Tuesday, July 13, 2010

M11 Drafting at the Prerelease

I did four drafts yesterday during the M11 Prerelease. The first two were sanctioned drafts and the last two were 6-man team drafts. I 3-0'ed both the sanctioned drafts, but both times my team lost in team draft. I think I went 1-1 (did not need to play out the third match) and then 1-2. I will go over my decks and elaborate on picks, card evaluation, what worked, and what didn't work. I learned some things. But overall, core set drafting is the easiest, most straightforward kind of drafting. So it shouldn't hold too many surprises.

My first deck was UG. I first picked a Protean Hydra. It wasn't quite as bomby as it looked. It was just a big man that was somewhat hard to kill. I 2nd picked Warlord's Axe, which seemed like it would combine nicely with my Hydra. Equipped, the Hydra can never die to damage. The Axe is rather slow, as it costs 7 mana to play and equip it to something. One copy seems fine, but it's very possible it is too slow in some decks.

UG Deck

Birds of Paradise
Llanowar Elves
2 Runeclaw Bear
Scroll Thief
AEther Adept
Cloud Elemental
Brindle Boar
Giant Spider
Azure Drake
2 Air Servant
Yavimaya Wurm
Protean Hydra

Mana Leak
2 Giant Growth
Warlord's Axe
2 Foresee

9 Forest
8 Island

I also had 2 Naturalize, another Yavimaya Wurm, a Preordain (my last cut), and Wall of Vines in my board.

Plummet mainboard? Yes, I maindecked Plummet. It was never a dead card, but I did board it out against one black deck (I killed a Nightwing Shade G1, but that was the only flier I saw). The other two times I played against white decks. It seems bad against green, mediocre against red and black, and great against white and blue. For every instance of the word "flying" in M11, see here.

There is some justification to playing Plummet main in a WG or UG deck - your plan is to beat down with your fliers, and oftentimes an opponent's flier will get in the way. You want to get rid of these when possible so you can continue aggressing. One of the weaknesses of UG in general is the lack of answers/removal for other creatures. Fortunately, there are ways to compensate for this weakness.

Mana acceleration is one of the ways - this let's you speed your deck up and start casting spells at a faster rate than your opponent. You'll soon negate whatever creatures they cast by landing huge beasts or fliers while they're still casting Hill Giants. I managed to get one explosive start out of this deck with T1 Llanowar Elves, T2 Cultivate, T3 Air Servant, T4 Yavimaya Wurm. This type of deck will want lots of such effects to increase the chances of this kind of start. Accelerating into a turn 2 Scroll Thief is pretty sweet, too.

Maintaining tempo advantage is important. Blue can set back an opponent's tempo with AEther Adept. The Adept does a lot of work for you - and one of the primary reasons one wants to play first in this format. One could go on and on about Man-o'-War, but if people are going to fight over blue cards, then I expect these to become scarce and difficult to build decks around. The talk around the water cooler is that blue is amazing in M11; if this opinion prevails, then I suspect fighting over blue cards is what people will do. Mana Leak and Cancel can also help maintain tempo. Mana Leak might be weaker in Limited than Constructed, but it's still an amazing answer, particular when combined with mana and tempo advantage.

Tricks are the final thing I think UG has to work with. I remember my favorite "trick" from Eventide, Snakeform, was both blue and green. Things like Diminish, Giant Growth, and Unsummon count as tricks. Tricks are okay, but it's not good to overload your deck with them since they tend to be situational. Pump spells work the best, since in a deck with fliers, one can use them as reach when the final points of damage need to get through. Diminish, I've found, works poorly when your primary fighting force is composed of fliers - your goal is to prevent them from blocking your guys at all, but Diminish does not accomplish this. It's possible Ice Cage serves as better removal in this sort of deck.

The Runeclaw Bears and Brindle Boar were pretty mediocre. I found Brindle Boar in particular to be underwhelming, although I kept it in against a UW flier deck, where it seemed useful for racing purposes. The blue cards in general in the deck were over-performers. They did everything I wanted: drew cards, killed opponents, cancelled spells, and bounced opposition. But the BoP, Llanowar, and Cultivate made the deck capable of stealing some games away with little to no effort.

I also discovered (for myself) that Scroll Thief and AEther Adept was quite a powerful combination... which was fully capitalized upon in my next draft deck.

UW Air Control

Stormfront Pegasus
Silvercoat Lion
Wild Griffin
2 Scroll Thief
3 AEther Adept
Roc Egg
Cloud Crusader
2 Assault Griffin

2 Pacifism
Mighty Leap
Mana Leak
Jace Beleren
2 Foresee
Brittle Effigy
Safe Passage
Day of Judgment

9 Island
8 Plains

The card quality in this deck is unusually high - not something I expect to happen ever again - I have 6 prime removal sources, 3 Man-o'-Wars, and a few passable fliers. This made up for the fact I didn't build it entirely correctly. (There's always some mistake.) I didn't really read or pay attention to Harbor Servant, which should've made it into this deck.

My sideboard further contained Solemn Offerings, a Celestial Purge, another Mighty Leap, and some Alluring Sirens.

I first-picked the Jace, after which the signal was clearly urging me to take white and blue cards, which I was all too happy to do. I knew from first-picking Jace that I'd want to play a slightly more defensive deck. Fortunately, AEther Adept is all too, well, adept, at protecting Jace, and thus I didn't need to draft too many blockers and could draft more aggressive-looking fliers.

The Scroll Thieves drew me a lot of cards. I didn't really keep track, but combining them with AEther Adept feels like cheating. I also Lept one into the air with Mighty Leap, which basically acted like a cycle + 3 damage. Roc Egg + Day of Judgment is as cute as it looks, and it definitely happened. Safe Passage protected Jace at 2 counters plus a creature from Chandra's Outrage. (If I didn't have it, that would've been a total blowout for my opponent.)

I was afraid this deck lacked win conditions, since my biggest creature was basically a 3/3 flier that had to die before it could get online. It definitely could've become a problem but fortunately did not. I was also all too aware of the kinds of havoc Pyroclasm would've wrecked on my deck. But it was difficult to play around Pyroclasm. None of my opponents cast it, however. (I also hated one out during the draft. Phew?) This was also one of the major reasons I should've played Harbor Servant. My bad.

There really isn't much more to say about this deck - it was fun to play, and it felt pretty unfair. But I don't expect this to happen again. This clearly isn't an archetype one can draft without lucking out.

BR Treason

Black Knight
Reassembling Skeleton
Bloodthrone Vampire
2 Barony Vampire
2 Captivating Vampire
2 Nether Horror
Nightwing Shade
Berserkers of Blood Ridge
Ancient Hellkite

2 Lightning Bolt
Doom Blade
2 Sign in Blood
2 Act of Treason
Quag Sickness
Rise from the Grave

10 Swamp
7 Mountain

Sideboard contained: Duress, Deathmark, Manic Vandal, Thunder Strike, Bog Raiders

I don't remember my first pick (Mana Leak?), but my subsequent picks were Lightning Bolt and Doom Blade, so that's the direction I went.

I have to make some comments here about team drafting, and that is it's quite different from regular drafting. First of all, it was a six-man. Second of all, team drafts feel very casual. People are very prone to comments before and during drafting. Which might affect the draft in subtle ways. The comments people make act like casual psychological warfare. They could be lying, or they could be telling the truth. Some comments are mysterious and seem laden with hidden meaning. Others are blunt. Examples are "This pack is a trap." "My deck is horrible." "I need to open something in pack 3." "You're hating me, aren't you?" "Stop taking my colors!" "My deck is sick!" "Wow this tabled?!" "What is wrong with this pack?" "No, that pack really is just that bad/good." "I got there."

I tend to ignore these comments for the most part because if they're lying/exaggerating/joking, then paying attention is a total waste of effort. It's a waste of effort anyway because after round 1, people ought to know what everyone else is playing. But certain early comments feel like they could affect how people draft. I find that when people discuss the merits/demerits of certain colors before a draft, it also affects people's decisions, which I dislike.

There's also the aspect of team draft where people share information about their opponent's decks with team members. I'm becoming less and less a fan of this as I go. Sometimes people mis-remember what is in an opponent's deck or only remember partial information. Sometimes they remember the LESS relevant cards. Either way, I'm not entirely sure I like this aspect of team draft or not. I kind of like it because I like information, but I dislike it because it's neither fully exploited nor fully avoided. So it's just kind of a wishy-washy, half-way tech that sometimes helps and sometimes doesn't and seems to help more when your teammates have good short-term memories.

I prefer money drafting to drafting for rares. The stakes aren't real enough, and people tend to check out early if they don't like their deck or whatever.

But whatever kind of draft, I will be doing a lot of it in the following weeks.

Let's talk about Black-Red.

I didn't like this deck very much. The curve was off and overall too heavy. It really wanted some Child of Nights or another Bloodthrone Vampire. This is a deck that can exploit Act of Treason by sacrificing stolen creatures to Bloodthrone or Fling. Bloodthrone is not as good as it was in ROE, but with enough Act of Treasons, there is definitely incentive to run them. I think one should combine Bloodthrones with cards like Gravedigger and Reassembling Skeleton to get more value out of them.

I want this kind of deck to be much more aggressive - otherwise Act of Treason falls flat when on its own. I feel lots of removal is also important - it's black/red after all. But my deck definitely had a much too heavy curve, and the Hellkite was awkward on my mana. (I don't think Hellkite ever got there. Seven is a little too greedy. RRR is a little too greedy.)

Captivating Vampire was the other interesting part of the deck, but my deck had only 5 vampires. I wasn't planning on using its ability, certainly, but I think the curve is just one-step too slow if my earliest vampires are mostly 3-drops. This is why I needed Child of Night, to be able to make the ideal T2, T3 plays. Instead I was making T3, T4 vampires, and it was just awfully clunky. My creatures didn't do anything and were all too vanilla. But next time, I'll have a better idea of what the deck ought to look like.

I got some mile-age out of the deck, though, and happened to play against someone with a Mitotic Slime. In one game, I Treasoned it and Flung it at his face. Then I targeted it with Rise from the Grave to get it back. The game quickly ended from there. In another game, I Treasoned it again and Deathmarked it and then managed to Rise it from the Grave AGAIN. Unfortunately, I lost to a timely Vengeful Archon - which I almost could attack through, but I was one damage short... I won the third game with double Captivating Vampires and a full board. It took a while though because he kept fogging me.

In my next games my deck fell through, and it was too slow to take full advantage of its spells.

WU Knights and Birds

3 White Knight
Blinding Mage
Cloud Elemental
2 Roc Egg
AEther Adept
Wild Griffin
Air Servant
Siege Mastodon
Stone Golem

2 Diminish
Mana Leak
Mighty Leap
Warlord's Axe
Safe Passage
2 Cancel
Mind Control

9 Plains
8 Island

Sideboard: Flashfreeze

By this time I had been awake for almost 22 hours and was tired, but I would never say no to a draft. C'mon, are you kidding me?

But this draft went very poorly, and I also built it incorrectly. So there you go. Lesson: sleep.

First of all, I think I valued White Knight too highly. It's a fine man, but there are a lot of creatures that negate its first strike. So it's only broken against heavy black decks. I should've valued fliers over it. (But a wall of first strikers! Imagine! Ehhh.) Roc Egg loses value in multiples. Diminish is also very bad in this deck, and I should've replaced them with Ice Cages. The deck could've used more creatures, also. I count 13 including Mind Control. I didn't use my Harbor Servant, again.

Air Servant was an overperformer. It alone kept me in a game that I should've lost ages ago. Everything else underperformed (because I was underperforming). Good. Night.

That whole draft is a blur in my memory, and I actually just don't remember what happened or why. The third game of the second round was this annoying tapping war: my Air Servant vs his Blinding Mage. A sign of "something gone wrong". A sign of "I should've built my deck correctly." Whatever it was, it was a sign.