by Scott Wills
This round features two teams both in need of a win to maintain their positions amongst the top places. Team Hampton Court Palace were definitely the least experienced of the two teams with the three members Ben Ronaldson, Warren Marsh and John Ormerod having only recently formed for this Pro-Tour. Antoine Ruel, Olivier Ruel and Florent Jeudon make up Black Ops and have already had significant success as a Team. In fact they are are regarded by many as the best in the world at this format.
The draft started with Black Ops forcing HCP to open their packs first. A Waterfront Bouncer for John and a Trap Runner for Ben settled these players into their colors early and they didn't deviate too much throughout the draft. Team HCP had clearly been practicing as they had a series of hand signals to communicate opponents picks and colors. Florent Jeudon looked to go into Black/Blue with Vendetta and Rishadan Airship amongst his early picks. After seeing Warren also go into Black Florent soon switched to a White/Blue strategy by picking Wishmonger over Cateran Persuader and letting Antoine in the seat to his left move into Black.
Black Ops's strategy is an interesting one and one that is not persued by many teams on the tour. They typically pick any removal spell open to them whether it's in their colors or not. Olivier for example drafted a Thunderclap and a Seal of Doom despite being White/Green.
The draft progressed pretty smoothly for the most part with the only obvious mistake coming from HCP. Despite heavy signalling from his partners Warren took a Belbe's Percher for his Black/Green deck over a Seal of Strength which left nothing for Ben who was thinking of going Black at this point. John Ormerod then compounded this mistake by inadvertantly taking the Seal which Ben would have in fact ended up playing as he moved into White/Green by the end of the draft.
The match-ups all look fairly interesting although some are definitely weighted to one sides favor.
Warren faces his Black/Green deck off against Florents White/Blue. This match should favor Warren as Florent has a number of vulnerable key creatures such as Waterfront Bouncer and Rishadan Airship whereas Warren has Flowstone Armor, Plague Witch and Noxious Field which are all a complete nightmare for Florent to play around. In addition to this Warren has excellent creatures such as Darba, Blastoderm, Cateran Enforcer and Flowstone Thopter which are all incredibly difficult for Florent to deal with. Florent may even decide to splash for a Flowstone Slide as a game winner in an effort to try and beat Warren.
John Ormerod and Antoine Ruel both drafted Red although John allies his with some blue fliers and bounce whereas Antoine has black for some early aggressive creatures and removal. This match initially looks like it will come down to Antoine's removal and the fact the he has two Laccolith Warriors. Despite John having two Oraxids the Warriors are impossible for John to deal with effectively as he has only Withdraw to slow them down. John may be able to win the race with solid fliers like Drake Hatchling, Troublesome Spirit and Coastal Hornclaw but it will be very tough for him due to Antoine's significant quantities of removal.
The match between Ben Ronaldson and Olivier Ruel looks like it might decide the overall result. Both players and playing White/Green but it is likely that both players will splash a third color. Ben has much better Rebels than Olivier and a Treetop Bracers which is a big problem for Olivier. It is likely that Olivier will splash for his Seal of Doom to give himself another answer. Olivier also has slightly better creatures than Ben although Ben has decent Rebels and a couple of Wild Mights that might help him win creature battles if Olivier taps out too often. Olivier has an Ace up his sleeve in the shape of Troubled Healer which will almost certainly win him the match if he draws it. Ben has no answer to this bad boy and might even decided to splash some Islands for Alexi, Zephyr Mage that he counter-drafted at the end of the draft.
Predicition: 2-1 to Black Ops