IntoTheAether Learns His Lesson

Posted in Feature on March 8, 2005

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Lessons from the Betrayers release events

Greetings! I hope you all had fun this weekend at the Betrayers of Kamigawa Release Weekend. I know that I...

Well. Actually...

There are two good things that can be said about my Betrayers Release weekend. The first is that I provided many people some Limited points for practically free. The second is that I've found that humble pie is actually quite tasty.

Unlike the Champions of Kamigawa Release Events, a lot of other things were crowding out my Magic-playing time this past weekend (not the least of which was my birthday). As a result, I figured that at most I could participate in three events, and probably small ones at that. Only three opportunities to try my hand at qualifying for the Betrayers Championship event, which did not inspire confidence in my hopes at owning the original Ink-Eyes art. Still, three tries is better than none, I reckoned.

In all three tries, I utterly stank up the AEther. I would like to blame the shuffler for my atrocious weekend, but it's clear that I have only myself to blame. I made a number of errors so fundamental as to be almost laughable.

As a result, today is going to be slightly different than other articles. I'm going to explain my weekend, in brief, and then explain the glaring mistakes I made along the way. I've always thought that negative examples can be just as instructive as positive ones, so I hope today feels worthwhile. The lessons I have the share today are painfully obvious ones, but--as I found out first-hand--even basic lessons need some review now and again.

Basic Lesson 1: Manacurves Matter, Even in Limited

 

Horobi, Death's Wail
My first Premiere Event was a 32-person Sealed Deck tournament. My cards were decent across all of the colors, with only one rare that could be considered anywhere near a powerhouse: Horobi, Death's Wail.

To be honest, I was blinded by Horobi, Death's Wail, partly because it's a card for which I wrote both the name and flavor text, and partly because I also had lots of targeting Spirits like Kami of the Waning Moon, Innocence Kami (foil, no less!), Waxmane Baku, and even Horizon Seed. I also had Tallowisp to go along with Cage of Hands and Heart of Light, which was a nice additional excuse to play White. The problem was that my deck had about five cards of less than four mana, which everyone should know is not a recipe for success.

What is amazing to me in retrospect is that I assembled my deck not even conscious of the mistake I had made. It wasn't unil I faced a hyper-aggressive Red/Green deck in the first round that the uneasy seeds of fear began to germinate in my stomach acid. My opponent emptied his hand and killed me a turn after I cast my first creature in the first game. The second game was more of the same, except I died about a turn before I could stabilize the board. To add insult to injury, in the second round I had all Plains and Black cards in the first game, then stalled on three land in the second game. Embarrassed, I dropped at 0-2.

I have built so many Magic decks in my life that these days I often build from instinct rather than using the in-depth analysis I once used to determine things like manacurve. Usually this saves me time and works out fine, but it's clear to me now that in this tournament I became enamored with a single idea (Horobi plus targeting creatures) to the exclusion of all else, including those silly numbers in the top right of the cards. Granted, Limited decks in general can use higher-cost cards because the games are slower and the decks more packed with land. But even under the looser constraints of Limited, what I tried was untenable. Even had I not run into bad luck in the second round, it was unlikely that my slow deck would have survived long. I also never bothered to consider that with no card-drawing or tutors to speak of, I may never have pulled off my Horobi trick so needed the deck to stand on its own without Horobi in play.

I'm also sorry to say that I didn't save either the cards or deck from this first trainwreck of an experience. Both would have been illustrative of a neat idea for a deck that turned out to be way too top-heavy in practice.

Moving on... It couldn't get worse, right?

Basic Lesson 2: Magic Requires Concentration

 

Umezawa's Jitte
In my second 32-person Sealed Deck tournament, I decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I built an aggressive Green/Red deck with twenty creatures (if you count Genju of the Spires and Genju of the Cedars) with Umezawa's Jitte as one of my only non-creature cards. I had recovered enough from my shellshocked first experience to remember to capture what cards I opened, too. Here they are:

White: Cage of Hands; Call to Glory; Empty-Shrine Kannushi; Ethereal Haze; Hundred-Talon Strike; Indebted Samurai; Indomitable Will; Kami of False Hope; Kitsune Diviner; Kitsune Riftwalker; Konda's Hatamoto; Konda, Lord of Eiganjo; Mending Hands; Quiet Purity; Split-Tail Miko; Takeno's Cavalry; Terashi's Grasp; Waxmane Baku.

Blue: Phantom Wings; Eye of Nowhere; Field of Reality; Floodbringer; Graceful Adept; Heed the Mists; Honden of Seeing Winds; Mistblade Shinobi; Quillmane Baku; River Kaijin; Sire of the Storm; Teardrop Kami; Teller of Tales; Thoughtbind; Veil of Secrecy.

Black: Eradicate; Ashen-Skin Zubera; Call for Blood; Crawling Filth; Cruel Deceiver; Dance of Shadows; Devouring Greed; Honden of Night's Reach; Horobi's Whisper; Kuro, Pitlord; Okiba-Gang Shinobi; Oni Possession; Psychic Spear; Pull Under; Rag Dealer; Rend Spirit; Stir the Grave; Takenuma Bleeder; Villainous Ogre; Wicked Akuba.

Red: Akki Avalanchers; Akki Blizzard-Herder; Akki Rockspeaker; Blademane Baku (2); Crushing Pain; Devouring Rage; Earthshaker; Genju of the Spires; Goblin Cohort; Ire of Kaminari; Kami of Fire's Roar; Kumano's Blessing; Mannichi, the Fevered Dream; Ronin Cliffrider; Shinka Gatekeeper; Shizuko, Caller of Autumn.

Green: Genju of the Cedars; Gnarled Mass; Harbinger of Spring; Kodama's Might; Loam Dweller; Matsu-Tribe Decoy; Matsu-Tribe Sniper; Orbweaver Kumo; Order of the Sacred Bell; Orochi Ranger; Petalmane Baku; Sakura-Tribe Elder; Scaled Hulk; Serpent Skin; Venerable Kumo; Uproot.

Artifact/Land: Hankyu; Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers; Shuko; Umezawa's Jitte.

The Black removal in this pile of cards is pretty scary, but I didn't like the creatures very much. The White may have been a stonger choice than Red, but Green/Red is one of those color combinations that I feel very comfortable playing. After such a shocking beginning to my weekend, I felt I needed some comfort. The deck wasn't terrible either, and at least I had learned paid attention to manacurves...

IntoTheAether's BOK Sealed Failure 2

Download Arena Decklist

It was a relatively easy deck to play, and I had the almighty Jitte, so I clearly did better this time around, right? Sort of. I ended up 1-2, with my Limited rating plummeting from 1700 to about 1650 thanks to the first two tournaments.

Why the poor performance? Would you believe it was Angelina Jolie's fault?

It's a little known fact, but when I play in the evenings I'm usually camped out on my wireless laptop in front of the television. My wife is a reality-tv junkie (if you knew my wife--all three Master's degress of her--you would find this hilarious), so she relaxes watching shows like “The Bachelor,” “America's Next Top Model,” “What Not To Wear,” and “Extreme Makeover” while I battle Japanese-inspired Spirits with my legendary Snakefolk. Basically she watches her shows and ignores my sporadic whoops of triumph or gasps of defeat, and I never--ever--look up at the tv screen. It's a peculiar balance that allows us to pretend we're spending time with one another while rubbing knees.

Anyway, Friday night she decided to forgo her trashy tv and rent a movie: “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.” Now, this is by no means a good movie, but it is a movie with fairly stunning visuals. I found myself caught up in the action, watching the movie half-time while I played.

The result, predictably, was that I made a ton of play errors, things like removing counters from the Jitte for the wrong effect, forgetting to block or attack, and once forgetting I had a Forest enchanted with Genju of the Cedars for four consecutive turns. My play made for some funny self-deprecating quips that I think my opponents appreciated, but it was an anemic evening. I don't really feel like I saw the movie with my wife, nor did I manage a reasonable performance in the Sealed event. Sigh.

Thankfully, as Saturday afternoon rolled around, I could chalk up Friday to an evening of bone-headed mistakes. We all have evenings like my first two tournaments, so I resolved not to beat myself up over it. I had one more shot at redemption, and I would make it count. I just needed to pay attention to deck construction and pay attention to the game instead of the television. No problem. I had learned all of the lessons I needed to learn, right?

Right?!?

Basic Lesson 3: Budget Enough Time to Play

As if in retribution for Friday, my final 32-person Sealed Deck event gave me a terrific set of cards:

White: Candles' Glow; Devoted Retainer; Kami of Ancient Law; Kami of False Hope; Kami of the Painted Road; Kitsune Riftwalker; Mending Hands; Quiet Purity; Sensei Golden-Tail; Silverstorm Samurai; Split-Tail Miko; Terashi's Cry; Terashi's Grasp; Waxmane Baku.

Blue: Eye of Nowhere; Field of Reality; Genju of the Falls; Graceful Adept; Honden of Seeing Winds; Kami of Twisted Reflection; Minamo Sightbender; Minamo's Meddling; Mystic Restraints; Phantom Wings; Quillmane Baku; Swirl the Mists; Teardrop Kami; Thoughtbind; Veil of Secrecy.

Black: Ashen-Skin Zubera (2); Befoul; Crawling Filth; Cursed Ronin; Distress; Gibbering Kami; Horobi's Whisper; Kami of the Waning Moon; Okiba-Gang Shinobi; Ogre Marauder; Oni Possession; Psychic Spear; Pull Under; Ragged Veins; Scourge of Numai; Stir the Grave (2); Takenuma Bleeder; Yukora, the Prisoner.

Red: Akki Avalanchers; Akki Blizzard-Herder; Akki Underminer; Blademane Baku (2); Crushing Pain; Earthshaker; Frostling; Frostwielder; Ire of Kaminari; Goblin Cohort; Kumano, Master Yamabushi; Kumano's Blessing; Uncontrollable Anger; Yamabushi's Storm.

Green: Burr Grafter; Commune with Nature; Gnarled Mass (2); Hana Kami; Harbinger of Spring; Lifegift; Matsu-Tribe Decoy; Matsu-Tribe Sniper; Moss Kami; Orbweaver Kumo; Orochi Leafcaller; Petalmane Baku; Roar of Jukai; Sakura-Tribe Elder; Scaled Hulk; Splinter; Unchecked Growth; Uproot; Venerable Kumo.

Artifact/Land: Blinding Powder (2); Hankyu; No-Dachi; Ornate Kanzashi; Ronin Warclub;

Although my Green was very respectable, Red and Black gave me some absolutely terrific creatures--namely Frostwielder, Kumano, Master Yamabushi, and Yukora, the Prisoner--along with two Stir the Graves to revive them if the game turned ugly. Horobi's Whisper, Befoul, Pull Under, Earthshaker, and Yamabushi's Storm from the sideboard rounded out what I felt was a darned spiffy deck...

IntoTheAether's BOK Sealed Failure 3

Download Arena Decklist

My deck was just about as spiffy in practice as I had hoped it would be. I won my first two rounds 2-0 and 2-1, overwhelming my opponents with superior, beefy, creatures. Kumano, Master Yamabushi was particularly stellar, as he is wont to be. Ogre Marauder turned out to be surprisingly problematic for my opponents, and Ronin Warclub was neat enough that I need to use it in Constructed decks soon.

Unfortunately, as I finished the second round of the tournament it became clear that I was running out of time. My son woke up from his nap, my wife and I had dinner plans, and a thousand errands I had promised to do loomed before me. For awhile, my won was content to press random keys on my keyboard and my wife checked her e-mail. It was clear, though, that other priorities were pulling me away, so I conceded to my third-round opponent half-way through our first game.

In hindsight, I'm not exactly sure why I thought I could finish a five-round tournament in less than three hours. No Premier Event takes so little time, even small 32-person ones. Either optimism got the best of me or, more likely, I assumed I would continue my losing streak and not have to worry about the later rounds. Whatever the case, even in the midst of success I found myself reminded of one of the basic facts of online play--Sanctioned tournaments require time to finish. I had become so used to catching a pick-up Singleton or Two-Headed Giant game in the nooks and crannies of my days, that I had forgotten the commitment competitive play entails.

At Least I Always Have Prismatic...

Late Sunday night, I had very little to show for my Release Event weekend. Sometimes Magic is like that, especially when you build bad decks, try and watch a movie while playing, and don't leave yourself enough time to finish a tournament. With an hour of spare time, I decided to drown my sorrows in a Constructed format near to my heart... Prismatic.

I have a feeling Doug Beyer is not long away from supplying us all with a Betrayers of Kamigawa Prismatic primer, so I won't try and steal his thunder here. Suffice it to say, I was excited to add two Betrayers cards to my loveable Prismatic deck.

Genju of the Realm is an obvious Prismatic card. I imagine it will begin to show up regularly from silly to competitive Prismatic decks. It's not a powerhouse card for a format with little tutoring ability and plenty of enchantment removal, but it's darned fun nonetheless and can be quite spectacular once activated a few times. I had been feeling like the single copies of Invasion dragons (a la Crosis, the Purger) were clunky add-ins to my deck anyway, so out they went in the name of the Realm.

The card I was most excited about, though, was Ornate Kanzashi. I figured that my deck would always have the mana to play whatever card (land or non-land) I revealed, so essentially the Kanzashi would be like a second draw a turn. My early games proved this theory correct, and I quickly jumped to four copies in my deck by dropping a couple of Coalition Victories and a couple of land.

I decided not to add Tendo Ice Bridge, although I did debate it for quite awhile. It's a great Prismatic card, but my deck actually cares a lot about Basic Land. Besides, the deck is already so stuffed full of rares that I don't need more that are nice-to-have instead of super-cool. Prismatic, it seems to me, is about maximizing the super-cool.

Anyway, here is the deck as it currently stands:

Prismatastic!

Download Arena Decklist

I managed a couple of games Sunday to great effect. I never did play my Genju, but Ornate Kanzashi was faboo. Expect me to be playing this deck in my idle moments online, since I continue to be struck giddy by the dramatic back-and-forth shifts in Prismatic games. I may be dipping my toe into Standard again, too, trying my hand at building decks around the Betrayers flip-cards, the Patrons, and a variety of other cards. I've earmarked Twist Allegiance for a Two-Headed Giant deck, coming your way soon.

Also expect me to be sitting down at some Draft tables in the next week. Generally speaking I do a lot better in Draft than Sealed Deck, and I'm hoping to regain some of those ego points I lost this weekend. This time, too, expect me to build my decks carefully, leave the tv off, and only start what I have time to finish. Humble pie isn't that tasty, after all.

See you online!

-jms

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