One more weekend. Just one more weekend until we get to see the greatest Magic players in the world put the cards from Gatecrash through their paces at the highest level of competition. Somewhere in the neighborhood of four hundred players are heading to Montreal for Pro Tour Gatecrash for six rounds of drafting with the new set and ten rounds of the brand-new Standard format. It seems pretty likely that if you are reading this column you will be watching the live coverage at home.
That also means it is time for the Fantasy Pro Tour on Facebook. You get to pick cards in ten different categories. Once the top Standard decks from the Pro Tour are in, you will be awarded points for each time your cards appear in one of those lists. For this event, I decided to get together with my fellow Pro Tour Gatecrash video commentators and do a rotisserie version of the Fantasy Draft. I randomly drew draft positions for myself, Rich Hagon, Marshall Sutcliffe, Zac Hill, Rashad Miller, and Tim Willoughby (who is subbing in for the absent Sheldon Menery for this event) and kicked off our draft with Rashad picking first in the small creature category.
- Small Creature
I was impressed by how deep Standard has become, such that we could all end up with solid picks and still have viable cards sitting on the bench. Ash Zealot, Cloudfin Raptor, and Experiment One were all cards I was considering with the third pick, but Delver of Secrets has done too much damage over too many events for me not to give it the respect it has earned. I have to admit I was a little surprised by Rakdos Cackler as the first overall pick in the draft, but Rashad explained that the printing of Sacred Foundry means Paul Rietzl's favorite aggro guild will be out in full force for the PT.
"I think Boros will be popular and there will be other red- and/or black-based aggro strategies which will also play this card—Boros, Mono-Red, Black-Red Aggro, Mono-Black possibly," explained Rashad.
Rich Hagon was more than happy to swoop in for a second-pick Snapcaster Mage. I still remember doing a video preview of Snapcaster Mage with Aaron Forsythe and being utterly flabbergasted—not a word I use lightly—by the card. And it has exceeded all my expectations for as long as it has been available in Standard.
"He's been such an all-star, and if there are two things pros love, it's 'value' and 'control,'" said Pro Tour Statistician Rich Hagon of his pick. "There are so many awesome possibilities for this guy, even up to things like getting back a Skullcrack in response to a Sphinx's Revelation... I can't imagine him not being awesome in Montreal."
- Medium Creature
Hagon got to lead off in the mid-sized creature spot—which encompasses creatures costing three or four mana—and paid homage to his Azorius guild with Geist of Saint Traft, another card that has been an apex predator since the day it was released into the Standard wild.
Once again, the picks from one through six are—with the exception of my Boros Reckoner—proven commodities in Standard, and given a metagame shift in any direction, could dominate the Constructed rounds. For Rich, the Geist was an easy pick and he cautioned me that I might have let a sweet card slip past to Zac Hill with the third pick.
"Just like Snapcaster, cards like Restoration Angel didn't suddenly become bad overnight, and familiarity sometimes breeds contempt. Let's not forget—Geist is hexproof. They can't hit it! It gives you a 4/4 flier. 4/4! For free! Every turn! As a card, Geist can be catastrophically unfair, and that's exactly what you want to be doing. Add in Frontline Medic, and the chances to ride Geist to victory may be better than ever."
Frontline Medic was a card I was considering before choosing Boros Reckoner. If you follow plenty of Magic players on Twitter you have likely seen the picture of Tomoharu Saito's red-green deck he has been playing to great success in Japan. He is not qualified for this Pro Tour but will be back for Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, and he knows a thing or two about building aggro decks.
Michael Jacob has also pointed out on Twitter that Boros Reckoner allows for an infinite life combo in the new Standard environment, assuming you can give your Reckoner both lifelink and indestructibility. I was playing around online and pulled off the combo with Boros Charm and Azorius Charm, so it can be done. I was also playing with Reckoner in a Zoo deck featuring Domri Rade and making Reckoner fight is decidedly unfair.
- Large Creature
I got to pick first in the large creature category and could not resist a chance to take the
elephant Beast in the room. Skullcrack may make tapping five mana for a big dumb guy seem... well... big and dumb, but I have to respect the past performance of this bad boy. If the aggressive red decks prove as viable as they seem from early results, then Zac's second pick may shine here. Based on the Human Reanimator success at last weekend's SCG Standard Open I wonder if Angel of Glory's Rise was not incredibly underpriced for Tim picking in the fourth position (it also reminds me that Cartel Aristocrat may end up being an unfortunate omission in the small creature category.
Artifact is always a tricky category without a dominant piece of Equipment to choose from, but there were viable picks from one through six. Zac chose the already-seeing-Constructed-play Rakdos Keyrune in first position and all the picks in between that and my last pick seem equally legitimate. That said, I feel pretty lucky to get the dominant piece of Equipment in the last position.
Zac, who has been transitioning back from being an Ramp;D member to being someone you absolutely don't want to have sitting across from you in a win-and-in match, got to see the Keyrune in action at a recent Grand Prix.
"I think it's quite well-positioned right now, accelerating while playing meaningful defense against the format's major threats," said the Pro Tour Honolulu Top 8 competitor. "I was really impressed with it at Grand Prix Atlantic City. I also think Rakdos's Return is a bit underplayed at the moment, and Keyrune is the perfect setup for that."
Rashad may very well have gotten the steal of the draft in the instant category with a third-pick Skullcrack—a card that will see some bench play in any deck that can support red. Marshall's Sphinx's Revelation is the flip side to the card and the presence of the former may keep the latter in check. He also got to pick it fourth in the Gatecrash category.
"It's going to be in all those Boros, Naya, and Mono-Red sideboards," said Rashad of the instant that will be foiling the best-laid plans of Beasts and Sphinxes in Games 2s and 3s.
The sorcery category saw Marshall Sutcliffe scoop up a last-pick Faithless Looting that Rich thought was one of a handful of steals in the draft, including a couple of the upcoming categories.
"Obviously, I had Thragtusk and Thundermaw Hellkite as my first two picks in the large creature category, but I'm still pleased with my last-pick Wolfir Silverheart," said Hagon, of the various last picks that seemed surprising to him. "Again, that's a fantastically unfair card, which is—broken record time—what you want. For the rest, I think Marshall can be very pleased about a last-pick Faithless Looting and a fourth-pick Rancor. There are signs that Rancor could be huge this weekend. And finally, I imagine you're feeling very happy about a fifth-pick Boros Charm."
Zac has been beating the Domri Rade drum on social media since it was previewed and was happy to scoop him up in the fourth spot of Planeswalkers. While the public perception of the three-drop Planeswalker does not seem to be equal to Hill's, he is confident he will be proven right.
"I think the card is borderline unprintably good," laughed Hill, when asked about whether there would be a home for the card in Montreal. "So yes definitely to thinking there's a deck for him."
When we did the draft, we used a shared Google spreadsheet and we could see each other's picks as they were made. Tim Willoughby waited through the picks, thinking he might get Rancor—a card I considered and should have picked second—ludicrously fifth. Rancor is playable in far more decks than just the Bant decks with Ethereal Armor, but I just love that Aura so much I threw caution—and logic—to the wind. As soon as Marshall picked up the Rancor, Zac virtually shook his head and chastised himself for the pick. Willoughby was crushed.
"I never really thought that I would get a fifth-pick Rancor," said Willoughby, who was staying up late to see if he would get it. "But over the time that the draft was running, it gradually seemed more and more possible. When you went for Ethereal Armor, then Zac took Blind Obedience, I had about a couple of hours waiting for Marshall to wake up in Seattle where the outside chance played on my mind. I felt like I was watching a steamroller heading toward my dreams when Marshall took a long time to come up with his enchantment pick. Once that was out of the window, I started looking to sideboard cards as my enchantment. Exquisite Blood combo seemed a little cute to show up in numbers, but Volcanic Strength is a really nice option for red decks now that red splashes are more likely to include actual Mountains."
- Nonbasic Land
The nonbasic land grab may have resulted in a sweet pick for Rashad, as we were so focused on the shocklands that we forgot almost every creature-based deck will want Cavern of Souls. I still would pick Breeding Pool, but I should have at least considered the Cavern.
I had last pick in Gatecrash cards and was pretty happy to end up with Cloudfin Raptor, a card I had considered in the small creature category along with Experiment One. Lands do seem like a fine choice and Breeding Pool is sad to not be picked here. If Rashad's Rakdos Cackler ends up being a strong pick, then he got the steal of the draft here with Skullcrack.
The final category is a tiebreaker and it is based on the finish of a pro player. Eight of the ten most-money-winning players in the history of the game will be in play for this event. Only two of them were selected in this category, which seems like a miss on paper for everyone except Zac and Rashad.
- Pro Player
Marshall: David Ochoa
Tim: Reid Duke
Rich: Yuuya Watanabe
BDM: Ari Lax
Zac: Jon Finkel
Marshall is banking on David Ochoa—who finally broke through into the Top 8 at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica—will follow up with another strong event, while Tim and I went with two of the strongest players who are still waiting on that elusive first Sunday showing.
The steal here is clearly Rich, with the player who is on the verge of winning his third Player of the Year title.
"I feel like it was cheating, really, picking Yuuya," grinned Hagon. "That said, everyone on the list is a fine choice, although you've certainly put Ari Lax into some seriously exalted company! If there's one other player I'm looking forward to seeing in action, it's Zvi Mowshowitz. With Jon and Kai more regularly a part of the PT scene, Zvi is one of the Back In The Day heroes who still has that utter 'wow' factor for me. He could do a lot of damage next weekend."
Just one more weekend and then we will see which Gatecrash cards carry which Pro Tour hopefuls across the finish line. Make sure to tune in and watch with us but don't forget to submit your Fantasy Pro Tour lineup in the meanwhile.