23/17—Doing Fun Stuff in Limited, Card Evaluation, and the G.D.O.A.T.

A few weeks ago, Twenty Sided Store regular Kadar Brock earned my nickname for him—History’s Greatest Monster, natch—by playing a turn-four Gruul Ragebeast on me in a Gatecrash draft.

“You son of a … ,” I said to him, as he gleefully slapped down the 6/6 seven-drop after double-tapping (courtesy of a Greenside Watcher) a Verdant Haven-ed-up guildgate. He nuked a threat of mine with his Ragebeast trigger, and then do you know what he did next turn? He put Way of the Thief on the fucking thing.

As GOB would say, “Come on!”

Of course I wanted to do it myself. So when this past Friday at FNM I saw a Gruul Ragebeast staring out at me in pack one, not even the Grisly Spectacle—normally the pick here—could tempt me away. I proceeded to draft good-old five-color madness, with 2X Greenside Watchers, 2X Prophetic Prisms, 2X Verdant Havens, and 5X guildgates—and, thanks to the flexibility that is the hallmark of the archetype, removal spells and bombs in a rainbow of colors. It was incredible. Here’s the full list (creatures in bold, spells in italics, uncommons in silver, rares in gold):

One-drops:
Rapid Hybridization
Mugging

Two-drops:
2X Greenside Watcher
2X Disciple of the Old Ways
Pit Fight
Ground Assault
2X Prophetic Prism

Three-drops:
Bane Alley Broker
Basilica Guards
Gruul Keyrune
2X Verdant Haven

Four-drops:
Alms Beast
2X Crowned Ceratok (my boy!)
One Thousand Lashes
Way of the Thief

Five-drops:
Leyline Phantom (for max LOLZ with Gruul Ragebeast)

Seven-drops:
Gruul Ragebeast
Luminate Primordial

Lands:
2X Orzhov Guildgate
Gruul Guildgate
Simic Guildgate
Dimir Guildgate
6X Forests
3X Plains
2X Mountains
Swamp

Notable sideboard cards:
Tower Defense (boarded this in against a flier-heavy deck)
2X Orzhov Guildgate
Gutter Skulk
Wildwood Rebirth
Crackling Perimeter (I thought about it, but no)
Ivy Lane Denizen (one of my last cuts)
Spell Rupture
Simic Fluxmage

I didn’t take notes, but I crushed rounds one and two, beating a cool guy who it turns out I have a lot in common with named Dominic in R2. (Nice to meet you, man!) And yeah, I even managed not only to drop Ragebeast on Dom, but put Way of the Thief on it the following turn. Kadar would have been proud. Note all five colors of mana represented in this picture:

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I lost in the finals to good dude Rob Ceretti, after a couple rough mulls and not quite finding the green mana I needed to get things off the ground in G2—you live by the fixing, you die by the fixing, I guess—but man I had fun. Much credit to Rob, too: He had a good deck and played well.

I’ve been thinking about that with Dragon’s Maze on the horizon, as spoilers are released and everyone is talking about what’s good and what’s not. Hipsters’ own Zach Barash did a great run-down earlier this week of the common Gatekeeper cycle, and Jess Stirba broke down yesterday what drafting the full block is going to look like.

This week, we saw a new cycle of common creatures, the Maze Dudes:

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Long story short: These guys all seem fine. The black one kind of seems like the standalone best to me, as a 4/5 power and toughness in this format is pretty beefy—and the deathtouch clause basically makes him unblockable, requiring in most cases (at least in creature combat) a two-for-one for your opponent to deal with him. Rust Scarab in Gatecrash—also a 4/5—always passed the “groan test” whenever my opponent played him against me, and I imagine the black Maze Dude will be similar.

Six mana is quite far off from five, though, and I imagine that you aren’t going to want too many of these Maze Dudes. Maybe you pick up one or even two in the first pack, but I bet by the time you get through packs two and three, you’re going to have found some better stuff to occupy the two or three max six-drop slots on your curve.

The real key to the puzzle may turn out to be the second clause on each of the Maze Dudes, which grants a hasty sort of ability—think Angelic Skirmisher—to your (multicolored) team. In particular, I can see how drafting a heavily multicolor deck and then dropping Blue or Black Maze Dude on T6 and getting in there for a ton of evasive or wrath-your-board-if-not-evasive damage could be quite sick. (The vigilance and trample Maze Dudes seem less good, and the red one in particular seems like a turkey. In my opinion, R&D really needs to come up with something other than haste for red creatures like this to grant to other creatures.)

It all remains to be seen, though—and that, I guess, is what bugs me about card evaluation. I think it’s easy to see where certain cards (mostly commons, but some uncommons, too) are just flat-out, never-play-‘em bad; and it’s easy to see where certain rares and mythics are windmill-slam first picks. Everything else, though, is more subjective. As Zach B. pointed out earlier this week, the Gatekeepers are going to live or die by whether or not a 2/4 is a good thing in the full-block format. Similarly, the Maze Dudes are going to live or die by whether or not there are 15 better things you’d rather be doing on T6 (or whether T6 is even a viable turn to consistently reach—which I think it will be).

But we can’t know that until we play with the cards. I remember when I was listening to the Limited Resources set-review show for Return to Ravnica, and Marshall and Jon were gushing over Izzet Staticaster, who turned out to be just OK—and sometimes actively bad—in triple-Ravnica draft.

And then I also remember how a card like Lobber Crew, which I think most folks were initially “meh” about—given his ability only to hit players, and not creatures—turned out actually to be a real centerpiece in the right deck. The same goes for Travel Preparations, in Innistrad. We couldn’t know how good that card was going to be until we played with it; and there are also sets in which Staticaster would be the stone nuts; Lobber Crew forgettable; and Travel Prep underwhelming. It all depends on the cards around it. Card evaluation cannot occur in a vacuum.

What that means is that I’m typically loathe to come down really hard one way or another on whether X card is going to be good in Limited—at least not until I’ve had a chance to play with it and the cards surrounding it.

What I can tell you, though, is that I am really looking forward to playing a few cards in Dragon’s Maze, chief among them this guy:

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Why? Oh so many reasons!

For one, dude’s a cyclops, and I love weird creature types. (I have an old tribal advisors deck which is near and dear to my heart.) It also turns out that there are only 11 cyclopses—“Big Daddy” here makes 12—in the game. (I imagine we’re going to see a lot more of ‘em this fall in Greek- and Roman-themed Theros, though. Minotaurs, too!)

Second, I love defenders. No idea why. One of my all-time favorite Magic moments was when, at the old and ill-fated first location of Twenty Sided Store on Meeker Avenue, I won a Rise of the Eldrazi draft with a sick defender deck, featuring at least two copies of the G.D.O.A.T. himself—that’s the Greatest Defender of All Time, for you non-David Foster Wallace fans—Vent Sentinel:

Image

To digress for a minute: A couple of days after that win I was riding the subway, and thinking about Magic—maybe listening to a podcast, too—and recalled how Mark Rosewater had once said something about loving defenders himself, and being really happy with the defenders deck being a thing in Rise of the Eldrazi. And I realized that basically what I was doing was no different than, say, a Red Sox fan listening to a Sox Nation podcast and maybe remembering something Bud Selig (the commissioner of Major League Baseball) had said about the game.

So anyway—I love defenders, and I especially love defenders that get off their big butts and attack; in Big Daddy’s case, as a 4/4 on T4! You just flip the switch—ideally with a removal spell—and get in there. Not to mention the blowout potential of an opponent swinging with a couple of creatures into a board with this guy (or even two! He is a common, after all) on your side, thinking he’ll sneak some damage in with the one unblocked guy, and that the other creature will just bounce off Nivix; and then you instant-speed kill one of their dudes and eat the other with your newly 4/4 cyclops? Yeah, that’s something I want to do.

Cyclops just looks fun, I think. Whereas the Gatekeepers and the Maze Dudes don’t really. Sure, you need cards like these to hold the format together, but you rarely fall in love with a 2/4 or a common six-drop. And we need those cards like Verdant Haven (maybe not fun itself, but man it enables some fun), like Vent Sentinel, and like Knightly Valor—those somewhat weird, expectation-breaking cards that flip our evaluations on their heads and keep Limited formats fresh.

Triple Gatecrash is nearly done, and I may have drafted my last of it—unless I top-8 the GP Trial I’m going to in Connecticut this Sunday; which, fingers crossed. I can imagine worse ways to end a draft format than with a crazy five-color deck that, when he was handed it, caused 20SS co-owner Luis to ask in disbelief (and a hint of admiration?), “Is this two decks jammed together?”

Once Dragon’s Maze drops, I am really looking forward to drafting the Grixis defender deck (which I’m just going to go ahead and say right now will be a deck), featuring Nivix Cyclops, Ogre Jailbreaker, Corpse Blockade, Doorkeeper, Hover Barrier, Izzet Staticaster (not a defender, weirdly enough) and—oh god yes—Lobber Crew, backed up by as much removal I can get my hands on. Bud Selig would be proud.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands.

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  1. […] Sentinel—I broke down all the Sentinels last week. This one seems like one of the middle-quality ones. A vigilant Seige Mastodon with another […]

  2. […] Sentinel—I broke down all the Sentinels last week. This one seems like one of the middle-quality ones. A vigilant Seige Mastodon with another […]



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