2/22/2013 LD: "Survival of the Fittest"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Latest Developments, which goes live Friday morning on magicthegathering.com.
Very illuminating article! I did notice the high amount of three-toughness critters at the Prerelease (where Oculus and Incursion Specialist on turn 2 helped my Dimir deck out quite a bit). It's really clear that R&D considers the checks and balances of these formats, and especially that they've learned from AVR.

It's still fast for my tastes, but I look forward to trying a real ramp/control deck sometime in GTC Limited! 
Tower Defense, notable as being the only card in the set I gave a playtest name to that stuck



Ah it's you I've got to thank! Not so much for the reference, but because I have a Doran, the Siege Tower deck that consists of nothing but cards you could construct a castle with (mainly Walls and Towers) and this card is a PERFECT fit both in flavor and mechanics =) 

Although I also love references like this you put in Magic these days. 
Very illuminating article! I did notice the high amount of three-toughness critters at the Prerelease (where Oculus and Incursion Specialist on turn 2 helped my Dimir deck out quite a bit). It's really clear that R&D considers the checks and balances of these formats, and especially that they've learned from AVR.

It's still fast for my tastes, but I look forward to trying a real ramp/control deck sometime in GTC Limited! 



5c control is the the real deal. Just never pass a Prophetic Prism: http://www.starcitygames.com/article/25711_First-Picking-Prophetic-Prism.html
I've had a lot of fun deciding whether to cast Drakewing Krasis or Kingpin's Pet on T3.  
This article makes me somewhat sad, because so few of these cards that are supposed to make my favorite guild viable are cards that are actually attractive to play. Yeah, you're going to get far blocking with Incursion Specialists and casting cards like Predator's Rapport or Tower Defense. That's exactly what I want to be doing.
This article makes me somewhat sad, because so few of these cards that are supposed to make my favorite guild viable are cards that are actually attractive to play. Yeah, you're going to get far blocking with Incursion Specialists and casting cards like Predator's Rapport or Tower Defense. That's exactly what I want to be doing.



Agreed. I'm sad to learn how easily subpar cards like Hindervines get put into the set Frown It looks like the development brainstorms the cards too hastily.


And on the other side I was equally sad to learn how easily totally broken card like Obdezat got put into the set as was told in Gavin Verhey's ReConstructed article "Evil Never Dies".

This article makes me somewhat sad, because so few of these cards that are supposed to make my favorite guild viable are cards that are actually attractive to play. Yeah, you're going to get far blocking with Incursion Specialists and casting cards like Predator's Rapport or Tower Defense. That's exactly what I want to be doing.



Agreed. I'm sad to learn how easily subpar cards like Hindervines get put into the set  It looks like the development brainstorms the cards too hastily.


And on the other side I was equally sad to learn how easily totally broken card like Obdezat got put into the set as was told in Gavin Verhey's ReConstructed article "Evil Never Dies".


On the other hand, I heard someone saying how broken Simic was in draft- he managed to pull a good combo. Unfortunately, I've been so busy lately, I haven't even had time to play any draft since pre-release weekend.
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According to Matthew Watkins' data-based analysis, Simic is currently the weakest guild. puremtgo.com/articles/ars-arcanum-gatecr...
Thanks for writing this, it was very interesting to read. Cool

I do think things didn't quite work out for Gatecrash in terms of balance. In talking about speed of sets it's tempting to talk about faster/slower as a matter of taste and something to adjust as a way to add variety. It is both to some extent, but unfortunately Magic breaks as a game quite readily as speed in increased. I wouldn't go so far as to describe Gatecrash as broken (as Zendikar was) but it's definitely ended up outside the range of speeds that Magic's gameplay supports.

Mark Rosewater has written endlessly about how great Magic's mana system is, but an essential part of limiting its downsides is to make sure normal gameplay gives players a bit of time to sort their mana out. Not necessarily without disadvanatge, but without reaching a point where their situation is probably hopeless. Gatecrash doesn't do this. If you keep a 2-lander and don't draw your third land by turn three you're often as good as dead.

As an aside, of the three spells you talk about adding (Aetherise, Furious Resistance, Smite) only the last is actually good enough to have any perceptible impact on the format's speed. And indeed in the case of Aetherise pretty much all the good players I know predicted it wouldn't be good before the set was even out. What are you going to do, hold four mana open every turn?
I wouldn't go so far as to describe Gatecrash as broken (as Zendikar was) but it's definitely ended up outside the range of speeds that Magic's gameplay supports.



I disagree. Control decks centered around blocking are very viable in Gatecrash. It's cool.
I agree with bateleur. While the speed of sets should fluctuate so that each set feels different from the one before, and so that players with different speed preferences each get their turn to be satisfied, there is a point at which Magic breaks down and the worse side of the mana system comes out. 

The mechanics in Gatecrash are so awesome, strategic, and filled with the potential to do something different in every game, but I also feel that the speed of the set causes too many games to be determined by one side stumbling and don't feel like a real game of Magic that involved a reasonable amount of interaction from both sides. 

Also, this is a set based on Guild synergies. While each Guild has powerful cheap cards, they grow even stronger based on Guild synergy, such as a Battalion creature working with another Battalion creature. The combination of fast speed and strong synergy-based play within the same set can lead to even more one-sided unforgiving games against a stumbling opponent.

It's funny how you feel mana-screwed and mana-flooded much more often in some sets than others. I feel screwed and flooded so often in Gatecrash that I feel I must be cursed (or hacked!). But it must be due to psychological perception. Obviously, in Rise of the Eldrazi I don't feel very mana-flooded, even when I am. The last time I felt so mana-cursed was with Scars of Mirrodin. I felt like I bricked more often than usual, probably because I would top deck some minor Equipment or Myr when I needed a creature that can fight. The environment demanded that you put up blockers immediately to fight infect, but at the same time many games turned into attrition wars after you survived the initial onslaught so you needed to keep drawing gas as well.

At least in Zendikar, there was an incentive to play more lands than usual. That helped fight early land screw and also made you feel less flooded. But the mechanics in Gatecrash really push you to build decks that are dense with nonland cards, whether it's creature-heavy Boros / Gruul / Simic decks, or a dimir deck where you need to draw the right amount of defense / evasion / cipher, or an Orzhov deck that wants to draw spells to trigger extort often. Bloodrush can reduce the importance of controlling a bigger and better creature and reduce some games into a contest of who draws the most live cards. A match around Battalion obviously demands drawing a lot of gas, especially in games where you trade one-for-one to try to keep the opponent off Battalion. It's easy to feel flooded as well as screwed in Gatecrash.
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Here's some things I'm not enjoying about the current Gatecrash draft environment:

2-Drop Mania

Despite the fast speed and "percieved increase" in mana screw frequency, I was still enjoying Gatecrash a lot because of the deep game play once you get past those hurdles. But recent deck tech has changed the way the set is drafted. Simic decks are geared to try to chain a 1-drop evolver into 2-drop evolver and sport 18 to 20 creatures to consistently trigger evolve; some Gruul decks run only 1-2-3 drops and 15 land; Boros decks want as many 2-drops as possible (this part isn't recent); Orzhov decks focus on cheap spells; Dimir decks pick 2-drops highly in order to trade with the other guilds' 2-drops. All of this is contributing to "2-drop mania" in the 8-4 drafts. 

One-dimentional Style of Drafting You Have No Control Over
Because of this, 2-drops seem to be in high demand and they disappear very fast. It's like the whole drafting process is a contest of "Who gets the 2-drops?" My problem with this is that it's making the drafting stage into a very one-dimensional process. You don't have a whole lot of choice over how many you get to pick up, and you don't have an alternative direction to go in.

In many 8-4 drafts, I've experienced a severe draught of 2-drops. It seems many people were drafting decks that aim for eight+ 2-drops. When people succeed in doing so with Boros, Gruul, or Simic, they result in decks that are very hard to put up any resistance against, especially when your seat was denied the 2-drops for fighting them.

Now, if everyone is doing that, it shouldn't be possible for any one player to get such a high concentration of 2-drops. But there must have been less savvy players who don't value 2-drops interspersed between the ones trying to build the decks with eight+ 2-drops and snatching up every 2-drop they see, because I still get beaten over the head by decks that cast a 2-drop on turn 2, either cast a 3-drop on turn 3 or a 1-mana trick (like Bloodrush) and a 2-drop, then cast two 2-drops or a combat trick + one 2-drop on turn 4.

No Alternatives Means the Pendulum Doesn't Swing Back
It's very frustrating when everyone is converging on the same target, and the answer that counters that thing (2-drops) is the same thing (casting 2-drops of your own). This kind of fight for the 2-drops is not very deep. When everyone is doing it, it feels like the amount of 2-drops you get is based on luck and seating order.

Even when you sense that area (2-drops) is being overdrafted, there's no other space to move into. I wish there were more 2-drops that aggro players don't want (something like a Doorkeeper), so that the situation can be more of a self-balancing pendulum.

Only Choice for Players: Find the Underdrafted Guild
Currently, I feel that the only control that you get over this situation (of trying to pick 2-drops but not seeing any) is in quickly finding out the guild that is most open and moving into it, but switching Guilds is also a risky proposition when you're often trying to draft a 18-creature deck. It's difficult to know when to do it. It seems some players are coping by drafting one color intensively so that they can move into either of the adjacent color as their guild. That's good, but I feel that drafting shouldn't all be about just finding the open colors or Guild, and right now it has become too much of a dominating factor.

"Draft the Cheaper Card" is Boring
It's not just 2-drops; so much of the card evaluation process in drafts has turned into "draft the cheaper card," and that is one-dimensional.

Cool Archetypal Diversity, but Each Archetype Requires the Same 2-Drops as a Foundation
I do like the fact that many of the Guilds have multiple viable builds, like a controlling Orzhov vs. aggro Orzhov, milling Dimir vs. aggro Dimir, 15-land Gruul vs. big/multicolor Gruul. There is a lot of depth there, and I guess that being able to understand and navigate between those builds is also another aspect that players can have some amount of control over. However, it's still stressful that these different builds all need the same 2-drops.

Existence of 5-Color Deck is Awesome but Not a Solution to This Problem
The 5-color control deck is a glimmer of hope. But it seems to be (rightfully) a fringe archetype, and it can probably only support one drafter per pod. My guess is that the archetype isn't available frequently enough to consistently provide an alternative way to draft. It may be more frequent than I think, but the risk is also great as it can result in a train wreck when there are several players drafting it and it doesn't come together. And the 5-color deck also needs the 2-drops! 

This Problem Surfaces as the Environment Matures
It's funny, the set still drafts similar to the time it was just released in many Swiss pods (many people who only draft online are still experiencing their first drafts), but in the 8-4s the players are more savvy to recent deck tech from draft decks that performed well in the Pro Tour. 2-drops dry up so fast. I've had many 8-4 drafts where I try to pick up 2-drops, but I hardly see any.

Will the Metagame Swing Back?
Is this a trend that can swing back? I wonder if this situation will correct itself when literally everyone goes for the 2-drops so that no one player can build such focused mono-low-drop decks.

I doubt it, but maybe the contest of "Who gets the 2-drops?" becomes more balanced and evened out as more players learn to join that contest. Theoretically, it's possible that mono-low-drop aggro decks get diluted by so much competition that they become unfocused. That would be fine.

But even if it does, just picking cards based on cost like this makes the card evaluation process during drafts very boring; it also feels like many aspects of that contest is out of your control.
Goblin Artisans - A Magic Design Blog by GDS2 Contestants and Collaborators
According to Matthew Watkins' data-based analysis, Simic is currently the weakest guild. puremtgo.com/articles/ars-arcanum-gatecr...


This is an amazing read! And backed up by real data, too. Thanks for the link.
I enjoyed the article and was surprised by the results. I've been doing fairly well with Simic recently, though. On Tuesday my Simic deck felt godly but lost to the mirror with a splash of gruul. Last night I won 3-0 beating out an Orzhov, Dimir and Boros. and I thought the deck was kind of mediocre. Granted, these personal results aren't enough to prove much of anything but I do think that in general in draft Simic is powerful and not the least enticing guild by any means. What they got right in gatecrash is that every guild is viable.

Also, I'm surprised to see so many Simic players decide to splash red. If I've splashed with Simic it has been black. Like the article states there is a lot of good removal in black and the horror actually fits in to evolve a lot of things too if you happen to grab him. Since Simic is green, it is one of the easiest guilds to go 4 color with as well. There isn't much fixing in the format but that didn't stop me from splashing a Gruul Ragebeast and a Dinrova Horror into one of my Simic decks. It can play fast in the air with metropolis sprite and drakewing... and I love metropolis sprite because it trades with Skynight Legos. 

Oh, I also suggest running maindeck naturalize. The only matchup I've ever had it not be useful for me was Dimir. There are A LOT of good draft enchantments in this set.

Before reading this article I would have said Orzhov is way overated and in my opinion the weakest guild. You get some good removal but  a lot of the creatures don't do much. The 1/4's just sit there and get flown over. 4 mana is too much to spend for a 3/2 (although the 2/4 is actually good in white since there are so many aggressive decks out there). I haven't really been too impressed with it yet. Simic has evasive tricks to get around the blockers. Gruul can punch through it with bloodrush. Dimir simply doesn't care about it at all. Boros doesn't have too much trouble outracing it or getting through in the air. The poor screecher can't even kill a skynight lego. You need to sac your kingpin to it. Orzhov is by far the most defensive deck in the format and that makes it weak.

Dimir suffers from removal. You get 2 for 1'd using cipher cards as if they were enchantments. However, there isn't that much removal and it happens to mostly be in UB so it makes sense that Dimir could be really strong. I'm just surprised to see Orzhov rated over Boros. I think if I had to pick between sitting around wondering how I could win and hastily throwing my opponent into the fires of justice... the choice would be obvious. I guess it is in terms of popularity, just not success.
I just edited my post above to try to make my points clearer. I wonder if I'm hyperboling too much, or if other players also experience the Gatecrash environment the same way.
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I don't know. I really have loved drafting Gatecrash so far, Chah. So you end up being stuck in a guild with a splash maybe... it is about doing what you can with the box you are in, not about being stuck in the box. It might be a bit more frustrating feeling contained since the set is really designed for color combos as opposed to a more open set.