Rating Restored: A winning Magic 2013 draft deck

It took me some time, but I finally won another draft. What took me so long? Well, the answer is, essentially: Avacyn Restored.

You see, after my last posting of a winning deck, I did another Innistrad block draft, and lost in the first round of a non-swiss event. Afterwards, I decided that I would not acquire the missing pack I needed to enter another draft in that format, but instead trade my last packs in for Avacyn Restored boosters. Well, while I believed I would hate that format after all I had seen and read, I at least wanted to give it a try, Innistrad draft queues just took ever longer to fire, I wanted to find a few commons for my casual decks, and Magic 2013 drafts were to be available soon, shortening the wiondow when I would draft that set, so I just did it.

I did not enjoy the experience. In actual drafting as well as during gameplay, I too often felt that I just could not do enough to influence my fate. In five or so drafts I reached the finals twice, one time “splitting” with someone who really wanted the qualifier point (which meant that he gave me half of the extra 4 boosters – it was an 8-4 event – and I conceded) with a deck I really didn’t have much faith in, one time losing somehow unlucky (or at least that is how I remember it, maybe the games just played to an reasonable outcome). Overall, my winning percentage was still clearly over 50%, but not good enough to win enough packs that I could draft as long with my initial investment as I am used to. That was partly my fault, because of a metagaming mistake (in the broader sense of this word): I realized to late that Avacyn Restored draft queues fired often enough that I could actually chose a payout which fit my expected win percentage (which would have been 4-3-2-2), and wasted my packs going 1-1 in 8-4 queues or reaching the finals of a swiss event, just because I was used to enter the queue with the highest number of players already waiting in it. Overall, drafting Avacyn Restored was deeply unsatisfying (although I could stock my collection with Mist Ravens and Seraphs of the Dawn) and brought my online rating down 30 points in no time.

After realizing I hated the format, I sold my last few packs and waited for Magic 2013 prerelease draft queues to begin – which they did yesterday! I invested in a good number of tix (You cannot enter prerelease drafts with boosters, even if you already won some) and threw myself into the fray. In my first draft I went UG after firstpicking Predatory Rampage and secondpicking Talrand’s Evocation and no clear signals that I would have been better off with switching colors, but in the end my deck lacked speed and didn’t have the highest quality, possibly because some drafters swicthed colors quite late, so that my last booster round was rather disappointing. I went 2-1 with this, losing a match I felt I should have won with reasonable draws, but winning one I probably should have lost to balance things out. In my second draft, I decided on an Arms Dealer in a pack full of quality cards (I remember Oblivion Ring, Murder and – I believe – Talrand’s Evocation), bent on trying to go RW, which I believe is the strongest archetype, especially if people do not yet realize how much this format is about early game pressure. While I could pick up a reasonable number of white staple cards (2 Griffin Protector, 1 Attended Knight, 1 Captain’s Call), I was forced to give up on Red completely during the second booster round, instead opting for a W/g build (starting out as a splash for Rancor and Prized Elephant, but growing into a secondary color during the last pack, when inexplicably White, which had been abundant during the first round, failed to deliver the last few playables I needed to complete an already nearly full deck). Still, I was able to go 2-1 again, proving that you can actually win with stuff like Warclamp Mastiff and multiple Glorious Charges, even if your token production isn’t too spectacular, and meeting on my way to the finals a RB deck running all the stuff I was missing in mine (multiple Krenko’s Command and Mogg Flunkies). (Oh, and I NEVER drew that Rancor – how frustrating!)

With my third try, I started out with a Vampire Nocturnus, which was a value pick but also just the only really interesting card in the pack, then got strong signals that Red was open and went into the direction of B/r. I soon realized, though, that Black was drying up and that I needed an alternative. I toyed around with one or two white picks, but in the end 2 Crimson Muckwaders convinced me to stay in my colors, but priorizing Red instead of Black. On my way to this conclusion, I made a couple less than stellar decisions, clinging to the idea of Black as a main color too long and passing up on cards which, in the end, would have made my deck, while the Nocturnus found itself in the sideboard (he was just a really hard to cast Canyon Minotaur), just like the Bloodthrone Vampire I took over a more generally useful red card (in my defense, when I made this pick, I wasn’t completely set on Red yet, and I was toying with the idea of trying out a W/B token deck – but I should already have realized that it was too late for that). However, I was really generously rewarded with red cards at the end of the draft.

This was the deck:

9 Mountain
6 Swamp
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Dragonskull Summit
1 Chronomaton
2 Crimson Muckwader
1 Dragon Hatchling
1 Torch Fiend
1 Walking Corpse
3 Bladetusk Boar
1 Canyon Minotaur
1 Bloodhunter Bat
2 Fire Elemental
1 Phyrexian Hulk
1 Crippling Blight
3 Searing Spear
1 Cower in Fear
1 Flames of the Firebrand
1 Essence Drain
1 Turn to Slag
1 Volcanic Geyser

I nearly lost my first game against an opponent who was on the play, accelerating via Farseek into a third-turn Odric, Master Tactician (toughness 4 was a problem!), pacifying my Crimson Muckwader, then putting out more 4-toughness stuff in succession: Prized Elephant, Sentinel Spider… I struggled to stay in the game, even starting to chumpblock while racing him with 2 Bladetusk Boars. That was a great plan, especially with multiple burn spells in my hand – until he dropped a Touch of the Eternal, catapulting him back to 13 life!

There were at least three turns in which I could have dealt him 12 damage attacking with the boars and using direct damage, but he was always on 13! I was forced to spend my burn on his creatures instead to survive and hope that I could alpha strike him with a large number of attackers or finish him off with my Volcanic Geyser. It wasn’t to be – while he drew a lot of lands, he always dropped enough creatures to force any removal I drew and always kept his life total JUST out of my reach due to sheer luck (he didn’t have any alternatives, really). But then he made a crucial mistake: He used a Farseek to get another land into play (makes sense with the Touch, of course), but suddenly he was the one who had to win before his deck ran out! With me on single-digit life and out of removal for creatures with evasion, I had to be really afraid of this, but luckily he had drawn almost all his good creatures in the early game and couldn’t break through either. Then he cast a Staff of Nim – amd I realized that this gave him only 4 turns time to beat me, even though he could ping me with it! That is just what happened – I was down to 4 or so cards in my library myself (among them the win-on-the-spot Geyser), but he simply decked himself.

That was a heck of an annoying game! In the next one, he didn’t draw as well and I had a fast start, so I was able to apply enough pressure to overpower him easily. Still, I’m impressed by the number of mythics/rares he had drafted AND found himself able to play in his GW deck: I had seen Odric, Master Tactician; Touch of the Eternal; Serra Avenger; Trading Post; Staff of Nim AND Quirion Dryad in those games!

In the second round, I met an opponent using three colors and, of course, having access to UBW on turn three (after using Essence Scatter on my Muckwader), then dropping another swamp and playing Liliana’s Shade – some people are obviously born with protection from color screw… However, he hit a land glut afterwards, and I drew into enough gas to overpower him. In the second game, 2 Mind Rot I had sided in destroyed his hand early, and it was an easy win.

My opponent in the finals had an excellent UW deck, starting with Fog Bank, Healer of the Pride and Serra Angel, shoving in an Essence Scatter somewhere, and defeating me without much trouble, since I was running low on lands and could not even use two removal spells during one turn to off the Angel.

The second game went much better for me. On the play, I could stick a Muckwader before he could use Scatter, and he had no Fog Bank this time. When he kept open mana for his Scatter, I used the opportunity to Mind Rot him (I drew these Mind Rots a heck of a lot after sideboarding!) while keeping the beats up und finally forced him to Scatter the next creature I played (a Canyon Minotaur), then followed uo with 2 Bladetusk Boar and a Bloodhunter Bat. Although he found a pair of Encrust, he was ever backpedaling, and I still held a few removal with enough land to actually use them.

The final game was a joke (at my opponent’s expense): He mulliganed to five and got hit by two Mind Rot – that was it, of course.

I always sideboarded out the Hulk, and in addition sometimes a Dragon Hatchling and once, on the draw, a Mountain. I still believe it was right to start the Hulk – I was just a little low on creatures. I usually sided in one or two Mind Rot, since all my opponents seemed to have lategame decks.

In retrospect it is scary how good this deck could have been if I had drafted it correctly – I could have kept the Black to a near splash and made better use of my Dragon Hatchling (plus additional copies of Hatchlings and even Furnace Whelps which came my way but lost out in narrow decisions to other cards because of their heavy red commitment). I also would have had a Rummaging Goblin for my anemic 3-slot (that was what I took the Bloodthrone Vampire over), and I think I could have made do without the Hulks then. You see, Red was really underdrafted this time – I had the Volcanic Geyser (which I had taken Searing Spear over – correctly, I’m convinced) and in another pack Furnace Whelp AND Bladetusk Boar (I had taken another Spear) tabling! (This is not the Whelp I believe I should have taken, BTW – there was another. Bladetusk Boar is just stronger!) So, this is probably not a great example of how a RB deck will look at a table of competent drafters.

Anyway, drafting is much more fun again (not too tough after the Avacyn Restored Disaster), and after just three M13 drafts, I even had my rating restored! (Yes, I know that this is of no consequence.) I think I will keep drafting this set for a little while.

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