I am not the best drafter in R&D. I know this, so I prepared for the draft by making a list. It's several lists really—I put all the cards in the set into categories, and within each category the cards are in order of how much I wanted to draft them.
Some of the categories are in approximate order, and you should be aware that I am not one of the people they allow to do pointing of card power level. I'll tell you briefly about some of the categories you can see in my lists. In Shards Rotisserie, I feel that the best way to win games is by using the most devastating creatures. The removal just isn't strong enough to contain them, and most of them win in one or two turns. This made me want to focus my early picks on them. There are sixteen on my list, meaning that almost everyone could get three of them if they so chose. Five of these game-winners cost eight mana, however and I wasn't sure our decks would be slow enough for them to come out to play. You have probably also noticed the * after Mayael the Anima. That's because while I think she could win games in the right deck she requires a lot of support from the rest of the cards you draft. There are a *s next to Master of Etherium and Where Ancients Tread for the same reason.
On to the next most important category: removal. One of the best reasons to make a list like this before a Rotisserie Draft is to remind yourself of each and every one of the removal cards. I paid special attention to removal cards that could deal with the game-winners (as opposed to a card like Magma Spray, which is solid removal, but often useless against the bigger creatures). Fleshbag Marauder and Where Ancients Tread are two good examples of cards you might forget about when trying to find a removal card late in the draft. Even if you don't check your list every pick, just making the list increases the chance you will think about the less obvious cards.
One final thing I would like to note about my list before we get to the draft itself: the two-drop and three-drop categories. Knowing all the cheap creatures in whatever colors you end up in, and especially taking time to evaluate which ones are the best beforehand, will help you out a lot in the heat of the moment. It can also show you whether there is a solid aggro deck available and what colors you need to be drafting to play that deck.
The drafters for this event were Alexis Janson, Dave Guskin, Gregory Marques (that's me), Ken Nagle, Lee Sharpe, and Tom LaPille. While waiting for Ken and Lee to arrive, the rest of us talked a bit about what we might pick first, but being sly drafters we were also trying not to give away our plans to the enemy. We joked about the triple-lands and how there might be a run on them—as soon as one person picks one, the next four people have to grab the others. We decided they would last until about fourth pick. Our stragglers walked in, and we rolled d20s to decide the pick order. Ken was up first.
Ken: Jungle Shrine
Guess we were wrong—ha ha, but don't act too shocked. You know the triple-lands are very good in Shards of Alara Limited. Also, by choosing a land Ken was declaring his intention to draft that shard. Picking a triple-color monster might do the same, but you would leave yourself vulnerable to someone else taking your land.
I was in the fifth-place spot, so I could only watch helplessly for a few more picks:
Alexis: Sigil of Distinction
Tom: Flameblast Dragon
Dave: Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Damn—Flameblast was at the top of my threats list, and I really wanted to put myself into red. Also, my backup plan of taking Elspeth, Rafiq, and a pile of exalted cards was blocked by Dave. I made a move for Ajani Vengeant, but after a minute of consideration I decided it was a bad idea. The Naya land was already gone, and I knew there was no way I was going to kick Ken out of his favorite shard. Looking at my list, I also knew that Jund has more of the game-winners than any other shard, and red and black combined have some of the strongest removal.
Greg: Predator Dragon
Predator Dragon is a serious game-winner, sometimes clobbering an opponent for 10 out of nowhere. I would not normally recommend taking a card with in its casting cost as your first pick, but in this case I wanted to scare Lee away from red (and hopefully into blue, as it looked really open at this point). I thought that if Lee went into opposite colors from me, I could feel like I was on the wheel because his picks would almost never affect me.
Greg: Broodmate Dragon
Lee clearly had a plan—not the plan I wanted him to have, unfortunately. For my second pick, I tried to claim Jund with one of its best creatures. Broodmate Dragon is especially good because it creates two flying threats that the removal selection in the format has a hard time dealing with.
Dave: Battlegrace Angel
Tom: Sharuum the Hegemon
Alexis: Master of Etherium
Alexis: Arcane Sanctum
Dave: Oblivion Ring
I was already envious of Dave's plan and his success in executing it. You couldn't hope for a better first three picks for a white-centered deck. For Ken's picks, he stole my land and a removal-type planeswalker. He must have known the format is almost flooded with game-winners and believed he could easily still pick up two or three of those in his four colors, no rush. Alexis decided to fight Tom, who seemed to abandon (or plan to splash) his first pick. I honestly expected both Scourglass and Hellkite Overlord to be gone by this time. I almost took the Hellkite myself for my next pick, but because no one else had touched any eight-mana cards I began to doubt my evaluation of them. That, and I couldn't pass up my favorite planeswalker!
Greg: Sarkhan Vol
Greg: Jund Panorama
Infest—a very solid mass removal pick by Lee here. I knew I couldn't make my deck work without some fixing and couldn't risk Ken taking this land for his next pick.
Dave: Rafiq of the Many
Alexis: Sanctum Gargoyle
Ken: Naya Panorama
See! I told you! He'd have taken my panorama too if it had still been there.
Ken: Resounding Thunder
Alexis: Sharding Sphinx
Tom: Agony Warp
Dave: Seaside Citadel
Greg: Vein Drinker
I was wondering for a moment if Alexis was going to take any creatures that could win her a game, but she picked up the flying beater of a Sphinx on the return pass after the efficient, card advantage–generating gargoyle. Maybe her creature selection would matter less with Sigil of Distinction in her deck to pump any creature up to Nayan proportions. After taking Vein Drinker (removal and flying attack power in one sexy package!), I wanted to acquire some removal spells. Ken's second pick this pass made me worry that he would be competing heavily with me on the red cards I wanted. I also saw him eyeing Caldera Hellion, which was the best removal spell on my list still available to me.
Greg: Caldera Hellion
Dave: Kiss of the Amesha
Tom: Courier's Capsule
Alexis: Bone Splinters
Branching Bolt is, obviously, another spell I wanted that Ken took. Sprouting Thrinax, on the other hand, I did not think was worth taking so early. Even with my Predator Dragon to eat it or its tokens I just knew I would rarely have on turn three to play it. Ken clearly felt he could leave the Naya cards for later, as nobody was going to threaten them. I began to worry that Dave's deck would be completely unbeatable because he wasn't getting enough competition from Ken in white, and Alexis and Tom were both too busy fighting over artifacts to notice. I was wrong about the latter, of course ....
Alexis: Tower Gargoyle
Tom: Cloudheath Drake
Dave: Bant Panorama
Greg: Grixis Panorama
Argh, now Lee's getting in on my red removal too?
Greg: Jund Charm
This was an important pick, giving me my second "mass removal" effect. I might not have needed to take it so highly, as Ken was the only other player who might have taken it. His pick of Sprouting Thrinax made me think he just might, however.
Dave: Bant Charm
Tom: Etherium Sculptor
At first I thought Tom's pick here was a little weak, but perhaps he was afraid of not having any two-drops and wanted to get the best ones for his deck ASAP. It can be hard to find enough cheap creatures when there is only one of each common available. Still, my list has a lot of fine blue and white two-drops on it much higher up than Etherium Sculptor.
Alexis: Esper Battlemage
This was one of so many, many times I felt like Ken was stealing my picks right before I made them. The battlemage was definitely the card I had planned to take next. So I had to come up with a new plan fast. I decided that I needed to start threatening him back in Naya a little bit. This kind of pressure happens constantly in rotisserie, and it's one of the things that makes it fun. You have to figure out which other players will take the cards you want, and in what order, so that you can get them first.
Alexis: Esper Panorama
Tom: Obelisk of Esper
Dave: Steward of Valeron
Greg: Soul's Fire
Mind you, while I want to begin pressuring Ken, I have to watch out for Lee sniping my red cards too, so I used my first pick to take one of the few remaining removal spells that can kill a player as well as having some chance to take out a game-winning creature.
Greg: Druid of the Anima
Dave: Topan Ascetic
Tom: Sphinx Sovereign
Alexis: Call to Heel
Ken: Violent Ultimatum
Ken: Obelisk of Jund
Well, okay then ... I guess Ken is just in Jund and that whole Naya land first thing was a fake out. He later told me that he actually wished he had just stuck to Naya and not competed with me. We each would have had a shard to ourselves, and Alexis and Tom would have be the only two players in direct competition. While I sure would have liked it better that way, I still feel that Jund is the deepest shard and that I could have a strong deck despite the competition. The only reason I wished Ken had been more Naya at this point was that someone needed to compete with Dave before he ran away with it any more than he already was. For example, why was Resounding Silence still lying there? It is one of the very few ways to deal with any threatening bombtastic creature.
Alexis: Deft Duelist
Tom: Windwright Mage
Dave: Qasali Ambusher
Greg: Obelisk of Naya
Greg: Resounding Silence
Hah! Nobody saw that coming, let me tell you. Between Druid of the Anima and Obelisk of Naya, I felt I could easily splash this one white card. Furthermore, if no one else would compete with Dave for white I could switch to a heavier white plan, splashing my Charm and Dragon. I would have to abandon Vein Drinker, but it was only one card.
Dave: Akrasan Squire
Tom: Tezzeret the Seeker
Alexis: Sigiled Paladin
Dave: Rhox Charger
Greg: Elvish Visionary
Greg: Feral Hydra
We have a saying in R&D when we draft, courtesy of Dave Guskin: "Two-drops, two-drops!" I realize the Hydra isn't a two-drop, but this is the point when I started thinking a lot about getting early creatures for my deck.
Dave: Obelisk of Bant
Tom: Ethersworn Canonist
Alexis: Knight of the White Orchid
I should note that with the last three picks (including this one), Alexis had moved directly into white, taking many of the best two-drops out from under Dave's deck. Naturally, they are good for her deck too. Good move.
For Dave's last few picks he'd been wandering over to the green section and taking some solid creatures that Ken may have wanted. When he made a sad face as Ken picked these two cards up, Ken assured him that it was only because there were very few combat tricks available and he simply had to have at least one for his deck. I laughed, mostly pleased that they had finally started competing with each other.
Alexis: Tidehollow Sculler
Dave mused out loud about the possible troubles Alexis might have with her mana base. She projected nothing but confidence in it. Personally, I love Tidehollow Sculler on turn two, but like Dave, I find it hard to have the ideal mana base for it (and the rest of the deck to go with it).
Alexis clearly had a plan, though, which is always something you should worry about when she's your competition. Dave later told me that at first he thought his deck would be hurt by Alexis taking his early creatures, but that he found plenty of them in green, and it only served to make her mana more difficult and his easier.
Tom: Esper Charm
Dave: Wild Nacatl
Greg: Court Archers
Greg: Dragon Fodder
I was a little puzzled with Dave's pick here, as he wasn't likely to get more than a 2/2 out of the kitteh. Then I realized that a 2/2 for one mana is practically a legendary creature, and much better than the Cylian Elf he was eyeing. I almost picked up that
bear Elf myself at this point. It suddenly struck me that Court Archers is one of the very few reach creatures, plus it has exalted. Dragon Fodder is much better for my Predator Dragon than a single creature, so I grabbed that too. I was very pleased with these two picks, and they both proved to be excellent in my deck.
Lee's pick of Scavenger Drake got me thinking about the "Khabál Ghoul" creatures in the set. The first-striker and shrouder were still there, and they can both be extremely hard to deal with. Combined with Hissing Iguanar they might be the perfect midgame for my deck.
Tom: Steelclad Serpent
Alexis: Dregscape Zombie
Alexis: Resounding Wave
Dave: Stoic Angel
Dave was still picking up some very powerful cards this late in the game. I began to wonder if I could do much against him. Also getting an awfully late power pick this pass was Alexis with Resounding Wave. What was that still doing there?
Greg: Gift of the Gargantuan
I realized this was mana-fixing, duh, and it could also get me my game winners a little faster. The middle picks are all so very valuable in these drafts, it's really hard to get what you want; but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you can get what you need.
Lee: Kederekt Creeper
Lee was clearly the only one in Grixis, but even so he couldn't just leave the best cards of his shard on the table forever. Someone might hate-draft them, and now was a fine time to take this very solid attacker.
Greg: Bull Cerodon
This 5/5 is sometimes underrated. Ken and Dave had both been eyeing on their prior picks. By taking it I was perhaps making a questionable decision about my mana base, but I did not regret it.
Dave: Naya Battlemage
Argh! I meant to take this guy earlier. Perhaps it would have been better to take instead of Dragon Fodder—I bet the sorcery would have lasted a while longer. When Jund Battlemage was taken, it somehow made me think this Battlemage was gone as well.
Alexis: Cunning Lethemancer
Ken debated taking Cylian Elf over the haste 2/2 here. The mana is easier to get on turn two, but with his two triple-lands he felt he was good for it. At this point, Dave suggested we make some achievements for the draft. He wrote things like "first vanilla," "first in all five colors," and "most hate drafts" on the whiteboard.
Alexis: Covenant of Minds
Tom: Filigree Sages
Dave: Cylian Elf
And there you have it! We nearly gave Dave the "first vanilla" achievement, but then we realized that Woolly Thoctar was also a vanilla. During the celebearations, I realized that there was still a powerful removal spell available. Maybe it was still there because it couldn't necessarily kill the game-ending creatures. Maybe we'd just all missed it. So I took it. Lee took a similarly overlooked removal-ish card.
Greg: Bloodpyre Elemental
Greg: Algae Gharial
Earlier I mentioned the creatures that gain counters when things die. I took the shroud guy here more because I was afraid of facing it than because I thought it might be good in my deck. I should have left it on the table. While the next few players took cards I told myself to take Hellkite Overlord next, it was still out there and even at eight mana it was likely to make my deck.
Dave: Resounding Roar
Tom: Dreg Reaver
Alexis: Knight-Captain of Eos
Alexis: Dawnray Archer
Tom: Salvage Titan
Alexis had threatened hate-drafting Naturalize to protect her deck when Ken and I discussed it a pass or two previously. In this format, you certainly should keep an eye on cards that devastate your strategy, but it's hard to sacrifice deck quality for them.
Greg: Carrion Thrash
It's no 8/8 dragon, but it does have some built in card advantage. I have seen 4 toughness go an awfully long way in regular Shards of Alara drafts.
Greg: Rakeclaw Gargantuan
This pick might have been more to spite Ken than for my deck. It's a little too much white for me, but I was still thinking I might leave out my Vampire and then white could be my third color and black my fourth instead of the other way around. I certainly had a few 5- power creatures to give first strike to.
Dave: Rhox War Monk
Ugh. More running away with it. This is the moment when I became certain that eight people would be better than six for this format. More forced competition for the shards would make for a more fair draft. I have also always felt that a few subpar cards in decks can make for good stories.
Tom: Punish Ignorance
Alexis: Welkin Guide
Side story: In a regular booster Shards of Alara draft just two days prior, I gave Ken a bit of a thrashing with Tar Fiend. His deck had two Jhessian Infiltrators, along with a Quietus Spike. He had killed me with unblockable Quietus action in Game 2, and I was suddenly facing down both of the unblockable bears in Game 3. I drew my sixth land and played Tar Fiend, sacrificing two creatures to make it an 8/8 and forcing the last two cards out of Ken's hand. I was extremely relived to see him put Quietus Spike into his graveyard. Still, if he had had enough blockers to chump with, his unblockables would have killed me quickly anyway.
The next turn (after taking 4) I dropped Welkin Guide and sent Tarry-poo to the air for ten. Pow! Ken laid out some more guys, however, and I wasn't going to deal more than 2 (with the Welkin Guide) on my next turn. Down below 10 life myself, when it came to my turn, I drew and cracked a huge grin. It was Elspeth, Knight-Errant, who sent the Fiend to the sky for 11 more! Magic is fun, isn't it? Okay, now back to our Rotisserie Draft.
Alexis: Spell Snip
Tom: Skill Borrower
Speaking of cool game stories; in a game against Dave (in this draft), Tom had Skill Borrower in play and the top card of his deck was Scourglass. There's not much better than destroying all of the opponent's non-lands and none of your own. Not much ... except doing it twice in the same game!
Greg: Hell's Thunder
While I did not have Hissing Iguanar as a three-drop, I felt I could get the same damage output from Hell's Thunder. It would set me up to win right after casting Broodmate or Predator instead of having to two or three times with my finisher. Of course, against someone with early fliers I would have to side it out. Godsire, while not as powerful up-front as Hellkite, certainly can kill you very fast if you don't get rid of it.
After this point most of us had completed our decks and the picks were a lot less important. You can review them (and the entire draft) by checking out the pick sequence, with cards played highlighted:
I feel it's worth noting that while some others tried to hate-draft anything that might be a threat to them, I continued to look for sideboard cards or alternate cards for my deck. Incurable Ogre, Skeletal Kathari, Exuberant Firestoker, and Goblin Mountaineer are good examples of this. In fact, I immediately pulled out Algae Gharial for Exuberant Firestoker as it fit much better with my deck's overall strategy.
My first match was against Alexis. In the first game, Jund Charm caught her perfectly, wiping out her small creatures. I played out a couple of big creatures after that and ended it quickly. In the next game she had a weak draw and didn't see enough smaller creatures. Broodmate Dragon made an appearance, along with his other brother, Darryl, to finish the job.
Against Dave I had a bit of a poor mana draw the first game and couldn't keep up with his exalted attacks. In Game 2 I made a strategic mistake on turn two. I had a Forest and a Grixis Panorama and a choice between playing Elvish Visionary or fetching a Swamp. I played the Visionary, thinking I would have a chance to get the swamp later.
Unfortunately, his Qasali Ambusher and Rhox War Monk put on so much pressure I had to keep playing creatures just to stay in the game. When he played Elspeth, Knight-Errant, I thought it was over, but I saw a very narrow out. If I fetched a Mountain with my Panorama and then top-decked any land after that, I would be able to play Predator Dragon and hold off the flying 6/7 for a turn—after that, who knows, but at least it was one turn. I went for it and indeed, drew the land. The next turn got me Broodmate Dragon off the top. Dave sent in an alpha strike, and I was forced to block with every creature I had. He killed my other Dragon with Resounding Roar, and I was again backed up against a wall. I might have had one more turn to draw something like Resounding Silence, but Dave dropped Angelic Benediction and tapped my Court Archers while attacking in the air for the win. Even with better draws, I was clearly not favored in the matchup.
My third match against Lee included this almost comical play: He had out Blood Cultist and Rockslide Elemental. I had Druid of the Anima and Rakeclaw Gargantuan. His creatures already had one counter each, so an attack with the Gargantuan wouldn't put me ahead. Instead I decided to play Caldera Hellion. I sacrificed only one creature, not both. This was because his elemental would gain counters from my sacrifices before it took damage and two more counters would make it a 4/4. Fortunately, he didn't have any tricks to save his creatures and I wiped them out.
In the next game, Jund charm was just as effective as it had been against Alexis. I was only sad that I hadn't seen Sarkhan in a single game. I had a lot of fun and was very happy that my strategy was well planned and worked out well despite being in heavy competition for some of my cards.
First land drafted: Ken
First planeswalker: Dave
First Ultimatum: Ken
First vanilla: Ken
First common: Tom
First to take fifth color: Ken
First cycling : Ken
Hate draft of a Herald: Alexis
Herald then matching mythic rare: Dave
Slowest drafter: Ken
Fastest drafter: Lee
Most griefer drafts: Tom
Achievement hoarder: Ken