Though the blog is primarily dedicated to 40k, I do have a long and varied history with other types of games. Frankly, my local group winds up playing more board games than anything else, but we also dabble in the dark art that is Magic: the Gathering.
Last year, we finally bit the bullet and started throwing semi-regular draft nights together. To date, we’ve had three or four of them on an almost quarterly basis, all of which have been fairly well received. Well, to prevent things from getting stale, we opted to throw a couple of twists into it this time:
- We went with an older set from back when most of us used to play
- We opted to make the particular set we were drafting hidden
I figure I’ll break down a bit of those two decisions, as to how they worked out, and then talk a little about the event itself…
An Older Set
The stated mission was to play an older set from when we used to play. After all, Magic itself is almost purely nostalgia for most of us, so it would be great if we could go back and relive some of what we remember from our hey day. This is complicated a bit because most of us didn’t really know each other back in the day. In fact, of the guys I draft with, I only knew three of them from back when I really played. Of those three, I can only recall ever playing against Sam at that time–and then only on rare occasions. Each of us really had separate circles of friends that we primarily played with. To further complicate things, we have people of all age brackets in the group, so I had gotten out of the game multiple times before some had even started.
As a result, there was no single set that would scream “nostalgia” to everyone. Still, I figured that most people would’ve played a core set from back in the day, so that was a good place to start.
Frankly though, older pack prices are ridiculous. Granted, I understand why you can’t by a pack of Alpha or Legends for pocket change–based upon the cards that are contained within them. Still though, sets like Ice Age or 4th/5th edition run pretty consistently at $10 per pack, despite having almost nothing good in them. Based upon the cash value of cards inside them alone, there’s clearly no justification for the cost, so I’m sure it has a little to do with scarcity and the fact that the packs are 20 years old.
So, I set to eBay, scouring for cheap packs. Frankly though, those are few and far between. Cheap boxes are also fairly difficult to find. The one place I managed to have some success was to pick up an open box that was missing a couple of packs. I actually wound up picking up two of these: one of 5th edition, and one of another set (to be named in the future–as we’ll draft that one day I’m sure too).
5th edition was old enough to contain memorable content, but low enough on the price scale to be feasible for a casual game.
Keeping the Set Hidden
Well, this goal was impossible, given that I was both buying the box and playing in the draft; however, I figured I could buy an older set and then agree not to go looking at the cards or do any test drafts online with the set. That way, we could all have a “level” playing field.
This was a request of someone else in a previous draft, who felt that having time in advance gave some players an unfair advantage. I personally didn’t agree with this philosophy: all players were aware of the set in advance, and I even sent out links to various lists: card lists, price lists, draft simulators, and strategies. Those that used those links (or did their own research) simply had more of advantage. But everyone had the option to do so.
I get that some people don’t care to do research in advance though. And, we’re trying to be an-inclusive experience, so I agreed to hide the set from everyone until the moment of the draft. Frankly, it didn’t go over badly, and I can see us doing this again in the future (maybe for the other “older” box that I purchased).
My Draft Experience / Deck
Going into the set blind was kind of fun to me. In retrospect, I’m not sure that I ever played much of 5th edition. It’s hard to say for certain, but I know I sold out of my cards the week before Legends was released, then got back in relatively quickly (I bought a fair bit of the Dark), and then out again somewhere after Alliances. I tinkered with Mirage & Visions, but Tempest & Stronghold are fairly foreign to me. I didn’t get back in again until sometime after Mirrodin.
The point being, that I’m not sure I ever really played with 5th edition. Then again, virtually all of the cards came out of sets that I had otherwised played before, so there weren’t any huge surprises.
My first pack contained a Sorceress Queen, so I snagged that, figuring that it was pretty powerful, and a couple of packs later I picked up a Time Elemental–and that cemented me into U/B Control. Granted, none of us knew at the time what the archetypes were–and now that I think of it, I don’t think there are any real practical archetypes to the set as it was likely created far before “draft” was as popular a thing as it is now. The thing is, even though I was building a control deck, I didn’t know it at the time.
I found myself drafting whatever creature hate I could, prioritizing black over blue. I also found that rare drafting was quite a bit easier when they didn’t have icons on them. It seems that my grasp over which cards were rares was stronger than my friends, so I wound up picking the rares out of the first five or six packs that came by.
I found myself drafting creature hate, and large blue flyers for the most part, but the creature hate in the set (or at least the ones being passed to me) weren’t very good. Terror is a beast (and is apparently in the set), but it turns out that I had a guy to my left that was also drafting Blue/Black so he was taking the good creature hate and all of the small creatures for both colors.
By the fourth pack, I found myself with a stack of Floods and Tortures for control, and virtually no small creatures. In fact, My deck didn’t include a single creature for less than three mana. By the third pack, I was really worried, and figure I had lost the whole thing, knowing that I couldn’t do anything against a speedy agro deck.
In fact, my deck had only a few ways to win:
- 2x Necrites
- 1x Dragon Engine
- 1x Sorceress Queen
- 1x Phantasmal Forces
- 1x Azure Drake
- 1x Sibilant Spirit
- Non-creature damage
- Aladdin’s Ring
- Drain Life
Some of those creatures as a source of damage were a joke. Three of them seem viable (ie. have at least 3 power), but the rest are fairly weak. Aladdin’s Ring was a house–if I could live long enough to get it out–and pestilence is amazing, but I always had less life than my opponent. In fact, I originally was maindecking Necropotence, but I never once drew it, and if I had, it would’ve been a dead card, so I eventually perma-sideboarded it out for an extra copy of Flood. Drain life was good, but it was barely a finisher, as I couldn’t manage to do more than 8 damage with it in my deck–instead, it was just a card that I’d use for control and limited life gain.
My sideboard was fairly amazing, and I flirted with the idea of including all sorts of cards. Who drafts Winter Orb and Armageddon and plays with neither? I fully intended to play the orb, but with such a slow, control deck, I wasn’t sure it was the right play. I needed my mana for floods and tortures. In fact, both of those seemed better suited to faster decks.
Splashing red for a disintegrate and an incinerate also seemed viable, but I felt that between Flood and Necropotence, I was pretty strict on need islands and swamps.
So that’s what I played. With the exception of the Necropotence > Flood switch halfway through the night, I didn’t make any more changes to the deck.
The bracket was done up differently this time. In previous events, we “seeded” the bracket based upon perceived skill levels or where you sat. This time, I put Brandon in charge of it and he randomized the bracket completely. This meant that Icky and I (typically seed 1 & 2) sat down against each other for the first game.
His deck was a U/G Control build as well based heavily upon counterspells. Unfortunately, he had very little in the deck that he could do once something hit the board. It wasn’t actually until our games were over that he let me see his sideboard. Two tranquilities there could’ve ruined my day…
Both games played out the same way: he put out a fairly fast creature or two, and I would kill them off–but not before he could do 15-19 damage to me. Then, I would build up some sort of board state (Sorceress Queen and Time Elemental) and then grind him down with an Azure Drake or, my personal favorite, the Aladdin’s Ring.
Game 2 was against Albert, who played a red-weenie deck. He missed a couple of triggers with some of his cards. I tried to point them out, but he’s a real easy-going guy. His deck was alright, but really needed some tuning. I got pestilence out for the first time in those games, and it proved it’s worth. Generally, a pestilence for one was enough to clear his board.
Game 3 was against Brandon, who was one of the only ones to draft Green. He had a midrange deck with a fair bit of acceleration. We were both undefeated by this point, but due to some rough draws, he wound up losing both of the games. Man, was he soured by my control cards. I can understand frustration with the sorceress queen, but when you tell me that “torture” is a bullshit card, you’ve clearly had a rough game….
I had to wait for game four because Joe and Brandon were battling things out in the losers bracket to see who would face me again. Turns out, Joe won that game due to an early Deathgrip each time, and that was game for Brandon. It’s hard to play the game when your opponent just counters everything you do! Anywho, Joe played a wide deck of little 1/1’s that would beat you down for a bit and then drop a lord of the pit and finish you off. In both games, I managed to play a pestilence and that ruined his board. In both games, he managed to kill off (or unsummon) the only living creature I had left (or use a Nev. Disk in one of them), but I also managed to boomerang the pestilence to my hand.
To add insult to injury, I ray of commanded his Lord of the Pit in the last game, and beat him with it to end the game.
What I Learned:
- Control is huge. I know that creature hate is good, but I figured I needed to have creatures to win. Not so, I guess, when you had as much hate as I had (many of it reusable). Based upon this shell, I managed to go 8-0 and win the night.
- Not knowing the cards in advance was ok. I hesitate to say that it was a better or worse experience: just different. In hindsight, it’s hard to say I would’ve done anything differently, seeing as I won, but I really think a green or white weenie deck would’ve been pretty powerful. I did miss the days leading up to the draft where I got to do test drafts online…
- Fifth Edition is HUGE! Seriously, the set has 449 cards in it. Heck, that’s 50% bigger than anything they make now adays. It was also interesting that every pack had a full fifteen cards in it (no land in the boosters).
- The cards in our pool sucked. Not that they were bad, but they just weren’t worth much. Granted, there are only two cards that are worth the price of a pack, so I don’t know what I was expecting. Two necropotences were the best value cards we had ($7 each).