Saturday, May 26, 2012

MiRUcle – Burn Deck in Disguise

Welcome back to Untap Target Player!  Today, I wanted to review a deck of mine that I’ve been testing over the last couple of weeks for the new Standard.  Standard is not usually my cup of tea – I don’t normally put a lot of thought into shuffling up a stack of sixty. Usually, if I’m playing Standard, I’ll rustle up some aggro cards, throw them together, and sling fairly mindlessly.  At least, that’s what I’d been doing until now.

This deck, one of my own design, has helped me branch out a little bit.  The deck is still not terribly complex, but it does require a fair amount of mental energy to pilot successfully.  It’s a red/blue deck built around burn and instants (big surprise, right?).  It does run Delver, but I wouldn't call it a "Delver" deck.  It just so happens that Delver fits really nicely into the other plan.  The other plan is abusing “miracle,” the new keyword from Avacyn Restored which allows you to topdeck and cast awesome spells at a fraction of their costs.  A highly variable and conditional mechanic, I attempted to abuse it as much as Standard would allow. 

The goal of the deck is to get Delver online to hit my opponent a couple times, and then burn them down with conventional burn and miracle burn while having mana available for some permission and control.  It also uses Noxious Revival to full effect, putting a spent miracle spell back on top of my deck for a paltry sum of 2 life. 

Although the list has changed a little bit over the past couple weeks, here is the most recent incarnation.

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Snapcaster Mage

4 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Thunderous Wrath
3 Bonfire of the Damned
3 Think Twice
2 Noxious Revival
2 Vapor Snag
2 Slagstorm
1 Faithless Looting

2 Desolate Lighthouse
4 Sulfur Falls
8 Mountain
9 Island

1 Vexing Devil
1 Stromkirk Noble
4 Incinerate
1 Noxious Revival
3 Devastation Tide
3 Dissipate
2 Steel Sabotage

Believe it or not, this plan has worked a surprising amount of the time.  Ponders help you set up Miracle and Delvers, Snapcaster Mages get back Mana Leaks (and even the occasional Thunderous Wrath).  I’ll go over the cards within it and explain each inclusion – I find these kinds of explanations help me understand the deck building process much better than just staring at a list.

Delver of Secrets

The only side worth noting.
Ahh, the bane of Standard and Legacy decks alike.  His inclusion is certainly the most mainstream one, but in this deck, it is an easy four-of.  This deck has 29 instants or sorceries, so this Delver will blind-flip more often than not, assuming no more than 3 instants or sorceriers are in your opener, and even just one hit makes him a Lava Spike.  I don’t expect much out of him because of his lightning-rod status, but even just a smack or two is worth it.  An unflipped (read: late game) Delver also makes a fine crony for the chump block brigade.
Not many people know this, but the man in the white shirt is actually an unflipped Delver of Secrets.
Snapcaster Mage

Steampunk Harry Potter.
Also an auto-four.  He gives you so much card advantage, and everything in your graveyard can potentially be a surprise play.  I have won so many games on the back of this guy, and he continues to be awesome in every deck I play him.  Surprisingly, this deck allows a lot more sub-optimal play of this guy.  I’ve casted him at the opponent’s EOT on two mana, flashing nothing back, for the additional two damage he’d garner me, and I’ve main phased him to cast Pillar of Flame and Ponder, too.  He is less at home here than in uber-instant decks, but he’s always a welcome draw. 

Mana Leak

They haven't leaked this in M13, have they?
This particular version is my preferred (and, well, I already had them like this), and I’ve just about always been pleased to play this one.  Even with the presence of Cavern of Souls and cheap aggro decks, Mana Leak still manages to counter the important stuff; equipments, un-Caverned Titans, Wurmcoil Engines, another counterspell.  It does it on the cheap, and your opponent has to play it around it for every major spell he wants to cast.  However, Mana Leak is not as powerful in the Standard of today.  Once, it was an auto-playset for blue control  However, this is no longer the case, and I have boarded out some or all of the copies of this card in matches over the last couple weeks.  It plays fairly weakly against cheap aggro and graveyard-based decks (in Zombie decks, this is both).  Nothing feels more awkward than Mana Leaking a Gravecrawler.


Merfolk > Boring hand
Ah, here it is!  It’s no Preordain or Brainstorm, or even an Index, but this does help an awful lot in setting up for Miracle as well as smoothing out your draws.  This deck plays out as a draw-go more often than not, and so capitalizing on your draws is really, really crucial, even if there’s no Delver in sight.  The option to shuffle is something I’ve used more than once, and it is a practiced skill with a deck like this.  It took a lot of matches to figure out the right time to shuffle and when I should keep the sorted cards on top.

Pillar of Flame

Only you can prevent Zombie recursion.
This card does work.  After matching up last week against a Zombie deck in a practice game, I realized how terrible I was at dealing with resolved undying creatures.  Herein is the perfect solution.  It’s cheap, efficient removal that gets the job done while getting rid of “when this creature dies” clauses and graveyard nonsense.  The only downside (and not an insignificant one) is its sorcery speed.  However, in certain matchups, that doesn’t matter all that much.  If it does, switch to Incinerates!

Thunderous Wrath

The workhorse and most frequent win condition of the deck.  Ironically, you don’t want to have this win condition in your opening hand for obvious reasons.  I win a large amount of games from this reasoning, regardless of T-wrath’s role in that success.  I have also hardcasted a lot of these guys, as my games tend to run pretty long.  This is quite inadvisable; while everyone taps out for a Titan, I tap out for…a Lava Axe.  Certainly, this card is MUCH worse in your hand, and you’ll almost always want to cast it on the miracle, even if you have other plans for the turn.  Rarely will that one red mana be missed.  There’s not much more that can be said about this card; regardless, it gets the job done.

Bonfire of the Damned

Hellishly good.
This is arguably the most variable of the Miracle cards in this deck, probably because of the level of disparity between a hardcasted one and a miracle one.  You don’t want to hit it early, or it’ll be a pretty wimpy Bonfire, and even if you draw it late, maybe while you’re Thinking Twice, what kind of impact is it going to have?  Even though I’ve managed to wind up getting three of this powerful sorcery in my deck, I’m a bit unsure of how good it actually is in this deck.  It is a sweet rip when I’m behind on board (nearly always the case), and it does hit their life total and creatures without targeting them.  I have often hardcasted it where X = 1 to kill a couple Avacyn’s Pilgrims or Birds of Paradise.  It’s pretty bad against control decks (as a lot of X spells are), and it is really only good against a certain kind of deck (aggro and/or weenie), and it also means you give up counter mana for maximum value.  Still, when you hit it just right, it feels so good.  If you haven’t noticed, this deck is more about fun than consistency.  The Bonfire is not immune from being boarded out, but it stays in there most of the time. 

Think Twice

The book has a Thunderous Wrath in it.
The defensive workhorse of the deck, it provides card advantage when I don’t counter anything and it’s able to activate Miracle on an opponent’s turn.  These two things, as well as the ability to flip a Delver, make this guy an easy inclusion.  I only played three because the prospect of Thinking Twice into another Think Twice urked me a little bit, and only in those long, drawn out games do I wish I had a fourth.  Solid turn two and turn three EOT play.  Just make sure you have a mana open for that Thunderous Wrath!

Noxious Revival

Making Reclaims disappear from the decks they were never in since 2011.
Here’s the gimmick to the whole deck!  It sets up the draw from a presumably stocked graveyard.  Thunderous Wrathing then Reviving it for my next draw step is a pretty solid, cost effective way to take half an opponent’s life total.  I’ve also found myself using it to guarantee a Delver flip or get back a much needed normal spell, like a Pillar of Flame for that Geralf’s Messenger (see below), or a Mana Leak for that spell I just gotta counter.  It is a useful utility card.  Originally I had three in the deck, but I boarded one out on the small, but nonzero possibility that it would be a dead draw.  It’s a great mid-game card to help you keep your advantage secure, or it can be that crucial enabler to put your Bonfire of the Damned back online for one last go.

Vapor Snag

Raymond Swanland even makes Unsummon look cool.
This is by far the narrowest inclusion in the deck, but it didn’t start that way.  Originally I played a playset of these within the deck, as this deck began life several months ago as a pre-DKA U/W Delver Tempo deck with Champions of the Parish, Delvers, Mirran Crusaders, and Feelings of Dread.  It had a full squad of Vapor Snags, too, and so I just moved them right over.  However, after playtesting in MiRUcle, it turned out that it was pretty darn worthless.  Without a board presence that would otherwise stop my opponent’s creatures and little to punch back with, Vapor Snag forfeits its value.  Most of the time, it plays out being a fairly lousy Fog or a way to bounce my own Snapcaster at the cost of one life.  It was a lesson in deckbuilding, and I still play two for the offchance that I fight a deck that it really hurts, like Frites or one-creature decks (Stromkirk Noble, Sword holders, etc.)  Even then, it is a delay, not a solution, and it almost always boards out.  I may very well replace it outright, but I haven’t decided for what yet.

Lightning Bolts for everyone!
This was once a sideboard card but has since made the maindeck for its ability to constantly impress.  Being a sweeper or a dome to the face for three mana is very flexible and solid.  Naturally, it boards out against most control matchups, but even if you’ve got one in hand, it can double as a Lava Spike in a pinch, and that deserves an inclusion from me.  Three damage is also a magic number to kill a lot of stuff, including Fiend Hunters, Wurmcoil Tokens, Glissa, Dungeon Geists…the list is pretty long, so you’ll almost always get value.

Faithless Looting

Maybe they should keyword this ability to "Loot twice."
This singleton inclusion has actually never surfaced in a match since I put it in, which could mean two things.  One, maybe I need more of them, or two, I just don’t need it at all.  This was once a third Noxious Revival, but the Faithless Looting let me pitch Miracle spells mistakenly drawn and recur them with my other two Revivals.  I can’t tell you how well it’s played; since its inclusion two tournaments ago, I have never drawn it, and I board it out for other stuff in tight, fast matchups where I don’t have time, or mana, to loot.

Desolate Lighthouse

Some of the homicidal spirits must be dead Merfolk Looters, then.
A pretty simple inclusion for its part, as it functions to filter my draw and trigger Miracle on an opponent’s turn.

Sulfur Falls

Beautiful.  U/R lands are my favorite.
I love the M10-style enemy dual lands!  I love enemy color decks anyway, but I think this was a welcome expansion of a good design.  It provides invaluable support to this deck’s intense color demands.

The basic lands in this deck have fluctuated as the cards themselves have; Mountains have become greater in value, while I’ve cut a couple Islands.  What I really hope is they make a Scars of Mirrodin-style dual land cycle in the next Block.  Boy, I hope they do.


Vexing Devil is the missing piece in this awkward puzzle.  He seems really awesome in this deck, especially as a sideboard choice, I just need more.  The Stromkirk Noble is filler until I can wrangle up a playset of this guy.  The idea is to board them in if game one is a Delver fest and they side in all their Delver hate (Daybreak Ranger, Whipflare, Ratchet Bomb).  Once a playset is obtained, I will likely remove one of the Devastation Tides, the Stromkirk Noble and the extra Noxious Revival.  The extra Noxious Revival sides in against either non-standard win condition decks (like mill or Planeswalker control) where my life total is less of a concern.

Incinerate often sides in one-for-one over Pillar of Flame in matchups where Pillar’s advantage is mitigated or its disadvantages (lower output and sorcery speed) are especially relevant.  I still like Pillar of Flame in the maindeck for its cheap cost and better applications against aggro, where I’m a little worse off otherwise.  Incinerate hits a little harder, and it’s an instant, but I just feel better about the Pillar maindeck.  This may change over time.

Devastation Tide is a weird animal.  It resets the board in a sense, but there are only some matchups where it’s particularly relevant.  It plays well with tokens and planeswalkers, as well as for removing problem permanents, even for just a turn.  It is stronger if I take out Delvers, too, so I need to sideboard carefully to maximize Devastation Tide’s relatively narrow effectiveness.

Dissipate is by far the MVP of the sideboard.  It is such a hard stop to a lot of different strategies and can act as Mana Leak #5-7 as needed.  Snapcasting for a Dissipate feels, just, so awesome.  It sometimes boards in directly for, but often in addition to, Mana Leaks if my opponent’s strategy revolves around a single creature or spell resolving so I know I’ll have one of them in hand when the time comes. 

Steel Sabotage is another relic from the W/U Human deck and, after boarding it in on rare occasion, is just about strictly worse than Crush in most circumstances.  I will be subbing out the Sabotages for Crushes; I won’t take Shatters, because most artifact creatures that are relevant are better dealt with in other ways or shouldn’t be dealt with by means of a "destroy" spell (Wurmcoil Engine and Jens, I’m lookin’ atchu.) 

I’ve battled a lot of different kinds of decks with this MiRUcle pile, and so I’ve gotten a lot of different insights.  Since my last post, I’ve participated in a Friday Night Magic and a Tuesday Night Magic (the more casual Standard tournament) at Something 2 Do. 

Last Friday, I went to see if I could repeat my undefeated performance once again and pocket a bit of cash.  I arrived after work and playtested the deck hard, even trying it against some other early comers.  I had trouble drawing well against a control deck, and I was completely useless against a Zombie deck, which ushered in the Pillars of Flame maindeck for the night and to current.  But let’s go to the tourney itself!  As a disclaimer, I didn’t take notes, so I don’t recall every detail, so just look at this as a summary and commentary of how the deck played against certain matchups.

In round one, I sat down at a high table number against Mikhail.  We shuffled for a long while and I kept a good hand of Delver, Ponder and some other nonsense (what else matters with a turn 1 Delver?).  He resolved a Stromkirk Noble, though, and I thought long and hard about my future.  Off the top, I ripped some instant (don’t remember) and I Pondered, finding a perfectly timed pair of Pillars of Flame.  I drew it, smacked the Noble, and started to swing.  The following turn, he resolved two Stromkirk Nobles.  Bonfire of the Damned, anyone?  Boy, I could be in real trouble now.  They were unblockable against my deck, so I had to kill them soon, before they got too big to swat.  Although I used another Pillar of Flame on one, I was worried where I’d find the other one.  A Snapcaster a turn or two latter answered that, and I eventually widdled him down by keeping his board clear of threats.  In game two, I sided in Incinerates which turned out to be super-important, frying a Bloodline Keeper and Olivia Voldaren.  He couldn’t make anything stick, and I burned him to negative life.  I will say that, in a casual game afterward, he trounced me with an unanswerable swarm of Lord of Lineage pumped tokens.  I was lucky on my draw in my tournament games; his vampire deck had me over a barrel otherwise.

In round two, I played against a fellow named Ryan and his pile of Humans, ready to battle.  Well, it took them a game to be ready to battle.  I slammed in with Delvers and burn pretty hard in Game 1, but he assembled an unanswerable squad of Mayors of Avabruck and Champions of the Parish to slap me silly in game two.  Game three was a lot more like game one, and I kept his board clear enough to bash in for the gold. 

In round three, I was at the top table, fighting Dylan, and this match was recorded!  Kevin Klotz, a recent friend met through a non-Magic-related friend, also happens to run the channel KlotzProductions on YouTube.  He posts high-quality commentary of Something 2 Do matches every week, and mine are up now!

In round four, I was just one match away from making it into prizes.  I sat down across from Ben, a fellow perhaps just a couple years younger than myself.  In game one, his deck became all too clear – Zombies.  He resolved a Geralf’s Messenger, but I thankfully had drawn a Pillar in my starting seven.  He resolved another, and I cast another Pillar.  He cast a third Geralf’s Messenger and, casting a Noxious Revival to put my Pillar of Flame on top, drew and shot his third Messenger.  However, I was now at 12 life, and the powerful Zombies had done their damage.  He cast a Falkenrath Aristocrat and smashed me three times for game.  In game two, I had trouble hitting Blue mana; he had a slower start, but he was able to resolve another Aristocrat while I was unable to cast my Dissipate.  I tried to Pillar of Flame it on my turn, forgetting that any creature sacrificed to it makes it indestructible, not just a Human.  I couldn’t deal with the Falkenrath Aristocrat, and it sealed the deal after he resolved a second one.

A 3-1 finish was not at all bad, and I pulled my 3rd Bonfire of the Damned from among my three prize packs, so it was still a successful night in the realm of Magic.

I also played this past Tuesday on a bit on a lark.  I was hoping to meet a friend there, but was unable to, and came alone instead.  I came in just moments after the first round was paired and seated, but the TO decided to be nice and let me join with a first round bye (as opposed to a first round loss, which is what most other places do).  I had made very few adjustments to the deck since Friday, if any; I honestly can’t recall.

In round two, round one for me, I sat across from Derek, a sharp RN with glasses and a friendly handshake.  We shuffled up for game one, and my Delver went to work on his life total.  After getting him low enough without seeing much of his deck, having countered a Batterskull, we went to game two.  In game two, my Delvers hit even harder, and I was able to knock him down to zero with similar efficiency.  My Delver flips had been crucial for success there, and it seemed he had kind of a mill package going, with two Nephalia Drownyards online by the end of it.  He couldn’t find his sideboarded Witchbane Orbs, a surefire end to my Miracle shenanigans, which clinched game two.

In round three, I sat down from Nick, a familiar face around Something 2 Do but someone with whom I had not conversed.  We introduced ourselves and started up.  My board development was pretty flimsy, and his deck, a blinking human deck with the likes of Restoration Angel, Blade Splicer and Huntmaster of the Fells, handed me a solid loss.  I took a while to sideboard and a while to play and, although I had made some strong plays in game two, I couldn’t seal the deal, and it went to time.  With a single game win, he won the match 1-0. 

Now, sitting at 2-1 with a bye, I just hoped to win my final match for a shot at some packs.  My opponent, venerable grinder Justin and fellow gamer from Bluegrass Magic, sat down on the other side of the table.  Justin, a very tight and talented player, was playing an Elf Run deck with Swords, Elves and Strangleroot Geist.  He Galvanic Blasted my flipped Delver and it was inevitably placed on defense; I never hit him for more than a scratch before we were shuffling up for game two.  In game two, I played very loosely, missing two Delver flips and a bad Ponder stack.  I lost, needless to say, having punting an almost unwinnable board state against an equipped Thrun, The Last Troll, a creature that I absolutely could not deal with in combat or spells.

So a finish of 2-2, one being a bye, is not too great.  Although I did get some unfortunate draws, it is clear that this deck can be inconsistent and is often not very interactive with an opponent’s board when it needs to be.  If I have to defend myself with combat alone, I often come up short.  Regardless of this, I am very pleased with how well this brew has played, and I’ll continue to tweak it in the coming months as my main Standard deck.  It’s nice to be able to get behind one on a more long-term basis.  I already have the pieces (mostly) so that’s a nice thing to note.  Now I need to keep my eye on the metagame and play each game tightly, looking for any place I can improve it.

If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.  I have a tendency to be proud about decks I’ve made up, but collaboration is an invaluable tool for every Magic player, and I welcome it.  There are some things I’m considering for this deck.  I’ve considered Temporal Mastery, though I feel like it would be inconsistently good, as it is most often used to count on getting an additional step; a main phase, a draw phase or a combat phase, something I’m not always in want of, except maybe a draw phase.  I have too few creatures to really capitalize on it, and it is very difficult to cast reliably if I have it in hand.  It also exiles upon resolution, so I can’t abuse it with Noxious Revival.

Let me know, and if you like the blog, please give me a follow!  I’ve been watching, and I see that a lot of people read this blog, so I hope you’ll follow me to let me know who my regular readers are.

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Avacyn is Restored - Now What?

Hello, fellow Magic players, and welcome back to Untap Target Player!  Today, I wanted to discuss the new metagame for Standard as well as a review on the triple-AVR Limited format. 

Now that the dust has settled from speculation surrounding what the new cards would do to the Standard metagame, it seems we have a bit of our answer.  Delver decks are still pretty dominant, but gratefully, whole new deck styles have sprouted up from the fertile deckbuilding earth.  There is a LOT of variety out there now, and I’ve been trying to wade into it.  I enjoy playing Standard more than most other competitive formats (say, Legacy and Modern and Block Constructed), but I really wanted to invest more time in the most played format in Magic today.  I’m glad I did, as we’ll discuss.

To frame the discussion of Standard, I’ll use a fairly narrow window to start; a local shop in Louisville called Something 2 Do.  It’s been around forever, and I’d played cards there before, but on a whim, I decided to attend their Standard tourney last Tuesday with a couple of my pals.  I had been working on an off-beat, high-concept R/U Delver deck meant to take advantage of the newly introduced “Miracle” mechanic.  I’ll write more about it next time, once I’ve gotten to test it a little more, but it’s a deck of my own design that basically controls the top of my deck and the field while I use burn spells and creatures (rarely) to bring you down to 0, recurring powerful “miracle” spells using the ever useful Noxious Revival.

*cough cough* Hit you for 5. *cough*
Anywho, I took this MiRUcle deck to Something 2 Do last week and frantically tried to fill the unoccupied slots with the needed “miracle” cards.  I almost met my goal, but was unable to completely fill it up, so I slid some filler into my blue Ultra Pros and shuffled up for round one. 

Something 2 Do is a much more compact store than my usual stomping ground.  I sidled around other eager players to see the pairings on the side of the vending machine, and, after seeing I was on the other side of the crowded room, jostled my way, watching the direction my backpack was flying, less it err off-course into someone’s noggin.  I sat down across from John, a fellow with whom I was not familiar (Something 2 Do and Bluegrass share many customers).  As we settled into game one (my deck’s first real test), my deck got off to an explosive, Delver-Flipping start.  It worked remarkably, flipping into on-time Thunderous Wraths.  His deck, apparently an incarnation of Frites, a reanimation deck, couldn’t get turning.  In game two, however, his engine came online while I durdled around turn after turn.  It wasn’t long before a resurrected Grislebrand smashed me in the teeth while he sat at a distantly high life.  As we shuffled up for game three, I appealed to the heart of the cards to avoid another five-card mulligan.  I did fine, gaining a sufficient, though not explosive, game three win. 

Grateful to have scraped by a win against a deck I had lost to for weeks on MTGO, I checked on my friend’s werewolf deck progress.  He had playtested it with me before the tournament, and it could manage some very aggressive starts, but the control metagame at the shop was working the werewolves pretty hard.  For game two, I sat across from Michael, a fellow I knew from my regular shop and an esteemed Limited player.  He explained, having seen my deck in playtesting before the tournament, that he felt I had great answers for his only trick.  Unsure of what it was, I smiled and hoped he was right.

His deck proved to be a very interesting variant of a Turbofog deck that was popular a couple of rotations ago, but his had milling as a win condition in the form of Increasing Confusion.  As I attempted to hit him through a flurry of Hysterical Blindnesses, Clinging Mists, Fogs, and Devastation Tides, allowing rebuys of his Abundant Growths, he set up to mill me for double digits.  Mana Leaks kept me safe and I got him in game one.  After some blunt-instrument sideboarding, I put in Dissipates and Pillars of Flame, relying on burn and control to finish him off.  Still, I always thought twice before Thinking Twice. 

See what I did there?
I was fairly pleased with the deck, though its unshakeable inconsistency was poking through like grey hairs.  Regardless, it was time for round three and my nerves were starting to go…top prize was $50 cash, and I sure would like that to take home to my lovely wife.

In round three, I sat across from Koray (I’m sorry if I missed the spelling, sir, I just couldn’t recall it, though I remembered it was unique).  A serious and prepared Magic player, he shuffled up a vessel he clearly knew from bow to stern.  My ragtag team would have to do.

In the first game, I exploded out of the gate with Delvers and burn, sweeping away his Lingering Souls tokens and bashing through for a surprisingly sudden win.  Esper colors looked back at me from his side of the table without seeing much more than a Lingering Souls from him.  In game two, I got a more sluggish start, and his swarm of Lingering Souls tokens and an animated Gideon Jura beat me down.  In game three, I conjectured how best to counter his Esper Walker deck (assumedly.)  Again, those Dissipates came flying in from the sideboard.  A first turn Vexing Devil smacked him down, and I countered just about every play with my well timed counterspells, putting me at 3-0 for the day. 

I couldn’t have believed this deck would have done as well as it would have, but it was getting there, at least today.  My friends and I ran out for a quick bite to eat before the final round.  There were three undefeated players, so splitting was out of the question.  I had to win to claim the prize.

I sat down across from Philip, who sat with a group of his own friends, who watched our match with a surgeon’s eye.  In game one, I exploded as per usual for this deck.  When it was clear that lethal was imminent, he’d declared he’d play.  His deck was a Frites deck as well, though it was much deeper and broader than John’s deck in round one, putting every color but blue at his disposal.  I still had a good start in game two, and I managed to beat him down to 10.  A complex and “everything-needed-to-go-right” play would have him dead at my draw step for the match.  But, a Timely Reinforcements appeared from his hand, and, sans counter, he jumped up to 16, and my fate was sealed.  After that, I made a couple very sour misplays, casting an Incinerate on a Spirit token to which he responded with a pump from his clearly visible Gavony Township.  I kicked myself under the table, and a Sun Titan with plenty of back up in his hand smashed my mistake-making face.  In game three, my hands were sweating and my stomach was turning.  I played a fairly loose game, throwing my burn out as hard as I could.  After a lot of bounces and counters, my burn had brought him to 5.  I Snap-ped a Noxious Revival and put a Bonfire from my graveyard on top to kill his Bird of Paradise and burn him down to 1 at my draw step.  He miscounted the damage and scooped, not realizing the slip until his permanents were already shuffled away, which a spectator not-so-nicely pointed out.  I extended a hand to congratulate him on a well-played game.  His Frites deck was very technical, as was my deck, and neither of our decks would brook any misplays; I was just fortunate enough to make one less.

A crisp fifty dollars now stuffed in my wallet, I considered the decks that I fought and realized I hadn’t played any aggro decks; each of the four decks I’d fought planned to go online late, usually packing Lingering Souls or some other stall card to protect him for long enough to break through.  I had no idea how my deck would fare against a powerful aggro deck, such as the newly awesome W/R Humans deck.  I play tested it later that week and, after several games, it proved to be less than effective, though some sideboarding and better play choices on my part could have done it.  In other testing, Pod decks also proved a problem, though not as serious a one.  Over the next few weeks I will fiddle with some sideboarding options as well as some maindeck changes, though I want to be careful; each piece of the maindeck puzzle fits pretty snugly. 

Now, to my usual discussion of Draft…

I’ve had three experiences with AVR Limited so far, the first being the prerelease where I had a strong finish in Sealed, a draft amongst friends and a draft at my local shop.  Each of the three experiences has lent opinions to how I feel about this format as a whole.

First, I do enjoy AVR Sealed.  Though it can be bomb heavy, you can also construct consistent, tempo laden decks with a variety of interesting and skill-based interactions that can make it a unique and dynamic experience.  My deck had no bombs, but it was still fun to play, and performed admirably despite its glaring shortcomings.  Other decks I saw were also powerful and well-built, making it clear that skill as well as luck were essential to success in Sealed.  Putting as much of it as possible in skill is the primary goal of Sealed, but new and old players alike can find something fun here.

Shortly after the set was released, I bought a box with our gaming crew (most of whom were present for the 10-man Two-Headed Giant game, see January’s post) and we drafted.  Seven of us total gathered around our dining room table for some card picking and card slinging.  Carol, a regular in our gaming groups and a close friend with many of us, was drafting for the first time, and I set beside her to give her some pointers.  As we opened up, a lot of good blue and green cards showed up and flowed our way.  Both Carol and I took blue and green cards, and by pack 2, she’d gotten the hang of it and I let her make her picks, each of which was strong. 

Not so with my pile, which was forced to branch out into black as blue dried up around the board.  After we had drafted our 42 cards, we built, and I was forced to audible into a blue/green/black heap of mud and shame.  I had some intrinsically powerful cards, but an awkward mana base and curve threatened to plague me in my climb to victory.  In game one, I squared off against Scott, a long-time friend and eager gamer who was learning the ropes in Magic and WoW cards, too.  A card player of exceptional luck (there’s always one), I had pulled a Temporal Mastery from his pack, by far the highlight of the night for the box.  We went to battle and my deck was as sluggish and unresponsive as a broken-down Yugo.  Scott’s deck, a streamlined and masterfully played blue/white Human/Angel stack, handed me an unflinching two losses. 

Something had to give, and after some deliberation, I felt the black was slightly stronger than the blue, and I shoved every playable Black card I had into the deck to compensate for the ousted blue.  In my second game against Wesley, an equally venerated member in the group, I managed to eke out two sloppy wins against his vastly superior deck.  Sigarda and friends threatened to beat me to a pulp, but after maneuvering, I was able to make it to 1-1.  Sadly, our time had run late, and with work the next morning, I had to call it after only two rounds.  Scott ended up winning against Kevin, who had himself drafted a synergetic and powerful mono-black Zombie deck.  I awkwardly ranked us in a way that two rounds and seven players can do.  The draft left a sour, unfulfilled taste in my mouth.  It was like I was starving and all they were serving was cold broth.

My second draft was at my regular shop Bluegrass Magic.  There, I sat down on Thursday night in a six-man pod (next to another six-man pod) and began the draft.  White seemed to be open, but by pack two, I had nixed blue as a second color, stepping more firmly into black.  I had some blue that I could have played, but black and white seemed to be the better combo.  I had some average cards and a couple rares, so I felt ready to go to battle, though the deck seemed sloppy.

I sleeved up my W/B Angel/Demon deck in my trusty glittery-pink sleeves from Time Spiral days and sat down for my first match across from Chip, a veteran of the shop and a remarkably consistent Limited player.  I was quite nervous as I shuffled up, knowing this game would show my deck’s true colors.  Chip had a powerful opening with green and black dudes in game one, and I had…one land.  I never cast a spell, and I shuffled frustratingly for game two.  It was my own fault for breaking the “never keep a one land hand on the play” mantra.  I got an acceptably fast hand game two and started to put on the pressure.  He followed it up with a pair of Gloomwidows, an old favorite of mine for Limited and Cube (it was a Shadowmoor reprint).

The infinitely cooler one.
My army of Seraphs of Dawn couldn’t crack through, but he couldn’t get through me either.  At first I thought that the Gloomwidows only being able to block flyers would have been a disadvantage, but soon, he had enough guys on the ground and in the air that I couldn’t swat them all away.  A long, ground-out game ended in his favor as a Wolfir Avenger with bonded deathtouch crashed through my team. 

The match was dull and uninspired, and it didn’t take skill on my part, nor on Chip’s part; play dudes and do your combat math.  I reported and soon, the next round was up.  I sat down across from Nick, another regular at the shop as we shuffled up.  He stated his displeasure with the format as well and I hoped for an easy win to get back in the game. 

In game one, he cast Galvanic Alchemist and Demonic Rising, making a 5/5 Demon.  He proceeded to not cast a spell for the rest of the game; he didn’t need to – even if I blocked and killed his Demon, he’d get another and be able to block, and killing the Alchemist would have only allowed another 5/5 Demon.  He controlled the game handily, and I was easily thwarted.  I sideboarded in my only answer, a Cursebreak, and shuffled up for the next game.  In game two, I assembled a lightning fast assault, hitting all my land drops and a smooth curve, and he was quickly defeated.  In game three, the game was closer, as I was able to assemble a fleet of Seraphs of Dawn and some little ground guys and some small flyers.  I even had a Divine Deflection in hand to deal with any shenanigans.  However, he swung in with some of his team and I didn’t cast it, bringing me to two.  He cast Mental Agony, a card I’d seen in both of the other games, to finish me off.  I was flabbergasted at my stupidity, but Nick told me he’d give me the game anyway, and that he didn’t want to play anymore.  Frustrated and grateful, I graciously accepted it and reported.  The third round, my opponent conceded without even meeting me.  The fourth round consisted of my opponent requesting and playing some Standard; he conceded the draft portion.  I finished 3-1 without winning a single match and was still out of prize range.  This kind of draft concession is unprecedented in our shop – everyone plays to win. 

In conclusion, this set has got to be one of the most unpleasant drafting experiences I have had in a long time.  From a mechanical perspective, the format keywords, Miracle and Soulbond, sound neat in theory but provide for either brainless inclusions or completely luck-based plays that are rarely effective; moreover, they’re often unnecessary and unexciting.  White is a powerful, all-inclusive color that outshines (no pun intended) most other colors by a fairly significant margin.  The thrill of the draft isn’t there; it’s a good draft if you open a money rare, not if you draft a good deck.  I have not had the pleasure of either.  Having been on the heels of ISDx3 and DKA/ISD/ISD, I am disappointed with the flatness of AVRx3.  It feels like a boring core set draft, and those can be (but rarely are) fairly straightforward.  I’ll draft it if my friends do it, but don’t expect me to suggest we go share a box again; it isn’t worth the money.  Just crack the box yourself.

However, what AVR does improve is Standard.  There are all sorts of interactions available as the Standard pool expands to capacity.  R/W Humans is real, which makes me happy (except when I lose to it); it provides tempo, urgency and efficiency to the format.  Frites has been given more tools, and even variations of currently powerful formats have room to thrive; White Weenie, B/U delver, Esper, even RDW gets some help for when some of its muscle (Shrine of Endless Rage) rotates out.  People will be swatting Delvers out of the sky until next September (and just forever in Legacy), but there is a LOT of room to expand; there’s no Jund, no Cawblade, no Zoo, no Faeries; Delver decks get the closest, but I think there is a lot of room for everything in the metagame.  The best deck will be the one that’s able to adapt, not the straightforward, no-sideboard-needed deck. 

Next time, I’ll give you some follow up on the MiRUcle list.   

Until then, don’t forget to untap!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Avacyn Restored Prerelease Vanilla Blueberry

Hello and welcome back to another addition of Untap Target Player!  Today, I’ll review my experience at the Avacyn Restored Prerelease this past Saturday. 

After an eventful weekend and an old friend’s wedding, the Prerelease just about got lost in the shuffle.  Somehow, though, I still managed to squeeze it in.  Although I originally planned to go the morning one, I enjoyed a good sleeping-in after my friend’s bachelor party the night before; a wild, raucous night of debauchery, to say the least.  I was gone after TWO Sun Drops, boxes of collectible card games were strewn all over, and Wiimotes were flying every which direction in the unbridled revelry of intense Super Smash Brothers action.  I know, I know, I’m a party animal.

Anyway, I decided to go to the second event at my local shop instead, which started at 5:00 instead of noon.  I usually prefer to do the earlier event, so I actually do get the first prerelease, where everyone is as green as you to the format, but my bed was just too inviting.  When I arrived, the first event was still going strong (finishing round 3 of 5, if I recall).  I had plenty of time and made some trades and played some EDH…I’ll tell you, EDH is a lot more fun against non-combo decks.  On a side note (one of many), I am amazed by the meteoric rise in popularity of EDH since it became a Wizards-sanctioned format.  I caught the fairy (my sister’s way of saying “I liked it before it was cool,”) on EDH, but just barely.  I think the reason it’s been so successful is that it revives the old giddiness of the Timmy within us all.  “Look at my cool card!”  That whole thing is refreshing in a world of tight one-on-one action, and I enjoy a good EDH game, especially the political aspect as well as the careful planning required to ensure your own survival.

The shop where I play, filled with eager AVR players (and foosball).
Anyway, the time came for our event to begin.  The second one was dubbed the “Helvault event,” so named because of the physical Helvault prop that we as a player base could open by completing certain accomplishments during the course of our Sealed tournament.  These accomplishments were fairly simple, including controlling a number of Human creatures at one, forcing your opponent to sacrifice a creature, and high-fiving your opponent when they get a legendary permanent on the field.  After accomplishing any five of these feats (there were about thirty possible tasks total), you could remove one seal (a diamond-shaped piece of tape) from the Helvault.  Once all of them were removed, the Helvault would be open and everyone would claim a prize from it.

With that in our mind, we sat down to open up our packs and start registering.  I opened a fairly bad pool and was grateful to pass it; it lacked consistency but did have a random Cavern of Souls for monetary compensation for the otherwise terrible pool. 

I was passed a slightly better, but unremarkable pool of cards with which to create my deck.  Here’s a picture of the piled pool.

Here it is, in all its complacency!
I did have consistency in some of my cards.  I pulled out the rares to see if any were worth building around or at least splashing for. 

My best one was probably Soul of the Harvest, but with very little green support, so I ruled out Green.  Black and Red were both fairly viable, though eventually underwhelming, so I set them aside too.  White and Blue had a fairly solid curve and a lot of temporary removal in the form of bounces.  I settled on that and threw together the best twenty-three cards from those two colors and a couple artifacts.  I saddled them up in sleeves and went to battle! 

A familiar and tried path.
After shuffling for a while, our pairings were called and a fellow named Jeremy sat down across from me.  He was a nice guy loaded for bear with Kentucky Wildcats apparel, and he was a new player to Prereleases.  I introduced myself, realized it was a Helvault achievement, checked off the corresponding box, and we went to work.  The early game saw a nice stream of flyers come down from my side and Jeremy couldn’t do much to stop it.  Game two was not much different, and he extended a hand; I took it, wishing him well in the rest of his day’s games.

I stepped out for a quick bite to eat at the Chinese place next door and got some solidly good vegetarian fried rice.  I needed brain fuel – I was up late the night before and only managed a couple hours of sleep, and I needed to be on top of my game to beat my next opponent.  My deck was fine; plenty of win conditions, but I feared it would do poorly on the backpedal, where I’d be bleeding cards to stay alive long enough to resolve my big flyers. 

For round 2, I sat down across from a stone-faced Brian.  He was concentrating on the round ahead, and we shuffled up for a round.  In a polite and nearly inaudible voice, he waded into battle.  Game one, I pulled 14 out of my 17 land (and my Vessel of Eternal Rest, just to rub it in) and never hit him for more than a few points of damage.  He bashed through with a sizable squad of G/W humans.  I did get to see a fair amount of his deck, including three solid rares in Cathar’s Crusade (effectively Gavony Township), a Riders of Gavony and a Descendent’s Path with the synergy to match.  I looked hopelessly at my sideboard and shuffled a lot to de-clump the lands.  For game two, I was able to get a stronger start and push through lethal damage without dipping below 20 life. 

At this point, the weather interrupted us.  What sounded like metal banging innumerable notes erupted from the roof.  My wife had just called me to tell me she was seeing enormous (quarter-sized) hail raining down on her at home; although at the time there was nothing going on where I was (about twenty minutes away), about five minutes later, we got the rest.  It was deafening and all but one’s deepest thoughts were drowned out by the ice deluge.  I’ve never heard hail like that in my life, and going outside was comparable to a suicide by bludgeoning.  Somehow, my little Volkswagen pulled through without any visible dents or broken glass, though I know others were not so lucky. 

The third game proved to be the most interesting of the tournament so far.  We both had better, more equal draws this time.  Although I mounted a strong offense, Brian’s Seraph of Dawn paired with his deathtouching Nightshade Peddler made attacking through his team a tough, unprofitable task.  Soon, sitting on my team of untapped goons, he resolved a Jubilation Angel, effectively a Glorious Anthem for his squad.  Cathar’s Crusade also pushed his team to the max.  He had drawn quite a crowd from his amazing squad of fighters.  After my last desperate block, pulling out all the stops, I faced down several dozen power from his squad, and I conceded game three.  I extended my hand, and we shook.  He revealed the rest of his solid cards to me with a genial smile, and we had a pleasant debriefing.  I admit I was quite impressed with his deck and tight play.  He had built and played adeptly.

Disappointed but still positive, I retired to another table and power shuffled my deck, a common practice for me when I lose a close or a frustratingly disparate match.  Round three pairings came up, and I knew another match loss would toss me out of the prize pool for sure. 

But wait!  The seals had been broken for the Helvault!  After turning in our match results, each player could collect their prize from the Helvault.  I marched over, hoping to see some unique door prizes or booster packs or special promo cards. 

It was not.  It was oversized cards, several identical dice, and double-sided Angel/Demon tokens.  I had a moment like this.

Needless to say, most of us were pretty bummed that that was the extent of the over-hyped cardboard diamond.  These items were all available in the AVR Fat Pack.  Regardless, we still wanted to win something, and we suited up for round 3.  As I sat down to play my next opponent, I noticed an uncanny resemblance of my opponent (Joshua) to another fellow that plays at the shop, but he amusingly deflected a claim of blood relation; clearly he gets that a lot, especially since they look similar and are already friends.  Embarrassing attempts at recognizing unsolicited kinship aside, we shuffled up and I went on the early offense with an Angel’s Tomb and Tandem Lookout, a very effective combo of unblockable power and card-draw.  After a few rounds, my flyer sailed past his team of red and green grounders.  In game two, I resolved an Angel’s Tomb right on time again.  After hitting me with his equipped and bashing creatures, though, he top decked a Thunderous Wrath and immediately casted it, targeting me.  He brought me to a precarious 9, and I considered how best to defend myself. I resolved a Goldnight Redeemer, gained a fair chunk of life back and eventually cracked through with lethal. 

On a 2-1 record, I’d still need to win anything besides what I had already bought to get into the tournament.  When round four, rolled around, everyone was ready to see if they were successful in staying in the running, myself included.

I sat down for my final match against Tim, a man perhaps my own age, began shuffling while I made small talk; I know you’re not supposed to in a tournament setting because they get information about you and your playstyle from the way you talk and gesture, but I was fairly nervous, so I jabbered on for a minute, and he graciously let me.  Our first game was an interesting one, beginning with me mulling to five on the play.  Despite this, I had on-time angels and offense, while he couldn’t block flyers for the vast majority of the game.  Though, as I came as close as I could to killing him, he cast a Bonfire of the Damned for three, evening the score heavily.  Thankfully, I had gas left in my hand, and he did not, so I clenched game one with a perfectly lethal Zealous Strike on an unblocked flyer.

Game two was perhaps one of the most encouraging in my recent Limited career.  As Tim and I developed our board, I saw one of his own bombs: Herald of War.  At the rate he was going, he could have continuously attacked, being just one power and toughness bigger than all my angels waiting in the wings (hah!).  However, as I resolved my Archangel, he stopped.  After a couple stalemated turns of draw-go, I realized something.  The reason he’s not attacking must be because he doesn’t have a trick to blow me out (I could have double blocked his Herald of War with my Archangel and a Seraph of Dawn, but some kind of trick with a Zealous Strike or some such, would allow him to live and kill them both.)  So, on my next turn, I pushed with my Archangel, knowing that he had seen the Zealous Strike I played last game.  The fact he did not block suggests that he also didn’t have a whole lot of flyers.  As I suspected, he didn’t block.  I did this the following two rounds and, after an unfortunate attack from his team, he was unable to block the rest of my ground team and I won the match 2-0.

His Bonfire was just two draw steps away.

I used a little bit of information and planning, and it helped me win the game and the match.  Pleased with this realization, I walked up to the judge’s table for prize distribution.  

I ended up in 5th place, a solid finish for a 3-1 in a field of about 40-45 people.  Sadly, though, I was awarded only three packs; on inquiring with the judge, he assured me this was the correct number.  I still don’t believe this is true, as the 1st place and 2nd place winner won 36 and 18 packs respectively but it was getting late and I needed to get home, so I left, cracking my packs at the subsequent stoplights.  Out of my three packs, I managed to pull some solid uncommons and a foil Vexing Devil (which I almost missed while flipping through my packs.)  Sweet deal!

All in all, it was a good showing for me.  I’ve done better, but this was certainly more successful than some, and I had a good time.  Soulbond was just as fun and skill-testing as I thought it’d be, but I actually found Miracle pretty uninteresting.  Vanishment, the only Miracle card I had in the deck, was never cast for its miracle cost, either because it was in my opening seven or there were no juicy targets when I did turn it up.  I had to hard cast it whenever I cast it.  Unlike Terminus, Bonfire of the Damned or Temporal Mastery, I think the lower-tier Miracle cards are a bit too conditional even in a Limited environment.  Sure, they’re still good, but they won’t be as game breaking.

In building, I felt great; first, if you noticed, my deck had no rares in it whatsoever, and I aimed entirely for consistency and curve.  It paid off, despite the fact that the other colors probably had intrinsically better cards.  That being said, part of me wishes I would have splashed a single Swamp for the Killing Wave as it would have helped me recover in my losses against Brian.  But who knew?  I’ll know that next time; my colors weren’t terribly intense, so I should have felt more comfortable doing that.

As for the MVP of my deck, there are several that would make the cut.  Out of all of them, though, I think I like Angel’s Tomb best.  Although fairly unexciting, it did so much work in my deck, and it was easy to miss when my opponents were calculating damage.  It complemented my Fettergeist and Goldnight Redeemer well, being a creature when it needed to be and not one when it was inconvenient. 

After a solid night of fun and relatively relaxed play, Avacyn Restored’s Prerelease is in the books.  Admittedly, this is not one of Magic’s best sets, but it will still provide a lot of fun for the next few months.  I think its Sealed format is weaker than some previously, but I really look forward to drafting this set; this will be a good one to draft, and I think it will help other colors shine.  I didn’t play a single black or blue deck yesterday and saw very few while wondering around. 

There are a few cards I’m excited about for Standard and other formats, and we’ll get into those next time.  I hope you had a great time at your own Prerelease or that this will whet your appetite to try the next one, which I believe is the first weekend in July for Magic 2013. 

Until then, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt