Saturday, January 26, 2013

Going 4-0 in My First Pre-release! (Gatecrash)

I've been playing Magic casually for almost 20 years now (on and off) and I just got home from my first Pre-release a few minutes ago. I ended up going to C & J Collectibles in Newark, California and it went a little something like this:

Guild: Orzhov
Gatecrash Pre-release

The first thing I did was begin separating all my cards by color. And while there were a few good off-guild cards in my pool like Spark Trooper, Dinrova Horror, and Stolen Identity, I really didn't have that much mana fixing and there just wasn't enough reason to stretch into a 3rd color. Long story short, I stuck to strictly Orzhov with a super balanced mana base of 1 Orzhov Guildgate, 8 Plains, and 8 Swamps.

Deckbuilding Part 1: Extort

Going into Gatecrash, I knew that I wanted Orzhov as my guild; Extort is exactly what I wanted to be doing. I remember the Mercadian Masques days and how playing multiple Highway Robbers back-to-back could get you back into a losing game real quick. Well, I figured that Extort turned all your spells into Highway Robbers on steroids. The 7 cards above were definitely the core of my deck and the Extort ability is as good as advertised.

What's interesting is that I ended up siding out the following card after game 1 of match 1 and I never looked back:

Looking through the full spoiler, I though I'd be playing every card that had Extort, no matter what, but... that just isn't the case. I might be wrong on this one, but as you'll see from the rest of my deck, I already had other high CMC creatures that I'd rather play and I didn't want my curve to get too heavy. The confessor is a 5 mana 1/3 and it just felt way too slow and soaked up way too much mana that I'd rather be using to pay for Extort triggers.

Deckbuilding Part 2: Removal

Going into the event I knew there were 3 black removal instants at the common & uncommon level and I ended up running all 3 spells and more. The amount of removal in my deck was absurd. 3 of the spells were unconditional removal and 1 of them was an edict. Even though you can't really have too much removal in any limited deck, sometimes you begin to worry that each removal spell in your deck is one less win condition. In other words, removal spells only prevent you from losing. And while this is great, when you combine those spells with Extort, suddenly they also become won conditions. My opponents could spend their turns committing more and more creatures to the board while I spend my turns blowing up their creatures and draining them little by little at the same time. Bottom line: Removal in Orzhov decks is better than removal is non-orzhov decks.

Deckbuilding Part 3: Other Creatures

Daring Skyjeks are just about as good as they come when it comes to non-extort creatures, so I was happy to include them in the deck. They have 3 power at 2 mana, they trade with many opposing creatures, they're cheap enough to leave room for Extort triggers, and I even activated Battalion once or twice. On the other side of the spectrum, Corpse Blockade was probably the worst creature in my deck. I think it was necessary just to have a big body to get in the way of other creatures, but I was never happy to draw it. (I may have mis-built my deck by including it.) Angelic Skirmisher was as good as you probably imagined it would be. The best thing about it in practice was that while it doesn't have haste, it's still nice to play it pre-combat, give the buff of your choice to your entire army, and then swing with the rest of your army into your opponent's face. And then we come to Ubris Protector:

The last 20 minutes of time dedicated for deck building was me mulling over the decision to splash a 3rd color and whether or not I should run 1 or 2 Ubris Protectors. That's right, I had 2x Ubris Protectors in my pool and I chose to only run 1. 6 mana for a 4/4 creature isn't too exciting... but you get too bodies, so how good is the protector really? I already had two other 6's with Treasury Thrull and Angelic Skirmisher, so how many 6's does an Orzhov deck really need? I forgot exactly what made the cut in place of the 2nd protector and I'm still not sure it was the correct decision. It's hard to tell without knowing the format intimately. But I have to say that it was incredibly hard for my opponents to deal with all my flying creatures.

Between Basilica Screecher, Kingpin's Pet, 2x Daring Skyjek, Ubris Protector, and Angelic Skirmisher, all on top of my mass removal, all on top of my mass Extort, it was just too much for many of my opponents to handle.

Deckbuilding Part 4: Other Spells

I would never play 2x Mind Rot in almost any other limited deck, but for some reason they just seemed super solid in this deck and I never felt like siding them out. I think that there are just so many combat tricks and late game bombs in the format that "discard 2 cards" seems perfectly fine. I could be wrong. On the other hand, something has to be said about Midnight Recovery and Immortal Servitude in this deck.

Between Midnight Recovery, Immortal Servitude, and Treasury Troll, I had 3 solid recursion spells that kept the Extort creatures coming back to continue to do what they do best. I already explained how happy I was my flying + removal package performed in my deck and because of this, Midnight Recovery was able to pull its own weight. Extort creatures are so important to the deck and Midnight Recovery does the job. I wasn't too excited about the Cipher mechanic and even I was surprised that I was running it in my main deck.

My Deck

In the end, if you take all the information posted above, my deck ended up looking like this:

Creatures (12)
1 Basilica Screecher
1 Syndic of Tithes
2 Daring Skyjek
1 Corpse Blockade
1 Basilica Guards
1 Kingpin's Pet
2 Syndicate Enforcer
1 Urbis Protector
1 Angelic Skirmisher
1 Treasury Troll

Spells (11)
1 Smite
1 Devour Flesh
1 Executioner's Swing
1 Orzhov Charm
1 Midnight Recovery
2 Grisly Spectacle
2 Purge the Profane
1 Killing Glare
1 Immortal Servitude

Land (17)
1 Orzhov Guidgate
8 Plains
8 Swamp

The Event
  • Match 1
    • Match 1, Game 1
      • My first round opponent was against Orzhov, splashing blue, and I have to say that keeping track of life totals on a notepad in the Orzhov mirror get a little annoying. (So many triggers!) My opponent must have been running at least 7 or 8 rares because he hit me with everything including Soul Ransom and Merciless Eviction. But the biggest bomb was on turn 9 or 10 when he cast Mind Grind where X=7. After I cast it, I made the small mis-play of not conceding immediately because it would have been easy enough for me to count the lands in play and in my hand and realize that I only had 5 lands left in my deck. He cast Mind Grind and I lost instantly.
      • Current Match Results: 0-1
    • Match 1, Game 2
      • I ended up siding in a 3rd copy of Purge the Profane to try and snatch his many late game bombs out of his hand. I figured that even if I hit land, each land would be 1 less mana where he could power X on Mind Grind. I ended up casting 2 of the 3 purges and the other got milled to one of his many mill cards. It was here in game 2 where my deck really began running on all cylinders. My Extort and fliers take over the game quickly and I take the 2nd game.
      • Current Match Results: 1-1
    • Match 1, Game 3
      • More of the same from game 2. This game was largely forgettable because it was so similar to the last. My deck got going and I had enough removal to win back-and-forth dual of Extort creatures. When I get below 8 life, I begin playing around burn and earn an audible "damnit" from my opponent. (Very funny.) I take the game and take the match.
      • Current Match Results: 2-1
      • Overall Results: 1-0
  • Match 2
    • Match 2, Game 1
      • My 2nd round opponent was playing Orzhov, splashing red. It was in this match more than the last that my fliers just completely took over the game. Together with Extort, I was just throwing way too much unblockable damage at my opponent's face to handle.
      • Current Match Results: 1-0
    • Match 2, Game 2
      • More of the same from game 1 except my opponent got stuck on 4 mana and there was nothing he could do about it.
      • Current Match Results: 2-0
      • Overal Results: 2-0
  • Match 3
    • Match 3, Game 1
      • My 3rd round opponent was playing Dimir and they were surprisingly close games. I think this is because he both her playing a slow, durdly style of game and he could match my fling creatures with his own and my removal spells with counter spells. Eventually, even though the sky was mucked up, he still couldn't stop the Extort from keeping me in the game and knocking him out.
      • Current Match Results: 1-0
    • Match 3, Game 2
      • This game was more of the same except he was drawing much better than he did in the last game. I was down on life almost the entire game, even with Extort. And the end I think I was at 4 or 5 life when I sealed the deal.
      • Current Match Results: 2-0
      • Overall Results: 3-0
  • Match 4
    • Match 4, Game 1
      • My 4th round opponent was playing Gruul and by this time I was lucky enough to dodge Gruul, Boros, and Simic. I knew this match may be a little rough for me if he got off to a fast start. He played the usual red and green beats backed up by bloodrush tricks as well as 2 incredibly effective Mugging spells against my deck that had many small creatures. And it's here in this game where I made my first big mis-play of the afternoon. So far I was pretty happy about how tight I had been playing but for some reason I had 4/4 angel token in play, cast Angelic Skirmisher, announced the combat step and chose to give 'First Strike' to my entire army. The problem was that my opponent didn't have any fliers and the first strike was completely useless. Either vigilance or life link would have been much better. Maybe the unofficial token creature confused me or maybe I just got really sloppy by Round 4, either way, this one choice may have cost me the game because he swung in for exact damage a few turns later. If I had chosen life link, I would at least have had 1 more turn to make something happen. Punt.
      • Current Match Results: 0-1
    • Match 4, Gaeme 2
      • This 2nd game was incredibly close. I end up swapping out a Syndicate Enforcer in favor of a Dutiful Thrull just to lower my curve and because his Muggings were so effective against my deck. He opened with all the regulars, including a splashed Aurelia's Fury. After a well timed Act of Aggression on my Treasury Thrull, I think I was at 4 life. I get back the thrull as my only creature (vs. his 5 creatures) and I have to find a way to drain his last 2 points of life. I swing in with the Treasury Thrull to grab a Kingpin's Pet in my graveyard. I play the pet and Extort for 1, bringing him down to 1 life. I then cast Devour Flesh (edit) into his army for the sole purpose of activating Extort 2 more times. A judge is called to make sure that the Extort triggers resolve before the Devour Flesh (which would have given him more life). It's confirmed that the Extort triggers resolve first and I take game 2.
      • Current Match Results: 1-1
    • Match 4, Game 3
      • Game 3 was a little anti-climactic, but in hindsight, would it really be a day of Magic is at least one person didn't get mana screwed? My opponent gets stuck on 2 forests and I attack with 4 power of guys 5 turns in a row. His life total goes to zero and the match is mine.
      • Current Match Results: 2-1
      • Overall Results: 4-0

Final Thoughts

I had a really good time and got myself 10 free packs. Although, I did end up being kind of a scumbag at the end because my 3-0 opponent offered to split and I declined and won. What can I say? It was my first pre-release and I came to play. (I may split in the future.)

Again, it was at C & J Collectibles in Newark, California and I'm happy to advertise them here. The owners/event runners seemed pretty cool. Everything was clear and they kept things running at a steady pace. I don't own a play mat and was happy to find that the tables weren't sticky at all. I had no problems. I would probably be interested in attended future pre-releases, but I'm not so sure I would ever attend one alone. If I new other people that were going (like this time), I'd be happy to tag along again.

In the end, judging from both my experience and a few other Pre-release experience other players have posted, I definitely think "Extort + Mass Removal" is going to be a very strong archetype in the format. I had 7 removal spells and I didn't even open One Thousand Lashes, Angelic Edict, or Death's Approach. There is just so much common & uncommon, white & black removal is this format and like I said in the deck building section above, Extort turns all removal spells into possible win conditions and not just "lose prevention" spells.

(Please upvote my Reddit thread for this post HERE.)

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