November 2018
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Gaming Podcasts

I’m breaking up the “nonfiction” podcasts I listen to into two entries: Gaming podcasts, and everything else. As I said in my intro, a few Magic: The Gathering podcasts have been key in keeping me motivated in running. I also listen to a couple of poker podcasts. I’ve listened to several others of each, some of which have ended, some of which I’ve dropped, but the ones included below I’ve been listening to for quite a while.

One common thread in these podcasts is that the hosts clearly put a lot of work into planning out their episodes and staying on topic (presumably through skillful use of editing and post production in some cases), so you know what you’re going to get: A consistent product, and a clear indication when an individual episode is going to be different. I’ve listened to a few podcasts in each category which don’t exhibit this discipline, and they often end up running 90-120 minutes per episode, and/or spend a lot of time in rambling digressions which don’t hold my interest.

So, these really are the cream of the crop that I’ve found for each game, at least as far as what I’m looking for in these podcasts goes. YMMV.

Magic podcasts

  • Limited Resources: Probably the podcast I look forward to the most each week, LR covers the limited (draft & sealed) forms of playing Magic, which are the formats I mostly play these days. Besides being a clinic in playing, LR is also a clinic in producing a professional-grade weekly podcast on its topic, with insight, humor and depth. I discovered LR back in 2012 because I figured there must be a podcast on Magic drafting out there, and this was honestly the only one I could find at the time. It had already been around about 3 years by then, and it was already very solid. Host Marshall Sutcliffe also does commentary on the Magic pro tour. Co-host Luis-Scott Vargas is in the pro tour hall of fame, also does coverage, and brings great analysis and usually-great humor to the show. Both of them show their enthusiasm for and expertise at the game in every episode.
  • Good Luck High Five (formerly Magic the Amateuring): The GLHF hosts have backgrounds in improv comedy and so they’re the rare podcast which is able to dive into off-the-cuff humor and make it work – but I think it’s because they have the discipline to not let it get away from them. They cover all forms of Magic in a friendly and upbeat way, and have both played competitive magic and worked in coverage of competitive events. They’ve recently picked up the proverbial baton of keeping their listeners apprised of developments in the MtG world, which I enjoy even though I’m not strongly plugged in to that side of the scene.
  • Drive to Work: By Mark Rosewater, the head designer of Magic, who records it while – you guessed it – driving to work. He releases 2 episodes each Friday. Rosewater has a great mind for game design and his podcast is worth listening to if you’re interested in Magic design, game design, and to some extent any sort of design.
  • Kitchen Table Magic: An interview podcast about the personalities and histories of the game. Host Sam Tang does a great job bringing out his subjects’ love of the game, and in the cases of long-time players their historical perspectives on the game. For anyone who’s watched the Enter the Battlefield video series, KTM is a more in-depth and regular feature with many similarities. Organized by “seasons”, it comes out weekly with some gaps in the middle and end of each season.
  • Allied Strategies: As a rule I’m not a fan of podcasts in a “friends hanging out” format, but this one makes it work, and I think it’s because they’re very good at knowing when to ad lib and when to rein it in. Two of the friends have been professional Magic players, and all three are entertaining and insightful. Not every episode is deeply interesting to me, as they rotate through a variety of Magic topics, but I listen to most of them. They usually end the episode with an amusing story from a recent event.

Poker podcasts

  • Thinking Poker: Much like Limited Resources, this is a fine example of producing a focused podcast. Co-hosts Andrew Brokos and Nate Meyvis open with a usually-short intro (a bit longer when they themselves have been playing in major tournaments), then launch into a strategy segment analyzing one or more hands. The rest of the episode is usually an interview with someone from the poker world. Some of the most interesting interviews have been with people who are only tangentially part of the poker world, and the hosts are excellent interviewers. Episode 200 is a good sampler of interviews with several of their best guests.
  • Just Hands: This podcast started off as what its name implies, individual episodes analyzing poker hands and that’s it. It’s been extending a bit into interviews, especially as one of the original hosts has recently left and the other is having a different guest each week. It’s a good listen, though I think their strength is in hand analysis.

Next time I’ll cover the rest of the nonfiction podcasts.

Dominaria Prerelease

Yesterday I went to the Magic prerelease for the Dominaria, and had a lot more fun than I expected! Of course, winning a lot will do that.

I went to the new Isle of Gamers, which is two doors down from their old location, but is at least 100% improved due to the wider and brighter space. They’ve gone all-in on a pirate theme (which they had before, but it feels more pronounced now), and they have a great-looking private gaming room in back.

My approach to sealed deck has been slowly evolving, and these days I tend to focus first on bombs I open and second on number of creatures across the colors, since limited is such a creature-heavy format. It feels like I rarely open pools in which I have more than one viable color pair unless the format supports 3-color decks. Dominaria certainly does not unless you’re base green, because there is very little color fixing (much like the last time we were in Dominaria, back in Time Spiral), and I think you have to have just the right set of stuff to even consider splashing.

As it turned out I had 4 colors in my pool with nominally enough creatures to build decks – blue being the one that didn’t. Red had some good removal, but the creatures were terrible. At first I as leaning towards black-green, but as I looked at it I felt my green was just not very good and white had a lot more punch. So I ended up going black-white.

At first I wasn’t sure I’d had enough playables, but after some thought I talked myself into playing this little combo:


Voltaic ServantTraxos, Scourge of Kroog
This seemed a little sketchy to me, but I felt like I had enough Historic cards that it was worth playing. So in the end I ran with this deck:

Dominaria prerelease deck

My main reservation about this deck was its relatively average high converted mana cost and the low-impact 2-drop creatures (3 of them were 1/3s). I also did a test run and realized I had to be mindful of casting Demonlord Belzenlok since I could easily draw a bunch of cards off of him but also lose a bunch of life.

My first round was against another WB player. Game 1 I mulliganed to 5 (my first 2 hands had zero lands total), and predictably lost – although if I’d drawn a second Swamp I might have made a go of it. Game 2 my opponent got stuck on 2 lands and quickly conceded. Then, game 3 went on forever and ever. I got out Traxos, put On Serra’s Wings on it, swung twice, and then he killed it. Then we got into a long board stall, I got back Traxos with Daring Archaeologist, he killed it again, and finally I managed to seal the deal with Belzenlok.

1-0.

Second round I faced another WB opponent, but this one went considerably quicker. The second game was a bit of a slog as I kept drawing removal for his good stuff, but I couldn’t get any good stuff of my own. Finally I put On Serra’s Wings on a Voltaic Servant and just kept swinging away with a flyer he couldn’t deal with.

2-0.

Third round I played a red-white deck which looked similar to mine only without as good a top end. I played Divest to lead off game 1 and saw that he had Gideon’s Reproach in hand, but I ended up with more gas than he did and won the first game. The second game we ended up in an early board stall and then I played a Serra Angel. Next turn I had On Serra’s Wings to play and had to decide where to put it. I decided to put it on the Serra Angel in case he had Gideon’s Reproach in hand, making the Angel a 5/5 and out of reach of his spell. His groan when he drew his next card told me that I’d guessed correctly, and I rode the Angel to victory.

Flavor win or flavor fail? Marshall Sutcliffe says:

Flavor win

3-0.

On to the finals! I played a fellow who had just defeated my friend Subrata at the next table over in the third round. He was playing a black-green go-wide deck based around Saprolings and Slimefoot, the Stowaway. He got Slimefoot out in game 1 and he was as annoying as advertised, but I managed to keep the pressure on with slightly-bigger creatures so that he kept chump-blocking with the tokens, and I finally pulled out the victory with a Serra Angel.

Game 2 was epic, and we had several onlookers for the match. He observed that he drew the other half of his deck from the first game, which meant bigger creatures. I managed to get out my Traxos/On Serra’s Wings combo, but he dealt with it through removal and a Mammoth Spider. He got a second Mammoth Spider out, but we ended up trading off some creatures and I used removal to bring us – around turn 10 – to the point where neither of us had any nonland permanents on the board.

A little more maneuvering resulted in me with a 3/2 flying Windgrace Acolyte on the board, but then he dropped a kicked Baloth Gorger, which put me in a bad place. I’d been drawing a lot more gas than lands, and I started playing creatures to chump his Gorger. He was on 8 life and I was around 13, and I was stuck on 5 lands. Just in time I drew my sixth land and played my kicked Sergeant-at-Arms, which gave me several blockers, and I followed it up with a Serra Angel which ended up being just enough for the win.

So I went 4-0 in matches on the day, 8-1 in games, and finished first in the tournament, which was good for 9 prize packs!

People have been speculating that Dominaria is going to be a slower limited format, and that’s how it felt yesterday. I rarely felt like I didn’t have time to get down my 4-drops and slow my opponents way down. I’m sure there are a few faster decks in the format, but it feels like there are ways to deal with them. That kind of makes sense in a format with the Kicker mechanic.

I’m pretty happy with my deck, though in hindsight I think Divest wasn’t really pulling its weight and I should have replaced it with almost anything else – even just a combat trick. I’m also not impressed with Caligo Skin-Witch, mainly because its kicker cost is too high for what it does and its 1/3 body is unimpressive, but I didn’t have a great choice to replace it with. So I don’t regret playing it, but I think it’s a card to avoid going forward.

Overall I was happy with how many redundant moving parts my deck had, so I really didn’t have much trouble slowing down fast starts, dealing with big threats, and getting out my own big threats. Each game played very differently, but my deck was pretty consistent in always having something useful to do.

Oh, and On Serra’s Wings is just as awesome as people have been thinking it would be.

I’ll definitely have to see how this set plays in draft. I think it will be a lot of “good stuff” decks with minimal synergies, but that can still be fun.

Shadows Over Innistrad Prerelease

Yesterday I headed down to Isle of Gamers for the prerelease for the latest Magic set, Shadows Over Innistrad. After listening to the set review on Limited Resources, and poking around on the net a bit, my feeling was that this would be a complicated set, and that assimilating all the information in the sealed deck prerelease would be pretty daunting, trying to figure out how best to fit together the various moving parts.

Once I opened my packs, I had this card pool:

(click to embiggen)

(click to embiggen)

Notice the following things:

  • I opened 7 rares (well, one was the promo card), of which 3 were land, 2 were planeswalkers (yay!), and 2 were not really great in limited.
  • All five colors are somewhat playable – this is a pretty deep pool.
  • Unfortunately, red is the weakest color, and green the second-weakest, and both planeswalkers require red.
  • Black is both deep and has a bunch of removal, so I’m surely playing black.

My first inclination was to go white-black, splashing red for Nahiri, so I came up with this:

White-Black splashing Red deck

That’s not awful, but probably not worth splashing just for one card, even a really good one. And there isn’t really any other red worth splashing. The other thing I realized is that it often doesn’t start doing stuff until turn 3, and it doesn’t make great use of its rare, Odric.

So I decided to try again, with blue instead of white, which gives me a little more early options, and a little more flying power:

Blue-Black deck

I would characterize this deck as “unexciting midrange” (no rares other than the dual land!), but I hoped it would make up for that in consistency and evasion, and after some agonizing, it’s the one I decided to go with. Here’s how it played out:

Round 1: I played against a white-blue deck, and both of our decks ended up playing out as control decks against the other. I had more evasion than he did, but he had cards like Puncturing Light and Sleep Paralysis to deal with my Stormrider Spirits. I won game 1 mainly on the back of Daring Sleuth‘s flip side giving me lots of card advantage, and he won game 2 by grinding me out. Then we drew game 3 because we didn’t have nearly enough time to finish.

After this round I decided that Wild-Field Scarecrow didn’t do much in this deck, so I replaced it with the more aggressive Wicker Witch, which turned out to be the right choice. I also swapped out Merciless Resolve for the cheaper Macabre Waltz, which also paid dividends as I often had creatures in my graveyard I wanted to get back.

Round 2: Another white deck, this time white-black. In game 1 I recognized that my draw was much more aggressive than his and won by pushing through damage early, combined with overwhelming board position through my incremental card advantage. Game 2 was a squeaker, with me seemingly taking a big advantage and playing the Morkrut Necropod, but he had an answer for it in Murderous Compulsion. He took me down to 1, and he was also at 1. I ended my turn with 3 creatures to his 2, and with Broken Concentration in hand I countered his attempt to cast Bygone Bishop (I believe my spoken response when he cast it was, “No no, no no no – no.”) and that was enough to push through the last point of damage on my next turn.

Round 3: My opponent ran me over in the first game, playing a white-green humans deck which fired on all cylinders. Game 2 went much better as he never drew green mana and so stalled out in the midgame. He later told me his deck was mostly white, so this was a weird draw for him. For my part I was pleased that I mulliganed a hand with 3 islands, 3 black spells, and an artifact creature. Game 3 was the opposite as he kept a hand with 3 forests, 3 white cards, and an Intrepid Provisioner. He didn’t draw a plains until it was too late, and I won again.

Afterwards we chatted about his last game’s keep, and I told him that I’d had a similar scenario in game 2, where I’d mulliganed, and that I always seemed to do (and feel) better when I mulliganed color-mismatch hands like that. He pointed out that he had many more plains in his deck than forests, and he only needed one to get going. I don’t know what the answer is; if he had 10 plains in his deck, then the odds were he’d draw one by turn 4, but he really needed to draw one before that if my deck curved out (which it did). So it was a tough loss for him.

Round 4: My opponent here unfortunately also had mana problems, stalling out at 3 land in game 1, and I had just the right removal for the cards she could play (such as the ultra-annoying Sin Prodder). In game 2 she got mana flooded, and while she did play a big bomb in Flameblade Angel when she was still around 14 life, Press For Answers was exactly the answer I needed to push through a bunch of damage which she didn’t have any other blockers for.

So in the end I went 3-0-1 in my 4 matches, which was good for fourth place overall (and 8 packs!) in a field of over 50 people. I feel that my deck overperformed a little bit, and that my opponents’ decks underperformed – in some cases by a lot – so I’m not sure whether I truly “earned” my record. But sometimes you end up on the good side of the variance gods.

A few lessons I learned from the day as regards the format:

  • The removal doesn’t look impressive in this set, but a lot of it works well against a wide variety of threats. It seems like there are a lot of 2/3 and 3/2 creatures, and doing 2 damage does really well against the latter, while the former tend to be less threatening. As one person put it, there’s “not a lot of beef” in this set. (But – small sample size alert. There are a number of ways to make some larger creatures, and I just didn’t face many of them.)
  • Morkrut Necropod is a better card than it looks like, as there are not many things which can deal with a 7/7 with Menace in the format, and sacrificing a land by the time it comes down is not a big penalty.
  • It doesn’t take a lot of Investigate sources in your deck to enable cards which need them such as Daring Sleuth. I think I had 3 in my deck, and that was enough to pretty reliably flip the Sleuth.
  • Also, Daring Sleuth can be a horse in limited.
  • Gone Missing can do some work. One game when an opponent was struggling with mana, I put his tap-land on top of his deck, which not only blanked his next draw, but it meant even if he had anything to play with 4 mana that he hadn’t played for some reason (such as a combat trick), he would have to wait an extra turn to play it. Also great to enable an alpha strike.
  • Accursed Witch is a great card. If they decide not to kill it, then it hits them for 4. If they do kill it, then (most of the time) it turns into an annoying enchantment.
  • Thraben Gargoyle is also surprisingly good; by the time you can flip it, if your opponent hasn’t been careful to hold back some removal, a 4/2 flyer is pretty hard to deal with.
  • Bygone Bishop looks awesome.

Also, having a deck where only one card costs double-colored-mana is a nice incremental advantage since it makes it harder to be color-screwed.

Also, it turns out that my worry about information overload was unfounded; while I could imagine that having several good Madness cards could lead to struggling to figure out how to use it effectively, I didn’t have that problem. And there are several good ways to interact with discarding and sacrificing and the graveyard which don’t require Madness.

This looks like it will be a fun format, though I think there will be more to keep track of in draft than in sealed (“Whoops I forgot to draft a discard outlet”), but it also looks possible to draft a pretty straightforward deck if you prefer. I also wonder if it’s going to be a less bomb-y format than most (i.e., a pauper rather than a prince format, as the lingo goes).

Obviously I have fun – winning is usually fun! Definitely more fun than the Battle for Zendikar prerelease last fall, where my pool was both not good, and not fun to play. And it was my best prerelease showing since Journey Into Nyx (which featured a fairly meat-and-potatoes aggro deck, albeit one with two great rares).

I’ve been averaging a little less than every other prerelease for the last few years, for a combination of reasons. I’m hoping I’ll be able to make it to the Eldritch Moon prerelease in late July.

Battle for Zendikar Prerelease

I’m writing this a few weeks after the fact, but on this day I went down to Isle of Gamers in Santa Clara to play in a prerelease for the new Magic: The Gathering set, Battle for Zendikar (BFZ).

You always head to one of these sealed deck events hoping to get a nice pool of cards that works well together. In the case of BFZ, that meant a neat Allies deck, maybe a grindy Ingest-Processor deck, a ramp deck which could power out some huge threats, or a strong aggro deck with some decent removal (this last one being what I got at the Journey Into Nyx prerelease). Instead, what I opened was this:

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

The first thing to notice in this pool is that the cards are spread pretty evenly across all 5 colors, which meant I was struggling to come up with 23 playable non-land cards for my 40-card deck in 2 colors. I don’t think it’s possible to do without playing really bad cards like Kitesail Scout. The second thing to notice is that the pool is very short on 2-drops. If you exclude the bad 1-drops (of which my pool had 4), the pool has 7 acceptable 1- and 2-drops, but again spread across all 5 colors. Which meant whatever deck I put together had to survive to turns 3 and 4 doing basically nothing – not a good recipe. Finally, I had three big Eldrazi which were nearly unplayable because I didn’t have a good way to ramp into them before I died.

It was, in short, a dismal pool. At least I got a foil Prairie Stream as my promo card.

I played my first match with the following deck, which was Blue/Red splashing a few White cards:

First deck - Blue/Red/splash White

This is basically the worst kind of Ingest/Processor deck – card which can Ingest, but with no payoff from Processors. And I couldn’t ramp into Breaker of Armies. I should probably have replaced a Sure Strike with Smite the Monstrous, but oh well.

My opponent for this match was a 9-year-old kid playing his first prerelease. His deck was so-so, but my deck struggled to fend him off and ultimately lost a long game 1 before getting run over in game 2. My deck just didn’t have enough payoff to play for the long game.

After that match I decided to upend my deck and instead go Red/White with a Blue splash:

Second deck - Red/White/splash Blue

This was a better deck, and I won my second match 2-1 against a woman playing a pretty good Allies deck. But her deck had left out a couple of very good cards – such as Sheer Drop and Felidar Sovereign – which after we finished our match I suggested she put in. So I kind of feel like I stole a win.

And ultimately my deck still didn’t have much oomph to it, so I lost my third match 0-2 to a guy who said he’d slept only 2 hours the night before due to working late. And my fourth match also went down, though 1-2. But both times once we got to the late game their plays were just much better than mine, and I didn’t have much of an early game. So it was a mess. With one round to go I decided to call it a day, not feeling like playing for another hour for the small chance to win a pack, and with a deck that just wasn’t much fun.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think BFZ is a rough format for sealed deck. Several of its best decks have a lot of synergy, and if you have the pieces but not the payoff (as I did), then they’re not very good. There are some decks which are more modular, but I didn’t have them. Ultimately I think my pool was just too diffuse. Maybe if I’d had some keen insight I could have put together something with a little more top end that could have survived to the late game – maybe a Blue/Green with some Eldrazi. But I keep looking at it and there just isn’t very much there.

Oh well, better luck next time.

Khans of Tarkir Prerelease

This morning I drove down to Illusive Comics for the prerelease of the new Khans of Tarkir Magic set. I could hardly top my showing at last spring’s Journey Into Nyx prerelease, but I was hoping to have fun anyway.

I chose Mardu – the Black/White/Red clan with the Raid mechanic – because I basically like to attack early and often, with removal to back up my charge. I opened my packs and my pool looked like this:

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

I was sorely temped by the three Abzan cards (White-Black-Green) to find a way to splash Green, but I decided to stick to my guns and go with Mardu. I did consider whether I could swap out Red for Green, but my Green cards were just pretty weak that it seemed like a bad idea. Anyway, I ended up a bit pressed for creatures, wishing I had one more bomb or one more solid 3-drop. I ended up following Marshall Sutcliffe’s advice and playing 18 lands (and zero Banners, because I think the Banner suck, much like the Cluestones from Return to Ravnica sucked).

So, here’s what I ended up with:

My Khans of Tarkir prerelease deck

Besides the three nonbasic lands, I ran 5 each Plains, Swamps and Mountains. I had ten Warriors with some useful cards to enable them.

The most stressful thing about playing these tournaments for me is my opening draws, worrying about getting color screwed or mana short or flooded. Working on choosing when to mulligan has been one of the main things I’ve been working on. And with Khans being a 3-color block, that just exacerbated my worry. I’d hoped to play a 2-color deck with a splash, but that just wasn’t in the (literal) cards. So I had to hope I’d make some decent draws.

Alas, it wasn’t to be.

My good deed for the day came after the first match, where I ran over my opponent in two games. I realized afterwards that it was his first prerelease and he didn’t realize that he should play a 40-card deck, and instead put together a 65-card, 4-color monstrosity. So I helped him cut his deck down to a 3-color 40-card deck. Maybe not the best it could be, but perhaps competitive. I saw him briefly at the end of the day and he said his deck had done well after that.

Anyway, so 1-0 to me, but I felt like I hadn’t really earned it.

I lost my next three matches, and each one was a worse beating than the last. I stumbled on colors a couple of times, and I got drastically mana flooded over and over. My fourth match, against another player with a 1-2 record, saw me get badly run over in two games while drawing land after land. 18 land is only 1 more than the usual 17 for a normal block, but it was hard not for my brain to think that it was responsible for my terrible draws. But I stuck it out.

My one triumphant moment was when an opponent played Sarkhan, The Dragonspeaker, hit me for 4, and then next turn I attacked with my 3/3 into his 0/5 wall, and then killed Sarkhan with Arrow Storm. Go me! I ended up losing the game anyway.

In the final match, I gave in and swapped out a couple of lands for another nonbasic and a Banner. I somehow managed to beat him in two games running, including the second game where we both ended up ridiculously mana-flooded. So my final record was 2-3.

I was pretty disappointed in Ponyback Brigade, because the core body is so weak, and the Goblin tokens are annoying because they’re not Warriors and so not affected by all the nifty Warrior cards in the set. And the Ankle Shanker looks nifty, but it also sports a weak body and was almost immediately killed whenever I played it.

I think there are a few lessons for me to take away here:

  1. Sometimes you just have a run of terrible luck.
  2. The most important thing in the prerelease is to have fun. I picked Mardu because I thought it would give me the best chance to win, but I think I would have had more fun if I’d picked Abzan.

Despite all this, I’m looking forward to drafting the set when it’s out. Maybe I’ll see if I can head down to Illusive to draft in person a couple of times over the next few months, in addition to playing online. Though it’s too bad that their only regular draft event is Friday night – a Saturday or Sunday afternoon would probably be more convenient for me.

Magic Draft: JBT #3

We didn’t have much planned this weekend, so I did two Magic drafts.

Saturday’s draft was a Black/Red deck where I first picked King Macar, The Gold-Cursed – and then lost my connection to Magic Online, and lost my next 3 picks. I ended up with a weak deck and got blown out in the first round. While some of it was poor drafting, there were some signals late in the first pack which make me wonder if I would have taken another approach had I been able to see those three picks.

For today’s draft I decided to try the new client (since the old one is being shut down this week). My initial experience is that the client is a small improvement over the old one, particular in the draft experience, so that’s pretty nice. Also, placing the cards during a game in the middle of the battlefield rather than on the left feels better, and clicking lands to pay mana is a bit easier (it seems like you don’t have to click on a specific Swamp, just “the top Swamp in your stack of Swamps”, which is usually fine). I think I can safely say that if you spend maybe half an hour familiarizing yourself with the client, it will feel pretty familiar. (Note that I’m not saying anything about its stability, although it hasn’t crashed on me yet.)

The results of today’s draft after the cut:
Read on, Macduff! »

Magic Draft: JBT White/Black

Finally made time to do another Magic draft today. Either I was extremely lucky (very possible, as you’ll see), or this could be a turning point for me in my drafts. Possibly it was just a very weak card pool which I took advantage of. But the outcome was good!

Read on, Macduff! »

Magic Draft: JBT Green/White

I’ve been wanting to occasionally post about my Magic online drafts here, though I’ve been doing pretty poorly at them so there hasn’t been a lot to say. I did two drafts today, losing the first one 0-2 in the first round, and the second one in the second round. The second draft was interesting, though, so I’ve written it up behind the cut:

Read on, Macduff! »

Journey Into Nyx Prerelease

Today I went to Illusive Comics for the prerelease for the latest Magic set, Journey Into Nyx. I haven’t been to one for a year, since the Dragon’s Maze prerelease, since I’ve been out of town for the last two prereleases.

In the primer they explained that we’d each choose a color, and get a pack seeded to encourage us to play that color, and that one of the cards therein might be one of the gods which had the color we chose, as well as a promotional card in our color. I looked at the promo cards and thought the White and Green ones were probably the best, and that the Red/White god (Iroas) and the White/Black god (Athreos) would be the most fun to play, so I picked White as my color.

Indeed, I opened Athreos in my seeded pack – and then also got Iroas in another pack! I had really wanted to play White/Black, but it turned out that Black was my weakest color. Red, Green and Blue were all pretty good, so since I wanted to play a god, I played White/Red. (One person was surprised I didn’t try to splash black for Athreos, but I felt it would hurt my deck’s consistency.)

Here’s a picture of the cards I opened:

Card Pool

(click to enlarge)

And here are the cards I decided to play:

Deck List

Definitely an aggressive deck – not much of a top-end, but several good answers to threats, and a lot of the strong components from the Theros set.

I had a shaky first match, against a White/Blue deck. We split the first two games, and then he decided to swap his Blue for Black, but it didn’t matter since my army got off to a good start. His Blue and Black looked very similar in power when we examined his deck afterwards, but in both cases he was struggling to have 23 playables. I think his Blue was a bit better because he had some good flyers, and I think that’s what he went with.

The second match was against White/Green, and felt almost unfair, because he got badly mana-flooded. In both games he played Font of Fertility late in the game, fetched a land – and then drew another land on his next turn. And he was playing 16 land! He was thinking of cutting a land, but he had a reasonable top end of 5-drops and I suggested he drop some mana acceleration for more creatures because he wasn’t really accelerating into anything great.

My third match was against Green/Blue, which was a couple of really close games, but I managed to jump out to an early lead and put the game away with flyers even as I ran out chump blockers against Heroes’ Bane. I was worried that his Sigiled Starfish would dig to find the answers he needed, but it didn’t come to pass. The second game was the only game where I played Iroas, and it made a difference.

In the fourth match I got to sit in the comfy chair at Table 1. Whee! My opponent was playing another Green/White deck, and said he was playing all five events this weekend. I feel tired just thinking about it. This was the closest match of the day with us trading off weenies and removal spells, and if they’d called time one minute earlier we would have drawn the match, but I managed to win on the final turn. Whew! He also had Ajani in the final game, but it wasn’t quite enough.

The fifth match was an anticlimax, against a Green/Black deck. He didn’t draw very well in the first game, and in the second game I curved out perfectly and just ran him over.

Almost five hours after I arrived, I’d 5-0’ed the prerelease! Definitely my best showing ever!

A few card notes:

  • Non-combo of the day: Iroas (which prevents damage to your attacking creatures) and Archetype of Courage (which gives your creatures First Strike). They don’t quite do the same thing, but pretty close.
  • Successfully mulliganed a sketchy hand (5 land, 2 Magma Spray) after having not mulliganed similar hands several times in the past – and won the game, which decided that match.
  • Armament of Nyx is a tricky card to play. I was constantly resisting putting it on one of my mediocre enchantment creatures, and was consistently rewarded with using it to shut down a much bigger threat.
  • There’s a little debate about the value of Skyspear Cavalry. My experience was that as a 3/5 flyer it’s a good card, but not a finisher. As a 2/4 flyer giving a +1/+1 counter to something else, it’s about the same. Probably will be playable in most White decks, but a bit of a skill-testing card in tricky situations.
  • Not sure what I think of Constellation yet. Harvestguard Alseids were just a 2/3 body for me, and I didn’t see anyone else get value out of a Constellation card, either, though I did insta-kill Eidolon of Blossoms twice.
  • I got to see first-hand how ineffectual Archetype of Finality is: I had him on the ropes, he spends 6 mana, and just gets a 2/3 body out of it? You’d think it would be something that could at least survive a burn spell, which is what I used on it. I think Cyclops of Eternal Fury has a similar problem – I had one and didn’t run it. But at least the Cyclops comes with 5 power attached.
  • Someone at the store described Colossus of Akros as a “trap card”, which I can see, although I have also heard of it taking over some games. I only smelled 7 land, never mind 8 or 10, in one game, so I was happy to have sized it up as not right for my deck.
  • The guys at Limited Resources are not believers in Dakra Mystic. It’s a weird card, but I have a feeling that it’s going to a find a home somewhere in limited. Probably in some sort of control deck.
  • Heliod’s Emissary: Still awesome. Whether you Bestow it or not.

I like playing at Illusive. Even though I don’t go often enough to really know folks there, everyone is really friendly and chatty. And although I was delighted to win, I tried not to take it too seriously. I enjoy breaking down decks with people after each match. I certainly don’t feel like I know more about selecting cards or constructing decks than other people, but I think I have a few insights.

After the event I was chatting with a group of folks who had been there (one was the fellow from my last match), and they asked me how long I’d been playing. I said I’d gotten into it during Ice Age, and I’m pretty sure I could see the wheels turning that none of them had been older than 10 when that set came out. Maybe I look younger than I think!

I got pretty lucky with a strong card pool, but I’m pretty happy with choices I made for me deck, and my play overall. I could have gone 3-2 or even 2-3 if things had broken differently, but I also gave myself some opportunities to win. Maybe I’m turning the corner on this limited format stuff.

Illusive Comics

Apparently it can be expensive to take down a “grand opening” banner – Illusive has been around for several years now

Draft Dodging

I ended Tuesday’s entry wondering how to keep my hand in playing Magic as I’ve wound down playing our weekly casual game.

Back in 2006 when I got back into Magic (having previously played from 1995-1998) I was also getting into poker, and my friends seemed to split into playing one game or the other. I decided to go the Magic route (though I still play poker from time to time – honestly I might have lost less money sticking with poker!). But while I enjoy casual constructed, I also really enjoy doing booster drafts.

The problem with booster drafts is that they’re hard to arrange:

  • They require you set aside a chunk of time, usually 2-3 hours, to do the draft and then play up to 3 best-of-3-games matches.
  • Gathering enough people in person (at least 4, usually 6-to-8) is difficult in casual games.
  • Playing at a store involves playing on the store’s schedule, and driving to and from the store.
  • Playing at either a store or on Magic Online usually means playing against a more serious, and often more skilled, class of player.

The most convenient way to draft is on Magic Online (MTGO), where there are usually drafts starting up every few minutes. Unfortunately, the MTGO client runs only under Windows, and I just find the Windows interface to be dreary (I’m a Mac guy). I do have a Windows partition on my Mac which I use using VMWare Fusion, so that helps a little. On top of that, though, MTGO’s own user interface is pretty terrible (I won’t go into details, but anything involving the stack tends to be presenting in a perplexing manner at best).

I think the real barrier for me, though, is that playing online is just such a solitary activity: It requires all of my attention for most of the time I’m playing, and while I haven’t had any bad experiences with other players online, it’s fair to say that I don’t really connect with anyone either. So telling myself that I’m going to spend 2-3 hours sitting in front of the computer playing a game by myself has been a difficult barrier to overcome. Throw in my feeling that I’m not really that good at drafting (after all, most of my competition has a lot more practice than I do) and it’s hard to convince myself to spend an hour or more doing a draft that might end up being crappy.

Since I always seem to have plenty of chores to do around the house, or things I feel I “ought to” be doing (like reading a book, or playing with the cats), I just never set aside the time.

One thing I do is listen to the excellent podcast on drafting and other “limited” Magic formats, Limited Resources. Listening to them talking about the theory and practice of drafting, and how much time they put into honing their draft skills, I sometimes think it would be cool to draft enough to become a genuinely skilled player. But then I think what else I could be spending that time doing.

I don’t know. I’d like to do more drafts, at least to the point where I’m good enough that I don’t feel intimidated by it. But it’s been a hard barrier to overcome.