Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease, Part 2 - Mindwrack Demon Math

My second Shadows over Innistrad prerelease event was on Sunday. This time my pool pushed me into Black and White, so there wasn't too much issue over what to play. I'll list my pool and final Sealed deck at the end, but this post is going to be about Mindwrack Demon interactions.

Mindwrack Demon

Mindwrack Demon was one of the bombs I opened on Sunday. As you can see, it is an extremely strong flier that comes with (potentially) two downsides. However, its first downside could be considered a Delirium enabler to mitigate its second actual downside.

Now I am going to present two scenarios involving Mindwrack Demon that I experienced on Sunday. The question is, what is the correct play?

Scenario 1: Your opponent's life total is 5. Your life total is 12. Your opponent has a 4/1 Bloodmad Vampire, 3/2 flying Olivia's Bloodsworn, 6/5 menace Gatstaf Ragers, and 1/1 lifelink Indulgent Aristocrat, all untapped. You have a 3/3 Inspiring Captain, 2/1 flying Olivia's Bloodsworn, 4/5 flying, trample Mindwrack Demon, all untapped, and the enchantment Always Awake, giving your creatures +1/+1 and vigilance. Your graveyard has Creature and Sorcery for Delirium. Your hand contains Humble the Brute, Murderous Compulsion, and Twins of Maurer Estate. It is your opponent's attack phase, and you have enough mana to cast Humble the Brute. Your opponent declares an attack with Olivia's Bloodsworn and Gatstaf Ragers, while holding two cards in hand and all mana open. What is your play?

Answer: I failed this scenario. I cast Humble the Brute to destroy his Gatstaf Ragers, giving me an Instant in my graveyard. However, I left the Olivia's Bloodsworn unblocked. My opponent then sacrificed his Indulgent Aristocrat to put a +1/+1 counter on both Olivia's Bloodsworn and Bloodmad Vampire and cast Grotesque Mutation on Olivia's Bloodsworn to give it +3/+1 and lifelink until end of turn. Just like that our life totals were reversed, and my life total dropped to 1 on my upkeep because of Mindwrack Demon's Delirium check.

The correct play would have been to recognize that I had no easy way to get Delirium and block the Bloodsworn with my Mindwrack Demon after casting Humble the Brute on Gatstaf Ragers. This way, one of three things occurs: a) my opponent doesn't play any combat tricks and lets Bloodsworn die, b) my opponent plays Grotesque Mutation to cause a trade and gain 6 life, or c) my opponent still plays exactly the same way as above to gain 7 life. In both scenarios b and c, the game would have gone on a few more turns, but I would have had my 3/2 flying Olivia's Bloodsworn to attack him unimpeded in the air. In scenario a, I would have lost 4 life at the beginning of my upkeep dropping me to 8 life, but I would have killed my opponent before losing to Mindwrack Demon since I could swing for lethal by attacking with everything on that turn.

To put this in context, this happened in game 2 of a round where I had already won game 1. Because of this misplay, we went to a game 3 that went to a draw because of time.

Scenario 2: Your opponent's life total is 6. Your life total is 10. Your opponent has a 2/1 Crow of Dark Tidings, a 2/4 Rottenheart Ghoul, and a 2/2 Ghoulcaller's Apprentice, all untapped. You have a 2/1 Crow of Dark Tidings and 4/5 flying, trample Mindwrack Demon, tapped after attacking. Your hand contains Murderous Compulsion, Silverstrike, and Twins of Maurer Estate. Your graveyard has Creature and Land for Delirium. It is your second main phase, and you have 3 Swamps and 3 Plains untapped. What is your play?

Answer: This particular interaction was probably the most inspired Magic I've played in a long time. The two key points to note about this scenario are that a) your opponent can drop you to 4 life with the current board, leaving you to die to Mindwrack Demon on your upkeep, and b) you have the Instant and Sorcery you need for Delirium in your hand and the mana to cast both of them.

Therefore, the correct play is to cast Murderous Compulsion targeting your own Crow of Dark Tidings. Unfortunately for you, the two cards it mills from your deck are both lands. Your opponent smiles, knowing that you still don't have Delirium, draws for his turn, plays a land, and attacks with everything. You then smile back and kill his Crow of Dark Tidings with Silverstrike, gaining 3 life (for a total life loss of 1) and, more importantly, getting Delirium. You then untap, don't lose life on upkeep, draw, attack with your Mindwrack Demon, play Twins of Maurer Estate to block the ground, and pass. On his draw, your opponent concedes.

This was actually another game 2, this time in the final round. Due to a computer error, I had actually been paired up with an opponent with a better record (I was 2-0-1 and he was 3-0-0) even though there was one other person with a 2-0-1 record (who had also been paired with someone who was 3-0). I had won the first game because he mulliganed to 5 and then didn't draw enough land/creatures to keep up with my early fliers.

Scenario 2.5: The question then becomes...what if your opponent didn't attack after you passed the turn? Let's assume that your next two card draws are non-flying creatures with 4+ converted mana cost (at 10 life, you'll die before you draw a 3rd card off your draw step unless you get Delirium. Also, drawing a land on your next turn gives you 7 total mana and leads to Madness shenanigans with Twins of Maurer Estate). On your upkeep, you lose 4 life, leaving you at 6 life as well. The correct play is still to swing in with Mindwrack Demon. Your opponent can choose to block with Crow of Dark Tidings. Since Mindwrack Demon has trample, blocking with Crow doesn't gain your opponent anything (he's still on a 2 turn clock). Most likely no blocks will be declared, leaving him at 2 life. (Note: if he blocks, you actually end up in a better position since he no longer has a flier on the board and is no longer threatening lethal.) On your second main phase, it is no longer correct to cast Twins of Maurer Estate. Instead, mana should be left open for Silverstrike, again.

The turn is then passed to your opponent. At this point, your opponent is forced to swing with everything to attempt to win the game before you do. From his perspective, he needs you either dead or at 4 life without Delirium. He expects either that he'll be attacking into a combat trick (in which case the game is already over for him) or that you're bluffing, but doing nothing will lose him the game. You hit one of his creatures with Silverstrike (recommend targeting Crow of Dark Tidings, unless you had the aforementioned 7 mana, in which case target Rottenheart Ghoul and cast Twins for their Madness cost when your opponent forces you to discard, then use Twins to block Ghoulcaller's Apprentice...Ouch!), netting -1 life after damage is dealt and gaining Delirium. Finally, untap, upkeep, draw, and attack to win the game. The key to this interaction is still playing Murderous Compulsion on your own Crow of Dark Tidings.

I hope you had fun working out these two scenarios. Mindwrack Demon was an amazing Limited bomb, and I had fun playing with him (even when he caused me to lose). Check out my Sealed pool and deck below (my prerelease promo was Bygone Bishop two days in a row!):

Colorless (4)
Haunted Cloak (Equipment, 3)
2x Harvest Hand (Artifact Creature, 3)
Murderer's Axe (Equipment, 4)

Green (15)
Loam Dryad (Creature, G)
Clip Wings (Instant, 1G)
Aim High (Instant, 1G)
Fork in the Road (Sorcery, 1G)
Cryptolith Rite (Enchantment, 1G)
Quilled Wolf (Creature, 1G)
Byway Courier (Creature, 2G)
Hermit of the Natterknolls (Creature, 2G)
Tireless Tracker (Creature, 2G)
Inexorable Blob (Creature, 2G)
Might Beyond Reason (Instant, 3G)
Pack Guardian (Creature, 2GG)
Cult of the Waxing Moon (Creature, 4G)
2x Watcher in the Web (Creature, 4G)

Red (14)
Dual Shot (Instant, R)
Tormenting Voice (Sorcery, 1R)
Sanguinary Mage (Creature, 1R)
Scourge Wolf (Creature, RR)
2x Uncaged Fury (Instant, 2R)
Stensia Masquerade (Enchantment, 2R)
Fiery Temper (Instant, 1RR)
Convicted Killer (Creature, 2R)
Breakneck Rider (Creature, 1RR)
Inner Struggle (Instant, 3R)
2x Structural Distortion (Sorcery, 3R)
Goldknight Castigator (Creature, 2RR)

Blue (13)
Invasive Surgery (Instant, U)
2x Jace's Scrutiny (Instant, 1U)
Ghostly Wings (Enchantment, 1U)
Fleeting Memories (Enchantment, 2U)
3x Stitched Mangler (Creature, 2U)
2x Drownyard Explorers (Creature, 3U)
Gone Missing (Sorcery, 4U)
Lamplighter of Selhoff (Creature, 4U)
Silburlind Snapper (Creature, 5U)

White (22)
Chaplain's Blessing (Sorcery, W)
Town Gossipmonger (Creature, W)
Thraben Inspector (Creature, W)
2x Topplegeist (Creature, W)
Expose Evil (Instant, 1W)
Moorland Drifter (Creature, 1W)
Survive the Night (Instant, 2W)
Ethereal Guidance (Sorcery, 2W)
Always Watching (Enchantment, 1WW)
2x Cathar's Companion (Creature, 2W)
2x Militant Inquisitor (Creature, 2W)
Dauntless Cathar (Creature, 2W)
Spectral Shepherd (Creature, 2W)
Bygone Bishop (Creature, 2W)
Tenacity (Instant, 3W)
Silverstrike (Instant, 3W)
Inspiring Captain (Creature, 3W)
Apothecary Geist (Creature, 3W)
Humble the Brute (Instant, 4W)

Black (15)
Shamble Back (Sorcery, B)
Sanitarium Skeleton (Creature, B)
Murderous Compulsion (Sorcery, 1B)
Grotesque Mutation (Instant, 1B)
2x Olivia's Bloodsworn (Creature, 1B)
Rancid Rats (Creature, 1B)
Pale Rider of Trostad (Creature, 1B)
Merciless Resolve (Instant, 2B)
2x Crow of Dark Tidings (2B)
Rottenheart Ghoul (Creature, 3B)
Mindwrack Demon (Creature, 2BB)
Hound of the Farbogs (Creature, 4B)
Twins of Maurer Estate (Creature, 4B)

Land (2)
Warped Landscape
Forsaken Sanctuary

BW Fliers

Creatures (17)
2x Topplegeist
Pale Rider of Trostad
Moorland Drifter
Rancid Rats
2x Olivia's Bloodsworn
Dauntless Cathar
Spectral Shepherd
2x Crow of Dark Tidings
Bygone Bishop
Inspiring Captain
Apothecary Geist
Mindwrack Demon
Twins of Maurer Estate
Hound of the Farbogs

Other (6)
Grotesque Mutation*
Murderous Compulsion
Ethereal Guidance
Always Watching
Humble the Brute

Land (17)
Warped Landscape
Forsaken Sanctuary
8x Plains
7x Swamp

*Note: In my first two rounds, I was using Merciless Resolve instead of Grotesque Mutation. This was to enable getting land into my graveyard to enable Delirium. However, I found that more often than not, Merciless Resolve ended up being a dead card in my hand. (Special thanks to Andrew Weiss for concurring when I commented that Merciless Resolve wasn't really doing anything for me.) The life swing that came with Grotesque Mutation fit with what the deck wanted to do much better.

I hope you're enjoying Shadows over Innistrad as much as I am! Please leave your comments below.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease, Part 1 - All is Sacrifice

This past weekend was the Shadows over Innistrad prerelease. I've always held fond memories of Innistrad: it was the first set to come out after I moved to Washington, and Avacyn Restored was the first time I went 4-0 at Uncle's Games. Needless to say, I was very excited to revisit Innistrad. And this set definitely didn't disappoint. But first, let's figure out what I did wrong.

Like my previous post about the Battle for Zendikar prerelease, I made some mistakes deciding on my 40 card deck. I got overly excited about some of the bombs I opened, and I'm pretty sure I got mind-controlled by a Frog Horror. Let's take a look at my Sealed pool (again, Mythics/Rares are in bold):

Colorless (5)
Explosive Apparatus (Artifact, 1)
True-Faith Censer (Equipment, 2)
2x Magnifying Glass (Artifact, 3)
Harvest Hand (Artifact Creature, 3)

Multicolored (2)
Arlinn Kord (Planeswalker, 2RG)
The Gitrog Monster (Creature, 3BG)

White (20)
2x Chaplain's Blessing (Sorcery, W)
Town Gossipmonger (Creature, W)
Thraben Inspector (Creature, W)
Moorland Drifter (Creature, 1W)
Unruly Mob (Creature, 1W)
Puncturing Light (Instant, 1W)
Declaration in Stone (Sorcery, 1W)
Bygone Bishop (Creature, 2W)
Pious Evangel (Creature, 2W)
Spectral Shepherd (Creature, 2W)
Ethereal Guidance (Sorcery, 2W)
Angelic Purge (Sorcery, 2W)
2x Tenacity (Instant, 3W)
2x Inquisitor's Ox (Creature, 3W)
Apothecary Geist (Creature, 3W)
Reaper of Flight Moonsilver (Creature, 3WW)
Emissary of the Sleepless (Creature, 4W)

Blue (12)
Vessel of Paramnesia (Enchantment, 1U)
2x Jace's Scrutiny (Instant, 1U)
Just the Wind (Instant, 1U)
Press for Answers (Sorcery, 1U)
Manic Scribe (Creature, 1U)
Trail of Evidence (Enchantment, 2U)
Niblis of Dusk (Creature, 2U)
Uninvited Geist (Creature, 2U)
Drownyard Explorers (Creature, 3U)
Sleep Paralysis (Enchantment, 3U)
Nephalia Moondrakes (Creature, 5UU)

Black (13)
Sinister Concoction (Enchantment, B)
Shamble Back (Sorcery, B)
Murderous Compulsion (Sorcery, B)
Vessel of Malignity (Enchantment, 1B)
Grotesque Mutation (Instant, 1B)
Macabre Waltz (Sorcery, 1B)
Olivia's Bloodsworn (Creature, 1B)
Ghoulcaller's Apprentice (Creature, 1B)
Rancid Rats (Creature, 1B)
Relentless Dead (Creature, BB)
Crow of Dark Tidings (Creature, 2B)
Elusive Tormentor (Creature, 2BB)
Ghoulsteed (Creature, 4B)

Green (16)
Vessel of Nascency (Enchantment, G)
Loam Dryad (Creature, G)
2x Groundskeeper (Creature, G)
Fork in the Road (Sorcery, 1G)
Duskwatch Recruiter (Creature, 1G)
Moldgraf Scavenger (Creature, 1G)
2x Byway Courier (Creature, 2G)
Graf Mole (Creature, 2G)
Might Beyond Reason (Instant, 3G)
Equestrian Skill (Enchantment, 3G)
Intrepid Provisioner (Creature, 3G)
Briarbridge Patrol (Creature, 3G)
Watcher in the Web (Creature, 4G)
Thornhide Wolves (Creature, 4G)

Red (12)
Skin Invasion (Enchantment, R)
Dual Shot (Instant, R)
Insolent Neonate (Creature, R)
Ember-Eye Wolf (Creature, 1R)
2x Sanguinary Mage (Creature, 1R)
Uncaged Fury (Instant, 2R)
Breakneck Rider (Creature, 1RR)
Structural Distortion (Sorcery, 3R)
Voldaren Duelist (Creature, 3R)
Pyre Hound (Creature, 3R)
Incorrigible Youths (Creature, 3RR)

Lands (5)
Warped Landscape
Game Trail
Drownyard Temple
2x Foul Orchard

My prerelease promo was Bygone Bishop and early on in the deckbuilding process I was still leaning towards playing White. I had noticed that I could build a strong Spirit-themed deck. Then I opened The Gitrog Monster. The Gitrog Monster is insanely good. As long as you're willing to feed him [land], he will kill things for you and let you draw cards! I'd been hoping to get The Gitrog Monster during the prerelease. But at the time my Black cards were really weak, so I set him aside.

The problem arose when I opened Arlinn Kord. She was worth more than I'd paid to participate in the tournament (at the time, she was ~$26). I guess I'm weak to Planeswalkers too, because at that moment I shifted gears to see if I could make a deck using her.

I came up with the following (splashing Black for removal and The Gitrog Monster):

Jund Bombs

Creatures (13)
Loam Dryad
2x Sanguinary Mage
Ember-Eye Wolf
Duskwatch Recruiter
2x Byway Courier
Breakneck Rider
Briarbridge Patrol
Voldaren Duelist
Watcher in the Web
The Gitrog Monster

Planeswalker (1)
Arlinn Kord

Other (9)
Dual Shot
Sinister Concoction
Vessel of Nascency
Skin Invasion
Explosive Apparatus
Murderous Compulsion
Fork in the Road
Uncaged Fury
Might Beyond Reason

Land (17)
Warped Landscape
2x Foul Orchard
Drownyard Temple
Game Trail
2x Swamp
5x Forest
5x Mountain

After sleeving this monstrosity, I predictably bombed the tournament with a record of 0-3 before I dropped (both to save time and because there was no way I could win even a single pack at that point). What went wrong? Well, this deck is extremely weak to fliers. And Innistrad is full of cheap fliers. Also, if an opponent managed to remove Gitrog Monster, nothing else in the deck could really win the game on its own. Arlinn performed below expectations. Most of the time I cast her to force an opponent to attack her (and kill her), basically using her as a way to regain tempo. She is definitely strong in the right deck, but this one wasn't it.

What deck should I have played? After dropping out of the tournament, I changed my deck to the one below and challenged the visiting WotC employee Mark Gottlieb (design manager at Wizards and lead designer for Shadows over Innistrad!) in hopes of winning a Magic Origins pack and salvaging my pride. This was the deck I originally had in mind (before opening Gitrog Monster and Arlinn):

UW Spirits and Humans

Creatures (15)
Thraben Inspector
Town Gossipmonger
Moorland Drifter
Manic Scribe
Unruly Mob
Uninvited Geist
Spectral Shepherd
Niblis of Dusk
Pious Evangel
Bygone Bishop
Apothecary Geist
Inquisitor's Ox
Emissary of the Sleepless
Reaper of Flight Moonsilver
Nephalia Moondrakes

Other (8)
Explosive Apparatus
Press for Answers
Just the Wind
Puncturing Light
Declaration in Stone
Angelic Purge
Ethereal Guidance
Sleep Paralysis

Land (17)
Warped Landscape
9x Plains
7x Island

Power-wise, nothing in this deck has the presence of Gitrog Monster or Arlinn Kord, but most of these creatures fly and synergize well. I have a strong Spirit theme with cards that have an upside when I control other Spirits. I also have much better removal with Puncturing Light, Declaration in Stone, and Angelic Purge. The only problem I had with this deck was turning on Delirium, but Warped Landscape, Angelic Purge, and Pious Evangel all helped put lands in the graveyard. I was able to beat Mark's Red-Black Madness deck even though most of his creatures were much larger than mine (lots of 4-power creatures) purely because I could fly over them and pressure his life total early.

What did I learn from this? In a thematically strong set like Shadows over Innistrad, synergy matters. The deck that I played in the tournament may have had individually decent cards, but they didn't work well together. Also, flyers are still very good in Limited.

Part 2 - Mindwrack Demon Math is coming soon! Please leave your comments below.