Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Trying to Take Control With Esper and Azorius

With the November season in the books I started the December season with a new Esper control deck I found on the internet and wanted to try.

This deck required a lot of rares to craft (mostly those dual lands) but I had hopes that this would work out and I could learn about the ins and out of control decks more intimately.

It did not go well.

After 23 matches I had a 26% win rate, 6 wins, 17 losses.

I'm pretty sure the problem is me and not the meta. There are a lot of decision points with a deck like this: when do I wipe the board, when do I hold off for a counter spell, do I counter this spell or that one? So many decisions and so many chances to do the wrong thing.

Against aggro decks I seemed to get down to low life before I got enough mana to take control and against other control decks I was simply out played. But there is some good news; I started off 2-13 and then went 4-4 so it was getting better.

I decided to switch to an Azorius control deck as I hoped it would be simpler to learn how to use and I didn't have any rares left to craft something in other colour pairing really. it has a number of similarities to the Esper control deck with Teferi and counter spells but the win condition is based on the Agent of Treachery and Mass Manipulation instead of Liliana.

I've gone 7-11 with it, slightly better with a 39% win rate but still not enough to climb any ranks. I'm still running into the same issues: aggro decks getting me before I can take control and control decks out-controlling me.

Still, I'm going to give it the old college try because its a good learning experience and I have no more rares to craft anything else.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Surprising Climb

A few weeks ago I was lamenting how my efforts at climbing the ladder in Standard Constructed for November's season was not working:
Its amazing how quickly the meta shifts in Magic the Gathering. Just a little while ago I was celebrating getting to Platinum Standard Ranked with my mono black deck and now I'm getting beat around the face like no one's business, languishing in Gold 3 and 4.
 That was back on Nov 5 and I stuck with the deck for another week to give it time and see if it could bounce back (or if I could play it better more accurately) but while I climbed to the cusp of Gold 2 I could not bridge the gap.

I decided to try something else on Nov 13, switching from the mono-black deck centered around Ayara and Liliana to a Rakdos Sacrifice deck that leaned heavily into the Cauldron Familiar/Witch's Oven combo.

At first it did not seem to make a difference, falling all the way down to one loss from back in Silver. It seemed like I was facing nothing but control decks based around Doom Foretold and Fires of Invention! By the middle of the month I had written the season off as I had very few rare wildcards to draft with and was getting very frustrated so I decided just to ride it out and plan for December.

And then something strange started to happen. I started to win more. I don't know if the meta shifted so I saw fewer control decks, or if I relaxed after giving up so I played tighter, or my luck of the draw changed, or some combination of all three but I began climbing from the bottom of Gold IV and after a few days was hitting Gold 2 and 1.

"Maybe I will get back to Platinum this month," I thought, and sure enough, I did.
Highlight is Rakdos Sacrifice deck.
So my original goal of getting to Platinum 2 is back on the table!

About the deck: the base engine of Cat -> Oven is what this deck is built on. They are both one mana to cast and operate without further mana investment, pinging the opponent for 1 each turn and gaining me 1 life in return. And it operates at instant speed so if someone tries to kill the cat early, I can simply remove it myself and bring it back later.

Everything else in the deck is gravy. Mayhem Devil can deal a lot of extra damage if left unchecked, Cavalier of Night and Rankle can beat down as well as trim the herd on the other side of the board, Reaper of Night is value add with some draw cards, and my spells are around removal to make sure I don't die until they do.

Biggest threats to this deck besides bad luck on the draw are decks with tools to remove the Oven and control decks with lots of counter spells. A particularly bad matchup is against the Esper control deck making rounds that uses Doom Foretold to slowly clear the board and take apart my engine and then cripple me with Ethereal Absolution.

I'm going to ride this deck out to the end of the month and see if Plat 2 is reachable in 5 days. Next month, maybe back to mono black with Cat Oven and Ayara?

Friday, November 15, 2019

Limited Success

While my woes in Standard Ranked continue and this season is a write off for the most part, let's talk about Limited Draft.

I love doing drafts, either in Arena or in person. The thrill of opening a pack and seeing what's there, finding bombs, building a deck... it all appeals to me in a visceral way. The first sets I really understood what was going on and what I was doing (largely thanks to Limited Resources podcast) was War of the Spark, and the base set of M20 followed thereafter and in both of those I had moderate success.

But then Throne of Eldraine drafting started and... wow... I did not do so well.

There is someone about Throne of Eldraine that flummoxes my drafting. I know the card values, I know the deck archetypes, I know about drafting the hard way versus easy way, but for the first 9 drafts I struggled to get to 3 wins before the third loss. I never felt this bad in the previous two.

But then I got my first 6 win deck which bolstered my morale, and a few drafts later another 6-3 deck and my average in Eldraine started to look less like a disaster. Still didn't run the full 7 wins though...

That brings us to my latest draft. I pay the gold, open Pack 1 and see that smirking bastard, Oko:

Right then, that's an easy first pick! I continue on, selected other blue and green cards for what I think will be a Simic Food deck.

But there is a problem: the green cards are not coming to me. One of the 7 bots is cutting my green cards and leeching my card pool! I opened pack 2 looking for a good card to complement Oko but saw Robber of the Rich, and I wasn't changing lanes for that. But on the other hard, Merfolk Secret Keeper and Didn't Say Please kept showing up, and the bot cutting my green cards continued to, well, cut my green cards!

By the end of two packs I had this card pool going on:

In pack 3 (pick 2 no less) I did manage to score Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig but the rest of the cards continued to be scarce on good green cards. So I was left at the end of the drafting with a conundrum: Green-Blue, Blue splashing green, or go full on mill deck Mono Blue?

How can you even consider NOT using Oko, you ask? I mean, he is a super bomb and voted most likely to get banned from Standard next week. But...... I didn't have the cards to support him in the Simic food deck where he shines best. I decided reluctantly to cut him (*gasp*) and go pure mono blue:

With 5 Merfolk Secret Keepers, a Lucky Charm, 3 Didn't Say Please counter spells, I felt pretty good I could mill consistently and score some wins.

And boy did it ever! I went 7-1 with only one fast RW aggro deck killing me when he had 2 cards left in his library. There were a couple other close games but the milling always won out in time.

Sorry Oko, maybe next time.

Post Script: So that Oko I drafted, mythic rare? I had one already from the Renewal gift when set rotation happened, so this was my second copy of the card. And in the packs I got for winning this draft? I opened a THIRD Oko! You know what this means, right? Guaranteed banning incoming...

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Back to the Drawing Board

Its amazing how quickly the meta shifts in Magic the Gathering. Just a little while ago I was celebrating getting to Platinum Standard Ranked with my mono black deck and now I'm getting beat around the face like no one's business, languishing in Gold 3 and 4.
Not Climbing The Ladder :(
The big issue is that when Field of the Dead was banned, decks around Oko, The Thief of Crowns started to dominate the format, typically in green ramp decks that overwhelmed the opponent and turned their best pieces into 3/3 Elk tokens.
Oko Oh No!
The meta shifted in response to this with more focus on controlling decks, either based around something like Esper Doom Foretold or Fires of Invention enchantments. There is also a fair number of Red and Gruul aggro decks.

My black mono decks, both last season's version and my new one based around Ayara and Midnight Reaper/Liliana Dreadhorde General, do decently against those aggro decks, but the Oko and control decks are very difficult for me to deal with because they have the tools to dismantle parts of my engine fairly easily in the midgame and then overwhelm me with big powerful spells/creatures in the late game.

Look at my stats:

Doesn't look too bad in the matchups, right? Yeah, the Simic is crushing me but everything else is ok...

OMG OUCH! A lot of those decks are really similar Fires of Invention variants which are dragging me down from a win rate of 63% last season to 55% this season, hence the stalled at Gold 3/4 tier.

So I'm going back to the drawing board, just not sure if I'm going to ride the rest of this season out and try again fresh next one, or craft some sort of deck that can get me over the hump.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Reanimating Reanimator

On October 9th I posted about trying out a Reanimator deck:
I started to get interested in net-decking a UB reanimator deck when my best friend pointed me at his Grixis reanimator deck on his Untapped profile. This deck is massively different from anything I've tried before, including trying to run with three colours, but my friend is really smart and good at MtG so I copied his deck list into Arena and spent my stored up wildcards to craft the necessary cards. (Lucky for me I already had three Drakuseth cards in my collection because "hey big dragon!".)
It was quite a mind bender at first, trying to figure out what to discard, when to surveil, how to survive, what lands I needed when, etc but after 12 games in regular play I felt I had gotten the knack of it, so I'm going to try this deck out in Standard Ranked to see if it can help propel me higher than Gold.

But things didn't work out and I ended up going with Mono-black deck to get to platinum:
Last week I talked about how I was going to use my friend's Grixis Reanimator deck to try and climb the standard ranked ladder. It started out ok and I climbed into high silver but then stalled and fell a little. Basically, in many game I had a lot of trouble making all the moving pieces get into the right place before I died: Bond of Revival in hand, Drakuseth or Agent of Treachery in the graveyard, mana to cast it... and even if all the pieces were ready one kill spell or counter spell could spell my ruin. Don't get me wrong; when it works, it works really really well at turning games around, but lacking any life gain or ways to handle big creatures while I set up was severely hurting me. I tried some minor modifications but didn't really help the major weakness: just too slow to get going most of the time.

Since I made the goal last week I've been experimenting with new decks and really trying to find that sweet spot with a Reanimator deck focusing around my favourite dragon Drakuseth, and his constant companion Agent of Treachery.

This deck is where we left off. I had exchanged the Merchant of the Vale for the Murderous Rider for the kill/lifegain combo in hopes of giving me more time to get the Drakuseth/Bond of Revival going, but it made little difference.

 This deck goes straight Blue Black so no chance on casting Drakuseth right from the hand as a last resort, but beefs up with more creatures like Fae of Wishes, Brazen Borrower, Tomebound Lich, and the Doom Whisperer. This deck could survive longer with all the creatures while searching and discarding to set up the reanimating coup de grace, but I found it too slow at times and limited in discard ability. The Fae of Wishes seemed like a good idea but more often than not was too slow to fetch anything useful from the sideboard (usually Unmoored Ego).

 This was my attempt to speed up the setup by adding two Discovery cards which Surveils 2 and then draws a card.

The Doom Whisperer is nice with the built in pay 2 life to surveil 2, as well as being a threat as a 6/6 Trample-Flyer (sometimes reanimating him from the graveyard was game winning enough), but I felt he was competing with Drakuseth too much and exchanged him out for our favourite prankster, Rankle. He can attack two turns sooner than Doom Whipsy because he has haste, gives me an option to discard a card if he hits the other player, and can force a creature sacrifice. I also traded out some creatures for Cry of the Carnarium to give me from respite from small creatures overwhelming me early. In the end, though, these decks still seemed too slow to get to where I needed to be: reanimating Darkuseth to sweep the field and force the enemy to concede.

Some other decks I looked at included this one that went back to spells to hold the enemy off and left out Agent of Treachery altogether.

And this one that used Niv-Mizzet to push to the goal as a card draw / discard as well as big creature. Very interesting was that Bond of Insight spell which puts 4 cards in the graveyard and then lets me take two Sorcery/Instant cards to my hand from the graveyard.

I didn't have the wildcards to make those decks happen though but I took some of the ideas and combined them to create this current deck:

It looks more like where I started with the Ritual of Soot and Legion's End cards, very useful for surviving the early game along with Cry of the Carnarium, but with added Bond of Insight and Connive/Concoct cards. The former helps with the setup of the graveyard and finding Bond of Revival, while the latter either helps me survive by stealing a creature, or can be used like a slower Bond of Revival reanimation when I need it. After all, Agent of Treachery's big pay off is simply entering the battlefield.

I've got the Tomebound Lich as a possible replacement for the Merchant of the Vale as a creature with draw and discard functionality in the sideboard. I really liked this creature for the defensive ability of the deathtouch, but didn't like how I was forced to draw and discard when he enters the battlefield and attacks. Sometimes I'm happy with my cards, you know? So we will see how it goes from here first.

This current iteration is 3-1 in four quick play games, not enough for a strong indication of how well its working but I'm hopeful. We will see how it goes.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Reaching for Platinum

Last week I posted about the Mono-Black mid-range deck I got from the Arena Boys at Channel Fireball and how it started to lift me from Silver to Gold in Standard Ranked Best of One games.

After the shocking 9-1 start to rocket out of Silver last week the win rate settled to a still impressive ~75% as I climbed through Gold 4 and was well on my way to Platinum on the weekend... or so I thought.

I was three wins into Gold 1, only two wins from Platinum on Sunday and then I went 2-2. Just a hiccough I thought. Then for the last three days I went 5-10, a dismal 33% win rate. I was frustrated. I thought this deck was going to get me to my goal of Platinum this season but it looked like that was not to be. I started looking at other options, deck from the Mythic Championship and other decks on Channel Fireball posts, but most of them required a lot of Rare and Mythic Rare cards I didn't have, and didn't have the wildcards for crafting them as I spent quite a few on this current deck.

Why did the win rate change so suddenly? I'm not sure. Maybe it was the ban announcement on Field of the Dead to cripple Golos/Field of the Dead decks so a bunch of people abandoned those decks for more aggro focused decks and Simic food decks? Or maybe I was just facing higher caliber players at this level now? Or was it a combination of bad luck and bad play from becoming tilted?

Last night I logged in deciding to accept that Gold 1 might be the high water mark for me this season (it was still a personal best after all) and just enjoy playing while I planned for next season's climb. I won 1... and lost 2. Then won 3 in a row... and lost 1. That put me two wins in on Gold 1. Then I won the next 4, including a 14 minute slugfest against a UBW planeswalker control deck! YES! Platinum 4 baby!

Needless to say I'm pleased as punch and ready for next season to improve on this season. Here are some stats and final thoughts on this Mono Black Midrange deck.

The final win rate was 63% (50 wins, 29 losses) and had a statistical advantage going first. The best match ups were anything that was aggro based creatures: mono red, mono black, knights tribal, mono blue mill decks and things in a similar vein.

The worst match-ups were decks that had a better long range plan than I did, or could get the pieces into place before I could get my best combos going. Going against Simic Food was a nightmare as they weathered any early or mid game push fairly soundly and had an endgame that was just punishing.

My deck had two main win conditions. The first was the Arya + Dread Presence combo that levels incidental damage through swamps and creatures entering the battlefield, especially when Arya could recycle the recurring Gutterbones and Sanitarium Skeletons. This win condition worked well in slow games where the opponent didn't have a lot of removal and/or big creatures.

The second win condition was basically beat-down from Cavalier of Night on the ground and Rankle in the air. Since they both had built in removal it worked really well against decks that needed creatures, and worked best in games that were moving faster.

And if I managed to get  both win conditions going at the same time, it was game over for my opponent.

However, that being said, the struggles I've had this past few days have demonstrated a weakness to this deck. Both win conditions need multiple pieces to be in place to pull it off: Arya or Dread Presence is not enough on their own to complete the deed usually, nor can Rankle or the Cavalier overwhelm the opponent by themselves. And one piece from each is usually insufficient as well: Rankle and Arya are both competing for sacrifices for their effects for example, and one or the other is negated somehow.

The upshot of this weakness is that if the cards don't cooperate this deck needs time to get rolling and the decks it is weakest against are decks that also need time to get rolling but have a bigger long range payoff. The 50% win rate versus the Golos-FotD deck is a microcosm of this issue: I needed to get the engine rolling and win before they could start creating fields of zombies.

So this feels like a hybrid mid-range / aggro deck. It needs to win before the long game. I think this is why it works very well against aggro decks: it has the wherewithal to survive the initial blitz quite well and dominate in the mid to late game. And useless against Simic Food where the long game engine was far more powerful and resilient.

In summary: decent deck, I'll keep it around as my gold standard that I compare other decks too for the time being (or should I say, platinum standard?).

Monday, October 21, 2019

Drafting Disappointment

Last night I got together with friends to do an actual Throne of Eldraine Limited Draft! I was so excited! Here's how we did it: there was four of us, we each go four packs (not three as per usual), opened one, draft a card, pass around. After four rounds we had ~56 cards to make a 40 card deck (basic lands free of course). Then we played each other in a Best of 3 match.

After all the games were played, we will put all the rares and alternate art cards back in a pool and take turns picking them with the winner picking first, second going second, etc.

I have never drafted with real people so it was a very different experience compared to drafting against 7 Arena bots. For one thing, with only 3 other people the cards wheeling around a lot faster, and there was definitely a feeling of what the other people were picking that I did not feel online.

I started off drafting a blue rare, Midnight Clock, not because I wanted it but mainly because I was afraid of what my friend Andrew could do with it. Bad start already. Then I settled into Green and White cards for the first pack and a half but at Pack 3 I was faced with a Murderous Rider and had a couple decent black cards already so I starting snapping up black cards. The question because was I going Green White, Green Black, or Black White?

Then I drew Wintermoor Commander followed by Resolute Rider, I knew I had found my signpost. Black White Knights it is!

My deck was basically aggro based on Knight tribal synergies and recurring them from the graveyard using Barrow Witches and Forever Young, and a smattering of removal from In a Tower and Bake Into A Pie. I felt pretty good overall.

Boy, was I mistaken.

My first match was against Ben who was sporting an artifact/food deck, splashing in Grumgully who made his creatures bigger. First game did not go well, but second game I got my enchantments going and beat him down before he setup. In the tiebreaker, I was pushing hard but a Cauldron Familiar gave him enough life to hold on and win with 1 life point left. I probably screwed that up by attacking aggressively at the end when a slower approach might have been better, but it was that kind of night.

Next match was against Aaron and his Black Blue flyers/control deck. First game he easily beat me with more fliers in the air than I could stop, second game I got more creatures going but he still tied me up and beat me. We had time for a third match and this time my enchantment combo showed up in full force and I beat him down.

Finally I faced Andrew who had defeated Aaron and Ben in the previous rounds. He was sporting a White Red aggro knights deck with lots of combat tricks. First game my deck was doing what it was supposed to with lots of recurring knights but he had the mythic rare Outlaw's Merriment was just insane. Every upkeep, he just gets a new creature. Life, for free. I was able to get him down to four life but he kept getting the Clerics with lifelink and just boosted his health back up to 12. Eventually he just overwhelmed me.

How is that a card?!?!

Next game I never got going as my deck just gave up and he rolled over me.

At the end of the night I was offically 1-6 and by far the bottom of the ranking. Very disappointing.

We put the rares and alternate art back in the middle and picked them in the order of Andrew, Ben, Aaron, and me. I ended up with Clackbridge Troll, Resolute Rider, Lochmere Seprent, and alternate art Foulmire Knight.

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