Tough Picks and Great Plays in the Draft Rounds

Posted in 2016 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP on September 3, 2016

By Frank Karsten

Thursday morning and Friday afternoon featured the Draft portion the 2016 Magic World Championship. With 24 of the game's best players picking their way to victory from two boosters of Eldritch Moon and one booster of Shadows over Innistrad, we got to see this Draft format at the highest level.

Seven highlights stood out to me.

Owen's Draft Wisdom

No. 1-ranked Owen Turtenwald, whose draft you can watch here, had a tough pick in the third pack. After properly reading the signals to end up in white-blue, he was presented with a choice between Welcome to the Fold and Gryff's Boon, and his selection was a point of contention among commentators and viewers alike.

Owen Turtenwald contemplates every option when facing tough Draft decisions.

Although Gryff's Boon would work well on his two-drops or Ingenious Skaabs, Turtenwald took Welcome to the Fold because he felt his deck was poor at that point and he needed the card with a higher power level when it works. Turtenwald defended his pick, saying, "If I have a bad deck, then Control Magic can win a game, whereas a card that's good in a race is not as impactful. The possibility of this being an amazing card in a game is enough that I wanted to gamble on it."

In other words, if Owen graded his deck as a 6 while he expected to face decks graded 7, then Gryff's Boon might have boosted his deck from a 6 to a 6.5—which still wouldn't be good enough. However, Welcome to the Fold might have turned his deck into a 6 two-thirds of the time (when there is no good target) and a 7.5 one-third of the time (when there is), which would allow him to steal the occasional win. So it's not just about taking the best card—it's about evaluating your deck's power and adding the right amount of variance. This is a very advanced concept, but for a player of Turtenwald's caliber, it seems like second nature.

In the end, his pick worked out for him, as Turtenwald managed to beat Kazuyuki Takimura by stealing his Desperate Sentry and subsequently sacrificing it to Wretched Gryff. Now that's a good Control Magic!

Blohon's Patience

In Round 2, No. 3-ranked Lukas Blohon found himself with Gisela, the Broken Blade and Woodcutter's Grit in hand against No. 9-ranked Joel Larsson. Rather than just jamming Gisela on turn four and hoping for the best, Blohon showed the importance of planning and anticipating what an opponent might do.

Lukas Blohon's patience paid off, allowing him to protect his Angel.

Knowing that Larsson had several damage-based removal spells, Blohon patiently waited until he had seven mana so that he could play his 4/3 flier and protect her on the same turn. "I had to wait for two turns not playing anything, which was pretty awkward," Blohon laughed. "But if he only has one removal spell, I just win."

Márcio Carvalho Attacks for 16 Out of Nowhere

There's no arguing: Marcio Carvalho knows how to draft.

Draft Master Márcio Carvalho managed to get a turn-five kill despite only playing one creature the entire game: Against Constructed Master Oliver Tiu, he had Ravenous Bloodseeker on turn two, Senseless Rage on turn three, and a lethal Uncaged Fury when Tiu didn't block on turn five.

By discarding two cards, he made his creature an 8/2 double striker, dealing 16 damage out of nowhere. "I completely missed it," Tiu said after the match. But Carvalho showed why he is the Draft Master for a reason: when a potential win presents itself, he doesn't miss it.

"You don't need bombs to win," Carvalho said afterward. "You just need a good curve and some tricks. Red is the best color by far in this Limited format."

Reid Duke Snatches the Win from Way Behind

Reid Duke never admits defeat until someone's life total is at zero.

Another awesome play happened in Round 2 during the final game between No. 4 Luis Scott-Vargas and No. 6 Reid Duke. You can watch the start of that game here and the end here. In the final turn, the life totals were 10 and 7 in favor in Scott-Vargas, and Duke only had a single Ingenious Skaab on the battlefield while Scott-Vargas had as many as four creatures. Two were tapped; two were untapped.

It looked like Duke was way behind, and he was. But a flurry of spells later, the game was his. Press for Answers got rid of the first blocker, turning the Skaab into a 3/4. Unsubstantiate got rid of the second blocker, turning the Skaab into a 4/5. Incendiary Flow then put Scott-Vargas at 7 life, turning his Skaab into a 5/6. Duke then pumped his Skaab twice and swung in for the kill as Twitch chat went wild.

As the World Championship competitors showed us, crazy things can happen in games of Magic.

Niels Noorlander's Crazy Spells Deck

On Friday, 2015 Magic Online Champion Niels Noorlander drafted a Constructed-worthy red-blue spells deck that turned Contingency Plan from unplayable into a standout card.

Niels Noorlander loves his Draft deck.

In his Round 9 match against Andrea Mengucci, Noorlander played Contingency Plan early on, putting two instants or sorceries and an Advanced Stitchwing into the graveyard. He then proceeded to discard two instants or sorceries to bring back the flier, which conveniently allowed him to cast a Bedlam Reveler way ahead of time.

In another game, he cast an incredible Rise from the Tides for seven Zombies on turn six. "Niels's deck worked perfectly against me," Andrea Mengucci said with admiration.

Oliver Tiu Uses All Information

At the World Championship, players got to see lists of their opponent's Draft pools before each match, which gave full information of what to play around and enabled some creative lines.

Oliver Tiu, seen withstanding a puncturing light with his Faith Unbroken.

Oliver Tiu used this well in one game in particular. "I had Paranoid Parish-Blade and he attacked me with Faithbearer Paladin," said the Rookie of the Year. "I knew that [my opponent] had Puncturing Light in his pool and I needed an instant to get delirium, so I used Expose Evil before blockers to turn the Parish-Blade into a 4/2 and to play around Puncturing Light."

When Tiu shared this play with testing partner Ondřej Stráský afterward, it earned him an "Oh, sick play!" and a high-five. "But it turned out [my opponent] had Tenacity and blew me out anyways," Tiu said, earning a round of laughter from everyone.

Yasooka Plays to His Outs

A final sequence of plays that cannot miss from this list—we had to ninja edit it into this article after initial publication—occurred during the Round 10 match between No. 8-ranked Shota Yasooka and No. 15-ranked Oliver Tiu. Tiu was far ahead on board, attacked with all of his creatures, and was at a comfortable 15 life. What could go wrong?

Yasooka had two Thermo-Alchemists, a Tattered Haunter, and four lands (two tapped, two untapped) on the battlefield. His hand contained an Unsubstantiate, Convolute, Make Mischief, and Pore over the Pages. He could line up some blocks and cast the bounce spell to survive the attack at 1 life, but he would surely die on the next attack. And it was impossible to deal 15 damage before that. Right?

If you like puzzles, start the video at that point in the game, pause it, and try to come up with a way for Yasooka to win before Tiu's next attack. If you were unable to envision anything, then don't fret—almost no one could. But this is Shota Yasooka we're talking about. I'm not going to spoil how he snatched the win from the brink of defeat, but it was an incredible sequence. Just watch the video.