Part 1 can be found here.
Part 2 can be found here.
We now cut to the first draft a little more than halfway through Thursday. I’m sitting at 4-1 drafting at a table with Patrick Chapin and Amiel Tenenbaum along with Ryo Ogura who is new to me but has multiple Top 8s to his credit. I studied hard for this test. Unfortunately I had no idea what was going to be on the exam. I also had no idea how little time I had. I’m one of the fastest players of all time but I have a complicated approach to Lorwyn draft that involves a lot of other elements I haven’t talked about due to wanting to put this out as an article rather than a book. The contrast between Magic Online Time which is quite relaxed and gives you more than enough time to think and Pro Time which gives you none at all is rather extreme. Being unprepared for it makes it that much worse as it took me a few picks to realize why I kept running out of time. Everything else at the event has plenty of time and there’s plenty of hurry up and wait but the draft is the one place where you have to make the most difficult and complex decisions and you have no time to do it.
My first pack has a clear top card in Sower of Temptation and I run out of time while trying to memorize the rest of the pack. The second pack doesn’t have a good Blue card so I’m forced to take Nettlevine Blight. I’m not a big fan of that card but there wasn’t anything better. Then the third pack had nothing Blue and nothing Black but three Red cards including Lash Out and Tarfire (but no tribal cards). Lash Out it was followed by the decision of the tournament. You’ll have about fifteen seconds after you realize the rest of the pack keeping in mind there’s more going on here that you’re frantically trying to remember and factor in. Go:
Do you take Blind-Spot Giant or Smokebraider?
The obvious pick is Smokebraider since it’s the stronger card. Blind-Spot Giant isn’t in the same league. But Smokebraider forces you down a path into Elementals and that trick never works. The Giant deck isn’t exactly my perfect place to be but it’s far less all-in and is much less likely to fizzle outright. Also very importantly it was clear Red was open… but the key cards for the Elemental deck are all over the map while the Giant deck is far more focused. Giants almost have to be open but people can take your Elementals anyway.
I took Smokebraider. Looking back my gut tells me I was wrong and fell into a trap. Chapin would go on to get the Giant deck two spots to my left and win the pod with it later going all the way to the finals.
The next pack has another Smokebraider and the sixth has Flamekin Harbinger. At this point I’m All In. I end the first pack with a trio of strong enablers but nothing to accelerate to and only Sower of Temptation to provide action. I’d fallen behind and would have to find a way to put together a deck; without backup cards in other strategies I had no choice but to hope the right cards were opened and passed to me. Trying to switch now would result in no deck.
I need one of those.
I pass a Thundercloud Shaman for Crib Swap to stay on target given that I’ve already given up on the whole Giant option then get passed Sunrise Sovereign which I have to take anyway due to there being no alternatives. I manage to pick up three Aethersnipes and assorted other goodies up to and including Horde of Notions at the end. I have to take Merfolk Reejerey over Mistbind Clique and can’t even run the Reejerey not that I would have run Clique. I can search up Smokebraider reliably and need to have more high end action and more power so I decide to run the Horde plan and hope for the best:
This list is from memory:
2 Flamekin Bladewhirl
1 Flamekin Harbinger
2 Fire-Belly Changeling
1 Lash Out
1 Consuming Bonfire
1 Sunrise Sovereign
1 Tar Pitcher
1 Caterwauling Boggart
1 Sower of Temptation
1 Amoeboid Changeling
1 Shimmering Grotto
I’m one card off; the Boggart started off in the sideboard but I can’t remember what took its place. Flamekin Bladewhirl is not exciting even when you have infinite Elementals but I didn’t have a good way to finish the deck off and I felt I had to be aggressive. There’s a good chance the Boggart should have started off in the deck anyway although not in place of the card I’m forgetting. How good is this deck? Its mana is a little shaky but far from awful. Horde of Notions was never supposed to be reliable and it’s worth playing even if it’s only going to hit the table half the time without forcing you to wait. With a deck like this it’s basically game if he sticks around. The removal set isn’t great but you can do a lot worse. The creature base has some solid stuff but could be solidified a bit especially around the edges. I’ve had worse drafts on occasion but they are rare.
Round 6: Ryo Ogura [JPN]
For those who want all the details this was a Feature Match which confused me since I didn’t know who Ogura was at the time and figured Amiel and Patrick were both waiting in the wings. As it turned out they chose wisely as my deck worked and I got to show off Horde of Notions. In game 1 I felt like he was playing far too conservative. He’d stalled at four lands but somehow thought that swinging with his men would be a poor exchange while I was wondering how I was going to deal with it if he did that when I was trying to draw something productive. Holding back on attacking in the air thanks to Balloonist for fear of Aethersnipe he allowed me to stabilize what I never thought was a stable board. Harrier was used defensively and I didn’t understand why I wasn’t being attacked by pumped up Kithkin. I got a second Aethersnipe to take advantage of his land stall and then found Horde of Notions and with both Smokebraiders out I could cast it with ease. The Consuming Bonfire in my graveyard meant that it was going to be awfully hard for him to accomplish much. Mirror Entity came down but I used Horde’s ability to recycle the Bonfire and he scooped when he realized I could do that again every turn for the rest of the game. Game 2 was anticlimactic because he drew nothing but lands. I delayed playing the Horde for two turns so I could get out Tar Pitcher and have an extra mana for Tarfire which made sure that Gilt-Leaf Ambush couldn’t accidentally kill him off and together with the Sunrise Sovereign he ended the game quickly.
Round 7: Amiel Tenenbaum [FRA]
Amiel has a Black/Red deck whose star seemed to be Dreamspoiler Witches. I came out fast in the first game with Bladewhirl a Smokebraider that he killed and then a bunch of efficient fast men that got him down very low as he didn’t have early drops. The problem was that he did have Mournwhelk and it caught Horde and Aethersnipe before I could cast them so I didn’t have the gas to finish the job later and had to alpha him into burn range. I did so to bring him down to two but thanks to instant removal off the Witches he stabilized there and while I had several turns to draw a burn spell and two where I won off a Blue source to evoke Aethersnipe neither happened and I was down a game. In game 2 I didn’t start off as aggressive. Again Mournwhelk hurt (he noted he had two of them) and without the right mix I couldn’t put together a strong force once he killed off the second turn Smokebraider again. Either game would have been easy had the Smokebraider lived but good players don’t let that happen very often.
Round 8: Yuuta Hirosawa [JPN]
With Amiel and Patrick facing off for the table I was hoping to get an easy one. Instead I get Yuuta and the other Red/Black deck which means I’m likely not going to manage to keep a Smokebraider. I couldn’t actually do anything about it since that would just result in either a poor deck or severe mana flooding so I hoped things would work out. Instead I was faced with two more variants on the same theme. Mournwhelk took out two giant men to run me out of gas and then in the second game I had triple Aethersnipe and nothing else in hand against Dreamspoiler Witches. That seemed great as I found the six mana and slammed down the first one only to have him respond with Shriekmaw. That meant I had to essentially miss my next turn and I was far enough behind on tempo thanks to that swing that his evasion made it impossible for me to win. I got close and I would have won if Crib Swap had been blocker removal but it wasn’t so I had no way to get it done.
Instead of sitting pretty at 5-1 with a Legacy deck in my pocket now I’m facing down a record of 5-3. That meant I couldn’t take a loss on Friday if I wanted to make Top 8. People had illusions that 12-4 would be enough but some elementary mathematical comparisons to previous tournaments showed the field was too big to get there from where I was. I could take a draw but I couldn’t take a loss.
The next day I knew what to expect from the draft timing but once again the draft was determined to throw me a curveball…
This time I opened a pack with Cloudthresher Lys Alana Huntmaster Elvish Harbinger Pestermite and Peppersmoke. After that there was a long drop-off. In my mind the top three cards in this pack are clearly Green. I can take Cloudthresher but that means passing two strong Elf cards and put me in quadruple-Green. I can take Huntmaster but then not only is someone else with a Harbinger but someone else in quadruple-Green. I decided I had no choice but to be turtle and dodge taking Pestermite. A decision like that isn’t something you can back out of later. Once you pass those cards you’ve committed to going the Blue route. The next few packs give me the opportunity to draft some Faerie cards but no Merfolk and soon I have no choice but to be All In again this time on Faeries despite the fact that I suspect something is wrong. I simply don’t have an alternative. It’s crazy my strategy is based on flexibility and when the time comes I don’t have any chance to be flexible at all. Maybe I didn’t take it to heart as much as I needed.
Once again it’s a rollercoaster of getting late picks early and early picks late. The card that saved my draft from utter oblivion was Mistblind Clique which I had to pass in my first draft when I concluded I didn’t have enough Faeries to try and make that work. This time I had almost nothing else. In pack 3 I went in praying for Faerie Harbinger opened one which I took over a bomb I can’t remember and then get passed a second copy. At this point I at least have something to go on but no backup plan. I never saw a Witches and a lot of my picks fizzled. In the end I had to stretch to even make it to forty:
2 Sentry Oak
1 Avian Changeling
1 Skeletal Changeling
2 Nectar Faerie
1 Thieving Sprite
1 Weed Strangle
1 Nameless Inversion
1 Hornet Harasser
1 Mistbind Clique
2 Spellstutter Sprite
2 Sentinels of Glen Elendra
2 Faerie Harbinger
1 Whirlpool Whelm
1 Faerie Trickery
1 Shimmering Grotto
1 Secluded Glen
I had a Boggart Sprite-Chaser and Ringskipper in the sideboard so when I had a third card to bring in such as Nath’s Buffon (official motto: You’re elite. We’re not.) or Quill Slinger-Boggart I would take out the White especially if I didn’t feel the need for overpriced ground stalling.
Round 9: Saul Alvarado [PAN]
This is at a table number so high that I have to ask the judges where it is; we got more players than expected so there were some added tables in a counterintuitive location. Not only is my back against the wall my back is actually against the wall. Saul’s deck is terrible but I’m not one to talk. He puts out some winners in game 1 including Hillcomber Giant in his Kithkin/Merfolk deck but he has Drowner of Secrets so I can’t use my Harbingers and he mills Mistbind Clique on his first shot! Suddenly a deck that I called “Plan A” due to its complete lack of any kind of Plan B is without its Plan A. I try to get something together but there was nothing to pull together. Game 2 is even more depressing as the Giant stays in and goes through the sideboarded singleton Mountain for the Sprite-Chaser while I once again can’t get to Clique. At this point I’m really down convinced I’m going to drop my next two. Even if I don’t the dream of Top 8 is over. I get people claiming it’s still possible which I hate but I ignore them.
Round 10: Chakorn Lapnimitachai [THA]
I’ve got a bunch of Faeries a wing for most of them and no prayer. Luckily an Air Elemental with a bonus and two ways to get it can sometimes get it done. With both Harbingers coming out to play I was able to summon up exactly what I needed. In the first game I got the Clique and then Faerie Trickery for protection. In the second game I got Mystic Clique then got Nameless Inversion to kill Sower of Temptation… and used Faerie Trickery on the Feast that was trying to bring it back. Both times it went the distance and suddenly I knew I’d at least have a shot to play meaningful Legacy games.
Round 11: Zack Hall [USA]
Legacy is a wonderful thing. Not only do I get to play it for five rounds it starts paying dividends a round early! Off trying to scramble together a deck for the remainder of the tournament Zack arrives late and receives a game loss. He was on my left and talking with him allows me to piece together the draft by tracking the fate of that opening pack. I already know the fate of the Elvish Harbinger which went to my first round opponent and ended up in his sideboard. But what of the other two?
Cloudthresher went SIXTH. You heard me sixth. I had no way of knowing that of course; if I did I would have switched colors and tried to salvage what I could.
Lys Alana Huntmaster tabled.
I’m looking at Huntmaster and Ponder wondering what the hell I’m going to do now. This is a huge piece of information but I have zero Green cards or Elves in my pile the Harbinger is still out there and chances are there’s a Cloudthresher on my left who isn’t all that happy to see me. Meanwhile my deck is struggling so that Ponder could easily (and did) make the difference between having a deck and having most of a deck. I bit the bullet muttered to myself something about a happy birthday and passed along the second strongest common in the format.
Now I’m looking at that tenth pick Huntmaster unable to deal with the army being assembled on the ground. It runs me over while my draw falls behind thanks to the Avian Changeling arriving on turn 4 and him going first; I even used Whirlpool Whelm on turn 2 to buy time but it wasn’t quite enough to catch up. However the second game went better. With an improved deck thanks to Nath’s Buffoon which allowed me to lose the White I got the Clique going on turn 5 with flying backup and the tempo it gained me was enough to quickly seal the deal against a ground army.
So thanks to the miracles of Plan A and its assistant the mighty game loss I’ve managed to squeeze a 2-1 out of this pile. That puts me into a cash Legacy tournament and in turn that sends things back to the question of preparations…