by Randy Buehler
When Darwin Kastle is on a hot streak, he puts up some of the best results on tour. His five final day appearances are second only to Jon Finkel and Darwin currently leads the Pro Tour Player of the year race. As Saturday morning dawned on the boat, Darwin sat down at table #1 with a 6-0-1 record. He's quite likely to add to his lead in the player of the year race, since none of the next 10 players made day 2. Darwin's reputation among top players is that he's an amazing player, but a questionable drafter. However, after watching him draft, I'd have to say that his drafting skills are underrated. He put on a clinic. Here's how to draft like Darwin Kastle:
His first pack included Arrest, Ogre Taskmaster, and Intimidation. He took the Arrest, of course. Nicolas Labarre then passed him a pack that was missing the rare, but did still have Nightwind Glider, Hunted Wumpus, Hired Giant, and Undertaker. Darwin's pick was obvious: Nightwind Glider. (The rare that Labarre drafted, by the way, was Two-Headed Dragon.) Darwin's next pack forced him to choose between Steadfast Guard, Kris mage, and Snorting Ghar. The Ghar is probably the best card of those 3, but Darwin saw an opportunity to both cut off his own color and send a clear signal to Kurt Burgner (drafting on Darwin's left) about what color Kurt should be drafting. Darwin took Steadfast Guard and passed the Ghar in the same direction he had just passed Hunted Wumpus. In pack #4 Darwin continued to implement this strategy by drafting Devout Witness over Blockade Runner and Invigorate. In pack 5 Darwin drafted Disenchant over Invigorate and in pack 6 he took Ramosian Sergeant over Rishadan Airship. Pack 7 added an Orim's Cure to his pile (over Cateran Persuader).
In pack 8 Darwin's choices were Tiger Claws, Extortion, and Ancestral Mask. He continued passing green and took the Extortion. When Darwin got his own pack back and it still had both intimidation and Skulking Fugitive. He took the Intimidation and now knew that not many people had taken black cards as his pack traveled around the table. Pick #10 was a Darwin-tech special: Sandstone Needle. Three of the most powerful cards you can open that might tempt you to splash a 3rd color (Two-headed dragon, Kyren Negotiations, and Volcanic Winds) are double-red and if you want to splash double-red spells, Sandstone Needle is the way to do it.
The rest of the packs were uneventful. Going into pack 2 Darwin's deck was very white and somewhat open as to what his second color would be, but black looked like the best bet. Unfortunately for Darwin, Nicholas Labarre was passed Wave of reckoning and made that his second pick. In addition, Kurt Burgner (who would be feeding Darwin in pack #2) first-picked a Nightwind Glider before Darwin's "go green and don't go white" signal could get through. Kurt may or may not have given up on white, but he busted a Wave of Reckoning of his own in pack 2 and then went on to draft green/white. The fact that Darwin was unable to succeed in cutting off white doesn't change the fact that his picks were a textbook example of how to do it.
Darwin's second pack forced him to choose between Scandalmonger, Wishmonger, and Reverent Mantra. He took the Mantra. Labarre, meanwhile, rewarded Noah Boeken (who passed him the Wave of reckoning) by sending a Waterfront Bouncer his way (which went nicely with the Stinging barrier that Boeken had taken over Wave of reckoning). Labarre took 1st pick Crossbow Infantry. Darwin's second pack had Cinder Elemental, maggot Therapy, Rishadan Airship, Lightning Hounds, and War tax. Darwin took Maggot Therapy rather than dive into red. He knew that he got no red in pack 1 (because Labarre cut it off after opening Mr. Two-Head) and Darwin knew that he needed to get good looks at black. The Elemental went straight into Labarre's deck and the Airship into Boeken's as that pack traveled down the line.
In pack #3 Darwin took Undertaker over Shock Troops, Tiger Claws, and Rock Badger. By this point Darwin must have been disappointed that Kurt wasn't hooking him up with white, but his picks weren't bad. Pack number 4 included both Nightwind Glider and Ramosian Commander (the 2/4 searcher for 2WW). Darwin surprised me by taking the Commander. Next Darwin took an obvious Lieutenant and then in his next pack he surprised me again by drafting Bog Smugglers over Wishmonger. Pick #7 was Sandstone Needle #2 over a bunch of worthless blue and red cards. He then took 8th pick Inviolability over Unmask. His 9th pick was Cateran Brute over Cateran Persuader and Orim's Cure. He then killed a Cavern Crawler and followed it up with 2 more Sandstone Needles. That way he could make it hard for anyone else who might have busted a red bomb to splash it and beat him with it.
Pack #3 was really interesting. Darwin was not happy with his selections in pack 1: Rock Badger, Steadfast Guard, Waterfront Bouncer, Gerrard's Irregulars, and Cateran Brute. A first pick Steadfast Guard isn't what you hope for, especially when you fear you're getting squeezed for white. Labarre took first pick Thunderclap over Arms Dealer. Darwin's second pack brought him Haunted Crossroads, Ramosian Rally, monkey Cage, and Disenchant. He took the Crossroads and I'm sure he'll take full advantage of the way it combos with rebels and Mercenaries. Pick #3 was Cateran Overlord (over Spidersilk Armor, Counterspell, and Steadfast Guard). His 4th pick was a Lieutenant. Pack #5 was where all his thinking and positioning really paid off. He got passed 5th pick Cateran Enforcer -- arguably the best black non-rare in the set. He definitely chose the right second color. Then his 6th pick was a Sever Soul! Plan A (cutting off white) didn't work out perfectly, but that's why you're supposed to have plan B. Darwin spent his early picks cutting off one color in an attempt to influence the drafters on his left while simultaneously studying the packs to get information about what was going on with the drafters on his right.
He'd finished out his draft with a Sergeant, a Pious Warrior, and a Strongarm Thug, a 10th pick Deepwood ghoul, and an 11th pick Misshapen Fiend. His deck may not be the best at the table, but it sure looked like the best deck that could be drafted from his seat.