At the Gathering – Giddy like a Schoolboy

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Wednesday, October 7th – Zendikar Prereleases and Launch parties have passed, and we’re now getting into the Constructed portion of our thinking. However, there are still plenty of people drafting out there. My store, which normally has preferred Constructed for their regularly scheduled programming, is actually planning to rotate between Constructed and Draft every other week. Zendikar is a hit, and people everywhere are wanting to draft.

Zendikar Prereleases and Launch parties have passed, and we’re now getting into the Constructed portion of our thinking. However, there are still plenty of people drafting out there. My store, which normally has preferred Constructed for their regularly scheduled programming, is actually planning to rotate between Constructed and Draft every other week. Zendikar is a hit, and people everywhere are wanting to draft.

Today, I’m going to take you on a walk through my Drafting experiences with Zendikar (all six of them) and some thoughts. Then, we’ll turn to a few Constructed thoughts, and end with a little workshop.


Starting with draft, I was able to play in three drafts during the prerelease, and three more during the Launch Party weekend. I haven’t drafted White yet, but the gentleman who has (it’s the same guy almost every time) has done pretty well. He tends to draft life gaining allies in combination with either Blue or Green. I don’t think he’s won any of the drafts, but he usually comes out with a winning record. The first deck I tried was a Blue/ Green ramp deck. Lots of mana acceleration and some flyers to finish. River Boa was an MVP, as his regeneration continues to be amazing now that Wizards has let up on the “Can’t be Regenerated” add- ons to many of their destruction and damage effects. This deck led me to a 3-1 record, and I can recommend it if the pieces are falling. You will definitely want Into the Roil and Ior Ruin Expedition to serve as removal and refueling, respectively. The traps in Blue are pretty good as well, even when hard cast.

The next deck I tried was a Red/ Green monstrosity with damage and creatures, and frankly, it sucked. I went 1-2, although it was my fault I lost one of those, as I gave away a game I should have won. I don’t think Red is strong enough, and Green needs better help to ramp into. Ideally, it would fit with removal or evasion to get through. Red isn’t strong enough to provide either in this format, although as usual, it has some good bombs like Hellkite Charger.

In the actual Prerelease Main event, I went undefeated in Mono Black with a very light splash in Blue. I think Black is most definitely the most powerful color in this set, as it has all the best removal, and quite a few good commons and uncommon as well. Hideous End is good, Disfigure is probably Constructed worthy, and the Gatekeeper of Malakir kicked is devastating. I used Blue for two Ior Ruin Expedition, two Into the Roil, and one Sphinx of Jwar Isle. I didn’t get to play the Nighthawk or the Creeper, but both seem insanely good.

Moving onto the Launch Party Weekend, I had a chance to play in a Launch event Friday night, ending up in Red/ Blue, which was certainly an interesting experience. I don’t think the colors play particularly well together, but I ended up 3-1 largely on the strength of solid play and good reads on traps and tricks that my opponents had.

Then Sunday night we got a group together for a side draft. I convinced them to let me write down just the set numbers of each pick as we drafted, and I was going to do a nice pick by pick walk through for you guys, but I got so caught up in trying to write and pick that I drafted an absolute train wreck of a deck, which only went 1-2 and the 1 was the bye. I tried to draft in too many colors, and it bit me in the backside. This is definitely a two-color format, sometimes only a one-color format, and I was trying to be too greedy and play three colors. I thought I had learned my lesson, but when we decided to do another one, in spite of the fact that many of us had early morning commitments, I ended up in Green, Black, and Blue. I lost the first match, meaning I had lost three actual matches in a row for the first time since late 2007. I was pissed, and definitely tilting.

Side Note: Yes, it has been a long time since I had any sort of losing streak. I am definitely not the best player, but I pride myself on at least having a winning record. I’m not going to kid myself and think I’m amazing, as it’s definitely a small fish/ smaller pond scenario. Nonetheless, if I can’t win here, what chance will I have at even a PTQ? And here’s the difference between bad players and worse players. Worse players blame luck, the deck, whatever. I know I lost those matches because of me. I was pissed at me. No one else built that pile of crap. No else drafted that pile of crap. I did this, and I had better do something about it, or it would happen again. So, what did I do?

I looked hard and long at my deck, realized I was too greedy and not stable enough. If I feel like I can win with my relatively superior skill, why do I need to make the deck so swingy and needing luck to win? If I think I’m good, a stable two-color deck should be just fine to get me back to the good picks. So I rebuilt my deck to two colors (green and Black, for the record) and proceeded to 3-0 the rest of the way and finish in second. Not that there were many good cards to redraft anyway, but I did get four rares out of the deal to make it worth my while.

So, besides the lesson on how we should always realize how terrible we are at Magic, and keep trying to be less terrible, I also learned that Black is, in my experience, the strongest color in this format by far. If you can get it, take it. I’d take mono- Black every single time if I could, but I doubt that the cards and my opponents will let me. Instead, expect that you will have to be two colors of Black, which is certainly doable, as there isn’t quite the incentive to be mono colored as there was in M10, with Tendrils of Corruption running around wanting lots of Swamps.

One last thing I wanted to mention before we move on to Constructed is the thought of redrafting rares afterwards. I used to be against it, as it’s not how the professional events play out. But now, I’m all for it, for a number of reasons. If you’re against it, for some reason, let me know why, as I’d love to hear it. (For the record, this doesn’t count 3v3 team drafts, where the winners chop the rares amongst themselves.)

1. Redrafting the rares is the most realistic draft. There are no difficult picks of which cards you would rather have to keep for yourself, or pick. You don’t have to choose between first pick Fetchland or Hideous End. You take the better card for Limited, period. This means everyone is drafting the same way, or at least with the same goals. Go read some of Peter Jahn drafts for MTGO and you’ll see some personal drafts of cards he wants, not because they’re good in his draft, but because they’re good for his wallet. If you want the best possible draft experience, each player needs to be trying to draft the best deck he can play, not the best cards he can sell. It skews the draft, and sometimes unfairly so. I know, in NYC for Worlds in 2007, I had to man the Wizards Learn to Play area at 11:00 each morning. Drafts started at 9:00 though, which meant I could use my free draft coupon, but probably not finish. Well, if I can’t win, I might as well just rare draft and take a rating hit. I made out pretty well on rares, but I’m sure some of the guys drafting with me had some pretty strange signals. Now, I’m sure that doesn’t happen as often at your local event, but the principle still holds true.
2. Opponents play better when you redraft rares. You have something to play for each and every round, trying to improve your pick order to get one spot higher. Take my last draft, for example. I lost the first match, and to a player I feel I should beat almost every time. If we weren’t redrafting the rares, I would probably have left, called it a night, and been done. Instead, I ripped 3 match wins in a row to finish in second place, and draft a few decent rares to make me feel better. Of course, I was already feeling awesome, but that’s a story for the workshop section of our article this week. The point is, you get more quality play each round if you are redrafting the rares. Each place has a value, and you want to try to get the best picks possible.
3. Victory is its own reward, but so is redrafting. Redrafting rares is a reward for good play when a reward isn’t always there. For instance, 8 guys gather at your house for a draft. Who wants to mess with prizes? Redrafting is its own prize. Winning should mean something, and redrafting is a cheap and easy way to do that. In essence, to the victor go the spoils.


Standard and Extended are the formats everyone is clamoring about, and I expect rightfully so. Pro Tour: Austin is coming right up in two weeks. Meanwhile, everyone plays a little Standard now and again, with FNM providing a weekly fix and States coming up faster than it seems in early December, on the fifth to be exact. I’m going to start off with Extended. Personally, in any future Extended tournaments I’ll likely be piloting either robots (Affinity) or a streamlined, low curve Zoo deck. Affinity is pretty straightforward, although I expect that there may be a place in there for Master of Etherium to shine. I think, however, that I’ll let my friend handle the machines while I try to tame the animals. Here’s my preliminary Zoo list, which will have begun testing by the time this goes live.

It’s still a rough list, but I feel confident in it so far. Yes, it lacks the crazy go nuts feel of double striking with Might of Alara, but I still think that all of the pieces are good on their own. Let’s analyze a few choices.

18 Lands: Certainly very light, but the deck is designed to run on 2-3 lands. The reprinting of Lightning bolt really helped lower the curve. Every spell costs 2 or 1, and each one is pretty good on its own. Tribal Flames often just hits for four, but is still good value at that price. The beaters are either fast, big, or in the case of Tarmogoyf, both.

Goblin Guide: So good on the early turns, and I think we’ll come to find that much like Path to Exile, the drawback really isn’t a drawback. Here’s one thing that I was thinking about driving to work the other day? How much value you get from knowing what they are going to draw when it isn’t a land? (Which is a lot more often in Extended, where mana fixing has lowered the number of lands, typically). That’s now one card I know that is in their hand. It’s like a free mini peek, and over time, that adds up. If I know they have it (and write it down) does it skew the way they play their hand? If not, how long can they afford to hold it, with me knowing what it is? I really think that the drawback won’t really matter, and instead, we have a hasty 2/2 for two. Wild Nacatl, meet your new life partner.

Five-Color: Tribal Flames and Might of Alara don’t always have to hit full domain to be good. If I only hit the normal three, then it’s a sorcery speed incinerate. Not great, but not horrible. Might of Alara becomes just a Giant Growth. Again, worst case scenario, they’re both okay. Hit four, and they become really good. Flame Javelin for 1 less red? Seems good. +4/+4 for one Green? Not too shabby. Live the dream and hit the full five? You lose, good day sir. The power is very tempting, and I like the idea of being able to have a very long reach to end games with. Killing from 11 isn’t even that difficult. End step, Bolt plus Lightning Helix, untap, Fetchland, Tribal Flames with Creature backup, just in case. That’s an easily reachable turn 4 if your opponent cracks just one fetchland, which is likely to be the retro craze this fall:

My Fetchland’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble
(Hey-la-day-la my Fetchland’s back)
You see him comin’ better cut out on the double
(Hey-la-day-la my Fetchland’s back)
You been spreading lies that I was untrue
(Hey-la-day-la my Fetchland’s back)
So look out now cause he’s comin’ after you

Sorry about that, sometimes you just have to break into Song. Blame Chapin.

Where were we? Right, Teflon Zoo.

I think that it’s a great deck to play early in the season, when aggro decks tend to rule the roost, as this one matches up somewhat well with other aggro decks. The Affinity Matchup is tough game 1, but the board has decent answers, as well as path to Exile being very good when they go all in on a Ravager or Atog. Plus, they almost never play basic lands, so the non-existent drawback really is non-existent.


In today’s workshop section, I wanted to tell you a story about my fifth draft of the weekend. This was the one I tracked the picks so I could walk through it for you guys, but I got distracted and drafted (and played) poorly. Now, I like to play Blue most of the time, as I am a control type of player. Yes, my favorite spell is Lightning helix, but more as a removal spell with built-in delay to the endgame than as a pure burn spell. So, I’ve been collecting and trading for the new textless Islands until I feel I have enough of each artwork. As I’m cracking the first pack of the draft, I’m the last one doing so, and the other players are shouting out their land pulls (we’ve just been keeping the lands that we pull, makes it easier and faster) I was the last one, and so I announced the land that I had pulled.

“Hey, is Mishra’s Workshop any good? Seems better than an Island…”

Indeed it does. I may have lost the matches, but I feel pretty confident that I won the draft.

Until next time, this is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don’t make the Loser Choice.