A Tale of Five Drafts – A Grand Prix: Athens and Pro Tour: Kobe Report

Craig “The Professor” Jones brings us tales of high drama from both Athens and Kobe, and shares his Level 4 Mage insight on the new Limited format. His draft experience thus far swings from total destruction to utter dejection, will a call at all stations in between. What’s the best color in the format? Is control a viable strategy? Was the Pro Tour Top 8 draft a lie? All this, and more, revealed inside!

In which our hero embarks on an exciting jaunt across the World, finds Lady Fate is very kind to him in Greece only to rip his heart out in Kobe. He imparts some (dubious) advice on Time Spiral draft for the forthcoming MTGO “season,” and ends with some interesting hypothetical questions for anyone who bothers to get that far.

I officially suck at Limited again.

This year it looked like I might be turning things around. I made money in Prague, and made my first Day 2 at a limited Grand Prix. A lot of this I attributed to overcoming my hostility to the MODO interface and actually getting draft practise in. Then Kobe comes along and kicks the teeth out of the back of my skull and then does a tap dance on my noggin for good measure (maybe I shouldn’t have been so nasty to Coldsnap).

A practise draft that included our esteemed editor set the alarm bells ringing for both of us. Time Spiral harked back to that scary age of drafting where you had to be good at those other skills, like reading signals. While I kind of have a good idea of what a deck should look like, I’m less good at reading the draft itself. I’m like that frog you leave in a saucepan and then turn up the heat in that I only recognise things are going wrong when the third really good card in a color I’m not playing sails by.

Unfortunately, those kind of draft skills are difficult to both learn and teach. What I can do instead is go over some of the decks I drafted at the last couple of major events, and give some insight on how the draft format plays out as I see it (“f***ing fast,” in a nutshell). Champs is now behind us, some people still have PTQs for Geneva, and Time Spiral is hitting Magic Online probably about the time this article goes up, so this should at least be timely (if not the most factually accurate – don’t worry, I imagine Rich Hoaen will be continuing his draft series fairly soon and we can all learn how to do things properly). [Yup, Drafting With Rich re-starts today! – Editor Craig.]

So let’s flash back to just before the Athens Grand Prix. I’d already decided to go, despite it being more expensive to get to than I’d normally consider for a European Grand Prix, mainly because it gave me the best opportunity to get some practise in before Pro Tour: Kobe. My reasoning was that even if I fluffed Day 1 I could draft like a maniac on the second day and hopefully improve my chances of doing well at Kobe.

The night before I was stopping at a friend’s house and had an interesting discussion with Rich Hagon. I’d read Raph Levy’s article on his quest to make Level 5, and how he was intending to go to the remaining Grand Prixes in both New Jersey and Japan. About halfway through I realised that I was on a comparable amount of pro points, and that his argument for attending was very plausible. The discussion I had with Rich Hagon was exactly how much Level 5 is worth. Raph came to the conclusion it’s worth around $9000. I think we put it at a slightly more conservative three to four thousand pounds [around 00 – Editor Craig], but even so, when weighed against that, a grand and a half to travel to the remaining Grand Prix almost approaches the area of acceptable risk. The question then became how many extra points would I need to pick up to make that risk worth taking.

In case you haven’t noticed, the pro point allocation for Grand Prix has been jacked up slightly, with eight points instead of six for the winner and points dropping down to Top 64. Before Athens I had 26 points, enough to lock me for Level 4 as long as I showed up at both Kobe and Paris.

I know some of you might find all this talk about levels and points rather dull. Don’t worry, I’ll get to the drugs and hookers soon.

Forty points gets me Level 5, but that’s a fair way off with only two Pro Tours remaining. I think I worked out that I could possibly expect to pick up around 2-3 points from the two Grand Prix and that I’d probably need to pick up 4-5 extra points from Athens and Kobe to consider skipping out for the other Grand Prix.

Not a bad target really. I think it’s interesting on how the Pro Club system seems to be doing a good job at getting players to consider travelling to the Grand Prix. I was initially sceptical when it was first announced. The whole talk of x-level mages sounded a little … well “Dungeons and Dragons.” But with European and Japanese players cropping up all over the globe to play Grand Prix, I think we can say that as a system it appears to be doing what Wizards intended it to do.

After a couple of late nights and a stupidly early morning to catch a flight, my initial plan was to arrive in Athens, register, and have a reasonably early night. Unfortunately I’d failed to take into account the date, Friday the dreaded 13th, and fickle Lady Fate was in the mood for some fun and games. First off the plane couldn’t take off at the scheduled time as Manchester airport was a bit foggy. So, rather inevitably we missed the connecting flight in Zurich and then had to hang around the airport for six hours. I finally found somewhere to plug in my laptop only to discover Switzerland’s awkwardness extends to using different sockets to everywhere else (I suppose I’m in no position to complain, being a national of an equally awkward island off the coast of mainland Europe. Maybe someday soon we’ll get the Euro and I’ll not get totally gouged on currency exchange each and every time I go to the continent. Sigh).

So that plan of arriving nice and early didn’t happen, as the next available flight didn’t take off until the evening. We didn’t actually land in Athens until after midnight, at which point my bag failed to arrive. There was a weird sense of inevitability as I stood at the luggage carousel and watched the number of bags dwindle to zero without any sign of my rucksack. I hadn’t even wanted to put it in the hold in the first place, I just got caught out by the heightened security restrictions that meant a laptop bag now counts as your one piece of hand luggage. I always feel I’m probably being a little selfish, or maybe one of those middle-class twits who complains about a minor inconvenience when it is actually there for a very good reason, but I do wonder if a lot of current airport security is governed more by hysteria than actual common sense. We take our shoes off because someone once tried to hide a bomb in theirs. Now we hand over all liquids before entering the departure lounge. What happens after the next plot? Maybe someone figures out how to soak clothes in an explosive material. What then, fly naked? What if they figure out a way to – shudder – hide and detonate the device from within the body cavity? I’m all for actually arriving at my destination rather than being scattered in debris across Germany, but I do wonder sometimes if the precautions don’t really fit the actual statistical likelihood, especially as a determined and particularly inventive terrorist could probably just find a way round them in any case. I suppose it’s the sad state of the world we currently live in.

Anyway, I’m in Athens minus my luggage. I’ve had better journeys, it has to be said.

I then find out my hotel is a bit of a dive, and I’m a bit disconcerted to see two guys shooting up on some steps as I walk down a mugger’s alley to get to the hotel entrance. Technically it’s one in the morning, and Friday the Thirteenth has officially passed, but…

Thankfully I survive to the morning, and then I’m really happy to discover my rucksack waiting for me in the reception downstairs. I can at least change my underwear (I realise this is possibly more information than you wanted).

Right, onto the event itself. I won’t go into too much detail as I already did a live player blog at the event, which can be seen here. In case you’re wondering how it’s possible to both report and play, the truth is that I perfected the art of cloning while at university a few years back. I’m just waiting for the right ethical climate to announce my brilliance to the world.

As I’m going to concentrate on draft I’m not going to talk too much about my Sealed deck. The coverage blog lists my deck and then the deck I should have built with hindsight. In short I undervalued the Blue morphs and allowed myself to get dragged into a fairly mediocre Black pool on the strength of Avatar of Woe (which never got to activate or attack the whole tournament).

There wasn’t really much to talk about. Two of my opponent’s decks horribly malfunctioned, one guy’s cards beat me with little input from the guy himself, and I took a cowardly ID in the last round when I maybe should have played (although at this point I was less than convinced on the strength of my deck).

The high point was probably the match against Nikolaus Eigner (although it probably was enough to put Nikki(y?) off Magic for life). Nik is a friend of Stewart Shinkins, and a very good Limited player (he has a GP title and finished runner up in another, if my memory serves me correctly). In the first game his fast Black-Red battered me and I had to use a D’Avenant Healer to stay at a slender one point of life when fending off a lethal Dauthi Slayer with Undying Rage. This bought me time to shoot it with Pentarch Paladin, but I was now facing Red monsters – Basalt Gargoyle and Tectonic Fiend. My only game plan was to boost the Paladin with Griffin Guide, drop Spirit Loop on it to race the Raged-up Gargoyle, and then somehow hope that I could draw enough chump blockers to block the Fiend. Oh, and I also had to hope that Nik failed to draw anything else. It’s one of those games where you’re probably dead, but you should always play to give yourself a chance. Sometimes it comes off, and this was one of those occasions.

Game 2 I boarded into the “hindsight” deck, but that got ripped apart in fairly short order. For game 3 I decided to gamble and board into an untried Green deck that I felt might give me better brawling options. I don’t know if this was correct but it felt like a stroke of genius when I started to maul Nik with a combo of Pendelhaven Elder, Icatian Crier, and Herd Gnarr. Unfortunately I got a little excited and nearly threw the game away when I alpha-striked prematurely to put Nik to three. I thought I was safe with an Aether Web in reserve, but Subterranean Shambler and Grapeshot wiped my board even with the trick.

That should have been game but… whoops, I did it again. All those people who get irate at top decks should probably look away now.

Trust me, you really want to look away.

I mean it. Think of your blood pressure.

Nik was at three life, so I obviously drew Rift Bolt, my one out, the turn before he was going to kill me.

I told you to look away.

Don’t worry, I get my comeuppance later.

Most of the time I write about blowout games where one player either draws too little or too much land. So it’s really refreshing to actually play in a match where I got to play three different decks, pull one game back from one life and then have a deciding game where I saw a position of complete dominance destroyed in a turn only to win the game with a top deck the turn before I was about to be overwhelmed. Matches like this reinforce your belief that the game is really worth playing (although it was very hard on Nikolaus Eigner, who was beaten out of Day 2 contention by Jose Barbero in the next round. Sorry dude).

I got an early night at last and then … well, actually I went back with the Mox Radio boys to the Wizards hotel for beers and a hotel service meal that failed to arrive. One in the morning is still relatively early – for me, anyway.

Now we get to the meaty draft portions (and after only two and half thousand words).

I can’t remember much about my draft pod other than it had Martin Dingler (about time you got back to writing articles, matey!). My first booster had nothing more exciting than a Castle Raptors, but I was passed Plague Sliver and Verdant Embrace and they seemed like fairly good signals to me.

At the time I was quite pleased with this. Plague Sliver and Gemhide Sliver may not represent the best synergy, but a turn 3 5/5 is going to be hard for a lot of decks to deal with. I knew that the removal could possibly be better, but I honestly thought this was a solid 2-1 deck, which says a lot about my naivety with the format.

The first round went my way, but the danger signs were present. Oyvind Harding (Red-White) said afterwards he thought he might have misplayed and missed an opportunity to kill me. His fliers were only one turn away finishing me off. Game 2 was a non-game as he drew no Plains.

The second round and Lars Dam completely destroyed me with his Blue-Red deck. My draws weren’t that bad. I even made a turn 3 Juzam Djinn (Plague Sliver) one game, and it still wasn’t even close. We could have played this matchup fifty times and I’d probably be lucky to win more than a couple of games.

The third round really exposed my deck as a clunking heap of junk. I was put under pressure with another fast Red-White deck, and made a poor tactical choice when I failed to trade off my Evil Eye with a Flamecore Elemental. At the time I wanted to keep the Eye around so I could mount a swift counter-attack. Unfortunately the game bogged down into a ground stall that took the Elemental out of the game in any case. My position on the ground was much more dominant, but I was stuck running the Eye into Citizen tokens while Aylon Manor picked me off with his fliers. While the Eye initially seems powerful the drawback is considerable. While I took it because I needed extra fat, I don’t think it belongs in this deck. I won the second game, but it finally cemented my belief that the deck was way too slow and clunky. I had everything, including billions of Saprolings off Verdant Embrace, and it was still a real effort to win (and even looked dicey at one point). Game 3 was a non-game as I drew four or five land in a row at the crucial mid-game junction.

In hindsight I think I should have probably splashed for the Castle Raptors I took first pick. My mana is fairly good and it would give me some sorely lacking evasion. The biggest problem with green in Time Spiral Limited as it doesn’t do much more than clogging up the ground until your opponent kills you with an evasion creature or bomb. In themselves the cards look okay, but they don’t punch through.

After seeing my deck fall apart I resolved to avoid Green in the second draft, which promptly got thrown out of the window when Stormbind fell into my lap. I wasn’t happy with my second draft:

It was a weird draft. After seeing Lars Dam’s deck, I wanted Blue, but so did everybody else. Blue was guillotined upstream of me while I opened quite a strong Green booster. As a result I think Green was being fought for downstream of me. When the direction switched for the second booster it was like a dam breaking. I watched on in horror as boosters containing two or three playable Blue cards went by. I maybe should have switched, but I was fairly sure Blue was being fought over in the other direction and I probably wouldn’t get anything out of the third booster. I did get a stroke of luck when a Spike Tiller somehow got lost and arrived seventh pick. The guy might have the base stats of a Sea Snidd, but he does far, far more.

Considering I needed at least two wins and a draw to make top 32 I wasn’t exactly confidant.

The deck went on to surprise me as it went on to win the next two rounds… and no, I didn’t draw Stormbind.

Gonçalo Pinto managed to mulligan in all three games, but I didn’t really see anything exciting in his deck other than Word of Seizing and Sengir Nosferatu (which are admittedly very exciting). The two rares beat me in the first game, my other rare (Spike Tiller) beat him in the second, and then in the third his deck malfunctioned and I managed to pull off a ridiculous turn of play suspended Baloth, Coal Stoker, something else and then Grapshot his Flamecore Elemental. After he’d paid echo of course.

Round 2 and I took a fairly good looking Blue-Red deck to pieces although Ilian Iliev did take one game off me with a turn that included three or four copies of Empty the Warrens.

The two wins meant I just needed a draw to guarantee Top 32. Bram Snepvangers was unsure at first as there was an outside chance he could finish 33rd, but it seemed highly unlikely and so he took the draw. Neither of us could improve our position into Top 16 with a win, in case you are curious about the merits of an intentional draw. I know there are people who dislike this form of “horse-trading,” but it is an inevitable consequence of the professional tournament system.

After seeing Bram’s deck I was very relieved he’d taken the draw. He had a Green-White deck with Call of the Herd, Pentarch Paladin, and two Griffin Guide. I would have probably been brutalized most savagely. In the end we both benefited by finishing 31st and 32nd. This was my first money finish at a Limited Grand Prix, and although it says $250 in the winnings column, the two extra Pro Points actually make it worth a lot more than that as I now level up to 4 in Kobe. This gives me a free flight to Worlds and an extra $500 attendance fee. All of a sudden that flight to Greece didn’t seem quite so expensive.

Athens as a whole saw a surprisingly good performance by the Brits. Myself, Sam Gomersall, and Simon Bouton all finished in the money in Top 32 (Simon in particular raked in a nice pot as the second-highest finishing amateur). We also had Martin Dingler, Quentin Martin, and Chi Alvarez in Day 2. We usually struggle to get this many players in Day 2 when the tournament is held in Britain, so to have six in Day 2 at a foreign Grand Prix (more than the Dutch this time!) is fantastic. 2006 has been a good year so far for British Magic… maybe this is a further proof of the upswing.

But enough jingoistic drum-banging, what about the post mortem?

The deck surprised me. I’d pretty much given up once I started shipping all the Blue goodies from the second booster. I think the game against Iliev most impressed me and made me think Red-Green is a possible answer to the solid Blue-Red decks.

While going out for a hearty meal with the rest of the Brits I got in a few more games with the second draft deck to see if I’d just been lucky. It seemed to hold up well, and the games I saw Stormbind reminded me how nuts the card was. I couldn’t beat Martin Dingler mono-Black multiple Tendrils of Corruption abomination, but I don’t think most other decks would have either. Blue-White decks were also problematic, as I lost to both of those.

In all I was very pleased to have gone to Athens (despite not really seeing anything of it other than an illuminated landmark at a distance). The money and points were nice, but more importantly it had been a real wake-up call for Kobe.

Which follows right now…

The sensible players booked their flights from Athens to go to Kobe. I chose to fly back home to unpack, and then repack, and then fly out again the next morning. The flight in itself was fairly uneventful. I got to catch up on some films I’d missed, such as V for Vendetta (actually really good and remarkably prescient for the times) and King Kong (flashy in places, but a little long and suffers from that “know what’s coming” problem as a remake).

In Dubai it seemed like just about every European Magic Pro was picking up the same connecting flight. It being the equivalent of stupid o’clock in the morning, I slept through most of the second leg. At Kansai International, Stuart Wright and I managed to lose everybody while asking in the ticket office how to get to Sannomiya Station (main central station in Kobe), but the trip on the train wasn’t too much of a chore. In fact, travelling on trains in Japan is a largely painless experience despite the language barrier. Trains tend to leave at the time they’re supposed to leave and from the correct platform. They even have little arrows marked on the platform to indicate where the doors will line up after the train stops.

By way of contrast, when I got home to jolly Blighty the first train I tried to catch from the airport to Manchester decided not to go anywhere. There was a garbled announcement about needing to be on the other platform, possibly, except the train doors wouldn’t open to let us out until I yelled out of the window at one of the conductors. In Manchester itself there was much confusion as it was announced that only the first train at platform 11 would be going to Crewe (there was only one train at the platform – did they mean carriages, who knows, it’s all a mystery) and then in Crewe there was the usual amount of suspend waiting for a connecting train (I think there’s an agreement between the retail outlets of Crewe station and the rail networks that all passengers should wait at least half an hour at Crewe Station for any connecting service).

I’ve managed to find my way around the Japanese rail systems with minimum effort before despite not knowing the language. I pity the poor Japanese tourists trying to do the same in the UK, where train times and platforms are inherently “flexible.”

But enough carping, and on with the drafting. I’d booked a room at the Shinkobe Oriental. It wasn’t that close to the venue, but it was damn nice. When I got there the rest of the Brits, including a lot of Scots I’d never seen before, were drafting in the lobby along with a selection of Danes and Americans.

Eating might have been a plan, but instead it was draft and then head out to the nearest supermarket for Beef Jerky and other snacks.

I did a number of drafts before the actual Pro Tout while I was in Japan, and ended up forcing Blue-Red in all of them. Originally I wanted to try out the bears-and-burn Green-Red strategy, as I’d been encouraged by the second decks performance in Athens, but the Blue cards kept coming and… oh well. I was starting to get unnerved by how Green decks were getting battered no matter how good they looked. The common theme was the Green decks would all lose the first round.

On the other hand, I was liking the Blue-Red decks. I even managed to get decent Blue cards when I was the fourth Blue drafter in a row. Blue is just that deep. I couldn’t quite win the drafts though, it was always a minor error on my part or a bomb from an opponent in the final.

Registration was at a Karaoke bar near Sannomiya. It was a nice idea, but there was a cock-up in that the free drinks didn’t include beer and the rooms were just a shade too small to draft in. The place was actually a little strange, in that it was this warren of little rooms. I’m used to the idea of Karaoke where you get up in front of everyone to make a fool of yourself, whereas this place was full of tiny rooms that held six people at a push. Wondering through the corridors put me in mind of some of the less salubrious areas of Amsterdam, although the only action taking place behind the doors was wholesale butchery of various songs.

And then finally we have the first draft of the Pro Tour. The first pod was ideal, as I don’t think I recognised a single person. As I was now fairly comfortable with the archetype, I’d already resolved to go for Blue-Red unless some busted purple cards tempted me.

My first draft looked like this:

It’s fast. Real fast.

The deck starts out on turn 1 with various suspend cards, and stops at four mana. My first picks were Lightning Axe, Lightning Axe, and Magus of the Scroll (the only real bomb).

I think I was fighting for Blue, and nearly dipped into Black at one point, but I was surprised that both Giant Oyster and Ghost Ship got to me quite late, as both are very good cards. As a result of the fighting, my Blue is more Deepwalkers and Slipstream Serpents rather than Ephemerons and Fathom Seers. The two Looters are nice, and I was glad to see Undying Rage as it’s really good in an aggressive deck. The one mistake I made was to play Drifter Il-Dal over Empty the Warrens, as Empty the Warrens would probably be good in this deck.

I didn’t really have the bombs, but I had speed and removal and felt I had a good shot with this deck.

Remember that comeuppance I talked about earlier…

In Athens, Lady Fate had been fairly good to me (the journey was just a bit of harmless mischief), but now it was time to restore balance… and that meant I was due a savage kicking.

Round 1: Jun Itou, Black-White

I lost the die roll.

Game 1 I didn’t make a land on turn 3. As far as I can work out that’s instant death in this format. Partly my fault as I probably should have mulliganed my two-Mountain hand, although in my defence I think I had a Chronatog Totem.

Game 2 I had another iffy draw, and looked in real trouble when a Deepwalker was Evangelized. This game was won totally on the back of Looter Il-Dal, as the card quality allowed me to stabilize and then pull ahead.

I noticed my opponent had pile-shuffled but laid my cards out on random piles rather than following a regular pattern. Before game 3 I checked the backs of my cards, and noticed the nice shiny Black sleeves Wizards had given us were a little too shiny. If I looked close enough I could tell if a card was a land or not.

Those sleeves came off pretty fast.

I don’t think my opponent was doing anything shifty – I’d had to look quite closely, whereas he’d been laying out cards too fast to probably gain any advantage – but there’s no sense in taking any chances.

Game 3 was tight. My Looters were neutralized by his Nether Traitor, and as he’d gone first he’d just managed to get the odd hit in to put my life total quite low. I was on the verge of pulling the game back with the Magus, but my life total was very low and he kept finding threats. The old-fashioned Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore showed up to give me real trouble. On three life I had to pull off a 50/50 to hit a Lightning Axe out of two cards, and then use it to finish of the Eye. Unfortunately he followed with a Gorgon Recluse, and its toughness was too much for me to handle.

1-2, 0-1.

Round 2: Makihito Mihara, Green-Red

I lost the die roll.

He went first, made an Ashcoat Bear on turn 2, Buzzardiers on turn 3 and then two Ashcoat Bear on turn 4. I think we can safely say that draw was a little too fast for me.

Game 2 he didn’t get the stupid fast start, and the game bogged down. This again made me think how bad Green decks were as my draw had developed into a bit of a flood and yet his deck couldn’t do anything. Even a Greater Gargadon couldn’t bash through. I was waiting to find one of my two Looters, as I had Undying Rage to get through his Desert, but as neither of those appeared I finally dropped the Rage on a Ghost Ship and sailed it to victory. Kai even put in a timely appearance this game, unmorphing and sac’ing himself to stop a game-ending War Barge from entering play.

Game 3 was horrible. I drew sixteen land. Sixteen! I’d been holding land to discard when one of my Looters showed up (they didn’t), but then I had to start laying it as I actually had too many cards in hand. Sixteen land!

1-2, 0-2.

Round 3: Davide Polo, Black-White

I won the die roll, drew land and spells in roughly the correct proportion and destroyed him in a few minutes. Pretty much what my deck was supposed to do.

2-0, 1-2.

Hmm, no lives left. I would have to 3-0 the next pod, and that’s very tough at this level. I’d managed it at Prague, but that had been more than a little fortuitous. At least I could probably expect a weak pod.

Yeah, right. With bitch Fate on the warpath you must be joking.

My second pod contained two former Pro Tour winners (Takuya Oosawa, Masashiro Kuroda), two former Pro Tour finalists (okay, so one of them was me… the other was Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa) and one of the best draft players in the world (Sam Gomersall). WTF! And this is the 1-2 pod.

My first booster was interesting as it offered up a Stonewood Invocation. It’s a bomb, yeah… but it’s also Green, and we’ve already established Green doesn’t win. But I’m also on a table with very good players that also know this. Green is bad, but if I’m the only one drafting it then maybe that gamble might be enough.

It seemed to go to plan, as I had one Might of Krosa wheel and then ended up with a very fast deck that also included two Strangling Soot as removal. It was the bears-and-pump strategy, but I’d already seen this action in round 2 and it hadn’t really impressed me (other than a blistering start in game 1).

Round 4: Jussi Timonen, Blue-White

I lost the die roll and then went out with barely a whimper.

A fast start was blunted by Moorish Cavalry. Of course I didn’t have the Strangling Soot, Feebleness, or a pump spell and even if I did the Castle Raptors that followed would be equally problematic.

Game 2 I mulliganed and then failed to make a land on turn 3. As we’ve already established that’s fatal in this format.

0-2, 1-3.

1-3 and gone. At least I could take consolation in the fact I won the one round where I drew land and spells. As a friend pointed, out Japan is a long way to go and get screwed (in the bad way), but at least my new Level 4 status with a free flight to Paris and extra $500 appearance fee should lesson the blow.

On a whole it was back to the bad old days of British performance. Craig Stevenson was 1-2 like me, but at least had a solid Blue-Red deck for the second draft. Unfortunately he was cheated out in round 4 when his Spanish opponent screwed up and then pulled the “I-no-understand-English” card to backtrack the game state to just before he made his mistake. I imagine our editor will give us the full gory story when he’s less busy [Nah, bad beat stories leave most folk pretty cold… – Editor Craig, pragmatic]. Stuart Wright and Sam Gomersall both went down in round 6 feature matches after being a game up. In all, only Quentin Martin and Owen Pauling made it to Day 2. Not the best British performance. Looks like we’ll have to wait a little longer for that upswing.

With no need to get up for the next couple of days, I tried to lessen the need to readjust to the time difference back home by basically avoiding adjusting to the time difference here. That’s probably the best excuse for not getting up before half two in the afternoon I could think of.

The next night was the infamous SCG Karaoke party, as organized by Ted Knutson and Eli Kaplan. Highlight for me was seeing Eugene Harvey rap along to something about a P.I.M.P. I scared the crap out of everyone when I found Machine Head’s Davidian lurking amongst the playlist.

“Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast!”

Oh yeah, the classics. Metal blood runs through my veins, I tell you… metal blood.

For some inexplicable reason, we all decided to leave a room that had free beer an hour and a half early to go find a club that Shuhei Nakamura may or may not have known the location of. Apparently, a good time was had by all. I say “apparently.” By this time we’d bumped into the Dutchies and Scandinavians, and groups of that size tend to get a little unmanageable. At one point I needed to make a ninja raid on the toilets of a fast food outlet – it was either that or burst in some grotesquely disgusting manner. I found Craig Stevenson and Stuart Wright, and we thought we were with the others, but when we turned round…

Eaten by wolves, I tell you. Eaten by wolves.

Or taken by ninjas.

Or they were ninjas in disguise.

Either way, there wasn’t a single Magic player in sight. We checked down a few streets, but eventually had to give up and go home.

Free beer. We gave up free beer, man! [I still lose sleep over that. – Editor Craig.]


Kobe was still a lot of fun. The British contingent (most of whom I’d never seen before) were a good laugh, and we also gained a couple of Alaskan hangers on who were excellent company. Japan, as ever, is always a fantastic experience – shame about my lack of Limited skills.

Back to the drafting, and probably the bits you’re really interested in if you want to hit the draft queues on MTGO.

Forget the final of Kobe – Green is really bad. Merkel’s deck is a Blue deck that happens be rounded out with some Green dorks and Call of the Herd, while Edel’s Thallid theme can actually work as he had Verdant Embrace (rare) and two Sporesower Thallid (uncommon). In the past, some benefit could be gained by concentrating on a color that you know will be underdrafted (Zvi’s infamous “hint hint” White T-shirt comes to mind). With Time Spiral, I think Green might actually be so bad that even if there is only one Green drafter on the table they’ll probably still need help from rares and uncommons to win a draft. If you open Spectral Force, the correct decision might actually be to ship it.

However, there is talk of a Green-Red deck around cards like Herd Gnarr, Strength in Numbers, and Empty the Warrens that is supposed to be very good. I haven’t tried it, but there will probably be a big advantage to thinking outside of the box and finding a way to make Green work.

This format is also brutally fast. Another discussion we had was would you take Akroma if you opened her (obviously, online this isn’t even close – you grab her and run cackling all the way to the bank). Akroma is a bomb, but she also costs eight mana and there’s a good chance you’ll probably be dead long before you can ever cast her.

The other thing I noticed is that trying to be the control player roughly equates to being the dead player. The best decks seem like the aggressive decks. Every time I tried to stand back and drop shields there would always be something that broke through. For me it feels very much like the format asks too many questions (flying, shadow, etc) to even attempt being the “answer” deck. Even the best Blue-White decks are aggressive.

While I really like Blue-Red, the other archetype that seemed popular amongst the pros was Blue-White. I hadn’t really considered it, but suspected it might be good as Oysp seemed to be trying a little too hard to rubbish it just before the Pro Tour. It has efficient ground beaters, good fliers, and a veritable swiss army knife of tricks in Momentary Blink.

During one of the side events I ended up with this. By some quirk, the first booster was light on Blue and so everyone stayed clear, thinking it was being over-drafted. At one point I could have been mono-Blue, so this is obviously insane:

And I still failed to win (I didn’t win a single draft the whole trip). In the final, against Owen Pauling, I missed a land drop on turn 3 (which we’ve already established is instant death), and in game 3 he swamp-cycled Twisted Abomination and then brought it back on turn 4 with Dread Return. I might have been able to handle that, except he followed with Serrated Arrows. I might even have been able to handle that, but the Urborg Syphon-Mage that followed was too much.

In this format, you’re either the beatdown player or the dead player.

On the way I beat a very solid Black deck and a Green-Red deck that had Stormbind. That only reinforces my belief that if the cards are divvied up reasonably evenly, then the Blue mage is going to come out on top. The first aim should be to try and draft the Blue deck, preferably with White or Red, although Black and even Green will do in a pinch. The Green-Red Empty the Warrens deck might be worthy of experimenting with (I haven’t tried it, so can’t comment on it at this point).

I did have some interesting and possibly controversial theoretical questions for the forums.

Q1. If you open Akroma, do you ship her (disregarding her monetary value for a moment)?

I’ve already covered this. I think I might pass her, but I’d be hurting. Psychologically it feels so wrong.

Q2. Given that missing land drop number 3 is instant death, should you play eighteen land even in a low curve?

I don’t know the answer to this. I know I haven’t ever won a game where I missed the third land drop. But I suspect the flood potential at the other end is too much of a risk. I’d probably do it if I had good ways to use extra land draws (Looter springs to mind, although any good spellshaper will do in a pinch)

Q3. An interesting situation. Your opponent has just made Flamecore Elemental and you have Temporal Eddy in hand. Do you bounce the land so they can’t pay echo, or do you let them pay the echo and then gain more tempo advantage by bouncing the Elemental afterwards?

The obvious play is to boing the land and cackle at a soon-to-be-dead Elemental. However, the cute play is to let them pay echo and then bounce the Elemental. We’ve already established it’s a fast format with plenty of evasion creatures. They might still be able to brawl with the first play, but with the second they’ve just skipped turns 4 and 5 for no reason, and there probably isn’t any way back from that. The echo on the Elemental is one of the reasons it’s dropped down my pick order despite some hefty stats.

Q4. Looter or Fathom Seer?

This is actually relevant, as I think these cards are quite close to each other in the print runs and you’ll find this choice comes up a lot. Initially most people would take Looter. I’m starting to think I’d take Fathom Seer. It always draws you cards, whereas Looter can be nullified very easily and you also have insane three-for-“return two islands to hand” situations if they carelessly get into combat with a 2/2.

After the dust finally settled, the end result is I just gained two bonus points from Athens and Kobe. This is nice, as I’m now Level 4 and get Worlds at a discount, but probably isn’t enough to justify the time (actually the important dimension in this case) and cost for the last remaining GPs. On the upside it means I probably don’t get my grant stopped for my PhD. If I want to reach Level 5 I’m just going to have to… uh… top 8 Worlds. Easy, yeah, there’s only six of the eighteen rounds that are Limited (ignoring that I performed best at Limited last year, and that my last Constructed performance at a major tournament – Nats – was 0-3).

Thanks for reading.

Craig Jones