PT Gatecrash: Detailed Analysis Of The First Draft

Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz does an in-depth analysis of Pod 1 from #PTGTC with Ben Stark, Patrick Chapin, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Reid Duke, and others. Follow on the draft viewer!

Our hero Ben Stark and seven others—including my teammates Gaudenis Vidugiris, Patrick Chapin, and Reid Duke—sat down for a star-studded feature draft to begin Pro Tour Gatecrash. With the draft viewer, we have the ability to look at the internals of the draft and figure out what happened; this article presumes you will follow along on the draft viewer, which is available here.

Gatecrash forces players to worry about a lot of different draft dynamics. It’s important not to fight too much for your colors, but it’s even more important not to fight for your guild, and that includes people on the other side of the table. There are five guilds for eight drafters, with Orzhov and Boros able to handle two drafters and being essentially impossible to get alone. That means that a balanced table will have those seven drafters and one wild card. That wild card will ruin his own and someone else’s day.

There are two philosophies of how to respond to this problem. One is to remain flexible, as (for example) Ben Stark and Gabriel Nassif prefer. They think that starting with mono-color or even better hybrid cards is best, and don’t worry too much about sculpting the other players. The other extreme is Paul Rietzl, who decided he was in Boros no matter what and started off his Pro Tour by picking Mugging over Domri Rade. My preference is for a middle ground, with a willingness to adapt to the packs with a sensitivity both to messages sent and messages received, but also acknowledging that due to informational issues your flexibility is not as good as it may look.

Let’s start with Ben Stark’s draft.

Pack 1:

Pick 1:

There isn’t a happy first pick here, but at the same time you get to present a strong leave to your opponents. My preference here is to take a Warmind Infantry. This is a strong two-way card for Boros and Gruul, and you’re passing zero Boros cards (since Smite is an Orzhov card), and the best green card is Miming Slime which leans to Simic. Your wheel will hopefully be Ruination Wurm. By passing Bane Alley Broker, Shadow Slice, and Smite you invite a battle for Orzhov and Dimir.

Instead Ben took Smite, which seems to me to express a strong preference for Orzhov. The pack you’re passing somewhat limits your ability to Dimir, but nothing too serious.

Pick 2:

The second pack’s top cards are Killing Glare, Drakewing Krasis, and Pit Fight. The ‘alternate universe’ deck that started with Warmind Infantry clearly takes Pit Fight and is now leaning to Gruul since that card is much better there than Boros, but remains flexible.

Ben obviously takes Killing Glare, since that is the best card in the pack. The danger is that you’re still passing a bunch of Dimir cards as well as Angelic Edict, which is another Orzhov card.

Don has passed Drakewing Krasis, which potentially cuts him off of Simic, but he took the rare so anything is possible. If you do take the Krasis here (regardless of your first pick), there is a decent chance you can get back at least Gridlock, since you’re covered by two other blue cards and multiple black cards to distract Dimir players, to make up for a potentially burned first pick. That’s what anyone who took Miming Slime would do.

Pick 3:

This is a weak pack, with no one happy taking any of these cards third. Ben is the happiest, since Urbis Protector works well with his first two cards. The Warmind Infantry drafter follows with Scorchwalker or possibly Foundry Street Denizen, and the Miming Slime player needs to suck it up and take Leyline Phantom. It’s way too early for that, but it’s a weak pack and you’ve passed nothing to the left so keeping that up is the most important thing right now.

Pick 4:

With Rapid Hybridization, Nimbus Swimmer, and Frilled Oculus in the pack, it’s clear Simic is open, but it’s too late to hope to table one of them since there aren’t enough other draftable cards left in the pack. The Drakewing Krasis is problematic for Ben here, since even if you take Nimbus Swimmer (which is the strongest way to alter the signal), those to his left will still think Simic is open; his switch wouldn’t be clear yet.

Instead he stuck with Deathcult Rogue, hoping to stay on target but keeping flexibility in case the target needs to change. This means passing Duskmantle Guildmage to the left, so Dimir is definitely being placed on your left within two drafters. The option to bail here exists, but it’s tough because your cut-off of white has been strong. The Warmind deck just got bricked and takes Nimbus Swimmer with an eye to a possible splash or switch. The Miming Slime player is thrilled and takes Nimbus Swimmer.

Pick 5:

The Warmind player gets another Warmind Infantry and relaxes, and the Miming Slime player is happy as well. Ben has a decision to make. He can power through with Corpse Blockade if he wants, counting on having passed no white beyond the Angelic Edict, but chances are you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and don’t have an especially powerful set of cards to start with. The decision to abandon makes sense.

What is more confusing is choosing Simic Fluxmage over Sapphire Drake. Simic Fluxmage is a fine emergency evolve creature but rather slow and not where one wants to be. Sapphire Drake is high end but seems better if you get there and also better if you don’t and need to reach for extra cards. Our Miming Slime player definitely takes the Sapphire Drake.

Pick 6:

This pack is not what one wants to see right after switching into Simic. Adaptive Snapjaw this early means risking playing multiples, especially with the lost time early on, which is exactly what happened to Ben, but you don’t have a lot of choice; there’s no route back to the old deck. Massive Raid goes to the Warmind Infantry player, who still doesn’t know if he’s Boros or Gruul. The Miming Slime player gets the Snapjaw, although isn’t thrilled about that.

Pick 7:

Hands of Binding is the clear choice here for any blue mage. A second Snapjaw is worth very little this early, since it makes the third one very bad and is worse anyway. The red player gets an Armored Transport.

Pick 8:

The red player gets a Foundry Street Denizen, which is excellent, since his deck is heavily red. The Simic players get Simic Fluxmage. The second Fluxmage is awkward, since they don’t evolve each other, and using both together is a ton of mana; the curve is going to be a huge issue for both decks.

Pick 9:

This is where you start to see the results of your work and have a better idea what is missing. Nothing here is terribly surprising, and the pick is straightforward for everyone.

Picks 10-14:

As expected the Gridlock is still here, which may have helped incentivize the switch. Shielded Passage goes to the red mage assuming it’s there. Pick eleven I like Gargoyle as insurance more than Rebirth. A late Merfolk of the Depths is a nice touch just in case things go completely off the rails, and a great signal to see.

End of Pack One Interlude:

Simic is open to Ben’s right, but blue definitely isn’t open on the left, and it’s very possible another Simic player has been created by the cards that have been passed. If a Simic deck can survive pack two and make up some ground, pack three should be strong for Ben. If the deck started with Miming Slime, you’re multiple picks ahead and have had much better leaves, so chances are higher that you are out there all alone.

The players who took Warmind Infantry have a reasonable set of mono-red cards and will be looking to see which way they should jump. Note that those players are exactly who you want to cut off of gold cards; if a single Boros or Gruul card had gone through, that would have a huge impact in the decision.

Pack 2:

Pick 1:

The Simic players are happy to take Cloudfin Raptor. The leave isn’t good enough to hope to get Shambleshark back, so it’s not to be planned for. The red player is being put to a decision between Skarrg Guildmage and Foundry Champion. Foundry Champion gets the nod, since it’s too good to pass up. From this point on, we’ll mostly stick to talking about Ben’s scenario, since what happens diverges a lot, but it’s fair to assume the packs will be at least as good if you signaled properly.

Pick 2:

Disaster. There’s nothing here, so Prophetic Prism is all there is to take. Simic can miss packs easier than other guilds, but everyone can have that happen to them.

Pick 3:

Elusive Krasis is the clear pick, but the curve is getting to crisis status. The Boros player picks up Frontline Medic.

Rest of pack two:

Shambleshark is exactly what we needed in picks four and five (and Boros Charm is awesome for Mr. Boros, although a second Massive Raid isn’t so hot). The second Elusive Krasis is a gift, and at this point Ben is thrilled and seems to have gotten away with the switch, followed by Nimbus Swimmer and Scab-Clan Charger.

Ben is now sitting around thirteen playable cards in Simic. His curve is high enough for 17 lands, so he needs eight playable cards assuming he’s splashing Killing Glare off of Prismatic Prism.

Pack 3:

Pick one gives us a choice between the third Simic Fluxmage and the third Shambleshark, and I strongly disagree with the decision Ben made here. One of these cards solves your problems, and one of them does not. The third Fluxmage has hugely decreasing marginal returns.

Second pick is another brick, which forces us to take Adaptive Snapjaw or Totally Lost. I think I would take Totally Lost at this point hoping to wheel the Snapjaw, if only to avoid being stuck with another one later since you’re behind on cards.

Master Biomancer third confirms Ben’s read and is a huge boost to the deck; then fourth pick we get another gift in Duskmantle Seer. Fifth pick confirms our nightmare of taking another Adaptive Snapjaw, which is very much a Do Not Want, which is then followed by Metropolis Sprite (which is a much, much better pick for this deck than the Diluvian Primordial) and then Biomass Mutation and Hands of Binding.

Ben later said that he felt he should have switched with the Frilled Oculus or even the Drakewing Krasis, rather than holding to his guns with the Deathcult Rogue, and although I disagree I can see the defense of Frilled Oculus as too much better than Nimbus Swimmer to pass up despite the signaling concerns. It’s certainly fine to switch for the Drakewing Krasis. That definitely would have substantially improved Ben’s deck and would have helped a lot towards isolating Ben as the only Simic player.

Lennart Lindeman:

Lennart was on Ben’s right. How did he interact with the packs Ben passed him? Let’s take a look.

Pick 1:

Lennart takes Consuming Aberration over Killing Glare and a bunch of quality red cards: Warmind Infantry, Ember Beast, and Skylight Legionnaire. The pack wants him to be Dimir, but it’s very risky passing Killing Glare here. The decision here comes down entirely to whether you’re willing to draft Dimir. If you are, you don’t pass up an Aberration. If you aren’t, you take the Warmind Infantry or Skyknight Legionnaire, depending on if you prefer flexible or inflexible. My pick is Skyknight Legionnaire. We’ll track that alternate universe.

Pick 2:

As one would expect, Bane Alley Broker is the play, and it’s going to be the play no matter what Ben took first. Alternate universe takes Warmind Infantry if it’s there and is in hell if it isn’t, taking Smite or Miming Slime. With Warmind Infantry in your pile, you take Miming Slime; with the Skyknight you likely take the Smite and tough it out even though you don’t like it.

Pick 3:

Getting the Killing Glare here would be sweet, but Devour Flesh is good enough to keep things on target, and there isn’t much choice. Red players now echo Ben’s choices one pick earlier and end up with mostly red creations. If Ben is red in these scenarios, you knock out his picks and force an escape into Simic starting here with the third pick Drakewing Krasis.

As it turns out, there’s little that one could have done. Once the Bane Alley Broker was passed along to combine with the Consuming Aberration, there was no taking Lennart off of Dimir. As it turns out, the first pick of pack two, he took a Drakewing Krasis in an otherwise mostly dead pack. This shouldn’t have happened, and Ben should have gotten paid off. It’s not clear to me how this happened, as Cartel Aristocrat seems like a better card if you want to reach, and if you don’t then you’re more interested in Prophetic Prism or Paranoid Delusions. Could Lindeman have been considering switching at this late hour? If he was, why did he then take Totally Lost over Elusive Krasis? It’s not clear, but I know that the signals he had passed to the left for Simic were extreme enough that a switch would have been highly ill advised by this point.

After that, there weren’t many choices. When you open a bomb that tells you what to do, the rest of the draft is usually quite straightforward. In the third pack, I am confused by Devour Flesh over Gift of Orzhova and Crypt Ghast and even more confused by him not taking the Gift when it tabled given what he had. There isn’t much more to say there. If he goes red, he likely gets the same Boros deck that Ben turned down.

Reid Duke:

Continuing around the table, Reid Duke started off with Stolen identity over One Thousand Lashes and Homing Lightning and was then passed Killing Glare and a bunch of red cards, which had the effect Lennart feared it would have and put him into Dimir. The question then becomes whether Reid can figure out the puzzle in time to get away, especially as Stolen Identity is a great Simic card and Killing Glare can be splashed—as can his third-pick Shadow Slice.

The fourth pick presents the first opportunity. Do you stay on target with Metropolis Sprite or take the Drakewing Krasis as a signal? With that and Agoraphobia in the pack, the plan looks like it is working fine, so it’s tough to justify hedging. I’d likely take the Krasis here, but that’s because I hate Dimir. If you actively like it, as Reid does, this isn’t a serious consideration.

The first pack is simply too cooperative to the Dimir plan to get Reid to switch. Lennart, if he’s paying attention, should be fully aware of the fact that if a blue, black, or Dimir card was Reid’s first choice then they are likely now fighting; this could easily have happened with a white or Orzhov first pick as well. Reid, meanwhile, has no idea he’s being fed by another Dimir player and is more worried about the Simic player he presumes he has created, while being hopeful that there are multiple red mages to his left as well.

The packs then tell him to go full on mill, and that’s what he does. I don’t know much about how this archetype works during the draft, so I won’t comment further other than to say that I would trust his decisions. If anything I disagree with taking away the Act of Treason, since that’s a card you want opponents to play.

Patrick Chapin:

Chapin started the draft with Frontline Medic. That’s not a card you turn down. He did have to pass Wojek Halberdiers, Bomber Corps, and Massive Raid in an otherwise poor pack, so looking out for a Boros crunch would be a good idea even though Frontline Medic is much stronger in Boros than Orzhov.

A second-pick One Thousand Lashes over Homing Lightning confirms that he is thinking the same thing and would rather get good positioning than make the most of the Frontline Medic, but the third pack says that red is wide open on his right even as it ensures it won’t be open on his left.

This pick, however, is very confusing to me. Given you have Frontline Medic and One Thousand Lashes, how is Warmind Infantry the pick over Skyknight Legionnaire? I’d be trying to contain the signal as much as possible and consider Legionnaire the stronger card.

The fourth pick Warmind Infantry is clear.

I’d have taken Scorchwalker over Prophetic Prism, although I understand Chapin’s desire to get the splash enablers for One Thousand Lashes. Getting another Warmind Infantry and then tabling Massive Raid makes it very clear what the situation is and that Patrick’s position is excellent in Boros even if pack two will be a little rough. Taking Boros Guildgate over Armored Transport continues to show his desire to make the splash work, and with the curve where it is this seems fine.

Pack two presents a choice between Blind Obedience and Boros Charm. This is close, and I can see it either way, since it’s unlikely the Boros Charm can cause trouble at this point. The rest of the pack doesn’t go so well, but it doesn’t go too badly, and it would have been tempting to go in for Cartel Aristocrat, but this was known to be the problematic back.

I disagree strongly with Knight of Obligation over Skinbrand Goblin, especially with the curve so heavy at three and light at two and with the ability to try and wheel Assault Griffin using Knight of Obligation, Smite, and Holy Mantle. He manages to do it anyway. A late Orzhov Guildgate makes the splash highly affordable. Card quality is high, but the deck is very light on two-drops. A little more early action to stay ahead and get battalions would make this a very strong deck.

Gaudenis Vidugiris:

This opening pack crosses the threshold from risking people getting the wrong idea to sending exactly the right idea and is strongly pushing Gaudenis towards Fathom Mage. There’s lots of cards for people to draft, with the top cards being red and black, such that you can expect to safely table one of the blue cards, and if someone is thinking Dimir they will let you get the ones you want the most. Meanwhile, a lot of people will be passing along a Sapphire Drake and Simic Fluxmage, making them reluctant to look in your direction. Crocanura doesn’t commit a drafter to anything.

Alas, the second pick is not cooperative. Metropolis Sprite isn’t a happy second pick for Simic, and it is far from crazy to take Wojek Halberdiers and potentially abandon the Fathom Mage, but with a rare missing and a strong setup from the last pack, that is premature so it’s likely better to pass Halberdiers as a signal; this pack allows a full cut-off of Simic if you take the Sprite.

The third pick is bad as well, but here I think Gaudenis went wrong in taking Deathcult Rogue rather than Hands of Binding. I consider Hands of Binding much stronger in Simic, and passing the Rogue makes the Simic signal much stronger, although it decreases slightly the chance you’ll get the Spell Rupture back. If you’re going to abandon Simic, Dimir is not a good choice given where the Spectacle likely is and the blue cards (and lack of white) you’ve passed along.

Pick four is again bad for you. Here we see how dangerous the Legionnaire pass was for Patrick, since if I’m Gaudenis I combine that with the Halberdiers and strongly consider going Boros; it’s a misread, but how could you possibly know?

Instead Gaudenis decides to stay on target, as he likes Metropolis Sprite more than I do and is guessing correctly that it’s the packs cutting him off rather than the players. The Dimir option has been preserved so far, but that’s deceptively bad because it seems obvious at this point that red is where he wants to be, as there’s no way to know Patrick is red.

Pick five Gaudenis picks up the Miming Slime out of an otherwise dead pack, which makes him feel a lot better. If the Slime had been taken first, there’s a Smite in this pack instead. In that case, Gaudenis can take Ivy Lane Denizen, but all his current creatures are blue, and that’s a poor card in this spot; only the fact that there isn’t a strong Dimir card (since it’s being cut hard) stops him from switching out, and he is much less attached.

Sixth pick he gets Drakewing Krasis, and he’s locked in. What happens if the Krasis is missing? In that pack there’s a cascading effect, since Killing Glare goes third, giving Reid a pick between Metropolis Sprite and Devour Flesh, one of which is still here. At that point, without the Miming Slime, I can’t imagine Gaudenis likes his position, but there’s a Pit Fight in the pack, so he likely takes that. It’s also possible that he takes Agoraphobia instead to keep the Dimir path open, which would be a disaster. Seventh pick in that alternate universe becomes Millennial Gargoyle, and the eighth pick is Frilled Oculus, which likely keeps Gaudenis on target.

That means that even with a terrible Simic start, Gaudenis has no outs; Ben pushing early almost gets him out, but in the end that is not possible because of the quirks of the packs. More than that, the ‘natural outs’ that were available were into Dimir. When your backup guild is cut, you’re just stuck, and there’s little you can do. The only thing Gaudenis can do is take the second pick Wojek Halberdiers or fourth pick Skylight Legionnaire and fight Chapin for Boros, and that doesn’t work out either. The guild set up to his right wants him to be Gruul, and he has zero way to know that or get there.

The eleventh pick Hydroform over Adaptive Snapjaw seems like a clear mistake, especially given the danger of a train wreck, but with so little evolve the Snapjaw is likely to be unusually bad.

The second pack opens to give him a second Fathom Mage, so at this point it’s the Combine or bust. It’s all about supporting those two Fathom Mages. He picks Mystic Genesis over Elusive Krasis next, which seems like a mistake given how short the deck is on evolve—and also with the danger of fives. Simic that doesn’t get enough picks ends up with a glut at five, and Leyline Phantom in particular doesn’t play well with too many five-drops. Whenever you’re looking at having to play Snapjaw, you want to leave that slot as open as possible, and Elusive Krasis is very, very good. There are multiple Shamblesharks in pack two for Gaudenis, along with the multiples for Ben, so that plus the Metropolis Sprites makes a decent set of two-drops, as the Sprite can evolve them.

With Simic split, the third pack doesn’t cooperate, leaving Gaudenis with a train wreck. The biggest disappointment is zero shots at an on-color second Guildgate, since getting a third-turn Fathom Mage is one of the best things this deck can look to do; this was so extreme I wondered whether taking one of the late Boros Guildgates would have been reasonable.

Olivier Ruel:

Starting with a Dragon is always a solid choice, and the leave is excellent for Boros and solid for Gruul. There’s certainly no way you’re wading into the Dimir train wreck waiting to happen at the top. The follow-up of Mugging is just as automatic, and that third-pick Wojek Halberdiers, combined with having passed no white, seals the deal. There’s no escaping from here no matter the packs, and the rest of the first pack cooperates quite well.

I disagree with counterdrafting Frilled Oculus, as it does great things to the table dynamic, and Shielded Passage can be playable, but it’s definitely a card you don’t want them to have in their deck. Similarly, when the second pack bricks, it seems unwise to take away Undercity Informer, which isn’t something you especially fear. Beyond that, there aren’t real choices to make, and Olivier gets it right.

Andreas Nordahl:

There is only one reasonable first pick for Andreas in One Thousand Lashes, and the next five picks are completely forced. The first pack didn’t provide any meaningful choices. Pick two of the second pack is the big decision point between Consuming Aberration and Daring Skyjek. The deck is largely black. There will be a white splash no matter what, with no commitment to blue, but that does seem to be what the packs are saying. The deck is quite defensive so far, and this is a bomb. I can’t fault the decision to splash or shift.

I can, however, strongly disagree with taking Foundry Champion. You aren’t going to get to splash both this and Consuming Aberration, and in a primarily black deck this is at far from full power, so wouldn’t it be better to take Devour Flesh and stay on target?

Taking Boros Guildgate over Cartel Aristocrat (which confused the hell out of the rest of the table when this tabled, not that this mattered) shows what he is thinking but seems rather insane. A high quality two-drop is exactly what the deck is missing.

The next Boros Guildgate over a Court Street Denizen makes sense; this deck is defensive, and there are no white creatures in the deck. Once you’re all in for the four-color special, you might as well get the mana for it, although the Gutter Skulk is again what the curve is screaming for. What you’re even more desperate for at this point is extort. I likely would have gone ahead and taken Fortress Cyclops over Millennial Gargoyle, once he’s made his other choices, since you’re already doing the work and might as well take advantage.

The third pack goes very well and allows Andreas to pick up the defensive creatures and eleven playables necessary to just barely fill out a semblance of a deck, although I think he’s vastly overpaying for mana fixing at this point. It’s not that the mana is good, but it’s acceptable.

Don Van Ravenzwaaij:

Rarely is a player so obviously exactly where he is supposed to be. I disagree with Towering Thunderfist over Armored Transport, but otherwise the only choice is whether to splash the Frontline Medic, and my instincts say yes.

This shows the broad sweep of things that can happen in Gatecrash, from the voluntary four-color special to the dictated tightly focused offensive engine to the fights with neighbors and distant enemies over guilds. The signals were obvious in some places, crossed in others. Some people had no real choices; some were rewarded for hero calls; and others had no outs. The table ended up looking like this:

Seat 1 (Ben Stark): Simic after a quick switch from Orzhov.

Seat 2 (Lennart Lindeman): Dimir from the first pick.

Seat 3 (Reid Duke): Mill-based Dimir from the first pick.

Seat 4 (Patrick Chapin): Boros after starting white.

Seat 5 (Gaudenis Vidugiris): Train-wreck Simic from first pick.

Seat 6 (Olivier Ruel): Boros from the first pick.

Seat 7 (Andreas Nordahl): 4-color Orzhov in a black seat.

Seat 8 (Don Van Ravenzwaaij): Gruul from the first pick.

Don Van Ravenzwaaij was in a great position and opened well, but the other packs didn’t give him as much as his position deserved. The two Boros players had some close calls, and Andreas almost served as a kind of third Boros player, but mostly they were left alone and did well. The two Dimir drafts were next to each other, but since no one else wanted their cards, this didn’t matter as much as it might appear to. With the overlaps so small between guilds, it matters much less how close the two drafters are, especially once the first few packs have the multiple picks that make being adjacent possible.

Reid Duke has a lot of experience splitting Dimir and handled it fine. The two Simic players ended up as the odd men out, and the double Boros and double Dimir helped contain the single Orzhov player, but even with that and atrocious openings for Orzhov overall, in the third pack he had tons of shots at extort creatures.

If there’s one lesson from this table, it’s that packs can be very strange and signals misleading and that they can and do lead to color switches. You don’t always have control, but you have more than you think and you know a lot about when you do and don’t have it. The only thing you can confidently say about the signal you get is that the person passing to you knows what signal he sent. Often that’s a lot, although many people essentially don’t care or pay attention to that as much as they should. Still, pay very close attention to what directions the packs are going to push the other players in, even across the table, and you can be rewarded over time with less competition for the guilds you want.

A little extra push to either Ben Stark or Gaudenis Vidugiris pushes one out of Simic and provides a huge boost to the other deck, but with a lack of priority on proper leaves from packs and the resulting signals, danger abounds. Chapin and Lindeman sent misleading signals, ensnaring Duke and Ruel. It’s possible to radically reduce the chance of such interactions, although in this case both are likely inevitable. Given how easy it is to draw the wrong conclusions and how often that matters, this provides more evidence for my theory that one should pay more attention setting up the situation to your left to your liking and worry less about what’s going on to your right if they fail to quickly signal strongly.

Then again, I still can’t figure out a draft philosophy that doesn’t train wreck at least one of my two PT drafts. I only went 3-3 in Limited (7-2-1 in Constructed), so perhaps my theories need some work. Time for more drafts then!