Sitting on the corner of Pod 2 with a 7-1 record carrying over from Day 1, Marc Lalague seemed like the perfect person to watch for my first professional-level Booster Draft of this young format. Lalague is a Grand Prix champion, having taken down the title at Grand Prix Anaheim in 2012. He also managed to make a strong Top 8 in Houston last year, a Return to Ravnica block Limited Grand Prix. Lalague made the trip here to Mexico City with a few of his teammates from Team TCGPlayer, including a pair of excellent Limited players in Chris Fennell and Seth Manfield, and the current 23rd ranked player in the world Craig Wescoe. After a fairly abysmal day yesterday, everyone but Lalague fell short of making it through to the Draft rounds of the tournament.
Lalague opened his first pack with a seemingly easy decision: the gold card.
"Gild is one of those cards that you're going to play 80% of the time," Lalague explained after the draft. The pack was relatively weak other than Gild, and the versatility of being able to remove virtually anything, and its easy splashability, made it an easy first pick.
Still, if the pack were a little stronger, Gild is a card that might give players some pause. It is a common conception that black is the color that has taken the biggest hit with the addition of Born of the Gods, mostly due to the loss of a pack's worth of the notorious Gray Merchant of Asphodel. This perceived weakness has really put a lot of the top-level professional players off of black in this new format.
"Black probably got the shortest end of the stick in Born of the Gods," Lalague explained. "It's a color that really requires you to get a critical mass of black cards to really make it playable. That said, it's a color that makes a great support color. If you're able to get seventeen or more of your main color, black works well to support that. Those are really the two ways that you want to draft it. Gild is a card that works well as a splash or as a support card. I wasn't really intending to play black, in fact it was a color that I was actively looking to avoid, but Gild is too good of a card to pass up."
With his versatile first pick in his pile, he picked up his second pack for what would be the defining pick of his draft. Fall of the Hammer is one of the strongest commons in Born of the Gods, providing incredibly reliable removal, as well as a good way to trigger heroic. It would have been an easy pick to make, but Lalague opted instead for the equally impressive Graverobber Spider. After a first-pick Gild, the Spider may seem like an easy choice due to the black activation. But locking yourself into two colors this early in the draft can be an easy way to railroad yourself into a deck that it can be hard to get out of if things turn south.
"Yeah, I have a really strong red preference in general," Lalague admitted when I questioned him about his decision. "I want to be red whenever I can. The last GP I just missed Top 8 playing red throughout the tournament. I only lost once when I played red and lost twice the one time I wasn't red. I just think that the Spider was too good to pass up. Especially considering the Gild, I knew that I was going to get some value out of playing a Swamp for the activation no matter what. These cards made a great way to start things off, and, as good as Fall of the Hammer is, I just couldn't justify picking it up over the Spider."
His decision would immediately be called into question upon picking up his third pack to reveal a second Fall of the Hammer making the rounds. Still, rather than jump ship and move into red, Lalague realized that he had already made his decision on the color with his previous pass, opting into a safer, albeit weaker pick.
"I'm not a huge fan of Noble Quarry," he admitted about his selection. "It turned out being pretty sweet in this deck since I have three Sedge Scorpions. If I hadn't passed a Hammer already I might not have passed the second. The Quarry is also a card I haven't even played with yet, and, with the Scorpions it seems insane, so I'm fine with it."
To follow that up, Lalague had another very interesting decision within his color of choice. One of the early frontrunners for "Best Common in Born of the Gods" was the green 3/3 Pheres-Band Tromper. Already right at the sweet spot for size in this format, the Tromper threatens to absolutely take over games if it gets to untap even once or twice. Still, Lalague chose to forgo the Tromper for what many people would consider to be an inferior green common.
"I like Nyxborn Wolf a lot," he explained. "3/1 for three mana is great, and, for the bestow cost, I think it's the best common bestow card in Born of the Gods. As for the Tromper, it seems that there is always a wealth of four drops in the green deck. Since I already started with one, cards like Nylea's Disciple, Nylea's Emissary, Karametra's Acolyte... I always seem to get plenty of fours. On the other hand, the Wolf is just a little more aggressively costed and a little bit more powerful overall, so I like the Wolf better."
A bit later in the pack, Lalague's draft strategy became much clearer. Given the choice between a Spiteful Returned and a second Setessan Oathsworn, he opted to take the green creature. This allowed him to stay more-or-less monogreen through this point, and he greatly valued the versatility. While I have heard a number of comments maligning the Oathsworn due to its reliance on triggering heroic, Lalague defended his selection.
"I like having multiple Oathsworn in pack one because it greatly increases the value of a number of cards later," he explained. "For the first one, I don't think I was passing up anything good, and, while I'm a fan of Spiteful Returned, I wasn't married to the idea of black as a main color. I only had the Gild and the activation on the Spider, so I decided to go ahead and double up on this guy. Again, it's not a guy I'm in love with, but with six or seven bestow guys and a couple of Time to Feeds, he looks pretty nice."
Continuing on, Lalague explained a little about why he never pulled the trigger and committed to a second color.
"The best cards I passed were red and white by far, so I was thinking that either black or blue might be open in pack two," he began. "Red is a color that it can be nearly impossible to jump back into once you start to pass it. If you're looking for good red cards, you aren't going to see any of them once you've passed two of the best red common and some other good red stuff. On the other side, black was being cut off, and so was blue, so I wanted to be open to possibly pick up some blue cards...I just never saw any."
After spending the entire first pack picking up almost exclusively green card, Lalague finally made a tentative commitment to having black be his second color, selecting a Gray Merchant of Asphodel over Sedge Scorpion. This may seem like a no brainer to many people, but consider the fact that he had exactly one black permanent by that point, and he was likely to only have one pack to accrue them since the person to his right was cutting black so hard. In addition, most players have realized by now that Sedge Scorpion is much better than it was originally getting credit for being.
"I felt that there was a reasonable chance that the Scorpion might table," Lalague said, reflecting on the draft to that point. "Again, green was so open in the first pack, so I figured there was a reasonable chance that I might get it back in this pack, even though it is a card that I really want for this deck. I took the Gray Merchant because I figured that black may have been cut off well enough to get a good black card or two, in which case I would switch into it. There was a small chance that the Scorpion would lap, and it did, so I'm very pleased with how that pick went."
With the Grey Merchant in his pile, Lalague set about looking for some good black cards to support it. When he was immediately faced with one in the second pack, he surprisingly chose against it, selecting Voyaging Satyr over a potentially powerhouse Nighthowler.
"The Nighthowler is a card that would let me go into a green/black, graveyard-style of deck," he said. "The trouble is that when you're getting a wealth of good cards, you don't have the room to play the mediocre cards that fill up your graveyard. I just didn't feel that it was a card that I really needed, especially given that I already had three bestow guys. I figured that it was best for me to just pick the more consistent card. Satyr has really gone up in value with Born of the Gods now that there are only two packs. You are always going to be able to find other things to do, but you aren't ever going to get another crack at a Voyaging Satyr."
Considering that he had decided that he didn't want to put together a black/green graveyard deck, it took me by surprise when he swiftly pulled a Commune with the Gods to the front of the pack in the next pack. He ended up ultimately taking a Sedge Scorpion to replace the one he'd passed on first, but I still wanted to ask him about why the Commune made such an impression on him.
"Commune is a card that I like a lot," he told me, "especially if you have Nemesis of Mortals, and even more so if you have multiples, so I'm always excited to play Commune when I have one to go with it. It's one of those cards that you always want to notice when they are in the pack from first to fourth pick or so because there's a good chance that it will wheel. Bringing it up to the front like that was just my way of making a note of it mentally. There wasn't any chance that I was going to take it there."
By the end of the second pack, Lalague's deck seemed incredibly powerful, yet there were still some holes. He was virtually monogreen, with only a few black cards polluting his pool. He had three removal spells and a terrific curve, but he was missing a bit of beef on the top end.
"I would have definitely liked another Satyr," he told me when I asked him what he was hoping to get in the last pack. "It's a card that you're always happy to get. I wanted a way to shore my deck up against fliers, too, and managed to get some help there. Other than that, I was really just looking for that Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, that I opened to come back to me. I really wanted that Nykthos, but, you know..."
In his nearly monogreen deck, Nykthos would have been monstrous, especially given his decision to pick up that second Setessan Oathsworn in the first pack. Still, he was presented with a way to shore up one of the other needs in his deck, opting to take a Nylea's Emissary over it.
"The Emissary is a card that I have been really pleased with," he explained. "Decks like this, especially when you have green heroic guys, the value of trample goes up dramatically. Also, I wasn't necessarily lacking per se, but I really wanted to pick up some bigger things to play. I didn't have any of these other big guys at that point, so I was looking for some bigger things. I had plenty of bestow guys to fill out the curve, but I was really looking for that fat."
It was also clear to him that black was going to be an afterthought at best. He would easily be able to splash for the Gild and the Spider's activation, but it was unlikely that the Gray Merchant or the Sip of Hemlock that he'd picked up in the second pack were going to make the cut. As such, he shifted away from black entirely, taking a Leafcrown Dryad over an Insatiable Harpy that could have been incredibly powerful in his deck.
"With all of these bestow guys, I would have been really happy if I could have found room for a card like the Harpy, but the mana requirements and the fact that the Dryad was in the pack...it just didn't work out. I was basically monogreen at this point, and the Dryad is just a better card for me there."
As a reward for correctly identifying green as the color that was going to be open for him, he received a laughably strong third pick, taking a Boon Satyr over both a Nemesis of Mortals and Nessian Asp.
"Yeah, that was a real pack," he laughed. "Boon Satyr is just ridiculous. I don't know for sure that it's better than Nemesis or the Asp...I think it is, but... It was really a great pickup for the deck. I didn't expect the Nemesis to come back, but when it did, that was pretty nice."
After the draft, Lalague reflected on the cards that he had passed and tried to think of anything that might have concerned him about the coming rounds.
"I did pass a Phalanx Leader," he recalled, "which is a card that I can't really...well, I have a couple of ways to deal with it. If they have a creature that is really difficult to deal with, I could be in trouble. Honestly, this deck doesn't really seem to have any weaknesses. I have game against fliers, game against aggression, I have powerful endgame stuff...this is just a really sweet deck."
And it's a sweet deck because he correctly identified the color that he was supposed to be in and avoided many of the traps that came his way. It would have been very easy for this draft to go a completely different direction for him, and it all hinged on his decision to pick the Graverobber Spider as his second pick of the draft.
"The real moment of truth was the decision to take the Spider over that Fall of the Hammer second pick," he elaborated. "Once I decided to pass the Fall, I couldn't play red, and the other colors weren't really open. I think that really showcases what's important about this format: staying open. Especially because I think that the Theros cards are so much more powerful on average than the Born of the Gods cards, I feel that you really get rewarded for being patient and knowing whether you are going to get a good pack two or pack three before you commit."
While it may seem that it was especially easy for Lalague to stay open given the high number of quality green cards he was seeing, it took a large amount of restraint and planning on his part. He avoided jumping ship early, sticking to one color for most of the draft. He also correctly identified the colors that he was most likely to be seeing in pack two and took steps to be able to take advantage of that.
"I think that the key is to try and identify a color that is going to be open for pack three and to also try and figure out what you're going to do for pack two," he explained of his thinking during the draft. "Like in my draft, black and blue were really interesting for pack two because I wasn't able to pick or even really see any in the first pack. If the person to your right is helping you there, then you should have a chance to pick up some good cards of the cut-off color in that next pack. I'm not really a big fan of jumping around colors a lot early in the first pack, because once you've passed one of those premium commons in this set, there's such a low chance that the person to your left isn't taking it that it runs a risk of ruining your entire draft. That's a lot different than how things were in Return to Ravnica, where I used to do that all the time. I would first pick Far//Away, follow it with Warleader's Helix, and just figure out which or both that I'm going to play by the end of the draft. In this color, I prefer to just find that main color, that one that's going to be open in pack three, and just focus on that with a secondary eye on what I think I can get in the second pack."
And did it ever work out for him. Correctly reading the packs allowed him to avoid being in a color that was being cut off, while finding a color that he could himself cut. In the end, this allowed him to get the cards he wanted from his right, as well as those he wanted from his left.
"In my draft, I was getting a lot of packs that only had one good green card in them, so it really worked out. I think I only let two good green cards get past me the entire draft. I ended up getting even more in the second and third packs, too, so it went great. Sometimes things just fall into your lap, and that definitely happened here, but being adaptable is really huge so I did my best to do that. I ended up not needing a second color, but I was always prepared."