Drafting Modern Masters 2015 Edition with Paul Rietzl

Posted in Event Coverage on August 27, 2015

By Marc Calderaro

"This is probably my only Magic superstition: I throw away the first and last sleeve of every pack," Pro Tour Hall of Fame member and third-ranked Paul Rietzl said as he was putting the finishing touches on his Modern Masters 2015 Edition deck for the opening rounds of the World Championship. "I think I saw Dave Humpherys do it once. He was checking them for damage. By now, I just toss them without even looking at them." He seemed to give me both undivided attention and no attention at all as he triple-checked his deck.

Rietzl is one of elder statesmen of the World Championship, and probably one of the few players who has even played with Hall of Famer Dave Humpherys in his prime. Rietzl comes into this tournament less prepared than most other players, but he knows exactly where to gain his edges and this draft format is one of them. Rietzl has been playing competitively with every card in Modern Masters 2015 Edition the first time they were in draft formats—that familiarity can really help card and deck evaluations. He also has the fourth-best limited win percentage of the field this season, at 69.1%.

When he sat down to draft in the feature match area, he was cool as a cucumber. "I think I've played against everyone here at a Pro Tour, right? Except you," Rietzl said, pointing at fourth-ranked Seth Manfield. Though many people up there were nervous, Rietzl clearly wasn't one of them. And his draft strategies and resulting deck followed suit.

"I don't think I'd change any pick in the draft; just some picks didn't work out." Rietzl ended in an aggressive Black-Red deck with some bigger finishers like Hellkite Charger and Comet Storm. "I was waffling between two archetypes, and the way I went is like a 6.5; but if I had gone the other way, it would've been like a 9.5." But he wasn't sweating it too much. "I mean, that's the how the packs broke."

There are few who know how to pilot their way past a train wreck better than Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl.

"The Pack Two Tarmogoyf was the decision point." The opening pick choice was among Tarmogoyf, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, Spread the Sickness, and Blood Ogre. In the first pack, Paul had hedged his picks a little, opting for less powerful, universal cards over stronger, but narrower ones. He had some cards for Black-Red, but he also had some cards for Five-Color. He got an eighth pick Vengeful Rebirth, and wasn't sure if that was the sign to move into the archetype. He could continue to waffle, picking the Spread the Sickness, or he could go for five-color and take the Tarmogoyf, or he could go for the throat.

Convinced that he had cut Black-Red so hard in the first pack that he would get a good second one, he took the Blood Ogre and didn't look back. Just as Rietzl predicted, the second pack was by far his best. He nabbed Vampire Outcasts, Gorehorn Minotaur, Goblin Fireslinger, Duskhunter Bat, a wheeled Spread the Sickness in short succession, and some strong sideboard cards to boot.

"I almost regret taking Vampire Outcasts [over Gorehorn Minotaur] as deck could really use another." But after thinking about it, he still thinks he made the right decision. "I thought [Vampire Outcasts] plus the 20% chance of tabling the Minotaur was right." It just didn't wheel; much like the Vampire Lacerator Rietzl expected to come back. "Someone else must be on this deck. It's a really strong table; they read the same signals that I did." It was fifth-ranked Lee Shi Tian two seats down, but the Hong Kong native didn't read too many signals. His picks went Burst Lightning, Banefire, then soon Duskhunter Bats and Vampire Lacerator. Unlike Rietzl, Lee's die was cast from the beginning.

This reading signals and delaying strong choices has always been Rietzl's drafting style, planning for the worst so you can at least get the middle. "I really chose floor over ceiling. I always think: 'What's the worst that could happen?'" But sometimes that doesn't help when it comes to these more powered Modern Masters drafts. "These reward shooting for the moon," Paul shrugged as if to say, "Oh well, that's just how I draft."

He continued on the subject, saying: "Salvaging a 2-1 out of a train wreck is an important skill most players don't have; I certainly don't." So he makes sure he train wrecks as little as possible.

Paul's drafting style also prioritizes sideboard cards. "I was afraid I wouldn't have enough playables because of how aggressively I take sideboard cards, especially in this format." He took multiple Smash to Smithereens over some middling picks, and almost leapt out of his chair when his Deathmark successfully wheeled, getting it eleventh. Often great sideboard cards can be worth have bad 22nd and 23rd cards in the main deck, especially in this format. "I'll be siding in at least seven or eight cards every game, and I'm going to get to board out the worst cards."

Paul laid out his cards, worried that his aggressive sideboarding and archetype waffling would leave him short of the mark. He splayed them in curve order and counted. "How many cards is this? 22?" Rietzl breathed a slight breath of relief. "All right, good start."

After the black and red cards settled in, he was still unsure of his last card. After a few seconds, he decidedly went with Copper Carapace over Goblin War Paint. "When in doubt, play the cheaper card, right?"

Paul looked over his deck as he sleeved it up…after tossing the first and last sleeves, of course. "I'm really happy with this deck; it's pretty great." And that's the kind of person Rietzl's always been—a 6.5 in a draft is "really great." He's not aiming for the stars, he just wants to stay out of the gutters. "I'd be really surprised if this deck wins all three matches; but that's fine. I'll take a 2-1."

Though it sounds like Paul Rietzl's settling, it's just the opposite. This is how the man made it to the Pro Tour Hall of Fame; this is how the man remains competitive despite all the other life events and changes being hurled at him. Rietzl understands well how to make a deck work, even if it's not a 10.

Paul Rietzl's Black-Red – 2015 World Championship

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