One of the cool things about doing coverage of the Pro Tours, particularly Limited events, is that you get to see if your preconceptions about a draft environment are correct. More than that, you always find seams and cracks in your theories — little things you haven’t considered yet, and some subtleties that, much like one of those hidden picture thingies, once you see them, become so obvious. Well, not so much like those silly things, since I can never see what the heck is in there, but you know what I mean. In any case, here are a few things I learned about RGD draft in Prague (many of these are covered in written coverage, the blogs, the podcasts, or the live webcast of the Top 8).
1) Generally, don’t draft GW together. This is a tough pill to swallow, with GW going from the nuts to the butts in record time. Now that we have all been conditioned to slavishly windmill-slam the One Man Gang, we have to catch ourselves and reconsider taking, say, Compulsive Research or Snapping Drake or Disembowel or a Karoo. I know Karoos are good, but the thought of first picking a Karoo makes me physically queasy. That’s not to say I haven’t done it (though I am pretty sure that I haven’t done it in Ravnica), just that it makes me sad to do so. The problem with drafting GW is, as you all already likely know, that drafting GW makes one of the last two packs much less worthwhile — if you take GR or BW in Guildpact, you are essentially restricted to mono colored cards in Dissension. If you want to play Azorius or Simic in Dissension, then Guildpact will likely be all but a wash for you, since its so guild dependent. Oh, sure, you can pick up a Repeal or whatever, but all of the sexy gold cards will either float into a wiser drafter’s deck or put on a little skirt and cheer for your Guildmage off the bench. Not that cheerleaders in little skirts aren’t great… I would just prefer they didn’t look like the Izzet Chronarch or a giant undead bat. You can, of course, draft 4-5 colors, provided you get sick mana fixers and/or are a filthy miser (Now there’s a role for the Chronarch. He seems much more like a filthy miser than a cheerleader). But, in general, you foreclose a lot of flexibility if you choose to GW it up rather than starting UB or RW, or cutting into Green-not-White or whatever.
2) If you draft Azorius long term, you shouldn’t have to worry about your curve or critter count until the latter half of the draft. Go ahead, take the swankier expensive cards or the p-p-precious Karoos — you don’t need that crappy Courier Hawk just to have a curve. There is an abundance of inexpensive quality W/UW/U critters in Dissension — Azorius First-Wing; Soulsworn Jury; Beacon Hawk; Freewind Equenaut; Silkwing Scout, etc.
3) If you want to be the Orzhov or Dromar Mage, don’t be afraid to pass decent Blue in Ravnica. Counterintuitive, I know, that you would pass Blue to take Blue later, but passing Blue will invariably put the eager lad to your left, or hopefully, several lads to your left, into Izzet, leaving you with much juicier Orzhov cards in Guildpact. Then you can pick up those Azorius goodies in pack 3, not only filling in the bottom of your curve and upping the creature count, but likely hooking your neighbor right into four colorsville.
4) Stick to your guns, unless you can’t. What does this mean? Well, um, basically, it means to follow through with your draft plan, once you come up with one, unless it appears fairly obviously to you that your plan is sh**. Well, the plan should be good, but the coming together of the plan is likely being hampered by someone – or someones – to your right, and perhaps more pronounced signals are being given. At which point, you should jump on them. Many of the pros (including Top 8 players Shuhei Nakamura and Christian Huttenberger) found, in drafts 3-4-5, that Orzhov was underdrafted, and rode it to a nice payday. ‘Nino was planning on RGUing in the Top 8, but read that Sibast (at least) and perhaps more than one person to his right was crashing Green and Green Blue, and so he switched into WR. However, if you are executing, say, a Helmut Summersberger BR beatdown special, you will find yourself taking facially poorer cards over better cards (e.g., Sell-Sword Brute over, say, Greater Forgeling) in pursuit of a low, smooth curve.
5) You can’t draft RGU right behind someone drafting RGU. Just ask Justin Gary about Terry Soh.
6) If you are a little lucky, Rakdos can save a draft gone awry. For example, it’s not unusual to be loved by anyone. It’s not unusual to have fun with anyone. Er, sorry, Tom Jones randomly on in the background as I was trying to type this coincidentally rhyming line: It’s (also) not unusual to pick up (Black) removal in pack one. And when no one is taking Rakdos – let me tell ya, no one is taking Rakdos – and Rakdos is pretty deep — ridiculous Guildmage; Wrecking Ball; Seal of Fire; Seal of Doom; Rakdos Ickspitter; a playable rat; and Ogre Gatecrasher, all as commons… A better rat; Twinstrike; Jagged Poppet; Hit / Run; and Rise/Fall, as uncommons – you could conceivably be playing over half your deck from Dissension, and not be too unhappy about it.
Man, do I dislike Brainspoil. Yeah, I know you can still first- or early-pick it, but it is so very unsatisfying. Like, sure, it kills something, but it rarely kills what you want it to, and it is not very efficient at doing so. Brainspoil is like a series of old fashioned rabies shots. You know you have to do take ‘em if you get bitten by some slathering rodent, but it still sucks. It’ll kill something, but you can never be sure exactly what.
Did you know that there are emergency stop buttons placed periodically on the sides of German escalators? Did you know that they are labeled “HALT”? Well, that is only partially true, but would make sense. In actuality they are labeled “NOT HALT,” which makes absolutely no sense. Honestly.
Did you know that in Czech hotel rooms, for your electricity to work, you need to put your room key card into a little slot by the door and leave it there for as long as you want power? It took one shower in the dark and one more, um, base visit to the can (by my roommate, not by yours truly) before this was discovered. It also means that you can’t really leave the TV or a light or the freaking AC on when you leave the room, so be sure to come back at least two hours before you want to sleep so that the room can cool down. Or you could do what BDM did, and coerce an extra key out of the front desk. But they will be very insistent that you return all of your plastic keys. I am not sure why.
Did you know that there is a safe in Czech hotel rooms, but that you can’t open it? You are instructed to place valuables in the safe, but to do so, you need to go to the front desk (not call the front desk) and ask for the key to the safe in your room. Someone then accompanies you to your room with the key, opens the safe, waits for you to put whatever inside and then locks it, taking the key back to the desk. The hotel claims it is only liable for items left in the safe. This is stupid. In the U.S., you get to set the combination to your safe yourself, and then only you have access. In the Czech Republic, apparently, you never have access to your valuables; rather, only the hotel, its employees, workmen, contractors, the cleaning crew, and actual thieves will have access to your stuff, and moreover, they will know right where to find it. I cleverly buried my cash in my airline ticket and a shoe, and then carried my passport pretty much all the time.
A Toilet Paper Quiz
Did you know that while CZ has a lot of stuff going for it — the aforementioned beer, a glut of smokingly hot girls, and a pretty solid public transportation system, toilet paper seems to be something on which they are still working out the kinks. Both literally and figuratively. Here is a CZ TP quiz:
If you are in CZ, and you encounter TP in your bathroom, it (choose all that apply):
(a) is yellow.
(b) is less rough than, say, mid to coarse grade industrial sandpaper.
(c) is more rough than, say, a relatively soft American kitchen grade paper towel.
(d) is well perforated into squares, such that if you pulled it really fast after placing a fold or two on the ground it would stack up like those carnival tickets at Dave & Busters.
(e) claims to be “Satiny.”
(f) evidences that “Satiny” means something totally different to the average Czech bottom than it does to the average American bottom, and almost fully justifies the Bizarro World labeling of things in Eastern Europe (e.g., Not Halt).
(g) is marginally smoother than the CZ facial tissue.
(h) actually comes with a measurable grit.
(i) is true that no one has been tempted to steal a roll of CZ TP for its intended use
(j) is made with real cat tongues.
(k) has been found, after scientific experimentation, to contain no more than trace amounts of sharkskin or pumice.
(l) makes a handy in-room rasp, should the need for one arise.
(m) can, with the mere addition of water, make a fast cast for an inadvertently broken limb.
(n) is specially formulated to create sharp ridges and points when crumpled (as much as you can crumple it), thus subtly encouraging you to use the folding method of TP preparation rather than the crumple method? This is likely to take advantage of the really top-notch perforation.
(o) is true that prior to advances is CZ perforation technology, CZ TP came with a small set of case hardened titanium shears to allow you to slice off an appropriate length.
(p) is single ply, but thick enough to be at least quadruple ply, if you had an appropriate en-ply-ing device or flattening machine.
More Random Stuff
Did you know that a four hour stay at a CZ hospital, including bloodwork, doctor’s exam and related care costs around $12.00. Did you know that the Mafia Cab you take to the hospital costs around $25.00?
Did you know that you can order a fried cheese sandwich at any street cart, much like a burger? It is in the realm of sixteen times yummier than a chicken burger. I may or may not have had three to five minor strokes while in Prague, and most (if not all) came, I am sure, purely by coincidence, with a fried cheese sandwich somewhere located at one or more places between my hand and my stomach. Funny, huh. Oh, and you can get it with mayo.
When you copy Fiery Conclusion four times with your spell copier of choice (Djinn Illuminatus, Izzet Guildmage, Kinko’s Magickal Kopy Kings, etc.) you (i) have to sac only one animal, and (ii) will almost assuredly win.
Did you know that if you are looking over your game, and say to yourself, at any point during your contemplation, in all seriousness, “I don’t think there is a card in the environment that would let him (your opponent) win this game,” that the next spell cast by your opponent will, in fact, cause him to win the game? It’s true. Even if you know every spell by heart, it will be something you have never seen before like “You / Lose” or “Tough / Break” or “Ha / Ha” (art by Nelson). But you will still lose.
A Woodwraith Strangler Quiz
Did you know that I discovered the best Woodwraith Strangler (Captain Jack Sparrow?) ever? It’s also true. A Strangler quiz:
You think you might have the best Woodwraith Strangler ever. Well, it’s not a high standard to achieve, you might think, but check all that apply. Did your Strangler:
(a) actually see play?
(b) inflict six points of combat damage, with its own two grasping ghoulish hands?
(c) return an Eidolon to your hand as a bonus for letting it play on the team for perhaps the first time ever?
(d) get targeted with a Peel from Reality by your opponent because it was kicking his ass?
(e) get Convoluted the turn after it was Peeled?
(f) get back the Eidolon again, while being Convoluted?
(g) get returned to your hand with a Recollect, when other more outwardly saucy targets were available, purely because the Strangler was En Fuego, and you have to go with the hot hand?
(h) get back the Eidolon again when recast?
(i) actually trigger a concession by opponent upon its second resolution?
(j) perform so well that you sought out a sharpie and forced your opponent to sign the Strangler, whose accomplishments are now detailed on the card?
Well, keep trying. Just don’t let anyone see you play it. So embarrassing. Yes, it was obviously against a Brit, although an exceedingly good natured and likeable Brit. Tim Willoughby is obviously good times.
I Love the Brits.
I expected to get a ton of crap from the Brits about my claim that if I moved to England I would immediately be in the top 2 drafters in the country. Well, I didn’t. I even tried to stir them up, but in their quintessential Britishness (and Welshiosity, in the case of Martin Dingler) they wouldn’t rattle. Composite conversation (loosely recalled):
Me: So, what do you think of my assertion re: moving to UK, drafting blah blah blah?
Craig Jones: Well, Sam is British, but he really pretty much lives in Michigan. Quentin is okay, I guess.
Me: I did say top two.
Brit: What about Stuart Shinkins?
Dingler: No, he is from Ireland. And besides, he lives in Austria.
Me: Come on now, British pride anyone? Anyone want to money draft? Or at least tell me I wouldn’t be in the top 2 drafters?
Craig: I’d love to, but you are probably right.
Other Brit: Yeah, it’s entirely possible.
Dingler: I’m Welsh you git, but no.
Later, rumor has it that one of the British players approached BDM and said “I don’t know what Becker is talking about — he is definitely overstating the matter – if he moved to the UK, he would probably be only the 6th or 7th best drafter in the country.”
Also, a written thanks to Martin Dingler for overlooking my callous (but accurate) assessment of the state of draft in the UK and providing me with four Kuroda player cards, (see this entry, almost all the way at the bottom) which represented something like 80 percent of all the Kuroda cards in the venue.
Did you know I actually heard a Brit use the term “widdershins” in a conversation? Like, a regular old “hey, what’s up? Not much, you?” sort of exchange. Damn their extensive vocabulary and its ease of use! Damn their widdershinnieness! Okay, that doesn’t really make sense, I don’t think. I think (and no, I haven’t looked it up) that widdershins means counterclockwise in American. But it could easily mean something else in English.
Some More Magic related stuff
In my opinion, and in the opinion of everyone other than Scott Johns, Ben Goodman, and one or two closet Brownscalers, inclusion in your pile of a Golgari Brownscale, while defensible, (a) should not be ardently defended and (b) is a sign of a draft gone awry.
Just because your opponent has access to three colors in their Constructed deck, and none of them are Green, does not mean that his or her manabase is “terrible,” as I heard someone telling someone else about nine times on Saturday. Now, you are more than likely correct that his or her manabase is, in fact, terrible, but that is most likely because your opponent does not know how to build a manabase (which is actually a pretty difficult thing to get precisely correct) than because you see three colors.
A Regionals Quiz
At Regionals this weekend, I played my own Rakdos deck, which was pretty good, but not great. Which of the following things did I lose to on the day? (I will actually give you the answer to this one).
(a) A “terrible” manabase.
(b) My opponent casting four Ninja of the Deep Hours on me in three turns, immediately following him revealing that his only two cards in hand were Islands.
(c) The same opponent, in game 2, casting Might of Oaks on me.
(d) The same opponent, in game 2, casting two Might of Oaks against me.
(e) The same opponent, in game 2, casting two Might of Oaks against me on back-to-back turns off an empty grip.
(f) The same opponent, despite the fact that (i) he wore mirrored sunglasses (nice hand bro!), and (ii) in game 1, as BDM might say, cast Congenital Recall on himself by throwing a ninja into my 4/4 Mortivore, placing the ninja in the bin, and then shocking Mortivore (now a 5/5) and then forgetting to draw a card for a second unblocked ninja (that’s a three-for-none, folks).
(g) Story Circle set to Red, and Story Circle set to Black.
(h) Umezawa’s Jitte.
(i) Mistapping my mana at least fourteen hundred (1400) times
Okay, the actual answers are (b), (e) and (f). I had four maindeck Pithing Needles, so no one ever put a counter on a Jitte against me all day (yay), and Circles were not an issue. I did mistap my mana at least three times, but was fortunate enough that it did not cost me. I also lost to Magnivore.
By the way, just to make you feel better: mirrored sunglasses guy, I believe, made Top 16.
Could they have legitimately made Azorius Herald any better? A 2/1 Shadow guy with a built-in four life gain for three mana? So great.
I find it almost physically impossible to not take Chronarch, no matter what colors I am. This is likely not a good thing.
The Aquastrand Spider, while a fine card, is still not a spider. You should refer to it as a mutant. Why isn’t it a spider? Come on people, we’ve been over this a number of times before. Its ass is too small and it can’t block flyers sans conditions. Easy Peasy. Don’t get me wrong, the card is a hot little number, but a spider it is not. I am ever hopeful that, if there are spiders in Cold Snap, they are decidedly more spidery. In a previous article, I included a rules-for-making-spiders list in cut-out-and-laminate form for R & D. Here it is again:
All spiders can block flyers.
All spiders have some green in them.
Unless they are nifty artifact mecha-spiders.
All spiders have toughness greater than their power. Their power is at least 1.
All spiders should cost five or less. And if it’s cost is five, the spider should be ridiculous. Four, really, seems like it should be market price for a solid spider, and three for a pretty good one. But definitely not more than five.
All spiders will make the cut in your sealed deck, assuming you are playing Green.
All spiders have the creature type – spider.
Let’s hope for some good ones in Coldsnap.
Did you know that if your opponent is attacking you with a ground-based animal enchanted with Infiltrator’s Magemark, that you can block it with your Soulsworn Jury, so that you don’t die and your team can win your money draft? Don’t worry, much to my chagrin, and the chagrin of my teammates, I didn’t know either. RTFC. So terrible. I’ve been beating myself up about this for days since, to be perfectly honest, money draft is likely my best format (although that’s a lot like saying that Hyundai is the best Korean car), and accounts for something like 92 percent of my Pro Tour winnings. Some people get big fancy schmantchy checks, others get crumpled twenties. In this case, our opponents. Sigh.
Requests, et al.
As a few of you (at least) probably know, when I am not qualified to play at a Pro Tour (which is disturbingly often) I do the video coverage, which I hope you guys like. I know that I speak a little fast etc., and I’m working on improving that with a video/voice coach, but I rarely get to hear any feedback as to what you would like to see, as far as features or interviews or changes or whatever. So, if any of you have suggestions or requests for PT Charleston, please post ‘em or send them to me and I will see what I can do to accommodate you.
If you haven’t checked out the PT coverage on the Wizards site, you definitely should. The feature writers are terrific and Randy and BDM do just a stellar job in the booth in live Top 8 coverage. Craig Gibson’s photo arrays really put you in the moment, and hopefully, the video bits keep you up to date with the cool decks or the players on a tear, and any other interesting stories that pop up. Plus, you can download a lot of stuff to your iPod/video iPod, including Randy’s live podcasts from the floor. If you haven’t seen it, you should give it a try.
Thanks for reading, kids; comments and criticism always appreciated.