I’ve been going through a transition in my relationship to Magic: the Gathering. Curiously enough, it started right about when I get involved with LegitMTG (I applied to write on Jan. 19, which seems like a prior decade). Innistrad had been out for a bit and I was getting more interested in drafting. I was also sort of finally settling in to living in a new place and adapting to the ever-changing landscape of adulthood.
I swear I’m not making this up purely to add a dramatic edge to the narrative of this article: I was about to attend back-to-back SCG Open Series weekends and I had a gut feeling that they were going to be pivotal in my Magicy-relationy … thing. With that in mind, I made my plans with my various friends and decided to let the cards fall where they fell.
My host for the Baltimore weekend, and hotel coordinator, was Jason Clark (@realevilgenius). I got in on the hotel with his crew once he informed me that Brewport Avenue was a no-go. Apparently, it would be hosting a metal band after-party. I am not cool enough for that school, and it’s easier to keep track of missed triggers when you’ve 1) slept a reasonable amount and 2) can see and hear.
Since I don’t play Standard, I get to do all kinds of fun stuff on Saturday. And eat regular meals. It’s pretty sweet. I started my day off with a draft. I first-picked a Bloodfray Giant. My second pick was a good Izzet card and I was all set to head in that direction. Then I got a subtle signal. It’s easy to miss these things and I only caught this one by honing my instincts over many, many drafts. I was passed Pick 3 and Pick 4 Rix Maadi Guildmages. Almost didn’t get the memo, but I sat aside my Izzet plan and went in on Rakdos. You may be surprised to learn that I was richly rewarded for this daring risk.
I brutally annihilated my first two opponents in rapid 2-0 fashion. I had every card I wanted, every time I wanted one. The only downside to this celerity was when I ended up waiting a long time for the other bracket’s second-round match to finish. That’s because my buddy Jorge (@Jorke550) drafted the slowest Golgari deck on the planet. Despite being ridiculed, Jorge used Tablet of the Guilds to overpower his opponent in three long games. The upshot of the downside, however, was that the match was a blast to watch.
And then I murdered Jorge in two fast games and claimed my free entry. I felt bad because Jorge met me in the last round of the Legacy Challenge where I played ProsBloom and I wiped him out of prize contention there too. I’m surprised he still talks to me.
I took my free entry, hopped in another draft, went Grixis and got knocked out in the second round. Despite rare-drafting like a fiend —(Steam Vents, Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice that I didn’t play and a Dreadbore) — it was still a good deck and the second-round loss was well-fought and reasonable. My opponent had “the nut” Selesnya Populate deck with basically everything except my Trostani. Game 1 was long, hard fought and came down to topdecks. I got land, he got fliers. I killed him in five turns in Game 2 without suffering a point of damage. I had to mulligan in Game 3 and ended up getting more land than spells while being overpowered by his active Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage.
All in all, I spent $10, got to play five rounds of competitive Magic and came out at about a 3x multiplier on value. Not bad.
Legacy Challenge Dinner
Next up was the Legacy Challenge. However, I decided that I was too hungry to concentrate, so I grabbed some roomies and went to Jimmy John’s and California Tortilla for some dinner. I probably should have played the Legacy Challenge for practice, but I was fighting through this line of thinking:
- I’m playing BUG, which I’ve played for a very, very long time.
- I don’t play well when I’m hungry, which doesn’t take much since I have a fairly hyperactive metabolism.
- I’m afraid that if I don’t do well in the Challenge that I will just skip the Open. As BBD told me that evening, you can’t win if you don’t play.
This is classic negative thinking. It’s symptomatic of something much deeper: cognitive dissonance regarding the event itself. But hold that thought.
The next inflection point in this long Saturday was an invitation from birthday girl Emily to go karaoke with her party at a bar in town. I tanked about this too, but made positive noises in what I assume was English. I then headed over to the SCG buyers to let them pillage my binder at buy list prices frequently quoted lower than their website. My goal, if possible, was to get my fourth and final Underground Sea.
As I was standing there next in line, I noticed a gentleman behind me holding naught but a well-loved Underground Sea in his right hand.
“What are you doing with that Sea?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m going to sell it.”
“Would you trade it to me?”
“Umm. What do you have?”
I didn’t expect that to work. Out came the binder. After agreeing on prices, it turns out that he wanted a Savannah and two Bitterblossom. Unfortunately, I only had one Bitterblossom. This fine gentleman then agreed to something quite convoluted: he would wait while I sold my binder, got credit and used some of it on the second Blossom to seal the trade. That all went according to plan and I secured the Sea, along with a set of Baleful Strix, my fourth and final Bayou and some other miscellaneous cards I needed for Modern to round out the credit.
By the time I got back to the hotel, the prospect of an hour-long round trip to go to a singing-based event in which I would not sing was not appealing. I knew that I would also play poorly the next day if I didn’t get a reasonable night’s sleep. So I texted Emily to scrub out (sorry again, Emily o_o) and got said good night’s sleep.
Here’s what I ended up playing against:
- RUG Delver – lost die roll, lost close match in g3
- High Tide – lost die roll, lost match in g3
- RUG Delver – won die roll, won 2-0
- High Tide – lost die roll, won 2-0
- BUG Delver – won die roll, lost match in g3
The RUG and BUG losses were in extra turns and both came down to me drawing three or more land in a row, while my opponent drew spells. This feels like bad luck, but keep in mind that the Delver decks play very few land and are designed to have a high threat density when the game goes long. The real answer is that I did not draw enough Abrupt Decay in each of those matches and therefore could not use my Planeswalkers very profitably.
The Tide match that I lost came down to not finding enough of my sideboard cards. The Tide match that I won came down to finding plenty of my sideboard cards and locking my opponent out with Deathrite Shaman and Raven’s Crime. I flooded out pretty badly, but I was cool with it this time!
My final record was therefore 2-3 — not very good. I feel like I played the best I could play and that my deck choice was good based on similar lists making top slots. Several people who were watching me confirmed I played correctly and did not draw very well. But that’s no consolation. I have so far only managed a “good record” (4-2 before the third loss) at an SCG Legacy Open once in my career. Desperate to take something away from this other than “draw better,” I concluded that I need to work on my mulligan decisions. I only mulliganed three times. Two of them were in the matches that I won. So perhaps I could have won one of the other three had I thrown away my opening hands.
Fast forward four days to Thursday, Nov. 29. I finish up work, head home, change clothes and head back for a holiday party at the Marriott. I set an alarm for 8 p.m. (Text: “You just turned back into a pumpkin!”) so I wouldn’t stay too late and prepared to explain to several co-workers that I was going to Vegas the next day and, no, by “cards” I do not mean poker. I had a pretty good time, including helping a friend track down her missing daughter and rescuing my coat from coat check after realizing they failed to give me a number.
The alarm went off as planned and I rushed home to pack clothes and toiletries, pack some Christmas presents, finish off laundry and dishes, take out the trash and recycling and square away the pet logistics for the long weekend. When all that was accomplished, I set another alarm for 5 a.m. so that I could get to the airport in time for my 8 a.m. flight to the electric desert.
Everything went smoothly with my drive to the airport and my flights. I’m knocking on wood right after I type this, but I’ve never missed a connection, had a cancellation or run into any of the typical traveler horror stories. My sample size is significant too, given my past domestic and international travel as a core job requirement. I arrived at the hotel and checked in with tons of time to prep for my first event: dinner with Legit’s own Heather Meek.
(Hint: I’m the one on your right)
We swapped Christmas presents and then took a short drive down some roads and a dark alley to a little Thai restaurant recommended to Heather by Luis Scott-Vargas. Unbeknownst to me, this was Heather’s first Thai experience. The restaurant lived up to the recommendation and I hope she’s a convert. We had squid salad, beef larb, drunken noodles, tofu panang curry and some Riesling — dry, sweet wine is a good match with curry, usually. Unfortunately, despite our Vigilance (as befits both an editor and an Angel), we didn’t see any other Magic players at the restaurant.
After a lovely dinner, good conversation and a close brush with law enforcement, Heather dropped me back at the hotel and wished me luck in the tournament before heading off to pack for her own (more ill-fated) airport adventure. Despite being three hours earlier, jet lag messed with me in the wrong direction. I burned a few hours in bed reading Song of Fire and Ice until I finally noticed myself re-reading sentences.
Saturday Side Events
I didn’t come all the way to Vegas just to play $10 side drafts. Still, I couldn’t imagine more than a handful of things I’d rather be doing, so it was all icing on the cake. After saying hello to a few people and muttering around, the side events began to fire.
Draft No. 1
I took a first pick Steam Vents rare-draft. Since my goal is to be Izzet if possible, it could be worse. Luckily, the Izzet cards flowed, as they often seem to do, and I was able to build a solid deck in those colors. I rare-drafted an Abrupt Decay out of the second pack, which was the only card I needed for my Legacy deck for the challenge later, having decided to go up to four copies in the main. That and a Cyclonic Rift in the final pack rounded out my rare-drafting shenanigans.
The goal for this deck was going to be incremental Lobber Crew advantage. I was able to snag three of them, two Guttersnipe and several Goblin Electromancer. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any card drawing spells like Inspiration or, heaven forbid, Thoughtflare. However, I got a Blustersquall, two Chemister’s Trick and a Street Spasm. I was pretty comfortable that I could tempo people out with this build:
I played my first round against a Bant deck. I won the die roll and beat him 2-0. Both games were close on life totals because of his large number of fliers. But, in the end, he couldn’t get beyond the crew of Crews and they were able to race his air damage.
I played my second round against a gentleman named Taz who was a very good drafter. He had assembled a Junk Pack Rat deck that was quite fearsome. I saw him play it the round before, so I knew what I was in for. I managed to defeat him 2-0 as well, despite him landing Turn 2 Pack Rat both games and me not having the removal spell. In the first game, I was able to play out enough Goblin Electromancer to cast an early Cyclonic Rift when he went for the discard-in-combat-to-kill-you move. Blowout. In the second game, it happened again, although Blustersquall got me there instead.
In my third round, I flooded out the first game and still managed to lose a close one when I was forced to use my tricks a bit too defensively. I easily destroyed him in the second game. Then in the third game, fatigue hit and I made a misplay. Although, it turns out the misplay didn’t matter as I proceeded to draw 11 land and five spells total and fall too far behind.
So I didn’t win this draft. However, I drafted about $20 worth of cards and went 2-0 against Pack Rat, so I still felt on top of the world. Izzet ftw.
This time around, I decided to play the Challenge. I made some improvements to my maindeck and sideboard with BUG Control and decided to give it one last shot. If I managed to 2-2 or better, a low bar, I would consider playing the Open. If not, I would assume I’m just completely Legacy cursed and I would just draft all Sunday instead.
I went 0-3 drop, losing to:
- RUG Delver – on the draw – lost in two games by getting Wastelanded three times and then drawing only colorless lands in the first game, then failing to draw or Brainstorm into Abrupt Decay in the second game.
- UG Enchantress – on the… wait for it… draw – won the first game with Darkblast on his Green Sun’s Zenith for Dryad Arbor and then got combo’d out in the next two, with only the first one being close, due to drawing one of my sideboard cards.
- Belcher – on the play, finally – I lose the first to Turn 1 Empty the Warrens for 24 with a Maelstrom Pulse in hand, but no Deathrite Shaman to fire it off. I win Game 2 via discard after his mulligans. He mini-combos to drop a Goblin Charbelcher, but I Pulse it. I keep with a Force of Will in Game 3 but counter the wrong card and die to Goblin tokens with an Engineered Explosives in play and only one land. That was my first time playing against Belcher in all these years.
After this crushing defeat, I checked up on my Twitter backlog. Sitting there for me was this gem:
@justin_dz Good luck this weekend. Either way, make sure to have enough fun for the both of us.— ZachSellsMagic (@ZachSellsMagic) December 8, 2012
This was what I needed to read. Rather than live up to anyone’s constructed expectations, I had flown to Vegas to enjoy myself. Why else does anyone come to Vegas? And I already had such a good time on Friday that everything else was irrelevant.
I decided on the spot that I wasn’t going to play the Legacy Open because other people wanted me to play the Legacy Open. I was going to draft all day because I love to draft. Sure, I’m not going to make a lot of money drafting. But if my primary goal is to win money, there are a million other things I would do instead. The opportunity cost of Magic is atrocious. The funportunity cost, however, is quite high. Yes, I made that up. Just now, in fact.
Sunday Legacy Open $10 Drafts
I woke up, showered, got dressed and took about a two-mile round trip walk from the hotel to find a good cup of tea. This was the best way I could think of to start the day. Unfortunately, the tea shop didn’t open until noon. Go figure. I ended up eating a mediocre hotel breakfast and then heading over the tournament area quite early. This gave me time to walk around and see what people were assembling, practicing and writing down. I noted a trend, which I confirmed and tweeted a few rounds into the event:
Informally, I would say that 120% of the room is playing Abrupt Decay. #SCGVegas— Justin D-Z (@justin_dz) December 9, 2012
While sitting around before the event, I overheard someone saying that he left two Underground Sea at home and was trying to find them in order to play. The gentleman looked familiar so I piped up and said I could help. It turned out to be David Williams (@dwpoker), confirming my recognition. I lent him two Seas from my backpack-sequestered BUG deck and he was able to play. All of his other duals were Beta, so there wasn’t even any danger in getting them mixed up. I hoped that the karma would help me continue to do well in draft.
After watching part of Mr. Williams’ first-round match (RUG Delver, the 20 percent of the metagame played by 50 percent of the players, somehow), I made my way to side event registration and handed Millsy my $10 to hop in another draft.
Draft No. 2
This time, instead of drafting Izzet, I decided to switch it up and draft Izzet. Instead of Cyclonic Rift, I opened a Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. I had fewer Crews, but more aggressive Unleash creatures and a Hover Barrier. I like the Barrier quite a bit in Izzet control, although I’m not a fan in Azorius.
I play my first match against a Grixis deck and 2-0 the guy, although both games were reasonably close on life totals. I like to look back on my Izzet matches to see the life total changes. They typically show a race that is either even or favoring the opponent, followed by a turn in which the opponent’s life total suddenly undergoes a massive change — possibly to 0 or less.
My second match is against a girl named Christina who also suffers from bad circulation. We shook at the beginning of the match and it was like two ice blocks floating past each other in the arctic sea. Her prior match went quite long, so I got to study her deck. She was on what I would call Big Jund. Basically, she had lots of powerful but expensive creatures (Golgari Longlegs, Spawn of Rix Maadi) with early removal (Auger Spree, Ultimate Price).
I crushed Game 1 pretty easily with enough tempo to run roughshod over her big creatures. The second game, I mulligan and end up struggling to swing the game around. She ends up crushing me without suffering any damage. In the third game, we end up in a back-and-forth race, except I’m dealing damage in increments of four to her three and I went first. So I get there on fairly close margins. She made me work for it. You know you’re in good shape, though, when people are Leashing their Spawns.
For the final round, I’m playing against another confirmed Pack Rat sack hat. This guy is playing Grixis, which is basically Ratdos with a light splash. In Game 1, he doesn’t draw [cardPack Rat[/card] and I win with a reasonable margin via some Chemister’s Trick love. He mulligans in Game 2, but I double mulligan. I lose by a reasonable margin, being too far behind on cards to handle his Carnival Hellsteed. He mulligans in Game 3 and continues to fail to draw his Rat, so I’m able to take it with a pretty healthy margin, eventually sticking Niv-Mizzet to get way ahead on removal and tricks.
Victory! Who needs Pack Rat? Not this guy. Here were the highlights from this draft:
- Chemister’s Trick was a complete champion, allowing me to survive several alpha strikes, go two-for-one or better on blocks, and then swing back for lethal.
- Bloodfray Giant was a complete house. In theory. I never drew him in all seven games. Clearly, the deck was strong enough without the Giant, which was probably the second strongest card behind Niv (which I only drew twice and cast once).
- Last, but not least, was the gentleman that I noticed assembling a Golgari deck. I commented that he was doing it correctly and mentioned having written an article about it. He said that he got the idea from reading it in my article on LegitMTG. Whoa! Facial recognition and strategic influence. This must be what Josh Cho feels like!
The victory afforded me free entry into:
Draft No. 3
This time, although I saw some Izzet cards, I saw more Azorius cards and ended up going in that direction. However, it was not necessarily a stock list. Here was the core:
We were basically on the Azorius token plan. All my other cards were quite playable and I even had an Isperia, Supreme Judge to top it off.
For Round 1, I played a soft one. My opponent was on Orzhov, which hasn’t been released yet. He even resolved a Shrieking Affliction against me. The only damage I took in two games was six from his Affliction.
Round 2 saw me facing off against a Junk populate deck. Luckily, he had scrimped on air defense and I was able to run him over 2-0 as well via a very large quantity of Bird tokens. The second game was actually very close, with me winning at two life. The nice thing about instant-speed Birds is that they can both kill and chump block all day long.
For Round 3, I had to wait an absurdly long time as an Azorius control and America control deck played three extremely long matches, with one of them even going to decking. The whole time, I was rooting for the Azorius guy to win because my deck was better positioned against him. If America won, I’d have to beat:
All of these things were quite bad for me. Unfortunately, he did win. We sat down, I mulliganed a one-lander, kept a two-lander and never got beyond three land before dying quite handily. In the second game, I flooded out absurdly, drawing six land in a row. I had a shot, however, when I played out Phantom General first, then made Birds end of turn. He had the Staticaster, but I had sequenced to lock it out. Unfortunately, he drew Voidwielder, bounced the General and shot all my Birds. Considering all I had were lands at that point, I was out of the game. I was bummed to lose on variance, for the most part, but they still would have been hard games. At least it was a free draft!
Eventually, the following morning, I caught my 6:20 a.m. flight home.
Here Ends the Lesson
I want you to take two things away from this tale of two cities and Opens:
#1a – Always Go Izzet, Unless I’m in Your Pod
I’ve been having great success with Izzet lately. Although the sample size is fairly small, Izzet has taken me to either the finals or a victory in three of the last four events I played it in. It is tricky to draft, granted, but I’ve forced it enough now to have a feel for the flavors and relative card rankings. If you’re either bored with RtR draft or just adventurous, give Izzet a shot if you haven’t already.
For reference, here’s a sick Izzet deck I made at FNM a few nights ago, while taking a writing break:
That’s a P1P1 and P1P2 Teleportal, followed by a series of decisions stemming from that move. The deck was strong enough that I even cut Sphinx of the Chimes and ended up with 11 perfectly playable sideboard cards. This was in a pod of 10 players where decks are usually a bit more diluted. I managed to 3-0 (5-1) and won the FNM.
When are those Gatecrash spoilers starting?
#1b – Magic is About People
For 93.92%* of us, Magic is not a career. It’s a hobby. And it’s not a solitary hobby like building ships in bottles or cross-stitching. Magic is inherently about human interaction. Even on Magic Online, where you sit in your chair and stare at your screen, there is no solitaire mode. You are playing with the equivalent of a message board (both in terms of disinter-mediation and conversational quality). I started playing Magic with and because of my friends. I continue to play for the same reason. I ultimately went to Vegas because of friends met through Magic and not really to play cards. Honestly, if I didn’t know anyone in Baltimore and didn’t care about people, I could have saved a ton of money and just drafted on Magic Online instead.
I’m starting to suspect that part of the reason I like draft is because, as an extreme introvert, the draft pod is like a little family. Sure, you’re competing, but it’s a close group who is working together as much as they are working against each other. It’s a lot less overwhelming than event with 1,000 players. Everyone starts out on a level playing field where wealth, card access through friends and other factors are either irrelevant or flattened out. It is the most interactive form of Magic that you can play and the stories are as good as any other format. You even interact with the other bracket, where seeing the cards they play can benefit you in future matches or give you confidence about what cards your next opponent might not have been passed.
On top of that, some of my favorite non-draft moments from Vegas were either meeting new people (David Williams, EFro, Joe Lossett) or hamming it up with people I already know (Chub Toad Enthusiast, Reuben Bresler). In fact, I even enjoyed getting bullied by Mike Flores^. That’s how much people matter.
In this vein, I can no longer really imagine a future in which I’m playing Magic Online instead of, rather than in addition to, paper Magic. At least not until we have webcam and social media integration at the very least. I’m not even sure if that would be enough.
* this is completely arbitrary
^ it was all in good fun, smiles and taurine
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