NFL Week 12

So, here’s the rest of the week…

Sunday 1:00
Buccaneers @ Atlanta(-12)
Tampa is horrible, too awful to pick on the road.

Dolphins @ Buffalo (+3)
Hunh? The Bills can’t stop the run, the Dolphins mostly run. This won’t go well for Buffalo.

Browns @ Cincinnati(-13.5)
Intrastate hate game. Bengals need to right the ship, and nothing helps a team right the ship like facing Cleveland. Give the points.

Colts @ Houston(+3.5)
OK, so the Texans have mined the “miss the late FG to miss the tie causing overtime” successfully the last two weeks. I think they’re done, but Freeny is out, which means that the Texans will be able to throw some… so they lose by only a field goal… again.

Panthers @ New Jersey Jest(-3)
Ahh, the “no idea” spread from Vegas. Gang Green seems really ill of late, so I’m taking the points.

Redskins @ Philadelphia(-9)
Wow, that’s a lot of points for what might be another 7-6 game. Too many points.

Seahawks @ St. Louis(+4)
Only 4? I guess the Seabags aren’t very good on the road, but they should still cover this.

Sunday ~4:10
Chiefs @ San Diego(-14)
Since Denver won, the Bolts need to win to keep pace. I don’t like going against them late in the season… at least until the playoffs start. I’ll give the big number.

Jaguars @ San Francisco(-3)
Teams with a two-games-worse record should not be favored, even at home. I’ll take the points since Jax is right in the thick of a wild card fight and the Niners are just playing out the season now.

Bears @ Minnesota(-11)
Chicago is done and the Vikings are firing on all cylinders; they won’t take it easy on the Bears, either. Vikes huge.

Cardinals @ Tennessee(-2)
Having now seen it, I’m on the VY bandwagon. Give the two.

Steelers @ Baltimore(-2)
Big Ben is out and the Steelers look confused anyway. Give the two, again.

Patriots @ New Orleans(-1.5)
Not very many points.

Thanksgiving Games

Yes, it’s that time of year again, time for turkey-induced slumber. Fortunately the Lions won’t be on TV around the time we’ll be eating—seeing them can really ruin your appetite.

Packers @ Detroit(+11)
I think Stafford is out. I think even if he weren’t I’d give the 11, but now there’s no doubt.

Raiders @ Dallas(-13.5)
Aww, come on, didn’t the Raiders just beat the Bengals? And didn’t the Cowboys just look like crap even though they won? Well, OK, we should be sensitive to more than one week of history… but man, that’s just too many points for me. Gulp. I guess I’m actually picking the Raiders. Yikes.

Giants @ Denver(+7)
That just feels like too many points; should the Giants really be giving seven on the road? Err, well, watch any of the last couple Broncos games and I guess it’s not that hard to see. I hate giving that many points, but I just don’t see how Denver is going to extract themselves from the current death spiral.

NFL Week 11

Time for a long-overdue standings update. Week 9 was a complete disaster: I went 5-8 and Al went 8-5, putting me further in the hole. Week 10 went better, as I went 8-7, which is still not great, but Al put up a 6-9 week, so in the last two weeks… I still lost ground. Dammit. For the season I’m still under .500 at 70-73-1 and Al is way out in front, 82-61-1. Yikes. There’s barely enough season left to do anything with that, not good at all.

Oh well, on to the picks…

Sunday 1:00
Colts @ Baltimore(+1.5)
Indy is the team of destiny… or something. They shouldn’t have won last week, but they did. The charmed life continues, and with only 1.5 to give, I’ll give it.

Redskins @ Dallas(-11)
Washington has been playing great defense lately, but their offense… yech. What will Dallas do with this? I don’t see them losing, but that’s a lot of points against a good defense. I have to take them.

Browns @ Detroit(-3.5)
Cleveland is so bad it’s comical. Brady Quinn has no idea where his receivers are. Even the Lions, who are also completely bad, should be able to handle this. The real losers here, however, are the folks who paid money to watch it live…

Niners @ Green Bay(-6.5)
Lotta points for a team that cannot protect the quarterback. On the other hand, how awful is the SF offense right now? I don’t see them going east for an early game and then somehow playing decent offense. Packers.

Bills @ Jacksonville(-8.5)
Buffalo, besides being awful and having no coach, cannot stop the run. And the Jags’ best weapon is… a running back. This could get ugly. Jags all the way.

Steelers @ Kansas City(+10)
Tomlin will be reading the Stillers the riot act all week after that awful showing against the Bengals. They’ll pound the hapless Chefs.

Seahawks @ Minnesota(-10.5)
Seattle is bad enough when they play at home, but on the road they’re craptacular. Vikings by two TDs.

Falcons @ New Jersey [Giants](-7)
Will Turner play? Even if he does, will he be 100% or even close? Ryan has looked a little worse this year, overall, and without a running game to take of the pressure, the Falcons might not be very good. However, and this is a big one… uhh, have people been watching the Giants lately? Poster child for “not very good”? Yeah, this is too many points.

Saints @ Tampa(+10.5)
New Orleans beat the Falcons by only 10 at home, then proceeded to lay a stinker against the Rams. Yeah, they still won, but we’re talking about the Rams. Two conjectures: (1) The Saints’ pass defense is better than their run defense, and running up big scores has allowed them to hide this; (2) Darren Sharper has been hurt, and he means a lot to that defense. However, Sharper is listed as “probable” which almost always means “playing,” and Tampa can’t run anyway. Saints cover.

Sunday ~4:10
Cardinals at St. Louis(+9)
The Rams have actually been a little bit better lately, but Warner is clicking with his receivers again so they will steamroll the Lambs.

Chargers @ Denver, no line
The Broncos appear to be in a death spiral right now, don’t they? Never good when you’ve let teams like the Chargers back in. Recent history also indicates that the Chargers are a good bet in divisional games in the second half of the season, so I’m going with the Bolts.

Jets @ New England(-10.5)
OK, I have to comment on last weeks’ Pats game, which was at a minimum a very exciting football game, but definitely a story of two halves. The Pats looked like they were just on cruise control the first half; the Colts appeared to have no answers. But in the second half, especially the 4th quarter, the Pats defense looked confused and, frankly, gassed. They should have won that game. Something just isn’t quite right there yet, and I’m not willing to lay the big number, even though the Jets have been the Jest again lately.

Bengals @ Oakland(+9.5)
This has “blowout” written all over it. Give the big number.

Eagles at Chicago(+3)
Denver’s management doesn’t look so stupid now, do they? They’ll look even better when they cash in the draft picks. To quote an old favorite movie, Cutler might have a million-dollar arm, but he’s got a fifty-cent head, and the Bears have no Crash Davis to fix this one up. Iggles.

Titans @ Houston(-4.5)
Remember when I picked the Texans vs. the Colts, and I took the Texans because I figured they had to keep it close enough so that they could lose it in some heartbreaking way, and they obliged by missing the game-tying field goal? Stay tuned to that channel, Texans fans. VY has given them fits in the past and they’ll be overconfident going into this game given that they won the first one and aren’t well-coached enough not to have that attitude. I really, really hope the Texans pull this out, but there is no way I am giving these points.

FNM Report, 11/20/09

Whee, my second constructed tournament in the last decade, FNM at Montag’s Games. I experimented with a mono-white weenie deck, but I just didn’t like it that much. I really like the bolov0 UW Aggro deck, but I didn’t have the cards for it so I decided to go back into battle with the WW/r deck from last time, though I made some changes as I have since acquired two Baneslayers and in playtesting the mono-white thing, I’ve come to be an even bigger fan of Conqueror’s Pledge. The other thing I realized is that I just didn’t like the Burst Lightnings in there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good card, but the problem the deck has is rarely the ability to do 2, or desperately need to pick off a guy with 2 toughness. The problem is the mid-game clog. With mostly weenies, if the game goes on to later turns, it can be hard to get guys through. I wanted a finisher, something that could do 5 or 6 in the late game. The deck needed Banefire. I also really liked Kazandu Blademasters against Boros Bushwhacker and Vampires, so I pulled the Elite Vanguards for those. That’s a speed compromise, but I thought it was worth it. So, here’s the listing:

Creatures & Planeswalkers (20)
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Kazandu Blademaster
3 White Knight
2 Baneslayer Angel
2 Knight of the White Orchid
3 Emeria Angel
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Other spells (15)
2 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Banefire
4 Honor of the Pure
3 Conqueror’s Pledge

Land (25)
2 Marsh Flats
1 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Arid Mesa
3 Teetering Peaks
1 Scalding Tarn
2 Mountain
11 Plains
1 Emeria, the Sky-Ruin

2 Path to Exile
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Devout Lightcaster
2 Celestial Purge
3 Goblin Ruinblaster
2 Ajani Vengeant

I went with two extra Paths in the sideboard for any green (or Naya) fat or Baneslayers, the O-Rings for control or anything random, the Lightcasters/Purges for Jund and Vampires, and the Ruinblasters for Jund and Valakut, as I thought John might be playing that. That’s also what the Ajani was for, as well as for any control deck. I didn’t actually have the second Ajani Vengeant, but I successfully traded John for one before we got started.

The critical feature of this deck is that it’s very good against Jund. It doesn’t come out as fast as Bushwhacker, though the fast draws are very quick, but it has a much better mid-game than Bushwhacker with the Pledges, Angels, and Elspeth. White Knights are also very good against Jund, and of course the sideboard options with both Lightcasters and Ruinblasters makes it a tough out for Jund. Of course, really good cascades can still swing games, but if that’s their only good out, then I think it’s a good matchup.

We had a light crowd of only like 16, so four rounds and cut to a final 4.

Round 1: Trevor, playing Jund with Nighthawks and Sign in Blood
I had never played Trevor before but I had seen him at FNM in previous weeks. He was playing before we got started and I thought it was Boros Bushwhacker, but that obviously wasn’t what he was playing in the tournament.
Game 1: I got an early White Knight and had an Honor of the Pure pulsed, but the Knight got in a couple whacks before being Bolted, then got out an Emeria Angel and Elspeth, but he got a Broodmate and friend. I had an Elspeth-generated token in play with the Angel and a bird token, but they were staring at the two 4/4 Dragons and something else on the ground (a Thrinax, I think). He Pulsed off the Emeria and put down a Nighthawk, but then I dropped Baneslayer and he didn’t have an immediate answer, so Elspeth pumped her up and she swung for 8, crunching the Nighthawk. He didn’t want to swing with the dragons for fear of the mad rush of tokens. His next draw didn’t help him and I swung with everything, bringing him down to 5. I had exactly six lands in play and Banefired for the win.
Game 2: I went down to six cards and took an OK draw with a Blademaster and a couple Plains, an Honor, a Banefire, a Teetering Peaks, and a couple other cards I don’t remember. Plains, done. Trevor blew a fetch, done. I put down a second Plains, cast Honor, and passed the turn. He blew a Catacombs, done. I topdecked a Steppe Lynx. He went down, done. Trevor played another land and passed. Awesome: draw Bolt, fetchland, Lynx for 5. I think his next play was a Nighthawk. Bolt it, Teetering Peaks, swing for another five, leaving him at 5, put down the Blademaster. He Blightning’d me for a couple cards and Bolted the Lynx and blew another Catacombs. He Signed in Blood down to two, and I threw fire at him for the win.

Round 2: Doug, playing Jund with Great Sable Stags
I was 0-2 against Doug, one loss in a draft and one loss last time in Standard.
Game 1: Doug mulliganed down to five cards and I got a fast draw, running a Steppe Lynx on turn 1 with a fetchland and a Blademaster on turn 2. Turn 3: Plains, swing for five, leaving him at 11. I’m not 100% sure exactly how it went down after that (sorry, a lot of these Jund games run together); I think he dropped a Stag that I bolted and then I whacked him and then Banefired him out. Or something. Starting at five cards can be rough.
Game 2: I took a two-land draw, which is normally something that should not be a problem. However, I never saw a third land and died with a variety of stuff in my hand that never hit the table. A couple two-drops got in there somewhere—I remember a White Knight getting Bolted—but I never really mounted enough of a threat to make this even remotely interesting.
Game 3: I took a slow draw but it had good land and a Ruinblaster. He still had nothing on the board besides land at the end of his third turn—two Savage Lands and a basic—so the turn 4 kicked Ruinblaster was not well-received. (“Wow, dirty pool for a white deck!” he exclaimed. Hey, it’s worth running red just for Ruinblasters vs. Jund.) That gave me the time advantage. We both got stuff out and traded some blows—I don’t remember very many details, though I do remember a couple specific plays. I got off a Conqueror’s Pledge that looked to be terminal (there was an Elspeth token in play too), but he played a Bloodbraid and cascaded into a Pulse which wiped them all out. Nice one. Next turn I had five land out with a fetch in my hand, and rather than playing the Baneslayer in my hand I put down the Lynx and held the fetchland. Stupid, stupid—he of course Blightning’d me on his turn, so they both went into the graveyard and he zapped Elspeth down from 6 counters to 3, which was a great play for him. However, Elspeth pumped the guys who were still on the board and I managed to get him down before he drew enough answers.

Round 3: John, playing R/g Valakut
I love playing against John, he’s a fun opponent and I really like this deck, too. We had played slightly different versions of these decks against each other two weeks ago after we finished our match that counted, and so I was expecting a fairly even match. I think I have a slight advantage, particularly if I got a fast start.
Game 1: I had to mulligan down to five, but it was a monstrously good five: Steppe Lynx, two Teetering Peaks, Elspeth, and a fetch. Turn 1: Fetch, Lynx. Turn 2: Peaks, Lynx, swing for 4. Turn 3: Lynx, Peaks, swing for 4. Turn 4: Scalding Tarn, crack for a mountain, swing for 4, play Elspeth. He managed to burn off the Lynx and got rid of Elspeth after a token or two, and I couldn’t cast the Conqueror’s Pledge in my hand even though I had five lands in play, because only two of them were sources of white, but I drew fire and burned him out.
Game 2: In came the Ruinblasters and the Ajanis. I got a slow draw, but his deck doesn’t do much the first couple turns anyway and it had Ajani in it, so I kept it. I got Ajani on turn 4, then an Emeria Angel. Next turn I got greedy and it cost me. I played a Knight of the White Orchid, making a bird token, then I played a Teetering Peaks to pump up the Angel and make another token. BLAM, Lavaball Trap. I knew he played these and I should have been more patient; he blew up the Peaks and a Mountain, leaving me with three Plains and nobody on the board. I then proceeded to draw nothing but red cards: Bolt, Ruinblaster, Banefire, and another Plains. A Siege-Gang commander and his crew of tokens beat me up. John never got a Valakut in this game, but that Lavaball trap was enough to stall me for long enough that it didn’t matter.
Game 3: John unfortunately had trouble drawing any Forests and while he managed to Burst Lightning my turn 2 White Knight and then something else, I had managed to get two Honors in play and had a couple Steppe Lynxes on the board. They weren’t getting landfall, but they were swinging for 2 each. I had John down to 2 and drew a fetch with a Bolt in my hand, and played the land and cracked it, which was dumb as John again had the Lavaball Trap. (Why I didn’t just swing for the game I’m not sure.) I bolted in response to the Trap, though, so it was over.

Round 4: Wyland, playing Jund
We decided to just draw into the final 4.

Semis: Trevor, playing Jund with Nighthawks and Sign in Blood
John won his fourth-round match and I was Trevor’s only loss. Obviously the top two wouldn’t play each other, so I was destined for a rematch, and got Trevor, meaning John and Wyland played in the other semi.
Game 1: He won the die roll and went first. I got a fast draw, Steppe Lynx, Plains, and two fetches, and he didn’t get a Leech or a Thrinax early, so he was at 12 at the end of my third turn. He did deal with the Lynx but I got out Elspeth and a White Knight and they went the distance.
Game 2: I mulliganed down to six and kept a hand with two Plains, a Mountain, a Bolt, a Devout Lightcaster, and a Purge. I kept waiting for targets but they never came out. I topdecked a White Knight and played that on turn 3. Turn 4 his Garruk came out and made a beast, but I bolted that and attacked Garruk. Trevor was holding a full handful of cards but not dropping permanents; he Signed in Blood twice and actually discarded and I was still looking at an empty table. I got out two Honors, but had no guys, but then drew Elspeth, and had in my hand just two Purges and the Lightcaster. He Durress’d me, taking a Purge, and I made a 3/3 token. Whack. He Blightning’d me for the Purge and the Lighcaster, and I made another token. It was too much.

Finals: Wyland, playing Jund
Because it was still really early and there was talk of having a draft if we finished early enough, we decided to draw and split prizes. Drafting sounded a lot better to me than playing another Jund. However, Gus, the store owner, wasn’t feeling well and decided he wanted to go home, so I got my foil Oblivion Ring (with kick-ass art, I might add) and I blew my store credit on some Glacial Fortresses, so maybe next time I can play something different… something with Sphinxes.

Heh, and I wondered if maybe the eight-card package against Jund (3 Lightcasters, 2 Purges, 3 Ruinblasters) was too much sideboard space… not by a mile. Yes, there’s a reason that 1/3 of the field at Worlds played Jund; it’s definitely a good deck. Regardless, what fun is that, playing what everyone else is playing? If a lot of people play it, there will be a lot of hate floating around, too. Personally, I think the mirror is especially degenerate in the case of Jund; it just seems to come down to whoever gets luckier in the Cascade lottery. Meh, not for me. Oh, and since I wasn’t playing during Shards block, I don’t have the cards, too—there’s also that.

So, the family and I will be visiting my parents in Minneapolis next week and maybe I’ll check out FNM up there. The three closest places are Chaos Games, Dreamers Cards & Games, and Monster Den Games. Which of those three is the best place to go?

NFL Thursday Night Week 11

Dolphins @ Carolina(-3)
Carolina’s been playing a lot better lately and the centerpiece of Miami’s offense is out. That makes it about even, and of course the Panthers are giving three at home, meaning nobody else knows, either. I’m never happy with teams that have just lost their main man, so I’ll give the points.

NFL Week 10 Picks

Gotta do this fast, I’m on the road…

Thursday 8pm
Bears at Niners (-3)
We did this one by email, I thought the Bears were reeling and would look awful… and I was right.

Sunday 1pm
Falcons at Panthers (+1.5)
I don’t get this. The Falcons are good and the Panthers… aren’t. Seems like the spread should be like 5 or 6 here. Atlanta.

Buccaneers at Dolphins (-10)
How bad are the Bucs? Pretty awful. But ten sure is a big number… but the Bucs defense is awful, I’ll give the ten.

Lions at Vikings (-16.5)
Wow, that’s a lot of points. Vikings are looking good, though, and the Lions lost to the Rams at home in recent memory. I’ll go with Minny.

Jaguars at Jets (-7)
I expect the Jets to win, but that’s too many points.

Bengals at Steelers (-7)
WAAAY too many points. Cinci might even win this game. I’ll take the Bengals.

Saints at Rams (+14)
New Orleans by double this, maybe 28-0 at halftime.

Bills at Titans (-8)
Yes, the Titans are playing a lot better, but 8? Seems a little extreme, I’ll take the points.

Broncos at Redskins (+3.5)
Washington is horrific, I’m going with Denver.

Sunday ~4:10pm
Chiefs at Raiders (-2)
Raiders have been awful, Chefs have been awful, this is a wash. However, the spread is less than three for the home team, so I’ll give the points.

Seahawks at Cardinals (-9)
Arizona has been playing well lately, and Seattle is kind of all over the place. I don’t think the Seabags can really cover the Cards’ receivers, and Warner has been playing well, so I think the Cards cover this.

Cowboys at Packers (+3)
Packers are fading, Cowboys are surging, gotta take Dallas here, as much as it pains me.

Eagles at Chargers (-1)
I hate both of these teams in that they’re both wildly inconsistent. The Chargers aren’t very good against the run but the Eagles don’t run. Horrible game to pick. Chargers?

Patriots at Colts (-2.5)
The Colts have been having to eek out close games the last couple weeks and the Pats have been hitting their stride. This is the big test. I like the Pats here.

Ravens at Browns (+11)
Yes, it’s a lot of points, but this is the Browns we’re talking about. Might be the worst TV ratings for MNF all year. Easily give the points in what should be a laugher.

FNM Report 11/7/09

My first constructed event since 1999, as previously noted. I’d managed to show up for three FNM Zendikar drafts, and the local shop has a good, friendly atmosphere. Did OK in one, made the finals in one (black removal + Rampaging Baloths + Woodcrasher = fun beats), and both drafted and played horribly in the third. Based on what I had seen people playing before we started and in between rounds, I expected the store metagame to be Vampires, Jund, Boros, and Naya in that order of probability. I took Aaron Forsythe’s second gunslinger deck and tested it against a proxied-up Jund and Vampires, and ended up with this build:

Creatures & Planeswalkers (22)
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Elite Vanguard
3 White Knight
3 Kor Skyfisher
2 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Emeria Angel
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Other spells (13)
1 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Burst Lightning
4 Honor of the Pure
1 Conqueror’s Pledge

Land (25)
2 Salt Marsh
1 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Arid Mesa
3 Teetering Peaks
1 Scalding Tarn
2 Mountain
12 Plains

2 Devout Lightcaster
1 Burst Lightning
3 Oblivion Ring
1 Emeria, the Sky Ruin
3 Harm’s Way
3 Goblin Ruinblaster
2 Celestial Purge

I’d been calling it “Angelfall” in my notes but I still think it needs a better name. It differs from Aaron’s deck in that it runs White Knights and Knights of the White Orchid main, runs a little less land, and doesn’t run Baneslayers since I didn’t have any. The Conqueror’s Pledge is in one of the Baneslayer slots.

The White Knights are actually important, as they’re completely awesome against Vampires, they’re very good against Jund (less there because Jund runs Bolts, of course) and actually pretty good against Boros because of the first strike. I’d consider Kazandu Blademasters in that slot (and run 4 of them) if Vampires and Jund were less popular.

Oh, and the Scalding Tarn, which Aaron noted as “random,” is different. I wanted another fetch that could get me a Mountain and didn’t come into play… err, enter the battlefield tapped, so that’s why it’s in there, also since I cut one of the Teetering Peaks just for that whole ETB tapped issue. You really want to hit 4 land early so you can drop one of the Angels or Elspeth.

Sideboard plan:

  1. Jund: -3 Burst Lightning, -2 Knight WO, -2 Elite Vanguard; +2 Lightcaster, +3 Ruinblaster, +2 Purge
  2. Burn/Boros: -2 Angel, -2 Honor of the Pure, +1 Burst Lightning, +3 Harm’s Way
  3. Vampires: -2 Elspeth, -2 Knights WO, -1 Elite Vanguard; +2 Lightcaster, +1 Burst Lightning, +2 Purge
  4. Control: -3 Skyfisher, -2 White Knight; +3 Oblivion Ring, +1 Emeria, Sky Ruin, +1 Burst Lightning

Only 18 people showed up, which is a much smaller crowd than had been showing up. I don’t think it was because we switched from draft to Standard, but because there was a PTQ in town the following day. I couldn’t make that anyway.

Round 1: Doug, playing W/R Planeswalker Control w/Baneslayers
Game 1: I lost the die roll and got a moderate start, but then drew mostly land. He picked off my guys one at a time—they weren’t coming out all that fast—and dropped a $50 bill on the table and beat me up with it. Oh, wait, that was a Baneslayer. Not a good game, I know I drew a majority land, probably on the order of 2/3 land.

Game 2: I didn’t get off to a fast start but I drew a little bit less land this time. I got in a couple small hits and dropped an Elspeth on turn 4, which he Oblivion Ringed on his turn. His next turn, he dropped an Elspeth, and I had a Ring in my hand. I wasn’t sure whether to Ring his Ring, killing both Elspeths, or to just Ring his Elspeth. I did the latter. In hindsight, I should have done the former, since that way they’d both be gone. By Ringing his, I gave him a chance to get his back with another Ring. It turned out not to matter, though. I got our a White Knight and he got out a Luminarch Ascension. I got… Honor of the Pure, and he came back with Ajani Vengeant. He started tapping my lone Knight, which meant he’d start getting counters on the Ascension. I didn’t want to take the one-way Armageddon so I bolted Ajani… and then started drawing almost entirely land, again. He got Chandra and then Elspeth out and I just wasn’t drawing threats. I scooped when the third Ascension counter went on and he was one counter away from the big blast with Chandra. I drew only about half land this game.

0-1. Not a good start, but I didn’t feel like it was because the deck wasn’t good or that I had made a lot of misplays; I just never got what I needed when I needed it.

Round 2: Kris, playing WUB Control
One of the problems with coming back to the game after a while is that while I’ve learned the Zendikar and M10 sets, I’m not all the way up on all the Shards of Alara cards—if it’s not in Jund or Naya or a couple other decks I’ve looked at, then there’s a good chance I don’t know it well. Kris was very patient with me reading many of his cards.

Game 1: I lost the die roll and he played some W/U land, I don’t remember which one. I don’t remember my first turn; I either had nothing or an Elite Vanguard. Turn 2 he played a source of black and a Meddling Mage. He didn’t know what I had, so I think he named something not even in my deck, like Baneslayer. Later, when I played Honor of the Pure, he decided he should have named that. I got in a whack with the Vanguard and got out a Lynx. He wiped everything out with Zealous Persecution. I got our a Elite Vanguard and an Honor and then another Lynx, but he nuked both of them when he blocked the Vanguard, then cast Agony Warp. I had Elspeth against his empty board and he cast Luminarch Ascension. Grr. I cast Conqueror’s Pledge making six 2/2’s, but he had a Day of Judgment in his hand and cleared me out. Elspeth got Ringed and he got a Luminarch counter, but I drew an Emeria and had a fetch, so I had a 4/4 angel with two 2/2 bird helpers against a clear board, and I think Kris was at around 10 life at the time. He topdecked another Day of Judgment and that was it. With no haste guys or burn in hand I died to a swarm of 4/4 angel tokens.

Game 2: In went the anti-control package. He Duress’ d me on turn 1 or 2 and saw I had an Angel in hand, so he named that with his Meddling Mage. Grr. I got out a Lynx and then he got a Kor Skyfisher with a Tidehollow Sculler. I got a White Knight and he dropped a Wall of Denial and a Luminarch Ascension. (Hmm, a theme…) I had two uncastable Angels in my hand, and drew an Honor of the Pure. Luminarch counter. He cast a Sphinx of Lost Truths, no kicker, drew three and discarded all land. Great, a handful of gas. I got down Elspeth and made a guy, but there was no way to get through. Luminarch counter. Kris untapped and passed. Next turn I drew fire so I threw it at Kris but he countered with Punish Ignorance. Well, drawing out a counter was good, so I cast Conqueror’s Pledge and it stuck. That should stop the counter madess. Kris drew and, oh, hey, look at that he topdecked a Day of Judgment and blew everything up. Great. I don’t remember what I drew, but I made a Soldier token and cast my now-usable Angel, but did no damage, which meant he had his 4th counter and he made his own Angel and Path’d my Angel. I finally drew an Oblivion Ring but it was just too late, I had to Ring the angel token and cast my own Angel just to stay alive, but of course he made more angel tokens and I drew nothing helpful (an Honor of the Pure, I think) and I scooped.

0-2. Well, that bit. Kris was at least nice enough to admit that he got pretty much perfect draws and topdecks against me and said he felt bad about it. No need to feel bad, that’s how it goes. Anyway, I decided to stay in because one 2-2 could make the top 8, and because hey, it’s Magic, it’s fun to play. My rating is so bad it hardly matters.

Round 3: John, playing Graveyard
I don’t know if it was card-for-card the same as the the one here, but it was close and it was certainly the same idea: mill yourself to fill your graveyard with guys, then use Crypt of Agadeem to generate massive amounts of mana and unearth everything to do massive damage all in one turn. More comments on this in a bit. Anyway, John is a nice guy, very friendly opponent; I had played him in the draft finals a few weeks ago where his Green-Blue allies deck took me down.

Game 1: I didn’t get a particularly fast start and drew no burn, nor did I have any initial idea what to do with his turn 1 and turn 2 Hedron Crabs, and he went off on like turn 5. This took only a few minutes to play.

Game 2: I didn’t sideboard, I don’t think, because it wasn’t clear that anything in the sideboard makes my deck a lot faster. Maybe the Ruinblasters, but the deck can go off the turn that it’s played because of Fatestitcher. It turned out not to matter, as I got a really fast draw, something like: Elite Vanguard, Plains, Steppe Lynx, Honor of the Pure, fetchland, Bolt. Turns 2 and 3 I swung for 5 each and I bolted his first Crab. He was dead on my 4th or 5th turn and really had no chance to even try to go off. This also took like five minutes to play.

Game 3: This was the only contest that was really in doubt at any point. I had just attacked John down to 8 or 9 and I had out a White Knight and something else, I think a Savannah Lion (Elite Vanguard, whatever). I had three Plains in play, and my hand was Plains, Kor Skyfisher, Elspeth. I could kill him next turn if I got down the Skyfisher this turn and then Elspeth the next turn, as Elspeth could jump-and-pump the Elite Vanguard (he couldn’t block the Black Knight with his Rats) which would be lethal. So, I played the Plains, cast the Skyfisher, and bounced a Plains. Well, on his turn he got another two Rats, which meant I had to chuck everything, so he had one more turn to try to go off. I drew nothing useful (a Mountain or a fetch, I think), I smacked him down to 2 or 3, and he got to try to go off. He only had one Crab, though, so his graveyard wasn’t that full. His land pay didn’t generate enough extra in his graveyard, so he died next turn.

1-2. The graveyard deck is definitely a very clever design and it’s a fun mechanic, but the problem is that it’s basically a goldfish for the first few turns. I can’t see how it wouldn’t be an auto-loss to Boros, and of course any Jund deck running, oh, you know, Jund Charm… Well, that’s a tough match as well.

This all hadn’t taken very long, so John broke out his other deck—the one he said he should have played—and we played a few games. The other deck was a Red-Green ramp-Valakut deck, which has been floating around the net for a while, I guess. His build had Harrow, Khalani Heart Expedition, Rampant Growth, Exploration Map, Bloodbraid Elf, Goblin Ruinblaster, Bolt, Siege-gang Commander, and Lavaball Trap. We didn’t do any sideboarding, but I won a majority of these games anyway. The key, again, was killing John before he got really ramped up, because once a single Valakut got active, things got dicey, and when two were up, it was Really Bad. Now, I didn’t side in Ruinblasters, and I think with those around I think the matchup favors my deck a little more, but of course he’d have some effective sideboard options as well. It’s definitely a viable deck, though, and something to think about for future matches.

Round 4: Dustin, playing R/G Double Strike
Game 1: First time I won the die roll. I had a good start, turn 1 Plains, Steppe Lynx, turn 2 Elite Vanguard. On his Turn 2 Dustin cast a Warren Instigator. OK, double strike, but nothing huge… I figured I could race that without difficulty. I dropped another small guy and swung again. Dustin swung on his turn 3 and I let the Instigator through. Well, that was bad; he cast both Giant Growth and Colossal Might and ended up doing 16, all in one swing. Yikes! Wow, double strike makes Giant Growth into a serious card. OK, so no more unblocked swings. The good news is that I was able to keep the pressure on him and fry double strike guys when he cast them, so I won without further damage.

Game 2: More of the same: I got weenies out, burned his double-strike guys, and prevailed without too much trouble.

It’s an interesting idea, pumping up double strikers, but frankly I don’t think this was an optimal build. For instance, he ran Bloodbraid Elves and yet had a deck full of things that were simply not cascade-friendly; Giant Growth isn’t a good cascade card when you have no other guys on the table. Nor are X spells like Banefire. But I like the idea, anyway; swinging for 16 with a 1/1 is a neat trick.

2-2. Only one 2-2 made it top 8, and I wasn’t that guy because my tiebreakers weren’t good. It was still early and I didn’t feel like going home yet, and so I found another non-top-8 finished and we played just for the hell of it. He played Vampires during the event, but he played a monored Sligh/Burn deck for our matchup. This turns out to be not a bad matchup for me. His turn 1 Goblin Guide was great, as it meant I only drew threats and always had landfall triggers; he eventually left it back to block an Elite Vanguard. I went on to win that game, lost the second, and won the third despite drawing no source of red mana and being stuck on three land for several turns—yay Kor Skyfisher and Honor of the Pure. (We played EDH after than an he just rolled me, as my EDH deck was really conceived with multiplayer in mind, and his was designed for 1-on-1. Oh, and his deck was also just plain better.)

So, I felt like the deck was pretty decent in general. I was a little unlucky on my matchups in the first two rounds. I probably made a mistake or two somewhere in the second match, but otherwise I felt like I played OK. The question is whether or not I misread the metagame. There were a couple people playing Vampires and a couple people playing Jund, but I don’t think that was anything close to the majority of the field. There was indeed a Naya and there was a Cascade control and a couple monored Sligh-like (I guess these are called RDW now, but they look somewhat like Sligh to me). What I didn’t see (this was right before the Star City $5k) was any Nissa Monument decks, but I suspect I’ll see those next time around. I didn’t see any Boros, which was a surprise. It seems to me that it’s an interesting metagame right now with a lot of viable archetypes in play. Sideboarding is going to be a bitch for a while. For any big tournament, you’ve probably still got to be ready to play Jund and I guess overall Boros is still popular, but after that it’s anybody’s guess. I think this deck matches up OK against the field, though I think the sideboard needs work; definitely needs more Paths, particularly if Nissa decks get more popular. If Planeswalker control, whether RW or UWR or something else, becomes common, then this deck won’t be a good metagame choice. The deck would have to either get a little bit faster (a la Boros) or run Oblivion Rings main deck.

Getting Back in the Game

Last week Friday I played my first sanctioned constructed match of Magic in over a decade.

Ten years? Seriously? Yep, it’s ben ten years since I put together a deck on my own and had a go with some really expensive pieces of cardboard. So, after ten years of being away, I obviously got along just fine without it. Why come back now?

In some sense this is a WotC success story. After a long time, they lured me back. How? Well, that’s a longer story that requires a little bit of history. I played competitive Magic for what seemed like a long time but was really not that long, just a little over a year. But it was a pretty intense year, because I played with some pretty intense people. (Warning: I’m about to do a lot of name-dropping. Not because it says anything about my ability, which is meager, but because it says something about my environment. Nonetheless, if you dislike name dropping skip ahead a bit.)

Really, the person who taught me what little I managed to retain about Magic was Aaron Forsythe. Yes, that Aaron Forsythe, former PT player and current head of R&D for Wizards of the Coast. I believe I was the first person to buy Aaron a celebratory drink on the night he first qualified for the Pro Tour. In that PTQ he beat Andrew Cuneo in the finals. Obviously, I was living in Pittsburgh at the time, working as a postdoc at CMU. I started out in Aaron’s Arena league (those don’t exist anymore), but things got a lot more serious fairly quickly. I made the Top 8 at my first-ever sanctioned tournament, an Extended PTQ in December 1997. This was not too long after Randy Buehler won PT-Chicago. Eventually Aaron and a couple of the more serious guys from our Arena League would play with Team CMU. Erik Lauer—yes, that Erik Lauer—patiently spent probably about two hours with me one night showing me how to better play the CounterHammer deck I took to regionals that year. I learned most of what I know about how to draft from Mike Turian, yes, that Mike Turian. I loaned Randy Buehler either a Memory Jar or a Tolarian Academy he took with him to, I believe, PT-Rome, because Team CMU didn’t have enough. Team CMU also drew some notable visitors, too. One of the first drafts I ever did (all Tempest) I started out by passing to none other than Jon Finkel. (I just have to tell a side story about that: I opened my pack, looked it over, took a card—it was either a Mogg Fanatic or a Shock—I don’t remember for sure which, we’ll just say it was a Mogg Fanatic, and handed it to Jon. He looked at the pack for about ten seconds and then announced: “You took a Mogg Fanatic from this pack. That was the right pick.” He knew this because he had memorized the cut sheets. Not too intense or anything.)

There were a lot of great players around. I’m 1-1 in sanctioned matches against current WotC R&D employee and former Team CMU’er Nate Heiss. I once beat future pro Jess Means in a PTQ “feature match,” only to get crushed two rounds later by Mark Globus (now also of Wizards R&D) and his main deck Rune of Protection: Artifacts. You’d end up across from current or future pros at random local tourneys; I’m 2-0-1 against pro Nick Eisel in local tournaments. In one of those I got wrecked by Randy Buehler in the quarterfinals of the same (unsanctioned) tournament and stayed to watch the epic battle between Randy and Eric Taylor.

I mention all this not because it shows anything about how good I am—I am not remotely in the same league as all those people I played with in Pittsburgh (and I have the rating to prove it)—but because it provides some insight into the local intensity level. So competitive magic, was, for most of the people around me, pretty serious. And yet I got out of the game pretty completely. This was due, I think, mainly to three factors: (1) I moved and took a new, very demanding, job, and not long thereafter became a father, (2) I really wasn’t all that competitive with my peer group, and my ability to devote the necessary time was getting worse, not better, and (3) WotC made it really easy to want to leave. I left in the midst of the Urza’s block. The DCI was banning new cards it seemed like every week, because a lot of pretty broken cards had been printed. The scene was almost entirely dominated by combo decks, like the aforementioned Tolarian Academy/Memory Jar nonsense to High Tide to I don’t even remember the next combo. Magic games consisted mostly of ignoring the other player (with the exception of permission, which was of course everywhere) and setting up your combo, hopefully before the other player did. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not a huge one. It wasn’t fun. The Mirage and Tempest blocks were fun; there were combo decks and weenie decks and fattie decks and discard decks and burn decks… there was everything. When it was Urza, it was so dominated by combo decks that it was really easy to just let reasons (1) and (2) take over—I didn’t fight it at all. I just stopped playing, cold turkey, and it didn’t bother me at all.

There were moments of temptation, sure. There was a Pro Tour stop in Houston in I think 2002, and I got to see Aaron and Randy again, as they were working for WotC at the time. I showed up at the site, played in a sealed side event, and took Aaron and Randy out for dinner so they could escape the site for a while. I thought maybe playing would get me into it again, but it didn’t really. “Morph” just didn’t do it for me. I went to the Legions pre-release and remembered all the things I disliked about Magic tournaments and just didn’t have enough fun to overcome that.

I thought of or heard from someone that triggered me looking at things again around Mirrodin, and that was almost enough. Super-aggro artifact decks had some appeal, but ultimately it just wasn’t enough.

Then the Zendikar pre-release rolled around. I had recently re-connected with Aaron and was following him on Twitter. He mentioned that he was being sent to Houston to gunsling at the Zendikar pre-release and so I thought it would be great to get together. Let me point out that at the time I was much more interested in seeing Aaron than I was in the set. Aaron is just a really great guy, irrespective of Magic. Also, the pre-release was being held at the airport hotel, so Aaron wouldn’t get to leave the airport complex if I didn’t go out there, and nobody deserves that. So, I picked Aaron up, we had an outstanding dinner, and then Aaron asked if I had time to hang out and play for a while. I kind of expected that, and I had even brought my box of old decks that I still have together. A PT Jank variant, Steel Necro, old-school 5C green, a couple Rath Cycle block decks (CounterPhoenix), stuff like that.

Well, we never touched the old stuff. Aaron broke out two of the Zendikar theme decks, the Vampires deck and the “Unstable Terrain” UG deck. Aaron played Vampires and I played the other deck… and I really liked it—a lot better than Onslaught. We cracked open the boosters, pooled them, and tried to make our decks better. (Incidentally, the UG deck won a slight majority of the games, not because of my play skill, but because while Vampires got a consistently faster start, it just didn’t have the staying power. And of course Jwar Sphinx is just better than anything in the Vampire deck.) I liked landfall as a mechanic. The cards seemed balanced. And, of course, playing Aaron over a couple of beers is just awesome any day of the week.

But then it got even better. Aaron broke out his “gunslinger” decks, one of which was posted on the Daily MTG site. The posted deck is a green-black-blue Allies deck, and playing against I learned to hate Bala Ged Thief almost immediately. The other deck, not posted, was a W/R deck; basically white weenie with angels (both Emeria and Baneslayer) splashing red for some burn. That’s pretty much my favorite kind of deck; my first ever tournament constructed deck was basically the same idea, a fast white/red small creatures and bolts kind of package. It was just awesome to play a shiny new version. A format where you can play Savannah Lions and Lightning Bolts! (Yeah, Savannah Lions are called Elite Vanguard now, but it’s still 2/1 for W and it’ll always be a Savannah Lion to me.) In fact, our very first two turns with these decks involved Aaron playing a Bird of Paradise and me bolting it. BoP, bolt… how classic is that? Zendikar is fun, and not just because of the nostalgia. Landfall, super-slivers, kickers… good stuff all around.

So, while I wasn’t able to play in the actual pre-release, the damage was done. I wanted to play again. And it’s so much easier now, too. There’s a great card shop, Montag’s Games, about two miles from my house. The weekend days are devoted to the kids, but Friday night is usually open for me after the kids’ soccer practice. FNM for the month of October was Zendikar drafts so I got to learn the set without having to jump into constructed right away. And it gave me time to start working on getting the cards I’d need to build Aaron’s deck, or something close to it… This time, it was enough. I’m back. Yeah, I’m 40 years old and I still don’t have time to be serious about it, but that’s OK. It’s fun, and that’s what counts.

That’ll be my next MtG post; a FNM tournament report! Been a long time…

NFL Week 9 Picks

OK, so I messed up the record two weeks ago, Al actually had 5 right, not 4. Not that it matters, though, because last week I stunk it up and went 4-9 and dropped below .500 for the season, while Al went a respectable 7-8. Al’s lead is huge and growing, 68-47-1 to 57-58-1. Ugh.

I’ll just get on with the picks then, shall I?

Sunday 1pm
Redskins at Falcons(-10)
Washington continues to be a train wreck. While the Falcons showed last week they still can’t quite hang with the big boys, they should have no trouble with the Redskins; give the points.

Cardinals at Bears(-3)
Two inconsistent teams and Vegas has no idea what to do… home team by three. I hate the way the Cardinals play on the road, so I’ll give the three.

Ravens at Bengals(+3)
Rematch games are always tricky. You know Baltimore wants a pound of flesh for the last meeting and they sure looked good last week. However, I’m not sure about giving three on the road. Well, when you’re behind like I am, you gotta take chances—I’ll give the points.

Texans at Colts(-9)
Lots of people seem high on the Texans right now, and they’ve earned a bit of respect on the current streak. However, don’t think for a second the Colts don’t know this, and that they won’t be ready. The Texans have a horrible history against the Colts and I expect them to rip the heart out of all of us once again. However, getting blown out will not be a heartbreaker—the Texans will lose this one in some horrible way, just like the Sage Rosenfels game last year… but I don’t think they’ll get blown out, so I’m taking the points.

Chiefs at Jaguars(-6.5)
The Jags are reeling right now—they seem like they should be a lot better. KC sucks, too, but I’m not sure the Jags should be laying almost a TD against anybody right now.

Packers at Buccaneers(+10)
Tampa cannot, just cannot, defend the pass at all. The Packers’ offensive line is shaky, but in this game they most certainly don’t have to be solid for them to have a big day. Huge blowout here.

Dolphins at Patriots(-10.5)
Man, that’s a lot of points. On the other hand, facing the Pats when they’ve had two weeks to prepare and get people healthy is not good. Plus, after being torched the first time they faced the wildcat—don’t think the Pats have forgotten about that—the Pats have handled it pretty easily since. I don’t like giving this many, but I think I have to.

Panthers at Saints(-14)
The Panthers are just simply awful. Look, they can give the Saints’ offense the week off and still win by 14. Jake “Pick” Delhomme will probably throw enough picks returned for TDs that Brees can sit this one out, and I don’t think that Brees will sit this one out. The Saints are on a mission to lock up home field for the playoffs and they want to keep the Vikings at bay for that spot. They’ll roll huge.

Lions at Seahawks(-10)
If you can’t beat the Rams at home, you just straight-up suck, badly. Give the ten.

Chargers at Giants(-4.5)
Well, this is getting down to put up or shut up time for these two teams. When the rubber meets the road, you can always count on one thing: the Chargers are coached by Norv Turner. I’m taking the G-men.

Titans at 49ers(-4.5)
I think Tennessee caught the Jags napping last week. That won’t happen this week; the Niners gave the Colts a real game and they know they’re better than Tennessee. They’ll handle them by a TD.

Cowboys at Eagles(-3)
Yes, yes, the Cowboys have won a couple in a row and now everybody’s drooling over them. Well, let’s seem them do it on the road. Iggles.

Steelers at Broncos(+3)
In general, I like teams coming off the bye. Guys get healthy and coaches have an extra week of film to look at and plan against. Tomlin is no dummy and he’ll follow the Ravens’ blueprint from last week: get after Orton hard and go vertical. Denver is still a good team, so I expect them to respond, but I think the Steelers will pull it out… by about a field goal. Argh. I would give this without thought at 2 and I’d probably take it if it were 4. Argh. OK, I’ll take the Stillers coming off the bye.