In League with the Enemy
Last week, I mentioned we would spend a little time talking about the leagues on Magic: Online. With the announcement that the Darksteel online prereleases would be conducted in the same manner as the Mirrodin releases, this issue has gained a bit more relevance.
For those of you unfamiliar with the system, here’s how it works. You start off during week one with a sealed deck and two booster packs. You can play up to five matches per week that count towards your true score. If you play more than five, those get added to your tiebreakers, two points per win; each loss costs you one tiebreaker point. If you don’t play all five matches during a week, you can catch up on matches in the following week.
Each week after the first week, you can add a booster pack to your sealed deck and rebuild your deck. You can constantly alter your deck between matches, and you can play as many matches as you want, as long as you have an opponent available in the queue that you haven’t played already that week. At the end of the fourth week, the league ends and prize support is available to people on a descending scale from first on down to 128th.
What’s so interesting about this, you might ask…it’s all just sealed deck, isn’t it? Well, the interactions of cards after the first week become a little weird. Currently, since most leagues are all-Mirrodin, you can see some absolutely ridiculous things come the last two weeks of a league. The decisions you have to make regarding deck-construction can be interesting, simply due to the availability of certain cards.
Let’s break this down week-by-week:
Week 1) Starting here, you’re just going to work on building the best sealed deck that you can. I won’t go over a full strategy for deck construction right now, but the biggest thing that you want to focus on is artifact removal; this is what can end up making or breaking your deck. This is the most straightforward of the weeks, so we’ll kinda gloss past it; I’m not planning on turning this particular article into a full primer on sealed.
Here’s a strategy point, though. Evaluate your deck carefully here; you’re not looking to see if a deck is necessarily good, but you want to know if it’s bad. I mean really bad. Like, something died in the fridge and got left there for about six weeks kinda bad. A-W-F-U-L.
At this point, you have two options: one is to just throw the league away. If you’re playing with the emphasis on getting prizes, then you need to keep this in mind instead of trying to force your deck to perform at a level that it simply can’t. Just playing five matches, then writing off the rest of the league is viable, just so you don’t spend the additional packs.
The second option is to take the week off. Don’t play that week, and wait for the first booster pack to arrive. You’ll see what I mean coming up here; basically, you play your first ten matches in week two, rather than week one. If your deck is really far behind the curve, giving it a chance to catch up with a booster can save you a match or two.
Week 2) We start to see a little bit of closure this week. Basically, every deck will probably look like at least a “good” deck, with a fair amount of duplicated strong commons. Artifact destruction will still be thin enough that things like Myr Enforcer are still fine cards; Welding Jar hasn’t necessarily graduated to a frontline specimen yet.
What you’ll see here are the decks starting to streamline a little. Nothing ridiculous is probably happening yet, but the quality and quantity of the commons has increased enough that you need to keep aware of them. Things like Shatter, Terror, Primitive Strike, etc. The tricks that you fear are going to be that much more common. Be a little more wary of them when you are making decisions during a game.
Week 3) Things have started to get a little nutty here. Now is when you’ll start to see decks with multiples of ridiculous uncommons occurring more and more frequently. It’s not unbelievable to run into multiples of particularly nasty cards like Shrapnel Blast or Betrayal of Flesh, so that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. At the same time, your deck should also begin to see significant redundancy in the common slots; it’s going to look more and more like a constructed deck from here on out.
A significant point to make here regards artifact destruction. Basically, by this point in the league, people are running three colors in their decks: red, white, and green. Black and blue decks seem to really fall to the wayside here, unless the tools they receive are absolutely insane. A big reason for this is the number of Shatters, Deconstructs, and cards of that ilk that you will see in these two main colors. White just seems to flock to the front of the field because of Arrest, Blinding Beam, and the strong common creatures (Skyhunter Patrol, Cub, and Den-Guard) that will go with the hordes of equipment you (probably) have at this time.
So, what does the potential for this much artifact destruction do? For starters, Affinity strategies start to suffer significantly here. While Somber Hoverguard is still pretty solid because of its evasion, Myr Enforcers and Frogmites lose a whole lot of their value because of the potential for artifacts to get wiped out in pretty short order. I know some people who absolutely refuse to run those cards in weeks three and four because of their tendency to just hang out as horrendously overcosted men.
The solution to this can be to start moving cards like Razor Barrier and Welding Jar into your deck. I wouldn’t recommend loading up on too many of these, but one or two main should suffice. Razor Barrier is good enough to play main sometimes anyway, though the Jar can be rather sketchy. By this point, though, if you’re going to continue playing artifacts (and you are, in the form of ridiculous amounts of equipment and the odd bomb), you need to do what you can to give those cards the chance to shine.
Week 4) By this point, you can almost be guaranteed to run into nothing but red/white decks. You will see some variance, of course, but the baseline week-four deck consists of lots of plains and mountains with a pretty fair amount of ridiculous equipment. Green is the most common color after those; you should expect a mess of Fangren Hunters and Primitive Strikes in these decks, along with a ridiculous rare or two.
What you’ll see here falls into two distinct possible strategies, I think. The first is to run only the artifacts that you need to run (i.e. the ridiculous ones, Myrs and Talismans, Bonesplitter) to make your deck function. If you can go artifactless, so much the better; you’ll nullify some 3-7 cards in your opponent’s deck, most likely. The second strategy is to run a ridiculous number of artifacts in your deck, with artifacts taking up anywhere from 16-20 of the non-land slots in your deck. In this, I guess the theory is that you can possibly overwhelm the amount of removal they possess, and help to draw removal-fire away from the more bomb-tastic artifacts you possess. I think the second path is on the risky side, but circumstances sometimes just push you in a certain direction.
At this point, if you’re white, at least one Razor Barrier is a must; a Welding Jar should definitely make the cut. Myr Retriever is another solid play this late in the league. If you chose the “few artifacts,” option listed above, Razor Barrier really is the card you’ll probably be looking for, simply due to its flexibility and surprise-value. Anywhere from 1-3 artifact-saving tricks will probably give you a big advantage.
This all depends, to an extent, on what your deck already contains; your card pool will be very large at this point, assuming you’ve put in the full complement of boosters. If you have 3 Fangren Hunters and 3 Primitive Strike, then you can just run with that and see what happens; same goes if you have 3 Den-Guard, 2 Vulshok’s Gauntlets and 2 Mask of Memory or whatever.
I’m not saying that every league deck that you play is going to be exactly like this, but if you play a few Mirrodin leagues, they’ll start to blend together in some ways. The addition of Darksteel in a couple of weeks is going to change things pretty significantly, mostly due to the lack of Myr that you will have available. Blue is going to become better simply because of the existence of Vedalken Engineer and his ability to push the expensive artifacts out on turns three and four with some ease, though the addition of more common, affordable evasion guys is also tempting.
We’ll go over more of that next week when we’re priming for the online prereleases, along with some tales from the PTQ I (hopefully) will be attending this weekend. Until then…
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