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Feature Article – Bloodthirst or Hexproof: English

Hello everyone. It’s been two weeks hasn’t it? Last weekend the first half of the season concluded with the Japanese National Championship, but honestly it ended up being a disappointing event for me. I had nine wins four losses and a draw, making 32nd place.

At Japanese Nationals you only receive pro points for making Top 16. Earning pro points is my goal at every tournament, and while I received a monetary prize of one hundred dollars it still didn’t change the fact that I failed to earn any points. In short, for me this result was no different from a day one drop at a Grand Prix.

Though I could make Japanese Nationals the subject of this article, I think my results were rather dull. The Standard deck I played, a Blue/White Control build featuring [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] built by Junya Iyanaga, went 2-2 in the first half and 2-1-1 in the second — not a particularly good performance. If I were looking for a strong deck, I would say that the eventual winner Ryuuichirou Ishida had the best one by far. His deck’s sideboard and main deck were so perfectly tuned that even among the Top 8 they were exceptional. In connection with the Japanese coverage, I had a chance to talk to Ishida himself. At that time, he kept repeating “I was lucky”, and while surely there is truth to this portrayal, I don’t think that was all that it was. Just before Ishida and his group brought that deck to Nationals they were tuning Blue/Black Control. However, at the last minute they decided to play the Mono White Tempered Steel deck that led to Ishida’s victory instead.

Other things that were disappointing recently were my hit-or-miss performance in the Battle of the Champions and the disqualification of two of my friends. As far as that is concerned, in considering how to write about it I feared it would be an uncomfortable subject and as such I have decided to omit it. What I would like to write about today is something I have not yet covered in a ChannelFireball article: a little bit about my thoughts on Magic 2012 draft, and my strategy with the new set. I think I’ll start by writing about what I learned from the ten or so practice drafts I did before Japanese Nationals.

First of all:

This can be said about any Limited format, but there are many cases where a set’s characteristic keyword abilities serve as an important pillar, which can determine the traits of the environment as a whole.

For example, in Scars of Mirrodin block there was poison and metalcraft. Although the keyword abilities evolved with each new expansion in the block, I think that when discussing this format both of these pillars will always immediately come to mind.

What will poison decks be like with the new set? Can I find a use for the new metalcraft cards? Or, to go even deeper: What kind of archetype is a dinosaur deck effective in? Questions like these were always at hand.

However, with core sets the idea is to attract new players. There is the inclination to avoid difficult keyword abilities as much as possible, and it is necessary for the majority of cards to be simple to begin with. If you compare [card]Shock[/card] with [card]Burst Lightning[/card] and [card]Giant Spider[/card] with [card]Blightwidow[/card], it quickly becomes clear which card is easier to play with when in the process of learning the game. It is a good thing that it is simple, but this creates a problem where Limited games easily become stalemates. I think anyone who played in the early days of Master’s Edition draft can understand this sentiment. This is because the influence of the battlefield on the game becomes restrictive. Additionally, until now core sets had too many defensive cards. When I played a limited match with those sets, common cards led to a tedious confrontation. And yet, the rares were too strong, creating quite a miserable format.

In practice, M10 draft was very bad. On the ground it was still simple, and flyers were few but large. After casting a creature like [card]Serra Angel[/card], it only took five hits to win. Something like this was all that was necessary to end the game.

But with Magic 2012, circumstances have really changed.

M12 differs from previous core sets in that the pace of the games is much faster. In an 8-player practice draft before Japanese Nationals, I was very surprised to find that the draft and three games were finished in about two hours. This was because in a more typical format it would take three hours. I think the reason for this was something I mentioned already: in core sets past, elements that dragged out the game were numerous, and this characteristic is much less prominent with M12. For example, the number of wall-like ground creatures was drastically reduced.

M11 also showed this tendency towards long games, and this was due to the presence of [card]Drudge Skeletons[/card] and other regenerating creatures in the common slot. I was surprised to learn that such creatures are found only as uncommons now, and that this year black, blue, and white have no wall-like creatures whatsoever. There is no [card]Palace Guard[/card] or [card]Maritime Guard[/card] to speak of.

I was shocked that there were so few creatures with three toughness for three mana or less.

The result is that after a long time two mana 2/2s are once again taking hold of the game. In this environment, on turn two and sometimes even turn one you may have to worry about dealing with your opponent playing a bear. Although I won’t say this is absolute, much like during Onslaught block simply not being able to summon a creature by turn two can have a major influence on your chance of winning. Last year if a deck played [card]Goblin Piker[/card] or [card]Coral Merfolk[/card] it could be said to be a failure, but with the coming of M12 draft they become excellent candidates for battle. Now I would be happy to play them.

Also, two very powerful pillars that have changed the speed of the format are the keyword abilities present in the set. As a matter of fact, the absence of keyword abilities in core sets was reworked starting last year: M11’s introduction of the scry mechanic could help prevent early game mana problems and as such was a very good keyword ability. However, if both players had a smooth start in most cases there was a stalemate, and the consequence was an environment that promoted game states where the first player to stick a bomb would break the stalemate and win. Comparatively, the current keyword abilities are very aggressive.

The threat of enormous bloodthirst creatures creates pressure that makes blocking with early game creatures necessary and contributes to the speed of game development. When your opponent is on the play and casts a bear and you follow up with a bear of your own, you almost always block. This is because of the difference in risk between letting an attack through and blocking: the comparative risk of blocking is very low.

I think this might be easy to understand if you consider this simple reason. If you think about the risk of letting an attack from a bear through, naturally there is the possibility that your opponent might play a bloodthirst creature. On the one hand, there is the case where blocking leads to a loss of resources through some kind of combat trick where only your creature dies. However, because M12’s major combat tricks cost two or more mana, playing additional spells on that turn after casting an instant would be very difficult for them. Most bloodthirst creatures are three or more mana, but even if they were to cast a weak bear it would cost two.

As a result, assuming only your bear dies due to a combat trick there is a high probability that the game state will be a reproduction of the previous turn if your next move is to play another bear from your hand. Combat tricks of this nature have little merit for the caster. Using valuable instants just to protect your bear is a foolish choice. After around turn three you can protect your slightly larger creatures, and using instants to kill creatures in these circumstances is much more economical. Because of these situations there are often times when nothing remains on the battlefield, and since it is not necessary to consider blockers the speed of the game also picks up to an extent.

I think that it is easy to understand that bloodthirst speeds up the game, but calling hexproof an aggressive keyword might make you feel a little uncomfortable. However, if you have experience being unable to kill [card]Aven Fleetwing[/card] you may approve of what I have to say. A large part of this is that Fleetwing has the powerful combination of being a flyer with hexproof, but I think that even just attaching auras to hexproof creatures is a strategy that forms one of this format’s key pillars.

Somehow attaching auras to creatures has been linked to beginners, and as such we steer away from it. Just attaching an aura to a hexproof creature can largely invalidate something limited players hate: this strategy’s weak point. If you can’t deal with the aura, once it is attached you cannot use targeted removal to kill the creature or use bounce spells and tempo to gain a lead. A [card]Sacred Wolf[/card] wearing [card]Trollhide[/card] can very simply win you the game.

The auras introduced in this set are quite remarkable compared to those printed in core sets up to this point. There has been a reduction in unrestricted removal like [card]Assassinate[/card], and even if you exclude the very powerful [card]Spirit Mantle[/card], all of the power boosting auras can find a home in decks in this environment. For example, [card]Divine Favor[/card] is one card whose valuation is steadily increasing for me as I have played with it. It raises a creature’s toughness by three which usually brings things to a standstill, and when you’re on the offensive it is difficult to kill requiring several blockers to bring down. In the damage race, the three life you gain seems simple but is very helpful.

In this way it might be correct to say that hexproof and to a greater extent auras are strong effects, but the two really combine to be one theme. In short, auras are strong enough to be a pillar of the format, and they are also quite powerful on hexproof creatures.

When I drafted M12, the color combinations I thought were strongest were blue/white, red/green and red/white, but compared to red’s powerful bloodthirst I think it is difficult to get a clear image for a hexproof deck. However, the option to play auras or hexproof plus auras in the combinations I mentioned should not be belittled. A deck that combines hexproof and auras is not as easy to identify or understand as a bloodthirst deck, and it is not the type of thing I would prioritize mid-draft. Nonetheless there are not one but two important keyword abilities in this environment.

Well, from here on I will evaluate the different colors and then move to which commons should take priority for the purposes of draft. However, I will go in order of color strength. I think the order is as follows from strongest to weakest: Red >>White>Blue>Green>Black.

Red

In this set, red is truly strong. It perfectly fills the conditions for a strong color: excellent removal combined with excellent creatures. [card]Shock[/card] compares a little unfavorably to other cards, but it is still astonishing that there are five superior cards in this color that are fine early picks. Whichever colors you combine it is good to pay attention to their strengths, because when you take these into account it is easy to build a powerful deck. With red/white, you use white’s strong flying creatures, and with red/blue you use blue’s draw spells. If you are playing red/ green you harness the power of green’s creatures both big and small, and with red/black you gain removal and bloodthirst creatures.

I think I need to add some explanation to this burn spell ranking. When beginning a draft being able to kill a target that should be removed is important, and in that case [card]Shock[/card] > [card]Incinerate[/card] > [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card]. But in a situation where you’re considering getting damage through for bloodthirst with a creature, it is irrelevant if the removal spell is one, two or four mana. Larger burn spells are powerful since they can often render one turn useless, and this is particularly true in an environment where killing 4/4 flyers can cause a sudden turnaround in the game’s progress. Red certainly has its position because of its burn spells.

However, the most priority should be placed on [card]Gorehorn Minotaurs[/card].

In core sets up until now, a common card that took pick priority over removal tended to be a blue or white 1/1, but there can be no mistaking that [card]Gorehorn Minotaurs[/card] is another card that has attained this level. A conditional 5/5 for four mana is quite extraordinary. This environment’s non-bloodthirst 3/3s follow the standard formula of costing four mana. When this card hits the battlefield with bloodthirst it is a blowout. Even having more than four copies would be fine. This is a card where the more copies you have the more you want to play in your deck.

One thing more on the subject of red’s one mana creatures: they are stronger than they appear.
[card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card] is at the level where you always want to include it in your deck, and if you have a two mana bloodthirst creature [card]Goblin Arsonist[/card] becomes a card you should actively throw at your opponent. The effect is that it is good to be hesitant any time you block with a 2/2 creature. It’s particularly easy to see that cards like [card]Duskhunter Bat[/card] and [card]Devouring Swarm[/card] are perfect for red/black.

1. [card]Gorehorn Minotaurs[/card]
2. [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card]
3. [card]Incinerate[/card]
4. [card]Blood Ogre[/card]
5. [card]Shock[/card]
6. [card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card]
7. [card]Bonebreaker Giant[/card]
8. [card]Goblin Arsonist[/card]

White

In most cases [card]Pacifism[/card] plays the part of permanent removal, but you cannot trust in it overmuch. Without [card]Merfolk Looter[/card] around we were used to seeing cards like [card]Journey to Nowhere[/card] and [card]Arrest[/card], but [card]Pacifism[/card] reaffirms that by nature white is not a color that conflicts with the system in this way. White’s appeal is really its universally present flying creatures.

Red creatures overwhelm the opponent with the size difference that comes from bloodthirst, while white wins by building an army of flying creatures and constantly getting damage across. The two best commons for white are cards that play the part of assisting this aggressive plan. They demonstrate their real merit when played offensively.

Like red, white can effectively function in any color combination. However, it often seems to need to borrow something from another color because it is less synergistic and does not have enough strong cards. As for the list below there might be some doubt regarding [card]Griffin Sentinel[/card], but in an environment like this where your opponent can summon bears on turn two it is actually quite strong. A vigilant flyer allows damage to be continuously dealt and it also has excellent synergy with auras.

As for the cards not on this list, the problem with [card]Griffin Rider[/card] is that while it can certainly be strong, on its own it is truly useless. Although griffins are powerful even invidually, the Rider itself is too unstable. Taking [card]Griffin Rider[/card] early on is an extremely disadvantageous gamble. I make a habit of taking another useful card or a griffin.

With [card]Griffin Rider[/card], I think you need to be aware that you want a minimum of three griffins and that to be on the safe side four or so is ideal. Conversely, if you already have five or more griffins you should take [card]Pacifism[/card].

There is a similar situation with [card]Armored Warhorse[/card]. In an environment where bears are rampant, the card seems strong viewed individually. However, there is the color restriction. It is in the same situation as [card]Garruk’s Companion[/card]. Because [card]Garruk’s Companion[/card] is an aggressive card it may play its part after you summon it, but like the Warhorse it is helpless against a 3/3 and quickly begins to compare badly with other creatures. If you want to play [card]Armored Warhorse[/card], I think you should play at least ten Plains. If you can, you might want to aim for eleven.

1. [card]Gideon’s Lawkeeper[/card]
2. [card]Pacifism[/card]
3. [card]Stormfront Pegasus[/card]
4. [card]Assault Griffin[/card]
5. [card]Peregrine Griffin[/card]
6. [card]Griffin Sentinel[/card]
7. [card]Stave Off[/card]
8. [card]Divine Favor[/card]

Blue

After all is said and done, blue’s appeal is its flexible mana. As it turns out, red, green, black and white have very restrictive mana costs in this format. Blue’s strength is that it can function smoothly in this respect. Only blue has zero commons that you would need to drop from the main deck because your deck is two colors. This is a big advantage.

On top of this, it has [card]Merfolk Looter[/card]. One time Shingou Kurihara declared “If you can activate [card]Merfolk Looter[/card] twice, you’ll win the game,” and in practice you don’t need to see to understand the result of activating it repeatedly in a stalemate. Even in an environment where bears are often played on turn two, this card is still top notch.

Turning the discussion to other cards, there are the flying creatures, [card]Mana Leak[/card], the somewhat unstable removal spell [card]Ice Cage[/card], and [card]Phantasmal Bear[/card]. In most cases, a [card]Phantasmal Bear[/card] is a [card]Runeclaw Bear[/card] that is one turn faster. Its power is such that even if you use all of the copies you draft there really shouldn’t be a problem.

1. [card]Merfolk Looter[/card]
2. [card]AEther Adept[/card]
3. [card]Chasm Drake[/card]
4. [card]Skywinder Drake[/card]
5. [card]Aven Fleetwing[/card]
6. [card]Mana Leak[/card]
7. [card]Ice Cage[/card]
8. [card]Phantasmal Bear[/card]

Green

After drafting several times, it seemed to me that green was better than I had originally thought. Looking only at the spoiler my impression was that it was the worst color, but when I tried drafting it I found that this was surprisingly not the case. I think the reason for this is that you can consistently draft decent creatures. Green doesn’t have strong flyers, but in their place it is brimming with solid ground creatures. At the beginning of a draft you take removal spells from another color, but as the draft goes on you focus only on creature quality and often green naturally fills this role. Because it is not very popular among players at this point, taking advantage of the ease of assembling a green deck is quite effective. For example [card]Lurking Crocodile[/card] often goes very late, but there is no question that it is strong against blue players. Even if you ignore this ability it is a powerful enough card to put in a deck.

And there is [card]Trollhide[/card].

I have already touched a little on hexproof, and I have nothing more in particular to say about cards with the ability. It might be that that blue/green is a good combination because of its ability to enchant [card]Aven Fleetwing[/card] with [card]Trollhide[/card]. And this effect is not limited to hexproof cards. I think that [card]Trollhide[/card] becomes a reason for playing green when a turn two bear can be followed up by this enchantment on turn three. If removal is a concern, it is good to wait a turn and cast it on [card]Sacred Wolf[/card].

But, be cautious of trusting overmuch in green as it might result in a painful experience. If you look at the big picture, the fact that green is a weak color remains unchanged. I only play green when I open [card]Overrun[/card] or when it is passed to me.

1. [card]Arachnus Web[/card]
2. [card]Giant Spider[/card]
3. [card]Trollhide[/card]
4. [card]Garruk’s Companion[/card]
5. [card]Llanowar Elves[/card]
6. [card]Lurking Crocodile[/card]
7. [card]Runeclaw Bear[/card]
8. [card]Stampeding Rhino[/card]

Black

Black is the weakest color, and the problem is that the abilities of its common creatures compare badly to those of other colors. And it is not just that their abilities are weaker, if you look at the other colors you can simply take better creatures for the mana cost. Compared to M11, the efficiency of M12’s black removal spells has also declined. [card]Doom Blade[/card] is strong as ever, but the other cards are rather lackluster. To make full use of [card]Consume Spirit[/card] and [card]Drifting Shade[/card] it might be best to take the difficult course of going mono-black, but that would be very hard to adjust to mid-draft.

[card]Sorin’s Thirst[/card] is a new card that shows the features characteristic of today’s black cards. It is powerful to some extent, but the mana restrictions are harsh and casting it is difficult. Comparing it to [card]Shock[/card] is very unfavorable. Players competing for the color are numerous because it seems strong. But your competition will have a problem too: black has many powerful cards but most are uncommon or higher. As a result, you must always be on the lookout for someone abruptly picking up the color. Black has the opposite problem of green. Because some of black’s cards are powerful it is currently very popular, and finding the cards you need in a draft is more difficult.

In an eight person draft having three players in black is a reasonable number, but I think draft players generally recognize that it is good to aim for having two players in the color. At any rate, right now it is a tough color to get involved in.

1. [card]Doom Blade[/card]
2. [card]Gravedigger[/card]
3. [card]Sorin’s Thirst[/card]
4. [card]Wring Flesh[/card]
5. [card]Devouring Swarm[/card]
6. [card]Consume Spirit[/card]
7. [card]Child of Night[/card]
8. [card]Mind Rot[/card]

These are my general impressions of M12 draft, and I would like it if you would see my rankings only as a reference. In reality you need to be conscious of your mana curve and there is the question of taking cheaper spells and of course uncommons and rares. Additionally, in order to keep picking cards from one color it is likely that you will be taking inferior cards. Because it is difficult to take away the overall pick order from my commentary on the qualitative differences between the colors, I have ranked what I believe to be the fifteen best commons below. I think that this is a good reference to examine the differences between the colors.

It would make me happy if you would assist me with your own draft theory and card comparison impressions. Until next time, thank you for reading.

Top 15 M12 Commons

1. [card]Gideon’s Lawkeeper[/card]
2. [card]Merfolk Looter[/card]
3. [card]Gorehorn Minotaurs[/card]
4. [card]Doom Blade[/card]
5. [card]Pacifism[/card]
6. [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card]
7. [card]Incinerate[/card]
8. [card]Blood Ogre[/card]
9. [card]Arachnus Web[/card]
10. [card]Shock[/card]
11. [card]Chasm Drake[/card]
12. [card]Stormfront Pegasus[/card]
13. [card]Assault Griffin[/card]
14. [card]Skywinder Drake[/card]
15. [card]Gravedigger[/card]

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