Marc Lalague, Pro Tour Anaheim 2012 champion and one of two players from the United States hoping to take a trophy home with them today, started off with the day 7-1 but found himself on the cusp of elimination going into the last round, only able to secure a spot in the Top 8 when he and his opponent, Ignacio Ibarra Del Rio, were able to draw in during the final round once Ben Yu, one of the only threats that remained who could leap-frog them in the final standings, was eliminated.
With his spot in the Top 8 secured, you'd think a lot of the pressure would be off. Everyone would sit down, they'd draft pretty powerful decks, and then it would be up to who could outmaneuver who that would determine the champion of Grand Prix Mexico City.
Well, about that...
Picture a train, off of its rails but still blasting through ground at an out of control pace, careening towards a huge cliff that would lead the train and everyone on it to certain doom. The conductor, or in this case Marc Lalague, tries everything in his power to stop that train from plummeting off the cliff and into nothing but rocks. Meanwhile, a helpless and rather useless stowaway, in this case your faithful text reporter, is screaming at the top of his lungs. "WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO, LALAGUE?!" WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?!" As if the stowaway can actually help in any way.
After all, it is the conductor's job, and the conductor's skills, which can save this royal train wreck from taking place.
And in this case, it could just be the text reporter being a little over dramatic, given that despite the openness of Lalague's color combination in this draft to the left of him, he knew that his right neighbor, Grand Prix Buenos Aires 2001 Champion Hugo Araisa, was cutting him off of both blue and red cards in a draft that also looked uncertain for him.
How did Lalague deal with this circumstance? What were his options at the end of the first pack? Let's find out.
The draft started off well, with Lalague picking up the powerful Fall of the Hammer, and then nabbing a Searing Blood for a second pick. Retraction Helix, a solid blue spell out of Born of the Gods shortly followed, along with Flitterstep Eidolon. Pharagax Giant followed, and it appeared clear that both blue and red would be Lalague's colors.
That is, at least, until things started drying up. While Lalague was able to pick up an on-color scry land thanks to Temple of Enlightenment, the pickings for red and blue were slim. Unbeknownst to him, his right neighbor, Hugo Araiza, was dabbling in both colors as a potential splash to go with his base green deck.
With the threat of a train wreck draft looming, what was our conductor, Marc Lalaque, to do?
In this case, he tried to find a way. He had enough white by the end of Pack One to consider jumping ship from red should he open a Wingsteed Rider in the second pack. It would sting, but there was a backup plan available. Temple of Mystery in the first pick of the second pack wasn't what he was looking for, but there was still hope.
"I had about seven playable cards with blue-white...so I did consider switching if I opened something like a Wingsteed Rider in Pack Two," Lalague said.
And then, when Lalague opened a Lightning Strike, it became clear that red was his other color.
"Thankfully I opened Lightning Strike so I was just able to stay blue-red."
A second Lightning Strike in his third pick ensured it, and a criminally late Griptide and Voyage's End proved that Lalague was on the right colors. They were certainly available on the left side of him.
They just weren't quite available on the right.
Lalague did what he could, picking up another Temple of Mystery to give him some filtering power, and in the third pack he was able to add an Omenspeaker, second Ill-Tempered Cyclops, and a Spearpoint Oread to his pool, but things once again got slim after that.
Despite a rough first and third pack, the second pack rewarded him with a number of cards that would make it into his main deck.
"I feel really good considering how that draft went," Lalague said as he finished up his deck and began registration. "That was a weird draft. It feels like I navigated it pretty well, but I guess we'll see."
"Something weird was going on," he noted, referring to what I was able to see to his right. "He may have switched colors in pack two," referring to Araiza, who was indeed struggling to stick to a second color.
"There was maybe one pick where, if I knew I was getting a second Temple of Mystery, I could have taken Horizon Chimera..." he thought aloud, referring to the first pick third pack Omenspeaker he took over the blue-green creature.
"...but then again, I probably would have just taken the Omenspeaker since I needed more two mana plays."
While he tried to navigate a tough draft as best as he could, Lalague still had some battles ahead of him. If his side of the table was unusually mixed up, he'd have a tough ride ahead of him. Would it be clear, after three rounds, if Lalague, the conductor, was able to navigate away from a disastrous train wreck?
"All I need to do is win the tournament. We'll see!" he said.