Nick Eisel, eh? Nick started a rivalry with me in the top 8 draft in GP: LA. He hate drafted me despite being in the same play test group… So I intend to make that the most painful Serpentine Basilisk any man has ever drafted.
Okay, I am joking – I love Nick, but I do feel a need to defend myself after his recent article regarding Green pick order. I did have some pretty strong opinions about Onslaught draft, and I had talked extensively with Joe Crosby about my theories. Joe is possibly the strongest theorist in the game today. Some of his theories helped solidify what I already believed about Onslaught Limited. Joe flew into Rochester for a week to work on Onslaught draft and to help me celebrate my birthday.
We went to Pittsburgh for the weekend to do some practice Rochester drafts. We were somewhat in awe of what we witnessed. Basically, the first sentiment I remember hearing about the format was the overwhelming power of Dragon Roost… And this card doesn’t come close to my top twenty cards of the set. There are three commons in Red alone I place over it – four if your second color is blue (Sparksmith, Shock, and Solar Blast in that order, assuming you’re not in blue; if you are, place Lavamancer’s Skill right after Sparksmith). They thought I was out of my mind.
As more discussion developed and I began hearing such outlandish statements as "Grassland Crusader is good," I started to realize where our opinions diverged. In my opinion there has never been a set where tempo was more important. In Tempest Limited, games would regularly end on turn 6 – tempo is still more important in Onslaught. There is one simple reason for this: Morph. In a format where missing a turn 3 play is as unlikely as winning a Pro Tour, Morph advantage (Onslaught Tempo) could not be more important. How important is playing first in all three Limited formats (Booster, Sealed, Rochester)? If you have ever played a game in which you drew first and you need to decide whether to not to block his Morph with your Morph when he has a Plains, a Swamp, and two Mountains up, you will understand the importance of tempo. Having your mana untapped with your first Morph creature against their first Morph creature is such an incredible tactical advantage; in red, it is almost like having an extra card in your hand due to the Battering Craghorn/Skirk Commando issue.
Tempo also makes an important appearance in Red pick order. Shock as the number 2 Red common has been debated quite a bit. The next time you play first and get your Morph creature out and follow it up by Shocking his and laying another, you will see why shock is a clear second pick. Crosby and I even came across a situation is which it would have been proper to take Shock over Lightning Rift. This was an early third-pack pick, with few cyclers in the deck.
I never claimed that Roost or Arcanis were unplayable; that is simply a misquote. I did, however, denounce both of those cards in an attempt to get my point across. I am not sure how many of you have seen Roost in action, but against any aggro-type deck (R/B, R/W, W/B, W/U, U/B), it is nearly dead. Against other decks, it is merely too slow. Even against slower decks like Red/Green or Black/Green, it often just pops up too late. It is extremely powerful in Red/Green or Red/Blue with a lot of Mistform Walls… But you have to make sure that when you are drafting cards like Roost and Arcanis and Butcher Orgg that you are getting the early defense to make them powerful.
I am not a huge fan of Green, but I am even less of a fan of White – so Green becomes a necessary evil in Rochester draft. Ideally, I am drafting Blue/Red or Blue/Black: Not only is blue underdrafted, but I feel it has a lot more going for it than people give it credit for. Ascending Aven, Mistform Dreamer, Mistform Wall, and Sage Aven are all better than they are given credit for. Choking Tethers can be a great tempo card as well as a game winner. If you have the fortune of drafting Red, Lavamancer’s Skill is a near bomb.
One of the biggest problems with Green is determining a proper pick order. Green has a similar attribute to white in that there are many playables and few bombs in the common slots. (Another problem is shifts in picks depending on your other color, which I will discuss later.) There are many sleepers in Green as well. Vitality Charm was somewhat maligned with the other Charms in the initial release of Onslaught; however, the Charm appreciated greatly with the realization that this format is not as slow as it looks. Vitality Charm moves up even higher if you get stuck without Red or Black as your combat tricks may have to carry you.
The thrust of Nick’s article was the Elvish Warrior dilemma. He does a good job of presenting both sides of this issue, however, I feel he is right. He is not right regarding the argument; I think he is right that his opinion is skewed based on bad experience. The fact that he says he "almost always play[s] it" is a testimony to how much he underrates this card. Not only do you always play this card, but you should always be happy about it.
There are two ways to derive opinions about cards: Theory and history. I think that either is useless without the other – but some are stronger in certain instances. I also think faulty history can go a long way to cloud solid theory. Conversely, flawed theory can inhibit the experience of useful history. Nick, I believe, has focused too much on his history with Elvish Warrior. Outside of not having double Green on turn 2, I can’t remember a bad experience I have had with the card. When you forfeit theory in the face of history, it can lead you to stop "researching." I think Nick’s lower value of the Warrior has caused him to stop picking it when he should. The lack of the Warrior in decks that should have it has continued his dislike of the card – and not its inherent power level.
I am not going to rehash all of the arguments Nick put forth, but I will comment on some positives he left out. Obviously 2/3 is bigger than the 2/2 Morph men… But there is more to it than that. He claims that it is difficult to play him on turn 2… But you have an 89% chance of drawing 2 green sources on turn 2 with nine in your deck. It drops to 86% with eight sources. So you do have to be lucky to a degree… But you will be lucky like that most of the time.
Nick also fails to recognize the dual nature of the Elf and Green in general. Nick is not alone here. We have been brainwashed to view Green as the beatdown color. News flash: Green is the control color in this set. Nick put forth that the Warrior is "hosed by two Morph creatures." I say he is at his best there holding off the early attack until a larger beast comes out to protect you. Elvish Warrior can swing the early game so much that your late game will inevitably be stronger.
Here is my pick order for Green. I moved Tusker way down – but it has certainly been said that I overrate tempo in this set, so bear that in mind.
1. Snarling Undorak
2. Wirewood Savage
3. Barkhide Mauler
4. Elvish Warrior
5. Spitting Gourna
6. Krosan Tusker
7. Vitality Charm
8. Wirewood Elf
9. Treespring Lorian
10. Symbiotic Elf (situational; can move up)
11. Wirewood Herald
13. Leery Fogbeast (situational; can move up)
14. Naturalize (situational; can move up)
15. Taunting Elf (situational; can move up)
16. Wirewood Pride (situational; can move up)
17. Birchlore Rangers
18. Crown of Vigor
I only listed the playable ones, which as you can see there are a lot of in Green. Symbiotic Elf can move up if you are in black with Nantuko Husks. Fogbeast can move up if you have multiple Savages. Naturalize can move up if you have seen multiple troublesome enchantments. Taunting Elf is the worst of the "you can’t block my creatures" cards, but you still need one of those in Green. It can also move up if you have an elf deck with multiple Wirewood Prides, as those two can be a deadly creature kill combination. Pride can move up for the inverse reason.
While a lot of my theories on this draft format aren’t shared by many, I do feel they have a lot of validity. I highly doubt at this stage of the game that I am going to have multiple people flocking to my opinions, but I do hope it will get you to take another look at this format that people think is so slow.