Archiv für den Monat: Dezember 2013

Thoughts about a winning RW Theros draft deck

This might or might not have been my last Theros-only draft. I am half-heartedly resolved to focus on other things than Magic for a while and return to drafting when the next set enters the environment. Also, the format begins to feel a little worn out to me after several dozen drafts. It’s fascinating, though, that some people allowed to publish on major Magic sites like this clueless guy here still don’t get it after about two months!

See, I have not only been winning a fair share of my matches overall with my drafting philosophy, with a spike in the beginning, when the set was fresh and many people fell for the LSV/Sutcliffe/Görtzen misinformation conspiracy, so that I could „make money“ in 8-4s for a while; and then settling for the slow drain of a ca. 70% win percentage in swiss drafts, which meant I was effectively paying for my drafts again, but very little. I also observed that the decks I lost to looked and played stunningly like the ones I drafted and built. I lost to Traveling Philosopher and Bronze Sable a lot, but almost never to Silent Artisan or Burnished Hart (okay, I’m not sure how often I even saw the former, but the latter I encountered very frequently), and I don’t remember ever forfeiting a match to a three- (or more) colored abomination (although some single games, which I found frustratingly enough), with which I was confronted commonly.

The dynamics I had envisioned for this environment have become reality: It is fast, requires board presence, and rewards actively trying to win the game with big plays, with UB constituting the only archetype being able to somehow comfortably play for the real lategame. Decks which durdle around or clump on generic chaff in the 4-6 mana range like Borderland Minotaur or Vulpine Goliath just do not beat either hyper-aggressive decks, strongly synergistic decks, focussed tempo decks or the UB control deck.

The following winning list is somehow symptomatic for this environment:

The deck showcases very nicely how weak single cards can be you get away playing with if you have a clear focus, a low curve, the right amount of creature enhancers (WAY more than Simon Görtzen would have you believe) and strong synergies. See those two copies each of Priest of Iroas and Bronze Sable, two of the most-maligned commons? If you tried your hands at RW aggro and never quite got it to work, maybe it was because you played Lagonna-Band Elder, Borderland Minotaur, Setessan Griffin and an extra land instead. (I know some people would.)

This deck also shows the progression from the all-in RW heroic design Caleb Durward once described. Just as I predicted, that style didn’t last long once it became known, because its key cards came into higher demand, and people learned to have answers for single big heroic threats ready. There are still heroic elements in here, but it’s only four creatures: Akroan Crusader (which did a good job), Arena Athlete (which did a great job), Phalanx Leader (which did a stellar job) and Labyrinth Champion (which I failed to draw even a single time). Instead, I have more generic creatures, encasing my heroic synergies in a traditional beatdown approach instead of solely focussing on them. A crucial pick in my draft demonstrates this nicely, when I took Coordinated Assault over Wingsteed Rider at the beginning of the second booster round, since at that time I already knew that my deck was heading into a direction where it needed the instant more. (In a vacuum, I would pick the Rider instead.) I could often simply overrun my opponent with lightning-fast starts backed up by enhancers, and if they managed to stem the early bleeding, that cost them the resources to deal with the big play I could follow my early offense up with.

To conclude this entry, let me describe how the final game of this draft went: My BW opponent started with Asphodel Wanderer into Ordeal of Erebos. My 2nd turn Akroan Hoplite on the draw looked glacially slow in comparison, and was even stopped by his follow-up of Baleful Eidolon, with which it traded when it attacked. Things looked really grim for me then. On my next turn, I put Satyr Rambler and Priest of Iroas into play and braced for the impact of the Wanderer and the sacrificed Ordeal, to which I discarded Mountain and Bronze Sable and was now down to two cards in hand.

On my next turn, I drew a second Plains and could now play my Phalanx Leader. I also got my first damge in with Rambler and Priest, putting my opponent to 17. Of course, he hit me back with his Wanderer, and I was now at 7 life, facing a 4/4 regenerator. However, my opponent was stuck on three lands, and either could not play anything else (not too unlikely, since I guess his deck was rather slow overall and just had a lucky godly start) or did not want to tap out to preserve the option of regenerating the Wanderer (although there are very few scenarios where this would come up after his attack).

I then drew the Last Breath I had sided in and which I had hoped to draw before his Wanderer spiralled out of control. It may seem useless at that time – but it was actually a superb draw, since the other card in my hand was Ordeal of Heliod! So, I put the Ordeal on my Leader, then targetted it with the Breath, which got countered on resolution. Then I attacked with everything. The Ordeal triggered, and suddenly I was back at 17 life, beating my opponent down to 6 with a 3/3 Priest, a 4/3 Rambler and a 4/4 Leader! My opponent conceded here – a bit prematurely, but I can see his point…

Just in case that this is my last entry this year, let me raise my imaginary glass and bring out a toast: Here’s to Bronze Sable!

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Winning a Theros draft with WB Aggro

Well, obviously posting a pictured walkthrough was not worth the effort, since it generated very little interest, so I’m back to just showing you a winning deck. I’m not doing this with every deck which wins an event; but only when I think that the deck in question is particularly interesting, or if I happen to feel like it (actually, the former condition serves mostly to make the latter more likely).

BW aggro is one of the less common archetypes in Theros draft, since Black lends itself more to controllish builds; aggressive White works better with all other colors; and BW in particular gives you cards which work best in control (Scholar of Athreos , Sentry of the Underworld). However, there are a couple of black cards which support this strategy, and sometimes you just happen to pair White with them.

I started my draft with Phalanx Leader over Shipbreaker Kraken (since the Leader is simply stronger), and was rewarded with a second pick Wingsteed Rider. Third pick it was decision time: My options were Voyage’s End and Ordeal of Erebos. The instant is the stronger card in a vacuum, but my first two picks already gave me a clear direction I wanted to take, and in this kind of deck, the aura is simply stellar. Other factors which influenced my decision were – if I remember correctly – a Boon of Erebos in that pack, which I believed could wheel (I think it did), my experiences with aggressive black cards often going quite late in a draft, and my desire to try out something new instead of WU heroic. This worked out exceptionally well: I got an unbelievable amount of playables, although I started hatepicking as early as in the middle of the second booster, because I knew that I didn’t need mediocre cards in my colors, or cards which did not fit my strategy (I passed two Scholar of Athreos that way). In the end, my sideboard contained quite a number of cards I would not have minded at all to maindeck, and even a BW rare some people consider to be an easy firstpick, but which would have been little more than an unexciting vanilla creature in my deck. Take a look:

Unfortunately, I never drew Fabled Hero in any of my eight games, and I also never landed a 2nd turn Ordeal, but obviously I cannot complain overall. I sideboarded Cavern Lampad against RG, Dark Betrayal against BRw minotaur tribal, and Viper’s Kiss against UW (featuring Master of Waves), each time replacing Fleshmad Steed.

Remarkable situations included an epic board stall aginst RG, which finally culminated in a turn when my opponent killed my bestowed Erebos’s Emissary with Destructive Revelry, used Boulderfall on me (bringing me down to 3 life), and finally attacked with Nessian Courser, Nylea’s Disciple, a monstrous Ill-Tempered Cyclops, a monstrous Polis Crusher with Fleetfeather Sandals, and a monstrous Nemesis of Mortals with Leafcrown Dryad bestowed on it. I blocked each of his creatures with one of mine, killed everything but the Nemesis, lost only one creature myself, took no damage from the attack and killed him from 21 life on the backswing. If you wonder how that happened, I’ll just tell you I had Phalanx Leader in play…

The last game in the finals was really close. My opponent was screwed during his first turns, and I was flooded all game. After I got a few hits in with double Tormented Hero, he piled auras and bestow creatures on his Wavecrash Triton, while I went to attacking with a pair of Sentry of the Underworld in the air whenever they happened to be untapped. Finally, he had stopped my assault, but was only on two life. My second-last card in hand was Viper’s Kiss, which I put on my Tormented Hero bestowed with Erebos’s Emissary. When my opponent responded with Griptide, I used my last card, Battlewise Valor, to win the game, the match, and the tournament.

The fundamental lesson is still this: The strength of a deck is not just the sum of the (perceived) strength of its cards. Fleshmad Steed was way stronger in this deck than Triad of Fates could have been. Theros draft is, like Zendikar draft was, a deckbuilder’s paradise: The most important things are a good curve, the right mix of functional elements, and strong synergies. However, just like Zendikar, it’s a bit of hell for good players, since games between good decks come down to drawing your cards in the perfect order much more often than in other environments. Naturally, this means that I quite like Theros draft – just as I liked Zendikar!

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