I'm on location in Berlin this week, working on coverage for the Pro Tour. And while of course that means paying a lot of attention to the stuff actually going on at the Pro Tour, it also reliably means something else: drafting!
You'd think that after a ten- or twelve-hour day of watching people play Magic, writing about people playing Magic, editing and posting other peoples' writing about playing Magic, etc., the coverage team would be well and truly ready to put Magic aside and go grab a bite to eat. And of course there is dinner at the end of the day—we're very hungry—but it's often a rushed affair squeezed in between coverage and the ubiquitous coverage team draft.
See, we spend all day at a Pro Tour immersed in Magic, we don't actually get to play any Magic. By the time we wrap up the coverage and head back to our hotel, we've got the itch something fierce.
Casual players I've talked to are sharply divided on the subject of drafting. Some people love how it's different every time, or just enjoy it as a chance to do something with all the new packs they want to open. Others don't have the packs to open, or don't have enough people who want to draft, or don't like the idea of opening a pack and only keeping one of the cards. I personally adore drafting, but I know not everybody feels the same way, so I've generally kept my addiction out of this column. I can, after all, stop any time I want to.
Sometimes, though, a person just needs to bust a pack or three.
In Brief: Players "draft" cards out of booster packs one at a time, passing the pack to another player each time. After going through three packs in this fashion, players build decks out of the cards they've drafted.
Rules Rundown: A group of players numbering four or more, typically six or eight, sit down with three sealed booster packs each. By default, each player has the same mix of packs, but players can bring any mix of packs they choose if the group agrees to it ahead of time. You'll want plenty of basic lands on hand.
Players sit down in a circle. Each player opens his or her first pack, chooses one card, and passes the pack to the player on his or her left, recieving a new pack with 14 cards from the player on his or her right. Any tips and token cards can be set aside. Repeat this process until there are no cards left in these packs, then open the next round of packs, passing to the right this time. For the third round of packs, pass left again.
After all three rounds of packs are over, players build 40-card (minimum) decks using the cards they've drafted and any number of basic lands (specifically, the cards Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, and Forest—no snow lands, sorry). Players then play each other in one-on-one, best-of-three matches, either on their own or as part of randomly selected teams.
Alternately, players can play multiplayer games after drafting. Free-for-All, Attack Left/Right, Emperor, Star, and other multiplayer formats without special deck construction rules all work fine. There are also special rules for Two-Headed Giant Draft, which you can download in Word format here.
Pros: Draft is different every time. It's a great way to get a feel for a new set while also adding to your collection, and it's fun when having one
Cons: Draft can be pretty intimidating if you're not used to it. On top of that, some players don't like the idea of opening a pack and then passing 14 of the cards in it down the line. You still end up with 45 cards at the end, but that may not feel like much consolation when you open a your pack and see two cards you really want for your decks. Finally, there's the simple logistical problem of getting together four or more people who all have packs, all have time, and all enjoy drafting.
Here in Berlin, I eagerly sat down to draft with other members of the staff and coverage team. Shards of Alara Draft can be tricky because of the colors, but I really like that each of the shards gives you (at least) one theme that you can really aim to draft around. This time, being Naya Week, I had a vague ambition to go for Naya, but as usual, I'd go with whatever the packs brought me.
And indeed, my first two picks, Vithian Stinger and Covenant of Minds, seemed to point pretty squarely toward Grixis. And if I'd drafted Grixis, I think my deck would have been good. But my third pack didn't have much Grixis action, so I nabbed a Knight of the Skyward Eye as a fine little two-drop that works quite well with Naya's 5-power theme. I could always splash Covenant of Minds....
Sure enough, I was able to ride a modest Naya wave all the way through the first pack, picking a second Vithian Stinger and Knight of the Skyward Eye, Sangrite Surge, and the surprisingly effectively Lightning Talons.
For the second pack, it quickly became clear that I'd kept my neighbors to the left firmly out of Naya country, because the hits kept coming. Rakeclaw Gargantuan, Druid of the Anima, Wild Nacatl, Woolly Thoctar, and Sacellum Godspeaker lept into my pile right in a row. And later in the pack, when there wasn't anything I really wanted for my Draft deck, I was able to grab a Prince of Thralls that I can put to good use in one of my Constructed decks. The third pack was pretty much just wrapping up and filling holes.
We teamed up randomly—tips vs. tokens, doled out face down—and sat down to build decks. After some jimmying and pondering, I ended up with this deck:
I was pretty happy with the deck. It doesn't have anything really crazy, with the possible exception of Sangrite Surge—just a solid collection of beef to crush somebody with.
My first match was against Rachel, a Wizards staffer working Side Events this weekend—most of the people at a Pro Tour aren't there for the main event, and somebody has to keep the side drafts and Constructed tournaments flowing.
Rachel was also running Naya, and amusingly, apparently because of an abundance of green at the table, neither of us had been able to find any actual Forests. I was just using Islands, a little confusing given that I have that Covenant of Minds and two real sources of blue mana in the deck (Seaside Citadel and Obelisk of Bant). Rachel, meanwhile, had written "Forest" on some commons she didn't want, which is perfectly fine, I guess, but has always struck me as a bit blasphemous.
She started off pretty strong with Exuberant Firestoker, Steward Valeron, and Knight of the Skyward Eye. It wasn't long, however, before I was able to play Woolly Thoctar, the great equalizer, and stabilize. I shot in with the Thoctar, hoping against hope that she would block with two creatures, which she did....
I was ready, with a Branching Bolt on one of the hapless blockers.
Rachel, unfortunately, was ready right back:
This was before combat, so the Rhino stomped in as a 6/6—oops, 7/7—trampler. At that rate, the game was over in very short order.
It's awesome to see Soul's Might in action, even if the action in question involved my delicate skull.
During our second game, I developed what looked like a pretty commanding board presence:
Amusingly, this echoes the finishing move of one of the decks seeing lots play in the Pro Tour this weekend, the delightfully exclamatory "Elves!". The deck uses Heritage Druid and/or Birchlore Rangers, Nettle Sentinel, and Glimpse of Nature to chain Elves into Elves into Elves, sometimes with Wirewood Hivemaster for even more creatures. One version of the deck goes on to win with a huge Predator Dragon, or sometimes Mycoloth or Tar Fiend. They're calling it a combo deck, but I say it gets a free pass for winning with a huge Dragon. Fwoooooooosh!
Between matches, I cruised around to see how my teammates were doing, and saw Monty Ashley's awesome Esper concoction locked in battle against—wait, is that Broodmate Dragon equipped with Quietus Spike?
Not that Monty's board was slacking off, mind you, with no fewer than three awesome Esper rares that I was quite happy to get for my 60-card Box League deck.
My next match was against coverage manager Greg Collins, playing... Naya! Yes, it appeared that I had happened to stumble into the all-Naya end of our draft. That's just fine with me—as I may have said, there are few kinds of Magic I like more than good, honest fatties leaving good, honest footprints on good, honest faces.
I led off strong with a turn-two Druid of the Anima and turn-three Sacellum Godspeaker into turn-four Rakeclaw Gargantuan with mana up to give it first strike—quite relevant against Greg's Guardians of Akrasa-pumped Steward of Valeron.
When I attacked the next turn, though, Greg sent the Gargantuan away with Resounding Silence. I shrugged and tapped all of my lands and Elves to bring the even bigger Jungle Weaver to the party. Through all of this, I only ever had one 5-power creature at a time in my hand to use for Sacellum Godspeaker. One mana makes a difference, though, in this case letting me play the burly Spider instead of doing more or less nothing.
After dealing with Hissing Iguanar before it could get out of hand, I smashed into his remaining creatures with Jungle Weaver, thinking the meaty 5/6 was safe from his wimpy 2/2 and 0/4. Greg proved me wrong by blocking with Guardian of Akrasa and gracing it with not one but two Sigil Blessings, leaving it a massive 6/10. Jungle Weaver is enormous, but that's even enormouser.
Meanwhile, I was getting through with at least a few of these huge fattie attacks as well as pinging away at Greg's life total with two Vithian Stingers, my own less flashy double doing their quiet work.
Greg managed to muster up two huge 6/6s, but by that point it was too late.
Our second game was an even bigger brawl. I once again led off strong...
...but Greg shut down my opening bid pretty early this time, with a Thunder-Thrash Viashino eating an early Elvish Visionary to become a very respectable 4/4.
Things bogged down for a while after that, giving us time to clog the board with fatties like my Cavern Thoctar and his even bigger Rockcaster Platoon. When I finally swung in with Wild Nacatl and Cavern Thoctar, Greg knew something was up. He blocked Wild Nacatl with Thorn-Thrash Viashino and Cavern Thoctar with Rockcaster Platoon.
"Okay," he said, "show me the Sigil Blessing."
"Yes, sir!" I replied.
He made one last play, a Lich's Mirror to try to draw into something exciting after I finished with his life total the first time. I smashed in and he shuffled up, then played a land and passed back on a comfortable 20—comfortable, at least, unless you're playing against Naya.
My third match, against coverage hound and incurable Brit Tim Willoughby, was a blur of Hell's Thunder, Scourge Devil, Bone Splinters, Kederekt Creeper, Fire-Field Ogre, no fewer than three
I've gotten some email from folks wondering what a good Grixis deck would look like. I think Tim's Draft deck would be a great starting point:
It was time to get to bed after that, what with another ten- or twelve-hour day of coverage work looming in the morning, but we'd scratched the itch—at least until the next evening, when once again we would tempt each other from much-needed rest with that irresistible siren call: "Draft?"
- First Pick, or Unplayable?
As I said, I'll draft pretty much any time (although there are people on the coverage team who put me to shame), but I know not everybody cares for the format. What do you think of it? Is Draft a mainstay in your play group? An occasional diversion? An unbreakable taboo? And for those who do draft, do you usually stick with the "latest" format, or do you branch out with older packs? Do you make sure everybody brings the same thing to the table?
I'm curious to know, because there are plenty of wacky Draft formats, including multiplayer drafts, that I'd love to talk about if you want to hear about them. Sound off in the forums!