Saturday, December 5, 2009

New Faces

Drafting at JHU is always a crowded affair, and I saw a lot more new faces this time around.

Specifically, I was put into a draft pod with several very new players. There was a kid and his dad, and it was their first time drafting. There is a part of me that feels bad for new players, since they're automatically at a certain disadvantage in these environments. But I think ultimately the best we can do is help them along, give them advice, and if they aren't discouraged by losing a lot, then good for them.

I drafted a pretty decent GW deck. It had its highs (Emeria, 2 Journey to Nowhere, Trusty Machete) and its lows (Explorer's Scope, Kor Duelist, not enough creatures). My first match was against the kid, ten years old, and at his first tournament setting. In good humor, I'm going to relay the various things that occurred in that match. Because it was something new for me, too.

I was rather impressed at his sheer bravery. At that age, I would never in a million years have been able to stand up to a room full of strange men (and women). All adults. While having to compete against them in something I wasn't even that familiar with. But he was so enthusiasatic about Magic that it didn't seem to faze him much.

First thing I notice is that his deck is a bit larger than what I'd expect. I think his dad let him build it entirely on his own. I asked him how many cards there were, and he said something like "54." One time one of my opponent's on MTGO got disconnected, and the program just stuck 80 cards in his library (for a draft). This felt kind of similar to that. I beat my MTGO opponent that game, certainly, but not before feeling somewhat sympathetic.

Anyway, the strangeness of the situation kept me on my toes. There was NO TELLING what was going to happen in this game, so I had to be ready for just about anything.

Someone passing by noticed something about my opponent's hand. "You can't put that card in the deck." Huh? What could it possibly be? But then I realized. Before the match had begun, Steve, our resident TO and Judge, had handed out some old promo cards. (I nabbed a Hellspark Elemental. Sweet!) My opponent, who I will call R, had stuck in a shiny Rise from the Grave. It was just by LUCK that it was in his opening hand. If he had tried to use it mid-game, I think my brain would've temporarily shut down (if only because I would've been taken completely by surprise; imagine trying to read your opponent for a card that isn't even in the same set).

I made sure R cycled it for something else. And I think it was at this point I asked him how many cards he had in his deck to make sure he had at least 40. Definitely yes.

And then it was off to the races! The games didn't have much interaction, and I soundly beat him 2-0. Afterwards, I helped him fix his manabase because he was running 19 lands. I didn't want to tell him to cut all his spells out and narrow it to a 40-card deck (he didn't seem keen on it anyway). So I just made him add a proper ratio of lands. Which hopefully helped him cast his spells in his later matches. One step at a time, dude. One step at a time.

The second match was against a very familiar opponent. This opponent, despite being a good drafter, has never beat me in a draft match. Yet. He likes reminding me and others of this phenomenon. I'm sure it will break at some point. Today was not that day. He ran a RWu deck with some decent mana fixing and a bunch of allies. He had me on the back heel for most of game one, and I really felt his Geyser Glider was going to kill me. Later on, I would assume HE had won that game. But I turned it around at the last moment. I think he made the mistake of swinging with his Glider when it was grounded, hoping the Explorer's Scope attached would find the land to give it flying and prevent me from blocking. It's possible that, had he revealed a land, I would have lost. But he didn't, and I blocked and killed it.

Game two was surprisingly similar. He had openings to swing where I didn't. Even when I played my Emeria, he had a good answer in Shepherd of the Lost. But then...

hm, I think both those games I won on the back of Trusty Machete. Man, that card is nuts.

My next opponent was undefeated with what was one of the best decks I'd seen in Zen draft. It looked like a constructed Boros deck.

Fortunately for me, we decided to just split. After all, there's only a one-pack difference. There's little incentive for finalists in draft to do anything but split. It does seem to take the skill out of it all, though, when you only have to go 2-0 to make out with winnings. But I know I would have lost that match because we played it out.

His turn one Steppe Lynx, turn two Geopede, turn three Kor Skyfisher starts were just a bit too nuts for me to handle. I won one game off the back of a 6/5 River Boa. My opponent was actually very new to drafting and hadn't played Zendikar much before. So he was susceptible to certain misplays, but his deck was the stoneblade.

What happened was I blocked his 2/3 Lynx with Boa and then regenerated it. He immediately pointed a Burst Lightning at it, since I was tapped out. But I had to back him up. I made him clarify that he was Bursting after combat damage. Okay, in which case, I put a counter on my Quest for the Gemblades, and then in response to the Burst, I sac'ed it and added 4 +1/+1 counters to my Boa.

He was a bit nonplussed by that. He DID have a window to use Burst, in response to the triggered ability for my Quest. But he didn't see that or wasn't aware of it. He didn't seem quite concerned enough about the Quest sitting there either, so I assume he wasn't paying attention to it.

What happened afterwards is simple to explain. I equipped my Boa with a Trusty Machete and went to town. His creatures raced me, and we were neck in neck. He was one point of damage away from killing me with Spire Barrages. The ending life totals were 6:4. (He could put me to one from six.)

He crushed me the other two games. Totally. But in game three I should've sided out Quest for the Gemblades, as well as other useless stuff like Explorer's Scope and Khalni Heart Expedition. So I was at fault there. I've honestly never seen Ruinous Minotaurs be as good as they were in his deck.

Anyway, he got a shiny Sakura-Tribe Elder out of the match win.

And I got another notch of experience for my belt. It's good mental preparation to not underestimate players that are new, are slow, or make misplays. Because maybe their deck just straight up beats yours. Always be on your toes. Don't swell with false confidence. Make the smart play every time.