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By: walkerdog, Tyler Walker
Jun 23 2008 1:00am
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Excited about the Shadowmoor Release events yet? Do you have much experience with the format? I think I can say with some confidence that I do because of being a beta tester (although I'm probably still pretty bad), and I'd like to share thoughts on the two Limited Formats. This is mostly designed to help give you a bit of a feel for the format before you open your first pool and the like.

We'll start with draft. UW is prettty much the best color combination. If you draft some combination of these colors, and manage to be one of only two-three people drafting those colors, you'll probably do well. You might end up more White-based, as a primarily WW aggro deck with maybe Armored Ascension or a (Runed Cernrider) as your finishers of choice. A more balanced UW deck usually ends up being the most ridiculous deck, with Silkbind Faerie, (Sonomancer) and various other good UW dudes, plus being able to dip into either color for their best cards. Oh yea, and this deck can run Steel of the Godhead to simply WRECK opponents. The blue-focused build tends to be somewhat slower and more controlling, with more tricks and solid mid-sized men.

A quick point is that Power of Fire and the green Gond enchantment are both fairly bomby with any of the untap men. You can often ping them for three-four, shoot a creature, or make a small army at the end of their turn, every turn, until they kill your man or you win. The "machine-gun" archetype is a blast, and can be fairly strong if it goes un-answered for a turn or two.

While I love me some UW, there are some other still strong color combinations. Two RG builds exist, the aggressive build (lots of 3/3s, Spriggins, maybe a couple acolytes and the like), and probably the funnest deck you can draft in SM, the RG Mana-Ramp. Morselhoader, Devoted Druid, and other mana accel and fixing are the backbone of this deck. You grab those cards first, only making exceptions for huge bombs and some removal. Later in the draft you pick up green cohorts, fatty 7/6s, maybe a rare green man or two, and maybe a (Runes of the Dues). You want to drop a piece of accel or two early, hit all your land drops, and play an enormous man by turn six, then follow up with two-three more to overwhelm opponent's smaller creatures.

UB has been pretty underwhelming unless I have Oona... and then it usually is a matter of stalling until I hit her, and winning the next turn (or maybe two). She's the biggest bomb in the set in my opinion.

RB is a fairly powerful deck. Sometimes. If you're the one of two (or less) taking the good removal, and you get some good fatties to follow up with, it can be a powerhouse. Otherwise you seem to end up running too many 1/1s and 2/2s. I haven't had much success with this color-combination, so I can't say too much about it.

Mono-red deserves a seperate category due to being fairly ridiculous sometimes. For example, if you can grab stuff like Burn Trail, a couple of Bolts, a Ram Gang, red Cohorts en masse, and some decent fillers, you'll win your fair share of games. This also supports Jaws of Stone and other red-centric bombs.

Now you've probably noticed that I've been mentioning a lot of enchantments that have game-winning effects in a turn or two. This is because a lot of the biggest bombs in this set ARE un-answered enchantments. Main-deck enchantment removal is pretty important in Shadowmoor because there are so many good ones that make risking the two-for-one potential worth it. Artifact removal is fine too, due to all the Scarecrows and random utility artifacts, but you should make sure you have a solution to a "turn two Sonomanncer, turn three Steel of the Godhead" start. Otherwise, you're trying to race a five-turn clock that is healing him at the same time.

More general tips: Understand the various effects in the format. Untap effects sometimes don't matter so much as the fact that THEY CAN ATTACK AND BLOCK TOO. Little things like this are really obvious, but sometimes you overthink and forget things. Be aware of Wither and Persist interactions, and things like "Power of Fire on a Persist dude". Less combat tricks exist in this set than the over-abundance that there was in Morningtide (and Lorwyn for that matter), so it make take some time to get used to your opponent not ALWAYS having the trick. Bluffing will probably work well the first few days as people adjust.

Sealed is a little slower of course, because you can't pick a focused card-pool like you can while drafting. That said, if you have a pool with a fairly-focused grouping of aggressive creatures in two colors, it tends to work out really well due to the fact that most decks will be running three+ colors and will have a hard time dealing with an aggressive deck that is consistant. Otherwise, due to the overall slower speed of the format, some cards that you normally wouldn't try to squeeze into a deck due to high cost become playable since you often will hit eight+ mana before the game ends.

The second area I'd like to cover is how I "win so much". Those aren't my words, but I've had fair success in Classic PEs and various PREs, and I'll go over how I do well, and what goes wrong when I don't have a good result.

First up, I'll acknowledge that I'm not a great player, and honestly, aspire to achieve above-averageness in terms of skill. Typically though I'll be at my best when I'm doing a concentrated amount of testing and practicing in a specific area. For example, I knew I'd be playing in one, and maybe two Classic PREs last week, so I built a deck and then dueled X_Force_of_Will_X with it a bunch of games (I played other people too, but we were playing a lot of games together). He didn't complain once that I was running the same boring deck over and over, and I appreciated it. He did complain because I am a luck-sack, but that's understandable. This testing improved the deck, but also helped me learn the deck, got me sharp for games that mattered, and helped me learn my role in various matchups (Since my deck was RG Beats, it was mostly aggro, but it still helped).

Next, I tend to try to find a deck that isn't awful in the expected meta-game. This seems fairly simple, but it seems like a lot of people ignore this aspect of preparation for a tournament. Back in the day when I was playing BW a lot in Classic, I took a look at what decks were expected (at that time, Flash, random aggro decks, and maybe an aggro-control build or two), and first built the deck, tested it and realized it had game against most of the field, and then tweaked it a little for the matchups I wanted to win a lot.

With Dark Evocations from the STD PDC event I talked about last week, I looked at what the top decks were (Storm Control mostly), and then picked out a deck that seemed to beat it regularly. This led to a bit of a fall in SC, and a resurgence of White Weenie (winning the Champs a week after DE took top spots in both STD PDCs). I try to take a good look at the meta and make decisions based off what I expect. Making an educated meta choice is fairly easy in most formats. Between Puremtgo.com for Standard analysis, PDC and Classic breakdowns, and PDCMagic.com and ClassicQuarter.com for their respective formats, you can get information with a few quick clicks.

There are at least three ways you can approach the meta: the first is to attack it, the second is to "go with it", and the third is "go rogue". Playing a deck like DE into an expected field of SC is an example of attacking the expected field. Playing RDW hoping for Faeries would be another good way to take this approach. To "Go with it", you play the best deck, and try to figure out some sort of tech for the mirror. Storm Control could run Hurly Burly maindeck for example, relying on other cards to smoke non-mirrors, and then have an advantage in game one, with the option of bringing in even more hate from the sideboard for games two and three. Finally, going Rogue is probably the hardest to do well, but we've seen it recently with Quick'n'Toast in the last Standard Pro Tour, where Wafo-Tapa, Buecher, and company ran a seemingly random pile to impressive results. Part of the success was owned to the fact that people didn't know HOW to beat it exactly.

This leads into another aspect, being able to play more than one deck. You need to have access to at least two decks to succeed in almost every format, simply because something your expected meta is awful for Deck A. It helps to have friends to borrow cards from so you can make a deck that you don't own all of, but also aquiring cards for related deck with card overlap is a good plan. Classic Decks Landstill and Bomberman share quite a few cards and are good in seperate meta-games, so they would fit the bill.

Tuesday in the TPDC Classic event, I ran the list I'd been working on and testing, RG Beats. This list is a fairly simple list, sort of like RG Thresher I suppose, if you can still call it Thresher when you drop every maindeck Thresh-related card. I call it RG Beats as it seems more similiar to old builds of that deck.

I really have a blast with this deck. It's good against aggro and midrange decks, not that great against anything with life-gain. Most decks just can't handle the combination of burn, cheap large creatures, and the various madness effects. The second-coolest play of the week was the following: (actually this is from a little further back, but just go with it, ok?) I attack with a Marauders and morphed Raiders into my opponent's empty board. I have five mana available to go with four cards in hand. My opponent tries to fire a Nameless Inversion at my Raiders. I flip him, pitching and playing a Rootwalla. Three cards in hand. Then I throw an Incinerate and two Lightning Bolts at his face (He has Mana Leak for my Incinerate), achieving Hellbent, and he takes eleven from my men (eight from the Raiders!) and six from my nukes to drop to two life. I killed him next turn.

The coolest play of the week wasn't so much a SINGLE play as an entire game: LostSymphonies with MUC is playing Papieru with some awful Mystical Teachings control monstrosity. Lost is in control of the game, dropping a Golem and Dreamstalker, beating for three per turn. Pap is fighting desperately to
Exile, Dismantling Blow, or otherwise solve LS's men. It's looking pretty grim. Then Pap is able to resolve a Battlefied Forager. Oh snap! Suddenly it dawns on me that not only is Pap's deck NOT a pile of awfulness, it's a ridiculous PDC-legal version of Turbo-Zvi, with Harrows to accel and fix mana, Teachings and removal to keep him in the game, and Foragers kill with. Wow. He went on to win the game (although losing the match due to lagging a ton and running out of time), earning my "cool moment of the week".

I'm going on vacation for just under two weeks, so I won't be replying to comments (probably), but I will read them when I can, promise! Have a good week!



Wow! by walkerdog at Tue, 06/24/2008 - 20:03
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Well, thank you guys.  I appreciate the positive feedback (but I'll stay humble)!

by Evu at Tue, 06/24/2008 - 11:33
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I think you give yourself too little credit in the skill department; you always seem to me to be a capable and thoughtful player.  In any case, the advice in this article is very good.  Much -- probably the majority -- of the work that goes into winning a tournament takes place outside of the actual games.

agreeing by whiffy penguin at Tue, 06/24/2008 - 12:12
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Walker i have to agree w/ evu. You are much better then you let yourself on to be. Luck is part of the game but you consistently break in to the money whenever you deign to play a tourny. In all seriousness i consider you to be one of the better classic players out there and rue the match ups when i draw in to you for a round. But not to over inflate your ego there is always room to improve as you said you would like to get "better"  and you probaly know where your weakness are in any given format you participate in. So yea let loose of the humble ness just a bit as mind games can lose you matches just as much as random luck or skill vs skill. Keep on trucking there walker.

Thanks by walkerdog at Tue, 06/24/2008 - 00:55
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Per Tournament:  If I have money involved (a.e. a PE), I'll usually spend 5ish hours that week at least if I'm running a deck that is new to me or trying to build a deck (It can get to 10+ if I build a deck seriously).  If it's more of a casual event (PDC and 8mans and whatnot), then I'll typically practice a couple hours, but not as focused (and it may be 5+ decks that I'm playing with to just get a feel for them, rather than trying to master them).

I have a friend-list full of people, and MOST of them are willing to test their preferred format at any time.  If all else fails, I'll just make a game in the TP room to kill time while I wait for someone to get on.  Good playtest partners are such a huge asset.

Good stuff! by khirareq at Mon, 06/23/2008 - 10:49
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And just what I asked for!  Thanks!

How much time would you say you spend per tournament practicing?  How many good playtest partners do you have to help?