Digesting Battle for Zendikar Draft

Posted in Event Coverage on October 11, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

The first that comes to mind is Nettle Drone.

The category? It's not best common, or best red card, or even ugliest Eldrazi in the set. Instead, Nettle Drone is an example of a card that is much better in Battle for Zendikar draft than it is is Sealed Deck.

The reason?

“This format is about cohesion, or at least that's what my coaches told me,” fourth-ranked Paul Rietzl said, referring to Tom Guevin and David Williams, who helped the hall of famer prepare for Grand Prix Madison, the only chance to draft Battle for Zendikar at the highest level before next week's Pro Tour. “That doesn't just mean cards that synergize well together, but a deck that has a cohesive plan across all your cards.”

That's where Nettle Drone comes into play. While its synergy is obvious — play lots of colorless cards to generate lots of untap triggers — it's not used to its fullest unless the entire deck is built with the plan in mind. While it is strong in an aggressive deck it can be used even more potently in a control deck similar to the one Rietzl piloted to a 3-0 record in the first Battle for Zendikar draft on Sunday, doing good work without having to enter the red zone to risk a trade. Similarly, Molten Nursery formed the backbone of Rietzl's deck and helped him control several games but wouldn't have been nearly as powerful in a more aggressive deck where casting it forces you to take a turn off from casting a creature on curve.

Not having much experience at Battle for Zendikar, hall of famer Paul Rietzl leaned on friends David Williams and Tom Guevin to help him prepare for Grand Prix Madison. Their tutelage paid off, as Rietzl went undefeated in his first draft of the day.

Nettle Drone isn't the only card that gets better in Draft than sealed. The Allies deck doesn't come together often in Sealed, with the pieces being hard to find or piece together from five colors, but in Draft players are able to focus on the allies in a particular color combination. That can lead to decks with a high ally count and gives hugely increased value to cards like Kalastria Healer, one of the most fearsome allies when it comes in multiples.

There's also another level when it comes to cohesion in draft decks. While Sealed rewards playing as many powerful cards as possible, Draft can benefit decks that can execute on a game plan as quickly as possible. Because of that, early defensive cards like Fortified Rampart and Kozilek's Sentinel also gain increased value because they allow the defending player to reach the late game against those decks.

In short, the key to Battle for Zendikar draft is have a plan. And for three-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Neal Oliver, that means not wasting time with marginal effects that don't contribute to an overall plan. It also means making concessions in power in favor of furthering that game plan.

“In Sealed, you usually want to stretch your mana base and be as greedy as you can, because you'll have the chance to,” he explained. “For example, I think Fertile Thicket is really good in Sealed because the games go longer and it helps you find the lands you need to set up something like a big Converge play, but in Draft I think it's almost unplayable because it slows you down so much. Eldrazi are also not nearly as good. In Draft you can pick ‘bad' cards because they have synergy with your deck, even if they're a weaker card overall than something else in the pack.”

Three-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Neal Oliver has put in a lot of practice with Battle for Zendikar. A fourth Top 8 appearance is in reach if he can 3-0 the second draft of the day.

As we head into the home stretch in Day 2 at Grand Prix Madison, both Rietzl and Oliver hope their understanding of the format is strong enough to carry them forward. Both entered the second draft of the day with a shot to advance to the Top 8 with a strong finishing performance.

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