by Randy Buehler
"Ah ... Dallas." 312 players descended upon Dallas for the first major North American tournament where they can compete using the new Invasion card set. Grand Prix Dallas will have seven round of Invasion sealed deck on day 1, followed by a cut to 64 and then 6 rounds of Invasion Rochester draft on day 2. The new set has generated a lot of buzz and excitement with Gary Wise calling it "the best draft set ever."
Most of the top North American players are here, including some faces that haven't been seen for quite a while. Pro Tour Mainz champion Matt Place is here. DK LA's own Truc Bui is here. Jon Finkel, however, is not here. And Zvi Mowshowitz decided to go to Helsinki instead of Dallas because he thought the competition would be easier there. The competitors to watch in the early rounds, though, have got to be the Rudd brothers. 12-year old Sky Rudd has been playing Magic for two years and about a year ago he taught his younger brother how to play. Eight-year-old Dakota Rudd will also be playing his first Grand Prix today.
The multi-colored themes in Invasion create an environment that is very different from previous sets. Where sealed used to be almost formulaic - pick your best two colors and then splash 2-3 cards from a third color - it's now quite interesting and complicated. Four and five color decks used to be a "tell" that indicates inexperience, but now they are normal, acceptable, and oftentimes the correct strategy.
Rochester draft strategy is also radically new and different. The top players used to pick two colors that their neighbors aren't drafting and then make quasi-political deals to cooperate with their neighbors, knowing that helping each other out would probably give them better decks than the guys on the other side of the table who were drafting each others cards and colors. However, in a format that heavily encourages 3-color daft decks and supports 5-color decks (if you are green), the rules are different. Now it's really hard to find colors that your neighbors don't also want and the unspoken agreements are things like "I'll take the blue/black cards and you take the blue/white ones and we'll fight over anything that just plain old-fashioned blue." Walking around on Friday while everyone was practicing in the hotel lobby I heard the format described as "bloody" and "a war." It still doesn't make sense to counter-draft, but it's so much easier to splash an extra color that drafting the bomb your neighbor wanted isn't usually counter-drafting anymore.
Many of the Pro Tour regulars seem to think that red, black, and blue are "the only colors." However, I think this is actually just a reaction against all the players out there who have been forcing 5-color green strategies. For example, Bram Snepvangers took a first pick Harrow at table 1 during Grand Prix Manchester from a pack that had plenty of other good cards in it. He went 0-3. 5-color green just isn't worth it if you have to spend your first picks on mana-fixers. However, when the Harrows slide to you 5th pick, or 7th, then you can spend your early picks on the best cards available and put together quite a good deck.
I played a practice draft on Friday where everyone around me forced black/blue or black/red so I started out blue/white. There was only one green mage and he was on the other side of the table so when the green Djinn came by 5th, I grabbed it and went blue/white/green. Then when I opened a Dragon late in the draft, my green mana fixers meant I could draft it even though I wasn't playing all of its colors. Drafting anything with "comma the" in the title is an excellent strategy! I went on to win that draft (despite never playing out my dragon) and the really interesting thing to me was that I played the other blue/white/green mage in the finals.
I don't thing anyone is truly confident that they have Invasion figured out in any format and that should make this quite a fun weekend.