My wife lost her job in May.
I won’t go into the sordid details, but I will say this:
First, we’re fine. Money’s a little tighter than we’d like, but everybody’s got clothes and food, a bed and a roof.
Second (THIS IS WAY BELOW SECOND, SECOND IS AAAAHHHH HOW DO I MAKE ALL THAT STUFF I JUST SAID TRUE HOW DO I FIND MORE FREELANCE WORK WHO WANTS TO BUY A KIDNEY BUT FOR THE PURPOSES OF STICKING WITH THE I PLAY MAGIC AND YOU MAYBE LIKE TO READ ABOUT IT CONCEIT OF THIS BLOG YEAH SURE SECOND), it’s tough to justify binders and boxes full of Magic cards when you’ve just lost half your household income.
I took the spendy bits of my Magic collection to the excellent fellows at Mythic Monster Gaming and I now have an embarrassing amount of store credit. I won’t be playing any Standard for the foreseeable future.
I’ll be drafting.
Rather than continuing to hit you with anecdotes about my return to the game after OH SO MANY YEARS away, I’m going to post decklists and fun and exciting stories about my drafts so you can live vicariously through me while you do dorky stuff like go to parties and kiss girls. I doubt any of my fellow drafters will be patient enough for me to walk you through every pick of every pack, but I’ll do my best to make sense of it all. Plus this means my wife doesn’t have to listen to me ramble on and on about it.
So without further ado:
Draft seasons have a natural rhythm to them. When a new set comes out, everyone is excited to play but no one has any experience with the format, so it’s pretty wide open. Players experiment with color pairs, watch how the pros draft to see which cards they favor, see if there are any hidden interactions. It’s a good time. By the time the next set is about to come out, everyone has plenty of experience with the format and no one is as excited to play. All the options have been explored, the archetypes have been ranked, the great cards and the poop cards are all settled. It’s not boring, exactly, because it’s still Magic, but the thrill of discovery is basically gone. There’s a sweet spot somewhere in the middle, and we’re long past that with Dragons of Tarkir/Dragons of Tarkir/Fate Reforged draft. Modern Masters 2015 exists, but it’s such an expensive set to draft that most people aren’t willing to do it. Magic: Origins is scheduled for release mid-July, and it can’t come soon enough for me.
When Dragons of Tarkir first came out, Blue/Black seemed like the best color pair to draft. The colors had lots of synergy (both colors have creatures with Exploit and a bunch of creatures like Palace Familiar, Youthful Scholar, Sultai Emissary and Shambling Goblin just begging to be exploited). I still think it’s one of the best pairs, but I don’t try to force it like I used to. Partly, this is because I think there’s a better color pair (Black/Red); partly, it’s because I think all the color pairs are basically playable, so I’m more likely to read signals than to force colors. The poster children dragon clans are probably the best (Black/Red, Blue/Black, Green/White, Red/Green, White/Blue – roughly in that order, I think), but if you go into the other pairs, you can get rewarded with cards in the Fate Reforged pack that nobody else wants (Grim Contest, Harsh Sustenance, War Flare, Ethereal Ambush, Cunning Strike – again, roughly in that order). I’ve had fun, and won, with decks in pretty much every pair (I don’t think I’ve ever tried Blue/Red, but it was very strong in Khans of Tarkir/Fate Reforged draft, so I bet it could be good).
That said, I’m really happy to see the red and black cards flowing like I did last night.
6/18/15 Dragons/Dragons/Fate Draft Red/black
2 Atarka Efreet
1 Atarka Pummeler
1 Flamewake Phoenix
1 Goblin Heelcutter
1 Hardened Berserker
1 Humble Defector
1 Pitiless Horde
1 Sabertooth Outrider
1 Screamreach Brawler
2 Sprinting Warbrute
1 Summit Prowler
2 Bathe in Dragonfire
2 Collateral Damage
1 Draconic Roar
1 Foul-Tongue Invocation
2 Tail Slash
1 Ultimate Price
1 Wild Slash
1 Berserkers’ Onslaught
1 Bloodfell Caves
The rare in my first pack was Ojutai’s Command. It’s a fine card in the right deck, but I don’t want this card for two reasons. First, I don’t want to commit to two colors right off the bat. Second, White/Blue isn’t somewhere I necessarily mind ending up if all the best cards for the deck just jump in the boat, but it’s not something I want to try to make happen. The uncommons in the pack weren’t particularly exciting either, so I went with the best common in one of the best colors. I first picked a Tail Slash. It’s a very powerful piece of removal, but it’s extremely dependent on having creatures in play. Fortunately, limited is all about creatures. We don’t want a whole stack of cards like this, but I’ll happily take two to three of them.
A Pitiless Horde, Sprinting Warbrute and Ultimate Price later, I’m definitely hoping to be Black/Red. This early, either of these colors can dry up, but I’m good with being mostly red or mostly black and splashing the other color. The black dries up just a bit, and I pass some good black cards like Hand of Silumgar and Blood-Chin Rager in favor of good red ones like Atarka Pummeler and Atarka Efreet just to make sure I’m prepared to jump out of black if necessary. Red/Green can be a very strong archetype, too, and I get a late Aerie Bowmasters to keep me guessing.
Pack two, I’ve got my eyes open for a Swift Warkite to pair with my Pitiless Horde, because that is outrageous. I never see one, but I do see some more solid red cards, so I stock up on Tail Slashes, Hardened Berserkers and Summit Prowlers. I let Ambuscade Shamans and Reckless Imps go, as much as I’d like them, because there’s a similarly-powerful red card in the pack and I know I’m red for sure. Berserkers’ Onslaught comes around eighth pick, and I’m very happy I committed hard to red. This looks like a bad card. It costs 5 mana, a fortune in Limited, and it doesn’t do anything on its own. You need something to pair it with for it to be effective, but if you have literally any creature, it will take over the game. The upside is so high, it’s worth the risk that sometimes it does nothing. This card should never go that late, so I can infer one of two things from this: either no one else at the table is drafting red (very unlikely), or no one else at the table knows how powerful this card is. I guess there’s secret intersection option three: the people at the table who know how powerful the card is aren’t drafting red. Either way, I’m snatching this thing up and not looking back. I have a bunch of 4- and 5-power creatures, some of which even have trample, and they love having double strike.
All I want in the Fate Reforged pack is an endless stream of Goblin Heelcutters. I only see one, and that’s in my opening pack, so I’m sure someone passing from my right is also red. I get the wombo combo of Humble Defector and a pair of Collateral Damages, though, so I’m not sad about how things end up. I also snag a Bloodfell Caves for just a touch of mana fixing, and a confusingly late Wild Slash.
Round one, I played against a Green/White deck. I like this combination, since bolster can really get out of control. I don’t think Sandsteppe Scavenger is a particularly good card, but it’s downright terrifying in multiples if you can’t keep it in check. We took giant swings at each other’s life totals for three games, but I ended up winning the match. In game 3, I hard cast my Pitiless Horde fairly early, hoping to just remove any blockers and trade 5 damage for 2 for four turns, but that didn’t quite work out. I had a Collateral Damage in my hand as an insurance policy, figuring I could get the Horde out of play before it really threatened my life total, but I didn’t draw much land so my resources were choked most of the game. It worked out better in the end to just shove damage by dashing in Sprinting Warbrutes and not try to leave up a red mana for the Collateral Damage, but I’m pretty sure I was dead to anything the turn before I won. My opponent was at 5 life, and he had 9 power on the board. I was at 12 life with no untapped creatures. If he had attacked with everything, I would have gone to 3, and my Pitiless Horde would have dropped me to 1 on my next upkeep. If he had anything that could push one extra damage through, I was dead; if not, he was dead on the return swing. He was conservative and didn’t attack. I ended up going to 10 on my turn, then I attacked to force a trade with the Horde to get it off the table. I finished the game by attacking with a top-decked Flamewake Phoenix to drop my opponent to 3, then a Collateral Damage, sacrificing the Phoenix, to drop him to dead.
My round two opponent had a White/Blue deck with a splash of black, probably for Exploit tomfoolery. We traded wins the first two games. At one point I went for the Humble Defector/Collateral Damage combo (tap the Humble Defector to put his ability [draw 2 cards and give control of him to your opponent] on the stack; before that ability resolves, cast Collateral Damage, sacrificing the Humble Defector — net result: draw 2 cards, your opponent does not gain control of the Humble Defector because it is dead before the ability resolves, you deal 3 damage to your opponent or one of his creatures).
My opponent wasn’t sure if that worked, so he called for a judge.
Important Lesson #1: Don’t hesitate to call a judge.
The point is to make sure the game plays out correctly, and that you and your opponent understand everything that’s happening. If something seems off or doesn’t make sense, call someone. Get it clarified. They’ll either explain it to you if you’re confused, or they’ll correct it if your opponent did something wrong (intentionally or not).
Important Lesson #1a: Don’t be offended when your opponent calls a judge.
It’s not an accusation. No one’s calling you a cheater. Magic is a complicated game, and that’s why judges exist.
Important Lesson #2: Be gracious.
In game three of round two, my opponent mulliganed down to six cards, then never got a second land into play. Winning like that feels miserable, but not as miserable as losing like that feels, so it’s best to just pack up your stuff and be gracious whichever side of it you’re on. It happens.
My round three opponent was Black/White, with at least one other splash color thrown in for good measure. He also had the downright terrifying, damn near unbeatable Sunscorch Regent, so I knew I had to win fast if I was going to win at all. I was beating down pretty hard game one, but I was frustrated at only drawing one Swamp most of the game. I was down to 3 life, but I attacked to put my opponent to 4. I had lots of damage on the board thanks to a Sabertooth Outrider and a Berserkers’ Onslaught, and my opponent had nothing but land.
Important Lesson #3: Remember cards your opponent has revealed. Write them down if necessary.
I used to track my and my opponent’s life totals with 20-sided dice, but a better player explained to me that dice can get bumped and it can be really tough to reset the game if that happens. So I started using pen and paper. It was hard at first, but now I’m much more comfortable tracking those things with paper. Despite having pen and paper right there every game, I’ve never gotten in the habit of taking other notes as I play. My opponent had an Ambuscade Shaman in his hand. I knew about it. He dashed it in and hit me with it earlier in the game. I went to 3 with no blockers against an opponent with a 4/4 haste in his hand.
Important Lesson #4: Play your lands.
I wanted that second Swamp all game to dash in my Pitiless Horde, so I was annoyed to draw yet another Mountain on my final turn. I didn’t want another Mountain. I wanted a Swamp. So I didn’t play a land on my turn. I kept the stupid Mountain in my hand, because it was a jerk and not a Swamp. And I died to a dashed Ambuscade Shaman with one untapped Swamp in play and an Ultimate Price in my hand.
I ended up winning the match, but you can’t get better if you assume that winning glosses over mistakes. Those were two huge ones, and parts of my game I need to tighten up.
Thus endeth my recap. I took my five Dragons of Tarkir packs home, opened at least one valuable rare (Thanks for paying for the draft, Collected Company!), and unsleeved my deck to get ready for next time. Every card of any value that I open will eventually be traded back in for store credit. For now, I don’t collect. I just play. It’s a nice, zen approach to the game.
This is basically what I plan to do with these Magic posts for the foreseeable future. If you dig them, let me know. If not, let me know that, too. But, y’know, gently. I’m fragile.
And seriously, don’t worry about the financial situation. I know most of you are very kind and generous. Point that generosity elsewhere. It’s an adjustment, to be sure, but we’re worse off than some, better off than most.
Point the kindness this way, though. I like the kindness.