Magic 2013: First Draft Experience
After a weekend of prerelease events, some friends and I had a chance to draft with the set for the first time. Core sets are not known for being good for booster draft. They have, however, improved in that regard ever since Wizards of the Coast made so many changes three years ago with Magic 2010. Now that Magic’s base set includes completely new cards, it is a much more interesting sandbox to explore. Still, potential draft decks don’t exactly jump out at you when you look at the list of cards in Magic 2013. In the world we just finished drafting, the world of Innistrad and Dark Ascension and Avacyn Restored, there were lots of ready-made directions in which to move. You could be Zombies, you could be Werewolves. In Avacyn Restored you could be white or white/blue flyers or you could try to be the guy that gets all of the black cards.
Diving into my first M13 draft I had no idea what to go for. Lawson, on the other hand, got ahold of a pretty good idea and made the most of it. I thought he would go for a Mill deck, the kid loves him some Mill technology and M13 has plenty of it. To his credit as an ever-evolving Magic player, Lawson went with possibly the most synergistic two color deck available in the new set, black and white exalted.
In Lawson’s deck, the fun starts with Duty-Bound Dead. This card does a lot for a little. Lawson had games where he played Duty-Bound Dead on turn one followed by two more of them on turn two. Then he attacked for three on turn two! This card is for attacking in the early game. You can relax about the expensive activation cost of his regeneration ability. You’ll have the mana to pay for regeneration when it matters most late in the game. By making the regeneration ability expensive, R&D is subtly nudging you into playing the card a bit more aggressively. That’s how I feel about lots of cards that say “this creature must attack each turn if able.” Sometimes this game text isn’t a drawback, its just good strategic advice to newer players that tend to hold their creatures back too often. Duty-Bound Dead is kind of the same. He may look like Drudge Skeleton, but he’s not, this guy is meant to get in there and mix it up until you play something better to attack with.
It’s interesting that while M13 brings back exalted from the Shards of Alara block, it does so in a way that makes M13 Exalted different from Shards Block Exalted. The difference is black and white. That is to say, only black and white have exalted. Shards of Alara, Conflux and Alara Reborn spread the power of exalted throughout the Bant colors; white, blue and green. M13 reprints just a small handful of exalted cards from Shards block, all white, and adds new black and white cards with the mechanic. The goal of exalted hasn’t changed. You still want to attack with just one creature each turn. To make this plan work well, you generally want the single attacker to be as hard to stop as possible. The best way to do that is with evasion. Lawson has the unblockable 1/1 Tormented Soul and the flying 2/2 Bloodhunter Bat. Knight of Glory has both protection from black and exalted. Ideally, he would have Aven Squire or some other white flyers. Lawson wasn’t able to get his paws on any of those, it seems, but he makes up for it by getting plenty of creatures with exalted, nine in all, as well as an enchantment with exalted. Ajani’s Sunstriker doesn’t have evasion, but pumping up this lifelinked Cat Cleric with some exalted triggers is a good way to go. Giant Scorpion is a dangerous creature at any time, but when he gets bigger with Lawson’s other exalted creatures helping him he becomes serious trouble. Any attempt to block a pumped up Giant Scorpion with extra creatures will only result in every blocker taking at least one point of deathtouch damage and being destroyed. Duskmantle Prowler, one of the more interesting completely new creatures with exalted, has haste as well, he attacks as a 3/3 on the turn you play him even without any help from other creatures with exalted. Lawson has two of these Prowlers.
Lawson wants his single attacker, whoever it might be, to be even more powerful, so Lawson includes some power-up creature enchantments such as Dark Favor and multiple copies of Mark of the Vampire. Dark Favor gives the creature it enchants +3/+1, but Mark of the Vampire does a lot more. Mark pumps up the creature it enchants, +2/+2, but also gives the enchanted creature lifelink. Pump-up enchantments and effects were particularly useful in Avacyn Restored because the quality and quantity of creature removal was lower than usual in booster drafts. Magic 2013 is a very different beast, however, and I expect the current format to be a lot less friendly towards creature enchantments. This means that when you try to play Dark Favor and Mark of the Vampire you are more likely to risk your opponent being able to destroy the enchanted creature with a removal spell. This is a two-for-one in the wrong guy’s favor. He spends one spell, and there are a lot of removal spells in M13 that I could insert here, and you lose both your creature and your creature enchantment. Still, Mark of the Vampire does a lot, so you may want to take the risk, like Lawson did in this deck, occasionally.
Finally, Lawson’s deck has one pump-up effect that doesn’t care at all if the opponent has removal. Ajani, Caller of the Pride is the most aggressive version of Ajani to date, and the cheapest to play at just one colorless and two white for a starting loyalty score of four. However, because this year’s leonine planeswalker is so aggressive, he’s harder to keep alive than in previous editions. You can’t make kittens with this one. His +1 ability puts a +1/+1 counter on up to one target creature. Let’s pick one of ours, generally speaking. His second ability is even more aggressive, remove three loyalty counters to give a target creature flying and double strike until end of turn. Let’s run down this little scenario with Lawson’s deck:
Turn one – Swamp, Duty-Bound Dead.
Turn two – Swamp, two more Duty-Bound Dead, attack with a 3/5 Dead
Turn three – Plains, Servant of Nefarox, attack with a 4/6 Dead
Turn four – Plains, Ajani, Caller of the Pride, attack with a flying 7/5 double-striking Servant
That’s twenty-one points of damage in four turns from a booster draft deck using the core set? Impressive.
Because he’s meant for aggressive play, Ajani’s third and ultimate ability will hardly ever be used. Remove eight loyalty counters to put X 2/2 white Cat creature tokens onto the battlefield where X is your current life total.
Targeted removal is always useful in booster draft. Lawson has it in the form of Essence Drain and Murder. While Murder, brand-new for M13, is definitely the best premeditated way to take out a creature in this new world, the reprinted Essence Drain is perfectly useful in many cases.
Duty-Bound Dead x5
Knight of Glory
Sign in Blood
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Servant of Nefarox
Duskmantle Prowler x2
Mark of the Vampire x3
Mind Rot x2
Rain of Blades
Merfolk of the Pearl Trident
Elixir of Immortality
Ring of Evos Isle
I wish I had had as much of a plan as Lawson. I went into this draft just looking for good cards. The draft, held at a store, looked a little soft to me. I expected I could take some rares, if I wanted, and still get fed enough good cards to play. I don’t remember my pick order at all, but I do remember seeing War Falcon in a pack and thinking that it shouldn’t be too hard to make a card like that work. I started keeping my eye out for Soldiers and Knights. If you look at my sideboard you can see that I kinda went a little too far with the rare-drafting. I’m lucky I ended up with a playable deck. If I hadn’t been passed a pretty good rare in pack three, I probably would have lost in the first round of the draft.
I had just finished playing my one and only (so far) Magic 2013 sealed deck and knew I liked red. My sealed deck had a Magmaquake in it as well as a pair of Volcanic Geysers and a Searing Spear. In this draft, I know I must have taken the Searing Spear fairly early. I remember that a good deal of blue was coming my way but I was passing. I quickly had an Oblivion Ring and decided I wanted to be white and red. I got around to picking up two War Falcons thinking I had more Knights and Soldiers than I really did. In person, in live drafts, I still play it completely tight. I don’t sneak peeks at my previous picks. Like I remind my Tuesday night teammates, there is no “picks button” in live cardboard Magic the way there is on Magic Online. Avacyn Restored went out of its way to make Humans the most important race in the set, they made Humans out of creatures that would not normally be called Humans. Borderland Ranger? Normally a card like that would have been an Elf or a Shaman or an Elf Shaman. Gryff Vanguard? Blue flyers are usually Illusions or Drakes or something, anything, but Human Knight. Avacyn Restored badly wanted you to go Humans. I think, in Avacyn Restored, if a creature isn’t a Human, it’s probably an Angel or a Demon. In Magic 2013, however, all bets or off. Attended Knight? Sure thing, Human Knight. Makes sense. Aven Squire? A squire ought to be a Human, right? Nah, Bird Soldier! Still, Soldier is good enough to turn on War Falcon. Okay, if Aven Squire is a Bird Soldier, then that should apply to the brand-new Battleflight Eagle, right? No way, every ornithologist knows that an eagle is just a Bird. The point is, it’s a little harder to put together a Soldier and Knight army than I thought it would be.
Jayemdae Tome surprised me three ways in this first Magic 2013 draft. First of all, it stunned me that it had been downgraded from a rare to an uncommon. M13 is the first time that Jayemdae Tome has been anything but a rare in the card’s nineteen year life. It also surprised me that the other players were letting it go. This is colorless card advantage, people! I realize that by the time you pay four mana to play the Tome and then another four mana to activate it you have invested eight total mana to gain a single card. Worse yet, the first card you draw with Jayemdae Tome really only gives you the card you would have drawn if you never put Jayemdae Tome in your deck to begin with. I’m willing to accept this argument, and to agree that Jayemdae Tome is slow. However, like I tell my young friends dealing with “being different” in high school… it gets better. After a few activations, preferably at the end of your opponent’s turn when you had nothing better to do with the mana, Jayemdae Tome starts really paying off. In a way, the activation cost gets cheaper, relatively speaking, the longer the game goes because the Tome has put extra lands into your hand along the way that make this artifact increasingly profitable to use. Not buying it? Me neither, not anymore. Magic 2013 isn’t the fastest draft format of the past year, but it seems to be just fast enough to make a card like Jayemdae Tome not quite good enough.
The best card in my deck was passed to me with about ten or eleven cards left in the third pack. I’m talking about Sands of Delirium. And I almost didn’t play it. Sure, Sands would be good, maybe great, in a deck with a few of those blue Mill-you cards, but not all by itself. Besides, I have better things to do with my mana at the end of my opponent’s turn, like activating Jayemdae Tome. I came so close to including Tome over Sands in my deck. I’m glad I played them both, because the experience helped me learn what was worth my extra mana and what was not. Jayemdae Tome turned out to be too expensive to play and use. Sands, on the other hand, turned out to be a real bomb. In a good way. I went 2-1 against my first round opponent and both of my wins were completely due to Sands of Delirium. With no other Mill technology in my deck whatsoever! It works like this: You play Sands whenever you have a chance to do so, not on turn three when you have a good creature to play. You just play it when you don’t have a better card to play. Once it’s in play, you don’t necessarily forget about all other strategies and just mill the other guy out. Not right away, anyway. You continue to play the game normally, but you start getting one or two or three cards knocked out of their deck at the end of your opponent’s turns. It starts adding up. When you find yourself with six or seven mana in play, things are now different. This is when you start counting your opponent’s library. This is when you ask yourself the important question, “could I just pass the turn without playing this creature in my hand and mill my opponent out in a couple of turns?” This plan comes together organically in many cases, you don’t have to force it do anything in particular to set it up, other than to keep playing lands. The game reaches a point where your opponent is down to fourteen to twenty-one cards remaining in his library and you have enough creatures to start chump blocking in order to buy you one or two turns of using all your mana to eliminate the other guy’s library. So, if you have nothing better to do on turn three, go ahead and play Sands of Delirium, just don’t think that your deck does nothing else but mill. You probably will have to compete on the normal plane, with creatures and removal spells, until you reach that magic moment when you have a lot of land and the other guy doesn’t have so many cards left in his library. Yes, Elixir of Immortality can stop the mill plan. So play your creatures. You know, as a Plan B.
The last interesting decision I had with this deck was splashing green for Thragtusk. There are a lot of good reasons not to do something like this. Generally speaking, you don’t splash for creatures unless you can win the game on the spot with said creature. Creatures that have this kind of effect on the game, by the way, usually require at least two of one color mana making them poor candidates for a splash. In this particular case, Thragtusk is a decent splash creature. He only needs one green mana to cast. I only had to add two Forests to my deck because I had already drafted a Rootbound Crag. Thragtusk is not a game-winner, but he is a game changer. He gains you life the moment he enters the battlefield. He has a big body and he gives you a “free” 3/3 Beast token whenever he leaves the battlefield. With a better deck, I would have been thrilled NOT to splash this guy, but I wanted to give him a try. The splash worked out fine and I was able to play Thragtusk about as often as I should have been able to. He was fine, but not a bomb.
War Falcon x2
Ring of Thune
Crusader of Odric
Sands of Delirium
Guardians of Akrasa
Turn to Slag
Mark of Mutiny
Clock of Omens
Door to Nothingness
Battle of Wits
Merfolk of the Pearl Trident
Lawson crushed his first round opponent while I was still in the middle of the first game of my first round match. I eventually defeated my first round opponent and, what do you know, Lawson and I ran into each other in round two. I badly needed to run a quick errand, so I scooped up my cards and conceded to Lawson with the understanding that we would play our decks against each other when we got home. Lawson and his finals opponent decided to split the prizes, but they also played a match and Lawson easily won. He also crushed me pretty easily when we got home. Here is what another match looked like between my deck and Lawson’s.
The Battle of Zandi
T1 Zanman keeps Plains, Mountain x2, Griffin Protector, Thragtusk, Pillarfield Ox, Divine Favor. Plays Plains.
T1 Lawson keeps Swamp x2, Plains, Giant Scorpion, Essence Drain, Angelic Benediction, Blood Reckoning. Draws and plays Swamp.
T2 Zanman draws Plains, plays Mountain.
T2 Lawson draws Sign in Blood, plays Swamp.
T3 Zanman draws Turn to Slag, plays Plains.
T3 Lawson draws and plays Swamp, plays Giant Scorpion.
T4 Zanman draws and plays Mountain, plays Griffin Protector.
T4 Lawson draws and plays Evolving Wilds, activates and sacrifices Evolving Wilds searching his library revealing and putting a Plains onto the battlefield tapped, plays Sign in Blood targeting himself (20-18) drawing Swamp and Duskmantle Prowler.
T5 Zanman draws Fire Elemental, plays Mountain, plays Fire Elemental triggering Griffin Protector, attacks with Protector (20-15).
T5 Lawson draws Rhox Faithmender, plays Plains, plays Essence Drain targeting Griffin Protector (20-18).
T6 Zanman draws Phyrexian Hulk, plays Turn to Slag targeting Giant Scorpion, attacks with Fire Elemental (20-13).
T6 Lawson draws and plays Duty-Bound Dead, plays Swamp, plays Rhox Faithmender.
T7 Zanman draws and plays War Falcon, attacks with Fire Elemental (20-8), plays Pillarfield Ox.
T7 Lawson draws Duskmantle Prowler, plays Angelic Benediction, attacks with Rhox Faithmender, Benediction triggers and Lawson taps Ox, two Exalted triggers happen, (17-14).
T8 Zanman draws and plays Plains, attacks with Ox and Elemental (17-7), plays Phyrexian Hulk.
T8 Lawson draws and plays Knight of Glory, plays Duskmantle Prowler, attacks with Rhox Faithmender, Benediction triggers and Lawson taps War Falcon, four exalted triggers happen (12-17).
T9 Zanman draws and plays Dragon Hatchling, plays Divine Favor enchanting Hatchling.
T9 Lawson draws and plays Tormented Soul, plays Duskmantle Prowler, attacks with a Duskmantle Prowler, Benediction triggers and Lawson taps Phyrexian Hulk, five exalted triggers happen, Prowler is blocked by Fire Elemental and Pillarfield Ox and War Falcon, Prowler damages Elemental first and then Falcon and then Ox.
T10 Zanman draws and plays Silvercoat Lion, attacks with Dragon Hatchling, activates Hatchling four times (12-12).
T10 Lawson draws Plains, attacks with Tormented Soul, Benediction triggers and Lawson taps Phyrexian Hulk, four exalted triggers happen (7-12), plays Blood Reckoning.
T11 Zanman draws Guardian Lions, attacks with Dragon Hatchling, Blood Reckoning triggers (6-12), pumps Hatchling four times (6-7).
T11 Lawson draws and plays Plains, attacks with Tormented Soul, Benediction triggers and Lawson taps Phyrexian Hulk, four exalted triggers happen (1-7).
T12 Zanman draws Ring of Thune, CONCEDES.
LAWSON WINS GAME ONE ON TURN 12, LEADS MATCH 1-0
T1 Zanman keeps Plains x3, Forest, Guardians of Akrasa, Jayemdae Tome, Sands of Delirium. Plays Plains.
T1 Lawson keeps Swamp, Plains x2, Essence Drain, Duty-Bound Dead x2 and Ajani, Caller of the Pride. Draws and plays Swamp, plays Duty-Bound Dead.
T2 Zanman draws Pillarfield Ox, plays Plains.
T2 Lawson draws Swamp, plays Plains, plays Duty-Bound Dead, attacks with Duty-Bound Dead (that he played on turn one), two exalted triggers happen (18-20).
T3 Zanman draws and plays Forest, plays Guardians of Akrasa.
T3 Lawson draws Rhox Faithmender, plays Plains, plays Ajani, Caller of the Pride, adds a counter to Ajani putting a +1/+1 counter on Duty-Bound Dead.
T4 Zanman draws and plays Oblivion Ring exiling Ajani, Caller of the Pride, plays Plains.
T4 Lawson draws and plays Duty-Bound Dead, plays Swamp, attacks with 1/2 Duty-Bound Dead, three exalted triggers happen (14-20).
T5 Zanman draws Phyrexian Hulk, plays Forest, plays Sands of Delirium.
T5 Lawson draws and plays Plains, attacks with Duty-Bound Dead blocked by Guardians of Akrasa, plays Rhox Faithmender, at end of turn Zanman activates Sands of Delirium targeting Lawson milling Tormented Soul and Swamp into his graveyard.
T6 Zanman draws and plays Guardian Lions.
T6 Lawson draws and plays Plains, attacks with Rhox Faithmender, three exalted triggers happen, Guardian Lions block Faithmender (14-28), Lawson plays Essence Drain targeting Guardian Lions (14-31).
T7 Zanman draws and plays Thragtusk (19-31).
T7 Lawson draws and plays Swamp, attacks with Duty-Bound Dead, three exalted triggers happen (15-31).
T8 Zanman draws and plays Mountain.
T8 Lawson draws and plays Swamp, attacks with Duty-Bound Dead, three exalted triggers happen (11-31), at end of turn Zanman activates Sand of Delirium targeting Lawson milling Sign in Blood and Mark of the Vampire and Swamp and Mark of the Vampire and Knight of Glory and Duty-Bound Dead into Lawson’s graveyard.
T9 Zanman draws Searing Spear.
T9 Lawson draws and plays Plains, attacks with Duty-Bound Dead, three exalted triggers happen, Dead is blocked by Thragtusk, Lawson regenerates Duty-Bound Dead, Thragtusk triggers when he leaves the battlefield putting a 3/3 Beast token onto the battlefield, at end of turn Zanman activates Sands of Delirium targeting Lawson milling Angelic Benediction and Plains and Ajani’s Sunstriker and Murder and Dark Favor and Swamp into Lawson’s graveyard (Lawson has ten cards remaining in his library).
T10 Zanman draws and plays Plains.
T10 Lawson draws and plays Mark of the Vampire enchanting Duty-Bound Dead, attacks with Dead, three exalted triggers happen, Beast token blocks Duty-Bound Dead (11-43), at end of turn Zanman activates Sands of Delirium targeting Lawson, Lawson CONCEDES.
ZANMAN WINS GAME TWO ON TURN 10, TIES MATCH 1-1
T1 Lawson keeps Swamp x2, Servant of Nefarox, Ajani, Caller of the Pride, Angelic Benediction, Mark of the Vampire and Duty-Bound Dead. Plays Swamp, plays Duty-Bound Dead.
T1 Zanman keeps Mountain, Plains, Forest x2, Sands of Delirium, Pillarfield Ox and War Falcon. Draws Oblivion Ring, plays Plains, plays War Falcon.
T2 Lawson draws and plays Tormented Soul, plays Swamp, attacks with Duty-Bound Dead, exalted triggers (19-20).
T2 Zanman draws Thragtusk, plays Mountain.
T3 Lawson draws and plays Plains, plays Servant of Nefarox, attacks with Tormented Soul, exalted triggers twice (16-20).
T3 Zanman draws and plays Plains, plays Sands of Delirium.
T4 Lawson draws Blood Reckoning, attacks with Servant of Nefarox, exalted triggers twice, War Falcon blocks Servant.
T4 Zanman draws and plays Plains, plays Oblivion Ring exiling Servant of Nefarox.
T5 Lawson draws and plays Duty-Bound Dead, attacks with Tormented Soul, exalted triggers twice (13-20), at end of turn Zanman activates Sands of Delirium milling Swamp into Lawson’s graveyard.
T5 Zanman draws Ajani’s Sunstriker, plays Forest, plays Thragtusk (18-20).
T6 Lawson draws and plays Dark Favor enchanting Tormented Soul (18-19), attacks with Tormented Soul, exalted triggers twice (12-19).
T6 Zanman draws Serra Angel, plays Forest, attacks with Thragtusk (12-14), plays Ajani’s Sunstriker.
T7 Lawson draws Mark of the Vampire, attacks with Tormented Soul, exalted triggers twice (6-14), at end of turn Zanman activates Sands of Delirium milling Mark of the Vampire and two Plains and Knight of Glory into Lawson’s graveyard.
T7 Zanman draws Guardians of Akrasa, attacks with Ajani’s Sunstriker and Thragtusk (8-7).
T8 Lawson draws and plays Evolving Wilds, attacks with Tormented Soul, exalted triggers twice (2-7), at end of turn Zanman activates Sands of Delirium targeting Lawson, Lawson responds activating and sacrificing Evolving Wilds searching his library revealing and putting a Plains onto the battlefield tapped (the top six cards of Lawson’s library contained three lands but no Plains), Sands resolves milling Duskmantle Prowler and Sign in Blood and two Swamps and Ajani’s Sunstriker and Duty-Bound Dead into Lawson’s graveyard. (Lawson now has fourteen cards remaining in his library)
T8 Zanman draws and plays Mountain, attacks with Thragtusk and Sunstriker, Duty-Bound Dead blocks Thragtusk (4-5).
T9 Lawson draws Rhox Faithmender, plays Mark of the Vampire enchanting Tormented Soul, attacks with Tormented Soul, exalted triggers (-3 -12).
LAWSON WINS GAME THREE ON TURN 9, WINS MATCH 2-1
Thanks for reading.
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online