In Round 3, four tables were nestled in the feature match area. All eight players were 2-0, and were grasping to get that elusive last win to go 3-0 in the first day's draft. Gerry Thompson, eleventh-ranked Josh Utter-Leyton, "Big Z" Matej Zatlkaj, ninth-ranked Shaun McLaren, Eugene Hwang, Scott Lipp, Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz, and Pro Tour–newcomer Zach Mandelblatt were all aiming to score in that last round. There are few better feelings before the Pro Tour Friday afternoon than having emerged unscathed from the first draft.
At the round's end, Lipp, Thompson, Zatlkaj, and Mowshowitz were the chosen feature-match four—playing Black-Green, Blue-Black, Red-Green, and White-Blue, respectively. They had done it—the first step of many on the weekend, but a big one none the less. I caught up with a few of them to get their thoughts on the new format as a whole, and how to successfully draft Magic Origins.
Overall, everyone's quite happy about drafting the set (I mean, what else would 3-0 players say, really?), and Mowshowitz put it the best when he said, "It's a cross between a normal core set and Modern Masters." He continued, "There are ten color pairs with distinct archetypes, and you have to figure out which one you're in; but after that, it's 'good ol' fashion Magic—my favorite kind." Mowshowitz smiled that big grin of his.
Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz loves the blend of classic Magic and distinct archetypes in the new Limited format.
Gerry Thompson agreed with the drafting the set overall. "I actively love drafting this format, and I don't actively love drafting generally," he explained. Part of that has to do with the balance of colors—note that each 4–0 drafter was in a different archetype. Thompson said that even though there was a distinct color-ranking order for him (Red, White, Black, Blue, Green), the worst two colors combine to make one of the top-three best archetypes. "Neither [Blue nor Green] work too well with other colors, but together you can make something really good." He admitted that part of this is likely how under-drafted each color is, but part of it is how well the cards work together as a unit.
Green was also Zatlkaj's his least-favorite color; he called it the most "shallow." But his results didn't bear that out. In Round 3, he was up against Shaun McLaren, who was seated next to him, and they were both green. McLaren even said he was basically mono-green. It is hard to call a color shallow when two 3-0 decks can be built right next to each other, both using the shallow color. Big Z admitted that there were three green drafters in his pod and they all performed well, but he reiterated, "In our testing, green was winning the least, by far." Remember kids, results-oriented thinking only gets you so far.
Matej Zatlkaj certainly wasn't looking for green cards, but he did just fine despite ending up with a lot of them.
That discovery was not the only one made by Zatlkaj's team, "Team Thommo" (ironically named, as the team's namesake isn't qualified for this event). Zatlkaj said, "a little late in testing we discovered how good two-drops were; and how good cheap combat tricks were." In his 3-0 Red-Green deck, he ran two Might of the Masses and a Titanic Growth. "All six games they won it for me." (Yes, that meant the Slovakian went 6-0 in games as well.)
"I have about six or seven two-drops, which is good," but Zatlkaj continued that if you're in the aggressive decks, "Nine [two-drops] is optimal." That might sound crazy, but some of the most aggressive builds, Red-White in particular, would love that many early plays. Mowshowitz even played a Bonded Construct as a two-drop blocker, which doesn't otherwise fit into his strategy at all.
But lest you think Magic Origins is a second-coming of Zendikar, where everything that costs more than four is verboten, this format is much more nuanced, as Gerry Thompson expounded while talking about his team prep. "It's pretty aggressive, but not hyper aggressive. That distinction is important. Because early in testing we thought that Read the Bones was just unplayable, but it turns out it's phenomenal." He said that games would often go just long enough that you want card refill to make the deck go the final few yards. And though his favorite archetypes are Red-White and Black-Red, big controlling strategies are still very possible. Big control decks are so possible, in fact, that's exactly what Thompson used to secure his 3-0, a big Blue-Black Control deck featuring Alhammarret, High Arbiter. This is clearly not Zendikar 2.0.
"Well pick one, pack one I took Languish, so I kind of fell into it from there." Thompson admitted that such a big controlling deck was unfamiliar ground for him in the set, so he had to talk to teammate Michael Majors after he'd built his deck, as Majors was the proponent of the color combination in the group. "He said I mis-built by at least three cards," Thompson shrugged. But he still got the 3-0, so that's something.
While Thompson agrees that the format is fast, it's not blistering fast, as his control deck proved this morning.
The last key to Magic Origins drafting came from Zvi Mowshowitz. His favorite color was white, and not just because the cards are the strongest, but because the cards don't lead to "forking," as in splitting into different archetypes. He said, "All the best black cards go in specific decks—like White-Black Enchantments, or Black-Green Sacrifice. But the good white cards go in all the white decks." Knowing this, the Team NYC member first-picked Cleric of the Forward Order over two better black cards, most notably Cruel Revival. He said, "My next two picks were mediocre white cards over better black cards. Not only did I keep myself open, but I also was setting my neighbor solidly in black."
Mowshowitz ended up getting a late-pick Thunderclap Wyvern, settling him in White-Blue Flyers, and all his early picks fit right into that deck perfectly. He ended with a second Wyvern, an Archangel of Tithes, and some other strong creatures that sailed over Eugene Hwang to hit the 3-0 marker.
Each of these 3-0 drafters, from three different strong teams, had their own notions going into the draft. But really, each notion was able to pay off. First, the format is aggressive, so regardless of whether you're aggro yourself, you want at least 5-6 two-drops to stave off the assault. But next, it's not Zendikar aggressive, so the powerful high-costed spells can be very good in the right decks. And lastly, to find what two-color pair is yours, you should look for generally good cards first, rather than archetype-specific good cards.
Each of these players were rewarded for figuring out these Magic Origin draft strategies, and now going into Constructed, they have a big leg up at 3-0—the best view is usually from the top. There's still much more to come, but each these players can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they ruled the draft roost.