I'm just going to assume that if you're reading this column you're going to be glued to your computer screen all weekend, watching 400 of the game's greatest players duke it out for the title of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir Champion. But what happens when the weekdays roll around? This Wednesday you will be able to watch eight players—drawn from the coverage team, members of Wizards R&D, and a current Pro—put the theory of Modern Rotisserie Draft into practice.
A couple of weeks back, after a day of coverage at Grand Prix Cleveland, I was sitting down to dinner with Randy Buehler, Marshall Sutcliffe, and Rashad Miller. The subject at hand was a growing frustration with the scripted openings of Vintage Rotisserie Drafts. For the uninitiated, a Rotisserie Draft is one where 8 players makes picks visible to all the other players. They go one through eight, with the eighth player also selecting 9th. The picks then snake back until player one picks the sixteenth and seventeenth cards…and so forth until all the picks have been made (usually around 40 cards per player). In this case the pool of cards being picked from is the entire pool of Vintage legal Magic cards.
It would be highly irregular for any card to be picked before the first player chooses Black Lotus. Ancestral Recall is usually the second pick, and it not uncommon for Mox Sapphire to be picked third. As we talked about the draft, I posed a question to the table about what the first pick would be in a Modern Rotisserie draft from all the Modern-legal cards (Skullclamp; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; etc. would still be banned). We put the question out on Twitter and before long there was a brisk discussion going on Facebook and Twitter, and a queue of players ready to line up and make some actual picks.
Modern Rotisserie Draft
The players who eventually would line up to do the draft were (in randomly determined pick order): Marshall Sutcliffe, Chris Pikula, Randy Buehler, Adam Prosak, Aaron Forsythe, Rashad Miller, Sam Black, and myself. I was excited to have "the wheel" and land both the 8th and 9th pick—to be the first person to land two consecutive cards. I had a little bit of a wait before it got there, though, and Marshall Sutcliffe had to make the first pick to get it started.
"My plan was to stay open," said Sutcliffe about kicking off the action. "I had the first pick of the whole draft, and I had to decide between planting a flag and reading the table. I looked and realized that I was not going to get another card for 14 picks. I asked myself what the best colorless card in the Modern Cube was and I figured Batterskull was the best card."
You can follow along the draft on the Google document here and see how the whole draft played out. By the time things came back to Sutcliffe, he noticed that something was still wide open and he made his intentions known with his second and third overall picks.
"By the time the pick had come back to me, nobody had moved in on black—and I am not counting Rashad's Glimpse the Unthinkable as an actual black card—so I took Thoughtseize and Lilliana and moved in hard on black. I thought it would be like The Rock and have game against everybody—although it is a little rampier than I had expected."
Sutcliffe ended up with a deck that gave him a game plan against everyone—even Randy Buehler's red deck, which has the potential to be brutally fast. He couldn't resist a little trash talk at the expense of Rashad Miller—who stunned everyone following him with a first-pick of Glimpse the Unthinkable—along the way.
"I assume that Rashad's deck doesn't do anything, so I expect to beat him," laughed Sutcliffe.
Rashad Miller was unfazed by any criticism of his deck. Coming into the draft, he had already written out a 40-card deck that he wanted to play. Interestingly, Glimpse the Unthinkable was not on the list of cards he wanted. That was a little bit of gamesmanship on Miller's part to deflect attention from what he was doing and to wait me out, since he and I often try and draft the same deck.
"My deck is exactly what I wanted," he said when I asked him about his deck. "It's 39 of the 40 cards I tested. I think there was one more fetch land I wanted. I picked Glimpse because I wanted people to overreact and waste picks on Eldrazi and stuff. I was never going to be a mill deck unless nobody respected it. My whole plan was to draft a Laboratory Maniac deck. If I picked a card that indicated self-mill and you wheel two self-mill cards then I am going to be in a bad position. I had to wait for you to commit before I could move in—it was a matter of table position—and I know you love that deck."
It may seem counter-intuitive to draft a deck that nobody plays in Modern for the Modern Rotisserie draft but as a Singleton format (only one copy of any card other than basic lands), you can't rely on the classic archetypes.
"Removal is really good in Modern. You could never play Lab Maniac in Modern where everyone has four Lightning Bolts or four Path to Exiles, or both. But Aaron Forsythe, for example, has no way to kill a Laboratory Maniac—I am not going to let him Condemn it. And if it goes to my graveyard from Wrath, I can just play it again next turn. I have Runic Repetition and Memory's Journey and I have Academy Ruins and Conjurer's Bauble."
Senior Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe
Given the chance to do it again, Miller would make a couple of changes but not many.
"I have two of the three perfect fetches, but I couldn't float Misty Rainforest past Chris Pikula. When Sam Black picked Shelldock Isle, I realized that was also a card I should have had in my decklist."
The last person in the draft I spoke with was Randy Buehler, who will be coordinating to make sure all the matches from the playoff from the event will be streamed live this coming Wednesday, April 5th. It is going to be three rounds of Swiss pairings, with the Top 4 advancing to a single-elimination bracket. The cool wrinkle to that is that the 3-0 players coming into the semifinals gets to choose their opponent for the first elimination round.
Hall of Famer Randy Buehler
"Everyone who wants to will be streaming from their perspective," said Randy Buehler, who will be airing his matches—on his Twitch channel. "I'll stream all the way through to the finals, even if I'm eliminated, to make sure there is coverage of every round."
Buehler had made the claim, during the original discussion of the format, that he would force an infect deck since there were enough redundant cards to make it a consistent deck. In the end he chose Lightning Bolt with his first pick. I asked him what happened.
"Chris went Noble Hierarch. That's what happened. My plan A when the draft started was to be the infect deck. I decided that the best first-round pick for the deck is Noble Hierarch. Hierarch is so good for the Infect deck that I didn't want to play the deck without it. I also did not want to be fighting for green cards with my neighbor."
"I took Lightning Bolt figuring I could be the red deck or Splinter Twin if nobody else picked it. It was a flexibility pick that let me see how things work out. I was okay being the Goblin Guide guy because that's often the best Cube deck. It's right there in the name: "GG." It's simple and straightforward," joked Buehler. "Aside from boring, it's a great version of the red deck in Cube."
While there wasn't a ton of fighting among the players—although I did get to steal a couple of Wraths out from under multiple other white drafters when I pivoted from UR Twin to RW Twin—there was some protective hate-drafting. Buehler took an opportunity to get one of the best cards against him out of the pool as soon as possible.
"Kor Firewalker was the single best card against me in the Cube, and I figured I would just hate it. When I get to goldfish, games never go past turn four," said Buehler, who is relying more on creatures than spells to win. "I had to choose between being the beatdown deck or the burn deck and I chose to go wide. I have three creatures with battle cry—Hellrider effectively has battle cry—that are going to be great in my deck. There weren't enough one-mana burn spells to point seven Lightning Bolts at my opponent's head, so I don't have cards like Lava Spike and Rift Bolt. I think it's a Cube deck rather than a Modern deck."
As for myself, I pivoted into Red-White Twin after dipping into the blue-red version early on. In the end, I realized that I wanted as much redundancy as possible from my combo pieces. In red and white, I could replace the Exarch and Pestermite with Midnight Guard and Village Bell-Ringers; get Zealous Conscripts and Battered Golem if I needed more creatures that combo off with either Kiki-Jiki or Splinter Twin. I also got redundancy for my Aura with Idyllic Tutor and Heliod's Pilgrim. Will it be enough to beat Randy's Mono-Red Aggro, Marshall's Black-Green Rock, or Rashad's mad science experiment? Tune in Wednesday to find out.
Magic Player of the Month for March: Teruya Kakumae
Grand Prix Auckland Champion Teruya Kakumae
With Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir happening…well…right now, my choice for March's Player of the Month is Teruya Kakumae of Japan for his win at Grand Prix Auckland. His win propelled him up the leaderboard in the race for the Grand Prix Pro Points invite to the World Championship and got him that much closer to his stated goal of reaching Platinum this season. While Kakumae may seem like a new name to many followers of the Pro Tour, he's actually a player coming back to the game after almost a decade away—he was last seen making the Top 8 of Japanese Nationals during the 2004 season. He already has two Grand Prix wins since his return and is aiming to secure his spot at many more tournaments for the foreseeable future with a solid showing in Belgium this weekend.
Tune in All Weekend Long
We will be streaming six rounds of Dragons of Tarkir draft and ten rounds of Standard on Friday and Saturday from Brussels, Belgium; and the Top 8 on Sunday. You can follow all the action on the Magic Twitch channel and on the coverage page as the game's best and brightest show off the game's newest toys in action.