Magic: The Gathering: Dragon’s Maze Prerelease

I’ve talked about Magic a bit in the past and I got off my butt again a couple weekends ago and played some. I don’t seem to have written about it at the time, but I played in an M13 pre-release last summer. It was not entirely successful. While I’d watched and learned plenty about limited from Limited Resources, there were a lot of key decisions – how to build a deck in sealed, to when to mulligan, to how to sequence plays – that I was largely unprepared for. It was not a particularly successful experience (at least I opened a Lilliana of the Dark Reams which payed for a good portion of the event). Between my nervousness and my deck (an awkward black-white exalted deck that didn’t have anything on the high end to actually win with, but was too slow to be aggressive) I played really fast, and ended up having to wait a long time between rounds, on a hot day, in an improperly ventilated room. I went 1-3, not including one opponent who didn’t show up for our match (causing further waiting).

But, after having plenty of time to lick my wounds, I got back on the horse for Dragon’s Maze. I went to a different, more welcoming location. I had the guild-packs to guide me through deck-building (I ended up building a super-grindy Golgori-Orzhov deck with very solid removal and late game). And I was more relaxed overall and meticulous in my play. I won some really epic games. I got crushed in a few. I finished in the prizes (just barely, at 3-2-1) and had a lot of fun through the somewhat gruelling seven-plus hour event. So, a success. After the jump, I’ll talk some more about my individual rounds and my deck, mostly just to preserve them in my memory for posterity.

Round 1: Win 2-0 versus Simic/Golgari
I was nervous. I was forgetting draw steps on turns two and three, and coming out of the gates slow. But my opponent’s deck wasn’t as fast as it could have been, or as scary, given his guild combo. Even when I got behind I was able to drop Merciless Eviction and Teysa to take control of and close out games. This was also the first of many times on the that I got hit by discard effects, which I never remembered to play around, but my deck had lots of use for extra mana (even in the longest games, I never ran out of gas), so even if I had thought about it, I may not have played differently. And besides, I won one game this match by discarding a scavenge creature to it.

Round 2: Draw 1-1 versus Gruul/Simic
This is where it came to light just how grind my deck actually was. My opponent dropped an endless stream of huge creatures (including Rurac Thar) but it turns out Dutiful Thrull holds the ground really well and games ground to an absolute halt. In my win, I stabilized with my life in the low single digits, and then ground him out primarily with extort. In my loss, he got ahead and then dropped Molten Primordial and stole my guy for the win. It’s not clear who would have won the rubber match if we hadn’t hit time. I was ahead on life 15-7 and had already dealt with Rurac, but had no attacks, and probably would have had to draw Teysa and have her be unanswered, or very slowly extort him out, and a couple of bloodrush or act of treason or trample effects could have done me very easily.

Round 3: Loss 2-0 versus Rakdos/Boros
In game one, I misplayed and got too aggressive against an early Sunhome Guildmage. Game two I played more conservative, and his draw was slower. I was just hanging on when I dropped Teysa (for the last time on the day) but he immediately drew Dreadbore and that was that.

Round 4: Win 2-1 versus Izzet/Dimir
The only opponent I played against who had counter-magic. He had a Niv Mizzet. He also dropped Woodlot Crawler all three games, which, thanks to Golgari Charm and Stab Wound, I answered all three times, much to his frustration. One game I had a slow start, got blown out by counter-magic, and couldn’t deal with Niv in time. Another game I had Mercilous Eviction right on time to deal with Niv, and ground him out. In the third, he stumbled on colours and I had an aggressive, evasive draw, and won handily.

Round 5: Loss 2-1 versus Golgari/Simic
This guy had all the good evolve creatures, including Croconura to shut me down in the air, and he was splashing red for Ral Zarek, which I didn’t have good answers to. I kept a two-land + key rune hand on the play in Game 1 and didn’t draw a land in five turns. I kept another sketchy hand in game three, and played a stab wound on an Ivy Lane Denizen that went on to destroy me nonetheless when he dropped an endless parade of green creatures.

Round 6: Win 2-0 versus the Golgari/Orzhov mirror
Game one was ridiculous. His plan was Pontiff of Blight plus tons of cheap spells, but I had a Vizkopa Guildmage that he didn’t take out, and thanks to that, six mana and an unanswered flier, I ground out the win. Game two he got the Pontiff out again out again, but had just enough removal at the right times (Stab Wound plus Golgari Decoy to clear his small things, then Devour Flesh on the Pontiff).

Overall, I was very happy with my deck, even if I hadn’t realized just how ridiculously grindy it was going to be when I made it. I had a plentiful and diverse removal suite. I had two scavenge creatures (and both did very useful things) and three extorters. My mana base was not unreasonable – 17 lands, including 2 guildgates, a transguild promenade plus a keyrune – though I could have run 18 lands instead. And I had a solid late-game thanks to cards like Teysa, Vizkopa Guildmage and Underworld Connections. The only things I could have asked for were creatures that helped with fixing or acceleration (a Gatecreeper Vine would have been clutch) and some pump spells, both of which were absent from my pool.

Things I learned: how great it feels to have the answer, like drawing an untapped sixth mana-source with Merciless Eviction in hand on the turn my round three opponent tapped out for Niv Mizzet. How great it feels to have all your colours early – any hand with Transguild Promenade and one other land was awesome. How great Grisly Salvage is – even without getting a lot of straight value by dumping scavengers into my graveyard, it was always a welcome draw, becoming either a vital land or a powerful creature. How nerve-wracking draw-steps become when you are facing down being mana- or colour- screwed. Lastly, sequencing is still really hard. I very often had multiple three-drops in hand, and was unsure of which to go with. I wasn’t sure when it was important to play around removal, or a pump spell, or a counter, or when I couldn’t afford to.

So, to reiterate, it was a fun time. I’m undecided about whether I’m going to start trying drafts, or even MTGO, but I’ll definitely try to at least make it out for another future event, either for M14 or Theros.

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