After a week off from M13 league, I headed back to the store this week to catch up. I’m not sure what the official rules are when it comes to the league, but our store is allowing you to recoup the pack you’d lose if you miss a week by paying that week’s entry fee.
You get no league points (meaning you lose both the participation point from entering and effectively go 0-4), but your card pool doesn’t fall behind the rest of the crowd. I was happy to ship the extra fiver for the pack, despite my clear perception that I paid well over retail for 14 randomized cards. Here’s what we opened to work with:
For those keeping track—I’m base green, with white as my secondary color, and a black splash. I now have a pair of Hellion Crucibles. I suppose there’s a world in which that would be a pretty awesome addition to my pool, but this one isn’t it.
I’m positive the players in the league are sick of me saying it by now, but I’d trade nearly any card in my deck for a Farseek. It’s comical at this point how badly I’d go out of my way to get a stinking common, and yet I have two of an unplayable rare.
Many things separate a competitive player from a casual one—going to tournaments each week isn’t one of them. There are plenty of self-identified casual players who go out to FNM each week, or to a Wednesday night draft, simply looking for another way to enjoy the game. With exposure to the competitive crowd, some players adjust their preconceptions about Magic, and turn to competitive play themselves. Some don’t care to, and they retain their “innocence.”
This is the first time our town has participated in league play in the time I’ve been playing here—which is almost two decades. There has been no other series of tournaments that has exposed the same volume of players to the competitive environment, and league play did so with the illusion of a level playing field.
In essence, that’s the draw that you need to bring less experienced tournament-goers into the fold—a fair fight. With every player on the same footing (the intro packs should ostensibly be of similar power level), there’s no one who has the ability to out-spend the other participants and create a better card pool with their wallet. With the random addition of cards into a secure pool, there’s both the chance for them to get very lucky and for the opponent to get unlucky. There are no netdecks, and there aren’t strange skills to learn outside the scope of the kitchen table environment—like signaling, pick orders, or metagaming. You pick a deck you like, and you see if you can pull some cards to make it a little better.
To those of us with a bit more experience, it’s not quite that simple. You do have the opportunity to pull well and create a beast, but eventually the law of averages will out, and your deck will be pulled back into the pack as other players pull good cards and you pull clunkers. They recognize that much like other Limited environments, the commons (and to some extent, the uncommons) will define the pool much more than the rares. They realize that no matter how good your packs are, you still have to build and play correctly to win.
These principles are being taught to the league players in a very natural, intuitive way above and beyond what I’ve seen before.
Many of the players in the league now see just how little a single pack of cards is worth in the long run. We’ve each identified a few commons that we’d REALLY like to pull, and if it were possible to purchase singles, very few players who would still buy packs. They’ve identified the difference between quality and quantity when it comes to cards. Each set release, many of these players line up to buy boxes of the new set. I’ll be paying close attention to see if any of the league players decide to buy singles from the new set instead. With a set like Return to Ravnica coming up, it may be a stretch, but I bet very few of them buy boxes of M14 next summer.
The two packs I opened this week contained a reasonable offering, but overall I was underwhelmed. I was certain I’d find room for the three-drops, and I was pretty sure I wanted Titanic Growth in the deck. Making a little guy into a formidable threat, or protecting it from removal is important for the deck full of Arbor Elves. I also wanted Sentinel Spider. Against the UR Talrand deck, it’s your best creature, so having another is very good.
After consideration, I added the Ring of Kalonia over a Spiked Baloth. I’ve been unimpressed with the Baloth, which often trades for a smaller and less expensive creature, and the Ring allows me to both get in with large creatures like the Spiders that could otherwise be chumped, and grow my little guys into real threats.
I noticed last time that in nearly all situations, I always just wanted to draw an Essence Drain. I asked Carl Dillahay (also in the league, playing the right deck) how many Drains is too many. He said “5,” and so added the third, which was excellent. The Naturalize is more a sideboard card than a main deck one, and the rest of the cards felt either ineffective (Blight, Ranger’s Path), or too expensive to rely on (Wurm, Execution).
R1 – Mono-Red Goblins
In our first game, he flooded a bit, and tried to mitigate this with liberal application of Rummaging Goblin. Unfortunately, I was playing massive creatures while he was looting, and quickly put it away. He played a Krenko, but I had the Essence Drain before it could become active. In our second game he flooded out again, without the help of a looter. Sometimes you don’t really get to play Magic.
I boarded in a Fungal Sprouting this round, because if he did manage to stick a Krenko, I’d need a way to keep up. I tried to go outside the box with my board strategies this week, to get a better feel for what works and doesn’t work. This has applications in both Limited Magic when boarding, alongside Constructed when creating a board. I think I’m a little generic in my sideboarding skills, so this was a fun and helpful exercise.
R2 – GB Mirror
Our first game was over quickly, as I stumbled on land for a few turns and was swept under by the Nefarox my opponent opened week one. While I spent most of the game on one Plains with a Sublime Archangel in hand, I think I played through the bottleneck quite well, managing to get my opponent to 4 before dying. I think I made a few mistakes, including a heedless attack that left me vulnerable. In game two, my opponent opened with three Deadly Recluses, which both locked down my offense and left my defense sorely lacking. I could have traded off a creature for a Recluse early, but for whatever reason didn’t recognize it as the correct play. It was unlikely that I’d be able to use removal on all of them, so I should have used my creatures to handle them better, rather than trying to race. Eventually, I lost when he Rancored one, and I forgot the way trample and deathtouch work together. If I had, I would have been able to trade off my whole board for his attackers and gone to 1, but he had plenty of gas in the tank and I was spent.
In this round, I boarded in all three Public Execution, as a way to both remove his large creatures and win the race. I think I also could have boarded in the Crippling Blights to kill his Elves and shut down his Recluse army, but I hadn’t seen them in the first game, and was more concerned with his top end. I was frustrated by my play, and knew I’d need to tighten up.
R3 – Wu Aggro
This match was interesting to me, and brought a number of the effects of the league on its players to light.
Each of our three games went long. Our first game was of particular interest, as it was very interactive. I managed to get a Sublime Archangel into play, but my opponent Cloned it. We stared at each other for a few turns until I managed to throw enough creatures into play to effectively Abyss him each turn.
This continued until he drew and played [card odric]Odric, master tactician[/card], and forced me to block badly—although it cost him the Clone to do so. With his Odric in play, I was forced to race. If I hadn’t attacked a turn earlier, or had two of his creatures not been fliers (which meant I couldn’t be forced to chump block them), the game would have been very different.
Knowing that the Wu deck has access to Pacifism, Oblivion Ring, Encrust, etc., I brought in the pair of Naturalizes and an Erase for some of the weaker creatures.
During game two, my opponent learned exactly what Odric does, as he had 13 power on the board with me at 13, and I asked why he didn’t just attack and kill me (not in the patronizing way. I recognized that he seemed to be a new player, and I was using the intricate game states to teach him, hoping he could get some useful experience). When he said “because you’d block,” I explained how Odric worked, and how he could just say that I don’t block. It cost me the game (and the match, probably), but I don’t really think that’s what’s important here.
Essentially, we’re competing for 11 weeks for a box. We’re spending more than the box is worth to enter the events throughout the season, and I’ve already missed a week, which effectively takes me out of the running entirely, whether I 4-0 the rest of the weeks or not. I’ve had to scale the competitive urge down significantly for these events, and so I’ve been trying to help each opponent improve where I can, if I can. I think in the end I’ll get more out of it that way than I would even if I came in first place overall.
Our third game was very back and forth. He looked advantaged as he hit Odric on curve, but I had a Predatory Rampage to two-for-one myself and kill off the bomb. We traded blows, and I had to [card pacifism]Pacify[/card] his Crusader of Odric. Just before time in round, he Cloned the Crusader, and while I could hold it off past the point of extra turns, I couldn’t beat it, and I conceded.
Again, he was surprised and confused at the concession, when it could have been a draw. It doesn’t actually gain either of us anything to draw, and as I said, I’m not as concerned about the results of these events anymore. In my eyes, my opponent earned the win this round, and I was happy to give it to him.
At the end of game three, I had two cards in hand—a pair of Naturalizes. Had I de-boarded, as I recognized I should have after game 2, those cards would have been a pair of Yeva’s Forcemage. If they were threats instead of reactive blanks, I may have won this match. I knew it was a mistake not to de-board (or at least go down to one Naturalize after seeing no [card oblivion ring]O-Ring[/card] or Pacifism in two games)—but I was lazy, and paid for it.
R4 – URw Tempo
I was paired up this round. My opponent was on the UR deck, splashing white for Oblivion Ring.
Our games were particularly lame, as he was exceptionally flooded in game one, and his tempo plays like Unsummon and Sleep did little against the [card Yeva, Nature's Herald]Yeva[/card] I had in play. Having instant speed plays to combat his spells was very effective, and it was the first time I had really gotten to abuse Yeva. I was exceptionally impressed.
In our second game, he mulled to six and kept, and opened with five mountains in a row before dying. He showed me Divination and four other blue cards, and that was that.
After the round was over, I watched the end of the first game of my friend Andy’s match in the green mirror. He was playing against a new player who had cut black for white as I had, only she had an [card ajani, caller of the pride]Ajani[/card] where I had the [card sublime archangel]Archangel[/card]. They both had formidable boards, with creatures all the way up the curve to the 7/7 Wurm, and a pair of Spiders. I sat next to Andy’s opponent (I apologize for forgetting her name), and was excited to see that her hand contained a Safe Passage. Immediately, the game became a social atmosphere. Andy is a very fun and casual guy, and his opponent was happy to have some help with the complicated board state.
Each of them played lands and a few creatures, but it was obvious that “our side” (aka Not Andy) had the advantage, both in creatures and the trick. The game was likely to come down to who drew Rampage first, and we had the trump. Breaking the stalemate, Andy attacked with his 7/7, and we blocked with ours (at 7 life to Andy’s 19).
It was obvious that he had a trick, but we didn’t have a lot of options other than simply playing into it, with Passage as backup. He played Serpent’s Gift, and it was decision time. With more creatures than Andy, going to 1 wasn’t really all that different than being at 7, and the threat of the giant trampler was gone. If we keep the Safe Passage, we’re fine if he draws Rampage, but we’re dead to it even at 7 if we use it. I decided to try and play around his Rampage, so we went to 1. He played Essence Drain, and we were forced to use the Passage. It’s rough that he had the backup, but I still like the call. We drew blanks for a few turns, as did Andy. Finally, we drew another blocker and could start attacking with a Sentinel Spider. It did a great Abyss impression as we slowly took control of the board, and then Andy ripped a Bloodhunter Bat.
It was a bummer ending the game that way, especially since it turned out that the play I made would have won us the game if we had used the Passage before damage on the Wurm attack. Those kind of judgment calls are tough, and I still think that with the info I had, it was a stronger play. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out.
This week was a fantastic league event, with intricate games, interesting opponents, awesome plays, and a lot of lessons learned on both sides of the playmat. I think I’m getting much more out of this league than I expected to, and much more than I would have if I were first in the standings.
Still hoping for a Farseek.