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!

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