The Weekly Shift Sift: The Auto-Build Draft

Read The Ferrett... every Monday at
StarCityGames.com!Here’s a confession for you: I am not good at drafting. It’s tough to admit that when “drafting” is the default mode of most serious Magic players, but I haven’t truly gotten a draft format under my belt since Invasion. But the Mana Gods understood my plight this weekend, and handed me a draft with picks that literally built my deck for me.

Here’s a confession for you: I am not good at drafting.

There, I said it. It’s tough to admit that when “drafting” is the default mode of most serious Magic players — bomb out of a PTQ? Let’s draft? Late at night and you don’t know what to do? Let’s draft! Your grandmother died in a grease fire? Time for a memorial draft!

Yet even though The Draft is the common coin of the realm, I haven’t truly gotten a draft format under my belt since Invasion. I’ll take the cards and get a rough range of colors, but drafting is above all things a matter of experience. You need to know what cards are better over other cards, and which cards shouldn’t be going that late, and as such my habit of doing about one draft per set release rapidly backfires.

“Come draft with us, Ferrett!” people cry. And then I cry, weeping lonely teenage tears, because as the editor of a Magic site people expect me to be competent and there I am, flailing around in a ludicrous attempt to nail myself down into a color.

I’m okay at putting together cards when I have them; that’s why I like Sealed. But picking the cards and then building a deck out of them? Woo.

So it was with trepidation that I set out to my local card shop for a weekend’s Time Spiral draft. “You sure you don’t have a Sealed game?” I asked plaintively.

“Nope,” they replied. “Just the draft. 4:30 on Saturday.”

I managed to rope my friend Ray into going with me, and we sat down for a pummeling. The ten-man draft was an even mix of overexcited teenagers talking about how the Visara/Drain Life deck was the best deck ever and a couple of old hands debating what the fine points of Time Spiral draft were.

Fortunately, God saw what a pathetic, sniveling wretch I was and handed me an auto-build deck. I mean, I didn’t know what card to choose the first pack… Except that it was a Timeshifted Disintegrate. “Well,” said I, “I know that an X spell is good! That’s easy!”

And so the Red flowed for a while. My second-pick Sudden Spoiling seemed like a decent choice in a weak pack, but soon a Sudden Shock and a Rift Bolt followed, cementing me deeply in the color. By the time the Red dried up, I’d seen at least two Rebels flow by me, and I knew that I liked the Rebel chain, so I fifth-picked an Amrou Scout and watched… Well, nothing else arrive at all. That was my one of two significant creatures in the first pack, even though I picked up a Temporal Isolation, a Griffin Guide, and a Detainment Spell. (The other was a Cloudchaser Kestrel.)

“Self,” said I, “You’d better start taking Rebels like there was no tomorrow.”

So I did, lucking out with a bunch of Nomad en-Kors, another Amrou Scout, a bunch of Amrou Seekers and Benalish Cavalries. The Red? Pretty much gone, but who cared? I’d snagged another Temporal Isolation and a Detainment Spell, so I felt pretty decent about the whole thing. The only problem was that I was in Rebels so heavily at this point that I barely had any high-end. I had a ton of 2/2 dorks but nothing to back them up.

“You know what would be cool?” I said as I opened up my third pack. “Akroma.”

“Yeah,” said my companion. “That’s the best card to open. Take it even if it’s not in your colors.”

And so I discovered that if you are in White, and you’ve just joked about cracking an Akroma, Angel of Wrath, it is goddamned impossible not to break out in a muffled snigger when you open one.

Yessirree, this was the easiest draft I’ve ever done. Even if everyone knew what I’d just opened.

The rest of the pack? Some Red to flesh out my stuff, a third-pick Pentarch Ward, and some more Rebels. I was lucking out, since the rest of the table was in a bit of chaos thanks to some inexperienced drafters; one kid passed a Stronghold Overseer to my friend Ray, another was raving about the Slivers of all colors, and somehow a Tendrils of Corruption came to me on a thirteenth pick. Some of the guys here were decent, as I knew from previous play, but I was lucking out by being in the good colors in a radically uneven field.

I mean, I’d had simple drafts before, but this was like a do-it-yourself kit. Nobody fought me for colors I needed, and the rares showed up when I needed them. I guess the Mana Gods wanted me to have an easy time.

The problem was that in the end, I had too many playables. Aaron Forsythe said that they purposely raised the number of good cards in this set a bit, but I was getting tenth picks that were still solidly maindeckable. I had a ton of options as to how to build the deck with the pool that I’d drafted:

Aetherflame Wall
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
2 Amrou Scout
2 Amrou Seekers
Basalt Gargoyle
2 Benalish Cavalry
Cavalry Master
Children of Korlis
2 Cloudchaser Kestrel
2 Conflagrate
2 Detainment Spell
D’avenant Healer
Errant Doomsayers
Flamecore Elemental
Flickering Spirit
Foriysian Interceptor
Griffin Guide
Icatian Crier
Ivory Giant
Jedit’s Dragoons
2 Momentary Blink
2 Outrider en-Kor
Pentarch Ward
Pull from Eternity
Rift Bolt
Sudden Shock
Tectonic Fiend
2 Temporal Isolation
Zealot il-Vec

Cockatrice (hate drafted after my Akroma pick)
Mnemonic Sliver
Paradox Haze
Sudden Spoiling
Tendrils of Corruption

That was a tough call. In the end, I wound up with this deck:

Akroma, Angel of Wrath
2 Amrou Scout
2 Amrou Seekers
Basalt Gargoyle
1 Benalish Cavalry
Cavalry Master
1 Cloudchaser Kestrel
1 Conflagrate
D’avenant Healer
Errant Doomsayers
Flamecore Elemental
Flickering Spirit
Griffin Guide
2 Outrider en-Kor
Pentarch Ward
Rift Bolt
Sudden Shock
2 Temporal Isolation
11 Plains
6 Mountain

As I discovered, this deck was suboptimal for a couple of reasons:

Too Much Land.
I kept getting land-flooded, a problem that happened more frequently when I fetched endless Rebels out of my deck and reverse-thinned it. I was worried about hitting Akroma, but the rest of the deck curves out at four, so I shouldn’t have worried overmuch about it. In every second game, I went down to sixteen and only mulliganed once.

A Single Benalish Calvary.
I didn’t think that a 2/2 dork was that strong, so I cut it back to a single copy when I was looking to go down to twenty-three cards…. But the whole point of this deck is to drop dork after dork and charge in, winning quickly. Not having two of them was really suboptimal, and I later won obscenely quick games with back-to-back stupid plays like “Benalish Cavalry, Griffin Guide” and “Benalish Cavalry, Pentarch Ward.”

I thought the mana cost on this one read 2X, not XX. Obviously, there’s a huge difference, and on the few occasions where I needed to clear out a bunch of Thallids with a big Fireball-type effect, I never had the mana.

No Detainment Spell.
I thought I’d have the big problems in combat, but really I had problems with activated abilities like Slivers, Durkwood Tracker, and Thallids. Normally, I wouldn’t be a fan of a card that didn’t neutralize an enemy in combat, but there are so many activated effects in Time Spiral (many of them tribal) that my estimation of this card rose drastically.

I’m still not sure whether I should have played all five of the big enchantments (Pentarch Ward, 2x Detainment Spell, 2x Temporal Isolation) and just ditched the Cloudchaser Kestrels to the sideboard, but I definitely should have had at least one copy (if not both).

Perhaps The Tectonic Fiend?
I did run out of steam on a few occasions. It’s possible that the Tectonic Fiend should have been put in for an extra burst of late-game oomph at the cost of possibly getting mana-screwed in a mana-light deck.

Still, the deck did well for what it did; the Basalt Gargoyle and the D’avenant Healer combined incredibly well with the Nomad en-Kor, creating really bad blocking situations for people everywhere. Pentarch Ward and a Nomad en-Kor was also Bad Times For Becky.

Still, I thought this was a decent deck. But how’d it do?

Round 1: Sliver Kid
This was the kid who was talking about how great Slivers were. Unfortunately, this was a very easy win; he was the sort of novice player who attacked if there was no reason, sometimes sailing straight into my creatures for an uneven trade. He kept hands “just ‘cause” and it was easy to dismantle him shortly.

The one thing I did learn, however, is that apparently this whole “flanking” business only works when you’re attacking. This, I did not know. Embarrassing.

I also learned that if you’re playing a game with a kid who appreciates fun, it is also impossible not to stand up in your chair and windmill-slam Akroma, Angel of Wrath when you can eventually cast her. Woo!


Round 2: Ray
Ray was my friend, a recent transplant from Minnesota who used to play with (of all people!) Anthony Alongi. He had drafted a pretty solid B/G deck that looked like this, presented in no particular order:

Teratomorph Expanse
2 Assassinate
Thallid Germinator
Verdant Embrace
Dark Withering
2 Weatherseed Totem
2 Nantuko Shaman
Nightshade Assassin
2 Savage Thallid
Stronghold Overseer
Corpulent Corpse
Thelon of Havenwood
Gorgon Recluse
Thelonite Hermit
Penumbra Spider
Vampiric Sliver
2 Urborg Syphon-Mage
Premature Burial

Ray told me repeatedly how I’d hammer him, but I didn’t think so. Thallids combined with some beefy backup were kind of a problem for my deck, since I hadn’t seen a single Sulfuric Blast despite looking for one desperately all through the draft. I was willing to bet that Stronghold Overseer would be the death of me after some sort of land-stall, since he could destroy my Amrou Scouts at will.

Penumbra Spider is embarrassingly good against this deck, by the way.

As it turned out, Ray was wrong. Ray’s a conservative player who will frequently hand me a turn or two while he refuses to commit to what would be a devastating attack… But he got a Verdant Embrace on a dude and churned out infinite tokens, holding me off long enough to his shadowy master. My angelic boss, on the other hand, never turned up once.

We played twice more for fun. He still smashed me, and I had to point out to Ray that Thallid Germinator backed by an army of tokens means pretty much an instant win if you can get a guy through thanks to its pump effect. (He thought it targeted just the Germinator.) Oh well.


Round 3: Slivers
This guy had an interesting deck: Hivestone, plus a bunch of Blue Slivers, plus a bunch of tricky Blue bounce and pingers. Unfortunately, his deck never turned up; I came out with a Benalish Cavalry early and curved into nastier threats, and being Blue and White his deck was mostly 2/2s and 1/1s that couldn’t block me in time. He was dead by turn 6 both times.


Round 4: Draw?
This was a kid in a red jacket who asked me if I wanted to draw. Now me, I was playing for fun, but he wanted to see if he could get prizes. As it turns out, no, 2-1 was not enough to draw into the Top 4 anyway. I wasn’t terribly surprised.

He had the other G/B Thallid deck, and it was probably decent except that — once again — I came out blazing. The first game was “Turn 2 Benalish Cavalry, turn 3 Griffin Guide,” and I rode that all the way to the top.

The second game? Slightly more interesting. It turned into a standoff with several of his angry Thallids facing down an army of Rebels, featuring a Pentarch Ward-enchanted pair of Nomad en-Kors, which held off pretty much everything. He attacked, but it didn’t matter; he could sacrifice Thallids to regenerate his creatures, so he just kept sending to make sure I kept my guys at home.

“Oh,” I said. “I meant to D’Avenant Archer your 1/1 Thallid there.”

“I don’t mean to be a jerk,” he said with an embarrassed wince, “But this is for the prizes. So I’m not gonna let you do that.”

I couldn’t blame him. “That’s fine,” I said.

Two combat turns later, I looked at the board.

“I don’t mean to be a jerk,” I said, “But the combat is now over and you have not sacrificed a token to regenerate your Savage Thallid. So please place it in the graveyard?”

“D’oh!” he said. Hoist by his own petard.

He got out a lot of guys, but so did I — and I began to work on him with my Amrou Seekers. And then You-Know-Who showed up, and I windmill-slammed her to the table, and it was game over.

Ray actually won the draft, going 4-0. I came in second. Three packs, baby, three packs!

And so the easiest drafting experience of my life paid off. So it goes.

The Weekly Plug Bug
Last week, Tom and Izzy trashed the overly-pretentious “Die Arthaus,” shoving the cello-and-drum experimental band off the stage to rock the house with “Anarchy in the UK.” This week? Well, Izzy and Tom have been arrested. Go see what happens.

Signing off,
The Ferrett
The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy