Hey, welcome to the first installment of the umpteenth incarnation of the dilemma series. I am going to be debating (more or less) every week with Tim Aten about draft picks in Champions of Kamigawa drafts (and before long Champions/Champions/Betrayers draft). This inaugural edition should have appeared on your computer screen weeks ago but I am an all-star procrastinator. [As is Tim Aten. – Knut, who assures you that blame goes to both sides on this one] In addition to my normal procrastination level,s I had some extra anxiety due the caliber of both those who have come before me and the opponent that lay ahead of me.
Let’s face it. Tim is one of two or three of the best writers in the game. To make matters even more challenging, I have dilly-dallied long enough for Tim to win a Champions Limited Grand Prix. Although at the same time, Tim winning is something of a vindication for me in a different battle I had with Tim during the Mirrodin Limited Grand Prix season. When I started doing event coverage, I would usually pick Tim out for a feature in the early rounds, which would be met with groans and protests. Tim felt that he was getting the mandatory round two, internet columnist feature match and not one based on merit.
In reality, I singled Tim out for coverage not just because he was an internet personality, but because he was an internet personality who specialized in Limited play. Plus, I thought he was an up-and-comer who would likely post good results. And as you can all see, Tim has continued to post impressive results over the past year, culminating in his recent GP win. I am always happy to be right, and even if Tim wins the support of the masses for this week’s argument I can take some pride in my ability to spot players on the rise.
As for those who have tread this path before us, I turned to none other than Ken Krouner for some advice before undertaking this endeavor. Ken originated this series with Nick Eisel and went on to perfect it with Mike Turian. Ken takes a lot of grief over some of his assertions but his willingness to stray from conventional wisdom forced me to analyze my own pick orders and continually honed my draft skills over the last few blocks. He also has a real knack for identifying powerful cards earlier than most. He was willing to first pick Mask of Memory long before you had to and he recently nailed Devouring Greed on the head less than twelve hours after the prerelease.
Why Ken is not doing this series himself anymore is beyond me, but I was happy to oblige when Ted Knutson mentioned the opportunity. Ken’s advice to me was very simple, although difficult to follow.
“Don’t take the controversial position. You will never live it down.”
Hi! My name is Brian David-Marshall and I take Glacial Ray over Kokusho, the Evening Star.
I can’t help it. I had five Glacial Rays in two sealed deck events at the Champions Prerelease and I guess it just made a lasting impression. My favorite draft decks have three Lava Spikes and two Glacial Rays and they don’t seem to ever lose. It is my contention that a Glacial Ray has a greater impact on more games than any of the dragons.
“I think you have probably spliced about three times as many spells as I have,” sighed Jon Becker when we were discussing my side of the dilemma. “I don’t know about you, but I usually win by giving my 5/5 flier fear and attacking for the win.”
To be fair, Jon plays a slightly slower form of Champions of Kamigawa draft than I do. Jon’s games last long enough for him to build up 18 counters on a Hankyu in order to dome an opponent only to have the damage Ethereal Hazed. And then he does it all over again. He also specializes in sacrificing lands in order to block land walkers.
There have been plenty of drafts where I opened Kokusho, the Evening Star and quickly realize that all seven people feeding me also took Black cards and I have to abandon my dragon for another strategy. I have never left a Glacial Ray on the bench in a draft deck, even if it is the only Red card I have. I also find that drafting Kokusho – or any dragon – tends to narrow down the decks I can draft. If my first pick is Kokusho, then I am looking for Devouring Greeds – a first pick card that you shouldn’t be expecting any later than second – or *shudder* Green mana accelerators.
With a Glacial Ray you have so many more decks you can draft with late pick spliceables in every color. Blessed Breath, Soulless Revival, Consuming Vortex, and Kodama’s Might all team up with the Ray to build a kick ass spell. You only need to look at the success players have had drafting the Dampen Thought deck to know that you can get Reach through Mists at will. Lava Spike goes around and around and gives you these utterly ridiculous draws in any aggressive deck when combined with the Ray.
Judging from forum posts to Mike Clair’s Red/White draft deck article, it seems that the SCG readership doesn’t seem to like Lava Spike very much. I was certainly among the card’s early critics but now I actually draft them pretty aggressively in almost any Red-based deck and there are almost always one or two in my draft decks. I will play them without any splice spells to trigger my spirit craft, whether that is Soul of Magma, Kami of Fire’s Roar, Teller of Tales, etc. I actually took one third recently in an online draft, but that was after taking back to back Glacial Rays.
Good lord! Two Glacial Rays? Let me tell you that you can first pick a dragon every time if it means you will be passing me a second Glacial Ray. How can I describe getting a second Ray? Imagine that you are ten years old. (You might very well be ten years old judging by the PTQ crowd I have observed of late.) It is the day after Christmas. All of your presents have been opened and that post holiday ennui of childhood is taking grip when the doorbell rings. It is a surprise visit from a beloved eccentric Aunt with a bagful of unexpected and remarkable gifts.
I am sad. Pass me Glacial Ray.
While there are a couple of cards I would choose over Glacial Ray with my first pick of a draft, there is absolutely nothing I would ever take over the second one. Now you could very well argue that the player who is the beneficiary of a second pick dragon is going to experience the same – if not even greater – sense of elation. I think I might regard the person who passes the dragon with something akin to suspicion. More like a creepy uncle or distant cousin who brings dangerous toys like stuffed bears that have their eyes fastened with spikes plunged into their plushy skulls. I might even suspect that I was going to get hooked for Black. Like maybe there was some bizarre print run and the player to your right took foil Kokusho over Kokusho. Let’s just say I would be wary.
Grab the Reins or Foil Grab the Reins?
Foil Grab the Reins! It is very simple actually. If you pass the foil Grab, then your opponent will know that the only uncommon you could have taken over it was an ordinary one. This actually came up in a Neutral Ground 3-on-3 once and I have joked with Jon Becker about doing a dilemma about it, but as you can see it only warrants a 100 word sub-dilemma. (I am pretty sure that “warrants” and “100 word” are less than accurate.)
Matt Vienneau recently wrote an outstanding article about Tempo for Magicthegathering.com. In it he claimed to finally understand tempo after many, many years of playing. I found myself nodding my head in agreement throughout the article (which could explain my stiff neck – that is one long ass article), as Champions has also opened my eyes to tempo.
I tend to draft decks that are designed to win the game or have the win as an inevitable conclusion before a dragon generally comes online. Mike Clair recently wrote about the Red/White deck that I was tearing up the Neutral Ground draft scene with. The deck is capable of winning the game by turn 5. If you end up with a Glacial Ray in your opening draw, an innocuous creature such as Kami of Ancient Law can get in for ten points of damage all on its own.
I like dragons fine. I demolished Mike Clair last night in a team draft in two matches – regular and tiebreaker assortment – with a first pick Yosei that was just bigger than his deck, but I would have actually preferred to have a Glacial Ray. Dragons just don’t win as many games and there are more common answers to dragons than Glacial Ray. Other than Distress and Waking Nightmare there is little that can derail your Ray, especially if you are prudent about making it go on ride-alongs with other spells.
As for dragons you can bounce them, counter them, render them incapable of blocking, Cage them, Mystically Restrain them… Why you can even just fricking kill them sometimes. There have been multiple games where I have been happy to see my opponent’s dragon simply because it tapped them out and ensured that my kill spell would resolve without disruption.
Now just a second ago, I mentioned my team draft deck against Mike Clair than contained a first pick Yosei. I think that the one caveat I have to include in this dilemma is that you cannot daft Glacial Ray over good dragons (Yosei, Kokusho, Keiga) if you are doing any sort of team draft. Even if it is the right pick for your deck, your teammates will kill you. You can draft a deck with the knowledge that you passed a dragon, but your teammates will not be prepared for that surprise.
We did one team draft at Neutral Ground where I took Glacial Ray first pick and passed Scott McCord Kokusho. I went into Red/Black and hooked Scott as best I could for the Black cards and despite the fact that things worked out for the best for my squad, my teammates – particularly Rich Fein – were livid. In an eight man draft where you are trying to win, you have no one to answer to but yourself. I can understand the temptation to grab a first pick quality money rare, but I honestly believe I have a better chance of winning the tournament with Glacial Ray.
I further infuriated Rich during a later draft when he was watching over my shoulder and he saw me pass Glacial Ray in the first pack in favor of Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. What can I say? He doesn’t cost six mana and he is insane both early and late in the game. He is just one of a handful of rares that will distract me from landing in Splice World.
In no particular order (because that would be pointless)
Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
Kumano, Master Yamabushi
Kiku, Night’s Flower
Uyo, Silent Prophet
Kodama of the South Tree
All of these cards let you utterly dominate the board in ways that dragons cannot. The common enchantment-based removal that White and Blue decks depend upon is useless, and if you untap with any of these cards in place you should just win. At a recent Neutral Ground PTQ, one of the Top 8 competitors won his match by doing fifteen with an Uyo-ed Lava Spike.
The only two uncommons I will take over the Ray are Nagao, Bound by Honor and Hideous Laughter. I thought I took Blind with Anger, but I have become increasingly convinced that Glacial Ray is just flat out better.
To sum up, I choose Glacial Ray despite knowing that I am opening myself up to the Loxodon Warhammer of criticism. It dominates the board like only a small handful of the set’s rares and uncommons can with few, if any, real answers to disrupt it. Champions of Kamigawa is an environment where two power creatures for two and flank knigh–errr–Bushido Samurais want you to clear the path for them so you can mount an overwhelming board in a virtually Wrathless format. All of your other arcane cards get better by virtue of even a single Glacial Ray.
Dragons are powerful, but by the time they come online the game can often be out of hand. There are abundant commons that allow you to keep your opponent off kilter – bouncing, tapping, countering, enchanting, unearthly blizzards, and even killing commons – and keep the tempo ball in your court. I hope you can see things my way, but if not I will happily accept my second pick Glacial Rays and learn to live with the stigma.
I have noticed that that my young opponent likes to include some discussion of music in all of his articles so I have decided to include some lyrics from my favorite songs each week in a segment called…
Songs From Before Tim was Chewing Solid Food
I understand just a little
No comprende, it’s a riddle
I’m on a Mexican radio
I’m on a Mexican radio
I wish I was in Tijuana
Eating barbequed iguana
–Mexican Radio – Wall of Voodoo