by Randy Buehler
No one at draft table 31 was happy when they sat down for the first draft of PT - LA 5. Seven of the eight players have significant Pro Tour experience: Jon Finkel, Worth Wollpert, John Yoo, Rich Frangiosa, and James Stroud have all had some success at this level of play and meanwhile Bruce Cowley and Mike Krzywicki aren't exactly strangers to the pro Tour. I stood between Jon Finkel and James Stroud to watch them both draft.
Stroud is a limited specialist who qualified on rating -- a rating he's earned by consistently doing well at limited pro Tours like this one. Finkel is, well, Finkel -- arguably the best player in the history of the game. Jon took a while with his first pack -- it included Nightwind Glider, Arrest, Alabaster Wall, and Vendetta. He seemed to want to take a white card, but saw that he had an opportunity to cut off black and send very clear signals (by passing 3 good white cards). He went with Vendetta. Stroud took a first pick Stinging barrier (over Squee and Charmed Griffin). When Jon picked up that 2nd pack and saw the Pious Warrior, he knew that he was unlikely to get to draft his favorite color -- blue -- because Pious Warrior is right next to Stinging barrier on the print sheet and they usually come together. He took the Charmed Griffin. Meanwhile Stroud took a 2nd pick Sever Soul, leaving Enslaved Horror and Cateran Persuader in the pack. Jon made the obvious move of following up his 1st pick Vendetta with a black card and elected for the persuader. Stroud's 3rd pick Scandalmonger meant that the two of them would be unknowingly fighting for black for the rest of the draft.
Jon's next few picks solidified him in white -- Last Breath, Charm Peddler, and Muzzle. James' tried to cut off black with Undertaker and Wall of Distortion. Neither player seemed interested in a 5th or 6th pick Boa Constrictor, but Stroud finally dipped into green with a 6th pick Hunted Wumpus. Jon kept sucking down playable white creatures like Pious Warrior and two Fresh Volunteers. When he saw that Pious Warrior he immediately counted backwards around the table to figure out who else had opened a Stinging barrier -- the answer was Mike Kryzwicki (the guy on his left). Stroud never saw a blue card after his own first pick Stinging barrier, so he gave up on blue and took Boa Constrictor, Horned Troll, and Venomous Dragonfly before the first pack completely dried up.
After one pack Finkel had many decent white cards (though only one really good one -- the Charmed Griffin) and a vendetta. Stroud's blue had been cut off effectively by John Yoo so he looked solidly green/black. Stroud took a first pick Vendetta out of pack #2 while Finkel thought about switching into green for a first pick Hunted Wumpus, but elected for Steadfast guard instead. The 6/6 beast is obviously better, but Jon preferred to stick to his own colors.
When I talked to Jon after the draft he was really second-guessing his first overall pick. He said that he it would have been much easier to find a second color if he had drafted a white card instead of that Vendetta. In particular he said he would have switched to green for that Hunted Wumpus, but the Wumpus isn't better than the Vendetta plus the couple of black creatures he already had. Still, Jon's first pick made a lot of sense given the lack of any other black cards in that pack and the presence of three good white cards. It just didn't work out. James gladly sucked down his 2nd Wumpus while Jon was forced to take 2nd pick Muzzle and send yet another Hunted Wumpus to his right! Stroud laughed out loud when he picked up that pack and then jokingly knocked on the next pack that Jon passed him. Jon got a nice 3rd pick Sever Soul as a reward for never passing any black cards, but then he wasn't happy when the best card in his 4th pack was Misshapen Fiend. Jon finally took a green card out of pack 5 when he defensive drafted a Silverglade Elemental out of a pack that had nothing much in Shi own colors. Meanwhile Stroud took Tiger Claws, Horned Troll, and Saber Ants. I was a bit surprised that Stroud didn't draft either of the Vine Trellises that he had an opportunity at (he could have taken them over Horned Troll and/or Saber Ants). The cards he took are better in general, but Vine Trellis seems to me like it might be better after you've already got 3 Hunted Wumpuses in your pile.
James did get a Rushwood Dryad, Tranquility, and Squall before the pack dried up completely. Jon got Deepwood Ghoul and Wishmonger before d-drafting a dragonfly, a Tremor, and a 12th pick Vine Trellis. Going into the last pack Jon's slouch indicated some unhappiness with his many small Rebels and no way to search for them. James seemed content with his green fat and a couple banishings.
Jon busted a first pick Lieutenant and then took 2nd pick Ramosian Commander. Jon's deck got even better when he followed up with a Snuff Out and a Ramosian Sergeant. James was faced with the eternal green dilemma when he opened his first pack: Snorting Ghar or Silverglade Elemental. He went with the Ghar and then gladly drafted a 2nd pick Spidersilk Armor. After those first four picks, Finkel's choices went downhill. All he got from the rest of pack #3 was a couple Steadfast Guards and an Alabaster Wall. He flipped his 8th pick Rampart Crawler onto his pile with obvious disgust. James filled out his deck with Deepwood Drummer, Giant Caterpillar, and a couple of Deepwood Wolverines that he probably won't need to play.
So at the end of the draft Finkel went off to build his white weenie deck. He's got 7 Rebels that cost 2 mana or less, 3 ways to fetch them from his deck, and a couple removal spells. Stroud has a lot of green fatties and some removal, but his mana curve is probably top heavy with not much to do on the first 3 turns of the game. I'll try to keep an eye on this table and keep you updated on how it turns out.
JON FINKEL'S DECK
LAND (17) 11 Plains 6 Swamp WHITE (18) 1 Alabaster Wall 1 Charm Peddler 1 Charmed Griffin 1 Cho-Arrim Legate 2 Fresh Volunteers 1 Inviolability 1 Last Breath 2 Muzzle 1 Pious Warrior 1 Ramosian Commander 1 Ramosian Lieutenant 1 Ramosian Sergeant 3 Steadfast Guard 1 Wishmonger BLACK (5) 1 Deepwood Ghoul 1 Misshapen Fiend 1 Sever Soul 1 Snuff Out 1 Vendetta SIDEBOARD 1 Peat Bog 1 Righteous Aura 1 Soothing Balm 1 Bog Witch 1 Cateran Persuader 1 Insubordination 1 Rampart Crawler 1 Rouse 1 Chambered Nautilus 1 Gush 1 Karn's Touch 1 Misstep 1 Port Inspector 1 Close Quarters 1 Flailing Oger 1 Furious Assault 1 Sizzle 1 Tremor 1 Bifurcate 1 Silverglade Elemental 1 Venomous Dragonflt 1 Vine Trellis
JAMES STROUD'S DECK
LAND (18) 12 Forest 6 Swamp GREEN CARDS (18) 1 Boa Constrictor 1 Deepwood Drummer 2 Deepwood Wolverine 1 Giant Caterpillar 1 Horned Troll 3 Hunted Wumpus 1 Rushwood Dryad 1 Saber Ants 1 Snorting Gahr 1 Spidersilk Armor 1 Squall 1 Tiger Claws 1 Tranquility 1 Venomous Dragonfly 1 Vine Trellis BLACK CARDS (4) 1 Scandal Monger 1 Sever Soul 1 Undertaker 1 Vendetta SIDEBOARD 1 Peat Bog 1 Saprazzan Skerry 1 Deepwood Wolvering 1 LumberingSatyr 3 Sacred Prey 1 Stamina 1 Tranquility 1 Bog Smugglers 1 Dark Ritual 1 Wall of Distortion 1 Disenchant 2 Hoodwink 3 Port Inspector 1 Stinging Barrier 2 Ceremonial Guard 2 Crash