Walk With Me: The Ultimate Walkthrough, Part 1 – The Picks

Piemaster wrote an article a few weeks back about how he believes a lot of the older walkthrough articles were pretty much null in terms of benefits that a player could glean from reading them. A lot of the time, this was simply because the draft required little skill to navigate, or stupid bombs were dropped into the player’s lap and he easily won. For this walkthrough, I decided that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a draft that could be classified in any of these ways and I would continue covering my drafts until I found a suitable entry for this article. Thirteen drafts later, here I am – and let me tell you how sick of Eighth Edition I am.

(Editor’s Note: Nick Eisel is currently suspended from playing in sanctioned tournaments. He has not been compensated for this article. The details of his writing arrangement can be found here.)

One of the aspects of strategy articles that is not often given the attention it deserves is the manner in which information is presented. Most of the editorials we read from day to day could have easily been organized into a more thought-provoking manner by their respective authors. When you create an interactive environment for the reader, he starts making his own decisions instead of simply reading your position on the subject. If you’re able to draw him in far enough, you’ll end up with a much more beneficial piece of writing that people can actually learn something from.

If you’re thinking that this is what every writer strives for in his work – and the reason so many fail is because it’s easier said than done. Allow me to show you that this is simply not the case. The real reason that many articles present the information in a less than compelling way is because, to be quite honest, the scribe just didn’t think that much about it. The reasons for writing an article are many, but the most common is surely that the author wants to convey a specific idea to his audience. He has a point he wants to get across and most of the time he doesn’t care how he communicates it so long as the message is sent. I understand that sometimes it’s not done in detail because of deadlines, or because the writer in question just wants to crank out another piece to get a bigger paycheck and does so without much thought. Regardless of why it happens, we can all stand to improve the way we present our data and opinions in our writing, and I’m here to give you a few things to think about before you go off compiling that next killer strategy article.

Before we jump into this, I would like to point out that the reason I’m mentioning it in the first place is because I am very interested in the quality of strategy articles as a whole and constantly trying to improve my own work while still trying to give tips to all the other aspiring writers out there. A recent example of what I am talking about is the recent Type One articles done by Stephen Menendian on Long.dec. Even if you don’t play Vintage, reading these articles will arouse your brain and get you involved instead of the usual zombie-like state that is achieved after reading another mundane Magic article. The format he uses to get this information into that mode of thinking is superb and I’d personally like to compliment him and ask him to definitely continue what he’s doing. Remember, though – as well laid out as Stephen’s articles are, there are still (and always will be) areas for improvements. His second piece in particular falls into what I believe is one of the most effective ways of getting the point across in a provocative way. We should all use articles like these as a baseline for the inspiration of thought in our own writing.

So how do I present the facts in the most stimulating manner, you ask?

Take a look through the archives on this site at some of the earliest renditions of the”Draft Walkthrough” or”Walk With Me” articles as we’ve come to know them. Hopefully, Ferrett will post a couple of links to mine and/or Tim Aten‘s articles here to make it easier on you. But these articles (mine included) have a glaring error in the way they present the information. Fact of the matter is, the drafts were done, the cards were picked, and the games were played – but what is fundamentally wrong with the way the information is laid out in the actual articles? See if you can answer that for yourself before you move on.

I recognized this problem immediately when looking back over some of my older work in an attempt to improve my future pieces. The way the draft portion is laid out in all of the old articles leaves very little room for any interaction between the author and his audience. What I mean is, by typing out the cards in the pack and the card you picked on the same line, you basically nullify any decision-making on the part of the reader before you’ve even gotten into your analysis of the pack. If the answer is put in front of them, they will subconsciously skim the article, while they will read deeper into it if there is no clear solution in front of their eyes.

A more effective way to present the facts in this case would be to just type out the pack in a random order, talk about it, and then and only then list your pick after the analysis is finished. The reason for this is because if you just go and present the situation along with what you did, few people are willing to consider the other options unless something seems glaringly incorrect in your decision-making. Thus, we achieve that zombie-like state I mentioned earlier, where the reader just reads along, not really making any of the decisions for himself, and in turn, not really learning anything.

This type of reasoning can be applied to every other type of article as well. If you don’t believe me, try this when writing your own commentary: Write the entire article out and then wait a couple days. Now, go back and read it to see if you can put yourself in a position where you are questioning what the right play (or pick) is even though you already know the answer since you personally experienced it. It’s a difficult thing to try and put yourself in the place of the reader, but it also enhances the quality of your work so much that it’s worth the effort. This type of editing can only improve the body of Magic strategy articles that see print and my hope is that you’ll adopt it into your own writing.

It was through this thinking that I determined that the format for”Walk With Me” articles has only been invoking about half of the impact that it could if the audience was reading the article as if they were actually partaking in the given draft. To me, this just isn’t satisfactory, and I’ve decided to take my best stab at rejuvenating the article format to its full potential.

Piemaster wrote an article a few weeks back about how he believes a lot of the older walkthrough articles were pretty much null in terms of benefits that a player could glean from reading them. A lot of the time, this was simply because the draft required little skill to navigate, or stupid bombs were dropped into the player’s lap and he easily won. For this walkthrough, I decided that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a draft that could be classified in any of these ways and I would continue covering my drafts until I found a suitable entry for this article.

Thirteen drafts later, here I am – and let me tell you how sick of Eighth Edition I am. We’re talking about complete hatred here. I never want to see or touch another card from the Core Set in a Limited setting. Before the research for this article began, I was fine with the format, and basically enjoyed it, but once I finally found the draft I was gonna use here, that was the end of my days of 8th Limited.

Oh, and my apologies that I couldn’t do a Mirrodin walkthrough; it’s just too hard to do one in real life, as it’s near-impossible to take notes of the depth that are necessary to do this right. That’s without even considering the fact that I actually have to draft and play at the same time. Coverage of a real-life Mirrodin draft would be far too shallow to fit our needs here, so for now we’ll have to be satisfied with 8th Edition. I do promise, however, that I’ll get to work on a Mirrodin walkthrough as soon as it’s released on MODO, as I really enjoy that format and I definitely have a lot to talk about there.

Unfortunately, for now, we’re back to the world of the Core Set.

Let’s make the best of it.

Before I get into the actual draft, I want to point out that I received a few complaints from people about using their MODO nicks in my situation articles, so for now I’m going to keep it anonymous and we’ll see what happens from there. I will, however, include the rating of the player I’m playing against to give you a relative idea of their skill level.

When you’re looking at the packs – and then later, the games that I cover in depth – try to put yourself in my position before reading the commentary and see what you’d do. I found this draft particularly interesting simply because of the huge amount of differential in the paths I could have chosen and their eventual product.

The Draft

Pack One

Pack 1

Hill Giant, Suntail Hawk, Dehydration, Grizzly Bear, Fighting Drake, Unholy Strength, Horned Turtle, Severed Legion, Standing Troops

Well, we’re off to the races and our first pack has a number of options with no clear winner upon initial examination. Let’s dig through the chaff in an attempt to find the main considerations for our first pick here.

Since no card in this pack jumps out immediately, we have to single out the best cards in a small range and go from there. I think the only three cards you could justify taking as a first pick here are Hill Giant, Fighting Drake, or Severed Legion. This much should be evident, since Suntail Hawk and Grizzly Bear are both sub par and the aforementioned three cards are better than the others of their respective colors in the pack. The only real debate on that front would be Fighting Drake versus Dehydration, and Fighting Drake is far above-average, while Dehydration is only a conditional form of removal. Don’t get me wrong, Dehydration is a fine card in this format, but I certainly would take a solid flier over it every time.

Now that we’ve carved out the key cards in the pack, it becomes a matter of color preference in comparison to overall card quality. Fighting Drake is clearly the most powerful of the big three in the pack, and Hill Giant is a better pick than Severed Legion because of the single red in the casting cost and the larger body. Any of these cards here is a fine pick if you’re dead set on a certain archetype, but as for myself, I like Blue in 8th Limited and I also like taking the best card in the pack.

My Pick: Fighting Drake

Pack 2

Sea Serpent, Raise Dead, Pacifism, Vicious Hunger, Lightning Blast, Aven Cloudchaser, Wind Drake, Goblin Chariot, Moss Monster

Before you ask, No, I didn’t take the time to memorize the common runs of 8th Edition. Yes, I probably should have, but since I did not know them I did not take them into account in my picks. Just wanted to make that clear.

Anyway, we have a whale of a pick to make here. This pick could easily make or break the draft depending on what we’re shipped afterwards. I don’t think I have to go into detail in terms of why the pick is narrowed down to one of the three removal spells: Pacifism, Vicious Hunger, or Lightning Blast. That much seems simple, and while Lightning Blast is easily the best of the three because of the enormous power and flexibility it provides, I think there’s still a lot more to the pick than that.

White/Blue is an incredibly powerful archetype in 8th and I think you have to lump the Pacifism into the same boat as Lightning Blast here simply because of that. As with the first pick, it comes down to power and color preference, and I have to go with Lightning Blast here because I also like Blue/Red in this environment. The other important factor is that I’d rather be splashing a Lightning Blast than a Pacifism because the Blast has a more dramatic impact on the game – so I think the Blast is the best pick all around.

What you have to keep in mind here is that there are a number of paths we can go down even with just these first two picks, and it really is that crucial to make the best possible pick based on the information given. A lot of this is up in the air at this point since so much is reliant upon color considerations as well as the usual power curve.

My Pick: Lightning Blast

Pack 3

Blanchwood Armor, Nekrataal, Shatter, Dusk Imp, Spined Wurm, Coercion, Wood Elves, Sage Owl, Canopy Spider

Sigh. Nekrataal’s still in the third pack!?

Hopefully you can see what I was talking about in the last pick, as I’d be in perfect shape had I taken the Vicious Hunger instead of the Blast. I don’t really think you can justify doing that though unless you have some overwhelming need to draft Black, at which point you’d also have taken Severed Legion over Fighting Drake. In any case, I’d still always pick Lightning Blast in the second pack no matter what I picked first, and I just want to point out how important color considerations are when dealing with multiple cards of relative power levels.

There really is no clear pick in this pack despite Nekrataal, an obvious bomb, which somehow made it through two players. Let’s look at the other possible choices before determining if we should just take the bad boy and run the switch.

First, we have Spined Wurm, the best of the few green cards in the booster. Taking the Wurm could send us into a U/G splash R concoction, or possibly even four- or five-color green. It’s worth noting that Spined Wurm is an excellent card in its own right and a fine splash in multiples. The other possible route would be to stay on track in Blue/Red and just take the Sage Owl, cementing the guy downstream into Black since we’ve already passed a Severed Legion and a Vicious Hunger (though there were also Hill Giant and Pacifism, so we really aren’t sure what he’s doing as of yet).

In my opinion, it would make much more sense to take the Spined Wurm here and launch into some green based deck since the mana-fixing is excellent in this format (Fertile Ground, Rampant Growth) and it seems terrible to third-pick a Sage Owl just to stay in color.

But wait – we almost forgot about that Nekrataal staring us down. Let’s face the facts; Nekrataal is a bomb in this format, even better than some of the good rares (which is a feat, considering that for the most part, the rares in 8th are silly in Limited). It’s still incredibly early in the draft and I see no reason why we shouldn’t just take the Nek here and either splash Lightning Blast into our Blue/Black deck or just switch completely into Black/Red.

Nekrataal is insane, people; quit passing it to me third.

My Pick: Nekrataal

Pack 4

Coastal Hornclaw, Wood Elves, Drudge Skeletons, Healing Salve, Spiketail Hatchling, Mind Rot, Panic Attack, Sabertooth Tiger

This booster presents somewhat of a problem. We’ve got four powerful cards in different colors, and we really need to decide which road we’re gonna go down. Here we are presented with four possible selections to compliment the powerful (but unstable) deck we are already amassing (three good Uncommons in three picks is pretty solid in this format). Coastal Hornclaw, Spiketail Hatchling, Drudge Skeletons, and Sabertooth Tiger are the nominees for consideration.

The Tiger and Skeleton are both fine cards in their own right and will almost always make the cut, but they are simply leagues below the two blue cards. Once you reach that determination, all that’s left is a simple in color comparison of the two. Spiketail Hatchling is very good in this format, as it keeps a steady clock on the opponent while also slowing their development. The Hornclaw is simply a fat flier, since no one will ever attack into it in order to trade for a land. Here I think the correct call is to go with the Hornclaw because I’m still unsure of my colors, and I may end up splashing for the Lightning Blast – which will make the two-drop Hatchling less desirable.

I’m aware that a lot of people like Black/Red in 8th draft, in which case you could justify taking the Skeleton or Tiger (I prefer the Skeleton, as it’s good against green, which is BR’s bad matchup). If this is your logic, I’d also assume that you’d have taken the Hill Giant over Fighting Drake in Pack 1. This is a reasonable path to go down, and would certainly be an option of merit given the cards we’ve already seen and drafted. Since I went with the Drake, though, it only seems right that I’d continue here with the Hornclaw.

My Pick: Coastal Hornclaw

Pack 5

Giant Badger, Coastal Tower, Spined Wurm, Healing Salve, Execute, Lone Wolf

The green cards continue to flow downstream and I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should’ve just shipped along the Nekrataal in favor of the first Spined Wurm. Considering what we’ve got so far, this pack seems terrible for our plans and just plain odd if you ask me.

The primary suspects for selection here have to be Spined Wurm and Coastal Tower. Since neither of them is in color that go with the cards we’ve already got in our pile, it becomes a decision of which is more beneficial if we determine to switch colors or splash later on in the draft. Coastal Tower would allow the splash of the Pacifism we just passed up, while Spined Wurm would’ve been excellent if we’d grabbed the first copy over the Nekrataal. Spined Wurm also serves as a gateway to a green archetype which can support multiple colors, thanks to the manafixers or he can serve as a splash himself, along with more copies or something else that’s good to splash like Giant Growth.

I find the Wurm much more flexible and potentially useful to our efforts than the Tower for those reasons. Make no mistake, though – had the Tower been an Urborg Volcano or Salt Marsh, I would’ve grabbed it up in the blink of an eye.

My Pick: Spined Wurm

Pack 6

Drudge Skeletons, Storm Crow, Sabertooth Tiger, Coastal Hornclaw, Elvish Lyrist, Bog Imp

This pack seems to ask the same questions we’ve already been answering in this draft: Flier or Groundpounder? I really don’t see much debate in this case, as the Hornclaw is far superior to either the Skeleton or Sabertooth Tiger as talked about above.

If you personally would’ve gone down the Black/Red road, you’d be looking at a more consistent but also much less powerful deck at this point, as I’m picking Hornclaws while you’re stuck with middle of the line boys like the Tiger and Skeleton. I’ll be happy to fight your middle-of-the-road stack of forty with my deck of huge fliers any day, thank ya very much.

My Pick: Coastal Hornclaw

Pack 7

Boil, Grizzly Bear, Suntail Hawk, Cinder Wall, Plague Beetle

Another booster devoid of quality cards for our blue-based archetype. Cinder Wall has, however, proven to be an excellent card out of the board when dealing with an opponent loaded up on Serpent Warriors or Trained Armodons. For one mana, it effectively neutralizes one of their key tempo threats and such a thing cannot be denied.

So we just take the Cinder Wall here for our board, Right?

Sorry Charlie, not this time. One of the most annoying aspects of Core Set Draft that I’ve found out the hard way is that the hosers are absolutely ridiculous. Boil, Flashfires, Choke, and Karma are all better than most of the cards in your maindeck after you sideboard them in for the appropriate matchup. I’d have to say that getting Boiled or having Karma dropped on you is one of the most depressing things in a Limited environment, as it’s so random and yet so potent. These cards require very little skill and will wreck your day more often than not, giving wins to the undeserving. Or maybe you’re the one who’s undeserving, since you failed to hatedraft the card when there was nothing for you anyway?

Save yourself some trouble and hate up these cards if they are good against you and you can afford to do so. (In other words, don’t take Karma if there’s also a Dark Banishing – duh….)

My Pick: Boil

Pack 8

Elvish Champion, Moss Monster, Redeem, Star Compass

At this point I’m really regretting that Nekrataal pick, as I could be far along the way to cementing together a nice green deck. Fortunately, there is a nice card for us should we splash cards with double-mana costs (like Nekky) since we’re still unsure of our second color. Another nice thing about the Compass here is that U/R and U/B both have a number of good four drops and Compass allows us to play them a turn earlier than normal.

My Pick: Star Compass

On the lap back I get a Horned Turtle, a Sea Serpent (which I pick over Raise Dead), and a Shatter. The Horned Turtle in particular is nice because it is an excellent tool for holding the ground while your fliers get to work. I would go as far to say that the difference between zero Turtles and one or two Turtles is the difference between winning and losing with most blue-based decks in the format.

About the other pick, I pick Sea Serpent far higher than Raise Dead simply because it’s really good against me and good to board in against a deck with lots of big guys. Honestly, I’ve sided into blue for a pair of Serpents and something else against a blue-based deck and the Serpents just crushed him. The most important point here is that in the Blue-on-Blue matchup games after boarding are based quite a bit on who has more Serpents lying in wait. The effect he has on the matchup is certainly not something to be ignored.

Pack Two

Pack 1

Llanowar Behemoth, Samite Healer, Giant Cockroach, Puppeteer, Planar Portal, Storm Crow, Boomerang, Canyon Wildcat, Lava Axe, Giant Badger, Horned Troll

Instantly after the second pack is cracked open, two cards leap out at me: Puppeteer and Planar Portal.

I dunno about you, but I’ve had mixed experience with the Portal. Sometimes it’s just game over when you cast it and sometimes it’s far too slow to do anything worthwhile. Another factor is the quality of bombs you can fetch with it. At this point in the draft, that would be something like Lightning Blast or Nekrataal in terms of our card pool. For this thing to be worthwhile, you need to have a good way to stall out the game (multiple Horned Turtles is nice) or something nuts to search up (Blaze, a Bomb Rare, Pyrotechnics). We don’t have that crucial bomb yet and I think it’d be going out on a limb to say that we’re going to open one in pack three or get shipped something in either direction. In pack one, we shipped a lot of good stuff downstream and it’s completely up in the air as to our neighbor’s colors. He could’ve taken Hill Giant and Vicious Hunger easily and be attempting to play both of the colors we’re considering to compliment our base of blue. Point is, we’ve already got a lot of high end in the two Hornclaws and we aren’t sure of where the deck is going. All of that information makes the Portal a sketchy pick here.

Puppeteer, on the other hand, is rock-solid. Much better than the average tapper, the Puppet can do double duty by not only tapping a crucial attacker, but also untapping a large creature of your own to play defense should your opponent fall into the visible ambush. He has other uses, as well, such as combining with Anaba Shaman to form 8th edition’s version of the”shotgun.” Basically, a tapper in this position would be better than the unstable Planar Portal, and Puppeteer goes above and beyond the call of a usual tapper making him the clear pick here.

Another thing to keep in mind is the Behemoth, Horned Troll, and Boomerang in the pack. The pack is pretty solid, so I think we can bank on the Boomerang making the lap and be assured that both of the cards we discussed earlier are better than either of the green cards so we’re not really regretting the whole Spined Wurm deal from earlier in the draft. It’s crucial to understand here that the green cards, while both excellent, are nowhere near the power level of Portal and Puppeteer.

My Pick: Puppeteer

Pack 2

Call of the Wild, Shock Troops, Giant Growth, Llanowar Behemoth, Glory Seeker, Serpent Warrior, Inspiration, Panic Attack

Well, it sure seems that Green is a veritable river in this draft – and I’m the idiot standing on the bank watching it go by. But seriously, this is the last time I’m gonna mention it, as I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I need a slap on the wrist for not going into the color in this draft. As you’ll see in the coming packs, the green cards continue to pass by and a lot of times I’m just taking more powerful cards in general. Am I right in doing so?

You tell me.

This is one of those times, though, as I’m obviously picking the Shock Troops here to go along with my Lightning Blast in case I move into Red or simply splash em’ both. If I have to explain why Shock Troops is better than every other card in this pack, then you need to be off reading a different article.

If I was taking the green cards, just for reference, Call of the Wild is rarely good in my experience. The pick here would definitely be Giant Growth, as I’d already have a number of five cast beaters (read: 2x Spined Wurm, Moss Monster, etc). It could possibly be of merit to take Giant Growth with intent of splashing alongside the singleton Wurm, but it seems far worse than simply splashing the Troops with Lightning Blast.

My Pick: Shock Troops

Pack 3

Pyroclasm, Fertile Ground, Anaba Shaman, Dark Banishing, Crossbow Infantry, Soul Feast, Healing Salve, Venerable Monk

What the…

This pack had to have been insane, with a Rare and Uncommon missing and these three first picks all staring me in the face. I can almost see a higher power looming over this pick with a simple question that he demands be answered: Pick your second color now or suffer the consequences!

So let’s get down to business. One of the strategies that has proven to be solid to me in this format is what I like to call the double splash. This is where you draft a base color and then splash three or four powerful cards from two other colors. Usually in this type of drafting, my base is Blue or Green since they form a nice core, while Black, Red, and White all have nice cards to splash (mostly removal or bombs). With that in mind, you might say that this pick would simply be based on card quality if I’m going to just run the double splash. I’d have to disagree with that, simply because Nekrataal is hard to splash and it could be more beneficial to just get into a two color archetype. There’s really a lot at stake in this pick as it could easily make or break the draft if we go with one color (or card) and then get shipped a good card in the other.

The first thing we can do to offer up some type of process in this selection is to eliminate the Anaba Shaman from the running. While an excellent card, both Pyroclasm and Dark Banishing are superior to it. These two are some of the most desirable spells in the format and relatively close in power level if you ask me. I think you could justify taking either card here simply because Pyroclasm is really good with Blue or Green because of the sheer number of creatures in those colors that survive it.

My thought process on this pick was that I could still easily splash the Troops and Blast if I wanted to, and I wanted to play my Nekrataal, so I went with the Banishing. Since I valued the Nekrataal so highly to begin with, I certainly want to play it if given the chance and he’s much easier to play off of a more solid black base than to splash or play in a deck with a double splash. I really think this pick is debatable – especially if you’re a fan of U/R in the format, which I am.

My Pick: Dark Banishing

Pack 4

Unsummon, Ambition’s Cost, Shivan Oasis, Rolling Stones

One thing’s for sure at this point, the guy downstream is playing white, and definitely not playing black. This is good news for us, and I’m particularly happy that I made the”right” choice on the last pick as I’m now rewarded for it.

Unsummon is a great card and a high pick, but I don’t think you could ever compare it to black’s version of Concentrate.

My Pick: Ambition’s Cost

Pack 5

Anaba Shaman, Fertile Ground, Venerable Monk, Crossbow Infantry, Coercion, Coral Eel

Ugh; another frustrating pick. Frustrating in a good way, though.

This run of packs has been way above par, however, if these two fine cards are still waiting to be plucked. Again, we are faced with the decision that has plagued this draft in its entirety: Red or Black?

The cards themselves are somewhat close in value, and I must say that Coercion has won me more games than I care to remember. Anaba Shaman is probably better by a slight margin, but it also means we’re considering moving back into red or running that double splash plan I mentioned earlier. It should be of note, however, that I do have a Star Compass to help out with any potential double casting cost spells I may decide to splash (like, say, Nekrataal?). This is another pick where I think you could back each side with enough evidence to justify making the call.

Here I went with the Anaba, possibly still thinking about the double splash deck, or just splashing him in as a third card. Looking back, it was probably the wrong pick as I have a habit of spreading myself too thin in Core Set Limited.

My Pick: Anaba Shaman

Pack 6

Unsummon, Gravedigger, Redeem, Slay, Elite Javelineers, Naturalize

Are you following this? Both of the players feeding me in this pack have ratings that would suggest that they are competent (1817, 1703). Yet somehow, there are still two first-pick commons after five picks. I don’t get it.

It would also make sense, too, then that the recurring theme of the draft would come into play yet again. When faced with two cards of relatively equal power, but different color, what’s the pick? I mulled this one over quite a bit, let me tell you – and in the end I selected Gravedigger simply because it’s ridiculous with the Nekrataal and Shock Troops that I already have. I realize Unsummon is also nuts with Nek, but the Digger is highly splashable, and also pushes me back in the black direction. For the time being, my deck is a collection of powerful cards with very little direction in terms of color.

My Pick: Gravedigger

Pack 7

Inspiration, Serpent Warrior, Scathe Zombies, Naturalize

This is a much easier decision to make since the cards aren’t that close in power level and it’s not really loaded with color deliberations. Serpent Warrior is a fine three-drop in this format and can serve as an offensive or defensive weapon depending on the situation. Think I’ll sign him up in case I do go down that U/B route. It’s worth noting, also, that he’s not that great in a three-color deck, and wouldn’t make the cut if I ended up splashing the Red cards. This is because he’s not in our main color and not that great of a three-drop to begin with since he makes you lose life. The only place this guy is consistent is in a two-color build.

Inspiration and Scathe Zombies are both marginal at best, and wouldn’t make the cut in this draft no matter what colors I end up playing, so the Serpent at least has some chance of getting his day in the sun here.

My Pick: Serpent Warrior

Pack 8

Foratog, Boomerang, Merchant Scroll

There are zero good targets for Merchant Scroll in 8th Edition. End of pick.

My Pick: Boomerang

On the lap, I pick up the expected second Boomerang, and a second Serpent Warrior. We could easily be sliding into an aggro-control U/B archetype now with the two Serpents, though I really hate the prospect of losing so much life when you also consider that I have Ambition’s Cost in my deck.

We’re still not sure at this point of our second color – though as I just said, we’re leaning in the black direction. The red is there though, so that if we do open something like Shivan Dragon or Two-Headed Dragon we can take it with ease.

Pack Three

Pack 1

Persecute, Lone Wolf, Rewind, Salt Marsh, Remove Soul, Master Decoy, Vine Trellis, Looming Shade, Giant Growth

Betcha ten bucks you don’t make the right call here. Okay, well maybe not since it’s sort of ambiguous, but I’m fairly certain I made the correct pick here even if it did seem weird doing so at the time.

The relevant cards here include Persecute, Rewind, Salt Marsh, Remove Soul, and Looming Shade. That’s a lot of goodies to sort out.

Looming Shade can be tossed out right away since the way our draft is going right now we can’t be sure he’ll do anything better than being a bad Scathe Zombie. Persecute can also be easily tossed out, as it’s not very good in Limited in general and especially not for double black when the only color we’re sure about is Blue.

Now we’re down to the big three. All of these cards can be defended on some level in the current draft situation – but Rewind is by far the worst for a couple of reasons. First, it costs double blue, which isn’t as bad as it could be since we already have a pair of Boomerangs we’re probably gonna run along with Fighting Drake. The real factor here is that it costs four mana and we’re already flooded in that curve slot. We’ve got potentials in Fighting Drake, Ambition’s Cost, Anaba Shaman, Lightning Blast, Nekrataal, and Gravedigger. And we’ve still got an entire pack to go. There’s virtually no way you can call Rewind the correct pick here.

Finally we’ve arrived at the meat of the situation with Remove Soul and Salt Marsh. Either of these cards is an acceptable pick depending on what you’re looking for. Remove Soul is a fine early addition that serves as pseudo removal and only requires one blue, while Salt Marsh will help out with our mana problems quite a bit.

My decision was made by looking over the pack as a whole and deciding to play it risky by taking Remove Soul in hopes of the Marsh tabling. I think this is more than reasonable in this case, as there are three other cards that will most likely be taken before Salt Marsh in blue and black and the black cards have been coming awfully late so it’s certainly not overdrafted. I do agree that this move is risky simply because of my shaky mana base – but for now, I’m happy with the choice.

My Pick: Remove Soul

Pack 2

Star Compass, Aven Fisher, Razorfoot Griffin, Giant Spider, Wing Snare, Ridgeline Rager, Goblin Raider, Spineless Thug, Craw Wurm

Not much of a decision here, as Aven Fisher is much better than a second Star Compass. Even though Star Compass is excellent in a deck full of four drops, Aven Fisher’s flexibility cannot be denied.

My Pick: Aven Fisher

Pack 3

Coercion, Nantuko Disciple, Ravenous Rats, Hulking Cyclops, Mind Bend, Sage Owl, Canopy Spider, Seasoned Marshal

These packs are much simpler to decipher than the second set were, as I’m faced with only Coercion, Ravenous Rats, or Hulking Cyclops as options. While I think the Cyclops unquestionably warrants a consideration here, I’m still of the mindset that the best move is to continue down the black road and potentially splash red. The time has come and gone for me to open a red bomb and switch over and I’m not going to get anything outstanding this late to make me want to switch back. The plan is at least solidified finally – and I’m running either U/B or U/B/r.

Back to the decision at hand, while Ravenous Rats is a fine card in general, Coercion has a tendency to outright win games by taking their best threat for only three mana. There are enough bombs in 8th to make you want to be casting this card on turn 3 of every game.

My Pick: Coercion

Pack 4

Horned Turtle, Goblin Raider, Aven Fisher, Spineless Thug, Yavimaya Enchantress, Treasure Trove, Standing Troops, Unholy Strength

More in-color decisions are at hand here in the middle of the final set of packs. For reference, I leave Unholy Strength out of my analysis simply because it’s not very good with the amount of common bounce spells as well as other good removal in general in the format.

So we’ve got Turtle, Fisher, and Trove. To be honest, I feel my deck is too slow already to even consider taking the Trove here, so it’s really all about Turtle and Fisher.

So just take the Fisher, right? It’s clearly the better card.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. I already have a truckload of four-drops and the Turtle will serve to hold the ground while I spend time getting my more powerful cards online. Turn 3 Turtle, turn 4 Ambition’s Cost is also nothing to sneeze at. Since I already have one of each, I hit the”sort by casting cost” button on my MODO window in an attempt to make the pick easier. The conclusion I come to is that the Serpent Warriors should be fine in providing a defensive three-drop and can almost fill the Turtle’s shoes in that role – except for the annoying fact that they Lightning Bolt you. Aven Fisher is an excellent flier and in this case I’m gonna have to forego the Turtle after much consideration. I would like to point out, however, that if I take the Turtle here, it allows me to build a deck without the Serpent Warriors, which could possibly more powerful overall. I’ll talk more about that after the draft, though.

My Pick: Aven Fisher

Pack 5

Deepwood Ghoul, Heartwood Dryad, Mana Leak, Ogre Taskmaster

I like the Ghoul because it serves the same defensive purpose that the Turtle does. The better thing here is that there are a lot of 2/2s in 8th and this guy will stop them all cold. Mana Leak is also a fine spell for any blue deck, and the pick here was merely based on preference, as I prefer the Ghoul. One determining factor is the two Boomerangs I already have along with Star Compass and Remove Soul as two-drops, which made me more inclined to take the regenerator.

My Pick: Deepwood Ghoul

Pack 6

Choke, Storm Crow, Looming Shade, Vine Trellis, Stone Rain

Was someone talking about hosers earlier? I can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure that they were. Oh yeah! They were talking about how annoying it is to lose to cards like Choke and Boil and why you should almost always counterdraft them if given a reasonable chance.

Why, then, did I pick Storm Crow out of this pack!?

Storm Crow is much better than it looks on paper, better even than Sage Owl and sometimes even Dusk Imp. There are a number of common and uncommon effects in 8th that are the bane of one-toughness creatures, and somehow the Storm Crow flies high against the likes of Crossbow Infantry, Anaba Shaman, and Rod of Ruin. Don’t ask me how he’s good, but if you play him for yourself I think you’ll agree.

Regardless of my obsession with a 1/2 flier here, I still think I made the wrong pick as it came back to haunt me later. I definitely should’ve listened to myself and taken the Choke.

My Pick: Storm Crow

Pack 7

Heartwood Dryad, Balduvian Barbarians, Diabolic Tutor, Healing Salve

Huh? Diabolic Tutor is a great card for the black mage in this format. Whatever; I’ll take it 7th.

My Pick: Diabolic Tutor

Pack 8

Raise Dead, Ravenous Rats, Catalog

Somehow I actually have a pick to make here, although it’s pretty clear that it’s Ravenous Rats. Raise Dead is definitely playable, but it’s not gonna make the cut over the Rat. Catalog is one of those cards that only makes the cut when your deck really needs that 23rd card. That’s simply not the case here.

My Pick: Ravenous Rats

To finish off the draft, I pick up my beloved Salt Marsh (yes!), a Spineless Thug, and somehow get Treasure Trove back 11th.

Below is the decklist I played with relevant sideboard cards that could have been maindeck. I’ll follow with some commentary since as you will see, it is sorely needed.

The Deck

1 Remove Soul

1 Ravenous Rats

2 Boomerang

1 Star Compass

1 Storm Crow

2 Serpent Warrior

1 Puppeteer

1 Deepwood Ghoul

1 Dark Banishing

1 Nekrataal

1 Treasure Trove

1 Coercion

1 Horned Turtle

1 Ambition’s Cost

1 Diabolic Tutor

2 Aven Fisher

1 Gravedigger

2 Coastal Hornclaw

1 Fighting Drake

1 Salt Marsh

9 Island

7 Swamp

Relevant Sideboard:

Spineless Thug, Lightning Blast, Anaba Shaman, Shock Troops, Sea Monster, Nausea, 2x Shatter

This is the best possible build for the card pool I ended up with. Hands down. If you actually look into it for yourself, you’ll see that splashing Red creates a deck with way too many four-drops as well ruining the mana base. As I said earlier, had I picked the second Horned Turtle over the second Aven Fisher, splashing red would have been a viable option for sure.

Would the deck with a splash of red be better than the one I ended up with? Possibly. It would also be much more fragile in terms of its mana base, and this deck has plenty of power packed into it to begin with.

I do want to speak a moment though, about Treasure Trove. I condemned the card earlier because I was still considering a splash of Red in my deck, but when it came back as late as it did, I knew it was going to make the cut. The card is excellent in any two-color deck as well as being an engine for any deck lacking the late-game. Since we’re effectively running eighteen mana sources here, I think the Trove is a wonderful addition to the deck when it’s not splashing the Red cards.

Besides the red cards in the board, the only other possible maindeckworthy cards are Sea Serpent and Spineless Thug. Spineless Thug could be boarded in to compliment the Serpent Warriors when playing first or against a slow deck, and I already outlined above why I feel that Sea Serpent is playable only in games two and three. The rest should be self-explanatory.