Round 1 Feature Match: AlphaBetaUnlimited.com vs. Potato Nation

Posted in Event Coverage

By Randy Buehler

The last time the pros turned their attention to Team Rochester draft, Mike Turian single-handedly broke the format and his strategy carried Car Acrobatic Team to a second place finish and his own Potato Nation to the Pro Tour championship. The reigning champs took on Gateway winners AlphaBetaUnlimited.com in the first round of the Masters Series on Thursday night and unveiled their latest strategy: their three decks have 13 colors between them. 13! And they debated throwing a Slay in Scott Johns' red/green/white splash blue deck! ABU wound up with fairly typical Invasion-block decks: red/black on the left (Chris Benafel), blue/black/white control in the middle (Noah Boeken), and blue/white/green on the left (Fuller). They covered 4 of the 5 friendly colored pairs and didn't have to pass too many obvious bombs.

On the other side of the table, though, all hell was breaking loose. The Potatoes kicked off and after Wise drafted Spite/Malice, Turian took a Kavu Chameleon and then opened a Thornscape Master. One Kavu Aggressor and one Scorching Lava later, he seemed to have settled into a nice red/green/white build. However, he got a Trailblazer pretty much for free because ABU didn't value the card much an then in pack 6 the Potatoes busted open Crosis, the Purger. Johns had Utopia Tree, Harrow, and a pair of Quirion Elves, but they like having the 5-color deck on the left (since the guy on the left is often the last line of defense before packs get passed to the other team and the Potatoes want that guy to be able to play as many cards as possible). Thus Johns drafted Fires of Yavimaya and they passed Crosis down to Turian, sending him solidly into 5-color green territory. Johns later got a Dromar and wound up playing four colors anyway.

To round out his team's rainbow of decks, Gary Wise decided to splash red in his blue/black/white deck for Slingshot Goblin. According to Wise, "Slingshot Goblin is the most important card in the entire format." A pretty bold statement that Gary obviously believes. Faced with a black/blue/white control mirror match, Wise felt he needed removal. With Tidal Visionary and Disciple of Kangee already in his stack of cards, along with Dream Thrush and a pair of Sea Snidds to help give him the colored mana he would need, Wise felt Slingshot Goblin was exactly what he needed. "In testing I would draft these great looking decks that would just lose when that guy hit the table." If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, eh? Wise drafted two and showed them off proudly to anyone who walked by as he was constructing his masterpiece.

Wise also commented that "the best part of the draft was the looks on their faces when we made our picks." Benafel's jaw literally dropped when Turian drafted a Hunting Kavu to run against Benafel's black/red deck. Boeken just held up an open hand to his teammates signaling "five - he's playing all five colors." Color-hosers have always been important in Team Rochester draft since you know exactly what colors your opponent is playing. However, they're even more important in Invasion-block for two different reasons: on the one hand players tend to play more colors so it's easier to actually run them and on the other hand there are all kinds of color-altering effects (like Sisay's Ingenuity, Disciple of Kangee, etc.) available that make it easier to abuse them once you have them. The Potatoes clearly factored this into their strategy and got to run a pair of Hunting Drakes against red and a pair of Slingshot Goblins against blue because of it.

Only time and a couple single-elimination rounds for a couple hundred thousand dollars will tell exactly how much consistency is worth giving up and how much card quality you need to get in exchange to make it worth it.

Everyone else seemed just as curious as I was to find out who would win this match. Benafel was predictably confident and even took a $100 side bet on the match with Andrew Johnson (and $10 more with Aaron Forsythe). Kai Budde and Worth Wollpert each turned their noses up when they saw the Nation's decks, but Wise exuded confidence, claiming loudly "They think their going to crush us, but we're going to crush them. I love it!" When shuffling their opponent's decks before the round began, the Potatoes discovered all three of their opponents were playing 41 cards. Neither team seemed to understand what the other team was up to.

Gary Wise played Island, Plains, Mountain, Slingshot Goblin, and Swamp over the course of his first four turns. That Goblin had an eye on Boeken's Shoreline Raider, but Boeken had Agonizing Demise ready and immediately dispatched it. Boeken then dropped a hand full of beats: Tower Drake, Cavern Harpy, and Kangee, Aerie Keeper. Wise did draw into a second Slingshot Goblin, but it was too late - he died before he got to activate it.

Meanwhile Benafel mulliganed once and then kept a 6-card, 1-land hand. He finally drew his second land on turn 4 but by then Turian was at Hunting Drake mana and Chris was not happy to draw his Rogue Kavu a second time. Benafel tried playing out his creatures again, but Magma Burst put him out of his misery pretty quickly.

With the teams splitting a pair of game ones, a truly bizarre situation occurred in the match between Ryan Fuller and Scott Johns: Johns drew a card off the top of Ryan Fuller's deck! He realized it immediately and announced it promptly. Head Judge Paul Barclay gave him a warning, Fuller protested that his deck should either be shuffled or he should get to see Scott's top card, but Barclay stuck to his guns and the game eventually moved on. Fuller's Faerie Squadron got Strafed and that left the game stalemated with Vodalian Serpent and Serpentine Kavu playing defense for Fuller against a full swarm of small red and green creatures. Eventually, Fuller drew into a pocket of land while Johns kept adding more and more creatures to his army. Twelve lands plus five spells added up to a game 1 loss for Fuller.

Wise got his beloved Slingshot Goblin into play yet again in game 2, but Boeken once again had him under some serious life total pressure. Battleflies, Vodalian Merchant, and Stormscape Master were beating him down. Boeken had Demise again - a somewhat better removal spell than Slingshot Goblin - but Wise saved his Goblin with Angelic Shield. When Sky Weaver and Cavern Harpy hit Boeken's side of the table, Wise had a lot of thinking to do. Boeken's Rushing River ended their match in a hurry and ABU took a one match lead.

Turian had all five of his color by turn three in his second game against Benafel - all it took was Shivan Oasis plus Dromar's Cavern. Benafel came out with some pretty fast, pretty big monsters: Caldera Kavu, Mire Kavu, and a second Caldera Kavu. Turian used Honorable Scout to gain 6 life and buy himself some time. That extra time allowed him to play Crosis and suddenly Benafel's Kavu didn't look as large any more. Benafel chumped Crosis once with a Phyrexian Slayer and when Turian added Thornscape Master to his side of the board, the game seemed to be his. However, Turian decide to he wanted to win with one lethal counter-attack so with 7 life to play with, he decided to take one more hit from Caldera Kavu rather than chump block with Shivan Emissary. Benafel pumped it up three times, dropping Turian to 2, and then Benafel played a Mountain and pointing Scorching Lava at Turian's head. Suddenly the match was even at a game apiece! Turian just shook his head, explained to his teammates that that was the only thing that could go wrong with his plan and started shuffling for game 3. I'm hesitant to use the word "mistake" for what was really more of a judgment call, but the gathered crowd had trouble imaging what would go wrong if Turian spent two attack phases winning the game rather than one.

When Turian mulliganed before game one, all of team AlphaBetaUnlimited.com started pumping their fists and counting their money. Johns had some beatdown going on courtesy of Thornscape Familiar and a fast Pouncing Kavu (with kicker) in his game while Fuller was trying to stabilize thanks to Fact or Fiction. Benafel seemed very impressed with his draw, but Turian took out Flametongue Kavu and Nightscape Master with a Magma Burst (with kicker) and promptly drew two more basic land types off the top of his deck to give him four yet again. As Fuller howled in pain that "it's all up to you Chris!" Benafel seemed unhappy at Turian's ability to draw land of different colors. Still, Benafel used Plague Spores to take out Turian's last creature and his Mountain. Benafel still had more removal in his hand, and when his deck delivered up Mire Kavu and Hooded Kavu, Turian was in serious trouble. His deck didn't deliver up any miracles - given the Scorching Lava and Magma Burst that were in Chris's hand, there weren't any in it anyway - and Gateway winners AlphaBetaUnlimted.com were on to the semifinals.

Turian sat around dejected (and suffering from jet lag) for a while after the match trying to figure out what went wrong. "I had that Crosis game all locked up." He eventually decided he probably should have blocked, but "it's too late now. I took a chance and it didn't pay off." $3,000 plus a Pro Tour that starts tomorrow will surely help console and distract him. As far as the Potato Nation's rainbow-draft strategy goes, the jury is still out.

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