Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Keep-draft Vs Rare-draft in Melbourne


I've been playing Magic in Victoria for 13 years now. Over the years I've seen stores rise and fall and I've also noticed something else: a trend away from rare-draft towards keep-draft. I find this interesting. I'm going talk about the two different draft methods and come to some conclusions. Hopefully I can help you decide which you like most.

Description of the two draft methods:
I'm going to assume you know how the draft process works. The difference between keep-draft and rare-draft is just prize distribution but that has consequences which I will elaborate on.

Whatever cards you draft, you now own. Typically booster prizes are awarded to the players who go 3-0 or 2-1. How many boosters depends on the store.

At the end of the three rounds, all the drafters crowd around a table and put in all the rares, mythic rares and foils from the draft.
The player who came first in the draft gets first pick. The player who came second gets second pick and so on. Then it goes round and round until all the cards are gone. Stores can supplement this with boosters prizes. Booster prizes for rare-drafts are typically spread out more than keep-drafts due to better performers getting higher rare picks.

Single elimination is another method popular in the US, but boosters are cheaper over there and no stores have done it here, so I'll disregard it.

Which method gets used is up to the store.

A history of my experience drafting in the Melbourne area:
The first ten or so sanctioned events I ever played were rare-drafts at a store called Gaming Knights in Geelong. It was a cool old brick building in the city centre. It's probably a trendy cocktail bar now.
I have great memories of banter amongst the established players at the time and the pride I felt when it was finally I who had first pick. The acknowledging nods and raised eyebrows of surprise, yum yum yum I loved it.
I moved to Melbourne for University in 2006 (I could've stayed in Geelong but there was more Magic in Melbourne. No joke, it was a factor in my decision) and at the time there were three stores: Dungeon of Magic (Adam's still pluggin' away down there), Mind Games in the city and Card Heaven on Chapel st. Have you seen Zootopia in cinemas yet? The bunny riding the train into the city, that was me. Card Heaven was the store to play at. Draft nights went off! You'd walk into the store, put your name down and within fifteen minutes they'd call the draft. It was like that for hours, all rare-drafts.
Card Heaven got bought-out by an interstate investor and it slowly declined. Isaac Egan and Chris Evans were disappointed with this and stepped up for the community by opening their own store, Metagames in the city. Metagames felt like the common room at your university crossed with your mate's filthy sharehouse lounge room. There was a draft firing every day and draft nights were all-nighters where you'd fall asleep on the store's couch and wake up in the morning for a kebab. Once again rare-drafts were the norm.
After Metagames came about the current era of stores (2012 onwards). There are sooo many stores now. Magic is booming. I was curious, I called up a bunch of stores and asked what method of drafting they did:

Current (April 2016) Melbourne stores and how they draft

Melbourne is overwhelmingly a keep-draft city at the moment. Some stores I spoke to didn't even know what a rare-draft was. You can probably tell from my tone that I'm nostalgic about rare-drafts.

Now I'm going to run through the pros and cons of both methods.

In a keep-draft, if you're 0-2, there's nothing riding on the last match so players often drop or concede and leave with their cards. That sucks if their last round opponent actually wanted to play Magic.
In a rare-draft, there is prize incentive to win your last round, so there are much less drops, which is great.
If you do drop from a rare-draft, the store clerk or one of your friends can draft your rare picks. However, that person may not know which cards you want most, so there's extra disincentive to drop, which in my opinion is a good thing.

Prize structure
This depends on the store but the minimal and most common prize structure goes like this:

Prize: Draft picks

Prize: 3 boosters for first, 2 boosters for second, 1 booster for third and fourth

How good each prize payout is depends on the player base that the store is working with. When I say 'good', I mean good for the community and good for Magic in general.

The lower entry fee of a rare-draft is more appealing for lower income earners, e.g. university students, who make up most of Magic's player base. Lower entry fees are also more appealing to EVERY player now that I think about it; you get to play just as much Magic at the same competitiveness, for less money.

With keep-drafts, the store gets to sell more boosters per player, so the store makes more money per pod.
If you're a store in a remote location with a fixed number of players, then yes, hosting keep-drafts will make you more money.
Similarly, if you're a tiny store with low capacity, then keep-drafts will make you more money.
However, if you're a large central store, i.e. Glab and GG's, the appeal of cheaper drafts could potentially attract more players and therefore more money.

Hypothetical situation:
FNM draft at Glab, enough players for five drafts show up. 5 x 8 x $20 - wholesale = $800 - wholesale.
The next Friday, Glab switch to cheaper rare-drafts, enough players for seven drafts show up. 7 x 8 x $15 - wholesale = $840 - wholesale.
Now, how many extra players you would attract with cheaper entry is hard to estimate but you see my point. It's worth noting that more players means more players to teach their friends and bring them along, so it's exponential.

Rare-drafts are flexible. If a store thinks they'll get the same amount of players in regardless, they can simply add the extra $5 to the entry fee and chuck in supplementary boosters prizes, to sell more boosters.

I want Magic to be as accessible to as many players as possible and I also want stores to make lots of money. That way we have more stores to play at with better facilities and more PPTQ's.
With regards to prize payouts, to do a thorough comparison of the two draft methods is beyond the scope of this post. I'd need to work out the average value of rare-pick one through to rare-pick twenty four. Then compare those to the values in this nice article about Shadows over Innistrad.
To generalise, they're roughly the same value since you can sell/trade whatever you win. However, in a rare-draft you often have your choice of several medium rares, which means less trading/selling/buying to get the rares you ultimately need for constructed.

If stores allow full return value on boosters for entry, that's a whole other story.

If you care to share your local store's prize structure in the comments, please do.

If you're playing a keep-draft and you finish your last round early, you can leave.
For rare-drafts, you need to gather everyone back together at the end, which takes longer if it's a loud busy spread-out store. Then everyone has to put in their rares. Most times there are a couple crappy rares which people forget in their sideboards. Those must be found before proceeding. Then the rare-draft itself takes another five minutes. With regards to logistics, keep-drafts are a little better.

Rare-drafts are at risk of people being dishonest. If a player opens a rare and takes it first pick, they're the only ones who know it's in the draft and could easily swap it for a lower value rare before playing. Rare-drafts only work if everyone in the draft is trustworthy.
Once I was drafting triple Kahns of Tarkir and passed a Wooded Foothills. Lo and behold, it wasn't one of the twenty four rares laid out at the end. "Where's the Foothills?" I proclaim. A young kid 'found' it in his sideboard and put in in the middle. I regret not scolding him more at the time cause that's were you gotta stamp that shit out.

Play experience
Rare-drafts definitely offer a better play experience.
In keep-drafts, any card worth money is taken first pick. This has many adverse effects:

  • It effectively decreasing the number of cards in the draft, making it harder for everyone to build decks.
  • If you take a valuable off-colour rare and pass a good on-colour card, that sends other players bad messages about which colour you're in. They may go into your colour and make both of your decks worse.
  • Players miss the opportunity to try niche strategies which are only enabled by some rares.
  • If a rare is taken just for value and not for a deck, not only does the drafter who would've actually played it lose that exposure, all their opponents do to.

If you're drafting in day two of a GP with thousands of dollars up for grabs, you aren't going to take the off-colour planeswalker pack three. You're going to take the best card for your deck and so is everyone else. If you play rare-drafts rather than keep-drafts at your local store, you're going to be much better prepared for GP's. I want to see Melbourne players get better at drafting.

A ladder to climb
At the end of a rare-draft, all the players gather round the same table and the standings are read out. Where you finished in the draft is acknowledged and communicated to your peers. This creates an extra reward for the players who did well but more importantly it gives the players who are trying to improve, something to strive for. You get recognition for doing well.
In a keep-draft, you walk up to the counter after the final, report your result and the clerk hands you your boosters. The clerk will almost always give you a "3-0, nice" but it's not the same. Then you walk out the door whist other matches are still going.

Sense of ownership
As evident by the recent change to sealed deck registration, players in general prefer to play with the cards they open.
I learnt to draft by rare-drafting. I never developed the 'I opened this, this is mine' attachment, which many players have.
This attachment is a barrier to rare-drafting making a resurgence.

I think rare-drafting is better for the community than keep-drafting. I tried to not be biased. I may have failed in that.

Thanks for reading. If you'd like to try rare-drafting, ask your local store if they've considered it.


Thursday, 14 April 2016

Shadows Over Innistrad Highlander set review


Writing a blog is an excellent way to procrastinate from applying for jobs.

As the titles suggests, this is my Shadows Over Innistrad Highlander set review.
I played the prereleasea couple weeks ago. Not the midnight release, too old for that shit. Just played two flights on the Sunday. Had a couple werewolves which were bombs. Shadows Over Innistrad, more like Bombs Over Baghdad.

As far as the mechanics go:
Werewolves don't really work in Highlander. Curves are too smooth and if you try to force night time, there are lots of cheap instants that your opponent can play to keep it day time.
Clues are probably too slow for Highlander. Combo and aggro decks can kill by turn four, no time for cracking clues. There's a chance there could be some artifact synergies with making lots of clues but I haven't thought about it.
Delirium is exciting. Much easier to 'get delirious' in Highlander than it is in Standard. There are plenty of playable delirium cards, some as cheap as one mana. To get the most out of those cheap delirium cards you'll need to build your deck to get delirium early without losing too much tempo, which is an exciting challenge.
Madness is a very powerful mechanic. You gain a card instead of discarding it, that's like gaining two cards. Not only that, the madness casting cost is typically very efficient.
Madness cards only really work with discard outlets which don't require much mana to discard cards, of which, there aren't many good ones. Also, there aren't enough good madness cards that you can afford to play underpowered discard outlets, so it's all a fine balance.

Now onto the cards. I've put them together in rough categories. They're not ordered by power level or anything like that.

Nahiri's interesting. She doesn't compliment an aggro deck and she is too slow for a combo deck. You see where I'm going; I actually think she's a control card. Her first two abilities aren't enough to make her playable, you need to be able to abuse that powerful third ability.
Emrakul is clearly the best creature that Nahiri can rip from your deck and plunge into your opponent's face. I can't think of a control deck which would want Emrakul though; we'll have to aim a bit lower. Sundering Titan isn't that far off the same effect and it costs seven less mana! If we're playing Sundering Titan however, we need to keep our number of basic land types low, which is tricky but do-able.
We also can't have Sundering Titan as our only searchee, we might draw it; so we need one or two more searchees. Inferno Titan and Sun Titan come to mind.
In case you weren't sure what I was doing with the word 'searchee', I was going for something like 'employee', as in something that you search is a searchee. I don't like the term 'tutor target' because you don't actually target the card...I realise most people understand that term. I'm just being weird.

I dunno. Seems like she does so much stuff that she must be good. I remember my second ever prerelease, it was Betrayers of Kamigawa. One of my rares was Umezawa's Jitte. I saw the rare symbol and it did too many things to read. I figured it must be good and put it in my deck. I almost got a match loss for marked cards; Jitte was covered in so much of my enemies' blood that the blood was leaking all over my sleeves.
That story doesn't convince me that Arlinn Kord will be good in Highlander and I'm sure you're not convinced either.
I imagine Arlinn games will go either of two ways: The first way is that they kill the 2/2 wolf and then attack Arlinn to death. The second way is that the 2/2 wolf chump blocks to keep Arlinn alive, then the next turn you bolt one of their dudes and ride Arlinn to victory.

So close to "Jace, the Mind Sculptor +1 mana", that I can't dismiss him as unplayable.
He's the best colour.
Blue has enough disruption that 5 mana isn't too slow.
To reitterate, I basically see him as JTMS +1 mana.

I had already discussed with my friend Brett why I liked this guy in his UR Prowess deck, so I thought I'd just copy paste that speil here and hope it makes sense, excuse the lazy punctuation:
"well it's a 7/8, let's say it flips 3 turns after you play it. You play it turn 2, flips turn 5 and attacks for 7, then attacks for 7 again turn 6. That's 14 damage over 5 turns. A 3 power dude would deal 12 damage over 5 turns (no haste). That's how I'm looking at it.
Occasionally you would flip it 2 turns after, 21 damage, that's insane.
Obviously you might top deck it when you're hellbent and then it may not flip for 4 or 5 turns, that's not great but it's still a huge threat. Plus you get to block that whole time. Even when it's flipping 2 or 3 turns after, you'll get to block with it more than a regular creature would, which would only block the first turn, then be tapped afterwards if it was racing.
I think you should test it out.
And I don't think you need to protect it. It's just a 2 mana creature, no big deal if they kill it. The most mana you'll fall behind is 2, to a Snuff Out and that's an extreme case. It can't be bolted. They'll have to swords or path it, which are premium removal spells. Outside of those you'll be at parody with mana"
Yeah, I think that all made sense out of context.

This card is awesome with Channel. In fact, that's probably a whole new combo:
Pay GG for Channel
Pay 5 life and BB for Behold the Beyond. Get Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Children of Korlis and something else, say Lotus Petal.
Cast and activate Petal to cast Children of Korlis.
Pay down to 1 life.
Sacrifice your Children to gain life back.
Then as long as you have enough life and mana to spend on Emrakul, that's the game. I wonder how much life you need to be on to go off - let's math!
The below equation assumes we have cast Channel and we have BB floating to help cast Behold the Beyond and we have no untapped lands.

That seemed over-complicated but I had fun. Gotta put my engineering degree to use some time.
Obviously you can go off on a lower life total if you have more mana than just GGBB available.
I think this goes straight into the existing Channel + Lich's Mirror combo deck.

Not the biggest pay-off for getting delirium but if you're already getting delirious...lol "Fungus"

Without delirium he's bad but he's still a card.
Note that he triggers on your opponent's upkeep, so with delirium he's a 3/3 blocker straight up, which is key against aggro decks.
This guy is a must-answer threat.
Sweet synergy with persist creatures.

With delirium and enough removal for their blockers, this guys hits like a truck. 6, then 9, then 12 damage. Unreal if you can set him up.

Your deck must be built to get delirium if you want to play this. Very good against spot removal. You may even garner some value from milling yourself with the first ability.

The most powerful delirium card and my pick for best Highlander card in the set.
Let's talk more about delirium:
Fetchlands give you 'land'.
Blue gives you cheap cantrips and counterspells: 'instant' and 'sorcery'. Cantrips like Mental Note and Thought Scour can give you even more types.
Black gives you cheap discard and removal: 'instant' and 'sorcery'. However, your opponent may not have a creature for you to target, so getting a black instant in the bin isn't guaranteed.
Red gives you burn: 'instant' and 'sorcery'. If your opponent hasn't played creatures for you to burn then you'll have to go to the face, which isn't great unless you're all-in aggro. Faithless Looting is a great card for delirium.
Green doesn't help delirium unless your deck wants to play ramp spells, which most decks don't but lets say green is good for 'sorcery'.
White has some cheap instant removal but not much. It also has the sorceries, Steelshaper's Gift and Open the Armory.
Getting creatures in the bin can be tricky in Highlander. There is a lot of exile removal and Scavenging Ooze or Deathrite Shaman can exile. Also, lots of decks won't kill your creatures for you, they might be trying to combo off instead or they may simply have big blocking creatures which you can't trade with. Skullclamp is a great way to kill your creatures but that's a bit win-more. Getting a creature in the graveyard is a bit matchup dependent.
As for the other types: Enchantment, Artifact, Planeswalker and Tribal - they're all relatively very rare and hard to bin.
Stepping back a bit, it seems 'land', 'instant' and 'sorcery' are easy to get in the graveyard early, whereas 'creature' is hard and the others are even harder. To reliably get delirium I think you need to be really aggro to force your opponent to kill your creatures or you need to be playing some discard or self-mill. You can't just put delirium cards in your deck and expect them to turn on early. You need to plan for it.

Fine without madness but you really want that madder casting cost.
Here are the cards I could think of which let you madness Avacyn's Judgment (drives me mad that Americans spell 'judgement' differently): Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Frantic Search, Wild Mongrel, Psychatog and Dack Fayden. A grixis delve/madness deck could be sweet. Could also add Faithless Looting, Careful Study, Izzet Charm, Mental Note and Thoughtscour.

You really want to cast these for their madness cost on turn two but that's almost impossible. The best you can hope for is turn three when you can use the discard outlets previously mentioned in the Avacyn's Judgment paragraph. However, a lot of those cards aren't aggro cards. These vampires certainly are aggro, so the deck may not be focused enough. 
You could also use Fauna Shaman, Survival of the Fittest and Lotleth Troll as outlets.
Finding a madness card with Gamble when you're hellbent is cute.

Pretty deece. She could just get Lightning Bolted, which would be unfortunate but she could also give a huge four-drop haste, which would be awesome. Not really a good madness enabler as you'll probably have spent all your mana on the creature which triggered Olivia.

The versatility is worth the life loss. From first impressions I'm going to say this is the best three-cost removal in Highlander after Council's Judgment.
You would board this out against aggro decks.
The flavour text on this card makes me cringe. I'm embarrassed for whomever wrote it, "a cruelty beyond imagining"? "a pain beyond description"? Really? Sorin was in a pain beyond description?
"a pain beyond description"

I was going to put Sorin in the 'Honourable mentions' section but after thinking about him a little more I think he's playable. You'll need to play enough disruption that you don't die to combo before casting him but other than that, game on.

This would've been so much better if it didn't have that last line of text. As it is, I can see it in some highly synergistic graveyard and Birthing Pod beatdown decks.

If you're playing heaps of cheap creatures with tap abilities then I think this is sweet. Note that it's a bit of a nombo with Skullclamp but if your points are elsewhere then no worries. 

This one's interesting. Exile removal is very important in Highlander due to Skullclamp and all the creatures with death triggers. The format is also fast enough that your opponent will lose significant tempo by cracking the clue, perhaps enough tempo that you don't mind giving them one at all.
There may be some crazy deck where you want your opponent to control an artifact. I don't think there's a deck like that yet but it could become a thing.
The 'exile all with same name' is obviously less good in Highlander but it's still relevant. There are many good token makers out there. It should be noted that you won't give extra clues for exiling multiples tokens.

You could get blown out on tempo by a cheap removal spell but her flash ability reduces that risk. I expect people to try out Avacyn early and find her to be good but very cut-able. Like any other non-hasty expensive creature, you'll want disruption for combo to give Avacyn time to do her thing.

Devastating sideboard card against midrange Skullclamp decks.

Cute sideboard card against burn decks. Nice and cheap to be Snapcaster Maged or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy'd

Finds Skullclamp. Also finds Sword of the Meek and Splinter Twin.

The humans keep on coming. Wizards need to be careful with how many human tribal cards they print since there are sooo many good humans. Other good human tribal cards in Highlander are: Champion of the Parish, Cavern of Souls, Xathrid Necromancer, Angelic Overseer, Angel of Glory's Rise and Mayor of Avabruck.

The best Suntail Hawk ever. Love the art, *poke* hehehe. Can just imagine choosing which creature to tap by pointing at it just like Topplegeist is.
To get the most out of Topplegeist you obviously need to aim for delirium but you'll also want to play equipment. X/1 fliers are prime material for equipment decks.

Deceptively good one-drop. If I try out my white weenie deck again, this nasty granny will be in there. Gossipmongering feels too insidious to be white. Feels more blue or black. Very cool card though.
A minor interaction I thought of is how she can save a Goblin Rabblemaster token,

Exile, exile, exile. I keep saying it. There are a few cards almost the same as this: Demonfire, Red Sun's Zenith and Disintegrate. I like them all.

3/2 haste is a good rate in an aggro deck. There have been a few other three-power three-drop haste creatures but most of them have restrictive mana costs, e.g. Dreg Mangler and Boggart Ram-Gang.
You'll want some cheap removal for blockers like Trinket Mage
Don't expect her to flip but that doesn't matter.

It's amazing how few red one-drops there are. Rakdos Cackler, Stromkirk Noble, Goblin Guide, Zurgo Bellstriker and Grim Lavamancer are the best ones. Jackal Pup and Firedrinker Satyr are playable but you're not happy to play them.
Can't imagine Falkenrath Berserker's ability being relevant but oh lordy, if it ever is...

Looks like she's swinging a rusty gate.
Damn, that is a lot of blood. I love the art in this set, it pushes the envelope.
This is an aggro only card and probably only for sideboards since it's bad against other aggro decks.
Great at taking down planeswalkers. Hits really hard.

I've always liked two-power first strikers in Highlander. Particularly in red where you can combine the first strike damage with a burn spell to take down big creatures.
The first strike is great against Jitte and some value creatures like Strangleroot Geist, Kitchen Finks and Hallowed Spiritkeeper.
The delirium ability is just gravy.

Honourable Mentions:
Eh, not great but he puts out good damage with delirium. He's Skullclamp-able. I felt like I had to mention him.
He's terrible on defense.

I don't think this is playable yet but one day there may be a bunch of instants and sorceries which let you target it a bunch of times, e.g. Seeds of Strength or Gigadrowse (do replicate spells even work here?).
Also, hypothetically if Spellskite could redirect to other creatures, could you use it's ability over and over again on Silverfur Partisan to make heaps of wolves?

This is a very unusual effect. Reminds me of Earthcraft, however Earthcraft is wayyy more powerful because it ignores summoning sickness. Good with Intruder Alarm but not as good as creatures which tap to create tokens (I've always wanted to combo Intruder Alarm with Marrow-Gnawer).

Flavour special!
There's been a lot of speculation that Emrakul is 'the mystery' of Innistrad. Mostly fuelled by her glaring absence from Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch. Also, Zendikar is strongly tied to Innistrad through Nahiri and Sorin's storylines. Wizards have done such a good job with this story. I genuinely get excited looking for tidbits.

During my examination of all the cards for this set review, I spotted a few things which you could reasonably link to Emrakul's presence.

Check out that 'root' stuff. Looks a lot like Emrakul's tentacles, like she's corrupting the whole plane.

General Eldrazi styled flesh. Dunno how they're getting 'elrazified', perhaps from the moon's light or maybe the plane's mana is corrupted and just channeling it links you to Emrakul? Nah, that'd be pretty OP.
These artworks totally freak me out.

What the fuck is up with that Skirsdag priest's eye? I tried finding a bigger image of the art so I could get a better look but couldn't find one.
I think it looks like an Eldrazi tentacle coming out of his helmet's eye hole. Maybe the Skirsdag are unknowingly worshiping Emrakul and getting mutated by her. I dunno...Satan's pretty cool!

Anyway....that's what I think of Shadows and how they're all over Innistrad and there are cards.

All hail our lady and saviour Emrakul!