Drafting with Ben Stark

Posted in Event Coverage on November 15, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

In a format frequently decided by Eldrazi and how fast the behemoths can hit the battlefield, it's not as often you see the average player sleeving up 2/1s to stake their tournament lives on.

Ben Stark is not your average player.

The hall of famer entered Day 2 of Grand Prix Atlanta at 8-1, and with Battle for Zendikar now a heavily-explored format, I wanted to see how the Limited master would approach the format. Described by many as one of the more difficult-to-draft Magic sets we've seen in some time. There's no one better to shed some light on the format's intricacies than Stark, and that's why I had to follow his draft on the final day of competition here.

While some will advocate always staying open in a draft by picking a card that is easy to play in several deck configurations, Stark went all-in on Resolute Blademaster with his first pick. The red-white bomb is extremely powerful but hard to play, and if the drafters to Stark's right were also in those colors it could end up a wasted pick.

But you'll never know what could have been if you don't take a risk, and Stark was determined to see it through. A good sign came with the next pick, when he snagged Retreat to Emeria. The powerful white enchantment not only gave an indication that the color could be open, it also synergized perfectly with the Red-White Allies deck Stark hoped to find.

The first pack continued with Courier Griffin, a less powerful card than the Oran-Rief Hydra also in the pack but one that worked well in Stark's deck while also allowing him to avoid the format's most-maligned color. The first pack rounded out with a solid stable of allies: Kor Bladewhirl, Ondu Champion, Expedition Envoy and Cliffside Lookout.

With some creatures in the fold, the next pack brought a barrage of removal spells. Two Touch of the Void, Outnumber and then Stonefury. While the creatures didn't follow — only a Makindi Patrol and Angel of Renewal — Stark had the makings of a solid aggressive deck.

He pushed the aggression up to 10 with the next pack, valuing Expedition Envoy over more-powerful but higher-costed creatures. Even the lands he found in the middle of the pack in Looming Spires and Sandstone Bridge contributed to the plan of attacking, as did Reckless Cohort, Chasm Guide and Sure Strike to win combat.

The final deck is a lesson in attacking, not to mention laser focus in drafting. When presented with the option, Stark opted for the more aggressive card every time, even if it wasn't the most objectively powerful card in the pack.

Ben Stark’s Red-White Allies — Grand Prix Atlanta

Download Arena Decklist

Ben Stark’s aggressive Red-White Allies deck had the hall of famer off to a 10-1 start, and helped him set his eyes on a possible Top 8 appearance.

“I just picked all the small guys and the removal spells,” he explained. “My guys are good early, and I have removal spells to make the game go long, so sometimes I’ll just end up with a ton of tokens from Retreat to Emeria.”

Going aggressive in Battle for Zendikar isn’t for everyone, but two rounds into Day 2 Stark was making it work, sure striking his way to victory and, perhaps, a run to the Top 8.

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