It almost goes without saying that the teams in the Masters Tournament are made up of stellar performers. Car Acrobatic Team (Forsythe, Cuneo, Johnson) is no stranger to successful team draft strategy. They owe their Masters invitation to their Team Pro-Tour New York 2nd Place performance. Car Acrobatic Team and Potato Nation used the same team draft strategy and met in the finals of that event. Each of the teammates had pre-selected a color combination for their players, and they expected a strong performance at this event. Their opponents in the first round of the Masters are no slouches, however.
Team Your Move Games (Kastle, Humpherys, Dougherty) is the number one ranked team in the world. They practiced 2-3 drafts a week for the last month, and feel very prepared for the format. Their strategy for the draft was very simple, they've selected three colors for each of their players, and they plan to be able to draft all of the powerful gold cards that come to them.
"We thought it was bizarre when Black Ops drafted three-color decks back in the last Team Challenge," said Darwin Kastle. "They went on to win the whole thing, and they did it by cutting off the removal. We're going to do the same."
Team Your Move Games won the coin flip and elected to start drafting first, hoping to set the color choices early. From the first set of packs, each of the players kept up their plan.
A - Dougherty - Green/Red (splashing Black or White, depending on Humpherys)
B - Humpherys - White/Blue/Black (leaning towards White or Black)
C - Kastle - Black/Red/Blue (leaning towards Black/Red)
A - Johnson - Green/White (expecting to splash Red, but splashing up to Five-Color-Green)
B - Cuneo - Black/Blue (splash White)
C - Forsythe - Red/Black
After taking a moment to reflect, it is obvious that both teams are playing near-mirror strategies. Dougherty/Johnson planned on playing flexible Green decks, moving to colors that came to them in the draft from their neighbors. Humpherys/Cuneo both were expecting to be leaning towards Black/Blue/White, with a small variance on where they would lean. Forsythe/Kastle both started with the same Black/Red base, but Forsythe stuck to a lean, mean strategy, whereas Kastle would stretch into Blue for other powerful cards.
"I'm specifically afraid that the 'C' Seat will play Green/White," mentioned Darwin before the draft. "If they do that, they're going to cause us some big problems. Green/White will already be good against me (Black/Blue/Red), and it will push Humpherys farther out of colors into a worse deck."
This wasn't going to be Car Acrobatic Team's plan at all. "We're going to stick to our guns," said US National Team Member Aaron Forsythe. "We've spent a lot of time figuring out how to cover all the colors we want, and I don't think anything will keep us away from our plan."
Both teams stuck to their guns quite well.
A - Dougherty - Green/White (splash Red/Black)
B - Humpherys - Blue/Black (splash White)
C - Kastle - Black/Red/Blue
A - Johnson - Green/White/Red
B - Cuneo - Black/Blue/White
C - Forsythe - Red/Black
Communication on both teams was excellent. It appeared that there wasn't a particular person that was directly responsible for the choices of the drafts, but rather that each team member was trusted to help make decisions with the rest of the team. Consensus appeared to be the rule. For many teams, this kind of strategy could be a recipe for disaster, but in a well-practiced, talent heavy team, perhaps this technique is appropriate.
The two teams draft strategies neatly avoided competition for cards. No neighbors were playing the same colors. In the early packs, Kastle picked up a Void and numerous solid creatures, while his opponent Forsythe picked small creatures before being handed a Blazing Specter by teammate Cuneo. Cuneo, meanwhile, had grabbed more than a few Stormscape Apprentices, and appeared to be mostly taking solid, cheap creatures. His opponent, Humpherys had managed to get a Tsabo's Decree and several slow control cards like Hypnotic Cloud. Dougherty started into a solid set of Red/Green creatures, with numerous Sunscape Apprentices (quite useful for their +1/+1 ability) rounding out his first set of packs. Johnson's deck, however, looked like scripted White/Green/Red, featuring cheap and efficient creatures, Fires of Yavimaya, and Armadillo Cloak.
In one key moment in the first set of packs, Cuneo opened a solid pack, and as the cards came towards Johnson at the wheel, all of Team Your Move Games went with powerful and versatile spells (Thornscape Apprentice, Soul Burn, and Cinder Shade), leaving for Johnson quite the exciting wheel. Johnson quickly snapped up an Explosive Growth and a Yavimaya Barbarian for his already quick deck, and seemed pleased by the gift. With little left in the pack, Your Move Games picked up a few other cards to round out there decks, but clearly Johnson had the best set of cards for his deck from the pack, even better than Forsythe's Blazing Specter from the same pack.
The second set of packs solidified each of the players' strategies. Dougherty picked up a few minor cards for his deck, but mostly settled deeper into Green/White. Humpherys also received some more solid cards, with a touch of bounce and good creatures like Faerie Squadron. Kastle's creature quality increased immensely, here, however. Adding Ancient Kavu, Kavu Runner, Shoreline Raider, and Vodalian Zombie, Kastle really solidified his deck with this set of packs. Johnson added a tapper and hate drafted an Agonizing Demise, eventually fitting the Demise into his Green/White/Red deck. Cuneo added Do or Die and some heavy hitters to his deck (Duskwalker and the unappreciated Halam Djinn), and Forsythe really brought in the cards he needed: Plague Spitter and Agonizing Demise joined a set of extremely solid creatures, including Trench Wurm and Phyrexian Battleflies (generally not too exciting, but quite good in an aggressive Black/Red deck that often includes minimal evasion).
Towards the end of the second pack, however, things really heated up. Dougherty ripped open a Darigaaz, the Igniter, and with a broad smile put it right into the deck. On the last pack, Humpherys opened a Rith, the Awakener, passing it right into Dougherty's hands. Now the tides had changed over quite a bit. Previously, it appeared that the advantage in the Johnson/Dougherty matchup would clearly belong to Johnson. Now, however, things were not so clear. Dougherty's double dragons could easily be supported with his Harrow and Quirion Trailblazer, and Johnson had few ways to deal with them.
The Invasion cards were mostly a big help to the struggling Car Acrobatic Team. What had started as a mostly even draft really shifted heavily towards Team Your Move Games with the Dragons for Dougherty and the less exciting but extremely powerful creatures for Humpherys and Kastle.
Where Your Move Games mostly received solid cards in their colors, little stands out. Kastle got a Rushing River and Terminate, Humpherys was left with mostly five casting cost creatures, and Dougherty managed to find a Gerrard's Command and Voice of All.
On the other hand, Car Acrobatic Team had a few reasons to be excited after the end of the draft. Forsythe added two Magma Burst and Sinister Strength (excellent on his low curve and Battleflies), Cuneo added in Doomsday Specter and Sawtooth Loon, and Johnson added in a Hobble (to deal with Dragons) and four creature pump spells (bringing his total to six).
The matchups would be simple:
The plan for Johnson would be to attempt to finish off Dougherty before a Dragon hit the table. They both had quality spells, but Johnson's superior curve should give him an early game edge. In the late game, however, things would probably be quite bleak.
The Humpherys/Cuneo matchup would be much less questionable. Where both players would be attempting to be the control deck, Cuneo's control cards were considerably less expensive. Cuneo ran 9 spells that cost 2 mana or less, compared to Humpherys 3. While Humpherys could certainly pull things out with Phyrexian Bloodstock against Cuneo's numerous White creatures and Tsabo's Decree as a pure control card, the edge would certainly be Cuneo's.
For Darwin Kastle and Aaron Forsythe, the same issue existed. Forsythe's two colors automatically gave him a speed edge versus Kastle. Combine this with Sinister Strength, a low curve, and a few reach cards like Soul Burn, Agonizing Demise, and multiple Magma Burst, it looked like Kastle might be in a position where he would be scrambling to achieve some kind of stability, and would find his game quickly under even more duress as Forsythe's finishers came on-line.
The loser of this round would walk away with $9,000, and the winners will continue on to play for up to $60,000. A lot is on the line for these two stellar teams, and they've both done a lot of preparations. Will Pittsburgh continue to dominate team draft or will Boston's best continue to be the World's best. Read on!