Monday, October 1, 2012

Return to Ravnica - Tournament Report & Second Impressions

Tournament Report
What an awesome Prerelease weekend, amiright? The guild boxes really made the event feel special and choosing your guild created a real sense of camaraderie that only the Mirrodin Besieged event came close to. The die and the sticker were a nice touch. I'm not complaining, but the die made me think how prerelease boxes could be even better next time. Include everything you expect that player to need. Selesnya players would get extra tokens (at least the 8/8 their foil can produce); Rakdos and Golgari would get +1/+1 counters (possibly S&M- / autopsy-themed); Azorius would get detain markers; and Izzet would get, uh, safety goggles!

Prereleases are far and away my favorite event because I get to meet and play with new people and explore a brand new game (which is basically my favorite activity ever). It's also a huge boost to my ego because adapting to new environments is my strongest suit in competitive play and I always do very well. Oh and then there's Two-Headed Giant.

I adore this format for a few reasons. Team play is always a blast and sitting down with one of my good friends to do battle together is the best bonding experience Magic has ever offered me. It's a very good learning format because every decision from deck-building to winning and scooping is informed by two opinions. I've played with brand new players before and still learned a bit in the process. The game also plays differently from a duel and I crave that variation. This article is about Return to Ravnica so I won't go on about 2HG; I just mentioned it because it informed my experience.

Saturday morning I played 2HG at Redcap's Corner with my good friend, Anthony. He played Golgari and I played Izzet (because, dude, guaranteed Dragon). We were fortunate to open a Deathrite Shaman, two Lotleth Trolls, an Overgrown Tomb and four Golgari Guildgates (which turned out to be too many). On my side, we had five Cancels, three Essence Backlash, a Dispel, a Counterflux and a Syncopate (but we only ran 8 of those). We thought we were Tempo: He drops an early LOL Troll and I back it up with infinite countermagic. We learned while losing our first game to mana screw that we were in fact Control and adjusted our decks a bit for that plan.

We won the next two matches. Our MVPs were Deathrite Shaman and Guttersnipe, both of whom nug the other team for 4 thanks to multiplayer friendly "each opponent" wording. I also heard some form of "Essence Backlash is SO good" at least a dozen times over the course of the weekend.

Saturday evening I played solo and took Golgari (because I had signed up for that two weeks before I knew my ally would be playing Golgari). I opened a Dreadbore (which I would soon learn the hard way is not an Instant) and started a Golgari-splash-Rakdos build until I took a harder look and realized my BR cards were just better than my BG cards and swapped those guilds' dominance. My deck was full of removal and I bashed my way to 3-0-ID. I'd have played out the final match if it wasn't after 10pm already, but I am an old man and love my sleep.

Sunday I partnered with my Magic-partner-in-crime from work, Josh for some more 2HG at Cyborg One. He was on an Izzet run so I wanted to take a guild that I hadn't played yet and that didn't overlap his colors. Selesnya did not disappoint. We opened an Armada Wurm and a second Grove of the Guardian so I went all-in on Populate. All of our matches ended with four 8/8s or 5/5s, but there was one game that we would have lost to a Jace, Architect of Thought if I hadn't remembered that virgin Rogue's Passage sitting quietly between my Selesnya Guildgates and Plains.

We finished our four rounds undefeated, though round one ended with some controversy. We attacked with lethal the turn before our opponents would finish us off and one of them played Druid's Deliverance. Mine were sitting in my sideboard because I "knew" that cards like that don't work in 2HG. Though you attack and block as a team, damage is always assigned to a specific player. Otherwise, effects like Hypnotic Specter either don't make sense or become vastly too strong. My confidence was shaken when the store owner, who had previously demonstrated uncommon rules understanding explained that the 2HG rules had been changed again and it no longer worked that way.

What he said was entirely possible. Wizards has made tournament rules changes that are clearly ill-advised before, and they've also made tournament rules changes without sufficiently notifying the player base before. Fortunately I had my smart phone and ten minutes before the end of the round to search up the exact rule governing the issue and confirm that it had not in fact changed and we really had won. The bad news was, I felt terrible winning that way. The player who cast the format-crippled Fog wasn't a new player, but he also wasn't a pro or a judge and had no way to know that the card doesn't do what it says it does.

We offered them the draw and the store owner was awesome enough to explain the ruling to the rest of the store before the next round. What concerns me is that there are cards like this in every set (I know because I play 2HG at every prerelease) and this is a bad situation to greet new players with. Unfortunately, I can't offer a good solution. Replacing "you" with "you and your allies" or "your team" on cards like Deliverance just isn't going to happen (apparently). Dealing combat damage to both players would force some cards to be banned from 2HG in the best case and literally break some in the worst. I don't know the solution, but I'd be happy to discuss possibilities. In the meantime, I encourage event staff to always announce idiosyncrasies like this at the beginning of every tournament.

Second Impressions

Having played with the set, I'm happy to say that all of my concerns coming in have been alleviated …with the exception of a handful of flavor fails I'll discuss another time. The choice to Unleash or not is entirely relevant and lost my opponents more than one game. The size of Unleash creatures is perfect too—big enough to be exciting and fundamentally challenge the claim that RtR is a slower format, yet not so big that it becomes dominant or particularly frustrating.

Scavenge is pretty well placed too. None of the swarm are so efficient that getting both a body and a boost is back-breaking, but (sorry) none of them are unplayable inefficient either. What I particular loved discovering was that Scavenge is the answer to all of the cards I've been looking at and thinking, "That'd be great if there were more ways to boost creatures in the set." Fencing Ace, I'm looking at you.

Populate is a blast. Copying a centaur or bigger is immensely satisfying and even playing Eyes in the Sky to an empty board is pretty decent given Selesnya's options to embiggen a creature, not to mention its grisly neighbor's. I'm also really pleased that there are good answers to Populate, yet they don't invalidate the GW player's strategy. I play Armada Wurm and you Abrupt Decay its token. Now I can't populate 5/5 tramplers all day, but I'm still up one fatty.

Speaking of removal, I'm really liking the balance we have. There are numerous efficient rare answers and a bunch of expensive but nonetheless effective common answers which should make answering your opponents' bombs more frequent, while simultaneously reducing the mana/tempo value you gain from doing so. I'm a little optimistic that R&D is moving away from the no-fun spiral, though I'll be happy even if it's only for a set or three before the penduluum swings back.

I take back what I said about Ogre Gatecrasher. People will be taking Gates regardless, but the Gatecrasher's ability is far from trivial. That it reminds me of a card that's been sitting in my CCDD folder forever is a bonus: Philosopher of the Cave

Despite all the games I played, I saw very little Detain action. It's definitely worse in 2HG where there are just too many creatures for you to control the field. I remain confident that drafting a deck with 12+ detain cards will win you most games against non-populating opponents, but I intend to find out for certain soon enough.


  1. Jailhouse Counters are awesome. I ended up being lazy and just using a d10.

    I opened six detain cards at the prerelease. With the exception of Martial Law (which is just amazing), I found the mechanic's best use to be a pseudo-life buffer; the longer I could draw out the game against the hyperaggressive Rakdos decks, the more bad draws they got, letting me take over the game with my expensive fat fliers, walls, and countermagic (the extent of the rest of my removal being two Paralyzing Grasps). Having a 7 mana bomb definitely pushed me in that direction from the start; in draft I could see it being used in a more tempo build that wants to load up on infinite 2-3 power fliers.

    I played against black decks all day and only once saw a non-pumped unleash creature. It's hard to think of situations in which Rakdos is not going to want to "be the beatdown."

  2. I played Azorius one event, and found detain really hard to manage. It was really difficult to out-tempo the Selesnya or Rakdos decks with UW flyers, and the creatures with detain mostly didn't have a big enough body to win a race effectively.

    I played a couple unleash guys in my Golgari deck and played the deathtouch guy without a counter. One thing I really didn't like was how weird intimidate is on the new Golgari Guildmage; it works really strangely in a gold set.

    Also, I HATE the name Urban Burgeoning. Whoever came up with that must hates words. And sanity.

    1. Need: Creative Writer for world's most played collectible trading card game!

      Qualifications: We're looking for someone with a keen hatred of sanity and, more generally, words. If you're someone who spends most of their free time concocting terrible puns, misusing idioms, and coining neologisms for things that don't actually require them, this is the job for.

      No suits required! (The better to let your assonance hang out.)

    2. How can you hate Urban Burgeoning? I'm still holding out for a "Protection from White and Blue" bear in Gruul named "Rural Juror".

    3. Yeah, I never knew Kevin Grisham worked at Wizards.