At the Gathering: New Years Resolutions

Well, 2009 is upon us, and I have but one thing to say:

Where is my flying car?

Beyond that, I find myself full of introspection this year. 2006 and 2007 were years of strong stability in my life, and 2008, well, it was a year of change.

My Call Center closed down.
That's bad.
However, this was the year I started taking my Magic seriously for the first time in 13 years.
That's good!
My Wizards of the Coast program was discontinued in 2008.
That's bad.
But, I started writing for this here site you're reading right now.
That's good!
The Frogurt is also cursed.
...
Why don't we just move on then.

2008 was a year of strange tidings in Magic as well, with the loss of a Pro Tour stop, bringing us down to three plus Worlds. We saw cutbacks in certain areas, as well as 2 rounds of layoffs at Wizards of the Coast. Magic Online released version 3, and then proceeded to fix it. Overall, a downward turning economy meant that for many, 2008 is a year we are happy to put behind us as we hope for 2009.

But what hopes for 2009 do I carry? I have decided to continue furthering my Magic career, marching up the ladder so to speak, and so, without further ado, I give you my 2009 New Year's resolutions.

1) Attend 3 Grand Prix/PT: I have 4 Grand Prix that are reasonable distance from me (L.A., Seattle, Chicago, and Minneapolis) and my goal is to attend 3 of them. Honestly, though, I'll probably only be able to make Seattle and Minneapolis. I have very little experience in Legacy, as well as personally hating the airports in Chicago, so that one is probably out. And I already missed L.A. Hopefully, I can make that up by getting to a PT. More on that later, though.
What this means to you as a reader: Grand Prix are the largest open tournaments in the world, and a great chance to play against the best competition in the world. Not to mention, hopefully I'll have at least three good tournament reports for the year.

2) Make Day 2 of a Grand Prix/ Pro Tour: Honestly, that's probably more likely in a GP than a PT, but I like to keep my hopes high. With the new X-2 rules for making day 2 of a Grand Prix, that opens up the chances a bit more. I figure my chances of making day 2 in an X-2 bracket are about one in six, so I have a coin flip of making it in 3 Grand Prix chances.
What this means to you as a reader: Aside from making a good tournament report, making a day two ensures that I am playing at what is at least a reasonably high level of play. It also means that I am taking my preparation and thought process seriously, which hopefully makes for some good articles.

3)Win a PTQ or GPT: I plan on playing in 5-6 Pro Tour Qualifiers this year, so my resolution is to win one of them. I hedged my bets here a little, adding in the GPT's, because if I actually make it to some of the Grand Prix that I want to, then I plan on hitting the Grand Prix Trials the day before, as well as having one nearby for GP Seattle. Overall, this is a goal to help me with goal number one, as the fate of the two are pretty closely entwined.
What this means to you as a reader: It means I will have testing and practice, which will give insight into matchups and my thought process. I will have results from these tournaments, which means you will have not only numbers, but actual information. It's one thing to see Faeries top-8 a PTQ, and another to hear from the pilot about his matchups, and how he punted his semifinal match (something I hope not to do)

4) Win Article of the Month: Of course, this is my goal every month. I set this as a goal, but without numerical value (i.e. win AOTM 5 times in 2009) because for one, there are some other great writers on this site, but more importantly, it's there to make sure that as I focus on playing more, I don't slack off in the writing department. It is still my goal to provide quality reading material for you, the readers.
What this means to you as a reader: See above. Wink

5) Qualify for Nationals: This may be the hardest of the goals I've set forth, because I will only really get one crack at it. Regionals will probably be the only actual chance I get, which means I really need to be on my A-game. I'm hoping, however, that Nationals is on the West Coast this year, so if I do qualify, I can easily attend. I'd be fine with the midwest, though, in case Renee or Witney are reading. (win, wink, nudge, nudge) although my guess is it's already been decided, they're just waiting to announce it.
What this means to you as a reader: It means that hopefully, I will be able to give you some insight into playing the best at that time. I'm going to be doing an insane amount of prep work for Regionals, and I plan to pass that on to the readers.

6) Achieve a Constructed DCI Rating of over 1800: Right now, my DCI Constructed rating is 1741. Were I to just continue as a FNM warrior, I could more than likely push this over 1800 by Summer. Heck, one good Grand Prix and I could do that. However, I made this resolution for a few reasons. One, I wouldn't mind getting a bye or two (if I'm lucky) at a Grand Prix based on rating. More than that, though, I made this resolution so I would keep on fighting even after I'm 1-3 at the GP. I don't want to drop from day one of any tournament without a dang good reason.
What this means to you as a reader: This resolution is about resolve, and I plan to stick it out and make good on my tournament play.

7) Achieve a Limited DCI Rating of over 1700: Right now, my limited rating is 1633. However unlike the previous rating goal, I have made this goal for different reasons. This goal exists because I want to draft more. We don't have a very faithful drafting community around these parts, and I want to change that. Furthermore, drafting is an important skillset to have, and as much as I can read the "Drafting with" series, there's nothing like cracking the packs and picking yourself in the heat of the moment. Besides, there is not a very good actual description on the picks there, which is unsuitable. I'd like to see more authors with more thought process behind their picks. I think that's very important. I need to draft more often than 8 weekends a year (Prereleases and launch parties, natch)
What this means to you as a reader: This should lead to more insight on drafting, and hopefully some new tech on drafting ideas. In fact, I'll be providing a new draft technique in this very article.

So these are my resolutions for the new year, now let's talk about what I'll be playing to accomplish these goals, starting with Standard.

Standard
[insert fancy entrance music here ;)]

Standard is the format I play the most, because it's the format of FNM, Regionals, and States, the tournaments I attend most often. Also, since I restarted Magic with Ravnica, it is also the format I have the most cards for. I'll actually be oscillating between two decks for the majority of the season until rotation.

Deck the first!

5 Color ControlMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures
1 Broodmate Dragon
1 Cloudthresher
3 Mulldrifter
3 Rhox War Monk
2 Plumeveil

Instants
4 Cryptic Command
4 Esper Charm
3 Jund Charm
3 Negate

Enchantments
4 Bitterblossom

Planeswalkers
2 Ajani Vengeant

Sorceries
2 Wrath of God
2 Pyroclasm
2 Cruel Ultimatum

Land
2 Vivid Crag
4 Vivid Creek
1 Vivid Grove
3 Vivid Marsh
2 Vivid Meadow
4 Reflecting Pool
2 Cascade Bluffs
2 Flooded Grove
2 Mystic Gate
2 Sunken Ruins
1 Yavimaya Coast



Let me elaborate on a few of the maindeck choices
Jund Charm: It's there for a few reasons. One, it's an instant speed Pyroclasm, which is pretty good by itself. However, it also works as hate against Reveillark or reanimator/unearth strategies. While Reveillark strategies aren't the most popular nowadays, they are still around, and you don't want to get knocked out of contention because you lost to Horde of Notions/Fulminator Mage Land-D
Ajani Vengeant and Bitterblossom: These are among the strongest cards in Standard, and isn't that the point of playing 5 Color Control? Bitterblossom helps immensely in the Faeries match up, buying you time and blockers. Ajani is a card that work as both pseudo-land disruption, as well as targeted removal and lifegain.
Plumeveil: Works almost like removal, because of the ambush effect on attacking critters, helps slow down faeries, and in general buys you more time till the end-game, which is where you want to be in the first place.
Cruel Ultimatum: Many a game has been won from the depths of nothing with this card. It just wrecks your opponent, and reloads your hand, after you've already got plenty of mana in play to use those cards as well. Such a beating.
Rhox War Monk: Lifelink and a fat butt make it better than Kitchen Finks. There's also too much Finks hate around nowadays.
Negate: I'm sure many of you are wondering why I have Negate main, Remove Soul in the board, and no Broken Ambitions. Frankly, I like the risk/reward of it. A lot of decks are running their main win spells as non-creatures. Every archtypes best spells aren't creature spells. The only one that comes close is Mistbind Clique for Faeries, and possibly Spellstutter. But compared to Cryptic command and Bitterblossom, I'll tke my chances. The Standard Metagame has turned towards non-creatures. Finally, this shores up one supposed weakness of 5CC, Planeswalkers, as now we have a hard counter for them. Besides, you can't just wait an extra turn to play around Negate like you can Ambitions.

You'll also notice the landbase swings a lot more towards true 5 colors, with blue as a base and the other four playing rather equally in the build. (especially Red) This allows the deck to truly incorporate the best of all 5 colors.

Now, I bring you:

Deck the Second!

FaeriesMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Scion of Oona
4 Mistbind Clique
3 Sower of Temptation

Back-breaking Enchantments
4 Bitterblossom

Counterspells
4 Cryptic Command
3 Remove Soul
3 Negate

Disruption/removal
4 Thoughtseize
3 Terror

Lands
4 Secluded Glen
4 Underground River
4 Mutavault
4 Cascade Bluffs
4 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Reflecting Pool



Pretty standard Faeries list except for my one tweak, which is Firespout in the board instead of Infest, and a manabase to support the red. I wanted to add a sweeper that did a few things:
1) Dealt with three power creatures. Seeing Red Critters like Boggart Ram-Gang survive an infest made me wonder if there wasn't something better.
2) Not kill my guys. With no access to green at all, the deck can only ever turn on the "3 damage to creatures without flying" part of the card, meaning none of its creatures get hit by it. One-sided Pseudo-Wrath? I'm down with that...

Faeries is the best deck in the room, and I can already see a few tweaks to this list once Conflux rolls out. (For instance, the new UB Negate looks awesome) Moreover, the deck almost never feels like it failed you. You may have failed it, with misplays, or mulligans you didn't take and should have, but overall, the deck will do what you need it to, if you handle it. Like a Howitzer cannon, you just have to aim it right.

Those are my two standard decks right now. I'm constantly looking out or new strategies, (Like KSanchez's "Best Deck in Standard" which plays well, but I'm not completely sold on, or the B/W Tokens deck, which feels like it needs a strong finisher in the face of so many sweepers in Standard nowadays.) but these are the defaults. Hopefully, I can bring you some insightful innovations in the coming months.

Onwards, then, to

Extended

Extended right now is dominated by three main archtypes, those being Zoo, Mono-Blue Wizards, and ELVES! These are Aggro, Control, and Combo, respectively, and each with it's own niche. As I turned my eye towards extended, I saw that, like many players, I had missed a few key blocks, and was trying to play catch-up. My first real extended tournament was detailed here, and as you can see, I played almost a Naya aggro deck, before Naya existed. It's fast and consistent, and can absolutely punish an opponent who stumbles at all. Then, once Wild Nacatl was out, I found even more power to add. This then, is the evolution of that deck.

Zoo IIMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Kird Ape
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Mogg Fanatic

Artifact Creatures
4 Tidehollow Sculler

Sorceries
4 Rift Bolt
4 Tribal Flames

Enchantments
2 Seal of Fire
2 Oblivion Ring

Tribal Instants
2 Tarfire

Instants
4 Lightning Helix
4 Shard Volley

Land
4 Wooded Foothills
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Windswept Heath
2 Sacred Foundry
2 Stomping Ground
1 Blood Crypt
1 Godless Shrine
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Steam Vents
1 Temple Garden



Allow me to elaborate on a few of the tweaks I have made from more mainstream lists.

18 Lands: Most lists run 21, with 20 being the minimalist's build. This version only runs 18, with 2 main reasons:
1) 18 has, in testing, been adequate. Keep in mind that every card except Oblivion ring is castable for two, and over half the spells are 1 Casting Cost. Tribal Flames is good for 4 on only two lands, and I can almost always fetch for the land I need to make that happen. So, lower casting costs means I can get by on 18 lands. This does make me more vulnerable to Engineered Explosives, so post-board, we need to be on the lookout.
2) 18 lands also means more threats. There are 42 spells in this deck, and that makes the threat density higher than other decks. In a metagame where every advantage counts, I just added two-three more threats to my side of the matchup. This also increases the chances of top-decking well. I start out thinned, and can thin even more with my fetchlands. If we can put the opponent on the back foot, sweeping defensively just to survive, we have a good chance of reloading fast enough to do it again.

Shard Volley: A Lightning Bolt for the endgame, Shard Volley also turns excess land into resources to use. I've ended more than one game by holding up double Shard Volley till the end. They may counter one, but usually not two. It throws the opponents math off as well, after the surprise is out, because now they have to consider the fact that for four mana, you can deal 10 damage a lot easier. Shard Volley helps the mirror as well by making your burn more efficient, and therefore, usually a faster clock. Finally, it's one more card that can be used, in an emergency, to disrupt elves.

I still haven't finalized the sideboard, but I imagine some amount of Kataki, War's Wage, Ethersworn Canonist, Ancient Grudge, Umezawa's Jitte, and Extirpate will go a long way.

Legacy

I don't have a list for Legacy yet, but I can almost guarantee that Ad Nauseam Tendrils will be my default. That, and the airports in Chicago really suck, in my experience. If you can, drive there. If not, fly to Midway instead of O'Hare, they tend to be at least decent.

Drafting


As mentioned in the beginning, I have a new drafting strategy to try out. I want to mention a few ideas about it first.

1) This is a limited use strategy (No Pun Intended) What do I mean by that? I mean to use it sparingly. This is a strategy to use as a surprise weapon.

2) This tactic generally requires other competent drafters. This is a layer upon layer trick, generally you will need to be drafting with at least passably decent drafters.

Here's the trick: Ignore colors, and just take the second most powerful card in each pack. Value mana-fixing highly, and end up in a greedy 5 color deck.

Okay, drafting 5 Color isn't new at all, so how is this new? Well, the idea is to use this method to ensure a few things happen:

1) Your opponents all get very mixed up signals. Since you're drafting the second best card, regardless of color, they're not going to get a clear idea of what colors or shard you're in. However, they will see bomb cards on occasion, causing them to have to reevaluate what color you are in, as well as what color might be open.

2) Your opponents decks should be weaker, as they have trouble sticking a color or shard. They then end up with plenty of playables, but don't have the mana-fixing to play them all. Thus, they end up with an underpowered deck. You may be concerned that they end up 5CC, but if you've done it right, you have most of the mana-fixing available, and they have to really play raw land bases to try to pull it off. So, this means that there are fewer bombs and strong cards in decks, and more sitting impotently on the sidelines.

Here's a word of caution, though: this method does not make you any friends. As I mentioned, this method should be used sparingly, and only if you feel you need a trick to gain an edge. Your local FNM? Yeah, not a good place to use it. A Pro Tour draft against LSV, PChapin and GerryT? Maybe this is a good time to roll it out.

This method also has a weakness if someone just upstream of you has decided to go 5 Color from the outset. They will basically be cutting you 2/3 of the draft, making your deck weak. You really have to feel around the draft, and see what's coming.

That's all for this time, so I'm signing off, reminding you:

Don't make the Loser Choice.

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