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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
Sometimes you just have a run of terrible luck.
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.
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.)
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!
Unfortunately, it seems that the lifespan of Playdek’s version is coming to an end (more on that below), so I wanted to write a post about it before the end arrives.
Ascension is a “deck-building game”, which shares some things in common with “trading card games” (such as Magic), but has the key difference that it’s not “collectible”, which means that you can’t build better decks by spending more money on cards, and you don’t need to sink money into it to stay competitive. Rather, each game starts with each player having a pre-determined deck of cards, and there’s another set of cards which the players can acquire in the course of the game. “Acquiring” a card usually means spending some resources and putting the acquired card in their discard pile. Then when they finish going through their deck, they shuffle their discard pile into a new deck and draw from it, so they can use the cards they acquired on their last time through the deck. But the key is that players are on equal footing – everyone’s playing the game with the same pool of cards.
(By the way, probably the best-known deck-building game is Dominion, which does not have an official iOS version.)
In Ascension, each player starts with 8 Apprentice cards, which provide points (“Runes”) to acquire cards, and 2 Militia cards, which provide points (“Power”) to defeat Monsters. The rest of the cards in the set are shuffled into a draw pile, and six of them are laid out in the center row. These are the cards which can be acquired (if they’re Heroes or Constructs) or defeated (if they’re Monsters). Defeating Monsters gains the player Honor. The game starts with a pool of 60 Honor to be gained, and once the two players have gained at least 60 Honor between them, the game ends. Heroes and Constructs acquired also provide Honor (but Honor which is not counted against the pool of 60), and the winner is the player with the most Honor from defeating Monsters plus Honor from acquired cards.
Each turn a player draws 5 cards. Heroes are cards (including the Apprentice and Militia cards) which are played once that turn to provide an effect. The effect can be to provide Runes or Power, or to do things like draw more cards. Constructs are played and remain on the board, and have a continuous effect, for example to provide 1 Power each turn. Defeating Monsters can have effects besides producing Honor, they can also produce Runes, or they can have effects like making the opponent discard a card, letting you draw a card, or making them discard some of their played Constructs. When you acquire a card from the center row, or defeat a Monster in it, it gets replaced by a card from the draw pile. There are also four factions, which the Heroes and Constructs in the center row belong to, and some cards’ effects have an additional impact based on their faction.
When I started playing the game I thought it was going to be a pretty simple game and I’d give up on it before long, but I soon found that it had surprising depth. It took me a little while to realize that acquired cards provide Honor – this is key because Constructs from the Mechana faction in particular provide much more Honor than other cards. But I quickly learned that the principle of acquiring better cards (basically, investing in future turns) tends to trump defeating Monsters early on, while when the pool of Honor is nearly gone you want to make a mad grab for the most valuable cards. Sometimes I’d take a balanced approach, other times I’d focus single-mindedly on building up my deck. Some cards allow you to get rid of the less-powerful cards in your deck permanently, which I tend to prioritize, even above (most) card-drawing cards.
On our trip to Hawaii in 2011 I spent a bunch of our free time playing Ascension, and got quite good at it. Then they started releasing expansions to it, available as in-app purchases. I was skeptical that there would be a lot they could do to make it more interesting, but they’ve actually come up with a lot: New effects you can trigger, new Monsters, and even just new permutations of earlier cards.
Even when I felt I had gotten as much as I could out of an expansion, I would sometimes notice a card or two which I’d rarely played with because it didn’t feel very useful, and I’d wonder whether I could craft a winning strategy around it. And usually I could – the card was there for a reason, but you had to figure out how best to use it.
The iOS app is extremely smooth: It’s very clear in showing how much Honor is left to be gained, what Constructs each player has in play, what’s in their discard piles, whether a card has been modified in some way (e.g., having its faction changed), etc. And the online multiplayer support is excellent: You start a game where each player has a certain amount of time to play all their turns, and then you can either play a fast game (e.g., a 10- or 30-minute limit), or set up a game which lasts for days, if you want to play with someone over a long period of time. And you can set up a game for others to join, and then challenge them to a rematch after each game. You can also play 3- or 4-player games. It’s really well done. I’ve got some series of games against the same opponents going back months. I’ve even made a new friend who figured out my Facebook identity after befriending me on iOS Game Center (a trick which is harder to pull off now, since Playdek uses their own servers for player identity today). At my “peak”, I had over 30 games going at once. (These days I have about 10.)
It’s hard to imagine playing the physical card game – the app does so much bookkeeping for you, from tallying players’ Honor, to shuffling their decks, to making random selections where appropriate. Despite being a “card” game, it feels designed for computerized play.
Sadly, the number of people playing the iOS game seems to be dwindling – I often check new games and see very few or even none available to join, when a year or two ago there would have been dozens. I believe the reason is newer expansions of the print game have not been coming to iOS, probably because Stone Blade is pulling back the rights to the game from Playdek. Early last year Stone Blade ran a Kickstarter campaign to bring Ascension to Android and PC, and I bet they plan to eventually do an iOS client of their own, playable with the Android and PC versions. If that’s the case, then the real question is whether their implementation can be as smooth, easy to use, and bug-free as Playdek’s. It’s one of the best implementations of any game I’ve seen on iOS, and I am unsure whether iOS users would accept anything less.
(The comments on the Kickstarter from May and June of this year are not very encouraging – it sounds like development is behind schedule, the last update from Stone Blade is from March, and a number of backers seem unhappy.)
In any event, the iOS version of Ascension seems to be dying, and I think Stone Blade is missing out on the chance to keep people excited about the game by not letting Playdek bringing the newer expansions to it as they come out. If the environment dies out entirely, then by the time they bring out a new client for “Ascension Online“, players like me might look at it and think, “Yeah, that was fun to play, but I’ve moved on to other things.” It seems very shortsighted.
Anyway, I’ve been enjoying the game for about three years now, and it’s sad to see it dwindling like this. On the other hand, playing it less means more time for other things. Probably not what Stone Blade has in mind, but that’s the way it’s working out. If the end is nigh, well, it’s been a good run.
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:
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:
And here are the cards I decided to play:
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.
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.
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.
(Note: This post has nothing to do with the book of the same name. In fact, it will probably be of little interest except to players of the Magic trading card game.)
Since I got back into Magic: The Gathering back in 2006, I’ve been playing in a weekly casual game. But a little over a year ago our regular host decided to move out of state, and we moved to a rotating hosting system. Our metagame had also been getting (to my mind) a bit stale, with people often playing the same types of decks (not quite the same exact decks, but the same basic frameworks used to trigger slightly different win conditions). And I’d been struggling to come up with interesting new decks of my own, which could work within our metagame.
Late in the summer my heart had gone out of it, so I decided to take a month or two off (conveniently timed around our trip back east in September). When I got back, I learned that the weekly game had been moved from Mondays to Wednesdays, which reduced my likelihood of attending to near-zero, as Wednesday is of course comic book night. Consequently, I haven’t attended since last summer.
Since then I’ve been gradually filing my cards and generally tidying up my card collection. Perhaps I needed the time off from the game. For some years I’ve been buying boxes of the new expansions and opening them, but that was getting pretty old, too – a lot of bookkeeping. Not to mention that all the cards take up a lot of space. If I want to keep up with the new sets, maybe I’ll just buy some singles; heck, I could probably buy playlets (4 each) of the best new cards that come out and spend less than I have been on the boxes.
(In theory I guess the total value of cards on the aftermarket end up equalling the cost of buying the unopened product, with commons as a whole being worth close to nothing, while the valuable cards account for most of the cost. The market is probably not quite that efficient, but except for a few outliers it’s probably pretty close. And acquiring more commons gets less and less interesting over time, as the design philosophy of New World Order has generally made commons less interesting to collect for people who own many of the older cards.)
Anyway, I still enjoy Magic and would like to keep my hand in it, but I don’t know when (or if) I’ll want to spend the time on casual constructed games in the future. And I know I don’t have much interest in serious competitive Magic. So what’s left?
Yesterday I spent the afternoon at Illusive Comics in Santa Clara at the Dragon’s MazeMagic prerelease event. I went to the Gatecrash prerelease in January (which I somehow forgot to write about), and had a lot of fun – I played a Simic deck and went 3-2 in 5 matches. I went to that with Andrew, Adam and Subrata and we all chose Simic as our guilds.
This time I was going on my own, but I wanted to go because I thought the structure would be really neat: You pick one guild from either Return to Ravnica or Gatecrash, and get randomly paired with one of four guilds from the other set which shared a color with it. You get a guild pack from each of those sets for those guilds, and then you get four Dragon’s Maze packs to build a deck out of the six packs. I’ve played a lot of Simic and Selesnya, and I wanted to pick a guild that looked like fun that I hadn’t played much. My guess was that Boros and Rakdos would be the guilds to pick to win a lot, but I don’t find either of those guilds to be a lot of fun to play. In the end I decided to go with Golgari. My “secret ally” guild was Orzhov, which as it turns out was my second choice.
The other gimmick in this prerelease was that each guild would advance on a chart for each match win by their guild during the afternoon; whoever got to the end first would get a special prize card, and each guild that reached the end at all would get another special prize card. The problem was that I was the only player who chose Golgari, so I’d have to win 4 of my 5 matches to reach the end.
I opened up my packs, and after some thought I ended up with this deck:
The format strongly encourages three-color decks, which can lead to some shaky mana bases but which I enjoy (in theory) because I like a slower game so that things can develop and we have a chance to play our high-cost cards.
I was disappointed that I didn’t get a single Pestilence in my Dragon’s Maze packs (and yes, I recognize that since it’s an uncommon I probably had less than a 50% chance of getting one). I also did not get any Guildgates in my colors other than in my two guild packs, which meant not playing any Gatekeepers.
My pool had 4 of the 6-cost Maze Elementals, but none of them did much for my deck so I didn’t play any of them, deciding to go for efficiency instead. I wondered if I should have played an Armored Wolf-Rider instead of the Golgari Longlegs, since a 4/6 body might have been more useful than a 5/4 body, but on balance it probably didn’t make much difference.
I wasn’t going to put Guardian of the Gateless in my deck at first, but I overheard people at the table behind me talking about it and saying that it was a really good card, so I decided to run it, and it was quite useful when I was able to play it.
Anyway, other than worrying about my mana base I was pretty happy with my deck. Due to my mana base I generally elected to go second, figuring the extra card would let me smooth out my mana curve. Overall my strategy was to overrun anyone who stumbled with my cheap creatures, and otherwise try to stall them out and win through Extort and eventually-superior biomass on the ground.
My first match I played against an aggressive Boros deck, who stumbled in the first game, ran me over with a nifty attack combo in the second game (Riot Piker and Madcap Skills), but I dealt with his stuff in the third game and managed to pull out a win.
My second match was against a Selesnya deck piloted by a player who didn’t seem very experienced. I swept the board with Gift of Granite, but he reloaded and we stalled out. He made an ill-considered attack, I managed to Extort him down to near-death (with help from Deathrite Shaman), and then overran him with all my bodies. But the game took 35 minutes and we didn’t have time to finish the second game, which gave me the win.
This put me tied for first place, so I was matched up against a very good Selesnya/Orzhov deck. We split the first two games, and the third game came down to the time limit. But he played Tesya, Envoy of Ghosts (he apparently had two of them in his deck!), which I didn’t have a way to deal with, and I couldn’t stall him until time was called, so I ended up losing.
The fourth match put me up against another Boros deck, and this we stalled out in the first game again. Unfortunately although it was very close, I wasn’t able to win this one. In the second game he played a Desecration Demon, but I managed to topdeck Grisly Spectacle (using a Cluestone to get there). He reloaded, but I played Gift of Granite. I think I could have won this one, but we ran out of time, so I lost the match.
The fifth match I played a Rakdos deck run by one of the guys I’d sat with while doing deck construction. He got land-shorted the first game, and then I drew plenty of removal in the second game. We played the third game and I won again – my deck was just too fast for him, somehow.
So all-in-all I went 3-2 in my five matches, and was competitive in my other two. I did misplay from time to time, but I don’t think they were decisive in any of my matches; overall I was pretty happy with how I did. I finished in eighth place, winning three booster packs.
I’ve also been happy with the people I’ve played with at Illusive, as they’re not generally clearly better players than me (as has been the case when I’ve gone toChannel Fireball), and they’re all friendly to play with. The game space is a little cramped, but they run the events efficiently so we’re never sitting around waiting for things to begin. We actually finished the event over an hour earlier than projected! So I hung out and chatted with folks for a while afterwards. I should go there for Friday night drafting sometime.
So all things considered the prerelease was just as much fun as I’d expected, and I’m looking forward to drafting the block once it’s out, as I think it should be a very interesting experience with some nifty strategies to try out.