DraftRex Semis (Winner = BR Goblins)

For the first couple drafts, I tried to focus on tribal themes, ending up with a BR Goblins deck and WU Merfolk. The latter had some neat tricks going early on, like tapping for life gain, removal, and milling, but the opposing removal took out the tricksters before they could do much damage. The Goblins then started beating down and looked like they'd end up with an easy victory. However, WU got a Turtleshell Changeling out, pumped it up to a 5/9, reversed P/T, and started swinging for 9. Unfortunately, Warren Pilferers came out with haste, finishing the game before the 9/5er could get in another hit. The third deck was a GU Tempo deck, which arose from me going back to my card ratings and notes for this set to assess early picks and then following wherever those led me. Its first game was a blowout, as WU Merfolk had some of the worst mana screw I've seen in recent memory. It basically drew almost every White card it had but got a Plains only after GU had gotten it down to 3 life, and then it drew yet another White card. The second game was *much* better, with GU again coming out with a strong start but suddenly getting overrun by BR Goblins. The latter just had some dinky 1/1s that seemed no match for the 2/2s and the 3/3 across the battlefield, but they kept swinging for 4 a turn. Seeing it would win the race, GU kept tapping down, even as one of its 2/2s got picked off by removal. BR was down to 2 life when it attacked with everything, buffing with a Double Cleave and a Blades of Velis Vel. GU had a Disperse that could bounce one of the attackers but it wasn't enough to avoid the loss. The final deck was another UG build, this time trying to bring together tapping synergies alongside ETB and counters themes. Ironically none of this came into play in the first game versus WU Merfolk, which also ironically had fewer Merfolk on the battlefield than UG. Instead, this game came down to a race, with UG jumping out to an early and large lead. After it bolstered its creatures with Incremental Growth to get three 4/4s, things were looking grim for WU, but then WU topdecked a Cloudgoat Ranger, providing it with essential blockers and allowing it to chip away through the skies with its host of 1/1 flyers. In the end, UG had no answers for WU's stunning spread strategy and lost the game. The "mirror" match between GU and UG was a bit more interesting, but honestly was over before it began, as UG mulliganed twice and just couldn't keep up with GU's broader array of options. UG definitely got some tap/untap action going, but it proved to be little more than an annoyance as GU just cruised to victory. The final game (UG vs. BR) was the most interesting. UG had a similar combination in play as the last game, with Trip Noose, Leech Bonder, etc. being super annoying, tapping down BR's biggest threats and taking out its smallest ones with -1/-1 counters. Unfortunately, most of its tapdown efforts cost mana, so it was just stalling its opponent while not developing its board. This prolonged the game, but BR eventually got enough of a spread of creatures that UG just didn't have any way to avoid the loss. Still, it was a close game, with BR dropping to 3 life before landing the killing blow. Overall, this pass through Lorwyn-Shadowmoor wasn't as engaging as the last one, which probably benefited from stumbling upon some particularly juicy matchups and well-drawn games. There are definitely some complex interactions going on in some of these games, but a few of these matchups were surprisingly straightforward. It makes me wonder how much of the pizzaz in this set comes down to certain cards or corner cases coming into play, as opposed to its overall design. To the extent that its the former, I can probably port the most interesting elements to a higher-powered cube. That said, this is still an interesting set that consistently produces solid games of Magic.

DraftRex Qualifier (Winners = WR Go Wide)

The first couple drafts were a little disappointing, because the themes I'd worked into this set didn't come together. Instead of Warriors or Persist, I ended up with generic "go wide" and control in WR and Bw, respectively. I wasn't sure even these themes would work out, but the matchup between these decks ended up being the best one I'd played in a while. Disappointingly, Bw had to mulligan twice, but it managed to scrape its way back into the game after a fast start from WR's go wide strategy. Tokens galore were on the board, but then Weed-Pruner Poplar--pretty much the perfect answer to a bunch of 1/1 Spirits and Kithkin Soldiers--came into play. It and Bw's other answers managed to clear the board of tokens, and some lifegain extended the game, but WR eventually got a Lairwatch Giant down, equipped with an Obsidian Battle-Axe. In the end, both decks played out their strategy to a tee in a very satisfying game. Like the first two decks, the third deck didn't hit on any of the expected themes, instead coming out as some sort of complex Core Set UR Disruption deck. It seemed like it would be a mess, but its first game--against the Bw Control deck--was another down-to-the-wire affair that exceeded expectations. It put the pressure on early, but Bw was once again able to stay in the game with some life gain and key removal while also exerting pressure of its own, getting UR down 6 life. It would have been able to win had UR not kept pace and gotten down one too many threats, putting Bw completely on the defensive. Even then, the outcome was unclear, as Bw managed to pull Incremental Blight and bring things even after losing most of its creatures through blocking. Alas, Bw was relying on topdecking, while UR had a handful of additional threats, which eventually won it the game. The last game between the first three decks was the first clunker, wherein the RW Go Wide decks just rolled over the manascrewed UR Disruption deck. The manascrew wasn't that bad; the lands were there, but the hand was full of expensive cards. The deck saw it coming with its initial hand, but I chose not to mulligan. Oh well. The final deck--Monored Elementals--at last brought unique elements of Lorwyn and Shadowmoor to the table, but even here, those elements were unexpected, as noted in the deck description. Its first match against the 0-2 Bw Control deck was mostly a blowout, with it getting Bw down to 1 life while retaining 17 life. Bw managed to cling to another couple turns, using Incremental Blight to clear the board, but after a couple do-nothing land draws, it had to fold to a Puncture Blast. The second game (versus UR Disruption) was no contest, with the Elementals deck steamrolling it 20-0, but it finally ran out of luck in its final match, versus the WR Go Wide deck. As expected it got out ahead early, but WR's Countryside Crusher drew three lands in a row on its first turn out, pumping itself up to a 6/6. There were no answers to it, so the Elementals deck just tried to press its advantage and win the race. When things got desperate, it left a blocker back, but WR's Somnomancer tapped it down and the Countryside Crusher, now a 7/7, finished the game.

Rare Adjustments

I realized I'd lost track of the rares in each color. This adjusts so there's an even count across all five.
Spirit of the Hearth > Swell of CourageTwilight Shepherd > Mosquito GuardAuntie's Snitch > Prickly BoggartFendeep Summoner > Weed-Pruner PoplarBroken Ambitions > Thought Reflection

Scaling Back RG Warriors

I managed to make enough swaps to get Warriors down to the range of the other tribes. In so doing, I ended up shift UR toward straight-up Counterburn, away from the vague "Evasive Aggro" theme it had been before.
Rustrazor Butcher > Boggart ShenanigansHatchet Bully > Burn TrailHeartlash Cinder > Puncture BoltNoggle Ransacker > Inside OutCrag Puca > Banishing KnackBiting Tether > NucklaveeWinnower Patrol > Gilt-Leaf SeerGilt-Leaf Ambush > Lys Alana BowmasterHunting Triad > Drove of ElvesBattlewand Oak > Tilling TreefolkUnstoppable Ash > Bog-Strider Ash

Design Notes #4: Tribal Balance

Synergies aside, I want to make sure each tribe has about the same quantity of support. Most tribes have 4 or 5 cards that care about the tribe and around 20 to 25 cards of its creature type in the set, with allied pairs on the low end of that scale and shards on the high end. There are some exceptions: GOBLINS This tribe has twice as many cards that care about its creature type as any other tribe, but I think that's okay because many of these call for sacrificing a Goblin, so it's inherently degenerative. GIANTS This tribe has only 17 Giants, the fewest of any tribe. However, this seems to have been by design in Lorwyn, as Giants are all expensive cards, and the assumption was probably that you'd pair them up with some cheap creatures to carry you over till you could cast your Giants. I'm not too worried about this one. WARRIORS This tribe is the only one that might be problematic. It's got 34 Warriors, more than any other tribe by far, and that doesn't even count several Warriors outside Red and Green. I'd pare them back, but they're all integral to other tribes. The suite dedicated to Warriors in Red has three key "Warriors matter" cards and a Giant; there's only one card I'd consider swapping out. The parallel suite in Green is all Elves; cutting them would lead to a shortage in that tribe.

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