Live drafting with seven other people while lounging in pajamas is a joy, and I was an elated individual the month after I downloaded Arena. Ecstatic though I was, there was a fair amount of learning that accompanied my revelry: User Interface, new format (Kaldheim), and shaking off the rust of not playing Magic for the past couple of years. So when I fell out of the top 1200 Limited rankings after a rough 0-3 draft on March 30th, I was strangely at peace with it. It was a good first month of Arena and I was looking forward to the next one. With this sense of calm, I decided to draft the easy way the morning of March 31st.
Enter: Immersturm Predator, a bonkers draft card. I rode that Vampire Dragon’s back into the top 1200 where I remained until the season ended later that day, making me eligible for April’s Mythic Qualifier.
Tournament Format: Historic.
Games of Historic played: Zero.
At a different point in my life, this author drove all over Maine playing in PPTQs just for a shot to qualify for the equivalent of a Mythic Qualifier, so I wasn’t about to pass up my chance to spike a tournament and make the Pro Tour… Mythic Championship… Pro League Rival Challenge… I’m not really sure how it works anymore, but I wanted to qualify.
My usual tagline “Let’s Talk Limited” doesn’t apply to this rare article about Constructed, so Let’s Talk Llanowar Elves!
10 Days to go: The Format
Naturally, I did some research before diving in and playing some games. Historic is a format with all Arena-legal cards, so I learned. Jund Mayhem Devil decks have been a mainstay in the format for about a year but the new hotness is Orzhov Auras, which performed well at the Kaldheim Championship. According to the metagame lists on mtg goldfish, there are a wide variety of feasibly competitive decks.
The good news: Historic has a healthy selection of competitive decks.
The bad news: I don’t know how to play them, my opponents do, and I don’t have these cards in my Arena collection so I have no real way to test them. Just like I planned the biggest Magic tournament of my life.
6 Days to go: The Deck
With limited time available to prepare, this well-organized and disciplined individual couldn’t resist drafting and writing about Arena Cube. But AFTER that, I focused in on the Mythic Qualifier and what pile of cards I should pilot.
I’ve played Constructed since returning to Magic in 2016 simply because most tournaments are Constructed. A world with all-limited tournaments and Mythic Championships fills my dreams, but since that’s not the world we live in, this isn’t the first Constructed tournament I’ve played in. With that in mind, here are some of the guidelines I follow for deck selection.
- A linear gameplan with some flexibility
- Potential for dream curve out hands
- Short games.
- *A deck I could craft in Arena.
Mardu Vehicles (Standard): Turn 1 Toolcraft Exemplar/Thraben Inspector, Turn 2 Smuggler’s Copter/Heart of Kiran.
Affinity (Modern): Turn 1 play my entire hand, Turn 2 kill my opponent.
Orzhov Auras met the deck selection criteria but I was hesitant to play a deck that had gained so much popularity in recent weeks because my opponents would be prepared for it, so I ruled that out. There was no way I could play Jund decks as well as more experienced players, and my opponents would likely know my deck better than I did, so that wasn’t an option. If I knew the format well, my natural tendencies would push me far in the opposite direction of my guidelines – Azorius Control – but I had to dismiss that fantasy immediately after it entered my brain.
All things considered, two decks seemed viable: Elves and Gruul Aggro. Both had fast, proactive gameplans that I could learn without playing too many games. Both could get me to 7 wins if I drew well. And truthfully, I was closest to crafting those two decks after a little more than a month of playing on Arena, so that was a consideration as well.
After reading Martin Juza’s Elves deck guide (CFB Pro) and watching him play some games, I was sold on the power level of Turn 1 Llanowar Elf, Turn 2 Elvish Archdruid, Turn 3 Collected Company or some variation thereof. The Hall of Famer’s list included four flexible card slots: Two Elvish Visionary and a pair of Realm Walkers. My big takeway from the article and my initial gameplay was that – and please stay seated for this revelation – there was a high correlation between casting Collected Company on turn three and winning the game, so that was my focus.
Part of what attracted me to this deck was the simple mulligan plan: Keep hands with Llanowar Elves or Jaspera Sentinel, mulligan pretty much everything else. Though I loved the explosive potential of Elves, I found myself taking far too many mulligans in early games. Small sample size though it was, I wanted to mulligan less if at all possible.
Another objection to playing Elves was the fragility of its gameplan. A Shock or BoneCrusher Giant can be the difference between a win and a loss for an Elf mage, and I wasn’t sure how many of those effects I’d see in the tournament. In my ladder games, losing my turn 1 play greatly reduced my chances of playing Collected Company on turn three and I wanted protection against that play pattern.
2 Days to go: The Change
My research into the format was extensive and exhaustive (I searched for Historic legal cards with the word “elf”) while looking to fill the four Elves flex spots.
Two Elvish Visionary and Realm Walkers out, Four Paradise Druid in.
Simplicity was paramount, and here are some simple truths about the playset of Paradise Druid.
- Casts turn 3 CoCo regardless of what your opponent does. It doesn’t matter if your opponent has Bonecrusher Giant, Mire’s Grasp, or Fatal Push, you’re still casting CoCo on turn 3 – that’s all that matters.
- Makes more hands keepable. Before, I was keeping almost any hand with Llanowar Elf or Jaspera Sentinel but shipping everything else. This build makes any hand with Paradise Druid and Collected Company keepable, so I mulliganed less.
3. Produces mana. Elvish Visionary and Realmwalker are great cards but they don’t produce mana, and the elves in this deck aren’t just hungry, they are straight up starving. This list doesn’t run Craterhoof Behemoth – the 12 lords make your creatures enormous anyway – but beyond that you can make your creatures huge with enough mana and an Allosaurus Shepherd or Elvish Warmaster. Jespara Sentinel takes another unit out of combat to produce that mana – Paradise Druid doesn’t.
4. Opens sideboard options. I didn’t add any double-costed cards to my sideboard, just kept the Crippling Fear, but was much more open to putting double-costed cards in my sideboard thanks to the flexibility provided by the Druid.
5. Extra mana pays for Censor in the early turns. This has never actually happened to me in a game but I love the idea.
0 Days to go: Sideboard
Settling on a build gave me two days to play sideboarded games and make a plan. In a professional setting, I’d tell you that sideboarding is a personal area of potential growth, but just between you and me: I suck at it. Sideboard prep was a horrendous flaw in my game when I played paper Magic a few years back. I arrived at tournaments without a real plan. This is an issue for two reasons: 1. I don’t understand Constructed sideboarding well enough to do it on the fly. 2. I don’t react well after bad losses. So not only did I not have a sideboarding plan, but I’d be relying on myself to come up with a plan while I’m mad about the fact that I just lost. Who knows why I didn’t do well in those tournaments? Anyone’s guess, really.
Orzhov Auras is the new kid on the block, so Martin’s Elves guide didn’t have a Sideboard plan for that matchup. I don’t know what level of CFB Pro allows me to call the Hall of Famer directly and ask for his advice, but I’m not currently subscribed at that level so I was on my own for planning against Auras.
Maybe I’m a simpleton, but I figured people would be playing either the best current deck or a deck that’s been great for a while. Jund decks felt like a certainty despite not seeing any on ladder and I just looked at the CFB Historic Power Rankings to get a sense of what others might be playing.
My sideboard plan fell into three broad categories:
- Small creature decks.
Sideboard list: 4 Thoughtseize, 4 Legion’s End, 3 Reclamation Sage, 2 Shapers’ Sanctuary, 2 Crippling Fear
While going through my matchups, I planned to bring in Crippling Fear against Jund but almost nothing else so considered taking it out of the sideboard. Holy Helen of Troy what a mistake that would’ve been. The mini-sweeper was essential to beating Jund twice in the tournament. Shaper’s Sanctuary also came in against almost nothing else but it was fantastic in that matchup.
As someone who struggles with sideboarding, I might just start all of my sideboard plans with a playset of Thoughtseize from now on. Looking through decklists and sideboard guides to determine how players will be planning against me, I considered spells with keywords like “hexproof” and “indestructible” before finally deciding to just take whatever they were planning to cast. Wrath of God? Yoink. Languish? Yoooink. Shadow’s Verdict? Yooooiiiiiiiiiinnnnnk I’ll take that, thank you very much. Thoughtseize came in against anything controlling and you can sign me up for another playset in my next sideboard.
I continued my extensive research while building a sideboard (I searched for all Historic-legal cards that said “exile”) and decided on a playset of Legion’s End. The nonbo against Kaya’s Ghostform was soon made apparent to me, but the games between Elves and Auras are usually so fast that it doesn’t matter a lot of the time. Plus, the longer I play Magic, the more I value perfect information so that aspect of the card was appealing as well.
A playset of Legion’s End seemed correct because the Auras player might just Thoughtseize the first one away. Plus it seemed great against other potential matchups like Rakdos Arcanist, Cycling, or mono-white, so on the morning of the tournament I purchased and opened packs of M20 hoping to get my last Legion’s end and craft two Shaper’s Sanctuary with my remaining wildcards.
I thought about going down to 2 Reclamation Sage. Nope. Wrong. Bringing in all three was often the plan.
The Tournament: Paradise Lost
Oh so close. A sixth win would’ve qualified me for next month’s tournament but I can’t imagine being much happier about a tournament with an unfavorable result. Two of my first three matchups were against Orzhov Auras and I lost both of them. Honestly, this was frustrating. It was one of the only matchups I’d played against multiple times on the ladder, actually felt comfortable playing against, and had a plan for.
Here’s your obvious statement of the day: Losing is hard. Losing in tournaments is especially hard. Historically, it’s not something I handle well. My brain is often fixated on the bad luck from my previous matchup instead of the one I’m currently playing. My expectations for the tournament were low, but I still didn’t want to finish 1-3 and be done. Honestly, I’m thrilled that I pulled it together and strung together four more wins. Previous matchups didn’t creep into my thought process. It was like they never even happened. Continuing to play well after losses is an area I’ve struggled with, but this tournament gives me hope that I’m getting better.
Two Days Removed: The Review
My plan and deck might’ve been better than I was on Saturday. I played… fine. Just fine. Not close to perfect, not horrendously. Just fine. I made a couple of mistakes – not judgment calls, just flat out didn’t-take-my-time mistakes. A better Historic player might’ve found a way to get win number 6 or 7, but I wasn’t that player on Saturday.
Given that this is first tournament of its kind I’ve ever played in, my level of calm was surprising. Playing in my own home relieved a huge amount of the stress I usually feel during Magic tournaments. That being said, I didn’t play tight, focused Magic. Future Schaab needs to figure out how to play tight while feeling loose, a balance I’ve yet to find. My minimal preparation was itself strategic, as trying to cram Historic would’ve led to me putting more unnecessary pressure on myself – then I undoubtedly play worse.
Three losses: Two to Orzhov Auras , one to UB control.
Five wins: Jund Company, Jund Food, Elves, GW Company, UB Rogues.
Jaspera Sentinel was a major disappointment against any deck with interaction. It can’t cast a three-drop on turn two and is only effective on turn two if you have a 2-drop plus another 1-drop. The Kaldheim 1-drop makes more hands keepable, can help cast CoCo on turn 3, and its reach ability is often relevant against Angels or Auras, but the difference between a turn 1 Llanowar Elf and a turn 1 Jaspera Sentinel is enormous.
I’m curious about how this build of Elves would perform in the hands of a competent Historic player who knows how to sideboard. Zero Realmwalkers between the maindeck and sideboard probably isn’t correct, but I’ll leave that up to smarter individuals than myself to figure out. Strategically, I’m very happy with my deck choice for the tournament and how it performed. Elves will definitely be on my radar if I have to sleeve up Historic Constructed again.
Most importantly, Saturday was fun! Wow I’ve missed meaningful, competitive Magic. The fact that I can play against the world’s best from right here at home is incredible. Hopefully I’m a little closer to my own best next time. When it comes to pace of play, I emulate Luis when I should channel my inner Nassif. In my next tournament, I’m going to pretend Yellowhat is right behind me saying “but are you sure?” before I take a game action. No, imaginary Gabe! I’m not sure! Let me think about it some more!
My first Mythic Qualifier was a Saturday of sideboard guides, sacrifice decks, and celebratory fist pumps when applicable. The wide variety of Historic decks made it a more enjoyable Constructed format than some I’ve played in the past where the games felt scripted from the start. I’ll still be living in the Draft queues, but won’t be disappointed if I have another reason to play Historic. By that time, hopefully I’ll have a better grasp of the format and its nuances, which will make planning and sideboarding much easier. If not, I’ll have to subscribe to whatever tier of CFB Pro gives me a direct line to the Hall of Famers. “Martin! You up? It’s me again. I have some more sideboard questions!”
-Schaab, Draft Enthusiast, Historic Elves Amateur
Arena Username: LetsTalkLimited#43503
Writing about draft is a hobby of mine that started last summer while I was preparing for the 2020 Eternal Draft Championship. If you’re not familiar with it, Eternal is fantastic game with an even better community. The draft format is excellent and I’ll be publishing an article in the near future telling you, Magic player, why you should check out Eternal. I’m not affiliated with Eternal or its parent company in any way.
You can find all of my work at LetsTalkLimited.com. This is my third Magic-specific article but I’m sure there will be more in the future and many of the articles I’ve written about drafting and gameplay are applicable to both Magic and Eternal.
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