Early Game Analysis, and the Best Deck in Block
I am writing this article right after reading the forum responses for Rich Hoaen's first draft walkthrough... and I gotta say, they left me steamin'. I am not going to say that pros are always right - and as Rich himself said, he also makes a lot of mistakes - but a lot of the readers seem to make the exact mistake I see being made a lot in forums like these. They assume that they are better than the author, and that they are right and he is wrong. Now, I never understood the “I hate pros and their stupid pro cards” phenomenon, but c'mon... Rich is one of the best Limited players in the world, and he's sharing his drafts with you! Don't just assume that he is wrong and you are right; start thinking why he did something differently, and why he might be right.
This is a man that players like me automatically listen to, a man that has won a whole lot more than any one of us playing Limited cards, so who are we to doubt him? This is exactly the sort of article you should be reading to improve your game. Tim Aten then brings up the excellent point that what most of the guys in the forum are doing - replaying the draft with their own preferences - does not work, because every pick you take is influencing the picks your neighbours made. This is therefore impossible, and saying he should have drafted a Karoo pack 1, pick 3 so he could splash his third pack Simic Sky Swallower is a little weak.
Don't get me wrong; I am not saying I agree with everything Rich writes, or that he is always right, but if I want to get better at a draft format - and I am not sure that what I am doing is correct, because I am just not winning Pro Tours - this is a person I definitely listen to, and a man I go to change my own opinion.
After that, it's time I ease into my own attempt to educate the masses... let's see where we end up.
The first question this week came from Jim Mason:
It is the beginning of your opponent's third turn in a draft. He has nothing in play but a bounceland. You happen to have a Blue untapped and a Gigadrowse. How often is it a good idea to tap his land during his upkeep?
The early turns of the game where this question came up went like this: I went first and did nothing but lay Mountains and Islands until turn 4. He did nothing until turn 3, when he laid Rakdos Guildmage. My board on his turn 3 was Mountain, Mountain, Island. My hand was Mountain, Gigadrowse, Pyromatics, Izzet Chronarch, Transguild Courier, Cytoplast Shambler. I had passed to him in the draft, and knew he was either R/B/U or R/B/G.
On my turn 4, I Pryromatics his Guildmage. He lays Dimir House Guard and I lay Transguild Courier. He kills my dude, I get back Pryomatics with Chronarch and now have RRR for his House Guard, or on my next turn I will have mana for Shambler.
I decided not to tap his land, because I felt like I was not in a position to put tempo pressure on him, and since I had the removal I knew I could kill anything important the next turn. The allure of tapping it is that it probably costs him a whole turn of development.
Another question is whether it was correct to kill the Guildmage on my turn 4, or would it have been better to lay my dude and hold off on killing his. I chose to kill it since the R/B Guildmage is so powerful it seems like it should be killed on sight, but I did give up having a 3/3 to his 2/2, and I certainly could have waited to kill the Guildmage until combat next turn.
Jim, it seems to me that you made the correct play by not tapping the land. The way your hand is built up it seems like you are never going to win this game by gaining tempo on your opponent, but most likely you'll win by gaining long term card advantage. Even though that means that Gigadrowse will not gain you any advantage in that department, it might be a nice backup plan if your main plan of card advantage does not pan out. Burning it here does not seem like it will do you a lot of good. Forcing through that fatty can also work wonders in the end... Given that your opponent didn't have anything in play and was unlikely to play anything threatening (with you having Pyromatics and a 3/3 in the grip) makes not playing the Gigadrowse even more self-evident. You made the correct play.
As for the Pyromantics, I feel I would have played the 3/3 there, but I can understand feeling threatened by the best Guildmage in the block, despite it not being able to kill the Courier. Playing the 3/3 means that you first develop a board position, which is often the right thing to do. It also opens up the play of passing next turn, and makes your opponent attack with the Guildmage first so you can make him blow a card or something. This is very risky if he is Blue, Green, or White, so that might just be too greedy. The only advantage to playing the Pyromatics main turn 4 is that you can maximize your mana on turn 5 by playing the Chronarch instead of the Courier... but that hurts your board development. Play the Courier, then the Pyromatics.
Next, a pair of questions from Sy Johnston:
1. Describe some of the most memorable Magic Collections you've ever seen. What made them so memorable? Was there anything unique about their binders?
2. What method do you use to randomize your deck? If you pile shuffle, how many piles do you make and how often do you do it?”
One thing you should know about me (and most pros you know about) is that we hardly have any cards. The cards we do have are all from drafts and stuff like that. I have yet to meet a pro that is also a collector, and as such, I never run across some of those great collections you talk about. The only real time I see a binder is at a dealer's table, as I never ever trade at events. It's just not my thing. As a result, the last collection I have seen has to be my best buddy's binder back when I was still a casual gamer, but that was mainly because he had both 4 Serra Angels and 4 Sengir Vampires! Man, those were awesome back in the day.
The way I randomize is like this: I start off by doing a pile shuffle or two, always in seven piles, after which I riffle the deck (or cut it in itself when playing with sleeves) about ten times. I then do another pile shuffle, and some more rifle shuffles. Repeat again, and then usually I'll present. The reason I pile shuffle in seven piles is that 40 or 60 are not dividable by seven, and that after doing that a bunch of times you will not get back to the same configuration, which can be the case with eight piles. This has worked fairly well for me, and my deck always feels sufficiently randomized.
Chase Hartline sent me the next question:
I play MTGO a lot, and I love the block format. I have the resources to build just about any deck, so I was wondering what would be the “best” block deck to play. I have seen the lists from Pro Tour Charleston, but some of those lists have to be suboptimal due to card limitations and the team format. I like the four-color land destruction deck with Wrecking Balls, but the RBW aggro deck seems good also. Not to mention the powerful GUB or GUB/w control decks, or even the Firemane decks.
First of all, let me tell you that this format is dead as far as tournaments are concerned, as apart from Casual formats and Magic Online, this format will not see play ever again. This means that after the Pro Tour, I stopped testing. I have been playing some Magic Online eight-man queues, though, with what I feel is a deck that does not really have any bad matchups: Terry Soh RB. Here's what I feel is the optimal list for the current block metagame:
Terry himself went 12-2 at the PT with a slightly modified list. With its built-in card advantage, as well as its ability to come out of the gates very fast, I feel like this deck has the tools to beat any deck. The fact that cards like Rakdos Augermage; Lyzolda, the Blood Witch; and Rakdos Guildmage can win the game by themselves also helps this deck a lot, as leaving any of these guys unchecked will mean Game Over most of the time. Being afraid of Bobby hitting a Hit / Run happens, and it's something you need to simply ignore. Both cards are just that good, and therefore this is worth the risk.
I see a lot of decks like this splashing for Lightning Helix and Skyknight Legionnaire, which I do not understand. Sure, Helix is good, but the 2/2 Haster is just a bad creature by itself, and is worse than any of the cards in the deck right now. Helix alone isn't worth it, and despite it being good, I really can't find room in the manabase to splash it.
Next up, a question by Daniel Gardner:
I live in a small town in England and have a testing group of three, which I know is poor. I want to get a lot better, and actually get something out of Magic, because I put a lot of time and effort in and I am always thinking about it. I am only 15 so I don't have a lot of money to spend on MTGO, and have to play Magic Workstation and Apprentice (on which the players are not very good, most of the time). I also try to play as many PTQs and GPs as possible, but because of the group of players I test with, I know I never stand a chance of doing well.
How can I get to the next level and become a better player when I have such limits to how I can improve?
P.S Your articles are the nuts. Are you going to GP Malmo?
Danny, I ain't gonna lie: it seems like you have the deck stacked against you. The best ways to get better are simple: playing better players, and playing a lot. Playing on MTGO is the best way to do this. The free programs attract bad players and are usually not worth it, though I know Julien Nuijten got as good as he is by playing leagues like these online.
I think your best bet has to be to do the same thing he did: join something like www.magic-league.com, where a lot of kids like you come together and game. Other than that, you seem to be doing the right things. As long as you stay willing to learn stuff you will gradually improve, no question. Don't expect it to happen overnight though, as it usually takes a couple of years (it did with me).
I will probably not be going to Malmo. I have never been a fan of GPs, and I hate traveling. I'd rather go on vacation, which I will be doing during that GP.
Bill Fleming sent an unusual question...
Why do the French persist with playing Barthez in goal? Do they never want to win another game again?
Bill, I am a big football fan, as you might now, so it pains me to answer this question. This World Cup is not about goalkeepers, playskill or whatever. It is about referees, faking injuries, and dives. Like Thierry Henry showed so perfectly during the Spain game, it doesn’t matter if your opponent is better or worse, you just get a free-kick when you aren’t hit at all by grabbing your face and falling over, and then just make that. This World Cup has been a mockery so far, and I hope the quarter-finals and up will help change that image, though I fear they won’t.
As for why they play Barthez? I guess he has been very lucky in the past, even if he is no longer a good goalkeeper, and luck is what you really need. He seems like a solid pick in that case.
That's it for me and my bitter self today. See y'all next week.
Be sure to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep em coming.