Sunday, February 3, 2013

Glorious Gatecrash Bender

On the weekend of a new Magic: The Gathering set release, my friends generally have a big release party.  Between us, we spend several hundred dollars buying boxes of booster packs, and then play all night with various draft, sealed, and mini-masters matches.  Although we’re not terribly competitive, these casual Magic benders give a great opportunity to experience a set and think about awesome possibilities in constructed play.

Going into the new set (Gatecrash), I was pretty intrigued by a couple new mechanics, evolve and cipher, although I was also quite disappointed by the effects that were attached to cipher cards.  It seems like the dual effects of milling and encouraging dealing damage to a player were fundamentally at odds, and my experiences in the drafts didn’t prompt me to change my opinion.

Bloodrush sounds like a neat idea, but it feels a bit like a desperation move; I would usually prefer having a creature than a one-time, attacker-only Giant Growth, so it only seems relevant if you’re able to win on the turn you use it or if it buys you an extra turn or two from an opponent’s onslaught.  Extort has a lot of power and is a great way to burn extra mana when you don’t have extra spells to sling, but it’s not really my thing.  Battalion is nice, but the fact that it only triggers when you have three creatures attacking is tricky; you must have good board positioning to get it off, and your opponent will likely know that you’re building up to it, giving them plenty of time to apply some removal.

Anyway, my goal going into the first draft was to try to pull of a Simic (blue-green, that’s where the evolve mechanic lives) deck.  My first rare was Unexpected Results, which is in the right colors and has some interesting implications (getting to play a big creature for free and trigger evolve seemed really sexy to me), so I was off to a good start.  Here's the deck that I ended up constructing:

7 Forest
6 Island
1 Mountain

The basic strategy was to start the game with either Cloudfin Raptor or Experiment One on turn one, start pummelling my opponent as soon as possible, and evolve my creatures in the most intelligent way I can.  Hands of Binding and Last Thoughts get ciphered onto a creature with evasion (Elusive Krasis ideally, but Cloudfin Raptor was another good choice).  Pit Fight and Simic Charm are used as removal if absolutely necessary.  Rubblehulk is there as a great beneficiary of Unexpected Results, and Verdant Haven and Prophetic Prism are for mana-fixing to play or bloodrush him if desired.

All-in-all, this deck did pretty well.  I won all four of the best-of-threes that I played, dropping only two games in the process.  I found that evolve can be pretty nasty, as I expected.  Being able to extend the effectiveness of a one-drop creature well into the midgame is brutal; trading an Experiment One for a Guardian of the Gateless was one of my biggest triumphs.  In nearly every game I played, I was able to deal a few points of damage before my opponent got a creature on the board, and then I could effectively stall them with my continually growing creatures until I could outmaneuver them with the cipher spells or smash them with the big creatures.  Unexpected Results unexpectedly served as an awesome deck-thinner and mana ramper, making sure that I could use my Nimbus Swimmer to trigger evolve and have a beefy dude with evasion.  The game where I stole a couple of lands with Nightveil Specter wasn't too bad, either.

This first draft confirmed that Simic and evolve are beastly.  I'm excited to put together a constructed Simic deck, hoping to use the Ooze Fluxes I grabbed to great effect (have that with a few small evolve guys, and it basically becomes "1G: get a 4/4 creature").

The second draft didn't go quite as well for me.  There were murmurs from my friends about trying to build Simic decks after seeing how well mine was performing, so I though I'd have to change strategies to survive the drafting process.  In this one, my opening rare was Clan Defiance, which is a pretty rockin' removal/burn spell, so I thought I'd go the Gruul (red-green, home of bloodrush) route.  Here's my deck:

8 Forest
7 Mountain

There were a few big problems with this draft: first, I was a little bit schizophrenic.  While trying to stay in color, I ended up pulling a bunch of evolve creatures and not much removal.  That hurt, particularly against an extort-heavy deck.

Second, my win conditions weren't nearly as robust as in my earlier deck.  I could hope for evolve to keep me going, but I didn't have any low-costing evolvers to start growing early (a single Experiment One may have changed this deck quite a bit).  Aside from that, I was basically ramping into the Ruination Wurm or Clan Defiance, but I never got either of them off.

Third, the most superficial of the problems was a general lack of rares.  I only had two in this deck, as opposed to the five I had in the Simic one, so I didn't have as many bombs to drop.  I also sacrificed a first pick during the draft; on the second pack, I rare-drafted a Duskmantle Seer, which did absolutely nothing for me when the games started.

The few games where I did find myself in a decent position, I made some bad (or unlucky) decisions: pressuring my opponent when he had tricks to crush me, holding back when he didn't.

Amid the drafts, we did a few games of mini-masters, which meant that I came away with a few other great cards (Angelic Skirmisher is a monster in limited, Blind Obedience is a good way to get yourself slaughtered in a team game, and I think Ooze Flux has a lot of constructed potential).

I really like Gatecrash.  Evolve is definitely my favorite new mechanic of the last few years, and I'm excited to see how the Simic cards in the next set play off it.  In the end, Gatecrash is a lot more interesting and fun than Return to Ravnica is, at least in limited.  I'm excited to see how they all tie together when we start drafting the whole block, but that's a bit down the road.

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