Alara the Gathering

EVENT DETAILS * What: We will be busting out this entire 270-card Alara Cube for an ultimate winner-takes-all battle. * When: Saturday, November 17th at 6 PM * Where: My Place in Richmond * Who: Flood (me), Andrew, Ryan, Jeremy, Brian, possibly Matt * With: Food and Three-Buck Chuck, official sponsor of Flood's Magic Giveaway Gatherings PREPARATION If you are so inclined, you can practice drafting this cube online right here on CubeTutor; just pick "Draft" from the "Playtest" menu above. It should automatically give you the right pack sizes and the most advanced AI drafters. You might also wish to read about Alara block "flashback drafts," as this should feel fairly similar. There are some notable differences--including a higher floor to card quality, proportionally fewer multicolor cards, and more manafixing--that you will want to keep in mind. As with Zendikar, there are copious notes about the playtesting in this blog, and you can look over previous decks, the best of which I've starred, by clicking on "Decks" in the above menu.

DraftRex II Finals (Winner = Bant Exalted II)

I came into this pod wanting to test out Exalted and try more 4/5-color decks. I got my wish with the first two decks, "Bant Exalted II" and "5C Control." This first game went about as well as Bant could have hoped and as poorly as 5C could have imagined. The former curved out perfectly with Knotvine Paladin, Bant Battlemage, Esper Cormorants, and Mosstodon, one right after the other. 5C drew only basic lands until its final turn, so it was at the mercy of the mismatches between those lands and the cards in its hand. It threw up just one defender, a Putrid Leech that took out a couple attackers but was soon halted by Bant's Crystallization. Apart from that, 5C did pretty much nothing and lost about as quickly as any deck could lose in this set. Bant Exalted II had a bit more of a challenge against a more aggressive version of itself in Bant Exalted III, which got out to an early lead, knocking Bant II down to 5 life before it got a Rhox War Monk onto the battlefield to recoup some of its life through lifelink. Bant III stayed in the game with Sylvan Bounty, but Bant II had a critical mass of flyers that Bant III just couldn't deal with, so it eventually took the loss. Bant Exalted III then took on 5C Control in a classic game that went down to the wire. As expected, Bant got off to an early start, and it actually looked like 5C was again going to have a quick exit, as it dropped to 2 life in no time. Part of 5C's problem was that it had a Stoic Angel in play that Bant had Crystallized, so 5C's spread of tokens from its Sprouting Thrinax were untapping only one at a time. 5C got back in the game by using Branching Bolt to wipe out Bant's biggest threats and then used its own Crystallize to get rid of its Stoic Angel. Zealous Persecution allowed it to swing for 13 in one go, and then it was down to topdecking. Fortunately for 5C, it drew into a Gorger Wurm that Devouring 5C's mass of tokens to become a 10/10 that ate the remainder of Bant's defenses one by one until it finally got through for the win. Rather than force any deck, I followed the natural path of the draft for the final deck and ended up with a "Naya Beatdown" deck. It did little beating down in its first matchup against Bant Exalted II, which once again curved out perfectly with a Knotvine Paladin, an Aven Squire (alongside a Bant Panorama --> Island), a Rhox Charger, and finally a Battlegrace Angel. Naya's Branching Bolt took out a couple of these, but by then it was too late; it was already down to just 5 life, and Battlegrace Angel attacked as an unblockable 5/5 on the next turn. Naya had a considerably better game against 5C, in a match that felt eerily like a mirror. The two decks got into a silly back and forth with both decks taking big hits but then gaining chunks of life back via the Rhox War Monk (5C) and the Behemoth Sledge (Naya). The latter card on a Knight of a Skyward Eye was just sick, at one point generating a swing of 20 life in just one turn. Naya lost the first one of these to a Fiery Fall but came right back with a second one. Unfortunately, that too was eventually lost to a Winged Coatl, and Naya didn't have a comeback from that. Missing a beat in this game proved deadly, and Naya lost to 5C's army of creatures on the next turn. Naya finally got a win--and quite a dramatic one at that--against the unfortunate third Bant Exalted deck. Bant III got off to a good start with the usual game plan, hitting for 5 through the sky with an Esper Cormorants boosted by a couple creatures with Exalted hanging back. Naya wasn't able to do much about this at first and dropped to a dangerously low life total before using a couple Branching Bolts to clear the way for a Bant Sureblade, a Gorger Wurm, and a Knight of the Skyward Eye, which dropped Bant from 20 to 10 life all at once. Clinging to the hope that it could finish things off in a couple turns, Bant attacked with a lone Esper Cormorants, bringing Naya to just 2 life, and then deployed a Topan Ascetic to hold off lethal damage on the next turn. This would have been a decent plan but for Naya having cycled a Ridge Rannet on the previous turn, which it then brought back to its hand for 7 damage with Vengeful Rebirth. The attackers the Topan Ascetic couldn't block did the rest.

DraftRex II Semis (Winner = 5C Good Stuff)

I opened this pod with an off-the-wall 5C Good Stuff draft, which was completely new for me. I'd stumbled into 4- and 5-color decks before, but I'd never gone for it from the very start. This deck had just 7 basic lands and spent the first several turns getting its mana base going, but after that it was smooth sailing. It took some hits from its opponent's 1/1 tokens, but as soon as it has Marisi's Twinclaws and a Stoic Angel on the board, the attacks stopped. Its opponent was a Jund Unearth/Devour deck that wanted to save its token for sacrifice to the Tar Fiend, which would give it the single monstrosity it could attack with under the reign of the Stoic Angel. After taking some damage itself, Jund finally got the requisite lands into play to cast its momentous Tar Fiend, only to have 5C cancel it with Soul Manipulation. That was pretty much the end for Jund, and 5C won a couple turns later. 5C continued to roll against the next deck, an Esper Artifacts build. Nearly the same thing happened as in the last game. 5C spent several turns just fiddling about with its mana, taking a bit of damage, until finally it had one of each basic land in play. At this point, the tables turned completely, as it was able to deploy one ridiculous threat after another: Rhox War Monk (tapped down), Woolly Thoctar (immediately removed), and Stoic Angel (no more answers). With all of Esper's answers depleted, stuff like 5C's Esper Cormorants and Esper Stormblade ironically took to the skies to do big chunks of damage. Soul's Fire eliminated Esper's biggest threat, and 5C won quite handily. Esper got its game on in the next match, against Jund, which drew tons of land but not enough "business" spells. The spells Jund did cast were actually decent, making it much less appealing for it to cast its Tar Fiend, even as the game was nearing its conclusion. Esper was able to tap down the worst threat (which would have been Tar Fiend by far, had it been cast) using Vectis Dominator and keep the pressure on with its other creatures. It didn't take long for it to wear Jund down to zero. For my final deck, I tried 5C again, this time forcing it a bit, as the first pack definitely did not inspire me to go in this direction. Despite less fixing and less impressive cards, this deck held its own in the mirror match against the first 5C deck. The latter actually got the jump on the former, with an Esper Cormorants and a couple smaller creatures early on, but New 5C deployed some answers and seemed to be fully in the game. It even had a slight slant toward being an Exalted deck, and as it deployed Stoic Angel, it looked like it might really have a shot. Unfortunately for it, Old 5C cancels Stoic Angle with Soul Manipulation and got Esper Cormorants back to play the next turn. It used Soul's Fire to eliminate New 5C's other main threat. Behemoth Sledge's lifelink was keeping New 5C in the game, and Sylvan Bounty was about to extend things even longer, but old 5C hit it with Blightning, and that was that. Keep in mind however, that Old 5C was at just 3 life when it won; this was a very close game and could have gone either way. New 5C's next game was similarly close but still resulted in a loss. It surprisingly got off to a pretty quick start but soon started to stumble on its mana base, which didn't provide enough White or Green mana relative to the cards it was drawing. (This isn't a shock, since the deck is made up of considerably more of those cards than those needing other colors.) While 5C stalled, its opponent--Esper Artifacts--threw down a Wall of Denial, which stopped Woolly Thoctar in its tracks, and three flyers that 5C couldn't really answer. (It had already used Branching Bolt in a 2-for-1 earlier in the game.) 5C let itself drop to 4 life, thinking it could win on the next turn if it didn't block, but Esper's Absorb Vis finished the game on the spot. New 5C had similar issues in the final matchup, when it faced off against Jund Unearth/Devour. It got some early threats out, but it soon stalled with a handful of Green cards but no sources of Green mana. Meanwhile, Jund made the case for being called "Discard" instead of "Devour" or "Unearth," playing Rotting Rats followed by two Blightnings. It chipped away at 5C's life with a couple 1/1s and finally brought the win home with a Deathbringer Thoctar and Jund Hackblade.

DraftRex II (Winner = BR Unearth)

The first matchup between BR Unearth and Naya 5-Power was extremely close. Ironically, the star card in the latter was Knight of the Skyward Eye, which feels more like an Exalted card but worked well here. A pair of Naya Hushblades got in a little damage as well, but the constant pummeling from BR's assaults from the graveyard were too much to handle. Despite a well-timed Branching Bolt that took out two targets at once, Naya got the loss. Naya had quite the comeback in its next matchup, which was against a Bant Exalted deck that got stuck without any Forests and a hand full of green cards. Even if Bant had been able to cast its spells, Naya got a Wooly Thoctar with a Behemoth Sledge on it--a 7/7 with trample and lifelink--so it was going to be tough to beat no matter what. I accidentally did a rematch instead of moving onto the next game, and Bant fared no better in the second round. Naya again kicked ass with the Behemoth Sledge, crushing Bant and ending the game with 20 life remaining. Bant did better against BR Unearth but still couldn't hold it off. This time around, BR wasn't going to the graveyard as much, and Flameblast Dragon was the heavy hitter, knocking out blockers and hitting for 5 per turn. Bant did plenty of damage with its array of creatures with Exalted pushing the Jhessian Infiltrator through for some moderate hits each turn. Bant managed to produce an 8/8 Ooze creature on its final turn, but it couldn't do anything about that dragon, which came in for lethal damage moments later. The final deck was a Jund Devour build that I worried would have mana issues. In its first game, it did get off to a slow start because it had to wait for a Panorama to fetch a Forest. It didn't feel like much of an issue, but since the game ended up being close, this might have been a deciding factor. Its opponent (BR Unearth) had the usual thing going on, aggressively attacking and not caring if things went to the graveyard. The symmetrical discard effects are kind of cool, giving BR extra options to work with while hampering opponents. On its final turn, it Unearthed two cards to "go wide" around Jund's lone blocker for the win. Jund couldn't really handle the other winning deck, Naya 5-Power, even though its opponent never got its infamous Behemoth Sledge out. Instead the steady flow of creatures and removal did the trick for Naya, and the 5-power theme never came into play either. Meanwhile, Jund did the best it could to make use of its Devour mechanic, at one point getting a solid 6/6 into play. Unfortunately, all it did was block a 3/3 before falling to a Branching Bolt. After that, the decks were just hoping to topdeck some solid cards, and Naya won that contest, drawing into an Enlisted Wurm while Jund fumbled around with an Armillary Sphere to get past mana screw. Jund finally got its win in against the hapless Bant Exalted deck. Things couldn't have been better for Jund from the start, as it drew pretty much the perfect hand. First, it got out the Deathgreeter, which allowed it to gain a life every time it used Devour (which ended up being a lot). Then it had a bunch of small creatures and tokens, perfect fodder for the cards with Devour that came out later. Thunder-Thrash Elder came into play as a 10/10, and the game ended two turns later. Bant's Stoic Angel might have given another deck some trouble, but Jund didn't mind attacking with just one huge creature each turn. Poor Bant.

Playtest Pod #4 (Winner = Grixis Unearth)

This pod pits a couple decks built with a modified version of my original take on this block and a couple decks built with the new version. The first match was one of the best in this set so far. WU Artifacts got Gwafa Hazid into play early on, which was the perfect foil to the Grixis Unearth deck, which had a lot of death effects. WU made it such that creatures would never leave the battlefield, though it came at the cost of the opponent constantly drawing new cards. Grixis was stuck on land and had a Jund card in hand (?!), but was still getting a little bit of damage through each turn because Gwafa Hazid was always tapped. Grixis eventually started drawing its signature removal spells, clearing the board of threats and keeping itself in the game. WU got a Yoked Plowbeast down, tossed a couple pieces of equipment onto it, and swung for 6, getting Grixis down to 2 life. It looked like it would win on the next turn, since the Yoked Plowbeast could block Grixis's only threat. However, Blightning got the final damage through for Grixis. Great game! The next game was also pretty solid, if a bit more straightforward. My RG Beatdown deck went against guest drafter FleishDawg's Naya deck. I'm not sure what if any synergies the latter was trying to play upon, but it had no problem with its mana in this first game and had cards to play on every early turn. RG had manafixing that it didn't need and not enough threats or responses, so it began to get behind. However, Blitz Hellion got a quick 7 damage in, and Banefire was in hand, ready to bring the Naya deck down to just 4 life. Unfortunately, Naya had too much on the board and overwhelmed RG on the next turn for the win. The losers of the previous matches faced off for the next match. WU Artifacts took it slow, getting a bunch of utility artifacts into play while RG Beatdown seemed to be doing not much of anything. Unfortunately, this approach meant that it couldn't do anything about Hell's Thunder and was behind when RG's permanent threats started coming down. Furthermore, I realized one of the flaws of the WU Artifacts deck is that it doesn't really have any major threats, so drawing cards isn't as valuable. It also doesn't seem to have a lot of answers...but yay it has lots of artifacts. RG got its Rockslide Elemental into play and quickly built it up to a 3/3 (with first strike). WU let a little too much damage through, "not realizing" a Soul's Fire would come down to finish it off. Between the winners, the Grixis Unearth deck managed to outlast Naya's initial onslaught of powerful 2-drops. Cards didn't quite come out in the right order for Grixis, which makes me think its got a lot more potential than it showed even in this match. Its array of death effects kept it in the game, and it eventually was able to overwhelm Naya's smaller creatures with its army of bigger threats for the win. The final two matches pitted the two decks from the older version of this set against each other and then the two from the newer version against each other. The former match was pretty much exactly what you'd expect for the Grixis gameplan. It spent its first couple turn fixing its mana and then started playing badass cards that outclassed the stuff already on the board from RG Beatdown. Its removal cleared away threats, and Unearth brought back its Viscera Dragger for some quick additional damage right at the end of the game. Apart from that one maneuver, this felt like a somewhat controlling midrange deck. The final match (WU Artifacts vs. FleishDawg's Naya deck) was another by-the-books game for the winner. WU pleasingly had plenty of artifact synergies going and managed to pull off some repeated ETB abilities via Esperzoa. Meanwhile, Naya was stuck on mana, as you'd expect in a multicolor deck. WU was getting damage through and looked like it might get its first win, but suddenly Naya got its mana together and a Woolly Thoctar was on the battlefield. This card suddenly put WU on a 4-turn clock, and then Naya beefed it up with some equipment. WU managed to remove it, but Naya's Branching Bolt gave it a 2-for-1, clearing the path for some final damage and the win.

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