Hall of Famer Darwin Kastle
headed North to Boston this past weekend as a guest of Hall of Famer Rob Dougherty to join him and Darwin Kastle as a gunslinger at his Alara Reborn Prerelease. I was honored to play alongside such illustrious company and, of course, excited to get my hands on the new cards and test drive the new cards. I was also chagrined to have not realized by the time I turned in my column last week that the Borderposts would count as one-drops that would not only make a hasty, full-sized Jund Hackblade possible but extremely likely. I usually need to have the cards in my hands to fully parse them and flat-out missed that interaction when I turned in my column. Thanks to everyone who wrote to point that out to me. The irony of the oversight was not lost on me when I dropped my very first Alara Reborn Limited match to a first-turn Borderpost / second-turn Hackblade (with a little help from Bloodbraid Elf into Maelstrom Pulse).
I got to play in the first event of the day on Saturday, and I went 3-1 with the following deck list. As you will see my card pool drawn from three packs of Shards of Alara and three packs of Alara Reborn was ... very strong. I played four of my seven rares—including a foil Sen Triplets—and six of the seven were highly playable overall.
BDM's Sealed Deck
3 Shards of Alara / 3 Alara Reborn
I liked the sorting method used by Darwin Kastle the best, which saw him lay out the cards in rows of colors with the aligned color cards in a row in between. So the first row would be white, followed by white-blue, followed by blue, and so on. Then he would place the shard-colored piles in a staggered row across the appropriate three-colored piles. He was initially flummoxed by the Cerodon Yearling and Skyclaw Thrash when he realized there were unaligned colored cards but he just put those to the side in one pile and dealt with them at the end.
My method was a little more haphazard but similar I decided which cards I would potentially play with first and then grouped them by colors, with unaligned color cards going in with a shard. Whichever way you sorted, this was an incredibly difficult pool to work with as there were easily a dozen cards in my sideboard that I agonized over whether or not to play in the main deck.
The most significant decision was to not play Wall of Denial, which would be an auto include under most circumstances. I played a little loose with this card since I did not want to end up with a lot of long, drawn-out games while I hid behind the Wall. I wanted to be able to play as many people as possible and the Wall seemed like a serious impediment to that goal. Rob included Wall of Denial in his deck. I joked with the Hall of Famer with a penchant for draws in competitive play that the actual stats on the card were 0-0-8 and he promptly modified his card with a sharpie.
I quickly realized that red and green were going to be splashes at best, and that eliminated Retaliator Griffin—since most of my fixing would only give me red or green but not both at the same time—and Predator Dragon—since I was unlikely to have more than three or four sources of red in my whole deck. In hindsight I should have played the Valley Rannet along with one Mountain and maybe one Forest for him to cycle into to support my pair of Terminates and a Maelstrom Pulse more reliably in the early part of the game.
As I have played more with the new cards it has become apparent that Arsenal Thresher can be Juzám-sized or bigger with little effort. My deck already had fourteen artifacts and I sided the Thresher, along with Ethersworn Shieldmage, in almost every match and would have built it into the main deck if I was starting over. Mask of Riddles was a tough card to leave out but I chose to play with Behemoth Sledge instead and did not want two pieces of equipment—my deck was not geared well toward beating down—and I preferred the long game of the Sledge.
Mike Flores has already alluded to my deck-building dilemma with Demonic Dread in his Thursday article. I could have easily biased my deck to include the two copies of this cascade spell and ensured that every time I played one it would result in Bone Splinters, Executioner's Capsule, Crystallization, or Terminate. I am still not sure if not doing this was correct since they would become tutors for removal that had the added value of temporarily removing another creature from the Red Zone equation. Had my deck been a little more aggressive I would have certainly done it that way, but it is very possible I should have anyway.
As for the cards I did play I would be hard pressed to hand out an MVP trophy to just one of them. Sharding Sphinx protected a fair number of the packs that were on my head as bounty, but the trophy would be shared by two rookies: Sen Triplets and Nemesis of Reason. There has not been a more aptly named card than the Nemesis of Reason. Rob Dougherty could only laugh as my opponents would literally sputter as their hair turned white at the prospect of dealing with an impending attack step with the Leviathan Horror.
Not only is winning by decking crossed off my list in this format; it is crossed out so hard that I tore through the first sheet of paper with my pen. The first opponent I played it against went for a triple block to kill it but a Terminate ended that plan and left him unable to block for the next two turns. When I turned the Horror sideways for the fourth time I just assumed he was out of cards but it took me two more attacks to mill away his nearly 60-card deck. He later explained that there were too many cards he wanted to play with and could not bring himself to leave any in the sideboard.
Sen Triplets was similarly absurd for me—especially with the ability of Metallurgeon to protect it. I played the Triplets multiple times on turn five with a white open and Metallurgeon active. There were multiple games where a player had to use a removal spell that I could regenerate from anyway just so I would not untap and kill one of their own creatures with it. Players needed to have Terminate or Oblivion Ring to deal with it as well as the mana to play them. This has got to be an incredibly unpleasant card to face down when a color in your deck is eluding you.
I deliberately played five colors so I could get maximum value out of the Triplets. Highlights include playing my opponent's Kathari Remants and cascading into Maelstrom Pulse, and getting all my mana fixing and being able to play Hellkite Overlord off of the Triplets. The biggest thing players had to get their heads around was that the Triplets shut off their ability to do stuff on my turn—unless they did it in response to the Triplets' ability going on the stack—and had to "relearn" when to use their Panoramas, pingers, regeneration abilities, and tappers. Eventually people learned that you need to regenerate your creature at the beginning of the Triplet player's upkeep, but it took most of the day for that to crystallize in everyone's mind.
Cascade was the single most exciting thing about the tournament for most players I spoke with and played against. As I mentioned earlier, my first taste of this Limited format was on the wrong end of a Bloodbraid Elf into Maelstrom Pulse one game and a timely Necrogenesis in the second. It was one of only a small handful of games I would lose with this deck over the course of the day, and Emily Porcher took down the very first of those packs that were the bounty on my head. She would finish 3-1 in the tournament earning another four packs for her efforts. One-time Scrye Magazine coverage reporter Patrick Timmons swept the flight with a monstrosity of a deck that included Battlegrace Angel, Elspeth, two Oblivion Rings, Caldera Hellion, and Behemoth Sledge.
My other card pool that I had the option of manning the gunslinging station with was much tougher to build than my first one and after giving out a string of packs with it I reverted back to the safety of the Triplets and Nemesis of Reason for the rest of the day. Many of you will likely be attending a Launch Party this weekend, and this is an example of the type of card pool you may have to work with. In lieu of a Firestarter this week, go ahead to the forums and tell me how you would have built this deck. I will share my build with you in next week's column. Also feel free to share any experiences you had at this past weekend's, or the coming weekend's, events.
WPN Spotlight: Amanda Arendale of Hillside Games
There are nearly 1500 locations in North America that are part of the Wizards Play Network, which provides a crucial entry point for new players to learn about Magic and to find a community of players to surround themselves with. One of the new rotating features of this column will be a WPN Spotlight in which I do some quick interviews with some of the more successful organizers in the program. There are few who have been as successful as Amanda Arendale of Hillside Games in Asheville, North Carolina. Her events have generated new players in the triple digits, she considers fewer than 50 players in her Friday Night Magic "a slow night," and she has even managed to get a fair number of girls into the mix at her events.
BDM: How did you come to become involved in the WPN?
Amanda: My husband, Nate Sykes, and I opened Hillside Games a little over two years ago and I got to be the tournament organizer, and I have been running the events ever since. Being able to hold the Prereleases has been amazing.
BDM: Did you run one last weekend? What cards were people looking for and excited about?
Amanda: We ran two and they were really good. Everyone was really enthusiastic about the new set. We were able to have two really good flights of Sealed Deck and, I think, five or six booster drafts. People would have given their left arm for a Meddling Mage.
BDM: Your attendance for FNM is one of the highest averages in North America. What is the secret to your success?
Amanda: We start a little later in the evening that allows more people to get from work for starters. We start at seven o'clock, which makes us stay late but we do it. Our tournaments are free—we run a free Standard tournament every Friday at 7 p.m. We give prize support away above and beyond the FNM cards. We have a lot of people coming in during the week and I, my husband, and a lot of our customers will help people learn how to play Magic. We always emphasize that since Friday Night Magic is free they should come back in and play; they won't lose anything, they'll have a really great time, and they will meet some really great players.
BDM: How important do you find it is to introduce new players to the better players in your community?
Amanda: We think that is what has made Asheville such a terrific community. We have some players who have played in this past Nationals and regularly make the Top 8 of PTQs. Because of that they are not being exposed to bad Magic, they are learning good habits, and because all these other players around them are so good it makes them want to be better.
BDM: Have you found that to be effective in terms of growing your player base?
Amanda: We have seen a steady increase almost every week. When the weather gets beautiful—we are in the mountains—you might see a little bit of a drop for a couple of months. It can be hard to compete with the beautiful weather but our numbers just keep going up overall. I remember when we first opened the store we would get 18–20 people. We were shocked and amazed and thought that was wonderful but I remember the first time I looked up and I realized that we had crossed over into six rounds worth of people —I couldn't believe it. I remember a couple of weeks ago looking around and thinking, "There isn't anyone in the store. We only have 48 players in the tournament tonight." That was when I knew we had something pretty cool going on.
BDM: What can people expect from a WPN Launch Party this weekend?
Amanda: Well if you come to Hillside Games on Saturday at 2 p.m. we are having a Sealed Deck tournament using three packs of Shards of Alara and three packs of Alara Reborn—the newest set. You don't need to worry about who has the most money or who has been at the game the longest because everyone is starting on a level field. We will sit down with everyone and make sure everyone knows how Sealed Deck works. If you get here ahead of time we will give you some strategy tips about how to build a Sealed Deck.
It will be a pretty casual event with really good prizes and you should plan to be there until 9 p.m. if you play the whole time, so you don't have to make it a late night. If you want to stay later we will probably be doing booster drafts until two in the morning—or even later. I prefer to get out of here by four in the morning.
BDM: Sounds like you guys really make a full day out of these events.
Amanda: Well, launch events are kind of special for us. My husband and I actually met each other for the first time at the Ravnica launch. My brother was showing up for the launch event and I showed up with him. I played a little but I really liked collecting. I collected squirrels—they were my sorority mascot. My pick-up line to my husband was, "I hear you are the man to see about some squirrels." I knew he ran a squirrel deck.
BDM: And now you own a very successful game store that has a high percentage of female Magic players—something that is the Holy Grail for tournament organizers looking to grow their business. How much of that is due to having a female presence behind the counter?
Amanda: I think, frankly it is a lot less scary when you walk into a store and there is a female sitting behind the counter and smiling at you. It feels a lot safer than walking into a big roomful of guys. I know for me that would make me feel more comfortable. Also, having me in the store constantly means the guys themselves all behave a little nicer.