Posted tagged ‘Return to Ravnica’

Why I still wouldn’t maindeck Dispel in RTR draft decks

November 20, 2012

…even though many other players seem to be convinced one should do so?

Well, obviously, just because I’m stubborn!

Or wait a minute, maybe I have actually good reasons for it? Let me explain:

I was never too happy in limited with cards which are both reactive and situational, even if they are really cheap. I remember well how disappointed I was even with Annul in Mirrodin limited, although I certainly always maindecked that one (I did sometimes side it out, though). See, in the first few turns, you really want to use up your mana fully to build up your board presence. You can, of course, hope that you will be able to gain tempo by saving a mana on your turn and then countering a spell your opponent pumps all his mana into. Then again, that means you will not be able to save your Annul for a larger threat which comes down in the endgame, but the greater danger is that your opponent might put down a good creature like Skyhunter Patrol or Fangren Hunter, pulling ahead because you held back, and then you cannot afford to keep Annul mana up again if you do not want to fall behind even further – and of course, that may mean that the very threatening artifact you’d loved to counter comes down on the next turn. You will also draw Annul a lot of times in the mid- or lategame when the threats you hoped to deal with using it are already on the board. In summary: If you want it to be flexible, it will slow you down; if you use it at the first opportunity, it is no longer flexible; and if you draw it at the wrong time, it reminds you how situational it is.

I guess I just have a different perspective than others. They look at the card in their hand and think “good, I still have a possible trump for later”. I look at it and conclude “I will not have the mana to use this on the next few turns; I probably have a useless card in my hand”.

It’s true that Dispel can potentially counter a lot in this environment – 27 common instants (versus only 9 sorceries) is quite a lot, and so are 14 uncommon instants. It’s also true that Dispel can be game-deciding if you manage to counter a removal played on a good creature of yours, or if it foils your opponent’s plan to turn a combat situation around with Swift Justice, Giant Growth or Common Bond. However, you need to note that these spells all have the important advantage that a player can plan ahead when to use them, and will usually be able to play them on his own turn, while the player wanting to react to them will have to do so after already having taken his turn and spent his mana.

But let us take a look at the decktypes in RTR draft, and how good Dispel is against each of those:

We find that Selesnya has the most strong instants at its disposal. The fast aggressive Selesnya deck will very likely run a few copies of Giant Growth and Common Bond, supplementing them with Swift Justice and Chrous of Might if necessary. The populate deck, on the other hand, is more likely to run defensive stuff like Avenging Arrow, Aerial Predation and Trostani’s Judgment, and of course Eyes in the Skies, Rootborn Defenses and Druid’s Deliverance.

Golgari, though, has few common instants it really wants. Giant Growth is still good here, but less important due to scavenge. Some builds will make use of Grisly Salvage, but that is hardly a great target for Dispel. Launch Party is useful in Golgari (especially with a couple of Gatecreeper Vine), but it’s not as strong here as in Rakdos and thus less likely to end up here.

Rakdos is another story: There’s Annihilating Fire, Auger Spree and Launch Party, and some players will still put Explosive Impact in those decks. Also, faster builds will often run Dynacharge.

Izzet, on the other hand, certainly treasures Annihilating Fire and is a better deck type to use Explosive Impact in, but that’s almost about it. There’s nine more common instants in this color combination, and each of those can and does show up in Izzet decks, but none of them are high profile enough to worry about. More importantly, nearly all of them get the weaker the more the Izzet deck is under pressure – but a Dispel in your opening hand impedes your ability to put up pressure.

Azorius, finally, loves to run Dramatic Rescue and likes Swift Justice when it’s fast, and Trostani’s Judgment when it’s more lategame-oriented. You might also encounter Avenging Arrow and Eyes in the Skies, as well as a random Cancel or Dispel.

See, against the average or typical specimen of most of these deck types I do not want a narrow card like Dispel. Neither Golgari, nor Izzet, nor Azorius are likely to reach critical mass of important instants for this. Also, putting those decks on the defense and forcing them to use their instants defensively is usually a better plan than slowing myself down and hoping to catch them at just the right moment. I might side Dispel in under certain circumstances, but it’s unlikely.

That leaves two guilds (and multicolor decks, which I will address in a moment): Rakdos and Selesnya. Of course, there is no deck type against which you can less afford to keep mana open and draw cards you cannot play actively than Rakdos! Dramatic Rescue, although twice as expensive, is much more useful here, since you can decide when to use it and don’t need to keep mana open for it.

And much of the same is true for Selesnya Aggro. You cannot afford to fall behind on the board against it, and your opponent’s instants are better than yours because he gets to use them on his turn. Still, I will sideboard Dispel in against both Rakdos and Selesnya if I guess that the density of their instants is high – but only if I believe I can take out something which isn’t too useful in that matchup: If I’m overall happy with my deck, I will leave the situational card where it belongs.

Selesnya populate, however, is an entirely different story! Not only is the number of instants I can expect the highest here: The populate deck is also usually not that blazingly fast, allowing you to position yourself in a way which allows you to keep Dispel mana open. Most importantly, though, the crucial instants of the populate deck are those your opponent will want to play on your turn, not his (Druid’s Deliverance, Rootborn Defenses, Eyes in the Skies)! That is, of course, just what pushes your Dispel (and other counters, although sadly not Essence Backlash) over the top. This is where you really want it.

Lastly, there are those multicolor decks which deviate enough from straight guild decks that they play significantly differently. Essentially, that means the defender-based green ramp deck and the Azorius-Izzet lategame deck. Against the green deck, you do not want Dispel at all (unless it is a populate-heavy version): You need to apply pressure, not play reactively, and you will not be able to counter strong lategame cards with it, which tend to be sorceries or creatures. Against the Raka control deck, however, Dispel is at its best, since that deck will run instants as tempo cards, as removal and as card draw, maybe even as countermagic, and its mana costs are rather high.

I’m not sure how deck types usually are distributed in a typical draft, but I would guess the following projection: One (aggressive) Rakdos deck, one fast Izzet deck, one tempo-based Azorius deck, one Izzet-Azorius lategame deck, one Selesnya aggro deck, one Selesnya populate deck, one aggressive Golgari deck and one Golgari-based ramp deck. This means there are three decks which are guaranteed to run blue mana and an additional two which might: Populate and Ramp. While populate might use Blue as a tertiary color, I wouldn’t put a situational card like Dispel in that third color – it’s unreliable enough as is. (Actually, I would against populate, because it’s THAT strong against that strategy – but I am the populate deck here!) As for ramp, I believe it is more likely to run Red than Blue (because it gets access to removal like Auger Spree and Explosive Impact, which it needs more than the blue lategame spells – its lategame is already strong), and anyway in ramp I need high card quality. Dispel wouldn’t make the cut, esepcially not in a splash color.

That leaves Izzet, Azorius and Raka. Raka, being three colors, once again has too high card quality to include Dispel, especially because it is itself one of the two deck types that card is really strong against. Izzet and Azorius, on the other hand, need to play a strong tempo game with enough creatures (especially at the low end of the curve), some removal and some enhancers or tempo cards. Pursuit of Flight, Dramatic Rescue, Knightly Valor or even Chemister’s Trick are just more attractive to fill the last slots here. I would play Dispel maindeck in these two deck types if I struggled for a 40th card before I put in stuff which doesn’t fit the deck’s focus, like mediocre 5-mana drops, for example, but if my draft went reasonably well, I’ll have better alternatives for my maindeck.

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Moving my winning deck lists to Couchdraft

November 3, 2012

I knew it existed, but I never found the time to see what it actually was and how it worked, but after a commentator reminded me of it, I finally got into it: Couchdraft.

I didn’t realize before that all my MTGO drafts were being logged, but now that I know, I see what an opportunity I missed to analyze my own drafts! Anyway, this seems a great tool, and Couchdraft is doing a fantastic job of offering a way to share one’s drafts with others. All picks are being visualized, and you can comment on every one. (Also, I don’t need to type those deck lists anymore.) Because it makes way more sense, I will from now on talk about my draft experiences there and just post links here. (However, I’m through with RTR drafts for the moment – I need to do something else with my time for a while.) You can find my drafts by looking for Zeromant (unsurprisingly). I already put the walkthroughs of my four won RTR drafts there!

Finally, a victory with a good deck!

November 1, 2012

This time, it took only three more drafts until my next win came along after the last one (yes, I took a break from drafting for a few days). Unfortunately, the first two were 8-4s where I lost in the semis, and the one I won was a 4-3-2-2…

In the first draft, I opened an unexciting booster and chose to try and force the Axebane Guardian deck, which didn’t pan out, since Green proved to be overdrafted – I got three Axebane Guardian, but no Gatecreeper Vine and very few green cards overall (although there was some good stuff like a foil Loleth Troll and a Call of the Conclave among them), and also no high quality lategame cards making it worth to build my deck around the Guardians. I ended up with a three-color deck where I had to actually cut them and rely only on two Guildgates for manafixing, because Green turned out to be my tertiary color. On the other hand, I had some nice card quality in both White and Black – stuff like double Sunspire Griffin and double Thrill-Kill Assassin, Dead Reveler etc.. Overall, though, the deck was just too much of a hodgepodge of cards with tough mana, and that proved to be my undoing in the semis. In the following draft, I opened and took Carnival Hellsteed, following it up with Explosive Impact and Rakdos Ragemutt. Obviously, I was planning to go either Izzet + Black or Golgari + Red, but as it turned out, Rakdos was wide open, and I ended up with an unbelievably strong deck that didn’t need to use any of my clumsy first three picks, ending its curve at four, featuring three Pursuit of Flight, supported by two Izzet Guildgate, two Traitorous Instinct, three strong removal and 16 efficient creatures. But once again, a Rakdos deck managed to severely flood me (I’m talking of drawing considerably more than 50% lands) two times in the same match, causing me to lose a still close semi-finals.

In the following draft, again faced with a very weak booster, I stubbornly decided to try Rakdos again, opening with a Shred-Freak. Once more, this guild was open for me, and once again, I got a great deck (although not quite as strong as a few others I had drafted before):

8 Mountain
8 Swamp
1 Bellows Lizard
1 Drainpipe Vermin
1 Rakdos Cackler
2 Grim Roustabout
2 Thrill-Kill Assassin
1 Ash Zealot
1 Rakdos Shred-Freak
1 Gore-House Chainwalker
1 Daggerdrome Imp
3 Sewer Shambler
2 Hellhole Flailer
1 Dead Reveler
2 Deviant Glee
1 Dynacharge
2 Auger Spree
1 Traitorous Instinct
1 Launch Party

notable SB:
Catacomb Slug, Tenement Crasher, Electrickery, Racecourse Fury, Mind Rot, Goblin Rally, Skull Rend

(I never used my sideboard.)

There’s not much to say about my matches: I played against Azorius splash Red in the first round, Selesnya + Black in the second, and a four-color monstrosity featuring at least one Axebane Guardian and one Selesnya Keyrune each which seemed to be mainly a Selesnya populate deck, but dipped into stuff like Stab Wound and Voidwielder. I won every game where I wasn’t severely flooded or screwed (although I already mulliganed unplayable hands at least three times overall), and even one game where I WAS severely flooded, but managed to draw a Hellhole Flailer to deal the last damage directly just in time, although I didn’t break the curse of getting flooded twice in the semis with Rakdos every time that way…

Just one more thing to note: I really, really suck as a player. The mistakes I make during my games are just unbelievable! Of course, that means it is even more important that I assemble decks which give me a decisive edge…

Analyzing the top 8 decks from GP Philadelphia

October 29, 2012

So, we finally had a high-level event featuring (non-team) RTR draft for more than just a few rounds, and its coverage thus gives us the first reliable indication how this environment is actually shaping up. Let’s do a short analysis of the top 8 draft decks, shall we?

First, we must note that the lists as published can not be completely correct. Three main decks are missing a card, showing only 39: Greg Smith, Shuhei Nakamura and Martin Juza. In two cases, it is possible to deduce that card: Juza put a picture of his deck up on twitter, showing that he had not just one but two Gore-House Chainwalker. From the Coverage we know that there was a Faerie Impostor in Nakamura’s deck. As to Smith’s list, I canot say what was left out, though.

Counting all the drafted cards in the players’ pools, it also seems that Nakamura is an additional card in his SB short, and Gans also misses one there, but they might just have ended up with a foil basic land each, which naturally wouldn’t show up on their lists.

Let’s start with the winning deck: Nakamura sticked to one guild without any splash, using only 16 lands and no additional mana cards. He played no less than six 2-drops, stooping as low as to include a Crosstown Courier (he had two more in his SB, a slight indication that he may have drafted them rather aggressively, but seeing as he had no shortage in the two-mana slot, he could afford to leave them out – something LSV couldn’t, for example).

Note how his low mana curve and the amount of early pressure he generates are interwoven with the overall design of his deck! Faerie Impostor can not just get his tougher creatures out from under Stab Wound and reuse his creatures with detain, it can also quite reliable be played as a 2/1 flyer for three mana that untaps one of his bears. Blustersquall and Downsize would be rather bad if he was forced to use them as fog effects on defense; however, with a good board presence, Blustersquall can allow for a final creature assault finishing his opponent off, and Downsize can wreak havoc on an opponent’s team in blocking situations. Putting up steady pressure also means that he is near guaranteed that he can use his Knightly Valor against a tapped out opponent, without fear of getting two-for-oned by an instant. In short, Nakamura drafted exactly the kind of deck I advovated so vehemently in my RTR preview!

In the finals, he beat Lukas Jaklovsky, who battled with a deck built around the same principle, although in a guild where I did not expect that to be possible at first. However, seeing how the drafters distributed the guilds between them, it is clear that he was able to exploit a heavily underdrafted color combination: He was the only Izzet drafter, and there was also only one Rakdos drafter at the table! In the end, he shared Red only with Juza’s Rakdos, and Blue with Nakamura and LSV, which allowed him to the get the critical mass he needed to assemble an Izzet aggro build. Once again, note his use of six two-drops, supported by two Pursuit of Flight and a Dynacharge which made the maindeck over more expensive cards like the two Cobblebrute, the second Goblin Rally, Runewing, Essence Backlash or Inspiration. Jaklovsky’s curve was a bit higher than Nakamura’s, so he had to run 17 lands, but his carefully chosen high-end spells (Goblin Rally, Thoughtflare, Hypersonic Dragon, Explosive Impact and Chaos Imps) were certainly strong enough to justify employing a slightly higher curve.

Juza was one of the semi-finalists, losing to Nakamura, and his deck had been declared favorite by several pros (source: Twitter). Since he was Rakdos, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he ran six 2-drops as well, in addition to a one-drop (Rakdos Cackler). His two Deviant Glee and his Traitorous Instinct make it clear that he wanted to apply presusre in the early game. However, I believe he misbuilt his deck slightly, just being started to become convinced by PT Return to Ravnica winner Cifka (who went 6:0 in the draft portion of that event and also finished at a very respectable 13th place in this GP) that the way to go were not lategame decks featuring seven-mana spells, but fast, focussed decks with a low curve. I believe 17 lands is fine with Spawn of Rix Maadi and Rakdos Ragemutt at the high end, but it can not have been correct to leave Dynacharge and Pursuit of Flight in the SB for Carnival Hellsteed and Explosive Impact! I don’t know if that change would have helped him in his match against Nakamura, but overall the strength of his deck lay in blazingly fast starts which could nearly not be defended against, even if his opponents had a good curve themselves, and those two cards could have made sure that his early offense never faltered.

The fourth semifinalist was Greg Smith, who lost to Javlosky. He was the only player in the top 8 to win a game with a deck featuring more than two colors and less than six two-drops, and while he was able to dispatch Watanabe’s defensive build with the help of his powerful 4-mana rares (Deadbridge Goliath and Corspejack Menace), he stumbled on his mana in the semis, allowing Jaklovsky to run him over in less time than you would need to boil an egg, even if you like them soft-boiled. Just like Juza and Javlosky, he didn’t leave a single 2-drop he could have used in his SB, so it is quite possible that he was just unable to reach critical mass here, owing to the fact that he was one of three Selesnya drafters (in addition to two Azorius drafters and a Golgari drafter). He still used Dryad Militant, Keening Apparition and of course Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, though (Centaur’s Herald doesn’t count here, obviously). I suspect he was forced to dip into Golgari a little deeper than he might have intended to – he certainly would have wanted to include the Menace and be happy to have the option to activate lifelink on his crocodiles, but the rest of his black cards, while certainly playable, suggest that he was simply unable to find enough Selesnya cards to put together either a focussed aggressive deck or a strong populate deck. While he had a few really strong cards (I include the Guildmage and Wild Beastmaster here), he ended up with too many three-mana fillers and no clear game plan. It was enough to best Watanabe, who had put together a similarly disjointed heap of cards, but I doubt he had any real chance against any of the other semi-finalists.

Speaking of Watanabe: He was the only Golgari drafter, although Smith took a few strong cards away from him. He dipped into White for Grove of the Guardian, which is understandable, but for some reason didn’t seem to be able to construct a strong deck, even though his card quality was overall rather high (Corpsejack Menace, two Dreg Mangler, Korozda Guildmage, two Stab Wound). True, a few strong cards in his colors were hate-drafted by other players (Thrill-Kill Assassin, Stab Wound, Loleth Troll), but that shouldn’t have been enough to prevent him from assembling a strong deck from that position.

I believe he simply misbuilt. He had the tools for a great Golgari aggro deck available, but got distracted by the idea to dominate the lategame. There are 17 lands, a Gatecreeper Vine and a Selesnya Keyrune among his cards, which I believe is just too much mana. There are two Trestle Troll, which in my opinion do not belong in a maindeck at all unless it is based on Axebane Guardian (of which not a single copy seems to have been opened in that draft at all!) On the other hand, there are two more Grim Roustabout in his SB, which are very strong in any aggressive deck, but especially in one with a large scavenge component (not to mention the synergy with the Menace). There were probably a few picks where Watanabe could have opted for more aggressive cards in the draft, and he would likely have ended up with a better deck. As it is, he was neither really focussed on offense, nor was he that excellent at controlling the board.

LSV lost to Nakamura in the quarterfinals in an Azorius mirror. Note that he used both Drayd Militant and Crosstown Courier and left no two-drop in the SB, but seeing as Nakamura could afford to leave out two Crosstown Courier, LSV might not have priorized them high enough. In the end, he only had three creatures for less than three mana and was just not able to put up a dominating board presence in the way Nakamura did, weakening his tricks and his Knightly Valor. Obviously, his main plan was to stall the ground and win through the air. Unfortunately, this is the only match from this top 8 with no coverage, but I have no doubt that Nakamura out-tempoed him badly, LSV’s three Voidwielder nonewithstanding (BTW, I don’t think you ever want THREE of that card in your maindeck…) Note also how much LSV’s high mana curve hurts the efficiency of his instants and his three Tower Drake. If you read LSV’s limited previews over the last few years you will realize, just as I did, that tempo is a lesson which that player, even though he is one of the best in the world, has to learn again with every single new environment, and this deck showcases that he has only come halfway so far in RTR.

Harry Corvese got outtempoed and overpowered by Jaklovsky in his first match, who proved that even an overloaded Cyclonic Rift and an active Mercurial Chemister will not help you if you are too far behind. Corvese was basically Selesnya, but realizing that he had to share that guild with too many (two) other drafters, dipped into Izzet/Blue for a few lategame cards. He had a bit of bad luck, though: With no Axebane Guardian and only a single Gatecreeper Vine in the whole draft, he had to rely on decidingly mediocre ways to fix his mana (Transguild Promenade, Izzet Keyrune, Seek the Horizon), although it seems that he wasn’t color-screwed in both games. Running just a single 2-drop (Keening Apparition – he left no two-drops in his SB), he had to rely on his three-mana-slot to establish board presence, via the excellent Centaur Healer and Loxodon Smiter (two of those!), the very mediocre Selesnya Sentry and the activations of his two Centaur’s Herald. There are traces betraying his desire to draft the populate deck, which obviously didn’t pan out. In the end, he had bad mana, no clear focus, a too high mana curve, a little too few creatures and not even convincing overall card quality for a deck accessing so many colors. It is quite possible that he did not desire at all a deck structure like this, but simply found himself in an overdrafted guild and had to try to salvage his draft by improvising.

Lastly, there was Gans, who got run into the ground by Juza in short order, and who thoroughly deserved it! His deck list is a true eyeblight – those are actually two Horncaller’s Chant, powered by just 17 lands and a Mana Bloom! Among his few creatures (yes, he has a few token producers, but still) were three really unexciting five-drops, especially in a dedicated populate deck (Golgari Longlegs, two Rubbleback Rhino), and he not only had just one and a half two-drops (Drudge Beetle & Selesnya Charm, which you would prefer to keep for other uses), he even left his Fencing Ace in the SB (doubly inexplicable since he had a few scavengers and pump spells)! While he might get lucky sometimes with producing an early centaur token and then populate it a few times, there wasn’t a single deck in this top 8 which shouldn’t have been a clear favorite against his. I believe it is no coincidence that he got into the top 8 with two draft decks featuring Pack Rats…

Overall, I believe that Nakamura is a deserving winner. His deck is a masterpiece, and he neither was the only drafter of his guild, like the pilots of the other two really strong decks in this draft (Juza and Jaklovsky), nor did he profit from the presence of rare bombs, as Jaklovsky and Smith did. Jaklovsky would have been a decent winner, too, having done everything right as far as I can tell, while Juza was a bit lucky to be handed the only Rakdos deck at the table, but did not build it consequentially enough.