in my boots a little. Evidently they never found a way to reanimate them, as I hit the Jace with a burn spell and ran roughshod over them to the trophy.

Draft 3: UB Control

Spoiler for uess my record...

3-0*

 

Ahh, back to my roots. This draft started off on Consecrated Sphinx, and I never looked back. I had the Gifts Ungiven + Unburial Rites combo, but nothing quite big enough to make it worth playing. My mana wasn’t the best, but Dragonlord Ojutai is a strong enough card that it’s worth splashing, in my opinion. It’s exactly the kind of finisher the control deck wants.

Round 1, I played against Grixis reanimator. I opened on a turn-1 Ancestral Vision. They blew their Force Spike on my Baleful Strix, which allowed me to resolve Phyrexian Arena, which put me ahead on cards. I was looking like I was about to lose when they dumped Griselbrand into the ‘yard, but they targeted Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite with their Dread Return. They were at 16. I was at 9, and they had a 1/3 in play, so they got to attack me down to 6, but…Griselbrand would have buried me in card advantage. As it was, I calmly untapped, smoked the Elesh Norn with my Noxious Gearhulk and took the game.

I must have tilted them, because they straight-up conceded when I resolved a Vendilion Clique on my own end step. They had tapped out to Electrolyze my face. I resolved Clique, took their Izzet Charm and left them stranded with a hand full of bombs and no way to get them into the ‘yard. They scooped after drawing for the turn.

Round 2, my opponent got stuck on lands, but did have the Animate Dead for my Noxious Gearhulk, killing my Gonti, Lord of Luxury. Unfortunately for them, Gonti had dug up a Desecration Demon, which I rode to victory. I love Gonti. Game 2, Gonti hit Dragonlord Silumgar, which stole their Liliana, Death's Majesty, and that was all she wrote. I love Gonti.

Round 3 was a strange one. In the first game, my opponent resolved Sword of Body and Mind. I was not pleased. I did manage to string together enough black removal to not die to it, however, and took game 1. I sideboarded for a blue-white tempo-creature type matchup because that’s what I had seen from them. In game 2, they had Sword of Light and Shadow to go with their other sword. On one critical turn, I tapped low to kill two of their things and promptly got met with an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, which destroyed me. Not what I had expected out of a deck packing a pair of Swords, but hey, sometimes that happens.

Game 3, they ground me down with Sun Titan, forced me once again to tap out, and Ugin’d me. The following turn, they bolted me with Ugin down to 3, made some tokens with Elspeth, Sun's Champion, and I that actually almost gave me an out. I had previously stuck a Liliana Vess. I was able to tutor for Massacre Wurm, cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor, draw the Wurm, and play it. This would deal them 6 damage from their tokens dying, and I had a Gonti that would knock them to 2. Not quite there, and I was at 3. All they had to do was plus Ugin.

I honestly don’t know what happened here. They had a little over 2 minutes on their clock. I activated Liliana to tutor, then put Jace on the stack. I knew I was dead, but I thought hey, might as well play it out.

Jace never resolved. They timed out while he was on the stack. If their internet went out, they picked a hell of a time for it, since all they had to do was F6 and win on their turn. I never got any messages about them disconnecting, and they never said anything about having to leave. I like to think that I bluffed them into thinking I actually had outs, and my convoluted way of drawing said outs put them on such tilt that they walked away. Or something.

In reality, they probably did disconnect, or something important came up. Lucky for me, we live in 2018, and I’m free to make up whatever narrative I want. Anybody who says I lost that match is FAKE NEWS.

Final Tally: 7-2 (27-9 overall!)

So it goes that I end this edition of Cube with a 75% winrate. I can’t recall a format where I’ve done that well. Of course, this is a pretty small sample size in the grand scheme of things, but five trophies in twelve drafts means I’ve got to be doing something right.

What is that something? Well, I really drafted two primary decks: blue-black reanimator and white aggro. While I did score trophies with WR aggro and 4-color control, the majority of my good drafts fell into the other two archetypes. I only drafted green a couple times, and one of those was one of my pair of 1-2 finishes. Green never felt open, to me, except when it was far too late. I never saw Rofellos if I didn’t open it, and the only time I saw Natural Order get passed was the tail end of pack 3. I think people really over-draft green, in part because that’s what you’re supposed to do in cube, right? Take fast mana!

Except I didn’t find it to be that scary. I played against a disproportionate number of green decks, or at least it seemed that way, but they didn’t have the threat density you need, most of the time. I touched on this last week, but I’ll reiterate here.  I think that this shortfall actually happens because we are in Legacy Cube, not Vintage Cube. In Vintage Cube, you probably only have one green drafter at a table, since fast mana is available to everybody.

In Legacy Cube, your fast mana is limited to a single color or a very small set of artifacts like Coalition Relic. And what is every first-time cuber taught? This ain’t your grandma’s draft format! People are gonna be killing you fast! You have to be faster! Take fast mana!

So everyone does. And because it’s Legacy Cube, they all wind up green. They all fight over the big green creature payoffs like Craterhoof Behemoth and Avenger of Zendikar. Then, at the end of the draft, they have a few mediocre mana dorks, but very little in the way of actual threats. If you can deal with the few they can find, they just don’t have the teeth left to beat you.

I also found reactive counterspell-leaning decks to be pretty bad. For one, we’ve got things like Remove Soul instead of better counters like Mana Leak. It feels real bad to be holding a Remove Soul in the face of a Gideon or some other impactful planeswalker. When I play control in this format, I want proactive disruption and tap-out threats. Thoughtseize, Vendilion Clique, Supreme Verdict. Those type of things. I just want to slam planeswalkers and win that way, rather than playing draw-go. I’ve seen cubes where draw-go works, but I generally did not have much success going that route. That’s why Gonti is so high, in my opinion. They block well and provide sometimes insane amounts of value by stealing a large threat from your opponent.

I like having access to some countermagic in my control decks, but I won’t build around it. Forbid is a great one to have, as it lets you turn anything into more counterspells if that’s where you want the game to go. The drawback isn’t as impactful in such high-powered formats, since you have powerful draw engines of your own, and the things you are countering often involve large investments of resources from your opponents as well.

Not that any of that is going to stop me from slamming Cryptic Command every time I see it. Just something to keep in mind for the next time cube rolls around. There will be changes, of course, but the previous state of the format is definitely something to keep in mind when looking at the changes in context!

Next week I’ll dive into some Masters 25. I’ve already done a draft and a half, but I figured I’d save those for next week to make these articles a little more cohesive.

Until next time!

 

 

 

 

Magic Weekly Draft Report – Green is not a Real Color

It’s no secret I love Cube, but I definitely love it more when I’m winning, and I did a bit of that this week. Cube leaves MTGO next Friday, which makes me sad, even if Masters 25 looks like it’ll be a fun format. Horseshoe Crab + Heavy Arbalest is a cute combo, but it’s no Pestermite + Splinter Twin.

Draft 1: Blue-Black Reanimator-Control

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-1

Sorry about the weird organization here. I didn’t take a screenshot until the league was over, and, MTGO being a quality program, I couldn’t move any of the cards around. I love this style of deck in Cube because you have the crazy combo potential of early Ulamogs, but you can also play a grindier game and actually cast a lot of your threats. I actually find the premium reanimation targets to be Titans, Myr Battlesphere, Massacre Wurm, and Griselbrand. With the exception of Griselbrand, they are all quite castable if you have other ways to draw out the game. I like to have the “fair” options because, if you devote a bunch of resources to making an early Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, for example, and your opponent can untap and cast Swords to Plowshares or Journey to Nowhere on it, you’ve exhausted a significant amount of your combo potential. If you don’t have any easily castable threats, you now have to assemble both 1) A reanimation threat, 2) A discard outlet, and 3) a way to reanimate it. You’ve already gone through a couple of those things, and you don’t have tons of time to assemble that contraption a second time. If you can just cast a Grave Titan on 6 mana, you might be able to win that way, but if you’re leaning on Terastodon, you’re out of luck.

Griselbrand is the exception to the rule because he provides so much card advantage that you can easily re-assemble the reanimation combo, even if he dies immediately.

Some notable emissions from the main deck here are Volrath's Stronghold (I want my things in the ‘yard), Lightning Greaves (I don’t want do-nothing cards if I can’t find my combo), and Whip of Erebos.  For Whip, I like to have a few more value targets like Baleful Strix or Gonti, Lord of Luxury. Having to invest 8 mana into reanimating the first creature is a little steep, and I’m already trying to play a bit more of a controlling game, where I might not be able to afford to do nothing on 4.

Round 1, I ran into the buzzsaw that was Geist of Saint Traft. I didn’t have any good answers to that card, and I lost both games where my opponent played it on turn 3, though I won the middle game.

Round 2, I ran into someone who must have been fairly inexperienced at Cube, playing a BG midrange deck. Game 1, I got stuck on 2 lands and eventually discarded Myr Battlesphere. My opponent played Scavenging Ooze and…exiled my other two cards. I introduced them to the wonders of Cube by Exhuming the BattleBall. Game 2 was painful as I had a hand of double Looter and Vendilion Clique. My opponent had Liliana, the Last Hope on turn 3 on the play, which just proved too much for my hand full of X/1s.

Game 3, they again had Liliana to trump my Merfolk Looter, but I had a follow-up of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. They had Maelstrom Pulse for that, and I was stuck doing nothing. They followed up with Pernicious Deed and Scavenging Ooze, and things looked pretty dire for me. I was able to Frost Titan to keep them from doing too much, and I used Vendilion Clique as a Lava Spike to keep Lili from ultimating. My opponent then had Thragtusk and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, ticking Lili up to 7, and I was already resigning myself to the 0-2.

Then I topdecked Cyclonic Rift with 7 lands in play. Big Frosty locked down one of their lands, and they couldn’t recover. Phew. They were also at 2:20 on the clock when I cast the Rift, so I maybe could have timed them out before I died, since I was holding Crux of Fateand Snapcaster Mage to flash it back and buy a few turns. The Nissa ultimate would have killed me in short order, though. Timing out isn’t really how I want to win, anyway.

Round 3, I was greeted with this sweet little opener, on the draw:

Now, if you’ve never seen Manaless Dredge do its thing in Legacy, you might not register this play, as it’s completely unintuitive to “normal Magic.” But Cube ain’t normal Magic. My opponent opened on a tapped Blood Crypt, so what did I do?

I passed my turn without even playing a land, went to my cleanup step, and discarded the BattleBall because I now had 8 cards in hand.  Black-Red doesn’t have too many good answers to Myr Battlesphere. On my second turn, I played my Swamp and Reanimated the BattleBall. My opponent’s turn 3 play? Liliana of the Veil. Which, if you were wondering, does not match up well against a Battlesphere and friends.

Game 2, my opponent once again had Liliana on 3. This time, they were kind enough to plus her, and I was able to plunk Frost Titan into the ‘yard, with Exhume in hand. I flashed in a Nimble Obstructionist to protect my incoming Titan, as well as pressure the Lili. They actually fought back quite well, landing an Opihiomancer and Inquisition of Kozilek-ing away my Exhume. I hit Ophiomancer with a Control Magic and began pressuring Lili with the snake token, but they found Anguished Unmaking for the Control Magic, and stripped both of our hands down with Liliana. I found a Looter il-Kor, though, which not only kept Liliana from ticking up too high, but also gave me the option to hit the opponent to loot away any bad topdecks. Eventually I found Animate Dead for Frost Titan, and they no longer had enough resources to deal with it.

Draft 2: Sneak and Show

Spoiler for uess my record...

3-0!

 

Hoo boy, this is my favorite cube deck I’ve drafted in a long time. This was the easiest 3-0 I’ve ever had, I think. Game 1 of the first round set the tone, as I was able to curve turn 2 Thoughtseize into turn 3 Show and Tell for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. My opponent was some GW midrange creature deck and never stood a chance. I boarded in some cheap burn spells for Lotus Cobra and friends, and sneaked some Wurmcoil Engines and Noxious Gearhulks and Bogardan Hellkites in until they conceded.

Round 2, I played against a player named Limited_Agent. I name them because they tried to scum me out of the round, and I have no tolerance for people like that. If you ever have someone try to do this to you, please report them. I won a long game 1 against Esper control on the back of a turn-2 Search for Azcanta just out-valuing them. Game 2, I remanded their turn-3 Jace Beleren, following up with Search + Thoughtseize on my own turn 3. Thoughtseize saw nothing that could stop the Sneaking, and I put an Emrakul into play with them on exactly six permanents.

Then they went AFK, with 16 minutes on the clock. Okay, some people disconnect sometimes, but not only did they force me to wait for the 10-minute inactivity timeout on MTGO, they came back just after their clock went under 10 minutes, passed priority once, and then went away again. This forced me to wait for another 10 minutes instead of 4. They came back one more time at 2 minutes remaining, passed one more time, and then let the time run out with Emrakul’s trigger on the stack. No doubt they came back each time hoping that I had walked away, thinking I would win by default. Then they could pass priority to me and let my 10-minute timeout happen to score a free win. The fact that they came back every so often to pass one single step is the scummiest thing I’ve ever seen on MTGO. Report people like this, please.

Round 3, I played against another ramp-ish deck. I had Forbid with Buyback to counter their 3 payoff spells, and a Grave Titan to close the game. Game 2 got a little dicey, as I kept a speculative hand that basically had no choice but to run a naked Show and Tell for Bogardan Hellkite to clear a Ral Zarek to which I otherwise had no answer. They put down a Keranos, God of Storms off the S&T, but that could not answer Hellkite, and I followed up with Phyrexian Metamorph on the Hellkite to close out the 3-0, 6-0.

Draft 3: White Weenie

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-1

 

I opened a very weak pack in this draft and took Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. I followed up with Batterskull, hoping to pick up a Stoneforge Mystic along the way. Now, those two cards don’t necessarily lock you into White Weenie, but they are a very solid start.  A few anthems and an Armageddon later, and there I was. This isn’t my favorite archetype to play, but it is a strong one, usually good enough for a 2-1, which is indeed where I ended up. The Ajani Vengeant splash was basically free with a pair of fetches and a Plateau, and I needed a little more oomph on the top-end. Missing on Stoneforge and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben really hurt, but I cobbled together some more mediocre 2-drops.

Round 1, I played against a green ramp deck that was mostly ramping with things that put lands into play, and not creatures. I Armageddoned them right out of existence in game 1. Game 2, they kept a one-land hand with Avacyn's Pilgrim and a Fauna Shaman to fetch more mana dorks. Problem was, I kept a Wasteland, and their land was an Overgrown Tomb, not a Forest. Avacyn’s Pilgrim tried really hard, but could not make green mana, and I was soon off to round 2.

Round 2, I lost to a monored deck that had Outpost Siege on turn 4 both games. I feel White Weenie is favored in a straight-up aggro mirror, but the Outpost Siege just generated too much value for me to overcome, and I never drew my Batterskull.

Round 3, I played against a blue-black player who made some…questionable deckbuilding decisions. They were able to take game 1 when I mulliganed and couldn’t find any way to exile a Phyrexian Obliterator. Which, I don’t really know why they were playing that, being that they didn’t ever show me any UB duals, and they were also running Rishadan Port. I got my justice in games 2 and 3, where they drew lots of Islands and Port and played Bloodghast and Thassa, God of the Sea, which are, shall we say, not too good against little white idiots. Maybe they misread Bloodghast and thought it could block.

Draft 4: White A-Little-Less-Weenie

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-1

 

I once again opened on Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. This time, however, I saw plenty of 4- and 5-mana monowhite payoffs, but very slim pickings at 1 and 2. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but it turns out that Spectral Procession, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, and Cloudgoat Ranger still combine really well with Honor of the Pure et al. Who knew?

I lost round 1 to a deck that made me believe in the rumor of late-night, eight-person cabals that all jump into the same draft, pick an archetype beforehand, and get all the cards they want. I say this because I don’t think you could open up the entire 450-card cube and put together a better Splinter Twin/Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker combo deck than the one I faced. Except Force Spike. I don’t like that card, as it too quickly becomes outclassed, but I guess it’s pretty good when it’s in your opening hand all three games ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Round 2 went much better, as I faced an opponent who mulled to 5 in game 1, then led on Gaea's Cradle as their opening land. Yikes. Game 2 had a little more play to it. They brick walled me with a Linvala, the Preserver, but I had a Linvala of my own, in the form of Linvala, Keeper of Silence, that shut off their mana dorks. I was eventually able to hit their Linvala with an Unexpectedly Absent and fly over for the W.

Round 3, I got to capitalize on a pretty big blunder from my monoblack opponent. Cube has a lot of strange interactions, and it’s hard to keep track of everything. I stumbled on lands for a turn or two, wherein my opponent was able to land a Gatekeeper of Malakir to kill my Isamaru, Hound of Konda. Eventually I was able to stick Thalia, Heretic Cathar. My opponent played Gonti, Lord of Luxury and passed. I attacked with Thalia, intending to follow up with a Brimaz. They chumped with the Gatekeeper, which was surprising. I ran the numbers and figured they probably had Volrath’s Stronghold or some other way to get the Gatekeeper back to their hand.

(Aside: Volrath's Stronghold is bad. So is Land Tax. I see tons and tons of people playing these cards, and they just are not what Cube is about. They taunt you with visions of card advantage, but they really just don’t do anything most of the time. They are situationally good, but they belong in sideboards 99% of the time. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t play them unless you have very good reason.)

So, my opponent played Emeria Angel, which Gonti stole from me, and made a bird by playing the Stronghold I’d suspected. I untapped and played Fiend Hunter on Emeria Angel, which basically locked out the Gatekeeper of Malakir play they had planned to make. Sorin Markov came down and picked off Thalia, but I had Banishing Light to answer that. Then, on their upkeep, they made the Gatekeeper play anyway, which not only gave me an Emeria Angel when I sacrificed Fiend Hunter, but also ate their draw step for the turn. I think they had it in their head that they would get the Angel back if I sacrificed the Fiend Hunter, but it returns under the owner’s control. So their plan was to kill Brimaz with the Gatekeeper, but I wound up running away with the game thanks to the Angel.

Game 2, I kept 4 plains, Isamaru, Journey to Nowhere, and Brimaz. Then proceeded to draw nothing but lands and a single Spectral Procession, which turns out is not very good against Liliana, the Last Hope.

Game 3, I just curved out neatly, Thalia into planeswalkers with removal to back them up. Another 2-1, but a fairly boring one. White Weenie is a fine deck, and certainly powerful enough to be worth playing if you care about winning, but I play Cube to make sweet plays that you can’t make anywhere else, and WW doesn’t give you as much leverage in that department as I’d like.

Draft 5: Jeskai Twin

Spoiler for uess my record...

3-0!

 

This was another really fun deck to play. For the third draft in a row, I opened Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but this time there was a Snapcaster Mage in the pack. I decided to cast off the yoke of fair white decks and return to some good, clean, unfair Magic.

This is another deck that shows off the importance of good mana in Cube. I rattled off another 3-0 (6-0 in games) on the back of my fantastic mana. I was able to play Counterspell, Kiki-Jiki, and white cards all in the same deck with no issues. I took all of the lands except Spirebluff Canal very highly, and I still wound up with enough playable cards to cut several.

Round 1, I faced White Weenie and had kind of an awkward hand. I was forced to try and combo off before I could replay my Spellskite that had been bounced by Unexpectedly Absent, on account of a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben that made my Splinter Twin cost 5. My opponent had 2 mana open, which represented Path to Exile or Swords to Plowshares, and they had 3 cards in hand, but I was dead if I didn’t win that turn, so I went for it, and they didn’t have it. Game 2, my opponent curved out with Mother of Runes into Thalia into Mirror Entity. However, they took the aggressive line of tapping 3 mana into the Mirror Entity on turn 4, meaning I was able to Searing Spear the Mom on their end step, then untap and cast Anger of the Gods to sweep up those three creatures, plus the follow-up Isamaru. They tried to recover with an Angel of Invention, but I had a Riftwing coming off suspend to eat one token, and then drew into Old Man of the Sea, which was able to steal the Angel and get the scoop.

Round 2, I played against some kind of blue-white Midrange deck. They tapped for 2 threats, I had 2 counterspells, and then I landed a Keranos. I then assembled the brutal combo of Kiki-Jiki + Riftwing Cloudskate to keep them off doing anything else. Game 2, my opponent made a…strange…play. I had suspended Riftwing on 2. They did nothing for a few turns, then played Secure the Wastes for 3 on my end step. They knew I had a Riftwing coming in, but they Armageddoned anyway. Perhaps they wanted to feed me a spell to counter? I didn’t happen to have a counterspell, but I don’t think I would have played it, even if I had one. I was holding 2 Islands, and my Riftwing was going to kill a token and block the others. They didn’t even have a land to follow up the Geddon. Eventually they hit one…and then cast Path to Exile on my Riftwing, giving me free access to a Mountain. Not a play I would have made! It let me land Keranos and have Treachery if anything ever happened.

Final Tally: 12-3 (20-7 overall)

This was a hell of a week for me. Three trophies in just nine drafts is a good place to be. I don’t expect to keep up this pace, but I’m about 60 play points up from where I started, and any time you’re positive on MTGO, it’s a lot more fun!

I didn’t play a single green card this week. I think green is very overdrafted, and for good reason. There aren’t many sources of fast mana outside of green in Legacy Cube, as opposed to Vintage Cube, where you get things like Sol Ring, Mana Vault, Moxen, Signets, etc. in all colors. Green in Legacy Cube is almost a combo deck, where you have to assemble both a critical mass of mana ramp effects and a critical mass of big payoff spells. I tend to avoid it unless I get one of the more powerful cards, or I get some sign that it’s very open, like a sixth-pick one-drop mana accelerant. I don’t like to force green ramp in Legacy Cube by taking an early mana dork, unless that mana dork is something like Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary. In Vintage Cube, you can force green if you want it, because people will be busy taking non-green ramp effects. In Legacy Cube, your mana accelerants often get poached by fair midrange decks that will happily play a random Lotus Cobra or Cultivate in order to cast their planeswalkers a turn or two sooner. In Vintage Cube there are both fewer midrange decks that would want such an effect and also more colorless fast mana for those that do.

 

 

Magic Weekly Draft Report – Merry Cubemas!

It’s always Christmas when Cube is here! While I prefer the ridiculous shenanigans of Vintage cube, I’ll draft damn near any cube you could think of and be thrilled about it.

Drafting Cube is a lot different from drafting ordinary formats. Every single card is playable on some level, and everyone’s deck is powerful by default. You can certainly wind up with mediocre, or even below-average decks, but it’s a lot easier to wind up with some kind of playable pile that can squeak out a win or two.

Because it’s so deep in power level, Cube also offers you the unique opportunity to draft according to your own preferred style. If you enjoy playing aggro, you can almost always find an open lane to draft some kind of aggressive deck. The same is true with grindy, planeswalker-centric midrange decks,  ramp decks, blue control decks, and even combo decks like Splinter Twin or Sneak & Show.

Also because of Cube’s power level, prioritizing mana fixing is a very good strategy. It may not seem like Misty Rainforest is the most powerful card out of a pack containing flashy planeswalkers, wrath effects, and burn spells, but a lot of the time it will be. Casting all your powerful spells on time makes the difference between turning the corner and dying to a well-crafted aggro deck. Furthermore, because Cube contains such a high density of powerful cards, picks you spend on manafixing aren’t as impactful as they might be in a regular draft format where you might only see 26 playable cards in your colors.

Cube also rewards sideboarding, again because there are so many playable cards. If you know how to sideboard, and draft the good sideboard options, you have a leg up on the competition.

So with that introduction, let’s check out my drafts for the week!

Draft 1: 4-color tap-out Blue

Spoiler for uess my record...

3-0!

 

This draft shows off the power of mana-fixing, fetchlands in particular. I don’t even think my mana was particularly good, but if I drew the Wooded Foothills, the world was my oyster, as it fixed for black (Badlands) and blue (Steam Vents) in addition to the default of red or green.

My first pick was Treachery, followed by Consecrated Sphinx. Both of these are, in my opinion, two of the most powerful cards in the cube. Legacy Cube is much more creature-centric than Vintage Cube, and being able to steal a big threat while leaving up interaction or doubling up with a big threat of your own makes Treachery a high pick in my eyes. Consecrated Sphinx is one of the best finishers for any blue deck, because even if it gets removed, you’re up two cards most of the time. If it sticks, you claw so far ahead that you can bury your opponent in raw cards. Just don’t deck yourself.

Splashing the two cascade creatures was a little suspect, but I actually had quite a lot of value lower on the curve, Ancestral Vision being the biggest target. I was only main-decking one counterspell (Remand), so I felt okay playing the cascaders.

Round 1, I played against a weird UR tempo deck that was playing Lightning Greaves. While it did win the game for my opponent in game 2, it was effectively a mulligan in the other games. They were playing Chandra's Phoenix, Stormbreath Dragon, and Thundermaw Hellkite, along with burn spells. You don’t need Lightning Greaves for those guys to do their thing. I would advise against playing das boots if you can avoid it.

Round 2, I played against RG ramp, which is a pretty good matchup for a planeswalker-centric control deck. I lost game 1 to an unchecked Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, which is one of the most potentially broken cards in the cube. Game 2, I had the Roast for their turn-2 Rofellos, and Hour of Devastation to clean things up, both out of the sideboard. My opponent’s last effort, an 8/8 Verdurous Gearhulk, made a juicy little Treachery target and went the distance. Game 3, I opened on Ancestral Vision and had a Thing in the Ice that I flipped for a mid-combat blowout after my opponent tapped mana in their first main phase.

Round 3 I 2-0’d a monowhite aggro opponent. Thing in the Ice took over game 1. My opponent had a turn-1 Mother of Runes in game 2, which is a major problem for control decks. However, I was able to target the Mom with Izzet Charm on their end step, then untap with Hour of Devastation after they tapped her to lock up the 3-0. Off to a good start!

Draft 2: Opposition

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-1

 

Opposition is one of my favorite cube cards. Green ramp strategies are already powerful because a lot of the colorless fast mana of Vintage cube is gone. Spitting mana dorks onto the table and resolving the game’s best 5-, 6-, and 7-mana spells before your opponent is capable of dealing with them is a great way to win. Opposition is another of the game’s most powerful spells, capable of locking your opponent out of ever casting another spell if you can put enough bodies onto the table, which the green decks are trying to do already.

Unfortunately, I ran into a pretty bad matchup in round 1, a BW midrage deck with Bitterblossom, lots of other token-makers, and a pile of removal. The ramp decks are light on threats, with much of the deck devoted to making mana. They opened on turn-2 Bitterblossom in game 1, which pretty well invalidates Opposition. It doesn’t invalidate Master of the Wild Hunt, however, and I was able to steal game 1 with an unchecked Master that ate the Bitterblossom tokens every turn. My opponent stole game 2 right back. They had been going off with Emeria Angel and had a pile of birds. I was able to resolve both Dragonlord Atarka and Dragonlord Dromoka. Selfless Spirit saved the Angel and pals from Atarka, but I was hoping that Dromoka was going to stabilize me. A nicely-placed Collective Effort from my opponent killed Dromoka and also put +1/+1 counters on all the birds, and they swarmed around poor Atarka, who just wanted to fry some chicken 🙁

Game 3 my opponent had Bitterblossom again, and this time they had removal for my first few threats. Selfless Spirit came down the turn before I was going to Atarka, and that was that.

Round 2, we played just one game. My opponent conceded the match because they had only 3 minutes left on the clock after decking on only turn 8. They had gone off with Consecrated Sphinx and had a billion cards in hand, but I had a Whisperwood Elemental that was keeping them from sweeping the board. They were new to Magic Online, I think, and took a long time to make plays. It would have been interesting to get more games of this matchup, but alas, we only got one.

Round 3 was against a Naya Midrange deck. I never saw a Splinter Twin or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker, but I did see Zealous Conscripts and Restoration Angel, so they probably had at least Kiki in there somewhere. Game 1, Opposition was just too fast for them and locked them out.

Game 2, they had Dromoka's Command to kill Opposition. I followed up with Inferno Titan, which they answered with Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Dragonlord Atarka cleaned up the Elspeth, but they had Eternal Witness to get her back, and I was unable to produce any more threats. Game 3, my opponent had an early Qasali Pridemage, but I sandbagged the Opposition until I was ready to win tap them out and win the game off of an unchecked Whisperwood Elemental. My opponent chose to kill my Sylvan Library with Dromoka’s Command, rather than have their 4/6 Courser of Kruphix eat my Whisperwood, which proved a costly mistake.

Draft 3 – URw Kinda-Twin

Spoiler for uess my record...

1-2

 

I hesitate to call this a Splinter Twin deck because I mostly won on the back of Dragonlord Ojutai. It turns out I am very good at hitting both Splinter Twin and Pestermite off of a Fact or Fiction, and not one of my opponents was nice enough to put them together in the split.

I played some pretty fun and interactive games, but ultimately came up short against a pair of aggressive monowhite decks. Besides Ojutai, the deck didn’t have any good ways to turn the corner, and it didn’t have any sweepers beyond Slagstorm to claw back from behind. No redundancy made the combo very inconsistent.

I did make one sweet play, which was untapping Ojutai with Pestermite’s trigger in response to removal.

Not much else to say here. Reactive cards like counterspells are fine in Cube, but you really need some sort of catch-up spells, especially against decks like monowhite that get on the board fast and early.

Draft 4 –  Bluuuuuuuuuuue

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-1

 

Now this is podracing. My first picks were, in order: Underground Sea, Misty Rainforest, Consecrated Sphinx, Cryptic Command, and Jace Beleren. This is exactly where I want to be in draft, and getting the both Treachery and Snapcaster Mage early in pack 2 was just icing on the cake.  I wish I’d had a few more early plays, but I had a pair of sweepers that let me come from behind, and some threats that would clean up very quickly.

As a side-note, this was some of the best mana I’ve ever had in Cube. Even had the Creeping Tar Pit as an uncounterable, unblockable threat in grindy mirrors.

Round 1 was a blue control mirror, but my opponent’s threats were Frost Titan and Icefall Regent, while mine were The Scarab God and Dragonlord Ojutai. They were unable to compete with the raw card advantage.

Unfortunately, as Magic sometimes does, I mulliganed thrice in two games in round 2 and got manascrewed both times against a creature-based midrange deck that could never in a million years have beaten me in fair Magic. That’s why we play the games instead of just comparing decklists!

Round 3 was odd. Game 1, my opponent played a pile of RW lands, a Coldsteel Heart on black, a Chromatic Lantern, and a Mind Stone. Before dying to Monastery Mentor and friends, they revealed a Tetzimoc, Primal Death but I countered it and we were off to game 2.

I mulliganed and never hit land 3. They killed me with Restoration Angel and Zealous Conscripts, which made me think they were on some sort of Twin combo, but without any countermagic to back it up. I felt pretty good heading into game 3.

In game 3 they played a Blossoming Marsh. I hadn’t yet seen any green cards. On the play and without fear of dying to Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch, I was able to tap out for a Nahiri the Harbinger, but it was met with Anguished Unmaking for my opponent. I got stuck on lands and was unable to deploy threats while keeping myself protected from potential combos, so I just sat on a hand of Counterspell and Snapcaster, with a cycled Censor in the yard.

I let a Resto Angel resolve and hit it with Murderous Cut on their end step. They also seemed to be stuck on 4, so I took a calculated gamble and slammed Dragonlord Ojutai when I made it to 5. They didn’t kill me, and Ojutai quickly cleaned things up when backed up by countermagic.

Final Tally: 8-4. 

Not a bad start, averaging a 2-1. That’s all you really need to do in Cube, since each 2-1 gets you your entry fee back, so it’s a good place to be. I drafted lotsa blue and lotsa green, which is pretty typical for me in cube. I’ll draft aggro decks occasionally, but I tend to shy away from midrange decks because I just feel like it’s so easy to go over the top of them in such a powerful format. Plus, they just aren’t as much fun to play as some of the other archetypes. I either want my opponent dead, or I want to be the one doing the fun stuff. Monoblack is the exception to that, since it packs proactive disruption like Hymn to Tourach, Thoughtseize, and Liliana of the Veil.

Cube is here for another several weeks until the 25th Anniversary set drops. While I don’t like the lack of key reprints, I am stoked to force Horseshoe Crab + Quicksilver Dagger or Heavy Arbalest in the phantom queues.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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