This past weekend I jammed what’s become my standard prerelease special, the 3pm sealed and 8pm Two-Headed Giant (aka 2HG) at Brooklyn’s own Twenty Sided Store. I was psyched to play, and felt pretty well-prepared after my and Zach’s headlong charge through reviewing all the set’s commons over the previous few days. My excitement was somewhat tempered by the fact that—while I was puttering around the house in the morning, and getting a bite before cards—my fiance was embroiled in passport hell at the expediter’s office, in order to try to make sure she got her travel papers in time for us to split for Tulum, well, yesterday (by the time you read this).

So I felt bad on her behalf. As she said, though, over text, “This is a one-man job,” and it’s true. You don’t get through passport-expediter lines faster by having a partner in misery.

I got seated across from good dude Dom, across from Friend of Hipsters (F.O.H.) John Fung, and next to Grinding It Out’s Monique Garraud. Monique and I discussed our site’s increasing and kind of inexplicable traffic stats before getting passed our fresh packs of M14. Packs were cracked and pools sorted. I was really happy to see 2X Pacifism in white, but the black and red were just too strong and bomby to pass up. Sure, the colors had zero two-drop creatures, but it kind of seemed like there weren’t too many two-drops in this format, period. And the white, paired with red (for Shocks and Act of Treasons) or black (for bomby stuff like Sengir Vampire and Doom Blade), didn’t compliment it well—so red/black it was. I also had a Blood Bairn and an Altar’s Reap for maximum tricksies with my 2X Act of Treason.

Here’s the deck I settled on:

RB saccing stuff

Creatures (12)
Minotaur Abomination
Sengir Vampire
Marauding Maulhorn
Accursed Spirit
Nightwing Shade
Blur Sliver
Xathrid Necromancer
Regathan Firecat
Battle Sliver
Blood Bairn
Striking Sliver

Spells (11)
Molten Birth
Liliana of the Dark Realms
Haunted Plate Mail
Act of Treason
Altar’s Reap
Liturgy of Blood
Doom Blade
Volcanic Geyser
Lands (17)

Sideboard (12)
Lightning Talons
Diabolic Tutor
Cyclops Tyrant
Academy Raider
Dark Favor
Bogbrew Witch
Shadowborn Apostle
Elixir of Immortality
Accorder’s Shield

The main event was fun. While a lot of my friends reported endless ground stalls, and in general an unfun format, none of my games actually turned out that way, and most of them were in fact quite interesting. I ended up going 2-2, after starting off 2-0 and then losing my next two in very close, very interesting three-game matches against two very good players, Milosz and the inimitable Jason Chan. Here are my opponents:







Jason Chan.

Jason Chan.

The main event is not really what I want to talk about, though. (OK, one thing real quick: Act of Treason + Blood Bairn or Altar’s Reap is fucking sweet.) Around 8pm, my longtime 2HG partner Christian showed up with his lovely wife Reshma and their awesome baby girl Plum, who happily and very cutely stole one of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I’d packed earlier, at home, for dinner. We kibbitzed for a little while out of doors, and eventually got seated for the event.

We cracked an Archangel of Thune and a Seraph of Dawn, alongside a whole mess of slivers, including Gale Sliver, the rare 1/1 for U that gives your (sliver) team flying, and ended up building a UG beats deck (me) and a RWu slivers/bomb fliers deck.

I thought our decks were really good, but this is something I’ve come to recognize with 2HG: Your deck is never half as good as you think it is. As soon as you start playing people, you invariably come across some truly bonkers decks. Which leads us to R1.

I declined to take photos for these rounds, ‘cause I had been planning on focusing on the main event for my article, leaving the 2HG for just-for-funsies, so apologies for the lack of pictures. We were paired against Josh, a former intern of Matt Jones’, and his friend Zach, and we shuffled up and got to work.

A bit of a flashback first, though: During deckbuilding Christian and I had butted heads pretty definitively on a few points. One, whether or not to include Millstone in Christian’s (or my) deck. And two, ditto RE: Trading Post.

My position was that I felt our decks were predicated on the notion that we were going to smash in with big guys (me) and swarm with slivers (him), and that was pretty much the plan. We didn’t have any big bombs other than Archangel of Thune, so I didn’t feel like the long game favored us; and, thus, I didn’t think it was worth it to include alternate win-con cards like Millstone (with no other mill support in either deck) or super-grindy cards like Trading Post.

This is maybe just a philosophy thing. For example, Christian is quite willing to drop in a 41st card into his Limited deck, whereas I will never, ever do it. It’s worth noting that Christian is a dyed-in-the-wool mathematician, whereas I am a pitiful man of letters—and so, who knows? Maybe his math or rationale RE: math is better than mine. (I’ll also say that it is totally fine to include an odd Sands of Delirium in your deck, because that card is mostly a Jace, Memory Adept, who of course needs no other mill support to kill your opponent—but Millstone is not Sands.)

So anyway, that was the backstory when we sat down across from our R1 opponents. We shook hands, I drew my first seven, and I thought it looked bad. I had a Kalonian Tusker and another green card in hand, if memory serves, a blue card or two, and three Islands. To me, that is a clear mulligan, as I not only have to draw one specific land—not just any—for the hand to work, but in this specific hand’s case, two Forests. I don’t like those odds. Christian thought it was fine and wanted me to keep it—though this fact later got lost in the fog of war.

I shipped hand No. 1, and got back (going to my second seven, as 2HG rules allow) Manaweft Sliver, Disperse, three Islands, and two Forests. I thought the hand was fine. Christian thought I was fucking crazy to keep that hand, and more or less said as much. I kept the hand. And Christian was right, as of course he is.

Magic is a stern teacher. Over the course of the 2HG game that ensued, I drew about three lands in a row to start off the game, and basically did nothing forever, while our opponents’ Blur Slivers and (dear god) Thorncaster Sliver made short work of us. The UW player, Zach, even cast Frost Breath on us three times, twice honestly and once off of Archaeomancer. It was not pretty.

To his credit, Christian did not turn the knife. He let me come to my realization and admit my mistake on my own, in due time, and for that (and many other reasons) he’s a quality dude. After the match it was kind of quiet, and we mostly shuffled up and then shuffled outside to take the air. Matt Jones was outside with his partner, Kadar, and Matt was in a fey mood with respect to Magic. I didn’t want to admit what I’d done. I’ve made two day twos, I thought. I shouldn’t be doing dumb shit like this. I tried to defend my decision for a while, making small points where I could—but it’s indefensible.

I was arguing that, with five lands in my hand, there were only 12 lands left in my deck, meaning that I should be drawing a non-land card about two-thirds of the time—and, furthermore, that I would be able to cast anything I drew.

Where Christian broke my resistance was by pointing out, as is obvious to me now, that the difference between having three or four lands in hand and having five (plus essentially a Birds of Paradise—which, WTF, Hunter) is statistically nil when it comes to the rate at which you will draw lands over the course of the game. And thus, sure—with a starting hand of five lands I will or should draw a non-land card 64% of the time; but an opponent with a three-land hand will draw a spell 57% of the time, and an opp. with a four-land starter will flip a spell on the draw 60% of the time.

Given that, keeping a five-land opener is more or less like starting with a five-card hand, since each other opponent will also more or less be drawing non-land spells between 57% and 64% of the time—aka, the same rate as me. So I had essentially mulled to five—and a bad five—with the hand that I kept.

I dunno, dudes and dudettes. I can’t really justify what I did. Sometimes in this game you have these strange mental blind spots—you get fixated on certain things and ignore others; and, after the fact, you think, “What in the hell was I thinking?” Also, you know—I want to be right. I had gotten into a defensive crouch as a result of my and Christian’s deckbuilding debates, and I think I was too committed to winning the argument—rather than making the correct play—during that mulligan decision.

Also, you know—mulliganning is traumatic. God, you don’t want to do it. And the mark of a good player is one who draws seven, ships it; draws six, ships it; draws five, ships it; draws a reasonable four and keeps it—and doesn’t even have a hint of thinking, This fucking game, this is the worst game ever, I always have such bad luck.

On good days, that’s how I am—in both the game and in life. That’s where Magic is a good and not-at-all-irrelevant teacher in terms of life choices and real-world happiness.

On bad days, I’m not that way. I get mad at the subway. I get frustrated by slow lines. I get tilted by mana flood. I let rude opponents rattle me. I strap myself to the hood of my ill-informed decisions and let the car crash into the wall.

That’s not how I want to be. So, I’ve learned a lesson—let’s hope, anyway. (I tend to be a little hard-headed, and it can take me a few beatings for a lesson to sink in.) But I think I’ve got this one. And the lesson is, never (or rarely; there are always corner cases) keep a five-land hand. And realize that your rightness or wrongness about a card evaluation or game decision can pivot on a dime, from situation to situation.

So how’d the rest of the tourney finish up? Well, of course, we got into a big-time board stall against our second-round opponents, Tony and Jacob. And, sure enough, Millstone came down on Christian’s side of the board and we starting dinging them for two cards (effectively three, with their draw) per turn. All looked peachy–we were at 17 life—until our next-to-last turn before we were going to mill them out. Christian drew a Pacifism, and we declined to play it—I’m not sure why; we got cocky.

So we pass the turn. The opponent we’d been milling draws, and goes to four cards in his library (so, one more mill on their turn, and one on ours—which has them dead in their next draw step).

Then they cast an utterly absurd collection of cards: Frost Breath, tapping down our two flying blockers and making a third 1/1 off of his Young Pyromancer; Seismic Stomp, blanking our ground blockers; and Barrage of Expendables.

Still, we looked OK, because I had Disperse in hand, which would be able to bounce and blank three damage from a Trollhided Griffin Sentinel. But Jacob had Negate for my Disperse, and they swung in for 11 damage. At the end of turn they sacced one token, dropping us to five life.

Christian didn’t see it immediately, but I knew they had us—Jacob could use his Rod of Ruin on this turn and during their upkeep, and Tony could finish us off by using his three red mana to sac three creatures for exactsies—with no cards in his library. In retrospect, we should absolutely have played that Pacifism, which Jacob would have countered with Negate—but it would not have mattered anyway, as it was revealed at the end of the game that Jacob also had a Cancel in hand.

It was a demoralizing loss, to say the least. (Of course, it was probably an incredibly moralizing victory for our opponents, and made for a great come-from-behind story that I’m sure they will tell for some time. That’s another good thing about this game—somebody’s always happy.) But it was also so kind of out-of-nowhere and ridiculous that we couldn’t be too bummed about it, either.

And with that, we scooped it up and took off. We were out of contention for packs, and I was ready to call it a night. Christian and I hung out for a bit longer, and I apologized for my poor mulligan decision earlier in the evening. “You were right,” I said. And I felt much better—I felt clean and honest, ready to continue growing as a player—after that. Fin.

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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