Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Top 10 Avacyn Restored Cards for Limited: AVR Meat and Potatoes

Welcome back to another edition of Meat and Potatoes, Avacyn Restored edition!  This coming Saturday is the Prerelease, and this time, we get a special treat.  Normally, we only have one Prerelease a year with only one set (save the summer Prereleases of Core editions of late), but this year we get two!  I like homogenous Prereleases because they allow more consistent and intentional strategies.  Although I had a fine finish last time, I hope my blitz of Limited practice since then will have honed my skills to take the cake.

Avacyn Restored is fairly separate from the block in terms of mechanics; no Werewolves or flip cards, no Flashback and no Morbid.  That’s because the angels under Avacyn have been, uh, restored.  I kind of like that break from a block; Rise of the Eldrazi did the same thing.  No landfall or kicker in there, if I recall; just monstrous Cthulhu beasts.

The spoiler came out Monday and, either despite or because a flush of illness, I was able to sit down and read the spoiler in its entirety.  The powerful cards that were spoiled early seemed to have fairly specific purposes; the multi-colored cards and massive mythics were all very expensive and splashy.  Many players believe this is just how mythics should be, and the “best” cards should be rare so they’re easier, but not cake, to get.  That’s the second time I’ve said cake…I must be hungry.

The set looks like it’s going to give players of all brands something to play with; EDH and Multiplayer/Variant lovers, tournament-cramming Spikes, and a strong Limited game.  Limited, as it is of the most interest to me, will be our first stop.

As we look over the set of all 240-some-odd cards that were spoiled Monday, let’s look and see what stands out as true Meat and Potato cards for limited.  As a reminder, Meat and Potatoes cards are the basic, run-of-the-mill stuff that you’re bound to see in a large portion of every Sealed tournament or booster draft in which you participate; this leaves out rares and mythic rares, for the most part.  In Limited, the commons and uncommons rule and change the game.  That’s why my Cube only consists of those cards!

It was hard to cut down my Top Ten to just that many, so we’ll begin with an honorable mention.

HM) Abundant Growth

These vines just splash all over!
This little gem of an enchantment is a wonderful option for Limited mana fixing.  It solves a lot of problems otherwise created by traditional ramp and color fixing.  First, it provides benefit immediately (if needed), unlike Rampant Growth, Birds of Paradise, Terramorphic Expanse, etc.  Those cards are great, but they often lack relevance late in the game, which is when you’re ripping for that answer or final few points of damage.  This one is useful in an opening hand that otherwise might be unkeepable AND as a late-game topdeck.  Thirdly, if you just need a fix and you don’t know what you need yet, this will relieve your woes.  This is especially relevant in Sealed when you just about have to play two colors and a splash (or two splashes, ugh).  I know I’ve stared at a Terramorphic Expanse first turn and I wasn’t sure what land I’d need because of my awkwardly color-heavy hand.  This solves that problem.  Fix without the mess, and it cantrips; that extra card really seals the deal.  Seems pretty good.  As a sidenote, I want to think this is Utopia Sprawl, but it is not, and remember that, too!


10) Angel’s Tomb

Pretty art.  Zero humor.
A 3/3 flyer for 3 colorless mana is outstanding, but desperately unlikely (though you can get a 3/2 flyer for 1 in Standard right now; still trying to figure that one out.)  However, Angel’s Tomb fills a role in Limited that reminds me of Halcyon Glaze, a legit 1UU Enchantment from Ravnica that turned into a 4/4 flying Illusion instead.  This is pretty flexible, being colorless and all, and with all the ways to blink a creature in and out, flashing a creature in, or through tokens, this will be active a fair amount of the time, making it a slightly conditional, but still solid addition to most any deck.  You won’t want to first pick it in Draft, but it seems like solid 4th or 5th pick material, and it will be an inclusion in most any creature heavy deck in Sealed.

9) Driver of the Dead

Driving Miss Zombie.
This is an interesting card to me due to its specificity (as opposed to the normally lauded flexibility of my choices,) but I think that the card advantage as well as soulbond opportunities afford it a slot on the list.  He’s a big enough body too that he chump-blocks well and you still get value.  There are certainly other better 4 drops, but he goes well in an aggressive deck or a defensive deck all the same.  He should make it around fairly late in Draft, as there are only certain decks that will get to take advantage of him.  Get back a utility creature, an undying creature, or something else.  Strangely enough, I think this guy’s best fit is in R/B aggro or B/G.

8) Pillar of Flame

Woah, a Sorcery Shock.  With an exile clause.

You might think this is weak, but as I surveyed the set, I’ve found very little unconditional spot removal outside of rares and mythics.  White/Red might actually catch a break this time around.  There are enough aggressively costed Humans in these colors to constitute an early guess at a Limited archetype.  Maybe this is just my bias talking, but I just feel bad for these enemy colors that couldn’t effectively suit up in either ISDx3 or DKA/ISD/ISD.  Maybe they’ll get a shot, and it’s little things like this that will help.  It also gets rid of undying creatures before they have a chance to undie, and provides desperately needed non-combat interaction for aggro decks.

7) Ghostly Flicker

*Blink blink*
I had a whole deck for a while built around the blue/white blinking creatures of Shadowmoor Block (Mistmeadow Witch + Mulldrifter, etc.)  It was one of my favorite decks to play and, for my opponents, one of the more frustrating decks to fight.  Momentary Blink with an upgrade in flexibility, the versatility of this spell is boundless in Limited.  Untap two creatures after your opponent attacks, wipe away an enchantment or prevent spell/lethal damage, reset ETB effects or undying counters, choose new targets for a paired creature, untap a land if you need that color of mana (very badly) or to use its effect again in the case of the enemy-colored ability lands, or any number of niche roles.  I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but this is a great trick for any of the above roles, as well as those I’m missing.  Blinking was always so undervalued in my opinion, and Momentary Blink is continually one of my favorite cards to facilitate this.  It also only requires the one color. 

6) Nearheath Pilgrim

Lifelink really tips things in your favor.
The only white card on this list (as most of the best cards I’ve seen in White are rare or mythic), Nearheath Pilgrim seems to be a really good card that requires a pinch of work to extract the most value.  In the early game, he can provide a little edge in a race by giving you a few points of life, forcing your opponent to stay on defense while you develop your board.  In the late game, your largest creatures can get lifelink and bring you back from the brink or secure your place in the lead.  Not too much else to say about him.  He obviously feels like Alabaster Mage, but I think he provides a little more efficiency while requiring a little more skill to play.

5) Wolfir Avenger

One of the more exciting cards I found (my fondness for Green notwithstanding), this guy might even see a hint of Constructed play in Core Green decks when Thrun rolls out.  A flashable Trained Armadon that regenerates?  That seems pretty great in Limited and it fills a powerful role on both offense and defense.  The only disadvantage is his mana commitment; two-color decks shouldn’t have a problem, but three-color brews might want to steer clear; he’s best when you can reliably cast him at the end of your opponent’s third or fourth turn or mid-combat on those turns.  Also, I don’t know if this will make sense, but he just looks like he’d be good.  This is a skill I’ve had a lot of trouble developing.  Consider Dark Confidant.  I thought he was pretty terrible when he came out six years ago.  Now, as a forty or fifty-dollar card and having played with one, I’ve realized my mistake.  Wolfir Avenger looks good.  Maybe it just reminds me of Troll Ascetic or something. 

4) Maalfeld Twins

Maalfeld better if he was a bit cheaper...
This guy feels suspiciously like Grave Titan’s anemic brother.  Nevertheless, a strong 4/4 body with a Moan of the Unhallowed on the tail end seems excellent in an aggressive deck’s top-end.  On defense, it also provides three turns worth of chump blockers on the floor to dissuade attacks from your opponent’s monster ground pounder.  Zombie synergies abound, and he could even find some weird place in a low-tier Constructed Zombie deck.  As I wish for the Titans’ demise at the end of September this year, I hope there will be more room for these conservative monsters to get their chance to shine.  If he was just one mana cheaper, he might be first on this list.

3)  Mist Raven

Oops, you mist your blocks.
Mist Raven is built on a classic template; a simple and effective mechanic with tons of applications and this time, we get an evasive creature, all for the low, low price of four mana!  I’m not sure if you should first pick this, but in a weak pack with a whiff of a rare, I might.  Blue looks pretty strong in the format, both in Sealed and Draft.  Aether Adepts and, previously, Man O’ Wars have always been strong choices for their tempo-swinging, two-for-oneish feel.  Load up on as many of these on the four slot as your deck will hold and you’ll probably sweep your flight/pod. 

2) Zealous Conscripts

Yankee doodle came to town, riding on a po...OH CRAP WHERE'S THE PONY?!?!
Act of Treason on a stick!  A fairly solid stick, too.  Most of the time, the 3/3 for 4X cards in any given set are mediocre filler cards (see Venser’s Sliver, Scourge Servant, or Tuktuk Grunts).  Now, these Conscripts know how to turn a game around.  Has your opponent stabilized at 10 life while they bludgeon you to death with some monstrous Angel, or are you having trouble breaking through with a clumsy board state?  Have no fear, steal their biggest guy and bash them right back!  The fact that you can target any permanent gives this even more flexibility; remove control of some oppressive enchantment, land or planeswalker and bend it as you need.  Although it is a rare and not completely unconditional, it IS a gamebreaker, and those are the cards I like to have when I shuffle up 40.

1) Into the Void

Void where prohibited.
Arguably the most textually boring card that may ever get to #1, this card is vicious and utterly unfair.  Whiplash Trap busted so many games open in a grid-locked board that is the definition of value.  This is an excellent choice against aggressive decks as well as powerfully defensive decks, giving you the time to recover or the window to attack.  Unsummon and its variants have always been a fine choice.  The fact that this hits two creatures should always play on your mind; break paired creatures, erase tokens, remove their entire defense, activate the “one creature matters” clauses for your own creature.  There is a lot of power in this card.  Even if it doesn’t kill the creatures, they will need to spend two turns recasting them most likely, and you’ll have two turns to recover or develop.  It’s easily splashable and in a format without tons of removal, this can be exactly the piece you need for your X/U aggro puzzle.  I don’t feel great about this making the top seat, but I’m not sure what else would.  In Dark Ascension, it was Tragic Slip (though I might amend that to Lingering Souls now).  You WILL get a groan for your opponent as Into the Void resolves.

There are two new mechanics in this set of which a lot has been written and discussed.  The first, “soulbond,” is a mechanic affiliated with certain creatures.  When the creature with soulbond or any another creature comes into play, you may pair these two creatures, so long as both are otherwise unpaired.  When paired, both of those creatures receive a certain bonus.  I really like this mechanic.  Granted, it is only a Limited mechanic with few to no Constructed applications, where each card needs to be fairly self-reliant.  Still, it will offer some interesting reactions within the game as well as some interesting drafting.  You won’t want just creatures with soulbond, as they can only bond to one creature at a time, so you’ll need to balance bonding and unbonding creatures.  I have no idea what that balance should be – eight bonding to eight unbonding?  I’m not sure.  It will take a fair amount of playtesting to see how many is too many.

Next, the “miracle” mechanic allows you to cast some nonpermanent spells immediately as you draw them, so long as it’s the first card you draw that turn, drastically reducing the cost and allowing you to play sorceries with miracle during your draw step.  I’m really not sure how I feel about this; it’s begging to be broken, especially in Constructed.  It adds a certain level of luck to a game where good players try to minimize luck’s role in the game.  That being said, it will create some great Limited stories and it can be strategic; you can still wait to hard cast the spell later, if you feel it would be more prudent.  I didn’t put any of them in the Top Ten because I was unsure how to evaluate their power level.  It’s obvious that Temporal Mastery is just straight up Time Walk in Miracle land, and you can be sure that Ponder will slide that in the right place every time.  Thunderous Wrath, the Lava Axe Miracle, has also garnered some attention.  RDW decks will rarely pass up the chance to Lava Axe you for R.  I also believe that Banishing Stroke will be strong in Limited and some Constructed play as an instant O-Ring.  It’s also important to note that if you cast something for its Miracle cost, your opponent knows that you have not added a new card to your hand; if you couldn’t deal with something before you drew the Miracle card, they still can’t deal with it if the Miracle card didn’t fix it.  This is valuable information in a Limited space, especially where both players are out of gas and have to strategically the contents of a player’s deck and hand.

I’ll be playing up at Bluegrass Magic in Louisville this weekend, and I hope to see a big turn out!  I hope you have fun at your Prerelease, too, as we chalk up another set to the annals of Standard.  Expect to see a Prerelease report from me next week.

Oh, and cake.

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt

Monday, April 23, 2012

DKA/ISD/ISD Format Analysis: Two Brothers Better Left Separated

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Untap Target Player!

            This weekend marks my quarterly ritual: the prerelease.  It feels like just three months ago I was suiting up for Dark Ascension’s pre-release.  Now, it’s already time for another set, and it’s a big set á la Rise of the Eldrazi.  Cool!  I won’t go into the cards I’m digging in Avacyn Restored yet, though there are a few, but I would like to go over the experience I’ve had with the most fiscally successful draft format in my Magic career. 
            When Innistrad alone was the draft format, I found it fresh, exciting and dynamic.  Archetypes like self-mill Skaab, G/W beatdown, and the almighty Dredge Spawning deck arose, and they gave you targets to shoot at while drafting your forty-five card pile.  It was a better sealed experience for me than, say, bomb-heavy Scars of Mirrodin, where infect coursed through my pile and took all the fun out of my and my opponents’ games.  Innistrad seemed like it offered a good set to jump into, and the mechanics integrated very well to create a unique and exciting draft environment.
            Enter Dark Ascension.  Although Dark Ascension had some neat cards, I’m just going to throw this out there; I feel like DKA/ISD/ISD is one of the more droll draft formats I’ve played since I first drafted in 2006.  I’ve drafted it dozens of times now, and each time, I feel like my decks (even the ones that win) get worse and worse. 
            Back in Innistrad days, archetypes framed the mindset you had while creating your deck.  If you wanted to go G/W beatdown, you needed some Travel Preparations, Orchard Spirits, perhaps, a Gavony Township if you were lucky (or two, as I was fortunate enough for one draft).  These were the pieces that you used to construct your strategy; then, if you missed, you’d audible to make a deck with some win conditions.  The blue mill yourself needed Armored Skaabs and Deranged Assistant and such to fire on all cylinders, and the Spawning deck needed, well, Spider Spawning.  This doesn’t mean you’re railroaded onto a path if you want to build an archetype, and rarely would you construct that perfect Werewolf deck with 2 Daybreak Rangers, 3 Brimstone Volleys, and an Instigator Gang.  What it did encourage was synergetic deckbuilding while providing you legitimate, though off-the-beaten-path alternatives when you missed a key piece.  Everyone’s played a Pitchburn Devils in a Werewolf deck, a Doomed Traveler in a non-token deck, and a Vampire Interloper in a U/B control deck.
            On the other hand, Dark Ascension, for me, muddied this synergetic water.  Formerly fun and creative decks like Dredge Spawning became nearly impossible to draft, former archetypes became much worse (G/W), and other color options formerly open were completely unplayable (W/R, G/B).  Dark Ascension, though mechanical brethren with Innistrad, offered a poor experience when clashed together, in my opinion.  Just about every draft, I’d take one of the uncommon lords first and never see a tribal buddy.  I’ve had a lot of P1P1 Drogskol Captain into P1P2 Fires of Undeath; good cards from each come around and I bridge between them until I finally pull a breakaway card (say, Niblis of the Breath or Stromkirk Captain, respectively.)  This created an unpleasant and uneasy drafting experience throughout.  This may be a format where drafting ISD first would help a lot, as Dark Ascension seems to provide supplements better than bases for decks.  I just found that in about every draft I was much more excited to crack into the ISD packs.  I even played it in a professional context, and it just always felt sloppy.
            Also, DKA, although it has a couple chase cards/bombs, is a pretty low-power set, especially for Constructed.  Of the 155 cards in the set, perhaps 20 are Constructed appropriate.  That’s a lot of fluff in the middle, and fluff that will only collect dust in your shoebox.  Getting packs of DKA as a prize are usually pretty depressing, too.  In a draft the other day at my local shop, despite winning the draft and cracking five packs and including the original draft, I still came up short on my monetary investment of $15.  That leaves a filmy taste in my mouth.
            But!  BUT!  DKA did do some things right.  It gave value to new archetypes, though they were certainly harder to hit.  W/B became legit and was consistent despite a lot of double-white and double-black costed cards.  It provided opportunities to pursue unique strategies with less fear of getting killed on turn 4 by 4 3/3 Spirit tokens.  Like its parent format of triple ISD, it allowed players flexibility and exploration of new interactions.  Finally, I believe it represents a paradigm shift in draft that I think I like.  Your deck quality matters, but consistency and tight play will afford you better results than a bunch of bombs thrown higgledy-piggledy between a stack of lands and filler.  This isn’t new – I’ve seen some decks in recent formats that had no business going 3-0 but did anyway.  Luis Scott-Vargas, of Pro-Tour and Channel Fireball fame and my favorite pro player to follow, won an M12 8-4 draft that I watched with three main-decked Brink of Disasters.  That’s quality right there.
            I did have fun playing this format, but it was still with some reservation.  Every deck I built felt bad, and many were bad.  Still, there were some decks that stuck out to me as I fiddled in this format. 

            Here’s a list of the superlatives in my drafting experience of DKA/ISD/ISD:

            Favorite Deck to Draft: Green/Blue durdle.  I’m not sure why, but there was something about the tempo of it that was just addictive.  I played it only a couple times, each with mediocre success, but I certainly had more fun playing those than anything else.  I’m a player who enjoys tempo decks, but for some reason, I really dug on this one.  As a relevant sidenote, Tracker’s Insight is pretty bad if you can’t get stuff out of your graveyard.
Deck I wanted to Draft and never did: Every time I sat down, I hoped to get the W/U Spirit engine going.  It beat me in the SCG Cincinnati Draft Open Semifinals and I knew it was solid.  This deck, despite dozens of attempts, never materialized for me.  Blue, in my opinion, got the proverbial shaft in DKA.  Sure, there were a couple good guys like Geralf’s Mindcrusher (in the right deck) and Stormbound Geist and the Geistflammable Beguiler of Wills, but in general, there wasn’t a lot of quality.  Nephalia Hellkite might be the best consistent, multi-deck card in DKA, either that or Niblis of the Breath.  Either way, I had a lot of drafts where my first-picked Drogskol Captain sat in my sideboard, and many where he was resigned there after just five picks.
            Deck Everyone Drafted and I always lost to:  I sat across from a lot of R/G Werewolf decks.  Things like Wild Hunger and Immerwolf and Young Wolf all provided great additions to this auto-archetype.  My attempts at it were pretty bad, and I got trounced by more than one.  Nut flipping a Scorned villager into a Hollowhenge Beast might arguably the best play Green’s got in the format.
            Oh no, I’m drafting THIS again?:  The most consistent and, ironically, most ignored deck in the format was B/R durdle.  I’d say I went for this deck about half the time, and rarely by choice.  The red and black that was getting passed was just so good.  I have a stack of Fires of Undeath from all of my drafts, and I’m pretty sure that was the most undervalued card in all of DKA Limited.  It was easy to pick up the stuff for it, and every time I drafted it, I did at least marginally well, and many times I’d win the draft outright.  I notice it’s easier to pick this deck up in paper drafts than in MTGO.  Not sure what that means.
            As an attempt to finish on a more positive light regarding DKA, DKAx3 was a pretty fun format while it lasted on MTGO.  It was way different than ISDx3 OR DKA/ISD/ISD.  This says a lot about the set and suggests that it’s completely separate dynamically from ISD.  I, also, was terrible at DKAx3.  Never one a single match. 
            Was it my favorite draft format?  No (it was Coldsnap, if you were curious).  Was it the worst?  No (That’d probably be ALA/ALA/CFX, for me.)  I had a lot of success in it, though, and I’ll look back on it fondly for that reason.
            As we look ahead to Avacyn Restored, which was spoiled today, I see a lot of possible interactions and wacky plays, and I look forward to another homogenous-set draft.  See you back later this week for another Meat and Potatoes, Avacyn Restored Edition!
            Until next time, don’t forget to untap!
PS:  Since I wrote this article on April 17th, I’ve played two more DKA/ISD/ISD drafts on MTGO to blow the last of my remaining packs and tickets. The first, where I drafted a U/W Spirit deck (finally) was hilariously underwhelming against a deck of B/R durdle.  He made quick work of me in the first round in a 1-2 match.  Second, I knuckled down into the B/R durdle deck and managed to snag a pretty consistent deck with good removal and consistency and even a Bloodline Keeper.  In the first round, I went against some failed Delver deck and easily 2-0’ed, but in the second round I played an amazingly synergetic U/W Spirit deck.  Although I was able to dispatch most of his creatures, his win condition, a Drogskol Reaver, was untouchable.  In the matches he resolved it, I had no answer for it, even a cleverly timed Traitorous Blood only delayed the inevitable.  A poor way to finish this format, but I thought it relevant to let you know.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ten Friends, One Victor, One-Sixth of a Day

I wrote this article three months ago, but hadn't posted it.  Enjoy!

When I was in college, I lived in a dorm for my first two years; this is where I first experienced college life in all its stereotypical glory; loud, raucous shouting down the hall, the uncomfortable smell in the room of your roommate’s “I’ll eat it on Monday” pizza from three weeks ago lingering in the pocket-sized fridge in the corner, then shuddering as you recall that was you…oh, and schoolwork, classes, libraries, blah blah blah…

Our dorm was fairly small, housing about 100-120 awkward, post-pubescent man-children within their half-century-old concrete walls.  As I’d sit at my pressboard desk and plink away at a psychology report (coughvideogamecough), I’d hear my thin door knock behind me.  I’d answer the door, and one of perhaps a half-dozen predictable faces would beam back at me.

“We’re doing a big game of Magic, want to play?”

This, not the rigorous back-and-forth of two-person Magic, was where I cut my Magic chops.  Team games, free for all games, Emperor games, Two-Headed Giant games or of course the semi-multiplayer sanctioned variant; Draft!  Looking back, they have provided fond recollections of outrageous plays, life totals in the thousands, and legitimate, I-didn’t-mill-you deckouts.  The longest of these many excursions lasted from 10:00PM one night to 5:00AM the next morning!  Seven hours of the same game!

Now, though I’ve tried to enjoy a good multiplayer game, I haven’t found it.  Sure, I enjoy Elder Dragon Highlander (now called Commander), but at my local shop it’s just griefing combo decks that make some huge play on one turn, leaving you as unsatisfied as a half-inflated balloon.

However, all was not lost in this woebegone tale…

My wife’s dearest friend, her husband and our shared companions reached out amongst the group for a night of mega-Magic.  I was ecstatic.  I lunged at the opportunity, and more and more Facebook invites came back in the affirmative.  Embroiled in the excitement, I crafted multiple decks for myself and anyone who needed (or wanted) to borrow one.  I made one for each two-color combination possible, so I made ten decks in total; 600 cards bent to destroy the others.

On January 15th, the war began.

As the afternoon aged, one person came.  Then two, then four, then six….by sundown, ten people had gathered at our new dining room table ready to sling cards.  The variety of players was excellent, ranging from seasoned semi-pros to green, untried newbies, and everything inbetween.

As we munched on plastic bowlfuls of salty party mix and pretzels, we debated about how to include all ten of us in a game that wouldn’t be painfully slow.  A pitched five-on-five battle?  A three-way Emperor with one observer (or some other nefarious role)?  Eventually, we landed on Two-Headed Giant; well, more precisely, five-way Two-Headed Giant.

For those of you unfamiliar with the rules, it’s fairly simple and nearly self-explanatory from the name.  You and your single teammate share phases, combat and a starting 30 life; both of you take your main phases at the same time, you draw together, and you fight as a single unit; you declare your attackers and your blockers as one person, attacking or protecting a single, shared life total.  Otherwise, it’s just like regular Magic.  But, if one of you loses, you both lose.

Massive Magic Night #5
Eighteen pounds of cardboard!

First, let me line up our players.

Team One -

Kevin – A seasoned, serious player whose creative Standard deckbuilding and experience have helped garner success as a YouTube Magic commentator.  You can find his website at  The deck he had was a standard legal R/U/B control deck.

Caleb – A cheery, handsome fellow always looking for a good time in whatever game he sits down at.  He slung cards with a Premium Sliver deck.

Massive Magic Night #9
Kevin is rockin' the mushroom hoodie, and Caleb's got the grey sweater on the right.

Team Two –

Matt – Yours truly!  I shuffled a stack of R/G hasty midrange cards.

Danny – An old high-school pal, he's a newcomer to MTG but an experienced tabletop and CCG player.  He lined up a B/W Samurai tribal deck.

Massive Magic Night #7
Danny is the handsome stud on the left.  I'm...well, there I am.

Team Three –

Nick – Another long-time friend, he's a new face to MTG but a gamer deep at heart.  He shuffled up his Innistrad R/U theme deck based on graveyard, milling and flashback.

Beth – My wonderful better half, she grabbed for her powerful Wurm/Snake deck, full of U/G fatties.

Massive Magic Night #8
Nick is on the left.  Beth is taking the picture; suffice it to say she is the most beautiful girl you ever saw.

Team Four –

Carol – A friend of the whole group, she grabbed a R/B Extended Vampire deck that Beth and I made her for Christmas.

Katie – Nick’s fiancé and a friend of Kevin’s, she deftly shuffled a G/B Zombie/Recursion deck between her nimble fingers.

Massive Magic Night #6
The two ladies on the left, the closer being Katie and the farther being Carol.

Team Five –

Drew – A latent veteran of the card game who planted his roots in Alliances days, his Johnny nature shined through with a glittering blue stack of artifact combo.

Wes – Brand new to the game, the gracious and kind fellow took advantage of the decks I had made, reaching for a slower, G/W token build.

Massive Magic Night #2
Drew is closer and smiling.  Wes is farther and drinking from an invisible straw.

Now let’s sling some cards!

The game started about 7:30 that evening, and it wasn’t long before we knew we were in for a haul.  After winning the roll, Team Four led off and we were on the way!  After a couple circuits around the cramped table, people gingerly played their first creatures, nervous to commit too much lest someone draw first blood.  Life changes shifted at a sluggish pace; a point here, a swing there, but it was a careful game at first.  Kevin and Caleb of Team One were drawing and passing; Caleb looked frustratingly at his untapped stack of lands, yearning for a green to get him on the board.  His first play was a Necrotic Sliver, which next turn (and for every Sliver he played), could threaten anything on the board.  I nudged my partner Danny, who answered the end of his turn with a kill spell.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  At this point, the table decided that Kevin and Caleb were public enemy number one.  With what little strength we had yet mustered, all four teams turned against them, slashing away at their life points.  As his turn began, Kevin retaliated with a Slagstorm.  We all looked at our creatures, then at our hands, but searching for something to save our rough dozen of creatures was in vain.  We began placing them in our bins with a groan.

Despite their best efforts, though, their fate was sealed.  I played a fully kicked Lightning Serpent (6 was X, as I recall) and swung it for 8 points at Team One’s 8 life points.  Kevin blocked with his single creature, a Snapcaster Mage, but Danny played a Hail of Arrows with X as 1, removing the Snapcaster Mage as a blocker and allowing all 8 damage to trample through, barely defeating them.  As a side note, we would later go back and realize Hail of Arrows can only be used against attacking creatures…oops.  That being said, though, Danny’s Doom Blade could also have dispatched Tiago Chan’s Invitational card, so take that as you will.

Caleb and Kevin graciously scooped up their cards and settled in to watch.  With the field smaller, we felt sure that the game would be done more quickly…

Danny and I pulled lands and underwhelming creatures for a turn or two leaving ourselves understandably vulnerable after going all-in with both spells and creatures to defeat Team One.  We held our breath and mumbled as we peeled off lands from our decks.  Team Three, consisting of Nick and Beth, were almost completely the opposite.  Beth continued to set down powerful, trampling creatures that dissuaded would-be attackers, while Nick drew a card, perhaps playing a land on occasion, reading his cards carefully and passing the turn.  Team Four, made up of Katie and Carol, put down powerful, game changing creatures like Bloodline Keeper and thirsty Vampire Outcasts.  Drew would draw his cards, play out costless artifacts (or effectively costless affinity-driven artifacts), draw several cards on the backs of Thoughtcast, and Wes created a powerful Juniper Order Ranger, complete with a woody Fists of Ironwood and two buffed Saproling bodyguards.  Both Drew and Wes thought it best to play defense until either Wes had a large enough horde of creatures or Drew was able to combo off with his Blasting Station.

Soon, I pulled a perfect multiplayer card from my deck; Dragon Broodmother!  Oh joy!  Oh Rapture!  Oh…dead.  As people passed down to their neighbor what it did, each shuffled through their hands to find an answer.  Just three upkeeps (and 3 little Dragons later), the baby Dragons became orphans.  Danny and I were still on the recovery, and we worried that Carol and Katie’s growing horde of blood-sucking, earth-munching creatures could overwhelm any one of us at any moment.  Amongst our side of the table, we pledged to commit to destroying Carol and Katie’s army or at the least keep it in check.  Danny and I used our tenuous forces to chip away at their ever growing life total (life-gain seems much more intimidating in multiplayer – 47 life is a lot of life!).  Nick and Beth pulled through, however, landing critical blows with their combined armies of Beth’s powerful Wurms and Nick’s…well, Nick threw an Aven Fleetwing at them.  Even Drew and Wes came out from their cloistered trench, offering a Solemn Simulacrum and other 2/2 creatures.  Slowly, the life total and creature quantity became manageable, and Team Four struggled to keep up.  After a VERY long and carefully calculated combat round between Danny’s and my own forces, we sealed the deal.  Carol and Katie, apparently confident with their performance, bowed out.

Down to just three teams, Drew and Wes continued to pass the turn, hoping Nick, Beth, Danny and I would fight it out and they would sweep up the wreckage when the time was right.  It came around to our turn, and we played some defensive creatures and passed the turn, shoddily prepared for the onslaught of Team Three.  Nick asked Danny and me how many cards were in our deck.  A silly question I thought; I counted up my cards and Danny and I each remained in the mid-30s.  Wes gave a similar answer.  However, as Drew picked up his shorter stack, he gave a confident “21!”  As our turn concluded, TK finally sprung his trap.  In a fever of Dream Twists, Ghoulcaller’s Bell taps and a well timed Vision Skeins from Beth, Drew slid the last card from the top of his library into his graveyard; not one card was spared, but only just so – 22 cards would have been enough to save Drew from milling out.  Nick and Beth triumphantly passed the turn.  Drew, the resident dead-man-walking, used his final upkeep to vengefully tap down each of Nick and Beth’s creature using clever uses of Glare of Subdual; they were now completely open to attack and tapped out.  Their draw step ended and they lost from a well-timed and inexorably calculated stroke of teamwork.  They should call Nick's deck Piecemill.  XD

Finally, we untapped and looked across at the crippled and exhausted board state of the last remaining opponents.  Danny and I sided together and crashed in for an efficient, but not gratuitous, victory.

We all had a laugh and a sigh of relief as the lengthy game drew to a close.  As we peered up at the colorful clock over the living room mantelpiece, it advised us that we had passed into the next day.  It was midnight!  A lovely chat and final farewells followed up this lively, intense game, and all retired, brooding over what we could do to make our decks better.

Massive Magic Night #4

I haven’t had that much fun playing Magic in a long time.  It’s fun to Top 2 a release event and it’s fun to grind in solid wins at a PTQ, but there’s nothing more fun than playing a casual, but intense game of Magic with your pals.  I hope we can do it again soon; until then, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt