…showered over someone, but certainly not me. Over a Sealed and a Draft event, I won all of 2 games. Match record: 0-5 with a bye. Personal train wreck? Yes. Did my friends new to prereleases have fun? Also yes. So I was happy for them while secretly wondering what went wrong with my pool.
I chose Mirran for a few reasons. First, I’m a tempo-defense sort of guy at heart, and the Phyrexians didn’t have the tools to play such a thing. Second, I didn’t want my pool to be half-infect, half-normal and try to cobble together one or the other method of winning. Third, I’m a contrarian and wanted to play what it seemed like nobody else was playing.
As it turned out, plenty of people were Mirran and did fine; I didn’t hear of any massive Phyrexian overrun or anything. Unfortunately, it just didn’t take much to overrun my deck. I went blue-red splashing white for double Divine Offering, as shown below (lines are sorted by converted mana cost):
Plated Seastrider / Gust-Skimmer
Mirran Spy / Spin Engine / Blisterstick Shaman / Brass Squire / Cryptoplasm
Ogre Resister / Peace Strider / Bloodshot Trainee
Turn to Slag
The idea on paper was to equip Piston Sledges to things they ought to be equipped to (flyers/Bloodshot Trainee) and move them around with Brass Squire, leeching off opponent bombs with the Cryptoplasm and Quicksilver Gargantuan.
0-3 drop says that didn’t work out at all. But it’s instructive to look at the rounds and understand why it didn’t work out. Simply put, half-Scars, half-Besieged completely changes what’s good strategy. Infect is already an “every creature matters” sort of deal, where you sideboard in random creatures just to deal with the onslaught. As it turns out, battle cry can do a bang-up impersonation. All of a sudden, Kuldotha Rebirth is pretty good, because you definitely want to block the battle cry but may not have the resources to deal with the 2/1s. First strike is still quite good, possibly better than in all-Scars, but you just need to have enough random dorks to do all right, and my dorks were so uninspiring that I couldn’t bring myself to include more. (I tend to do this a lot in Limited.)
To the rounds:
Round 1 – Jeff (Monoblack infect)
Jeff was a newer player, unsure of the cards in the format and play decisions in general. But he had a Phyrexian Crusader (with a Sword of Body and Mind on it!) and a Massacre Wurm, which was enough. Game 1 was lopsided, though long. Game 2 was quite close, and I probably would have won it if not for an odd blocking mistake. My Cryptoplasm had copied his Phyrexian Crusader, and I had enough other first strike to stall things. But I attacked once with a Relic Putrescenced Gust-Skimmer, so when I blocked his Septic Rats with my “Phyrexian Crusader,” I (and he) forgot the Rats had pumped from my being poisoned. (And just now, I realized that this trade would not have occurred, thanks to my infecting the Rats downward before it hit my Crusader. It’s not always easy to play when your new-player opponent’s slowness puts you under pressure and you’re having to both explain and enforce all the rules.) Trading instead of one-siding him proved fatal eventually, as I had him at 3 on the turn he killed me. I still would have killed him had he not gotten my Origin Spellbomb token out of the way of his Sworded Crusader. A harsh beating it was. As with many games of Scars Limited, I would have given my left eye for a Darkslick Drake.
Round 2 – Andy (Red/White metalcraft)
Andy is the young son of a good player at the store – he’s 12 and has been playing since Scourge. He’s also very, very good in aggro races, and his pool gave him just what he wanted. In game 1 a Rusted Relic and Master’s Call conspired to beat my face around. Game 2 was the Hellkite Igniter Show. I did not like my front-row seat. Bounce spells and other tempo things don’t matter much when there’s a hasty dragon. This match didn’t even last 20 minutes. It’s just how Andy would want it.
Round 3 – Thomas (Red/White battle cry-ish)
Thomas claimed after game 1 that his deck normally wasn’t that fast. Maybe that was true, but with 2 Leonin Relic-Warders, a Kuldotha Rebirth, and at least a tablespoon of battle cry, he had plenty he could do for hard, crunchy swings. Games 1 and 3 weren’t particularly close, but I did win game 2 in epic fashion.
Given his spell mix, I decided to side in my Knowledge Pool. (Yes, having junk rares like this was a reason I had problems. The other rares were Ezuri’s Brigade, Blackcleave Cliffs, and the anti-anti-infect Darksteel Plate.) I also had a Treasure Mage to go find it, so maybe keeping him off his immediate game plan would do something. As an Eye of the Storm player from way back, I know generally how these cards work and how you want to order your spells. His extreme unfamiliarity with it, combined with his drawing lots of lands, meant I got the bulk of value from it. He got my Spire Serpent, but I got his Arrest…win for me. Eventually, I put Bladed Pinions on my “Darksteel Sentinel” (Cryptoplasm) and won in a billion turns that way, even after he used my Crush to destroy my Knowledge Pool. If you’re going to win only 1 game, win it in style, I say.
After that debacle, I got some lunch and moved on to the draft. Now, Sealed at least made some sense. The special draft format for the event? Awful. 6 of us drafted Mirran, yielding an absurd amount of red, as the first two boosters going around were Mirran-heavy. Incidentally, now that I’ve drafted a small set first, I don’t like it much at all. It is very hard to base any archetypes or strategies in a small set when you know it doesn’t have the biggest effect on your card pool anyway. It seems to add randomness to drafting, which it didn’t really need. How the pros learn to work with this will be interesting.
In any event, the rare in my first pack was…Cryptoplasm! I got passed a Go for the Throat and started on my merry way to blue-black. In the second pack, though, I opened a Red Sun’s Zenith and barely saw any more black (given the Mirran slant, I should have expected this), switching to blue-red splashing black. So of course I open a Skinrender in pack 3, leading eventually to my being almost equal parts blue, black, and red. But look at this removal!
So of course I went 0-2 with a bye. Here’s how…
Round 1 v. John
John’s a veteran who seems to know his strengths well. He drafted red-green with almost no artifacts, leaving tons of my removal useless. Has anyone noticed that Fangren Marauders are large? In case you didn’t know, they are, and they boxed me about. I was able to side in 2 Koth’s Couriers and more for game 2, and things were even for awhile, but Slagstorm and eventually Molten-Tail Masticore did me in, just as they would anybody.
By the way, Turn the Tide can annoy opponents a lot. It’s a fine card, although I’m always biased toward effects like it.
Round 2 v. The Bye
Those who knew how terrible I was running joked that even the bye beat me. The bye always gets awesome bombs. Why is this?
Round 3 v. Aaron
Of the dozen in my playgroup who attended, Aaron is the only one I played against, and it was he who gave me my second win of the day, a game 2 where my Peace Strider and Kuldotha Flamefiend showed up and were bigger than his stuff. His was an artifact heavy deck, so I had answers for a lot of it. However, I had no good answer for Tezzeret. I must say that Bolas signs some powerful agents. It wasn’t pretty how efficiently I went down in game 3.
So what did I learn from all this?
Random dorks matter. Sometimes, you just need 3/3s. I tend to ignore this, and it bites me a lot. In a far more aggressive format like this appeared to be, these guys mattered more than I was used to. It was so different from how all-Scars plays that the lessons I had learned actually made deckbuilding a lot worse.
Crush is a situational card. It is a good card against living weapon and other nuisances, but in several matchups it kills something far too basic to be relevant. Equipment mattered so much to the non-threats in Scars that Crush would have been amazing there, but there are enough swarm/rush strategies available that using a card on equipment isn’t as good as I wanted it to be.
If you’re playing ground stall, it had better be good ground stall. There’s so much more attacking the fort that you need more to hold it. Viridian Claw helps a lot, but you still need enough creatures, and I failed that test.
Cryptoplasm is pretty good. This is primarily because it plays nicely against both factions, which leads me to the main point…
Don’t believe the marketing. The faction war was an encouragement to build a Mirran deck that would beat the Phyrexians. Overall, I think my Sealed pool would have been able to do this, as many of the pools would have been unable to handle, say, a Mirran Spy with a Piston Sledge. But my deck had pretty much no game against the Mirrans, and the pool plus the marketing shaded me that way. I don’t know how the other like-on-like matches went – I know one friend was having a hard time in the last round getting through the all-Phyrexia match – but the whole day was designed for you to fight your opposite, when that was happening only about half the time. It’s Celestial Purge.dec against Deathmark.dec, and that’s not fun.
The hype for this prerelease didn’t come close to the reality; that said, there are definitely fun cards in the set, and I look forward to playing around with them and seeing what can be done.