That's why when the Sixth Annual Seattle-area Draft Extravaganza rolled around a few weeks ago, hosted by the inestimable and welcoming Tony Mayer and Eric Reasoner, I knew it was time to get my game on again among real-world folks. Thanks to its proximity to ravenous Wizards drafters, the Draft-stravaganza is unsanctioned—meaning not only could we play, but (hopefully) no particularly cutthroat competitor was going to chop me down with rules lawyering! Woo!
After rolling on down to a grey Seattle Center at what felt like the crack of dawn, I settled in for the first of nearly 15 hours of drafts. Seated at table #1 (how lucky!), I had some quick banter with fellow drafters about the (then recently announced) Magic 2010 rules changes. We all laughed about Reasoner's half-serious suggestion to "play new rules against Wizards folks, they're one-year used to it." Then the proverbial whistle was blown and I ripped into a shiny Odyssey pack with old school Druid lord Seton, Krosan Protector silently acknowledging my entry into Otaria.
Draft 1 – Odyssey / Torment / Judgment
Quick aside: I began playing Magic during the Antiquities expansion, but then left the game shortly after Homelands due to tons of other school activities taking up all my time (and most of my friends quitting). When I returned, Judgment was about to be released and Magic Online had just entered its open public beta, so I did a ton of OTJ drafts online for a year or so. I really enjoy the format, and I remembered white-blue being a fairly strong full-block draft archetype. Since that kind of deck is my preferred play style, I was looking for openings into it during the draft rather than trying to force base-black or green-blue, which I also remembered being quite strong.
As we opened packs, a few people moaned about how bad red was in the set due to the additional "at random" on all of its "discard a card" effects. I chuckled along with them, shared a brief moment remembering packs with both Wild Mongrel and Cephalid Looter, and we were off to the races.
My first pack presented me some okay white cards (Shelter, Aven Cloudchaser) but the best option (and helpfully, only good blue card) in the pack was Concentrate, so into my pile it went. I was passed a pack with a Cephalid Looter! Upon second glance, however, I noted the rare was missing, which could be anything. My signal-reading dreams were dashed. Still, the Looter was an excellent pick to go with my card drawer. I added a couple of mediocre white cards (Patrol Hound, Auramancer) to my pile, then I received a choice between Thought Eater and Nantuko Disciple fourth pick. Happy to receive a quality flyer, I took the 2/2 ... but in retrospect, I should have given it more thought since my white was not very good thus far, and green is better than white in both Torment and Judgment.
This ended out working okay for me, however, as I received 3 Teroh's Faithful in pack 2—by far the best white card for the white-blue evasive tempo deck I was expecting to draft. Going into pack 3 I was very light on evasion (only the Thought Eater, plus the tiny Escape Artist and Cephalid Scout) so I had to pass a Chastise for a Wormfang Drake. An excellent gift of pick 2 Phantom Flock quickly entered my pile. The deck ended up a little bit more defensive than I'd like (two Shieldmage Advocates will tend to skew that way). All in all, I was very pleased with my draft.
I've seen Josh around when observing local events—he is always smiling, even from a losing position. I told him I'd be writing an article, and he joked that I could just ignore what happened and tell the world he was mana screwed. I assured him I would represent him fairly in the proceedings.
As he discarded a Dematerialize, he exclaimed, "When I said write me up as land screwed, I didn't mean for it to actually happen!" I chuckled along with him, in pain to see him unable to play a real game but enjoying his good humor.
This game started out a bit better for Josh, with the 4/3 Dreamwinder ready to take a chunk out of my Island-toting hide. I threw a hapless Hapless Researcher in the way to buy time, and reloaded with Deep Analysis. Josh had reloading plans of his own, casting Keep Watch after attacking in with Dreamwinder and Fledgling Imp. Luckily I had Teroh's Vanguard waiting in the wings, and flashed it out to block the Imp. My Vanguard fell to defend me from an Organ Grinder, and my Lost in Thought on the Dreamwinder meant that only Josh's newly summoned Cephalid Inkshrouder was going to be getting through. I used Cephalid Looter to dig, first finding a 1/1 unblockable Escape Artist and then upgrading into Wormfang Drake. Josh bought a couple turns Dematerialize my Drake and then suffocating my Looter with a Toxic Stench. My looting had found me a Shieldmage Advocate to stop the inkshrouded damage, however. When the Drake's partner in aerial crime Phantom Flock came out to play, I was able to take Josh down.
Josh's Story: "I had never played with a block in this era, having left in the early days of Magic and gotten back into the game much more recently. So when I opened my Torment pack and saw a fearsome Sengir Vampire staring back at me, I thought 'Whoa, they reprinted Sengir!'" He proceeded to pick it, of course, and reaped quite a few rewards in black-heavy Torment.
My second round opponent needed no introduction—since we already knew each other! Rei has done a bunch of contracting work for Wizards, including everything from Magic creative work up through QA aid for Magic Online and other digital products. Rei was rocking a spicy black-green concoction, and I was crossing my fingers for no madness-cast Arrogant Wurm with Faceless Butcher backup! I won the roll and started off with the impressive one-drop duo of Mystic Penitent and Hapless Researcher on turn one and two. My anemic 1-power beats continued, and I summoned a Teroh's Faithful to leap up to a healthy 24 life. Rei was merely developing his mana without making any creature drops.
When he dropped a Shambling Swarm, intending to arrest the progress of my pecks, I left it Lost in Thought and continued to swing through. By the time Rei drew out of his mana flood and cast Nullmage Advocate and Centaur Rootcaster, I had taken to the skies with the ubiquitous duo of Wormfang Drake and Phantom Flock and took him quickly from his 14 life (the result of numerous tiny cuts) to 0.
I started with a Patrol Hound, which was quickly put in its place by an opposing Nullmage Advocate from Rei. We upgraded into the sky, with Rei casting Dusk Imp and then Soul Scourge, and me countering with Wormfang Drake. He seemed content to trade blows for a while, but as I took Drake-sized chunks out of his life total, I had back-to-back Teroh's Faithfuls show up to make racing a losing proposition. He attempted a midcombat Waste Away, but I used a newly summoned Cephalid Looter to discard (and cast!) Circular Logic. With Rei down to 4, he couldn't effectively attack, but with a Krosan Archer bolstering his defense force, I needed to find ways to break through. Luckily, due to my high life total and despite his Moment's Peace, I alpha struck a few times to get him to 1, and then an Escape Artist off the top plinked away the last point.
Rei's Story: "So I had the most absurd Torment pack passed to me pick 2: Chainer's Edict, Faceless Butcher, Waste Away, and Shambling Swarm. Isn't that crazy? Eventually I took the Shambling Swarm and got the Waste Away on the lap .... What would you take?" Rei's deck at that point in the draft was already black-green but was lacking a little in powerful creatures.
Although I didn't know Matt, it became apparent over the course of our play that he (1) is very good at Magic, and (2) plays quite a bit among his own friend group but doesn't go to tournaments frequently. Now that's my kind of opponent!
This odd game came down to only one factor: he had no answer to my turn three Wormfang Drake championing my Patrol Hound, and it went the distance against his Treacherous Werewolf. His Mesmeric Fiend took my Teroh's Faithful and I was stuck on three land nearly all game, but the power of the 3/4 flyer was not to be denied. He tried to get cute with a Ghastly Demise, but I replied with a Funeral Pyre to lower his graveyard to ineffective levels. When the Drake was joined by a Thought Eater, the team took it home.
Unfortunately, as difficult as my Drake had been for Matt to deal with in Game 1, his turn two Mesmeric Fiend stealing my precious Looter was just as frustrating and annoying for me to handle with my post-Swords to Plowshares pre-Path to Exile white-blue deck. His turn four Mindslicer was also extremely difficult for me to trade with favorably. Shortly, I was down to 5 facing down the Slicer, the aforementioned Fiend now enchanted with Shade's Form, a Pardic Lancer with enough cards in hand to Enrage me to death, and a measly (but effective!) Putrid Imp. With only two blockers, I couldn't stop lethal damage, and we were on to the rubber game.
This game was when the white sides of our respective decks decided to show. My two Shieldmage Advocates and endless procession of Teroh's Faithfuls did a respectable job of containing his Imps and Soul Scourge, whereas his one Shieldmage Advocate kept my Wormfang Drake from doing anything relevant other than defending. We plinked away at each other's life totals with unblockable 1/1s (I had an Escape Artist and he had a Frightcrawler) but despite my frantic Lootering for more flyers, we remained locked in relative stalemate. At some point, he joked and I agreed that I was going to deck myself before I found something to break through the stall, so I ended up skipping loots a few turns. Time was called, and on the last turn of extra turns, my alpha strike took him to 1 life. I realized too late (turn three of extra turns) that I should have just looted every turn and made my plan "alpha strike a few times for the win," since my life total was still in the comfortable 14–15 range before he found Frightcrawler. We shook hands and accepted the unfortunate unintentional draw. I then had the entirety of the lunch break to agonize over my mistake. Ah, well!
Matt's Story (with special appearance by Rei!): "I avoided taking a first pack, first pick Overrun, thinking I shouldn't commit to green that early, but it kept flowing!" The best part was I recalled Rei telling me he got a third or fourth pick Overrun in pack 1, apparently because most of the players at their table agreed with Matt! Rei made effective use of it in his other matches, using Acorn Harvests to fuel his token swarms!
Draft 2 – Time Spiral / Planar Chaos / Future Sight
I had been a while since I had drafted the full TPF block, but I had recently reminisced with magicthegathering.com Editor Kelly Digges about the variety of possible archetypes. The "Greedy Guskin" part of me wanted to force a five-color Slivers deck, but I resolved to be open to what the packs showed me. The first pack was loud and clear, with a Sengir Nosferatu staring back at me and not much else in the pack. Without wanting to commit too heavily, I passed up a couple of reasonable Thallids and a Coal Stoker in the next pack for a Phyrexian Totem. The next pack had the obvious pick of Urborg Syphon-Mage, although I noted that I was passing an Empty the Warrens. The next pack contained a whopping four insane picks:
I strongly considered the Gemhide Sliver, but forced down my propensity for five-color archetypes and took the reasonable pick of Strangling Soot. Black kept flowing, but nothing was amazing except for a 6th pick Mindstab, for which I was extremely grateful. I received a late gift of Urza's Factory, which I thought might be amazing in my deck if I could find enough removal to last to the late game (and seemed like producing colorless would have little cost in my nearly mono-black concoction). I didn't really have a second color by the end of the pack, with only the flashback on Soot and a late Jedit's Dragoons pushing me one way or the other.
I opened Planar Chaos and didn't find any dragons suggesting other colors for me, so I went with the Rathi Trapper over a tempting Shaper Parasite. The second pack contained a multitude of bad slivers and a Big Game Hunter, so I added him to my pile and started watching for Blightspeakers to do my rebel searching for me. The next pack indeed had a Blightspeaker ... but also had a Shaper Parasite! I decided to try out blue as a second color (with a possible splash for the reddish Soot) and took it, and then followed with an Erratic Mutation. I found only one Cradle to Grave, a card I love for controlling base-black decks, and one Melancholy, a card I like less but which still counts in the removal total. Lo and behold, however, the Blightspeaker I had passed made its way back around to me! At this point, my deck was solid black with the potential for splashing blue, red, or even both, depending on my third pack picks.
I first picked a Stronghold Rats out of Future Sight ... momentarily misremembering that it is not a true "specter," but instead an "everyone discards" outlet. Oops! I was still happy with the card, though. I received a trio of Mass of Ghouls, but saw no good blue cards other than Pact of Negation. When I received Flowstone Embrace and Henchfiend of Ukor picks 7 and 8, I decided that black splashing red was probably the correct build. I definitely felt like I was lacking in removal, and realized too late that Mindstab was my only real Sprout Swarm answer, but overall I thought the deck was alright.
Greg was very friendly, but would accept no nonsense from my anemic start of Sangrophage. I sighed, agreeing that my deck was not very good, and told him to be fair he shouldn't cast any good cards against me. He agreed in the short term, suspending double Shade of Trokair and a Knight of Sursi rather than casting them. Yikes! Good ol' Sengir Nosferatu showed up, but unfortunately, I was stuck on too few lands to leverage his Bat abilities and keep up with the double Abyss of double Shade of Trokair. His early Errant Doomsayers was doing an excellent job of keeping my own tapper, the Rathi Trapper, locked down. With him down to 6 from Vampire beats, but me at a precarious 4 life, I was forced to chump with the Nosferatu and the Shades took the game for Greg the next turn.
With so much suspend, I brought in Grave Perils. His deck still seemed ridiculous against me, though, and it showed this game. Another Shade of Trokair made an appearance next to Errant Doomsayers, again keeping my Rathi Trapper tapped, but the death knell was a protection-from-Guskin Duskrider Peregrine! So much for Grave Perils! Although I had no Nosferatu this time, I had double Mass of Ghouls and was content to trade blows to get him down to 3 before Sunlance and Temporal Isolation took care of the Zombie twins. I was facing down lethal in the air (Duskrider Peregrine and Knight of Sursi), but with a one-turn window where he had used his tapper offensively, I schemed to push my remaining dorks through for the win. I had a Stronghold Rats definitely getting through and just needed to step around his Amrou Scout with Vampiric Sliver. I used Strangling Soot to kill the Scout, ready to tap whatever Rebel he fetched with the Trapper. I felt victory close by, close enough to snatch!
He fetched a Riftmarked Knight. Human Rebel Knight? Protection from black?!? Nooooot winning! I laughed it off, took my Peregrine beats like a champ, and shook hands with Greg congratulating him on such a ridiculous deck!
Greg's Story: "It seemed like no one else was really in white. I got a second pick Peregrine Falcon and a third pick Castle Raptors, then had to make a choice between Keldon Halberdiers or the more consistent Amrou Scout. I went with the more consistent Scout and never looked back. Didn't table the Blightspeaker, though!" He chuckled as he noted that I must have it, since I had a mini-Rebel engine of my own! It turned out three (!) Shades of Trokair meant Greg was happy without a black splash anyway.
Great Designer Search winner, Magic Online programmer, drafting buddy and friend Alexis Janson sat down across from me and assured me that I would be crushed. I shrugged off the trash talk and got to work with an explosive turn four Mana Skimmer. It turned out neither of us did very much in the early game—her eventually de-suspended Giant Dustwasp was sent immediately from its cradle to its grave, my Skimmer traded for her Uktabi Drake, and my massive Mass of Ghouls was left to dominate the board. Tragically, I then ran into the "trap" of Time Spiral block Limited: infinite Saprolings care of Sprout Swarm. With my absurd mana advantage and my own token generator Urza's Factory, I was able to keep pace with the 1/1 horde. Alexis was in a difficult spot: my early Mass of Ghouls beats taking her down to 6, along with her own mana limitations, meant she was forced to trade removal spells for Factory tokens. She couldn't do much more than chump the Ghouls rather than build up Sprouts. She eventually laid a face-down morph creature. Looking at her mana and seeing only two Mountains and a mystery Plains, I asked, "Is your morph Akroma, Angel of Fury?" When she didn't reply, I assured her, "You can be honest with me."
"I can be honest with you?" she quipped, and laid the third Mountain ominously. She only laid a second morph, though. I bashed in with the Ghouls again, and Alexis was forced to chump with the first morph, which was revealed as a Whip-Spine Drake (explaining the mystery of the Splash Plains). I was able to cast my second Mass of Ghouls due to my thirteen land in play, and next turn sent both Masses in hoping to take down the second morph, with the continuing flow of Factory tokens and a newly summoned (and pinging) Blightspeaker continuing to put pressure on her life total.
That's when she revealed it was the second morph that was Akroma, Angel of Fury! Such misdirection! Akroma ate the Ghouls with fury, and then attempted to swing back for the win with mega-Firebreathing. Unfortunately for her, Rebels don't play fair—Blightspeaker decided that rather than ping this turn, he'd summon his ally Big Game Hunter, who found Akroma to be quite the trophy. Alexis sighed and conceded.
Unfortunately for Alexis, she was stuck on two land for a few turns, while I ramped up with Phyrexian Totem into Sengir Nosferatu. Stronghold Rats took tiny bits out of her life total until it was Judge Unworthy ... but more land were not forthcoming. Alexis made a valiant effort to mollify the Nosferatu with a Utopia Vow, but I used its own mana-producing ability at the end of my turn to swap into and out of Bat form, then continued the smashing. Her last-ditch plan of suspending Pardic Dragon unfortunately did not work out, since even though I had run out of spells discarding to the hungry Rats, the hasty Dragon was no match for the ridiculous bat-forming Sengir.
Alexis's Story: I was watching Alexis essentially goldfish against Rei between Rounds 4 and 5, going to three tokens a turn with Sprout Swarm and ignoring the cards in her hand. When I noted she had left one turn with which she "should totally suspend the Dragon," Alexis scoffed and said she never suspended Pardic Dragon. She then thought for a moment and said, "Well, almost never."
Noah Weil was also well-known in the halls of Wizards, having been an intern in R&D when I was just starting at the company, an author for this very site, and one of the founding members of Draft Club. When I bothered him for a picture, he asked if I was going to be writing an article, and I claimed I just wanted a keepsake of his handsome face. I could tell he didn't believe me, but he gamely posed for me anyway.
Noah's deck was like mine, but a million times better. Not only did he have an actual curve—Kavu Predator into Llanowar Empath into Sengir Nosferatu—but he had my best cards and also the best cards I didn't have. The best defense I could put up was a Mindstab suspended turn 2 and a Flowstone Embrace to stop the Predator beats. My Vampiric Sliver attempted to stop the Empath, but Might of Old Krosa made that block not so great. I was stuck on four lands looking at the Nosferatu in my hand when he played his, and I couldn't help but laugh. He frowned at me, but I assured him I was laughing with him, not at him.
My hand was much better in the second game, with a turn three Stronghold Rats allowing me to madness out a Big Game Hunter—albeit with no juicy targets—and forcing him to discard a Mass of Ghouls and a Verdeloth the Ancient. At this point I realized I should have just kept the Hunter ready for one of his fatty-boom-booms, but since all he had was an anemic defensive Kavu Predator and Uktabi Drake sucking down all his mana, I was confident I could overwhelm him quickly. He used an Evolution Charm to grab another Forest, a little land light, but his defensive Sprout Swarm to contain my Mass of Ghouls was insufficient to stop the Rats from killing him.
The particular weaknesses of my deck (few flyers or ways to deal with them, reliant on very specific removal, no answer to Sprout Swarm) all came into play in this last game of the last match of the draft. Noah had an Uktabi Drake that took out about half of my life total, while he built up card advantage using two Llanowar Empaths. My Stronghold Rats beatdown was not helping, and I emptied my hand onto the table. My assortment of dorky Mass of Ghouls and Vampiric Sliver was insufficient to address Noah's Sprout Swarm, however, and by the time he was playing Verdeloth the Ancient with X = 4 and then each turn making four more Saprolings, I am pretty well dead. I paused for a few moments pondering if I have any outs, and then decided to extend the hand.
Noah's Story: At the end of the match, when I was thinking about my possible outs to his Sprout Swarm, Noah remarked that the last time he had seen someone do that from a position like mine, it was just before a game-ending Soulblast. He insisted that if I had the Soulblast, I should announce it in a low voice: "Sooooulllllblast." We both knew it wasn't in any of the day's formats, but had a good time ribbing each other throughout the rest of the tournament with a number of variations on the theme: "Hey, did you see that guy's ... soooouulllllblast."
Draft 3 – Multicolor "Grab Bag"
Invasion / Planeshift / Apocalypse / Mirrodin / Darksteel / Fifth Dawn / Ravnica / Guildpact / Dissension / Shards of Alara / Conflux / Alara Reborn
This draft was logistically pretty crazy. Tony and Eric walked around the room with a box full of the aforementioned packs, and each drafter selected three at random (with the only stipulation being that all three had to be different). Then you ordered and drafted your packs chronologically by set release—so, for example, I pulled Planeshift, Guildpact, and Alara Reborn, so I drafted them in that order.
It was hard enough keeping track of what my own plans for the colorful draft was, without worrying about what packs people were passing me. I noted that Alexis had Planeshift first to my right, so I had visions of Flametongue Kavu into another powerful red card going through my overactive imagination. In truth, I was hoping for some sort of base-blue deck since the Esper shard would play nice with the Mirrodin artifacts travelling around, and blue was generally strong in the Invasion and Ravnica blocks.
Despite that plan, however, I opened Sparkcaster and Hunting Drake in my first pack, and for some reason decided to pass the solid flyer for the more open-ended combo-friendly gating creature. I think at the time I wanted to find some of degenerate effect that I could recur using the Sparkcaster without thinking about how useful the Drake would be, especially with the powerful multicolored creatures from Alara Reborn running around. Somewhat luckily, however, Alexis cut blue from me pretty hard. She passed me an Armadillo Cloak second, which I took as a "go Naya" signal. The creatures I was seeing in this first pack were very anemic, but then I realized that creatures from Invasion and Mirrodin blocks were quite weak compared to say, Alara block. I satisfied myself with some removal (Electrostatic Bolt) and tricks (Horned Helm and Wildsize), hoping to find creatures later. I got Rampant Elephant as a nice late-game stall-breaker and Standard Bearer late, showing promise that white was open.
Guildpact had no awesome bombs waiting for me, nor even removal, but had a very solid creature in Gruul Guildmage. I was passed the very strong Barbed Lightning in Darksteel, which I picked over a Tangle Golem and a Razor Golem. A late Selesnya Evangel and the Razor Golem tabling indicated I was in the right deck, but I was still dangerously low on creatures.
My first three picks from the third pack—Crystallization, Oblivion Ring (over Branching Bolt), and Path to Exile—were certainly amazing, but I knew I needed to prioritize creatures for the remainder of the draft. I took the much-needed Valley Rannet for fixing, and rounded out the 14-creature "aggro" special with Rhox Bodyguard and Mosstodon. Amazingly, this deck appeared to have more removal than my nearly mono-black deck from the previous draft! I was a little concerned about the deck's ability to match the extremely sick card advantage decks I was expecting, but I sleeved up and readied for battle regardless.
Ken was giddy about his luck at huge monsters going all the way around the table and into his pile, so I was expecting he would be able to outsize me easily. My opening hand was the best I could ask for, with Selesnya Evangel and Gruul Guildmage, along with the mana to play them and even Armadillo Cloak for good measure! I quickly littered the board with Saprolings as Ken played an Orzhov Signet and then a fully kicked Degavolver. The Volver plus a newly summoned and powered Ruham Djinn held the fort with first strike. My Standard Bearer showed up to allow me to Cloak up the Guildmage without fearing removal in response, but I still couldn't break through. Luckily, before he ever drew a green source for his hand of ridiculous creatures, I was able to draw my Rampant Elephant and lure all of his creatures away for a final swing for the full 13 damage (with an additional 2 from Gruul Guildmage's red ability).
This time, Ken was ready for an early assault with turn one Dega Disciple. I had only a Transluminant, which I then was able to upgrade into a Sparkcaster. His Llanowar Cavalry was doing a good job of preventing me from taking meaningful combat actions, what with the tricksy Dega Disciple always waiting in the wings. As my deck was wont to do, I found Horned Helmet and Planeswalker's Favor to suit up the Sparkcaster for battle. I tried forcing through as much damage as possible, revealing his Plague Boiler with the Favor and taking him down to 4. However, he then played Loxodon Hierarch and Degavolver to gum up the ground ... long enough to unleash his ridiculous combination of Plague Boiler plus the "team regenerates" ability of the Hierarch. I was left with no board, and he proceeded to play a nine-mana Bringer of the Green Dawn. Rather than allow him to Bring the pain, I conceded.
My deck was firing on all cylinders this time, with Transluminant into Gruul Guildmage into Sparkcaster, with Barbed Lightning and Path to Exile to ensure no one was getting in the way. It was quite a blood bath. His slow deck couldn't put any reasonable blockers in the way, but honestly, my hand was so stacked I'm not even sure anything short of Rout would have stopped me.
Ken's Story: "I first picked Plague Boiler in the second pack out of my Ravnica booster, and then was passed the Loxodon Hierarch third! I am a sucker for combos, and Hierarch seemed amazing for me regardless, so I took it." His deck ended up being a little on the slow side, but with Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund, Bringer of the Green Dawn, and two Volvers, it seemed like it was packing some powerful punches! "Speaking of combos, in the Time Spiral draft, I ended up with an interesting base-white deck. I locked out two opponents with Magus of the Tabernacle and Boom! The other splashes—Oros, the Avenger and Fortune Thief—pulled their weight too," he added with a smile.
On the play, I was forced to mulligan a one-lander ... into another one-lander. My five-card hand went one better with no land ... leaving me with a saucy four-card hand of Electrostatic Bolt, Path to Exile, Selesnya Evangel and Gruul Guildmage. I believed no three-card hand could be better than this one, so I kept.
There were no lands in the top four cards, so rather than discard, I packed up and moved on to a hopefully more interesting Game 2. All I saw from Dan were Ana Disciple and Shore Snapper—he was playing it close to the chest, trying not to give me too much information (since he got absolutely none from me as to what I was playing!).
Dan commiserated with my unfortunate mulligans by missing his third land drop! I snapped into action with midrange dorks like Mosstodon and Viridian Lorebearers. When he tapped out of blue for a Gaea's Skyfolk, I took a big chunk out of him with Armadillo Cloak. Unfortunately, he had the Peel from Reality to take care of my Cloak, but at that point I had too much trample damage in the form of a Plant Elephant rumbling at him, so we went on to the third game!
Dan's turn two Putrid Leech sort of outclassed my entire army. I tried to get something going with Selesnya Evangel and an un-bloodthirsted Skarrgan Pit-Skulk to build up Saprolings. When he played a Vedalken Heretic, I went all-in with Armadillo Cloak on the Pit-Skulk. He had the Hunting Drake I passed pack 1 pick 1, however, and put the Skulk on top of my library. I strained to keep the tears inside while he began Draking me. His array of bounce spells, include two Peels, combed nicely with a Pernicious Deed to ensure that the Heretic could keep coming in for extra cards. The game was all but over as I was crushed under Hunting Drake and the weight of his team's card advantage. When Triskelion entered the battlefield, it came with three +1/+1 bullets and put me out of my misery.
Dan's Story: "I felt like all my decks today have been weak—like this one is just Trike, Deed, Leech and bad cards with a 6/6/6 mana base. It seems like everyone is having similar mana problems though." He suggested maybe a pack of Lorwyn or Time Spiral for their five-color common fixers, rather than the bad-for-fixing Mirrodin and Darksteel packs.
With the end in sight, I kept a slightly questionable hand with 3 Plains and a Razor Golem, and an assortment of green goodies coming if I found a Forest. Sam's turn two play was Drooling Ogre—quite a powerful card against my deck! However, with my Razor Golem to take up a vigilant position, I wasn't too worried about the Ogre. He dropped a Signet and failed to play any other threats while I found a green source, Armadilloed up my Golem, and took the first game in short order.
In a strange reversal of fate, Sam's black-red deck was heavy on threats and I was heavy on removal in the second game. I opted to play my Skarrgan Pit-Skulk as a 1/1 to begin pecking away turn one, and then used Electrostatic Bolt on his Battered Golem, Crystallization on his Demon's Jester, and Path to Exile on his Skarrgan Firebird. Needless to say, he was upset. When Gruul Guildmage showed up on turn 7 to triple the clock, Sam conceded. Sam, I'm sorry, sometimes fate is cruel!
Sam's Story: Sam seemed distraught about our second game, and the draft in general. He "tried to get an artifact thing going but it didn’t pan out," he said, and then chuckled. "Your white removal is better than my entire deck!" He pointed out that his Jund Charm would have been a great draw, but another awkward format fact was that his splash color, green, was not winning him any mana fixing awards.
Draft 4 – Draft-Your-Draft (Onslaught Block)
So going into draft-your-draft, in which players got to choose from a number of blocks based on their current standing, I was in about 20th place overall. Unfortunately, that meant I'd be missing out on the Urza's Saga block draft—but I briefly considered another format I've never drafted, Mercadian Masques. As I wandered over toward that table, my friends all shook their heads violently and cried out, telling me to save myself and go to a better table. My Round 3 opponent Matt beckoned me over to the Onslaught / Legions / Scourge Draft (I decided earlier I didn't want to draft Ravnica block again), and with our beckoning powers combined, local Seattle players and friends Zaiem and Hollie Beg and Dwayne St. Arnauld joined us. Dwayne confided in me he had never drafted Onslaught block and Zaiem said he had done so only once, but I assured them it was tons of fun and gave them the rundown on morph, tribes, and the nature of Legions and Scourge.
My first pack was a choice between Solar Blast and Snapping Thragg, with nothing much else in contention. I ended up taking the Solar Blast and hoping that if I went red, Dwayne didn't read the Thragg as too strong a signal. The second pack was devoid of red but had an Ascending Aven. I had visions of Lavamancer's Skills on Mistform Walls for a moment, but then decided that even without those dreams fulfilled, the Aven was quite a strong card. A follow-up Mistform Shrieker cemented me in base-blue, but other than a late Screeching Buzzard and Crown of Suspicion, it appeared only blue was open (and red seemed closed).
I opened my Legions pack and immediately had to decide: Skirk Marauder to continue on the red plan, or Aphetto Exterminator to audible into a blue-black good stuff deck? I opted for the Exterminator, hoping to reap rewards from pack 3 due to the late-ish solid black cards I had seen in pack 1. Dwayne, sitting to my left, passed me a Skinthinner! It turns out he was drafting Zombies but found an even better card in the pack for his solid tribal deck in Noxious Ghoul. I still enjoyed the second pick "Dark Banishing" and picked up three Keeneye Avens, a Wall of Deceit, and a couple of Covert Operatives to round out the pack—unsurprisingly, the black dried up with Dwayne's nearly mono-black deck taking all the cards. The one tribal effect I had considered, Crookclaw Elder, came back super late, but I ended up not playing it. Bird tribal is not the strongest.
Scourge opened up with a Rush of Knowledge for me, over Shoreline Ranger and Lingering Death. I was shipped a Zombie Cutthroat and then two Twisted Abominations! With so many morphs, Aphetto Runecaster seemed very strong for me ("morph tribal"?) and some late Lingering Deaths gave me a solid if unexciting blue-black tempo deck.
For this last draft, it was single elimination (only the pod winner received prizes), but we were asked to self-organize our matches. Since Zaiem was directly across from me, I challenged him to battle and we sat down to fight it out.
Zaiem indicated, having drafted OLS only once previously, that his deck didn't seem that strong even though others had told him it was "the nuts." I launched into instructor mode, telling him OLS was a very tempo-oriented format, and that hitting your two-drop if you had one was often insane against a field of Grey Ogre morphs.
"Really?" he asked.
"Yeah!" I replied. "This is the set where Glory Seeker was printed, and it's actually like second-fourth pick due to the tempo advantage a 2/2 for two gives you."
"Wow, crazy," he muttered.
Zaiem won the roll, and immediately went Plains, Plains, Glory Seeker. He then cackled in my face. Oh Zaiem, you got me good! It turned out Zaiem knew all about drafting tempo, and his Soldier deck was extremely powerful. He followed the Glory Seeker up with a morph, and when he bashed his morph into mine, we looked at each other for a long moment, agreed to "Daaaaaamage on the staaaack?" and then quickly BOTH revealed Zombie Cutthroat! With that free Lava Axe and plenty of Piety Charms and support Soldiers waiting in the wings, Zaiem took me down quickly.
I had a parade of Keeneye Avens the next game, and found an opportunity to get a Covert Operative swinging, all of which Zaiem had little answer for, but his morph team of Frontline Strategist, Wingbeat Warrior and Aven Liberator allowed him to control combat, and pretty soon his Aven Farseer was waaaay bigger than my team of 2/3s. It only took a few turns of the Aven Abyss before I packed it up and congratulated Zaiem on his quick study of the format.
By the time I left at around 10 p.m., I had a semi-permanent smile on my face. With roughly fifty competitors across four drafts, there were always groups of people wandering around between rounds looking for someone to tell their story to, or eager to hear another amazing victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. This is really the heart of the reason I love drafting—despite competing against the other players, it's really also a shared context for everyone's stories!
All in all, it was well worth the day, and left me with quite a few stories to tell my friends—including you, dear reader!—in the coming weeks. So now that you've heard my drafting tales, what are yours?