Going into this draft—the second in our series of drafting the Gatecrash guilds in Return to Ravnica—I was thinking let’s go for Orzhov, because I’m a longtime Orzhovian, and can’t wait for the guild to drop in Gatecrash. I dunno why; it has something to do with how I was raised, I think: in the evangelical church, me and my buddy having to throw out (by order of our parents) all of our black Magic cards. And I just think it’s the ultimate binary-ness of black/white. More than any of the game’s other colors, they seem to me to be the most opposite. So how, then, do they pair? Making the guild into a crime-syndicate church seems like a genius solution.

Nevertheless, Orzhov was not to be. In pack one I opened a Mizzium Mortars, with the only other potentially pickable card (even in this red-headed-stepchild of a format) being Sphere of Safety (which, now that I think about it, would actually be a perfect Orzhov card); but, I couldn’t pass the Mortars. Second pick was a bit of a let-down, as I had to choose between an Axebane Guardian and a Batterhorn. A fellow Hipsters of the Coast (HotC) writer watching my stream at the time thought I should have taken the Batterhorn and cut red hard, but I figured that Axebane could, if nothing else, help me get big mana for an overloaded Mortars. What can I say, it was early in the draft.

The next picks were Drudge Beetle, Chorus of Might (over an Electrickery and not much else), Stonefare Croc, and Dryad Militant over Tenement Crasher. (I had decided that I would allow myself to play hybrid-mana creatures in my colors, which seems fair, seeing as how I’d only ever be paying green, not white, for the Militant.) I rounded out the latter half of the pack with a Nivmagus Elemental (partially for tix); a Horncaller’s Chant over a Bellows Lizard (I was still thinking I might be going big-mana with my Guardian); a second Drudge Beetle, on the wheel from my first pack and over Viashino Racketeer (and with Sphere of Safety still in the pack as well); an Aerial Predation; a Batterhorn (got there!); and some off-color chaff.

Pack two opened on an unfortunate pick: Cyclonic Rift in a pack with pretty much nothing for me except another Drudge Beetle. I took him—my third. Pick two I snagged a welcome Street Spasm, followed by Golgari Longlegs over Korozda Monitor, Tenement Crasher, and the second Rogue’s Passage I’d seen; into Cobblebrute, Explosive Impact, a second Dryad Militant, Dynacharge, a second Longlegs, a Korozda Monitor, and some junk.

In pack three, I opened yet again another good card—or so I thought at the time. It was Deathrite Shaman, over Towering Indrik and not much else. I thought, “Hey, tix”—and, also, nice aggressive-ish one-drop to join my growing legions of ones and twos (never thinking, of course, that I wouldn’t be able to activate Shaman’s MVP ability: burning your opponent for two by paying a black mana and exiling an instant or sorcery; I’d forgotten that I would have no way to access black mana.  (That said, I think I probably could have picked up a Golgari Guildgate or two and run them, so as to activate Deathrite, and also maybe Stonefare Croc. After all, if I had ended up running Axebane Guardian, it’s not like I would have declined to generate black—or any other color—mana with him, out of some misguided adherence to principle, would I?)

I took the Shaman, and followed him up with a Gatecreeper Vine (over—dagger—Isperia, Supreme Judge) and a Gorehouse Chainwalker over—more daggers—basically the first Arrest I’ve ever seen in an RTR draft. Next came a Volatile Rig—yeah!—another Chainwalker, and a pair of Centaur’s Heralds, the second of which I picked instead of an Archweaver, a Chorus of Might, and a Death’s Presence. The pack wound down in unexciting fashion.

Time to build. The deck mostly built itself, and I left 2X Axebane Stag, Axebane Guardian, Horncaller’s Chant, Aerial Predation, Nivmagus Elemental, Batterhorn, and Vandalblast in the sideboard. I had Deathrite Shaman in the deck until the last second, at which point I realized I wasn’t going to be activating his only relevant ability in this aggro Gruul deck. I wavered a bit on what combination of Gatecreeper Vine, Korozda Monitor, Stonfare Croc, and Oak Street Innkeeper to include—I kind of wanted to include the latter just for the hell of it, because I haven’t once resolved her and the card’s design is cool—but eventually settled on running everyone but the goodly innkeeper (sorry, Innkeeper). I figured Gatecreeper Vine, while not really contributing to the RG beats plan, would help me get to an overloaded Mizzium Mortars or Street Spasm, or just a straight-up Explosive Impact.

Here’s the deck:

RTR Gruul deck

In game one of round one, I won the roll and chose (obviously) to play. Go go Gruul aggro! I kept a hand of Militant, Street Spasm, Mizzium Mortars, Stonefare Croc, Chainwalker, and two forests. The lack of a mountain was slightly unsettling, but I trusted in my ability to draw a third land for my Croc by T3.

What followed was one of the quicker games of Magic I’ve ever played. I played out Militant and a Beetle I drew on T2, while my opponent went Rakdos Guildgate, Golgari Guildgate, mountain, mountain. I missed my T3 land drop, but found it on T4 and dropped the Croc, at which point my opponent was at 10 life, having done exactly nothing except play lands thus far. After passing the turn back, he drew for the turn and conceded in the face of seven power on my side of the board.

RTR Gruul R1 G1 finish

I didn’t see anything in the board I wanted to bring in (partially b/c I’d seen zero of my opponent‘s spells), so I just hit submit to run it back.

In game two, my opponent weirdly chose to go second, despite what he’d seen my deck do in G1. Big mistake, buddy. I kept triple mountain, forest, Splatter Thug, Street Spasm, and one of my four Drudge Beetles. I went T2 Beetle, T3 Thug … and, while he was able to slow me down a bit with an Inaction Injunction and a Cyclonic Rift on my Thug—evidently my opponent was Izzet, despite the 2X off-color guildgates I’d seen in G1—I’d meanwhile hit my fourth land drop and drawn Volatile Rig, which I promptly slammed, alongside my Beetle. I’d also drawn Centaur’s Herald and Chainwalker by then, as well, leaving me with a very strong hand, but I just figured why not let the Rig take care of business—which it most certainly did, aided somewhat by my opponent’s inability to find a second mountain. The only post-Rift plays my opponent was able to muster was an Inspiration and a Stealer of Secrets, which I killed with Street Spasm on his end step and followed up next turn, after a six-point crash-in with Beetle and Rig dropped him to four life, with a Golgari Longlegs just for the hell of it.

RTR Gruul R1 G2 finish

At this point I was feeling pretty good about the deck. No one was even close to finished, so I waited around for quite awhile, chatting with a fellow 20 Sided Store regular who was watching my stream, and meanwhile editing her girlfriend’s post on Hipsters of the Coast (whoa, meta).

Round two starts and I win the roll, choosing to bash first. I’m forced to mull a one-lander, and kept a somewhat loose hand of Herald, Monitor, Thug, Chainwalker, and two forests. Overconfident, maybe?

Luck served me, though, and I drew a Beetle on T2, a mountain on T3, and curved out pretty beautifully. Unfortunately, my opponent’s T3 play was THE BRICK, aka Loxodon Smiter. Pretty much the last card I wanted to see across from me. He or she followed it up on T4 with a Sluiceway Scorpion, and my game plan had been stopped dead in its tracks.

The brick stops me in my tracks

I keep developing my board—turning my Herald into a centaur, playing the Monitor—but not long thereafter my opponent drops a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage and I have a minor stroke. I probably should have played much more conservatively followed this chain of events, holding out to find my Mortars or Street Spasm—because my opponent wasn’t really attacking me, either—but he or she tempted me by swinging in with a Rites of Reaping-ed BRICK, and I triple-blocked his now-7/7, losing two of my guys (plus the Splatter Thug which had just gotten -3/-3 from Rites). After that I swung in with a couple dudes into his now-2X Scorpions, and he gamely blocked. His board had been reduced to the Guildmage and a Gatecreeper Vine, while I had nothing on board but lands, and nothing in hand. On his turn he scavenges twice onto the Guildmage, giving him a 6/6, and hits me with it. On my next turn I top-deck Street Spasm like a champ, and burn his Guildmage for exactly six.

Street Spasm top-deck for six

Unfortunately, I have no follow-up play—while he drops a Dreg Mangler and gets in there. In a few short swings, I’m dead.

I forget whether or not I boarded in or out anything—unfortunately, at this point my stream cut out. I’m still a novice with respect to streaming, and so I’m not sure exactly what happened next. I chose to play and keep a good, curvy hand. But, there it was again, this time on T4: THE BRICK. Damn it. In the meantime, though, I’d played out a couple of Beetles, a Splatter Thug (which got Ultimate Price-d), and a Korozda Monitor, to his BRICK and a Trestle Troll. I killed the hexproof Rhino he played by attacking into it and pumping my guy with Chorus of Might, and was thinking I could race this guy, as he’d been swinging past me with his BRICK, leaving Trestle Troll back to soak up damage.

I manage to drop him to eight life, my Monitor dying to a weirdly Savage Surge-d Trestle Troll (why not the BRICK?; he didn’t have regen. mana left over for the Troll). I have a pair of Beetles left on the table and a lone forest in my hand, while he’s got two cards in hand—three after his draw step. I’m at eight life, too.

Then he swings with Smiter, and goes Chorus (for two), Giant Growth, making his elephant soldier a freaking 9/9. GGs.

R2 G3 Smiter + Chorus + Giant Growth = GGs

And so I’m out. I won two packs of RTR, though (I’d chosen to run this as a 4-3-2-2), and the deck was super-fun to pilot. As I said, I should have been much more patient in G2 of R2, but sometimes I get like, “Ah, fuck it; I’m not going to sit back and die by a thousand paper cuts” (or, in that particular game’s case, a thousand Vitu-Ghazi-ed centaurs).

This lack of patience is, to be honest, probably one of the weakest parts of my game. For example: In G3 of my win-and-in round at the end of GP Philly day one, I had my opponent on the ropes, at least in terms of inevitability, having drawn my sick combo of Supreme Verdict + Rootborn Defenses.

I panicked. Or, I dunno. I remember thinking, “I need to put this game away immediately.” I forget what my opponent was running, but she had some really strong cards, which I didn’t want her to find, including (I think) a planeswalker. So I went for the indestructible/populate/wrath combo when it was essentially a two-for-three in my favor—and then on her subsequent turns, my opponent repeatedly found the answer she needed to slowly eliminate my advantage and claw her way back into the game.

She never did win—we went to time, then turns, then a draw, after which I conceded to her, because she would have had the win on what would have been, say, turn seven of time in the round—but I can’t help but thinking I could have absolutely won that game had I held onto what was essentially an unbeatable combo, and waited until the card-for-card ratio was way more heavily in my favor.

As it happened, Judge Connor was sitting on our match, watching (as were a ton of other friends and 20-Siders, which was awesome). The next day, I asked him what he thought of my play. I knew I’d screwed up, but I wanted to get his expert opinion.

“You played … weird,” Connor said, in that hilariously dry way of his.

And he’s right. I panicked, and played weird. I should have trusted in my cards (and my play skill), stayed eminently calm (which is always how I play best, in a sort of meditative state), and waited for the perfect opportunity. Instead, I went off half-cocked and gave my opponent a 5% chance to top-deck a series of cards and get back in the game. I still think I win that game 95 times out of 100, despite how it played out—but giving up that 5% is unacceptable if I ever want to be a player who can compete at the top tables.

It was the same thing in this draft, albeit obviously on a much smaller scale. In G1 of R2 I should have chilled, hung out behind my relatively robust wall of dudes, and waited for Mortars (which I never did cast in two rounds; I always hate when that happens). Odds are that Mortars would not have showed up, of course, but I gave up value by crashing my dudes into my opponent’s mono-gold cards, heedless of what my follow-up plays would be.

So the lesson for this week: Sometimes even the Gruul Clans need to chill out on turning guys sideways. Red-green draw-go for the win!

Just a quick note for fans of Rich Stein’s Magic news and analysis column, What We Learned: His column has been moved to Monday, so tune in after this (and every other) weekend to catch up with Rich.

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