Posted in GRAND PRIX BALTIMORE 2015 - WELCOME on December 15, 2014

By Peter Rawlings

Hall of Famer Ben Stark has made a career out of mastering Limited formats, with a preference for remaining open to a variety of archetypes for as many picks as possible and an uncanny ability to read the signals sent by his fellow drafters. Sitting at 8-1 heading into Day 2 of Grand Prix Baltimore, Stark would need to bring all that skill to bear, as the color of his first few draft picks quickly stopped flowing, forcing him to adapt his strategy on the fly.

Limited master and Hall of Famer Ben Stark was forced to bob and weave through a tricky draft that forced him to abandon his first several picks.

Stark started the draft with a choice between Kheru Spellsnatcher and Mardu Hordechief. While many players might be tempted to take the rare Spellsnatcher with its blowout potential over the common Warrior, Stark was quick to snap off the Hordechief. "The ability to get two creatures for 3 mana is just better," he said. "People can play around the Spellsnatcher and it often ends up as just a 2/2 morph."

He following that up with a Feat of Resistance, and then chose a Mer-Ek Nightblade over a Force Away from a pack where no white options presented themselves. With his fourth pick Stark faced a tough choice between Rush of Battle, which would work well in the White-Black Warriors archetype he looked to be building toward, and a more flexible morph in Krumar Bond-Kin. Stark opted for the Rush of Battle, a decision he would later come to regret.

Upon picking up the 10 cards from which he would make his next pick, Stark found himself staring down a wide array of Temur options, but few cards in black or white, his two main colors to that point. After spotting a Savage Punch, which Stark considers to be "certainly the best green common, and maybe the best common, in the set," he decided green was open and moved in. He finished up his first pack with a handful of additional green cards in Awaken the Bear and Highland Game, with the goal of moving into Abzan, which would enable to him to make use of his early white and black selections.

However, a first-pick Icy Blast and second-pick Opulent Palace in the second pack had Stark moving into blue, which had seemed to be open in pack one. "I knew I wouldn't see much blue in pack two, since I had passed the Spellsnatcher and Force Away, but I thought it would be open in pack three," Stark said. After a frustrating third pick left him with the off-color Horde Ambusher, Stark rattled off fourth- and sixth-pick Hooting Mandrils and a couple of Thornwood Falls, settling comfortably into a Blue-Green tempo-based strategy.

Stark led off pack three with a second Savage Punch—he would end up with three—and had his hunch that blue would be flowing proved correct when he picked up a fourth-pick Dig Through Time. He rounded out that pack with some curve-filling creatures in Smoke Teller and Jeskai Windscout, and thought long and hard about a tough ninth-pick choice between Kheru Lich Lord and Treasure Cruise, ultimately opting for the 4/4 creature that would enable his ferocious spells.

"I'm pouting to show I'm not super happy with how the draft went," said Stark.

During deck construction Stark decided to stick to straight Blue-Green, with three Thornwood Falls ensuring he would have an excellent mana base and be able to cast his spells on time. Though he had picked up an Opulent Palace, he didn't have enough black spells to warrant a splash, he said. If he'd had one more strong black card, like an Abomination of Gudul, or if he'd picked up the Kheru Bond-Kin instead of the Rush of Battle, he would have strongly considered it, he said.

"I should have taken the Bond-Kin with that pick because it's just so much more flexible," he said. While Rush of Battle was stronger in the White-Black Warriors deck, staying open should have been his priority at that point, Stark sighed. "It was just tunnel vision on my part."

The draft overall was a bit rough, as forcing to abandon his first few picks left him a bit short on strong, playable creatures, forcing him to instead play two Cancel and two Tusked Colossodon in his main deck. "If I could turn those Cancels into some copies of Alpine Grizzly, that would be so much better," he said, though he added that Cancel may be a bit underrated by drafters in general. The 3-mana counterspell is a solid card, but it suffers from the same problem as a card like Arrow Storm, in that its color-intensive mana cost means a deck ideally needs 10 sources of that color to cast it reliably.

After abandoning white and black, Stark would have to rely on the power of Savage Punch and the ferocious mechanic to carry him through the pod.

While Stark was not thrilled with his deck, he had managed to make the best of a tricky draft seat, and with a pair each of Hooting Mandrils and Alpine Grizzly to go along with triplet Savage Punches he certainly had the potential to ferociously smash his way through the pod and keep his hopes of making the Top 8 alive.

Ben Stark

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