Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Monday Magic - This Weekend's Dragon's Maze Pre-Release Recap!

One of these days I'll be able to post my Magic blogs on Monday...

This weekend's Dragon's Maze Pre-Release brought a number of firsts for me: my first MTG pre-release event, my first formal sealed event, and my first official tournament.  It was quite an experience, so let me break it down.

A "sealed" event is a limited format where you build a deck after cracking open six booster packs.  You don't get the strategy of picking cards and reading signals that you would in a draft, and you don't get the benefit of your entire collection (and anything you're willing/able to drop the cash to acquire) like in constructed formats.  Sealed tournaments require a totally different skill set, so it was a completely new (and somewhat frustrating) experience.

Sealed competitions seem to be much more heavily influenced by luck.  If you open a terrible pack in a draft, you know that everyone is going to have to pick a card from that pack; in sealed, you're stuck with all the junk you might open.  Sure, the fact that you get six packs in sealed as opposed to three in a draft helps balance the odds, but particularly unlucky packs can knock you out of a sealed event before you even start to play.

The emphasis on multicolored cards from ten different guilds in Dragon's Maze exacerbates this problem.  The odds of having a random smattering of decent cards in each guild is pretty high, which makes running four colors much more likely.  Although there's a good amount of mana fixing in the set, a four-colored deck will need to be really tight and cohesive to make good use of the limited number of non-mana-fixing cards.  It  seems hard to pull off.

Being a special pre-release event, this sealed tournament had some added wrinkles.  Instead of grabbing six booster packs and bursting into deckbuilding, each player chose one of Ravnica's ten guilds and received a guild pack (containing 15 cards exclusively of that guild's colors), an allied guild pack (containing 15 cards for a single guild that shares one color with the chosen guild), and four Dragon's Maze packs.  Then we were tasked with building the best deck we could.

Pre-release goodies: Shiny Plains, Shiny Maze's End, guild button, and cards with two guild seals.
On top of a normal 32-player tournament (actually two, as a group of 64 players was split into separate brackets), the Ravnica guilds competed in an Implicit Maze.  Players represented their chosen guild in this additional competition (mine was Simic, as evidenced by my guild button), where a win in the tournament meant that their guild advanced one step closer to the Dragon's Maze.  It was cool to see how each of the guilds were doing between rounds (unsurprisingly, the more aggressive guilds, like Boros and Rakdos, tended to do better than the more passive guilds, like Dimir and Selesnya), even if there weren't tangible prizes for the most successful guilds.

The fact that we received a couple of guild packs helped mitigate the multicolored craziness of Dragon's Maze, as you're guaranteed 30 cards across three colors, but I still found it to be a little troublesome.  In particular, my Simic pack was virtually useless, aside from a Gyre Sage.  My Dragon's Maze packs were pretty heavy with Izzet and Rakdos, including DragonshiftBreaking // Entering, and the brutal Master of Cruelties.  Conveniently, my fourth Dragon's Maze rare was Varolz, the Scar-Striped, which fit nicely into the Golgari side of my deck.

But I was faced with a tough choice: I had some decent Rakdos commons and uncommons (black-red), some decent Izzet cards (blue-red), some great Golgari cards (green-black), and a really lackluster selection of Simic cards (green-blue).  My pool had good support for an Izzet-Simic deck or a Golgari-Rakdos deck, but it didn't feel terribly cohesive in general.

My first match was a slaughter.  I tried to go for all four colors (everything but white), but I was spread too thinly to do much of anything.  At that point, I decided to be more focused, so I dropped blue completely, thereby abandoning my primary guild.  Match two went a bit better for me, but I was still schooled pretty handily.

The first two dramatic losses put me solidly at the bottom of my bracket, so round three gave me a bye.  On the plus side, getting a break allowed me to seriously rethink my strategies and develop a more coherent approach.  The result was good - both the fourth and fifth matches ended in 2-1 victories for me, giving me a final record of 3-2, enough to place in the upper half of the bracket and win two Dragon's Maze packs!

After a lot of tweaking, here's the deck I settled on for the last couple of matches:





4 Forest
1 Island
5 Mountain
4 Swamp

The MVPs in my Simic (???) deck.
Those last few games expanded my mind a bit.  I had never given Golgari much thought during Return to Ravnica's heyday, basically for the same reasons that I've never really loved Gruul (I'd generally prefer having creatures than sacrificing them to help my other creatures), but Scavenge can be brutal, especially when Varolz gives all your creatures Scavenge.  Throw in a little red removal and some Rakdos bombs and you have a pretty serious contender.

And that's how I ultimately how I got my wins.  With Varolz in play I could trade my cheap creatures with my opponent's, then use my dead dudes to buff whoever's left.  Whenever Master of Cruelties hit the board, he forced my opponent to respond, allowing me to build up for a Golgari assualt (or, in one case, the Master was able to end the game in conjunction with Zhur-Taa Druid, who pinged after combat for the win).  It was an awesomely fun deck to play, and I'm excited about building a pure Golgari deck at some point in the next few weeks.

That'll have to wait, though, because this weekend is the official release of Dragon's Maze, so there will be tons of new Magic to experience. It seems like it'll be an awesome set, so I have high hopes for this weekend.

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