Duels Diaries Week 24 - "The Mein Kampf of Magic Duels" XB1 Round 1 Review and Speculation
I am going to write almost exclusively about the tournament and provide links and written recaps of all the matches played so far....but first -
I'll get the elephant out of the room - the title of this week's entry is in reference to a recent quote from the salty one himself, Mobius, who dubbed my blog "the Mein Kampf of Magic Duels". It may, in fact, be the nicest thing he has ever said to me, not that I take comparisons to the Nazi party leader as a compliment. Still, if I were to print out and compile Duels Diaries into a hardcover novel, I'd want that quote in huge font on the dust jacket. I bet Stephen King would be proud.
/end sarcasm, all the above was for the amusement of those possessing a sense of humor.
I don't know about all of you, but I had a great week. Having a tournament to prepare for, test for and watch really adds to my Duels experience. On top of that, I get the pleasure of covering, previewing, predicting and over-analyzing the event for my readers. I say this honestly, one thing I have learned this week is that I like covering, speculating and analyzing the pairings, decklists and results of this event even more than I enjoy playing in it. I have long believed I would be a good coverage staff member for high-level Magic events, but without the pro credentials to get anybody's attention (and a voice that is perfect for print journalism) I am confident Wizards, SCGlive or ChannelFireball would laugh me out of their office. Still, I get to live the dream in our tiny, Magic-lite Duels world.
That said, I can't say I am great at analyzing and predicting this stuff yet. In fact, I got the first four matches so wrong that the term "Covert Curse" started getting used by people I've never interacted with before in Twitch Chat. If I take comfort in something, it's that the sports pundits almost never get it right, and they have a job season-in and season-out. So with the gentle reminder that this is all for our entertainment, readers, yours and mine, let's review the first round of action and take about what I got right and what I got wrong.
If you don't want spoilers, be careful what you read. Watch the video links first.
I'll start with the match that hits closest to home -
CovertGo Blue vs Ender1313 - VIDEO HERE
I didn't make a prediction on the match, but I will warn you now, I will always pick myself in my matches, even when it looks hard. It's part of my mental preparation, I'm not the underdog type, that persona doesn't work for me in the match. My gameday character is confident, cold and calculating, like Iceman. I am not Maverick. Regardless, I feel this is among the best matchups I could have drawn in the event. The Dimir deck is neither fast enough to get under me, nor does it have reliable ways to deal with my top-rope threats. It is exactly the kind of midrange deck I want to play against. There really isn't much else to say about it. Ender made a call on this meta that really didn't work out for him in round one. I wish him good luck in the future.
Black Barney (Thopters) vs DANNYRETARTABUL (Jund Steal/Sac Control)
As of right now this match hasn't happened yet, when it does it will conclude the round. What I wrote on Friday should, SHOULD, hold up. I think Thopters is happy to play this type of match. Barney needs to keep pressure in the air and Bloodflow off the board, a task Fiery Impulse and Disperse are happy to tackle. Danny needs to walk a tightrope of having enough board presence to force Barney to lean into the battlefield, and then perhaps a juicy Languish can buy enough time for Danny to get ahead in cards.
DIEVERSE1 (Azorius Tempo) vs STEELY DANNO (Sultai Control) - Video HERE
Of all my picks, this one looks silliest in hindsight. The Sultai Control list didn't look to be worse off on paper. Once I built the deck in Duels, I saw that the deck had 18 three drops. That isn't a mana curve, that is a mana spike! What this created is a bottleneck, and game one showed why it is not a good thing -
Playing more effective spells than your opponent in a turn can swing a game of Magic dramatically, especially removal spells. If your opponent casts a creature on turn one, and you do nothing, the opponent is up one creature. For every turn for the rest of the game, if you only cast one removal spell, and the opponent only casts one creature, you will eventually lose. This is why sweepers are good, they bring back the one-to-one parity in the game. However, sweepers are not the only way to achieve parity. If the opponent gets one creature ahead, you can trade removal for creature for a few turns, taking hits from the first creature, until the point comes where you can deal with two creatures in one turn by casting, say, a Reave Soul and a Fleshbag Marauder on the same turn. This sets the board back to one-for-one parity and puts the pressure on the aggro deck to reclaim the board. Danno's deck will typically need to either have Languish, or wait until turn six to remove two creatures in a turn due to the choice of Complete Disregard over Reave Soul. A small deck-building quirk, and an understandable one because of instant speed interaction and exile effect, but a lethal one against a deck what just plans to cast cheap dorks every turn until you die. This is an important Magic lesson. Three is a lot more than two. Four is a lot more than three. I could make a long argument about why Artificer's Epiphany is better than Inspiration even if you have no artifacts in your deck! Anytime you are trying to find ways to justify a similar effect for more mana, you need to pause and consider how you will achieve board parity, or board superiority, with one card vs the other. Oftentimes, waiting an extra turn isn't worth it, in this match it was lethal. A quick 2-0 to Dieverse1.
SPLINTER19CC (Esper Control) vs WESTWANE (Esper Control) - Video HERE
Based on the decklists, I think most people would agree with my picking of Wastwane here. More counterspells, more instant speed interaction, less dead cards. If the match were played again tomorrow, I would pick Westwane again based on the deck. In the match, both sides made interesting choices that lead me to believe it wasn't clear what each player wanted. Game one went just as I would have predicted, but mana troubles in game two and a string of amazing rares and mythics in game three carried Splinter to victory. 2-1 to Splinter.
I picked Hakeem, but I also said it could go either way and that it would be a blast to watch. At least I got the winner right. Hakeem applied a rather brutal curb stomping to Peepy's Jeskai deck. Peepy nails it in commentary, his deck has no way to remove Chief of the Foundry and the permanent buff trumps the temporary buffs in Peepy's deck. If I sat in Hakeem's seat, I would have mulliganed almost any first hand without a Chief. It is that important. Twin Bolt is the only decent interaction on either side, so drawing more Twin Bolts is crucial in getting an edge. We also saw Peepy's manabase fail him. The turn four Evolving Wilds in Game One and the missed land drop in Game Two where just as brutal as Hakeem's draws. Without fixing aside from Wilds, Peepy is at the mercy of the top of his deck more than I would like to be, but the only thing he could have really done about it is Pilgrim's Eye, which isn't an ideal turn three in the deck. I feel obligated to mention that Peepy didn't necessarily struggle because he was three colored either, if all his spells had been one color those land draws would have still been awkward. As Mr. Squeeps himself mentions, Fiery Impulse should make it into his deck so he isn't running zero outs to Chief. It should be mentioned that Hakeem's controversial choice of Esperzoa never caused him to bounce anything or lose position, he played each game in such a manner as to use it with haste or not at all. Hakeem wins 2-0.
I Abuse Welfare / Mobius (Esper Control) vs. smokyalaterz (Jund Control) - Video HERE
I picked Mobius here, I felt his deck had inevitability with Shepherd and summons shenanigans. Hidden in all those one-ofs is a reanimation engine that can grind with the best of them. Game one went the path of an uncontested planeswalker. Game three went the path of an uncontested walker from the other side. We can take away from this the importance of finding ways to deal with walkers. I really thought at around 36:00 that Mobius would use an awakened Clutch on Liliana and attack down the Ob Nix, buying more time. While I don't love Suppression Bonds as a walker solution, I do think awaken cards, counters, creatures with haste and evasion and even Perilous Myr and Foundry of the Consuls have a place in keeping walkers in check. Most of those also have the bonus of just being good cards. I don't think the best way to answer a walker is to have specific cards like Bonds to stop them, I think the best way to battle a walker is with a deck that doesn't put too much pressure on itself by having no board presence and no counter magic should Ob Nix or Gideon just show up. Mobius has a good deal of board presence, and particularly Sky Spawner can often keep walkers in check, but his draw in game three was the wrong half of the deck for dealing with Ob.
Game two was where the fireworks flew. Neither player could steal the game with a walker, and there as a lot of back and forth. Mobius drew a lot of land, which as we saw in game three is better then not enough, and it was impressive that he almost got there. The non-bo of Bonds on a creature + Fleshbag came up at the worst time. I understand the job of both cards in the deck, but you can get into a spot where they don't play well together. Mobius has written comments about the final two turns of the game on the Youtube page, which could have played out much differently. The crucial line of text in the awaken mechanic is that target land BECOMES a 0/0 creature with haste, put three +1/+1 counters on it. I had never realized myself that this would turn any land that currently has a power-toughness like an activated Shambling Vent from a 2/3 into a 0/0, and then a 3/3 with counters. What a time to learn that lesson. If this match were to be played tomorrow, I would pick Mobius again, but one thing I learned about his deck from playing with it and watching this match is that I believe it is a little more sensitive then the average deck to drawing a quality mixture of lands and spells. The wrong batch of one-ofs, the wrong batch of lands, or just the too-many, too-few draw of lands all threaten to capsize the boat. On the bright side for Mobius, not one occurrence of Shepherd shenanigans in three games means the best of his deck hasn't shown up yet, and he still could have taken the match.
As far as Smoke and his deck are concerned, I think he has the best of the Jund lists in a vacuum because he doesn't rely on steal & sac trickery. It is more of a pure midrange list, and while I think it is the kind of matchup that ramp and esper want, I believe it has enough balance to steal matchups where you would think it was a dog. Smoke takes the match 2-1, at this point in the weekend the Covert Curse looked very real as all my picks had fallen so far.
InFaMoUsGeMiNi (Naya Ramp) vs. Tsh1rt (Selesnya Ramp) - Video HERE
"Going with Gemini based on Moss, but who will play their Ulamog second is probably the correct answer to the question of who will win."
Proof that assumptions make an ass out of me. Gemini doesn't run Ulamog. WHAT!??? Honest truth, had I picked up on that I may have changed by pick, and I would have continued being wrong. This game was tense for a number of reasons, but none more-so then the way Gemini plays the game - differently. He just has a different style and approach that I don't see elsewhere. In game one, Gemini is trying to get to 12 mana to burn his foe out with Blaze before Ulamog decks him. Ulamog's trigger leaves his deck count in teenager range, and Gemini waits until after the trigger to crack Evolving Wilds and cast Natural Connection. Fortunately he finds exactly two basic lands left in the deck, but if either one were exiled I don't believe Gemini can win. That is an example of a mistake in my opinion. Then, inexplicably, Gemini gets to 12 mana but doesn't cast Blaze until his deck is empty. It's one thing to go for style points, its bad manners to slow roll the opponent, but that is Gemini, a little bit a showman.
Game two shows Acid-Moss at its worst, playing from behind the eight-ball named Gideon. One reason I love Gruul Ramp is because it uses Fiery Impulse and Radiant Flames to keep the pressure low while I ramp and cast Moss, but if I don't have those cards or the opponent plays something like Gideon that is resilient to them, my future is not rosy. Moss's value is reduced exponentially by the amount of power-toughness the opponent has on the board when you cast it, and Gideon is often seven power for four mana. I also take a mental note from this game that going to four life isn't only relevant against Exquisite Firecraft, it is also very relevant against white decks with Outburst.
Game three shows Gemini going deep into the endgame. While players in the chat screamed that he should cast Angelic Edict on From Beyond, Gemini developed his board and continued to lean into the Gideon/Emeria plan. In the end it paid off completely. Is it right? I think so. Taking the turn off to essentially keep a 1/1 scion off the board is a very tempo-negative play, and it is punishable by death if T-shirt has another From Beyond or Ulamog in his hand or near the top of his deck. On the other hand, if you can keep anything too bad from happening and force Ulamog to come out and play, exiling it now and forever is great. I really agree with letting Shirt have Evo Leap. I watched other games where players seem to have too much fear of the Leap, often it is a card you can ignore if you are able to do bigger and better things, which Gemini certainly can.
2-1 Gemini, the first official breaker of the Covert Curse, and a match worth a rewatch. I do find it hard to stomach that Gemini doesn't have Ulamog. I also feel that Shirt's deck is the slowest deck in the tournament, which doesn't have to be a bad thing (sometimes you want to be slower). I do think he should have run Acid-Moss. The card has a sour reputation on the forums, and I think some players may have chosen not to run it because it receives a lot of forum hate mail, but the fact that players complain about a card is usually a sign of strength, not weakness, and in a sixteen player field with TEN decks running three colors or more, Acid-Moss stands to play a big role. However, watch this match and the next one I will discuss and you will see that multiple Moss's don't have a direct correlation with victory.
Mackey79 (Jund Steal/Sac Controly midrange thing) vs. Megabeast37215 (Five Color Ramp) - Video HERE
"I don't see many great lines for Mackey, but his steal/sac cards will force Beast into a very long game where he can't just jam Ulamog. In such a long game, perhaps Mackey can cast and dig up Gaea's Revenge three or four times and find a way to break the game open. I am going with Beast."
Of all the matches, in terms of decklist vs decklist, this one felt and still feels the most lopsided on paper. I played this matchup for fun and testing from both sides, playing as Mackey and Beast, and the Beast deck won all four games very easily. I would pick the Beast again if the match happened tomorrow. And yet...and yet....
Game one it appears both players have mana issues, Mackey has a lack of lands while Beast has all the wrong lands despite drawing a bazillion cards off jolly old St. Nix. If I had to point out a critical misstep for Beast, I would choose the selection of target for Angelic Edict at 14:50. As uncool as it seems, I think the target has to be Myr. Beast's life total is just too low. Personally, if I see my opponent has a full hand, I am happy with them paying two mana (or always holding up two mana, same thing) to draw another card. When your life total gets into the seven and under range, every decision about card advantage must be viewed with a new tinted lens, and that lens is your life total. They who die with the most card advantage still dies. From Mackey's side, you have to be more liberal with Nissa, when you need a land you cast her. Mackey spends most of the game short on mana and never casts Nissa, at some point you have to concede that this game will not be won or lost on the basis of you flipping a planeswalker, but will be won or lost based on you getting your manabase in order before Beast does something you can't recover from, like ultimate a walker. Good job seeing the line at the end to close out the game.
Game two was reminiscent of my experience with the matchup - Mackey stares at a hand of Bone Splinters and Act of Treason while Beast ties a 20 lb Ob pendant around his neck and drops Mackey in the Brilliant river.
Game three still boggles my mind. I watched nearly the entire game wondering "how could Beast lose from here?" He had his mana, he drew a bunch of cards, he should have the bigger endgame. And yet...and yet...
Eyeless Watcher leads right into Omnath which becomes the silver bullet, the one thing Beast just can't stop. Planar Outburst comes too late and Mackey closes the deal. Wow! Mackey takes it 2-1.
The tournament is 5 rounds of swiss, so every player plays five matches with the best records advancing to top 8. I anticipate all the 3-2 or better records will make it. Here are the current standings so we can speculate on pairings and what they might mean for yours truly -
The 1-0 bracket
Mackey - Jund Control
Gemini - Naya Ramp
Smoke - Jund Midrange
Hakeem - Thopters
Splinter - Esper Control
Diverse1 - Azorius Aggro
CGB - Gruul Ramp
Barney/Danny - Thopters/Jund
A trend so far is that the more aggressive/proactive strategies are prevailing over the bigger/more passive ones, with my victory arguably being an exception though my deck is very proactive. It has been my experience in testing that this format is very hard to control. I will be curious to see if that theory holds up as we play on. Looking at this bracket like a menu, and knowing I may have to eat my words should I get smashed, I think I would be happy to play the Jund decks. Esper Control has the potential to be a headache, but I am not ready to consider the match-up bad. Any aggressive strategy such as Thopters or Azorius Aggro puts the pressure on me to have the right answers early and close out late, but I think my deck can do that in a two out of three scenario. I also think I have an edge on Gemini with a two color build, but that match could go either way if one of us resolves an unanswered bomb. In a nutshell, I'd prefer to dodge Naya Ramp and Esper, I'd prefer to battle Jund, and I don't feel worried about my aggro matchup.
The 0-1 bracket
Ender - Dimir midrange
Danno - Sultai Control
Mobius - Esper Control
Westwane - Esper Control
Peepy - Jeskai Tokens
Tshirt - Selesnya Ramp
Beast - 5 Color Ramp
Danny/Barney - Jund/Thopters
Three control decks, a control-ish Dimir, two Ramp decks and one aggro tokens. Since aggressors have prevailed so far, Peepy will likely get a second round matchup that is good for him. Aside from that, I think the 20 minute or less matches are over, suit up for some long games and slugfests in this bracket. While I liked Beast's deck choice on Friday, and I do still think running eight sweepers could pay off, I like his chances a lot less in this bracket. Against Esper Control, Sultai Control and Ramp his sweepers are often just inefficient removal spells. The road could be tough. Mobius will likely be more proactive in the control battles, and he has a lot of play and must-answer action so he will be tough to contain. I'd love Shirt in this bracket if he had Moss. As his deck sits, he has nine cards that MUST be dealt with, and that is just a bit ahead of the relevant answers in most of the control decks, so I expect close matches from Shirt and foe. It is unlikely Danno will face another fast deck, so his Sultai list will get another chance to show off what it can do. I expect more games to come down to silver bullet planeswalkers that go uncountered and unanswered, reminding all of us how great mythics are and how bad the rest of our cards in Duels are.
What can the rest of you take away from this if you aren't in the tournament and in a different meta?
Check out the decklists, build your favorite, try to improve on it if you like, and take them for a spin. Let me, and/or the creator, know how you did. Stay tuned to that thread on No Goblins Allowed, after pairings are announced you may be able to catch a match live on Twitch. You can always check out my archives as I play, test and prepare (HERE), or catch me live and chat me up.
I am also on Twitter, @danno029, and I will try to remember to post there when I release a new blog entry or when a match is about to go live.
There will also likely be an iOS tournament starting this week that I will also be part of, so coverage of that will be forthcoming as well.
Tournaments add so much to the game and community around it. I want to thank Hakeem and Mobius for getting this thing together (90/10 Hakeem, I think Mobius would even agree, it is Hakeem's baby). Continue to check out this blog as we follow our sixteen players in the quest for the now $140 value first prize.