“We Play Too” is for the most part going to take you through my adventures as a player, but I’m also going to sprinkle in some sidebars or sometimes even full reports from other Judges who play. Today will be such a day. Greg Schwartz, a fine L2 Judge from Massachusettes and reasonably good Limited player (current rating 1846), was also drafting at his local FNM Alara Reborn Launch Party Event, so I’ll intersperse some of his report with mine. We had somewhat similar experiences.
FNM Alara Reborn Launch Party Event, Armada Games Tampa 5/1/09
I’ll admit that my draft skills are well below my constructed skills, so going into this draft, like others, I approached it with a bit of apprehension. There are two main reasons I consider myself mediocre; the first is obvious, the second seems like a snake eating its own tail. First of all, I don’t do a great deal of it. Drafting is something you need to do regularly in order to get really good at is, since it’s different every time. Second, I don’t like drafting at a table with players that have wildly disparate skills, since I’m don’t think I’m good enough to overcome a good player sitting next to a weak drafter. Of course, the only way to get better is to do more of it.
That said, I went in with a plan. I chatted with L3 judge Jason Lemahieu, who I know is pretty good, about a strategy going in. In ACR, he’s a big fan of Jund and especially the underrated Suicidal Charge. I also talked to fellow L5 Toby Elliott, whose strategy in AAC drafts has been “start with RG and go from there.” Both of them have been moderately successful, so I heed their advice. I go in specifically on the lookout for Branching Bolt, Suicidal Charge, Dark Temper, and Wretched Banquet, but I’m not so married to Jund that I’ll ignore something bomby in other colors.
Once I show up at the shop, it’s the normal hanging about and talking, mostly about the new cards, with the gang. We end up with 22, so there are pods of 8-8-6. I’m in one of the 8-player pods, seated between Aaron (to my right), who is one of the owners of the shop, and who’s been playing for quite a while, and Donald, one of the shop’s regular players, who’s pretty decent. At our table is also Lee, who is one of the hardcore supporters of the shop (both with Magic and Warhammer; I swear he shows up for every Magic draft they run), and Dean who has a rating in the mid-1800s.
Before we start, Michael, one of the owners who is working his way toward L1 certification and running tonight’s event, makes the normal announcements about upcoming events and whatnot. He then asks players to engage in less talk, especially about the packs, as we’re drafting. Apparently, the table talk has started getting out of hand, and he’s making an effort to reign it back in. He adds a reminder to zone draft so that things don’t get confused.
This didn’t seem to be all that significant, until I got a similar report from Greg. From his judge’s announcements:
“and he then makes the official announcements reminding people that this is a sanctioned draft, so please remember to avoid talking about the cards, don’t look at your picks except during the review periods, and use the ‘zone’ drafting method to avoid problems.”
FNM is designed to be a more casual environment, for sure, but folks are still there to play for prizes, so we want to avoid excessive talk, especially about what you’re drafting. I hope you can help keep your local FNM drafts from getting out of control while not losing out on the fun aspect.
On to the draft.
I open Infest in the first pack. There’s nothing in there that convinces me to get off my plan, and the only thing that otherwise tempts me is a green fatty, although it wasn’t anything awesome. Packs two and three are just really, really weak, and I start thinking about abandoning the plan. I get back on course with a Cavern Thoctar and a Jund Battlemage, but I start to see some decent blue stuff going by still and wonder if a shift into Grixis is the right choice. In the second pack, I get Dark Temper, Wretched Banquet, and Armillary Sphere, but I’m having this nagging feeling that this draft is happening to me instead of the other way around, especially since I’m devoid of mana-fixing save for the Sphere. I do–as Lemz predicted–pick up a late Suicidal Charge. Still, I’m not particularly happy with what I have. The third pack I take some bodies early because I realize what I have so far is very weak, and then I get gifts on packs 5-8 of Jund Sojourners, Sangrite Backlash, Sangrite Backlash, Jund Sojourners. I’m feeling like I got wildly lucky there.
I walk away with the sense that I definitely need to be the aggressor, and I need to win before bombs start showing up. I have little to no artifact removal (unless I splash white for Qasali Pridemage). I also realize after the fact that the shift into Grixis definitely would have been right. My 20/20 hindsight shows me that I got cut off from green by Aaron on my right, but I was too stubborn to move out of it. I’ll come to find out later that Donald was in the same colors as I was, and felt as though I was passing him good enough stuff to stay in those colors.
Greg seemed happier with his draft:
“My first pack has some tough choices, but I select a Crumbling Necropolis, choosing to draft reactively, trusting that Roberto is going to send strong enough signals. Three picks later I have Arcane Sanctum and two Oblivion Rings, and I’m well on my way to building a solid five color control deck with excellent removal and solid threats, but no real game winning bombs.”
Here’s what I ended up playing:
And what I didn’t play:
I probably should have played the Savage for his Protection from Artifacts, but I figured I’d put him in if I really needed him. Without any Trample or any real evasion guys, Sangrite Surge seems like a savage but poor combat trick since it’s a Sorcery. Demonic Dread seems like a questionable choice, but with so many good things at 2 mana, and once again knowing that I’d have to be the beatdown in order to win, I figured it to be a good addition.
ROUND 1: Eric, Naya
Eric has been playing for quite a while, but says this is his first draft. Seems like it might be. In Game 1, Wretched Banquet shows its value when it kills his Grizzled Leotau, a creature I’ll have a tough time getting around. Third turn Deathraiders gets in for a few, and fifth turn Gorger Wurm goes all the way when Sangrite Backlash kills his Angel’s Herald.
Game 2, I keep a 2 land hand on the draw, and it hurts when I don’t come into anything and he drops Leotau again. I’m in the game for a bit as Sangrite Backlash kills Knotvine Mystic and Demonic Dread gets the Leotau, but he gets Asha’s Favor up on something and I don’t get any removal.
Game 3 is the kind that frustrates me as a player, but it’s one of those that you have to live with when you play regularly, because they’ll happen.
He plays Scattershot Archer, which doesn’t really hurt me since I have no flyers–so I hold back the Wretched Banquet. My patience is rewarded with getting to kill the Leotau for a third time. I still know I’m playing a time game, since I know he has some fatties. His Gorger Wurm devours the Archer, but I kill it with Dark Temper. We trade a few things back and forth, but while we’re doing it, I draw 6 lands in a row. My Singe-Mind gets some damage on him when it hits Asha’s Favor, but I know that means trouble for me since I’ve expended most of my removal already keeping in check during the land flood. He subsequently plays the Favor on his Sigil Captain. Then comes a significant moment.
He has one card in hand, and I play another Singe-Mind Ogre. He shows Jungle Weaver, and then says “I guess I take 7” unless I can cycle this.” I let him cycle the Jungle Weaver. There’s certainly an argument for not letting him cycle it, since he’d already revealed it (implicitly resolving the Ogre’s triggered ability), but this being FNM and despite him saying he’s been playing a while, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know better, I couldn’t bring myself to stick it to him like that. The card he draws is Bone Saw.
He starts beating me with his now-Favored and Sawed Sigil Captain for 4 at a time. I whittle him down with a few Battlemage drains, but this is a losing proposition. I finally get in 10, taking him to 4, with my Thoctar and Singe-Mind when he choses to not block. He swings again, taking me down to 1, then drops Hissing Iguanar, which completely sucks. This means I’m facing the Favored Captain, Naya Hushblade , and Iguanar, with Cavern Thoctar, Singe-Mind, and Battlemage. Even top-decking Jund Sojourners doesn’t help. I cycle it to kill the Iguanar, but get no further help. I’m dead, so I swing with the Thoctar and Singe-Mind to see if he’ll let the Singe-Mind through so I can then drain him for 1 with the Battlemage, but he doesn’t.
Greg has fared slightly better than I have:
“Round one begins, and I find myself facing Zack, one of our younger talented players. The match is fairly intense, with game one running for more then half of the fifty minute clock. Despite an important misplay from my opponent, where he unearths a creature and then kills my blocker with Intimidation Bolt, not realizing he won’t be able to attack, I end up on the losing side. Game two goes my way, and game three remains unfinished at the end of the five extra turns. I glance wistfully at my now cold dinner as the pairings for round two go up.”
Round 2, Aaron, 4 color
I keep a hand with no Red mana sources, but I have the Sphere, so I figure I’m okay. His early drop is a Naya Hushblade, mine Goblin Deathraiders. We trade some hits, and I play the Singe-Mind Ogre, getting an Island. At this point, I still believe in the Ogre; my faith will be shaken during this match. Next turn I swing with both, and he consents to trade his Hushblade for my Deathraiders and then bolts my Ogre. The board is clear when he plays Exploding Borders for 4. I play Deadshot Minotaur with nothing in play just to have a body (I thought you couldn’t play spells without a target? – LSV). He follows with Wall of Denial and I come back with Gorger Wurm. He plays Nulltread Gargadon, putting back the Wall, and I play Cavern Thoctar. I’m feeling OK about the situation until he drops Behemoth Sledge and I lose (that’s pretty much how Armadillo Hammer works- LSV).
In game 2, I keep a 6 land hand and come out with Deathraiders on turn 2. I then realize that none of these lands is green, which will haunt me. His next play is the groan-worthy Valeron Outlander, since I have about 2 things in the whole deck than can deal with it. I draw no creature, he plays Steward of Valeron, which I Backlash. He plays Exploding Borders and my comeback is Canyon Minotaur. He plays Gloryscale Viashino which looks very, very bad for me. I now have Gorger Wurm and Cavern Thoctar in hand with no way to play them. He then makes a mistake that lets me back in the game.
He swings with the Gloryscale, and then does nothing. There’s a long pause, so I look at him to make sure he doesn’t want to do anything else. I wait another long moment, then shrug and block with the Deathraiders. He says that he’ll Branching Bolt the Deathraiders before he blocks. I suggest that he’s waited too long. The Judge, Michael, who was sitting watching us play, confirms this. Michael explains his implicit pass of priority, and Aaron says that he assumed I was going to do something before blocking, so he’d have a window to use the Bolt, and after some explaining understands that successive priority passes move you right to the next Step. He asks if he can take back the Bolt, and Michael consents, because of the confusion of what step we were in, so we end up trading creatures–a huge win for me.
We trade a few more creatures and I eventually get the green I need by cracking the Sphere. My Cavern Thoctar comes online after his Woolly. I get the Jund Battlemage and start making tokens to block with, but I know that it’s only a matter of time before he gets the Sledge and I’m cooked. His creature draws slow down. My removal starts coming, and when he lets me in for 9, it’s effectively over. I get the Suicidal Charge out and remove his last threat, and we’re going to game 3.
In game 3, I mulligan all the way to five after 0 land and 1 land hands. I still drop the first creature, Deathraiders, but his Wall of Denial halts the idea of getting through any damage for a bit. My only play is to drop the Sphere, and he plays Naya Hushblade. Singe Mind-Ogre sees another Island. He plays a Borderpost and I do nothing. After I crack the Sphere, he plays Gloryscale Viashino, which promptly eats Dark Temper. When I swing with the Ogre, he trades the Hushblade for it. My second Ogre gets–another Island. I had even waited to play that Ogre until I saw him drop that Island, but he obviously had another. He plays Guardians of Akrasa, and I have nothing. When he follows with nothing as well, I draw Jund Battlemage. He plays Aven Squire, and it looks bad for me (I can just feel the Sledge looming), but I topdeck Deadshot Minotaur, killing the flyer. A few turns pass with him not doing much, giving me time to recoup and build up some tokens off the Battlemage. The math is now on my side, so I start swinging. When he doesn’t have any answers, a swarm of tokens takes him down.
Meanwhile, Greg has had similar luck:
“Round two I’m facing another tough competitor. Joe is a PTQ regular who has put together a ferocious Esper deck sporting solid removal and a formidable force of artifact fliers including Sharding Sphinx. Game one goes to me despite the Sphinx because I cycle and use Frontline Sage to dig for one of my two outs, and I’m lucky enough to hit Zealous Persecution, which not only kills his token fliers, but enables me to hit for exactly lethal. I side out a Zombie Outlander for some discard, which serves me well enough to win game two when combined with countering his Sanctum Gargoyle. I’m fairly certain his deck is better than mine. It has great synergy, aggression, and a very stable mana base. Feeling fortunate, I take the time to do some damage to my now-ice cold dinner before the next round.”
Looks like we both may have escaped with one.
Round 3, Donald, Jund with a splash of white
Before we start, I ask Donald if he took any of that blue that kept going by (and that he actually didn’t have to answer me until we finished). He said he hadn’t, and that he had drafted Jund. I thought it interesting and vowed to talk to him after the match about it.
In Game 1, the deck did what I thought it was supposed to, slightly aided by his slow start. I’m on the play:
Turn 2: Goblin Deathraiders; him nothing
Turn 3: Swing with Deathraiders (17), play Jund Sojourners; him nothing.
Turn 4: Play Ogre, revealing Colossal Might, swing with both guys (9); he plays a guy.
Turn 5: Sangrite Backlash kills his guy, swing for 9. Shuffle.
Obviously things are very different in this game if he plays a turn 2 and/or 3 dude, but this was what envisioned when I was building.
Game 2 goes a bit longer. I get an early Goblin Outlander and then Banquet his Sacellum Archers. He plays Wild Leotau, which dwarfs the Dregscape Zombie I play. He doesn’t drop anything on turn 5. I play an Ogre, which has finally started to show its value, revealing his Mosstodon. He can’t play the Mosstodon next turn due to the upkeep of the Leotau, but he Banquets my Outlander. On my turn, I decide to play Demonic Dread to Cascade into a creature but get Sangrite Backlash. I obviously choose to not play it, but I play the Putrid Leech I drew this turn. I swing to take him to 10. When he doesn’t do anything on his turn, I swing the team in, and pay the 2 life when he blocks the Leech with the Leotau. I drop Cavern Thoctar, and this one’s over.
2-1, 4th in the pod.
Greg has had similar success:
“Round three parings go up, and I’m playing Roberto, the only remaining 2-0 in our pod, giving me an opportunity to get first place. Despite having a deck that was very well tuned to give mine trouble, he fails to draw some key spells to get ahead of me. I draw both Oblivion Rings both games, to scratch out a final match win, putting me in first place in my pool. ”
Since our match didn’t take too much time, I ask Donald to talk about the draft a little. I especially interested since we ended up drafting the same shard (although he splashed a little white into it as well). His first pick was Broodmate Dragon, and he committed himself to those colors. He said after that, he “just drafted what I got.” His second pick in the Shards pack was Rockslide Elemental. He picked the Archers first in the Conflux pack and then Wild Leotau. In the Reborn pack, he confessed to having picked Meddling Mage “to pay for the draft.” Fair enough. I asked him if he evern considered going into blue, and he basically said the same thing that I was feeling: by the time he realized that he could have it, he was too committed to his other colors. I’m sure there’s quite a bit of reading to do from great drafters on when it’s not too late to switch.
The one card choice that we got into a discussion over was Colossal Might vs. Sangrite Backlash (since I passed him the former to take the latter). He liked Might; I liked Backlash. His argument is that Colossal Might can do two different things (deliver extra tramply beatings or kill a creature as a combat trick) and Backlash really has only one purpose. My argument is that Sangrite Backlash kills most of the format’s creatures, and I’d be using it to clear the path for my guys. I’d certainly be interested in hearing opinions.
Despite the 2-1, I don’t feel particularly confident about the draft. Even beating both of the people sitting next to me was small solace. I felt like I didn’t control my own fate as much as I could have. I guess it just means that I’ll have to get more practice drafting.
Thanks to Greg for his input. I’ll see you next time on “We Play Too.”