52 FNMs – Standard Deviation

My first ever Draft ever was triple-Invasion. I did not know what I was doing. The regulars at Area 51—my local game store at the time—tried the best they could to explain Limited to me, but since I was eleven years old, it just wasn’t happening. Even then, I had the distinct feeling that at some point in the proceedings, they all just tacitly admitted to each other, “All right, guys. Explaining this to this particular person is a lost cause at this point. Let’s just get this Draft started.” If the fact that I was eleven didn’t already give it away, the guy I was feeding in packs one and three was in for quite the roller coaster ride that day; he played the part well, freaking out every time I passed him cards in some form or another.

By the end of the Draft, I was just holding a bunch of cards, most of which did not share colors. I could not have made a deck out of them if I tried. I lost four straight games and did absolutely nothing in all of them before resigning myself to thinking that Limited was stupid for the next three years or so.

Fast forward to 2007. I’m at my first ever Grand Prix, GP: Massachusetts. Not GP: Boston, GP: Massachusetts. They called it Grand Prix: Massachusetts because it was in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, which is out in the middle of nowhere. The venue was also out in the middle of nowhere. On that weekend, Kenji Tsumura and Gabe Walls probably smoked about twelve packs of cigarettes between them, and I probably inhaled a full cigarette over the course of the weekend just walking past them to go outside.

I was a senior in high school then, and my birthday had just passed, which meant I had a lot of money to blow. After scrubbing out of the main event at 1–3 (it was Two-Headed Giant Time Spiral/Planar Chaos Limited, in case you were curious), I drafted. And drafted. And drafted. It was my first taste of what I thought was freedom; when presented with the choice of either another Draft or going back up to my room that smelled like a locker room that had five other dudes in it, the choice was easy: keep drafting.

I would figure out on my own much, much later, that it wasn’t the freedom I loved, it was the degeneracy of it all. At eighteen years old, that’s totally fine. At twenty-three (my current age), it’s probably not so good to still be romanticizing.

My best memory of that weekend is coming back to the hotel at five in the morning for a nap—the Junior Super Series qualifier started at eleven, after all—and seeing a bunch of fellow Ithaca, NY bros drafting in the lavish hotel lobby (it was a pretty nice hotel). As I sat down, some guy none of us had ever seen before came up to us with a knapsack full of beers and said, “Hey, do ya’ll want these? I’m going to bed,” and then left a bag full of bottles of cold Bud Lights with us. The then-president of the Games Club of the Ivy League school in Upstate New York where we all played Magic at on Friday night passed a beer to everyone at the table, and when he handed one to me, his exact words to me were, “How old are you? Oh, fuck it; just be cool, okay?”

Somehow, the bag full of beer ended up at my feet. I looked across the lobby, past the fake tree branches in my face, past the stupid fake koi pond, at the desk clerk. He was clearly just trying not to fall asleep.

I had turned eighteen a scant two weeks before, and now I had a bag full of free beers at my feet, it was five o’clock in the morning, and I was drafting in the middle of a quasi-gazebo in a hotel lobby in Nowheresville, Massachusetts.

Nightshade Assassin
I was wide awake.

I cracked another beer.

And another.

And another.

And by the time my forty-fifth card was picked, I was four beers deep with a complete mess on my hands. I don’t remember it at all, but I’m sure it all started with a first-picked Nightshade Assassin over Errant Ephemeron (classic power move). It of course ended with me having yet another B/R turd of a deck on my hands. I drafted that deck a lot.

Having not eaten anything in the last ten hours, the alcohol had caught up to me. I remember that I had Islands in my deck as proxies for Swamps, but I kept forgetting about it, as I kept asking, “WHO PUT ALL THESE ISLANDS IN HERE?” as the sun came up. All in all, it was a pretty fun weekend.

Cube Draft is strange to me. It was at that Grand Prix where I saw a bunch of people Rotisserie drafting a foiled-out Cube—with power and everything—just laid out on the table. I distinctly remember the light in passerby Shuhei Nakamura’s brain go on as he identified just what was happening; as soon as he did, he went into a fit of giggles, which totally endeared him to me, because at that point, all the American pros didn’t actually like Magic (this is not how it is now), and it was nice to see someone who took the game so seriously react so viscerally to a casual iteration of it.

I still can’t really figure out Cube drafting. There are a lot of schools of thought:

  • Prioritize lands and other mana-fixing and just take every good card you see. The lack of synergies will (you hope) be offset by how powerful your cards are.
  • Force mono-red and be the fun police, crushing all your opponents’ forty-card Commander decks because HOW DARE THEY WANT TO JUST HAVE FUN WITH THIS.
  • “Welcome to the Cube” Draft—it’s just a regular Cube Draft but no one wears pants. A relatively unheard-of variant of Cube drafting that, legend has it, originated in a hotel room in Montreal.
  • Draft reanimator and just hope you can get the Krosan Grip or Null Rod for opponents’ graveyard hate.
  • Stay open and flexible and adapt to what comes.

Speaking of Cube drafting . . .

Bret Weed and Adam Barnello’s Cube, that fourteen of us drafted from in two separate seven-man pods, can be found here.

Yes, for Friday Night Magic last week, Cloud City set up Cube drafting, and since I was looking for basically any reason to not play Standard, I jumped on it.

Recurring Nightmare
A fourth-pick Recurring Nightmare put me on my path pretty early, and after being passed a bunch of fatties, I never looked back. The Bazaar of Baghdad wheeled. All in all, the deck turned out pretty well if I do say so myself. I usually try to force mono-red in Cube; the way I draft normal sets is I become really good at one archetype and then force it over and over. However, I’m just not that good at Cube drafting, so forcing a deck doesn’t make much sense to me.

It didn’t occur to me until way later that Enlisted Wurm actually sucks in my deck (cascade doesn’t trigger when you reanimate it) and that it should instead be the Krosan Grip I had in my sideboard.

I hate this part.

This is the part where I’m supposed to talk at you about Magic. Where I’m supposed to use plays from the FNM to show you how two decks interact with each other. However, I find that this type of analysis is more or less wasted on a Cube Draft event. I did manage to glean a few things from the Draft, though.

Liliana's Shade
I think I am not-so-secretly in love with bringing a competitive attitude to a casual format. For example, I’m in an Magic 2013 league right now that runs every Tuesday night at 6:30 P.M. As far as I know, every Magic League works a bit differently, so I’ll explain how the one I’m in works:

Week one, we all chose a different Magic 2013 intro pack, and we were handed those intro packs. As you may know, the Magic 2013 intro packs come with two Magic 2013 boosters, so there was a quick deck-building period during which to add the contents of those boosters to our decks however we chose, followed by a four-round tournament with our new decks. Every successive week, we get to add one booster pack to the deck however we choose. Extra cards and our decks stay in a four-hundred-count box, which stays at the store at the end of the night. We’re not allowed to add other cards we own or trade with other people’s card pools, and the rest of our card pool serves as our sideboard.

I started off with the W/B deck. Here’s my current list in case you were curious:

In case you’re lazy like I am, the change I’ve made after three packs (the first two, plus last week’s pack) are as follows:

Captain's Call
−1 Swamp
−1 Blood Reckoning
−1 Ring of Xathrid
−2 Duskmantle Prowler
−1 Walking Corpse
−1 Warclamp Mastiff
−1 Zombie Goliath

+1 Mind Rot
+1 Captain's Call
+1 Pacifism
+1 Servant of Nefarox
+1 Mark of the Vampire
+1 Dark Favor
+1 Angelic Benediction
+1 Liliana's Shade

Last week, I boarded out the Dark Favor for the surprisingly solid Blood Reckoning in every match but one, and I’ve been destroyed by Hissing Miasma enough times in Ravnica Limited to put it back in my starting sixty. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised to find that even at 1 mana more, Hissing Miasma is still a good enough curve-topper in an aggro deck that has a tough time pushing those last five points of damage through. It really excels in this particular format because there are no board sweepers, and since you’re the aggro deck, even if an opponent does manage to stabilize, he can’t just crack back and kill you before you just make more creatures than he does and get there.

Talrand's Invocation
Yeah, the asshole in me enjoys taking these casual things really seriously. I think about my league deck and that particular format quite a bit. Quick capsule review of our Maigc 2013 league: It’s wrong to think of the decks as strictly Limited or Constructed; I am of the belief that precons are on a slightly different axis altogether, and that that has to be taken into account when evaluating cards. For example, Xathrid Gorgon is unplayable in Constructed and pretty good in Limited, but in Maigc 2013 league, it’s a necessary card to play because if both players’ draws are at all comparable, the games are just completely grindy; its activated ability is surprisingly relevant and has won me more than one game in two weeks.

If I could do it all again, I’d pick the U/R deck. Talrand, Sky Summoner, Talrand's Invocation, Mindclaw Shaman, Archaeomancer, and Switcheroo all lap the format so efficiently that playing against the deck is more of a frustrating joke than anything.

Applying instincts of high competition to Cube Draft was a little harder for me because I just haven’t been exposed to Cube enough to see how to feel out a Draft. The games were fun enough, though.

Round 1 – Jason Corrigan

Game 1 started off with a bang, as my Wall of Omens and Wild Mongrel stared down his Wall of Blossoms and Phyrexian Metamorph, which was a clone of a Wall of Blossoms. After he Harmonized and followed that up with Regrowth for Harmonize and Harmonized, I Thoughtseized him and saw:

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Rude Awakening
Breeding Pool

He was off the red to play Demonfire, so I took the Jace, the Mind Sculptor. From there, I died to Rude Awakening after forgetting how much it cost. I won the next game with a Grim Tutor for Bazaar of Baghdad, and it was on to Game 3.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they went back to printing real locations and referring to real things in Magic cards? Everyone loves those APAC lands; they should do something like that again. Just sayin’. END ASIDE

I thought I had Game 3 locked up after a turn-two Sundering Titan (in related news: BAZAAR OF BAGHDAD WHEELED IN MY DRAFT), but Jason fought through it by making land drops and eventually sticking a Sundering Titan of his own—via Phyrexian Metamorph. Bret Weed came up to watch just in time to wonder why I wasn’t casting the Makeshift Mannequin in my hand. I didn’t play it until I drew my fifth land, at which point Bret pointed out that Makeshift Mannequin actually costs 4, not 5. I mumbled something like, “It’s been a long time since Lorwyn Limited,” and I targeted a Duplicant with it, sealing the game.


Round 2 – Robin Janik

Lorescale Coatl
I don’t remember much about this round other than that Robin played very deliberately because it was his first Cube Draft, while I sat there practically bouncing out of my chair like a retarded rhesus monkey because I am a child. Another “fun” thing that happened was when Robin controlled Lorescale Coatl and Sylvan Library at the same time; when he went to put 3 counters on his Lorescale Coatl, I insisted on looking up the Oracle wording of Sylvan Library, protests of onlookers be damned.

Me: [pulls up Oracle wording on phone, reads first line] See! That’s not right! [reads entire Oracle wording of Sylvan Library]  . . . WHAT.

/tosses phone in disgust

Oh yeah, and I won 2–1.


Round 3 – Carl Dillahay

For all the articles about how getting a good night’s sleep is paramount to winning a Magic tournament, I’ll just say that Carl smashed me in two games straight and left Syracuse for StarCityGames: Buffalo at about 9:30 P.M., which means he probably got in at a little after midnight if he drove real fast. And then he won the whole thing the next day, which just goes to show: If you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

And yeah, I realize I spoiled the ending for you, but Carl’s deck was sick; on top of perfect mana, here were some of the hits from his deck:

Tooth and Nail
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Sun Titan
Fauna Shaman
Karmic Guide
Loyal Retainers
Imperial Recruiter

I did not come very close to winning any of the games. In Game 1, I kept a bad hand and was rolled. In Game 2, I had him on the ropes, and on his last turn to live, he ripped Tooth and Nail for the win with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Pestermite. BOOOOO.


See you next week for some Standard!

Jon Corpora
Pronounced Ca-pora