Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fun and Obscure Cards

A post I read at Masked Admirers gave me insight on cards that have been great in my cube and I did not know or had not considered. I'll try to be as useful to you as that post was to me by sharing my experiences with individual cards that surprised me.

Righteous Cause

This expensive enchantment helps immensely when you are racing with your opponent. It also slows down aggressive decks by effectively reducing their creatures' power by 1. In the long term, it may net you a huge amount of life, and it shines in multiplayer games.


While it is true that it cannot target most creatures, it can hit the ones that matter most. At two mana, it's typically a nice tempo swing, and I'm still yet to see a game in which it was useless.

Twinblade Slasher

This guy excels both in attack and in defense. A 1-drop, meaning it can hit the red zone on turn 2 as a 3/3, taking out even 4-6 toughness blockers in two turns. It can also be a 3/3 blocker for G however, and one that will, when chump blocking a fatty, make it much smaller.

Draining Whelk

This fills two roles a blue control deck needs with one card - it's a counterspell and a finisher. And not all finishers can be cast during the opponent's turn.


Probably the best black control card. It usually nets card and tempo advantage at the low cost of three mana. It wins games against aggro by itself.


Without the mana burn rules, it's not a 3/3 for 3 mana that can be played in any deck. This is better than any color besides green gets for that much mana. Also, it may help ramping into something huge with a sacrifice enabler.

Puncture Blast

The red permanent Last Gasp, for one extra mana. Versatile, it can be used as a combat trick make an attacker small enough for your blocker to kill and survive, to kill a medium-small creature (regenerators and indestructibles included) or just deal the last 3 damage to the opponent.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Draft Report - Sep 26, 2010

This sunday we had a 9 person cube draft. The metagame brokedown to this:
- WG Midrange (6-0, 12-3)
- WU Aggro/Control (4-2, 9-5)
- WUB Control/Reanimator (4-2, 9-6)
- RG Midrange (3-4, 8-9)
- BR Control/Reanimator (3-1, 7-3)
- UB Control (2-4, 5-9)
- WBru Comes Into Play (2-5, 5-11)
- BR Midrange (0-3, 2-6)
- RG Beatdown (0-3, 0-6)

The 3 blue control decks had to split the blue control cards - especially the counterspells. This resulted in cards that are not typically played in control making it into the WU deck, like Aether Adept, Wake Thresher and Wind Zendikon, effectively making it an aggro/control. They played key roles, allowing that deck to play beatdown against the slower control decks and to defend against early beatdown. No wonder that player only lost to both midrange decks, which outraced his in the middle turns. Also note the deck has 45 cards.

WU Aggro/Control
9 Plains
9 Island

Aether Adept
Wake Thresher
Thalakos Scout
Soltari Lancer
Overbeing of Myth
Draining Whelk
Akroma, Angel of Wrath

Everflowing Chalice
Wind Zendikon
Sunspring Expedition
Remove Soul
Pendrell Flux
Recumbent Bliss
Wing Shards
Renewed Faith
Second Thoughts
Mind Spring

The BR control deck turned out to be quite interesting. Its player - who was experienced in constructed but had never cube drafted before - left early, but odds are he would have battled for the first places had he stayed longer. The deck's main plan was using a myriad of red burn and black removal to control the game until he had mana to take over with Kaervek the Merciless or Vampiric Dragon, a reanimated creature or overwhelm the opponent with Decree of Pain card advantage. However, some cards that are, again, atypical for control allowed him to become the beatdown when necessary: Dark Ritual, Shambling Remains and Maralen, comined with removal and reanimation.

BR Control
7 Mountain
7 Swamp
7 Gemstone Caverns
Dread Statuary
Bojuka Bog

Magus of the Scroll
Nezumi Graverobber
Taurean Mauler
Stinkweed Imp
Bottle Gnomes
Shambling Remains
Doomed Necromancer
Maralen of the Mornsong
Bone Shredder
Jiwari, the Earth Aflame
Kaervek the Merciless
Vampiric Dragon

Dark Ritual
Magma Spray
Seal of Fire
Wrecking Ball
Beacon of Destruction
Chandra Ablaze
Decree of Pain

I drafted a WG midrange which had good card quality but lacked a bit of cohesion. I played for the first time in the cube Birds of Paradise, Rhox, Aeolipile, Guardian of the Guildpact and Stunted Growth. Birds was great, always smoothing mana and accelerating me into the midgame, which was when the deck shone. Rhox was a threat in every game I drew it, putting the opponent in a 5 damage clock. Aeolipile is not the best of burns, but it did well in my deck, which was light in removal. Guardian of the Guildpact only showed up in matches that were already nearly won and in one I lost, when it was very underwhelming in front of Oona and a reanimated Phantom Nishoba. Stunted Growth was the good surprise. It was key to winning against control, disrupting their plans completely.

The good surprises: Rhox, Stunted Growth, Selesnya Guildmage
The bad surprise: Biorhythm (not enough removal to profit from)
What I wish I could have picked: Beastmaster's Ascension, Might of Oaks, Rampant Growth

WG Midrange
9 Forest
7 Plains
Evolving Wilds

Birds of Paradise
Savannah Lions
Kavu Primarch
Great Sable Stag
Selesnya Guildmage
Soltari Crusader
Guardian of the Guildpact
Emeria Angel
Loxodon Hierarch
Veteran Armorer
Arashi, the Sky Asunder
Phantom Nishoba

Wayfarer's Bauble
Journey to Nowhere
Krosan Grip
Call of the Herd
Kodama's Reach
Iona's Judgement
Overwhelming Stampede
Stunted Growth

The RB midrange and RG beatdown decks were played by inexperienced players, so it's natural they took the last places. To be honest, the R player had learned to play that very day, so two victories was a great result in such a complex environment. The RG player drafted a good beatdown deck, but he was a bit too shy to attack.

The UB control and RG midrange did not perform badly, but their pilots were a little disappointed. In neither, problem is simple and obvious, so I'm taking a closer look at those decks.

RG Midrange
9 Mountain
8 Forest

Godo's Irregular Troops
Essence Warden
Ironclaw Orcs
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Suk'Ata Lancer
Viridian Shaman
Flametongue Kavu
Giant Solifuge
Garruk's Packleader
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Phantom Wurm

Genju of the Spires
Evolution Charm
Moment's Peace
Beastmaster Ascension
Sword of Light and Shadow
Elephant Guide
Arc Lightning
Rolling Thunder
Strength of the Tajuru

This deck was my girlfriend's (Kamila), who identified some of its problems - there is antissynergy between creatures that can't be enchanted (Solifuge, Gigapede, Genju) and the creature enhancements (Elephant Guide, Rancor, Tajuru and the Sword). The fact that her best buff was Beastmaster's Ascension backs up this. She also found the deck light in removal (Arc Lightning, Rolling Thunder and Flametongue Kavu), since when the opponent had the chance to play something nasty like Nishoba or Oona, there was little to be done about it. I suppose this is a problem in RG (so far successful in the cube with beatdown and ramping strategies, which deny the opponent that time).

UB Control
7 Island
7 Swamp
Soldevi Excavations
Jwar Isle Refuge

Reassembling Skeleton
Drift of Phantasms
Surrakar Spellblade
Faceless Butcher
Djinn of Wishes
Skeletal Vampire
Visara the Dreadful

Inquisition of Kozilek
Memory Lapse
Doom Blade
Marsh Casualties
Mana Leak
Last Gasp
Legacy's Allure
Worn Powerstone
Nuisance Engine
Puppet Strings
Diabolic Tutor
Control Magic

The first problem I did not notice last night but seems evident now that I counted the cards was: the deck had 16 lands, one of which was Excavations. This might have been fatal, mainly because of the double mana requirements in a lot of cards. Also, since the deck uses a limited number of finishers and very few counterspells to protect them, the winning conditions might have been too few in the control-heavy environment we played. Also, there might have been too much creature removal and defense (Drift of Phantasms, Puppet Strings, Nuisance Engine), which awarded him victories agaisnt the two RG creature-based decks, but were left unused against decks with few threats or hard-to-remove ones.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Making Boosters

Out of all the material I've searched on the web about cube drafting, in neither I could find the process they used to make the "boosters" to be drafted. So I'll describe the one I came up with and have been using.

My cube consists of 2n cards of each color, 2n artifacts, 2n multicolored and hybrid cards and n lands. Therefore, 2n * 5 + 2n + 2n + n = 15n cards. n boosters can be made out of that pool, on average containing 2 cards of each color, 2 artifacts, 2 multicoloreds and 1 non-basic land. Having perfectly balanced boosters however, would make it too easy to figure the colors of your neighbors when drafting, so I add a bit of randomness.

I start by shuffling each of the 8 piles (5 colors, artifact, multi, lands) and placing them face down. Then, from each of the 7 big piles (5 colors, artifact, multi) I take 6 cards for each player and from the small pile (lands) I take 3 cards for each player. Then I put together one pile (of 6 or 3 cards) of each category, making a 45-card pile, hand it to a player and have him/her shuffle it. The player will finally split the 45-card pile into 3 15-card boosters.

No huge pile shuffling is needed for this method (in contrast with the "shuffle everything up" method), but it is slightly biased, since the contents of the first booster a player opens reveal them the distribution they may expect in the next two they open.

How do you make your boosters?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Tale of the Platinum Angel

In the first version of my cube, I had pretty much put together a stack of cards I wanted to play with and I thought were fun. Among them, one of the most wacky cards in Magic: Platinum Angel.

In our first drafts, it was nearly an "I win" card. T
he control deck that drafted him was always sucessful, he was always a 1st pick, so whoever opened him played control, and so on. It was not simply a hype, he did win several games by himself. When he hit the board, we would often have a watcher go through the other player's library to check if he had a way to deal with the Angel. If he didn't, that player simply conceded, which happened too frequently.

The wacky and fun card that I had pictured grew to be hated because it was deemed unfair. I studied the drafted decks a bit and found what made Platinum Angel, which was never a great card in constructed, the most sought after card in the cube: not all decks had removal that could target him, and most had very few. White had m
ostly Pacifism-like enchantments and Wing Shards-like attacker removal. Red had to combine two or three small burns. Blue could only counter the Angel. Green and Black were the only ones to have a reasonable amount of answers, but distributed among all players it was not enough. This illustrates how a limited environment can be unbalanced by a mistake in the proportion of utility cards.

With this issue in mind, I added cards that dealt with the Angel to all colors. Green already had some artifact/enchantment hate and got more, like Viridian Shaman and Wickerbough Elder. White got Disenchant and Ray of Distortion to fill the same roles as green. To the other colors I added more generic cards: red got artifact hate (Manic Vandals, Demolish) and stronger burn that could take 4-toughness creatures by themselves, like Lightning Blast. Blue got creature bounce such as Aether Adept. Black got more creature removal such as Faceless Butcher and Rend Flesh.

After these changes, Platinum is not a format defining card anymore, as it once was, and it is much less hated. One can use it as win condition if backed up by a suite of counterspells, but it acts mostly as an afterlife, or a threat-that-has-to-be-answered. It also still flies and deals 4 damage a turn when unblocked, so it's not a terrible deal. Today it is a much fairer card than before, and its very existence is great for deck building: it reminds you to always check if your deck can lose to a single card.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Same Colors, Different Decks

Last Saturday we had an 8-person cube draft and something interesting happened: a friend and I both drafted blue/black, but the decks ended up with two radically different strategies.
I had UB Fish, with plenty of evasion, aggressive buffs, and some card drawing, reanimation and counterspells. I had strong starts, usually dropping evaders equipped or enchanted. When the opponent had the situation under control, typically at a low life total, I would generate card advantage with my drawing/reanimating engines. I was frequently playing setting clocks to myself, however, since Plague Fractius, Phyrexian Arena and Vampire Lacerator dealt damage to myself and I had few blockers, since several of my creatures had shadow - besides Cloud Elemental. It was a very fun deck to play with, and quite complex too - playing tight to win by one turn was necessary often.

UB Fish
8 Island
7 Swamp
Gemstone Caverns

Drifter il-Dal
Nighteyes the Desecrator
Aether Adept
Vampire Lacerator
Wind Zendikon
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Plague Fractius
Dauthi Horror
Thalakos Scout
Cloud Elemental

Fact of Fiction
Vulshok Gauntlets
Mana Leak
Living Death
Night's Whisper
Unstable Mutation
Phyrexian Arena
Diabolic Servitude

My friend had a classic UB Control, featuring much more counterspells, removal, card drawing, bounce and big finishers. He would control the early game with his counters and removal, then drop must-remove threats (Meloku, Djinn of Wishes) and take the game. He had great card advantage (Opportunity, Kiku) and tempo advantage (Draining Whelk, Repulse) tools, while defending well with equipped blockers.

UB Control
10 Island
6 Swamp
Soldevi Excavations

Kiku, Night's Flower
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Djinn of Wishes
Drift of Phantasms
Conundrum Sphinx
Shadowmage Infiltrator
Draining Whelk
Dimir Guildmage
Surveilling Sprite

Sword of Light and Shadow
Remove Soul
Doom Blade
Crystal Ball
Legacy's Allure
Memory Lapse
Loxodon Warhammer

These decks are a great example of how a cube can offer variety in archetypes without forcing them. Several cards in both decks would do well in either, including all counterspells, removal, reanimation, card drawing and equipment. Some are even in the "wrong" deck, such as Dismiss, Sword of Light and Shadow and Dimir Guildmage. These cards are key to offering a variety of archetype options, since they will fit several of them.

An archetype, however, is not an archetype without the cards that characterize them. In the UB Fish deck, they are the evasion creatures - Drifter il-Dal, Dauthi Horror, Cloud Elemental, Wind Zendikon -, neither of which would fit well in the Control deck, since they accelerate the game and create clocks. In the UB Control deck, Kiku, Surveilling Sprite, Opportunity, Infest and Crystal Ball represent what it does different from the generic UB core: long term card quality and quantity, reusable removal and tempo control.

One of the principles I stick with is that each color should have tools to support aggro, midrange and control. If UB only supported one of them, our match would have been a boring UB mirror resembling Psychatog mirrors from 2002. This was, though, definitely not the case. We met when we were both 2-0 to decide 1st place. I ended up winning the match at 2-1 after three awesome and skill-intensive games - winning the first one with a fast draw and a lot of graveyard recursion, losing the second one after a Draining Whelk took my EOT Fact or Fiction and raced me successfully, and winning the third after almost being raced at by a Sphinx - I defended by killing his Drift of Phantasms and reanimating it just the turn before I would die. In this last game, since I had a turn 3 Arena when he tapped out, we had switched the beatdown/control roles.