Lunch: A Gathering for Magic

Posted in Serious Fun on December 27, 2011

I have several loves in my life: my wife, my jobs, my family, my friends. Both Magic and food can be added to the list as well. Discovering a friendly face around the workplace who also wanted to get gaming over lunch was a turning point for me. I've had some great times with Craig, and we've continued to find Winchester the perfect pace of game for us.

If you're short on extra seats, or only have a few booster packs to work with, Winchester Draft is one way to get things going!

While many of you are already aware, this may come as a surprise to some of you: I'm not a full-fledged employee of Wizards of the Coast. My daytime proclivities are completely unrelated to Magic and the awesome things I enjoy in my free time.

For me, Magic is a hobby. It's a hobby that I'm dedicated to, work hard to grow and share, and find infinitely exciting to explore, but a hobby nonetheless. While working for Wizards is an amazing thing from all appearances, I have to find creative solutions to spice up the doldrums of the everyday with Magic additives. One way to do so was a subtle tip from Tom LaPille in his article introducing Winchester Draft: Magic over lunch.

Today is a two-part story: why I started running with Winchester Draft a few times each week, and how just such a draft ended up playing out.

    Miracles of Miracles

After attending the local New Phyrexia Prerelease I received an email from Craig, a fellow associate who works in the same building with me, sharing that he, too, was at the Prerelease, had seen me, and definitely loved Magic. We shot a few emails back and forth, and the topic of conversation quickly moved to fitting Magic in over lunch breaks.

Games of Magic take time to play. While coming with Constructed decks ready to go is the fastest way to fit it into a short timeframe, Craig and I agreed that drafting would be way more fun than trying to bash the same decks against each other all the time. We each have a Pauper Cube (an idea which I introduced to Craig and that he quickly adapted for his own) and share a penchant for pack busting, but found that Winston and other two-player Draft variants were just too sluggish to work for our 40-minute window.

Enter Tom LaPille's article on Winchester Draft. The gloomy skies of foreshortened Magic parted in a burst of iridescent brilliance. We gave it test runs using my cube and leftover prize packs. The timing worked out perfectly; we could meet, draft, eat, play, and clean up all in well under an hour.

Thanks to prize packs from the Innistrad Prereleases I attended, we had the chance to break in the latest set the way I love best: over lunch.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's review make sure we're on the same page.

Winchester DraftIn Brief: Winchester Draft is a variant, two-player method of drafting booster packs.
Rules Rundown: You can find all the essential elements of the rules in Tom LaPille's article about the format. That's it!
Pros: Winchester Draft requires very little set-up time, just two players in total, and mixes a healthy amount of luck and skill to reward players of all types. You can even bring separate packs and track where certain cards came from (you or your opponent) so they make their way back at the end!
Cons: It's a difficult format to adapt to more than two players without losing some of the simplicity of it. Like other Limited formats, once the match is over the decks are fairly used up; you'll want plenty of booster packs to make the most of Winchester.

As promised last week, Craig and I worked together to document significantly more of the information many of you like to see. You can find the entire draft—that's all the picks and every card—here.

The final decks we created were these two:

Adam's Innistrad Winchester

Download Arena Decklist

Craig's Innistrad Winchester

Download Arena Decklist

These are two very different decks, each with their own unique plan. I was all aboard the Werewolf train to pain on Craig, while he had decided to bring a plethora of spells and graveyard interaction. While I was dubious about his concept, you'll see some things work out for him pretty well. (Spoiler: Very well.)

    Game 1

Craig got to go first, but I had to mulligan as well. I kept a hand of four lands and two five-drops, but I would soon regret keeping only two big dudes as I drew nothing but lands for a few turns as Craig was able to muster Rakish Heir, then Riot Devils. I quickly slammed my Hollowhenge Scavenger when the Heir was a 4/4, but Craig was ready for that possibility with Ranger's Guile.

A Moon Heron from Craig led to things looking a little grim for me. I took even more damage as I cast Bloodcrazed Neonate and Darkthicket Wolf, and Craig found Orchard Spirit and Mirror-Mad Phantasm. After a little bit of blocking, this is what things looked like:

What is a Spider-wielder to do? Well, with my life total at just a meager 7 life, I decided to give this crazy Phantasm a block. At first it seemed like Craig would just smash the Mirror-Mad Phantasm into the Spider and call it a day. But Craig is, if anything, amusing to play with, so, naturally, he used the Phantasm's activated ability to save it. It took every card except for the last in his library to get the Phantasm back.

That's right: Craig had exactly one turn to kill me. I still had Somberwald Spider on the battlefield. He had Orchard Spirit, the aforementioned Phantasm, and a One-Eyed Scarecrow. This is how it played out:

  • Craig drew for the turn: Geistflame.
  • Cast Geistflame on the Spider (1 damage dealt).
  • Cast Past in Flames to give instants and sorceries in his graveyard flashback.
  • Cast Geistflame on the Spider again, for just instead of (2 damage dealt).
  • Cast Prey Upon targeting my Spider and his Scarecrow (4 damage dealt; lethal).
  • Attack for exactly the last 7 life.

In a most spectacular fashion, Craig won!

    Game 2

For the second game, neither of us changed out decks up; we just went straight back to work. This time my lead-off plays were much faster: a turn-three Villagers of Estwald into a Wooden Stake, equipped, on the subsequently transformed Howlpack of Estwald. A counterless Festerhide Boar joined the party too, as did a Hollowhenge Scavengers.

Craig wasn't just sitting by. Curse of the Bloody Tome was tearing up my library every turn, taking out hits such as Harvest Pyre and Darkthicket Wolf. He played some creatures, including Selhoff Occultist, but they just died to my angry big dudes.

However, because Craig is lucky if nothing else, he did find Mirror-Mad Phantasm again. With 5 power on the table and sitting at 12 life, things started to look up for Craig. The Dead Weight I ripped off the top took out the Phantasm, and my three guys hit in for exactly 12.

Fast! I won one!

    Game 3

Our third game, for all the marbles (though neither of us seem to have many at all), was much more interesting than the second. I had a fairly aggressive start, with a turn-one Reckless Waif (that howled into a Merciless Predator shortly thereafter), turn-three Hanweir Watchkeep, and turn-four Villagers of Estwald. Sound scary?

Before our third game Craig had decided to switch things up and bring in some of his white for green. His idea was to present more creatures, earlier, and better fight a Werewolf horde. He opened with an early Curse of the Bloody Tome and Moon Heron, but my Werewolf creatures transformed when I took a chance that he couldn't cast two spells right away on his turn.

It looked like I'd unleash a world of hurt after Craig's turn. But Craig had drawn a land for his turn, which then let him cast two more creatures in one shot: Orchard Spirit and One-Eyed Scarecrow.

Suddenly I had lost all my momentum and I was taking a lot of damage in the air in a hurry. While my little furballs did get another chance to howl, by the time they could it was too late. I was short a Swamp to cast the removal in my hand, and died to an evasive assault from Craig.

Game, and match, go to Craig!

    Adam and Craig's Excellent Adventures

Winchester isn't the only way to draft with two players. Other methods often lead to just as interesting games and situations, but Winchester gets us to those games first by far. If you think that there's some drafting to be done in your future, give Winchester a try. If you already like Limited then you'll really enjoy how Winchester lays it all out there for you!

Our howling good time last week has quite a few loose ends to wrap up, starting with some polls!

If you were going to have Adam build and play one of these two Werewolf decks, which would it be?
Mr. Eichenberger's "A Blue Moon Rises"19862.1%
Mr. Langley's "Werewolves in the Mist"12137.9%

If you were going to have Adam build and play one of these two Werewolf decks, which would it be?
Bryan's "The Little-Death That Brings Total Ruination"14257.3%
Sean's "Love in the Grave"10642.7%

Do you want to see a battle of the night terrors between the winning Werewolf and Zombie decks?

Four decks, three questions, two tropes, and one final battle to own the night; I like your choices! What's stunning is that there was a bit of a hiccup on deck duplication, and the actual list for Mr. Eichenberger's list did not show up for several hours—yet still won! As has been tipped off to me, his deck is "just beautifully put together" to make the most of the double-faced card rules. You can expect a fearsome showdown in a few shorts weeks as I need to rally the cards appropriate for just such a duel.

This week's poll is much more practical:

Have you already tried, or plan to try soon, Winchester Draft?YesNo

Join us next week when we get gibbed before a respawn. See you then!

    Innistrad Travels to Winchester

While there isn't a sexy draft viewer to see how Craig and I took turns picking, we did take notes and pictures throughout the draft. If you wanted to see an entire Winchester event in detail this is the place.

A quick caveat before going forward: we draft because we find the process, and resulting games, fun. If you don't enjoy the type of deep thoughts judo that Craig and I do, that's okay. Sometimes we just want to get down to gaming as fast as possible, and other times we really get into discussions about what pile to pick.

What's important is that you're having fun playing Magic however you're choosing to play. We just enjoy playing when we're choosing too.

    Pick 1

While a small, evasive creature is appealing, and howling at the moon feels awesome, a piece of powerful Equipment feels good and promises pain.

    Pick 2

    Pick 3

I like removal spells, and I like red creatures. I like them better together. While the Vampire is a bit trickier to handle later on, Dead Weight would almost certainly end up being anything but.

    Pick 4

As Craig shared in his notes to me: "Woo hoo!" Craig is a big fan of blue and green, so getting Moon Heron and Prey Upon in the pack pick is exciting for him.

    Pick 5

Picking up another red creature, black removal spell, and two tricky green spells feels awesome. Moonmist is the universal Human-transformer, and would open up some Werewolf shenanigans if it happens. Since there are only six transforming creatures in a Winchester, and not all of them are Human, it wasn't something I was counting on completely.

    Pick 6

Craig and I discussed the options here, but we both settled on the big flying mythic rare as a fine beatstick to pick up. Craig looked further and decided that a flashback deck may work. Keeping your eyes open to possibilities is something Craig and I have definitely used to maximize how much joy a certain strategy brings!

    Pick 7

Another Werewolf, with a Moonmist to boot, made jumping onto the Werewolf-bandwagon easier. I like it when a plan begins to fall into place!

    Pick 8

Craig looks over the piles before settling on the option of tricks and removal. Knowing that he's a fan of green means that I can count on seeing Spidery Grasp in his deck later on.

    Pick 9

This pick was a bit strange for me, and I wanted the Darkthicket Wolf, Bramblecrush, and Wooden Stake, as well as Abattoir Ghoul. I settled for Hollowhenge Scavenger and another Werewolf, but it may not have been the strongest option available. But that's part of what makes Draft exciting: the unknown coming ahead!

    Pick 10

Craig decided to go in on black and white together, and wanted to see if the Memory's Journey would float back around to him.

    Pick 11

I recall this pick as being no-contest. Sometimes, just a quick pile of playable cards sets things apart!

    Pick 12

Easy-to-cast creatures with bonus abilities—first strike and evasion—are great to keep picking up. Craig, however, felt he was still very short on creatures.

    Pick 13

While I was excited to see another Werewolf to join my pack, Craig was excited to begin predicting with accuracy what pile I would pick up. Even with three colors in play for both of our decks, narrowing do what your opponent is after can help you gain more of the things you want or take something powerful your opponent will grab.

    Pick 14

Milling and more removal are two things Craig doesn't mind having more of that this point.

    Pick 15

This was a tough choice for me as I knew how awesome (and flavorful) Manor Gargoyle is, but a more aggressive creature, combat trick, and mana fixing all looked promising as well. (This pick turned out fairly uninteresting, as the Gargoyle never came up in games!)

    Pick 16

There is no hesitation from Craig as he scoops up the pile with the second mythic rare of the draft. Sweet.

    Pick 17

I wanted another creature, and I liked the trample-biting Feral Ridgewolf more than other options.

    Pick 18

Craig lights up on seeing Burning Vengeance, and it's clear that he's on a flashback-empowered plan.

    Pick 19

I wanted to try out Inquisitor's Flail in a deck, and this one came attached to big creatures that I might want to play anyway. Hurray!

    Pick 20

I was holding my breath when the final creatures with transform landed in the same pile together. With two copies of Moonmist I was sure to play one. Fortunately for me, Craig grabbed more milling and a Boneyard Wurm to work with it.

    The Last Picks

Craig is surprised by my choice and, in hindsight, I am too. Two on-color removal spells alongside a recursion spell could have sold me. Instead Craig got that pile and I got peace of mind playing Moonmist.


Drafting is always an interesting experience, and playing with the latest set always makes it trickier. My three-color deck's mana would be a little shakier than usual, but I've gotten use to strange mana in Winchester.

Craig was a little less happy with his deck, and after working the colors over a few times he settled into a deck without Plains. I found that very curious, but the shrug and grin from Craig told me that something was definitely up.

Now, back to the other action!

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