Gateway Final Draft: Rolled-Up Aces vs.

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By Randy Buehler

Rolled Up Aces (Dan Clegg, Thomas Keller, and Shawn Keller) have gone from the heights of excitement, when they thought they had qualified for the Masters Series on rating to the depths of despair when they were informed that a ratings-based appeal had given their spot in the prestigious event to the Panzer Hunters. Of course, they were still able to enter the Gateway and four rounds later they found themselves once again happy - playing in the Gateway championship match against Team ABU consists of Ryan Fuller (fresh off his win at Grand Prix Prague last weekend), Chris Benafel (with three Top 8s plus an 11th in his last four Grand Prix), and Noah Boeken (the "scrub" of the team with just a European Championship and a Grand Prix win to his credit). The Aces won the right to choose whether to kick off or receive by virtue of their higher team rating and elected to kick off. Shawn, sitting in the middle with his brother on his right and his friend on his left, opened the first pack. ABU lined up with Fuller in seat 1, Boeken in the middle, and Benafel on the right ready to take on Clegg.

Shawn Keller took Samite Archer with his first pick and Clegg followed up with Halam Djinn. Fuller took a Harrow, Boeken took Probe, and Benafel took Pouncing Kavu leaving Phyrexian Reaper and Rogue Kavu for Thomas Keller. Clegg stayed red by taking Scorching Lava out of the second pack and ABU had the opportunity to punish him for it, but they declined to give Obsidian Acolyte to Benafel. Instead, they preferred to have Benafel go red/black since his seat would have the best looks at Planeshift cards, where black/red is amazing. Clegg wound up going black/red as well in the Aces 3-seat and they seemed content to play a mirror match.

While the teams agreed on that one basic strategy, they disagreed on just about everything else. I've never seen a draft where there was such a contrast in fundamental opinions about the format. The Aces forced two color decks. Thomas went red/green, Shawn went blue/white, and Dan went black/red. At first glance, this seems like a fairly standard Team Rochester strategy - they have all five colors covered and the two end guys are sharing red. However, things are just different in Invasion block. Since the Aces only had three of the friendly-color pairs covered, they were just screwed when they opened up good cards of the other gold pairs like Spinal Embrace. Thomas opened one and each of the three of them had a shot at it, but they had no black/blue mage so they passed it over to ABU.

ABU didn't hesitate to draft 3-color decks. Fuller seemed set on red/green/white from the beginning and Boeken followed up his first pack Probe with a second pack Riptide Crab and never looked back, drafting black/blue/white the whole time. Benafel did manage a two-color black/red deck, but notice that between the three of them they had all 5 friendly-colored pairs covered. Because of this, they never had to pass a bomb because they couldn't play it. They also got passed late green/white cards (like 9th pick Gerrard's Command) and the Aces were forced to hate draft Vodalian Zombies and Sleeper's Robes.

The Aces did succeed in getting the consistent 2-color decks they wanted. However, the gap in card quality between the two teams is enormous. To give the Aces the benefit of the doubt, they strategy was predicated on the idea that forcing the other guys to go 3 colors is bad for them because 3-color decks run a high risk of mana-screw. Thus the jury won't come in until after they play out the matches. However, the 2-color strategy run by the Aces just seems flawed in the Invasion environment. You sacrifice so much card quality, especially in Planeshift where there are so many 3-color cards (like Battlemages and Dragon Charms), that it's not worth what you gain in consistency.

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