Last Friday I had a hell of a good time at FNM at Twenty Sided Store, even if it didn’t turn out to be one of my better draft results. During Dragon’s Maze, I’ve had a fair bit of success thus far, winning in two of the four IRL drafts I’ve played in, and losing in the finals of the other two. Meanwhile, online I’ve gone 9-4 in DGR draft matches.

After being seated in a bracing pod with Josh “Fettoblaster” Fetto, fellow Hipster Monique “Grinding It Out” Garraud, and Kadar “History’s Greatest Monster” Brock to my left—and after listening with pleasure to Giaco’s awesome and by now well-rehearsed drafting-at-20SS spiel (we really need to get you a pull-down mic like at boxing matches, man)—I opened my Dragon’s Maze pack and was faced with a choice between Deadbridge Chant and Zhur-Taa Druid.

Chant is spicy, but I generally favor lower-drops over six-mana do-nothing (immediately, at least) enchantments—and it just so happened that there were no other Gruul cards in the pack, potentially setting me up for a good Gatecrash pack. Also, I know Kadar’s predilection to draft all the colors, so I felt like it would be best if I didn’t try to fight with him over more out-there strategies like Deadbridge Chant.

Pack two presented me with a pretty easy pick in Scab-Clan Giant, with no other good Gruul cards in the pack again. Unfortunately the RG cards dried up soon thereafter, and I was forced to go in a different direction. I think I third-picked a Spike Jester, and at some point (maybe in the Jester pack) I had to pass a Haunter of Nightveil, which killed me to do, but I wanted to stay on target. I snapped up a Notion Thief in an otherwise empty pack, and started to think about Grixis after a late Turn//Burn.

Other Dragon’s Maze pick-ups included a Nivix Cyclops, Pilfered Plans, Blast of Genius (hell yeah), Fatal Fumes, a key Dimir Cluestone, a late Warped Physique, 2X Mindstatic (one might have been last-pick), and a Woodlot Crawler on the wheel. Except for the Haunter of Nightveil (which I would have killed for at this point), I hadn’t shipped much Dimir in Kadar’s direction, so I felt like I was set up for a good Gatecrash pack.

Unfortunately my rare was something unplayable—I forget what—but I ended up having a decent pack two, snapping up a pair of Death’s Approaches, a Devour Flesh (over a Balustrade Spy, which was a really tough decision), a Metropolis Sprite, a Psychic Strike, a Horror of the Dim, and a late Duskmantle Guildmage. I also picked a Firefist Striker and a Skinbrand Goblin relatively early in the pack, when I though I was going to be more pure Grixis, but these didn’t end up making my maindeck.

Return to Ravnica proved good as well, albeit painful. I was forced to pass a Righteous Authority and a Collective Blessing in quick succession, after first-picking a Rakdos Guildgate. It pained me to pass those, and Kadar thought I was nuts, but it was the right decision. I ended up filling out my removal suite in pack three with Ultimate Price, Assassin’s Strike, and Launch Party, and I also nabbed 2X Runewings (perfect for this deck), a Perilous Shadow and a Spawn of Rix Maadi as potential finishers, a Tavern Swindler and a Crosstown Courier for the early game (and, in the case of the latter, a way to potentially turn on my Death’s Approaches), and a Nivix Guildmage.

As with most control decks in Limited, the build was really difficult. At one point I had something like 17 non-creature spells on my mat—and even though I knew that was crazy, I had a hard time cutting any of them. Fellow Hipster Li Xu was watching me build, and I think he thought I was crazy to have as few creatures (eight) as I originally had on my mat—but when literally 10 of your spells are removal, I think you can get away with stuff like that. Sure, you fly close to the sun, but it’s mad fun. At any rate, I ended up settling on 13 spells and 10 creatures, although the mix of the latter changed somewhat over the course of the night. Here’s the deck:

Grixis Control

Creatures (9)
Woodlot Crawler
Nivix Cyclops
Crosstown Courier
Nivix Guildmage
Perilous Shadow
Spawn of Rix Maadi
Duskmantle Guildmage

Spells (14)
Pilfered Plans
Blast of Genius
Warped Physique
Dimir Cluestone
Launch Party
Fatal Fumes
Ultimate Price
Death’s Approach
Psychic Strike
Devour Flesh
Tavern Swindler
Lands (17)
Rakdos Guildgate

Sideboard (15)
Horror of the Dim
Assassin’s Strike
Metropolis Sprite
Pursuit of Flight
Spike Jester
Ubul Sar Gatekeepers
Notion Thief
Gateway Shade
Last Thoughts
Skinbrand Goblin
Firefist Striker
Shadow Slice

In round one I was paired up against Josh Fetto—a very good player with (and correct me if I’m wrong here, Josh) a mild proclivity for playing very focused, aggressive decks. Before the match, Josh alluded to finding himself in color combo he hadn’t intended to draft, noting that a few really good cards in his colors came around super late. Sure enough, Fetto’s on Gruul—he was three or four seats to my right, and must have been a big reason why I stopped seeing any Gruul early in pack one.

I didn’t take detailed notes, because our match took so long, but suffice it to say that Josh rolled me in game one, never dropping below 20 life. At one point he cast a fused Armed // Dangerous on a Maze Behemoth with a Death’s Approach on it, which had been shrinking it to a 3/2, and swung it with his Lured Behemoth and a Zhur-Taa Swine to trample over and kill me.

In game two, I managed to get my engine more online, and stabilized (such as it was) at one life. I Psychic Striked a key Five-Alarm Fire from Josh at one point, and then at another he tried to bloodrush a Zhur-Taa Swine onto his last guy for the win.

It happened a little weirdly, though—I went to pass my turn and Josh just threw down Swine onto his guy (who also had a Death’s Approach on him, shrinking him to a 2/1), indicating that he had the win. “But wait,” I said. “Discarding Swine is a cost of bloodrush, so Swine goes to the graveyard and kills your guy because of Death’s Approach.” Josh looks at the card and confirms I’m right. So he backs it up—but not really backing it up, because I don’t think he ever drew, or untapped, or any of that stuff; so really he was just playing out his turn for the first time.

It’s a strange situation. Obviously this is FNM and Josh is a friend (and he absolutely was not trying to get a read on what I had, or in any other way try to spike me), so I’m not going to hold his feet to the fire—although at a GP I definitely would. But how, at a competitive-level event, should I have handled that situation? As I said, it’s not like Josh (entirely) made a play and then tried to back it up; he didn’t. Really he just flashed me a card. And I don’t think it’s a rules violation to flash your opponent a card.

I think what I should have done in that case would be to say, “Well, OK, let’s just play it out according to the rules. You take your turn and do what you are going to do.” At that point one of two things happens: Josh gets wise to the fact that something’s amiss, that I don’t think I’m dead to whatever he’s about to do, and maybe he doesn’t try to carry out the bloodrush play. Or he just goes ahead and does it anyway, in which case he kills his creature by discarding the Swine.

I could also, at a competitive event, have called a judge. But what would I even say in that situation? As I said, I don’t thin it’s illegal to flash your opponent a card. I think the judge would most likely tell my opponent to play out his turn as normal, in which case the same two possible outcomes that I stated above would result. I’m not sure which is more likely to result in my ideal outcome—his guy dying to a lethal Death’s Approach—but I’m inclined to believe it’s the former, given that it gives my opp. less time to think about what he might be doing wrong. Of course, that’s only if the first way I propsed handling it is not against the rules. Can any judges weigh in on whether I would have been required to call a judge in that sitch?

Anyway, like I said, I think I traded with Josh’s 2/1, he played the Swine out normally, and I untapped and killed it, stabilizing at one life. I started to get worried that I didn’t have any creatures left in my deck with which to kill Josh, as it had been a bloodbath on both sides, and I didn’t have a ton of dudes to begin with. But eventually I found a Perilous Shadow and started getting in with big hits for the win.

In game three, much the same situation ensued. But our match had gone on forever, and we were running out of time. I was at 14 life, and Josh was at 16 or something. He got out Kraal Warrior, and I had Perilous Shadow. We bashed each other back and forth during turns, me ending up at four life and Josh at 10—and on my next to last turn I drew Launch Party, which would have done it had I had one more black mana, in order to pump the Shadow to become an 8/8. But on my last turn (turn four) I drew a Rakdos Guildgate, which sadly came into play tapped, only allowing me to bash Josh down to four with the Shadow and pop his Warrior when he tried to win on his last turn, ending the game in a draw with him at two life. Oh well. That was a serious slugfest, and I was happy to get out of facing Josh and his strong Gruul deck with a draw.

Monique, Josh, and Kadar in round three.

Monique, Josh, and Kadar in round three.

In round two I got paired up against Kadar, who had won his first match—and who I knew had drafted a crazy five-color all-the-gates deck, including the pair of super-powerful enchantments I’d been forced to pass him early in pack three: Righteous Authority and Collective Blessing. Again, I didn’t take notes, because our match went to time—but this one was super-interesting and convoluted, too.

Long story short, I made a several misplays, and lost the match in three games. What can I say? I was hungry, I was a little rattled from my gone-to-time deathmatch with Josh—and, probably the biggest factor, I was just having fun, playing too cavalierly for my own good. It’s FNM, right? That said, in game one I managed to put together the sick combo of Nivix Guildmage + any of my two-mana removal spells (Ultimate Price and Devour Flesh) and/or Pilfered Plans, which at one point I cast and copied for four cards. Eventually I milled out Kadar with Duskmantle Guildmage. “I knew I should have killed that thing with my Warleader’s Helix,” he noted ruefully.

Then in game two, at one point Kadar dropped Giant Adephage, while I had Pilfered Plans and Launch Party in hand, with six lands on the field. I decided to get greedy and try to find my seventh land with Plans, so that I could cast Plans and Party in one turn.

Of course I bricked off on lands and put myself into a terrible situation, as his Adephage cracked in for seven on the next turn and copied itself. I still probably could have dealt with both Adephages, as I had Death’s Approach in hand and played it on one of his 7/7 insects, shrinking it to a 4/4, while I had a 2/2 and a 2/1 on the field. Only thing was, I played the Approach on the wrong Adephage—the original, rather than the token. So when I went to Launch Party  token Adephage during Kadar’s next combat step, the original Adephage didn’t shrink to a 3/3 (since the token didn’t go to the graveyard, which would have added to the Death’s Approach -1/-1 count). If I’d done it that way, I could have blocked and killed (with no trample damage, and of course assuming that Kadar didn’t have a trick) the now-3/3 Adephage with my two guys.

My final mistake came during game three, when Kadar got off to a seriously slow start, being stuck on three mana forever, while I had a couple of bears and a Perilous Shadow threatening him. I had infinite removal, and could have killed the Axebane Guardian Kadar dropped to boost him to four mana—but I knew he had some seriously scary bombs in his deck, and could of course draw runner-runner lands at any time, so I held off. But Kadar had Warleader’s Helix (off of Guardian) for my Shadow while I was tapped out, and the game went downhill for me from there. So, the mistake: Kadar had out Deputy of Acquittals, and went to put Righteous Authority on it. I had Turn//Burn in hand. “Sure,” I said, and the aura stuck. Kadar swung in with Deputy and I tried to fuse Turn//Burn on it to kill it—which of course doesn’t work, because the creature was still getting +3/+3 from the aura, Turn or no Turn.

I understood immediately what I’d done once Kadar pointed it out, and I was pretty frustated with myself (see, Matt Jones? Even Rolex goes on tilt sometimes)—but, like I said, I was playing too casually for my own good, and I just wasn’t thinking. I got the idea in my head that I had an answer for whatever Kadar threw at me, and when the situation changed I didn’t reevaluate and see where my plan had gone wrong. And that’s a good lesson for any match: Having a plan is a great and key thing if you want to win matches, but you have to reevaluate that plan each time the battlefield changes. And you have to read the fucking card.

We went to turns, but Kadar got the win with his massive Deputy + extra card per turn. Good games, man. In round three I faced Justin, who was on Boros, and my deck finally did exactly what it was supposed to do: one-for-one everything that moved, and then stick a threat (in this case, Spawn of Rix Maadi in both games) and beat down for the win. I was glad I finally had a 15-minute match, because I was starving and was about to meet up with my fiance to hit a going-away party at Bushwick Country Club on Grand Street—which, let me tell you, made me feel older than I have in a long while. I remember standing around drinking beers and smoking cigarettes in the shitty “back yards” of numerous Williamsburg bars in the early to mid-2000s, and going to the Bushwick Country Club after FNM totally brought me back. You see, Internet? Hipsters of the Coast has real, live hipsters writing for it! (Bonus content: I remember when there were zero hipster businesses on Grand Street, to say nothing of Twenty Sided Store. There was just Club Luxx, which is where the electroclash scene (Peaches, Larry Tee) got its start, and which is Trash Bar. Williamsburg history, innit. Respect.)



Back to Magic, though: As you can tell from the above, Dragon’s Maze is a straight-up awesome draft format. I wrote nearly 2,600 words on one draft, and I didn’t even take notes. That’s just an incredible amount of depth and complexity. I do not see myself getting tired of it anytime soon; there’s just so much to do and so many directions in which to go. Today I’m on the road up to GP Providence, with my team the Christian Hunters (featuring Matt Jones), and while I may do some sealed grinders, I might just back-to-back draft, too. If you are GP-ing this weekend, look out for Team Hipsters and let us take your picture! You can follow our exploits on @hotcblog and mine on @hrslaton. Hope to meet some of you! Have fun and good luck!

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands.

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