Well, here we go again.
With Champions being released on Magic Online, I’m sure many of you have been busy crunching as many drafts as possible in an attempt to figure out the new draft format. This week I’m gonna take a week off from the usual strategy and card analysis to explore a topic that isn’t written about very often: The Team Draft.
Tim Aten wrote a good article a while ago on two-on-two money drafts, which is the same format I’m going to talk about this week. Not only are team drafts more challenging to a skilled player, but they are also a lot more entertaining. Think about it – when you’re drafting with skilled teammates, the only cards that you won’t know about are the three cards that each member of the other team first picked. This is because anyone who is good at team drafting remembers what good cards they shipped and obviously whichever cards didn’t make it through to your teammate were selected by the opposing team. With this knowledge, you can play around the removal spells you know your opponent has, and even build your deck in such a manner to counteract cards that you know are in the other team’s decks.
Team drafts are also dynamic in ways normal 8-mans are not. You don’t want to pass the other team bombs if you can help it, and hate drafting becomes a huge part of your strategy. You can also pass a good card to the opponent with the intention of moving into that color and cutting him off. This “Hook” move is one of the best tricks you can use to screw up the other team and make their decks much weaker than they would be if you just selected the best card in the pack every time.
Another play you can pull involves shipping something good with the intention of another good card getting through to your teammate, because you know he is in that color. A recent example of this from a two-on-two at CMU was when Ben Peebles and I were on a team and he opened a pack with Cage of Hands, Sosuke ,Son of Seshiro, and Nezumi Cutthroat as the highlights. Now Ben knows that I strongly dislike Black in this format, and that I love Green. So he took the Cutthroat, knowing that the guy in between us would likely take Cage of Hands, and ship the powerful Son of Seshiro to me. The plan worked out perfectly and helped us to get the best of the draft in card quality.
If Ben had then gone into White after knowing Jeff would take the Cage of Hands, this would be a good example of the Hook. So in essence, team drafts are all about sacrifice. You make a pick with the intention of something bigger happening, whereas in an 8-man you are just trying to draft your own deck.
Great team drafters are also able to set up an entire draft after seeing only the first few packs. They know who is going to take what, and in what order, and they can effectively set up their team to have the advantage using this knowledge. This would include hate drafting something from the other team while shipping something that is sure to go in his teammate’s deck if the opposing team member doesn’t hate it up. So as you can see, there is a lot of advantage to be pressed before the actual games even start.
These dynamics all make it worthwhile to examine what exactly goes on in a team draft.
As promised a few articles ago, I’ve returned this week with everyone’s favorite 3/3 morph, Snapping Thragg, incorporating the team draft format that is so often used, but rarely talked about. This time around, we’re not going to be doing any duplicate drafts or anything of the sort, but rather just examining some of the effects a team draft has on normal draft strategy.
This will end up being more of an all-points overview of an entire team draft and the matches. I’ll be covering everything from picks to deckbuilding to actual games in an attempt to see what makes a team draft tick and what we can learn from it.
For this draft, I spent quite a bit of time building the packs.
I didn’t want to make them overpowered so that the draft was an exercise in who could play more bombs faster, but I wanted to include some difficult decisions and chances for the players to apply some traditional team draft strategy. The packs ended up being slightly more powerful than that of a usual draft, but if that’s what’s necessary to include some interesting situations then so be it.
That being said, I’m as unsure as you are as to how things are going to turn out, so I’m sure it will at least be an interesting ride.
The teams and draft seating were as follows:
Dr. Jason Martel
For anyone who doesn’t understand this, Jeremy and Ben were playing against Andrew and Jason. The idea of a team draft is that you play a match against each player on the other team, and the first team to three match wins clinches the draft. If after the first four matches are completed the match score is 2-2, a tiebreaker is played where each team secretly chooses a member to play a match against the other team’s chosen member.
Phew. That was a mouthful. Just wanted to make sure everyone understood how the matches work if you’ve never done one of these before.
Now that we’ve got the basics down, let’s check out the packs before moving into the actual draft.
Jeremy Darling, Team A
Kami of Twisted Reflection
Honden of Infinite Rage
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Peer Through Depths
Kami of Fire’s Roar
Cage of Hands
Order of the Sacred Bell
Iname, Life Aspect
Kami of the Painted Road
Seizan, Perverter of Truth
Jason Martel, Team B
Cage of Hands
Teller of Tales
Order of the Sacred Bell
Honden of Cleansing Fire
Sift Through Sands
Call to Glory
Eye of Nowhere
Strength of Cedars
Oathkeeper, Takeno’s Daisho
Counsel of the Soratami
Kami of Ancient Law
Lifted by Clouds
Kami of the Hunt
Reach Through Mists
Sire of the Storm
Nagao, Bound by Honor
Zo-Zu the Punisher
Ben Peebles, Team A
Kami of Fire’s Roar
Dance of Shadows
Kodama of the South Tree
Kami of the Painted Road
Reach Through Mists
Blind with Anger
Tatsumasa, the Dragon’s Fang
Sosuke, Son of Seshiro
Andrew Brown, Team B
Soul of Magma
Counsel of the Soratami
Kami of the Hunt
Tenza, Godo’s Maul
Tide of War
Commune with Nature
Kami of Ancient Law
Petals of Insight
If you look hard enough you’ll be able to see some spots where I purposely planted some picks that could create hooks and other interesting interactions in the draft. More on this later in the discussion of the draft and the matches.
I know it’s hard to scroll back and forth between the commentary and coverage, but I urge you to do so as much as possible as it will help you understand exactly what went on during the draft.
The first pack greets Mr. Darling with a 5/5 Dragon awaiting his approval. Clearly he doesn’t turn down Coco Puffs, and I watch as he mentally makes a note of the cards he’s passing: Yamabushi’s Flame, Kodama’s Reach, Honden of Inifinite Rage, Kitsune Blademaster, and Kashi-Tribe Reaver being the main highlights. To Jeremy’s right, Andrew Brown has just correctly selected Soratami Savant over Befoul, and Jeremy is the recipient of the Black sorcery as his second pick. Black Dragon and Befoul seems like a good way to start right?
Then, something completely unexpected happens. Jeremy somehow gets Dance of Shadows third! In a team draft!
We will explore this more in detail later, as this is what I believe to be one of the defining moments of the draft. You could actually rename this article “The Dance of Shadows Experiment” and be completely correct in doing so. See, the idea I had when I initially constructed the draft was that Mr. Brown would see that the only good card he passed to Jeremy was Befoul, and then when he received the Dance 2nd pick, he would go right into Black and cut Jeremy off completely. We’ll talk more about Brown’s pick and the whole Dance issue again in a minute, but I just wanted to get it out in the open for now.
After this, Jeremy is immediately confronted with another decision when he receives both Rend Spirit and Nezumi Cutthroat in the booster for his fourth pick. I personally didn’t think it was much of a decision, but Jeremy thought for quite some time before taking Rend Spirit. We talked about this afterwards and everybody pretty much agreed that the Cutthroat is the best Black common and that Rend Spirit really wasn’t the right pick here.
Gibbering Kami makes the lap from J’s initial booster and he scoops it up quickly followed by a Cursed Ronin. The following pack has almost nothing to offer for his deck, so Jeremy takes a Yamabushi’s Storm for the board and also because it is good against his deck. Next up is Frostwielder in a pack lacking other playables in his colors. The rest of the pack is fairly uneventful with Jeremy hate-drafting a Blessed Breath and grabbing Brothers Yamazaki 13th.
Jeremy looks to be almost mono-Black with a slight splash of Red after the first round of packs.
The doctor opens a decent but unspectacular first pack, with the highlights being Cage of Hands, Teller of Tales, Consuming Vortex, Nezumi Cutthroat and the Honden of Cleansing Fire among others. The choice of Cage and Shrine is very close, but I’d probably end up taking the Shrine if I picked a White card, simply because it’s the best Shrine and it’s still the first pack where there are plenty of opportunities to pick up another Honden to go with it. While taking one of these two isn’t completely awful, it’s still not the correct pick from the pack, since you still have to ship another good White card and they are both splashable, so you can’t really hook someone into the color. In fact, there’s actually no possible way to throw a hook with this pack unless you just get lucky enough that the guy behind you opened a good card in the same color as the one you take.
Clearly, the pick from this booster is Teller of Tales, since the only other Blue card is Consuming Vortex and with the quality of the pack there’s a decent chance it will make the lap around. There’s just not much you can do with this pack to set up the draft for your team, since there’s a good pick in virtually every color and no way to really tell what’s going on this early. Martel notices this pretty quickly and grabs the Blue flier.
Jason then receives the pack that Jeremy opened and took the Dragon out of, and is faced with a pretty difficult choice. Yamabushi’s Flame, Kodama’s Reach, Red Shrine, Blademaster, or Reaver? What would you take here if you were Jason?
I’m partial to the Kodama’s Reach, since we all know I love Green and especially U/G in this format. However, that leaves two excellent Red cards in the pack which will probably lead to both Ben and Brown taking one and could end up hooking our own teammate into Red behind Ben. The correct pick here is actually not very clear since Jason can go a number of routes with his deck and the pack is strong enough that almost anything can happen behind him and he can’t really control it. The other question is which Red card is actually the better of the two this early in the draft? Again, I think you can make a good case for either, with the Red Shine being the slightly better pick, since it improves with future shrines that you may acquire and is fine anyway all by itself.
Personally I’d have taken the Reach here, but Jason ended up taking the Red Shrine, which is acceptable. I’m guessing that he also thought there was a reasonable chance that the White Shrine he opened would lap back to him since the pack it was in was overly strong anyway, but this pick really comes down to personal preference for the most part.
When Martel is passed Andrew Brown booster, it really is a sorry sight as the only good card left in the pack is Moss Kami. Johnny Moss is selected, and we really have no problems at this point. I’d rather have the Reach here simply because you can pick up splash cards later and manafixers are more important, but Red Shrine is a great splash card and there’s nothing wrong with having it in this spot.
The next pack has also been drained pretty well, with only Wicked Akuba and Kodama’s Might as the standouts. Obviously the Might is picked, and the pack passed.
As hoped for, the Consuming Vortex tabled back to Jason to go well with his freshly picked Might (though the White Shrine was gone). The next few picks included the Reaver that was still hanging around in the pack, Orochi Ranger, Kami of Fire’s Roar which likely wasn’t making the cut, and an Order of the Sacred Bell.
At this point, Jason was firmly cemented in U/G/r.
Well now. Where exactly did the whole Dance of Shadows situation arise from? From the opening booster of a man simply known as Benji. I purposely planted the tough pick of Kodama of the South Tree and Dance of Shadows into this booster for a bunch of reasons, some of which I’ve already explained. The pick is almost too close to call, and while I’d go with the Tree due mostly to my love for Green, the Dance may very well be the better pick for a two-on-two. The effect that the Black Sorcery creates can really impact the outcome of a team draft if the opposing team has no real answer to the card. While South Tree may be the absolute nuts when he’s out and his ability running, Dance of Shadows is the type of card that wins an entire draft for your team all by itself.
So, did Ben make the right pick here?
No matter what he takes, he’s passing a bomb to the other team, but is it really worth opening such doors to vulnerability that passing a Dance is almost certain to do?
Possibly. It’s certainly risky though.
I guess we’ll see when the matches are played out won’t we?
For Ben’s second pick, something interesting happened. Martel passed him a pack with Sacred Bell, Soilshaper, Cage of Hands, White Shrine, Consuming Vortex, and Nezumi Cutthroat all as possible picks to compliment his first pick South Tree. Ben took the least likely pick of all of them, Soilshaper!
Before anyone jumps out and says that this is an awful pick, I think it requires some consideration. Ben did after all just first pick a card that wins the game almost immediately in any deck loaded with Spirits. Why not, then, bolster the Tree by second picking another Spirit tribal card?
I think Ben’s intention behind this pick was fine, but it really doesn’t pan out in the team draft arena for a few reasons. This is the type of pick that shows the real difference between an 8-man draft and a team draft.
First off, this pack is loaded with great cards. More than enough good picks that the Soilshaper is going to make the lap at least once. Even if it’s absolutely crucial to building a successful deck, it will lap around the table once and you can pick it up then. You end up giving the other team too big an advantage if you take a card like this and let them receive two of the good cards in a situation where they otherwise would have only gotten one. I just can’t agree with taking it this early while there are still cards like Cage, White Shrine, and Consuming Vortex in the pack. Soilshaper is an excellent card, but you can’t pass that many good cards in a team draft when you know you could get this card as a later pick when the other options are no longer available. My pick here would probably be Vortex or the White Shrine, but I’m leaning more towards Vortex.
Remember, this is a team draft, and the goal is to maximize your team’s edge by minimizing the number of powerful cards that get into the hands of opposing players. The matches matter of course, but getting the advantage during the draft goes a long way towards winning the matches that occur afterwards.
Ben’s third pick is the booster that Jeremy opened and still contains Flame, Reach, and a few other cards that I’ve already mentioned. The only two real possibilities though are Flame and Reach, and hopefully I don’t have to explain why Reach is the correct pick with the other cards Ben’s already drafted. It sucks to ship a 4th pick Flame to the other team, but after just 2nd picking Soilshaper, there’s no way in hell you’re passing that Reach along or trying to table it or something. It’s not happening.
Now comes Andrew Brown pack, which is at this point devoid of good stuff for Ben, and he takes the Green Zebra, continuing with his plan of forcing Green Spirits. Next, Wicked Akuba is selected, being the only card left really worth taking, and it is followed up by an extremely late Nezumi Cutthroat from one of the more powerful packs. Ben continues to drift into Black with a Bloodthirsty Ogre and rounds the pack out with Serpent Skin and Jade Idol being the only other semi-playable cards he picks up.
At this point he’s looking G/B, but mainly Green that could end up picking up a different color if it comes, since his Black isn’t the strongest in the world.
Brown cracks his first booster to find Soratami Savant and Befoul waiting for him, and correctly chooses the Savant as it is overall the better card and also something you don’t want the other team getting their hands on in a two-on-two.
And now, finally, we arrive at the heart of the situation. What in the world happened with the Dance of Shadows pick?
After Ben took South Tree for his first pick, he shipped Andrew the booster which still contained Dance, Akuba, Kodama’s Might, and Soratami Mirror-Guard. Clearly Dance is the most powerful card among those left, so what in the world would possess Brown to take something else?
He ended up taking Mirror-Guard after much deliberation, simply because he was trying to go for a more consistent deck. In my opinion this was a huge mistake, because this is not your usual 8-man draft format and passing Dance of Shadows comes with a number of consequences. I just can’t see passing Dance to the other team unless I’m taking another bomb like Ben did, and there’s no way they’re getting it 3rd pick.
The real reason that Dance is the right pick here is that Brown obviously realized that Jeremy was taking Befoul second and taking Dance puts Jeremy in a really tough spot right here. Brown is then in position to cut the rest of the good Black from Jeremy in packs 1 and 3, assuming it’s not being cut in front of him. At the very worst, it makes Jeremy’s 2nd pick sits in his sideboard and also keeps Brown from passing the bomb to the other team. As I’ve said already, having Dance on your “team” so to speak is a pretty big advantage. What Brown didn’t know was that Jeremy opened the Black Dragon and therefore wasn’t getting out of Black, and would have simply been screwed by this simple hook maneuver.
It’s debatable whether the Mirror-Guard is even the right pick in an 8-man draft, let alone a team draft, and what actually ended up happening was that Jeremy’s team got both of the bombs from Ben’s pack instead of just one. In my opinion, that puts Jeremy’s team way out in front before the matches even begin, though we’ll have to wait to see what actually happens.
Moving along to Brown’s third pick, he finds a pack with White Honden, Sacred Bell, Rend Spirit, Consuming Vortex, and Cage of Hands all still waiting for him. This, of course, is the product of Ben picking the Soilshaper 2nd, although there would be good cards no matter what he ended up taking. If Brown wants to err on the side of consistency, then I don’t think there’s any question that Consuming Vortex is the correct pick from this pack.
Unfortunately, though, it’s not that simple, as the rest of the cards are pretty busted. Brown ends up taking the White Shrine, which I don’t think is a horrible choice if you’re going to take something other than Vortex, though I would take the Vortex here and cement myself in U/B after taking Dance of Shadows.
Suddenly though, consistency is thrown out the window when Brown finds Yamabushi’s Flame awaiting him fourth pick and instantly takes it. I think this would be great had he taken the Consuming Vortex, but now he really needs to evaluate where he’s going with his deck.
His next picks are Soratami Cloudskater followed by a hated Ashen-Skin Zubera from the bad pack, and he luckily tables the Cage of Hands to go with his White Shrine, should he use the color. Kitsune Blademaster and The Unspeakable round out the pack along with a Quiet Purity for the sideboard.
So already, after one set of packs, some huge decisions have been made, and if you ask me, Jeremy and Ben are out to a huge advantage at this point as Brown’s deck is all over the place and Jeremy got Dance of Shadows 3rd to compliment his other powerful Black cards.
Jeremy’s second booster begins with a pretty weak pack for his deck, though he does manage to pick up a Nezumi Cutthroat from it. He then picks up Oathkeeper, Takeno’s Daisho second, as Martel opened Strength of Cedars and was faced with that tough pick.
A little aside on the Daisho, it is just absolutely nuts no matter what colors you are or if you have any Samurai or not. If you do have Samurai, it’s almost unbeatable spare a random Hearth Kami, and if not, it’s just an excellent piece of power-boosting equipment.
Anyway, Jeremy clearly takes the Equipment as he already has Cursed Ronin and it’s great regardless.
Third pick is also unexciting as far as tough decisions go, as Jeremy grabs the Rend Flesh that is still waiting in the pack after Ben and Martel have taking monster picks from it. It’s not until the fourth pack that Jeremy actually has to make a tough call, and that is Scuttling Death vs. Pull Under. This pick has been hotly debated by many good players, and I think it’s mainly deck dependent. I also believe Jeremy made the right choice here by far in taking the Scuttling Death, since he already has a ton of removal and needs some solid guys. He is also happy to wheel the other Scuttling Death from his opening pack, and his deck is looking quite ridiculous.
Jeremy then makes an odd, but probably correct pick of River Kaijin over Soulless Revival despite not having any other Blue cards yet. The Revival isn’t nuts in his deck, while someone else is probably hoping to pick up the Horned Turtle with one of their later picks and I think it’s right to D it up here. There’s also a pretty reasonable chance that the Revival will make the lap back.
Next J picks up a Cruel Deceiver, and somehow manages to table the Pull Under after taking Scutts over it the first time. I don’t think anything crazy happened, but we’ll hafta wait until we review the other players’ picks before confirming that.
In the following pack, Jeremy makes what I consider to be a bad judgment call. At this point, he really isn’t getting passed anymore Red, and in my opinion should just abandon it and either go for mono-Black, or look for something to splash in pack 3. The only really good Red card he’s got so far is Frostwielder.
In this pack he is faced with Candles’ Glow and Hearth Kami as two potential picks. Clearly he should take the Glow here and prevent someone else from picking it up late, as he doesn’t have enough Red cards to even play Hearth Kami since it’s a two-drop. I’d go for the hate draft here.
The pack finishes out nicely for him though, as he picks up another River Kaijin, hates up an Indomitable Will, and also gets a Callous Deceiver.
At this point he is looking at almost mono-Black, with possibilities to splash something powerful in the third set of boosters. Having options is never a bad thing I hear.
Martel’s opening pack, as I’ve already begun explaining in Jeremy’s section, was quite powerful. Being firmly cemented in U/G/r though, I don’t think the pick is really that hard here for the Doc, since Strength of Cedars is simply better than the Daisho for his deck. Strength of Cedars is definitely one of the best cards in the whole format, acting like a Fireball usually with any evasive or trampling creature, the card ends most games in which it is cast. The rest of the pack is largely unspectacular.
2nd pick gives Jason the slow, but powerful Tatsumasa, the Dragon’s Fang. This card is great in Green, since you can get it out there earlier with mana acceleration. I think it’s probably overrated by the majority of the Magic community though, as it really is very slow to get going. I definitely want it in my Green decks, if given the opportunity.
Third pick gives Martel more ammo for his splash in the form of Pain Kami, since Ben took Gutwrencher Oni (debatable and we’ll talk more about this next), after Brown opened and took Glacial Ray.
When Jeremy’s pack makes its way to Jason, he has the choice of Order of the Sacred Bell and Iname, Life Aspect. I think Jason makes the right call here by taking the Order, since he doesn’t really have a huge Spirit theme going on, although he did just pick up that Pain Kami. Order is just the better man for the cost.
On the way back, Jason grabs Ronin Houndmaster from his pack, since there are no other Blue or Green cards, and possibly with the idea that he might entertain a UR deck after all. This notion is thwarted when he receives Mystic Restraints 6th after Peebles takes a Matsu-Tribe Decoy.
Martel’s deck continues to fill out nicely with a Rainshaper, Blue Zebra, Mirror-Mage, Counsel of the Soratami, and Soratami Cloudskater.
As we’ve already discussed, Mr. Peebles made the correct choice of Blind with Anger over the Dragon’s Fang here in his opening pick. The Fang is ultimately slow and Blind with Anger is nuts, which you should already know.
With his 2nd pick though, Ben has a truly interesting decision to make. He is passed the pack that Brown took Glacial Ray from, and is left with the choice of Pain Kami or Gutwrencher Oni. At this point in the draft, he really isn’t sure where his deck is going except for the fact that it will certainly include Green and at least some Red with Blind on the splash if not more. He has a Bloodthirsty Ogre to help support the Wrencher, but I’m really not sure that he should remain in Black at this point.
The pick is pretty tough no matter how you look at it, but after just opening a Blind with Anger, I’d want to make my deck as consistent as possible, and probably go with the Pain Kami in hopes of ending up G/r. Ben only has the Cutthroat that he would really be abandoning in terms of powerful cards (though Bloodthirsty becomes really good if you take the Gutwrencher), since Akuba is not what you want in the three-color special. I don’t think you’re giving up much here and I’d personally take the Pain Kami and ship along the Black Demon.
The next pack has Order, Feral Deceiver, and Iname as possible picks, and Ben clearly knows the power of Feral Deceiver as he puts it on top of his pile. He follows that up with a Decoy and Burr Grafter. Luckily he picks up Kami of the Hunt late also, and I really think that the G/r Spirit deck was the way to go here. The Black is good, but it really messes with the mana base and overall consistency of the deck. Ben finishes out the pack by grabbing a late Iname, Soulless Revival , Kami of Fire’s Roar (which again supports my Gr Spirits idea), and a Brutal Deceiver as the highlights.
Ben is headed for tri-colored waters, though I really think he’d be better off if he’d taken the Pain Kami and therefore denied Martel a powerful third pick and also the Demon would’ve likely made it through to Jeremy.
Andy opens Glacial Ray, and correctly takes it over Pain Kami and the other cards in the pack. His next picks are Cage of Hands from Jeremy’s booster, and Kabuto Moth from Jason’s, which I also don’t have any issues with.
Then fourth pick, something completely weird happens when Brown takes Kodama’s Reach over Mystic Restraints and a few other cards that could possibly go in his deck. Like me, Brown suffers from Reach Syndrome, which is basically that anytime you see a Kodama’s Reach you want to take it and move into Green and just splash all of your other stuff. While I’m not sure that this was a good idea here, it did end up stopping Ben from wheeling the Reach, a pretty good thing in the end. So, sometimes, even though intentions are off, good things can happen since you deny the other team a card accidentally.
Brown briefly entertains this Green notion by then taking Orochi Sustainer over Mothrider Samurai and Soratami Rainshaper. Personally I think this was a horrible idea and I can’t really agree with this pick at all. It’s far too late to be jumping into Green simply because you pick up one measly Kodama’s Reach in pack two.
Luckily, however, he’s not punished for these mispicks, as the cards would’ve ended up in Ben’s deck and the Mothrider Samurais both wind up in Brown’s deck anyway since no one else is in White. So, in retrospect, a brief misstep during the draft can actually look like a genius play if Brown was actually intending to hate draft the Reach and Sustainer knowing that the Mothriders would both table. Brown also makes a solid hate-draft of the 2nd Matsu-Tribe Decoy that was floating around late, and manages to pick up Call to Glory, Candles’ Glow (due to Jeremy not hating it), Tenza, Godo’s Maul, and Kitsune Healer as well.
At this point in the draft, Brown’s deck is still really not sure where it’s going, except that he’s certainly in White, and he has potential to move into other colors, since he’s already got a foothold in them. It looks at this point though that he’s abandoned his first pick Savant and coveted Mirror-Guard making the Dance of Shadows pick look that much worse.
[This article is continued in Part II.]