So… M13. My life has been hectic recently. A few weeks ago my computer ate it, ruling out the possibility of any new videos or Magic Online testing. That was a problem, as I had not done more than five or so drafts online, and Grand Prix Not Boston was right around the corner. I would love to say I got supplemental testing in real life, but in reality, the side draft I did on Friday at the site was the first time I touched a physical M13 card.
I sat down to the murmurs of Red/Green Aggro being the best deck in the format. I had not played since the release events online, so I was willing to accept that the format had become more established, and that RG was the best. This initially made me think that the format was fast, similar to M12. Naturally, I drafted 4 Encrust and 3 Liliana’s Shade. It was far from the fastest deck, but it had a plan and a Mutilate, so I thought I could do decently. After a sick sideboarded Wit’s End in the UB mirror, and a very close 3-game loss to W/B Exalted, I was left with a 2-1 record.
This left me a little confused. Clearly one draft can be an anomaly, and most likely is—but I drafted about the slowest deck ever, equipped with Trading Post even—and it felt competitive. I decided that I was going to get more opinions on the format before committing to anything. Cedric Phillips and Michael Jacob had some good discussions in the hotel room, including telling me to always take Chronomaton, and Cedric saying Crippling Blight was arguably the 2nd best black common. I took mental notes and went to bed thinking about interactions and archetypes.
The next morning, I opted out of the sleep-in special so that I could have more time with my pool. Of course, as fortune would have it, the only playable deck in my Sealed pool was a RG aggro shell. I had a [card krenko, mob boss]Krenko[/card] and an Akroma’s Memorial as standouts, with a relatively low curve. At 5 mana, I had Garruk’s Packleader and Chandra’s Fury, but nothing more than that outside of the Memorial.
This actually led me to cut Sands of Delirium from my deck. Initially, when I opened my pool, I knew I’d be playing it. It seemed like a no-brainer. But then, as I looked at my curve, my severe lack of removal, and my survivability going long, it seemed like a bad pairing with the artifact. I couldn’t imagine getting it online in any game in which my deck did what it was supposed to do, and I couldn’t imagine me using it to its full potential if my deck was failing. I just did not have the support I needed for it.
Of course, plenty of others disagreed with my assessment.
I intended to board in the card in any slow matchup that had enough removal for my creatures, of course. Here is the list I played with relevant sideboard cards:
As you can see, this is hardly exciting, but it was playable, and I was able to use some unexpected cards to good effect. Kindled Fury was of particular importance, as it is not played much, but can be a total blowout at its best. This means it is not played around nearly as much, and is much easier to play off like you have nothing. Titanic Growth is clearly a better card, but when your opponent stares out across at 2 green mana untapped, the card at least registers to them.
Minor Goblin and Elf synergies definitely helped the deck have explosive draws. I had one game that involved Arbor Elf into Elvish Archdruid. From there, I played a Yeva’s Forcemage, pumping up my Arbor Elf, allowing me to Prey Upon a creature with my new 4/4, and netting a mana back from the Archdruid, leading into a same turn Centaur Courser. This all culminated in Akroma’s Memorial on turn 5, which obviously won me the game.
These high-powered draws were far from consistent, but it did help my deck navigate its way through the swiss, even though the deck was generally less powerful. In fact, my first round of the day was won in game 3 after I mulliganed to 4, just on the back of a fast curve (and obviously some luck).
As the day wound down, and 10 rounds of Sealed had been completed, I found myself at 8-2, needing a near flawless Day 2 to make the Top 8. Large Grand Prix like Boston are quite difficult on the mentality of the gamer, as reaching the finish line is such an absurd feeling. You have 16 rounds to slog through before you can make Top 8, and picking up any more than two losses eliminates you from the running. Normally, when you make Day 2 of a Grand Prix, you are alive to Top 8. Sure, it might require a perfect record on Day 2, but it is possible. With a Grand Prix this large, technically that remains true, but that is a big technicality.
You see, after round 9, the cut to Day 2 occurs. This means a bunch of people are eliminated, but Day 2 does not start on Day 2—it starts now. You have to play with your Sealed deck for an additional round, putting extra pressure on your pool and your play.
If you picked up the maximum number of losses before making the cut, and then lose the 10th round, you are now 7-3 and in what is commonly referred to as Purgatory. This is because even with a 6-0 perfect record on actual Day 2, you will not make the Top 8. This can certainly get into your head if you let it, and it makes the second day even more grueling for some subset of players.
That said, Day 2 waited, and the pressure shifts from the pool to the player. I am generally pretty happy with my drafting, but I also tend to have more practice with a format than I did with M13. I knew that I could piece together a good deck, but I had no idea if it would fit into the shape of the established Limited metagame. If the format actually was as fast as it was made out to be, was I just walking into a trap set by myself from the night before? UB Control worked in a side draft, but that is hardly an 8-man with pro points on the line.
While all of these questions may have entered my head, a 5th pick [card nicol bolas, planeswalker]Nicol Bolas[/card] seemed to answer them all. The draft got off to a rough start, with Rhox Faithmender p1p1, Chronomaton p1p2, and Primal Huntbeast as a 3rd pick. So when Nicol Bolas showed up in a weak pack come my fifth pick, that seemed to be all the direction I needed. I immediately followed the big ‘walker up with Gem of Becoming and moved in on the Grixis Control deck that was coming my way.
The list hardly ended up perfect, with a definite lack of instant speed removal, but I had some pretty solid cards including a Thundermaw Hellkite, a Talrand’s Invocation, and the big ‘walker himself. The deck played out well, and certainly better than I would have thought after my first 4 picks. I actually boarded into white in every matchup as well, twice for Pacifism and once for the Rhox Faithmender I first picked. That came against Craig Wescoe who had not only a sick B/W exalted list, but had some insane bombs like [card Odric, Master Tactician]Odric[/card] to go along with it. My plan was to set up Rhox Faithmender and Mark of the Vampire so that I could race. This plan nearly came together in fact.
After bringing in a single Plains, I managed to raw-dog it and had a turn 3 Arctic Aven that was also large. That was followed up by a turn 4 Faithmender. Unfortunately for me, Wescoe had a Murder for the fowl and a Crippling Blight for the Rhino—leaving me with no gas, and a long game that he ended up taking down. With that, I went 2-1 and was pretty happy with my deck, although I will note that Jace’s Phantasm was bad, and I definitely overrated that card.
For the second pod of the day, I was at a pretty sick table. Paulo, Jackie Lee, and Shuhei were all kind enough to join me. This time, the draft got off to a better start. I first picked Switcheroo—which is not terrible, but the card is certainly not Mind Control. I somehow ended up moving into UG was shipped the nuts from Jackie who was to my left. A pack with Predatory Rampage and Rancor showed up for example. I decided Rancor was better, although that pick was made much easier when a second Predatory Rampage showed up immediately following that. Oh yeah, and a second Rancor found its way into my pool too.
I noticed that my cheap-end creatures were really lacking though. I had no two-drops up to this point, and my only three-drop was Scroll Thief. This left me in a tough spot come pack three, when I opened Talrand’s Invocation and Staff of Nin. While Staff is more likely to be my pick in the dark, I could not afford the middle of the curve creatures, as my list was so heavy at the top-end and had too many uses for a random dork already. That sent the Staff Jackie’s way, to pay her back for all of the green I suppose.
I ended up winning some tough games in the pod, including a long one against Iain Bartolomei and Shuhei in the pod. One highlight against Shuhei involved a turn 4 Primal Huntbeast. On turn 5, I was able to suit it up with not only Tricks of the Trade, but also Rancor, to put Shuhei on a nearly indefensible 3-turn clock. Jackie Lee did best me though. As I mulliganed to 4 against her, I called out a hand that I would want to see.
I drew all but the Island which was replaced by Wind Drake. Despite actually playing a game of Magic, which is always a good thing after that much mulliganing, my stumbles and her card advantage added up to too much. Another 2-1, but I did quickly learn the limits of Switcheroo. I actually had 2 in my deck, but boarded one out almost every match, as it just did not prove to be good in my deck, due to the lack of random bad creatures.
At this point, the show was over for me, but I had the pleasure of watching two of my hotel-mates in the Top 8 in Cedric Phillips and eventual champion Brian Demars. Some late night food to celebrate, and it was back to the airport and life as usual for me.
It was kind of strange having a prerelease feel for a Grand Prix. I made a lot of dumb mistakes due to a lack of card familiarity, including thinking Liliana’s Shade was a 2/2 (Crypt Ripper) and trying to block a Knight of Infamy with a Prized Elephant (Protection from white—duh) and the state of the metagame was not something I was able to use to a big advantage, but I still felt good about my play.
M13 looks very open. Aggro decks can be the best deck one week, while control might be the next. This is a nice balance that keeps the format fresh for a longer period of time. Assuming you can correctly evaluate cards based on the strength they have in your deck, and not in a vacuum, you can go in just about any direction. Return to Ravnica will come out soon, knocking out one of the better core set drafts I have ever seen. Be sure to enjoy the format while it lasts, because I think it truly is a gem.