Former GB National Champion Jonathan Randle had a mixed 2010. At Nationals last year he made it to the final four, only to be left on the outside looking in, first losing his semifinal, and then the 3rd/4th-placed playoff. That's the not-so-good. Nonetheless, it still won him a trip to Worlds in Chiba, and he really made it count there, going all the way to the Top 8 before losing out in a nail-biter against Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa of Brazil.
Now he's back in the Nationals fray, and sitting happily on table one heading into the draft. Giant Spidergot the ball rolling, with only a Frost Breath disturbing a run of green cards early in the draft that included Jade Mage and two Llanowar Elves. Hunter's Insight and a second Giant Spider came seventh and eighth, with that second pick Frost Breath the only real move away from mono-Green.
The bigwigs at draft table 1.
He could have continued that theme in pack two by taking Arachnus Web, but couldn't resist the appeal of Merfolk Looter. That made his next pick tougher, however, as another Giant Spider was the alternative to Grim Lavamancer. Had he still been completely open, that Grim Lavamancer might have been the cue to head into red. As it was, the Looter was a strong-ish commitment into definitely going Blue-Green.
After serious deliberation, he took the Grim Lavamancer anyway. Cudgel Troll was next, with more Green flowing from his left. He also took a couple of Alluring Siren. Not exciting, but adding to the list of blue cards he might play.
Pack three opened with another big choice, or perhaps more accurately a big gamble. His blue commitment stood at one Frost Breath, one Merfolk Looter, and two Alluring Siren. Not disastrous, but not fabulous either. There was a second Looter available in the opening pack, opposite Sorin Markov. Now Sorin is a huge commitment, but with a potentially huge payoff, and it wasn't as if Randle had many bombs to that point. Nonetheless, he decided on the second Looter, and presumably made a Black mage further round the table very, very happy.
There was a possible third Merfolk Looter in the next pack, but the lure of a 5/5 dragon for four mana, even with an illusionary drawback, was too much, and Phantasmal Dragon joined the pile. Then it was largely back to Green, with two Garruk's Companions among the better cards.
After the draft, we talked through some of the key moments with Randle:
There's a belief that green is underdrafted/unpopular. How do you see it?
Yes, it is largely underdrafted. To be honest, I don't like it very much, but I spent a couple of days with Marco and Matteo Orsini Jones and former National Champion Dan Gardner. Dan was playing Magic Online for something like fourteen hours straight, and he was winning a ton of 8-4 queues with green.
Randle ponders his options.
You took a couple of Llanowar Elves. How important is acceleration in the format?
I'll take Llanowar Elves over most things. I was hoping to get more four and five-drops to make them better. The format as a whole is faster than M11, but I don't think it's quite as fast as some people are implying. Either way, though, acceleration is necessary in your green deck.
You considered Hunter's Insight whenever you saw it. How highly do you rate it?
I like it a lot, but I only took one. The other two occasions, I really needed more three drops for turn two after a Llanowar Elves start, so I took other cards. I still like the Insight, though, very much.
Tell us about that Merfolk Looter pick at the start of pack two.
Dan had a lot of Magic Online success with green-blue decks that were big guys and as many Frost Breaths as you could get. I only ended up with one, but I love Looter. Decks like this don't have many tricks or removal, so it's important to grind through your lands with Looters if you can.
Then you saw the Grim Lavamancer...
Yeah. The Lavamancer is pretty bad in a green deck, but two things made me take it. First, I thought it was possible that red was going to open up, and also it's the kind of card that can be so good in an opposing deck. Either way, I felt I couldn't just ignore it.
Those Alluring Sirens, are they good for you?
They work really well with Giant Spiders. It's good against the Bloodthirst black-red decks, but it works pretty well against the cheap blue-white flyers deck too.
You had the chance to switch into black with Sorin Markov. Why didn't you?
It seemed as if black was quite open, so I did consider it. But Merfolk Looter is very, very good, and I already had one. To pass up the certainty of two Merfolk Looter for a gamble on triple black for Sorin didn't seem a gamble worth taking.
Finally, it looked as if you picked up plenty of useful sideboard cards. Is that something you concentrate on?
I think it's part of the format in general. There are cards out there that are going to be useful, and it's important that you take them. I always like to have one Naturalize in my sideboard for something like Mind Control, or maybe a Fog if they have Overrun. You don't maindeck cards like that, but it's good to have at least the chance of an answer if they have one of those power cards.