Posted tagged ‘Avacyn Restored’

Rating Restored: A winning Magic 2013 draft deck

July 29, 2012

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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Ah yes, Avacyn has been Restored

May 25, 2012

Yes, I noticed the new set coming out. I actually already thought a lot about its cards. The thing is, debating which of them should go into my limited card pool for Next Level Cubes got something rolling which led to me completely redesigning and greatly reducing that pool – and that took a LOT of time. I shrinked my collection from roughly 3.600 cards to less than 2.300, and I thought hard about each and every one of them, always in context with other existing options (for example, how many other cards supporting a tribe or a mechanic I wanted and needed, and how those should be distributed over colors, mana costs and functions, but sometimes just comparing similar cards and deciding how many of them I could use for clearly distinct purposes). Now I’m finally done with that, resulting in about 2000 cards I want to get rid off (including some I’d taken out earlier), but also a wish list of over 100 cards (mostly from New Phyrexia onward, but also including a few older ones I needed to round off my now much more tightly defined themes).

For those of you who are interested, I will still post a list of those Avacyn Restored cards I intend to acquire for my pool with a few comments, but note that my criteria have become much stricter, leading to several cards which play perfectly fine in cubes being ignored, since I no longer ask “CAN I use that card in a cube”, but “Do I NEED that card to build the cubes I want to build?”

A few general words, though: As should come to no one’s surprise, I deeply hate the miracle mechanic, which stands for almost everything I hate about the new direction Magic design has taken over the last years: Random, swingy, overpowered, and only “fun” for people who prefer to watch the game play itself. But I really like the idea of soulbond (actually, I dabbled with a very similar design once), but I can’t yet tell how well it plays, especially in an environment with decent removal (this has priority – I will not sacrifice interaction to propagate a mechanic which doesn’t work with it). However, it seems to me that most cards with soulbond are strong enough to be still useful then, although not as dominating as they seem to be in AR limited, so I’ll give them a try.

Other than soulbond, AR hasn’t much to offer me beyond single cards – I still don’t use human tribal, because it’s a nightmare when combined with older cards, and since I don’t like to use a tribe spread over all colors (I actually eliminated allies and slivers from my pool for that reason, although there this was a feature, not a bug), and I certainly don’t use angel tribal, since angels are a really silly tribe (almost a silly as dragons or giants), mechanically as well as flavorwise: They are supposed to be strong single cards, not a weenie strategy held together by support cards. Also, I don’t like most angel tribal designs.

Then, I will not use too many cards encouraging you to keep exactly one creature in play, because that leads to not too enjoyable play patterns (I’m looking at you, Homicidal Seclusion). That leaves two themes/cycles continued from Innistrad & Dark Ascension, for which Avacyn Restored fills a few holes: Creatures with Undying and the utility lands requiring dual mana. In the end, I’m still interested in 40 cards – not overly much for a large set, but not exactly just a few stray cards either.

To the cards:

Lands:

Desolate Lighthouse – even together with the lands from Ravnica Block, I was unable to find a ten-card-cycle I liked. Or a five-card cycle, for that matter. I came to the conclusion that in limited a land which only gives colorless mana, but needs two colors of mana to justify its inclusion, doesn’t belong in a cube unless it supports a color-defined theme of that cube, so I wouldn’t keep lands I couldn’t use in a cycle. I found only one possible cycle I liked: Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion; Stensia Bloodhall; Skarrg, the Rage-Pits and Desolate Lighthouse – fit for inclusion in a Red-dominated cube.

Artifacts:

Angel’s Tomb – A very nice card which rewards playing creatures and attacking with them, but also has subtle synergies with self-bounce and flickering. I already use Halcyon Glaze, and this is a reasonable colorless version.

Angelic Armaments – while I severely whittled down the number of equipments I kept, I still want a good selection at my disposal. This fits a hole, and does so with sensible stats.

Vessel of Endless Rest – I wouldn’t have kept it just for the manafixing (I have Coldsteel Heart and Coalition Relic for that function), but I’m always on the lookout for colorless, maindeckable cards featuring moderate graveyard hate to allow interaction with graveyard themes.

White:

Avacyn, Angel of Hope – While the effect is really strong, you are supposed to get some value for 8 mana, and Avacyn likely neither wins the game on the spot nor can it only be removed with card disadvantage (although removing it isn’t easy). I believe this is a good spot for an 8-mana creature to be in, and I want a few of those for some cubes. It’s also the only reasonable choice for an 8-mana spell in White in the whole game…

Goldnight Commander – Obviously another card encouraging you to play many creatures, but also interacting nicely with flash creatures or instant token generation. I like this design more than Herd Gnarr (although the Gnarr is completely fine), since it plays better and makes more sense flavorwise.

Nearheath Pilgrim – I kept two soulbond creatures in every color featuring them (plus two extra in Green). Silverblade Paladin is just too powerful and steps on the toes of Hanweir Lancer, so I had little choice in White. However, I am happy with the Pilgrim.

Seraph of Dawn – really like the design, but this will NOT be common in my cubes – a card that is at the same time always very useful and able to completely upturn a game just shouldn’t be common. It might work in Avacyn Restored limited, but that’s an environment with little interaction consisting of players taking turns dropping overpowered creatures and two-card combos.

Spectral Gateguards – Well, I wish this wasn’t a 2/5 creature, since I don’t like the way these stall the board, and thus use them very sparingly. This means that putting the Gateguards in a cube will force me to leave out other cards of that kind, restricting my options when I want it for soulbond – not optimal, but acceptable.

Thraben Valiant – very basic creature, and thus very useful. Obviously, especially interesting in cubes featuring auras and/or equipment.

Cloudshift – While I’m not nearly as much a fan of this mechanic as MaRo is, since I don’t like tricks which are only really desirable when you can expect a stalled board, this one’s basic, cheap and efficient enough that it makes sense in many possible cubes (Ghostly Flicker, on the other hand, didn’t make it, because it’s too clumsy and too situational to be enjoyable in an interactive environment – well, and because I prefer Blue to use bounce for such purposes).

Black:

Demonic Taskmaster – As I said, I don’t want too many of this kind of card, but a few is fine, and this one can also be used as a risky finisher or a sacrifice outlet (and of course works nicely with Persist and Undying).

Harvester of Souls – Very powerful effect, but I can make use of a few powerful 6-mana creatures, and this is no Visara. I’m glad it has the following two safety features: “another” and “nontoken” – they make the difference between a strong card for high-powered environments and an unfairly overpowered card.

Marrow Bats – That’s a nice design, although I would have preferred that card to not be splashable. I guess it’s weaker than it looks, since not all removal is damaged-based, and since you don’t always get to trade 4 life with quality spells like good removal or other expensive creatures, but sometimes just with small 1/1 flyers and the like. The Bats made it easier for me to remove Sengir Vampire from my card pool, though – I don’t think Black should have a (albeit only very slightly) superior Air Elemental. (There’s also Fallen Angel, but that feels a lot less generic to me.)

Green:

Druid’s Familiar – in Avacyn Restored, Green and Blue have a higher number of soulbond creatures, but I didn’t like most blue ones, so I decided to give a higher number only to Green (to make up for Black having none, in a way). This one, however, is really powerful in limited (I have no idea how clueless a Magic player must be not to see this immediately), but then again, I put good removal in all of my cubes, so the Familiar is brought down in power a little. Also, it is just the kind of creature with soulbond you WANT to have. I’ll give it a try.

Howlgeist – I admit I would’ve preferred an even cleaner design (maybe a mana cheaper) without the extra ability, but this is a useful green creature with undying on a sensible power level.

Nettle Swine – Each color needs a few vanilla creatures, and this one’s in a perfect spot for Green. This is purely a flavor update – I feel the card makes more sense as a boar than as a human monk. (I wish it was a beast instead, though.)

Nightshade Peddler – well, if Black had soulbond, this would’ve been a black design. Useful, basic and not too obvious at the same time.

Pathbreaker Wurm – Again, basic and useful (and not even obsoleting Craw Wurm, although I really wouldn’t have a problem with that – see Vorstclaw). While I’m not enthusiastic about it (I feel that soulbond plays better on smaller, cheaper creatures), there’s really no competition for it – Diregraf Escort is silly, Wolfir Silverheart is bonkers, and I would already hate Geist Trappers if they only made themselves a 3/5 Wall for 5 mana which stops flyers – as I said, I use that kind of card only very sparingly and consciously, and I really try to avoid creatures for 5 or more mana which play defensively.

Trusted Forcemage – the most basic soulbond creature. How could I not include it?

Vorstclaw – I experienced Craw Wurm going from “not nearly as good as most players think” to “nearly unplayable in most environments” in limited over the years. Yes, it was a solid creature in, say, 4th Edition limited, but that was because it was near impossible then to fill your limited decks with cards you’d even NOTICE when drafting or deckbuilding with modern sets. Craw Wurm is just overcosted. There’s some wiggling room for correct stats on a vanilla creature for 4GG, and 7/7 is a bit on the high end, but it’s still a very sensible default.

Wandering Wolf – A simple, useful, although not too remarkable design, but I like the subtle synergy its ability has with enhancers. Also, a good way to give Green some kind of evasion which makes sense on less than gigantic creatures (meaning that it’s not a version of trample).

Wolfir Avenger – well, Centaur Courser is in the right spot for a 2G creature, and a double-colored mana cost on a 3-drop justifies a noticeable increase in power. I’m also happy that it gives me a green flash option in between Ambush Viper and Briarhorn.

Snare the Skies – It’s a Silk Net with updated wording. Silk Net is a wonderful basic green trick.

Terrifying Presence – I like maindeckable Fog variants. Between this one and Tangle, Green now has good basic options.

Blue:

Latch Seeker – won together with Scrapskin Drake and Chambered Nautilus (which I need for the beast tribe – yes, that tribe makes more sense in UG than in RG!)  in the crunch against Phantom Warrior and Cloud Spirit when I decided which basic blue 2-mana evasion creatures I needed.

Mist Raven – a much more fitting companion to AEther Adept than the complicated Venser, Shaper Savant (and compensates for the loss of Riftwing Cloudskate when I finally removed suspend from my card pool). Excellent design (and always undervalued by mediocre players).

Scrapskin Drake – see Latch Seeker. Also, an update to Cloud Elemental, since the zombie tribe needed the blue 3-mana drop more than the elemental tribe (and yes, I let myself be persuaded to make zombies BU instead of mono-Black, because I like Havengul Runebinder better than Cemetery Reaper, which is too strong for my taste, and Diregraf Captain is an excellent design, and because this allowed me to dispense me with faerie tribal, which I feel doesn’t work too well in limited).

Tandem Lookout – That’s certainly an interesting soulbond creature. Actually, I might’ve preferred simple over interesting, but I hated most blue soulbond creatures: Elgaud Shieldmage doubles the issues a creature with hexproof has (yes, I eliminated hexproof creatures completely from my card pool in the meantime),  Stern Mentor is about milling (a non-interactive alternate win condition – an absolute no-go!), and Galvanic Alchemist and Deadeye Navigator have no effect until you pay extra mana, which I feel defeats the concept of soulbond, especially because it’s colored mana. Even more important, the Navigator threatens to totally take over a game as soon as you untap with it and is nearly unstoppable by removal, while on the other hand the Alchemist is, in most situations, rather underwhelming. I like the Lookout, but I might have liked another card in this slot better.

Wingcrafter – this one, on the other hand, is just perfect in every way!

Favorable Winds – This card just makes a lot of sense. (It also made it easier for me to get rid of the anemic bird tribe.)

Into the Void – I’m perfectly fine with Undo being splashable if it costs a mana more. Undo was always a bit too strong for my taste.

Spirit Away – This is a powerful 7-mana spell which makes a lot of sense in Blue. Great design.

Red:

Archwing Dragon – I always loved Viashino Sandstalker and Viashino Cutthroat, but had to realize that they didn’t work too well in limited. This one does.

Hanweir Lancer – excellent basic soulbond creature. My first choice in that color.

Heirs of Stromkirk – a quite strong red evasion creature, I admit, but not too strong for its cost – I believe comparisons to Thieving Magpie and Abyssal Specter are fair.

Kruin Striker – another wonderful creature encouraging players to build a weenie rush deck.

Lightning Mauler – my second choice. While it SEEMS basic, it actually plays a bit differently, since it usually gives its soulbond bonus only to one creature. It’s still fine, though, and I don’t like Stonewright because that is another case of needing to spend colored mana to get a bonus from soulbond.

Mad Prophet – so this is how looting works in Red. I’m okay with that, especially if it’s coupled with haste (otherwise, 4 mana would’ve been too expensive for my taste). By the way, just attacking with the prophet will often be an attractive option, too. Good design.

Dangerous Wager – Unfortunately, this is not just a red take on card draw in the way that Night’s Whisper is a black take on it, since this card really only works well in certain decks. However, it is a great tool for those decks.