Limited_Information

A tournament report and some musings on the role of unknown information in Magic.

Ignore the Unknown!

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Circular_Logic The letter F!inally, finally, the day arrived. I've been looking forward to this one for a while! Ye Olde Draft Insanity, taking all comers. I'm as big a fan as anyone of the standard fare: TTP, MD5 - whatever the status quo happens to be. But once in a while it's fun to just splash around and play in a very random format. Pro Tour practice? Not so strong. Genuine fun? Oh yes. It's nice once in a while to relax and play with a more fun-loving crowd, away from all draining PTQ/GP events. Unlike some of that fare, I heavily doubt the Draft Insanity is going to take fourteen hours.

The main problem with weekend tournaments, and I admit it's a common one, is the early morning wake-up. Sleeping is a vastly underrated complement to wakefulness, and it's a condition I like to thoroughly explore come the end of the week. That being said, drafting trumps quite a bit. And this tournament promised some serious good times.

The premise of Draft Insanity is simple enough: You go to the site and reach into a large bag for three (random) boosters. Than you sit in tables of eight and do the draft thing. You don't know what you're opening and you really don't know what's being passed. It's a very random, very entertaining experience, and it usually gets a pretty large draw. This time turned out to be one of the larger events we've had in the area. A hefty 24 players showed up to battle for the title of Draft Insanity Champ. Due to the solid turnout, the organizers promised some extra "special" prizes for the top finishers.

My three boosters were Stronghold, Onslaught, and Legions. A random assortment indeed. Things began well with an opened Fanning the Flames, and turned even better as it seemed no one was interested in drafting red or black. I'll be the first to admit countermagic is amazing in draft, but that doesn't mean you should just ignore the quality removal either. Regardless of why it happened, this deck ended up well. Opening Rockshard Elemental is nice, but getting passed Heart of Bogardan was the real gem of the day. Things did dry up at the very end, but all in all this is a very strong deck. Here's what I was working with:

Round 1 vs. Charles

Game 1: I had an inkling things were going to go well this round. Charles, a nice middle-aged gentleman, drew his seven and immediately laid the cards on the table. I chuckled and told him that's not quite how we play the game. Charles looked a little abashed and waited for the instruction on protocol. I told him the first thing we do is pick up our hand to look at and decide mulligans. Charles examined his seven cards and said he'd keep, which was certainly the right call from the gander I took. I examined my opening hand and said I was going to stick with these seven too. Charles looked at me expectantly, and I gave him the thumbs up. We laid our hands on the table and started to examine the other person's offering. I felt even more confident about our match when Charles had to turn some of my cards to face him so he could read what they did. I suppose I should cut him some slack here since some of the cards are fairly old. I'm just not used to playing with the casuals who read cards instead of turns.

Anyway, here's what we started with:


Me: Swamp, Swamp, Mountain, Mountains, Rats of Rath, Strangling Soot, Balduvian Dead

Charles: Plains, Plains, Plains, Forest, Castle Raptors, Cessation, Nut Collector

Mine was an easy keep of course. Charles's wasn't bad either, although it was fairly slow. The key point seemed to be my Rats versus his Cessation. I really didn't want Cessation to land on the Dead, since that's just free kill. If I kept mana open for the Rats of Rath at that point, I should be in good shape. But to play the Rats on turn two? I'd say yes. I couldn't counter the enchantment in response, but did Charles really want to Cessation the Rats anyway? Probably not; a G/W deck should be able to find some answer to a 2/1. Indeed, the Rats came down early and stuck around for attacking, although they got shut off a little later by a Spitting Slug. Strangling Soot knocked off a guy, and, as expected, the Dead traded straight up with Charles's white aura. Charles's key mistake in this game came a little later with that Nut Collector. I had a face down Rockshard Elemental, which I wanted to unflip as soon as possible. Had Charles played Nut Collector on his sixth turn I would have been forced to Soot the Collector to prevent things from getting out of hand. But Charles went with a less game-influential creature, which gave me the turn to flip up the Elemental. The next turn the Collector came down of course, but by than I was up too much tempo. That key miss was enough to clear the way for the Elemental to finish the job.

Game 2: This was barely a game at all, as the "bad half" of Charles's deck came to play. His only interesting card was Armadillo Cloak, but I made sure to have mana open for the Slaughter whenever he could possibly enchant something and get some life back. Eventually he just grew tired of playing chicken and threw away two good cards. The win was pretty easy after that. I think Kyren Sniper dealt 8 points.

Afterwards we talked about the game a bit. Charles was a nice guy, but he got really frustrated when he had to plan his turns out so far in advance. He picked the color combination with the least planning, but even so, you can't just ignore what the other guy has in his hand. He confided he was new to the game and was just enjoying his first tournament experience. The rules and game play were a little more strict out here than around the kitchen table, but even so he was promised to have a good time. Wishing him luck with that very worthy goal, I stepped up from the table happy to start the day off right.

1-0

Round 2 vs. David

Game 1: Now we're getting serious. David is a tried and true competitor, one of the many quality players in the area. David and I have butted heads many a time, as detailed on these very pages. I knew David wouldn't mess around with reading cards or ignoring turn advantage like my previous respected opponent. My only concern is that David is a touch on the slow side. He likes to be methodical because, well, he hates losing. I don't blame him.

Our first game is as epic as expected. David is also B/R with copious removal. What's unfortunate is that his deck is slightly better than mine in general, and pretty darn good against mine in particular. Fanning the Flames strong? Not against Coercion. David even had the answers to the Blind Creeper I drew late; some cheap cantrip cards that would have killed off the Creeper in a heartbeat. I love the card to death, but a crafty opponent can barely stymie their development and keep it off the table. The really clever ones use Blind Creeper to prevent me from playing spells post-combat, which can be just as fatal. I made a mental note to side the card out, although for this game I had the opportunity to get a 1:2 it instead of an utter 0:1. Even though David's deck is stronger, I did manage to get some early damage in. The problem came late when David was fairly stabilized and ready to begin rolling out. It was very late in the game, but I was mostly out of gas. David could see that I was missing some final points of damage, and short of a wrath card, I'm sure he thought 1:1 removal wasn't going to be enough. However, I did have a plan. Here was the board:


David's hand: Incinerate, Mountain
David's board: Wall of Razors (untapped), Treacherous Vampire (untapped, 6/6), Treacherous Vampire (tapped, 6/6), five Mountains (untapped), five Swamps (untapped).
9 life

My hand: Swamp, Mogg Alarm
My board: Rats of Rath, Belbe's Percher, Blazing Blade Askari, Bottle Gnomes, five Mountains, five Swamps (all untapped)

I know what you're thinking: Two Treacherous Vampires? That's hard to do in OTJ, much less OTJMD5UUUTSECQIetc... And yes, things look pretty dire here. However, I did have a plan. I would swing in with all my guys. David would block the Percher with the Vampire (sadly he's threshed to hell), Wall on the Rats, the Askari takes an Incinerate and Bottle Gnomes comes in for a point. Then I'd play Mogg Alarm. David would swing back with his two guys and bring me to 2 with my Bottle Gnomes still around, which probably makes me safe for a turn. Even if David drew a creature or removal I'd still be in fine shape for the plan. The three one-power creatures would come in again, and hopefully deal at least a point. Then…

I put things into motion. David did draw a creature, a Sengir Vampire (did he open the Baron too?), but hopefully it wouldn't matter. He went to 8 from the previous attack and I needed to find that card right now. David knew something was up with that last attack, but it's not like he had options. I grab the top card. David and I see it at the same time:

Sorry about that Davy! The last little token takes David exactly to 7, and the burn spell finishes the job. He's pretty mad, but admiring too on the way I played with the unknown. It doesn't happen too often in this game, but it's always exciting when you get a shot. Obviously that was a very long game - thirty-five minutes long, to be precise. With only that much time left in the round, could we finish the match?

Game 2: This game I got beaten, pretty badly. A mulligan from me and some strong cards from David made this a quick affair, only fifteen minutes long. David and I play optimally of course, but I'm on the backpedal from the get go. His deck is good.

Game 3: As expected, the 13-15 minutes isn't nearly long enough to finish the final game. Our draws are very solid with lots of removal and curve issues flying back and forth. It takes a good five minutes from each of us just to get the turns aligned from the opening ten cards or so, and then topdecks require constant recalculation. The draw was inevitable here, but frankly I'm ok with it.

1-0-1

A quick coffee break and it's time for Round 3.

Round 3 vs. Mikey

Ah, Mikey, he's good people. I've known this guy for years, and while we both agree he's not quite on my level, the games are usually fun nonetheless. As always when we sit down to play in a tournament, Mikey jokingly asked if I brought Jenny with me. Ha ha.

It's been a while since the last time I told this story, so one more time: Jenny was an old girlfriend who wanted to learn how to play Magic. It's exciting to teach people the game, especially someone you share other interests with. Unfortunately Magic isn't for everyone. Also unfortunately, I was a pretty bad teacher. Jenny picked up the rules quickly enough, so we started our first "real" game. Since I wanted Jenny to enjoy her experience I played "soft" for her first game, not playing optimally so things would take longer. But Jenny was a sharp cookie and picked up what I was doing pretty quickly (kind of hard to disguise really). She gave me a withering look and told me to play my best game, and she would do the same. So I did and beat her soundly.

fools_tome

She didn't seem to mind the loss, and asked how she could have played it differently. I made my huge mistake here and just went turn after turn playing both sides, demonstrating how off and insular her moves were. She thought I was being condescending when I explained why these moves were better, and haughtily told me "I'm no dummy," a line that still makes me smile and wince to this day. We broke up a little while after, and while I don't blame Magic for it, it sure didn't help here. Mikey finds the story hilarious (his wife wants nothing to do with the game she calls "colorful chess") and loves to give me crap about it. It's all in good fun. I do have to remind him he gets soundly beaten after every taunting.

And that's what happened this time. His deck was a fun little four-color green deck, but he was just outclassed. While I was always a turn ahead, the game did go on for a while, by the end drawing quite a crowd. I put in the finishing points and shook Mikey's hand for a very entertaining match. Some of the younger players asked about a few situations, so we re-created the hands and the boards and explained our reasoning. They seemed to get it, and went off to talk about the choices. I had a little smile as I picked up my cards. Maybe I'm getting better at teaching. There's certainly a lot of data to learn when watching two competent players go at it, and the hungry youngfolk are eager to pick it up. After the impromptu classroom, I wished Mikey good luck in the rest of the tournament. He reminded me he still has my number in our weekly poker game, a point I quickly concede. Shaking hands, we go off to recharge before Round 4.

2-0-1

Round 4 vs. Hank

Game 1: This was, I admit, the most entertaining match of the day for me. Hank was employing two strategies, a normal one and a subterfuge strategy that's always fun to bear. But we'll get to that in a bit.

Hank was piloting a very solid G/U deck with good fliers and cheap guys. The first game was a fairly lengthy one, but the key play was right in the beginning, on turn three. Hank opened with Seeker of Skybreak and the deadly Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. Now Kira is a powerhouse card against this deck, although it's not unraceable. But given the option, I'd prefer it dead. Hank, for his half, definitely knew this. After all, that Strangling Soot in my hand looks a lot worse when it costs nine mana to use.

Anyway, Hank came out well with Kira and the Seeker. I drew and played my defender, a Fledgling Djinn. This is pretty good defense, but it's not precisely a card I want solely as a blocker. Here was the board on Hank's fourth turn:


Hank's hand: Giant Growth, Silt Crawler, Karplusan Strider, Petals of Insight, Opportunity

Hank's board: Two Islands, Forest, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, and Seeker of Skybreak (all untapped)

My board: Fledgling Djinn (untapped), Swamp (tapped), Mountain (tapped), Mountain (untapped)

So Hank got bold and attacked with just Kira. Clearly I could see the Giant Growth in hand, and we both saw Seeker turning off Kira for a turn so he could GG to save her if I did block. The only way I could win this game was racing and using my solid creatures to start pushing back (and I did have a few). But, the play here is definitely the block, for multiple reasons:


1. Racing is easier when you're not taking a point of damage every upkeep.
2. That Giant Growth has to go sometime, and now is as good as time as any. In fact now is better because…
3. Hank playing Giant Growth means he's not playing Silt Crawler this turn!

The last point is huge, and Hank immediately realized the mistake he made. I don't mind Kira dying, and I don't mind the lack of new creatures coming into play this turn either. From that Soot Hank knew he had to keep Kira around, but that loss of a turn in development ended up being the deciding factor. Spending one mana for your entire third turn? What a waste. Of course the next two turns saw Hank find a couple of lands, so Silt Crawler still didn't get cast for a while. It was a tight game, but that play decided it. Fanning the Flames exacted the final points.

Game 2: This game was decided by literally random methods. Hank led with a morph, a Brine Elemental. That's fine until he drew and played a face down Disruptive Pitmage, and then a face down Thelonite Hermit! The Hermit wasn't a big deal with only one forest, but that Brine Elemental promised some nastiness. Worse for me, Hank got to use the rarely executed "morph-monty" effect and shuffle his face-downs during his upkeep. Cleverly, Hank also attacked with all the morphs, not even giving me a chance to deduce the Pitmage from the rest. It was a little frustrating to have to guess which morph was which with no true information to draw from. One Assassinate, three unknown creatures. Rolling dice is not what this game is about, but that's what was needed to determine which 2/2 took the hit. Wouldn't you know it, the Thelonite Hermit took the Assassinate. Next turn, Briney and facedown Pitmage smacked me hard, and the Exhaustion effect sealed the game. It was annoying, I admit. Good for Hank for winning, but since it was basically raw luck, it's hard for me to feel like I was outplayed or learned something here. It's been said more times that anyone can remember but it bears repeating: This is a strategy game, not a lottery.

Game 3: Hank felt differently about so called "unknown information." Besides a clear propensity for morph, Hank played the exciting Occlumency on his third turn, taking away a lot of his opponent's natural advantage.

Wow does that card change the game. I stay exposed, Hank gets to start playing tricky. Hank clearly enjoyed the new world order, taking every draw step in his hand, reading the new card and smiling. There was no way they were all spells, which meant Hank was doing some theatre - which I admit was impressive. Most times in the game, you have to stay blank-faced as an opponent looks over their hand and yours. Here Hank was becoming more animated based on the cards in play, and that was rare enough to be noteworthy. For some people, the enjoyment of unknown information is worth the dip in raw strategy.

Or maybe I can be gracious because I won the match. The new trick to beating this hidden information is not care about it. And what's a better way to ignore what's going on around you than cumulative upkeep? That's right, it was time for the Heart of Bogardan to come out and play. Does Kira have protection from age counters? Apparently not, and twelve mana later, everything on Hank's side took their 6 points. If Hank was packing Stifle I was dust (and how would I know!?) but the Heart did go off. Hank's loss was too great and he conceded, but not before revealing the flood of lands he had drawn. Man! I would have killed him ages ago had I known, and he knew it too. Hank was smiling as he picked up his cards, giving me the impression this loss didn't sting too badly. What a good sport.

3-0-1

Round 5 vs. Stephen

Games 1 and 2: Stephen, a real technical specialist, has been an exceptionally strong opponent each time we've played. Today was not his day however, as both times he kept weaker hands that didn't pay off. His gambles were interesting to observe, as I knew he could draw into a mean combination given the correct progressions. This ended up not happening, and I dispatched him in two fairly uneventful games. I did ask Stephen about his hands after the match, and he showed me the cards that explained the reasoning. His method was interesting, although it seemed somewhat half-formed. Nonetheless, I definitely felt like I had seen the makings of a new Limited strategy based on what Stephen kept and what he was drawing towards. I plan on exploring this idea further, and reporting the results in a couple of weeks. For now:

4-0-1

Not a bad showing. A couple fewer rounds than normal, but fewer draws as well. Again, getting the casual crowd out here, the people who like a little randomness and don't plan ad nauseum, puts a different spin on the game. While I can't say their method is "superior," I do see why that style of play is engaging. A dash of randomness adds some exciting situations, even though the true test of skill uses plenty of true information.

For my top four finish, I earned a box of Planar Chaos and a special prize, Mischievous Poltergeist undies. I don't think Wizards has fully fleshed out their apparel line of prize support, but I must admit, what they do have looks sharp. That's all for this week, but come back next time for something really special. Thanks for reading.



What is 'What If?' Week?

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