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Recurring Nightmares – It’s a League Game, Smokey

This week marked the first week of a new series of events at one of the local gaming stores in my area—an M13 weekly league. This is a casual event, catering more toward fun and camaraderie than fierce competition. Here, you’ll be awarded for participation as well as success in match play, and while the cream will generally rise to the top, the playing field is as even as it gets.

Because I was looking for something to break me out of the doldrums of summer core set Limited, and any excuse to play Magic is a good one, I signed myself up. Hopefully this goes a little better than the time I decided to join a bowling league (I think I made it three weeks into that season. Don’t tell the guys I stiffed for my league fees!).

The basic premise of league play, for those of you not familiar with the concept as it pertains to Magic, is as follows.

Week one, each player chooses an intro pack of their liking, which comes with a 60-card preconstructed deck and two booster packs. These cards comprise your entire collection for the purposes of the league. Using the two packs and the precon, you build a 60-card deck and play an event with it. Your remaining collection becomes your sideboard.

At the end of each week, you put your deck and the rest of your league collection into a labeled box which remains at the store. This is intended to ensure that no one will add other cards to their collection.

Each week, players who are in the league are given a booster pack to add to their collection. They are given a set amount of time to adjust their decks before play begins. At this point, they can add, remove, and swap cards from their league collection into their deck.

With each week’s contributions to their card pool, the decks could get better, or could simply stay the same—it all depends on the luck of the cracks, and the deckbuilding skill of the player.

Our M13 League will be running for 11 weeks, with prizes given to those players with the best overall records across the span of the league, kept track of by match wins and participation points.

The decklists for the intro packs can be found here.

Each of the intro packs have cards that draw you to them, although they are ostensibly even in power level.

Path to Victory, the [card]Odric, Master Tactician[/card] deck, is a white weenie-style build, splashing blue for fliers and a few tricks. Aside from the Odric, which is a surefire bomb in this environment, the attractive cards to me are [card]Arctic Aven[/card], [card]Attended Knight[/card], [card]Serra Angel[/card], and [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]. These cards are all limited powerhouses, and at least on paper, this format seems to trend much more toward Limited than Constructed for the first few weeks.

Depths of Power, the [card]Talrand, Sky Summoner[/card] deck, was a frontrunner for the deck I would choose, as I’ve already witnessed the power Talrand has in a deck that’s capable of casting a bunch of instants. The UR deck has plenty of tricks and removal, and also sports a pair of [card]Talrand’s Invocation[/card]—the closest this format gets to playing [card]Lingering Souls[/card]. I was underwhelmed by the [card]Stormtide Leviathan[/card] in this deck, however, and believe that you’d need to crack another impressive rare to keep up with the high end of the other decks.

Sole Domination was the clear favorite of the group, to the point where the store was concerned they wouldn’t have enough of the deck to go around. Between the aggressive curve of exalted creatures, the unconditional removal, the [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card], and the [card nefarox, overlord of grixis]Nefarox[/card] bomb, there was a lot to gain from this deck for a new collection. However, I felt that between the miserable mirror match (which appeared to be more common than others) and the mediocre additional rares in black you had to look forward to in the coming weeks, that this was not my bag of tricks.

Mob Rule, the [card]Krenko, Mob Boss[/card] Goblin deck, was fairly unpopular in our group, with only one or two players out of the 23 participants choosing it. One player who did, Joe, said that his intention was to cut nearly all the green and play the deck as mono-red Goblins when he had the ability to do so. He was pretty unsuccessful, as his packs were uncooperative and gave him very little to work with. Personally, this deck was never in the mix for me, as despite its excellent removal, it doesn’t offer very powerful creatures, and you’d quickly find yourself outclassed by the better threats in the other decks.

In the end, I chose Wild Rush, the GB [card]Yeva, Nature’s Herald[/card] deck. While I admit I am currently in a love affair with Yeva, her inclusion in the deck had much less to do with this choice than the trio of [card arbor elf]Arbor Elves[/card] that the deck included. To my eye, the combination of three mana accelerants plus a bunch of fat made the deck appealing, and I felt like it was the sleeper hit of the bunch. Having [card]Acidic Slime[/card] to answer any [card]Pacifism[/card] or [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] effects from the opposition was a boon, as was the inclusion of [card]Rancor[/card], which gave a big leg up on the other aggressive decks. With my selection made, we moved onto the packs.

Here’s what they contained:

White:

[draft]Sublime Archangel
Angel’s Mercy
Aven Squire
Erase
Pacifism[/draft]

Blue:

[draft]Talrand, Sky Summoner
Mind Sculpt
Tricks of the Trade
Harbor Serpent
Essence Scatter
Encrust
Fog Bank[/draft]

Black:

[draft]Vile Rebirth
Essence Drain
Blood Reckoning
Dark Favor
Sign in Blood
Rise from the Grave[/draft]

Red:

[draft]Chandra’s Fury
Mogg Flunkies
Dragon Hatchling[/draft]

Green:

[draft]Naturalize
Arbor Elf
Vastwood Gorger
Fungal Sprouting
Ranger’s Path[/draft]

Artifact:

[draft]Chronomaton
Ring of Xathrid[/draft]

The obvious place to start is with the rares. [card]Sublime Archangel[/card] is a certified nuclear warhead in an environment like this one. Unfortunately, I’m not in white. [card talrand, sky summoner]Talrand[/card] is good enough to make one of the decks focused entirely on breaking him. Unfortunately, I’m not blue. With those ruled out, we look at the black and green.

[card]Arbor Elf[/card] number four is a giant slam, since it increases our consistency in early plays. The rest of the cards all either exist in the deck already, or simply aren’t impressive enough to warrant inclusion. The same is true of the black cards. While [card]Sign in Blood[/card] is good, it’s hard on the mana in a deck relying on Arbor Elves for acceleration, and a card like [card]Dark Favor[/card] isn’t doing you any favors when you’re already casting bigger threats than the rest of the format. All in all, it was a bit of a whiff.

That said, I looked to see if there was anything truly drawing me to black, or if there were changes that I could make to decrease my reliance on the color, possibly opening up some other avenues. I decided after some reflection that there were enough junkers to allow me to basically splash black—running it only for the removal spells. This let me include a third color (now as my second color, with black as the third), which opens up either [card]Talrand, Sky Summoner[/card] or [card]Sublime Archangel[/card]. Since the deck didn’t run enough real spells to support Talrand, I chose to play the Archangel, even though the white wasn’t as deep as the blue. Here’s the list I ran for round one:

[deck]1 Evolving Wilds
15 Forest
4 Swamp
5 Plains
1 Acidic Slime
4 Arbor Elf
2 Centaur Courser
2 Deadly Recluse
1 Duskdale Wurm
2 Garruk’s Packleader
1 Mwonvuli Beast Tracker
1 Primal Huntbeast
1 Sentinel Spider
2 Spiked Baloth
1 Sublime Archangel
2 Vastwood Gorger
1 Yeva, Nature’s Herald
1 Yeva’s Forcemage
1 Crippling Blight
2 Essence Drain
1 Fungal Sprouting
1 Pacifism
1 Predatory Rampage
1 Prey Upon
2 Public Execution
1 Rancor
2 Ranger’s Path
1 Ring of Kalonia[/deck]

Round 1 – Nick (BW)

Nick was one of the multitude of BW players, who quickly made it apparent that they had chosen much more wisely than I had. He opened with a turn 1 [card]Tormented Soul[/card], following it up with a multitude of cheap exalted creatures, while I made no play until turn 3, and was quickly left for dead. In the matchup between two-mana unblockable guys who attack for five, and the five-mana dorks that get chumped, it’s not a real race.

Our second game found me curving turn 1 [card]Arbor Elf[/card] into turn 2 [card]Arbor Elf[/card], [card]Arbor Elf[/card], into [card]Garruk’s Packleader[/card] and drawing a million cards. The ideal hand, for sure.

Game three was a mulligain to five in an attempt to find a hand without multiple 5+-drops, and unfortunately took on the appearance of game one, as Nick drew a plethora of guys with exactly the same keyword off the top after a turn 1 [card]Tortured Soul[/card].

0-1

It was apparent that this deck suffered from a distinct lack of early game, and although it could go far over the top of the opponent late, this didn’t matter at all if you never got there. I made the following change for the rest of the evening:

-1 [card]Duskdale Wurm[/card] -1 [card]Vastwood Gorger[/card] -1 [card]Forest[/card] +1 [card]Aven Squire[/card] +1 [card]Chronomaton[/card] +1 [card]Plains[/card]

Basically, I desperately needed to lower the curve of the deck, and as the constraints on the manabase increased with the inclusion of the two-drop white creature, had to adjust accordingly. My hope was that these changes would allow me to avoid drawing hands that had no action without an [card]Arbor Elf[/card], and possibly keep up with the faster decks.

Round 2 – Donnie (WU)

Donnie was a very nice gentleman who is exactly the target audience for this type of event. He isn’t a new player, but he’s not so seriously competitive that he’s interested in smashing his creations into the brick wall of the Standard environment every week, either. This type of structure allows enough creativity to enjoy the deckbuilding aspect as a casual player, but also allows you to test your mettle against players with exactly the same type of constraints on their card availability as you. Although we were both down a match, we were in high spirits.

Our first game was an attrition war, where his removal and my threats traded as best as they could, until I managed a board stall with a Spider and a few ground pounders to slow his rush. Unfortunately, this was the time [card]Sublime Archangel[/card] chose to show her face, and she broke the board parity quite well, giving me the win.

Our second game I opened with [card]Chronomaton[/card] into [card]Rancor[/card] and pump, into brick-walling his team until the [card]Chronomaton[/card] was large enough to punch through his defenses. Since my Abyss had trample, it was tough for him to ever recover, and despite gaining a few life with an [card]Arctic Aven[/card], he never quite got back into the game.

1-1

Round 3 – Ryan (GB)

Ryan was also on Yeva, and despite pulling a second [card]Rancor[/card] from his packs, hadn’t gained much else in the mix. His deck actually trumped mine in the late game, as he hadn’t cut his seven-drops.

In our first game, I managed to show him why I cut those seven-drops as I tempo’d him out with small creatures, while he stumbled on lands and was stuck with a hand full of five and six CMC spells. [card]Acidic Slime[/card] played a decent impression of [card]Avalanche Riders[/card], locking him out of black mana.

Game two was a repeat of the second game of round one—except Ryan was the one with trips [card]Arbor Elf[/card]. I couldn’t keep up, and went to game three.

Our deciding game was a struggle as we leveraged for position. An attack from Ryan had me reading him for the [card]Titanic Growth[/card] he’d shown me earlier, but I was surprised by a [card]Public Execution[/card] instead. Fortunately, I had my own Execution to turn his blowout into parity, and although he followed up with an enormous 7/7 (suited with a [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card] and [card]Titanic Growth[/card]’d), I traded it off with a [card]Deadly Recluse[/card], fading a lethal [card]Essence Drain[/card] at 3 life just long enough to take the game and match.

2-1

Round 4 – Tom (UR)

This marks the fourth different deck I played against on the day, which is a good sign for the health of the format. I thought the BW deck would rise to the top, but it appeared there was a good mix, although it was obvious that RJ—who chose the GB deck and cracked [card]Thragtusk[/card] and [card]Disciple of Bolas[/card]—had the clear best deck in the room. Fortunately for all of us, he dropped after round two to get dinner with his wife. Bullet dodged.

Tom’s UR deck blew me out in the least close match of the night. Our first game revolved around his [card]Talrand’s Invocation[/card] Drake being suited up with an on-color [card ring of evos isle]Ring[/card], growing out of the range of my strike force before I could deal with it. Just when I thought the game was in range, he dropped [card stormtide leviathan]Leviathan[/card] to [card]Island Sanctuary[/card] me out of hope.

Our second game was the real heartbreaker—he curved out into double Invocation, with [card]Unsummon[/card] into [card]Archaeomancer[/card] on [card]Unsummon[/card] to bounce my [card]Sentinel Spider[/card] twice—getting in enough damage before I had a way to stop the fliers. My hopes for the 3-1 finish brushed aside like so many cobwebs, I took a 2-2 and went home.

My impression so far is that I chose a deck that isn’t as powerful as some of the other options, but has the potential to become a fierce competitor as the weeks progress. I still believe the ramp strategy can be capitalized on if you get the right cards to make it worthwhile (cough*[card]Thragtusk[/card]*cough), but even some of the uncommons can make it much more appealing, like [card]Acidic Slime[/card]. What I’m hoping for over the next few weeks are good spells that allow me to better solidify myself in two colors, or to better facilitate a splash—such as [card]Farseek[/card] and [card]Evolving Wilds[/card]. The real benefit of base green is the ability to be more flexible in your secondary (and/or tertiary) color, which gives you more options in the long run than some of the other, more overtly powerful colors.

I’ll report back over the coming weeks to let you know how the League advances, and the decks become more refined. We’ve been told there will be some twists along the way to keep things fresh and interesting, which should shake things up enough so that the guys with the luck of the packs don’t run away with the competition. Until then, see if you can encourage your LGS to start something like this up (there’s still plenty of time), or if not for M13, for Return to Ravnica. It’s a fresh take on the boring old core set season, and I encourage you all to give it a shot. You might be surprised at how much fun you’ll find in a pre-con.

Adam
@AdamNightmare

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