This last weekend, I was invited to the Madison area Draftapalooza, a regular event some Wisconsinites put on to help Pro players in the area test the new Limited format. With Pro Tour San Diego looming, I jumped at the opportunity.
I’ve been a member of a variety of different draft groups, but this one was the largest and most effective at packing a lot of learning into a short time. This article is an account of my weekend and what I picked up about the new draft format.
The night before the Draftapalooza I tried (unsuccessfully) to Lorwyn draft myself to sleep. Finally, I passed out around six in the morning, waking to my alarm at seven. I went through my usual pre-event routine, showering and packing. Lastly, I grabbed my wrist braces.
Cue tangent. I get a lot of questions about my carpal tunnel braces, but the story is as mundane as you’d expect. I have wrist problems that go back to being a metal drummer in high school. Currently, it’s exacerbated by constant writing and shuffling. I don’t wear the braces all the time, only when my wrists hurt, and sometimes not even then because I’ve grown to hate the questions. When I am wearing the braces, you don’t have to be worried about shaking my hand firmly, you cannot hurt me. The braces hold a metal strip against my wrist which keeps it from moving, which in turn protects the nerves in my wrist. It’s kinda like a cast for a broken bone. /end tangent.
My ride was right on time. The car was Reed Hartman, Lance Behrens, and myself, all Chicago area types that’ve been testing together for the Pro Tour. Like most of my play group, they’re quick to laugh and have thick skin, which is necessary to thrive in an environment of trolls. Unlike me, they have typical jobs, and it means a lot more that they were willing to get up this early on a Saturday morning.
Lance began the trip with a speeding ticket, which is never a good way to start a weekend. It didn’t help that the cop was brisk and sarcastic. Just like in Magic, if you’re crushing someone in real life you should do your best to be classy about it.
I caught a few minutes of sleep in the back seat and when I woke we were there. Ben Rasmussen greeted us at the door. Ben’s the type of guy that would durdle forever if he could, the kind that fantasizes about playing [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card] in every format. He was a great host.
I knew Madisonites liked to draft, but I was impressed by the number of competent players that showed up. I didn’t know some of the college students and draft groups, but there were also the remnants of our ill-fated PT Seattle team, some fellow grinders in Jackie Lee and Sam Black, and some old-timers in Adrian Sullivan, Brian Kowel, and Matt Severa.
Sam and Ben took control of organization, getting people seated and drafting as fast as possible. Ben wanted to keep the drafts flowing and the pods mixed. Sam’s motivation seemed to be to get in as many drafts as possible. He’d already done over ten, and the weekend was a continuation of his data mining, an opportunity he was not going to squander.
I’d only drafted DGR twice, but I knew that I wanted to prioritize decks with powerful gold cards and a straightforward game plan. The first draft went reasonably well, and I had a powerful Bant deck stuffed full of gold cards like [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] and [card]Skymark Roc[/card]. My mana was decent with a few guildgates, Cluestones, and random green fixers.
I ended up establishing winning board positions in all three of my matches, but lost two of them anyway. Against Sam I made an ill-informed attack, losing on the spot to a [card]Shadow Slice[/card]. Against Lance, he managed to chain [card]Deadbridge Chant[/card] into a free creature that gave him exactly enough life to [card]Grisly Salvage[/card] in my attack step, double extorting to survive another turn. On his upkeep, he had about a fifteen-card graveyard with [card]Debt to the Deathless[/card] as his only hit.
Naturally, he hit his one-outer, conquering all odds and a bad matchup with one giant drain life. After jumping out of my chair, exclaiming indignantly, and gesticulating with shock, I realized my only line left was to throw his graveyard into the wall, which I did. Once Lance finished laughing, I retrieved it. I realize picking his cards up was a low EV play, but if someone threw my deck I’d want them to pick it up. It’s called sportsmanship.
As I played against [card]Deadbridge Chant[/card] over the weekend, I realized that I’ve been misevaluating the card. Some have compared it to a six-mana [card]Phyrexian Arena[/card], but it’s more than that. Every time you return a land, that land stays in play. When you return a removal spell or trick, that card goes right back into the graveyard to potentially be returned later. As the game progresses, your density of removal increases, and you achieve a real inevitability. The effect essentially turns your spells into Zeniths.
I caught Sam’s ear regarding Deadbridge, and he mentioned that it’d be a better card if it only milled five. He’s right, as it’d start rebuying spells sooner. This is probably what R&D was trying to avoid, since the lock becomes more immediate and less fun that way.
My second draft had a rocky start. I cut red, but couldn’t find a strong guild, finally settling into slow Gruul. I did scrape up some redemption in a pair of [card]Cinder Elemental[/card]s in pack two, which carried me to 2-1 by themselves. Whenever a draft is going poorly, I look for ways to steal wins against better decks, and wonky fireballs are a perfect “I win” card against decks that take too long to end the game. Similarly, [card]Alive // Well[/card] slows the game against those who try to win too fast.
Despite my lack of sleep, I was starting to catch the fire, and my third deck was a powerful Esper concoction with [card]Far // Away[/card], [card]Angel of Serenity[/card], and plenty of other quality removal, threats, and bombs. Remembering Lance’s win against me, as well as my luck with [card]Cinder Elemental[/card]s, I valued [card]Debt to the Deathless[/card] highly and ended up with two of them. I drew the card almost every game, and it won every time.
My fourth and final draft involved another grindy deck with large creatures and [card]Debt to the Deathless[/card], and Debt continued to overperform. At this point, I started considering the card for Constructed potential. After all, for nine mana you drain for 10, and the flexibility to go higher or lower than that is relevant. When your opponent is gaining life off of [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], you’re nuking them for double that. If you factor in powerful ramp spells like [card]Crypt Ghast[/card], it seems reasonable.
Junk Fireball[deck]Main Deck:
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Woodland Cemetery
4 Temple Garden
4 Godless Shrine
2 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Crypt Ghast
3 Sign in Blood
1 Devour Flesh
2 Liliana of the Veil
2 Chromatic Lantern
2 Victim of Night
3 Debt to the Deathless
This is yet another version of Conley’s deck from PT Montreal. On top of playing a [card]Griselbrand[/card], it can also fire off a giant [card]Debt to the Deathless[/card]. The control cards slow down the game, making time to hit land drops, and the [card]Farseek[/card]s increase the effectiveness of [card]Crypt Ghast[/card] and [card]Mutilate[/card].
The idea is fresh, and I haven’t played a single game with the deck, but I think it has potential. I like how drawing into Debt with an active [card]Griselbrand[/card] lets you nuke the opponent and keep drawing, which makes me think both cards could fit into a more dedicated ramp deck.
That night Sam offered his place to crash, and it was roomy with plenty of couch space. I smiled when I saw the giant land station in the dining room. Madisonites sure love to draft!
I was tired during the first draft, and couldn’t figure out what was open. My deck ended up underpowered, and I 1-2’d, just like I started the first day.
Part of the problem was that my deck relied on Cluestones for fixing. While they work fine in some decks, they’re often worse than an 18th land. Not only are you not developing your board position on turn three, but you can also die after keeping a two-land Cluestone hand and not hitting.
The best fixing in the format comes from the Guildgates and random duals you might pick up. When you spend your first few picks developing your mana base, it allows you to run a tighter curve with more early drops, and aggro becomes more of an option. I’ve heard some people calling the format slower than RTR, but Sam Black showed me over and over again that that wasn’t the case.
At this point, we were all picking Guildgates highly, which meant the powerful cards went later and being three colors was less necessary. This gave two-color decks a chance to shine.
I spent some time birding, too. As the games wound down, our talk went from discussing plays to joking and tomfoolery. I heard a ringing in my ears, and I paused mid-laugh. It started soft but escalated into a crescendo that smashed about my head. I left the conversation and walked towards a couch that was out of the way.
The first time I got Tinnitus was fairly recently. I’d been binging on caffeine, and it hit me in a wave of dizziness and ringing that put me out of it for almost a full day. After some research, I found that ringing in the ears is a fairly common condition for a lot of people, though the reasons for it and triggers vary. For example, not everyone’s Tinnitus is exacerbated by caffeine, but I figured since I was binging at the time I should quit for a while, which I did.
Every now and then I heard ringing, but it was faint and didn’t make me dizzy. Come Draftapalooza weekend, I didn’t have enough sleep, and started supplementing it with soda. One or two didn’t hurt, but eventually it triggered an episode.
I’m grateful for everyone in that house. They let me lie down, didn’t pressure me to draft (though I was the 8th!) and aside from offering me water left me alone. I considered asking for NyQuil, as passing out is a fine way of avoiding a dizzy spell, but in the end I was tired enough to take a nap naturally.
When people came up to build, I found I could sit up without the room spinning, and they humored my advice. One deck was splashing for multiple edicts, a bad idea because by the time you find your splash color the opponent will have irrelevant creatures to sacrifice. In this list, there were also multiple [card]Arrest[/card]’s, making it even worse.
Another deck was playing multiple of the 2/4 cycle with only three Guildgates, which is awkward. For starters, even with five or six Guildgates the 2/4s can brick. This would be fine if a 2/4 body was something you wanted to be doing in this format, but in general the creatures are too fat for it to be relevant.
With the complex mana bases and a myriad of archetypes available, DGR is skill-intensive. Sometimes it’s almost too tricky, and a mistake when drafting your mana base can lead to a miserable play experience. Still, I had a lot of fun all weekend, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so in the coming weeks.
The Team Sealed Open in NJ also went down last weekend. To no one’s surprise, the finals were five people qualified for the PT and Huey Jensen. I had the pleasure of playing Huey in PT Seattle, and he was a gracious opponent. I think it’s a shame he won’t be at Dragon’s Maze, and hope that he gets into the Hall of Fame next time.
Oh, and congrats to CFB’s own Owen Turtenwald, of course. You can find his early thoughts on the format here.
A Few Words on Developing a Draft Group
Getting good at Limited is a necessary skill for anyone who wants to do well on the Pro Tour, and it isn’t easy. For a Grand Prix, players have a good chunk of time to learn as the format develops, and playing through a qualifying season is a great way to improve in general. PT prep is different, and requires a group of people willing to put in time before the set has even been released.
Developing a good draft group can happen naturally, or it can take work. Usually, you’ll have to start with a few dedicated grinders and scrounge up some less serious types to fill the ranks. Team drafts can help such players improve dramatically in a short period of time. They are questioned on what they passed, what colors they think their neighbors are in, and when they picked up specific cards, all of which improves draft awareness. They see firsthand how to make a good mana base, and they have help with building.
When coaching, remember to make suggestions as noncombative as possible while getting your point across. Sometimes we need to make our own mistakes. At the worst, a player will be verifying something you already know, but that’s not the end of the world.
If you’re dedicated but don’t know anyone, start looking for money drafts at events. Strong players like to money draft because it’s both practice and a source of income. You’ll be essentially paying for lessons, but you’ll be networking too.
In the end, drafting is fun, and passion is infectious. If getting a good draft together is your goal, make it happen.