On the first day of competition, only three players managed to emerge from the Draft portion with perfect records—but because of the slightly different pairing system at such a small tournament, on the second day, quite a few more were able to buttress their records with a 3-0 in Dominaria Limited.
Though it might sound odd that there can be more than three undefeated drafters from only three draft pods, the style of pairing this results from is always in use. Rather than pairing matches based on the internal pod record—the 1-0s playing against the 1-0s—they are based on external tournament record—pairing an 8-3 against another 8-3 within the pod. At large tournaments this goes unnoticed, as pods are almost always made up of players with similar records. With such disproportionate pods in such a small tournament, the disparities become more pronounced. This means sometimes there can be more than one 3-0 in a given pod, and sometimes there can be zero. It happened here that two pods had more than one 3-0 drafter.
Javier Dominguez, Matt Nass, Allen Wu, Shahar Shenhar, and Seth Manfield all cracked the code and escaped, each feeling better going into the final rounds. Matt Nass, specifically, did it in the only way he knows how. I caught up with all of them to talk a little about how this second draft went.
Allen Wu, Pro Tour 25th Anniversary Champion, was reluctant to call his deck a "3-0 deck" after he drafted it, but then again so is everybody. Joking about it, Wu said, "Well, I drafted a 3-0 deck yesterday, I just 1-2ed with it."
His deck came relatively easy to him, as the seats were well defined, and his centerpiece was a Siege-Gang Commander with two Soul Salvages to recur it. He played twice against White Weenie, "Which is the best possible match-up for my deck," he said. "I think I cast the Commander three times in two games. I don't think they can beat that."
He said that there are two reasons why cards like Soul Salvage are so good. "First, the games go long, but also the best cards are a cut about the rest. If you can cast them more than once, you're in good shape."
When I asked how he felt going into the last Standard rounds, he gave the most Magic-player answer, I'd ever heard. He shrugged and said "Meh. Okay. Most things aren't under your control." It was so zen-like, I'd expect Wu to make a heroic run in the last four rounds—it's the Magic way.
Back-to-back World Champion Shahar Shenhar was the next player I found. He hadn't been feeling the best about the Draft rounds going into them. Luis Salvatto was passing to him in the draft, "And he was in blue-red, my favorite archetype." Though Shenhar started with some early cards in the deck, he quickly abandoned ship. "I couldn't even try to force it; there were no cards to force!"
So afterward, though Shenhar had a serviceable black-green deck, it wasn't something to write home about. "I had no real mythic rares or good rares I wanted to draw into. I just hoped to avoid my opponents doing that to me."
He did successfully avoid those big splashy cards, but thanks partly to the sharing of decklists. He knew about the potential In Bolas's Clutches he would have to face, "Which was really good against my deck with a lot of big creatures," he said. But because he knew about it beforehand, he leveraged his Thallid Omnivore as protection. "I just had to wait until I had Omnivore out to cast anything big... Really, I just Dazed myself."
Unlike Wu, after 3-0ing Shenhar is feeling good going into the home stretch. "It's the Constructed rounds that got me here today. I went 3-1 with my deck, after going 0-3 in the first draft." Though there's always some hope involved, this 3-0 positioned Shenhar well for a strong finish on the day.
"I had a green-white deck with medium creatures with weird casting costs." That about summed up how former World Champion (and newly Hall-of-Fame-elect!) Seth Manfield felt about the 3-0 deck he'd just finished with. But he wasn't down on the deck once he took in the context. After a while he realized, "It wasn't just me," and that everyone had slightly de-powered decks.
"If this was online or at a Grand Prix, I'd have felt scared that there was someone at the table with something really good, but here, that doesn't generally happen." This was a concept that some drafters talked about yesterday that differentiates a World Championship draft from a Pro Tour draft—nothing slips through the cracks here. Manfield continued, "Like, no one is getting 'hooked up' somewhere else at the table. Reid Duke," he gave in example, "isn't passing the wrong cards."
On the Wu-to-Shenhar excitement spectrum for the coming rounds, it was safe to say Manfield had managed his expectations in a tournament that hadn't been very kind to him. "I started off the tournament really poorly, but if I can get a couple of Standard wins, I can finish middle of the road. That would feel pretty good." That provides some larger context about how tough a tournament like this really is. A former World Champion, and maybe future Player of the Year, would be happy finishing "middle of the road." It's a minefield out here, people.
Manfield did speak a bit on how excited he is for his Player of the Year playoff with Luis Salvatto. "Salvatto's really good, and I'm just hoping there's a lot to it. Maybe a couple different formats, you know, something real." When asked what format he would choose to include, without hesitation he said, "Winston Draft." A fairly obscure format that evolved as a way to draft with two players, Winston is a hotel-lobby favorite, but hasn't ever seen the tournament lights. "It's creates unique decision-making," Manfield said. "You have to watch what you're putting in the piles, keep track of what your opponent is taking or not taking, while also following your own deck... it's definitely the best way to draft with two players."
For former Worlds Top 4 competitor Javier Dominguez, his 3-0 draft showed him that there was still more about Dominaria Limited—even though the format came and went. Despite knowing Dominaria inside and out, he still ended up drafting a deck he'd basically never played before, which made him really nervous.
"Honestly, I wasn't super happy with my deck at all. Two The Flame of Keld?... It's not really even an archetype, is it?" Dominguez said about looking at the cards in front of him before the first match. The hyper-aggressive, straight-to-the-face The Flame of Keld decks are one of the most uncommon to see, and it's even more rare to see them do well. "I was way out of my comfort zone," he said, "but I thought it was the only way to save my draft."
He took two early Shivan Fire, and ended pack one with a lot of mediocre red cards, including a The Flame of Keld that was destined for the sideboard. But a few picks into the second pack, the "better" red cards weren't coming, and Dominguez saw Run Amok, and the cogs began turning in his head. He took it, and then got another The Flame of Keld, "and that's when I thought, 'maybe, it could happen.'"
Though the final product was daunting, Dominguez held out hope because of how Dominaria Limited works in general. "You want your deck to look like a Constructed deck—obviously not in power level, but all your cards are working toward a function." Dominguez explained that Dominaria strategies are so deep on good cards, if you find your proper lane, you deck should be way better than scraping for that last playable.
Speaking of deep, what about the fact that Dominguez—a seasoned veteran in a format that had already run its course—was nervous going into the last Draft rounds because he drafted an archetype he'd never even drafted before! "It's ultra deep," Dominguez said. "So many cards are just decks themselves; there are so many possibilities. Like most of the Sagas can all be their own decks." But deep doesn't just mean you can draft whatever you want, whenever you want. Dominguez added that you need the experience in the format to know when you can draft that odd archetype. "If you see The Mending of Dominaria fifth, you can draft the Mending deck, but you have to know what cards go in it and why, or it won't be a deck at all."
For the World Championship overall, Dominguez tried to reject the notion of winning being important, but left some room to wiggle. "Look, if I do win, I'll still be the same. I'll take the same plane home, I'll go to the same home and be with my girlfriend... You can't tie your happiness to those results. But, I also don't know how I'm going to feel if I do win. In the moment I might be very excited." He concluded, "I'm so happy to be here, to be in this tournament. To me, this is the reward."
Dominguez's nuanced view on where he's found himself (spoiler alert: when I finally caught up with him for this interview, he had all-but clinched a Top 4 berth already), belies wisdom, without losing the possibility of the genuine emotion of a World Championship. It's also incredible that Dominaria is that good of a set that there are still surprises to be had, hiding in the dark areas of the Draft tables.
Matt Nass (kind of)
And if there are some weird areas of the game to be had, you can bet Matt Nass will be there. A man known for playing Nyxborn Rollicker in a Constructed tournament, Nass will explore whatever arena he needs to find fulfillment, and his last draft was no exception.
Sadly, sometimes when you're looking to interview a slew of players, things can fall through the cracks. And tracking down the elusive Nass was harder than anticipated. Luckily, one of his best friends and frequent teammate Sam Pardee was there, and knows Nass better than anyone alive. He was happy to pretend he was Nass for the purposes of the interview. "Totally. I'm totally in," Pardee said.
"Oh yeah, he was real happy to play with this deck," Pardee/Nass said. "It's a combo deck in Limited, so obvs it's his jam." He continued, "He's all about two Champion of the Flames and Valaduk, Keeper of the Flame with like five things to combo with it." Nass had Short Sword, Shield of the Realm, Frenzied Rage, and Demonic Vigor to build a veritable nightmare for any opponent.
"But the best part is it looks like a normal deck." Pardee fanned out Nass's draft that he already had for some reason. "Look, he's got a bunch of removal spells and an actual good top end with Darigaaz Reincarnated, so they, like, don't even know it's like, crazy."
By this time, Nass had actually shown up, but Pardee was on a roll, so why stop now? I asked what rating out of the draft Nass would give this deck. "Oh definitely a 9.5," Pardee said.
Then Mike Sigrist, who had been watching this and chuckling to himself, finally jumped in. "Yeah, it's pretty perfect. It's like a Matt Nass 9.5, and a Sam 5.5."
Pardee agreed with gusto, "Yeah, this is some real Matt Nass [stuff]... Like, look at it! It's really good and it's really cheesy."
Obviously, after that performance, Nass was pumped going into the final rounds. Actual Nass said, "Of course I'm excited, I only need one more win to tie Sam's lifetime wins at Worlds!"
Pardee shrugged, realized he was got, and said, "Yeah, that's completely accurate." Pardee might have had some fun with Nass in the interview, but Matt definitely got the last laugh.