Posted tagged ‘Magic’

Why is it Always the Bad decks that Win?

April 26, 2013

Okay, it wasn’t quite as bad as this one. But it was still another train wreck draft, where I couldn’t decide if I was (primarily) Orzhov or Dimir until less than two minutes before the first round started. I really finished my deck with less than 10 seconds on the clock, after oszillating between Black or Blue for secondary color for most of the rest of the time. But if I look at it another way, this time I had at least options, and was not forced to play Prophetic Prism just to fill up the deck. This time, though, I would have needed a prism badly, since I played two and a half colors without any fixing at all – come to think of it, maybe this deck WAS worse…

I have a theory, though: I am, overall, a very competent drafter. When one of my drafts goes really badly, chances are that the reason for that is the card distribution in boosters, making it too hard or even impossible for players to find their colors in time. When that is the case, it’s not just me who fails to draft an adequate deck; it’s everyone. Also, I am really good at troubleshooting when a draft goes badly, so that I might end up with the least bad deck at the table (the one-eyed rules the blind). And, of course, there’s this thing calles variance, and the fact that we notice things which seem to make no sense much more strongly than those which do.

Still, I have a hard time accepting that the two really good decks I drafted before (Gruul & Boros) both lost in the second round (a 4-3-2-2 and an 8-4), and that this THING took me to an 8-4 victory…

8 Swamp
7 Plains
3 Island
1 Dutiful Thrull
1 Thrull Parasite
1 Basilica Screecher
1 Wight of Precinct Six
2 Armored Transport
1 Corpse Blockade
1 Slate Street Ruffian
1 Assault Griffin
1 Zarichi Tiger
2 Syndicate Enforcer
1 Urbis Protector
1 Treasure Thrull
1 Dinrova Horror
1 Death’s Approach
2 Devour Flesh
1 Orzhov Charm
1 Grisly Spectacle
1 Knight Watch
1 Totally Lost

Notable SB:
Shielded Passage, Hold the Gates, Murder Investigation, Cloudfin Raptor, Metropolis Sprite, Sage’s Row Denizen, Simic Fluxmage, Spell Rupture, Way of the Thief, Last Thoughts, Midnight Recovery, 2 Purge of the Profane, Psychic Strike.

I used the Passage once and the Recovery once, and in one match I actually sided into sealed mana (well, it was named such more than a decade ago, I mean 6-6-6 lands), because I played a mirror. My opponents were Orzov + Blue; Orzhov + Blue & Red, and Simic + Red – confirming my theory about a draft gone wrong for everyone (although the Simic-based deck, which I met in the finals, didn’t look too bad). Games were decided either by color screw or in the very late lategame (I won once using Dinrova Horror on my own Urbis Protector), and the finals was especially absurd, with my opponent being unbelievably screwed in the second game and me in the third… but we were both WINNING these games! (In the first game, after he discarded twice, he put down a Simic Manipulator which I couldn’t remove for my life, and in the other he had to rush killing me because he was low on time and walked right into my Horror when I finally drew black mana, and suddenly I was able to just survive against his flooding draw and actually even turn the tide – he went into timeout, but unbelievably as it would sound to anyone who saw me chumpblocking half a dozen times before, I was actually on the verge of winning that game fair and square.

My limited rating is now back up to 1826, and I have actually won more than I invested so far in my Gatecrash drafting, which allows for the comclusion that I can put my drafting skills to good use in that environment, but also the theory that the last days of a dying draft environment might just be a good time to be successful. I don’t know. Since winning is always more fun than losing, and since I sport 16-6 match score so far, if I haven’t miscounted, I have come to like Gatecrash draft a bit better than in the beginning. It still reminds me a bit of Rise of the Eldrazi; but also a bit of Zendikar – and there’s more than a smidge of Alara in it, now I’ve come to think of it (you draft guilds instead of shards, but the point is, in both environments you’re not really multicolored in the way of chosing your colors freely). I’m not sure if I keep drafting Gatecrash a little longer (I still have stuff for nearly 4 drafts, not counting possible winnings), or if I take a break and wait for Dragon’s Maze. In any case I now have some playing experience with these cards and developed likes and dislikes, which will help me decide which cards from that block will go into my limited card pool.

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Simple Math Showing Simple Truth

April 25, 2013

The changes to next season’s premier play have been announced, and lo and behold! – after a few hours it becomes obvious that they haven’t been thought through at all. It turns out that in some situations it is to a player’s advantage to concede in a GP final rather than try and win that tournament; and it is even a possible scenario that two players might fight for the right to concede first. Also, in some cases it seems preferrable to miss Top 8 at a PT rather than make it.

As with so many other policies, but also as with the quality of coverage of PTs and GPs (where the team, after over a decade, still hasn’t found a way to publish standings soon and correctly), one can only wonder if the people whose job it is to care for those things are blatantly incompetent or willfully neglectible. (Note that the people actually doing the work are not necessarily the ones with the responsibility of caring; it is entirely possible – and, actually, very likely – that the first kind of people are understaffed and hampered by poor logistics and unrealistic deadlines, because the second kind of people – let’s call them executives – simply don’t give a fuck about quality in these areas.)

However, this is not what I want to focus on in this entry, although it is certainly related. Instead, let us take a look at an issue which is a feature, not a bug:

You see, there was a 4th Pro Tour added to the schedule with much fanfare – but actually, what really happened is that this 4th tour had been cancelled a few years ago, and will now only be brought back because several of the most prominent pro players announced that, under the current schedule, they considered it impossible to keep playing professionally.

To put this into context: Since the very beginning of the Tour (at the latest since 1996) there had been at least four PTs per year (not counting the World Championships, which effectively also were PTs). That number soon grew to five, and there was also the Masters series added (an additional level of play even above the tour, committed to enable the professional player lifestyle). When the Masters series was cancelled after 2003, a SIXTH Pro Tour was added to make up for the loss, together with the first incarnation of the Pro level system. Then, in 2006 the number of PTs was reduced to four again, and in 2008 to three (but World still was effectively another PT). 2012, though, the World Championships were replaced by the World Magic Cup and the Magic Players Championship, reducing the overall number of PT-like events to 3 (and, while they were at it, reducing the number of competitors per event as well), and thus finally becoming so low that even the most committed pro players no longer felt able to continue with their profession.

Now, remember that whenever WotC felt they had to defend their policies over the course of the last few years, they would point out that tournament attendance was at an all-time high, and so were sales. Obviously, this begs the question: Why, then, is the number of prefessional tournaments not at an all-time high? Why was it instead at an all-time LOW last year?

The answer is obvious: As I remarked again and again, WotC no longer care for professional play. I am even convinced they regard the image of Magic as a mental sport as actively counterproductive to their current, succesful marketing strategy (because a mental sport implies you need skill to excel at it, but they want people to grind and buy their successes instead). They are fully committed to Grand Prixs, which are more and more branded as events rather than competition, but they’d love to see the Pro Tour gone completely, if it wasn’t for the publicity disaster triggered by aiming at that too obviously (after all, prominent pro players are “key influencers” – a very revealing term from their very insightful employment ad they put up just a few minutes ago). I actually don’t see how this could get any more obvious than through this gross mismatch between Magic’s success lately and the lack of commitment to pro play.

So, the “addition” of a 4th PT was nothing more than bringing the pro tour circuit back to the bare minimum (if it all) necessary to sustain itself. This must be understood when we finally get to that part of the announcement which caught my eye first: The “added” PTQs per region and year. These are the numbers (2013/2014):

United States, Canada, Puerto Rico: 285/372
Europe: 216/264
Asia Pacific: 54/68
Mexico, Ceantral and South America: 42/52
Japan: 39/44

Do you see it?

Well, since the 4th PT is back, this means there are now four PTQ seasons instead of three, which in turn means that the number of qualifying players (via PTQ) per region and PT does in fact not, as is actually pointed out in the article, grow with the added PTQs. Let’s just take a look at the number of PTQs per region for each season:

US+: 95/93
Europe: 72/66
Asia: 18/17
Latin: 14/13
Japan: 13/11

So, this makes clear that the number of qualifying players per season is actually decreasing – but not nearly evenly! This is how the relative losses of PT slots per regions are distributed:

US+: 2,2%
Europe: 9,6%
Asia: 5,6%
Latin: 7,1%
Japan: 15,4%

Now, if you were one of the people honestly believing that the induction of mythic rares would NOT lead to competitive constructed play becoming more expensive (employing wishful thinking over reason), then you might also want to argue the conclusion I have come to after analyzing these numbers (people never learn, do they?):

Let us just look at the facts: North America is getting away nearly unharmed. All other regions take considerably stronger hits, and not at all equal – to be precise, the stronger professional play in a region is, the fewer slots it gets!

Let that sink in for a moment, and suppress your childishly-naive “but they’d never do that!” reflexes. There can be no doubt that these numbers are deliberate. There can be no doubt that OP is aware of the uneven cutting of PT slots per region.

The simple truth is that WotC realized they still need to care about the opinions of certain pro player “key influencers”, but they also realized that nearly all of those were from the US (also, 60% of their customers hail from that region). Because of that, it is still important to them that US pro players are satisified with the setup of premier play, but they don’t give a rat’s ass about the rest of the world. There is a token commitment to the worldwide pro circuit, but nothing more. Thus, they deliberately diminish the chances of the US pro players’ strongest competition.

See, a truly silly conspiracy theory is that large companies actually care about honesty and fairness over profit margins. Don’t believe in the conspiracy. Accept reality.

Possibly the most terrible deck to ever win a Gatecrash draft

April 24, 2013

Okay, since winning an 8-4 meant winning 8 boosters, I did the obvious thing and drafted some more. I entered another 8-4, drafted again Orhzov splash Blue (a bit more Blue this time, but also better supported) and lost in the second round. I then drafted Boros in yet another 8-4 and lost in the finals. Still with lots of boosters to go, I decided to fire up yet another draft, even though it was already rather early than late, but I was in the swing of things. I landed in a swiss this time, and during the draft noticed that I was too tired to concentrate. I kept my options open between Orzhov, Boros and Gruul way too long, and then I decided for Orzhov when it should have been Boros, but I had drafted a Lord of the Void and tired me just couldn’t let go of it. The resulting deck list is a shame to myself, but since I am committed to post all my winning draft deck lists, here we go:

8 Plains
8 Swamp
1 Prophetic Prism
1 Orzhov Keyrune
1 Daring Skyjek
1 Gutter Skulk
1 Wight of Precinct Six
1 High Priest of Penance
2 Armored Transport
2 Slate Street Ruffian
1 Kingpin’s Pet
1 Zarichi Tiger
1 Urbis Protector
1 Lord of the Void
1 Shielded Passage
1 Smite
1 Death’s Approach
1 Aerial Maneuver
1 Devour Flesh
1 Executioner’s Swing
1 Arrows of Justice
1 Angelic Edict
1 Debtor’s Pulpit
1 Immortal Servitude

Sideboard:
Essentially 1 Boros Elite (sided in once for the Prism), a Shadow Alley Denizen and a million cards which were either even more unplayble or in other colors.

Yes, I won one game with the Lord. The Protector worked a lot harder, though. I never drew Servitude or Pulpit. I essentially always played a couple Armored Transport and Slate Street Ruffian supported by some removal and tricks and won the damage race against decks which could not handle 3-mana power-2 creatures with pseudo-evasion (one Boros deck, one base Gruul and one base Orzhov).

That’s it, the chronicler did his duty.

A winning Gatecrash deck list (I’m not using Couchdraft anymore)

April 23, 2013

I know – that draft environment is near dead. Actually, that is exactly why I convinced myself to give it a shot before that chance would pass. Before, I had been really busy with other stuff, and the Gatecrash draft environment also didn’t seem very attractive to me – it reminded me (and still does) of Rise of the Eldrazi, where you were forced to commit to an archetype before you could be sure it was open for you, and where your success largely depended on seeing enough key cards for your archetype during the draft, and then drawing them. Gatecrash is in the same vein, although not quite that extreme, but also a lot faster (but not nearly as fast as Zendikar, because this time, you CAN block).

I did two drafts so far, as alyways joining whichever draft would start first. So, my first draft was swiss. I was tempted into Simic with a first pick Master Biomancer and never saw good reason to deviate from that plan. A few guildgates made a splash of Black possible, which would consist of Dinrova Horror and Killing Glare. I missed my two opportunities at Shamblesharks for an Experiment One and a Simic Charm, but still got a reasonable curve with 2 one-drops and 4 two-drops. I had as little removal as you would expect in Simic, though (I had taken the Killing Glare over the only Pit Fight I saw), but a pair of Spell Rupture, a Gridlock and a Totally Lost. It was not a bad deck, but nothing great, either. I decided I wanted 19 creatures and left one Spell Rupture and the Totally Lost in the SB – the latter proved to be a mistake. I won two matches against at most mediocre decks and lost without a chance with underwhelming draws against an excellent Gruul deck which would go on to win the draft.

My second draft was an 8-4. I started with a Sepulchral Primordial over commons of Shambleshark quality. My 2nd pick was Guardian of the Gateless, and I considered myself 90% on the way to Orzhov. Over the next few boosters, Boros seemed open, though, but I decided to stick to my plan by chosing Daring Skyjek over Wojek Halberdiers (and either Massive Raid or Martial Glory) twice. In the next two packs, it got clearer and clearer that Boros was underdrafted, but it was always just a little too late for me to profit from a switch. In the end, I had a mana curve a bit too high for my taste, and a bit too few removal, and I maybe missed a gate to make my splash of Blue (again, for Dinrova Horror, which is everything Voidwielder wasn’t) really effortless, but was satisfied overall. (I think I drafted that Devour Flesh over a 2nd Sepulchral Primordial!) Here is the list:

9 Plains
7 Swamp
1 Island
1 Dimir Guildgate
1 Thrull Parasite
3 Daring Skyjek
2 Syndic of Tithes
1 Wight of Precinct Six
1 Vizkopa Guildmage
1 Basilica Guards
2 Syndicate Enforcer
1 Guardian of the Gates
1 Dinrova Horror
1 Sepulchral Primordial
1 Shielded Passage
1 Smite
1 Devour Flesh
1 Grisly Spectacle
2 Angelic Edict
1 Debtor’s Pulpit
1 Knight Watch

Used SB cards: (another) Knight Watch, 2 Zarichi Tger, Purge the Profane.
Usable, but unused: Nav Squad Commando, Shadow Slice, Corpse Blockade, Shattering Blow, Riot Gear, Skyblinder Staff.

During the first two rounds, I was badly colorscrewed in one game, but in the other games I managed to get to the lategame without difficulty and win with my high-impact spells or a couple hits with multiple Skyjeks after softening my opponent up with extort. In the finals, I met a Gruul ramp deck, against which my sideboarded Purge the Profane did wonders. I think I won both games (after losing the first to a barrage of critters for 6+ mana) on 1 or 2 life, both times barely stabilizing with my Primordial, crossing my fingers that my opponent was out of gas, and realizing both times that he actually was. This is certainly not a great deck, but I believe it is perfectly serviceable.

Oh, as you will have noticed, I did not put this draft up on Couchdraft. It didn’t seem to work for me this time – there were cards missing in the packs of the walkthrough, and the deck itself didn’t load up at all due to having the wrong size – whatever that means. I could possibly find out what the issues are and correct them or have them corrected, but the whole point of using Couchdraft was that it was an easy way to share drafts. If it is no longer for me, I won’t use it anymore. Simple as that.