Judgment Calls

Posted in Limited Information on March 31, 2009

By Steve Sadin

When you draft, there will more often than not be a couple of key picks that, depending on which way you go, will send your draft flying in one of several different directions.

When your draft goes well, you'll think back on that decision and pat yourself on the back for your great understanding and your ability to feel out the draft.

But what happens when things get rocky?

Pack 1: Shards of Alara

Pick 1

Blightning, Cathartic Adept, Dispeller's Capsule, Dregscape Zombie, Etherium Astrolabe, Godtoucher, Hell's Thunder, Magma Spray, Obelisk of Esper, Resounding Thunder, Soul's Grace, Swamp, Thoughtcutter Agent, Tidehollow Sculler, Yoked Plowbeast

Pick: Resounding Thunder

What a nice way to start off a draft. The best card in the pack is Resounding Thunder, and the next best card is Magma Spray. None of the other cards in the pack can stand up to Resounding Thunder, so we have a pretty easy pick to make.

Blightning and Hell's Thunder also deserve notice as they are both red and both likely to get snatched up in the next few picks. It's always a little bit unfortunate when you are confident that the player to your left is going to take a card in the same color you took, but in many cases you have no choice but to set up that situation.

At least it's better than when you don't know that the player to your left first-picked a card that matches the color of your first pick.

Pick 2

Agony Warp, Archdemon of Unx, Esper Charm, Forest, Hindering Light, Jund Panorama, Jungle Shrine, Relic of Progenitus, Shadowfeed, Tidehollow Sculler, Tidehollow Strix, Tortoise Formation, Wild Nacatl, Windwright Mage

Pick: Agony Warp > Jungle Shrine, Wild Nacatl, Tidehollow Strix

Decision time!

With Resounding Thunder already in tow, we now have the choice between taking Agony Warp, Tidehollow Strix, Jungle Shrine, or Wild Nacatl. Any of these cards will fit nicely into a sharded deck (either Grixis or Naya), so we don't have to worry about any color conflicts yet.

Between the Jungle Shrine and the Wild Nacatl, it would be tough not to take the Jungle Shrine, as it is relevant in a much wider range of decks. Yes, there are decks where you might prefer the incredibly large one-drop to the mana-fixer, but those situations are uncommon enough that I'd far prefer to take the rock-solid Jungle Shrine in this spot.

Agony Warp trumps Tidehollow Strix in pretty much every way, so we're down to a choice between Agony Warp and Jungle Shrine. Now we have a very close pick. Jungle Shrine will be quite useful no matter what way we go with our deck. But Agony Warp is a very powerful card that can help lead our way to an incredibly powerful Grixis, Esper, or five-color deck.

This pick pained me, but I ultimately decided to take the more powerful Agony Warp with the understanding that it was fairly likely that one of my first two picks would end up in my sideboard.

Pick 3

Court Archers, Deathgreeter, Dispeller's Capsule, Island, Knight of the Skyward Eye, Marble Chalice, Metallurgeon, Relic of Progenitus, Resounding Wave, Sigil Blessing, Soul's Might, Sunseed Nurturer, Volcanic Submersion

Knight of the Skyward Eye

Pick: Knight of the Skyward Eye

This pick comes down to a choice between Knight of the Skyward Eye and Metallurgeon.

If I end up playing the Knight of the Skyward Eye or the Metallurgeon, I'm probably going to have to abandon either Agony Warp or Resounding Thunder. Unless I end up going five-color that is...

The fact that I just passed two Naya cards factored into my decision a little bit, but I also just passed a Tidehollow Strix, so it's likely that one of the two players to my immediate left is positioning him- or herself to be in Naya and the other is moving into Esper or Grixis. That means that I'm set for a conflict either way.

Since Agony Warp and Resounding Thunder are pretty similarly powered, giving me no reason to adjust the value of Knight of the Skyward Eye and Metallurgeon, I'm free to follow my personal preference and go with the Knight of the Skyward Eye. These two cards are very close in power level (in their respective decks), and I decided to go with the color combination that I have had the most success with.

Having already taken five colors of cards in my first 3 picks, going five-color seems to be a very reasonable possibility.

Pick 4

Carrion Thrash, Esper Panorama, Forest, Hindering Light, Incurable Ogre, Jhessian Infiltrator, Kathari Screecher, Lush Growth, Memory Erosion, Obelisk of Bant, Soul's Grace, Steward of Valeron

Pick: Steward of Valeron

Having just decided to take Knight of the Skyward Eye over Metallurgeon, it wouldn't have made much sense to take the Esper Panorama over the Steward of Valeron. This pack therefore boils down to a choice between Kathari Screecher and Steward of Valeron.

Kathari Screecher would give us the chance to go Grixis and play both our Resounding Thunder and our Agony Warp. But ... Steward of Valeron is a much more effective card than Kathari Screecher is. And I have a pro-Naya bias to act as a tiebreaker.

It might seem strange that I took the Agony Warp over Jungle Shrine when I'm willing to make bold stands in order to push myself into Naya. And, yes, it is a little bit strange. But if I had gotten passed a strong Esper or Grixis card such as Sanctum Gargoyle, Blood Cultist, or Tidehollow Strix in one of these packs, then I would have gladly followed that.

Pick 5

Hissing Iguanar, Kathari Screecher, Marble Chalice, Mosstodon, Plains, Protomatter Powder, Resounding Roar, Soul's Grace, Steelclad Serpent, Viashino Skeleton, Waveskimmer Aven

Pick: Mosstodon

I took Mosstodon over Hissing Iguanar for two reasons. First, I've had much more success with green-white / splash red Naya decks than I have had with Naya decks that sport red as one of their base colors. More importantly, I already have a Knight of the Skyward Eye and a Steward of Valeron, so taking on a Hissing Iguanar would introduce some early mana requirement conflicts that I just don't need to deal with.

If I felt that base red Naya decks were better, then I might be willing to go for the slightly more powerful Hissing Iguanar, but as it is I just don't have enough of an incentive to mess with my colors.

Pick 6

Call to Heel, Demon's Herald, Dispeller's Capsule, Excommunicate, Relic of Progenitus, Resounding Wave, Spell Snip, Swamp, Viashino Skeleton, Volcanic Submersion

Pick: Excommunicate

I don't love Excommunicate, and it pains me that I have to take it this early, but I'd rather have it than a utility cycler such as Relic of Progenitus or Volcanic Submersion at this point.

Pick 7

Angel's Herald, Banewasp Affliction, Deft Duelist, Forest, Grixis Panorama, Obelisk of Bant, Outrider of Jhess, Thorn-Thrash Viashino, Yoked Plowbeast

Pick: Yoked Plowbeast

Thorn-Thrash Viashino is fine, but without any token generators such as Dragon Fodder to support it I'd prefer to have a Yoked Plowbeast

Yoked Plowbeast

Pick 8

Call to Heel, Mountain, Obelisk of Naya, Ridge Rannet, Sangrite Surge, Savage Hunger, Windwright Mage, Yoked Plowbeast

Pick: Yoked Plowbeast

It embarrasses me a bit to say this, but this pick was just wrong. I normally hate playing Obelisks in my Naya decks, but without any fixers by the end of the first pack (I knew that I wasn't going to get any Panoramas or Obelisks back) I should have known it might be necessary to pick up this piece of fixing.

This is an important thing to keep in mind when look at obelisks. You rarely want them, but as you get deeper into the draft you just might need them.

Pick 9

Cathartic Adept, Etherium Astrolabe, Godtoucher, Swamp, Thoughtcutter Agent, Yoked Plowbeast

Pick: Yoked Plowbeast

Oh boy, just what I wanted—another Yoked Plowbeast ....

Pick 10

Esper Charm, Forest, Hindering Light, Shadowfeed, Tortoise Formation, Windwright Mage

Pick 11

Deathgreeter, Dispeller's Capsule, Island, Marble Chalice, Soul's Might

Pick 12

Forest, Lush Growth, Memory Erosion, Soul's Grace

Pick 13

Marble Chalice, Plains, Viashino Skeleton

Pick 14

Demon's Herald, Swamp

Pick 15

Angel's Herald

Pick: Angel's Herald

Oooh, back-to-back Heralds. You all better watch out!

Pack 2: Shards of Alara

Pick 1

Bant Battlemage, Branching Bolt, Coma Veil, Forest, Gift of the Gargantuan, Glaze Fiend, Grixis Charm, Incurable Ogre, Jund Panorama, Knight-Captain of Eos, Obelisk of Bant, Scourge Devil, Sighted-Caste Sorcerer, Sunseed Nurturer, Tortoise Formation

Pick: Branching Bolt

Branching Bolt was very good in triple-Shards Limited, but it's even better with the addition of Conflux. Knight-Captain of Eos is good, and there are times where it's amazing, but it can't really stand up to Branching Bolt.

Pick 2

Blood Cultist, Death Greeter, Dispeller's Capsule, Dragon's Herald, Gather Specimens, Gustrider Exuberant, Jhessian Infiltrator, Kederekt Creeper, Obelisk of Esper, Plains, Resounding Roar, Soul's Fire, Soul's Might, Undead Leotau

Pick: Soul's Fire

At this point I seem to be on my way to a Naya 5-power deck, not a white-green / splash red beatdown deck. Given that, Soul's Fire becomes a more attractive option than Resounding Roar. Had I instead been on my way to a white-green beatdown deck, I would probably have taken the Resounding Roar in order to help preserve the deck's mana.

A second pick Soul's Fire certainly wasn't what I was looking for (not that it ever is), especially as the deck already needs a good amount of help.

Pick 3

Behemoth's Herald, Coma Veil, Drumhunter, Esper Panorama, Forest, Glaze Fiend, Goblin Deathraiders, Goblin Mountaineer, Grixis Panorama, Hindering Light, Puppet Conjurer, Vithian Stinger, Wild Nacatl

Pick: Vithian Stinger

Even though I don't typically like my Naya decks to be base red, it doesn't seem like we're going to have much choice in the matter this draft. With that in mind, I'm pretty much obligated to take the incredible Vithian Stinger.

If I thought I was going to be splashing red then I would have gone with Wild Nacatl or Drumhunter.


Pick 4

Angel's Herald, Blightning, Bloodthorn Taunter, Dreg Reaver, Drumhunter, Etherium Sculptor, Island, Naturalize, Obelisk of Grixis, Resounding Scream, Sigil Blessing, Thunder-Thrash Elder

Pick: Drumhunter

It pained me to pass Drumhunter in the previous pack, but I'm fortunate enough to get one here.

Pick 5

Gift of the Gargantuan, Grixis Battlemage, Grixis Charm, Mountain, Obelisk of Naya, Outrider of Jhess, Rockslide Elemental, Savage Hunger, Soul's Fire, Vectis Silencers, Welkin Guide

Pick: Soul's Fire

We're short on early drops at this point, so Rockslide Elemental would be a nice addition to the deck's curve. Unfortunately, Rockslide Elemental really isn't that impressive when you don't have a bunch of other cheap cards to back it up.

Welkin Guide won't do much for us. And while there is some argument for taking Obelisk of Naya here, picking up an extra piece of removal in the form of Soul's Fire is just too important.

Pick 6

Cancel, Cavern Thoctar, Elvish Visionary, Knight of the White Orchid, Obelisk of Jund, Onyx Goblet, Rakeclaw Gargantuan, Skeletal Kathari, Swamp, Volcanic Submersion

Pick: Rakeclaw Gargantuan

Rakeclaw Gargantuan can be a bit difficult to cast as we don't have any fixing yet, but it's powerful enough that I'm willing to take on that burden, especially when the only piece of competition it's facing is the noticeably less impressive Cavern Thoctar.

Knight of the White Orchid would be incredibly difficult to cast in our deck, so it isn't really worth considering.

Pick 7

Deathgreeter, Etherium Sculptor, Goblin Deathraiders, Island, Jungle Weaver, Marble Chalice, Minion Reflector, Sigil Blessing, Thorn-Thrash Viashino

Pick: Jungle Weaver

Given that we already have three Yoked Plowbeasts, I wasn't too excited to pick up a Jungle Weaver. Even so, Jungle Weaver is a big enough upgrade from Yoked Plowbeast that I'm willing to take it over a Sigil Blessing that won't be too impressive in our deck.

Pick 8

Banewasp Affliction, Covenant of Minds, Forest, Jungle Weaver, Lush Growth, Steelclad Serpent, Tortoise Formation, Vectis Silencers

Pick: Jungle Weaver

When it rains seven-cost cyclers, it pours seven-cost cyclers.

Jungle Weaver
Jungle Weaver

Pick 9

Coma Veil, Forest, Glaze Fiend, Incurable Ogre, Jund Panorama, Sunseed Nurturer, Tortoise Formation

Pick: Jund Panorama

A piece of much-needed mana fixing.

Pick 10

Deathgreeter, Dispeller's Capsule, Dragon's Herald, Gustrider Exuberant, Plains, Soul's Might

Pick 11

Behemoth's Herald, Coma Veil, Forest, Glaze Fiend, Hinderiing Light

Pick 12

Bloodthorn Taunter, Dreg Reaver, Island, Resounding Scream

Pick 13

Mountain, Savage Hunger, Vectis Silencers

Pick 14

Onyx Goblet, Swamp

Pick 15


Pack 3: Conflux

Pick 1

Aerie Mystics, Aven Squire, Cumber Stone, Dark Temper, Infectious Horror, Molten Frame, Parasitic Strix, Pestilent Kathari, Rhox Bodyguard, Soul's Majesty, Swamp, Sylvan Bounty, Unstable Frontier, Valeron Outlander, Wandering Goblins

Pick: Aven Squire

There are a lot of good cards for us in this pack, and our deck has a lot of problems that it needs to solve. However, the biggest problem, bigger than even the deck's shoddy mana, is its curve.

Aven Squire is one of the best early drops in the format and a great addition to our deck.

It's tough to take a creature over a quality removal spell such as Dark Temper, but we're without any black permanents, and a three-mana Shock just isn't that special.

Pick 2

Brackwater Elemental, Exploding Borders, Frontline Sage, Gleam of Resistance, Jhessian Balmgiver, Might of Alara, Nacatl Hunt-Pride, Plains, Salvage Slasher, Scepter of Fugue, Sedraxis Alchemist, Sludge Strider, Vedalken Outlander, Wild Leotau

Pick: Nacatl Hunt-Pride

A few weeks ago I went over a pick where I took Gleam of Resistance over Nacatl Hunt-Pride because my deck was desperate for mana fixing.

Well, my deck is once again desperate for mana fixing, but it's even more desperate for cards that can actually make a difference. It pains me to pass on such a good piece of mana fixing, but Nacatl Hunt-Pride is the type of card that can allow this deck to actually rack up some wins.

Pick 3

Beacon Behemoth, Bone Saw, Dreadwing, Exploding Borders, Grixis Illusionist, Jhessian Balmgiver, Lapse of Certainty, Paragon of the Amesha, Plains, Scattershot Archer, Traumatic Visions, Yoke of the Damned, Zombie Outlander

Pick: Beacon Behemoth

Ouch, this pack has very little for us. We have to take Beacon Behemoth, but another five-mana 5/3 that is difficult to cast isn't really helping us in any substantial way.

Pick 4

Brackwater Elemental, Exploding Borders, Fleshformer, Font of Mythos, Frontline Sage, Gleam of Resistance, Might of Alara, Mountain, Salvage Slasher, Sedraxis Alchemist, Vedalken Outlander, Wild Leotau

Pick: Gleam of Resistance

I'm pretty happy to snag this Gleam of Resistance. Wild Leotau can be good in this type of deck, but we already have so many expensive cards that it's just going to prevent us from casting our big spells in a timely manner.

Might of Alara isn't really an option for us when we need mana fixing as badly as we do.

Pick 5

Aven Trailblazer, Brackwater Elemental, Darklit Gargoyle, Esper Cormorants, Fleshformer, Nacatl Savage, Parasitic Strix, Plains, Suicidal Charge, Wandering Goblins, Wretched Banquet

Pick: Aven Trailblazer

This was a pretty perfect card for us to take here. Aven Trailblazer is a good, cheap card that remains relevant later in the game. And it's in white, our most prevalent color.

Pick 6

Bone Saw; Constricting Tendrils; Esper Cormorants; Goblin Outlander; Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer; Plains; Salvage Slasher; Skyward Eye Prophets; Vagrant Plowbeasts; Valiant Guard

Pick: Vagrant Plowbeasts

Oh boy, just what we needed—another seven-drop ....

That said, Vagrant Plowbeasts is actually a relevant card for us as it means that we actually have a card that allows us to take over when we get deep into the game.

Aven Trailblazer

Pick 7

Aven Trailblazer, Brackwater Elemental, Darklit Gargoyle, Esper Cormorants, Island, Nacatl Savage, Scornful Æther-Lich, Suicidal Charge, Wandering Goblins

Pick: Aven Trailblazer

This Aven Trailblazer was a serious gift. Not as much of a gift as that eighth-pick Esper Cormorants, though ....

Pick 8

Bone Saw, Canyon Minotaur, Gluttonous Slime, Goblin Outlander, Mountain, Reliquary Tower, Salvage Slasher, Valiant Guard

Pick: Canyon Minotaur

Knowing that my mana was going to be a disaster, and that I was going to have some huge holes in my three-slot and my four-slot, I had to take the 3/3 Canyon Minotaur to help give me a chance of curving out reasonably.

Pick 9

Infectious Horror, Molten Frame, Parasitic Strix, Pestilent Kathari, Rhox Bodyguard, Swamp, Wandering Goblins

Pick: Rhox Bodyguard

Wow, do I wish I had gone Esper!

Pick 10

Frontline Sage, Jhessian Balmgiver, Plains, Salvage Slasher, Sludge Strider, Vedalken Outlander

Pick: Sludge Strider


Pick 11

Bone Saw, Dreadwing, Grixis Illusionist, Jhessian Balmgiver, Plains

Pick 12

Fleshformer, Mountain, Salvage Slasher, Vedalken Outlander

Pick 13

Fleshformer, Plains, Wandering Goblins

Pick 14

Plains, Valiant Guard

Pick 15


Final Decklist

Download Arena Decklist

Things did not go according to plan at all this draft. I had to play 18 lands to have a reasonable chance to cast my spells, and I still had plenty of curve problems.

In my first round I won a long Game 1 against my Grixis opponent. In Game 2 I mulliganed twice and never really offered up much resistance. For Game 3, I kept a Mountainless hand and lost as I drew a glut of red spells without the mana to cast them.

So why did I share this draft? It would have been just as easy for me to show a draft where I made a judgment call that worked out in my favor and I easily 3-0ed the draft thanks to my great judgment and perception. But you get to see that all the time.

It's not that there isn't a lot to be learned from a successful draft (and I'll be sure to show you a successful draft walkthrough soon), but I don't want to create the illusion that I or anyone else has some sort of sixth sense that allows them to feel out the draft perfectly every time. This time, I thought that I was being told to go Naya, but I just wasn't.

There were a couple of pivotal points in this draft at which I could have made a different decision that would have completely altered the way my draft went. But I didn't. Instead I was put into a position where things were going poorly for me and I had to try to make the most out of a bad situation. While I got passed plenty of good cards in my colors, I never got passed cards that would allow me to put together a coherent deck.

Key Points in the Draft

Pack 1, Pick 2

If I take Jungle Shrine over Agony Warp the dominoes literally fall into place from that point on. I don't even look at the Metallurgeon in the next pack, or the Esper Panorama in the following pack, and I just keep taking my Naya cards the whole way through.

Jungle Shrine
Agony Warp

As things were, my deck would have been smoother if I had taken the Jungle Shrine second pick, but that wouldn't have solved any of the deck's problems by itself.

By taking the Agony Warp, I opened up a set of doors for myself that I ultimately chose not to enter. I made sure the doors were open a crack, but I didn't choose to take advantage of them. Turns out there was some really good stuff behind those doors ....

Pack 1, Pick 3

There are times when you make the decision to take Agony Warp over Branching Bolt first pick first pack and your draft sort of falls into place around that. But just as often that critical point comes third or fourth pick when you are choosing between two good cards that will send your deck in one direction or the other.

I made a key decision this draft and it didn't turn out the way that I had hoped it would. Do you know what that decision was?

Pick 3, when I took Knight of the Skyward Eye over Metallurgeon.

Knight of the Skyward Eye

Once I had taken Knight of the Skyward Eye over Metallurgeon, I couldn't take Esper Panorama over Steward of Valeron in the next pack. I still had a chance to go Grixis by taking Kathari Screecher in the following pack, but that just didn't seem as appealing to me as taking the noticeably more effective Steward of Valeron.

And from that point the dominoes just fell into place.

Don't Be Too Results-Oriented

I'm not saying that taking the Knight of the Skyward Eye over the Metallurgeon was the wrong pick, but I do want you to be aware that that was the pick that the draft hinged upon.

Had I gone Esper (or Bant), I would have wound up with a very, very good deck. Just my fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-pick Esper Cormorants alone probably would have been enough to beat my first-round opponent. But I didn't take the Metallurgeon and go Esper; I took the Knight of the Skyward Eye and went Naya.

As it was my deck was okay, but very lacking. But had I wound up with an awesome Naya deck, then that Knight of the Skyward Eye would have been the reason why my deck was so good instead of the reason why my deck was mediocre.

To be perfectly honest with you, I don't think that there is a correct answer to the Knight of the Skyward Eye vs. Metallurgeon question. And that's not the point of reading deeply into this draft.

You should walk away from this draft with the understanding that things can and sometimes do go terribly wrong. Sometimes it's because of a mistake, and sometimes it's just because you made a judgment call that went bad.

Given how badly positioned we were, we drafted a pretty competitive deck. Weak? Yes. But still competitive.

Even if your draft goes poorly, you can still give yourself a very reasonable chance to win.


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